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Beads and Circuses: Nikki's Paris trip report

Beads and Circuses: Nikki's Paris trip report

Feb 28th, 2006, 07:34 AM
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Beads and Circuses: Nikki's Paris trip report

Last May, in a fit of giddiness upon hearing of a wonderful Air France airfare sale, I bought tickets for my husband, college student daughter and myself to go to Paris over February vacation week. My husband and I had just been in Paris for the same school vacation week last February, and we had managed to get bumped by Air France in both directions, with great financial success. Seemed like a good idea to have a repeat visit and try for the same deal, but it didn’t quite work out that way.

Four days before we were to leave, my husband learned of a family emergency which required his attention and he could not go to Paris. After some misgivings, I decided to go with my daughter anyway. Air France appears to have learned about the Boston vacation schedule since last year. The flights, while full, were apparently not overbooked, and no volunteers were being sought. So my daughter and I flew to Paris as scheduled.

The flight was uneventful and we took a cab to the apartment we had rented on rue de Lanneau in the fifth arrondissement, near the Pantheon. The apartment is listed through www.private-paris.com. There are two bedrooms, which I thought would be a good idea since there would be three of us, and the price was not much more than the one bedroom apartment my husband and I had rented on the next block last year. With just my daughter and myself, this was an absolute luxury of space, with a private bedroom and bath for each of us, a large living room, and a large, fully equipped kitchen. The entrance is a little funky. The building is very old, and the door from the street opens to a long stone corridor lit by a single bulb at one end, which, like many lights in French corridors, operates on a timer. I kept waiting to be caught in the dark, but the timer was on long enough to allow us plenty of time to get to and from the staircase. There is a narrow winding staircase up to the first floor, where the apartment is located.

Inside, the apartment is newly renovated. Two huge exposed beams show the age of the building, and there are few if any right angles. There is a small step to each room, since no two rooms are on the same exact level. The two bedrooms have windows on the street overlooking the restaurant across the way, Le Petit Prince de Paris. The living room and kitchen have windows on an airshaft facing other buildings in the back. When it was dark, I looked out the living room window and was surprised to look down and see candles. It turned out that our window overlooked the restaurant underneath us, Le Coupe Chou, and we could see the romantic dining area, which must have had a glass or plastic roof. We did not try this restaurant out, but it would have been funny to look up and see our window.

The apartment was provided with a wireless internet connection, which was extremely convenient. I had brought a laptop computer, which I have never done before, and it was a great help for communication. For telephone calls we had our T-Mobile phones, which have international roaming, and a prepaid phone card I bought in Paris to use from the phone in the apartment. This was by far the cheapest way of making phone calls I have found. The card cost 7.50 euros and was good for over forty hours of calls to the U.S. We didn’t come close to using it up, but with our family situation last week we did speak quite a bit.

We decided to get out before we both fell asleep in the apartment and walked down to the market at Place Monge to look for things to bring back for lunch. I went to one of the cheese vendors and just asked him to put together an assortment of whatever he recommended. He offered me tastes, I approved, and I walked away with three cheeses (and two containers of yogurt he threw in just for the heck of it). There were not as many vendors selling prepared foods as I remembered from my visit a year ago. The previous visit was on a Sunday and this one was a Friday, which might explain the difference. There was a Lebanese guy, though, selling good looking prepared things, and we walked away with stuffed eggplant, grape leaves, some filled pastries, and a bag of pita he threw in for good measure. He asked where we were from, and when we told him, he told us how he had visited Massachusetts and Rhode Island and loved it there, how he would like to live there.

I guess the grass is always greener and all that.

By this time I could barely stumble back to the apartment and into bed. Took a nap, ate the market supplies, and got ready for our first night out on the town in Paris.

Nikki is online now  
Feb 28th, 2006, 09:11 AM
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Hi, Nikki:

I know you wold have preferred to have your DH with you, but sounds like your trip got off to a good start. I'm looking forward to the rest of your report.
Robdaddy is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 09:29 AM
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This time I thought I’d be smart. Last year we had gone to the Caveau des Oubliettes, hoping to hear some jazz, but by the time we got there the place was filled. This year I planned to get there early, have a drink and wait for the music. So we walked down to the bar at 52 rue Galande. We arrived at 9:30 but learned the hard way (by going through the bar, opening the door, heading down the stairs and hearing people shout at us) that the club didn’t open until 10:00. So much for smart. So we walked outside.

