Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ice skating on Champs Elysees

Well, not exactly on Champs Elysees, but in the little skating rink in the Champs Elysees Christmas market. We got to enjoy the market and the great food again, although nobody had the roasted chestnuts from the cute locomotive-like stand. Not a bad way to end the week. And on the way back we stopped again at Pizza Pino to see their lovely Christmas display.

Friday, November 25, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas II

Yesterday when we left the Stein Family exhibition at the Grand Palais we noticed they'd already set up the Christmas market on Champs Elysées. This is the largest Christmas market in Paris, and today it was in full swing. It consists of small wood chalets that sell products and yummy treats from various regions of France. Even Spanish chorizo, which we enjoyed along with a tarte flambée d'Alsace and the tartiflette, a dish from the Haute Savoie region that's made with potatoes, reblochon cheese, cream, and bacon. And hot wine, of course.

The snow is fake but every thing else is very authentic. They also have a few attractions for the kids including a small ice skating rink. On the way home we stopped for a picture at Pizza Pino; can't wait to see those trees lit up at night.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Stein Family exhibition at the Grand Palais

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., so I had to take the day off and go see the Stein Family collection at the Grand Palais, a fabulous exhibition organized by the Grand Palais, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Steins, an American family who moved to Paris in the early 20th century, consisted of Gertrude, an avant-garde writer, who set up house with her brother Leo in Rue de Fleurus, and later lived with her partner Alice Toklas; and her elder brother Michael, who lived with his wife Sarah in nearby Rue Madame. They were the first people to buy Matisses and Picassos and eventually built up one of the most amazing collections of modern art.

The exhibition is divided into eight sections, shedding light on all of the members of the family, and brings together an outstanding ensemble works from the Steins’ various collections: Manet, Renoir, Degas, Cézanne, Picasso, Matisse, and Gris. Two of my favorites were Matisse's famous Woman with a Hat and of course Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein, where Stein is shown seated in a large armchair wearing her favorite brown velvet coat.

The Grand Palais, with its beautiful steel and glass vault, is a museum off Champs Elysées that was originally built as an exhibition hall for the Universal Exposition of 1900. Also built for Exposition were the adjacent Petit Palais and the Alexandre III bridge, named after Tsar Alexandre III with whom France signed the Franco-Russian Alliance in 1892.

Here is an interesting panoramic view I found on Wikipedia of what the area looked like at the time of the Exposition.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas I

A couple of days ago we noticed the Christmas lights are on at Avenue de Ternes, the busy commercial street off Avenue de Wagram, where we live, and at Rue de Courcelles, near the kids' school.

And today was the official lighting of the Christmas lights on Champs Elysees. We were there at 6:30 pm to see them go on. As were many others, since this seems to be a major event. This year they went with rings placed around the trees that line the beautiful avenue, which change color every few seconds.

La Roue de Paris has also been set up at the end of Champs Elysees. This is the Ferris wheel that was used for the Millennium celebrations and now comes back to Paris each year to illuminate the Place de la Concorde. We plan to ride it one of these days.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Going to school

One of the best (and cheapest) things to do in Paris is to walk, and we're fortunate in that we get to walk to school every day.

When we were looking at apartments, we made sure they were within walking distance. Ours is just 10 minutes away, and while the kids ride their scooters Dianny and I get a good aerobic exercise trying to keep up with them.

We leave the house around 8:40-8:45 and take Avenue de Wagram, then cross over to Boulevard de Courcelles. I love seeing Saint Alexander Nevsky, the Russian Orthodox church, built in 1861 for the Russian community in Paris.

A few blocks down Boulevard de Courcelles we cross its namesake Rue de Courcelles, and from there it's just another block down to Rue Alfred de Vigny, where the school is located. The kids lock their scooters to the permanent barricade in front of the school doors and then we sometimes head over to Le Vigny for coffee.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Vive la République, Vive la France

Today is Armistice Day, the date that marks the end of World War I in 1918. It's an official holiday in France, so everyone has the day off.

We spent a little time at the commemoration at the Arc de Triomphe, where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is. We were there for La Marseillaise and part of Sarkozy's speach but could only hear the last part: Vive la République! Vive la France!

My friend Richard commented that he liked the way the tanks were pointed at Sarkozy, as if saying, "Keep the speech brief, Mon President."

The last picture shows a contingent of French soldiers marching off in their colorful blue coats and red pants, the uniform that was used up to the beginning of World War I. In The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman describes how before the war, Messimy, the War Minister, had tried to change the French uniform. Other countries were adopting less colorful and conspicuous uniforms, the British khaki and the Germans field grey. The famous cry at parliament, "Eliminate the red trousers? Never! Le pantalon rouge c'est la France!" So French soldiers marched off to battle wearing bright red pants, with terrible consequences.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Les Gourmets des Ternes

There's a restaurant next to Place des Ternes that we pass every day, Les Gourmets de Ternes, a typical French bistrot that's always busy and seems to have a great ambiance. It's just looks like one of those places you know the food has to be good, so we decided to go for lunch one day to celebrate the visit of Juan Manuel, a very good friend from Seattle.

The legend on the outside of the restaurant says "De père en fils depuis 1962," and it's now the son, who we learned is called Jean François Marie, who runs the place. As soon as we arrived Jean François greeted us at the entrance and showed us to a nice corner table on the terrace.

It's clear that he and his restaurant are quite popular. They have custom-made paper table covers printed with inscriptions and autographs of many of the "celebrities" that have been there, like Jean Paul Belmondo, Jacques Cousteau, Mick Jagger, Johnny Hallyday, Charles Aznavour, Jack Nickolson, and the list goes on; even ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss Kahn and wife Anne Sinclair's autographs are on them.

We got our menus and not much later Jean François came by, asked us a few questions about what we liked, and then told us not to worry, that he'd take care of everything. And take care of everything he did.

We sometimes get a carafe of wine, which is very affordable, but Jean François sent us a really nice bottle of Brouilly.

Three types of appetizers arrived at our table—not already served on plates, but in their actual serving trays, which were left at our table for us to serve ourselves as much as we wanted to. Wow, we thought, this is a nice courtesy; must be because we're new customers, or because we're not from here, or just because he liked us. The patés were great, but the artichoke hearts and lentil salad were to die for.

The head waiter kept addressing us in English, but whenever we could we would reply in French. Halfway through lunch he got it and said, sounding surprised, "Ah, mais vous parlez Français!"

The house specialty is beef. Jean François took care of that too and sent us the "Spécial Pièce de Boeuf au Poivre." A thick, juicy piece of French beef cooked à point in the best pepper sauce. It's not what we would have ordered, since it was pretty pricey, but I have to thank Jean François for deciding for us because it's probably the best piece of beef I've ever had.

They suggested the Baba au Rhum for dessert. A delightful small yeast cake saturated in rum and filled with pastry cream that "makes grown men cry of joy". We enthusiastically accepted.

Of course we enjoyed all these nice gestures—and of course, everything that came to our table appeared on the bill. It was probably Jean François who took care of that, too.

This was more than a great meal, it's the kind of experience we came to Paris for, one we'll remember for a long time, even if it was expensive, and even if they didn't ask us for our autographs.