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Must be the season of the witch: Nikki's autumn trip to London and Paris

Must be the season of the witch: Nikki's autumn trip to London and Paris

Old Nov 20th, 2015, 03:02 AM
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Thanks, Nikki, I'm really enjoying your report!
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Old Nov 20th, 2015, 05:38 AM
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OK, Ann, you made me look it up. I have been having a hard time understanding how that phrase could be something you'd say to your elderly auntie. But now I see-- it means nose!

That would make a difference.
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Old Nov 20th, 2015, 06:27 AM
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>> I have been having a hard time understanding how that phrase could be something you'd say to your elderly auntie. <<

You should have known some of my elderly aunties. There wasn't a thing you couldn't say to them.
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Old Nov 20th, 2015, 07:59 AM
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I just discovered this as well. Enjoying the trip report very much so far. Looking forward to Paris!
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Old Nov 20th, 2015, 08:02 AM
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Nikki:
We were in London in August of 2005 just after the bombings, a little leery about taking public transport as my daughter was in the early stage of her first pregnancy and feeling fragile. We stuck to taxis and walked during our time there.

I was in Paris recently - my eighth time - from October 20-25 bucket-listing before taking the TGV down to Bordeaux for a vineyard/chateaux river cruise, returning home on November 1st. You have inspired me to submit a trip report soon. I have been so shocked and saddened by the unspeakable events, Rendered unable to conjure up the wherewithal to write, while also debating the timeliness.

What a pleasure to read your beautifully written postings and I can't wait to see the Paris portion. Really enjoying the food/restaurant descriptions as well. Keep it coming!

I, for one, will not be deterred and plan to return again and again to enchanting Paris, indeed, that great and beautiful city, for as long as these old bones will allow. There is still so much to see and do.
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Old Nov 20th, 2015, 01:10 PM
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Thursday, November 5, we take the train to Paris. The last time I took the train between London and Paris was in 1972, and there was an overnight ferry involved. This is a significantly shorter and more comfortable journey. We travel at a good clip through the English countryside, spend twenty minutes under the English Channel, and emerge in France. The speed seems to moderate here, which is fine with me. I feel a surge of emotion to be in the French countryside. Another of those moments of gratitude.

Recently Alan and I spent a weekend in the hills of Western Massachusetts and we saw a lot of beautiful old farmhouses and barns. But the old farmhouses and barns are better here. I want to stop the train, get out and take photos. But before I know it, we are approaching Paris and slowing down for our arrival at Gare du Nord.

We walk out of the station toward the area where I remember a taxi stand, but the street next to the station where the taxi stand used to be is under construction and we walk to the front of the station and don’t see a taxi line. I hail a taxi, and the driver says he can’t stop here, I have to go to the taxi stand. Where is it, I ask. Then he has second thoughts, gets out, and says that because I am old and infirm and have luggage he will make an exception and pick us up.

That does it; I am going to grow out my hair and color it again.

On the other hand, we are now comfortably ensconced in a taxi and on our way to the apartment we have rented in the Batignolles. Elderly infirmity has its privileges.

I have been greatly looking forward to this apartment and the neighborhood. I stayed here for two weeks in 2008 and have been thinking of returning ever since. We drop our bags and head out to the next street, which is lined with shops. I have been thinking fondly about a wonderful shop that sold charcuterie, salads, all kinds of prepared foods. But I can’t find it. It appears to have been replaced by an Asian traiteur.

The bar on the corner where I had listened to music is gone and is now some establishment with the word Brooklyn in its name. The restaurant where I was served some kind of drink that smelled like apricots after dinner, where I had nobody to hand it off to and was therefore obliged to have the first drink of my life, is gone. The shops seem newer, and less interesting somehow. I am hoping this is just an initial impression.

