Last Days

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My last few days this year — Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — were more of a denouement than a peak. I had no house guests, and my only social events were a play and an impromptu dinner party at my apartment on Wednesday night. I did see two good art museums, but mostly just walked around, did a lot of blogging and reading, bought a few gifties, finally sent my postcards, etc. I have often remarked that a trip is too short if you aren’t ready when it’s time to go home; this year I’m ready.

My first art outing was to the Grand Palais to see their Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso show: discussed in my previous post.

On Wednesday I trekked out to yet another banlieue, Vitry-sur-Seine, to see (for the first time) the contemporary art museum of Val de Marne, MAC-VAL. It takes a solid hour to get there, the first half on the métro and the second half by bus. I learned by harsh experience that you don’t buy a ticket to Vitry-sur-Seine — that works only on the métro and RER — you just use one normal métro ticket for each leg of the journey. I’ll put up a photo set eventually, but here’s a clip of one of my favorite pieces:

Wednesday evening Zhizhong and I saw a student production, Dom Juan 2016, at the charming Théâtre Adyar in the 7ème. The students themselves were very easy on the eyes, and their energy and intensity was admirable, but both Zhizhong and I found the French challenging. We could follow the overall concept but the details and jokes were often lost on us. After the show we met up with Guillaume and pulled together a last-minute dinner at my apartment. I’m happy to report that at the end of the evening I was still sober enough to stagger the length of the apartment into bed.

Zhizhong and Guillaume at an impromptu dinner at my 2016 apartment, on my last night in Paris!

Zhizhong and Guillaume at an impromptu dinner at my 2016 apartment, on my last night in Paris!

Thursday morning I cleaned, packed, and — for you, gentle reader — blogged.

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Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso

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On Monday, after catching up on my blog I had lunch at Pur and went over to the Grand Palais to see their Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso show. I had never heard of de Souza-Cardoso so I hadn’t felt motivated to see the show earlier, even though I did like the photo in the poster. But Antoine encouraged me to put it back on my list. It turned out that I hadn’t heard of de Souza-Cardoso because he died at 30 in the flu epidemic of 1918. Over the previous seven years, however, he produced a remarkable body of work, arguably as protean as the ever-changing styles of Picasso himself.

Le Saut du lapin, 1911, by Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso

Le Saut du lapin (The Leap of the rabbit), 1911, by Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso

Unknown title (Portrait de Paul Alexandre ?), about 1917, by Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso

Unknown title (Portrait de Paul Alexandre ?), about 1917, by Amadeo de Souza-Cardoso

Despite the radical changes in style I was quite taken with this show, and have put up a photo set of my favorite pieces — still only a small sample of what’s in the show.

Last Weekend

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These past two years my cousin Lisa — so big a part of my Paris experience in earlier years! — has been in Uganda working on her Ph.D. She’s still looking after me, however, and she suggested a dinner with our mutual friends Ali and Zhizhong. We met at my place on Friday evening for an apéro, then ate at nearby Foodi, where I had dined my first night in Paris this year.

Ali, Zhizhong and me on our way to dinner.

Ali, Zhizhong and me on our way to dinner.

There was a snafu about our reservation — I’ve found that smaller restaurants often don’t notice last-minute reservations made through the Fork — but we just had to kill half an hour at Hoppy, and then could be seated.

Zhizhong and me at Foodi

Zhizhong and me at Foodi (photo credit, Ali)

Ali and I had bento boxes, but Zhizhong was thrilled to get a traditional Chinese dish, Zongzi. In a beloved legend packets of rice were thrown into a river to distract fish from eating the body of a hero.

Zhizhong's Zongzi Traditionnelle at Foodi

Zhizhong’s Zongzi Traditionnelle at Foodi

Ali headed home after dinner but Zhizhong and I got into a deep conversation, mostly about the opportunities, challenges and temptations of his new job. He’s working like crazy, but also coming into contact with upper levels of French business and society that raise all sorts of interesting questions. We used to have conversations like this back in Cambridge while he was working on his Ph.D., but this is the first really long talk we’ve had in the 3-1/2 years he’s been living in Paris. It was after 3 am by the time he headed home, and I staggered into bed!

I understandably got a late start on Saturday, then strolled over to the Palais Royal to do some reading.

Reading at the Palais Royal

Reading at the Palais Royal

I grabbed a quick and cheap lunch at Lina’s on Etienne Marcel, then strolled over to the left bank via the Louvre. You see teams of four heavily-armed soldiers all over Paris. Usually I’m reluctant to take their picture but I did take this shot to give you the idea. From one perspective they make me feel safer and from another perspective they make me uneasy.

Well protected Eiffel tower seller at the Louvre

Well-protected Eiffel tower seller at the Louvre

My destination was the little district of art galleries in the 6ème arrondissement near the École des beaux-arts. I had slighted this area despite my interest in art because I had the impression that these would be schlock galleries catering to tourists. There were a few of those towards the Latin Quarter but overall I was quite impressed with the quality of the galleries in this area.

