Three Weeks Without a Cell Phone


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Jared R. arrived from Boston on Sunday afternoon with my replacement iPhone, marking the end of three full weeks in Paris without a mobile phone. My phone was insured, with overnight delivery, but, it turns out, only to a U.S. address. I elected to wait until Jared arrived to avoid the further risks entailed with trying to have it shipped internationally. While there have been a few awkward moments the experience has been surprisingly tolerable, and even somewhat liberating.

In the early years of my petits séjours in Paris I would buy a French SIM card to give me a local phone number, but I wouldn’t pay the inordinate charges for wireless data. I would carry my regular smartphone as well as the Frenchified phone so I could use the Internet when I was connected to wifi. The smart phone also allowed me to use a map application that would use GPS even without an Internet connection, but to search the web or access most apps I would have to find wifi. The consequence was a bit like traveling through a desert from oasis to oasis.

Lacking a smartphone altogether wasn’t like this, however. It was more like the days before cell phones, when you had to make plans by “land line,” then rely on maps and actual brains to get where you wanted to go. I did have a computer and an iPad at home, so I could surf, text and call normally from there. But when I stepped out the door I was out of touch, except for the information of my five senses. There were drawbacks, which I’ll describe next, but the lack of digital distractions was downright exhilirating. (Not to mention the fact that I no longer had to worry about some pickpocket stealing my mobile phone.)

  • Telephone and Text: The lack of any form of mobile communication required careful coordination and planning before I left home, unless I was with someone who did have a phone, which was often the case. I could have lugged my iPad around and staggered between wifi spots but I never did. There were only a few instances where this created problems:
    • One significant issue arose when the gilets jaunes delayed both Zhizhong and me from a rendezvous at the Petit Palais. I was late and he was later but we had no way to tell each other. Fortunately we found one other and had a lovely afternoon. (We had neglected to agree on a backup in case the Petit Palais was closed, which would have been far worse.)
    • The bus made me quite late for dinner last week with Ali, but I had warned him and he was patient, so it wasn’t a big deal.
    • Ironically, the worst problem was when Jared arrived from Boston. It turned out that our doorbell doesn’t work, and he relies on wifi, so he had to go across the street to tell me he was here. I went downstairs but didn’t see him (where of course I couldn’t get his messages), then came back up and found a further message saying he was having lunch at a nearby restaurant. I joined him and all was fine, but it’s funny that the big issue was just a few feet from the apartment.
  • Camera. A flâneur has to take pictures to share the experience with his friends (and, tbh, to make them jealous)! Luckily, I carry a high quality portable camera (a Canon S120), so I could still record my Paris life. If I hadn’t had a separate camera I would have been truly bereft at the loss of my phone. I did miss the ability to make panoramic photos, but I’m making up for lost time now.
  • Google Maps. I had paper maps (one from home and one free from the métro), and I know Paris pretty well, so navigation wasn’t a problem. What I did miss was the ability to get route recommendations on the fly. I would get an itinerary from home, then take a picture of the iPad screen with my camera, but to get home or go somewhere else I would have to use the subway map and my noggin. This worked fine in Paris but it would have been more challenging, in, say, Bangkok.†
Who needs a smart phone when you can navigate with a map?
  • Uber. I never wanted to call an Uber during these three weeks, but I was acutely aware that I wouldn’t have been able to. Paris is well supplied with taxis, so it wouldn’t have been an issue in the busier areas, but if I’d been trying to get home late at night from some remote quarter I might have felt quite unhappy.
  • Translation. I know French well enough to get around. There were a few moments when a friend looked something up to resolve a subtle point, and once or twice I wasn’t sure what something on the menu was, but there was nothing I felt any burning desire to translate. This could be quite different for someone who didn’t know the local language.
  • Social Networking Apps. I had them at home but it was a pleasure not to be bothered by them when I was out and about. I’m interested in enduring friendships, not hookups, so I didn’t miss anything.
  • The Fork / La Fourchette. Several times in the first month I used this app to reserve a restaurant on the fly, and I have continued to use it from home. I earned 10 euros (count them!) at the end of May through the site and I’m close to another reward. Paris has so many good restaurants, however, that it’s falling down easy to find one wherever you are. I was sad not to be able to play this game away from the house but it was no big deal.
  • FlashInvaders. One of the biggest impacts was highly personal. For the last three years I have enjoyed adding to my collection of little (sometimes big!) street artworks by Space Invader. A photo has to be taken with the app on a location aware cell phone, however, so all I could do these past three weeks was to snap the location with my camera, with a view to going back later with my cell phone. There are, however, 1,407 artworks in Paris, of which I have snapped only 108. So my plan now is just to snap the ones I see while going somewhere interesting rather than forcing myself back to the ones I ran across during my cell phone hiatus.
  • Pokemon Go. For 18 months I was addicted (instead?) to Pokemon Go, but fortunately I have been clean and sober for more than a year so the inability to chase those imaginary pocket monsters wasn’t an issue.

