Final days in Paris — Spring 2017

Paris…. A few days left (This will be a long post as I’m finishing up today after starting this post and including several days of going about)

Paris is coming alive with spring in the air and flowers blooming. The dreary days of winter that were dragging on here, too, are beginning to give way to more sun and blue skies.   We expected clouds and rain today, but to our delight the air was slightly warmer than yesterday and the sun came out such that we even took our jackets off in the afternoon while walking.

On almost every street in Paris there are pastry shops (pâtisseries), bread shops (boulangeries) and cheese shops filled with delicious offerings, all freshly made. It is easy to become spoiled and very picky preferring this one over that and arguing about which is the best, when the truth is they are all very good. In a 2 block radius of our apartment there are 4 boulangeries. Though I must admit the only cheese shop – and probably one of the best in Paris – Les Quatres Hommes (the Four Men) – is a 15 minute walk from us.

 

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A rather large shop with ready to eat sandwiches and take out, as well as fresh bread baked on the premises.  The smell was tantalizing as we walked by.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All kinds of Japanese goodies 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just so you don’t think we only look at food… this window was so cute filled with what looked like handmade clothes for toddlers. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parisians do buy and eat all of the goodies I’ve described but there are a life-style habits  which keep them trim and which we Americans would do well to adopt. First, walking is part of everyday life here. I can’t say, everyone walks… but everyone we know walks and walks a lot. Next, eating in between means, snacking, grabbing junk food on the go – just isn’t done. People (including kids) eat at meal time and usually not in between. Portions are a smaller – but there are usually 3 or 4 courses which I find makes up for the smaller portions.   Dinner which is usually no earlier than 8 p.m., is eaten leisurely.   In a restaurant, the table is yours for the evening (except in some of the more trendy places).  And, when a meal is over (and everything on one’s plate is eaten), eating is over – finished. Thus, over a lifetime, people eat bread and desserts, and drink wine – and still stay slim. (There are those who smoke – but less and less – and no one we know smokes.) One other thing…. butter is never served at the table with bread (so don’t ask for it—unless you are in a touristy restaurant)..

(You can see why for us, getting from point A to point B in Paris takes a long time. George and I window shop, not just for clothes, but for pastries, bread, cheese, and any variety of food that is put in the window to entice. It works! We “ooou” and “aaah” – and wish we could taste it all. )

A few days ago we visited the Musee de Quai Branly – an ethnographic museum which houses a huge collection of art from the Americas, Africa, Oceania, and Asia. We walked there on the best day possible with cool breezes and a warm sun. The museum itself is a must see if you haven’t already. The name comes from the fact that it is on the Seine, the wharf (quai) called Branly.  Jacques Chirac had the museum built when he was president.

The front, which I couldn’t get a photo of because it is too big for my small iphone lens, is layered – first a glass wall, then gardens leading to the interior entrance. There is a wall too – vertical – covered with plants going straight up. The interior is circular (something like the Guggenheim in NY). For viewing the permanent exhibits you go to the top and just walk down without ever knowing that you are coming down (unlike the Guggenheim).   We went right into the Picasso Primitiv exhibit which is why we were there. And were we happy to have seen it.   The curators wanted to show the parallels between Picasso’s development as an artist and his interest in primitive art – mostly (but not all) from Africa. He collected a lot as did his contemporaries.

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Above — the grass gardens fo the museum which extend under part of the structure. And below, some of how the exhibit was organized.  Shown were both the original primitive piece and then Picasso with it or the influence it had on him.  The piece below was a gift to Picasso from Matisse.                                                                                            

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I’ve lost track of time a bit — when we did what or where we went.  We did take a very long walk to the Musée D’Orsay for an impressionist exhibit which turned out to be disappointing.  It felt as though the curators had an idea and then tried to fit the works to prove their idea.  It had to do with impressionism and mysticism and religion.  A few of the works were new to us and we enjoyed.. But most were either of well-known artists with whom we were familiar or the vast majority of lesser known artists who did not excite us.

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The D”Orsay is an old railstation that was converted into a museum.  Most people love it — but not me.  I find it confusing inside — I never know where to go and the trappings of the old station, though magnificent, don’t lend the peace and quiet I like for viewing art. 

The Legion of Honor Museum (which is quite interesting and should be on your list) is across the street while both are on the banks of the Seine.

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lPainted by Marc Chagall, the above work was one new to us.  The figure seen floating across the town is that of Chagall– flying over his own village which appears scerene, while the world is in chaos.   Below, is a work by  Georgia O’Keeffe — a work which was also new to us.  We thought it was quite beautiful.  IMG_1411

 

There is so much to do and see in this town that we hardly scratch the surface.  This trip, most of our walking has been limited to the Left Bank and to the 7th arrondissment (the one we live in).  But yesterday we did get to the Right Bank to a restaurant that we go to almost every time we are here for one dish — marinated herring, country French style.  It is served in a huge pottery bowl, the herring with the marinade and vegetables.  You are expected to eat as much as you want, but no one is expected to finish it — and no one does.  But — to our great disappointment it wasn’t on the menu.  The waiter informed us that it was taken off two months ago and would come back on in the fall.  Well — OK — we hope so, but we are worried that we’ve eaten the last of that herring.  The restaurant — Le Grand Colbert in the 2nd, on rue Vivienne which is a favorite because it has one of Paris’ few remaining closed shopping areas and another wonderful bistro — the Café Vivienne.  Those will be for the next trip.

