Tom and I arrived safely in Paris yesterday. We flew from Cincinnati on Air France, and generally we liked it better because the seats were a bit roomier & more comfortable they are more ergonomically designed. The service is not quite the same, but the food is better than airplane food usually is.
We didnt do much yesterday, other than take a nap, take a walk, sit in the Parc Violet for a while, and go out to eat at the Italian restaurant, Della Piazza, on the Parc Commerce.
Yesterday was a perfect, warm, summer day. Lots of families and children were playing & lounging in the park. Sunday is an important family day in the 15th. The sun was still high in the sky at 6pm. Families stayed in the park until about 6:45, when they started to find their ways home. It stayed light last night until after we went to bed. My guess is that it wasnt really dark until 11 or 11:30 p.m.
We need to remember to take enough French currency home with us that we have enough to pay the shuttle driver. In terminal 2 at Charles de Gaulle on Saturday, we could find NO ATM! Before, weve arrived in the other terminal, which is an absolute zoo on busy days, but at least we found an ATM there. The shuttle costs 205 FFr. We paid in a combination of a 100 FF note and some US dollars, which I guess they accept, but it is too complicated to figure out the correct conversion when youre jet lagged. The Airport Connection shuttle was very convenient and the folks there were nice, even when we were running late because it took forever for the luggage to come out.
We meant to do carryons all the way, but Air France only allowed one carry on each. Delta should have told us that!
We had a fun day yesterday. We just took the metro up to the Arc de Triomphe and walked down the Champs Elysees. When we were near the Grand Palais, we found a beautiful old mansion that had an antiques show. It was the last day of the show, so we paid the admission and went in. These vendors were carefully selected, the very best in all of Paris. And they were showing their very best things. Almost everything seemed to be of museum quality. We especially enjoyed talking with one of the vendors. She specialized in Majolica ceramic wares. All of her things would look great in Sanibel. We did not buy anything, but plan to visit her shop and a few others.
After, we walked up the Seine and admired the many large houseboats along the Port Champs Elysees. Then we had dinner at a lovely restaurant that we've noticed before but were not able to try. It is called the Restaurant le Caveau du Palais, and it is on a classic old French square (really a triangle shape) on the tip of the island in the Seine that makes up the oldest part of the city. We had an incredibly delicious dinner, at a fraction of the cost it would have been at our favorite French restaurants in Columbus (Alex's) and Sanibel (Jean Paul's). After that meal, we walked for a bit down an interesting street that we want to explore in the daytime, when shops are open. Then we caught the metro home. It did not get to be completely dark until about 11 pm. We sat on the balcony for a while, and the Paris glow of well being soaked through us. We are, all three, very happy.
We saw a wonderful museum today. It contains the work of Antoine Bourdelle, a great sculptor who was once a student of Rodin. I expected it to be small, but it was LARGE. Part of the museum contains his actual studio, as well as the studio of another sculptor. And his personal art collection & much of his furniture is included. He did work in a monumental scale, so some of these pieces are overwhelming. We stood in front of an equestrian statue and I actually felt some fear that the horse might step on me!
Tom is napping, and I'm typing. It is really warm here today, but not as humid as it could be.
We had a real lesson in costs of train tickets and how to purchase them in France. Travel agents do not sell them because these are not privatized trains. You purchase tickets at any train station. For international travel, the lines are long. Tickets to Prague were very expensive, we found out! The Rail Europe web site was very misleading. They cost about twice what I expected. Now we will have to re-evaluate whether or not we are going to go. The length of the trip is grueling, too. 15 hours. Almost 900 miles. Thats 60 mph average. Not all that fast, after all.
We did manage to buy our tickets to Reims, however. And it will be surprisingly affordable, even in first class. ($60 each, round trip.)
Weve done our grocery shopping twice now at Monoprix. The previous two years, wed shopped at Franprix, which we do not like very much. Something I read this year gave me the idea that Monoprix, which I previously thought was mostly dry goods, had some food. We went in and found that there is an entire, upscale grocery store upstairs! Why upstairs, we wondered. But now thats our favorite place for general grocery shopping. Because we, and everyone else, carry what we buy, we make many small trips.
Yesterday was an especially fun day. We went to the market at Grenelle and bought vegetables & fruit. I have the ingredients to make my pear/spinach/feta salad now. The vendor gave me an extra pear. Tom also bought a pair of shorts for $7. A woman at Grenelle & Commerce had an adorable rabbit on display in a box. She was selling cough drops to benefit an animal rescue operation. We bought a box for $4! We wandered through the entire market and walked back along the sidewalk. At a bookshop, we found a book by Steve Finks cousin (Alain Finkelkraut), who is a prominent French intellectual, and we bought it for Steve. Now we have to figure out how to send it to him hes doing the Bath, England, program for OSU this summer. We also bought another book in French, one that has recommended walking tours of the district where we live. Tom recognized a couple from Montreal that we met on the Airport Connection shuttle the Chiroulis. Their kids had bought tickets & planned an entire 4 day vacation for them in Paris. We had a nice chat while they waited for their pizza lunch at a sidewalk café. Today they go to Giverny. Tomorrow they go back to Canada. Too soon. I told them they must come back to Paris sometime. They agreed. We may get together with them in Florida in the winter.
We had lunch at the apartment and Tom napped. Then we went to the Louis Pasteur museum. I think this is one of the most interesting museums, but I probably have a science bias. Pasteur was a multi-talented, exceptionally gifted person. Between ages 13 and 18, he did pastel portraits of his family and neighbors. These are not the work of a child, however. He was a gifted artist; Id never seen pastels look so much like oil or watercolor paintings.
Pasteur began his research scientist life as a mineralogist. He was already well known for his work when some distillers, makers of wines, hired him to find out why their process of winemaking was so hit-or-miss. What spoiled the wine? They did not believe that fermentation was a living process. So, it made sense that they hired a mineralogist (i.e., what wed call a materials scientist today). But Pasteur, a broadly educated man and a great researcher, assumed nothing. And so he found the living organisms that contaminated the wine, and came up with a way to control the process.
The museum contains scientific instrument/process exhibits, but also the Pasteur family apartment as well. It is a grand home, beautifully furnished. Pasteur did well, Id say. People gave him beautiful things, out of gratitude. Pasteur only bought one painting in his life. There were, among the many items, pictures of people who were saved by receiving his rabies vaccinations. For example, there was an entire group of Russians, about 15 of them, who were attacked by rabid wolves. They were all saved, and were all quite grateful, even though they look dour & gravely serious in their photograph. Pasteur was not an M.D., so he could not administer the vaccines. But he was on hand when the first patients were treated in the early years of the vaccines availability. Because rabies is a virus and could not be seen with the microscopes available to Pasteur in his time, his accomplishment was especially remarkable. He just knew the organism was there in the central nervous system tissue of the rabid laboratory rabbits he was using, and he worked until he devised a series of progressively stronger vaccinations that would stop the onset of the disease.
Today the Pasteur Institute is huge. It takes up a large chunk of the southeast quadrant of the 15th district. (We live in the 15th, to the north of the Institute.) Over a thousand research scientists work across the street from the museum. The Institutes specialties are biology, chemistry, and immunology, but of course immunology is the most important. There is a hospital that is part of the institute. Seventy-five percent of its patients have AIDS, which is called SIDA in French.
In the evening, we walked down to a Corsican restaurant that we read about in a 1997 New York Times travel feature. It was a tiny place, Le Beau Violet, operated by Chef Roger, who speaks not a word of English. We had a wonderful time. By the time we left, everyone in the restaurant had become friends. We were laughing & joking & eating well. Even though Roger has a menu posted on the window out front, each evening there is really only one choice for each of the courses. It didnt matter. The food was divine. The Corsican salad was fresh as could be, with a vinaigrette steeped in herbs, and a circle of mild cheese in the middle. It had the best tomatoes Ive eaten anywhere this year. The main course was a chicken that had been slow cooked in a broth with many herbs and onions and a buttery pasta that melted in your mouth. I asked for a glass of white wine and was told that there was red wine only, a Corsican wine of course. It was a 1996 vintage excellent! Corsican cheeses were brought out after the main course. All the cheeses were strong and very good. Roger then treated us to brandy I think it was Calvados. He would not accept the fact that Tom does not drink, so I had to consume both little glasses. Roger would have been offended if I did not! He found it unbelievable that we were Americans and we did not have a camera with us. He made me promise to come back tomorrow with my camera to take a picture. He had a very tattered copy of the 1997 NYT article. Soon after our arrival in the restaurant, when he had asked a quelle pays? (from what land?) we were, he received the answer (lEtats Unis) and directed his helper to show us the article. Rogers copy is incomplete and very tattered. We plan to take the copy we have in the apartment, have it copied and laminated, and present it to Roger as a gift so that he will have an enduring record of the honor of having been featured in the Times.
We wandered through our neighborhoods streets after dinner and encountered a live jazz ensemble playing outdoors at a sidewalk café, the Cosmos, where rue du Theatre and rue des Entrepreneurs meet. The four musicians were talented, and Tom was amazed at the sound the drummer was getting out of one snare and one symbol his entire set. We stood on the curb and soaked in the music. Other passers by stopped and listened as well. We finally made it home at about 10:30pm, just in time to watch the daylight fade from our balcony overlooking the 15th. A perfect day in Paris.
Now that we have e-mail and I have some work to do for a client, I guess writing in the journal is not a daily routine. That is a loss, but it is more than made up for by the advantages of having e-mail. And our e-mail brings us voicemails and faxes from home. So it is an excellent way for us to stay connected with everyone back home.
Weve made two trips now to the American Express office on Wagram (not far from Etoile) to arrange a trip to Strasbourg in July when Murray & Ellen will be here in the Paris apartment. We have to go back one more time, to pick up the tickets. The system is not efficient, but you come to expect that here. And the people at the AmEx office are perfectly nice. I think they are supposed to be fluent in English, but they arent. It is okay they know the language well enough to conduct the transactions that their clients expect. Many folks from other countries use the office because they do not speak French, but they know a little English.
Yesterday, the woman at AmEx told us there is a strike involving Air France and all of the air traffic controllers, so travelers are stranded all over the place. She did not understand the word stranded. Funny, youd think that was a word a travel agent would have to know! The world of travel agents, hotels, and everyone who serves tourists who go by air is in a state of chaos right now. So we were very patient. It took her forever to reach a person on the phone at the Sofitel in Strasbourg.
But now the trip is all arranged. We go there by train and spend three nights in a very nice hotel, all for $503. Not too bad.
Yesterday and today there is a big street fair on Commerce, practically right outside our door (and around the corner). For about 10 blocks, the street is blocked off to car traffic all the way from the elevated metro tracks over Blvd. de Grenelle down to our quaint village church, St. Jean-Baptiste de Grenelle. (We call it our church because it seems to be the focal point of our part of the 15th arrondisement, which was formerly a village called Grenelle.) There are dozens and dozens of vendors set up in the street selling antiques, junk, oriental rugs, clothes, food, collectibles, etc. Tom saw a Fowlers phrenological head, and hes thinking about buying it, but we arent sure of the age & authenticity. It could be a reproduction. It is in English, and was originally made for an exhibition at some halls in London (if indeed it is the real thing). The vendor wants $100, but he cannot say whether it is original or reproduction. I told Tom he should just go and ask him if hed accept $30 or so. (Acceptez vous deux cent Francs, monsieur?) Well see what happens today. [Later we ended up finding the reproduction at the MuseumCompany.com for $59 and I got it for Tom for his birthday.]
At the street fair, I think we talked to almost every oriental rug vendor, none of whom knew any English. It was really a lot of fun. If we did this often, wed probably improve our French a lot.
Weve done our general grocery shopping a few times now at the Monoprix and like it ten times better than the Franprix. It is very crowded at the end of a work day, and not so bad in the mornings, if I can just get Tom up & going earlier every day! As it is, hes usually not ready to leave the house until at least 11 a.m. Shopping at the open markets is more fun, but that requires getting Tom up in the a.m., too. And those markets dont have things like toilet paper!
A couple times this week we ate lunch at Italian restaurants. The one where we ate on Friday was packed with business people on their lunch breaks. They drink at lunch at least, on Friday they do! And they drink plenty, too. Not just a simple glass of wine. The Italian places are very reasonable in price. You can have a nice lunch there, on a table set with a white linen tablecloth, for $7 or so.
We gave Maria, the gardienne for our building, a tip (un cadeau pour vous, madame, pour vos vacances). She kissed us both, she was so happy. She is Portuguese, and her French even is not the greatest, so we really have a tough time communicating with her about anything other than hello and thank you.
We found our favorite restaurant from last year, even though we could not remember the name of it until we found it. I just remembered where it was. We havent eaten there yet this year, but we will. It requires dressing up to some degree, even for a lunch. The place is called Morot Gaudry, and it is on rue de la Cavalarie, just off Ave. de la Motte Piquet on the way toward the Ecole Militaire.
We havent been eating dinner, really. We just have a baguette and some cheese and fruit. One night I made my spinach/pear/almond/feta salad with orange vinaigrette. Today, well probably get fruits & vegetables at the market under the tracks on Grenelle, just as we did on Wednesday.
Today is beautiful, bright and sunny. Thats good, because the past two days have been a little cool, cloudy, and a bit rainy.
Today we go to Reims. We are still working on how to pronounce it.
