Thursday, September 29, 2016

Out and about in Paris 28 September

After a rather structured two days -- Susie in class half of Monday and all of Tuesday and me in Père-Lachaise both days -- we decided to spend Wednesday just strolling about the city with no fixed objective in mind. It's great having the Navigo for the Metro, on and off as often as we want.

Well, that was only partly true. We wanted to visit the Jardin des Plantes, the Jardin de Luxembourg, stroll up rue Mouffetard, check out the books at Gibert Jeune at Place Saint-Michel and end up at BHV, the city's huge department store right across from the Hotel de Ville.

And so we did.

We walked to the Metro at Place Gambetta where we took line 3 to Republique, changed to the 5 and got off at Gare d'Austerlitz. We were both quite surprised that the Gare had gotten rid of the tacky tourist shops and replaced them with an art gallery/exhibition space.

From the train station we walked across the street into the Jardin des Plantes. This was always one of our favorite haunts when we first moved to Paris and lived nearby on rue Poliveau. And it remains so today.  Upon leaving the jardin we made our way up to rue Monge, past Pascal's pastry shop -- still there  -- and strolled through the open air market at Place Monge.

From Place Monge it's a short couple of blocks around Saint-Medard church -- we went in briefly -- to the foot of rue Mouffetard.  The "Mouf" is one of the oldest streets in Paris dating back to the days of Roman occupation. It's a meandering street that is filled with restaurants, stalls of food and wine vendors and small shops. In fact, we stopped at Sherpa, a small shop selling mostly women's clothing but they did have a few items for men, particularly scarves -- and so I bought one.

At the top of the street in Place Contrescarpe we stopped for lunch at the aptly named Cafe de la Contrescarpe. A perfect time to sit, relax, have a bite to eat and watch the world slide by while being serenaded by a young man with a guitar. . . I should think that takes no little amount of courage to stand up in front of strangers and play/sing Hotel California. And he did a fine job of it, too. For lunch we both had the club sandwich with frites. If you feel you've overdosed on testing the various Croque Monsieur, try one of the clubs -- they were delicious. and they came with most unusual of frites, too, I might add. They were the shape of a French fry but the body was curved and hollow and very good.

From Place Contrescarpe we made our way to the Pantheon and then down rue Soufflot to the Jardin de Luxembourg. Strolling through this particular jardin is much more than a visual treat of sculpture and flowers or even a keen opportunity to watch a vast array of humanity, local and foreign, stream by. It's a time to stop, pull up a chair -- one of the lounge chairs preferably unless you want to read --  put your feet on the iron railing, sit back and lose yourself for 10 minutes or an hour. (The railing is a particularly nice touch.)

We eventually roused ourselves and made our way out of the jardin to Boulevard Saint-Michel. From there we walked down toward the Seine to check out the Gibert Jeune bookstores on Place Saint-Michel. From there we walked over to the Ile de la Cité and stopped in to see those incredible stained glass windows of Sainte-Chapelle. Built between 1242 and 1248 as a reliquary, most of the original relics (such as the crown of thorns) are long gone. And although Louis IX would have been aghast at such an invasion of his royal space, there were many exclamations of amazement by common folks at first sight of those windows.

We left the chapel and made our way to the right bank crossing in front of the Hotel de Ville. We popped into the immense department store BHV (Bazaar Hotel de Ville). After using the bathrooms (on the 5th floor by the restaurants) we cruised the kitchen floor and then the books section before leaving. From the basement level of the store you can access line 1 of the Metro, which is what we did, making our way to line 2 at Nation and then line 3 at Père-Lachaise, getting off at Gambetta. We had come full circle.
Jardin des Plantes

Place Monge market

rue Mouffetard

note those potatoes in the drip pan!

Cafe à la Contrescarpe

the Pantheon

Jardin de Luxembourg

Susie savoring the moment

Mary Stuart probably wouldn't have tolerated these people

but Sainte-Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris probably would


Paris is far from perfect, though

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Paris 25-27 September

Sunday was another day in Paris, another day just to be here.

