TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Paris June 2008 #2

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 21, 2008

Shopping at Galeries-Lafayette and Decathlon; The Louvre; What looks like a steak but tastes like a duck?; Grace Kelly at Hotel de Ville; Thanksgiving in Paris; Hair cuts in Paris; home exchange: Gregoire and Elise; home exchange: Arnaud and Cendrine






Shopping at Galeries-Lafayette and Decathlon

Galeries-Lafayette is the finest department store in Paris. Pat compares it with Bloomingdales, which is high praise indeed. We go there even if we have nothing to buy, just for the experience. We are thrilled no matter how many times we see the central atrium soaring seven floors to a huge stained glass dome.

Pat finds a bracelet she likes. Now we are 15 euros short of the ‘free’ key ring that comes with 50 euros purchases. As if we need a key ring. We do need a magnifying glass. I look up the word on our Franklin translator; it is loupe. Customer service sends us to the computer/electronics department, but there is no loupe. BHV is recommended; after lunch, we stop there and find one. It goes in the camera bag, for reading maps.

We head over to the Home Store, not to be confused with the Homme (Men’s) Store, and dispense the necessary euros by making a purchase to be disclosed later this summer. The key ring turns out to be a silver purse, so it goes to Pat.

Pat knows the name and location of every store in Paris which sells running supplies; the best is Decathlon, on Rue de Madeleine, not far from Galeries. However, running clothes for women are not a major item like they are in NYC. She settles for a man’s long sleeve running shirt.

On the way to Decathlon we had noticed a neon sign saying Diner. The American Dream Café, 21, rue Daunou, 2nd arr,, is far more than that: a diner, Jazz club, sport’s bar, dinner club, take-out deli. There’s even a pastrami sandwich on the menu. I have an excellent BLT, Pat has potato skins; it feels like Friday’s in Manhattan.


The Louvre

Pat ran past the Louvre at 6:45 am as part of her 6 mile run; by 11:00 am, we have returned.

A diversion to describe the way the French do business. The cardinal rule seems to be to employ as many people as possible to do every task. We purchase tickets at the Tabac inside the Carrousel at the Louvre. At the entrance to the actual museum, two men sit back to back. We give our tickets to the first, who rips off the stub and hands them to the second man who stamps the date. Our only surprise is that there isn’t a third employee to hand the tickets back to us; perhaps he was on a coffee break.

If you go to the Louvre without an agenda, you’re likely to become both frustrated and exhausted. Pat’s agenda is a short list of old master paintings from the book How to Read a Painting, first on the list being Wedding at Cana by Veronese, a huge painting which covers an entire wall in the same room as the Mona Lisa. Wedding at Cana was studied by Renoir as he approached the task of assembling his models at that boathouse along the Seine where we had lunch last year. My targets are several paintings by Sandro Botticelli, a character who adds a spark (I hope) to my evolving new novel. Although two of Pat’s paintings are traveling (not Cana, which could be moved only by a demolition crew and a crane), both agendas are more or less realized. Strolling through other sections impresses us again with the sheer enormity and beauty of the Louvre.


Napoleon III, sentenced to life imprisonment in 1840, escaped by disguising himself as a laborer and walking out with a plank on his shoulder. Safe in England, he returned to France after King Louis-Philippe was deposed in the revolution of 1848. He was elected to the National Assembly, and three months later President of the Republic. When his term was about to expire, he abolished the constitution, threw opposing ministers in jail, and sent government troops to slaughter his opponents. One year later, he declared himself Emperor of France.

Such a man needed a house; apparently the rental market was tight, so he constructed a new wing on the Louvre. His apartments can be visited, but if you have any social conscience at all, be prepared to wonder how such excesses could still have been possible more than a half century after the French Revolution. Michelin describes the apartments as “a stunning world of gold, crimson velvet and crystal. The dining room seats 45. As Mel Brook’s said, “It’s good to be king.”

We lunch more modestly at a nearby sidewalk café; another example of what the French can do with a piece of lettuce. Dinner is even more spectacular.


What looks like a steak but tastes like a duck?

Au Gamin de Paris, 51, rue Veille du Temple,, is one of our favorites in Paris. Our perfectly located apartment (did I mention that before?) is just 5 minutes away. We arrive at 7:45 to an empty restaurant; 30 minutes later, not a seat is to be had. Pat sticks with the pasta, but deciding to be adventurous, I go for the duck. There are five varieties of Canard on the menu; the waiter recommends the version in a honey sauce. When it arrives, it has the look of a steak. But it is duck, and delicious, accompanied by potatoes and an unnamed vegetable which is also delicious.

We’re seated by a window, and as we eat, we notice men in suits in the street talking into their sleeves. This is followed by a procession of limousines and very well-dressed personages, who enter the building next to the restaurant. When it drizzles just a touch, four matching white umbrellas miraculously appear. After dinner, we explore the site of the fete. There is no address or sign. The courtyard, before the huge doors are closed, is large enough to hold several of the limos. All we learn from the friendly guard at the gate is that it is a private party. He may also have said VIPs.

