Chapter Ten

Copyright © 2002 by Martin S. Reff
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, May 31, 2001

Had a fine sleep so we decided to visit Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and see the Musée de la Batellerie, the Boatman's Museum today.

Marcia had done all the reading and planning for our day trip so we were prepared just to take off which we did. We left Paris on the RER, the Réseau Express Régional, which provides high speed trains that run through the city and out into the suburbs. We chose a regional express train rather than the regular train because we could walk by the river before we got to the town.

We picked ours up at the métro station at Étoile (where the Arc de Triomphe is). Because the RER system was built much later than the métro, it is much deeper underground.

Suburban Paris hasn't changed much. Fifteen to twenty story apartment houses soon gave way to private homes. No front lawns in France only walls or fences or combinations. Backyards are green with vegetable and flower gardens and a variety of huts, shacks, and sheds to store items. Space has always been at a premium except for the owners of chateaux and palaces and for the large private houses in cities often owned by governmental agencies or the church.

The railroad's right of way varies from a trench to a earthen highway but wherever you look there is green grass or trees. We see no dumps or debris, not even a discarded piece of paper.

We arrive and begin our walk on the quai toward town.

A peniche houses the Eglise pour Batellerie, the church for the boatmen. We cross a wide gangplank and step inside to find

Boatmen's Church in Boat
Boatmen's Church forward section; aft section contains school.

in the forward section a deep huge hall, with lights stained windows, able to accommodate a hundred parishioners in in wood pews; the aft section is a children's Sunday school.

Trees; we haven't passed through a town like this for a long time. Climbing up the hill to the old Chateau now used for the Musée de Battellerie

walking down from the museum through a labyrinth of passages - behind houses, in front of houses, no garages, looking down to courtyards, into cages holding geese, ducks - down, down.

I'm surprised that we haven't met a French couple.

I'll bet this town shuts down at night and there is no light. I remember once in 1951 I, together with my friend and two girls hitched from Paris to the coast. On our way back, after a late dinner at a café near the edge of the town and after having waited by the road for some time for any vehicle, we decided to walk to the next town in the hope that we could find a hotel.

Three hours later when, even with the night darkness, we could see distant houses in silhouette. And then we spied a light. We marched forward but in the outskirts of the town it became clear that spotting a light from a distance and finding it in a town close by, was impossible. And so we moved quietly down the street of houses, picked out one and approached in the hope of getting some space in the barn. It was two in the morning. We knocked on the front door and it was answered shortly thereafter by the tallest Frenchman other than De Gaulle that I had ever seen. We explained that we were Americans who were studying at the Sorbonne and needed some space in the barn. We were lucky. He invited us into his sitting room and there found space around the room for the four of us to lie down and sleep. A few hours later - I'd say about 5 AM - we had a breakfast of some brandy, coffee, and bread. We learned that the couple had a daughter at the Sorbonne. French hospitality was at its finest. It always is. Traveling myself or with others I have always been welcomed graciously wherever I've gone.

We had fine typically French meal at Le Bouquet Bar Brasserie a block away from the boats. A ham and a vegetable melange with tomato slices and mayonnaise was the appetizer; it was good. A "quart de vin rouge" went well. We both also had the plat of Paupiette de Lapin, which is a small roll of lapin, which is rabbit, stuffed into the shell of saucisson or sausage. That was delicious. Marcia selected a mushroom mixture for a side dish. I had string beans. I never had as many string beans in my life. More than half my plate was filled with thin perfectly cooked green string beans that kept soaking up the sauce from the rabbit. I haven't enjoyed a plat as much since we left Paris years before. Dessert was a boat of chocolate mousse followed by coffee/tea. The meal including a second carafe of wine and tip was 160 F. (about $22).

While we were waiting at one point I copied the official notice regarding smoking. It goes like this:

"According to legal requirements, smoking is prohibited in places where groups of people gather (Law of 9 July 1976 and of January 1991, and the decree #92-478 of May 29 1992)."

"In this place of business we also have a "Smoker's Area" for our good customers who just let us know."

The law about smoking is like so many in France that are "decreed" and then ignored unless a bureaucrat cares to enforce it.

Because I didn't want to get too tired and because we were concerned that our good weather might break, we decided to head home and so we did by walking along the quai until a road would lead us back up to the park behind the museum. The road on the quai carried us past groups of four boats tied together. Most of them I guess were liveaboards what with their complete gardens, etc. Automobiles were parked on the quai and electric wires connected the boats to dockside electricity. Doggie bag dispensers provided plastic bags so one could pick up after your dog. We saw boat named "Nec. Mergitor" the name of the original boat which symbolizes Paris.

And then we found and climbed the passageway up the side of a cliff among the houses arranged in a haphazard fashion getting higher and higher, a few centuries old, somehow clinging to a steep incline. On top we waded through miniature daisies - we always seem to be among miniature daisies.

