TRAVEL with pat and lew

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* 3 times in Paris in a month

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 8, 2014

Our European travel plans started in Paris, then to Amsterdam, back to Paris, Eurostar to London & Oxford, then back to Paris. Three times in Paris for a total of 11 nights.

The first time we treated Paris as if it was our home city, which in many ways it is. We stayed at the Perle Hotel in the 6th, where we have been many times before. After morning coffee and croissant at one of our favorite cafes, I got a new carryon bag at Galeries Lafayette after not being able to get a wheel changed on the one I brought. Pat found an optician to change out her lenses into a new frame. We met up with our friends Rawy and Nijole, had a nice dinner around the corner from our hotel, ice cream across the street.

paris composite #1

At the church of Saint-Sulpice, down the street from the Perla, are three magnificent generally unknown paintings by Eugene Delacroix. This one is a portion of Heliodorus Driven from the Temple.

Delacroix at St Sulplice

We left most of our luggage at the Perle and took the train to Amsterdam for our houseboat adventure. On our return, again staying at the Perle, we went to a magnificent exhibit at the Petit Palais – Paris 1900: The City of Entertainment. This is but a small sample of what is a remarkable collection.

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From the Petit Palais it’s a short walk to the Champs-Élysées, where we enjoyed a small repast at an outside but shaded table at La Duree

la duree

Abercrombie and Fitch opened its flagship store on the Champs in 2011. From the front gate to the excitingly dark interior to the half-naked studs available for photos, this is way more than just a store.

A&F composite

Last year in Paris we accidentally met Philippe Benhamou and were invited to attend his two-man comedy show, which was great entertainment even though we didn’t understand a word. (He told us his part was in English, but neglected to mention he didn’t say any words.) This year we met on purpose and learned he is preparing a one-man show which will open in January.

philippe composite

Whatever else we do in Paris, the best thing to do is to walk around and just soak it all in. The building below is the Musee D’Orsay, which was magnificent as always but does not permit photos.

paris composite #3

We often forget to take photos of our apartments. This is one of Adrianne Leeds, on rue de Roi du Sicile.

our apartment

Time to go. No more Paris until next year. Of course, you never know.

waiting

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* Paris to Nice was an adventure … kudos to Air France for dealing with a baggage handlers’ strike

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 3, 2014

air france

Earlier in the week, we had dinner with our Paris friends Marilyn and Bernard. When we told them we were planning to fly to Nice on Saturday they told us it was the absolute worst travel day of the year, which the French call Black Saturday, the first Saturday of the August vacation season. We were advised to leave plenty of extra time, or even go to Orly on Friday night and stay in a nearby hotel.

We opted to arrange a taxi at 8:00 am for a 12:20 flight. and were pleasantly surprised when the drive to Orly took only 15 minutes, half the usual time in normal traffic. We quickly used the kiosk to get both our boarding passes and our luggage tags. So far so good, but it still turned out to have been a really good idea to have left early.

By 8:30 we were in line to drop the already tagged luggage. The airport was crowded and it was a long line, but one which should have taken no more than 20-30 minutes. It took over 2 hours. A baggage-handlers strike had put the Orly terminal into chaos. There are automated machines for taking the pre-tagged luggage, but most passengers could not figure out how to make them work, and the baggage handlers stood by and did not help. It was taking 5-15 minutes to process each piece of luggage.

air france composite

Air France management personnel did a terrific job answering questions and supplementing the baggage handlers, who stood there but did nothing. I tried to find out what the strike was about, and was told it had to do with “working conditions.” When I asked for more details, the condition they were complaining about seemed to be that they were being asked to work.

We finally got through the line and had time for coffee and croissants. Then the flight was delayed, probably due to the baggage handlers not moving the luggage quickly onto the plane. We took off over an hour late, but amazingly, our luggage arrived with us in Nice.

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* Paris … September 2013 … better late than never

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 24, 2014

Last summer, I faithfully posted our trips to our travel blog, until the last month. So now, as we get ready for our 2014 travels, here is an overview of that wonderful time in Paris.

rose & mike

We had company before we even got into our apartment. Rose and Mike, our British neighbors for 7 years in Collioure, were in Paris and we shared a meal and great conversation.

Paris apt & Adrian

Now we’re in A Vieux Paris – old Paris – one of Adrian Leeds’ great apartments, this one perfectly located in the Marais just a half block from the St. Paul Metro. That’s Adrian with Pat.

nijole and suzanne

We still haven’t unpacked but we go down to the corner for a crepe. Walking by is Pat’s friend Suzanne from New York who now works in London. Of course we invite her for drinks. And we also connect with our friends Rawy and Nijole from Key West who also live in Paris. Our month in Paris is off to a great start.

bling ring

We like to go to the movies, and Paris has lots of English-language movies. But we had trouble finding this one. Yes, it was in that building, which is indeed the Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées. The movie was better than you might think. Not much company though.

cafe at cafe hugo

Until this day, Pat had never had a cup of coffee. Never! Not one! But she had decided a woman in Paris had to be able to go into a cafe and order. She prepared carefully for this moment. It had to be a cafe creme. It had to be at Cafe Hugo on the Place des Vosges. So here it is, preserved for posterity. Oh, you were curious? She enjoyed it and has indulged again a few times since.

pat out window

Pat ran 3 mornings each week in Paris. Here she is beginning her run, as seen from our apartment window.

guernica

Earlier in the summer we were in Madrid and saw Picasso’s incredible Guernica. Now we were in Paris climbing up to the atelier where he painted it at rue des Grand Augustins, #7.

Rawy,Nijole,Polidor,Lux gardens

We hook up again with our friends Rawy and Nijole, first for lunch at the magnificent authentic Polidor, and then to Luxembourg Gardens where of course there is a band to play for us. Isn’t Paris fun?

can you tell it's Paris

Can you tell it’s Paris?

CDG

 Does this help?

love locks

There are rumors that the “love locks” are going to be removed. We hope not.

Rivian & Hans

Our friends Rivian and Hans were in Paris at the same time we were, and we got together at Sorza, one of our favorite restaurants on Ile St. Louis

Fran & valerie

One of the great things about Paris is that people come there, people you know. Here are Fran and Valerie. Fran is one of Pat’s brother’s best friends from way back in first grade in Yeadon.

pat & lew walking

I think Fran took this one.

paris at night

Paris at night

with Jordan & Janet

Some time during the month we had a delightful evening with my nephew Jordan and his wife Janet. Dinner in one of our favorite Paris streets (rue Guisarde in the 6th arr.), followed by a walk in the rain along Blvd. Saint-Germain and a taste of absinthe. But first we had a tour of the houseboat which was the weekend home to Jordan and Janet in Paris.

Sarkozy

We took an afternoon trip to the beautiful Parc Monceau off Blvd. Courcelles, one of Pat’s terrific list of “stuff” she puts together for all of our trips. But even Pat could not have expected to see France’s former President Nicolas Sarkozy come running by. But there he was, with two security guards, and pleased as he could be to offer a cheery wave and allow photographs. After he passed me, Pat hollered “lookin’ good” and he said thank you.

Philippe

We accidentally met Philippe at a coffee shop, and he invited us to see him perform at a comedy club not far from our apartment. Last night was the show. Even without understanding a word (it was all in French) we thoroughly enjoyed the performance, which ended with the whole audience and the cast dancing together in the street. Paris is a wonderful place.

Cafe Favorite

Here I am at one of our favorite cafes, called La Favorite, a few steps from our apartment, having morning coffee and croissant, working on my novel.

Brian et al

It’s always great to visit with friends from Key West in Paris. Here we are having lunch and conversation with (l to r) Stan, Brian, Judy, and Susie. After lunch, in the courtyard of the Jewish museum next to the statue of Captain Alfred Dreyfus.

Buddha

Now on display in a gallery in the Place des Vosges. For 37,000 euros it can be yours.

Train bleu

One of Paris’ most spectacular restaurants in Le Train Bleu, located in the Gare de Lyon train station … a toast to a terrific month, almost complete.

apartment in & out

Only a few more mornings in our Paris apartment … enjoying a quiet breakfast and a special view from our window.

best sight in Paris The best sight in Paris. Patricia triumphant. Met her goal.

 

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* Positano and the Isle of Capri … with Paris before and after

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 30, 2013

What a great way to finish the summer. We left Dublin on Sep 17, flew to Paris, and spent 2 nights at the Hotel des Deux Iles on Isle St. Louis. Our friends Rivian and Hans were in Paris and we had dinner with them at one of our favorite little restaurants, Sorza, just down the street from our hotel.

with Rivian & Hans cropped

We flew from Orly to Naples, where a van picked us up for the 1 hour trip to Positano. Along the way, we had spectacular views of Vesuvius. But even more spectacular was our room at the Eden Roc Positano, which unfortunately none of my photos does justice. Here, however, are the views from our room and at Pat’s birthday dinner at the hotel’s roof-top dining room.

Positano views

leaving Positano

leaving Positano

We took a short ferry ride from Positano to the Isle of Capri, where we were met at the dock by a representative from the Hotel Luna. To get to the hotel, we took a funicular up the side of the mountain, then at the top walked to the other side. The hotel and the views were spectacular.

view from the Luna

the view from our hotel room

plants and sea

After two short days in Capri, we took the big ferry to Naples, and then a taxi to the airport. Back to Paris, for the last act in “The Paris Bag Job.” We had left 3 suitcases in our friend’s apartment in Paris, taking 2 with us to Dublin and the Amalfi Coast. Once back in Paris, we took a cab to retrieve the suitcases, making sure the driver waited to take us back to the hotel. We had one more day in Paris, enough time to get haircuts and then duck into a nearby bistro to avoid a sudden rain shower. A great finish to the summer of 2012 and 7 summers based in Collioure.

after haircuts in Paris

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* quite a day in Paris … we found our lock, the site of our dream, good friends & Woody

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 9, 2012

At the conclusion of our two week largely book research focused trip to Munich, Nuremberg, Prague and Warsaw, with a side trip to the mass grave of Jews murdered by Nazis at Tykocin, we had two nights and one day in Paris. We have been many times, and we absolutely love the city, so here’s what we did.

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Several years ago, we added our lock to the bridge across the Seine just below Notre Dame Cathedral. Since then the number of locks has increased manyfold and it is ever more difficult to find ours. Thirteen panels from the left end of the bridge (facing Notre Dame) and after much looking, Pat finds it! The girl from Bali who took our picture semed almost as excited as we were. Almost.

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the site where the dream began

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Many years ago, long before the lock, we were in Paris and we met a couple having coffee at the cafe at the end of Isle St. Louis. They were concluding an extended stay in Paris. It was their last day and they were sad to leave.

After they left, we sat and talked. “Wouldn’t it be fabulous some day to live in Paris?” We had no plans and no reasonable expectation that we would ever make that happen. But we remembered, and when the time came, we did it.

This is our 7th summer in Collioure, each one of which has included 2-4 weeks in Paris. It’s good to dream.

