Sunday, October 1, 2017

The Good...The Bad...The Ugly

"Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" (The more things change, the more they stay the same).

Or, maybe, not! In the seven years we've been spending time in our little corner of the 2nd Arrondissement, there have always been changes in the shops and cafés on the rue Montorgeuil, old ones close, new ones spring up. But somehow, the neighborhood itself has always held on to its character of being a "village" in the heart of Paris, with its own unique personality.  This year, though, some of the changes signal an unwelcome shift.

I'll begin with some of the "Good":  There was, for about four years, an uninspiring natural beauty products shop, next to the Happy Flower Boutique at the top end of the street. I don't think I ever saw more than one, maybe two, customers in the shop.

Today, that space has become a fancy patisserie -- "Pouchkinette" -- aimed at people looking for a spot to have a nice cup of tea and something sweet.  And I do mean "sweet".

In a luminous interior, trays of "goodies" fill the counters, some small (one bite) petits fours, others...

...well, no words necessary!

For years, across and down the street, there has been a closed storefront. Only the symbol (a horse's head) above the door told of its history: a horse butcher, boucherie chevaline. This year, it is transformed into "La Chambre aux Confitures" -- a boutique devoted to jams, honeys, chutneys and condiments.

And no shortage of happy customers, by the look of it.

Looking at the other side of the street, "L'Eclair de Genie" has replaced a tiny little take-out food shop...

...with a much more tempting line of offerings...

...and a former really tacky dress shop is now a splendid Italian Gelato cafe, "Grom"!

Hard to resist the poster by the door!

But just a door or so down from that welcome new presence, we come to one of the "Bad" (and sad) things that has happened since my last visit. The beloved Point Presse news agency, that forever stood with its yellow awning proudly promoting what used to be the world's daily newspaper (International Herald Tribune) has disappeared! Gone! (Just like the IHT.) It didn't just sell newspapers from all over Europe, it also had every magazine, comic book, greeting cards, postcards, pens and pencils, little notebooks (carnets), the weekly Pariscope and l'Officiel des Spectacles that gave you details of every event taking place in the city for that week. You grabbed your newspaper from the rack outside, then squeezed your way around the tiny aisles inside to get to where Monsieur had his little cashier post. A sweet, gentle fellow, who always had a friendly smile and a "bonjour Madame", and once kept my iPhone safe for me for a few hours when I had carelessly left it on the counter. We think he retired (no one seems to know exactly), and when no one else wanted to take over, the store was closed.

 Another shop, further down the street, that also sells cards and calendars, has taken up the newspaper rack, including the New York Times, although unlike the Point Presse that always had a dozen or so copies, this place only seems to get two or three, so if you want to get your Weekend Edition, you have to be there when they open!

In place of the Point Presse news agency, a new take-out traiteur "Stevenot" seems to attract a lot of customers, who stop by on their way home from work to pick up a ready-cooked supper.

Rows of organic farm chickens and other meats turn slowly on the spit by the front door...

...whilst inside, opposite a counter of cooked vegetables, you can also pick up eggs, sausages, etc. The word is that it's pretty delicious, but I need time to grieve a bit for the late Point Presse before I sample anything!

Another newcomer to the street is "Jimmy Fairly", an elegant, chic eyeglass store, with its cute bicycle display wagon outside. (French eyeglass stores are the best anywhere!).

Alas, a couple of doors down from that welcome newcomer, is another "Bad", verging on "Ugly", change. This used to be our favorite pharmacy. It had two entrances, a spacious interior filled with lotions and potions, soaps and shampoos, tooth care, nail care, etc., and a friendly pharmacist to help you with medications. Now, taken over by some chain, it just has one door, the interior is jam-packed with so much stuff you cannot see anything, and the formerly clear windows are plastered with super-sale offerings, low prices, prix fou! We put one toe inside and fled, deciding we needed to check out one of the other two pharmacies on the rue Montorgeuil for future needs.

And now for the really "Ugly", not-to-be-believed, happening on the street. The arrival of McDo!!

For about four or five years now, McDonalds has been pushing to have a footprint on the rue Montorgeuil, right on the corner of the rue Reaumur, just steps away from a primary and an elementary school. Each attempt was met with determined local opposition, not just from residents and merchants in the neighborhood, but also from our wonderful Mayor of the 2nd arrondissement. We stood on street corners and banged saucepans and waved signs and wrote letters. And for a while, it worked. We thought we'd won, because each time we beat them back. But the weight of the mighty corporation, and multiple threats of lawsuits against the city of Paris, seem to have worn down the bureaucrats in the Hôtel de Ville.

The evidence is in the taped up "permit" now displayed in the windows of what used to be a dress shop, "Brighton", that sold really nice tailored shirts, amongst other things.

The thought of this prime, classic corner lot becoming a three-floor, "open until 3 am" McDonalds is hard to take in, but we see workers on a daily basis demolishing the interior, so don't really see any way that it's not going to happen. Alas, it will change the feel of the neighborhood, for sure. What a shame.

