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November in Paris: Nikki's trip report


Nov 23rd, 2008, 11:00 AM
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November in Paris: Nikki's trip report

I hate November. The days are getting shorter, the air is getting colder. And I fantasize about running away from home. This year I decided to do something about it. So I booked a flight to Paris and reserved an apartment for two weeks and combed the internet for concerts, art exhibits, courses, and generally all the things I like that my usual travel companions would prefer not to do. And I went all by myself.

My daughter and her boyfriend did join me for three nights, and I got together with internet acquaintances two evenings, but other than that I was on my own. I went to two Mozart operas, one ballet, four course lectures at the Collège de France, a classical comedy at the Comédie Française and a concert of contemporary chamber music. Three art exhibits, two performances of live music in bars, and two brocante markets. Numerous cafés and restaurants where I ate wonderful autumn produce and game: mushrooms, wild boar, pheasant and grouse.

I took it easy, going to bed late and rising later. Could be I never actually adjusted to the time change. I explored new neighborhoods and took photos, became expert at reading the bus map, and enjoyed the pleasure of staying at home, where sometimes I did nothing but watch Gilmore Girls dubbed in French on TV and look out the window where the guy across the street was hanging out his window, smoking a cigarette and picking his nose.

It was wonderful.

The trip begins the day after the presidential election. I arrive in Paris after an uneventful flight and everybody wants to talk to me about Obama, starting with the taxi driver. We have a long time to talk about it too, because there is a train strike affecting the RER and the métro, and traffic from the airport is brutal. I learn all about Mauritius, where the driver was born, and about his life story and philosophy of child rearing.

I get to the apartment early, so I bring my bags into the café on the corner and have a cup of hot chocolate while waiting until it is late enough to meet the person who is to greet me at the apartment. I have rented the apartment through American owners who have purchased and fixed it up for their own use but who rent it out when they are not able to be there. http://www.rentalapartmentparis.com/. It is in the Batignolles neighborhood in the 17th arrondissement, an area with which I am totally unfamiliar. I get the tour of the apartment and take the keys and as soon as the greeter leaves, I go to bed. In a couple of hours, I will wake up in Paris and figure out what to do next.
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Nov 23rd, 2008, 11:57 AM
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More! More! More!
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Nov 23rd, 2008, 12:34 PM
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I decide to stick close to home. The métro strike is scheduled to last until Friday morning, so I spend this Thursday afternoon in the neighborhood. I pick up a copy of Pariscope from the news seller around the corner, and of course he and his friend want to talk about Obama. There is a bakery on the corner, but it is never open while I am there. On the rue des Batignolles just a block away, there are two more bakeries, and I visit them both. I stop at the charcuterie for paté and cheese and sliced Bayonne ham and dried sausage and salad, and at Franprix for bottled water and smoked salmon. I pick out clementines and avocados from the produce store. Everything goes into the wheeled cart I found in the apartment and I bring it back for a wonderful lunch.

While I am out, I notice a poster on the window of a local café, the Point Bar, advertising an “apéro-concert acoustique” this evening at 7:00, so I plan to go there early enough to get a comfortable seat and hear some music.

I arrive at the Point Bar as the band is setting up. There are some comfortable couches and I ensconce myself with a Coca Light and the little black notebook I have purchased at the gift shop across the street to use as a travel journal. The band consists of two guys with guitars, a drummer, and a singer in a sports jacket and glasses who starts singing “On Broadway.” The singer’s girlfriend is snapping photos, and another guy is shooting video. A woman sitting at the bar is dressed in red socks, a red sweater and jeans. Everybody else is wearing black jackets. Me too.

The kid with the ponytail plays a pretty good blues guitar. The band takes a break and he goes up to the woman in the red socks. Maybe she’s his mother. It would explain the enthusiastic clapping and gesturing. Most people there seem to be friends and family of the band. Most people are drinking beer.

An attractive young woman sitting on a barstool doesn’t notice when her sweater rides up and her jeans ride down. Say no to crack. The two guys next to me notice and one of them covers his eyes in mock horror. They are speaking English to each other, but neither is a native English speaker. Everyone else in the bar is speaking French.

