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 Allain Passard originally made a reputation, and developed a 3-star Michelin rating, as a master of grilled meats.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.

Home, Sweet Home

This update is coming almost two weeks late, but as loyal readers will have already guessed (or seen), I made it back home to the states after a long, eventful journey around the world.  During my first full day back, I was still in the mode of documenting everything, so I’ve got a few photos below from my return.

It’s been pretty difficult to get back into my routine, but it’s great to be home.  By the last week of the trip, I felt like my return was not coming quickly enough, as was made evident by my sporadic posts.  It was great to finally see my wife again (in person, as opposed to over Skype) after two long months, and after all that time on the move, it was nice to get a couple of days of rest.

Over the next several months, I’ll be trying to put together a book, and I’ll try to post details as they become more clear.  A friend of mine is also starting a magazine, called Works Sited, for which I’ll be putting together a brief series of essays about my travels (something more coherent and less off-the-cuff than what I’ve written here), and I’ll also post details as I learn more.

I was able to get a little time to relax when I got back to New England, so here are the photos (as always, click to enlarge):

I was greeted with beautiful weather on my first full day back, which demanded a bike ride to the beach, and procrastination on unpacking.

The water was significantly colder than the Bosphorous, and I only lasted about 30 seconds.

Since I was in the habit of only dining on local specialties, a stop at Bob Lobster was a requirement during my ride back to town. Bob is a local Plum Island lobsterman, and he sells his own fresh-caught lobsters, and my favorite lobster rolls in the area, out of a shack on the way to the island.

My humble abode.

Not quite as impressive as the Istanbul skyline.

This is what is referred to as a "small ice cream" in this part of the world. A few more of these, and I'll be back to my pre-trip weight.

This was my attempt to reproduce some flavors from the trip, or what I call a Turpan Penne alla Tad - a little bit of Central Asia, a little bit of Italy, and a lot of fresh local vegetables.

A Last Hurrah in Milan

I know that this post is coming almost two weeks late, but, for those of you who are still checking in from time to time, here it is.  The final destination of my journey was Milan, where I just spent an afternoon and night before flying out in the morning.  I only had half of an afternoon for site-seeing, and not much time to do anything else.  I was, however, able to meet up with an old Milanese friend for a beer in the evening.

I plan on having a couple more posts before I can really say that I’m finished, so keep checking back over the next couple of days.

The train station in Milan, the Stazione Centrale, has one of Europe's great huge sheds.

When I walked through the station's beaux-arts entry portico later in the evening, a boxing ring had been set up in the center. The matches hadn't started yet, though, and I promised myself that I would come back to see the spectacle. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to return until it was too late.

Seeing the Duomo reminded me how far I had come since first arriving in Xi'an. Over to the left, you can see the entrance to the Galleria Victorio Emanuele II.

The scale of gothic churches is always a little ambiguous to me until I see someone standing in the foreground. The Duomo, which was built over 500 years in a somewhat strange melange of styles, is no exception. Compare the people in this image to the size of the doors.

Maybe this trip has given me a new-found appreciation of light, but the interior of the Duomo seemed incredibly dark.

There was a mass taking place, so I was restricted from exploring much of the interior.

Here, gothic arches show their real potential.

This display, featuring the preserved, if somewhat decayed, dead body of a former pope, was pretty grotesque, and will give me nightmares for years.

Rather than gargoyles, the buttresses are capped with statues of notable saints, priests, and a few lay-people.

Napoleon was crowned King of Italy inside the Duomo, and he promised to pay for its completion. However, a little problem in Russia prevented him from ever making good on the promise.

I purchased a ticket to take the stairs to the roof from quite possibly the rudest person that I encountered on my whole trip. The iconic 1954 Torre Velasca can be seen in the background.

John Ruskin famously said of the Duomo that it stole "from every style in the world: and every style spoiled."

The view over MIlan, towards the distant mountains, was worth the interaction with the grumpy ticket salesman.

My ticket also gave me the privelege of climbing around the flying buttresses.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II was a precursor to modern shopping malls.

Designed in a cruciform pattern, the two axes come together at this enormous dome. What do you know? There's a real Italian McDonalds there.

I suppose this is the last of the many photos that I've shown of domes during this trip.

The Galleria stretches from the Duomo to la Scala, where it is severed at an angle.

Unfortunately, I arrived at the Teatro alla Scala after closing time, but here it is from the exterior.

Leonardo Da Vinci pokes up in a lot of places in this town.

I lost count of how many statues adorn the Duomo, but this must be one of three million.

Troubled Kashgar

It was with pain that I heard the news today of violence in Kashgar, and I’m deeply saddened for all of the people affected by it.  I met some truly great, friendly, and caring people there, and getting a chance to see the old town was a dream come true.  I only hope that the current events do not result in even more restrictions on the already limited freedoms of the Uighur people living there.  Fear and impending cultural doom were the great unspoken presences while I was there.

One of the things that I’ve recently learned is that, after taking this trip, the remote corners of the world where terrible events take place no longer seem quite so remote.

