Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Our final month in Paris

Yesterday, Thursday was the first day of our final month in Paris, and an odd sensation is starting to hit home at last:

"So how long are you staying in Paris?"

"We'll be here until next spring"

"We'll be here until the end of next March"

"We'll be here for several months"

"We'll be here for a couple of months"

"We'll be here until next month"

"We're leaving this month."

Whoa! Frankly this has us a bit skittish. With increasing frequency I hear Susan say, in an offhand manner thrown out for no particular reason: "I really don't want to go." Of course I know exactly what she means. Absolutely. Totally.

Don't get us wrong: we have no illusions about being Parisian or French or Italian or Danish or whatever; hey we're American and that's that. But we do love the pace of life here, the rhythm of living in Europe. We love not needing a car. We love the focus on good food and wine as a cornerstone of civilization. We love the sense of place here. And when I say here I don't mean just in Paris, but this tiny corner of the planet. (OK maybe I mean Siena. Maybe. It's possible.)

The way we see it is that come the end of March we will be moving abroad for the next leg of our very personal, sometimes curious and always enlightening odyssey.

To paraphrase the old Jimmy Durante song, "We really wanna stay but we really gotta go."

Wish you were here,

Steve

(photo above: Message board outside the Tang Freres store on Avenue d'Ivry, "Chinatown.")

A stroll in Paris with Joyce

Here's some random footage I shot during a stroll around central Paris with Susan's sister Joyce on Saturday, 24 February, 2007:



Enjoy!

Click here for a larger version

Wish you had been here,

Steve

Rainy Tuesday and goodbye Wednesday


Well the rainy, overcast weather started early Tuesday in the City of Light. Not to be deterred however, by a bit of precipitation, the three of us bundled up, grabbed our umbrellas and hit the metro late Tuesday morning. We were off for a whirlwind tour of some of the culinary hotpsots of Paris, places where one can find all sorts of tools, implements, just about everything and anything a cook could possible need or want for the kitchen. (photo: Armagnac display at Hediard's.)

The three of us walked to Jussieu where we got on the no. 10, changed to the no. 12 at Sevres-Babylone, and got off at Place de la Madeliene. We did the "Madeleine stroll", circumnavigating the church located in the center of the place, stopping at Fauchon and Hediard's, two of the big names in foodstuffs (at somewhat overstuffed prices), ending up at the Maille mustard shop where Joyce bought three crocks of mustard to take home. We watched mesmerized as the clerk filled all three from barroom-like taps at the counter. Pretty cool. (It also shows how easily amused we are.)


From the place we walked up Boulevard de la Madeleine to rue des Capucines, past the Place Vendome, home of some of the world's most fashonable jewelry shops, Cartier, Bvlgari, Dior, and Fred:



(That one was for you Winnie.)

The place isn't all about glitter though: Chopin died at no. 12 and Dr. Mesmer (as in mesmerism), the father of hypnotism, lived at no. 16.

We left the place, retracing our steps and followed rue Danielle Casanova and rue des Petits champs to the Palais Royal gardens (I noticed for the first time that the famous French writer Colette had lived in the building above the entrance to the gardens):


We stopped for a delicious lunch at the Bistrot Vivienne (4 rue Petits Champs 75002):


After lunch we worked our way toward the Les Halles area. Susie showed Joyce Dellerhin's the culinary tool shop which hasn't changed an iota since Julia Child bought her first roasting pan there in the late 1940s! The place is worth a stop just to watch and talk to the clerks alone: they are funny, pleasant and if it's in a kitchen they know about it.

From Dellerhin's we walked up rue Rousseau to rue Etienne Marcel where we turned right down rue Montmartre to Mora's kitchen shop. After browsing there we turned left out of the shop back up rue Montmartre to A. Simon, just across the intersection with rue Etienne Marcel. We then retraced our steps to rue Etienne Marcel and turned left, and here we kept to the left walking down rue Tiquetonne while Etienne Marcel bears right. We had to a make a stop at Detou for some baking supplies and as always had a pleasant bit of banter with one of the regular clerks there. (These guys in the kitchen business seem to all share the same fun-loving, quirky personalities.)

We walked over to Les Halles and submerged ourselves for the first time into the bowels of this enormous and very unattractive underground shopping complex. After about 10 minutes we quuickly realized that this was a serious waste of our time so back to the surface we went and off toward Chatelet and the no. 7 metro and eventually home for an evening of packing, fried rice and Seinfeld. Wednesday was going to be an awfully long day for one person in particular.

The three of us had an early morning Wednesday: I was up at 4:45 a.m. and the girls not long afterwards. Susan and Joyce said their farewells before Susie had to scoot off to the pastry shop. Around 6:30 a.m. Joyce and I grabbed the bags, and headed down the five flights of stairs and toward the RER stop at Port Royal. To our good fortune Wednesday morning began clear and not too cool, with no rain, which was a good thing since I promptly forgot our umbrellas.

The return trip to Charles de Gaulle went smooth as silk -- we found good seats this time with a bit of space for the bags, and there were no delays.

Before long we were at the CDG terminus and then began the trek up five flights of escalators and two stretches of moving sidewalks, through Terminal 2D to 2B where I said my au revoir to Joyce. Her BA flight to London was on time and we're hoping she has no glitches on the second leg to Boston. When he learned that Joyce would miss the last bus from Boston's Logan airport to Bangor, Maine, and that she could only get as far as Portland, Maine, her husband Carl, forever the gentleman, decided he would simply drive down to pick her up. What a guy.

