Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Promenade Plantée

I walked part of the Viaduc des Arts from rue Malot to behind the Bastille Opera building the other day; now I was going to walk the other direction, toward Vincennes.
I could see arches of the part I'd already covered down a side street.

First, I dropped by the covered market, and found it opening and busy. Cheese, cold cuts, butchers, seafood, produce, everything was here. Three of some sort of animal carcass (pig?) hung from the ceiling behind one stand. Having not enough cooking skills nor hungry mouths to take on such a purchase, I headed on to rue Malot to access the viaduc.

It wasn't raining today, but it looked like it could if it chose to. The walkway is nicely planted with small trees, shrubs, and landscaped with trellises and even fountains and pools at one spot, although those were drained for winter.

Little surprises are around every corner, like when the clock tower of the Gare de Lyon peeped between some buildings.

And more greenery and lampposts.

Sometimes even over the path itself, like this apartment building which spans the path.

Further down, I eventually arrived at the back end of the Gare de Lyon tracks and had a nice view of some TGV high speed trains, albeit parked and waiting for their next runs. Later, I would hang out at the station and see them up close.

I passed another elevator and was excited, until I read the sign, which said that this broken elevator was currently owned by the private sector but was in the process of being acquired by the city of Paris.

There was some interesting (Art Deco?) ornamentation at the top of one older apartment building.

And after looking back at another building cleft by the path, I was at the Jardin de Reuilly (Reuilly being a former small suburb, now part of Paris).

Here there were stairs one one side (to the left of the split building), and a level access to another local city street on the other (to the split building's right).

The mairie (town hall) had distinctive architecture, viewed across the green jardin, as did the former Gare de Reuilly, now used for something else, and a small park where the tracks once ran.

Then the former trackbed descended to street level (or perhaps the streets rose), and ended up in several tunnels under existing roads or above-ground subway lines.

Pedestrians and cyclists even had their own lanes at this furthest western part of the trail. It's also the older part of it, developed by the neighborhoods out here. The paths run in sort of a "trench" valley, and the greenery seems more wild and less organized, unlike that up on the viaduc closer to central Paris.

Are we there yet?

I enjoy walking and exploring, so bear with me!

Then along some less exciting apartment buildings, through a less-inspired park, the trackbed curves on its way to rejoin la Petite Ceinture, the little beltway railroad which is mostly abandoned but peeks in and out especially on the east side of Paris.

The bridge of the Petite Ceinture viewed from the bridge of our ex-railroad siding.

The path ends just past a jardin partagé -- a community garden! It looks like they had some local outdoor artists decorate the toolshed, which looked pretty cool. (I like the eggplant wielding the rake.)

There was some rainbow chard and perhaps leeks planted and sort of growing; even in February, it's not as brutal in Paris as it is in Wisconsin.

Finally, we reach the end of the line, literally. A cyclone fence prevents access to the Petite Ceinture tracks that are still in place, although I'm sure it doesn't stop the more dedicated explorers and artists.

I noticed a post office down below, and so backtracked to the closest park with street access, and bought some postcard stamps.

I did a bunch more today, but that will have to wait for a bit.

Street of the Fishing Cat

This is being written about two weeks later, so the facts may be fuzzy.

First, a couple photos from Monday night's walk: one of Paris's smallest streets, rue de la Chat qui Pêche (street of the fishing cat) which runs between a pedestrian street full of ethnic restaurants and tourist shops, and a busy street alongside the Seine with a great view of Notre Dame.

I walked down, across the street, across the river, and across the square in front of Notre Dame to get a better picture of its impressive façade. A large Christmas tree was still up in front of it, close to Point Zéro, the marker in the pavement, from which all kilometer markers in France are measured. Some tourists stop to look at it; other obliviously stand on or near it when admiring Notre Dame.

I had to use the flash AND manual focus to get the camera to take a recognizable photo.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Feeling Medieval

I slept in a bit this morning. It has been so nice having neither my middle ear pain nor heartburn that I've been enjoying sleeping more. And now that I have succumbed to closing the window shutter and putting something over the cable box display, I am sleeping more soundly.

