Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Monday in Paris

Although many places are closed on Mondays In Paris, in a city this large there is always something going on, something to do, particularly when it comes to food.

After a leisurely morning of household chores we walked up to the Jussieu metro stop to meet up with John and Sharon Kleinheksel, from Holland, Michigan. John and Sharon arrived here a month ago to begin a six month-stay in Paris while John works as an assistant pastro at the American Church here. Anyway it turns out that they are the neighbors of friends of Susan's family and a week or so ago dropped by the pastry shop to meet Susan. Soon after we arranged to meet for lunch and just chat -- and so we did.

Fortunately John and Sharon had to be on our side of the city for an appointment later in the day so it worked out quite nicely to pick them up at the Jussieu metro, just 5 minutes from our home, and walk a block to a little salon de the, L'Arbrea Cannelle, where we had a delicious lunch. Susie and I had eaten once before at and had been eager to return. The place is rather small but the service was fine and the food very tasty, just like the last time.


The four of us spent a couple of hours chatting about one thing or another, a perfect way to spend an afternoon lunch in Paris in fact. (photo: l-r: Susie, John, me, Sharon.)

After lunch we all walked back to the metro and the four of us hopped on the no. 7; John and Sharon got off at the next stop where we said au revoir. Susan and I continued on to Palais Royale where we got off. Susan was in need of several baking tools so the plan was to hit a couple of the kitchen supply shops, which we did in short order: Dehillerin, Mora and finally Detou for baking supplies.



Since it was such a nice afternoon, cloudy but warm nonetheless, we decided to walk back to the Seine and pick up the no. 7 metro at Chatelet. We got off at Place Monge and walked over to the rue Mouffetard to look for a half-bottle of champagne to celebrate my dad's 97th birthday. Naturally many places were closed, but we found a small wine shop open and bought a bottle of Pol Roger. It turned out to be terribly flat and not very good but we toasted Pop anyway.

Later that night before bed I called Mary in Decatur, Illinois. She was probably Dad's best friend and companion for so many years, and I wanted to say hi. We had a nice chat for a while; she's realyl very funny and like dad has such a zest for being alive -- laughter is probably what keeps her so young! She misses him terribly. But then so do I.

Thanks, Pop. Merci, papa, Grazie, babbo!

Wish you were here,

Steve

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Baking Sunday and thinking of friends

It's been rather chilly in Paris this past week but the last two days have seen moderate temps with hints of sun peeking through the clouds here and there. No snow here unlike much of the rest of northern Europe.

It's been a good week here in Paris. Susan continues to get into the flow of the pastry world compliments of Pascal Pinaud and "Ms. Chocolate," "Ms. Bread" and Yoshi, who will be leaving this week after several months of hard work. Pascal's sense of humor and easy-going outlook, mixed with his diligence to his craft and never-ending hard work has made a very frustrating and sometimes distressing situation bearable, and that is a real blessing to be sure.

As for me I've been tidying up our cyberspace a bit this past week, getting Susan's old website back up and running, putting up her 10 or so teddy bears, most of which she's made since we moved abroad. And of course I spent quite a bit of time designing, building and executing my new website www.pariscemeteries.com, which has been a challenge for me.

I'm also in the final stages of editing the The "Glorious Old Third": A History of the Third Michigan Infantry 1855 to 1927 , a 800+ page tome that I hope to have ready for electronic distribution very soon. John Braden of Fremont, Michigan is going over the manuscript for content and my niece Christina, who lives in Germany and is a professional editor, is going through the book with a keen eye and ruthless red pen -- all of which is sorely needed to be sure.

It had been a week or so since I was in the cemetery last so I took advantage of the warmer temps, grabbed my cameras and headed out to Pere-Lachaise late this morning, leaving Susie to bake up a storm -- which she commenced to do even before I got out the door.

Upon my return I discovered the following recent additions to our kitchen larder:

"Apricot-almond muffins" (from her favorite basic muffin recipe in Cook's Illustrated), modfied by using almond cream piped into the center of the batter (almond cream is a major component of many baked goods in France).

"Double chocolate chunk walnut blonde brownies" need I say more?

"Lemon pound cake" from the basic curriculum at LCB; she's been dying to try this. Now we both can.

"Chocolate pistachio buche" (the chocolate comes in with the ganache on top) a scrumptious pistachio cake she made on Thursday. Anyway she had enough batter left to make a second cake which she took out of the freezer today and created another layered cake with a chocolate mousseline cream (chocolate pastry cream whipped with butter).

