Five Days in Paris: Day 2, posted March 16, 2009 at 11:52 PM
Ah the pleasures of Paris--the lights! the sites! the demolition crew outside your hotel window at 6:30am! Well, we asked to be centrally located, and one thing I know is that no matter the ups and downs of the economic markets, the world's major cities always have construction going on right smack in their middles. In this case, it was on rue Buci. But let's look on the positive side of it--had we not been awakened by the demolition crew, we'd never have been awake for hearing the hysterical, lyrical, American-in-Paris-al traffic-jammical music of car horns blasting and answering each other in almost comical cartoony rhythms. After that I put in my ear plugs and slept in.
Our bodies really needed the sleep, so we didn't even leave the hotel until 10.45am. Across the rue de Seine was a little place called Paul--and we sat there for a breakfast of strong coffee and pain au chocolat. Then it was on to the Louvre! But it was without my camera--so I only have one picture that we took this day--with my phone. C'est la vie.
The Louvre is just a stone's throw from the hotel! We entered through Pei's pyramid and checked our coats. Our coat-check lady seemed to have a preternatural knowledge of how to annoy Stephanie and she simply would not accept our bags, without explanation in English or French. Anyway, we went straight to Winged Victory. Did you ever see Funny Face, with that great scene where Fred Astaire is photographing Audrey Hepburn all over Paris and then finally they come to the Louvre and he shoots her in that red gown as she descends the stairs in front of Victory? Here, watch the scene (the Winged Victory part comes right at the end, at the 6:15 mark):
Well that sculpture is still just as amazing in person as Miss Hepburn found it back in 1957--it's just that we're not as beautiful as Audrey Hepburn here in 2009!
From there we availed ourselves of one of the greatest pleasures in all of Western art: The Louvre's Grand Gallery of Italian painting. It was wonderful to view all these Italian artists having now been to Venice and Florence. I really learned so much on that trip and found a new appreciation and deeper understanding of the works in the Louvre by Titian, Giotto, Veronese, Tintoretto, and others. We took our time and looked closely at these masterworks, before moving on to the two amazing galleries of large French paintings. These galleries are mind-blowing. We were thrilled to see Liberty Leading the People. Thank you, Monsieur Delacroix.
Next came a visit to Italian sculpture, including Michelangelo's Slaves and Stephanie's favorite, Canova's Psyche Revived by the Kiss of Eros:
Alas, hunger and art fatigue are very real examples of the frailties of us mere mortals, and so back we went to retrieve our coats from the icy grip of Stephanie's coatroom nemesis, who looked at us as if we were beneath contempt as we collected our belongings . A short distance from the museum we found a cafe for lunch, Chez Louise, on the rue de Croix des Petits Champs. We had a bottle of rosé wine, and we each had scrambled eggs--mine with foie gras and Stephanie's with a vegetable ratatouille. The eggs were creamy and soft, as if they'd been loaded up with heavy cream, which I'm sure they were. We loved it. We also had small green salads, again with a light mustard dressing. Stephanie vowed to try making a mustard dressing herself when back in the States.
Next came some sightseeing, to fill in the gaps that I never got around to on my first trip. We walked west through the 1st, stopping to see the Jardin du Palais Royal, then walked along Avenue d'Opera and rue Casanova to the Place Vendome. This large open square features a great column topped with a statue of Napoleon dressed as Ceasar (I love Napoleon's subtlety!). It's fantastic. The column has a storied past of destruction and reconstruction that made me laugh out loud as we read our guide book. Oh, the column is wrapped in the melted-down bronze of the cannons of armies defeated by Napoleon. Brilliant.
