Friday, October 9, 2009

The Self-Cleaning Toilet Seat

Last night, Brittain and Brandon treated us to an exquisite dinner at La Truffiere in the Latin Quarter (review upcoming).

During dinner, Brittain returned from the bathroom with a wide-eyed look of astonishment. She wouldn't tell us exactly what it was but said we had to check out the bathroom.

Hmmm...

This is a very small fine dining restaurant with maybe 8 tables upstairs and 10 downstairs. How big or nice can the bathrooms actually be? Paris restaurants are not in the habit of using up valuable dining space to make room for toilets which are usually tucked away in some obscure cellar.

She wasn't talking about big or nice. She was talking about the toilet. More specifically, the toilet seat.

The seat is self-cleaning.

At the appropriate time (how is that for delicate phrasing?), an arm juts out slightly from behind the toilet seat, latches onto the back of the seat and then rotates the seat 360 degrees, cleaning it in the process for the next, uh, customer to sit on.

This is the video Brandon took using my iPhone.

video

Got My Paris Prince Tickets

As I explained in my previous post, Prince made a sudden decision on Tuesday that he wanted to have a concert in the Grand Palais on Sunday. They are calling it "All Day, All Night."

I showed up at FNAC on Rue de Rennes at 8:58a this morning. It was an easy 15 minute walk on a 60 degree overcast gray morning.

I was number 23 in line on the sidewalk. Yes, I counted.

The website said the store opened at 9a.

Wrong.

It actually opens at 10a, which is also when the tickets go on sale (internet sales begin at 11a), so I waited in line on the sidewalk until 10 when we were let in and we filed down the stairs (tickets sales are always in the basement for some reason) to the ticket counter.

I got to the cashier at 10:20 and asked for my options.

First, they only allow two tickets per person.

Second, there were two times: 5p and 10p.

Third, there were two kinds of tickets: floor (i.e. standing) for 99 EUR or seats for 149 EUR.

I wanted 5p but seats were sold out already so I took floor.

Brittain and Brandon leave Sunday morning. My daughters arrive Sunday morning.

I am going to Prince at 5p.

I don't know what my daughters are going to do.

Oh well.

Check back on Sunday night. I may have pictures, audio and maybe even video posted before the 10p show even kicks off!

Oh, by the way, they already had a poster for the concert on the wall at FNAC but I can't find it on the internet.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Prince in Paris

Get this. Prince made an impromptu decision on Tuesday while attending a fashion show in the Grand Palais that he wanted to do a concert there..... on Sunday. Click here for story)

That's right.

He brought his production team in on Wednesday and, on four days notice, will be performing two shows at 5p and 10p.

Tickets go on sale tomorrow (Friday) at 10a in stores and 11a on the internet. It looks like there will be 4500-5000 tickets per show at 60 EUR.

The Grand Palais is where I thought Elton John was going to be playing, only to find out it was at the Palais des Congres instead. Well, now there is going to be a concert there.

I'll let you know if I get tickets tomorrow.

Crazy.

Official Update on FNAC

More on the On-line Prince Fan Community Website

Avenue Montaigne the Movie

Last week I posted about Roman Polanski living on Avenue Montaigne, the most expensive residential address in France, which runs from Champs Elysees to the Seine River. (For an official guide of the street, click here.)

After visiting the special Renoir exhibit in the Grand Palais yesterday, Amanda and I walked down Avenue Montaigne again, this time during the day when all the high fashion shops were open. The Avenue also features several jewelry shops including Harry Winston (which was robbed last December of €80 million in jewels last December) as well as the beautiful luxury hotel Plaza Athénée. At the end of the street (closest to river) is the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

This is a view of the street from near Champs Elysees. You can see the top of the Eiffel Tower in the distance.




Plaza Athénée hotel with red geraniums covering the front.





This is a wide-angle view from the end of the street, with the theatre on the right and the Eiffel Tower in the distance.




Perhaps the most modest building on the street is the Bar des Théâtres across the street from the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. As this reviewer accurately characterizes, it is "a good old-fashioned brasserie providing traditional cuisine: good quality, no-frills, and nothing out of the ordinary." Apparently it specializes in steak tartare.

The brasserie is featured in the 2006 light, romantic French movie Avenue Montaigne (Avenue Montaigne is the English title; it is called Fauteuils d'Orchestre in France, which means Orchestra Seats). (Note: The movie is in French, with English subtitles.)

After our late night visit down Avenue Montaigne last week, I mentioned the movie to Amanda after reading about it on the internet. Valérie Lemercier was awarded a César Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance. The film also received a shortlist nomination for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It gets a 6.9 (out of 10) customer rating on IMDB.

