A blog normally puts the latest post on top, so if you scroll down you’ll see earlier posts in reverse chronological order. This isn’t a bad way to get a feel for the blog, but it’s backwards. It’s harder to read the story forwards, as it was written, but the blog format I use offers a “Next post” link at the end of each post, which enables the determined reader to start at the beginning and continue on, if not to the end, at least to the end of their patience.
If you want to read backwards, just scroll down, but if you want to read any year of this blog forwards, click on one of the links below, then use the “Next post” link at the bottom of each post to read the next one.
Spring in Paris was a mirage this year. I had all my reservations, but Covid-19 had other ideas. Not only would it have been unsafe to travel, but France had locked down by the time I planned to travel, and my flight was cancelled.
Instead of another fabulous petit séjour I spent the spring mostly cooped up in my apartment, relieved by occasional Zooms with the folks I would have been spending time with in Paris. My self-pity was contemptible, in the context of a pandemic in which thousands were dying. The only aspect personal to me was the vulnerability of age; in other respects most everyone was having an experience at least as bad as my own. And even if I could have traveled there, the Paris I had enjoyed so many other springs had ceased to exist this year.
I’ve finally worked through the stages of grief, so here is a bittersweet post about what might have been.
From April 27 to May 10 I had planned to stay once again with my three cousins, Jackie, Lisa and Aya, in the same comfortable 15ème apartment, a few block from our great friend Ali, exactly like the two prior years.
One of our first guests would have been my great friend Zhizhong.
On May 1 my cousin Brian and his wife Sheila were scheduled to arrive in Paris, and we expected outings similar to those in prior years.
From May 10 to June 1 I had booked the same apartment on rue Montorgueil in the 1er arrondissement where I had stayed last year.
The owner had radically renovated in the intervening year, turning the kitchen into a third bedroom, and adding an en-suite bathroom to my preferred front bedroom. A minimal kitchen and the clothes washer had been moved to one end of the living/dining room. These changes were great for packing in a crowd but made it even more absurd for me to live there mostly alone, and I would also have missed the kitchen. But the location was unbeatable, it was very comfortable, and I liked the owner.
Just like last year, Sherard was scheduled to join me for a week at this apartment. I’m sure we would have once again walked ten miles a day, taken in a tsunami of art, had wonderful meals, and spotted untold numbers of Space Invaders! Helas!!
I snapped up this place even though I hadn’t confirmed any June guests, on the well-tested theory that, “if you rent it, they will come.” But Covid-19 began rearing its ugly head just a few weeks later, and the rest is history.
AirBnb courteously and efficiently refunded every cent for the first apartment. The second apartment had been rented on a handshake with the terrific owner, who accepted my cancellation with good grace. The third apartment had been rented through a brokerage site, ParisAttitude.com. The owner graciously agreed to cancel and refund my deposit, but, true to its name, Paris Attitude only gave me a one-year voucher to recover its brokerage fee against another booking. I was pleased, however, to be out of pocket only a few hundred dollars after cancelling several thousand dollars of rentals.
I had booked my Air France flights, via Delta codeshare, using points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. Delta and Chase initially gave me a runaround, offering me only a voucher even though Air France had cancelled the flight. They caved eventually, however, and re-credited my points. I cashed out all my points and cancelled the Sapphire Reserve card, since who knows when I will be traveling again, or even going out to restaurants.
My trips to Paris have given me tremendous pleasure over the past decade. I hope it may be possible to resume them one of these days, but whether or not that comes to pass it’s a delight to be able to relive the trips through this blog. I hope it has (or will) enable you to enjoy my Springs in Paris as well.
Here are links to my 2019 Google Photos photo sets. You might enjoy browsing through these by topic, even though smaller versions of most photos have already been included in earlier posts. This will also let you download full-sized images if any are of particular interest (please contact me for permission to publish them, unless you are in the picture, in which case be my guest).
I thought I had “only” 1,234 to go, but imagine my bemusement when I opened the app this year and found that Invader had added more than 100 works, totalling 1,401: I was falling behind!
Fortunately, C.N., Sherard and Jared all got into the game and helped me add another 90 images — despite three weeks without a cell phone — bringing my Paris haul to a respectable 141, 10% of the total.
