For this film for Eurostar, I switched off my phone and poked my nose around the city the old-fashioned way—by asking people I met along the way for advice.
Exploring for pleasure is a uniquely human trait. St Pancras was the start of an adventure where my aim was to switch off and connect with Parisians. During my journey to the French capital, instead of scrolling through my phone, I absorbed French sights, sounds and flavours from the pages of City-Lit Paris, a collection of bon mots from authors such as Marcel Proust, Joanne Harris and Gertrude Stein. At Gare du Nord, I planned my public transport the old-fashioned way – by running my finger along the map on the wall and furrowing my brow. At a kiosk, I enquired after a good café. “Parlez-vous anglais?” I asked the newsagent. “This is France, speak French,” he scolded.
An art student steered me to the garden at the Musée des Archives Nationales but since the gates at the Archives were shut, I asked a shopkeeper if he could suggest an interesting exhibition. Miming someone shooting a rifle, he proposed the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature. His charades seemed strange but I went with it – that was the point of this exercise. Wait. THE MUSEUM OF HUNTING? But I was right to trust him – otherwise, I’d never have sought out this wonderfully quirky mansion and its eccentric collection of exotic taxidermy and bonkers artworks, old and new. Where for lunch? I paused in a square where a girl proposed Marché des Enfants Rouges on Rue de Bretagne. How have I never been sent to this tiny 17th-century covered market off a street lined with bric-à-brac sellers before? While folks filled their shopping trolleys with groceries from the fruit and vegetable stalls, I sat at a counter for just-made Lebanese food. Belleville was next, and I was pointed uphill for views that beat any from the Sacré-Coeur. (And it’s a quarter blissfully free of hawkers and pushy portrait painters.)
At Chez Prune on the Canal-Saint-Martin, people-watching gave way to chatting art, politics and neuroscience with the bistro’s lively regulars. A neighbourhood nightcap has us debating how the brain needs to be flexed by curiosity, logistics and conversation and all too often in the digital age we forget to make human connections. My new-found 'travel state of mind' had been refreshing and my day in Paris had also felt good for the soul.
Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature 2 Rue des Archives (chassenature.org)
Marché des Enfants Rouges 37 Rue de Bretagne (marchedesenfantsrougesfr.com)
Chez Prune 36 Rue Beaurepaire