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Friday, August 13, 2010

Back home, next city, next museum

I made it home pretty much fine last week. Only incident was that there were thunderstorms over Boston, apparently the first rain there'd been in weeks, and so we circled and eventually were diverted to Hartford to refuel. Making for a delay of about three hours, during which time Loring and Carolina were waiting at the airport.

After only a day and a half back home, decided it was time for another excursion. Loring and I flew in little 828 up to Burlington Vermont for a 24 hour visit. We stayead at the Bellaire Motel, a funky little place with bathroom tiles that looked identical to the ones in the kids' bathroom. And a very friendly owner. They had originally told me they had no rooms, but called back to say there had been a cancellation. They only had 12 rooms total. The only other guests we saw were two Harley biker couples from Quebec.

There were lots of Canadian tourists in Burlington, not suprising since it isn't that far to the border. It did feel strange to hear so much French back in the states. The Quebec accent is distintly different from Parisian French. I couldn't tell a difference in France between Parisian accents and those in Gannat, but I imagine there is one.

The main motivation in picking Burlington as a destination was that I have wanted to visit the Shelburne Museum for quite some time. (not enough museums the previous week, I guess!) I rembember going there many years ago with my family. Actually, I think what I remember is actually looking at photos of visiting the place, and particularly of Ken, Wendy, and I posing on a large gate. I don't remember seeing the gate this time, but then wsn't looking for it at the time.

It is an interesting an unusual place. It wss founded by a woman named Electra Webb. She began collecting Amearicana in the late 1800's I believe, including buildings that she relocated to the property, which belonged to her husband's family. Each building houses one or several kinds of items, glassware, toys, etc, etc. And there is a building that her children had built in her memory which features the interiors of several rooms in her familiy's Park Avenue mansion in NYC. Those interiors had been removed themselves previously from various European locations.

Her mother was a collector of Impressionist paintings, and also a friend of Mary Cassat, who advised her on art purchases. So there is an impressive collection of impressionist paintings there as well.

In Burlington, it happened to be the weekend of a street performers festival as well as a dragon boat race event that was a cancer fundraiser. So we managed to pack quite a lot into our short visit. We had supper at an outdoor cafe on the pedestrian street, church street, where many of the perfrormers were as well. And then breakfast, Sunday, at a neat little waterfront shack from where we could watch the ferry depart, and from where we also noticed the dragon boats.

A couple of interesting coincidences : a few days earlier, at Paris Plages, the annual faux beach festival along the Seine, I came across some huge outdoor beanbags chained to trees. I bought a chocolate crepe and ate in and read my Eiffel Tower murder mystery esconsed there. The next day, in a design store in Paris, I spotted a pile of the same chairs, called FatBoys. The ones at the Plages had all been the same electric green color. In the store they were a variety of vibrant colors.

Several days later, in Vermont at the Shelburne, there was among all the Americana, a home constrcted of several shipping containers. And what do you think was there, in one of the bedrooms? Two FatBoys!

Other coincidence: I mentioned Mary Cassatt, although I forgot to mention that in the entryway to the Memorial Building that housed rooms of furniture from Elecra's NY home, and also a number of Impressionist paintings, there was a lovely Cassatt of a mother and child, in her distinctive style. Well, turns out that was a portrait of Electra as a child with her mother. But here's the coincidence - next day, I was reading my very interesting account of the building of the Eiffel tower, and what does it mention but Mary Cassatt and her friend, Electra's mother. I think something's afoot here, although I don't know what. French trends, from beanbags to Impressionism. The beanbags, actually are made in Scandinavia. And, the book, which is called Eiffel's Tower, I highly recommend.

Ok, that's it for now, and perhaps for a while, until the next adventure beckons.

I am, thought, going to try to post some photos of Paris and of Gannat here. But for a more extensive view, check my fb page.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A reunion with friends, a last walk around town, a last night gazing at the tower

It's my last night in Paris and in France. I leave tomorrow morning. I am half packed, have had some of the last of my wine, and should probably finish packing before I write too much of this or drink too much more wine.

Laurent and Lucille both came over for lunch today. It was wonderful that we were all able to pull it off.We spent a couple of hours just hanging out on my little patio here and talking. We had considered trying to do something together; but Laurent had to catch an afternoon train back to Amiens. Lucille invited me to join her and her mother at a museum later in the afternoon, but in the end I decided to just stay here when they left, and took a nap before going out for one last walk and metro cruise around town before coming back here to pack, finish my book, finish up this account, about an hour ago; about 10pm.

