Step . . .

STEP . . . carefully: France has made an indelible impression on us and now David can say HE has made an indelible impression on France:

Oops. David's Impression on France
Oops. David’s Impression on France

Not so much as a tiny paper note in French, let alone an orange cone, warning pedestrians of the new cement. (David’s are the left and the deep right footprints). He was watching traffic, trying to find an opportunity to cross before the sidewalk completely narrowed into nothing, and all of a sudden he felt the sidewalk was a bit . . . er . . . squishy.

STEP . . . up and up and up (and down and down and down): Wednesday, we decided to give ourselves a break from the 112 steps down to the local metro (and of course the 112 steps back up to get home), and instead decided to visit Sacré Coeur again and see the crypt and . . . yes . . . climb the dome . . .

Um . . . offering a bit of encouragement on the way up?
Offering a bit of encouragement on the way up?

. . . so 300 steps up and more than 300 down, because it’s a different staircase and at one point in the descent you have to go back up 17 steps, then immediately back down 17 (yes, I counted–I was a bit annoyed, okay?), just to get to the other side of a piece of roof, and all this is not counting the steps just to get from the apartment to Sacré Coeur.

Aria Singer Sacré Coeur
Aria Singer Sacré Coeur

On the plus side, the climb was done to the soundtrack of this woman beautifully singing some of my favorite arias on the steps on one side of the basilica. Absolutely magical. We were climbing just above her (and then a LOT above her).

Also a plus: The views were worth every step.

 

Front View from atop Sacre Coeur

From Atop Sacré Coeur
From Atop Sacré Coeur

Tour Eiffel from atop Sacre CoeurStrange to notice a fire near Opéra Garnier, and not know how serious it was. We later learned it was a gas explosion that was quickly contained.

Fire near Opéra Garnier, shot with zoom.
Fire near Opéra Garnier, shot with zoom.
Steps of Montmartre
Steps of Montmartre

Later in the day, we decided to walk back to Coquelicot to buy another loaf or two of la Picola to see if it was as good as we remembered. (It was.) But since I was a bit tired of the stairs I chose to head a bit east to try to get more around the perimeter of the hill. Imagine my not-so-delighted surprise when our route turned out to include this:

Sheesh. Bet they don’t sell ANY Stairmasters in Paris. Who would need one?

STEP . . . inside. WIFI is terrible in this apartment, so not sure when I can post this, but as I write this, it is our last day in France (for 2014, anyway), and a bit rainy and cool. We tried to think of something super profound to do, to no avail. Instead we decided to be Parisian and go shopping.  We didn’t buy anything, just took a few photos. This is how they do department stores in Paris:

Ceiling of Galeries Lafayette, Paris
Ceiling of Galeries Lafayette, Paris

Ceiling and Etages Galerie LafayetteGaleries Lafayette

 

 

 

 

 

And now, for a moment, let’s STEP . . . back . . . to remember how far we’ve come. This whole adventure started with a simple desire to learn French in the best, most efficient way possible (living here for a while), and it’s been a long road. But as we enjoyed lunch in a brasserie after our shopping, we both realized that, finally, I was completely comfortable with getting a table, reading the menu, ordering, paying, the whole process, really. And David, although he has not learned French, has kind of learned, well, France – how to modulate his voice to the much quieter French level, how to patiently wait until the server is ready to take our order, how to take our time over a bottle of wine at lunch, how to enjoy a conversation (and a little people-watching) between courses even if the next course is a while in coming.

And finally, it’s time to . . .

STEP . . . forward . . . to the next part of this journey. Five more months to go, but all stateside. No more random, cool Frenchy things on random corners, like this . . .

Building Detail Montmartre

. . . but there will be other things to see, other people to meet, other cities to explore, and I promise to tell you all about them. And eventually, God willing, there will be friends and family to see again, both here in France and back in the U.S.A. So until we meet again, au revoir! 

 

Baccarat au Petit Palais

Although we are trying to make the most of our time here in Paris, I promise not to bore you with a play by play of everything we’re doing, but I do want to tell you about our visit Tuesday to the Petit Palais. The building itself is worth seeing, and I especially wanted to go this week because I had seen posters for a brand new temporary exhibit of Baccarat crystal. Lots of beautiful urns, stemware and pitchers, but my favorites were the chandeliers. This one was in the main gallery to entice you to buy a ticket to see the whole exhibit.

Baccarat Chandelier against the ceiling of the Petit Palais
Baccarat Chandelier against the ceiling of the Petit Palais

Here are some detail shots of a few of the enormous standing-style chandeliers, sort of super-posh lamp posts.

