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Paris Croissant Run 2006 - A Return to Paris


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Summer 2006. A week in Paris, spread out to bracket a week in Burgundy. This was our fifth visit to Paris, and certainly not our last. The week in Burgundy is in a separate trip report.

Still At My Desk

Many years ago, I landed in Paris while on my way to Turkey. Three days in Paris gave me visual, auditory, and tactile indigestion. So much, so rich, but the tastes were absolutely wonderful. Glutton that I am, I had to have more.

Time and pacing were needed.

Four visits later, I still feel I’m only just beginning to know the city. My last stay, I barely made it out of the Marais in six days, such a tiny corner, but so full of history, layers of change, tides of people. I had wanted to stay in the Marais again on this trip, but had difficulty finding an apartment in my price range with that most useful feature - an air conditioning unit. I dislike a/c at home, but living without, in an upper floor city apartment, one summer long ago has given me a firm appreciation of its usefulness. And with the torrid temperatures in Paris this July, I'll be very glad to have one.

We’ve rented an apartment in the Gros-Caillou, the area between the Invalides and the Eiffel Tower, where the main street is rue St-Dominique. It’s an attractive area, wealthy, a bit dull, but with good shopping, restaurants, Metro and bus connections.


A street in the 7th
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"Travel: the word travel has a common origin with the word travail. Once upon a time, travel was exceedingly uncomfortable and often dangerous. Indeed, the ultimate source of the word 'travel' is a medieval instrument of torture - the trepalium - a contraption would pierce its victim's flesh with three sharp stakes (tres 'three' and palus 'stake'). The trepalium became a verb, trepaliare, which meant any form of torture. From torture to the Old French concept of travailler - or 'putting oneself to pain or trouble. Travailler came to mean 'work hard' in French. English borrowed the word as 'travail' and this, in turn, was used to describe a wearisome journey - travel.

The French language, on the other hand, never regarded travel with quite the same sense of discomfort as did English. Voyager - to travel - comes from the Latin via, or 'way'.

Just about the only benefit of Larry's business travel is the chance for the frequent flyer tickets that make our trips possible. Due to some bad timing this year that I won't bore you with, we were only able to use our points to get an Aer Lingus routing involving a nine hour layover in Dublin. Add to that the difficulty of getting to Logan these days made for a very long, tiring day of travel. Twenty four hours to get from Boston to Paris? Travail.

We tried several times yesterday to get on the earlier connecting flight, but Aer Lingus was less than cooperative. Yes, there are seats available. No, you may not have them. Those frequent flyer tickets don't exactly gain you a lot of friends at the airlines. On the other hand, our luggage actually arrived on the conveyer at CDG, always a triumph. And we got to walk around downtown Dublin, Temple Bar, Trinity College, see the Book of Kells, and have lunch. Someone, please explain the mushy peas to me. By the time we finally arrived at the apartment at 9:30 last night, we were beyond tired.

So, here we are. The apartment is cozy, very well equipped, and comfortable. Half a bottle of wine (kindly supplied by the agency) was all the dinner we had energy for. The little air conditioner and fan are doing their best, and we sleep well. La canicule is promised to break tomorrow with some thunderstorms, which will hopefully bring relief. We go out early and buy the first croissants and some figs, raspberries and peaches for breakfast. So damn good. Today we're planning on walking the neighborhood in the morning to gather groceries and reacquaint ourselves, and then get to an air conditioned museum this afternoon.

Hey, we're in Paris!


La Canicule

People move very, very slowly in Paris right now, with the temperature in the upper 90's, so do we.

As the day went on yesterday, the heat felt even worse, radiating off the buildings and sidewalks. We set out early, walking down rue St. Dominique, and then up to the Seine, crossing over the Pont de l'Alma. Just a few blocks up Avenue President Wilson was a street market, where we bought a few things for lunch. There's a lovely woman there with a stand where she sells vegetables from her land. She gave us a taste of one of her tomatoes, which rival anything I've ever pulled out of the garden. OK, hers were better.

Back across the Seine, and we spent some time poking around the neighborhood, looking at menus outside restaurants, finding the other shops, looking at some wonderful old buildings. By this time, my linen sundress was feeling like a wet parka.

At the apartment we made a cool lunch, and of course I had to take a picture.

