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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. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Musings and meanderings, and remembrance of a few things past

 The delight of having over three weeks to spend here is that I don’t  have to feel rushed to accumulate as many experiences as possible in as little time as I can. I’ve been taking it easy, mostly just walking through different parts of the city each day and seeing where I wind up.  The only thing I've really planned and followed through with so far was  a dance concert at the Opera Bastille yesterday. And in that case I didn’t know if I’d actually get in to the free Bastille Day performance, so was prepared for it not to happen.

The Opera House is a huge modern building that I think of as the new Opera, although it has been there for several decades. The building is a stark contrast to the original Opera, which is now called the Opera Garnier (and is where the Phantom of the Opera is supposed to have taken place.)  I don’t remember ever having attended a performance at the Garnier, but I have taken a tour of the beautiful building, and would do again.  And I’d never seen a performance at the Bastille, until yesterday. Yes, I did get in. I was there an hour and a quarter before the performance, and the line was already several blocks long. Long blocks. I was dubious as to whether everyone in line would get in, but the line kept getting longer, until we began to move in about 45 minutes before the performance.  There was still plenty of room left, in the mezzanine and balconies, but also even in the orchestra. I was able to find a seat in the 10th row on the side, not a bad seat at all. Having known nothing about the performance, I had no expectations. It was close to two hours long, without intermission.  It began with two male dancers, the second piece had a single female dancer, and then various pieces had differing numbers of performers. It was mostly quite modern, and yet in several pieces the female dancers were on toe, although not in traditional movements.  At the end I was amazed to see that there had been about 40 different dancers. What I thought was the same people in each part was actually many different dancers.

I liked some of it very much, and some not very much at all. The music was great, reminding me of some Stravinsky with a good measure of jazz thrown in, and even a bit of West Side Story rumble.  I was just happy to be there, soaking in the atmosphere. What better place to be on Bastille Day than at the Opera Bastille at the Place de la Bastille? And how do they get all those flags up there to the top of the monument?!

Well, actually, to answer my own question, an even better place was on my balcony later last night, when the fireworks began and lasted about 40 minutes, and I had an incredible view. 

Back for a moment to the dance performance – later yesterday, after the performance,  I googled it. The work is called L’Anatomie de la Sensation, by Wayne MacGregor.  I read a review in English by, I think, a British reviewer who absolutely panned it. I’ll have to read some more, and see it that’s been the general reaction or just this particular critic.  I definitely concurred with some of her opinions, about some of the dancers’ grotesque undulations, but I found parts of it really wonderful, that the critic also detested.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been at a dance performance where the dancers keep coming forward 
for curtain call after curtain call, it’s such a pleasing tradition. At the beginning of the performance, the orchestra played the Marseillaise and everyone stood and sang along. I wondered if that was also a tradition or it it was just because it was Bastille Day. I looked online at the ticket prices for the regular performances, and guess my seat would have cost about 50 or 60 euros.

My back up plan for yesterday, which I’ll have to save for another day, was to walk along the Promenade Elevee, which is an elevated garden along former railroad tracks that was the inspiration for New York’s High Line. I’ve been there once before, some years ago, before the High Line was built. I do want to go back now, see how they compare. It starts right at Bastille, in fact right where I got in line for the performance.

After the dance  I walked along the Seine, stopping from time to time to look at some of the bookseller’s stalls, although I didn’t see much of interest, except for a lot of Charlie Hebdo old issues. I wonder if they’ve been selling more of them since the shootings several months ago, where a number of the paper’s employees were killed.

I remember their being much more in the way of engravings and really old magazines and illustrations in the past. Has the supply of those diminished, or are those sellers just in certain places along the river?

I had expected most everything to be closed for the holiday. Some businesses and restaurants were, but many were open. The cafes were filled with what seemed like both visitors and locals. I guess café culture in Paris doesn’t slow down for holidays.

I wasn’t trying to find it, but was thrilled to stumble across another store, in the Marais, where a woman sells items of straw that she makes, hats but also jewelry and other items. Last visit, I didn’t find her place, and assumed it was gone.  trips ago, so perhaps 6 or 8 years ago, I’d bought an amazing necklace from her.  I was so happy to find her shop still there, although it was closed yesterday. I even had brought with me from home the necklace she made back then. I must go back when she’s open, and make sure to wear the necklace.  It’s not too far from the doctor’s office where I plan to go to have my stitched removed.

