Art All Around

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Monday, the day when many museums are closed, is actually easy in Paris for art lovers as several interesting museums remain open. It was another drizzly day, and so a museum day would not be a hardship at all.

We began at the Grand Palais, that gorgeous Beaux-Arts building of glass, metal and stone that stares opposite the Petite Palais, both built for the 1900 Exposition. Inside the enormous  glass of the Nave, artists have been invited to mount huge exhibitions to take advantage of the space. This year’s is by Chinese-French sculptor Huang Yong  Ping, called Empires. Symbols of past and present power, domination, threat, and cycles are explored through walking through a landscape constructed of hills made from stacks of shipping containers, modern signs of domination. A gigantic snake coils through overhead, finally swooping down to show its opened fanged mouth against the end of the tail. Overhead is a giant Napolean’s hat, coated in tar and oil. Not subtle, but arresting to walk through.

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Over on the other side of the Palais, we both  greatly enjoyed the Carombolages exhibition. The curators have assembled hundreds of artwrks from all eras and origins, and thoughtfully arranged them so each leads on in some way to the next, whether by subject, form, decoration, or theme. It’s fascinating to see the interconnections as you also appreciate the art. I think this was my favorite exhibit we’ve seen in Paris this year.

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After a very visually full morning, we were ready for lunch. One of our favorite lunchtime destinations from October was Zebulon, near the Palais Royale. Like many places, they offer a three-course set menu at lunchtime at a very fair price. This can be a lot of food, so what we usually do is order one full menu and one plat (main course), sharing first course and dessert. Today we started with a little dish of cod, leeks and vegetables cooked in a creamy sauce, lovely on a chilly day. Our plat was slices of tender veal, with eggplant puree and beets.  Dessert was a little cherry clafouti, topped with cherry ice cream. All excellent, and actually we decided to try their sister restaurant Pirouette for dinner tonight.

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We still had a bit of energy afte lunch, so headed over to the Louxembourg Museum for the Masterpieces from Budapest exhibit. This was a small, carefully selected representative of the Budapest museum’s holdings, from Middle Ages through early modern period. Enjoyable. These were two of my favorites,  a dutch work by Hooch, and this sweet little Millet etching.

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We headed back to the apartment for some rest, walking through the Luxembourg Gardens in the rain.

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Put our feet up, and then at 8 set out for Pirouette, near Les Halles. This is a cool space, two levels, and like Zebulon, the tables are spaced so you aren’t sitting in your neighbor’s lap. On a nicer night it would be nice to eat outside here. From tonight’s menu we picked a beautiful first course of tomato, fresh ricotta, sauteed girolle mushrooms, friend and fresh herbs. This was so good we’d wished we had ordered two. I went on to another of my France must-haves, riz de veau. It was stellar, crisp outside, meltingly tender inside, in a delicious sauce. Larry loved his pigeon as well. We weren’t in the mood for a sweet, so for dessert had a slice of a new cheese to us, a Basque sheeps cheese called Ossau Iraty. It was nutty and creamy, and was topped with a cherry glaze. delicious meal, good wines by the glass.

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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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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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