Friday, August 28, 2009

Chilly Night but the Eiffel Sparkled

Our little walk tonight was rather chilly... it dipped into mid-50s with a brisk breeze.

[Earlier in the evening, around 6ish, we had a little "happy hour" at the Academy of Beer, just drinking beer and eating the free bread and wonderful honey mustard. I had been inside all day working so I needed a "happy hour" as I wasn't very happy!

I had a 50cl La Chouffe -- I'm moving up in size -- and Amanda had the Maes again. Since I've already had this beer, it doesn't count in my running totals. :) ]

The walk itself was rather uneventful -- it was after 9p when we got started and we had to walk to the other side of Lux Gardens to the Notre Dame-Des Champs metro stop to get to the beginning of our little "walking tour" at Rue du Bac. The streets we walked along were largely deserted and shops closed -- except for a nice italian dinner at La Romantica Caffe between the Golden Dome of Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower. We could see Les Invalides through the trees across the street but the Eiffel Tower was on the other side of the building.

Here are couple pictures of Les Invalides that still don't due justice to just how GOLD the dome really is.

After sharing roasted veggies for an appetizer, I had a plain Pasta Bolognese and Amanda had some specialty cheesy (very cheesy) linguini. We kept it inexpensive by skipping the wine and dessert.

Afterwards, it was already well past 11p, we walked to, and under, the Eiffel Tower. I always forget how darn big that thing is. It really is amazing. It was too cold and we were too tired for me to bother to set up my tripod and try to get a good picture. I have 67 more days to do that!

The large grassy expanse east of the tower was full of students who had formed small groups and apparently had a picnic of sorts -- actually, concert tailgating party might be the better comparison! -- on the lawn. Even though it was quite late -- and cool -- a good crowd still lingered. From what I could see, I would hate to be the crew that had to clean up after the mess they were leaving.

As we walked along the Quai Branly (that's the name of the road along on the Seine River) to the Bir-Hakeim Metro Station (Line 6) to take us back, it struck midnight. The Eiffel Tower, which is lit up already after dark, does its little sparkle dance for 5 minutes at the top of the hour.

So.... I took a couple pics and one 30 sec video with my iPhone for your viewing pleasure:

Before the sparklies
During the sparklies

And the 30-second movie. Don't you just feel like you were there?

Note: I forgot it recorded audio. The initial sounds in the background are the engines of the taxis along the road idling, waiting for riders. Then Amanda told me I was swaying. I said I couldn't help it (although it really isn't that noticeable. She then remarked that you could see the lights all the way up. She didn't realize the whole tower sparkled.

After a long day, we were happy to find the subway 1/4 mile away and get home. Yet here I am at 3a posting to my blog.

Friday Night is Date Night

Of course every night is date night in Paris, but Friday is really date night.

We're going to do a walking tour in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower and east somewhere over there. Who knows? We may even catch a movie in Montparnasse. They sure have enough of them.

Of coure, I'll let you know what we discover.

Julia - My Beer Meister

Julia is always working at the Beer Academy it seems. Fortunately she speaks pretty good English after living in Singapore, Hong Kong and Panama as a girl.

She hates posing for pics but I am persuasive.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Montparnasse Cemetery Walk

[As usual, these walking summaries are rather long. Don't forget to click on any images for the much larger version.]

Amanda and I had lunch at the Beer Academy today (see Beer #4) and then walked along Rue du Montparnasse, which is really just a continuation of Rue du Port-Royal into the 6th arrondissement across Blvd St Michel, usually referred to as St Germaine I believe, and 14th arrondissement on its south side referred to as Montparnasse.

View Montparnasse Cemetery in a larger map

We had taken a brief stroll down Rue du Montparnasse the night before just to see the area and get out. We re-discovered a restaurant -- La Coupole -- that we had eaten at in 2003.

Paris is so much different from above ground. On previous trips, we would map out where we wanted to go and then plot the subway stops and then keep popping up like a groundhog or mole at our location, never having any sense of how much ground we had actually traversed on the metro. We had no sense of scale.

Now, while we use the metro occasionally, we have found that the city is very walkable above ground and the metro stops are very close together, indeed more so than any subway system in the world.

And, at night, we definitely found life that doesn't exist in our quieter area of the lower 5th. Several movie theatres, dozens of restaurants, upscale boutique shops... it's almost like a human-scale version of Champs-Elysees (where everything is larger than life).

