Friday, April 23, 2010

Packing Up and Moving On

We have only one more week in Paris this spring.  At the end of the month we leave this apartment and begin a three week odyssey around Italy, and after that ten days in Amsterdam, Antwerp and Normandy.  We'll be back in Paris for a couple of days at the end of May and after that we fly back to Berkeley for the summer.

It's been odd around here recently as a result.  I've been packing desultorily, trying to pack up the winter things, which will stay here awaiting our return in late August, and some of the rest, which we will take to California in June, and deciding what to take with us for the very peripatetic month of May.  Decision making hasn't been helped by the changing weather; although the sun's been out every day the jacket index has its peaks and valleys.  One day it's shirtsleeves, the next it's scarves.  I'm not complaining, it's been glorious, but some things have been in and out of the suitcase three times.

After eight months here it really feels like moving house.  Oh, we don't need to move furniture, but we've accumulated kitchenware, books, lamps, etc.,  and where to put it all, not to mention two huge suitcases full of coats, boots and sweaters, has been a concern.  Friends have offered shelter for our stuff, but Paris apartments are small or up three flights of stairs or long cab rides away, caves are full or damp.  We had planned to leave some here, some there when last night a new acquaintance who runs a gallery down the street offered her enormous cellar area.  Yes!  Now all we need to do is wheel it all a couple of hundred feet and pick it up when we get back, when we'll be renting another apartment not far away. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Catching Up

 I can't believe it's been so long since I posted; it must be spring fever.  So much has been happening, and all of it in the shining sun.

Last week we headed out to the Musée d'Orsay to see an exhibit called Crime et Châtiment (Crime and Punishment), curated jointly by an art historian and the politician responsible for the abolition of the death penalty in France.  A mix of artists' work depicting famous and less famous crimes, 19th century luridly colored broadsheets detailing the hot crime of the day, architectural drawings of prisons, and even a real guillotine, it raises lots of questions about how we see crime, criminals, and justice over the years.

One of the constants, unfortunately, was the depiction of women as both criminals and victims.  How all these folks loved the stories and pictures of women killed, raped, dismembered, burned.  And when they weren't victimized for the delectation of the masses they were criminalized as witches and baby killers, not to mention the classics like Lady Macbeth, Charlotte Corday, the biblical Judith and others.  How much fear men always seem to have had of women!

The exhibition is defintely worth seeing; some of the art is in fact wonderful and I came away with a new interest in Gustave Moreau, an artist I had always resisted but whose work I want to see more of.  Luckily there's a Gustave Moreau museum handy in Paris.

We've taken to hopping on buses with no plans, just picking a direction and seeing where it takes us.  This is a leap of faith for a control freak like me, but it usually works out and last week it took us to the absolutely lovely Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, a hilly haven in the northeast of the city.  Constructed by Baron Haussman from an old quarry, it has a lake, waterfalls, lawns, and this pretty folly known as the Belvedere of Sybil on a height overlooking the lake and reached by a suspension bridge from the opposite hill.  

The park was full of kids, parents, runners, sun-worshippers and wedding parties and we regretted not having taken a picnic until we came across a cafeteria called Rosa Bonheur.  I had heard of it as a late night music/food site, but what a great lunch they supply.  All pre-prepared, much of their offerings are simply jars or cans of food, but what food!  Tarama of sea urchin, greek yogurt tzatziki, Jabugo ham, several different kinds of patés from different regions of France, all accompanied by a paper bag of sliced baguettes.  Yum!  We took the leftovers home and served them to guests the next day.

A big event closer to home was the opening of the Ralph Lauren store on Blvd. St-Germain.  Okay, I know this seems weird, but it's been hiding behind plywood and scaffolding for months and is the biggest Ralph Lauren store in Europe, so when a friend called, we went.  Coincidentally we had recently met the RL creative director for Germany when she was here to see the final touches being applied and she had told us it was not to be missed.

The five story hôtel particulier has been restored to pristine beauty.  If you've seen the Madison Avenue flagship store, this is the French version.  It's absolutely American in its merchandising style, but the building is glorious.  And the event was such fun, attracting hoards of chic French folks wandering from room to room, floor to floor, for all the world like a cocktail party without drinks.  It was a people watching extravaganza.  When the Danny Meyer-managed restaurant opens next week it will be impossible to get a table.  In the meantime, the terrace looks like this.

Less chi-chi but with real food was an opening at the design store Sentou in the Marais, celebrating a partnership with the Japanese book company Plames, although we didn't get any food there either as the photo shoot wasn't yet finished and the food not yet available.  We wandered down the street for a margarita and chips at La Perla, a Mexican-style bar where we were at least twice as old as anyone else in the place.

Paris makes us feel young.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Oh Say Can You See...

There's a lot of American history scattered about the streets of Paris.  Some of it is in the names of the streets themselves: Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt (and his own Metro station as well), Avenue du President Wilson, Place des Etats Unis and probably others that escape me at the moment. 