Yesterday we just cleaned house and napped, then took the number 10 metro and went for a walk in the Luxembourg Gardens and the Latin Quarter. The streets were teaming with people. All the trendy shops are in the LQ, along with all the trendy galleries. It is all so trendy that it is a parody of itself. To get a bit of relief, we stopped in the very simple, elegant and OLD church, St. Germain de Pres. Oh, and before that, we found an antique market set up in the square in front of St. Sulpice. The antique dealers here have much very high quality merchandise, particularly furniture. We wish the apartment were furnished with things like that! After a nice conversation, mostly in French, with an oriental rug dealer, we walked over to Ile de la Cité, made a reservation at Le Caveau du Palais, and then walked toward Ile St. Louis. We passed through the flower market at the plaza where the Cité metro stop is located. Beautiful orchids were on display in one of the stalls. I dont remember the flower market being so extensive perhaps because when we were there two years ago it was in August, when many of the vendors would have been on vacation. We walked around Notre Dame and discussed favorite views. I like the view from the front because you see the whole façade, unobstructed. Tom likes the view from the garden in the back and from the bridge back there. Notre Dame looks like it is nested in trees from the back. The cleaning and restoration work is now completed on the front. I think it almost looks too clean. There is still some work going on here and there on sections of the back and sides. We walked back toward Cité through the garden on the Seine along the south side of Notre Dame. Back at Le Caveau du Palais for dinner again (we were there last week, too), we were seated in the small room way at the end of the restaurant. It really was a nice room, even if I could see part of the kitchen from there. Actually, that was interesting because I got to watch Madame throwing a fit and tossing some silverware against a wall because she was angry with the help about something. The small room turned out to be the American room. There was a young couple from California sitting next to us. Then a group of four large middle aged Californians came it and were seated behind us. They knew no French whatsoever, so I ended up helping them a little. I hope they enjoy their stay in France. Theyre spending a week in Paris and a week in Provence. In Provence, I think theyll find even fewer people who speak English.
On Monday, we had lunch at the restaurant owned by Jean Paul's friend in Paris. It is called Aux Trois Chevrons (on rue du Felix Faure) and it is even better than Jean Paul's. Normally Jean Paul would be staying with him (his name is Serge Bonis) during the month of June, but not this year. I think that he said that it was because Jean Paul is selling is restaurant and needs to be there right now. It will be a real loss for Sanibel. But, Serge says Jean Paul will still go to Sanibel every winter. (Serge speaks no English, so all of this is gleaned from my crude understanding of conversational French. I hope it is accurate!) Serge is a bit envious of Jean Paul because Jean Paul has been able to make a living off of 4 months work per year, while Serge has to work hard all year (except for the two weeks he spends in Sanibel every February). Restaurateurs in Paris pay a 20 percent tax on every dinner check, whereas Jean Paul only has to pay about 6 percent (or whatever our Lee County sales tax is). The tax paid by other entrepreneurs in Paris - grocery store owners, for example - is only 5 percent. Then Serge spent quite a while explaining/complaining to us about French taxes and bureaucracy in general. We really had fun talking with him, believe it or not. He remains surprisingly gleeful even though he has to work so hard all the time. He has a lot on his hands. He has the restaurant, a house someplace outside of Paris, and an apartment in Paris (which, he says, he would not normally be able to own but it is wife's apartment - one she has owned since before they met).
Yesterday we arrived back in Paris after spending three days (two nights) in Reims. Roy and Barbara spent one night (the 29th) in their apartment before going to the states. For the past couple weeks, theyve been at a conference elsewhere in France.
In Reims we stayed at the New Hotel Europe *** for a little under $70 per night. It is a three star hotel located on the rue Buirette, not far from the train station and not far from the Cathedral, in the center of town. Our room, number 203, was especially quiet because it was situated facing the inner court. What had been the courtyard was filled in with the salle a manger (dining room) where we had a buffet breakfast each morning. They did not charge us an extra fee for the cat, but they did put us in a smoking room rather than a non smoking room, probably because of the cat. I cant blame them. Most cats are perfect like ours is. (New Hotel Europe, 29 rue Buirette, 51100 Reims, Tel. 03 26 47 39 39, Fax 03 26 40 14 37; e-mail email@example.com, web www.new-hotel.com).
I especially like Reims, the capital of champagne country. Tom thinks it is not really a big enough city to live in. But I like the scale, and the architecture. They dont have ugly high rises at all. It is very convenient to go there by train. The only thing that separates the train station from the middle of town is a lovely, long, narrow park. The main shopping streets have all been turned into pedestrian malls, including a couple wide boulevards.
What a cathedral. It looks so improbable, delicate, intricate, and massive - all at once. This is the cathedral with the Chagall windows at one end. At the other, is a large & lovely rose window. All the stained glass there is beautiful. It has that intense blue color that I like so much in stained glass.
We walked all over the city - well beyond the touristy areas. So we found an astoundingly good restaurant that features Provençal cuisine. It was a bargain, too. We were so mesmerized by that lunch that we are still thinking about it, and no food has seemed the same ever since. The place is called Restaurant Aux Santons, at 46, rue du Jard in the southeast quadrant of the center city. It was located on a corner in a residential area, down the street from a kindergarten or elementary school. The décor was all maize and blue, and the front windows had on display little clay sculptures of Provençal. The proprietors were a couple in their late thirties or early forties who were genuinely interested in making sure we were really pleased with our dining experience there. We were the last ones to leave lunch. There was a group of businessmen eating there always a good sign and another group of local folks who were socializing.
We ordered the prix fixe menu which turned out to cost only about 58 Ff (about $7.80) each. It included a mixed salad with three large pieces of chevre cheese. The greens were all fresh, a very nice mixture, and the tomatoes were good. The vinaigrette was superb. Then the main course was a roasted ¼ of a chicken and some chopped & sautéed potatoes, in a spicy brown sauce that tasted like something from one of the best Cajun kitchens in New Orleans. There were tiny shavings of chives on the sauce. It was very pretty. For desert, Tom had a floating island crème Anglaise with a caramel sauce and meringue made from egg whites. I had sorbet. We love this place Aux Santons, 46, rue du Jard, 51110 Reims, Tel. 03 26 47 96 06.
Last night I sent Dad an e-mail asking about his brother, who was killed in France during WWII. Here is what he wrote back:
George was killed at Fort Durant - I believe that is near Nancy France. He
was in France for only about Two weeks when he was killed. I was in India
at that time so I do not know all the details. He was first reported
missing in action. It was about two weeks later that the telegram arrived
saying that he was killed in action.
George was much older than the guys that were drafted when I was called up.
He was 30 I think. He weighted 220 when he went into the army and was down
to 170 after basic training. He had divorced his first wife, Georgina, and
they had one son Allen. His second wife Mary lived with my mother and
father when he went overseas.
Perhaps I will remember more details later. My sister will know more than I do.
Yesterday and today have been a bit rainy, so we havent done so much lately. But today we did go to pick up our tickets at the American Express office for our trip to Strasbourg. Deborah was working there again today and she was the one who helped us. Then we walked to the Parc de Monceau, pretty much between rain showers. It was full of colorful and meticulously maintained gardens and follies. One of the follies was a pyramid, and another was a pool of water where one could stage miniature naval battles. The only possible naval battles we could see there were among the ducks. One of the ducks was of a special type he was the largest duck I have ever seen. At a distance, I thought he was a goose.
Then we took the metro over to Place des Vosges which was remarkably dead this time. I think weve been there on weekends before, and there have been more live performers on the walkways. There is even more renovation work going on there, too, and that has caused more of the commercial spaces to go temporarily vacant.
Yesterday we went to the Museum for the art and history of Judaism. I didnt think it would be so involved, but we ended up spending the entire afternoon there. They had an audioguide in English, and it was quite good. I thought the explanations of the migration patterns was enlightening, and the distinctions that people have historically made between the Ashkenazi and Safardic groups were a surprise. Of course much of the historical material was deeply saddening, but there was also a lot of life in those exhibits. The explanations of the various holidays and celebrations, and the lovely religious objects, wedding clothing, etc., were uplifting.
The walk in the Parc de Monceau today reminds me that weve seen some evidence of damage from the hurricane that hit Paris last December. In the Parc, there were a number of tree stumps left. You could tell that the trees had been uprooted or knocked over first, then cut off. The stumps have yet to be removed, even though the upkeep is meticulous in this park. Also, as we look down from our sixth floor balcony on the roofs of some of the smaller buildings around us, we see a few holes in tile roofs, as well as evidence that sections of roof have been repaired. The holes that are still wide open are disturbing. I keep thinking, isnt that going to ruin the clothes in those shops???
Speaking of shops Ive been wanting to buy some more Yves St. Laurent Rive Gauche eau de parfum spray. I looked in the Galeries Lafayette in Reims and decided that it was enough money that I better check on the internet first. I did that when we got back to Paris and found that I could only get eau de toilette that way. So I looked in the pages jaune (yellow pages) and found the name of a shop that seemed like it might have discount prices. It was near Opera, so we went to that metro, found the shop right away, and found it mobbed with people. But a saleswoman spotted me immediately because it was clear that I already saw what I wanted on the shelf. She had the large size spray on display but claimed that she only had the small size in stock. Then she said (in French) that shed give me a very special price. But even though she marked it down, it was too much for the small size. So we went to the main Galeries Lafayette, which was also mobbed. One keeps a tight grip on ones purse/wallet in places like that. I went to the Yves St. Laurent perfume counter, and again, even though they had the large size on display, the saleswoman claimed that they did not have it in stock. So we were on our way out when I noticed a different area where they had a variety of perfumes on the shelf, including the one I wanted in the size I wanted. It was the last box. I snatched it up, and then waited for someone to wait on me. It was near the end of the day and all the sales people seemed to be wacked out. I cannot blame them eight hours of a mob scene like that is too much. But I got the perfume, and I got it for the best price Ive seen yet. Now I have started to wear it every day, just as I often do in Columbus.
Weve had a good bit of rain lately but we still managed to do some walking & shopping yesterday. I bought some hair conditioner (the lime in the water here is really hard on my hair) at a pharmacy. The little pharmacies here are cute. It is the duty of the pharmacist to give the customer instruction on whatever product is purchased. So, the pharmacist told me how to use hair conditioner! I received my lesson like a good little student.
We explored other shops on Commerce, finding a place that is much like Odd Lots/Big Lots, except that it is crowded into less space, and occupies two levels of the building. Were going back there today to get a few odds & ends.
We went into one of the stores that sells rugs, carpeting, draperies, drapery hardware, wallpaper, and paint. They had a new Iranian runner in the front window that caught our attention. It was about 3 feet by 9 feet not really long enough for the purpose that we had in mind. It was nice, but nothing like Persian rugs used to be. They are cutting corners now. The thing was only about $400, though. Not a bad price at all. We bought a rug pad to go under one of the little rugs that we moved out of Roys study and put in the living room. It was hazardous without the rug pad.
In the evening, we ate at the very inexpensive Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant & take out that is on Theatre, not far from the apartment building were in. We had the place to ourselves. I think it is new, and it has not yet built up a clientele. One person came in to pick up a takeout order while we were there. That was it. The food was all prepared in advance and expertly heated in the microwave. It was surprisingly good.
Today we went to Monoprix at 10 a.m. It is a much saner place at that time of day. Late afternoon through the evening is a wild, frenetic and crowded time there.
Yesterday we found yet another little supermarket close to home & close to the Commerce metro station that we use so often. Monoprix was out of the right kind of cl, but this little place had it.
It was cloudy & rainy all day but in the evening it started to clear. We walked all the way down rue de lAbbe Groult only to find that both locations of Le Canard Dechaine had been closed. So we walked on down rue Vaugirard to Le Vieux Pressoir, madames restaurant that we like so well. She was not there but we were served by a nice young man. The chef came out to meet us again. Tom remembers him better than I do. Tom thinks the chef remembers us from last year. Peut etre.
Today the weather looks much more promising.
The lime in the water here is wreaking havoc with my hair. This a.m. I tried the conditioner I bought at the local pharmacy. Well see how it is when my hair dries.
I think well go to the arts & sciences museum today.
We spent the whole day at the Musée des Arts & Métiers (Arts & Sciences Museum) yesterday. Every engineer and scientist should see that place. The museum is especially good at showing the progression of technology development. Also attached to the museum is an interesting church the collegiate church of Saint-Martin-des-Champs (St. Martin of the Fields).
First, the church: It was founded in the 11th century on the site of a basilica dating from the 6th and 7th centuries. It became part of a Clunisian monastery. The nave was restored in the 19th century, and it is very colorful. All the church artifacts are gone (removed after the Revolution). Now the church is the part of the museum where one sees Foucaults pendulum (recently moved back there after spending some time in the Pantheon), various steam engines, including the first steam-powered autobus, aircraft, antique cars, and a rocket engine.
The museum has recently been re-done. It is organized thematically, starting with scientific instruments, including Pascals calculating machines, Berthouds marine chronometers, early microscopes, and even the Cray 2 supercomputer. Then one moves on to Materials everthing from paper to ceramics to high tech plastics. The looms used to make jacquard fabrics were particularly interesting because of their punch cards. Early computer aided design. Hmmm.
We had to leave to get lunch because the museums café isnt finished yet. When we returned, we saw the construction section. Tom really enjoyed trying to figure out how trusses really work. We sat down at one of the many audiovisual stations for a while. Most of them did not work. But this one did, and its content was amazingly detailed and thorough. It was all about environmental issues. Categories included water, wastewater, garbage, urban housing, park development, etc. It covered a great deal of the history of Paris from an environmental point of view. We spent more than an hour just going through its pages and pages of information arranged just like a web site (and it was available both in English and in French).
After that came a section on Communication. We learned about how telegraphs worked, and we saw a number of quaint antique televisions. A replica of Bells first telephone was there, along with many other devices, right up to present day cameras, a fax machine, and a dvd player. Some of the early phonographs were lovely.
By the time we finished with Communication, we were running out of energy and so we skipped through Energy and Mechanics pretty quickly. I confess that I did stop to look at an early cyclotron. Then we did spend some time in Transport, hoping to learn more about the history of the Metro. The history of the Metro wasnt there, but there were exhibits on bicycles, airplanes, cars, and trains. The French are rightfully proud of their trains. We have certainly enjoyed traveling on them.
Rarely would you see emotion included in a science museum. But the French do it. My favorite example was a tape recorded re-enactment of Monsieur Eiffel reading his impassioned, defensive reply to a letter from a group of artists who protested against his proposal to build the Eiffel Tower. He went on at length to explain why and how the tower would be beautiful. I can see it at this very moment. There are indeed more beautiful things to see in Paris, but the tower has a certain elegance. And it is far superior to the ugly Japanese high rise hotels down the river from here.
It has been a rainy weekend and we have been doing a lot of reading. It is nice to have all these books. Tom and I both have been reading about French history and culture. Tom found a book here by Theodore Zeldin, from 1988, that is quite good.
