Canicule !?

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I’ve experienced hot weather in Paris before, for a day or two, but the forecast for our last week is daunting: highs in the 90’s — or even 100 degrees — almost every day!

The French call this a canicule. They usually happen in July and August — a big reason why I visit in May and June — but this year it’s early. Forecasts suggest that this week may be even worse than the historic heat wave of August, 2003, which caused the death of 15,000 people in France. Most of those people were already sick or elderly (!?), but it’s nevertheless a daunting figure!

Paris apartments rarely have air conditioning, nor does ours. We do have pretty decent cross-ventilation between courtyards on two sides, we don’t get much direct sun, and we have exterior shutters. Our strategy is to open the windows overnight when it’s cool(er), then keep the windows and shutters closed during the heat of the day.

The apartment came with a fancy Dyson fan but I went out on Saturday afternoon to buy a second fan for the other bedroom. There were lines of Parisians at Darty and a huge stack of fans right by the entrance, just like stores do with umbrellas when it rains.

When we go out we plan to spend as much time as possible in air conditioned places like museums and movie theaters. Jared has even researched which métro lines have a/c: 1,2,5,9 and 14.Wish us luck!

Update June 26, 2019: Fortunately, the forecast has become more moderate so it’s basically just a week of sunny, hot weather, not a deadly canicule. The strategy of opening up all our the windows at night (when it’s been deliciously cool) and closing both shutters and windows during the day has worked beautifully to keep our apartment cool, and it hasn’t been too hot to spend time outdoors either. Thanks to the friends and family who saw the news and/or my original post, but it looks as though all will be well!

Mot du jour: « plan c ». Eugène explained that on social networking sites this refers to a « plan climatisation », when you meet someone to take advantage of their a/c.

The Beginning of the End

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My perspective always shifts towards the end of a long stay: My social schedule fills up with farewells and my interest in meeting anyone new drops towards zero; a few exhibitions not yet seen become urgent; my thoughts begin to drift towards home. I still have another week, but the shift is underway.

Jared kept me moving this past week! We walked 10 miles a day, which has — at least for the moment — pulled my June average up to 7 miles. On Saturday he went for a long bike ride with Zoltán (to the lovely Parc de Sceaux, which I had enjoyed in 2012. I stayed home to catch up on my blog, but I still logged 6 miles with them after they got back from their bike trip. We started the evening with dinner at a charming local place, Au Bon Coin. We each had an appetizer and main, I had a glass of rosé, all for 33 euros each, which wouldn’t cover a single main course (with tax and tip) at a comparable restaurant in Boston. There was even an amuse bouche!

Jared, Bob and Zoltán at Au Bon Coin
My main course at Au Bon Coin.
Our amuse bouche at Au Bon Coin was a smooth scrambled egg topped with caviar, served in an eggshell.

After dinner we decided to stroll down to the Seine. The banks were crowded with happy young people, and some older as well.

It was a lovely evening — capping one of the best weeks of weather in all my years in Paris!

On Sunday we headed south towards Place d’Italie to forage for lunch. Jared liked the look of a place he noticed down a side street so we tried it out. It was perfectly correct and fair value.

My lunch at Virgule.

Only as we stepped back onto the street did I realize that this was the same place, Virgule, that Lisa and Zhizhong and I had stumbled into last year on May Day. Although I haven’t yet gone there on purpose maybe I will next time!

After lunch we jumped onto the air-conditioned métro line 6 to go to a museum I have never visited in all my years in Paris, la Cité de l’architecture & du patrimoine (the City of Architecture and Heritage) at Trocadero. Jared had seen a listing for an exhibition of the work of three French architects, and thought that this would particularly appeal to Zoltán. I was really impressed by the first of the three architects, Frédéric Borel, from the perspective of his sculptural forms.

15 rue des Pavillions, Paris 20, by Frédéric Borel

I’m not sure whether I would be so enthusiastic if I actually lived in one of these buildings, or if I were responsible for the construction budget! I had photographed another of his projects in 2011, Logement rue Pelleport, Paris 20, by Frédéric Borel, 1993.

None of us much liked the other two architectural teams, although I found one display technique striking, albeit dysfunctional. The images were displayed on the floor (with power lines running up to the ceiling) and you had to walk up and down the aisles to look at them.

In true flâneur fashion it turned out that what we liked best of all was an exhibition of furniture made by architects that we hadn’t even planned to see.

Compressed wood chair, Eric Carlson / Carbondale, 2007
Little Beaver, Frank Gehry, 1987
New Chair, George Nakashima, 1981. (Amusingly misdescribed as being derived from American Quakers, when in fact it’s based on designs of American Shakers.)
Org Table, Fabio Novembre, 2001.
Roots Coffee Table, Jader Almeida, 2013.
Vermelha Chair, Fernando and Humberto Campana, 1993.

