Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A kitchen of one's own

The vegetated wall on the Quai Branly.  I especially
adore the blooming hosta lilies.
July 31, 2018 -- Once upon a time, there was an Indian restaurant named Banani and it was good -- until it wasn't. Banani's heavily carved wooden door, facing the rue de la Croix Nivert, opened to reveal a luxurious dining room, done in rich, deep shades of red and gold.

In the good old days, Banani's management didn't hesitate to turn on the air conditioning when evenings were warm -- or hot.  Something happened, however, and subsequently the Banani management did not seem to care anymore.

And then Banani disappeared.  An empty restaurant remained.  We were sad.

Yesterday, as I browsed through lafourchette.com, looking for nearby Indian restaurants with high ratings, I found a new place called Indian Villa.  It had only 10 reviews, but all ten gave the restaurant 10 points (the highest level).  The few reviews on TripAdvisor were equally glowing.  Indian Villa just opened on July 14 -- Bastille Day.

When I noticed that Indian Villa's address was on the rue de la Croix Nivert, my appetite awakened.  Sure enough, when I checked the photographs for the restaurant's lafourchette.com page, I recognized the glossy, deep red mahogany paneling with gold trim and fancy carvings.
The beautiful Lavirotte building at 29 Avenue Rapp.

People who really care about good Indian cuisine have returned to that precious spot where Banani had been.  I asked Tom if he was interested in dining there last night, and he was enthusiastic -- even before I told him that lafourchette.com was offering a 40 percent discount because it was Monday.  And so I reserved.

We opened the heavy, wooden door and were warmly welcomed.  We felt the cool drift of air conditioning as we were shown to our table. 

We ordered our usual Indian favorites:  vegetable pakora (shared), lamb korma for each, basmati rice for Tom, naan, garlic naan, and for dessert, we shared a Dame Blanche.

Everything was perfect -- the food, the service, the serving sizes, the discounted check.

Indian Villa is encouraging take out orders, too.  These are offered at a slight discount off the eat-in prices.  We were given a glossy paper takeout menu to take home with us. 

Good Indian food is not cheap.  It is not like Chinese food that way, and I do not understand people who think it should be.

Indian food is complex.  I did not attempt to make it much until I subscribed to meal kits.  I've done Blue Apron, Home Chef, and Plated so far.  When we return, I'm going to subscribe to SunBasket.

I was thinking about those meal kits yesterday and wondered if they exist in France.  They do!

A cute creperie next to a Chinese restaurant on the rue de Pondichéry.
A popular meal kit service in France is Quitoque.  Check it out at www.quitoque.fr, if you know how to read French.  The price per meal is less than it is on the three U.S. meal kit services I've tried.

With all the restaurants within walking distance around us, I have not felt the urge to cook that much in Paris -- until this year.  What I found that I love so much about the meal kits at home is that I do not have to do the planning and shopping.  I do not like to shop.  Thankfully, Tom does.

The meal kits brought home to me how very much I DO like to cook. 
Gangplank to the archipelago on the Seine is raised until 10AM.

Cooking is difficult in the kitchen of the apartment where we stay in Paris, because that kitchen is small and it is crammed full of the owner's stuff.  So I don't cook, except for the occasional scrambled eggs, omelettes, poached eggs, French toast, salads of all sorts, and charcuterie or cheese plates.  But it would be nice to be able to do complex dishes . . . .
This, plus some other factors, now have us considering the idea of renting an apartment year-round in Paris -- one that we can furnish, one with a decent kitchen, even if it is a small kitchen.

We could only be here for six months, but I know others in our family could use it much of the rest of the time.

It is a thought.  We are thinking about it.  It is worth considering.  Stay tuned.

Monday, July 30, 2018

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

The popular market under the Grenelle tracks begins here, at the Avenue de la Motte Picquet,
and goes on for several blocks.  It operates on Wednesdays and Sundays until about 1PM.
July 30, 2018 -- A tiny, triangular "square" near us is dedicated to Emile Zola (1840-1902), the French journalist, writer, activist.  On one side of the monument in this square is a quotation from Zola which is so appropriate these days that I want to share its translation with you:

The truth is on the march and nothing will stop it.  Whoever suffers for truth and justice becomes august and sacred. There is justice only in the truth. There is happiness only in justice.  Emile Zola

The square -- called the Place Alfred-Dreyfus -- used to be an unusable, dirty, neglected space that collected litter.  Then it was made into a simple, elegant, yet humble spot that Zola would appreciate.  You can find it where the Avenue Emile Zola, Rue du Théatre, and Rue Violet meet, in the upper part of the 15th arrondissement.

The reverse side of the monument has a round metal portrait of Zola. Someone had defaced it with a bit of white paint, which they used to draw a Hitler-like mustache on top of Zola's mustache.  What a jerk, I thought, who would deface Zola's image like that.  Tom said, "What an ignorant jerk."  The jerk obviously knows nothing about Emile Zola.  I found the blotch so offensive that I touched up this photo to erase it.  I hope the Paris park maintenance people take that offensive Hitler mustache off of Emile Zola's image very soon.

The whole monument looks like it has been scrubbed clean here and there, as if other graffiti/vandalism has been removed in the past.

Earlier in this walk we saw and heard beautiful signs of life.  There was a gorgeous cat lounging in the shade on the passage way called the Villa de Grenelle.  These days, it is rare to see a cat on the loose in Paris.  I hope that she does not wander far.