The theft of the cell phone also gave rise to many practical issues, mostly concerning second factor authentication. Fortunately I had anticipated and provided for many of these issues so recovery in this area was almost seamless. I’ll post separately about this, however, since it’s really quite different from the day to day lack of a mobile phone.

Street Art in Paris: The 13ème


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My June apartment is in the classy 5ème arrondissement, but on the edge of the less prestigious 13ème. Prestigious or not, the 13ème has an astonishing variety of street art, including more than thirty wall frescoes along Boulevard Vincent Auriol that were just inaugurated a few days ago. Honestly, you’ll get a better look at that last link, but here are a few that I liked during a walk on Saturday evening.

Art in Paris: Musée Marmottan Monet


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The Musée Marmottan Monet is a bit of a hodge-podge. Marmottan, father and son, collected medieval and Renaissance art, post-Revolutionary art and furniture, and lots of other stuff. The son willed the property to the Académie des Beaux-Arts, under which many donations were accepted, most significantly quite a few works of Claude Monet, donated by his son, Michel. The problem as I see it is that the best work by Monet had already been scooped up by other museums, notably the Musée d’Orsay, leaving lesser or more personal works for this museum; the main reason to visit it is if you’re interested in an exhibition. Eugène and I wanted to see their current exhibition, “Oriental Visions, From Dreams Into Light,” so we headed over on Saturday afternoon. It was worth a look, and I also enjoyed a few items from the permanent collection. First and foremost were two paintings by Ingres.

There were lots of other bathing beauties, which felt derivative and repetitive, but Eugène pointed out the amusing caption on the “fantasy scene” shown below: “No woman, not even a prostitute, would show herself this way in the street, smiling seductively, with her breasts on display.”

Jean-Léon Gérôme, Jeune Orientale au narguilé, Undated.

I did quite like these two paintings, both of which show mastery in their portrayal of sun and shade:

Eugène Fromentin, La Rue Bab-el-Gharbi à Laghouat, c. 1859.
Albert Marquet, Le balcon au store rayé, Alger, c. 1945.

Many of the paintings depicted Morocco or Algeria, which aren’t to my way of thinking “oriental,” but Eugène explained that the term is being used to refer to anything exotically foreign.

It said something, however, that my favorite painting in the exhibition was the one below, which bears no resemblance — except in its title –to anything else in the exhibition.

Kandinsky, Oriental, 1909.

The only Monet in the permanent collection that attracted my attention on this visit is this one, which I also added to my Impressionism Far and Near photo set.

Claude Monet, En Promenade Près d’Argenteuil, 1875.

The museum does have a nice room of paintings by Berthe Morisot, who is also the subject of a show that opens this Tuesday at the Musée d’Orsay. This portrait particularly caught my eye:

Berthe Morisot, Portrait de Louise Riesener, 1881.

On the way back to the métro Eugène and I had a refreshing drink at La Gare and a couple of tasty ice creams at a roadside stand.

Day Trip to Rambouillet


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On Friday morning the forecast was finally good! So I lost no time in planning a day trip. I’ve already taken many of the trips proposed in An Hour from Paris, but I still hadn’t been to the château where French Presidents entertain foreign leaders, so I took a bus over to Gare Montparnesse to catch the train to Rambouillet. It was surprisingly easy to buy my round trip (aller et rétour) train ticket, and after a small confusion with a local train I got on the express train with time to spare.

