Cole Porter knew what he was talking about. When the great songwriter wrote the song I Love Paris, his beautiful lyrics expressed how he loved the French capital through every season.
I love Paris in the springtime is the opening line of the song. Having made my first visit to the City of Light in spring last year, I saw it was true the city shines in this season. A recent return visit, this time in the autumn, revealed that the city was just as magnificent with a slight chill in the air and brown leaves falling from the trees. Seeing Paris in a different season not only showed it in its different colours, but also in a new light. I was captivated as it turned on all its charm, and I came to the conclusion that Paris is a place every human being should see before they die.
Visiting the Eiffel Tower and seeing the city unfolding while the hues of dusk turned into a pattern of glimmering lights as darkness fell was one of life’s great moments. Granted, the Tower gets ferociously busy with tourists as they snap away, but the show the city lights turn on is worth every moment of the crowd.
Gay visitors head to the Marais, and this once less-than-fashionable area has undergone a major transformation. It is now one of the most popular of the 20 arrondissements (neighbourhoods). Bars, caf? restaurants and shops are dotted throughout this fascinating area, with the maze of tight streets, lanes and alleyways containing a myriad of surprises.
While there are a few local gay magazines, it can be difficult to translate what is going on unless you fully understand the French language. E.male, however, is probably the best bet, with a diary section using headings like Before, Cruising, Clubbing and After to make it perfectly clear what is going on. The website www.paris-gay.com is also a great resource, as is the accommodation guide www.les-vacances-en-france.com. Clicking on the Marais B&B page (mapage.noos.fr/roominparis) proved a lucky find, offering a smart room in an apartment owned by friendly local Nicolas. Compared to some of the 3-star hotels of the area, Nicolas’s apartment was a clean, comfortable and cost-effective option.
One of the best things about Paris is the M?o. When it was planned, the aim was that no home in the city would be more than 500 metres away from a station. As a result, every area of the city is easily accessible, but be warned that the M?o stops just after midnight. My late night out with friends in the Marais was followed by a spontaneous two-hour walking tour of Paris by night as I was unable to find a vacant cab the entire way back to my hotel.
Great cathedrals like Sacr?oeur de Montmarte, Notre Dame, Saint Germain and St Chapelle are all dominant features of the city skylines and are as impressive for their incredible history as for their majestic architecture. Saint Sulpice has also become popular in recent times for its role in The Da Vinci Code.
While the Louvre also plays a central role in Dan Brown’s bestseller it did not need the book to make it any more popular. Thousands flood into the world’s most famous museum daily to see not only masterpieces like the Mona Lisaand Venus de Milo, but just about everything else in this sprawling complex. A friend who once worked as a Louvre security guard told me it was estimated if a visitor spent just one minute in front of every art work, it would take over a year to get through the building.
I found myself spending more than just a minute, however, in front of Leonidas aux Thermopylesby Jacques Louis David, one of the most homoerotic art works I have ever seen. This enormous canvas, situated next to the more famous work The Crowning Of Josephine, features a spectacular nude male image with a feast of other brawn and muscles on display. Oh my!
Quickly to become my favourite Paris museum was Mus?d’Orsay. It is a tough choice between what is better -“ the actual building or the art works it contains. The former railway station features works by such Impressionist greats as Monet, Renoir, Seurat, C?nne and Van Gogh. While wandering in front of Whistler’s Arrangement In Grey And Black: Portrait Of The Painter’s Mother,better known as Whistler’s Mother, I caught sight of another work of art. An American Falcon porn star, touring the gallery with his mother, was loudly chatting about the artistic merits of each work. It was a change to see him with clothes on, and he was also friendly, smiling warmly after Aren’t you who I think you are? eye contact had been made.
I had been told the view from the top of the Centre Pompidou was one of the best in the city. The advice was correct. The bold 1970s inside-out building with its fine collection of modern art offered a panorama across the thousands of rooftops from the Eiffel Tower to Sacr?oeur. It gave a sense of being nestled in the city, but being able to poke your head out and have a look around.
Wandering out of Pompidou and back into the heart of the Marais, I realised this love affair with Paris was going to be an enduring one, as many more visits would be required to uncover all the delights. Walking down the historic cobbled streets, I could almost hear accordion sounds in my head and Cole Porter humming the lyrics to his famous song. Then out of a corner caf?I heard someone call my name. Join us for an afternoon coffee and let’s watch the world pass by, was the invitation of my new friends, a lesbian couple from Adelaide, whom I met just nights before. It was the nicest of caffeine invitations in the most beautiful of cities.