Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monday rain, airline strikes and our last day

Monday it rained pretty much all day in Paris so we opted to stay in and work on household chores and packing for our departure Wednesday morning. Susie did go brave the rain squalls to walk over to the Bastille where she met up with Mohamed, a friend from her first days at Pascal's earlier this year. "Momo" is Tunisian and has worked as a chef in the US throughout Europe and parts of Asia. They had a fine lunch, catching up on all the news of course.

Tuesday the day dawned overcast but no rain and in fact we had breaks of sun and blue sky from time to time.

We hung around the apartment putting some final touches on getting ready to hand the keys over to Drea on Wednesday morning. We even took a quick trip over to Pascal's. After strolling through Place Leon Blum we started walking down Ledru-Rollin and soon caught the no. 61 bus to Gare Austerlitz, and walked through the Jardin des Plantes around the Paris mosque to Pascal's to see if Susie's letter of completion of her stage was ready (no). We returned through the Jardin and walked across the Pont Austerlitz and caught the no. 5 at Quai de la Rapee. We then returned to the apartment in time to meet Drea for lunch. She arrived at about 1 pm and we chatted for a bit -- it seems that one spends a fair amount of time in Paris just catching up on the news with friends and acquaintances.

The three of us walked down to the Place Leon Blum and around the corner on rue de la Roquette we stopped at La Renaissance for lunch. The wine (rouge) was mediocre, the service prompt and friendly, the food was delicious, and the company and conversation warm and thoroughly enjoyable. After lunch we walked back to the apartment and Drea eventually left to meet up with several friends for dinner. Susie and I grabbed our coats and headed for the Metro.

At Austerlitz we changed to the no. 10 and at Jussieu we switched to the 7 and got off at Place Monge. As we entered Pascal's they were still in the process of the daily afternoon nettoyage (cleaning) and still no letter. But it was a grand opportunity for Susie to say au revoir to Pascal and Jean Marc and Miss Bread. From the shop we strolled down rue Monge past Eric Kayser's upscale patisserie where we bought two croissants for the morning, and continued down toward the river but turning left (west) on Boulevard St. Germain. We continued our leisurely stroll through the heart of the Latin Quarter, past Odeon and then turned right onto rue G. des Tours, and then a quick left on the funky little rue de Buci, past the cool Taschen bookshop.

Off of rue de Buci we turned onto rue de Seine and strolled past the never-ending stream of galleries punctuated only by the occasional doorway into an apartment building overhead. Of course the street did end, brining us out at the Institut de France, just opposite the Louvre proper.

After crossing the street we strolled across the Siene one more time, walking along the pedestrian-only Pont des Arts. Midway we stopped and watched the champagne lights twinkling on the Eiffel tower. After several minutes we turned away, not wanting to see the lights go off but just letting that be our final image of the great and beautiful icon of the city of Paris.

So with the Eiffel to our backs we passed into the Cour Carree of the Louvre. Last year we had struck up a conversation with a fellow sitting next to us at a small restaurant near the Place de Italie, he worked for the city light company, and he told us to make a point to get over to the Coeur Carree to see the lights inside. And so now we have. It is something worth seeing to be sure. This is after all the city of light and the city of lights.

From the Louvre we got on the no. 1 Metro and took it to the Bastille. From there we walked down rue de la Roquette, past Leon Blum's statue all lit up and glowing like a beacon in the center of the Place named after him, and strolled back to the apartment.

It is now Wednesday morning just about 8. The bags are pretty much packed and it's just a matter of doing up some dishes and some last minute tidying up. Drea comes by at 9 to get the keys, we say au revoir and then we're off to Charles de Gaulle and Air France.

Wish you had been here, and maybe someday you will.


Monday, October 29, 2007

Our last Sunday in Paris

Sunday began overcast and pretty much remained that way all day -- but that was OK with us. We're just happy to be here, at least for the moment.

But we will not be for much longer.

The other day we began a short list of several things we wanted to see and do before we flew to the US on Wednesday. The list became rather long so we headed out mid-morning on Sunday to start to see Paris with the eyes of a tourist (again).

(photo: Juliette Recamier in the Carnavalet museum; for additional photos from that wonderful outing just click here.)

From our apartment just off of rue de Parmentier we walked down rue Chemin Vert to Boulevard Beaumarchais, turned down rue pas de la Mule, and through one of the porticoes of Place Vosges and on another block or two to the Carnavalet museum, the museum of the History of Paris.

Susie had never been here and we thought it was high time she went. One of the truly grand free attractions in the city, it's certainly worth the time for the art alone – and the grand thing is that the art is all designed to help once see through the eyes of the city’s artists how the city of Paris evolved from prehistoric and Gallo-Roman periods until today. All neatly arranged in period rooms of a mansion once owned by Madame Sevigne. (You'll see her name around the Place Vosges area a lot, and in fact she was born in one of the buildings next to the Hotel Sully facing the Place.)

We spent an hour or two strolling through Parisian history compliments of some truly fantastic art, and both of us remarked as to how wonderful it was to see how Paris has changed over time, at least through the eyes of so many painters and sculptors. (It was also helpful to see the many models of the city and some of the more famous buildings and how they have all changed over time.)

(I also discovered the local origina of the word "Samaritain." I thought it was just the name of one of Paris' most famous -- and now extinct -- department stores. In fact it was a much older building on the side of the Pont Neuf that would be close to where the department store would eventually be located.)

