Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Le Marais

So...where were we?

Ah, yes, leaving Place de la Bastille and headed down Rue Saint Antoine into the heart of Le Marais and the fancy schmancy houses of the old nobility.  Le Marais is an historic and aristocratic district, mostly because the King of Naples and Sicily who also happened to be the brother of King Louis IX of France built a home near Rue de Sévigné.  So he started it.  Not to be outdone, then King Charles V built a mansion for his and his son's Royal Court.  Then all the French Nobles had to keep up with the Charles' and Le Marais became the French nobility's favorite place of residence.  They built their mansions around and near Place Royale which is now Place des Vosges.  And for a reason unbeknownst to me, these mansions are called hôtels.  Le Marais is home to a bunch of outstanding architectural mansions like the Hôtel de Sully (who must really be important because there's a wing of the Louvre named for them) and the Hôtel Carnavalet (not nearly as important because it is now a free museum and part of the reason for our outing!).  The mansions that survived the revolution have been converted to museums, libraries and national institutions.

The streets are still somewhat narrow in Le Marais and the area is known for having more pre-Revolutionary lanes than anywhere else in Paris.  It looks the way much of the city did until the mid-1800s when Napolean was all about wide boulevards and creating a modern Paris.  Le Marais was spared a big Haussmann-type boulevard because The Great War (WWI) got in the way.  The lack of big boulevards makes this part of Paris unique and interesting, but harder to photograph!  It's very hard to get far away enough without obstructions to capture the breadth and height of the big mansions and churches.

Our first stop was the Hôtel de Sully.  To capture this image, I had to cross the street and shimmy into a narrow spot between a restaurant table, the door to the restaurant and a potted tree! 

Hôtel de Sully - now a bookshop and offices
You enter Hôtel de Sully through the arched doorway and pass into a courtyard:

Passage to inner courtyard - notice the ceiling!
Inner courtyard
The inner courtyard is like an elegant, private driveway.  It separates the mansion from the noisy and busy street and with all the paving stones, it is carriage-friendly. There are a lot of sculptures here too:
Inner courtyard wall sculptures

There is a passageway at the back of the inner courtyard that leads to the more peaceful back courtyard:
The back courtyard - a more serene garden setting
The building at the back of the back courtyard is an Orangerie (greenhouse) and provided fruits and vegetables throughout the winter.  Through the passageway on the far right, you can enter the Place de Vosges - the Sullys were really bumping elbows with the King's family.

From the back courtyard, looking towards the passageway that connects the inner and back courtyards and the main house
The Place des Vosges is a wonderful little park area now and in the center of the park is a statue of Louis XIII:

Louis XIII admiring the Place that Daddy built
The park is surrounded by nine houses on each side and arcades line the sidewalks:

Beneath the arcades are cafes, galleries and restaurants
The revolution ended the aristocratic era of Place Royale, and it was renamed Place des Vosges - the first district to pay taxes and therefore earned naming rights.  In the 19th century, Le Marais became a working-class neighborhood.  Victor Hugo lived on the square, at Number 6:

Number 6 - Victor Hugo lived here

It was there that Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables.  You can tour his home and see displays of  souvenirs, drawings and books from his childhood until he was exiled (between 1852 and 1870).  We didn't go in so we'll have to come back!

While we were there, a horse-drawn carriage with a bride and groom arrived - they came to Place des Vosges for photographs:

Love the shoes!
The bride and groom created quite a stir!  I don't know how many of the folks in Place des Vosges were tourists (like us!) or locals (like the bride and groom), but people stopped what they were doing and gathered around to watch them, even following them into the park to watch them being photographed. 

We decided to leave the bride and groom and the crowds that followed them and make our way out of Place des Vosges.  On the way out, we spied these two:

Pet him!  No, YOU pet him!
They were really cute - curious and so wanting to approach the horse but also very afraid to do so.  They got a little closer, but then turned away and ran.  Perhaps the dog's reaction (between the horse's legs) didn't inspire confidence!

Next up ... the Carnavalet Museum.  Stay tuned!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Place de la Bastille

First, an important announcement.

I have come to a momentous realization and decision; my blog posts are too long!  My thinking has been in a box for too long.  I thought it would make more sense if my posts were chronological and depicted the events as they happened, but the reality is that we do a lot of stuff in one day, so my posts are too long and take too much time in one sitting to finish them and so I either don't start them because I don't have enough time to finish them or I don't finish them because I ran out of time.  It also occurred to me that posts that are more topic centric might be easier to handle on both ends; for me to write and for you to read.  So henceforth, my posts will be willy nilly date-wise and more content oriented.  I guess that means that instead of being about the entire Sunday walk or visit to this place or that entire adventure, the posts will be shorter and focused on a part of the adventure.  And there will be more of them.  That's a good thing, right?

