Quite a few years back, before I launched myself into the world of blogging, I was vibrant and busy. Squeezing every minute out of the day and life.
I loved to cook, enjoyed entertaining and embraced having people around me, which had me finding any old excuse to hold a dinner or a party.
That was until my world came tumbling down, an unexpected marriage break-up had me an emotional wreck. Everything in my life from then on was date stamped; before I kicked him out and after I kicked him out.
I traded my exuberant life for solitude.
Taking myself off to Paris to recuperate, afforded me time, without the added stress and responsibilities of day to day life to try to make sense of what had happened.
Being raw, emotional and lonely, seemed to re-activate primal senses.
Switching from a film camera to a brand spanking new digital camera had me rediscovering photography, something I had let fall by the way-side many years ago.
Every small detail was a new discovery and I had myself exploring Paris and myself in a way that I had never done before.
This was a new kind of solitary, not the solitary of shutting myself away but a solitary of self discovery and a new Paris that I was determined to find, not marred with memories of times gone by and Paris Adèle (the blog) was born.
Returning home to reality, brought back the unhealthy solitude and I craved for the healthy solitude I had experienced in Paris. Within months of my return, I had booked my next trip to Paris and the year after and the year after that and so it went on.
Slowly, very slowly, each year spending a month of self discovery in Paris, of Paris has had me on the mend, albeit at escargot pace but the shift was taking place.
Trust was a dirty word. Now a foreign concept and it didn’t fit comfortably in my being anymore, prickling my skin and judgement.
Although, I did test it from time to time, my vulnerable state had turned off my ability to detect the untrustworthy, stinging like a bee and piercing my pock-holed heart when my intuition failed me.
I would sink back into my shell.
However, last year the escargot grew some tiny thin legs and teetered a little further than usual. Perhaps my shell was becoming thinner, perhaps my ability to decipher the genuine from the not so genuine was breaking through.
Last year, sitting in a café, waiting at the table while Thérèse paid for our coffees, I wanted to tell her, no, I wanted to scold her; don’t do that!
Thérèse is a Paris Greeter. A volunteer, who offers her time to show tourists, like myself around the city of Paris. I later learned that I was her first client. We had met only a matter of minutes before. The amount of time that it took us to introduce ourselves, walk across the road to a cafe and drink a coffee.
Pulling out her wallet, she left her open bag on a chair beside me. Normally, in the past I would not have thought anything of it but with my lack of trust and the fact that my handbag had been stolen only a week earlier, I wanted to advise her this wasn’t a wise thing to do. She didn’t know me but she trusted me with her bag. Would she do this again with other strangers? Fearing that this would have given her reason for concern about me if I did mention to her to be more vigilant, I let it go unspoken.
Generally the Paris Greeter’s Walks last for an hour or so. Ours lasted all day. Six hours of discovering the 12th arrondissement of Paris, chatting about architecture, culture, history and ourselves.
Something had shifted inside me that day. A tapping away at the shell. A small thoughtful gesture of producing a clean plastic cup from her bag, enabling me to sample the Eau de Paris, as she called it, the fresh sparkling water from the city’s water fountain, chipped away at my outer layer a little more. It may sound a little strange but for me, something special happened to me that day, and it wasn’t just a wonderful day of discovering Paris, it was something more.
The kindness and trust of a stranger, had found it’s way to me like a slither of sunlight finds it’s way through the slats of a venetian blind.
What I didn’t know back then, is that this year, I would dine on chestnut soup and Choucroute de la Mer, discover melt in your mouth mont d’or cheese for the first time and find my first fève (a good luck charm) nestled between the layers of pastry in my slice of Galette de Rois in the home of Thérèse and her husband.
What the world didn’t know back then, that 17 people would be brutally murdered by terrorists in Paris. Starting with a rapid surprise attack at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and that later, following the terrorist attack, on that sombre Sunday afternoon, Thérèse and I would walk together with millions of others in solidarity, to mourn the lives lost and march for freedom of speech.
Always the admirer and lover of architecture, on that day, Sunday the 11th of January 2015, as Thérèse and I, swallowed up in the crowds, came to a standstill, she pointed out various details on buildings, and reminded me that she had promised to show me a couple of Art Deco churches, built at the same time but completely different in style. If you have time before you leave, I would like to show you.
