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P A R I S


What is it that makes Paris such a great city to walk in? There are no straight lines in Paris. On the map, perhaps, but in the Paris of the eye and the mind there are mostly soft, easy, curved lines. The genius of Paris civic design is the system of the "étoile", the star. There is no "grid." Nothing is quite square. Streets radiate from a focal point: a church, an arch, an obelisk, a garden, an Opera House. Streets curve gently in the eye. The lines of the Mansard Roofs, some slanted and some curved, reinforce this impression.


Buildings, as a consequence, are often trapezoidal, rather than square or rectangular. Nothing repeats itself geometrically. Small parks with beautifully tended flower gardens greet you as you promenade.



More Trapezoids



Streets Curve Elegantly

From the 17th Century onward, Paris civic architecture found ways to incorporate shops into public spaces.

The 17th Century Place de Vosges surrounds a lovely park with buildings that accommodate shops within an arcade and apartments above. In the 18th Century the Palais Royal brought shops within a neo-classical public space with offices of civic administration and grand apartments above. Grand residences throughout the period (the famous "Hotels" of Paris) feature stunning interior courtyards, often with formal gardens.


The Place de Vosges with its Arcade of Shops


The Palais Royal with its controversial "sculpture garden" and its ground floor shops and grand apartments


A shop in the Palais Royal specializing in antique medals. An adjacent shop specializes in famous designer clothing from the '20's to the '60's

 


 A Surreal view of 50's Fashions with the Courtyard of the Palais Royal Reflected in the Window.


A Fountain in the Palais Royal


 Architectural Details at the Palais Royal





The interior courtyard of the Hotel de Sully

There are two formal gardens in Paris that should be high on your list to visit:

The Luxembourg Gardens

 

The Tuileries Gardens




Paris is a city replete with small, entrepreneurial shops. Beautifully arranged window-displays vie for your attention. From early childhood children are exposed to the visual arts. Even the street market vendors arrange their wares to please the eye. The visual aesthetic abounds. It's a matter of taste.


A Wine Shop Window


A Vendor of Alsatian Specialties


A Fishmonger


A Specialist in Goat Cheese


An Array of Game Birds


Breads at the Bakery Paul


Deli Items at Gargantua


Foie Gras at Fauchon


Desserts at Fauchon


A Butcher Shop


A shop specializing in dried fruits


More pastries!


Vegetables at the Farmer's Market


Flowers at the Farmer's Market


A shop specializing in baby clothing, etc.


The Gallerie Vivienne near the Palais Royal has some interesting shops.



For the ultimate in window shopping head for the Place Vendome.

Cartier, Bulgari, Mikimoto, Boucheron, Van Cleef et Arpels, are all represented here with stunning window displays.

Parisians themselves are aware of the way that their appearance strikes the eye. Men and women are beautifully groomed. There's a "scrubbed look" to them.  Haircuts are uniformly terrific. Even some that are slightly outrageous are designed to please and not merely to attract attention. 

Dress is never a "uniform" following the latest fad but always calculated to look right "for you". The human form is neither flaunted nor hidden. There are no pants with the inseam down to the ankles and no belly buttons sporting a silver ring. Parisians don't stare but handsome, even sexy, features deserve a good look. 

Walking together "he" is not pushed out of shape if "she" checks out other men (or women!) and vice versa. A brief "drama of the eyes" is one of the pleasures of Paris. Courtesy abounds. Never do you have a door snapped back in your face.
And there's always a "Merci!" when you hold the door. Parisian (indeed French) courtesy is very special.  Mutual respect runs deep, in a very democratic way.

 Modern France was built on the phrase, “Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité” Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. In many ways it cuts across all social strata. There are no “commands”. 
Always there is “S’il vous plait” or "IF IT PLEASES YOU”! 

“Bring me a coffee!” will be greeted with an icy stare and poor service. “Un café, s’il vous plait” will elicit a smile and attentive service. It’s so simple, once you understand!
Pet dogs are impeccably clean, groomed and well behaved, almost an accessory to their masters look. Don't be surprised to see the dog curled up under the table at the foot of its owner dining at the local bistro.

