On why you should visit Chambord

On Tripadvisor, someone mentioned that Chambord, while beautiful, is sort of empty and lifeless and I of course could not disagree more. Someone else said it was more authentic than Versailles, with which of course I agree, although I do also agree that all historic architecture requires some imagination to thoroughly enjoy it. There are different kinds of imagination – Chambord leaves lots of room for imagination, because it is supposed to. It is an eternal paeon to imagination itself.

So here is my response to the view that Chambord is underwhelming or empty or lifeless:

For me, it would be Chambord in an instant. Versailles is too much of a re-creation for me, plus it never “came alive” due to the throngs of international visitors and guides and the crush of even trying to get near any stick of furniture, and the rooms all being decorated so similarly (and on purpose, apparently, in some cases), like a giant maze. It may be large and ornate, but it does not capture the spirit of French architecture represented at Chambord or Chenonceau or Amboise or even Blois.

It is Chambord that I have as my wallpaper on my iPad, it is my photos of Chambord that I treasure, it was my trip to the roof of Chambord that I tremendously enjoyed and will never forget, it is the touch of the hand of a certain Renaissance master that can be seen everywhere there, it is the inspired “skyline” that showed the way to the modern, it is those pictures that my friends linger over when I have my camera roll open. Everyone wants to know how to get there, everyone skips over every picture I have of Versailles.

To me, while the overall impression of Versailles is rather astonishing (and for me, perhaps more astonishing than truly beautiful, although the Hamlet area was enchanting), it quickly got repetitive. The fact that nearly all the original furnishings are gone (many to the Louvre) and replaced with reproductions did not impress me. Of course, I like Medieval and Renaissance things immensely (and it is true that in the time of Chambord, courts often traveled with whatever furnishings they needed, leaving very little to sit in the castle in the meantime – so you can picture it as it was, most of the time; and you can furnish it in your mind with the tapestries that would have been there and today are of the sort you can see in the Cluny or the Louvre…)

In Chambord, François I held court and used the ideas he had learned from his friend, Leonardo. He had had many talks with Leonardo about architecture (and Leonardo had sketched many of the elements before him) and he began construction during his time of grief over Leonardo’s death. It is a living monument to the Master. You can see the floor plan of it in Leonardo’s notebooks, on display in Milan; he had toyed with the idea of a castle in that shape for more than two decades, but did not live to see it completed.

By the time Leonardo helped François envisage not just a new chateau but a new social order, they both believed that moats and the like would never again be needed to defend the Crown – that the world had settled down into a place more reverent of art, more peaceful, more diplomatic (even though both knew wars continued and Leonardo knew that his beloved Milan had recently been pillaged). Still, in the heart of France, a purely decorative moat could be built, with swans floating on it, lit by torchlight – purely for effect!

The rooftop may truly be the first time anyone thought about what a “skyline” meant and how only the greatest places have a wonderful skyline – Chambord is one of those places. Some of the rooms there *are* decorated – in Louis XIV style because he helped his brother restore it and much is known about how they looked (but of course, just as with Versailles, the actual decor was stripped during the Revolution). The pieces they’ve used to redecorate it, though, are breathtaking.

To me, it is the very embodiment of what a castle should be, and I’ve wanted to see it since girlhood when a dear friend gave me a small book on French chateaux. There are many other surprising secrets and elements to it, but it is anything but cold and empty.

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Arrival Day 2013 – Winter

Everything went as planned. 50 minutes from touchdown to sitting in a taxi. 50 minutes more to the hotel door (there was a little traffic). We saw homeless encampments all along the highway, we saw Aeroville in the distance, it was raining lightly. When the fast line in the passport control was empty, I was seen leaning against this thing that looks like a giant round desk (with my walking stick, which I do not call a cane, thank you) and a nice lady beckoned me into the fast line. It saved us about 10-15 minutes is all, but it is yet another example of the French attentiveness to common sense and to people with reduced mobility.

Check-in at the hotel (Hotel Paris Rivoli) couldn’t have gone faster or better, complete with a sweet little lesson in French from the man at the desk. He knew within two sentences of our speech that one of us was mostly American, but wanted to know a little more and we had a nice little discussion of French Polynesia and California (he used to live in L.A., had never visited our little hometown, but knew a beach nearby).

