Albert Kahn Museum and Garden, Bastille, Belleville, Boulogne, Bullet holes, Décapsulateur, Deux Fois Plus de Piment, Elliot, Japanese garden, jardin à l’anglaise, La Pelouse, La Valse, Le Siffleur de Ballons, meals, Montorgueil, Mustafa, Opéra de Paris, parc de la Villette, Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, Paris Then and Now, Pause Café, Ravel, Rosa Bonheur, rue Montorgueil, Yunpeng
I’ve fallen behind! But it’s cloudy and cool for a change so I’ll do my best to catch you up on my Parisian adventures.
Last Thursday I decided to visit the Albert Kahn museum and garden in Boulogne, a suburb at the end of the 10 métro line. Apart from driving through in a rental car I had never been to Boulogne. It would have been a lovely day for Senlis or another An Hour From Paris day trip, but train schedules were still disrupted by the strike so it seemed best to stay within reach of the métro.
Albert Kahn turns out to have been an interesting character. He made an enormous fortune as a speculator and banker in the 1890’s, then became a philanthropist, both as a donor and as founder of various projects designed to increase world peace and happiness. He never married, and the museum commentary takes pains to explain that his heart had been broken by a young woman in his youth, and that he maintained a secret mistress in later life. One of his eccentric projects was buying up dozens of parcels in Boulogne and turning them into a series of gardens – French formal, wild and natural (which the French call a jardin à l’anglaise), and Japanese. My favorite was the contemporary Japanese garden (a 1989 replacement for Kahn’s original version).
I wouldn’t put the Kahn museum and gardens on a must-see list, but you can spend a few relaxing hours there.
On Friday I finally caught up for lunch with Elliot Marks, a friend since his undergraduate days at Harvard who lives here with his French partner. We ate at a sort of deli-that-serves-food called Le Siffleur de Ballons. It was a casual and enjoyable meal.
On Friday afternoon my friend Yunpeng arrived from Norway to stay with me for a long weekend. We had met on line several years ago, and had become comfortable with one another over Facebook, but this was the first time we had met in person. In retrospect this was quite a risk, but in this case it worked out beautifully. He had been to Paris once before so he had already seen the top tourist sites. This allowed me to guide him to some more typical and less touristy areas. His first evening we ate at my old favorite Le Loup Blanc (which closed in 2014), which was as usual pleasant and good value for money. On Saturday we started with a look around the trendy Bastille quarter, then had lunch at Pause Café. Yunpeng loved his Asian salad but my pan-fried salmon was just ok.
We strolled up to where the Canal Saint-Martin comes out of its tunnel, then (again!) over to my old favorite Montorgueil neighborhood, which was exceedingly lively. We had kirs at my favorite table on the terrace of the LB Café, which has a view down rue Tiquetonne as well as up and down rue Montorgueil.
Yunpeng is from China but there is no good Chinese food in Bergen, Norway, where he is working on his PhD. Consequently, he had a hankering for a really good Chinese meal. Based on online reviews we ate on Saturday night at a Szechuan restaurant, Deux Fois Plus de Piment (“Twice the Spice”). Yunpeng enjoyed ordering in Mandarin Chinese, and to cater to my tender palate he requested spiciness level two on a scale of one to five. That worked out well for me, but Yunpeng, who is from northern China, found the food too spicy!
On Sunday morning we had an impromptu picnic at the parc de la Villette. My plan had been to take a leisurely stroll from there over to the parc des Buttes-Chaumont, but it was chilly in the wind so we took the métro home again for more clothing (which as it happened we didn’t need). My Boston friend Mustafa joined us — one of the “expected surprises” of this year’s sojourn — and the three of us set off for the parc des Buttes-Chaumont, and the Sunday afternoon scene on the terrace of Rosa Bonheur.
After a bottle of rosé and various other beverages we shared a nice, casual meal at a neighborhood French restaurant, La Pelouse, which has the great advantage of being right outside the park, at the Botzaris métro.
Yunpeng left on Monday morning, after a lovely visit. That evening Mustafa and I went to a concert at the Opéra de Paris at Bastille. It’s a stunning 1989 building, and the theater itself offers excellent sight lines, even for the (relatively) cheap seats in the second balcony that I had reserved. My favorite piece was La Valse by Ravel. I knew that following Bizet French music had emphasized tonal painting rather than traditional melody, but I hadn’t appreciated how radical Ravel was. This piece toys with and demolishes the very idea of a waltz. It was too hot even for Diaghilev!
I’ve been working on a project which I’d like to invite you to have a look at. I took a dozen photos of historic paintings when Jason and I toured the Musée Carnavalet a few weeks back. Since then, in my spare time I’ve been taking photos of what the same scene looks like today. The resulting pairs of photos are at this link: Paris Then and Now. Some scenes are almost identical, others very much changed, but I enjoyed the excuse to explore this lovely and historic city.
One of the paintings I couldn’t match was on Passage Piat in the diamond-in-the-rough neighborhood of Belleville. I was comforted, as I walked up a slightly sketchy street, to see a police station in the next block. My comfort level was somewhat reduced, however, when I noticed that there were bullet holes every few feet in all of its windows!
Mot du jour: décapsuleur. For once your guess would probably be correct.