When I was finally ready to go, it was early afternoon...just a bit off schedule. I headed for the Cluny, whose formal name is le Musée National du Moyen Age et Thermes de Cluny (National Museum of the Middle Ages and Cluny Thermal Baths). It is a late 15th-century city mansion of the abbots of Cluny (which is in central France), today used as a museum. But the original mansion was built adjacent to baths built during the Roman period (1st-3rd century AD), and those are open in part for viewing, and in more depth if one goes on a guided tour of the underground service passages. Unfortunately, they didn't think about accessibility much in in the 3rd century, and that lack of forethought extended at least to the 15th century, so the building is really not wheelchair accessible.

I decided to buy more métro tickets on my way there rather than the way back, as it might be rush hour on the way back. (That said, in some stations, there are nice machines now that sell metro tickets and some of them even take bills!) The young man at the head of the line got upset with the cashier about something (either a policy you had to show I.D. with certain payment types, or that the fares had gone up, or both) and told her not to yell at him (she wasn't yelling--and he even had headphones on for the exchange--maybe someone's hearing was off due to too much headphone use). A woman who had arrived after me in line said to me in French, "What is it about today? I was on the bus and this big argument broke out, and I just couldn't take it, I got off and waited for the next bus. I wasn't the only one who got off, either." I suggested perhaps it being Monday or the moon being full.

My route on the metro was: Line 8, Bastille to Gare d'Austerlitz, then Line 10 to Cluny-La Sorbonne. I wasted a bit of time at Gare d'Austerlitz trying to figure out which way to take Line 10 (only one direction was labeled) when I realized Line 10 starts at Gare d'Austerlitz, so of course there was only one direction. I did use my confused state to take pictures of some ads that I thought were interesting.
(The cell phone has a 'monstruous'ly-big touch screen; and there's an exposition on world languages next week.)

When you come out of the Cluny station, you're right on the same block as the museum, on a corner by the gardens. When I was a child and we lived in France, I remember on a visit to Paris there was a street vendor selling fresh coconut on that corner. He had a little fountain that kept the cut chunks of coconut moist and cool. He wasn't there, but then the Cluny station wasn't there when he was: it was closed during the war and only reopened in the late 1980s, with new connections built to the RER trains that are within block. Even the metro stations are dense here: from the platform at Cluny, you do not even need to lean over the tracks to see the next station, Maubert-Mutualité. (The photo on the wikipedia page above appears to allow you to see the lights of that station down the tunnel, also.)

A press kiosk was selling 10 postcards for 1 EUR, and I seem to remember this particular kiosk having a good price, so I agonized over which 10 were the right ones to send to various nieces and nephews and kids.

Finally, I made it to the museum. The courtyard with the stone well was full of French kids--talk about a school field trip! After one class exited the single carved wood and leaded glass entry/exit door, I made it in. I had made one small mistake--the exhibit on Rayonnant Gothic doesn't start until February 10. But there's plenty to see at the Cluny.

And there's always something new, it seems, despite the museum's specialty in objects from about the year 400 to 1500. This tapestry was in one of the first 2 rooms, of newly displayed or refurbished items, and features "Giorhargius (?) and Tubalcain" and the invention of weighing and forging. The text is actually French and says "Giiorhargiiius trouva l'art de passer aus pois [aux poids]" and "Tebaqain trouva l'art de forger en tous metauls [metaux, sorry, there really was an "-auls" ending that got chopped off]".

The amateur art historian in me, regarding this Virgin and Child, thought it was more likely to be a sculpture of Saint John the Baptist as a baby with his mother. (OK, that's a not funny joke.)

There's a room of stained glass window-lets from the 12th and 13th century, many of which are from the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Apparently after renovations they had some extra windows (?). I'm assuming they were not salvageable due to some structural problems, but I'm not sure about that. It is neat to be up close to the windows to be able to see why they look the way they do from 20-30 meters below. The information card in the room explained their manufacture: first, forest artisans made 40cm diameter glass disks of a single color. Second, the artisans on site made drawings but also had to plan for scaling to the size of each window. They eventually cut the glass and leading strips. The drawings on the glass for folds of garments, faces and fingers and other small parts were made with 'grisaille', a mixture of iron and ground glass, that then had to be baked on in order to stick.

The Lady and the Unicorn (La Dame a la Licorne) room had a school group sitting on the floor with a guide doing an age-appropriate explanation of the tapestries, so I listened in. The 6 tapestries represent the 5 physical senses plus a 6th tapestry labeled "A Mon Seul Desir". The guide started explaining the Sixth Sense ("pas le film", she explained, not the film), and pointed out the sixth tapestry, with the lady standing and her servant holding a small chest, and asked what the lady was doing. One kid called out, in French, "she's voting!" which provoked a lot of laughter and the guide said no one had ever called it that, but that no one was voting back then.