Then we crashed for 3 hours. Room is sweet, clean and more than enough for us. We have two little balconies, which is nice for checking the weather. Also for people watching. Really fun people-watching. Elevator works. It’s cool to stay in a hotel with all the little brochures.  THIS one is right in the middle of a neighborhood we know well, so after sleeping for about 3 hours, we freshened up (French style bathtub, no shower curtain, just like at home), and headed out for a walk. We walked past Saint Paul as the bells were ringing. We finally walked down Rue des Francs Bourgeois (fun, but I see why people wish it had stayed traditional). The garden at Carnavalet looked just as nice in winter. Lots of other medieval and somewhat newer buildings (we’re staying right off François Miron).  Room has a small closet, two little sleigh beds pushed together, hooks for purses and things and good quality soap.  There are abundant cafés nearby and an ATM right outside the door.  Have not yet tested whether cards work.

Went to tabac on Rue de Sevigny where very nice man sold us carnet and advised waiting to recharge Navigo Decouverte.  V.  figured out bus route to D’Orsay for the Male Nude exhibit tomorrow (bus stop right outside hotel).

Oh, almost forget:  we went to an art opening just around the corner, even into the caveau (V. had no trouble with claustrophobia; I definitely felt a little old to be there, which is unusual but…it was really a party for younger people…great exhibit about gender and gender-bending though).

In the end, we went to what must be one of our favorite cafés in all of Paris, it’s not on TripAdvisor and has only 3 Yelp reviews. Thank the gods. Sometimes we are the oldest people there, but as usual, tonight we were one of two fifty-something couples. Everyone else was young. Gay couples, solo female travelers, solo female locals, friends out with tourists, young French people sitting outside smoking. Prompt, correct service. We both had the same thing. Planchette. What is my thing with merguez? I really like it with hot mustard. V. ate half my other stuff, but none of the potatoes (they call them dauphinois or something, but they are roasted new potatoes with skins, and they taste SO good; we have no potatoes like this back home; we wondered if winter potatoes would be as good). Pichot of wine (red, Montagne Saint-Emilion) was very good.

We are NOT cold. I was too warm in the restaurant. My intuition that I should wear lightweight things under my coat was correct. Coat was perfect. I didn’t mind getting rained on a little (it was such a light rain), but I had a hood. My turtleneck with layering piece was too much for sitting inside. Turtlenecks may all stay here and never see the light of day again – regular clothes with a jacket seem to be the way to go. Newish Merrill rain/snow boots were fine in terms of comfort and there were some puddles, so that was good.

Saw the most adorable baby clothes. A designer dress for a 9 month old and an adorable military jacket for a 9 month old boy. And much else. Could not follow rule of buying immediately because it was past 7 pm.

Now for the HIGHLIGHT! ICE SKATING! Ice skating, decor at BHV (I know it’s not Galleries Lafayette but it’s very cute and we have nothing like it at home). Ice skating! And the statues at Hotel de Ville watching everything; misty Notre Dame in the distance and that spotlight from the Radio Tower they have here. BHV is very nicely lit up for Christmas.  Naturally, we did not ice skate ourselves.

We had café gourmand, after wisely deciding no entrée. Yum. We toasted Utah’s new stance on gay marriage, we toasted France and in general planned our time for tomorrow. Supposed to be at D’Orsay at 11:30. And still haven’t accomplished primary mission of seeing the windows in the Grands Boulevards.

Shopping

Shopping can be exhausting, especially when the list of things you want to buy is rather long. Mine included everything from chocolates to tea towels, souvenir name items to action figures and, especially, jewelry.

I have wanted an artistic piece of jewelry for a decade or so, but invested in handbags and good shoes first. I knew from prior trips that Saint Germaine had the type of store I would be looking for, and I was going to be content with costume jewelry if nothing else spoke to me.

We went to dinner the other night at Au 35, on Rue Jacob, and saw lots of wonderful jewelry in the windows of the closed shops. One place in particular, the shop of John Agee, stood out in my mind and V. said that we had to come back. He has good taste in jewelry and looks at me way more than I look at myself, and I loved the art deco but modern feel to the pieces. I wanted several things I saw, but upon returning found that I was going to have to narrow my choices or give up doing any more shopping in Paris.