Well, today, we retraced our steps because I needed to visit FNAC, which is kind of like the french version of Best Buy -- books, music, computers, electronics, etc. I needed a tripod for my camera and a mouse pad (I was using my Kindle cover in the meantime) and had not seen a shop during our previous excursions around town. I finally found FNAC online and mapped the closest one as down Rue du Montparnasse and then up Rue Rennes a few blocks. (The intersection of these two roads define the heart of the Montparnasse area.)

I found the perfect tripod for the money (30 Euros) and an nice mouse pad for the ridiculous price of 8 Euros so first mission accomplished.

If there was one building in all of Paris I would tear down, it is the Montparnasse Tower, a 689 foot tall eyesore. Some natives feel the same about the Eiffel Tower but at least it is unique whereas the Montparnasse Tower is just a boring rectangular skyscraper, indistinguishable from something you might see in, say, Atlanta. It's only redeeming benefit is the view, which I have not partaken of yet -- but will soon! -- although it is apparently joked that the reason it has the best view is because the Tower is not in it!

Since its construction in the early 70s, construction of skyscrapers is banned in central Paris. Thank God.

Having completed my purchases, we did what everyone does after shopping at FNAC -- we visited the cemetery. :)

Actually, we tried to visit the night before -- what's more soothing than a night stroll through a Paris cemetery -- but it closes at around 6p.

The Montparnasse Cemetery is one of 4 main cemeteries in Paris created in the early 19th century after a ban on cemeteries in central Paris due to some disease outbreak in the late 18th century. Montparnasse was the cemetery in the south (14th arr), Passy in the west (16th), Montmartre in the north (18th), Père-Lachaise -- the largest -- in the east (20th). See also for more information about these cemeteries.

At the main entrance to Montparnasse Cemetery, which lies on 25 acres in the eastern shadow of the Tower of Montparnasse, is a sign identifying where (division and plot number) certain famous graves are located. Unfortunately, I did not recognize most of the names. The main ones I did recognize included Jean Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir (in the same plot), and Guy de Maupassant, the 19th C short story writer. Wikipeda had a more extensive list of names (but not plot locations) which included Susan Sontag, who died just several years ago.

I was puzzled as to why Sontag would be buried here, knowing her to be American. This book suggests she and her family had a plan to "sneak her way into getting a burial plot in Paris' famed Montparnasse Cemetery." Whatever the means, however, this review of her son's book about her death provides the motivation:

In the end, David Rieff [Sontag's son] goes the distance with his mother, taking her body back to Paris to be buried at Montparnasse Cemetery among her kind: artists and thinkers and trophy intellectuals. As a boy, he'd been left with his father's parents when his father, Philip, went off to his studies in California and his mother went off to hers in Paris [so apparently Sontag studied in Paris]:

"If you enter it through the main gate on the Boulevard Edgar Quinet, you will find Simone de Beauvoir's grave almost directly on your right as you head toward my mother's burial plot. Whatever remains of Samuel Beckett lies under a plain gray granite slab a hundred meters from the black polished slab that covers the bones and whatever else now remains of the embalmed corpse that was once an American writer named Susan Sontag, 1933-2004."

What I find fascinating about cemeteries of famous people is they allow you -- force you? -- to recapture the stories of the lives represented there and, in the age of Google, it is so easy to review their contributions.

Most of the graves have substantial monuments above them; some even have small chapels. Many are family plots in which, I assume, family members are simply buried on top of each other under a large monument as there are many names but only one "plot."

It was a minor miracle that we stumbled upon Sontag's grave first as its location was not on the map (she is in Section 2). I mean there are thousands upon thousands of plots. What are the chances that we happen to stumble in the first 10 minutes upon the one famous grave whose location we did not know? (By the way, my picture is far better than the one on Wikipedia; it appears the engraving was added later.)

Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir are buried together just to the right of the main entrance. Guy de Mauppassant was in Section 26, way on the other side of the road in the smaller section.

I always took notice of the graves that had remnants of visitors. Metro tickets -- very small pieces of paper maybe 1.5 inches by .75 inches -- left under a small pebble on the plot were common tokens... not sure who came up with that idea. More typical were drawings or letters and of course flowers.

The one that made the biggest impression of the few I saw -- it would have taken all day to walk the entire cemetery -- was Serge Gainsbourg, whom I had never heard of but he certainly had a lot of fans.

