Art History Class… and Eiffel and Stonehenge

My three years in Paris have exposed me to more art than any other time in my life.  I always loved art.  But I do have a limit for museums.  My brain will only take so much input and then it shuts down.

What I notice now is my immediate recognition of an artist.  Before, I would have a good idea, but now, pretty damn sure.  And when it’s a new work for me, I still can figure it out.

The DeYoung in San Francisco is a wonderful museum.  They have great relationships with other international museums and I have seen masterpieces there. Or at their sister the Legion of Honor.  And I am sure NYC also has incredible museums – duh.  The Met.  MOMA.

But Paris.  10 to 12 great places that have at least two expositions a year.  That can mean 24 exhibits!  The normal collections are beautiful and breath-taking but these exhibit!  I am seeing paintings that are off in Tokyo or Denmark or Russia that I would otherwise never get the chance to see.  AND they have many works from a collection particular.  That means a private collector has allowed the painting they own to be shown.  I might make it to Denmark, but I am certainly not going to be invited in if I just walk up to a door and knock and ask to see their Renoir.  Let alone know what door upon which to knock!

I have discovered Pissarro this year.  There were two exhibits dedicated to him and some of his paintings were just at the Jacquemart Andre museum I visited this week.   And Monet, of course.

And the Nabis.  I discovered this school of artists at an exhibit at the De Young of works from the D’Orsay.  And particularly the works of Maurice Denis.  He became a commonality between me and a French friend.  She directed me to two gallery showings of his work.  Again, from private collections.  And a week ago I discovered a museum dedicated to him out in St Germain en Laye.  It was his home.  So much fun.

I have a Gaughin exhibit to attend this afternoon.  Not overly excited but it should be good.

Yesterday I went to the NYC MOMA expo at the Louis Vuitton Foundation museum in the Bois de Boulogne.  Cleary I do not overly care for modern art.  It was the most expensive show I have ever attended.  Well, it was only 16 euro.  But I zipped through it in 25 minutes.  So per minute, very dear.  Most things left me cold.  I do like the collections at the SF MOMA.  But I am not heading for NYC for MOMA in the near future.  However, I did discover the terraces of the building.  It is a building designed by Frank Gehry.  I’ve visited before and always loved it.  But never found this higher level.  Great views of the park, La Defense and even the Eiffel Tower.

Speaking of which, they are building some type of glass wall around it for security.  Well, it will be better than the fences.  But still.  And I am sure not glass – some high-powered bullet proof plastic?  Still it makes me sad to think there has to be such protection around it.  I am glad I have visited before this was necessary – and I mean 1960 and 1970.  Just like Stonehenge.  My family drove up and parked off the road and simply walked over to the stones to touch them, to meander, to even climb a bit.  Now they aqre also fenced in.  And the regular isitor gets to walk around them from a distance.  About 10 years ago I revisited the place and was able to take an early morning group visit to inside the stones themselves –but with a guard present.  No more than 8 of us and 6 left early.  That allowed my friend and me to wander alone… with the guard… and look don’t touch!)

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Les Puces

That’s flea market to you.  I have been to the one located at Vannes in the south of Paris.  Just a sidewalk street market.  Vendors bring tables or just lay the items out on the sidewalk, with or without a sheet.  Not much of interest.  I have wanted to go to the GRAND Les Puces de Saint-Ouen near Porte de Clignancourt.  But I have heard so many tales of pickpockets that I was hesitant.  Then I saw a program on French TV that made it look more upscale.  And I have a French friend who is a graphics designer and working with a company that sells antiques.  We went together.

You walk through a few blocks of cheap discount knock off designer stores and then through a market.  Found the best scarves there and at great prices.  I even went back!  And then you get to the real Les Puces.  And it’s quite upscale.  Different sub-markets for clothes, china, furniture, paintings, photographs, etc.  I saw a lot of teak furniture.  Felt like I was in the family home in the 1960s.  I wish I had kept some of it as it is coming back but oh well.  Nothing that I wanted to buy – it was a little expensive and I would have had to ship it back even if I negotiated a good price.

But an interesting day.  And another place checked off the list.

Blogging, Buildings and Butter

My list of blogging subjects is getting far too long! So I am squeezing in a few moments at the laptop between an art expo and lunch with a new friend.

But, merde!  I have rewritten the blogging list six times, consolidating little notes and emails to myself and can I find it now? No!  So I am taking a quick break which you won’t notice because there is no time lapse between sentences – unless YOU put this down.

I found it. And I also made my reservation for the evening of Gregorian Chants at Notre Dame de Paris on December 28. Excited about that!