Next door to the Caveau, there was an art gallery with an opening in progress. There were just a few people inside, who appeared to be the young artist and his friends, sipping drinks and talking to each other. We went in and toured the gallery, looking at the paintings overtly and the people covertly. I had spent some time before the trip trying to locate galleries showing contemporary Parisian artists and thought it would be fun to get to an opening. This one had not appeared on my radar; we just stumbled into it. That seems to happen a lot.

After thanking the artist, we left the gallery and wandered around the corner where we heard the sounds of a Chopin Polonaise coming out of the Eglise St. Julien le Pauvre. We stood there for a few minutes listening, and admiring the atmospheric street scene of the Latin Quarter, before returning to the Caveau des Oubliettes. A crowd of people in the bar was waiting for the club to open, and we joined it, leaning against (with some trepidation) a real guillotine sandwiched between some tables.

When the door opened we followed the crowd downstairs but were too late to get seats in the room with the stage, so we grabbed seats in the room next to it, where there was a bar and a TV screen to watch the band. At 10:30 the folks who had been sitting next to us at the bar got up, went into the next room and started to sing. It was a vocal duo called Naturalibus, a man and a woman whose voices were in a very similar range and who were backed up by a band. They spoke too softly for us to hear them from the next room when they spoke, but we could hear them singing and the music was very enjoyable.

I had been talking to my daughter about whether we would have anybody to talk to. She said nobody talks to each other in these places. Then a woman came and sat with us and talked for a while. She is an art teacher, trained at the Academie des Beaux Arts, who has lived in Paris all her life, and who talked to us about her life and her hopes for the future. She is forty years old and looking to get married. Wanted to know if we knew anyone to match her up with. She invited us to a party she was going to on Sunday, but we declined, having other plans. Then her cousin, a guy who plays piano and knows some of the people in the band, joined us to talk and we figured they were both on the same mission.

After midnight we left and walked back to the apartment a few blocks away.

Nikki is online now  
Feb 28th, 2006, 09:41 AM
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Nikki: It seems that you always have an adventure! More please.
gomiki is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 12:57 PM
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Nikki, soeey we didn't catch up with eachother there, but We'll always have Paris, It sounds like you two have a great time without the husband anyway.
cigalechanta is offline  
Feb 28th, 2006, 01:20 PM
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Thanks for the comments so far. More to come immediately.
Nikki is online now  
Feb 28th, 2006, 01:20 PM
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Saturday we took the bus to the Musee du Luxembourg, where we saw an exhibit of paintings from the Philips Collection in Washington, DC. Yes, Boston is closer to Washington than to Paris, but the exhibit was there and so were we, so why not? There was a line waiting outside in the drizzle, so we joined it. Wonderful exhibit. Beautiful paintings and some sculpture.

The most shocking moment of the trip (well, maybe the only shocking moment of the trip) came when I was looking at a clown sculpted by Picasso and a woman walked up and touched it. I almost jumped, expecting an alarm to sound and guards to come running, but nothing happened. She and her companion were standing there talking about it as if this were the most normal behavior in the world. I wondered whether French museum etiquette was very different from American etiquette or whether this was an aberration. I thought of my recent visit to the Museum of Natural History in New York, where I saw the Darwin exhibit. There was a piece of petrified wood there with a sign saying, “Touch”. So I did. Then I read the description. It was a piece of petrified wood that Darwin collected and brought back with him on the Beagle. So then I really touched it, grateful for the privilege. I thought of the wood of Leonard Bernstein’s childhood piano, which I touched at Brandeis University recently. So I do understand the impulse. I did resist the impulse to actually play Bernstein’s piano, but I might have been tempted had I been alone. And I have somehow always resisted any impulse to touch the Picassos.

By the time we left, the sun was coming out. We didn’t know it at the time, but that was the last we’d see of the sun all week. We walked to the Place St. Sulpice and had lunch at the Café de la Mairie.

After lunch we strolled about and I went into a store to look at home decorations. My daughter has no interest in that but plenty of interest in other stores, so she left me saying, “I’ll be around somewhere.” Famous last words. I came out in five minutes and she was not there, so I waited around outside for her. No sign of her for quite some time. At least it wasn’t still raining. I tried calling her cell phone, but for some reason I couldn’t get through. Eventually I got a text message from her: “I’m in a mall.” Aha. So I walked one block over to the Marche St. Germain and sent her a text message: “Which store?” So we met outside the Gap. After I finished venting my frustrations (“remember that rule about telling me where you’re going?”), I was grateful for the text message technology and our international roaming feature and we moved on. We made some necessary stops at a pharmacy and an ATM and took the bus back to our apartment.