A Wikipedia search revealed why, although for Americans, he is still rather obscure:

a French singer-songwriter, actor and director. Gainsbourg's varied musical style and individuality made him difficult to categorize. His legacy has been firmly established, and he is often regarded as one of the world's most influential musicians....

His funeral brought Paris to a standstill, and French President François Mitterrand said of him, "He was our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire... He elevated the song to the level of art." His home at the well-known address rue de Verneuil is still covered in graffiti and poems.

Hmmm.... I guess I will have to check that out to see what the big deal is.

Finally, one of the more unusual monuments

Beer #4 - Chimay Blanche

Beer #4 was today. I am trying to do one beer a day at the Beer Academy.

I had a Chimay Blanche.

It was also 8% ABV, like the La Chouffe (the first two beers were closer to 4%). It was also 33 cl instead of the previous beers which were only 25. It was also more expensive at 6.2 Euros (about $9). I find most of the beers here to be expensive, along with everything else (by at least 50% and usually 100%).

It was smooth but had a slight bitter taste. We had it with Francfort sausages (hot dogs to you and I) and fries, which worked ok I guess.

This one will take a little more getting used to than the La Chouffe but it's a keeper.

Beer #3 - La Chouffe

Yesterday, Aug 26, I had beer #3, a recommendation from my friend Frank Wilder, La Chouffe (25cl).

See Beer Advocate review here.

It's a little stronger than most beers at 8% ABV, but I like it. It was light, not bitter but not really sweet either. It just went down really smooth. I'll probably be getting this some more.

Amanda first ordered a Grisette blond and hated it (although I thought it was ok -- so did Beer Advocate) so they gave her a Maes, which she liked.

Morning Walks

Amanda gets up every morning between 7 and 8 to go walking at Luxembourg Gardens. I usually try to join her but I am typically up late working (usually till 2a) so it's tought to get up that early.

We walk counter-clockwise around the inner perimeter 3 times, which she estimates to be 4.5 to 5 miles although I think it is closer to 4. It takes about an hour to complete. At 4 mph, which is a pretty brisk walk, especially for a woman, it would take an hour to walk 4 miles.

I estimate about 100 people walking/running at the same time including a group of firefighters wearing their sapeur-pompier t-shirts.

It's as close to perfect a walking course as you could have surrounded by trees and flowers and statues and ponds and fountains and the French Senate.

Cat Found

Yesterday, we received a call that our cat Nova had returned after missing for a couple days. Big relief.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sex and Coffee?

As a businessman, I have been intrigued (and humored) by this picture since I took it on Rue de Sèze during my Opera to Concorde tour described previously. The more I think, the more questions I have.

1. Who was here first?
2. Was there a marketing strategy for the guy that was second?
3. Does the location hurt one and help the other? Help both? Help neither?
4. Does the same guy own both stores?!?!?! (Now THAT would be interesting.)

I'm sure you can think of more.

Surely there is a college research paper here somewhere (is it business or psychology or health?).

These might be a good starting point (just Google "Sex and Coffee"):

- Sex and Coffee
- Coffee 'boosts female sex drive'
- "The consumption of at least one cup of coffee per day was significantly associated with a higher prevalence of sexual activity in women and with a higher potency rate in men"
- Coffee is second only to sex on the priority list for both men and women.

The things you learn just wandering the streets of Paris!

There is also a list of reasons why coffee is better than sex but I will let my less delicate readers find it on their own. This is a PG-rated blog!

Evening Walk from Opera House to Place de la Concorde

[This turned out extremely long. When I get a chance, I will break it up into smaller posts. There is a LOT here including some of my best pictures. Click on any picture to enlarge.]

Last night (Tue), Amanda was having apple tart with the neighbors (Antoinette and Catherine) so I decided to tour Paris on my own. This is the path.

View Larger Map

I bought a one week pass at the Port-Royal (RER B) station. It's 5 Euros for the Navigo D'Ecouverte, which can then be re-loaded on a weekly or monthly basis. The instructions indicated that I needed to bring a photo which the agent would attach and then I would sign but apparently that is not required, although the instructions on the card appear to ask me to do this.

The subject of the Paris Metro requires a blog post of its own but suffice to say it's pretty amazing.... 133 miles and 300 stations within the 45 sq miles of Paris serviced by 14 metro lines (plus two minor lines) numbered 1 to 14 (each denoted with different color on the map). Additionally there are 5 light rail lines A to E. It has to be one of the most efficient and effective public transit systems in the world.

