July 2012

Day 1
The upgrade offered when I booked online with Eurostar seemed pretty cheap, so I went for it. Not a whole lot of difference in the seating, but the tasty airline-type snack and the coffee was welcome. Less welcome was the extended American family ranged boisterously around me. But I had a gripping book on the Kindle (The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller), and actually they weren't too noisy, once they got down to their various iPads, smartphone games and Kindles. Modern life! He says, typing all this up later on his iPad, which is playing Aimee Mann songs to his Bluetooth speaker.

Checked in to the Hôtel Saint Jacques, in the Latin Quarter near the Pantheon, and found my room small but OK. After recent stays at plusher places with more stars it was refreshing to not have to spend 5 minutes learning what all the switches do. Just one for the room lights and one for the shower room. Refreshingly simple wi-fi log-in too, with no need to keep logging in and/or getting new passwords every couple of days (although the signal strength was a bit cranky during my stay). I then had an acclimatising stroll up to and along the Seine in weirdly warm weather, after the cold and dinge of London in recent weeks. The noisy flypasts of bunches of jets and such were a bit of a shock too. It's not Bastille Day until the end of the week so...maybe they were just practicing.

Them what knows me knows how much I abhor the roasted vegetable - aubergines, peppers, and courgettes are not things I want to put in my mouth when they've been roasted. So, imagine my amazement at finding myself tucking with gusto into a roasted vegetable and feta sesame-seed baguette this afternoon, having gone for stroll around my hotel after checking in, looking for sustenance, and a fnac. The latter to get an advance ticket for the Louvre, so as to prevent tedious queuing. I found a fnac, eventually, near my hotel, despite looking around Les Halles for ages for a supposed big one, with no luck, at all. A bit sordid around there, isn't it ? I also found a Grom, by accident, like I did in New York, spookily enough. It's near the Odeon metro station. An extranoir chocolate and vanilla was scoffed, and then I found a swanky French choc shop nearby too, that did mixed raisins covered in marzipany stuff and two sorts of chocolate, and individual caramels in flavours like apple crumble, spiced biscuit, fig, and sesame seed. Self-indulgente, moi? Oh and I saw a cute white cat in a bar window, several Twingos (three of them white too) and found a blimmin' wonderful big record and DVD shop, called Gilbert Joseph, near the Museum of the Middle Ages. A good start indeed.




Day 2
It turns out the reason I didn't find the Les Halles branch of fnac yesterday is that it's underground. Duh! Anyway, breakfast. The dining room is underground and small, but I had it to myself. The attendant took my request for coffee and I perused the selection of cut meats and cheeses and fruit salad. I was shocked to find no juices or pastries. I twirled some cereal out of the optic/hopper thing, and then the attendant brought my coffee, orange juice (proper and freshly squeezed), and a basket of three pastries with a fresh baguette and a selection of jam potlets. The jams included a milk jam. Wha?

To the Musée du Luxembourg  for the Cima de Conegliano exhibition - one of my reasons for coming. He's not a big fave, and I wasn't really expecting to be de-socked, and so I wasn't disappointed. The captions were trying to make him out as the risk-taking recognisable- landscape-introducing link between Bellini and Giorgione, and an artist who transferred the carvings of the Lombardo brothers into paint, but the paintings did not bear this name-dropping out. His madonnas always look plastic-faced to me - the more polite description is sculptural, I suppose, but if your faces are going to look that smooth and pink then you're painting shop-window dummies in my book. A short exhibition - about thirty works - but long enough. (I later found out that the exhibition had been bigger in Conegliano, but the additions from French collections seemed like some of the better stuff, so let's not fret. Also the Conegliano altarpiece, displayed well here, had been left in situ in its home town as it was just around the corner, but is there displayed high and in darkness.) The shop had lots of interesting-looking books, but all in French. I mean, come on, I know it's the language they speak here but don't they want to make money?

I was out of the musée soon after 11 and so took the opportunity to visit the (slightly) nearby cemetery of Montparnasse. Not as chocka with celebs as Pere Lachaise, but still big enough and full of fascinating tombs enough. Metro'd it back to the hotel via a branch of Pomme de Pain, for a decidedly tasty baguette with mozzarella, tomato, pesto and rocket.


Day 3
To the Musée Carnavalet in the Marais for the Atget exhibition. I caught a couple of Metros up to the Bastille station. Coming above ground I orientated myself with the Seine and headed towards the Place de Vosges. Only after getting severely lost did I realise that the (West/East orientated) Seine I'd used was in fact the (North/South running) canal. So lost!