I also wanted chocolates and tea towels.

Louvre Grand Gallery, a bit of sculpture & Dinner in Saint Germain

There is more Paleolithic art at one site in southern France than in all the rest of the world at 20,000 years ago. The world’s first representational art belongs to France although the area around Kiev is closely tied to the early artists of France. For a long, long time the only pigments people had were in the black-gray-white range or the brown-ochre-gold range, no greens or blues. France is the first place on Earth to begin working with blue and green, but the entire art of making those pigments was lost the rise of the great civilizations of the Near East and, of course, flourished in Greece and Rome.

Medieval times saw a great revival of art in religious contexts (my own love for medieval art is perhaps born of the fact that I recognize all too well the primitive skill sets and difficulties with composition and perspective that characterize medieval painting). Then, by 1300, especially (or only) in Italy, something else happens and somehow, the Louvre (and the Hermitage, France and Russia again) make extraordinary efforts to collect that art. Of course, there’s still plenty of art left in Italy! But the Louvre has the most astonishing and instructive display of Renaissance art, when the joy of bright pigments returned to painters (with the possible exception of Mantegna – if I didn’t know better, I’d think he was poorly paid for his paintings, which are dim and dark, and done at the same time as Ghirlandaio’s amazing paintings which are shown opposite early Mantegna). One can only suppose that Mantegna was, in his way, painting what he saw – an early impressionist. I have to say I prefer the intense, bright colors. Skies really do appear to be that blue in real life, why not show them?

Yes, a lot of the paintings are religious, but what a glorious time for honoring mothers and children. Perhaps it was because so many women – perhaps one in five – died in childbirth before modern medicine that men, as priests or as artists, valued the feminine, especially mothers. Back then, people really believed in their God – and the painters were exceptionally literate in all things Biblical (most of them). But it’s not just the Bible that shows up on the walls, it’s also Greek mythology – the painting of Themis and Peleus is one of my favorites, showing a happy bacchanalia going on below their thrones in the sky – divine Feminine and Masculine looking on approvingly. The satyrs are pretty naughty.

The Madonnas are all different. They are all serene and composed, but some look sad and wistful as they think of their baby’s fate, others seem more focused on treasuring the baby, while the baby looks sad. The baby almost always has an expression of wisdom beyond his years, as he should. Some of my favorite paintings are of the Annunciation, a theme that means more and more to me as years go by. The paintings of the elderly Elizabeth, long past the age of child-bearing and barren, receiving the news that she’s going to give birth to John the Baptist (not John the beloved apostle – the other one, Jesus’s cousin) depict a woman caught between faith and common sense (aren’t we all?)

We didn’t get to the Medieval Collection on this, our13th trip to the Louvre, and we spent 5 hours. There was a time when that would have seemed like way too much time. But this time, it was like seeing old friends, particularly the faces of the two D’Este sisters. Isabella D’Este, the most lettered woman of Renaissance times and Duchess of Mantua would be delighted to see her image in so many paintings (her studiolo paintings are all in a row in the Grand Gallery, and the altarpiece that depicts her husband – by Mantegna – is across from those, although the Louvre has loaned two of her portraits to the new Louvre Lens project). I’m convinced that the handsome Conditierri portrait is that one of the old Severino brothers, staunch supports of the Este’s and of the Sforzas.

Many artists seem to have a hard time transitioning from mythologically/Biblically themed art to portraiture (Boticelli’s portraits are nothing like Leonardo’s) and one can see that specialization in the Renaissance is leading to new art movements. However, it’s hard to understand Impressionism – or Neoclassicism or Modernism – without a good look at the Renaissance. For Leonardo, the only thing I can figure out (for the Madonna of the Rocks) is that he wanted that strong, forceful composition (and in the painting of Mary sitting on the lap of Saint Anne, he wanted something that hadn’t been done before – and he certainly achieved it, again, in terms of composition). Salai’s face keeps turning up in Leonardo’s paintings (Salai is the subject of Saint John the Baptist, whose sly smile is repeated in Leonardo’s famous – but rarely exhibited nude of Salai, done while Salai was posing for John the Baptist – and generously exhibited in Los Angeles at the Italian-American institute a year or two ago). Leonardo writes of the difficulties of painting without the subject right in front of him (and of a series of techniques for doing so), but Salai was always there – almost until the very end of Leonardo’s life and is probably the person who sold the painting now known as Mona Lisa (a misnomer if ever there was one) to François I.