We're glad you were here Joyce. It meant a lot to Susie that's for sure. And me too of course. I like any excuse for more pastry in the house!

Wish you were here,

Steve

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Monday in Montmartre with Joyce

Monday began clear with not a rain cloud in sight. Normally Pascal's would be closed on Monday but since this was the week of the "Big Chocolates" he told Susie the day before when we stopped in the shop that they were all going to be there to begin the prep work on all this chocolate "stuff".

So Susan had left for Pascal's at a little before 6:00 a.m. She called me shortly afterwards to say that there was no one there. So she waited. And waited. And waited. Nobody. Nothing. Niente. Zilch. Zero. About 6:40 she walked across the street to a hotel, borrowed a piece of paper and some scotch tape and left a message on the door of the shop saying she had been there and left her phone number, and then came home.

Sometime after 9:00 a.m. Pascal called and said he was sorry about the miscommunication but could she come in now? (Apparently there had been a last-minute time change and he couldn't find her number.) So in she went. a little later we learned that she was probably going to be there the remainder of the day and so Joyce and I decided we were going to explore on our own. And so we did.

We walked over to pick up the no. 5 metro at Austerlitz and then switched to the no. 8 at Bastille, and got off at Barbes Rochechouart. We discovered that this area is not your average tourist stop: upon exiting the metro one is met by all shapes, sizes and ages of males selling everything from Marlboros (two-packs shoved through the iron grates of the metro stop at would-be purchasers) to watches to . . . well who knows. I mean would you buy a box of Chanel No. 5 shoved out at you by a man who looks like Saddam Hussein's older brother?

But it was a nice day for a stroll up the less-than-lovely-but-very-much-alive Boulevard de rochechouart and before long we left the teeming masses (and teeming they were) and soon found ourselves heading up rue de Steinkerque toward the big, white church of Sacre Coeur.

Climbing the steps toward the church and the top certain warmed one up fast -- but it also gave Joyce an opportunity to see the city sink beneath us bit-by-bit. The view from the top was wonderful, as always, and of course the place was packed with people. It was after all, a beautiful sunny day (more or less).

After walking through the interior of the church we strolled over to the Place du Tertre where a couple of dozen artists were set up, some working on their art, others working on the tourists. But it was nice not to have that terrible crush of flesh that one experiences in Montmartre in the summer. For that we were thankful indeed.

We walked down the hill toward rue des Abbesses and then on down toward Boulevard de Clichy so Joyce could snap a few photos of the Moulin Rouge. From there we hopped on the metro (no. 2), changed at Stalingrad (to the no. 5) and headed home. Susie showed up soon afterwards. She wasn't quite sure what they had accomplished that day since so much of it was all prep work for what will apparently come later in the week.

For our part, Joyce and I had accomplished quite a bit.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Monday, February 26, 2007

A rainy Sunday in Paris with Joyce

Sunday began, like so many days here lately, overcast and rainy. it pretty much stayed that way for the rest of the day, with the addition of a blowing, chilly wind by midday.

We left the apartment late morning and walked to Jussiue where we picked up the no. 7 metro, and got off at the Opera Garnier (Le Palais Garnier).

After the routine bag inspection we walked inside, found the ticket booth and bought our tickets to get inside (€8/apiece). Some months back Susan and I had talked about coming to the Opera for one of their events, but with the exception of Giselle (which was sold out) none of the season's program appealed to us. Like most things in life I suppose this worked out for the best: now we could see the inside of this most spectacular building for the first time and see it with our guest from Maine, Susan's sister Joyce!

Designed by then-unknown architect Charles Garnier, the Opera was first opened to the public in 1875. (The main facade was completelt rennovated in 2000.) For the casual visitor you can really see very little, except for a fair hint of the Grand Staircase (30 meters high), and you really need to go inside to fully appreciate the grandeur of this place. (You might be pleased to know that Garnier is buried in Montparnasse cemetery.)

Aside from the auditorium itself, which has a ceiling by Marc Chagall, and the Grand Staircase it is the foyers and the two rotonde that take your breath away, and the view overlooking the Grand Staircase is striking. (The Grand Foyer, facing the front of the palais, was restored in 2004.)




As we left the Opera we discovered the rain had returned. Not to be deterred, however, we walked down the Boulevard des Capucines to the Place de la Madeleine, hoping something would be open but no luck. Hey it's Sunday in Paris. So we hopped on the metro and headed back to the apartment.

We stopped at Pascal's shop on the way back to pick up some baguettes for a late lunch and Susan learned that she had be back in the shop early the next morning. Apparently a well-known chocolatier was going to be at Pascal's for the week showing everyone how to prepare Easter chocolates. After returning home and having lunch we all found plenty to keep ourselves occupied at home for the remainder of this rainy, dreary Sunday in Paris. Still,

Wish you were here,

Steve

Saturday in Paris with Joyce, part 2

After we left the Memorial de la Deportation we headed straight to Notre Dame, resigning ourselves to standing in line to get inside.

After entering the church we fell into the "line of dance" (right to left) with the thousands of other tourists, moving casually from chapel to chapel, pausing, like everyone else, only long enough to appreciate the beauty of the massive stain glass windows flanking the sides of church.