Oh, and I got a chance to see Juliette Recamier once again; well her image at any rate. Married at age 15 to a man 30 years her senior, her intellect and strength of character made her one of the leaders of literary and political world in early 19th century Paris. If you must know she's buried in Montmartre cemetery, and not easy to find . . . (photo below: museum garden)

After leaving the interior of the museum we found our way into two of the museum’s lovely connecting gardens, where we strolled for a few minutes before heading off a couple of streets over to rue des Rosiers and the Jewish quarter. (Rue des Rosiers was so-named after the rose bushes that grew up against the ancient city wall that once paralleled the street.)

Our objective here was simple: to sample what some claim to be the best falafel in the city. Our friend Diane first mentioned this place to us -- she ate there several times I believe -- and then I read Mark Bittman's praise of this sandwich in a column he devoted to the restaurant in the New York Times in 2006.

This being Sunday and many places in the city closed for lunch there was already a line queuing up at the counter window -- you can sit down but the interior space is cramped and was packed that day anyway. Several other sandwich shops nearby had queues as well. So as we were standing in line a guy comes by and takes our order. We pay him and he gives us our receipt. When we get to the window we hand the receipt to one of the half dozen guys in the kitchen. He asks if we want piccante sauce (harissa sauce) -- you bet we say – and he then goes off, fixes our sandwich and back he comes. He hands the sandwiches through the window and off we go!

We stroll down the street snacking on our salad-sandwich with forks we grabbed before leaving the window.

From the rue des Rosiers we work our way back to the Carnavalet and around the northern side head of the museum to Blvd Beaumarchais where we get the no. 8 Metro at Chemin Vert. At Strasbourg-St. Denis we change to the no. 4 and then to the no. 2 at Barbes-Rochechouart and get off at Anvers.

We are now back in Prime Tourist Country, as we make our way up rue Steinkerque toward Sacre Coeur, and find our way to the queue for the small cable car that will take us to the top. The place is of course packed with people from every part of the globe imaginable -- and some not imaginable I think. Leaving the front of the church we walk over to the Place du Tertre -- equally packed with artists and people trying to see the art and everyone trying to find a place to eat; all in the same place at the same time of course.

So we leave as quickly as possible, after skirting most of the artists on parade, and head down to rue des Abbesses where we take the no. 12 to the Place de la Concorde and the Jeu de Paume museum to see the Steichen photo exhibition.

Another short line, a quick check of my backpack by security (securite) and we're inside with tickets in hand. The exhibition is enormous, with as many people jammed together trying to see the photos, as there are photos to see. We are initially put off by the dark photos from Steichen's early phase of his career -- frankly I think a photographer taking such dark, out-of-focus images today would be shot trying to pass them off as "art." (Steiglitz, a colleague and friend of Steichen's of course used the same technique.) We work our way through his life and his life's work, year-by-year and phases-by-phase: after working as an army photographer in the First World War, he eventually became one of the hottest photographers on Madison Avenue and in Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s.

During the Second World War, at the age of 60 he was a Navy photographer in the Pacific and took some of the most incredible images. I was reminded that I had his book on US Navy photos from WWII many years ago.

After leaving the Jeu de Paume we made our way back to the Metro and took the no. 12 to Sevres, where we got off and walked by St. Sulpice, presently undergoing major repair and renovation, to the Jardin du Luxembourg. What a sight to see! Families strolling, kids playing everywhere, tennis players on the courts, badminton players without a net, chess players:

Even amidst the crowds the people of Paris always seem to find time for intimate moments:

After strolling through the Jardin with much of the rest of Paris we walked down to the no. 10 Metro at Cluny La Sorbonne and got off at Jussieu. After returning to the surface we walked into the Jardin des Plantes and strolled through the gardens to the Gare Austerlitz and took the no. 5 to Breguet. From there we walked home.

Not a bad Sunday after all -- in fact it was a great Sunday and a truly wonderful way to spend a day in Paris.

Wish you had been there,


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Our Last Saturday in Paris

Well it's another overcast and dreary morning here in Paris. Frankly, I have trouble with putting the word "dreary" in the same sentence with the word Paris, but there you have it.

We gained an extra hour this morning, which was a nice feature to be sure; one more hour in Paris that we might not have otherwise had to spend. And we spent it over an extra cup of coffee scanning the headlines online. (photo, left to right: Yumi and Misato at Pascal's.)

And speaking of cyberspace we’ve had the oddest thing happen to us here in the 11th arrondissement. We cannot connect to the one (US) website that hosts all of our websites and attending email addresses, thus we cannot send mail normally. We can, however, send it abnormally via our Apple account so that’s nice.

(If you must know, on Friday I discovered that while we could send emails we couldn’t receive mail although we could access our Internet Service Provider’s website to view our mail directly on their site. A day later, that situation was reversed: we could not longer access their website nor could we send email but we could receive email. A French conspiracy some think, but I doubt it.)

That aside, after a leisurely morning Saturday we left the apartment a little before noon and walked west on rue Chemin Vert until it ran into Boulevard Beaumarchais, where we turned left, walked a block and turned onto rue pas de la Mule, in the direction of the Place Vosges. We cut through this pretty green space, dominated by a statue of Louis XIII on a horse (kings loved horses it would seem), surrounded by a square of attractive, very upscale buildings with little cafes and galleries tucked beneath the arcades, under the porticoes. Upon leaving the place we headed for rue Saint Antoine, crossing just a bit east of Saint Paul church. (This street eventually becomes the very busy and very famous rue de Rivoli that runs alongside the Tuileries to the Place de la Concorde.)

But our journey led us away from the frenetic activity of these major streets and we wended our way through the backstreets on our way to the Seine, which we crossed at the Pont de Sully, and found ourselves at the tip of the Isle St. Louis. Making our way to the rue Isle Saint Louis we strolled up the street peeking in the occasional window, commenting that we had been in that shop or eaten in that little café somewhere in the not-too-distant past.

