Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A little barrel of delights

After a long day of work, there is no better reward than to walk for a while in Paris, dine on French classic cuisine in a little bistrot, and to watch the evening's first glittering of the Eiffel Tower from a bench at the end of the Champ de Mars.  Last night, we were properly rewarded.

A novel that I recently read (Goodbye Paris, by Mike Bond) claims that the Champ de Mars is overrun by prostitutes and drug dealers at night, and that the police won't go there then.  That is absolutely NOT TRUE.

Peace pavilion and Eiffel Tower.
Mike Bond also writes that there are a large number of places in France where the police will not go because they have been taken over by Islamic extremists preaching violence.  That is also not true; this myth was started on FOX News and has been debunked by to the extent that the originators of the myth have apologized, including at least four apologies by FOX News.

Mike Bond also writes that Clotilde was Charlemagne's wife.  Not true.  Clotilde was the wife of Clovis I, the first king of the Franks.  Charlemagne had four or so wives, and none of them were named Clotilde.  Clotilde had been dead for nearly two centuries before Charlemagne was born!

The daily specials menu at Le Petit Tonneau.
Mike Bond seems to be tolerant of various ethnicities and religions for several pages, and then he sinks into xenophobia and racism, again and again.

I read the book anyway because so many of the scenes take places in parts of Paris that I know so well and that I love -- for example, the Place du Commerce, the Champ de Mars, and Avenue Emile Zola.  But no, I do not recommend the book.  Artistic license is one thing, but his book is just plain wrong, in a number of ways.

Last night, we walked up the Avenue de la Motte Picquet, past the Champ de Mars, and on up to the Seine along the Avenue de la Tour Maubourg.  There we decided that it was time to find dinner.  I searched the ratings on restaurants near that end of the Avenue, and came up with Au Petit Tonneau on the Rue Surcouf -- about 2 and a half miles from our apartment.

Chateubriand and Lyonnaise potatoes at Le Petit Tonneau.

Petit is accurate.  This tiny bistro with red and white checkered tablecloths seemed to be so familiar to us;  I'm sure we dined there years ago.  We should not have forgotten it!

Somehow the patron squeezed us in even though it was nearly 8PM and we did not have a reservation (we both apologized for that).

Tom ordered the Chateaubriand steak with Lyonnaise potatoes, and I ordered the classic sole meuniere.  I allowed the patron to de-bone the sole for me, even though I usually prefer to do it myself.  He was so good and efficient at the deboning; I'm glad I made that choice.

La Sole Meunière et pommes de terre Grenaille au Petit Tonneau.

The sole with brown butter and lemon, and little roasted potatoes were all wonderful; so were Tom's Chateaubriand and Lyonnaise potatoes.

For dessert, Tom had the classic tarte tatin, and I had the lemon meringue pie.

After we ordered dessert, the older French lady sitting next to me said, "Do you know about tarte tatin?  It is a mistake."  I smiled and replied, "Yes, it is upside down!"  She exclaimed, "That's right!  You know it!"

Here's the story, in case you're interested.
La tarte Tatin et la tarte au citron au Petit Tonneau.
Like most South Floridians who cook, I make key lime meringue pie several times a year; so I was interested in experiencing the bistrot's lemon meringue pie.  Le Petit Tonneau's meringue pie tasted almost as good as mine, but it was neater in appearance than my fluffier, wilder creations.

A petit tonneau is a small barrel.  The restaurant of this name has been in place in the 7th arrondissement for over 80 years.  In April of this year, during the 7th's first annual Festival of Bistrots, the mayor of the 7th arrondissement, Rachida Dati, sent a letter to congratulate the owner of Le Petit Tonneau for winning third place in the festival's competition.

The owner of Le Petit Tonneau is Madame Arlette Bou Chalhoub, according to Mayor Dati's congratulatory letter.  The great chef is Vincent Neveu.    Last night, I had difficulty in deciding between the sole meunière and the blanquette de veau.  Today, I read that Chef Neveu's blanquette de veau is among the very best in all of Paris.  So, we must go back there soon.

