dimanche 28 août 2011

Week IX, Another Visit

By this Wednesday we had been in contact with Wendy by email, the telephone having been a bit confusing.  A meeting for dinner was arranged.  Whatever we did that day is lost now, no pictures being in the bank.  Deciding to walk over to Wendy's hotel in the Marais, we again passed through our favorite Place des Vosges, exiting at the corner through the Hotel de Sully.  Alas, we arrived just at closing time and were flushed out to where we entered.  A bit late, we met Wendy at the door of her hotel.  Luckily all around, she had found an interesting eatery only a block away which specialized in crepes and cider, Normandy cuisine.  The waitress kindly accommodated our desire to use our French (Wendy included) and even brought us, on the house, little pitchers of other varieties of cider.  So with the weakly alcoholic cider and varied crepes we dined well.  On top of this, Wendy had brought us some offerings from her travels:  slices of Serrano ham from Spain, a huge hunk of parmesano cheese from Italy, and some aged gruyere cheese from somewhere.
     Wendy wanted to see what an apartment in Paris could be like, so we invited her to dinner the following evening.  Needing speed, she sight-saw on her own the next day.  But with Carolee in class for the morning I got my courage up and headed for the Louvre.  I couldn't find the reputed passage from the metro stop to the Louvre entrance, so it was up and across the busy Rue de Rivoli and into the courtyard.  With my cane I was intercepted as I headed for the very long line of visitors and was shown right into the pyramid.  The open-air elevator being busy, I picked my way down the wide spiral staircase, approached one of the money-taking and ticket-issuing machines and eventually divined its mysteries.  What now?  The entrances into the Louvre were several and not specially marked, so I picked one and found myself admiring the early walls of the Louvre fortress before winding up at, with no choice, the Egyptian section.  Happy with this, I spent quite a bit of time looking at very ancient stuff before carefully moving up one of the grand staircases to something newer.  I bumbled my way over to the north wing and was rewarded with some major 17th century Dutch paintings.  I then made the mistake of moving on to the apartments of Napoleon III, which proved to be a real labyrinth, and it took a good while to make my way back to the south wing, where the really famous stuff is.  Running out of time, I was tempted along the way by a couple of rooms with fine Corots but had to press on.  In a few minutes I found myself a few feet away from the Winged Victory of Samothrace along with a zillion other people, all taking photos.  decided it was my very favorite statue.  I searched around for the Venus de Milo but couldn't find her.  Negative time left, I hurried over and passed through the room containing the Mona Lisa and so many people around it that I was reminded of swarming bees.  Down a grand staircase I got to see Winged Victory from below as I had hoped.  Had to ask for the way out, which was into the pyramid again and up.  Metro home.
    Dinner with Wendy at the apartment was one of our standard simple meals enhanced by flowers and desserts that Wendy had brought.  We walked back with her to her hotel, then passed behind a huge inflatable movie screen that had been set up for free movies in the Place des Vosges.  Tired and late, we didn't stay.  Wendy headed home the next morning.
     The Friday of that week we  discovered Le Baron Rouge, Paris's only barrelhouse, where you buy wine right from the barrel.  After that an easy trip to see the main Printemps store in the Opera district, then down the Avenue de l'Opera to see a church, St Germain l'Auxerrois.  It's in the center of things, across from the Louvre's east facade, and was the royal church, until royalty moved to Versailles.  It's most notable for being where the the bells were used to signal the start of the St Bartholomew's Day massacre.
Le Baron Rouge Barrelhouse


