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.

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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Pedometer for a year

Much has been written about seeing 2020 fully in the rearview mirror, and I don’t have much new to add, which has left me pondering just what to do with this January blog post.

As the year was lurching to a close, I spent close to six weeks not being able to walk much, and since walking is my primary exercise, I was eager to get my feet back onto the trail. That happened a few weeks ago, and I’ve been racking up the kilometers as much as time and weather permit. On one such walk, it occurred to me that I could tell a story of 2020 through some of my walks of the past year.

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Old stone walls

Where there is rocky soil, there will be stone walls. I don’t know why, but I love these things that are built of stones. I have enough photographs for at least two stories, and this first one is to introduce you to some of the walls and other structures near where I live. Nearly every day, I pass one or another of these sites as I walk around the hills.

Before there were machines, anyone who wanted to farm the soil had to first do the hard work of removing the larger rocks. By hand.

You can picture it: there is a plot of land that someone would like to plant with food crops. The land is rocky, which makes farm work difficult, so the first chore is to remove all those rocks. The whole family spends as much time as it takes—days, weeks, months, a lifetime—to move the rocks away from the field. As time passes, there are growing piles of stones at the edges of the field.

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The smell of fresh-baked bread

Cauduro Fresh Loaves
Can you smell it? Warm, freshly-baked bread cools on racks right after being taken from the ancient bread oven.

Nine hours of bread: part one
We began the day with a drive that climbed high into the hills north of town, taking increasingly tiny roads and finally arriving at the hamlet of Cauduro for their bread feast. I have a weakness for tiny roads and secrets to be discovered, and this day’s outing was a dandy example.

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Il Palio, Part 2

I closed the last post by saying that the world of the Siena contradaioli (the members of the various contrade) is almost entirely focused on the two days a year on which there’s a horse race, which today is referred to as the Palio, or in Italian, “Il Palio.” Now it’s time to learn more about the Palio itself.

It’s all about the horses! From left, a piece of street art in Siena; a horse on an Etruscan tombstone; a copper weathervane.


Continue reading “Il Palio, Part 2”