We didn’t have time for the permanant collection but I intend to spend more time there another year.

After Zoltán caught the train back to Delft Jared and I put together dinner at home from a few things we had on hand. Although I normally don’t bother meeting new people this late in a stay I made an exception for a young man who proposed to meet for a drink. « Alan » is smart, nice and attractive, and appreciates ahem maturity, so it was worthwhile, even though we won’t be able to meet up again this year.

Trees and Music

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I have previously mentioned Alfred Hitchcock’s concept of a Macguffin — something that the characters in a movie pursue to set the plot in motion, but which isn’t important in itself. A flâneur never pursues a single goal; s/he wanders at random so as to be fully open to whatever the city has to offer. There’s no real harm, however, in allowing a Macguffin to set a flâne in motion, so long as one isn’t so attached to the goal as to miss the pleasures of the journey.

Our Macguffin on Friday was a world-class display of bonsai in the Arboretum of the Domaine de la Vallée-aux-Loups, less than half an hour by train from Paris. My Navigo monthly pass covers the entire suburban rail system (the RER), so I didn’t need to buy a ticket, while the trip cost Jared about 6 euros.

I had some trouble getting us to the bonsai building but we finally broke down and asked someone, who directed us across a lovely park. A few minutes in, however, we encountered a friendly couple returning from the bonsai exhibition who told us that it was closed! They and we had double checked on the website but there was no helping it. We decided to continue on to the exhibition, which was indeed closed. I was able to get a couple of pictures through the window, which confirm that it is worth a visit, some other day:

We were disappointed — despite being dedicated flâneurs — but we made the best of it by exploring the rest of the Arboretum, which was peaceful and charming.

Eventually we came upon the piece de résistance of the Aboretum, an enormous cèdre bleu pleureur de l’Atlas from Morocco that has been named the finest tree in the Île de France.

Jared beneath the cèdre bleu pleureur
Jared and Bob beneath the cèdre bleu pleureur

While our desire to bond with little bonsai trees was frustrated, we ended up bonding with one of the most magnificent trees in France!

My full photo set for the day trip is at: Day Trip to Parc de la Vallée aux Loups. Perhaps another year I/we will return, and see both the bonsai and Chateaubriand’s cottage.

We headed back with enough time to take a nap before heading out for more music. It was June 21, the Summer Solstice, which in France is celebrated as la fête de la musique! This remarkable festival draws enormous crowds into the streets of Paris and (I gather) other parts of France. In the denser areas just about every bar has a band or a singer or a dj. The range of musical genres is wide, although it’s almost all popular rather than, say, classical.

Diversity at la fête de la musique: A Mexican singer at a Tibetan restaurant with an African audience.

I gave Jared a quick look at the scene but then he had to head up to Gare du Nord to meet his friend Zoltán who is staying with us for the weekend. I plunged back into the maelstrom (with my cell phone and cash safely stashed in a money belt under my shirt).

In the gay areas of the Marais la fête de la musique is almost as festive as gay pride.

Even back in my residential neighborhood there were two concerts still in full swing around midnight, when I got home.

Oh, did I mention that it was yet another simply lovely day? Will le beaux temps last forever? (Spoiler alert: No!)

Globes and Music

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It was nice yet again on Thursday (yawn) so we strolled through the 13ème arrondissement to the Bibliothèque nationale de France – site François-Mitterrand (the National Library on the Seine) to see an exhibition on globes that had caught Jared’s eye. The library is an impressive complex, albeit highly dysfuctional.

Bibliothèque nationale de France – site François-Mitterrand

The exhibition covered globes of the earth and of the heavens from antiquity to the present day. They basically seem to have gathered together anything that was or depicted a globe.

Tiny pocket globe of the earth with the stars inside the cover.
Bob and Jared with the enormous Globes of Coronelli made in 1681-3 for Louis XIV.
Louis XVI giving instructions to the captain of the ill-fated voyage of La Pérouse (with globe in background).

After the exhibition we foraged for lunch, and found a nice place in the amazing complex of new buildings that has sprouted over the past few years along the Avenue de France. We were impressed by the way in which each building reflects a distinct architectural vision yet also fits in with overall guidelines for height and features. Jared wondered aloud what Baron Haussmann would make of this. I think he would have found the variation in style incomprehensible but he would have approved of the consistency of mass.

Building on Avenue de France from the rear plaza.
Panorama of buildings along Avenue de France from the rear plaza.

We planned to attend an orchestra concert at La Villette in the evening, but we had plenty of time so we decided to walk back to Bastille via the Promenade Plantée (which we both love). It took a bit of navigating to get onto it, but we found an entrance (at the left of the photo below) right next to a dramatic arch of the Petite Ceinture, another abandoned railway line.

