dimanche, août 27, 2006
samedi, août 26, 2006
vendredi, août 18, 2006
jeudi, août 17, 2006
After putting Leslie on the plane, I rode the RER back to town and planned the rest of the day. Tidy the apartment, no chance to shop as the grocery stores are closed on Assumption Day (so no milk for cereal or coffee the next morning), study some French (I have piles of undigested notes and vocabulary from the course of the past two weeks), and then off to an organ concert at the Eglise Saint-Paul Saint-Louis in the now familiar Marais neighborhood not far from the Hôtel Sully, Place des Vosges, Carnavalet Museum, etc. I am one of perhaps 150 people over 60 comprising the audience. Lovely music by Buxtehude, Bach, and Franck.
A slow walk home. Why go underground, why rush home? And a good thing, too, as the walk takes me by the “mystery high-rise in white.” For weeks, I and others with me have been wondering, what is this funny tall building wrapped in white, this out-of-place jarring bright oblong jutting up from the midst of low 19th Century Paris. It always seemed to be just over there from wherever we were, as though it was aware of us and shifting around to stay out of reach but not out of sight. Well, on the way back from the concert, I happened to walk right by it. And here’s what it is: the Tour St. Jacques, currently being restored and thus garbed in protective échaffaudage. A very thoughtful set of panels on the gating surrounding the Tour explains that the edifice is the remaining belfry of the four centuries old église St-Jacques le Boucherie. The church grew on the site of a succession of earlier chapels and churches in the bustling commercial center of the butchery trade. I forget now why the church was torn down, possibly because it was eroding and costly to maintain, but the intervention of a well-placed individual saved the one tower. Over the years, it saw service as a testing station for Blaise Pascal’s experiments on gravity and later as a weather station. After several earlier efforts at restoration, a definitive restoration project was begun at the beginning of this century, to be completed in 2008. The restoration is proceeding from the top of the Tour’s four or five layers to the bottom, and the scaffolding will be removed as each layer is completed. Paris will have a step by step gander at the beauty slowly revealed underneath, a kind of large-scale urban “extreme makeover” strip-tease.
mardi, août 15, 2006
The Good People of Paris
Off on the Wrong Foot
Overtaken with the urge to make this “home,” and to lay in a few provisions as well, I dropped by my local wine market. The plan was to get to know my local merchants, to frequent the same boulangerie, patisserie, charcuterie, fromagerie, marché, and so on, and over the months to move to that stage, also advertised in the guidebooks, where madame would recognize me and toss a “ca va, monsieur? my way. I popped into the wine store and in my best French just about told the merchant my life story. I just arrived here from America, I’ll be spending the summer here, I have an apartment just around the corner, I’d like to get to know the local wines, can you recommend some good but not expensive bottles to start with, and on and on. Absolutely non-plussed, the man looked at me and said, “What price, monsieur?” If I ever heard someone say I-couldn’t-be-less-interested-in-why-you-came-into-this-store-or-if-you-ever-return-and-let’s-try-to-make-this-transaction-quick-and- painless, this was it.
Not a good start.
Bad Hair Day with Silver Lining
And let’s not forget that my luggage had been lost, my ceiling leaked from the neighbor above, and I locked myself out—all on that same first day. But in fact each of these incidents was an occasion not only for me to develop my language ability in trying circumstances, but also to see good people in action. The Air France luggage people, from the agent who took my report and understood my need to conduct our conversation in French despite her better English, to the man at the “found lost luggage staging place,” to the poor guy who lugged my enormous duffel bag up to the fourth floor at 11:00 p.m. the following night, were impressively concerned and polite. My upstairs neighbor turned out to be Italian, married I believe to an Englishman, and we’re joined in a common struggle with the French language, so her warmth and friendliness don’t particularly speak to the French, but she’s been a great neighbor. Then the real estate agent who had to contend with my locking myself out of my apartment just as she was hurrying off to her next appointment could not have responded to this contretemps more graciously. In fact we found a solution rather quickly, for the previous tenant had left another key in the mailbox and I was able to fish it out with some makeshift tool. But Madame’s humor and willingness to jump into action to get us both past this set-back, rather than to screw up her face and make me the idiot, really helped me find the frame of mind to figure out how to retrieve the other key.
But this is history. Has anything happened since then to show me the good side of Paris? You bet.
Excusez-moi de Vous Déranger
And here I start by giving credit to some advice found the book “French or Foe,” by Polly Platt. One of her six codes for succeeding in France is “Use the Ten Magic Words.” The magic lies in this powerful stem phrase, Excusez-moi de vous déranger, Monsieur/Madame, to which you can add a predicate suited to your needs, mais j’ai un probléme, or je suis perdu or est-ce bien le chemin…? Not always, but most of the time, the experiences I’ve had that have proven to be most pleasant and rewarding have been preceded by this magic phrase.