An air conditioned museum seemed a good plan, so we set off at around 3:00. People in the Metro did not look happy. At least we weren't under the broiling sun, but the damp, sticky heat felt awful. We had our Louvre tickets already, so just zipped past the line and right into the museum. We went upstairs to see my old friend Vermeer and the rest of his pals from the Low Countries; goggled at some of the yard sale items in the Decorative Arts galleries; admired the Indian jewelry in a special exhibit; and tried to estimate how hot it was right under the Pyramid. We'll come back when we return to Paris.

By this time it was 7:30, so we walked over to the Left Bank, and caught the number 69 bus back home.

We had made a dinner reservation at Le Florimond, right down the street. We weren't able to get a table on the terrace, but at least at 9:00 the heat inside wasn't too bad. It's a tiny restaurant with traditional food, and a very friendly atmosphere. All the food was excellent, but I think the standouts were a special entree of a little flan of spider crab served cool with grated vegetables and avocado sauce; a lamb dish with eggplant; and the creme brulee. Halfway through the meal, the wind started gusting, bringing leaves into the room and the people outside clutching their wine glasses. A few loud claps of thunder later, and the rain began. The poor waiter scurried around cheerfully complaining as he resettled some people out of the rain, handed out umbrellas to regulars, and readjusted the awning to try to keep the holdouts outside dry.

We ran the two blocks home through the rain. But yes, the temperature had dropped a good 20 degrees.

Le Florimond 19, avenue de la Motte-Picquet, Phone: Closing day: Sunday, also three weeks in August Closest Metro--La Tour Maubourg


Thursday's Child Has Far To Go

This resident of suburbia needs to have a stern talk with her feet. Even though I spend five hours a day on my feet in the classroom and slog through my daily treadmill torture, it is an entirely different matter to trudge around Paris. My very comfortable walking shoes and sandals are no match for Paris's pavement, cobblestones, and packed dirt paths.

After a somewhat late start yesterday (Yes, I was the one who slept till nine, unheard of in my usual life) we headed into the Marais. We revisited the area where we stayed two years ago, and just kept walking in happy circles. We grabbed falafel at L'as du Falafel on rue des Rosiers, and walked over to the little park around the corner to eat on a bench while watching children throw sand at each other. Some things are universal. We were very amused to see the same messy street construction from two years ago. Again, universal. Amorino is still selling creamy gelato, shaped into a rosette on your cone. I enjoyed this little one getting licks from her sister's spoon all down rue des Francs Bourgeois.

We poked into galleries and shops, winding toward the third, and then headed to the Picasso museum late in the afternoon. Larry commented that the Picasso would be a great place to meet women, as it is thronged with women alone or in small groups. I looked at the artwork.

After resting in the museum's outdoor cafe, we headed home. Dinner was at Le Petit Nicoise, another small place in the neighborhood. We started with the soupe de poissons, and ladled tons of aioli onto the croutons to float in the bowl. This was really delicious stuff. I followed with a whole roasted fish, and Larry had three fish fillets steamed in a packet with vegetables and a rich sauce. My fish was very good, but Larry's was the clear winner.

Friday we decided to head to another market, this time the one on Blvd. Raspail, in the 6th. We walked over to catch the number 87 bus, but decided to begin walking and catch the bus a bit further down. We'll get it the next stop, maybe the next. Hey, we're almost there. I finally insisted on getting on the damn bus.

At the market, we bought lumpy and tasty tomatoes, sweet tiny apricots, more figs, and a small melon. Then over to the amazing grocery store at Le Bon Marche, Le Grand Epiciere for some goodies to take on the road tomorrow.

I stopped into a pharmacy for some lotion for my poor feet. I had a very amusing consultation with a woman there, who insisted on inspecting my calluses. I assured her that I would be taking care of my pedicure, and walked out with some expensive but nicely soothing stuff.

Back to the apartment and then downstairs to Cafe Max, the little place next door for lunch. This place has been full of French-speakers every night, has low prices, and the food has looked great. We had a slice of terrine, I had carpaccio, and Larry lived dangerously with calve's rognon with a mustard sauce. I cannot eat kidneys after my experiences with kidney stones, and insisted no, no I really don't want a taste. For anyone interested, he reported they were tasty but slightly chewy.