Choir, St Germain l'Auxerrois
But on Saturday we we ready for an ambitious program.  It started with a free museum visit at the Petit Palais, which was erected in 1900 or so in the finest beaux arts style.  Because of the cane we were shown into a door at ground level and passed through very modern passages where we saw Byzantine icons for a while.  Finally finding an elevator we found ourselves, once up, in a very beautiful semicircular courtyard surrounded by a magnificent colonnade.  Finding our way back into the building, we saw their main exhibition of turn-of-the century paintings, all interesting but not generally great enough for a more famous museum.  Great boutique and bookstore.  Back into the courtyard for coffee in the cafe, we discovered it was raining heavily.  This let up by the time we were ready to move on.  Off to the riverside and along a stately alley we found an American memorial to Lafayette.
Petit Palais, courtyard pavillion
Memorial to Lafayette
     Through wet streets we moved from the river to the Avenue Montaigne, where the largest fashion houses are located.  At its end, the Place de l'Alma, where a statue of the Statue of Liberty's  torch has been made into an improvised memorial  to Lady Di, who was killed in the underpass there.  Carolee says that six years ago it was simply covered with memorials and graffiti. A newlywed couple came by for pictures.
At Coco's

At Valentino's

Vestigial Lady Di Memorial

Newlyweds, photographer, flame
     The day's adventure continued with a walk further along the Seine to the Pont d'Iena and up the hill to the Trocadero for the grand view (no photos this time),  Enough for a day.
Ready for a TGV experience
     Sunday, I was off to Holland for a few days.  Carolee took a picture of me at the Gare du Nord, where I caught the TGV to Antwerp.
Virgin carried from Notre Dame

Hymn truck

Virgin by Hotel de Ville

Virgin at Saint Michel
    Monday, August 15, Carolee watched a procession in honor of the assumption of the virgin, starting at Notre Dame and heading first toward the Hotel de Ville (stopping for a prayer) and then along the river and across to St Mich, then to the Ile St Louis and finally back to Notre Dame.
     Tuesday, walking home from class, she spotted the Louvre reinvented as ad space.

lundi 22 août 2011

week VIII, scouting lesser-known sights

So we began this week, actually midweek, with a visit to the Musee des Arts et Metiers.  People know this museum best from the Dan Brown novel, also another novel by Umberto Eco.  Science museums are usually chock full of stuff, but we found this one enjoyable and not so overwhelming.  Explanations are only in French, however.  Highlights were a recreation of Lavoisier's labratory and the Foucault pendulum.  Poor Lavoisier was guillotined - not for his science but for his day job as a tax collector.  In fact, this museum dates back to the revolution.  We were unlucky in finding the entrance from the metro stop and wound up walking nearly all the way around this very large building.

Superb marquetry on display cabinet

early flying machine, grand staircase
The next day Carolee went to school and I have no record of doing anything other than lolling around.  Was this the day I walked to Place de la Nation and back?  The big discovery in that case was a bistro with one-euro coffee (at the bar).  Some of these walks are a bit hard but I find most of the local streets to be a real joy simply to savor the ambiance.
     The next day we were ready for ready for museum-going again, so it was over to the 5th arrondissement and the Cluny Museum, famous for the unicorn tapestries.  Loved 'em, although it was a little perilous for me because they keep the lights very dim to prevent further fading of the colors.  One painting depicted an impossible musical trio - harp, lute and shawm!  We left and moved past the ruins of the Roman baths on our way to Shakespeare & Company, but we discovered a much better English-language bookshop nearby.  Abbey Books is a real hole-in-the-wall with so many books crammed into it that you generally have to move around sideways.

King David & friends

Abbey Books
I think I am up to Saturday, when our adventure was a boat cruise out along the Ourcq Canal and back.  The cost for the 1.5 to 2 hour trip was one euro each way, obviously heavily subsidized,  There was a lot of  zazzy new apartment construction at the start - clearly a chic place to live.  Then we passed through Parc de la Villette, which, with its modern architecture, seemed worth a visit.  But then we passed through a heavily-graffitied industrial area with even a shantytown along the banks.  We eventually found ourselves being carried through suburbia, where we were deposited.  We'd hoped to stop for a meal at this point, but the 'burb was barren of anything but houses.  So we took the first fast boat back and had our meal near the Stalingrad metro stop.  We didn't get away from the boring end station, though, without having to fill out that modern curse, the customer satisfaction survey.