Early on, while still leery of Paris strangers, I was on the RER, the regional rail line, and, unsure whether or not the train I was on took the rail fork that led to my stop, I asked the gentleman sitting across the aisle from me if this train did indeed go to Saint Michel. Of course, I prefaced the question with a polite, Excusez moi de vous déranger, monsieur. This fellow very kindly consulted the rail map, then looked out the window at the sign of a passing station, then assured me that the train did go my way. After that he checked the next station sign, not just the name of the station but the board that indicates which train goes where on that line, and, satisfied, looked over at me and gave a confirmatory nod. As he left he wished me a pleasant day and then he nodded to me again from outside the car. Not too much to expect from anyone, one might say, but it felt to me like a great service, a victory for politesse, and a guarantee of peace of mind ahead. Chalk one up for the magic phrase!
(Incidentally, in the many times I have used this phrase since, I have noticed a curious and pleasing thing. People don’t just respond to you, take note of you and address your need. They visibly open up to you. All the reserve, all the formality, all the brusqueness just ebb away in a palpable physical response of readiness, solicitude, service. Invariably your addressee will reply with a Je vous en prie? And you sense that any reasonable need will be met with the most helpful possible response.)
Helpful Tabac Lady
On another occasion, having in my possession a cell phone loaned by a friend (who deserves her own blog posting), I entered a Tabac to get the phone reloaded with some local phone time. I laid out my tale, hoping it was not too odd that someone had a phone he hadn’t the slightest notion how to use. No problem. Maybe the good tabaconniste sees guys like me all day long. She asked me a few judicious questions to ascertain my telephone needs, decided what I needed and sold it to me. Then, appraising me a bit longer, she asked if I wanted her to enter the data in the phone and activate the service. Well, of course, upon which she made the connecting call, scratched off my code, entered a few numbers, and then wrote out in long-hand a set of steps and numbers to ensure that I would know what to do for my first call on my own. I’m here tomorrow between 11h00 and 17h00, she added, if you should need any more help.
The Parisian Smile
Not all my encounters with the news kiosk people have been more than brusque exchanges, but one stands out for what it says about the Parisian sense of self. I bought a magazine and asked for directions to an area address. In paying, I dug in my pocket for the correct change. A little too slow, he had the change back to me just as I was proffering the one centime piece I’d found. Keep it as a souvenir of Paris, he said. And worth more than a $10.00 souvenir of New York, I tried to extend the play. He looked at me stone-faced. Then he pointed at his mouth, set like a board across his face. What’s this, he asked, a slight twinkle in his eye. I looked at him unsure of what to say. He dragged it out just another second or two and then cracked triumphantly, “The Parisian smile!” With which he, I, and his sales assistant broke into laughter.
lundi, août 07, 2006
vendredi, août 04, 2006
All but me spent the day at Versailles today. I went to work and to my language class. I had seen Versailles many years ago, though it would certainly be worth another visit. The reports that are coming in as different family members straggle back are highly enthusiastic.
A couple of highlights of recent excursions:
--The Marmotant-Monet museum in the 16th is a beauty.
--The Jardin des Plantes is another of the grand parks of Paris.
--The Lutetian arena, complete with large combat pit, tiered seating and animal cages dating from the 1st Century AD, once situated well outside the walls of Paris (or Lutetia) but now comfotably close to the center of town, is a pleasant diversion from shopping and going to market along the rue Mouffetard.
-- The Rodin Museum offers an exceptional display of the work of Auguste Rodin, including plaster models, studies in marble and bronze, and fully realized works of great power. He took Michelagelo as a master guide, but it is interesting to observe how deeply saturated with the individualism and romanticism of the late 19th Century his work is.
--Sainte Chapelle is indeed the gem everyone says it is, a marvel of airy grace and precise beauty. But a chapel is not a cathedral, or even a chuch.
The great delight of Paris as far as I am concerned, at least as of today, is its glorious churches and cathedral. I hesitate to attempt comment on the architecture and design, but I'm comfortable saying that they inspire in me great admiration and wonder, moments of transcendent peace and joy, and intellectual challenge. We went again this morning to hear the magnificent organ at Saint-Sulpice. Just the 15-minute prelude to mass ensured a successful day. (Much to my chagrin, I got so involved in other things this afternoon that I completely forget I had planned to go to hear an organ fugue by Lizst at La Madeleine.)
