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Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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Monthly Archives: June 2014
I’m not good with goodbyes, so let’s just say, “I’ll see you soon, Paris.” Maybe again this year, but definitely next year either way, and hopefully one day forever.
I have a list of things to write about: the ways in which this trip changed me, the things I learned, the things I would do differently, the things I wouldn’t change for all the money in the world; hundreds more photos to share with you from two completely full 32gb memory cards; and two suitcases packed to the brim with things I swore fit on the way over here (omg why did I pack six black turtlenecks and thirteen dresses?).
I have a list of things I am going to miss desperately about Paris. But in trying to focus on the positive, a list of things I am excited to return to in America: 1. DONUTS (Donuts here, when you can find them, are €2/ea and I’m sorry, are not actually donuts like the ones you get at Dunkin. My taste is so high class). 2. Absorbent paper towels. 3. Drawstring trash bags. 4. People who know how to share a sidewalk properly. 5. Obviously Jamal and Fitz. 6. But seriously, donuts.
I might never have two months alone in Paris again, but I’ll always have these two months in Paris alone. That counts for something.
I don’t want to talk about it.
The night before Jamal arrived, I decided it was too beautiful a night to stay inside, but, having already eaten, I was sort of at a loss for what to do. I know that sounds crazy, given that I’m in Paris and therefore have a million different options when it comes to how to fill my time, chief amongst them is just walking around. I usually walk down to the Pont du Carrousel, between the Louvre and Saint-Germain, or up to Sacré Cœur and around Montmartre in the evenings if my legs are feeling twitchy for a good amble. But on this night, I realized the spectacular sunset we were no doubt in store for would be best seen from the Arc. For €9,50 and two hundred and eighty four winding stairs, you get to experience the breathtaking view from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.
You might be wondering, “Why didn’t you wait until Jamal got there so he could experience it too, you heartless wench?” Well, fun fact about Jamal: he is terrified of heights! A story: when we came to Paris in 2012, we drunkenly decided to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower after dinner one night, not taking into account my fear of elevators and his fear of heights. It could not have been more ridiculous. “Get me off this elevator, get me off this elevator, open the doors, open the doors, ohmygodokay I’M OUT SWEET FREEDOM.” “I want to get back on the elevator, I want to get back on the elevator, ohmygod DON’T GO NEAR THE ERIN WHAT ARE YOU DOING.” So I thought, in the interest of not traumatizing my dear sweet fiancé, this was an adventure I could best take on solo. So I went, and I got to the top after 9pm (9pm!! That is how bright it was!) and stayed there, gawking from all sides, for close to two hours. It is surprisingly chilly up there, and while there were of course a bunch of tourists, there were a lot less than I expected, and only once or twice did I have to awkwardly duck as someone was selfie-ing with one of those retractable monopods kids these days use to get A Premium Selfie Angle. I left at around 10:45 and took the bus back home, and I regretted not staying until 11 to watch La Tour sparkle (I made up for that on the summer solstice, though).
I realized the only other restaurant I’ve written about so far on this trip was Le Bonaparte, and that was only to share how disappointing (though pretty!) it was. I hesitate to do a “Paris Guide” since the internet is saturated with them at this point, but if you ever find yourself in Montmartre around 5pm in need of a drink, you need (repeat: vous avez besoin!) to go to La Bascule. A small, corner bar with a tapas menu and walls of wine bottles, Jamal and I found ourselves here three nights in a row for their killer happy hour specials. The bartenders are exceedingly nice, there is always decent music, the ambiance is perfect, and it is somehow never too crowded to grab a stool and hang out for an hour or two. Jamal fell in love with the curry green olives they bring you to snack on, and I fell hard for their perfect piña colada. I know, a piña colada in Paris? Trust me on this one. We’ve also had their fresh margaritas and mojitos, for which they hand-crush ice and muddle fresh mint and strawberries.
How cute is that cheeky rosé poster? The slogan of the French republic is “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” but I much prefer this version. The original tile floors and chandelier are such sumptuous details you’d never find in a bar in the states.
