Follow by Email

Friday, August 14, 2015

From Midnight in Paris to some Sunny Afternoons in London: one long last post until my next adventure

In the airport lounge at Heathrow, heading home. We’re munching on the vestiges of our British snacks, meat pasties (that’s pah-sties, not pay-sties.) I remember one food chain in Boston used to serve them, I am thinking it was Au Bon Pain, although that doesn’t seem quite right.  But then they stopped serving them. They’re good, and I’ve just decided they bear a strong resemblance to knishes.

We had a very nice last half day in London, actually a very nice five days in all. Started off at the Tate Modern, a great modern art museum right on the Thames, in an old power plant or some such large industrial building. I’m wondering if it was in some way an inspiration to the guy who created Mass MOCA. It has some of the same capacity for large scale works, although they didn’t seem to be using it as such at present. The museum, and all, or most, of the London museums, are free, although they do ask for donations, suggesting about L4, or about $6, very reasonable. I wonder what percentage of visitors contributes. The museum seems to do quite well, they have had several times the anticipated yearly attendance, and are currently building an addition.

There is much construction all over the city.  The very friendly, chatty customs officer at the airport, and our cab driver into town, both told us how much London has changed in the last decade.
I don’t remember all this construction our last visit, which must have been at least a decade ago. The ovoid building people call the Gherkin is very impressive, especially in contrast to some of the old architecture around it. I wonder what the verdict is, if people generally like it or hate it.  I happen to like it, think it’s fun to come around a corner and get a glimpse of it. It looks rather like an alien spaceship just landed in the city. There are many more glass towers  with other unusual designs, and I get the sense that they are all competing to be the most innovative and daring in design. I saw a listing for some kind of exhibit or talk about the future of London architecture, and wish we’d had time to check it out.

We walked a lot, and took the bus a couple of times, and the tube once, in our five days. Loring strides quickly and I try to keep up, but get waylaid easily by an interesting building or store or plaque. It’s amazing that we didn’t lose each other during all of our walks.

I’d chosen an apartment in the Shoreditch area of East London, just a few blocks from the trendy Brick Lane. The street is bustling, and especially so this morning, on Sunday. Even at 10am there were throngs, and on our way back to the apartment, I mean flat, it was even more crowded. Brick Lane itself is a mix of vintage clothing stores, pastry shops or different ethnicities, and Indian curry restaurants. At each restaurant there are men trying to hustle your business.  In the neighborhood in general there is a mix of Muslim men, women, some in headscarves and some in burkhas with just their eyes showing, lots of children, and young white couples pushing baby strollers, or whatever they call them here. (prams?)

And graffiti, all up and down Brick Lane and most of the streets that came off of it. Some of it was good, some not so good. Iv'e seen a lot of street art in the last few months, in London and Paris, New York, Miami, and Havana.  I  must say I was most impressed by the graffiti I saw in Miami a couple of months ago. Not being nationalistic and hoping I don't sound like too much of a braggart. 
In medieval times, this was a Jewish area, from something I read on a tile wall produced by children from a nearby school documenting the history of the area. There was also a separate plaque, not part of the school project, that talked about Jack the Ripper and who he might actually have been. It did not say, however, if this was the area he stalked. Glad I was there in the bright sunshine, though.
Our flat was in a row of small buildings called the Victoria cottages. The Albert cottages were across the street.  They date from the 19th century.  

Our apartment had a bedroom, combined kitchen living room, a bathroom, and a small area with a desk in a kind of alcove. We were on the second floor, and the stairs leading up were quite steep and narrow, with a turn. Not a terrible problem, except that I am very leery of stairs and escalators, etc. since my recent mishap.  The windows overlooked a courtyard that the aribnb listing had described as a garden, one of the reasons I’d chosen that apartment.  To get to the garden you had to go downstairs, down three doors to a little alley where the trashcans are kept, then through another doorway into the garden. None of that would have been a big problem, but the garden wasn’t maintained, the chairs were covered in bird poop, and no one seemed to use it much aside from to hang laundry. But it did make for a nice view out the windows.

The bathroom was interesting. I’m always interested in bathrooms. The toilet and shower were the same space, with no separation for the shower. So when you showered, everything got wet, and then the floor was wet for a while too. And, I can’t say I’m a big fan of watching myself in the mirror while I am showering. Since returning, I’ve learned that it’s called a wet room.

In the five days we were there, we ate breakfast at home,  cooked dinner a couple of nights – frozen cottage pie, not bad at all, pasties the other night, and veggies. The difference between cottage and shepherd’s pies, I am told, is that the former is made with beef, the latter with lamb.
We were meeting my friend Kwan for Indian food one night, and so sought out pubs with traditional food for the other dinners. I now know what Scotch eggs are. One night I had what seemed a contemporary take, the other one that seemed more traditional. It’s basically an an egg baked into a sausage patty. My first version was made with pork and venison, and a duck’s egg. The other night was just regular sausage, and I assume a chicken egg. Both were good.

At the first pub there was a beer apparently brewed in the Bronx. We took a picture of me by the sign. But there was also a grapefruit flavored beer, and not being much of a beer person, tend to like the flavored ones, and am addicted to grapefruit. It was good, but one beer is about all I can handle, so I didn’t get to try the Bronx.

It seems that many pubs, all of which have beautiful signs and interiors, don’t serve food at all, are just bars. And I saw a couple that served Thai food, which seemed totally incongruous to me. But it all depends on the context, I suppose, and what you are accustomed to.

The several markets around  our area have a large number of stalls with clothing, jewelry, etc. and also a large number of food stalls. The variety is amazing, ranging from Japanese to Mexican (complete with very aesthetic display of yellow Old el Paso taco boxes, to Moroccan to Lithuanian.  As we approached, I noticed large numbers of people sitting on the curbs of the sidewalk. They were all eating food purchased in the market.

The quantity and size of vintage shops and stalls was amazing. I looked for a bit, then had to leave, feeling overstimulated and overwhelmed.  I’ve never seen anyplace in the US with this kind of quantity of vintage clothes.

During our five days, we met up with two old friends. One was Nicole, a Dutch woman who was one of the au pairs I supervised when she lived with a family on the North Shore a couple of decades ago.  She subsequently moved to London, married a Syrian man, converted to Islam. They lived in Syria for several years, then moved back to London.

 They have two young daughters,  who she brought with her. The plan was to meet at a fountain at Somerset House, a huge mansion that was once connected with the Britsh navy, and now is a cultural center. Nicole had never been there, and thought it would be a good outing for the kids, and it was. 

Only problem,  when Loring and I arrived, we couldn’t find the fountain. I went and asked a guard, who explained that it was in the courtyard, which we’d just walked across, but hadn’t yet been turned on for the day. So back out to the courtyard, and spotted a woman in a headscarf and two small girls, who’d seen us and were walking toward us. Just then, the fountain turned on, one of those splash fountains, and it covered most of the courtyard. The girls squealed and ran into the water.

Later, we went out to the large balcony that overlooked the Thames and had a nice snack bar, with beautiful French pastries.  We sat and talked while the girls blew bubbles and ran around in the sun, drying out their bodies and clothes. 

Nicole had planned to take the girls to the National Portrait Gallery, and we headed over with them. It seemed as good a plan for the day as any.  I have really liked that museum when I’ve been there before.

And there, an amazing thing occurred. There was an exhibit, a yearly competition for artists to submit portraits. I stood looking at one, unusual in that it showed a young man lying on the floor, back to the viewer,  not showing his face. I think of a portrait as a face, and this was interesting because it didn’t have one. I leaned it to read the information, and, lo and behold, the artist was from Massachusetts, and had just graduated from Gordon College, just a few miles from where we live.

But that’s not all!  Another woman viewing the picture looked at me and smiled. I smiled back, thinking we were sharing our mutual admiration of the painting. Then, a couple of minutes later, after I’d moved on, she came over to me in the gallery and asked if I was an art critic. I’d been writing down the artist’s name to look up later and maybe even contact. The woman who’d asked me, it turned out, was the artist’s art teacher at Gordon College, and a couple of years ago, she’d encouraged Rebecca, the artist, to enter this completion when they had visited London together with a group of students. So, an amazing double coincidence. One, that the artwork caught my eye, and two, that the teacher happened to be there at the exact moment I was viewing the painting. Added to the fact that the teacher and student had visited this very exhibit two years ago with a student group, and the teacher had encouraged Rebecca to enter the competititon.

Another day, we headed over to  two small museums we’d read about. First, the John Soane house. Soane was an architect and collector in the 17th and 18th centuries. He collected many things, but particularly Greek and Roman architectural elements, and they were arrayed all over the home, on every bit of wall space, on the floor, in nooks and crannies, many of which he’d designed himself. Loring said it was the first place he’d ever seen with more things on the walls than our house. A vast exaggeration, of course.  There were also many plans and illustrations of places Soane had designed, most of them monumental.  It turns out that Soane had students who came to the home to sketch many of the architectural artifacts. Although it’s hard to imagine too many students  being able to fit into the space at a time.

One room housed all paintings, one of which looked quite like a Canaletto , who painted both in Venice and in London. Those of you who are avid readers of this blog, if there are any of you, might remember my previous quest for Canelettos in Venice, only to find out that there were only a couple of them there. And then our subsequent weekend visit to DC because there was a big Canaletto exhibit. So to find here, in one of the lesser known London museums, actually two Canalettos, and for me to recognize one as his, was remarkable.