A brief repeat visit to Saint-Eustache confirmed its Renaissance-cum-Gothic splendor. And, like other artifacts the Parisians have placed in public places to set grand off with common, sacred with mundane, serious with absurd, two things bear mention here. A clay sculpture depicting the departure of agriculture and farmer from Paris upon the demanagement of the markets of Les Halles to Rungis, just a bit grotesque and Fellini-like, sits well in its chapel niche alongside other works celebrating events and figures from earlier eras. And out front, in the courtyard that is really along the church's side but serves to link the church to the new Les Halles space, passers-by delight to a large stone face and hand. It takes quite an object to stand up to the mass and beauty of Saint-Eustache, but just as the I.M. Pei pyramid works in the courtyard of the Louvre, this piece of whimsy holds its own alongside the church.
(See photos of some of these spaces above.)
dimanche, juillet 30, 2006
The Joy of Organ Concerts
dimanche, juillet 23, 2006
Tour de France 2006
jeudi, juillet 20, 2006
Much has happened in the past week plus. To turn to just one event, another sporting spectacle, I drove a couple of hours to the southeast of Paris to Magny-Cours this past weekend to watch the French Formula 1 Grand Prix. This was the 100th anniversary of the first Grand Prix in France. Magny-Cours is not a great circuit, nor is it in a great setting, and the weather was boiling hot. So all the enjoyment lay in the crowd--around 85,000 enthusiastic fans--and in the beauty of the race itself: the scream of powerful, exquisitely tuned engines, the polyphonic crescendo and diminuendo of 21 engines accelerating and braking at different points along the track, and the lovely menace of purring metal charging in low slotted perfection.
Leslie has joined me in Paris as of yesterday. It's great to have her here. I have enjoyed my days here, but I know I will enjoy them much more now. I will hope to report on our doings henceforth as well as to catch up on the many, many experiences and observations of the past month or so that I have not found time to write about.
lundi, juillet 10, 2006
A Sunday Walk in the Jardin de Luxembourg
I will pass right over my predictions for last night's World Cup match and return to an earlier, happier part of yesterday--my visit to the Jardin de Luxembourg. I had been there with my wife Leslie on a couple of occasions, once on our honeymoon and again on a trip last fall. It is a splendid spot. Neither my words nor the camera can do it justice.
It is very large. But so nicely proportioned as to seem like your neighborhood corner green space. Quite formal, like an English garden, but relaxed, with gravelly walks and tennis courts. It's made for children--Napoleon is said to have decreed that the garden be dedicated to them. (This is a wonderful aspect of Paris life: parks and gardens almost always have special areas designed for chidren and set aside for them. Where there might be a charge for visitors, the gardens are open free to mothers with children.) And indeed in the Luxembourg Gardens there are mini-rides and sandboxes, toy boats in a fountain, bumper cars, and a carrousel for children and others who want to play. Adults will find a rich variety of settings, too. The park is built on two levels. On the lower level, in the middle, a very large middle, is a spacious basin with walkways, fountain and pond, and several gardens. The subtle but dramatic shift between this basin and the surrounding raised areas is striking Much of the raised area is planted in plane trees cropped into uniform leafy rectangles standing on parallel rows of tree trunks. These regular, blocky, kind of dumb plane trees create powerful mass and contrast well with the finer elements of fountain and garden in the basin below.
An amazingly wide variety of flora decorate the gardens. Lovely beds of flowers I can't identify border many spaces, and palms of several varieties line some walks. How do they grow at this latitude? In another part of the garden grow 100-plus year-old Sequoias from California. Nearby is a very special garden-within-a-garden where espaliered pear and apple trees grow. There is a bee-hive area, too, a part of the natural system that I suppose in part accounts for the abundant growth of the garden.
Interesting contrasts abound here. On the whole, visitors are confined to the walkways and patios and may not tread on the grass. (In the Tuileries Gardens, discreet security guardiennes remind you that you are not welcome on the patch of grass where you might make the mistake of resting your bones or picnicking.) So who's this dude? [picture] The Medici Fountain (from 1624) is the picture of Italian formality and serenity--but look! A curious appearance. [another picture] On her way in? Out? Just hanging about? Such combinations--of the given and unexpected, traditional and intrusive, Cartesian and Dada--are common enough in Paris, and I get the feeling they are a treasured part of the national personality.
