Wednesday, July 1, 2009
We awakened to yet another sultry day in Paris; this time, however, we made certain to leave the hotel while it was still somewhat cool. Today was devoted to the Marais, a district that spans the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. For me, it was love at first sight (I'm not too sure about Rod). I read that the area fell into decline after WWII; in the last fifteen years, though, it has made an extraordinary comeback. The Jewish community is once again thriving; chic shops and restaurants are everywhere; a hip gay scene can be found in the southern portion of the district, while the Chinese have claimed another corner. It has all the energy of the Bastille but without the graffiti and trash. I also think it's much more interesting architecturally.
First we went to the Musée Carnivalet, a terrific institution devoted to the history of Paris from the Middle Ages through the early twentieth century. For someone like myself who is enamored of material history it was bliss. Some of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century paintings are very good, but one doesn't attend this museum for aesthetic quality; rather, the canvases and objects provide an overview of how Paris changed over time. We loved the models of bridges; the shop signs (some dating back to the eighteenth century); the strange bric-a-brac from the French Revolution; even the recreation of Proust's study. Many interiors, including some frescoes, were donated to the museum from old homes that were razed when Baron Haussman set about systematically destroying medieval Paris to make way for his sweeping boulevards and monumental edifices. We were enchanted as we flowed from one domestic interior to another, taking in beautiful furniture and objects. Several well-known paintings and busts of actors and mimes are included in the collection, and I was pleased to see the museum pays particular attention to performers and artists.
We were so entranced by the collection that it was nearly 2.30 when we realized we hadn't eaten since early this morning. Using our intrepid Time Out guide, we hiked over to Breizh Café, a Breton-style crêperie that turned out to be very popular with the fashionistas in the neighborhood. It was just the thing for a hot day: we both ordered galettes, essentially chewy buckwheat crepes topped with various fixings. Mine was a mixture of salad, smoked salmon, and a poached egg. It sounds strange but was actually quite delicious. Rod's galette featured salad and melted roquefort. During lunch, I eavesdropped on the table of hip designers and fashion buyers next to us, an international mix of Europeans and Chinese. I was especially amused by the young Asian women moaning about the "deplorable" state of fashion in Hong Kong.
All that talk of clothing tempted me to hit some of the excellent sales in the Marais. In other parts of Paris, the shops haven't invited; here one sees interesting boutiques featuring striking but affordable clothing. The sales are very good--50% reductions on average--with a further reduction of 17% for non-E.U. citizens such as myself. The stifling heat, however, made the thought of trying on clothing simply unbearable.
I also decided that I wanted pots and pans more than clothing, which says volumes about me. So after lunch, we took the metro to Les Halles to visit E. Dehillerin, the high temple of fancy cookware. It was everything I imagined and more: never have I seen copper pans or stock pots of that quality. Easily I could have bankrupt myself; as it is, I splurged on several pieces, which are being shipped back to the States tomorrow. The staff were unfailingly courteous and helpful. I can see this will be a recurrent vice on future trips to Paris. My only consolation is that the pieces are about half of what one pays in the U.S.
We're back at our hotel, resting and reading. We've fallen into the pattern of having a late lunch, followed by light snacks (fruit, cheese) in the evening. Again, the heat has rendered the prospect of a substantial dinner fairly revolting. And after the week of culinary excess on the QMII, neither one of us wants complicated three-course dinners. At least from the perspective of food, this trip has turned into "Paris light."