The Louvre now recognizes formally that the Belle Ferrioniere might be Beatrice D’Este (whose childhood statue by Romano is in the Italian sculpture room elsewhere in the Louvre – we did manage to stop by and see her – and I couldn’t believe the number of pieces in that Italian sculpture room that I had neglected to really admire on the many other trips to the Louvre). The portrait of Ludovico Sforza’s mistress (Lucrezia) is also in the Grand Gallery (Beatrice was his wife – something like 25 years his junior), attributed to the “School of Leonardo” but done by Leonardo & Co. during the same period when Beatrice sat in the Salla de Assi for her portrait by Leonardo. Her sister, Isabella D’Este was supremely jealous of the fact that little sister got her portrait done by Leonardo. I believe Leonardo finished the portrait posthumously as Beatrice died in childbirth at about the same time that he was painting her. I also have the fantasy that it was this portrait that Tolstoi saw in the Louvre and incorporated into the famous scene in War and Peace, when a young, unloved wife dies in childbirth and a portrait is painted of her looking reproachfully out at the world ever after.

I don’t try to rank the parts of the Louvre any more, but I do like the big format French paintings better than all those Roman heads they have. Odalisque never fails to make me smile and to remember how good certain shades of blue look next to human skin. David, Íngres, Le Brun (her self-portrait in Neo-Classical style might be easy to miss among all the paintings, especially with Napoleon taking up all that space with his coronation across the room), all the masters who led to Impressionism are there. I’m reading a biography of Picasso, who was delighted to move to Paris (he had exhausted his copying of his favorites in El Prado), and I know that these were paintings that Manet, Monet, Renoir and Matisse (among many others) treasured and copied from as they were learning. There was a little boy about 8 years old with colored pencils and a lot of talent copying one of the Îngres paintings.

We managed to dash over to Marly, Puget and Khoursabad Courts just as the sun was beginning o set and had most of it to ourselves. Louvre was open until 9:45 and after going in circles through cuneiform and getting sidetracked by Ninevah (Sumeria is the world’s first civilization according to V. Gordon Childe, whose definition of the term is the most widely-accepted – and it is a marvel to see pieces that are already so sophisticated and tell so much about a culture and are 4,500 years old). I agree with the Code of Hammurabi – if you are adopted, your *real* parents are the ones who raised you and anyone who returns to the “house of the ones who are the blood relatives” and abandons their real parents is an ungrateful and immoral person. On the other hand, I hope the Code doesn’t prohibit curiosity and love toward all the people who help make us who we are. I don’t think it does – I know exactly what it means and I thought of my amazing real dad, back in Santa Paula, impatient for me to get home – because my well-being and safety is so important to him.

Later on, after sitting in the pink sunset near the Carrousel Arch and then going down into Saint Germain for an absolutely amazing dinner at Au 35 (thanks to Paris forum members for that recommendation), we realized we were more or less on Parisian time. Although we arrived for dinner at just after 10 pm, we weren’t the last people to come in and the place was gently bustling. My husband’s beet and tomato gazpacho (soupe froid) was perhaps the most interesting part of the meal, and if I could figure out the yellow pepper sauce that accompanied my poached egg appetizer (I know, it’s the height of decadence), I’d be very happy. I am not an expert in Bearnaise sauce, I only know what I like and each morsel of my plat was enhanced by it, if I chose to abandon the delicate and perfect flavors of the unsauced potatoes, mushrooms and beef to use it. Now I realize I’ve never actually had good mushrooms before (these tasted in a way like mushrooms back home, but the intense richness of the flavor was something I’ve never tasted). It’s only been a few hours since I ate that meal and I’m already wishing I had more mushrooms. Too full for dessert (we had eaten at the Louvre Carrousel food court because we got up too late to eat any sort of regular lunch or breakfast – we had excellent couscous and garbanzo beans and vegetables – but in portions large enough to feed three people on each of our plates – so if you choose the couscous place at the Louvre – and I would recommend it for a basic, fast food type meal – you might consider ordering just one lunch for two people; let me know if two people can even finish one lunch there).

