Being under dressed at Marty’s

Up and down to breakfast at 9:30 – we are getting very French in our habits. A delicious coffee once more then off to the Jardin des Plantes.

Back in the 1600s, this was a scientific herbal garden and it is still very formal and you are shouted at if you smell the flowers too closely. The grass is, quite frankly, a bit ill. I think this is because humans are not allowed to tread on it. I think it’s also because the French have no idea what to do to get a good lawn, obsessed as they are with gravel. Anyway, the whole place is very regimented with thousands of plants in neat orderly little rows growing between two avenues of trees.

Along one of the avenues, a series of blocks have been placed at equal-ish intervals, each with a number on it. These denote millions of years. At various points along these blocks, larger blocks describe what is happening at this time. The blocks go from now back to the creation of the Earth 3.8 billion years ago and further to the Big Bang. It’s a lot of fun and all, of course, in French.

Time sections marked off in the Jardin des plantes, Paris

At the head of the garden sits Buffon, a wise man who claimed the universe was not created by a mythical god but rather by mechanical means, while at the other end is a quizzical Larmarck probably confused by his being proclaimed the father of evolution on the sandstone beneath his feet. Having walked one end to the other we then decided to check out the zoo.

Buffon statue in Jardin des plante, Paris

Built just after the Revolution it is a bit old in its approach to animal housing. It suffers from the old fashioned need to house wild animals in concrete and behind iron bars. Mostly it’s unpleasant. However, we tried ignoring that and tried to work out what the animals were given that everything was written in French. Antilope & Emeu are pretty easy (though I have to wonder why they felt the need to add the second ‘e’ in emu) but what the hell is a mara? Or a daim?

Fortunately we missed out on visiting the vivarium – it was full of screaming kids – as the Rough Guide describes it as ‘stinky’. There was a very interesting display of the wildlife of an atoll in the Seychelles housed in the rotunda. Some absolutely fantastic wildlife photography AND I managed to score 15 out of 16 in the quiz! It just goes to show that animals look much better in their native environment.

We sat in the zoo café and had crepes and coffee before heading out to the Natural History Museum so I could visit the Gallery of Evolution. While the museum has made excellent use of the old stuffed animals they had hanging around, the story of evolution is not so excellent. The story of how the story of evolution started is very slight and there’s only a very few fossils. Still, it was fun and the kids seem to like it.

Examples of early life based on fossil finds, Natural History Museum, Paris

As we stepped out into the daylight once more, Mirinda decided we’d have lunch at the mosque, which is just across the road. While internally I groaned, knowing there’d be no beer, I happily followed her in. What a fab place. It was like being at some oasis in the desert (though without beer), surrounded by all nationalities. The food was excellent (a sort of Moroccan version of the Cornish pasty, an avocado & prawn salad followed by very sweet pastries and mint tea) and the sparrows were extraordinary in how much they loved the couscous.

The women at the table next to us were Spanish. They pointed to things on the menu and asked the waiter what they were. He didn’t speak Spanish or Italian, which they did but he did have some English. They pointed at agneau and he said ‘lamb’. They had no idea what this lamb thing was either so he loudly bleated ‘baa, baa’! I’m not sure they figured it out even then though everyone else in the place did.

Another lady, sitting alone at the end of the row of round tables, was sharing her couscous with a flock of hungry little sparrows. They were also quite a picky lot as they preferred the couscous on her plate rather than the spilled stuff on the table top.

The sparrows were quite amazing. They flew and swooped, deposited little parcels on people and basically acted like the owned the place. Obviously it didn’t have a roof.

After lunch we headed off for the Shakespeare and Co bookshop, a very famous Parisian shop selling English books. On the way we managed to find the beginning of the gay pride march which, apparently was taking place in Paris today. Though nothing like as fabulous as the Mardis Gras in Sydney, it was very loud and very crowded as it wended it’s snaky way through the streets wide and narrow. There was a very large crowd of people following and generally walking alongside the few floats.

We watched for a bit, and I managed to get a picture of a rather alluring Jesus, then continued on our way, stopping at a café in order for me to have the beer I’d missed out on in the mosque. We stopped down near the Seine and had a great view of Notre Dame and of hundreds of tourists buying tacky souvenirs from the many stalls along the wall. Most of them were wearing odd red and yellow baseball caps. We thought they must have been some American tour group and this was their identification so they didn’t get too lost. They were, actually, French but what the caps meant I don’t know. Though I do think they were to help find straying members of the group.

Tourists with red and yellow caps near Notre Dame, Paris

We then spent a lovely half hour in the bookshop, buying books we don’t need. It was then time to head back to the hotel for a siesta before dinner. This was considerably easier to say than to do. Because of the march which could still be heard echoing around the streets, we were hemmed in on all sides by tourists and gay pride marchers. The streets were very busy. We ended up walking down by the river where, although lots of tourists still wandered, it was relatively sparse.

We sat and had ice creams while students painted various views of the Seine. We eventually tried to head back to the Mouff but once more collided with the march which had been going for hours. We gritted our teeth and dived through the crowd. I was quick enough to spot a Valkrie but that was all and we were soon climbing a very steep hill.

Today the Mouff was very different. It was alive with people. Even the Contrescarpe looked better surrounded by people, hiding most of the garbage. There was an odd little man playing a small upright piano on wheels where yesterday the post van was getting all road ragey.

FINALLY we made it back to the hotel, eight hours after we’d left – that’s a long time for us. We rested our feet in cold water.

A delicious dinner was had at Marty’s, just down the Blvd Gobelins. I felt terribly underdressed but Mirinda had to have her oysters so I swallowed my embarrassment (eventually) and settled down to a delicious, expensive meal. After feeling somewhat out of place, I engaged in some happy repartee with the waiter and soon forgot my discomfort. The food was fantastic.

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