Thursday, December 12, 2013

the same, or maybe not the same

Here's what I learned from Claude Simon (a XX c. French novelist): for a writer, only the act of putting ink to paper puts a definition to an experience. Before that, all you have is (in his words) "a formless mass of sensations, more or less confused, of memories, more or less accumulated, and a vague, very vague project. It is only in the process of writing that something happens."


I talked to Ed just a short while ago. He tells me that all my travel posts are the same: a bit like consistent, warm comfort food, he says. I think her reads things differently than I do. My writing has another meaning for me and probably still another for you, the Ocean reader.


I'm undecided about breakfast. It's such a quick meal here: a croissant or a pain au chocolat, coffee. It's better if the setting compensates for the brevity of it all. So I look for that -- the good setting. I go to the cafe by the Buci market and I sit down outside and I last only about two minutes. No, not because it's cold. There is too much smoke. Everyone of these occupied tables has a pack of Malboros on it. I know that smokers are free to do their thing at outdoor tables here, but it is rather sad that they have inherited that coveted space and someone who doesn't want to smoke secondarily with them has to go inside.

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I don't in the end go inside, I go across the street and stay inside at Paul's -- because though it is painfully dull inside Paul's (it's a bakery, not a cafe hangout and it shows) at least the pain is terrific and the coffee is pretty good too.

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Where to go today? Oh, no dilemma there. It's so obvious: if I'm in this city for more than a day or so, I'll go to the old but very up and coming (and perhaps you can say that it already upped and came) Marais district. But I do it backwards this time: instead of walking, as usual, first to Notre Dame, then to Marais, then Pompidou, then les Halles, I go first to Les Halles, reversing, in effect, the loop.

(So, I cross the river. Two photos from the Ile de la Cite to move us along.)

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quiet square on an otherwise busy river island

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looking back to the left bank, across the Pont Neuf

It makes sense to get rid of Les Halles early on. If you're not a Paris person, maybe you don't know that this is a major reconstruction zone for the city (completion date: some infinitely distant time). It's terribly unpleasant to walk through it, even though they try to excite you by posting historic signs of progress. Well, I was here last in October and it looks pretty much the same as it did then.

As always, when I'm in this (at present, horrible) area, I visit the two restaurant supply stores. And as always these years, I buy nothing. I suppose I just like the feel of places that sell kitchen utensils. It takes me back to when I was a (more) serious cook.

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I have a clear destination today: the art exhibitions at the Centre Georges Pompidou. There are two special exhibitions and both are exciting.

But first, let's look at the views from the top of the Centre building. On a day like this, they're... over the top, so to speak. (yes, there is a bit of a haze, but less than what you see in the photos, which were taken through somewhat streaked glass).

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Now, let's get to the two special exhibitions. The first -- "Surrealism and the Object." Completely dedicated to Surrealist sculpture. And not sculpted from raw material, but sculpture that uses everyday objects. As always, the exhibit comes with a terrific description of the context (including the relationship between surrealism and communist philosophy) and I spend far more time on looking and reading here than I had intended.

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S, Dali

So the second exhibit gets shortchanged. And perhaps that's a shame, because I may have gotten even more involved in the essence of it than my already huge involvement with the surrealists.

The second exhibit is about Claude Simone. And it is a massive undertaking. I can't even describe it -- it's huge: it has materials, and manuscripts. and since he was also an artist and a photographer -- it has the visual elements as well, and commentary by others, and places for lectures on his work, and really, I've never seen anything quite like it. (It also has quite the number of university students making use of this massively accumulated treasure trove of Simon work.)

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But, after a while, I move on. It was in a way too much for someone who had intended to just "visit an interesting exhibition."


My daughter had sent me a clip from the NYTimes last month about a place in Paris that is doing a wonderful job of promoting different Brittany ciders. She knew Ed liked cider and thought on a next Paris visit he might like to go there.

There is no Ed in Paris right now (and who knows when he will next grace the sidewalks of this city) but in reading the article, I learned that it is a place with the best Breton buckwheat crepes in all of Paris (and there are a lot of creperies in Paris!). I have a deep love of a good buckwheat crepe and so I thought I'd do a late lunch there and see if it would pull me all the way through the dinner hour, in the Marseille way. (An opportunity to spend less on food and still eat well! Win win!)

Of course, a November NYTimes review means December crowds, but since I am a solo diner, they squeezed me into the overflow table for strays over at their little Breton store.

It is a superb crepe meal. I order the Brittany artichoke special (Brittany supplies 90% of France's artichokes... I don't know how I know this, but it's true!). The crepe has an egg, cheese, ham and artichokes. Heaven on earth. Oh, of course, with delicious (gently  alcoholic) cider on the side.

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The walk back is down familiar paths. You'll recognize the Place des Vosges (the moon shines brightly...)

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And even if you don't, I imagine you're now quite familiar with that gold of all the sunsets I've experienced while in France this month.

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Though I bet this guy's gold will come as a surprise: he is juggling (on one of the bridges over the River Seine,) while placing a bowl of goldfish on his head. And, concurrently, he dances and sings songs from his native country. Raw talent.

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So, can I skip dinner? No, I need a little more food. And I need to go out. When I travel alone, I don't want to eat in the quiet of home. Tonight, I go out in search of something light and cheap and tasty. And that's a tall order to fill: if one of the prongs misfires, well now, that's life. But it's all too easy to miss the boat on all three and then you just kick yourself for not doing the conventional dinner out in a restaurant, like normal people.

On the upside, none of the three prongs exactly misfired. But, too, I have to admit, it wasn't a win win either. I decided to go to the little place up in the Buci area-- a few blocks from where I'm staying. It's called Da Rosa and it's vaguely Italian and it's somewhere between a food store and a cafe and a brasserie. I look over at my table neighbor, like the looks of his pasta and order the same. Or so I thought. I got rigatoni with a spicy tomato sauce which I could probably make at home with my eyes half closed.

But, it was good and it wasn't outrageous and on my walk home, on my lovely walk home, I'm thinking how superbly nice it is to have had an exceptional meal today, even if that meal happened to have been lunch.


Out of order, but, on the theory that there is no order to life, you will, I'm sure, be fine with this:  I caught sight of the moon again today while I was passing a church. Same as yesterday, only different church. (Notre Dame.)

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Not out of order and in fact ending my post for today is the last stretch of the walk home. I 'live' just a block up from here.

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