I knew before going to Au 35 that they made good steaks (and I know another few places to get good steaks in Paris; I find that many places have entrecôte on the menu but really, you’re better off skipping steak unless you can see that others are enjoying it – or you have read a review). With Brouilly as our wine, two entrées and two plats, our bill came to a mere 88€ (and we had three items on our plats). We were the only English speaking people there.

An older and distinguished looking French couple were seated just before us. They had two éntrees and two desserts – no mains at all. He was wearing cream colored pants, fisherman sandals (at 70 years of age or thereabouts, I imagine he is placing comfort before style but his green sweater was beautiful) and she had on cream pants, a cream top I’d described as within the “peasant” genre, but her scarf – which I could never have tied in that manner if my life depended on it, was one of those big square ones but not shiny silk, instead an abstract set of prints in mostly blues, she had on velcro-closed Birksenstock type sandals and a giant red tote (birkin-shaped but definitely not a Birkin) that really set off her outfit.

The waitress at Au 35 spoke English, but humored me by also speaking French and we both resort to using whatever words got the meaning across. Almost everywhere we go, people are interested in California (and the sea, and how lucky we are to live near it) and almost everyone has a cousin or brother or someone who has lived somewhere in SoCal for awhile. Au 35 is near the René Descartes school of medicine and Science-Po, and there were some very lively and interesting art gallery openings going on in the neighborhood. After dinner, strolling down the street, we could enjoy window after window of contemporary art – a good appetizer for today’s event, which is seeing the Angel of the Bizarre at the D’Orsay and seeing the D’Orsay in general.

Paris is lucky

Photo_July_Column_by_night_Paris_France_2007-09-09

I know that Parisians have their own problems, as all people do. And as we gazed tonight on the Golden Being atop the July Column at Bastille, I thought about how hard Paris tries to remember its past. The memorials to the people who disappeared into Auschwitz and into other atrocities are everywhere.  Memorials to historic events reside in so many street names.  Pont Alexandre III commemorates a gruff, somewhat ill-mannered Tsar known for his musicianship and his dedication to making sure he remained The Tsar of All the Russias, an autocrat who just missed being a tyrant.

Earlier today, we walked in Le Marais to one of our favorite gardens, which is near an elementary school and on the school building is a memorial to the children who were taken away with the cooperation of the Vichy government.  The memorial is right next to the place where parents are reminded about upcoming school events – no one can truly forget.  We took a different route than usual (and ended up finding a side door into St. Paul’s) and found another garden, gated, and placed at the spot where a 45 year old man and his 15 year old son fought, to the death, rather than be taken by the Germans. The daughter of this man survived, and the garden is her memorial to them. It was lovely, it was sad, and it was about courage.

We also saw, again, the longest segment of Paris’s old defensive wall, built 1190-1200 (Louis-PhilippeI think). This time I really took the time to marvel at its turrets and its age. It’s now the back wall of a playground/basketball court and still doing its job. It’s also on the street where Rabelais once lived and there’s a plaque at the point where they think his home once stood. Husband and I are both big fans of Rabelais.

This was all on the way to St. Paul’s, sans breakfast.

I am not a traditionally religious person, but you’d have to be anti-human not to be moved by the reminders of how often gallantry and courage are rewarded by a painful death, or how sad it is for mothers (and fathers) to lose their children. To me, it seems good to remember, because it brings us all together in our collective mourning – and for those who are incapable of this kind of sentiment, I feel both pity and a definite sense of being “other”.  This is a reason I like to go to churches, to ponder the circumstances that made so many people turn to faith.  Perhaps it was because they felt their feelings so strongly, and there was so much despair.

Most people, though, are moved by sculptures like the Pieta once owned by Marie de Medici (cruel as she was, she loved her son) which is now inside St. Paul’s.  I’m on something of a quest to see as many works of the prolific Delacroix as I can.  A master of realism, in a way not often seen since, he is called a romantic because, well, he puts so much emotion into his work.

christ on the mount of olives

His painting of Christ on the Mount of Olives is filled with the pain of a man contemplating his ultimate fate and knowing, as only some of us do, in what manner he will likely die. I think about the people I know with serious illnesses, people who will not survive those illnesses, people who have already died bravely – like Moira, who fought breast cancer from age 28 until age 42 and died between our visit last year and this year. And you know what? There was a glow about her.  Delacroix captures that in a way that even I, a non-student of art, can see.

