Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Big Chill

Fri Mar 13, Day V

No ensemble cast attending the funereal of an old college friend and searching for something they lost.

I had trouble getting up cause I caught a chill on my canal walk in the cold and drizzle the day before. After doing my morning exercises and having a nice breakfast, I began to feel better and headed off on a nice 15 min walk to the Marais and the Musée Picasso. I have been a fan of Picasso since for years since seeing a comprehensive collection at the LA County Art Museum and a cubist exhibition at the Norton Simon Museum. Picasso was one of the few artists that lived long enough to become famous. My favorite at this museum is his 1937 Portrait of his lover, Dora Maar.

Detailed info on the story behind this work can be found here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2003/may/24/art

The outside of the museum has the unusual feature of a mirrored wall extending from the entrance.

I walked the short distance over to #34 rue des Rosiers to check out “L’As du Falafel” the famous falafel place. My research indicated that the quality might had slipped a bit and the falafel directly across the street was better. So I stood there in the middle of this extremely narrow street (I could almost touch both places) and let my feelings guide me to “mi-va-mi”. I stood in a short line; got my falafel and headed over the few steps to the most perfect square in Paris, the Place des Vosges. The sun came out and I had a heart-warming, relaxing time reflecting on my soul stirring visit with Picasso. I had my wonderful falafel observing others at lunch, various business people, families with small children and classes of school children.

More Place des Vosges pics

When I was able to tear myself away from the peace of the Place de Vosges, I headed back to the Place de la Bastille for a passages walk I had found on the internet. Very interesting things in Paris can be found just off the street. Some of these small passages are marked, some are not; in either case you need to find out in advance or just find one by happenstance.

A remarkable series of furniture repair shops can still be found working on items you would think could only be found in a museum. Clearly, there are people living lives with a style that is hard for most people (like me) to imagine. A few of these artsians allowed my camera to capture them; others were very adamant in their refusal.

In any case, just walking through these narrow cobblestone passages, I felt transported back in time. I found the Hôtel Mortagne, built in the 1600’s, was behind a modern apartment building

and a filled in old well was still partially visible.

There is also a feeling of regret in the various stages of gentrification that were evident. Some things that had been written about and so I had expected to find had already been lost. Still, in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable adventure and I was able to share it a little as I seemed to be following this one couple; we had a good chuckle over that.

Then it was home for a nap.

Sunset at the Pont des Arts was special and a spot I would return to for more sunsets.

Looking east at Pont Neuf and the Ile de la Cite

Looking west

Then it was on to the Louvre, which was open late on Fridays. I got a great view of the entrance pyramid under Venus (the evening star).

There was a considerable line to enter. The museum is so large it borders on overwhelming, especially when it is fairly crowded as I experienced. I decided to look only at the Italian painting section and on the way, I saw the Winged Victory.

With a little patience, I was able to get a spot in front to view the Mona Lisa, although I was not able to get as close as I did in 1995. You can see the old barrier in the foreground!

I spent sometime sitting in comfortable round sofas in the main hallway to take in some of the other great paintings. After about an hour of viewing, and feeling a little claustrophobic with so many people around and it was too warm for me as well. Leaving was easier said than done: I was at the end of this long hallway and after inquiring, I had to retrace my considerable steps and wait in another line to exit. The crisp clear night was intoxicating!

I had an area in mind with quite a few restaurants to check out for dinner. A few metro minutes later and I was at the Pyrenees stop and walking around. I scouted out several places on my list to eat, one was closed, two others seemed nice, but maybe too mellow for my mood.

Chez Valentin, daytime pic from John Talbot

  • On restaurant pics: Since I was attempting to be the only tourist at most of these restaurants, I felt it would be out of place to take pics.

Then I found myself at #64 rue Rebeval. It’s a hole in the wall, but Chez Valentin was packed to the gills with people and bursting with festive energy. I was barely able to get in the door and made my way to the rear asking to sit at the unoccupied slip of a bar, which was not being used. The gentleman who I imagined as the owner/manager and one waitress made up the entire floor staff. They clearly did not speak English, so this would be an entertaining challenge. I sat at this afterthought of a sidebar and began a broken running dialogue with this gregarious man of about 60. My impression is that a table will open up shortly if I wait and we begin to go back and forth about what I might order. The next thing I know, he is pouring me a glass of Champagne on the house and laughs abound. I had a good feeling as I sized up the place from the outside, but nothing could prepare me for the unbridled joy that exudes from everyone there. This is a Franco-Argentinean joint with basic simple homey décor and a Thai chefess. Michel is the host with the most. He acts as though this is his home and you are a welcome guest. I am shown to a table in the corner near the kitchen where I can easily shout to Michel and have a great view of everyone in the room. We had decided on the food, but now came the decision on wine and I asked for a list. I had noticed what appeared to be an inexpensive Argentinean wine making the rounds and was first offered that. I sheepishly declined, making fun of that choice, explained that I was a merchant de vin and wanted to stay with a French wine. Then it hit me, there was no carte de vin, as Michel began to make one recommendation after another off the top of his head. I settled on a Cote du Rhone and was offered a pitcher (about half) from a fresh bottle. The wine was tasty and a perfect match for the totally unpretentious yet splendid comfort food that these locals eat on a regular basis. Between my seating arrangement and the mostly larger groups, it was clear I would be mostly a watcher for the rest of the evening. There was what appeared to be a testimonial dinner and a birthday celebration which took up most of the seats. Over the next hour or so, a few heads popped in to inquire about seating and were told that there was no room. The boisterous atmosphere continued and I just happened to be there to absorb it. What a way to go!

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