That’s right folks, it’s the beginning of our “Melancholy Tour of Paris” where we make every effort to see those places we’ve seen before, do those things we’ve done before, together, with friends or family (often one and the same thing you know).

Frankly I think it’s only natural at this stage in our life. We’ve been vagabonding for nearly two years now and that phase of our life together, we sense, is about to come to an end. Very soon we will have a home (and mortgage!) again, and after almost two years in storage we will have our “stuff” back again.

Of course we will miss Paris – and Italy even more so in some respects. But if the past two years have taught us anything at all, it is that life is meant to be lived, to be experienced, to be savored. That change is not to be feared. There is absolutely no reason one cannot savor life in Providence as well as in Paris.

So just as we are coming to an end of our life in Paris so we came to the end of the Isle St. Louis and crossed the small Pont St. Louis bridge to the Isle de la Cite. We stopped on the bridge for a few minutes to listen to a small jazz band playing for the benefit of the passers-by and their euros of course. We dropped a coin in their violin case and moved on skirting Notre Dame on the rue by the same name, passing another, smaller jazz combo playing right on the edge of the street. Fine music being tossed out for anyone to hear and enjoy. Like so much of this city.

As we came around to the front of one of the world’s most famous ecclesiastical landmarks we swung back toward the river and crossed at the Pont au Double.

Officially on the Left Bank and more or less in the Latin Quarter, we headed up rue Lagrange until it became rue Monge.

(Interestingly, it is often reported that the name “Latin Quarter” came from the fact that the universities of Paris had their start here and that everyone spoke Latin. True indeed. But we mustn’t forget that this area was also the very site of the ancient Roman city of Lutetia.)

We strolled to Pascal’s where Susie tidied up some last-minute recipe notes for Pascal (he is hot on brownies and American-style cookies, as are many other pastry chefs in the city).

From Pascal’s we walked over to the rue Mouffetard, the “Mouff” as it’s known locally, to stroll this wonderful little street of open air markets and tiny shops, not terribly upscale at all but somehow fashionable nonetheless.

It was now almost half past one and time to stop for lunch and there’s probably no better location for such a thing than on the Mouff. We checked out a couple of menus as we walked toward the Place Contrescarpe and stopped at the tiny, which specialized in the cooking from Savoie, a tiny part of southeastern France bordering on Switzerland. Both of us had the Fondue Savoyard, bits of ham, potato and bread cubes we dipped at our whim into a large pot of bubbling reblochon cheese, accompanied by a small delectable salad, and all washed down by a wonderful crisp white wine, Apremont de Savoie, aptly named since it was from Apremont.

We savored the afternoon letting the time slip away from us.

But go we had to go of course and after paying the bill, something they appreciate here in France, we walked to the Jardin des Plantes. Passing through the gardens we caught the no. 61 bus across from the Gare Austerlitz.

We got off at Basfrois, just short of the Place Leon Blum, and did some last minute shopping for essentials at the Monoprix near the Place. I must say this store is one of my least favorites I think – mainly because the grocery section is on the upper level (2nd floor in Americanese), with some items, such as bar soap and the like on the first floor. And it was busy on all floors.

With bags in hand we walked back to the apartment.

Later that evening we walked over to St. Ambroise where we caught the no. 9 Metro to the Trocadero. About 25 minutes after we left our apartment on the eastern side of Paris we were standing on the “terrace” between the two fairly unremarkable buildings that comprise the several museums on the Palais de Chaillot. Like many other people from all over the world that evening – and probably every evening I imagine – we were standing there fixed in one spot staring at the gorgeous structure of the Eiffel tower, bathed in a soft yellow glow of how many thousands of lights, lit up for the evening, all waiting for that moment, when on the hour the little champagne twinkle lights come on and one senses that this is what makes the French so different from most other cultures. This is why so many have flocked here from all over the world for the past two hundred years or more. Not to make money or make their fortunes as one might expect to do in other parts of the world.

No they came to flex their imagination, to let their ideas run free, sometimes to run amok to be sure. But run, fast and far.

You see it everywhere you look in this city.

Wish you had been there.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

Degas, women in the bath and the Musee d'Orsay

I spent a large part of Friday in the Orsay museum and learned, through the wonders of the audioguide that some two-thirds of Degas' work was of women in the bath, or taking a bath, or washing their feet, or squatting in a tub, looking at the bath, in any case, something to do with cleaning. Aside from the fact that he was on the wrong side of the Dreyfus affair his various images of dancers are exquisite to be sure, and he is justly world-famous for portraits of young ballet dancers. (As in the above painting, Ballet Rehearsal.)

(As a sidenote: the family crypt in Montmartre cemetery deads "De Gas," an attempt it would seem to enhance the stature of his family name beyond the more proletarian "Degas.")

I left the apartment at about half past nine and arrived at the d'Orsay at 10 am. The line was very short and I was soon ushered through security, paid for my ticket and picked up an audio guide and on my way.

I spent the next several hours -- including a short break for lunch -- renewing my obsession with the work of several of my favorite artists.

First up was Eduoard Manet, creator of stunningly powerful portraits of the people who lived, worked, laughed and loved in late 19th century Paris. I was especially taken with his several renderings of the strikingly beautiful Berthe Morisot, friend, fellow painter and wife of his brother Eugene. (That's Manet's portrait of Berthe below.) In fact all three and Edouard's wife are buried together in Passy cemetery, in the very shadow of the Eiffel tower.

I lingered over the 3D caricatures of Honore Daumier, trying to pick up bits and pieces of a lecture being given to a school class on his unique style of portraiture -- not terribly favorable one would think but quite fantastic and original. In fact Friday seemed to be the agreed-upon day by the Paris school system to pack up all the kids and haul them off to the d'Orsay for an afternoon of fun and frolic among the marble and oils.

