Anatomy of a Steak Tartare

This blog is teetering on the edge of total disarray because so much has been going on that I almost can’t keep up with it. In addition to teaching, field trips, and a couple of other fun excursions, I’ve been to the doctor three times this week with sick or injured faculty or students. THREE TIMES. Today when I sat down in his office, “our” doctor looked at me across the desk and said “Vous savez, nous sommes fermé le dimanche.”* Everybody wash your hands and be careful out there, okay?

So in between trips to the doctor’s office I have managed to get in some top-quality cultural experiences. Last night with Dr. Kirk’s class I saw L’Anatomie de la sensation by Wayne McGregor at the Paris Opera Ballet. It was an incredible experience. I have plenty of background with ballet but none with contemporary ballets such as this one, set to a piece of music titled “Blood on the Floor” and featuring a high-tech movable set. The dancing was simply extraordinary. Contemporary dance is fairly easy to do badly but incredibly evocative when done well. This ballet does not have a storyline but instead focuses on the quality of movement and the shifting relationships among the dancers, so it really shows off the artistry and the technical prowess of the company.  I was thrilled at the opportunity to see it and disappointed when it was over–I probably won’t get a chance but I was tempted to attend a second performance just to study the dancing again.

Today’s highlight was a visit to Les Tontons with the 4 students who had signed up for my “Dinner Club.” Dinner Club is one of the optional activities our program is offering; professors choose a restaurant for dinner and students sign up to go with them. I picked Les Tontons on my Parisian friend’s recommendation because their specialty is beef tartare. Two years ago I discovered that I love tartare. Meanwhile, most Americans probably haven’t tried it and/or are horrified by the idea of eating uncooked chopped beef. So I was surprised when I posted my Dinner Club on Facebook and 4 students immediately signed up. Three of them ordered tartare poêlé (seared), which I think is cheating, but you have to start somewhere, right? They were all very enthusiastic and everyone cleaned their plates, so I’m calling this Dinner Club a success. Les Tontons is relaxed and friendly, not at all touristique, and of course the food is excellent. Next time I might splurge and get the Tartare A.O.C.–see if my little American palate can tell the difference.

My choice: tartare traditionnel, frites, salade (not pictured: a 1664 en pression and a chocolate mousse for dessert).

The students with their meals.

Tomorrow we go to the Loire Valley to see the châteaux for the weekend. I am so excited. Get ready for LOTS of pictures.

*”You know, we are closed on Sundays.” He was teasing me, and in fact I was amused and touched that he cracked a joke because he has seemed very deadpan and shy in the past.

Breakfast in America and Dinner on a Boat

Field trip day #2 for my World Lit. class. I think this means half of our field trips are already done! Holy cow. That makes me feel like time is flying, but in fact we do not have a field trip next Tuesday because that’s Bastille Day. So it doesn’t really mean the program is half over. Whew.

We went to the Musée Carnavalet which is an eternal favorite of mine. It is the museum of the history of Paris and it illustrates the ways in which Paris has changed throughout its history. It’s also a beautiful structure–2 hôtels particuliers put together–and worth going just to see the building:

This was my third time at the Carnavalet so I did not take very many pictures inside but I still love the shop signs:
18C cats: vaguely horrifying, at least when made of metal.