And last but not least she made pizza dough; hey we're having pizza tonight and two pizza dough balls will go in the freezer.

We are also thinking of our friends Don and Gloria Archer in Brooklyn, and their children, in their loss of their son Sammie. A young man whose life was taken far too soon for reasons we will never understand. We can't imagine the pain and heartache a parent must suffer in the loss of a child, and we can only hope the anguish they feel will somehow be comforted by the knowledge that he is at peace.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie

Sunday was a chilly but gorgeous day here in Paris and once again we decided to make the most of it. On our short list of things to see and do was a return to the Parc de la Villette, in the northeastern corner of Paris, and visit the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie, the Parisian version of the Museum of Science and Industry. (photo: Cité des Sciences ground floor.

We had walked through the building last September and were awed by the architecture of this enormous interior space, built on the site of the old city slaughterhouse. Anyway, we said we really should return to check the museum out and so we did.

Leaving the apartment late morning we walked over to Gare d’Austerlitz and caught the no. 5 metro to Stalingrad (not the city of course) where we changed to the no. 7 and then a few stops later we got off at Porte de la Villette, right next to the museum. Altogether about a half hour train ride.

Th Parc de la Villette in fact comprises a variety of collection of closed and open air spaces, which does indeed make the trip, either by canal boat or by metro worth the visit. On the south side of the Canal d l’Ourcq is the Cité de la Musique, the city’s music academy, a large expanse of gardens, with a variety of cafes and restaurants and numerous entertainment venues such as theaters and an open-air cabaret. On the northern side of the canal is the Cité des Sciences, our objective this afternoon.


We entered the cavernous glass and steel hall, partially surrounded by water, and roughly four times the size of the Pompidou Centre. It’s a short walk from the metro to the entrance and once inside you will find easily the information booth right at the center of the building. We picked up a map in English – believe me you will need this – and then went over and bought our tickets.

The pricing of the tickets we found confusing – but then we’re from out of town. Anyway the young cashier, who was all smiles since, as she proudly informed us, this was her last day, very kindly helped us choose the ticket that was right for us. We wanted to see the Argonaute, the French submarine, the main exhibition hall, Explora it is called, and the planetarium, the last required us to choose a time (we picked 2 p.m.). Total cost for two people was 28 €.


We walked out the entrance opposite to the one we came in staring us directly in the face was the huge and truly awesome Géode, a floating bubble of reflecting steel as the Rough Guide describes it, a very apt turn of phrase I might add. The Géode holds a screen for the Omnimax 180-degree movies, once the largest movie screen on the world, but that honor passed to the screen at La Defense, west of Paris. To our left was the Argonaute, a 1957 diesel submarine, tucked very neatly into the front extension of the museum.


We walked around one side of the Géode and entered the submarine, after a somewhat convoluted series of stairs, turnstiles and the like and of course after picking up an audio guide. As we walked through the door, in effect a hole cut in the side of the hull, we found ourselves in s space not much bigger than one of our closets, and we have pretty small closets. At one time home to 44 men – probably very short men – the display was nonetheless remarkable. The audio guide, free by the way, was quite helpful and made the short and claustrophobic experience worthwhile.

After we exited we had some time to kill before our planetarium show so we found our way to one of the several cafes and restaurants in the museum and sat down and had a sandwich, observing the throngs of humanity ebbing and flowing every which way, families, large and small seemed to be everywhere, I suppose because there are a half dozen different things available in the museum specifically for kids. Tres cool.

Finishing our sandwiches (a bit pricey but quite tasty) we headed up to the top level of Explora where we found the planetarium. Upon entering for our scheduled show, we found ourselves in a small movie theater bathed in a soft blue light, with the seats arranged in a gentle horseshoe shape, with an equally gentle sweep upwards towards the rear. We found a couple of seats about two-thirds up and sat down in seats that reclined almost all the way to the rear, rather like a long-haul First Class airline seat, allowing one to effectively look just at the ceiling.

Neither one of us had ever been to a planetarium show before that we could recall (the short-sightedness of our youth I suppose) and when the lights went down and the sky above us filled with stars and started to move it was absolutely, and unequivocally fantastic! For the next 23 minutes or so we listened to a program in French that explained, first, where the north star was showing why it is such an important navigational tool (it appeared that the sky revolved around it), and then pointed out several galaxies and constellations. This too was neatly done by first showing the galaxy as it might appear far off in space and then magnifying it for a closer look. The effects were mesmerizing and worth the price of admission alone. As for the spoken part of the program, as I said it was in French and while we could understand quite a bit of what was said, we were plainly enthralled.