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a very good photo of the inside –it is done in an art nouveau style and is quite festive.  Go online and google it — the photo is wonderful and you’ll see why we keep going back — it isn’t just for the herring. George’s raspberry tart was sumptuous. 

On the way home I couldn’t resist taking this photo of a bus coming down a street, though narrow not nearly as narrow as some, passing a parked delivery truck.

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And to close I’m including a photo of our favorite façade — an apartment house not too far from us which is probably the most photographic apartment in the city.  Built in 1901 by Lavirotte at 29, avenue Rapp.  (Google it too and you’ll see a great photo of the whole structure)

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Paris — spring is here– 2017

Paris…. May 1

Spring is here though it continues chilly and damp, with intermitten rain between the sun shining every now and then.  Given what we are hearing about the weather up to now at home, we aren’t complaining.

Another movie is being filmed on our street today — and fortuantely, it didn’t rain. For some reason – no one I know is sure why –our street is a favorite of film makers.   Two weeks ago, just before we arrived, Tom Cruz was here for several days filming Mission Impossible #6. Our guardienne showed me her video of Cruz as he came down our street on a motorcycle being chased by the police. She filmed from one of the upstairs apartments .   Signs had been posted, as they do each time a film is being made, announcing that cars and motorcycles must be removed by a certain time from the street.  Our upstairs neighbors were in Italy and their motorcycle was towed to the tune of 200 euros.   Again, signs were posted  early this week notifying everyone that cars were again to be removed by last night — another movie to be filmed.   The movie’s name: Kisses, Kisses… We saw the scene filmed,  It took less than 5 minutes to actually do the filming, but hours and hours to set everything up.  George commented that it hard to imagine what it takes to make an epic drama if this is what it took for a simple movie – and just one scene at that.

Filming on our street, Paris

Preparations underway for filming on our street.

Why is our street used for filming? Maybe because the buildings are very typical Parisian architecture and we don’t have a lot of traffic. But, in fact, no one knows.

What has happened since I last wrote?   We had lunch with a good friend near La  Madeleine. The bistro we’ve gone to twice is a typical French bistro, Le Colibri, and not at all touristy although it is across the street from La Madeleine. We ate exactly the same thing we ate last year – mussels and French fries — and we sat in the same seats (coincidentially). From there we walked halfway home along the impressive Rue Royal passing the colorful pastry shop and tea house La Durée, Maxim’s, the ferris wheel at La Concorde, and the American Embassy. We continued walking through some beautiful gardens now in full bloom toward the Champs Elysées to reach our favorite bus stop for the #28. The day was beautiful.

Bistro near the Madeline

The waiters have traditional long white aprons and are courteous.  I was too shy to ask for a photo with one of them.  I’m sure they would have agreed — maybe next time.

L’eglise de la Madeleine, as you can see is built in the style of a grand Greek temple.  It is a church in which there are often concerts which we have attended in the past. It faces Rue Royal and our little bistro is where I was standing to take this photos.   IMG_1198

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Some people think LaDuree makes the best macarons in Paris.  I’ve not tasted them all, but I’d say these are among the best.  IMG_1199

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The Place de la Concorde is the largest square in  Paris (21 acres!).  It is famous for many reasons including that King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were guillotined here.  Today — although beautiful with that history long in the past — it is the place were the most accidents occur — including motorcyle and pedistrian accidents.  There are underground passages for crossing the square and one would be wise to use them.

 

Monday, May 1 was a holiday, something akin to our Labor Day making this past weekend a three-day weekend.  Paris was definitely quiet with Parisians leaving town if at all possible.   On Saturday we had dinner out at a relatively new restaurant on Cherche Midi with our good friends and neighbors (who didn’t leave town!).   On Sunday, after a leisurely morning (which I spent writing and George spent in his atelier painting) we headed out to the Musée D’Art Moderne to see an exhibit by Karl Appel, a painter from the Netherlands who was part of the Cobra group – post expressionists. We were not disappointed and neither was our neighbor who joined us.

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George in his little studion on the 7th floor — an old chambre de bonneIMG_1266The back stairs leading up to George’s studio.  I’m taking a shot looking down.

A word about museums in Paris… for those who might not know. There are two kinds of museums – museums owned by the City of Paris and those that are privately owned. (very much like the museums of Washington, D.C.) The former are free except for special exhibitions. The latter charge an entrance fee which usually special exhibitions.

Our museum today was one of the free ones but we were going for the special exhibition so we paid 10 euros each – well worth the price of admission.

