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:
Stayed up late to have time to talk to my beloved Daniel on Skype so I did not get an early start today at all! My first step was to scout my field trip for Tuesday. We are going to the Musée du Quai Branly, an easy RER journey (actually 2 RERs) that will put us right next to the Eiffel Tower. I am excited to see this museum and I think it will be a nice change for the students, who have probably seen many paintings and sculptures by DWEMs (Dead White European Males) by now.
From the Quai Branly I made my way to the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves St. Laurent to see its “Femmes Berbères du Maroc” exhibition. After seeing the documentary L’Amour Fou a while back I’ve been a little fascinated by Bergé & YSL’s relationship and I wanted to see their museum. My only regret is that I did not book a guided visit and thus did not get to see YSL’s private studio and some other behind-the-scenes stuff at the Fondation. But the exhibition was fascinating–textiles, jewelry, and some household goods like baskets and cosmetic pots made by or belonging to Berber women, mostly from the first half of the 20th century when Morocco was a French protectorate. There were also large video screens showing high-resolution images of complete traditional outfits from the different tribes. To be honest I’m glad I did not have to try to wear an elaborate headdress and heavy jewelry while, e.g., milking a goat. But it suggests a certain kind of strength that these women must have had. The variety of styles was also a good reminder that the different tribes were distinct cultures and not to be “Orientalized” with a broad brush.
Leaving the Fondation I noticed a cameraman and reporter on the street corner obviously doing the “interview random passers-by” trick. I passed close to them never expecting to be acknowledged (in my mind I have a giant flashing “I’m American; ignore me” sign over my head), but sure enough the reporter said “Excuse me, Madame, would you like to answer a question for Télé Monde?” Dear Readers, I must admit that I’ve been on TV a couple of brief times and actually liked it, so I answered “I can’t possibly say no!” while praying she wouldn’t ask me something obscure about French politics. The question was both obscure and political, but not in the ways I expected. “Have you noticed that François Hollande has new glasses?” she asked. I was reeling a bit at this unanticipated topic and fumbled through answering that I had not seen him, not even on television. “Ah,” the reporter said, comprehension dawning, “So actually you are not French?” While I was disappointed not to get to appear on TV, I was gratified to be meeting my goal of passing as French until I open my mouth. (Must be the new pants.)
After the exhibit and my brief encounter with the French media I went in search of lunch (is it possible that culture makes me hungry?) and had another quiche-drink-pastry formule, this time at Pomme de Pain. Maybe I should think twice about having dessert with lunch but who can pass up viennoiserie and patisserie when they are offered? Hopefully I walked it off–I did walk a lot today because I had one destination at St. Placide and one at St. Sulpice and got them mixed up. So I got off the metro at St. Sulpice and got to walk a few blocks to where I meant to be, at H&M across from St. Placide. (Or it may have been the other way around. *cough*) I know at least one reader of this blog who is cringing right now at my affinity for cheap clothes, but I love H&M. It never does me wrong and I always find good things there. Today I got 2 t-shirts, a sleeveless top, a genuinely really nice skirt, and a package of socks (my socks have been an unexpected casualty–one lost, one got a hole and we’re barely 2 weeks in) for just under 30€. Yes, it may all fall to pieces in 6 months but right now I am just not bothered.
With the shopping done I had to put on my Assistant Director hat and go back to work. In the process, I had a cultural experience that I’m grateful for, and we got some good material for our next program meeting.
In the middle of writing this entry I stopped to talk to Daniel on Skype; now I’ve finished it and it is definitely bedtime. Stay tuned!
When I read David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day, I laughed until I cried on multiple occasions. Listening to this segment from This American Life is even better: still funny, but also profound. Ultimately he gives a good answer to the question of why we take the risk of entering a foreign culture: the slight strangeness of everything and the need for heightened observation are exciting (albeit occasionally defeating). It is probably preferable to experience gaffes in foreign countries as adventures rather than as humiliations–unless one is David Sedaris and can make such fantastic material out of the humiliations.
Also, frankly, I love the way he transliterates his hardware-store French. “And now I have come to find a table that might work with my iron.”
