Long ago I gave up writing for the “newbie” visitor to Paris — the first or second-timers who are visiting the major monuments for the first time and haven’t yet discovered a deeper French experience. I leave that to the other bloggers who can do a better job of catering to that crowd. Even so, there are so many stories to tell from just every day life in Paris and France that sometimes there is never enough time or space on the page to manage telling it all. Life is never dull or for wont of something to do…in fact there is rarely enough time to fit it all in. So, to all of you thinking of spending more time in Paris, be forewarned and forearmed that you will have a more than full life — the kind you never dreamed was even possible.
The following stories are just a few since I last wrote (five days):
REAR WINDOW ON THE FRONT
For 20 years the same woman has lived directly across the street from me — or longer for her — but that’s how long I’ve lived in this apartment and how long I have witnessed her. The two big windows of her studio apartment face my bedroom windows and when her drapes are open, which is most of the time, I have a pretty perfect view of what she’s up to, “Rear Window” style, like the Alfred Hitchcock movie. She has the same view of me, and for all these years, we have acknowledged one another from time to time — when we’re watering our flowering window boxes or peering out to the street to see what ruckus is going on.
I had no idea if she was French or not, but from what I saw, it seemed she was — about my age, with gray hair, living in a tiny studio with a bed, an armoire, bookshelves and a desk at which she would work or pull out to the middle of the room where she would host dinner parties. The kitchen must be at the back, because it’s not in my view. Her guests all seem to be of a highly respectable quality and her parties quite elegant, even if held in her small space.
In all these years, never once have we crossed paths on the street…not once (!) until this past week. She and I both walked up to the 96 bus stop on rue des Filles du Calvaire at the same moment and immediately recognized each other. She had a suitcase with her, from which I could guess she was headed to Gare Montparnasse to catch a train. We joked about how amazing it was that we had never met each other before, yet we knew so much about one another from our “Rear Window” point of view.
She asked about my daughter: “How is she?” “How old is she now?” “How often does she come visit?” “Where does she live now?”
It surprised me that she was so observant and so bold, too, to show how observant she had been! With that, I told her a story about how one summer when the windows were wide open, at least 17 years ago, she had a big party of people in her apartment to see her slides from the Grand Canyon! And we had watched the whole show. Erica had called me into her bedroom because from that angle on the north side of the apartment, we could see the slide show perfectly. From the angle of my bedroom on the south side of the apartment, we could see that there was about 15 or 20 people sitting on the floor watching the screen. Every third or fourth slide, a mountain goat came into view, and after seeing the same goat four or five times, we were laughing all over ourselves.
Since then, we’ve always thought of her as our Grand-Canyon-with-a-goat neighbor…affectionately, even more now than ever. I never thought to ask her name before we parted when I got off the bus.
FIAC AND OTHER ARTY-FACTS
It always surprises me when someone asks, “What’s the FIAC?” because it was one of the first things we’d run to see when we visited Paris in October long before living here. The FIAC is the “Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain” — an enormous fair of modern and contemporary art galleries among the most important on the international scene displaying painting, sculpture, photography, installations, videos, performances, and digital arts. This past week’s fair was the 44th edition. Set at the Grand Palais, under the iron and glass domed ceiling, there were 193 galleries from 30 countries displaying exemplary works of art by such artists as Anish Kapoor, Robert Mapplethorpe, Annette Messager, Jean Dubuffet and thousands of others.
The Grand Palais was buzzing, with so many exhibitions taking place at the same time in the same place — Irving Penn and Gauguin the Alchemist, along with another art fair along the Champs-Elysées — the Art Élysées, with 100 galleries inside three ephemeral pavilions, exhibiting a broad array of modern art, contemporary art and twentieth century design furniture.
Outside the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, tables had been set up with vendors offering up drinks and light food fare. Various artists had installed their own installations, one of which had turned one of the fountains a bright day-glo green. Another was a bench on which anyone could sit, but with a bit of a twist on one end. We tried to see it all, but that was near to physically impossible, at least not without a refresher at one of the outdoor tables where we could enjoy the beautiful weather.
MA VIE ON ROSE CHEZ OMAR
Beverly Holt and her husband, Brian, came to Paris to see the Rolling Stones play at the new U Arena in Nanterre — 53 years after the illustrious band played at the Stade de France in 1998, for its inauguration. Forty-thousand spectators came for Thursday night’s performance and they will play again this Wednesday night — with tickets still available. (See this great article about it — in French, sorry!)