On to the fun stuff.

There are many areas in Paris that we've never been and our weekend outings are an attempt to remedy this.  So even though the day was cold and dreary and tut tut looks like rain, we decided the Place de la Bastille would be the starting point of a walk through Le Marais (more on that later!).

We also read somewhere that the Bastille Metro station had wonderful murals on the walls depicting the French Revolution, so we rode the metro to Place de la Bastille.  As we exited the station, we were nearly run-over by this guy:

Yes, it's blurry.  It was dark and he was moving fast - it was a grab it or miss it shot!
We had no idea that our near miss was a hint to what was topside.  

We also saw this:

Bastille Metro Station, Line 5
Now, I'm no expert on French Revolution Murals, but these don't look like French Revolution Murals.  In fact, it looks very much like a very long hallway in any number of Metro stations, dotted with advertisements.  Where are the murals?

What we have since learned is that metro stations that link metro lines together do so in a spidery fashion and the hallways and tunnels for one line don't automatically connect with the hallways and tunnels of another line.  What we failed to notice is that the murals are on LINE 1 of the Metro, not LINE 5, and since we didn't know that we wandered the tunnels of Line 5 looking for murals that weren't there, completely ignoring the signs to Line 1 because we didn't want to take the Line 1 train.  Hurmpf.  We will go back to see the murals, and we will take Line 1 to see them!  On this day though, we missed them.

The Place de la Bastille is where the Bastille prison used to be until it was stormed by the locals on July 14, 1789 (which is considered the start of the French Revolution) and by November of that year, the prison was dismantled/demolished and the cut stones were used to build the Pont de la Concorde (who knew!?).  The Place de la Bastille is now the home of the Bastille Opera,

The very modern L'Opéra Bastille, built to share classical music with the masses
  The Colonne de Juillet (July Column),

The Colonne de Juillet in the center of the Place de la Bastille, built to commemorate the Revolution of 1830
and on the north side of the Place de la Bastille is a large open area that is a huge hangout for skateboarders, scooterers and rollerbladers,

skateboarders practicing their moves

lacing up for a skate about town

rockin' the freestyle 
There was a lot of activity in and around the Place;  there were groups of rollerbladers gearing up for a group skate with guides wearing yellow shirts and we also discovered another, even bigger than ours street market on Boulevard Richard Lenoir.  We started to check it out, but by the time we crossed all of the necessary streets to get there, we realized they were shutting down for the day.  So, a street market and metro murals for another day.  The candy vendor was not shutting down though;


sweets and sours
eggs, sweets and sours    eggs???

We decided against having candy for lunch, so we headed down Rue San Antoine toward Le Marais.  By now you've probably guessed that our itineraries are pretty loose and we're easily sidetracked.  Under normal travel circumstances that isn't the case; we have places to go and things to see and do and we don't have time to be side-tracked.  But because it seems like we have all the time in the world to see Paris, being side-tracked is now half the adventure.  And maybe that mindset alone is partly to blame for why we didn't have candy for lunch, but we had pastries for lunch.  At any rate, we had only set out for Le Marais a scant 5 minutes before we were distracted by some awesome purple awnings on a nondescript shop down  a side street.  It demanded a closer look.  As we got closer, we saw that it was a patisserie and chocolaterie.  Yum!   This definitely demands an ever closer look!

Lovely purple awnings invite a closer look
I have no idea who or what Lenôtre is or why they have a fabulous shop here, but I was awed by the beauty of these treats.  It even gives me pause to recognize that statement - beautiful treats.  Since when do I appreciate the beauty of treats?  When was the last time I marveled at the artistic presentation of cakes and pastries and tarts?  This is something new, for sure because we don't have such beautiful treats in the U.S. and if we do, I have no idea where they're hiding.  Even the bakeries have mostly disappeared and given way to the generic bakeries of Vons and Costco.  I can say that beautiful treats is not the goal of the generic bakery - mass production is.  And the mass-produced treats that look half-way pretty don't taste nearly as good as they look.  But here in Paris, there are still bakeries on every corner and there are chefs who are fiercely proud of their culinary creations and beautiful pastries and they adorn the windows of their shops with their delectable delights.  And they truly are wondrous to see:

Beautiful cakes and pastries in intricate shapes

Love the crown jewel look of the mango cake!

