Tuesday, July 15: Musée du Quai Branly and Paris Opera Ballet (now with 100% fewer strikes!)

Tuesday was a huge day. In the morning I took my class to the Musée du Quai Branly, “the museum where cultures dialogue.” It’s a large museum focused on non-European art and artifacts and some innovative temporary exhibitions. One of the current ones is on tattoos and tattoo artists and that was incredibly cool to see. I did not get to spend enough time at the Quai Branly and would like to go back if time permits. I think the students liked it as well–if nothing else it’s a nice break from marble statues and Impressionism. They came up with smart things to say about the stuff that they saw and the values that multiple cultures seem to have in common. It turns out that everybody is interested in birth, death, marriage, and social standing. Not a surprise but I’m glad they noticed!

In the evening I went with Dr. Kirk’s Music Appreciation class to see Roland Petit’s ballet Notre Dame de Paris at the Opéra Bastille. I hadn’t been to the Bastille before, only the Garnier. If the Garnier is the old world, the Bastille is the new. It reminded me of the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas. And then the dancing started and I could barely sit still, it was so good. Modern-ballet choreography performed with all the precision and technical expertise the Paris Opera Ballet has to offer. Amandine Albisson danced Esmerelda and of course she was wonderful, strong and light and beautiful (she looks a little like Eva Green to me). It seems like a difficult character to play as she is almost always reacting rather than acting, but her dancing was beautiful and so were her interactions with the other characters. There was a touching moment when Quasimodo (Karl Paquette) is holding her, asleep, across his arms and swings her like a pendulum–recalling the bells of Notre Dame, surely–ever so gently down to the floor. I actually had tears in my eyes! As a bonus, Yves St. Laurent, my current obsession, designed the costumes. I can’t say that this ballet entirely made up for missing Robbins/Ratmansky . . . but it came close.

After the jump, pics from the Quai Branly. No pics from the ballet because they are not allowed. You’ll have to come and see for yourself.

“Slit gongs” from Papua New Guinea

Contemporary aboriginal paintings from Australia. I love these.

Another aboriginal painting.

Chinese traditional clothes

Indian saris–so beautiful!

Can’t remember what these are called but they are the coat/capes that Afghan men wear

Statue from Mali

“Kente cloth” which is properly called something else (I should have taken more notes).

Statues of kings (obviously not realistic/representational)

Early patent for a tattoo machine based on Edison’s automatic writing machine (hello, History of Print!)

Stencil for a 50s-era paratrooper tattoo. Presumably this is the tattoo my dad didn’t get because his mother would have stopped speaking to him. Good call, Dad.

Tattoo design by a current Japanese artist. I think I’d have to be taller . . . 

Monday, July 14: Bastille Day!

Today is France’s national holiday, commemorating the storming of the Bastille in 1789. It is celebrated with a military parade on the Champs-Elysées, which I attended this morning, and with fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, which I am avoiding like the plague this evening.

The parade is not an American parade with floats and bands; it is a formal military parade with tanks and horses. All the same, it is exciting and draws enormous crowd. I took a lot of pictures–in fact, I think I went mostly for the photo opportunities. Click through and see if I did a good job! Don’t forget that you can click the pictures to enlarge them.

Bastille Day selfie

The best of approximately a dozen “flag in the Arc” shots I took

The people atop that building pay astronomical mortgage rates for this view of the parade.

Getting ready for the kickoff

French Republican Guard

Look over the center of the plane’s left wing and you will see François Hollande, 
the President of France, wearing his new glasses.

The crowd was huge.

The flyover is the best moment of the parade.

Plenty of vehicles.
And lots of tanks.
(Camera in the center is framing another person’s camera screen 
in some kind of infinite regression of parade photography)

People were piled up at every side street and taking pictures everywhere.
Once the parade got under way I started walking down the Champs-Elysées to see what I could see.
This lady was pretty excited.

Parade view from Fouquet’s is also a winner.

Republican Guard horses have a checkerboard pattern brushed on their hindquarters.

People are serious about this parade business.

“I can play a tuba on horseback. What are you good at?”
Charles de Gaulle

I passed this gentleman, noticed his paratrooper insignia, and stopped to speak to him. My dad was a paratrooper in the 50s so I’m a fan of guys who jump out of planes. It turns out he is a parachutiste and also a doctor. All that while looking about 16 years old. Props to the French military, by the way, for their infinite patience and good humor at being chatted up and photographed.