After dinner, we strolled toward home.  As we approached the Peace Pavilion end of the Champ de Mars, we noted that the tower would start twinkling in a few minutes.  So we sat upon a park bench and waited.  The show was lovely, as always.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Parc Sainte Périne -- pretty and serene

After a good lunch outdoors at Le Cosmos Café, we strolled down the Avenue Emile Zola in the warm afternoon air.  We paused on the Pont Mirabeau to take in the spectacular river views. 

Flowerbeds in the Parc St. Périne are well tended.  Note
the hot air balloon rising above the Parc André Citroen, across
the river.
I told Tom the story behind the bridge.  He told me that Pont Mirabeau is named in literature, history, and song as the site of a number of suicides.  I noted that the railing seemed like it would be easily surmountable.  He said the choice as a suicide site had something to do with the power of the river there, and the strength of the currents.  I recalled that at the time the Pont Mirabeau was designed and built, it was the tallest and longest bridge in Paris.  As we stood at the midpoint of the bridge, we could clearly see how wide the Seine is in that reach to the west of the Île aux Cygnes.   The river must be deep there, too, if the rolling wave action is any indicator.

We continued on to the right bank and the Rue Mirabeau until we reached number 41, a gateway into the recently expanded and improved Parc Sainte Périne.  The site of the park and the surrounding hospitals (Sainte-Perine - Chardon - Lagache - Rossini) was once a huge estate occupied by the monks of St. Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris.  The monks were there from 1109 until the French Revolution. 
The woods in the Parc St. Périne (above and below).

Eventually, the daughters of the Countess of Aubusson owned a diminished version of the estate.  They gave it to the public hospital system in the 1850s.

The park was called Square Sainte Périne until last year when it was doubled in size and greatly improved. 

Tom and I had never been to the square/park, so we decided to explore it yesterday. 

Three sides of the park are hillside; St. Perine is the patron saint of mountain travelers, after all.  The middle of the park, which is the original Square, has stunningly beautiful flowerbeds and curving, paved walkways.  There are two inviting playgrounds for kids.  The once green lawns are being allowed to go natural to save water, reduce fertilizer and pesticide use, and encourage growth of wildflowers for the bees and butterflies.  This is a phenomenon throughout public spaces in Paris.

It is not unusual to see palm trees in Paris parks.

For adults, there is some acreage of raw woodland with unpaved trails on each end of the park.  I think this wooded land is probably what was recently added to this public space.  Educational plaques in the woods explain the importance of various elements in the wooded ecosystem.
This distorted tree in the Parc St. Périne has the remnants
of some kid's improvised "treehouse."  The park's
gardeners have allowed it to remain.

The total size of the park is now a little over 9 acres, we calculated (3.7 hectares).  Even on a perfect summer afternoon, the park was uncrowded and serene.  The park is also open through the night during the warm summer months.  As part of the renovation and expansion, low-energy lights were added to the park so that neighbors can enjoy it after dark.  In addition to a couple long-stay hospitals, some apartment buildings overlook the park.  Tom and I think this would be a fine place to live in Paris.

Do not play ball against this wall! -- That's the message.
After exploring the park, we walked up to see the façade of the Notre Dame d'Auteuil church because Tom had not seen it in a while.  We amused ourselves by looking at a sign on the side of the church -- a message that confused and bemused us in 1998, before we improved our French.

Decades ago, I thought that the walk to Auteuil and back was very far; now I think nothing of this five-mile round-trip.  It is just a walk in the park.

The Parc Sainte Périne.

Monday, July 29, 2019

When the old familiar is fresh and new

Old familiar friends can surprise you.  Just when you think you know them well, when you think you know just what to expect from them, boom!  They amaze you.

That happened to us last night at Le Café du Commerce, the restaurant just behind our building, just around the corner on the Rue du Commerce.

The upper two levels of Le Café du Commerce.
The current owners, Marie and Etienne Guerraud, took over this historic establishment in 2003.  We vaguely remember the place under the previous ownership.  But what we know well is the restaurant as run by Etienne Guerraud.

