June in Paris

Paris rooftops at dusk.

In April, after months of lockdowns and curfews, France was a-buzz with chatter about reopening. The government began to announce the slow and deliberate steps that would begin to ease us back to some semblance of a “normal” life, always with the caveat that increasing covid numbers could lead to a retraction. There was a rising sense of hopefulness, perfectly timed to coincide with spring. Thus it was that a few of us hatched a scheme to visit Paris in June.

We planned our trip around the loosening of the rules and the opening of restaurants, bars and museums. What a joy it was to arrive in the city and see the streets full of people again! Restaurants and cafés had been granted permission to use street parking spaces for outdoor dining, and everywhere we turned, there were temporary platforms filling those spaces. Some were elaborate and well-built, and included lighting and covers for shade. Others used old palettes and simple construction. It didn’t matter: people filled these outdoor eateries, hungry and maybe a little wild-eyed after seven months without places to gather with friends, share food, and tell stories.

I invite you to come along with me on the pictorial journey of my week in Paris in the hope-filled spring of 2021.

Outdoor dining

When we arrived in Paris, there was only outdoor dining, with rules about well-spaced seating, which were not always followed, as you’ll see below. There was still a mandate for wearing masks both indoors and outdoors in all public spaces, so the masks didn’t come off until we were seated at a table. And there was still a 9:00 pm curfew. By week’s end, the curfew had shifted to 11:00 pm, there was some minimal indoor seating, and we still had the masks.

A long-held and classic image of Paris during the warmer months is people filling the cafés, and that was, if possible, even more true during our June visit. It was delightful to see, and a heart-rush of joy to be seated at one of those tables!

Food and drink

It’s hard to talk about Paris without talking about food. We ate well.

Our first night in town, Olivier brought a bottle of champagne to get the week started properly. Several times during our visit, we enjoyed gin and tonics to get the evening started.
Left, part of my dinner at Issy Guinguette, a surprise vineyard in the midst of a busy commercial region on the outskirts of the city. Right, we all wore pink—unplanned—to dinner at Mensae, a fabulous restaurant in the 19th that specializes in fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
Left, the raspberry croissant from Bo & Mie looks mouth-wateringly perfect. Right, the ancient wall and decorative grill in one bakery provided a lovely backdrop for that day’s temptation.
Popelini makes little morsels of delight called choux (cream puffs). They look exactly like something I wouldn’t eat for being far too sweet, but these from Popelini aren’t as sugary as I expected. The flavors—chocolate, coffee, lemon, raspberry rose, pistachio, etc.—are authentic and complex. The pastry has just the right delicate crunch. Incomparable.
At Fruttini, they flash-freeze pieces of fruit, then hollow them out. The pulp is used to make a fresh, delicious sorbet-like dessert, which is placed back into the frozen shell, and then served. We had lemons, pear, rhubarb with strawberry, and strawberries with chocolate and nuts. Yum!

Museums and cool buildings

Like the restaurants and bars, museums hadn’t been open since October. There was a rush to get in, and because they’re all indoor spaces, the number of visitors was quite limited. Reservations were a must.

We visited the Musée Maillol to see the excellent exhibit on Albert Uderzo, the illustrator who partnered with author René Goscinny to create the brilliant series of Asterix and Obelix books. Beloved by generations of both children and adults, the original series comprises 33 titles, 380 million books sold, and 116 languages. In the panel at the upper left, we see that Asterix sings with great enthusiasm, if little talent; the musical notes are running to get away!
The Bourse de Commerce (commodities exchange) got its start in 1763 under Louis XV with an open-air circular structure used for trading wheat. In 1888-89, there was a major reconstruction, and a copper dome from 1811 was replaced with a glass dome atop a huge painted canvas depicting European colonization. Shortly after WWII, the city sold the building, and in 2016 the billionaire François Pinault signed a long-term lease to remodel the building to house his extensive collection of contemporary art. The Bourse de Commerce opened its doors in May. Above right is a sculpture by Urs Fischer, under the rotunda. It’s modeled after Giambologna’s “Abduction of the Sabine Women” (1581-83), and is made entirely of wax. It is, in fact, a giant candle that was lit when The Bourse opened its doors. You can see where wax has melted away parts of the upper figure. The sculpture will have disappeared by the time the current exhibit closes in December.
The Samaritaine department store was built in 1905-10, toward the end of the Art Nouveau movement. The façade was decorated with colorful ceramic panels with the name of the store, plus smaller signs listing some of the many categories of goods available for sale in the store. “Travail” refers to clothing and perhaps supplies for workers. The store was purchased by luxury goods company LVMH in 2001, and was closed in 2005. After many years of work, along with conflicts with permits, La Samaritaine reopened its doors just after we were there. I’ve long admired its Art Nouveau exterior, and I’m glad the building was saved.
The lovely Chagall ceiling in the auditorium of the Palais Garnier, or Opéra Garnier.

I’ve wanted to visit the Opéra Garnier for a long time. We were in Paris too soon for a guided tour of the building, but I learned one morning that it was open to the public for self-guided tours, which essentially meant that we were cut loose to wander around on our own.

