Paris - C'était le coup de foudre (It was love at first sight)
An apartment in Paris
This has always been a dream, although I never realized how serious, until settling into the Marais in a tiny, 4th floor walk-up (64 narrow, winding stairs up!) with three big windows that open up like books onto a courtyard which floods with sunlight in the morning and is cool in the evenings after running around the city. Although there are several buildings clustered together and neighbors open their windows both on the courtyard and street sides to let in the breeze, it is extremely peaceful. Sometimes you will hear the gate click, strains of a radio, a cat meowing, the crash of someone recycling wine bottles, little birds, the old man who always forgets his key and tries the buzzers of several apartments until someone lets him in, or smell garlic and a nice steak cooking.
If you look up as you are walking around, you will spy fantastic little aeries all over the city
with tiny balconies or terraces. Is there a contest I can enter to win one of these places?
La Tour Eiffel
I did not want to make a special trip to visit the Eiffel Tower - - just too touristy. But as I began to explore the city on foot it started to pop up everywhere, across the Seine, rising above a little neighborhood street. So, one afternoon I approached it from its back side, and discovered a park full of flowers and Parisiens lolling at its feet. I liked seeing it through the tangled branches of the tree, just as some pigeons were doing.
Here are a few of my favorite things from the collection.
Visitors are not allowed to photograph the beautiful paintings in this museum, but see the link for a very nice video of the collection. My favorites include:
The Boy with the Cat (Renoir)
A ballerina rendered in green and turquoise (Degas)
The Cardplayer (Cézanne)
Musée de l’Orangerie
Here you can find some wonderful works by Picasso and Cézanne http://www.musee-orangerie.fr/homes/home_id24802_u1l2.htm
It's only about a 15-minute walk to the Pompidou Center from my apartment. You can interact with this building by taking an escalator (enclosed in glass tubes and attached to the building's exterior) to the top floor and then walk along the tubes and observe the rooftops of Paris. It's like a fantastic subway tunnel in the air. Once you have done so, you can then take an elevator down to the various exhibition halls. The soft drum set ("Ghost") by Claes Oldenburg, a gentle green and purple reclining nude by Picasso, and a large, sand-colored undersea paper cut out by Matisse particularly caught my eye. The happy elephant was located in a pool just off the huge square at the foot of the museum.
This museum about the history of Paris is located in two, mid-16th century mansions in the Marais. Here you will find an eclectic collection of paintings, painted rooms in colors from sugarplum pink to cornflower blue to butter yellow, and a maze garden. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnavalet_Museum
Place des Vosges
Built in 1605 by Henry IV, this stunning square with 9 pavilions surrounding it on 4 sides is a great place to people-watch and to admire the architecture. I've visited this site twice, once when I first walked through the Marais and again because I didn't have my camera with me the first time. There are always kids playing, people eating picnics, and others sunning themselves on the grass.
This chapel (built between 1242 and 1248 for King Louis IX to house the Crown of Thorns) has two floors: a lower floor for common worshippers that is simply but beautifully painted and an upper floor for royal worshippers (pictured here) with 15 stained glass windows illuminating the nave. On the afternoon I visited I was lucky to experience how the sunlight causes the stained glass to shimmer. Everyone visiting was very reverent in this magnificent place and spoke in whispers. Inside Sainte-Chapelle I almost felt like I could float on the light, as compared to how stupendous and awesome the interior of Notre-Dame felt (which I saw first on the same day).
This shopping street is by far my favorite in Paris. For maybe 7 blocks there are fancy food purveyors and bustling cafes (as well as a few outdoor food vendors on an adjacent street) and hardly any tourists. It's the place to watch Parisiens marketing or enjoying their two-hour lunches.
At the cafe Au Rocher de Cancale http://www.aurocherdecancale.fr/ I had my second delicious warm goat cheese salad (a standard on the cafe menus, but so far quite different one from another) and my first plate of mouthwatering frites. Over the course of about 1.5 hours I made two acquaintances, a little neighborhood dog with soulful eyes who begged for a frite (but only one), and a guy who worked in the neighborhood selling advertising for a small bulletin who savored an espresso, a beer, and a single cigarette. (I think I've discovered the secret to how the French - - both human and animal - - retain their svelte figures.)
At one end of this street is a gothic church, Saint-Eustache http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89glise_Saint-Eustache,_Paris.
