The Lights Are Going Up

I saw the first strings of street lights on October 30th.

I like how they stay up late in Paris, well into mid-January, but I’m not in a rush for Christmas decorations in the fall. Unlike Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March and many other people, I love November and prefer to enjoy this season from beginning to end before putting my antlers on.

I was quite enchanted by seeing the magic happen one recent night on rue Mouffetard, though.


Gros Bijoux

This past weekend my friend invited me to a jewelry exhibit recommended by one of his clients, who is a jewelry designer. I met him in front of Eglise St-Germain-des-Près, which at ten centuries old, is the oldest church in Paris. After a walk around inside, we crossed the street to the Hôtel de l’Industrie for the première edition du salon Mes Créateurs Joailliers, a two-floor event consisting of fourteen jewelry companies presenting their jewels.

We admired the artistically presented jewelry and pointed out our favorite necklaces, earrings, and rings. A variety of stones, colors, and cuts were on display. All were for sale. Many were pièces uniques, or one-of-a-kind. Representatives encouraged us to let them know if we wanted to try anything on (well, I suppose their offer was directed to me since the only men’s jewelry available was cufflinks).

At the stand for Bermudes, a Parisian jeweler, the representative chose two rings for me to try on. He then pulled out from under the glass what appeared to be a wavy gold stone-studded earring. He asked me to push back my hair to libérer my ear. I made a motion to remove my left earring, but to my surprise he reached over and in one motion clipped it on the upper part of my ear. He held up a hand mirror to show me. I loved it.

After some internet research, I learned that it was an ear cuff, or une manchette d’oreille. I am now on a mission to find the perfect one to buy. I like that it adds a bit of edge, especially being asymmetrical—only being worn on one ear—without requiring a second pair of piercings.

Following the jewelry salon my friend suggested having hot chocolate at Les Deux Magots, the famous café next door known as the gathering place of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and James Joyce. Considering its reputation and history, it was less uppity than I had thought. Cozy and bustling with staff than included a waiter with sideburns, it was a nice spot out of the rain to pour thick hot chocolate from a milky white pitcher into two matching round cups on saucers.

Sometimes I am amazed by how smart and interesting my friends are. We discussed the death penalty, prison rehabilitation in France versus the United States, what we were like in high school, where and with whom we would be for Christmas. Perhaps, almost a hundred years later, I had my little Simone de Beauvoir moment. An indulgent thought, as I adore her. I, however, do not search for a Sartre, as I can sing along with but not abide by Taylor Swift’s lyrics, “I love the players, and you love the game.” No tortured love for me, please.

Geometrical Art

On the first Sunday of every month, museums in Paris are free. Usually the lines to enter are long, so I was surprised when there was no wait to enter the Pompidou the first Sunday evening of November.

My friend and I scooted in ticket-free and took the escalator upstairs to wander around the contemporary collection.

I thought it was really cool to be able to inspect this panel of the Institut du Monde Arabe up close. The façade of the Arab World Institute in Paris is composed of squares with apertures that open and close according to the amount of sunlight that hits them.  100_7260These fun warm spheres hung from the ceiling of the main hallway.100_7261Unfortunately we only got to glimpse the Picassos in the modern art collection before the museum closed at 9, but I know where I’ll be on the first Sunday of December.

We headed out into the cool night air and looked for a café or bar to stop in. We passed two cafés and a restaurant that we had been to before. We even remembered the conversations we had had at the time. At my prompting we chose a bubble tea place. As we approached a table, the guy at the adjacent table turned and stared at me. It was a former colleague. He said he had recognized my voice.

With familiar places floating with memories and familiar faces en face de moi, Paris felt a little smaller that night. I like that.

Journées du Patrimoine

This year was the first time that I was available and aware of Journées du Patrimoine, or Heritage Days, in France. For one weekend, historic cultural and political institutions are open to the public. Some, like cultural centers or national museums, are usually open to visitors but offer extra hours, free admission, or special exhibits. Others, like government offices or not easily accessible historical sites, are only open for Journées du Patrimoine. I picked up a program listing all of the places participating, and it made me wish that this event lasted a whole month. There are so many things to see that a couple of days are hardly enough.92.journeespatrimoine.2014aAt some sites like the Elysée, where the president lives, you should be prepared to wait for hours. While I would be interested in seeing the presidential residence, I didn’t want to spend my whole day there, so my first stop was a quiet location with more staff representatives milling around than visitors. The Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la recherche houses the national office of high education and research. I know a number of people who are pursuing their Masters in Paris, so it was interesting to think that this is where decisions are made regarding their education and those of students all over the country. 92.journeespatrimoine.2014bThe building used to be the Ecole polytechnique, a school of science and engineering that is now at another site. I was standing in front of this memorial to students who died in the First World War when a security guard told me that I could take a picture. So I did. How often are we encouraged to take pictures?92.journeespatrimoine.2014cInside the building I was delighted to see this work by the artist Ben. I discovered Ben a couple of years ago when I bought a series of postage stamps with his playful expressions on them. His art is words and his words are art. This piece was a very American phrase in French.92.journeespatrimoine.2014dThe line to enter the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Site Richelieu was longer than the nonexistent wait at the Ministère, but it fed my love of beautiful libraries.92.journeespatrimoine.2014gInside I also browsed the Musée des monnaies, médailles et antiques and the temporary exhibit of Greek vases.

Smaller but quite pretty too was the sunlit library in the Ecole des Mines, a school of earth sciences, engineering, math, and economics.92.journeespatrimoine.2014eThe library contained this ubiquitous rug. One time as my colleague and I were climbing the stairs to our office, she pointed out the rug and said that it’s the tapis you’ll find in every building constructed during a certain time. From then on I noticed it everywhere. I realized that it was the same rug in the building where I live, and the same one at the Ecole des mines.92.journeespatrimoine.2014fIn another area of the building, I walked through room after room of glass cases displaying rocks. Their collection is a feast for a geologist.

