Monday, September 6, 2010

Paris:An Immovable Feast

Bonjour! Alas, we arrived in Paris last Wednesday night after a long day of airports and flights. Though the flights from Stockholm to Copenhagen and from Copenhagen to Paris, were only slightly over an hour each, the two hour waits between each and then the long wait at Charles DeGaulle airport for the shuttle made our day long and arduous. We dropped our stuff at the door of our apartment on the rue d'Italie and collapsed on the couch, happy to have finally arrived in Sher's favorite city of the world---well, Gary likes it very much, too. C'est magnifique, as they say.

It was so good to be back at what we term our "pied a terre" in Paris, a small but lovely apartment we rent from friends. It is ideally situated in Paris' 13th arrondissement (meaning neighborhood) southeast of the river Seine and quite near to everything we need, including a metro stop which can whisk us off to where ever we wish to go in this wondrous city.

We were starved having not eaten since our early breakfast in Stockholm, so we headed out at 9 pm in search of a local restaurant and bravo, three blocks from our apartment was a delightful Japanese restaurant packed with people, alerting us that it was a good one---the French are very selective about their food! Gary loves Japanese cuisine and so we were very happy with a delicious and quite reasonably priced meal. The walk back was pleasant, the weather balmy and the lights of Paris sparkling. We strolled along the Avenue d'Italie full of interesting things to see, others strolling, brightly lit sidewalk cafes where people were chatting over rich expresso coffee or late night drinks---lots to see and enjoy. When we got back, we climbed the building’s circular stairway to our 4th floor abode, walked in and dropped into our comfy bed to fall fast asleep. We awoke to the sound of the city coming awake, vehicles on the street below, neighbors opening their shutters (volets) to look out upon a new day and soft footsteps on the carpeted stairway as our neighbors went off to work. We quickly dressed as we knew it was market day on the Avenue and we wanted to stock up on provisions. Shopping in the neighborhood open markets is always a fun experience, watching people disputing the price with the clever marketers, friends running into each other and discussing the news of the day, chatting about the freshness of the legumes and fruits, vegetables and fruits. In our neighborhood it is especially interesting and colorful as we live in a very ethnic area with most of the sellers being of Arabic origin, clients being Asian, African and Middle Eastern as well as middleclass French caucasions. One hears not only French but a mélange of other tongues. We loved picking out fresh melons, delicious fresh strawberries, apples and a variety of fresh veggies. We stopped at the poisonerie, the fish market and bought some fresh dorade filets and then proceeded down the street to the Monoprix (France’s biggest supermarket chain) to buy our other needs such as dairy products, jam, a couple of canned goods, etc. Of course, we had to stop for a baguette and pain de siegle. Luckily later that day we found a “Bio” shop (health food shop) where we found a big variety of gluten free foods, breads and sweets for Gary.

We returned to the apartment to fill our cupboards and frig. Feeling quite hungry by that time, we prepared a delicious lunch of roasted chicken and potatoes, spinach salad with pears and walnuts and fresh strawberries for dessert. Quite satisfied, we left to explore the neighborhood called “La Mouff” not far from us where our friends, Rosalie and Jack, who we met in Mexico last year, were going to be staying. They rented a small apartment there and asked us to take a look. They arrived on Friday and we shared 4 fun days together. “La Mouff” is a fun neighborhood known for its excellent outside market which we found to be a bit higher priced than ours, and its charming small restaurants, shops and the La Place Contrascarp where we stopped for an afternoon aperitif ---Gary had a “martini”,not the kind you think but a popular liquer like aperitif and I had a glass of porto (like sherry). We sat there for an hour watching passers by and enjoying looking out to the center of the square where there was a lovely fountain and small garden as well as a fun view of 5 or 6 massage “artists” plying there trade, inviting passersby to stop for a 10 minute massage. They had small stools where the clients would sit and the masseuses would then stand behind giving them back, neck and head massages. We decided we’d maybe take advantage of that on another day when and if we felt more stressed. We were feeling quite relaxed enjoying the people watching and just ambling along the narrow cobblestoned streets lined with old 17th century beautiful buildings.

Friday morning Rosalie called and let us know that they had arrived and we arranged to meet up at the Place de Vosges, the oldest square n Paris and one of my favorites. We brought a picnic lunch and enjoyed sitting on the central park of the square surrounded by beautiful old arcades. Victor Hugo once lived in one of the apartments above this square as well as the female French writer, Colette. After lunch we visited the apartment of Victor Hugo, author of “Les Miserables” amongst other famous works. The house is now a museum dedicated to the memory of this great ecrivain.

We walked from there to the Louvre where Rosalie and Jack wanted to visit an exhibition. We opted out as we have been to the Louvre many times in the past. Instead we returned to our apartment by the metro and enjoyed a little rest and time to prepare a birthday dinner for Jack and Gary who both have late August birthdays. Our friends arrived at 8:30 and we proceeded to enjoy dinner together. We ended the evening with French chocolate and coffee. Tired, but glad as we are to be in Paris, Rosalie and Jack said bon nuit and set off for their apartment, just two metro stops away.

The next two days were fun filled with visits to the Institued de Monde Arab, a fascinating museum of the Arab culture informed by the richness of the Muslim culture and exhibiting many artifacts of great interest to us, since we will soon be leaving for Turkey. We walked along the Quais on the River Seine, took a boatride on the Seine, strolled in the Latin Quarter, stopping to peruse a few books at Shakespeare and Company, one of the original and most famous English language bookstores in Paris. We took photos of the scenes of everything beautiful and interesting and ate at a small café on the rue Moufftard near our friends’ apartment, coming home tired and satisfied each night.

Today Gary and I went to the Centre Pompidou, better known as “Beaubourg”, the center for contemporary art, famous not only for its collections of art but also for its once controversial architecture. After 3 and a half hours of visual stimulation we were happy to leave the museum and meet our friends for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, a chain, believe it or not, known as “Leon de Bruxelles,” specializing in mussels with French fries (moules and pommes frites). Topped off with a few glasses of good wine and we rolled home on the metro quite full and happy. When our underground train stopped at the point where Rosalie and Jack had to get off, we all hugged and said adieu and we wished them a continuing good journey. Rosalie’s father lives in England and they are going there to visit him.

We have enjoyed superb weather, ranging from 70F to 80F degrees every day. Today, for the first time, it was a bit overcast. Tomorrow showers are predicted but we are planning to take up the art of flanerie defined as strolling, even if it means pulling out our umbrellas. There is no other place better than Paris to practice aimless strolling, where virtually every district is beautiful, alluring and full of unsuspected delights. Then, of course, there are those delightful sidewalk cafes where we can stop for a coffee or a dubonnet. Au revoir for now. There is more to come.


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