The newer works are quite varied. Some are big and bold, taking advantage of the fact that Invader is now the toast of Paris rather than someone who has to sneak around in the dark of night to put up guerrilla artworks.
Here are a couple more really big ones.
Some are rather cleverly camouflaged.
Others spell out words.
Some of the new ones are rather mysterious.
Others are just plain witty and fun.
Picard is a frozen food store, so this one is particularly apropos.
One I hadn’t seen before was right outside the window of my 2019 apartment on rue Montorgueil!
There’s only one type of the new artworks that I don’t much like. These are large composite images that spell out a sentence, somewhat like a rebus. I don’t find them artful enough.
Sherard pointed out that Invader has an Instagram account on which he posts tantalizing images of newly-added works. It’s fun.
I see from Invader’s web site that he has put up 3,776 images in 78 cities, but only in New York and Miami on the East Coast. Keep your eyes peeled when you go on vacation, however, since he’s been all around the world.
There are a surprising number of faux Invaders in Paris. Some are obviously fake but others look real to my rather experienced eye. Here, just for fun, is a rogue’s gallery of fake Invaders:
2019 was a great petit séjour in many respects, but on balance it was quite good but not quite great.
What Was Great
The apartments and hosts were all excellent. I’m an experienced renter, so I know what I like, and I’m prepared to pay for it. But there’s always the possibility of a slip-up of one sort or another; this year there was none. There were various tiny glitches, of course, but all the owners were responsive and helpful. The locations were various, but all lived up to expectations; Les Gobelins was particularly charming. My first place had an elevator and the other two were on the French première étage (U.S. second floor) so stairs weren’t an issue this year.
My cousins, with whom I lived for the first two weeks, were delightful, and overall in a much better mood than last year. It has been my pleasure these past two years to help facilitate our mini-reunions.
My house guests were congenial, and inspired me to amounts of walking that I haven’t done in several years: I averaged 7 miles a day over the entire stay, due in significant part to insatiable walking by C.N., Sherard and Jared.
It was great to spend time with Zhizhong, and to catch up more briefly with other old friends like Antoine, Elliot and Ali. I also made some new friends, particularly Eugène, who added a lot to the experience. I didn’t repeat the error of befriending anyone — like Theseus last year — who was primarily interested in money.
The art was astounding, from the Belleville Open Studios to three visits to the Musée d’Orsay, and everything in between. Another year I might want to spend even more time browsing private galleries, and at least a day at the Louvre, but overall the trip couldn’t have been much better.
Partially due to the tastes of my guests, but also on my own, I heard more music this visit than ever before, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also saw two modest but inspiring theater pieces, though another year I will want to get to at least one opera at l’Opéra de Paris, and perhaps another type of performance, such as dance. I only went to one movie, but that’s because there were always better things to do!
My health was generally good this year, apart from a cold that slowed me down the first week of June. No problems with my feet (as has happened in two prior years) despite all the walking! And, unlike last year, I lost a bit of weight despite all the terrific food. The one real deficiency was aerobic exercise: I got tons of exercise from walking but rarely pulled a sweat. Fortunately, I was able to pick up my elliptical trainer workouts without an issue after getting home so I don’t think my overall fitness declined too much.
What Wasn’t So Great
The weather was pretty awful. Most of May was cold and rainy. So were the first two weeks of June, apart from the first couple of days. I wasn’t too surprised by early May; it’s often chilly in Paris, so another year I’ll resume my practice of going somewhere southerly at the start of my Europe trip. But late May and early June are usually lovely; just not this year. The last two weeks of June were sunny, and the first sunny week really was lovely. But the last week turned into a heat wave (canicule) that was scary and enervating even though it didn’t turn out to be as bad as initially expected. Weather in Boston is highly variable as well. I guess I should move to southern California if I want predictable good weather!
It’s getting harder to find the apartments I want, in the neighborhoods I prefer. I haven’t tried to do a direct comparison, since there are so many variables, but I also have the impression that furnished apartments are getting more expensive. We did well this year, but at a price.
I track sleep with my fitbit, and, like most people, I have to stay in bed at least an hour more than I’m able to actually sleep. I started out strong, hitting my sleep target of 7 hours the first couple of weeks and only gradually slipping until the last week of May, when I slept just 5-1/2 hours. June was better, averaging over 6 hours. Sleep overall was pretty good, but I would hope another year to hit my 7 hour sleep target more consistently.