The town itself is pretty typical, if a bit on the tired side. The château is nice, though I’ve seen nicer.

Half a dozen rooms in the château can be visited (so long as the President isn’t in residence).

Napolean I’s bathtub was very ornate, and also very tiny.
The formal dining room was impressive.
My favorite item in the château was this really charming chair.

The flower gardens were surprisingly thin, but the park is big, with lots of water features and some lovely vistas.

There are two little buildings in the park which can be visited, at specific times each hour. The first is a little milking house that was given by Louis XVI to Marie Antoinette.

The main feature of the milking house is an artifical grotto containing this statue of a milkmaid with her goat.

There was one absolutely unique feature of Rambouillet, hidden within a rather charming faux cottage.

The central room is small but quite elegant. Then as you look closer you notice…

…that every surface of this room is completely decorated with shells.

All in all it was a perfectly pleasant place to stroll around on a sunny spring day.

There was another local/express confusion getting back to Paris, but it got sorted out with the help of a friendly young man. My real transportation issues started with finding the bus back to my apartment, then with getting a bus over to the apartment of my friend Ali for dinner. Both busses were late from the start, then excruciatingly slow. I was able to alert Ali to the situation from home but of course – still lacking a cell phone – was out of touch until I arrived. Fortunately my delay wasn’t an issue, and Ali ordered up a terrific Iranian meal. Our conversation ranged widely over family, health and life in general. When it was time to go home I took the métro instead of trusting to another bus.

Art in Paris: Ôtsu-e


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The Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris had an exhibition that was ending soon, so I went to see it on Thursday. It proved to be a lot of fun!

Ôtsu turns out to be a town near Kyoto on the famous Tôkaidô road from Edo (now Tokyo). From the early 17th century through the mid-19th century the town specialized in selling small humorous images to travelers. Over the centuries Ôtsu developed a suite of standardized characters, who became known throughout Japan, and have found there way into Ukiyo-e prints and other fine art as well as the popular imagination.

The most typical character is a demon dressed as a monk, invoking the Buddah Amida.

Second half of the 18th century

Also common are the god of longevity and the god of luck.

Finally, here are a couple of images of the whole rogues gallery.

I see links between these characters and contemporary manga, as well as with some of the outsider art I saw earlier in the week.

After the gallery, I had a delicious light lunch at the Japanese café in the museum.

Salmon rice onigiri, matcha tea and a sesame mochi. Miam !

Rain, Rain Go Away!


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Wednesday was another rainy day, so… Wait, are you seeing a pattern here? Yes, June started with two warm and sunny days, then has reverted to the chilly and rainy weather that characterized May. It’s been too cold to leave the windows open! I’ve been tempted a few times to figure out how to turn on the heat! Here’s hoping that the second half of June will be more seasonable.

I mostly blogged on Wednesday, but I did go out for lunch at a well-reviewed local restaurant, L’Agrume. It was really excellent!

Main course for lunch at l’Agrume

As I’ve encountered a few times before there were three appetizers, but when I tried to order one of them the server explained that one got all three! At the end of the meal a French woman at the adjacent table struck up a conversation, in which she confided the fact that this was the best restaurant in the quarter.

That evening was a bit complex. My host, who is traveling in Portugal, arranged for his friend to come by after work to try to get the projection TV working. Then at midnight I planned to join my contemporary book group on video for the discussion of Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King. It seemed too complex to try to organize dinner in between, so I just planned to eat at home. However, Tom texted that his own dinner plan had fallen through, so I invited him over. He helped with the TV issue, then we strolled up rue Mouffetard to forage for food. His initial suggestion was Iranian food, but I said I was planning an Iranian meal for Friday night. Then he proposed a Japanese place, but it was jammed and noisy. So we happily agreed to eat at exactly the same crêperie as last week. We were seated in the identical seats, and we ordered the identical galettes. Why mess with success? After dinner Tom came back to watch something on my new TV. We were stymied at every turn, however, either by geographical issues or password problems! We finally decided to just talk, like in the old days, until he had to leave to let me join my my book group. The next morning I finally did get Netflix working, so I hope we’ll have another opportunity to watch something before I leave.