On we walked toward the Church of the Madaleine. But we stopped at Maison du Chocolat to buy some chocolates. I said to Stephanie, "Christopher Santos said to go into Maison de Chocolat all over Paris even though I can get it in New York." Stephanie answered, "Well! Who am I to disobey Christopher Santos!?" Who indeed. So in we went. We grabbed a tiny box of six chocolates (which cost 10 American dollars) and presented it to the gentleman at the cash register, who somehow seemed to imply we were American tourists or something by speaking to us in English! Honestly, Parisians can be so rude! Back on the street, we did have a laugh over him simply knowing we were American--until we realized it was our scarves that was giving us away more than anything else. We did our best to apply them to our persons with panache, but really, that ability is something you're born with as a French person, and try as we might our scarves looked dead and limp around our American necks for the whole trip. Alas!
We ate those yummy chocolates on the steps of the Madeleine, and then in we went. What an odd church! No windows, but it does have three large skylights. Vast and dark, it was a storied history of different intended uses for its incomplete construction--markets, ballrooms, etc., then Napoleon intended it to be a memorial, the need for which was made obsolete by the completion of the Arc de Triomphe. Eventually, it became this church. It's massive and impressive, but I found it to be an oddity among the other major focal points in Paris.
The guidebook told us that there were strange Art Deco public restrooms nearby so we sought them out. Boy were they crazy--looking like some kind of speakeasy crossed with a row of confessionals in an underground bunker. Neither of us used them.
We headed east in search of the Place des Victoires, but came upon the Bibliotheque Nationale first. It's still a functioning library so the beautiful reading rooms were visible only through glass windows, unless you have scholarly business there. Vaulted ceilings and beautiful stacks made a nice environment for Parisians who looked like there were sent directly from Central Casting.
Continuing eastward, we arrived at the Place des Victoires. I recently saw this plaza in the film Paris, Je t'aime, where it looked intriguing, small, and intimate. In reality it's rather large, and has been deadened by the retail stores lining its periphery. Louis XV sits on his horse in the middle of the circle, but the statue is a bit isolated and you can't really get near it. Still, it's an impressive plaza if only for the elegance of the curved buildings around it.
Walking through Les Halles after that we stopped in St. Eustache, the stately church that was built to compete with Notre Dame. And then, as is so often the way in Paris, it was time for wine. So we ascended the horrid exoskeleton of the Centre Pompidou to Georges, the restaurant at its top level. As we sipped our rosés (again, mine champagne and Stephanie's wine), we watched the sun first melt away the last of the rain then start to set behind the skyline of La Défence. The city looked beautiful for the second sunset in a row.
In 2005 I went to the Pompidou but the modern collection was closed. I hated their contemporary holdings, but assured myself that on returning to Paris I would get to see--and love--their Moderns. Well, we did, and we hated it. It is absolutely true that most of the great work of the modern era is housed in New York. And it may be true that I'm spoiled and a snob but this is what I have to say about the Centre Pompidou: Bad architecture, bad art, great bar. Period.
The Marais--that lovely neighborhoods of the gays and the Jews--beckoned us ever eastward, so we strolled strolled strolled. Boy, we covered some serious miles this day. In the Marais we scoped out potential restaurant destinations, charming side-streets, and an approach to the Place de la Republique. Before we got there though we circled back toward the Pompidou, hopped on the Metro, and returned to the room to regroup for dinner.
We ate at Au 35, at 35 rue Jacob, though neither of us know how to say 35 in French so we don't really know the name of this restaurant. Dumb Americans. The restaurant is tiny and charming and our waitress was young and lovely. It was almost empty when we arrived, but other tables arrived to enliven the atmosphere soon enough. We had a very leisurely dinner. I started with escargot in butter and garlic, then had a salted cod brodade--a casserole of salted fish in creamed, buttered potatoes. The top was crusty, and I loved every single bite. Stephanie had delicious foie gras to start, then cod filets on mushrooms and green beans. We drank a Pinot Noir with the meal. After, we shared a cheeseplate, with a glass of red Bordeaux each. This night we did a good job of talking as much as the locals and ended up being the last table in the place!
We walked along the river to the Place Saint Michel. It was beautifully empty of tourists--well, except for us. We sat at Cafe St. Severin for a night cap--armagnac for both of us--then walked home through the lovely narrow lanes of St. Germain. A great great day.