At one point I passed what was obviously the holding area for VIP cars. Maybe Daniel was in this car?

I headed toward the Pont Alexandre II . . . 

. . . and ended up walking through a brocante (flea market) where among many other things you could buy “artisanal popcorn according to the Texas tradition.” I’m not sure it was Texan or artisanal, but it was good.

The grandstand at the Place de la Concorde

About 5 guys hanging from a cord attached to a helicopter. This is called la grappe and according to the Frenchman who proudly explained it to me, France is the only country that does it (Draw your own conclusions. Heh.) “C’est beau, la France, non?” he asked me. “Oui,” I agreed, and added, “Et surprenante!”

Buildings dressed up for the holiday

After the parade is “Franciliens Acceuilent leurs Soldats” (Paris Welcomes its Soldiers): members of the military and their vehicles set up in various places around the city to meet and greet the public. This is at the Opéra Garnier.

Presumably the cape gets him tons of women.

“Right. RIGHT! Not your right, my right!”

He claimed that 3 guys can fit in there and it’s amphibious (see the little propeller?).
So that was Bastille Day. I walked way too much and came back to Cité U. tired but pleased. It was a fun experience and I already have some ideas (mostly to do with getting better pictures) next year. Now the “Concert de Paris” is on TV, to be followed later by fireworks, so I’m going to watch while getting ready for bed. Joyeux 14 juillet à tous et à toutes !

Sunday, July 13: Un dimanche à Paris

The idea that there isn’t much going on in Paris on Sundays is only partially true. A lot of stores are closed but a lot of museums are open, the metro runs, and some big businesses or popular locations open their doors (although I think they pay some kind of tax penalty for this privilege). For instance, I was surprised to discover that the Orange (mobile phone) store on the Champs-Elysées is open on Sunday afternoon. But they are clearly making money via people who need some kind of service at that time. I happened to be there right at the opening time (1:00 p.m.) and there were at least a dozen people waiting, with more coming in once the doors opened. I like the idea that not everything has to be open 24/7–it makes you plan your life better and act more patient. There may be some truth to the idea that the French embrace their downtime a little too enthusiastically, but I can attest firsthand to Americans’ culpability in not taking downtime seriously enough. We get less vacation time than most other developed nations and then when we get it, we don’t take it! At minimum it makes for an interesting clash of cultures when the 24/7 Americans meet the 35-hour-work-week French.

Since I was in the neighborhood (sort of) I took the recommendation of an esteemed friend and went to the Musée Jacquemart-André this afternoon. This museum seems much less well known than the others I’ve been to–on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the day before Bastille Day, there was no line and it was not bustling with tourists. It is a 19th-century mansion built by a wealthy banker’s son, Edouard André, to house and display his and his wife’s (Nélie Jacquemart–she was a painter herself) art collection. When he died, the house and its collections were left to the Institut de France and it opened as a museum in 1913. It is a beautiful space: elaborate but not overwhelming. And as an 18th-century specialist, I was in heaven. A lot of the art dates to the 18th century and the styling of the house itself–as it is presented now–recalls that era. The special exhibition on display was focused on the fêtes galantes paintings of Watteau, Fragonard, and other artists who participated in that style: a sort of dressed-up version of the pastoral in which elegant people in beautiful clothes have a lovely (and sometimes slightly risqué) time in a fantastical woodland setting. The more paintings I’m exposed to, the more I enjoy looking at paintings because I often encounter familiar themes or people I recognize  Two of the paintings by Nicolas Lancret that I saw today incorporated La Camargo, a celebrity at the time Lancret was painting. Most of the fête galante paintings don’t depict actual people but the idea of an idyllic party in the country, possibly featuring some shenanigans, certainly reflects things I’m familiar with from eighteenth-century culture. And like many places I’ve been recently, it’s worth going just to see the building. The tour includes 3-4 rooms from the Andrés’ private apartments. I always love seeing how people lived “back then,” though I still can’t quite imagine living in such an elaborate space every day–and with corsets on, at that.

