4-10 November 1999
(For most travelers, any diary of a trip to Paris written by another will be unenlightening, unless it is a well-researched guide or story. Therefore, this diary is impressions, not a collection of sights in words.)
The dawn was crisp on this morning, when we touched down at CDG in Paris, after a much-appreciated, uneventful overseas flight.
The airport is like many - the trains away, joining up with the Metro, are among the world's most useful. We passed lots of graffitti - some lackluster and foolish, some aggressive and artistic - all along the RER line into Les Halles station (much construction everywhere - like so much of the New York system this decade).
Our hotel was to be the Montpensier on Rue de Richelieu, very near the Louvre and L'Opera. The day shines on the old streets buzzing with motorized bikes over cobblestones and the hotel is a plain storefront. Originally, the home of Mademoiselle Montpensier, cousin of Louis XIV, the hotel is old without outward charm. Changes to the small rooms have been uncoordinated and late in coming, but it is a clean, old, wonderfully located hotel.
Walking up Rue de Montpensier, we dine at Pizza Sicilia across the street from the Palais Royale Theatre. Empty at 7:15pm - bursting at 8:00pm - good Italian, lovely music of the French spoken by children at the next table.
A walk up the Rue de Rivoli to Place de la Concorde - Tour Eiffel in the background - and back to the hotel to write, by way of Rue St. Honore.
Excellent, plain useful stuff - two apples, cookies, excellent wine and two glasses - at Monoprix.
Now we know why Parisians ride fast motorcycles, mount speedy rollerblades and wear hats. Wade made it all the way back to the hotel before finding, in his hair, the welcome gift of urban diarrhetic Paris pigeons.
In the area of right and left bank arrondisements (1-5), the density of old and apparently old incorporates the modern in an incredibly agreeable way - cobblestones here, asphalt there, old stone bridge near a wooden pedestrian bridge. Spires and but a few buildings higher than five or six occupied floors.
Our description can add nothing to any other than personal observations - simply put, Paris is a capable and ancient magnet which never gets old and never loses its pull.
Sainte Chapelle was first today. It will always be hard for any mind to put in perspective the design, engineering, and artistic miracles built by believers for God and King with none of the labor-saving tools we now consider essential. The beauty of Sainte Chapelle speaks for itself and for the ambitions - many for good - of those who did the work.
Lower Chapel Outside Views Upper Chapel
Notre Dame is Notre Dame. Loaded with tourists.
A nice walk on the Left Bank which is anything but a funky place for existentialist wannabes - very sharp galleries and shops - streets wide and narrow, clean and inviting.
Lunch at Petit Vatel, 15' x 15' restaurant with good menu and coffee - good, plain French.
Back to the hotel for naps and another trip to Monoprix for wine, water, baguette, Brie, and apricot jam. There is a French family shopping - mother, father, and three-year-old. Parents oblivious, the child spies a special fruit drink on a shelf at her eye level, "Mickey Moouuse... Mickey Moouuse," she says.
Early rising - sort of - to bread, cheese, butter, and fruit breakfast. Now a trip to the flea markets at St. Ouen.
Crowds of eager shoppers are on the street as we rise from the ground. Which way? There are mobile merchants under tents strung up by trucks, but that is not the destination.
Instead, a labyrinthian web of alleys is home to hundreds of shops about 15' x 15' - very far evolved with glass doors and elaborate lighting schemes, countless varieties and grades of every sort of goods. Three hours, then a good mixte sandwich and a salade de tomate.
Back to Monoprix for supper. Return to the hotel and a nap - awaking for a long walk around the Ile de la Cite and Ile St. Louis - the sun going down as we walk.
We see remains of the rugby fans who have watched France play and lose to Australia in the World Cup on a big screen in the center of the Hotel de Ville.
Back for a terrific little meal at Pizza Sicilia - older French ladies next to us - waiters who roll their Rs like the French on la Cote D'Azur.
Look into a pub on the way home - not now - strange drunk fellow apparently trying to squeeze through a security gate.
8:00am for in-room breakfast then cafe noir near Hotel de Louvre - nice.
On to the canals of Paris on Canauxrama. Beautiful, crisp morning departure from the Bastille. Tour guide is kind to ask us if it is okay to do mostly French - she does a few extra phrases with each paragraph all morning in her best English.
Canals are a revelation. We begin with eighteen minutes in a tunnel beneath the street of Paris with openings to the sky cut in circles every 30-50 feet. Out into the sunlight again - rows and rows of multi-story apartments on both sides.
We pass through four sets of double locks rising some 35-40 feet. There are primarily French on the boat with us - the canals are a treasure almost lost to more streets some time ago, but saved. A really special feature to this unique city. We end in a modern park which is made for all forms of recreation and spectacles.
Walk some way back to take the Metro and decide to make a couple of transfers - continue all the way to La Tour Eiffel.
The tower is again surprisingly huge. We stop, open a bottle of wine and the cheese which has been stinking up the backpack. Roll it up in sausage slices and guzzle wine from the bottle. Marisa cuts her finger on the knife trying to wipe it clean, then drops a cookie which attracts about fifty cookie-craving Parisian pigeons who carry on a big fight until, apparently on cue, they suddenly fly away in a burst of flapping feathers. Why?
