August 2015 – Paris part 1
August 1: Wow, today a journey begins with my partner in crime and life, Steve, friend since the tender age of 12 and just recently my husband….I have been known to say that this is our year-long honeymoon, though this trip was in planning long before we took the marital leap, it kinda got incorporated in the whole adventure in a round-about way.
Since reviving our friendship and love affair (it has been a circuitous journey, and a story that has had many intrigued or inspired, even occasionally teary as it has quite a cuteness factor, bit like baby duckling videos on social media…but that is a story for another time) we have frequently talked of travelling to various locales both overseas and around Australia.
After a few hiccoughs holding up our adventure, the Audax community came to the rescue and determined when and where our adventure begins: the city of love, of course! If you are wondering what Audax is (and you haven’t bothered with the link https://www.audax.org.au/public/index.php/about), the short answer is they are a community of mad cyclists that enjoy torturing themselves by riding excessive distances in short amounts of time. In this instance the famous Paris-Brest-Paris event that is run once every four years. What does it involve? Riding 1200 km over four days – well, actually you must complete within 90 hours to be deemed successful: madness! Steve will be doing this, along with about 5000 other cyclists that have had to gain entry by undertaking a series of rides in the previous 12 months covering various distances … but I will let Steve tell you all about that ( Steve – I don’t think I can write a better summary than this. http://stories.strava.com/parisbrestparis ) Meanwhile, taking the more sensible option, I will be heading to London with another friend of similar duration to visit son numero uno and have a Shakespearian interlude attending a performance of ‘As you like it’ – a much more cultured and civilised few days for us while our husbands punish their bodies.
But back to now – after a week of unrelenting rain in Perth in which we packed and reorganised our apartment in preparation for another friend to inhabit while we gadabout, we headed to the airport late afternoon for our Singapore Air flights, first stop Changi Airport, Singapore, then on to Paris after a quick pit stop – just 90 mins between flights. Have to admit to being a fan of the airline having flown with them a number of times, but not having flown with many others cannot really compare! We had a long night of travel as we chased the moon from Perth to Paris arriving a little weary at 7am August 2 (a few crying babies keeping us awake, but did catch up on quite a few movies – Amelie, Tomorrowland, The Age of Adeline, Insurgence and I’m sure there was something else, but it escapes me at present!)
August 2: So we have arrived at Charles De Gaulle, phew, and Steve has finally realised that to unpack the bike, attach the bike trailer containing all our luggage apart from two small cabin bags, and cycle to our apartment in Montparnasse while I travel to meet him there by train was perhaps not a good plan! So taxi it is, and Greg the driver turned out to be entertaining and helpful getting us to the apartment in good time where we met Michelle with the key to 23 Rue du Moulin Vert – street of the green mill…well, I haven’t spotted one, but it is in a great locale with boulangeries, bars and eateries in abundance and just a few minutes to the local Metro stop. Steve had dreamt of a typical French boulangerie on the corner, and there it is, with a magnificent variety of bread, pastries and cakes – ooh la la, there goes the waistline!
We are determined to prevent jet lag so after settling in, eating the obligatory Pain au Chocolat we set off in search of a velib bike station (Paris version of city hire bikes) so that I can join Steve on a short ride into central Paris and back…well we had originally planned riding over to the 12th Arrondissement, but ended up at Il de la Cite outside Notre Dame. Arrgh, I remember now why I dislike these bikes so much, they are heavy and awkward especially with much stopping and starting and I end up with bruises all around my right knee due to repeatedly hitting the locking mechanism as we stop and start. And it is hot – so I am getting grumpy, frustrated and tired as we navigate back to the apartment, hoping that we won’t be charged 150 euro for failing to return the bike properly (we have found the initial negotiating of touch screens confusing and difficult, but we are getting the hang of things slowly, and with help from friendly locals). I feel a little pathetic when I see so many people out and about on the velib bikes, and they all seem to find them easy to use. Oh well, we are going in search of a bike to purchase for me over the next few days so that we can explore Paris and the surrounding countryside from the saddle in somewhat more comfort. We have a month in Paris, so plenty of time to get to know this beautiful city which I spent a few days in 10 years ago, but is all new to Steve.
Late afternoon finds us back at Pont St Michel (one of the bridges across the Seine that leads to Notre Dame) meeting with Angelo, a friend from my Brisbane days and we find ourselves a bar to sit, enjoy a couple of drinks, watch the crowds wander by while we get tips for places to see and enjoy that he has visited over the past few days while in Paris. We are overlooking an impressive fountain war memorial (must find the name) and enjoy the ambience and company before heading back on the metro and dinner at a local bistro (expensive, and not so great, but we were tired and just needed to eat before heading home to a well-earned rest). Of course, with it being light until well after 9 pm we don’t get to bed particularly early, but we are delighted to find the bed comfortable, the shower hot, and we have everything we need for a great holiday home.