A one week pass, which is only good for the current (or upcoming if you buy it on the weekend) Monday to Sunday (you can't get it for other 7 day periods) is 17.20 Euros (about $25 currently). This covers zones 1 and 2 which is pretty much all of central Paris.

In any case, back to my walk.

I took the metro to the Opera station, which lets me out literally right in front of, you guessed it, the Paris Opera (or more precisely the Palais Garnier) -- a pretty amazing structure, but then again I say that about a lot of buildings here.

Standing in the middle of the Place de l'Opera

I was not able to enter as everything seems to close around here at 5 or 6 but this was not my real reason for coming here -- Galeries Lafayette, the 10-story flagship location of the French department store. The building dates to the early 20th century and features a glass and steel dome and art nouveau stair cases (I suppose to match the iconic art nouveau metro entrances which were designed about the same time -- see top right picture in my header for an example of the Moulin Rouge metro stop)

This is definitely not your father's JC Penneys. I like the Prada display.

The domed ceiling

Now, if you think I came here to shop, you don't know me very well, although there is certainly a lot to shop for. It has 45,000 sq ft (about an acre) just for women's fashion spread over 3 floors.

I came here because we visited here New Year 2003 and I discovered the 8th floor rooftop cafeteria (since they claim the building is 10 floors, I assume that 2 of the floors are under the main floor because the roof is definitely floor 8). I was wowed by the view. And I've been dying to come back ever since.

This is the only public spot I know where you can get such a view of Sacre Coeur, the Roman Catholic Basilica on Montmarte to the north, the highest point in Paris at just over 400 ft above sea level. Now I am sure there are private offices somewhere which have such a view, but not for the public. The terrace extends the full length of the south side of the department store, providing a panoramic view over all of Paris to the south. You can however get a view of Sacre Coeur if you go through the small cafeteria on the east side of the terrace.

You can also get a great view of the back of the Paris Opera with the Eiffel Tower in the background. This view is towards the southeast.

In fact, two of the pictures in my header are of exactly these two sites and both are also on my wall in my home office -- bottom row, the first and third pictures from the left.

I had a problem however. When I reached the 6th floor by escalator, the next escalator was roped off. I wandered the 6th floor and found stairs on the east side which were also roped off. I examined every possible path upward and there were none.


Not to be deterred, I surveyed the situation some more and noticed that the escalator that descended from the 7th floor to the 6th was NOT roped off. It was getting late, almost 8p, so I quickly stepped my way UP the DOWN escalator to the 7th floor, which appeared to be mostly offices; there was no shopping. Stairs took me to the open roof 8th floor and there it was.... all to myself. (Google satellite view of the rooftop at Galeries Lafayette, 40, Boulevard Haussmann, Paris, France.)

The cafe was closed and no one else was around. Sure there were a few security cameras but what were they going to do? As soon as I start gibbering in English and point to my camera, I suspect they would just tell me it is interdit, and escort me out. In any case, it was worth the risk.

I spent about 20-30 minutes wandering the rooftop on a wonderful Paris evening, taking pictures of everything. The best pictures will be in the photo slideshow to the right, but here are several of the better. There was more light than the last time I was here (which was January so the sun set earlier) but the view was just as magnificent.

I didn't know what time the store closes. I would have like to have waited another 45 minutes to watch the sun set but didn't want to end up spending the night on the roof (!) so I think I will return at the end of October when perhaps the time has changed and the sun sets earlier to get some sunset and night pictures.

I left the way I came up without incident. Nice.

As I left, I wanted a picture of the front of the store. When I was here during the holidays, the front of the building was adorned with colorful lights.

Now, however, it had a more provocative picture on the facade:

If you can't see the poster clearly, click here.

I Googled the ad line when I got home: "L'ete vit plus fort"

I got the translation "The summer saw stronger"

Huh? Something must have got mangled. Perhaps it is a French idiom that doesn't translate well literally.

I get the picture which is stunning in every respect; I don't get the ad. At the bottom it says "Espace Maillons de Bain - 4e Etage" - "Swimwear Department - 4th Floor"

Swimwear? What swimwear? I didn't see any swimwear. Did you see any swimwear?

Apparently, this picture has been plastered on the metro walls for the last two or three years (I haven't seen it). If you google the phrase, you will see it has certainly garnered a lot of attention. See the following article for example (translated into English from French).

Ok... enough of the department store. Onward to other sites.