Next unusual museum, The Hunter Hospital museum, or something like that, was just across a small park from the Soane house.  It was a collection of medical specimens from the 19th century. It was fascinating but also kind of creepy. They were arranged in glass jars  on glass shelves on two floors. There were thousands of them, ranging from animal skeletons to human fetuses.  There was a section about ether, which mentioned Mass General, where the first anesthesized surgery was performed. And there was the examining table of, and information about Lister, who introduced anteseptics to surgery. And for whom, I assumed, Listerine was named.

Every day, we walked long distances,  between  6 and 10miles. You never know what you might stumble into. Interesting architecture and juxtapositions.  Really old buildings crammed between modern ones, some of them dating back to Elizabethan times. Yesterday we walked by a building that was part of Lloyds of London. It seemed it was just a branch bank, although perhaps it was more. There were tellers’windows, beautiful marble columns and artwork, and then also computer screens and ATM museums. The tellers seemed amused at our gawking, in a friendly way. On our way out there was a tv showing the news. It was Donald trump making one of his ridiculous statements. The guard and we chuckled and shook our heads together.

Just a few doors down was a very narrow little store, with a sign saying Twinings. It was the actual original Twinings tea store, and had been there at least a couple of centuries. They had all kinds of teas in tins, but also individual teabags from which  you could make your own selection , a minimum of 15, which of course I did, making sure to check each one for hibiscus, which has a very strong sweet taste that I don’t like, and which is an ingredient in many herbal teas. There were many more choices than are available at home, and I was pleased to see that there were quite a few without hibiscus!  Now I just hope I like them.

And then up, eventually, toward Covent Garden and the theatre district to the Harold Pinter Theatre, where we had matinee tickets for a musical about the Kinks called Sunny Afternoon. I had looked hard for a play that wasn’t a revival or a play that had originated on Broadway. This one had gotten good reviews and much of the story takes place in London.  I was able to get tickets in about the 5th row, in the orchestra, or rather the stalls, as they say here.

The play was terrific. I hope it makes it to Broadway. I didn’t really know that much about the Kinks, although I was familiar with most of the music they used in the play, which depicts their early years in the 60s and early 70’s. The play tells the story of the group’s early years, through the music.  It doesn’t feel like they forced the music onto the story, the songs work well to tell the tale. And since, as Ray Davies says at one point, the songs are about us, it makes sense, and that’s the whole point, I guess.  It just keeps moving, and is very well staged and choreographed. There’s a walkway up through the stalls, on which a lot of the action takes place, along with performers running up and down the aisles. I’m a sucker for a play that puts the actors out into the audience, I think it always adds an element of excitement and connection.

I was ready to wait for the actors by the stage door, but don’t think Loring thought I was serious. I used to do that regularly when I was in high school and went to Broadway matinees on my own.

After the play we met up with my old friend Kwan, whom I’d met perhaps a decade ago, on my volunteer trip to Transylvania, where we and a dozen or so others worked with kids from a social service agency for a couple of weeks.  I hadn’t seen him since, but we’d stayed in touch through facebook.

Kwan lives about two hours outside London, near Nottingham and Sherwood Forest, which he said is still (ie since Robin Hood’s time) a nice place.  He took the train in, and back home again, that same day. He has friends in London, and comes in periodically to visit.  What a treat to see him, and we were amazed that he spent four hours travelling back and forth, just to meet us for dinner. We had dinner in an Indian restaurant not far from the theatre.  Dinner was fine, but not better than Indian food I’ve had at home. Don’t know that I should expect it to be, but since London is replete with people of Indian heritage, and with Indian restaurants, I guess I’d expected more. The restaurant advertised itself as the oldest Punjabi restaurant in London, with four generations of the same family running it. I suppose that doesn’t necessarily mean better. Anyway, the main point was to visit with Kwan.

Kwan walked us over to Holborn station, where we took the tube for the first and only time. The second day there had been a one day tube strike, which didn’t really affect us. The busses still ran that day, and we did take one, although we’d thought they’d be terribly crowded, and I was in no mood to cram into public transportation after my previous mishap.  But they were not overwhelmingly crowded, although the streets were, with throngs of people walking home from work, and the ride was very slow.

That day, our friendly bus driver was very forthcoming about his disdain for the strike. The tube workers are unionized, the bus drivers are not, according to our bus driver, and the train workers also make about three times the salary of the bus drivers. And the work, as he said, doesn’t require the same level of skill as driving a double decker bus in narrow streets and traffic.  The tube workers are striking to prevent being put on different schedules as the new night service gets implemented.
Other London adventures -  on our last morning, before the West End show, we walked across the Millenium footbridge, near the Tate Modern, where we’d started out the first day, and then along the Thames. It seemed like everyone in London was doing the same. It was a nice sunny day, and I’d say it was a mix of Londoners and visitors.

We walked from the Tate up to the London Eye, the impressive Ferris wheel along the riverbank. Along the way, there were buskers, cafes, an art center, and a summer festival, which included a small artificial beach along the lines of the Paris Plage. We stopped to have our final meat pies at one of the many stalls and cafes.

Those busking included living statues, although the trend these days seems to be moving ones, so perhaps statues isn’t the right word, sand castle builders, (on the real sand at the edge of the Thames, not the artificial beach) and musicians.  There were signs with rules for the buskers, to relinquish the space after two hours if others were waiting to perform, to stay in the designated spots, etc.

  I mentioned toilets a while back, and that I had more to say on the subject. I’d read about some London tours called Loo tours, a tour of various public toilets in the city. It was started by an American woman who was frustrated by the lack of free public toilets, and wanted to share info about where you could find them. But she also got into the history of plumbing, which is very interesting.  So there was lots of info about the Romans, who did have plumbing systems, to the Middle Ages, when they dumped it out the windows, etc.  According to the website, she and her two employees do tours a few days a week, but there was also an audio tour. We weren’t available for one of the guided ones, weren’t even sure she still conducted them.  So we downloaded her tour yesterday, did a long walk before, and picked it up a few miles along. Some of it was interesting, especially the historical parts. But we ran out of time and interest partway in. I think it would have been much more rewarding as a live tour. It’s kind of hard to follow the directions, not because she didn’t do them well, but because we kept getting distracted by other things along the way, and also because we were trying to share one phone and pair of ear buds.

Our plane home didn’t leave until 6pm Sunday. We wanted to be there by no later than 4pm. And the ride in from the airport had taken 2 ½ hours through crammed city streets. We’d been told 2 hours by our airbnb host, and were incredulous about that, but it was an underestimate. So we knew we wanted to leave our flat by 1:30pm.

Our driver on the way in had given us his card, and said he’d give us “a good price” on the way back. Since we had no phone, we’d  borrowed Kwan’s at the restaurant the night before. Loring got the guy on the phone ok, but the next thing I heard, on Loring’s end, was “you’re leaving for Greece tomorrow morning?”  Which put us back at square A as far as a ride to the airport. We considered taking the tube after all, about which we were both hesitant given my recent debacle.  So we went walking, a last stroll through the neighborhood, which we’d planned to do anyway, hoping to find a cab we could schedule for later.

Out on Brick Lane we soon stumbled into a cab agency, with a bell to ring for an upstairs office. The man came down, clearly from his residence above, very friendly, and quoted us a price of less than ½ of what we’d paid on the way in. We didn’t hesitate, although I have a feeling we could have negotiated an even lower price.And chances were he wasn't licensed, but that's something we don't worry about much, having taken many unlicensed taxis in many countries.

So the rest of our last morning was a visit to Whitechapel  Gallery. We’d passed by it several times during our stay, but hadn’t had the right opportunity to visit until now. It was a great last event. There’d been some type of competition, and the works, all modern and in a variety of media, were on display. They ranged from video installations to sculpture to paintings. 

The trip to the airport took an hour, less than half the time as on the way in, although the driver had said an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half. That might have something to do with the much cheaper fare.  This was early Sunday afternoon, and the way in had been a weekday  afternoon.
The trip back was uneventful . That’s good, I’d had enough of eventful for a while.  Many exciting experiences, a near disaster mishap and then, another one, memories of sitting by the window or on the balcony, night after night, watching the Tower twinkle, and then, finally getting to share it with Loring. Lots of museums and monuments, and also many unexpected places and events stumbled upon. Seeing some old friends after a long time, three in all from three different places and times in my life.

And now here I am on my porch, finishing up this chapter of my travels. . I already read last Sunday’s Travel section. What’s next, who knows, but I’ve got a bunch of ideas.
I’ve got to watch Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris again(hate the man, loved the film) keep up my French, and figure out a way to get the Kinks’  “Sunny Afternoon” out of my head.

signing off, for now...

More music in the Jardins, Tombs of the famous, Monet's face in the lilies, Heminway's haunt, Polidor restaurant, and much more.

Loring arrived. His arrival as I imagined it did not happen.  He’d said his flight left Boston one and a half hours late. I had arrived, or almost arrived, at Rue Gay Lussac, after 11AM. I remember specifically, probably minutes before falling down the up escalator, worrying because I’d kept Pierre waiting over a half hour. Then again, shouldn’t he have known better than I how long it should take from the airport to the apartment? But, I digress.  Because of the above factors, I didn’t start looking from the balcony for Loring until 11 am. I was sitting just inside, at the window, and writing this blog, I believe.