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Who goes to Paris to watch a movie? Well, if you haven’t been to the movies in 2 months, maybe you would too. We walked from our hotel near St. Paul past Hotel d’Ville, past Notre Dame, and through the Left Bank to the movie on Blvd. Ste Germaine, which by the way is a spectacular walk we recommend to anyone in Paris.

The French show most American movies in what is called V.O., or version originale, ie, English with French subtiltes. But much of To Rome with Love is spoken in Italian. So we were listening to Italian and seeing French subtitles.

It was still hilarious. And we look forward to seeing it again in America, with English subtitles.

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 Charles McClelland has been a friend of mine since we were classmates at Princeton, although we have only seen each other 2-3 times in the 50 years since graduation. Charles has been a big help with my writing, beginning with a relationship at the University of Wisconsin that led to the publication of The Heretic there. More recently, the fact that Charles is a professor of German history, and has studied, lived and taught for many years in Germany, has led to many helpful contacts and also to an informed early reading of the draft of my novel-in-progress.

So it was great to find that Charles and Sandy, and their friend Linnea (with whom we had dinner last summer) would all be in Paris on the same day. We had a wonderful dinner at La Casa Olympe on rue St. George in the 9th arrondissement. But even the dinner could not compare with the brilliant conversation. What a fine conclusion to our one day in Paris.

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St Sulplice

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But not quite. On Sunday morning, before we took the train back to Collioure, we walked over to St. Sulplice, where an organ recital accompanied the 10:30 mass in the magnificent and very much under-appreciated church.

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our room at Hotel Emile

And, oh yes, we can’t let this report end without a photo of our room in Hotel Emile on Rue Mahler, just next to Breakfast in America. Open the door, step into the shower!

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Gare d’Lyon

 Finally, if you’re us, you really enjoy waiting at the charming Gare d’Lyon before boarding the train.

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… and then we came back to Paris for another week

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 8, 2011

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This is the bridge of locks, where lovers leave a symbol of their love in the city of love. We left our lock last year. The first time we looked for it, we were disappointed. But Pat is persistent and we returned to learn it is still there.

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The Hotel de Ville is the city hall of Paris and one of the most beautiful buildings in a city of beautiful buildings. The plaza in front of Hotel de Ville  is also the scene of a wide variety of activities, such as rock band setting up between two rather contrasting statues.

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For us, this was a Sunday trifecta of iconic images: High Gregorian Mass at Notre Dame, Breakfast in America, and the finish of the Tour de France along the Champs d’Elysee. Does it get better than that!

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People often ask us what we do in Paris, and we usually say, “We just walk around.” Here’s some of what we see. And this will have to do for our Paris experiences in 2011.

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* lunch at the Polidor with Hemingway and Woody

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 16, 2011

to learn more about Lew Weinstein and his novels,

go to … http://lewweinsteinauthorblog.com/

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Before coming to Paris, Pat had identified the Crémerie-Restaurant Polidor (41, rue Monsieur-le-Prince near the Jardin de Luxembourg) as a likely place for an authentic French meal in a historic setting. Founded in 1845, the interior of the restaurant has not changed for over 100 years, and the style of cooking remains that of the late 19th century.

Imagine her surprise, when we saw Midnight in Paris for the 2nd time, to follow Gil into the Polidor where he encounters Ernest Hemingway offering short stereotypic bursts about courage and manliness.

The Polidor is a marvelous place to feel what Paris was like many years ago, and the lunch was just about the best French meal we have ever had, priced quite reasonably. The only modern accoutrement is the signed photo pasted on the front window.

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* just another day in the Jardin de Luxembourg

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 16, 2011

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a performance of the Northern Ambassadors of Music

The Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens), located in the 6th arrondissement, is actually the garden of the French Senate, which is housed in the Luxembourg Palace. Both palace and gardens are the legacy of Marie de Medicis, the widow of Henry IV and the regent for the King Louis XIII, who in 1611 decided to build a palace in imitation of the Pitti Palace in her native Florence. It is one of the most beautiful places in Paris, and one of the most beautiful parks in the world.

Walking in the park, we followed the sounds of music to a bandstand where we came upon an ongoing performance of the Northern Ambassadors of Music. Comprised of over 300 students from North Dakota and Montana, the high school and college students were in the middle of their 16-day 2011 European tour through England, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Italy and Germany, including performances at Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Luxembourg Gardens.

The group, each of whom pays roughly $6,000 for the trip, is put together on recommendations of music teachers. They played a combination of classical, show and patriotic music, and apparently had their first rehearsal as a group just three days before we heard them. Their rousing Sousa marching music and a moving rendition of America the Beautiful were extraordinary, especially given the short time they’ve had together.

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views from a walk around the Jardin du Luxembourg … note the Statue of Liberty, one of two in Paris … a plaque next to the statue is dedicated to the memory of those killed on 9-11 and to the long spirit of friendship between the French and American people

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* impressions of Paris … July 2011

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 14, 2011

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Of course it’s a cliche. But you see it everywhere and it is beautiful, especially at dusk.

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We had a wonderful dinner with our friends Marilyn and Bernard, and on the way, Marilyn took this picture of us … the church in the background is one of the great shots from Woody Allen’s new film, Midnight in Paris, which of course we saw in Paris.

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Paris is a city of beautiful women … a photo shoot at the Opera … coffee at Starbucks … Madame Lenny emerging from a delightful passage … a classic lady on a bike … some younger women assaulting the studs at Abercrombie & Fitch on the Champs Elysees

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Strangers having dinner with Jim Haynes … he’s been organizing these events for 30 years or so every Sunday night … The cost is 25 euros, more or less … his friends cook the dinner … the location is Jim’s house and the adjacent garden area, in the 14th arrondissement … people learn about this from Jim’s website (http://www.jim-haynes.com/) and sign up until the guest list has filled the available space (less can be accommodated in winter than in summer) … the food and wine were excellent and plentiful … and the company was delightful, mostly English speaking, although from many different countries … everyone there was looking to meet others in Paris, for a variety of reasons … the result – a unique and entertaining evening

Jim is the guy in the apron … next to him are a couple who met at one of these dinners 13 years ago and have been married for the last 12 … lower left corner are  a professor at Queens College and a student at the same college, who had just met

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A fabulous experience at an afternoon auction at the Drouot Hotel … as many as 8 rooms operating at the same time … art, books, coins, cooking appliances, and a whole roomful of Louis Vuitton bags going for 250 or so euros

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Paris is loaded with great old passages … stunning architecture, beautiful shops, sometimes even bargains, espcially during July’s annual sale days

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Pat planned her trip to the Louvre for months … she had a list of the art and the details of each work she wanted to enjoy … on the way, I bought a sketch pad, two pencils and an eraser … I found a chair near this Greek fellow … I will NOT post my sketch!

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Adrian Leeds is one of the busiest Americans in Paris. She posts a blog (http://www.parlerparis.com/) which Pat reads regularly … very high content about what’s happening in Paris … Adrian also buys, renovates, sells and rents apartments in Paris … and she runs a monthly (2nd Tuesday) get together which features a speaker … this week that was Jeffrey Greene (author of French Spirits) who spoke entertainingly about living in the Burgundy area of France … we had a delightful afternoon and met many expats living in France including with our new Queens College friend from Jim Haynes’ dinner

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These are the steps where Owen Wilson waited for F. Scott and Ernest … up a hill and just below the Pantheon … there was no magic transport available at noon … but we did go to see the movie, for the second time … it is a marvelous, cultured fairy tale that is really a love story … for those who love the enduring beauty and eternal aura of Paris … thank you, Woody

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FOOTNOTE: after we we returned to Collioure, I was sitting on our terrace, looking out at a glorious panorama of white clouds floating above the Pyrenees Mountains. Suddenly, there were the same blue, white and red smoke trails I had seen in Paris. Nine powerful jets put on a display of precision flying that took my breath away. Rapid turns. Dives straight down from rather low altitudes. Soaring out over the Mediterranean Sea in broad swoops, at what seemed like barely a wing length apart. Turning on edge so it seemed as if there was but a single plane. It was just spectacular.  A private show just for me.

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Bastille Day … crowds along the Champs … an impressive military parade … jets overhead … Nicolas Sarkozy, the 23rd president of the French Republic … and the very real presence of Charles de Gaulle, the 1st president whose unique combination of arrogance, grandeur and political skills seem to infuse France as much today as they did in the aftermath of WWII

… but Bastille Day ??? … honoring a day when 6 criminals were set free and a process initiated that ultimately became one of the bloodiest episodes in civilized society, a time when nobody’s head was safe … I have read and read about the French Revolution and I still don’t understand what happened and what results it accomplished … but we nevertheless enjoy the day and wish the French well

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* Vive l’Amérique, vive la France … At Picpus Cemetery on July 4, 2011

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 6, 2011

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Changing the flag at La Fayette's grave ... U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin speaking at gravesite

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The sound of a French military band playing the Star Spangled Banner on the 4th of July brought tears to our eyes. My wife Pat and I were among those assembled, along with a substantial French military presence, many French dignitaries, and Charles Rivkin, the American Ambassador to France, at an obscure cemetery in a far corner of Paris. We were there to pay homage to the contribution of the Marquis de La Fayette to our American War of Independence against the British. The place is Picpus Cemetery in Paris’ 12th arrondissement, where General La Fayette, his wife Adrienne de Noailles, and his son George Washington La Fayette are buried.

The ceremony began in the courtyard of a chapel built on the spot where a previous chapel had been destroyed in the fury of the French Revolution on the 1790s. Ambassador Rivkin, precisely on schedule, was the last to arrive. He stood at attention as the French band played the Star Spangled Banner and then the La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, both very moving as perhaps only military bands can be. We could not help but think of that famous scene in the movie Casablanca, where the stirring rendition of La Marseillaise so irritated the Nazis.

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a portion of the French military attending the ceremony

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From the courtyard, the band, the Ambassador, military representatives of both France and the U.S., and the crowd of perhaps 50 onlookers, including us, marched rather briskly a distance of approximately 100 yards through a beautiful tree-shaded lawn to a small cemetery enclosed by a wall in the far right corner of the small park. The La Fayette graves are in a corner of the cemetery, enclosed by a low gate. Pat and I had been there two years ago, all alone that day, and earlier on this day, when we spoke to the five members of the U.S. military contingent (Army and Marines) who were now standing at attention alongside the Marquis’ gravesite.

The ceremony began with the annual formal exchange of the American flag, which has flown over the gravesite for many years, including the period of the Nazi occupation of Paris in WWII. The flag which had flown for a year was lowered from the flagpole and carefully folded into the required triangle by Lt. Colonels Griggs and Pollard, U.S. Marines. A new flag was the raised in its place. At this point, the French military band again played the Star Spangled Banner. All of the U.S. military saluted, other Americans placed their hands over their hearts, and the French military, surprising and moving to us, also saluted. America is indeed indebted to France for its assistance in our War of Independence, and the French are indebted to us for our assistance in both of the 20th century’s world wars. Each country does well when they remember the assistance rendered by the other.