I had intended to walk towards the Place Vendôme which is the location of the Ritz Hotel (one of the greatest hotels in the world and the one from which Diana departed on her fateful final drive 12 years ago) and then on to the Tuileries Gardens. However, there are 7 roads -- all very significant roads -- that emanate like spokes on a wheel from the Place de l'Opera and I missed by one. Instead of taking Rue de la Paix, I took Boulevard des Capucines (which turns into Boulevard de la Madeleine).

But, as they say, "some of the best things in life are mistakes." And wandering the streets of central Paris is the perfect place to make lots of mistakes because there are no mistakes (at least none I have found yet).

Wandering down Blvd Capucines/Madeleine, I ran across two establishments I had heard of but not quite sure where they were: Olympia Hall and The American Dream Diner. What bothers me is I know that there were probably dozens of other store fronts that each had amazing stories but you wouldn't know it from the street and I just walked right on by.

Olympia Hall (or Paris Olympia) is the oldest (1888) music hall in Paris and one of the most famous in the world and where we will see the incomparable Diana Krall (jazz pianist and singer) on September 15.

But you would never know it from the street. See the two pics below from straight on (partially blocked by trees) and to the side. Unless you actually knew what Olympia Hall was, you could never imagine that concerts were held in this skinny little building. But like so many stores in Paris, the entrance is the tip of the ice berg. It obviously expands and I have included a pic from the home page of the official site to show you what it looks like inside. Who would have thunk it just walking down the street?

The American Dream Diner is interesting for almost entirely different reasons. It is so over-the-top "kitchy" that you can't help but want to go inside (which I didn't --- yet). This reviewer describes it well:

Imagine TGI Friday’s taken to the extreme, with all sorts of bizarre signs and photos and waxworks of Vincent Price and Boris Karloff, with the only lights being bright neon stripes encircling the large, open floor-plan diner and a blood-red Tiffany-style lamp dangling over each red vinyl booth. Imagine red stars on a blue circle and the words "American Dream Diner" stamped every five feet into the carpet. Imagine a place mat which reads "American Dream Diner" and features all sorts of strange, lewd sex acts in cartoon form on a fake Manhattan street and you’re not even a tenth of the way toward experiencing The American Dream Diner.

Menu posted outside

I continued down the boulevard, branching off on Rue de Seze, not quite sure where I was heading, and then out of nowhere pops this huge Pantheon-like structure I had never seen before. Surely something this gigantic I must have heard about but I was clueless. It's like living in someone's house for a week only to discover they have had an elephant in their bedroom all along and you never noticed.

Well, this structure is called Madeleine Church (or L'église de la Madeleine). Furthermore, it had a huge face (art?) standing about 20 feet high just inside the fence and no one was around. This was very odd.

I walked around the right side only to realize I had been at the back, all the people were in front, which looked a lot like the back except for the doors and steps covered in plants and it was a lot cleaner.

The Madeleine is built in the Neo-Classical style and was inspired by the Maison Carrée at Nîmes, one of the best-preserved of all Roman temples. Its fifty-two Corinthian columns, each 20 metres high, are carried around the entire building. The pediment sculpture of the Last Judgement is by Lemaire, and the church's bronze doors bear reliefs representing the Ten Commandments. - Wikipedia

Turns out this is an active Catholic church and I believe the long line was parishioners but I am not sure. Again, I did not go inside but I have since seen pictures and it is -- what do you expect -- pretty impressive. Gotta go back.

It is a wonderful view from the steps of the church down Rue Royale. Rarely will you see three significant structures simply by looking down a road from ground level.

In sequence, you have the Obelisk in Place de la Concorde, followed by the Palais Bourbon (which houses the French National Assembly) across the Seine River and finally the golden dome over Napolean's tomb in Les Invalides. The distance between each is misleading due to zoom lens but in reality, each is separated by about 1/3 miles. That is, the obelisk is about 1/3 miles from the church, Palais Bourbon is another 1/3 mile, and Napolean's Tomb is another 1/3 mile. The golden dome is 1 mile away from the church.

Finally, as the sun was setting, I took a chair on a rise about 15 feet above the edge of the Place de la Concorde just inside the Tuleries Gardens facing the sun. This appears to be a popular spot for watching the sun set. You can see the obelisk, almost see straight down Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe and then the Eiffel Tower in the distance, which at around sunset lit up suddenly and then at 9p began sparkling for 5 minutes (which apparently it does at the top of every hour at night). The lights along the Champs Elyees also lit up and around Place de la Concorde. Paris feels palpably different at night. It is no wonder its most famous nickname is City of Lights.

