I just received a rather amazing letter of advice concerning my first visit to Paris.
It is written by the notorious femme —known as The Oakland Peach— who has given me permission to print her billet in its entirety:
The best thing about Paris is that the tourist stuff is actually cool, so you can't go wrong.
I was a local for over a year, and I did the Red Bus thing four times! Twice on my own! I can't remember what it is called, but it's the red double decker bus, it costs 25 euros for a 3-day pass, it cycles every ninety minutes or so, and you can get on and off all day.
It goes to all the most lovely places. Once I got on when I was depressed and lonely, and spent the day just looking around at how fucking lucky I was to be miserable in such a beautiful place. Sometimes you just wanna look.
The other, most awesome touristy thing that I did every time someone visited, and a whopping 5 times on my own was the Bateau Mouche. It's the long boat that you pick up at Pont Neuf and it rides you up and down the Seine.
But the catch here is that you MUST do this at night. Last boat goes around midnight. Of course, it's a great view of the sites, but the best part is that they shine these huge lights off the sides of the boat to light up the Quay's, and it catches all the randy twenty-somethings having sex on the lower bankments of the Isles.
One balmy summer night I saw a whopping five couples in various stages of flagrante! Awesome! You're pretty much guaranteed a sighting of at least one slight little French girl in a full skirt discreetly straddling her dirty-looking Italian boyfriend, but you're just as likely to see actual flesh.
I do like to look.
Another good looking place is the Pont des Artes, the wooden foot bridge that spans between Carrefour de Louvre and the Academie. Again, night-time is the best. It's a foot bridge with a great history, and you can just sit and sit and sit.
I used to like to contemplate the rumour that the Lady Nestle, the original inhabitant of the building that is now the Academie, used to avail herself of her male servants sexually. While that might sound like a reasonably good gig, supposedly if they didn't please her, she would toss them out her window into le fleuve! The bank wasn't so far away back then, because they built it up there for the road. Evidently a few lived to tell the tale.
I did all of the walks with "Paris Walks." The Marais walk is particularly good. They are in the morning so it's a great way to start your day.
Anyway, enough of the tourist stuff, here is the stuff I want you to eat in honor of me.
Look for the ice cream ads for Magnum bars. Easy to spot, they feature a lovely gal in bed performing oral sex on what looks like a chocolate version of those America Bombs you used to be able to get from ice cream trucks. I used to get such a giggle from these ads. I feel all erotic about ice cream too.
Finally I tried one, and OMG the chocolates and pastries and macaroons can all go to L'Enfer! This is the best damn treat in the world. t's a carmel ice cream bomb, covered by a layer of salty carmel sandwiched between two layers of dark, not too sweet chocolate.
The Ferris Wheel in the Tuilleries is likely up by now, with an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower twinkling. And you can get a Magnum there. My vote for best place to blow an ice cream bar. Please please think of me when you do.
Fuck Deux Magots, I'm a Cafe Flore girl. Order the hot chocolate, (avec chantilly, natch) and prepare yourself. They melt chocolate bars in a double boiler, then add heavy cream, then bring the little metal pot they did all this in right out so you can pour it in your little cup. Go around 11 PM, and you'll catch Karl Lagerfield walking in with some of the skinniest people you will ever see alive and in person! Sit out front. Yeah, the famous people go upstairs, but they have European lungs. You have Santa Cruz lungs. You can't handle it upstairs.
Now about the shopping.....it won't fit, and you can't afford it, for the most part. But here is my by far best tip for bringing back some fabulous outfit from Paris. The Les Halles underground mall H&M third floor. It's their version of the "Women's" department, meaning XL isn't a size 8. It's pretty much the only place in Paris I found anything to fit my lush, full-figured curves! But here is the thing about H&M.
They have different things in every city. I assure you, they are taking the pulse of the French chick on the street (its pretty much the only place they shop, too), and you won't see any of that back here. AND YOU'LL BE ABLE TO AFFORD IT!
Now about the dressing....you will never get that nonchalant, 'I didn't try', dirty luxury fabulousness that the French girls do. You will never unravel the secrets of the neck scarf. Don't try. Because they love characters. If you can't be preternaturally chic, be acharacter. You will see one in every nabe, on every walk... Dandy old men in threepiece suits and a pocket watch... German ladies in vaguely African head scarfs and flowing handmade scarf-dress things... Italians in all denim outfits so tight you'd think it would give them an embolism... Artistic types in exquisitely hand detailed Russian coats... Glorious short kimonos over skin tight jeans and sky high heels.
Do this, wear your handmade dresses that show off that magnificent cleavage. Proudly bounce your clean, asymmetrical hair and flash your clear skin. Walk tall (and you will indeed be a head taller than the tallest Gallic fella). Wear your kooky earth shoes with brightly colored tights. Say, "Tout les choses ici est SI GENIAL!" And they will love you for it.
Once I figured this out, and got comfortable with being looked at, it changed everything for me there. The French frown is as much a facial tick as our involuntary smile. This is their secret, and it doesn't take much to get them to spill it. THEY FUCKING LOVE AMERICAN WOMEN. We smile, we laugh, we talk loud enough to be heard, we're in a good mood, we like to hug, we have cute little accents, we LUV! their home... You are gonna charm the pants off of
And go to Shakespeare and Co. on the Quai St. Michel. They know you there, I'll bet. You might even be able to do an impromptu reading.
So here is a little walking tour of my fabulous old neighborhood. Start out early evening at the point where the Tuileries meets the grounds of the Louvre. (I think technically it's Rue Lemonnier, but I knew it as the Terrace du Tuileries).