My first take was a barbershop but I’m sure these scissors probably represented a tailor.
Also found this great painting of Voltaire dictating to his secretary while getting dressed:
The audioguide said that the painter, Jean Huber, was a friend of Voltaire’s and did a whole series of paintings of him in distinctly domestic/non-glamorous circumstances. Voltaire ultimately felt that Huber had imposed on their friendship, which is probably true, but I love the reminder that this great philosopher and writer was also a real person and didn’t just look like this all the time:
This summer I’ve been requiring students to participate in field trip planning and execution, including input on where we eat lunch. Today they picked Breakfast in America, a place I’ve known about for years but never visited. Although I am a “When in Rome…”person and don’t choose to eat American food when overseas, I know how evocative and comforting food can be when one is homesick. And I have to admit that B.I.A. knows its way around a burger and fries. The class was pleased with their American-style lunch; the server was incredibly nice and obliging; and now we have a place to go when Daniel gets really desperate for eggs and bacon in the morning.
(But next time we’re going to L’As du Fallafel. Because I’m the teacher and I said so.)
No sooner had we returned from the Marais than it was time to get ready for the dîner croisière a.k.a. Dinner on a Boat. This is the second year we have done a “formal” dinner on the Seine and it is a lot of fun. Everybody got there in good time and looked splendid. Luckily the few drops of rain that started to fall as we were waiting to board did not dampen us or our spirits too much as we boarded the boat. Daniel and I sat with Dr. Guglielmi and his wife and we did so much chatting during the meal that I did not take a single photo. This might mean we have to do another dinner cruise once our friends get here in a couple more weeks, right? Then, unfortunately, the sky opened as we were disembarking and we got pretty wet on the way back to the RER. But by then everyone was in the mood to have fun and took their best “soaking wet in Paris” selfies on the walk while laughing it off and huddling under umbrellas. 
The company we use is Bateaux Parisiens; while I have not tried any others and can’t compare, I think the food is pretty good, the service is pleasant, and it’s overall an enjoyable atmosphere. It’s a relaxed and unique way to see the monuments of Paris. And the students really have an excellent time. After a few days in the routine of classes and field trips it is good to put on a nice dress and be served a nice meal. It’s even better if you bring your dance partner and he gets you out on the floor as dessert is being served. I’ve heard there is video so I’ll see if I can add a link to this post later on.
In the words of Samuel Pepys: And so to bed.

An Excellent Sunday

Yesterday (Sunday) was a fantastic day! We had a relaxing morning (a nice change after the hectic week) followed by lunch with my Parisian friend. She is the provider of SIM cards, vocabulary clues, and transatlantic Viber chats complete with extensive photo exchanges of the “Here’s my lunch” variety. A recent highlight was her photo of the selection of vinegar at a large grocery store. I responded with a photo of an American breakfast cereal aisle. Maybe it’s not normal but I love that sort of thing. Because of our respective schedules, we rarely get to see each other even when I am here, so we jumped at the chance to get together and for Daniel to meet her for the first time. Even though we talk online multiple times a week it was wonderful to see her face in person. We had lunch at Café Rostand, across the street from the Jardin du Luxembourg, which was very nice. I had a salad of shrimp, avocado, tomato, and grapefruit. Perfect after several days of high temperatures. Then we went 2 doors down to Dalloyau, which is an upscale patisserie with a long history and a very good reputation. I ordered something fairly modest–café gourmand with 3 chocolates–and it was all delicious. I just wish I could have had some of everything!

Daniel’s choices–a pain aux raisins and something with raspberries (I don’t remember its name).

Friend’s choice: un fraisier, which tasted like a strawberry shortcake.

Café gourmand aux 3 chocolats (and a bonus macaron, which was very tasty).
I hoped to take a walk in Luxembourg Gardens but it started raining right after we sat down at Dalloyau. We came back to Cité U. and both took a nap. By the time we woke up it was almost time to leave for our second outing of the day, a “Bal de Swing” at Chalet du Lac, a gorgeous Art Deco-style venue on the southeastern edge of Paris. We got there in time to catch most of the beginners’ dance lesson offered at the beginning, and thank goodness for that. The style of swing they were dancing was Lindy Hop, which neither of us knew anything about beforehand. So we at least learned 2-3 good steps, which of course is enough to get you through a social dance and make you understand how the dance works. We also figured out that we could dance East Coast Swing to some of the Lindy music, although the style is different. 
The floor was already crowded for the lesson, and by the time the evening really got under way, people were dancing on the “extra” dance floor off to the side as well as packing the main floor to dance to a live orchestra, which is always fun. It was an amazing night! So much energy and fun to watch as well as dance. Daniel even entered the Jack & Jill competition and had a great time. I was not quite brave enough. We also found out that Chalet du Lac hosts other weekly dance events so we will definitely go back. It’s a fantastic venue that I wish I could pack up and bring back to Macon.
Here is Daniel lining up for the Jack & Jill under the HUGE disco ball.
We never ate dinner last night and it was almost midnight before we got back but it was worth it. What a great day. 