Then came the placement of flowers, beautiful arrangements all, presented by representatives of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Society of the Cincinnati, the Friends of La Fayette, the Mayor of Paris, the President of France, the French Legislature, and the American government represented by Ambassador Rivkin.

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La Fayette's grave with new flag and flowers

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Charles H. Rivkin is the youngest Ambassador in nearly 60 years to serve as his country’s senior representative in France.  He is a handsome man with a powerful presence. Dressed in a dark suit with a red tie, wearing a lapel pin featuring both U.S. and French flags, he spoke in fluent French as he described the contributions Marquis de La Fayette made to the struggling American republic over 200 years ago. He sounded so natural in French that it was surprising, jarring almost, whenever he spoke the name of an American – George Washington, Benjamin Franklin – to hear the words in English, devoid of any French accent. He concluded with a ringing “Vive l’Amérique, vive la France.” When I spoke with the Ambassador at the conclusion of the ceremony, he offered to send a translation of his speech as soon as one is made.

After the service, Ambassador Rivkin met with a group of young American students who had attended the service under the auspices of a group called People to People, founded by President Eisenhower in 1956, as part of their Student Ambassador program designed to make young Americans more aware of the world. The Ambassador told the students they were the “best ambassadors America could send to make the world more aware of who we are and to show that we care about those in other countries.”

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Edward Moran ... La Fayette in battle

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At the center of this story is La Fayettes’ contribution to America’s independence. The Marquis was but 19 years old when he purchased a ship and violated the specific direction of the French King to sail to America carrying with him the recommendation of Benjamin Franklin. He first met General Washington in Bucks County, Pennsylvania on August 10, 1777. He impressed Washington with his manner, intelligence and enthusiasm, and participated bravely in the battles of Brandywine and Monmouth. Many reports indicate that Washington came to look on La Fayette as the son he never had.

La Fayette returned to France in 1779, where he received two weeks house arrest for disobeying his King. Undeterred, he lobbied for more French aid for America. In the following year, he returned with the news that he had arranged for 6,000 French troops and  a French fleet to come to America, assets which subsequently proved of critical value in the decisive battle of Yorktown.

But why a gravesite in this tiny cemetery on the edge of Paris? After Yorktown, Marquis de La Fayette returned to a France soon to be embroiled in its own revolution. He was a hero to some and a targeted villain for others, a member of the now hated aristocracy. La Fayette escaped, but the family of his wife was not so lucky. La Fayette’s mother-in-law, her mother and one of her daughters were among the thousands whose heads were separated from their bodies by the infamous machine of Dr. Joseph-Ignace  Guillotine. Over a six week period in 1794, 1300 victims of the French terror were murdered in the nearby square now known as Place de la Nation, including 16 Carmelite nuns. Those bodies were taken away by carts and surreptitiously buried in the dark of night, eight deep in a common grave, heads thrown in on top, at what was not yet known as the Picpus Cemetery.

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In the early 1800s, French nobles returned to Paris and began a search for the gravesites of their relatives. Among these was Adrienne de Lafayette, the Marquis’ wife, who found someone who had followed the carts and was herself led to the site. Adrienne arranged the purchase of the property and invited nuns to establish a new convent and build a new church over the ruins of the old, where nuns of the Order of the Sacred Heart still maintain a permanent vigil. Madame La Fayette set aside a small corner of the property as a private cemetery for the La Fayette family, and when she died in 1807, she was buried there.

President James Monroe invited Lafayette to visit the United States in 1824, as part of the celebration related to the nation’s 50th anniversary. During his trip, he acquired soil from Bunker Hill in Boston and expressed a desire to be buried in this American soil. When he passed away in 1834 at the age of 77, his wish was fulfilled when the Bunker Hill soil was sprinkled on his grave by his son George Washington La Fayette. Even then, the public was prohibited from attending, and crowds formed to protest their exclusion from Lafayette’s funeral.

We were fortunate and privileged to receive a special invitation to this private ceremony from the Sons of the American Revolution in France, and are very grateful to have been included in as memorable a 4th of July as we could have imagined.

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Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette

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* with friends in Paris

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 25, 2010

We love Paris, and we love to share Paris with our friends. Our return flight from Athens brought us to Paris, and we couldn’t resist adding another three nights to the more than five weeks we’ve already been in Paris this summer. And how great to meet up with our friends from Key West, Tom and Lucy, and our friends from New York, Kathy and Dan. Wonderful new memories.

Lucy & Tom, Kathy & Dan, Pat & Lew

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We now have another “friend” to visit in Paris, our lock on the Pont de l’Archeveche.  We’re pleased to report that it’s doing well. If you don’t know what this is about, see … * “PAT + LEW 9/8/84″ on the Pont de l’Archeveche

visiting our lock

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Notre Dame de Paris is the cathedral of the Catholic Archdiocese of Paris, constructed between 1163 and 1345. It is an architectural and engineering marvel. We always see the outside when we’re in Paris. How can you miss it? This time, we came by at 10:00 am and there was no line. If you get a chance to go to mass there, the organ is unbelievably powerful.

Notre Dame Cathedral

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* Paris mystery sign explained

Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 1, 2010

THANK YOU to Jonathan Darnborough (who was my tutor in the magnificent course on Beethoven I took recently at Oxford) who has found the signs on the French traffic sign site.

And thanks also to those of who who shared your creative explanations. See COMMENTS at the bottom of the post  * images from the streets of Paris

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Sign without red bar … Définition : Chemin obligatoire pour piétons … Mandatory Pedestrian Path

Sign with red bar … Définition : Fin de chemin obligatoire pour piétons … End of Mandatory Pedestrian Path

the sign we saw … Note that the man & child are NOT holding hands (does this mean anything?) … ALSO … this sign was on a street in the Marais, NOT placed at the end of, or anywhere near, a pedestrian area.

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So, now we know what French officialdom says the signs mean. Now if anyone can figure out how the French actually determine where to put them …

  • We did see one sign (with bar) at the end of a pedestrian area. All others seem to be at the end of streets which are NOT pedestrian areas.
  • And the fact remains that no one in Paris has any idea what the signs mean, and will make up a creative story on the spot if asked.

Next time you’re in Paris and see the sign, ask some one and write in what they say.

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Posted in ... 2010, ... France - Paris | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

* French resistance in WWII and celebration in 2010

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 29, 2010

Pat with Jean Moulin

The French Resistance to the Nazi occupation is both a source of French pride and a bitter memory of how many collaborated, and how often the collaborators hated the resistance fighters for bringing the wrath of the Nazis against “innocent” civilians. It seems, however, as the years pass, the stature of the resistance is growing and the collaborators are increasingly forgotten.

musee Jean Moulin

Evidence of this is found at the musee Jean Moulin, opened in 1994 on the roof of the Gare Montparnasse. In 1940, Moulin was serving as prefect of Chartres when he refused to sign a document prepared by the Germans accusing innocent persons of killing French civilians who were in fact killed by German bombing. To prevent himself from revealing anything under torture, Moulin tried to commit suicide by slitting his throat. He later escaped from German custody, made contact with resistance forces, and in October 1941 went to London to join General de Gaulle. He was sent back to France with the mission of unifying Free France resistance to prepare for the liberation of France. He was betrayed and arrested in 1943, tortured by the Nazis to the point that he died from his beatings. Initially buried at the cemetery of Pere Lachaise, his casket was given the supreme honor when in 1964, it was re-located to the Pantheon, the home of “the great men of France” and one woman (Marie Curie).

Read Patrick Marnhan’s Resistance and Betrayal for a poignant description of Moulin’s activities and impact.

Jean Moulin is certainly the most famous of the French Resistance fighters, and also the best looking. The scarf around his neck covers the wounds he inflicted on himself when he tried to commit suicide. The photo of Jean Moulin in “the hat” has become an icon seen all over France.

liberation of Paris

Paris was liberated in August 1944 after Allied forces had fought across France from the landing beaches at Normandy. General Eisenhower initially planned to bypass Paris in order not to slow the Allied advance towards Germany, but Generals Le Clerc and de Gaulle ordered an uprising in the city (which infuriated Eisenhower) that forced his hand. French troops lead the entry into Paris. The German commander, General von Choltitz, defied Hitler’s orders and did not set off explosives which had been placed to destroy many of the most important buildings, monuments and bridges.

Read Is Paris Burning by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins for a spectacular account of the liberation of Paris.

Pat and I attended the 65th anniversary celebration of the liberation of Paris, held in the great plaza before the Hotel de Ville. It was a moving event, even without understanding the words spoken. Several veterans, who presumably participated in 1944, spoke while pictured then and now, as did a young woman we think might have been a descendant of Charles de Gaulle. We were pleased also by the recognition given to France’s World War II allies, including particularly General Eisenhower and Winston Churchill.

celebration of the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Paris in August 1944

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* images from the streets of Paris

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 29, 2010

When people ask us what is our favorite thing to do in Paris, we always say “just walking around, enjoying the city.” Of course I always have my camera ready. Here’s some of what I saw during our three weeks in Paris in August 2010.

Pay special note to the street sign of the man and little girl which is explained (or not) below.

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So now, did you see this sign? Have you ever seen it in Paris? Do you know what it means?

???

The first time we saw the sign, several years ago, we were sitting in a corner cafe just across the street from St. Sulpice (the church from the Da Vinci Code). We asked our waiter what it meant. He didn’t know, so he asked another patron. Before long, the entire cafe was buzzing and no one had a clue.

Since then, we’ve asked many Parisians, and we’ve received many stories. Different stories! To our ears, every explanation we heard was made up on the spot, a total guess to avoid the embarrassment of saying “I don’t know.”

But nobody, it seems, does know. The sign is all over Paris, along with another sign, identical except without the red bar across it, and nobody knows what it means.

If you have an authoritative answer, or even an entertaining made-up story, please comment below.

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Posted in ... 2010, ... France - Paris | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

* Pat and Diane at Le Grand Colbert

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 29, 2010

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Pat, Diane & Keanu at the Grand Colbert

Le Grand Colbert is located between the Louvre and the Opera on rue Vivienne, and it is one of our favorite restaurants in Paris. It was also the location in “Something’s Gotta Give” where Jack finds Diane and, alas, also Keanu.

Pat is sitting in the very seat occupied by Diane.

Posted in ... 2010, ... France - Paris | 1 Comment »

* “PAT + LEW 9/8/84″ on the Pont de l’Archeveche

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 29, 2010

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The Pont de l’Archeveche connects the Isle de Cite with the Left Bank, affording one of the best views of Notre Dame. The fence is wrought iron filled with cyclone fencing. On the cyclone fence are hundreds and hundreds of locks, many of which are inscribed to proclaim the love of the couple who placed it there.

Pat and I bought our lock at BHV (Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville). When we asked where we could have the lock engraved, we were immediately directed to a shop along the rue de Tempe side of BHV. We were not the first to make that request. So now

PAT + LEW  9/8/84

has made its appearance on the Pont de l’Archeveche, 13 panels from the Left Bank, 22 panels from the other end, a testament to our love of each other and of Paris. Visit us when the next time you’re in the world’s most beautiful city.