Ok, I am going to stop now, temporarily, finish packing and perhaps the wine, before what will probably be the last chapter of the saga of this sojourn.

I'm back: just threw most everything in my two suitcases and hope I can zip them closed in the morning. I must say that my new method of taking two smaller suitcase this year, rather than one bigger one, has worked out well; I was able to carry them both up and down staircases at train stations, etc. Tomorrow morning I am taking the Roissy Bus to the airport, which I haven't done before: In the past, I have taken the RER, in general the easiest way. But because the Roissy departure point is walking distance from here, I won't have to take the metro first. It's about a 15 minute walk; but I don't expect it will be difficult, no staircases to deal with.

Back to Laurent and Lucille, my two French friends - they were the co-leaders of my mosaic project last summer here in Paris.They are both such great people, and it of course made me feel much better about my experience this year to be back with both of them. It will be fun to post the pictures we took today, all of us eating lunch on the roof, with, of course; the Eiffel Tower in the background, and have the folks from our group last year see them. While we were trying to coordinate, on Facebook, Silja, from Finland, made the comment that it sounded like the plans were getting complicated, So I facetiously invited her to come join us for lunch.

L and L were very good to help me finish off most of what was left of my week's groceries. I'd bought two kinds of soup, in the kind of cqrtons milk comes in, not realizing how much was in each one. They were very good for packaged soups, and I'd eaten them both hot and cold on previous nights. One was pumkin-carrot-orange-curry, the other was spinach artichoke: We each had a bowl of the pumkin-carrot, then Laurent had a bowl; or was it two, of the other, as well: There were also the last of two kinds of cheese, and some beets, tomato, and green beans. And Iùd cooked up the rest of the pasta with some butter and cheese; All in all, quite a nice spread, I thought. I've still got some biscuits and butter and marmelade left for the morning.

I have not had a single meal in a restaurant or cafe this time, haven't felt the need to. There was that one shrimp sandwich at the take out place on that small plaza. And my tuna sandwich on the beanbqg chair at Paris Plages. But those were both take out places without any table service. And strangely, I have had only one pastry on this whole trip, at another take out place with tables outside. That was wonderful, and different from anything I had ever had: It was a pear-pistachio tart with chocolate chips. That is one of my few regrets about this trip, I didn't eat enough pastries!! Made up for it, though, with crepes and ice cream and granitas!

Today, I didn't, in the end, do anything particularly touristy, and that was fine. After my guests left, I took that nap I previously mentioned, which I guess seems like an odd thing to do on one's last day in Paris. But I tmust say I am enjoying everything about my little abode here, including sleeping! And then, at about 5pm, which seems to be about midday by Parisian standards, I just went out walking, with no particular destination in mind. I was down to my last 4 euros, and my last three metro tickets, (of which I always try to save one, for the next visit, it's a personal superstition, I think it helps me to return). I walked to the Roissy bus stop, to make sure I knew where it was, and how often the busses leave. Then I kept walking until I was tired, hopped on the metro, chose a station at ranlom to get off at, and walked again! Most stores were closed, but Samaritaine, one of the famous dept stores, was open. I walked around their design dept, looking for a good souvenir: I had the idea of a pepper mill; which we need, but couldnt find one that I liked and that wasn't ridiculouly expensive: The Peugeot ones were nice but in the 75 dollar range. I got in my mind that one in the shape of the Eiffel Tower zould be perfect; but I don't think it exists. Why not? There's an Eiffel Tower everything else. I think I'm on to something.

In another store; I saw the same large beanbags I'd sat in at the Plages yesterday, in a variety of colors. The store also had pillows with pictures of New York:I took out my camera and took a picture of the beanbag chairs and new york pillows together. The store guard saw me and started chuckling; I told him I thought it was amusing to see New York pillows in Paris. The chairs were called " Fatboy."

I spent the first two of my last 4 euros on some apricots at a fruit stand; Then, at the Asian take out place right next door to my building, I spent the last two on a spring roll, lettuce and shrimp in a soft casing, and a pork roll; like an egg roll but with just meat, no veggies. Now I just have a few small coins, and one metro ticket, left.

Well, it's 1130 and I am quite determined to finish "Murder on the Eiffel Tower" before I go to bed tonite, and before the lights on the Tower go out at 1am. Just 1 1/2 hours, and two dazzling five minute shows to go, before it's over.