It’s been a whirlwind of reservations.  My ticket has been purchased and I return to Sacramento on January 10, 2018.  I realized quite suddenly that there are less than 2 months in front of me to see everything I possibly can.  Maroc (Morocco) is done.  More about that later.  Portugal is next week.  Why Portugal?  I have visited every European country other than Eastern Europe and Portugal.  So.  Pourquoi pas!  I am going to Porto for three days and then Lisbon for three more with my friend from North Carolina/Puerto Rico.  She is my secret weapon because she is fluent in Spanish (and French and Italian) and says that while Portuguese is written very differently from Spanish, she thinks she can understand spoken Portuguese.  Because I won’t have a clue!  (Maroc was nice because almost everyone speaks French!)

Building Update

The huge crane came down yesterday.  Which opens up the landscape. (that’s a joke…)  I am surprised actually because the façade is not finished.  Does this mean they will next be putting up scaffolding?  Horrors.  And the same day it came down, another residential building half a block away started their building cleaning.  I have read that buildings need to be cleaned between every 10 and 20 years, depending upon how dirty… and how much the owners want to chip in to pay for it.  That day the jack hammering shifted from the building across the street to the one half a block away.  Not much improvement.

And why?  My apartment building interior stairways were painted just before I got here in May.  And the stairs had the carpet removed and were refinished.  So nice.  And so nice to miss the work itself.  But now – 7 months later – they are painting the lobby.  Really?  Wouldn’t it have made sense to do it all at once?  Whatever.  I walk through and try not to breathe the paint fumes.  One guy.  He’s taking his time.  Oh.  It’s France.

BUTTER.  There is a shortage of butter in France right now.  I read about this but didn’t notice.  I did stockpile a couple packages just in honor of my mother the hoarder.  (We lived out in the country in Minnesota and she kept a lot on hand because of the difficulty of getting to the store.  That trait followed her to California even when she lived 5 minutes from the grocery.) But last week when I went to Monoprix, the big grocery store near me, to stock up in general…  there was NO BUTTER at all.  Empty shelves!  Horror!  From Business Insider:  A combination of bad weather in France, which has lowered the supply of cow feed; decreased exports from leading butter producer New Zealand; and increased global demand has increased the price of butter, according to the BBC. The price of 100 kgs of butter (which is a little over 220 lbs) has increased from about $527 to just over $791 since January.

According to Bloomberg, the current shortage in France has been amplified by anxious consumers frantically stocking up on butter during the last few weeks. 

Supermarkets in most countries have responded by simply raising the price of butter, but French supermarkets have been unable to do so since butter prices are set once each year following negotiations with producers. The next round of talks is set for February.

So.  I know a couple other stores that I can probably find some.  And if I have too much in January, heck, I will bring it home with me.  Love that salted butter.

A Tour of Luxury

I am on a mission to have tea at all the Paris luxury hotels.  Been to 4 in the past years.  This year the Hotel Crillon reopened after 2 years plus remodel.  (A friend who worked in hotels here told me that the hotels close for at least two years so that they can get out of their union contracts.  Maybe – but the Hyatt Regency and the Hyatt Louvre are remodeling around their guests.  The Crillon is all gold and shiny.  Yesterday was the Shangri-La.  It was understated and solemn. Next week is the Ritz.  And more to follow.  I guess I can throw in Le Café de la Paix which is an old elegant but touristy restaurant.

I like to relax in the luxurious surroundings.   For a 12 or 16 euro pot of tea, you can take your time.  I am checking them out for the best place to take my book for an afternoon reading.  However, I am not sure that the 900+ tab for a room is quite worth it.

From Café de la Paix I walked to Concorde for my bus.  I discovered two other Louis Vuitton stores.  Why so many in such a small area – there’s another on the Champ Elysees.  But more importantly I discovered the third Five Guys in Paris.  Two years ago I happened upon the Five Guys in Bercy which is on the other side of Paris from me.  This year they opened one on the Champs Elysees.  Now a third not too far from the Champs…  But it makes sense to me.  If you are going to open a restaurant here and deal with all the hassles of French bureaucracy, you might as well open several!

Did I say hassles?  Marks & Spencers clothing store on the Champs Elysees has closed.  As have the other two I know of in the Paris area.  I read last year they have been losing money and wanted to close.  However, the French labor laws required them to give the workers notice.  OK so we have the WARN act in the US.  90 days I believe.  Here it’s a year notice.  Sigh.  I liked M&S a lot.  Fortunately, the French like the M&S Food Halls so they will remain open.  That’s the smallish grocery stores.  Where I buy my bacon!  Whew.

 

Dark Evenings

Time changed here a week before it does in the US.  So I am finally enjoying both the brisk chilly weather and the night lights.  I am too old to regularly go out at 10 – when the sun starts to set here in the summer.  So this is  nice.  And I have seen the workmen hanging the lights in the trees lining the Champs Elysees.  And yesterday at the art store, they had all the Christmas things out.  AND coming home last night I spied the official city  Christmas decorations hanging on the buildings here in my neighborhood.  They weren’t turned on yet – but they are ready.

