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Springtime in Paris 2007

Saturday, May 12 - Part 2
To celebrate our time in Paris, Gina and Tim invited us out to Maisons-Laffitte for champagne and délices. They also invited Nelly Davies (the daughter of Jimmy Winkfield, previously mentioned American jockey who lived in Paris for many years), along with trainer Jean-Paul Gallorini, his wife, Alexandrine, and their son, César. Talk around the table was naturally about horses and racing, with discussion of Joe Drape's book, Black Maestro. Does Nelly ride? (no!) Does she still go to the races? (rarely) We were touched by the stories she shared about her father, who she didn't know until she was in her teens, and from whom she was estranged for many years of her adult life. She is writing a memoir that will be very personal and very powerful (and unfortunately in French).

Jean-Paul hails from Marseilles and is thus quite loquacious and vif...what a character! He related the story of how short stirrups came to France in the early 1900s with the arrival of American jockeys, who were ridiculed and laughed at by French racing fans, until these crazy riders came up winners race after race. "Perhaps zey have somezing here?"  On and on the stories went!

Topique du soir:  the next day's races!  Both Jean-Paul and Gina had entries in Sunday's races at Compiègne, just outside of Paris. A lot of ribbing ensued:  there's a competitiveness between them, but Gina's respect for Jean-Paul is boundless, and she's pleased to be running her horse, Roi de Gabot, in such good company.  Before we headed out for dinner, we stopped by the yard across the street to tuck the horses in for the night. Then off to dinner at La Vieille Fontaine, a wonderful restaurant in a beautiful 19th century villa in the middle of Maisons. The setting was gorgeous, the food delicious, service was attentive, and the company was best of all! 

Saturday, May 12 - Part 1
Our last Saturday afternoon in Paris! Should we hit the streets to shop frenetically or take a leisurely promenade around our neighborhood to absorb its ambience? I'm not a shopper so that decision was easy, especially since within a few blocks of the apartment are some of the finest examples of 20th century architecture in the world. First stop was the Foundation Corbusier, set in La Villa Roche, one of the houses designed and built by the cubist/modernist architect and artist, Le Corbusier. Wow! Sleek, clean, cool, functional. Just a block away is another 20th century villa, that of Mallet-Stephens. This was built a bit earlier than Villa Roche, and has a more Art Deco feel to it. After these two linear styles, it was interesting to wander the streets of our neighborhood looking at the Hector Guimard buildings with Art Nouveau flourishes. Guimard is the man who created the signature Metro signs that you can still see at some Parisian metro stops. He also built a great number of historic buildings in the late 1800s as part of the expansion of Paris west toward the Bois de Boulogne. Interestingly, there was an Exhibition going on in one of his most fanciful small houses, so I had the opportunity to go inside and see his interior work as well. Beautiful, stylish, curlicues and grace. Our interest in architecture was rekindled thanks to these gems being all around us as we went about our daily business.

Oh, by the way, we did find a little time to do some window shopping, lecher les vitrines (literally, lick the windows)...some photos to come of what we saw.

Friday, May 11
A gloomy day dawned, so I decided it was time to visit an imposing religious structure of some sort to match the heaviness outside. I had read about the Basilique of Saint-Denis as being the resting place of most of the kings of France, and I thought it might be interesting to head out just north of town to see what that was all about.

Now, note that Saint-Denis is a banlieue, a suburb of Paris that has seen lots of riots, fires, police confrontations, etc. over the past several years.  Remember all those tire-burnings? They were in Saint-Denis. Well, I checked in with a few locals to see if it was safe to go there to visit the Basilica by myself, and was reassured many times -- pas de soucis -- it was all right as long as I followed the usual rules of being vigilant, paying attention, and such.

So off I went via the metro, and I'm glad I did. The cathedral is an immense Gothic structure, and a treasure-trove of French history. Even better, I arrived in town to find it was market day in the square. This market was aimed at a different crowd than the one we'd visited the day before in Rue Clerc. Among the beautiful produce were dozens of kinds of peppers, and didn't see much asparagus, but did find lots of onions, garlic, and exotic spices. The fabrics and clothing were bright and wild. The people were much more diverse, and overall the feeling was much more ethnic and vibrant. I'm glad to have seen it, although I didn't take any pictures or buy anything...vigilance?  I also walked past the Mairie and saw that presidential election results for the town were posted. Nationally, Nicholas Sarkozy took 53% of the vote. In Saint-Denis, he took 32%. I wasn't surprised. A different side of Paris, and one that I'm glad to have seen.

