Paris is pretty much all that I thought it would be… and more… and less.
We arrived on Monday morning in the rain. After waiting for an hour in a gorgeous cool, not cold, rain, the driver who was to have my name on a card – nowhere to be found, us thinking we had been ripped off for a very expensive ride – finally appeared, and we went careening through wall to wall Paris traffic to my uncle´s house. My uncle has lived in Paris since the 1960s, after meeting his wife while stationed in France He had offered to meet us at the airport, but Miss Independent decided no, we could make our own way. Tres idiot.
Everyone tells you the first day you arrive in Europe, you should stay up all day, don´t go to bed until as late as you can that night. Great advice, if you can sleep on a plane. I can´t sleep on planes. I even had a sleeping pill, and I dozed off and on for maybe an hour, but that´s not even close to enough sleep to keep me functioning. So I had a little coffee with my family while Diane crashed, only to find myself crashing about two hours later.
Monday was shot for perfume shopping.
Tuesday, my cousin Caroline and her daughter, Alice, accompanied us on our shopping expedition… I think more to make sure we didn´t get lost navigating the Paris metro than that they wanted to go perfume shopping. They were great guides. Getting around on the Paris Metro is a snap. Every time I look at that grid, I get goose bumps. The streets above through Paris are a mess, streets change names every few blocks and curve and end and look like it was made by ants on speed, but the metro system below is cool efficiency, laid out in a grid that will get you anywhere in Paris. I mean, take a look at that to the left — gorgeous symmetry. For some reason, that duality tells me more about Paris and its people than anything else I´ve learned.
We went to Serge Lutens first. I´m not sure what I was expecting – anything from warm French hospitality to an upturned French nose. What we got was something in between that I´m still not sure how to interpret. We didn´t buy anything there then since we have a good number of bottles to get and have to transport it back on the metro. That´s at the end of our trip. But I did notice that people aren´t on the Metro laden down with shopping bags like we were. What up with that? Don’t Parisians shop for more than one bag of things at a time?
After meandering and getting lost multiple times, we found our way to Montale – nothing new there, but they are expecting a new scent in late November or early December – and Parfums de Nicolai – great candles! – and Annick Goutal – whoa there, Nelly. The new incense trio will be released at the end of November, and they had testers in the store. Absolute gorgeousment. I don´t have details because the shop was full and we didn´t get notes as our concern was when and how we could get our hands on them to take home and play with our other perfumes. They do not know when they will be released in the U.S., but they will ship if you give them your Fed Ex account number. Fed Ex shipping from France is a minimum of $100, so this does not look like an inexpensive proposition.
Can we just talk about how difficult this internet stuff turned out to be? I was thinking there would be wireless everywhere, but I saw not one internet cafe sign, maybe I wasn’t looking in the right place. I’m sure they were there. We were staying in a residential area, the 16th, and I just figured there would be someone’s wirelss to grub onto. But no. So I planned to post this stuff while I was gone, but…. Je suis idiot… again.
At the end of the day, we stopped at Arabian Oud, which I wasn’t familiar with. Mahmoud and Mohammad took great care of us, Caroline, Alice and I collapsed in their chairs to rest our barking dogs while Diane smelled everything in the store. You know what, almost everything smelled great. At the risk of torching Montale lovers, I have to say, I much prefer the Arabian Oud. Montales are very nice, I´m not saying they aren´t, but to me, they always seem to blend together in my head, and the bitterness in many of them makes them difficult to wear on any regular basis. The Arabian Ouds have a richness to them, less bitterness in the oud, or it blends together more smoothly. I can´t exactly put my finger on it. Also, they sell the individual essences that make up their perfumes in small bottles. I have a bottle of the most feral jasmine I have ever smelled (yes, March, I´ll send you some).
Department store day. We headed off on the metro on our own, north to Printemps and Galleries Lafayette on Haussmann. What a knot of people that was. Printemps has the Caron urn parfums, the reissued Montaigne (in edp instead of edt this version) and in parfum, the Stephanie Aignans, and much more. The real prize here was Berdoues Violettes de Toulouse… in extrait. This is one of my favorite violet scents of all time in the edt, but it just doesn´t last. In extrait? Oo-la-la. And for 42 euros for 15 ml. Bargain of the century and just perfection in violet. I´m not sure it´s available outside of Europe yet, but if you see it and love violet, snap some up.
Mariage Freres has a store in both Printemps and Galleries Lafayette, as well as free-standing stores in several places. I picked up some of the incense, the Noel and Russian teas, the amber candle, and.. I adore this store. I know they likely get their incense from Shoyeido and teas from a more commonly known tea company, but they are wonderful and feel so French. Lovely place and one-stop shopping for all of your tea, incense, candle needs. They need to open a full shop in the U.S. Of course we also stopped into Laduree for Macaroons.
Can I stop for a minute and tell you how bad my French is? Before I went, I did the first course of Pimsleur, which gives you a limited vocabulary and construction of present tense simple sentences. Helpful to be sure, but my French receptive skills are nonexistent. I pick out a word here and there, but it just sounds like a bathtub of vowel sounds being whisked down the drain. During my time in Paris, some words are emerging out of the vowel soup, but it´s only a slightly less murky soup. Despite that, I did seem to be able to communicate at about cavewoman level, but that was better than not at all.
Day 4 – holyday
All Saints Day is a holiday in France, so only some shops were open, but most of the big ones were closed, so we played tourist. I´m Catholic and Diane is Jewish, so we decided to do just a split religious tour of the city. Notre Dame is stunning and must be seen if you are here. There has never been a time that the inside of a soaring old cathedral fails to raise my spiritual temperature by about 90 degrees. I could spend days just prowling through old cathedrals and visiting sites of the incorruptibles. Did I ever tell you about my meeting with St. Charles Borromeo? Remind me to tell it sometime.
Then we headed off into the direction of the Pletzel in Marais for a falafel (yum!) and then off to an old Synagogue that was closer to the Eiffel Tower. A nice, slow, relaxing day. Perfect. (to be continued next Tuesday)