6. Juni 2009

These three days of May in Paris
made me think of my old friend Philip Togni,
far away in another beautiful place, well above St. Helena, Ca.
So that’s why I try to write this in English.

May in Paris

The pictures are at
Click on one of the pictures here and you get there.
At the bottom of this report a list of all our Paris trips (German).

In the “better” parts of Europe Ascension is a day free of work, notably in Germany and France. Always on a Thursday, this fact invited us to a long weekend, to a trip to Paris. You reach Paris from Bonn either by fast train via Cologne—comfortable, but expensive—or with a smooth all-Autobahn ride by car, 510 km (310 mi.), about five hours. Gisela has a company car, and a very luxurious one, an Audi A6, so we took her car, as we always do—here the sory of our last Paris trip, May 2008. We, that’s Gisela, myself and Carla (7), who listens to CDs in her back seat, while we listen to the navigation miss up front, discuss traffic (speed limit 120 km/h = 75 mph in Belgium and 130 km/h = 80 mph in France) or just look into the wide fields of France.

We started on

Thursday, May 21, 2009,

at ten to nine from home, Friedrichstraße 29 in Bonn, km 46071. The navigation predicted the arrival at 13.20. The trip takes you first up north to Cologne, then west to Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle), again around that town, and via Belgium into France.

The morning sun behind us, a clear, crisp sky ahead, that’s always a good start. The big power plant burning open pit brown coal at Eschweiler sent its steam clouds straight up into the sky and copious electricity in all directions via glittering high voltage power lines. We sped along with 200 km/h (125 mph) on this three lane Autobahn. My Blackberry with GPS monitored the speedometer and registered the trip details in a map stored automatically in the Internet (broken off, unfortunately). Technology plus travel romance. In the morning sky we admired the many big wind turbines our government has subsidized, subsidizes and has promised to subsidize for at least another twenty years, standing still and motionless, their own one-to-one scale monuments. Or was there no electricity demand on Sunday? The wind could take a break.

Entering France we had to fall in line, as for some strange reason you have to slow down at the open border to formally 10 km/h and one lane: queuing up for France. Otherwise we had no traffic delay, despite the “long weekened”. The French radio reported southbound jams from Paris to the Mediterranean coast. Parisians empty Paris. We tourists from the north fill the spaces.

Our usual “space” in Paris is a nice two-room apartment in Faubourg de la Poissonnière by a Portuguese couple, the house keepers. We had made the mistake to reserve via the Internet agency, just as last time. We should have contacted Mrs. Goncalves directly, and we’d have gotten a better price. Next time: Manuel et Paulina Goncalves Sousa, 37 rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, 75009 Paris, +33-148240057, mobile +33-630007368, e-mail Tamaqueiro@Hotmail.com, Spanish or French, about 110 Euros a night).

The annoyingly expensive part of a Paris trip with a car is the parking of the car, a day 30 Euros, practically no matter where you park.

The apartment was cozy as ever, here with Carla. We know by now how to unfold the sofa (at right) in the living room to make a bed for person three (that’s me). And this time I was sick, sick with a little flu that Carla had imported, makes you cough and sneeze and gives you a three day’s fever. So I had to take it slow in Paris.

The apartment is at ground floor alongside the inner court of a typical old Paris residence house, all quiet except for the four caged canary birds chirping along in the earl morning in the court. Coming from the street you key in the four digit door key, click, a small door in the big main entrance door opens. Then a few steps and you stand in the apartment’s living room. Extremely convenient and practical (48° 52' 25"; 2° 20' 51,08").

The weather had been forecast: cold with rain, incorrect. We had but a few drops of rain on Saturday afternoon, not enough to wet our mini umbrellas.

The first evening we walked up to Sacre Coeur, via the nice square de Montholon. Square Montholon is a mini park, full of mothers and fathers with children, due to its well designed playground for two different age groups. The next age group is lured to this and to many other public places by free Wi-Fi, courtesy of the magistrate. Paris, ville numérique, is the slogan. More here: Le service Paris Wi-Fi, mis en place par la Mairie de Paris et la Région Île de France, vous offre la possibilité de vous connecter gratuitement à l’Internet Haut Débit sans fil, via 400 bornes réparties dans plus de 260 lieux municipaux: jardins, mairies, bibliothèques ou encore musées de la Ville. Avec Paris Wi-Fi, Parisiens, Franciliens et visiteurs de Paris peuvent désormais bénéficier de tout le potentiel des technologies de l’information et de la communication, pour un accès illimité à l’information et à la culture.
It works like this: basically you get logged out every two hours, but you can log back in:

