Our Last Week in Paris
July 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
We loved our morning coffee and baguette, maybe some eggs, sitting in the kitchen with the window open, listening to the beginning sounds of the day. The bathroom is at the back of the apartment, the view is treetops from the courtyard below, rooftops and sky…. and windows of other apartments…. I often wondered who lived on the other side of those windows. A ritual – every morning I would open the window before I started to put on my make-up….all was quiet but for the cooing of pigeons, and occasionally, mostly on Saturday mornings, I could hear faint sounds of music. American pop music, but I didn’t mind that so much. It seemed to come from a small attic window in the roof of a building behind ours. I can’t imagine how many stairs it took to reach their door.
Then came the realization we had only one week left. There were things I really wanted to do that I had not, which put us into a bit of a panic mode. Though I tried to just savor the moments, I couldn’t always. Here are a few things from our last week in Paris.
We met Rachel … the lovely vivacious and brilliant young woman who rented her wonderful apartment to us. As luck would have it she had a business meeting in Paris with enough time in her schedule to meet us for lunch. Our good fortune all around.
We met John Davis at his home in Passy. This kind and gentle soul is a veteran of World War II. His warm smile and sparkling eyes belie any trace of that experience. When the United States entered the war after Pearl Harbor he was a senior at Berkeley. He joined the army and landed in Normandy after D-Day on July 28 1944. At twenty-four he was an ordinance officer responsible for moving trucks and tanks across the channel. While in France he met 15 –year old Jeannette in the village of Granville, they would marry years later. In tribute to John there will be a special Post soon.
Our visit with John Davis led to the discovery of buildings designed by architect Hector Guimard. Born in Lyon in 1867, he was an important French architect, interior designer and designer of Art Nouveau objects. In France the Art Nouveau style is often called the “Style Guimard”. The building John Davis lives in was designed by Guimard, but his most important work and masterpiece was just up the street at 60 rue La Fontaine – the Paris dwelling Castel Béranger (1894-1897). Look closely for all the details in these photographs we took.
The entrance to Castel Béranger – how would you like this to be your front door!
Best-known works by Guimard are entrances to the Paris Métro, which was completed just in time for the 1900 World Exposition. By 1903 he had designed numerous Métro entrances. Eighty-six have survived …. you’ve seen them no doubt. They are one of the things Paris is famous for. We have all passed under them as we walk down the stairs to catch a train, or leaned against the railing to talk to a friend or read a map. His fanciful designs combined wrought iron, bronze and glass to create these grand and graceful entrances.
Chateau Vincennes. The day we went we were blown about and rained on, which meant no walking through the gardens which was a shame because they were highly recommended to see. I think the appeal of the castle itself is to historians and to little children who love to run about imagining themselves as knights or princesses. Alas, the better idea would have been to go on one of the day trips we abandoned, but we have no time to waste fretting over it.
A little restaurant in the 11e…. Le Chemise. So good we went back a second time. I adore the waiter who looks like Johnny Depp….the two on either side of him are the owners. While the chef (on the left) is in the kitchen the other two move about as if they were dancers. Back and forth from kitchen to table. As if choreographed, lifting plates high or low in order to pass one another within the confines of their small dining room. We witnessed some very fancy footwork as they managed to avoid colliding.
Cuttlefish – a first for me and absolutely delicious!
We dined twice at Metropolitain in the 4e – a favorite of our friend, Anne-Lise. Once early on, and now at the end, for our anniversary. That night we dressed up a bit as you can see by Tom’s very French foulard!
Charming in every way, including the two waiters who make everyone welcome. The space is even smaller than Le Chemise. The food is excellent. Be forewarned if you go that the loo is downstairs via a spiral staircase so small you feel like you are a corkscrew as you descend. We originally thought about a grander place to celebrate, but changed our minds. At this point in the trip we realized were eating really good food without having to pay grand prices and we were quite happy doing so…perhaps I was still harboring my desire for that fabulous handbag at Bon Marchè? Perhaps.
The magical dessert Tom ordered is presented in a shallow white bowl with a sphere of chocolate resting in the center. It begs to be cracked open, but patience is the key here. The waiter has in his other hand a small pitcher of hot chocolate syrup which he pours slowly over the chocolate shell, melting it away. The reward: a scoop of ice cream in a pool of warm velvety chocolate…..now you can reach for your spoon!