After exiting the planetarium we walked over to the present temporary exhibition, "Are we alone in the Universe?," a fascinating collection of exhibits feature science, science fiction and lots of movie references, (particularly B movies).


We then spent the next couple of hours wandering through the various “themes” of the museum where you can tackle plenty of hands-on experiments: Les Sons (sounds) we thought a bit confusing, but we really enjoyed Jeux de Lumière (light and color) experiments. The Images area was pretty cool allowing one to play with changing Mona Lisa’s smile using a computer for example, and the small section on perspective was very imaginative. The Mathematique and Roches et Volcanoes sections were closed for remodeling and we stayed clear of the whole DNA section. (photo: hey this place is fun!)

We walked down one level to the automobiles area, where oddly enough there is a French Mirage fighter jet on display, and looked over the rather substantial display on how safety and crash tests are done (pretty impressive). From that level one has a spectacular view of the huge satellite map of Paris, where it seemed as if everyone was trying to find their home

Was it worth the trip? Yes, if for no other reason than the submarine and the planetarium alone. But the Explora part of the museum needs to be given a great deal more attention than we gave it that’s for sure, and to do it justice plan on the entire day just in the Cité des Sciences. In fact your museum ticket allows you to reenter Explora up to four times throughout the day, allowing one to leave, walk around, check other things out at the Parc and return for more hands-on stuff.

Wish you had been there,

Steve

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pastries and cemeteries

Those are the two words that seem to define our lives here in Paris, at least right now.

Susan spent her second week at Pascal's here in the 5th arrondissement, working her 12-hour days. (How like the ER, eh? White coat, 12-hour shifts. Of course the stains are chocolate now and lives no longer hang in the balance, only liters of pastry cream and kilos of choux dough.) She had a nice long talk with Pascal and, as we both suspected, he was more than willing to work with her on a more flexible schedule. In fact, he told her she could leave every afternoon at 4 instead of 6 , she can take an extra day off every week if she wants, and she even decide how long the stage (internship) will last. It's all up to her.

That is a big relief, to be sure. One would be hard-put to find someone as accommodating, or as pleasant to work for as Pascal. Plus he's actually a pretty funny guy in the bargain.

Susan had her first visitors come to the shop on Saturday (except for me of course). A couple who are friends of friends of family have recently moved to Paris (he is an assistant pastor at the American Church in Paris) and promised they would stop by to see Susan and so they did. They were kind enough to take a couple of photos of Susan in the shop -- something I have yet to do I'm sad to say -- and posted those in an email for Susie's mother to see; a very nice gesture.

March is going to be a crazy month indeed as we get ready to return to the US, with all that entails, and to take a trip back to Italy one more time to see friends in Siena and hopefully Puglia, to say arrivederci to la dolce vita one more time. . .

For me I have been putting the finishing touches on my new website:

www.pariscemeteries.com.

There is a "photo-only" version right online now. The new, updated site will also have photos of course, but I hope will provide some practical information for anyone planning a visit to the cemeteries here in Paris.

So that's it for the moment. We're off today (Sunday) to Parc de la Villette and the Museum of Science and Industry. We toured the interior of the building last September with Stan and Margie and were determined to return to explore this fantastic museum itself as well as the various other parts of this enormous complex, once the old city abbatoir.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Monday, January 15, 2007

Jacobin Club in Paris

If you are looking for one of the French Revolution's most historic sites in Paris, the famous (or infamous) Jacobin Club, I'm afraid you're going to be sadly disappointed. (photo: Maximillien Robespierre.)

According to an acquaintance here in Paris, the revolutionary-era Jacobin club was located on the "Place du Marché-Saint-Honoré"; in fact, the Dominican convent where the meetings of the Club des Jacobins were held, was destroyed to make room for a market, which was inaugurated in 1810. Although the market no longer exists, the square remains, but "there is now a very ugly concrete garage right in the middle of the square." (Thanks Marie.)

Want to know know more about the French Revolution? Click here!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Les Invalides

Sunday was a gorgeous day here in Paris and we hoped to make the most of it. Out of doors that is. Of course things rarely go as planned and Sunday was no exception. Household chores and the vagaries of life seemed to keep us tied to the apartment for half the day. But by early afternoon we were out the door and walking up to the Jussieu metro stop where we got on the no. 10, swtiched to the no. 13 at Duroc and 5 minutes later we were walking up and into the sunshine between Les Invalides and the river.