We have been reading Paris Walks by Sonia Landes and her mother. This relatively recently updated guidebook focuses on the central part of central Paris. So, it does not cover the 15th arrondisement where we live, but it includes ten walks in the very oldest parts of the city. We took the first walk on Saturday. We took our time, and noticed many things that went even beyond the scope of what was included in the book. Thanks to the book, we know how to recognize the oldest houses medieval structures that are obscured in many ways. For example, it is illegal (against fire code) to have exposed half timbering on the exterior of a house. So one looks for other clues. Now, it seems, the French government is allowing some of the half timbering to be exposed again when it is part of a careful restoration of a building. The house next to the English bookstore called Shakespeare and Company is very, very old, and above it you can see an exterior staircase that is on the back of another old house behind it. The oldest structures are wood, not stone, and it is a miracle that they have survived all the fires and the years.
On this walk we spent some time in Pariss oldest church, St. Julien-le-Pauvre (Saint Julien the Poor). Yes, it is even older than Notre Dame. Not all of the oldest parts of the structure remain, but it has lots of 12th century columns inside. It is a rather simple looking church, and it is set in a lovely little park that has a terrific view of the south side of Notre Dame. In the middle of the park is a collection of sculptures brightly painted automobiles that have their front ends chopped off and so are standing, upended, the flat chopped off end of each car on the ground, and on the top (or front) of each car is a large plastic organ of sense an ear, a nose, etc. These cars are arranged around a bronze fountain that must date to the turn of the century, so it all has a curious effect, especially when looking toward Notre Dame. One sees this glorious, massive gothic cathedral with all its flying buttresses and gargoyles in the background, weirdly colored and upended cars around a little bronze fountain, and plenty of flowers and chestnut trees all around the edges.
We poked around in Shakespeare and Company but both of us felt claustrophobic in there with all those books and several shoppers, and only tiny little aisles where people to move about. Books definitely have the priority there.
Several of the streets in this part of the city have recently been restored to their narrow, medieval width, and cobblestones once again pave them. Im not sure they are really closed off to cars, but since there is no place for a car to park, the cars just generally dont use them. So we had plenty of room to walk around, to stop, look up, and see old medieval gables and rooflines here and there. We discovered that a courtyard mentioned in the Landes book was really originally a passageway to a chapel that used to be part of St. Juliens. When a nearby business was restoring its building, they discovered one of the chapels old gothic windows in its wall. The entire chapel was not demolished, it seems one wall remained and became part of this buildings exterior. The owners went to considerable expense to dismantle the window, correct the structural problems around the wall, and then to replace the window. Each stone weighed more than 500 pounds. For this effort, the city government presented the business owners with an award.
Back to the church. It was removed from religious use during the Revolution, but eventually the French government decided to let the Greek Orthodox church use it for services. So, inside this simple stone church there is now a fairly elaborate rood screen and altar that the Greek church brought in. The somberness of the building itself is appropriate to the legend of St. Julien-le-Pauvre. I dont want to tell the whole depressing tale, but this poor guy accidentally killed his parents a case of mistaken identity. Then he gave up his estate and he & his wife lived a simple life ferrying travelers across the river and often giving them room and board for the night. One night, a particularly wretched looking traveler came to the door and Julien took him in and gave him is own bed for the night. When ferrying him across the river the next day, Julien noticed that the wretched creature had turned into a beautiful angel. The angel told Julien that he was forgiven for his terrible sin.
Across from the church and its park is an English tea room called the Tea Caddy. We had a good, light lunch there. Tom had an omelet that was very good, and he really appreciated not having to eat a French lunch (usually too much food). I had a salad, and what I thought would be a hard boiled egg was really soft cooked. It takes some adjusting to get used to the idea of runny egg yolk in a green salad, but Im adjusting.
We continued walking (all afternoon). Many of the shops in this part of town are very small. Often they are crammed into what used to be a hallway or a space between two buildings. We stopped in a shop with things from Afghanistan. Much of the silver and turquoise jewelry looked like native American jewelry. The kilims and rugs have good prices. Shop owners do not seem to be price gouging here.
One of the things I like best about browsing or shopping here is that one always says hello (bonjour) to the shop owner and the shop owner always says hello to the shopper. Smiles are exchanged. Eye contact is made. It is the rule, and everyone follows it. The French are very polite. I find this is true even in the way they walk down the street. In England, in cities like London and Bath, people would often bump into you on the crowded sidewalks, and usually theyd say nothing. The French are both more agile and polite. People here manage to delicately weave themselves around each other, even on the most crowded and narrow sidewalks. On those rare occasions where a collision occurs, there are pardons said all around.
Yesterday evening we went on a walk in the 15th. I had noticed a park on the map. It looked like something to see - a large rectangle, very close to the Seine, at the end of the street where Tom often likes to buy his baguette in the evening. It was a stunningly beautifully landscaped park. Then we walked south a couple blocks to another park - this one equipped with play equipment for children and somewhere, there was a swimming pool (piscine), probably underground in a building in the middle of the park. But it was raining a little so we went on. My route included two beautiful little streets with gorgeous apartment buildings - Beaugrenelle and Eduoard Roger. Then we came upon the old town hall for the old village of Grenelle (that's what this part of Paris was before it was annexed to the city). I think the building was early 19th century, but it could have been older. It was in a green square surrounded by iron fencing. It seems to be some kind of community center now. Its back faces the far end of Place du Commerce, the park that is over our favorite close-by metro station. We had Sunday dinner at an Italian restaurant on the Place. We've been there so many times now on Sundays that they recognize us and give us a very warm greeting. This is the kind of thing we miss when we leave France.
Some days we have ordinary days. These are times when we dont do anything touristy. We dont see a museum. We dont get on the metro and go to another part of the city to walk or sightsee. We just go about our ordinary business. We work on the computer some, we study our French some. We go out to get groceries at one of the supermarches (which are not very big like our supermarkets) and miscellaneous household items at other shops like pharmacies, the bricolage (hardware store), or the discount store. In late afternoon, we go to Madame Kaysers, our favorite bakery, to get a baguette (skinny loaf of French bread). If she is closed, or if it is not convenient to walk in that direction, we go to one of the other (several) bakeries near us. Because dinner is so late (always after 7:30 most people dont eat until 8:30 or 9 and restaurants dont open until 7 or 7:30), Ive started having tea at 4 or 5 p.m. When we do eat out, we go a little early (7:30 or 8) just to be sure we dont have heavy cigarette smoke to deal with. Im sure other Americans eat on the early side here for the same reason. So far, the cigarette smoke has not been too bad at all.
Our kitchen is so small that it alters the way I make even simple meals. I can only do one thing at a time, whereas in the states I will do several things at once. So I make the vinaigrette, wash the lettuce & put the salad things away to clear the counter space for the next thing. Ill cook pasta first, then set it aside before even starting on the sauce. The gas stove is so old and rusted that we havent dared to use the oven yet. We just use the three of four burners that work.
The refrigerator is small, but since we carry all our groceries in, we dont make large trips that would fill up the fridge anyway. In the supermarches, things are sold in smaller packages because most people, by far, are carrying their purchases home. Lots of people have cars here, but it is impractical to use them for daily food shopping. Most people here do not own cars. We saw a place not far from here where we can rent a car reasonably. We might do that, but finding our way out of Paris in a car will be a real feat.
On our ordinary days, we still go out for a walk before dinner. We generally stay in the 15th arrondisement, which is the largest and most populous district in the central city. We have explored much of it, but there are still some unseen corners. Weve found many surprises here. Pretty little parks are tucked in here & there all over the place. There are several churches, and many have little parks or squares or interesting institutions adjacent. Last night we saw Notre Dame des Charites (Our Lady of Mercy). It had an institution attached. As we approached I told Tom that, knowing the Sisters of Mercy, this would be a hospital, a school, or an orphanage. It was a hospital. The thing was quite a complex, and there was nothing showy or pretentious about it. The complex included a couple old houses. One was a Victorian era brick with a round turret and the most beautiful deep French blue slate roof. Another was a very old looking house which was quite plain. The big old hospital building was made of brick in two colors, had the same beautiful French slate on the roof, and French windows on the upper floors. The large second floor (what they call the first floor) had huge arched windows with metal bars. This was no-doubt the operating room. They needed the large windows for the light. Next to it was the new hospital building. It is an enormous, large white brick box with nothing of architectural interest.
It is about 8:15 a.m. and it has been light since about 5:30 a.m. Im looking out Roys study window at a jumble of clay tile rooftops and dozens of terra cotta chimney pots. And yes, there are a dozen or so TV antennas, too. The ash tree in the courtyard behind our building has bright yellowish green clumps of seeds on each branch. The back of the apartment building on the other side of the courtyard is typical stucco painted off-white, with just the right number of cracks in the stucco to give the building a patina of age. Most of the windows on it are the full-length French windows, and a decorative iron railing keeps occupants from falling out when the windows are open. Two brilliant groups of red geraniums grow in window boxes on the back of the building on the left side of the courtyard. The other buildings facing this court are shorter than ours, and were on the 6th floor (what is called the 5th floor here). So Im looking down on the other buildings and I can see plenty of blue sky and morning sunlight as well. The top of the Eiffel tower is in the sky part of my view, to the left. The air is bright, clean and cool now, after several rainy days.
The Café du Commerce backs up to the right, rear part of our courtyard. I can look down on its outdoor terrace. The top level of the dining area has a glass ceiling that opens. The restaurant has dining on three levels, with an atrium in the middle. In warm weather, the glass ceiling is open and sparrows fly in and out of the restaurant. Last year and the year before, when we ate there, we fed the birds scraps of bread. Other restaurant patrons did that as well. We enjoyed it so much because we were feeling pet-deprived. This year, weve been there only once. It was a bit disappointing, and full of tourists. They are advertising to tour groups, travel agents, and in publications such as FUSAC (France USA Contacts an advertising rag). Almost nobody in the large family that runs this restaurant can speak English. But they hired an English speaker or two, and they really want the business. So they advertise to attract tourists. The restaurant is too large to keep the quality up consistently. But we really enjoy the smells of the food wafting up through the courtyard into our kitchen, and the sound of clinking dishes and silver and people laughing and talking is cheery. And I do like their assiette des crudités (vegetable/salad plate) very much. During the soccer tournament, we heard bursts of wild cheering. France won. The noise is always under control, however; the restaurant is quiet and empty by midnight, as are most places. This is a neighborhood full of people who go to work every day, and everyone respects that. Sleeping peacefully has not been a problem for me.
On the right side of our courtyard is a wall, and beyond it is a large garden that goes with the more modern apartment building next door to ours on rue du Théâtre. The garden is so large that it has what we call a grassy lawn, surrounded by flowerbeds. It looks like it goes with the apartment on the first floor, which has sliding glass doors and a patio tucked into the nook next to the courtyard wall. I can see all this when I open the kitchen window and lean out, looking to the right. It is a rare and fortunate thing to have that much green space outside ones apartment in Paris.
Yesterday we took the second promenade in the Paris Walks book. We spent some time examining the church of St. Severin, the hermit. This large edifice is smack in the middle of La Huchette, an ancient part of Paris with narrow streets and some medieval age buildings. There is a section full of Greek and Tunisian restaurants, with their owners standing outside like barkers, urging tourists to come inside to eat. One of the tiny streets is called rue de la Chat qui Pêche street of the cat who fishes. At a time when few people could read, streets were called by what you could find there. One was once called rue des Rôtisseurs, because whole sheep and oxen were roasted there they were turned on spits over big fires. Speculation is that the cat-who-fishes street took its name from a sign in front of a fish shop. The sign must have shown a cat with a fish in its mouth.
The church, in the area behind the altar, has a forest of pillars that looks like a grove of palm trees. The pillar in the middle of this grove twists upward in a spiral form. It is called Dantes pillar because he supposedly liked to lean against it. But evidence says that it was built after his time.
For lunch, we decided to try one of the crêperies on rue de la Harpe (where Reginald the Harper used to play). This street goes back to Roman times. I picked a crêperie that was full of people, because that is almost always a good sign. It was good, and the prices were very low. Service, by French standards, was quick. This crêperie specialized in buckwheat crêpes, so I guess the food is even somewhat healthy.
We walked over into the next neighborhood to the west to see what the hotel where we will spend our last few nights in Paris (early September) was like. We were delighted to see that it is in an antique district, Carré de Rive Gauche. It will be quiet, and the hotel is small. To get there, we walked down rue Jacob, which turns into rue de lUniversité. On this street, we were able to peek into more courtyards than on any other. This mysterious quiet places in the big city are charming evidence of the French clinging to a sane, civilized life in spite of the frenetic noise & energy all around.
The Bastille Day fireworks have been postponed until tonight. I guess there had been so much rain that they werent ready. Today is supposed to be better more sun than clouds.
The other day we found another park nearby, St. Lamberts Square. It is beautiful. It includes a round pool of water with a pretty globular spray of a fountain in the middle. The grass is perfect, and you are even allowed to walk or sit on it! The flower beds are quite formal and colorful. There are lots of comfortable benches to sit on. The best thing is that this park is only a few blocks away from us. Rue des Entrepreneurs runs right into it. (That is the street that runs across the front of our church, John the Baptist of Grenelle.)
We did a lot of grocery shopping yesterday in preparation for Murray & Ellens visit and Bastille Day. They dont arrive until late this afternoon, so Tom and I will go to the meridian picnic before they get here.
Weve gone twice now to a good Indian restaurant on rue de la Croix Nivert. It is called Banani. Lunch was better than dinner, but both were good. They have Korma there, but it is a Frenchified version very different from the Indian Ovens Korma. I like both of them, but the Indian Ovens version is definitely spicier and livelier all around. The Banani Korma sauce has all the subtleties that one finds in French sauces.
On Wednesday, we took the third route in Paris Walks. It covered St. Germain des Pres. That church needs some work, but it is one of the few with all the colorful paint inside. The gothic vaulted ceiling is dark blue with gold stars. There are biblical scenes painted high up on the walls. There are some spectacularly well made sculptures particularly the virgin mother & child at the far end, beyond the alter. Parts of this church are very old. It used to be part of a walled-in abbey complex that was really a city unto itself, outside the walls of Paris.
Once again, we really enjoyed walking along the very narrow, winding medieval streets. This is the most romantic part of Paris. It is so easy to get to via the number 10 metro line that goes right from the corner of Commerce and Emile Zola.
