Friday, January 1, 2010

Belated Wrap-Up and Epilogue

Tuesday March 17th - March 23rd, 2009
Days IX -XV Just as Magical as the First Eight

Must say, after pouring so much into a chronicle of the first eight days, I burnt out. At this point, I feel at least a synopsis/finish to my Paris visit is in order....

I believe that my main goal for this trip, to experience some of life as a Parisian, was fulfilled. Whether I was at a restaurant, a cafe, a park, an outdoor market, an indoor hidden passageway, a bar, an out of the way museum, or attending a striker's march; I felt I was either the only or certainly one of the few non-locals! Just maybe this had something to do with how well I was treated by, as many have described, the most snobbish people on the planet.

Yours truly and local snob in the Marais

A Few Standout Experiences During the Last Week:

  • Just across from my apartment was an entrance to the Promenade Plantee. An old elevated railroad was abandoned and decaying. In the early 1990's, the City of Paris converted it to a 2.5 mile pedestrian walkway through lush gardens with periodic stairways to the street below.

  • An out of the way museum:

Masion Europenne de La Photographie

No entrance fee and I was stunned by the black and white photography of Minot-Gormezano and Giorgia Fiorio

I had no idea that photographs of real life on postcards was prevalent in the US during the first three decades of the twentieth century. I was fortunate to see over 250 of these postcards collected by Anthony d'Offay.

Turning t-shirts into music:

After inquiring at the zen center about a t-shirt store in the neighborhood, I was pointed to-

Frederic Wagner is the fun loving t-shirt guy. I spent a couple hours at Liberty Shirt with this crazy dude as customers strewn in and out. We hit it off while I was looking through a gigantic portfolio of custom t-shirt possibilities. Turns out, Frederic is a part-time concert impresario with the nom de plume of DJ Red.

M. Wagner began to turn me onto a series of one night stands for different groups in small clubs and restaurants.

So, for the price of a beer or three I find myself enthralled with the wondrous sounds of live music of the highest caliber. The above was the piece de resistance; a funky jazz orchestra that had everybody packed in and hopping! If you can read in the small print: warm up by DJ Red.

Epilogue: Leaving (Magic) on a Jet Plane

When I travel I always take a book or two. I started a fun read on the way over; but was so captivated by my time in Paris; I didn't get back to the book until I was on the plane for home. The next line when I picked up in the book was: "learning French is difficult".

I heartily agree, but learning to love Paris is easy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

(Clean) Clothes make the man

Naked people have little or no influence on society. -Mark Twain

Mon Mar 16, Day VIII

Not wanting to risk having my full effect on society, or painful chafing, for that matter, I needed to seek out a local laundromat. This was a burning question I had upon arrival, but a fact sheet in my room had it covered with simple directions; literally, just around the corner, Rue Jules César, first street on the left. After walking the street (thankfully, only short blocks long) twice without catching a glimpse of my target, I returned home and inquired about a solution to my dilema. Jacob assured me that the laundromat was right where the directions had indicated, but since I couldn’t find it, an additional one (his favorite and better anyway) was also close at hand. He gave me more simple directions: Ave Daumesnil (next street over) and in our block. I walked, I spied, I am overjoyed and I entered a small, yet impeccably clean and modern facility with detailed instructions, written in French, but with diagrams. I then attempted to decipher these guides, and I was clearly having trouble when good fortune interceded. There were two other customers, both were willing to help. As it turns out, I need both.

On (1) style, (2) education and (3) directions:

  • Almost everyone in Paris, regardless of economic status dresses with a real sense of style.
  • The number of people speaking English in my generation is about 25%; next generation, about 50% and by the next, probably 90+%.
  • The “first” laundromat did exist, but not on Rue Jules César. Days later, while walking in the neighborhood, I just happened to observe it on Rue Lacuée, the next street, which is literally ten steps farther as the angles meet.