But the three boulangeries are still here, and the tabac where I stop and buy a carnet. We head to the Franprix and buy a supply of Badoit sparkling water and a few other items for the apartment, as well as some cheese and smoked salmon (which is so much less expensive in Europe than it is at home that we go through a lot of it) and salami. Add a baguette from the boulangerie and we are ready for a relaxed late lunch at home.
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Old Nov 20th, 2015, 04:03 PM
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I'm enjoying your report, too, and love "elderly infirmity." My sister and I decided our grey hair may have had something to do with all the help we got with our luggage in Britain last year.
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Old Nov 20th, 2015, 05:25 PM
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Love the report. AND, I am touching up my pesky gray roots every 5 weeks!
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Old Nov 21st, 2015, 03:36 AM
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Friday morning we do some further exploration of the neighborhood. We pass the former shop of a tapissier, a furniture repairer and upholsterer. We know it is the former shop because of a four page farewell letter posted on the otherwise empty vitrine. The former proprietor dedicates his retirement to such people as those who take their furniture to their cousin’s brother-in-law who took a few classes and solved problems that he with his forty years’ experience could not solve. Also to all those who give lip service to supporting the artisan while patronizing large businesses with cheap products, or something like that.

This letter is even more bitter than the one we received when our neighborhood pharmacist sold his customer list to CVS and closed up shop. At least the pharmacist liked his customers; this fellow appears to have hated his.

I reflect on the changing nature of society. The taxi driver who brought us to our apartment in London from the airport used to have a dress shop on the King’s Road in Chelsea. But the rent became too high and the chain stores moved in and he gave up the shop to drive for a car service. Recently we took a shuttle service to the airport in San Francisco after visiting our daughter, and the driver used to have a print shop. But print shops became obsolete and he sold off his equipment to a business in the third world somewhere.

One small business that does not seem endangered is the chocolate shop. We stop in at A La Mere de Famille, where the nice lady gives out lots of samples while I decide what to bring to the friends we will be visiting at their new apartment tomorrow. We stop in at a cheese shop where, as is my custom, I end up finding cheese that I love but will never be able to find again or identify by name. Also wonderful butter.

We have theater tickets this evening. I have been very excited about this ever since learning about a program called Theatre in Paris that arranges with several theaters to show English surtitles over French plays. This will allow Alan and me to go to the theater together. One buys tickets through their website and pays a bit more than the tickets would cost at the box office. A representative greets you before the play, gives you an English program and description and talks to you about the theater and the play, and seats you in a location in the theater where the surtitles are the most easily seen.

While making my decision I had asked whether the theaters showed the surtitles at every performance or just at those performances where people have purchased the service. I was told that at one of the theaters the surtitles are shown all the time but that at the others they are only shown when there are English-speaking guests who have purchased tickets through Theatre in Paris. http://www.theatreinparis.com

We have decided to see Around the World in 80 Days (Autour du monde en 80 jours) at Le Splendid on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, just up the street from the Porte Saint-Martin in the 10th arrondissement. We arrive a bit early so stop in for a drink next door at La Chope des Artistes. We see a piece of furniture that looks like a card catalogue from a library and inquire about it. The waiter doesn’t know, so he asks the bar tender, who tells us that it was a place for habitués of the café to leave their napkins between visits. Each patron had his own compartment. Can’t get more sanitary than that. Alan says it sounds like the gym lockers at school. Now that I know to look for it, I notice this in one or two more places we visit during the week.

We enter the theater a half hour before the performance to meet our greeter, who shows us to seats in the balcony. We are the only people in the balcony. The greeter, a young woman doing a year abroad from a British university, tells us that the surtitles are more easily viewed from the balcony than from the orchestra (stalls) level. Fair enough. But when the show begins we realize that the surtitles are not all that easy to read in any event, depending on the stage lighting during each particular scene. The technology, or at least the lighting, of the titles is not nearly up to the quality I have seen at opera performances.

The play is amusing but does not live up to the quality of the comic performance we saw in London, which is fresh in our minds. It has been playing in Paris for something like nine years, and we wonder how it has lasted this long. But we have an enjoyable evening, are able to have a night at the theater together, and would try this service again for one of the other plays in a different theater.

After the show we find a restaurant nearby, Allegra, where I have a steak and Alan has a good pizza and beer. We take a taxi home and pass lots of young people for whom the night is young. The driver says he will be driving them around all night. He waxes nostalgic about the Place de Clichy as we pass through it on the way to les Batignolles. He says it’s a great place. I ask if he has recommendations for restaurants or whatever. He hesitates. Alan says he knows what’s coming. It’s not the restaurants, it’s the girls. Beautiful girls. But he’s married now, he loves his wife, and the girl he worries about now is his two year old daughter. He’s afraid she will grow up and think he is “un con”. I assume that in this instance this seemingly pretty variable phrase means “a jerk”.

