Sunday, June 25, 2017

Celebrating a birthday in Paris

June 25, 2017 --  The weather was gorgeous:  blue sky, puffy little white clouds, cool enough to wear real shoes and socks, and warm enough to wear a T-shirt and no jacket.  Our goal was to walk along the Seine, perhaps all the way to the Jardin des Plantes.

Getting started was a challenge, because we were distracted by the abundant shopping opportunities.  Tom needs things:  shoes, a blazer, etc.  The aptly named Rue du Commerce has things -- not touristy things, but real things, that people really need.

Clothing and wares were being displayed out on the sidewalk in front of many shops.  We were witnessing the weekend of a Rue du Commerce street fair -- something that we remember attending years ago.  We usually are not in Paris until July.  This year is different from most; we're experiencing June.

Street fair at one end of the Rue du Commerce.

Yesterday was Tom's 75th birthday.  So we shopped for him.  First we looked at an entire rack of men's walking shoes out on the sidewalk.  He seriously considered one pair, but decided to wait.  "Maybe I'll try gluing my old shoes together one more time," he said.  I replied, "Well, maybe you could take them to the shoe repair place on our street."

We are guilty of being frugal, but we also know how to stimulate the economy in our own meager way.  We moved on to the Celio shop, a place where we'd purchased a rain jacket for Tom in the past.

Celio's prices are good, and so there were a number of people shopping there.  I'm always wary of empty shops, or shops where there are no French people spending money.  We knew right where the blazers were.  Within a few minutes of perusing them, a salesman cheerily swept by to welcome us and point out where the mirrors were as Tom was about to try on the first blazer.

Weirdly, these blazers were marked S, M, L, and XL for the sizes.  Clearly they were made for an English speaking market.  But that market must have been for very small English speakers.  I'm not sure where in the world that would be.  Tom, after his illnesses a year and a half to two years ago, is not large.  He is quite medium -- a 40 regular kind of guy.  Knowing these blazers would probably run small, he tried a Large.  Nope.  Large was too small.  There was only one XL in black.  He tried it, and it fit beautifully, but the sleeves were a little too long. Tom has unusually long arms, so he didn't expect this anomaly.

The price was amazing:  30 percent off of 49.99!  Tom was going to buy it and just make do with the slightly long sleeves.  I encouraged him to buy it, and then go to the tailor across from our building to have the sleeves shortened.  Tom didn't want to spend the money.  I said, "Even if it costs 35 euros to alter the blazer, it is still worth it, and you'll feel better wearing it if the sleeves are the right length."

When I convinced him that it couldn't hurt to ask, we backtracked around the corner, onto the Rue du Theatre, and entered the tailor's shop.

This was a Saturday, but yes, the shop was open.  The tailor and his friend were sitting around with not much to do.  We'd shopped there before; I bought a suede jacket there once, and had the sleeves shortened by the tailor.  Leather seems to be a specialty at this plain little shop/workshop.

Quickly and professionally, the tailor pinned up one of the jacket sleeves to mark the proper length.  Tom asked "how much?" in French.  Twenty-five euros was the answer!  And the finished blazer will be ready on Monday afternoon.  I love customized, quick service!

View of the Eiffel Tower and garden at the Musee du Quai Branly.

Off we went again, making our way successfully this time, to the end of the Rue du Commerce and up to the Avenue de la Bourdonnais, where I checked out a little shoe store that advertises on Google that it carries Skechers.  Alas, the little shop did not have my size.  We walked on to the garden at the Musee du Quai Branly.

The garden is more lush and green than ever.  The foliage and exotic grasses are wildly growing together.  The place reminds us of South Florida, but better.

We were both hungry, so we stepped into the cafe facing the garden.  Tom consumed a dish of rich ice cream, which almost had to be Berthillon.  I ate a salad with wonderful goat cheese.  Fortified, we left the garden, crossed the quai, and walked down to the banks of the Seine.

The throngs of pedestrians there grew thicker and thicker as we walked.  We saw that this was the second of two "Olympic Days" for which a large assortment of games were set up for all, young and old, to play.  Ping pong was a popular one.

When we reached the far side of the Pont Alexandre III, we looked up and saw two colorful diving platforms set up on the bridge.  At twenty minutes before 3PM, people were starting to gather, looking up at the platforms.   We decided to join them to watch the divers.  After we'd waiting several minutes, a large screen behind us illuminated with a video explanation of the event about to take place.  The divers would not be diving, but rather working their way down long pieces of fabric, doing acrobatics along the way.

Acrobatic "diver" leaving one of the platforms on the Pont Alexandre III.