Today it is very quiet because there is no morning rush hour. Holidays are peaceful. I heard a few drunk voices last night, but it wasnt bad at all.
In the evening, after our Indian meal, we hopped on the number 8 and went to the Place de la Bastille to check out the bal. The stage was set up, and we could tell by the drum set that it would be a loud rock band. The crowd was almost all twenty-somethings, and they werent all dressed up or particularly festive. They were just your typical twenty-somethings, hanging out. It looked pretty boring to us (I bet the twenty-somethings think WE are boring, and theyd be shocked to know that we thought such a thing of them). So we went back on the number 8 to Ecole Militaire to see about the fireworks. We learned about the delay, but we sat there in the peace pavilion for a while and watched the sparkle lights that were dazzling the Eiffel Tower. Beautiful.
We had a nice walk home. The walk, and the metro ride, late in the evening (10 pm to midnight) seemed very safe. There werent many folks on the metro, but the ones who were there were definitely not scary. Walking from the Ecole to our apartment along La Motte Piquet and Commerce was fine there were lots of ordinary people walking about. Nobody was acting crazy or drunk. This is a civilized place.
Yesterday, in the morning, we watched the Bastille Day parade on TV. That was definitely the way to do it, because the people who went in person to see it were confined to bleachers way off to the sides, and with all the chestnut trees along the Champs Elysees, I dont think they could have seen much. But with all the TV cameras strategically positioned, we saw everything. This is a somber parade, entirely military. The military groups were from all over Europe. It was so impressive that I found myself thinking, with great relief, that we (the US) should never have to send troops to Europe again. All the commentary was in French, but we understood enough to get the idea of where each of the groups might be from and what branch of the military they might represent. There was a lot of commentary about how many women were now marching with these groups.
We went to the Meridian Picnic for a short while in the afternoon. French people all across the nation were picnicking on the meridian, all the way from North to South. In Paris, the meridian goes right through the Louvre and the Luxembourg gardens. We got off the metro at Mabillon, very near the rue de la Seine which is one of the streets on the meridian line. There were indeed tables set up with red & white checkered tablecloths and people were eating at them. The street was closed to auto traffic except at a few intersections where cross-town traffic was allowed. We heard drums so we walked down Seine until we found them a drum corps of young musicians who were wildly good at this. The sound was a combination of African and marching band, if you can imagine that. The tempo was fast. Tom thinks they had made their own steel drums. Of course that kind of performance is so much work that they only did one long piece, then were resting & chatting with folks on the street. We went on south on Seine to go into the Luxembourg Gardens. That is the end of the gardens with the Senate building, a former imperial palace, and the security was so tight (the dignitaries were picnicking in the building, I guess) that we had to walk all the way around, on city streets, to the eastern side entrance of the park. People just could hardly believe they werent allowed to approach their park from the North. I thought there might be another Revolution.
But when we entered the park we found lots of people. There was an area close to a large stage that was cordoned off and one had to have a pass to get in there. It was, we think, a reunion for all the former & current mayors of the various arrondisements and maybe the surrounding suburbs as well. The live music was not continuous, as it would have been for such an event in the U.S. There was nothing playing while we were there. We walked all around & through the park, skirting the lowered garden area. In the middle, down the meridian, is a long grassy area that was full of people with their picnic cloths on the ground. It started to rain a little as we were leaving the park so we got on the metro and went home to wait for Murray & Ellens arrival.
They arrived about when we thought they would (on the train that comes in from Nice at 4:25 pm). So when the taxi pulled up around 5:15, I was ready, out on the balcony, and I called out a welcome from six stories up down to the street. They loved it. Tom went down to help them get in. They have so much luggage that the first trip up on the elevator was just Tom and most of the luggage. Second trip was Murray & Ellen.
We had champagne and then went out to show them a bit of the immediate neighborhood. We went to Della Piazza for dinner. It was good, as always, and very reasonable. We were a little later than usual, and it was a holiday when only some restaurants are open, so the place was as busy as we have ever seen it.
Then we walked up rue du Commerce until it changes to La Motte Piquet and goes in front of the Ecole Militaire which faced the long park that includes the Eiffel tower. We went into the park, just beyond the peace pavilion. This time the park was crammed with people waiting for the fireworks. We stood (all the grass was covered with bodies by now) along the edge of the grass, in just far enough from the chestnut trees that we had a good view of the sky around the tower. People filled in all around us. Then we were in a mass of shoulder to shoulder people that seemed like a half a mile wide and at least two miles long.
The fireworks finally started at 11 (it stays light here until 10:30 at this time of year). It was a pretty fantastic show. Maybe there are more elaborate fireworks somewhere, maybe not. But nowhere else do they have an Eiffel Tower in the middle of it. We knew when the show was about to begin because they turned all the lights on the tower off, and suddenly it was a black colossus against a dark blue sky. Then the fireworks started, up from the bottom of the tower like a fountain. There were also alternating red, white, and blue lights under the tower. The search lights all around were used during brief intervals between sets of fireworks. Their light was magical with all the hazy smoke in the air from the fireworks, and the big black tower in the middle. There was classical music being broadcast from somewhere near the base of the tower. When the show was beginning, we could hardly hear it. But when the crowd became enthralled with the show, it became quiet, and we could hear the music. Imagine a crowd that large becoming somewhat quiet, except for the outbursts of appreciation after particularly showy set.
At the end, we moved with the mass of bodies back toward our neighborhood. The crowd was still thick until we got past the intersection at Grenelle, then it was just your normal crowd. We all went out on the balcony and drank champagne, talked, and watched other people walking home on the streets below. Tom and I do so appreciate having friends here who speak our language.
We just returned last night from four days and three nights in Strasbourg. The train rides were pleasantly uneventful. We finally figured out where on the side of each car they put the car number, so from now on finding the right place to board the train should be easier! This time we went in second class instead of first. It was perfectly comfortable, especially on the return trip where we were in a newer car with very comfortable seats. Second class is air conditioned (unlike in England?).
Id found enough info in a Blue Guide to France at the Paris apartment before we left to know that wed be able to walk from the train station to the hotel with our one little suitcase on wheels. Our hotel, the Sofitel, was on a square called Place du St. Pierre le Jeune, named, of course, for the church on the square. The Sofitel is a four star, very luxurious place, and we had a huge room with all the modern conveniences one expects in a modern four star hotel. Because of the Frantour package, we paid less than $70 per night a fraction of the regular rate there, Im sure. The hotel was not very full, and a large percentage of the few guests there were American businessmen. The reception staff at the hotel all speak three languages: French, German, and English. Very impressive. Although we had access to CNN in English on cable, we only turned it on for a few minutes one night. We were too busy on the other nights!
I knew from the Blue Guide that part of the St. Pierre le Jeune church dated back to 1031, but we werent prepared for the fact that this old part consists of an intact cloister the complete cloister, almost 1,000 years old! Whats even more ironic is that the name is le Jeune because there was an even older St. Pierre already there. But the older church looks like it was heavily bomb damaged at some point, and you can see large sections that were reconstructed in newer brick or stone. The place that St. Pierre le Jeune is on is not really included in the tourist guide books that Strasbourg now promotes, which is unfortunate. But there is restoration work going on in the chapter houses attached to the church, and the church itself may receive yet some more work. My guess is that when it is up to the city fathers standards, it will be more prominently featured in the guidebooks. We, however, appreciated even the relatively unrestored parts of the church. The crypt was open, too. Parts of it date back to the 5th Century.
We went to the great cathedral in Strasbourg, Notre Dame. It is constructed of the local brownish rose sandstone, and for many centuries, it was the highest cathedral in Christendom. The façade alone took two centuries to construct. Most of the cathedral was built between 1100 and 1500. The oldest stained glass in it is remarkable for the brilliant gold colors used, in addition to that deep blue that I like so much. The cathedral has an astronomical clock with figures that do things on the quarter hour, half hour, etc. The real show is at 12:30 each day, when the apostles parade before Christ and he blesses each of them. Because the visit of the astronomical clock was included in the 30day passes that we bought, we stood in line and stood to hear the commentary & see the clock do its thing for about one hour total. It was a mob of people crammed into too small a space. We were on the outer edges of the group, when they let more people in. These tiny French and German people next to me were pushing hard, but I decided not to move at all because if I did, and if others did, small children and other folks would have been pressed against the stone wall at the other end. So, I stood my ground. It helps to be fairly tall and sturdy. It really wasnt worth the standing and the crowding to see this clock. Tom and I both remember seeing a similar one, which we think was even better, at one of the cathedrals in England. Neither of us is sure which cathedral that was, and Id have to look it up in my travel journal to remember for certain. But I think it was the cathedral in Wells. See the one in Wells and dont bother with this clock!
The carvings on this cathedral are outstanding and elaborate. It is situated on a large place where there is lots of activity, day and night. To the right of the cathedral is the Palais Rohan, built for one of the cardinals who was not only a church leader, but also a governmental leader (in the days before separation of church and state). The Palais contains the cardinals apartments, which were modeled on Versailles. That section of the Palais is now the decorative arts museum. We did take the time to see it, and were very glad that we did, not just because of the grandeur of the rooms, but because some of these rooms contain some of the best large tapestries Ive ever seen. There were like fine paintings. The folds in the fabrics and the muscles in the arms & legs of figures depicted in the tapestries were extraordinarily realistic. This is a fine museum, and surprisingly low budget. They did not have enough staff working to ensure security.
Throughout Strasbourg, we saw other signs that prosperity is relatively recent, and the city is trying to keep up. The universitys grounds had been allowed to go to weed, and now they are restoring vast areas. But you can still find the weedy spots here and there. They promote the Universitys grounds as a great botanical garden, and while parts are nice, the overall impression we had is that wow, Ohio State is a fine arboretum and botanical garden that puts this one to shame.
The plethora of medieval buildings in Strasbourg is impressive. There are half timbered buildings everywhere. Many of the timbers are carved and display elaborate figures, faces, flowers, and other decorations. The river Ill (a tributary of the Rhine) was separated and made to flow around the island that forms the old part of the city. This gives the effect of having fast flowing canals all around the city.
We took the guided boat tour of the city right away on the first morning. It was great fun, even though we had to listen to the commentary in French. Still, we got a lot out of the commentary, and the weather was perfect. I think we were the only English speakers on the boat, although there was a large Japanese or Korean contingent. The boat tour even took us way out to the northern section of Strasbourg, away from the old city, where the ultra modern European Unions Parliament and Human Rights buildings are located. Having these institutions in Strasbourg has been an economic boon to the area.
We also took two great, long walking tours in the city the ones featured in the guidebook that I bought at the tourism office near the cathedral on our first day. We learned even more about medieval architecture and the history of France this way. Seeing it makes it so real. The old part of Strasbourg is a city that is entirely walkable. Many of the streets are pedestrian ways, but one still needs to keep an eye out for the taxis and delivery vehicles that are allowed even on these streets.
There is a huge plaza, Place Kleber, in the middle of it all. On Wednesday, there was an enormous outdoor market set up on Place Kleber. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, there is an open air book market that is usually on Place Gutenberg, but because of construction, is squeezed into the streets leading up to Place Kleber. Only on Wednesday is a big flea market on the old fish market/slaughterhouse streets not far from the cathedral. So, on Wednesdays, the markets take over much of the old city. We walked through them all, and didnt buy anything. In fact, on the whole trip, we bought only one oversized post card, the guide book for the city, and a new Michelin guide for France.
We spent a little bit of money one night to go to an organ recital at St. Thomass church. This is the organ that Albert Schweitzer used to play when he lived in Strasbourg. It is very old, and has been worked on every 100 years or so. This much loved organ is not one of the most powerful, but it is beautifully clear and precise. Even though there were posters all over town for this series of recitals (all Bach), we were the only tourists there, I think. There is a local organ fan club, it seems, and they are the ones who turn out for these events. The concert went on until 10:30, and we had a hard time finding a place to eat that late.
The next night, we went to a free concert in the large courtyard at the Palais Rohan. Every night in season, the city has a free concert there. This one was special because they brought in a dance troop from Russia. The costumes were elaborate. The local musicians (all from the University, we think) were even in Russian costumes, and they changed costumes during the intermission. The dance troop came out each time dressed differently, and they put on quite a show. The men, especially, could do all those leaps and acrobatics that Russian dancers are known for. The women, in addition to their fine dancing, made interesting sound effects with their voices little high pitched squeals and whistles that punctuated the dancing and music. In between dances, other performers came on stage. One was an operatic singer, a man who may or may not have been Russian, who sang traditional Russian songs with great panache. We heard from him several times. One time, one of the percussionists came forward to do a solo on the xylophone. This kid was so young he didnt know how to handle the applause. He blushed. But he was rapid and precise on the xylophone a great talent. We felt privileged to hear him perform. Late in the concert, the audience started to become the rhythm section. There were lots of clapping of hands and smiling faces. At the end, all the performers got standing ovations and rhythmic, thunderous applause from the audience. The concert went on until 10:30 or 11, but this time we managed to get dinner afterward at a place called Bistro de la Gare Italian cuisine, of course. The Italians are everywhere.
We liked the Bistro de la Gare because they had good food and they were there for us when we needed them. But the most interesting place where we ate in Strasbourg was a tiny restaurant called Au Tire Bouchon (At the Corkscrew). It was tucked into the lower level of a little medieval building on a tiny little medieval street. We had the prix fixe lunch menu that included a local Alsacian pasta called knepfles in a Riesling cream sauce. Heavenly! And I had a rhubarb tart that was also very good.
We also sampled Quiche Lorraine on this trip one must do that. And I had the local Riesling a couple times. It is pleasantly dry, and is served in little pottery pitchers and small wine glasses with long green stems.
The second walking tour took us over to the Place de la Republique, on the other side of the Ill, where the post-revolution magnificent governmental buildings were built. This included the National and University Library of Strasbourg, which, in France, is supposed to be second only to the Mitterand National Library (Paris). We also stopped in the 1880s main university building, which has a beautiful and grand atrium in the middle marble floor, gilt plaster moldings, glass ceiling way up there, marble columns all around, etc. Just what a university should look like!
