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.