Our most recent Paris guinea pigs arrived on Tuesday at dawn in the EuroLines terminal just at the end of Metro line 3. Warren and Penny are from New Zealand, but they have been travelling all over the world for the past year, and had just been to Hawaii, the Southwest US, Scotland, London, and Egypt since we had last seen them.
Great, great, great, great… W&P came to Paris with a special mission in mind (not to mention a post-Egypt craving for good food). Mr. Hall and I met W&P while on our cross-country US Green Tortoise trip (our honeymoon) in September. Their last name, Soufflot, sounded strangely familiar to me—and not at all a typical Kiwi name, so I asked, and found that Warren is the great, great, etc. grandson of Jacques-Germain Soufflot. “He has a street named after him in Paris,” Warren told me, and that’s when I recalled, over by the Pantheon, I used to walk down rue Soufflot every day on the way to school. Soufflot was a famous French architect in the 1700’s, designing quite a few buildings in Lyon and Paris, but most notable was the Pantheon, where he is now buried.
A café, a rue, and failed attempt number one After depositing their giant rucksacks at our pad, and a few moments reading about Grandpa in the Guide Michelin de Paris, we all set off, the Hall’s and the Soufflot’s, to visit the Pantheon. It was actually nice out, too bad the pollution level was too high to see the Eiffel Tower from Pont Neuf. We arrived at the grand monument about fifteen minutes before opening time of 10am, so we amused ourselves by taking photos of W&P standing under the street sign “5 arr., rue Soufflot, architect 1715-1780”. Then Warren remembered his Mum had been to a café Soufflot on the street years ago, and had a “souvenir” menu. We settled ourselves on the terrace of the very pleasant Café Soufflot, and were greeted by a very nice waiter. We told him that our friends were Soufflot’s and that they should get a free drink. No can do, but the oddly friendly waiter took our orders for orange juice right away, and we sipped and contemplated stealing the menu.
An aside about French OJ I don’t often complain about French food, but I’ve had a longstanding frustration in the OJ department, and I’m sure a few of you who’ve been here will know what I mean. First of all, anytime you ask for orange juice (jus d’orange), you will either be offered some horrid bottled and pasteurized version of “from concentrate” juice that has been sitting in a storage room (usually going by the appropriate moniker “Joker”), or worse, they will give you that sodapop-like version of OJ by Minute Maid. Even Orangina, which is more juice-like in France than in the US (has actual pulp in it), is considered orange juice and not simply “orange drink”, as we call it back home. If a place offers freshly squeezed OJ (jus d’orange pressé), you will pay through the nose for a shot of juice in a large glass filled with ice and a long spoon, a bottle of water and a pot of sugar—what was once OJ has become a cocktail. If anyone finds a place that sells an entire glass of just the pressed stuff, please let me know. At the stores, you can find Tropicana, which I don’t mind, but it still tastes too sweet and too watery for people who are used to the real thing. Marks & Spencer’s sells liter bottles of fresh juice, so we make the trip there quite often.
Back to the Pantheon and failed attempt number two We all headed back to the Pantheon, and it was everyone’s first time there, so we were quite impressed to see how gigantic it really is once you’re inside. Warren tried to get free admission for being a relative, but the ladies at the admission booth didn’t buy it at all and we all paid our way. The Pantheon used to be a church, and was then converted to a monument for the great thinkers of France. Emile Zola, Volatire, Madam and Monsieur Curie, and others are buried in the vaults below, including Grandpa. We strolled around above ground, looked through the Soufflot book at the library (only in French, though) and bought a postcard with Soufflot’s painted image on it. One of the attractions to the monument is the Pendulum, a large brass ball which hangs from the cupola and swings back and forth eternally, powered by the Earth’s rotation (that’s as scientific as I’ll get). Downstairs is the crypt and all of the historical info about the building and the changes of the Pantheon over the years. The Dome was closed for renovations after the big Paris Christmas storm, so we couldn’t go up there.
Paris by foot and failed attempt number three For the rest of their stay in Paris, W&P covered a lot of the town—all by foot—and were only rained on twice (and hailed on twice as that’s a Parisian spring). Not big into the museums, they did manage to get into the Catacombs and all of the way up and down the Champs-Elysées. We saw French actor/director Vincent Landon filming up at Place de la Contrescarp, and ate escargot (snails) at a little French place off rue Montorgueil with fellow Tortoise traveller and Paris German expat, Henning. But W&P wanted the ultimate souvenir, and thus returned again to the Café Soufflot, with a plan to snatch a coffee mug. No can do–the very kind French waiter recognized them, and stood very close to their table the entire time. This waiter’s been around.
So Penny and Warren are off to the French Alps and then Switzerland, full of French wine and cheese, soggy and cold from French weather, and definitely in better shape from all of their walking. Hopefully next time we meet up will be in sunny New Zealand!
This article is one of the 78 original “Secrets of Paris” articles published between September 1999 and July 2004. After disappearing into the internet graveyard for almost 15 years, I’ve republished them in autumn 2019 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris: “1999-2019: Twenty Years of the Secrets of Paris” Broken and dead links have been updated or deactivated, but otherwise the article remains unchanged.
The attempt at free entry to le Panthèon (nice try! lol) reminded me of something similar. In accordance with her will, anyone named Isabella gets free admission to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston. For those not so named, the museum is still well worth the price of entry.