Monday, September 21, 2009

Paris, May 2007, Home Exchange In The 15e

Our third day in Paris arrived with heavy rain. If you've never been confronted with a Paris storm, you haven't lived. Okay, I'm exaggerating and the storm was keeping us in, but storms can also be exciting especially when you live in Hawaii and rarely have anything but a passing trade wind shower. Ooh la la, in Paris they are anything for gentle! Indeed, such storms are frequently powerful with crashing lightening and deafening claps of thunder. The rain comes down in sheets. This was the kind of day we faced and we were bummed at the thought of wasting even one day of our two weeks in Paris.

We caught a minor break in the clouds and quickly set out for the Métro line that would drop us off at The Louvre. We noticed immediately that at each stop the number of people on the métro increased and nobody was getting off. When the doors opened at the stop for the Louvre, people streamed out the door, bee-lining it for the interior entry. We panicked and picked up our pace, too. Voila! There were already massive crowds in line and we grudgingly joined them. After about a thirty minute wait (not bad, really) we found ourselves inside the grand entrance right next to a Starbucks, of all things. I silently shuddered at the thought of a too-milky, unfoamy, light on the taste of coffee latte, while quickly assessing the posted overhead menu to verify that they weren't trying to make my favorite "noisette." Whew! Not there.

We hadn't anticipated the enormity of the Louvre, having only seen it a couple of times and then only from the Tuilleries Garden on the side where you can see the I. M. Pei glass pyramid--designed to add natural lighting to the gallery and thus slow the progress of sun damage on the priceless art housed within. I reassured myself that I had worn comfy shoes as I tugged off my jacket and settled into the comfortable ambiance of the museum. The lighting, soft and golden, took me immediately into an art trance where I searched originals for brush strokes and scratched-on signatures. Wow! I was in the Louvre, I thought.

Winding around from gallery to gallery, mouths agape, we viewed sculpture, works of art we'd only heard of or read about in history books, and all the great works of the world's renowned artists. We spent hours wandering from room to room, display to display and hall to hall. By the time we finished (some seven hours later) we were foot weary, thirsty and starved.

We peeked outside and saw that the sun was visible and threatening clouds had dissipated. We walked for a few blocks to distance ourselves from the maddening crowd, too expensive touristy diners and cafes, and the potential pick pockets lurking around the enormous museum's exterior.

To our delight we ducked down a small side street and found a fabulous little restaurant with only a few local people still lingering after the long noon rest period. We ordered the plat principal, a delicately prepared sole dish served with some crisp fresh vegetables and hot crisp frites (those delicious french fries only the French know how to make). We chose a crisp Pouilly-Fumé that was chilled perfectly. We lounged, ate slowly, talked of our wonder excursion in the museum and planned our trip to Mouffetard the next day. What a lovely rainy day it turned out to be!

We were up early in anticipation of our Métro ride to Luxembourg Gardens where we strolled through then began our walk to rue de Mouffetard. We deliberately failed to have our typical French breakfast of yogurt, fruit, left over toasted baguette and coffee, opting instead to settle into a small sidewalk cafe on rue de Mouffetard to enjoy un petit café espress and a freshly baked croissant while we watched early morning shoppers buying food for the day. It's quite a colorful experience as you can see by photos below. We were also stricken by the appearance of many young families shopping with four or five small children. It seems as though we may be in the throws of another baby boom generation! The children seemed well-behaved, staying near to Maman and Papa or holding the hands of siblings. We listened as they chatted in baby French speak. Cute.

Mouffetard has retained its quaintness over the centuries because of it's location in a slightly elevated small segment of Paris. Napoleon ignored this section when he retained Hausmann to destroy most of Paris and rebuild it with apartments. The market place today is much as it was centuries before. Wandering through the narrow pedestrian walkways is a delight and there are many treasures waiting to be discovered and captured in a camera lens.

I first heard of this place when I studied French 101/102 at the University of Hawaii. The textbook we used, revolved around a story of a woman who lived in an apartment overlooking the merchant street. Imagine my delight when I learned that the street really did exist. It's just as I had imagined, too. The distant cry of hawkers trying to pull shoppers over to sample and buy fruits and vegetables, the smell of succulent fat hens roasting on large spits and the soft murmur of the French as they chat with one another incessantly. I think I'll always stop in Mouffetard when in Paria and enjoy a noisette, just to relive the moment.