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The Appel show was great fun though it had some serious parts, too.  The title of the show, “Art is a Celebration” certainly felt appropriate.

Below are circus characters — creative and whimsical. IMG_1295

Another quiet day at home after some morning shopping for necessities.  We had tea at 4:30 with our neighbors upstairs, tea and delicious home baked lemon cake. We chatted away about the upcoming election on next Sunday.  Although LePen is losing in the polls, no one knows for sure what will happen and anxiety  levels are high — very high!

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Paris — more of April 2017

Paris — more of April 2017

I probably should say a word or two about transport in this city. In 10 years we’ve only taken a cab twice (not including airport trips) and once with Uber.   Public transportation is so good that there is no reason to use taxis (which are so bad unlike those in London). We have heard, though, that with the competition from Uber an effort has been made to improve service but we still don’t use them.

We travel by bus unless we are in a big rush to get some place. Now, those of you who have been to Paris are probably more familiar with the metro, which is fast and reliable and of course, avoids above ground traffic. But buses are wonderful. After a bit of stumbling around getting buses figured out, we almost never venture underground. First, we learned how to use the buses that run through our neighborhood. Once mastering that, it is easy to find ones that link to these that we can transfer to and from.

What is so interesting, too, is that there are two distinct populations that travel by bus vs. metro… The metro is for the young who are in a rush, with their earphones plugged in at all time, and the bus is for us old folks who have the leisure to put up with traffic and like to look all around while traversing the city.

But let it not be misunderstood – a bus ride in Paris is not for the faint of heart. These bus drivers give no quarter – ripping down the narrowest of streets, leaving inches on each side between them and parked cars. And, as was the case yesterday, leaving me breathless as a car and a cyclist were just inches away as the bus made a left turn. Wow! Amazing. No one seemed to notice but I was stiff up in my seat trying to prevent a potential accident through telepathy.   Buses are good place to learn French. I sit quietly hoping that the people behind me will carry on about something or other so that I can practice my listening skills. It would be interesting to know if what I understood was what they were really speaking about!

By the way there are two important little guides everyone in Paris must have:Paris Pratique (which has maps of the arrondisements and keys to every street), and Le Bus Parieien (all 109 lines with their routes, stops, and links to transfers). Don’t leave home without these!

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Sometimes George and I have a good laugh at ourselves when we are sitting at a bus stop – like two old people—waiting for the bus. We look at each other and have a good chuckle… “So this is what it is like… “   At least we can make it to the bus stop.

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Yesterday (April 26)

 We left the apartment again quite late and hope despite the predictions and the thtreatening clouds we would avoid the rain. We walked to the #70 bus headed once again to the Musee de Monnaie with the hope we would see the exhibit we couldn’t get into the other day.  As we got on I noted that this bus’ last stop was not the usual ‘Hotel de Ville’ (the city hall) but  ‘Seine – Buci’, which would leave us a few stops short of where we were going.  We decided it was actually good in that we’d have a chance to walk on of our favorite streets,  Rue de Seine.  It is a long narrow narrow lined with art galleries. It is always of interest – to just meander down looking in the windows and occasionally going into one of the galleries. One is always made to feel welcome and sometime if the artiist is a big name, there will be an impressive book prepared for the exhibiton. Not infrequently, we’ll be given the book – gratis. We never quite understand how these galleries survive with such enormous overhead costs.

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Sometimes the art is ugly — can’t figure this one out at all.  Quite the contrast to the beautiful store window above which was across the street — all made of macarrons.

We reached the river – the book stalls closed (not sure why)– as the skies were threatening and made our way to the museum. The guard said something which I didn’t understand and which I thought meant ‘the museum is closed.’ I was horrified – “the exhibition est fermée? “ to which he replied, “Oh no madame, l’exhibition est overt mais la musée est fermée” The museum is under renovation but we could see the exhibit. Relief! We paid 5 euros each and entered. The first room was a magnificent Versaille-like room, with a balcony all around, a high painted ceiling, chandeliers, etc. etc. Beautiful to see but the art on the floor was disappointing – 1000 glass balls in a serpentine pattern. We werent’ sure what it meant. And from that point on the exhibition continued to disappoint. It was all about artists who decided to put their sculptures on the floor rather than making them vertical. Well – it didn’t get to us at all, even the 1000 red glass balls. We went through… searched for some meaning and eventually just left not feeling any reward for the art or the artists or for having made the trip twice to see this exhibit.

Fortunately our bus stop was on the corner – and the bus came just in time before a lightening storm started. At our stop, we shopped for dinner — frozen fish and veggies from Picards – the place all good French housewives shop – amazing stuff with a variety to wow you.

