On Thursday morning I did an emergency wash at a laundromat just a few doors down the street from the hostel. While the machines ran I read my book and assisted a couple American girls who couldn’t get detergent out of the coin-operated dispenser. In the end I just gave them some of mine.
I picked up some bread, cheese, sliced turkey and fruit, and took the train to the neighbourhood of Les Halles. There’s an enormous shopping complex there, the Forum, and it’s is a maze of escalators, fast food stands, side exits, front exits, emergency exits and modern teenage fashion. I stumbled out somewhere near my intended destination, the Jardin du Forum des Halles, a small park near the shopping Forum. I sat at a bench and ate my lunch with a keen eye on the pigeons and crows that had their keen eyes trained on my lunch.
As I walked East towards the Centre National d’Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou (or Centre Georges Pompidou), I found the real flavor of the Les Halles area, where cafes, bakeries and restaurants coalesce with street vendors, street performers and merchandise shops. The large concrete courtyard in front of the Georges Pompidou was also a meeting place of it’s own, but mostly for teenagers with nothing else to do.
Depending on who you talk to, the Centre Georges Pompidou is either the most brilliant architectural masterpiece or an eyesore. It almost looks like the building was turned inside-out, putting the structural framework and walkways on the facade instead of hidden inside it’s walls. It’s most famous design points are the enclosed escalators that run up the front of the building.
I bought a ticket but even as I made my way up to the top floor, I wondered what kind of staying power I had for yet another museum visit. Even though I was incredibly excited to finally get to visit one of the most important art and cultural centers in Europe, having spent more than 10 hours in museums over the last couple days, I didn’t think my body had the strength. On top of that, it was a beautiful day and I didn’t want to spend it all indoors.
I chose the exhibits I most wanted to see and took them one at a time. There was a fascinating discussion on the progression from Post-Impressionism to Cubism and Futurism, including all of their smaller spin-offs. And even the permanent collection was extensive and no less impressive.
I quit after only a few hours and headed for the nearest train station. On my way I stopped at a bakery, of course, and picked up another loaf of bread. The problem with French bakeries is that they smell so goddamn delicious. Although I suppose that’s my problem with bakeries in general. It wasn’t very long before I caved, and even though it was late at night and supplies were running low, I found an interesting looking croissant labeled “croissant aux amandes,” or almond croissant. I even ordered in French, but the woman had to break into English when I couldn’t figure out that she was asking if I wanted the loaf sliced.
On my first step outside the shop, I tore off a piece of the croissant and allowed myself a taste. It was supposed to be dessert, and I didn’t want to spoil my appetite. When that first mouthful hit my tastebuds and the flaky, buttery, sugary delight dissolved into pure pleasure, I became a changed man. I had never tasted something that good. And that’s saying a lot. I vowed to keep eating croissants aux amandes until I became an obese diabetic.
I took the train to the Charles de Gaulle – Etoile stop. I walked around the Arc de Triomphe until I could find a view unobstructed by streelights and trees. The roundabout looked hellish, and it made me think of Clark Griswold trying to escape one in London.
I spied a group of people and what looked like a military band in the center, which is accessible via an underground tunnel. There’s a museum inside the Arc which houses some history of the monument, etc, etc, but I was only concerned with standing under it outside. Unfortunately, even to emerge from the tunnel to stand under the Arc you need to buy a museum ticket, so I balked.
The Etoile sits at one end of the famous Champs-Elysees. I didn’t do much more than window-shop at most of the high-end stores, but I did duck into one to examine some of their hats. I expected every shop to be of the Armani/Gucci/Versace brand and exorbitantly expensive (for example, in the window of the Mont Blanc store sat a $2,000 pen), but the street featured some pretty simple stuff too, like Adidas and Kangol.
I made it all the way down the Champs-Elysees until I reached the Petit Palais, which was featuring a special exhibit on the Impressionist Masters. I considered it for a moment, but for some reason all I could hear in my head was for god’s sake no more French Impressionism …
So I got on a train at the Champs-Elysees-Clemenceau station and went back to the hostel.