Under our bench we see the nose of a little dog who is pleased with his omnipotence with pigeons.
There is a congregation of commercial exhibition trucks and a portable stage in the middle of the Champ de Mars. All is quiet until we begin the walk past. Apparently this is sports-fitness-rugby related.
Suddenly the Sunday peace is assaulted by fitness dancing women and the blaring sound of "Y - M - C - A...."! What would Monsieur Eiffel say to that? Not to mention Louis Napoleon, Charles de Gaulle, and Josephine Baker!
Back for a nap, then leisurely walk through Cour Napoleon - the courtyard inside the Louvre which is open all hours - across Pont des Arts - a lovely, wooden pedestrian bridge to the Left Bank - seeking the restaurant Le Muniche. Streets are dark, but warm and narrow, lots of activity - must stop at a hotel and ask - the guidebook, indeed, had the wrong address.
Nice enough art deco and good food - couple next to us, 60's man very American, 50's woman with impeccable English, definitely Francaise - talking about G. W. Bush.
Excellent creme broulee, cafe, and easy walk back to bizarre French TV and late sleep.
Wade makes a morning trip to Sarcelles (after un cafe noir grand) on the suburban RER - easy trip to meet Hugh Toppazini of MABO, an equipment company. Hugh is a Boston kid, aged 38, who came to France in 1983 to play hockey for the local club of Reims, married a French woman who became a lawyer after Boston University and the Sorbonne. Spoke some halting French with others there - Hugh translated the rest. Trains are so easy. So many apartments, not houses, in view.
Marisa shops at stores suggested by guidebooks - no problem resisting merchandise. As Wade rounds the corner beside Comedie Francaise, he spots her, "MARISA!", she hears, and off for wine and saucisson.
Rest for a couple of hours, then take a trip down Rue St. Honore, near Les Halles looking for guidebook suggestion - not appealing, backtrack to Auberge du Louvre - nice, quiet, warm, very ordinary, but totally French meal of salad, duck, and - yup - creme broulee! wine, cafe, etc.
On the way back we spot a mini-mini-van with police markings and three gendarmes inside. They seem to be waiting to burst out and storm into a nearby building. Just then, in the doorway of a small shop - "Le Spot Quick Lunch" - we spy the fourth officer... buying the French equivalent confection.... DONUTS!!
One objective today is the Musee D'Orsay. Easy walk between the Louvre and Tuilleries across to the museum, built at the turn of the century as a state of the art train station.
Beautiful adaptation beginning in 1978 to make a museum emphasizing French art from 1848-1914, thus encompassing the Romantics, Realists, Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, and all the Arts-Nouveau design. The former station will be a world-class magnet for students and fanciers of art for generations.
The proper approach to art of mid-century gives way to the "improper" movement toward color and feeling and impression.
Looking north out of the top of the musee, it is possible to see Sacre Coeur through the huge clocks which mark each minute with a giant thunk and four-inch movement.
The irony of France's treasure of impressionism is that the rest of the world has bought up many of the best works, leaving France with a good representation, but by no means the definitive collection. Yet, it is the building itself - the determination to keep good monuments - that wins.
Wonderful cheese and wine in a dining room very much the 1890s Paris vision for fin de siecle - excellent waiter anxious to use his okay English.
Best audio system ever with handheld infra-red radio units to be used when you are ready - perfect.
Rain begins during our 4:30pm walk back to short nap. Then a trip to L'Incroyable in a passage between Rue de Richelieu and Rue Montpensier. Confit de canard, salade, potage for Marisa - delicious - grilled fish, sauteed veal for Wade - big dessert of a country fruit tart sort of pastry - just grand.
Quick Metro trip to the 6th and St. Severin for a concert by "Citoyens de Europe" chamber orchestra. New World Symphony by Dvorak is just lovely in the ancient cathedral, but there is glass breaking outside, loud laughing and shouting.
We ease out of the SRO venue along obviously tourist streets with many lights and languages - labyrinthian Metro station - nice people crowding except one nearly puking fool who lays himself down on the floor of the train car.
Out, up, home a bit sooner than sleepiness demands.
Awake to chores of longer vacances - laundry - 20 francs per load (what a load) - but efficient.
Wade tries to exchange tickets or get a refund at L'Opera de Bastille - no luck. The Place de la Bastille is jumping at all hours.
Afternoon - lovely stroll up Rue Richelieu to Bd. Montmartre, by Bibliotheque Nationale and the Bourse.
Let's go in here, seems French. Upstairs, French business types eating big meals and smoking, obviously hurrying back to work. Excellent French salade - huge for each of us. Bottle of wine - two young waitresses eager to speak English - big smiles. We are the last to leave at 2:45pm.
Sun peeks through up to Bd. Montmartre and back to hotel, long enough to prepare for trip to concert at Amphitheatre de Bastille. Silly me - thought it was outside. Non!
Right beside the Metro stop is L'Opera de Bastille. We are sort of herded about for privilege of sitting on (padded) benches in good acoustic hall to hear three Beethoven piano sonatas (11, 19, 29). Special piano, not a special pianist.
Five hundred people in attendance, apparently 498 are charmed. Marisa says, "I don't think he has any idea why is playing any particular note." Right, I agree. Also, my butt's asleep.