Sunday was a lovely day, sunny like every day over the last two weeks, but comfortably warm rather than scorching. Jared and I decided to take full advantage of the fine weather by going on one last day trip. We chose Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which is easily accessible by RER, and which neither of us had ever visited.
The centerpiece of the town is the impressive Renaissance château where Louis XIV — as well as many of his predecessors — was born.
While it is quite beautiful in its own way one can understand why Louis XIV wanted something even grander, hence Versailles.
After a walk in the vast forest that was used for royal hunts we circled back to the town and had lunch at a café directly across from the Château. We were pleased to find that we could eat almost as well in the provinces as we do in Paris.
The Château no longer has its original furnishings, but can be visited since it’s now the national museum of paleontology. It has a mind-boggling collection of artifacts created by prehistoric humans (including Neanderthals). Some fall into the dreaded category of “cracked pots,” but many others are beautiful and/or curious.
The museum also had a temporary exhibition on Henry II and his family, which was mildly interesting.
There are apparently other things to see in the city, such as the home of painter Maurice Denis, but we were satisfied with our trip so headed back in time for the farewell events I described in the previous post.
Saturday was Paris Pride (La Marche des Fiertés). Jared and I met up with Ari and several of his friends to watch, despite the 95 degree heat.
As usual, it was a huge parade. One distinctive characteristic of Paris Pride is that many individual people jump in and walk along, only punctuated from time to time by floats (chars) and groups with banners. My photos this year weren’t that great but here they are for the record. Pride is always somewhat fun, but I’m coming to realize that, like with so many things, one can never recapture the thrill of the first time.
I finished my Pride experience by walking back home along the line of almost-stopped floats so I could see everything without having to wait interminably. I was then delighted to get a text from Eugène, suggesting a before-dinner apéro. The drink turned into dinner, at Le Bon Coin, a restaurant I had enjoyed with Jared and Zoltán the previous week.
Jared and I hope that Eugène may be able to visit us in Boston this September, and he will be in Santiago for six months after that…
That evening Jared learned that his flight back to the U.S. on Sunday had been delayed by several hours, so he would miss his connecting flight to Boston. He was faced with a choice: spending the night in some random hotel in Newark and getting home Monday morning, or staying one more night (which we had already reserved) in our cozy Paris apartment, having an extra Sunday in Paris, and getting back Monday afternoon. What to do? Fortunately, Jared made the sensible choice, which enabled us to take a day trip on Sunday (next post), and allowed him to join for farewells on Sunday evening.
The first farewell was when our charming Airbnb host, Alexandre, invited us to a local café for an apéro . We enjoyed learning more about his interesting life, and adding an element of personal friendship to our cordial owner-guest relationship. One particular kindness was his offer to let me stay in the apartment until 3 pm, when I leave for the airport, instead of the typical 11 am checkout time.
Our last farewell was an Iranian feast at the apartment of my friend Ali, also including Zhizhong, who Jared and I both knew independently from his grad student days at Harvard, and who has also been close with both Ali and my cousin Lisa (and her daughter Aya). It was hello-goodbye for Jared and Ali, since they were meeting for the first time, but it was a real farewell between me and Ali and me and Zhizhong, since we had spent time together on several occasions this year (as well as on many prior years).
Jared had to catch an early flight on Monday morning so we had to head home after dinner. We walked Zhizhong over to the métro and finished our farewells there. Jared and I had a mini-farewell on Monday morning, but it was more of a joint farewell to Paris since we will both be back in Boston by this evening.
On Friday we headed over to the nearby Jardin des Plantes. I had strolled through it before Jared arrived but didn’t really do it justice. We both felt that the central gardens seemed rather thin (especially compared with 2010), and were bored by the repetitive patterns that characterize a formal French garden.
Our impression wasn’t improved by a visit to the quirky little botanical museum.
We were mesmerized, however, by the water drops at the center of these huge water lily leaves, which looked like liquid silver.
The greenhouses (serres) were lush with vegetation, in striking contrast to the central lawn.
My favorite spot in the Jardin des Plantes, however, was the English-style Alpine Garden, which I’d somehow managed to miss in all my visits to Paris. It’s both lush and lovely! You do have to dodge the sprinklers but it’s worth the effort.
We had lunch at Desvouges, Jared’s favorite among the restaurants we’ve eaten at this year, and one of my favorites as well.
After lunch Jared did some shopping, I did some blogging, and we both took naps. We had dinner at home, the highlight of which was a blind taste test comparing a baguette from the nearby supermarket with one from the neighborhood boulangerie. I was surprised to find that I liked the supermarket baguette better! But we agreed that both were perfectly fine.
We then headed across to the right bank to see a one-woman performance of Hiroshima Mon Amour by the renowned actress Fanny Ardant. It was, as I expected, powerful, moving, and somewhat difficult for me to follow. The theater was beautiful but we realized that it wasn’t air conditioned when they handed us fans and water bottles! It was warm but not too bad, and the theater made it seem downright cool when we stepped outside.
We strolled up to the Experimental Cocktail Club to have a couple of drinks for old times sake, then over to the Marais to see the pre-Pride buzz. It was a beautiful evening for a walk. We ended up jumping on the métro at Bastille.
Addendum: A funny thing happened on the way over to the theater. As Jared and I stepped onto the métro I felt a tap on my shoulder. Having been recently pickpocketed I spun around with an unfriendly expression, but instead of an evildoer there was Tom, now with platinum blond hair! He was meeting friends for a pre-Pride party but we had a chance to say hello and goodbye. It was nice to see him one more time before the end of this year’s petit séjour.