The vibe of La Bascule is hip without being pretentious, and is so local that we saw the same cast of characters every night we went. I’ve even stopped in for a €3 glass of rosé on my own just to sit by the open windows and write. On our first trip, a girl at the (teensy) bar next to us handed the bartender her credit card to pay, and Jamal and I noticed it was from the same bank we both use. Turns out, she was a fellow Pennsylvanian! What are the odds? You heard it here first: Pennsylvanians love La Bascule.
La Bascule, 24 Rue Durantin, Montmartre 75018 / Happy Hour 5-8pm daily / Wine €3, Beer €4, Cocktails €5
Before we made it to Honfleur, we stopped for a few hours in Rouen, seeing as it was on the way on the A13. In theory, it’s on the way on the A13, that is. In actuality, we got horribly lost both entering and exiting Rouen, since the town is divided into two halves, much like Paris, with the Seine cutting right through it. That’s right, the Seine. The same Seine that flows through Paris snakes its way all the up north to the coast and into the English Channel at Le Havre. Rouen is bigger than Honfleur, but has the same sort of feel to it–the same architecture, crooked houses, quaint shops and restaurants. We pulled in to a parking garage at around 11am and were on the road again by 1pm, leaving us just enough time to wander the immediate downtown, including visiting the Rouen Cathedral (which has an AMAZING light show that we weren’t able to catch. Next time!), having quiche and a tarte au citron at an outdoor café, and stumbling upon a huge farmer’s market and flea market rolled into one.
The market was such a treat. In addition to stands of farm-fresh eggs and milk, fresh produce, and meats, there were hundreds of vendors selling antique furniture and old books and bits and bobs. We browsed the old boxes of postcards and letters, and I sincerely regret not buying any. We bought a tea-scented bar of handmade provincial soap, and as we were strolling up one aisle, we both said, “Do you smell that? It smells like a strawberry candle or something.” No no. Turns out, it was a stand selling actual strawberries, emanating the strongest, most luscious scent from the fresh berries piled in baskets on the table. We didn’t buy any of those, either, and we both regret that, too.
We were in Rouen long enough just to get our feet wet, and as we were driving out of town we both agreed we have to come back one day.
I don’t know why either of us were surprised, but Honfleur is adorable. We spent exactly 24 hours in this tiny portside town and were charmed at every turn. From the narrow, winding cobblestone streets, to the largest church made out of wood in France, to our boutique hotel and all the drinking and eating in between, I can’t recommend it enough if you come to France. Honfleur is nestled along the water in the Normandy region, about two hours northwest of Paris, making it the perfect weekend getaway. You know, assuming you can brave a Parisian car rental agency, Parisian roads (the Arc de Triomphe circle HAS NO TRAFFIC LIGHTS), French highways, getting lost on French highways, etc. At certain points, it felt like Jamal and I were reenacting this scene from “Clueless.” Oh, and he had an eye infection, too, so add that into the mix.
But he was a champ, and the trip was entirely his doing –from picking a town to reserving the car and the hotel. We stayed in a suite at the Hotel l’Ecrin, and while it was a total splurge, it was worth it just to have a wooden spiral staircase to the bedroom. The service was top-notch and the grounds and shared spaces were gorgeous. There was a pool, and a billiard room, and a spa, none of which we got to try. But that only means that we have to go back one day. We both agreed when we checked in that the hotel would be a beautiful spot for a wedding, and sure enough, when we left on Sunday, there was a reception in the back garden.
Normandy, aside from being the site of a major battle in WWII, is also famous for its production of apple cider and Calvados, an apple brandy, something we definitely got a taste for during our stay. Because Honfleur was spared during the WWII bombings, and later liberated by Allied Forces, there are reminders small and large around the city of the Honfleurais’ gratitude — “Welcome to Our Liberators!” was printed on one gift shop window, as the 70th anniversary of D-Day was the week before we arrived, and there was even a tall monument carved into a thick slab of stone near Notre-Dame de Grâce church. We stopped for drinks along the port, tried (and failed) to make friends with a Golden Retriever who lived at an ice cream stand, ate a lot of cheese, hiked to the tippy top of le Mont-Joli hill to take in the view, and I found my dream home (that last photo)!. Doesn’t it look like something out of Harry Potter? I wanted to move in to that top spire.