Saturday night was the long-awaited message board get-together at Le Train Bleu. My daughter declined the invitation to spend the evening with me and my internet buddies, so I took the bus to the Gare de Lyon by myself.
Nikki is online now  
Feb 28th, 2006, 11:45 PM
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I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had arranged this get-together with one person (Beatchick) months earlier when we discovered we would have one overlapping night in Paris. The gathering had grown to about a dozen people from at least three different message boards, including several I didn’t know at all. It turned out to be an absolute hoot. I have been to three different gatherings of this sort now, the first two of which were in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and they have all been fun (and educational!). Meeting people one has known virtually for years is satisfying and eye-opening. In some ways, reading the things people write on message boards gives different insights into them than one gets by knowing somebody in the real world. Joining the two types of experience gives a more multi-dimensional impression. I had fascinating conversations with people I felt I knew pretty well from their writing as well as with some people I didn’t know at all, including people from the US, France, and Sweden. Great fun.

The restaurant Le Train Bleu was an experience in itself. Located in the train station, it seemed very removed from the hectic atmosphere all around it. A grand, elegant room with walls and ceilings painted with scenes of the places one could get to on the train. Dinner was good. I ordered off the three course menu for 45 euros, and was happy with my selections: sausage studded with pistachios and served with potatoes, blanquette de veau, and a chocolate dessert that was like the chocolate sauce from an ice cream sundae with a small bit of ice cream floating in it. This was a more expensive menu than those at the restaurants I usually frequent, and the food was no better, but the setting and the company made it a great experience.

We stayed until after 12:30 AM and I took a taxi back to the apartment. Very long taxi line at the station in the middle of the night, which moved quickly until the supply of taxis ran out. More arrived eventually and I shared a cab with Beatchick. After we dropped her off at her hotel in a maze of little streets in the Latin Quarter by the Seine, the cab driver turned down a street that turned out to be one way the wrong way, and a police car was waiting for us at the end of the block. The driver was apologetic, the gendarme let him go, and I got back home without further incident. My daughter was sleeping. She had gone out for a sandwich and a crepe on the rue Mouffetard and reported the next day that the area had been full of people her age. The neighborhood we stayed in reminded her of Cambridge, filled with students, teachers, book and record stores, political notices, and inexpensive restaurants and food stands. An environment in which we both felt comfortable.

In the morning my daughter went out for croissants and bread at the Kayser bakery and brought them back to the apartment. Great stuff. Sunday afternoon we had tickets to the circus. We spent a low energy morning, which was fine with me after my very late night, and we went off in the rain when it was time to make our way to the Cirque d’Hiver.
Nikki is online now  
Feb 28th, 2006, 11:55 PM
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Great report! Am really enjoying reading it!
Ruth is offline  
Mar 1st, 2006, 12:37 AM
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Thank you Nikki, I feel as if I am in Paris myself. I am dying to read the rest of your report.
Faux is offline  
Mar 1st, 2006, 04:21 AM
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What a delightful report! Can't wait for more.
tod is offline  
Mar 1st, 2006, 05:20 AM
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As I can't get to Paris, visiting vicariously is a great "next best thing". Particularly good reports.
Thanks for this...
SuzieC is offline  
Mar 1st, 2006, 05:24 AM
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Tagging to savor later....
Betsy is offline  
Mar 1st, 2006, 06:32 AM
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The circus was fabulous. This was the last performance for the season. We had ringside seats in the front row. We were a little afraid. Let’s put it this way: if I put my feet up on the ring, the tiger could lick my toes. I resisted the impulse; so did the tiger.

The Cirque d’Hiver is a wonderful oval theater, built as the royal circus during the reign of Napoleon III. We arrived before the doors opened and were surrounded by a crowd of children, parents, grandparents, and assorted, unencumbered adults, all of whom squeezed into the theater in a somewhat chaotic fashion. Beautiful interior and lighting effects. I had selected front row seats hoping for extra legroom but without considering the possibility of becoming part of the action. Although both my daughter and I dreaded being pulled into the ring, we avoided becoming part of the show and thoroughly enjoyed it. A guy named Bruno was sitting on the other side of the ring with his wife and kids and ended up becoming a star of the show. He was a pretty good sport, even when he fell off the little bicycle he was riding to help hoist the clown up onto the trapeze or something like that. Don’t ask. After that, they kept calling him back, but he was careful to unclip his cell phone or beeper and give it to his wife.