Ourcq canal, chic apartments

Geode, Parc de la Villette

Ourcq Canal, Aulnay sous Bois suburb
     First Sunday of the month museums are free.  We picked the Pantheon as likely to be less congested.  Surprise, not free!  It wasn't worth the 8 euros each to us, so we admired the monumental building from the outside, and also its setting in a monumental square,  On one side an old-looking church, St-Etienne du Mont, but we weren't allowed in during mass.  So down the Rue Soufflot to the Luxembourg garden and all the way along its panhandle to the north, where we found a few wonders: a remarkable 1920s building and a heroic fountain.  By foot then back to St-Germain des Pres and the #86 bus back home.

St-Etienne du Mont, by the Pantheon

Rue Soufflot, Sorbonne area

Luxembourg Garden, rented sailboats

Yoga class in Luxembourg Garden

Inst, of Art & Archaeology, U. Paris

Luxembourg panhandle, Observatory Fountain
     Next day, a Monday with Carolee at school, I went on a private adventure and went
around Paris on the two semicircular lines, #6 and #2.  The southern line, #6, is largely elevated, so I took it for the view.  The two passages over the Seine were rather good, if brief, but the views along most of the line were of uninteresting apartment buildings.  Walked from the Etoile to Parc Monceau and enjoyed a longish ramble there, then went down to the #2 line.  Alas, the only elevated section was by the Stalingrad stop, which I'd already seen a couple of days earlier.
     Tuesday Carolee was again at school but I wanted a rest and hoped to hear from Wendy Greene, who would arrive sometime that day (an air controller strike at Munich didn't stop her flight, as it turned out).  I must have read the John Irving novel I bought at Abbey Books.

dimanche 7 août 2011

Week VII, halfway

Were we slowing down at this point?  Not right away!  Museum visits take a certain amount of gumption, and we opted for an all-walking day to the Carnavalet Museum maybe a bit more than a kilometer from home.  The museum, which is free, has collections of the history of the city of Paris.  These run from prehistoric times to maybe the end of the 19th century.  The emphasis is on the 18th and 19th centuries.  The ancien regime is represented amply with numerous rooms, walls and furniture of the wealthy.  But enough was enough and we moved on to the most interesting period, the revolution and the couple of decades following its first year.  There was plenty of representations of the political ferment of the time, including guillotining.  Scientific activity was hot at the time, and we saw the introduction for practicality of decimal measures, including some which didn't survive, like decimal hours.  The building plus its gardens was a big hit as well.  The trip out and back included stops in our favorite Place des Vosges.
Jazz dudes at Bastille

Power washing a fountain at Place des Vosges

Musee de Carnavelet garden
     The next day, with Carolee in school, I explored, letting the #87 bus take me to the Champ de Mars.  It was familiar ground by now, but I wanted to walk under the Eiffel Tower again through the throngs of tourists and over the bridge and up along the grand paths that lead to the Trocadero.  There were plenty of us sharing what I think is the world's most impressive view, of the tower across the river.  Come to think of it, Paris has a great number of really impressive views, and not by accident.  Feeling up to it, I left the impressive view and walked up the not-so-impressive Avenue Kleber to the (impressive) Arc de Triomphe, Napoleon's greatest monument to himself.  Not done yet, I walked down the length of the Champs Elysees to the Concorde.  Legs now wearing out, I made a cursory inspection of the Place de la Concorde, then ducked down to the #8 Metro and home.
     The next day, a Friday, we decided was the day for the Sainte Chapelle.  The Metro took us almost to the entrance, and we decided to see the Conciergerie as well on a double ticket to avoid a long line.  Actually, it was my cane that brought us in ahead of a medium line.  The lower chapel has really beautiful gothic stonework, all painted in primary colors.  A spiral stone staircase took us up to the main chapel with its gorgeous stained glass.  Now Rick Steves' book recommended an overcast day to see the stained glass at its best.  This we had, but both Carolee and I had been there before on bright days, and it was way better.  Another failure for Rick Steves.  Instead of an altar there was an Italian harpsichord all bundled up, waiting for a high-priced evening concert of the Four Seasons.
Lower St Chapelle, painted columns