There was a talented violin player playing classical pieces under the railroad bridge that crosses over the Ile aux Cygnes.  He played the Marseillaise and parts of Vivaldi's Four Seasons -- both difficult pieces.  I think he was a professional, and he seemed to be practicing as well as performing.  He repeated certain phrases from the Four Seasons over and over, to perfect them.  I thoroughly enjoyed his music as we sat on a nearby park bench.

At last, I walked over and placed three or four euros on his violin case.  He said, "Merci, madame.  Bonne soirée!" in a deep, resonant, baritone voice and in the perfect, clear French that well-educated people speak.

When we reached the Pont de Bir Hakeim, we were stunned to see about six different wedding couples being photographed there.  This is a popular place for such photos, but we've never seen so many couples there at once.  They appeared not to know each other, and altogether they were an ethnically diverse bunch of young people.

The Villa de Grenelle.
We finally saw Philippe on that walk, too.  He is a poor old guy who used to sit on the sidewalk by the door of the bakery that we go to most often.  Philippe is good-natured, and likes to talk.  We would chat with him often, and we'd buy him occasional pizza slices from the bakery.  But until this walk, we had not seen him this summer.

But there he was the other evening; these days he is in a fine looking wheelchair, and he isn't sitting on the pavement, begging, anymore.  He sat in his wheelchair across from the bakery, just to be out, taking the evening air.  His attire was casual and stylish -- like an ensemble from the Levi Strauss catalog, the Gap store up the street, or Old Navy.  Someone has set him up with more social and health care services, it seems.

I'm not surprised.  It was always clear to us that people in the neighborhood care for Philippe.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Feasting without reservation

We'd been walking.  We were hungry.  It was dinnertime.  We had no reservations.

Still, when Tom asked about dinner, I suggested that we go to Le Blavet.

The Pont de Bir Hakeim was formerly called the Viaduc de Passy.  It is on the
opposite end of the Ile aux Cygnes from the Statue of Liberty.
Two decades ago, when we first dined at this little restaurant, Madame la Patronne would have frightened us with a scalding glare if we walked into her place without a reservation.  But she retired years ago, and Le Blavet is now much more relaxed -- like the river it is named for.

Without a reservation, we thought we'd be anonymous at Le Blavet (as real restaurant critics should be), but the chef periodically came out of the kitchen, stood behind the bar doing something, and kept looking right at me, like he was trying to figure out if I was really that person from Florida who continues to blog about restaurants in the 15th arrondissement, summer after summer.

Croustillan de Chevre at Le Blavet.

We've never met him in person.  He, like some other shy chefs, stays in the kitchen almost all the time.

At Le Blavet, two fixed price menus are offered.  The food is extraordinarily consistently excellent.

I ordered from the 27-euro fixed price menu, and Tom ordered from the 36-euro menu.  Each includes a starter, main course, and dessert.  No problem -- we brought our appetites with us, and we'd just walked four miles.

Sole Meunière at Le Blavet.

I started with a croustillant de chèvre -- a thin, crispy pastry wrapped around a deliciously warm little chunk of goat cheese.  It came with an onion "confiture" that was identical to the onion "chutney" that accompanied Tom's terrine de foie gras.  Both starters were delicious, and amazingly identical to the ones we remember from previous years' dining at Le Blavet.

Tom ordered the classic sole meunière, which came with the classic accompaniment, white steamed potatoes.  Sometimes sole meunière is served in a slight pool of clarified butter, and sometimes it is not.  I'm not sure which is more "correct."  The version at Le Blavet is served without the pool of butter.  The server did not offer to de-bone it for him;  that's just as well, because we de-bone our fish ourselves (maybe they remember that we do?).

Magret de Canard at Le Blavet.

My main course was a classic magret de canard.  It was wonderful.  It was superior to the magret I'd had at another, nearby restaurant recently.  The sauce was sweet and sour, with apples, and the accompaniment was a gratin of potatoes dauphinois.

We each had crêpes, but they were of different kinds.  Mine was two folded crêpes, one with dark chocolate sauce, and the other with rum sauce.  Plus there was a dollop of whipped cream and a small scoop of French vanilla ice cream.  
Le Blavet is on the Rue de Lourmel, south of the Avenue Emile Zola.

Tom's was a flat crêpe with roasted apples and a Calvados sauce, with vanilla ice cream.  

Fortunately we'd started dinner early, at 7:30PM, because the restaurant was hot and full by the time we left.  A large group of 20 or so people occupied the larger dining room.

This morning, I persuaded Tom to go to the market at Grenelle with me.  He needed a shirt and some socks, and believe me, these markets have the best prices for those kinds of things.  We meandered through the dense crowd at about 11AM, and Tom was successful in finding and buying what he needed.

We enjoyed looking at the Oriental rugs in the market, and in the window of a closed rug store on the Boulevard.  Caution:  do not buy Persian rugs in Europe now; you cannot take them home to the U.S. because of the current sanctions against Iran.

Most shops are closed on Sundays, except for those that sell food.  The latter tend to stay open on Sunday in this neighborhood because of the Grenelle market (which is on Sundays and Wednesdays, until about 1PM).  
Walking along the Ile aux Cygnes, in the middle of the Seine.

So we went to the grocery and bakery, and came home to have a "picnic" lunch before this final stage of the Tour de France.  The Tour comes to Paris today, and I adore watching all the helicopter views of La Capitale.

Au revoir!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

The cool came back, just like that!

