Month: September 2010

Stereo Stack

Today I discovered this gorgeous collection of album cover designs, scanned and archived by the owner of Jive Time Records, a Seattle based store specializing in used vinyl.

His other projects include a clever collection of stereo labels called Stereo Stack and Groove Is In The Art, an album cover gallery featuring illustrated jackets. What a sublime combination of both design and music. These made my day so much brighter as it’s just pouring buckets of rain outside!

Home (Coming Home)

Back home and it feels good! The journey home seemed to take forever. At some point over the Atlantic Ocean I discovered “Bridget Jones’ Diary” for lack of better options and out of boredom. All along I thought it was a trite romantic comedy, but its actually quite clever and hilarious. It got an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, James! (He rolled his eyes about 5 times while I was watching it).

One of our first orders of business once home was to get a massive amount of take-out szechuan food from our favorite take-out place; Taste of China. We ended the day unpacking. It was glorious to catch up on the much needed sleep in our own house. Yesterday I got our photos printed at Kinkos and filled up the photo album purchased at Papier +. It is the perfect little booklet.

I’ll post some photos of the book and some of the pretty things purchased in Paris, soon. Next up: Top 10 lists from our trip.

C’est fini

It’s officially turned to autumn here. The morning chill hasn’t burnt off the past couple of days. Rainy and gray. Feeling a little blue that our time is over.

I can’t decide if going back to a warmer clime will be nice or not. I think I’m ready for fall to stay. And that’s not just because I want to show off my new purple scarf (très chic).

Sunday:
Back to our standby Café Panis for brunch. We’re trying to beat the rain and see a couple last things; the Montparnasse Cemetery (and maybe the tower) and see the stain glass at Ste. Chapelle. Hop on the Metro to head south, and end up going the wrong way on the yellow line (again). Only line that has given us any trouble; I think the subway here is waaaaaay easier than say, NYC. We find the right train eventually.

Its grayer when we finally emerge on the Blvd. Edgar Quintent, where the Cemetery gates are. I’ve read that the maps for this one are free, unlike the ones at Père Lachaise, where you have to buy one from a street vendor. As we enter it starts to rain. I see the notice that they aren’t distributing free maps until October; they are being updated currently. Great. I scurry up to a small sign giving the location of the “notable” occupants. The map on the sign is small and the locations of several tombs I want to see aren’t on there (Man Ray and Susan Sontag) or are in obviously hard places to find. Maps here are terrible!

I sketch a rude layout of the plan, mark a few graves, and we try to find them. Its cold and wet; she finds the excursion a little macabre and I have no sense of direction. Steph says, “This is true love,” as she helps me navigate.

We visit Jean-Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir, Samuel Beckett, Charles Baudelaire, Serge Gainsbourg, and after a long search, Emil Cioran. I had mainly come to visit him. William H. Gass called Cioran’s work “a philosophical romance on the modern themes of alienation, absurdity, boredom, futility, decay, the tyranny of history, the vulgarities of change, awareness as agony, reason as disease.” His writing was strangely calming and supportive to me during some tough parts of my life, and, even though I don’t share his gleeful pessimism or identify with his alienation from society anymore, I greatly admire his passion and lyrical, original writings. It was very moving to visit.

Steph asked me why I like to visit cemeteries; see graves of people I admire. I like visiting them for the quiet and respectful air, an often pretty walk, and getting a helpful reminder that life is short. And what is a grave but a monument to someone’s life? I really don’t think its too morbid.

[ From Steph: I don't think cemeteries are morbid, but today it was a little creepy what with the cold rain and giant crows cawing (wish I had gotten a photo of one of them!). But I'm really glad we went. The visit also led to some great conversations. Also, somehow, the weather really fit the excursion! ]

I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted (missed Baudrillard, Durkheim, Cortazar, Ionesco and Maupassant) but we didn’t want to catch cold, and they aren’t going anywhere.

We sped to the center of the Citie afterwards, and the weather was too wet and we too tired to wait in line to see the stained glass at the chapel. We promised each other it was first on the list for our next visit.

All packed-up now, back to Le Grenier de Notre-Dame for dinner and then our last night for this trip. We’ll update next from C-ville.

Bonsoir!

We are afraid of the enormity of the possible.

Emil Cioran, A Short History of Decay (1949)

Saturday

Breakfast at Cafe Panis.

Musée d’Orsay (saw some interesting Art Deco furniture and classic impressionist pieces).