This and the ubiquitous public bicycles are a fine service by the city . We should pre-register next time. When I tried to get the necessary credentials with my American Express Card, it didn’t work. Should I have taken my bank card? And attention: Once you enter your bank card, the dialogue continues at the card reader, for security’s sake. They pull a guarantee of 150 Euros (une pré-autorisation de prélèvement, sans encaissement), in case you don’t return the bicycle within 24 hours. As long as you switch bicycles every half hour, you will never pay more than the original one Euro a day (or five for a week, 29 for a year).
The bicycles often turn out to be defective, without air in the tires or otherwise vandalized. If the saddle is turned backwards there is something wrong, or, as Velib suggests: Avant de retirer un vélo en station, vérifiez l’état des pneus, de la chaîne, du guidon, de la sonnette, sans oublier les freins et l’éclairage pour votre sécurité. Regardez si les vitesses tournent bien et soulevez un peu le vélo, appuyez sur une pédale pour vous assurer que la roue arrière n’est pas voilée.
D’ailleurs, lorsque certains d’entre vous constatent un pneu crevé ou une chaîne cassée, ils placent la selle dans l’autre sens, ainsi le prochain utilisateur ne choisira pas ce vélo à la borne : c'est l'astuce de la selle retournée pour prévenir les autres usagers qu'un vélo est endommagé.

Incidentally: The inner tubes are not a ring, they are just long, more like a snake. Very practical to change, I guess: the wheel cam stay in place. – You are welcome to enjoy an 5 min 44 sec aside on the subject of inner tubes, the strongman on Groucho Marx’ Bet Your Life show in 1959:

So far the Paris bikes. Gisela was afraid of the traffic, with Carla on a “big” bike. Next time, we promised Carla, we’ll rent some bikes.

On the way to Montmartre from square de Montholon I saw a secondary school with a commemorative plaque, remembering the more than 300 children of the 9th arrondissement who were “deported from 1942 to 1944, because they were born Jews, victims of the Nazi barbarism and the Vichy government” – what a fair way to state it.

Traditionally Carla rides the merry-go-round at the foot of Montmartre. Lots of people again, the steps full of tourists and quick black sellers of braided bracelets. Gisela and I relaxed along with the local mothers, letting our children play. We spared the climb up the stairs, or the alternative long wait for the téléférique.
No matter what they would have put on top of Montmartre, it would be a sightseeing point in any case. Sacré-Cœur to me looks like a Russian space rocket before launch: kitschy.
We then walked back home, not without a mediocre coffee for us and an expensive boule of chocolate ice cream for Carla at Square Anvers, served in a soup dish with soup spoon.

The highlight: Gisela found our Indian outfitter in Rue! Espace Orient, in 112 Boulevard Rochechouart, right beside La Cigale theater. (Others praise them too : “There we bought a Chile for 9 Euros. A Chinese jacket for 12 (great impact on weddings, baptisms and other events :-). But it is not difficult to find sites with shirts (normal) for 4 Euros. You can always say you like to buy clothes in Paris.”) Carla got a full princess outfit, including a white imitation ermine fur collar. Wonderful for playing with her friends. It took Gisela and Carla an hour (Mustafa the clerk was not too clever, endlessly retreated into their store, phoned around etc.), while I studied the bicycles and suppressed my cold.

This time in Paris we generally had little luck with dinners. On the first evening we tried an “Italian” restaurant in Rue de la Fayette; we were early, wanted to be early to bed on this first day of travel. The menu had looked fine and not too expensive in the display, one set menu for some ten Euros, the other one with more items for twelve. We ordered, wine as well, the “open” vin de table. But: The cheaper menu turned out not to be available, the wine came in bottles only. Not at all comme il faut. The general result was mediocre, expensive, plus I had been sitting all the time in a high cold draft of air, in one of those tents around sidewalk tables. Not good for my cold. We happily retreated to our homely apartment.

Friday, May 22, day two

Fritz goes to the patisserie at the corner of Rue Papillon and Rue Bleu, in the morning sun. The bakery is on the ground floor of one of these triangular Paris houses. Two baguettes and two croissants, please. Wonderful. That’s how life ought to be. A crisp, clear morning, early, the sun just risen, few people around, and everybody still friendly and looking forward to another fresh, unspoiled day.