Baccarat Detail
Baccarat Detail
Baccarat Detail
Baccarat Detail

My favorite part of the exhibit was a dark-walled room with soft music playing and seven or eight absolutely stunning chandeliers alternately brightening and then dimming back to a soft glow, one at a time, as if they were each taking their turn in the spotlight. It was like a minuet, with ladies in hooped ball gowns, and absolutely mesmerizing. Fortunately, the benches along the wall were hard and backless or I would probably still be there!

So put on a little music, and I’ll give you a sample. You can even sit in a comfortable chair and stay as long as you like.

Baccarat Chandelier Gold and Crystal detail

Baccarat Asymetrical Lampshade Chandelier

Baccarat Electric Candle Chandelier

Baccarat Pink Lampshade Chandelier

Baccarat Chandelier bronze and gold detailBaccarat Chandelier RoomShine on!

Time Travel — Paris Style

We’ve settled into a little apartment in Montmartre for the week. This one’s on the 7th floor (Americans, read 8th), but fortunately, there is a functioning ascenseur (elevator), because this time in Paris, we had to bring ALL our luggage back from La Rochelle, including every book I’ve bought since we got here. We still have plenty of opportunity to climb stairs. Our nearest Metro stop is 112 steps below the street entrance. (There’s a sign.)

Courtney spent one night with us before flying home on Sunday. Here she is still looking happy even after tramping up and down the hills of Montmartre.

Courtney, Montmartre
Courtney, Montmartre
Montmartre
Montmartre

After we saw her off at the airport, we had an excellent conversation with the philosopher-cum-cab driver, who drove us back to the apartment. As usual, David primed the pump by asking a question in English that I translated into French, which always gets things going. Then if there’s a lull, he’ll offer another question for me to translate. Monsieur Taxi insisted that David and I haven’t just visited another country. By staying a while and living as we have, we’ve actually added a second culture to our native culture and have been enriched by it. Not just because it’s French, although he was certainly proud of France, but simply that le voyage and l’histoire–which means both history and story–have more to offer a person than cars or houses or any other material thing. I’d love for you to leave your opinion in the comments section, but we certainly agreed with him.

In that spirit, we decided to go have a look at a bit more of what Paris has to offer, like l’Arène des Lutèce, where intergenerational groups play soccer (le foot) in a first-century arena. Here’s a bit of the beautiful square right next to the arena.

Square des Arènes du Lutèce
Square des Arènes du Lutèce

A few blocks further is the Jardin des Plantes, where we saw this . . .

Jardin des Plantes, Paris -- Lion with Human Foot. Do NOT know where the REST of the human is!
Jardin des Plantes — Lion with Human Foot. Do NOT know where the REST of the human is!

Eventually made our way over to Ile Saint-Louis, where we found the restaurant Aux Anysetiers du Roy for lunch. It was like time travel back to the Middle Ages. Here’s what’s on the wall on the way up to the WC.

Aux Anysetiers du Roy, Ile Saint-Louis, ParisFalcon Aux Anysetiers du Roy Cropped

The building was constructed in 1617, and the walls were eventually painted to add to the ambiance, although if I understood correctly, only about 100 years ago. Still. Impressive, non?

Ladies on the Wall up the WC Aux Anysetiers de Roy

Aux Anysetiers du Roy
Aux Anysetiers du Roy

And here’s the sink. You turn on the water with the knobs on the side of the tank.

Aux Anysetiers de Roy, Ile Saint-Louis, Paris
Aux Anysetiers de Roy, Ile Saint-Louis, Paris

After lunch we crossed the bridge over to Ile de la Cité and decided to check out the Crypte archéologique du Parvis Notre-Dame, so a bit more of that surreal sense of existing in multiple eras at once–ancient stone walls all around and several super cool 3-D touch-screen displays that allowed you to swoop in on Notre Dame and see it at various points between 1163 and 1350:

3D Experience of Notre Dame between 1163 and
3D Experience of Notre Dame between 1163 and 1350

Ended the day on our little balcony with this view, (slightly zoomed in):

Sacré Coeur from our balcony
Sacré Coeur from our balcony

M. Philosophe-Chauffeur reminded us that everyone can learn something new every day–that history is everywhere. There’s a story behind every painting, every church, every garden. You just have to give yourself time to hear it. Happy learning!

Season of Change

L’automne est arrivé and is making itself felt even here in France. The color is not as dramatic as in New England . . .

Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire 2013
Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire 2013

. . . where we are usually to be found in October. But there are the occasional flashes of color, like these  . . . whatever they are . . . on a tree in le jardin . . . 

