Saturday, February 27, 2010

Looking Up


I spend a lot of time with my head tilted back, looking silly no doubt, as I try to see higher than my own lowly height. It's a bit of a dangerous habit in Paris, where looking down to avoid doggie gifts on the sidewalk is second nature, but it's rewarding nonetheless.  

It's not only the tops of buildings, many of which are stunningly elaborate, but things like the top third of this entry door, which for some reason has had a mirror installed in it, reflecting the street tree, the building across the street, and the occasional peek of blue sky.

And lifting my eyes a bit higher shows me this sweet pudgy little face, the incipient double chin making me empathize.

I'm always drawn to the plaques installed on walls of buildings where famous and less famous people once lived or worked or were born or died.  This one, on a narrow street in St-Germain, states that Victor Hugo lived there.  A peek through the window indicates that whoever is living there now has a pretty nice place.


Views other than the usual ones are interesting as well.  That's not a looming fortress but rather the familiar church of St-Germain des Prés from a side street and one of the earliest uses of the flying buttress, apparently.  Moments before, the stone was warm and golden in the fleeting sunlight, but with the returning cloudcover it appears rather forbidding.  Of course the sharp points at the top of the railing aren't exactly welcoming either.

Turning around, you see what looks like a cliff of buildings but it's only an angle that takes in the tops of buildings on three streets, one behind the other and coincidently arranged in order of height.  It does look like you could rappel up there, doesn't it?  And how charming is that pink?


The spire of Notre Dame cathedral offers climbing opportunites for these statues, but most of them appear to have paused on the way up to pose for admirers.  The one farthest up seems determined to make it to the nearest secure surface before the wind picks up though.


One of my favorite glimpses of higher things is this young horseman over a gateway to the Louvre seated precariously on a flying horse under an incription identifying Emperor Napoleon III.  Is it meant to be him and are those the royal family jewels?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wet and Not So Wild

I never managed entirely to shed the sore throat and cough I picked up on the way to San Francisco, and this weekend I managed to lose my voice nearly completely.  As we spent Saturday evening in a noisy café where a friend was playing guitar and singing, I wound up spending Sunday in bed, voiceless.  Gene, oddly enough, had no problem with not hearing my dulcet tones for 24 hours.  Go figure.

Although we've had a series of mostly sunny days, today started out damp and continued to rain off and on.  We walked through some of the smaller streets of the neighborhood marveling at how quiet they were on a weekday morning. 

Peering into courtyards and looking up at rooftops, we're reminded again how many lives are lived outside the view of others here.



If you were to look only at the closed streetfront doors and shop windows you would have little idea of the many ways people live in Paris.  Look at those enormous studio windows visible only from the street directly opposite.  What must it be like to live up there?   Probably quite different from the traditional apartments opening on the courtyard behind the iron latticed door.  

Or maybe not.  We've been in very contemporary spaces transformed within their original 18th or 19th century buildings.  It's always a pleasure to get a glimpse of the living fabric of the city in this way.

Another thing you run into on these smaller streets, where shop signs and restaurant frontages don't obscure the small things, are old or odd signs.  The one above is for a security company that once (maybe still?) secured the building to which it was affixed.  And across the street is this nameplate, with no explanation:

This turns out, upon Googling, to be an association offering classes on all things Chinese, from language to martial arts.  

It's this kind of aimlessness, boring maybe, that fills our days.  I love nothing more than to come across something like this storefront, apparently unchanged for generations:

And of course the others, changing with the times, like the Mariage Frères shop around the corner, which now offers De-Stress Tea in a Zen Box and if your stress level is already low, Beautiful Tea in a Happy Box.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thanks for the Votes!

 IX10 - Top 100 Exchange and Experience Blogs 2010

Thanks to you, this blog has been voted number 11 of the Top 100 International Exchange and Experience Blogs of 2010, and it's number 3 of those written in the English language. 

Who knew there were so many Polish and Brazilian bloggers!?!

Here's a map showing where all the nominated blogs are from:

The Top 100 International Exchange and Experience Blogs 2010 by and Lexiophiles

Pretty impressive, isn't it?

So I want to thank all of those who voted for Are We in Paris Yet, and I know you all took to heart the old Massachusetts Democratic Party motto, "Vote Early...and Often."  I appreciate it; it's been fun and it's true what those non-winners say after the Oscars: I really am very pleased just to have been nominated.

Parisian Diversions


We are back in Paris and happy to be; Paris is making us welcome as well.  We arrived to a bright sunny day, thrilled to see the city shining in the light.  So what if the hot water in the apartment had been accidentally turned off and we had to wait 'til the next morning for that bath I had been promising myself.  

And the next morning, although damp and drizzly to start, began to alternate that with sun breaking through the clouds, encouraging us to get out and walk, walk, walk.  Jet lag however encouraged us to sleep, sleep, sleep.  We split the difference and slept until 11:00 a.m. and walked around all afternoon.

Today we started out for the American Library to return some books and got sidetracked passing the Institut de France's Bibliothèque Mazarine, just around the corner.  We've never been inside, assuming it wasn't open to the public, but our friends A. and J. have permission to work there daily and we thought it might be a good chance to peek in and look around, while claiming to be looking for them.  

As it turns out, anyone can go into the impressive reading room and wander around; they'll even give you a plasticized sheet in the language of your choice explaining what you're seeing.  So although we didn't need A. and J., we found them anyway and shocked the hell out of them.  

Starting out once again for our original destination, we got no farther than across the forecourt of the Institut, where we saw the poster for an exhibit about how the idea of the "Mysterious Orient" had functioned as a lure for consumers over the last two centuries.  It lured us in.