There are also plaques and other memorials to events that shaped the course of American history while taking place in France.  On rue Jacob is the building once known as the Hôtel d'York, where the peace treaty between Great Britain and the nascent United States was signed, recognizing the independence of the latter.  On September 3, 1783 John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and John Jay sat in that building, knowing that they had just signed a document that might change the course of history. 

Ben Franklin was the new nation's first Ambassador to France.  He loved it and the French are said to have loved him.  That's why I'm surprised not to find an Avenue Benjamin Franklin.  He was succeeded in the office by Thomas Jefferson, another Francophile American without a rue in Paris.  Jefferson does have a statue though, on the quai near the Legion d'Honneur building.

The president he served has a statue as well, sited in the Place d'Iena, at the end of Avenue du President Wilson.  George has not had a street or place named after him either, but he looks quite important on that horse.

The French have taken to heart another of our early revolutionaries, revolution being something that makes the French heart beat faster, and Thomas Paine, author of The Rights of Man,  has a very impressive plaque on a wall near the Luxembourg Garden.  I had no idea that he had been a deputé to the Convention during the French Revolution, having been made a French citizen by decree.  He spoke no French.

And let's not forget the French lady who came to the U.S. and became the symbol of what the country was said to stand for.  A small version of the Staute of Liberty holds up her torch on the end of the Ile des Cygnes, a bit of land in the middle of the Seine, near the awful Grenelle housing development.

Americans may feel welcome here.  We do.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Warm Wonderful Weather

This may have been the only unoccupied seat in the Luxembourg Gardens, and it probably didn't remain that way for long.  Café terraces are packed all over Paris and a seat in the sun is what everyone is searching for.  We searched for over an hour today, walking around, looking for just the right place for that late-in-the-day drink. 

That one was too shady, this one too directly in the sun, making us squint.  The perfect ones were occupied and looked to remain so until nightfall.  We finally compromised on some seats that were too close to passing traffic but just right in terms of sun.  Slipping my sweater (sweater, not jacket!!) off my shoulders and ordering a citron pressée I finally believe we're firmly planted in springtime.

And if I had had any doubts, these cuddling doves dispelled them.  I spent several minutes watching them coo and kiss, necks twining, before I realized I would be a witness to the denouement, something I must admit I have never given much thought to: dove sex.  The two seconds of birdie nookie didn't look like much fun for either of them.  And he didn't want to cuddle afterward.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Between the Raindrops

Easter couldn't make up its mind.  Within the same hour we had brilliant sun, drenching rain and, as a special treat, hail.  At least no frogs or boils, for those of you who just celebrated a seder. 

During a sunny period we walked up to rue Montorgeuil to meet a friend for brunch and passed through the sad park that sits above the Forum des Halles.  A blooming magnolia relieved the depressing feeling that one gets here, hopefully to be relieved even more soon by the rehabilitation of the Forum, a 40 year old failure that took the place of the old market halls that were moved out to the suburbs to relieve congestion in the center of Paris. 

It's an old area and still holds some great surprises.  Just outside the park entrance, near a fast food restaurant, is the house Molière built for himself in the middle of the 17th century, on the site of his birth.

Behind St-Eustache church was a busy outdoor Sunday market I had never before known about, just a few blocks from the bustling permanent market street of rue Montorgeuil.  After a bounteous brunch at DEPUR, hidden in a courtyard on rue St-Sauveur, we wandered again, ducking under awnings and overhangs when the rain reappeared.

The area holds some architectural treasures, including this hôtel particulier which you're likely to miss unless you're looking up from the opposite side of the narrow street.  A bit farther along the same street is one of the last remaining 17th century shop signs in Paris, A L'Arbre a Liege.  Left over from days when much of the population was illiterate, these signs allowed people to identify merchants visually.  The Musée Carnavalet has hundreds of these fascinating signs, but finding one still in place was a thrill.

Off rue Turbigo we came across Passage Bourg l'Abbé, a covered passage like the ones in the 9th arrondissement.  There are several in the 2nd arr. between rue Montorgeuil and the Marais.  This one has a couple of stunning caryatids holding up the entrance.

When it begain to rain in earnest we ducked into the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, a lovely mansion that houses a collection of artifacts, art, and animal trophies, along with information about the history of hunting.  I don't know where they get the money to do what they've done, but the building and all its elements, from lighting to metalwork, is extraordinary.  It's one of the best, most gorgeously creative displays I've ever seen.  

The rooms are furnished and hung with hunting-related art, much of it by François Desportes, a painter to Louis XIV and Louis XV (whom I had never heard of but whose drawings I loved), as if they were still lived in by a noble family of the 18th century while at the same time dotted with contemporary art pieces treated the same way, that is to say, perfectly naturally.  

Stunning as it is, and it absolutely is, seeing all the taxidermied animals is very saddening.  I overheard someone saying in one of the trophy rooms, "I'll bet half of these are extinct".  Probably an exaggeration, but...

The dozens of children oohing and aahing over the tigers and cougars and polar bear didn't seem disturbed.  They don't know they may never get to see any of them alive.