Jean-Francois Millet and Camille Corot were two other artists that drew my attention, again. I just cannot get enough of the understated beauty in Millet's poignant renderings of the human spirit embodied in the nameless, faceless French peasant. (His piece The Gleaners is below.)

Upstairs, I strolled past most of the Impressionists, stopping at another personal favorite, August Renoir. The sensitivity in his portraiture of people long gone from us now, his ability to capture a moment in their lives keeps them alive and vivid for us today. Incredible.

Right around the corner from one of the Impresionist rooms upstairs you'll find another of my favorites, Toulouse-Lautrec. He and his model, caberet dancer Jane Avril, became world-famous through his posters (she's the model for five of them) that are now icons in pop art.

(A huge piece he did is on the backside of one of the walls of the Impressionist room; his other works are on the same level but the other side of the building. The artist is depicted standing next to Jane, who is talking with Oscar Wilde, and their back is to the viewer, as they watch Louise Weber, another famous caberet dancer, do her thing on stage.)

Another work I especially like, mainly for the piercing look of its subject staring right back at the viewer, is the portrait of Madame de Loynes by Eugene-Emmanuel Amaury-Duval.

I left the museum but not the artwork and took the RER back to the Gare Austerlitz where I changed to the no. 5 Metro to Jussieu, and although I could have walked from there to Pascal's, I switched to the no. 7 and got off at the next stop, Place Monge, which is right next to Pascal's. Simple. Easy. Hey, it's the Metro.

I stopped in to see Susie on her last day. They had just finished lunch and Pascal was looking beat and reading a magazine; Susie was making lemon creme for lemon tarts. It all seemed quite sedate. So I left her to her pastry and walked past the nearby Mosque where Friday prayers were going on -- with the police parked outside -- and the women waiting patiently for their husbands. I strolled past the open door and could hear the call to prayer. I turned the corner and made my way through the windy Jardin des Plantes and caught the no. 61 to Place Leon Blum and then home.

Later that night after Susie got home we celebrated her finishing at Pascal's with a bottle of champagne -- this is France after all.

Wish you had been there,


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dinner with Val, Parc Monceau and dead kings

Sunday was a quiet day for us, catching up on household chores and the like. Susie felt the need for a true day of rest and what better day for that than Sunday, eh?

We did rally ourselves that evening so that we could meet up with our friend Valerie at her apartment for dinner. She and Susie were in Basic together at Le Cordon Bleu and she lives here in Paris, over the by Eiffel tower in fact.

Susie made up one of her rustic fruit tarts, I stuck a bottle of wine in my jacket pocket and we headed off for the Metro: line 5 to Gare Austerlitz and then took the RER to the Eiffel tower; we were lucky indeed since we go onto the platform just a couple of minutes before the train arrived. (Otherwise we would have had to wait a half hour for the next train, which meant we would have had to dash back to the Metro, head downstairs to an even lower level -- the lower colon of the Metro -- in order to catch the no. 10, which would have taken us to La Motte-Picquet, but that station is below ground and we would need to walk up not just to the surface but then to one of the stations raised above ground and take the no. 6 to Dupleix and walk five minutes to the apartment. See why it was important not to miss the RER?)

Four stops later and we were off the train, and soon staring at the underside of the Eiffel tower. Anyway, after a ten-minute walk we were standing in front of Valerie's building, ringing her buzzer pleading to let us in. Which she did.

We had a grand evening, the conversation was lively and warm, catching up on all her news (she is studying Finnish for her work, she's an engineer) and we of course talked of Paris but of the importance of travel in general. (Valerie had recently been to Sicily and also had her first mountaineering adventure in the French Alps, and she had the photos to prove it.) Since Valerie is not only French but Parisian the food was delicious: sausage and lentils with rice, followed by a perfect green salad, simple yes, great yes, in fact it was incredible! Eeen-kray-dee-bee-lay!

Monday was another gorgeous day, lots of Parisian sunshine that needed to be consumed. We walked up to Pere Lachaise where we got on the no. 2 line and took it all the way to the other side of the city, getting off at Monceau, which is right at Parc Monceau, one of our main objectives for the day.

The park is small, but tres cool, and it was filled with people in search of what we are all looking for I suppose: a little peace, quiet and time to just relax. Several intriguing statues are scattered throughout the park. The one of Guy de Maupassant had his bust on a pedestal while on the bottom was a woman reclining, perhaps contemplating his writing.

Another curious piece of stone is found at one end of the parc that was devoted to children plaing, a statue marked A Chopin, "To Chopin." an intriguing piece of work we thought: a man, presumably Fred himself, playing a keyboard instrument while seemingly unfazed by his permanent audience of one, a woman covering her eyes with her right hand, as if to say "Oh what exquisite music!" Or is she hinting, "Not THAT piece again!".

From the Parc Monceau we headed off in the direction of Place Madelaine, stopping briefly to check out the enormous spiritual bulk of St. Augustin church which stood squarely in our path. The church is large, no doubt about it, but a quite unremarkable interior and other than its sheer size has little to recommend it (for non-Catholics).

We strolled passed the Chapelle Expiatoire, which is presently closed until the middle of November while work is being done on the gardens. The chapelle is built over what was originally the Madelaine cemetery, a place that would otherwise have become just another part of paved-over pre-Hausmann Paris had it not been for the fact that the bodies of King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, along with hundreds of others who had been executed on the nearby Place de la Concorde, were dumped into a mass grave on this very spot.

During the brief restoration of the monarchy in the early 19th century the land was acquired by Louis XVIII who had the bones of the king and queen removed to St. Denis for reburial with the other kings and queens of France, and the other remains were placed in two rows of small half-moon-shaped vaults flanking a small garden, the chapelle as it exists today.