One customer is a clean, plain looking, yet accommodating, local twenty-something male without any style and who doesn’t speak any English. The other, is a stunning young woman; a Swiss school teacher made up and dressed to shop haute couture. She, speaks English, French, German, Italian and volunteers to translate for the young man. With coaching from both, I am able to navigate the system, punching in the number for the desired machine, getting my detergent etc. Later, I also received their help starting the dryer and gave them my best Merci beau coup. At this point, I ran home for a quick errand, returned to fold my clothes and they were both gone. While folding away, a local woman enters and is having trouble understanding the system too. While I am somewhat gratified at her dilema, I am successfully able to help her through the process (even though she doesn’t speak English) and then she is thanking me! Now maybe it’s just pure coincidence, but I am staying at the Zen center and this sure feels like (John Lennon, Instant) karma to me!

It was time for the next item on my agenda: The Musée Jacquemart-André.

  • On historical context: In 1860, the village of Monceau, was annexed to the city as part of the vast planning project assigned by Napoleon III to the Prefect, Baron Haussmann. This project would drastically change the face of Paris: many former districts were destroyed and straight roads were designed to run from the outskirts to the centre. It was here, that the imperial aristocracy built mansions that provided an ostentatious display to passers-by. It was on the newly designed Boulevard Haussmann that Edouard André bought a plot to build his mansion. Edouard André was a decendant from a wealthy Protestant banking family. He married a well-known society painter, Nélie Jacquemart, nine years after she completed Edouard’s portrait. The curator of the Musée du Louvre frequently consulted with Edouard and Nélie about their art purchases, as they had a significantly larger budget than the Louvre itself. Every year, the couple would travel to Italy, amassing one of the finest collections in France as they went. When Edouard André died, Nélie Jacquemart, completed the decorations and bequeathed the mansion with its collections to the Institut de France. The Musée Jacquemart-André opened to the public in 1913.
I thought it important to share so much so much about the setting for what was my most meaningful museum visit because it’s all about the context. Visiting the Musée Jacquemart-André is to experience some of how these people lived.

Speaking of the wealthy, after leaving the metro, I see an obviously affluent woman enter this chauffer driven Bentley Arnage ($224K-$267K). I was too slow with the camera to get her as the doorman helped her exit the building and usher her into this rolling work of art!

Entrance to the mansion

Although it is a museum, the art is of the part of the home; perfectly integrated, from the extravagant theatrical public rooms (where they entertained frequently) to the more toned down private apartments. These people passionately dedicated their lives to embellish their mansion with fine art and brilliantly succeeded.

More Musée Jacquemart-André pics

While I was familiar with some of the artists like Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Tiepolo and Canellato. I happened on Hubert Robert and was facinated. Robert was arrested during the French Revolution and only escaped the guillotine due to an error and another prisoner died in his place. Appearently, M. Robert had a daring character and many adventures. He studied in Rome and was best known for his paintings of immense crumbling ruins, inserting everday life scences. Blending fantasy and factual accuracy earned him the nickname, "Robert des Ruines" (Robert of the Ruins).

Robert, Gallery in Ruins

These dual marble staircases are considered the best in all Paris.

The music room

The two story music room was a real favorite of mine, with musicians above and guests below. I was able to listen to a Mozart piece as the museum provides a hand held (extremely well done) audio tour with personal choices available for more detailed stories. I might have had lunch at the museum’s scrumptious looking café, but I actually had made reservations (before I left the US) so it was back to the (future) Marais. To find the metro included a short walk on the Champs-Elysées.

Arc de Triomphe in the background

It took several map readings and still almost walking by this tiny narrow nowhere (man – The Beatles) street and façade.

I finally entered #12 Rue Pecquay, Restaurant Le Gaigne at about 2PM and was warmly greeted by Aurélie Gaignon. Along with husband/chef Mickael, they are delivering something special inside this small elegant and modern niche.

