Monday, June 23, 2014

Checking In to Check Out

The weather gods are doing their best to make us want to stay.  The sky is perfectly blue, the air is soft and warm, there is light in the sky until past 10:00 P.M. and dining outdoors is practically mandatory.  We have had drinks in the tiny garden of the apartment with two separate sets of guests and the birds continue to wake us in the morning.

On the other hand, June 21 was la Fête de la Musique, a countrywide celebration that goes on into the early morning.  In the past we have wandered around the city listening to street bands in many areas and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  This year I couldn't walk too far, my twisted ankle having resolved into a fractured metatarsal, and we got as far as the church of St. Eustache, with its incredible organ.  An organ concert was just the thing and we really liked it.

After a horrible dinner (Pied du Cochon, next to St. Eustache, used to have quite good onion soup despite its tourist bent.  No more!) we went home only to discover a very very loud private concert in the courtyard next door, complete with lights and bands.  It went on until about 3:00 Gene tells me.  I zonked out about 1:30, noise and all.  Sunday was perfect until we came home in the afternoon to discover a little girl's birthday party in the apartment upstairs.  About a 9 on the Shriek-o-Meter.  Luckily it didn't last as long as the concert had.

The most annoying thing that happened this week however was the decision by a number of the unions representing French air traffic controllers to declare a five day strike, beginning tomorrow, the day we were scheduled to fly to London to pick up our homeward bound United flight.  We heard of the strike plans while we were in Normandy, called a journalist friend to confirm the online rumor, and immediately bought tickets on the Eurostar.  We did not get, as you can imagine, a budget price buying at the last minute.  Nevertheless if all goes well we should make our flight as scheduled.

We will be happy to get home, where we will spend the rest of the summer without budging from Berkeley before a return to Paris and to Italy in September.  See you then.

Photos are at

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In the Country

I have always admitted my preference for cities over countryside, perhaps mentioning it too often.  When I asked B. to recommend a place we might spend a few days out of Paris she asked if I were sure.  I was.  I had suddenly yearned for a drive on narrow roads, passing cows and sheep grazing in the fields and stopping to explore towns always called Saint-something or other-in-somewhere.

Not only that, two days before heading to the maison d'hôtes B. had raved about, we were invited to Sunday lunch at C.'s place in the country about an hour outside Paris, despite her concern that I might miss the smell of bitumen.  It was super, a wonderful lunch in a huge garden with rosé to drink and lots of delicious food.  And what better way to finish the afternoon than a visit to a local brocante and a walk in the nearby village.  Except that on the walk I managed to turn my ankle, which proceeded to balloon up so that I hobbled to the train and had to take an expensive taxi ride back home from the station.

Making a long story a bit shorter, it improved enough over the next two days so I could wrap it in ice and navigate the car from Montparnasse station to a lovely house set in gorgeous gardens in a tiny village near Alençon, called, yes, Saint Denis-en-Sarthon.  Just up the road from Saint Céneri-le Gérei, one of what the French call "Les Plus Belles Villages en France".  Gene much preferred driving on the right side of the road on this trip, our marriage was not tested, and we had a lovely time.

Despite our best efforts and directions from everyone we asked, we were unable to find the Crypte Saint André in Mortagne-au-Perche, described to us by a road worker as formidable.  We also spent quite a bit of time driving tiny roads trying to find the Chateau d'O, marked on a map of chateaux in the area, but apparently owned by someone who dislikes visitors.  We finally came across it entirely by accident, hiding behind its high walls and locked entry gates.  Very intriguing.

The Chateau de Médavy, also a bit shy, doesn't open for visits until "real" summer, which to the French means July and August.  We did visit the Chateau de Sassy, home of a library of 30,000 books and visited in 1968 by Queen Elizabeth, who was given a horse from the Sassy stud farm as a parting gift.  Her bedroom remains untouched since then.  I presume it is dusted from time to time.  It looked fine.

All in all, lovely trips to the country, despite the injured foot.  This should do me for some time.  Paris looked great when we got back.

Photos can be found at

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Burgers, Bagels and Begging

Several things have struck me as new to Paris since we were last here and none of them make me very happy.  You may recall my posts several years ago about the influx of American food.  Not so long ago it was difficult to find a hamburger, particularly a good one, in Paris.  Granted, most American visitors aren't here in search of a great burger, but the occasional craving wasn't easily satisfied.

This visit it is hard to avoid the nearly ubiquitous burger joints. Places specializing in hamburgers are all over the place, particularly in the gentrifying quartiers.  Traditional cafés have given way to Le Burger.  There is a very successful place called Big Fernand around the corner from the apartment.  And adding insult to injury, its next door neighbor is a fish and chips shop.

As an aside, I have also noticed that the more traditional salade niçoise has been replaced in many cases by the salade César, which for the French means romaine, Parmesan and always, always, chicken. Not an anchovy in sight.

