Why oh Why do I Love Paris?

Monday, June 16th, 2003 | Art, Family, Food, Friends, Travel

The people that I met and played with…

Sue Megan Bob Me Peter Luis
Chris Nico Clemence Lawrence Stan David
Fred Davide Art Kathleen Simone Etel

I love Paris when it sizzles, and it was sizzling. As in hot. I stayed with Bob in the Marais, in the apartment of his cousins, who live in New York and generously offered us the use of their pied a terre for the month of June. Bob is still there, working on his latest book of short stories which will be released in the fall. My friends Peter and Luis came along. Every morning Luis woke early, and with Bob, the other hunter-gatherer, scoured the streets of the Marais for pastries and fabulous cheeses, while Peter and I made tea and were supposed to plan where we were going to go that day, but mostly gossiped about Louis XVI’s foreskin or the decorative arts.

Here’s the rather bleak view from the apartment:

I lost three pounds on a diet of about 5 pastries/day, endless raw-milk cheeses, and lots of really great wine. (I call wine medicine now, since it’s been discovered that a glass a day is equivalent to exercise.)

On my first day there, I met up with my old photographer friend Chris Nisperos, who used to run Toto Foto on Castro in the mid-80’s before Headlines forced him to sell so that they could move in, and now lives in Paris with his cute boyfriend Nico, for a tour of the Marais, the Place de Vosges, and the area around the Bastille. We ate dinner at a bistro called Cafe de l’Industrie. The food was only so so, but the waitresses all looked like models, very exotic and sexy, with teeny waists and exposed pierced navals. The wine was cheap and good, though.

Food highlights included foie gras sandwiches and Berthillon ice cream (pear sorbet and caramel ice cream) on the Ile de la Cite, a dreamy Blanquette de Veau, greens with eggs and bacon, and a fabulous tarte tatin at Le Petit Tonneau near the Invalides, innovative and exquisitely crafted pastries from Pierre Herme on Rue Bonaparte (we spent about 50 euros) which included a tart of tomato and strawberry (!), and speaking of tomatoes as desserts, a tomato tarte tatin (!) at Les Philosophe in the Marais, and a thrilling new take on the classic bistro in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower at Au Bon Accueil, which had a prix fixe meal of only 25 euros–surely the best bargain in Paris for such an extraordinary meal.

I met up with 2 cute furry Italians, thanks to matchmaker Victor–Davide and Fred. I invited them to accompany me to see an exhibit at the Musee de la Mode et du Textile, in the Louvre, Trop, an exhibition of costume and fashion jewelry from the 20’s to the 60’s, taken from Barbara Berger’s collection, and dresses from throughout the 20th Century culled from the Museum’s collection. It was Davide’s first trip to Paris, and perhaps an exhibit not so suited to meeting someone new, but it was nice to get to know him and Fred, and we took a nice long walk through the Tuilleries, across the Seine and around to the Latin Quarter for lunch, and then back across the Seine to the Marais apartment. That afternoon I discovered the Carnavalet Museum, which I’d never thought of visiting before, but ended up spending the rest of the afternoon there, and a good bit of another day later in the trip. The museum is devoted to the history of Paris, in a 16th century mansion where Madame de Sevigne, whose letters created a rich source of insight into life in 17th century France, once lived. You can see Proust’s cork-walled bedroom, a whole wing devoted to the revolution, including mementos made of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette’s hair, a gorgeous Art Nouveau jewelry showroom designed for Georges Fouquet by Alphonse Mucha, with bronze peacocks, stained glass, mosaics, and four grand bubbled glass vitrines which display about one piece of jewelry each.

I didn’t visit the grand museums of Paris this time around, except for the Guimet, devoted to Asian art, and to me the most beautifully designed and organized museum that I’ve ever visited, the Pompidou Center, and the Cluny. The Guimet has a wonderful collection of art from an area of what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gandhara art, the first to give iconographic form to the Buddha’s life, shows the influence of Hellenic scultpture and art. In the grid below you can see a sculpture of one of George Bush’s more enlightened ancestors. At the Pompidou, I was thrilled to see myself reflected in Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse, one of my favorite sculptures. The Cluny not only has the amazing Lady and the Unicorn tapestries, but also one of the many sculptures I came across in France devoted to the genital mutilation of Christ–oh, and his umbilical cord. I also saw several smaller exhibitions, most memorably one devoted the the work of 16th century manuscript illuminator, Jean Fouquet (no relation to Georges) at the Bibliotheque National.

