Tuesday, August 22, 2017

finishing off summer in Paris

I wanted to be a woman of few words today, but the pictures seem incomplete without the explanation. Still, let me try to keep it simple.

Let's start with the weather: this will have been the last sunny and very warm day of the summer season for me -- Paris, Warsaw, Madison -- they're all cooling off, going forward. But today, ah, today is one gorgeous sunny, summery day here!

Breakfast at Les Editeurs.


On the approach, I spy a dad with two daughters. Is the mom at home? Elsewhere?


Elsewhere. She appears moments later with another daughter. That one is Snowdrop's age. A gaggle of girls!

My own meal, by the open window...


(Taking pictures on the steps of Les Editeurs was more fun when Snowdrop was the subject...)


I thought hard where I should walk today. And though I did lay out a route and a destination for myself (Right Bank, Marais district), at the last minute I kicked it out the door. On this summer-in-Paris trip, there will be no Right Bank at all. It's quieter here, where I am. To get elsewhere, I must pass through tumult. I don't want tumult. And I like the long stroll by the river on the Left Bank, heading west, where the sidewalk is wide, the views are beautiful, and the people are few.

 (Rare to see such construction in the heart of the city, but the Right Bank continues to revamp and rebuild some blocks that have faded over the decades.)


Did I mention how brilliant the day is?


I turn in toward the Place des Invalides. Flowers have been added this year. It all looks rather grand! (More pics from the Place on the return!)


As I turn in toward the Rue Cler market, I pop into a store to pay for an anniversary card. Inside, madame is showing off pics of her new granddaughter.


She sees me, but she still has a few more to bring up and she continues doing it, apologizing half-heartedly to me -- excuse me, but you know, it's a grandchild! More pictures, comments, discussion about the virtues of a girl over a boy, or was it a boy over a girl?

Finally, some five minutes later she is ready to accept my few Euros for the card. Ha! Now it's my turn! I take out my iPhone and quickly bring up a photo of Snowdrop. And this woman isn't just polite about it. She tweaks it so that she can study it closely. I wish I had brought up one, where Snowdrop's hair was combed to the French standard!

I continue my walk. To the market. I used to love this market, but honestly, these days I think of it as rather an ordinary place to buy food if you happen to be in the area. There are good green grocers on Rue Cler, but there are good green grocers elsewhere in the neighborhood too. Same with cheese shops and wine stores. I surely wouldn't make this my destination if I wanted to see a quintessential French market (if there is such a thing, as markets differ greatly across France).

Still, I admire the fruits: lots of berries of course (I pick up some to munch on), but, too, nectarines, peaches, plums and grapes. With plenty of bees enjoying the sticky juices.



I pause at an off market small cafe for a pick me up shot of espresso. I listen to the chat about the weather among the regulars. She is a regular.


Three clients read the paper, one studies his smart phone.


Onwards. I pass a store where I had purchased a small toy for Snowdrop last year. Closed of course. And then I pass a bunch of Snowdrops! They can't be much older than her!


I'm fascinated how much more is expected of these kids.  Snowdrop and her classmates go for "walks" in a school wagon. These kids are going for a longer walk, crossing many busy streets, with few adults and no stragglers.

Shortly after, some French (but not Parisian) family asks me how to get to the Eiffel Tower. I find that amusing. Every road in the city seems to lead to it, especially when it is this close!


(It was temporarily out of sight for them. They must have emerged from a metro, confused.)

Me, I love the Eiffel Tower. From a good vantage point. Like Snowdrop, I look for it, I admire it. It's symbolically relevant, sort of like a sunrise or sunset -- a thing of great beauty, but you wouldn't want to get near it.

And so, before I get too close, I turn around and head back. Past countless bakeries. I think the 7th Arrondissement has more bakeries than any other in Paris. And many of them are best of the best.

(Like this one: unusual, minimalist, beautiful.)


Returning, means I have to cross the lovely Places des Invalides again. Here are the promised pics -- a selfie on a timer...


The Tower, looking back...


This next photo is of middle aged Frenchmen in search of tradition and national identity. They choose to play boules. Now that's a nationalism I can wrap my brain around.


And now it's nearing 2:30, the French witching hour for lunch, but I'm not worried! Given that Cafe Varenne is closed and Cafe Trama promised to finally open today but then pushed it up to evening which is useless for me now, at lunchtime -- given all that,  I am going to turn my back on everything and go where I really want to go -- to Cafe Breizh, which, btw, is now listed on their website here.

There are so many crepes to savor! So many! I choose the classic one with tomato, cheese, egg and ham. And I sit back to take in the action.

For instance, this table, with the newly arrived, lively, chatty, happy Americans, baby in tow.


Here comes my lunch, late as it is in the afternoon (a French person wouldn't be caught dead eating now).