Desserts were two different chocolate macarons from the amazing chocolate shop, Jean-Paul Hevin.

Le Petit Nicois 10 rue Amelie 75007 , Phone: Open every day Metro--La Tour Maubourg


Ice cream, Marais
Sunday in Paris

After several cloudy, cool, rainy days, it felt almost strange to see blue skies and a bit of sun, a very pretty day. So we went to my favorite market, the Richard Lenoir, just north of Bastille. After that, we were going to the Bois de Vincennes for a picnic and to see the Chateau.

We really didn't need too much, just enough for a picnic and some fruit for breakfasts. But the shopping aspect almost is besides the point, since I don't have to rush to get back home, pick someone up, prepare for work, deal with offspring's homework or social trauma, or have a real life. The people-watching and peering at stands are what we're really here for. This is a great market, crowded; filled with everyone from well-dressed ladies, people of almost every nationality, street kids and bums. And there's a bit of food.

Actually, a whole lot of food. Produce, breads, fish and seafood, meats, cheeses, roasted chickens, olives, salts, charcuterie, spices, herbs, about anything you would want. There were also several stands with people selling wines, which people were tasting. It was 9:00 in the morning, but, hey.

Let's not forget about the underwear stands, clothing, housedresses and aprons, bolts of fabrics, bags, tablecloths, kids’ toys, scarves from India, and table after table of kitchen gadgets.

And the people in the 7th may tell you that "everybody" leaves Paris in August, but obviously the folks in the 11th haven't gotten that memo. It was quite crowded, with a hell of a lot more life than we've been seeing in "our" neighborhood. We liked it. For the picnic, we bought a half of a tiny roasted chicken, a loaf of bread with walnuts, some fresh chevre, and some figs. In the little cooler we had some cut up melon, a tomato, and a slice of pate from Semur.

Instead of heading right for the Metro, we decided to walk. We explored the 11th for a while, heading east. The trendy restaurants and bars were closed of course, but we enjoyed walking around poking down streets. This looks like it'd be an interesting neighborhood to rent in for a future trip. We headed south to the 12th, passing under the Viaduc/Promenade where we walked in this area last time in Paris. Finally grabbed the Metro at Gare de Lyon, and headed out to Vincennes.

Vincennes is at the end of the number 1 Metro. It looks like a pleasant neighborhood, from what we can see. Our attention was rather riveted by the Fortress and Chateau, which are just enormous. Truly, I had no idea how huge the Chateau and the park were. There's a dungeon currently under restoration, and a beautiful church, St. Chapelle. The restoration will hopefully be completed by the time we return with the boys next April.

We walked all the way to the end of the complex to get to the Parc Floral at the other side. We paid the admission fee, which was higher than usual today because of a concert. Such a beautiful place, filled with flower beds, different plant habitats, and pavilions with things like art exhibits and a butterfly garden, all very nicely maintained. I loved seeing peacocks wandering around. The ladies room even had toilets, which I appreciated.

And you can picnic on the grass, unlike a lot of other Paris parks! The park was filled with all sorts of people picnicking, walking, kids on tricycles, people tooling around in little pedal-buggies, just enjoying a pretty Sunday in the Park.

We ended up deciding to just hang out and read, and stayed for the concert. It was a vocal group doing a mixture of classical and "Manhattan Transfer" style music. Very nice.

For dinner, we went around the corner from the apartment to La Fontaine de Mars, just about the only place open on the street. It was crowded, but we only had to wait a few minutes for a table. We were very amused by a French family of elegantly dressed man in his late 40's with two boys of about 10 and 12, and a fashion-model looking woman who barely looked older than the boys. She had a dress on that plunged almost to her navel, and strappy, multicolored shoes I would have killed for though could never wear in a million years. After their meal, they got into a chauffeured car, with the boys grinning out the windows at their audience.

Yes, we did something besides gawk. Excellent "bistro-type" food, crisp service. An entree of a molded salad of crab, avacado, and vegetables; plats of duck for me and sausage for Larry. A whole bottle of wine for a change, which I felt the next morning.