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* Meeting the French at Work at the Brasserie Mollard

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 26, 2010

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Brasserie Mollard

There are hundreds of brasseries in Paris and many of them are utterly stunning. None more so than the Brasserie Mollard at 115, rue Saint Lazare, in the 8th arr. (see http://www.mollard.fr/)

Pat and I, with our friend Nijole, visited Brasserie Mollard as part our our 3rd “Meeting the French at Work” experience. Stephane Malchow was our gracious guide to the interior details created by E. Niermans, also architect of the Hotel Negresco in Nice, the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo and the Moulin Rouge. Each of the magnificent tiles tells a fascinating story. Most were installed when the Mollard opened in 1895. In its 115 years, the Mollard has been owned by just two families.

After seeing the restaurant, I asked if we could also see the kitchen. Stephane was surprised – apparently mosts tours do not include the kitchen – but off we went. What was amazing was the small size of the space used to provide meals for 170 seats, as many as 250 meals a night. We watched the preparation of entrees (in France this is the appetizer not the main course), the shaping of potatoes, and the steaming oven for the fish.

in the kitchen at Brasserie Mollard

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* musee Carnavalet … the history of Paris told through its art

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 23, 2010

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the garden at the entrance of Musee de Carnavalet

Hotel Carnavalet was built in the 16th c. for the president of the Parliament of Paris. The museum now housed there tells the story of Paris from prehistoric days to the present, mostly through a stunning collection of paintings from many different eras in the city’s history.

The French Revolution

From the storming of the Bastille, to the death of King Louis and Marie Antionette , to the subsequent death of those who began the revolution, and ending with a new dictator named Napoleon, all aspects of the bloody years beginning in 1789 are portrayed in marvelous paintings and artifacts. Here is a selection of our favorites …

Corday, David's painting, Marat

One day in 1893, Jean Paul Marat was taking a bath and received a visit from Charlotte Corday. The result is portrayed in a powerful painting by Jacque-Louis David.

Jean-Paul Marat was a Swiss-born physician, political theorist, and scientist who became a radical journalist and politician. Marat was one of the more extreme voices of the French Revolution For the two months leading up to the downfall of the Girondin faction, he was one of the three most important men in France, alongside Georges Danton and Maximilien Robespierre. Then he was dead.

We have read several books on the French Revolution and still don’t have it straight. Maybe there is no “straight,” but it seems to us that a lot of people, some innocent like Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, and many evil, died in a decade long bloodbath that accomplished very little, since it ended up substituting the dictator Napoleon for the kings, who later returned anyway. But the art in the Carnavalet is superb.

Marie Antoinette

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Paris … after the Revolution and Napoleon were gone

the glamor of 19th century Paris

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* our emotional visit with Vincent van Gogh at Auvers-sur-Oise

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 18, 2010

to learn more about Lew Weinstein and his novels,

go to … http://lewweinsteinauthorblog.com/

Pat and I have followed Van Gogh’s path this summer, from Arles where the “Yellow House” was destroyed in WWII to the asylum at St. Remy en Provence to the final destination at Auvers-sur-Oise.

(see https://patandlewtravel.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/arles-roman-amphitheatre-van-goghs-cafe-and-french-bullfighting/)

(see https://patandlewtravel.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/st-remy-de-provence-in-vincents-footsteps/)

It has been an emotional journey, tracing the path of the last several years of Van Gogh’s life. But nowhere has the sadness been so poignant as in the tiny room at the top of a dark narrow staircase in the inn L’Auberge Ravoux, where Van Gogh died at the age of 37 after shooting himself in the chest two days before. In a slightly larger room, also on the 2nd floor, we viewed a wonderful documentary showing many of his Auvers paintings and excerpts from letters to his brother Theo from that same period.

Perhaps it was the aura created by the background music by Schubert, or maybe the footsteps coming up the stairs, but we surely felt Vincent’s presence, and we will forever appreciate his art in a more profound way than ever before. We watched the video twice and would love to purchase a copy. Does anyone know where this may be possible?

Van Gogh’s room at the L’Auberge Ravoux in the village of Auver-sur-Oise

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A short distance up a hill from L’Auberge Ravoux is the village church. When we looked at Van Gogh’s heartbreakingly disturbed and hauntingly beautiful painting of this church, we had no idea of the monumental size of the actual church. How can we enter any other person’s mind, let alone that of a man who would commit suicide within a few months of creating this painting. What terrors did Vincent see in this place designed to foster solemn reflection?

Van Gogh’s church at Auvers

church at Auvers – interior

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When you walk past the church, following the signs to the cemetery, along the road Van Gogh must have taken many times, palette and brushes in hand, you pass the wheat fields he painted and soon reach the grave sites where Vincent and Theo Van Gogh are buried.

It’s a peaceful walk, and then you think of what Van Gogh painted along there …

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Posted in ... 2010, ... France - Paris | 4 Comments »

* the basilica of Saint Denis – Pillars of the Earth come to spectacular life (and death)

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 18, 2010

St. Denis Basilica

On the site of a Roman cemetery in what is now the just beyond the northern limits of the city of Paris a church was constructed in the 12th century that seems in every respect the embodiment of what Ken Follett described so well in his magnificent historical novel Pillars of the Earth.

St. Denis - exterior views

It contains soaring stone pillars and arches, magnificent stained glass windows, and the tombs of virtually every king and queen in the long history of France, including the alleged recovered and relocated ashes of the beheaded Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI (under the polished wood) …

tombs of the kings & queens of France

… and what purports to be a portion of the shriveled heart of King Louis XVII, the son of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI who never ruled. It wasn’t always a total or lasting pleasure to be royalty in France.

the heart of King Louis XVII

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* macaroons and chocolates the Parisian way

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 26, 2010

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Meet the Parisians at Work

There is a marvelous program in Paris called “Meet the Parisians at Work,” a series of company guided tours in partnership with the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau.

http://www.meetingthefrench.com/services21.php

Numerous and varied business establishments offer a behind the scenes look at how the French work and create the magnificent panorama of products that so typify Paris. We recently spent a delightful 90 minutes watching incredible macaroons and chocolates being created at Gérard Mulot, pastry and chocolate maker (93 rue de la Glacière in the 13th). Samples were included in the € 11 fee. Mmmm.

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* Paris with Ron and Eileen

Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 14, 2009

Paris with Ron and Eileen

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We travelled to Paris this week, to meet our friends Ron and Eileen, and because we don’t need any excuse to enjoy the most beautiful city we know.

DSCN2260-headless saint-croppedThe trip began on Monday morning, when we took the 6:56 am train for the shortDSCN6000-Notre Dameride from Collioure to Perpignan, then switched to the high speed TGV to Paris, a trip scheduled to take 5 hours. Our train was delayed somewhere south of Paris, and at Gare de Lyon we were handed forms which, if we can figure out what to do, will get us some reimbursement on our ticket price. We taxied from the train station to the Hotel des Deux Isle on Isle St. Louis, a favorite of ours where we have stayed many times, then off in a light rain to Notre Dame where we had arranged to meet Ron and Eileen by the statue of the headless saint.

When they arrived, we took some pictures, then headed back to Isle St. Louis in search of a café where we could wait out the rain and learn what our friends had been up to since their arrival in Paris the day before. We ducked into one of our favorite creperies where we had wine and crepes and conversation.

Ron and Eileen had spent most of Sunday recovering from the flight and exploring the neighborhood around their hotel near the Arc de Triumphe. On Monday morning, they took a limo tour of Paris which gave them an overview of the city and identified several places they wanted to re-visit. The rain abated and we walked back past Notre Dame and across to the Left Bank and Boulevard St. Germaine. Just wandering, one of our favorite things to do in Paris. Ron helped Pat purchase a new calculator to replace the solar calculator that had apparently fried in the Collioure sun.

friends at the Grand Colbert

Dinner that night was one of our surprises for our friends; we had arranged to meet at the pyramid of the Louvre, a short walk from the restaurant. But the rains returned, and we decided to meet at The Grand Colbert, one of our favorites and the location of a great scene from “Something’s Gotta Give” with Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Keanu Reeves. After a fine dinner, we returned to our respective hotels.

DSCN8082-Pat & Eileen at OrsayAt 9:00 am on Tuesday morning we met outside the Musee de Orsay, which unfortunately didn’t open until 9:30. Inside, Pat, who knows every painting, played the docent for Eileen, who was soaking up the Impressionists for the first time. After the de Orsay, we strolled across the Seine, through the TulleriesDSCN7604-renoir-croppedGardens, and along the rue de Rivoli to Angelina’s, where we enjoyed the sinfully thick hot chocolate.

Ron and Eileen went to the Jules Verne restaurant in the Eiffel Tower; we begged off. We have learned that morning-to-night non-stop tourism is not for us. Retired as we are, we usually have the luxury of more time in any location, and for us, less is often more.

We met up again at Montemarte; Eileen bought a lovely original work of art, while Ron and I had ice cream. We taxied down the hill and walked for awhile on rue St. Honore. Ron and Eileen had reservations at La Tour de Argent, one of Paris’ most elegant venues, with spectacular sunset views of Notre Dame, to celebrate their 25th anniversary. Pat and I found an excellent brasserie called Hotel du Louvre, located at the Metro stop just behind the Louvre; we ate and were in bed before Ron and Eileen sat down for dinner.

*** great restaurant … Le Train Bleu ***

On Wednesday morning, our friends took a tour of Versailles while we wandered along rue de Rivoli in the Marais, making several small purchases at Monoprix, things that are not available in our little village. We took the Metro to station George V and then walked to the Hotel Raphael, where we met Ron and Eileen. The four of us took the Metro all the way across Paris to our second planned surprise; this was our friends first experience with the Paris Metro, which we think is one of the finest anywhere.

We emerged into the Gare de Lyon, one of Europe’s beautiful and characteristic railway stations. Ron and Eileen seemed to expect to board a train to take us to lunch, but we said there was a nice place right there in the station, sort of a local diner, that we really thought they would like.                                                     DSCN8107-at Train Bleu

DSCN8114

Having thus underplayed Le Train Bleu, we watched their jaws drop as we entered the magnificent brasserie, with its high frescoed ceilings, richly paneled walls, brass fixtures, and elegant lunchtime crowd. The meal was superb, matching the experience on our own anniversary last year.

We opted to take the Metro back to the Marais, where Eileen enjoyed a successful visit in the Judaica shop. On the way we passed through the picturesque Place St. Catherine and the shops of rue Roziers; afterwards, we enjoyed a wonderfully crafted gelato built in the shape of a tulip. The only disappointment was the disappearance of Jardin le Gamin, one of our favorite local restaurants, now boarded up. Then, shock of all shocks, Ron and Eileen took the Metro back to their hotel by themselves.