Located on the left bank in the 7th arrondisement, just across the beautiful Pont Alexandre III, and opposite the Grand Palas, Les Invalides is the site of Napoleon's tomb, Musee des Armees of course since the late 17th century home for disabled soldiers.

There was a line to buy tickets (€ 8 per person), but that gave us a chance to scan the notice board to make sure that the WWI and II galleries were in fact open. After being closed for more than a year for major rennovation, the "modern war" exhibit halls were now open to the public. Some halls are presently closed for another 1-2 years as they continue the remodeling so if the Musee des Armees is on your to-do list here in Paris check to make sure the exhibits you want to see are open. Frankly, I can only take about 5 minutes of looking medieval armor and then it's time to move on.

While the new galleries are strikingly minimalist in design layout, they are nonetheless impressive overall, and one flows from space to space, room to room effortlessly and almost without realizing it.

Interpretive signage is very well done, with plenty of in-depth explanation, in French, although there is a wide use of English.

Quite a lot of video is utilized throughout, some of which is interactive and can be accessed in French or English. Most of it inmpressive in both the themes chosen and the sheer size of the images (wide use of projection systems which cover enormous spaces).

There is, of course, a great deal of focus on uniforms and armament, particularly the former, which I'm sure will appeal to many.

The arrangement is chronological, and although these are referred to as the WW I and II galleries, in fact the tour begins in the late 19th century, and concludes in the late 1940s.

The first room consists of of enormous, and stunning paintings from the Franco-Prussian era (a book of these is available apparently in the bookshop) and one can spend 20 minutes just browsing this powerful and poignant artwork.

From there it's on to the early 20th century, and of course covers such colonial unpleasantries as the Boxer Rebellion in China before moving back to European concerns.

The WW I exhibits are very powerful, of course, given the scale of destruction and death waged on French soil. We had the recent good fortune to have visited Verdun, a large focus of the exhibit, and so it was easy to connect with quite a few of the geographic references. Naturally the focus is primarily French, with lesser exhibits given over to the allies and of course the Germans.

The WW II exhibits, ordered chronoligically, by contrast seem to have a very large focus on the German as well as British and particularly American involvement. Still they have done a superb job of outlining the awkward and confused nature of the French predicament after June of 1940, when there were in fact three Frances: the Vichy, collaborationist regime in unoccupied France, occupied France under the direction government of the Germans and then the Free French in exile under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle.

There's also quite a bit on the resistance and the contributions of French colonials as well and a very moving exhibit on the deportations to the concentration camps. Here again the museum is not afraid to grapple with an uncomfortable aspect of French history head-on. At one point you come face-to-face with a large map of the country showing all the concentration camps in France. I had no idea there were so many camps for deportations. . . .

All-in-all it's a very good exhibit and well worth the time and money. The themes are interesting, well presented and there's a great deal to be learned as well.

We had a little time left before things started to close so we wandered over to Napoleon's tomb and strolled about. We had been there before but the interior is stunning and of course some of France's great martial figures are entombed there: Napoleon of course is the center of attention and focus, of course, but off to the side is, I think, the most moving tomb, that of Ferdinand Foch, one of France's heros of the First World War.

As we left Les Invalides the sun was working its way down and had already settled below the buildings so we headed for the Metro and home.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Photographing Paris

In 1992, just two years before his death, Robert Doisneau, who grew up in the Paris suburbs of Montrouge and Gentilly, and became one of Paris' most famous "street" photographers, told an interviewer that "Photographers have become suspect now" and that he didn't feel welcome on the streets anymore.

After two incidents in Paris cemeteries I think I now know how he felt.

Recently I took the no. 13 Metro to Batignolles cemetery, at the very edge of historic Paris in the 17th arr. I walked into the cemetery had strolled over to division 1 where I began taking images of the striking sculpture of Jane Margyl, the late opera singer. A few minutes later a guard approached me. Pointing to my camera said "no photos!" He stood there waiting and watching me until I shut the camera off and put it away in my bag.

This is the second cemetery where this has happened to me. I was stopped in Bercy cemetery, in the 12th arr., several weeks ago and again told I could not photograph there. I thought at the time it was just a policy particular to that cemetery.

So what's the deal I wondered?

