On Friday evening, after my place was organized, I invited Jared W over for an apéro. He’s a brilliant math professor at Boston University, and has been invited here for a month by one of the Paris universities as a scholar in residence. Jared stayed with me in Paris for a week in 2013 and speaks French at least as well as I do.
Jared W and me, still sober, having an apéro at my place.
After we sipped through an excellent Saint-Emilion Grand Cru from my Bordeaux stay Jared suggested that we visit the Canal Saint-Martin. There’s a Velib’ stand outside my front door so we snagged bikes and set out on a wild ride. Bikes are usually allowed to disregard one-way signs, ride in bus lanes, etc. so it was pretty quick!
We took a detour around the Place de la Republique, however, when we encountered six police vans, sirens wailing, racing in that direction. There have been protests there for weeks against a proposed labor law that would make it easier for companies to fire employees with indefinite contracts. The Socialist government of François Hollande is pushing this change in the hope that making firing easier will make companies less reluctant to hire more permanent employees, so there will be a net benefit to unemployment. The demonstrators consider this an erosion of employee rights, without sufficient (if any) benefits.
The Canal Saint-Martin was lovely as usual, and much cleaner after having been drained and thoroughly scrubbed earlier this year.
Jared W and me at the Canal Saint-Martin
Jared recalled our visit three years ago to Le Comptoir Général, a bar featuring remarkable African installations. Here I am pretending to be a sahib.
Sahib Bob at Le Comptoir Général.
We had a couple of their unique cocktails, then began thinking about dinner. We strolled around the hip area east of the canal, and settled — with the approval of The Fork — on Marilou. We had a wonderful meal of large tapas plates, for quite a reasonable cost. After dinner Jared proposed a gay bar. My heel has been hurting since Bordeaux so I proposed the métro instead of my usual preference for walking, and his for biking. We started comme d’habitude at the Open Café in the Marais and enjoyed the usual street scene, including this young man on his hoverboard.
Hoverboarder outside the Open Café in the Marais
Then we headed over to another Marais gay bar, Les Souffleurs, to which Lisa’s Geoff had introduced us in 2013. The crowd was quirky, cheerful and young, as usual. Around 10 pm the tiny basement dance floor opened up so we went down to have a look. At first we were alone with the handsome dj and bartender but soon the space began to fill up. At the end of the evening we said farewell and snagged Velib’s to return to our respective homes.
I spent most of Saturday catching up on my blog and babying my hurt heel (which I will take to the doctor if it isn’t better by Tuesday morning). Jared W stopped by again for apéro but then had to leave for a pressing engagement. I had a Joël Robuchon meal for dinner, though not at one of his restaurants: it was a frozen chicken spaghetti dish proudly bearing his brand. Actually quite good, as is much of the frozen food here.
On Sunday morning I checked l’Officiel des Spectacles to see what art exhibitions around the city were about to close. It was the last weekend for the current crop of shows at the Palais de Tokyo so I headed over after lunch. Nothing could top acquaalta from last year, but I found several of the exhibitions thoroughly enjoyable.
Simon Evans uses lots of words (in English) but also has a good eye for their visual impact.
Detail of “Wallpaper” (2015) by Simon Evans from his exhibition “Not Not Knocking on Heaven’s Door” at the Palais de Tokyo.
I really liked the look of the many diverse works in the Jean-Michel Alberola exhibition. The concepts were sometimes intelligible to me and sometimes not, but they were intriguing even when incomprehensible.
A few works by Jean-Michel Alberola from the exhibition “L’aventure des détails” at Palais de Tokyo.
My favorite show was the complex “Double Je, artisans d’art et artistes.” First came a short story which they give you to peruse as you wait in line to enter. The story takes place in a large complex of rooms occupied by an artist and her wife. There is a crime of some sort, it seems, perhaps by a spectral intruder. The rooms and their contents were then created by a series of artists in different media and styles. It’s impossible to capture the breathtaking scope of this exhibition but here are two glimpses.
View of one room of the exhibition, “Double Je, artisans d’art et artistes” at the Palais de Tokyo
View of the Labyrinth room of the exhibition, “Double Je, artisans d’art et artistes” at the Palais de Tokyo
There was also an exhibition that I hated, “The Light of the Light,” which you can see in this clip. It may be a witty send-up of extravagant and glitzy art but I think it should be possible to criticize bad art without yourself making more of it.
At the end of the afternoon I caught up with two Korean guys I had met on the Bordeaux wine tour of Saint-Emilion last week. They had met each other during their freshman year at Washington University in Saint Louis, then they had both done their two-year military commitment. The were almost through a whirlwind tour of European capitals; their first visit to Europe. Next fall they will return to Saint Louis to finish college.
When I headed down to métro Etienne-Marcel to meet them I outsmarted myself. I grabbed a bike from the Velib’ stand at my front door and rode down, planning to drop it off near the station. That stand was full, however, and when I looked at the Velib’ app I realized that all the stands were full in the entire area, up to a couple of blocks from my apartment, where there were four empty spots.
I rode back up there, dropped off the bike, and walked back to Etienne-Marcel just in time. The bike share system is great but you have to be careful when you’re going to a trendy area at a peak time.
We started with coffee and people-watching at LB Café at the corner of rue Montorgueil and rue Tiquetonne, then came up to my place for an apéro. One of them had bought a 30-euro bottle of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru on our winery visit, so when he said he was bringing a bottle of wine I joked that this was my favorite variety, assuming that he was saving it as a gift or for a special occasion. He called my bluff, however, by bringing it and letting me share it with them! (It was just as good as we remembered from the winery tasting.)
My new Korean friends with their bottle of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru.
After polishing off that excellent bottle we headed out for dinner. We first took a spin around the quarter, then they settled on Au Rocher de Cancale, partly because of its historic association with Balzac. We had a perfectly decent French meal, starting with their first ever escargots (which were actually quite good).
My Korean friends contemplate their first escargots with a mix of anticipation and apprehension.
Being Asian they had to photograph their main dishes.
But then so did I…
Cod with leeks. A classic French dish.
After dinner we came back up to my place and settled down for some serious drinking, per Korean custom. We had no soju so we had to make do with less prestigious vintages, in particular a Bordeaux Superior that I had bought at Marché U for 5.50 euros. We agreed that it wasn’t quite as delicious as the Grand Cru but was perfectly drinkable.
The most remarkable thing they had to say was that I was the first older man they had ever spoken with on an equal basis! Confucian rules concerning respect for elders apparently cast a deadly pall over communication between young and old in Korea. Young people have to be so deferential that they can’t say what they think or ask what they want to know. I had noticed that Asian guys seemed to be more interested in knowing me than were guys from other cultures but I didn’t understand the context as well before. Another issue they mentioned was more specific to Korea: Change has been so rapid there that older people typically are completely out of touch with contemporary culture. Because of this older people in Korea seemed more alien to them than I did!
They left to get home before the métro closed, and they’re off to Amsterdam today. We’re Facebook friends now, however, and we agreed to keep in touch.
Mot du jour: « cho ». One often sees this in “social networking” profiles. Initially I assumed that it was short for « chômeur » (unemployed), but this didn’t seem like a particularly enticing thing to mention. Later I was told that it’s phonetic for « chaud » (hot), so this was what I said to Jared W when he asked. He subsequently clarified, however, that in this context « chaud » means “horny.” Duh.