pop culture and jewish history

it’s been a mixed bag type of day. we slept in until 6 (rick) and 7:30 (stan) and had a generally slow start to the day.

for me it was hard on the brain and the emotions. i started off at the memorial to the deportation of the jews located at the tip of ille de cite, rick had visited earlier so i thought i had an idea of what to expect, but not so. it was a remarkably simple structure, sunk into the ground. the entry into the memorial descends a steep set of narrow stairs which open onto a small plaza with a low opening to the seine covered by bars and spiked shapes evoking barbed wire. the whole setting set my mind to thinking about what had happened not too many years ago, reflecting on the lessons i’d learned at school and wondering if kids today get the same message… when you turn around and face the memorial there is a very narrow opening which you pass through to get to the inside — a long narrow passage with a simple slab under which are the ashes of one of the victims of the nazi camps. the two walls are studded with 200,000 small light bulbs representing all those who were deported from france by the vichy government to the concentrations camps. by the time i left i was feeling quite sombre and melancholy.

meanwhile rick was off exploring the pantheon which he found quite riveting, particularly the wall murals and the vastness of the place.

i was off to the the jewish museum of history taking any interesting street i saw as i wandered. there were lots of interesting small galleries, a quaint shop strewn with antique musical instruments in want of repair or an owner, and silent book stalls along the seine. i crossed over ille st louis back into the marais and the old jewish quarter. on sunday this is one of the few places where business is open (i should have bought milk and other staples before heading home – but didn’t). on the way i passed the shoah memorial and a wall of remembrance to the french who risked their lives to save jews during the second world war. the jewish history museum was fairly interesting (once you get through the security) and was pretty thorough in a chronological layout of the history of jews in france from very early times to the present. it certainly raised a lot of questions for me both on the persecution perpetrated against jews throughout history, and of course the religious aspects which are always perturbing, whether jewish, christian, muslim and all the other late comers. can’t fault anyone for needing some foundation for their spirituality but they always seem to ruin it by getting into the hocus pocus.

after a brief break for a kosher pastrami sandwich and a fanta chaser i headed off to the pompidou centre of modern art. hey its the french thing to do, run the ancient and the modern together. how to explain this without pictures…ummm.

colour, bizarre, weird, fantastic, alive, abstract, meaningful, meaningless, pollack, matisse, max ernst, de koonig, jasper johns, brassai, man ray, chagall, and hundreds of others, some i’d heard of, others totally new.

it really was a fantastic experience to see so much abstract and pop art (including a red hot rhino) from interactive and participatory art to film that would be considered pornographic back home and a room, a very large room, dedicated to a single display of red rope twisted and tacked to the walls. crumpled metal, a buddha surrounded by vultures and pulling out the entrails (tastefully done of course) modern furniture or art shaped like furniture, great sculptures and on and on and on. AWESOME! it’s the kinda of stuff you hear others say they could do that, or their kid or the pet monkey. b.s. it is creative and thoughtful and truly wonderful.

meanwhile the other fellow is exploring underground at the ancient foundations of notre dame and the roman building foundations found at the centre of the city also known as the archaeological crypt. it’s always amazing to see that the different civilizations and their sense of worship seemed to always build on the past of a previous cult, one temple replacing another.

rick closed his day off with a revisit to the conciergerie, where thousands were held prisoners at one time or other before losing their heads — the most famous being that unfairly characterized queen, marie antoinette.

on the way home, deep underground at the châtelet metro station, i came across a string orchestra known as the classique metropolitain. as i love to listen to the violin this was too good to be true. about 6 violins, a cello or two and a bass….marvelous. parisians are really lovers of art and suddenly no one is in a hurry to catch the next train while they stop to listen for awhile. i was so impressed i ponied up 20 euro for a cd, which sounds great by the way. you can see and hear this group on several youtube links

my head hurts from trying to figure it all out, the art and the history. un cafe s’il vous plait.

bon soir.



you might guess by the title that we did a bit of climbing today. in fact we started the day with a climb up the towers of notre dame cathedral.

it was another gorgeous day, but quite cool, perfect for climbing and taking pictures. the last time we were here the upper tower was closed so it was cool to be able to finish the job and get to the top. the view is spectacular looking on down on the inner precincts of paris and a panorama of the whole city. you also get to be up close and personal with the gargoyles and angels.

i took yet more photos of the big bell « emmanuel » before finishing the climb, they only ring it on special catholic celebrations.

the climb itself is up a narrow circular stairway, each step worn smooth and hollowed by the millions who have gone up for the view. today there were only a hundred or so ahead of us including a group of loud and giggly girls from brazil…ah teenagers. i must say though that compared to many, including some of the kids, we did pretty well going non-stop to the top, other than the forced wait in the book shop half way up.