Snow bicycle by Jacques Carelman at the Galerie les Yeux Fertiles

Snow bicycle by Jacques Carelman at the Galerie les Yeux Fertiles

After the galleries started closing I strolled across the Latin Quarter to rue Monge, and headed up to a student-run restaurant I had read about, the Foyer Vietnam, in the 5ème. Mysterious from the outside because its windows are frosted, inside it’s a simple and welcoming Vietnamese restaurant. The food was tasty and inexpensive, and I sat at a long table with other diners. Very much the kind of experience I was looking for that evening.

Both before and after dinner I strolled around the area. I had previously noted the neighborhood around métro Censier–Daubenton as one where I could envisage staying one year. The only real drawback I saw was the fact that it’s a bit of a hike to the Marais, which is these days more of an issue for my guests than it is for me. Nearby rue Mouffetard, which had charmed me on earlier trips to Paris, now seems trampled to death by the tourist hoards. Rue Montorgueil itself — while still attracting a lot of French visitors — seems to be going in the same direction. Where can I go to escape from … people like me?

On Sunday morning I blogged and got a quick lunch at Lemon. Then Guillaume picked me up and we traveled together to the banlieue of Saint-Denis to see a contemporary art show. Guillaume had worked in Saint-Denis on an assignment and his employer, a city planning arm of the Paris region, plans to move its main office there. I had previously been to see the basilica (which is most impressive) but hadn’t dared to venture deeper into the city. It was reassuring to have an experienced guide.

In prior years I’ve usually purchased a monthly Navigo pass, which extends on weekends, etc. to the entire Île de France region, including Saint-Denis. This year, however, I’m just using métro tickets, which only cover the inner zones of Paris. When Guillaume pointed this out at Gare du Nord we joked about the idea of my taking my chances on being “controlled” and required to pay a substantial fine, but decided to buy the correct tickets. Our virtue was rewarded, since there was a massive control operation at Saint-Denis! Dozens of police were writing up fines for people who didn’t have the right credentials, and catching people who were trying to escape the control.

The art show was supposed to be in an apartment building in a lovely location, right between the Seine and the Canal Saint-Denis. At first we went to the wrong floor and had a disorienting experience since nobody at all was there.

Selfie in sketchy banlieue elevator

Selfie of me and Guillaume in sketchy banlieue elevator

But once we found the show it was normal and the organizers were friendly and informative.

Reliefs, 2016 by Béranger Laymond at We Can Control Space show

Reliefs, 2016 by Béranger Laymond at We Can Control Space show

Bob and Guillaume contemplating 16mm, 2015 by Nicholas Delprat

Bob and Guillaume contemplating 16mm, 2015 by Nicholas Delprat

The show organizers had said that there were also some exterior artworks, so after leaving the gallery we went around back. It turned out to be a sandy beach on the banks of the canal, where a cheerful young crowd was watching France beat Ireland in the round of 16 of the European soccer cup!

Afternoon on the beach! Of the Canal Saint-Denis, in Saint-Denis

Afternoon on the beach … of the Canal Saint-Denis

This being France of course there was a bar, and of course we each had a couple of beers… After the match we got into conversation with neighbors at our picnic table and learned a lot about the building. The residents are mostly artists and other creative types (also, contrary to the prevailing demographic of Saint-Denis, mostly white), and they are fighting to keep control of the building. It’s really a gorgeous spot; the only little issue I noticed was the Roma (gypsy) shantytown across the canal.

Roma shantytown across the canal

Roma shantytown across the canal

Guillaume explained that French racism against the Roma is even more intense than that against North Africans. There’s no immediate prospect of a Frexit, but the far right would love to use fear and hatred of immigrants to lever France out of the E.U. as well. Our conversation was in French, as at the dinner party in May. I had to ask him to repeat or explain a few times but on the whole I was able to keep up pretty well.

We said farewell at Gare du Nord, so I strolled over to the Grand Train, which I has first visited with Kristoffer the previous week, to see what it was like in nicer weather. It was a lot busier than last time, but all I had energy for was drinking a small beer and heading home for dinner and sleep.

"Time misleads us. Time hugs us. Time is our station. Time is our train." --Jacques Prévert at Le Grand Train

“Time misleads us. Time hugs us. Time is our station. Time is our train.” –Jacques Prévert at Le Grand Train

Pizza restaurant at Le Grand Train. One of a dozen bars and restaurants.

Pizza restaurant at Le Grand Train. One of a dozen bars and restaurants.

Mot du jour: « bouche à oreille », “word of mouth”, but literally, “mouth to ear”, which I think is more evocative than our idiom. Not to be confused with « bouchon d’oreille », “earplug”.

Bonus Mot du jour: « bidonville », “shantytown”.