In the Journées du Patrimoine program, I read that you could see the Arche enceinte de Philippe Auguste, which is at other times closed to the public. I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded intriguing. The only meaning of enceinte that I knew of was “pregnant.” Philippe’s pregnant arch?

The address of the site had no door, but a locked gate that seemed to lead to a driveway. A young woman stood in the entrance. I tentatively approached, and she asked if I was there for the Journées du Patrimoine. When I answered in the affirmative, she said that a group had just been let in and that it would be twenty minutes before a new group could enter.

No problem. I walked to the nearby Seine River to take a breather. Lo and behold, a little further along the banks, I saw a man drop to one knee to propose to his girlfriend. It warmed my heart.

Back at the mysterious gate to the pregnant arch, a crowd had gathered.92.journeespatrimoine.2014hThe volunteer let us in, and our group of a couple of dozen people descended a dimly lit staircase underground. We seemed to be under a parking garage. We passed through a heavy metal door, and there it was. The arch.92.journeespatrimoine.2014iA volunteer explained the history of the enceinte to us. In the late 12th to early 13th century, King Philippe Auguste had a wall constructed around Paris to protect the city from potential English invaders. The arch we saw is a remnant of that wall. Tucked away, it was restored by volunteers.

Apparently, enceinte can also mean “outer wall.”

No doubt about it, there is a lot of heritage in this city. The great part about Journées du Patrimoine is that not only does it open private spaces to the public, but it also introduces us to places that are always accessible but not necessarily on our radar.

Fête de la Gastronomie at the Cordon Bleu

Last weekend I attended a cooking demo at the Cordon Bleu. I had registered in advance, for free, through my library. An audience of about eighty people watched chef Christian Moine and two culinary students prepare bar de ligne roti aux épices et aux artichauts poivrade (line-caught sea-bass roasted with spices and poivrade artichokes) and fricassee de langoustines aux cèpes, jus à la coriandre (langoustine fricassee with porcini mushrooms, cilantro flavored jus).

We were given a list of the ingredients for the dishes in French and English, which is how a class at the culinary school would operate. With the elements as a reference, students take notes on how to cook the dish. Later in the day, they have the chance to try their hand at it themselves.

At the demo individuals chimed in with questions, from
How long do you put the langoustines in the oven? to
At what point do you add the spices? to
Can you cut the artichoke more slowly so we can see exactly how you do it? Slower! Slower!

In between Moine’s narration, sommelier Arnaud Fatome discussed different kinds of wine. He explained how warmer regions, like Bordeaux, tend to specialize in red wine, while colder ones, like Brittany, are more known for white.

We each had a glass of Saint-Péray and Riesling, both white wines, to accompany our delicious tasting.91.cordonbleu.2014a 91.cordonbleu.2014b 91.cordonbleu.2014c

I commented on how good the food was to the woman sitting next to me, and she asked where I was from. Her enthusiastic reaction to my response surprised and delighted me.

Oh, New Jersey is beautiful! she said. The gardens of houses are all connected. In France there are fences separating the gardens. In New Jersey they’re all connected.

Perhaps it is the Garden State after all.

My day of seafood was not over. From the Cordon Bleu, I took the metro to a suburb of Paris to have moules-frites at a friend’s house. She and her boyfriend and I chatted over mounds of mussels and fries followed by homemade chocolate mousse in tiny glass jars.

J’aime me déguiser

This past weekend my friend (who is Californian) and her friend (who is French) had a costume party to celebrate their birthdays. The theme was dessins animés: cartoons.

Now, I love costume parties. One thing I know about attending them in France is that you can bet there will be a number of people who do not dress up. Tant pis. Fortunately, a bunch do get into the spirit. It’s always funny seeing the range from store bought to homemade costumes. I always put something together from items I own and supplementary pieces I make or buy.

The hostesses of this party were minions from the movie “Despicable Me.” In attendance were Bugs Bunny, Dora the Explorer (in boy form), Cruella de Vil, Woody from “Toy Story,” Alice in Wonderland, and, adorned with a platinum blond wig and sunglasses, Johnny Bravo from the channel Cartoon Network. In black-rimmed glasses and a matching red and white bonnet and striped shirt was Charlie, or Wally if you’re from the U.K., or Waldo if you’re from the U.S. It’s funny, I just realized that all of these characters come from American movies or TV shows.

I wore a blue dress with a slight flounce at the bottom and blue ballet flats with ankle socks. I had strung two silver mardi gras necklaces together on which I attached one sign in front and another at the back:


I was Lucy Van Pelt from “Peanuts,” of course, or “Snoopy,” as it’s called in France.

I took the metro home around 1:30am. The cars filled up as the train approached the center of Paris. Weekend night rush hour before the last metro: it’s always an interesting ride. You have your inebriated passengers swaying and talking loudly about who knows what, your groups dressed up in flashy skirts and high heels that are probably from out of town, your nuzzling couples, your vagabonds with their tattoos and hefty backpacks and tall short-haired dogs, sometimes an older lady and you wonder where she’s coming from, and the other night, your group of international professional musicians who obviously gave a concert earlier that evening and are speaking English because it is their one common language.

Then, as I’ve done many times before, I come out of the metro station into the cool night air. People are mingling around, and I pass the bars where the last few people linger and pedestrians heading home before the streets become quieter and I enter the codes to my building, climb the stairs to my apartment, take a shower, and maybe have a ‘midnight’ snack and write in my diary before slipping under the covers and into Sunday morning.