Here we are in gay Paree! Until yesterday I was still trying to finish my last blog from Buenos Aires, and feeling rather behind in keeping up with my own life. That sounds strange, no? Am I both the actor and spectator of my own life? Aren’t we all?
Beautiful Paris, you’re as grand as they say! After a frenetic front seat Grand Prix ride on the traffic-jammed boulevards of Paris, and thrilled to have finally made it to the City of Lights, we find our apartment on Rue de Tolbiac, 13th Arondissement. It’s a comfortably wabisabi turn-of-the-century building located in a charming neighborhood called Butte des Cailles (Quail Hill). There are 2 sets of winding wood stairs separated by a small bare courtyard: we climb six flights up with luggage. The steps are old and worn but not worn out. Just polished by time. Judging by the effort going up, I’m guessing we won’t need a gym! The Stairmeister! But lovely views from our windows. Church towers, rooftops, courtyards. Nothing homely in sight. We’re in Paris!
Our apartment is small but plenty of room for 2 traveling tangueros. We have a cozy living room with green tiled fireplace, wainscoting, plank floors, “french” doors opening onto a small terrace that looks down to a cobblestone street. So quiet compared to our neighborhood in Buenos Aires!
The bedroom has the same view, looking out at rooftops, a pretty marble fireplace, a comfy queen bed with a big pouffy duvet and pillows in blue & white, and a small desk and chair.
The only closet is in the hall. We call it the Barbie bathroom. Like everything made by Mattel, it’s ridicuously cute and always on the brink of coming apart.
Our kitchen is a pastiche of eras and trends, but has roomy chopping-block counters, and a decent 4-burner stove with an oven which unfortunately burns your toast before you can blink. There’s even a washing machine! The kind with the hobbit door that can whoosh a small flood into your kitchen if opened in an untimely manner — speaking from previous experience, naturally.
The day we arrived we scouted the neighborhood, walked up to the Place d’Italie, and spent a pleasant hour at O’Jule’s, a popular outdoor café across from the plaza, a relaxing and comfortable spot of green in the midst of the 13th. St. Anne’s chimes the hours and half hours: We’re not in Kansas anymore!
I love the sound effects of Paris: the rumbling Metro, traffic, church bells tolling the hours, people speaking French, police car sirens; I feel like I was slipped into a Pink Panther movie! Ben likes to venture out before I even wake up, and he usually comes back with croissants or breakfast pastries. He does this to give me a reason to get out of bed before noon. Believe me, he had me figured out in a split second! He is taking photos of bakeries, lots of photos. He says if you want to call your bakery a boulangerie you have to bake on the premises. It’s the law!
Yes, that’s all sugar, in its myriad forms. Another fan of french cuisine is this guy, France’s new Socialist president, Francois Hollande:
No doubt he runs on sugar and caffeine too. I have no idea what his campaign promises were, but like every other politician, he’s given to mouthing sweet nothings. Let’s hope he can keep France out of the euro crisis and his hands off random women.
Hollande appears to be less of an egomaniac and philanderer than his predecessor, Sarkozy, who ruled France in the timeless tradition of that other famous French blueblooded egomaniac, Napoleon. These days I could care less what labels politicians use: they’re all dancing around the same glittering fountain of gold, projecting pretty false promises of unreach- able achievements onto whatever size screen you are tethered to. Hollande will have at least four years to make his claim to fame. Napoleon did it in 10.
Old Napoleon must be rolling with laughter about how much trouble these 21st century politicians can get into. Back in his day, the French “badboy” could do just about anything he pleased, from expanding his empire and war chest through aggression, trade, and diplomacy (like royal marriages, insults, alliances, trade embargoes, you get the idea…) to giving license to his capos to abscond with valuables and antiquities from all over Europe. But, hey, the French love him!! I trust Texan Molly Ivins on the subject: “Never trust a man who doesn’t like whisky and women.” Way to go, girl!