With only two days left before leaving Paris, the decision wasn’t difficult. I could either try to anxiously scratch something off my list, or spend an afternoon with Thérèse discovering a couple of Art Deco churches that as she promised, although built at the same time, are completely different.
To discover that the Church of Saint-Jean Bosco was closed was almost heart breaking. Not so much that we couldn’t get in but more so to see the disappointment spread across Thérèse’s now, unsmiling face. Never mind, I tried to console her and began to take photos of the tall white stark exterior with only the gold decoration on the bright red doors to add a hint of colour.
All the while, with Thérèse, determined to get in, trying all the doors to no avail. Her face lightened when she learned it will re-open after lunch.
This gave us an opportunity to explore the 20th arrondissement while we waited for Eglise Saint-Jean Bosco to re-open.
I had never explored this part of the 20th arrondissement before with it’s almost village like feel to it. Quiet from the hustle and bustle of inner Paris. Quaint buildings, not as tall as those in the older arrondissements, some only three stories high with pretty shutters and brightly coloured façades.
Much to my delight we stumbled across a myriad of passageways. Some plain but most with character, decorated with pot plants, bikes propped against lamp posts, flower boxes, creeping vines and brightly coloured doors.
Snooping around like a couple of alley cats, we found a soon to be renovated home, a flamenco dance club which jogged Thérèse’s memory that she had actually had dance lessons here once a time ago.
Sneaking into this passage, the gate was closed but the ever curious Thérèse tried the knob and we were in!
We were watched like hawks.
Both of us trying to act casual, in silence we looked around and slipped back out, closing the gate quietly behind us.
A sweet café promised a warm coffee and a rest from the cold. Why not we both giggled excitedly and stepped inside after our little adventure.
Admiring the relaxed atmosphere, timber chairs, stone walls and colourful lamps, filled with what could only be locals in this tiny place tucked away in the 20th had me making a mental note that I must remember to come back next time and try the food.
Impasse Poule was a great find. A cobbled stoned, leafy little dead end passage.
Oh look at that, that is Art Deco Thérèse assures me and points out an iron balcony railing. She never seems to miss the tiny details, I guess it helps that she knows what she is looking at.
This was a good reminder of why we had come to the 20th arrondissement today, to see two churches both Art Deco.
It is refreshing to see that someone who is surrounded by so much beauty and detail, still has a keen interest and appreciation for her surrounds.
A passerby wearing a beret notes our interest of the passage and Thérèse engages in conversation with him. You talk to everyone I tell her with a smile. Yes if you smile at people or talk to them, it is difficult for them not to respond in kind.
Finally we made our way back to the stark white church of Eglise Saint-Jean Bosco and this time it was open.
The problem was it was too dark to see the detail that Thérèse was hoping to show me and I could sense her frustration and disappointment.
While I set up my tripod, she investigated the church, in search of a light switch. She did find many, I could hear the click click of a switch here and there on and off but they only lit up small certain areas.
I was expecting at any moment that she would find some giant lever that she would have to use all her body weight to pull down and the church would be flood lit like a football stadium and we would encounter anxious priests grabbing us by the scruff of the collar and throwing us down the stairs with my tripod landing on both of us as a warning, never to return.
Click click, she had found more switches to test. Nothing.
I was happy to be there and tried to reassure her that it was ok and that the sky is dull. Had it been a sunny day, we would have had more light.
Look at this, she tells me and now I could understand her frustration, the interior walls of the building are covered in mosaics, including the ceiling.
Click click, she tries another and voila! She has light, just enough to light up the detail on the Baptism Niche. Look how the water flows from the river, down along the sides and appears to be spilling onto the floor. Would I have noticed that? I am not sure I would have.
It was gorgeous.
The entire church was gorgeous.
Everything, she tells me twice for emphasis, in this church is Art Deco. The chairs, the now dis-used confession boxes, everything.
I note the rows and rows of Art Deco chairs and wonder if an antiques dealer would have a field day in here.
Click click, she is at it again, nothing.