I went to Père-Lachaise in the morning and worked on my shot list. Later that afternoon we struck out for the Metro and the western side of the city. The plan was to pay a visit to Valerie and Hubert who live in the 15th arrondissement. Susie and Val had gone to Basic Pastry together at Le Cordon Bleu in 2006 and we've stayed in touch with her ever since. Susie even attended her wedding.

Anyway, the last time we saw Val and Hubert , some three years ago, their children were very small. Well, at ages 5 and 3 their daughter and son are, I have to say, among the cutest kids we've ever seen (it helps that their cuteness manifests itself in Frenc0 right up there with those adorable MacD kids.

On the way to their home we stopped at Claire Damon's pastry shop along boulevard Pasteur, to pick up a few things to take along for treats (see Susie's post).

We had a wonderful afternoon visiting and catching up on the latest family news.  But, for each hello there always follows the inevitable goodbye. And so it was here. We walked out into gorgeous sunshine, made our way to the Metro and home for the rest of the afternoon.

Monday and Tuesday were both workdays, in a manner of speaking. Susie went off to her first class at Lenôtre while I headed to Père-Lachaise (again) to meet up with Marie B. and the two of us spent serious time looking for some of the earliest burials in divisions 20-24

I had an extensive shot list and two of us spent the morning combing through several of the more challenging divisions. Marie was keen on locating the earliest burials in the cemetery, part of goal as well. My work on clarifying sculpture information would come a bit later. Anyway we eventually had to take a break and she kindly bought me lunch at a cafe near the cemetery. Marie recommended a cabbage dish, chou farci, basically a cabbage roll, that came with pureed potatoes and a small pitcher of tasty gravy. It was, in a word, delicious.

On Tuesday I spent the better part of the day back in Père-Lachaise while Susie was in class. Since I had finished just about everything I needed to do in PL I took the Metro in to meet Susie for lunch. The chef at Lenôtre had recommended the cafe at the Petit Palais just across the street from the school and so that's where we met. After lunch I returned home for a nap and Susie went back for her second class. A little after I 5pm I returned to the Metro (3-2-1) and met Susie just as she finished wrapping up class.

The two of us headed back home for the evening -- dinner a casa once again.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Join the Marines!

Well, that's what I did 50 years ago today, although I didn't leave for boot camp in San Diego until October 11. And then it was off to Vietnam in the spring of 1968 followed by my release from active duty in November of 1969.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

First day in Paris 24 September

It was a gorgeously warm day, our first full day in Paris. After making coffee I headed off for our neighborhood open-air market along rue de la Chine and rue Belgrand, about a ten-minute walk. I picked up a few fresh vegetables and a rotisserie chicken for later in the weekend. Mostly I just savored the wonders of open air shopping -- reminding me of what a treasure we have in the Fulton Street Farmer's Market back in Grand Rapids.

Susie and I went to our nearby Franprix to pickup a few items for the apartment and then off to Père-Lachaise for an hour or two stroll. . . It’s a short 10-minute walk from our home.

We returned home, changed clothes and about 2pm left the apartment and headed for the right bank of the city and the Musee Rodin. Our objective was two-fold: first, to see the remodeled museum and second, to meet up with a friend, Diane T. from Oregon. We first met Diane perhaps 10 years ago, in Paris while we were all traveling, and have met up a couple of times since, always in Paris.

Arriving at the museum a bit later than we had planned Diane was already inside. Although there was a bit of a queue before long we were found Diane. It was as if we had just seen each other the day before. What a wonderful thing to renew friendships, eh?

Strolling around the interior of the museum – stifling hot and full of lots of bits and pieces and I mean “bits and pieces” of sculpture, most by Rodin and a very few by Camille Claudel. In fact, the museum itself was a major disappointment. Aside from the heat inside the building – no air conditioning was part of the refurbishment apparently – the entire central garden outside was completely covered, as were numerous statues. What they were doing is impossible to say although the museum had posted signs at the entrance apologizing for the “embarrassing installation” in the garden.

