Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Paris Diary: Day Three

Barbara: It’s hard to completely immerse myself into the magic of this city when so much chaos is happening at home. I can’t even begin to describe some of the news we’ve been getting from home and then to counter that with being here, wanting to be here, having to be here (ie, we’re not leaving until we’re scheduled to leave), and letting it all go so we can really and truly BE here. And yet, if I have to be anywhere in the world that also has the power to pull me by the hand and lead me into the sublime, the ridiculous, the audacious, the surreal, well, then it’s Paris: city of lights, people, secrets, fantasies, food, books, curated nature, history, and on, and on. All the things that transport and feed me.

Today, we started by going to Stefanie’s neck of the woods, which is the Bastille area of Paris. She wanted to show us her favourite shop, Merci—and it’s a good thing because it was the only shop that was open (check times for stores and museums when here: suffice to say that the shops of the Bastille and Village St. Paul in Le Marais are mostly closed on Mondays). It's tucked inside a courtyard off the main strip. No great photos of the inside, but this is a store that is full of the best and funkiest in clothes, books, films, dishes and shoes. Deb, if you don’t know it, you would lose your fricking mind! No, it’s not cheap, but that’s never stopped me from admiring the wares. I always treat stores like this like they’re galleries, but where you can fondle the stuff and no one will come by and “slap” your wrist.

After Merci, we were ready for lunch. If this doesn’t make time-sense (no, we did not spend hours inside), keep in mind that with the jet lag, you may, like us, allow yourself to sleep in a bit and make up for your tardiness with late nights. Also, keep in mind that one lingers over meals here. You savour your morning croissant and coffee, you enjoooooooooy it. So, after Merci, we were ready for lunch. And Merci has three different, excellent eating options, all gorgeous. We chose the offshoot café and had a huge bowl of salad, mozzarella, fig, and roasted veggies, and a glass of homemade ginger lemonade. Sooo delicious.

Then we walked the streets for hours, looking into shop windows—St. Paul is known for its vintage shops. As I said, none of them were open, which is just as well because the delights and treasures featured in every window make you want to buy them all, cost be damned: mais, it’s French! It’s one-of-a-kind! It’s so old it makes our North American antiques look like Ikea-era tchotchkes! We explored more gardens—which all have the sense of being secret gardens, the kind you suddenly stumble upon, apropos of seemingly nothing, and not at all crowded (well, it is the fall). Usually in large courtyards surrounded by grand abodes and accessed through porticoes and archways and ornamental gates.

After hours of walking, we needed another break and so we landed on the narrow street-side patio of this café. Parisians stay outdoors for as long as they can. Drizzly, damp and cool weather is no deterrent for sipping and people-watching (and, yes, smoking) on the Paris sidewalks. Most (but not all) are heated. I’m not tolerant of coffee, so my go-to is always tea. But here, I enjoyed my own delicacy: chocolat. Which is what you say for hot chocolate. This is a cup of silken dark chocolate that either comes mixed with hot milk, or for which they provide the small pitcher of hot milk and you mix it yourself to your taste. Sugar is provided to sweeten it, but I liked mine as it was. We sat here for a long time, resting our feet and enjoying the view and the atmosphere.

Next stop: Stefanie’s atelier—the designer’s shop where she works with the designer and three other interns. This was very exciting as we really wanted to place her stories with the real setting.

Jean Paul Gaultier started in this building: his boutique on the ground floor and various studios on each floor up from there, with the "atelier" (where they design and build the patterns and samples) on the fourth floor. Which is the same atelier where Stefanie now works! These inlaid tiles are left over from his time here.

Then, even more important, seeing her apartment! As I said yesterday, this is a small studio on the "fourth" floor (the actual fifth floor to my tired legs!). She served us “aperos”—or cocktail hour. She’d bought a gorgeous wheel of cheese—a Vacherin, one of the tastiest creamy cheeses you can get—and saucisson (cured meat), with an excellent baguette, washed down with a bottle of good French wine—Crozes Hermitage. This is the first time our daughter has served us in her own apartment. It was such a treat for all of us!

After dinner we headed over to the St. Germain area to watch a concert in a 6th century church. But when we got there, we realized that the concert we wanted to see was actually the next night. So we did what all good wanderers do: we wandered. We found ourselves outside Shakespeare and Co again; they were hosting a reading and Q&A with novelist A. M. Homes. We sat under a tree on a bench in the dark and listened to her lively chat. Then we looked for a place to eat dinner. On the way, we happened by the Notre Dame Cathedral (you know, the most famous of them all) and found its doors thrown open, music pouring out and a kind welcome to all visitors. It was literally divine to be able to walk into this ancient, venerable church, with an angelic boys’ and men’s choir lifting to the impossibly high ceilings, while people worshipped in the pulpits, and the priests burned frankincense. We were allowed to pass through (in reverential silence, of course). My friend Josée told me later that Notre Dame routinely invites priests, choirs and officials from all over the world to participate in the services—and that the last time she and her family had gone, the priest officiating had been from a parish in Montreal near their home!

