Mad About Paris, Much more than a guide
There are only a few other cities in the world as photogenic as Paris. Don’t you agree? Each year, over 900 film shoots take place in the French capital. And it’s fun to explore the locations of the shootings. Would you like to walk in the footsteps of Gil, alias Owen Wilson, in “Midnight in Paris”? Nothing easier than this.
Regularly, the city of Paris proposes “Paris Film Trails”, small guides to download in English and French, for free. Some iconic films like “La Vie en Rose” and “Ratatouille” are part of the small collection. And “Midnight in Paris” is one of them. Woody Allen actually spent three months in Paris last year to explore Paris and choose the locations. Filming lasted more than a month last summer and the film was entirely shot here, with a few sequences in Giverny and at the Chateau de Versailles.
As we are big fans of Allen’s postcard-vision of Paris (remember the mystery interview with Paris after the shooting), we tried the trail for you.
The stroll starts, strangely, at the end of the film. You remember the surprise encounter of Gil and the young blond woman called Gabrielle, (Léa Seydoux), the antique seller in the rain on a bridge over the Seine?
This is Pont Alexandre III, designed by engineers for the 1900 Exposition Universelle. There are two statues on it facing the Grand and Petit Palais. They symbolize the Arts and Science. Don’t miss the two matching compositions in beaten copper in the middle of the bridge: Nymphs of the Seine and Nymphs of the Neva. Hope it doesn’t rain…
Do you remember the part in the museum, when Gil and his future wife Inez are admiring Monet’s monumental paintings? This is the Musée de l’Orangerie, a former orangery, as the names suggests, turned into a museum in 1927.
Claude Monet installed eight of his murals of his famous water lilies, which he had been working on since 1914. They are – still today – achingly beautiful! It was the painter himself who designed the interior layout. Enjoy the visit and feel inspired to make a little trip to Giverny, where you can visit the garden of Monet.
After this, you definitely need a little break. Sit down in the Tuileries Gardens where you can find small cafés. If the weather is bad, though, just walk across the Rue de Rivoli. There is Angélina, the legendary salon de thé with the best hot chocolate in Paris and cakes to die for (the classic is the Mont Blanc, reminiscent of snow-capped mountain, a meringue case with Chantilly topped with piped chestnut pastry cream).
The trail is supposed to continue with a visit to les puces, the antiques market of Saint-Ouen. This is, forgive me, bullshit. Forget about it at the moment. Not, because a visit to the busiest antique market wouldn’t be fun. On the contrary. But it needs too long to get there and too much time for the visit. You can’t impossibly do everything the same day. Take another day for a stroll to the famous flea market in the Northern suburbs of Paris, at Porte de Clignancourt (be careful, though, choosing the right date: it’s open only on weekends and Mondays).
To the disappointment of his future wife Inez, Gil is not the sort of guy who is interested in making money. He’s an artist, a writer, completely intoxicated by French literature. The bouquinistes are paradise for him. It’s what you could call the world’s largest open-air bookshop. Have you ever seen them?
There are 900 of these green boxes along the banks of the Seine (street side). When they are closed, you might actually wonder what’s all about. But once open, you’ll get it: these are the boxes of the bouquinistes, what you might translate as second hand booksellers – although not everything here is second hand anymore. There are 220 of them, offering some 300 000 books, prints, magazines. And all this started back in the 16th century when roving booksellers first plied their trade here. Be nice and friendly to them: they have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage since 1992.
Continue with the banks of the Seine, an ideal setting for a romantic stroll. But not only for that. It’s a good place to relax or sunbathe. Don’t miss the Square du Vert-Galant at the tip of the Ile de la Cité, below the Pont Neuf: it’s a small garden named after King Henri IV called the “spry gallant”, a womanizer “avant la lettre” – who somehow had the same reputation as DSK back then.
Now comes the big question that even Parisians will not necessarily be able to answer: on the stairs of which church did Gil sit down to seek inspiration when the clocks chimed midnight? No clue? I thought it was Montmartre because the car had to climb up the street afterwards. Way out. It’s l’Eglise Saint-Etienne-du-Mont built over a long period on the Montagne Sainte-Genevieve combining a flamboyant Gothic, classical and Renaissance style. Not an architectural gem, but a sight though: Racine and Pascal are both buried here. The setting seen in the film is the north porch giving onto the small Place de l’Abbé-Basset, and the rue Saint-Etienne-du-Mont. Try it: sit down here at midnight, wait for the chime of the bells and, who knows, may be a cool, vintage car stops right in front of you with Scott Fitz Gerald inside, asking you to join the moveable feast called Paris.
There is one thing, though, that the film trail of the Mairie of Paris won’t tell us: where did the wine tasting take place? But I’ll tell you: it’s the gorgeous terrace of Hôtel Meurice, part of a suite you might one day want to rent. Even if it would just be to make a remake of “Midnight in Paris”, one day.