Thursday, May 10
Having floated the Thames in London, we decided it'd be a nice thing to take a lazy afternoon ride along the Seine through the heart of Paris. We started the morning with a visit to the morning market in Rue Clerc in the posh 7e arrondissement. Although not as big as many markets, this is considered one of the finest with regard to quality of products, and we'd have to agree. On our way to lunch we strolled through les Invalides, the gold-domed former military hospital that is now a military museum and also where Napoleon is buried. Although we didn't see his tomb, we did see his statue glowering down at us as we passed through the immense courtyard in the center of the building.

We followed up with a quiet lunch in a cafe in the 6e before heading over to the pier on the quai to catch one of the Bateaux Mouches. We managed to get seats at the very front of the boat so that we were as far away from the crowd and the PA system as possible (which spouted garbled info in six languages for all to strain to hear). I have to say the trip was great. In a comfortable and relaxed way, we traveled under the many bridges that cross the Seine and got duck's-eye views of the most imposing structures of Paris. Just as good, we got a glimpse of the hum of life along the river. We've got some pictures that show both the aspects of this river jaunt (or, as Hyacinth would say, this riparian journey).

Thursday evening we were invited to share an apéritif with Jean and Dominique, the brother and sister-in-law of our dear friends from Uzès, Pierre and Salete. Their apartment in the 9e arrondissement, not too far from the Opera and the Academy of Music, is in a very quiet and historic area, in fact quite near where Monsieur Sax lived -- you know, the Sax who invented the Saxophone! Many impressionist and early modern artists had studios in this area, and it was also home to musicians, singers and actors (called comédiens in French). We were feted with champagne and then went to a delicious dinner at Chez Jean, a lovely bistro on Rue Saint-Lazare (we recommend it).  We had great fun talking about jazz, American writers (Jim Harrison, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx), the subtle nuances of using 'tu' vs. 'vous' (le tutoiement), travels, good wine, and much more. We hope to see them again on our next trip to Paris.

Monday, May 7
We were Newmarket-bound on Saturday, taking the train to Cambridge, with a switch to the local after that. We had many fellow travelers -- you could tell the ones going to the races by their outfits and the racing forms under their arms. Despite a confused search for our tickets, and then our seats, we settled in nicely and watched several grand races, which are all run straight line, rather than around an oval...and of course all on grass. In the big race, a long shot came in first, nipping our pick's chances. Disappointing for us from a betting standpoint, but exhilarating all the same for the beauty of it all. We had the chance to taste a Pim's Cup, something we've been wanting to do for a long time. And now we've done it.

Tony and Sarah have a flat in a southern suburb called Herne Hill. They commute by train into London, a seven-minute ride to their tube stop, but the village seems much farther away from the city. We went out there to visit them on Sunday, and were treated to a drink in their local pub and a curry dinner. The pub was warm, lively, filled with friendly folks, just what you would imagine a local pub to be. The curry dinner was exotic and delicious, at an Indian restaurant just down the street from their house. We ordered most everything on the menu, and then some. It was so nice to spend an evening in Herne Hill with Joe's family. It was tough to say goodbye, but we'll see them again soon, on one side of the pond or the other. And back to Paris we go for the final week of our stay. Geez, time is just flying by!

Friday, May 4
We're off to London, taking the Eurostar across northern France through the 21 km Chunnel (dark, stuffy, ear-popping, but really not a big deal) then on through to London's Waterloo station. Our hotel, the John Howard (a Best Western) is in the South Kensington part of town, just a block from Kensington Gardens and around the corner from the Royal Albert Hall and the Victoria & Albert museum. Really nice location, decent hotel, reasonable rates (by London standards).

Kathy, Sarah and Tony joined us for a reunion aperitif in our hotel room last night, then we all went out to dinner on Gloucester Street. Today, Friday, is a work day for the 'kids' so we decided to have a quiet day in London, with a stroll around Kensington Gardens, then a boat ride down the Thames. At 6 pm we met back up at Gordon's, an eccentric wine bar (and also one of the oldest) on the pedestrian Villiers Street near the Charing Cross Underground station. What a bizarre and cool spot. The place was jammed with people, wall to wall, and the ceilings in the 'cave' portion are less-than-six-feet vaulted tunnels. Though great fun, it's not for the claustrophobic. Tomorrow is our excursion to Newmarket for the 2000 Guineas race, a top-level race that should draw thousands, including us.