August 3: Five a.m. sees Steve up and getting ready to ride to Versailles as part of his training regime while I remain happily ensconced in bed for a few more hours of shut eye. When Steve returns we feast on fresh grapes, berries and yogurt washed down with filter coffee – it’s better than we expect! Being Monday we discover that many shops are shut (even our corner boulangerie!) and that our initial plan to search out a bicycle for me is stymied, so we rethink our day, find an open boulangerie and purchase a baguette so that we can picnic in the Jardin du Luxembourg. We learn more about how to navigate the metro and RER train system and spend a happy few hours wandering the gardens that are in full and colourful flower. I am thrilled to find a fabulous exhibition of works by four different artists in the Orangerie du Senat located within the grounds.
As you will have gathered, Steve’s great interest is cycling, and I enjoy it also when the bike is right, but my great passion is art – not a bad place to indulge both these interests. We both will be writing entries in this blog and you will find that our interests will determine what we write. Galleries in Europe tend to charge entry fees, so it was great to find a free exhibition, but not only that, it was inspiring and full of excellent works by contemporary artists. Ixia, a young French emerging artist, exhibited ‘Transpositions: un voyage feminin’ which was several series of works that had women as the subject of most paintings with backgrounds that were often geometric and abstract. One series was based on Alice in Wonderland where Alice was depicted at various ages and situations from the well know story. Ixia paints in oils, and her works had an unusual textural appearance. She told me that she used very small brushes to achieve the effect which was quite graphical and layered – almost like works in pastel or crayons. Given my interest in the depiction of women in art (see the group blog Women in Art WA [or WAWA as we like to be known]– I am an inaugural member of this emerging group back in Perth), I found Ixia’s works fascinating.
In the middle room of the Orangerie two male artists Christoff Debusschere and Christophe Charbonnel were presented. Debesschere’s works were dark interiors, both domestic and industrial, as well as some still life paintings – these I also found inspirational as they were in expressively representational works that had a quiet and restful presence. I loved the scale of the still life works that were large, simple and with darkened backgrounds enabling the subject of the paintings to be highlighted. He had deservedly won many awards for his beautifully executed works.
Charbonnel’s works were bronze sculptures – wonderfully textural and visceral depictions of often warlike figures. As a sculptor he works in clay plaster and bronze, and his figurative pieces are rough in finish, but beautifully formed and exhibit his original career as a designer and modeller for Walt Disney Studios in Montreal. Steve particularly like his work, and we were sorry that it was just beyond our means to purchase such impressive sculptural pieces.
In the final room Pascal Honore exhibited mixed media works, mostly inspired by pomegranates. I loved the effects that he achieved using layers of thin tissue paper, very liquid acrylic paint, crayon and inks. I just want to run my fingers over his works, they were so inviting and beautifully designed. There was a very strong design element, these works could easily be the basis for fabric designs for furnishings. I had the opportunity to talk with him as well as Ixia, so it was a great discovery during our visit to the gardens.
Of course we were also treated to a fabulous array of sculptures within the gardens – it was wonderful to see the series of twenty French female monarchs over the ages and I hope to find the time to research both the sculptures and their subjects sometime in the future – perhaps it will be the basis of one of my WAWA posts.
From there we walked to Cimitiere du Montparnasse where many luminaries including Simone du
Beauvoir, Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Beckett, Man Ray, Jean Seberg and guy de Maupassant to name a few are interred. We grabbed a map to guide us, however, being 34 degrees and a huge place to wander around, we soon tired and decided it was time to head home. A visit to the incredible Marks and Spencer store around the corner from our apartment further filled our pantry with goodies and we settled in for an evening at home enjoying some sparkling Pinot Grigio from Italy and British beers to accompany our tomato lentil pasta before collapsing in bed after a very hot day!
August 4: It is now nearly 11 am – I have been writing for a couple of hours while I wait for Steve to return from an 85 km training ride. It has cooled significantly and earlier it rained…I am hoping Steve is not terribly lost or lying in a ditch somewhere! We are yet to solve the getting local SIMs issue, so have no communication…I just trust the heavens to deliver him back safely before we start a new day of exploring. The plan is to find a bicycle and head for Montmartre – where else! More to come.