Viaduct of La Petite Ceinture

We had a snack at the Place de la Bastille, then we took the métro up to La Villette with a view to arriving half an hour before the concert. After a SNAFU concerning which concert hall to go to we found the right one and got excellent seats, since it started half an hour later than we had expected.

We heard a terrific free concert, called the Prix de Direction d’Orchestre, performed by the Orchestre des Lauréats du Conservatoire, which is made up of recent Conservatory graduates. Each of the four pieces, by Sibelius, Stravinsky and Dvorak, was conducted by a different top graduate of the Conservatory’s training program for conductors. This is an annual concert that I will try to see every year I am here.

The concert didn’t finish until 11 pm so we were a bit concerned about getting dinner. There were several places in the vicinity that seemed to be closing down but we got a decent turkish meal, which we finished in good time to get the métro home. (The last train typically leaves each end of a line between 12:30 am and 1 am on weeknights, an hour later on Fridays, Saturdays and when the next day is a jour férié.)

The Waves of Martenot

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Wednesday was yet another lovely day (ho, hum), but we were torn between spending time outside and listening to a couple of end of year jazz concerts at the Conservatoire de Paris (properly speaking, the Conservatoire national supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris) at La Villette in the 20ème arrondissement.

We compromised by walking up, about five miles. We started out through the Latin Quarter, where I noticed this segment of the 12th century city wall of Philippe-Auguste near the Panthéon.

12th century Paris city wall of Philippe-Auguste

We continued our stroll northwards, across the Seine, then along the Canal Saint-Martin, stopping for lunch at an old favorite, Chez Prune.

Bob and Jared at Chez Prune
Bob’s lunch at Chez Prune.

When we finally arrived at the Conservatoire, around 3:30 pm, we were bemused to learn that the jazz concerts had already finished for the day! A helpful lady said, however, that if we went in right away we could see a masters recital on the ondes Martenot (waves of Martenot). Neither of us had any idea what this might be but we made a snap decision — for a flâneur there are no wrong choices — and said “yes, please!” We were ushered into the magnificent organ room. Photos are prohibited at these performances but I snapped one of the room before it began.

Salle d’orgue at the Conservatoire de Paris

Only after the performance began did we even realize what the ondes Martinot was: It’s the stringed thing on the left that looks like a spaceship, the speakers in the middle, and the keyboard at the right.

ondes Martinot

There are also mysterious fabric squares called “patchworks” that are placed on the white rectangle below the stringed device. They are apparently quite important since before each piece the ondiste and each of the accompanists spent several minutes arranging and rearranging them!

The ondes Martinot is played with a ring on one of the ondiste‘s fingers that moves along a wire strung above the keyboard as well as with the keys themselves. This allows it to generate smoothly changing tones as well as discrete notes. The effect is always odd, often eerie, and sometimes gorgeous. We subsequently learned from Wikipedia that it was invented in 1928 by the French inventor Maurice Martenot, and that:

“The instrument is used in more than 100 classical compositions. The French composer Olivier Messiaen used it in pieces such as his 1949 symphony Turangalîla-Symphonie, and his sister-in-law Jeanne Loriod was a celebrated player of the instrument. It appears in numerous film and television soundtracks, particularly science fiction and horror films. Jonny Greenwood of the English rock band Radiohead is credited with bringing the ondes to a larger modern audience. It has also been used by pop artists such as Daft Punk…”

So we had probably heard the instrument before, but just hadn’t known what was making the hair stand up on the back of our necks. I might not be in a hurry to hear another such recital, but it was a quintessential flâneur moment!

Jared had to leave for dinner with a friend, so after the concert I was on my own. I took the métro down to Bercy Village on a whim, to have an apéro and get a selfie with an aisle of balloons that I had seen somewhere on line. Yes it’s quite the tourist trap — sue me!

Bob in full tourist mode at Bercy Village

Day Trip to Chantilly II

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Tuesday was yet another beautiful day! I had enjoyed a day trip to Chantilly in 2014 so I was amenable when Jared suggested it. The basics of the visit are covered in my earlier post; this is a grab bag of additional things I noticed on my second visit. Photos from both visits are in my Day Trips to Chantilly Photo Set.

Chantilly is in Picardy so you buy your ticket from the Grands Lignes machines even though the fast train from Gare du Nord takes only 23 minutes; overall it was just an hour from our apartment to the Gare de Chantilly-Gouvieux. The tourist information office wasn’t where the guidebook said, so it took us a few minutes to get oriented, but once we got our bearings we navigated without further incident. It’s a lovely half-hour walk through the forest to the Château.