My final picture is probably the best of the night. Without a tripod, I had to rest the camera on a shelf near the metro but it came out amazing.

With that, I took the metro back to the apartment, arriving 2 hours after I told Amanda I would be home.

Beer #2 - Faro Amber

Actually this is Beer 2, 3, and 4 but I will only count it as Beer #2 because Julia gave me 3 to sample and I picked one. :)

(Julia is a nice french girl who works full-time at the Beer Academy for the last 1.5 years. Fortunately she speeks good English having lived in Singapore and Hong Kong. Maybe she will let me take her picture for the blog. Give me time.)

I tried Faro (amber sweeten candy), Gueuze St Louis (amber), Maredsous (amber).

The Maredsous was quite bitter (far more than the Guinness) and not tasty to me at all. The Gueuze was ok but rather bland. So, of course, I chose the Faro. I'm sure I am going to be accused of drinking the White Zinfandel of beers but, give me time, I'm just starting. I may be guzzling Maredsous before I'm out of here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New Slideshow Feature

I have added a slideshow feature (Blogger calls them "widgets") to the right column containing the better pictures taken with my Nikon D80.

You can click on any picture to see the full-size slideshow on Google's PicasaWeb.

Let me know what you think.

Furthermore, to view all the pictures embedded in the posts on this blog, click here.

Rue Henri Barbusse

Our street -- like so many streets in Paris -- was named after a notable Parisian figure (although our street IS only two blocks long).

Our street was named after Henri Barbusse (May 17, 1873 - August 30, 1935), a French novelist and a member of the French Communist Party.

Amanda leaving our apartment, heading north on Rue Henri Barbusse.

He is famous enough to also make it into Wikipedia, which includes this little tidbit of dark humor:

While writing a second biography of Stalin in Moscow, Barbusse fell ill with pneumonia, and died on August 30, 1935 He is buried in Le Père Lachaise Cemetery [the large cemetery in NE Paris where Jim Morrison is famously buried], Paris. Unfortunately, his grave has been vandalized in recent years, with many people mistaking his tombstone for Oscar Wilde's. [!]

Furthermore, this article (translated using Google Translate) notes:

Many French towns have given after the war the name of Henri Barbusse to streets, schools or libraries. He embodied the struggle against war and the Nazis, the denunciation of the impotence of the League of Nations and the Communist victory. So in 1946, named Paris Henri Barbusse part of the avenue Denfert-Rochereau which starts from the Boulevard Saint Michel and the Rue de l'Abbe de l'Epee Avenue and ends of the Observatory, after crossing the Boulevard de Port Royal, and again avenue Denfert-Rochereau.

I feel so much better knowing all this. Don't you?

Class dismissed.

Boulevard de Port-Royal

Blvd de Port-Royal -- just 2 blocks south of our apartment -- is a scenic road that splits the 5arr from the 13th and 14th arr below it.

Well short of a mile at 1130m, it begins at Blvd St Michel ("Boul Mich" in local parlance) and ends at Avenue des Gobelins. It is beautifully lined (as is the Champs Elysees) with mature London Plane trees.

View Boulevard de Port-Royal in a larger map

It has changed somewhat since this 1877 painting.

While walking along it yesterday, I noticed something odd. Look at the two pictures below -- the first looking west, the second looking east -- I took standing in the median. See anything strange?

In the first picture, note on the right side cars going in both directions. On the left side, you can see the arrows going in each direction on the ground. In the second picture, you can likewise see arrows on the ground and vehicles going in opposite directions on each side of the street.

Each side of the median has two lanes in both directions where you would normally expect the two lanes on each side to be going in the same direction (i.e. 4 lane divided highway). The explanation is that one side is reserved for buses and taxis (i.e. public transportation) and the other side for private vehicles. I suspect that this it typical on other streets in Paris but this is the first I noticed it.

No wonder however the following sign is in the median!

"Look to the left then to the right"

Missing Kitty

We have 5 Burmese cats:

Java - Sable color (Male)
Mocha - Champaign (Female)
Nova - Platinum (Male)
Jazz - Blue (Male)
Mango - Red (Male)

The first four are American Burmese and represent each of the four accepted colors. Mango is European Burmese. They are beautiful wonderful cats. The following description is very true. Indeed Mango repeatedly plays "fetch" like a dog with a little stuffed mouse that he brings to you.