Then in our apartment breakfast just like at home. Gisela had packed all the necessary food in Bonn, including eggs (we could have bought them in the small grocery shop adjacent to our apartment—these poor people keep it open practically around the clock!). As we found no eggcups in the apartment, we used a round hair spray cover and a Schuko plug extender.

We wanted to explore the quarter around la Bastille, the Marais. So we wanted to go there by bus, but had no good bus plan. It was the Métro then. At a newspaper stand we bought twelve tickets—still little cartons here and not electronic paper—, then went town to Bonne Nouvelle station, another classy subway station with fitting historic décor and modern advertizing. In the train we enjoyed a free trumpet concert with besame mucho. This melody hung in our ears for at least another hour …

Out we stepped a few stations further at Place de la Bastille, the naked Spirit of Freedom glittering in the spring sky, freshly gold plated.

A street market at Place de la Bastille stopped Gisela and Carla for shopping, me for some pictures. Then we crossed into Rue Saint-Antoine, where we turned right into Rue Birague to approach the famous Place des Vosges. What a beautiful, harmonious square—again Wi-Fi courtesy de la Cité. The square reminded me of Britain, Cambridge perhaps.
Like so many Parisians we had a long and good picnic there (that’s why I had bought two baguettes!). Carla could play in the sand, somersault in the park. I discussed politics with a man from Oakland, who had left the US the day George W. Bush was elected. When an American couple behind us had some other tourists kneel down to take their picture, I too captured the scene and offered to send them the picture.

We then wanted to visit the Jewish Museum in Rue de Temple. It’s easy to find your way around with a good Blackberry with GPS, accurate to a couple meters. Just turn on Google Maps, enter the destination, select “by foot”, and find your way; let people think you do your e-mail.
At the “north rim” of Place des Vosges: fine art galleries. Hot midday sun. Along the way to Rue du Temple nice shops, fine old inner courts, Paris’ history in the Musée Carnavalet, which we didn’t visit (except for the public down floor).
Gisela and Carla bought a white summer hat across the Jewish Museum in Rue de Temple, and then we visited this small but intense museum after a security check. For me as German it was interesting to see Jewish history for once not Nazi-centric, to see that Jews had good and very bad times across many long centuries and countries like Spain or France.
Then we enjoyed a relaxing pause in the quiet inner court of the Museum, with Carla taking pictures of us: “You look like two coloured bags”, she said, when the first picture was out of focus and turned out blurry.

From the Jewish Museum we walked to Centre Pompidou—which turned out to be quite near by. Unfortunately the part with the red rhino was closed. We got in all right; queues were long, but security had been relaxed accordingly. French access security always looks impressive, but then it is personalized: I was just asked if I have knives in my rucksack. At first I didn’t even understand the question, luckily, as I always carry a jack-saw with me, just in case a tree needs cutting. My rucksack wasn’t even opened.
From the top of Centre Pompidou we had a fine view to Eiffel tower, opera, and Mont Martre. In the afternoon sun Centre Pompidou gets quite hot and uncomfortably sticky with all its glass windows, so they open a few windows and some external balconies for the (smoking) public, with a fine view down to the place in front, full of jugglers, musicians, and immobile painted human statues. We became very tired, took a coffee and ice in a nearby café, watched some more shows, including an improvised cat walk by some dressed-up girls filmed by a video service. Crowds. A motorcycle accident, not very serious.

Back to our home quarter we took the bus, up Boulevard Sébastopol, and wound up in Rue Saint-Denis with huge triumphal arches. So we walked home, passing by Julien at 63, rue du Faubourg Saint Denis.

This evening I really wanted to stay home. My cold had turned bad, solid fever. But then we opted for a fast, “guaranteed” dinner at our Tex-mex-taco-restaurant at Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle, the one we knew from last time. It turned out to be just as touristy and bad as the restaurant on Thursday. We were not amused.

Saturday, May 23, day three

This morning Carla joined me on my way to the classic brasserie for baguettes. On the way back we detoured a bit, along the Synagogue, then inside into Saint-Cécile. A solitary priest celebrated the morning mass.

The day was supposed to get rainy. It didn’t, except for a short shower in the afternoon. We were tired, a bit sick, so we decided on a boat tour. As late as 11.15 we drove by bus to the Louvre, but walked through the courts towards the Seine, and pretty soon found a place in the river bed where small shuttle boats would land, you see one in the background of the picture with the three of us (all pictures are clickable).
In the Louvre courts a woman tried to trick me with a just “found” golden ring (she herself had thrown it audibly on the floor, and it wasn’t gold either). She insisted to give it to me as a gift—not being allowed for religious reasons to wear jewellery—and promptly wanted money; I insisted that I didn’t want any of it. The identical trick was tried on Gisela in the afternoon on the other side of the Seine.

