Travel THE BEST OF PARIS

Some things even Michelin won’t tell you about Paris.

Paris is still the most attractive and varied capital in Europe. But to know the city, you need to make yourself receptive and you need to leave the beaten trails. Below are some of my favorite places and things. They won’t all appeal to everyone, but they’ll suggest some of the qualities that make this city unique in the world.

Best casbah: Take me to the casbah. the lady said. In today’s Paris, that would be Belleville, the largest and most colorful North African enclave in the capital. A village until its annexation in I860, Belleville is high and hilly with listing old houses, stairways that replace streets, tropical markets and Arab coffee shops. See especially Rue Ramponeau and its family restaurants, specializing in card games and kosher couscous.

Best cemetery: Sloping and wooded, Père Lachaise is an outdoor Westminster Abbey, as well as one of the prettiest parks in the city. Along its winding paths lie the tombs of the great and famous – Balzac and Proust, Chopin and Oscar Wilde, Bernhardt, Piaf, Callas – among thousands of the lesser known.

Best cheese: A retail shop downstairs and upstairs a restaurant, Androuet (41 Rue d’Amsterdam) is gourmet (or is it gourmand?) heaven. You may order a dinner of nothing but cheeses – seven successive plates to choose from in mounting order of strength. Unless you are heroic, however, I recommend starting with a light meat or egg dish (all are served with cheese sauces), followed by cheese for dessert. Under this option, you’ll have only five platters of cheese – some seventy varieties – to contend with.

Best art nouveau: There are still a few of those wonderful undulating bouches de métro – subway entrances – which haven’t been carted off to museums. You’ll find them especially in the northern part of the city, around Montmartre, for example, or at the metro stops Ménil-montant and Couronnes.

Best canal: With its foot bridges, barges and locks, the tree-lined Canal St. Martin recreates a little bit of Amsterdam from Place Stalingrad to Square Frederick Lemaitre. Throw in the surrounding streets and bistros, and it’s a setting out of Simenon.

Best church: Flamboyant Gothic and avant-garde, St. Séverin combines the old and the new. It opens its doors on Saturday nights to Latin Quarter street people, for organ recitals, slide shows, rest or reading (lamps provided). Outside, you are a stone’s throw from a spectacular three-quarter view of Notre Dame and from the fifty ethnic restaurants that line the ancient streets.

Best church concerts: Many churches offer quality music (check the weekly entertainment guides or the daily listings in Le Monde), but at the Trinité – this is not advertised – the parish organist is Olivier Messiaen, one of the world’s leading composers. Call to see which Mass he’s playing, at 874.12.77.

Best commissary (American): Since the PX at the U.S. Embassy is reserved for diplomats and the military, that leaves A.N.I.C., a private enterprise specializing in such delicacies as Betty Crocker’s cake mix and diet Dr Pepper. Prices are generally outrageous – a medium-sized bag of Frito-Lay tortilla chips goes for $2.10. But the early warehouse style is a hoot, and if you absolutely must have a can of Gebhardt’s chili, you’ll probably find it here (256, Rue Marcadet).

Best couscous: Along with pizza, this delicious North African dish threatens to supplant steak and frites as the national culinary fetish. Onto a bed of fine wheat grain you dip a kind of vegetable stew and top it all off with pieces of lamb, chicken, beef or merguez sausage. Super-hot harissa sauce is optional. You’ll find couscous almost everywhere – the most authentic, in the spare bistros of North African neighborhoods like Belleville or Levallois Perret; the least so, in Arabian Nights-style tourist palaces. My vote for best goes to a comfortable, out-of-the-way neighborhood restaurant, frequented by both Africans and Europeans, at the corner of Boulevard de Picpus and Boulevard de Reuilly. Order a couscous royal and round off your meal with Algerian red wine, honey pastry and mint tea.

Best English bookstore: Shakespeare and Company, on the Quai de Monte-bello opposite Notre Dame, is not the same shop that Hemingway and Gertrude Stein knew in the Twenties, but it feels as though it should be. The building alone is worth the visit: sagging floors, exposed beams, nooks and crannies with chairs for reading – and up the rickety stairway, a couch for tired customers.

Best excursion: Versailles and Chartres are not the only one-day trips from Paris. Try medieval Provins, 70 kilometers to the southeast, in the beautiful farm region of Brie. You’ll find twelfth-century ramparts and moat (no water, just cows), cobblestone streets, a turreted castle, a church that Joan of Arc heard Mass in.

Best hotel: Contrary to the common wisdom, Paris has scores of comfortable, reasonably priced hotels, such as the Régence (24, Avenue Carnot). Two blocks from the hectic Place de l’Etoile, it is tucked away in a tranquil residential quarter. Room and full bath for two cost $20-$25, and that includes a memorable view of the Arch of Triumph, especially striking at sunset.

Best liqueur: Try the white “digestifs” from Alsace. Made of pears, plums or raspberries, they are fruity and powerful. Unlike the darker cognacs and ar-magnacs, which you warm with your hand or a candle, the digestifs are served chilled. Between sips your glass sits in a bed of ice. A good brand to start with: Poire Williams.

Best little museum: Once the home of Rodin, the eighteenth-century Hotel Biron now houses the celebrated sculptor’s principal works. The most famous pieces – “The Kiss,” “The Thinker,” “The Bourgeois of Calais,” “The Gate of Hell” – stand outdoors in serene gardens, interspersed with benches and walks. You’ll also discover unusual perspectives on the nearby Invalides dome and the Eiffel Tower.

Best long-distance telephones: There are always some idiosyncratic street phones on which you can dial direct to the States – and just about anywhere else – for free. The surest way to locate them in any given week is to ask an SMU student. They always know (SMU-in-Paris is housed in Reid Hall, an eighteenth-century mansion at 4, rue de Chevreuse, Montparnasse).

