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heathens ruining paris in south pigalle and in les halles malls

Day 62-64 - South Pigalle, Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, Trocadero, Musee Marmottan Monet, Les Halles, Chatelet metro, Pompidou Centre


A year a little bit ago, the New York Times ran an article entitled "How Hipsters Ruined Paris". Thomas Chatterton Williams put the ninth arrondisement, or South Pigalle, on the bench and played judge and jury on the characteristics of this particular neighbourhood. He complains about "the banal globalization of hipster good taste".



It reads like a nostalgic old man, peaking in Paris in his youth, nostalgic about the prostitutes he used to pass on the streets, and lamenting the decimation of all those pharmacies his old neighbourhood used to have. Basically, the guy is the original hipster who was in the 9th way before it was cool, guys.


We deliberately search out South Pigalle, using the Guardian as our guide. The word "hipster" and searching out streets with "hipster" things have, so far, always resulted in a great day out, great food made by particularly passionate and enthusiastic people our age, and interesting little shops with beautiful, whimsical window displays.


We eat our way up and down Rue St Martyr and have a hell of a good time. First, the Guardian and Google Plus reviewers rave about KB Coffeeshop. The owner worked as a barista in Australia. It's like a thing to have an Australian-trained barista in your joint. This was also a selling point in a particular cafe in Goreme, Turkey. The coffee there was so strong and scorched, the flavour had gone long ago. Along with the skin on your palate. The coffee at KB is exactly the same. So I guess Australian's like their coffee scalding hot, burnt and without taste? Maybe. 


Our next big event occurs when I wander into yet another snooty vintage store selling 150 euro Chanels and furs. I come out and Rob looks at my feet. "You stepped in dog shit," he said. South Pigalle is dog shit alley. With hipsters, comes their dogs, I guess. But then, is this just a hipster thing or basically a Parisian thing. For the rest of the day, I keep my eyes peeled on the sidewalk and rinse my boot whenever I pass water running down the gutter.  


The window display of Popelini stops me in my tracks. I cannot pass Go. There are dancing, suspended balls of choux pastry in the window, for pete's sakes. The lady behind the counter is super friendly. She spends a lot of time with us explaining the flavours. She's passionate, she loves these little balls of delicious pastries filled with flavoured cream, she's learning how to make them at home, and one day, she hopes to have her own shop just like it.


We're looking for lunch but it's nearly 3 pm and that's game over for a lot of kitchens in Paris. Some of them close between 3 and don't open till 7. Rob shouts, "DIM SUM". His dim sum radar is finely tuned.


 Sure enough, Dim Sum Cantine is down a side street and we have fifteen minutes to scarf our food down before it closes. The young guy who serves us owns the shop as well. He's just been to Hong Kong and brought back cat in a box. We've got one of those at home too. He's friendly, approachable and more than happy to let us delay his closing time. The dumplings are delicate and delicious. For 10 euros, I get a choice of 2 dumplings (with 3 pieces each), salad, rice and a drink. For 15 euros, Rob gets 3 the same but with 2 dumplings.


All dumpling-ed out, we head back to Rue des Martyrs towards Sebastian Gaudard. I'm riveted to the window, gawping at the shiny glazed pies, a beautiful wedding cake, and the pretty tiled interior.


Inside, I'm losing my mind. I don't know where to start. I imagine this is the feeling you get when you're asked to pick your favourite child. A duchesse in chocolate, which looks like an eclair, and a little cake with a delicate cherry drawn on top comes home with me.


The woman packages up in this gorgeous Belle Epoque themed box with a window to remind you what deliciousness awaits. I'm addicted. I need another hit. We need bread tomorrow. At Maison Landemaine, We buy one named after the street. Oh. And two donuts which come individually wrapped. The donuts are less dough, more delicious, buttery, moist cake, coated in gleaming, smooth frosting that's like a cross between whipped ganache and a melted chocolate bar. They're a thing of wonder.


I use Rob's need to go the bathroom as an excuse to drink tea at Rose Bakery. The tea is served in iron cast tea pots and we share a caramel and pear muffin. I haven't looked a muffin in the eye since leaving home. It's delicious but my brain screams More caramel, please.


I'm gazing at the back wall the entire time. It's covered with pale, citrusy splashes and slashes of colour. How do they make it look so good? To my right is a hulking big Smeg refrigerator, stationed like a kitchen refugee. The cakes are made in loaf tins and sold by weight, which never fails to confuse me.