We met again for dinner at a new restaurant for us on Isle St. Louis called Sorza, at 51, rue St. Louis en L’ile. Only ten tables, one wonderful waitress serving all, an excellent menu.

That was it. The next day, Ron and Eileen were off to Nice to complete their vacation, while Pat and I took the train back to Collioure, where we will be for the next four weeks before we begin a two week home exchange in Vilnius, Lithuania, with side trips to Warsaw, Krakow, and if we’re lucky, to the small villages where my grandparents lived over a hundred years ago before they came to America.

Posted in ... 2009, ... France - Paris, great restaurants | 2 Comments »

* Paris June 2008

Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 28, 2008


Will the trains run? Will our train run?

There has been a rail strike for most of the week before our scheduled early Sunday morning trip to Paris. What’s different about this strike is that no ‘end date’ has been set. Usually, each strike has definite end but this time, there is much uncertainty. Even when they begin to run again, not all trains are running. I check in the Collioure station at 11:00 am on Saturday; the friendly English-speaking clerk says to return at 5:30 pm; she will know by then. There is a taxi in the parking lot; I take his card and he says he will take us in the morning if the train doesn’t run. But at 5:30, I’m told the 6:28 am train is the only train which will run tomorrow.

At 6:00 am, standing on our terrace, we watch the 6:02 train to Perpignan pull in and leave. What does this mean? Are all the trains running? Did the strikers substitute the 6:02 for the 6:28? We carry our luggage down the 60 stairs and over to the platform. Northbound trains run across the track, so we have to go down, under and up, with all the bags. The 6:28 train is posted on the trackside board, and, at 6:20 or so, it is announced. But at 6:28, there is no train. Our connection to Paris leaves Perpignan at 7:32.

We can make it by taxi, if we call now, if the taxi will come, and if there is not much traffic. I call the taxi, wake up the driver, who says he will hurry over. We invite the one other women who is waiting for the train to join us in the taxi and begin the trek down, under and up to the parking lot side of the tracks. Just as we get up on the other side, the train appears. We run back down, under and up. Our new friend gets there first and, somehow, holds the train just long enough for us to board.

I try to call the taxi driver, but there is no answer. He is already on his way. Several more attempts to call also fail. We feel badly; probably not as badly as he does. I resolve that, when we return to Collioure, I’ll call him, apologize, and give him 10 euros for his early awakening and undoubted fury when we were not there. Je suis désolé; I am sorry; I am desolate.

POSTSCRIPT: A few days after returning to Collioure two weeks later, I saw the same taxi driver at the gare. I reminded him that we had stood him up, and after a while, he remembered. I apologized. He said it was not a problem. I offered him 10 euros for getting him up for nothing. Not only did he refuse the money, he gave me a business card to make sure, if I needed a taxi again, I could call him. This is the best side of the French.

TGV from Perpignan to Paris

We arrive in Perpignan only a few minutes later than scheduled, and the TGV is waiting for us across the platform; no down, under, up. We find our car, board and take our facing seats on the upper level.

The TGV is the fast luxury train that runs on all the long distance routes. We have used our Carte Senior to purchase half-price tickets. At 50%, there isn’t much difference between second class and first class, so on our trips to Paris, we indulge ourselves. The annual cost of the Carte Senior (about 60 euros each) is more than paid back on each trip to Paris.

There is no food service until after Montpellier. We have boarded at 7:30 and will not have coffee until after 9:15. Actually, quite a bit later than 9:15. At Montpellier, the café attendant boards the train with her tray of fresh croissants and goes behind the closed panels of the serving area to prepare. It must be some preparation, because she’s not ready to serve until 9:55.

I pass the time by talking to Tom, whose band Moriarty will play in Paris on June 21, the annual solstice celebration when musical groups fill every street throughout France. Tom is an American living in Paris. Talk turns to politics and he tells me the French are absolutely in love with Obama. He asks me what I think will happen, and I predict a landslide for Obama in November.

I buy two cups of café noir, tea for Pat, and two croissants, return to my seat. I was the first in line and I waited almost an hour. Had I been last in line, it would have easily been another 30-40 minutes.

There is an electric outlet at my seat, the SONY travel computer is plugged in, and I am working on my next novel, a sequel to The Heretic. The first section of the story, which is now 130 pages and will probably reach 175 pages when completed, describes the arrival of Benjamin and Esther Catalán in Florence and the beginnings of their relationships with Lorenzo de Medici and his family. When I tire, I return to the historical novel I’m reading, Gore Vidal’s Lincoln. There is much to learn from the writing of others, especially one so talented as Vidal.

Pat is reading Susan Vreeland’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, the story of Renoir’s famous painting. Last year, we had lunch with our friends Rawy and Nijole, and sat on the very balcony Renoir painted. Pat’s reading is typical of her very comprehensive planning for every trip we take. She always has a list of activities and sites; my role is to joyously accompany.

It’s always exciting to see our apartment for the first time

You may remember that we generally share responsibilities. Once we decide where we want to go, I figure out how to get there; Pat explores the accommodations options. Pat has been corresponding with Celine since she initially wrote to us in March to arrange our two week home exchange. Actually, although Celine was the exchange contact, it is her parents who are on their way to Collioure while we travel to Paris.

Celine’s apartment is in the 4th arrondissement, on rue de Sevigne, an absolutely perfect location in the heart of the Marais district. We enter the gate code, move to a foyer, ring the extension, and Celine buzzes us into a charming plant-filled courtyard. We find stairway B, and begin the trek up the 56 step circular staircase, realizing that, free from the discipline of airline luggage restrictions, we have packed too much. Celine runs down to help, as does her sister, and with two sets of hands on our large bags, we ascend.

The apartment is small, like our own in Collioure. It is the epitome of a Paris pied-a-terre, with two large double door windows looking out on the courtyard, adequate living space, and it is fabulously clean, matching the way we always try to leave our place. There is an internet connection and a bathtub. The apartment thus meets our top three priorities: (1) location, (2) internet connection, and (3) bathtub – we don’t have a tub in Collioure. As Celine shows us around the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, both professors in Paris – Celine in history and her friend in sociology – she also gives us the good news that her parents are already in our apartment and very pleased.

It’s now about 2:00 pm. We don’t even unpack. Instead, we’re out to explore again a neighborhood already familiar to us. Only two half blocks away is one of the most charming locations in all of Paris, the place du Marche Ste-Catherine. No longer a market, it is a vehicle-free cobblestone square surrounded by open air restaurants. Couples young and old, baby carriages, musicians, beer wine and food of several ethnicities. We dine on caesar salad and wine, and know we are in heaven. Pat takes out her list and we begin to make plans. We wander about, find an Italian restaurant of interest.

The Marais on a Sunday afternoon

The Marais on a Sunday afternoon is marvelous; tourists and Hasidic Jews, high fashion stores and falafel stands, spectacular architecture. We see a nun go into a church. Pat checks the bulleting board to see if there’s a mass. No mass. Instead, le Concert de Fin d’Annee, which turns out to be a boys’ choir performing a series of religious works, including three by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The concert is free, a hat will be passed. The church is magnificent; long and narrow, a beautiful altar. The boys march in and the concert begins. The voices range from soprano to a deep bass sung by a man with a beard, the only ‘ringer’ we spotted. The highlight is a boy soprano singing solo Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate KV 165; his voice is astonishing.

Lunch with ‘Big’ on rue St.-Germain des-Pres

We are two short blocks from rue de Rivoli, a main street not far from the right bank of the Seine. Our metro stop, St. Paul, is right there, as is a shopping bonanza unfamiliar to Collioure or anywhere else near our little village. Of particular interest this morning is the Mono Prix, a large cosmetic and toiletries store; even better, downstairs is the Mono Prix Super Marche (supermarket). We buy a few essentials.

Sex in the City is playing in Paris, in English with French subtitles. Pat has identified the theaters. She is on the web obtaining addresses and show times; we decide on the 13:10 (1:10 pm) show at the Odeon at 124 Bd. St-Germain.

We walk along rue Rivoli, straight to the shoe store where Pat yesterday saw sparkling silver espadrilles. Overnight, the shoes have gone on special, and for 15 euros cannot be passed up. We pass the Hotel de Ville, cross the Seine onto Isle de Cite, arrive at Notre Dame. This is all so familiar too us now; we are feeling a little smug. Through the Latin Quarter, along Bd. St. Michel, onto Bd. Ste-Germain. The Odeon is closer than we think, but we buy our tickets at noon and set off for the Gap in the 6th arr., pass through a wonderful little street, to which we will probably return for a meal. No purchase, still have time for a coke in a sidewalk café.

We are first into the theatre, to be joined by less than a dozen others. I guess 1:00 pm on a Monday afternoon is not prime time. Before the main feature, there are coming attractions and many, many commercials. Finally we are transported to the Manhattan venues where we lived for 15 years before retiring to Key West and Collioure. Do we miss Manhattan? No. We loved it, and we visit twice a year, but we have moved on. As have Carrie and her friends.

Pat particularly hates reviewers who reveal the plot, so we won’t do that here, except to say that almost all of the characters from the HBO series are in the movie, and there is a compelling and emotional plot. There are also great fashions and, would you think otherwise, great sex scenes.

We should feel less smug. In all the times we have been in Paris, we, who love movies, never knew there were many English-speaking movies all over the city. But now we do.

Shopping at BHV (Le Bazar de l’Hotel-de-Ville)

BHV is located just across the street from the Hotel de Ville. It is a large department store with an unusually large Home Depot-

like tools department.

We have a shopping list; things we cannot find in Collioure. At the top of the list are padded envelopes with which to send keys to our home exchange guests. We find the stationary department and three padded envelopes with not too much difficulty.

The challenge in shopping in a large store in a different language is finding the items you want, because you really don’t know how to ask. We need a new travel alarm clock, since I left our old one on a table in Erice (Sicily) three weeks ago. We go to the housewares department to no avail. Time to ask for help. The first thing is to learn the French word for alarm clock. We have a wonderful little (4 inches x 2 inches, very thin) Franklin translator, which works for French, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, and Czech, among other languages. Unfortunately, I changed it to Italian and can’t remember how to change it back to French; trial and error eventually succeeds. The French word for alarm clock isreveille-matin – wake up in the morning.

I show the words to a clerk. We’re directed to the first floor, where there are indeed alarm clocks, but regular size, too large for our purpose. So I expand my French phrase to reveille-matin pour voyage; we are directed to the 5th floor, where there is a selection of small travel alarm clocks, one of which sits on the dining table telling me it is 9:22 am on June 17 as I write these words.

We finished our first full day in Paris with dinner at a small Italian restaurant called Soprano, just across from Place St. Catherine. We both had excellent pasta.

Musee d’Orsay

The Paris Metro is as good as it gets, with frequent service to all parts of the city. The St. Paul station is two blocks from our apartment. We get off at Tuileries, walk across the great park to the Seine, cross the bridge to the d’Orsay directly on the other side.

As we walk toward the entrance, an old woman bends down in front of us and stands to show us a gold ring. We recognize the scam and keep walking.