Fortunately with the aid of a tripod and a little post processing, I was able to lighten up one shot (top left) to give you a glimpse at how lovely this Art Deco church is and why Thérèse was so keen to show it to me.
Next, we were off to our second Art Deco church that promises to be completely different.
Of course there is always something to see when strolling through the streets of Paris, so I couldn’t resist a few snaps along the way.
Light was an issue at Eglise du Saint-Esprit also but by this stage, Thérèse had given up on the light switches.
Slipping through the narrow fronted church I wasn’t expecting the enormity of the interior. Built on a dog-leg shaped block and butted up against the neighbouring building, the narrow entrance is deceiving.
Thérèse was right, Eglise du Saint-Esprit was completely different.
It is massive inside and the interior was more reminiscent of a mosque instead of a Catholic Church.
The 33 metre domed reinforced concrete ceiling, unusual for its time and the arcaded balconies and vast space made me feel like I was in the blue mosque in Turkey instead of Paris.
In fact, the architect Paul Tournon’s inspiration for the church was that of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
The concrete walls were decorated by contemporary local artists of the time.
Thérèse very quietly and patiently whispered to me who each and every person depicted in the main painting decorating the central nave was and their involvement with the church.
The architect, his wife and children and so it went on.
The exterior red brickwork from Burgundy is quite spectacular and surprising from the side view given the unassuming entrance.
Thérèse had a couple more surprises up her sleeve for the journey back.
A block of public housing instigated by Napoleon III (below right) and the Palais de la Porte Dorée.
Palais de la Porte Dorée houses the Musée de l’histoire de l’immigration and a tropical aquarium, built for the Paris Colonial Exhibition of 1931.
Although it was closed, being a Monday, it was the Art Deco façade that we had come to see.
The intricate bas-reliefs covering the façade by French sculptor Alfred Janniot covers 1200 m².
(please click on the images for a full view to appreciate the work)
Noticing a tram silently whiz by made me realise that we were close to the periphery of Paris. I have never ridden a tram in Paris, I tell Thérèse.
Before I knew it, as night was falling upon Paris, we were riding the tram, and heading back to the warmth of Thérèse’s home for a hot cup of tea.
I felt lucky. I may have broken my toe and was in Paris during a terrorist attack but I felt lucky.
Lucky that I had the pleasure to spend the day with such a kind and thoughtful woman.
Telling my friend that I was honoured this year to have dinner at Therese’s home, confused him.
Why honoured he asked and I wondered whether he questioned why I felt honoured or my usage of the English word.
Honour (verb) – to regard with great respect.
Lucky, blessed, honoured whatever word you like to use, I had a lovely day in Paris with Therese.
Noticing the time, I remembered that I had a rendezvous to return a manuscript at the English language bookstore, Shakespeare & Co on the left bank.
This meant I had to cross in front of the Notre Dame.
Did I have time to quickly place my feet on Point Zero?
I was already late, a few more seconds won’t make a difference, therefore I did.
I missed the event at Shakespeare and Co but managed to return the manuscript to it’s author.
Pleasantly surprised to find that Jim Haynes, who hosts his famous Sunday night dinners was there, a warm greeting was welcome.
This lead to an impromptu dinner invitation with Jim and two others.
Each year when I spend a month in Paris, 35 days to be precise, I move a little closer to normal, whatever that is.
Similar to the churches that I saw today, both Art Deco, therefore the same, but different.
And so am I, the same, but different.
Paris Adèle Information Nécessaire
Eglise Saint Jean Bosco de Paris – official website
79, Rue Alexandre Dumas
9.30am – 12.00 midday & 2pm – 6pm
Alexandre Dumas (line 2)
Eglise du Saint-Esprit – official website
186, Avenue Daumesnil
Monday to Friday
9:30am – 12 midday & 3:00pm to 7:00pm
9:30am – 12 midday & 4:00pm – 6:00pm
The Palais de la Porte Dorée – official website
293, Avenue Daumesnil
Tuesday – Friday
10am – 5:30pm
Saturday & Sunday
10am – 7pm
During exhibitions 6 euros
Outside of exhibitions 4.50 euros
Disabled people: free
Disability Access: yes, see website for more information