The big events at the end of June that I missed last year were all ok, but not as fabulous as I had led myself to expect. The summer show of the Palais de Tokyo was just ok; the fête de la musique was nice but not the astounding experience of prior years; and Paris Pride felt rather flat, despite the sunny weather.
I had no problem with sociability this year; the combination of housemates, unplanned visitors and new friends was just about perfect. But I had a two-bedroom apartment all to myself for two weeks in the 1ère arrondissement in mid-May and again in the 5ème in early June, despite my efforts to encourage Boston friends to join. While this wasn’t a disaster, it was somewhat disappointing.
Getting pickpocketed was irritating, and has led me to be more guarded in crowded settings. Doing without a cell phone for three weeks was quite interesting, however, and my preparations for an event like this served me well. While this could certainly happen again it hasn’t significantly tarnished my affection for Paris.
I may be coming to know Paris a bit too well. Having spent the better part of a (discontinuous) year exploring its monuments, parks and byways there isn’t much that surprises me. This makes it a comfortable place to spend time, but reduces the opportunities for surprise.
The gilets jaunes weren’t a big problem but they did inconvenience me on a couple of occasions. The fact that they’re breaking shop windows isn’t really my issue, but I find it irritating that they cause the city to cancel bus routes and blockade streets.
My flight home was on Norwegian Air Shuttle, because it was cheap, direct, and on the Dreamliner. My chief anxiety didn’t materialize: that Norwegian would go out of business before my flight left, leaving me stranded, like the customers of WOW a few months before. My secondary anxiety, however, did: that there would be “gotchas” that would end up costing me substantially more. I tried to anticipate the luggage issue by paying in advance for my checked bag, weighing it with a handheld scale and throwing out stuff to get it down to 50 lbs (22.7 kilos), the usual weight allowance. What I had overlooked, however, was Norwegian’s stringent policy on luggage weight. Payment for a checked bag only covers 20 kilos, and, worse, they weigh your carry-on items with an absolute limit of 10 kilos. I was a couple kilos over in both categories, which required me to move stuff from my carry-on items to my checked bag, which ended up five kilos overweight. Norwegian charges 12 euros per kilo, for an extra 60 euros. Otherwise the flight was nice but the weight issues caused both stress and expense.
This was on the whole a really good trip, despite falling a bit short of greatness. Tokyo and the rest of Japan are calling me back for another visit one of these days. I’m also curious about a month-long stay in Barcelona. But Paris still has the inside track.
Mot du jour: « wesh ». According to the Urban Dictionary, it’s street slang in Paris, and especially in its ethnic suburbs (les banlieues), usually meaning “hello,” “what’s up?” or “what’s new?”
Sunday was a lovely day, sunny like every day over the last two weeks, but comfortably warm rather than scorching. Jared and I decided to take full advantage of the fine weather by going on one last day trip. We chose Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which is easily accessible by RER, and which neither of us had ever visited.
The centerpiece of the town is the impressive Renaissance château where Louis XIV — as well as many of his predecessors — was born.
While it is quite beautiful in its own way one can understand why Louis XIV wanted something even grander, hence Versailles.
After a walk in the vast forest that was used for royal hunts we circled back to the town and had lunch at a café directly across from the Château. We were pleased to find that we could eat almost as well in the provinces as we do in Paris.
The Château no longer has its original furnishings, but can be visited since it’s now the national museum of paleontology. It has a mind-boggling collection of artifacts created by prehistoric humans (including Neanderthals). Some fall into the dreaded category of “cracked pots,” but many others are beautiful and/or curious.
The museum also had a temporary exhibition on Henry II and his family, which was mildly interesting.
There are apparently other things to see in the city, such as the home of painter Maurice Denis, but we were satisfied with our trip so headed back in time for the farewell events I described in the previous post.
Saturday was Paris Pride (La Marche des Fiertés). Jared and I met up with Ari and several of his friends to watch, despite the 95 degree heat.
As usual, it was a huge parade. One distinctive characteristic of Paris Pride is that many individual people jump in and walk along, only punctuated from time to time by floats (chars) and groups with banners. My photos this year weren’t that great but here they are for the record. Pride is always somewhat fun, but I’m coming to realize that, like with so many things, one can never recapture the thrill of the first time.