Since I'm not from these parts and have little clue as to the intricate workings of the French bureaucracy I asked a French acquaintance about this. Well come to find out that in France it is against the law to photograph in cemeteries -- any cemetery in fact -- since the graves are considered private property. It would be like photographing people's homes, which is also prohibited. But then I got to thinking that if it is prohibited to take photos of private property then certianly that must include: automobiles and nearly all buildings and structures. . . . almost everything!

I thought how on earth can such rules be enforced in an age when even cell phones have increasingly powerful cameras? I then wondered why photography is permitted in a place like, say Pere Lachaise or Montparnasse? It is also tolerated in Montmartre and perhaps two or three other cemeteries in Paris because those places have in effect become tourist attractions. And tourists love to take pictures. Soooooo. . . .

OK, so where does that leave us photographers who struggle to capture the moment, the feeling, the mood in a cemetery?

Well, it seems to me that there at least two significant issues at stake here.

First is preservation of the history surrounding the graves themselves. A cursory glance in some of Paris' oldest cemeteries will tell you that nothing is forever, and many of the graves are in a terrible state of ruin and thefts of funerary artwork is not unknown even today. (At least nine pieces of sculpture have been stolen from Pere Lachaise within the last several montsh alone.) It is only through photography that we can hope to at least preserve what once was a wonderful work of art or a unique form of funerary architecture, and at the same time to preserve a bit of French or Parisian history as well.

And speaking of artwork, one doesn't have to look very far online to see that cemetery photography can and often does produce some stunning art. The Parisians are very tolerant of many things, most certainly when it comes to art.

For these reasons alone the French should encourage photographers to go into the cemeteries and take as many images as they would like, to spread the word that open air funerary art is worth the time and trouble to preserve. And if along the way more art comes from such imaging so much the better right?

Wish you were here,

Steve

(photo: billboard advert of the mP3 music player wars. It has absolutely nothing to do with the post; I just thought it was pretty cool.)

Monday, January 08, 2007

Free Sunday in Paris

On the first Sunday of each month many of the state-run museums in Paris are open free of charge. And for the first time in the five months since we've lived here we finally took advantage of this exceptionally imaginative deal. Yesterday dawned clear and blue and odd as it may sound, it remained that way pretty much all day. (photo: model of the Pantheon inside the Pantheon.)

It was the first day off for Susie since she started her "internship" at Pascal Pinaud's pastry shop, and so we had a leisurely morning lingering over the computer and coffee. After we showered, dressed, and grabbed our coats we walked over to the Pascal's shop where picked up one of the ever-popular Galette du Roi ("King's Cake"), a special cake for Epiphany. After we took the cake back home we turned right around and left again, for our Big Day at the Museums of Paris. Well, maybe not all of them but we were going to enjoy being out in the Parisian sunshine anyway.

First on our agenda for the day was the Pantheon which is only about a 20-minute walk from our apartment.

Orignally designed to be a grand replacement church in honor of the patron saint of Paris, Ste. Genevieve (her original church dated back to 512), the church was taken over by the revolutionary leadership in the late 18th century and turned into the final resting place for the French demi-gods (and one one demi-goddess). And so today people speak of being pantheonized, to be laid to rest in this secularly sacred place of places, although permanence has never been guaranteed, as the spirits of Mirabeau and Marat discovered, probably to their eternal chagrin.

There are virtually no windows but the light floods in and hovers right along with Foucault's pendulum. And a quick glance at the uppeer level from just the right angle shows someone had a fixation on angles.


The statuary is absolutely amazing, the paintings on the walls like tapesteries, and this is just the main level.


One descends to the crypt from the rear of the building and there is Rousseau and Voltaire. As you enter further into the recesses of the crypt you find many others whose names resound throughout much of western civilization: Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas and Emile Zola all rest in the same small vault together (an interesting threesome to be sure).


Pierre Curie and his wife Marie rest one on top of the other (Marie is on top if you must know). We had no idea that Marie, who was born in Warsaw, won not one but two Nobel prizes: in 1903 she shared the Physics prize with her husband and then in 1913 won the Chemistry prize for her work in radioactivity.

From the Pantheon we strolled down a side street, away from the general tourist drift toward the Jardin du Luxembourg, and hopped on the no. 10 Metro at Mabillon, switched trains at Duroc onto the no. 13 and then got off at the Invalides. Our hope was to see the newly remodeled World Wars 1 and 2 galleries but for some odd reason (probably because this is the army and the army is, well a bureaucracy) they don't participate in the "Free sunday" rule so we moved on.