A la prochain!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A morning at the beach, afternoon at the museum

Finally made it to the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, as I knew I would. My idea had been to take it easy this am, and head over there when it opened, at 11am. But when I went out the door, it was just too beautiful to go back indoors. So I went to Paris Plages, instead. Paris Plages is the month long artificial beach that the city has created along a stretch of the Seine each summer, since 2002 I believe. There are stretches of sand with beach chairs, places to play boules and foosball, for free, concerts and dance classes, tai chi groups, even a pool with times for kids, adutls,aqua aerobics classes, places you can stand or run thru a fine spray of water, ice cream and crepe stands, a couple of cafes, and more. Flammarion, the publisher, has a library set up where both kids and adults can borrow books and sit in chairs qlong the river and read. I wanted to stop but there weren't any chairs available there; So I bought myselff a tuna sandwich, on a baguette, of course, and a Perrier, and found myself a spot on a huge beanbag chair chained to a tree. There were two men, one on either side of me, also using bean bag chairs. They were both asleep, and looked asthough they could have been homeless. Or not. Two women walked by, one tried to move one of the beanbags, realized it was chained to the tree, laughed and said, c'est bizarre. I wasn't sure if she was referring to the beanbags themselves, or the fact that they were chained to the trees. I ate my sandwich, reqd my book, and took a nice little nap myself. I'm considering going back for the aqua aerobics class tomorrow, mostly just to say I did it: But I suppose it would be a silly way to spênd a part of my last day here. It is, of course, utter irony for me to be in Paris pretending to be at the beach. But I like Paris Plages! It really is much more of an event for Parisians, I think, than for tourists. Although there are lots of tourists, it certainly seems that the majority are locals, families, teens, individuals, couples, day care groups. It seems to have grown larger since I was orinally here, and I have read that it has extended to the Canal St. Martin and Parc de la Villette, as well.

There was, by the way, a homeless man just before the beginning of the Plages stretch of the Seine. He was asleep on a mattress, in a small stone alcove, in what seemed like a somewhat permanent spot, because of the large matress. Do you think it's any easier to be homeless when you are in a truly magnificent spot? Or maybe it makes it even worse.

And I did, finally; make it to the museum, in the afternoon, and spent a couple of hours there, until it closed.

I am surprised that I've never made it to this museum before. I thought I'd had, having remembered seeing some exquisite Art Nouveau furnishings before. Now I realize that those had been at the Louvre itself. These three interconnected museums, of Decorative Arts, Fashion, and Publicity, are actually private although they are housed in buildings that are part of the Louvre. I found that out when they weren't free on Sunday.There were several temporary exhibits, and I took my time going thru them, not realizing at all how extensive the rest of the collections are. There was an exhibit of 70's fashion by haute couture designers, intresting enough. Several designers had collections influenced by traditionql folkloric design. The oddest part was a video of runway models ; men and women, skipping around, accompanied by music from West Side Story - I Like to be in America! I think I was missing something!

Then there was the jewelry; fro, the 15th to 20th century, showcased against black in too darkened room. Spme of the Deco pieces, by Lalique, Vever, and Guillard, were, to me, the most
beauful of all.One piece in particular, didn't have any diamonds or gemstones. It was a haircomb made to depict two winglike maple seeds. The stems were gold, and the wings were of a beige, nearly translucent "horne."

The other temporary exhibit featured the art of the turn of the 20th century poster artist Jules Cheret. He is considered to be the originator of the art poster. A contemporary described how his qdvertising posters decorated and transformed the city during the Haussman times of urban renewal, when older buildings were torn down left and right to make way for the modern boulevards.

I was just starting to make my way through the permanent collections of Nouveau and Deco furnishings, including entire rooms, when I realized how much there was. It was a half hour to closing, and I was close to my saturation point. So now I am considering trying to get back in tomorrow on today's ticket. I havent figured out yet how I want to spend my last day. There's also the Rodin museum,which I haven't been to in a long time; and in a neighborhood I haven't been to this time around. There is apparently also some discount deal this month between the museum I visited today and the Rodin, although no one at the museum could tell me what it was!