I leave during the second set and head out for a late dinner at a restaurant down the street from my apartment: Brun de Zinc, at 28 rue Truffaut. I am the only customer at 9:30. The two people working there turn off the television and turn on the music when I sit down. They want to talk about the election. I start with tartines d’escargot, sort of like a garlicky grilled cheese sandwich with escargot. Then I have duck pieces in potato purée. A whole wall of the small restaurant is painted in thick oil paint with a sunny scene from the South of France. I skip dessert because I have goodies from the bakery waiting at home. The check comes to 20 euros.
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Nov 23rd, 2008, 02:17 PM
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Nov 23rd, 2008, 02:20 PM
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Friday morning I head to the Latin Quarter for a course at the Collège de France. One of my objectives for this stay in Paris is to expose myself to as much as possible in the French language. I have discovered the wonderful free courses at the Collège de France through downloads on iTunes, and I went to two of the lectures when I was in Paris in March. The courses are taught by distinguished scholars in various fields, who speak on topics pertaining to their areas of interest and research. There is no fee and no registration, and the courses may be attended in whole or in part. Information, podcasts and class schedules can be found at www.collegedefrance.fr.

This morning’s class is L’image médiéval, taught by a professor of art history. I am spending much of my time these days attempting to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, and art history represents lots of gaps. I am sure I am getting something out of this lecture, but who knows whether the points I am taking are those the professor is actually making? Everything is being filtered through my obstacles to comprehension. But this is true when I listen to lectures in English as well, when there is no language barrier but other distractions intervene.

Today’s class covers medieval theories of art, including the aesthetic philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. It moves on to discuss the degree of liberty medieval artists had and the limited resources by contemporary writers on the subject. Most people in the packed hall are taking notes, and I try to do this also, but I find that I lose my concentration on the lecturer’s words when I try to write at the same time. For the final half hour of the two hour class I find myself looking at the pretty pictures and thinking about lunch. Of course I remember feeling this way in law school too, except without the pretty pictures.

For lunch I walk down hill one block to Le Pré Verre, 8 rue Thénard. I get the formule, which includes a first course of eggplant with feta, cinnamon and greens, and a main course of steak. The basic formule is 13.50 with a supplement for the steak, including a glass of wine or mineral water. I believe the menu changes daily.

I hear only French in the restaurant, unlike my first visit at dinner three years ago. The young waiter is wearing jeans, a black tee shirt and white sneakers. He has the same haircut as my husband Alan, only with less necessity. I notice that I see more gray haired women in Paris than I do at home in the US. People are mostly wearing black or other dark, muted colors, with one exception: red. I see red shoes, sweaters, eyeglasses, umbrellas, coats, scarves. This makes every group of people resemble a National Geographic photo exercise: put something red in every shot.
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Nov 23rd, 2008, 02:35 PM
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You must have just missed Cousin Muffy tripping in her Roger Vivier shoes on the Rue de Ecoles whilst running to Balzar to get some booze.

Miss Thang au Lait de Gin
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Nov 23rd, 2008, 03:10 PM
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Enjoying your report and photos. (While packing).
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Nov 23rd, 2008, 03:17 PM
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Nikki - I am so envious! Good for you to enjoy November in Paris for 2 weeks. How nice to stay in & explore an arrondisement you are not familiar with. The apartment looks great. I would be enjoying a cafe au lait every morning on that balcony. I'm anxious to learn about your experiences in the 17th. Now that you attended a class at the College de France, would you recommend one to other travelers?

I'm so enjoying your report. More please!
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Nov 23rd, 2008, 04:27 PM
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You feel about November the way I feel about February. You have planted a seed of an idea!

Wonderful report, please continue
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Nov 23rd, 2008, 04:47 PM
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Dinner Friday is at Aubergine, 46 rue des Dames, near my apartment. When I arrive there is just one other party in the dining room, a young English couple. They ask for some translation help and we get talking. They are in Paris for the first time, celebrating the girl’s eighteenth birthday. She tells me they went to a bar on arrival and while they were sitting there, a very large man came in and called the bartender over to him and they started fighting. Then a small Chinese lady came in and started hitting the large man with something. Other guys came over from the bar and joined in the fight. Welcome to Paris.

The young English guy wants to talk about the election. So does the bartender. The restaurant starts to fill up and the bar becomes very lively. Everyone is kissing the bartender as they come and go. I enjoy my dinner very much. I start with poêle de champignons de saison, mushrooms cooked with parsley and pepper. For my main course I get confit de canard and pommes sarladaises. The check comes to 33 euros including a coca light and a bottle of fizzy water.

The bartender brings me the check with a shot glass. He tells me something about vodka. It is pinkish-orange. Wasted on me, sadly, as I don’t drink, never have wanted one. I take a sniff. It doesn’t smell like alcohol; it smells like apricots. I love apricots. I’m in Paris. I take a sip. Not bad. More sips. I finish it. Are pigs flying?