We pop out of the depths of South Pigalle and walk down the main road, heading towards Montmartre and Sacre Couer. Being back amongst the tourist throngs is jarring after our day in South Pigalle. There's only tacky souvenir shops, jumble sales, and cheap hamburger joints to be seen here.


On our way up the steps, we pass an American girl whinging to her friend, "What are the chances we climb all the way up and there's nothing up there."


On our way up the steps, we pass an American girl whinging to her friend, "What are the chances we climb all the way up and there's nothing up there." I titter to myself. There's actually very charming cobblestone alleys and old houses up the top of the hill, once you walk past all the tourist claptrap.


For the rest of our wander around the cobblestoned alleys and gardens up on the Mont, my sackful of delicate Parisian patisseries swing from the crook of my left arm. We even actively avoid the nightmare crossing of the Chatelet metro back home because the threat of someone squishing my little darlings is just too high there. We've been in Paris for two weeks and suddenly, I'm overriding Google's metro suggestions. All in the name of pastry preservation.

On day 63, an accident on the M9 spews us out unceremoniously at the Trocadero. We were meaning to get out at the metro closests to the Marmottan Monet. But never mind. We emerge and Rob finally gets to see the Eiffel Tower like the town planner wanted you to see it. I think back to nine years ago when me, my mother and my brother emerged from exactly the same metro, looked around, and though "Where's the Eiffel Tower?" We turned around and there it was. Like a bad panto horse, it was behind us all along. My mother has even sent Rob an email insisting he sees it from the Trocadero and thanks to a metro fail, here we are.


The Eiffel Tower is wearing a fog hat. And it's looking super cool. The Trocadero is packed full of selfie sticks, tour groups, children's field trips, and men selling Eiffel tower key rings (5 for 1 euro) and kids toys.


The Police are spotted and suddenly, the blankets full of stuff are swiped from the ground and spirited out of sight. They're now all casually standing on top of the steps in a group, chatting and regarding the Eiffel Tower like nothing's up.


Luckily, it's only a ten minute walk from the Trocadero to the Musee Marmottan Monet, through some classic Haussman apartments and boulevards, fancy white linen restaurants, and promenading old men and women.


 The Musee Marmottan Monet is on the fringes of a lovely park that's got it's autumn game on and it sits on the corner of Avenue Raphael.


They don't allow photos in the Monet museum. I take this as a suggestion and switch to my camera phone instead. If you're a museum with the world's largest Monet collection and I walk in, I'll be taking some photos, thank you very much.


Downstairs, in the permanent collection, the Monet's are heart-stoppingly beautiful. I'm not sure why, but it evokes an entirely emotional response, just like the waterlilies in the Orangerie. The combination of these acres of white walls, with the great big canvases of flowers, trees, waterlilies, weeping willows, and Madame Monet cutting a beautiful swathe through a windswept field of wildflowers, gets me. every. time.


The next day, we're back at our old metro nemesis Chatelet, on the way to the Pompidou. Chatelet has lots of metro and RER connections but sometimes, the walk between different lines is exhausting. For example, Les Halles, near the Pompidou Centre to our line, M7, is an eight minute underground walk.


Crossings consist of jostling with thousands of others, all going in different directions, and clomping underground for what seems like miles. The station is also undergoing renovation adding to the general chaos. What is good about Chatelet, particularly when you're exiting near the Pompidou is that it funnels you right into the Les Hall underground shopping mall. You could spend a whole day underground and in the metro station if you really wanted.


We come close to doing this. Rob's been watching news coverage of the snowstorms in New York and is suitably freaked out into action. He buys a big jacket and boots from H&M Les Halles. I find out there's an Etam in the complex and we hunt it down. Rob has to stay outside because, apart from the security guard and the effeminate guy working the counter, the Etam in Les Halles does not see a lot of testosterone.


I became familiar with Etam through Alix's frequent collaborations with them. Actually getting face to face with the pieces in the store was great. There's beautiful, soft fabrics, really fine lace, lots of flowy, bias cuts, delicate ruffles, and a pared back colour palette. Everything is eminently touchable and feminine and nothing is basic. Even a plain singlet have beautiful lace cut outs. It's also relatively mid-range in price; a pretty negligee trimmed in lace was around 40 euros, a basic singlet with lace details 14 euro, and a little lacy camisole with a racerback topped with a bow was 20 euro.


