Many things have changed in France since I was last here. Cyber or Internet cafés no longer exist, but cafés with Wi-Fi are in abundance. Indifferent and unhelpful French garcons (super not PC, btw) have disappeared and been replaced by a new generation of sweet, gracious monsieurs who are charmed by American curiosity. And while I feebly attempt to cobble up common French questions (Où est les toilettes? Train à Paris?), the responses are typically straightforward and in English. Great progress has been made in this country – but you know what hasn’t changed? NOTHING IS OPEN ON SUNDAY. And the attractions that are open, are crazy crowded. It sucks to be a tourist on Sundays.
We actually anticipated that many of the shops, cafés, and museums would be closed, and so created a well-researched itinerary to avoid these places. Our first stop was to the Taxidermy Cabinet of Curiosities in St. Germaine des Prés, which to our surprise, was closed despite the OPEN sign. In despair, we meandered northwest along the paths of St. Germane des Prés in search of good eats, but sadly – nothing was open except for a few small coffee shops. We arrived at the famed Musée d’Orsay to feed our romantic souls Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, and van Gogh, but the long lines and aggressive crowds stood between us. We dejectedly departed the Left Bank, and wandered the cobblestone streets, wherever our feet did take us. And boy, did they take us.
In the 1st Arrondissement near Paris’ ancient market place (Les Halles [M]), St. Eustache is a rather unique church. I know, I’ve been to a lot of churches at this point, and you think I’d be jaded and bored by now. Mais non – St. Eustache is very different from anything I’ve ever seen. First, it is around the corner from the hustling and bustling Forum des Halles [M], or super modern shopping center that was once the site of Paris’ famous open pit – Les Halles open market. Also, directly to the south, a small children’s play area was recently built under the shadows of the church. And on this particular Sunday, many families were out at play with their children.
Second, St. Eustache, though built in the late 16th century, has both Gothic and Renaissance qualities, and yet a Henry Miller sculpture of a bald head and hand face the south wall, while a Keith Haring metal tablet is displayed within the chapel (NYC pride!). The walls of this church have witnessed the baptisms, prayers, atonements, and deaths of many famous figures, both historical and modern. It’s really a study in contrast.
Third and slightly related to the previous point, there are works of art within/around the church that have no right being in a church. Toward the church’s rear hangs a beautifully tragic painting of the death of St. Agnes, patron saint of chastity, virgins and rape victims. Story goes that Agnes refused to marry a high ranking official’s son, and was condemned to be dragged naked to a brothel, where she was brutally killed. This scene is illustrated in the center picture above.
As earlier noted, Viv and I were still in pursuit of good eats, and were thus unsatisfied with the empty streets full of closed shops. We branched off to a larger street, Rue Rivoli, and were pleasantly surprised by bustling cars and open bistros. However, we weren’t in the mood for bistro fare and stumbled on one of the city’s BEST hidden gems.
THE BEST FALAFEL I’VE EVER HAD. I’ve had LOTS of falafels – from the Halaal carts in NYC to the famous Falafel Shack back in San Jose, but nothing comes even close to L’as du Falafel. Tucked in the Jewish corner of Paris, this lively falafel restaurant has long lines and longer waits, regardless of the time you visit. At 5€ a falafel sandwich, the price and portions can’t be beat. What makes it so unique?? Well, the roasted Japanese eggplant for one. And the pickled red cabbage and diced cucumbers. The deliciously creamy tzatiki sauce. The tangy and spicy chili sauce. And of course, the generous portion of freshly fried and heavily flavored falafel balls of delight. Talk about good AND cheap eats. This is by far my FAVORITE meal in Paris, which is saying a lot considering it all. Let the pictures talk for themselves. I now understand why the tourist districts of Paris are deserted on a Sunday – everyone is here, at the falafel window!
The surrounding area is called Le Marais, snaked with little alleys and paths packed with cute boutiques and shops that are all open on Sunday. From internationally recognized names to French labels, Le Marais attracts a young and hip crowd.
So despite our initial Sunday fail, we were able to end it in success! So word of advice – on Sundays, do as the locals do, and meet at Le Marais.