Wednesday, May 2
Another afternoon at the races, this time an hour north of Paris at Chantilly. Once again Gina graciously invited us to join her and to show us around. We'd been to Chantilly seven years ago, to meet up with jockey Cash Asmussen and his family. That year, 2000, turned out to be his last year of racing, and he'd won many racing titles over the years that he rode in Europe. Interestingly, Gina won her first amateur race, a journalist's gentleman rider race, the same day that Cash announced his retirement, so that day's racing headlines in Paris read something like "Allo, Gina. Au revoir, Cash." We watched some nice races and had the chance to meet Jean-Paul Gallorini, who trains, among others, the Wildenstein family horses. We've got some photos from this day at the races in Chantilly.

Tuesday, May 1
May Day in France, and in Europe, is a major holiday that honors all workers. All shops are closed, some bakeries/butchers/florists are open for a few hours in the morning for that last minute baguette/jambon/bouquet; transportation runs on holiday schedules; all business and trades have the day off; and of course no school. So what to do when there's no shopping, no museums, no nothin'?  How about an afternoon outdoors, in particular at the Luxembourg Gardens in the 6e with other Parisians? So, off we went to join the fray. We've got some photos of the scene that afternoon.

Another tradition for May Day is muguet de bois (lily of the valley), given to friends and family to wish them le bonheur.  During the last week of April, muguet vendors, both rogue and approved, offer two or three branches of this fragrant flower for 4 euros. It's a nice custom that really does bring cheer to those unpredictable days of spring. For more on this tradition, you can read an earlier piece from Armchair Uzès.

Monday, April 30
Before heading back north to Paris, we took a quick trip to Mausanne-les-Alpilles. Primary objective:  grabbing a bottle of what we think is the best olive oil in France, from Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille. We've talked about this olive oil before, and always try to get a bottle or to to bring back for summer salads and fresh vegetables. While we were in the area we drove through les Alpilles, a truly unique area south of Avignon with a landscape that rivals the moon and the far west, including les Baux-de-Provence. Unfortunately, we weren't able to go to one of our favorite eating spots, Bistrot Paradou, since it's closed on Monday. It's always been a great place to have lunch, prix fixe, wine included, not inexpensive, but worth the experience. My high school buddies/traveling companions and I ate there a few years ago and were treated like royalty by Jean-Louis and his son. They even presented each of us with a signed poster -- we were charmed! Just this past weekend, we'd heard from Anne-Marie and her son Gwen that they'd been there at Easter and had dined with Jean Reno and Charles Aznavour, who apparently have summer houses in the area. Despite missing out on the Bistrot, we did have a wonderful lunch on the sunny patio at another restaurant on the main street in Mausanne. A nice ending to our long weekend down south!

Saturday - Sunday, April 28 - 29
We're happy to be back in Uzès, which doesn't seem to have changed too much in the three years since we've been here. On Friday afternoon, we took the TGV (très grand vitesse) from Paris, a quick 2 hr 45 min train trip, and drove into town from Avignon. Strolling around town felt good, comfortable, very familiar, with most of the same merchants and shops in place. Joe spotted the local policeman he'd watched play rugby years ago at the local stadium, and they gave each other polite nods of recognition. Friday evening we were treated to a lovely dinner with our friends, Pierre and Salete Nestor. On Saturday Jim and Cheri Adams, our NH neighbors who are staying up the road in Nyons, came over with their son, Ross, and we all jumped in feet-first to explore the Saturday market, joining the thousands of visitors who were doing the same thing. The weather was grand, but the pollen was terrible, with everyone choking and sneezing from the stuff falling from the plane trees (sycamores). The early warm season with little rain has made for lots of allergens - and we noticed as we rode the train that many farmers are already irrigating their fields, and it's only April. Summer could be a brutal affair for the continent if things continue as they have been for the past few months.

The market was great. We reconnected with many merchants who had been gracious to us during our long stay several years ago. We stopped by to visit 5 rue Saint-Théodorit, where the roses were in glorious bloom.  Earl and Stephane Schwartz were not there, taking an afternoon promenade, but Madame Rossi, the concierge who lives across the street was, and she caught us up on the news from the quartier. Best of all, the street has finally been redone, with graduated steps in natural stone that are much nicer and safer for pedestrians.

Saturday night was a lovely evening with friends as we feasted at the restaurant l'Olivier, our favorite in the area. The food was as delicious as we remembered. Another feast on Sunday, chez Anne-Marie, our friend and prof, who fixed us a multi-course lunch in her apartment that went on until past five o'clock. We followed up with a coffee outdoors in the Place aux Herbes, at l'Oustal, a local haunt for a coffee or glass of wine. It was a peaceful scene on Sunday evening, as friends and families relaxed under the trees, sharing conversation and our happiness about la retrouvaille.  Oddly, very early the next morning, as we were all sleeping, a fire broke out at l'Oustal and burned the place down, along with several apartments in that building. It's not certain whether it was arson or accident [update 5-10: it was arson] ...but an old building has been severely damaged, a pleasant cafe is no more, and several people have lost their apartments to the blaze. Here's hoping things are restored as quickly as possible so that the Place aux Herbes can get back to normal.

