Travel Notes – Paris 04, France

Sunday, July 3rd, 2005

My third day in Paris was probably the most exciting day of all, and the most memorable. That day I was to have lunch at Le Pure Cafe, the little red cafe where Jesse and Celine had their catch-up chat after 9 years in the movie Before Sunset. We took the Metro to Charonne and followed the directions to the corner of Rue Jean Mace. When I saw the familiar red wall in front of me, my lips broke into a wide happy smile. The interior looked exactly like it did in the movie. A combination of green and red with a touch of brown yellowish wooden panels. I chose the table where Jesse and Celine supposedly sat throughout their whole conversation. Call me silly, I know.

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I ordered lemon juice and it came served with brown sugar. The sourness bit my tongue like pricks from a thousand needles but after adding a dash of sugar and a few spoonfuls of water, the taste became absolutely refreshing. I looked around to try absorb the atmosphere and from where I sat, I could see the hustle bustle in the kitchen as they prepared for lunchtime. The bar was situated right in the middle of the room.

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When the waitress came back to take our order, I vouched for well-grilled ostrich meat covered in sauce and served with deep fried mashed potatoes. For dessert, I chose blanc manger au chocolat blanc, puree de framboises eclats de nougatine d’epices, a soft pudding made from white chocolate with berry sauce and a crispy nougat biscuit on top. The taste of these dishes were devilishly sinful!

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After spending quite some time here, it was time to see Mairie de Paris, the Mayor of Paris’s office. The building looked old and had a big square in front of it, with fountains on one end. If I wasn’t told that it was the Mayor’s office, I would’ve thought it was another museum!

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From here, we went to one of the world’s most famous cathedrals, the Notre Dame. Situated on the bank of the Seine, the river that divides the city of Paris into two halves, north and south, this gothic masterpiece was conceived by Maurice de Sully.

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Its construction began in 1163 and was completed roughly 200 years later in about 1345. Road distances in France are calculated on the basis of the “0 km” marked on the square in front of this beautiful cathedral.

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Now, the next destination was also inspired by Before Sunset. I wanted to visit the little old bookshop where Jesse held his booksigning at the opening of the movie. The place where Celine saw him again for the very first time since they parted at the train station in Vienna 9 years ago. Situated on the left bank of the Seine in a place called Latin Quarter, the centre of Paris’s university life for over 700 years, Shakespeare & Co. looks like a normal bookshop from the outside.

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It is when you step inside that you can truly feel its antiquarian atmosphere. The owner of this bookshop, George Whitman (now 91 years old) first opened this Parisian magic in August 1951 to continue the legacy of Sylvia Beach, the lady who first founded this place in November 1919. She and her friends once had to dismantle the shop when the Nazis threatened to confiscate her books in 1941. I was lucky enough to meet with George and had a short chat with him at the back of his shop. My only regret was that I didn’t take any pictures with him! George now leaves the running of the shop to his daughter who I also met when I was there.

Shakespeare & Co. has two floors and I will talk about the upper floor at a different time, because it was only on my next visit that I had the chance to climb up the steps and discover the wonders it has to offer.

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My third day in Paris was sealed with a nice hot chocolate crepe in a tiny cozy creperie on Rue St Louis-en-l’ile. Indeed, it was my most memorable day in this city, thanks to the little bookshop in Latin Quarter and the red cafe in Charonne. The next morning, I was to leave for Italy, to witness how the sky looks like under the tuscan sun.

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