dimanche, juillet 30, 2006

The Joy of Organ Concerts

Since the Tour ended, interesting things have been happening. First, there is the possibility that the winner, American FloydLandis, took testosterone to enhance his performance. His win is in jeopardy, but it seems this will take time to sort out. The good news is that my older sister Anne and friend Annie showed up yesterday (when this was drafted a few days ago, now last Saturday, nearly a week ago). We’ve had a good time creating their first impression of Paris. Stroll along the Seine, admire Notre Dame at night, walks through the Place des Vosges, Jardin Luxembourg, Place de la Concord, and Tuileries (with an outside look at the Louvre), visits to the churches of Sainte Sulpice and la Madeleine, and of course lots of grand crème, croissants, and vin rouge. Naturally we spent lots of time and money at the organic farmers' market on Boulevard Raspaill. (You can read about this on Leslie's blog.) Big new discovery: the joy of organ concerts in the grand churches. We listened to the organ prelude to mass at Sainte Sulpice this morning, and I was so thrilled that I insisted on attending an organ recital at La Madeleine this afternoon. I see many more concerts in the days and weeks ahead.

dimanche, juillet 23, 2006

Tour de France 2006

The Tour de France 2006 concluded late this afternoon. Floyd Landis won with a smart, courageous effort. Leslie and I watched the day's quasi-ceremonial stage get started in the Paris suburbs from our perch on the sofa facing the tube. We had about three hours to get down to a good spot to watch the racers on their last laps on the Champs Elysées. We mosied along the rue Jacob, where we have enjoyed earlier holiday stays at the Hotel Millesime and Hotel des Marrionniers and then along its extension onto the “rue loo” as Julia Childs referred to the rue de l’Université on which she lived for a time. Heading vaguely in the direction of the Eiffel Tower, we edged over to the Seine. We crossed to the right bank on the Pont Alexander and walked along the Cours Albert 1er to what looked like a pleasant vantage point and sat down on a bench to wait. It was cool under the chestnut trees, and I fell asleep briefly. Eventually, the lead motorcade blared the news: the Tour is coming! Zoom! One hundred and twenty or thirty of the however many original riders surged into view! I wasn’t sure whether to shout out or to take pictures. Then they were gone. We walked urgently up to the rond-point midway along the Champs between the Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe/Etoile. Thick crowd here, lots of TV equipment and an announcer’s voice calling the race from somewhere. Now the racers are more spread out and they whiz by in a narrower file. Up and back they fly. We watch a few passes and figure we’ve done our part. We get back on foot to the apartment in time to hear the TV announce that Landis has indeed won. We’ll listen to more reports later to see how the other classifications turned out.

Well, not quite. Stage 20 on the Champs Elysees with only a few minutes to go! Posted by Picasa

Etape 20 Tour de France 2006--the Winner! Posted by Picasa

jeudi, juillet 20, 2006

Catching Up

I left off the Day following the World Cup final, won by Italy in a shoot-out, sorrowfully, and concluding the career of France's magnificent Zinedine Zidane, even more sorrowfully, with a red card, awarded for a disgraceful head-butt, thus costing Les Blues the playmaking and leadership that might have made a difference during the second overtime period. Any hopes for a soul-cleansing statement of remorse in the next days were similarly dashed by Zidane's irresponsible adolescent excuses, thus even further souring the taste of this final loss. So it is to the refreshing gardens, honest perspectives, and proud architecture of the Jardin de Luxembourg that one turns for solace and a reminder of greater things in life, and one is not disappointed. The pictures to the right show some of the scenes I enthused about in the previous entry.

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

(How sad that "blogspot" won't support posting pictures right now. Some references below refer to pix I had hoped to enter. I promise to come back as soon as I can and illustrate this and other postings where I haven't been able to upload pix. I have a zillion photos to work with.)

