Monday, June 11, 2007

Summer in the city

The air is heavy. It's hard to walk at even a strolling pace without breaking a sweat. The crowded metro train is a moving oven and the buses are no better. And it's not even a heat wave, just warm weather under somewhat overcast skies.

I come back to the apartment and open all the windows for a breath of fresh air, step under the shower to freshen up, and try to blog. As you've probably noticed, it doesn't seem to happen very often lately.

We've actually been doing a lot, seeing friends, going to restaurants, visiting museums. Our friend Liz organized a dinner with Remi, a professor at the Sorbonne whom we had met in 2005 when Liz, he, his daughter Charlotte and Gil all attended a historical conference at Stanford and spent a week in Berkeley. Remi is an obsessive journal-keeper and writer, as were his father and grandfather before him; he publishes many of these journals and published the one he kept of the Berkeley sojourn. At dinner he gave me a copy, which I read later that night (first flicking through to find my name, I admit). It's lucky he's got his own publishing company.

We've had several good meals recently, at Les Papilles on rue Gay Lussac, where we had a delicious fixed menu that included cold pea soup with bacon and herbs, navarin of lamb with baby vegetables, a slice of cheese with apple compote and a passionfruit mousse for dessert, all for the stunning sum of 28.50 euros! Les Papilles is also a wine shop and any wine on the shelf is available for the retail price plus 6 euros. It was the third time we've been there over the last several years and it's as good as ever.

Another memorable meal was at Le Temps au Temps on rue Paul Bert in the 11th arrondissement. I had asparagus with smoked tuna in a balsamic reduction, followed by black risotto with squid and a fabulous rice pudding with caramel au beurre sel. The others had equally yummy things (although my dessert was the best!) and again, the 3 course fixed price meal was 30 euros, without wine.

To balance this picture of reasonably priced fabulousness, we had lunch today at Café de l'Esplanade, a Costes brothers establishment just off the Invalides, where a lobster salad, a croque monsieur and two coffees cost 51 euros. Granted, we knew what we were getting into by choosing that particular place, and the people-watching was definitely worth it, but a bargain it was not.

We saw the Rembrandt et la Nouvelle Jerusalem show at the Jewish Museum in the Marais and visited the new Quai Branly Museum to see the controversial building by Jean Nouvel, with its planted exterior wall (great, we think) and installation of the permanent collection (Gene likes it, Shelli has mixed reactions).

We went once again, as we do every visit, to the Musée Carnavalet, with its incredible collection of articles dealing with the history of Paris, including Marcel Proust's very own cork-lined bedroom.

Today's museum visit was wonderful. The enormous Anselm Kiefer installation in the newly reopened Grand Palais is extraordinary and done specifically for the space. It's called Chute d'Etoiles (Falling Stars) and is the first of the "Monumenta" exhibitions planned for the Grand Palais. Keifer has filled the space with structures and filled the structures with paintings and constructions that reference the cycle of life, death, destruction, rebirth and resurrection. It's stunning and we loved it.

A la campagne

The weekend was great. O. invited us once again to her beautiful house just south of Paris, with a long detour via Normandy, where her close family friends were having a huge garden party: 120 people and three barbecued sheep!

We were a bit hesitant to walk into such a close-knit group, particularly without any idea of how well we could communicate, but we were welcomed graciously, everyone trotted out enough English to make us comfortable, and I could practice enough French to make me feel good. Conversation with Grand-Tante M., the 85 year old matriarch, was a highlight.

The next day was hot, and after O. voted at the mairie we took a picnic to the next town, the perfectly named Dimancheville (Sundaytown) and walked along a river and through green fields until we found the perfect spot for lunch and a rest. Maybe there's something to the country life after all.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The enjoyment of rest

IMG_4609.JPG, originally uploaded by objetsparis.