The most unusual wash basin I have seen

I went for the 22 Euro three course meal still thinking of the Musée Jacquemart-André and believing that Edouard and Nélie could not have dined any better than I at this moment. A lovely Touraine blanc accompanied the salad with pork; followed by a light and vibrant Vaucluse rouge with a fish course. A warm fruit tart for dessert. Each bite was like to savor a Mozart Violin Concerto:

Now that lunch was not an easy thing to follow, but I had something planned that just might do the trick. During my research for the trip, I had discovered a special wine tasting (for the trade) at a beautiful hotel. I emailed before I left and been graciously granted an invite. So, a few stops on the metro and I arrive across from the Jardin des Tuileries at the Hôtel Saint-James & Albany. Built in 1672; it is the former residence of the Dukes of Noailles and was host to a wedding of the Duke’s daughter and one Marquis La Fayette in 1774. Subsequently, the Marquis had a hand in a little known rebellion called the American Revolution. Today it is a gorgeous hotel and host to this special wine tasting.

I began the arduous task of tasting Champagne, Chablis (for non winos, Chablis is an area producing some of the finest white wines), Sancerre, Saint Joseph, Cornas, Hermitage and many Cote du Rhones. But enough name dropping, you get the idea. There was also, of course, an accompaniment of bread and some of the finest cheeses. I must tell you that I have been doing this sort of thing for years, but it never seems to get old and I could tell you some stories. Suffice to say, it was a lovely time.

Just enough time to head across the street to the Jardin des Tuileries and get high on a stunning sunset.

Reflecting pool in foreground; Eiffel Tower in background

More Sunset pics

The fenced garden closed at sunset and I was asked to leave by uniformed officers. I chuckled as I left through a gate and some people were still trying to get in. It was almost dark, so I took a few steps to watch the end of the sunset over the Seine.

It was onto the evening entertainment or as I like to call it – dinner! Now, I have always been someone who likes contrasts; the day had been filled with a series of refined activities: The Musée Jacquemart-André, lunch at Le Gaigne, Wine tasting at the Hôtel Saint-James & Albany, and a sunset at the Jardin des Tuileries. It was time for some diversity, so I hopped on the metro and headed south to Boulevard de Montparnasse in the 6th and Le Relais de l’Entrecôte. Until now, all the places I had eaten were small and off the beaten track. The scene here couldn’t have been more different with its wide Boulevards and loads of lights. This spot has only one thing on the menu (steak frites) and I had heard they just ask: “how do you want em? (cooked)” There were plenty of customers even though it was a rather good size place, so I was feeling part of the crowd, when my waitress made it clear she knew I was a tourist. With a little disappointment and trepidation at first, we were soon on amiable terms as I explained how I was on the hunt for some great frites; that I had not had any since Lyon in the mid 90’s! This location is the newest (Fall 2008) and the fourth of this family owned one trick pony; but they deliver quite a trick. For a reasonable price, you get a nice walnut salad, bread, very good steak, great frites; all of good size portions. I had noticed some people around me getting seconds and sure enough when it was my time, more steak frites arrived. Gluttony to be sure, but I suffered mightily and washed it down with a half bottle of a decent red. Satiated, I then walked the neighborhood for awhile taking in all the lights I had been missing (sic).

Le Relais de l’Entrecôte

Eventually I stumbled upon a little joint for a scoop of gelato and watched a little soccer before heading home thinking, what a day, “I've always been in the right place and time. Of course, I steered myself there.” – Bob Hope

Saturday, April 25, 2009

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone

I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright, bright Sun-Shiny day.

Sun Mar 15, Day VII

On Wed, we had sun but it was quite hazy. Maybe it was lucky number seven. Or for Star Trek fans, maybe it was Gary Seven. If you want to read more about lucky seven theories:

In any case, my seventh day in Paris was the first truly clear sunny day and I wanted to take full advantage and see some great views, but with a song in my heart, a message from our sponsor:

I needed some supplies, so fairly early Sunday morning, I walked around the Marché Bastille. There were (Joni Mitchell) miles of aisles and a throng of people. Add the hawkers behind the booths and you have some kind of bombastic entertainment!