After leaving the church we stopped and watched a small roller bladers do their bit of choreography on the Pont Au Change, and then walked the length of the island to the Pont Neuf (which, contrary to it's name is in fact the oldest bridge in the city).

After crossing over to the right bank we strolled past the numerous bouquinistes offering everything from tacky souvenirs to old photos of Paris to cool art nouveau posters, and headed for the Louvre.


We entered at the Cour Caree, the oldest section, and passing on to the Pyramide. As we reached the Arc du Carrousel we stepped down into the lower levels to show Joyce the enormous complex just beneath the seemingly tranquil gardens above. We then resurfaced and walked the length of the Tuileries Gardens to the Place de la Concorde, braving the crosswalks. We decided not to stop at the U. S. Embassy and say hi (too many gendarmiere), preferring to simply walk the tree-lined boulevard. Even if the trees lacked leaves, that simply allowed one to see more of what the foliage often hides. We also got to see Charles de Gaulle himself, forever striding away from the Grand Palais, about to step into traffic and cross against the light, defying anyone to hit him.


So we walked up the Champs-Elysees, passing one huge but characterless shop after another until we reached the Arc de Triomphe.

After duly appreciating the dramatic view back down the Champs Elysees we again descended to the metro and boarded the no. 6 for Trocadero, which in my opinion is one of the best spots in Paris. First off the area is home to some pretty funky places like the Palais Tokio, and Passy cemetery (one of my favorites) is just across the Place du Trocadero behind the large wall fronting the place. The cemetery is home to Claude DeBussy, Gabriel Faure, American silent film star Pearl White (Perils of Pauline), Edouard Manet (and his girlfriend the artist Berthe Morisot), lovely Jane Henriot's touching epitaph ("she came, she smiled, she left"), as well as numerous very cool outdoor sculptures.

But of course Trocadero is probably most famous for the stunning, sweeping view of the Eiffel Tower and beyond, across the Champs de Mars to the Ecole Militaire.


Built as only a temporary part of the exposition of 1889, the Eiffel tower (originally painted a bright yellow) is perhaps best appreciated at night.


Not long after we left the Trocadero and crossed Avenue de New York, walking beneath the bulk of the Tour Eiffel soft but powerful lights on the tower came on, bathing everything and everybody -- including the hundreds of people queuing to get to the top to see the City of Lights, all in the area in a soft glow. We walked a bit down the Champs de Mars and then retraced our steps, recrossing the river the Trocadero. We climbed back up to the terrace of the Palais de Chaillot where we stopped and watched the Eiffel glowing in deepening twilight. We waited. Joyce of course did not know what we were waiting for but soon she saw for herself: the Eiffel seemed to start twinkling all over, like an enormous glass of champagne, all fizzy and bubbly.

Returning to the metro we got back on the no. 6 and off at Place d'Italie. The evening was fresh and cool, overcast but with no rain so we walked back to the apartment.

After relaxing for a bit, we put on our coats and a little after 9:00 p.m. headed out into the night air, but the walk was short: only a couple of hundred meters to Coco de Mer, a local seafood restaurant, specializing in fish flown in fresh every day from the Seychelles. (We had eaten here once before and had wanted to come back ever since they put sand down on the floor of the restaurant.) Joyce had swordfish and Susan and I both had the bourgeois, a delicious whitefish from the Seychelles similar to Red Snapper.

After dinner it was a two-minute walk home. Conversation kept us up for a bit but before long the day's hike through the city caught up with all three of us; Paris would have to wait for Sunday.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Saturday in Paris with Joyce, part 1


Saturday morning began clear and cool promising good weather for strolling through Paris with Susan's sister Joyce. Our plan was to show her the icons of this city from the ground level. Yesterday we had given her a chance to see Paris from the riverside, a sort of big picture view of historic Paris, the Paris that most casual visitors see for the first time. Now we wanted her to see those same sights but a bit more closeup, where you can actually touch the marble, walked the streets and get a feel for the city's energy. (photo: Cafe Med on the Isle St. Louis.)

So after a leisurely morning of muffins and coffee we headed out about 11 or so, strolling through up the rue St. Hilaire to the Jardin des Plantes, then over to the Seine and walked along the quai until we reached Notre Dame. Crossing over to the Isle de la Cite we went straight to very eastern tip of the island, to the Memorial de la Deportation, the memorial to the 200,000 Jews deported from France to Nazi death camps.

The memorial was closed for lunch (apparently) and so we strolled over to the Isle St-Louis and walked down the rue Isle St-Louis, just enjoying the quiet sights of Paris: the marionette shop, the chocolate shops, the funky art galleries. We stopped for a delicious lunch at the Cafe Med and just relaxed and chatted, letting the afternoon drift away. Although we hadn't even cracked the surface of our "planned" stroll it already felt as if we had spent hours showing Joyce the city. And we still had so much more to show her!

We paid the bill and left the cafe and the Isle St-Louis, walking across the small bridge to the other island. After having my backpack inspected by the guard at the Memorial de la Deportation and waiting for several people to come up and out of the memorial (only so many are permitted to enter at any one time) we were allowed to walk down the stairs and onto the small, barren triangular courtyard, where we found ourselves surrounded by walls of cold stone, broken only by the bright blue sky overhead.


At one end an iron grate through which you can see the water of the Seine lapping upon the tip of the Isle de la Cite; at the other a narrow slice through rock which leads into the central chamber where the heart of the memorial rests.