David Bigelman, a Cuban architect that I met while in Paris in ’99 before going to Havana, led me and Bob around one day through the Bagatelle garden, in the Bois de Bologne. David is working on several large projects, including the remodel of the Champs Ellyses, but works primarily in urban renewal. The garden surrounds a chateau built by Comte d’Artois for his sister-in-law, Marie Antoinette, and was designed in the English style by a Scottish gardener, Thomas Blaikie. The garden was host to an exhibition about labyrinths, and included documentation as well as actual reconstructions of famous mazes. I love the formality of the French garden, and how little it changes from season to season, but was totally won over by the annual rose competition, which transforms one of the smaller gardens into an hysterical explosion of color and scent.

Peter, who is visually impaired, was allowed to fondle the sculptures in most of the museums. I didn’t accompany him to the Louvre, but he reported being most impressed by the classical endowments. I had always heard that the Greeks found large packages to be vulgar, but who am I to rain on Peter’s parade of classical peters? There are several Herculeses that I’d be happy to guide him around.

I attended several lively dinners, one thrown by Art Bierman and Kathleen Fraser. Art is a writer and philospher, currently writing a play about a contemporary hermaphrodite. Kathleen, his wife, is a poet. They’re renting a place in Montparnasse for the summer, and had us over for paella. Simone Fatale and Etel Adnan were there. They split their time between Sausalito, Lebanon and Paris, and treated us to the story of how they got together, which involved a wild party at Simone’s, too many hash brownies, and three days’ “recouperation” in bed. Simone looks and acts just like what you think someone named Simone Fatale would look and act like–deep husky voice, eyelashes that create little breezes when batted at you. She just exhibited her recent sculptures in Paris, and Etel is having a play produced somewhere this summer, maybe Greece? Since dinner ended well after the last Metro, Art put us on a bus, unfortunately going in the wrong direction, so we ended up getting home rather late. Early, I mean. I had several lovely dinners in the 6th arrondissment with a friend of my sister’s, Lawrence. Sue, my sister, and our niece, Megan, who just graduated from high school, were also in town while I was there and were staying with Lawrence in her 5th floor walkup. Lawrence has lived in her 17th century building for about 20 years. Several years ago, she asked her landlord if she could expand her tiny little apartment by breaking into the attic. She cut a hole in her ceiling and expanded her tiny apartment into the space above her little abode, plus into the neighboring building, more than tripling her rental space. She explosed lovely old wooden beams and created a magical environment for her and her brilliant child, Clemence, who at 8, speaks fluent english, and is a total treat to be around. Lawrence’s husband died in a swimming accident several years ago, but was resucitated after being dead for something like 20 minutes. He has lost all of his long term memory, and lives in a hospital, but maintains ever-changing short-term relationships with them.

The bourgeoisie is dead. And buried at the Pere Lachaise cemetery (see picture below).

I did make it to the Bear’s Den, the Paris bear bar. For an orange juice. Bears are kind of skinny in Paris, or at least the ones who were prowling during my brief visit, and they don’t seem to have much hair. They do have the costumes, though. Could it be fair for me to draw such a conclusion from an hour during a weekday afternoon at the Bear’s Den? The bar is located on the corner of Rue Nicolas Flamel, which should mean something to you Harry Potter fans.

Obligitory shots of Notre Dame. That’s Saint Denis holding his head. When he was martyred, he picked up his chopped off head and carried it across town.

Sue, Megan and I took a day-trip to see the cathedral at Chartres. There really is such a thing as Chartres blue. We hiked up the 300 steps to the top of the high gothic north tower. From that perspective one really understands the monumental task of building such a structure. And way up there, where no one except the almighty Herself can see anything, there are beautifully carved sculptures in just about every nook and cranny. Where did that word “cranny” come from? Oh, there’s a picture in the middle of the last row of photos below of another rendering of the ritual genital mutilation of Christ, from the choir screen. I remember something in Sienna about St. Catherine wearing his foreskin as a ring in some marriage fantasy that she had about him. Would she simply be another urban primitive if she were alive today? The Bride of Christ, St. Catherine was cool, actually, she would pray so fervently that she frequently levitated.

So I really like Paris a lot. Rome has always been my favorite city in the world, and Italians my favorite people, but Paris was so lovely, the people so sweet (really), and the food so wonderful that I’m going to have to spend some more time there.

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