Peter Brook in Paris

Awake late and a quick dash down to Starbucks for a pick-us-up. It was then off on a Paris Walk – 2nd edition by Fiona Duncan & Leo Glass (The only Paris Walking guide with aerial-view mapping) – courtesy of Yvonne, who loaned us the book. With Mirinda navigating we set off on Left Bank Impressions: St Germain-des-Pres to Musee d’Orsay.

We started off down narrow streets…actually most of it followed little back streets, passing obscure little shops like Deyrolle, where you can see stuffed animals from all over the world. There’s a rather surprised lion and lots of tiny budgies as well as a giraffe and an elephant! It’s a very odd shop but quite tasteful, especially the two foxes reclining with their glasses of champagne or the bear lounging on the sofa. Actually Deyrolle isn’t that obscure as it’s been around for 170 years. It’s truly an amazing sight. It looks like a museum but everything’s for sale, from the smallest butterfly to the largest mammal. There are little signs everywhere (in French AND English) asking people not to take photos!


We also stopped off at the hotel where Oscar Wilde died – Mirinda went inside to demand a tour of the room but they told her someone was staying there so we left with just a photo of me beside his plaque.

We visited a church – Mirinda had promised me – St Germain-des-Pres. In the small but very noisy garden there is a statue by Picasso, of the head of his friend Apollinaire which looks very blocky.


The church is a mish-mash of styles. It is the oldest in Paris (some of it dates from 542) but has been rebuilt and repaired, renovated and restored many times over the centuries. Descartes is buried here but his tomb is quite hard to read, being the centre panel of three beneath the head of Mabillon, whoever he was. Interestingly the tomb of John Casimir is massive but then he was a little more than a mere philosopher. He was the King of Poland and the abbot of Saint Germain at various times in his life.

At the beginning of the walk we managed to spot the workshop where Mr Guillotin perfected his cheese slicer on a few sheep. And as a supplemental to last year, we also saw where the Comedie Francaise started and where Moliere would take a coffee with his chums during breaks.

We finished the walk (a major & unexpected highlight was a talking lamp post), about 8 hours later, at the Musee D’Orsay where we had decided to view the impressionist works housed there but the queue put us off!

Musee D'Orsay

We went across the road into a lovely little bistro and had a late lunch of duck (with fried potatoes for Mirinda and in a quiche for me) followed by crème caramel. We decided to dine like the French and took about two hours, lingering over coffee. We left, figuring the queue would have decreased somewhat. It HAD in fact changed but not for the better. It was MASSIVE now. We decided it was for our next visit. It seems that Friday mornings in late November are the best for big places – like Notre Dame yesterday and the Louvre last year.

So rather than delving amongst the Monet’s and the Manet’s we decided to give the Metro a try. Ah, simplicity itself though perhaps not the smartest move. In walking to and from the stations, we actually walked about twice as far as if we had just walked back to the hotel. Never mind, it meant we built up an appetite for the yummy patisserie items we purchased on the way back.

A nice rest back in the room before venturing out to the theatre to see a Peter Brook production.

Back home, a few weeks ago, Mirinda discovered there was a Peter Brook production on during our weekend away. Being great admirers of his work (though having never seen any of it except in pictures in books) and in a fit of peak, we purchased tickets via the French only webpage of the Theatre des Bouffes du Nord. An email duly arrived, I printed it off and we crossed our fingers that we’d done it right.

Back in Paris, we left the hotel for the Metro (after asking the hotel receptionist where the theatre was and the best way to get there in a combination of French, English and hand signals) at Odeon. It was a lot more crowded, being a Saturday night, and we had to stand for a few stops but it wasn’t too bad. It was ten stops to Garde de Nord and we had to go under the river but it all turned out ok and we managed to stay dry.

As we started up the Rue du Faubourg it was obvious this wasn’t a particularly nice part of Paris. The homeless lining the street, the strong, overpowering smell of urine, the groups of disenchanted youth, the shop fronts neither in French or English. At first we thought we were lost but no, the theatre is at the end of the block, sat facing a railway overpass and a mass of middle eastern shop fronts. We were going to stop at a café to have a coffee before the show but all we could find were bars full of men. We wandered for a bit then headed back to the theatre instead.

At the ticket desk, our tickets were happily waiting. As I was being served, two girls were asking for tickets in English – they didn’t respond to the French so I assume, like us, they wouldn’t understand the play.

The theatre is a fantastic space. It’s an old theatre, with hints to its former glory, decaying in its foetid surroundings. The stage design for the play (Sizwe Banzi est mort) is very simple so the framework of the theatre is plain for all to see. It’s a great space for an actor! The seats are padded benches with a small backrest so it’s an awful space for a spectator.

As the clock ticked passed the start time (9pm) we saw a chap in a pale blue sleeveless sweater (who I reckoned was Peter Brook) remonstrating with a woman in the second row. Mirinda’s lip reading translation implied that the woman was waiting for someone and Mr Brook claimed they’d have to start anyway! As the late arrival finally arrived, so the play finally began.

We hadn’t realised but this was opening night. The actors were fantastic – there was only two of them – completely in the play and together. Needless to say we didn’t get any of the jokes. The two girls I’d seen at the ticket desk were sitting just across the aisle from us and spent a large part of the play fast asleep. Mirinda reckoned that one of them had ‘dwarfism’ of the head – and it’s true her head was strangely out of step with the rest of her body – and the other was pissed off at having to see a play spoken entirely in French. Perhaps they were theatre students who saw Peter Brook’s name and jumped at the chance of seeing his work without thinking they were in Paris…

Not sure why but it appears just bowing is not the go in Paris (at least at the Bouffes du Nord) as both actors spent all the applause holding their palms together as if in prayer or with their right hands placed over their hearts. Extremely pretentious if you ask me! Still, the play was good and we left very quickly.

Once more on the mean streets of north Paris, we quickly made our way back to the Metro entrance where we hopped on another crowded box back to Odeon. This time a freaky looking guy decided it was ok for HIM to smoke as long as he held the cigarette out the small window. Apparently the Metro is all non-smoking…unless you look like a freak when anyone will let you do anything you want.

At Odeon we decided to try one of the street side stalls selling crepes & gallettes. We both settled on cheese and ham and watched as the guy prepared them with panache and flair. As we stood and laughed every time the French guys said things, an American couple watched enthralled. The husband wanted a crepe but his wife wasn’t impressed and so they moved on. Although it was gone 10:30, Odeon was buzzing with life.

We wandered off up the hill looking for an orange juice. Decided instead to go to McDonalds and get shakes – very nice! Interestingly the McDonalds was very trendy; even the uniforms.

Were back in our room by about midnight.

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