The space is evocative of the profound anguish suffered so many at the hands of so many others whose brutish and ignorant natures drove them to inflict the ultimate harm: taking of a life and the taking away all human dignity, denying both the victim and themselves the freedom of the soul.

Ever since first seeing the memorial some years ago I have had mixed feelings about it: there is no question it is powerful, poignant and striking in the extreme. Still, it is 'tucked away", out of sight. Yes, it is in a prime location to be sure but it is also buried away virtually unnoticeable and, as we discovered Friday afternoon, largely forgotten in some quarters. That day, as our little river cruise boat sailed past the Isle de la Cite and the tour guide was running through her script about the island, in French and then in English, she failed to make any mention of the memorial whatsoever. As the boat rounded the tip of the island one would not even guess what was on the other side of that small bit of iron grating which sat at the end of the island like the prow of a ship.

(Curiously, that same Friday morning on our way out Charles de Gaulle airport the train we were on stopped at Drancy, a dreary looking, industrial suburb in northeastern Paris, but which history will always remember as the place where the Jews were collected before sent on to the death camps in the east.)

As you exit the memorial you rise up, as if from the dead and find yourself in s alovely little bit of green space facing the Seine with the enormous counterpoint of Notre Dame as the backdrop.

Stay tuned!

Wish you were here,

Steve

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Joyce and Glen

Well the big news for us (and for a few others as well) is Glen's safe arrival back home from Iraq. Two days ago he was reunited with his wife Christina and new baby girl Kiera, and now they are together again in Germany and we look forward to seeing them both here in Paris soon!

Welcome home Glen!

The other bit of big news is that Susan's sister Joyce arrived here in Paris safe and sound Friday morning. Susan and I left the apartment about 7:20 a.m. and walked to the Port Royal RER train station, just south of the Luxembourg gardens and about 40 minutes later got off at one of the two train stations at Charles de Gaulle airport (motto: "no we don't know where it is either.") It's just as well that we got to CDG a bit early since the signs and directions for leaving the train and finding your way to the respective terminals is without parallel in its ineffectiveness and outright confusion. In fact this is one of the most confusing airports we have ever been in. (I discuss this in greater detail in another blog entry.) We met her at Charles de Gaulle airport in fact, watched her go through passport control, pick up her bag and exit to be met by her big sister. Quite a reunion I'd say.


The three of us then found our way back to the RER train and after a couple of delays along the way got off at the Port Royal station, and walked back to the apartment.

Although the day remained overcast (with hints at the sun somewhere) we were spared any rain -- naturally since we had the foresight to bring umbrellas and so we could stroll casually along the Boulevard Port Royal to Saint-Marcel and then over to Saint-Hilaire and eventually to Rue Poliveau.

Since it was nearly noon by the time we got home, we stopped along the way and picked up a couple of baguettes for lunch. Joyce got settled in, called family and sent several emails and we just generally caught our breath. Well, actually Joyce stretched out on the bed and napped, I stretched out on the sofa and took a nap -- after going out to the "Mouff" to get some fruits and vegetables -- and Susan fought closing her eyes but eventually she, too, surrendered.

Sometime after 3 we roused ourselves, feeling rather refreshed actually, and headed off to Jussiueu and the no. 7 metro. We got off at Pont Neuf and crossed the bridge to the Isle de la Cite, and to one of the boat cruises on the Seine. The idea was to show her the highlights of the city -- she had after all never been here before -- at the same time letting her relax and "enjoy the ride." Saturday would be the "power walk" day; Friday we would just take it easy and let the river be the guide.


After an hour or so we got off back at the Pont Neuf, got back on the no. 7 and headed home to dinner and an early bed for a certain young lady.

Welcome to Paris Joyce!

Steve

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Musée Carnavalet

The sky is on fire this morning/but I'm heedless of such warning -- and by not heeding means trouble of course. Anyway, notwithstanding the bright sun to the east the temps are quite chilly here, about 3 celsius and 0 wind chill so it's pretty cold to be sure.

Yesterday was typically Parisian in the weather: the day started off clear, then rained at some point, and then turned warm and sunny by afternoon.

One place in Paris that had been recommended to us by a couple of locals is the Musée Carnavalet, the Museum of the History of Paris. After finishing a couple of online projects I left the apartment late morning and walked over to the St Marcel metro, hopped on the no. 5 to the Bastille, switched to the no.1 heading to La Defense and got off at the next stop, St. Paul. After crossing the street I walked up St Antoine to rue de Sévigné where I turned left and walked up a couple of blocks to the museum entrance. (If you must know de Sévigné was the family that once owned the mansion where the museum is presently located.) (photo above: entrance to the Musée Carnavalet.)

The museum is located in the "Marais" district of the 3rd arrondissement. The streets are small, narrow and sway back and forth indicating the ancient alleyways and meandering paths of old Paris. The shops and bistros reflect the gradual "gentrification" of the area and make it a pleasure just to stroll in. Place des Vosges is very close and so are some of the most admired art museums in Paris: The Picasso, the Cognacq-Jay, the Serrurerie. And it's an easy stroll to the Museum of the History of France, the Museum of Jewish Art and History and the Pompidou Centre. You could easily spend several days just exploring this small corner of Paris alone!