We're lucky to be staying in an apartment with large windows that open onto a green wall of trees and bamboo. There are roses climbing up the window frame, and the nearly constant sound of birds flying about in the trees. There are more distant sounds from a school a few buildings away, and occasional voices or footsteps from neighbors passing in the courtyard.

When we leave this sheltered world, we step into a bustling street in the Sentier, the local equivalent of New York's garment district. Just around the corner is the busy and exciting rue Montorgueil, a pedestrianized market street full of boulangeries, mini-supermarkets, cafés, bars, fleuristes, patisseries, vegetable and fruit markets, a fish market, a butcher, and more. Anything we need for day-to-day existence is there, and if we need to go farther afield, the bus or Metro is steps away. getting us to the Marais, to Saint Germain des Près, to Montparnasse. The temptation to take advantage of it all is strong.

While Susanne and Ari were here we found ourselves rushing off each day to "do" something, and reasonably so; Ari is a first time visitor to Paris and wants to see it all, and we enjoy sharing our favorite city. But this morning our visitors left for home, and I'm enjoying sitting here, listening to the birds and watching the sun move across the floor.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Circus, circus

Last night we went to a performance of a Russian theater troupe that performs in mime. Sounds terrible, doesn't it? It was the single funniest show any of us had seen in years.

In this theater of the absurd a family of characters enacted a surrealistic vision of family life, complete with four bizarre children, from a toddler to a teenage boy, a grotesque but wonderful mother who keeps them somewhat in line and a father who keeps threatening to leave until he finally does. There's no way I can describe the howls of laughter from an audience of all ages. The acting was brilliant, the staging, music and special effects equally wonderful, and the characters' interactions with members of the audience, rather than being awkward and off-putting, brought us all into the show.

I wish I had pictures to post, but take my word for it, Semianyki is not to be missed if there's any way you can see it. It is a collective creation by the Theatr Licedei, around since the '60s in the old USSR, continuing since then in some form, and currently running a clown school in Saint Petersburg.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Misses and hits

Most of the famous sights in Venice are so crowded with tourists that we did our best to avoid them. The one cultural visit we really wanted to make however was the Sargent and Venice exhibition at the Museo Correr. We headed over to the far end of Piazza San Marco and were blocked by standing water about 6 inches deep, apparently from high tides. Backtracking a bit, we tried to enter the square from the next street, where the situation was no better. Repeating the manueuver a couple of more times had us circumnavigating the "most elegant drawing room in Europe" as Napoleon called it ( evidently he hadn't seen it with thousands of tourists standing around with pigeons on their heads and arms), until we finally reached the entrance to to museum, where we found locked gates. The guards were on strike.

At that moment Susanne and Ari came up to us, shoes and socks in their hands, feet wet. Coming from another direction, they hadn't been able to avoid the water and had waded through. They weren't happy to hear of the strike either, but they had a little adventure to show for the morning.

Later in the day we dropped in to visit Fabio and Marina, friends of P. who own an art shop near the Frari church, which we suddenly realized we had never entered on previous visits to Venice. Mistake...we had been missing something spectacular.

Food, glorious food

Unlike some of my blogger friends like Clotilde I rarely remember to take pictures of the meals we eat (and there are many of them, I assure you). We were all just blown away by the quality and choice of seafood in Venice. For our dinners we returned to Alle Testiere, where we had had a wonderful meal on our last visit with P., and tried Antiche Carampane for the first time. In neither place did we see a menu; we were simply read a list of what was fresh that day and how it was prepared, and both were impressive.

For lunch we enjoyed Banco Giro and Naranzaria, both on the small canalside campo near the Rialto fish market. All of the food was simple and impeccable. That, along with all the walking, and the occasional stop for a spritz or a glass of prosecco, constituted our Venice visit. Could be worse.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Things are looking up

We tend to go through life looking straight ahead at wherever we need to go, rarely remembering to glance up at whatever's to be seen above eye level. Doing this in Venice or in Paris is a big mistake.

Of course that's not to say eye level isn't worth a glance or two.

Nice place, Venice.