We strolled across the Pont Alexandre III bridge, certainly one of the most beautiful bridges in the city, crossed over to the right bank (you could feel a chill in the air now) and then turned to our right and headed toward the Tuileries.

Our next objective was to see Claude Monet's les Nympheas (Water Lilies) at the Musee d'Orangerie, and boy were we in for a surprise.

Outside one will often find a line of art-minded folks waiting to get in and today, being a free day, was no exception. The exterior appearance of the museum belies its interior spaces and it is an impressive collection of galleries. (There's even an exposition of a bit of of the original wall of Paris included on the lower level.)

The Lilies, which gave Giverny everlasting fame, are certainly impressive from the sheer scale of these paintings: they run anywhere from 860 cm to 1700 cm (or roughly 9 yards to more than 18 yards) in length and are over 200 cm (2 yards) in height. However, their subdued and muted colors didn't appeal to me and frankly I thought it was so much wasted canvas. We both thought they were, well, boring. On the lower level however it was a much different picture (no pun intended).




The lower level galleries were jam packed with works by Renoir, Matisse, Picasso, and numerous other Big Names. We particularly liked the Renoirs, his images were evocative of tenderness and feelings which registered with both of us. And we also liked the present temporary exposition of realist painters such as Georges de la Tour (with thought his work simply stunning). Fascinating work, worth some of your time.

From the Orangerie we strolled through the Tuileries, past the Place du Carrousel, crossing the ground that once held the famed Tuileries palace, burned by revolutionaries who thought it stood in the way of progress. And so it probably did. Passing through the Louvre, or rather around the pyramids, we eventually wended our way out to Rue de Rivoli and walked up to the Pompidou Centre. (photos: exterior, and interior of, well the exterior!)



I must admit right up front that I like this building. I must also be frank and say right up front that much of what lies within, at least on the top two or three floors, is, well, crap. But hey one can't have everything.

The good news was that the line moved fast to get inside where we found ourselves confronted with a cacophony of sound, color and confusion as to which direction to go and how to get there. Fortunately there was an information booth nearby which seemed to be directing everyone to another huge line waiting to go somewhere but we couldn't for the life of us figure out where that was. So we went off on our own and eventually found our way to the interior-exterior escalators to take us to the top level of the Centre and discovered we had some striking views of the city.(photos: Sacre Coeur and Montmartre and Eiffel tower.)



Besides having fantastic views the Pomidou is also the acme of modern art museums. I like modern art museums for the simple reason it is so very easy to move from gallery to gallery.

Let me explain.

Say you're in the Vatican museum and are a serious art-minded kind of person. You are faced with an overhwleming amount of 2- and 3-dimensional things to look at, ponder over, stand in front of and contemplate the colors, the angles, the shapes, trying to piece together the ideas that wen into that creation, the things that determined such a complex piece of sculpture or oil painting. So much to see, so much to think about it makes one's head ache just to talk about it.

Not so with modern art. There's little worry over having to think too long or too hard about it.

For example, on level 4 of the Pompidou you can find yourself in a room where the artist (dare I use such a hackneyed word for this person?) actually took stamped envelopes, framed them and then said "Hey, over here, this is art!" And someone else, equally well-educated probably, said "By Golly you're right, so it is! I'll give you some money for that!" As you peek in you can see that hey these are just framed envelopes. Well that's crap! It's time to move on!


Or you walk into a room that has nothing in it except a bunch of green household stuff strewn about the floor (probably laid out in a very dfeliberate manner I'm sure). More crap! It's time to move on!


Or how about the man (or woman since today women can be equally preposterous) who set up a projector, with no film in it, pointed it at a blank black wall, turned it on and then left it running apparently forever, with just static as an image. Oh boy still more crap! It's time to move on!


Or how about a never-ending loop of a movie where all you see is a grainy black and white image of a man's hand is forever trying to catch something being dropped onto it, or another black and white "movie" where a man sitting outside is trying to write with a fountain pen while he is being doused with a constant stream of water, or another one where a camera slowly pans up and down steps.

Whew! Intense?

Apparently so since there seemed to be a never ending stream of persons just sitting, watching these "moving images" as if riveted to their seats. I asked Susan later "What do you suppose those people are thinking about as they watch this?" Her response was that some probably get high before they come to the Pompidou and then just sit back and drift onto another plane of existence altogether, leaving the rest of us behind to fend off reality on our own.