Anyone know what this is?
Anyone know what this is?

But mostly, the heat has lost its intensity, the mosquitoes are gone (WOOHOO!) and the days are shorter . . .

Looking out to sea from La Rochelle, October afternoon.
Looking out to sea from La Rochelle, October afternoon.

We took advantage of a gorgeous afternoon to climb la tour Saint-Nicolas with Courtney. We only had time for one tower, and la tour de la Lanterne has recently closed for renovations and won’t reopen until sometime next year.

La tour Saint-Nicolas
La tour Saint-Nicolas
La tour Saint-Nicolas
La tour Saint-Nicolas

Courtney does not love heights, so of course we climbed the tallest of the three. Love all the stairs going every which way. And of course, the view . . .

View from la tour Saint-Nicolas
View from la tour Saint-Nicolas

But perfect weather like we had that day is becoming the exception. The cool and the occasional rain showers make us appreciate les arcades de La Rochelle and, last week, les passages couverts de Paris . . . 

Passage Vivienne, Paris
Galerie Vivienne, Paris

We’re choosing to eat à l’interieur instead of à l’exterieur . . .

Courtney, Café de la Paix, La Rochelle
Courtney, Café de la Paix, La Rochelle

And of course l’automne makes us feel like curling up with a good book . . .

Book Shop in one of the covered passages of Paris
Book Shop in one of the covered passages of Paris
Book Shop in Covered Passage of Paris
Book Shop in one of the covered passages of Paris

The changing season signals other changes as well. Tomorrow is our last day in La Rochelle, and that feels strange. We’ll fit in one last lunch at Les 4 Sergents, courtesy of our kind landlords, and I’ll have one last French lesson with my fabulous tutor, Natacha, who has become another good friend.

The past few days have found me wandering in and out of tourist shops, buying a Charente-Maritime calendar and reproductions of watercolors of the towers and the sea, strongly tempted by other touristy knickknacks to which I wouldn’t have given a second glance a month ago. All in an effort to hang onto something precious, I guess. But of course a refrigerator magnet is not an adequate substitute for this place and these friends. So, we don’t know when, but God willing, we will certainly be back.

Palais Garnier

We’re here in Paris with Courtney this week, heading back to La Rochelle tomorrow. We’ve visited many of the usual sights, including la tour Eiffel, where we were able to stand on one of the sections of the new glass floor which just opened this week on the first level. Since it’s about 57 meters from the ground (American translation: about 187 feet), it was a little unnerving–and Courtney wouldn’t do more than put the toe of her shoe on it long enough to take a picture. She’s not a fan of heights, so the first level is as far as we went. On the plus side, no interminable line for the elevator to the summit.

One Paris treasure I had missed until now–Palais Garnier, also called Opéra Garnier–is right around the corner from our apartment, so we walked over there this morning.

Palais Garnier
Palais Garnier

Lots of gold here, too, like Versailles, but far fewer tourists. I think a few postponed their visit because the auditorium was off limits today, due to a rehearsal. Still absolutely worth it. I LOVED this place, especially the Grand Foyer, where the wealthy patrons used to chat each other up between acts (and maybe still do) . . .

Grand Foyer Palais Garnier
Grand Foyer Palais Garnier

Absolutely stunning.

Balcony Palais Garnier
Balcony Palais Garnier
Sun Room Palais Garnier
Sun Room Palais Garnier

I love the story of this room, the Sun Room–meant to be the vestibule of a future Smoking Room–and it’s companion, the Moon Room. In all the hurry to finish on time, there was a mistake and the decorative schemes of the two circular rooms were reversed. “So that’s why, if the Smoking Room were finished, you would go through ice to show that you are going to light a cigar, and through fire to show that you are going to eat a sorbet!” said the architect, Charles Garnier.

Fascinating place. There’s even a room with models behind glass of previous set designs:

Miniature Set Design
Miniature Set Design

It’s not all gold . . .

Palais Garnier
Palais Garnier

But it is all gorgeous, absolutely from top . . .

Ceiling Detail Palais Garnier
Ceiling Detail Palais Garnier

. . . to bottom, even the floor!

Floor Mosaic Palais Garnier
Floor Mosaic Palais Garnier

There seem to be fewer tourists, now that we’re into October, so my patience has had no big challenges this week, which is probably good, since that is not always my strong suit. But today I was inspired by this that David forwarded to me from Richard Rohr:

At the end of our street, which is called Five Points Road, five streets come together. The stoplight at this intersection seems interminably long. One day, as I was impatiently waiting and waiting for the light to turn green, I felt God saying to me, “Richard, are you really going to be any happier on the other side of Bridge Avenue?”