From the chapelle we made our way to Detou for baking supplies -- Susie is stocking up on a few hard-to-find ingredients in the US before we leave next week. We then had lunch at the Cafe Etienne Marcel just a few doors down from Detou on Boulevard, that's right, Etienne Marcel (at the corner of rue Montmartre in fact).

After a late lunch we returned to the Metro and headed home, another day in Paris, exploring the wonders of the human spirit in the bright light of the day.

For additional photos click here!

Wish you had been there,


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lots to see in Paris and Pascal's is hoppin'

Well it's overcast a bit chilly here in lovely downtown Paris this week. (Or is it just the 11th us here in the 11th?)

Susie has been crazy busy at Pascal's this, her last week. In fact he even asked her to come in extra early yesterday morning (Thursday), which she did, since he was so short-handed. Miss Chocolate is out indefinitely due to health reasons, the new girl Yumi is just starting to get an idea of what's going on, Miss Bread is of course still on hand, but Misato left for Japan yesterday. Originally she was going home for good but apparently she is coming back in two weeks, back to Pascal's. Whew. (photo: Misato with a new pastry shop fashion look and Susie.)

Anyway, the joint has been jumpin' and Susie has had her hands full -- which if why she came here naturalmente! She has been walking to work lately -- it's about 40 minutes or so -- and then taking the no. 61 bus back home or the Metro. This morning she left bright and early at a quarter after five. She loves baking so much. . . (Click here for more photos from Pascal's.)

We had a busy couple of days this past weekend, trying to make the most out of our remaining time here in Paris. The weather was very pleasant, temps starting to fall now pretty regularly every morning, but the sun was out for the weekend, which made for nice strolling to be sure.

After lingering over coffee Saturday morning we showered, dressed and left the apartment heading for the Metro. We took the no. 9 to the no. 4 to Porte Clignancourt, at the northern edge of the city. This is where the "famous" flea market is held every week, Saturday through Monday. We had been duly warned about the street hawkers and vendors near the Metro exit but we were wholly unprepared for how many there were. We were expecting a few dozen guys from Third (or Fourth or Fifth) World hellholes selling trinkets on the streets, rather like we used to see in Florence.

Well we were wrong.

It was more like the San Lorenzo market in Florence, with row upon row of stalls of these people who, like us are clearly from out of town to be sure, but unlike us are in town selling jeans, watches, and everything imaginable in leather at knock-off prices. We waded through them until we crossed under the overpass (which is the peripherique I think) and then found the actual flea market itself, a series of meandering passages (allees) that seem to go off in every direction but straight.

Here you can find all kinds of "stuff", some of it junk of course, but plenty of very cool stuff, lots of furniture and plenty of odds and ends with which to fill your apartment, flat or whatever.

After strolling through the various passages, or allees, we headed back to the Metro. From the northern edge of Paris we made our way to the southeastern part of the city. Specifically, we wanted to go to Bercy neighborhood in the 12th arrondissement. The Metro dropped us at the tiny "village," a small collection of shops located at the edge of Parc Bercy smack in the middle of a massive apartment buildings in a largely residential area wedged between the tracks o the Gare de Lyon on one side and the Seine on the other.

There is little to recommend a trip to the village itself, which is mostly a collection of a few upscale shops, although we did find candles that's true.

Aside from the half-dozen or so resauarants lining the street, there are two things to consider however: first is the Cinematique Francaise, a stunning Frank Gehry building that reportedly houses the largest archives of cinema-related items in the world.

Another reason to spend a little time in this part of Paris is the truly wonderful Parc Bercy. Here you can stroll amid grapevines, past arbors of stone built over reflecting pools, past little corners of green space designed just for you to relax, gather your wits about you before you head back out into the fray. And steal a kiss or two along the way. An ideal place for the harried tourist I should think.
It was then back to the Metro and home.

Oh, and click here for additional photos!

Wish you had been there,


Friday, October 19, 2007

Metro strike

Well the Paris transport strike hit the city pretty hard yesterday -- but it was a gorgeous day in Paris so having to walk or bike or rollerblade to work wasn't such a bad deal after all.

Many of the city-run bikes-for-hire racks were empty as folks made good use of this handy and inexpensive form of transportion to get around, at least in the city proper. Susie walked to Pascal's, and it only took her about 40 minutes. She's off this morning on the same route since much of the city transport is still out on strike and suffering form a bit of urban confusion

And speaking of confusion, please excuse the lousy video of the Saint-Martin canal that I put online the other day -- not to mention the poor spelling in the blog note. Anyway, I've recut the video -- it's shorter I think with the same music though -- and reuploaded the new version.

Wish you were here,


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Along the Seine

With most of the Metro workers on strike on this beautiful Thursday afternoon it was time for a walk across the river and along the Seine. Here are just a few things you might see if you had been here:

Saint-Martin Canal in Paris

On Friday, 12 October, 2007 I took a leisurely stroll down the Saint-Martin canal, which runs smack in the middle of Boulevard Richard Lenoir on the east side of Paris. And since so many tourists rarely get to this side of the city I thought I'd share a little of what it looks like. With some music of course.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On the Heath, St. Pancras and Fish 'n Chips

Susan and I woke up a bit early Monday morning since we both wanted to say goodbye to Pauline before she left for work at the Ministry of Justice. After a leisurely breakfast the three of us, Richard, Susie and I, left the flat and Richard drove us to Hampstead Heath, an enormous green space in northwest London. We strolled for an hour or so, catching a (misty) glimpse of much of the greater London area.

It was then back to the car and after returning to the flat where we finished packing our two (very) small shoulder bags, we then we walked to the nearby Tube station. Susie and I bought day travel cards and Richard guided us through the several connections on the Tube as we three made our way to St. Pancras station, the soon-to-be-new Eurostar train terminus in London.

