Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Paris - fish and chips and Père Lachaise and orange oil and music.

Just back from our rather flying visit to Paris, where we stayed in this dear little apartment in the 11th arrondissement. It's not right in the centre so a trip to Notre Dame or the Marais or museums really requires a metro trip, or a long walk, as it was our legs ached fit to bust from walking and climbing metro stairs (we observed that there really aren't as many fat people in Paris as elswhere, including Brittany, and speculated that this might well be because of all the exercise they get taking the metro).  But it's an interesting area, just at the right point of gentrification, a good mixture of the authentically scruffy, with little businesses selling buckets and brooms and Lebanese food and very unfashionable fashions, or offering to mend your shoes and clothes and scooters, alongside organic cafés and timber-lined shops selling Japanese teapots and perfumed tea to put in them. Downstairs from the flat was stand for the free Velib bikes a newish restaurant so popular and fashionable that it had no sign board and only the smallest single menu sheet taped to the door, was packed out lunchtime and evening with very sympa looking Bobo folk (well I like them anyway, they have intense expressions, where natural fibres in nice colours and let their hair go grey, what's not to like? No, don't answer that...), and served fannied up versions of tête de veau and whelks.  

We weren't brave enough to try either the bikes or the calf's head. We did however, spaced out with fatigue at lunchtime of our first day owing to a ridiculously early start, find a lovely bar-restaurant which provided us with a square plate of fish and chips and a tall glass of ginger beer, which was great. Yes, I know, I see your eyes rolling, Brits in Paris seeking out fish and chips and ginger beer, how naff and parochial. But I'll have you know les fish & chips are très branchés in these parts these days, especially in Paris (though there's a good place down by the port in St Brieuc which does them too), and anything, especially any drink, flavoured with ginger is such a rarity and I crave it so that if it's on offer anywhere I snap it up. And I have to say, the French having conceded that perhaps, just perhaps, the execrable culinary - and indeed general - taste of the British might have yielded up one exception worthy of being adopted in the form of fish and chips, they really do cook it very well indeed. The chips are thick and succulent as they should be, none of your greasy little matchstick frîtes/French fries, but are just that bit crisper than from many an English chippy, and the fish batter is light and fresh. These came with a chilled purée of petit pois which wasn't quite like a tin of marrowfats but was fine anyway, and a really unctuous big helping of tartar sauce which was like a proper accompaniment not just a sad little blob of condiment.  I am a restaurant critic manquée; spare me your lectures on how I should have gone for the whelks and calf's head.

The area is also adjacent to the renowned Père Lachaise cemetery, to which we strolled after sleeping off the fish and chips, ginger beer and early start in the apartment's lovely comfortable white bed. 

I didn't take many photos here, or anywhere in fact, since I wanted mainly to relax ans enjoy, and in the cemetery there is so much that once you start you wouldn't stop, and it must be one of the most photographed graveyards in the world anyway, so it would be impossible to avoid cliché. Neither did we seek out any particular graves or tombs, and gave Jim Morrison's and Oscar Wilde's a very wide berth, except we did relent and look up Héloise and Abélard (I was happy to see they were listed thus, rather than the other way around, on the plan).

It's uncertain, it seems, whether either or both of their remains are indeed there, but it's an iconic monument, its history reflecting the overlay of interpretation and appropriation of the story and persistence of the myth. I was moved by the solitary, quietly beautiful young girl who stood looking at it, taking a few photographs then seeming simply to meditate.

It was a perfect moment to be there, on a warm, golden late afternoon in October, the low sun and long shadows softening and enhancing the melancholy, while office workers relaxed with books and newspapers on the benches, and mischievous looking black crows stalked us, hopping from tombstone to tombstone. When we came out we stopped and had a beer in the bar of the small hotel next door, and the barman started cleaning the old-fashioned machine for making orange pressé, and we were enveloped in a perfume of orange oil, which was a small piece of unexpected, memorable magic.

The place was also only a few metro stops from the Cité de la Musique, our principal objective for being there. On one side of the parc de la Villette, towards the northern edge of the city. We did a reccy with a visit to the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie earlier in the day, which was OK and you can't really go wrong with a planetarium show as far as we're concerned, but the place did seem a bit big and harsh and scary, and it was the only place we went where we felt the people working there weren't very friendly or helpful. Coming up onto the area in front of the concert hall, though, with older Paris buildings on one side and fountains and pavement lighting and a crowd of other people all going to see Jordi Savall, was much more conducive.

Photos were not really allowed in the concert hall; I took these discreetly then put the camera away for the performance. A few people broke the rule with their phone cameras during the final applause, but they were a very well-behaved audience, which was one of the incidental pleasures of being there, not being annoyed by camera flashes and fidgeting and inappropriately timed clapping (Tom's bugbear). 

The concert was truly wonderful; I can't find any reviews of it yet in French or English, but there's a very knowledgeable one of the same - or very similar - programme they performed at Edinburgh earlier this year here, though even that reviewer didn't know what the huge, booming Turkish battle horns were properly called. Its theme being War and Peace, specifically during the century from 1614 (Savall created the programme originally for Barcelona to mark the tricentenary of the end of the War of the Spanish Succession), so there were naturally a lot of fanfares and praise to God for being on your side when people won and laments when they didn't. But the two and a bit hours flew by for me in a haze of delight, and the acoustics in the hall were so good (and the music quite bold and clear) so Tom could hear and enjoy it unusually well, and the surtitling above the stage relating the events each piece marked were clear and concise. The in the first encore (perhaps Arvo Part, I'm afraid I couldn't understand Jordi's announcement of it in French) the voices and instruments seemed to blend and ascend in a viscous emulsion of beauty, and when for the second they performed an adapted choral version of a section of the Catalan Sybil, the tears flowed. What images return...