Paris looks great in the gray of winter. And when the sun shines, Paris dazzles in the way that San Francisco or Venice light can dazzle the eye. But Paris twilight can be stunning too, the so-called "Blue Hour": that pale blue-light that diffuses itself throughout the city. 

I tried to capture this blue-light in a photo of Notre Dame Cathedral taken from the Right Bank


Paris: The Blue Hour

And after dark, lights flood the public buildings in dramatic and exciting ways. Paris , the "City of Light "!



The "Étoile" system of city layout does present something of a problem trying to negotiate around the city. Emerging from the Metro you are often confronted with eight possible choices of direction. There are detailed street maps (either upstairs or downstairs) which show a street plan of the area. Select the exit closest to the street that leads to your destination. Rather than consulting a large foldout map, carry the small "Paris Pratique," available at most news kiosks. Every street sign in Paris tells you which Arrondissement you are in. Turn to page 7 for the map of the 7th Arrondissement (etc.). A quick scan will usually pinpoint your location and destination. 

The Metro is a snap. Trains are identified by their last stop. You rarely have to wait more than five minutes.

Which brings me to an unfortunately sour note about Paris. Pickpockets abound.

If you walk along with a large foldout map you become a sitting duck. A pickpocket will position himself so that you bump into him and an indignant "you bumped into me!" and the loss of your wallet will ensue. Always position yourself defensively in a crowded Metro car (wallet pocket against a door, etc.). A favorite ploy is for a pickpocket and accomplice to jostle you from behind making a last second exit with your wallet, just as the closing door prevents you from giving chase. 

The old escalator trick has the partner accidentally (on purpose) drop something at the top resulting in a pile-up of bodies and a wallet lost to an accomplice. Suspend courtesy. Push your way over and out of harms way. Don't advertise yourself as a tourist (camera hanging from a string around the neck, stopping to gawk in crowded pedestrian traffic, etc.)

An ankle strapped container for passport and excess paper money is one way to go if you're wearing pants. Exiting a crowded Metro car, head for the sidelines if you're not sure where to go rather than stop dead in a rush of exiting pedestrians. Avoid getting bumped from behind at all costs.

These tips are true for any large city but even more so for Paris. Be savvy, not paranoid.

Gypsies used to be the terror of Paris, purse snatching and grabbing exposed wallets in broad daylight. One harried woman outside the Louvre was hanging on to her purse as a gang of gypsies tried to wrestle it from her. I ran up with forked fingers pointing and loudly chanted some demonic sounding gobbledygook.

They literally s**t in their pants and ran in several directions. Laughs and loud applause from bystanders rewarded the finest role I ever played!

The Louvre, of course, has no peer in its combination of richness, importance and diversity of its artistic treasures, its clear organization and syntax of departments, the fineness of its installations and displays and the overall ambience. And there are so many additional worthy museum destinations to select from, including, of course, Versailles and the Musée D'Orsay. 



Investing in a 5-day museum pass @ 50 Euro is a good idea. They are available at most Metro ticket counters (you will no doubt also be buying the "Carnet de Dix" 10 metro tickets at approx. 10 Euro). 

The pass entitles you to VIP entry at some 50 museums, bypassing long ticket lines.
 

A View of the Louvre from the Jardin du Carousel


The I.M. Pei Atrium at the Louvre.


A view of the Pei Pyramids at the Louvre


Morning Sun on the Louvre


The Musée D'Orsay across the River as seen from the Jardin des Tuileries


The new (newly renovated) Musée Guimet (Oriental Art)
http://www.museeguimet.fr
 rivals the Brundage in its collections and state of the art installations. 



I always enjoy a visit to the Musée Nisim de Camondo (18th Cent. French Art and decors) out near Parc Monceau at 63, rue de Monceau.   (This is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, by the way.)


The Rodin Museum is always a pleasure.  It's located at 77, rue de Varenne and is closed on Mondays.