We took a real train home rather than the RER.

On the station platform we found a poster that Marcia had seen earlier at a métro station. She said it was showing a man in jockey shorts and was bit risqué. Figaro had a story on one version. PosterWell, we saw both versions and I took a photo. One version shows a man's body from about the belly button down wearing a pair of bikini jockey shorts, amply filled, called HOM. Above, where the body is cut off, is the top view of two brown eggs in a nest filled with soft down with the caption nid douillet which means a "cozy nest."

The second version has the same man's body from about the belly button down wearing a pair of full size jockey shorts that end below the groin. Above is a circle of green grass in which there is a tall mushroom with a red top with a daisy on each side. The caption: restez nature which means "stay natural".

Our arrival at Gare St. Lazar was another return for me for it was at this station that I first arrived in Paris in late September 1950 and it was in the park nearby that I first felt at home.

The rue de Rome, nearby, was where Marcia wanted to stop to see the luthiers or violin makers. About a half dozen or more such shops are within a block and each shop has hundreds of violins and an assortment of other stringed instruments. Through one window we could look down into the basement workshop and watch a young man place a sound post in the body of the violin and, with instruments that looked like they belonged a dentist, peer inside moving the post a bit here and there. He took a measurement with each move. We didn't buy a new violin.

Friday, June 1, 2001

Off to the Orsay where we had only been once. As we walked toward the museum after the bus ride, we found a mirror on a shutter for the first time. The placement of the mirror enables a person inside the room to see up the sidewalk on either side. The Dutch in Enkhuizen installed regular side view mirrors on one side or the other.

At the museum we waited on a short line and then took the escalators on the left to the top floor and the interior observation platform from which you can look down to the whole museum just like it was as a railroad station except this time it is a work of art. Museum d'Orsay Lines, forms, and colors have been so arranged to help the eye wander in and up, around and down, below, and above. You peer at a platform and fall off on a granite bench where you can free yourself of straight squared lines to find not one but a half dozen Roman arches holding the walls embed with buds of stone.

I never get tired of searching the corners and open spaces for the beauty of a connection. Today for the first time in looking at the vast floor I realized how much the visitors resembled the statues they came to see and how much the statues resembled them. Clothe the white bodies, and you couldn't tell the difference. As it is, both seem to have acknowledged each other in the spaces that the architect provided.

Sisley's La repose au bord du ruisseau lisière de bois caught and held me. Its layers of green were composed and created in a fashion that Cézanne, for example, was not interested in. Sisley takes a brush and creates a mood so well that one finds the woman, sitting in what must be an uncomfortable position, inexplicably in utter repose. I would like a print of that painting. I would like so many prints.

The old gray wicker armchairs that are arranged in the centers of each of the salons are perfect. The contrast they make with the slick surrounding reminds one to take some time, and many do sit to re-create, but visitors crowd out the view and those who sit do it to recuperate.

I very much liked Degas' Dans un café dit L'absinthe (1876) Scene by Degas And then I asked myself why. It's scene in a café. A man and woman are at a table, the woman on the left. They might know each other. She has almost a full glass of absinthe, made from wormwood and now banned from most Western countries. The green of the liquid seems to seep into the surrounding space - the shoes, the hat. The two of them are sitting apart yet together. She looks out from her head as a bird does sometimes wondering what it's all about. He bends his head and seems to know. I tried to get a print unsuccessfully.

Toulouse-Lautrec La danse mauresque FUN

Pastels are kept in a room with low light to protect the colors. What happens, though, is that the colors are enhanced and it appears that the stage lights that play on the ballerinas in the picture are real. The phenomenon is remarkable and engaging. I never realized how light can affect pastels, or is it just the pastels of Degas?

At the museum shop I bought a print of a Van Gogh farmhouse that I liked. I have never been a great fan of his swirling technique but the farm house presented designs that intrigued me. I wanted to learn to catch the mood of the painting and to like it more. I searched for the others but couldn't find them.

Our way to the restaurant which was deep in that part of the Latin Quarter called Mouffetard, first took us by the Seine and in one of the galleries in which I found the name of a company in Hong Kong which sold prints of Chinese paintings that I wanted. The salesman was helpful, suggesting that perhaps we could get a real scroll painting for almost the same price. He showed us one for $48,000. No, I didn't want to spend that kind of money. One of the prints in the catalog he did have cost about $1,000. Under that was my speed. I got the name:

Your Window in Art
Tai Yip Art Book Center
I/F, Hong Kong Museum of Art
10 Salisbury Road
Hong Kong

We would eat at the Restaurant Sud Oest-Lescarmouche on Rue de Montaigne de Ste-Geneviève, one of the restaurants we saw on our walk one evening. It is small at street level, room for 2 tables for four and two tables for 2 people. On a balcony, room for 8 more people. And so when we were offered a nice table (actually for four) I was happy. Marcia wasn't because she want to eat downstairs in the room that dates to the 13 century. We were told we couldn't, not understanding exactly what was told to us. Later we would discover that the basement area had been reserved for a group of tourists.