I danced in Montmartre! When we got off the funicular that takes you to the top of the hill and right to the steps of Sacre Coeur a man was playing a violin and another danced gracefully by himself. He looked up at me and smiled, motioned for me to join him which I did! Tom remarked later he may have been “a plant” and was in cahoots with the violin player…… I preferred not to think of it that way at all… he had a wonderful smile and was such a gentleman, smartly dressed in his summer linen jacket. A sheer delight and yet another unexpected Paris surprise.
We ended the day by joining Terrence Galenter for a Bordeaux wine tasting – a small gathering of expats and Parisians at an apartment in Montmartre.
La Fondation Pierre Bergé … in tribute to the legacy of Yves Saint Laurent. A unique heritage of 5,000 garments and 15,000 Haute Couture accessories, 50,000 drawings and related objects preserved in museum condition, which you can only see if you are a Benefactor of the Fondation. We had seen this poster in a métro station advertising a special exhibition. “Yves Saint Laurent 1971: The Scandal Collection”. Fun to see the clothes and sketches but I wanted more….I wanted to go into the archives to see more of his creations…. this was merely a snippet, a glimpse of his contribution to fashion.
We walked Avenue Montaigne, passing the doorways to famous haute couture shops….
I walked boldly into Marni to look more closely at a dress I could see as I peered in from the street….so lovely. A feathery light sheer printed fabric, perfect to float about in at a garden party. On the racks a few pieces in a color listed as “Giada”, which I will describe to you as pistachio mixed with a dollop of cream…..sumptuous.
When I decided on a whim to go into the store and abruptly headed for the door I heard Tom say in a low voice “please don’t go in there….” but in I went. The sales lady greeted me most kindly, knowing I’m sure and not minding at all that I was there just to look. Tom was most relieved when I reappeared without a shopping bag! I suggested he recover over a glass of champagne at the Plaza Athénée – we wanted to go anyway to toast his father who had stayed there routinely many years ago on business trips when he worked for Armstrong. Whatever that champagne cost was less than the dress, Tom didn’t bat an eye when he signed the check.
The Plaza Athénée
Unlike some other hotels recently unveiled after the owners, architects and designers almost strip them of their character, this hotel (we only saw the main floor so cannot speak to the sleeping rooms) is lovely after major renovations, but not at all the same, except for the exterior, as when Moose stayed there (to explain. His given name was Maurice and he was Tom’s father. “Moose” was the nickname given to him by his college football team…rather humorous for the slender 6 foot 2 inch gentleman he was. His given name was Maurice!) Long after his college days he was always known as Moose, by his wife and friends, and even when he sat at the head of the table as Chairman of the Board of Armstrong Industries). I was sad to miss seeing the Plaza Athénée as he did. We sat on the terrace because it was a lovely day. I think if the hotel was the same today as when Moose was there I would have chosen to sit inside – rather like sharing it with him. The staff at Plaza Athénée was so welcoming and gracious as we told them about Moose having stayed at their hotel many many times. We were taken on a tour of the main floor and even invited to see a sleeping room if we wanted. Perhaps we should have but Champagne was calling.
I was struck several times during our stay in Paris by how we were treated by everyone we encountered. Not that I anticipated it would be any different…..it did not matter where we went people made it a lovely experience. Okay, well there was this one tiny restaurant…..very old. So charming and “authentic” from the exterior, Tom insisted we try it. We never seemed to pass by when it was open, but one day we were looking for a place to have lunch and headed there. If it was closed we would go elsewhere. It was open, as soon as we went in we realized the quaint authenticity changed to just old. A fussbol table. Old photographs and posters hanging higgledy piggledy on the wall, most at the very top near the ceiling. The tables and booths were vintage in that they were original, I’m sure, hence no “design cred” and not a trace of “French style” that we who are not French go on and on about …
The waitress was very pleasant but not altogether organized. My food was terrible. She apologized. It was her second day working there. Tom was ignoring all of this, absorbed in his “homemade” beef tartare. He had wanted to try it because he noticed in several restaurants it passed by us frequently on serving trays…. I thought what was on the plate in front of him looked like a mound of ground meat we see in the meat section of our grocery stores resting on styrofoam and neatly wrapped up in plastic, he swore it tasted good, I really wanted to move to another table.
I realize it is a huge leap from the Plaza Athénée to this small restaurant – but there is a connection. At the Plaza Athénée we were whisked about by gracious young polished professionals in elegant soft gray uniforms. Here, we were waited on by a young woman dressed casually in black slacks and a simple cotton blouse, she wore little makeup, intent on doing her job and making sure we were pleased with our lunch. I just can’t bring myself to reveal the name after what I have written about it. It’s not important. The waitress is the focus here. She had to divide herself between the various customers and also tend the bar. Every once in a while she would stop, stand up and push her hair back, checking off in her mind what she had to do next and then do it. She is one book end and the Plaza Athénée is the other…..Paris is in between.