To get a better picture of the royal lifestyle, we toured Napoleon’s apartments in the Louvre. Gold leaf, precious gems, mirrors, sculptures, carpets, tapestries, silver, china, swords, treasure chests… you name it! Everything for the royal family.
He and Josephine liked to throw lavish parties:
After only two days of marriage, Napoleon left to conquer Italy. Way to go, Emperor! Josephine, already mother of two by a previous marriage (her first husband was assassinated), assuaged her loneliness with a lover. When Napoleon found out, he was furious but, being a player himself, he somehow found his way back to France and his young bride.
Could they be a previous incarnation of Sonny & Cher? Amazing! But their union bore no children, so Napoleon, heeding the biological imperative of reproducing one’s DNA, eventually divorced her and remarried. Apparently they remained friends, so I guess Napoleon has the high moral ground over Sarkozy, IMF exec Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and the U.S. Secret Service.
The Louvre: what a place! Echoing halls, all glitz and glam, cool polished marble, the musty breath of ancient art and treasures of every description. Paris writer David Downie says that previous French president Francois Mitterand’s biggest and most successful endeavor was the makeover of the Louvre, transforming it from a dusty, dreary place into a modern labyrinth of Art, complete with a 72 foot pyramid of glass and criscrossed steel that rises above the central plaza, leading down into a giant arcade with theater, shopping concourse, Metro stop and parking lot. I like the way he describes in a nutshell the 9 million tourists who visit the Louvre every year: “Here were smiling hordes stuffed with exotic delicacies from the merry-go-round of Louvre restaurants, casting beatific glances at skillfully lit artworks before loading up on reproductions, CDs, designer sportswear, computers, and gadgets.”* Ka-ching, ka-ching!
Walking around the galleries, the quiet, awestruck murmurs of your fellow museum-goers and art lovers becomes a soothing white noise to foreground your art experience. It really is breathtaking, though, all jokes aside. In just our first week here we’ve been to the Musée d’Orsay as well, and we’ve seen the most awesome art: Van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone, Degas’ The Dance Class, Cezannes, Renoirs, Monets, daVincis, Goyas, Leonardos; all of it spectacular! (*Paris, Paris: Journey Into the City of Light, 2005)
Paris really does make all other cities pale by comparison. Ben got us both Friends of the Louvre photo-ID passes, good for a year including all special exhibitions. Our first day at the Louvre, new passes in hand, we celebrated with lunch at Angelina’s, a lovely café a few flights up in the Richelieu building.
Standing guard outside the windows are a long lineup of gentlemen in stone:
Another day we followed the crowd to La Giocanda (AKA the Mona Lisa). Finally seeing her was rather anticlimactic, after all the other exquisite portraits on the same level — early Italian painting from the 13th to 19th century. Of course she does represent a major breakthrough from the medieval two dimensional portrait (of mostly saints, Christ and the virgen) to what we call modern: a face whose eyes look right into yours, a face with psychological depth that engages you immediately and gives you cause to reflect on all its complexities and layers of meaning. For me, there are many other portraits just as striking, without the lines and layers of bulletproof glass.
Ben likes it all, but prefers sculpture to portraits. He thinks this carved marble throne is fit for a king! (cushion sold separately)
with matching queen’s throne!
Outside in the huge plaza a bronze maiden is always ready to provide a fetching backdrop to the tourist portrait:
My favorite Parisien horse stands guard over the Musée D’Orsay:
While a black-spotted golden leopard stalks its marbled cage:
Today we were going to walk to the Luxembourg Gardens, but it’s raining and blustery! Darn this Paris spring weather! But tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and warm. Paris is a truly walkable city. Every block has interesting shops, and the bars and cafés are most excellent! My favorite outing is to take the Metro to a point somewhere on the Left Bank, get off, and wander your way back. SO much to see! Even though we will be here 2 months, the pressure is on to visit a museum or tourist destination every day… and even then we know we’ll never see it all.
Over and out for now. Stay tuned for a piece on our neighborhood, Paris bakeries, and a guide to Paris milongas by a pair of opinionated norteamericanos!