By now, some of you may be wondering how I can write about such details from a trip we took a year and a half ago. The answer is simple: we keep a little notebook. Each morning while we ate breakfast, we recorded what we had done the day before and planned what to do on that day. And as I said in my last post, this was about the point in the trip where I got un petit mal du gorge – a little sore throat – which lasted for the rest of the trip. Being the sweetheart that he is, Sal took it upon himself to record our activities on this day. I have a difficult time reading his handwriting, but I’ve tried to preserve his voice a bit as I describe this day.
Despite the sore throat, this day is a very fond memory. On this day, we went to what has become one of my favorite museums, we ate the best steak frites I had on the whole trip, we saw bunny rabbits, and we had some very traditional – but unusual – fun at the end of the day. Read along to see what happened.
As I said, I was a little sick this morning with a scratchy throat. We slept late and ate a nice apricot custard tart from the fridge – part of our local market haul on the first day. Then we set out to the 7th arrondissement, a neighborhood on the Left bank where embassies and aristocratic households are – including the Hôtel Biron, home of the Paris section of the Musee Rodin. The Hôtel Biron is unique in that it is fully free-standing and set back from the streets, surrounded on all sides by formal gardens instead of nestled up against an entry courtyard. Rodin lived in the hotel in the early 1900’s and was quite taken with the idea that the building should become a museum to his life’s work. To ensure this end, he left his studio, work, and papers to the city of Paris upon his death.
When we arrived, the line to enter stretched down the block; down multiple blocks, really. It was quite cold and I wasn’t feeling that great, so after a few minutes of standing patiently Sal walked up to the front to see if there was a second, shorter line for Museum Pass holders. He came back and shrugged, saying he couldn’t see one; he doesn’t speak French, however, so he couldn’t ask anyone. After another ten minutes or so I said – rather impatiently, I must admit – “I’m going to see if there’s not a sign we missed.” I walked up to the gates and looked around for a while, watching everyone go through security. Then I mangled out a question to the guard, and he smiled brightly, waving me in the gates. I waved back to Sal and he jogged up to join me. It turns out we didn’t see a Museum Pass holder line because the line was so short, it was non-existent! We bypassed what looked like a half hour wait and – feeling both guilty and smug – walked right into the museum grounds.
I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. A Museum Pass is a wonderful investment.
I decided that my sick self needed a cup of coffee before standing in the second line – this one to enter the house, about 20 people at a time – so we went to the beautiful little café in the back of the grounds. It was here, unfortunately, that I had my first bona fide experience with both Parisian “line waiting” and Parisian customer service. I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say both my fellow patrons and the cashier earned my grumpy ire, and I felt rather buffeted about by the time I got out of the building and sat down at a table. (Sal’s pithy note on this experience: “Bonnie got mad at rude French line-cutters.”)
After eating, we went to wait in line and enter the hotel itself. Visiting the Musee Rodin is wonderful because not only do you get to see Rodin’s marvelous sculptures, you also get to see them – and his other ephemera – in the setting where he lived and worked. Something about the completeness of the context has a great impact, from the light flowing through the high windows to the ornate woodwork, from the charming little collection of furniture to the neat lines of the coppiced trees outside.
The grounds include hedges and gardens centered on various Rodin sculptures. One of the Thinkers is here, of course, but I was truly taken with a piece that I’ve waited most of my life to see: The Gates of Hell. I’ve been a little obsessed with this work after seeing sketches and studies for some of the individual parts at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It is impressive in person, and difficult to photograph with any sort of justice to the work. The dark bronze seems to pull you in, even as the tiny figures lurch outward to try and escape their fate.
After spending most of the morning at the museum, we set out through the 7th to get some lunch at our next destination: Rue Cler. Being an avid cook and unashamed fan of Rick Steves and David Lebovitz, I wanted to see this famed little market street for myself. We passed by Invalides on the way and saw bunnies frolicking on the lawn, among the cannons – what a sight!
When we reached Rue Cler we looked around for a restaurant, deciding to take our chances and go into the well-marked one right at an intersection (in our experience so far, this was a sure sign of a touristy place with weak and perhaps frozen food). The name of the place was Le Malabar, and we wound up having a delightful time. The building spans the corner, so there’s a sharp 90 degree turn in the center. When we walked in, a man at a table by the door was keeping company with a huge golden retriever curled up under his table. There was one waiter behind the bar, making his way around at a leisurely pace and chatting with a few friends sitting at the bar – it was after the normal lunch hour.
Sal’s notes from this experience: “We had steak with fries (him) and bone marrow (with toast, for me) behind a post in a restaurant.”
