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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.

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