Dependably open seven days a week, Le Café du Commerce always offers us a place to have a traditional French dinner prepared correctly, any evening we want it, unless the restaurant is full and we haven't reserved.  That happens occasionally.  So I reserve, even if it is only an hour or two before dinnertime.

I don't remember ever having a bad meal there.  I remember many that were good, and quite a few that were very, very good.
Flamingo on the Radio France building to promote
its web radio, fip.  This includes a jazz station --
something I did not expect from Radio France
(the French version of NPR)!  Cool.

We were only hoping for a good dinner when I picked up the phone to make a reservation.  On the phone, when we walked to the maitre d' stand, and as we were shown to our table, we were made to feel warmly welcomed.  Speaking French helps, no doubt -- plus, we were a little dressed up.  It is no trouble at all for me to put on a dress and pearls, and for Tom to don a blazer.

One blogger, becksposhnosh on Blogspot, wrote in 2004 that this place is full of locals and no tourists.  That is absolutely not true.  In fact, because of its size, Le Café du Commerce is able and willing to host entire tour buses full of tourists.  The maitre d'hotel seats the bus tourists in a big dining room off the main room on the ground floor.  English is spoken and understood in Le Café du Commerce.  And the service is almost always impeccable.

The main room is an atrium, usually open to the sky -- assuming that the big glass ceiling is open, as it was last night because the weather was lovely.  The two levels above the main floor are mezzanines arranged in a block-O above the ground floor.  We were seated at a nice table by the railing on the first floor up from the ground floor.  From there, we could see almost everything in the restaurant (except the kitchen, of course -- click here and scroll down to see videos of the kitchen action, including Marie making desserts and Etienne cutting steaks).

I ordered the special of the day, a tuna steak with roasted fennel and puréed red sweet potatoes with an orange sauce.  Every bite was flavorful and delightful.  The potato purée was velvety and very red -- a colorful splash on the plate.

Tuna steak, red sweet potato purée, and roasted fennel with an orange sauce
at Le Café du Commerce.

The tuna steak was tender and moist; not dry at all.  The entire course was wonderful, and beautiful.

Tom ordered the bass filet from the main menu.  An eggplant fritter and nicely sautéed veggies accompanied the fish.  He was delighted with it all.

Sea bass filet with sautéed veggies and an eggplant fritter.

A couple scoops of top-notch ice cream finished the feast for Tom, and for me it was a bit of Calvados.

We had a great Sunday dinner, not just a merely good dinner, thanks to our old friend, Le Café du Commerce.  Quelle surprise!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Up in Auteuil

One of the more popular French presidents was Sadi Carnot.  He was named after his uncle, Nicholas Leonard Sadi Carnot, a thermodynamics scientist who was named after a Persian poet, Sadi of Shiraz. 
Approaching Notre Dame d'Auteuil from the rue Antoine Roucher.

Before he became a politician, Sadi Carnot was a civil engineer.  So it is not surprising that he decided, when he was president (1887 to 1894) to have a bridge built over the Seine to connect the Javel/Grenelle area on the left bank with the Auteuil neighborhood on the right bank.

At the time it was designed and built, this Pont Mirabeau was the longest and tallest bridge in Paris.  Its two pilings represent boats, one going upstream, and one going downstream.  Each end of each piling is decorated with a magnificent statue by Jean Antoine Injalbert.  These represent the City of Paris, Abundance, Commerce, and Navigation.
Pont Mirabeau, looking toward the Javel neighborhood.

Pont Mirabeau is strikingly beautiful.  Sadly, President Sadi Carnot did not live to see its completion in 1897; he was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in 1894, at the peak of his popularity.  The country was horrified.  Following an elaborate funeral, the body of Sadi Carnot was enterred in the Panthéon.

Notre Dame d'Auteuil church, above and below.

This morning I crossed the Seine on the Pont Mirabeau so that I could walk to what was once the center of the village of Auteuil.  I paused in the little plaza across from the Notre Dame d'Auteuil church to study its stately façade, and to gaze at the strikingly different, modern façade of the Chapelle Sainte Bernadette, which is also part of the Notre Dame d'Auteuil parish.  The Chapelle offers services for the Portuguese and Philippine communities.  (Many guardiens and concierges of apartment buildings in the 15th and 16th are of Portuguese or Philippino background.)
Part of the modern Chappelle Sainte Bernadette façade.