I'd seen the predictions.  The change was not unexpected.  Still, when it happened, we were excited.  The heat wave lifted, just like that!
View from our friend's home-exchange vacation apartment.

As if Mother Nature made a flick of her wrist, her weather wand sparked, and a stiff yet gusty breeze magically appeared in the early evening.  A few dried leaves on the sidewalk flitted this way and that.  Minutes later, the rain that had been threatening broke through the heavy atmosphere.  The thermometer dropped ten degrees F.

The air, which had been laden with bad ozone, became light and cool again.

All of this happened as we sat in Eclectic with our friend, W, having drinks.  The panoramic view of the riverbank through the restaurant's sweeping windows presented far away lightening bolts, big raindrops splashing forcefully, dramatically, on the pavement, people -- smiling -- dashing for cover.  Other people sauntering, delighting in being suddenly wet and cool.

The staff threw open Eclectic's two doors.  The cool breeze was a welcome addition to the air conditioning.  We heard thunder sounding as if it were in a muffled echo chamber.

Having drinks at Eclectic, in Beaugrenelle.
The three of us were so comfortable and happy at Eclectic that we decided, after an hour of drinks, to stay for dinner.  Tom and I ordered the Friday special:  moist, soft poached salmon -- with rice for me, and with fries for him.  W had a Burratina appetizer and indulged in the delicious bread.  W asked me what Burratina is; I replied that it is like Mozzarella, only much better.  One web site calls Burratina's taste "dreamy."

Afterwards, we went to Monoprix because W still needed a few necessities for the apartment where she is staying on the right bank, in the 16th, almost directly across from Eclectic, where we were drinking and dining.  She is doing a home exchange for her vacation, so a young Parisian family is enjoying Sanibel Island right now.

The Beaugrenelle Monoprix renovations have been completed since we were last there.  I'd say the renovation is a big success.  It is what you'd expect a Parisian grocery store to be -- attractively chic, practical, and reasonable.
View of the Statue of Liberty and Front de Seine from our
friend's home-exchange vacation apartment.

The walk from Monoprix to W's home-exchange apartment wasn't long.  We crossed the Seine on the Pont de Grenelle, where the Statue of Liberty stands, passed the Ogre restaurant that Tom and I would like to try sometime, and continued around the corner to the apartment building -- which was very similar to a building where we once had a home-exchange apartment for a few weeks, years ago.  We had exchanged our former rental house in Gulf Shores for that apartment, so that must have been somewhere between 2003 and 2008.

That apartment, too, belonged to a young Parisian family.  But their small children are now nearly grown ups.  That's what happens when a decade flies by.

The view from W's place is splendid.  The Seine, the Pont de Grenelle, the Statue of Liberty, and the Front de Seine.  If you lean out the window, you can even see the Eiffel Tower.

I could sit there for hours, watching the barges go by and the tourist boats turn around the Statue of Liberty end of the Ile aux Cygnes.  But we left after a brief visit and walked back down the avenues.  We'll see W and others on Wednesday.

By the time Tom and I were home, we'd walked 4 miles.  Not bad, considering that the first third of it was in 100 degree heat (but only 29 percent humidity) and air full of bad ozone.

Today, the air is clear and cool (in the 70s), with a pleasant and persistent breeze.  Peace.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

The métro is cookin'

"Heat Wave:  In the Paris Subway Oven" was the exaggerated headline in the popular tabloid Le Parisien two days ago (Canicule: dans la fournaise du métro parisien).  

As I read the article yesterday, I realized that this hot subway situation is probably one of the reasons why there is such a crowd of people walking to work on the Rue du Commerce in the morning.  Line 8 -- which goes straight up the Avenue Félix Faure and the Rue du Commerce -- of the métro must be very uncomfortably warm and stuffy.

View from the Port de Suffren walkway between the Eiffel Tower and the Pont de Bir Hakeim.

Miraculously, I have not been on the métro even once yet this summer.  I've been walking instead. Tom had a couple of métro rides after walking with Dan on a couple of evenings.  He didn't complain, but he was on Lines 4 and 10.  Le Parisien reports that the hottest lines are 6 and 4.  

Much of line 6 is not a subway; rather, it is an elevated train.  Because there are fewer underground stations (like caves, with slightly cooler air) and no air conditioning units on this line, it is darned hot.  Le Parisien's reporters took a digital thermometer around with them to check the temps.  On Tuesday afternoon, when it was 88 degrees outside, it was 92 degrees inside the Line 6 train.
Tiny playground and café tucked in the Champ de Mars.

That sounds bad, but at the same time, the humidity was only 45% in the train.  To a South Floridian, that doesn't sound all that horrible.

So far, in what Parisiens have been calling a heat wave, we haven't been too uncomfortable because we have avoided walking in the heat of the afternoon, we've trapped the cooler night-time and early morning air in the apartment, and we've avoided being trapped ourselves in restaurants in the warmer evenings.  Even restaurants that have air conditioning do not use it, or it doesn't work very well.  

So yesterday, when Dan showed up in the evening wanting dinner, Tom and I had to go to the grocery (which is air conditioned!).  We were out of coffee anyway, and that is a true emergency in Tom's opinion.  So at the grocery, Tom and I picked up nice, cool, picnic-like food to have at home:  country ham from the deli, tabbouleh salad, eggplant ratatouille, fresh cherries, cheeses, olives, and bottles of water, both flat and sparkling.  Then we added a fresh baguette and small apple tart from the bakery across from the grocery.  Voila!  Dinner!
Walking along the path between the Quai Branly and the Port de Suffren
in the early morning.

