Monday, April 30, 2012

Extra-value Day

The morning dawned bright and clear, although the forecast was for rain by evening. So we set out to do a couple of good-weather things.

Jardin des Plantes

The Jardin des Plantes, a complex operated by the national Museum of Natural History, is a big patch of green on the eastern edge of Paris, and one corner is only 600m from our front door, so we set out on foot about 9am.

The Jardin is mostly a big green space with various smaller gardens full of botanical samples—an Alpine garden, and so on. But there are also a couple of different museums and a zoo.

Overview of the Jardin, about noon when there are more people.

Ordinarily we don't do zoos, but the Menagerie here looked small and we had a bit of time to kill before we could go into the big greenhouses, so we went in. (Today I learned: this zoo was the second oldest in the world.) Quite enjoyed ourselves, seeing several things we'd never seen before.

Sechuan or Golden Takin, possible origin of the legend of the Golden Fleece

The Markhor is the national animal of Pakistan.

The Jardin has a couple of huge greenhouses with tropical plants. We went in one.

It was nicely arranged but didn't have anything we hadn't seen before. The desert selection did have a beaucarnia recurvata like the one in our living room. We always look for those. Ours is bigger than theirs. Yeah us.

Grabbed a sandwich, shot a last pic of some poppies, and headed on up the river.

Notre Dame

A mile up the river is Notre Dame de Paris. We took a few (dozen) pictures, kept an actual few. Here's a couple. These will reward click'n'thru.

From Square René Viviani, over used-book and schlock sellers on Quai de Montebello

South window with flowering chestnut tree.

Figures on the roof.

La Defense

So we are sitting on a bench beside Notre Dame, looking at the queue of several hundred people waiting to go inside (no exaggeration), having decided to come back at opening time to see the interior, and Marian says, "I don't feel like stopping, let's go to La Defense. We can take the #1 Metro two blocks away and be there in half an hour."

La Défense is a big development of offices and hotels due west of the center of Paris. Built mostly in the 80s and 90s, it has lots of radical buildings and public art, including...

...the Grande Arche. Yes, click for the big, big image.

From the center of the Grande Arche you can see the Arc de Triomphe, and vice versa.

There are more pics of animals, Notre Dame, and weird and oversized stuff at La Défense in The Gallery. It's getting pretty large, but remember, you can jump to the last page and work backward to see the latest. Just click the >> thing after the page number.

We'd put more in here but it's past 10pm and we're done.

Oh, that concert last night? Nice. Tell about that another time.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Unexpected Sun

Since the weather forecast was for rain, we chose today to go to the Museum of Decorative Arts. Only that, because we picked up tickets for a concert tonight. So, just one "thing". then home for an easy afternoon, then out for dinner and a show.

La Musée des Artes Décoratif

This is an independent museum housed in one section of the same complex as the Louvre. The guide said it opened at 10 and we were on time, only in fact it opens at 11 on Sundays. So with an hour to kill we descended into La Carrousel du Louvre. The Louvre is a vast rambling W-shaped complex of stone palaces. That's above ground. Below ground, come to find out, that area (roughly 6 by 3 city blocks?) has a huge parking garage, a bus garage, and an up-scale shopping mall, the Carrousel. People in the know queue to buy Louvre tickets down there, out of the weather. Here are some waiting in the center court, which is the bottom side of the smaller glass pyramid.

Here there are also cafes, an Apple store, a Swarovsky crystal store, etc. While down here we took the opportunity to buy tickets for Versailles.

Back up to the M. of D. A. which basically stores and documents styles of furniture and all other household objects from the 17th century to the 1990s . We walked through about half of it in 2 and 1/2 hours. The audio guide, which was free, was simple and worked well, and we saw and learned about many beautiful things. There were rooms and rooms of beautiful things. Here are a couple of them.

Art Deco armoire.

"Carp" vase from the 1860s(?).


While going around inside we'd caught glimpses of a brilliantly sunny day out the windows. Back outside at 1pm for a quick snack and a juice we found that yes, the overcast had broken up into highly photogenic puffy clouds with bright sun between. Quick, photograph something! But what? It was too late in the day to get in line for the Eiffel tower, but we could shoot the tower from the Allée de Cygnes, "Swan Alley," a long thin island that runs down the middle of the Seine south of the Tower. We photographed its bottom end from Pont Mirabeau, in the rain, yesterday.

Studying the metro map showed we could step into a station just down the block here, and emerge over there, so we did.

And here's the view, the Eiffel Tower against just about the perfect sky.

(Go to The Gallery, jump to the last page, click on this image, click the little file-folder icon that pops out, and you'll have a 1600x2300 pixel version.)

This is the double-decker Bir Hakeim bridge.