On Thursday it was rainy again, so I headed for another museum, this time the Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris, which I’ll blog about next. I obediently left my umbrella at the door, but by the time I finished lunch the sun had come out so I predictably forgot it when I left. I eagerly strolled along the Seine picking off some “now” photos for my Then and Now photo set, which pairs historical paintings with what the same place looks like today.

That evening I met Eugène for dinner to celebrate completion of the long essay he has been writing. We ate at a nearby restaurant he didn’t know, La Dilletante. I hadn’t been there either, so it was a bit of a risk, but it had terrific online reviews so we took a chance on it. It was really nice! The staff were young, cheerful and friendly (not always true in Paris!) and the food was very good.

At the end of the meal Eugène paid the restaurant a high compliment indeed: he plans to bring his mother there!

There was an amusing moment later in the evening, as we were looking at the web site of L’Opéra de Paris to see whether I might qualify for a senior discount. When I observed that I did seem to be eligible Eugène said, “You’re over sixty-five?” Scrupulously honest though I am, I also operate on a “need to know” basis, so I just said, “Yes.”

Art in Paris: Musée du quai Branly


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More rain was forecast for Tuesday, so I headed over to the Musée du quai Branly, which is now called the even more tounge-twisty Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac; anything but what it actually is: the (gasp!) Museum of Primitive Art. Specializing, in the words of this book cover from one of the exhibitions, in:

I’ve visited several times, but my response on this occasion was slightly different. Having spent the previous afternoon at a museum of “outsider” art I was struck by the fact that nearly all of the works in Musée du quai Branly are equally “outside” the mainstream of Western art, despite their embrace by Picasso and other giants of the 20th Century Modern Art movement. The first exhibition concerned the collector, critic and publisher Félix Fénéon (described as a, “[d]andy caché sous des allures de faux-Yankee…“), included a poignant little book in which Fénéon asked a variety of art experts whether African art would ever be admitted into the Louvre. The role he played as an advocate for African art, and the collection he amassed, were interesting, but overall this exhibition wasn’t terribly impressive. One example will illustrate his good taste, but it isn’t that different from what you find in the museum’s permanent collection:

Mask from Tanzania (wood, fiber, teeth)

The other exhibition concerned Oceania. It was well curated and wide-ranging, but again left me somewhat blasé, in part because I had spent a lot of time there and had already seen similar works to those on display. Again, here’s a nice pair of statues to give you a glimpse:

Feminine and masculine figures, About 1900, Kranket Island, Port de Madang, Bay of the Astrolabe, Papua-New Guinea.

I actually spent most of my time in the permanent collection, which I’ve visited several times. Due to the enormous size of the collection, and the extremely confusing layout, I notice new pieces every time I visit. Here are a few that I particularly liked this year, and I’ve added a Musée du quai Branly Photo Set to capture what I liked best from all my visits.

Mexican bat mask.

Kiiappaat mask of Nuka Uttuaq, population Ammassalimiut, East coast of Greenland, 1934

Mask, Population Lega, Democratic Republic of the Congo, end of the 19th century (detail)

To be honest, I think my enjoyment of the quai Branly is rather similar to my reaction to the outsider art museum the previous day: The pieces have the potential to surprise me, to weird me out, and to amuse.

They can also be beautiful and well made. But they rarely or never bring me to the same sort of aesthetic bliss as I not infrequently get from impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. My personal response isn’t an argument against putting them in the Louvre, since I’m no more likely to enjoy the average item there. And as we know, there’s no disputing about taste.

Art in Paris: Outsiders


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Rain was forecast for Monday so I looked for an indoor activity. Most museums were closed, either because they always close on Monday or because it was a jour férié (the Day After Pentecost). I decided to see two exhibitions of outsider art (art brut) at Halle Saint-Pierre, in part to avoid taking yet another exhibition off the shared-interest list with Eugène.

The scene when I emerged from the métro at Anvers was hideous: mobs of Sacré-Coeur tourists (and people who prey on tourists) crushing in from all sides. I had never been to Halle Saint-Pierre but it seemed to be in a dreadful location, just a block off the main tourist track. But it proved instead to be a haven of French hipsterdom.