After that very extensive exhibition, hunger set in, so a stop at a café for an open-faced sandwich was next. Toasted Poilane bread topped with warm cabecou goat cheese and thin slices of smoked duck breast, and garnished with walnuts, accompanied by a small green salad.  (That's for those of you who have been asking me for more food descriptions!) A glass of wine and a coffee and now it was too late to walk all the way to the American Library, so we took a bus, which was diverted, appropriately enough given the theme of the day, by a manifestation (demonstration).  We eventually arrived, did our stuff and hopped on a bus to the Theatre du Chatelet, where we hoped to get discount tickets to "A Little Night Music", the Stephen Sondheim musical playing there.  Sold out.

Diverted once more, we took the photo above of the Conciergerie backlit at dusk, and decided to walk over to take a look at the neighborhood of an apartment we're considering renting next fall.  On the way we found ourselves passing Spring épicerie, where we just had to drop in and chat, leaving with a couple of bottles of wine recommended highly by Joshua, the wine maven.

We finally got where we were headed, discovered we liked the area, and wandered on home, stopping to read some intriguing restaurant menus along the way.  What, you thought we could just go straight home? 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Heading Home

We had a lovely Valentine's Day brunch yesterday at Boulette's Larder, a tiny place with food worthy of multiple stars, and this morning we're off to Paris once more.  Why?  Like Laduree, one word: love.

Thanks to all our wonderful friends and relatives who made us so welcome again in the Bay Area; we love you all, too.  Now please figure out how to join us in Paris so all our loves will be together.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Betwixt and Between

We're being asked daily "So how does it feel to be back?"  And our response has been some variation of "We don't feel like we're back."

The other day I caught myself saying "When we go home..." and meaning Paris.

We're seeing friends and family we miss a lot and that's wonderful, but Gene and I look at each other and say "It's not Paris."  It's like being in love with someone who's not around.  You may be having a great time, but something's missing.

What is this infatuation?  We miss the architecture, the street life, the cafés, the style, the sense of timelessness, the turning the corner to see something we haven't noticed before, the plaque testifying to the fact that in 1672 some person we've never heard of had lived in the building we're passing.  It may wear off.

We might feel differently if we were living in our own house, following our usual paths, driving our familiar streets, but in fact we're living in San Francisco, a place we've never lived in before, in a city we've only visited for a few hours at a time, even if on a daily basis.  It's great, but it's not being at home.  Oddly enough though, right now we don't miss the Berkeley street where we do our marketing and the canyon across from our living room window. 

Right now we're ready to go home.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunshine Keeps Knocking on My Window Today

We are enjoying the longest period of consistent sunshine we've had the pleasure of basking in for at least four months.  Of course we're not doing it in Paris, where winter still reigns supreme.  Instead we are perched on the top of one of San Francisco's vertiginous hills thanks to an extremely generous friend who offered us a wonderful place to stay while here, since our own house is rented to others.


This means that rather than feeling like homeless exiles in our own town we are feeling like vacationers in one of the top vacation destinations in the U.S., with views to kill for.  The Maritime History Museum's restored vessels are below and Alcatraz beyond.  The occasional tanker or cruise ship passes between them on weekdays and dozens of sailboats, spinnakers billowing, on the weekend. 

We're also benefiting from incredibly lucky weather patterns.  The forecast was for rain and we packed for rain, knowing that February in the SF Bay Area is usually the wettest month of the year.  The first year I lived here it rained every single day in February.  In the week we've been here it's rained about 3 hours.  

The air is clear and crisp and the outdoors irresistible and this morning we pulled ourselves away from the view and went to the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero for lunch and a walk.  That's not by any means to say we gave up on views.  The top photo of the Bay Bridge and Oakland beyond it was taken from the Ferry landing.  Extraordinary sights are almost ordinary here.

I had forgotten that the tramway running along the restored Embarcadero uses antique tramcars, gathered from all over the world, restored and put back into service here.  This is the one that we crossed in front of today.  Very cool.

Beyond the track and on top of Telegraph Hill is Coit Tower, famously dedicated to the firemen of San Francisco by heiress Lillian Coit, the original firefighter's groupie, sitting above a collection of pre- and post-1906 earthquake bungalows on the slopes of the hill.  It's great, and rare, to be able to appreciate these things as an outsider, a visitor, and that's what we are at the moment.  Lots better than being homeless.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Home Leave

We've exchanged the cold European winter for the rainy Californian winter for a short time.  The above is what we left behind at Frankfurt airport.


This is what we saw on descending into San Francisco airport.


And this is what we saw when jet lag woke us at dawn. 

We've already seen family and friends, had spicy Chinese food, bagels and cream cheese, corned beef sandwiches, cheeseburgers and barbecued spareribs and managed to pick up a bad cough.  More friends, Mexican food and recovery are coming soon.

It's not Paris, but it has its charms.

(Thanks to all of you who have already voted in the Top 100 International Exchange and Experience Blogs 2010 by clicking on the VOTE FOR THIS BLOG button in the sidebar at the top right.  There's still time to vote if you haven't yet, and to forward the link to everyone you're willing to annoy.  Voting closes on February 14.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Vote for Me is a Vote for...Me?

I'm honored that Are We in Paris Yet? has been nominated as one of "The Top 100 International Exchange and Experience Blogs 2010" by the language lovers website

Being the driven world-beater I am, I want to win this, and I need your help to do it.  Please click on the box in the sidebar to the right, the one that reads:

IX10 - Vote for this Blog

It won't cost you a thing except a minute or two and just think, you can make me very happy.  Isn't that everyone's goal in life, to make me happy?  Well, click it anyway.

(It's about halfway down the list, which is, unfortunately, not alphabetical.)