TRAVEL with pat and lew

* Paris June 2008 #5

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 1, 2008

lunch and a movie, Celine & Mahamet, a quiet lunch … then not, Robert, Rawy and Nijole, great shopping at Galeries; dinner in the neighborhood, lunch at Le Grand Colbert, Gay Pride in Paris, Velib #2, Sunday morning 

lunch and a movie

When we went to see Sex and the City, we found a delightful side street with what looked like a great restaurant for lunch. We find it again on one of several tiny side streets off Bd. Ste. Germaine near the Odeon Metro stop; our lunch, in a small outdoor alcove, is one of those simple French meals, salad nicoise for me, that make Paris so charming for us. This time we see Las Vegas 21, based on a true story about MIT students who learned to count cards and made a fortune in Las Vegas. Not destined to be a classic, but fast paced and enjoyable.


Celine & Mahamet

Usually, you don’t get to meet your home exchange partners. In Paris this year, we’ve now met all three. Celine and Mahamet came over to the apartment along with a new chair bed that was being delivered. Celine reported that her parents are enjoying Collioure, especially the view from the terrace. The weather in Collioure has been warm, the weather in Paris in the low to mid-70s; perfect for us and for them.

I make my usual strong coffee, in their coffee maker, for Celine and Ehmet. But then I serve it in mugs, which hold about 3 times what they usually consume in the demitasse cups they prefer. We get to know a little about them, both professors, both nice people, both far more fluent in English than we will ever be in French.


a quiet lunch … then not

Everything in France is controlled by the government. Including when stores are allowed to have sales. These occur twice each year, in late June and again in January. The Soldes signs are all over town; 30- 50% off. BHV is jammed, but Pat does not find the linen shirt she wants. Maybe better luck tomorrow at Galeries or the small shops in the Marais.

We walk across the Pont Louis Philippe to Isle St. Louis, which gives us another chance to admire the location of Tom’s apartment at the point of the island. He said when he looks out his windows, he sees water in every direction and it seems like he’s on a ship.

We stop for lunch in a creperie place where we’ve eaten before. We’re in the lovely back room enjoying a quiet lunch when the very small room is invaded. A group of ten takes command; six sit on one side of us, four on the other. They are a happy group; they yell at each other and at the waitress; not actually yell, but speak loudly, directly across our table in between. The waitress gets into the spirit and her voice goes up several decibel levels.

What makes this so unusual is that the French are always quiet at table. Polite. Discrete. Not only in restaurants. When the French talk on cell phones, they are very quiet. Some even cover their mouths while they talk so as not to disturb others. Not at all like a New York City subway.

The group which invaded our space was not French. Nor were they Americans. Think Mediterranean. We finish eating as quickly as possible and make our escape. Pylones is just across the street.

We discovered Pylones on Isle St. Louis several years ago; since then they’ve grown and now have 3 shops in Manhattan as well as other places. They even have a U.S. web site …  Their merchandise is unique, colorful, fun to look at, and reasonably priced. We buy 4 items, all for house gifts or dinner gifts, something a little different. Since the recipients of these gifts may be readers of this blog, no more details for now.


Robert, Rawy and Nijole

Our Paris exchange last summer was a French film director and acting teacher named Robert, a fascinating man whose experiences and perspectives lead to thoughtful and interesting conversation. We meet at Café du Marche at the corner of rue Bretagne and rue Charlot, a 15 minute walk from our apartment, a great place, by the way, for an inexpensive meal in a very cosmopolitan setting. We talk: Robert’s acting workshop in New York last fall was successful and will be repeated this year; acting students don’t study the superb performances available on DVDs; people read less, but how then to explain the great success of vendors like and Barnes & Noble; the publishing opportunities created by print-on-demand technology, our recent visit to Sicily. The hour goes quickly. We finish by agreeing to try to work out another exchange in 2009. Robert asks for information about our Sicily rental and POD publishing, which I send him the next morning by email.

Our Key West neighbors Rawy and Nijole spend most of their summer in Paris. They’ve just returned from Cairo, where they visited Rawy’s parents. It’s less than a 15 minute walk from the Café du Marche to Chez Janou, on rue Roger-Verlomme, a very trendy bistro just a block behind Place des Vosges. Rawy always selects great restaurants, new for us, with quality menus and reasonable prices. This is another of them. The place is packed, mainly young people, and we have no reservation, but Rawy somehow gets us seated in less than 2 minutes. We talk Key West and Paris, travel plans – it turns out that we will miss each other by one day in Amsterdam in July. Dinner is stunningly good; is there such a thing as a bad meal in Paris? In France?


great shopping at Galeries; dinner in the neighborhood

In the morning, we set out to see a Marie Antoinette exhibit at the Petit Palais just off the Champs Elysees, but it means waiting in the sun for over an hour to get in, so we admire the statue of le grand Charles, then walk through quite wealthy parts of the 8th arrondissement we’ve never seen before. The signs of power, government buildings, men in dark suits, are all around.

We arrive at Galeries Lafayette at lunch time; it’s crowded but not overwhelmingly so. Pat has a spectacular shopping day; 3 shirts and a pair of pants, all at 30-50% off. We walk along Haussmann’s  great boulevards to the Place de la Concorde, take the Metro home.

