It has been a wonderful Sunday, profitably spent achieving nothing in particular. I set off across the river with the vague image of lunch somewhere in the Marais. First stop is shopping: a new pair of sunglasses (after 10 years I figure I can replace my old pair). I find the Ray-Bans I’m looking for in the grand but soulless shopping centre under the Louvre.
Thence eastwards by Vélib along the rue St Honoré into the 4th arrondissement. A halt outside the Hôtel de Ville allows time to locate the nearest Vélib parking station (yes, there is an iPhone app), where I drop the bicycle and head by foot into the narrow streets north of rue de Rivoli.
The 3rd and the northern section of the 4th arrondissements meander in a tight web towards Place de la République. No particular route through the quartier seems faster than any other, and you stumble across ramshackle hôtels particuliers and little green squares around every second corner.
The street names betray the mediaeval origin of this part of town. On the corner on rue des Hospitaliers Saint-Gervais et rue des Francs Bourgeois I stop at Le Voltigeur for a light lunch – coffee, croque-monsieur and salad. I read some Robert Sabatier while Bill Evan’s final album plays in the background. His version of Suicide is Painless takes on extra weight with the knowledge of his death within months of the recording.
Further north, in the heart of the 3rd arrondissement, rooflines jostle for position as if thrown up for the décor of a stage production.
Away from the busy pedestrian streets, little reminders of an older Paris can still be found. Sometimes, you almost believe you’re somewhere in the “real” France, and you ponder what that phrase “real France” might actually mean.
Here and there, at the angle of a street where plane trees sprout energetically amidst the yellow stone, you get the impression that you are an intruder upon the afternoon calm of a village, where discretion is the better part of valour. This is the Paris I am coming to love – secretive and surprising in its silence even in the heart of the city.
Outside the Mairie of the 3rd arrondissement, I find a Vélib to take me south again to the familiar shores of the Left Bank. Across the Pont Neuf, a right turn onto Quai Conti, past the Pont des Arts and the gendarmes outside Jacques Chirac’s apartment, back to the street where the local accordionist has arrived for an afternoon of wine and approximate melodies.