Musee des Arts Forains

Saturday morning we again went the two blocks to rue Daguerre to do some shopping. The popular butcher had lamb on sale, we got a cut we don’t see in the states, bone-in chops cut from the leg. Also got apricots, more of the delicious strawberries and salad greens, and a chevre. And a sweet for dessert.

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The Musee des Arts Fourains in Bercy is a place I’ve wanted to get to for a long time. An enormous collection of elements from 19th century carnivals and fairgrounds was arranged in several of the former wine storehouses in Bercy, in the east end of the Right Bank. There are visits twice weekly, and you need to book.

We’d never been to Bercy, it is now several rows of renovated wine storehouses that have been turned into shops and cafes.  On the Saturday we were there, the area was lively with French-speaking families.

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The Museum has you go with a tour which leads you from room to room. On this day, there were enough people so the group was broken into two, one with a guide who also did a bit of English commentary (tours are in French). Carnivals were immensely popular in France, attracting crowds to the lavish displays novel attractions. Many people first saw electric lights at carnivals.

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Besides the fantastic carousels, enormous displays for games and attractions, a room full of the Cabinet of Curiosities, there is lots to look at under the theatrical lighting. And in the ballroom, where early 20th century mechanized instruments play and waxwork dolls of 19th century characters took down, you can waltz! (sorry, no video of us dancing!)

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There are two old carnival games you can play, one based on the Siena Palio with racing horses players can make run by aiming balls into targets; the other based on the Garcons de Cafe race which used to take place in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century.

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The Venetian Rooms contained everything from a gondola carousel we got to ride, to a room where puppet figures appear to sing opera, to a modern multi-media show utilizing many of the old elements to create a Venetian Carnivale. I couldn’t decide if this was more cheezy or dramatic, but it certainly is fun.

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One highlight is the bicycle carousel built in 1897. You pedal the bikes to make it move–and man, it goes fast! The guide said that when they had a group of firemen in, they made it go 60 km an hour. I could not believe they let people ride this thing, it was terrifying to watch. (I did a video on solid ground, yes I am a wimp. Larry pedaled)

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By the time our visit ended, the cloudy morning had turned into a rainy afternoon. We ate a decent lunch at one of the cafes and then went our soggy way home. Later that afternoon we heard that a birthday party taking place in Park Monceau (to the north) had been struck by lightning, resulting in 9 children being injured. Awful.

I made the lamb for dinner with a wine-shallot sauce (very proud of myself for reading a recipe in French), roasted potatoes and Larry made salad.

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Chartres

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Twenty-six years ago, we spent our three week honeymoon driving around France, stopping wherever we picked out of our Fodor’s France. I remember driving  through a flat landscape, and seeing the spires of Chartre jutting up from a distance, just as medieval pilgrims must have seen it from the 12th century.

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Chartes is an easy trip from Paris. We caught a 9 am train from Montparnasse and were there at 10. (It almost felt as long tunneling through the Montaprnasse Metro station to get to the SCNF station) We walked the short distance up to the cathedral, then picked up a town map at the tourist office around the corner. There’s a pretty walk down along the river, where you can spot many old houses and remains of the tannery washing-sheds.

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Be aware it’s a long walk uphill back to the Cathedral. You can stop at the outdoor Labyrinth.

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And admire the flying buttresses, that medieval innovation which allowed for the Gothic large windows and vaulted spaces..

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The Cathedral has been undergoing restoration for several years, you can clearly see the enormous difference where centuries of grime have been cleaned off the stone. There has been some debate over this cleaning–as Malcolm Miller, longtime guide and scholar asked us, “Do people like dirt? The builders certainly didn’t put it there.”

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Here you can see the uncleaned portion of the choir screen next to the cleaned.

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Here’s the ceiling keystones, looking as they din in the 12th century.

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Speaking of Malcolm, 26 years ago we chanced into one of his daily tours, and so we timed things to again walk the Cathedral with him. He meets up with those interested at 12 and 2:30 every day but Sunday. Ten euros gets you a little headset so you can hear his commentary. He changes his talk every day,as he says, in 56 years he’s still learning things about Chartres.

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We learned about the history of the Cathedral, the architectural innovations, and what it looked like as built. For instance, the interior was painted–you can see some of the original paint high up in this photo, and on a column in the photo up the page.

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We also were guided through the meanings of some of the stained glass windows, and then outside, to the sculptures around one of the doors.

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After the tour, we had a fast lunch in a cafe. Unfortunately we didn’t make time before our train back to visit the interesting-looking stained glass museum, hopefully we’ll get there before another 26 years have passed.