By this time, we've almost forgotten what we've come to this area for. And that's for the Pompidou. We get waylaid again at the Chou Chou happy hour. Or hours. It goes from 4pm until 10 pm. I have a ridiculously strong gin fizz.


 I'm intent on forcing some culture on us. If only Thomas Chatterton Williams could see us unravelling the very fabric of French culture with our mall trips, lunch at McDonalds (7.15 euro for a Big Mac), and alcoholic drinks! Mon dieu! Unfortunately for him, there's not a roving prostitute or even a pharmacy to be seen around the near vicinity of the Pompidou. I sink the knife a little deeper by buying tickets to the museum and exhibitions but going to the bookshop first. And that is how I'm in the Pompidou Centre, wandering around le art with a book about Marie Laurencin and a La Marelle notebook. My sequencing is all wrong.


Inside, the Pompidou is like a really cool airport. I like how the escalators bulge out the side of the building, like veins popping out of its window-and-metal-framed skin. The view of the Eiffel Tower lit up at night makes this a pretty damn cool escalator ride.


On the first floor, there's all sorts of art school ***kery going on. And I mean that with fondness. I love this kind of stuff. One artist has lined up a selection of round things, from smallest to largest. There's misshaped protrusions sellotaped onto the sides of globes on one wall. There's a room linked with chalk paint and the attendant only admits two people at a time to draw or write.


For some reason, a person has hung tons of different coloured shoelaces all over a portable drying rack. The next day, Rob and I discuss where to buy new shoelaces for his boots. He says, "I know where to get them from! Remember! I saw them yesterday. Where did I see them..." I gently remind him those shoelaces he saw were part of an art installation and most possibly, not for sale.


 My two favourites were a video by Nira Pereg called "Sabbath" and an installation by Malachi Ferrel called "O'Black". The Pereg video was super simple, showing Orthodox Jewish boys and men standing on street corners in Israel, waiting for the Sabbath to start. To mark this occasion, they drag, lift and carry barricades along the street. No one's allowed to drive a car on the Sabbath, you see. Having been to Israel and seen the divide both for and against, I'm delighted to be able to understand what I think she's trying to say.


Pereg's presented this subject with a light touch that brings maximum impact. These men are guarding tradition, but she suggests there's a bit of futility and humour in it all. Sometimes, the barricades don't reach all the way. Some cars just go around. When those boys and men leave, their job done, it would be so easy to just take those barricades and put them back to the side of the road. However, I know that during the Sabbath, just a few streets away in East Jerusalem, for example, the traffic continues as normal. The only people in Jerusalem who would observe the purpose of those barricades are the people within its boundaries.


O'Black is best seen in person. It's a large room cordoned off by red tape. You know you're in a sweat shop by the row of washing machines, the clothes strewn everywhere, even on the floor, and the racks of chain store clothing on the wall. I know it's chain store clothing because I recognise tops from H&M and Mango. The sound of a battle fills the room, gun shots, planes buzzing overhead, and of an angry man shouting at people to work harder. At the same time, the chairs are falling and rattling, the sewing machines are intermittently spotlit and turn on and off, sounding like machine guns. The clothes racks slide clothes back and forth. Smoke spews from the floor and then suddenly, everything is silent and dark. You can watch it here.

As we leave, I say to Rob, "How many pieces of chain store clothing are you wearing?" I did a quick mental stocktake while I was in the room and came out very bad and very guilty. Art can make you feel really guilty, guys. I felt like I'd just been delivered a sermon without stepping foot in a church.

We're far too exhausted by now to fully appreciate the wonders of the second floor. We're like Picasso. Pollock. Dali. Kandisnky. O'Keefe. Super famous painting of weird looking skeletal lady with a black eye and a monocle. Whatevs. We speed through the Matisse's, as always, makes me stop. I regard an unfinished picture of Picasso back when he could still be bothered to represent things and people properly instead of at angles. So you can draw. Whatever, Picasso.


On the way back home, we pass a vintage store with its stock spilling out onto the street. A man, puffing a cigarette, acts as overseer. Back to our old metro nemesis, Chatelet.

locks for canals and locks on bridges

natural histories and unnaturally expensive vintage