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.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chat-le, beginet, et la bière de la charité

Despite the time on the blog, it is now evening.

It was a rainy day, and I didn't wake up until 9 a.m., and then I thought I'd take a bath (wow! this place has HOT water--like you could make tea in it). Eventually, I set out with my camera in my day pack for the Musées d'Orsay and de l'Orangerie, by way of the Marché Aligre.

The walk to the market took longer than I expected, and when I got there, the old covered market was closed! (It closes from 13h to 16h.) But through the gates, I could see and smell the delicacies within.

Outside in the place, there allegedly was also an open-air market, but the remains of that were being whisked away. A pigeon was not allowed to enjoy an orange thanks to the street sweeping machine.

On the way walking to the next metro station, I came across a high arched bridge over the street. This is the famous promenade plantée known as the Viaduc des Arts.

Formerly a railroad embankment leading to a now-gone train station at the place de Bastille, it has been converted into an urban garden, about 2-3 stores off the ground. Where I accessed it at rue Malot, there was option of stairs or elevator.

Bamboo was growing in stands along it, and a smooth asphalt path runs the length of it, with stairways accessing it at various points. It apparently runs from behind the Opéra Bastille to the city's border with Vincennes. I will travel the other direction on another day to see what other interesting things about it there are, as a train archaeologist.

I ended up dodging the now medium-heavy rain in an arcade running along the Opéra Bastille (one of several opera houses in Paris), and darting into the métro station. I went via Gare d'Austerlitz to get to Musée d'Orsay, which meant a lengthly transfer where you leave the metro, walk around underground a while, and eventually access the RER (regional express train) station, which functions like the metro for ticketing, but more like a frequent commuter rail service in its usage. It turned out I'd have a 28 minute wait for a train--so I left the Austerlitz RER station (mind you, you have to use a ticket to get in and out of RER stations), and explored the SNCF long-distance station above ground. I found a small treasure in the Relay press shop--a model of a TGV Duplex (2-level high-speed train). When I finally made it back to the RER station, I still had 5 minutes until the train, and my same ticket still worked.

At Musée d'Orsay there was a line for tickets, plus it was only open for another hour and a half. But the rain had stopped! (Now it was just windy and cold.)

So I crossed the Seine on a pedestrian-only bridge to access the Tuileries gardens and check out the Orangerie museum. All the padlocks on the bridge's fenced sides mean something--I've forgotten what--a promise of-- true love, a return to Paris, crispy croissants? Again there was a line at the Orangerie, and barely an hour left--and there is a "twin" ticket for both museums that saves 6 euros over getting them separately. So I decided to come back another day.

As I looked over the place de la Concorde and the obelisk, at the traffic, the Eiffel tower, and pondered if it was going to rain more, I could smell something unmistakable: gaufres or waffles. So I went down the ramp to the exit to the place de la Concorde, and sure enough, there was a crepe/waffle/hot dog kiosk. I had a waffle with just powdered sugar...this is not an Eggo or even a make-it-yourself waffle like in the U.S. It was hot from the waffle iron, light and tender on the inside, crispy on the outside. Sorry, too windy to set it down and take a might have blown away!

After I recovered, I decided to go see a store we don't have anywhere in Wisconsin: a Lamborghini dealer. It was just past the Arc de Triomphe, and it was perfect--they even had one parked outside. The prices for even the accessories were a bit high (30 euros for a mug?), despite claims of a sale.

Then I admired the traffic flow around the Arc. I suspect this is a clear case of "priorite a droite" (priority to traffic from the right) actually in effect in a roundabout (usually, that French traffic rule is suspended for roundabouts).

In case you've forgotten what RER or Metro are short for, here's an older entrance sign (from the 1970s, I think).
I then headed back via Austerlitz to pick up one of those train models; and got out at Bastille to walk back to my apartment. On the way, I found a chocolate and tea shop which sold Perles d'Orange, little dark chocolates covering candied orange peel. My grandmother adores them and the U.S. company I had ordered them from had ceased to distribute from the French company that makes them. I had to wait quite a while as another customer had a complicated need for tea.

Along the same street, I passed many stores and restaurants that were open; the street has a lot of Japanese restaurants. One stop had home stuff and had a laundry hamper with a cat on it that said Linge Chat-Le (Laundry Cat-The). I had to say it to myself to get's supposed to sound like Linge Sale (Dirty Laundry). (An imitation of "drunk speech" in French is commonly to say "ch" instead of "s".)

An Indian restaurant had a 14 euro special which began with beginets de legumes. "Bay-zhee-nay", I said to myself, that must be some word from that cuisine. Then I realized it was a misspelling--it should have been "beignet" which is usually a fried donut. I suspect Pakora were what the appetizer was.