There is also the possibility that I may be able to connect with Laurent and/or Lucille; my two group leaders from last year's project: It makes me feel better to think about them, and how much I like them both, and that this year's disaster with the group dynamics couldn't have been about me. It would be a nice way to end this year's sojourn. Maybe I'll invite them over here for dinner. I'm a little embarassed about the neighborhood, but once they arrive up here to my little garret, they'll see it's not quite so hoity toity as it seems!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Opera Garnier, and a stroll thru the Marais

Today I didn't try to visit the Decoratif Arts Museum, because it's closed on Monday! I decided to start off the day at the Opera Garnier. It used to be just the Opera, until Mitterand had the new Opera built in the 70's, to be more of a populist venue. So now the beautifully garish building is relogated to 2nd class status, I guess. I had been there twice in the past, once when I lived here in 1969, once for a self guided tour a few years ago. I don't actually remember if I attended a performance there originally, all I really remember is the spectacular Chagall ceiling. My guidebook says he did it in 1965, so it was really brand new then. It's so at odds with the rest of the place. This time I took the guided tour; for 3 1/2 more euros, it's well worth it. It's an hour an a half long. My plan had been to take the English language tour, but I somehow wound up with the wrong group and went with the French tour: and I'm glad I did. I could understand most everything, even most of his jokes, I think. At least there didn't seem to be times when other people laughed and I didn't!

The Opera is where the Phantom of the Opera takes place. The guide asked us how many people thought there was really a subterranean lake: (Lac, ou pas de lac?) and since my guidebook says that there is, I voted yes, with about half the group: But the guide says there isn't.

The place really is like a museum, or a piece of theatre, in itself. I am actually glad to have gone on the tour rather than to a performance, because I think I would not have appreciated the place itself as much otherwise. The guide was full of interesting stories. He said, for instance, that the original ceiling mural, dirtied by the soot of the original gas lights , was still there, behind the Chagall.

Spent the afternoon in the Marais, the still partly Jewish, now trendy and partly gay neighborhood. It's a funny mix, chic stores,expensive bagels, Orthodox Jews, teenage North African Jews, gay couples, tourists. The little area called Village St. Paul,with some interesting shops, including a place I bought a straw necklace and earrings last year, was largely closed up for the August holiday. I couldn't locate the shop and wondered if she was still even there.

But I did locate the large modern space where I'd stumbled upon a wonderful art exhibit in 2004, and bought a small and surprisingly inexpensive piece; which now hangs in our living room: (and later received a thank you note from the artist.)I had tried to find the place last year and could't, so it made me very happy to rediscover it, even though there was nothing going on there now: There were posters for an exhibit by "artists of the 4th" (arrondissment) beginning on August 6th, the day after I leave. Merde!

Well, enough said pour l'instant. Now it's qfter 11pm, and I have to decide whether to go out for a stroll, or just curl up with a good Parisian murder mystery and my view of the Eiffel Tower. Can't go wrong!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Breakfast and blogging in my garret

That's exactly what this is, a garret: The word just came to me. And good old wiki confirms it, complete with quotes from Dumas, Hugo, and Dickens:

"There was yet an upper staircase, of a steeper inclination and of contracted dimensions, to be ascended, before the garret story was reached.
A Tale Of Two Cities by Dickens, Charles"

There are also references to things like "poor starving artist in Paris" and though I am not really any of the above, I like the connotation!

Anyway, here I am drinking coffee and getting ready to have breakfast in my cute little garret. It reminds me of my little chambre de bonne, maid's room, some 40 years ago. That had a separate staircase and so was clearly created for citizens of another class, It had one toilet for the entire floor, and I remember a family that had two adjacent rooms, one a bedroom and the other a living/dining room with an electric burner.

My breakfast here is the same every morning. coffee and biscuits with butter and orange marmelade. It's what I always eat here, and never anywhere else, and dates back to my first trip to Europe, when I was 17 and lived with an elderly woman in Avignon for a month. I've found the biscottes at home, at Stop and Shop, no less, but when I've bought them there I never seem to eat them, and the marmelade sits in the fridge until it gets moldy and I throw it away. The coffee, by the way, must be in a bowl, not a cup or mug.

Yesterday, as I did the day before, I left my little garret with the intention of heading to the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. It doesn,t really matter to me if I get where I'm planning to go or not, it's just nice to have q destination. And the museum is just a couple of blocks from here. Yesterday; the first Sunday of the month, was free museum day. I had wanted to pick a museum that wasn't on the top of the tourist's list, so I wouldn't have too long a wait. But the museum wasnt on the list, which has me confused, because I thought it was part of the Louvre. So I went to the Orsay instead, just across the river. It's one of my favorite museums, housing a huge collection of pre and post and just plain impressionist works in what was once one of the city's train stations. The wait was almost a half hour, but the line moved quickly and I remember waiting almost as long once when it wasn't a free first Sunday.

