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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zPOOLUeeZc

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

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