Beverley Holt is a a highly driven motivational speaker, connector, networker and international events organizer extraordinaire, living on the Riviera, which is how I came to know her about six years ago when I first started regularly visiting Nice. She is also completely free of inhibition, which I witnessed for myself at Chez Omar Saturday evening.
Chez Omar was packed to the brim. Omar didn’t have to tell me that the FIAC and the other art-related events taking place were responsible for the restaurant’s good fortune, because it had a strangely homogenous clientele — mostly mid-30-year-olds, clean cut, dressed in black, looking very much American or international, carrying tote bags from the annual art fair. We waited over an hour to get a table — highly unusual for having arrived there just after eight p.m. The atmosphere was electric in the restaurant as the waiters scurried about sliding between the tables and the hordes of people waiting at the bar, to serve their diners and clear the tables to make room for more. The din was out of sight as the only way to hear one another was to talk loudly.
Midway into our dinner, “Joyeux Anniversaire” was sung to someone at a table in the back, at which the entire body of diners joined in…and I mean EVERYONE. I thought the house was going to come down with the clamor. As the song ended and everyone was cheering, a gentleman sitting on the other side of the back room stood up, well-dressed, gray-haired and looking very dapper, began to bellow out the Edith Piaf song we all know and love, “Ma Vie en Rose.” As he sang his last note, the “audience” went wild and even more cheering ensued, including loud whistles from Beverley.
She then didn’t hesitate a second to go right over to the gentleman to talk with him. Brian and I watched from the other side of the restaurant laughing incredulously at Beverley’s gumption. When she continued to talk with him and his party for quite a while, I went over to see what was going on. She handed me the business card he had handed her.
“Do you know this hotel,” she asked me — the one noted on the card. “He owns it.”
“Beverley, this is the Hôtel Plaza Athénée! Everyone knows this hotel!”
According to Wikipedia.org, the Dorchester Collection acquired the hotel on behalf of the Brunei Investment Agency in 2003. The luxury hotel has five restaurants and a bar, and has room rates ranging from USD $1,150 to USD $20,000 per night for the hotels premier suites. Who the gentleman really was I’m still waiting to find out from Beverley, as she has his card…but it was a memorable event, none the less!
DERAIN AND THE DERANGED
Sunday we took a detour to the Centre Pompidou where today is the last day to see the David Hockney Retrospective exhibition. Having already seen it, we chose instead to visit the André Derain 1904 – 1914, La Décennie Radicale exhibition, having opened earlier this month. I had never seen the lines to enter the museum so long — two of them, each curling around and around the plaza. I have learned to skip the lines by going to the elevator on the left of the entry that is designated for patrons of Restaurant Café Georges. There is an attendant there with a key to operate it, and it’s working as of 12 noon. If you can bare to tell a white lie, or say nothing at all, you will not be questioned. It takes you to the first floor and a security check. If you need to get tickets, once inside you’ll have to descend to the ground level to get your tickets, but otherwise, it gives you direct access in without having to wait in the queues! (Please don’t tell the authorities at the Pompidou I let you in on my little secret!)
The Derain is worth a visit, particularly if you love the Fauve Landscape as much as I do, and while you’re there, on the Place waiting in a queue or not, be sure to see Dutch artist Joep van Lieshout’s “The Domestikator” — a large sculpture made of steel, wood and fiberglass that is considered by some so sexually explicit that it was rejected by Le Louvre for being too risqué. It stands now where street performers once performed, just in front of the Café Beaubourg. It had been displayed for three years in Bochum, Germany, with no controversy! (Why are we not surprised?)
More stories to come…as long as one is living in the City of Light!
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
P.S. Those who choose to stay in a rental apartment vs a hotel are immediately plunged into real life in the City of Light, simply by dealing with the real experience of apartment living vs the hotel where there is a clerk at the desk who can answer all their first-timer kinds of questions. I recommend this to anyone who comes for more than four nights and wants to feel like a Parisian, not just a tourist — in spite of the city’s efforts to remove transients by converting as many short-term rental apartments in the city to permanent residences as they can. (Fortunately, we still offer such apartments. So if you’re prepared to take on real life in the capital city or the Riviera, visit Adrian Leeds Group Apartments or email [email protected] for our assistance in booking your next stay in a luxury apartment in central Paris or Nice.)