Colonne de Juillet in the center background

After dropping my treasures off at home, I hopped on the metro for two stops, exiting at Hôtel de Ville. Walking a few blocks north, I was at The Pompidou Centre, which was constructed from 1971 to 1977 and named after the past French President (1969-1974) Georges Pompidou. This unique structure is almost like a building turned inside out and has been compared to an oil refinery with its color coded pipes and ducts.

The views on the outside stairway are incredible even if you have to look through a curved Plexiglas like material.

More views

Outside, street artists perform

Inside is the Musée National d’Art Moderne. Now, just over 30 years old, this museum has blossomed with a collection representing over 60,000 pieces from more than 5,000 artists. I have seen modern and contemporary art before and had trouble comprehending a lot of it. This collection features a whole floor which I just didn’t get. Take for example, an exhibit called “Vides (voids) A retrospective” with room after room that was empty with a lengthy commentary as to why it was art. If you want the full explanation:*Categorie1bis&count=999&sessionM=2.10&L=2
Thankfully (for me) the next floor up had great paintings I loved including those from Matisse, Picasso and Braque.

Henri Matisse
Portrait of Greta Prozor
Nice, France 1916

After absorbing my museum limit for the moment, I sat outside in the glorious sunshine to reflect on what I had seen and be entertained by street performers as I periodically shut my eyes to truly bask in the sun.

Feeling complete, I began walking down toward the Seine; at Chatelet, I came across a small Brazil dancing group

who were passing in front of the Tour St-Jacques.

This ornate, imposing late Gothic structure dates from 1523 and is all that remains of an ancient Church.

I walked over the river at Pont au Change

to Ile de la Cite and the magnificent St-Chapelle

It is in the Palais de Justice, so intense security is required to enter. Sainte-Chapelle has been hailed as one of the greatest architectural masterpieces of the Western world. I visited this on my trip in 1995, but I just had to see it again. Built in 1248, it is ethereal and magical with 50 ft soaring columns of stained glass windows on three sides and a huge rose window on the fourth. One cannot help but be moved, enthralled as you are bathed in the kaleidoscope of colors.

After leaving St-Chapelle, I walked down the Quai of Ile de la Cite until Notre Dame

and then back to the mainland and down the Quai on the Left Bank filled with permanent touristy stands on the upper Quai

and I did some walking on the lower Quai.

You may remember this view of Notre Dame and the tip of Ile de la Cite from the first Paris scene in the Bourne Identity.

More Quai pics

I continued walking down to the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute)

and took the elevator to the 9th floor observation deck.

Built from 1981 to 1987, this structure is spectacular. Its outside river façade is curved to follow the waterway while the inside has a large public square and is dominated by a metallic screen of geometric motifs.

The motifs are actually 240 motor-controlled apertures, which open and close every hour to control the light entering the building. I just had to sit and watch this for awhile.

Then it was a walk home across the Pont de Sully,

Opéra National de Paris Bastille in the background

and beside the Port de l’Arsenal (adjacent to the Pl de la Bastille), where local pleasure boats dock, and the underground entrance to Canal St-Martin.

Youngsters on skateboards at the Place de la Bastille

Following my traditional late afternoon nap, I took one of my longer metro rides south to Alesia and a dinner with Jim Haynes & “friends”. This is something else I had found out about in my research and made reservations in advance. Since the mid 1970’s, Jim has been having this English speaking dinner for random people to get acquainted at his home. Well, it was packed yet everyone seemed to be in a good mood and dinner was being served buffet style as I arrived. I met quite a number of nice people and had many interesting conversations, although it felt a little strange to hear so much English being spoken. Now, parties have never been my favorite scene, so I think I tried a little too hard and wore myself out after about an hour and a half. I gave myself points for effort and headed home. Even with a longish metro ride I was able to turn in early; something I think I really needed. I had been staying out late (for me), so a good nights rest was (On a clear day, you can see forever) just what my inner doctor ordered.