Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Middle Ages of Rock 'n Roll

Madonna Like a Virgin
Carol King Tapestry
Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys

Sat Mar 14, Day VI

My era of music seems so long ago, it’s like the middle ages (of Rock ‘n Roll, anyway). In this case, these three reminded me of the first item on the days agenda:

The Musée National du Moyen Age (National Museum of the Middle Ages). More commonly known as the Musée de Cluny, it was founded in 1843 with the collections of an art amateur fascinated by the Middle Ages, Alexandre Du Sommerard who lived in the Hôtel de Cluny. It’s collections feature (Linda Ronstadt and the) stone (poneys) Roman baths, the many paintings of Madonna (Like a Virgin) and Child and the famous series Lady with the Unicorn (Carol King) Tapestry.

So, I had a lovely 20 min) walk across the river at Pont de Sully and up Boulevard St Germain to the Musée.

This was a special place. High on my list is that the size and displays were such I felt able to see and absorb most of the collection. It is hard to describe the depth of diversity, from an entire Roman Bath, various ceremonial items made of wood, ivory, metal and stone, paintings, sculptures, tapestries, stained glass panels, intact archways and fireplaces. After awhile I was about to go through the last room and feeling I had enough. I almost made it through when I noticed what was there and I was renewed with energy as I saw many swords, chain mail, and armor. Except for paintings, this period of history was not one I spent much time seeking out, but, I sure savored my time at the Cluny.

Then it was time for an enjoyable walk up the wonderful Boulevard St Michel with the idea of eating in the Jardin du Luxembourg. I had some eating places on my list for the area, but no take out, so I headed off the main drag to seek out a sandwich shop. I found one pretty quickly, but it was closed and I settled on a little Turkish place. There I was, waiting behind one couple, asked for a curry chicken wrap to be heated. While we were waiting, the proprietor poured us some Turkish Tea from an elongated elegant metal teapot into the cutest little cups – at no charge!

Then I headed to the nearby Jardin du Luxembourg, found a seat to watch the show. Lots of people of every sort having lunch, lots of strolling, with and without dogs, even some joggers. This is one of the largest and most interesting gardens in Paris. It was created in 1612 and has large formal areas, with a fountain built in 1861.

It also has smaller, almost private areas, lots of benches and sculptures throughout.

Locals playing boule

There is even a good size playground for children. After eating and some sitting/relaxing, I ventured out to explore. It was a cool gray day anyway and then it began to rain a bit off and on. Besides just taking it all in, there was one thing to look for, a life size Statue of Liberty. I strolled around for quite awhile and then, there it was. I asked a passerby to take a picture. After several attempts to get all the torch and flame into the frame, I relented and will just have to accept what I got.

Interesting note: there were three original Statues of Liberty made by Bertholdi and this was actually the first one!

More Jardin du Luxembourg pics

After walking through the park for quite awhile, I thought I would like to sit outside at a café and have a café. I had already been on the busy St Michel side of the park and decided to search for a place on the other side which I figured would be rather quiet. I found one little café with an outside table open at the corner of Rue d’Assas and Rue Vavin. So, I had another time out to watch the world go by at a more leisurely pace.

I had read about an interesting temporary exhibit along part of the fence that surrounds the park, so when the moment was right I walked through the park again and found something marvelous. It was a series of panels for each EU county.

The subjects of the panels conveyed things from the past or present; people, places and things. Some were about how these countries are linked together; forerunners to the EU and some just about the individual nation states. The panels were in a random order and there were multiple panels for some countries. I spent quite awhile and still didn’t see them all, but it was very special.

A pic of Lech Walensa: The entrance to the Gdansk shipyards at the beginning of the massive union strikes of 1980. This was a seminal moment in the fall of Soviet Communism. Lech Walensa was awarded the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize and elected President of Poland in 1990.