We try a new corner of Place St. Catherine, a small place with maybe 6 tables outside, none inside. The meal is, as always, excellent. At the table next to us are 4 people, all French, but 3 of them have graduate degrees from Stanford, Berkeley, and UC-Davis. They all want to trade homes for Key West, which we have never yet done and probably won’t.


lunch at Le Grand Colbert

We give ourselves a special treat as we near the end of this two week stay. Le Grand Colbert, a 19th century brasserie, is located on the right bank, behind the Palais Royal, which is in turn behind the Louvre. Palm trees, mirrors, exquisite service from waiters who are dressed formally but approach with the most pleasant smiles. If you’re looking for a special place on your next visit to Paris, this could be it. We’re seated a few tables from where Diane Keaton and Keanu Reeves waited for Jack Nicholson in Something’s Gotta Give. We share a mozzarella and tomato appetizer, wonderful main plats, and a rare, for us, dessert (apple crumb cake with vanilla ice cream); 94 Euros. Then we pledge diets. 

Nearby is the Galerie Vivienne, at 4 rue des Petits-Champs, which Michelin describes as one of the most beautiful arcades in Paris, featuring a bookstore established in 1826; another of the stunningly beautiful places that make Paris an unending pleasure.

Since we’re stuffed, we spend the night reading. Pat reads Four Queens, a fascinating non-fiction account of the 4 daughters of the Count of Provence who become queens of France, England, Germany and Sicily during the period of the First Crusade. I’m reading Outsider in Amsterdam, the first in a series about two police officers by Janwillem van de Wetering; this is in anticipation of our trip in July.

The next morning, Saturday, Pat completes her 6th run in our two weeks in Paris. She’s building up for a half marathon in Miami in January. From our apartment on rue Sevigne, she runs along rue Rivoli to Hotel de Ville, over to the right bank of the Seine, along the river where the little bookstands are, to the Louvre, where she enters the plaza with Pei’s Pyramid, once around the plaza and off to the Tuileries, around the park and then return by the same route in reverse. Depending on the number of loops at the Tuileries, this has been either 5 or 7 miles. Then she climbs the 56 steps to our apartment.


Gay Pride in Paris

From the Latin Quarter to the Bastille, a distance of 3+ miles, thousands of gays and lesbians celebrate their freedom to be who they want to be. There are floats, bands at the Bastille, many rainbow flags, a few outrageous outfits. We watch while sitting on parked bikes in the Velib rack at the corner of Bd. Henry IV and Quai des Celestins, the subject of many photos by spectators who thought our seating arrangement was worth recording. We see no naked body parts, but Adrian Leeds did, and included some photos in her Parler Paris newsletter.

Our last dinner in Paris (for a month or so) is at an Irish pub just off Place Catherine. We ask if there’s any food, expecting typical pub fare if anything, and are amazed by an unexpected display of creativity and entrepreneurship. The Irish bar has no food, except for the complete menu of the splendid Italian restaurant across the street. We order pizza, and eventually the bartender wanders over to the other restaurant and returns with our dinner. Pizza and Guinness in Paris; does it get any better?

Our after dinner walk takes us into the heart of the Marais continuation of the Gay Pride celebration. Everybody sorts themselves out; there’s a block of guys in the bars, the street and sitting along the curb, then a girl’s block of the same. A small parade of guys in pink underwear sets the tone. Just one or two drag queens; Sushi in Key West has nothing to worry about.


Velib #2

Having sat on thebikes to watch the parade, we decided to rent them and ride home. I think I have the 17 step process down, because both rentals went smoothly, with Pat removing both bikes from the rack after I entered all the numbers. We rode back to the Marais, an easy 5-10 minute ride, and then ran into the 2nd major problem of the bicycle system – no empty spots on the racks in our neighborhood to return the bikes. So we rode around for another 5-10 minutes, drifting past where we wanted to be, before we could park the bikes.


Sunday morning

The next morning, we Breakfast in America, then have a much easier time than anticipated getting a taxi to Gare de Lyon. First is the ordeal of getting our excessive luggage down the 56 steps; at every other step, Pat says “this is the last time.” We have vowed to take less, to be like Europeans. We even practiced loading our bags, and have taken careful note of the articles of clothing that were carried to Paris and back and never worn.

Our train ride, however, is more eventful than usual. The first part, through the gorgeous country surrounding Dijon, is beautiful; wide fields extending to the horizon broken by small villages, a dozen homes and a church, repeated again and again.

Then the fun begins. I should mention that we are in 2nd class accommodations, the result of not purchasing before the 50% first class seats were gone. The difference becomes apparent. It is much noisier. There are lots of young people who have no assigned seats, and I suspect no tickets either. No conductor ever comes through our car to check. If he had, I wonder what he would have thought about the dog laying under the luggage rack, nursing her six tiny puppies. Or the guy who brought the dog, with three waist length braids and a safety pin through his ear, and an odor all his own.

Then the train stops. There’s another train on the track next to us. There seems to be some confusion; we suspect some sort of police raid. But no, the adjacent train has broken down, and all of its passengers, who appear to be young military people, are coming off, with their bags and bikes, and coming onto our train, which was already full to bursting.

“It’s all part of the adventure.”

Our connection at Perpignan is also late, perhaps purposely, and we’re back in Collioure not much later than scheduled.

An absolutely great two weeks in Paris; we appreciate every minute of it.




2 Responses to “* Paris June 2008 #5”

  1. mary ann said

    It’s great to travel without flying. I’m loving every minute.

  2. Joan said

    Loved this!!! I may not be able to physically travel but I travel vicariously thru my idols….J

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