I stood up to go to the bathroom, took a peek out from the balcony, and there he was, and had been waiting, for five or ten minutes already. I guess the pilot made up for lost time.
So what I’d envisioned for days, waiting at the balcony and seeing him emerge from the metro, never happened. Oh, well.

The first day, after a brief rest for Loring at the apartment, we set out on my potential planned itinerary for day one, the easy one, as I told him.  And we actually wound up doing everything I had tentatively planned. First, a walk through the Luxembourg Gardens, to Rue Fluerus, to pay tribute to Gertrude and Alice and entourage.   We’d heard music at the bandstand from the apartments, just as I had a week or two before,  and wound up listening to the group for a while before crossing the park. It was a Hungarian band, three brothers, a cousin, and one unrelated guy. I recognized one tune, something I had danced to in folk dances groups years before. Their website described them as reviving and playing traditional music that had been collected by Bela Bartok. But what they played sounded like a mix of traditional, jazz, and almost a klezmer sound. They were terrific. They had three tiny stringed instruments that we didn’t hear them play, but that I read were at the crux of their music.

We moved along, and across the gardens, to chez Gertrude.  Then back around the edge of the gardens to the Pantheon. It is a beautiful building with an impressive dome. The dome is currently under renovation, and is entirely covered with scaffolding, an impressive sight in itself. In all my many times in Paris, I had never before been there.  It  is right in my neighborhood,  and I  had walked by it, or at least seen the dome,  pretty much every day this trip. The Pantheon is famous for the many people whose tombs are in the crypt there, including Victor Hugo, Marie and Pierre Curie, Voltaire, and many many others.  We spent some time in the main area of the Pantheon, and then headed down to the many corridors of the tombs. I recognized many names, some were people I knew of, many other names that I recognized from street names or metro stops.

We headed on, down the Boul Mich and across the Seine, passing by Notre Dame, and headed over to Paris Plage. I still find it quite whimsical, and love the fact that Parisians enjoy it so much.  Unfortunately, we got to the stage where they do tai chi in the mornings and have dancing at night, too late. I don’t understand why the music and dancing end at 8pm, when everything in Paris seems to go late, and it doesn’t get dark until after 10 pm.

Next day, we walked quite a bit and eventually headed over to the Arts and Metiers museum, which I thought that Loring would really appreciate, and where I’d tried to meet Matthew,  but where we’d somehow missed each other.  Loring did like it, to an extent, and I was happy to pay another visit, not having seen everything on the first time around. They have everything from models of old weaving machines to early flying machines to early tv sets to computers. But, as Loring pointed out, the tech displays, touch screens, etc. don’t seem very well designed, and don’t work well. Some of them don’t work at all. Ironic, to say the least, for a museum of technology. But I still like the old timey feel of the place, the beautiful wood and glass cases, highlighting the technology of the19th century when the museum was built, and of times before that.  And all the beautiful models, works of art themselves. 

I tried to be good and not schedule or suggest too many museums for Loring’s three days. Not the Louvre, nor the Orsay, nor many others, but did suggest the Pompidou and the Carnavalet (history of Paris) as well as the ones above.

I’d scouted around for restaurants that were authentic but not expensive. Neither of us likes stuffy gourmet restaurants, we both prefer little hole in the wall places.  There’s a plethora of sushi, Mexican,  you name it ethnic restaurants as well as the pretty decent food in the neighborhood cafes, where I’d had several meals.  I found one place listed as inexpensive that was not far from the apartment, and then walked right past it one day without having been looking for it.

So that seemed like the place,  atmospheric, old, not expensive, nearby. On Loring’s first day, we happened to walk by, and I pointed it out, saying we should go there our last evening. And we did. The name of the place is Polidor. It’s been there since 1845. I’d say little has changed in that time period. Most remarkable is the only toilet, a Turkish style. ceramic hole in the floor kind.

When I pointed out the restaurant to Loring, I noticed a photo of Woody Allen in the window. A a young American man standing outside the restaurant said to us, “Have you seen Midnight in Paris?”  And added, “this is where they filmed the scene where Owen Wilson meets Hemingway. He also told us that Hemingway had been a regular at the place, as well as other luminaries. I debated asking him if he’d paid homage  chez Gertrude and Alice, and now am sorry I didn’t mention it. Perhaps he already knew.

So I guess I can say I used the same toilet that Hemingway did. I think that might even be more exciting than seeing the bathroom at his house in Cuba, which I could only peer in at. It was beautiful, though,

The food at Polidor was perfect, just what I’d hoped, real old home style food. I’d planned on having the lamb, the special every Sat. and Sunday, but they were out of it. We’d come too late, said the waitress, who was also perfectly suited to the environment. So I had a turkey leg cooked with cabbage in a kind of stew, which was delicious. They somehow kept the skin crisp, I wish I knew how. It was too much to eat, so I asked her to package up the rest for me to take home. But she didn’t understand me, and tossed it. I was desolate. Next trip, I guess.

They had made a few concessions to modernity, although not with the toilet. There was a sign that said, No credit cards taken, since 1845. The modernity was not that they took credit cards, but that they had a modern funny sign, although they made it out to look old.

One day, as we walked along the Seine, Loring noticed a police boat rushing down the river. We leaned over the wall, between the booksellers’ stalls, to see. Within minutes another boat, this one filled with firefighters, pulled up. We watched for a bit, not seeing anyone in danger. Then we noticed, first a young woman in a bikini, then, a few minutes later, a young man also in a swimsuit,  at the edge of the water. The couple, and the officers, huddled there for five or ten minutes as we watched, trying to figure out what had occurred. Neither seemed terribly distressed, but they didn’t seem too happy either. As we were ready to continue on, officers brought over aluminum wraps for the two, the kind they give runners after a marathon. It seemed odd that after  ten or so minutes they were finally concerned about the couple being chilled.

 Our guess, finally, was that they had dove into the Seine, probably not allowed or a good idea, and then couldn’t  climb out. They also happened to be right at the stop for the tourist boat, which of course came along right then, although the tourists seemed only slightly interested.  We never did find out. I forgot to look at the paper the next day, just as I had forgotten to look for info on the demonstration I’d watched from my little balcony.
Later in the day were hot and tired after a lot of walking. We didn’t dive into the Seine, though.   We weren’t far from the Canal St. Martin, so headed there, thinking we’d find a shady spot to sit, But the shady side of the canal was already crammed with folks, and the sunny side was too hot, so we decided to move on.

 I thought of the Buttes Chaumont,  a park I’d been to once before when  I was with my mosaic group. So we headed there, our first and perhaps only time in the metro together. I hadn’t been using it much, unlike on other trips, and after mishap #2, when my hand got caught in the door, I wasn’t much fond of either metro cars or escalators.  But the Buttes are in one of the further out arrondissements, and at least I was tired of walking. We emerged on  one of the longest escalators  in the city. The Buttes were under extensive renovation, and were pretty crowded on this hot sunny day. We did find a shady spot, and both took naps. While lying half asleep, I heard an odd tinkling sound I couldn’t place. After a while looking, I realized it was vendors walking through the park, sellilng bottled drinks, and tapping their openers against the bottles. They did it in a restrained way, not when they were too near people, and not too loudly. The sound was in fact kind of pleasant. After seeing several, I realized that the men were not selling bottled water, as vendors do near all the big monuments and museums. They were selling bottles of wine and beer.  One more cultural difference.

We did go to another museum, the Orangerie in the Tuileries that is home to Monet’s expansive water lily panels, which the space was designed to hold.  They are definitely worth viewing every few years. Too bad my Museum pass was no longer valid, it was one of the places where the pass let you jump the line. Last time I was there I was on my own, and saw a very distinct image of Monet himself in one of the panels. I was curious to see if I’d have the same reaction now, several years later.  I sure did, as distinct as before.  I could envision  others too, but they required more imagination and were not as precise and didn’t look especially like Monet. I had previously convinced myself that this was Monet’s intentional doing, his little joke on viewers. But now I wasn’t quite as sure.

We went into the second room of paintings, and then returned through the first. I asked Loring to take my picture with Monet. Just as he did, another visitor gestured precisely outlining the place where I saw Monet’s face.   Loring is certain that the man saw the same image I see in the painting.  And just as I had convinced myself that I was the only one in on Monet’s little joke.  I have looked but never found any reference to Monet’s self portrait in the water lilies.

On the day we saw the rescued   stranded swimmers we walked through the Ile St. Louis, a beautiful little island in the Seine. I knew from various guidebooks that the supposed best ice cream in Paris, Berthillion, was there, but had never sampled it. Now it seems that every corner on the Ile, and other places too, serve Berthillon ice cream. I wonder if the original place still has the long lines that the guidebooks always described. So, even though it was still morning, it seemed that the time to sample Berthillon had come. We shared a two flavor cone, chocolate and mocha. It was good, but I have to say that the ice cream I had at Paris Plage was even better. Sorry Berthillon.

And that concludes the last stage of my Paris soujourn, three days with Loring to end the month. And we did watch the Tower sparkle, all three nights.         

Next, on to London…

Friday, July 31, 2015

How many ingredients can I fit into one crepe?

I started the day doing laundry and cleaning house. By late morning I had decided on my course of action for my last day here on my own. It just popped in my head to go to the Canal St. Martin. It’s a canal that has become kind of trendy in the last decade or so.  I’d spent some time there during my mosaic project when we’d stayed and worked a little further out, near the Canal d’Ourq.  It had occurred to me to try to find the housing project where we’d worked, When we left the mosaic had not yet been installed, and there seemed to be some discussion about the location would be. Part of me worries that it never did get installed, which would be a terrible shame. So maybe it’s better not to look for it. I also wasn’t sure I’d remember the location. I’d looked on the map and couldn’t identify the street.

