Friday, September 21, 2018

My Paris Pilgrimage #11

17 to 21 September:  Jardin du Luxembourg and Fountainebleu Country

It's Friday the 21st and I have a fairly quiet morning planned, but the day will get more exciting later today! I have plans to take the D2 RER train from Gare de Lyon to Boussy-Saint-Antoine where my REALLY longtime friend, Guy Cercley and his wife, Noelle, will pick me up. They have asked me to stay the night and return to Paris tomorrow, late in the day. I don't know what will transpire, but I do know that my French conversation skills will be sorely strained! I'm happy to have had a few visits with Sylviane to practice!

This week also marked a couple of days of having the apartment cleaned and some electrical work being done (kitchen and bathroom are now well lit!). By the time I leave, everything will be perfect!  (LOL)

So, now, let's backtrack: on Monday, the 17th, I walked quite a ways to the Jardin du Luxembourg. The park was incredibly beautiful and I spent quite a bit of time there, journaling and watching people. This garden is famous for the pond where children can sail rented sailboats across the pond, but none were to be found there on the day I visited. I did find a lovely blog about it and posted it to FB. My major takeaways from that day were that the excesses of the rich and their abuses of the poor created a whole lot of beauty in Paris. Today, that beauty is available to the common folk, but what of the origins? Are we, in the U.S., to bemoan the fact that we don't have huge castles and palaces and ramparts that have stood for hundreds of years that were initially built by the sweat and blood of those who were hungry? Do the plantations of our South and the grand mansions of our rich that still stand and are now museums (Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Hearsts, etc.) provide the same kinds of history to us that these parks and palaces provide to the French and others in Europe?  I really don't know the answer--but the opulence of the history I see all around me in Paris certainly make me think about the question.

One of the things I learned early in this trip and that has stayed with me is this: The city of Paris was not bombed during WW2. That fact alone has increased its grandeur. Cities in Normandy that were leveled and then rebuilt are not beautiful. They are practical, industrial, and modern, but not beautiful. I know little of the other cities around Europe, but I have been to London, and although much of it has retained its charm and beauty, much of it needed to be rebuilt after the war. How does all that affect the people, the places, the tourism, etc., of each city and how has it affected Paris in particular?

Oh my. Enough of that. I know most of you are here to see and hear about my travels--well, my mind has been traveling, too!

Tuesday and Wednesday of the week found me close to my Paris home. Tuesday I had to interact with the cleaning folks who also came to (finally!) wash all the linens that had been left dirty by the previous tenants. My landlord had been livid to find out that the cleaning service had not done all that was needed before my arrival and it took him a month to work with the service and get someone out here to reclean and do the washing. I've been told that customer service is much different here than we have in the states. And, I'm afraid that Axel (my landlord) has his tribulations trying to get the apartment well cared for from thousands of miles away (he lives in Salt Lake City).
On Wednesday, I once again left home to walk the streets of my neighborhood. I had agreed to meet Sylviane at a certain spot on Thursday morning and I wanted to scope it out. Good thing I did. It was a confused, busy, crazy traffic circle with absolutely no good spot at which she could have stopped to pick me up.  ( I was able to call her and make different plans that worked much better.) My original plann for that day of walking was to find a spot where I could get a haircut--but after a few unsuccessful attempts, I cut my own bangs and decided to wait until I get home to have Sandee do her magic!

After making a few stops to get some fruits, veggies, and cheese, I went into Cesar's Italian Restaurant just down the block for a delightful meal and a little flirting with the waiter. I noted the encounter on FB and want to say that in retrospect, despite the flattery, and the warm buzz I had from my little split of Lambrusco, I'm completely happy I decided to turn down his offer of meeting him when he got off work. No matter how innocent it might have been and however pleasant he is, I am just not that person any more. My wild youth is long gone and I'm quite content to be who I am. Still---it was pretty nice to have the experience.

Thursday was yesterday. And oh! what a day!!!  Sylviane picked me up directly across the street at the little cafe where we had met and she drove us to Fountainebleu, which is about 40 miles or so south of Paris. To spend the day with someone who speaks little English, coupled with me speaking poor French, was exhausting to my poor brain! Still, I managed to follow much of her stories about French history and learned a lot about the areas around Fountainebleu. For instance, did you know that the Forests of Fountainebleu were all PLANTED? The trees are not native. One of the kings (or many?) planted the forests to provide hunting grounds for themselves. Another example of excess that has become beauty!  Here's a photo of the map showing the city's location, the "Foret de Fountainbleu" the Loing River Canal, and other areas in and around the areas we explored:

Fountainebleu area we explored
The day was fantabulous. We began by going to Sylviane's garden. She rents a large plot in a communal area and also pays for water she uses. Because Paris has been dry, she explained she has to water several times a week. While she watered, I picked a crop of tomatoes from her many varieties of plants. She (and the others in the community) all have garden sheds that are kept locked that contain their garden tools, fertilizer, gloves, watering cans, hoses, etc. I just might have been bitten by the gardening bug as a result of the visit!