We returned to Paris and caught the metro back to the 15th. The weather had been nice for Murray and Ellen, too, so I had to give all the plants on the balcony a good long drink with the garden hose. We all went to the Café du Commerce for a late dinner, which was surprisingly good. Then we came back and had champagne that Murray and Ellen had bought. Life is getting back to normal here, and it is a beautiful day in Paris.
Yesterday Tom and I went to the Frances Mitterand National Library of France, in the 13th arrondisement. It is a colossal ultra-modern structure a large rectangle with a forest in the middle. The corners of the rectangle support four tall, glass L-shaped towers. The entry to the complex is not intuitive at all if not for the signs that point the way to either the east or west entrance, youd feel like you were lost in a Salvador Dali etching. Once we were inside, I did find a few things that were pleasant about the architecture. I sat in a very comfortable modern leather chair in the lobby and gazed at the bookshop while Tom looked at the books. The red lacquer bookcases in the shop were hung on the wall and had a greenish indirect lighting system along the top and bottom edges, making them appear to float. The modern library tables that were also used to display books in the shop had chrome legs that crossed in large Xs, and all lined up like they were, they were also very attractive. We walked around the upper level (the one that is open to the public) and looked into the readings rooms. The library was not crowded at all, but the universities are on break right now. The entire building was puzzling youd find yourself hating the ultra modern architecture overall, but then seeing smaller aspects of it that you really liked. We had tea/lunch on the deck that encircles the upper part of the inner rectangle, and looked out at the forest in the middle. Sparrows came from the trees to beg for bread crusts, which we happily supplied. As usual, I tried to feed the scrawny ones, avoiding the big fat tough ones.
This morning we went to the outdoor market under the elevated tracks on Grenelle, in our neighborhood. The flower stalls are such a treat. Flowers, beautiful fresh flowers of all kinds, are so inexpensive. We typically have a very large vase with a big splashy arrangement on the mantel in the dining room, a medium size vase with an arrangement that consists mostly of roses on the dining room table, a tall vase with something like gladiolas on the mantle in the living room, and one smaller bouquet in a little vase on a little table in the dining room, next to the settee. On Sundays or Wednesdays (or both) we get fresh blooms to renew all this, and we typically spend only about $10 to $15 for an armload of flowers.
Last night we didnt want much for dinner so we tried the Italian carryout just down on the corner only a few doors away from our building. I cant believe weve been here so long without trying this place. They have wonderful Bolognaise sauce and panini. So, we have, just practically right outside our door, a large restaurant that is open 7 days a week, excellent Italian and Chinese carryouts, a crêpérie that serves wonderful crêpes with a variety of yummy fillings, a bakery that has wonderful croissants and okay baguettes (as well as other assorted snack items & beverages), and a comestibles shop that has prepared sandwiches and other things like soup, jams & jellies, etc. There is no reason to cook, but we have done a little bit of it. Also, just around the corner, is a fine fruit and vegetable shop, so the ingredients for salad are close at hand. The fromagerie (cheese shop) is a bit farther a half a block from us. The couple who run that shop are exceptionally nice and friendly. In addition to cheese, we can get milk, eggs, and juice there.
Being here has made me want to tell all the people I know who have small children how important it is for them to sign their kids up for foreign language courses when they are in elementary school. It makes it so much easier to learn and use foreign languages later in life. The most fortunate young people here are those who have grown up speaking two languages, so they are truly fluent in both. If you learn a language as an adult, it is almost impossible to become really fluent, to the point where your syntax is like that of the native speakers. English and French are so utterly different in the way that things are said. Ive translated a few short things since Ive been here like a little article about Michelin selling tires with colored sidewalls in the U.S. and the practical information sheet that came with our tour package for Strasbourg. You translate, and then you go back over it two more times to change the structure of sentences to something that much more closely resembles real English. Well, you just cannot do that in your head when you speak. So the only way to sound really fluent is to grow up with both languages and know them both so well that you actually can think in both languages. Learn a foreign language early, and use it often.
On Sundays, many of the restaurants and shops are closed. We were ready for lunch at about 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon, and because it was Sunday and because it was late for lunch (even for Parisians, who typically eat lunch at 1:30 or 2), our best bet was a brasserie. Brasseries are the corner cafés that Paris is known for. On a warm day like this, they open up two sides and have tables out on the sidewalk. We went for a very short walk and decided to go to the brasserie where we ate on the first night we spent together in Paris two years ago. It is down at the end of rue du Commerce, right across the square from our church, St. John the Baptist of Grenelle. The brasserie is named after the Eiffel Tower, even though the tower is a mile and a half or so away. With a name like that, youd think it would be a tourist trap but it isnt. It has lots of local folks inside at all times of day and evening.
We decided to sit inside because the sun was so hot, and we found that there was a large table of couples, all thirty-something, as well as a couple of their babies, in the middle. They were speaking both French and British English, although I think I heard one American voice. These were not tourists, but people who live and work here perhaps for a bank or computer company. They were clearly spending the Sunday afternoon in Parisian style, with friends and family. This Sunday activity is typically carried out in a park or in a café, and you can bet that they will remain in place talking & socializing for hours after theyve eaten. This is accepted in a café or brasserie, where once youve ordered your food, you own that real estate (the table) for the whole afternoon if you want it.
We asked about the Tour de France, and our waiter said yes, that it was ending this afternoon. Then he realized that it was the afternoon, and he turned on the little TV for us (no sound, thank heavens). We watched the end of the 21st stage of the Tour as the cyclists made their way through the streets of Paris. A couple local men at the bar also turned around to watch because cycling is a very popular sport here. We know the city so well now that we could tell where the cyclists were at all times because we recognize so many landmarks. The 3-week long event was evidently already decided, so there was no competition, just cycling, and the winners were given glasses of champagne to consume as they cycled the final miles. Later, when Tom was buying ice cream at the bakery on our corner, the shopkeeper asked if wed been watching the Tour, and said something about how astonishing Lance Armstrong (the winner, an American cancer survivor) is. This is the second time in a row that hes won the Tour de France.
Back at the brasserie I still find words on menus that I dont know and that arent in my little pocket dictionary. It almost always pays to ask. This time, one of the daily specials was filets de rougets. I asked (in French), what is a rouget? Fish (poisson), the waiter said. Then he paused. Then he went on to describe how wonderfully prepared this particular dish is, and he recommended it. It sounded so good that I ordered it. It turned out to be baked redfish, beautifully prepared in a little pool of buttery cream sauce with steamed rice and roasted vegetables. The fish was very fresh and not overcooked at all. I remembered that the food was good here two years ago, too. Often, the food at the brasseries is not the best. But this place is probably an exception. Tom had the charcuterie plate and a fruit dessert. We sat for a long time after we finished, watching the cyclists on TV. Then we finally got up and took the metro to Montmartre and Sacre Coeur. On Sundays, there are mobs of tourists and plenty of street musicians and mimes. We saw a funny aluminum-colored mime who was not silent. When he/she spoke, it was through a high pitched squeaky whistle hidden somewhere in his/her mouth. This mimes antics were especially hilarious.
I forgot to mention that when we went to the Mitterand Library, we took the newest metro, the number 14, from beginning (Madeleine) to end (Mitterand). It is utterly unlike the other lines. The 14 is ultra modern, and has a female voice that announces the name of each stop (just the way they do it on the London tube, only this voice is speaking French). The stations are large, and there are not many stops. The speed of the train is astounding. The cars are modern, more spacious than those on the older lines, and air conditioned. RATP, the authority that operates the metro, has announced that they plan to refurbish all the older lines and all the stations. This announcement was made this past week, on the 100th anniversary of the metro. Air conditioning will be installed, eventually, on all the metros. Indeed, many of the stations are already undergoing renovation. For the anniversary, there is supposed to be an exhibit about the metro somewhere, but the newspaper article didnt say where. I think it must be at the Maison de la RATP, next to Gare de Lyon. Were putting it on our list of things to see.
My friend Darrell is on a Fulbright in southern Africa, writing about the AIDS epidemic there. (Hes the author of the AmFAR AIDS Handbook, published by W. W. Norton & Co. last year.) Hes sending regular e-mail messages home, and his wife, Barbara, sends them on to a list of friends, including me. So almost every day we read about life in southern Africa, and we deal with life in the U.S. (Tom and I are both doing some work now), and we live in Europe. Each day, the International Herald Tribune is delivered to our door. (For those who arent familiar with it, this is a top-notch newspaper published by the Washington Post and the New York Times, printed in Paris, and distributed in Europe and Asia.) The IHTs coverage of the globe is fairly comprehensive. We find ourselves reading it cover to cover each evening. Tom also reads aloud every evening from Theodore Zeldins The French. All this gives us the feeling of having a different perspective on the world when we are here.
Darrells messages describe the extreme poverty and hopelessness in southern Africa. The IHT provides statistics: in some places in sub-Sahara Africa, 25 to 35 percent of the population is HIV positive. Every day, Darrell says he is one white face in a sea of black faces, surrounded by much poverty, and he writes things like simply wearing socks can set you apart and hint at that basic disparity . . . .
The IHT covered the recent international AIDS conference in South Africa. Darrell was there at the time. President Mbeki of SA has come under fire for saying that the western pharmaceutical approach to fighting AIDS wont work in SA. The press has been merciless toward Mbeki. But the IHT included an editorial written by a San Francisco doctor, Lawrence Goldyn, which was supportive of Mbekis position. In the US and in Europe, we are almost clueless about what it is like to fight this epidemic in southern Africa. Pills bring high prices on the black market, so people will hide them under their tongues at the clinic and sell them a few hours later. There is no money for transporting health educators to rural areas, where, because of the conservative society there, AIDS education is difficult because sex is a taboo subject. Even if HIV positive mothers in poor, rural areas are given AZT and cesarean sections to avoid having the disease pass to the newborns, the mothers must breastfeed the babies because there is no infant formula, and if even there were, there is no clean water to mix it with. The babies get the disease while being breastfed if they dont get it at birth. This is what Mbeki is talking about when he says that it is poverty that is killing Africans, not AIDS. Indeed it is cyclical each one feeds the other. The epidemic is increasing the economic distress in Africa.
In Paris, to some degree, and especially in Strasbourg (the headquarters for the European Unions parliament and human rights commission), we saw plenty of recent immigrants from Africa. There were many very large, very dark men who spoke broken French selling leather belts and umbrellas on blankets spread out on the pavement in the large plazas in Strasbourg. Theyd work at selling their wares all day, then their family would join them at the end of the day and theyd walk off together to some corner of the city to spend the night. They cannot possibly make much money at all, and life must be difficult. But I understand. If I were the head of a household in a place where a third of the population had this deadly disease, and there was no way to fight it there, I think Id do whatever it took to get my family out of there, no matter what.
In fact, there is a flood of immigration flowing into Europe. Some of it is legal Tom read somewhere that people who live in former French colonies are considered to be French citizens. Much of the immigration is illegal. People pay smugglers hundreds or thousands of dollars to get them into Italy. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post writes A historic tide of illegal immigrants is crashing ashore in southern Italy, pressing relentlessly northward to reach Europes wealthier, developed, largely white and politically conservative centers. Northern Europe is learning how to cope with this for the first time. Smith continues, Unlike the inhabitants of the United States, a country founded by immigrants, many people here are unaccustomed to any substantial racial or ethnic minority presence. Not all of these immigrants are from southern Africa, of course. Many are simply seeking better jobs, and they come from places like Turkey, Albania, Iran, and Iraq. Immigrants are met with an increasingly unfriendly reception. Countries that have historically provided with world with immigrants (Portugal, Spain, Italy) are now net importers of the worlds poor.
Berlin has the worlds largest Turkish population outside Turkey, and the largest Palestinian settlement outside the Middle East, according to Smith. The numbers are astounding. Counting the legal immigrants only, Europes intake is now double that of the U.S.
As uncomfortable as people here might be, I think this will all work out. Ireland now has more jobs than it has people to fill them. There are signs that the job market is getting to be that way elsewhere in Europe. Europeans are not very flexible about moving from country to country for jobs. But the immigrants are quite flexible. Just as has always happened in the U.S., immigrants will take the jobs that citizens dont want. I just hope that they can be as upwardly mobile as many immigrants in the States have been. Much of Europe is still so class-conscious, Im not sure how easy upward mobility will be. It is clear, in any case, that each European Union country is going to be far more ethnically diverse than it has ever been in the past. In fact, that is already the case in most places.
But what will happen in southern Africa? The population is going to decrease sharply. Poverty will increase. Will governments become more unstable there? Will the economy there almost certainly collapse? What affect will that have on Africa and the rest of the world? I dont know, but I do know that all of us originally came from Africa. We should all be deeply concerned.
We dont do the normal touristy things in Paris because we did all that during the past two years. So, we choose to do things that are a bit offbeat. But were having lots of fun doing them.
A couple days ago we went to the Maison de la RATP, the headquarters of the authority that runs the Métro. We like the Métro and we are increasingly curious about it. This is a good year to satisfy such curiosity because RATP is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Métro. We read in the International Herald Tribune that RATP opened a special exhibit about the history of the Métro as part of this celebration. The paper didnt say where it the exhibit was, but I rightly assumed that it was this Maison de la RATP, where, Id read, one can buy souvenirs of the Métro.
The Maison is an ultramodern multi-functional (but mostly offices) building next to the Gare de Lyon. (A gare is a train station, for those who know no French.) For this outing, it was entirely appropriate for us to take the Métros newest line, the number 14. Weve done this once before (see July 24), but this time Tom got the bright idea of moving to the very front of the train. Unlike other trains in the system, these cars are completely open onto each other, so moving up to the front was easy. Once again, the number 14 was curiously uncrowded, but the most people were to be found in that front car. There is no operator these number 14 trains are run by computers, somewhere out in RATP land. So the front car has a big, clear windshield through which you can watch as you move at a frightening, high speed through the dark tunnels between the brightly lit stations. There are few stops on this line, so the high speed dark tunnel experience is long enough to be hypnotizing. You feel like you are in a life-size video game, darkness and lights streaking past you.
Upon arrival at the modern Gare de Lyons Métro station, you see, through a glass wall, a sunken garden a small tropical rainforest, actually. It made me homesick for Sanibel.