Probably so.

But see how easy modern art is on the mind and eye?

Well we could only take so much of this so we found our way outside and then crossed over to the little Brancusi museum just next door. Constantin Brancus was born in Rumania but eventually settled in Paris. His sculpture studio was in Montparnasse and upon his death he willed his entire studio and collection of work to the state on the condition that they recreate his studio just as it was on the day he died. And so they did. Drop by for a look at how one of the early 20th century "French" sculptors lived and worked, joined occasionally by friends such as Erik Satie. (And one of his pieces, a couple hugging, sits over a grave in a quiet, out-of-the wasy corner of division 19 in Montparnasse cemetery.)

The one thing that left me moved more than anything else by the day was that I had the opportunity to see first hand today the work of artists whose gravesites I had already visited : Brancusi and Chaim Soutine (Montparnasse), Marie Laurencin (Pere Lachaise) Maurice Utrillio (St. Vincent). I felt my education continue moment-by-moment.

After Susie and I left the Pompidou we strolled down to the Hotel de Ville and checked out the ice rink set up in front of the city hall. And I saw another first: a double-decker carrousel, loaded with kids and, curiously, lots of adults. Now that's art.


Wish you could have been here,

Steve

President Ford

A brief, very brief diversion for a moment, please.

With the passing of President Ford there has been much talk about his decency, integrity, honesty, words rarely mentioned in the same sentence with a politician's name these days. I never knew the president of course but from what one can tell from the man's actions it seemed such qualities were probably not far off the mark.

So I suppose it comes as no surprise to see that many folks are eager to repeat the late president's opinions of his peers as well as his thoughts and observations about the state of the presidency today.

The Grand Rapids Press, his "hometown" newspaper, apparently had frequent access to president over the years and has now reprinted excerpts of his comments about the former presidents he knew. Mike Lloyd, editor of the Press reported in the article that Ford didn't know George II so he couldn't comment on him.

(Click here for the article.)

Hmmmmm. Maybe he could comment after all. According to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, in a recent interview held in Colorado, Ford was more than willing to comment on the policies of the present administration as well as some of the key players themselves. And it's a sobering picture indeed.

(Click here for the article.)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Just a Paris pastry shop - updated 6/5/2014

Susan went off to her first day at Pascal Pinaud's pastry shop on rue Monge early this morning (Friday) and frankly she was a bit nervous (OK pretty nervous). But just think about it: today is the first time since since her college days that she was going off to work in a place that didn't require any knowledge of anatomy, only a commitment to making something that people would buy to savor later that day. Naturally, then, for the past several days she's been like a cat, just waiting for something to happen. And now it has.

At a little before 6 a.m. she went off in the dark and quiet of an early Paris morning for the 10 minute-walk to the pastry shop, which she found equally dark and quiet and locked tight. Soon after she left I received a call from her asking for the phone number of the shop and then she called back a few minutes later saying there was no answer and that she was just standing out front waiting for someone, somewhere to let her in. She did report, however, that there were quite a few people setting up for the daily market -- the pastry shop sits right off of Place Monge and Friday is one of the big market days -- so at least she wasn't alone in the dark.

Well while we were chatting or rather Susie was filling me in on the market, along came a guy delivering sugar to the pastry shop so she decided to just follow him in and see what happens. More to follow later today.

21:20 (9:20 p.m. for nonmilitary types). We've just returned from a celebratory meal out at Cafe des Isles, the sister restaurant to Coco de Mer where we ate some months back. Both are in our neighborhood (the Cafe is on rue Monge and Coco is on Rue Saint Marcel) and both provide a wonderful gastronomic eye on the Seychelles ( off the northern coast of Madagascar). Outstanding seafood (fresh snapper from the Seychelles), very nice staff and reasonable prices; very highly recommended.

And why the celebration? Susan just finished her first (12 hour) shift in a Paris pastry shop of course! In general she walked away from the day with a very good feeling about both the people she is working with and the things she had to do.

Like what?

Well she had to make pastry cream to fill eclairs (which she also had to help do) and then pastry cream for a flan. (The cream fillings called for 6 liters of milk, 1500 grams of sugar, 36 egg yolks along with the flour etc. Now we're talking pastry cream.) After that she made chocolate ganache (cream and chocolate), then she helped work on bread doughs, topped chestnut barquettes (short pastry crust with an almond cream filling baked and then topped with chestnut cream which has to be formed into a specific smooth shape on the top), helped to make baguette sandwiches. At about 2:30 they stopped for a break and one of her co-workers (there are two other women working there, both from Japan, and of course Pascal) made noodles with salmon for lunch. It was then back to work! She also did her share of dishes as well.