I anticipated Bastille day, and especially the fireworks, for several days. It hadn’t even occurred to me when I booked this apartment that, with my terrific view of the Eiffel Tower, I should also have a great seat for the fireworks.  And I did. The day started with the flyover of the military planes that starts the parade up the Champs Elysees. I saw the parade, a few years ago, the same year I saw Lance accept his award at the end of the Tour de France. I like parades, but this is a total military one, and once was enough for me. The flyover, on the other hand, was spectacular. I hadn’t expected it, and the planes flew so low over the Champs that I was startled. And they kept coming.

I'd had no idea whether I’d be able to see the planes from the apartment. Early in the am,  loud noises t awakened me. It was only 5am and the noise was the trash collectors. I went back to bed. Some hours later I woke again. The planes were due to flyover at 10:45.  And there they were, group after group of them, for about 10 minutes duration.  It didn’t have the same impact as having them fly directly overhead, but it was impressive nevertheless. I noticed, on a balcony across the street from me, a couple also watching. They were both wearing their pajamas, as was I. I waved and they waved back. I looked for them again last night for the fireworks, but they weren’t there. I’m not sure the apartments across the street have a view of the tower. I’m thinking not.

Today, I woke up with tentative plans to go to the Quai Branly Museum, but, as you might have guessed, never made it there. I wound up taking it easy once again, then wandering out mid afternoon and meandering  through the Latin Quarter. I stayed off of the Boul Mich, in quieter streets. I eventually sat down at a corner café,  more thirty than hungry.  I was hoping but not expecting that they would have citron presse on the menu. I’ve looked at a lot of menus in passing and not seen it listed with the drinks. Citron presse is basically do it yourself lemonade.  They bring you a glass half filled with fresh lemon juice, it must be at least two lemons’ worth, plus a pitcher of water and a container of sugar. I used to ask for an additional glass, and more water, but also used to get weird looks from waiters when I did. I didn’t feel like getting any weird looks today. The lemon is so strong, that even watered down and sugared up it puckers up your cheeks. So I just kept diluting and diluting it as I went along.

I eventually did make it down to the river, and the back of Notre Dame, and then started heading back uphill, along the Boul Mich. My destination was the Monoprix supermarket, only a few blocks from home, to replenish food supplies.  When I got back here, I made a terrific soup, using the last of the  leftover chicken wings from my Franco-Carribbean meal  a few days ago, with vegetable and pasta and fresh bread.  Delicious, and there’s enough left for another meal. The mushrooms I used in the soup looked, but didn’t taste, like baby bellas at home. They were much more robust. The label just said Paris blonds, so am not sure what they are.

I have to confess I bought some Magnum chocolate chocolate ice cream bars, and am trying to decide whether I have room for one for dessert right now. There are fresh ice cream stands all over, but I had an urge for a Magnum, and to have it in the fridge for when I wanted it.

Writing about the Boul Mich, and in mind of my recent disaster on the escalator, I am remembering that I once before hurt myself and wound up in the hospital in Paris, many years ago.  It was late at night, I was surely not sober, and was riding down the Boul Mich on the shoulders of a friend, who was also surely not sober. He tripped and fell and therefore so did I, from about six feet up. I vaguely remember an ambulance, and remember much better a hospital ward like something out of Madeline, where I spent the night in pain, and listening to the pain of many others, without knowing what I had done to myself. I had dislocated my shoulder, the first of many dislocated shoulders to come. ,  but didn’t get it relocated until the next morning.  That seems pretty feudal, leaving someone overnight with their shoulder out of its socket. Then again, some years later, I also slept overnight, with same shoulder dislocated, in the wilds of New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness.  (but that time, it wasn’t for lack of trying – Loring did try, but unsuccessfully, to yank it back in.)

So is there a lesson here, about Paris, especially this neighborhood, and ambulances and visits to the hospital?  Not that I can think of. Stay away from Paris? No way. Stay sober?  I may have been young and foolish the first time, but can’t think of anyone or anything to blame this time, aside from age and escalators and top heavy suitcases.

