Friday, September 30, 2011

Rue Cler

It's been unseasonably sunny and warm in Paris the last couple of weeks and today was possibly the most gorgeous day we've had since we arrived. So while the kids were in school we decided to walk to Rue Cler, across the Seine, one of the best known (or perhaps just trendiest) market streets in Paris.

We started at the Arc de Triomphe and went down Avenue Marceau, passing in front of the St. Pierre de Chaillot church, which is not as old as it looks, then over the Seine on the Pont de l'Alma. The statue of the Zouave (a title given to certain light infantry regiments in the French Army) on one of the bridge’s piers is used to measure the Seine's water levels: when the water hits Zouave's thighs, the river is unnavigable; during the great flood of the Seine in 1910, the level reached his shoulders.

Bridges are, of course, for getting from one side of the river to the other, but bridges in Paris are also great for stopping, looking around, enjoying the views, breathing in the city, and just being fully in the moment. The Pont de l'Alma is not one of the nicer Paris bridges, but it does offer great views of the Debilly footbridge and the imposing Dame de Fer farther downriver.

After taking pictures, we walked down Avenue Bosquet, named in honor of a famous Marshal of France during the Crimean War. You get another impressive view of the Eiffel Tower from this street.

Rue Cler is just off Avenue Bosquet, as you turn left at the American University of Paris. It's a short pedestrian street that's lined with all the essential shops that end with 'ie'—boulangerie, patisserie, fromagerie, boucherie, fruiterie, chocolaterie—as well as a few nice cafes and restaurants where locals meet. We ended up having lunch in Tribeca, one of the busy cafés on the street. We had read a good review, and although not fancy, from what we could see from the street it looked good. We both had the Confit de canard, a perfect lunch on a perfect day.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Maman was here

My mother arrived from Colombia last week and today, a week after her arrival, we said goodbye to her. She's on her way to Spain. As they say here, we wish her bonne continuation.

Everyone enjoyed her company and we're really grateful she came to see us. The kids wasted not time and on her first day here hit her up for toys at the local joueterie.

Maman kept us busy, and we will especially remember the nice outing on the left bank in which we trust we did not make her walk too much. Over the weekend we were also graced with my niece Laura's presence and all of us enjoyed a wonderful lunch at Le Soufflé (but next time let's let the taxi driver decide the best way to get there), a very nice violin concert at the Sainte Chapelle—the beautiful medieval royal chapel built in the mid-1200s by Louis IX of France (Saint Louis) as part of the Palais de la Cité (now the Conciergerie)—famous for its stunning stained glass windows, and our farewell lunch at the great brasserie near the apartment.

I'm sure she won't forget the day at the Jardin d'Acclimation, which used to be a zoo that opened in Paris in 1860 as the Jardin Zoologique d'Acclimatation. During the Siege of Paris (1870-1871), many of the animals in the zoo were eaten. Today the Jardin is an old-fashioned children's amusement park and small zoo, a couple of small roller coasters, a puppet theater, and more. But it was especially noisy that day, and it ended up being a bit too much for my mother.

And I will never forget the “delicious” Pot au Feu en Salade I ordered at the Chez Clément nearby (note to self: do not return to Chez Clément), which I did not expect to consist of a cold, thick, stiff piece of beef and celery, leek, carrot, pickles, white onion, half a hard boiled egg and who knows what else. Pot au Feu is a French stew, but I failed to read on the menu that it was served as a salad... a right-out-of-the-freezer salad. Even in France food can sometimes go wrong.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Hôtel de Ville

"Hôtel de Ville" means City Hall, or Mayor's Office. Every municipality in France has its hôtel de ville—although not nearly as nice as the one in Paris. As part of the Heritage Days program, where during one weekend in September people have the opportunity to visit usually off-limit places in Paris, we had the chance to visit the Hôtel de Ville.