April 27, 2017

 Thursdays and Saturdays are market days – street market days – ‘le marche’… This is always a special event whether marveling at the variety of foods available, at the vendors themselves, and the customers, etc. we always seem to have a good time. Today, I bought lettuce from a stand that I hadn’t seen before. There was a long line – a sign that this is a good stand to buy from. I took a basket and filled it while holding my place. The line moved quickly and as soon as the woman saw me, (and I expected a gruff welcome) she said, ‘Good day, madame’ with a big smile. I greeted her back, gave her my basket, she asked if I wanted anything else, I said no – and then she asked if I had a bag – I indicated that I had a cart (which George was pushing). She was pleased, filled our cart,, I paid her and finished with a warm, “Bonne journée, madame” and we moved on. I was so taken by her smiles and jovial manner. She looked like someone from a farm in the countryside who was all about business. How wrong I was. Everyone today had smiles. It might have been because the market was empty. Thursdays are a light shopping day and it was very cold this morning. The market starts at about 8 a.m. and by 1 p.m. it is almost all dismantled with little sign that there was anything there just an hour ago.

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There are two long rows of stalls selling everything from soup to nuts and then some.  It is a sight for feasting and hard to resist buying too much. IMG_1177

 

 

 

 

Scallops are usually sold this way or out of the shell with the whole scallop, the orange part and all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Buying lettuse from a friendly vendor…. she looked gruff but was so nice… c.

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Tanslation is:  “Each of these baguettes is unique just like the hands that have made it. ”

Our day ended with an 8:30 pm dinner at a good friend’s home.  We left at 11 pm hoping to get an uber ride back, but interestingly there were none available.  We walked to the Garnier Opera, got the #8 metro to our line, #10 and were home in 1/2 hour.  Buses stop running by 10:30 p.m. unfortunately — the one big disadvantage to them.  Stay tuned…. Carolann

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Paris -April 25 Part 2

April 25, 2017

This was indeed a lazy day until about 4 pm when we finally got out of the apartment. I did wake up early but then read another couple of chapters of The Strangled Queen (Book 2 of the series The Accursed Kings by Druon recommended by my cousin Linda who is a student of the Middle Ages).   Went back to sleep and finally got up and started reading emails and news before brunch.  I should note that George spent 3 hours working in his studio on the 7th floor of our building — in the little room that came with our apartment where the maid is supposed to stay.  (Not everyone has such a room.  Some people sell them off separately for a goodly sum.  The people we bought from had the good sense to keep theirs.)

We decided to go to the Marmottan – the museum of Monet in the 16th. I’ve talked about it before. It is in the home of an industrialist who left his collection and home to his foundation stipulating that both be open to the public. We love this little museum although it isn’t the easiest to get to. We are always trying different ways to get there and today we did an all bus route: the #28, to the river, and from there the #63 to the last stop. The bus was packed with school kids with their nannies and some moms. As is typical , French people do not move to the back of the bus even though there are big signs requesting that one do so. Everyone gathers just at the entrance making it almost impossible to pass through. I’ve learned to just push through with my, “Excusez-moi, s’il vous plait”. It works but not with out determination to get to the back. I did and both George and I found seats. We had a 20 minute ride through the 16th arrondissement (district) which is a high-end residential area with beautiful apartment houses and embassies, lining a grand avenue. Our stop was the last one, Porte de Muette followed by a short walk to the museum. It was 5 pm by the time we arrived. We had one hour to view the new special exhibit: Pissarro.

It was well worth the trip – simply wonderful. Photos are not allowed or I could share with you the beauty of these paintings. It has been 36 years since Paris has seen an exhibition dedicated to this early impressionist’s work. The exhibit moved from his earliest paintings which were straight forward representational to his development as an impressionist with short brush strokes giving the impression of landscape – water, snow, sky, fields, and sun. I was going to buy a book of his work but none of the photos came even close to conveying the mastery of the originals.

Since the time was late the galleries were not full and we could walk back through the exhibition looking at our favorite paintings and lingering. We were pretty tired when we finished and sat next to a couple on a bench in a long hallway of the mansion. We started to talk. They were from the Netherlands in a small town just 3 hours by high- speed rail from Paris. Thus, they came often for a day or two. When I asked what else they had gone to see on this trip the man confided that he was a cemetery buff and they always go to find graves of famous people because that this the way they learn history the best. Interesting!

We started our return trip on bus #32 from right out side the museum and got off at the Trocodero between two great museums and the best view of the Eiffel Tower. There were more venders today than tourists – and for the first time I felt sorry for these poor guys trying to sell trinkets to the few tourists around. The gypsies with their usual scams were nowhere to be seen.

From here we walked down the impressive stairs across the Seine, right up to the base of the Eiffel Tower. We decided not to go through security which would have allowed to walk underneath it to the park area.   Instead we walked up Avenue Suffren what felt like several miles to a place close to home where I knew we could get a good meal. It was again a corner café type place with seats outside and lots of young people drinking (happy hour) and eating fries. We went in and had a really nice waiter give us a warm friendly reception. He smiled and asked us in English, “where are you from?” And I replied, “From down the street.” He was so surprised. I explained that although we have been coming here for 10 years I still have a great deal of difficulty with the French language. He laughed and we continued in very slow French. He was so nice. Dinner was very good, too. We had two kirs (white wine with peach liquor) for an aperitif with a small bowel of pommes frites (French fries) as an appetizer. For dinner we each had a small stuffed white fish, called Bar…

We headed home but on the way picked up some necessities from our local grocery – a Monop – a small version of MonoPrix.  Tomorrow we are locked in to wait for DHL.