She rented it from the "Videosphere" at the end of our street and said much of the movie was actually filmed on location, which was one of the reasons we revisited it yesterday.

The basic plot of the movie:

Jessica, raised by her grandmother, comes to Paris and gets a job at a bar across from a performance complex where a play, a concert, and an art auction will occur the same evening. It's a world in flux: the play's star wants off a popular TV soap that's made her rich, and she covets the lead in a film about de Beauvoir and Sartre; the pianist hates the concert circuit, but his wife who's his manager may leave him if he quits; a self-made widower with a girlfriend less than half his age is selling his collection of modern art - his son, a professor, objects to his father's love life. The stage manager at the complex is resigning after 30 years. Jessica sets the tone for how it all plays out.

The "bar" is the Bar des Théâtres and the "performance complex" is the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

We had lunch at the bar (my typical risk-free Poulet Roti - Roast Chicken) with a seat by the window on the sidewalk so as to watch the people (one of my favorite Paris activities).

Here I am standing in front of the brasserie.




Knowing that we would be walking down the toniest street in all of Paris and that Amanda would want to visit some of the high-end fashion stores, I wore my favorite orange plaid shorts with blue Tommy Bahama silk shirt. While this is apparently quite fashionable in the States (I wouldn't know, I just wear what Amanda tells me to), in Paris where everyone wears blacks and solids (the subject for a future post!), I knew I would look positively silly. Sure enough, Amanda refused to let me accompany her into any of the shops.

Yes! My strategy worked. :)

Don't forget to rent the movie. Here's the trailer:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Almost Gwyneth Paltrow (or Whitney Houston) Sighting

Today, Brittain and Brandon visited Place Vendôme, just north of the Tuileries Gardens.

They noticed a lot of paparazzi outside the front entrance to the Ritz Hotel which is located on the western side of Place Vendome. (In fact, it was this same entrance where paparazzi were waiting for Princess Diana the night she died, prompting her to exit via a back door on Rue Cambon. The rest of course is history.)

They waited for about 15 minutes before finally leaving.

She asked me at dinner if anyone important was staying at the Ritz. I quickly Googled news about "Ritz Hotel Paris" today and found the following:

Making the most of her time in Paris, France, Gwyneth Paltrow was spotted leaving the Ritz Hotel for some afternoon fun today (October 6).

Brit was so ticked! :)

PS Then again it could have been Whitney Houston leaving the Ritz. She arrived at the Ritz yesterday, apparently to check out the fashion shows.

Paris Break Dancers

One of the benefits (or curses?) of visiting a large city like Paris is running into street performers. Sometimes it is a musician in the metro or in front of a cafe, or a painter on the street, or a comedian near a monument.

Other times it is break dancers in a plaza performing pretty impressive gymnastic dance routines.

(Of course, the hope for all of these "entertainers" is that you will throw a few coins in the hat at the end of the performance.)

Brittain took a few videos of some break dancers last week. I think you will find them pretty entertaining. The first one is almost 5 minutes long but it is worth waiting to the end to see the guy slide across the pavement on his head (ok, he did have a helmet on but it was still pretty crazy).

video

The other two are at the Trocadero across the river from the Eiffel Tower (which you can see in the first video at the end as the dancer slides into the group photo of some Indian tourists -- the photog was not amused) and are 70 and 39 seconds long, respectively.

video
video

Monday, October 5, 2009

Rainy Day (Week?) in Paris

We have been blessed with awesome weather through our first 7 weeks with highs typically in the 70s, lows in the 50s, and generally clear skies with a few overcast days. And we have avoided rain other than a few scattered showers here and there.

We woke up this morning (actually, this afternoon!) after our weekend gauntlet of Elton John, Nuit Blanche, the horse race, and Green Day to rain.

And the forecast appears to be for more of the same through most of the week.

Good time to visit museums I guess.

Green Day Concert

I have a simple solution to the obesity crisis in our secondary schools:

Require attendance at a 2-hour Green Day concert 3 times a week.

The combination of arm waving, hand clapping, fist thrusting, finger pointing, and moshing and jumping will whip them into shape by the time they graduate. Of course, they will also be permanently hearing-impaired and maybe even a little bruised.

Green Day played at Bercy (officially Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy or POPB) Sunday night to a packed indoor arena of 18,000 crazy fans.





They started a few minutes after 8p and finished almost exactly 2 intense hours later. The set list can be found here.

We had floor tickets and the original plan was to see how close we could get to the stage. We got to about 100 ft when the concert started and it became immediately clear that we would be risking some serious bruising and maybe a few loose elbows to the face if we tried to work our way forward so we stayed back a little, which also made it a little easier for Amanda to see.