Lunch at a café outside. During which, a parade of demonstrators came by protesting animal rights and animal testing. Lots of shouting and honking.

Took a very long, peaceful stroll along the Seine.

Visited Shakespeare and Company.

Cooked dinner here, wrote cards and planned out our last day in Paris. Sad to leave…

Relaxing in Paris: Friday

Wow, what an amazing time we’ve had on this trip! I can’t believe that tomorrow is our last day here. The week just flew by.

Yesterday, after what has seemed like a long week of traipsing all around the city we decided to take it super easy and sleep in, get an early lunch and visit a store that I’ve been looking forward to going into called Au Petit Bonheur la Chance (some photos and more info on the shop here). We had also planned for an early evening get-together with our friends Marianne and Chris and their friend.

We headed over to the Saint-Paul Village of the Marais district. After eating a delicious lunch of duck confit, haricots-verts, sauteed potatoes, petit salade and cafe au lait, I was feeling good. I have been eating quite well on this trip but it is bittersweet since most of the places we have to choose from do not offer meatless options. James has been eating a lot of bread, cheese and omlettes. Tomorrow we are planning on having dinner at the excellent vegetarian restaurant in the latin quarter again, since the food was so unique and delicious!

Anyhow, on our way to the kitchen store we stumbled upon a small vintage jewelry shop where I found some presents for friends and a gorgeous cocktail ring with a white rock crystal. Then we popped over to the small kitchen store I had heard many good things about. It was incredible!! Packed to the max with french linens, vintage kitchen wares and school supplies, notebooks, stickers, etc, etc. I found some amazing stuff. We had a very funny encounter with the shop keeper and chatted for a little while with her. There are things about Paris that I just adore so much and it stings a bit to think about leaving when I just now feel like I’ve begun to love it.

image of au petit bonheur la chance by “this is naive”

image of au petit bonheur la chance by “this is naive”

James and I walked around and then ended up in a cafe near the Louvre where we were meeting Chris and Marianne. We enjoyed a snack and coffees and then popped into a bookshop nearby while we waited for them. I found three vintage Vogue prints which I plan on framing when we get home.

We met up with the Hacketts and their very nice friend Declan from England. He is a Doctoral candidate studying French in Paris for the year. We all found a bar, ordered some drinks and chatted for a bit. We had such a great time we decided to continue on to another place for dinner.

After walking a few blocks, we chose a place that seemed good. Unfortunately for me it is hard to tell what is going to be good and what is going to be very bad. The spot we chose turned out to be a pseudo tapas restaurant. It was decided amongst our group that we would order the special which was some kind of sampler plate. We got two of them and James ordered a big salad. The platter included some quite funny little items and was a bit of a culinary stretch for me. Most of it was deep fried: deep fried baby-bells with chives, deep fried tuna “poppers” (forgive me for using the term “popper” but…really…that’s what they were!), deep fried calamari, and a big pile of deep fried whitebait with eyes, tails and all. I ate a few of them. They weren’t so bad. But I left hungry. James thought they were gray fried meat of some sort and didn’t know what they were until I showed him up close.

Despite the strange delights we were having a grand old time telling stories and talking. There were not many other people in the restaurant and by Parisian standards it was not late (probably about 8pm). There were about 4 people sitting at the bar and a couple ordering dinner in the back of the restaurant. Other than that, the rather large dining room was empty. Suddenly, without warning, the lights dimmed, the music was turned up to 11, and the room was turned into a dance club with some kind of crazy 70′s disco funk. A man in all black stood on a small ladder and flipped a switch on the ceiling. The lights went lower (but not very) and a contraption dangling by a cord began to sway and pulsate with rainbow lights creating a disco-ball effect around us. We all burst out laughing. The rest of the meal was spent shouting / talking.

After dinner, Marianne left to babysit her landlord’s children and Chris, Declan, James and I went to another place for a beer. We were on a street called the Rue de la Banque since there is a huge old bank building there. The restaurant was very chic and had a beautiful black and white photograph of a bank safe on one wall (see pics below).