During the opening equestrian act, one of the beautiful white horses took a dump right in front of us. Several people materialized with shovels and brooms to whisk it away. After the horses left the ring, a larger brigade came out and vacuumed and cleaned the entire carpet while the clowns and the ringmaster entertained. The reason for the cleaning appeared when the next act was a barefoot lady aerialist. I was creeped out, however, when the juggler started catching ping pong balls in his mouth after bouncing them on the floor. I commented to my daughter that it made me think of Fear Factor. She said that Fear Factor is much worse. A fairly uninformed opinion, although undoubtedly correct, since neither of us has seen the show and never will.

I really enjoyed the pair of musical clowns, one of whom played a saxophone out of one side of his mouth and a clarinet out of the other. A pretty good trick. And they brought out a bar cart covered with liquor bottles and played them like chimes. I’m thinking that wouldn’t go over well in a show for children here in the U.S. There was a trained dog act in which the trainer was dancing around the ring in toe shoes, en pointe. Multi-disciplinary studies. I thought of running away from home and joining the circus band, but the only female player, a violinist, was dressed somewhat like the aerialist, which put me off the idea. Could work for my daughter though; she even plays the violin.

After the circus we went out in the rain and walked to Chez Jenny at Place de la Republique, where I had oysters and choucroute before heading back to the apartment for the night.
Nikki is online now  
Mar 1st, 2006, 07:18 AM
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I am very much enjoying your report! Depending on Northwest Airlines, we should be in Paris very soon!
Tim_and_Liz is offline  
Mar 1st, 2006, 07:54 AM
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"I was creeped out, however, when the juggler started catching ping pong balls in his mouth after bouncing them on the floor."

I can relate to this, I cringe when I see people in airports (or any public place) let their small children crawl around on the floor - and then don't clean the babies hands

Does Fodors have a 'shuddering' icon?

Good trip report - keep it coming
alya is online now  
Mar 1st, 2006, 04:49 PM
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On Monday we headed out toward the BHV department store. We walked and shopped our way to the Seine. I kept looking at the colorful scarves in the touristy shops but decided I had bought quite enough of those last year. This year’s object of desire seemed to be beads. I bought myself an inexpensive string of beads and some things for my daughter at a shop called Kazana at 7, rue Lagrange. We crossed Ile de la Cite and decided the weather looked too iffy to take our planned river cruise at that time, so we passed the skaters in front of the Hotel de Ville and went into BHV. I was shopping for French books and CDs, linens, and kitchen accessories, while my daughter looked at clothing. We met up after an hour or two at the cafeteria on the top floor and had cold drinks with a nice view.

We took the bus back to our apartment and had dinner across the street at Le Petit Prince de Paris. I had enjoyed this place last year and it lived up to my expectations on the repeat visit. I had a
crumble of rabbit confit, with some kind of cinnamon topping as if it were apple crumble, which was unusual but which I did enjoy, and I followed that with magret in apricot sauce with potatoes au gratin, which I loved. My daughter had a fish pate (which reminded her of the preparations made by our friends on Cape Cod) and then a very good chicken dish. For dessert I had a molten chocolate cake with cranberries. All excellent. My daughter and I agreed that our waiter must have been moonlighting between modeling gigs while waiting for his acting career to take off. We don’t usually agree on such things, but this time the opinion was unanimous. When it took a little while to catch his eye, I figured it was because he was used to women staring at him.

Tuesday morning we took the bus to the Palais de Tokyo. This large building constructed for the 1937 Exposition Universelle contains two museums. First we went to the site de creation contemporaine, which occupies one wing of the building that has been stripped down to the walls and provides a space for young artists to exhibit their work. This contained several very interesting installations, video, painting, sculpture, and some indescribable stuff that was accompanied by long verbal descriptions. We had lunch at the café there and then went to the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris in the other wing. This is newly renovated and has just reopened in February. There was an exhibit of works by the painter Pierre Bonnard. The pamphlet describing the exhibition begins with a quote from Bonnard: “I would like to arrive in front of the young painters of the year 2000 on the wings of a butterfly.” It seemed fitting to be viewing this exhibit with my daughter, a student painter herself, and we both enjoyed it.

