Saturday, October 4, 2014

Let’s do Paris – one more time

We had not been in Paris for a long time at least ten years. On our previous trips we already done most of the required tourist sites, visited the various arrondissements and stayed in hotels of very modest to moderate comfort levels.

This trip we arrived in Paris at first for a short lay-over before flying to Barcelona.  After spending three hours in the Charles de Gaulle airport, just a few observations from the Terminal 2:

1. Toilettes have cool modern design, in orange and white color scheme.  Approximately 50% of plumbing and appliances are in working condition.
2.  Food stands are far and few between and of very poor quality. They reminded me of one of the jokes at the beginning of Annie Hall: The food in this restaurant is terrible and the portions are so small. The addition of a Chipolte or a Pret a Manger would be a smashing success.  
3. The Hermes stores were omnipresent, basically at every corner.

We traveled back to Paris from Barcelona on a very fast train. The country side is gorgeous  

Becoming a great impressionist is no brainer. All I can think about is Cezanne’s Mont Sainte Victorie

In Paris we stayed, for the first time,  in the 11th arrondissement just east of Bastille. It is an upper middle class neighborhood, not at all touristy. It has old fashioned feel to it.

People read paper newspapers in the neighborhood bistros
The main businesses are real estate offices, nice bakeries and hair salons. To rephrase the classic: people in this arrondissement are born, purchased real estate, eat a baguette and got their hair done.

The first night we ate in the most popular bistro around. The place was filled with good looking, tastefully dressed young people

The reason for the popularity of this place must be this sign.

"Made in house" became a symbol for the rare establishments which serve food prepared in the restaurant kitchen instead of being brought in from some outside factory far away. Sad.

As we left our hotel the next morning, we discovered a huge and very nice street market right outside of our hotel.

But we were determined to check out Marchés Beauvau et Rue d'Aligre, the oldest preserved covered market in Paris. The market was good, but not as impressive as Barcelona markets. We had a very nice breakfast in an old café outside the market with heavenly croissant and very expensive cappuccino. While enjoying our breakfast, we noticed the preferences of the local communist party for solidarity with PLO

At the table next to us was a very stylish young man in scarf, beret and cigarette sipping coffee for hours on early Wednesday afternoon. They still exist! (sorry no picture). O’Paree

The old market has a picturesque flea market attached to it. It is full of curious junk, old toys and records

An old book of cat's photographs was an important reminder of how difficult was the essential task of distributing cat’s pictures before the internet age

After being impressed with the musical offering in Barcelona we made a conscious effort to find free musical venues in Paris. It turned out to be easy and very successful. The restaurant and bar L’Atelier Charonne was very close to us, offered free nightly musical events with first quality musicians. Ben Toury simultaneously played piano, harmonica and percussions in ragtime style, accompanied by virtuoso guitar player and great base.


The 20th arrondissement (Belleville) is the last part of old Paris which still has large immigrant population, a lot of ethnic restaurants and affordable real estate. It looks very much like Brooklyn 10 years ago.



It was very clear that it is about to change; the hipsters are coming in force.

The signs are everywhere: super cool art galleries

with super weird art installations

and restaurants to feed the artsy crowd

We, of course, had to join an artsy feast and had a delicious diner at the restaurant with quintessentially hipster Brooklyn name: Felicity Lemon 
  One obligatory tourist attraction which Patrick somehow missed in his previous visits was the Montmartre. To get there we took M2 metro line and were happy to discover it is mostly elevated and has lovely views on old Paris. We also found a little park Square Jehan-Rictus with a quintessentially Parisian artifact: a huge tiled panel on the side of an old building with “I love you” written in hundreds of different languages
The Montmartre itself has no signs of life outside of the tourist trade; I only want to share one picture with a view on the city

I had a vague memory of either visiting or reading about park Monceau and wanted to check it out. As we arrived and got out of the metro it was clear that we were in a neighborhood just like Upper East side of New York City.
Fancy old buildings, beautiful, well dressed people eating lunches in well-appointed and well served restaurants. We had to join them to get a taste of the upscale life


The park is very much in the style of Central Park (of course) but much smaller (of course). For the perfect afternoon in Paris pack your lunch, have a picnic
 walk around to observe the local life,

get envious at the owners of mansions around the park 
 and calm down remembering the French revolution and imagining a guillotine installed next to the lovely pond
Being in Paris I had to check out the shopping situation. We went to my favorite store in Paris, the oldest and most beautiful Paris department store La Bonne Marche. I have my personal Paris rule – when in Paris I must visit La Bonne Marche. In the old days, I was able to buy a thing or two there. I would wear them and they would remind me of the visit for a long time. The place is gorgeous with stunning art deco stair cases, art pieces all over the store and amazing exhibits 

This time there was no chance I could or even want to buy anything there. Me and La Bonne Marche have grown apart.
Next to the department store is La Bonne Marche food market and Balthazar restaurant

My defenses could not hold. We had the most gorgeous plate of smoked salmon with sour cream and dill garnish – a thing of beauty!