At the end of my tour through the museum I decided to have a coffee in the café and read my roman polar for a while (have learned the difference between a polar, which is more like a noir thriller, and a policier, which is just a regular detective novel). It was only a little more expensive than at a regular café and I got to enjoy being seated next to a gentleman of a certain age and his young Swedish girlfriend, speaking English to each other because that was the language they had in common, and him holding her hand the entire time. To his credit he seemed unable to believe his luck, as well he should have been. Across from me were 2 women, one of whom was wearing several thousand dollars’ worth of accessories (Gucci loafers, Birkin bag, and a watch I couldn’t identify because I’m not fancy enough) and who wouldn’t stop being rude to the server. She was like a caricature brought to life; I didn’t think those types existed. Between the coffee (which was very good), the book, and the other patrons I got my money’s worth out of that museum café.

Got a little lost coming out of the museum and walked too far through the 8th arrondissement in search of a metro. I don’t know what it is about the 8th–maybe just lack of exposure–but I usually get turned around when I go there. Finally I found Gare St. Lazare and made my way back in time for dinner and laundry. Tomorrow is Bastille Day; I’m thinking of going out for the parade but it will all depend on the weather. A little blue sky is peeking through right now, but what will tomorrow bring?

Saturday, July 12: I accidentally went to the Musée Cluny

For today I only had about half a plan at most. There were a couple of stores I wanted to go to (and/or go back to from yesterday) and then I thought I might go to the Treasury at Notre Dame or sit in a café and read or go to a park if the weather would ever clear up . . . or just flâner. My first stop was Muji near St. Sulpice, which I’d heard had a good selection of papeterie. I have decided to go back to using a paper calendar instead of my phone calendar so I thought I’d look there for a nice-looking agenda. No luck, but I did get to see St. Sulpice itself and that was new for me. It struck me as imposing and gloomy, both inside and out, but it was interesting to visit. This is the fountain in the Place St-Sulpice facing the church:

Of course since I wasn’t thinking of going anywhere photo-worthy I did not take the Good Camera; today’s photos are all iPhone pics!
From Muji I went to Gibert Jeune which is a huge bookstore in the Latin Quarter. I found a really nice agenda there at a decent price and bought a roman policier called Alex by Pierre Lemaitre. I’m not big on crime novels in English but I figured it would be at about my reading level in French. It came recommended by one of the employees and the author is a Prix Goncourt winner, so hopefully it’ll be good. I’m already almost to the end of Pierre Bergé’s letters to Yves St. Laurent, which are very sad and full of love. Dr. Kirk is reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame but I wanted something popular rather than canonical.
En route to Gibert Jeune I came out of the metro right at the St. Michel fountain. I stayed in the Latin Quarter on my second trip to Paris in 2006 and I remember being amazed that the fountain is just THERE in the middle of the street:
After lunch (sandwich, drink, dessert, coffee: 8,20€ at Brioche Dorée, which we have in the Atlanta airport for crying out loud. I’ve got to raise my standards) I was just wandering around figuring out my next move and I landed in the garden of the Musée Cluny a.k.a. the Musée du Moyen-Age (Museum of the Middle Ages). The Cluny is a 15th-century hôtel particulier (sort of a . . . city mansion?) built next to/on top of a Roman thermal bath. It houses an important collection of medieval artifacts: pieces in ivory, enamel, stained glass, sculptures, armor, household items like combs and pitchers, and tapestries, most significantly the Lady and the Unicorn set. This last was not on display last summer but it is back now:
All the tapestries are fascinating to look at. The longer you look, the more details you see.
The Cluny (Wikipedia says it is officially called the Musée du Moyen-Age now but I like to say “Cluny”) also has some illuminated manuscripts on display. One minor disappointment was that in several places, works had been removed for “reorganization”) and it seemed like most of the things that were missing were manuscripts! Nevertheless, I did see a few neat things:
It’s a letter B, see?

Italic hand . . . I think. Need my History of Print notes.

A calendar from a Book of Hours. The placard explained that 
“The page presented corresponds to the current month.”
I did not take a lot of pictures because the connection between the objects and the space seems especially important in this case. That is, you have to see it for yourself. Half of the experience is being in this hôtel particulier that is sort of big and small at the same time, with painted wood beams on all the ceilings and depressions worn into the steps of all the staircases. A couple of the rooms are in parts of the former baths, so you can see the medieval walls and the even older Roman walls. Those rooms are full of pieces from cathedrals: you have no idea how big the kings’ heads are around the front doors to Notre Dame until you see one up close! One of the last rooms on the tour is the chapel–the building was originally constructed for the abbots of the Order of Cluny–it’s no bigger than a classroom but with an elaborate “stone lace” ceiling and painted altarpiece like in a chapel of a large cathedral. I think I will go back and try to take more photos although I don’t know how successful they’ll be. In any case I’m very glad I went. The joke is that Europeans think 100 miles is a long way, and Americans think 100 years is a long time. It is awe-inspiring to me to stand in a building that is 600+ years old (much older, in places) and see objects that also date back multiple centuries. There were objects on display from the 6th century. You can’t see those things and continue to believe that the medieval period was “the dark ages.”
When I left the museum I discovered that the sun had finally come out after about 8-9 days of clouds. Here are a couple of pictures from a small park behind the museum:
The plants and trees in the little park–Paris has lots of these small parks called “Squares” (they are never square) always named after a person, e.g. “Square Laura Thomason.”