For dinner, we had the hotel make reservations at Au Relais des Cyclistes, a wholly unfussy local restaurant just off the main strip along the harbor (another one of Jamal’s finds!), where I had the most delicious vegetable soup (I’m still thinking about it) and a grilled salmon steak. With dessert, my three-course meal was under €14. Or, you know, the price of one plate in Paris.
We were sad to leave and, admittedly, the noise level back in Paris was startling to both of us upon re-entry. The only sounds we heard from our hotel room in Honfleur were the occasional bird or crunch of gravel. I’m a city mouse through and through, but sometimes even city mice need a little break. Thanks, Jamal!
Other Fun Details of Note: French highways have designated toll lanes for credit card payments, in addition to cash and the equivalent of an EZ-Pass. You drive up, swipe your credit card, and go. Take note, America! Also, French radio stations play the most random assortment of music. We heard Pink Floyd, Montell Jordan’s “Get It On Tonight,” salsa, Cœur de Pirate, and lots of indeterminable French. Also also, it took us 1h45m to get from Honfleur to Paris, and another 2hrs to drive through the city, get gas, and drop the car off. We don’t have a car back in Philly, either, but I can’t imagine how people do it in Paris.
I love my neighborhood. The energy is infectuous. True, there are so many tourists on the main drag of Rue des Abbesses and all around Sacre Cœur, but on any of the side streets you’ll find absolute quiet, with tiny local bars, quaint houses, and even some grit and graffiti. I love it up here, the little village the hill. The light is gorgeous and the narrow, steep streets are great workout and almost (almost!) justify the nutella crêpes I insist on eating regularly.
Jamal left this morning (SADDEST OF SAD FACES) and while we did a fair amount of wandering around other parts of the city (and country, actually! Photos from our trip to Normandy coming on Friday), we mostly hung out in Montmartre. It’s the best here. But it’s better when he’s here, too.
A random assortment of photos all taken around 8pm on different days, mostly along the Seine, to show off my favorite thing about this city: that light.
Last week I attended my second auction at Sotheby’s. Oh, did I not mention the first one? Back in May I went to an afternoon sale of Objets d’Art et Mobilier, where I got to wander around the building taking notes, feeling positively giddy that they let anyone (literally, anyone) attend any auction they want. Even silly American writers who aren’t going to bid on anything and are there for book research! I doubt they would have let me in the door had they known the premise of my book is that, in a nutshell, an employee was able to make off with fourteen pieces of art over the course of two years from their private sales division and no one caught on. Ahem. I promise I wasn’t casing the joint.
The first auction was to get my toes wet in preparation for the big evening sale I attended last week, Art Impressioniste et Moderne. I wanted to figure out how everything worked with the first, smaller sale, and get all my googly-eyed staring out of the way, so that I could attend the big auction and look cool, casual, and like I belonged. I’m not sure I was successful (when people are tossing around €8-12 MILLION on art, it’s hard to act unfazed), but having now attended two auctions I feel like a bit of an insider. The main attraction of the Art Impressioniste et Moderne sale was a painting by Amadeo Modigliani. Here’s a video Sotheby’s made prior to the sale about the painting of Paul Alexandre, Modigliani’s first patron:
Contrary to what I expected, and I think what the general perception of auctions in pop culture has lead us to believe, the auctioneer never moved at lightning speed. There was ample time for each lot, to allow for bids made by phone for the clients who were either international or wished to remain anonymous, bids in the room, and bids made online. Yes, you can bid on almost any Sotheby’s auction online. The auctioneer made having to juggle all those factors look effortless, unhurried. He was patient with each of the phone representatives (of whom he knew every name) as they tried to talk their clients into bidding higher. He slipped back and forth between French and unaccented English fluidly the entire sale. He cracked jokes! People in the got up and left whenever they felt like it, or crossed the aisle to talk to fellow bidders. I imagine the art world is small enough that everyone sort of knows everyone. Buyer’s representative, gallery owners, collectors, they all see enough of each other at these auctions that they almost become social events.
Auctions don’t play a major role in my book, but I needed access to the building to get enough of the details right, and while they let the general public attend auctions, I don’t know if they would have let me just wander in without a reason. So I took as many mental notes as possible; the stairs were different than I imagined them. The offices are all contained on one floor. The layout is different, the lobby doors swing open both ways and are heavy as hell. All of those little details that I wouldn’t have known had I not gone, and that I wanted to get right for the story.