The station is enormous inside -- pretty much like all European staitons I suppose with the cavernous rounded long roofs made of glass and steel or iron and St. Pancras was no different -- except it was in the process of being totally refurbished and so looked quite new indeed. The outside is stunning, with its enormous church-like facade and then the interior is all brand-new, ready to receive the new, even-faster Eurostar beginning the middle of November.

From St. Pancras we Tubed our way to the Holborn area in search of the new and improved International House school for training teachers of English. Richard and I had first met in September of 2005 when we were students in the same group at the old IH facility just off of Green Park. They had moved recently to a much more modern and spacious facility near the Thames. We soon dsicovered the school and indeed we were duly impressed. We peeked inside at the reception and recognized no one so we moved on, bidding fond adieu at that short bit of our common history.

From International House we eventually wended our way down Drury Lane past the Opera House and stopped for a last meal in London at the "Live Bait" restaurant, where the three of us got the classic fish 'n chips -- which Richard remarked were not bad at all in fact. All washed down by a bottle of crisp French white wine,in keeping with the spirit of European cooperation.

From the restaurant it was a short walk to the Thames, and once across the Waterloo bridge we soon found our way into Waterloo station, where we said au revoir to Richard. We couldn't have asked for a better guide in the city and the kindness and hospitality extended to us by Pauline and Richard is now legendary in our family.

We passed through security and checked in for our 4:12 departure to Paris. The train was full and, as it turns out, we had seats seperated from one another. But we both dozed comfortably and the time flew by -- at about the same rate as the train I suspect, and we were soon pulling into the Gare du Nord. Susie and I collected our shoulder bag and backpack -- and thanking the Gods that we didn't have to schlep luggage around like so many other poor travelers that evening -- and headed off to the Metro. We jumped on the line 5, and changed to the no. 9 at Oberkampf and got off at St. Ambroise. five minutes later we were back home.

One day were were in Paris and then in London and then back in Paris again. Life is pretty amazing I'd say.

Wish you had been there with us, and that you were here now,

Steve (and Susie at Pascal's playing with dough)

(photo: sign outside the Quayside in Whitstable, UK.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

A London trip and the search for Joseph Conrad

On Saturday Susie and I had a leisurely morning in the apartment, tackling some household chores and just relaxing. By midafternoon we fhad inished packing our bags for London and around 3 p.m. left the apartment, walking to the no. 5 Metro at Oberkampf. Four stops later we got off at the Gare du Nord and found our way to the Eurostar check-in area.

Unlike the other trains going between France and the rest of the EU, the Eurostar trains require passengers to go through security, which means having your bags screened and then through passport control. Passengers also check-in automatically using the same style of machines the airlines do, which makes me wonder why the airlines can't allow us to check-in automatically there as well I know so they can look at our passports. Anyway, this process effectively eliminates the need for conductors on the train to check and stamp tickets. (photo above: Richard and Pauline at Whitstable, near the Thames estuary.)

And speaking of tickets: I purchased our tickets online through the US website, at a significant discount compared to the French train website, SNCF, or "snick-eff." (Not to be confused with the Paris mass transit system, RATP, or "rat-trap." Yes, yes of course we can all see the other phonetic as well.) Equally cool was I was able to retrieve the tickets from one of Eurostar's automated machines, thus eliminating the necessity of queueing.

We boarded on time and left the station on time, a little after 5 p.m. After we cleared the Paris suburbs the train got up to speed, somewhere around Mach 7, or at least it seemed that way. In fact the top speed (on the continent only) is a little under 190 mph. Anyway, the train headed north through the fertile French countryside and at Lille turned westward toward Calais. With little fanfare we disappeared under the English Channel and eventually resurfaced somewhere around Dover stopping only at Ashford before heading on into greater London.

The train pulled into Waterloo station right on time and Pauline and Richard were right there to meet us. (Beginning 14 November the Eurostars will arrive at the newly remodeled St. Pancras station.)

The four of us piled into their car and we headed off, wending our way through the northwest London streets, to their flat in West Hampstead. After settling in and having an aperitif the four of us walked a few blocks to a nearby restaurant, the "Little Bay" (Belize road). It was packed, mostly with young folks, and it was loud but the food was great, service outstanding and a very good value -- an important point, particularly for Americans today.

After a delicious meal and great conversation, catching up on all the news in the two years since we've been together, we strolled leisurely back to their flat.

Sunday opened up a bit overcast but soon turned into a gorgeous morning in "Olde London towne." The four of us had a leisurely breakfast -- and I had a fantastic cereal that consisted of small shredded wheat squares filled with blueberry jam! Fantastic! Richard made coffee and toast for everyone and we all chatted over the latest Guardian headlines. But soon the talk got round to the focus of the day: the search for the grave of Joseph Conrad in Canterbury cemetery, Canterbury, Kent county. (How odd, too, that Conrad is buried in Kent County, England, when my cemetery ramblings really did not begin until I moved to Kent County, Michigan.)

One the way Richard and Pauline took us on a tour of some of the highlights of London. We drove through Blackheath and stopped at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Here we not only got a spectacular view of greater London but also got to see the very center of time, so to speak: the meridian at Greenwich, in effect the lynchpin for everyone's time everywhere on the planet. Eerie to say the least.
Oh and also the spot where the statue of General Wolfe keeps an eye on London, the gift of the Canadian people.

Back to the car we headed off on A-2 toward southwest England: the cliffs of Dover, Canterbury tales and the final resting place of Joseph Conrad.

But first lunch!