We both had the 108F ($15.90) menu which consisted of a plat with either an appetizer or a dessert. Both of us had the plat and we shared the other two dishes.

We first shared three slices of paté of canard and started a bottle of red house burgundy. Marcia ordered a dish of rabbit and, I chicken filets. Both dishes were just fine and presented in a pleasing manner. Dessert was an apple sherbet with coffee/tea.

A long walk to Odéon where we took the métro home.

Saturday, June 2, 2001

Marcia's stomach was out of order - attributed to last night's Lapin. That's a first.

This was a home cooking day. I made beef bourguignon and while I was in the midst of preparation which takes a while, I said to myself, " Why am I making this French dish when we're in Paris?" The answer is simple: we like it and we've only seen it on the menu once. An all day job.

Later over to FNAC, our local media store, for some special film, stop off at the boulangerie for dessert and a demi baguette and home.

Sunday, June 3, 2001

On the way to the Guimet Museum I commented to myself that even the early architects strived for beauty - used the difficult curve, dome, etc., rather than be satisfied with the straight line.

As we waited outside before the doors were opened, Marcia observed that it was a Gingko tree that shaded the entrance on this chilly Sunday morning. Its leaves are very green and shaped like small oriental fans.

The number of visitors grew. It was the first Sunday of the month and many museums are open without charge. The Louvre and Orsay are open every Sunday without charge.

My destination was the Chinese exhibit where I expected to photograph a half dozen long rectangular scrolls that depict a landscape with unusual detail and an extraordinary perspective. The scrolls, held under glass, were impossible to photograph because of the reflections. We did, however get a chance to see two wide screens in a room with a dome. I liked the Japanese style more.

What we saw that was more interesting was a gift from the Court of China to the Court of France. It was cluster of related buildings with figures in ivory... about four feet by three and at least three feet high.

Looking at it I realized that monetarily it was worth nothing because the French government wasn't about to sell it. Then the question of its value arose, and further the concept of value in art. This led me to think about copies and realize that they could be more valuable than the original.

Our next stop was the National Museum of Modern Art located in a center named after Georges Pompidou, a president of France. Located in an area called Beaubourg, the building itself is unusual in that its structural elements are, the pieces of steel and blocks of concrete as well as the major elevators are all outside the building. Imagine a house with all its innards except for its rooms visible.

After an inadequate lunch at the café in the Beaubourg that wonderful external escalator escorted us to the galleries high above.

I confess that most contemporary art leaves me cold. Often I'm stirred by the ingenuity of the artist but more often I'm reminded of my teaching days when we discussed freedom and discipline and such things as value, achievement and failure. "Everybody has the right to an opinion but not everyone's opinion is worth the same." The art I see today has a right to exist but not much of it is worthwhile.

We begin our walk.

Henri Matisse: Nature morte ( a still life) au buffet vert, 1926. This painting which I'm sure is monetarily quite valuable has a table cloth in it that is crosshatched with uneven hash lines. Marcia compared it to the lace work on a painting we saw in the Denon Gallery at the Louvre. That lace work took considerable time, effort, and skill to paint over a draped blue gown. How long did it take Matisse to paint the hatch marks and with what skill? Is Matisse's work worth anything beside money? The lace work was beautiful. How much awe, if any, do we experience with the tablecloth?

We enter a "play room" called a winter house. Inside the walls and floors are curves and planes of black on which connected lines of white have been painted. Art? Fun, perhaps.

We went into one "room" in which the walls were rolled matting which is usually under carpet. Another room, full of clothing hanging on the walls, we passed by as we reminded ourselves of the "art" we saw at the new National Library.

A piece of oil cloth on which horizontal red and white stripes had been painted hung on a conspicuous wall.

Also in the museum are Picassos, Braques, Rouaults, and many other modern painters whose work I enjoy.

I've rejected so many works, though. Perhaps I don't understand the purpose or, if I do, I don't value it. Just because something is original doesn't mean that it is valuable. Not every purpose is equally worthwhile.

The architectural display was more interesting. Most of the models were of buildings that weren't built but all were more than curiosities. Here was purpose and a vast store of knowledge.

How much do you need to know in order to become an artist nowadays?

On our way back on rue du Temple, we found a courtyard with a Café de la Gare in the center. Through the windows on each side of the yard we could see young people, dancing figures and heard the sound of music. Ballerinas and modern dancers competed for space to dance and, in the courtyard, the sound of their music reverberated from wall to wall. At least a half dozen schools of the dance occupied the apartments.