I finished my Pride experience by walking back home along the line of almost-stopped floats so I could see everything without having to wait interminably. I was then delighted to get a text from Eugène, suggesting a before-dinner apéro. The drink turned into dinner, at Le Bon Coin, a restaurant I had enjoyed with Jared and Zoltán the previous week.
Jared and I hope that Eugène may be able to visit us in Boston this September, and he will be in Santiago for six months after that…
That evening Jared learned that his flight back to the U.S. on Sunday had been delayed by several hours, so he would miss his connecting flight to Boston. He was faced with a choice: spending the night in some random hotel in Newark and getting home Monday morning, or staying one more night (which we had already reserved) in our cozy Paris apartment, having an extra Sunday in Paris, and getting back Monday afternoon. What to do? Fortunately, Jared made the sensible choice, which enabled us to take a day trip on Sunday (next post), and allowed him to join for farewells on Sunday evening.
The first farewell was when our charming Airbnb host, Alexandre, invited us to a local café for an apéro . We enjoyed learning more about his interesting life, and adding an element of personal friendship to our cordial owner-guest relationship. One particular kindness was his offer to let me stay in the apartment until 3 pm, when I leave for the airport, instead of the typical 11 am checkout time.
Our last farewell was an Iranian feast at the apartment of my friend Ali, also including Zhizhong, who Jared and I both knew independently from his grad student days at Harvard, and who has also been close with both Ali and my cousin Lisa (and her daughter Aya). It was hello-goodbye for Jared and Ali, since they were meeting for the first time, but it was a real farewell between me and Ali and me and Zhizhong, since we had spent time together on several occasions this year (as well as on many prior years).
Jared had to catch an early flight on Monday morning so we had to head home after dinner. We walked Zhizhong over to the métro and finished our farewells there. Jared and I had a mini-farewell on Monday morning, but it was more of a joint farewell to Paris since we will both be back in Boston by this evening.
On Friday we headed over to the nearby Jardin des Plantes. I had strolled through it before Jared arrived but didn’t really do it justice. We both felt that the central gardens seemed rather thin (especially compared with 2010), and were bored by the repetitive patterns that characterize a formal French garden.
Our impression wasn’t improved by a visit to the quirky little botanical museum.
We were mesmerized, however, by the water drops at the center of these huge water lily leaves, which looked like liquid silver.
The greenhouses (serres) were lush with vegetation, in striking contrast to the central lawn.
My favorite spot in the Jardin des Plantes, however, was the English-style Alpine Garden, which I’d somehow managed to miss in all my visits to Paris. It’s both lush and lovely! You do have to dodge the sprinklers but it’s worth the effort.
We had lunch at Desvouges, Jared’s favorite among the restaurants we’ve eaten at this year, and one of my favorites as well.
After lunch Jared did some shopping, I did some blogging, and we both took naps. We had dinner at home, the highlight of which was a blind taste test comparing a baguette from the nearby supermarket with one from the neighborhood boulangerie. I was surprised to find that I liked the supermarket baguette better! But we agreed that both were perfectly fine.
We then headed across to the right bank to see a one-woman performance of Hiroshima Mon Amour by the renowned actress Fanny Ardant. It was, as I expected, powerful, moving, and somewhat difficult for me to follow. The theater was beautiful but we realized that it wasn’t air conditioned when they handed us fans and water bottles! It was warm but not too bad, and the theater made it seem downright cool when we stepped outside.
We strolled up to the Experimental Cocktail Club to have a couple of drinks for old times sake, then over to the Marais to see the pre-Pride buzz. It was a beautiful evening for a walk. We ended up jumping on the métro at Bastille.
Addendum: A funny thing happened on the way over to the theater. As Jared and I stepped onto the métro I felt a tap on my shoulder. Having been recently pickpocketed I spun around with an unfriendly expression, but instead of an evildoer there was Tom, now with platinum blond hair! He was meeting friends for a pre-Pride party but we had a chance to say hello and goodbye. It was nice to see him one more time before the end of this year’s petit séjour.
The deadly canicule that had been predicted really hasn’t materialized. It’s been hot, around 90 degrees, each of the last few days. But the nights have been blissfully cool, in the high 60s, so it’s been pleasant outdoors and we’ve been able to cool down the apartment enough to keep it liveable all day.