And no, I'm not going home without dessert. Homemade caramel and beurre salee ice cream along with buckwheat ice cream.


Is that it then for the day? I collapse after four hours of walking up and down and all around the Left Bank? Not really. I have an errand to run -- a search for a certain cup (long story and not too interesting). I criss-cross the Boulevard St Germain several times and it strikes me that I never actually photograph the Boulevard St Germain and so this time, I take out the camera and click.


In the evening, I go out to dinner.

Here's the thing about Parisian dinners: picking a place can be very stressful and so I long ago decided that I would make my choices in advance of arriving here and tweak them if need be. For tonight, I booked a table at Filomena. It's the restaurant that hopped in when my long beloved Pouic Pouic finally hopped out.

People love it. It's a Sardinian place, which practically guarantees that everyone eating there will be French. I mean, if you're on holiday in Paris, you may break down and eat pizza or even pasta, but you're NOT going to set aside a whole meal on the cuisine of Sardinia.

So good food, good mix of Italian (waitstaff) and French (diners) -- what's there to cry about? Oh, plenty: the proprietors chose to play tapes of Fiorella Mannoia music all night long. Like this one:

Well now, run my whole life by me and make me sob! We, my girls and I, have this thing about Fiorella. We've loved her music since I first played it for them when they were real bambini themselves.

It doesn't help that I get a text about how Snowdrop was sad today and the teacher suspected missing...

Still, the food at Filomena is fine. I would go back. If I lived in Paris. I've said this before -- food is good here. You may not like a particular dish or a waiter or a setting or a night, but that's just luck or lack thereof.

No photos of dishes for you. Just of a nostalgia filled Aperol Spritz.


... and a bunch of lovely photos of people in love. Which make me very happy.




Good night, sweet dreams, see you in Warsaw tomorrow.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Paris vignettes

they all went south

Paris, like Warsaw, grows quiet in August. Oh, it is a busy tourist month here, but contrary to what a stroll down the Champs Elysees might suggest, tourists make up just a small fraction of the Parisian scene. And in August, millions of the true Parisians head out for les vacancees. (Many actually leave in the middle of July, but August remains the most popular month to be away.)

This week, they start trickling back to town. I see restaurants and shops posting their opening dates, even as most are firm about this Monday: still closed, even if only for one more day!

But this isn't necessarily so terrible for a visitor who is here only for a short while. The streets have far fewer cars (they say that the average daily speed limit on the Périphérique  -- the ring road around the city -- increases by 50% in August). You can actually get a table at a popular eatery. The hush in the side street allows for a contemplative mood. Everything slows down, in good ways too.

I go to Les Editeurs for breakfast and I see most of the places are empty at what is normally a very popular meeting time there (around 9:30).


It's not unpleasant to look out on the quieter little square outside.

The air is mild, the skies are mostly overcast. Not too hot not too cold not too crowded but not deadly still either. Add August to your good months to be in Paris.

first day of school

If I have any agenda at all, it is to find a simple but sweet dress for Snowdrop's first day of school. The little girl will be moving up to the big kids' building and so it really does feel more and more like she is rapidly approaching her high school diploma hour.

It is not hard these days to find nice (and inexpensive) kids clothing in the US, but I do love looking at shops in Paris and I haven't anything else to buy and so I spend a wonderful morning sorting through pretty fabrics. I'm not sure shopping for boys has the same appeal. Pants are pants. But dresses have a certain music to them that is actually quite charming.


Of course, shopping is really an excuse to canvas broadly the familiar neighborhoods of Paris. Today, I'm entirely on the left bank.


And again, I follow a route that lets me cut right through the heart of the Luxembourg Gardens.


If you move to the southernmost parts of the park, you'll nearly always find quiet and empty spaces. But especially on a Monday morning, and especially in August.


Such serenity in the heart of this enormous city!


The park has a section partitioned off for bee hives. Lots of them! Small wonder -- there are always flowers here, even in December. But it seems that bees travel, because a few blocks away from the park, I come across a flower shop where bees are hungry for what these painted daises have to offer!


And now it's early afternoon and the cafes and restaurants are becoming more animated. The French stomach needs food, always between noon and 2:30. The tourist may groan at this inflexibility but food habits are strong in France and suddenly I hear much more French around me as the French men and women crawl out for their afternoon meal.

Well, I'm hungry too. At home I rarely pause for lunch, but at home my breakfast is something more than just bread product with coffee, and besides, I have not stopped walking since I left the breakfast table.

So about lunch...

flipping things around

The food plan for today had been that I would eat pizza for dinner. Weird, right? Well, I needed to save a bit and, too, all my favorite restaurants were closed for the summer and so why not just eat a good, fresh pizza.

But then, lo, an eatery opened just one block from my hotel and it's a place that I like quite a lot -- a creperie that goes over and beyond the traditional Breton buckwheat pancake. Out went the pizza idea and in came the crepe.

