Yesterday I wrote about my favorite things to do in Paris and asked for readers to respond with ideas of their own. Well, I got lucky. John Brosky, formerly of Grand Rapids, Mi shared his thoughts and generously agreed to let me post them here. He is a free lance writer living in Paris with his French wife and clearly knows his way around the City of Light. This will make you want to book your ticket.
Even after 9 years here, my wife and I also do what you call ‘touristy’ things because the city is so rich, visually stimulating and culturally diverse (we like to say ‘cosmopolite’) that it is continually surprising us and forever inspiring visits to familiar places.
We take the Batobus as well; I often pass over, but like you not often ‘into,’ the Louvre because quite simply it stuns me every time. The Pompidou Expressway that runs through the heart of Paris is closed all summer and converted to Paris Plage (Paris Beach), which is major fun for walking, skating or riding a bike with a lot of unexpected fun spots, like pétanc courts, beach volleyball, cafés, and wading pools.
We like to wander the meandering halls of the simple Musée Carnavalet in the Marais because it is dedicated to the city and its people, and it is a very short walk from our apartment. Throughout the summer there is a music stage set up in front of the town hall for the 3rd district offering a wildly varied musical program. We are drawn by the corny sounds of the old French songs from between the wars as that means the evening is dedicated to the spirit of the ‘guinguette.’ These were the little bistros, often improvised, set up along the Marne or the Seine with Chinese lanterns and music and dancing. In front of the town hall where we vote and next to the little Parc du Temple that is the neighborhood ‘green pocket’, we find ourselves surrounded by neighbors and the regulars from the PMU cafe, including the ‘patronne’, dancing and singing along to old songs.
For your young film friend a couple things come to mind. The north end of the Marais has become the very hip place for the filmmakers, graphic artists and upcoming fashion designers. It is very much the place to see people and be seen, but in a very relaxed context. The cafes Le Progrès (Vieille du Temple at rue de Bretagne) is very popular and La Perle (Vieille du Temple at rue des Quatre Fils) next to the Picasso Museum is often overflowing to the point of blocking the intersection in the evenings.
Le Marché des Enfants Rouges (rue Charlot at Bretagne) is Paris’ oldest market, just a tiny thing tucked among some buildings, including my own. But it has become terribly hip (terrible for we riverains who are glad for the success of the petits commercants, but sad to lose the treasure we had to ourselves). It is like a food court with the various vendors and it is the place to grab a table (get there early) and watch the dynamic youngish (under 40) crowd.
Don’t be fooled by the baby carriages. We are having a baby boom in France. Even the trendiest artist is encumbered by toddlers. That, too, seems to be cool. Sundays up along the St. Martin Canal you will find massive impromptu picnics of friends gathering along the quai, playing guitars, singing, sharing food and drink. Chez Prune at Beaurepaire and the canal is a famous meeting spot.
Finally, I would tell your friend to head for Bercy and cross the river on the new Simone de Beauvoir pedestrian bridge. On the other side at the foot of the national library along the Seine there is a kind of ‘annex’ to the Paris Beach, but this one oriented to cafes and bistros. The terrace cafe in front of the BatoPhar (lighthouse boat) serves wonderful rotisserie dishes and just two good table wines, one red, the other white. It is a lot of fun to bicycle down there and then join in a samba dance class (à la américane with the leader sporting a microphone headset singing out step instructions, in French, of course). And back across the footbridge, if you have never visited the Parc Bercy you are in for a treat. The most original park in Paris, nearly wild compared to the traditional, structured French Garden style.