So, I headed along the canal, starting at its farthest reach and heading toward the center of the city. I’d taken the metro to Jaures, a station I don’t remember ever having been to before.  It was at the juncture of the St. Martin and La Villette canals. There are boats that cruise the canals, one that you can take from there to the Musee DOrsay. I’d also read about boats of different sizes that you could rent and pilot yourself. That could be fun, although it was expensive. Forty euros for an hour, 70 for two. Guess it wouldn’t be unreasonable for four folks.

The canal neighborhood seemed about as I remembered it from four or five years ago, maybe even more, when I was last there. I am disappointed that I haven’t been able to locate any fine art crafts stores.

 It seems like the city ought to be rife with them.  When I try googling artisan I come up with things like bakeries and chocolatiers. I expected to find them in the 11th, in the 3rd and 4th,  and today, but just haven’t found the right places. The large space in the Marais where there was a wonderful exhibit a few trips ago was empty, it looked like they were just on hiatus between exhibits. I read about  a crafts fair that’s on Saturdays in Belleville, but just didn’t make it there on any of these Saturdays. And am sure it’s the last thing Loring will want to do in his three days here, and I don’t  blame him.

So, what’s on the agenda for the next three days?  Aside from pastries and ice cream? Well,  if all goes according to plan, Loring will emerge from the metro tomorrow morning on the same escalator that was my downfall, so to speak, three weeks ago. And I will be sitting on my little balcony where , in theory, we should be able to spot each other.  We’ll see. But I think I’ve used up my share of bad karma around that escalator.

I have more thoughts and ideas for the next three days than we will ever be able to cram in. My thoughts for day one:  a stroll thru the gardens and over to chez Gertude and Alice. And then back in this direction to the Pantheon, a mere couple of blocks from here. Its dome is under reconstruction, an impressive sight in itself.  I think it is still open for visits. The tombs of many famous Frenchmen, and at least one woman, Marie Curie, are there. I don’t remember ever having been there, and I think it’s worth of visit. Later, a stroll down the Boul Mich (we might have to stop at the neighborhood crepe stand somewhere in there) and across the river past Notre Dame, to Paris Plage, and, hopefully, the  dance stage. And some ice cream. Hmm, mght have to reschedule the crepe.

For the next couple of days, I have a slew of ideas from which we will have to pick and choose , more than Loring’s museum tolerance. (mine seems to be endless, I’m ready to go back to several that I’ve already been to this trip)  I think Loring should rent a velib, one of the shared bicycles. It’s impressive how well used they are. It cost less than 2 euros a day, and the first half hour is free. I sat at a café today drinking my citron presse, right in front of a metro stop that was also a velib depot. People came and went constantly.  Some were in suits, some in short skirts. Lots of people had their bags in the bike’s basket. Some came up from and went into the metro, but lots of others went off walking after depositing their bikes.

I’ve been enjoying my citrons presse.  Most places seem to make them, although many don’t have them on the drink menu. With the extra glass and ice I always request, you can make it go a long way.  Not that it matters in terms of how long you can stay at the café. No one ever asks you to leave. And, in fact, they don’t ever, in my experience, bring the bill until you request it.

 I was a bit surprised today when the man at the next table asked me if it was lemon, and if I added sugar to it, and if it was good.  Is this something old fashioned and no longer popular?  I don’t have any recollection of where or when I first had them. The man was about my age, and seemed quite Parisian.  I t may not be popular, but it is definitely a part of my own Paris experience.

I got a crepe at the neighborhood place just as I was getting back home. I was going to be good and have a savory one (sale, as opposed to sucre.) But they had only ham, cheese, eggs, tomatoes for ingredients. I was yearning for spinach. So I told myself I’d have a backwards meal, first a dessert crepe, then something with spinach, eggs and cheese at the apartment. (you know the upshot, I never did have the supper, was too filled up from the dessert.)

 I love to watch the guys make them.They spread the batter really thin on the griddle, and in a few minutes the guy flips it (i've only seen one female crepiere) and the cooked side is a beautiful golden brown. They make it look easy, but I remember trying many years ago and not having much luck.

  I’ve had chocolate and coconut, and chocolate and banana, and chocolate and Grand Marnier. This time I asked for chocolate, banana, and coconut. I I almost asked him to add some Grand Marnier, but resisted.    And then he asked me if it was okay to add some butter.  He was afraid that it was going to be too dry. ( Well, bien sure.).  It looked so beautiful, and I said," parfait", perfect,  to him as I walked away.   I ate a few bites as I walked across the street, then the rest on the balcony when I got back here. Sheer delight. Maybe next time I’ll dare to ask for the Grand Marnier as well. I really haven't had that many, just three in three weeks. Really, I'm being quite good. 

Well, time to sign off for tonight and watch the tower sparkle. Next time I write, I should be describing the combined adventures of myself and Loring.

Saxaphones, old haunts, macarons, another museum, and outsider Henry Barger.

….I did, in fact, go down to the Jardins to the bandstand, following the sound of music. I’m glad I did. I’d jotted  down the schedule  all the July bandstand concerts, but  had not made it to any of them. I remember reading and discounting this one, because it was a band from England, and I wanted French music.

This, it turned out, was a band of teen age saxaphonists, a couple dozen of them. They perform in Paris the same week every year.  The oldest is 19, the youngest, eleven. I know because the band leader told us, in decent French.

They played everything from All of Me to The Barber of Seville to When I’m 64! Not only was their music great, but they were very coordinated, almost choreographed, moving around and off and on the bandstand as they played.  . While they were playing I had this crazy idea that if they’d be in town a couple more days I’d take Loring  to hear them and have them play When I’m 64!  But, as I found out, they are heading home today, leaving directly from here to Calais.
Afterwards, I went up and told as many of them as I could how great they were. Lots of other people were doing the same. One woman told me she came every year.

I’ve never spent much time in the Jardins de Luxembourg before this trip. I do remember sitting  and listening to some music there some years ago, while waiting to leave Paris for a train or plane. That makes sense as the Luxembourg  train  stop  to the airport is right here.  It was probably at this very spot.

After the performance, I continued on through the gardens, and once again into the Orangerie, where they have temporary shows and where I’d seen the engravings when I first got here. Now there’s a different show,  three different artists. Lots of people were strolling through, and so did I. It’s so quintessentially Parisian, a performance in the park followed by an art show.  Next on the agenda, I told myself, a baguette sandwich, or a pastry. And so on I strolled out of the park, looking for the next patisserie. It didn’t take long. I ordered a smoked salmon and cheese sandwich, and a pastry called a mystere.  How can you not order something called that, especially when the outside is chocolate covered by chocolate sprinkles. At the next little park I stopped and ate them. The mystere is meringue inside. I don’t especially like meringue, but enjoyed it nevertheless.

As it’s getting toward the end of my sojourn, yesterday I bought some macarons in a bakery in the Marais. There’s a pattisserie that sells them, and displays them beautifully in the window, just a couple of doors down from me. But I haven’t had the urge when I’ve been heading out, since I’ve usually just had breakfast. And when I’m heading home, they are usually already closed.

 Macarons, to be clear, are not macaroons, although people seem often to mistake them for one another.  I’ve never had any until now, but people wax eloquent about them, debating which company makes the best ones. Like with steak tartare, I decided it was time I tried them. They are little cookie sandwiches with a cream filling, and they come in many flavors.  I don’t remember them from when I’ve been here before.  Perhaps I’ve just missed them. Or maybe they’ve only become fashionable in recent years. I find it hard to believe  I could have missed the beautiful displays of them in all the bakery windows all these years.

I ordered three, blackberry, pistachio, and chocolate. They are hard to describe, because they are not like anything else I’ve ever had. Very fluffy, with a melt in your mouth qualityQuite unlike the dense quality of a macaroon.  Glad I tried them, but in the future I’d opt for a fruit tart anytime. Or a macaroon, for that matter.  In the shop, I noticed that that one variety, a bluish color, was labeled blueberry in English, but was actually blackberry. I told the woman and she seemed appreciative and said she’d change it.

Today after the concert, or even before I’d heard the music, my intended destination was another modern art museum, at the Palais de Tokyo. I remember this building, just across the river from the Eiffel Tower, from when I lived here. Then, it was a stunning modernistic building, which housed the Cinamateque, which is no longer  there. Now, the grand entry is kind of decayed, and is occupied mostly by dozens of skateboarders. In fact, I thought it wasn’t the museum entry at all, and continued around the corner before coming back and weaving my way through the boarders.

The museum was wonderful, an unexpected find with lots of known artists, a couple of Bonnard nudes that it WAS okay to photograph, unlike at the previous exhibit. I assume that there, where the works were borrowed from many museums, it depended on the rights and rules of the individual museums they came from.

There were Picassos and Duboffets and Chiricos and many more, and, it was free! Good place to know about that I think is off the tourist path.If you are going to the Champs Elysees (although I don't see what the attraction is, myself) it's an easy walk. And it's right across the river from the Eiffel Tower and gives you a great view of it.