This is the back of the Cluny. You can see how elaborate it is–like a scaled-down castle. 
Really a neat place to visit.
Finished out the day with a visit to Carrefour (grocery store) where I almost bought more than I could carry. But now I have plenty of nice food for tomorrow and Monday. And a detective novel to read!

Saturday, July 5: Up and down (mostly up) in Montmartre

Today was our long-awaited (in the sense that we signed up for them in May) walking tours in Paris with professional tour guides. The students had 3 choices: le Marais, Montmartre, or Montparnasse (“I forgot which one I signed up for. . . I think it starts with an M?”). Originally I was supposed to go to Montparnasse, which I’d chosen because I’ve never visited there. But no faculty were signed up for Montmartre so I went along with that group instead. Our guide Orane was one of the guides on the visit to the Louvre last year. She recognized me even though we’d only seen each other once or twice before. I made a concerted effort to speak French–something I’m working on more diligently this year–and maintained what I’m pretty sure was a pleasant and intelligent level of small talk during the metro ride from Porte d’Orléans to Blanche. For future reference, when you get out at Blanche you will be directly in front of the Moulin Rouge, and that’s pretty cool. In fact it’s one of my overall favorite things about Paris: the prospect of coming up out of a metro station and finding yourself right next to something beautiful (Aubers station–turn around and you see the Opéra Garnier), famous (Blanche–Moulin Rouge), or important (St. Michel-Notre Dame–right across the street from Notre Dame cathedral).

Orane gave us a great, well-planned tour of Montmartre. The weather was not ideal–it drizzled intermittently–but the heavy rain held off till the tour was over and I was ensconced inside a crêperie. Because Montmartre is one huge hill, touring it is always a strenuous walk. However, there are lots of good places to stop and take a look around: in addition to the Moulin Rouge we saw the Montmartre vineyard, the Lapin Agile (originally the “Lapin à Gilles” because someone named Gilles painted the rabbit on the building–I love a good French pun), the Moulin à la Galette (one of only 2 remaining windmills in Montmartre, of which there used to be 30), and the café from Amelie. I used to turn my nose up at guided tours but I always end up learning something and seeing things I wouldn’t have sought out on my own. So no more guided tour snobbery for me; I’ve been converted.

Montmartre pictures and the rest of my day after the jump.

Moulin Rouge. Why is the exposure so weird? Are the rhinestones they use just that shiny?

Amelie’s café. I peeped inside and it looks just like in the movie.

Moulin de la Galette

Looking down a street in Montmartre.

This sculpture illustrates a famous French story, “Le Passe-Muraille” (The Man Who Walked Through Walls)

In a small park we found St. Denis again. The legend goes that after he was beheaded by the Romans he walked to this fountain to wash his head, then walked another 3-4 miles until he found another Christian. THEN he died. 

The Lapin Agile

Looking down from the Butte Montmartre

Terrible (poorly composed, toothy, recursive) selfie in small crêperie
After the tour and my crêperie lunch, I did a bit of shopping on Avenue du Général Leclerc. It’s not a big shopping street like Rue de Rivoli but it has several stores that I like. This month is les soldes so things are pretty inexpensive, and I came over a little light on clothes so I’m on the hunt. Today I only bought one t-shirt–mildly disappointing but it is a cute t-shirt–and this reusable shopping bag:

A sac is a bag, of course, so it says “I love having my shopping in a bag.”  But I suspect “en sac” is also short for “en sacré” or something similar, so it’s something like saying “I f***ing love shopping.” Can anyone confirm whether I’m on the right track with this idea? Plus it is printed with little Eiffel towers and French flags and the word “Paris” and it was 1,50€. I should go back and get several to give as souvenirs.
Finally this afternoon I did a load of laundry; it’s been warm this week, making it impossible to re-wear clothes without washing. Then a solo dinner while puzzling over an article in L’Express about a one-year intensive prépa course for disadvantaged girls. I understand the overall point but I realized I don’t know about le prépa. Is it before or after le baccalaureat? Does everybody do it? Now I have a research project to work on tomorrow in between grading and scouting out my field trip for Tuesday.