Auteuil was a village whose origins go back to the 13th Century.  At the time of Louis XV, it became a fashionable place for the rich to have a country estate.  Proust was born there, and Victor Hugo and Moliere once lived there.  In 1860, it was annexed to Paris.  (The former villages of Auteuil and Passy make up the bulk of the fashionable 16th arrondissement.)

Auteuil is home to the prestigious Jean Baptiste Say school which prepares students for the École Polytechnique, the university where Sadi Carnot received his civil engineering education (in part).

Just to the southwest of the Notre Dame d'Auteuil church is a sprawling geriatrics hospital with a sprawling name:  Hôpital Sainte-Périne - Rossini - Chardon-Lagache.  Part of this sprawling complex was (and perhaps still is?) the Chardon-Lagache retirement community, which was established in 1857 for old people (i.e., over 60) of "modest means."

The Jean Baptiste Say school.
South of the sprawling hospital is the Parc Sainte-Perine, which was formerly Square Sainte-Perine until it was significantly enlarged last year.  Tom and I have never visited that park; I will save that adventure for another day . . . .

Here are many more photos from this morning's walk through cool, damp Paris.

The Seine, from Pont Mirabeau.

This iron gate is just a few doors down the street from our apartment;
the poster is for a current exhibition at the Bourdelle museum.

Guimard-designed Metro entrance at the Mirabeau station.

River cruise boats at the Port de Javel.

The Voie Georges Pompidou has a sigificant bi-directional
bike lane now (above and below).  (You can see the Statue
of Liberty and a piece of the Eiffel Tower in the photo above.)

Street named for Eugene Poubelle, the Prefect of the Seine who introduced
garbage cans to the Paris region, and made their use mandatory (1884).  Garbage cans
(dustbins, in British English) are called Poubelles in France.

The Seine and Eiffel Tower, from the Pont de Grenelle.

Knarly old, trimmed-back olive trees seem to be much loved in Paris.  This sign gives
voice to this tree in a planter on Rue Linois. The sign says, "Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am a living tree. I am neither a Poubelle nor an ashtray.  Respect
me.  Thank you for him.  The Olive Tree [Olivier]."

Saturday, July 27, 2019

The way to go Easy

We dined with a new friend, Ann, who is a musicologist and medievalist, last night.  She lives in the 12th, on the east side of the Right Bank, and we are in the 15th, the west side of the Left Bank, so we met in the middle, at an Italian restaurant in the 5th, near the Panthéon and the church of St. Etienne du Mont.

Somewhere in the dinner conversation I was asked if I knew how many hits my blog receives.  There are statistics available, but I rarely look at them.  Today I did take a peek, and I was surprised to learn that the most popular blog entry I have made in the five years that I've used Blogspot for this journal was on August 24, 2016, "Hot and Flawless."

Sounds like porn, but it is not.  The first half of that entry is a sample of my science writing, and the other part is a review of a dinner at l'Alchimie, a favorite restaurant that disappeared last year.

The place in the 5th arrondissement where our
friend Roniece likes to enjoy her "chardy"
(glass of chardonnay) at Happy Hour.
When I was employed as a science writer on government-funded environmental projects, I could not use the informal style that I now use to explain complicated subjects to non-techie people.  Now I can use an informal, story-telling style, and I enjoy doing so.  You can see that in the August 24, 2016, entry.

The most popular entry of the past week was "The heat and the homeless."  I salute you all for caring about your fellow humans!  Thank you.

The hot weather was part of the story in each of those two blog posts.  The extreme heat kept me from exercising for two days this week, which is a calamity in my psyche.  I made up for some of the exercise deprivation yesterday.  Combining the long walk in the morning with our walk home from dinner equals 10 miles, twice my daily goal.  That's not bad for someone with a deteriorating knee and arthritic feet.

If you are so inclined, use the comment section below or Facebook messaging to let me know what you DO like to read about in this blog.