Back in Paris we rested up a bit, and then went out for our reservation at Spring. We had eaten here in October, and it had been a spectacular meal. I’d been somewhat hesitant to go again, wondering if it could measure up a second time. As it turned out, it did not. While the food and service was extremely competent, the flavors lacked the liveliness that they had when owner Daniel Rose was in the kitchen. (He’s now in NYC setting up a place there)

We began with a little dish of sea bass sashimi, nothing unusual; then had skate wing (everything on the plate was so subtle the whole thing was bland); then a lobster dish that was the best thing of the evening, in a silky, deeply flavored broth; finally duck breast with an accompanying dish of duck leg with mushrooms (last time the duck was with foie gras!). Dessert was three little seasonal desserts based on rhubarb and strawberries, OK, but again, nothing special. Ah well.

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More Food, More Art, More Friends

Thursday morning we spent a bit of time rearranging our plans a smidge to try to take into account the possibility of fuel being scarce because of the blockage of France’s refineries by striking workers protesting the labor reforms that were pushed through without Parliamentary vote. . The situation as of now seems to be improving, but we figured taking the train on non-transportation strike days instead of driving would save our energy as well as the car’s.

After that fun, we headed over to the Marais where we were scheduled to meet some friends for lunch. We walked over from Cite, enjoying the flower market, a bread festival with school children making bread and vendors charging inflated prices, and the sight of Notre Dame. Along the way we saw one of the elevated moving platforms that movers use in Paris, hauling a large piece of furniture to an upper floor apartment. I’d wondered how the enormous armoire made it to your 7th floor with its teeny elevator.

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We had a fun, long lunch at Cafe Brezeih where the conversation outshone the food.Decent crepes, though double the price of our little neighborhood creperie.

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After saying our goodbyes, we went to another favorite museum, the Maison Europeene de la Photographie. All the current exhibits were engaging and quite different from each other–Christine Spangler’s black and white work documenting the horrors of conflict, contrasting with her recent more personal color works made from assemblages. Zachmann’s fascinating photos taken in China over the years, another gallery giving voice to Europe’s displaced peoples; abstract-appearing black and white photographs of buildings; vivid saturated color photos of industrial sites

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We walked on, eventually arriving in the Tuileries, where we grabbed some chairs, read, people-watched, and soaked up the bit of sun. It is lovely to not feel rushed in Paris, to just hang out with people resting before heading home from work, tourists, groups of kids, and elderly folk out for some air.

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By now it was time to head up to meet at N&D’s neighborhood in the 9th. We first met K from San Francisco, then N took us for a food walk in her neighborhood. Fabulous shops–fish markets, butchers, delis, patisseries of all kinds, greengrocers, an oil store, honey shop, a store just selling Spanish chacuterie, on and on. You could gain weight just walking up rue des Martyrs.

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We picked up the enormous seafood platter N had ordered, and brave Larry carried up the four flights of stairs. Shrimp, crabs, the best oysters I’ve ever had, sweet langoustines, belot (sea snails)…absolutely amazing. I discovered I like belot. We could have stayed talking all night, until poor K drooped from jetlag and the evening drew to a close.

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Old Friends

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I’d not been back to the Rodin Museum in many years. The last two times I’d been in Paris it had been undergoing renovation. With the museum finally being fully reopened, I was eager to revisit. We arrived just before the gate opened along with a crowd, mainly of groups. There is a modern building to house the ticket desk and a special exhibit facility, and then you cross the courtyard to the museum housed in Rodin’s former home and studio. The building has been meticulously renovated, and on the ground floor is a little nook where you can see an interesting video detailing the huge undertaking. All that gorgeous parquet flooring underfoot is new, there is new exhibit space, room for Rodin’s working models in terracotta and plaster, his large collection of antiquities, and works by Camille Caudel and friends. It’s fabulous, and should be for 46 million.

The museum did not feel crowded at all, probably because it now has 18 rooms, a and most people were going through very quickly. We ended with a walk through the gorgeous gardens.

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For lunch we walked around Invalides with the view of the Tower into the 7th, a neighborhood we’d stayed in a number of years ago. I’d heard of Bistrot Belhara , a small  (but aren’t they all?) restaurant with good food. We had an excellent lunch, staring by sharing an appetizer of a large spinach ravioli, topped by a piece of fresh mackerel and a rich broth poured over with a flourish by the waiter. Inventive and delicious, and I usually don’t care for mackerel. Larry went on to a little casserole of long-stewed pork with vegetables and sinful mashed potatoes, and I had perfectly cooked fish and squid on squid ink risotto. Two nice glasses of wine, and we were too full for dessert. Great place, I’d go again. Bistrot Belhara

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From there, we walked a long way along the Seine, another familiar Paris ritual, enjoying the breaking of the clouds and brief glimmers of sun. I’d forgotten how uncomfortable walking on these uneven cobblestones can get! Part of the riverfront is being renovated, the retaining walls getting a structural facelift from the looks of things. The houseboats always looked like an interesting place to live.

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Back in the 14th, we walked down rue Daguerre to get a few things for dinner, had a drink in a cafe, and then home.

