Paris for a weekend
25th July 2020
By the 2nd June most restrictions had been lifted to some extent and life was returning to some form of normality. Much to my surprise my Canadian-Ukrainian friend Roman contacted me to say that he had managed to get into Paris and would be around for a while before heading to his family in Kyiv.
Did I fancy heading down to Paris for a long weekend ? The Covid figures looked encouraging so I said yes and we agreed on the last weekend on July — giving me time to pop over to see the family in England.
The quick and painless trip down to Paris on the TGV was my first confrontation with masks on transport but it didn’t bother me greatly. Once we were out of the Gare du Nord it was possible to take it off and we decided to walk down to the hotel he had organised for me near the Place Clichy. That took about half an hour and gave me a chance to get a view of how Parisians were adapting to the measures in place. For a vast city of millions I was actually impressed by their acceptance of the rules. On buses and the Métro it was difficult when things got crowded but you could still see people trying to make an effort to keep away from others.
Having got me booked into the hotel we walked back up to Clichy and grabbed a very basic pizza. This was the first time that I had found myself surrounded by a lot of people in months. Although we were in the open air I was glad to get out and get on the move again. My friend Hilary and I had made a trip to Arras a few days earlier and sitting outside on the place there had felt a lot more roomy.
The thing about Roman is that he tends to walk everywhere and having lived, on and off, for years in Paris he knows all sorts of interesting places. One such place and only a twenty minute walk away was the Musée Cernuschi. Henri Cernuschi was an interesting chap. An Italian economist, he moved to Paris and made his fortune. As an ardent republican he found himself at loggerheads with the 2nd Empire and temporarily moved to Switzerland. After the defeat of Napoleon III he moved back again and undertook a voyage to Japan and China in 1871.
At a time when getting into those countries was still very difficult for westerners he found himself fascinated by the culture and (because he was rich enough to do so) acquired about 5,000 pieces of art and these form the basis of the museum — housed in the mansion he had built on his return.
Many of the items are quite small, pieces of porcelain or bronze, small drawings and paintings, but the one piece that you cannot miss is in the central room. A large Buddha sits on high giving his benediction to all that pass below. The statue had survived a fire at its temple in Tokyo and Cernuschi by all accounts paid 500 gold coins for it.
Down below and facing him is an incense burner in the shape of a dragon. Both pieces coming from the Edo period — and until I looked it up I hadn’t known that Edo was the former name of Tokyo.
Leaving Asia behind us we walked through the Parc Monceau towards the Arc de Triomphe and on towards the Eiffel Tower. Considering that this was the end of July, the streets of Paris seemed quite deserted. There were people about but it was only on arriving at the base of the tower that we finally saw anything like crowds of people.
And we walked on, down passed the École Militaire and round the back of the Invalides. Wandering along I noted the name Avenue Ségur which rang a bell because we had, had a Ségur de la santé, which (following discussions between the Health Ministry and the Unions) had resulted in a number of salary increases and one off payments to health staff. The rather nondescript building alongside was indeed the Ministère de la Santé. A bit further along we came across the statue to Général Mangin, looking every bit as stern as his nickname of “the butcher” would suggest.
And on we walked with the sky getting ever more miserable, which was a shame because we eventually reached the Parc Kellerman down near the Porte d’Italie which would have been really pretty in some sunshine. Actually it would have been nice to have been able to sit down on a dry seat, but sadly, it wasn’t to be.
Thankfully we appeared to have reached our destination and we entered the Asian quarter where, finally, we sat down at a small Vietnamese restaurant where Roman appeared to be a regular. We ordered some nibbles and the Pho soup. When it arrived I could see why Roman had suggested that we wouldn’t really need anything else. It was a blow out, to the point that on leaving, despite having walked across Paris that afternoon, I needed to walk the meal off. We made it as far as the Jardin des plantes and crossed the bridge, where we picked up the Métro.
Reaching my hotel we parted company as he headed for his and we decided on a reasonably late start for the following morning. I wanted a decent breakfast as we were off to more museums.
Posted : 25 July 2020