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  Destinations >> De Beauvoir’s Paris


Walking in the footsteps of her 17-year-old daughter’s literary heroine gives one mother a whole new insight into this chic capital city.

WORDS Diana Plater

My daughter, Amelia, is a great fan of Simone de Beauvoir, since first reading volume one of her autobiography, ‘Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter’.

The battered, fading book sat next to her bed and she dreamt of visiting the city of her heroine. So as a special treat after she did her final school exams, I took her to Paris.

The simplest way to enjoy the trip with a determined 17-year-old was to go with the flow. She had each day’s itinerary mapped out down to almost the last minute and in the end I found her excitement infectious.

“Shall we go to the Louvre today?” I’d ask. “No we’re doing that on Friday,” she’d answer.

We stayed in two totally different arrondissements of Paris. The first was Bercy, one of the city’s newest nightlife scenes, with 19th century wine warehouses turned into bars and nightclubs popular with locals.

Then our apartment on Ile Saint Louis overlooked the Saint-Louis Bridge with dramatic views of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower in the distance – and I was as excited as a teenager one morning to wake to snow on the rooftops. The charming area is full of ice cream sellers, intriguing gift shops and tiny restaurants, including one where our meal was topped off by glasses of flaming absinthe.

Amelia grasped the Paris Metro very quickly, and I followed along behind her like a well-trained puppy although at times she gave me looks as if to say: “Don’t dawdle, mother!”

Foremost in Amelia’s plans was to visit de Beauvoir’s old haunts, the cafes she frequented with her lifelong partner existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre, and other intellectuals including the Surrealists. Many are in now upmarket Saint-Germain-des Pres which lines the Left Bank of the Seine, including Café de Flore, where de Beauvoir first met Picasso. But perhaps the most famous café is Les Deux Magots, opposite the sixth century church of Saint-Germain-des-Pres.

At Le Dome Café on Boulevard Mont-parnasse, we ate fish and inspected the walls covered in black and white photos of famous painters, writers, sculptors and thinkers, trying to ignore the slightly condescending waiters.

I also learnt to do as the Parisians do, and make the most of three-course lunch specials, a good idea with a hungry teenager.

Main image: Model viewing the Eiffel Tower from the river
Above: Models by one of Paris’ many fountains

" Amelia grasped the Paris Metro very quickly and I followed along behind her like a well-trained puppy. "

In the end, Amelia preferred the lively Latin Quarter, with students flowing out from the Sorbonne – where de Beauvoir came second to Sartre in her final philosophy exam – into bars and book shops.

We also both loved the Marais, the location of the ultra modern Pompidou Centre but also crammed with cute galleries and boutiques in medieval and renaissance buildings down narrow cobblestone streets. You can find vintage designer-wear including shoes, bags and leather jackets in ones such as Coiffeur Vintage, Plus que Parfait, Kiliwatch and chaotic bazaars like Aux Comptoirs du Chineurs.

Another day, I was sadly unable to find a cloche and made do with a beret from palatial department store Galeries Lafayette and Amelia found exquisite lingerie at Princesse Tam Tam.

I wanted to visit the multicultural area of Belleville, where Edith Piaf grew up and where markets selling ethnic food and clothes are held on Tuesdays and Fridays. Amelia was pleased it was also close to Père Lachaise, the most visited cemetery in the world and last resting ground of Piaf as well as many other famous people including Oscar Wilde, composers Chopin and Rossini and American singer Jim Morrison.

But of course we had to visit another cemetery – Montparnasse – where Sartre lies next to de Beauvoir, her grave adorned with notes of gratitude for the way she changed the lives of women, particularly through ‘The Second Sex’, one of her best-known works.

It was strangely peaceful with rays of sun coming out between the grey clouds and I was thrilled to discover the graves of artist Man Ray and playwright Samuel Beckett.

“Paris must have changed so much since Simone and Sartre were alive,” Amelia commented as we took photos of each other and the grand view from the 56th floor of the nearby Montparnasse Tower.

During our week there, we also spent time at nearly all the famous galleries including the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay and the Musee d l’Orangerie, with its Impressionist and Post Impressionist paintings. For me, gazing at Monet’s Water Lilies murals was sublime.

Two highlights of our visit were taking in the opulence of the court of Marie Antoinette at the Palace of Versailles, and meeting the Australian dancers backstage at the Moulin Rouge.

While enjoying the dancing, we both laughed in shock when a woman at our table stormed out during the can-can show, followed by her meek husband because, as she said, “this is not where I want to be on my 50th birthday.”

Clearly, de Beauvoir’s feminism lives on.

Above: The River Seine
View of Eiffel Tower

Fly: Singapore Airlines 13 10 11 

Stay: Pullman Paris Bercy 33 (0)144 673 400 Distinctive holiday homes

Play: Moulin Rouge  France Tourism

Info: Bercy  Our Paris City Guide


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