The Carnavalet is located in two grand mansions, the Hôtel Carnavalet and the Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau, and tells the history of the city largely through the evolution of art and historical objects arranged in period settings. The rooms are all very well laid out, and generally arranged chronologically, beginning with the entrance through a room filled with old Parisian business signs:


You then move through the prehistoric and Gallo-Roman periods (superb models of the ancient Roman city of Lutetia) to the medieval period (closed for refurbishment) and on toward the Eigtheenth century reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI (the first fourteen Louies got short shrift if you ask my opinion), and to the Nineteenth and Twentieth century eras. All the exhibits are very well presented, quite informative (although nterpretive signage is generally in French only but pick up a very handy map in other languages at the entrance). No photographs please note but only paintings and objects are used to tell the story of Paris and it works.

My favorites were found primarily in the Hôtel le Pelletier: the Bastille exhibit,the reprduction of Marie Antoinette's prison room, the Revolutionary period on the top floor of the Hotel Le Peletier, the Nineteenth century (if you don't fall in love with Françoise Pascal's Juliette Récamier I see no hope for you).


It is really is quite fantastic to see such wonderful paintings of so many parts of the city we have come to know rather well over the months we've been here.

Well I could go on but you should go look for yourself.

I should also mention that the museum has one of the best collections of books on and about Paris for sale in it's bookstore. Plus you can also buy a postcard with a closeup detail of Juliette Récamier for only €1! (Not that I did or anything, no, huh-huh, not me, no sir.)

Oh, and did I mention that this is all free? That's right kids. The permanent exhibitions are always free to the public.

After you leave the main entrance on rue de Sévigné, turn right onto rue des Francs Bourgeois, walk a block and turn right again onto rue Payenne and up ahead not far on your right will be a small square which actually sits artride the two mansions of the museum and where you will find the by-now familiar nude woman standing in bushes:


(Paris has a definite fixation on naked women standing around outside. Check out the "women of stone" hanging around the buses in the Tuileries. It's not provocative just interesting. Like the huge fallen tree in the Tuileries, which isn't a tree at all but in fact a sculpture, or like the sidewalk eternally exploding on Boulevard St. Germain directly across the street from the church St. German des Pres, one suspects it's all about letting imagination work it's magic. Isn't that why one comes to Paris in the first place?)

The museum is located at 23 rue de Sévigné, 75003. Nearest metro stations are St. Paul (no. 1) and Chemin Vert (no. 8). The museum is open 10-6 every day except Monday. You can also find out more online. Just click here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chinese New Year in Paris

It was a gorgeous Sunday morning by the time we left the apartment and headed off to Place d'Italie and from there to "Chinatown." There are in fact several pockets of Asian communities in Paris, one in the 1st and another in the 20th arrondissements, but it just so happens that we live not far from one of the larger Asian centers, the area around Avenues d'Ivry and de Choisy in the 13th arrondissement. And word was on the street that there were a number of festivities planned fo celebrate the "Year of the Pig." So off we went.

And what a beautiful springlike day to be out! Flowers and even some trees are starting to bloom, so take heart you folks living in Pennsylvania!


We strolled down to where I normally do my grocery shopping, or rather meat shopping, now that I go to the open air market at the Gare d'Austerlitz on Tuersdays and Fridays. (Got to leave soon as a matter of fact.)

Ther were large crowds of folks walking along Avenue de Choisy, one of the main streets in "Chinatown" and plenty of banners were hung along the sides of the streets. Occasionally there would be a crowd gathered in front of a business, usually a restaurant, and just outside the front door would be a small-scale dragon-and-drumming act culiminating in the traditional firecrackers which had been strung in the trees.

But no parades, no organized celebrations of any kind that we could see. So what was everybody doing?

Why eating of course! There were lines at most restaurants and some were a dozen or more deep out the front door. As we walked back toward the Place d'Italie we thought about stopping for lunch as well (although I had fixed Asian food the night before) and we kept rationalizing away standing in lines until, well, we were out of "Chinatown" and found ourselves circumnavigating the Place d'Italie.

But lunch was called for and so we stopped at a small pizzeria, Del Navona Pizze, a place we had often walked by on Blvd. des Gobelins. They advertised offered "wood-fired" pizzas and that sounded good so in we went. We weren't disappointed. Both of us ordered pizzas (mine came with the wonderful "Merguez" sausage), of course, and a half bottle of Valpolicella. One of the two men sitting next to us caught our eye at one point. He casually remarked to us as they received their pizzas that they were big but good. And he was right!

We sat for a while after eating and relaxed. We chatted for a bit with the fellow next to us -- between his limited English and Susan's limited French we actually had a pleasant conversation. It turned out that he works for the company that handles the lights of Paris, the street lights that is, while his wife works for a wine distributor! He was eager to explain to us the wonders of a particular white wine from the Jura called Vin jaune or "yellow wine". Aged for a half dozen years, he claimed it was a terrific wine and one we should try at the earliest possible chance.

Susie and I left the restaurant soon after our "tablemates" and strolled back to the apartment. I dropped my camera bag off and then off we went back out walking up rue St. Hilaire to Jussieu and the no. 10 metro.

We got off at the Odeon stop, walked toward rue Dauphine and then turned down the tiny rue Christine. Our goal was at the far end: the Action Christine cinema, which was showing one of favorite films: L'adorable Voisine, better known to me as Bell, Book and Candle, starring Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak. There was already a line forming outside, but we didn't have long to wait. We were soon ushered (literally) into the tiny theater, comprised of actually two screening rooms, for a total of about 300 seats. By the time we got inside we were lucky to find a pair of seats together in the second row on the far left! But the view from everywhere was great, the seats were really comfortable and easy to just lay back and watch the film.