Friday, July 4: En Grève

While America celebrated its birthday, France went quietly about its business (France’s turn comes next Monday), though not without a frisson of excitement for the France-Germany World Cup match scheduled for Friday night. I taught my class and then worked in the office until about 3 p.m. when Dr. Guglielmi and I and our student assistant Caitlyn took a field trip to Tati for paper goods. Tati is a discount store full of clothes and housewares; we go there to get plates, cups, and napkins for our weekly pizza night and charcuterie buffet night. It is impressively cheap–we got 700 plates, cups, and napkins (enough for the whole program’s worth of pizza and charcuterie nights) for 60€. There are several Tati locations but the one we went to is in Italie 2, a mall (centre commerciale) at Place d’Italie in the 13th. It was easier and faster than I thought to get there, buy mass quantities of paper goods, and haul it all back on the metro. We still have to get drinks Monday and that will be a larger undertaking.

Friday night I was supposed to go to a performance of Robbins/Ratmansky by the Paris Opera Ballet at the Opéra Garnier. Prof. Chen got me an inexpensive ticket some time ago. Then it transpired that I needed to give up my ticket so that one of her students could attend (the ballet was a field trip for her class). But then yesterday, another student wanted to sell her ticket, so Prof. Chen bought it and I was back on the roster. I had reconciled myself to not going but when the opportunity re-arose I was very excited! Once the Tati haul was stowed away I had just enough time to freshen up and eat a bowl of cereal while talking to Mr. B. on Skype, then we were off to the ballet. Extra props to Prof. Chen for figuring out a route to the Opéra Garnier that none of the rest of us had thought of: RER B from Cité U to Châtelet-Les Halles (Satan’s own favorite train station), cross the platform and take RER A to Auber, whose exit is directly in front of the opera house. So much easier than doing it on the metro!

So we got there in good time and were greeted by the opera’s immaculate ushers who handed us these flyers:

I’d been hearing about the grève des intermittents de spectacle on the radio without giving it too much thought, but now it was right in our faces. The performance was canceled because of the strike. It’s been a big summer for strikes: air traffic controllers, the RATP (Paris transit authority), and the SNCF (French national railroads) have all been on strike in the last few weeks and we’ve been lucky that none of it has affected our travel. As such things go I’d rather miss a ballet than be unable to come to France at all because there’s no air traffic controller to help guide the plane. But it was still a big disappointment. We were at least able to get our money back–had to wait in a fairly long queue but they did it on the spot and in cash. If I understood correctly what I was overhearing while waiting, it was a one-day national strike agreed upon among multiple unions. Hopefully the action will not affect any other performances that members of our group are supposed to attend. The strike already caused the cancellation of the Avignon film festival, which is a pretty big deal!
In lieu of the ballet we went to dinner at Le Vaudeville, which is always a treat. To be honest, I don’t think the students knew what they were in for when they agreed to a “traditional French dinner.” The food was comprehensible to everyone but the pace of service takes getting used to. We were already tired and maybe not in exactly the right frame of mind to enjoy it. Nevertheless, it was lovely as ever. I had duck foie gras as my starter followed by steamed cod with mashed potatoes and then a lemon crème with red fruit for dessert. I was disappointed that the beef tartare wasn’t on the set menu last night. I’d have ordered it just to see the students’ faces as I ate it. But the fish was good. Every time I come to France I resolve to eat more fish. 
By the time we finished, paid up, and came back on the metro it was after midnight. A short sleep and onward to the next adventure!

The end/the beginning

Today at an astonishingly early hour, the students and most of the faculty of the EC Paris program departed to return to the U.S. But I was not with them. Yesterday afternoon, Vicki, Samantha, and Daniel all arrived in Paris and we are spending a week here together. Vacaaaaaaay!!!