Well, that takes care of yesterday and today’s annals, which leaves Monday to recount. Let’s see…
That was the day I took the RER, which is the commuter line, that stops right here(yes, the one whose escalator  I tumbled down) out to the Gare du Nord, just to put myself in another part of the citiy to start walking from. The RER line is the one that goes out to the airport, so very convenient for arriving and leaving the city. It connects at Chatalet to a number of different metro lines. But I hate Chatelet station, because it is huge, and you go on walking for blocks underground just to transfer. And for some reason, probably just to drive me crazy, the signs for changing to the RER B, my line, keep saying 4 minutes walk, no matter how far you have already walked, and it’s really about 15 minutes. 
So I didn’t want to walk thru Chatelet  if I didn’t have to, and Gare du Nord is the last stop on the B line before it goes express to the airport. So, Gare du Nord it was. I don’t think I’d ever been in the neighborhood aside from heading to take a train. It is largely Indian, with many Indian restaurants and clothing stores, with plastic mannikins in the windows wearing elaborate Indian outfits. 

I walked and walked, coming out eventually to the Opera Garnier and to Galeries Lafayette, one of the famous department stores.  The interior of the building has an exquisite gilded dome with stained glass. Some people were, like I was, taking pictures. But most people, and there were hordes of them, were shopping, pawing through handbags and scarves and looking at watches and perfume, because July is the time of the” soldes”, when everything is on sale. Some of the shoppers were, I suppose, Parisian, but most of them were clearly tourists, the majority of them Asian.  Some of the designer boutiques within the store for brands with names I recognized, were so crowded that they had lines monitored by guards allowing a few people in to the space at a time. I have never before seen a store this crowded.  And the prices weren’t cheap, even on sale. I looked at some handbags that were marked down to several hundred euros. And this was in the outer part of the store, not the inner enclaves.  One of the boutiques made me chuckle – Urban Outfitters.  Does that have the same kind of cache in Paris that a French brand would in the US?

Well, I just looked up to see the Tower doing its nightly twinkling. Not quite as spectacular as last night’s fireworks, but still a nightly treat, so I’ll stop to watch.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Woman descending(up) escalator

Woman Descending  Escalator.

Here I am ensconced in my Paris apartment, on the 5th day of my month long trip. My French sojourn has not exactly begun auspiciously, in more ways than one.

I had been enrolled in a volunteer program to create a mosaic wall, in a housing project outside of Paris. I had begged and pleaded to be accepted into the group, which was full when I found out about it. It would have been my second mosaic project, and my fourth project in France. They eventually accepted me, I booked my ticket, as well as one for Loring to join me three weeks later. And then, within a couple of weeks, they abruptly cancelled the project. I am not sure whether to accept their explanation, that the mayor of the town had suddenly backed out. But Concordia is a reputable organization. I have done projects with them before. They were apologetic, and Volunteers for Peace, the U.S. coordinating organization thru which I’ve done almost all my volunteer projects, was even more so.

After a few days I got over my anger and frustration, and reconciled myself to spending  three weeks in Paris without plans. I found a terrific apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower. From my sofa or my bed, or one of the three tiny balconies with room for a small chair, I can watch the light show  every night. And from where I sit as I write, all I need to do is to look up to see the Tower, which I compulsively do every few minutes, as if to make certain that it’s still there,  or perhaps, more accurately, that I am really here.

But the frustration of the cancelled project pales in comparison to what occurred just upon my arrival here. I emerged from the metro at the Luxemburg stop, literally across the street from my apartment, where my airbnb host, Pierre, and I were supposed to meet. But before I reached the top of the escalator, my suitcase began to topple backwards, and I must have reached out to grab it. I remember toppling back down the escalator myself, attempting to get up, and falling again.
A woman helped me up, down at the bottom of the escalator.  I must have been falling faster than it was going up.  She helped me up to the top again, where I attracted a small crowd. I remember being handed lots of tissues as the blood streamed down my face, and someone calling the pompiers. (firefighters, they also are the ambulance drivers)  I kept trying to explain that my “friend” Pierre( who I hadn’t yet met) was waiting for me across the street. Someone fetched him, as well as a nice red and beige woven chair from the nearest café . As the pompiers arrived and pulled up onto the sidewalk, I asked him to get the kind woman’s name and number and asked him to take my suitcases up to the apartment.  Pierre told me to call him when they released me from the hospital.
Several hours later, after  a number of xrays and many stitches, they did release me. Everyone had been very kind, and efficient. At one point, I had two doctors stitching up different parts of me at the same time.