We made our way into the Maison de la RATP from inside the Gare de Lyons Métro station, through a vast network of large spaces and modern corridors. There were signs pointing the way. We emerged from the underground, up into a modern building with a huge central atrium. The atrium, alas, turned out to be where the exhibit was located. Large geometric bubbles made of some high-tech fabric were arranged in adjoining sections through the middle of the atrium. You are given a ticket (free) by a smiling RATP employee, and you descend into the bubbles. Inside, you are overwhelmed by a multi-multi-multi-media experience. There are multiple sound tracks sounds of Métro construction noises, sound tracks from old movies with scenes that took place on the Métro, sounds of other people talking about the Métro (some famous, some not). Photographs and video clips are projected on the interior of the bubbles walls, all around you, in an overlapping, collage fashion. A photographic timeline (with many captions) is mounted on a railing that snakes right through the bubble chain. The photos (both the ones mounted on the timeline and the ones projected on the walls) are an excellent and impressive visual documentation of 100 years of Parisian history (not just Métro history). Real relics are included, too, such as a restored car dating to about 1900 (beautiful wood finishes), sample tickets from throughout the Métros life, right up to the high-tech magnetic passes that some commuters use, and one of the old machines used to print the tickets on strips of paper. The photo timeline was honest it even included a grisly and morbid newspaper cartoon about the time when a fire took the lives of 77 passengers, in about 1904. There were funny videos of almost romantic encounters taking place in a station, but then the woman disappears through the turnstile.
We finally emerged from the end of the bubble chain with a pleasant sensation of sensory overload. In a daze, we remembered to return our free tickets, which must somehow be used to track the number of visitors. We visited the gift shop, but didnt buy anything (since when do t-shirts always sell for a minimum of $14???), partly because we were still in a state of media overdose.
So, lets hear something bad about the Métro, you say? Well, Ill try. At some stations in particular, pickpockets are said to be a problem. The Métro stations attached to the Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon are allegedly among prime pickpocket territory. Thats because they are busy, crowded places at times, and because jet-lagged tourists arrive there daily on the trains from the airports. The IHT recently published one of its tourist advisory articles about things to watch out for in Europe. The pickpockets in the Gare du Nord are mentioned. That prompted Len Sternberg, from Cincinnati, to write a letter to the editor about his experience.
Len had read and appreciated the tourist advisory article that the IHT published the week before his trip. He and a friend had to change trains and train stations in Paris when he was vacationing there. So, hed been forwarned about the Gare du Nord. When he and his friend caught the Métro from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon to make their connection, he noticed that his friend did not seem to have his backpack. He asked wheres the backpack? with an edge of panic because the pack contained their money, passports, travelers checks, etc. They hurried back to the Gare du Nord, retracing their steps. There they found the backpack being watched over by a very concerned Parisian who spoke no English. They spoke no French. But what was conveyed was that she noticed the pack, knew that worried person would surely return to find it, and so she waiting to be sure that the voleurs (thieves) would not get it first. She refused to take any money as a reward for her troubles.
Then I had my experience with a pickpocket yesterday. Tom and I were returning from the Pompideau Centre (which, by the way, has a HUGE public information library) at about 7 in the evening. We got on the number 11, a train that we were only going to take for two stops before changing to the number 8 that takes us home to Commerce. The number 11 was a bit crowded and we didnt mind standing for just two stops. As I got on, I grabbed the pole to support myself and automatically put my other hand down on my handbag, as I always do, to keep it snug during the ride. As I looked down to do this, the short, pale sort-of gypsy looking woman (well, she had blue eyeshadow on, and who wears THAT anymore?) with curly dark hair had her fingertips inserted into the top edge of the outside pocket of my handbag. Her eyes were downcast (thats why I noticed the eyeshadow) and I knew that she hadnt managed to get anything yet (besides there was nothing in the outside pocket), so I said nothing, but clamped my hand firmly down on the top of the handbag, holding it close to my body. Shed withdrawn her hand, and acted like nothing happened. But my eyes happened to catch the eyes of the tall black man standing nearby. I dont think he was with her, but he could have been. At any rate, it was clear to me that hed seen the whole thing. He smiled slightly, noticing that Id effectively stopped this little thief. The little thief backed away from me, to the very front of the car. I said nothing to Tom, because there was a chance shed know some English and might make a scene if she thought she was being accused of what shed just done. I told him after we disembarked and were on our way to catch the number 8 at Republique. He had no idea what had happened, but he had seen the little smile on the black mans face and had wondered what that was about.
Never lose touch with your handbag.
Tom started taking French lessons yesterday. I have had a good bit of webmaster work to do lately, so this seems to work out just fine. He also has some English Dept. work to do now.
Last night we walked down Emile Zola to the restaurant called Oh! Duo. We had a wonderful dinner there and it was not too expensive. Madame accidentally totaled our check wrong (100 Francs too high) but Tom caught it. She was VERY embarrassed. Im sure it was an honest mistake.
I had vineyard escargot that were stewed with a whole tomato, garlic, and shallots. Tom had a salad with shrimp, orange and grapefruit. We both had the lamb chops, which were pretty little things. Tom had a dessert made with fresh strawberry slices between crispy pastry layers. I had wine (en carafe) and Tom had Badoit. The whole dinner was under $50.
Here we are, at the beginning of the month when many Parisians go on vacation. But French people and other Europeans from elsewhere pour into Paris at the same time. Were hearing more and more German, Italian, and English spoken on the streets. Our favorite cheese shop and one of our favorite restaurants are closed for the rest of the summer.
One day last week we took Métro from our closest station (Emile Zola) to Sevres-Babylone, the stop that is closest to Bon Marché, Pariss oldest department store. We explored the entire store, all two buildings of it, but our real destination was the food department. This is a gourmet and regular grocery store, and oh was it ever fun. The place is very efficiently run by a contractor named La Grande Epicérie. In fact, everything in that building (magasin 2) was run by somebody else, not by the department store. The second floor is an antique mall with probably about 50 different vendors, many of whom were there minding their spaces even though the store was about to close.
The food department kept us occupied for about an hour. There was a wonderful selection of French cheeses, and a pathetic collection of cheeses from elsewhere. No wonder the French think their cheese is the best. They havent experienced the wonders of English cheeses. The produce section had beautiful fruits and vegetables. The wine selection was extensive. The bakery was too tempting for Tom to resist. There was twice as much chocolate as weve seen elsewhere. The place was busy with shoppers, but they had more cashiers working than any other grocery weve been to here, so there was not much of a wait in line. They even bag the groceries for you! This is unheard of elsewhere in Paris. We bought as much as we could comfortably carry (which isnt all that much) and we headed for home where we sampled our collection.
Tom has been taking French lessons every day so during the two and a half hours that he is gone, Ive been going out on my own. Im the navigator in this marriage, and by now I know my way around Paris, particularly the entire left bank, fairly well. I like to walk up to the Champs de Mars (park between the Eiffel tower and the École Militaire), walk through its rows and rows of trimmed chestnut and plane trees, and go into the neighborhood on the other side. This is an amazingly quiet area, even though it is near the Eiffel Tower, full of Haussmanian buildings large stone apartment buildings with balconies and terraces, stone carvings, wrought iron railings, big French windows all so elegant. The American Library is over there. We may go check it out soon.
Yesterday evening we walked to the farthest corner of the 15th to see a park Ive been meaning to go to. It is called George Brassens, named after a French poet and singer, and it is on the site of the old slaughterhouses. This large park is unusually hilly for Paris, and the landscape designers made the most of it. Walking paths wind around through groves of trees, hills of perfectly manicured greet grass, brilliantly colored flowerbeds, play areas for children, an herb garden enclosed by hedges, and more. There is a little lake with a charming footbridge. Huge stones from some of the demolished slaughterhouses have been cemented in a jumble down a gentle hillside. This is a place that kids love to play in they climb and climb over the stones. In the US, everyone would be too concerned about liability and lawsuits to have such a place. On the east side of the park is a covered market area, where I think that animals were bought & sold at one time. Now it is an antique book market on Saturdays and Sundays. It was a gorgeous day in Paris, warm and sunny. Today is the same.
One day last week, we actually did something useful. Our landlord, Roy, also owns a studio apartment about a block away. He rents this furnished studio to a graduate student. He left France without having had time to repair her bed, which had come loose from its frame on one end. We offered to go over and fix it, which we did last week. It was a real treat to see the courtyard there. One enters the collection of buildings through a porte cochere (large double doors that you could drive a truck through if you opened both of them). You walk under the building the faces the street and voila! Youre in a very long, cobblestoned courtyard with lovely bushes and flowers. Six or seven buildings face this courtyard. Now I realize that there must be many such long narrow courtyards, hidden from view, along that side of the rue du Commerce. There is much of Paris that one rarely sees.
In Paris there are churches everywhere, and once upon a time almost every one of them had a cemetery. By 1785, it was just too much. The cemeteries were taking up too much space, and many of them smelled really bad. Particularly objectionable was the large paupers cemetery, called The Innocents. Millions of skeletons were removed from all these cemeteries because of a decree issued in 1785, in an effort to clean up the city. They were stacked, methodically, in the unused quarries underneath a large area near Montparnasse. The quarries themselves were interesting parts of them dated back to Roman times. So here, in a part of the city that we can walk to, are the Catacombs. We decided to go there last Sunday afternoon.
We stood in line, paid 33 Francs each (about $4.70) and descended an endless spiral staircase. How they ever moved millions of skeletons that far underground is beyond me. This work went on for a century, I think. It is clear that skeletons were still being added in the 1870s, when Haussman was widening streets to form the grand boulevards and avenues. Some remaining cemeteries were in the way, and some skeletons had to be moved to make way for more living traffic. After 1880 or so, I dont think any more bones were put into the catacombs.
Finally, at some incredible depth, we walked along narrow tunnels for what seemed like a half mile or so. These tunnels follow the path of streets overhead, and are labeled, here and there, with the name of the street.
At last we arrived at the ossuary, a vast area where stone was once quarried and where millions of skeletons are stacked along narrow passages, in rooms, wherever they would fit. This is not one of those ossuaries where bones were arranged into frilly, fancy motifs. These people had a job to do. They had to be efficient, no time for great works of art. Still, their technique was so methodical that they form interesting patterns. Mostly what one sees is the ends of the large bones mainly femurs. These layers of femurs are separated by rows of skulls. There are signs all over that tell where these bones or those bones came from (which cemetery, and the year). Other signs have interesting, philosophical quotations from famous French writers/poets/philosophers of the past - all about death. We found these to be interesting, but we read slowly in French. Also, these were hard to read because they were so poetic, and we didnt want to lose the poetry in our translations. So we puzzled over some of them for quite a while.
Every once in a while, the methodical pattern would change, and wed see skulls arranged among the femurs in the shape of a cross, or whatever. The ossuary was extensive.
Some places were quite dimly lit. We wished wed brought a flashlight, but then neither one of us would want to carry it. The dimness added to the ambiance. So did the occasional dripping of water from overhead (I sure hope it wasnt coming from the sewers over our heads!). On the way out, we passed a couple fontis. These are places where the rock and soil overhead had collapsed in the past, leaving a great open space over our heads. Signs on the walls explained, in their curiously long-winded French way, this fontis phenomenon and assured us that precautions had been taken and all these places had been shored up and re-engineered, so we were not to worry.
The route for the visit (as they would say in French) is arranged so that one exits in a place about a half a mile or more away from the entrance. The exit is downhill, fortunately, so the climb up isnt quite so far as the descent. There are no elevators, so this tour is out of the question for anyone who is out of shape or handicapped. They check handbags to be sure nobody had taken any souvenirs from the skeletons. Still, the boys behind us had pieces of bone stashed in their socks, etc. Out on the street, they approached us because they were lost and I clearly had my Paris par arrondisement book out, as I was trying to figure out where we were and where we were going. They approached so suddenly I thought there was trouble and I moved away. But Tom figured out what they wanted and we helped them find their way. I was a bit surprised that young people like that knew not one word of English. They all have to take it in school now, I think. But these guys didnt look like serious students at all. We helped them in French, but there was the occasional word I just didnt know for example, I couldnt explain that the street we were on was hard to see on the map because it fell on the fold in the middle of the book. Well, that is a tough one, isnt it? What is that crease in the middle of a book called anyway?
It has been a week since I wrote to you. Some of you are probably wondering what has happened to us; others are probably relieved to have a break from my verbosity.
There were times over the past several days when I thought that being one of those skeletons stacked so neatly in the catacomb's ossuary might be a pleasant alternative to my state of living. Let me just say that I was stricken by some unmentionable intestinal ailment, caused by a European bug that saw me and said "Aha! Fresh foreign blood. ATTACK!!!" The same bug attacked Tom, but he held up better than I did. After three days, I had a fever. After five days of this, I was incredulous that I was not getting better. At times the ailment felt like death washing over me. So, I did what the French do. I sank down to the ground floor in the elevator and somehow managed to get around the corner to my favorite little pharmacy.
I say my "favorite," because there are four pharmacies that are just around the corner, depending on which corner and which way one turns. How do they all stay in business? It is a miracle accomplished by the intricate French bureaucracy and laws that fix prices and manage to make it possible for what seems like a million little pharmacies to survive quite nicely in Paris. It is also accomplished by the fact that French people go to the pharmacist the way we go to the family doctor. I have acquired some familiarity with the four pharmacies from buying ibuprofen, which Tom and I must both take just about every day. Our big bottle from the States ran out a few weeks ago. Here, it is not possible to buy a big bottle of ibuprofen. You can only get little packages of 20 or so. And you can only buy one at a time. So you keep going back.
My "favorite" is the tiniest pharmacy, staffed by one lone woman, a middle aged, very professional type. She takes her work seriously. When I first stopped in there, it was to get hair conditioner. It was her duty to tell me how to use the hair conditioner. You might remember me mentioning the experience.
Reading the instructions in the little packages of pills is very instructive. They tell you, if you don't get better within x number of days, consult your doctor OR your pharmacist. I wonder if the doctors resent this competition.