Second Bonus Mot du jour: « raton-laveur », “raccoon”, but literally, “little rat washer”. Beware the word « raton », however, since it’s also a racist slur for North Africans.

Machine à raton-laveur by Jacques Carelman at Galerie les Yeux Fertiles

Machine à raton-laveur by Jacques Carelman at Galerie les Yeux Fertiles

Fête, Parks and Art

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Tuesday was June 21, the Fête de la musique, a summer solstice street festival that’s a big deal in Paris and some other francophone countries. I have had a good time at the festival since I first stumbled on it in 2011, including barhopping with Jared W, Geoff and Hugues in 2013 and doing it on my own in 2014, with the most amazing time being last year (2015) when I enjoyed it with Sawyer and Seth.

This year I was on my own again. Instead of focusing on the Marais, as in prior years, I decided to stroll over to the 10ème arrondissement, around the Canal Saint-Martin, to see what the festival was like over there. La Baraque A is a mild-mannered coffee shop the rest of the year, but it hosts an electronic dance party for the Fête. The music was just starting up when I arrived so I had a beer on the terrace of a café, then strolled further on.

La Baraque A hosts a dance party at a Fête de la Musique

La Baraque A hosts a dance party at la Fête de la Musique

When I looped back later it had become quite a scene: La Baraque A Dance Party in Full Swing.

There were similar crowds outside restaurants and bars all around the quarter, in each case racially mixed, often multi-age, but with a consistently lefty/hip/hippie vibe. I didn’t notice much of a Muslim presence, and I suspect that this is the Achilles heel in the “melting pot” character of the neighborhood.

Blues at Jane Café

Blues at Jane Café in the 10ème on la Fête de la musique

I found the 10ème quite sympa, and I would consider staying there another year. But after a couple of hours on my own I headed home and got a good night’s sleep instead of partying until dawn.

When I got to Paris this year I noticed a new restaurant on rue des Petits Carreaux, Caminito, an Argentine bistro. I passed it by initially since South American cuisine is largely red meat, which I try to avoid.

Caminito on rue des Petits Carreaux in Village Montorgueil

Caminito on rue des Petits Carreaux in the Village Montorgueil

But on Wednesday I noticed that the plat du jour was fish so I had lunch there, which I quite enjoyed.

Pollock lunch at Caminito

Pollock lunch at Caminito

That afternoon I headed out to find a park to do some reading in. I first went to a completely new area, Parc Sainte-Périne in the 16ème, but it just seemed like an enormous playground. Great for bourgeois kids but not inviting to an adult reader. Disappointed in my exploration I hopped the tram over to tried-and-true Parc Montsouris in the 14ème. I had brought an umbrella just in case and found that I needed it at times even though there were also welcome intervals of sunshine. This year’s summer started out looking a lot like its spring!

Rainy moment at Parc Montsouris

Rainy moment at Parc Montsouris

Raindrops on a rose at Parc Montsouris

Raindrops on a rose at Parc Montsouris

The temperature had gotten up to 80 on Wednesday and on Thursday it was actually hot for the first time this year — high 80’s! Instead of sunbathing my thoughts turned to air-conditioning, so I decided to check some museums off my list. I had expected to visit the Musée d’Orsay a few weeks earlier with Sherard, but the Great Flood of 2016 put paid to that idea. Consequently, I headed over to see the Doanier Rousseau exhibition, and revisit the permanent collection. The title refers to the fact that Henri Rousseau started painting as a weekend hobby while working as a customs agent. I was mostly familiar with a few of his weird jungle scenes, and an iconic image of a family in a carriage.

I hadn’t realized, however, that he was self-taught, and was (initially at least) more of a folk painter than a professional artist. His portraits have that weird quality of looking straight out at you that you see in the works of American folk artists. He did have a good eye for color and could put paint on the canvas, but those skills alone wouldn’t have gotten him anywhere. What made his reputation was the weird and wonderful imagination that populated his jungle pictures. He never left Paris but had a rich vision of a fecund and brutal imaginary world.

The permanent collection of the Musée d’Orsay is always a delight, especially the impressionists on the 5th floor. I always notice something I hadn’t appreciated before, in this case a blurry little portrait by Seurat:

Georges Seurat, Le Petit paysan en bleu, dit aussi Le Jockey, around 1882 at Musée d'Orsay

Georges Seurat, Le Petit paysan en bleu, dit aussi Le Jockey, around 1882 at Musée d’Orsay

I was also reminded of the fact that real people can be at least as fabulous as those depicted in the artworks.

Real person at the Musée d'Orsay

Real person at the Musée d’Orsay

The Orsay admission also includes the Orangerie museum in the Tuileries, so I walked over there and revisited Monet’s two immersive waterlily rooms, as well as the impressive impressionist and post-impressionist collection on the lower level.

