June 2013

Sunday 16th June
No problems getting on the Eurostar, but their having airport-like scanning and security checks is new, isn't ith? At least they don't do the paranoid liquids confiscation thing, it seems. A very short wait before boarding, and impressive service on the train too, with the giving me my veggie meal before everyone else. And this time I had a choice of two! One had a quichey thing with a pale spongey flan and the other was a rice-filled little bake thing with a dollop of pale green stuff, which may have been spinach and cheese, or maybe pesto, but probably not pesto as it's hard to mask the taste of basil. Anyway the latter one had a tiramisu and I chose it. Not exactly full of flavour, though, as you might have gathered. And eating lunch, albeit a small one, at 11.00 is a bit odd too.

In Paris in no time, and it only took twenty minutes to get me Metro'd across town and into my hotel. I seem to be getting the hang of this place. The hotel is a new one, The Jardin de l'Odeon, as my usual one was fully booked, but still in the Latin Quarter. A nice enough little room, a bit short on storage space but it has a terrace (see above right) on which I'm sitting typing this, which is bigger than my room. The fountain is twinkling in the courtyard below and the sound of distant church bells is the only other sound. I went for a walk after I checked in - down to the river and along, passing the Musèe d'Orsay and looping back, taking some photos of streets, doors, and windows (which I've used a couple of to illustrate tomorrow's photo-free Louvre day). Getting in touch with me inner Atget, as they say. The odd thing about this walk was the lack of a need for a jacket and the added need to wear sunglasses - a novelty in my experience of late.

After some early evening (junk) food (and buying an apple and cinnamon muffin for later) I made for the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, near the Pantheon, as I'd read it was interesting inside, and so it was. All twisty staircases around columns and odd elevated walkways, as you can see in the photo. Then back to the hotel to sit on my terrace, which you have to do if you have one, no? As the evening progressed French conversations could be heard from nearby windows; also the cooking of meals, someone quietly playing the guitar, and a baby crying, briefly. Also a pigeon came to settle in a tree on the left, and stare at me suspiciously. Do pigeons like apple and cinnamon muffins? It wasn't as dense and chewy as I prefer, but not bad.






















Monday 17th June
My terrace is getting wet! And I'm realising that I forgot to bring an umbrella. It's looking like a Louvre day today. Blimey it's thundering now. I need breakfast.

Some rain you can make a dash in, but we're talking substantial stair rods currently, so I'm waiting it out a bit. Breakfast was fine - fresh orange juice and croissants and good coffee. Not much choice of jams -  just two, or honey. The eccentricity here was that the muesli and corn flakes were in those glass containers with those flip-topped lids, and not big ones, although you could take two, I suppose. There were plates of chunky dried fruit too - figs and prunes and banana slices. A bit of experimentation is called for, I think. But the rain seemed to be easing, and the thunder moving away... so I ventured forth. Fnac (to buy a ticket in advance) doesn't open until 10, it seems, and as I got there at 20 to I decided to start walking to the Louvre and take my chances. About half way there the heavens opened again. If you're going to be standing under a pizzeria awning while waiting for rain to get less biblical I suppose doing it in sight of Notre Dame is better than most options. There was a queue when I got to the pyramid, at just after 10.00, but not a long one, and it was moving smoothly. As you come down the escalator into the Entresol it is possible to scope out the booking office with the shortest queue, so I didn't wait long here either.

The German art exhibition wasn't quite what I was expecting. It started with some interesting classically inspired stuff which I'd got a bit of a taste for in Munich, and which is reflected in so many other countries' art at the time. It moved on to two Caspar David Friedrich filled rooms, which were my reason for coming, and which very much didn't disappoint, and then there was a leap of about a Century to Otto Dix and the like, but only really one room, and that was it. This room also had some impressive August Sandor photographs, but I really didn't have to skip as  many rooms of later stuff as I'd imagined! The Giotto exhibition was one room - not a reason to travel, but utterly worth a look if you're here. It has brought together the separate panels of a controversially-linked altarpiece for you to make your own decision, and a good altarpiece painted for San Giorgio alla Costa in Florence which now lives in the diocesan museum and which hence I'd never seen before.

Not feeling too exhausted by these small shows I sloped upstairs to the French rooms to look at the Corots I'd liked last time, and drifted into the rooms of Chardin, Fragonard and Hubert Robert - apples, nipples and ruins, basically. I was making towards to Dutch and German rooms, but they were were closed, again. The poster seemed to suggest that if you want to see the famous Van Eyck and Vermeer paintings here you have to come on a Thursday, but don't trust me on this one, as this seems a shamefully limited window for seeing some truly major works. I must be wrong, mustn't I?

By the time I left, around 1.00, the central entrance hall was a heaving hell and the queue into the pyramid upstairs was very, very long. I walked in the warm sunshine back to my hotel, with a mozza/tom baguette bought on the way to eat on my damp but sun-bathed terrace.

The evening stroll was more shower dodging. But I did find a sweet little book called Promenades dans le Paris Disparu - in French but with such fragrant photos and prints in it and, being about 5 inches tall, so easy to pack! Looking for something to nibble with my tea this evening I found, in a neighbourhood supermarket, Bonne Maman coconut biscuits and a bar of coffee and cinnamon chocolate. But the rain means I won't be nibbling on my terrace. Did I tell you I had a terrace?