A few weeks ago, the International Herald Tribune published an article about a study that says the French have one of the best health care systems - better than the American system. Closer inspection of the article reveals that the study included the state of the health of the population. So, the "system" includes preventive care, diet, etc. That begins to make sense. Most people who are very familiar with France and the U.S. will say you don't want to go to a French hospital if you can help it; try to get to the American or Canadian hospitals in Paris. At first glance, that might not seem to mesh with the results of the study reported in the IHT. But when one considers that one wants to avoid the hospital, and it is so easy to slink around the corner and see the pharmacist, perhaps the end result is that people seek treatment earlier for ailments because it is so easy. That certainly was true in my case. I wasn't up to going through the difficulties of seeing a doctor in a foreign land, even though I think I know how to best accomplish that. But going to the pharmacist was a realistic possibility.
Tom went with me. In French, I told the pharmacist about my ailment. She gave me two medications, one for the symptom and one for the cause. The latter was an antibiotic. No prescription from a doctor was necessary! (The Europeans are under heavy criticism in the medical community for over-prescribing antibiotics. But in MY case, I needed them desperately so I didn't care.) I had already told her about the other two medications I take every day, so I'm not sure whether she would have asked me about that. But she said there was no problem (no drug conflicts). She made no record of my name and situation, and I suppose I could have gone to each of the four pharmacies and received four sets of drugs for this ailment! In the U.S., we would find this to be completely unacceptable. But in France, they give you ample opportunity to do yourself in (like the large stones on the hillside play-area for children in the George Brassens Park). They are not afraid of lawsuits.
This was yesterday evening. I'm feeling better with these drugs, and Tom is much, much better (without drugs). But I think it will take me as many days to climb out of this pit as it did for me to slide into it. The bright side is that I've lost weight (but way too fast), and my foot with the plantar fasciaitis has had so much rest that it doesn't hurt anymore. I've had to do work for my web clients while in the clutches of this nasty bug; that's the downside of being a freelancer - you can't call in sick. There's no one to pick up the slack. So I worked in a cold sweat for hours.
Tom and I ventured out to the Latin Quarter area yesterday. We have a new book, Hemingway's Paris, and it says that Hemingway went to mass at St. Sulpice when he lived here. We know we saw that church two years ago, and earlier this year we went to an antiques market on the lovely square in front of the church. But we couldn't remember much of the interior, so we went back.
It is a lovely, understated (by European Cathedral standards), huge church, the size of a cathedral. It was created by the abbey at St. Germain as a church for the peasants (the abbey must have tired of having the riff raff in their church). It must have been a huge success with the peasants, because over time the church was built and rebuilt until it became the massive edifice that it is today.
A small service was being conducted in the Lady Chapel, the area in the chancel where the altar niche has a Virgin and Child sculpture by Pigalle. Its walls are adorned by paintings by Van Loo and the dome has a fresco by Lemoyne. Normally, this chapel is not well lit. (One can put a few francs in a machine to light up the Pigalle.) But we were fortunate to be there just after the little service was over, when all the lights were still on. It was absolutely stunning.
The church also has a couple fabulous murals by Delacroix. The carvings are not elaborate in this church, and there aren't gaudy painted ceilings & such (except for frescos and murals on the occasional chapel ceiling - but these are works of art - not just gold stars on a blue background). The columns are the most massive in Paris, and have bases covered in red marble. There are several fine statues lining the nave - all symmetrically arranged, and leading the eye up to the Pigalle Virgin & Child at the far end.
The organ is reputed to be one of the finest in Europe. (Yes, Bob E., I remember that you said we should hear it.) We were lucky once again: while we were there, the organist decided to practice for the next service or concert. I don't think I've ever heard an organ with such perfect balance and sound.
Speaking of that kind of good fortune - being in the right place at the right time - early last week we were on the Ile St. Louis, next to the Ile de Cite where Notre Dame is located. We were just strolling and window shopping, and for the first time we saw that the Eglise St. Louis-en-l'Ile had its doors open. We've always wanted to see the inside of this church, but it has been closed when we were there before. We went in. The interior is ornately decorated, with plenty of gilt woodwork, statues, marble, etc. The church has a very active music program, with many concerts, and as luck would have it, the people giving the next concert were practicing while we were there. Two sopranos, Rebecca Ockenden (who I think may be German), and Jessica Walker (who I think is a Brit), were singing music by Purcell and Handel. They were accompanied by Benoit Hartoin (French, I think) on the clavicord, and Friedericke Heumann (German?) on the "viole de gambe" (bass viola???). The music was heavenly. I did not hear even one little mistake from the soloists. The concert was to be later that same evening, so I guess this was a final rehearsal. The acoustics in this church are nearly perfect. The musicians, who spoke different languages, communicated with each other in a combination of French and English.
It has been one hot weekend. In the weekend edition of the IHT, we saw a blurb about a new store, Resonances, that had opened in an area of Paris called Bercy. Resonances is the French version of Restoration Hardware, complete with all the nostalgia chic marketing. Except that what is nostalgic for the French baby boomer is a bit different from what is nostalgic for the American baby boomer, these stores are practically identical. Bercy is a part of the 12th arrondisement that we dont know well. When I looked to see where it was on the map, I saw that the store was practically next door to a big park that wed not yet explored. So off we went, on our favorite Métro, the ultra modern, sleek, fast AIR CONDITIONED number 14. We were there in a flash.
Bercy was a surprise. This area was once dominated by freight railyards, and there are still plenty around there, Im sure. But the French have carved out a very nice neighborhood where some of the old tracks and yards were no longer needed. A street now called Cour Saint Emilion is lined with old stone, one-story warehouses with tile roofs. This has been newly re-cobblestoned, but the track down the middle of the street remains. The stone buildings have been cleaned, gutted, renovated, and filled with chic stores and cafés, including Resonances. Club Med World is there, too. It is a sort of haven for Club Med members (Club Med was started in France), with its own little world of boutiques with things from around the world, a café, a library with newspapers in different languages and literature for planning your next Club Med trip, and, of course, the Club Med travel agency. I dont think Tom realized we, as non-members, were not supposed to be in there. We walked past the reception desk when the receptionist was mobbed with people. I did realize it, but we explored anyway.
The next surprise was the park -- very long rectangle that follows along the Seine. The open book towers of the Mitterand Library (across the Seine in the 13th arr.) can be seen from the park. Huge masses of earth were moved to create this park. First, earth was moved to create a buffer between the highway-like road that unfortunately runs along the Seine here and the park. On top of this levee is a path that you can walk along to look over the Seine (and the traffic), or, alternatively, to look over the park. A street cuts right through the middle of the rectangle. No problem earth was mounded up on either side of the street, and at the top of the hill, two pedestrian bridges cross the street. So, as you walk from the one end of the rectangle, you come across up to this gentle but big enough hill with nice steps that take you to the little bridges. Then you realize that you are crossing a street, and that the trees you thought were on the top of the hill are actually the tops of very tall old plane trees that line the street below.
The landscaping in this park is indescribable. It is very modern, yet very traditional. Formal, and informal. It is overwhelmingly well planted, and exceptionally well tended. We were already impressed with all the parks of Paris before we saw this one. This puts it way over the top. No other city could possibly have more and better parks. People really use the parks, too, especially on a hot day like this. Yet the park was vast, and it gave no sense of being crowded. Waterfalls tumbled down granite steps that were built up to the top of the levee. Water flowed in formal pools through traditional gardens. Japanese gardens would appear here and there. And so it went, on and on, as we wandered up through the rectangle. Finally, near the end, we reached a great green lawn with very tall plane trees. There, as if it were waiting for Tom, was a Ben & Jerrys ice cream trailer. Ben & Jerrys also had set up lawn chairs the canvas sling type used on some cruise ships -- in a semi circle on the lawn, in the shade. We had ice cream and rested before exploring Bercy and the Parc de Bercy a bit more.
Today, the weather was more of the same. Hot. So we decided to take a boat ride on the Seine. We sauntered (thats all you can do when it is this hot you dont dare walk because youd get sweaty) up Avenue Emile Zola until we reached the Seine, then we walked down the Seine for a couple blocks until we reached André Citroen Park where there is a Bateaux Parisien dock on the quai.
I know I mentioned this park before, but I dont think I did it justice. This is the location of the former Citroen automobile factory (before the auto factory, the factories owned by Louis XVIs brother were here. In these factories, bleach [eau de Javel] was invented, among other chemicals). Not all that many years ago, the huge auto factory was replaced by this huge park. The gardens along the east side of this park deserve about as much praise as those of the Parc de Bercy. The Citroen gardens are thematically grouped, and each one is planted with flowers & flowering shrubs of one color. My favorite is the orange garden because it makes use of a Japanese river of smooth round rocks. But the blue garden is hard to beat because of the iridescent colors of its flowers. The gardens provide cozy spaces, many of them, along one side. But the vast middle part of this park is open and sunny, with acres of perfect green grass that people are allowed to use. And were they ever. Youd have thought we were at the beach. So many people were stretched out, trying to give themselves skin cancer. At the far end of the park is a large shallow pool of water, with rows of water spouts that change heights regularly a vast dancing fountain. Children are allowed to get in this big shallow fountain. There must have been dozens of them, squealing with delight as the fountain did its thing.
We bought our round trip boat ride tickets and had an hour and a half to kill, so we walked through the park and out the other end, to find a café where we could have brunch. The place we found, Las de Trefle, faced the street on one side, and a small park where children could play on the other side. We sat on the park side with families who had small children. It was great for the kids, who could play instead of waiting patiently for food to arrive. They had a very cool thing in this playground a tire that rolled along a cable that stretched a distance of about 100 feet. Suspended from the tire was a thick rope, with a round disk for the kid to sit on. What great fun!
After brunch, we sauntered through the park and gardens some more, and even stretched out on one of the benches specially designed for doing just that. We got on the boat at the appointed hour, and were delighted to find that we were two of only 8 passengers! We were the only ones who bought round trip tickets, so when the boat stopped, everyone but us disembarked and then about 50 people got on. This was nothing compared to all the other sightseeing boats we saw each was crammed with what seemed like hundreds of people! André Citroen Park is definitely the place to start from if you want to cruise the Seine in one of these boats.
We were delighted with the boat ride. We had front row seats, and saw all the familiar sights from a different perspective. It was a lovely, hot sunny day. Everything looked good. The Seine and all of its arched bridges are beautiful.
We were walking up the rue du Commerce the other day when we noticed a petite and trim woman of indeterminate age just ahead of us. She was wearing a dress cut just below the knee. Her legs, we noticed, where thin but rippled with muscles. We decided that she had too many ripply muscles to be a dancer; she must be an acrobat or mountain climber. Tom said, I wonder what she eats. At that moment, she turned and went into the local McDonalds. Go figure.
Speaking of eating, I found that the new Zagats web site has been reorganized. For Paris, it is now possible to pull up a list of all the restaurants theyve reviewed, by arrondisement. So, I pulled up the list for the 15th, where we live. Then I sorted the list so that the ones with the highest food ratings came first. Then I pulled out my map and made a list of the best places, organized according to what part of the 15th they are in. Then I added some restaurants recommended in Where magazine. Now we can go out for a walk in a particular direction, and check out the very best restaurants in that area. Weve found some real gems, and they are relatively closeby. Our favorite two, so far, are Le Tire Bouchon (the Corkscrew) on rue des Entrepreneurs and La Folleterie on rue Letelier.
Weve also been intensely exploring Hemingways Paris, using a book by that same name. So we now know the entire left bank pretty well. Yesterday, after taking in the Musée Maillol (great painter and sculptor whose nude model, Dina Vierny, created a foundation and this museum many years after his death) we went on a huge walk through the part of the 7th arrondisement known as the Faubourg St. Germain. Many of Hemingways acquaintances lived there, and, according to another book that Tom is reading, this is where the truly upper crusty French people live. It seems that the truly wealthy and classy people do not want to live in the flashy areas like Avenue Foch and Boulevard St. Germain. They think that showing your wealth is distasteful. So they live in relatively modest apartments in the 7th. There are clues to their existence, however: their neighborhoods are marked by the fact that there are very, very few shops. One sees the occasional discreet little grocery store, but that is just about it. There are also a number of large old mansions that have been converted to government and diplomatic uses. This means that there are many police/national guardsmen on watch duty in the area. Edith Wharton lived here for 10 years. It was really too pricey for many of Hemingways fellow writers, but the few who had money, like Gertrude Stein, lived on the fringes of this area.
The main streets where these elusive wealthy people live, according to the book Tom is reading, are rue de Grenelle, rue de Varenne, and rue de Babylone. The map for this area is revealing: the spaces between these streets are much larger than usual. This is because, behind the large doors that one sees along these streets, there are passages and huge courtyards. Each is a private little community, facing inward, and walled off from the world. We saw some of it, however, when a door would open as someone came or went when we walked by, or when a door was propped open because of some work that was being done.
The area has not just a church, but a Basilica, called Sainte Clotide. It is closed until August 20-something, but we walked around it, admiring the very well-cared-for gardens surrounding its impeccably maintained exterior. Well go back to see it later.
We also explored the little parks that popped up everywhere. The best was the Jardin Labouré. It is completely surrounded by a high stone wall, and one must look carefully for the entrance. It is a public park, but it sure isnt promoted to the public. There is a policeman standing near the entry, but nobody challenges your right to enter. Inside, there is a great play area for children, and a huge green lawn. The flowerbeds are gorgeous. All down one side is a grape arbor with benches underneath a great place to cool off and relax. Which we did.
From there it wasnt too far to walk home. I planned the route so that wed see what I hoped would be a surprisingly wonderful view up Avenue de Breteuil. After navigating narrow Parisian streets for several minutes, we came upon the wide Avenue with a sizeable park down the middle not just a green strip with trees a real park. This provides a fantastic vista, all the way up to Invalides. Most people see this magnificent 17th century structure with its golden dome from the Seine, from the gorgeous Alexander the III Bridge. The view we now had was from the opposite side, from far down Avenue de Breteuil. We looked up through the long park, lined by rows of towering plane trees on each side, at the imposing structure and its gleaming dome.
Louis the fourteenth, known as the Sun King, had created Invalides for old soldiers who had been disabled in the line of duty. Prior to Invalides, most of these wounded veterans were reduced to begging in the streets. Louis changed their situation dramatically with not just the institution, but with the architectural and landscape architectural statement: these people are very important and should be honored for the sacrifices they have made.