I thought the museum was open until 10 pm, because I’d seen a sign. But that was apparently only for the temporary exhibit, because at about ten of six a guard began shooing me curtly out. I was watching a film at the time, in English, about some kind of bizarre American group called Furries who dress up in animal costumes.  Before I left I just wanted to see the info about the film so I could look it up. The woman was rude and wouldn’t let me. A young couple interceded and tried to help, but couldn’t find the listing either. I was upset at how she had treated me. The other guards were very pleasant and soothing and told me to write down my concerns and question in their log.  I did, and have mixed feelings about it. Part of me doesn’t want to get her in trouble. But she had multiple opportunities to change her tune once she understood what I was trying to find out, and only got nastier.

I’ve never thought that Parisians deserve the reputation they seem to have for being rude. But this one sure fit the bill.

My expedition here to the museum was like many others. Today I’d sworn to myself to not walk the whole way, because it was too long and I’d be too tired when I got here. I didn’t  listen to myself though. Part of it was just that there’s no very direct way to get here from there. Which is also going to be an issue on the way back, as I finish writing and head out of here.  But I’ll find a way to get at least partway, because it is a pretty long walk.

The other part of my not listening to my own advice is that once I start walking there’s just too much interesting stuff, the architecture, the shops, the people. Plus today I was going through some of my old stomping grounds. I stopped off at the American Church, which housed the American College when I was a student here all those years ago. I wandered in, went down to the basement that now has preschool classes in what were probably our classrooms. I tried to locate the “cave” which  was a basement room, that rumor had it housed the bodies of Americans waiting to be shipped home during WWII. I thoroughly believe that. When the college was there, it was our equivalent of a student center, a very small one. Kind of weird when you think about it. But today, I couldn’t find it. It may not be there any more.  I did come across I gym that I didn’t remember. It didn’t look very new. But then, this was all almost 50 years ago. Ye gads. I think of that phrase a lot when I think of how long ago in my life some things were.

I walked along Rue St. Dominique, where I once lived in a maid’s room up on the 7th floor, but didn’t remember the number of the building. Who knows if the building is even there. There are a number of modern buildings interspersed with the classic ones, and embassies and such.
 I also walked once again along Rue du Bac, where I lived the second year with a couple of roommates. That building number, #77, I remember well, and have been by numerous times in previous visits Once the door was open, and Loring and I walked in. I remember once late night when I lived there trying to open a coconut by hurling it down to the courtyard from the  7th story window.

But what I didn’t notice until today was that Whistler once lived across the street. I know I came across a plaque a couple of weeks ago saying that Whistler lived there, and I don’t think it was on the Rue du Bac. Well, he probably lived in more than one place. But how could I have missed a plaque across the street from where I once lived for a year? I guess I wasn’t into reading plaques then.

I keep meaning to write about some other, more recent plaques that weren’t here when I lived here. I think I did write about them, or at least one of them, a few years ago on another trip. On that trip, I stumbled across an exhibit, at the Hotel de Ville I think, about Jews and deportations during the war. I was taken by all the photos, most of which were taken very near where I was then, at the exhibit. I  had written  down some of the addresses then, to try to track them down.

And I did find at least one of them. It was  a school where a number of children were arrested and deported, never to return. It was still a school,  a preschool now, and parents were just picking up their kids. I wandered into the courtyard, feeling spooked and wondering what if any awareness the families had about what had happened there. A teacher stopped me, but when I told her why I was there, she let me look around.

Now, and on a couple of previous trips since I saw the exhibit, I notice those black marble plaques everywhere, some in the Marais, the former Jewish area, but in other parts of the city as well. It’s part of a project begun in 1997 to honor the memory of the murdered children. There must be hundreds of those plaques in different parts of the city, and thousands of lost children that they commemorate. Not to mention all of their families who were no doubt hauled away too.
There are other plaques too, mentioning where soldiers who died in the war had lived, and in some cases, where they had died.
Well, now to change gears, and to depart from the museum and the Palais de Tokyo cafe, after I try to plot my way back home.

I in fact did not head home after writing the above. Most things don’t go as planned. I went briefly into the museum bookstore to look at postcards, although with the many photos I’ve taken that isn’t exactly  necessary.  An employee came over and asked if I was the person who’d written in the museum log, and I said that I was. He said I should add the date. I’m not sure why,  but it wasn’t a problem. The woman at the check counter said hello. She’d been very nice earlier. I told her I wasn’t tired anymore, after a rest in the outdoor café, and asked how much the entry fee was for the temporary exhibit. She’d wanted me to go in before, telling me how wonderful it was. She was trying to cheer me up after my encounter.She’d also said to me, in an aside,that the rude guard was a “hard” person.

So now, she led me in, past the ticket seller and the ticket taker,without having to pay,  and also told me I could hold on to my pack. (so much for security.) And I went into the Henry Darger exhibit, an artist with whom I was entirely unfamiliar. I think it was one of the most amazing art experiences I have ever had. That in a city renowned for its art, and after a month of intensive museum going.   And if It weren’t for the encounter with the unfriendly guard, and hence the very friendly check person,   I never would have seen it.

To call Darger an outsider artist would be an understatement.  He lived an entirely outsider life, and created an alternate universe in his art. He had a lonely childhood, lived in an institution for “feeble-minded children” for some years,

He lived a cloistered life, perhaps had Asberger’s and/or Tourette’s, lived in a one room apartment in Chicago in the first half of the 20th century. His works were only discovered, by his landlord, under his bed,  after Darger had moved out, and shortly before he died. The landlord, Nathan Lerner, himself a photographer, protected and promoted Darger’s work. Now, his widow holds the estates of both her husband and Darger. The room in which he lived has been preserved, and I saw a book that was entirely about the room.

I’d looked at some of the photographer’s work at the same museum earlier in the day, but only realized the connection when I saw the name of the photographer’s wife.

I will try to briefly describe Darger’s work. I feel as though it’s beyond description.  He also wrote a 15000 page book, for which the artwork serves as illustration.

The illustrations are drawn on both sides of the paper, and are displayed upright under glass so that the viewer can see both sides. Partly because of the display, they have a luminescent quality, and at places you can see the illustration on the other side.  From a distance, they have a bucolic, Kate Greenway 1030’s kind of children’s book look. But as you come closer, you see that they are peculiar, grotesque,  and violent. And they become more violent and apocalyptic  as the years proceed into the pre WWII years. Darger has created an alternate universe, with six heroes called the Vivian girls. He uses tracery in much of his work, and the figures have a cartoonish quality, partly because he has traced  parts of the images from comics and other images.  After the war, in the 50’s, his work reassumes its former, only partly violent images.

That’s about as well as I can describe his work, which Darger worked on for about 30 years.   Only  small parts of the text are shown, to accompany the images. Although Darger had intended the art to accomopany the book.

 I looked at the exhibit catalog, because there was so much in each work that it was difficult to absorb, and there were a couple of other books in the bookstore. I didn’t think any of them did the work justice, although there was one, in English, that came close. I was tempted to buy it, but it was 58 euros, and heavy. So I’ll look on Amazon.

Today is my last day before Loring  arrives. What shall I do? I have plenty of ideas, and more, as well, for the three days he will be here. In both regards,  will just have to wait and see, where the day, and days, take me, and us.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ice cream and dancing at the plage, and steak tartare at a cafe.

My excursion to Belleville was, like all my ex ursions, part planned and part discovery. It’s best, I think, not to be too set in your plans, because what you discover is usually as interesting as what you intended.

I wandered in and out of the 11th and 20th arrondissments, because they border on each other, and the part I wanted to go to was right along the border. I never did get to the Buttes, will probably have to save it for another trip, although I think Loring would like it. It is cultivated and arranged like all the Paris parks I’ve ever been to, but in a wilder type of design. I can just imagine picnickers of yore relaxing on the grass among the boulders.  I was supposed to meet some friends from my volunteer group there on one of my previous trips, but it’s a vast place and they weren’t where they described they’d be. I  did finally come across them but the place warrants a return visit. If not this trip, it will have to be the next.

Let me backtrack a bit to Paris Plage. I’ve been there twice already this trip, and plan to go back with Loring. It’s a hoot, an artificial beach along the Seine, with truckloads of sand hauled in, plus lounge chairs and ice cream stands and a dance floor, and a lending library where you can lounge and read.  On a previous trip, there was a large swimming pool and aqua aerobics going on when  I sauntered by. The scene was surreal, lots of women and a few men, all in bathing caps and goggles, all moving in unison adjacent to the river. I promised myself to go back someday and participate. Judy Collins may have had her visions of dancing along the Seine, mine was to do aqua aerobics!   Not really, I don’t think I could bere to put on a bathing cap, unless it was one of those flowered ones from the 50s.

But alas, the pool at the Plage is no more.  Actually, the pool  still exists, it is built on a barge, and is elsewhere in the city. It even has a retractable roof so it can be used year round. But it is no longer a part of Paris Plage. Couldn’t find out why.