There is a long line. We take our place and begin chatting with the American woman in front of us. After a few minutes of the normal introductory conversation, she says, “I don’t believe what I just did. My husband will not be amused. I gave so much money (she doesn’t want us to say how much) and as soon as I walked away, I knew it was a scam.”

“The gold ring?” Pat asks, and the woman sheepishly removes it from her pocketbook.

“She told me she found it, but she can’t sell it because she’s an unregistered alien or something. But I could buy it from her and then I could sell it for a big profit.” Embarrassed pause. “And I did. How did you know?”

We explain that we saw the same woman, but it wasn’t the same woman. Our thief was an older lady, hers was a girl in her 20s.

“If only I had met you before I met her.” We laugh, tease her, and talk about other New York City scams until we get to the front of the line, buy our tickets, and separately enter the museum.

Pat has a list of paintings she has been studying; I follow. The d’Orsay is, as always, magnificent. We see a spectacular view from the top level that we never saw before.

When we leave the museum, we walk back across the Seine, and in the Tuileries a young girl bends down in front of us and straightens with a gold ring in her hand! You can’t make this up. Later, walking along Rue Rivoli, we again meet our friend from the ticket line, tell her we met her scam girl.

It’s good, but it’s not Lew’s “world famous”

When we lived in New York, we used to host an annual New Year’s Eve party in conjunction with the Midnight Run in Central Park. When the runners returned to our apartment, I served hot chocolate which I had prepared in their absence. They all wanted the recipe, which I have never divulged.

The best hot chocolate in Paris, according to Pat’s research, is found at Angeline’s a restaurant near the Hotel Mercier on Rue Rivoli. Hotel Mercier, by the way, was Nazi headquarters during WWII, where successful negotiations left unexploded the bombs which had been placed in every major site and bridge of Paris. That’s another story; read Is Paris Burning? Angeline’s hot chocolate is so thick and rich, they serve it with ice water for a chaser. It’s good, but it’s not Lew’s.

For dinner, we find an outdoor café near the Bastille Opera, a 10 minute walk from our ‘perfect’ Paris location; the onion soup was excellent, as were our toasted cheese sandwiches.

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, www.american-dream.fr, 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 to go inside.

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, www.au-Gamin-de-Paris.com, 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.

a blue linen blazer

Since retiring three years ago, I have worn a suit and tie two times, a blazer twice more. But in Paris there are opportunities for dressing up a little, and my blazer is two homes removed in Key West. So we shop. Designer blazers at Galeries and Printempts are not what I need for very occasional wear; besides which, nothing fits and I do not relish the idea of alterations. A department store across from Printempts has a wide selection, and a size that fits my current (10 pounds over objective) shape; even the sleeves are ok. Look for photos.

solstice music

June 21, solstice, the longest daylight in the year, is celebrated throughout France with music. Every group which wishes to is allowed (this night only without permit) to perform on the streets. We have participated in music night in Collioure (2006) and Bayeux (2007); both were experiences we will cherish, with local groups performing everywhere.

We began with an excellent dinner at the Italian restaurant l’Enoteca, a few blocks away from our apartment at 25 rue Charles (01-4278-9144, www.enoteca.fr ).  We arrived at 8:15 without reservations; although the small restaurant was only half full, we were advised that every table was taken. But, if we promised to be finished before 9:30, we could be seated. Our table on the charming second floor was adjacent to a photo of Bogey and Bergman in a Paris scene fromCasablanca. My risotto, which we were told is the restaurant’s signature meal, was wonderful, as was Pat’s shrimp (with fish and artichokes) tempura.

Our first plan was to stay in Place Catherine where we knew there would be music. Instead, we walked to Hotel de Ville (photo above) and across to the Latin Quarter. What we found on our walk were huge crowds, bands in every plaza and cafe that we couldn’t get close too. It was difficult to walk and for us, a little overwhelming.

Our first idea was probably better. We received confirmation of this the next day when Pat’s June 23 Parler Paris newsletter (by Adrian Leeds) proclaimed that the best spot, or at least the one chosen by Adrian, was indeed Place Catherine. By the way, the Parler Paris newsletter is an outstanding source of all sorts of Paris information, especially about purchasing or renting property. Check it out at http://www.parlerparis.com.

another Velib experience

We have described Paris’ Velib before – a magnificent concept poorly implemented. But, we thought optimistically, we solved it last year, we can do it again. No problem. Wrong!

Velib is a system of bike rentals, with stations all over Paris. You rent the bike, take it wherever you want, leave it at another station. The system is designed for repeat use by Paris residents, who purchase an annual membership and for whom, we suspect, the procedure is quite efficient.

Not so for the occasional user.

There are 17 steps in the process of renting a bike. Make a mistake in any of them and you immediately return to GO. You can almost hear the French bureaucrat chortling in the background.

There are 3 distinct phases, with many sub-steps in each.

First you must register; the cost is 1 euro; it must be paid with a card with a chip (we use our French bank card, our credit cards will not work). When you register, you agree to a 150 euro hold against your bank account in case you don’t return your bike. The bikes are worth more than 150 euros, but be assured the French legal process will find you if they need to.

Step 2 is to obtain a ticket for this particular bike rental. This involves creating a personal 4 digit code which is stored in the system. The ticket comes with its own 7 digit code. All entries must be made on a keypad located below the screen, not on the screen itself; this is not immediately apparent. After each entry, you must enter ‘V’ for validate, although this instruction, if given at all, is less than prominent on the screen. Any mistakes are punished immediately; return to GO.

Imagine doing this with a long and growing line of people behind you. Fortunately the French are patient, and someone will probably help you.

After you get the ticket, the screen says take your bike. This is a trick. If you go to the rack of bikes, choose one, and push the button to release the bike from its lock, nothing happens. Shake the bike, kick it, nothing happens. French people laugh. Take more than a few seconds, and you are blown off the system. Return to GO.

What you should have done is press ‘1’ which is the number next to the words ‘take your bike.’ There is no instruction, however, to push anything. When you finally figure it out, or more likely someone else shows you, if you push ‘1’ the screen will chug along for awhile and then display a list of the available bikes, by the number in the rack. You now enter your chosen number, followed by your personal code (did you forget? return to GO!), after which the chosen bike may be removed from the rack. But not easily. It still takes some yanking and pulling and shoving.

When Pat finally mounts her bike, she is sent on her way by a crescendo of clapping from the outdoor café across the street. My enthusiasm for bike riding having waned, I join the clappers for a cup of coffee.

NOTE: there’s a postscript. When I check our bank account some days later, I learn we have been charged 23 euros. I call and am told the bike was not properly returned 15 minutes after renting it, and was not checked in until after 1:00 pm. This is an outrage.  See posting Paris – August 2008 for another update.

Breakfast in America

Most visitors to Paris come at least in part for the wonderful French food. We enjoy that as well, but living for 6 months in France, we occasionally yearn for things American. We have reported before on Breakfast in America, a great American diner in Paris. There are two locations, one in the Marais two minutes from our apartment, the other across the Seine in the 5th arrondissement. On this morning, we have eggs and bacon, perfectly prepared; I have a bagel. And I purchase a BIA travel coffee mug, something I’ve been looking for all week. The waitress was from Princeton Junction, a Barnard student in Paris for the summer.

a walk through lost Paris

Leonard Pitt’s Walks Through Lost Paris utilizes 19th century records, photographs and post cards to document many of buildings demolished by Baron Haussmann at the direction of Emperor Napoleon III in the mid 1800s. Some of these are but a few blocks from our apartment in the sub-section of the Marais known as Saint Paul Village.

We begin at 47 Rue Saint-Paul, with a “tall narrow building dating from 1545.” That’s 1545! 23 generations, more or less, have come and mostly gone since then, and the building is still functioning, a store at ground level and apartments above.

In many ways, this sense of connection with our long gone predecessors is what brings us to Europe. Over 450 years ago, people lived, slept, ate, argued and made love in this very building. Were they happy? What did they think of their lives? That’s one of the reasons I love to write historical novels, to consider, research, and write about such questions.

We pass through an ancient arch, down a narrow passage and into the side entrance of the impressive Jesuit church of St-Paul-St-Louis, completed in 1641.

A block away on Rue Eginhard are several homes constructed by the prioress of the order Dames Hospitalieres de Saninte-Anastasie in 1648. On the now cleared site of one of these homes is a plaque honoring Elias Zadjner, who died with his three sons in Auschwitz, in the unit of medical experiments. French police took the family away from Catholic priests who were trying to save them and delivered them to the Nazis. Zadjner’s wife, who survived, pleaded with the city for 50 years for a memorial; in 1995, then mayor Jacques Chirac heard her plea.

On Rue des Jardins Saint-Paul, the name of the street since 1277, stands the remnants of the Paris city wall constructed between 1190 and 1210. Boys play soccer next to the wall, occasionally pounding a ball against it.

The Village Saint-Paul consists of 50 or so buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries, restored by the city in the 1970s; they now house ground level artist and antique shops above which are apartments rented to the elderly at below-market rates.

On the Rue du Figuier is the Hotel de Sens, built by Archbishop Tristan de Salazar between 1498 and 1519, one of two remaining medieval buildings in Paris. Pitt relates a famous tragedy of love which occurred just in front of the building. In 1606, Marguerite de Valois (Queen Margot) lived in the Hotel de Sens. Then aged 52, she summarily dropped her 18 year old lover, Count de Vermond, for the perhaps more experienced 20 year old Julian Date. The count, understandably piqued, retaliated by shooting his rival in the head, subsequently losing his own head to a dropping blade after refusing Margot’s plea to make “honorable amend.” What do we imagine she meant by “honorable amend?”

an unexpected dining pleasure

We received an email from our Key West friends Carol and Karl; they are on their way from their home in the Loire Valley to NYC for the wedding of Carol’s son, and will be in Paris for a little more than 24 hours. I call Carol to invite her to have dinner; they have already planned dinner Sunday night with a friend; we are invited to join them. The restaurant is Coupe Chou, a favorite of Carol’s. We ate there last summer on her recommendation; it was superb then and again now. Karl recommends his favorite, an aubergine (eggplant) appetizer; it is fantastic.

Their long-time friend Tom, who used to live in Key West and now lives in Paris and LA, is a delightful new acquaintance for us. He is extremely well read on French history and several of his suggestions are already in my amazon.com cart.

Some real insights from Tom on the attitude of the French towards work; they are set in their work habits and don’t like any changes, especially if they involve more work, and they resent success.  He cites the example of a friend who worked hard to make his café on Isle St. Louis a financial as well as culinary success; when he bought a nice car with his profits, his friends told him he was putting on airs. Another friend, upon retiring, was berated by his co-workers who were worried they would have to add his duties to their own.

We see this all the time as customers. For the French, the job exists for the employee, not the customer, who is often seen as an unwanted intruder on the employee’s domain. For example, it is apparently too much work for a clerk in a store or behind a ticket window to make change. Every time I pay with a 20 euro bill, I’m asked if I have something smaller; whenever I say no, the clerk is obviously irritated.