What I was able to catch with the zoom was the percussion stuff belonging to the old wizard Pedro Estevan, including his trademark big green drum, and as your reward for getting this far with this great long self-satisfied post all about what a lucky so-and-so I am, here's a video of him playing a 17th century Spanish piece with Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras' daughter Arianna on the harp, where she looks just like her mother and the two of them look like Merlin and Nimue.


And otherwise, we didn't go to any museums or anything, but we had breakfast by the Seine and went to the new Birkenstock shop and got Tom some sandals, an achievement of which I am quite proud, but that's another story.

Lilies in the apartment, which smelled heavenly.


Ellena said...

This finale makes the outing. Am I allowed to be envious?

the polish chick said...

oh how lucky you are! i was just talking to mr. monkey about how 2015 will be my year to go to nepal with my parents, and then, after that, as a fully functioning working adult i can plan vacations that we want to take, and paris, oh paris, why i haven't seen it yet and am told that i have to and so i shall…wow - that was quite the sentence.

i am glad you used airbnb, which is my go to. and i am glad you shared the photos so i can imagine you two lovelies sitting down with a cafe au lait.

i, too, adore all drinks ginger. i order ginger beer whenever i can, and it gives me great pleasure. unfortunately, i must say i do prefer skinny french frites, but i think we can remain friends despite this small difference of opinion, non?

just put jordi savall's february concert on my calendar - am sure to think of you when i go. how marvellously complete strangers work their way into one's life!

Roderick Robinson said...

Eh, come on. You may have embraced demos with your fish and a chips but not to have visited the Jim Morrison grave at PL (and instead gone on about H&A) suggests that your cloak of intellectualism is not as easily shed as you would have us believe. However I forgive you. Funnily enough while you were in your capital we were in ours round about the same time for a sort of national tribute to Joe. As it turned out the official bit hardly did the great man much credit but the social bit afterwards reconnected us (branché) with many of the emotions we all experienced at TW. I'll post about it but (to quote my grandpa who doesn't get much of a shake in Tone Deaf) not at this juncture.

I envy you your visit to the Parisian burbs. I've often wanted to do it but have never had the appropriate guide-dog. To some extent The Marais is partial compensation.

Lucy said...

Blogger Lucy said...
Thanks chaps.

Ellena - for sure, I'm quite envious of myself!

PC - When you come to Paris, let us know and we can meet up perhaps, that would be great. I only learned about airbnb quite lately, it's a very good idea, I think, though a bit hit or miss. We enjoyed the experience, and it was good for where we wanted to be, though I'm not sure how much we really saved in money terms, and I think perhaps next time for Paris I'd find a more centrally located small hotel, even if it meant paying a bit more, so that we could just walk to the main museums and stuff and be a bit more autonomous and less dependent on the metro, as we sometimes each like to do different things. There aren't very many airbnb options in the centre, or not cheaper ones anyway.

Skinny fries are to be found rather less here these days, we think, the French are converting to steakhouse style!

Enjoy Jordi in February. I'm quite envious of you too. The front four musicians were from his Istanbul lot, they played about three numbers from that album I think. Wild stuff!

Robbie - I gather at one time visiting H&A's tomb was as corny and naff as visiting Jim Morrison's is now. We stumbled on Gericault's by chance, and a dear old chap, a PL regular I think, struck up a conversation with us about it. Regrettably, we didn't see Victor Noir's, which I only learned about afterwards.

La Villette is an experiment, I'm not sure how representative it is of the banlieux in general, the science and industry side seemed quite different from the music side, which seemed to have much more of old Paris about it. There are criticisms that the park and its developments are just too big and open and agoraphobic, not on a very human scale, and we certainly found the museum itself a bit that way, though clearly it's good for corralling parties of school kids. The music venue was beautiful though, inside and out.

The Marais is very posh now, at least its main drags and round Place de Vosges. We wandered down rue de Rosiers about ten years ago, I gather that's changed quite a bit since. There's a very good site for the Marais:


I want to go to the Swedish Cultural Institute there (mainly for the cakes), and the Carnavalet museum. Next time perhaps.

I'd very much like to hear about Joe's tribute; post soon, or write to me if you've time.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Thank you for this beautiful post, Lucy. You have such a gift, both verbal and visual, for seeing and capturing the telling and often missed detail and for bringing back the immediacy of an experience. Lucky Tom to be your travelling (and life) companion!
Wish I'd been there for the Savall concert and for a stroll around Paris with you both.
There's no blue plaque (sob) on the Parisian building where I came into the world and I certainly won't be buried in Père Lachaise but I'm still attached to my birthplace.

Francesca said...

What a wonderful trip. I love the double bass images. And the cemetary is so beautiful.x

Catalyst said...

Ah, Paris. What else need one say?

Lucy said...

Natalie, what no blue plaque for you, that's shameful!

Francesca and Bruce, thanks for visiting!

Mailizhen said...

Just catching up with your blog after a few weeks, Lucy, and as usual I am wishing I could swap lives for just a few days. The lovely apartment is an Airbnb apartment, I see, and coincidentally I too am an Airbnb hostess. For some reason this makes me happy, that I rent an airbnb apartment and you stayed in one.
- alison