Although the music was loud, it was clean and therefore bearable.

Billie Joe Armstrong (can you really have a rock star named Billie Joe?), the lead singer singer, guitarist, and songwriter for the group was an interesting character. From the looks of his painted squirrel-face, he may even be the lead make-up artist also.

Early on he complimented Paris for being the most beautiful city in Europe, having toured here since 1994, and repeatedly proclaimed Merci beaucoup!.

He also worked the crowd as if he were conducting them, frequently prompting them to respond to some gesture or guitar lick or vocal question.

On several occasions he lifted fans onto the stage to lead the crowd in singing one of the songs. One guy kissed him on the lips. A girl literally threw up which necessitated a changing of the microphone for Billie Joe! Three or four of the guys threw themselves into the crowd after finishing, although security was in strong force to keep moshing to a minimum.

Because many people in the front risk heat exhaustion due to the exertion and density of the crowd, Armstrong sprayed the crowd down with power water guns attached to a hose on two or three occasions.

One time he even mooned the crowed, although I have no idea what that was about.

Typically bands play their new stuff at the beginning before moving on to their more popular older songs, which is what the crowd usually wants to hear. In Amanda's case, she just bought their new album and that was about all she knew. As a result, she loved the first part of the concert since they played familiar songs but was pretty lost on the second half, which was the exact opposite experience for most of the crowd.

The energy level was even greater than Coldplay last month (although I probably preferred Coldplay) but an enclosed arena of 18,000 lends itself to that more than an open stadium of 50,000.

A few pics of the concert are below as well as one 10-minute video clip from my iPhone. Another blogger has reviewd the concert here and you can see many other videos from the same concert on YouTube.






video

Off to the Races (Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe)

The biggest horse race in Europe was on Sunday and we were there.

The Qatar Prix l'Arc de Triomphe was held at the Longchamps Hippodrome in Bois de Boulogne, a large green space -- slightly larger than Central Park in NYC -- on the west side of Paris (very close to Roland Garros, the site for the French Open of tennis).

After a very late night at Nuit Blanche (see previous post), we were up by 10a with less than 5 hours sleep and took the metro to the Porte d'Auteuil station, where they had buses organized to take us to the track. We arrived a little after noon.

On the way there, I discovered there were 9 races on the card, with the first starting at 1:15p. However, the only one anyone cared about was the 6th race at 4:15p -- the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Each race had its own unique name.

The purses for the other races ranged from 58K EUR to 450K EUR. However, the purse for the big race was 4 million EUR with almost 2.3 million EUR going to the winner. That is about $3.5 million.

The racetrack is very nice although not overwhelmingly impressive. I suspect they create the impression it is much bigger on TV, where 30 million people will be watching the big race.

The entry was only 8 EUR but we never paid, not that we didn't intend to. We just kept following the lines and the next thing we knew we were in and there was no place to buy tickets.

General admission gets you to the lower concrete bleachers with reserved (and expensive) seating on the tiers above with VIP seating in the middle right in front of the finish line. Since we apparently got there early, we plopped down on the second row with plenty of room. That would change by 4:15 however.

There are some differences between this track and those used for the American Triple Crown races. First, the track is grass not dirt. Second, the horses run clockwise, not counter clockwise. Third, the track is not oval and it actually has a hill on the far turn.

The track actually allows for different length races due to its flexible configuration. The races generally start at point D and finish at point A in front of the two sets of grandstands. The thick line represents the 2400 meter (1.5 miles approximately) of the big race but you can see thinner lines that represent different tracks that could be taken. The 9 races varied from 1000m to 1400m to 1600m to 2000m to 2400m to 4000m, each requiring a different path around the track (and in one case a slightly different finish line).



Betting on the horses was allowed but we did not bother. I knew nothing about any of the horses, or their owners. We were there to simply experience the event. Although we usually pulled for the American horses.

Here are a few pics of the racetrack and where we sat:












There were large video screens just across the track that allowed you to follow the race when the horses were on the far side (which seemed a LONG way away... you could barely see the horses, let alone tell who was leading). This is a picture from the first race as the horses passed in front of the video screen maybe 100 yards from the finish line.




Each race is spaced about 30 minutes apart. During this time, they perform the awards ceremony (which we can watch on the video screen), the Welsh marching band marches down the track again, the maintenance crew repairs the divots, some lady on a horse rides up and down the track... I had no idea who she was but the horse was pretty.






They even interviewed Bo Derek. How do I know it is Bo Derek (I didn't know at the time)? Because of this.