We took the metro and RER to get to Coupe Chou, but walk back, most of the way with Tom who lives on Isle St. Louis; he knows all the short cuts. We see a spectacular view of Notre Dame at night. Tom’s apartment, which he purchased in 1984, is in a building on the point of Isle St. Louis with spectacular views of the Seine and Isle de Cite. If there is a better location in Paris, we have no idea what that might be.

the wonderful world of Disney

Pat introduced me to Disneyworld in Orlando years ago, and we have loved it together ever since. Disney in Paris (actually about 35 minutes outside of Paris) is every bit as ‘perfect’ as Disney in Orlando. Main Street has all the familiar stores; It’s a Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean are just as great (maybe even better, if it’s not heresy to say so); the parade just as much fun. We wander all day from Disneyland to the Disney Studio, to the Disneyland Hotel, to Disney Village. Each building and park setting is absolutely Disney-perfect. The weather is perfect. We eat real hot dogs. The popcorn, however, is sugar coated, not to our liking; Orville Redenbacher didn’t make it across the Atlantic.

One aspect of our remembered Disney experience is missing: there are no smiling employees at every corner and turn to welcome and direct you; perhaps these have also been eliminated in Orlando since our last visit, but we miss them here. The cleaning personnel, however, are omnipresent. A single discarded wrapper has a very short life in the street. Smoking is prohibited except in selected areas, and this restriction is mostly (and surprisingly) observed.

We’re told the parade begins at 4:00 pm; we find seats on the curb; the appointed time comes and goes. Oops, today it’s 5:00 pm. At 5:00 pm, right on schedule, the music begins, with an announcement, in French and English, that the parade will begin in 10 minutes. It does, and it’s great. After the parade, we go to Disney village and eat (a real hamburger and potato skins) at Planet Hollywood, the only restaurant in our experience that includes both Philly Cheese Steaks and Croque Monsieur on the same menu.

Disney Paris was a great experience … with two (minor?) irritations.

One was buying a ticket. We arrived at 10:45 am after a 35 minute ride on the RER from Gare de Lyon in Paris. The park has been open since 10:00. There are huge crowds waiting to get in, divided into three sections; in each section, there are eight ticket booths. The problem, at least in our section, is that only one of the ticket booths is open. The line, as you can imagine, moves slowly or not at all. Finally, two more ticket booths are opened (Pat says they were open all along, but here our observations differ), and then three more. The line now moves quickly, but it has taken as long to buy a ticket as it did to get here from Paris. The French are very patient; Americans (and the Finns behind us in line) are not.

Once we see Main Street, however, the irritation dissipates. Until we leave.

Now we are in the RER terminal. It is 7:30 pm, the end of a Disney day, so there are huge crowds of people trying to buy RER tickets back to Paris. Inexplicably, more than half of the ticket machines are programmed so they don’t dispense one way tickets, which you don’t learn until you wait in the long line and try to use one. I go to the back of another long line; this machine does dispense one way tickets to others ahead of me, but now my bank debit card does not work, and I don’t have 12.60 euros in change. Fortunately, Pat has been waiting all this time in the line for the one open ticket booth. There are eight booths, seven of which are closed. It takes over 30 minutes to buy a ticket.

The French, obviously used to waiting, are very patient. Repeat the mantra: jobs are to provide income for employees, not to serve customers. On a different perspective, which may or may not be valid, it seems to me that France cannot continue to compete in the fast-paced European Union environment if these attitudes toward work and customer service continue to dominate French culture.

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 … www.pylones-usa.com.  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 amazon.com 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.


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* Paris – August 2008

Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 27, 2008

Friday, 8/17/08

We did it! After seriously over-packing on our prior trips to Paris and elsewhere, we resolved to get whatever we were taking into just one carryon bag each, plus a handbag for Pat and a camera bag for Lew. Of course, we still take so much more than our European friends, who seem to go for weeks with a small tote bag.

Saturday, 8/16/08

We’re up at 5:00am to catch the local train to Perpignan, where we will catch the TGV to Paris. There’s a crowd of kids on train platform, leftover from the prior night’s annual St. Vincent festival.

I work on my new book for entire 5 hours on the train, which is as comfortable as ever. There is a pleasant surprise in the food car – an attendant who multitasks, moves quickly, and smiles. She’s the best counter-attendant I’ve ever seen.

We arrive at Gare Lyon and walk out of the station and then several blocks to Gare Austerlitz, where we take the #10 Metro to the other side of Paris. This is the reason we needed to pack expeditiously, and the bags were not a problem. The Metro took less time than we thought.

However … I had neglected to write down the digital code to unlock the downstairs and entry doors to our apartment. How would we get in? Fortune smiled, in the form of a young man going in just when we arrived. We followed him through both doors and he seemed not to object.

There was a problem getting Gregoire’s computer, which he had left for our use, to work. Same with my own laptop. After fussing for awhile, I called Gregoire, who was driving through the Pyrenees on the way to our apartment in Collioure. We trouble-shooted together until the problem – a loose plug to the wireless router – was identified and fixed. We were again happy that we had arranged for French cell phones.

The apartment itself was the first modern apartment we have traded for in Paris. It’s at the far western edge of city, near the Eiffel Tower, which we can see at the end of the street. A small patio overlooks a lovely garden. We’re set back off the street, so it’s very quiet. There’s also an elevator. To our first floor apartment! We could have used an elevator to our 6th floor two weeks ago.

We explore our 15th arrondissement neighborhood. There’s a Monoprix and a small grocery store nearby. We have dinner at the local pizza/pasta restaurant with a large group of kids from Slovenia.

Sunday, 8/17/08

Every apartment has a different way to make coffee; this one has an expresso machine that I’m sure makes excellent coffee if you know how. I never did. After three days, I switch to a Mr. Coffee look-a-like.

Our first exchange in Paris was with the brother of our friend Debbie in Key West, and Evan has become one of our friends in Paris. We called Evan to arrange dinner on Monday night. Evan was the person we were having drinks with two years ago in Paris when we were surprised by a Russian friend of mine who happened to walk in and join us. Evan, when we called for dinner, wondered who would come by this year.

After talking with Evan, we took the Metro to Odeon, switched trains to Chatelet, and walked to Hotel de Ville on our way to lunch. Surprise! There was Evan, out for his own walk and lunch with a friend.

Pat and I had lunch at a Marais restaurant called Marianne, sort of a middle eastern tapas; very filling

Rawy (our Key West friend in Paris) had told us of a special movie promotion for three days in August. Every movie charged only 3 euros, to attract business in the month when many Parisians take their vacations elsewhere. We see the Colin Farrell movie set in Bruges movie, which is awful until the last 15 minutes, when it becomes hilarious in a macabre sort of way..

Monday, 8/18/08

Pat goes to the Louvre, while I stay home and write.  We agree to meet at 1:00pm at the Galeries Lafayette book department. I also take the opportunity to pay my bills on the web. This of course is routine by now, but the idea of having complete access to all of your records no matter where you are is still remarkable.

I become aware of a sound I haven’t heard in years: a lawn mower; I jump to close the window before I start sneezing.

I get a text message from Rawy and send one back. This is new to us, although apparently not to the rest of the world. We can’t believe we never tried it before.

Pat and I meet as planned. Pat’s tour at the Louvre was uninspiring. We have lunch at the American Dream diner, not far from Galeries LaFayette. I want a small lunch since we’re going to meet Evan et al for dinner. I order an omelet and it is huge. But I eat it anyway.

After lunch we walk to Place Vendome, where our Collioure neighbor Brigitte’s son Sebastien works at one of the fancy jewelry stores at that very fancy square (the Ritz is there). He is utterly charming, although we decline to purchase the 200,000 euro watch he shows us.

 

 

We return to our apartment (which turns out to be quite convenient by Metro to wherever we want to go), rest up and then head to the Canal St. Martin for our dinner and Evan’s surprise.

Remember Evan asking who we would meet this time? We called our Key West friends Rawy and Nijole, who live in Paris in the summer, and concocted a scenario. Pat and I would meet Evan in the restaurant, and then Rawy and Nijole would just “wander by” and join us. They played their parts to perfection. When they entered the restaurant, a local eatery called Café Juares, they allowed the waiter to show them to another table, and were just about to sit down, when they “spotted us.” We had previously arranged to have a table with two extra seats. We played our game throughout dinner, intending to tell Evan at the end. But then, after a delightful dinner and equally excellent conversation, we forgot to tell him.

During dinner, we had another adventure. On our June trip to Paris, we had rented one of the Velib bikes for 15 minutes. But when I checked my bank account, I found we were charged an outlandish sum of 23 euros. Several calls, forms and frustration later, I was told that we had not properly engaged the bike to the rack  when it was returned. Apparently, a small light changes from red to green when the bike is properly engaged, and if it doesn’t, you’re supposed to call the Velib people immediately. We were told that we were charged from 9;15 am when we picked up the bike until 1:30 pm. What happened at 1:30 pm? Did someone then attach our bike? No one knows. We told our tale of woe at dinner, and gained no sympathy from anyone.

However, while we were eating, Evan suddenly jumped up and ran outside. He came back to excitedly tell us that the Velib man was outside, servicing a line of bikes on the street adjacent to the restaurant. I went outside, and Rawy followed. With Rawy translating, we tried to learn what had happened; we got the same story: you didn’t properly attach the bike. But it was locked in the rack. No matter, did the light turn green? Now, since we arrived on Saturday, Pat and I had been inspecting lines of bikes. At every Velib station, there were several, sometimes many, bikes which seemed to be attached but for which the light was still red. Were all these people being charged? You’re supposed to notice and to call immediately, the Velib man said. How can you call if you don’t have a cell phone with you? There’s a phone built into the rental machine. And he showed us. But what if you can’t tell red from green, Iasked, since I’m color blind. The Velib man had every answer. Without hesitation, he said, “Then you better hold onto madame.”

Rawy offered to drive us back to our apartment, and the ride through the Paris night was absolutely spectacular, including a close drive by of the Eiffel Tower, brilliantly lit in the European Union blue with yellow stars, in honor of President Sarcozy’s tenure as head of the EU. Later, advised by Nijole, we went outside at 11:00 pm to see the Eiffel Tower’s hourly sparkling light show.

Tuesday, 8/19/08

Montmartre is the Paris hill where Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and many others worked and played in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. We have been several times, the last time with Pat’s friend Maureen and her sister Colleen, but it’s always a treat. We took a Metro I thought would go to the top. It didn’t and we had to climb up the hill. We found a delightful restaurant just enough away from the crowds to be a quiet retreat. Then we did the ultimate tourist thing: a tour in the little train through the neighborhoods of Montmartre.

Wednesday, 8/20/08

Pat’s tour of Musee d’Orsay’s 19th century impressionist paintings was marvelous. I kept writing my short novel of “what really (might have) happened in the 2001 anthrax attacks.” This time we met on Bd. St. Germaine for another great ‘wandering through Paris’ evening.

