Mirinda was determined to visit a Parisian department store and her wish was fulfilled. Walking up to the Galeries Lafayette was nice enough until you get outside the three huge corners of shopping bedlam. Thousands of people had decided that this morning, upon waking, they would try as hard as possible to jostle me. A lot of them were very successful. For me, a highlight amid oh so many lowlights, was the enormous Christmas tree in the centre, leading up to the ornately painted ceiling – a cathedral to shopping. Indeed, on the ground floor, the various concessions are arranged along the side like so many little chapels and shrines. The symbolism is all so obvious!
From the 3rd floor we fought our way outside onto the non-smoking, non-covered walkway that transports you into the men’s store – yes, a whole store for men – so I could buy a bow tie I’d forgotten. Mirinda figured she may as well buy a scarf while we were there.
Eventually we were once more outside and tried to admire the animated Christmas window displays. Among the many impossible to get to, we spotted one with a bunch of green cow-frogs washing a girl in a bath with a little too much enthusiasm. Easily my favourite had Britney standing on the steps of a plane singing Toxic while on board and at each round window sat a number of slightly sinister Noddies.
The lights were all very pretty and very festive. We popped into a handy C&A (still alive and well in Paris) so I could buy the belt I’d also forgotten, then fell, exhausted into a café for a latte. All too much for me.
After a bit of a rest we set off in search of the ‘passages’. These are indoor shopping arcades full of odd little shops. They date back to 19th century Paris when it was considered an alternative to mud. We found passage Jouffroy, which we particularly wanted to find as there’s, coincidentally, a Jeffrey’s Passage in Guildford.
The shops in these passages are pretty unique, from a shop that sells (exclusively) all sorts of home wares for doll’s houses to AM Segas’ eccentric walking cane shop. This was a much better shopping experience, I have to say! No where near as many people and so much variety. And, thankfully, the secondhand book store was all in French.
We couldn’t resist popping into a patisserie (for some later enjoyment) before returning to the boulevard and finding a café for lunch. Today I steered clear of the horse and went, instead for the budgie on toast. Being so small, you actually have two. The sauce, being French, was particularly lovely. Mirinda was boring and had salad.
It was then more wandering down through more passages until we came out at the Palais Royale. This is at the back of the Comedie Francaise and was once the palace of Cardinel Richelieu. He wouldn’t recognize it now as most of the present building was constructed in the 18th century. The open area of arcades and colonnades was once home to gambling dens and brothels but is now the haunt of skating kids and weird art student look-a-likes – nothing new there then.
Now the most striking feature is the odd stripey columns. These are the work of Daniel Buren in 1986 and Paris is divided over their artistic merit. Another lovely piece of art is the steel balls sculpture of Paul Bury. These modern artworks seem strangely in keeping with the 18th century architecture and lend an air of oddness to the whole place.
I spotted a bizarre shop so immediately selected and bought Karen a Christmas present from a lovely lady. She spoke to me in French and when I asked if she spoke English she replied ‘a little’. She then asked if I spoke French to which I replied ‘less than a little’ in English. Still, we managed. I had a problem with ‘red coated fish’ but with a combination of pointing, poisson & rouge, I managed to get my message across.
We then walked through the Louvre but above ground this time – still crowded but a lot easier when you can see the sky. Mirinda was tempted to stroll around the Ile de Cite but fatigue won the day and we wound up in a café that sits, lonely and crowded in by vast quantities of the plant and pet shops on the Quai de la megisserie. Mirinda pondered on that eternal question “But who would buy that 20 foot palm tree in the heart of Paris?” I patiently explained that it had started life as a seedling and never been moved. There’s NEVER much call for a palm tree in the heart of Paris.
After vanilla and caramel lattes we wandered up by the Forum des halles which was very, very, very crowded and definitely not for stopping at! A woman accosted Mirinda with a tentative “Do you speak English?” After the affirmation, she squealed “Where is the water?” as if she’d been searching for days and finally found someone who understood her. Mirinda pointed and said “That way.” And she was gone. Mirinda assumed she’d meant the Seine. Perhaps she should have asked “Still or sparkling?“
On the way back to our hotel we popped into the Roman Catholic church of St Roch. A nice, generally ignored by tourists, dark and foreboding kind of place which means no-one visits. It was lovely. St Roch is the patron saint of plague and disease and is, apparently, popular in France. He died around 1380 though there is no accurate dates for anything! A rather lovely legend has him getting the plague and wandering off into the woods rather than take up a bed that could be used by someone else. As he lay in a clearing, dying, a dog appeared with a piece of bread in its mouth. This he gave to the saint. The dog returned many times, having stolen the bread from its master’s table and fed the saint back to health. If only they’d thought sooner to use bread soaked in dog saliva as a cure for the plague…
Mirinda sat on a chair while I went for a wander. I found a St Sebastien hidden round a corner but have no idea who painted it. Of course, as we all know, St Seb is also a saint whose name is invoked against the plague (and many other pestilential scourges) so should feel quite at home with St Roch! The church also has a fantastic painted ceiling. The twelve stations of the cross are represented by 6 little chapels down each side, each with it’s own frieze. After an extensive wander I went back to collect Mirinda and we headed back to our room for some tasty pastries and preparation for tonight’s adventure at the Moulin Rouge!