The upshot – I have a quite Frankensteinian  gash across my forehead, truly grotesque looking. I am not exaggerating.  I have about a dozen mean looking stitches there, and more stitches on one knee and the other hand, as well as gory looking gashes on my leg that I think must be from the edges of the escalator steps.  Oh, and they said my nose is broken. I keep forgetting that, because it doesn’t really hurt much, except to the touch, and there isn’t much to do about a broken nose anyway.
I didn’t go out again on Wednesday, my arrival day, aside from going home from the hospital. I went out for about a two hour walk the next day,  down and back up the Boulevard St. Michel (Boul Mich, I assume they still call it that, like Mass or Comm Ave in Boston.)  By that time my eyes had both swollen up and turned purple(notice how this is more a description of my wounds than of the beautiful  city I am in!)  Nevertheless, with a hat and dark glasses and long sleeves and skirt, I felt sufficiently disguised(whether I looked it is another story) to venture out without scaring anyone.
So I paraded up and down the Blvd. reminiscing to myself about the crepe man who  once was there decades ago and always remembered my order, always the same, a chocolate coconut crepe.  I think that combination was my own invention. He, and the stand, are long gone, but I am happy that there are still a number of crepe stands around the street, and I intend to go back for one soon.  There are plenty of crepe places around the city, but the ones on the Boul Mich are a quick walk from my current apartment. closer, actually, than where I lived back then.

I walked past the beautiful Cluny garden, where plenty of people were sitting and reading, or just sitting, and resolved to go back there soon, and to the adjoining museum too. Stopped at Monoprix to get some groceries, as much as I could carry. It’s only about 4 blocks from the apartment. Next time I should probably bring along my little wheeled bag. Most people seem to have them for shopping
At the bottom of the street by the fountainwere the ubiquitious, it seems in every city, hip hop dancers,  not terrifically talented but high on chutzpah.  When I walked by the first time it was one group, when I headed back it was another, with the same shtick, differing only in the colors of their skin.  They seem to be a genre onto themselves, minimally talented hip hop dancers who tease, one might say harass, audience members who don’t seem hip enough to appreciate their talent.  I moved a bit further back, in case my bruises weren’t enough to scare them off.

Friday I decided to venture out a bit further, across the Luxemburg Gardens into the 7th arrondissment. I was relying somewhat on a book of Paris walks I’d had since several trips ago.  I wanted to find the house where Gertrude Stein, and her brother, and Alice B. Toklas, had lived and hosted their famous salons. (as I have said, only half or two thirds jokingly) part of the inspiration for our salons.  I did find it, and the plaque on the wall to commemorate it, at 27 rue de Fleurus.  There, the Steins and Toklas hosted the likes of Picasso, Hemingway, Matisse,  Joyce, Wilder, Pound, and many, many more. What  would it be like to live now in a place with such historical  significance?
 Of course, there are many such places and plaques in Paris. I also walked by a building with a plaque indicating that Whistler had lived there, which hadn’t been noted in my book.
 The gardens are lovely, if a bit too formal for my taste. There are chairs everywhere, people sitting and basking in the sun (it felt a bit too hot for me) kids with poles trying to corral the little sailboats in the central pond.  (I can see them now from my window.)   Tennis courts, playgrounds,  ice cream stands.   There’s a museum there too, which I have never been to and will have to check out. There was another small building with an exhibit of engravings and prints (this theme seems to have followed me from Havana to here) all for sale, each, if I understood the sign right, for 150 Euros.  Kind of an unusual way to price things.  Luckily or not, I didn’t see one I couldn’t resist.
One corner of the gardens, on my side, is the Medicis fountain. It’s a little more leafy and shaded, a cosy area to which I hope to return.  There’s also an area for concerts, also near my side, and if I don’t attend one I hope to at least listen to one from my balcony.

Yesterday, Saturday, after a slow morning at home, I headed out for the Clignacourt flea market, a must for me on any trip here.  Although I’ve been there many times, I still find out of the way little corridors that I don’t think I’ve discovered before. A lot of the place is really antiques, expensive ones, good because I can bypass them. I like the funky places with at least some reasonable prices.
I couldn’t find my go to store at first, and got a lttle panicky. I thought it was no longer there. It turns out I was in the wrong arcade,  it was the one next door. I couldn’t imagine how it could be gone, the place seems like it’s been there for over a hundred years.  If it has a name, I don’t know it. They carry buttons and ribbon and barrettes and combs and eyeglasses and beads and other assorted sundries.  Some of it is vintage, but I think a lot of it is not.  I’ve bought my hair combs either there, or the same ones in the US, imported from France, at places like Casa de Moda. But here they have an enormous collection, overwhelming, really.  I bought three pairs, and may go back for more I looked at the vintage eyeglasses but didn’t buy any. (yet)   My face looks so horrible I couldn’t imagine taking my hat and glasses off to try some on. So I’ll try to go back next week, maybe after the stitches come out 
  Hey, I just realized this morning that the glasses I was wearing when I fell are kind of bent out of shape. That may be why they feel a little more comfortable than my other ones. But this will be a perfect rationalization for getting a new pair. 

