In preparing for our time in Paris, we compiled a list of things we might like to see or do. This list is more like an à la carte menu rather than a schedule. When we wake to an unplanned day, we ask ourselves “what’s on the list?” Today was one of those unplanned days. In fact, most weekend days are unplanned days. We tend to do our planned events on weekdays when lines are shorter and crowds lighter. Today was looking to be cool and possibly wet. What better day to go to a garden!
The item on our list that earned our votes today was the Jardin de Plantes. This garden dates back to 1635 and Louis XIII. Originally it started as a place to study medicinal plants. The gardens are huge and quite varied. It was fascinating to see Swiss chard and fennel planted among the poppies. The color of the Swiss chard was coordinated with the poppies, the red-stemmed Swiss chard in with the red poppies and the yellow-stemmed in with the yellow poppies.
Some of the trees in this garden were planted in the 17th century. They have grown to a magnificent size, as shown in the photo below. Just for a frame of reference, my wingspan is 6 feet 6 inches. I know, your wingspan is supposed to be how tall you are. My height genes never got that memo. The alpine garden section, accessed by a tunnel under a road, was a particular favorite of ours. While the Tuileries tends to get all the press, our vote goes to the Jardin de Plantes. Its gardens are much more beautiful and the crowds are significantly smaller. That’s a winner in my book.
One of the pleasant surprises about life in Paris has been the gardens and parks. This city has done an incredible job creating green spaces in the midst of the city that everyday folk can enjoy. It’s a common occurrence to come upon a small public garden tucked into a corner or courtyard while we’re out walking in Paris. Invariably, these gardens are well kept.
On our way to the Jardin de Plantes we got our first sighting of the Yellow Vests. When we came up from the Metro station we saw folks milling about wearing yellow vests and police officers and emergency vehicles in the area. We wondered if we shouldn’t ought to turn around and head home, but we decided to press ahead. We’re glad we did. The march turned out to have been a peaceful one, with a police escort. The marchers carried a banner that read “no hate, no arms, no violence.” With all the bad press coming out of France with the Yellow Vest protests, this was a breath of fresh and peaceful air.
Another activity we had teed up for our time in Paris was the Marais Food Tour put on by Paris by Mouth. Thursday was our day for this tour. Our guide, Andres, really knew his stuff, although neither of us is quite sure what he said that prompted the reaction from Priscilla in the photo below. We started at an award-winning boulangerie, and then moved on to a chocolatier, a charcuterie, a fromagerie (cheese shop) and a pastry shop, before winding up at a wine shop for a tasting of the foods that we’d collected along the way with three different French wines. It was all delicious and was a memorable time. Andres did a great job in explaining the importance of quality ingredients and careful preparation in French foods. The French take their baguettes seriously!
There were three other couples besides us on the tour, all Americans. Now we have more food shops to return to. In fact, we’ve already been back to the boulangerie to pick up Priscilla’s pain chocolat and a baguette. It’s nice that they are a short walk from our flat. By the time we got back to our flat, it was around 7:30 p.m. We both agreed that dinner was not necessary.
One thing we’ve figured out during our first month in Paris is that if you’re going to eat out, do it at lunchtime. Most restaurants have what they call the formule, which is a set price menu with a choice of starter (the French call this course the entrée) and main meal (the French call this course the plat), or a choice of either entrée or plat and dessert. So basically you get two courses for one set price, which is usually around 16 Euros. Typically there are two entrées and plats to choose from and one dessert for the formule.
Priscilla and I prefer cozy restaurants that offer imaginative and quirky fare. We have found two favorites, Miss Lunch and Mokonuts. I’ve written before about Miss Lunch, but today was our first lunch at Mokonuts. This restaurant is run by Moko and Omar. Moko is Japanese born and U.S. raised and Omar is a Parisian of Lebanese descent. They met in NYC. A long trail that started in the corporate and legal world led them both to starting up their own restaurant in Paris. If you’re in Paris and decide to go, make a reservation. They only have 24 seats, and since they’ve been written up in The NY Times and other places, those seats fill quickly. It’s not a long wait though. We made our reservation yesterday. After making our reservation we decided to sample the baked goods Mokonuts is known for. We had coffee drinks and shared a piece of the apricot fennel tart. It was without a doubt the best dessert we’ve had so far in Paris.
