I should say right away that I’m not going to write very much about the time Alex and I spent on tour. There are a couple of reasons for this – most importantly, the tour involved doing a huge number of things in a very small amount of time, so any blog I wrote would read like a list, which is boring to write and (presumably) even more boring to read. Furthermore, in a certain sense, I don’t feel ‘qualified’ to write about the places I visited in the same way I did for France – both because French language and history are familiar to me and because we passed so much less time in each place. In light of these things, I’ve decided to keep this short-ish and supply some highlights and photos from the major places we visited, excluding Paris (obviously). So, here we go.
A disproportionate amount of my time in Europe was spent in markets – I’m not usually that keen on shopping – but there are so many of so many kinds that one simply can’t avoid them. On Saturdays, in the same location as the markets mentioned in my last post, Paris plays host to a different type – the Creation Markets. They’re a particularly good type of market for tourists, because the stalls are held by artists who are selling their own works – they have all sorts; paintings, jewellery, carvings, metalwork, everything. One of the stall holders informed me that they are forbidden to sell anything not manufactured by themselves and that all products must be signed. Alex and I arrived early and walked through the stalls, admiring the work on display – most was too large or bulky to take home – but we did eventually buy a few small items. More fun, for me, was talking to the stall owners about their work. It was a good day for French-speaking, the conversation came easily and left me feeling confident and cheerful.
Paris, like all French cities I have had the pleasure of visiting, is a city which makes you envy the people who have cooking equipment and kitchens to use it in. Markets selling fresh produce, meats, fish, cheese and everything else you might want to eat are frequent, numerous and extremely well-appointed. In Bastille, the district in which our hotel was situated, a vast market is held every Thursday and Saturday morning selling all of these things and more. Unfortunately, the majority of their fabulous items are forbidden to tourists by circumstance – raw meat is useless, cheese is sold in quantities too great to consume in time and many of the non-edible items are forbidden by the zealotry of border control in Australia. However, the markets are still well worth a visit, if for no other reason than to enjoy the atmosphere. Besides, some things are allowed into Australia – we bought some delicious honey and beeswax candles from an apiarist selling the wares of his beloved queen bee, after whom his brand is named. I love the markets. Visiting them here makes me want to go to the markets back home more often.
It was an auspicious day upon our return to Paris – New Year’s Eve. It’s our favourite holiday of the year, the time when one makes resolutions and prepares to start afresh. The romantic symbolism of the day – that the person with whom you spend New Year’s night is that with whom you’ll spend the year – was not out of place with the mythology of the city. However, simply being in Paris does not confer some intense romantic spirit from the very air – Parisiens breathe out carbon dioxide like the rest of us. Lots of them also breathe out acrid, non-romantic smoke. We quickly discovered that even here, you have to make your own romance. Unsurprisingly, the city is a real place, with real people. But I think we managed okay all the same.
Saturday was a late start because I had to go and see the pharmacist. I was still feeling unwell and – it being the Christmas and New Year’s period – every doctor in the country had fled their offices, probably all to the same place, to preen, stroke their beards and compare medical degrees. Fortunately, in France pharmacists are everywhere, and they seem to provide a bit more front-line medical knowledge than back home. To make sure there was absolutely no risk of confusion, I wrote out my symptoms in embarrassing detail and showed that to the pharmacist instead of explaining out loud. He praised that decision initially, but after we’d talked for a while, he told me I need not have bothered – apparently my medical vocabulary is very impressive. He sent me on my way with friendly advice, rather than trying to foist unwanted drugs on me and I returned to the hotel ready to start the day afresh. Today’s mission was Old Lyon and a museum of Cinema and Miniatures.