Ten Things I Miss/Look Forward To About Paris (Mostly Food & Drinks)

  1. Un café 
  2. L’Écir (in my head this is “our” café as it’s down the street from the classroom building)
  3. Carte Noire 
  4. Badoit Rouge (intensément pétillant, and isn’t “pétillant” a nicer word than “fizzy”?)
  5. Falafel in the Marais
  6. Volvic au Jus d’Agrumes (and pretty much anything else aux agrumes including Volvic Citron)
  7. Amorino gelato 
  8. Boeuf tartare 
  9. The RATP
  10. Les soldes

Saturday, August 2: Last Parisian day of the year

The last day before departure is a free day for students (and faculty) to do their last-minute sightseeing, souvenir shopping, and fun-having before we are all subjected to the rigors of departure day. I approached the day with a list of places in mind and I took some pictures along the way. Let’s click through, shall we?

First was Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre (still my favorite place in Paris) where I planned to attend Mass. Despite not being a Catholic, I love going to Mass in cathedrals because it just feels more involved and special than simply walking through the cathedral as a tourist. I was early getting to Montmartre so I stopped and had second breakfast at a café called Le Carrousel where, I realized, my students and I had had lunch on a field trip last year. It’s not extra-special as cafés go, but it’s on a charming little corner (of which Montmartre has a few) and the waitress is nice.  I had a café crème–a little too milky for my liking–and a croissant that would be my last croissant in Paris. *snif*

Made my way up to Sacre-Coeur slowly, which is the best way to do it because it’s a steep climb. Tourists were just beginning to arrive but string-bracelet guys were out in force. Fortunately I seem to have developed a proper Parisian “don’t mess with me” face (counterpart to Parisian public-places voice) and I did not get hassled. Got into the basilica with time to walk around and visit everything before the mass started. A nun with a beautiful singing voice led the congregation through the responses, accompanied by another nun playing a sort of flat wooden harp (must ask Dr. Muth what it could be). I enjoyed the service even though I couldn’t follow along very well. There is never a printed order of service available and sung French is too hard for me to understand. Maybe next year!

Le Selfie de Sacre-Coeur

Such a breathtaking place

Panorama of the view from the Butte

After the Mass I walked to Place du Tertre and bought a little watercolor painting of Montmartre for my parents. It was fun picking it out from among all the different artists in that square. I asked the lady I bought it from  if she likes her work. I think it would be tedious–constantly painting in public, in all kinds of weather (presumably), and doing the same subjects over and over. But she said she enjoys it. The painting is very cute and I hope Mom and Dad will like it.

My next destination was the Musée de la Mode, so I took the metro southwest across the city to Alma-Marceau. It was lunch time and I had decided to be sure I had steak tartare before going home so this was the moment. Of the restaurants around the Pont de l’Alma I picked one called La Mascotte that had tartare on its lunch menu. It was delicious. Lots of capers and onion, and I love the way tartare seems light and rich at the same time. I drank an Affligem (Belgian, I think?) with my meal and then had crème brûlée for dessert. There are 2 kinds of crème brûlée in the world: the lazy kind that are made and the sugar caramelized all at once so they come cold from the fridge and with condensation on the sugar crust, and the good kind where the custard is just cool and the crust is still a bit warm from the torch. This was the good kind. I also had a coffee and got told by the waitress that my accent is “adorable.” I’m hoping this is an evolution from “Oh, you speak French so well!” (Which is also nice to hear, don’t get me wrong.)

A table at the edge of the salle is my favorite.

While eating lunch and watching the goings-on on the terrasse (American family having tense words and teenage son storming off!) I decided I’d rather walk a while than go to a museum. So I set off heading east on the Rive Gauche and ultimately made my way all the way down to the Tuileries. It was a gorgeous day with lots of people out walking. The Seine was sparkling. The Tuileries was just plain crowded but there were still chairs in the shade to be had. I grabbed one and sat reading my latest polar (Travail Soigné by Pierre Lemaitre) for a while. That was almost unbelievably pleasant. Parisians are champions at hanging out in parks. Americans do not spend enough time hanging out in parks. But maybe our parks are not as nice or as numerous? Relative to its density I can’t believe how many parks Paris has.

