Paris - Day Four

Day Four in Paris.

Today I had to be up relatively early (for vacation anyhow) I had an important visit to a VERY big name fashion house today. Can't say who, can't name any names. Couldn't take any pictures. But let's just say it gave me A NEW LOOK to fashion. And you're pretty smart cookies to figure this out anyhow.

Avenue Montaigne is such an unassuming street. There are no big flashy signs to advertise what's going on inside all the orderly apartment blocks. To discover this, you need to look up. Because it is here, in these pretty but relatively unmarked buildings that the haute couture of haute couture is being assembled. All the big French fashion houses are here, but you pretty much need to look to find them. Sure, there is also a store on the street level, but it is often not directly under the design studios. Case in point is House of Dior. The beautiful showroom store is located about 10 doors up the street from the actual Dior Accademy. And the doors to the Accademy are very plain, no signage, no big fan fair. And then to make matters a bit more confusing, the signs that are visible are for the showroom for Louis Vuitton. It's when you look up that you see where the magic happens.

You can just make out the little Dior banners on each of the windows, and the bigger, more prominent Louis Vuitton in the main floor windows.

If you are even remotely interested in seeing what goes on inside a top fashion house, well I'm sorry to say that I can't provide you with any pictures from my visit. Everything is ultra-uber secure. Lots of men in dark suits and earpieces and talking into their cuff links. But there is an amazing video for the costruction from beginning to end of Dior's iconic red coat dress from Spring/Summer 2011, part of John Galliano's last collection with Dior.

I can't tell you how many times I have watched this video. The process, the cutting, the hand stitching, the pressing, the trimming, the beading....the amount of hours going into producing one single garment. And keep in mind, there are usually 30 to 40 looks in any given haute couture show.

It was indeed an eye-opener and a full day of learning. Thoroughly impressed and completely re-thinking (well, almost) how I want to design from the inside out, it was time to move on. This of course meant more walking around.

From Avenue Montaigne I kind of did a big loop. I walked down the Avenue des Champs Élysées towards the Jardin des Tuileries, then through the gardens and around the fountains to the Place de Carrousel and sat and watched a man with six frisbees and a dozen dogs. This was actually quite entertaining. Dogs of all sizes vying for six frisbees which were constantly being thrown and retrieved. Turns out people pay him to exercise their dogs. Kinda like boot camp for dogs. Dogs get dropped off in the morning, they spend the day doing whatever dogs do at a doggie daycare, and then towards late afternoon, this guy takes them all to the park where they chase frisbees until their owners come to collect them.

After the dogs, I walked over to Pont des Arts. This is the famed bridge where lovers go and proclaim their ever lasting love by attaching a padlock to the bridge. There are actually two bridges in Paris with locks on them, so you have to be careful which bridge you attach your lock.

Pont des Arts is for committed love, while Pont de l'Archevêché is for your lover. Don't get the two mixed up ! Sad news is that Paris will soon remove the locks from Pont des Arts and replace the railings with glazed panels. The weight of all the padlocks has been deemed unsafe for the structure of the bridge.

From there I walked along the Siene to a place called Flow. It is essentially a concrete beach. Beach chairs are set up along the Siene, and you go up to the counter and order your wine or champagne or beer or whatever, along with some pâté, bread and olives and then take it back to your little "beach spot" and have a little feast. It actually made a lot of sense, looked pretty cool and was very popular. I had seen this place just in passing the past couple days, and it is busy from about 3pm regardless which day of the week. Across from Flow is a barge / boat that has been converted into a happy hour hang out. Rosa Bonheur sur Siene, which I guess COULD be translated to Pink Happy Hour on the Siene; and that would make sense. However, Rosa Bonheur was the first well-known female animal-painter (or animalière), realist artist and sculpture of the 19th century.

What was interesting to note was that there wasn't a huge display of cell phones or other distractions. People were there to converse with each other. I saw a group of five or six young dads; all with baby strollers, and a collection of Heinekens on the bench between them. And this seemed somehow normal. Wife says "take Junior for a walk"; husband calls up buddies and says, "Lets meet down by the river". There is no meeting up in sports bars over loud music.

I continued my walking over to Pont Alexandre III, then through narrow side streets where I found a little French bakery (boulangerie). Bought a couple pastries, then walked over to the Eiffel Tower to watch the sun set. I wasn't planning on going up the tower; for €30 it just doesn't seem worth it. Not to mention that the line-up to go up the tower was exceedingly long. Always is. Estimated wait time today was three hours. No thank-you. Instead, I took my pastries over to a little space of lawn across the bridge and enjoyed a nice view and sun set.

Dinner was at Chez Francis. Here's the one thing I don't like about travelling on my own, and I have found to be especially true in Paris. Servers in Europe do not like solo diners. They somehow believe that a single diner is going to be cheap. But from what I understand, servers in Europe are paid a decent hourly wage from the gratuities already included in the bill. And here's the funny thing about me when I eat out: I ain't cheap. I usually have three courses and at least one glass of wine; sometimes a bottle which I take the remainder with me. I average between €75 and €100 if I am having a proper sit-down meal. So while the food was mediocre (steak lacked flavour, not enough bernaise), the service really killed the experience. I was brought water I didn't want and then charged €7 for it. Bread and the first course where put on the table without any comment from the waiter. My main course was put down in front of me with no cutlery. My wine was delivered with the waiter holding the top rim of the glass instead of the stem. The dessert was missing components. Essentially, I was made to feel like I was bothering the waiter by being there, that serving me was a hassle. This feeling was compounded by the table next to me who I gathered were regulars. They were fawned over. They were bought complimentary this and complimentary that; there were long discussions with the wait staff and the manager about this and that (remember, I speak both English and French, so I understood what was going on). It became rather awkward.

When my bill arrived, I was asked if everything was okay. I said no it wasn't and explained why (the water I didn't ask for, the dessert being incomplete). The waiter then says "So everything is good?". No, I just told you it wasn't. "But it's okay, oui?". Sigh, shake my head and leave. French service my buttocks!

The restaurant does have a great view of the Eiffel Tower, and is close to another Paris landmark - The Crazy Horse. What a great show. The show was more about lighting and shadows and optical illusions. You think you're seeing one thing but it's the reflection of something else. It was really, really well done. Sure, there was nudity, but it wasn't so in-your-face like a lot of North American cabaret shows tend to be. The cabaret has been open since 1961, and has hosted famous performers such as Dita Von Teese, Arielle Dombasle and Pamela Anderson.

After the champagne show, I walked back up to the Arc de Triomphe. This time my pictures turned out okay. After watching the twelve lanes of traffic miraculously merge in and out around the monument, it was time to head home. Big long day, and another one on the way tomorrow.

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