Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Paris…September 22nd…Betty’s Birthday

What a beautiful morning after an afternoon and night of downpours.  Per request by her birthdayness, petit dejeuner was to be had at the Café Sully, one of the historic cafes of Paris and one that we’d enjoyed breakfast at on a previous trip. Sadly, it appears to have permanently closed – shuttered tight. So, with growling stomachs driving us on, we strode across the Seine to the Ile de Cite. Found a little place right near the bridge to Notre Dame. As we sat enjoying breakfast, we overheard the women next to us discussing a restaurant they liked “Gruner”.  Curious I had to ask where they were from and sure enough I am assured again that the world is an incredibly small place. They were not only from Portland, but lived in Hillsdale (a neighborhood very close to my own).  A note about the Ile de Cite. Paris actually began on these two little islands in the middle of the Seine. Kings and Queens have graced its streets. The Cathedral of Notre Dame is the major attraction. And they also house lots of expensive shops and homes. It is a Paris within Paris.

Next on the list for the day’s events was a visit to the Musee Rodin Paris. Housed in the Hotel Biron, the works were donated by Auguste Rodin in 1909. He not only donated his sculptures to France, but also his private art collections, his library, and his letters and private papers.

His best-known statue The Thinker can be found in the garden of the blend of museum and grounds. I’ll discuss the gardens further on, but thanks to our friend Joan (remember the opening picture of this blog, that’s her house), we learned that a special exhibit of his marble works and their plaster models would be there as well. What a wonderful morning! We wandered through the ebb and flow of sculptured marble – hands, heads barely extracted from the stone, lovers embracing, Icarus falling from the sky, Victor Hugo in full repose…and the list goes on. But of his marble works The Kiss is maybe the best known. A beautiful piece and it was intriguing to view the plaster module.

And while the exhibit was entrancing, it is the gardens that excite and amaze. Covering three hectares, the garden is divided into three sections each offering a different atmosphere.  A wild, overgrown area where Rodin loved to stroll.  The rose garden with Bronze statutes everywhere – the Thinker with the gold plated dome of Les Invalides looming over his shoulder, Balzac (considered one of Rodin’s masterpieces), the Burgers, the Gates of Hell with a small Thinker at the top observing the passage of the faithless as they head in, faces contorted in pain and suffering.  A rich landscape of flora envelops the sculptures. Trimmed boxwoods encircle bronze, roses line the paths, extensive lawns, and an ornamental pond which encircles Rodin’s Ugolin bronze. Here again another of the gardens of Paris. But in this case provides a background for the bronzes. All touched with the patina of age.

After the Rodin we decided to try to find another of the gardens located in the St German des Pres. Our feet were again our mode of transportation and the Rue de Varennes our path. This street is full of old chateaux that have become residences of various French government offices. One particular location, surrounded by police, was the residence of the French President. The Italian Embassy is also located on this road…a lovely stroll.

Square Recamier is the namesake of Juliette Recamier (1777 – 1849). There is a portrait of her in the Louvre for she is remembered for her exquisite beauty and grace. Which also describes this lovely (and hard to find) Square.  A staircase found under pergola takes you down to a romantic little space thick with ivy, myrtle, rhododendrons, and trees. Throughout the square lovers can be spied in its tucked away corners and nooks…it is a very discreet place. Sadly, Juliette was exiled from Paris by Napoleon as she disapproved of his politics. He said of the move, “Women should stick to knitting, Paris is…where I live. I don’t want anyone there who doesn’t like me.”  She did return and her apartment overlooked the garden that became the Square Recamier.

We then attempted to find the fromage shop that Betty wanted to locate after reading several postings.  It was a very long way and wasn’t really any different from other cheese shops we’d visited. However, along the way we found Le Bon Marche, a very famous department store specializing in high-end products. So high end I almost had a heart attack looking at the prices. Stores within a store – Gucci, Prada, and so on…  It was also the 160th anniversary of the store and it was very busy. Suffice it to say that I left with the same money in my pocket as when I entered!!