Monet, Les Nymphéas (water lillies) at l'Orangerie museum

Monet, Les Nymphéas (water lillies) at l’Orangerie museum

Monet, Les Nymphéas (water lillies) at l'Orangerie museum

Monet, Les Nymphéas (water lillies) at l’Orangerie museum

One observation I’ve often made about the finest impressionist art is that you can appreciate most any small section of brushwork as an abstraction as well as enjoying the entire work from a distance. I finally got around to posting a photo set putting forward this idea: Impressionism Far and Near

Thursday evening I had a Breton meal at an old favorite, Délices de la Lune on rue Poissonnière. (I was surprised to see that the Fork offers a 40% discount for advance bookings. This seems like gilding the lily since their prices are so modest anyway!)

On Friday I decided to check out the new shows at the edgy contemporary art museum, Palais de Tokyo, which I have sometimes loved and sometimes loathed. Although I liked several of the shows I saw there in mid-May the current crop left me stone cold, except for a few individual pieces and a wonderful sonic work by Ayoung Kim called “In This Vessel We Shall be Kept”. The concept of the work is crazy but remarkable: We are asked to take refuge in an ark against another great flood, but the ark in question is the Palais Garnier!

Ayoung Kim, "In This Vessel We Shall be Kept" (detail)

Ayoung Kim, “In This Vessel We Shall be Kept” (detail)

There are some graphics explaining this conceit and giving the text of an immersive choral performance, which is the heart of the work. These texts are from various sources, including the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Bible and the Koran, which all exhort a chosen few to build an ark to survive a flood. You experience the choral work in a comfortable seat in a dark room, surrounded by eight speakers. I posted a clip to give you a taste, but you need to hear it for yourself!

As in prior years, I stumbled on some Fashion Week models at Palais de Tokyo; cute and emaciated as always, but this year with strikingly kookie hairdos.

Models at Palais de Tokyo

Models at Palais de Tokyo

Model at Palais de Tokyo

Model at Palais de Tokyo

Since it’s right there and free (except for the temporary shows) I also stopped in to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. I ended up paying for two of the shows, which were both pretty good: Paula Modersohn-Becker and Albert Marquet. Modersohn-Becker’s early portraits had a naive aspect reminiscent of Henri Rousseau, but her skills advanced rapidly, until her untimely death. Photos aren’t permitted in the shows, but I noticed this grisly little picture in the permanent collection, which is quite good even though overshadowed by the Pompidou.

Jacques Grinberg, l'Enfant (the child), around 1963

Jacques Grinberg, l’Enfant (the child), around 1963, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

And this eerie group scene:

Bart van der Leck, Au Marché, 1913

Bart van der Leck, Au Marché, 1913, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

On My Own Again

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On Sunday morning I saw Kristoffer off on the Roissybus at Opéra. The ticket machine at the bus stop was broken but he was able to buy a ticket from the driver (since he had prudently saved 11 euros in cash).

Opéra Garnier looking lovely, in a rare moment of sunshine

Opéra Garnier looking lovely, in a rare moment of sunshine

IMG_3011 MED

Paradoxically, you have to stand at a traffic island in the middle of rue de l’Opéra, where the sides are blocked by other buildings, to see the full dome, and the pitched roof over the main theater.

In prior years I’ve just sent departing guests out the door with detailed instructions, but a Boston friend has taught me how nice it is to see someone off. This is especially true when I’ve been handling navigation issues for my guest while we’ve been together, so he may not have gotten particularly comfortable with the métro, etc. How I have remained oblivious to this all these years is a mystery, but it’s not too late to teach this old dog a new trick! (Though note that I didn’t go all the way to the airport and back; let’s not get carried away here!)

This year’s sojourn has been very sociable. A series of old and new friends have stayed with me for several days each: Jared R, Sherard, Omar and Kristoffer, and I’ve spent a lot of time with other visiting friends, including Jared W, Craig and Arturo. As in other years I’ve seen a lot of Zhizhong, and I’ve started catching up with other French friends as well. Earlier in the trip I stayed with Charlie and Markevin near Toulouse and spent a couple of afternoons with Grégory in Bordeaux, not to mention my new Korean friends. This has been great fun, but it has also left me with less alone time than in prior years, and has greatly changed the blogging dynamic. From a discipline that I followed (almost) every evening in 2010 it has become a binge project that gets a week or two behind, then takes me a day or two to catch up! All a long way of saying that it’s different, but quite OK, to now spend a few days alone.

Sunday afternoon I headed over to Rosa Bonheur for old time’s sake. The weather has continued to be a mix of sun and rain, but there was a pretty good crowd on the terrasse. I didn’t get into any deep conversations but I did exchange a few nice words with a young woman who was there with her young son and older mother.

Rosa Bonheur, finally open and busy

Rosa Bonheur, finally open and busy

After finishing my beer I strolled over to the area of little “Villas” to the west of the Park des Buttes Chaumont, which I now see is called la Mouzaïa or the quartier d’Amérique. I added a few shots to my Picasa/Google photo set on la Mouzaïa then continued on to see some of the open studios in an area I had not previously visited, the city of Pré Saint-Gervais, a banlieue!