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Our first selfie ever!  Here we are on the Trocoadero… truly the best place to view the tower, especially at night when it sparkles.  IMG_1152I don’t know the name, but these blossoms these are all over Paris .IMG_1153There was a really funny scene just a few minutes before I shot this with lots of Asian tourists running in to this shop… I had never noticed a duty free shop in the middle of the city… I guess they exist.  IMG_1154These might not look great in the photo, but they were absolutely delicious — crisp and hot and we were hungry!  Some of my relatives really like French fries — thus I’ve included these…IMG_1155The little grocery with everything!  These shops are new — a smaller version of the big MonoPrix stores that are everywhere in Paris.IMG_1156Our apartment house — we are on the 5th floor, but really the 6th the way we count.  In France the second floor is called ‘the first floor’ because the ground floor is the ‘rez de chaussez.’  (I think I got that right!).

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Paris – Spring 2017

Paris

April 25, 2017

We arrived from Boston (transit London) almost 4 days ago. Exhausted, rode up to the 5th floor in our little two-person elevator, and opened the door to our apartment with a sigh of relief. The apartment was sparkling clean, thanks to Gladys, the ‘guardienne’ of our building who also doubles for us as a house cleaner (and other, as well).   ‘Guardiennes’ were once called ‘concierges’. Women took these jobs in return for a place to live and a small income. They cleaned the building, handled the mail and received packages for occupants. They had the keys to the apartments and could watch over things in one’s absence. Thus, every building had to have a small apartment on their ground floor for as their abode – a place from which they monitored all the goings and coming in the building.

A concierge was the main character in Muriel Barbery’s NY Times Bestseller, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a wonderful read. For some reason, which is probably based in very old connotations with the word which was thought to be demeaning for women, concierge was changed to guardienne. Other things have changed, too. Once, having a guardienne was mandatory, but today many condo associations are opting not to have them given that the cost of one has gone up and that firing one who is not satisfactory is difficult. Our condo association opted for a compromise. Gladys works through an agency and is not directly employed by us, and works here 3 ½ hours in the morning 6 days a week. Since most business here in the building is conducted during that time it works out very well. She is extraordinary in her abilities to get the job done in that time and is so convivial and even-tempered that everyone in this building loves her. Including us! She has our keys and two weeks or so before we come, either a neighbor informs her or we call her, and she cleans the apartment for us and puts the mail on our dining room table. She will have also let the electric meter readers into the apartment once a month in our absence and thus keeps an eye on things for us. It works very well.

(Well – I’ve certainly gotten off the main story line talking about Gladys.)

Back to our jouney –We arrived on Friday and had a lovely evening with our upstairs neighbors – appetizers galore, which served as dinner as well, and Aperol Spritz for drinks. Aperol is an orange based Italian aperitif made quite delicious when mixed with proseco and seltzer… So we enjoyed two of these and retired around midnight…

The next morning, up early and were headed for our ‘marche’ –our street market, when George discovered that his credit card carrying case was missing… and along with that his driver’s license, insurance cards, social security card, etc. etc. An hysterical search came up empty and slowly we began to understand that the case was gone. Gary, our nephew, conducted a search of our house in Lincoln – with similar results. We called Uber and our driver in Boston – again: nothing… We filed with British Airways – and again: nothing. The next two days were spent in a kind of mourning – for things lost and for what might have happened. We did everything one needs to do with credit card companies, a task made somewhat easier because I had made copies of our cards and licenses before we left and was carrying them separately.  We’ve still a lot to do regarding this minor disaster, but the good news is that no one has tried to use the cards. Visa is sending a temporary card to us by DHL tomorrow, and fortunately, our debit card with our bank here worked and so we were not in the cash-poor house…

So – after all this – and trying to recover from jetlag and the fatigue we had before leaving Boston, we have tried to settle into Paris and start to enjoy our time here.

Oh yes – did I mention the presidential election here and the threat of more terrorism?   Well – now that I’ve mentioned them both I can move on. You must know that the first round election yielded a win for a centrist, unknown, without any party affiliation and an extreme extreme right wing candidate. So, it looks as though the centrist will win on May 7 though no one knows what his plans will be or what his program is. There were no more terrorist events which were expected on election day – which was good.

Regarding terrorism … we are being careful, alert, staying away from places that might be appealing targets, but at the same time feel that a terrorist act simply reminds you of the crazy world we live in and the dangers we are all surrounded by. It is no different a day before an event than it is a day after an event (as long as you weren’t a target). So life must go one – though vigilance is in order.