The other thing that had specifically appealed to me  on my previous visit.was a dance area where I remember couples doing traditional dancing. I had taken pictures of one hetero couple who didn’t appear to know each other, and one gay male couple who did.  So last week  I went in search of the dance area, while Marie was here. We did find it, and the dancing, which happens every day from 5 to 8 pm. There were lots of people dancing, kids and adults, people of every ilk.  But the music when we got there was Zumba, and later turned to techno and other current stuff, and most people seemed to know the lyrics and sing along. It was appealing in its own way, but more like a wedding or bar/bat mitzvah.  But what better place for a dance party than along the Seine.  Marie and I sat at the adjoining café, (there are a number of cafes along the Plage, as in every other part of Paris.) I had ice cream, three scoops, and seemed to be some of the best I’ve ever had. Or was it just being swept up in the atmosphere?  I had three scoops, chocolate and coffee and coconut. The coffee and chocolate both had lots of flecks of chocolate in them. And although they didn’t serve cones the dish came with a wedge of a waffle cookie that was better than any ice cream cone I’ve ever had.  I’ve only had ice cream a couple of times here, and croissants a couple, fruit tartes a couple too.   And a wonderful cream pastry with chocolate chips that was reminiscent of a cannoli.

I really enjoyed watching the dancers. There was one man  I wish I'd thought to video . I dubbed him Mr. Rubber Band. But the name doesn't really do him justice, because he was a very graceful good dancer as well as as loose limbed as anyone I've ever seen. And there was another man wearing a yukata, a summer kimono. Marie and I decided that he was very drunk. The dj later mentioned something about someone getting married that weekend, We think it was that guy.There were plenty of women, children, couples dancing too. Of all ages. Very freely. Marie and I basked in the atmosphere and danced from the edge of the stage. It was wonderful.

Yesterday I finally had steak tartare, which is raw ground beef, a French tradition. I’d never had it before, and decided it was about time. I do love raw burger, especially  scraping it off when it’s just cooked around the edges while it’s cooking.  And I read that it is one of the ways to prepare it here, just seared on the outside. But since I didn’t know how to request that, I just ordered the tartare. It was very tasty, but perhaps a mistake.  My stomach was a tad upset last night. But I’m glad I tried it once.

 The preparation is mixed with a raw egg and some herbs and what tasted to me like horseradish. When I googled recipes later, they mentioned  anchovies, I think. Or was it capers? And served with salad and frites like almost every café lunch here,  and a basket of baguette slices. The waiter also brought over ketchup (Heinz) Tabasco sauce, and also Worcestershire. But I found it quite good as prepared.

Whoa, a burst of music suddenly from the park. I am sure it is one of the Luxembourg bandstand concerts. Maybe I should wander over.  Or I could just sit on my little balcony and listen.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Of massages and gommages, tangines and sweet tea.

Last night when I came home, the tower was enshrouded in fog. If I hadn’t known it was there, I wouldn’t have known. (very philosophical – if a tree falls in a forest…!)  Well, this is Paris, have to think philosophically.  After five or ten minutes, it began to emerge again. By 11pm it started its nightly dance of light, as always.  I’d promised myself to stay awake each night for at least  one five minute show. Haven’t missed it yet. There may have been a couple of nights when I saw all of them.  Can’t let myself miss it if I’m awake.

Now, here I am again with my late morning Tower ritual. I have to crane to see it from my comfy position on the couch, which I do every five or 10 minutes. Not sure why the compulsion. Will I ever again be able to stay in Paris without a view of the tower?  From here it’s like a toy version of itself. I almost feel as if I could reach out and pick it up, maybe spin it by the top like a top.  I’ve seen those at some point, top versions. But not this trip. Yet there are more permutations that you can imagine – in every size and every color,  keychains,  salt and pepper shakers,  photo holders with a clip at the top.  I’m starting to regret that I didn’t keep my own version from the Trashfinder’s Ball back in Beverly a few years ago. Comprising sheet metal, sheer silvery fabric from curtains I bought at the thrift store, paper clips, a lamp shade some silvery wallpaper I’d stripped from our bedroom wall, etc. Oh, did I say that it was a costume, and that I won the contest?!

How ironic that when the Tower was first built  there were many who hated and derided it. And now it’s become such an icon that it’s hard to imagine Paris without it. It floats like a cloud in our consciousness, sometimes obscured but still there.  It always makes me  consider what is beauty.  Something that was so antithetical to the French standard of beauty has now become  representative of the entire culture.

The Pompidous center is a bit like that, just in that it sits in the midst of buildings that are as opposite as one can get from its own design. I like the Pompidou, the looks of it at least, but I doubt  that in some future era it will be seen as representative of the culture. But, who knows.

Enough philosophy for one morning. Who knew I could get philosophical about Eiffel’s tower.
Life here continues to be a mix of wonderful adventures. The trick is to make some plans, but not be committed to them. Have a destination in mind but be open to being taken in a different direction. No goals that you might not reach. There’s a word for it in French, or have I already written about that here? I’ll have to look back and check.

The word is flaneur, basically an aimless wanderer.  I’ve read several definitions, some of which seem condescending, referring it to a gentleman of certain means who has nothing else to do. But others have a more positive connotation.

Yesterday I visited the Gustave Moreau Museum. I didn’t know all that much about his art, but like house museums, where the artist, inventor, etc. has lived. I still remember my visits to the Curie’s lab and to Victor Hugo’s house. 

The ground floor at the Moreau was small rooms crammed with mostly small paintings, most of which I didn’t much like. There were laminated card guides, but they didn’t give much info. I thought I’d be able to skim through the rest of the place. The next floor was supposed to be Moreau’s apartment, but I didn’t see any signs of it, just bathrooms, which looked old enough to have been the artist’s own. You know, the kind with a tank high on the wall and a pull chain.  

Next floor was more impressive,  a huge room with towering ceiling and many large paintings. It was just like those painting of artists' studios of the time.  There were big glass cases in the middle of the room, but they were empty, with a sign saying they’d removed the wax sculptures because of the heat wave. ( it was pretty cool that day, but I wonder for how long ago they’d removed them.)

There were many paintings of all sizes, covering pretty much every bit of the immense space.  These were either better, perhaps later, than the ones on the floor below, or I was just beginning to appreciate his work. I really wish there had been dates so I could determine when in his career they’d been done. For some reason,  many of the ones that attracted my attentions were representations of Salome. I hadn’t known much about her, but read that she was a Jewish seductress. Hmmm.  I’d better read some more.

Around the walls  below the windows were cases covered with curtains. When you pulled them back there were tons of those displays racks you often see in museum shops, displaying  prints and posters. The ones here were all Moreau’s work, sketches and  studies, in blacks and whites and in sepia tones. 
There were hundreds of them, all around the large room, and wooden stools to sit at while you persused them. The frames and the encasing cabinets were wood, maybe a darkened oak? And there were little brass mechanisms at the bottom of each, that you had to turn, like on a window sash, to be able to look thru them. I found the cases as beautiful as the art!

I selected a few to browse through.  Many people were doing the same. I was surprised, in fact, by how crowded the museum was, considering the number of museums in Paris. But apparently Moreau has many fans. I’d grown to like him myself in the hour or so I spent there. What intrigued me most in his work was a kind of lacy design he superimposed in many places. In some paintings it looked like the design of a diaphanous material. (ie on those depictions of Salome!) In other works it looked like tattoos on a person’s limbs. I was very pleased to read, on one of those laminated cards, that it was one of the more notable characteristics of Moreau’s work, and that I had noticed.

There was one additional level, up a spiral staircase, with many more large scale paintings, and from where you could also peer down for a different perspective on some of the works below.
Only on the way back down did I see the rooms of his apartment, which had apparently been closed earlier when I’d arrived. There was a sign about only letting a few people in at a time. But when the doors were closed earlier there’d been no sign indicating that they were there. Who knows? Just glad I got to see them. I'm not sure if they were the actual  rooms, or recreated.  

Before the museum, I’d been hungry, and it didn’t have a café like most of the museums here do. So I walked down the street a block or two, where there were lots of little lunch places, each with their own “formule” meal, these more for workers than tourists. I had my choice of Asian take out, sandwiches on baguettes, pizza,  etc. and browsed through a few before deciding.  I chose someplace with tarts and some other tasty looking things made with millefeuille dough, the kind spanakopita is made from. There were a variety, it was hard to decide. Finally I chose one that I read as having potatoes, cheese, olives, honey and some sprigs of greenery on top. I asked it it was very sweet, being thrown by the mention of honey.  It was delicious, but I’d been mistaken about the potatoes. It was actually apples (pommes) not potatoes (pommes de terre ) I’d been confused in the context where the others were all savory. But I’m glad I misunderstood, because it was not only wonderful but truly more savory than sweet, and at least for me, a very unusual combination.

After the museum, I strolled toward the Trinite stop, because from there I thought I could take the metro back with only one change. But I got diverted, in the best way, by stumbling across a series of the famous "passages." I’ve been to them before, even stayed once in the Hotel Chopin, which is located within one of the arcades, the Jouffry.  The famous old Grevin wax museum is there, too. I’ve never been, was surprised when I stayed there at how expensive the admission was. But now, I’d like to go. It was on the six day Museum Pass, but I ran out of time before I got to it.
The passages were built in the mid to late 1800’s to encourage people to shop and promenade without having to deal with the streets. They have high vaulted ceilings with an iron structure, very  aesthetic. Kind of an early form of the shopping mall. Some are elegant, some kind of run down. The Vivienne has beautiful mosaics. I noticed the Jouffry had had some face lifting since I’d been there. There were more upscale stores and less of the hole in the wall kind. And they’d restored and were still restoring some of the signage. But all in all it was nice, not overly gentrified. I spent a long time in a toy store there that had beautiful miniatures of things like produce carts and pastries.  Very Parisian, but at least some of them were made in Thailand, couldn’t tell about the others.  Ok, I bought a few.
I also stumbled upon a beautiful and old candy store, whose address I noted down, hoping I’ll have the chance to return. Beautiful even among the scores of elegant candy and pastry stores here.