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The museum had two exhibitions, both on through August 2. The first was a retrospective of outsider art from Chicago over the past seventy-five years and the second was called “Hey #4, Modern Art and Pop Culture”. I approached the Chicago exhibition with skepticism, and came away with the somewhat condescending perspective that this is the art that America deserves in the Age of Trump.

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A collection of works by various outsider artists from the former Maxwell Street Market. Perfect for the Age of Trump!

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By Charles Smith, about 1990

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Trumpesque Throne, by Mr. Imagination (Gregory Warmack)

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By Lee Godie

The second exhibition, however, caught me by surprise. Hey #4 offered a wide variety of works, characterized by vividness, audacity and creativity. While popular, to be sure, much of this work was in no obvious way inferior to the art in a contemporary gallery or museum. Here are some glimpses:

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Center: By The Kid, Rise and Rise Again Until Lambs Become Lions, 2016

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Gerard Mas, Antroporci, 2008

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Masayoshi Hanawa, 2015/18

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Nils Bertho, Yoaki Arena, 2018

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Fulvio Di Piazza, Homecoming, 2017

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Heidi Taillefer, Brewing the Yangtze, 2015

This is only a taste! If you like some or all of these and would like to see a broader selection, please check out my Hey #4 Photo Set.

Venice Isn’t in Italy


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On Sunday morning Eugène invited me over for brunch. I was to bring desserts, so I stopped off at a nearby boulangerie to get a couple of fruit tarts.

Unexpectedly, I encountered the most stressful French language moment of all my Paris stays! The clerk was an older French woman. She said, « bonjour » and I said the same. I then said, « Je voudrais deux tartelettes. »  This is not a complex phrase; while I apparently have an unmistakable American accent I can’t imagine how I could failed to say this clearly enough. However, the woman professed not to understand me at all.  I then said, « Je voudrais une tartelette fraise et une tartelette framboise. »  She still expressed complete incomprehension, as if I were speaking Greek. Finally I got my sweet little tarts through a combination of sign language and English. I honestly cannot understand what was going on here. There are many things in French I have trouble saying or understanding. Ordering in a bakery isn’t one of them. A definite travel adventure!

I was a bit frazzled by this, but I soon relaxed in Eugène’s comfortable and luminous apartment. I was upset all over again, however, when I noticed that the rose that I had brought him earlier in the week had already withered! It still had a bit of color but I really should have thought to bring another one.

Eugène’s brunch was in four courses! It started with pain au chocolat, thé des impressionists, and two choices of juice.

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Eugène setting out the first course.

Followed by scrambled eggs, smoked salmon wild-caught in Alaska, and toast with a choce of two types of butter and two varieties of home-made preserves.

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The second course.

His brunches at school were famous for including truffles from his family’s land in southwestern France (where they hunt with a trained dog rather than the traditional pigs, since pigs tend to eat the truffles). He had no family truffles ready to hand but the cheese course did include a truffle-filled variety.

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Eugène with the cheese course.

Topped off, of course, with dessert.

Among the topics of conversation was an idea I had mentioned of a trip to Venice to see the Biennale. Eugène referred to a French song, “Venise n’est pas en Italie.”  At first I didn’t understand, since Venice is in Italy, but when I looked up the translated lyrics it made more sense:

Venice isn’t in Italy
Venice it’s at anyone’s place
Make love to her in an attic
And make fun of the gondoliers
Venise is not where you believe it is
Venise today is at your place
It’s where you go, it’s anywhere you want
It’s the place where you are happy

Romantic Paris


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On Saturday I arranged to meet Zhizhong at the Romantic Paris exhibition at the Petit Palais. We were aware that the gilets jaunes are active on Saturdays (and jours férié) so we checked on the RATP website to see what effects this might have on transport. The site warned that certain stations in the vicinity of the Champs-Élysées might be closed in the morning, but we weren’t meeting until 4 pm so I presumed that by then everything would be fine. Famous last words!

I allowed an extra half-hour to get there, just in case, but was surprised by an announcement on the line 1 métro that it would skip all stops starting with Tuileries. I got off at Palais Royal and started walking at a vigorous pace about two miles to the Petit Palais. At Concorde, however, I saw that not only were the Champs-Élysées blocked by police, but the entire area down to the bank of the Seine.