The boats (www.batobus.com, Adulte 1 jour € 12), not too large, were glass covered, so even rain would not matter. For a day we could step on or off, ride as much as we wanted. A fine thing. You can watch tourists and sites at leisure. (Careful, other boats are much larger.)

We took one and a half the full circles and disembarked at the Eiffel tower. Carla had to ride the merry-go-round. That’s tradition. It started to rain.

We then walked to the all new Musée du Quai Branly, ethnology. It had been opened on June 20, 2006, and is a typical child of postmodern architecture: lots of unused spaces, like a long, wound walkway up into the first floor, as “gag” a planted vertical wall, and to sponsor the window cleaners another pure glass wall, standing high and rather invisibly in the middle of the garden. What for?
Inside the exhibition walls are all moulded dark-brown leather imitations, soothing to the eye. Just as general darkness prevails.
Looking at all the Indonesian and African artefacts made me think of the high cultural achievement by Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Greeks and Romans, developing writing, mathematics, and an ideal form for figures. To all these manifold and (for me) pre-cultural exhibits I just could not relate to. Probably I’m getting old and intolerant. I’m not criticizing modern men of other cultures, I just do not see a similar beauty and artistic level in an African statue as in a Greek one, or in a Canaletto painting. Indigenous picture art is rare at all.

Stepping out the weather had turned good again. We took the regular bus 42, and had a fine sightseeing tour along the most famous Paris monuments. This time we were an hour earlier for dinner. We directly selected the Brebant, 32 Boulevard Poissonnière,—expensive but good (at least last time we were there). We got one of the last tables outside, the service was good, the prices exorbitant. Carla ate her life’s most expensive noodles, as we had ordered a noodle dish for her without the foi gras. Nothing else had come near noodles. The foi gras was gras (fat) on the bill. Nevertheless, we were satisfied, it was our last evening, we felt fine and in romantic good-bye-mood.

We prolonged the evening in a small corner café in our Faubourg de la Poissonnière. A French-American family came by, labeled with sashs as “bride”, “mother of bride” etc., and a cyclist fell (without harm) while turning our corner too fast for his wet tires. In Paris they clean the streets with flowing water in the curbs.

Sunday, May 23, day four and of departure

No fresh bread on Sundays. Our home breakfast was good, nevertheless. We had to pack, refold the bed. I went and collected the car from the underground parking. The clerk took my card, fumbled around with it down on the floor of his glass cabinet, invisibly, apparently entering it into his computer. He then cashed my ninety Euros for the three days of parking. Strangely: when I used the magnetic stripe card to open the gate it wouldn’t, asking for payment of ninety Euros. The clerk who saw me trying again and again, couteously opened the gate by hand. I think I should have stepped out of the car to ask for at least fifty percent ….

Originally we had planned to return via Fontainebleau, in the south of Paris (last time we had gone via Reims), but then we decided to drive via Amiens in the north. We left at 11.45 (km 46580).

The Somme region north east of Paris is an endless flat of fields, few villages and many war cemeteries from the “Great War”, as the French call the First World War.

But soon after Paris: wonderful clean and solitary countryside, Amiens with the cathedral visible from afar. They apparently had their marathon; all the inner city was closed for traffic. Near the Cathedral, France’s largest, some new houses are being built—so nearby that the Unesco “world cultural heritage” is spoiled. With Dresden and the planned bridge there is a debate—here just ugly facts.

The cathedral is another world. It was built rather quickly, so the Gothic style is very coherent. No fixed benches clutter the wide space, a black and white marble labyrinth in the middle can be walked by children.

We left Amiens after a practical lunch with crêpes at 16.24 (km 46722) and arrived in Bonn at 21.15 (km 47141, 25½ °C). The evening sight of Cologne with its cathedral in the setting sunlight—a solemn view to remember too.

All our documented trips to Paris. Unsere gesammelten Paris-Erinnerungen:
• Paris und Amiens 2009, dieser Blog und Bilder
Paris und Reims 2008
• Paris im Oktober 2006, Bilder
• Paris im Oktober 2001 mit Birte, siehe www.Joern.De/ und dann ParisBirte.pdf (nicht verlinkt, Link bitte von Hand eingeben)
• Paris im September 1999, siehe www.Joern.De/ und dann Paris99.htm

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