Because France doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving.  So there is nothing to keep them from starting in early November.  Right after Halloween, in fact.  I read in the French newspaper yesterday that Halloween has come to France from… no, not the US.  But from Ireland!  A wiki search told me that it came to the US from Ireland also!  Ha.  Who knew?  There is a little more of Halloween here every year, but I still haven’t heard of the French kids going door to door for Trick or Treat.

And what follows Halloween?  All Hallowed Eve?  All Saints Day.  Toussainte.  Tous/all sainte/saint.  A religious holiday but of course everything was closed!  And the busses almost empty.  In fact, there was a special shuttle between Arc de Triomple and La Defense – I guess something happened (as usual) to the train RER A so the shuttle was there – the shuttle was at my bus stop.  My bus was another 3 minutes.  No big deal.  But the shuttle bus driver solicited me to take his bus.  It was one of those double buses – not English double decker, just extra long.  And it was empty.  So I made his day and got home 3 minutes earlier.

On Halloween itself, a Tuesday this year, I met a friend for lunch.  We met at the Musee D’Orsay entrance as it was a convenient RER for us both.  But oh my.  I have never seen the lines for the Orsday like that for years!  I had to ask the security guard.  Ah ha! Stupid me.  It was a Tuesday.  All other museum are closed on Tuesdays except the Orsay.  Well, most of them.  I guess I haven’t been here on a Tuesday for a long time.  Fortunately, we didn’t plan on having lunch in the Museum.  We found a nice Italian place down a couple blocks and spent time catching up.  I had a pizza – and thought of Round Table…. Yum.

Musings

I return in 11 weeks.  And my brain is starting to refocus.  My memory of my kitchen and appliances sneak in to my head particularly when I clean.  As I have done… well, are doing.  Taking a break before vacuuming.

The dryer!  Soft warm fluffy towels, sheets and clothes!  Right now bedding in hanging up over the towel heating rack and over the dryer racks and clotheslines spread out over my apartment.  It’s not as bad as last year.  This year I brought a second flat sheet over (they are softer than the ones I have here and really, I am here 9 months!).  So I can remake the bed right away, no more waiting for a sheet to dry.  But still… imagine… a dryer!

I also dream of the dishwasher.  But really that’s more because I had to buy a new one when I got back last January.  The thing that probably came with the house when it was first built died.  So now I have this wonderful Kenmore waiting for me.

And I dream of no dust.  I am sure there is dust in California.  But not like Paris.  Today I wiped the kitchen counter.  I did this yesterday.  I didn’t do more than make tea last night.  But in spite of that, the sponge had a definite blackness to it.  Where does this dirt come from and so quickly?  I will be interested to see how much dust has accumulated in California.  I don’t have anyone living there full time so I put sheets over some things.

And then I think of croissants and baguettes and sigh wondering why I am going back.

But now, off to vacuum.  (Unless I can find a book that needs reading…)

OH  Books!!  I highly recommend SAPIENS.  Recommended to me by two French friends and by two Americans when I mentioned it- they said, oh yeah, that’s a great book!

Costco!

Yes there is a Costco in France!  Out in the environs of Paris.  A friend was interested so I took the train to her place in the banlieu (suburbs) and we drove over.  It’s located across from a field of cows!  But it’s a real Costco.  Looks the same.  Entrance.  Help desk.  I wanted to get in on my US membership.  And that’s possible.  But it is far easier if you bring your Costco card with you.

I didn’t  It’s sitting on my desk in California.

But I persisted.  Nope, they couldn’t look up my number.  BUT! I went to my Citibank app and opened it and found: COSTCO Citibank Card.  Just showed that and he waved me in.  Loved Christophe.

As we wandered about, we saw a group of French business people (suits) surrounding a guy in khakis and polo shirt – talking – American accent.  English.  We figured it was the manager explaining Costco to them.  My friend and I found some things to buy – I was on assignment from my Dutch friend to look for Almonds.  I found them next to the big bag of Krustez pancake mix.  On purpose I sent the photo including both the almonds and mix for her confirmation to buy the almonds.  Immediately she texted back KRUSTEZ!  Bought them both.

At the check out, the gal wanted my card.  Non, madame, je n’ai pas ma carte ici.  Mais Christophe !  She talked to her supervisor.  Again I said, Christophe!  Had to repeat it a couple times but they called Christophe who came over and smiled at me and explained to them how they could enter information and let me pay by credit card.  It was amusing because both ladies did not seem too happy with the accommodation.  They have a lot to learn about Costco customer service.  Christophe, however, gets it!