But people were still queuing up in the hot sun as we left.

The three of us strolled for a bit just enjoying chatting and catching up on our lives. Eventually we stopped for an aperitif at a small café just across from Sainte-Clothilde Church. We sat outside, of course, and while Susie and Diane chatted I ran across to the small park in front of the church soon after the church bells started ringing. There were two sculptures that interested me, one was a young woman reading to a young girl (by Delaplanche) and the other was Cesar Franck playing the organ. In fact Franck, who is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery, was for many years the organist at Sainte-Clothilde.

The bells kept on ringing and ringing and I soon discovered why: there was a wedding in the final stages. I peeked through the crowd in front and caught a few glimpses of the bride and groom. What a gorgeous day to be married.

After leaving Le Square Café we heded off to stroll the trendy rue Cler before dinner.

That evening the three of us dined at a wonderful little restaurant, La Billebaud. Waited on by a charming man working the front in this cozy space all by himself, we all three thought his attitude professional and yet very amiable. It turned out that the three of us ordered the same dish: sea bass on a bed of potato puree with cream of morel mushrooms. For dessert I had chestnut ice cream with Armagnac and prunes. (No, I don’t know I ordered it, either, but it was good if too sweet for my taste.) Delicious food.

After dinner we made our way to the Metro and bid Diane adieu and au revoir. She returns home in two days but will be back in Paris next September. Maybe we’ll meet up again – let’s hope so.

back side of the Hotel Biron, Musee Rodin

Claude Lorrain looking on as Susie and Diane chat.

the central garden under cover

across from Sainte-Clothilde

Cesar Franck being inspired by the angels

Square Samuel Rousseau

inside La Billebaude

soufflé glacé au Grand Marnier

moelleux au chocolat, crème anglaise

Pruneaux à l'armagnac, sur crème glacée au marron

Saturday, September 24, 2016

To Flanders Fields 19 September

This past Monday we left Lille for Flanders Fields in Belgium. Our friends Richard and Pauline drove over from England and picked us up at the MacD's apartment. They arrived a few minutes before 2pm just as I was going downstairs to keep watch for their red Ford Focus.

After a round of hugs and helloes (we introduced them to Christina) followed immediately by a round of hugs and goodbyes, the four of us were packed into the car and soon heading north into Belgium. Our first stop was to drop our bags at the Hotel Callecanes, just across the border in Watou, Belgium.

After checking in and taking a short break we returned to the car and made our way to Ieper (in French Ypres) where we arrived just in time to catch the "Last Post" at the Menin Gate inside the centre ville. Originally the fortified eastern entrance to the city the gate was rebuilt in 1927 as a Memorial to the more than 54,000 Commonwealth dead who were killed during the various battles of Ypres and whose graves are unknown.  The road that passes beneath was the route Allied soldiers took to the front.

After the parade of the pipers from the city square to the arch and the laying of wreaths by several pairs of individuals buglers played the Last Post.(see the video a the end of the post) There were, I should guess, 150-200 people in attendance of this short but moving event, which is performed every evening at 8pm (2000).

After the ceremony we found a place on the town square (Leshalles) for a fashionably late dinner before making our way back to the hotel.

even the young children were caught up in this

Arrival in Paris and settling in 23 September

Last Friday was another beautiful day for travel. After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel Richard and Pauline drove us to the train station at Saint-Quentin. We said our goodbyes amidst the maze of construction fencing and materials scattered about the main entrance and off they went heading for Calais, the Dover ferry and home to St. Albans.

As for the two of us we had a short wait before our train to Paris, which was on time. We had opted for 1st class instead of 2nd — our usual mode of train travel in Europe — because the price was the same, oddly enough. Anyway, we had more room in 1st, a good thing too, since we were schlepping everything by hand now, no more car to carry our load.