Finally saw the T-Rex statue in person. Like the Mona Lisa and the Mannikin Pis, 
it’s smaller than one would expect.

Looking toward the Eiffel Tower from the Pont Alexandre II

And looking toward Invalides from the same spot.
(the police vehicles were anticipating a pro-Palestinian protest, I later learned.)

In the Tuileries

I still needed to find a couple more souvenirs and it was just too hot on Rue de Rivoli, so I made my way to Notre-Dame mostly to have a chance to sit down in the metro. Walked around for a little too long looking at this and that, until my luck with the weather ran out. It had been windy on and off and clouds had started to pile up; as I left my last souvenir-buying stop, big drops started to fall. Everyone was opening umbrellas and running for shelter. There was no shelter at the stealth entrance to St Michel-Notre Dame metro stop (stealth entrance is the elevator on Rue Xavier Privas) so I got a little moistened waiting. Then I got a LOT moistened getting out at Cité Universitaire and hustling to the tram. Who should I run into but Dr. Guglielmi, who was also coming back to change for our “directors’ meeting” dinner. I looked a mess: hair flat and dripping, mascara all over my face, wet clothes.

Through the Louvre courtyard . . . 

. . . past Samaritaine . . . 

. . . through the Place St. Michel where Penelope Cruz 
is advertising Schweppes Agrum’ (delicious, unavailable in U.S.)

Not pictured: self as drowned rat.

In my room I closed the curtains and ended up leaving them closed while I got ready for dinner and finished my last bit of packing. Imagine my surprise when opened them and discovered bright blue sky! We had a beautiful walk/ride over to this tiny Italian restaurant that Dr. G had discovered near the Eiffel Tower. Dr. G, although born and raised in Belgium, is from an Italian family, speaks Italian fluently, and knows his Italian food (actually knows food in general–I’ve never had a bad meal with him). So this place is actually a sort of deli/restaurant hybrid that sells a bunch of Italian food and wines as well as seating about 14 people and knocking their socks off with a delicious homemade menu. My starter was a salad consisting of wine-cured ham (something like “braescola”?), arugula, and shaved Parmesan with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sooooo good. For the main course I had risotto with asparagus–also delicious and not so large that one feels like the Sta-Puft Risotto Man after eating it. Dr. G recommended the tiramisu for dessert. I will eat tiramisu at any time for any reason, so I had no trouble following his advice. This was definitely above average tiramisu. The whole meal was outstanding and the gentleman who owns the place is a great character, walking around shouting in a pastiche of Italian and French. Maybe I will have to learn Italian next? For a final souvenir I bought a package of coffee to use in my Moka pot back at home. Can’t wait to try it and see if it beats my Café Bustelo.

Risotto with asparagus

Inside the restaurant. J’adore!

With the dinner meeting finished it was time to head back and catch a few–very few–hours of sleep. Official “Au Revoir, Paris” time was scheduled for 6:25 Sunday morning.

Tuesday, July 29: Returning to the Musée Carnavalet

Some of my students in World Lit. expressed interest in the Musée Carnavalet, so today we went there as our last field trip for the course. It was my second time there (first visit, last summer, reported here) but the museum is extensive enough that I know I saw some things I had not seen before. The only downside of today’s visit was that a good bit of the museum was closed for renovation. I was more disappointed for my students’ sake than for my own, but they all enjoyed it regardless and reported that they had learned a lot. Tomorrow I am going to ask each person to share something specific that he or she learned. I also have my own interesting fact in reserve–but I’m saving it for tomorrow!

So the Carnavalet is in the Marais district, which has evolved over the centuries from an aristocratic neighborhood of hôtels particuliers to a Jewish quarter to a gay neighborhood. The first time I visited Paris (ten years ago!), the Marais was thought of as not being very touristy, but nowadays it sees its share of tourist traffic. In fact, the Marais itself represents a phenomenon that the Carnavalet illustrates: the ways in which Paris has changed and continues to change. Because Hausmann so radically reinvented the city starting in the mid-19th-century, it’s easy to believe that Paris has always looked the way it looks now. Very little of medieval and Renaissance Paris remains. A lot of what one sees at the Carnavalet is paintings of the city in its earlier incarnations, restored rooms from various hôtels particuliers of the 18th century, and even archaeological findings from the days when the Romans lived here and called it “Lutetia.” All in all it is a great education. I don’t know whether I want to read a book on Parisian history to understand the Carnavalet better or just keep going to the Carnavalet until I understand the history of Paris better. Maybe both.