I am a big fan of Atget, but until this year I'd not been to one exhibition, just bought a lot of books. I went to one in New York in March, a small display at the MOMA, but that was just an amuse bouche for the blowout at the Carnavalet. Six or seven rooms, most of the prints from their own collection, but also some from Man Ray's, and he collected the odd stuff that the museum didn't, like the more surreal images, the nudes and the brothels. Also some of the albums that Atget created, a map showing where some of his most famous photos were taken, and even a room devoted to another topographical photographer of his time, to compare. Black and white turn of the century Parisian bliss! Had a bit of a wander around the Place de Vosges (see right) after, but my camera battery expired, and the book of the exhibition was darn heavy, so it was an early return to the hotel. My baguette du jour was a very tasty basil tofu, hummus and bean sprout number, with a framboise & poire smoothie, both from a local bio joint.

Out for an early evening stroll to revisit the photo ops missed due to my earlier dead battery, I found myself in amongst considerable film crew action behind Notre Dame - masses of people and vehicles and equipment, and a horse-drawn carriage with geezers in full olde-worlde coachman getup. What historical extravaganza is being filmed here, I thought, and might I spot some stars? As I stood expectantly gazing I heard an American calling home on his mobile phone and bragging...Smurfs 2.



Day 4
So, to the Louvre. I'd bought a ticket in advance from fnac and the woman told me I had to go down the pyramid, but didn't have to join the queue for tickets. Last time there'd been a special entrance in the Richelieu entrance, and there was this time too, so the fnac ticket woman had lied to me. Why would she do that? I then tried to give my backpack and coat in at a cloakroom, but there are two cloakrooms - one for bags, one for coats. The helpful chaps at the coat cloakroom advised me to simplify my life by stuffing my coat into my bag and leaving it at the bag cloakroom. Fine. On my way in I noticed they have new audio guides, in the form of Nintendo DS handheld games consoles. I thought I'd give this a try, but when I tried I was told I needed to get an audioguide ticket, either with cash at the kiosks back downstairs (which I'd just not had to queue at because I'd bought an advance ticket) or with a credit card in the machine with four people waiting, the ones at the front frowning and poking at the screen. Sigh. Audioguideless I entered, making for the Italian renaissance, of course, joining the crush heading for the sodding Mona Lisa, which is in a room of Venetian art, for some odd reason, facing The Wedding at Cana, which also shouldn't be there, as it was stolen by Napoleon from Venice and never given back! And the bullet-proof glass and the barrier keeping the phone-photographing masses back from the Mona Lisa means no one can get near enough to appreciate it anyway. OK. Calm, and please imagine here my standard rant about idiots taking photos, often with flash, as my blood pressure is high enough already. I stayed mostly calm, breathing deeply and liking some Botticellis lots, funnily enough, as he usually leaves me a bit cold, even his biggies in the Uffizi, which are dingy and in need of a wash, I think. Also a couple of colourful and loveable Ghirlandaios. After Bronzino and the mannerists the Italian stuff fizzles out, so I went for the French. David, Corot, Hubert Robert's ruins...all good stuff, but Boucher doing his usual roseypinknippleness soon makes my teeth ache, and you can have too much Claude and Poussain, I discovered. But not enough Vermeer, in fact none at all, as the entire Dutch wing was closed, for some damn annoying reason. But none was given. A morning good for art and bad for blood pressure, then.

I patronised a fast food joint called Quick this evening. They seem superior in that their packaging is more eco, their fish burgers are in buns made of real bread, with cheese that isn't that unnatural bright yellow, and the fries do not come already (over) salted. But I was a little surprised that one of their meal deals, called Menus, was called the Menu Cretins. But this turns out to be a tie-in with a kid's cartoon thing called Le Lapins Cretins, which is also pretty funny, I think.

Day 5 - the homecoming
I had been a bit saddened that the Museum of the Middle Ages was so near my hotel that I could've popped over there in my slippers and pyjamas, but my days were planned. Except my homecoming day, which had a long morning free, I now realised. I'm not a big lover of tapestries, but this place has lots of bits of stone and architecture and stained glass too, and has atmosphere aplenty, especially down in the roman-bath-riddled underground parts (see right). And even I have to admit that the Lady With the Unicorn tapestries are rather good, with lots of cute bunnies. Lunch with hungry pigeons in the Luxembourg Gardens before Metroing it up to Gare du Nord for the Eurostar. The never-silent family in the seats behind me were quite efficiently blocked out by my headphones, but when they started eating lunch and the strong smell of ham came wafting over my technology was found wanting - smell-blocking headphones?





Venice // Florence // London // Berlin // Trips