Yesterday was mostly taken up with packing and getting my stuff from Cité U. over to our apartment for the week, but Vicki and Samantha and I did have time to go over to Notre-Dame for a look around (did not go inside because the line was long) and then walk over to Ile St. Louis for some Berthillon ice cream. It was very pretty weather and not too hot–a perfect first day in Paris. 
By the time we went from Cité to the apartment in a taxi and got a little bit situated, I had to run out to Roissy to meet Daniel. He was exhausted but otherwise fine; we made a stop at Carrefour City (how many different flavors of Carrefour are there?), got back to the apartment and vaguely unpacked, and finally went out for a very late dinner ate a brasserie down the street called Le Boucl’Art. It is a cute, casual place with pretty good food and of course good wine. Daniel wasted no time befriending the waiter while enjoying a pizza. Pizza is not very French unless you put some chèvre and a fried egg on it as this restaurant did. It was tasty and so was the burger that I had.
Between jet lag and a noisy street outside the apartment none of us slept very well, but we rallied this morning for an attempt on the Louvre (free on the first Sunday of the month). The line was already out of hand when we arrived around 9:45 so we went over to the D’Orsay–also free–and waited less than 10 minutes. The D’Orsay is beautiful; it used to be a train station and it has an enormous barrel-vaulted ceiling with big archways leading to all the galleries. It holds a lot of famous Impressionist works so we had our fill of Monet, Seurat, Manet, Gaugin, Renoir, and Degas. I got to see Degas’s La petite danseuse de 14 ans among other great stuff.
After the museum we walked through the Tuileries (always gorgeous), got lunch at one of the restaurants there, and then tried out a few rides and games in the little carnival/amusement park there. Samantha did the “Magic Bubbles” ride which is the giant, human-sized hamster balls that float in a pool. It is apparently a lot more fun than it looks to me, because she loved it. Daniel lost some money on the midway games and finally we came back out near the Louvre and walked down Rue de Rivoli for a while, thinking about shopping. But it was hot, and it was Sunday, and décalage horaire was kicking in so we took a break in a café and finally came back to the apartment. Our plan is to get an early night tonight and hit the Eiffel Tower tomorrow morning. After that, probably a boat tour on the Seine and picnic lunch if it’s not too hot.
It’s time for dinner. À bientôt!

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to America…

Internet, I have a confession: 

When I got up this morning I was tired of being in Paris and ready to go home.
Actually, it is probably closer to the truth to say that when I got up this morning I was just plain tired. I wore myself out at the flea market yesterday but then did not sleep well last night. So when the alarm went off this morning I was less ready for another day’s adventures in the world’s most beautiful city than I was for another couple of hours of sleep and a big pot of coffee. There was no help for it, though. Another busy Monday was on the docket so I hurried out of bed, got ready, and hustled over to the Institut Protestant with plenty of time to spare for a coffee-and-croissant run.  Mondays are coffee-and-croissant days because I cannot break the habit of grocery shopping on Sundays but most stores here are closed Sundays. Ergo, no groceries; instead a visit to a local bakery for un croissant et un café crème à emporter, s’il vous plaît. That bakery is going to miss the USG European Council when we’re gone, I’m here to tell you.
On the way into the IPT to put my book bag down before heading to the bakery I noticed that the men from J. C. Deceaux were changing out the affiches (posters) in the advertising display on the street corner. These posters are everywhere–standalone displays like the one on the corner, bus shelters, the outside of newspaper kiosks, etc. And all the displays seem to be maintained/managed by this one company, J. C. Deceaux, whose name appears somewhere on the display frame (Compulsive readers notice such things). The men happened to be taking down an affiche for the “La Mechanique de Dessous” exhibit at the Museum of Decorative Arts–the very poster I’d wanted to buy at their bookshop but no such thing was for sale. It has a black background with a beautifully lit photograph of a yellow velvet eighteenth-century corset with silver bows and paniers attached. The museum did not offer the same image even as a postcard, nor did I see the piece in the collection. Now here it was in a compellingly enormous format coming out of the frame right before my eyes–and still in great condition; those frames must be very sturdy.
I went up to the man taking the poster out and said, “Excuse me, sir, but what happens to the posters that you are changing out of the frames?” “They go in the trash,” he told me–exactly what I expected/hoped for. “May I have that one?” I asked. “Bien sûr,” he said, rolled it up for me nicely, and even put a rubber band around it.
And that, Internet, is when I stopped being tired of Paris. But on the matter of how I will get this huge poster home on the plane, let us remain silent.

Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen

After yesterday’s rain, today was bright and clear but much cooler (hooray!), so I set out this morning for the huge flea market near Porte de Clignancourt on the north side of Paris. It is just inside the périphérique, in the department of Seine-St-Denis where the racailles live. (That was a Nicolas Sarkozy joke. Also, Autocorrect wants “racailles” to be “racial lens,” which is painfully apt.) Actually, inside the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen, as the flea market is properly known, I mostly saw and heard other tourists–Americans and Germans, judging by the accents. Plus some French people seriously engaged in decorating their homes with the antique furniture and accessories that make up a huge part of the huge market. 

Neither my budget nor my suitcase would accommodate an antique chair but I had hours of fun walking around looking at everything and eavesdropping on the merchants’ conversations. This flea market is kind of a fancier and denser version of the one in Canton, Texas. No Beanie Babies or Fiesta ware but lots of fine jewelry, vintage clothes, antique books and prints, china and silver, and of course a healthy dollop of miscellaneous bits and bobs: watches that might or might not be working, old postcards, fountain pens, beads, toys, etc. Instead of being spread out over acres of land it is all contained within a series of buildings, stalls, alleys, and squares. I stayed for way too long just looking around because it just goes on and on and on! In the end I bought very little: some postcards that I plan to use on the cover of my scrapbook from this trip, and a teeny yellow pitcher emblazoned with the Ricard logo. I must have been thinking of Canton because the pitcher actually looks a lot like Fiesta ware. 
By the time I came back it was after 3 pm. St-Ouen is all the way on the other end of the #4 Métro line, about as far from Cité U. as you can get and still be in Paris. So getting there and back means riding for a little while. Back in my room I did my nails (walking in the rain in Caen yesterday wreaked havoc on my pedicure) and talked to Daniel on Skype. He will be here in only 6 days. I can hardly wait!
Tomorrow will be jam-packed: class, a meeting, other class, other meeting, then back to Shakespeare & Co. for Adam Biles’s appearance at the Grey Cats launch event. I’d better rest up. À bientôt!

La Canicule

There is such a thing as vocabulary you wish you didn’t have to learn, or at least vocabulary you wish did not apply to you. Today’s undesirable word is canicule: heat wave. As in Paris est en plain canicule et les étudiants fondent. (Paris is in the middle of a heat wave and students are melting.) Les profs are melting too! I heard the heat index was 40°C today–just Googled the conversion and that’s 104° Fahrenheit. This in a largely un-air-conditioned nation! Whew. No wonder we are all drinking tons of water and taking 2-3 showers per day. Of course, life does not stop for la canicule. We still ride the train, go to classes, and take excursions. We just don’t smell good doing it.

This type of weather is not unheard-of in France but it is not typical either. There was a prolonged heat wave in 2003 or 2004 that resulted in several fatalities; since then the government has been more careful about issuing warnings, checking on the elderly, etc. when the temperature rises above a certain level. This year, winter was long and cold, spring was chilly, and summer was slow to arrive–our first week here we were happy to have sweaters in the mornings at least. There was some mirth in the press when the government rolled out its annual Heat Wave Plan for the summer at a time when it wasn’t even warm yet. But clearly the powers that be knew what they were doing.
Before you ask, let me go back to the “no A/C” issue. The French are many things but they are not masochists. They enjoy comfort, but they are also very energy-conscious, as seen in la minuterie, automatic lights on timers in corridors: as I understand it these were installed as an energy-saving measure after WWII (7 decades ago) but are still in use, and not just in really old buildings. Most of the time, air conditioning is not necessary here. It would cost a lot to install and operate–I can’t imagine trying to retrofit hundreds of Paris apartment buildings with A/C, nor do I want to see the Hausmann buildings bristling with window units. Some people even say that relying too much on A/C is unhealthy, that we’re better off adjusting our lifestyles a bit and letting our bodies adapt. After sunset, I agree with those people, although I also know people whose bodies react very badly to the heat. I don’t want to suggest that everyone should just toughen up–we are all different and have different sensitivities.
I admire the minimal approach to air conditioning in France because so many public spaces in the American South are overly air-conditioned. We all carry cardigans into restaurants; otherwise you order a flambé dessert just to have a chance to warm up a little. Going to a movie? Better put on warm socks and a hoodie. (I’m not joking.) This heat is not comfortable, but it is livable. If there were A/C here at Cité we’d never leave our rooms. This way, we might as well get out and at least lie under a tree in a park. Or eat some gelato as I did earlier today.