Monday, July 25, 2011

Noon in Paris, Midnight in Paris

Montmirail is getting decked out for the Medieval Festival, happening next weekend

Having a few days free, we took the opportunity to roll to Paris to help Emily with some projects, do some errands and, of course, see Quinn. Most day-to-day purchases can be made locally, but when I need specialty art supplies, health food items or fabric, I either go to Le Mans or Paris. This week I needed all these.

I love shopping for sewing supplies in Paris, where dozens of shops selling every kind of fabric or notion you could ever imagine, are all clustered around the base of Montmartre. In the U.S. vendors seem to have the idea that you don't want to have a shop too close to the competition. Another mindset prevails here. I can only imagine that the shop owners understand the advantage to the customer of having so many similar stores huddled together in one place and that the success of the competitor can be your success as well. Their clients are bound to pop into your shop. 

The Marché Saint Pierre is the most venerable and largest fabric emporium in Paris. I don't think it has changed much since this photo was taken. It has 5 floors of fabric with worn wooden stairways leading up and down and a small ancient elevator with a small ancient operator who calls out the floors as you ascend and descend. Tickets are hand written and rung up in the old fashioned way. The sales people are generally cranky and difficult to flag down, which only adds to the charm and quirkiness of the place. When we were there this week, we saw a tour group with a guide pontificating in English. Her band of American travelers were clustered around, hanging on her every word. It seemed amusing to me that a fabric store has become a tourist destination.

On another day we went to my favorite art store in all the world, Sennelier. which I've written about several times in this blog. The shop has been in business since the later part of the 1800s, and provided supplies to Cezanne and Picasso among others. They sell their own brand of paint and pastels, some of the best available. I went to purchase a certain kind of ink which is entirely permanent and waterproof. I know of no other place to find it.

We took the metro from Emily's to Place Saint Michel and walked down the rue Saint Andre des Arts, stopping at Paul for Lunch. The last time we were there, it was with our friends Richard and Marta, who we think about very often indeed and miss profoundly, so we paid homage to them by having the same menu item and sitting in the same dining room, looking out on the same scene. That original lunch has been the subject of excellent daydreams ever since. They have an item which begins with a nice big potato pancake, smeared with tapenade, piled high with green salad, with prosciutto ham at the top and a dollop of creme fraîche for good measure. I don't know if it was because we weren't with our friends, or if the real cook is on vacation, but the lunch we were served did not match the memory. The pancake was floppy instead of crispy, the lettuce was tired instead of happy, and the waiter was rude rather than friendly. All around us the conversations were in English. We couldn't help but feel all day that Paris is just not itself during July and August.

We strolled down the rue Jacob towards the Quai Voltaire and Sennelier, only to find that it would be closed for lunch for another half hour. No problem. The store is located right on the river across from the Louvre and the Tuileries.

The moment was particularly fine, with the sun playing hide and seek, the weather neither hot nor cold and the water an attractive gray green. The views as you cross over to the right bank are exceptionally pretty, the old bridges beautiful.

In the distance you see the Grand and Petit Palaces. You are just a few steps from the Musee d'Orsay.

The traffic was relatively light as most locals are out of town this time of year.

We found a quiet corner in the garden. I call this picture where to be in Paris in July.

I call this one where not to be in Paris in July. This view of the Louvre was taken from the bench we were sitting upon to await the 2PM opening of Sennelier. If you have any choice in the matter, you should not come to Paris in August, but if you must, it's better to avoid all the usual tourist spots, unless waiting in long lines and meeting many other English-speakers is your idea of fun.

I was amazed by the friendly (aggressive?) crows in the garden, which really are the size of a cat.

After the art store we raced back to the Odeon neighborhood to catch a movie in VO (original version). It's one we'd been wanting to see ever since it's big debut in May at the Cannes Film Festival... and that would be Midnight in Paris. It's called Woody's love letter to Paris and since we're every bit as smitten by this grand old city, we enjoyed every single moment. We were particularly excited when we noticed on the credits that Stéphane Foenkinos, a good friend of our neighbors Anne and Christine, was the French casting director for the film. We had no idea that he had done that work. By amazing coincidence, we had invited him over to our house on Saturday evening, as we had heard he would be visiting Montmirail for the weekend. He is a guy I immediately fell in love with the moment I met him. He is not only utterly charming and warm, but he speaks perfect English too... which in my case is a very big advantage for developing a happy relationship.

We also enjoyed watching the ultra brief scene where Owen Wilson exits the bookshop Shakespeare and Company across from Notre Dame. In November, when Rick's sister was visiting, we watched them setting up that shot. We had intended to go inside, but it was blocked off by the crew.

It was rather wonderful to exit the movie theater and actually be in Paris. In fact, having seen the film at UGC Odeon, our first sight directly across the street upon walking out was their twin cinema, UGC Danton, which also appears briefly in the movie.


Quinn was in fine form as usual. His language acquisition skills carry on apace. He is now beginning to translate between his three languages, so obviously he seems to have the concept.

Jos did a wonderful routine for Quinn, wearing a clown nose and doing some funny business with a hat. He then gave Quinn a nose and hat too and Quinn had a crack at the gags. He is a adept pupil of performance. He probably won't grow up to be a scientist. But then, who ever knows? 

It was hard to get him to sit still for a shot. He doesn't care for being photographed.


Once back home we had the great pleasure of seeing the neighbors and Stéphane. We enjoyed the stories he regaled us with about working with Woody and Carla Bruni. He also brought us a catalog of a project he had created at a Paris gallery with a couple of his friends, and which we had unhappily missed, called 55 Ecrivaines. The show received rave reviews.

It really was an extraordinary idea, which began simply enough. Apparently he was at a friend's one day when he pulled up his turtle neck sweater and slouched down in an easy chair. His friend was struck by how much he resembled the French writer, Marguerite Duras. She photographed him and they both laughed about it. After showing it to several people, who all remarked on the resemblance, and encouraging the two of them to make more, they began to photograph Stéphane in the guise of many different feminine writers. The photos are amazing, as he seems to capture an essence of each writer. His face seems to be easily altered to fit his subjects. Here's just a sample of four from the book:


After weeks of rain, the hills are green again. Just like velvet. The weather is still mild, but sunny, warm days are predicted for the coming week. Our bird population has gone quiet. Do they think it's time to migrate already?

One of the things I miss about California are hummingbirds. We don't have them here. However, during summer months we do have this enchanting creature, a hummingbird hawkmoth. I had never seen one before moving here. He's about the size of a big moth, but for all the world looks and acts just like a miniature hummingbird.


  1. I enjoyed this post SO much! Thank-you! How lovely to see your photos and hear your stories of the streets, parks, shops - some now familiar and others not yet.
    And the 55 Ecrivaines - fascinating! Isn't it interesting how some people have faces that seem to transform so easily.

    But I think that hummingbird moth takes the prize for most surprising thing I've come across in a blog for a long while. I had to look it up because I wasn't sure whether it was a bird or a moth. I find hummingbirds fascinating, although as we don't have them here I've never seen a real one. And while we have numerous hawk moths, that beautiful creature isn't found here either. I'm off to read some more about them.

  2. The only problem with visiting Paris in July/August is that there are few Parisians .They all leave the city on August and come west to where I live in Brittany.To capture the true hussle and bussle of the city you need to go at another time.

  3. Love the photos of Stéphane, Nancy - funny and true and a bit sad too - I can imagine Buster Keaton doing the same thing.