In addition to the Carnavalet, which is the museum of the history of Paris, it offers a lot of good shopping and a lot of good falafel. The famous L’As du Falafel restaurant is there; I like to be iconoclastic and hit the falafel stand across from L’As because the line is shorter. After the Carnavalet I enjoyed my falafel and went for a gelato at Amorino next to the Place de Vosges–gotta eat enough this week to give me good culinary memories to last a year, after all.

Meanwhile, I did take some pictures at the Carnavalet. Click through!

The garden is taking more of a potager direction this year.

Still some beautiful flowers, though, too.

The first room you enter is my favorite: full of shop signs from before the streets began to be numbered. This one offers a free croissant to anyone who buys a coffee for 15 or 20 centimes.

Model of a tram car from the beginning of the 20th century

A cat from a shop sign

“Au Persan” (At the Sign of the Persian), a cashmere shop

Newspaper sign

The Carnavalet is another “worth going just to see the building” museum.

Obligatory mirrored-room selfie

Rousseau’s seal: “Devote your life to the truth.”

A clock depicting Voltaire and Rousseau arguing–
the sort of thing that makes me think I will NEVER fully understand the French.

Louis XVI-era room–the Carnavalet has several rooms like this, 
salvaged/reconstructed from other hôtels particuliers.

The invention of the hot-air balloon spawned a craze for ballooning-themed decorative arts.

This hand and a foot are the only remaining pieces of a statue of Louis XV 
that was destroyed in the Revolution. 

A painting that depicts public celebrations of the birth of the Dauphin, 1782. This area is Les Halles which, today, is a large underground mall and a rather disagreeable metro/RER station.

17th-century painted and gilded ceiling from a different hôtel particulier. It was conserved in the town hall of the 8th arrondissement until it came to the Carnavalet in 1879, and was restored in the late 90s/early 2000s. 

The back garden.

My students taking a museum break

Model of the Arènes de Lutèce, which we visited last week

L’église St-Paul St-Louis: you will see it en route from the St-Paul metro stop to the Carnavalet.

Thursday, July 24: Where they make Brussels sprouts

Today I went with Dr. Scalera and her class to Brussels for the day. It only takes 80 minutes in the Thalys high-speed train to get there. I love trains! In the morning we visited the EU parliament building and the “Parliamentarium,” which is a museum all about the EU parliament. Trust me: it’s a lot cooler than it sounds. Dr. Guglielmi met up with us and escorted us to Chez Leon for a traditional lunch of moules frites (not “fried mussels” but “mussels and fries”), then in the afternoon we went to the chocolate museum (CHOCOLATE MUSEUM), saw the Mannikin Pis (because you have to), and bought souvenirs around the Grand Place. Brussels is gorgeous and I’m just sorry we couldn’t stay longer and get to know it better. The day seemed to go by in a flash and now that I sit here thinking back on it I can’t believe how many things we did.

On with the photos!

Paris’s Gare du Nord and its clicky schedule board, which I love

Looking down the platform at Gare du Nord

EU Parliament chamber

This photo is for one person–she knows who she is.

EU Parliament selfie!

Flags of all the EU nations

Outside the Parliamentarium

Inside the Parliamentarium: all kinds of multimedia exhibits

A representation of the parliament’s membership, divided into its political groups. 
Notice that the little wooden “people” are also differentiated male/female.

Nobel Peace Prize certificate awarded to the EU
Nobel Prize medal–never seen one in person before!

On this map of Europe, you roll the little stands around to different cities on the map and the screen in the stand plays something about that city and its role in the EU.

Globes representing the EU’s work in various sectors and subjects 
like human rights and election monitoring

Lunch at Chez Léon: moules!