In this heat wave, the night-time temperatures have been going down into the 60s and there have not been air pollution events -- until now.  Last night was a little uncomfortably warm, and the air pollution index has risen to almost dangerous levels, where it will remain today and tomorrow. 

In the heat wave of 2003, which killed 15,000 people in France, many elderly people died because of the air pollution, much more so than the heat.  Now we are elderly (or at least, Tom is), and we must be careful. 

So the apartment is closed up now, and I finished my walk early in the day.  I have urged Tom not to walk this evening, when the air and heat will be much worse.  Fortunately, this real heat wave will last only for today and tomorrow, according to Accuweather.

Then we will return to normal summer weather, which the Parisiens still might call a heat wave.

The métro almost certainly will remain hot and stuffy for a while, until cooler weather returns.  Le Parisien reported that Line 4 was 90 degrees, just about as hot as Line 6.

Looking down at a houseboat moored at the Port de Suffren.  I think many of these
houseboat residents use potted plants and container gardens to help keep their quarters
below deck cool.

Lines 14, 9, 2, and 5 are theoretically air conditioned.  In practice, Le Parisien reports, the A.C. on the trains doesn't work because the air in the stations is stifling hot.

But it isn't all bad.  The Lines 13, 7, and 8 aren't quite as hot as they would be because they have mechanical ventilation -- a super-current of forced air.  I notice on my walks that a construction area near the intersection of Rue Fremicourt and Rue du Commerce has signs indicating that the purpose of the project is to improve ventilation in the subway.  At that location, this would benefit both Lines 10 and 8.  

Still, passengers say that Line 13 is still way too hot because it is so heavily used -- too many hot human bodies pack that train.
Monument to General Diego Brosset facing the Quai Branly.

The coolest subway?  That would be Line 2, at 84 degrees on Tuesday, as measured by the Le Parisien reporters in one location.  In another location on the line, however, the temp was 91.  

The transportation authority, RATP, does not plan to implement air conditioning throughout the Paris subway system -- for ecological and technical reasons.  "Air conditioning has a strong environmental impact.  It consumes lots of energy and reappears in the form of heat in the tunnels and on the platforms," said one RATP operator, according to Le Parisien.

RATP tries to be sympathetic, however.  Up until Monday, RATP agents had distributed paper fans and 65,000 bottles of water to passengers.  Well, that's something!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

C'est bien! It is all good.

Why walk in the Champ de Mars in the early morning?  Here's why:

And there are many more reasons like those.

Sign announcing the leash law.
Just like in my neighborhood on Sanibel, when I walk in the early morning in the Champ de Mars I see many dog owners with their dogs.  Dogs do need to be walked in the early morning, but on the Champ de Mars, many dog owners violate the leash law with impunity, so the reality (especially in the southeastern end of the park) in the early morning is that the Champ is really a popular dog park.

I was enjoying watching the dogs and owners this morning, at the same time that I was marveling at the flagrancy of the violations of the leash law.  Later in the day, we all notice that the same thing is true about the regulation forbidding the consumption of alcohol in this park.  There is no enforcement of these prohibitions whatsoever, as far as I can tell.

Just as I was thinking about how these dogs were free to run and play as they pleased, an elderly French lady approached me where I sat on a park bench and remarked to me about how extraordinary it is that the dogs are free to do whatever they want.  It was as if she were reading my mind; she wasn't disturbed by this lack of order, but rather delighted by it -- just as I was.  I smiled and shrugged and said to her, "C'est bien!"

More than an hour later, as I was walking home down the Rue du Commerce, I was going against the flow.  Massive numbers of people filled the sidewalk, walking to work, walking away from the densely populated lower part of the 15th arrondissement.  I was wearing sunglasses, so I began to covertly study their faces.  I was stunned by the number of faces that looked deeply unhappy!
My stepson Dan in the Café du Commerce.

That's why they call it work, I guess, but the sight made me deeply appreciate the fact that Tom and I both enjoy the work we are doing in retirement.

Indeed, we had a long day of work yesterday.  After I return from my early morning walk and Tom is fully awake, we work at the computers.  Yesterday's work involved the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates.  He's a marvelously (no pun intended) good writer.

In part, I am the IT person in our writing/editing enterprise, so yesterday's technology challenges meant that I had no time for writing in this blog.

Still, Tom and I were able to watch the very end of the day's stage of the Tour de France.  The stage took place in the Pyrenees, in a glorious, mountainous landscape, a part of which was in Spain.
Skate, in a lemon butte sauce with croutons, capers, and steamed potatoes.

Then in the evening, Dan came over from his AirBnB studio accommodations in Montmartre and the three of us walked around the corner to dine at Le Café du Commerce, the restaurant we look down on from our kitchen, bathroom, and study windows.

This almost-famous restaurant has a beautiful, big dining room on three levels, beneath a retracting glass roof.  The food served there is all classic French fare.  Last night, it was all good.  Service was impeccable.

We started with a dozen nicely cooked, garlicky escargots.  Then I had a lemony-buttery piece of skate served with steamed potatoes.  Tom had his favorite, beef carpaccio with fries.  Dan ordered the duck breast.  Then we all shared a baba au rhum and an order of dark chocolate covered profiteroles for dessert.

