Sunday, October 25, 2015

Paris Adventures

 I have been in Paris for the last week, which is always lovely. Just when I think perhaps I could settle in America, and be happy in Denver, I visit Paris and that throws such settled plans into a fit.

My mom made the greater journey with me. I get my Francophile nature from her, and when she found out I would be studying French she made designs on joining me in Paris for some days prior.

So what do two Francophiles do in the their Parisian capital? Take it slowly, actually. Since we had both spent a bit of time in Paris, we took things pretty calmly.

We had a beautiful apartment that we found on AirBNB which was literally in the heart of Paris. I don't think we could have found a better location. The place was right of the Tour Saint-Jacque, between Chatelet and Hotel DeVille. It was a block off the Seine and right in the middle of the city near Les Halles and Les Marais. The apartment itself was beautiful and spacious, with lovely decorative molding on the ceilings.

On the day we arrived, we settled in and wandered around Boulevard Saint-Michele and through the Jardin des Plantes and around my Mom's old place of residence when she was a student. We foraged for dinner in Les Halles—finding a nice bistro for some rich French Onion soup and a pizza to share.

Our first proper day in Paris, after some pan aux raisins and coffee, we headed in the Marais for the Picasso Museum. The Picasso Museum had been under renovation when I was last in Paris, so we were excited to see what had been done. Alas, we arrived to find a long line snaking out the front door. We decided that we would be better served getting tickets online for the next day.

Instead, we headed up to the 16th to visit the Musee Marmatton Monet and see my old stomping grounds. I took mother around my old neighborhood in the chic 16th, and we took in the vibrant autumn leaves set against the grey skies. My mom, who is a docent at the National Portrait Gallery in DC, was able to get reciprocity on her entry into the museum. The museum was great, but different than I had previously seen. It had an exquisite collection of Monet's works. I was a bit jetlagged, so was a hurting puppy. I finished in the museum and went outside to powernap on a park bench while she finished.

That evening, we had diner with my mother's old friend Annie, whom she met when she was studying abroad in 1971. The meal was true-to-form rich in French fashion.

The next day, we visited the Picasso Museum. Much better with the tickets purchased ahead. Alas, the museum was a bit of a disappointment. It was more a museum on Picasso rather than of Picasso. It chronicled his life and different styles but was a tad lacking in displaying his major works.

In the afternoon, I took my mom to Boulevard Hausman to Printemps to see my favorite view of Paris from the top of the famous department store. The view across Paris did not disappoint.

That evening, we had a delicious meal in the Quartier Latin over some Moroccan fare. My mom had rich, fluffy couscous with stewed vegetables while I had a delicious tagine of poulet, olives et citron. After dinner, we made our way back to the apartment, with a final saidera at a cafe below the apartment. The place, Cafe Livres was a fun cafe filled with shelves lined with books. I sipped armagnac (apple brandy) while my mom had a pot of excellent jasmine tea—so good, we tracked down the company Comptoir Richard that made such good jasmine offerings.

We were joined by Annie again the next day to visit the Centre Pompidou. The last time I visited the Centre Pompidou, I was 21 years old and had little appreciation for modern art—so was pretty negative to the place (although I loved the building). Nearly 15 years later, my tastes have evolved enough to appreciate the museum further. I didn't love it all, but I enjoyed it far more. Meanwhile, the view from the museum across Paris was excellent.

In the afternoon, we wandered through the Marais to find the store for Comptoir Richard so my mom could get her jasmine tea, and we saw a part of the Marais I had not previously found.

Dinner was a return to Les Halles for some more bistro fair of French onion soup and some roasted chicken. Of course, we had to have at least one crepe—butter, sugar and lemon juice.

My mom departed the next morning back to the U.S., and I left the apartment and headed to Les Gobelins to stay in a cheap hotel I found online. The trek south to Les Gobelins was not too far, and the neighborhood was probably more my speed.

I checked in, and headed over to meet a friend Keri near the Musee d'Orsay for a conference she was attending. I caught the tail-end of the lecture on art in public spaces, then joined the group for lunch at a creperie. We had a lovely lunch discussing art and the world.
After lunch I headed back towards the Musee d'Orsay to meet my friend David for coffee. I had met David in Jamaica. We caught up over coffee and discussed the search for meaning in work and life.

We walked back across the Louvre to the metro and I headed back to my hotel. After I re-settled in, I headed back out to meet a friend Isaac, whom I had met in Addis Ababa. Originally from New York, Isaac had spent decades traveling around. He was living in Addis with his girlfriend, and had met a mutual friend Philippe—a German who had been on the road for the last two year whom I met in Bahir Dar and in Gonder. Isaac and his girlfriend were now living in Paris for the last two months. We caught up for drinks, and chatted about the world we knew.

Saturday was my Trojan day. I first met my friend Leslie, who is president of the USC Alumni club in Paris. We had coffee (and foie gras) in the saturday afternoon sun. I left her and crossed Montmartre to meet my friend Tu-Oanh, a Tahitian and fellow Trojan alum who works at the World Bank in Paris. We had coffee at Cafe Lomi—a Brooklynesque spot on the other side of Montmarte.

That evening, I decided to treat myself to a nice meal to end my Paris period. I went to a nearby restaurant that specialized in Steak Tartare. I sipped a green Ricard as I read Hemingway, waiting for the raw meat to arrive. Arrive it did, with a raw egg yolk on top. It was delicious. When you are eating raw meat, it needs to be very fresh—this was, and was perfect in texture and flavor. I dreamed of French gastrodiplomacy to Ethiopia over kitfo-tartare exchanges and also convincing sushi-loving Japan on the joys of tartare as I sipped a nice cabernet.

I already wrote of my hip hop tout le monde experience to end the evening. This morning I woke up early and grabbed a delicious flaky butter croissant at the local boulangerie and some coffee before I checked out of the hotel and headed to Gare d'Austerlitz to catch my train to Tours for my French immersion. Along the route to Tours, giant three-armed white windmills dotted the route, which I can only take as a sign that this chevalier is heading in the right direction. Time to learn French!

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