The Sculpture Garden

 Fatigued by the vast wealth of treasures at the Louvre? Spend an hour or two in the Cabinet of Medals (Cabinet des Medailles et Antiques) at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, (58, rue de Richelieu A.P.) and view its small but exquisite selection of objects d'art.   This is open in the afternoon from 1 until 5.

The newest star in the galaxy of great museums in Paris is the new museum of Tribal and Anthropological Artifacts: Musée du quai Branly. The following link will give you some idea of the richness of the collections: 
CLICK HERE.


Take the Metro #1 to La Défense and explore the truly awesome contemporary architecture.  It's at 1, Parvis de la Défense and is open from 9 in the morning until 7 or 8 at night.



A Play of Reflections in Mirrored Façades


Looking South from the Grand Arche


Looking North from the Place de La Défense


A Garden and Skylight of a Rotunda given a 'Cubist' Play of Forms by the use of Mirrors"


All the sightseeing, museum going, shopping, walking that you will be doing has a way of sharpening the appetite, abetted by the street smells of Terrines slowly cooking in ovens, bread baking, etc. Wonderful restaurants, bistros, cafes abound. Once settled into your chosen hotel there will be great places to eat within walking distance. One strategy that works well at times is to spend the morning in intensive museum going. Make lunch the day's primary dining-out experience, as most restaurants do not do significant "downsizing" of the dinner menu at lunchtime. The afternoon can be spent walking and/or shopping leisurely.  A late afternoon snack will carry you through an evening at the Opera, Ballet or Symphony. 

Otherwise make dinner the main attraction of the evening. Be sure that your limited French at least extends to "Bon Jour", "Merci", "S'il vous plait," and the food items on a restaurant menu. 

A lot of my Paris Restaurant favorites are quite personal.  After the Opera or the Ballet, which might not get out much before 11, we head for Chez Denise (a.k.a. A La Tour de Montlhery) near Les Halles, open round the clock but closed Saturday and Sunday. You can have a huge copper pot of "Tripes au Calvados" (enough for a dinner party of four) washed down with a liter bottle of house Brouilly. There's Foie Gras (about 4 oz.!) served with a large glass of Sauternes. It's raucous and tables full of Parisians with trencherman appetites.



Chez Denise with l'eglise Saint Eustache in the background.


Rognons de Veau and Tripe au Calvados at Chez Denise. They do a great Brochette of Beef, Steak Pommes Frites, Lamb Braised with White Beans, etc. for the less adventurous.

 

 



The young crowd on a budget head for Le Trumilou, a block and a half up the quay from the Hotel de Ville. The patron Monsieur Drumond (" Ah, Monsieur Gorman so nice to see you again!  How's the wine shop in California?") orchestrates the scene with speed and aplomb and always has a few goodies on the wine list from the Beaujolais and the Southwest.  Duck with Prune-Plums is a must. There's an excellent 18 Euro menu. 

Near the Odeon on the Right Bank is Aux Charpentiers on the rue Mabillon. Past the great zinc bar thrifty Parisians are dining in unpretentious elegance.  Best Pied de Porc in Paris and there's always an interesting wine to try from a short but select list. For the most recent visit,  lunch included starters of a Crayfish Tails and Baby Spinach Salad, and across the table Eggplant Caviar with Goat Cheese, Pimento Purée and Basil-Infused Olive Oil (fantastic!) These were followed by a perfect Milk-Fed Veal Chop, cream and porcini mushroom sauce, and perfect house-made egg noodles. My dining companion had his favorite Pied de Porc. A delicious bottle of Morgon (Cru Beaujolais) served properly at very cool cellar temperature accompanied our meal. Desserts included Frozen Nougat with Raspberry Purée and a slice of Tarte au Mirabelles. Oui, ca c'est Paris!!

 

Up the street is THE place to buy your state-of-the-art stove and convection oven and all manner of accoutrements!