Well, all I can say is “Amazing.” What an experience. Like Oberammergau, it’s the sort of thing everyone should see. Only once. But let me take you through it.
We hailed a taxi in the place Vendome which crawled up to Lafeyette where the traffic was chockas! The Christmas lights along the Gallerie were fantastic, though more than a little like stained glass windows, giving even more of an impression of a cathedral to shopping! It took an age but we finally pulled up opposite the famous windmill (why a windmill? Moulin = mill and it’s red, other than that I have no idea) and we hopped out of the taxi and crossed the many streets to join the very long queue to get in.
Thinking I was Ewan McGregor, I wore my tux and bow tie. Apart from the head waiters, I was the only one who made an effort. Still, I felt pretty special…apart from the shoes. God I hate wearing proper shoes.
Eventually we entered the building and were shunted from person to person until we found ourselves sitting right at the front on the end of a table of Germans. At this point I was on the edge of the dance floor with my back against the side of the stage. Dinner was served while we were entertained by a band, a woman singer and Leo Sayer, masquerading as a French version of Jud – or so Mirinda said. I reckoned he was more like a white Lionel Richie. Whatever he looked like, whenever he forgot the words he’d sing “Scooby, doobie, doobie, doo”.
The food was not THAT good; not bad just dull. Except my entrée which was a particularly yummy avocado mousse which I might try and copy…one day! The band kept playing as we sipped champagne and the singers kept pronouncing English in a vaguely incomprehensive way. And talk abut a tough crowd. Not only did they have to entertain through eating and talking but also a group up the back suddenly broke into a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday.
But eventually the ordeal was over and the room had filled up. The lights dimmed and a waiter came along and told us to sit back off the dance floor. Then the stage moved out! I was now sitting in the corner with no-where to go. So no going to the toilet for me. Just before the show started a waiter asked the Germans if they’d like a drink. The Germans didn’t speak English or French or Italian or Spanish which were all the languages the waiter had so he wandered off to find one who spoke German. This he managed to do and the German ordered a beer. A word that sounds exactly the same in SO many languages.
Ah, but it was time for the show to start and with a flurry and a flounce, girls appeared from everywhere, whipping about my head with feathered abandon and rayon. Breasts abounded and thighs strutted. A feather landed on my head, making the German next to me sigh “If only it had been me!” but in German. I kept the feather and it’s now glued pleasantly in my journal.
From here on in, we were entertained by dance after dance, spingle after spangle and more breasts than a chicken abattoir. The girls were all fantastic dancers and the guys were pretty good too though the pirate costumes looked awfully gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The same could not be said about the strange dance of the Siamese twins which really stretched the bounds of taste somewhat. Truly bizarre.
Dotted among the high stepping, bare breasted, dancing we were entertained by the Pere Brothers, Eric Boo and an amazing unicycle guy whose name does not appear in the programme! The Pere Brothers do this incredible balancing thing where one holds the other in the air…upside down…one handed…on his head! Unbelievable. It’s impossible to describe the strength and power.
The unicycle guy did some amazing juggling, throwing cups and saucers onto the top of his head, using one foot, while peddling his 10′ unicycle with the other. He dropped a few but I reckon he does this on purpose to build the suspense and bigger applause.
Eric Boo was a mime who made noises. After driving his invisible car – very funny – he collected four people from the audience to make fools of themselves. He was very funny and had a lot of laughs with the Japanese guy.
It was an incredible show but the highlight for me was when the stage moved back during the show to reveal a big fish tank with huge snakes floating about in it. This rose well over head height and one of the dancers dived in and swam about with them. It was pretty obvious she was going in but that didn’t prevent the German woman beside Mirinda from shrieking. Apart from the snakes I loved the cancan and feel they could have ended on this but for some obscure, maybe-you-have-to-be-European_to_understand reason, we suddenly copped a full throttle Eurovision song contest type segment which included I Will Survive. Now that was weird.
But let’s not forget the Shetland ponies. There’s a circus number where the dancers lead out six little ponies. Very cute, very odd.
The final number included everyone on the stage (there were 100s) all in pink. Lots and lots of pink. It was a world of pink in a pink world. It must be how Barbie sees her world. Totally pink-ed out we left, passing the next audience crowded into the foyer grimly waiting. No food for these guys, just fluff and breasts…and lots of pink. The waiters were going mad, resetting everything – the change over is very fast and very well practiced.
Outside, we walked down Rue Blanche for a while – the hotel desk clerk warned us about getting a cab outside the club. Personally I can’t see how anyone could get a cab outside the Moulin Rouge! There was a LOT of people. We found a cab eventually and were back in our room very quickly.
I sat writing the above at 12:30, realizing the dancers were still going! Boy do they earn their money. The funniest part of the whole experience was how much the Moulin Rouge programme resembles Spirit of the Horse…
One final thing…I snapped this photo especially for Bob, knowing how much he LOVES lingerie display windows…