Weve been wanting to take a look at a Paris suburb, so finally, yesterday, we did it. We went to see Neuilly, the close-to-the-city suburb where, it is said, many Americans live. Wed heard that it was nice, and that is was quieter and greener, with more space, than the central city. All this was true. It is sort of like a Parisian Bexley (my apologies to those who are not Columbusites), with nice big apartment buildings instead of nice big houses. It also reminded me of those gated turn-of-the-century neighborhoods in St. Louis, because most of the buildings were surrounded by their own, lovely, tall wrought iron fence, complete with security system. Most of the shops were clustered along the main street, Avenue Achille Peretti (on one side of Place Winston Churchill)/Avenue du Roule (on the other side of that Place). This left vast territory that was practically exclusively residential, without any commercial (except for the occasional very small grocery store). The isolation of commercial to a specific street is a distinctively suburban quality, and distinctively non-walking-city. Toms French teacher says, In Neuilly, you have to have a car. That isnt completely true, but I understand why she says it.
We walked all over Neuilly, and we found ourselves with the strange feeling of loving the place and hating it at the same time. Indeed, it is orderly, clean, quiet, green, and more spacious than Paris proper. But deep inside, we were appalled by the isolationist character of the place. We decided that, in Paris, we are city people. In Neuilly, we missed the liveliness and colorful aspects of our neighborhood in the 15th. There are many other neighborhoods in central Paris that we could love as much as our current one. But I think the only way we could live in a place like Neuilly would be if we had to be here most of the time, say, 9 months a year, and the intensity of the city would be just too much.
Right now, even the 15th is quiet. It is August, and many Parisians are on vacation. Some of our favorite restaurants are closed for vacation. (There are still plenty that are open.) The tourists are all elsewhere. And today is Sunday; most shops are closed. So the only activity anyplace near here would be the market under the elevated tracks on Blvd. De Grenelle, several blocks away.
Off to the market!
We were walking along the busy Boulevard St. Germain one day (for many years considered to be one of the grandest addresses in Paris) when we first saw her. She was dressed outrageously in a silver metallic minidress with spaghetti straps. She was very tall, slender but not thin, with mahogany skin and very long, dark auburn hair done up in hundreds of tiny braids (not cornrows, but long free flowing braids). After she passed us, I said to Tom, You know that was really a man. He said, How can you tell? I mean, I thought she might be, but how do you know? I said, Because of what I learned in Human Anatomy at OSU the angle at which the femur approaches the pelvis (much too verticle to be a woman) and the unnatural way she has to jut her hips out to make it appear as if there is more of a curve there. Plus, even though she appears to fill out the top part of that dress, there is no cleavage there. You cant fake cleavage.
We never would have thought wed see her again. After a lovely afternoon exploring that part of Hemingways Paris, we had a delicious meal in the outdoor courtyard of a restaurant (Degrés de Notre Dame, hotel & restaurant, 10, rue des Grands Degrés). It was late in the evening when we caught the number 10 Métro to go home. When we were only a couple stops away from disembarking, we heard some commotion several rows behind us. I turned and saw a team of about 6 Métro employees, each wearing a uniform that was different from that of the employees who check to see if you have a ticket. This uniform looked like something between a medic and a SWAT team member. They were questioning someone who had been passed out, or nearly passed out. It was the transvestite that wed seen strutting so jauntily down the Boulevard many hours earlier.
The teams questioning was still continuing when we got off at our stop in the 15th. I sensed that they wanted to be sure she was okay, but that they also were not pleased to see her there. We got a good look at her face as we walked alongside the Métro car, headed for the exit. She was either very tired, or very strung out (judging by the glazed look in her eyes).
Yesterday, we went to a toney part of the 16th arrondisement to explore the area of another one of the Grands Boulevards, Avenue Foch a wide boulevard with a park in the middle. There is a saying in Paris, when you want to describe something that has the ambiance of very chic and very expensive: you say, trés seizieme (very Sixteenth) while making a limp-wristed, hand wagging gesture. This upper part of the 16th, in the vicinity of Avenue Foch and Boulevard Victor Hugo, must the be part that is referred to in trés seizieme. We had fun walking around and joking about which house on rue de Weber that wed like to own. There was a bicycle race going on along the northernmost section of Avenue Foch. Sunday is the one day that this great street could be closed to auto traffic to accommodate the race. When we reached the end of rue de Weber, we were looking across a wide street at they very uppermost corner of the Bois de Bologne, a magnificently huge park and forest that runs all along one side of the 16th, to the west. There, in full view of the traffic on the street, leaning up against a very old plane tree, was the transvestite. This time, she was wearing bikini bottoms and some kind of halter top. She was leaning in classic streetwalker style, hip jutted out to the side. The musculature along the side of her leg and hip gave away her true gender. Tom was again amazed at how much she looked like a woman. He said, Why is she standing there like that? I said, Oh, come on, Tom. Shes working. Shes in the you-know-what business. He said, Do you think her customers know shes really a man? And I said, Well, if they are really drunk, and their senses are impaired, they might not know. But my guess is that shed take their money anyway. She looks pretty desperate.
Tom wondered if the police would pick her up. I thought they probably would, because one just never sees that sort of solicitation going on in the streets of Paris, particularly in the daytime. While many things may be tolerated in this city, I think the understanding is that this business must be done behind the doors of the clubs along the Boulevard Clichy or somewhere like that. Especially in that ritzy section of Paris, I think shes taking a real chance of being locked up by behaving in such a way in broad daylight. I wonder what her story is.
On Sunday, we were eating lunch outside at Oh! Poivrier, near the École Militaire, when the sky started to turn very dark. We were seated beneath a café umbrella, and for a light rain shower, that would have been fine. But the purplish gray cast in the dimming light of day was ominous. All around us, people who were about done eating anyway (it was perhaps 2pm) got up to go inside and pay their checks. A few others, like us, sought refuge at the tables under the awning. Inside, the restaurant was full. Soon, the rain started. It poured down from the sky. It poured, and poured. The folks next to us very kindly moved closer to the building so that we could move in from the edge of the awning. Still, my right arm became very damp not from direct raindrops, but from the splashing of the torrent of rain in front of us. There was thunder. Lightning. Then there was hail. The hailstones were about one-third of an inch in diameter. A dozen or so bounced up on our café table. I flicked them off into the sidewalk. I thought this kind of thunderstorm must be rare in Paris. Everyone was mesmerized by it. Our sandwiches arrived at the beginning of the storm.
Thanks to our kind neighbors, we were able to keep our food dry, and we munched away, watching the storm. After about 15 or 20 minutes of this, I noticed a slight lightening in the sky. I told Tom, jokingly, that the storm would end in three minutes. I was exactly right (frightening, eh?).
Late on Monday, we were reading the International Herald Tribune. During that Sunday afternoon storm, lightening struck in the middle of Paris. It hit a tall iron fence at the Tuileries (near the Louvre), then bounced, then hit a young French man, age 24. He died instantly. Parisian authorities closed all the other parks in the city because more storms were moving in. (This is why the transvestite was not in the middle of the Bois de Bologne, I think; she was forced out of the park and onto the street bordering the parks northern edge.)
Last night, we had dinner in Chinatown with Toms French teacher, Yolla Motz. She confirmed that this is a very rare event. Lightning almost never strikes in the middle of Paris.
No matter where we are, it seems that we are always in search of the perfect neighborhood. In Paris, neighborhoods vary widely according to the type and level of activity that takes place in them. Those who have visited Paris on vacations that last for the typical 4 to 14 days usually see the areas that are always active and crowded with tourists. Some of these, like the Latin Quarter and other parts of the city that still have their medieval streets are very charming. But who could live with so many noisy people all the time? There are many liveable, quiet parts of Paris. Some of them are too quiet. A good balance is a quiet street with a bustling, commercial street nearby. Weve walked all over Paris, finding these places everywhere.
The one we explored yesterday, however, is in a surprising spot. I found it myself when out walking alone one day when Tom was at his French lesson. It is the most unlikely location because it is the street that runs parallel to the Champs de Mars, the huge park that includes the Eiffel Tower at one end and the École Militaire at the other, one half block to the northeast of the Champs (this park is rectangular, oriented from northwest to southeast). With the masses of tourists around the Tower and in the park, one would think this street would be loaded with people. But it isnt, because it has no shops and no hotels.
The street has two names: it is Avenue Emile Deschanel to the southeast of the Avenue J. Bouvard which bisects the Champs. To the northwest, it is called Avenue Elisée Reclus. The historical plaque for the Champs tells us that in 1907, the Champs was reduced in size for a real estate venture. This means that this street, with all of its gorgeous, massive, early 1900s carved stone apartment buildings, was created on what used to be public land. It must have been a good fundraiser for the government.
Even though we walked there in the middle of a beautiful day, and the park just a half a block away was full of life, there was almost nobody else on this street with us. We walked slowly, admiring all the beautiful and creative carvings on the stone facades. The wrought ironwork on the entry doors and balconies was equally creative and charming. There were no restaurants, no groceries, no shops, absolutely no commercial establishments on the full length of the street. The marble and tile entryways were meticulously maintained, and sparkling clean. Once in a while, one would yield a view of a beautiful garden on the other side of the entryway. We looked up at the windows, and we could see signs of expensive, heavy draperies and once in a while, beautiful furnishings inside. Many of the apartments on the uppermost floors had very usable balconies, overflowing with plants and flowers. There was not one real estate sign advertising an apartment for rent or sale. These places probably are sold by word of mouth.
And just another half a block farther from the Champs is Avenue de la Bourdonais, a very typical and nice Haussmannian boulevard with all the restaurants and shops one could want. This entire section of the 7th arrondisement is heavily forested with old plane trees and chestnut trees.
Just to the east of Avenue de la Bourdonnais, not far from the Eiffel Tower, is the American Library. We went in and checked it out. This is a private, subscription-only library established in 1920 at a different location. It moved into the Haussmannian building here in the 7th at 10 rue Général Camou in 1967. We went in and politely inquired about membership. After receiving the information, I asked if we could look around. They said yes, and we stayed for almost an hour, reading in the reference section and looking to see what kinds of book and periodical collections were there. It is a good size library, and I am sure it will be useful to us in the future. Memberships are not cheap, however. We can buy a four-month membership for 240 Ff each (about $35 each, or a total of $70). It will be worthwhile because the library is only about a 20 minute walk from the apartment where we stay.
After all that research, we were hungry, so we went in search of the perfect place to have lunch in that part of the 7th. We ended up making another discovery: Rue Cler, south of rue de Grenelle, is a pedestrian-only market street. I had the best big salad Ive ever been served in Europe at the Café du Marché on rue Cler. It had a pile of marinated, tandoori-style chicken in the middle, surrounded by assorted, very fresh greens, a pile of marinated shredded carrots, a neat little pile of beets, very nice mushrooms, ripe tomatoes, and a light vinaigrette. They called this a ceasar salad, but it wasnt like anything Id call a Caesar. I loved it, and it was only about $7. Tom had a duck confit (leg) that included a nice green salad and sautéed potatoes, all for about $8. The restaurant has many outside tables, all safely covered by a convincing awning (in case of rogue thunderstorms). Rue Cler is also within walking distance of the apartment, so we feel very fortunate. The nearest Métro stop is École Militaire.
Throughout his lifetime, the count Moïse de Camondo was very generous to the grand museums in Paris. In November 1935, he died, and he made his most generous gift yet: he bequeathed his house and its magnificent collection of 18th Century art and furnishings to the people of France. It is now known as the Musée Nissim de Camondo named for Moïses only son, Nissim (the younger), who died while serving his country as an aviator in World War I.
One would think that France would be forever grateful to this family. But less than ten years after Moïses great gift, in 1945, his daughter, Béatrice Reinach, her husband, and her children were deported to Auschwitz, where they perished. This happened under the watch of Frances Vichy government, during the Nazi occupation.
In fact, for centuries, European nations mistreated this great and generous family. The Camondos started out in Spain, but were chased out by the Inquisition. Then they settled in Italy for a while. Then in the early 19th century, they went to Constantinople and started a bank. They loaned much needed money to Italy to aid in its reunification. In 1867, King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy awarded the two Camondo brothers, Abraham Behor and Nissim (the elder), the titles of counts.
The brothers went to Paris and built two townhouses overlooking the lovely Parc Monceau. Moïse inherited one of those houses and decided to demolish it so he could build a special place for his 18th Century collection. Moïses house was built around the same time as our house in Columbus, but the two buildings dont resemble each other in any way. Moïse hired an architect whose work was inspired by the Petit Trianon in Versailles. The family also had a chateau in the countryside; I think this is where Béatrice lived when the house on the Parc Monceau was given to France.
We went to see the Musée Nissim de Camondo yesterday. I dont know if there is a better collection of 18th Century art and furniture anywhere. But what makes this truly special is that the entire collection is intact, and everything in the house is as it was when Moïse lived there with his family. Because the house is not really very old, it has modern amenities like a grand kitchen. The kitchen is really a suite of rooms, including a chefs office where deliveries were received and recorded; a large, porcelain-tiled cuisine with an enormous range and ovens, gleaming copper pots and pans, and a tiled ceiling; a room called a laverie for washing pots and pans; and a big dining room for the household staff. The kitchens have been recently restored with the help of rich French donors and the Honda Motor Company.
The formal garden was designed by the same landscape architect who did Parc Monceau, Achille Duchêne. From several windows in the upstairs of the house, the view of the garden seems to flow continuously into the view of the Parc.
The collection is beautiful. Although I think Tom and I prefer the English furniture of the 18th Century over the fancy French stuff, we really admired the craftsmanship and the perfect condition of the wood furniture, in particular. There was a spectacular collection of Sevres porcelain in a room off the dining room called the Cabinet de porcelaine. The tapestries and embroidered draperies were plentiful and lovely throughout the house.
Thanks to both World War I and the Holocaust, this great family is now extinct. However, this museum will serve as a long-living reminder that the Camondos were here, on this planet, and that they were a positive influence on their world. In his will, Moïse said, I hereby bequath my private residence . . . . My aim in thus donating to the State my private house with its collections is to perpetuate and conserve as a whole the task to which I have devoted myself, that is the reconstruction of a mansion of the 18th century. This reconstruction should to my mind serve to keep together here, in particularly appropriate surroundings, the finest pieces I was able to assemble, representing one of the most famous periods in French decorative arts, a period which I have so much prized.