Thursday, 8/21/08

Today is my birthday, and also that of my daughter’s three year old son Michael. We set up a terrific web cam call to sing happy birthday to each other.

My choice for the day was to walk and have a birthday lunch on the Champs d’Elysee. During lunch, I expanded my wants to include dessert at a fantastic place we had seen on one of Samantha Brown’s Passport to Europe shows. But where is it? Pat asked. Follow me, I said, with more confidence than I really felt. One block up, make a left, walk one block and voila! The place is called Laduree and the desserts are beyond description. Thank you Samantha!

Friday, 8/22/08

It rained all day today. So we just stayed in and read and wrote. One of the great things about spending a full month in Paris this summer, and a full week in other places, is that there is no tension about rushing to see things. We have plenty of time, A rainy day is not a disaster.

The rains stopped. We took the Metro to Breakfast in America for a real American hamburger dinner, walked along the Seine over to Isle St. Louis and then back to the Left Bank and the Metro home.

Saturday, 8/23/08

I have often complained in these posts about the lack of customer service in France. No more. In June, I had purchased a small camera bag at Galeries Lafayette. Yesterday, I noticed that one of the attachments of the strap to the bag was fraying badly. Galeries is a terrific store – it has become our Bloomingdales in Paris – so I was sure they would exchange it. Problem: the June receipt was in Collioure. I looked up the transaction number on my credit card bill (on the web) and wrote down whatever information I could. Off to Galeries. The clerk said she could not make the exchange without a receipt, but maybe her supervisor could. And, lo and behold, she did.

We strolled to Brentano’s to get more novels, the need created by the rainy days. Then again to the Marais for lunch with Rawy and Nijole at Place St. Catherine. Another walk along the Seine – it never gets old – and back to the apartment to pack and clean.

Sunday, 8/24/08

We decided that we didn’t want to walk between Gare Austerlitz and Gare Lyon, like we did on arrival the previous Saturday, so we worked out a different Metro route that took us into Gare Lyon.

Thus we completed a wonderful 4 weeks in Paris, with one anniversary lunch to come.

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* Paris – July 2008

Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 27, 2008

Sunday, 7/22/08

We travel to Paris from Amsterdam, and the return trip on Thalys is as elegant as the trip to Amsterdam. We taxied from the Paris Nord station to our apartment on Bd. St. Denis, a short ride for which we were charged only 6 euros, not the 8.50 euro minimum. I gave the driver a nice tip instead.

Our first challenge was the 100+  steps up the circular staircase with the luggage. We had so dreaded this challenge that we were able to pack differently, less stuff, one large bag. This proved its worth when the climb turned out to be easier than we had anticipated.

Nevertheless, we will have to plan each day’s activities with the climb in mind, and make sure, in future exchanges, to more carefully consider the vertical location of the apartment.

 

Monday, 7/23/08

There is a convenient Monoprix across the Bd. St. Denis, where we buy the basics: bread, coffee, soda, and paper goods.

I’m sniffing and wheezing; allergy? cold? I decide to stay in, to rest and try to write while Pat goes shopping. She negotiates the Metro with no difficulty and comes home from Galeries Lafayette with goodies, including a 700 page novel, since she’s almost done reading everything she brought.

We’re living in what we characterize as an upscale La Boheme, a garret apartment looking out over the roofs of Paris. It’s a relatively large garret, with one combination living room, dining area and office, a small bedroom, a bathroom and and lots of  step up-step down; the beams, however, are great looking.

Across the street we envision Mimi. Then, from a top floor window, she appears, hanging her laundry on a rack on the tiny balcony. It appears she has washed all of her clothes, since she is totally naked. We enjoy the view.

We have dinner in the neighborhood, at a restaurant recommended by our exchange partner Arnaud. It’s a classic French brasserie; we have an excellent meal and enjoy the ambiance

One of our goals in home exchange is to learn different neighborhoods. This neighborhood is different and takes some getting used to. There are hookers and pimps outside our door, but they do their business and we do ours, never the twain need meet. We learn from our Paris guidebooks that this has been a traditional area for prostitutes for centuries.

 

Tuesday, 7/24/08

Today is our long planned excursion to Giverney, the place where Monet painted all those water lilies.

We metro to our meeting point at Gare St. Lazare, find track #22, join the assembling group. There are 20 people and our Fat Bike Tours leader, a student at Texas A&M with a great summer job. The train ride to Vernon, on the outskirts of Normandy, takes over an hour. We sit across from Paul and Betty, from Brooklyn and Pittsburgh, strike up a good conversation.

In Vernon, we walk to the charming shops and buy a picnic lunch. Then we pick up the bikes from a nearby garage maintained by Fat Bike Tours, take a short ride to a picnic spot along the Seine. After a pleasant lunch on the grass, we’re off on a 20 minute bike ride to Giverney.

We spend 2 hours on the grounds. Monet’s lily pond is beautiful, in my judgment far more interesting than his water lily paintings. The light changes constantly as clouds cover then uncover the sun. Monet’s house is impressive. He was not a starving artist.

We reverse course; the train back to Paris Gare Lazare takes only 45 minutes. During the trip, we make arrangements for dinner Wednesday with Paul and Betty.

We have our dinner this night at the American Dream diner near the Opera, a wonderful place for American food. I have chicken soup for my allergy/cold symptoms.

 

Wednesday, 7/25/08

Again, not feeling terrific, I stay in and write while Pat goes out to the Valentino exhibit at the Museum of the Arts near the Louvre. She’s feeling very comfortable on the Metro around Paris.

Late in the afternoon, we head to Café deux Magot for before dinner champagne. Then we meet Paul and Betty at the Monteverdi, our favorite Italian restaurant in the 6th arrondissement. Making new friends is one of the great benefits of the travel we do.

We take a late night Metro 15 minutes to our stop; the 125 steps to our apartment are getting easier as the week goes on.

 

Thursday, 7/26/08

Paris Plage is now in its third year. For about a month each summer, the bank of the Seine opposite Isle d’Cite and Isle St. Louis is turned into an urban beach. There’s sand (not so much this year as last), beach chairs, great misty showers, and of course, since it’s Paris, cafes. We stroll, test the showers, have a crepe at a bench along the Seine. Not bad.

It is not surprising, of course, that the Marquis de Lafayette is buried in Paris. But where he is, and in whose company, is not what you might expect. The tiny Picpus Cemetery is in the 12th arrondissement, in a residential area far from any tourist attraction. In 1794, during the period of the French Revolution known as “the Terror,” the guillotine’s sojourn through the city brought it to this neighborhood. Between June 14 and July 27, 1306 persons, including children and aged, nobles, soldiers, priests and 16 Carmelite nuns, lost their heads. The bodies were carted off and secretly disposed of in an unmarked common grave.

Years later, three sisters of the Noailles family, including the wife of Marquis de Lafayette, determined to find the place where their mother, grandmother and sister had been buried. With the help of a woman who had surreptitiously followed the carts of the dead, they were successful. They then decided to build a chapel, and asked the nearby nuns of the Sacred Hearts of Mary and Jesus to set up a perpetual praying service for the souls of the victims. To this ‘family’ site were later added the graves of the marquis and his wife.

We entered the long shaded walkway adjacent to the nun’s cloister, walked quietly to the small cemetery about 200 yards away. In the furthest corner of this small cemetery an American flag marked the location of the Marquis de Lafayette’s final resting place. The flag has flown without fail since the 1800s, including throughout the period of Nazi occupation of Paris in the 1940s. A plaque on the stone, “in memory of a patriot and dear friend of George Washington with the warm thanks of the American people” was placed there by the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association in 2004.

The unmarked mass grave of the victims of the Terror lie just beyond.

I have resolved that the several books of French History, covering the period before during and after the revolution, will come off my shelves this winter, as well as a biography of Lafayette which rests so far in my amazon.com cart.

Each trip to Paris has included a special moment. This week that moment belongs to the artists of the restaurant Bel Canto. Pat has been planning this for months, maybe years, and the reservation was made many weeks ago.

Bel Canto, located of the Quai de Hotel de Ville, is a small restaurant which features opera singing waiters and waitresses. The atmosphere is dark, red and romantic. There is a fixed price menu, including entrée, main and dessert, for 72 euros per person, wine and other drinks not included. SO it’s not cheap. But it is a magnificent evening.

Our reservation is for 8:00 pm, and we just make it, taking the Metro to Chatelet and walking along the Seine. We are greeted by a tall bearded man, thin, with a deep voice, who asks us where we are from and knows about Collioure. He will be one of the four singers for the evening.

We relax and enjoy the room. The first aria begins before we have even ordered and the last ends just before 11:00 pm. The singers move about the room, interacting with the diners, flirting, scowling, playing their roles. The four voices, two men and two women, are outstanding; it’s a thrill to hear them from so close. They stop to chat while they serve dinner.

The food was wonderful. We each had a shrimp on a skewer entrée. Pat had a lobster based risotto and I had roasted duck. For desert, we shared a mouth watering chocolate cake and three scoops of ice cream.

All in all, an enchanting evening.

 

Friday, 7/26/08

Every neighborhood has its particular unique interests. The first time we visited Bd. St. Denis, back in June, we noticed several men who stood at the top of the subway stairs as we exited. We have since come to understand that they have no interest in us and are not a threat of any kind. The men hold printed cards with a picture on it. I thought it would be photos of their girls, but it seems to be a photo of themselves. They are not seeking clients for their girls, they are seeking more girls for their group.

The girls, maybe 15-20 of them, prowl the block in front of our apartment from early morning to well after dark. They walk slowly, in groups of 2-5, occasionally approaching a man who shows interest. I’ve only seen one girl lead a client away, after pointing to the next block.

It’s cooler than the past several days, perfect for a nice long walk through Paris. We set off heading south on Bd. San Sebastian, toward the Pompidou Center, which we again confirm is one of the ugliest buildings ever constructed. We then go to Les Halles, another architectural monstrosity.

But inside Les Halles is a great technology store – TVs, video, cameras, computers. Our interest is information about a small laptop computer to become our ‘travel’ computer, the one we take with us on our exchanges and other trips. We learn that Sony has a new very small Vaio which takes a SIM card and can access the web by itself, no ethernet or wireless connection needed. We will do more research with the intent of making a purchase after returning to Key West in November.

Two purchases today: a set of salad implements from Pylones that Pat has had her eye on for months, a Paris (very tourist) cooking apron for me.

We have pizza in a restaurant we’ve been to several times, just off Bd. St. Michel in the Latin Quarter, and take the Metro back. The girls are still patrolling their turf.

Saturday, 7/28/08

The Paris Metro is the easiest, most clearly marked, safest Metro we have ever used. And it’s entertaining. Consider the chamber orchestra performing at the Chatalet station …

 

Sunday, 7/29/08

Leaving means packing our luggage and getting it down the 6 flights of stairs, which is easier, of course, than going up.

It was also easier than expected to get a taxi on the street to take us to Gare Lyon and the train back to Collioure.

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