Friday, January 31, 2014

Day Two: The Middle Ages and a nice dinner

We got up a bit late and made it out the door around 11. I guess one of the benefits of vacation is truly vacating your life. As in no horse chores at 7:30 in the morning. The weather was still dreary - cold and gray but at least it wasn't raining. Our target for this day was the Musée National du Moyen Age, otherwise known as the Cluny Museum which holds one of the finest collections of Medieval art. We took a roundabout way of getting there, passing first through the Luxembourg Gardens and past their noted palace and the up and down the hills of the Latin Quarter, past the Sorbonne. The Cluny is housed in a former cloister (started in the 14th century) that became a mansion (14th-15th century) that at another time was the observatory of George Messier, the noted astronomer. Today it's considered the finest extant medieval building in Paris.

 On this day it was loaded with school children which made appreciating the somber nature of the religious art a bit challenging. But we managed by timing our visits to galleries minus the kids. I will say they were pretty well behaved, it was more a problem with the volume than the noise. 

First off was an excellent small collection of stained glass panels from the 12th and 13th century. Next was a collection of carved stone head, taken from the Cathedral du Notre-Dame during the French Revolution. Meant to represent the Kings of Judah they were mistakenly considered the Kings of France and so taken down and destroyed by an angry mob. Thrown in a mass grave, they lay undisturbed until accidentally found during an excavation in 1977.

The museum building sits on much older foundations, the Thermes de Cluny, a 2nd century Roman bath. Incorporated into the museum, the former frigidarium  or cold water room is quite impressive. I have a real thing for Roman ruins and these were quite nice.





The highlight of the museum is the collection of tapestries known as "The Lady and the Unicorn." Six panels describing the six senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing and desire), they were woven in Flanders in the late 15th century on commission from a powerful nobleman in the court of King Charles II. In each panel, the Lady is introducing the particular sense to a delighted Unicorn. They fell into obscurity until re-discovered in an an out of the way castle in 1841, restored and brought to the Cluny in 1882. They were simultaneously subtle and striking with incredible detail and artistry in their execution.








  On the way home we stopped at Starbucks where I learned how to say "coffee to go" (a emporter.) It's always nice to stop by our little American space if only for a single cup and some people watching.

After a break at home, we went back out in search of dinner. Based on our Spain experiences, we knew that dinner would have to be late. Heading back down Rue de Vaneau, we went in search of a couple of restaurants we'd seen on our walk back from the Musée D'Orsay on Wednesday. We found them, and here it was closing on 8PM but they were empty and clearly not ready for business. We decided to kill some time by walking on and returning a bit later we found their staffs having dinner. Still no guests though. So more walking until perhaps 8:20 when we returned and found the restaurants quite busy. I went inside our first choice and asked for a table and was told "we're full" even though there were empty tables. Apparently they operate on reservation only and the owner gave me a card before sending us on our way.

Heading back to the apartment, we finally settled on a cafe a few doors down. The Lutetia, quintessentially French with stained glass, polished brass, wood paneling and waiters in suits. We both had magret de canard, our old favorite duck breast served with pommes frites, thinly sliced fried potatoes. The waiter was very kind and quite funny, at one point telling me that a French lesson was not included as part of the price of the meal. After all the walking about and the consternation, it was nice to have an enjoyable dinner in an agreeable place.

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