Now it has become my daily meditation place where I get to practice living right here, right now. If I can’t experience God and love and happiness and everything that matters in this impatient moment, I probably won’t experience it on the other side of Bridge Avenue either. As Catherine of Siena said, “It’s heaven all the way to heaven, and it’s hell all the way to hell!” ∼ Richard Rohr

Wishing you peace, patience, love and “everything that matters” no matter what side of the street you’re on!

 

Noirmoutier Time

Wow. It’s October already, which means only about three weeks left in France. We WILL come back, but with no firm plans to return, Father Time is clamoring for my attention.

Château de Noirmoutier -- No time to tour it!
Château de Noirmoutier — No time to tour it!

Rather apt then that Saturday Jacky and Pascale took us to Noirmoutier (where the salt is harvested that goes in my favorite butter). This was an adventure that ended up being very much about time. They picked us up at 9:30 for a full day of fun. I had put my camera in the trunk–oops–so missed a few photo ops on the way, including . . . a random Bactrian camel sighting! Yup. Several double-hump camels hanging out in a field at the side of the road.

No worries, though. This day offered plenty more to see.

We left when we did specifically so we would get to Noirmoitier in time to take le passage du Gois, a 4.5 km road that is underwater except for a couple of hours at marée basse (low tide). Arriving on the island, we stopped to take a few photos and were just in time to see these go by:

Les voitures classique
Les voitures classique
Are they having fun or not? I can't tell.
Are they enjoying themselves? I can’t tell.

The people you see walking out on the sea floor are out there to pêche à pied (“fish on foot”) which means to dig for mussels, scallops and the like, but they have to keep an eye on the time as well. I zoomed in to take the photo below and then cropped to enlarge further, so the people in this photo are actually WAY OUT THERE.

Pêcher à pied au Gois
Pêcher à pied au Gois
Too bad about your car if this becomes necessary!
Too bad about your car!

If you do lose track of time and/or underestimate the speed of the returning tide (faster than you think), you may need to abandon your car and scramble up one of these:

(Check out YouTube for videos of those who have taken their chances with the tide. Search Passage du Gois and you’ll find plenty.)

Noirmoutier is a good two hours from La Rochelle, but Jacky drove with his customary good humor. Pascale had done her homework, navigating through all the rondpoints  (roundabouts), which was fortunate, since the GPS was not terribly trustworthy, and actually insisted several times that we were driving through the middle of fields! Pascale had chosen le chemin des écoliers (the scenic route)–literally “the way of schoolboys,” but we did stay on the roads.

Pascale had also prepared the entire pique-nique. (Sometimes we’re allowed to contribute wine!) This was our third pique-nique with themhere are the first and second–and this time she was holding out for an actual table, preferably à l’ombre (in the shade). Again, timing was everything. After directing Jacky up and down various lanes to no avail, we finally found the last empty table in here right before several other groups came looking.

Pique-Nique
Pique-Nique
Apéro time
Apéro time — Photo by Jacky

We took our time and enjoyed it thoroughly. After the usual multi-course feast, we headed out . . .

Noirmoutier
Noirmoutier

. . . for a walk sur la plage . . .

Noirmoutier Plage
Noirmoutier Plage

. . . and a little scrambling over the rocks . . .

Pascale
Pascale finding the best vantage point

Then a bit more touring around the island before heading back to the mainland, this time over the bridge, and a final scenic stop here:

One of the coastal beaches on the way home
On the way home: one of the mainland beaches in the late afternoon light

The gleaming light on the sea tells us it’s time to call it a day.

There’s a story told in one of the French novels I’ve read in the last few weeks, where a game of sorts is explained.  Each day you wake up, and the bank has put into your account 86,400 dollars. There are only two rules: 1) You can spend them however you like, but anything you don’t spend by the end of the day goes away. 2) The bank can close your account at any time without warning. So, how would you spend it? The man in the story answered much as most of us likely would: he’d spend it to give pleasure and happiness to himself and those he loved, and even to those in other places that he didn’t know–he didn’t think he could spend that much day after day after day on just himself and his loved ones.  The twist in this supposedly theoretical game is that it’s real, and we all have an account with the «banque magique». We are given every day 86,400 seconds of life to spend as we choose, and aren’t seconds of life even more important than dollars?*

Many thanks, yet again, to Pascale and Jacky for spending theirs with us. How will you spend yours?

*Translated and paraphrased from Et si c’était vrai . . . by Marc Levy