I was hungry when I left the marche and so headed to a café and asked if they served food. They did, although I seemed to be the only one who ate anything in the hour or so I was there.  I ordered chicken, which I was told was broiled and came with broiled bananas. A woman, the cook , came out to confirm my order. The chicken turned out to be somewhat spicy fired wings, with bananas, a salad, and a ton of fries. It was clearly African or Caribbean influenced, and really good.  I ate about half the chicken and   bananas, and all the salad and fries which I didn’t think would last well. So now I’ve got another meal in the fridge. Aside from me, there were several tables with a couple or few at each. As it got later, more and more people arrived, who knew the ones already there and joined them. Clearly a neighborhood place.

Today, Sunday, began on an odd schedule. I hadn’t fallen asleep until after 3am, and hence didn’t wake up until after 11am. For a while I thought I might not go out at all, but finally, after writing for a few hours, I decided to get dressed, had some pasta (my comfort food) and headed out, without much of a plan. Sometimes that’s the best way. I walked through the Latin Quarter, thronged with tourists, and over to and past Notre Dame, likewise crowded. I was aimed in the general direction of the Marais, and then, hopefully, beyond.  My experience with the Marais, which dates back 5 years ago and more, is that it has become overly trendy and expensive, chic but no longer the quaint Jewish quarter with delis and other Jewish businesses it once was.  According to what I’ve read, this trend has even increased since I was last there. So I was heading toward the less gentrified section, in the 3rd rather than 4th arrondissement. Before I knew it, I was there in the third, having somehow bypassed most or all of the 4th. No problem, I can go back there if I want to, although I’m not sure I will even want to.

 Last time I visited, the beautiful old deli with the mosaic wall was gone, replaced by some trendy clothing store, although they’d kept the wall. Sad. There were a couple of interesting craft stores, too, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been priced out by now too, and either moved or gone out of business. I need to find out where the craftspeople and poor artists have gone.
I walked thru the mostly empty streets of the quartier, almost everything closed up because it was Sunday. It was a striking contrast to the mobbed streets near the Latin Quarter and Notre Dame through which I’d just come. I stopped at a couple of little parks along the way. I’d thought I might read, but found my mind too distracted, and so just stopped to look at the map and decide which way to head.

I eventually emerged at the Place de la Republique, where I probably spent the next two hours. There was an amazing assortment of people and things happening. First, the enormous statue that dominates the place, a black figure on a white pedestal, surrounded by a fountain,  was surrounded by people, and covered by graffiti and signs plastered all over the statue and base.  As I came closer, I saw that many of them said Je Suis Charlie, a reference to Charlie Hebdo, the progressive satirical newspaper whose editor and ten employees had been murdered a few months ago. Most people sitting around the statue seemed merely to be resting, in the Parisian manner, rather than having anything to do with the signage.  There were a few taking photos, like me.

Down toward one end of the large plaza, I saw a large grafittied wall that looked like it had been installed intentionally, perhaps by the government, or maybe just allowed to stay there. I couldn’t discern any particular message. There was a pile of bags, some with clothing, one with a KFC logo, piled against the graffiti wall, along with a large stuffed tiger. Three men were sitting on a bench nearby, and I guessed that the bags belonged to them.  They looked fairly content, not broken or hungry. I wondered which one of them, if any, the tiger belonged to.

There were a number of homeless people in and around the plaza, more than I’d noticed in my other walks around the city. One was a group huddled in a doorway, an entire family, parents and at least a half dozen children.  It’s very hard for me to see homeless people, especially children. I try to give out a Euro or two a day, same as at home, mostly to assuage my own guilt, because how much difference can it really make? Although people do often seem truly appreciate it. And maybe that’s enough, to know you’ve made a difference to someone, however small, in recognizing their humanity.

