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paris la saint chapelle

Paris Adorned

By Winnie Hasted

Art and architecture buff Winnie Hasted ogles and gags as she strolls the streets of Paris.

The City of Lights has a reputation for being among the world's most romantic and attractive places. But even the most coiffed poodle is prone to fleas. Paris, I was warned, is infested with snotty people, aggressive drivers, expensive coffee bars and dog excrement dangling from the trees. But all this has eluded me on my first visit to this great town. During my eight days here I've found Parisians charming and hospitable; drivers—unlike those in my hometown of Vancouver—appear to know the difference between a red and green traffic light; and the only thing that seems to hang from trees is art.

Paris breathes art, or art breathes Paris. From the stained glass at gothic Sainte-Chapelle to the museum and gallery exhibits of Picasso and Rodin, art is everywhere. Each moment in this fabulous city is a banquet of visual pleasure. Even the buildings display a flourish that is unseen in much of the New World. Ornate Renaissance arcades fringe the Place des Vosges; stone carvings of lost kings adorn the entrance to Notre-Dame, whose gargoyles gaze menacingly from the cathedral's eves; filigreed spires of medieval churches rise gloriously toward Heaven. Some modern expressions of art in architecture, though, fail miserably. The grotesque Centre Pompidou, near the trendy Marais district, resembles an oil refinery, and the glass and steel Pei Pyramid in the courtyard of the historic Musée du Louvre is as jarring as a Benedictine nun spitting at a racecourse.

Art is also everywhere at Plaskett House, where I've been staying. The fifteenth-century dwelling on Rue Pecquay was until recently owned by British Columbia-born painter Joseph Plaskett and is one of Paris's oldest houses. The interior is decorated with many of Plaskett's own works, as well as antique furnishings he's collected during his fifty years of residence—elaborately-trimmed Venetian mirrors, marble busts, crystal candle-chandeliers and carved wooden wall sconces. The open-beam ceilings and ancient oak doors give the place a distinctive Middle Ages feel and, as in most of Paris, it's easy to forget you're in the 21st century.

So, what's not to love about the city on the Seine? The endless lines of attached buildings in the city centre, though cheery and full of character, create an exhausting urban maze. Paris is also rampant with whining mopeds that keep me reaching for my earplugs. In addition, a decent coffee at any of the attractive sidewalk cafés will still set you back at least five bucks ($10 with a refill).  

But a week in Paris is sorely not enough. Nor is a single visit.  There is so much art, culture and history here, I feel I ought to move here rather than keep spending the airfare to enjoy it all.