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

I spent most of last week in London participating in an OECD conference. The conference took place in a section of the city called Canary Wharf. On the eastern edge of the city, it is served by the newish Jubilee line of the Underground. Except for a brief visit to London University for a visit, this was sadly all I was able to see of London. But the university office I visited was located just off of Russell Square, where I and my chum Mike Wood stayed on our trip to Europe in 1962. I could swear that I passed by the B&B we stayed at back then, and that little had changed in the more than 40 years since that first visit. Canary Wharf is an extensive office and residential park built along the Thames; many buildings are situated at the water’s edge and broad canals cut through portions of the complex. Sleek, modern office towers share space with more innovative office and apartment designs, all nicely tied together by the water and a series of pleasant parks and plazas. Canary Wharf seems to me to compare well with La Défense. It appears more densely built, and thus more coherent, it is more human in scale, and more residential, and the water and meandering footprint make it feel softer. Where with its severe arch and rigid extension of the grand axis, La Défense seeks grandeur and formality, Canary Wharf seems comfortable in the role of country village nestled at river’s edge.

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

Today's walk took me through the 7th arrondissement to the Eiffel Tower and back. After three and a half hours on my feet, I'm pooped. But it was a beautiful day, warm and dry, and the Tour Eiffel is a sight worth a long walk. The part of the 7th I cut through was handsome, perhaps a bit formal. The lively part of Boulevard St. Germain and neighboring streets, stuffed with shops and cafes, soon gives way to stiffer apartments with courtyards behind closed gates and government buildings. I passed the Palais Bourbon, built by a daughter of Louis XIV and now home of the Assemblée Nationale, an embassy or two, and then encountered Les Invalides. This imposing and extensive building was built under Louis XIV as a home for old and invalid soldiers, and it is Napoleon's burial place. Lots of people were out on the grassy areas sunbathing, playing ball, and picnicking. Giving the attractive Rodin Museum a pass this time, I cut up to the Seine and followed it downstream to the Eiffel Tower. What a grand structure it is! The Michelin Green Guide informs us that it was designed and built by Gustave Eiffel for the Exposition Universelle in 1899. At that time it was the tallest structure in the world. Greeted with considerable critical scorn early on, it became a popular favorite and is now of course an icon worldwide. It is an impressive combination of strength and beauty, an unabashed pig-iron monstrosity of great elegance, rising proudly over the Champs de Mars. I find its metal tracery as inspiring as that on the flying buttresses of Notre Dame. The great airy power of this structure can be appreciated by the fact that its 984 ft. height and 7000 tons have a deadweight of only 57 pounds per square inch, or (again thanks to Michelin) the equivalent of that of a man in a chair! After thoroughly feasting on views from many perspectives, including right below it where I and many others enjoyed the pergola-like shade it afforded, and roaming the adjacent fields, I crossed the Seine and climbed the modest heights of the Trocadero to the Palace Chaillot. This is a bit too much like an art deco Soviet realist monument for my taste, but it does command the low bluff and afford a sweeping panoramic view back to the Eiffel Tower and much of Paris beyond. The large formal pools at its base also provide men, women, and children with a welcome haven from the heat of a day like this; the pools were filled with bathers. I stayed over on the rive droite for most of the walk back. This let me take pictures of the Seine’s bridges between the Pont d’Ièna and the Pont de la Concorde that I had missed on an earlier “bridge walk” (to be featured in another entry. Blogspot is not allowing me to enter any of the pictures I took on the walk right now, but as soon as it does I will add several pictures of key sites, especially of the Eiffel Tower.

samedi, juillet 01, 2006

France 1, Brezil 0--and a Walk to Boot

The streets are jumping tonight. In the quarter finals of the World Cup soccer tournament, France has defeated a favored Brazil team (see French spelling above) 1=0. Following a tough match between England and Portugal, won by the the Iberian team in a shootout after the Englanders fought valliantly to preserve a tie down a man the whole second half, this is at least a clean win, although of course one side is deeply disappointed. Celebration there is; the street below my window is filled with cheering crowds and h0nking cars, and the TV shows the Champs Elysees to be clogged with revelers.

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

Now that I'n back, I've resumed walking. Paris is a city for walking. And the people here, residents and tourists alike, walk, walk, walk. So each evening and on the weekends I too am out there walk, walk, walking.

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

I've taken a break from the blog for a few days. A trip back to the US and plenty of Coupe du Monde on TV have intervened. Now back in Paris, with a less intensive football schedule (though more than intense at this quarter final stage) and a weekend to pull things together, I'll rededicate myself to the blog. There is much to catch up on!