In front the Hôtel de Ville today was the Fête de Velo - a bicycle show in which a half dozen young men rode their bicycles up a ramp doing all kinds of acrobatics to the roar of the crowd which was being encouraged by a leader. In the background were two tissue thin balloons, one orange the other red, in the shape of human spirits that were being blown in such a way as if they were dancing in the air. This particular celebration was one of many that would take place in other cities in France.

The traffic today on the roadway by the Seine consisted of runners, walkers, bikers, skaters, and scooters. We sat on a bench on the bridge and watched the parade, waving to the occasional tour boat that appeared and then disappeared under the bridge. It was a good day to be where we were.

Paris is such a small city. You can easily walk from one end to the other, about 7 miles by 6 miles. Although it has a population of 2,130,000 [Almanac p. 788] and is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, one would never know it except when you're in one popular area and then realize that there are a dozens upon dozens more as busy.

Monday, June 4, 2001

Visited a Mathematics Fair at place Sainte-Suplice. I bought a magazine with a feature article on the Mathematics of the Optical Illusions and another one that discussed the similarities between a river's forks and a tree's leaves. I expected more on computers. What we did find though were booth devoted to the game of Bridge - lessons, videos, books, supplies, and information about clubs in Paris.

Home for lunch, a nap, and off to l'Opéra to find out about tours. Later we verified the existence of a restaurant which we enjoyed years ago and which we want to take my brother and sister-in-law when then visit us beginning on Friday.

Later we walked around ending at Châtelet.

I never mentioned that Paris is the capital of France and many things occur here that wouldn't occur in other French cities.

Tuesday, June 5

Marcia vacuumed the floor and I straightened up my papers, cameras, and computer equipment.

We left the apartment and then lifted our faces and smelled our way to the sewers of Paris. Like the catacombs, the other must-see underground site of Paris, the sewers, not to be undone by the dead, have set up an exhibit in a cavern next to the Seine where you can learn about how the sewers operate.

Fifty francs and fifteen minutes later we left. Absolutely the worst site anywhere and the most useless. We don't learn about the toilet by getting in one, nor about an astronaut by flying to the moon. And a sewer! When I was a kid, a man who collected the garbage was a garbage man as I was once a delivery boy (even with a college degree) when I delivered cosmetic supplies to beauty parlors in the Queen Mary and other wonderfully posh spots in New York. Today I don't know what I would be called but the garbage man is now a sanitation engineer. And a sewer, a museum. Graphic displays were set up in large malodorous area. Separating you from the exit is a Sewer Boutique where a Sanitation Publicist is ready to sell you all kinds of trinkets and books to remind you of your visit.

I'm glad we went but left quickly. Now I know more than I did before.

We had lunch at the last of the old restaurants that we had frequented years before. It was a small restaurant near BHV that was always crowded and always served a fine Basque chicken. We arrived earlier that we had planned and so the place was empty except for another couple. It fifteen or twenty minutes the place would be jammed we remembered.

The first course was delicious. I had Oeuf du Mayonnaise - two halved eggs covered with freshly made mayonnaise over which was light sprinkle of parsley. All was on a bed of lettuce with a slice of tomato. I used to order either this dish and filet of herring regularly at restaurants. A treat!

The Basque chicken, however was a disaster. New owners? New cook? We left, without our usual coffee/tea and dessert.

Home, nap, rest, walk in the Atlantic Park where we discovered all the trees were enclosed on quasi marble slabs on which the name of the tree was engraved. We found tilleul d'amérique (linden), frêne (ash), chêne (oak), marronnié (horse-chestnut), platane d'occident (plane), micocoulier de virginie (nettle). We know the plane tree well. A double file of them often stood at attention as Opperdan, our canal boat, glided into a town so that we could rest for the night. They were just plain trees, tall, steady, and wide, offering shade from the hot sun, a stately beauty all day long.

Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Since neither of us were in top form we decided to take it easy which we did all day except for a short hour or so when we shopped for a gift for our mailwoman back home who was holding our mail (which was then being picked up at the end of each month).

In the evening we took our walk. I wore my cardigan although in the morning it had been cold enough to wear a jacket as well.

And the sun was still out. Remember, Paris is parallel to Newfoundland in North America, New York is parallel to Madrid in Europe, and Miami is parallel to the Sahara in Africa. Our days in Paris are long. Yesterday (Wednesday) the sun rose at 5:49 AM and set at 9:50 PM making a "day" of 16.1 hours. This will continue until the 21st of June which will be longest day. That evening Paris turns itself in a concert hall because all over the city musicians - individuals, in small groups, or in orchestras will play music, in some cases all day, and most of the squares of the city will be turned into music and dance halls.

This evening the Fête de Velo (Bicycle Festival) was continuing; we watched the last 15 minutes of a bicycle race that took place on rue Edgar Quinet.

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