After our gardening time, we stopped in the little town of Fountainebleu for a coffee & potty break! We then walked to the palace and explored all the gardens and the exterior.  We chose to NOT go into the palace since the place was filled with school groups. After the tour of the gardens (please note the fountain to Diana and the dogs!), we walked back into the town area, and Sylviane took me to her favorite fromagerie--where the whole store is a refrigerator! None of the cheeses and meats and pates inside were in cold display cases because the store itself was freezing cold. I had never seen or imagined such a thing, yet there it was. Of course, despite having bought cheese in the neighborhood just on Wednesday, I bought more cheese!

Sylviane's garden 
Sylviane's garden #2

Sylviane in her garden

Tomato harvest

Town square of Fountainebleu
Part of gardens of Fountainebleu

My favorite fountain in Fountainebleu!

A closer look

Sylviane in front of famous steps into Fountainebleu

Historical shot of staircase (they even had an orange frame from which you could snap a pic!)

Part of the big pond at F; huge carp swimming in it!

The French garden area...dry and less beautiful than usual, but the larger, in-person view was a delight of muted pastels

The in-store refrigerated fromagerie.  And this was only one wall!

From Fountainebleu, we drove all around little villages and roads looking at the views and arriving a short while later at the side of the Loing River, where we had a picnic! Sylviane had brought cornichons Russe (Russian Style Pickles are crisp, small cucumbers pickled Russian style with garlic, mustard seeds, black pepper, allspice and dill), chevre cheese, jambon, pain (bread), peche (peaches), and cantaloupe.  

[NOTE: I now also have found a new food that I hope to be able to get once I get home: Cornichons Russe! They were delicious--not sweet, not too tart, a little reminiscent of bread & butter pickles, but without the sugar.  I hope they are available at home.]

We had an army of mallards helping us with our lunch. Sylviane began feeding two ducks a bit of bread--within seconds we had dozens all around us!  It was fun watching them, especially a couple that were definitely juveniles. Here are some photos of our picnic spot.

The bridge to our left led to the 12th C ruins of a tower whose name I can't remember!
Closeup of the ruins

Looking across the river to someone's yard and dock

A panorama of the view I had while eating those delicious cornichons!

Our lunch guests...
And the day continued...Sylviane drove through little hamlet after hamlet showing me churches, farms, spots where she or her family had lived, forests, and fields. One memorable spot was the village of Moret sur Loing, a medieval town that had once marked the demarcation between France and Borgoyne. The little village even had a small cannon ball in the wall noted by a plaque to commemorate a battle held in 1814. The town also noted a tavern where Napolean had slept and had a lovely riverside walkway as boundary between the two countries in the early 1800s.  See link for the town name above and here are my pics from yesterday:

Cannonball in wall

Map of area we were in at tourism office

These windows were special--Sylviane tried to explain, but I think they have some ancient architectural clue what? Any architecture folks out there who might know?

A dilapidated building from long ago...the detail shows it must have been incredible

Another salamander from Francois I crest and reign
A view of part of the wall that fortified the town with a picture on it showing how it once was.

Bridge and Loing Canal

1770 plaque in Latin. I think I got the Roman numerals correct!

Flood levels of the little canal.
Tired of following us yet?  I was! But, we had one more stop to make along the way and I am so glad Sylviane did:  Le Cuvier Boulders inside the Fountainebleu Forest.  As we headed back north to Paris, a little worried about the traffic that would await us, Sylviane detoured into the woods to a spot that seems more magical than anything I'd seen that day or perhaps on this whole trip. The park is part of the forests that had been planted long ago, but the sandstone boulders were much older than the trees and anything but usual. 

My photos can't even begin to show how beautiful and alien this area was. The shade from the oak trees, the trees that were growing into and sometimes through the sandstone boulders, and the bevy of boulders of various sizes and shapes all around made the place one of beauty, power, and magic. I wished that I could go there with my journal and just sit for hours and write whatever the Universe would send. The place touched me deeply and I'm entirely grateful that Sylviane shared it with me. If you're at all interested, I suggest you google this place and see photos much better than mine...but since you're here...these are my records of the spot:
I was fascinated by how the trees and the rocks were as one in many spots

Shadows from the trees and lichen on the rocks made it beautiful

I found this dead tree a photo-worthy subject

Sylviane took this of me...

And I convinced her to sit with me for a selfie

A final look back as we left--area cordoned off was to protect climbers because great tree in center  was dead
And that was Thursday, 20 September, in LLO's Paris Pilgrimage.  I'm seeing Sylviane at least once more before returning home. She's become a friend I hope I don't lose across the miles.

Today's adventures await!

Monday, September 17, 2018

My Paris Pilgrimage #10

La Vie En Rose--Searching for Edith

Those of you who know me well, know that I adore Edith Piaf. She's another holdover from my youth and my years in Maroc as a little girl. My mother loved Edith and she would play her music after returning to the States (athough I don't remember her having any of Edith's records). No matter how, I still have a connection to the "little sparrow" of French romantic ballads. I've included a live recording of her singing "La Vie en Rose" above. Just now, listening to it, I began to cry. Her voice and her music, like few others, touch my soul and bring a depth of emotion to me that I can't quite explain. And, as a result, part of my quest while being here was to visit her grave and see where she lived. I have now done both.