Sunday, April 29    La Retrouvaille in Uzès

Saturday, April 28    Afternoon in Uzès
                        le marché d'Uzès

Wednesday, April 25
Roots...les racines. One of the quests for this trip is to find the apartments my family lived in while in Paris during the 1950s. My parents came over in 1950 as newlyweds when my father was stationed here during the postwar period.  Teresa (my sister) and I were born here, at the American Hospital in Neuilly (no dates will be mentioned to protect the less-than-innocent), and we were both baptized at Notre Dame de Paris.  I've got a list of the places my parents lived (I lived at only one of the addresses, since we moved to the States when I was five months old) and I'm going to find each of them for nostalgia's sake.

Those who've followed our adventures might recall the early days in Uzès, where we lived on rue Saint-Théodorit over a period of several years. Those were wonderful times, with our limited French, our innocent ways, and our propensity to overindulge in great food and wine. Those were also the days of dial-up internet with very few French people having a clue about computers, much less the web. Now we're using high speed wi-fi (pronounced 'wee-fee' here) to bring you news and it's a whole 'nother world.  We're planning to train down to Uzès this weekend to visit old friends and haunts, including the famous Saturday market in the Place aux Herbes.  Keep an eye out for our update on what's new there (and what's not).

Monday, April 23      Lunch at Longchamps
Sunday, April 22       Auteuil in the afternoon
Friday, April 20         Maisons-Laffitte

Thursday, April 19
Off to a false start on our trip because of the 'storm with no name' that struck the northeastern U.S. on April 15th.  We were delayed leaving several days by cancelled flights and then local flooding.  A utility pole down our road washed away in the mini-flooding and the electric power went with it.  Some friends and neighbors were cut off because their driveways and/or roads were washed away. There were numerous detours on our way to the airport caused by washouts, mudslides, unstable bridges, etc.  But we got here, and oh la la, what a 'here' this is!

A streak of gorgeous weather is upon us, day after day of sunshine, 70 degree temperatures.  We're getting ourselves settled in the apartment we've rented on rue de l'Assomption in the 16e arrondissement but are spending as much time outside as possible.  Les boulevards are filled with people of all stripes and fashion, strolling about taking in le beau temps.  On Saturday afternoon, the Bois de Boulogne, a French version of Central Park in NYC or Hyde Park in London, was filled to the gills with walkers, bikers, pique-niquers, boaters, dog-lovers, families, lowlifes -- all of them basking in the warm sun under blue skies.

We've also had a run of horse-racing good luck -- not necessarily at the windows, but certainly at the local tracks.  Joe Drape, New York Times horseracing writer and recent winner of the Thoroughbred Times award for his book, Black Maestro, has put us in touch with Gina Rarick, an American from Wisconsin who is a financial writer for the International Herald Tribune. More importantly, Gina is a trainer and  jockey here in France, something almost miraculous in the closed world of French racing. We visited Gina at her home in Maisons-Laffitte just outside of Paris, and had a chance to see several of the horses she's currently training.  She has also been our enthusiastic guide to three Paris racing venues, Maisons-Laffitte, Auteuil and Longchamps.

More to come...with photos too! Stay tuned.

General photo updates    les Scènes de Paris


Spring 2007 Galleries

Qu'ils sont beaux, les garçons au Bo-Zinc!

Creepy crypts, beautiful windows at the Basilique of Saint-Denis

Sur les quais de vieux Paris...

Newmarket racing  is veddy, veddy British!

And they're off at Chantilly!

A quiet drink at the local pub

Huddled together in London to ward off the chill with a nice bottle of wine

Sailing in the Luxembourg Garden

Les Baux-des-Alpilles

Saturday market in Uzès...

A sprig of lily of the valley for good luck
Un brin de muguet pour le bonheur

We're  at  it again...

LuxFlower3.jpg (179819 bytes)

Waiting for the TGV  at the Gare de Lyon,
just beneath the famous Le Train Bleu

Roots...les racines

Looks like London, but it's  the famous
phone booth in Maisons-Laffitte.

A landscaped island in the Bois de Boulogne.

 In the 16e arrondissement, the Eiffel Tower towers over the mini-Statue of Liberty.
More photos from along the way...




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