We used the metro to go to dinner last night, so we finally bought our two Navigo Easy passes.  This new Navigo Easy system will eliminate the paper tickets for the metro, perhaps by the end of next year.  I showed the passes to Ann last night.  She'd not heard about them yet.  Because she is a year-round Parisian, she has a regular Navigo year-long pass, which is a sturdy-looking photo ID.

Navigo Easy is for people on short stays, but it is not the same as Navigo Discovery and Navigo travel passes.  The Navigo Easy passes can be recharged at the ticket windows or on the Navigo machines in the metro stations.  My guess is that eventually, Navigo Easy might replace Navigo Discovery and Navigo travel passes.  The travel passes expire in a week or a month; so Navigo Easy is better for people like us, who are in Paris for a few months, but who only use the metro occasionally.

Each Navigo Easy pass costs two euros, plus we asked the ticket agent to load each card with a "carnet" of ten tickets.  That brought the total to 16.90 euros per Navigo Easy pass.  There does not seem to be an Easy way to see how many tickets remain on the Navigo Easy pass, so we will have to keep count.  The ticket agent suggested re-charging the cards before they are empty, so we don't have the embarrassment of trying to use a card that is depleted.

In addition to regular urban-zone metro and bus tickets, you may also load RER tickets (for trips to the airport, etc.) on the Navigo Easy pass.  No more paper tickets!  Less waste.  And a shiny new card in our wallets.  The Navigo Easy pass will theoretically last for 10 years.

So in addition to having new library cards in Paris, we also have new subway passes!  We are tickled pink about this.

We had walked almost all the way home last night when we finally decided that it was just too late and we'd walked far enough.  So we took the metro from Duroc, near the famous Necker Hospital, to Avenue Emile Zola.  The metro was nearly empty.  When we'd taken the same line in the pre-dinner hour, the cars were hot and crowded.  We made a mental note to avoid rush hours on the metro.

Here are some scenes from our visit to the 5th arrondissement:

These first five photos are of the ornate façade of the St. Etienne du Mont church.

The Panthéon, as seen from the plaza in front of St. Etienne du Mont.

A remnant of the Philippe Augustus wall around old Paris, dating to the 12th C.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Liberty for all

Did you ever see the statue of Washington and Lafayette in Morningside Park in Manhattan?  It is a replica.  The original is in Paris, in the 16th arrondissement.

Joseph Pulitzer, the publisher of Pulitzer Prize fame, was an immigrant from Hungary.  He admired Auguste Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty.  So he commissioned a sculpture by Bartholdi of George Washington and Lafayette, as an emblem of the friendship between the United States and France.  The statue was dedicated in 1885, and graces the uppermost end of the Square Thomas Jefferson -- a park in the middle of the Place des Etats Unis in the elegant 16th arrondissement.

(The replica was placed in Morningside Park a few years later, funded by department store owner Charles Broadway Rouss.)

I walked to Square Thomas Jefferson and back this morning, from about 8 to 10AM.  The heat wave is over, thank heavens!

The Bartholdi creation is magnificent; Joseph Pulitzer must have been pleased.  The impression that both Washington and Lafayette were men of decisive action is impossible to miss.  The details are exquisite.  (Photos below.)

Lafayette fascinates me in part because he started his ambitious and successful military career at such a young age.  I also admire the way he immediately sympathized with the American cause -- and later the French revolutions -- even though he was from an aristocratic family.  He put his heart, soul, and considerable inherited fortune into his endeavors, and the world is a better place because of him.

He wasn't perfect.  Although he was opposed to slavery, he supported the idea of gradually abolishing slavery.  Slavery is wrong, absolutely, and he knew it.  So his position should have been for immediate abolition of slavery.  He was being a pragmatist, economically, some would argue; but freedom is not a matter of economic pragmatism and democracy is messy, but necessary.

For the French Revolution in 1789, Lafayette and Abbé Sieyes wrote The Rights of Man and of the  Citizen document in consultation with Thomas Jefferson (ironically, a slave-owning racist).  This human rights declaration was inspired by the American Declaration of Independence.  One might say that the American Revolution inspired the French Revolution.  And we can say that The Rights of Man and of the Citizen heavily influenced ideas about developing freedom and democracy around the globe.