The La Bonne Marche experience was complete with having coffee across the street with my favorite fromage blanc desert

and sitting in the park observing the extremely well fed pigeons eating croissants crumbs


To keep with tradition another required visit: originally Bouillon Camille Chartier and now Bouillon Racine probably the most beautiful Art Nouveau interior which is not a museum of some sort, but still a functioning restaurant. It is the most exquisite sample of the glory of Paris in its best days and unfortunate but predictable lost revolt against mass production.

The Paris the way I love it.






Wednesday, September 24, 2014

'R' In Barcelona

This time we wanted to make it right. We traveled to Barcelona several years ago ( and didn’t quite get the buzz. We liked it back then, but we only knew that there was a beach and major gothic Cathedral, because we saw it on the map. We felt like we missed too much.
We rented a tiny studio in the middle of everything: 10 minutes to the beach, 5 min to El Born and on the border of Barri Gothic. The studio is in a medieval building on the 5th floor walkup. It has an exposed roman brick wall,

a narrow dark staircase

and a view of a major very noisy intersection. Life is beautiful!

The Barcelona we saw this time was young and creative. The art was new and the setting was old.

 Chandeliers made from bicycles parts
The Picasso museum is housed in a beautiful gothic building. The most important part of the collection is a gift that Picasso gave to the city of Barcelona: 58 variations on the Velasquez ‘s masterpiece Las Meninas. It felt like a jazz concert performed in drawings and paintings
The art was everywhere, sometimes abstract
sometimes tacky
sometimes funny
 made from a shopping card
in form of a urinal
 sometimes high-tech (a 3D printing shop which scans live model)
sometimes nostalgic
strange and surrealistic

It was on the beach
just off the beach
on random buildings
on a chocolate cake

 and just simply vulgar graffiti (attracted my attention because of the Russian scribe)
It has the best tile work ever and most amazing chimneys (stunning Gaudi masterpieces)

and most ornate toilet we have ever seen
The Barcelona we heard this time had rich musical diversity. The grand Palau Musica Catalana was splendid with an ostentatious mix of Art Nouveau with baroque. We saw flamenco gala  of stunning virtuosity.

The same day we stopped by a no name coffee bar, because we heard live music playing. It was a free jazz concert. The musicians were young, enthusiastic, and very talented. They played American jazz standards and more native bossa nova compositions with great style and sensitivity  
The Barcelona we understood this time was moving towards Catalonian self­-determination and separation from Spain. Catalonians were celebrating the 300 year anniversary of it’s loss of independence (September 1714)

This was the most extensive celebration of a defeat we ever seen. The celebration included exhibits and cultural events and more amazing public art displays like this:

 These are separate photos with "moments of freedom"
 And this is how it comes together in a kiss:

The Barcelona which surprised us this time was desperate, trying to preserve the old way of life. The older folks enjoying the  game of bocce on the beach:
 La Barceloneta, the old traditional fishing district near the beach and fancy marina
  has several blocks of old working class housing
 with clear signs of resistance to the forces of global capitalism:
The Welcome note says: The rent of holiday apartments in this neighborhood destroys the local socio-cultural fabric and promotes speculation. Many local residents are forced to move out. Enjoy your stay.
The Barcelona we tasted this time was simply amazing. The markets are to die for


the wine is dangerously cheap, and the perfumed and silky hamon is omnipresent

 We had the loveliest lunches in our studio just to taste market’s offerings

The tapas bars are picturesque and tricky

They fool the naïve tourists and delight the pickiest of foodies. The old Bar de Pla has great reviews; the tourists are all queued to get in; a traditionally looking décor; expensive basic menu and waiters who don’t look you in the eyes. We learned a long time ago these are bad signs. The food was mediocre and the prices were outrageous.
The Tapeo bar located just down the street was so good, we wanted to try every dish on the menu and food disappeared from our plates before I could pull the phone out of my purse to take a picture

We befriended a waiter after visiting the place for the third time in two days

The Barcelona we left this time was warm Mediterranean urban beach in early morning; the sand is little dirty, but water is so clear you can see schools of fish swarming  around you feet. It is so beautiful, relaxing and inviting, you want to come back every morning and will miss it for the rest of your life