Yesterday was the first day we actually got out in the streets of Paris and walked. We’ve picked several exhibits we want to see and started with the one we thought was open yesterday (most museums are closed either Mondays or Tuesdays)… So we walked and then took a bus over to the river, the Quai de Conti, to visit the Musee de Monnaie to see a special exhibit of abstract art. But, alas, it was closed. Somehow I missed that on their web page and so we simply came back home and then headed out at 6 pm back again to the Seine, across the river this time to the demonstrations and commemoration for the Armenian Genocide, as yesterday was April 24.

We stayed for an hour as we couldn’t understand the speakers (in French), but were impressed by the number of young people gathered – in the hundreds! There were about 1500 by our estimate and most of them were young. It was amazing and good to see.

We headed back, walking across back to the left bank,  enjoying the beauty fo the day, and the trees in full bloom.  We checked out a number of restaurants which we couldn’t get into as we didn’t have a reservation, and ended up at the square, Ecole Militarie.  We ate at a large café called La Terresse.   (my accent keys are not working..) We didn’t sit outside because smoking is allowed out-of doors.

Though a very common place the food was quite good. We started with an avocado with a vinaigrette dressing and then cod with stir-fry vegetables. We walked home and collapsed, but not before calling Serine and having a lively conversation with her back in VA.   Just about the time we were going to bed we had several messages from our nephew Stephen that let us know all is well with regard to our kitchen renovation which he is overseeing for us… Thank you, Stephen! (He ran his 22nd Boston marathon last week – congratulations!)

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The Eiffel Tower will be without light all day today, April 24th, in memory of the victims fo the Armenian Genocide.

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Napoleon’s tomb is in the background.

At the commemoration — many people had their faces painted with the tri-colors of the Armenian flag.  This woman has also written 1915 in the tri-colors.  The crowd was huge with many carrying these placards. IMG_1137 2From somber to delicious:  At the end of the day there aren’t many pastries left… but those left in this window are still beautiful.  We resisted!

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Paris — Spring 2012

We arrived the afternoon of the 26th  after a late night flight aboard British Airways.  We slept all the way and thus arrived at London’s Heathrow tired but OK. After a short layover we boarded a second flight to  Paris –  Orly.  We prefer Orly over CDG because it is a much smaller airport and closer to our apartment which means a shorter less expensive ride even with traffic.

We passed through boarder control (about 2 minutes), got our luggage and walked out –passing by customs (didn’t see any officers) which took about 10 minutes in total.  The cab ride to our apartment was another 20.   No sooner had we opened the door to our apartment than we looked at each other with a sigh of relief – ‘home’ – that’s really what it felt like.  Hard to understand – but it is so comfortable and maybe with so little of the life’s everyday problem crowding in, the relief was immediate.  (The woman who is our  ‘guardienne’ –who works for the building keeping watch, taking in deliveries, and who distributes the mail everyday had cleaned our apartment already (as we had requested).  After 5 months absence it was really nice to walk into a shiny clean space.)

Though fatique was beginning to make a weary, we unpacked quickly, took the sheets covering the  sofas and lamps off, turned on the coffee maker and plugged in the electrical equipment – TV, internet, telephone, and the cellphone – all necessary for our home away from home.

With that all done and a quick shower, we headed for the market and the Orange store, where I  buy minutes for my cellphone.    While I took care of that, George went directly to the organic (bio–) supermarche shopping for basic necessities — — yogurts of different kinds, milk, cottage cheese, eggs, and then from Picard’s next door (France’s famous frozen food chain) frozen foods to stack in the freezer for emergencies.  Before heading home, we stopped in at one of the many small grocery stores found on every street in Paris for our bottled water and some fruit; and I forced myselt into one of the three  boulangeries in our neighborhood for some fresh bread baked on premises twice a day.  Our favorite: a multigrain baquette -a pain cereal.  Though most of the pastries which usually fill the cases — at least until 2 or 3 pm — were gone, two tempatations remained –  baguettes baked with olives and cheese and a few with chocolate chips!  (Now when do you eat a baguette made with chocolate chips?  Probably when you might eat a chocolate croissant!).   The sales woman looked at me, “S’il vous plait –” and I pointed to one of each.  She smiled.

Home we went, dragging our shoppng cart behind us, in through the lobby and up to the 5th floor in our tiny elevator with just about enough room for George, me, and the cart.  We filled the refrigerator, checked emails, had a sliver of olive bread, checked more emails, and started contacting friends and neighbors about getting together .

We tried not to nap afraid that if we put our heads down we’d sleep half the night and be up at 3 am.  So we struggled and fortunately the urge to sleep passed.

At about 7:30 p.m. we began wondering about  where to go for dinner — having quickly fallen in step with French custom (despite our jetlag) to not eat before 8 pm if it can be avoided.  Unable to make any decision about where to eat, we again meandered out of our apartment down the street to the next big avenue – Ave Garibaldi – where there are a string of small restaurants we’ve not gone to. We read menus pasted to the windows, peered inside of several and kept on walking.

