Paris, Part II

Today was an incredibly full day.  Not only did we get in line before opening time at the Musee D’Orsay, but we also splurged on a once-in-a-lifetime 3-star meal, and went to two other museums.  As I mentioned in my last post, my wife and I are in France on a vacation, which has nothing to do with my trip around the world last summer, but I thought I’d update the blog with my new travels.    Here are the photos (don’t forget to click on the images to enlarge):

After beating most of the crowds here, we had a pleasant visit to the Musee D’Orsay. When I was a kid, I once had a tiny sculpture displayed in the basement here as part of a school project. Much to my chagrin, it has long since disappeared.

The Impressionist galleries have some great views of the city.

I’m not the only one who figured out that the views weren’t so bad. The old train station clock makes a great look-out.

One of our favorite portions of the museum was the Art Nouveau section. We were pretty much the only people there, and we saw some great Horta, Van de Velde, and Guimard work.

We had to leave the museum sooner than we might have liked because we had reservations at Allain Passard’s Arpege restaurant for lunch. This is our major splurge of the whole vacation. Allain Passard originally made a reputation, and developed a 3-star Michelin rating, as a master of grilled meats. About ten years ago, he decided that he couldn’t stand meat anymore, and decided to focus all of his attention on vegetables (almost; there is still some meat served, and the French don’t seem to consider fish meat). Amazingly, he maintained his 3-star rating after completely changing his restaurant, and turning it into a mostly vegetarian place. Since then, he has been called a “master of vegetables,” and we were keen to test the moniker. As a bonus, lunch is about a third the price of dinner! These amuses bouches were the first things we got to try, and they did not disappoint. They were thin potato crisps with three different fillings.

Four different kinds of vegetable dumplings in a light broth.

An onion gratin with fresh vegetables. All of the produce comes from the restaurant’s own farm, on which they do not use any modern machinery. The fields are plowed using horses.

Fresh steamed vegetables in a grapefruit pepper sauce. Amazingly light and flavorful.

A white asparagus with sauteed sorrel, flavored with fresh bay leaf.

Around this point, we started losing track of how many courses we had eaten. This was veloute with the smoked herring dollop on top.

New potatoes with the first peas of the season.

The staff brought out the turbot that would be our main course, to show us what it looked like fresh off the grill.

The finished product. The fish was caught just off of France’s Atlantic coast.

The cheese course. Chevre is hidden under the thinly sliced yellow beets. Although I had not first noticed it, I now realized that I was getting full. Of course, this might have had something to do with the eight slices of house-made country bread that I ate throughout the course of the meal (they just kept refilling my plate. What was I to do? Let it go to waste?).

Dessert, Part I: an assortment of bite-sized treats. The macarons were provided in two different flavors. The pink ones had a beet and mint filling that was surprisingly fantastic (not too sweet, and a just the right zing). Elizabeth and I could not come to a consensus about what filled the lighter ones, although I remain convinced that they contained white grapes.

Dessert, Part II: an apple-rose tart in a crispy chocolate crust with a salted caramel topping. The roses contained candied almonds instead of stamens. A terrific end to a meal that we’ll be thinking about for a long time to come.  Plus, as a souvenir, they gave us the knives that we used for the meal, so we’ll be thinking about it every time we use them.

The restaurant just happened to be directly across the street from the Musee Rodin, so we took a much-needed constitutional stroll through the gardens.

I needed to get some thinking done. What would we do next?

Why is it that hell always looks more exciting than heaven in artists’ depictions? This is Rodin’s vision of hell’s gates. My hell would be much more boring, and would involve easy listening music.

“What’s your problem?” These kind of photos never get old for me.

“What are you having trouble understanding? I’m carrying a big key, and I’m going to lock this door.” In all seriousness, I am always amazed at Rodin’s ability to capture motion in a sculpture. Supposedly, he was once accused of casting from life, although I’m not sure how that would actually be possible.

The sun finally pokes out at last on the temple of consumerism: the Bon Marche, the world’s first department store.

Home of the world’s greatest bread!

After our feast at lunch, we opted for a light self-catered affair for dinner, featuring pain Poilane.

After dinner, we walked over to the Louvre to take advantage of the fact that it’s open late on Wednesdays.

The best time to visit the Louvre is late on a Wednesday because most people only come during the day, and they don’t know about the extended hours.

Elizabeth takes in the hellenistic sculptures.

This is the ubiquitous photo of people photographing the Mona Lisa. When I add captions to these photos, the program tells me, “Alt text for the image, e.g. ‘The Mona Lisa.'” It seems that I’ve just ruined my one big chance to literally use that phrase.

There aren’t many greater settings for this genre of painting.

Nike of Samothrace, and the stunned audiences she attracts.

A quiet Louvre is prepared for closing.

Contrast. Tomorrow: Versailles!

Maybe three museums in one day was a little too much. Our feet were killing us when we finally got home. It was our favorite day so far, though.

Paris, Part I

Greetings from Paris!  Although this trip has nothing to do with my journey last summer along the Silk Road, my wife, Elizabeth, and I are traveling in France for a couple of weeks, and I thought I would throw in some sporadic posts, and update this blog with some of our adventures.  We’re here on vacation, spending ten days in Paris, and five days in Provence.  Although the weather hasn’t been great, we haven’t gotten soaked by heavy rain yet!  Here are some highlights from our first few days (Once again, click on the photos to make them larger):

We kicked off our trip with a stroll around the 6th arrondissement, where we’re staying for the first several days. Here, Elizabeth takes a break in front of Saint Sulpice.