And what a fantastic experience! I had never seen this film at the theater and we both commented afterwards how it seemed so much better when seen in a theater han on the small screen. For some odd reason it never really struck me that way before. I had seen this film so many times over the years on the small screen and now seeing it HUGE was dramatic to say the least.

And the French audience seemed to get every joke; they seem to understand way more about Americans than we think; almost like family. . .

After the movie it was just twilight, but still nice and warm and we decided to walk home.

So we did.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Clint Eastwood, the Louvre and Chinese New Year

It's been a quiet week for us in Paris but a busy week for the city.

The week ended with nearly springlike weather, in the low 60s and sunshine! Crocuses are even starting to bloom.

Clint Eastwood was in town to receive the Legion d'Honneur. During the ceremony at the Elysee Palace, President Jacques Chirac told Clint "you embody the best of Hollywood. In France, your films move millions of viewers because they are strong without being simplistic, lucid without being cynical." For more on the Eastwood story click here.

With over 8 million visitors in 2006 the Louvre has become one of the visited places on earth. This is not necessarily a good thing, at least for some of the staff of the museum who went on a partial strike this past Wednesday. Apparently the reason was that the men and women who patrol the halls and rooms are simply too stressed out with trying to manage the (increasingly) enormous crowds with no increase in staff.

Maybe entry to the museum should be by reservation only. Or they might double or triple the admission fees. Or, in keeping with government bureaucracies around the world, they might charge a different fee for each room of the museum, with each successive room slightly more (or less) than the previous room and all tied to how fast one goes through each room (whioch can be tracked by requiring each entrant to wear a bracelet or anklet similar to house arrest bracelts or anklets). Or better yet why not just make a really cool movie of a visit to the museum with plenty of special effects (sorry no car chases) and lots of closeups (I mean now you can't even get near the Mona Lisa), and of course revenue from the popcorn alone would probably pay for the maintenance costs alone. And you could make several versions of the film: one for the people who just want to go to the museum and say they've been there (a 10 minute short reel), and another for folks who want to spend more time with individual works of art (2-10 hours depending on attention span). You could then sell copies of the film but they would only play so many times before you would have to renew the license because you aren't really purchasing the film but just licensing it for limited use. . .

Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, Saturday was a gorgeous day in Paris so I thought I would go to Chinatown and do my weekly meat shopping. Naturally of all days to go I picked the day before Chinese New Year and found myself standing in lines with every Asian living or visiting Paris, all trying to buy groceries for the weekend. Nearly everybody seemed to be at the Tang Brothers or the Paris Store next door. Since I get all my meat at the Paris Store (Tang Freres has a very limited selection) that was my stop for the day. After seeing the number of people inside I hesitated briefly before deciding to take the plunge. Aisles were packed -- I mean these stores are large by Parisian standards but tiny when compared to the mega-markets of North America -- and lines were everywhere. So I stood in line to order my meat, stood in line to get a few items of produce and naturally stood in line to checkout. (See photo above, and no that's not one of my lines just one of many along Avenue d'Ivry that morning.)

Everyone seemed to be in good spirits and really very nice -- at least in my line, joking and helping each other in those very small ways that make us realize we really couldn't get along very well without each other. And I really didn't have to wait too long.

Sunday afternoon we plan to head to Chinatown (it's only about a 20-minute walk) to sample the New Year's festivities -- and of course have lunch! Stay tuned for another update!

I was soon back out on the street strolling toward the Metro at Tolbiac where I hopped on the no. 7 and got off at Censier. I was off to rue Mouffetard -- it was busy as always on a Saturday -- and to Fontaine's to make my wine purchases for the week (I'm presently in to Rhone reds and Alsatian whites if you must know).

Afterwards I stopped by Pascal's to see Susie but she couldn't talk for long since they were in the middle of some serious baking so I walked home, unloaded, grabbed my cameras and went off to Pere Lachaise for the afternoon. (For more on that click here.)

Wish you were here,

Steve

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Doisneau and Valentine's Day

How appropriate I suppose that just two days before Valentine's Day we finally get over to the Hotel de Ville (Paris city hall) to see the Doisneau exhibition. (photo right: sign for the exhibition next to one of the entrances of the Hotel de Ville.)

Robert Doisneau (1912-1994), considered one of the world's great street photographers, is probably best known for his photo of the "The Kiss by the Hotel de Ville" (le baiser de l'hotel de ville), which was taken in front of the Hotel de Ville in 195o!

Doisneau, who grew up and spent most of his life in the neighborhoods, spent a lifetime photographing men, women and children just going about their lives, with humor, pathos and a genuine sympathetic eye for the people of Paris. As we wended our way through the exhibtion looking at those fabulous photos, some of which I had already come across delightful little book I picked up at Brentano's a few months back, I couldn't help but feel that Doisneau didn't take photographs so much as he borrowed them. (photo below: waiting in line outside the Hotel de Ville.)


Doisneau never attained the worldwide fame as Henri Cartier-Bresson, but in that one photo, "The Kiss," he seemed to define what the world came to think of as "France" and particularly Paris in the postwar period: the capital of love as framed by art and the imagination. Which is I suppose still true to this day and probably goes a long way to account for why France remains the number one travel destination in the world.