Our day had started by getting up early to meet a professor of art history and architecture, from whom my husband had purchased a painting, a minor impressionist who painted the first known impressionist painting of Saint Etienne-Du-Mond, one of my very favorite churches.  The man has an apartment in Paris and came up to do some errands and hand deliver the painting on our first full day here.  It is really a treasure and now we have to figure out how to get it home. We’ll need a big suitcase, I guess. We see other people with huge duffel-rollers, so they must exist.

Anyway, I wasn’t expecting St. Paul’s to compete with Saint Etienne-Du-Mond.

We’d seen the outside of St. Paul’s, of course, and I had heard the interior wasn’t “all that.”  That’s because it lacks the stunning stained glass of the Gothic churches, and, for a royal church, it does seem rather plain.  Louis XIII died before completing it, I think. The first mass held there was conducted by Richelieu, which made me sit and think a bit more about history.  The church tries hard to be a royal interior, but without a mandala, without a unifying and universal symbol of light and enlightenment, the interior is a bit too much of a memorial.  Joan of Arc, whose representations I always want to see, is tucked into a corner, but she’s there, as much a reminder of human excess and violence as Bastille or Place de la Concorde.

But Paris does remember, it’s all there, in plaques and commemoratives, for the person who can read.

So we strolled down the street opposite St. Paul’s to catch the classic view of the façade and found a little Spanish tapa place, dedicated to bull-fighting, where it was good to have lunch.  I had quiche and some spicy potatoes (I’ll eat red chile whenever I can find it in Paris, Paris’s only real contemporary misfortunate is to be lacking enough spicy chile).  There were red chiles strung all over  and blinking red lights behind the little bar, and tables full of mostly grown-up and older French people ordering huge broquettes and dozens of tapa dishes.  I had a wine called de Solsticio, from Spain, and it was touched with vanilla and was a nice contrast to the excellent potatoes.  France may not have chile, but it has surely embraced the potato and they taste better here than in the US of A.

Then, we walked over to Hôtel de VIlle and found the fashion exhibit. For years, I’ve wanted to visit Galliera or whatever the fashion museum is called, but it’s always closed. Too delicate to be exhibited in the current space or something.  So they designed this amazing space inside Hôtel de Ville and put up dresses from 1865 to now, often with older pieces side by side with the modern dresses they inspired.  My favorite was a green 1920’s gown by Madeleine Vionnet (I need to check her name, not sure that’s right).  But there were so many dresses from the 10’s and 20’s that were just…beyond words, in real life. Something happened in the post-War years, the 50’s dresses were just as I remembered them, even the haute couture looks like it belongs at a barbecue instead of on the runway. Okay, I exaggerate, but only a little.

They wouldn’t let us take pictures, but here is a sample of  Vionnet (not the one I saw, but two other designs):

vionnet2 vionnet

And here is Mme Vionnet herself:

drapery-dress-fashion-trend-Madeleine-Vionnet

Yes, there was a real Chanel suit from the 1950’s, but the Chanel blue beaded dress from the 1920’s was a show stealer and even Coco’s “daytime” dresses (so simple, so feminine – why can’t they make a simple dress these days?) had an entire audience of admirers. The exhibit wasn’t too crowded, mostly women of course.  Lots of mothers and daughters, and quite a few grandmother, mother and granddaughter trios, most of them so tastefully dressed – well, that spoke for itself. That’s why Paris is lucky. It not only has many people willing to allow their treasured garments to be exhibited (the pieces were owned by so many different private individuals), but it has people willing to dress to come out to see them. The gloves, the fans, the shoes, the bits of embellishment exhibited as art rounded out the exhibit.

The exhibit was free.  We were there maybe two hours.

Then, back to the apartment on Ile Saint-Louis for a nap. We’ve given up on jet lag management and just sleep whenever. Husband wanted to go hear jazz, but was so hesitant to propose it, as the idea was that we were already tired. But, I pointed out, we were also going to be hungry eventually (I had ordered two small tapa dishes, and he ate half of one of them, not realizing that was my whole lunch, and we didn’t have breakfast). So he called and got a reservation for one of the few remaining tables at the jazz club and we found the bus to get there. This is quite a step for a person who started speaking French just last year and who hates telephones. The person on the phone switched to English (and greeted my husband warmly when we arrived).  We took the bus (for the first time, actually) to get out to Rue de Charonne, just beyond Bastille.