As we return to our apartment, we see a large crowd of young people outside the very small café on our corner. This is a spot that eight years ago was populated by one or two older men when I had breakfast there on my arrival while waiting to get into my apartment. It is operated by younger owners now, and has for some inexplicable reason developed the kind of buzz that it is hard to understand on this very quiet, residential street a block from the police station and the mairie. People in their twenties are laughing, drinking, spilling out into the street. They are taking taxis from who knows where to come to this unprepossessing spot. Upstairs we can hear them loudly if the windows are open, which in this unseasonably warm weather they sometimes are.
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Old Nov 21st, 2015, 05:43 AM
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I was wondering about the lighting and reading at the theatre.

There is a Chinese restaurant in Amherst, Ma where regular patrons leave their personal chopsticks in a rack by the door. The chopsticks are washed and then returned to their place. We have not yet attained the necessary frequency to attain this status but we are working on it.
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Old Nov 21st, 2015, 06:08 AM
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Love all your great descriptions.
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Old Nov 21st, 2015, 09:25 AM
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I'm enjoying following along too, thanks for posting such a detailed description!
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Old Nov 21st, 2015, 02:53 PM
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Saturday morning we go to the marché bio, the organic market on the boulevard des Batignolles. There are people circulating in the crowd, handing out leaflets, asking for signatures on petitions for various political and community issues. There are a couple of men posted at each entrance to the market with large posters that I do not read, asking each person to sign something. Nobody does. An old woman walks by, scowls fiercely and gives them the finger. I look up and see that the posters are for Marine LePen, the head of the far right Front National party. I’m thinking this is an unlikely crowd in which to solicit sympathy for that particular cause.

There are many families with young children strolling among the market stalls. We stop at the stand where a man is cooking gallettes made from potatoes, onions, and cheese. Alan buys one and I try a bite. It tastes like latkes.

We buy oysters and smoked salmon, paté, cheese made from a blend of sheep’s milk and cow’s milk. At a stall selling poultry I look for duck breasts but don’t see them, so I ask if they have any. They can sell me two, they say, so I say I will take them. Then the butcher takes the one duck left in the case and pulls out a small blowtorch. We watch fascinated as he singes the quills off the duck and slices off the two breasts for us and puts the two leg quarters back in the case. Whatever it costs, it is worth it for the show.

Alan takes our haul back to the apartment but I am heading in the other direction. I have tickets for a matinee at the Comédie Française. I am planning to take the bus and walk to the closest bus stop but there is a sign that due to construction on the Boulevard des Batignolles, the bus won’t stop here. I go to the next stop and there is a sign here also. I do not know where the bus actually will stop so I give up and take a taxi. We never do find out what route the bus is using as a detour or where it stops in our neighborhood, which annoys me a bit since much of my planning has been organized around this local bus line.

I have a salad for lunch at a café near the Comédie Française and see an older woman eating alone. I wonder whether she too is going to the play, and indeed when I go to the theater I see her sitting in the row in front of me. I have time before the show after lunch and walk in the gardens of the Palais Royal. There is an exhibit of stone sculpture placed throughout the gardens.

It is a beautiful day. Many people are strolling as I am, taking photos, enjoying the unseasonable November sunshine. It is tempting to sit in a chair around the fountain, put my feet up, and close my eyes as many around me are doing. Unfortunately I have the same impulse in the theater.

As I walk toward the entrance of the theater, the orchestra that gathers in the plaza outside every time I come here is assembling and tuning up. Relieved that I am not hearing yet another rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon, I pick up my ticket at the box office and find my seat.

Today’s play is La Double Inconstance by Marivaux. I have prepared by reading the play at home, which is good, because I do not catch everything that is spoken on the stage. Now I feel I should return and read it again, especially the second half. The performance is two hours and fifteen minutes with no intermission, which might explain my wavering concentration in the second half.

There is some odd costuming, some modern dress, and a concept of setting the action in a rehearsal hall. The program explains a bit of the thought behind these production decisions, but I am still somewhat puzzled.

As I return to our apartment after the performance, people outside the café on the corner are distributing produce to people in line, and I am thinking it might be part of a food co-op.