Burmese are vocal like the Siamese but have softer, sweeter meows. They are people oriented, forming strong bonds with their owners, gravitating toward all human activity. The Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) breed information on the Burmese implies that all survival instinct of flight or fight seems to have been bred out of them. However, other sources note that, while rarely aggressive with humans, Burmese cats tend to be able to defend themselves quite well against other cats, even those larger than themselves.

Burmese maintain kitten interests and energy throughout their adulthood and are very athletic and playful. In some instances they even retrieve items as part of a game.

Sunday we got a call from housesitter that Nova is missing, apparently since Friday night. Emails to the neighbors indicate that he was seen Saturday at the end of the street.

While I'm on the subject of cats, here are some pics of Mango, my favorite. Amanda likes to decorate the poor thing but he appears to like it.

As Kitten

A little older, showing off

Jet Lag Finally Over

Well it only took me a week (!) but I was in bed by around midnight and up at 7:30a so I think I have adjusted to the 6-hour difference now.

Amanda and I walked around Lux Gardens 3 times.

There is a grey blanket of clouds hovering low over the city and the air is cool and damp. Perfect exercise weather although I hope the sun comes out later. It's only 64 degrees at the moment.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Haven't seen a sign like this in Charlotte

For translation, click here. We have seen identical sign for men also.

Found the sign for men (added 8/27):

Rain, Rain Go Away... and Other Random Pensees

Well, we woke up in the tropics this morning. How did that happen?

After yesterday's "Chambre de commerce" weather, we got the opposite today, with full sound and light effects.

It was clear for most of midday but the thunder and rain really picked up late afternoon and into the evening, possibly spoiling our walk tonight.

I worked most of the day.... so much to still do when I'd rather be photographing Paris. I had hoped to have most of it done before I left, but....

Got out around 4p to walk around... had to get out... fighting a little headache and general body soreness I think related to not adjusting to jet lag and sleeping in different bed.

Had beer and cheese at the Beer Academy while continuing to read my book on 40 stories from the afterlife (see later post -- not what you think), walked down Blvd du Port-Royal which divides the Latin Quarter (5 arr) from the 13th and 14th arrondissements to the south. It is only two blocks from our apartment.

A very pleasant walk indeed although many of the shops are still closed due to August holidays.

I saw the Val de Grace military hospital on the other side of the church I talked about yesterday.

One aspect that I guess I underestimated in coming here is the language barrier. I am a fairly social guy but it really is difficult to establish any connection when communication is so primitive.

I haven't watched any TV since we arrive last Tuesday, although I check the latest sports news on the internet. The TV in the apartment is old and primitive so I haven't even bothered.

Amanda took a tennis lesson at Lux Gardens today. Always a good way to connect since the local pros know everyone and can arrange for competitive friendly matches with other women.

Amanda's cooking steak tonight. Good thing the apartment doesn't have a smoke alarm right now!

Ok... dinner's over. Didn't even know I was gone did you? :)

Entrecote steak. Fava beans with artichoke. Croutons with pesto, garlic and mustard on top. Yummy.

It has quit raining. We can go for evening walk after I finish this and Amanda finishes dishes.

The two pills Amanda gave seem to have taken care of that headache earlier. Amazing how much physical well-being affects mental well-being, including outlook and motivation.

Amanda wants me up at 7a to walk 3 times around Lux Gardens. I woke up at 10a this morning which is my earliest yet. I don't know if I can fall sleep at 11 or 12.

We got news yesterday that one of our cats (we have 5 Burmese) is missing at home. (Only gone a few days and the housesitter has already lost a cat!) I'm sending emails to all the neighbors to be on the lookout. One claims to have seen him yesterday but didn't know it was ours.

Time for our walk around the south side of the Latin Quarter along Blvd du Port Royal to Rue Claude Bernard and back, essentially circling the Val de Grace military hospital. The central part of Paris is very walkable.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Courtyard Neighbors

The only outside patio area we can claim is to open the front door and the sidelight door and position two chairs on the foyer platform. From here I, Amanda, can feel like I am on a patio in our courtyard. Actually, by our apartment, it is more of an alley... it opens out to a larger space at the back with two fenced-in private areas.

Bill has accused me of sitting in the doorway to accost our neighbors ... you know how much I like to be outside, this is the only way!

