Sketches of the Marais

Monumental Paris – the Louvre, the Arc d’Triumph, the Eiffel Tower – inspire awe. But the neighborhoods of Paris inspire devotion. Strolling the streets, lanes, and courtyards of the Marais, we stumbled on one treasure after another. Friends had alerted me, but nothing quite prepares you for the overwhelming sensory stimulation. I felt every inch of this neighborhood in my nerve endings. It was pure pleasure!

Our day began at L’Amuse Gueule over cappuccino and a latte.

From there, we continued up Rue de Francs Bourgeois and stumbled upon a small neighborhood park, Square Charles-Victor-Langlois, where residents were eating lunch on the weathered benches. The sparrows were feasting too! Chests fluffed, these intrepid little birds hopped at our feet, but then flocked to a neighboring bench for provender.

I was hoping for a St. Francis of Assisi moment, and our neighbor generously shared his sandwich with them. It is odd, the moments that stick, and this is one of them. Completely ordinary and utterly tranquil.

Mohammed clucked at the birds, and some hopped our way, but as soon as our neighbor left the park to return to his office, they ascended to the trees behind us.

From the park, we wandered along the street, window shopping. After several detours, including the delicious Ted Baker boutique, we made our way to the Place des Voges,  the oldest planned square in Paris. Perfectly symmetrical, with four identical fountains in the four corners, neat rows of plane trees that would make an obsessive compulsive proud, and identical townhouses ringing the square, it was peopled with picnickers and sun worshippers, and one older couple reading actual printed books!

Mohammed and I had each bought sketch books and it was lovely to get out from behind the iPhone and simply observe. Here are our drawings…

By then, we were hungry! We consulted our “nearby me” options and headed to Chez Janou, a Provençal bistro, a few blocks from the square. This little treasure is tucked away in a quiet corner, with an ivy-laden patio, and some of the brightest, most delicious food we have yet sampled. And, an all-you-can-eat turine of chocolate mousse. Incroyable!

We did not order this masterpiece, but a young couple two tables over did. They offered to share, since we had sensibly ordered the peaches with rosemary, and not the chocolate. While the peaches did not disappoint, the mousse was irresistible, so we accepted two heaping tablespoons and, voila, total bliss.

After a two-hour lunch, the norm in Paris, we wandered back to the square, and then to the Musee Carnavalet. There, we took refuge on a stone bench and watched as a group of school children scattered like our earlier sparrows among the plants and textile hangings. A teacher sternly called them to order.

After a brief rest, on we went, wandering into courtyards, shops, and hidden squares. By six o’clock, we were in a haze of sensory overload, and ambled home via the Seine, totally in love with Paris “on the ground.”