Tuesday 18th June
This morning, looking up from my terrace, the sky is blue and the clouds are white and fluffy, so it's off to Père-Lachaise with high hopes of no rain. My Metro trip was somewhat complicated by the station I needed to change lines at having no interchange possible due to maintenance work. It seemed to be the only station with any such problems, and the work was due to finish tomorrow. Cursed, moi? I couldn't help noticing posters on the Metro for the Michael Winterbottom film about Paul Raymond which in the UK is called The Look of Love but over here has been renamed A Very Englishman, with Englishman all one word. Eccentric.

Anyway, I got to the cemetery pretty quick, and found myself in cemetery-lovers' heaven, as I had expected, but it's nice to be proven right so muchly. It's a good 15 years since I was last here, so plenty of time to forget. I drained one battery, made inroads into my spare, and took more than 200 photos. The sun shone warmly and solitary paths were mostly to be found. I didn't get a map and look for any particular graves - I just wandered. I was tempted to find Balzac, as I'm enjoying Old Man Goriot at the moment, and evidently it ends with a scene in Père-Lachaise. Next time, then, and I think this place, like the Louvre, is going on the list of places I don't come to Paris without visiting. I found  a bagel place on my way back to the hotel, and so have just scoffed a couple of seedy ones with cream cheese and gherkin, on my terrace, and am looking forward to my pear and vanilla muffin, after I look through all these flipping photos.

The pear and vanilla muffin was a sore disappointment - tasting more than a little of plasticine, I thought. It's a rare cake that I discard after only one bite but... I decided on an early evening read in a shady part of the Luxembourg gardens. It took me ages to find a green metal chair free, and getting settled I realised I'd forgotten my Kindle, which lead to my becoming very well acquainted with my Rough Guide to Paris. Which was no bad thing as I had yet to decide what to do with my last day. I got a few good ideas, the best of which is Chantilly. It's a plush palace a train ride outside Paris, but it has much good old art (Filippino Lippi, Fra Angelico, Greuze, Ingres, Delacroix...) and it houses the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. I'm not sure why I've never been drawn there before. Yesterday I found the recommendable veggie restaurant from the last trip, the 5 Saveurs D'Anada, and tonight I found it open. I went for the discovery platter with tempeh, tofu and seitan, which comes with salad, rice and cooked vegetables, and which was well tasty.





Wednesday 19th June
Woken at 7.15 by thunder - constant waxing and waning thunder with barely a gap of a few seconds. I've not heard thunder like it, and it lasted half an hour or so. It's not stopped raining, but the weather forecast is still saying cloudy until the evening and then some rain, rather than giving warnings of locusts and/or frogs. Chantilly is looking like a less good idea then something a bit more city-based, with shelter options. After breakfast (at which I discovered the yumminess of the slices of nut and fruit loaf)  the clouds looked to be thinning, and so it's the architecture museum, the sewers and/or Balzac's house, I think. And as I need to kill some time and to go near Shakespeare & Co to catch my RER train I might also go and look for some of the tempting books mentioned in the bibliography of my Rough Guide, discovered yesterday.

What with a bit of book browsing, a sticky ride on the double-decker RER, and some photo taking under the Last Tango in Paris bridge, it was safely gone 11.00 by the time I got to the Citè de l'architecture museum, and so it was open. The ground floor is a display of casts huge and small of bits of churches and cathedrals and it is a most impressive  and neck-straining sequence of big and tall halls. Upstairs is a museum of copies of wall paintings, often in spaces mocked up to represent the crypt or chapel the frescoes came from. And it's a wonderfully labyrinthine experience, where a door you don't remember going through yet leads to fresh corridors of wall paintings and a yet more more chapels. I just went for the rubbernecking rather than reading the plastic info sheets. These were in a selection of languages, but the cards by each item were just in French. Also on the second floor there are models and plans and a mock-up of a Le Corbusier house you can walk through, which is both stylish and pokey.

Lunch was a baguette from Pomme de Pain with (goat's?) cheese and rocket and cherry jam. My vagueness about the cheese is because I'm a bit of a coward where strong cheeses are concerned, so I thought that what I didn't know... and indeed I liked. I was just about to go out for a final evening stroll after my rest, but the thunder started rolling around and now it's raining. I finished Old Man Goriot and before the final scene in Père-Lachaise, where I went yesterday, there was a sad funeral in Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, the church I went in on my first evening.

After a little light CD shopping I took my evening repast at a new-looking joint mere seconds from my hotel. I went for the ricotta pizza and when I asked if they did a side salad they had nothing leafy but the waitress suggested having the rocket on my pizza. Fine suggestion, and a fine pizza resulted, helped by some basil oil. If I tell you that the gelato flavours included lemon and pear you might guess I left the restaurant a happily stuffed man. The place is called Luisa Maria and I thoroughly recommend it if you're in the area, near the Odeon Theatre.





Thursday 20th June
Not much to report about the journey home, except to wonder why the customs routine at the Gare du Nord entails having your passport checked by the French and then the English, at two consecutive windows. And why the stairs up to check- in is signposted as The English Lounge, with the Eurostar logo only appearing when you get to the escalator. All very confusing. A delayed departure (brought about by 'passengers in the departure lounge'!) somewhat softened by a tastier lunch this time; and then an easy journey across London to my drum.

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