I’m not going to give a complete rundown on our lunch today, but I will show a photo of the delicious white asparagus starter that Priscilla and I shared. I’d make a lousy food writer. I love enjoying good food, but I don’t care to write about it. I’d rather write about the experience. Lunch out is taken at a leisurely pace here. Our reservation today was for 12:30 p.m. We didn’t leave the restaurant until around 2. That is pretty typical. You’d best plan for a couple hours. And the good news is that no one is pressuring you to be done and gone. You’ve got your table for the lunch seating, that’s all there is to it. In fact, it’s best not to be in a hurry to pay either. They won’t hurry you, and they’d rather you not hurry them to get you your check. It’s just the way things are done around here. I quite like it.
At dinnertime, Paris restaurants move away from the formule or anything resembling prix fixe. Instead you’re ordering off the open menu, and the prices go up significantly. At lunch you might pay 16 Euros for two courses, while at dinner you’ll pay that much and more per course. So now you see why I say that eating lunch out in Paris is the best deal going. While we don’t eat lunch out every day, when we do eat out, it’s usually for lunch. We will most likely go out for lunch weekly to Miss Lunch and Mokonuts, since most restaurants change up their formule weekly.
The other major thing we did today was visit the Bibliothèque Nationale. The primary exhibit we went to see is called Manuscripts of the Extreme. The four categories in this exhibit are prison, passion, peril, and possession. The basic concept is to show writings from people who were at some extreme point in their life. Some of the scripts were written in the writer’s own blood, since they were in prison and were not afforded anything to write with. This is an incredibly powerful exhibit. None of the descriptions were written in English and there was no English guide, so Google Translate saved the day for us. We were able to translate each sign so that we had a good idea of what was being shown. For as much as I get on Google’s case, I have to hand it to them this time. Google Translate is an amazing piece of software.
By far the most moving works displayed were the movie storyboard books drawn by Jewish youth who were about to be deported to Auschwitz, where they all perished. Those booklets are so beautiful, poetic, lively, and yes, sad. They were written accordion style, so stretched out they covered the length of one entire long wall.
I will leave you today with a happier image of youth, this photo of a Parisian school group on an outing of some sort. It is surprising how many schools we come upon during our wanderings in the city. We often see groups of students out on some sort of adventure. I can’t say exactly why, but seeing groups of young students excitedly going about their days always makes me feel happy and hopeful. I guess that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
This morning we attended the riverfront Easter sunrise service of the American Church in Paris (ACP). The spire in the photo above to the left of the Eiffel Tower is that church. After the service we had breakfast at the church. During breakfast we got to know a couple who now live in Brittany since retiring, but lived in Paris for decades and attended the ACP. Ellen is originally from Green Bay and Jean-Pierre is from Brittany. They first met as pen pals back in junior high. Their lives took them different directions, but eventually they got together and were married thirty-some years ago. We really enjoyed getting to know them and hope we can get together while they are in Paris for several days. They still keep a small flat here.
After the breakfast we attended the 9 o’clock service in the sanctuary. It was a beautiful service and was definitely in the Protestant tradition. While we’ve enjoyed the services we’ve attended at the French Catholic churches here, it was nice on Easter Sunday to be able to understand everything that was being said and done. We were thrilled to have a congregation singalong of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus close out the service and Widor’s thrilling organ Tocatta as the postlude, just like back home at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
On our way back to the Metro station after the church service, we stopped to check out the beautiful park, Jardin de la Nouvelle France. This park dates back to 1859. The plantings and landscaping are so beautiful. It is a magical space. We basically had the place to ourselves at ten-thirty in the morning.
Later in the day we attended the one-year anniversary celebration of Babbaluscio, the Aligre Market stall run by our new friend, Claudia (aka Miss Lunch). We had a delicious lunch of spring rolls, egg bake, sweet potato pancakes, and baklava, along with delicious Mimosas made with fresh-squeezed orange juice and Italian Prosecco. Everything Claudia serves at Babbaluscio is vegetarian. While at the party we got to chat with Claudia’s brother-in-law, Charles, who was volunteering behind the counter, and their mutual friend from NYC, Gary, who can be seen behind Priscilla in the photo below.
All in all, it’s been a beautiful Easter Sunday and weekend. The weather here has turned warm and sunny, reaching into the mid- to upper-seventies during the day, and cooling into the fifties overnight. Perfect weather in my book. One of the delights of living in Europe is that we can leave our windows wide open on beautiful days, as you’ll see in the photo below. We’ve been fortunate to have no days of solid rain since arriving here a month ago. That’s right, today is our one-month anniversary of arriving in Paris. It’s hard to believe that our time is half done here. We are looking forward to the coming month. I hope you stay with us for the remainder of the ride.
