Why do I love Le Marais so much?
I can’t explain it.
When I excitedly tell people that they simply must visit Le Marais, they predictably, with as much excitement, ask me what’s in Marais.
And I find myself trying to define what’s essentially ‘Je ne sais quoi’.
Le Marais rubs shoulders with Rue Rivoli with its well known names and chic vibe. It is one of Paris’ most trendiest neighbourhoods and, yes it has its share of sights. But what holds Marais distinct from the others is its expert level skills in magic. One minutes you’re standing in present-day Paris and past one doorway later, you’re in some inexplicable nostalgic narrative. Le Marais literally translates into ‘the marsh’ - which goes on to prove that this little district with its medieval streets and abruptly ending building know a thing or two about sleight of being. It knows how to transform.
When I try to remember how we wound up in this district, my memory fails me. I think Sahit was trying to get to some camera shops and we got off at the wrong station. In retrospect, it’s one of those many rendezvous Paris set up for us. We were looking for Bastille and were trying to make Google Maps talk to us when Saint Paul’s beckoned to me with its candy red door. That’s how we walked into our first European church. And you know what they say about your first time. Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis as it stands today was consecrated in the 17th Century - though a cemetery chapel dedicated to Paul the Hermit stood in its place from the 12th century. Growing up Catholic and the doctrine of asking for three graces upon visiting a church for the first time, has instilled some very evident vestigial reverence for the majesty of churches. Centuries of human devotion manifested in paintings, pillars, architecture, chandeliers, the works - the older the temple/church/mosque/place of worship, the better they are designed to render us silent with awe.
We stepped out of one of the side doors and walked into a cute little passage of sorts. I imagine that’s where the clergy’s apartments might have been. Le Marais needs neither a map nor an agenda. We were happy to be lost there. Walking in and out of stationery stores and bookshops, peeking into old store windows, slipping into quiet little gardens and generally photographing away like we were taking a cue from Mister Bean.
When a city offers so much, the living, breathing experience of Paris is often lost amongst the hop-on-hop-off buses, entry lines, selfie sticks and the like. A visit to Le Marais is perhaps the quickest way to be a part of Paris. Make a connection. And day dream that, maybe one day, this city will return the ardent love that you so feel for it.
Le Marais is a story. You can figure the important pages and go right to the exact chapter and read the important lines. Or you can take your time and let it unravel at it’s own pace. You might not finish the book in time. But you’ll have a more meaningful experience of the story. And there’s always the possibility of placing a bookmark where you left off and coming back another time. These were our thoughts as we strolled down the arcades of Place de Vosges. Yet another doorway and we found ourselves in a beautiful courtyard. Paris is just the best when it comes to stumbling upon treasure. We’d walked straight to Hôtel de Béthune-Sully. The garden appeared from nowhere that we half expected the Red Queen to walk out with her flamingoes for a game of croquet. No such thing happened though. We moseyed through the book shop for a bit and then left.
Now we really had to find those camera stores. We crossed the square in front of Hôtel de Ville and I wondered aloud why these places were called Hôtel when they weren’t hotels. Hôtel de Ville looks every inch the serious bureaucratic chambers that it is. It’s the seat of the Paris City Council and you see important looking people walking in and out of its doors. Not the leisurely tourist types. Turns out that Hotel is a term for townhouse and Hôtel De Ville specifically means Town Hall. You need to book in advance to gain access too a tour. But for us stumblers, a temporary exhibition featuring some of Paris’s most famous merchandise sufficed. We picked up a big coffee mug from the exhibition. It was indeed a day of unearthing treasures.
I wish we had taken the time to visit the Musee Carnavalet - would have been nice to see Paris through the ages. But it’ll just have to wait till next time; with Paris I know that there will be many next times. If you’re reading this, don’t bother putting the museum in your plans till the end of 2019. It’s closed down for renovations and maintenance. Another thing you might want to try is the falafel at L’as du Fallafel. Also maybe pay homage to Victor Hugo at #6 Place des Vosges - where once lived or Pablo Picasso at the Musée Picasso (Entry 12,50 Euros) . You can also check out some beautiful decorative items and fine art at the Musée Cognacq-Jay, (free entry). Le Marais is filled with cute stores, but the concept store Merci is something of an icon. Le Marais is a rabbit hole, and you know how lovely those things are.