Due to Salle 14 being closed for no obvious reason, Salles 15-23 appeared to be inaccessible. I asked the guard and he pointed to a lit corridor behind the unicorn tapestries (literally: running behind the wall they are mounted on) that had tables and chairs stored in it, and led to Salle 17, Hispano-Moorish ceramics and Gothic ivories. One ceramic caught my eye; the star motif reminded me a bit of Cocteau or Van Gogh.

Then there was the treasury, the life of Saint Stephen tapestry series--about 20 of them--which are great fun because they are all labeled with a paragraph of French. Many of the "s" characters look more like "f" and there are other spelling and shorthand variants. But if you read them, and then look at the picture, you figure out more about what is happening.

This particular one is labeled:

Comment le corps [de] St Etienne est delaissé au lieu de son martire;
et exposé au bestes et par la divine puissance preservé.

(How the body of St Stephen was left at the place of his martyr;
and exposed to animals and by divine power preserved.)

I only figured out "divine" because of "puissance" following it. However....I do question a bit the risks that any human remains would be subjected to the animals shown. There are seven: a lion, a monkey, a deer, a porcupine, a bird (a partridge?), and a unicorn. I know lions are carnivores; the monkey's pretty small; and the deer and the bird are probably not going to eat a person. The porcupine might lick him for salt. And the unicorn is probably a pretty light eater.

I am exhausted after doing two blogs in a row. All I would write about is: buying tourist trinkets for relatives; visiting Notre Dame during evening services; and taking a sardine-packed metro train home. Then, hunting for a bakery still open (hint: follow upstream against the people carrying baguettes). And so I close with a photo of dinner: lentils cooked with carrot and onion (from a can), soupe au pistou, spreadable cheese in two flavors, very fresh french bread from the last bakery open at 19h45, and for dessert (sorry, didn't have it out, and now I ate it), a flan nature (custard pie).

Bonne nuit!

Impressionism and Waterlilies

This all happened on Sunday, after I got going. Many (but not all) Paris museums are closed Mondays, so it was important to get to them on that day.

But, I did take a little walk and took some pictures around the apartment complex and around the neighborhood. I don't think schools are sex-segregated anymore, but this elementary school has a permanent record of that history.

Sunday mornings are very nice in that it is the one day when significantly less business happens, and so that the streets are quiet, the subway is not crowded (although it runs less frequently).

Of course, because Saturday night preceded Sunday morning, there is a bit of debris lying around, as I found when descending a Metro entrance.

I wanted to see les Nymphéas (the Waterlilies) of Claude Monet at the Musée de l'Orangerie, housed in a former orange tree greenhouse. This museum underwent a thorough remodelling--essentially a gutting and rebuilding of the interior--making it wheelchair-accessible and restoring the display of les Nymphéas to their originally-intended form.

What is special about these paintings is that they are not displayed on flat regular canvases in rectangular frames, but rather are on canvases on curved walls in two oval rooms. Monet donated the paintings to the government, as a way for people to enjoy an oasis of peace after World War I. Natural light filters from above. There are benches in the middle which makes viewing even more relaxed!

The museum's basement has more impressionist paintings, and had a special exhibit, Les Enfants Modeles, about artists who had used their children as models in their works. A video room also had chairs, and rotated through various short art films and a film about les Nymphéas.

A surprise in the basement were the foundations of a rampart from the 1500s or 1600s that connected to the riverside wall along the Louvre. These were uncovered during the renovations and excavations. They were much smaller than the bases of the rampart wall in the Louvre, from one of the preceding castles.

I had purchased a Pass Orangerie-Orsay which gave same-day admission to both museums at considerable savings (13 EUR vs. about 19 EUR purchased separately). First, I walked around the Tuileries gardens a bit, and had another waffle, and reclined by the Grand Bassin. No one was sailing little boats in it today, though.

When I got to the Orsay, I had about 3 hours until closing. But the line on the plaza outside Entrance A (individual visitors) was overwhelming. I got in line, and after about 2 minutes it had advanced to a sign that said that visitors with various passes--including mine!--could go to Entrance C instead. I got out of line and went to Entrance C which had no line at all. I was through the security check, past the bookshop, and to the entrance where I showed my pass and was in. I believe Entrance C is also used for visitors in wheelchairs.

