Spring on the Rive Gauche

Coming Soon, Spring on the Rive Droit, I Hope

Paris:- Monday, 15. April 1996:- This is part one of a two-part feature, called 'Rive Gauche - Rive Droit,' or Left Bank - Right Bank. This is the Rive Gauche part.

Part two - Rive Droit - was going to be in this issue of Metropole, but lousy weather that was predicted for all week was replaced by 'Spring' at the beginning - permitting endless optimism and the production of this piece, but was unsustainable for the other half - the result being 'Window Shopping,' which replaces it. Doing Paris at this untidy time of year is a little like being a farmer, looking at the skies for inspiration on when to plant.

Today was definitely 'Spring' on the Left Bank, in the Quartier Latin. I started today's odyssey in the place de l'Odeon and with a great disappointment. The bright, chrome-yellow bar, unfancy inside, that used to face dead-on towards the sun, Le Monaco, is no more. The place is no less pleasant without the blast of yellow, because the Le Conde is still there, unchanged from about 1930 I guess - but Le Monaco had the sun even in the dead of winter, and on rainy days, the color.

I was going to head straight down the rue de l'Anncienne Comédie, but zipped left at the last moment and went down the narrower and much quieter rue de Tours instead to see if the marché at Buci was open, but it wasn't - closed Monday? Rue de la Seine you know and we had La Palette in for 'Au Bistro' last week so I went the other way towards the Buci intersection, where there was the usual traffic drangle, stink, noise; on the sunny side the entire terrace filled with sun worshippers somehow ignoring the racket.

Café scene (17k) With the angle, the rue Saint-André-des-Arts was almost in blue shadow, but with the sun side so white bone-colored, it was reflecting light from there into the blue; and I suppose painters have noticed these things too. There is seldom much traffic here and it is refreshing to be able to walk down almost its entire length, right in the middle of the street. This is a very old street - following a pre-Roman path - and brings you out to place Saint Michel and much traffic again, mixed with construction and cement trucks. Just a bit back, in the place St. André des Arts, there are a lot of cafés with terraces, but you have to keeping changing cafés if you want the sun for long.
I crossed the boulevard St. Michel as quickly as I could and plunged into the rue St. Séverin, thinking it was the rue de la Huchette, and admired the color and the sun illuminating the south-Tunisian resto there, the rue de la Harpe with sun flooding down it and the blue depths of the rest of St. Séverin. When I got to rue Xavier-Privas I noticed I wasn't in the rue de la Huchette and I asked a meat-sandwich fellow there in his open window how business was. It was past lunch time, but it had been good he said, and then started yelling out his pitch against a similar guy in a similar joint across the way - at a house painter on a motorbike who had stopped there for no reason at all; who seemed kind of surprised to find himself being invited to another lunch.

Down Xavier-Privas, further than I thought it would be, I found rue de la Huchette to have more or less the same eastern Mediterranean fast-food places as St. Séverin, but the street was straighter - and to me, less interesting.

St. Séverin (10k) I went out the Petit-Pont side to see half the booksellers on the quai in operation, and get the first clear look of Notre-Dame in months. It's face still being re-done, but you may as well and come and see it anyway - because if you wait until it is finished, some other place you want to see just as badly will be getting its face-lift - so there will always be something special in Paris you won't get a good look of; because this renovation business goes on forever and continually.
In fact, you can do what I did and walk around the back where there are lines of pleasant trees - with leaves! and shade - and lots of benches where you can sit for free - something free in Paris! - and where you'll find about one-twentieth of the Japanese who are otherwise in front, wondering how to get the photo of their lives when the facade of the cathedral is covered in scaffolding - and here in the back these adventurous few are getting 'a' view, if not the one they came all the way for - but a clear view all the same.

I almost didn't cross the ugly bridge to the Ile Saint Louis because I thought I remembered that the Oasis was closed Mondays, but I went close enough to see how the sunbathers were doing on the walks by the Seine's edge, below the quais, and by the middle of the bridge saw that the Oasis was indeed open and its southern exposure was nearly full-house, if you can have 'full-house' outdoors. It is still before the chestnuts have leaves so the colors are pretty stark - the reds of the awnings, the whites and light greys of the buildings and the blue shadow of the rue St. Louis en l'Ile that pierces the centre of the island like a narrow canyon.

The Oasis (15k) The downstream point of the island, facing the Hôtel de Ville on the right bank, was still worth a look - where you can stand and see both island quais at once, Bourbon and Orleans, unobstructed.

In the middle of the Pont Louis Philippe, an old lady asked me to assist her across, lend an elbow - ah sure, I'm in no hurry - but I couldn't hear what she was saying the closer we got to the right bank and the expressway below and the traffic on the quai de l'Hôtel de Ville - hard to tell which is the speedway - and there, she ambled slowly east along the quai des Célestins, and I made my way through more old Paris to the métro station on the rue de Rivoli.

I have no snappy punch-line to sum-up this stroll. Et voilà, today was spring, Rive Gauche style.

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