In the Grand Place (great square) in Brussels

Dr. Scalera’s class with Dr. Guglielmi

Looking back toward the Grand Place from a side street

Inside the Chocolate Museum, dresses and hats made of chocolate

A Napoleon III-era traveling chocolate set

Collection of chocolate pots and their whisks

Demonstrating the making of pralines (filled chocolates–different from what pralines are in the U.S.)

Outside the Chocolate Museum

Another view of the Grand Place

The streets are full of these tall, narrow, side-by-side buildings

It was a gorgeous day!

The Mannikin Pis is really tiny.

And at the moment he is dressed up for Belgium’s national day, which was Monday.

Back to the Grand Place

St. Nicholas Church, originally built in the 12th century

Looking up at a building façade from a café terrace

Tuesday, July 22: “Que le paix et le salut soient sur Lui”

Today my World Lit. class took its field trip to the Grande Mosquée and the Arènes de Lutèce. The mosque is beautiful with “Hispano-Mauresque” architecture, mosaic tiles, and calligraphy everwhere. We had this very kind tour guide named Yamina who explained what the different rooms in the mosque were used for and at the same time explained a lot of the basics of Islamic beliefs and rituals. For instance, I did not know (or maybe had forgotten) that the 5-pointed star represents the 5 pillars of Islam. I did know that when Muslims say the name of the prophet Muhammad they follow it by saying a little blessing for him, but I did not know how to say it in French. Now I do, for which please see the title of this post. The tour was entirely in French so I was on translator duty. I think I mostly did well! One thing I am learning is that the person being translated also needs to know how to work with a translator. Yamina was very easy to understand but sometimes she’d tell us a LOT of information and I’d have to try to keep it all in my brain and roll it back out in English. In any case, we learned a lot at the mosque and I was happy to have this new experience. We were allowed to take pictures, which I was not sure about going in, so that was exciting as well.

From the mosque we went to the Arènes de Lutèce, which is right around the corner. It’s the other ancient Roman ruins site in Paris in addition to the Thermes de Cluny (now part of the Musée du Moyen-Age). It is an amphitheatre that was built around the first century C.E. and was, as such things frequently are, almost demolished to make way for new construction. To be honest, it isn’t much to look at but for an American it’s exciting just to visit something that survives from so long ago. I wanted the class to be able to say they had been there!

Afterward we returned to the mosque, which has a café adjoining it, and we made a record amount of couscous, lamb, sausage, chicken, and vegetables disappear in a very short while. Memo to my students: now, if someone asks you if you like North African food, you can say yes! And hot mint tea with sugar–that went down very nicely on what felt to Southerners like a slightly chilly day.

This afternoon after we got back I made a run to Gibert Jeune (huge bookstore with a great stationery section as well), grabbed 2 more Pierre Lemaitre books and a used copy of Notre-Dame de Paris (i.e. The Hunchback of Notre Dame), and ran across a question-and-answer book of Paris trivia called Connaissez-Vous Paris? (Do You Know Paris?) so I grabbed that as well. Someone remind me not to buy any more books here. This makes 6!

Photos after the jump!

In the “meeting room,” stained glass and a plaque with the name of one of Muhammad’s successors

Looking through a grate into the garden

The calligraphy on the blue plaque is the Shahadah, the Muslim profession of faith.

Students taking photos in the garden

The minaret, crescent (representing the Islamic lunar calendar), and star

The garden

Another view of the garden

Flowers and mosaic tiles

This Qur’an was given to the mosque by the king of Jordan.

In a small courtyard off a side door

Decorations in the Grand Courtyard

A close-up of the decorations

I love how detailed everything is.

The basin in the center is used for ritual ablutions.

My class at Arènes de Lutèce: Sam, Delaney, Jessie, Lindsey, Shannon, Kira, 
Lauren, Hillary, Michael, Erika, Nathalie, Christina, and Kayla.

I stopped to photograph this beautiful container garden and got caught in the act! 
The owner is shutting the window.

Inside the mosque café

The café’s resident cat–as you can see, he is a celebrity!