While we waited for the big race at 4:15p, we sipped on Moet champagne and ate sandwiches.

And I took pictures of the ladies' hats.

Fancy hats are just as much a horse racing tradition in Europe as they are in the States, apparently. Check out my slideshow of the various hats I was able to get pictures of:

video

This chick didn't need a hat.




For other hat pictures from other bloggers at the race click here and here.

Finally, it was time for the big race. As you can see, it was a teensy bit more crowded than when we arrived.




I decided to position myself right next to the media section on the finish line which also is located directly in front of the VIP stands. The cameraman stationed on the finish line saw me and started pointing his camera at me while I took a picture of him. We were laughing at each other. For all I know, I was on TV in front of 30 million people. The arrow to his right is pointing to the finish line.




One person said they thought President Sarkozy would appear (which proved to be false). Nonetheless I figured I would take a few pics of the VIP boxes and figure out later if anyone significant was there.




As it turns out, I got a little bit lucky.

First, there was this absolutely stunning woman being interviewed for TV. I had no idea who she was but I wasn't the only person watching. Perhaps she owned a horse or was married to someone who owned a horse or maybe she was just a date. Who knew? Well, I do now. She is supermodel Tasha de Vasconcelos. She is also the first and last picture in my slideshow of hats. I unknowingly was walking behind her when we first entered the racetrack and she was the first "hat" I took a picture of. It was only later when going through my hat pictures that I realized it was the same person.





Second, I had briefly chatted with an older distinguished looking gentleman at the beginning of the day down where the horses enter the racetrack. It was just me and him watching and I asked if this was where the horses come through and he simply said yes. Then he leaned against the fence and closed his eyes like he was meditating or something.

I assumed he must either have a large bet on a horse or was himself an owner of one of the horses and was feeling the stress. Well, it turns out I saw him in the front row of the VIP section (middle of the right section) with an unknown lady and I decided to take pictures of him during the big race (since I couldn't see the horses till the end anyway). As the horses came around the final turn, he got more animated.





I later found out his name is Alain Delon, a very famous French actor looking quite good at 74 with his unknown female companion of many years younger. It was through this link that I discovered who he was. He apparently was the most famous person there other than perhaps Rachida Dati (Minister of Justice, Mayor of the 7th Arrondissement of Paris, and member of European Parliament) who was spotted with Alain Delon earlier but I couldn't find her. I never saw Bo Derek in the stands.

Anyway, there was a horse race I believe.

As it ended I took a series of quick pictures as the horses raced across the finish line that I have assembled in this quick slideshow. You can't actually make out the horses' identities -- they are just blurs.

video

The favorite, Sea the Stars, won to complete an undefeated career of 6 wins. The horse is apparently considered the best in the world. You can read all the details in this MSNBC story about the race. Some are claiming he may be the greatest racing horse ever and may put that claim to the test at next month's Santa Anita Breeder's Cup in California.

Wow. I never knew I was witnessing perhaps the greatest horse in all of history. I didn't even get a good look at him.

Finally, I would be remiss -- even though this post is ridiculously long -- if I didn't say something about the amazing poster that promoted this race. The photographer and graphic designer Rick Guest created the image of horses of light emerging from shadows. According to the translation of this article, "The Light Painting - synthetically, it is very long expose the object to be photographed in a dark environment while incorporating several light sources in motion, and keep on rendering the final traces of light." I don't know exactly what all that means but the poster is tres cool.

Nuit Blanche 2009

Nuite Blanche (literally, White Night) is an all night art festival, starting at 7p and ending at 7a. The official site is www.nuitblanche2009.com.

We had been looking forward to this night for some time, expecting quite an amazing party. Unfortunately, it was mostly a fizzle for us. You can read another review here as well as Parisian Spring's experience (one of the blogs I link to in the right column).

The event was located in the Latin Quarter (arr 5 and 6), Marais (arr 3 and 4), and Buttes Chaumont on the northwest side of Paris (arr 17 and 18). We intended to stick with central paris (arr 3-6).

On the plus side, it was a perfect night to be out... moderate temperature, relatively clear skies and a full moon.

First, we visited Val de Grace church around the corner. Access is usually only allowed if you buy a ticket to the adjacent museum of army medicine, which we had not done, but was free during the festival.

The church (built in the mid-17th century by order of Queen Anne, wife of Louis XIII, in gratitude to the Virgin Mary for the birth of her son Louis XIV after 23 years of infertility) is considered the best example of Baroque architecture in all of Paris. See later post for more details and pictures.