Lower St Chapelle, painted ceiling

Upper St Chapelle, stained glass

Upper St-Chapelle, harpsichord as altar
The Conciergerie gave a good impression of the early days of justice on the island.  Maybe you had to read French - I can't remember.  Highlights were again focused on the victims of the revolution, including a reconstruction of Marie Antoinette's cell.  She seems to have been an earlier Lady Di - there was a chapel dedicated to her built by a later King Louis
Conciergerie, 4-nave medieval hall
     Once again we walked back.  Our path took us along the Quai des Orfevres across to the left bank, where we had a Lebanese lunch and visited Shakespeare & Company
Shakespeare & Company, outside

Shakespeare & Company, inside
   At the St-Martin Canal, a fully duded-up Honda.
Parked Honda by St-Martin Canal.
     After a few days of hard slogging, we opted for a short, easy outing to our favorite Place des Vosges and a free visit to the Victor Hugo house.  Not exactly a house, it was a large flat in one of the fine pavilions surrounding the square.  My cane bought us entree to an elevator up to the third floor.  My God, was that place awful.  The memorabilia on the walls were interesting, but the rooms, in the finest 19th century taste, were oppressively dark and over-ornate, and the furniture, all authentic, had the same deadly character.  One room was ornamented in Chinese style, and this was at least a bit lighter and more amusing.  On the walk back we spotted a woman who had stepped out from a beauty salon treatment for a smoke and a telephone call.  Some nerve.
Victor Hugo's flat, two floors up

Beauty, cigarette and cell phone
     Again opting for an easy day, we took a bus to the Rodin Museum and paid one euro each for entry into the garden,  This is a large and fine French garden with plenty of Rodin's statues.  We had the relaxed time we had sought, smelling the roses and reposing at the end of the garden.  The house itself was quite beautiful, and modest by the standards of the 18th century aristocracy.  We hadn't been happy with the bus ride (#69, recommended by Rick Steves, but crowded and jerky) so on leaving we crossed over the front of the Hotel des Invalides to the Metro at the tiny Place Salvador Allende, and home.

Rodin's house and garden

Rodin's garden, shrubbery and roses

Eiffel Tower from near the Invalides

Entrance to Hospital des Invalides, more pointy shrubs
     The next day, with Carolee gone off to school, I decided to explore the one direction from home I hadn't tried, so I walked to Place de la Nation and back,  noting how similar small-scale commerce was all along it.  I have, however, found other areas which are empty of this small-scale commerce, so the gimp's utopia that I have found Paris to be is not the case everywhere.  In general, the commerce is found on busy roads through the less-wealthy parts of town.  Picking up a baguette on the way back I had to reflect that Carolee and I have become addicted to this French bread.  We've bought from five local bakeries and have our favorites now.  The worst I've had was the pricey baguette I picked up on the Avenue Kleber near the Arc de Triomphe.  We're told the French don't eat their bread with butter, but that's another addiction for us.
     The last day in this reporting period was a day of rest.  Went out only for groceries.

lundi 1 août 2011

Week VI, Tour de France

This week starts with a second visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery to see some celebrity tombs that we were too worn out to see last time around.  We took the bus to Place Gambetta and entered the level section at the top of the cemetery.
     First off, Oscar Wilde.  He doesn't quite have the cachet of a rock star like Jim Morrison, so his tomb is unguarded, with the result that it is heavily covered with scribblings and lipstick prints.  Quite a tomb for a guy who died in poverty!  Also in this area are Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, Simone Signoret and Yves Montand.  These were easy to find.  A little time in the Columbarium led us to the niche containing Isadora Duncan.  We had to step around a movie crew.
Oscar Wilde's tomb

