Friday, December 19, 2008

Paris: Les Deux Moulins (11-21-08)

...This is the coffee shop featured in the movie "Amélie."

On my last day in Paris, I decided to walk from the hotel all the way to Montmartre despite the hotel's concierge trying to persuade me to take the Metro instead. I wanted to see the average streets of the city, the day-to-day banal and morose façades, and to not restrict myself to the picturesque only.

It was a long walk. My foot had started hurting again, and Montmartre was far away, uphill. But on the way, I did several things I couldn't have, had I taken the Metro.

I went to the Fragonard Museum of Perfume (essentially a perfume store) and sampled perfumes willy-nilly, and it was deliciously and fragrantly fun. I walked by the Opéra. I went in the Galleries Lafayette (department store), up to the rooftop terrace and enjoyed a beautiful fall view of the city. I had a late lunch in the cafeteria, and marveled at how everything looked delicious, from the salad bar to the steaks grilled to order (compare that to greasy burgers in the U.S.). I went up narrow streets full of people going about their lives. I went into the Sacré-Coeur (the big white church in Montmartre), and enjoyed the opportunity to simply be there. The view from the steps outside the church was memorable; the sky was streaked in pinks and mauves.

It was getting dark fast; it was my last evening in Paris.

As nighttime came, it got really cold. I was limping and every step on the cobblestones was painful. I found the coffee shop, hesitated, then went inside and had a wonderful little cup of hot chocolate. It was magical to sit in a place I had seen in a lovely movie.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Paris: Buddha-bar (11-19-08)

Late one evening, I went to the famous, super trendy Buddha-Bar.

I went inside, past the bouncers, and down a wide staircase to a dimly-lit landing and was directed to the balcony-level bar. I found a table in a corner of the balcony and took my time working in a my sketchbook, sipping my 9 Euros 0,5 liter bottle of water over the course of two hours, taking in the sounds and the sights.

The place was dark, music was blasting from loudspeakers, -I love club music-, people wore black (an art statement), graying older men wearing sport jackets over turtleneck sweaters were hunting for girls to pick up, pretty girls were laughing and busy talking over the noise. Looking down from the balcony to the cavernous space housing the basement-level restaurant, one could faintly see tables full of people and the great Buddha statue the restaurant is famous for.

Paris: Moroccan Restaurant (11-18-08)

... I found an absolutely great Moroccan restaurant in the Quartier Latin.

I ate well in Paris.
Since I was there for work, I even had the opportunity to splurge and have a fine meal in an elegant Art Deco-era bistro warmly recommended to me by the hotel concierge as "a great value for the very reasonable price" (30 Euros Prix Fixe Menu for dinner: a generous portion of Foie Gras as an appetizer, Steak Tartare with Fries as a main course, and Crème Brûlée as dessert)...

But the best place I ate at was at this little Moroccan restaurant in an alley bordered by narrow streets with ethnic and regional cuisine restaurants. The warm welcome, the good food, the tea (oh, the mint tea...), and the price which was much more affordable made this place one I will gladly re-visit if I get a chance.

I had a delicious Couscous with chicken. The best part of the meal was the mint tea, sweet and hot. I sat in a daze of happiness, sipping my tea and weakly trying to refuse the many refills I was offered.

Paris: I met a Fairy Godmother (11-18-08)

I know it sounds strange, but I met a Fairy Godmother.

Sitting on a bench in the Akira Kurosawa exhibit in the Petit Palais (art museum), I was lost in my thoughts. I hadn't been feeling well and was debating what to do once I left the museum.

I looked up when I heard a woman standing nearby sigh out loud, as if to catch my attention. She then began to fan herself with a program, exclaiming that she was exhausted and sat down on my bench. She started talking to me, as if we had been visiting the museum together all along. I immediately felt like I knew this woman.

She was small vivacious, talkative, funny. We talked about the Kurosawa exhibit, his movies, Art, museums, and things to do in Paris, Life, what it is all about. She told me that she lives in the countryside and comes up to Paris once a year to visit museums and go to the theater. She asked me about myself, how I was. She told me I was very brave and courageous.

As we were talking, I kept asking myself how it was possible that I felt like I knew her... She was in her mid-sixties, perhaps older; her hair was dark brown and cut in an impish pageboy style. Would she have gotten along with my mom, had she ever met her? Was it my mom she was reminding me of? True, my mom had the same self-assured manner and friendly way with people… I asked her name, “Oh, it’s a stupid name, Elizabeth.” I then asked her, should we perhaps exchange addresses? She brushed my question off. "Whatever for? There is no need for that!" And she was right.

We went together to visit some of the rooms in the museum, showed each other artwork we had admired on our own. She shared some Japanese art she had liked and I showed her a floor-to-ceiling painting of “The Good Samaritan” that looked so real, I had at first thought it was a color photograph. Still talking, we walked out of the museum together and went to the nearest Metro station. She decided to accompany me to the St Michel stop.

We got off the train. I wanted to thank her in for her kindness. I offered to draw a portrait of her and give it to her, but she laughed and refused; she said she looked terrible in portraits. She then hugged me, said "Au revoir, ma grande," kissed me on the cheek, waved goodbye as she walked away, down a flight of stairs to her train, and disappeared among the crowd. She was gone.
I suddenly felt very lonely.

Paris: Chez Flottes (11-16-08)

...On my first night in Paris, I had dinner at Chez Flottes, a small bistro near the hotel.

I had a delicious onion soup and a perfect little crème brûlée for dessert.