Monday, January 31, 2011

Week 36: Paris Now & Then

By Marville. Paris before Haussmann's extensive renovation, 1860-70. From Paris, secret et insolite.

Ah beautiful and ancient Paris! Of course I haven't seen every city in the world, but I still recklessly proclaim that Paris must be the most exquisite of them all. How could there be another to compete? I never grow tired of its winding streets and layers of history. Rick and I are currently reading a book together entitled  Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb. It is the story of the city told through the true tales of some of its famous historical inhabitants. We were fascinated to hear about one of the first professional photographers in the city, Charles Marville, born in Paris in 1813. He was hired by the government to document the old Paris streets before Haussmann, during the Second Empire, rebuilt and modernized Paris. The wide boulevards and typical Haussmann grand and uniform buildings certainly changed the face of Paris.

If you want to get a flavor of more ancient Paris, you can wander around the Marais of course, an outlying immigrant neighborhood in Haussmann's day, which did not receive his attention. Another corner of the city that was slated to be demolished and rebuilt was just across from the Place Saint Michel where the rue St André des Arts commences. Napoleon III and his minister, Baron Haussmann, were ousted before they had the chance to begin this phase of work.

After reading about this, Rick and I were motivated to take a closer look, since the rue St. André des Arts is probably one of the streets in Paris I know better than any other. Emily and I spent a summer living in an adorable fifth floor walk-up not far from here and I got to know the neighborhood very well indeed. Here's the photo Marville took in 1865:

Here's mine taken a few days ago:

Not much has changed. There is a side entrance to Metro St. Michel right on the Place. I had never discovered that before.

We had a very pleasant day in Paris while Quinn was at his nanny's. Emily left us in charge for a few days while she visited Jos in London, where he was directing a comedy routine for a slapstick festival.
We strolled around and took advantage of the opportunity to do some errands in the city.
We chose a good day for exploring, with only a sprinkling of tourists to contend with. The sky alternated between gray and blue, the temperature was cold but not frigid. We traced a wide arc from the edge of the Latin corner through St Germain des Prés, over the river to the right bank, through the Tuileries Garden, then back across to the left bank, where we stopped in at Sennelier, my favorite Paris art store. Along the way we enjoyed the views.

I love the jumble of architectural styles in this left bank neighborhood of Paris.

At the intersection of the 5th and 6th arrondissements.

My favorite way to get from St Germain des Prés to the right bank, is down the rue St. André des Arts, turning right on the rue de Seine, which takes you past many art galleries. I love looking in the windows. You also pass La Palette, a typical Parisian café where the food is simple but good and the waiters sufficiently rude to make you feel you've had an authentic experience. At the end of the street you walk through a little passage that leads to the quai and the large Place in front of the Academie-Francaise.

The pedestrian-only Pont des Arts, has my favorite view of Paris looking up and down the river. Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame in one direction and La Tour Eiffel in the other. Here, again, you get the sense of the ancientness of the city, as the architecture of many centuries comes together to create this contemporary view.

At the other end of the bridge, on the right bank, is the Louvre Palace. We had loosely planned to spend a couple of hours in the museum but forgot that it is closed on Tuesdays, so instead we enjoyed a tour through the grounds and a visit to the underground mall where you can also view the ancient foundation walls of the modern Louvre.

The bare winter trees reveal the Musée d'Orsay on the opposite bank. We walked along the quai and crossed back over the Pont Royal.

We decided to have lunch at Mariage Frères, the famous tea purveyor. Upstairs is a charming restaurant which was practically empty. Generally you can hardly get a seat, but this time of year is the ideal moment to visit. We hadn't been here in several years.

Because the kitchen wasn't busy, they allowed me to order high tea, with attractive and delicious tea sandwiches, even though the menu indicated it wasn't officially available before 3PM.

We had a pleasant leisurely meal in their sunny dining room. Rick ordered dessert. He was allowed to choose between several delectable kinds on their sweet cart. He settled on the house specialty, a crème brûlée raspberry cake.


Quinn turned two on Thursday. Mama arrived home in the afternoon and we had a celebration. Balloons are always a hit.

Since Christmas Quinn definitely understands the concept of packages and unwrapping.

He was able to blow out his two candles. When you ask him how old he is, he will tell you "two" but making his hand hold up two fingers instead of one or five is going to take some practice.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Week 35: Dispatch From Paris

 Mysterious and beautiful leaf art hanging from winter trees in the Bois de Vincennes

I am writing from Paris this week, where we're staying with Emily and Quinn. Jos is in London performing his one-man show and directing a slapstick routine for a comedy festival. Emily leaves tomorrow to join him, so we'll stay on to take care of Quinn and have a bit more Paris fun.

We spent the weekend working on some projects for Emily and having a few family outings. We went together to Le Bal, which is a brand new museum and restaurant. One of Emily's best friends is the owner and cook. Anna has a daughter almost the exact same age as Quinn. We have wanted to eat there since the grand opening in September and we finally got our chance.
The museum itself is small and lovely. It specializes in documentary photos and movies. All four of us enjoyed the current exhibition which was called Five Strange Family Albums. Even Quinn could really enjoy the movies which were quite surrealistic.