Afterwords we headed back to the Hackett’s to hang out with Marianne a bit more. They have a really great set up here, renting an apartment just north of the Louvre. Their landlords live across the hall and Marianne is babysitting on a regular basis for the children. I hung out with her for a while across the hall and we talked about their time here in Paris and caught up. Their landlords have an amazing two-story place with a large balcony overlooking a gorgeous view of the city. It is really magical. The guys were across the hall talking about modern minimalist sacred music and the catacombs. When I went back over to the other apartment we got to chatting about some of the posters on the wall that the landlords had hung (the Hackett’s are renting a furnished place). Many of them were from some of our favorite French New Wave films. It turns out that their landlord is actually a huge film buff and has written a lot on French New Wave cinema including a biography of François Truffaut! Of course we were impressed with that because we are both very big fans of Truffaut.

We had a lovely time chatting with Chris and also meeting Sue 2.0. The owners of the apartment have a very pretty tuxedo cat who looked a whole lot like Sue. We were told the way the French call their cat is to say “whoosh whoosh whoosh” so we called him and both felt bowled over by how much we miss our Sue. Sue 2.0 did not compare. Also, he had a small blotch on his face and James cracked me up by saying something in a high pitched sweet voice like “Awwww you are like a flawed version of my Sue”…Ha!

After a very late walk home through the busy neighborhood of Les Halles, we got home and ended yet another wonderful day in Paris.

P.S. Somewhere along the way, James stepped in the largest pile of p*** I’ve ever seen in my life. What is UP with all the piles of p*** everywhere here? Barbaric!

This is the Modern World (Thursday)

After the Louvre, it was definitely time to dial it back a notch.

We slept in, and then walked out back towards the Centre Pompidou, to see l’art moderne. Ducked down an alley to find a little crepe place; they spoke perfect English so I was a little skeptical. And I’ve not eaten a lot of savory crepes I really liked. Picked one with chevre and apples, and Steph got ham and brie. Very, very yummy in the end.

Similarly, the museum was very toothsome. Our favorite by far.

Pompidou has two types of art; there’s the modern giants such as Picasso, Calder, Braque and Kandinsky, and then there’s a variety of your more contemporary out-there stuff. Latter is on the 4th floor, former is on the 5th. You have to access the 5th from the 4th, and I applaud the forced exposure, even though I didn’t like most of the contemporary stuff. Oh, and they have different rotating exhibits on the top floor, which seems to be mostly highlights of one particular artist’s oeuvre.

There was supposed to be an exhibit on Mondrian, a personal fave of mine on the top, but it wasn’t there. Instead we wandered into an exhibit on the artist, Arman, who neither of us knew. To quote the museum propaganda, “Arman developed a body of work very much of its time, making art from manufactured objects produced by the consumer society.” In other-words, he took objects, e.g. trash; musical instruments; car parts, furniture; and used them as paintbrushes or destroyed/recomposed them in new ways and presented the outcome as a painting or sculpture. We like Warhol a lot; we liked Arman a lot.

After, we went to the Museum proper. Currently there is an exhibit commenting on the inherent sexism of the official canon of western art, old and new. Some of this was clever and convincing, most was unfortunately blunt and obscure. We went upstairs pretty quickly.

There was a little bit of the stuff that gives modern art its negative stereotype of being ugly and easy, but mostly great stuff here. Beautiful, strange, moving… Some of my favorites:

Le Corbusier, Nature morte au violon rouge, oil on canvas, 1920.

Le Corbusier, Nature morte au violon rouge, oil on canvas, 1920.

Machine Forms | Iakov Chernikhov

Machine Forms | Iakov Chernikhov

László Moholy-Nagy, Composition A.XX, 1924, oil on canvas

László Moholy-Nagy, Composition A.XX, 1924, oil on canvas

Robert Delaunay: Autoportrait, 1905-1906

Robert Delaunay: Autoportrait, 1905-1906

Man Ray, La femme, 1920, B/W Photograph

Man Ray, La femme, 1920, B/W Photograph

Karl Blossfeldt, Urformen der Kunst

Karl Blossfeldt, Urformen der Kunst (Book of Photogrpahs)

 bella au col blanc  marc chagall (1917)

Bella Au Col Blanc, Marc Chagall, Oil 1917

Richard Mortensen, Eure, 1955

Richard Mortensen, Eure, 1955

Yves Laloy, Untitled, Oil

Yves Laloy, Untitled, Oil

Lucien Hervé, Installations portuaires, Smyrne, Turquie, 1960

Lucien Hervé, Installations portuaires, Smyrne, Turquie, 1960

Anyway, on and on, more below in our photos.