Crew filming

     At home we had a little excitement when firemen showed up and broke into an apartment across the street.  here was no fire, so it may have been a medical rescue.
Rescue operation?
     Next day's adventure was to the top of Montmartre and Sacre Coeur.  The metro stop at Chateau Rouge deposited us in the African part of Paris.  The climb up a couple of streets didn't seem too bad, but then we encountered stairs, and more stairs, and more stairs to get up to the church.  The weather was fortunately cool.  Entering the basilica itself through a crowd and no hand rails required some delicate balancing.  Ditto for the descent.  Views of Paris were quite grand.  A jaunt over to the Place du Tertre cured us of ever wanting to see it again - jam packed with crowds and schlocky art for sale.  A walk down the grand staircase was out of the question, given the presence of a funicular.  The walk from the base of the funicular to the nearest Metro stop was also a slog through endless tourist schlock.
Two of seven flights of stairs to Sacre Coeur

Paris from the top of Montmartre
     Next day we braved a museum.  The Marmottan, way over in the 16th, has plenty of impressionist art, primarily by Monet.  We came early, and the museum is out of the way of most tourists, so we had a pleasant uncrowded visit without too much climbing of stairs.  The building and its interiors are preserved in their 19th century state, and a pleasant garden could be seen from many windows.  Well, we were right next to the Bois de Boulogne, so I had to go into it.  The Bois has many attractions but is very large so on foot we saw very little of it.  We were constrained to end up at a metro stop not too far away, so we saw a bit of a charming lake, then trudged a mile or so along wooded paths to to Metro at Porte Maillot.  Near the metro we passed through a charming little park dedicated to WWII resistance fighters.  Outings into the Bois would be better from bus stops.
Lake in Bois de Boulogne
     Next day we vowed to do an easy walk, so we chose a little exploration in the left bank.  In a passage near the Odeon we ran across Cafe Procope, which, in spite of its present name, was the first in the world to call itself a restaurant.  After a coffee, we were restored to the point that, what the hell, we'd walk home.  There was some rain, but this showed off Carolee's orange umbrella to advantage.  Crossing the river we noted the not very auspicious opening day of Paris Plage, which is a sort of beach set up along the Seine every summer.
World's first and oldest restaurant

Over coffee, looking like a zany ecclesiastical

Notre Dame and Carolee a l'orange

Opening day of Paris Plage
     Still hoping for an easy day, we took the Metro to the 6th to relax on a Sunday in the Luxembourg Garden.  We didn't muster up enough energy to cruise down and back the park's beautiful southern extension, the Avenue de l'Observatoire.  So we took a picture.  Rehydrating with some expensive water, we walked along the eastern part of the Garden, where we caught a fine view of the Pantheon.  Exiting north, we passed by the Theatre de l'Odeon on our way to the Metro at Saint Michel.  Here we ran into enormous crowds, and it finally dawned on us that they were assembled to see the end of the Tour de France.  Furthermore, the metro was blocked off (safety reasons, we think) and we quickly realized that there was no way to get across the Seine until the race had passed by.  So we relaxed in the Square Viviani just across from Notre Dame and became spectators of the Tour de France.  Our timing was lucky, because things were starting to happen.  First came many, many support vans carrying bicycles.  Official vehicles and police were mixed in.  Finally a roar from the crowd told us the main pack of riders were near: 5 seconds and they had already passed by.  Then came some of the stragglers, who were met with cries of "Courage, courage."  Support vehicles continued to pass by, also more stragglers, and finally ordinary people who were following along on their bicycles.  In a minute or two the police removed the metal barricades and we were free to cross.  What the hell, we walked home again.
Luxembourg Garden, sunny

Avenue de l'Observatoire

Pantheon, Statue of Greek actor

Theatre de l'Odeon

Spectators of the Tour de France, final leg.
Next day I rested,  Carolee found, in her exploration, a monument to the establishment of the standard unit of length, the meter.
Plaque commemorating establishment of the meter

The meter itself
     Next day, still taking it easy, I nevertheless walked along the Promenade Plantee to take a couple of photos of the remarkable cornice of a building.  I believe they copied Michelangelo's Slave.

Slaves, view from right

Slaves, view from left