At about 7 pm she left and walked home. A good day for her all around and one that was important to put behind her. She now has a sense of what is expected of her and what she will likely learn over the coming weeks and months. And she's working with some very nice people whose goal is to make very good food. What more could a pastry chef ask for?

Wish you were here,

Steve

Monday, January 01, 2007

Paris New Year

Paris was quiet this New Year’s – or rather it was for us at any rate. After a scrumptious meal at home early in the evening, followed by watching Saving Private Ryan, we were planning on grabbing our bottle of champagne, camera and heading out for the Eiffel tower an hour or so before midnight.

Well the weather continued lousy all day, with rain off and on into the evening. We were considering alternatives such as taking the Metro to the Pont Neuf Bridge and watching the fireworks from there. (We weren’t terribly worried about our monthly Metro passes expiring at midnight since all city transportation was free all night long.)

For reasons that still remain unclear to me even now, about 10:30 or so last evening I started looking online for information about the fireworks display and would you believe I came across blog entries and forum discussions claiming that there were no fireworks planned in Paris! In fact, come to find out later in the evening that fireworks are banned in the city. They had a big blow-off a couple of years back when the city made a play for the 2012 Olympics and of course back in 1999-2000. That’s it. (photo: Pont de Sully, I believe.)

Well the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place: bad weather, no fireworks, so we opted to stay home, and take our champagne out on the balcony and toast the New Year. Which is exactly what we did. And good thing too since we were also able to catch the Global Edition of "the Daily Show with Jon Stewart" at 11:30 p.m. . . .

Like many others we slept in New Year’s Day – and were greeted by a gorgeous blue sky and such sun as we hadn’t seen since we were in Strasbourg. What a grand way to begin the New Year, we thought, and after being apartment-bound for a week or more, what a day to grab our coats and head out for a walk. So we did. We strolled up to the Jardin des Plantes where we cut through to the Seine and then strolled along the Seine to Notre Dame, basking in the sun along with tens of thousands of other like-minded folks.

From Notre Dame we walked to the downstream end of the Ile de la Cite, to the Pont Neuf, and crossed to the right bank where we soon found a place to have a bite of lunch. We parked ourselves by a sun-filled window and watched humanity strolling by us along the river.

After lunch we walked through the Louvre, or rather through the grounds since the museum was closed. As we entered our the Tuileries my eye caught sight of the underground entrance to the Carrousel du Louvre , the large underground mall complex right beneath the Louvre and Tuileries. Since we had never been there before we thought now is as good a time as any to check this place out so down we went.

Two things struck me when we came to the bottom of the wide staircase: how new everything seemed to be and part of an old wall system – that’s right they have dug out some of the original 14-16th century walls and exposed them for the casual passerby. (And gives you a good idea of how built up the area is today.) As we walked down one of the numerous passageways we came out into a large atrium open to the sky with passages and shops radiating out in several different directions. There are numerous legitimate theaters, stores, restaurants, underground parking, you name it it’s probably down there. Oh, and wonderful public restrooms.


After we surfaced we walked to the end of the Tuileries and my eye (again) caught sight of something off to the river side of the garden, something I had not noticed before. In a city which seems to revel in playing tricks on the eyes of the casual observer, in a city filled with artwork virtually on every street corner, I was nonetheless surprised to see something I couldn’t believe: a large tree that had apparently fallen on its side. But something just didn’t look right. And as we approached it for a closer look everything fell into place. It was in fact not made out of wood but out of metal; it was yet another piece of art.


Seeing this, almost exactly five months to the day after we arrived in the city of light, it just seemed to define for me anyway, everything that is Paris: quirkiness, whimsy, and yet serious artwork, of course, but also imagination at work everywhere here, sometimes so much that you can almost hear it humming on the streets. It was just about this time that I heard Susan say to me I suppose but seemingly to no one in particular, “This city is really cool.” That pretty much summarizes it for me too. This place is tres cool.

Granted, it’s not home, it’s not where we are from, it’s not where our friends or families live, all that is true. But I think it is clear now that we will miss this city after we’re gone.

Happy New Year, bonne annee and buon capodanno to you all!

Wish you were here,

Steve