A WEEKEND IN PARIS by Armen Pandola
When I was a little boy, six or seven, I woke up one morning and thought, OK, I have to get up, get dressed, go to school - and then, a warm, cozy feeling came over me and relaxed every muscle in my body - no, I don't have to do that, I don't have to do anything - it's the weekend!
Many years later, weekends are still special. Time to relax, catch up with friends, see a movie, go to a show, have a BBQ.
In Paris, it's the same. The streets are twice as crowded as a weekday, the air itself seems to hum with excitement - especially on this weekend because it is Nuit Blanche! Never heard of Nuit Blanche? Read on.
My weekend started early - on Friday I went to Les Invalide, France's Military Veterans memorial. The huge grounds and buildings contain little of interest unless you are a devoteé of medieval jousting and armour. I went to see The Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides and the Dome des Invalides which contains Napoleon's casket. In France, and Europe in general, Napoleon is Julius Caesar, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Grant all rolled into one. His victories changed the map of Europe and his defeats, the retreat from Moscow and Waterloo, marked the boundary of what military power could achieve before the advent of nuclear weapons. Hitler went there after defeating the French-British forces in 1940 and stared at the tomb for a long time. Apparently, not long enough as he was to suffer the same fate, albeit in a more Wagnerian manner.
The highlight of the trip was a late lunch at Le Boulanger des Invalides. There I had a kind of grilled cheese sandwich which is nothing like the American version and twice as delicious. The best way to explain it is to share a link with you to their 'specialties' - take a look.
Saturday started with a busted tour. I had booked the 'Paris of Victor Hugo' tour that is run by Paris' history museum, Carnavalet which is currently closed, but which still offers tours. It was a rainy morning and the closing of Notre Dame and its large Parvis or Square in front of it (almost 13,000 sq.ft) left the area in chaos. I was where the tour was supposed to meet, but found no Victor Hugo tour. Of course, if the various tours had signs to hold up indicating what tour they were, it might have helped.
But the morning was not lost. I headed to Shakespeare & Company, the famous english bookstore on the Left Bank across from the now closed Notre Dame. This original of this bookstore was famous as the publisher of the original Ulysses by James Joyce. It closed in 1941 under the German occupation of Paris. In 1951, it was reopened and it continued the original bookstore's promotion of ex-patriot American and British authors.
It's a crowded maze of a space with new books on the first floor and used ones on the second. I have stopped buying 'real' books because of my having to give and actually throw away hundreds of books when I sold my large house with its library/office - it was a sad day. I did keep a few hundred books that mean something to me - I am sure you have those kinds of books, too. So, I bought books for Jude (11y.o) and Dylan (5 y.o.), my grandchildren - an illustrated children's version of Macbeth for Jude and an illustrated book of the adventures of a little girl in Paris for Dylan (she is totally uninterested in any book, movie or TV show that does not have a female in it).
Then I had lunch at a place I found on the fly - Le Reminet, a small restaurant on the Left Bank near the Seine. A delicious salad was followed by a salmon dish with apple liquid (not sauce - it was bubbly - a pic is in the collage) and fennel that had so many flavors it was a thrill to eat each bite.
In the afternoon, I had a cheese and wine pairing class at La Cuisine Paris. They have a lovely space on the Right Bank of the Seine. When I arrived, I was happy to see that one of its staff was calling someone who had booked the class but had not yet arrived - a pleasant change from the morning busted tour where I had hoped I'd get a call when I couldn't find them. Our teacher was the very knowledgeable and well-travelled Clémentine who spoke excellent English. The class was small (just 5 of us so we all got to know each other a little), excellent and the cheeses and wine offered, alone, were worth the price of the class (99 euros). Their website is a wealth of information about Paris where you can find everything from an arrondissement by arrondissement look at restaurants to maps that show you where to get the best coffee, cheese - even craft beer and gluten-free eateries in Paris. I recommend it, highly.
And now we come to the Nuit Blanche! This happens every year on the first Saturday night in October - the 'white night.' Various art and culture installations, exhibitions, concerts, performances, trails, staged scene sets and creations that explore all facets of contemporary art and offer a new view from sundown Saturday to sunrise Sunday - a big parade and hundreds of events in every part of the city. I went to a sound and light show at Saint Eustache (a beautiful cathedral in the heart of Paris - many events were in churches as the French church seems committed to being part of the city's culture as opposed to most American churches where they refuse to enter the 19th, let alone 21st century), a classical music concert, a participatory art exhibit where the viewers became trapped in a maze - everywhere you roamed in Paris there was something happening. One group of runners commits to check in on as many events as possible in one night, running from event to event. It was an amazing night - take a look.
There was so much happening this weekend that I have to write about it in parts - stay tuned for Part II - A Day at the Races!