I pride myself on my great planning skills but sometimes they  fall short.  A back pack full of Krustez, Almonds (both Costco size!), and two bottles of wine  (yes, from St Emilion) is quite heavy!  It was a long trip to the Netherlands.

Travels

Out and about France.  I don’t think I said much about the trip to the West coast of France.  I have been looking at the map and seeing areas that I haven’ visited yet.  La Rochelle and Bordeaux leapt out at me.  La Rochelle so reminded me of a Southern California beach town.  Which in a way it is.  The two famous towers that guard the harbor.  Climbed one, the other closed.  http://www.francethisway.com/places/la-rochelle-towers.php

I enjoyed wandering around.  Even took a cruise out to Fort Boyard on a very choppy and windy day!  I was glad I accidentally picked the larger boat for my trip.  Clearly, it wasn’t tourist season – no more than 12 of us on a boat that can fit over a hundred.  Fort Boyard is a fort just built in the middle of the water.  Well, I did see a rock or two peeking out, so I assume there was something to start on.  There was also a famous French TV show called Fort Boyard – I know this because every- yes – every French person told me this when I said I went there.

Then the train to Bordeaux.  Now I am becoming a drinker of red wine, but only light reds.  Chinon, Brouilly.  And Bordeaux is known for the strong reds.  Still.  I took the train to St Emilion, famous medieval town and center of a wine region.  I loved this town and highly recommend it.  And thanks to a reader who went there on a tour and recommended it to me.  I climbed three towers that day and took a wine tour with the Tourist Office.  Another recommendation – always check out the tourist office site on line before going there.  I found this great tour in English for the morning and a tour of the underground church in the afternoon – also in English.  I was going to walk from the station but it is a bit of a hike.  The Tuk-Tuk came by and I caved.  And took them back also.  Which was a very good idea because at the winery I purchased two bottles of wine – a rose that was not labeled Fronsac (where it was located) but Bordeaux because of all those strict Wine rules.  And a delightful red that was not too strong.

I did the bus tour around Bordeaux the next day and was pretty much done with the city.  I think I enjoyed St Emilion so much that Bordeaux suffered by comparison.

CARNIVORE!

Meat!  Last week in La Rochelle, I had the best entrecote I have ever had in France.  But that’s not saying much.  As I was cutting through it, I was wondering where all the filet mignon are hiding?

Think about it. OK. It’s a big cow.  And the filet mignon spot is relatively small.  But still… I think I may have seen la Tete du veau (calf’s head) on the menu more than filet mignon.

OK I have to stop this description or I won’t be able to eat beef for a while.

I am a wimp.  I couldn’t take biology in high school because I refused to cut up a frog.  Or anything.  I took chemistry AND physics to avoid it.  And I was 22 before I could skin a chicken breast.  And then I had to put on rubber gloves!  If it looks too much like it was alive, I’m done.   Some idiots at a fancy conference meal of surf and turf picker up their lobsters and made them walk on the table.  I picked up my plate of steak and changed tables.  And when I was 9 years old, a delightful family friend cooked a 4 course meal for my family.  He placed the  plates of fish in front of me and my mom first, then went back to the kitchen to get the other plates for the rest of the family.   Clearly my discomfort was obvious for, on his last trip to the kitchen, he picked up my plate and said “let me remove this offensive creature.”  I was in love from him from then on.  I mean, really?  The whole fish, scales and all and this one eye peering up at me!  Shocking!

In 2001 I stopped eating red meat.  It was an energetic thing.  My body just wasn’t interested.  Which was fine until I decided to move to Paris.  I made a conscious decision to incorporate beef back into my diet.  My choices were too limited without it.

But entrecote?  I was getting so tired of it.  In La Rochelle I found myself longing for a filet mignon.  So a quest started.

First I had to figure out what they called it.  Did you know that US, UK, and France all use different naming constructs for the cow?  Here are links to pictures and stories.  I like the article from the Telegraph about the French butcher who says British beef is better than French and he got kicked out of the butchers’ association.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11233627/Why-English-rosbif-is-a-cut-above-the-French.html

http://www.anneshealthykitchen.com/beef-cuts-us-uk-france-spain/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cut_of_beef#American_cuts

I had to stop my internet investigations because I was seeing too many charts that had the face of a happy cow staring at me while the rest of it was marked up for how to butcher it.  I would have been terrible in 4H.

My quest didn’t take long – even though I reached several deadends – my foodie-est friends knew no restaurants with fabulous steak.  However, a friend who has lived in France 30 years called me for dinner.  I told her of my desire for a good steak and she found a place.  La Maison d’Aubrac.   And miam miam!  A true glorious tasty steak.  On my English menu, they called it Tenderloin.  I was so deliriously happy I didn’t check the French menu.  But no worries.  I will go back.  And no need to dream about Ruth Chris Steakhouse anymore.  I have a local place!