Afetr driving on the A-2 to M-25 truncated by the A-1675q and then bisected by the square root of the M-56788145, we at last arrived in the lovely town of Canterbury.

Afetr circling much of the town in search of Fordwich and its attending Arms, where we were to have lunch, we found our way to food and drink. In fact, since Pauline and Richard seem to have had every map of the United Kingdom memorized, we weren't long in finding the tiny community of Fordwich, next to Sturrey, which itself is outside of Canterbury. After parking the car we walked into a delightful pub and restaurant where we were waited on by one of the friendliest and most naturally pleasant "barmaids" to be found in southern England I'm sure. (photos below: the Fordwich Arms on the left and England'ss smallest and oldest town hall on the right; the small stream that flows by the Fordwich Arms.)

We had a delicious meal: Richard and I both had roast beef and Yorkshire pudding washed down with Shepherd Neame ale, Susan had a delightful ravioli and Pauline had fish. We loved it. Afetr paying the bill -- necessary even herein polite England -- we strolled a bit by the tiny stream passing through Fordwich and chatted seriously about nothing at all. It was just good to be there, sharing a meal and a lovely day in England with friends.

Back in the car we soon found our way to Canterbury cemetery and after strolling for a few minutes among the pignant last words of so many people long gone, we came across a rather nice stone marker for one the finest writers to ever take up a pen and put ink to paper. (photo below: that's Joseph in the background.)

As some of you know quite a few years back I was obsessed with Conrad's work, and indeed consumed virtually everything he ever wrote and of course numerous sketches of his life as well. The obssession is gone, only to be replaced by a deep and profound feeling of thanks to a man whose writings and descriptions of the human condition has had such an overwhelming effect on me.

And here I was standing by his grave, with my wife and good friends. Thank you Richard and Pauline!

After paying our respects we strolled a bit more through the cemetery and then back to the car.

So the deicsion now had to be made: do we head into Canterbury center or do we go to the seashore instead? We concluded that since the city center looked quite busy as we passed around the city we opted for the sea instead.

So off we went in search of water, which we found not terribly far away in the lovely harbor town of Whitstable.

After parking the car the four of us strolled along the lovely boardwalk packed with like-minded folks, some of whom had obviously come to hear the Bob Dylan tribute performed by Fred Dylan at the Old Nepture pub, right on the beach. (Yes, Fred Dylan.)

Others of course had come to take in the sun and sample the various tasty treats being sold along the boardwalk. Richard even tested the water and found it quite warm. As the sun continued its descent in the west we too continued our journey back west.

From the carpark near the beach we set off to the A-2 and God-knows what other numbered roads we passed along before we eventually found our way back to West Hampstead. Pauline prepared delicious a meal at home, and we were joined for dinner by a friend of theirs, a Portuguese woman who has lived and worked in England for some forty years. The conversation and evening passed pleasantly on, and as we closed the chapter for the day I couldn't help but think how lucky I was -- indeed how lucky we are.

Wish you had been there,


Saturday, October 13, 2007

A search for two old Prisons on a Friday in Paris

Friday, 12 October, was busy day for us here in Paris. Susie left early (again) for Pascal's. She has been going in extra early (just about the time the metro begins operating in fact) this week to try and get a glimpse of some of the decorative proceses that happen at the shop first thing in the morning. As for me, well I took off and I went to the Gare du Nord by bus and then strolled along the St. Martin Canal in the morning; in the afternoon I spent some time searching for a few bits and pieces of "unexplored Paris." (photo: part of the St. Martin canal.)

Midmorning I left the apartment and caught the no. 46 bus from near our building along rue Parmentier to the Gare du Nord (the northern train station in Paris); I wanted to retrieve our train tickets for our upcoming trip to London. Well of course I got on that one no. 46 bus that wasn't going to the Gare so I got off at Place Colonel Fabien and walked across the St. Martin Canal around Gare d L'Est to Gare du Nord. Soon after I entered the station I discovered, to my surprise, that I could retrieve our tickets from one of the automatic ticketing machines -- apparently the Eurostar system does not require a French credit card like the regular train (SNCF) machines do.

I also discovered that on the upper level of the station, the same level that one uses to access the Eurostar check-in, there was a large statue by Ludmilla Tcherina. I first saw her work over her own gravesite at Montmartre cemetery, so this another pleasant surprise.

I left the station by slidding down into the Metro where I caught the no. 5 line to Jaures, which put me at the point where the Bassin de la Villette meets the St. Martin Canal. From there I strolled along the canal all the way down to where it disappear beneath Boulevard Richard Lenoir. (You can see more photos of the canal by clicking here.) It's really quite a remarkable walk and I recommend it to anyone wanting to get away from the hordes of tourists thronging the Paris "icons."

I then walked through the large market -- and while I wasn't "in the market" for anything at the moment I did stop to buy a falafel for lunch and gaze fondly over the endless line of tables with produce, meats, cheeses, everything you could possibly want or need for dinner (or lunch).

After making a quick stop at the apartment I headed back out again in the afternoon, this time with a copy of Rodolphe Trouilleux's Unexplored Paris 2003 in hand. This is a fantastic little book, arranged by arrondissement, that provides the backstreet tourist with little gems often missed by the harried traveler.

My objectives today would take me to the 5th, 18th and 11th arrondissements.

After leaving the apartment I walked to the no. 5 at Breguet-Sabin and got off at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, located next to Gare Austerlitz. The hospital began as a gunpowder factory and eventually became a prison for prostitutes and dumping ground of the mentally ill. More recently it was the hospital where Diana, the princess of Wales died as did the jazz singer Josephine Baker. I was there looking for the buildings that once constituted the women's prison. Trouilleux's directions were a bit vague I'm afraid and I had quite a time finding the building that housed the central women's prison (which was stormed in 1793 and the prostitutes released presumably). I did find the building that housed the company of archers assigned to guard the prison and believe the building opposite is the prison itself.