I’ll backtrack a couple days to tell you about last weekend. I’d hoped to visit with Marie, my college friend from here who still lives in France. (she’s half French, half American, one of those hybrids with whom I went to school here, an interesting bunch.)  I only see her every five or ten years, and I believe there was a long period years ago where we weren’t in touch at all. Yet it’s one of those friendships that has lasted over time and space.

She lives in a beautiful town called Loches in the Loire Valley, and came up for a visit for the weekend.  I’d considered going down to visit her, but have been feeling kind of lazy (not about flaneuring around Paris, but about travelling out of town, perhaps because of my fall with my suitcase upon arriving here.)

And we had such a wonderful two days together. I’m not sure we have even spent any time together in Paris since we knew each other here such a long time ago. Marie had asked if I’d be interested in visiting the hamman, the traditional Arab baths located at the Paris Mosquee. (it’s got two syllables in French, emphasis on  the “ay.”   I was indeed interested, have been to the mosque itself before, but never to either the hammam or the café. Marie had been previously with her daughter.
And that is actually where we met, because it isn’t far from the train station, le Gare d’Austerlitz.  We had a sweet mint tea, served in glasses. Glanced in at the hamman and decided to return for the full monty, so to speak, the next day.  The package included a couscous  or tangine meal,  tea and pastry, use of the hamman, entry fee 18 E itself, a gommage (exfoliation) and a ten minute massage. The whole package was 68 euros, not bad for a one and a half hour visit plus a meal.
You wear a bathing suit, removing the top for the gommage  (exfoliation)  and massage, or just your underwear. There are a series of rooms which are various degrees of hot, and a cold pool, hot and cold showers, and marble slab areas where people reclined. It was all very beautifully tiled and exotic. In the room where they did the massages, people reclined afterwards,  drinking  mint tea, their bodies gleaming from the massage oil. Our massages were supposed to be 10 minutes. Marie thought hers was about 15, mine felt like 20 or even a half hour. It was hard to tell, I’d pretty much lost my sense of time.

There was a card on the wall describing the processes, and how to best enjoy them. One part of the description said one could experience the process wearing a bathing suit, or in the clouds. Obviously a mis-translation.  I guess the words for nude and cloud are similar.  I liked the metaphor, though.

The massage is done in one large room with four tables and masseuses.  Around the sides are banks of  heated marble areas on which to relax before or after your massage. (or both.)  The masseuses are very matter of fact, chat with each other as they do the massage. It was somewhat like the Gellert baths I went to in Budapest, which was equally beautiful and exotic in the environment. There there were actual coed swimming pools with a beautiful tiled deco look, as well as hot pools and cooler ones that were segregated by gender.

The massages there were done in one very laong room with a line up of tables, maybe a dozen, and the environment was almost medical, not so appealing.  And the masseuses there were rough!
Ah, if I could just combine the pools of the Budapest baths with the massages and marble reclining areas and meal of the Paris hamman.

We’d had our tagines before the hammam, because the restaurant closes at 3, then serves just tea and pastry the rest of the day. We weren’t sure we’d have time to do the hamman first. I had lamb with eggplant, it was delicious, and more than I could eat. They gave us take away bags for the rest and the pastry, which we got to choose from an enormous tray and assortment. We later gave our leftovers to two Muslim women we met on the street. They were a bit hesitant to take the food, until we assured them  that it had come from the Mosquee restaurant and was halal.

There’s more, particularly Paris Plage, and the Jardins Plantee,  from my sojourn with Maria. But I’d better wait to recount it if I want to have any time to do anything beside write today.
Today’s tentatively plan – to head for Belleville, home of edgy art street art and squats,  and a cultural mix of ethnicities, and the Buttes Chaumont, a park to which I’ve been before. It’s also where Edith Piaf’s apt is, I’ve been there too, but not inside. But who knows what may appeal to or divert me along the way.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Just another Paris morning, and the first thing that I saw...

So, I thought today would be a quiet day. My museum pass expired yesterday, after six days of intensive museum going. I decided to not plan anything for today, take it easy in the morning, write, do laundry, relax.  I went to sleep fairly early, 11 or midnight, and woke up somewhat late, around 830.     Had some coffee, heard some popping noises from the street below, and some that sounded like bicycle horns, and went out on my balcony to look. There was a bus parked across the street, and about a dozen people around it at the edge of the gardens. Some were wearing bright orange vests, the others had bright green ones. They looked like workers of some kind, perhaps sanitation. And they were setting off firecrackers. The first few noises startled me. Now, two hours later, I am still at the balcony, still not sure exactly what is going in.

It is certainly a demonstration of some kind, definitely political. Now there are hundreds of people gathered, many carrying banners, at the crossroads of my street, Gay Lussac,  and St. Michel, just a block away. I’ve tried to read the banners and listen to the chants, but have only made out fragments.  malheursement (unfortunately) chacque fois (each time).  At times, people were chanting in that familiar rhythm from so many marches and protests, different words but always that rhythm – as in Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, NLF is going to win.

I kept watching, waiting, trying to figure out what was happening. I  googled  – “ strikes and demonstration in Paris today” came right up, but it said that, to their knowledge, nothing was planned for today. Hmmm. Interesting that they have a a daily listing, as well as that there was nothing listed for today.

Now, a couple of hours later, I have yet to figure out what the story is. At first I thought it was going to be a cavalcade , probably with the president. Then, I thought it was a parade, and they were gathering at the top of the Boul Mich to march down.

I have a pretty panoramic view, at least of the top of the gardens, Someone is now making a speech. He has a very melodious voice. I cannot see him at all, only the gathered protesters. The firecrackers continue, with brief breaks, and their pungent smell has been wafting my way. What was startling a couple of hours ago now seems almost mundane. The first firecrackers had no color, just noise, but the later ones had bright smoke trails. The first ones were red and then blue and I thought, ok, patriotic. But then there were green and orange ones, so I sacked the patriotic theory.

. I have finally been able to make out one of the banners. Syndicat des Ruralists du Puy de Dome  I know Puy de Dome, have been there. Maybe I can look it up. But clearly some rural workers from outside Paris.

Now,after at least twenty minutes, maybe more, the man has stopped speaking and the throng is moving slowly away in a procession, along with the noise, down the Boul Mich. I don’t know how many more than the several hundred I could see may have been thronged further down, around the corner from where I could see.

I guess I was wrong about a cavalcade. I did see one procession of black police cars and one van, going down the street early one. Then, perhaps an hour later, there was another one, most likely the same one, going in the other direction. But it didn’t look like a procession that a politician or dignitary would be in.

At one point, I’d thought that the event was over. (before the man spoke) and that whoever they were awaiting had gone by. But no one dispersed, and so I continued to wait, making brief dashes to the bathroom and for food so as not to miss whatever was going to occur.

The small phalange  (or is that an oxymoron?)  of police officers standing by the entrance gate to the garden didn’t leave, and I decided to use them as my gauge. They are still there, five of them. Why at the gate?  Perhaps to corral any errant demonstrators that tried to flee if things got rough?  At one point they crossed  to their vans, five white ones, and got out their helmets. And crossed the street again, holding the helmets, not wearing them. Perhaps 10 minutes after that, they crossed the street again, in a single line, and put the helmets back away.

It was only then that I noticed their five vans were parked on my street, parked directly below me and in front of my door.  I hadn’t been able to see until I leaned over the balcony railing to watch where they were heading. I only leaned over for a minute, though, because I am feeling rather vertiginous recently, for reasons you will understand if you’ve read my previous entries.

Now, the sounds and people have gone. I had moved just inside my window to write, because I can't see my screen in the bright sunlight outside (.a shame.)The police officers were still there until just a few minutes ago, but have now left as well, so I guess the event is now over.  I can see some colored pigments in the street where everyone had been gathered, remnants of the firecrackers, which people might or might not notice if they look down as they cross the street. I’ll try to remember to look when I go out later.

I looked across and up and down my street several times during the demonstration, never saw anyone else watching from a window. I suppose most of them are at work.  Then again, I only saw one other person watching the Bastille Day fireworks from my building, and just one couple watching the flyover from the building across the street that same morning. Even in the street below me as I watched, most people seemed unconcerned and even unaware.

Just another Paris morning. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

How many museums can I squeeze into six days? A lot! Still more I want to see, though.

Some days later:

I’ve been too exhausted after day after day of long walks and multiple museum visits to write at night, and too eager to get going the next morning to write first thing.

I had thought about but decided against getting the six day museum pass, which allows unlimited museum and monument visits to participating venues. I’d thought that it would be too intensive and that it would be hard for me to get my money’s worth. Thought it would be better to spread my visits out since I am here for an extended time period. But then, as I walked up to the ticket booth at my first museum, I abruptly changed my mind. Today is day five, one more to go, and I have certainly gotten my money’s worth. 

Would I recommend it? It depends on your circumstances, what you want to see, what you’ve done in Paris before if you've been here before, how much time you will be here. There are also two and four day passes, but the value of the six day one is by far the best. They cost 49, 54, and 69 euros respectively.