The Sénat, the French Upper House, meets in the palace the gardens belong to. I ought to have something to say about that too, the building or the body, but I can’t comment other than to say that the history of the palais has followed the general pattern in Paris of the shift in use from royalty to le peuple.
dimanche, juillet 09, 2006
Allez les Bleus
Things are heating up outside with one hour to go to the start of the World Cup final between France and Italy. Fans are starting to fill the bars that will show the game on big screens. Honking cars and shouting fans are setting a festive, competitive mood on the street. TV is filled with news of the big football personalities, analyses of the key match-ups, and reviews of the run-up to this decisive match. The picture to the right showing the long banners of Italy and France hanging at opposing corners of the Place d'Odeon says it all.
The match is predicted to be a defensive battle. Many give the narrow edge to Italy. I am predicting victory for les Bleus on the basis of a breakthrough performance by No. 22, Frank Ribery, the tough, innovative young French mid-fielder. His imaginative and hard-nosed play will solve the Azzurri's defensive riddle.
Vous l'avez lu ici.
Grande Soirée d’Été
It’s time to catch up on some of the things I’ve been doing in Paris besides walking. The month of June drew near its close with a lovely summer party hosted by ALORA, the OECD employees association. From 6:30 p.m. to midnight (and beyond), La Grande Soirée d’Été Annuelle offered apéritif, dinner buffet, and dancing to a DJ at the OECD headquarters building in La Muette. Despite some construction along the edges, the imposing building and its broad veranda and terrasse provided an impressive setting for a summer party. Partygoers feasted outdoors-- where two grills served up steak and bratwurst, marquee’d bars offered beer and wine, and dessert stations displayed an assortment of pastries and cheeses--and danced enthusiastically in one of the handsome reception halls inside. Secretary-General Angel Gurria and his wife Lulu greeted guests with a charming informal speech in French and English. The late dusk, with sunset coming near 10:00 p.m., made the day seem to go on forever. It was the perfect summer party.
Interlude at Canary Wharf
The Eurostar train between Paris and London is a delight. There is not much of interest in the countryside, and certainly not in the “chunnel,” but the train is fast and comfortable, and the service (in first class) is excellent.
At three pounds per trip, the Underground is an expensive commute. The London system must rely far less on public subsidies than the Paris Métro, which is about a third the cost to the individual traveler.
dimanche, juillet 02, 2006
A Walk Through the 7th to the Tour d'Eiffel
samedi, juillet 01, 2006
France 1, Brezil 0--and a Walk to Boot
Earlier tonight it was Portugal's time to howl. While fans of England were no doubt indoors drowning their sorrows, Portugal stalwarts took to their cars and cruised the streets waving flags and toot-toot-tooting.
I was off between the matches on a walk around the Isle St. Louis and Isle de la Cite. Rather than try to describe it, let me just show you these pictures of sites along the route: the bustling rue Saint Andre des Arts on the way to the Seine,
Notre Dame from a couple of perspectives,
and a pleasant collection of brasseries and bistrots on the Isle de la Cite on the way back to the Left Bank. On such a beautiful evening, outdoor restaurants were full of diners and crowds of boisterous spectators spilled out into the streets of many restaurants showing the football matches.
Roars of delight and groans of disappoinment rose up all along the streets to track the course of the games. Congratulations to all four of tonight's teams and their fans.
Paris à Pied
Like parts of Chicago, New York and San Francisco that come to mind, Paris is a city of neighborhoods, each with its distinctive character. Whether the fashionable, residential 16th arrondissement, the burgeoning Le Marais, or the honky-tonk, twisted streets of Montmartre, or any of the many different neighborhoods, it’s fun to stroll their streets and take in the special charms each has to offer.
It’s a compact city. You can easily walk large stretches of the city within the Périphérique, the beltway surrounding Paris, in the course of a morning or afternoon.
And it is dense. Densely built and densely populated. While there are many parks and squares to relieve the building and provide space for relaxing and just getting a sense of where you are, every block is packed with buildings in which people live.
Except for La Défense, the office park on the outskirts of town where I work, I have seen no commercial preserves barren of dwellings and places for people to mingle and refresh themselves. (In fact, it appears that even at La Défense, there has been an effort at mixed-use planning.) Diversity and small scale are the rule.
Just about every street is packed with storefronts, above and behind which are apartment buildings. Six stories, here and there one or two more or less, would be the norm. I have seen just a very few modern or international style apartments and very rarely an office tower, and I understand there are some remaining parts of town retaining the character of the pre-Haussmann planning, but most buildings seem to be 19th Century stone and stucco.
I’ll describe some of my walks in future postings.
Went Fishin': Home and the Coupe
dimanche, juin 18, 2006
And Now Inside
And here is what what makes this "home," pictures of my wife
Leslie and our family (me, Leslie, Anna, and Jim), plus the little
ceramic house given to us many years ago by our friend Doris
from Offenbach, Germany. Oh, and housekeys and the remote for the iPod sound system.