Sunday, March 27

Paris 2011


There are magical places in the world. Paris is one for me. We arrived yesterday morning after a sleepless overnight flight. Walked to our train connection from the airport to Paris, only to discover that trains were not running from Charles de Gaulle over the weekend due to construction. But we figured out that there was a bus to another stop on the route. Found the bus. And the train and the train connection after that. We got to our lovely little apartment just at 9:30 - check-in time. We wandered out for essentials (Euros, cheese, wine, beer, pate and bread - in about that order). Had a lovely lunch notwithstanding the aftereffects of the flight and the airplane food on all of us (especially Peter). We took an afternoon nap for a few hours. I awoke with a headache easily controlled by a great coffee. In the next hour or so the other three awoke. Darkness had fallen and we were ready for Saturday night in Paris.

We decided to try to go to a restaurant a couple of miles away. One we'd neither been to or walked by. As the one with the mental map of Paris (and no actual map) we set off. We had a leisurely stroll across the Seine, by the Louvre, along part of the route of the Tour de France, through the wacky Chatelet (looking in shop windows as we passed them),

past the Pompideau Center and the 500 year old church next door, down a couple of small streets to our restaurant of choice. Pretty modern (for Paris) and to my eyes about half empty (or full, depending on your point of view). The owner couldn't have been nicer in asking if we had a reservation. "Non." "Dommage." "Do you have another place?" she asked. I would have answered "We're staying in the 7th Arrondisement." But Kate actually understands French. She and the owner have a short and, to me, unintelligible conversation. Whereupon the owner leaves her restaurant, charges across the street to a little restaurant of a friend of hers, and waves us into the last table there. The place was older. Small and full - with one wall all mirrors to avoid claustrophobia (it worked. It took a while for us to realize that the place was half the size it appeared to be.)

Oddly, Peter had said earlier in the day that one thing he wanted to try on this trip was blood sausage. Of course, the first item on the menu was blood sausage. Magic. Peter and I had that to start.

MO had proscuitto and mozzarella salad,

and Kate had some amazing clam ravioli in cream sauce. From there until the dessert the meal was amazing. The waitress was great fun. It was so fun to be there as a group of four, in a city I love with people I love. On the way back I took us a different way. Through the Marais. Past the Hotel de Ville and then some church called Notre Dame (don't care much for the school but the church sure was pretty. Might have to go back).

Through the Latin Quarter, stopping to look at a Greek guy who roped us into a bad restaurant a decade or so ago with his "Here we dance!!! Here we sing!!" spiel. Churches aren't the only monuments here.

And eventually back to our quiet little apartment. We'll probably go to a cemetery today. If someone rises from the dead it wouldn't surprise me. After all, it's Sunday. It's Lent. And it's Paris. And this place is magic.

Monday in Paris

Hello again from Paris.

Over the last couple of days we've had a great time wandering the city. We spent much of Sunday in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. Monday in the Louvre, and the Orangerie (a smaller museum featuring water lillies by Monet), and walking the streets of Paris, and high atop the Arc du Triumphe (both things visible in the photo above). And when we feel the need to explore elsewhere we have just jumped on the Metro and gone to a different place. The Champs d'Elysee and Place Pigalle are hugely different places. But both fun and interesting. It's a city with both a literal and figurative right and left bank.

If you get a chance to see paintings by Chaim Soutine, do it. They're great.

Of course eating has occupied much of our time. And sipping on a biere and watching the people pass by.

I'm always struck in this city by the wonderful contrasts. The Pere Lachaise cemetery is a fairly serious place, with crypts and gravestones dating from the American Revolutionary War to today.

And yet, as you walk along you come to Oscar Wilde's crazy tombstone.

A few meters more and it's a memorial stone to survivors of World War II concentration camps.

Even in the Louvre, that most staid of museums, there are signs of change and contrast. This new art added since we were here last.

Or this dude "high" above us in one room.

He made us laugh. But maybe think a bit too.

A great city - Paris. It reminds me that people can build things and not screw them up. Of course, much of the power here comes from nuclear power plants. Clearly, the converse is true too. This week my focus is squarely on the positive.


One of the challenges of a trip like ours is group decision making. What to do? Where to eat? I guess those are basically the only decisions we need to make.