After spending most of the day in the area, we returned to the peace and quiet of the 15e to rest before dinner. We dined at a small restaurant recommended by our home exchange friends. Le Clos de Morillion is not far from Georges Brassens Park. It is at 50 rue du Morillion and you'll find it clean, air conditioned and exceptionally good cuisine. A prix fix menu will run about 30-40 euro, but it is well worth the money. We had margret de canard (a rich succulent duck breast in a rich buttery wine sauce). Our first course was a house pate of fois gras with micro-salad greens lightly dressed with a lemon-tarragon dressing and our last course was a warm chocolate slice of heaven. We were not disappointed. Our duck was served with creamy sliced potatoes and tender-crisp vegetables and a delicious burgundy wine. We actually visited this place again during our stay and when our hosts/chef saw us, they were delighted. They made a heroic effort to use their limited English and treated us as if we were locals. Delightful.

We could have taken (did take) thousands of pictures of museum master pieces, all available for our continuing enjoyment. I resisted posting them here, though, since most works can be viewed at various websites by googling the artists. Also, there's nothing quite like standing in front of a famous work and seeing it first hand. I hope you'll enjoy (below) some of our photographs of this day.

With Only Two Semesters Of French Behind Me, I Figure
Out How To Ask For Entry Into The Louvre
(Always Have A Trusted Language Dictionary
On Hand!)

The Wet Streets Of The 15e Lead Us To The Métro Stop,
Past Ed--A Small Convenience Store

Oh No! Not A Starbucks? In The Louvre?
How Could This Be? Especially With The Fabulous
French Coffee? Hmm, Everyone Sipping
Seemed To Be Speaking English!

A Rainy Day Lead Us To Decide On Indoor Activity. We
Set Out For The Louvre

A Spectacular Sculpture In Marble Rises Up
To The Artistic Ceiling Of The Louvre Room
Housing It. The Building As Well As The Art
It Contains, Is Remarkable
Louvre, Paris

Winged Victory Is One Of The More Sought After Exhibits
As Is Venus
Louvre Museum, Paris

If You Stay Away From All The Famous Draws, Like Winged Victory And
Venus or Mona Lisa, You Can Find a Quiet Place To Reflect On
The Art Work And Artist, As I Did
Louvre Museum

We Picked A Rainy Day To See The Louvre, But Soon Learned That Our Idea
Was Not Novel! The Musée Was Extremely Crowded!

This Beggar (Who we saw not only here but near the Louvre) Stands Outside
A Butcher Shop. If You Wonder Who Has The Best Meat For Sale,
Just Look For Parisians Standing In A Long Line!
There's Something Apparently Delicious In This Butcher's Shop!

With France's Focus On Sustainability, Basket Shops
Abound in Paris And Other Villages/Cities
A Basket Or Two Is Essential For Daily Marketing
(I bought one here and use it in Hawaii, occasionally
being asked, to my delight, where I bought it!)

You Will Find A Fish Monger In Nearly Every Neighborhood
In Paris. It Is Possible To Buy Exceptionally Fresh
Fish Any Day Of The Week

Every Neighborhood Has A Cheese Artisan,
Such As This Woman At A Mouffetard Cheese Shop
She Knows Everything There Is To Know About Cheese

Two Hawkers Discuss Politics While They Await
Arrival Of Their Customers

No Wonder So Many French Artists Were Inspired To Paint Pictures Of
Ripened Fruit. The Mouffetard Market Displays Some Of The Beautifully
Ripened Fresh Fruits Of The Day

I Can't Resist The Mouffetard
Saturday Market
The Oldest Market in Paris
(Note The Closeness Of Families
As A Daughter Walks Arm-In-Arm With Her Mother)

The Enormity Of Marble Relief And Statues
Is Almost Overwhelming And It
Appears At Every Turn

The Architecture Of The Musée d'Orsay
Only Serves To Dramatically Enhance The
Fabulous Art Displays

Many Scenes Like This Exist At The d'Orsay
Where The French Educate Their Young
On The History of French And World Art

Aspiring Youthful French Art Students, Practice
Renderings of Graceful Statues

While One Is Awe-struck By The Immense Art
Collection, One Cannot Overlook The Architecture
Of The Structure Housing The Art
of the d'Orsay

Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet, Manet....They All Amaze Us As We Stroll
Through the d'Orsay's Cache of the Great Artists
Of The World

We Waste No Time. We're Off To The Musée d'Orsay On Our First Day

Back At Gare de Lyon At Last!

A Brief Stop In Dijon To Visit With Our Friend (Note Hawaii License
Plate On His Mercedes) Who Recently Relocated To
Courternon Near Dijon (A 30 Minute Lay-Over)

Next post: More of Paris 2007

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