Also, when reading or hearing reports of the violence, keep in mind that almost all accounts come filtered through Chinese officialdom, and usually serve government motives.





More Verona Catchup

Here’s another round of post catch-up, and more of my visit to Verona.  This chunk included one of the better meals of my life, which most likely edged into my all-time top five (So long, fresh-made tacos in Tijuana.  I hope you enjoy being relegated to the top ten.), so check out the pictures below (click to enlarge):

A late lunch crammed in between site-seeing sessions, this pizza held me over until a late dinner.

Verona's quiet backstreets are great for refreshing crowdless exploring.

Cangrande I brought Dante here, after the poet was exiled from Florence, and his statue occupies a central position in this square.

Although these squares seem quaint now, the old fortresses and towers that surround them were built for nefarious purposes.

Yet another sample from my ongoing series of photos of people taking photos of people posing for photos.

Verona's squares are enclosed by arches like this one, remnants of a time when large areas could be closed off.

Cangrande I's equestrian statue, which I showed in my post about the Castelvecchio, one stood over an arch around here. Scarpa tried to provide a similar view from below, but also gave visitors the treat of seeing the statue's wide smile up close.

There was a big wedding taking place in this church when I went by.

I wonder where Scarpa got his obsession with detail.

Sant'Anastasia makes an OK place for a wedding. I waited a while for the ceremony to finish, hoping to get a photo of the couple as they emerged from the church, but I gave up after about twenty minutes, seeing that the mass was far from over.

I figured that with a line of locals like this, the gelateria inside had to be good.

After vacilating for a while, I settled on a cup of hazelnut (nocciolo). It was pretty good, and obviously I'm writing home about it.

Hills surround Verona's northern extents, making pretty decent spots to build villas.

I decided to hike up to the castle on the top of this hill to get a panoramic view. It wasn't much of a hike compared to anything I encountered in Central Asia.

This hike was paved, and had steps.

A look east, towards the area from which the conquering Venetians came.

I'm not sure it would have been possible to pick a hill with a more picturesque view to climb.

Seems like a pretty good place for a vendetta.

Sant'Anastasia's tower is one of the more recongnizable elements in Verona's skyline. These trees do their best job to emulate it.

Competing towers.

They're barely visible in this photo, but there's a couple having wedding photos taken on this bridge.

The Duomo is recognizable by its square white tower.

Verona is another one of those cities where layers of architectural interventions coexist side by side. Here is a baroque addition to a medieval church.

Although I know I shouldn't, when I hear the word, "duomo," I automatically expect cathedral with a huge public square in front, but Verona's is much more compact and understated than those in Milan or Florence.

The door to the duomo is guarded by these strange beaked beasts.

Another view across the Piazza delle Erbe.

On my last night in Verona, I splurged, and went to dinner at a restaurant that I had found earlier in the day. It was on a narrow side street off the beaten path, where no tourists could find it, and seemed to be only patronized by people in the know. Before my first course, they brought out this crab salad, which was garnished with a little bit of basil and olive oil. I also started out with a half bottle of local soave.

I asked the waiter what he recommended, and he got very excited. He told me that they had just this morning gotten in some Sardinian tuna that was only available for one month during the year. The chef was walking by as he said this, and exclaimed with glee that it was a "very particular" dish, and was exactly what he would order. With this glowing recommendation, I had not choice but to get the tuna. It was spectacular.

After looking at the prices on the menu, and with a still shrunken stomach from a long journey, I decided to only order two courses. This was the second course, which the chef hurried over to tell me was even "more particular" than the previous dish. This was cuttlefish pasta done right, with little tiny cuttlefish that are only available for twenty days per year. Just mentioning them brought a beaming smile to the waiter's face. Unlike the similar dish that I had in Venice, the cuttlefish just melted in my mouth, and the ink sauce was the perfect consistency. It was topped with shaved dried anchovies, which added a salty kick much in the way that Parmagiano Reggiano does for non-fish dishes, but was not overpowering.

At the waiter's further recommendation, I decided to have desert in-house, and ended up ordering this, which the waiter described as flaky pastry filled with cheese and berries, but was not too sweet. It was also sprinkled with an "Indian meat spice," that imparts a "very particular" flavor not often found in deserts. As this was the "most particular" desert on the menu, I couldn't resist. It was not the sort of thing that I would have typically ordered (no chocolate), but I was pleasantly surprised by the subtle flavors, and it really wasn't too sweet. Before bringing it out, they also brought out a small cup of gelato as a palate cleanser, and the waiter asked me to identify the flavor. After slowly enjoying it, and doing my best to localize every single flavor, I came up empty, and meekly guessed cucumber. It turned out to be parsley, and I was surprised at how good it was.

Last up, with my espresso, they brought me a full plate of biscotti. After having only ordered the two courses, I was glad that I had decided not to go for three, because I was completely stuffed. I was so stuffed that I was only able to cram three of these in my mouth before calling it quits.