Saturday morning I walk to the marché biologique, the weekly organic market on the boulevard des Batignolles. I buy cheese galettes and a rotisserie chicken and paté made from duck and from rabbit. It will be nice to have food in the apartment. My daughter Eileen and her boyfriend are arriving later today.

After making a wonderful lunch from the things I bought, I take the bus to the Opera Garnier to see the ballet. The bus comes right away. A little girl and her father sit across from me. They get up at their stop and leave the girl’s red backpack on the seat. Monsieur, I call out, votre sac! I catch him just in time. Disaster averted. It is easy to imagine the contents of that bag. My older daughter still travels with the most precious of those contents from her own bag. She is 25.

I arrive way too early at the Opera. Many tourists are sitting on the steps and I join them there. When the women of a certain age start arriving arm in arm, wearing sensible shoes, I go up to the entrance and find my seat. A family with two little girls is seated in my row. The usher brings two large red velvet cushions for them to sit on.

The ballet is Les Enfants du Paradis, the Children of Paradise, based on the classic French film produced during the German occupation. In preparation before I left home, I rented the video and watched it with the subtitles, then listened to the commentary, then watched it without the subtitles and listened to parts of the commentary again. I’m really glad I did that; it enhanced my understanding and enjoyment of the ballet greatly.

The music is an original score in a contemporary style. The ballet is also contemporary and, as would be fitting for a story about a mime, there is a lot of mime. In the movie, a major theme is the development of the French theater, and there are scenes of rules being broken as theater evolves. People speak during pantomime and cross the boundaries of the stage and the audience during melodrama. Here, in the ballet, there is speaking by the dancers, and dancers cross over into the audience. During the intermission, a dancer dressed as a mime comes and stands in the aisle next to me before I notice him. He is pretending to write something, miming my actions as I write in my journal. The people around me are laughing.

When the second act begins, it breaks from the style of the first act. It opens with a classically choreographed ballet set to classical music. I remember what I learned from a band conductor some years ago: that the reason there is so much ballet music from operas is because of a rule at the Paris opera. No opera could be staged at the Paris opera house unless it contained music for a ballet.

I am thinking that this work, written to be performed in this hall, has a classical ballet set within it as a nod to this tradition. In a ballet about a movie about the history of Paris theater, this is a statement about the history of Paris dance.

I could be wrong, of course.

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Nov 23rd, 2008, 04:48 PM
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I feel the same way about November, January and February for that matter!
I think I could spend the whole season in Paris quite happily.

Please continue with all the details...
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Nov 23rd, 2008, 05:31 PM
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As the ballet ends and I leave the opera house, there is a band playing outside, dressed in what appear to be pink jumpsuits.

The streets in front of the grands magasins are mobbed on this Saturday afternoon. An enormous crowd squeezes onto the bus. I worry that I won’t be able to get out at my stop. Nobody can get on. Traffic is very heavy and the bus moves slowly. I send a text message to Eileen saying that I might get to the apartment late. She is meeting me there but does not have a key.

When the bus finally gets to my stop there are others getting off, and we all push our way out together. Eileen and her boyfriend have just arrived when I reach the apartment. They have been café hopping since arriving from the airport. We continue that activity with dinner at l’Endroit, near the Square des Batignolles, where we enjoy some good steaks, and drinks afterward at Point Bar.

We get a very late start Sunday. Eileen and her boyfriend go out to find pastries for breakfast but find that the bakeries are both closed on Sunday. We have a fine lunch anyway, made from the provisions I’ve bought at the market. We then walk to the bus with the intention of transferring to another bus on our way to the Centre Pompidou. At the transfer point, however, we wait a long time before we notice the electronic sign that says there has been a detour and the bus won’t be stopping here. We give up and take a taxi. The driver gets lost in the tunnels and parking lots around the museum, and finally I see a sign for a pedestrian exit, pay the driver and escape from the cab. For all I know, he’s still driving around down there, lost forever, like Charlie in the MTA.

After this inauspicious start, however, we all really enjoy the modern art collection at the Centre Pompidou. Eileen is studying art and I like listening to her thoughts and ideas about the works we are seeing. I spend some time looking at “The Muse” by Picasso. There are two women; one is painting and the other one, darker, is sleeping. I wonder which one is the muse. I say it’s the one painting, giving the ideas to the other woman as she sleeps. Eileen says maybe the muse isn’t in the painting. Ah.

We have dinner at the brasserie Wepler, 14 place de Clichy. We all order off the 21 euro menu, which includes an appetizer and a main course. We have oysters, excellent seafood risotto with saffron, rascasse (fish) in a wonderful buttery sauce with fresh tagliatelle and lemon confit, pork with apples, sanglier (wild boar). Terrific rolls to mop up the sauce.