In the mid-1500s King Francis I decided to build a city hall worthy of Paris. It was designed in the Renaissance style, and was only fully completed in the early 1600s, during the reign of Louis XIII. In 1835 the two wings were added to the main building. The building was destroyed by fire in 1871 during the Paris Commune and was rebuilt in its original style.

Hundreds of statues of famous Parisians decorate the building's facades. Ornate sculptures representing the Seine River, the city of Paris, Work, and Education, adorn the clock at the top of the central tower. Out in front, on both sides of the ceremonial door under the clock, are two other stunning sculptures, allegorical figures of Art and Science. In my opinion it's one of the most beautiful and sumptuous buildings in Paris.

The interior is equally magnificent (the building is also used as a venue for large official receptions). Most of the tour was on the second floor, where we got to see the Salle des Fêtes (ballroom and adjacent banquet hall), with its painted ceilings and walls, stained glass windows, and chandeliers everywhere.

We also had time to visit the city council's meeting room and the library on the third floor before realizing by the look on the kids' faces that they had had enough.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monet and more Monet

Last week we visited the Musée Marmottan Monet with my sister Alina, who was visiting from Colombia, and my niece Laura, who's attending the University of Poitiers this semester and was in Paris for a few days before classes started. The museum contains a splendid collection of impressionist works, including the world's largest collection of Monet paintings.

The Marmottan building belonged to Jules Marmottan, a lawyer and avid collector, who later left it to his son Paul. Upon his death, Paul bequeathed the townhouse and all his collections and historical archives to the French Academy of Fine Arts, who opened up the house and collection as the Musée Marmottan in 1934.

The museum's impressive collection comes mainly from two major donations: the first, in 1957, from the daughter of Doctor Georges de Bellio, who was physician to Monet, Manet, Pissaro, Sisley and Renoir; and the second came directly from Claude Monet's second son, Michel, who in 1966 left the museum his own collection of his father's work, resulting in the biggest collection of Monet paintings in the world. There's a special exhibition space for the Monet collection in the lower level of the museum, which was inspired by the hall designed for Monet's Water Lilies murals in the Musée de l'Orangerie in Paris.

Michel Monet also donated the famous Monet house in the northwestern suburbs of Paris. You can buy a special two-day ticket that includes a visit to the house in Giverny, which we did, and the next day we took the 45-minute train ride with the whole family to Vernon, on the banks of the Seine, where two large buses were waiting outside the station to take us and more than 100 other people directly to Monet's house. Nobody knew we had to run to get in line for the buses, so we ended up having to wait for the two buses to deliver their passengers and come back to get the rest of us.

Monet discovered Giverny while traveling by train between Vernon and Gasny. In 1883 he decided to move there and rented a house, an old farmhouse. Monet eventually bought the house and lived there with his family till his death in 1926. The house was much smaller at the beginning; it was enlarged by Monet on both sides.

Gardening was Monet's other passion, and he conceived and created his water garden as well as his flower garden. We started the tour by walking around the water garden (Le Jardin d'Eau), which we've all seen many times in his paintings. As soon as you see the pond, with its beautiful water lilies perfectly arranged and floating peacefully, and lush willows and other vegetation surrounding it, you immediately get a sense of enchantment and can easily imagine the wonderful atmosphere and inspiration it provided Monet.

Two Japanese bridges, one at each end, are great places to take in the view, and take pictures of the pond, which explains why so many people were on them. After spending some time at the pond and taking the mandatory group picture, we toured the flower garden and the main house.

There's also a separate building, a huge studio that Monet built to paint his large format paintings, the famous Nymphéas (Water Lilies), which Monet donated to France after the signing of the Armistice in 1918 and are installed in a space designed specifically for them at the Musée de l'Orangerie. (We went to see them in November.)

After we left the house we grabbed some sandwiches and walked a bit around the village, then headed back to the train station to catch the 5:45 train back to Paris, where we ended the day with dinner at Café Monceau on Avenue de Villiers.