Finally, some young, perhaps homeless, people stopped the people walking ahead of me asking for help. The people who were stopped were 3 in number, as were those doing the stopping, and they each were carrying a multipack of beer. The first stopped to give them a beer and one of the young men said "hey, there's 3 of you, that's just one apiece!" and one of the other people carrying a pack said "yeah, but we're going to a party". I don't know if charity won out.

Baked goods census, so far: one ficelle (bread), one croissant (not so great--at end of day), two chaussons aux pommes (sort of a French apple turnover--one feh (department store), one very good (boulangerie artisanal)!), a warm waffle (gaufre).

Il pleut sur la ville...

Grey, cold, rainy day.

That large courtyard, and all those similar concrete buildings? Well, last night when I went out, I couldn't find my way out of the "complex" at first. I did find an iron fence along a street, but didn't see how to get in or out there (I should revisit that in the daylight).

The high speed train exhibit was interesting--lots of history--but not quite as impressive as I had hoped. They had several videos at it, all of which are viewable on the web site for the exhibit, with speed trials from the 1950s, 1980s, and 2007. (After following the link above, click to enter the site, then under "EXPOSITION" click "LE TRAIN EN IMAGES" and click on one of the little video images to see that video.

The "Ed" supermarket just outside the front gate is larger on the inside than it looks--it goes way back. Some management types (suits, not wearing the green housecoat/uniforms the employees wear) were fussing about the amount of space dedicated to fruits vs. vegetables, and had clipboards and surely some sort of management theories to implement. It's good to see people working. I
attempted a joke with the cashier (after they were gone) about the "census of the vegetables" (On fait la recensée des légumes aujourd'hui?). The prices there were much lower than the Monoprix way down the street, but many brands were their store brand, "Dia" (not sure if that's supposed to be "Ed" in verlan (syllable-reverse slang) or what). As is often the case, to buy fruits and vegetables, you weigh them on an electronic scale in the produce area, choose the item via name and picture, and a label with bar code prints out. There is no scale at the cashier!

Did you know that Président butter is part of a nutritious breakfast?
I did not, but the package informed me of that, and so I partook. Among its benefits outed are that it it is rich in...flavors. I will have to pick some up at Trader Joe's if they still have it upon my return. (Any other sources known in Madison?)

My breakfast features: fromage blanc with sugar; hot tea with milk and sugar; a ficelle (very thin baguette--as capellini is to spaghetti--but very crisp and delicious) with butter and red currant (groseille) jelly; and orange juice mixed with mineral water. I seem to have forgotten or misplaced my Prilosec, but amazingly, both my heartburn and my ear pains have ceased. Ah, the healing powers of Président butter!

Did you know that pigeons in Paris sleep in trees? Well, they do if
the trees are in a quiet courtyard.

My breakfast reverie, during which I read part of "Markets of Paris" helpfully provided in the apartment, was interrupted only by a car beeping for 5 minutes on some adjacent street (must have been a BIG emergency--or probably a street completely blocked by a delivery) and then by banging sounds from one of the now-open light wells of an adjacent, much older building, that would have previously only had a tiny cement courtyard (like most hotels).

I got up to see what it was--and an older woman was tossing pieces of bread onto the roof below. She had a good arm, or the pain was exceptionellement perdu. Now we know why the pigeons were so plump.

Today, with the rain, is a good day to do museums. I'm thinking the
Cluny and the Cinematheque exhibit on Magic Lanterns (laterna magica),
or perhaps the Orsay and the Orangerie.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Settling in

As it turns out, the apartment was ready at 12 noon. Wow, am I jet-lagged.

I helped this Canadian guy get his bearings in Paris--he showed up
here to get some sort of nongovernment military job (??), speaks no
French, etc. At least he had his debit card -- he was not asking for
money. So I showed him how to get to town from the airport on the
train, and we stopped at the bookstores by St Michel so he could get a
map and dictionary (and I got a Paris by Arrondissement pocket atlas),
have a peek at Notre Dame down the block, then I showed him how to get
to his hostel and we parted ways at the Gare de l'Est. Even though we
had left the RER (and the metro), our tickets from CDG were still good
to get back into the metro. I guess they'd have to be, that's how you
transfer anyway--they must have a time limit or something though.

He looked completely French, the way he was dressed (the young guy
tracksuit look) and his looks (dark hair, buzzcut). Apparently his
father is French.

This apartment is great! It's a bit of a walk from the metro, though.
The courtyard is one shared by several large similar concrete

They thought of everything to provide here. Some pics are
attached. It is just one large room (tv, closet, balcony, daybed with
trundle), a full bathroom (bathtub with shower and curtain! tub lip
is pretty high), a small galley kitchen (electric stove top,
microwave, coffeemaker, small fridge, sink).

I am heading out now to walk and see the high speed train exhibit at
Arts et Metiers museum.