French ice cream is fantastic; Italian Gelato is even better. Walking along rue Veille du Temple after dinner, we’re drawn to the ‘gelato’ sign. We stop to watch the construction of what must be described as a work of art; a single boule in a cone is surrounded by slathers of contrasting flavor, the image of a tulip. Can we resist? Too pretty to eat? Don’t bet on it.


Grace Kelly at Hotel de Ville

We noticed the signs soon after our arrival; they’re all over Paris. The exhibit is housed in the Hotel de Ville, the Paris city hall, an astounding building. The exhibit is free but there’s been a long line all week. We’re told that the best time to arrive is when it opens at 10:00 am. We’re there at 9:30.

The exhibit begins with the Kelly family in Philadelphia and Ocean City, NJ, where Pat spent parts of 49 years. Many photographs and home movies, followed by real movies, as Grace Kelly’s acting career took off, photos with every major celebrity of her time. The royal engagement, the formal visit to the Kelly’s in Philadelphia, the trans-Atlantic voyage to Monaco, and marriage to Prince Rainier are all documented with taste, beauty and emotion. Grace’s wedding gown and a large collection of other gowns are displayed. A moving exhibit; if it comes near you, go see it.


Thanksgiving in Paris

Thanksgiving is the name of a store, also in our Marais neighborhood, which started out to provide Americans in Paris with otherwise unobtainable ingredients for Thanksgiving dinner. It now offers a collection of exactly the foods you still can’t get anywhere else in Paris. We buy two cans of Campbell’s tomato soup, two jars of Jif peanut butter (extra crunchy), a bag of Reese’s pieces, and brown sugar (for my oatmeal). We also order two sacs of 4 H&H bagels each – plain and sesame – for next Saturday, to take back with us to Collioure. The French, who make the best bread in the world, are definitely not into bagels.



Hair cuts in Paris     

We have given up on hair cuts in Collioure. Last summer, we got excellent cuts at a salon in the 5th arrondissement, but when we call, the young ladies who did the cuts no longer work there. So we explore our own neighborhood, where there are 5-6 salons within a few blocks. We choose Le Marais pour Montesantos, 131 rue St. Antoine, just across from the St. Paul Metro stop. Kim does both cuts; each time she goes directly to the precisely right length, short for me and scalped for Pat. We’re happy.



home exchange: Gregoire and Elise

In August, we have a home exchange in Paris with Gregoire and Elise, who live on the other side of the city, near the Tour Eiffel. We have arranged by email to meet them at their apartment at 6:30 pm. We map out the Metro route, beginning at Bastille on line 8 and ending on line 10 at Charles Michel.

We arrive early, take the time to walk around the residential neighborhood loaded with restaurants. The building is relatively new, the apartment is large and quite comfortable with a small balcony overlooking a lovely garden, Gregoire and Elise are charming. The apartment is on the first floor of an elevator building, and it has both internet access and a bathtub.

We Metro back to the Marais for a dinner of onion soup and wine.


home exchange: Arnaud and Cendrine

In July, we have a home exchange in Paris with Arnaud and Cendrine, who live somewhat north of the Pompidou Center at the border between the 2nd and 10th arrondissements. We take the same Metro as last night, line 8 from the Bastille, this time emerging after 5-6 stops at the Strasbourg-St. Denis station.

Again we arrive early, walk around the neighborhood, which has all of the necessary components. This apartment, however, is on the 6th floor of a non-elevator building. The apartment itself is grand, authentic, and very comfortable. It, too, has internet access and a bathtub. Arnaud and Cendrine are every bit as charming as Gregoire and Elise.

As we leave their apartment, it occurs to us that all of our home exchange partners this year are quite a bit younger than any of our children. There are reasons. We can accommodate only two people in Collioure, so we are not exchanging with couples with children. We are interested only in center city locations, so those who have moved to the suburbs are not our prospects. Which leaves young professional couples who live in the center of great cities. And that’s just fine with us. But we do wonder what those young people think when they see two sixty-somethings climbing their 80 steps.







2 Responses to “* Paris June 2008 #2”

  1. Hello , it’s Thanksgiving Day! I’m enjoying my extra day off, and I am planning to make something fun that’ll probably involve a moto trip and seeing something new in Glenn Heights I haven’t seen yet.
    You write new post at Thanksgiving?

  2. Ellie Sloggett said

    Thank you for an interesting (and literate) blog. I guess your stated ages go a long way to explaining how nicely written your article is. We are of similar age and are aghast at the regrettable spelling and grammar of so many articles we’ve read while researching various aspects of Paris.
    For the past two months we have rented an apartment in rue de Varenne in the 6th near to our daughter who now lives in Paris in rue du Bac. We have visited Paris many times, but it has been a treat to do it at a leisurely pace this time. We are about to try your recommended restaurant in the Marais. Could we also recommend to you le Bar le Passage by Alain Senderens near the Madeleine for a special eating experience.

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