Beef Carpaccio
As I sat down today to process the photographs from yesterday and this morning, I realized that the Raymond Lopez 1959 building on Rue Viala is more interesting than I had guessed.  The business headquartered there was formerly known as DCNS, but is now called the Naval Group.

The address for it given on the architecture site that I consulted two days ago is wrong.  Instead of number 10, it must be something more like 20 Rue Viala.  But that turns out to be the back entrance; the main entrance is on Rue du Docteur Finlay.  The building certainly does not look its age.  This 1959 structure looks more like a 2009 building.

The Naval group is classified as an "arms industry company" in the Google search results.  Wikipedia says it specializes in naval defense and marine renewable energy.  Worldwide, it employs over 12,000 people!  That's big, but not as large as the research institute I worked for in the past; it now has 22,000 employees worldwide.

Duck breast
A news release on the Naval Group's web site last month announced that "Microsoft chose Naval Group to implement Phase 2 of its immersed datacenter project, also called Project Natick. The datacenter successfully deployed in early June 2018 off the Orkney Archipelago, and will be operated 'lights-out' for a period of one year."

Wow!  An underwater data center?  The news release goes on to describe just how big this project is:  "Naval Group is supporting Microsoft towards its objective to build, deploy and operate an underwater datacenter which is as powerful as several thousand high end consumer PCs with enough storage for about five million movies. The datacenter is contained in a submersible cylindrical system inspired by the underwater constructions of Naval Group. A triangular base (also called Subsea Docking Structure), ensures the positioning of the datacenter at the bottom of the ocean. A dual air-water system enables cooling of the datacenter, thus taking advantage of the temperature of the underwater environment."
The Naval Group building, designed by Raymond Lopez,
 faces both Rue Viala and Rue du Docteur Finlay.

Sorry, but the geek in me can hardly contain herself.  I find this idea to be fascinating.  Good to know this is happening in the 15th arrondissement.

After walking by the building yesterday morning, I cannot say I was completely surprised by this information about Naval that I found today.  Yesterday I observed how well maintained the building is, and how sleek the glass and aluminum security fence around it is.  The landscaping is a little wild and bushy, suggesting that this is maintained this way to save energy and water.

Like almost everything French, there is more history to Naval than is initially apparent.  Its heritage is the French naval dockyards, going back almost 400 years -- going back to the time of Cardinal Richilieu.  That's the time of the semi-fictional Three Musketeers.

As prime minister, Richilieu established the dockyards in order to give France the naval power to complete with England's.

Naval Group is still somewhat of a government entity since the French state owns 62 percent of it. But more than half of its 12,000-plus employees work in the private sector.

The company is truly world-wide, because it operates in 18 countries.  However, as far as I can tell, Naval does not have any offices or subsidiaries in the United States.  The closest they come is DCNS Technologies Canada Inc, a 100% Naval-owned subsidiary.

One reason why Naval Group is absent in the U.S. could be the strength of Battelle Memorial Institute in undersea technologies.  Battelle is the company I worked for in the past.

It is all good.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Tough guys on the avenue

July 23, 2018 -- The Avenue Émile Zola is frequently included in my Paris walks because it is wide, shaded by tall locust trees, and lined with interesting buildings.  The avenue leads to the Seine at a complicated intersection that includes a picturesque, old, tiny brick train station that is now part of the RER C commuter train line.

In the first decade of my Paris walks, the SMA building on Avenue Émile Zola was not one of my favorites because of its stark modernity.  But it grew on me, partly because it sits sideways on its site, allowing for some green space that includes some stately trees, facing the avenue.

Now the building is undergoing renovation that will include a new addition on the site of that green space.  At least, the new part is going to have a vegetated roof.

Graffiti with an English caption on the construction fence
around the SMA building on Avenue Émile Zola.
Notice the locust blossoms covering the sidewalk.
Today I learned more about that building.  It is the headquarters for an insurance company that specializes in insurance for businesses.

The main architect for the original building was Raymond Lopez (1904-1966).  He was known for his urban plans for cities like Dakar and Nevers.  In Paris, he was one of the “masterminds” behind the Front-de-Seine, the always-controversial collection of modern high-rise buildings on the Seine, southwest of the Eiffel Tower.  His partner in that adventure was Henri Pottier. 

The SMA building is not far from the Front-de-Seine, but it is only 11 stories high.  That’s still taller than the predominant, 19th Century, Haussmannian buildings on the avenue, which are generally 6 to 8 stories tall, at most.
I've seen lots of large city buses that are now electric.  Here is a small electric bus that connects the
new Microsoft France campus in Issy-les-Moulineaux (just outside the city limits) with major
commuter trains (RER) and tramway stations.  Microsoft recently announced plans to start two
Artificial Intelligence schools in France; one is at the Issy-les-Moulineaux campus.

I notice that Raymond only lived to be 62 (my age) and that he died in the year that the SMA building was completed.

Mostly, he was known for the buildings he designed in the 1950s.  Some examples of his work are  la tour Bois-le-Prêtrele siège de la Fédération nationale du bâtimentle siège social du groupe DCNSle centre d’affaires Paris Cap Nord.

I personally like the DCNS building, built in 1959, which also happens to be in the 15th arrondissement on the rue Viala.

High rises known as the Front-de-Seine, as seen from the Pont de Grenelle.