So near and yet so far! The Petit Palais is just peeking above the trees in the distance, but the barricades at Place de la Concorde prevented direct access.

Fortunately, it was still possible to walk along the berges (shoreline walkways) of the Seine . The street running between the Grand Palais and Petit Palais was also blocked, but the police let me through politely when I asked about the Petit Palais. I was fifteen minutes late, but Zhizhong was nowhere to be seen. I waited another fifteen minutes in the lobby, then decided to see the show anyway. (Since I had no mobile phone there was no way to confirm when or whether he was coming; just like in the old days!)  As it turned out, Zhizhong had an even more complex adventure, involving an illegal taxi driver who refused to accept a credit card, so was 45 minutes late himself. Fortunately we found each other in the exhibition. (Eugène subsequently remarked that Parisians stay home now on Saturdays, for exactly this reason.)

The exhibition was quite a lot of fun, but very different from the fine art I’m used to seeing. The focus in this exhibit was on the culture and style of the period from Napoleon’s fall in 1815 to the Revolution of 1848 (which started as the Second Republic but soon turned into the Second Empire, under Louis Napoléon, no doubt the subject of the next exhibition in the series). This exhibit took an interest in the artists and styles popular in the period, regardless of whether they have weathered the test of time. And many of the art works were principally intended to show us the people and mores depicted instead of inviting us to take any particular interest in the artist or artistic style.

The first room gave an overview of Paris in this period before diving into material related to eight particularly romantic parts of the city. This huge painting reminds us of how little of the Paris we know existed at the start of this period.

George Arnald, Paris vue de Montmartre, 1822

We are told that this painting had an immense success in 1827. It depicts a young Polish page who was tied nude to the back of a wild horse as punishment for adultery. Who am I to disagree?

Horace Vernet, Mazeppa aux Loups, 1826

Update: My friend Andrew points out in a comment that Balzac, among other authors, lampooned the fashion for including this print in French households of the period. His link also notes that the boy, Ivan Mazepa, survived the ordeal and went on to become the leader of the then-autonomous Cossack state.

In 1833 Notre-Dame didn’t yet have any of the additions by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (no relation) that burned earlier this year, and it was somewhat hemmed in by other buildings.

Charles Frechot, Le Parvis de Notre-Dame, 1833

This painting of flags from the 1830 Revolution strikes me as being impressionist avant la lettre.

Léon Cogniet, Les drapeaux, 1830

And here’s a glimpse of Léon’s studio, painted by his sister:

Amélie Cogniet, Atelier de Léon Cogniet, 1831

Just one of several funny caricatures by Daumier and others:

Honoré Daumier, Portrait-charge de Jacques Lefebvre, banquier, 1833

I’ve always admired the golden guy who tops the pillar celebrating the Revolution of 1830 that stands in the center of the Place de la Bastille. This is a half-size plaster model — still pretty big!

Augustin Dumont, La Génie de la Liberté, 1833

After we closed the place down, we strolled back across the still-blocked Champs-Élysées.

Paris under siege: The Champs-Élysées on a typical Saturday afternoon.

We had dinner at Le Camondo, a restaurant that Zhizhong had been wanting to try. The room is attractive, they have a nice terrace out back, and the food is quite good.

Zhizhong and Bob at Le Camondo

Bob’s main course at Le Camondo

Pain Perdu (actually cake more than bread, but good) at Le Camondo

The service was friendly but somewhat casual, lacking the reserve I would expect to accompany fine dining. There was some sort of high-school party going on in an adjacent room, then on the terrace, which added youthful energy but was somewhat distracting. On the whole I would say that Le Camondo is quite a good museum restaurant but doesn’t offer an overall experience that justifies its price range.

The Musée Nissim de Camondo is next to the beautiful Parc Monceau, and I was pleasantly surprised to see, as we left the restaurant around 9:45 pm, that the park was still open. We strolled across it, and found it very atmospheric in the gathering dusk, despite reminders by an occasional guard to leave by 10.

Parc Monceau, just before closing, at 10 pm.

Parc Monceau, just before closing, at 10 pm.

We took the métro down to Étoile, after which our homes were in opposite directions. We naturally saved the most important part of our day’s conversation for our final parting, in the middle of a subway corridor.