Tired after such a long walk, we hopped on the Metro at Vaneau station back to the Marais. We decided that such a great walk deserved un verre du vin Bourgogne.  We’d located a Burgundy only wine bar in Marais and thought it worth a visit. Au Bourguignon du Marais was a busy spot, but we were lucky to get the last table outside. We ordered a couple of different wines: 2010 Jacques Bavard Auxey-Duresses and 2009 Domaine Jayer Gilles Haut Cotes de Nuits. They served the wines in these tiny glasses and I had to ask for a Pinot glass. The wines were ok, but very different. The A-D light in color, earthy, pine, with clean, strong tannins. The CdN was dark and a bit brooding.

After enjoying people watching and sipping Pinot, we headed back to the hotel to prep for the main event of birthday celebration – dinner at Alain Ducasse’s bistrot Benoit.  So, we get back to the Jeanne d’Arc and I start work on the blog, Betty grabs a quick nap. As is normally the case, I get caught up in writing and forget about time…ooopsy!  We have minutes to prep and race to the restaurant located 15 minutes away. So as we race down the Rue de Rivoli, I ask myself if it’s really that important to be first in line, then I remember that Betty is Finnish and must by nature of birth, be early. Sigh.  We made it with time to spare. And in true French fashion they opened five minutes later than scheduled.

One of the funny parts of being early is the opportunity to observe those who arrive after us but before the restaurant opened. In most cases the women accepted that the restaurant wasn’t yet open and stood by awaiting the doors to open. The men on the other hand would rattle the door handles, try to peer in the windows, walked the length and breadth of the restaurant searching for a way in. We chuckled a bunch. One fellow was not ever satisfied; he stood immobile peering into the door attempting to stare the servers inside into opening. We felt pretty bad as the silly guy was an American and certainly a bit of a jerk.

The doors did open to a lovely restaurant. Decorated in whites and golds, gentle lighting diffused the place with a pale yellow glow. The perfectly appointed staff were very attentive, but not overly so. Throughout France during our first week at over 2000 restaurants, set menus with pricing of 2 dinners at the price of one were being offered. Our friend Joan shared this information early enough so that we were prepared on September 5th. Betty got up at 1A to affirm our place at Benoit just for her birthday dinner.

Our dinner menu follows:

Velouté coco
Saumon fumé mariné, salade tiède de pommes de terre et cébettes
Pintade fermière frottée aux épices puis rôtie aux pêches, sucs de cuisson
Fromage (goat & aged brie)
Millefeuille classique à la vanilla

We chose only two wines to accommodate the dinner – a glass of Champagne to for the salmon and early dishes; and, a St Emilion with the pintade (guinea fowl) and remaining dishes. It was to say the least a wonderful dinner save for the table of Americans next to us who seemed to think that because they were spending loads of money (grand cru champagnes, pinots from Burgundy, etc) they could be as loud as they wished. We wished they weren’t…

After dinner Betty decided she would like to finish her birthday with a view of the Tour de Eiffel from the Trocadero.  So we hopped on to the Metro at the Hotel de Ville and then we hopped off and then we hopped on, and then…well you get the idea. Apparently there was trouble on the main line 1 at the Champs-Elysees.  We were forced to get on and off 4 times before we made it to the Franklin Roosevelt stop. It was a security problem.

We finally made our transfer and arrived at the Trocadero. It was stunning. You get off the Metro, head up stairs, pass a couple of vendors, turn left, and then, in all her glory is the Eiffel Tower. Light flows from her, around her, because of her.  The Trocadero place is covered in humanity, but it’s the Tower that brings us all here. Some to sell lighted replicas of her majesty, others just to bask…we fell into the later group. What a beautiful sight…I’ll never forget my first view of that structure some years ago. Now I’ll never forget her dressed to kill at night.

And so ends the third day…


Paul Cunningham said...

On our last trip we discovered the food floor at the Bon Marche. It was pretty wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Your description of Benoit had me just about swooning. What a spectacular bday treat! c&TomTom