Antoine, Batignolles, Bouillon Chartier, Comptoir General, Experimental Cocktail Club, flâneur, Fushigi!, Hoppy, Il Tre, Le Refuge, Le Tout Petit, Les Ambassades, Marais, meals, Metro, Montmartre, Montorgueil, Musee d'Orsay, Palais Royal, Parc Monceau, Rodin Museum, rue Montorgueil, Sacre Coeur, Sherard, Théâtre de Nesle
My friend and book club colleague Sherard arrived on Tuesday, May 21, for his second visit to Paris. We had had a lovely time here three years ago, in 2016, so I was delighted when he accepted my invitation to visit again.
He arrived in the morning so our strategy was to keep him up and about until at least 8 pm to help with jet lag. We headed up to Montmartre, starting with Sacré Coeur, which we had also visited during his previous stay.
We were both bemused by the crush of tourists at the top, and impressed with how much quieter it was off the tourist track on the back of the hill. We sat for half an hour at Le Refuge, which Antoine had introduced me to in 2010, watching local people (with nary a tourist in sight) come and go at the métro station Lamarck—Caulaincourt. On our way home I proposed dinner at one of my favorite places, Bouillon Chartier. There I made the first of several mistakes, by failing to warn Sherard that the bar entier would be a whole fish, head, skin, fins and all. He bravely tackled it and I think mostly enjoyed it.
We finished the evening with a couple rounds of cocktails at Experimental Cocktail Club, which is exactly the same as we remembered it from 2016.
The following day we got a joint ticket for the Musée d’Orsay and the Rodin Museum, and headed off to the Orsay. I discussed our experiences at the Orsay in the previous post, but this pic of Sherard from a hallway in the Orsay is worth adding:
When we first arrived at the Seine Sherard remarked on the wide walkways on each side of the river (berges). At first I was puzzled, but then I realized that he hadn’t seen them during his previous stay since they were submerged by the Great Flood of 2016.
After the Orsay we were hungry, and wandered back into the 7ème, which I don’t know well, to forage. We finally came across a friendly place called Les Ambassades whose 19 euro menu included appetizer, main, dessert and beverage, so we were well fed. After lunch I realized that we were just a block or two from the Rodin Museum. Our ticket allowed us to visit the two museums on different days (with a three month period, actually) but since we were already there I suggested that we make it a two-museum day. The indoor museum doesn’t thrill me, but we both quite liked the sculpture garden.
We just had time to regroup at home before heading across the river again to see an interesting production called Fushigi! at the Théâtre de Nesle, an improvisational piece based on the films of Miyazaki. I had imagined colorful costumes but I couldn’t have been more wrong. A young girl embarked on a mission to restore a precious plant to its environment. She and her mother used (very) friendly monkeys to carry messages between them. A wicked witch turned the girl into a vulture, but fortunately her identity was restored and they all lived happily ever after. I don’t have to give you a spoiler alert because the show is different every performance; all this was improvised by four actors clad in white using mime, plus occasional spoken words, to tell a vivid and affecting story. It was also perfect for us, since rapid fire, subtle French is challenging to follow.
After the show we had a a simple but delicious Italian meal at Il Tre, on rue Montorgueil.
We went out later to explore the gay scene in the Marais, but everything was pretty dead so we ended up with a tasty beer at Hoppy, one of our favorite bars from 2016, that fortunately is still thriving.
The next day Sherard asked me to look over a map of Paris and point out the areas with which I was least familiar. This was an approach that worked well during his last visit, ending up with a charming dinner in the faraway 14ème. This year one of the less familiar arrondissements I mentioned was the 17ème. I had visited a few times but never fully explored. We set out on foot, as is our wont, which took us through the Palais Royal.
When we encountered the Galeries Lafayette I suggested we take a look, as a contrast with the more popular 17ème. It’s beautiful and impressive, but I find the rank commercialism rather distasteful.
Our first stop in the 17ème was the charming Square des Batignolles, a jardin à l’anglaise, i.e. mimicking nature rather than geometry. A striking contrast to Galeries Lafayette!
We had lunch in a cute little place next to the park.
Then we plunged into terra incognita (to me). I was surprised to find dozens of big, brand new buildings clustered around a planned station of the fast, fully automated métro line 14. Unfortunately the buildings are finished and occupied but the station has been delayed, so the overcrowded line 13 is a nightmare for the time being.
Sherard had noticed a green strip called the Cité des Fleurs on the map and suggested that we check it out. What proper flâneur could say no? I wasn’t sure that it would be open to the public, but in fact it’s open from 7 am to 7 pm, so we enjoyed a stroll. The older buildings on each side couldn’t be more different from the high rises just a few blocks away.
It was only as we were about to exit that I remembered my friend Antoine having mentioned that he had moved from St. Germain des Prés to this very Cité des Fleurs! I texted him on the off chance that he might be at home, taking care of his newborn daughter; he was, and he invited us up for coffee!
It was great to catch up with Antoine and to see what a family man he has become. We walked home via the beautiful Parc Monceau.
Sherard and I we’re both a bit tired after our long day, and my memory of dinner is hazy, but I’m pretty sure that we capped the evening with cocktails at Experimental Cocktail Club.
A few days later, on Friday afternoon, I made a remarkable mistake that needs to be recounted. I took Sherard for a drink at Le Comptoir Général, an African-themed bar along the Canal Saint-Martin that Alexis had introduced me to in 2013, when it was known as the Ghetto Museum. I had been blown away on that first visit by extensive conceptual art installations, as well as by their powerful signature cocktail, the Secousse (Earthquake).
I also had a dim memory that over the years it had become less African art museum and more pretentious yuppie bar, but it was still on my mental list of places to show visitors. What I definitely did not recall was that I had taken Sherard there on his first visit, in 2016, and we had been distinctly underwhelmed:
I showed Sherard Comptoir Général but realized, seeing it through his eyes, that it was no longer the astonishing art-intensive Ghetto Museum that Alexis had introduced me to several years back, but had become just a big hipster bar with a few bits of African decor.
The current Comptoir Général isn’t a terrible place. We had a moderately pleasant time sipping our drinks and watching the hipsters. The terrible thing is that I had forgotten that we had done the same thing three years earlier. Memory becomes an issue as one gets older. For someone who is “pushing 70” I think I do pretty well, but I have to admit that this oversight gives me pause. It would be an “expected surprise” to sink into outright dementia in the last years of my life, but I’m hoping to stave this off as long as possible!
Near the end of the week Sherard revealed that he had had a slight ulterior motive all along: To keep me so happily busy that I wouldn’t have time to blog. In this he succeeded magnificently! I’m writing a full week later, just after he headed back to Boston.