Best market street: One is struck, in the neighborhood stores, by the staggering variety and beauty of the foods. In the Rue du Rendezvous, between Avenue de Saint-Mandé and Rue Marsou-lan, such stores proliferate: charcuteries and patisseries, cafés, butchers, fruit stores, wine merchants – and a poissonnerie with the most dramatic sidewalk displays of fish and crustaceans I’ve ever seen. Food store hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 7 to noon and 4 to 7; Sunday, 7 to noon; closed Monday.

Best music hall: “Les music-halls” are theaters where the great popular singers, like Aznavour or Brel, perform live. The best, if not the biggest, is the Bobino, on Rue de la Gaité. Don’t be put off by the fact that this vivid street is lined with sex shops and porno movies. It’s also only a block from the Montpar-nasse Cemetery, and if you come early, you can visit the grave of Baudelaire before the show.

Best newspaper (English): The New York Herald-Tribune is alive and well in Paris, but for local features and information read Paris Metro, available at major kiosks or from gentle expatriate street hawkers in St. Germain.

Best newspaper (French): Everyone knows that the best newspaper in the world is Le Monde: most comprehensive, most detailed, most serious, most smug. It also has the best daily listings for theater, concerts, exhibits and films.

Best night spot: Authenticity is Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir sitting at the next table, or black jazzmen dropping by to do a set. Both are possibilities at Le Rosebud, rue Delambre near Boulevard du Montparnasse. Order chili and sangria – they’ll think you’re a regular.

Best outrageous architecture: Like the Eiffel Tower a century ago, Parisians either love or hate the new and notorious Centre Pompidou. Exterior stairwells, Plexiglas bubbles, exposed pipes and vents vibrant in day-glo red and blue – many think it looks more like an oil refinery than a cultural center. Disparaged variously as the Pompidolium, Pompi-dou’s Revenge, or Notre Dame des Tuyaux (Our Lady of the Pipes), it’s still the biggest – and most crowded – permanent carnival in Paris.

Best pastry shop: Dalloyau-Gavillon, on the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, has to be seen to be believed. A glance in the window can induce hyperglycemia.

Best photograph: From the Boulevard Haussmann, proceed up the Rue Lafitte. In the distance, framed by the narrow street, looms the neo-classical facade of the church of Notre Dame de Lorette; directly above (though in fact a couple of kilometers behind, at the top of Montmartre) float the dreamy white domes of the basilica of the Sacré-Coeur. A surreal view: People will think it’s trick photography.

Best quarter: The key to the life of Paris is its quarters, and the key to these is walking. The Grands Boulevards – actually one long wide street that extends from the République to the Opera, changing names every few blocks – is where ordinary folks come to stroll, relax and have a good time, especially on Saturday night or Sunday afternoon. Bustle and lights, movie palaces and penny arcades, huge cafes with crowded terraces, Broadway-type theaters, a wax museum – it’s Times Square done with style.

Best restaurant (bistro style): For basic steak and ffrites, served with house wine at cheap prices, you won’t do better than Aux Artistes (63, Rue Falguière). Seated at long wooden tables, you’ll share pepper and salt with your neighbors. The walls and ceiling are painted like New York subway cars, and there’s always a garrulous crowd.

Best restaurant (family style): Waitress, bartender and boss, Madame Yvonne presides at Au Petit Paname. “Paname” is slang for Paris, and this is Paris at its best – subtle sauces, moderate prices, warm company. Yvonne’s mother cooks out back: crepes, fish and profiteroles are her specialties. The customers all chat with each other, and the walls display irreverent caricatures of politicians and their wives. (Rue Amélie, off Rue St. Dominique.)

Best big square: Finished in 1612, the Place des Vosges contains one of the most harmonious architectural groupings in Paris. Thirty-six sumptuous town-houses, symmetrical in alternating stone and brick, enclose a tranquil park at the edge of the Marais quarter. No traffic, arcaded sidewalks, an occasional gallery, a sidewalk café . . .

Best small square: The picturesque Place Furstemberg, behind the church of St. Germain des Prés. Delacroix lived and painted at number 6.

Best street market: Sloping down the Montagne Ste. Geneviève behind the Latin Quarter, the sinuous Rue Mouffe-tard turns into a medieval street fair every morning around eight.

Best taxis: To call a cab by phone, these are the most reliable numbers: 739.33.33 and 200.67.89.

Best theater: Englishman Peter Brook’s Bouffes du Nord provides authentic people’s theater. The peeling turn-of-the-century house is located in a working-class neighborhood; all seats (actually bleachers) are 15 francs (three dollars and change). The company is young, innovative and enthusiastic. A highlight of the fall season was the Bouffes’ production of Alfred Jarry’s outrageous Ubu Roi, farcical forerunner of the theater of the absurd. (Rue du Faubourg St. Denis, near Boulevard de la Chapelle.)

Best traditional architecture: Hub of the beau monde in the seventeeth century, today the Marais conserves in its narrow streets an incomparable collection of old mansions, classical churches and baroque facades. From the Bastille to the Hotel de Ville, the Seine to the République, it’s a maze of courtyards, sculptured doorways, iron grills and whimsical roofscapes.

Best transportation buy: The Paris bus and metro system is perhaps the best in the world. At any metro station, with 48 francs ($10) and a photo, you can buy a pass, the carte orange, which allows unlimited rides for a month.



That’s my list – idiosyncratic, custom-made. You’ll discover your own favorites. One thing, however, is certain: When you really know this city, you love it. And when you love it, you never feel that you know it enough.

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