I’m not religious, but I have to say, I used this sacred time to think of all the difficulties I knew to be happening at home—including those being suffered by some of you in the storm (thinking of you, Lori and Kelly! And you know who else I mean…). It was a powerful, moving experience for me.

This wasn’t the end of our evening (that would be the late dinner in an outside café), but, yes, we fell into bed at the end of it!

Thanks for all your lovely comments! xoxo

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Paris Diary: Day Two

Barbara: We got a bit of a reprieve on the usual 6-hour time difference because the time here changed for the winter this weekend. 6-hour time difference became 5-hours. We still needed the alarm to get up, but we allowed ourselves a sleep-in until 9am. Then we met Mike and Josee in the hotel for breakfast and Stefanie joined us for the day.

First stop today is the Jardin des Tuileries. It was cold but bright and sunny, which makes a huge difference! The Palace gardens are a must-see. And you never get tired of them. Stefanie comes here regularly with her sketchpad and sits on one of the many chairs or benches and writes and draws. The energy here is open and inviting, relaxed and easy. The view from the park goes to the Louvre on one side and down all the way to the Arc de Triomphe in the other. 
This is the side entrance of the Louvre: the entrance that Stefanie used when she took her class in Paris last year -- the class that "changed her life" (as experiences like that are supposed to do).

From here we made our way to the Orangerie, which is the gallery made famous by Monet’s incredible water lily paintings. I’ve never seen them before and it’s breathtaking. Two oval rooms that he designed for the pieces, and then 8 huge panoramic paintings that just make you want to sit and stare at them for hours. Which we almost did. Interesting to note that the Impressionist style he helped to establish was part of a greater political statement about the disorder of life, the messiness of it if you will, a stance that was against the neat, perfect (essentially unrealistic) lines of realism. By the time his water lilies were hung, Impressionism was no longer cool and Monet never felt the admiration his masterpiece would one day elicit. But he created anyway. And thank goodness for us!
Josee and I outside the Orangerie (so far this is the closest we've gotten to the Eiffel Tower!).

After hours in the galleries here, we were starved and tired and enjoyed a nice long lunch. Fresh oytsers! (yes, we are fans)

Then off to explore the streets, with no set plans. That this city was overhauled because of Baron Haussman’s singular design and inspiration is absolutely unimaginable when you see the sheer scope of the city, street after street. Miles and miles of townhouses and buildings and monuments and shops, each of them different and unique but coherently connected. No boring grids, but roundabouts and offshoots in all directions. It means that you can walk without purpose and still arrive somewhere purposeful. There’s a kind of divine madness about the scope and detail. I mean, only a divine madman could have conceived of it and then seen it through. 

Funny things we noticed: on the subway, every stop is announced twice, with two different emphases—“Champs Elysées-Clémenceau; Champs Elysées-Clémenceau”—in a lovely singsong voice, as if even the most mundane announcement ought to be imbued with aesthetic loveliness. Also, the apartment floors here all start at Floor 0, so my version of a second floor is Floor 1 here, and so on. Not so funny when Stefanie lives on the "Fourth Floor" and we have to walk up 5 flights! And that while "preservatives" IS a word in French, it isn't the word we mean when we use it. So if we admire the lack of "preservatives" in the French wine, if we're speaking French, we're actually saying we admire the lack of condoms in the wine. 

More loveliness:

Only in Paris is the entrance to the subway an ornate crown!

And some modern developments:

Electric, rentable cars!
Now off to dinner with Stefanie, Mike and Josée. The only thing wrong is that my other darling daughter isn’t with us—and we miss her in a way I can’t describe…

PS just read all the comments: Thank you for your great thoughts and wishes, everyone! To answer some questions: yes, Deb, this is the coat. A marvelous choice for this weather because it's still warm enough when layered over my jacket and some sweaters, but not so hot that I melt when I'm inside. Denny, so excited you're taking the trip too! Stefanie says she heard Frenchie's is great. And no pics because it was raining when we left, but Mike and Jo introduced us to a wonderful, inexpensive but superb Italian resto in the Les Halles district (fresh, fresh, only the best ingredients, yuuuuummmy): Pesto Fresco.

