The last few days of our Parisian holiday were open-ended and left to leisure, mood and whim. My friend had an interest in checking out the high-end boutiques that line the Champs-Elysées—especially Chanel where she hoped to pick up whatever was the cheapest item available—but gave up on this pursuit when she realized the sales staff could see us for the hokey Canadians we were, swiftly ignoring us while catering to the young, very wealthy, Asian clientele who actually had money to drop. H&M was welcoming though.
In the evening I took a slow stroll through the quiet backstreets of the 7th arrondissement, passing antique shops, used bookstores and other peddlers of Parisian history. I wondered about the original owners of the items (as well as their authenticity) when my eye caught several prints of Gustave Doré’s work that appeared to have been taken from a book. At a cost of 25 Euros each, the price wasn’t the issue so much as narrowing down which piece I wanted to decorate my home. But then my eye caught something else not as prominently displayed — the source itself, ‘La Bible’ illustrated by Gustave Doré. I quickly nabbed it. Regardless of price, THIS was to be my most prized souvenir from the trip. Books are a treasure. Weighing in at roughly 5lb, the 472-page hardcover book contains 241 of Doré’s wood-engraved illustrations. What a find! As this occurred after visiting his grave at Pere Lachaise, I couldn’t help but feel it was kismet.
Parisian drivers are insane. Another of the most memorable moments of my trip was when my friend and I, along with an older man, almost got hit by a car going through a red light. As it occurred, the older man jumped in front of the navy blue older model BMW and banged on the hood all while screaming obscenities at the driver. As they, in turn, made apologetic hand gestures towards us, the older man walked around to his window and started banging on it with even more fury. It was quite the show and not very common in friendly Canada.
As someone who walks the majority of the time, and am almost hit by a distracted driver at least once a week with no exaggeration, I didn’t blame him. His vocal defence of his life in this age of distraction is what I aspire to.
Exiting Pigalle metro station during daylight hours is a strange thing. Emerging onto a central boulevard, the first observation one might make are of the families strolling about with their children. The tree-lined green space of the boulevard provides a small, welcome respite for social gathering amongst the dense construction of the surrounding neighbourhood. As a woman, you might also notice the disproportionate number of men loitering and staring from each and every public bench. It can be a bit uncomfortable as you try and gather your bearings. But as the storefronts come into focus, you see that the contrast is far from wholesome. Businesses with names like “Sexodrome”, “Pussy’s” and the highly creative “Porno Shop” line the streets, with the Moulin Rouge and its iconic windmill being the primary attraction. For this is Pigalle, Paris’ famed sex district. My friend I decided to pay a visit while en-route to Sacre-Coeur Church.
We decided that “Sexodrome” seemed to be the most female-friendly (i.e. “not creepy”) establishment on the street. With five levels of merchandise, the store contained anything and everything one could possible desire for sexual intimacy (including a granny blow-up doll that advertised “no teeth” and a cock-and-balls kitchen apron that made me laugh so hard some of the more serious shoppers glared in my direction). My friend became interested in a rhinestone covered g-string that she referred to as a “tiara for my [redacted to keep this blog semi-classy]” but left empty-handed when we were told the only one available was displayed on a mannequin. There’s always floss and a bedazzler, I suppose. Traveling with a friend can give great inspiration for their future birthday gift.
The last day of our trip we visited the Palais Garnier, the very opulent Opera House in Paris that was inspiration for the musical ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Upon entering, one is greeted by a dark, violet-lit room with a subterranean feel mimicking the storied waterways that are said to exist beneath its structure. The higher levels you reach after climbing the Grand Staircase, such as the Grand Foyer, are as elaborate as Versailles; no matter how much gold I see, it always makes my jaw drop at how excessive it is. Literal floor to ceiling. It’s blinding. On this visit, there were even gold tires adorning the top of the Grand Staircase in celebration of the Paris E-Prix race that was days away.
It’s on my bucket list to attend a show here, in this baroque masterpiece. Unfortunately I was not able to see anything on this trip, although entering the balcony overlooking Place de l’Opera and watching Paris play out before me made me feel part of a greater performance of life.