So we avert our eyes to that as much as we can, and take joy in all the familiar shops, people and offerings, including the "Palais du Fruit," with its amazing displays of whatever is in season...

...including, right now, a gazillion mushrooms!

Our favorite cheese shop, "La Fermette" is still packing in the customers eager to choose from their huge selections of this essential item in French life.

And then, at one of the excellent wine shops that we pass every day, what should I spy but a Portuguese wine with the "Dalva" label! Who knew our friends, Robert and Marcia, had a connection to Portugal...

And our favorite cafe, "La Grappe d'Or",  gave us a warm open-armed welcome...

...and brought us their lunch special vol-au-vent fruits de mers, so prettily presented and utterly delicious. It feels wonderful to be part of their regular clientele again.

One last thing that changes every year, and is always a question: what will be the color this fall?! We soon found out: Dijon Mustard Yellow!

From our seat at "La Grappe d'Or," in the space of 45 minutes, we caught glimpses of endless variations on what kind of garment you can wear in Dijon Mustard Yellow. Here are just a very few, starting with shorts over black tights...

...a nice coat disappearing round the corner...

...another one coming up the street...

...even the Gents are not to be outdone!

Clearly, Matthew and I have to sharpen up, in order to join the other fashionistas, although I believe Matthew has a Dijon Mustard Yellow scarf, as a starter.   I, on the other hand, will need a trip to les grands magazins to bring my wardrobe up to date! Now that the jet lag is finally receding, I may even get there this week.

À bientôt!

Monday, June 20, 2016

La Vie Parisienne

When we arrived here back in late January, Paris was very quiet. Not just because it was winter, but because fewer people were visiting (tourism is down this year by 15%). The skies were sombre, and the city mood echoed them. Military patrols and police were evident on the streets. All of this an aftershock from the November attacks. And then Brussels happened and the mood continued. Shops and restaurants remained really quite empty, museums, too. The weekly L'Officiel Spectacles listed mostly "From the Permanent Collection" shows at the major museums.

But sometime in April, the mood lightened along with the skies, and for the last couple of months it seems every museum has a new show, great concerts and orchestras are playing at the Philharmonie, new plays and movies open every week, and crowds packed the French Open Tennis tournament (in spite of the rain).

Finally, with the big Euro 2016 Soccer tournament currently playing throughout France, cheers for "Les Bleus" can be heard everywhere, as well as spontaneous singing of "La Marseillaise" during games. A palpable uplift in the national mood, this in spite of ongoing labor disputes, strikes, demonstrations, and rowdy, destructive English and Russian soccer fans!

So, as our time here rapidly comes to an end, we have been trying to get to as many of these new shows and events, and watch as many football games on tv before we leave on Sunday!

In the museum world, some of the special exhibitions have familiar names, others not so much. At the Musée d'Art Moderne, paintings by Albert Marquet (1875-1947) -- who I did not know at all -- have been drawing crowds for several weeks. A lifelong friend of Matisse, Marquet was initially a member of the Fauves, whose bright colors are evident in this landscape from the Midi.

He later moved to more naturalist style with landscapes like this luminous La Varenne Sainte Hilaire, la barque.

Even though history considers Marquet a minor painter, and although he did not sell many paintings during his lifetime, he exhibited frequently at the Salons, and was widely respected by his peers. His wife, Marcelle (here painted in 1931), was a frequent model throughout his life.

In his later years, in the 1940s, Albert Marquet lived on the rue Dauphine in Paris, just a stone's throw from where he made this painting on the rue des Grands Augustins in 1904. I was certainly glad to have made his acquaintance!

Meanwhile, over at the Musée d'Orsay, "Le Petit Douanier", Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) is enjoying a splendid retrospective. The self-taught, singular, hard-to-put-a-label-on artist worked for a long time as a city toll collector before retiring and taking up painting full time.

Rousseau never actually left Paris, and yet his jungle paintings are among his most well known. He found his "jungle" inspiration apparently from children's books and from visits to local botanical gardens and the Museum of Natural History, with its massive, lush greenhouses.

Picasso became an admirer of Rousseau, as did many of the leading writers and painters of the day. His final painting, The Dream (1910) became his epitaph. Guillaume Apollinaire wrote the following homage that was later inscribed on Rousseau's tomb:

"We salute you Gentle Rousseau you can hear us.
Delaunay, his wife, Monsieur Queval and myself.
Let our luggage pass duty free through the gates of heaven.
We will bring you brushes paints and canvas.
That you may spend your sacred leisure in the
light and Truth of Painting.
As you once did my portrait facing the stars, lion and the gypsy."

One of my favorite museums in Paris, the Jacquemart-André on the Blvd Haussmann, not only has a beautiful permanent collection of art and furnishings from the family of Édouard André and Nelie Jacquemart, a superior gift shop and an excellent café/restaurant, it also presents some of the most interesting special exhibitions. The current one, "L'Atelier en Plein Air" ("The Open Air Studio") is no exception.