The name of one attracted us – loosely translated  “My foot is in your plate!” Ha!  It might have another idiomatic translation – but I don’t know what it is.  A small cozy looking place, colorfully decorated, with only one waiter bustling about serving the obviously mostly French diners – we decided to try it.  Indeed it was a local find for us.  Our appetizers were excellent -sautéed spinach with big slices of delicious parmesan cheese and  salad followed by pasta with gorgonzola sauce (for me)  a bowel of spaghetti with shellfish (for George).   The bread must have been baked on the premises – a crusty chunky bread infused with rosemary.   All was enjoyed with a ½ carafe of wine, conversation with the folks at the adjoining table, and the very cheerful waiter – we spent a most pleasant time.

Day 2:  This morning- I had to prepare for my French lesson via Skype which would take place at 1 pm.  (My teacher lives in Bretagne, France.)  It will be my last lesson for a while as these are set lessons each week and keeping the schedule now would be hard.

However, my first task was to call  EDF – the French electric company.  Now—let me say – I had a problem with the electric company and some of you reading this might remember my story so I won’t go into the details again.  Meters have to be read at least once a year by a company representative.  With great difficulty we had made arrangements for the meter to be read last September.  The young man arrived at the appointed hour, read the meter, and left.  So, you can imagine my surprise when 6 months later, just as we were again leaving Paris,  we received a letter informing us that we hadn’t met the requirement for the yearly reading and had to make arrangements lest by law the electricity be turned off.  UGH!

Immediately I called EDF and informed them that the meter had been read.  The woman, who spoke very good English, searched our files but said she could find no record of a visit or a reading.  OH – now what?  The woman assured me that the meter could be read the next time we came to Paris and not to worry – the electricity will not be disconnected.

So, this morning when I called EDF to make arrangements for the meter to be read again.  A woman answered the phone, and I responded with, “Bonjour madame.  Est-ce-qu-il ya quelqun  qui parle anglais?” (Is there someone who speaks English?). She responded, “I understand you!”  You can imagine my further surprise when she informed me after checking our file that there was no problem, the meter didn’t have to be read, and all she needed from me was the current reading.  I read the the numbers  off the meter to her, thanked her and said good-bye.  I was so shocked that I called back to confirm that indeed what she had just told me was correct.  It was, she reassured me.

With that done and my French lesson finished, we had a bit of lunch and took a long walk – first to Bon Marche the department store and then up Ave Rennes to BO Concept.  We’re looking for a couple of pieces to put our TV on but still haven’t found anything.  Nonetheless, the walk was pleasant – the air quite warm and lots of people all around very busy!  We had un café – and a thin tart de pomme at a little café near Bon Marche.  People out everywhere, walking, riding, talking, sipping coffee, wine, eating a bit of pastry – enjoying the warm sunny days after what has been a long, very cold winter here.  Every inch of sidewalk is covered with chairs overflowing from bistros — and did I mention waiters and waitresses running through the seated patrons delivering their orders.  All is done in a quiet frenzy — if you know what I mean.  And, if you know Paris – you can for the price of a coffee sit outside (or inside) all afternoon and never asked when you might be getting ready to vacate your table!

We arrived back at the apartment at about 5 pm.  En route, about three blocks from our pad we passed a long park which leads all the way to Napoleon’s Tomb — the gold decoration sparkling in the sun.  Usually the park is quiet with only a few nannies pushing strollers, but today — today it was teaming with young children playing, running, singing, jumping — as if they knew about brownian movement and were trying to emulate it! Teenagers on the other hand were lying on the grass — seemingly not bothered by the little kids.  They, in contrast, had slow motion – or no motion  — the joy of spring here.

Before we knew it, It was 7:30 pm and we needed to start thinking about where to go for dinner.  We decided to head over to the  St. Germain area and revisit a restaurant we’ve been to many times before, Fish La Boissoinerie – owned and operated by an Australian and an American.  It is on Rue de Seine in an area which is always hopping with activity.  The narrow streets here are lined with restaurants, galleries, cafes and all sorts of places that give the passer-by lots to look at.  And, La Boissoinerie itself is no exception — a small place with a distinctive glass store front bordered with inlaid mosaic of fish.  Not unexpected, the restaurant was packed and also not unexpected – it was filled with tourists speaking English.  Usually a sign that the quality of food and the service might be lacking we nonetheless decided to wait for a table. A glass of wine in hand, we stood on the narrow sidewalk in front of the restaurant watching folks go up and down the equally narrow street making the wait both pleasant and sometimes entertaining.

This restaurant’s bread is baked in a brick oven in a sandwich shop facing it, on the other side of the street. Every  10 minutes of so a waitress would make her way from La Boissoinerie across the street returning with  a load of bread in her basket.  We commented to one of them as she passed us  that we knew that bread (and we did) and loved it.  After delivering her bread to the patrons  inside, she surprised us — returning with a basket of bead for us. There we stood for the next half hour eating the most delicious bread hot out of the oven and sipping our wine.