La Fontaine de Mars 129, rue Saint Dominique 75007 Paris , Phone: open 7 days a week, and all summer Metro-- La Tour Mauburg or bus 69


What do you want in your lettuce mix?
Dead and Alive

Monday was cool, with grey skies and the threat of rain. Suitable weather for a walk through Pere-Lachaise, that 19th-century monument to the dead and deader.

Larry grew up in a family where visits to the cemetary are regular occurrances, giving people the chance to visit graves of loved ones, neighbors, friends, and even the unloved but well remembered. There's usually tears from some family, pulling of weeds from around the simple gravestones, and children taught to leave a pebble on visited headstones. My family remembers our dead more through stories, and usually only visits family gravestones when we're burying someone.

Those who buried their dead at Pere-Lachaise certainly expected those stones to be more than simple markers. We wandered around, using the terrible map and worse signs to try to locate some notables along the twisty paths. We found Colette, Rossini, more composers, Moliere, Heloise and Abelard (who, according to story, share a grave but have a barrier between them for "decency's sake.") and of course, Jim Morrison, who had an interesting collection of visitors. After a while, we gave up trying to find those who made history, and just looked at the tombs that caught our eyes.

For the record, please don't stash my bones underneath some gloomily moody grey sculpture. Have a party, and none of that Jewish-funeral deli platter food. Plant me, and then some tomatoes where I can do them some good.

From the cemetary, we walked downhill through Belleville, enjoying the lively multi-ethnic street parade. Caught the Metro, and headed over to the Marais. Luckily, Chez Omar stays open during August. The couscous was pretty good (I've eaten amazing homemade grandmere couscous, so I'm a tough critic), and we liked the roomful of cranky old men regulars in between the tables of adventuresome tourists in the 3rd.

From there, we visited the Musee d'Art et d'Historie du Judaisme in the Marais. Wonderful collection, emphasising the importance of the written word and the holidays and customs that spring from Torah. Interesting that so many of the artifacts come from Italy. I'd have liked to see have seen a much stronger section about the Sephardic Jewish communities in the middle east, which in the permenant collection is rather bare bones. That's a definite gap, considering how many of France's Jews today trace their history to those countries, not Europe. There was a special exhibit on the Dreyfuss Affair, and we were struck by how attentive and absorbed visitors were in those rooms, even the teenagers who seemed to be strongly connected to those events. Interesting.

We stepped out of the museum into a strong rainstorm, which left us drenched on the run to the Metro. Of course, we each had assumed the other had the travel umbrella in our bags. *grin*

Later that afternoon, we walked from the apartment in the 7th into the neighboring 15th. Another "everyday" sort of area, with many newer apartment buildings, few tourists clutching maps, and many busy people who also never got the "Everyone leaves Paris in August" memo.

We ate dinner at a tiny Asian restaurant off rue St. Domanique, which was excellent and inexpensive. Menu a mix of Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese. Lovely steamed shrimp dumplings with toasted shallots, spicy ginger and scallion beef, very fresh shrimp in a light herbal sauce, and Jasmine rice. Once again, a small child to flirt with as she darted in and out of the kitchen.


Old and New, East and West

Tuesday is still cool, still cloudy. It drives Larry bonkers that he cannot get an accurate weather forecast in France, with the level of obsessive hour-by-hour detail he's come to expect from the US weather service. Our favorite Paris weather moment was the "sunny" icon on the online forecast when it was pouring outside the window.

After cafe and croissant, we walked over to the new Musee du Quai Branly, that much-discussed museum of non-European art. In essence, the artifacts and artwork are fabulous, of course. I loved, loved, so much of what I saw. It's a near thing though, and whatever impact the artwork had on me was in spite of the museum's design.

The exterior, with colored building-block pieces is stunning, and especially that wonderful vertical garden planted with creeping plants and flowers.

The design of the exhibits feels like it was done by a committee of overenthusiastic 13 year olds. You bounce from one geographical or cultural grouping to another with very little documentation or thoughtful explanation of the "why" behind the materials, beyond the very limited basics. The labels, when you can find them, are often in brown text on brown background. The lighting is dreadful. The glass and badly designed lighting causes so much glare and reflection that many items are extremely difficult to see. And good luck if you're in a wheelchair -- the elevators up to the top levels weren't working; and many of the small hidden exhibit rooms didn't have doorways wide enough to allow the person I saw in a wheelchair to get through. In many of those small rooms, the flooring is already buckled and taped.

