Honeymoon in Paris. ``It's too obvious,'' said the bride-to-be, but this couple decided to head for the touristy spots anyway - and found a lot that was new
SOME people need to be convinced that Paris is perfect for a honeymoon. ``It's too obvious,'' said my bride-to-be. ``It would be like heading for, well,... Niagara Falls.''
The only counter to such an unsupportable comparison is that secret weapon of male reasoning: reverse logic.
``There comes a time in the life of every travel-lover,'' I said, ``when he/she must not only beeline for le grande enchilada of tourist destinations, but once there, head for the unabashedly obvious, the brazenly conspicuous, the truly undisguised.''
``Don't tell me,'' she said. ``The Eiffel Tower, Mus'ee de Louvre, boating on the Seine?''
``No less,'' I said. ``And in the spring.''
The rationale has to be defended at the outset, perhaps, because the natural inclination of the experienced traveler is to avoid the beaten path for the little-known gems to the side. But Paris is so full of famous art, architecture, history, mystique, romance, and ambiance that it almost defines the beaten track. Those people who coyly stalk the fringes can miss part of the point of being there.
At least this is the rationale my wife and I came up with for honeymooning in the ``City of Light,'' smack dab in the midst of peak season. Undaunted, we pursued the clich'e honeymoon. We came back with no regrets - we had a blast.
So besides the Eiffel (with three observation levels, two with restaurant), river cruise (at night with floodlights), and museum (``Mona Lisa'' and all), we made a list of must-sees: the Lido (Paris's largest cabaret), Champs 'Elys'ees, and Rue de Rivoli for shopping, Montmartre, Sacre Coeur, Fouquets (a caf'e on Champs 'Elys'ees), Fauchons (a gourmet food store), Notre Dame, and Les Invalides.
Those who have avoided Paris for two seasons - because of hijackings or bombings in the French capital - will find that much has changed or is in transition. Six major projects costing a total of $4 billion are under way. By the end of the decade, they will give Paris a new opera house, two big music halls, and two new museums.
In December, for example, the Mus'ee D'Orsay, on the Left Bank, opened within the rococo walls of the old Orsay train station. It houses the state's entire collection of late 19th-century art, from Eugene Delacroix to Henri Matisse, featuring all the Impressionists once displayed in the Jeu de Paume.
Other projects are more controversial - gleaming steel structures that critics say will destroy the city's architectural harmony. The Arab World Institute on the Quai St. Bernard will confront parts of the Latin Quarter, and La T^ete Defense, a massive futuristic arch to finish off (critics say block off) the eastern end of the Champs 'Elys'ees, has been proposed.
Even the venerable Louvre is being redone. The Finance Ministry, which occupies the left wing of the former palace, will eventually be moving out to open up 72,000 square yards of space. American architect I.M. Pei has designed a new entrance to the museum's central courtyard - framing it by a 66-foot sleek glass pyramid.
And the Eiffel Tower, the city's most universally recognized symbol, underwent a $27 million renovation in 1983, and on New Year's Eve 1985 inaugurated a brilliant new lighting system.
``It's unquestionable: Paris is regaining the artistic prestige it lost a long time ago,'' the weekly magazine Le Point said in an article about changes in the city's architecture.
The best way to witness the old and new in Paris is on foot. We strolled the Left Bank's St. Germaine des Pr'es for art galleries, bookshops, antiques shops, and fine French restaurants. We ate pastries at streetside caf'es every night. We photographed ourselves at the top of the Eiffel Tower and on the banks of the Seine. We lunched at Maxim's and had an atrocious caricature drawn for $12 by a street artist.
We rode subways and cabs, drove ourselves and walked on the Champs 'Elys'ees, stopping into the Grande Palais serendipitously on opening day for a major retrospective of Renoir.
Evident everywhere is the new feel of Paris, sparked by projects that are themselves supposed to spark further urban renewal. Parks, fountains, statues, and wall murals have flourished, not to mention more practical improvements, such as modern public toilets and information signs.
When Jacques Chirac, now premier, was elected mayor of Paris in 1977, he listed these goals: ``Lower the high buildings, spread greenery, reconstitute the urban tissue, humanize.'' Chirac's administration has built two or three new fountains each year, in addition to converting 170 acres of land into public parks and gardens, more city parkland than was created during the past century.
In addition, former Culture Minister Jack Lang commissioned 200 sculptures, half of which were set aside for Paris, a magnitude unrivaled since the days of Napoleon III. And if you've ever opened a travel guide to Paris, you know that besides the Louvre, which takes days to complete, there are over 100 other museums, about 10,000 caf'es and restaurants, countless parks, historic sites, statues, and specialized shopping districts.
To get your marriage off on the right foot, it might make a bit of sense to narrow down the focus together ahead of time - rather than be slapped in the face with indecision at each turn.
And it's a good idea to get the lay of the land by tour, which is what we did. On day one, we went straight for the Cityrama tour buses on Rue de Rivoli, just up from the Jeu de Paume Museum and across from the Tuileries Gardens. Tours cost about about $7 to $14, depending on the route and number of hours you choose. We sat in the front of the top deck - easily the best seat in the house - and relaxed while the driver hassled the logistics. On headphones we listened to a tape of the history and the layout of town. We decided we could go back to the places that interested us.
Our tour took in the hill of Montmartre, which, in addition to showing you the quaint streets once trod by Monet, Renoir, Lautrec and company in the heyday of Impressionism, gives the best view of Paris from the steps of Sacre Coeur Basilica.
The tall white outline and cupolas of the Roman Catholic pilgrim church are as much a part of the skyline as the Eiffel Tower.
Our tour also took in Montparnasse, the other erstwhile bastion of Bohemians. Its 1900 Exhibition Wine Pavilion once was home to Chagall and Modigliani, and its caf'es once attracted the likes of Lenin, Trotsky, Hemingway, Picasso. Here you can also see the Montparnasse Tower, the 58-story skycraper that was built before the government began rejecting the idea of the city becoming Manhattan-on-the-Seine. Another project in the offing is a multimillion-dollar train station. Its funding, like some of the other projects to renew Paris, is in constant debate.
No matter where you turn in Paris, the face is changing.
For more information about planning a trip to Paris contact the French Government Tourist Office, 610 Fifth Ave., New York, NY; (212) 757-1125.