Also is a lovely little gift shop on the mezzanine level selling contemporary and beautifully designed objects—household appliances, hairdryers, gifts—very diverse and very nice. I bought Steph an over-sized cocktail ring; the “stone” is plastic filled with a milky gray liquid and a small bubble. It works!

After the musuem, we chilled on the plaza for a bit. Next stop was the boutique Merci.

Tucked away in a back yard, we didn’t immediately detect the main entrance, but instead saw two different storefronts: one for the cafe and the other for a flower shop. Between these two though, there was a gate that leading to an inner courtyard, with a sweet, red Fiat parked inside. Merci is comprised of three floors of a airy, windowed factory, selling a mix of fashion, “useful objects” and home decor.

The café alone could stand alone as a highlight. The walls are lined with second hand books in several languages, and there were delicious cakes and wine on hand for us weary shoppers. The hostess was one of the most welcoming of the whole trip, and they brought us water without asking (this never happens over here).

Its obvious from the wares that there is an emphasis on sustainable design and upcycling in the store, but I latter found out that the  designers who are offering their goods on sale here are foregoing their profits, so all the brand new items will cost you around 30% less than the normal sale price. In turn Merci will donate 100% of their profits from goods sold to a foundation benefiting impoverished children in Madagascar.

Keeping on the conscious  tip, we ended the evening at Le Grenier de Notre-Dame, a small vegetarian restaurant on a small street devoted to butchers that just so happens to be right near our flat. They specialize in meat-free alternatives to traditional French cuisine, and it was very tasty. Even my reluctant dinner party said it was done right. Although the music selection was completely bizarro and bounced from opera to French chansons to American R&b. Anyway, nice to forgo another meal of just bread and cheese!

P.S. One of my favorite candies are gummies from candy-maker Haribo in Germany. Just let me say that the selection of their confections is 10x greater here in Paris, and I am in heaven. They even sell a few different “greatest hits”, combining different gummies and licorices in one pack. “Haribo Polka” is manufactured especially for the French market, and boy, is it awesome!

I fell right into the Arms of Venus de Milo.

The Musee du Louvre started off it’s life as a Royal residence in the late 12th century but the building of today was constructed in phases over several hundred years, from about mid 16th century onward. One wing has actually been a museum open to the public since the Revolution, and the Louvre itself had ceased to be the main Royal residence about 100 years before that when Louis XIV decamped to Versailles and took the government with him. In the late 18th century  the art collection took over entirely, and thus the modern Louvre was born.

Thus endth the history lesson… Anyway, the Louvre is the best and worst thing about Paris; literally and metaphorically. It is ponderous, involved, ornate, frustrating, and tiring all rolled up together.

I had determined to get us to the Lourve at what I thought was early, 10am. All our efforts to touristize before then have been in vain, so… The aim was to get in and latch onto the 11AM English tour; the “crash course” of the museum. We didn’t expect to do the entire Louvre in one day because it’s just too big. The pro-tip we’d gotten was pick a few collections and dedicate their time during a Louvre tour to immersing themselves in just a few collections. I figured the official tour was not a bad way to do this.

Unfortunately, we had a few more bumbles and delays in ordering, devouring and paying for breakfast, and didn’t make it there until 10:30. The entrance to the Louvre is impressive, 3 pyramids built in the 1980′s and designed by IM Pei. The big one is 67 feet. Unfortunately the queue was similarly expansive, and our collective heart sunk when we a guard with a sign reading “01:00.” Steph has a good rule about lines; never stand in one in unless you ask someone what it is for, not matter how obvious. It was the entrance line, yes, but the line meant “1 hour” not “1:00pm.” Small mercies…

We finally got in and found that there was another line for tickets. Cleverly, I spotted some “self-service” kiosks in the corner. Made a beeline, and 4 or the 5 machines promptly failed (noticed the Windows Vista log-in when they were finally rebooted). Finally, finally we got in.

The Egyptian and Babylonian colelctions are logical firsts on the ground floor, and not be missed. Steph and I both discovered we had similar childhood obessions with mummies and Egyptian myth. One of my favorite was coming face to face with Ramses II towards the end of the exhibit. And hilarious to see a wall sized “menu” in hieroglyphics from some chic cafe on the Nile.

Mona Lisa – I found it quite off putting, to tell the truth. Very “tourist trap” feeling. Supposedly 2,000 people per hour come to see her, spending an average of 15 seconds viewing.  I was amazed at how tiny it was.