As usual there was a lot of so-so art, but I really liked several pieces by Nausicaa Favart-Amouroux.

Painting by Nausicaa Favart Amouroux

Painting by Nausicaa Favart Amouroux

I also enjoyed a poetry reading accompanied by violin at Un Tapis de Poésie.

Pré Saint-Gervais itself seemed to have something of a Turkish tilt, but otherwise seemed quite Parisian and not scary, except for an abandoned building, covered with graffiti.

Scary abandoned building covered with grafitti in a banlieue!

Scary abandoned building covered with grafitti in a banlieue!

Somewhat less scary in the context of its spanking new neighbors

Somewhat less scary in the context of its spanking new neighbors

I had actually encountered a scarier scene earlier within the city limits at Danube.

Bucolic scene at Danube. Oh, wait...

Bucolic scene at Danube. Oh, wait…

I had a nice Indian dinner at Aarchna, on rue du Télégraph back in Belleville. I was interested to learn that the « télégraph » was actually one of the earliest lines of visual semaphores, which in 1794 allowed a message to be transmitted from Paris to Lille in three hours that previously took three days on horseback. That’s why it was placed on the highest hill in Paris, also why there are now water towers on the same spot.

Water towers on rue du Télégraph

Water towers on rue du Télégraph

After dinner I walked down rue de Bellevile as the sun went down (around 10 pm!). Here are a few atmospheric pictures from my day as a lone flâneur.

Ivy-covered cottage on rue de Crimée, near Place des Fêtes

Ivy-covered cottage on rue de Crimée, near sketchy Place des Fêtes

"One must mistrust words."

“Beware of words.”

Doorway at Jordain, rue de Belleville

Doorway at Jordain, rue de Belleville

The other Paris: the Eiffel tower from rue de Belleville

The other Paris: the Eiffel tower from rue de Belleville

Lovely clouds behind a Parisian dome

Lovely clouds behind a dome on rue Réumur

All day Monday and Tuesday morning I did literally nothing but catch up on my blog. Enjoy!

Mot du jour: banlieue, literally, “suburb,” but many of the inner ring of cities just outside Paris are ethnic, depressed and at times dangerous so in France the term has a sketchy resonance.

More Food and Art with Kristoffer

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After a good sleep Kristoffer and I had lunch on Saturday at Spontini50, which I have been wanting to try.

 Spontini50 on rue des Petits Carreaux in the Village Montorgueil

Spontini50 on rue des Petits Carreaux in the Village Montorgueil

It turns out to be the restaurant of Top Chef Ruben Sarfati, who was kind enough to pose for a photo with his handsome waiter.

Handsome waiter and Top Chef Ruben Sarfati at Spontini50

Handsome waiter and Top Chef Ruben Sarfati at Spontini50

Oh wait, how was the food? Very good. Not cheap, but fairly priced for a gourmet meal.

Mozzarella and eggplant appetizer at Spontini50

Mozzarella and eggplant appetizer at Spontini50

I had reserved in advance for us to visit Fondation Louis Vuitton at 4:30 — quite necessary! Kristoffer had hoped to get a haircut first, but there wasn’t time so he had to settle for a shopping spree at Uniqlo at Opéra.

Kristoffer in Seventh Heaven at Uniqlo

Kristoffer in Seventh Heaven at Uniqlo

As we approached Fondation Louis Vuitton through the Jardin d’Acclimatation (admission to which is included with the FLV ticket) I was horrified to see that Frank Gehry’s elegant and graceful building had been papered-over with gaudy colored panels in the name of contemporary art. One Daniel Buren evidently thought that he could improve on Gehry’s work! Calling this misguided project by a fancy name — L’Observatoire de la lumière — didn’t help.

Hideous defacement of Frank Gehry's Fondation Louis Vuitton

Hideous defacement of Frank Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton

Doesn't look any better up close

Doesn’t look any better up close

Fortunately a few elements of the building somehow escaped Buren’s malign attention:

Soothing wall that somehow avoided being daubed in candy colors

Soothing wall of Fondation Louis Vuitton that somehow avoided being daubed in candy colors

Soothing step fountain also wasn't ruined

Soothing step fountain at Fondation Louis Vuitton also wasn’t ruined

Rose in the lobby of Fondation Louis Vuitton

Rose in the lobby of Fondation Louis Vuitton

All the galleries were given over to display of work by Chinese artists from the museum’s permanent collection. We both liked the sculptures better than the many video works. The test I propose for art videos is this:

  1. Would you pay to go see it in a theater?
  2. Would you keep watching if you stumbled upon it on TV?

If the answer to both questions is “no” then why waste your time watching it in a gallery?

