Sunday, August 10, 2008

Paree Is for You and Me--Day Twelve

Bet you thought I'd never get back to this trip, did you? (Or finish my film or movie lists, either, well...ok, I haven't finished those. But now you have a reason to keep coming back--to read about music groups you don't know and movies you've never seen.) Since the date I'm writing about is already over 4 months ago (it was 3/26), I will rely heavily on my notes written then for obvious reasons.

I turn 45 and Paris isn't so giving. We head out and do the typical Patisserie Secco and Tabac d'l'Universite morning routine, eating our pastries along the Seine, so far, so good. Pain aux amande here is indescribably good, with a touch of chocolate even, but it's the combo of flakiness and chewiness that makes it so wonderful. Then we metro to Cite, Amy's favorite station, on the line were the trains zoom along as if the engineers are all TGV drivers in training.

We are headed to St. Chapelle, but the line to get in is surprisingly long. We learn this is also an entrance for the city justice building, so security here is much tighter than at other spots--they actually ask Amy if she has a knife in her bag. (Well, it is a big purse.) Once inside the complex, the church itself--a fine Gothic example, if not as huge as nearby Notre Dame--is easy to enter.

All the guidebooks tell you it's one of the best, if not the best, stained glass displays in Paris. Then you enter, and you're in a stunted floor of a nice enough arched church, but nothing special. And you begin to wonder.

Turns out the lower part is where the commoners got to worship back in the day. (Good thing there's nothing like that these days, where the rich get better stuff than the rest of us.) As commoners, they got something more common. But the "real" people, they got to go upstairs, which you are allowed to do (you paid your Euros), and you wind up a circular staircase to be nearly knocked senseless. Turns out it's all stained glass, amazingly beautiful even on an overcast day like the one when we were there. It almost seems as if there's not enough columns to hold the building up around all its windows. If you ever wondered what it might be like to be dropped into a human-sized kaleidoscope, this is the church for you. Luckily there are benches along the walls so you can sit down, as you almost have to, it's sort of dizzy-making. Pictures, at least my pictures, don't do it justice.

The windows tell Bible stories, but it's too hard to follow the narrative with all the colored glory drawing your eyes to a different fantastic place.

From there we decided to do the DK Paris book's walk in Faubourg St.-Antoine out from Place Bastille--once a horrible prison, now it imprisons drivers in a terrifying traffic circle (we were repeatedly happy we never rented a car). Mostly we windowshop the Viaduc des Arts, shops set in the arches of an old railroad viaduct.

There's lots of cool stuff, but we aren't bringing designer furniture back from Paris. (We don't belong in the upstairs church at St. Chapelle, after all.) On the way back we walk the top of the aqueduct, the Promenade Plantee, a brilliant idea for a way to work a park into the middle of a city. Those clever Parisians. It also gives great views of the interesting architecture in the area, like this mix of caryatids and art moderne.

Back in the center of Bastille-land we find some take-out sandwiches in a little place and munch our simple lunch on a bench in front of the new Opera House, watching teen punkers, the crazy traffic--we even get asked for directions, but, alas, don't know enough to help.

We then want to go to Montparnasse to see the Catacombs, as a little memento mori never hurts on one's birthday. We get there to find they are closed for renovation--do the skulls need polishing?--but that leaves us moving to plan B, which would be the Montparnasse Cemetery (yes, there is a theme here), but we don't get to see the tombs of Sartre and de Beauvoir, Serge Gainsbourg, Beckett, Baudelaire, Man Ray, etc. as the skies open up and my umbrella is still enjoying itself at Bofinger (if you can remember way back to that entry). So we move to plan C and hope to commune with the spirits of Sartre, de Beauvoir, and Hemingway at the famed cafe Les Closerie de Lilas by downing some spirits ourselves, but it's closed as they're putting in new carpet. I begin to wonder if 45 is going to be such a good year.

So plan D is changing neighborhoods all together and we Metro up and over to Madeleine to see if all the stores closed on Easter Monday are open and not polishing their skulls or re-carpeting. Turns out the famed places are open, so we wander through Hediard and Fauchon gawking in our foodie ways at displays of food set up like art. It's hard to imagine buying anything here, everything is so precisely, gorgeously laid out. If you took an item it would be like bad karma commerce Jenga or something. It's a relief when one worker at Hediard sneezes and let's out a hearty "Jesus Christ!" to break the decorum. I am still thirsty after the sandwich and not finding Les Closerie de Lilas open so we walk the few blocks to the guidebook suggested Mannekin-Pis, which is right across the street from Harry's so is easy to find but nonetheless closed, without a note or anything. I start to feel as if I'm personally responsible for shutting down half of Paris.

After a break back at the hotel, we head over to the Eiffel Tower for an evening ascent pre-dinner. We learn: 1) the dancing lights on the hour aren't as cool to watch from on the tower itself; 2) Altitude 95 is fun enough--champagne at 30 stories high over the City of Lights is cool--but they over-work their service so they're inattentive, 3) it's really hard to get off the tower, especially when you're trying to do so on the lowest level and every elevator car arrives jammed with people from the two stops above yours.

The we hike to Petrossian, the famous purveyor of caviar that has a restaurant too and for my birthday I figure it can't be bad to connect with my Ukrainian-Russian roots. Turns out the dining room, above the sort of museum-like turn of the century first floor store front, is much more upscale; it's easy to imagine Madame Lyubov Ranevskaya eating here at the turn of the last century (well, if she wasn't a fictional character). Dinner is terrific. We both take the 45 Euro menu as a la carte you'd need to be a Russian noble spendthirft to eat here. Amy has a salmon trio with artichoke and potato whipped souffle and red mullet with coconut "perfume," as the waiter puts it, I have the risotto with crab and caviar (have to have some of it at this place) and the perfect special sea bass with a zucchini tart I would order all by itself. For an expensive place they oddly offer wines by the glass at 5 Euros each, something you couldn't get in the U.S. unless you like wines from a box. We have the viognier with the first, the recommended sauvignon blanc with the second, and then a gift of what I think was Baumes-de-Venise (which took us back to our Provence trip) with dessert. Great pairings. Dessert was a trio of incredible tastes, each in a glass--some vanilla pineapple combo, an apple-citrus crumble, and some chocolate crunch balls. All in all a wonderful meal of elegance and fine service. So not everything went screwy for my birthday, that's for sure.



Blogger Smitty said...

It doesn't sound like anything went screwy for your birthday! I really enjoy these vacation journal entries. I really feel like I'm there through the way you write.

8:02 AM  
Blogger Queen Whackamole said...

Happy Birthday, George!

8:19 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

my purse isn't THAT big.

9:24 AM  
Blogger George said...

Thanks, Smitty.

Queen, thanks, but given the BD was in March no wishes are really needed at this point.

Amy, I was joking. But even a small purse can hold a knife.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Generik said...

I saw more than one person literally burst into tears upon first entering Sainte Chappelle. That is very possibly the most beautiful stained glass I've seen anywhere, ever. Just breathtaking. Between Mrs. Generik and myself, I'll bet we took 300 pictures there.

3:45 PM  

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