There is a monument to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man that I pass by frequently on the Champ de Mars.  I saw it again this morning, as I crossed the Champ on my way to the Place des Etats Unis.  The City of Paris commissioned this monument for the 1989 celebration of the French Revolution's 200th anniversary.  (Photos below -- please ignore the pigeon on one of the statues.)

The monument's overall form is inspired by Egypt's mastaba tombs; the artist who designed the monument is Ivan Theimer, a Czech sculptor and painter who lives in France.

From the Champ, I followed the Avenue Rapp to the Seine and to the Place de l'Alma, where freedom's flame glows (photo below). From there, my destination was just a few minutes uphill along Avenue du President Wilson and the Rue Freycinet.

The Flame of Liberty at the Place de l'Alma was funded by donors to finish the
celebration of the International Herald Tribune's 100th birthday.  It was installed
in 1989, the year of the French Revolution's bicentennial.  Today this sculpture is
informally used as a memorial to Princess Diana, whose fatal car accident happened
in a tunnel near this site.
The Place des Etats Unis is surrounded by beautiful buildings.  Some are embassies, such as those of Kuwait and Bahrain.  One former stately home of the Noailles family is now the Baccarat museum, gift shop, and restaurant (photos below).

On my way home, I passed by the Tunisian embassy on Rue Lubeck.  There was a small crowd forming at its entrance.  A security guard chatted amiably with the gathering people as he made them wait on the sidewalk.

Throughout the morning, in the Square Thomas Jefferson and the Jardins du Trocadero in particular, I was dodging sprinklers.  The gardeners are mitigating damage from the heat wave.  I was sprinkled with water a little, despite my best efforts, but I really didn't mind.

Scenes in the Champ de Mars (above and below).

The way home from the Trocadero is right by the foot of the Eiffel Tower.  I was about to be accosted by one of the ubiquitous "do you speak English" scammers on the Pont d'Iéna, but I saw her coming.  I raised my camera to my face, aiming toward the Eiffel Tower.  She kept coming anyway, expecting me to put my camera down to listen to her scam.  Instead, I moved slightly so the camera was aimed right at her face as she got in my face.  I took her photo, and she smacked my face and camera with her little piece of cardboard that she uses as a clipboard for her fake "petition."

I did not respond; I just kept walking.  But she never should have hit me where security cameras are everywhere.  Moments later, the armed soldiers who patrol the area around the Tower were walking determinedly (not strolling) in her direction.  I didn't look back.

I kept walking, past all the vendors of Eiffel Tower trinkets, who now display the trinkets on square blankets spread upon the ground.  The vendors do not roam anymore and they are not aggressive at all.  This must be the new arrangement they have with law enforcement.  But as far as I know, their activity is still technically illegal.  The trouble with enforcement was that the illegal vendors would immediately be released by the judicial system, so why should the police bother?  The new system makes sense to me; people have been selling their wares from blankets spread on the ground in Paris for thousands of years, back to the time when Paris was called Lutece.

I saw another "do you speak English" scammer stop a sweet-looking American or Canadian young couple.  I passed by and said to each of them, "don't talk to her, it is a scam."  That ended their conversation with her.

Seconds later, a man (probably the one overseeing the scammers) approached me.  I could see that I was being targeted by him.  I shook my head and waved him off as I walked to the other side of the promenade.  He stopped and laughed.  I kept walking.

Monument in the Cours de la Reine was donated by the schoolchildren of the United States in honor of Lafayette.
I enjoyed the rest of the walk home.  Once away from the throngs of tourists and predators under the Tower, the Champ is an enjoyable place in the morning.  It is an unofficial dog park for the locals.  Sprinklers were going, flowers were blooming, trees where forming deep shade when the sun peeked through the clouds.

As I passed through the streets of Grenelle, a light rain began to fall.  I soaked it in, then stopped in the friendly Nicolas wine shop on the Rue du Commerce.  Now I'm ready for the weekend.