Zhang Huan, Sudden Awakening, 2006, at Fondation Louis Vuitton

Zhang Huan, Sudden Awakening, 2006, at Fondation Louis Vuitton. Incense burns continually inside the enlightened head.

Xu Zhen, New, 2014, at Fondation Louis Vuitton

Xu Zhen, New, 2014, at Fondation Louis Vuitton

Zhang Huan, Giant No. 3, 2008, at Fondation Louis Vuitton

Zhang Huan, Giant No. 3, 2008, at Fondation Louis Vuitton

Kristoffer and me, at Fondation Louis Vuitton

Kristoffer and me, at Fondation Louis Vuitton

Kristoffer had been craving Chinese hot pot, which doesn’t exist in Norway. Fortunately Fondue 59 is right around the corner from my apartment so we had a leisurely and delicious meal there on Saturday night.

Kristoffer and our hot pots at Fondue 59

Kristoffer and our hot pots at Fondue 59

Me at Fondue 59

Me at Fondue 59

Kristoffer in Wonderland

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In 2014 Kristoffer (Chinese name Yunpeng) and I took a chance on each other. We had been chatting for many months on line but had never met in person. I invited him to visit me in Paris for a long weekend and we had a lovely time. We did the same thing in 2015, and again this year. No longer a gamble now, since we know each other rather well.

Kristoffer grew up in China, but has been working on his Ph.D. in Norway for several years. This year he got a permanent job at Norway’s public health agency, with the Norwegian equivalent of a green card. He has toyed with variants of his western name but has settled on Kristoffer, the Norwegian spelling of Christopher.

He arrived late Thursday evening. We didn’t have a meal since he had eaten at the airport. On Friday, however, we set out to have our first real Parisian adventure.

We started out with lunch at an old favorite of mine, Bouillon Chartier, which we both enjoyed.

Kristoffer at at Bouillon Chartier

Kristoffer at at Bouillon Chartier

Bob at Bouillon Chartier with his bar roti

Bob at Bouillon Chartier with his bar rôti

We then headed up to La Villette to catch an Imax movie about the South Pacific at the spherical Géode theater at the Cité des science et et de l’industrie.

(In another life I negotiated the contract with Imax on behalf of the Boston Museum of Science for the similar theater there. At that time the spherical theaters, which project an image that extends directly above the audience, were called “Omnimax,” but that term has evidently been retired.)

The movie wasn’t Gone with the Wind but its immersive images were gorgeous, especially the aerial and underwater shots.

Inside the Géode showing the structure behind the screen

Inside the Géode showing the structure behind the spherical screen

After the movie we wandered down along the Canal de l’Ourcq and the Bassin de la Villette, with interruptions to shelter from intermittent rain. The street art along the canal was appealing.

Street art along the Canal de l'Ourcq

Street art along the Canal de l’Ourcq

Street art along the Canal de l'Ourcq

Street art along the Canal de l’Ourcq

We wanted coffee but passed up several options as not being quite to our taste, until what did we encounter but Le Pavillon des Merveilles (the Pavilion of Marvels)! This charming café — normally known as Le Pavillon des Canaux — had been transformed by the Disney folks into a clever promotion for their new movie, Alice de L’Autre Coté du Miroir (Through the Looking Glass). We had been lucky enough to stumble upon it on its last day.

Le Pavillon des Merveilles

Le Pavillon des Merveilles

Le Pavillon des Merveilles

Inside Le Pavillon des Merveilles

Clocks at Le Pavillon des Merveilles

Clocks at Le Pavillon des Merveilles

Kristoffer at Le Pavillon des Merveilles

Kristoffer at Le Pavillon des Merveilles

After enjoying coffee and pastries we headed across town to a place I had read about, Le Grand Train (the Big Train). This was about a mile away, along rue Riquet and rue Ordener. (Not an area I would wander around alone at night, but it seemed normal, albeit populaire, in daylight.) We saw some amazing street art along this route.

Vincent considers doing something drastic, rue Riquet

Vincent considers doing something drastic, rue Riquet

Tiny sample of Kashink's contribution to the longest street art wall in Paris, Rosa Parks Fait le Mur

Tiny sample of Kashink’s contribution to the longest street art wall in Paris, Rosa Parks Fait le Mur, rue Riquet

Le Grand Train is both a substantial train museum and an agglomeration of a dozen bars and restaurants of many different types in an enormous disused train maintenance facility. It will end forever in October and years of construction will begin on an entirely new neighborhood, including lots of public housing and supporting facilities.

Street art at the entrance to Le Grand Train

Pano of street art at the entrance to Le Grand Train

A big train at Le Grand Train

A big train at Le Grand Train

The view out the back of Le Grand Train

The view out the back of Le Grand Train

After a couple of beers at Le Grand Train we headed home to take a short nap and get ready for Kristoffer’s birthday dinner, at Frenchie. I had made the reservation — not easy to get! — a month before, on the first day reservations opened for June 17. The meal was delicious, but the light was too dim for good non-flash photos so I have to refer you to my meal last month with Jared W and my meal last year with Matt and Chris.