A demain!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Paris Diary: Day One

Barbara: For the next week, instead of our usual blog posts, I’ll be blogging from Paris! I’ll post my experiences and photos, and Deb will chat with you in the comments section below. I’ll catch up with the comments when I get back, but—if I can get to the comments while I’m here—I will happily take Paris recommendations from you! Not sure what time of day the posts will go up, but I will try and schedule them so they correspond with the usual 8am EST.

So, why am I in Paris, you ask? Well, some of you may remember that my newly-graduated fashion design daughter is doing an internship here. And one of the perks of having a husband who travels a lot: flight and hotel points! How could we miss the chance to see our girl in action in one of the most romantic cities in the world? Well, we couldn’t. So we decided to do what we’d never before imagined doing: going all the way to Europe … for only 5 days.

Jetlag be damned, we are having an adventure!

Okay, before I get to the juicy Paris stuff, can I just tell you how I totally “Barb-ed” my packing? (We’ve blogged here before about the verb Deb and I affectionately throw around—“to Barb something”, “you’ve really Barb-ed that”—which means, in a nutshell, you’ve done something in the most complicated, least logical way). So, inspired by Deb’s dedicated packing lessons and by the fact that my daughter is a fashionista and also that we’re going to Paris, baby, I decided to prepare what I was going to take on my trip, instead of throwing a bunch of clothes into my suitcase and hoping for the best. My choices would be important as I need to be comfortable for all the walking we’ll be doing, the weather is cool and damp, and I still want to look somewhat together. I took a page out of Deb’s pointer list and chose the outfits and photographed them ahead of time. How did I Barb it? Well, I tried to photograph the outfits ON ME, and without using the sensible girl’s tactic of photographing my reflection in the mirror (or asking someone else to do it), I balanced my iphone against the teakettle and tried to snap. This is me trying to get as much as I can into frame while still engaging the shutter button…

Silly, huh? It only took me SEVERAL DAYS OF CONTEMPLATION to realize that I could … lay the clothes on my bed and take the picture. This is especially Barb-idiculous given that DEB’S EXAMPLE IS WHAT INSPIRED ME—AND SHE LAID THE CLOTHES ON HER BED AND TOOK THE SHOTS (see our old post)!! Anyway, I figured it out.
Tuxedo-ish shirt. And, no, the jeans will not be unzipped...

Lapis necklaces from my grandparents.

Barb-reposterousness aside, I’ve never felt so prepared for a trip before. No more staring forlornly at my suitcase and wondering why I brought that stupid t-shirt when I really need a warm sweater!

So Phil and I land in the lovely country of France, in the unparalleled city of Paris, and of course, only have eyes for our beautiful daughter. Stefanie was able to get a few days off and has organized a full itinerary for us. Not that we need to follow it exactly, she was careful to point out, but Phil and I were really looking forward to seeing the city through her eyes.

So this is our Paris loveliness, Paris through our Stefanie, and Paris en famille!

Ahhh, the flowers and produce of the markets...

The beautiful shop windows of Paris!
This is a Paris must-see: Shakespeare and Company. Yes, famous for being a Hemingway hangout, featured lovingly in his marvelous "A Moveable Feast", but it's fantastic in its own right. A warreny, magical, mysterious bookshop, filled with the new and the very old. With little side-rooms dedicated to poetry (leave your own!), with scraps of paper tucked into books that you're encouraged to find and assemble into your own story, with a writer's room upstairs where a writer reads his work so fellow reader/writers can remark and give feedback, with an utterly knowledgeable staff, we couldn't get enough of it. We had to drag ourselves away, and left energized and inspired.

You're not supposed to take photos on the "first" floor (which is my "second"), but this was a sneak shot from
the inside of a writing booth. I figured since everyone else was taking shots,
and since this space is maintained by the public, I could sneak it.

Thousands of "love locks" on the bridge over the River Seine

Hotel de Ville

Art in Place Vendome

Us being "glamorous". Did we succeed?
This was an incredible first day. I was so worried about the jetlag, what with only 3 1/2 hours sleep on the plane and a 1 hour nap in the hotel, I was sure I would be dragging myself through the day. But I felt amazing! And then to top off our perfect first day, what better luck than to meet up with two of our dearest friends in the world (friends for over 30 years!) because they are in town to pack up their old apartment?! Meet Mike (far left) and Josée (left of Phil). Josée is the culinary genius behind Epicurious Generations (link here and on our sidebar). We had a final nightcap (after an "haute gastronomique" dinner) with them and their friends at our hotel before falling into bed at 1:30am! Divine, mmmmm....