Finally, at 3PM, a diver appeared.  She was an athletic-looking young woman in a red one-piece swimsuit.  She performed her act to the amplified sound of Vivaldi's Four Seasons.  Slowly, she lowered herself along the lengths of fabric, wrapping them this way and that, around her body, as she pivoted, twirled, did somersaults, etc.  I can't say that the "choreography" had anything to do with the Four Seasons, but it was interesting -- much like what circus acrobats have been doing for many years.

As we stood there, I became slightly uncomfortable as people standing near me pressed into my space.  When the first act was almost over, I turned to Tom, who was standing behind me.  Then I saw that the crowd behind us had grown tremendously.  There were no spaces between people.  The entire space was full of humans who had no room to move.

After the lady in the red suit finished and the Four Seasons had concluded, Tom and I decided to try to make our way out of the crowd.  Fortunately, some other people decided to try to leave, too.  At first, nobody could move.  That was truly frightening.  Everyone stayed calm, however, and eventually, there was a little movement this way, and a little movement that way.  It took twenty minutes or more, but finally, Tom and I were moving.  We almost got separated at one point, but soon all was well again, and we continued our walk on toward Notre Dame.

As a general rule, we avoid crowds.  The Olympic Days crowd was one nobody would have predicted.

The Seine, looking toward the Ile de la Cite.

We'd been on our feet for hours, so we rested a few times on old limestone benches.  At last, we were across from Notre Dame on the left bank, gazing up as we walked at the cathedral's lacy grandeur.

Across from the far end of the church, we climbed the steps to the street level, crossed the quai, and started walking down the rue Maitre Albert when we saw the perfect sidewalk cafe for pausing for beverages on the rue des Grands Degres.  So, pause we did, for a bottle of sparkling water to share, coffee for Tom and a glass of chardonnay for me.  The large, garrulous man sitting at the table next to us was evidently the owner of the place.  He was consuming mussels from a big red pot which was accompanied by a small mountain of fries.  The man periodically dumped fries into the pot.

We finished our beverages, paid the tab, left a pour boire (a couple euros), said good-day  to the garrulous man, and went on our way down the Rue Maitre Albert to the line 10 metro at Place Maubert Mutualite.

Quaint old storefront on the Rue des Grands Degres.

Soon we were back at the apartment, where we rested up for the next adventure:  Tom's birthday dinner at La Gauloise.

While we were resting, we heard drums.  Something musical was happening at the street fair, six stories below.  The sound of the drums grew louder.  Then there was music with the drums.  We walked out on our balcony and looked down.  Soon, a colorful group of Brazilian musicians and dancers appeared at the intersection, where they paused and the dancers showed off their flamboyant garb and exotic moves.

I told Tom I'd ordered the girl dancers and the drum line for this birthday.  I wish I had thought of it.

Brazilian dancers and musicians on the Rue due Commerce and Rue du Theatre.

Dinner was at La Gauloise -- one of our longtime, favorite, traditional Parisian restaurants.  The classic interior of the restaurant was half full of families having dinner together.  They were all French.  Just like when we had lunch at the Trois Garcons brasserie the day before, we did not hear any English being spoken in the restaurant.

Dinner was simple and elegant.  We skipped the starters and Tom ordered a thick, juicy filet of beef in a nice black pepper sauce, accompanied by a small salad.  My main course was a filet of dorade royale (golden sea bream) accompanied by Spring vegetables.  We each had an outstanding souffle Grand Marnier.

I mentioned the lunch we had on the 23rd at the Trois Garcons brasserie on the rue de la Croix Nivert.  My dish was fish and veggies there, too:  a slightly seared piece of red tuna with marinated, thin, crispy slices of beets, fancy radishes, and a few cucumbers.  The dish was colorful and delicious.  Tom had a slate of mixed charcuterie -- so copious that he sneaked some of it away into folded paper napkin, then into a shopping bag to take home.

Wallace Fountain near the Trois Garcons brasserie.
That outing on the 23rd was our first daytime adventure for this summer, even though we arrived in Paris on the 21st.  The first two days were consumed by an oppressive heat wave and episode of pollution (bad ozone).  We just hibernated, unpacked, and recovered from jet lag during those two days.  Oh, we did manage to go out for supplies at the grocery, fromagerie, and bakery, but we know better than to try to go traipsing about normally during a heat wave in Paris.

And we had a nice dinner at La Terrasse as the weather was breaking on the evening of the 22nd.  I had a perfectly juicy and tender duck breast with vegetables and Tom consumed a beef carpaccio with salad.  Service was so professional and the ambiance was so Parisian.  It was a good way to start.

Amazingly, the weather became suddenly much better on Friday, without any noticeable storm front.  And so it goes -- all seems to be well in Paris now.

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