Kristoffer's birthday diner at Frenchie

Kristoffer’s birthday diner at Frenchie

After dinner we were ready for bed. It had been a very full day!

Mot du Jour: « mouarff », “ha-ha”.

Antoine and Pigalle

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Wednesday, after Omar left, I had lunch on my own at one of my favorite neighborhood places. Then I did grocery shopping and a stint at the laundromat (for sheets and towels), and finished with a quiet dinner at home.

Lunch at Pur

Lunch at Pur

On Thursday I had a cozy lunch with my French friend Antoine, who is working at an art conservation organization south of Pigalle (which he tells me is now going by the moniker SoPi). He has recently moved to a larger place in the 17ème, near Batignolles. Métro line 13 is sub-optimal but he loves his immediate neighborhood, which is a gated courtyard.

Antoine and me at lunch near Pigalle

Antoine and me at lunch near Pigalle

At first look “South Pigalle” and “SoPi” sound fine. Until you realize that “South” is English — it should be « Sud Pigalle » and « SuPi », but I guess they just don’t have the same cachet.

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I’ve mostly avoided the Pigalle area in prior years because it’s tacky and has a sketchy reputation after dark.

Formerly beautiful woman on sign on formerly beautiful building, rue Pigalle

Former beautiful woman on formerly beautiful building, rue Pigalle

Honestly, though, most of the straight sex clubs here are no worse than the gay clubs that one frequents in the Marais.

Sex club near Pigalle

Sex club near Pigalle

Pigalle is just below the tourist mecca of Montmartre, so parts of it are trampled by that tourist horde.

Tourist street below Montmartre

Tourist street below Montmartre

Clever underground bottle disposal system either full or being ignored

Clever underground bottle disposal system either full or being ignored, near Pigalle

I did run across a cool bunch of decorated posts in the heart of Pigalle. I posted a video clip on Instagram.

The farther south you go from Pigalle the nicer things get, however.

Panorama, Place St Georges

Panorama, Place St Georges

These Haussmann buildings on or near rue Condorcet are downright gorgeous.

Lovely Haussmann building on rue Condorcet

Lovely Haussmann building near rue Condorcet

Le Barbe a Papa -- a subtle play on words since the French for cotton candy is feminine

Le Barbe à Papa is a subtle play on words, since the French for cotton candy is the same, except feminine. On rue Condorcet

Sherard at one point tasked me with a dislike of Haussmann areas. After thinking it over I admitted a taste for twisty little medieval streets, but I claimed that I also have no problem with wide, straight avenues or boulevards, or with Haussmann-style buildings, so long as they offer restaurants and shops on the ground level and aren’t trampled to death by tourists.

Fontainebleau

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On Monday Omar and I headed to the Château de Fontainebleau, which I had wanted to visit with Manu a few weeks back. Google maps told us how to get there:

Getting to Fontainebleau -- easy peasy!

Getting to Fontainebleau — easy peasy!

So we went to Gare de Lyon and looked for the R train to Fontainbleau. Piece of cake! Except we never saw any R anywhere, even after wandering around all over the place and asking several helpful people — though not having patience to wait in the long lines at the information desks. Finally we discovered a train to Montargis on track M on a particular level of one of the several huge rooms of the station.

Our next travel issue arose when the train stopped for an extended period at Bois le Roi, the next to last station. We wondered what to do when a young Czech woman opposite us who had been aloof up to this point proposed that we share a taxi to Fontainebleau. She gave me a number since she said that her phone was temporarily out of order for some reason. My call didn’t go through but a text got a quick reply. Fortunately the train started up before we gave out any credit card numbers since Omar pointed out later that this could all quite possibly be a scam.

I had been under the impression that the train station was quite near the Château but in fact it was about two miles away so we waited for a bus, which filled, then waited for the next bus, which we got on. Fortunately the Château was open late enough that we had time for a leisurely visit before the building closed.

Fontainebleau from the grounds

Fontainebleau from the grounds

Stairs at Fontainebleau

Famous stairs at Fontainebleau

Hall of Diana at Fontainebleau

Hall of Diana at Fontainebleau

Bob at Fontainebleau

Bob at Fontainebleau

The salamander is the symbol of Francois I. At Fontainebleau

The salamander is the symbol of Francois I. At Fontainebleau

Marie Antoinette's bed at Fontainebleau. (Tho she never got to sleep in it.)

Marie Antoinette‘s bed at Fontainebleau. (Tho she never got to sleep in it.)

Napoleon I's throne at Fontainebleau. Yes, he was short!

Throne room at Fontainebleau. The only remaining throne in France.

The chapel at Fontainebleau

The chapel at Fontainebleau

We walked the two miles back to the train station, partly along this lake

We walked the two miles back to the train station, partly along this lake

When we got to the tracks on our walk we realized we had lost some elevation!