But then comes the lunch hour and despite what my smart phone tells me, my favorite lunch place staff are still out on a beach somewhere in the south of France. Cafe Varenne is closed until next week.

Hi, nice pizza place (Pizza Chic)! Would you mind canceling my reservation for tonight and instead feeding me a pizza now?

The odd thing is that many of the reviewers complained that at dinner time, Pizza Chic has been taken over by outsiders. Not so at lunch! All French people. In August. I have no answer for it.

(A mother and son...)


(A very good tomato and anchovy pizza...)


Satisfied, I meander around the neighborhood, popping into shops for my age bracket, not to buy, but just to admire. (I also admire the mom who is shopping here with four young children in tow -- one is in her arms.)



i am a tourist

It's late in the afternoon. I consider my options. I'm done with stores, I'm done with heavy duty walking.

Let me give the Pantheon a third chance. I mean, at some point it will be open and I will be allowed to climb up to the top of the rotunda, right?

(Here's the Pantehon -- a monument (and a crypt) for the acclaimed men and just a handful of women of the France's past.)


I'm in! There is a group scaling the several hundred steps at 4:30 and there is room for one more!

I kill time waiting for 4:30 by watching Foucault's Pendulum swing back and forth, back and forth...


Finally, I am up, up, up and looking over Paris.

And it is a beautiful view.


And very personal, too, as only 50 people are allowed up there at a time and there are plenty of quiet spots where you can retreat with your camera to take that glorious photo of Paris, or of yourself and Paris...


Looking in at St Sulpice, you can take note of the beautiful Parisian rooftops and chimneys....


Oh, I took about a dozen photos of this view and that view, but frankly, just one or two will give you an idea of what it's like to look down at the city from the Pantheon.

And now that I've done that very touristy thing of catching a splendid view, I think I may as well go down to the crypt to see the graves of France's famous writers, warriors and scientists: Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Zola... the list is long. But until two years ago, of the 73 there, only one was a woman. (Two women resistance fighters have just been added.)

It is strangely moving to see the resting place of that one woman who held her own here for so long  -- Marie Curie. Or, as the plaque rightly states -- Marie Sklodowska Curie. (She is buried along with her husband Pierre Curie.) I admit to shedding a tear. I've read books about her ever since I was a little girl and my interest was intense not only because she was so accomplished but also because, of course, she came from Poland.


I'm not the only one who lingers here. Of all the famous French buried here, hers is the grave that is photographed most (by my count).

and suddenly, there are crowds

It's remarkable that I should be hungry again, but I am and I walk with enthusiasm (the two minutes it takes me to get there) to the new addition to "my" neighborhood: Cafe Breizh.


So new is it that you wont find mention of it yet on the website of the Cafe Breizh. This is an eatery from Brittany, but in recent years it came to the city's Marais neighborhood, and then -- hold on to your hat -- it opened a restaurant in Tokyo!  There is a decided Japanese influence now on the Cafe's buckwheat pancake. You can purchase it as a roll!

Forget about wine.  The Bretons drink (hard) cider with their buckwheat and you'd be foolish not to follow in their stead.

(My roll comes with prawns, tomato and zucchini.)


For dessert, I get the buckwheat special: crepe, with buckwheat honey and buckwheat ice cream. It's just excellent!


I'm sitting by the open window, or really open door. The place is airy and modern and it looks out onto the little square that it shares with Les Editeurs and two other eateries. Every restaurant is full of very happy people (mostly French speaking, though I admit to spying more than one Japanese person at the Breizh).

Wait, isn't it still August and quiet around here? Where did all these people come from? A line is already forming at the Breizh.


The evening is young. Business everywhere is brisk. Yes, I think the people are coming back to Paris. Maybe not to work just yet. I suppose you have to ease in. Give yourself a few days to get into the city vibe once more. A few nights out with friends, a few good meals, and only then -- let the new work year begin.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

to Paris

After an intense set of days, I turn to a slower pace, a quieter string of hours, with fewer imperatives.

This is in fact how I nearly always approach Paris. Even when there last, with Snowdrop, I rarely planned for more than one activity in the morning and one in the afternoon and sometimes these were nothing more than a visit to a park, and a ride on a pony or the carousel.

On my own, I wont be any more ambitious. Paris is for gentle observation, for a study of food and manners, for a glance at French life choices, for reflection.

Though it seems a pain to fly to and from Paris now, only to fly back that way later, when returning home, in fact, there's a certain pleasant leisure in the entire experience. I get up without hurry -- the flight is in the early afternoon. I have breakfast -- the full deal today: oatmeal, fruit and jagodzianka!


I glance outside. It's raining and I think this is the only time I will be exposed to rain for the remainder of my days in Europe. Such luck, don't you think? So I leave the umbrella behind and of course get very wet walking to the metro. But I tell myself it's summer and drying off will be easy.