I wound up spending most of the day there, then just came home about 8 pm and didn't go out last night at all, which was fine. Made myself supper, drank a good part of a bottle of a champagne like substance that one mustn't refer to as champagne, and finished my book and began one about a murder at the Eiffel Tower during the time of the 1889 fair for which it was built. I was literally reading it while looking at the actual tower out my window. The tower was doing some sparkling thing that I don't remember having seen before, although I assume it does so every night. At first I thought maybe it was because I wasn't wearing my glasses; so put them back on. Still sparkling, Then I wondered if I'd had too much of my sparkling wine. Nope. So I just kept watching until it stopped. And then kept looking at the tower, anyway, between paragraphs.

I can also see, reflected in a window across the way, the lights of the ferris wheel in the Tuileries, although I can't see the wheel itself. I probably would't even know what those lights were, if I hadn't seen them the other day from the street, reflected in a window; and tried to take a picture.

On Saturday, two days ago, I had also set off to eventually arrive at the Decorative Arts Museum, which of course didn't happen that day, either. My plan was to find the building Sarah Miller had lived in with her family during the war, and then go to my favorite Marche aux Puces, not far from there. Sarah is the Holocaust survivor with whom I've been paired, to preserve and tell her story, through the Legacy Project of the North Shore Holocaust center. The project has become particularly poignant (that must be a French word, don't you think?) since Sonia Weiss, the founder of the project, just died a few weeks ago. I was hoping that being in a place where Sarah had lived would help me feel more of a connection to her story. And I thought she might want to see some photos of the building and neighborhood. I qm sure the current inhabitants were puzzled as to why I was taking pictures.

Then onto St. Ouen, the flea market. I was devastated to not find my favorite destination, a place whose name I never remember, Lili and somebody, that sells buttons, lace, all kinds of similar stuff. It's where I bought all the original old bakelite and plastic buckles I've made into jewelry, as well as several pairs of glasses frames, old hair combs, etc:Finally realized they hadnt shut down, except for the august holiday, It was July 31st: Disappointed, but relieved, I wandered thru the market, buying only a Nutella and coconut crepe.

By that time, I decided, it was to late to visit the Decorative Arts, which closes at 6, so I went to the Pompidou, which stays open until 9pm, Having ample time to visit, I strolled first around the plaza around the museum, always an active place, with performers, street vendors, tourists, backpackers, local teens, etc.One thing I don't remember noticing in the past was a row of portrait artists, a la Montmartre.

I heard the haunting strains of middle eastern music and headed that way. It was a group of four French musicians, playing bass'; banjo, accordian and clarinet. it was basically klezmer with a French and comic twist; comic klezmer would be the best way I could describe it. They told stories, incorporated the audience; played the bass and banjo as percussion. One story involved a bird, with the clarinetist playing (both his instrument and himself) as the bird, in an extremely effeminate way that may or may not have been simulated; everyone from the local drunk to the American kids next to me seemed to love them.

Inside the museum was an exhibit, that only had one more week to go: called Dreamland. I hadn't known anything about it but the poster was compelling. It was basically about parks and attractions and cities of the future. The name derives from an actual area of Coney Island. The exhibit featured places like Las Vegas, Disneyland, as well as artistic conceptions of places. Particularly intriuging was Salvador Dali's concept of The Dream of Venus, designed ( and I believe, built), for the 1939 New York World's Fair. It was exotic, erotic, partly underwater (shades of Circque de Soleil) I have to investigate this further; I did buy the catalog, which was only 8 euros. And, amazingly, there were a number of Martin Parr photos, about whom I was just writing here a day or two ago. Talk about feeling erudite, The first ones were of Las Vegas; but there were others dispersed through the exgibit. The exhibit also features Walt Disney, on film talking about his original concept for Epcot, never realized; which was an entire community with housing, industry, public transportation via monorail, etc: The closest that ever was created was the Disney town of Celebration. The final part of the exhibit features modern day Dubai, with its artificial ski slopes, etc.

The exhibit also raised questions about images of reality and the concept of "facadism" a term I hadn't heard before, ie leaving the facades of buildings while rebuilding the rest, but also places like Venice, Paris itself, etc: where the image has become the reality.
All of this seems quite coincidental with my ponderings, the other day, about fairs and the Eiffel Tower and visions of reality and the future.

I have to stop here, although not quite caught up, have breakfast and decide where to start off the day. (It's Monday and the Decoratif and lots of museums are closed today.)

Peace out. ( I was running out of French expressions for see you later.)