Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Home is where you want to be

It's our last night here and an early one, since we need to finish packing and get ready for our ride to the airport tomorrow morning. We're both feeling a bit under the weather, it's raining and we had to turn down a dinner with some of our favorite people at one of our favorite places because we just couldn't manage a 10:00 pm reservation tonight.

Instead we had an early meal at l'Epigramme, a tiny place with good food that's been getting a lot of attention in the foodie world. We were seated next to an elderly man eating alone who told us that he had lost most of his sight and couldn't read the menu so the proprietor reads it to him. "He knows what I like," he said.

Towards the end of our meal he began to tell us his story: his father had come to Paris from Russia in the early years of the 20th century and made a career for himself obtaining and selling difficult-to-find books from Russia. He and his brother had continued the business and sold regularly to university libraries (including most branches of the University of California) and even to the Library of Congress. He was particularly proud of this last achievement, that he could get things they could not. The bookdealer was born, had lived and worked his entire life in the same second floor apartment around the corner from the restaurant. This was his quartier and he couldn't imagine leaving it. "Although" he added, "I have some trouble with my lungs and the two flights of stairs is a problem. But how could I leave?"

It's things like this that remind us what a special place Paris is. Even when it's raining and we're going home.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday strolling

A little tour through the Marais for a Sunday afternoon begins with the line of motorbikes, blessedly quiet while parked on rue Payenne, behind the Musée Carnavalet, just up the street from the pretty Square Georges Cain and across the street from the wonderful Swedish Cultural Center, with its courtyard café, quiet galleries and peaceful garden.

There are quite a few art galleries in these streets, some of them behind walls hiding cobbled courtyards that once rang with the sound of carriage wheels and horseshoes.

And that wallpapered exterior wall from last week has lost its paper and with it its uniqueness, but this poubelle has apparently joined the latest decorating craze.

The omnipresent cellphone distracts a passerby from noticing that this clothing shop has dedicated its ground floor to huge blow-ups of scenes from the 1966 Antonioni movie "Blowup", a film that was iconic to my generation, or at least to me.

And heading for home we come across one of the last of the great old metal and glass market halls, the Carreau du Temple, being renovated to serve as a sport, culture and event site for the neighborhood.

It's a great area for turning corners.

Seeing the end of the road

We're nearing the end of this visit and I have to admit we're tired. We do so much here, trying to see our friends as much as possible in our limited time, to see parts of the city we're not familiar with and to wander around neighborhoods that we love, to visit new exhibitions in favorite museums and galleries, to eat in new restaurants as well as revisiting old favorites.

More and more I realize that a month is not nearly enough time to feel at home here. What I mean by "at home" is slowing down enough to spend a couple of days in a row not doing anything in particular, not arranging to see anyone for dinner, a drink, a walk, not acting as if the time here will come to an end soon. What I mean is acting as we do in our full-time home: doing some marketing, reading the paper and cruising the internet, going to the dry cleaner, making dinner, exercising, reading a book. Sure we make plans, see friends, have dinner plans, but not every day, and sometimes not even every week.

It's with that goal in mind, feeling "at home", that we've been planning for many years to live in Paris for an extended period of time beginning in 2009, maybe as long as a year, but certainly several months, to try to understand what it would be like to live here rather than visit. We had planned to make our first extended visit next spring, for two months, and again in the fall for as long a period as we could manage by then.

But those plans have changed a bit and now it seems unlikely we'll be back until next fall at the earliest, and in a way that's okay. Our lives will be changing next year and it's probably a good idea to try out that new life at home for a while before taking it on the road; that's what they do with Broadway shows, isn't it?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The edges of town

The weather gods are playful this week, luring us out into gorgeous mornings that change quickly into gray and rainy skies and back again as quickly.

If you're lucky as we were yesterday you take the bus to the far eastern edge of the city to visit the Chateau de Vincennes and decide to have lunch just before the daily deluge. Then you enjoy the beautiful cloud formations you see from the windows of the donjon, an erstwhile palace that became a prison that housed, among others, the Marquis de Sade and the priest who was confessor to Napoleon Bonaparte.

The marquis' cell is pretty bare, while the priest's has been painted with brightly colored images of plaques and drapery. Maybe de Sade's images wouldn't have been as pretty.

There are also carved autographs left by prisoners over more than 200 years.

After a quick drink in Place St-Sulpice with Polly to hear about why she's leaving Paris for the States after 3 years of living her dream, we took another bus to dinner all the way down south at La Régalade, crowded, bright, noisy and delicious. Three yummy and enormous courses for 32 euros remains a true bargain in these days.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Weather or not

The weather has changed and fall has arrived with its rainy mornings and fallen leaves. Walking through the Place des Vosges on the way to the Victor Hugo museum we stepped on broken chestnut pods and avoided puddles. The museum has been on the To Be Visited list for some time but we always seemed to go by when it was closed. It's essentially the second floor of one of the gorgeous buildings that form the Place: arcades on the ground floor and red brick and stone above. Hugo lived here for longer than he lived in any other single place and an admirer gave it to the state in 1902 for a museum, along with many of the pictures and furniture he had bought back from the forced auction of Hugo's effects when he went into exile for political refuge after objecting to the Restoration.

The next day alternated between clouds and sunshine, shifting every few minutes. This time we went to the Fondation Cartier to see an exhibit of the French sculptor César organized by Jean Nouvel, the architect who designed the space, along with many of the other best new buildings in Paris. One of my favorite things about this exhibition space is the fact that a glass wall separates the entry garden from the street so that when you are inside the garden it appears that the street life is the interior while you are outside looking in at it.

After a long walk home and a nap, we took a bus across town to dinner at the home of friends of friends, an American who has lived in Paris for 38 years and his French partner. The views from the bus changed as we drove through various neighborhoods, but the Seine is always spectacular, even when it's just a background for a phone call on the way home from work.

This morning the sun is bright again, although there are a few white clouds moving in; we're going out to take advantage of it while it lasts.