The deadly canicule that had been predicted really hasn’t materialized. It’s been hot, around 90 degrees, each of the last few days. But the nights have been blissfully cool, in the high 60s, so it’s been pleasant outdoors and we’ve been able to cool down the apartment enough to keep it liveable all day.
Jared spent Wednesday with one of his French friends. I slept in, then started working on my blog, which had fallen several days behind. I had breakfast and a light lunch at home, then suddenly realized that it was dinner time! I jumped on The Fork and found a highly-rated local Indian restaurant — Goa Beach — that offered a 40% discount on their already reasonable prices. They had no space on the terrace so asked me to wait at an inside table for something to open up. When a table didn’t free up quickly they just picked up my table and plunked it down on the spacious sidewalk. Pourquoi pas ? The meal was nice and the service was really friendly. I left a tip, which I don’t normally do in Paris.
Tuesday morning we got up early because we wanted to see the last day of chamber music concerts by graduating students at the Paris Conservatory of Music (the Conservatoire national supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris) at La Villette. We got there a bit late for the first one, and the last one had been canceled, but we were in time for a wonderful saxophone concert by four young women, called Ensemble Rayuela. The first piece was written for them by a fellow Conservatory student, Benoît Sitzia. Jared found it too modern but I thought it was terrific, there being no disputing about taste. We both loved the last piece, Mussorgsky’s Pictures From an Exhibition, arranged for piano and four saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone). I really wish photos were allowed since the glinting saxophones were stunning against the black outfits of the four performers.
After our last musical experience in Paris this year we strolled through the Parc de La Villette to the Cité des sciences et de l’industrie for an exhibition on the TGV, the French high speed train, which has held the world speed record of 357 MPH since 2007. (Normal TGV trains run “only” up to 200 MPH.) The exhibit was interesting but not amazing. My favorite thing was this near-life-size art piece, which was in strange contrast to the modernity and obsessive safety of the TGV itself.
After the exhibit that had drawn us in we had the first poor meal I’ve had in Paris this year in the museum’s sad restaurant. I had to put in my ear plugs to deal with the hordes of screaming children! After lunch we wandered about but didn’t see much that was compelling until after Jared left; then I did enjoy interactive exhibits on sound and on the mind, and a presentation on robots. The museum is primarily for children, but if you remember your ear plugs there are also some exhibits of interest to adults.
After the museum I took the tram over to Porte des Lilas where I jumped off to snap a Space Invader, then stayed to get a haircut. I passed up several places offering 10 euro haircuts on the theory that you get what you pay for, but had a very nice cut, and a pleasant experience, at a place that charged me 19 euros. Once again, softie that I am, I left a tip!
At 8 pm I met Jared at the Château de Vincennes and we walked over to the absolutely stunning apartment of a French friend he had met in Boston a few years back. Yves and his partner made us a delightful summery meal, which we enjoyed on their balcony overlooking the treetops of the Bois de Vincennes.
After solving the problems of life, love, culture and politics with Yves and his friends, Jared and I went home on the métro, threw open the windows, and had a good night’s sleep.
Conveniently, the Beaux-Arts exhibit was just a few blocks along the Seine. Canicule or not, the view of the Pont des Arts was still quite gorgeous.
It was a pleasure to be greeted by Lucas in the lobby, and he graciously let me take this photograph of him with his paintings.
After chatting with Lucas for a few minutes I explored the rest of the show.
A few pieces by other recent graduates caught my eye.
Finally, as I was walking down the stairs to leave I noticed these interesting sculptures by Koong Shengqi on the landing. The only caption I saw referred to them as Théâtre Anatomique but I’m not sure whether that referred to only one of them.
After the Beaux-Arts show I headed across the river to meet Jared and another friend he had met during his college year abroad. Ari is from New York but he fell in love with Paris during his own year abroad and moved here permanently after graduating from NYU. I was delighted when he proposed dinner at Champeauxboth because I like it and because I would be able to use another 1,000 La Forchette/The Fork “Yums” to et us a 10 euro discount. The food and wine were exactly the same as my previous two meals there: perfectly nice.
This time the manager’s greeting was very warm but the service was spotty, the opposite of my first visit. My 10 euro discount wasn’t reflected on the original bill but the manager quickly rectified the problem. Despite the glitches it was once again an overall good experience, for a quite reasonable price.
After dinner Jared and Ari asked for a picture together so I posed them in front of the nearby listening head sculpture, Ecoute.
Jared and I walked Ari back to his neighborhood, near Bastille, then took the (air conditioned) line 5 back home.
A terrific show of the impressionist art of Berthe Morisot opened at the Musée d’Orsay last week. Morisot was a friend and colleague of many of the most famous impressionist artists, such as Manet, Monet, Degas and Renoir. I find her work to be in the same league, so I suspect that her reputation was a victim of sexism, especially since her subject matter was often more domestic and “feminine” than that of her male peers. She also died rather young, at 54.
Both Jared and Eugène were also interested, so we met at the museum on Tuesday morning. I slowed them down with all my picture taking, but they were gracious. After the show we had a satisfactory lunch in the fifth floor café. Eugène headed out to an appointment while Jared and I saw the Modèle Noir exhibition that I had also seen with Sherard, then explored the permanent collection (all the while enjoying the rather good a/c).
Here are a dozen Morisot paintings that I particularly liked, but I strongly recommend going to the show if you’re able. Many of the works are in private collections, so there may never be another opportunity to see them.
There is also a nice room of paintings by Morisot at the Musée Marmottan-Monet, which Eugène and I visited a few weeks back.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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!
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 — acollective 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 13èmearrondissements under the rubric of Lézarts de la bièvre — lézarts 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.
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.