Today the EU has 27 member states. Lacking in my knowledge of history, I was fascinated to learn (on one French panel) about a precursor to the EU: In 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed a six nation Western European Alliance called the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Learn more:

More pics of this exhibit

Next on the Agenda was the nearby Panthéon.

King Louis XV vowed in 1744 that if he recovered from an illness he would replace the ruined church of Sainte-Geneviève with an edifice worthy of the patron saint of Paris. Inspired by the Rome Pantheon, the foundation was laid in 1758 and finished in1789. While it was originally a church, it was made into a civic building in 1885. Among those buried are Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie.

More Panthéon pics

Another intriguing feature: In 1851, physicist Léon Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the Earth by his experiment conducted in the Panthéon, by constructing a 67 meter Foucault pendulum beneath the central dome.

Then I made a quick turn to see St-Etienne-du-Mont; a charming church dedicated to Sainte-Geneviève and just behind the Panthéon. As you can see, the façade is marvelous and inside, stone stairs and stained glass are a sight to behold.

Without any particular plan, I strolled away from this church reflecting on what I had seen there, at the Panthéon and the EU panels – a spectacular triple play and I was out of that inning! A few minutes later I walked smack into Les Pipos (#2 Rue L’Ecole Polytechnigue), a wine bar that was on my list. Wow, this was definitely meant to be, and I stopped in. Les Pipos is quite small, oozing with old world charm. It was not very busy, so I easily found a table and settled in – after a much needed relaxing wait, I had some absolutely scrumptious mini cheese raviolis, some nice bread and a glass of Cote du Rhone. The couple next to me were speaking Russian, then a little girl (maybe 7) arrives with an escort who could be the Mom or .... Anyway, the young girl is happy to be there, greets the staff, which I assume to be the father and ….. either the mother, another family member or just the well-known woman working there. The escort has a glass of wine at the bar. In any case, it is a scene full of warmth and I feel fortunate to be there. After this refreshment of body and spirit, I begin the leisurely (30 min) walk home and my customary nap.

It has already been another utterly amazing and fulfilling day. With visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, wondering what the evening has in store for me?

I hopped on the metro, exiting the Pyrenees stop again because there are so many interesting eating venues in this area. I settled on a good size wine bar that was bustling and was shown to a table in the backroom against the wall. This place had a rustic and warm feeling, although the only table adjacent to mine was unoccupied. A few moments of trepidation at a lack of company was soon alleviated as a nice couple about my age sat down. They had a, surprise, passion for good food and we had great conversation as she spoke English very well and he spoke some. I think they were shocked when I was familiar with some of the places they recommended. M et Mme Louin-Defoose (I got a business card) were wonderful dinner companions for an hour or so until they departed as did most of the others in the room.

  • Segue to food and wine: I accepted the staff recommendation for a duck course to start and then a beef course, while I looked at the wine list. Since this was a wine bar, there were many choices by the glass and by the pitcher. I was sitting against a wall which doubled as wine storage, so I reached to my left, pulled out the closest bottle and sure enough it was available by the glass and pitcher. I’m thinking kismet, of course, this had to be the right one! I was brought a taste and to my amazement it was not what I was looking for – too lush. So, I let my intellect do the thinking and selected a Cote du Roussillon, which was delightful, lighter, vibrant with a long dry finish – perfect for food!

Back to the social narrative: So, there I am, finishing up my main course and feeling a little lonely again when someone at a communal table mentions living in Los Angeles (where I lived recently for 13 years) and a conversation ensues. I am invited to join this merry band of seven. They are all locals except this one guy who is visiting from LA and trying to learn French. And here I thought I was the only non-local. The conversation drifts in and out of French and English, the wine continues to flow and a grand time was had by all. The place was closing up a little after midnight and we all said our adieu in the street. They were driving and it was perfect timing for me to catch one of the last metro runs.

Maybe it was my imagination as they drove out of sight did I hear them say, have a bon journée and to all a good night!

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