Do you let the Four Day Museum Pass which expires on Thursday control the decision making process? Mostly we don't. It was easy to decide to go to the Musee d'Orsay first thing yesterday (at about 10:30 a.m). It's close. It has to have the best selection of Impressionist art in the world. There was construction going on - so there was less to see than on other visits. But still lots of great stuff. And a new "no photos" policy.

Then lunch back at the apartment. Kate has not imposed a no photos policy.

And actually this highly complex organization of lunch was my work.

Then, since the day was sunny, we decided to climb to the top of Notre Dame to look out over the city.

But it inexplicably closed early. So we visited San Chappelle, an amazing little cathedral built in the 1200's.

And when we came out of the cathedral it was . . . raining. Two jackets and no umbrellas for four people. Sir Walter Stan gave Kate his jacket and we headed back to the apartment, in a less than cheery mood.

Then it was dinner planning time. A complex negotiation. The Vietnamese/French place 20 meters down the street? It's written up very favorably in two of our books. How about the restaurant right across the street? People who've stayed here seem to have liked it. Or the Joel Roubochon restaurant only a couple of blocks away? It had been on "No Reservations". But it's probably more upscale than we are. I had liked the look of the Bistrot du Universite a couple of blocks away. While Kate and I were off getting some supplies we took a look. Small. Not too formal. It didn't seem to be a place frequented heavily by tourists (a positive from our points of view). We tried it and were treated to a wonderful meal.

Foie gras shared to start. Peter and Kate had a steak which they raved about. Madeline a lamb shank. I had rabbit in mustard sauce with Brussels Sprouts - amazing. The wine was the best we'd had on the trip. The desserts were tremendous, though the waiter refused to give me a bowl of the mustard sauce as dessert. He was fun, and resisted the temptation to respond to our French in English.

Decision making at its finest (or luckiest).

Nous Amis

We spent most of yesterday below ground with our friend Chris, who Kate and I have known for over thirty years. In the evening we rendezvoused with his girlfriend Valerie, and immediately felt we had known her for almost as long.

We saw almost no art. Instead, for something different, we visited the Musee des Egouts de Paris - a museum dedicated to the sewers of Paris. Some interesting history as we examined a very real
and kind of odiferous section of the sewers.

Chris is no fan of rats. But who is? As we moved on we stayed underground, visiting the Catacombes. It's a place in Paris where thousands of skeletons have been relocated. A bit sobering perhaps.

But actually very interesting. Even a bit religious and inspirational. And very French. We were all very glad to have gone.

It's a long series of tunnels. Dark and a bit damp. With religiously oriented plaques which Kate, Madeline and Chris worked together to translate into English. Interestingly though not surprisingly, concepts involving life, death, eternity and salvation are much more complicated to translate than "where is the bathroom?" or "I would like the veal, please."

Appropriately, no flash photography is allowed. This gave Peter and me a chance to work on our stability and to learn how to operate our cameras a bit better.

Then, after a stop for a snack and a trip to the Limognes store to purchase some small items, it was on to Valerie's apartment. Such fun. Lots of laughs and great conversation with Chris and Valerie.

In our conversations we discovered to our surprise that on the day after we arrived France had gone on daylight savings time. So perhaps it was a bit more understandable that we were denied entrance to Notre Dame (though we were more than an hour before closing time at that). Fortunately we discovered this fact before we were an hour late as we made our way to our plane on Saturday morning.

We "louped" our way to one of Valerie's favorite restaurants in an area of Paris somewhere near the Pere Lachaise cemetery we visited earlier in the week. The specialties were from Cameroon and Senegal - two African countries in which French is often spoken. Yet another amazing meal! And without a doubt at a restaurant we would never have found without the aid of our friends. In fact, we barely found it with them!

Another wonderful day - this time in the underground side of Paris.

L'Addition C'nest Pas Du Specialite

Another lovely (if gray) day in Paris. We wandered through the city after a late start, stopping at the Pompidou Center to look at some of the modern art there. Kate and I really loved the work of Sonia Delaunay and her husband Robert.

From there it was a short walk and a medium wait to climb high atop Notre Dame to look at gargoyles and view the city from on high.

A stop for a beer and a bit more strolling brought us back to our apartment. And then it was time for dinner.

