By Daniel Bender
When I decided to go to Paris to visit friends during the last weeks of January there were two things that I could never imagine: 1) That it would be fashion week and 2) That it would be warm enough to have flowers blooming in the parks and gardens all over Paris!
Square du Temple- Elie Wiesel. The view of this city park exemplifies the surprisingly wonderful weather in Paris.
With a little over 9 hours of sunlight per day, I had expected to be greeted by a cold, gray and bleak city. Instead, I found daily temperatures in the 40s and 50s and beautiful brilliant sunshine. The trees were budding and flowers popping up in the gardens and parks throughout the entire city. What a pleasure it was to walk the city amidst the greenery and recycled Christmas trees to the fragrance of early spring croci and recently planted cyclamen. Thinking back on the Chicago that I had left behind, I felt elated and renewed.
The first duty on all of my trips to Paris is to greet the city by visiting Notre Dame de Paris and sitting inside the church bathed in the colors of the stained glass windows. It is Notre Dame more than the Eiffel Tower that is the real Paris to me, and the culmination of the French cultural spirit since its beginnings in 1163. None of you are unaware of what I found on this trip- a crippled ruin hidden from view by tarps and scaffolding. My heart sank. The cranes were not moving. There were no workers in view. It seemed as if nothing was being done to restore my icon of Paris.
Notre Dame du Paris – The aftermath of the fire.
The explanations of the reconstruction on view were simplistic and did not answer all my questions about when it would be done. I found two wonderful articles in Science News (January 18, 2020) that explained the complexity of the process. Scientists are studying the acoustical properties of the cathedral and how to bring any restoration in compliance with the acoustical studies done by Brian Katz in 2013. Organ music and liturgical chant were written with the specifics of this space in mind and “the roots of modern Western music may have been shaped by the acoustics of Norte Dame.” The composition of the lead, the origins of the limestone, the weight and quality of ancient wood all contribute to the tonal “structure” of the church.
The intense heat of the fire had melted the lead roof, burned the timbers, changed the structure of the still standing stones, and oxidized lead had sprayed and damaged much of the remaining structure. Sadly, it will take years of study before any attempt at restoration can possibly begin. Where will I go now?
Bouillon in Pigalle was awarded the best Egg Mayonnaise in Paris and is one of the top bistros in Paris according to the NYT.
The New York Times recently had published an article on the revival of bistro culture in Paris. I love bistro food especially for lunch after a busy morning in museums. As you can imagine every bistro mentioned now has long lines of natives and tourists clambering for the delicious food. I tried to visit Bouillon in Pigalle for their award-winning “egg mayonnaise” one Sunday morning. Egg mayonnaise is a humble dish of two or three 61/2 minute eggs on a bed of lettuce with a covering of delicious homemade mayonnaise. Delicious and how much more French could you get? Of course, the wait was over an hour to get in at noontime so I sought another source to feed my cravings.
Rouge Bis (across from the Moulin Rouge) was filled with locals having lunch.
Directly across from the Moulin Rouge is a simple local bistro called Rouge Bis. Free of tourists, it attracted a Sunday crowd of families and neighbors. Their egg mayonnaise was delicious but their braised lamb was outstanding: perfectly cooked au jus and served over a bed of fresh vegetables. So delicious and yet so healthy—I was very pleased.
Fashion Week at the Ritz.
Call me pedestrian, but I love the food at the Ritz and I try to have lunch and dinner there a few times whenever I am in the city. This time, lunch threw me into the midst of Fashion week and a world truly foreign to me. Now, I know nothing about fashion but I do appreciate beauty when I see it. Models being moved about by their handlers often dressed in black grunge and buyers and their entourage were seen everywhere after the events. The Ritz displayed some of the more conservative and formal wear in the hotel for the guests to see. They were lovely.
More elegant designs from Fashion Week.
I decided to go along with the theme of the week and visit the Musee des Arts Decoratif and its partner, the Musee Nissim de Camondo. The MAD has a massive collection of porcelain, sculpture and objet d’arts covering centuries. Serendipitously, its curator spoke this week about its collection to the Antiquarian Society at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Modern-day high heels.
Shoes/sandals from India with a more penitential bent.
MAD’s special exhibition now is on shoes, displaying some thousands of years old to the present day. I was reluctant to take this in but the guard insisted that I see it before she would let me into the main part of the museum. She was right it was very interesting and I thank her for forcing me to do this. The Musee Nissim is a private home of one of the major turn of the century collectors who, upon his death, donated his house and its contents to France in memory of his son, Nissim, killed in WWI. The house abuts the Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement and showcases his love of Louis XVI furnishings and opulent silver from Catherine the Great. It is a “do not miss” museum if you are interested in the decorative arts and furniture.
The Petit Palais now has a wonderful Courbet exhibition contrasted with the works of Yan Pei-Ming that will be open until the end of March. Unfortunately, the El Greco exhibit at the Grand Palais just closed. I had studied El Greco for years and thought I had seen all his important works, but this exhibition with many oeuvres from private collections was revelatory. Although small—about 75 works—it had jewels that opened your eyes to some of the subtleties of the artist.
Paris is always so changing and filled with so much diversity that one can never know it all, but we should try, shouldn’t we? I am already planning my next trip.