It was one of the neatest experiences I’ve had since being here, and I really recommend going to an auction, if you can. Despite the myths surrounding them, there is no way you can scratch your nose or cough at an inopportune moment and end up buying a $3 million dollar sculpture. Everyone has to pre-register to bid, and they don’t hand out paddles to any old schmo.
Other Paris Details of Note: JAMAL arrives this afternoon! We are driving to Honfleur tomorrow morning, on the Normandy coast, and staying for the weekend. It’s considered “one of the cradles of Impressionism” and was the birthplace to painter Eugène Boudin. I can’t wait! (Also, Driving on French highways. Going to be an adventure!)
There are many great identifying debates in this world where people take a hard line; you’re either a Democrat or a Republican, a morning person or a night owl, an introvert or an extrovert, love cheese or you’re wrong. Chief amongst these choices is the wholly Parisian struggle of Right Bank (Rive Droite) or Left Bank (Rive Gauche). With the Seine river dissecting the city almost evenly into two parts, Parisians are firmly in one camp or the other (or so I’m lead to believe. This has not been confirmed because I’m too afraid to conduct a random survey of Parisians). The Right Bank, which was historically the wealthier side of the city, has the Louvre, the Champs-Élysées, the Jardin des Tuileries, the Arc de Triopmphe, Montmartre (eventually, once it was incorporated), and Canal Saint-Martin. The Left Bank, which was the haunt of many a literary hero (Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Joyce and Sartre) has the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d’Orsay, Saint-Germain and hundreds of little galleries, the Jardin du Luxembourg, and the Musée Rodin. It’s an age-old question to which there is seemingly no right answer. Take a side (bank), and you’re giving up a ton of amazing arrondissements and sites. I’m staying in Montmartre again this trip, and I think I’m mostly a Right Bank girl. Except for the Eiffel Tower. And the Rodin gardens. And the Orsay. And Saint-Germain. Oh god, don’t make me pick sides! C’est impossible a choisir!
Recently, I’ve been spending a ton of time on la Rive Gauche. Specifically, the pocket of the city right behind the Musée d’Orsay and west down toward Saint-Germain that hugs the quai along the Sein. It isn’t quite the neighborhood of Saint-Germain, as it’s still the 7eme arrondissement. I love it there. It’s quiet, leafy, and the architecture blends beautifully from the grand Haussmannian buildings to the crooked streets and artsy shops off Rue de l’Université. It’s magic back there, and always under-populated with tourists, who prefer the main drag of Boulevard Saint-Germain a little farther south. These are just a few photos.
Other Paris Details of Note: Yesterday I hit a big milestone: 70k words. In a moment of exhaustion and self-doubt, I thought, “What if counting quantity is perhaps not the best indicator of legitimate progress?” But then I remembered that no book is ever written in the first draft, and I have to have something down on the page to work with. And besides, if numbers and milestones weren’t important or a decent way to track progress, marathon runners could say, “You know, I don’t need to run all 26 miles. I ran my best for the first five. I’m done now.” People like quantifiable victories. This is a huge one for me.
My favorite thing to do on a Friday night here is the same thing I like to do at home: go to the museum. Most people go out, go drinking, don a cute outfit. Me? I grab my Louvre membership and walk over at around 7:30. On Wednesdays and Fridays the museum stays open until close to 10pm. Aside from the neat feeling that I am being sneaky being allowed in there so late, the crowds are virtually non-existent, and it’s amazing. I headed (of course) to the Richelieu wing on this particular trip, and stumbled upon a room of Rubens, 24 giant canvases in an enormous, domed room, with! with! people from an art class (unconfirmed if this was an École du Louvre class or not) sitting all around and sketching. It was enchanting to watch them work.
And that giant hall of statues with multiple levels and trees inside and the pitched roof? There is another one mirroring it directly across from it. The scale of this place is overwhelming.
JAMAL arrives this Friday afternoon (!!!), and our activity for that evening includes…going to the Louvre, where I get to bring a free guest after 6pm. I’ve mentioned already that this membership was an economical purchase as well as a necessary one, and it is: it’s paid for itself twice over already.