In my photos, you’ll no doubt notice the vegetation detritus on the pavement in this part of town.  That consists of fallen honey locust blossums.  When I took my shoes off in the apartment after this walk, I saw that the soles were plastered with mashed honey locust blooms.  Just so you know, in French, this messy tree – the honey locust – is called a févier d'Amérique.  Many of these fast-growing trees were planted after 2000, when an almost-hurricane took down lots of street trees in Paris.  It may not be wise to have such a monoculture of honey locust trees lining the streets of much of the 15th; but the honey locust does have a reputation as one very tough street tree.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Shops of various kinds

Take a look at the web site at http://boitedesoldats.fr/en/

When you see a site like that you think, ah, that place looks adorable but it probably doesn't really look like that at all.

Well, it does.  La Boite de Soldats (the box of soldiers) is located on the rue Violet, in our neighborhood in Paris.  I noticed it right from the beginning  of our summer stays here, because of its charming façade.

The web site claims that the business has existed for 20 years.  I think it is a little longer, and that part of the web site hasn't been updated lately.

My friend John Wolf collects toy soldiers; many years ago, he asked me if I knew of such a shop.  I sent him the information about La Boite de Soldat's phone number, address, etc., but I don't think the shop had a web site then.

The shop's hours are limited:  a few hours on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday late afternoon/early evening.  Otherwise, business is conducted by appointment.

So we've never entered the shop.

I'm impressed by the online catalog.  The French lead figurines, for example, depict historical figures such as Julius Caesar and Clovis (a warlord who became the first king of the Franks).  It is fun to see how these historical and legendary people look in the French imagination.

One of my favorites is Madame du Barry.  What an outfit!

I doubt that anyone is making a living from La Boite de Soldats.  This chocolate shop is another matter.

Puyricard is the name of a settlement in Provence, about 10 kilometers to the northwest of Aix-en-Provence.  The chocolate that carries the Puyricard name is actually made in Aix-en-Provence and is famous throughout France.  Like many makers of regional products, the Puyricard chocolaterie has retail shops in Paris -- it is La Capitale, after all.  This place on the Avenue Rapp is one of three Puyricard shops in the city.

Can you imagine, being near the end of a 12-hour fast and having just walked 7 miles, sitting on a bench, resting, and staring at this glorious place?  Instead of binging on chocolate, I went home and drank a cup of café au lait.

Near the Puyricard shop, over on the Avenue de la Bourdonnais, is another storefront that caught my eye:  History Group Paris.  Located right next to the Grayline tour outlet (Paris City Vision), it appears to be in the tour business.  I looked them up on the web.

In some version of English, the web site says:

History Group is a specialist in the creation of unique tourist experiences. One of our cutting-edge experiences is PARIS BY VR, that takes you from the second level of the Eiffel Tower on a fascinating and immersive virtual reality voyage to the Tower’s surrounding monuments. We are a dynamic company always on the lookout for exciting and innovative ways of bringing increased added value to our tours.

Hmmm.  I went to the French web site and translate that same paragraph myself:

History Group specializes in creating unique tours, such as PARIS BY VR (virtual reality), in which tourists can teleport themselves from the second level of the Eiffel Tour to the surrounding principal sights and monuments.  They can thereby discover Paris in a totally immersive fashion.  We are an innovative business that always offers good value in our tours.

History Group does offer regular tours by foot and by bicycle, too, if the virtual reality experience is not your thing.

For me, there is nothing like walking in Paris.  Bicycling would be scary.  Walking is liberating -- I decide where I am going and when.  I can change the itinerary on a whim.  I can stop to smell the roses, to see the color purple, to hear the birds sing, to listen to the urban music, to watch people.  I take "notes" with the camera.  And then I share it all with you.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Screaming facades

July 21, 2018 -- The sight of a building stopped me in my tracks this morning.  It made me forget how sore my feet were.  The street was narrow, so the building's elaborate façade was difficult to photograph.  Yet it begged to be photographed.  The building seemed to scream, "LOOK AT ME!"

All elaborate Art Nouveau buildings scream like that.  This one was doing it well -- loud and clear!

Yet the architectural gem is neglected.  I hope that someone will come along and restore it, the way 29 Avenue Rapp, the famous Art Nouveau building designed by the architect Lavirotte is being restored. (Here's what I wrote about the Lavirotte building in 2012, and my 2015 photograph of it is on this page.)
Statue of two women in a green space at the
beginning of  the Avenue Montaigne.

Who would expect such a showpiece to be on the simple, narrow, unassuming rue du Champ de Mars -- a street that seems to be a humble shortcut connecting the market street, rue Cler, with the Avenue de la Bourdonnais, near the Champ de Mars?

I did some research and learned that the architect of this find at 33 rue du Champ de Mars was Octave Raquin.  He designed it as a private middle school for girls.  The 1904 building has a name:  Les Arums.  And according to the French Art Nouveau blogger Eli Paseos, this was the only building Octave Raquin designed in this style.  Eli says that Octave Raquin is relatively unknown in the realm of Art Nouveau architects.

What is an arum?  It is a calla lily, a popular Art Nouveau motif.  In the case of Les Arums, we see the lilies in the stone facade, the metal grillwork on the doors, and in the tile mosaic inside, according to Eli.  Because the building was originally designed as the Longuets' school for girls, the calla lily motif may have been selected because it symbolizes purity and innocence.

Eli (a woman) writes that "It seems that this is the same Octave Raquin whose portrait Toulouse-Latrec painted in 1901 and who participated in the 'Revue Blanche,' a literature and art review from 1889 to 1903."

