Saturday, June 29

I visit the Musée du Luxembourg to see a Chagall exhibit. I visit the Marais and take a ride on the Seine on a boat taxi. I have a nice dinner in a restaurant on rue Mouffetard.

Woo hoo! Just booked a day trip to the Loire valley on Monday to see some châteaux.

06h41 - 07h57 TGV train Gare Montparnasse -> Tours
09h15 - 18h30 Van excursion with guide to 4 châteaux, lunch in Amboise
20h01 - 21h19 TGV train Tours -> Gare Montparnasse

It was just a tiny bit difficult navigating the TGV web site in French, but not too bad.

It appears that you can book TGV trips on a web site in English, but there's a surcharge. There's an "English" button on the TGV site, but it appears to be a no-op because you still get everything in French. So I fumbled around for an hour or so trying to buy a stupid train ticket.

Part of the confusion is that European credit cards have chips in them, and ours don't. So our cards don't work in automatic ticket machines in the train stations here. Travel in the civilized world can be a bit of a pain when you come from a third-world backwater like the States. Why can't our credit cards have smart chips in them like in Europe? Is that too much to ask? But I was able to use my card to pay for the ticket online. I'll have to go the counter and deal with an actual human being (horrors!) to get my ticket at the train station. I think. I'm pretty sure. Wish me luck!

I did get a confirmation email, in French of course. That's reassuring. Of course, that email had to go all the way to NU's servers in Evanston, then back across the Atlantic to me here in Paris. Took a few extra milliseconds.

I think there's supposed to be a discount for over-60 folks like me. I selected that option anyway on one of the confusing web pages. It also appears to be a no-op, or there was some kind of "operator error" on my part. Ça ne fait rein.

TGV could use some help from one of our fine American web site designers, though.

The tour company I used had an English version web site that was a piece of cake to navigate, and I got a confirmation email from them too. I pay them when I get to Tours. I'll give them cash.

Finally some good weather in Paris! Up to 70 today, and highs in the 70s for the coming week.

I'm off to see Chagall at Musée du Luxembourg, then to the Marais for a walking tour. There's a Picasso museum in the Marais, but unfortunately it's closed for renovations.

On the 10 minute walk to the museum I was stopped three times by French people asking for directions. You'd think I lived here or something. The first couple wanted to find some "college", which is a school roughly like our junior highs. I didn't know it, so we tried my wonderful map app, which unfortunately didn't know about it either. But it was fun talking to them. The second fellow on Blvd St Michel was looking for the Panthéon, which I told him was a few streets down the blvd and to the left. Mission accomplished. A third couple was looking for the museum to see Chagall, just like me. We managed to locate it without much trouble together. All of these conversations were in French, of course.

My French is still, shall we say, somewhere in the neighborhood of the opposite of fluent, but I'm getting so much better at it every day. This is enormously encouraging. These encounters with various shopkeepers and strangers is exactly what I needed to get better. With the intensive class coming up, I can only hope to be getting quite good by the fall.

Experienced my first faire la bise, with a bum in the Marais that I gave all my change to. It was a double-double, twice on each cheek. His breath was not at all the freshest. He was a little unsteady on his feet and managed to knock my glasses off at the end. I must have given him lots of money. "Merci, monsieur, merci, merci. Je peux manger, je peux manger." (Thank you, sir, thank you, thank you. I can eat. I can eat.") This was approximately four bises too many, a handshake would have done nicely, thanks anyway.

The sun has finally come out and it's a beautiful day in the most beautiful city.

Saw another poster. Free outdoors Chopin concert in Jardin du Luxembourg in the hood tomorrow at 5 pm. Take a bottle of wine, some cheese, charcuterie, and a baguette and listen to some music? Sounds like a plan. Un pique-nique!

From the poster: Cinq concerts qratuits en plein air, chaque dimanche, du 16 juin au 14 juillet à 17h.

I've had a few encounters with arrogance and meanness, but very few. The overwhelming majority of the people I've talked to have been extremely friendly. Humorous. Polite. "Gentil" is the French word. Talking to the people in French, even my bad French, helps a little bit, I think.

The Musée du Luxembourg. A fantastic Chagall exhibit. It was very nice to be able to read all the signs, all about his life between the two wars and how his painting evolved over that time.

And a great quote on the wall, something along the lines of "Don't call my work fantastic, it's the real world I see and paint."

The marie du sixième arrondissement, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, encountered on my walk from the museum to the train station. This building is interesting to me because my old boss Ben Mittman from 30 years ago had an exhibit here six or so years ago, of his fabulous black-and-white photographs documenting the ten year reconstruction of Pont Neuf. He got permission to go up in the scaffolding with the stone masons and sculptors and take their pictures. How cool would that be? I saw his exhibit in Chicago at the Alliance Française and it was extraordinary. Ben's also the one who told me about Montaigne's shiny toe on rue des Écoles.

