My first days in Paris have been pretty good, though different from other years. Normally I arrive in the morning after an overnight flight from Boston; my first day in Paris is also the start of my vacation, and my first day abroad. The drama of arrival was muted this year, however, by the fact that I began my holiday with ten days as a tourist in Italy. The Italian part of my trip was busy, strenuous and filled with art, architecture and food. After the short flight from Venice to Paris I was more interested in resting at my new home than in hitting the ground running!
Fortunately my rental apartment is just as beautiful as it appeared in the listing, including many little details that I couldn’t know in advance: afternoon sun, deep quiet for sleeping, an eclectic collection of DVDs and music CDs, a washer-drier that actually dries (!). In sharp contrast to last year, everything works and the place is squeaky clean. The immediate street — as I knew when I made the rental — is a somewhat uninspiring row of fabric stores, but I’m just a few short blocks from all the food, animation and charm of rue Montorgueil, one of my favorite Paris neighborhoods.
The first couple of days I mostly just settled in, and bought the food and other consumables needed to change my rental apartment into my home-away-from-home. I got out to a couple of good art exhibits, however. The first was the Salon de Montrouge, an annual show of contemporary art by young artists that I had enjoyed last year, which is on until June 3, 2015. I once again found it fresh and cutting-edge, even juxtaposed with the Venice Biennale that I had seen a few days earlier. The second was an impressive series of installations by a Haitian artist at the VnH Gallery in the Marais, through 20 June 2015.
One striking absence this year is my cousin Lisa, who has added so much to my other stays in Paris. She and her daughter Aya are in Uganda, where Lisa is working on a book and on her PhD. (They will be here later in the summer but I will unfortunately miss them.) One of our old favorite restaurants is also gone: the gay-friendly Le Loup Blanc is no more! Fortunately, our mutual friend Joël Zhizhong Yao is still here; we have gotten together several times already, including a day trip to Auvers-sur-Oise that I’ll report on in my next post.
The most striking moment of this year’s visit was when I first saw the statue of Marianne — symbol of the French Republic — in the Place de la République. After many months of work a gorgeous renovation had been unveiled in 2013:
But the Place de la République was the site of the protests after the Charlie Hebdo murders in January, 2015. Their graffiti has been left as a tribute to the victims. I found it a very sad symbol of the way in which evil can so easily destroy the fruits of civilization.
The weather had been perfect in Italy the first two weeks of May — 80s by day and 60s by night, with scarcely a drop of rain. Apparently it had been similar then in Paris, but it turned cloudier and cooler the day I arrived. As usual, there have been stretches of sun every day, and moments when it felt really nice. But overall the weather has been so-so, and at times downright chilly.