One of the Dior shops on the famous Avenue Montaigne.
Earlier, I'd walked up to the Champs Elysées via the Avenue Rapp and Avenue Montaigne.  I observed that, unlike the other avenues that lead to the Place de l'Alma on the right bank, the Avenue Montaigne does not go uphill.  Yet it is the one named Montaigne.  Go figure.

As you probably know, Avenue Montaigne is where most of the top fashion design houses have their main boutiques.  Some of them are not boutique size -- they are huge.  The Dior house, in particular, occupies much real estate on this swishy street.

The Avenue Montaigne takes me to the part of the Champs Elysées that I like:  the part that is park-like.  I do not like the commercial sections of the Champs Elysées, closer to the Arc de Triomphe.
The park-like part of the Champs Elysées

At the Grand Palais, I turned toward the Pont Alexandre III to head back to the apartment in the 15th.  I decided to zig-zag through the charming streets of the 7th arrondissement:  rue de l'Université, rue Jean Nicot, rue Saint Dominique, rue Cler, and then, voila, the rue du Champ de Mars where I made the Art Nouveau discovery of the day.

The night before, the three of us dined at an old favorite place, Stephane Martin on the rue des Entrepreneurs, and it did not disappoint.  We were surprised to see the Chef upstairs, in the dining room, out of the kitchen.  He is normally so shy!

But I guess he was training a new server/maitre d'hotel, so he had to be upstairs.

Chef Stephane knew our names and remembered that we'd been dining there for many years.  I said it was 18 years, and he said yes, the restaurant started there 19 years ago.
The Grand Palais, looking grand.

The dinner was very fine.  Tom and Dan had the specialty of the house, a slow roasted pork roast cooked in red cabbage, wine, and honey.  It is a large dish, meant to be shared by two.  I ordered the turbot, which was delicious.  It was accompanied by a fine mixture of vegetables cooked in butter.

The three of us shared an apple tart and cherry clafoutis for dessert.  We said our farewells to Chef Stephane, and assured him that Tom and I would be back soon.  Very soon.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Mundane Matters

The gray sky and drizzle of rain are welcome today.  To simply call it a gray sky is not fair.  The sky looks pillowy and soft, like a favorite old velveteen comforter. 

Instead of a 30 percent humidity, we now have 74 percent.  My sinuses feel alive again.  They aren't used to dry air. 

This is a good day for working at the computers and doing the laundry.  And so it goes.

Yesterday was very warm.  To avoid sitting in a hot restaurant, we opted for finally trying the Italian place in the ground level of our building.  We ordered the Pizza Diavolo -- essentially, a pepperoni pizza.

The place is tiny, but somehow 16 chairs have been squeezed into the space.  The kitchen must be tiny, too, and it must have a very hot oven to turn out such good pizza.  So, while we could have dined in the restaurant and received a 20 percent lafourchette.com discount, we opted for take-out instead. 

The proprietors are Claudio and Rita Ari.  We met Rita, and she was adorably welcoming and charming.  She told me that my French was very good. 

We chatted, ordered the pizza, and left for the bakery.  In fifteen minutes, we returned, the pizza was hot and ready, we paid up, thanked Rita and told her we'd see her again soon.

Up in the apartment, we opened the pizza box.  Instead of round, this pizza was amoeba-shaped.  That just made it look all the more authentic.

Plant on the balcony give us an
endless supply of cherry tomatoes.
The crust was thin and very pliable -- perfect for folding and eating New York-style.

The sausage slices were small but delicious.  And the cheese and tomato sauce were delightful.  Yes, this was the best pizza we've ever had in Paris -- and we've been summering here for 21 years now.

I wouldn't say it is the best pizza I've ever had.  That honor goes to the long-gone Rotolo's pizza that was on West Fifth or West Third Avenue in Grandview Heights, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, many years ago.

Now I realize that I cannot give you the name of this fine Italian deli/pizza parlor/resto because that would reveal our exact address in Paris.  I never do that in this blog. 

Astute readers can figure out the neighborhood, however, and with a little footwork while in Paris, they can find this Italian gem.

While I'm on the subject of casual food, I want to mention the peanut butter I found in FranPrix a couple weeks ago.  This "Ethiquable"  (ethical and equitable) brand is made by a cooperative of women in the northern part of Nicaragua.  The coop has 3500 members.  This spread is 95 percent peanuts, with a little sunflower oil added.  That's it.  No sugar, no chemicals.  It is delicious.

I don't remember the price, but I'm sure it was very reasonable.  And the ingredients are certified Fair Trade.

While I'm still on the subject of mundane things like pizza and peanut butter, let me mention the leaf blower I saw in use several mornings ago on a busy Paris avenue.  In the U.S., many communities are thinking of banning leaf blowers because they are so darned noisy.  We've started talking about it on Sanibel Island.  I'm interested in the example set by the Village of Key Biscayne, where they have banned gasoline-powered leaf blowers -- because of both noise and air pollution.

Unquestionably. electric leaf blowers are quieter.  I've heard some on Sanibel.  But the one I heard here in Paris the other day was almost whisper quiet!  And it was doing a great job, sweeping away big chestnut and plane tree leaves as well as litter. 

Peace and quiet matters in Paris.  This city is plenty noisy, but it is nothing like Rome, London, or New York. 

The mundane matters.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Dreams of far-away places

Cholets and coral reefs -- what do they have to do with each other?  Nothing, as far as I can tell, except that I learned about both of them on this morning's Paris walk. 