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Paris, Paris

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We had an easy fight over–no TSA backup, and we sailed quickly through Security. In spite of no sleep on the flight we were in decent shape as we arrived to a rainy, chilly Paris. Although we usually take one of the airport buses, this time I had booked a shuttle service. Which though comfortable and easy, meant we were snared in the horrible traffic on a Monday morning. As the driver muttered into his phone, it was a Disaster.

Since we couldn’t take possession of the apartment until Tuesday, we stayed in a small hotel around the corner from the rue Daguerre market street. Hotel Sophie Germain is a small 2-star, quiet, clean, and simple. We made our traditional walk up to the Luxembourg Gardens, relaxed and let Paris come to us.

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First lunch was at La Cantine Trouquet on rue Daguerre. I enjoyed one of my France faves, foie du veau, and Larry had seared tuna. Very nice, I’d go again.

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A solid nap, then some more walking.

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We wanted a light dinner, so took a chance on a neighborhood creperie. Very good crepes, mine with chevre, grilled zucchini, basil and olives; Larry’s with potatoes, cheese and ham.

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When we woke Tuesday, the rain had pulled out although the clouds still threatened, and it was again on the chilly side. I’m glad I brought along my raincoat. We dragged the luggage over to the apartment. Now here’s a story–a friend knew were were looking for a rental, as the one we usually stay in was booked. She put us in touch with friends, who own a place in Paris though they spend most of their time in their home further south. And amazingly, the dates worked out so we could borrow the apartment. It’s gorgeous, a top-floor (thankfully, with elevator that usually works) , quiet, cozy apartment with large rooms,huge kitchen, somewhat funky plumbing, and splendidly equipped for cooking. We could have spent all day talking with the owner who will be in Boston for a conference in November, hopefully we can repay some hospitality then.

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We did some shopping at the twice-weekly market nearby, deciding on salad, pate and cheese for dinner. By now it was lunchtime, so we walked around a bit before deciding on Aux Enfants Gates. Tiny place, nice menu. We hot another my Paris checklist items with beef tartare. This was superb meat, mixed with some spices and herbs with a Mediterranean edge for something a bit different. I followed with pieces of chicken rolled around a vegetable stuffing, on the plate was even a stuffed white asparagus. Larry had beef in a deeply flavored wine sauce.  Too full for dessert.

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Walked over to the Zakind Museum, a charming little museum located in the artist’s former home and studio. He was a contemporary of Picasso, and his sculptures share some characteristics of his work. There’s a beautiful small garden with several pieces to sit and admire.

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For contrast we went over to the Fondation Cartier Pour l’Art Contemporain, which usually has interesting shows in its galleries. Currently there is work by Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama, huge prints of shots taken in Tokyo. Lots of fascinating images and details, we both enjoyed the gallery and his black-and-white slideshow.

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Walked back home, threw together dinner, read and to bed.

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Back to France

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We’ll be spending three weeks in France in late May/early June. I’m hoping the weather there warms up, from all reports it’s been a dismal Spring there as well as here.

I scored ff tickets for direct flights Bos-Paris last summer, hooray. Our favorite little Paris rental in the 14th was already booked, so I was looking around for other options. Through a friend of a friend, we arranged to borrow a British couple’s lovely looking place near the rue Daguerre market street in the 14th, a neighborhood we enjoy. The owners use it frequently, so we were thrilled to be able to work things out so we can use it during our stay. It’s a duplex with a huge, well-equipped kitchen, large dining area and living room, bedroom, bathroom and office. It even has a clothes dryer–unheard of. We’ll be there for nine days.

We’ll pick up a car and drive southwest to the Charente. “Where?” everyone is saying. I’d never heard of it either. Over the past few years we’ve become somewhat obsessed with finding the little Romanesque churches in Europe. As I was researching, I learned that a very high concentration of these buildings is in the Charente. It’s an area that seems popular with French and Brits largely looking for seaside vacations, with a long coast on the Atlantic and the interesting town La Rochelle. It’s also Cognac territory inland, has a lot of natural areas of rivers and marshland, and is a bit more than an hour’s drive to the Bordeaux wine region. Why not? After Paris’s museums and urban enjoyments, some quiet country drives sounded good.

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I booked an appealing looking gite a 10 minute drive from Cognac that looks amazingly comfortable and has fantastic reviews. I put together a detailed Google map–we’ll likely only hit 10% of what’s on it, I suspect there will be afternoons of lazing around the pool watching the grapes grow while drinking Pineau de Charente and eating chevre and cherries. Le Cerisier

Google Map

After our nine days there, we’ll drive up to Giverney, spend two days in that area, and then overnight near CDG before heading home. Hopefully we’ll avoid rabid footie fans in town for the European Championship games.

Arriving in Paris two weeks from today!