Sunday, March 27, 2016

Walking the Champs Elysees

Did I mention that Andre Gide once lived in our building? From 1926 until his death in 1951.
We had a very leisurely morning, commensurate with the 33 hours we’d spent awake the previously day. There was a big rainstorm sometime during the night, and while only half awake I could hear the rain rushing down the scaffolding and plastic sheeting in the air shaft outside our bedroom window. When I’d told Elka we were  arriving on time, she mentioned that “the construction” was supposed to be finished two weeks ago but that there had been some delays. News to us when we booked the reservation, and as it turned out there is a lot of work going on between the 4 buildings that meet to form the air shaft. So far, being the weekend it hasn’t been annoying - we’ll see how it shakes out when the workers return on Tuesday.
Outside of construction, one nice thing about air shafts is the view of the sky they provide for a land-locked apartment such as ours. We could see blue skies with the occasional cloud, and a bit of a cold wind indicating that we could be in for anything. Checking Accuweather, the forecast said “57° with rain arriving in 52 minutes.” And interestingly precise forecast I thought, so we packed the umbrellas and left about 1 PM.

Not sure what we wanted to do today, we decided on the fly to head east towards the Louvre and perhaps walk up the Champs Elysees. Our street leads straight to the river, coming out just in front of the Musée d’Orsay, catty-corner across the Seine from the Louvre. One goal was a trip to the museum gift shop so we crossed the river and wound our way through the crowds surrounding the landmark glass pyramid. I recalled from our last trip that you went down to the ticket office and the shop was off to the side. The queue wasn’t too long, surprisingly considering the throng of people out for an Easter Sunday adventure, so we got in and wound through part of the path before I looked up and noticed that they’d built a temporary gift store right there in front of us. So out of the line and across the plaza, goal met.

An hour had passed and it wasn’t yet raining but the sky was threatening in both directions. We crossed the street and started walking through the Tuileries, impressive even in their emerging from winter state. Lots of people doing all sorts of things - jogging, selfie-taking, strolling, arguing with their screaming kids. We spotted a café off to the side and grabbed a table outside, ordering a couple of coffees. I had an ulterior motive of spending some time trying to understand my new camera. This is its first trip out of the house and while it is very similar to my old one, its level of sophistication far surpasses my ability to remember how I’d set it up. First thing this morning, trying to take a simple photo of the Seine from Pont Royale, I’d managed to get to the point where I was about to drop it in the river out of sheer frustration. Sitting there now though I was able to get it mostly under control, aside from all the function buttons being locked out. I resisted the urge to use up my paltry international data quota on my phone in  getting an answer, deciding to just get by until I was back under the wifi in our apartment.

We left the café and continued on our way towards down the Champs, The Tuileries end beyond the famous Ferris wheel, and we crossed the Rue Royale and continued towards the Arc d Triomphe. Now in the shopping district, the going was much slower due to all the pie-eyed people window shopping and wandering in and out of stores. It was about this time that MLW reported that she really does not like the way people use their cell phones. Her proclamation was precipitated by some young woman cutting diagonally across the flow of people, her face in her phone as she headed towards a Zara store. MLW delivered a decent body-check, and the young woman was visibly rocked, but her texting concentration was not disturbed for even a second. I was trailing, I saw it with my very own eyes – she just kept walking and texting. I’d bet one could have knocked her on her side and she wouldn’t have missed an LOL. Suffice it to say, this same scene played itself out in infinite variety over the next 2 hours of walking.
The rain finally did show up and we ducked into an arcade to let it blow over. Very interesting stores, with very interesting men’s clothing and shoes. One window had male manikins done up in skinny jeans and jeweled belts, sporting Native American headdresses. Another, the finest collection of pointy toed Euro-shoes in the most interesting of materials. I didn’t see anything I wanted.

The rain stopped and we finally made our way to the Arc, taking the time to make a complete circuit of the far side to get the best photo opportunities. Then back down the Champs on the other side which was less retail and more restaurants and (interestingly) car dealerships.

The weather had really improved, with the sky now being completely blue. There was a bit of a cold wind and with the sun going down it was no longer quite as warm. We decided to take a break for coffee (and ibuprofen) and returned to the same café, sitting at the same table and visiting with the same waiter. Warmed up, we headed back across the Tuileries towards our bridge, and were surprised to find a pair of Common Moorhens running around in a shady corner, under the walls. We often search high and low for them on our Christmas Count in Mexico - it figures we’d cross paths with two of them in an urban park in Paris.

Finding our way back to Rue Vaneau, we braved the headwind back to the apartment for a break before dinner.

Now I have an admission to make – I have a small phobia about restaurants in Paris. I have no fear of walking into any place in Spain, or the US, or China for that matter, but here it’s different. I suspect it’s because the French restauranteurs have a slightly different air about them, like they might be doing you a favor by inviting you in, cooking your dinner and then taking your money for that honor. We did only a little eating out last time we were here. I started out sick and the MLW ended up sick and so we only had 4 meals that were not hunted and gathered from La Grande Epicerie. One of those was fine, in a touristy restaurant where the older waiter joked that I didn’t get a free French lesson with the meal. A second was neutral, a midweek lunch at small bar along the river. A couple of slices of pizza at a small neighborhood take-out joint that was just fine and coffee and pain au chocolat at a bistro by the Musée Rodin where the waiter was so put out by us not ordering lunch (at 10AM) that he officiously cleared the place settings off the table before serving us with a grunt. Tonight though I resolved to conquer my fear and try a small Italian place down the street that we’d walked by a hundred times.

Arriving around 8:30, the place was hopping. Typically, the first word out of the mouth of the young woman running the place was “English?” What is it about us that gives it away? Anyway, she gave us a table in the back and we ordered wine and dinner and carafe of water and had a wonderful meal, discussing our fellow patrons in English, Spanish, a bit of French and even some Chinese. Most amazingly , every single person within our area played with their phone for at least 20% of their dining time. A table with a couple of twenty-somethings and their mothe, did so for more like 75% of their time. Such is our modern world, non?

It turned out to be a wonderful evening, and afterwards we went for a brief walk to kill off the panna cotta and tiramisu calories while searching for a bakery that Elka had told us was just around the corner. It ended up just around the corner and down a long street past two police checkpoints, in place perhaps to guard the Italian Embassy. Who knows, but it was getting late and time to head back to Andre Gide’s place.

(click photos to enlarge)

















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