View from the Passerelle Debilly (pedestrian bridge) near the Eiffel Tower this morning.
At the 9:15 opening time, I stepped into the garden of the Musée du Quai Branly, determined to explore more of its nooks and crannies since I had the place almost to myself.  The guard at the entrance on the Quai Branly side was welcoming and polite.  I handed him my open handbag for inspection, and I stepped through the metal detector. 
Walkway in the Branly garden.

And so I was then in a quiet, safe, lush green space that looks like a grand Japanese garden come to life.  I did walk through corners and areas I'd not seen before. I paused to rest and listen to the birds.

The museum building, near the Café Branly, has some large expanses of glass where the curators like to display information about some of the current exhibitions. 

I was curious about the explanation of the exhibit on Cholets, because Cholets are so colorful and whimsical.  Here's what English version on the display says:

The project Neo-Andina, by Tateqaki Nio, a Japanese photographer born in 1971 and living in Brazil, focuses on the recent development of a new form of architecture in Bolivia.  Since 2006 a new middle-class has emerged, particularly in the city of El Alto. 

The wealth of these booming nouveau Rich is reflected in the large constructions known as “cholets,” a term coined from the contraction of the words “cholo” (a person of Aymara descent) and “chalet.”  Most of the buildings are designed by architect Freddy Mamani, and the city now has some 170 cholets.  This architecture has taken the name Neo-Andean, so-called for its use of traditional Andean motifs seen in ceramics and traditional textiles.

Photos of cholets at the Musée du Quai Branly

Cholet is also a town in France, in the Maine-et-Loire department.  For the 2018 Tour de France, the town of Cholet was the site of the 3rd stage, in early July:  the team time trials.  For the past couple days, the Tour has been in the Alps -- far from Cholet -- but in an area with many chalets.

Along the walk this morning, I saw several people who had been sleeping on the streets -- people who looked as though they are far from home -- people who are, most likely, refugees/immigrants.  Last year we didn't see them much in the city.  But now I think that was because we were walking in the afternoons and evenings then.

The refugees/immigrants are noticeable in the morning.  After the morning, I think they go someplace where they are being fed, and we don't see them later in the day.  Churches?  The soup kitchens?  I don't know.  I do notice that the refugees/immigrants generally do not beg.  Some are alone.  Some are in pairs.  Some are entire families.

Place de Fontenoy between UNESCO and
the Ècole Militaire
I decided to walk home along the Avenue de Lowendal, past the open side of the Ècole Militaire and UNESCO.

On the Place de Fontenoy, I was pleased to see that this former "no-man's-land" is now being somewhat cared for.  The trees have been trimmed and watered.  Litter is being picked up.  The park benches exist, and are fairly clean.  Attractive new light poles have been installed.  Like many French parks, the ground surface is light brown gritty sand.  The place has improved.  Thank you City of Paris or UNESCO or both.

The photographic exhibition on the extensive fence around UNESCO is about the Earth's coral reefs.  Being a coastal environmentalist, I was pleased to see this opportunity for people to learn about these extremely important ecosystems.  One of the photos was a great magnification of coral's cellular structure.  I had never seen this, and I did not realize how fractal it is.

Here's the blurb about this exhibit:

“Coral Reefs:  A Challenge for Humanity" Is the work of photographer Alexis Rosenfeld and journalist Alexe Valois.  It bears witness to the beauty of these jewels of biodiversity.  It presents scientific monitoring missions, and stresses the importance – for each and every one of us – of preserving coral reefs of all oceans.

This exhibition also announces the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021 – 2030).  In the face of ocean degradation, it is becoming increasingly urgent to find scientific solutions allowing to understand the changes at work and end the decline of oceans.  Coral Reefs are an essential element of ocean life. 
Coral, up close, greatly magnified.

The photographic exhibition on coral at UNESCO.
An essential element of human life in Paris is eating.  We had some ambitions about trying the Italian place in the ground level of our building, since I now realize that it has been receiving many high ratings in lafourchette.com reviews.  Some people even claim that the pizza served there is the best they've ever had!  Finding excellent pizza in Paris is a challenge, and it shouldn't be.  Now, it may be literally right under our noses.

We went to the grocery first, and decided to start dinner with a salad, made by me, and then Tom would go downstairs to get pizza.  When we finished the salad, we were too full for pizza.  Some other time . . . .

The salad?  It was baby spinach and lamb's lettuce, with cherry tomatoes grown on our balcony, a crumbling of some seriously great Roquefort cheese, a drizzle of honey, a drizzle of wine vinegar, two drizzles of olive oil, freshly ground sea salt and pepper, and a few strawberries.  Toss and serve.

Voila!  Enjoy some more photographs from this morning's walk.

The garden at the Musée du Quai Branly, above and below.

The Place de Fontenoy

A typical scene on the Avenue de la Bourdonnais, with souvenir shops and cafés.

The Seine, from the Passerelle Debilly. 
Our favorite houseboat, the Julia, on the left.  We like it because a beautiful longhaired cat once lived there.

Tourist boats on the Seine.

The green wall on the Quai Branly side of the museum is still undergoing restoration.

A beautiful mimosa tree near the Champ de Mars, on the Avenue Emile Deschanel.

What a morning sky over the Champ de Mars!

News kiosque under the elevated tracks at Grenelle.

The Passerelle Debilly.

Inexplicable sign on the Passerelle Debilly.

Somebody's strange artwork pasted on the Passerelle Debilly.