The Lacemaker -  a very intimate, precise work; a testment the worth and intensity of the creative process.  Love Vermeer’s colors,  and the depth of field is amazing. Also small.

Venus de Milo – housed among lots of other amazing Greek statuary, definitely my favorite part of the Museum to walk through. Very beautiful and unexpectedly moving.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace – thronged by the masses at the top of a stairwell, I was disappointed I didn’t get to study this one.  Very theatrical; thought she was going to lift-off. Drapery of the robe was awesome.

Michelangelo’s Slaves – writhing souls burdened by the body?

Anyway, I’m no critic. These were the biggies and much has already been said about them.

After all that, I checked my map and headed straight for the Netherlands/Flemish part of the museum. These guys are my favorite… the richness of everyday life shines through in their scenes. You want to sit down with these people and know their stories…

Oh, the one unknown that really jumped out at us was Perseus and Andromeda by Wtewael. I’ve always loved the adventures of Perseus, and love the series of him rescuing Andromeda by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Burne-Jones. The more famous depiction in the Museum is by Veronese, but we really loved this one. The shells and bones are just great.

So, it seemed like everyone makes a beeline for the Mona Lisa and then wanders around (lost). We should have gotten there earlier and seen the obvious things, so would have had more time for relaxed exploration instead of fighting the unwashed masses. And the Louvre’s floor plan/map is overly simplified; we found ourselves going up and down several staircases trying to exit a wing or exhibit, often ending up in unexpected places—tiring and frustrating. Almost all of the captions next to painting and sculptors were in French and that’s it. With all these feelings of frustration trying to get around and out of the Louvre, I started to think about how unaccommodating that was and I felt the beginnings of a stereotype forming in my mind…

It’s overwhelming, no doubt. You just have to resign yourself to the fact that you’re not going to see it all, or even close. We really had a hard time with that. And its hard to cram it all;  its impossible to stay past 3-4 hours without your energy completely being zapped.

A must-see on our Paris trip, right up there on the list together with the Louvre and the Eiffel tower, was the très chic shop Colette. Colette is far more than just the best fashion in Paris; it is a department store in miniature; the mother ship of lifestyle boutiques. It carries everything from perfume to jewelry to toys to candy to records just as long as the products are stylish enough.

Situated on Rue Saint-Honoré, the shop was a little bit confusing to find, since it is located not that far from Plaza Colette, and yet far enough way to confuse.  As it turns out the Colette shop owner actually shares her last name with Sidonie Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954), the famous French feminist writer, variety artist and dancer. I assumed the shop was of course named after the writer. Ooops.

Collette was a ton of fun; I ran to the records section, Steph to the make-up and jewelry. Everything just the absolute latest and greatest. The store is famous for its DJ mixes, and as I was picking one out, I was writing down the names of some other compilations and artists to check out from home (even knowing that some of this stuff will be impossible to buy in the states). One of the clerks ran over to me and demanded I put away my pin and pad… do aspiring DJs steal setlists or something? Bizzaro. Anyway, I bought an awesome disco collection and some candy that was like a tootsie roll with the flavor of buttered popcorn. Steph got some great makeup.

Worn out, we came back home for a needed rest.

We did finally rally and went out the see the Effiel Tower. I think Steph was let down by how the area was extremely unromatic; swarming with tourists, strutting teenagers and beer/key-chain hawkers. Walking down the Trocadero was nice though, and, even we, hardened, world-weary veteran Parisians that we are, exchanged some sweet nothings in the night air as we gazed up. Just as we were leaving, the tower errupted in flashes of light, like a million cameras going off all over the tower. No idea why, but it was pretty. And, then, inexplicably,  there was the Soirée Bus.

Yes, the Soirée Bus: “A bus designed as a nightclub to celebrate your events through Paris”. A screech of tires, a flash of neon, a window full of drunk girls raising the roof to terrible Euro Trance, a squelch of exhaust, and it was gone… Did we really see that?

Completely zonked at this point, but, for some reason, we decided to check an “Authentic Mexican” place near our flat. I guess it was part for a laugh and part out of hunger, but we went it and c’est bien. The queso was a compete fail; they tried to use brie or something, and the decor seemed more tropical than Mexican, but the sangria was tasty and it was nice to be able to pronounce everything on the menu. The crowd was young and bositerous and we felt some small validation in doing something “nightlife.”

That’s it for now.  Oof, this post is too long and I think Steph has already fallen asleep. Bonne nuit!