When we got to the tracks on our walk we realized we had lost some elevation!

My Omar

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Omar and I met for drinks on Friday night. That evening is a bit of a blur but the upshot was that it would be a lot more convenient if he stayed at my place for the next few days rather than at the garret apartment he had been living in. On Saturday evening we set out to explore the Marais. We started — as usual! — at the Open Café, then continued on to Quetzel, then … that evening is something of a blur as well…

Me and Omar at the Open Café

Me and Omar at the Open Café

Omar and me and many new friends at Quetzel

Omar and me and many new friends at Quetzel

One detail I do recall is that three touristy guys (on the left in the pic) barged into Quetzel while Omar and I were sipping our beverages. I was annoyed when one of them bumped into me. They came out with beers and eventually we got into conversation with them. They weren’t so bad after all, although we were ready to say farewell when we went off to our next destination.

I had two previously-scheduled events on Sunday: A dinner party hosted by my friend Elliot for the Paris chapter of the Harvard Gender & Sexuality Caucus at 6 pm, and a Skype connection to my classics book club meeting at 10 pm (4 pm Boston time). Elliot’s dinner was delicious, as usual. About eight members attended, some of whom I already knew and others were new to me. It was an interesting evening but I had to leave at 9:30 to get home for book club … only to find that the meeting had been canceled. I was just half-way through Mémoires d’Hadrien myself so I was happy to defer the discussion to our July meeting.

On Monday Omar and I went to Fontainebleau, which I had hoped to see with Manu earlier in the trip. I’ll post about that separately.

On Tuesday we did some shopping and hit some art galleries.

Mer de Kumano étincelante (Kumano sea sparkling)

Mer de Kumano étincelante (Kumano sea sparkling) by Kazuho Hieda at Galerie Yoshii

Many pieces by Shepard Fairey at Galerie Laurent Strouk

Many pieces by Shepard Fairey at Galerie Laurent Strouk

Tiffon Cognac in Crystal Dragon bottle. 2,100 euros at La Part des Anges

Tiffon Cognac in Crystal Dragon bottle. A bargain at 2,100 euros. At La Part des Anges

We had a late lunch on Tuesday at our local Icelandic sandwich shop, Lemon. I mentioned to the server in passing that Omar was treating me to a special birthday lunch; at the end of the meal they brought us coffees and a chocolate cake on the house, explaining that I was one of their best customers.

Free coffees and cake at Lemon to celebrate my birthday

Free coffees and cake at Lemon to celebrate my birthday

Zhizhong had previously invited me to a posh Harvard-Yale reception on Tuesday evening. We had had an amazing time at the American Ambassador’s residence the previous year so I accepted, even though this year it was at a mere hôtel particulier. Zhizhong was called away to London for work at the last minute so I considered skipping it but eventually decided to attend. The space was quite a comedown from last year, but still pas mal.

Hôtel de Tallyrand-Périgord. Ho hum.

Hôtel de Tallyrand-Périgord. Ho hum.

Harvard-Yale Reception.

Harvard-Yale Reception at the Hôtel de Tallyrand-Périgord.

I had some pleasant conversations at the reception but nevertheless I was happy to step out into the Place de la Concorde and meet up with Omar for dinner.

Place de la Concorde after the reception

Place de la Concorde after the reception

Waiting for Omar at the Ferris Wheel at Place de la Concorde

Waiting for Omar at the Ferris Wheel at Place de la Concorde

We had a couple of false starts with reservations on The Fork but we ended up having a good Italian meal at Il Tre 3 on good old rue Montorgueil. I had walked by this restaurant dozens of times but had never eaten there, since I had the impression that it was just street food (as is the Thai restaurant across the street). The patrons and servers were indeed young but the food was perfectly respectable and the interior decor was pleasant.

Omar is a keen observer. Not only did he notice the cool street art mosaics by Invader, but he found an app — FlashInvaders — that lets you score points by finding as many of them as possible. Invader started out in Paris but now has put up works in major cities around the world. I’m just starting out but I hope to do a lot better before the end of the month!

My gallery in the FlashInvaders app

My sparse gallery in the FlashInvaders app

Omar left for Budapest on Wednesday, in part because I had to get ready for my next house guest. Meeting him, and spending several days together, was a special pleasure of this year’s stay. A true “expected surprise!” We both hope that our paths will cross again.

Meanwhile, another Omar was killing 49 LGBTs and allies in Orlando, to the horror of decent people everywhere in the world. I don’t minimize the intolerance of many Muslim countries for homosexuality, but I hope that the future of Islam will be closer to the spirit of my own modern, kind and moderate Omar.

Mot du jour: « hôtel particulier » “mansion”. The French word « hôtel » is an unreliable friend. In « hôtel de ville » it means “city hall.” Used alone, it actually means “hotel.”