Metro #6 train heads uptown.

Bir Hakeim was a battle site in Libya in WWII, at which the Free French held off a much larger force of Germans and Italians for 16 days, and there is a memorial to this. The bridge also features monumental sculptures signifying the dignity of labor, of which this is one.

Nothing signifies "labor" like the complete absence of appropriate safety clothing.

We strolled 1/2 mile to the end of the Allée.

There one finds that down-sized replica of Lady Liberty that we saw from a distance yesterday.

After which, to home to rest up for the evening activities. Hey, who are we kidding? Home so Marian can update the Stanford Women's Basketball website and David can process pictures. Anyway, all about our evening out tomorrow.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

We Defy the Elements

Not gonna lie, the weather's been crappy and the forecast offers little hope for improvement. Today dawned gray and gloomy with the threat of rain, but we decided to do a couple of things we'd been saving for "better weather."

Promenade Plantée

The first was to walk the Promenade Plantée. When they built the new Opera on the Place de la Bastille, they got the land to do it by razing a railroad depot. Trains had come into the depot from the southeast by an elevated viaduct. Rather than tear this down, they had the brilliant idea of making the top of it into a skinny, two-kilometer park, with lots of plants and a wide paved path down the middle.

Doesn't look like 20 feet above the street, does it?

Apartments are built right up to it, some incorporating parts of old warehouses.

Newer buildings work around it.

You look over the edge at older streets around the Gare du Nord

The Rough Guide alerted us to watch for the unusual building decoration around the top of this police station.

The linear garden is planted with a great variety of stuff, some coming into bloom.

Unknown bush.

Another unknown.

Very pretty bed. Click through to appreciate.

At the end, the viaduct comes to earth over a dramatic bridge.

The people down below were setting up a fashion shoot.

Viaduc des Artes

The brick arches of the old viaduct were converted into shop space and are now occupied by the very trendiest of the trendy. This provided the best window shopping so far as we walked back to the Place de la Bastille at street level.

See the plants on top?

Here are a few of the outrageously trendy things we saw—not including the €1100 lampshade made of feathers.

The things in this window were just indescribable. But pretty. (Click to see)

Made-to-order custom-designed umbrellas.

Beaded chicken, anyone?

Crystal chandelier for a child's room?

Embroidery store—Marian bought a lovely pair of embroidery scissors.

Lunch Break

Back at the Place de la Bastille we bought ourselves gauffres for lunch. "Gauffre" (rhymes with Oprah, more or less) means waffle, and they are available from street vendors near any tourist area. And delicious.

Biting into a gauffre avec Grand Marnier et sucre.

Parc André Citroën

The description of Parc André Citroën in the guidebook had us eager to see it. The Wikipedia entry doesn't do it justice but gives an idea. It's something different in the way of parks for sure.

This park is at the diagonally opposite corner of the map from the Promenade Plantée, but we hopped into the Metro at the Bastille and came out at the other end half an hour later without even changing trains. Alas, we came up from underground to find it was raining steadily on this side of Paris.

The park has many somewhat precious design features: sunken gardens and hidden ones; including some that, apparently, we never found, the steady rain making us somewhat impatient with exploring.

In the center are two huge and architecturally impressive glass houses supposedly housing exotic plants.

Thank you, lady with the red umbrella, for accenting our picture.

Unfortunately the glass houses were locked, as was the only public WC in the park. Sadly, there were many signs of neglect and decay: missing stones and tiles, broken windows, unkempt planting beds, empty ponds.

Pont Mirabeau

Having come into the park from the south, we exited at the north end and walked alongside the Seine looking for the Metro station to take us home. This led us to the Mirabeau bridge, which was something of a treat.

From the Mirabeau bridge we could see, at the end of the Allée des Cygnes, an island in the middle of the river, a replica of the Statue of Liberty. A fitting end to a wet day.

We rode back across 3/4 of the city on the metro. Stopped on Rue Mouffetard where we bought asparagus, strawberries and some roasted potatoes to supplement the roasted chicken left over from Thursday night and had ourselves a feast at home.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Modern Art, a Hat, and Dinner Out

Gonna keep this short as it's late; we went out for dinner at a local nice restaurant. Didn't finish until 9:30.

Started the day going out to fetch croissants at a different boulanger than before; same price, but larger, somewhat tastier, maybe a bit more greasy (well, assume that's more butterier?) than the old place. And coffee at home. Then about 9:30, head out for Le Centre Pompidou to check out modern art. The Pompidou is famous for being an inside-out building with all its pipes and framework and escalator outside.

The fifth floor has art from the first half of the 20th century, when Matisse, Derain, etc. were first trying to define a new art game with new rules. (A critic called them "Fauves," wild beasts, so the movement was Fauvism, "wild-beast-ism.") Some of the same guys we saw yesterday in the Paul Guillaume collection. And not all to our liking.