Sunday, July 20: Une grande flânerie

This morning I wanted to get out early and go over the route for my Tuesday field trip a second time. The first time I psyched myself out thinking that getting off at a different metro stop would be “better” when in fact it made my destination much harder to find. Lesson learned: Just do it the way everyone else does! The 5th arrondissement is very pleasant and peaceful at 9:30 a.m. on a Sunday. On the side streets you could hear people’s televisions and radios playing softly out their open windows, the window boxes were blooming, and the weather was very mild. I got to the Grand Mosquée quickly, noted the directions in detail, and walked from there to the Arènes de Lutèce. There I was surprised to see the Sapeurs-Pompiers de Paris playing 7-a-side soccer. The game looked quasi-official: they were all wearing matching t-shirts and one team had on fluorescent vests to distinguish them from the other. Maybe there is a Sapeurs-Pompiers league and they were scrimmaging?

Leaving the soccer game behind, I smelled fresh baked goods and followed my nose to a boulangerie for a chausson aux pommes–croissant-type pastry dough with applesauce filling, my new favorite pastry. At the boulangerie an American lady was ordering about 6 pastries and 4 cups of coffee. I wondered where she was going to take them, and how, and whether I should tell her that if she’s going to order quantities by holding up fingers she should learn the French way of doing it: thumb first, then fingers–an American “2” is likely to look like a French “3,” not that extra croissants are a bad thing.

I put my pastry in my bag (poor choice; it got crushed and made my wallet a bit greasy) for the metro ride to my next destination, viz. the vicinity of Notre Dame where I was trying to find a souvenir to send my my beloved Daniel. Due to circumstances, I have an unused “Postexport” envelope, which is a prepaid bubble-wrap envelope that you can use to send something under 250g anywhere in the world. I knew what I wanted to send because I saw it before but didn’t buy it on the spot, so I sort of had to wrack my memory to work back to the right souvenir shop. On the way I slid through Notre Dame cathedral thinking I would attend Mass, but it was 11:00 and the next Mass was the international mass at 11:30, which already promised to be packed. I did learn, however, that when a Mass is upcoming the cathedral staff opens a separate entrance for those going to Mass rather than just visiting the cathedral. Pro tip: there is nothing other than fear of divine retribution (or the possibility of spoiling it for everyone) to stop you from using the Mass entrance and then visiting the cathedral instead.

From souvenir-buying and not-Mass-attending, I walked past the Hôtel de Ville (where the FNAC Festival was already sound-checking at noon for an 8 p.m. start time) to the Centre Pompidou and cruised that area a bit. I went completely around my elbow and kept ending up at Arts & Métiers when I was trying to go to the Place de Vosges. Finally I got fed up and took the metro to Bastille partially just to have a chance to sit down. It turned out to be a good choice–or happy accident–because I discovered the big street market that takes place at Bastille on Saturdays (and Thursdays, the Internet tells me). I could have walked out of there with fish, produce, jewelry, scarves, olives, a marinère, pork chops, men’s socks, a new bra, and a fedora. Oh, and some Marseillaise soap.

But I exercised restraint and arrived in the Place de Vosges at last, where gelato was duly ordered and consumed. All due respect to Berthillon ice cream but I go out of my way for Amorino gelato instead. It was a pretty afternoon but some forbidding clouds were piling up. As I walked through the Marais, which was thronging, it started to rain. I stopped into a couple of stores (Lush has been calling my name) but got worried that the skies would really open up. I returned to the Hôtel de Ville, got back on the metro, and was back to home base around the time our students started getting out and about for the afternoon. Talked to Daniel on Skype, worked on my class for tomorrow, answered some email, ate dinner, and soon enough it will be time for bed. Where do the days go?

Click through for pics–I took a few with my phone.

The minaret of the Grande Mosquée

Commemorative plaque for the Arènes de Lutèce. The last sentence says, “Passer-by, in front of this first monument of Paris, consider that the city of the past is also the city of the future and of your hopes.”

Look at this great stairway all fancied up with flowers.

Paris Plages!

The Hôtel de Ville and the FNAC Festival stage

Fountan next to the Centre Pompidou, beloved of French In Action fans

Arts & Métiers metro station is all steampunked-out.

Monument at Place de La Republique
I spent too much time in the metro today–bit tired and not navigating well as a result. But you do get to see a lot that way. Even if “a lot” just means “a lot of metro stations.” 

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!