And the photo? It was sold at auction in 2005 for €155,000 ($210,000) by Francoise Bornet, the woman in the photo (she and her boyfriend were paid to stage the kiss by Doisneau).

Speaking of St. Valentine's Day, it has become quite popular in Paris, naturally, since the focus of both the city and the holiday is on love and the various means to express that particular emotion. Susie had to work 12 hours and when I dropepd by to see her earlier in the afternoon she showed me the valentine cakes the shop chocolatier had made and so I had to snap a couple of photos:




That evening we had a quiet celebration at home: pan-seared steaks "dry" in a sauce of roasted fennel, carrots, onions reduced in a vegetable broth and then pureed by hand, topped with fried shallots, all served with blue-cheese cauliflower mashies (I love it when this stuff runs together) and a 2004 Cote Blonde. For dessert was a scrumptious chocolate layered cake Susie brought from work (actually leftovers from their lunch!).

Wish you were here,

Steve

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ups and downs and sideways in Paris

We've had a quiet week here in Paris.

The stage, or internship rather, at Pascal's shop continues to provide Susan with plenty of emotional ups and downs, the struggle to communicate being the primary culprit. She is now working with four Japanese women in the shop, two of whom seem to know pretty much what's going on, what needs to be done and so forth. While that continues to present it's own unique set of challenges, Susan has so much to learn from both Miss Chocolate and Miss Bread.

One of the new additions to the shop, 25-year-old Misato has been working in a pastry shop in Japan for about four years and is now here for ten months in Pascal's shop. She is so cheerful and friendly and she and Susie get on very well together. But they're really all very nice and Susan finds she comes away most days with a headful of new things to try and new ways to try them.

Little news of note here: this past Thursday, there was a day-long strike by teachers, railway workers, tax collectors and other public servants but our lives were largely unaffected. The same day Luisa Tampone got married in Cerignola, Puglia.

We had planned to attend but with Susan's schedule it became impossible. As some of you may recall we met Luisa and her family in March of 2004 when we went to Puglia to try and find the WW2 airfield that Susie's dad Tunis flew out of and Luisa's grandfather Vito was our guide. And we've been back to visit them every year since, but sadly not this year and what a year it was! We truly missed seeing them all, particularly on such a special occasion! There was probably one great party afterwards, too.

Auguri Luisa e Elio!

I continue to find missing busts from Pere Lachaise. Earthshaking information I know. Right up there with world hunger and AIDs. But hey you'd think differently if it were your bust. . .

This next Sunday, the 18th, is Chinese New Year and the word on the street here is that there will be quite a celebration with lots of festivities along the streets between Place d'Italie and Porte de Choisy, in the 13th arr., and just south of where we live and an easy ride on the no. 7 metro. In fact I often do my shopping in Chinatown and have come to enjoy the trips down that way, so we're both looking forward to checking out the "fireworks"!

Today Sunday has been a catchup day for household chores and the like. Aside from lining a bunch of small tart shells for the freezer Susan is not doing any major baking this weekend for two reasons: one is we already have plenty of treats in the freezer, and second she's started a policy of bringing two treats home from Pascal's every other evening so we can run our own taste tests on the professional product. Not bad, eh?

(OK, she did make four tarts today, two with sliced pear and two with sliced apple, and all four with almond cream. I mean we have a gallon in the reefer and it's got to go!)

Tonight we're meeting up with Beth for dinner. (We had dinner with her at our first Parisian Italian meal experience a couple of months back.) Beth and Susan did the Intermediate course together at LCB last fall and she's back doing the superieur right now. So in an hour or so we'll head off to a place in the 3rd arrondissement called Chez Omar for couscous and steak and frites and who knows what else but it sounds deeeelicious.

I hope to update this later on after we return!

Last a bit of news concerning my blogs.

Since so much of what I have been writing tends to go on and on and on . . . well you get the point, I'm splitting the information. This blog will continue to be a repository for news of a more general nature whereas my two new blogs (did he say TWO?) are designed to focus on (1) food and travel notes from our neighborhood and its surroundings, and (2) information, tips and helpful (I hope) notes on Siena and central Tuscany.

I've also tweaked the blogs themselves so now you can also find links on them to the various photos I've taken over the past couple of years in Italy and in France.

Oh, and as always I welcome any comments, suggestions or criticisms you may have regarding the blogs. No, really I do!

Anyway, check them out for yourself:

Paris Food and Travel Notes from the 5th arrondissement
Siena is Tuscany

Which I think pretty much sums up our lives right now. And later?

Who knows?

Wish you were here,

Steve

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Snow in Paris

It's a little before 9 a.m. and the snow has just begun to fall -- not much and it doesn't appear to be cold enough to stick on the ground but it is snow, believe me. I once lived in Vermont and have seen snow so you can trust me on this.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Monday, February 05, 2007

Paris life


The weather in Paris this past week has really been quite nice, moderate temps and then brilliant sun for the weekend; a fitting way to cap off the continuing saga of Susan’s transition to pastry chef. (photo: main hall of the Musee d'Orsay.)

It’s a month now since Susie started her internship and it’s been a pretty rocky four weeks: lots of emotional ups and downs, mainly over the struggle to communicate but also of course to the adjustment of working in a Parisian pastry shop.

Think about it: you quit your job of more than 20 years, and head off to a foreign country where you don’t really speak the language at all, and after a few weeks of language lessons and retraining go to work in a business you know very little about with people whose language you hardly speak.