Maison La Cornue
18 rue Mabillon

http://www.lacornue.com




I returned after several years to Brasserie Bofinger with its stunning Belle Époque décor. Don’t be surprised if the service is under-par by Paris standards.


A Terrine of Lamb Sweetbreads


Choucroute de Poisson

Out in the 14th Arr. is La Régalade, a "new" Bistro with a Southwest accent but reservations well in advance (two weeks to a month) are a must.

The most exciting cuisine, however, is at Chez Michel behind the Church of
St. Vincent de Paul near the Gare du Nord. Here's one dinning experience: a starter of a Pâté en Croute of Feathered Wild Game with a lightly dressed salad of Barbe de Capucin (an exotic chicory), arugula, etc. No Cornichons, but a small crock of pickled wild mushrooms give zest. Across the table, my associate had Fresh Baby Abalone in a Purée of Potato and the "Tomalley" of the Abalone. Then I had Veal Sweetbreads, Salsify, Garlic, in an incredible Sauce Reduction, the whole covered with shavings of Black Truffle. My dinning companion is enjoying an incredibly rich stew of Loin of Baby Goat, Chestnuts and Black Chanterelles. Terrific! Champagne (@ 35 Euro) and an excellent bottle of 1er Cru Burgundy (@ 30 Euro) added to our enjoyment of the meal.. The restaurant has a base three course menu at 30 euros. But all the most inventive cuisine is listed on the blackboard with notes like "10 euro supplement" Don't hesitate. Go for it!
At my most recent visit there was a starter plate of Fresh Cèpes (our Porcini) in a veal/white wine/mushroom stock reduction, garlic and tiny crunchy croutons. Across the table there's a Ceviche of Lobster Meat, peeled and seeded tomato, mesclun greens. Both fabulous! The Half Braised Pheasant is on a bed of Braised Cabbage and Carrots. The rest of the pheasant is in a cocotte off camera, including a chunk of duck foie gras! Awesome! The Grouse was a well hung breast stuffed with forcemeat of the leg, roasted and served with Black Currants and a pool of a Cassis reduction. Terrific bottle of
Burgundy @ 35 euros!

 First Course at Chez Michel.


 Grouse and Pheasant at Chez Michel

I had the pleasure last trip of having lunch at Aux Lyonnaise, serving up the classic cuisine of Lyon for over a century. Here you will find the cuisine that formed the base for the cuisine of Paul Bocuse before he went off the deep end. "Lunch"!! For starters: a gratin of chanterelles, blanched cardoon, and cream, topped with a thin crust of  melted "Gruyere" type cheese. What an unlikely but incredible combination! Then on to a Braised Poussin with Crayfish Tails and Fall veggies (petit pois, baby carrots, salsify, baby turnip.)  A bottle of 2004 Reuilly Rouge accompanied. Then a Soufflé avec Mirabelle. Picture this:!! a frozen sorbet of Mirabelle topped with an exquisite Mirabelle infused Soufflé in an individual little soufflé dish! How did they do it!! The repast called for a splendid 1990 Marc de Chambertin (Trapet). Such gastronomic pleasure!


If your budget can handle it, dine at wine importer Michael Sullivan's (Beaune Imports...excellent wines!) "favorite restaurant in all of
France ": L'Assiette. It features simple, straightforward and utterly fresh and highest quality ingredients, a restaurant that would serve as a paragon for Alice Waters. 

There is exceptional Basque Cuisine at Au Bascou including many wines of the region. (Go for lunch and visit the near-by and fascinating Musée des Arts et Metiers.)

And lastly, an exceptionally "tony," "now" restaurant in the 1st Arrondissement : Pinxo. To call it "Asian Fusion" would do it an injustice. It's pure French Cuisine which in not afraid to go East to expand its repertoire of ingredients: e.g. quick grilled skewers of baby squid and Spanish pimento accented with deep fried chips of garlic and shaved ginger; stunning!