We decided on Tan Dinh - a Vietnamese restaurant (with a French influence). A little aside - when we first met in 1977, long before we were dating, Kate suggested that I take a friend to a St. Paul restaurant which I think was called The Phoenix. She described in fairly glowing terms as "Vietnamese, with a French influence." Pretty classy stuff for a rube from Iowa. Ever since, lists of cuisines for us have included styles like Italian, French, Mexican and Vietnamese (with a French influence). How could we resist just such a restaurant, with a stellar reputation, just three doors down on our little Rue du Vernueil?

We've had great luck with restaurants and waiters and waitresses during our stay. I don't suppose you could say we have developed "relationships" with them, but earlier in the day we had waved hello and exchanged smiles with our waiter from two nights ago as he walked by on his way to the bakery. This was to be no exception.

Tan Dinh does not accept credit cards. But, having learned our lesson earlier in the week, we prepared ourselves by making a trip to our trusty ATM for a cash infusion of 200 more Euros, bringing our cash supply to about 250 Euros. Since the cost of our dinners this week have ranged from 100 to 200 Euros, we were all set.

We were greeted at Tan Dinh by the host/owner, all 4'10" of him. An elderly gentlemen, with an endearing style that made you want to hug him. We had had such success the previous night when our new friend Valerie ordered for the group, that we followed the same pattern. Kate and our host conversed and laughed and conversed some more. Our order was agreed upon and yet another memorable meal began. Ravioli with smoked goose.

Shrimp with a lovely sauce. The appetizers paired with a small bottle of a crisp white wine.

The Old Gentleman was such fun, giving us suggestions on his view of the best approach to the food, and literally feeding us our first bite of the main courses.

Duck, beef and chicken. Each excellent. As was the red wine paired with them.

"Dessert?" "Non. L'addition s'il vous plait." And then our bill came. 273 Euros. A bit higher than expected, particularly when we had only 250 Euros in our pocket. So I was once again sent scurrying for money to pay for an already eaten dinner.

Apparently, while I was dashing for cash Kate described the situation as "pas grave." However, when I was told by my Friendly Cash Machine that my limit for the day on my Wells Fargo cash card was exceeded, the situation seemed to me to be "un peu grave." But not too grave. I had an American Express card. I wouldn't leave home without it. In it went. When my Friendly Cash Machine told me that it would only deign to speak with cards with a little chip in them, and a four digit identification number. The gravity of the situation increased just a bit. My MasterCard received a similar response from my Friendly Cash Machine. I wish I had worn a hat so that I could put it in my hand as I returned to the restaurant with the same cash supply I departed with.

But never send an old man to do a young man's work. Peter had his cash card (avec le quatre digit id). So off he went, now accompanied by the Old Gentleman. This slows the process somewhat - since the Old Gentleman moves at a markedly slower pace than the long-legged Pierre. But justice prevailed! Liberty and Equality were restored! No one was beheaded. Thanks to Peter, cash was obtained. International relations may be a bit tense for a day or two, but peace is restored.

And I'll be a bit tense too. Particularly this morning when I go to visit my Friendly Cash Machine to start our last full day in Paris.

Pain au Vin

We spent our last day in Paris wandering around. Perhaps not totally successfully. My internal compass usually works pretty well. But not so much today. We did our best to try to get reservations at Frenchie - a restaurant that was featured on Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations." But we failed. So it goes. Perhaps the No Reservations connection was an omen.

I find it doesn't really matter. We have a bottle of wine (well, thanks mostly to me, we HAD a bottle of wine). And a baguette from the Eric Kaiser boulangerie on the corner.

I'm just eating it plain. Without the fromages du chevre and blue cheese that I've become accustomed to over the last week. The crust is wonderfully crisp. The center fresh and even a bit doughy.

And the kids brought back another bottle of wine. We are managing things for the train trip to the airport tomorrow at 6:30 am.

Nous Finisons

The trip home went well. A complex trip to the airport negotiated well (other than one "ass over teakettle" fall by me, brought on by the combination of clumsiness, bifocals, the early hour and a heavy bag).

Here are a last few images from the end of our trip.

A courageous street juggler.

The artistry of a Meilleur Ouvrier de France.

The Bistrot du Paris - site of our last dinner.

The dining girls.

Cruising over Greenland - bound for Minnesota.

But part of our heart remains in Paris.