Shopping. It's, famously, not something I am particularly fond of. I tend to be the kind of person that knows exactly what I want when I walk in the store (JB Hi-Fi), or puts off shopping as long as possible because I don't have a clue what to buy (clothes). Yet, while overseas I must confess I've been getting some enjoyment out of trying to find things to bring home. I spoke already of the odd pleasure of having to buy essentials in Montreux after losing my bag, but trying to buy for someone else is a challenge I'm quite enjoying. That said, Sam said last year he bought his family identical "I Love New York" tees, five for fifteen dollars, so I do have a fallback position.
Today was the day for his Abercrombie & Fitch experience. Well, the first of many, as he has worked out several future opportunities for purchases and didn't want to overdo it all once. He spoke of the line out the front at 9am, the shirtless guy at the entrance that they photograph you with for a souvenir, the dim lighting, pop music and cologne sprays. Sounds like hell to me. I would rather break into a mad wasp asylum than wait to get into a clothes store.
I spent the morning wandering the alleys of Sacr?-C?ur browsing the boutiques in search of something chic. I had risen in the last ten minutes of free breakfast, and though I got about eight hours of sleep (certainly more than the previous day and still refreshing) I was slow to get moving. I'd wavered in a store and decided not to purchase a top, feeling that as it was near to the hostel I could continue looking elsewhere and return at the end of the day if need be.
My next stop was the Canal St-Martin, which was a rather picturesque waterfront district. Sadly, many of the shops in the city seem to be closed on Mondays, though there were enough open for me to browse through that it didn't feel pointless to even try. I found an amazing, and very popular, bagel store that was obviously the hip eatery of the moment. Like a Subway but for bagels, and made with actual ingredients rather than food substitute, it was a bit of a wait but was worth it for the delicious and affordable lunch. And hey, apparently they were invented in the 1600s in Poland, so it's not an offensive breach of my European culinary experiences.
I ended up making it to a few of the big Paris sights without really intending to. I caught the metro to the end of the Champs-Elys?es and walked it down to the Arc de Triomphe. All the big brands have their stores on the street, and it was near unnavigable mess of people in the beautiful summer's day. Next was S?vres Babylone, in which I had some success. The metro there had taken me past the Musee d'Orsay, so satisfied with the purchase I hopped off to take in some of the museum. Sadly, it was shut on Mondays, so I wandered along the river to the Louvre instead.
I had got there in the late afternoon, and for a moment hesitated as to whether it was worth paying for a short time, given some rooms would start closing at 5:30pm. Then I remembered that it was an opportunity that doesn't come along very often, and the ten euros didn't seem like a waste. I sped through the European sculpture quickly, but reached some paintings that held my interest. It was amusing to see tourists walking around with Nintendo 3DSs as their audioguide systems, but I didn't see if they did anything interesting with the 3D or camera recognition. I did notice some paintings were off being restored thanks to Nintendo, so there must have been a nicely symbiotic deal cooked up.
There were a few pieces that stood out. First, by Marie-Guillemine Benoist, was a portrait of a black woman. It wasn't a particularly interesting either technically or aesthetically, but its appearance in the corner of a hall made me realise how uniformly white every other painting was. It's so prevalent that it didn't even register how ethnocentric it was. Painted in 1800, it must have been one of the first black portraits; the fact that it was done by a woman makes a lot of sense. After that, looking around at the consistently Caucasian representation was underscored by a sense of the unrepresented that I had never before felt.
Snow had an interesting presence in the gallery. I saw a Monet painting of a winter landscape which was rather unlike anything of his I'd ever seen. He's known for his spring water lilies, after all, and seeing a different landscape from him was refreshing and engaging. A large work Fran?ois Biard, Magdalena Bay, depicted an icy intersection of mountains, glacier and water. It had a captivating blue intensity and wisps of glowing aurora, contrasting with the frozen corpses of travellers in the foreground. Stark and brilliant.
There was an odd juxtaposition of painting finesse that stuck in my mind too. There was a fantastically detailed painting by Antonio Canal, aka Canaletto, in which Venice's Rialto Bridge was recreated to near-photorealistic effect. The reflections in the water, light and shade and perspective were all superb. Contrast this with a huge painting on the ceiling of one of the Louvre's halls. Beneath it were European antiquities, but above was a vaguely planetary blue rectangle by Cy Twombly. The effect of looking up from the magnificent splendour of the historic room to a post-modern cyan splodge is immensely jarring and felt strangely disrespectful to its surroundings. The inclusion of the names of Greek sculptors doesn't make it much better. Still, it was surprising that in such a short time I was still able to connect with so many pieces in the Louvre, or perhaps it's no surprise at all.
Dinner was pretty average - what was advertised as a traditional French restaurant served lasagne and cheeseburgers - and the brusque service preceded a suspiciously quick delivery of our mains. Five or ten minutes for a roasted salmon on vegetables and a full vegetarian platter? Seemed like it had been sitting pre-made, and we left in under half an hour unsatisfied. We found a cr?perie, though, which ended our night well. A cute place not far from the action, but off the path enough to be mostly tourist-free, it had tables squeezed onto the sidewalk at the intersection of an untravelled T-junction. Sam's request for a customised banana, Nutella, chocolate syrup and chocolate ice-cream version had the waitress stunned, but both it and my more restrained option disappeared quickly. Just like our time in Paris, really, and that backup cardigan I hadn't bought in the morning. By the time I'd returned, it was gone.