AU BASCOU

38 rue Rèamur   Tel 42 72 69 25

L'ASSIETTE
181 Rue du Château (14th Arr.) Tel 43 22 64 86

CHEZ MICHEL
10 Rue de Belzunce Tel. 44 53 06 20

PINXO
9, rue d'Alger  - angle de La Rue du Mont Thabor Tel. 40 20 72 02

LA RÉGALADE
49 Ave. Jean-Moulin Tel. 45 45 68 58

LE TRUMILOU
84 Quai de L'Hotel-de-Ville (4th Arr.) tel: 42 77 63 98

AUX CHARPENTIERS
10 rue Mabillon (6th Arr.) Tel: 43 26 30 05

CHEZ DENISE (aka A LA TOUR DE MONTLHERY)
5, rue des Prouvaires (1st Arr.) tel 42 36 21 82


GAEL GREENE ON PARIS:
http://www.travelandleisure.com/destination/paris.cfm




HOTELS:

My perennial favorite is Hotel du Lion d'Or. Centrally located in the 1st arrondissement. M. Amour and his staff are incredibly friendly and helpful. Indeed after so may years it has become something of a home away from home. The building is early 18th Century with much exposed stonework and ancient wood beams. No elevator but you appreciate working off a few calories from that slice of foie gras, which you could afford because of the reasonable hotel rates.

If you prefer more deluxe accommodations you would be best advised to peruse the lists of Hotels in Time Out and Rough Guides. I've seldom been disappointed by either web-sites recommendations.

http://www.hotelduliondor.com/

http://www.timeout.com/paris/accom/

http://travel.roughguides.com/roughguides.html


PERFORMING ARTS:

Ordering tickets on line for concerts, ballet and opera is a snap but you should allow at least three months lead time for best availability. You pick up your tickets at the box office about an hour before the performance. Here are some useful links:
 
http://www.operabase.com/en/links

http://www.opera-de-paris.fr/

The old Opera House (Garnier).


The New Opera House (Bastille).



A cityscape from the top floor.


The Grand Staircase.


Opening Night at the Theatre du Chatelet.


Mural over the Bar at the Chatelet.



http://www.theatrechampselysees.fr/

http://www.orchestredeparis.com/20032004/index.htm

www.cite-musique.fr

www.chatelet-theatre.com



SIDE TRIPS:

Versailles is a must if you've never been. Here's where the Museum Pass is a godsend as lines for tickets are often hellacious.

http://www.chateauversailles.fr/

Fontainebleau is most pleasant. 

Walk through the forest gardens to the Chateau and don't miss the grand entry staircase and the series of frescos by Rosso Fiorentino, commissioned by Francis I. These are great Mannerist works showing the influence of Michelangelo's frescos in the Sistine Chapel.

http://www.musee-chateau-fontainebleau.fr/

You can visit the Cathedrals of Chartres and Le Mans in one day. My favorite French Gothic Cathedral is at Amiens, an hour by express train out of Paris (Gare du Nord). It's the largest interior space of all the French Cathedrals and truly awesome. The newly cleaned and restored portals display some of the finest examples of Gothic Sculpture. A little restaurant just opposite the Cathedral had some exceptional cuisine for lunch: Le Petit Bedon, 6 Rue Cormont.

A visit to Chateau de Chantilly takes an hour or so by train from Paris and a pleasant walk to the chateau, making a delightful day trip. The original chateau was destroyed during the Revolution and the current building is a more or less copy dating from the 19th Century. 

The main reason for the visit is to view the picture galleries of the Musée Condé. The collection is perhaps second only to the Louvre in France and includes two Raphael's that are worth the trip. The building that did survive from the 18th Century is the nearby horse stables. It seems that fortune-tellers convinced the Prince de Condé, a fancier of horses, that he would return after his death incarnated as a horse. He commissioned the construction of truly palatial stables, for me one of the most remarkable of all architectural spaces. It also houses a fascinating "Museum of the Horse." You don't have to be an equestrian to appreciate a visit.

http://www.chateaudechantilly.com/index_en.html

 

Written after a Parisian Vacation in February of 2004 and updated in Spring 2005 and Spring and Fall 2006

 

 

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