We had tickets that evening to hear the Alban Berg Quartet at the Theatre des Champs Elysees. While my daughter went back to the apartment to change, I decided to stay in the area since the theater was quite near the museum. So I explored the permanent collections of the museum until closing time and then went to a café on the Place de l’Alma for onion soup and a goat cheese salad. We met up in time to get to the theater as it opened. This theater was the venue for the infamous riot that occurred when Igor Stravinsky conducted the ballet The Rite of Spring for the first time in 1913. The crowd was considerably more sedate Tuesday night for the two string quartets by Mozart and one by Bartok. Our seats were in the first row, within a few feet of the spot where Stravinsky must have stood during that long-ago premiere. And yes, I indulged my urge to touch the stage at the front of the orchestra pit.

Both my daughter and I found that during the concert it was easy to forget we were in Paris. This is the kind of activity we could just as well be attending in Boston or New York. So during the intermission it was a little bit of a jolt (quite a pleasant one though) to hear our neighbors speaking French. People were dressed more formally here than they would be in Boston. Most of the men were wearing jackets and ties, at least down where we were sitting. Had my husband been with us, he would have felt underdressed.

When the concert was over, we emerged onto the street to be greeted by the Eiffel Tower twinkling just across the river.

Wednesday we went back to St. Germain to look at some stores, especially shoe stores, that my daughter had noticed when we were there the other day. It was the end of the sales period, and sales items were very picked over, but there were some good prices on shoes in many stores we passed. We stopped for lunch at La Creperie des Canettes, at 10, rue des Canettes, where I had a galette with ham, cheese and apples. We decided we need a place like this in our home town. It was conveniently located next to an inexpensive shoe store, and my daughter decided we needed that in our town as well.

I was on a mission to find a jewelry store suggested by a message board poster, and we located the tiny shop of Dona Giacometti at 6, rue St. Sulpice. There were two customers in the store and no more people would fit inside, so we waited until one of them left and we entered. Half the closet-sized space was filled with the jeweler’s workbench, and the other half was filled with the jeweler and her customer and us. The customer, a French woman, appeared to be a regular, and the two women were chatting as if they were friends. When the customer left, I bought a pair of earrings made with glass beads for my mother, and by the time we left, we had been chatting with the proprietor as if we were friends as well. A special shopping experience. Of course I might just feel that way because the lovely lady lied and complimented me on my French.

Then we made our way to the Ile de la Cite and took a river cruise at dusk on the Vedettes du Pont Neuf. There was a large Spanish school group on the boat, which detracted somewhat from the serenity of the experience. The guide was eloquent in French and English in an unintentionally humorous way, so we giggled our way up and down the Seine. As we passed under the Pont des Arts, the guide commented that the bridge linked the Louvre with the Institut de France, home of the Academie Francaise. He said that this was a bridge “between elegance and irony”, a fitting metaphor for something-or-other (but I’m not sure what) in a very French sort of way.

Nikki is online now  
Mar 2nd, 2006, 02:40 AM
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Thanks for the encouraging words Ruth, Faux, Tod, SuzieC, Betsy. Glad you're enjoying it. I like writing reports for myself while it's all still fresh in my mind; it helps crystallize the experience. But it's good to know that others are finding it entertaining or helpful as well and makes me want to keep at it.

Tim and Liz, I certainly hope you make it to Paris with no problems. The uncertainty must be maddening.

Alya, I think I have a higher cringe threshold than you do, because the airport thing hasn't jumped out at me. At least I've never seen a horse take a dump in an airport.
Nikki is online now  
Mar 2nd, 2006, 04:56 AM
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I'm so sorry! That was me you saw with the baby on the floor!

I just got back from Paris on Monday... and I let my baby crawl on the airport floor! I know. It really is gross. But with a delayed flight and a squirming child you take your chances. I PROMISE I DID WASH HIS HANDS!

Love the trip report. Especially love the independent nature of you and your daughter.
InSicily06 is offline  
Mar 2nd, 2006, 06:35 AM
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Nikki, thanks for pointing me to your post. I'll copy it and take it with us for our visit next week. Hope a couple of late 50 year olds won't feel out of place on Rue Mouffetard. We're young at heart and still feel 30, but I"m sure that first "Madame" will get me! Can't wait
marshacarlin is offline  

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