In the past two days we’ve taken in two fine museums within walking distance from our flat, the Picasso Museum yesterday and the Henri Cartier-Bresson Museum today. The Picasso Museum is housed in what used to be a hotel. It had been closed for five years for a major renovation project, reopening in 2014. The first time we tried to visit the museum in 2009, the line was all the way down the street and it was raining, so we opted out. In 2011 we couldn’t visit due to the renovation. The third time was a charm. The crowds were light and the weather beautiful. The exhibits at the Picasso Museum are incredibly extensive. In total there are 38 rooms with work displayed. The first two floors house a joint Calder/Picasso exhibit, Calder was an American artist (primarily sculptor) who also worked in an abstract style. The upper floors of the museum are dedicated to Picasso’s works. The curation and display of the work were top notch. Priscilla and I agree that this is one of the most impressive museums we have ever visited.
While I doubt Picasso needs any introduction, Cartier-Bresson might. Henri Cartier-Bresson was one of the great photographers in the reportage style. He was a founding member of the famous Magnum photography agency. Before his death, Cartier-Bresson and his wife and photographer, Martine Franck, set up a foundation with the mission to preserve and share his work. Today we saw the photographs of Guy Tillim, in a body of work entitled “Museum of the Revolution,” and the work of Cartier-Bresson from France during 1926 - 1938. All of the work was fabulous. I could look at Cartier-Bresson’s beautiful black and white prints all day. Tillim’s huge panoramic street scenes from several post-independence African countries were amazing. I picked up a copy of Cartier-Bresson’s seminal book, “The Decisive Moment.” I’ve not been able to find this book in the States.
On our way back to our flat we stopped at a French burger joint—yes they do exist—in the Marché Enfant Rouge. That burger and beer tasted mighty darned good. As we continued on our way home, I split off to get some groceries while Priscilla lugged my Cartier-Bresson book back to the flat. I’ve gotten pretty good with my grocery-store French. I’ve also gotten to a pretty good place with the guy that runs the boutique coffee shop near us where we get our ground coffee. He professes to not having much English, but between my awful French and his slightly less awful English, we get it worked out. The ground coffee you get in the grocery stores is ground super fine for making espresso. It doesn’t work well if you’re making pour-over coffee as we are. By acting it out, I was able to communicate to our coffee guy that I wanted a coarser grind of coffee. He breaks out in a big smile now every time he sees me.
At this point I probably owe you all an explanation for why I’m shooting film on this trip. Those of you of a certain age may remember the introduction to the animated series “The Jetsons” in which George Jetson is stuck on an out-of-control treadmill, screaming “Help Jane! How do you stop this thing?” Well, that’s a bit how I was feeling with the social media treadmill. I was feeling pressure to get images shared out quickly and I was finding myself craving those likes and follows. Shooting film on this trip is my way of opting out. This ties in a bit to our decision to not post about our trip on Facebook. We didn’t want Facebook owning these memories.
The night of the Notre Dame fire, I had two cameras with me, one digital (iPhone X) and one film (Olympus OM-2s, loaded with black and white film). As I was photographing and filming the fire on my iPhone X, the thought occurred to me that I should share something about this, as it was terribly important news. So I shared one photo to Facebook just after seven o’clock local time. Then I went back to photographing and filming. I decided that it was more important that I be in the moment. The thought occurred to me that it would have been better if I’d have had my big Nikon digital camera with me that night, but it was too late for that. I was there and the fire was raging, so I shot with what I had.
Seeing the man in the photo below taking a selfie with Notre Dame burning in the background is a sign to me that things have gotten out of whack. Certainly lots of us were making photographs, but why that one man felt the need to place himself in the scene is beyond me. Just to be clear, his reaction was way outside the norm for how the French reacted that night to the tragic Notre Dame Fire. The overwhelming reaction was shock, disbelief, and deep sadness.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a diatribe against all things digital. I’m as digitally connected as the next person, and probably more so. What we are trying to do, though, is to find a happy medium, where the digital world enhances our lives rather than consuming them. Pulling away from that instant feedback loop is one key way of jumping the treadmill.
Believe it or not, we’re finally caught up with the goings on here at 24 rue Saint-Paul. I’ll try not to get so far backed up in the future. The next post will be covering Easter Sunday. We have ambitious plans to attend the sunrise service at the American Church in Paris. Priscilla doesn’t quite know how we’re going to pull that off, since we can’t seem to manage to get out of the flat before 11:30 a.m. most days.