Anyway, yesterday I stood up and spoke to one of our neighbors who kept passing by with just a bonjour. I found out her name was Antoinette and her home and workshop for restoring Louis XIV wooden decorative items (frames, thermometers and barometers) was the apartment that was the last on the right.

She was excited that between her English and my French we could communicate!! She invited me to see her workshop and there I met her sister Caterine who helps her. Her mother just passed away last year and she was still missing her very much, but she also told me that she was born in the hospital just around the corner, and she lived and worked in this apartment in our courtyard her whole life. We had a great time discussing the pieces she was working on and I told her about my dining room stencils and framing that I tried to make look as old as her items! She thought that was very funny. I am hoping to get to know her better and plan on baking another pine nut apple tart tomorrow for them.

I also met our other neighbors who just moved in. They are Italian (Carlo, Eleanor and Orlando 5), but have been living in London for 13 years, they speak good English (Italian, Spanish and French also!!). Like Bill, Eleanor said they can live anywhere as her husband's job depends on the Internet. They chose France because they think the French private schools are the best in the world. They will move to a bigger house in October and the apartment they are in now will become her workshop. She does "large installation collages using black and white photography". Do I dare show them my watercolors I plan on working on?

Anyway, I feel like we have a lot in common. Who would have thought that would happen here on the other side of the globe??? This is the kind of experience we are looking for during our stay in Paris!

An Afternoon in Luxembourg Gardens

Today is why I came to Paris in the fall.

80 degrees, low humidity, cool breeze, no clouds.

It doesn't get much better than this.

I arrived at Luxembourg Gardens around 3p by myself as Amanda was off searching for tennis opportunities. I figured I would lay in the shade, read a book on my Kindle, and take in the weather and scenery. (This post and the pictures below don't remotely do justice to this place. Check out the link above for details on the full scope of this park and additional pictures.)

We had visited a couple times already since the gardens -- the largest public park in Paris -- are only 2 blocks from our apartment. This Sunday afternoon, however, the lovebirds came out (and the Sorbonne hasn't even started classes yet!). Reminded me of my early years on Landis Green at Florida State University some 30 (!) years ago.

Below is a picture from the south entrance. The grassy area is about 25x100 yards and there are additional areas on each side borderd by the same nicely groomed trees. This is the only grass which you are allowed to walk on. The shade split the green in half. I estimated several hundred people on the grass, some choosing the sunny side and some choosing the shade.

Most are young couples. Some planned correctly and dressed for the occasion. Some seemed to have just happened on the gardens, such as the women who simply took off their shirt, using their bra as a substitute for a bathing suit top.

I wandered the rest of the grounds to see where I should plant myself, which is when I realized the rest of the grass was to remain untrampled. The dirt paths were lines with metal chairs filled with mostly elderly people reading books (or sleeping with book in hand!). They were facing immaculately groomed lawns containing sculptures and flowers. But no one was on the grass itself. I thought this odd since the green areas when I entered the park were filled with people. Nontheless, as a good foreigner, despite not speaking the language, I got the hint and stayed away from any area that did not already have someone planted there.

Others (mostly older men) were playing Bocce ball, cards, or chess and the more athletically motivated were even playing tennis on the courts dotting the gardens.

You could find the children's play areas simply by following the shrieks and screams! There is certainly plenty to do for young children but they smartly moved these areas away from the peaceful areas.

One young lady even demonstrated what NOT to where to the gardens.

Having quickly explored what my options were, I smartly returned to the grassy areas that nostaligically reminded me of my college years.

And nice grass it is.

I did not have a blanket so I just sprawled out among the crowd. Nothing like the feel of cool grass on a perfect fall day. It was largely quiet and peaceful but for the low-frequency murmuring from a crowd of conversations punctured only by the occasional foreign exclamation that I could not understand. There were lots of heads in laps, lips locking, and laughter. Paris really is for lovers, I guess.

I pulled out my Kindle to read a clever book, Sum: 40 Tales From The Afterlives (Hardcover) while listening to Gato Barbieri (Passion and Fire) (I never get tired of Europa) on my iPhone and being repeatedly distracted by the lovers surrounding me.

As the day progressed and the sun moved westward, the sun-worshiper kept shifting to the smaller and smaller patch of grass, leaving the majority of the grass in the shade to the rest of us.

After a couple hours of this bliss (at my age, I have to take my pleasures in small doses), I finally returned home satisfied that I had found part of what I had come to Paris for.