You enter into the large open space in the middle, where when this was a train station, the train platforms were located. I began looking at some Van Gogh and Gauguin, and then moved on to some Impressionist paintings (the famous Poppies by Monet). Due to renovations, the galleries were rearranged quite a bit. Signs said they were using this opportunity to display works grouped in different ways, such as artists with common influences or who communicated signficantly.

I went looking for some food in the museum; the upstairs dining room only serves "tea" in the afternoon (including light salads and tarts and desserts), but with its sit-down service and extremely high ceiling and decorated walls, looks very nice. I then went to the cafe...long, slow-moving line for pre-made sandwiches and drinks, crowded little sitting area with everyone jockeying for a table and chairs. I had a ham (jambon) and cheese (emmental) sandwich and an orange Fanta (which in France, is more like Orangina).

After eating, I explored the rest of the Impressionist galleries in detail. I saw a Monet I had never seen or heard of before, of tulip fields in Holland.

Another painting, of coal being unloaded from a barge, reminded me of some of the symmetry of Escher's work. (Just a detail shown here.)

This one, Le Balcon (the balcony) reminded me of a French saying, "The balcony's crowded"...

Another exhibit showed the Paris Opera house (Opera Garnier) in a cutaway model, with all the mechanisms for allowing set background changes.

Finally, there was a huge (and crowded) exhibit on Art Nouveau Revival, pairing works, household objects (furniture, personal objects, decorations), magazines, from around 1900 and 1960-1970s, and showing the trends in both periods that were organic and psychedelic. One of the objects was a toilet shaped like a fly; it looked very practical to me, as the wings could hold a drink or reading material or a phone while one used the facilities. The roll of paper, however, came out the mouth on the other end, so that was not particularly useful.

This was exhausting. I don't remember what I ate for dinner (something at "home"). I slept very well. I have on a couple of occasions gotten on the subway the wrong direction or even on the wrong line! I suspect I'm jetlagged, plus I'm just not good at memorizing directions (and I don't like walking around carrying my Paris map).

Sunday, January 31, 2010

La Preuve

9 a.m.

OK, finally, here is proof that I am in Paris!

I woke up promptly at 6:30am (I had set my watch alarm) and puttered around until I went out at 8 in search of bread. I went out the back entrance to the building complex--no one had told me about it, but it's quite a bit closer to the apartment than the main entrance, and empties onto a very quiet street.

I had found it yesterday from the outside and my little electronic key worked on the key swipe. However, when going out, I couldn't find the button labeled "Sortie" that would unlock it from the inside. Remembering where the key swipe was on the outside, I held my key out through the bars of the gate to unlock the door.

It was still almost dark out and the streetlights were on. Some street sweepers and dog walkers were out, some of the latter creating more work for the former. A #69 city bus rumbled down rue de la Roquette, with none of the usual traffic to impede it.

As I walked past a butcher featuring Halal meats, the streetlights suddenly all went off, reminding me of the scene in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown where Pepa has been out walking all night in Madrid and suddenly the streetlights turn off. Luckily, I had been sleeping and not walking, and sleeping rather well as I opted to close the roll-shutter to try to make it darker and to keep out the cold a bit.

My neighborhood bakery was open (Boulangerie Ellini, 7h-22h, mardi-dimanche), but won't be tomorrow (Monday). I decided to try again a croissant pur beurre (0,95 EUR) and a delicious and crispy ficelle thin loaf of bread (0,65 EUR).

I came back for breakfast. Birds of all sorts were singing in the garden, and church bells were ringing in the distance. I found the self-timer on my camera (inconveniently buried in a settings menu) and took a picture of myself.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sunny, Cold, Castle, Conflict

First of all, to give some context to the Paris Lamborghini dealer's location, from yesterday: high rent!

This is kind of a long post, for a long day.

I woke up at 4 a.m. and gave Charlie a call about a message on my voice mail. Looking outside, I thought perhaps dawn was near, but I should have realized, being winter, it was skyglow from Paris itself. I took a couple pictures to show how everyone really does either turn out their lights, or at least close their shutter-blinds (operated with a crank from the inside, but on the outside of the windows).