This visit to the Château was enhanced by the fact that Jared looked closely at each room and often read the captions. We also both got the excellent free audio guide, which I had skipped last time. So here are several items I had slighted in 2014.

The library is gorgeous. It was one of the largest in France.

Of course I recalled that there was an art gallery but I hadn’t remembered how large or good it was. Our meticulous pace enhanced my appreciation of the collection, as did my growing knowledge of art.

Jared felt right at home in this room of royal portraits

Two of my favorite kings:

And just to prove that my aesthetic sense is Catholic, here are two paintings from a temporary exhibition.

After lunch at the correct, although predictably overpriced, restaurant we explored the extensive gardens and topped off our afternoon with a treat.

Chantilly at Chantilly (Hameau in the background).

Chantilly is whipped cream, but it’s very thick and rich — almost like butter!

One of several paradoxes we noted during the day is the fact that the Hameau (hamlet), although completely bogus when it was constructed, is now an authentic historical treasure.

Two Meals and a Walk

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Monday was our first full day. After a leisurely start we had lunch at Desvouges, which I had enjoyed with Jack a few weeks earlier. It was just as good, except there were no fish mains at all! Our genial host explained that they only serve fresh fish and the fishmongers are closed on Monday. I made up a perfectly nice meal from two appetizers, however, and Jared enjoyed his lunch as well.

Jared’s lunch at Desvouges

We then headed west! Our first stop was the beautiful fountain of des Quatres-Parties-du-Monde near the Observatoire. It offers a view down the length of the Jardin du Luxembourg all the way to the Senate. As we strolled in that direction we enjoyed the scenery.

La Fontaine des Quatre-Parties-du-Monde
Sunbather in the Jardin du Luxembourg
Sailboats and the French Sénat in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

We just kept strolling! All the way out to the 15ème arrondissement, then over to the Eiffel Tower, then along the Seine back home to the 5ème. Here are a few moments that Jared particularly enjoyed.

That evening we met up with Eugène for another nice meal at La Dilettante. My only critique is that it was quite loud, but that was because everybody was enjoying themselves so much!

Bob, Jared, Eugène and our amusing waitress at La Dilettante
My main course at La Dilettante, to reassure you that we aren’t starving here

Jared and le Beau Temps

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Jared arrived on Sunday afternoon. All went well once we resolved the communications SNAFU described in my previous post. Like C.N. and Sherard before him, Jared is a keen walker, so after he got settled in we went for a stroll. There are many attractive destinations nearby: the Jardin des Plantes, rue Mouffetard and the one we chose, Buttes-aux-Cailles. Flâneurs that we are, we mostly followed our noses instead of a dusty old map. We were rewarded first with an enormous vide-greniers — a collective tag sale.

There were many treasures for sale, including these African items that looked like they could be in the Musée du quai Branly.

What particularly caught our eye, however, was this mysterious wall plaque, which unfortunately wasn’t for sale.

After escaping the crush of the vide-greniers we noticed some balloons next to an open door and were pleased to find that we had caught the tail end of an open studio weekend for the 5ème and 13ème arrondissements under the rubric of Lézarts de la bièvrelézarts being a jeu de mots between lézard (lizard) and les arts (the arts), while La Bièvre (literally “Beaver River”) is a little river that wound northward to the Seine through the two arrondissements but over the centuries has “disappeared under rubble and urbanization.” We got a map and visited several studios. We got into some charming conversations with artists but frankly didn’t see anything that particularly excited our artistic sensibilities. Another year I may try to do these open studios more systematically.

As we continued to explore the area south of Place de l’Italie, which I have slighted in prior years, we stumbled on Square des Peupliers (Square of the Poplars), an extremely quiet and cute little neighborhood.

39, Square des Peupliers
Jared R. on Square des Peupliers

Jared followed the same strategy that had succeeded so well for me when I arrived this year: Keep awake until at least 8 pm, then sleep for as long as you like. I whipped together a quick dinner from items I had on hand (after overcoming a confusing situation caused by using the wrong size pan on our induction stove top) and Jared crashed at 9 pm.

Friday and Saturday had been quite nice, with just a bit of rain. It really started getting nice, however — le beau temps ! — when Jared arrived. Since then it’s been short pants every day. Finally!

Mots du jour: I had considered vide-greniers and brocante to be interchangeable, but I see now that a vide-greniers is a collective tag sale where ordinary people sell anything and everything, while a brocante is a temporary non-food market where full time or part time professionals sell used items. A marché aux puces is basically a brocante with permanent stalls.

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.

Update July 16, 2019: Here’s another great article, organized by artist: Street art à Paris : les plus belles fresques du 13e arrondissement