I often felt slightly dizzy and claustrophobic there. The deep browns and reds of the color scheme, uneven floor, ductwork ceilings, and odd reflections from glass and lighting were probably the cause. I'd be curious if others get that sensation.

I loved the materials themselves, but left feeling quite frustrated. At least my curiosity was sparked by much of what I'd seen but the museum didn't do anything to extend that curiosity into something meaningful. It struck me that they have such a treasure trove of work here. Instead of mushing it into one huge exhibit, why didn't they attempt to create a changing series of more focused exhibits, with a deeper impact? (Or leave the materials where they were in other collections, but that obviously wasn't the point in this project of political empire-building).

From the Museum, we walked across the Seine to the Metro, and got off at Les Gobelins in the 13th. I've wanted to visit the Gobelin tapestry weaving workshops for years, and finally got the chance. There are tours in French only Tuesday-Thursday at 2:00 and 2:45. We ate a simple lunch at a brasserie around the corner (salad for me, and croque for Larry), then hunted down the tour office. (Enter the main gate at 42 Av des Gobelins, turn left, go down the cobbled drive, enter through the large rounded door to the Chapel).

We began in the chapel, hung with enormous old tapestries. From there, you are brought through a succession of weaving rooms, where you can watch the workers and get a detailed history and weaving lesson. Vertical tapestry looms, horizontal looms, carpet looms, all in long rooms lit by natural daylight streaming in through huge windows. Many of the workers still live onsite, though the old fruit orchard is now full of ornamental flowers. I do wish my French was stronger, as I know I missed much of what the guide was telling us. But as a hobby weaver, this was a tremendous treat. They're still weaving as they've done for 300 years, warp by warp. Peering at the "carton" of the design, and often working in reverse, looking at mirrors placed at the back of the warp, most of the weavers I saw wore glasses.

To my surprise, most of the work they do now is of contemporary design, very modern, stunning, amazing works of art and craftsmanship. Most pieces are for State use, although there are a very few private commissions for those who can afford the steep price tag. They also replicate older designs, like to restore an upholstered piece of furniture of historical merit.

The tour lasted almost two hours, a wonderful and absorbing peek. We went back to the apartment for a brief rest, and then headed over to the 11th to meet up with friends for dinner. We had a fun, enjoyable evening with excellent food and conversation.


Weaver, Les Gobelins
Last Day

Don't you just hate the last day of a great trip? You feel unsettled, somewhat sad, have trouble focusing on the here and now; yet feel a degree of anticipation over getting home, being in your own bed, own space. The last day just seems like something to get through.

It reminds me of the last week or two in my classroom, when kids often get quarrelsome or unusually grumpy, and say "I hate this place! It's boring! I hate you!" as a way to say goodbye and have an easier ending that's more on their terms as a positive thing instead of a sadness.

Our last day, we still had so many things we still wanted to do; so of course, did none of them.

We just walked a lot, which is really one of the best things you can do in Paris. We also took the Metro out to the Saint-Mande stop near the Chateau Vincennes to check out an inexpensive apartment I have in mind for a future family trip. It's an area completely off the tourist radar, yet an easy Metro or bus ride in. Happily, the building looks great, the area residential and lively, and there's a bus that travels to the Marais and St. Germain des Pres in 10-15 minutes.

After a light lunch at a cafe near Bastille, we did some last-minute shopping. A box of macaroons from Pierre Herme, a few bottles of pistachio oil, the good Normandy sea salt, some other goodies. We ended the afternoon at a very funny exhibit at the Grand Palais, showing many of the wild and wacky machines used in street theatre in Europe. If you heard about the giant elephant that marched through London last year, that's the sort of thing. I think I stuck my finger up a mechanical chicken's butt. There's video footage. The highlight was the giant "Pianopault" which launches a piano every afternoon at five. They've been going through a lot of pianos.

The plan was for a nice last meal at a restaurant we had enjoyed two years ago. My gut had other plans, and seems to have not thought much of lunch. So, our last night was spent watching French TV, while Larry enjoyed the last of the Epoisses with a baguette and Chablis, and I sipped tea and eyed my last Pepto-Bismol tablet.

See? We have to go back.



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