As if the hamburger invasion was insufficient, the other every-other-storefront surprise is the bagel.  Yes, the French have fallen in love with the bagel, or at least something round and called that.  Having neither the desire nor the courage to try one, my evaluation is based only on the look of the pale, soft things in the window.  I do recall several years ago being invited to a pot luck brunch here and asked to bring bagels.  That required a several day search and I finally found them in the upscale Bon Marché food hall, in a plastic package.  Plus ça change...

Amusing as all this may be, the really upsetting change is the proliferation of families, apparently immigrants of Central European appearance, spending days and nights on mattresses on the street.  Most often it's a mother and one or two very small children, sometimes there is a man as well.  I'm used to the young Rom women begging on the street and the haggard old men begging in cafés, but entire families living on the street on a mattress is more than startling.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

June 6, Many Years Later

A little boy of about four just walked by my table on the sidewalk and told me in a very excited voice and accompanying wide arms, "I just had an enorme pizza!"  This was a couple of minutes after we were greeted by someone we knew who was passing by.  A few minutes later I recognized the clochard who lives on our block on his way home I suppose.  This is still a real neighborhood and I'm beginning to recognize faces.

Last night we went out for a drink in the hot evening air and walked quite a way searching for just the right place, not too stuffy, not too sunny (the sun was still bright at 9:00 p.m.) and not too crowded.  We wound up at Café de Nemours in front of the Comedie Française, not realizing that we had arrived between sets of a small brass orchestra not far off.  It was fine, actually.

By the time we got hungry the only thing we wanted was a hamburger.  Yes, I know it's Paris but the darn things are everywhere, and the café in the Palais Royal garden had a cheeseburger as the plat du jour!  Apparently everyone else was also in the mood and they had run out.  Not willing to give up we moved on to rue d'Argout, where we know we could find Blend, one of the best burgers around.  Unfortunately Blend has no outdoor seating and it was just too hot to be indoors.

We finally shared a cheeseburger with bleu d'Auvergne (this makes it French food, n'est-ce pas?) next door at Vintage.  I think we were the only ones on the entire street actually eating, although the other 100 or so people enjoying the evening were certainly enjoying various beverages.

Earlier in the day we had seen the Intimate Impressionists exhibit at the Musée Marmottan, a lovely selection of small works almost all in private collections.  This is one of my favorite kinds of shows, one that offers the opportunity to see things that are virtually never going to be available to be seen unless you travel in circles other than the ones I travel in.  The Marmottan is next to the Jardins du Ranelagh in the 16th arrondissement and the grass was  nearly covered with groups of teenagers released from school into the lovely day.  Most of them had McDonald's sacks.

We didn't join them, choosing instead to lunch on the terrace of a restaurant nearby.  We realized that we were near someplace that we'd been meaning to visit for years, the Albert Kahn Museum and Gardens in Saint Cloud, just a couple of metro stops away.  This was the ideal time to go and we did.

Albert Kahn was a self-made millionaire of the late 19th - early 20th century who was fascinated by the rest of the world and decided to send photographers out to document it.  Thousands of autochromes, an early color process, and moving films are available to see, but for us a walk in the gardens, designed to represent different national styles, was the best.  Two Japanese gardens, one traditional and one contemporary, an English garden, a French garden, two different forest landscapes, a wetlands, all in probably 2 acres of land.  A super way to spend a summer afternoon.

Today is alternating between rain and sun. We're off to meet Clotilde in the Palais Royal, where there is a choice of open garden and covered arcade.  It's all in the planning.

Photos are at

Friday, June 6, 2014

In Touch

Communication has become an addiction, I fear.  Waking this morning, I realized that the wi-fi in the apartment was not working.  I felt a clutch at my heart.  Not able to check the news? Not able to check my email? It felt like part of myself was missing.  This is not a healthy feeling.

I'm not even someone who is always texting or on the phone.  I don't get a million emails, I'm not a social media junkie, I'm not on Facebook and I don't tweet.  But cut off my bandwidth and I'm a nervous wreck.  Sounds like addiction to me.

When we first started traveling many, many, many (enough already!) years ago, we relied on snail mail sent to American Express offices in cities along our expected trajectory.  If we changed our plans we missed our mail.  That first trip was for seven months and my family back home and we sent each other audio tapes so we could connect at a deeper level than a mere letter or postcard.  International phone calls were prohibitively expensive but we phoned once a month just to assure the folks at home that we were still alive, on a Greek island where you had to book a phone call in advance, or in the Paris post office where you had to go to the desk, be assigned a calling booth and return to the desk to pay at the end.   No Skyping on those days.

As you can see, my wi-fi came back.  A great sigh of relief and I headed straight for this blog.  I guess connecting with you was one of the things I need to do.

Photos are at