Here I enjoyed the gargoyles, the kings on the facade, and the extraordinary windows. My photographs don't do them justice as Notre-Dame is massive and the windows are actually very high up when viewing them from inside. The nave is splendid and cavernous. I recall visiting cathedrals as a child when I was much smaller, and do not remember anything as mighty as this one. The plaza outside has a statue of Charlemagne and was overrun with tourists.
Fountain of Saint-Michel (1858-1860)
After one of my first days in Paris, with tired feet I stumbled upon this arresting statue of Saint-Michel (it's one of the few fountains that is actually spouting water in the city these days). It is surrounded by tree-lined boulevards with all sorts of people coming and going. There was a nice cafe around the corner where I took a welcome break from touring on foot.
The best things I've eaten in Paris are (check back, this list will grow):
-A salad with mesclun, several little twisted packets of phyllo-like pastry filled with a teaspoon of goat cheese sweetened with honey, a few grapes, a sliced strawberry, and a mild vinaigrette. Cafe de l'Officier near l'Hotel des Invalides.
-A chausson ("slipper") de citron. A light, crispy turnover of puff pastry filled with sweet/tart lemon curd and dusted with sugar. Boulangerie in the neighborhood of le Champ de Mars.
-A "la Tradi" baguette with sweet organic butter.
-A croque monsieur (toasted open-faced sandwich of gruyere and dried ham) at a cafe around the corner from the statue of St. Michel.
-A chèvre chaud (warm goat cheese) salad and a plate of frites at Au Rocher de Cancale on rue Montorgueil.
-An unusual green and brown tart (pictured) of pistachio mousse and dark chocolate with dark chocolate bits on top from a Marais boulangerie.
-Soupe de fraises et glace vanille (pictured). This divine "soup" of strawberries, sugar and lemon juice was served icy-cold and topped with pale yellow vanilla ice cream. It was heavenly on a warm afternoon. (The rest of the meal was a rare steak with frites and a small Blanche de Bruges beer with a lemon.) L'Atlas Bar Brasserie, Rue de Buci, Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
Listening to Paris
Over the weekend of the 24th and 25th, I decided to leave Rick Steves behind, slow down the pace, and let my feet take me where they may. This strategy led me to an organist rehearsing in the oldest church in Paris, Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés http://www.gotik-romanik.de/Paris,%20Saint-Germain-des-Pres%20Thumbnails/Photo%20by%20indy_catholic%20on%20Flickr.html, a ceremony on the day of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), and the Square du Temple (the neighborhood park which is a quiet oasis with beautiful flowering plants and a busy duck pond).
The neighbors and people all over the city are extremely polite, and the first few days here I adjusted to how to correctly pass others on the narrow sidewalks ("Pardon") and sometimes briefly stepping from the sidewalk into the street for an older person or parents with a stroller, wait for the little green man light signaling it is safe to cross the street (or be mowed down by a scooter or bike), and how often one says "Bonjour," "Merci," "Merci à vous," "Bonne journée," and "Bonsoir" throughout the day. So far my high school-level French has served fine to shop, order in cafes, and get directions, so at least there is no risk of going hungry or getting terribly lost. On the occasions that I mis-speak, the listener gently corrects me, and always in French, and this makes me happy that my efforts are appreciated.
-Everyone (men and women) wears scarves stylishly tied, draped. or bundled around the neck. My favorite so far was a beautiful, slim pin-stripe in charcoal lightweight wool worn by a business man.
-Many people smoke beside you in the cafes, but somehow being outdoors makes it unobtrusive.
-People really do stroll home after work with baguettes in hand, and on several occasions I've seen people tear a little piece off the end and munch it as they are walking along. I've discovered "la Tradi" which is the traditional recipe. Its crust is light and cracks when you tear it and it has a delicious flavor and chewy inside.
-Paris is big and bustling, but after only a few days I've begun to recognize various neighborhoods, sites, and monuments by which to get my bearings. My strategy each day has been to start with a major site or museum, then stash the guidebook and wander into the
adjacent neighborhood. In about an hour or so it's time for lunch or a refreshment so I just pick a cafe that is busy with various types of customers and try the plat du jour.
-Depending upon the time of day, finding an empty seat in a cafe can be like musical chairs. If you miscalculate, you will find every place on the block packed with Parisiens tucking into seasoned raw beef and frites or enjoying nice drinks while you look on enviously from curbside.