At 9 a.m. I felt a bit more like getting up. After breakfast, I headed out to go for a walk, as it seemed like it was actually going to be sunny in spots outside. I didn't bring my camera, which was nice for me, but that means you must use your imaginations. I ended up wandering aimlessly, finally going to place de la Bastille and taking the metro out to the Chateau de Vincennes.

On the ride, I noticed glass barriers and automatic doors on the platform of one of the stations. I later read a sign that this is the initial work to convert Metro line 1 to fully automated operation, like line 14 was built to be from the start. (Line 14, first opened in 1998, is also the only metro line that is completely accessible, with elevators and escalators and stairs down to all stations.) Line 1's vehicles can be converted to driverless operation, but I didn't realize that was seriously being pursued. The stated deadline is 2012.

Exiting the Chateau de Vincennes station, I thought that some prankster was sprinkling styrofoam bits over the stairs--littering, or some scheme to generate merriment or donations, but in fact, it was snow (or perhaps sleet? the pieces were very round) from some passing clouds. The lawn around the castle rampart was covered in white, too! In Paris, there hadn't been any noticeable snow.

I did not go on the tour but I walked around the castle grounds. You get to walk across a wide drawbridge, then shift to the left to a little pedestrian drawbridge, complete with chains and balance to lift it to keep out invaders, and with a moat 3 stories deep below.

Reading some signage, I learned that: The Sainte Chapelle of Vincennes, heavily inspired by the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, was seriously damaged in a storm in 1999, and had been closed until 2009 for repair work to stained glass windows, stone work, and vaulting. Also, they are adding (in 2009, the sign said) access for individuals with limited mobility, to conform with the 2005 law for equal opportunities. Behind the Chapelle I saw a ramp up to the level of of the entrance.

The donjon (keep) looked great as did the Porte de la Village, both large massive stone towers, and the sun suddenly came out in full force, lighting the stone, and backlighting the Sainte Chapelle through the stained glass on both walls.

I also learned from a sign that the keep at the Chateau de Vincennes is the only residence of a sovereign still in existence from the Middle Ages.

On the way back, there was some unpleasantness in the metro. I didn't see or hear what happened initially, as it took place on the platform of a station along the route, but from the verbal argument on the train (in French), I gleaned that: a woman wearing a burqa (black, and covering her whole body, but her eyes) and her young daughter (not wearing a burqa) were told something insulting or disrespectful by a man in his 60s; all three of them boarded the train.

He said something about her disguising herself and she told him he was in disguise as well, that he was mean, and that you don't treat a child that way (he must have said something about her daughter on the platform). He then accused her of attacking him (verbally--the French are so metaphorical) and she said the same of him. Then she said that she was a French citizen, that she worked, she paid taxes, and she deserved to be treated with respect. She also said she wasn't moving to another part of the train just because of his disrespect.

Everyone else on the train (many of whom had boarded at a station after where our debaters had entered) was very quiet. I was seated facing away from the woman and man, but people had facial expressions that seemed to indicate some degree of embarrassment, although no one intervened. (No one at that point was making threats or using foul language.)

If there had been any threat of physical violence, I would have done something (what, I'm not sure). But I was not going to get into an argument in French; and the woman, seemed perfectly capable of defending herself. Although I could see nothing of her but her eyes, she appeared to be French-born from her facility at debate and perfect pronunciation.

I recalled as I sat on the train, that in the last couple months, there was news that France was moving to ban the wearing of the burqa in public. The conflict, the self-assuredness of the woman, and the silence of those surrounding, made this sort of a living illustration of the larger debate. I see many headscarves and hijab, but I had not seen a burqa before.

On the walk through the Bastille station, there was a string ensemble (3 violins, 3 cellos, double bass) playing in one of the transfer passageways, and it echoed well throughout the tunnels. The bass really added to the sound, too.

Then, down rue de la Roquette to my apartment, I stopped to look at the menu of the Indian restaurant (the one with the 'beginets' the other day). It was closed, but I could smell something familiar. There is a Subway sandwich shop on the street, and its door was open, and it smelled just like a Subway in the U.S. Quelle horreur!

I stopped at Franprix to get some shaving cream (1,19 EUR for store brand), a container of Soupe au Pistou (French version of minestrone), and another can of saucisses avec lentilles (sausages with lentils).

Dinner was by candlelight on the balcony (brrrrr!). And at 6pm, the church bells near and far rang for several minutes for vespers.