A synagogue in the Marais. There was a large Jewish population here before the war, but the Nazis killed nearly everyone in the camps. It has grown back. The building on the right with the curtain in the doorway is the synagogue, "Synagogue Beit Yossef". The building on the left is a Torah school for children.

I'm from Chicago. I had to stop here for lunch. When I told the shopkeeper that I was from Chicago, he said "Chicago! Cowboys!". I said no cowboys, Obama. He said "I like Obama. He's an honest man." We then discussed haute cuisine. I told him that in Chicago we NEVER put ketchup on hot dogs. He found this very interesting.

As I left the stand holding my hot dog, a cute little girl saw it and got very excited. She looked up at me with the biggest grin I've ever seen. So I bent down and said "Ah oui, c'est bon, n'est-ce pas?" Her Mom smiled and rolled her eyes a little bit.

Hôtel de Ville. The crowd is in line to go to a haute couture fashion show.

Went down to the river and saw this sign, so I decided to take a water taxi ride. Went all the way downriver to the Eiffel tower and then back up to Notre Dame. These aren't tour boats, they're just taxis. The trip took a little over an hour.

Had fun imaging that I was Ethan Hawke in the movie Before Sunset, where most of the film takes place on a water taxi like this one. The only thing I needed to complete the illusion was Julie Delpy. But you can't really stand up in the bow of the boat like they did in the movie. The spray would soak you to the skin in minutes.

Boarding the boat. That's Île St. Louis in the background.

About to go under, you guessed it, Pont Neuf.

Nice views of the trees and buildings above the river.

The Eiffel Tower as seen from the river.

Passing under Pont d'Iéna. About at this point I saw and heard some French teenagers being really snotty to their parents. Nice to know that's a universal, at that age all parents dread.

Beautiful artwork on Pont de la Concorde. You can only see it from the river.

It's fun going under the bridges.

Wonder what that great big "N" stands for? :-)

Coming into shore at my final destination.

Just a short walk home from here. I don't need my map app anymore - my feet know the way.

Unfortunately, no matter from which direction you approach my apartment, it's uphill, because I'm at the top of the hill on which the Panthéon sits.

Look at the little people above the wall along the river. Now look at Notre Dame. That's some great big old church there. With quite a bit of history too, going way way back. Amazing. Almost destroyed several times. It's a good thing that it survived, I think.

I once climbed to the top of that tower on the left. Great view of the whole city. Narrow spiral stone staircase straight out of Victor Hugo, with hemispheres worn into each step by all the people going up and down. But once was enough. Not on this trip.

A store on rue Monge I think Jeremy would like called "Games in Blue". They sell tarot cards too. Interesting place.

A "demi" fresh from the boulangerie, a small baguette just the right size for one person or a single serving, plus a fresh bottle of that good Bordeaux haut médoc. I saw Boeuf Bourgoigne on the menu at a restaurant on the mouf and may go try some later to compare it to the Julia Child version I make at home. But the dinner hour here isn't for another three hours, and I need something to hold me over.

Did indeed have a good dinner in that restaurant on the mouf. Six escargots for "l'entrée" (appetizer), boeuf bourgoigne for "le plat principal" (main course), a charlotte au chocolat for "le dessert", and a coffee. All for only 14,50€, less than $19, tax and tip included. The escargots were good, especially when I slopped up the extra juice and spices with bread, although I would have preferred more garlic in the sauce. The beouf bourgoigne was a nice beef stew in a wine sauce with vegetables and a bit of salad. Not at all up to Julia's standards, not even the same thing, but at that price it was more than I expected. The dessert was very good indeed, with a smooth chocolate center wrapped in a cake outside, with a crème anglaise sauce. The menu offered the usual salads and cheese plates for "dessert", but I've been doing more than enough salad and cheese lately, so I went with the sinful charlotte. Sat outside at one of those tiny tables and watched the crowds walk by on a perfect sunny early evening. Got there just about 7, which was the right time because there were plenty of tables but by 8 when I left the place was packed.

Had a little fun with the waiter. Being as he is a very busy and very important Frenchman, he forgot what I had ordered for dessert. So he stuck his head around the corner and demanded that I tell him again. For fun, I said "charlotte au chocolat" as fast as I could, trying to imitate a Parisian, who takes about a millisecond to spit this out. He repeated it at about the same speed, then gave me a puzzled look as if to say "a marginally less stupid American". You've got to love French waiters and pretend that they don't really despise your very existence, it's just them being who they are. (It's no accident that the French verb for "ask" is "demander")

On my way back I paused in Place de la Contrescarpe and watched the accordion player and the acrobats perform for tips. The massage-for-tips people were also doing a brisk business. Noticed that "very happy hour" (according to the sign) at Rollin's Pub on the corner was getting into full swing for the evening. Nice!