Quinn watches a movie of a brother and sister playing a frenetic game of ping pong

The best part was the restaurant, however, which has already been receiving effusive reviews for it's good honest food. The menu is simple with an emphasis on fresh seasonal ingredients. To start we shared a pumpkin soup that was out of this world, an incredible green bean salad with egg and roasted shallots, and some smoked eel. I had never tried eel, which always sounded disgusting to me, but in fact it is quite delicious. For a main course Emily had mackerel, Rick faux filet, and I lamb. Desserts also had to be shared as none of us could decide. With some help from our server we settled on an amazing walnut tart and a pot of decadent chocolate.


Sunday dawned bright and sunny. We had planned to go to IKEA in order to get some furniture to organize Quinn's ever expanding collection of toys, but the morning seemed far too lovely to waste indoors. We decided to take a detour first to the Bois de Vincennes, one of the two largest parks in Paris.

Map of the Bois de Vincennes

As we walked to pick up our car at the garage, the sun was shinning brightly. Unfortunately, by the time we reached our destination winter had reappeared. Clouds covered the sun and the temperature went from cold to frigid. Still, we enjoyed our visit to a small section of the Vincennes called Le Parc Floral.

Obviously we were seeing the park at its most bleak, and one could only imagine what it would be like in spring and summer. It has parts where there are literally acres of irises, rhododendrons and numerous other flowering plants and bulbs. Our destination was the children's play structures (one of the largest play areas for children I have ever seen). Along the way, as the park is truly enormous, we passed lots of other interesting corners.

There is a Japanesse garden which even in winter is green and attractive.

The terrain is varied with lots of nice hills or steps to climb and expansive vistas out over the park.

The number and variety of climbing structures for children was truly impressive. Quinn tested them all, generally preferring the slides.

On the way back to the car we passed a beautiful little lake with a flock of sea gulls playing at dive bombing above the surface of the water.

We didn't explore the castle of Vincennes which is older than the Louvre and was once residence for the kings of France. We definitely will need to return in better weather.

Castle of Vincennes


We did eventually make it to IKEA, though that is another, less noteworthy story.

At IKEA waiting for our furniture to be delivered

Monday, January 17, 2011

Week 34: Il Fait Beau!

Even a jumble of dishes looks magical in the golden morning light

Is it spring already? This was simply a glorious week, with the winter sun, low in the sky, streaming through every window and making days seem enchanted. The last of the rain clung to our skylight but the clear blue sky beyond set the tone for a very welcome respite from wintry weather.

The skylight in our bedroom looking out to the church steeple beyond

I spent an inordinate amount of time enjoying and recording the changing light. When I went out one morning to open the outer door to the studio, I was struck immobile for a moment by the way the morning sun caught the corners of buildings and painted the Place with golden patterns. In the evening the whole landscape and castle glow pink. Moments of pure visual pleasure.

In the house the light chooses corners to illuminate.

The stairway to the second floor

At the window in our living room

Interior doors leading into the studio

Second floor hallway

Door leading out to the terrace with peachy glow

Afternoon sun playing on the terrace


The week was quiet and I had lots of time in the studio. I never left Montmirail, even for shopping, as Rick took care of that. When I came downstairs to open up, the light streamed into the studio, even with the shutters closed, the room was bathed in light and very inviting. One afternoon I even flung the windows open. It was that balmy.

I was quite productive and got several things started.

In the studio

I finished a line drawing for an etching called "A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Wine and Thou," and etched it onto a rather large copper plate. I will work out some color on a second plate which I will aquatint and then overprint, inking it á la poupée. I have not yet decided on the color scheme.

etching: A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Wine and Thou

I also made the first illustration/etching for a group of seven I have planned. I would like to make a book with illustrations of dogs in various situations. It will be my lighthearted interpretation of The Seven Deadly Sins. This one is Pride

etching: Proud Poodle

I seem to have a lot more ideas than I do either time or patience...I began another project, and got only one illustration done for that. This project is a group I'm calling "Undocumented Moments of Historical Figures." This particular one is Napoleon Stubs His Toe.

etching: Napoleon Stubs His Toe

If that was not enough to keep me busy, I also did several oil paintings. The urge for some vibrant color came over me and I squeezed oils onto my palette and working quite loosely created some small paintings rather quickly. I enjoyed myself a lot. I didn't really have an idea of what I would paint until I started smearing the color around. Images suggested themselves.

A Bump in the Night

Sunday Morning

On the Wings of a Dove


Surprisingly we were almost full this weekend. There were two separate family gatherings in the area and three of our rooms were taken for Saturday night. The first year we were here we were virtually without clients all winter long. Last year was a bit more lively and this year not a month has gone by without some kind of activity.

The only unpredictable part of a bed and breakfast business is knowing exactly what time the clients will show up in the morning to take their morning meal. We often have to wait with everything posed and ready to prepare.

Rick is ready to fire up the coffee

Of course that's a lot better than people showing up early and having to dash about to get them all served. I don't complain.

The dining room was glowing by the time everyone arrived. We serve a nice but simple meal.

A bright and cheery Sunday morning

Breakfast by the window


I learned something interesting from Georges last week which I forgot to mention. In November UNESCO declared French lunch a "Cultural Treasure." I contemplate this as, in typical American fashion,  I wolf down a cold tuna sandwich in front of my computer.


Next week we spend several days in the big city. I'll have Quinn tales and Paris adventures to relate. For now I leave you with an image of a new product Rick's sister Betsy is concocting on her farm in Oregon. It cracks us up every time we look at it - Cranky Baby Picante Sauce. Could you resist purchasing a bottle with a label like this? Besides, it's absolutely delicious!