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A Mother and Daughter in Paris

Posted by Amy Clyde on 7/2/2015
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: history, Travel, Tauck, Paris, Museums, London, France, Art Travel

eiffel towerMy daughter, Isabel, gazes at the Eiffel Tower, all lit up and glittering against the night sky. She’s seventeen, but I’ve never seen this expression on her face before – the look of wonder mixed with joy. The light plays across her face. We stand on the deck of the riverboat on the Seine, arms wrapped around each other, looking up, the tower standing like a giant just above us. It’s a timeless beacon of total geometric clarity that somehow makes me feel that right now all is right with the world. 

“Amazing,” says Isabel. Then she’s speechless.

This is her first visit to Paris — her first European tour — and seeing the city through my daughter’s eyes is like seeing it for the first time myself. As we explore and I point things out (more often than she’d like), I’m struck anew by the symmetry of the city, its over-the-top ornateness, and the insanity of the lane-free, free-for-all traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe. Not to mention the perfection of the hot chocolate at Café de la Paix.

Sadly, I don’t eat bread anymore and have to be forcibly restrained every day at breakfast from reaching for a croissant, as skinny marink Isabel munches on her pâtisserie. But when I was first here in my teens, I had a loving relationship with fresh baguettes and creamy brie. I also had some favourite gargoyles at Nôtre Dame and dreams of coming back here to live. The last item may have had something to do with certain Frenchmen I knew.

notre dameSpeaking of les monsieurs, one day as we cross the Pont de l’Archevêché on the way to Nôtre Dame, a guy asks if I would like to buy a “love lock.” Got to say, it’s a bit shocking to see the bridge laden with the clutter of the hundreds of locks tourists have fastened on it over the years, signifying their undying love. Ironically, the bridge itself is dying, or at least crumbling, under the weight of the locks. I liked it better before. (And so apparently do the Parisian authorities who remove the locks shortly after we get home.) Luckily the view of Nôtre Dame from the bridge still makes me smile – and my gargoyles are waiting…

One of my favourite things to do in Paris is wander through the little neighborhoods; the city is really just a collection of villages. One afternoon Isabel and I decide to check out the back streets of Montmartre – the celebrated home and hub of generations of painters and writers, set high on the hill crowned by the gleaming white basilica Sacré Coeur. Starting in the lively Place du Tertre, packed with painters, caricaturists, and tourists, we set off to investigate the neighboring labyrinth of quiet cobbled lanes, filled with the juicy history of the great artists who once lived and worked here – and with apartments I wish I owned today.

brass plateDown one street there’s a gated, walled enclave of houses where a brass plate labeled with names and addresses hangs on the forbidding brick wall; the plate is etched with names of artists long gone – Matisse, Monet, van Gogh… instead of the residents’ real names; it’s a pretty tribute that also disguises the identities of the celebrities who actually live there, says our fab local guide, giving us the inside scoop.

We stroll over to the Lapin Agile (Agile Rabbit), the iconic little cabaret painted with a sign of a rabbit jumping out of a saucepan. At the turn of the twentieth century, artists and writers used to drink here, listening to music and poetry, and debating art and society. It was Picasso’s hangout; he once settled his bar bill with a painting – the famous “At the Lapin Agile.”

It was at this cozy bar that one of the best art hoaxes of all time was hatched, featuring the owner’s pet donkey, Lolo. (He was so popular in the neighborhood that he sometimes received party invitations.) One day in 1910, Roland Dorgelès, a vocal critic of the new art movements, secretly tied a paintbrush to Lolo’s tail, positioned a canvas within reach of the brush, and held veggies in front of the donkey’s nose, inspiring him to swish his tail with excitement. A painting was born.

Dorgelès dubbed the work “Sunset Over the Adriatic,” attributed it to a fictitious Genoese painter, and had it entered in an important exhibition, where it earned lots of kudos and was hailed as the first painting of the (non-existent) “Excessivism Movement”; the donkey’s masterpiece eventually sold for a tidy sum.

walking out of wallAlthough Montmartre isn’t the bohemian hotbed it used to be (most artists have been gentrified out), the Lapin Agile still keeps the spirit alive by hosting evenings of authentic French songs and poetry readings – with lots of audience participation, like in the old days. And nearby the Museum of Montmartre is filled with the art and stories of the village at its height. Renoir’s Gardens surround the museum; the painter lived in one of the museum buildings and created many great works in the gardens. We sneak a peek. Bliss. Definitely going back next time.

There’s also still a bit of a contemporary art scene in Montmartre; in one humble square, Isabel and I come across a bronze sculpture of a man walking through a wall, created by the actor and director Jean Marais, based on a short story well known in France. Love it.

Right next to the Lapin Agile, we discover the only vineyard in Paris. Tiny, it blankets a small hillside, and is famous for producing terrible and terribly expensive wine – sought after simply because it comes from the only Parisian vineyard and, like in the old Woody Allen joke, because there’s so little of it. We’re okay not tasting it.

Isabel decides that Montmartre is the ideal place to take a selfie in a beret. So we go back to the touristy area around Place du Tertre and find one in a shop in about two seconds; she proceeds to snap and snapchat away. Then she needs a crêpe with Nutella, and I have a café au lait. Fortified, we take in the view of Paris spread out below us. There is so much still to see.

paris 3

If you’d like to visit Paris with Tauck on a European tour, check out the many journeys we offer, from riverboat cruises along the rivers Seine and Rhône to land trips, like “A Week in…  Paris & Provence,” and Tauck Bridges family adventures, including “Castles & Kings: London to Paris.Click here to learn more about all of our journeys that take you to the heart of Paris.

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