We took a dinner cruise down the Seine … on the El Calife … Tom nudged and hinted for days, saying he had read good reviews and was certain it would be a fun evening. He was right, it was fun. Pleasant dining companions, good food and great scenery …. all a mere ten minute walk from our front door to the dock, far more pleasant than dashing about with the métro and a moonlight stroll back to our apartment.
Galeries Lafayette and its rooftop
It doesn’t show in this photograph, but on the day we went here this floor was a veritable beehive of activity. So many people it was extremely difficult to make my way to the elevators. The store has queues set up for the small designer boutiques and only allows a few people in at a time….at Chanel there was a very long line of ladies waiting to go through. Not my idea of shopping, I much prefer the smaller shops, but this was an experience. The rooftop was a welcome respite!
Time for lunch. Bistro Volnay is on our list of restaurants. It’s just around the corner, so off we go. What a find…. so lovely and the food was delicious. Tom liked our waiter because he wore mismatched tennis shoes. He also liked his lunch. A lot. Do put this restaurant on your list.
We said goodbye to Cyril.
Cyril Guernieri, owner of Galerie Rauchfeld a few steps from our apartment. Rachel (our “landlady”) had told us about Cyril and urged us to meet him. For some reason I concluded he was British. There had been no mention of his last name. “Cyril” sounded very British to me ….. Rachel is British…therefore… it was only when he gave me his business card that I learned my guess was way off. Alors, the first few times we passed the gallery it wasn’t open, we kept stopping to peer in the window at a bronze sculpture I loved.
Then one day we were able to introduce ourselves. We passed the gallery every day, waved if he had visitors, stopped in to say hello if he didn’t. We chatted about this and that, he recommended restaurants and things to see…. he made us feel like we were indeed neighbors. He had been so kind to us and we had grown so fond of him that I wanted to thank him in some way. We sorted out when we could see him before we had to leave and took him a bouquet of flowers – he was very surprised and very pleased. We saw him again during our last couple of days and he thanked us each time for the flowers. A small gesture from us really, he helped make our time in Paris even more special.
Cyril and me. We’re standing next to a sculpture by Rafael Barrios. Overnight the gallery was transformed into a white box with only pieces by Barrios. Each one is made of steel. They play with you….the color changes as you move around them. They are one piece but where they connect it appears one part of it is floating close to the next.
The poster on the left was on display throughout our neighborhood. For this one weekend all the art galleries in Saint Germain des Prés stayed open late. There are so many of them you lose count. Whether it was this event or any day we popped in, gallery owners or their staff were always happy to talk about their artists and answer questions. One night, there was a party in a very tiny gallery on our street. The space is so small….not much wider than the front door…. the party had to be held in the street! We enjoyed the sounds of our street. On this particular evening it was distant conversation and the clinking of glasses. In the daytime it might be the click of high-heels or the sound of roller wheels as someone pulls their suitcase along. Never loud really. Too narrow for buses or large vehicles, and the one-way direction kept it from being noisy.
When I began this page, I didn’t feel very inspired. If that is coming through in my writing perhaps it’s for two reasons. One, I’m back home writing at my desk and not at the table in the living room of the apartment. Two, I’m not in Paris. We fell into kind of a “slump” at the end I think. The Paris newsletters I get and my France Today magazine arrive and I will continue clipping articles for my travel file….. what I can’t sort out just now is what to do when I am here and my heart is in Paris. At the beginning we felt like we had a good length of time to just enjoy the city…. some mornings we did not leave the apartment all that early. After all, we had days and days and there was no need to rush about…..and the next thing we knew we were packing our suitcases. I did buy something blue. I searched for something red but didn’t find it. I have still not been to the Marché Puces. As I look out my window here the images of the lovely old buildings I saw from the window of our apartment on rue de Seine are still vivid and will always be with me. This image borrowed from MyLittleParis newsletter captures what is etched in my mind’s eye.
If you have not been to Paris, go. If you have been to Paris, then go again. Stay for as long as you can. You won’t be disappointed, you will discover wonderful surprises.
I did take a photo from the street of Tom standing in the window of our apartment. I meant for him to take one of me but we just forgot. I’m not sure if I want to add the photo of him in the window…. here, at the end….. but it’s too good to leave out.
I began this exercise to inspire me to write again. So it is I who am saying adieu….at least for now. I will return to Paris…soon. Then perhaps I will post a picture of me in the window.