There are some great chubby girl statues in mid-tumble that look like 3d Boteros. Walk across Pont Royal to the left bank, take a left then an immediate right onto Rue de Beaune. There are some crazy rich people antique stores with art-furniture like you couldn't imagine! Look for the teeny tiny vintage clothing and stuff boutique.
Walk two short blocks to Rue de Verneuil. Left on Verneuil. Two blocks up you will pass Serge Gainsbourg's house on your right. It's covered in graffiti. One "big trash" day there was a pile of old furniture outside. I found a bunch of tins in a desk, full of vaguely pornographic poloroids, and pictures of little skinny girls on the beach. I probably could have sold this stash, but whatever.
Also on the right is a design bookstore, of which there are a hell of a lot in Paris. This is a particularly quiet and airy one, though, and Karl Lagerfield hangs out here too.
Take a right on Rue Saints Peres and marvel at the store that sells chandeliers to Versailles like palaces in Saudi Arabia. Go on3 block and take a left on Rue Jacob, probably the cutest little street in Paris: Turkish rug dealers, an AMAZING Afghan/Persian/Asian import shop, very "south of France" fabric stores, unique antiques, another design bookstore, a couple of fine linen stores, anyway, you'll see.
Keep wandering down until the Rue ends. Now you are on Rue de Seine. To the left are little galleries (Friday evenings are the openings) to the Right is a fantastic restaurant called "Fish". It's run by New Zealanders and it is, for my money, the best affordable seafood in town. If it's dinnertime, eat there (unless it's market night, see below). They own a sandwich shop across the street that is the only place where you will find the California style gourmet sandwich (roasted eggplant with red pepper coulis and arugula on fresh foccacia).
But save your drinking for the Cafe de la Presse, right on the corner of Rue de Buci.This place is full of hunky young North African guys who work in the multimedia industry andthey are dying to buy you a drink. This is the top of the Carrefour de Buci area. Wander around in that market area. It's particularly
bustling at night. Several times I was walking home around 2 AM and they were dancing in the street out in front of Cafe de la Presse.
Tuesday evenings they have a full on farmers market with huge woks full of seafood paella, and charcuterie makers that tempt the staunchest vegan, fruit so sweet like you've never had, enormous wheels of peasant bread the size of 18-wheeler tires. (They will cut these peasant breadsfor you. Juste une petite tranche, si'l vous plaît)! All of that is right out in front of Le Champion, the "French Safeway," which makes it extra funny.
Anyway, you take it from there. You're just a few blocks away from either Mabillon or Odeon Metro, if you get tired, but with the coffee, you won't.
Oh yeah, one quick tip about coffee. I'm not a big latte person, (called Cafe Creme there) but I do like to have a little hot milk in my coffee. Order Cafe Noisette. No, they don't put hazelnut in it, it refers to the color. Make it a double. They're little, and you'll need the caffeine.
Okay, I'll stop.
Profites-bien, et dis-moi toutes quand tu reviens!
Trés bon sejour!
La Pêche d'Oakland
I just read your letter out-loud to Jon and we are speechless at your savoir faire. We just spent our first full day out and about, and I assasinated my feet. I mean they are DEAD. I limped home from the Place Monge.
Mais, je ne regrette rien!
We just returned from this crazy party a world-class boho theatrical inspiration named Jim Haynes throws every Sunday for anyone who rings him up and wants to come.
Jim's apartment was packed with locals, swingers, southern belles, Texas poets, Canadian homeschoolers, queens, Hillary Clinton insiders dying to gossip, beatniks, teenagers, literate dirty old men, expats, visitors from all over. Lamb stew and make it sloppy, baby. Jim once ran an Amsterdam newspaper called SUCK in the '60s. That's what made me take a chance.
You are so sweet to me to tell me "what to wear," and what to be proud of. It's true, I always feel like La Elefantine when I am here. Although Jeanne D'Arc looks like a Amazon, I must say. I must visit this H&M branch you speak of; whatta score.
We went to Musee D'Orsee today, but first, since it was Easter, we started with mass at Notre Dame. PANDEMONIOM. Thousands of visitors moving like a giant herd, a Catholic stampede. Cameras popping everywhere, thousands of votives burning bright, the light pouring in from every stained-glass wall.
The monsigneur was screaming about materialism and money-worship. Some people were on their knees, rapt, and others were freely spending at the gift shop. And the singing! There is nothing like singing in a real cathedral.
Jon got to see me do a real "Hail Mary "over my candle.
We declined to go to the Louvre, because the line was insane... and impressive to me, nearly all French in the queue. Everyone comes out for their national treasures on a holiday. I listened to ten-years-olds at d'Orsee discuss Cezanne like he was their personal property .
I'm glad to hear you recommend the tour bus so I won't feel so dorky. Since my feet are like swollen balloons, the chauffeur sounds good.
We shopped on Rue Mouffetard, and I cooked supper in our kitchen. A butter lettuce salad with new potatoes marinated in balsamic vinaigre de figue and handpressed olive oil, with fresh raspberries, avocado, and sharp parmesan. And bread. Pain. Pain. Incroyable.
I can't wait to find the Magnum ice cream bar. I lost two of my belongings things today (losing things is my bete noire) and the only thing that plucked me out of utter self-hate was a crepe d'Anane and then a crepe de Nuttella.
I have to tell you about a funny ad splashed all over the subway. It features a no-nonsense blonde, barking at you: "Do you want to learn 'Wall Street English' in 20 Days? We guarantee it!"
(It says this in French, of course).
Well, this advertisement obviously came out before The Crash.
I could teach these people "Wall Street English" in twenty seconds; it would go like this— "Hit That Fuckin' Clown!"
LOVE YOU, la lutte continue,
Photo: Susie and her best friend, Joan of Arc, at The Pantheon. Then, "L'aire" by Malliol.