The subtitle of the show, "Impressionists in Normandy", traces the history of the new "outdoor" landscape painting that had its early roots in England. Beginning in the 1860s, French painters such as Boudin and Courbet and others settled in Honfleur, exploring the region and capturing its light and scenery.

With train service from Paris expanding into Normandy -- allowing easy access to the countryside and the coastal communities -- the whole notion of frolicking on a beach and swimming in the ocean took hold. The English had been pioneers in such delights, the French joining in with gusto somewhat later, as in this painting by Eugène le Poittevin La Baignade à Étretat from around 1865.

Five years later, Monet was all over Trouville with vivid reminders of the joys of the seaside!

By 1884, Impressionist painters could be found in all parts of Normandy. Amongst them, Gustav Caillebotte captured regattas off the coast at Trouville, Paul Gaugin painted the port of Dieppe, and Paul Signac chose this promenade at Le Catel in Basse-Normandie to add his delight at painting "outdoors"!

 Fashion Forward!
As someone who is always intrigued by the finer points of French fashion, I was definitely curious about the Musée des Arts Décoratifs'  "Fashion Forward: 300 years of fashion". Taken entirely from their own collections, the exhibition takes you on an incredible journey from the late 17th to the 21st century, during which time, certain fashion fads arise, fall, then arise again.

Mostly featuring women's fashions, there were a couple of outstanding male garments, including this late 17th century suede leather hunting jacket, embroidered with metal thread...

...and this elegant Regency silk dressing gown with a Persian motif, something a man would wear at home after taking off his court dress. A matching bonnet kept his head warm once he removed his wig.

But mostly it was a walk through women's fashions, beginning with the elaborate Marie Antoinette sumptuous gowns, some of whose skirts stuck out about a foot on either side, due to the "panier" side hoops (visible on the left) strapped on to the woman, forming part of the undergarment.

Around 1770, though, French women succumbed to "Anglomania", and adopted a slimmer look, fashionable in England, although still with a tight-laced bodice and whale bone stays at the seams.

It was left to the early 18th century, to Josephine and other ladies of Napoleon's court and French women everywhere, to "loosen" everything up with a simple, high-waisted, slimline style. The "Empire" look. It was a brief reprieve, though. In a matter of a few years, fashion went from Jane Austen... Jane Eyre, and before you knew it...

...back to the 19th century version of the previous "panier", this one to support the lavish crinoline gowns of that era.

And those tiny waistlines were only achieved by enduring excruciating discomfort!

Happily for all women, with the arrival of the Art Nouveau era, and the couture houses of Charles Frederick Worth, Madeleine Vionnet, Paul Poiret, and here, Paul Doucet, women's bodies were "freed up", never really to be quite so restrained again.

The final "salle" of the exhibition was a big atrium space with 20th and 21st century French fashions flowing as far as the eye could see: Dior, Lagerfeld, Courrèges, Paco Rabanne, Helmut Lang, even an early piece by Marc Jacobs when he was apprenticed to Louis Vuitton. As I left this stunning show, I have to confess I did sort of tighten my raincoat belt, straightened my spine, settled my scarf a little more stylishly and "assumed" a slightly more elegant look than the one I had entered with! (I also remembered fondly the Mary Quant dress I owned in the 1960s and wore into the ground...)

And if none of the previous delights were tempting enough these last few weeks, there was always a trip out to La Villette in the 19th arrondissement to revel in the 50th anniversary of the James Bond movie franchise, complete with the actual Aston Martin D5 and a sprawling display of all things Bond.

Sean Connery's seemingly innocent looking briefcase turned out to contain all manner of devious tricks and deadly devices to keep us on the edge of our seats...

...the "Goldfinger" poster that I remember so well...

...even a model of actress Shirley Eaton as the gold-painted corpse in the same movie!

A huge room in the centre of the exhibition became the enduring Casino scene that appears in so many Bond movies, the table in the middle, surrounded with many costumes from all those movies...

...and above, multiple screens playing a selection of those pivotal scenes at the "tables"!

Slinky dresses, dapper tuxedos...

... even "The Man with the Golden Gun" gun was there, with a bullet inscribed "007".

At the end of the day, though, in spite of all the recent wildly successful Bond extravaganzas, I kept coming back to look at the artifacts from those first movies, all so true to Ian Fleming's novels and, above everything else, all starring Sean Connery, the one and only true James Bond!

These freshly-picked fruits on display at the little "primeur" on the rue de Nil remind us that summer officially begins tomorrow, and that it is time, dear friends and readers, for us to pack our bags and head home to California. An added delight this year is the much anticipated pleasure of meeting our newest grandson in real time.  He's already two and a half weeks old!  Thanks as always for following along, for the comments and the emails. Have a great summer!

Au Revoir!