Many monuments as well as museums are included, but those are all things I’ve done before and didn’t feel the need to do again. I would recommend it if you want to do a monument and a museum a day. The Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, La Chapelle,  the tour of the sewers (which I did years ago and loved, and it’s where part of Les Miz takes place!)  The Louvre, the Pompidou, the Orsay,  the Picasso, the Rodin.  The Quai Branley, and a whole lot more are included. At a few, including the Louvre and the Orsay (that’s the one with all the Impressionists, in the beautiful old train station) you even get to jump the lines.

So, let me tell you where I’ve been in the last five days: first, since I started in the afternoon(to get your best $’s worth, start in the am) was the Quai Branley. It’s basically a museum of cultures and ethnography, right in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. They have a beautiful garden and café where you can enjoy a citron presse, as I did, or a café or a glass of wine,  basking in the shadow of the tower.  I’d never been there before.  They have all kinds of wonderful artifacts, and currently had an exhibit called the Inca and the Conquistador. I am of course always taken with anything relating to Peru.  And was especially interested because we’d been to Cajamarca,  where Pizarro tricked and killed Atahaulpa. One part of the exhibit showed how they believed they’d recently discovered Pizarro’s remains.

I didn’t much care for the building itself, though. It was dark and disorienting, at least for me. I had to ask guards a couple of times where to go, not to find a particular thing, but just to follow the path of the exhibits. On the other hand, there were great s views of the tower through the scrims covering the windows

So that was museum day, or half museum day, one.  Oh, dear, I can’t even remember what day I went to which museums anymore. Think I’ve overdosed on art? Not really. Each day, each museum, even, I’m ready for more, have to pull myself away after a couple of hours. Let me just list where I’ve been, not necessarily in order, and give you a few impressions of each.

The Louvre, of course. I feel I have to go there more to see the museum, than anything in the museum, if that makes sense. The building itself, yes, but also the scene that it is.  I wasn’t going to even bother with the Mona Lisa, but in the end just had to, to see the crowds. The display is different than it was the last time I was there, which was also different from the time before. It’s so small, and I have to confess I would never pick it out from the hundreds, thousands I guess, of others there as one that particularly speaks to me. But you can’t really go to Paris and not see it, right? 

  There’s another portrait of a woman by da Vinci, although there’s some controversy over whether he really did it, in one of the outer corridors near the room where La Mona is. I really like that one much better, and wanted to pay it a visit. But I couldn’t find it, walked up and down the long corridor twice before I saw I a sign saying it was on loan to another museum, in Abu Dhabi, which I believe has a branch of the Louvre, an odd concept. 

I wasn’t sure if I was more disappointed to not be able to see it, or more pleased with myself that I knew it enough to realize that it wasn’t there. Anyway, look for it if you go, and also, on the other side of the same corridor, the four seasons faces,  all in vegetables and fruits, done by Arcipode in the 1500’s, which everyone always seems to like. I just read up a bunch more about him. These were the only ones I'd been familiar with, but he's done other botanical ones, and still others with other items, like one of a librarian that is comprised all of books. Apparently, he had a second round of fame when Dali rediscovered him in the early 20th century.

Before I went to the Louvre itself, I visited the Museum of Decorative Arts, which I’d been to before. It has wonderful exhibits, whole rooms full of art deco furniture and art.  I was amused by the bed coverings, which were a bit wrinkled and not perfectly tucked in.  I don’t know if that was intentional or if they just weren’t able to get the material to lie perfectly straight.  Funny the things one notices.
There are several parts to that museum, and since I didn’t see them all on the first visit, I went back the following day when I also went to the main part of the Louvre. I still haven’t seen it all, there’s a portion that’s the Museum of Publicity, which has many beautiful posters and probably a lot more, but I’m not sure I’ll get back to see that part.

In the Mode and Textiles museum, part of the Decorative Arts, which is part of the Louvre, was an exhibit totally about buttons, and I learned more about buttons then I ever knew. There were buttons and costumes going back centuries, some with photographs on them, some with political statements, some with diamonds and other jewels.

And there was a section with just jewelry, case afater case, in room after room.Stunning and mesmerizing, especially when I was the only one in the rooms.

Then there was the Musee D’Orsay, one of my favorites. The architecture is wonderful, one still gets the sense that it was once a train station.  And it’s filled with light, unlike the Branley which felt  claustrophic  to me. Its' the home of the Impressionists, many of which you'd recognize. It is also where I saw the Bonnard exhibit. He's an artist whose name I knew, but knew little about. I was just bowled over. It was one of those exhibits that just kept going and going and I couldn't get enough of it. Some of the brightest and beautiful colors I have ever seen. One of his favorites was bathroom scenes. I love bathrooms. Of course these also had beautiful women in them, which added to the appeal! 

There are so many wonderful pieces there, and so many that are familiar, that I just wander thru with a big grin on my face every time I go there, absorbing the ambience.  Gaughin, Picasso, Matisse, etc, all the master of that vintage.

In the Marais area, the 4th arrondissment, I visited the Picasso and Arts and Metiers museums one day, and the Jewish Museum the next.  I had planned to meet up with Matthew,   who I've known since he was a baby and the son of my friends Judy and John. Matthew lives in Paris now. It was he who connected me with the English speaking doctor who took out my stitches. Thank you Matthew!  I probably could have handled a French speaking doctor,  have done it before, but felt better being able to speak of my travails concerns in English.

Matthew and I somehow missed one another and didn’t rendezvous, however. I’m not sure how we missed each other. The plan was to meet in the café of the Arts and Metiers museum after his French class which meets there. That was great for me, as I had wanted to visit that museum anyway. Had never been there before, and it’s an unusual place, worth checking out.

I didn’t see Matthew, or anyone, in the café, and it was almost closing time, so I went out to the courtyard until the guards kicked everyone out and locked the gates. So how could we have missed each other?  I had wondered if I’d recognize him. But there weren’t too many young men by themselves, and how many single women his mother’s age could there have been? Unless there was more than one exit. Who knows.

The museum, though, was terrific. It’s basically a museum dedicated to the history of invention. There is room after room of machines and models dating back centuries, and the museum itself is a real throwback to another century. There were things ranging from scales to models of factories, just beautiful to look at. Loring and I were recently at a museum in Maine that had some of the same type of thing, but on a much smaller scale. (get it? haha.)

I went to the Picasso Museum, which is just the right size to be able to see everything in one visit, with many masterpieces of course, from his many periods  ( do people still refer to his blue, and other periods? It seems I haven’t read or heard those references in recent years.)
Like many of the museums, the Picasso is in an old mansion, and the building is as impressive as the art it houses.

This morning I went to the Jewish Museum, also in an old mansion, in the Marais, which was once the Jewish quarter.  And then, this afternoon, to the Pompidou. I think the Pompidou still remains my favorite, despite the odd exterior. I don’t mind it design wise, even though it sticks out contrarily in the neighborhood of otherwise regal buildings. After all, that’s what modern art is supposed to do, right, confront our values, of art and beauty, etc.  But as Loring pointed out years ago, it wasn’t constructed with a thought to practicality, is impossible to keep clean, etc. And it’s gotten worse, looks less playful, more grimey. But the art inside is still amazing. So many famous pieces, and so many I discover each time I go. Of course, one could say that about the Louvre, and most any other museum, contemporary or traditional.  I soaked up as much as my mind and time would allow. And wouldn’t mind going back again while I’m here. Will have to see what Loring wants to do on his three days here. I ‘ve got lots of possible suggestions.

The Jewish Museum, and the Arab Cultural Center, excited me less. I’ve been to the Arab before, and maybe the Jewish, I’m not sure.  In an odd way, I’m glad that neither of them makes the top of my list. I’d feel bad if I loved one, not the other! 

At the Jewish museum, what caught my eye, perversely I guess, was several different paintings depicting circumcisions. Can’t say I’ve ever noticed any such before. They all took place several centuries ago, so it was just interesting to see the ceremony depicted. And then there was another display case, in a different room, of circumcision instruments.  Sorry to say, but that’s what caught my eye. They also brought back a memory of my going to a circumcision, and watching  with everyone else from  behind a glass wall. It probably would have been my brother’s, but perhaps not. Is that something you’d bring a three year old to?

In the Arab museum there were a lot of beautiful items. There were in the Jewish too, it was just that they didn’t much catch my eye in either, maybe it was my mood, maybe it was the way they were displayed, maybe it was that they were mostly religious items(but then again you’d say that about the endless paintings of the Annunciation, Crucifiction, etc. in most any museum.) And I do get tired of those as well.

 I did especially like the costumes in both museums, and strangely noticed a number of Jewish related items, and Christian as well, in the Arab culture museum. There were a few mezzuzahs, the prayer vessels that Jews put on the outside of their doors, and other things.  One of the things I did not like about the Arab museum was their displays, the descriptions were very hard to read .  I didn’t see any explanation of why they included Jewish and Christian items, not that I was sorry they did.  I’ve always had a hard time with the word Anti-semitic, because Arabs are Semitic, right?  So what statement was the museum trying to make?  Further research needed.

There was a Hip Hop exhibit at the Arab Museum, titled “ Hip Hop: From the Bronx to the Arab Streets.”  There was a separate entry fee and I was too tired to go. It will be there a few more days so perhaps I will. How can I resist an exhibit that mentions the Bronx?!  Yes, I definitely should go. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how an Arab museum in Paris depicts the Bronx.  Hip hop really did start in the Bronx, in my own neighborhood in fact, at a party in the early 1970’s, just a few years after my family moved away.  I’ve always been amused to see Bronx t-shirts in the flea market here. It seems to have a certain cache, shall I say.