After arriving at the Gare de Nord we made our way to the Metro. For reasons poorly understood now, we had decided to forgo a cab and haul our stuff through the Metro. So we picked up a carnet (pack of 10) metro tickets and off we went. (We couldn’t reload our Navigo swipe cards until Sunday evening.) After making our way with minimal up-and-down steps and with only one transfer to Porte de Bagnolet we exited the Metro and walked down rue de Bagnolet until we found our apartment at 6 rue des Prairies in the 20th arrondissement.

top floor, with the windowbox; our door is just to the left of the man in black
The plan had been to arrive at 2pm (1400) and so we did. Our landlady, Ann F. buzzed us in and up the four flights of stairs we went. I had spoken with Ann on the phone a couple of months back and she struck me as amiable, congenial, friendly and someone keen on enjoying life. Those first impressions were confirmed when we met her face-to-face. Indeed, between her lovely and spacious apartment in Paris that was to be our home for the next 10 days and a home in Provence, she seemed to life life to the fullest indeed.

After getting to know one another and us getting to know the apartment and the neighborhood we bid adieu to Ann who was off to Provence. For Susie and I it was all about settling in now.

And first things first.

While there were some groceries and necessities in the house we walked to one of two nearby grocery stores to stock on a few other items. (We would find a Franprix even closer; that would become our go-to store.)

As for the remainder of Friday we unpacked everything and for the first time started pulling our things out of suitcases and putting them away. It was time to just relax. . .

Friday, September 23, 2016

Chemin des Dames, Medieval Laon and the Saint-Quentin Basilica 22 September

Our last full day with Richard and Pauline found the four of us driving from Saint-Quentin to the bucolic countryside known today as Chemin des Dames. During World War 1 this was the scene of horrific fighting between French and German forces (and later American and British as well). According to Wikipedia:

the Chemin des Dames (literally, the "ladies' path") is part of the D18 and runs east and west in the département of Aisne, between in the west, the Route Nationale 2, (Laon to Soissons) and in the east, the D1044 at Corbeny. It is some thirty kilometres long and runs along a ridge between the valleys of the rivers Aisne and Ailette. It acquired the name in the 18th century, as it was the route taken by the two daughters ofLouis XV, Adélaïde and Victoire, who were known as Ladies of France. At the time, it was scarcely a carriage road, but it was the most direct route between Paris and the Château de Boves, near Vauclair, on the far side of the Ailette. The château belonged to Françoise de Châlus, former mistress of Louis XV, Countess of Narbonne-Lara and former lady of honor to Adélaïde, whom the two ladies visited frequently. To make the way easier, the count had the road surfaced, and it gained its new name. The ridge's strategic importance first became evident in 1814 when Napoleon's young recruits beat an army of Prussians and Russians at the Battle of Craonne.

In fact, there is a statue of Napoleon just off the roadway. He stands on the base of the old mill and is looking toward the Prussian lines. The original village of Caronne is long gone, utterly destroyed during the war. There is anew village just a short distance away.

After leaving the ridge held by the Germans and visiting Napoleon and the Basques we attempted to tour the caverne du dragon, a warren of caves just off the chemin des dames used by both the French and Germans. Unfortunately they only ran guided tours twice a day and so we pushed on to Laon for a late lunch in this stunning medieval hill town.

After lunch we strolled the city before heading back to Saint-Quentin and to our hotel. Later that evening we found a place for an aperitif just off the main city square, toured the basilica and then headed off for a rather mediocre dinner at Chez Mario.

from the carpark up to the observatory

picture this as completely denuded of vegetation and nothing but rolling acres of mud and dead, year after year after year

small memorial to the 18th infantry regiment from Pau

Napoleon statue - the ridge held by the Germans and the location of the observatory is to far left rear behind the trees
memorial to the Basque regiments
entrance to the la caverne du Dragon

cathedral entrance in the medieval center of Laon

leaving Laon, in a manner of speaking
Like the church in Laon the basilica in Saint-quentin has also made serious strides in preserving many of the memorial and burial stones inside the church.

basilica at Saint-Quentin - effigy to Charles Florimond Tavernier

Pierre d'Estournel (1481-1528) and his daughter Adrienne

Mathilde Patrelott (d. 1272)