This evening we visit our friends who have moved to Paris and recently bought an apartment overlooking the Canal Saint-Martin. After drinks and cheese and catching up at their place, we move on to La Marine, a restaurant down the street. We have reservations, which are essential, as the place is packed on this lovely Saturday evening. We have a lively dinner and even at 11:00, as we are leaving, there is a crowd both inside and out on the terrace. Once again, our evening is ending, but the younger people are just getting started.
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Old Nov 21st, 2015, 02:56 PM
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Thank you for all the nice comments. I am catching up with them as I fly across the country on my way to San Francisco. We'll see what time zone I think I'm in tonight.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2015, 06:29 AM
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We have Sunday brunch at l’Endroit, a restaurant on the pleasant circle with many cafes in front of the Square des Batignolles. We start with the best os a moelle ever. Marrow bones are a comfort food from my youth, from the times my mother would make soup. But the French way of serving them takes this dish to a different level, so coming to Paris this is one of the things I seek out as much as possible. A beautiful salad completes this satisfying meal.

We watch through the restaurant windows as a fire truck pulls up and blocks traffic and gets stuck turning in the narrow street. But there is no emergency. Three young firemen get out and appear to be selling something to passersby. Calendars? Is this how they distribute the famous French firemen’s calendars? Or is it something else? Whatever it is, they only stay a short time and then leave, so it seems like much effort for little result.

The Square des Batignolles is a beautifully landscaped small park and it is full of families strolling on this sunny Sunday. The ducks are a different variety than the ones we see at home, more colorful.

At 5:00 we have tickets to hear Francis Cabrel at the Olympia. This is how we picked this week to come to Paris. Everybody knows the words to all the songs. Unlike the English crowd at the Donovan concert, this group enjoys singing along. I refrain. They know the words better than I do. Alan is a good sport. I try to translate some for him, but it is an uphill battle. We are happy to see that the members of his band are grownups, as old or older than the singer. Very talented grownups at that. We have seen a number of concerts by rock icons who surround themselves with younger musicians.

Cabrel sings for two hours. I should realize he is faking when he runs his finger across his throat to show the concert is over and mimes having no voice left. He hasn’t introduced the band yet.

Tonight’s driver is a young man who opens the door for me and says he’ll take care of me as he would his own mother. I am feeling older by the day. He tells us he has a business degree and used to work in finance. He is driving for Uber on the side and starting his own business. He has two employees, he tells us proudly. His English is excellent and he also speaks Spanish and Berber. Did he grow up speaking Berber at home, I ask. No, he says, they spoke French in his home. He picked up Berber by osmosis.

I prepare the magret at the apartment. Put the two duck breasts in a pan with some olive oil, cook it quickly like a steak, and eat it very rare. Heaven. This is the only cooking I do on vacation. I cannot duplicate this at home; the ducks don’t have this same rich taste. It seems that both the wild and domestic ducks in France are different here, more colorful, better tasting.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2015, 09:40 AM
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Ahh the benefit of finding this report a little later than others is that there is more to read!
I've caught up on London and am suitably stuffed; I think I could manage one more chocolate though!

I will be there on Friday. So looking forward to seeing my DD.
I have plans to see the Ai Weiwei exhibition. My sister sent me some lovely photos of his work at Alcatraz earlier this year.
I am a fan!
I went to the sunflower seed installation at the Tate in 2010 and very disappointed it was the day after they stopped people walking amongst the 'seeds' due to the dust!

I will catch up with your Paris report when I get back
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Old Nov 22nd, 2015, 11:45 AM
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NIKKI, still with you and enjoying every bite!
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Old Nov 22nd, 2015, 11:57 AM
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me too. Somehow I never get organised enough to ensure that I've lined up all the concerts and shows I might want to see when I'm somewhere like Paris - I'm lucky if I find 2-3 things to do in a week. I admire your persistence.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2015, 06:26 PM
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Loving every word... Including Donovan singing Season of the witch in my head.
So glad for you that you are able to travel again.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2015, 06:48 PM
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Persistence? Not at all, I have trouble deciding which things to do out of the dozens of choices in places like Paris and London. If I don't make plans ahead of time though, I can get lazy and not get to as many shows, concerts, museums, and restaurants as I would like.
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