Something to Live For: Things to Do in Paris Before You Die

Been There, Done That, Got the Beret

March 21, 2012By David JaggardC'est Ironique!
N°4: Dinner at Le Train Bleu. Try to check this one off without picking up the check.

Here at C’est Ironique, we (the researcher, the photographer, the proofreader… me, in other words) take pride in being right on top of things, always at the leading, envelope-pushing edge of all the latest developments, hottest trends and up-to-date news in Paris. Which is why I am only just now getting around to noticing an article that appeared in the newspaper Le Figaro last December 12.

The piece, which actually came to my attention via Heather Stimmler-Hall’s blog, Secrets of Paris, is entitled “The 100 Things All Parisians Should Do at Least Once in Their Lives.” The first thing I noticed was that it mentions a total of 108 things. Presumably, “learning to count” is not something a Parisian needs to do.

Having lived here for some time, I was eager to see how my experience as an American in Paris compared to that of the Figaro’s ideal Parisian in Paris, and I am proud to report that I have personally already done nearly two-thirds of the things on the list (67, to be exact).

A lot of them are so easy and obvious that just about everyone who has ever set foot in the city has done them, like no. 44, taking the escalator at the Pompidou Center. The Pompidou Center is the city’s third most popular monument, after that big museum place with all the old paintings and that tall spindly souvenir-shaped tower, and the escalator is its most prominent feature. Saying “go to the Pompidou Center and take the escalator” is like saying “go to the top of the Empire State Building — oh, and while you’re up there, we recommend taking a look at the view.”

Another easy one is no. 47, getting lost in the underground passageways at Châtelet-les-Halles. It’s the city’s largest, most central and most confusing Métro-RER station, the urban equivalent of a corn maze with winos and pickpockets — even train drivers get lost down there. While driving the trains.

The very next entry is also a no-brainer: walking along the luxury shopping street Rue Saint Honoré without spending a cent. I do that at least once a week. If I had a nickel for every time I didn’t spend a cent on Rue Saint Honoré, I would be able to afford to buy something there.

Some of the activities I have not only done, but have also written about in this column, including no. 51, enduring the Bastille Day military parade, and no. 37, braving the miasmic atmosphere of the sewermuseum.

Yes, I have been to the Louvre and grinned at the “Mona Lisa” (no. 69). Yes, I have walked home late at night when the buses and Métros have stopped running (no. 64) and have been moved to profanity by the frustration of trying to get a cab (no. 56, but might as well be 64a).

I confess that I padded my score a bit by giving certain items a broad interpretation, like no. 68, going to the opera at Bastille. I have been to the ballet at the old opera house, the one with the Métro station named after it, and I figured that that counts.

Le Figaro also specifies seeing a musical comedy at the Théâtre du Châtelet (no. 79). I have only seen dance and classical concerts there, but since musical comedies tend to have a tragic, not to say emetic, effect on me, I decided to check that one off as well.

Then there’s no. 63, getting turned away at the door of the trendy nightclub Castel. I haven’t tried, but back in the days when I thought that I somehow enjoyed middle-ear damage, second-hand smoke and watery €35 drinks, I was turned away at the doors of many other trendy nightclubs. Were I to show up at Castel, I have every confidence that the professional elitist at the door would shoo me away in a single beat of her champagne-chilled heart, so I see no need to do the actual fieldwork.

Of the activities that I haven’t indulged in yet, some are simply a matter of budget, like blowing 80 euros on the roast chicken at Chez l’Ami Louis, bespeaking a bespoke shirt at the top-end tailor’s shop Charvet and stripping down for a bit of mollycoddling at the spa of a five-star hotel (nos. 20, 86 and 91 respectively). I promise that as soon as I win the lottery, I’ll eat so many of Pal Louey’s chickens I’ll have to have my Charvet shirts altered. Then I’ll work off the flab at the Four Seasons George V, have the shirts altered again and start over.

There are other experiences that I might well have some day, like applauding a play at the Comédie Française (no. 70) or cruising through town on a Vélib rental bicycle (no. 43). The idea of cycling in Paris traffic petrifies me — being a pedestrian is scary enough. But maybe some Sunday in August when most Parisian drivers are gone on vacation, shortening each other’s life expectancies on the Riviera, I will give it a try.

Then there are some that are conceivably doable but not very enticing to me, like no. 28, having the tête de veau at Apicius. This traditional French dish is essentially veal headcheese stuffed inside a veal head (minus the skull). As bovinely unintelligent as calves may be, I’m sure they enjoy the use of their brains much more than I would.

The Tuileries Garden is the setting for two Figaro must-do’s that I don’t see myself doing any time soon: renting one of those little wooden boats to float in the fountains (no. 52) and jogging among the trees and trash heaps at daybreak (no. 38). A childless guy my age amidst all the kids playing with boats would probably be taken for a pedophile. So if you ever see me jogging in the Tuileries, I’m most likely fleeing a mob of angry parents. And even then, it won’t be at an undieuly hour like daybreak.

Lastly, there’s one thing on the list that I am quite simply never going to accomplish: no. 41, joining one of those mass rollerblade rallies through the streets of Paris.

If you have ever watched one of these ball-bearing-borne stampedes while trapped waiting to cross the street as a thousand-strong throng of skaters whizzes by, you know that they span a wide range of skill levels. At one end of the spectrum, there are always a few robust, sweaty alpha skater guys zipping along as fast as they can, impatiently pushing people aside as though they’re trying to qualify for the Olympics and just happen to be stuck in a crowd of slowpokes.

I would not be one of them. I would be more like the serious skaters’ girlfriends who are just giving it a try, tottering precariously on a pair of 200-euro skates that were probably purchased that morning. I would be one of the stragglers that the group has to stop and wait 10 minutes for every 30 blocks or so. Except in my case, it would be every other block. By the end of the route, the alphas would be pelting me with their elbow pads.

So I’m resigned to my fate: I’ll never be 100 percent Parisian. Let alone 108 percent.

Note: If you read French and want to see how you measure up on the Figaro’s Parisian Experience Scale, the original article is here.

Many thanks to Le Train Bleu, the ornate bar and restaurant in the Gare de Lyon, which really is one of the most amazing places in Paris, for permission to use one of their photos.


Reader Barney Kirchhoff writes:“Nice piece. Better late than never. But you should have had a warning on top that doing many of these things, such as eating at L’Ami Louis, are dangerous to your wallet. I have lived in Paris for 34 years and managed to get to the age of 85 without doing most of them.

“I was crossing the street in front of the Opéra Garnier a while back, and two tourists were gushing about having a coffee on the terrace there. I mentioned that an espresso was €6 and recommended the Entreacte, about 15 yards away, where a café at the bar goes for €1 euro. But they were determined to pay €6 so they could go home and complain about Paris prices.”


© 2012 Paris Update


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