The Paris opera was founded in 1669 during the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King. It has had many homes. The Palais Garnier, as it came to be called, was built at the request of Emperor Napoleon III, from 1861-75. When the new Opéra Bastille opened in 1989, the opera moved to that location, and the Palais Garnier is now used primarily for ballets.

Left, the Grand Foyer is a gilded confection of chandeliers, mirrors, sculptures, and a complex series of ceiling paintings by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry which depict the history of music. Right, part of a celestial ceiling in a small side room.
The auditorium of the Palais Garnier, with its remarkably huge stage. I was lucky to see it with the lights on, which enabled me to photograph Chagall’s ceiling above, as well as to see stagehands swapping out a set and preparing for a new production.

Seen about town

Interesting things spotted during a week of walking in Paris.

One evening we went to 38Riv, two levels below ground in a medieval building, to hear a lively young jazz trio, appropriately named The Young Trio. The place was perhaps more full of people than the covid rules suggested, and it was absolutely hopping with great music.
The Abbesses entrance to the Paris métro is one of my favorites, and one of two originals remaining. The iron-and-glass canopy dates to over 100 years ago. Below is a close-up of the Art Nouveau decorative tiles on the walls of the stairway down into the station.
Giant teddy bears (nounours in French) arrived in Paris around 2018, and became an internet sensation. With the covid pandemic, the bears were given a new task: to enforce social distancing by sitting in select café chairs and restaurant booths. Photo by Sophie Nadeau.
People started driving around the city with the bears in their vehicles, and one day we were treated to a nounours parade: several Cadillacs from around 1955, packed with giant teddy bears and cruising the streets of Paris, bringing inordinate joy to onlookers!
Abstracts from the street.
Old and new juxtaposed in an abstract view of a stairwell in the Bourse.
The message has been ubiquitous around the world, but we can count on Parisians to deliver the words with artistic flair.
Street artist JR installed a giant canyon beneath the Eiffel Tower, and we thought it would be fun to for each of us to pose as if we were falling off the ledge.

Seeing Dots: the Tour de France

The grocery store chain Leclerc sponsors the polka dot jersey for the Tour de France. This is the jersey that is awarded to the rider who is the best climber in the mountains. The Leclerc truck pulled into town and handed out masses of polka dot T-shirts, guaranteeing that we’d all be seeing dots for the day.

I was coming home from some errands when I saw the sign posted at the edge of the big roundabout outside of town. On July 9, the road to Aigues-Vives would be closed due to the Tour de France.

Well, here was an interesting piece of information! I knew I had to figure out how to see it. I did a little asking around and checked in with friends; web sites were searched to determine the exact route through our corner of France. We ended up being a group of five who drove a few miles up the road to Aigues-Vives to watch Stage 13 of the 2021 Tour de France.

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Spring wrap-up

Going to the birds

I never paid much attention to birds until we moved to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. There, living in a smaller town surrounded by nature, I fell in love with the amazing breadth of avian life, and a pair of binoculars had a permanent home in the kitchen window. When I sold the house, I wrote up several pages of notes about it for the new owners; at least half was about the birds.

Moving to another country on another continent has plenty of challenges, and it took me a while to realize the effect of not knowing the local birds. I’ve struggled to put this feeling into words. Suffice it to say that I’ve been walking around here for nearly four years with a vague sense of unease, of not fully belonging, in part because I don’t know who the birds are.

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Les Lalanne : the blending of artistic skill, nature and humor

Patinated steel rhinoceros by François-Xavier Lalanne, Rhinocéros, 1981-86

Going to an auction
It happened in the Before Times. It was October 2019 BT. (I could say “BC” for Before Covid, but BC was already taken.) Anyway, my sister-in-law Kathy had a business trip to Paris, and I had arranged to meet her there for a few days. It turned out to be a brief but astonishing voyage of discovery.

Kathy was in Paris to attend a two-day Sotheby’s auction of selected works of the sculptors Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne. She was already well along in the planning of an exhibit of their work for the museum where she works, The Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and she had good reasons for being present at the auction.

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One fine spring day

The village of Vieussan clings to its perch in the foreground. Behind it is the mass of Mont Caroux (the Sleeping Lady) in the Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc.

A lovely day in this corner of paradise
Saturday, 3 April was our last day of freedom in France— our third covid lockdown was looming. The weather was fine, and a small group of us decided to have a day trip, driving nearly two hours to begin our adventure in the hamlet of Douch, situated north of us in the sprawling Parc Naturel Régional du Haut-Languedoc.

Before putting our boots on the trail, we were enticed by the hamlet, built entirely of local stone. We spent a happy half-hour strolling past ancient structures, some in perfect condition, others showing the effects of time and gravity with warps and dips and missing stones. Douch is a place right out of a fairy tale.

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Historic photos of Carnaval

English version. La version française suit.

This year is a little different
Thanks to the pandemic, there are no events with crowds of people who are singing, dancing, drinking, kissing each other, and generally having a wonderful time together, and that includes Carnaval. It seems like the perfect opportunity for me to offer a brief look at the last century of celebrating Carnaval in Bize.

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