That became modernism and its child movements like Dada, cubism, futurism, abstract expressionism. All these are displayed with examples. One we liked was an early Picasso, "Le Liseur" (the reader).

We joked about trying to photoshop a Kindle or iPhone into her hands in place of the paper.

After a break for a juice in the restaurant on the top floor, we started through the 4th floor, which covers art from 1960 to the present. This was much more enjoyable. The complete freedom artists have today, to use any materials, any color palette, to shape and combine stuff in any way, to draw in any style or combination of styles, produces works that are just boisterous fun to look at. Case in point, "Sofa" by Paton (1970).

Or "Y/Struc/Surf" from 2010. The artist designed the shape in a computer, which directed the cutting of thousands of strips of plastic to be pop-riveted together.

Leaving the Pompidou we walked a bit over a mile to the other side of the Seine to 41 Rue Dauphine, the address of what, according to some diligent internet searching over the past months, is the only hat store in Paris. Where David bought a gorgeous black cashmere fedora. No picture yet.

Continued home for a rest, then out to a local restaurant, where Marian had taken the initiative to make reservations a couple of days ago. All our previous eating out has been not exactly fast food, but simple and cheap. Here, three-course dinner for two with a bottle of wine came to exactly €100, which didn't seem exorbitant at all. The meal was good, the main courses ok and the desserts superb. The wine, a Côtes du Rhone, was unlike any California wine we've had, and good.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

No-Unfurl Day

Well, the weather started out with low, fast-moving overcast and stayed that way for quite a while, but although we carried our umbrellas, at no time did we have to unfurl them. That makes today better than the last three days, to a degree.

The target Museum today was l'Orangerie, a building in the Jardin des Tuileries, a park just west of the Louvre. (Garden of the Tile-makers, the reigning queen evicted a bunch of tile workshops to make space.) The Rough Guide said (incorrectly as it turned out) that the museum was not open until 12:30, so we had the morning to spend in the garden.

We walked through the Tuileries, which must be an extremely pleasant place to be on a warm, sunny day. There are open spaces with ponds, and chairs to take the sun, and dense groves of heavily-pruned chestnut trees for shade. Among the trees there are cafés. There's a grand central walkway with a view past the Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde, down the Champs Élysée to the Arc de Triomphe and beyond. There's lots of sculpture scattered about, both classic and modern.

Well, today it wasn't sitting-around weather, about 50F and a stiff breeze. But here's a chestnut blossom from the grove.

We reached the Place de la Concorde, which is basically a large oval roundabout, and kept walking along the Champs Élysée for a while, eventually reaching the Grand Palais, a large building with a rather grand glass roof. This is one of two amazingly over-the-top sculptures on its roof.

Do click through on this one.

Here's the view back toward the Tuileries, showing the awesome French pruning practices.

Near the Grand Palais is the Alexandre III bridge, heavily decorated with symbolic things.

Here's the Eiffel tower framed by two of Alexander's columns.

Then we walked back to the Tuileries, had a crepe and coffee in a café among the trees, and went to the museum. (The guard here actually looked at the date on the Museum Passport.) The principal exhibit here is a set of Monet's late water lilies paintings. These are huge meditations on the movement of light in water, displayed reverently in two oval rooms.

We spent some minutes sitting quietly—and quiet is demanded; each room has a guard who will shush any chattering visitors—trying to appreciate Monet's intent. David's brain kept popping back and forth, first seeing the quiet pond surface, then seeing only the squiggles and splats of brushwork, then understanding it as light on water again.

Downstairs is a completely different exhibit, the private collection of Paul Guillaume, an art dealer and collector of the early 20th century who knew, promoted, and collected works by every influential artist of his day. Quite a few of these, including most Modigliani, caused us to make this Modigliani face.

Marian does not appreciate Modigliani

We did like an early Monet,

"Argenteuil," 1875, 30 years before the water lilies on the floor above

And this Renoir,

"Girls at the Piano," 1892. OK, we like puppies and kittens, too.

Heading toward home, the sun popped out!

Now there were kids playing with model sailboats on the pond.

We hopped off the bus at Place Saint-Michel to look at another hyper-dramatic fountain sculpture there, and walked a bit further down Blvd. Saint-Michel to Place de la Sorbonne where we bought sandwiches and ate a late lunch. You can find pictures of these activities, and more of the kids with boats and of the bridge, etc., in The Gallery (skip to the 8th page).

Bought half a rotisserie chicken and some lovely skinny little haricot vert at the market and ate in while doing the laundry. We've been here a week(!) and the clean underwear had run out.