Jared spent Wednesday with one of his French friends. I slept in, then started working on my blog, which had fallen several days behind. I had breakfast and a light lunch at home, then suddenly realized that it was dinner time! I jumped on The Fork and found a highly-rated local Indian restaurant — Goa Beach — that offered a 40% discount on their already reasonable prices. They had no space on the terrace so asked me to wait at an inside table for something to open up. When a table didn’t free up quickly they just picked up my table and plunked it down on the spacious sidewalk. Pourquoi pas ? The meal was nice and the service was really friendly. I left a tip, which I don’t normally do in Paris.
Tuesday morning we got up early because we wanted to see the last day of chamber music concerts by graduating students at the Paris Conservatory of Music (the Conservatoire national supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris) at La Villette. We got there a bit late for the first one, and the last one had been canceled, but we were in time for a wonderful saxophone concert by four young women, called Ensemble Rayuela. The first piece was written for them by a fellow Conservatory student, Benoît Sitzia. Jared found it too modern but I thought it was terrific, there being no disputing about taste. We both loved the last piece, Mussorgsky’s Pictures From an Exhibition, arranged for piano and four saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone). I really wish photos were allowed since the glinting saxophones were stunning against the black outfits of the four performers.
After our last musical experience in Paris this year we strolled through the Parc de La Villette to the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie for an exhibition on the TGV, the French high speed train, which has held the world speed record of 357 MPH since 2007. (Normal TGV trains run “only” up to 200 MPH.) The exhibit was interesting but not amazing. My favorite thing was this near-life-size art piece, which was in strange contrast to the modernity and obsessive safety of the TGV itself.
After the exhibit that had drawn us in we had the first poor meal I’ve had in Paris this year in the museum’s sad restaurant. I had to put in my ear plugs to deal with the hordes of screaming children! After lunch we wandered about but didn’t see much that was compelling until after Jared left; then I did enjoy interactive exhibits on sound and on the mind, and a presentation on robots. The museum is primarily for children, but if you remember your ear plugs there are also some exhibits of interest to adults.
After the museum I took the tram over to Porte des Lilas where I jumped off to snap a Space Invader, then stayed to get a haircut. I passed up several places offering 10 euro haircuts on the theory that you get what you pay for, but had a very nice cut, and a pleasant experience, at a place that charged me 19 euros. Once again, softie that I am, I left a tip!
At 8 pm I met Jared at the Château de Vincennes and we walked over to the absolutely stunning apartment of a French friend he had met in Boston a few years back. Yves and his partner made us a delightful summery meal, which we enjoyed on their balcony overlooking the treetops of the Bois de Vincennes.
After solving the problems of life, love, culture and politics with Yves and his friends, Jared and I went home on the métro, threw open the windows, and had a good night’s sleep.
Conveniently, the Beaux-Arts exhibit was just a few blocks along the Seine. Canicule or not, the view of the Pont des Arts was still quite gorgeous.
It was a pleasure to be greeted by Lucas in the lobby, and he graciously let me take this photograph of him with his paintings.
After chatting with Lucas for a few minutes I explored the rest of the show.
A few pieces by other recent graduates caught my eye.
Finally, as I was walking down the stairs to leave I noticed these interesting sculptures by Koong Shengqi on the landing. The only caption I saw referred to them as Théâtre Anatomique but I’m not sure whether that referred to only one of them.
After the Beaux-Arts show I headed across the river to meet Jared and another friend he had met during his college year abroad. Ari is from New York but he fell in love with Paris during his own year abroad and moved here permanently after graduating from NYU. I was delighted when he proposed dinner at Champeauxboth because I like it and because I would be able to use another 1,000 La Forchette/The Fork “Yums” to et us a 10 euro discount. The food and wine were exactly the same as my previous two meals there: perfectly nice.
This time the manager’s greeting was very warm but the service was spotty, the opposite of my first visit. My 10 euro discount wasn’t reflected on the original bill but the manager quickly rectified the problem. Despite the glitches it was once again an overall good experience, for a quite reasonable price.
After dinner Jared and Ari asked for a picture together so I posed them in front of the nearby listening head sculpture, Ecoute.
Jared and I walked Ari back to his neighborhood, near Bastille, then took the (air conditioned) line 5 back home.