Why I feel like an outsider in Paris

SO many of our well-travelled friends say, “Paris is my favourite city in the world.” I wish it were mine too, but it isn’t.

I love its charm, excitement and layers of culture but, on other hand, I feel an outsider.

No, the Parisians don’t make me feel an outsider even though they have a reputation for being aloof and snobbish. The “outsiderness” is all mine.

It would make a huge difference if I spoke and read French but, alas, I wasted my two years studying French at the Townsville State High School. (Mucking up in Mabels’s classes would be a better description than studying).

Judith slips into Paris with grace and ease because her French is immaculate: she can read the newspapers, street signs and menus and she can discourse with the gallery staff, metro attendants, waiters and booksellers while I hang around like a paysan.

That said, it’s a city in which I can comfortably spend day after day walking and exploring. Je suis content.

Pages of history

To the Musee Carnavalet, a museum a stone’s throw away from where we are staying, which is dedicated to the history of Paris and its people.

It is housed in the magnificent Hotel Carnavalet which dates from 1548 and incorporates other historic buildings and enchanting enclosed gardens.

The exhibition celebrating the French Revolution, the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the storming of The Bastille and the paintings/statues of great revolutionary figures such as Danton, Robespierre, Saint-Just, Marat and Desmoulins is my highlight.

Crowds of visitors move respectfully through the rooms as if in a cathedral.

Vive Danton!

In the Boulevard St Germain we stop for a beer and a sandwich at a café called Le Danton. In front stands a towering bronze statue of the revolutionary leader and Justice Minister with a plaque carrying one of his quotations: “To defeat the enemies of the fatherland we need audacity (l’audace), more audacity and always audacity.”

The café is a rip-off and so was Danton’s head. On April 15, 1794, he was guillotined. Before the blade fell he said to his executioner: “Don’t forget to show my head to the people. It’s well worth seeing.”

If he knew his grim fate would Danton have remained a revolutionist? I don’t think he would because he saw his actions as an expression of historical necessity. Karl Marx answered this way:

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.”

Plonk disaster

Trying out my primitive French at a restaurant, I ordered a bottle of wine: “Une bouteille de vin, Sancerre, s’il vous plait.”

I was feeling rather pleased with myself until the waiter demanded. “Rouge au blanc?”

Don’t these people know that there is only one variety of Sancerre and it’s white?

Judith comes to my rescue.

I can now inform you that Sancerre is a wine-growing district in the Loire Valley and while it is true that it is famous for white wine of the Sauvignon Blanc variety it also produces a red from the Pinot noir family.

The Jean Bart café next door to our lodging has a sign promoting Sancerre rouge as its Wine of the Month. I can attest to its fine quality.

Bons amis a Paris

Michael (Mike) Newman is a Sydney University alumni, very briefly a Sydney Morning Herald journalist and for remainder of his career a tireless and inventive educator working in the public adult education sector. He recently stepped down from fulltime work and he and wife Joelle (who is French) happen to be in Paris at the same time as us. Quelle surprise!

Mike takes us to a courtyard café in the Village St Paul, the former gardens of Charles V and one of his favourite haunts, where we talk about lost days in London in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and old friends. My former partner, Joy, was one of Mike’s closest friends when they were all involved in theatre at Footlights and the Independent in North Sydney. Think Leo Schofield, Brian Tapply, David Spode, Germaine Greer among many other remarkably bright people of that generation.

When we lived in Bondi, Mike and Joelle were in Paddington and we never saw them at all. Makes you worry about the compartmentalised lives that we used to lead.

Suzi in China

When Susan Owens announced seven years ago she was leaving Fairfax in Sydney to start a new career in Paris there was bewilderment and envy. After a highly successful career on The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun-Herald writing with style and elegance chiefly, but not exclusively, about fashion, she wanted to work at the centre of the world’s haute couture.

On the whole, journalists are an ungenerous lot and with the exception of very loyal friends like Colleen Ryan, Candace Sutton and others, her Parisian adventure was regarded as frivolous and too risky.

Au contraire, Suzi is immersed in the life of the city and its historic provinces writing exquisite reports for The Australian Financial Review.

She has also masterminded a brilliant website on Parish fashion directed at the booming Chinese market. Her commitment to the project has been selfless and thoroughly admirable and she has already attracted the interest of the top fashion houses because her judgment is so highly regarded.

If anyone can sell Parisian high fashion to the Chinese, it’s our Suzi.

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