Him Talk Pretty Three Days
For our last day in Paris we split up to visit the things we most wanted to see (and, in my case, run some unglamorous and non-touristy errands). Daniel went to play poker at Le Cercle Clichy Montmartre–I was surprised to find out that this is not a random hole in the wall but a beautiful historic building. (Why was I surprised? Isn’t everything in Paris in a beautiful historic building?) I went with Vicki and Samantha to visit Notre-Dame (we had been on the premises but not been inside). It is spectacular. Vicki especially loved it.
They then headed on to the Orangerie while I went back to Cité Universitaire to see if they had my camera charger. I think I must have left it in my room when I moved out, but the Maison de Provinces de France did not have it. It never turned up in my luggage, so I will have to replace it. Sigh. That’s also why these pictures are from my iPhone. The visit to Versailles was the end of my camera battery.
Friday afternoon I decided to take up someone’s suggestion to visit Sainte-Chapelle and I am so glad I did. It costs a bit of money but it is worth it: an incredible little chapel from the 13th century whose walls are practically all stained glass. Beyond gorgeous.
I had just enough time to finish my last mission: writing some cards to friends to post from Paris before we left. I sat at a café behind the Centre Pompidou and then felt really proud because I successfully followed the café waitress’s directions to the post office. Back at the apartment it was nap time and then over to Brasserie Vaudeville for our last Parisian dinner. It was delicious (again)–Dr. Guglielmi gets all the credit for introducing me to it. This time I skipped the appetizer (okay, I mooched some of Daniel’s foie gras), had beef carpaccio and frites for my plat principal, and chose crème brûlée (always yummy) for dessert. We drank a carafe of Beaujolais, cracked jokes with the waiters, and generally had a great time.
Our intended after-dinner destination was Parc Tino Rossi for a bit of alfresco dancing, but I got the directions totally wrong (wrote them down but didn’t bring them; remembered them wrong). I took us to the Pont de l’Alma instead of Pont d’Austerlitz. We would have been very disappointed but we happened to come out of the métro at about 9:54, just in time to see the Eiffel Tower light up at the top of the hour! What a great ending to our visit.
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.
On our first day here, Tour Guide Josh told us that a lot of people come to Paris for only a week. They run around to see all the major tourist attractions sort of like checking off a to-do list. We are lucky, he rightly said, to get nearly 5 weeks here (nearly 6 in my particular case). I’ve found that a benefit of having more time is the opportunity to go back to places. Today I didn’t really want to go anywhere in particular; I just wanted to flâner. I started at Repetto near Place de l’Opéra (not as much dancewear on display as I hoped), cruised the streets, and ended up at Place Vendôme, a beautiful square of Hausmann buildings with high-end jewelers occupying the ground floors. In total Breakfast at Tiffany’s style I walked around and picked out what I wanted from all the window displays. After an espresso and a croissant (not eaten in front of Tiffany’s window; wish I’d thought of it) I went back to the Museum of Decorative Arts to see if they sold copies of the “La Mechanique de Dessous” exhibit poster. No luck, but they did have gorgeous postcards of several of the pieces so I picked out three of those.
After a busy week (and then some) it has been great to have some free time with nothing on the schedule. Today I did a tiny bit of work while sitting on the bed in my pajamas, went in search of Prosecco for tomorrow night (no dice but I did get a bottle of Vauvray, a bottle of Lambrusco, and my very own Wine Guy), and then set out with Dr. Winchester to flâner. We went back to the Marais to see the Musée Carnavalet, had lunch, and then I saw him off to visit a friend in Amiens before returning to finish off the Carnavalet and my wanderings around the quartier. I actually walked longer than I meant to–got confused trying to find the bus stop near the Hôtel de Ville and finally had to make for a familiar Métro stop instead. Today I did not take my “big camera” so I have only a few phone pics:
One of two different “À la Tête Noire” (Sign of the Black Head) signs on display. (You can also see all 3 of the insurance signs here.)
Scale model of a diligence or mail-coach. The real thing would have been bigger than I ever imagined them.
Hôtel de Ville is all dressed up for Bastille Day tomorrow.