This does sum it up, but Sal has left out how ethereal the fries were – they were beveled, almost like they had been chiseled off the potato, and light as air. My marrow toasts made me feel much better and deeply nourished. Sitting behind the post gave us an excellent view out Le Malabar’s bank of windows, and we got to watch people going by with all kinds of afternoon shopping on their arms or piled onto their bicycles and mopeds. The downside of sitting behind the post? It made getting the check even more difficult than usual, since we were out of sight and thus out of mind to the waiter. I do highly recommend a stop for frites at Le Malabar, if you’re in the area – just be sure to sit somewhere within the staff’s field of vision! (I didn’t take many photos inside because when I’m enjoying myself at a restaurant it makes me feel like a real dick to whip out my camera. I do wish I’d captured a shot of those fries, though…)
After eating, we set off down Rue Cler and looked dutifully at all Rick Steve’s walking tour notes. I must admit, this is the only thing we used our Rick Steve’s Paris guidebook for… The City Secrets book was much more suited to the way Sal and I like to explore. We peered at all the stands and I found myself wishing we had a full kitchen set up so that I could try cooking all the various delicious squashes and seafood. Instead, we got a cookie; Sal’s notes are quite adamant about this little pink cookie, and how tasty it was. I was taken with all the flower shops and got in some good free aromatherapy – all without touching, bien sûr.
At this point in the trip, we had to do the inevitable: see the Eiffel Tower. I don’t want to sound like a hipster jerk, or as if I’m too good for popular destinations, but this wasn’t high on my list of Paris stops. I felt we would get around to it eventually, because it’s unavoidable – on the skyline almost everywhere you glow, glittering gorgeously every night. But Sal was frankly appalled at my lack of drive to see it, so we walked through a neighborhood full of various doctor’s offices (I found this very intriguing) and made it to the famous, long lawn.
A side note – we decided that watching people take Eiffel Tower selfies is almost as entertaining as the tower itself. If it hadn’t been so cold I think we would have plopped down on a bench to play a game of watching for standard poses: I’m touching the Eiffel Tower ha ha, the Eiffel Tower grows out of my head, ha ha, me and my girls at the Eiffel Tower OMG.
It was too cold for sitting, so we walked toward the tower… and I started to get it. I’ve seen a lot of pictures of the Eiffel Tower, goodness knows, and it’s burned into my brain as an icon of Paris. But nobody warned me that that mother**ker is huuuuuuuuge. Pardon my French! Having seen mostly pictures of the top of the Tower sprouting picturesquely from the trees and rooftops, I hadn’t really absorbed how monumental the base is. The rivets alone were mind-bogglingly large, and watching people ride up the side in the elevator made me feel giddy. I may not swoon at romantic landmarks, but I respect good engineering when I see it. Sal’s note: “Bonnie was quietly impressed.” As we walked away toward the river, I couldn’t help imagining the weight of those giant metal feet, pressing into the earth.
The next museum we visited was Musee du quai Branly. We were both looking forward to seeing this museum, in part because it is a “must see” architecture stop and in part because it is described as a museum of indigenous art from around the world. I must admit, Quai Branly turned out to not be my cup of tea; the museum and grounds are beautiful, especially at twilight when all the twinkling garden lights come on, but the exhibits themselves weren’t what I was expecting. I know many people love Quai Branly, so I don’t at all discourage people from visiting. My impression of the exhibit design and user experience was a little lacking, though. Remember, I was getting sick; illness makes me a tough customer.
After Quai Branly, we had plans to spend an evening doing something as normal as possible: date night. We wanted to go out for the evening and do things that we thought we might do if we lived in Paris, so we decided to go eat ramen, see a movie, and visit a pet store (a fairly apt description of many of our weekends at home in Ithaca!).
We rode the metro up to l’Opera and hopped off, ducking back into a ramen shop down a side street. I couldn’t begin to tell you the name, but it was a cheery bright green with yellow trim outside, and warm with only about eight tables inside. We had big, steaming bowls of decent ramen (without most of the trimmings, I’ll admit), and beers.
Then we popped back onto the main street to engage in one of Sal’s favorite things: seeing a movie in a big theater. We picked Gaumont at l’Opera, because it was truly gorgeous outside and it was playing what we wanted to see: Star Wars: The Force Awakens! Buying the tickets and concessions was one moment where I let my attempts at French drop, asking the nice young man behind the counter if he parlez vous’d Anglais. Happily for everyone waiting behind us – and around us, and trying to cut in front of us, or just swiping Tinder on their mobiles – he spoke just enough to help us buy tickets and snacks, all of which seemed to happen in no particular order and in three different spots along the counter. I still have no idea exactly what happened there, but thankfully we got customer service above and beyond the normal Parisian level. I think he could see the fear in my eyes.
Inside, the theater was absolutely amazing: escalators everywhere, video games, and more than a bit of red velvet décor. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t use the restroom while we were there; I bet it was gorgeous. We settled into plush, large seats and enjoyed ourselves, getting a real kick out of trying to decipher the previous for various romantic comedies. My favorite seemed to be advertising a story in which a woman somehow winds up living with her soon-to-be ex-husband and her former lover, both of whom decide they want to win her back; there were multiple scenes of one person catching the other two in bed together, in all permutations. Star Wars itself was in English with French subtitles… something we hadn’t considered until we were listening to the open score play!
After stuffing ourselves with popcorn and candy and watching what Sal has written as “pew pew pew” lasers, we went back to the flat and snuggled up on the futon for a quiet evening. I definitely didn’t get over my sore throat on this day, but otherwise it was a spectacular one.