Angelo DeBarre is one of the world’s finest and most accomplished guitar players. He often plays much larger venues, but his “home club” is in Bastille and there, the lucky locals get to hear him frequently, and people come from all over the world to listen. His quartet (violin, rhythm guitar and bass) are superb musicians as well. The food wasn’t bad either.  Now, I know I’m going to be eating lots more French food, and since I actually love steak tartare, I know that a French cheeseburger is, well, for me it’s ambrosia.  Fresh sesame bun, the best onion, and nearly raw hamburger (it is warm in the middle though, husband swears the last French hamburger he had was still frozen in the middle). This meat was never frozen, well seasoned and so tasty.  Could not eat the rest of the meal (too full), but the fingerling potatoes were great. Of course there was an entrée first, I had creamy risotto with mushrooms (excellent) and he had salmon tartare (also excellent and we think we worked out the recipe well enough to try it at home).  He had chicken tikka masala as his main, and he said it was great. Usually I’d taste it, but…really, had to have every bite of that burger (I don’t eat burgers much at home, only in Paris, because they taste the way they used to taste out on the plains of eastern Colorado and Kansas when I was a kid, and they don’t taste that way most places back home). We joked about dessert.

Angelo and his quartet are Rom (gypsy) and there were quite a few gypsies at the club. Angelo seemed to remember my husband (also a musician) from last year, smiling a greeting as he passed. We were too tired to go out and talk to the musicians and their crew, but they were friendly and lots of other people did.  Lots of video-making and picture-making. GIrls in lovely outfits, my favorite was a white tiered miniskirt paired with a black lace turtleneck and black leather jacket on a winsome young redhead.  They played this song:

And many others.

In the end, we stayed through two or three sets of amazing music, including Michel LeGrand’s I Will Wait For You and My Blue Heaven and a lot of other standards.  Vioinist Florin Niculescu has those jazz harmonics down perfectly and DeBarre’s 20-something son is coming along as a second rhythm player.  There were these moments of musical humor too, and a lot of the audience got it.  Los Angeles is known for its music, but you’d go a long time to jazz clubs in L.A. and never hear anything like what we heard tonight on our second night in Paris.  Yes, it was like Django and Stephane (and I’ve heard Stephane live – I’m that old).

After midnight, as we walked back to Ile, outside Starbucks, a woman (who was probably gypsy) bedded down with a baby and a small child.  Recently, 400 Roma were evicted from an illegal campsite in the woods north of Paris and dispersed. I guess it must be safer for them to sleep in front of Starbucks?  At any rate, for our own reasons and because we have both spent time helping refugees and other displaced persons back home, my husband gave the woman some money and we joked that, as we don’t spend $5 a day on Starbucks like many of our students do, we can afford to help a gypsy woman. So one day, and gypsies in two different lights.  The woman seemed astonished that we’d give her anything and was grateful.  She spoke French.  She was not begging at the time, she was simply trying to get her kids to sleep.

We stayed out later than the bus ran, so we just walked home. On the way home, I kept seeing this searchlight sweep the sky. Being tired, all I could think of was a Hollywood premier – or a car dealership. What could it be, I wondered?

Then I remembered. I am in Paris and that is the beacon on the Eiffel Tower.

It’s okay to be in love with a city, and it’s okay to shed a few tears for the sake of beauty – and the effort that Paris makes to be real and to be beautiful at the same time, for the fact of its survival and its civility.

Los Angeles to Paris

From curbside to security at Tom Bradley, including stopping to check our gate on the Big Board (to the right as you enter), about 6 minutes. Security, including passport and boarding pass check – 13 minutes to when I sat down to put my shoes back on. Lots of yelling in English, didn’t help for those who didn’t understand to have it yelled louder. Some people had the wrong things in their bags, or it would have been even faster. No belts, jackets, coats or scarves – nothing in pockets at all. But glasses and jewelry were fine. Just inside the North Area (Air France gates are to your right as you go through Bradley) there’s a See’s Candy, a place to rent a mobile hotspot and to buy a global SIM card and other misc. phone stuff. Also the usual news stand. Outside the sterile area is duty free shopping. There’s a very limited Duty Free shop inside the sterile area – so if you want anything besides cigarettes and hard liquor, you’re out of luck once inside.