(photo: the dormitory for the archers, the prison guards, and the women's prison on the left, I think.)

After leaving the hospital I walked back to Gare austerlitz and took the no. 10 to Cluny-La Sorbonne. After exiting I crossed Blvd. Saint-Germain and turned north up rue Saint-Jacques, heading toward the river. A block later I came in sight of the southside of Saint-Severin church, my next objective. I rounded the garden and entered the church, hoping to get into the garden itself where one can find a row of arches, gently curving inward toward the church. One might think they are cloisters when in fact these are the remains of an ancient charnel house used for the remains removed from the burial ground that is now the garden. Sadly the entrance was apparently closed to the public, although I could still see the arches quite clearly through the gates.
Leaving Saint-Severin I walked to the Metro no. 4 on the Isle de la Cite and took it to Barbes-Rochecouart where I transferred to the no. 2, getting off at Blanche in the 18th arr. I was looking for the Cite Veron alley (and found it), right next to the Moulin Rouge. This tiny street with it's own city sign was once home to numerous writers, musicians and artists seeking refuge in the decadence of Montmartre.

A few minutes later and I was back at the Blanche metro where I hopped on the no. 2, taking it all the way to Philippe Auguste, which is next to Pere Lachaise cemetery in the 20th arr. After exiting I walked down rue de la Roquette, heading for the Square Roquette. Across from the entrance to the square (or small park) are two large buildings, today apartments and retail shops, but once upon a time a men's prison stood on that site, the Grande-Roquette. And right in front of the prison a guillotine used to be set up for those prisoners who had been condemned to death. I was looking for the flagstones that were once used to lock the base of the guillotine in place. Sure enough they were right in the middle of the street where rue de la Croix-Faubin intersected with rue de la Roquette.

And where this wonderful little green space is today, there too had once stood a prison: the Petite-Roquette prison for women. You can still see the entrance to the women's prison since it is today the entrance to the park.

I then walked home, a short ten minutes' away.

So many discoveries and in just one day -- wish you had been there,


Friday, October 12, 2007

A day at the Horse Races in Paris

Well you've seen the all-girl swing band; now here's a brief look at what was going on in other parts of the racetrack that sunny afternoon in Paris.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"It don't mean a thing"

During the races at the Hippodrome de Longchamp on Sunday, 7 October, I strolled around the grounds of the race track and came across this wonderful all-girl swing band playing a little something for all the hipsters.

In search of two Parisian photographers

On Tuesday Susie returned to her early morning schedule at Pascal's and I went in search of books of photos by two French photographers. One is quite well-known in Paris today, indeed he is probably considered the most famous of the 19th century portrait photographers and collections of his photos are easily found. His name is Gaspard-Felix Tournachon (1820-1910), known generally by his nickname of "Nadar." (That's him on the right here.)

Nadar photographed many, if not most of the great and near-great in 19th century Paris. Among his subjects Sarah Bernhardt:

Victor Hugo:

Edouard Manet:

And Gustave Dore:

The other photographer is somewhat more obscrue I'm afraid. His name is Pierre-Louis Pierson, and his claim to photographic fame extends to a series of photos he took in the second half of the 19th century in collaboration with the Countess di Castiglione.

Born in Florence, Italy in 1837 Virginie Oldoini (that's her above, sometime between 1863 and 1866) was the cousin of Count Cavour, one of the founders of modern Italy, and she married quite young to the Count di Castiglione. She eventually gained notoriety as the mistress of Napoleon III, and her husband subsequently broke off their relationship as a result. In 1856 she began sitting for Pierson, one of the favored photographers of the French court, and over the next 40 years they produced some 400 photos -- some of them showing just the countess's exposed legs or feet (considered risque at the time).

In 1975 the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquired some 275 of the photos and they remain part of their collection today. In 2000 the museum held an exhibition of a number of the photos.

My objective today was to try and track down a some of those photos here in Paris.

A helpful online resource for tracking down hard-to-find books on art and photography in Paris is They provide you with directions as well as a short review of each store to help narrow your choices. From their online list I chose three shops to investigate: Taschen, La Hune and La Chambre Claire, all three in the 6th arrondissement

From the Metro: Odeon you'll find Taschen books at 2 rue de Buci, and La Chambre Claire at 14 rue Saint-suplice. Taschen is of course a publisher of art and photo books and while the shop on rue Buci is slick, it deals with very little in the way of older work. Most of the photographers you'll find here are contemporary, aside from a handful of the icons of the French photo world such as Doisneau and Atget. La Chambre Claire is a bit more dedicated to older work. Indeed I found three works of nadar's, two of them focusing primarily on his caricatures (of which he did quite a few as well). But the prices were really quite steep so I passed.

From the Metro: St. Germain, you'll find La Hune at 170 blvd Saint Germain, right next door to Les Magots, the cafe made famous by Jean Paul Sartre and his lover Simone de Beauvoir. In fact the city named the place in front, Place Sartre-Beauvoir. (The two are buried together in a unpretentious grave in Montparnasse cemetery.) This probably has the largest collection of photo and art books I found on my short investigation, but again most of the work was relatively contemporary. Very few 19th century photo collections seemed to be available. I suppose one would have to frequent the smaller, specialty second-hard bookshops and of course the weekend flea markets.

So I did what I supoose I should have done in the first place: gone straight to There I found exactly what I had been looking for in the first place, or at least one of them: La Divine Comtesse: Photographs of the Countess de Castiglione (Metropolitan Museum of Art Series)

But hey, I enjoyed the journey anyway. I hope you do too.

Wish you were here,