We proceeded to several art exhibits nearby at the Ecole Normale Superieure on rue d'Ulm.

One, titled Captive Bird Society, was in the courtyard of the school and featured 6 turntables on pedestals, each playing a 78 rpm recording of bird sounds. The artist Margarita Gluzberg slowly walks from pedestal to pedestal changing the records to create a continuously evolving symphony of singing birds.




We walked a few blocks down the road to the Pantheon, hoping it would be open also (normally 8 EUR to enter) but it was closed.

We then stopped at a couple restaurants in front of the Pantheon to eat dinner but they were full and the wait was at least 30 minutes so we walked the few minutes over to Luxembourg Gardens to see their exhibits including The Mistress of the Eiffel Tower which involved a large disco ball suspended from a crane. There was only one entrance open and they were apparently controlling the number allowed in as the line stretched 5 deep for several hundred yards around the outside fence.

We tried to eat at a restaurant across the street but after waiting over 20 minutes for service we left and finally settled, much to Amanda's dismay, for The Moose, my favorite little Canadian Pub.

After dinner we returned to Luxembourg Gardens and the lines were just as long so we continued up Blvd St Michel towards the river and checked out an exhibit -- after a 20 minute wait in line -- at the Museum of the Middle Ages at the intersection with Blvd St Germain. It was a short film titled It Feels Cold Today. I still have no idea what it was about but at least I got to lay down on the cold hard stone floor to watch it.

After grabbing a beer and resting at the Taverne de Cluny, we walked over to the nearby Church of Ste-Séverin, where a musical exhibit The Forty Part Motet was playing. The artist had arranged 40 speakers in an oval in the middle of the church with each speaker spreading the voice of an individual singer so it was as if you were standing in the middle of 40 singers. This picture shows the people congregated inside the array of speakers (which you can see if you look carefully... I had to lighten the picture a lot). You can also see from the clock below the organ pipes that it is almost 2:30a at this point...we were getting a little tired!




I also recorded a 3 minute segment. Pretty cool actually.



From there, we crossed the river to Notre Dame which had an odd light exhibit. Various rather large plastic crystal objects of varying colors were placed in the "rooms" along the side of the church (there is a technical church architecture term for them... I just can't think of it at the moment), casting unusual flourescent shades on the religous artifacts. I thought it strange that the Catholic Church would allow this but, then again, the Church does not technically own Notre Dame -- the government does and they just let the Church use it so I guess the French/Paris government allowed the crystal lighting.

These are some of the interesting color pics. They almost seem sacriligious don't they?








At this point it was well after 3a and, while we had seen a few interesting exhibits and enjoyed each other's company over food and drink, there was not any music or bands or partying in general. Most of the "art" was rather inscrutable.

Amanda decided she was ready to go home only to discover that the RER B was not open at 3:30a -- we had thought all the lines were open all night -- so she had to walk the 20 or so minutes back to the apartment. I got a text message from her at 3:30a saying that the line for Luxembourg Gardens was still the same!

Brittain, Brandon and I walked over to the right bank, actually considering exploring the exhibits in Marais. We got as far as the Needle Woman in Paris at Hotel de Ville (now City Hall), which was the location of a video of a woman standing tall and straight in the middle of a pedestrian sidewalk as everyone navigates around her. It was broadcast against the wall of the massive building. I didn't take a picture but found one here:



At this point, we wanted something to eat again but everything was closed except a couple of street vendors. We realized if we ventured further into the right bank that we would be getting farther from home and we weren't particularly optimistic about seeing anything more interesting. We also had to be up early!

We walked back across the Pont d'Arcole to Ile de la Cite where we could see Ile St Louis to our left and saw some funny lights on Pont St Louis, the short bridge that connects the two islands. We walked along the bank to get closer (and also see if we could find a place to eat) and realized that this was one of the projects by Samsung - modular LED displays stacked in columns.

The first pic is from Pont d'Arcole walking from the right bank to Ile de la Cite with Ile St Louis to the left (east). You can see the blue lights on the Pont St Louis. The second picture is a closer view. As you can see, the colors have changed. In fact, they were continuously pulsing.





At this point, we decided to call it a night and get a cab to take us home, except.... there were no cabs to be found at 4:30a so we walked back and got to bed a little after 5a just in time to catch 5 hours sleep before continuing the rest of our crazy weekend at the races.

All in all not what we expected. We would do it again but plan differently. Instead of trying to see everything, we would pick out the best exhibits and take our time and just have fun.

What's funny though is that in writing this post, it seems like we did a lot and saw a lot of interesting exhibits and projects but it didn't feel like that at the time because it was spread out over 8 hours of walking.