There were some savory delights as well - the colors and shapes turn ordinary vegetables into works of art

Along with a tres cher presentation comes a tres cher price tag!
Looking at these pastries, I was truly amazed at the art work involved;  the mix of shapes, colors and textures, with a perfectly placed vanilla bean here or a scant dusting of sugar there creates an artful feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

We were initially content to just photograph the pastries through the display windows. but as we were about to walk away, Ron decided we shouldn't leave without checking out the inside, so we entered this palace of decadence.  The sights and aromas were truly beautiful, but alas, no photos allowed!  We ogled all of the treats and then decided we needed something with which to compare our other treat outings and it is lunch time and we're hungry so what the heck (that's a sound justification, no?).  We made our purchase for take-away and then left in search of a bench or place to sit whilst we indulged. 

Our schnazzy bag (we are acquiring quite a collection of these!)
A lovely box for an eclair - it wasn't all that schnazzy so we didn't keep it
The eclair with an edible chocolate label
A fabulous Crêpe Suzette - without the flambé but with an incredible orange cream filling
The verdict?  The eclair was good and the Crêpe Suzette was wonderful.  It was not a typical Crêpe Suzette, and I would love to know what exactly the orange cream filling was.  I've google-seached some already, but it's not too important because I can guess and while I may not be able to replicate it exactly, I sincerely doubt I can make something awful.  I wonder how many experiments until I get it just right?  I'm sure it will be a tasty  adventure.  Kitchen experiments, here I come!

Oh...and about Lenôtre.  Once again, I'm Dooney & Burked.  If you know anything about chefs and pastries and such, you know about Lenôtre. Here's the primer:

Lenôtre is Gaston Lenôtre who was a French pastry chef and caterer.  Lenôtre opened the first chain of upscale bakeries in Paris and a bakery-café in the first French shopping mall, and he started the first professional French re-training chef school. He also wrote nine recipe books.

I've already admitted to living under a rock (and boyo that rock is getting heavy).  But living in and experiencing Paris in a way we never have before, I am slowly but surely getting out from under that rock.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Home Again, Home Again

Dancing a Jig!

We left France on April 11th for a short visit back to the U.S.  We had a bunch of stuff to do, so here's a breakdown:

Taxes - Uncle Sam doesn't care where you are, the due date is the same.  We complied!

Applied for Visas - Ron was pre-approved but I was not.  We had to apply, in person, at the Consulate in Los Angeles.  We both had an appointment on April 13th - we came prepared with a mountain of paperwork: birth certificates, marriage certificates, bank statements, police clearance letters, applications, proof of insurance, passport-size photos, etc. etc. etc.   To my surprise and relief, we both had our Visas in hand exactly one week later!  So my dear France, I can't deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me! (name that movie quote?!?!?!)

I don't know why we needed passport photos since they took their own photo with a snazzy point and shoot camera and that's the photo they used on our Visas.  As you can see, I was appropriately dressed and prepared: 

Yay!  Now I can stay!
This wasn't an all play stay, we both had work to do.  Ron had engineering stuff and a wedding to photograph, I had a bunch of photo stuff as well; portrait sessions, a corporate event and a wedding.  We were very busy!

Of course, we took time to visit family and friends - so many people to see, so little time!

We also spent about 5 days at our vacation home - this was not a vacation either!  We had a lot of storm damage to clean up in the form of fallen trees.  Fortunately there was no major structural damage, but the chainsaws and log splitter got a major workout.

This huge oak branch fell onto our deck, narrowly missing both a bedroom window and sliding glass door.
This was the scene all over our property.  Some trees completely uprooted, others just snapped!
Chris worked his backside off!  Lots of broken trees to cut down!
Keith and Rosie helped out too - all those logs had to be split!
Despite all the noise we made with chain saws and log splitters and tractors and trucks, the wild turkeys were hanging about.  It was mating season and the male was doing his best to entice the females.  
I feel pretty and witty and bright
An interesting side note:  We left Paris on the 11th, arrived in SoCal on the 11th then drove up to our vacation home on the 15th.  When I woke up on the 16th, for a brief moment I had no idea where I was!  It is very strange having three places to call home and to have slept in all three of them in one week.  

There was one other important thing we did while visiting the U.S. - we went to all of our favorite restaurants; La Isla, Original House of Pancakes, Lettuce, Wok and Roll and Farmer Boys! 

Ron's visit was shorter than mine - he headed back to Paris on April 25th.  I had more portrait and corporate work to do, so I headed back almost 2 weeks later, on May 6th. 

It was wonderful being home but I found myself strangely conflicted.  I wanted to be in all three places at one time!  I didn't want to leave our vacation home and I missed Paris!  Every time I got in the car to go somewhere, I found myself wishing I could just walk there or take the Metro and I missed a fresh baguette every day!  It is amazing that in only a few short months, we have come to love and appreciate the Parisian life and to think of Paris as home too.