Finally, we were seated at a small table for two crunched between the bar (which had lots of people standing around it) and a group of 4 very large diners.  Normally, I would have said to George, “Let’s go — this table is terrible”– instead we sat down and ordered our meal.  OH MY!  After the first course arrived I could have been sitting on the bar — it wouldn’t have mattered — the food was beautifully presented and simply delicious! Later we learned that they had a new chef which explained why their food had gone from good to nearly excellent.  George had a most savory mushroom soup (veloute), and I had a lentil salad (done with a tangy mustard sauce) and topped with ribbons of carrots .  We both had scallops for our main course – simply delicious.  Poached pears and vanilla ice cream for me –    for dessert.  G. had something equally wonderful – we were both very happy that we’d picked this restaurant and had decided to wait for a table.

We walked home – another mile added to the two we’d already logged in earlier – hoping it consumed some of the calories we had just enjoyed!

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Paris April 23-24, 2011

Not sure why, but I haven’t been able to start writing my Paris blog this trip until now. Seems old habits die hard — as the saying goes. I give into doing other things first instead of writing. OK — here we are again. It has been three weeks of glorious weather in Paris, hard as it is to believe. We’ve enjoyed friends and family- and now we are almost to the end of our time here. But, now I had to write about the events of this past weekend – April 23 and 24 — here in Paris. April 24 as many of you know, is the day Armenians commemorate the Armenian Genocide, as on that day in 1915 there was a major round up of Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul. It was not the beginning, but that day heralded in the worst of what was yet to come.

I found online the French Armenian community website which listed events for the weekend – starting on April 23 at Republic Square and finishing on April 24 at the Gomidas statue and memorial to the Armenian Genocide. We decided to attend as much as we could to add our bodies to anyone who might be counting and to get a flavor of these commemorations in Paris. On the 23rd, the occasion was sponsored by the young French Armenian community. And, indeed, mostly young people were in attendance gathered in Republic Sq. , partially closed to traffic with a stage set up for performances, a tent for the discussion forums and a poster exhibit addressing denial of the Genocide. There were probably about 250-300 people present at any one time, gathered all around and even sitting on the large monument in the center of the square.

The rather detailed exhibit addressed ‘denial’ on several levels, but most interesting to us were the before and after photos of Armenian villages, historic Armenian sites and churches in Turkey: photos taken in or around 1915 and compared with those taken in the recent past. A photo is worth a thousand words? Yes! Comparative statistics were provided as well – number of inhabitants, Armenian churches, monuments, etc.

The first musical presentation was of an Armenian folk ensemble which included instruments such as the tar and the duduk. Well done! Then followed a number of non Armenian singing groups. Since we couldn’t understand the introductions given made in French well, we don’t really know why these groups were included. Perhaps it was the at the groups request to show solidarity with the Armenian cause against Denial.

We read through the exhibit, we listened to the speeches and music, and satisfied to happy to see this degree of involvement by Armenian French youth, we left. Interestingly, not a word of Armenian was spoken on either day, which surprised us! However, when we had occasion to speak to people a few times, we spoke in Armenian and the response was in Armenian. So — I have to conclude that most of the people present spoke and understood Armenian.

April 24: The commemoration began at the Arc de Triomphe, but we were late and missed that ceremony. But, in fact, we don’t know if the ceremony took place. There were military formations at the Arc, and beautiful French flag flying from the pinnacle, and shortly after we arrived, a military band appeared, marching up the Champs-Elysee toward the Arc. As nice as this was, we were disappointed thinking we had missed the Armenian Genocide ceremony. We started to walk down the Champs-Elysee with our purple tulips in hand (for laying at the Gomidas statue later) when we saw a huge red banner across George V Avenue, right in front of the Louis Vuitton multistory store. In French, “Genocide Armenien” written across the banner made it clear we hadn’t missed much and were now in the right place. Again we stayed, listened to the speeches, but more interesting we observed the gathering of many French Armenians – at least 3000 – all gathered and all quite nationalistic. (See the photos). The Armenian tri-colors were worn as shawls, as shirts, hats, scarves, carried as the flag it is, and even painted on faces. After an hour or more, we decided to walk to the Gomidas statue on our own and not wait for the procession.

The Gomidas statue is itself a majestic monument which gives us a sense of pride every time we see it. But today, it had even more significance and effect on us as we thought about this composer-monk, tortured physically and emotionally by the acts of the Turks, who lost his mind and died in Paris in 1935.

As we approached the area we saw that a number of Armenians had already gathered around the monument waiting for the procession to arrive. And, we noted that there must have been a ceremony here earlier, as bouquets flowers had already been placed at the base of the statue by the Armenian Ambassador to France, the Mayor of Paris, the representative of “Haut-Karabagh”, and several other Armenian groups. Interesting — we wondered if these had been done prior to the general procession of Armenians coming, almost secretly, for security reasons. We have no idea!

George and I laid our purple tulips at the base of the statue in honor of our families and all Armenians everywhere, and especially for the little children who were murdered or enslaved by those who perpetrated this heinous crime of genocide.

It was a beautiful day. We crossed the Seine toward the place we call home when we are in Paris.

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