Place de Clichy seems worlds removed from the quiet Batignolles street where I am staying. Bright lights, big city. But I walk the few blocks back by myself while the younger members of the party wander off on their own to explore the nightlife.

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Nov 23rd, 2008, 05:53 PM
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Nikki, this is prefect.

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Nov 23rd, 2008, 07:57 PM
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Monday we get another very late start, but this time there are croissants for breakfast. We head out well after noon for the Emil Nolde exhibit at the Grand Palais. There is a line and we wait for half an hour or so to buy tickets. The exhibit is beautifully lit; the paintings seem to glow. We walk to the Pont Alexandre III for some photographs, then we part company so Eileen and her boyfriend can go to the Tour Eiffel and take a cruise on the Seine while I go back to the apartment.

Dinner is in the neighborhood at the Bistro des Batignolles. I order a “fantaisie” of salmon and shrimp, then magret de canard. Salads look good and I think I might come back some time later in the trip for lunch, but I never do.

Tuesday morning I say good-bye to Eileen and her boyfriend, who are flying back to Edinburgh. It is Eileen’s last week of a six month stay in Edinburgh on a student work visa after graduation. She will be back in Massachusetts in time to pick me up at the airport when I fly home.

I am heading to the Comédie Française to see Le Mariage de Figaro, the play by Beaumarchais on which the Mozart opera is based. I ordered the play to read in French before I left home, but I haven’t studied it thoroughly. I manage to review the first two acts in the morning, and those are crystal clear to me. I wish I had reviewed the rest, but I manage to follow the plot. Very entertaining production with good comic acting.

The gardens of the Palais Royal have construction blocking off some areas. The courtyard with the black and white pedestals is closed off. There are some odd rusty giants (robots? Buddhas?) lined up along one of the allées. There are few flowers and the garden looks somewhat bleak. A couple of other people are wandering around with cameras, as I am, looking for shots. It is the first mostly sunny day since I arrived; some people are sitting in the garden in the patches of sun.

An orchestra is playing outside the Comédie Française. As it gets dark, they play Khachaturian’s Saber Dance, pack up their instruments and leave. I sit for a while on a bench but the clochards on the other side are invading my personal space, so I go to a café across the street to pass some time. I am meeting people for a get-together at 8:00 and I have some time to kill. I order a drink and write in my journal. People outside are walking with umbrellas now. So much for the sunny day.

By the time I get up to leave, it has stopped raining. I make my way to the brasserie Gallopin, 40 rue Notre-Dame des Victoires, across the street from La Bourse, the stock exchange. The taxi driver has a guitar on the front seat. I wonder whether he plays to entertain himself while waiting for fares. The dinner here is a get-together for people from the Fodor’s message board. There are people who have traveled from London, Florida, and Nova Scotia. Very interesting conversations, lots of good humor. More faces attached to names and more boundaries crossed from virtual reality to real life.

Gallopin has a 24 euro menu for two courses, 29.5 euros for three courses, and 35 euros for three courses plus wine. I have a cake made of cep mushrooms with pork crackling, which I like very much. This is followed by an odd and unsuccessful “tandoori de volaille” which is neither Indian nor particularly French. For dessert I have an excellent mouelleux au chocolat, a dense chocolate cake melted in the middle.

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Nov 23rd, 2008, 08:22 PM
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I'm enjoying every word. You travel the way I would like to, if I were exploring on my own. Alas, my husband is not as interested in the arts as I. Next time you go, I'll volunteer! Excellent writing.
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Nov 24th, 2008, 02:06 AM
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Wonderful report Nikki.

More, please?
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Nov 24th, 2008, 02:47 AM
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Joining the chorus. How swell.

I noticed the rusting Giants in the Palais Royale pix. Do you think they are permanent?
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Nov 24th, 2008, 04:05 AM
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Thanks for the encouragement, everyone.

Photos are posted at http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLan...localeid=en_US .

Julie, there was a link posted on the thread I started with my photos by an alert reader who identified the sculptures: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/d...os_mascaro.htm. It appears that this is a temporary exhibit which was scheduled until November 8, although it was November 11 when I was there.

Miss Thang, so that was Muffy who almost knocked me over in front of Balzar. I wish I had known.
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Nov 24th, 2008, 04:33 AM
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ENjoying your report Nikki. I didn't realize when we were having dinner that you were staying in one of my friend's apartment. I hope it's available for me next year!

Thanks for all the hard work you did organizing.
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Nov 24th, 2008, 06:38 AM
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Nikki, I'm really enjoying your report. EJ
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