On Saturday, the 15th, I visited the neighborhood of Belleville. This working class area of Paris isn't even in all the tourist books. It's a little seedy, the streets are narrower and dirtier, the people in the streets were dressed simply, and even the cafes were hard to find and not situated in large open boulevards, but along streets where the people sitting outside had to move their legs to let passersby walk past.

Upon emerging from the depths of the Metro at the Belleville station, I immediately saw the red neon sign advertising the Aux Folies Bar, a small place that was once a bistro/theater where Edith sang. She also is said to have sung on many of the street corners and I can envision her in a Metro station singing out her heart to any who would throw a few centimes into her hat.

I spent several hours walking around the Belleville of today, viewing the impressive street art that we would call graffiti and probably paint over in San Diego and window shopping at pawn shops and second-hand stores and what equates to discount stores where prices were decidedly cheaper than any I had previously noted in my wanderings. My enchantment was rewarded a thousand-fold when I made my way up the hill to the Parc de Belleville, a lovely greenspace high on the butte above Belleville and at one of the highest spots in the city. For there, in various spots along the path and at the apex, I could view the city of Paris, including the trite and too-often photographed Eiffel Tower. Here's a short video of the view from the entrance at Rue Piat, at the apex of the park, complete with church bells ringing and requisite kissing couple!

Not one to buck tradition, I too succumbed to taking too many photos of the tower, but a few of them actually almost look professional and will be a dear reminder of the day for me for years to come. I had few encounters with people that day. I spoke to a woman smoking on a bench in the park about the feral cats that seemed to be prevalent throughout the park...the two I saw actually were tuxedos and brought my sweet Charley to mind...maybe her little spirit was there with me in Paris...who knows?

I spoke to the woman at the cafe where I finally alighted for a late lunch of couscous (accompanied by a bowl of vegetables and broth) and beef brochette--the portions of which were so large that I had mistakenly thought I'd ordered two main dishes by accident!  Before I left, though, I noticed that a gentleman nearby had also been served the same huge dishes of food, and I took solace realizing that I hadn't been quite as stupid as I had thought! The food was simple, delicious, and in too-great measure for any one being.

Oh yes, my other encounters were in the Metro. In the caverns of one area where I was transferring from one line to another, a young woman stopped me from taking a pathway clearly marked to go where I was going and insisted that I go down a different hallway. To my surprise she led me to an ESCALATOR that descended the 3-4 levels that I would have otherwise been walking. The Metros do have occasional escalators, but I've not found any rhyme or reason as to when or where to find them. Once I had gone down to the bottom of the escalator, I realized the two paths (the other from the stairs) converged.  Now, if only I could keep that lovely woman nearby when I had stairways to ascend!

The other encounter was with a woman who was probably American. The Metro was so full that I had to stand for several stops, and my balance is not good. I was able to hold on to one railing with my right arm at a weird angle, and I noticed that it wasn't as strong as I would have liked and I was swaying quite a bit when the Metro had its fits of starting and stopping. I had heard her talking English and mentioned to her that I hoped I wouldn't fall in her lap!  She responded that it would be preferable to falling on the ground--but to be honest, doing so wouldn't have been possible: The car was too crowded to have any floor room open!
Ad on wall of Metro from Coke that I liked!

So, that's the gist of the day. I managed to not spend any money except my lunch and a new packet of 10 Metro tickets, so it was an inexpensive day with some experiences that were invaluable beyond measure.  Here are a sampling of pictures from the day.  I hope you enjoy them.

An alley in Belleville showing street art

More street art

Looked like John and Yoko to me...but the street sign was really what caught my eye; EUH?

Sign at entrance to park showing hours, no smoking (YAY) and no dogs (Nay)--no wonder the feral cats were everywhere!

More street art looking down from one area of the park

Much of the park was covered in bushes and pathways

Near the apex, I noted an amphitheater, these paths, and several fountains and ponds

From the apex, the view of Paris.  You can see it was the perfect day!

More views of people enjoying their Saturday in the Park!

The entrance at Rue Piat had these lovely columns all painted with various people in colorful dress

I happened to see this lovely composition of the Tower between the columns and had to snap a pic

One of the narrow streets in Belleville--this shot shows a bookstore and flower shop side by side

Along one of the little traffic circles, I saw this lovely church--St-Jean-Baptiste de Belleville

I thought the stained glass windows juxtaposed with these interesting lights somewhat incongruous

My brochette of boeuf and couscous lunch--with a lovely Affligem Blanche beer!

One of the more interesting beings in the bar/restaurant where I dined...

Historical plaque noting that the first mention of Belleville in history was in the year 862...from 1815-1859 it grew from 3,000 to 70,000 people and was the 3rd largest city in France.  Then, in 1860, it was annexed to the capital city of Paris.

Crowded subway platform at Republique on my way home

Once back in my neighborhood, I stopped for a Coke Zero and a little time for writing.

My building is across the street just to the right of the red banner at Dominos!

The statue of Jean d'Arc at the corner of my block (been meaning to snap this since I got here!)

Linda O

Linda O
Glamorous Me