From the fountain and statue, I could make out something else colorful, at the other end of the plaza from the graffiti wall and perhaps homeless men. I went closer, expecting something political. As I came closer, I realized that it was lego, lots of it, spread out on several mats on the ground, with a number of children assembling things. It was an interesting juxtaposition with the white lego installment on the High Line in New York, which I’d stumbled upon a few weeks ago. There, there were more adults than children building, although there were plenty of kids too. Here, it was entirely children.  Most of their parents were sitting on benches nearby.   Many adults don’t sit on the ground, even though there were mats. Maybe if they had some tables up too, some adults would be encouraged to build too, with their kids or separately.

 The lego was just a part of what was a whole aire des jeux, or playground, for kids and adults too.  They had another words for it, too, which I'll have to look up, which meant toy library.

One section was all tables, where  groups of kids,  kids and grown ups, and groups and pairs of adults were playing games, all kinds of games, checkers, chess, boxed games, all borrowed from a kiosk called a toy library. I’d never seen anything like it.   There were v people in red aprons, dispensing games, giving advice, picking up stray pieces of lego, plastic fruits and vegetables that had fallen out of miniature shopping carts, etc.  I assume they were also available to mediate disputes when necessary about sharing toys, etc. But I only saw one conflict. In general everyone seemed to play well together, and I watched for quite a long time.

There were small scenarios, with painted backdrops, a grocery store and a pizza shop, and the accompanying toys for creative play, plastic foods and plates and grocery carts.

There was one girl, perhaps nine or so, who was buiiding a very tall, very narrow lego tower. Every time it got too high and fell, she smiled and started again. A couple of times she asked her father to help, until it was way over her head.  Then, along came another girl, a slightly smaller version of the builder and clearly her sister. She’d been hopping around on a bouncy plastic hippo for quite some time, although I hadn’t noticed they were related. All of a sudden, she deliberately ran her hippo into her sister’s building. The older girl began to cry. The younger one laughed. The dad did nothing.  This happened several times, the younger one provoking the other, until the dad finally intervened. Meanwhile the older girl took the hop on hippo, ran off with it until I couldn’t see her anymore. She came back without it, and resumed her building. The younger bully sister moved on to a game on the other side of the kiosk. 

I told one of the employees that I’d never seen anything like it. He said, that’s because there isn’t anything like it, anywhere. He may be right. I’ll have to do some more research. He said this is the third year. They do it all summer, although not every day. I think it might be weekends and Wednesdays.At 7:30 he blew a whistle and announced, un demi heure, that a half hour was left.

I topped off the evening with an excellent crepe, made by a very skilled crepe maker at a small shop alongside the Place. He had three griddles going, and took orders more than three at a time, most of them in English. I was very impressed by his technique and ability to keep everyone’s orders straight, especially since most of them were in English.

This is the first day I have actually had three meals, for whatever that’s worth. I had my traditional French breakfast, which no, is not a croissant, but these crackers that are like hard toast, topped with jam. I had this first when I was first in France, when I was 17, and   was what my host mother in Avignon served us every morning, accompanied by huge cups, bowls really, of coffee. Then it was orange marmalade plus butter. I’ve tried, mostly successfully, to give up on the butter. This time I’ve substituted fig jam for the orange. I have no idea if this is really a typical French breakfast, or was almost 50 years ago, or if it was merely what my host mom happened to serve

So that was my breakfast, along with coffee and grapefruit.  That’s my own addition, I’m addicted to it.I  don’t  know how common grapefruit even is here, in fact in the grocery store in says, origin US.
For lunch, which was probably about 3 or 4pm, I made my regular at home comfort food, macaroni and cottage cheese. I still am in need of some daily soothing from my injuries, and that did the trick.

Wait a minute, what was I thinking? I take it back about the three meals, unless I count the crepe as a meal, which I guess is exactly what I was doing.

It was a crepe to top all crepes, and I seemed to throw the crepier (I may have made that up) for a loop with my order. They had chocolate on the menu, as well as Nutella, with all kinds of additions, like coconut, banana, Grand Marnier. I told him I wanted chocolate, though, not Nutella, with coconut  and Grand Marnier. I think he just wasn’t sure what to charge me, but wound up taking 5 euros, just a half euro more than for the same combination with Nutella. That seemed reasonable.

You may have noticed, as I have, that my food intake has not been the most healthy. I do have zucchini, and spinach, and endive in the fridge, along with my leftover chicken and bananas from yesterday and some meat and other things left over from some previous person.  I’ll eventually get around to eating more healthy stuff I suppose.