Challenging? You bet! Difficult? Of course!

Would she have it any other way? No. Well, OK, it might be nice if she could communicate on a more “casual” level with some of the other workers in the shop. But since they are Japanese and speak either French or Japanese that’s another hurdle that would take months to overcome. Still Susie finds herself doing more and more different things every day: lining tart shells, making different bread dough, making pastry creams, working on so many things it’s hard to keep track anymore!

This past week also gave us a chance to catch up with a couple of students from Susie’s basic pastry course last August at Le Cordon Blue. Lori from Washington, DC was in Paris for the weekend – she got a great last-minute deal on United – and was staying with another former student Valerie who lives in Paris. They came to see Susie in the shop last Saturday afternoon and the three decided we would all meet later that evening at the Odeon metro stop and then find a place for dinner. They were all dying to hear about Susan’s experiences at Pascal’s.

Susie came home about 5:30; I had been out at Pere Lachaise videotaping on one of the most beautiful days we have seen here in some time

We left home about 7 pm that evening and walked to the no. 10 metro at Jussieu and got off at Odeon. After we exited the metro and found ourselves beneath Danton’s statue and smack in the middle of half of Paris waiting to meet up with someone like us – compliments of cell phone technology – the four of us hooked up and off we went strolling toward the Seine looking for a place to eat. After a few minutes walking down rue Dauphine we settled on a small “ristorante” called Lombardi’s (29 rue Dauphine 75006). We walked inside and almost walked into the kitchen – this place is small. We were told to climb the spiral staircase to the first (second) floor.

We sat and ordered wine and food and had a wonderful evening, Susan relating her experiences about intermediate and superior and the internship of course. We caught up with what was happening in Valerie’s life here in Paris and Lori’s life in Washington, DC/Charlottesville, VA – a small world indeed.

OK the food was good, service slow, prices OK, but we got to hear and speak Italian, and I got the last glass of Averna. It didn’t matter. It was good to see them both again and spend a great evening talking and talking, about food of course, about pastry naturally. After we finished dinner we said au revoir and parted at the metro. We headed home enjoying a nice stroll in the quiet, chilly air of winter in Paris.

Sunday was the first Sunday of the month. We left the apartment about midday and headed off for the Musee d’Orsay, home of the world’s finest collection of Impressionist art. We started strolling up toward the Jussieu metro stop and the day being absolutely gorgeous (again) we just continued walking: right past the metro, along the Seine all the way to the museum, eyeing the bouquinistes and their old cards, posters, books, and old French magazines,

The d’Orsay is striking when seen from the outside, it still looks like a train station, but that is nothing compared to the interior of this museum. And I’m not sure “museum” is the correct word here, either:

Museum – noun - a building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited.

“Objects of interest”? “Stored and Exhibited?” That is simply too saccharine a description of this building. This place simply doesn’t fit the image that such a word draws to mind, as if it were a hulking, gray steel and concrete monstrosity designed by a committee. No way. Not in a city that gave us the Pompidou Center and the Cite des Sciences.

The French took an old train station ready for the wrecking ball and, while keeping much of the gorgeous interior including the overhead glass and iron ceiling which floods the space with natural light, added a series of rooms that seem to almost float on their own. Yes it’s a bit confusing, perhaps even chaotic, but embrace the disorder and just drift with your guidebook or the free map that’s available at the information desk on your way in, or even with Rick Steve’s handy podcast guide of the d’Orsay.

On the ground floor we spent a great deal of our time – we had all afternoon after all – wandering from room to room, occasionally looking at our guidemap but just letting the colors and paintings draw us to them, rather than choosing one over another: Corot, Millet, Daumier, Courbet, and of course the room devoted to the exquisite works of Manet. Of course how can you miss those absolutely stunning sculptures on the ground floor!? They are everywhere and capture your eye no matter where you go. Oh, and don’t miss the really cool exhibit at the far end of the hall from the entrance, where you can actually walk on a glass floor beneath which is a model of the part of Paris that is home to the spectacular Opera Garnier.


Then wend your way to the middle level and pop into the Art Nouveau room – and what a feast for the senses here: furniture to be sure but what furniture it is!

Walk around the middle level and just look at the space!

Head up the escalator to the top level to see the icons of Impressionism: Degas, Cezanne, Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet, a true feast for the eyes and the mind. Plan to spend some serious time here.

Go all the way to the end and then walk up to the small viewing platform where you are near the top of the old train station ceiling for a spectacular view of one of the most fantastic of spaces in Paris.

Enjoy yourself.

We did. In fact we’re going back the first Sunday in March as well – forget the Louvre, it’s simply too big, I mean 30,000 works of art! No we’re going back to the d’Orsay and this time we’re going to snap up the audio guides (€5) and spend the day.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Friday, February 02, 2007

Mineeeeeeee Cooper


Our return to the United States is happening by degrees it seems. Just last week we finalized the details with our mover and two days ago we received our production number for our Mini Cooper! Just trying to do our part to reduce global warming -- and having a blast in the bargain! (photo: this 2006 is the same color and style as our 2007. Just thought you'd like to know.)

Now all we have to do is pick up the car, and log some miles this spring seeing some of your folks before we have to start looking for work somewhere, doing something.

Cloudy but warm the past couple of day. Just doesn't seem like winter.

Wish you were here!

Steve