Despite the overcast sky outside, Saint Sulpice delivers dramatic lighting.

On our stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens, we came across a huge group of children pushing sailboats around the fountain. It brought back a flood of memories of coming here as a child.

The next day, avoiding the crowds at far more popular museums, we went to les Invalides to take a look at the history of military costumes. Although I’m only showing a couple of images here, the museum is well worth the visit to see the progression of fashion from the middle ages to World War II.

There is no shortage of equestrian mannequins here.

Les Invalides, which Louis XIV built as a veterans’ home, also features a magnificent Baroque church.

The dome of the church was built by Mansart to rival St. Peter’s in Rome. I’m not quite sure that the comparison does him justice, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

The dome now covers a crypt, which was built to house Napoleon’s tomb. This is it, and his body is somewhere in there, supposedly within 5 nested caskets.

The side chapels are bathed in soft blue light.

The dome from the exterior.

Not too far from les Invalides, we walked by the office building in which my father used to work. Not too exciting, but I never before noticed the adjustable exterior shutters.

A bistro entree: bone marrow with toast. Delicious! Even Elizabeth liked it.

Elizabeth’s haricot vert, which sound much less pretentious when ordered in France.

Hanger steak.

The waiter’s recommendation:  braised veal.

The best chocolate souffle that I’ve had in quite a long time.

The next morning, we intended to go up to the flea market at Ouen. We stopped at Montmartre on the way, and never made it to the market.

I’m not sure what King Tut has to do with Sacre Coeur, but I appreciated the effort.

A brief appearance by the sun at the top of the butte de Montmartre.

The sun gave way to forbidding clouds in the Place des Vosges.

I recently saw this project in an architecture magazine. I don’t remember who designed it, but it is, essentially, a tiny sliver of a building added on to the side of an existing one in the Marais. The bottom floor houses some tiny shops, and the upper floors provide balconies for the apartments in the old building.

Heaven = a Parisian cheese shop.

Not bad for self-catering: Cheese, veggie salad, and a country pate with herbes de Provence from our local charcutier.

We had intended to get an early start on the day today, hopefully beating the lines at the local attractions, but ended up waking at 9:30. We hit Sainte Chapelle first, and the line turned us off to other popular attractions. The chapel was beautiful, though. This is the lower portion.

The upper floor of Sainte Chapelle. Louis IX (St. Louis) had it built to house the relics of the passion that he had recently purchased (pieces of the cross, nails, etc.). When the revolutionaries took control, they had most of the relics melted down.

As far as stained glass windows and gothic ornamentation go, nothing really compares with Sainte Chapelle in Paris.

More ornamental windows: Jean Nouvel’s Institut du Monde Arabe. More about the facade below.

Elizabeth makes her way to the entrance.

For those who don’t know, Nouvel created an active light filtering facade. Behind the outer layer of glass is a field of irises that were meant to open and close according to the strength of the sun. Of course, they never actually worked properly.

Nouvel was inspired by arabic tiling, and the irises become the ornamentation on the otherwise blank facade. Regardless of whether the system functions, it’s a stunning achievement.

Visitors enter under a huge open elevator shaft.

Wafer thin and barely translucent marble tiles screen an interior courtyard.

The courtyard screen is set off from the glass.

The brise-soleil from the interior.

I wonder how anyone actually thought that this intricate mechanical system could be maintained.

A view of Paris’ most famous landmark in the distance.

The perforated mesh portion of the screen shows how much can be achieved with a simple pattern.

Zaha Hadid’s pavilion in the forecourt, which was closed, looks a little worse for wear.

The quality of light achieved inside is really astounding, and definitely reminded me of some of my experiences in Central Asia.

Croque Madame, anyone?

Gloomy clouds hung over us all day today.

I had been hoping to get into Labrouste’s library today, but was thwarted by a national holiday, the celebration of the end of World War II. Souflot’s Pantheon was decked out in the tricolor flag.

I’m not sure why, but the line was disturbingly long at the Pantheon, so we only made it as far as the front porch.

We next made a trip to the neighborhood where my family once lived when I was a little urchin. Although this building, the Swiss Pavilion, by le Corbusier was very close to our old apartment, I never knew its significance until I studied architectural history in college.  This is the approach from the Southwest.

I’m guessing that the building doesn’t attract too many tourists, but we were able to get in. It still functions as a dormitory for visiting students and faculty.

It has either been kept up very well since the 1920s, or it was built incredibly well. It looked almost brand new inside. Here, Elizabeth tests out the meager bed in the one room that visitors are allowed to enter.

Spartan furnishings and dark clouds rolling in.  The dorm windows, which face south, are ribbon windows with  a strip of translucent patterned glass up above.  In the view from the southwest up above, the lower portion of glass below the ribbon window must be spandrel.

Most of the original photographs of this building are in black and white, so it never occurred to me how important color was to le Corbusier in this era.

The single-loaded corridors define sterility, but have lots of light.

I wonder if Nouvel took a tour through le Corbusier’s Swiss Pavilion before he designed the Institute du Monde Arabe. Their subtle, but there are definite affinities. These glass blocks light the stairwell.

A friend of mine had to model the Swiss Pavilion for our 3D modeling class.

Late for class again! We walked by my old elementary school, site of some of my least fond memories from the brief time when we lived in Paris.