No problem getting my extra bag of contact lens related stuff (lenses, salines, hand wipes) through security (I carry the prescription just in case) in addition to the quart bag. Got through with my travel scissors and my TSA approved wine bottle opener.

Good place for spotting unusual and expensive Hermes bags (no proper accent on my Logitech LIghtweight Travel board) and Louis Vuitton bags. My Balenciaga Velo is inside her sleeper bag in the bottom of my carry-on, after reading about a poor young woman who posted on The Purse Forum about catching her Bal-bag on the underseat hardware on a plane and ripping it…so mine is protected.

I’m wearing skinny jeans, mephisto oxfords, compression socks (once you learn to put them on they aren’t so bad), Épice scarf, Ann Klein beaded V-neck top with tank tops underneath, my Balenciaga bracelet and other costume jewelry.

Services inside security are pretty limited. There’s one bar (Sam Adams) with paninis and juice and fruit. There’s a coke machine nearer to the gates, but in the Air France area, the snack bar is (as usual) closed. The line is out the door at Sam Adams right after we got the last table. Music is horrible (cheesy hip hop and screechy no-name R & B, there oughta be a law against auto-tuned songs).

Gotta say these Southern California girls rock their outfits. The younger crowd is especially chic, lots of skinny jeans (black and denim) and cute tops, and oh, Louis Vuitton would go out of business without the Paris-bound. The older ladies, like me, have made some effort too. The most notable is a 60ish woman in white jeans and white top with a red sweater carefully tied in a rakish manor around her neck. Another is a woman in a dark blue pant outfit with a very carefully tied light and dark blue floral scarf. Am going to try and retie mine.

Since we’re still in L.A., we can break all the rules of vigilance and leave our cell phones on our table while I type and drink my bourbon and coke. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying hearing French to the left of me (a man in a pink shirt and a straw cowboy hat discussed with a man with a huge Ralph Lauren logo how long it took them to plan their trip to Los Angeles, and how they didn’t get to doing all the things they wanted to do. Traffic is bad in L.A., they say. One man says that his wife was fearful the whole time they were driving.

But, oh, the shoes and the hand-bags!! So many adorable ballet flats!

On flying Air France: attendants are very nice and the plane is brand new. Seat back entertainment units work, and there’s a wide selection of offerings. Service of drinks and food is slow by American standards, but the wine and other beverages are free. At 2 hours into the flight, most of us are ready for dinner and a nap, but we’re getting a second round of beverages. One thing I will say: these new air buses are great and they have worked out the seats so that if you have a big, bouncy person sitting in front of you (as I do), your food tray does not jerk around as in some older plans and the entertainment screen is barely affected.

In a fit of excitement, when Air France sent me a pre-flight message about 10 days ago, I ordered my husband a special seafood meal for $20. It did not materialize and after some phone calls around the plane, no $20 seafood meal could be found for him. He made do. However, I would not spend any extra money on AF food next flight. I suppose I’ll email their customer service about it – but not real hopeful about getting the $ back. Says right on his ticket that he is supposed to have the meal…I figure it went to some picky eater in first class.

On the Paris side, it took 20 minutes for us to set foot on the jetway after our jet rolled up to it (it was about 25 minutes after landing; AF has a camera on the tail of the plane so you get see just how close you are to the end of the runway before the thing actually comes to a stop). We were in row 35. Then, it was 40 minutes from the moment we exited the plane until we were through passport control. We did not speed walk, but we weren’t walking all that slowly, either. After that, some people had to go get their luggage – we didn’t have anything checked through. We went past exit/taxi area (unusually long line), and down to the RER ticket area. We don’t have a chip and pin card, so didn’t even try the machines. The line looked long, but it was only 15 minutes before we had our cards recharged and another 5 minutes – and we were seated (almost the only people) in the RER B train which – unfortunately for us – was not going, that day, to Notre-Dame-Saint-Michell (or Chatelet), which was where we were intending to go. But more on that later – the RER B did take us to Gare du Nord – so, technically, we were in Paris!