Informed now about special Sunday bus schedules, I know where to get off the metro and where to wait for the final bus ride to the airport. Here, it's this stop -- which coincidentally is very close to where I lived as a very young child. I can tell by the church towers right there, behind the metro station.


Despite the rain, the flight leaves on time.

[OVERHEARD: behind me, three passengers are engaged in conversation. Jean-Pierre (made up names) is older, French, doing business in Poland. Ania is a Polish engineer, working in Germany, about to visit her French boyfriend in Paris. Luc is French, doing business in Poland and with a girlfriend there.

Jean-Pierre is a little new to Poland. Ania explains foods and foibles -- she's very proud of everything and talks in superlatives about the Polish habits. We're very open! Much more so than French people are! Jean-Pierre takes it in, but he's not sure about any of it. He's very France oriented.

Luc chimes in that Warsaw has almost no unemployment. Jean-Pierre still isn't convinced. I heard it's 8% -- he says.
Ania corrects him -- that's Poland. And in any case, it's easier for young people to get work in Poland than it is for young people to get a job in France. Warsaw is much more future oriented than Paris.
Luc adds -- And Polish people are more willing to retrain, to get needed certificates, to learn a language to boost their chances of better work. Look at all the Warsaw people learning English and traveling to London in search of better paying jobs! Show me one Parisian who will go to London to look for work!

I think about Ania's pride in her home country. If I heard an American speaking in such superlatives about how it is back home, I'd consider them to be a tad boastful. Everyone knows America is powerful and rich, that success may not be easy, but if it's attained, the rewards are plentiful. But if you're from a lesser country -- lesser as regarded by the rest of the world -- you are allowed a certain amount of defensiveness I think. A feeling of pride wears well if you're trying to erase negative stereotypes.]

I leave a city that's drenched in rain and fly into one that's done with showers for a while. Sunny and mild, summery and refreshed. Train to the city of Paris and voila! -- I alight at the Luxembourg Gardens.


And I go to my wee little room in the same hotel I've been coming to for such a long time now...


... and I open my window to that lovely little square with the imposing Odeon Theater.


It's Sunday, near evening, and so, like a broken record that cannot jump to a different track, I go to the Luxembourg Gardens once more.


But I do feel like Snowdrop should be by my side. This park now has her imprint on it and all I see are the children her age and I think --I need to do something more... my age.

The Pantheon is just a few blocks away and I know it is open because my phone tells me so and I dutifully stand in line -- not to buy a ticket to view famous dead men, but to climb up to the stairs to view Paris from way up high.

I tried to do it last winter and was told that the rotunda was closed for the season. And today, I find out that even though the Pantheon is open, the panorama viewing closed some half an hour ago. Two failed efforts! I'm not sure I want to try again!

In the evening I stroll leisurely to dinner.


(The quiet facade of the St Sulpice fountain... It's evening now...)


(Through the park... Oh! She is a Snowdrop clone in many ways!)


(Past couples in love...)


There are three good restaurants just at the southwest corner of the Gardens, all in one block, in a row, and I booked a table at the one that had shunned the French custom of taking the summer off. It's called Invictus. People love it and now so do I.

I could talk about the food, but you know, that's no secret: Paris has good food.


So I'll mention something else: two small episodes -- one from the restaurant and one from the walk home.

If you eat out on Sunday evening in France, and especially if you do so at the early side of things, like around 7:30 (my favorite) -- you'll nearly always be in the company of foreigners. It was no different tonight.

I'm sure Invictus relies on this, as much as it relies on the regulars at later hours on other days. Did I mention how hard it is to run a profitable restaurant in Paris?

 A few feet down, there is an American couple. I spoke French to the waiter. No one in the French community would think that this is a sign of Frenchness. Still, a foreigner could be fooled. The American couple talked to each other as if no one could hear or understand. And it was charming.

They were young, excited, clueless, happy, adventurous, confused, and did I mention happy? I imagined a great future for them. I surely believe that they were open to the possibilities. They wanted to learn. And even at the early stages of it all, they found their pod of happiness.

The second episode took place as I was walking back to the hotel tonight. A woman (my age, frazzled, pulling a rolly suitcase) asked me for directions. And this made me happy. Not because anyone who gave it any thought (camera slung over my shoulder) could possibly confuse me for a local. Perhaps I get asked a lot (and I do) because I somehow wear the expression of a helpful sort? Wouldn't that be wonderful? -- here, ask that lady! She'll either know or she'll figure out to help you along! 

The evening walk is beautiful. It's not yet nine and not yet dark when I pass the Gardens.

Paris, in love.


I'm in my hotel room now. It's very quiet, very familiar, very inviting to unwind, to relax!

I think I will.