check out the pictures for the views. going down was a snap as there is no crowd ahead of you, hold on to the rail!

lunch on the quay looking at the seine and notre dame (yes we’re tourists) i had a salade with a beer and rick had a very good french onion soup, his first on the trip, with wine.

we strolled through parts of the latin quarter on our way to perhaps the best history museum in paris, the cluny, proper name: musée national du moyen age. the ancient abbot’s mansion and adjoining roman ruins and medieval gardens make it a fascinating place.

the primary purpose is to display medieval history and artifacts of which there are many, well preserved and containing details that surprise including some of the colour that was used on the statues. highlight of the visit was a beautiful set of six famous tapestries, ‘the lady and the unicorn’ woven in unusual colours and wonderfully preserved from the early 1500s, displayed effectively in a special room.

home for a well deserved nap and supper before the next outing.

it’s 8 p.m., time to head downtown for a saturday night in paris. the champs elysees does not sleep, it was as crowded at 10 as it was during the day. lit up with a huge display celebrating a 100 years of aviation history (this is a BIG event) there are marquees everywhere we go in paris including the inner courtyard of the louvre, hotel de ville and anywhere else you can think of! must say it is a pretty interesting display of jets, antique planes, anything related to aviation, even a rocket in one of the main intersections of the champs elysees.

on to our destination and next climb. the arc de triomphe! the climb was fairly quick, again we seemed to manage better than a lot of those ahead who pulled into small alcoves to rest. at the top, a cold breeze and the city of lights, what a view! perhaps the most stunning was the eiffel tower aglow in blue. the traffic filled streets radiating from the arch and the glimmer of gilded roofs all around. i took some photos but unsure how they will turn out.

a dizzy (literally) spiral down before strolling back down the champs elysees to the metro. great fun.

bon soir.

the louvre et al

this is going to be a short one! i’m sure you all know about the louvre and we’ve been there before. each of us had different reasons for visiting and areas to see. the louvre has three very large wings the denon, sully and richelieu with three floors. this visit we dedicated ourselves to the egyptian and assyrian antiquities as we’d only seen part of them on our last visit. i also threw in a very quick prerequisite visit to see mona, venus and the chick with wings and a couple of delacroixs that i wanted to reconnect with, and the raft of medusa by theodore gericault. you can check out the pictures for more info.

rick called it a day other than some shopping, but i wanted to see the pantheon from the inside so took a walk in the rain and a major wind storm. it is a very dominating structure classical in every sense. inside it is quite open and empty of anything other than columns and wall paintings and, of course foucault’s pendulum, proving to you flat earther’s that the world spins round. it started out as a church and morphed into a grand tomb for the heroes of france. perhaps the most famous resident is voltaire. interesting but sparse and room for many more guests.

quick trip to the bon marche…too expensive and not that interesting.

bon soir.

tour musée – mature content

with versailles behind us we are taking on many of the major museums in paris. today, rick struck for napoleon’s tomb and army museums as well the rodin museum. having been to the little guy’s tomb before i took a pass, however it is quite remarkable both on the outside as well as the central dome under which napoleon along with some of his generals and relatives lie. having only visited the armory before it was interesting to hear of rick’s long day exploring the museums dedicated to world wars I and II and the ancient and medieval collection of arms. i’ll have to rethink another visit. rick sez it’s well organized and covers the historic events of the two wars very well.

turns out we both visited the rodin museum however i spent a bit longer and took a few more pictures than rick. the sculptures are fantastic both in subject and design containing more angst and pain than you’d expect. he was apparently into contortionists as the poses are dramatic to say the least. he was definitely a student of the body and passion i’m sure a lot of religious types would get a bit knotted (most of the time i’ve been in france i can’t shake the vision of john ashcroft wanting to hide the naughty bits with hankies…he’d be busy here as nude art can be found at every turn…kids and adults are expected to figure it out, not hide it…vive le france!). by contrast some of the works in the mansion were moving and delicate in contrast to the heavy bronzes; it’s easy to imagine that rodin would fit in easily with the greeks and romans, or as a contemporary of michelangelo.

following rodin i took a stroll by the government buildings on my way to the musee d’orsay, reknown for its contemporary art mid 1800 to early 1900’s. i spent more time here than expected as i’ve visited before and not too much has changed, in fact i rushed through the first floor of more traditional art and sculpture heading for the top floors and the impressionists. needless to say i took pictures but not too many as my camera is really buggy and has a mind of its own. it thinks the batteries are dead on many of the shots…a little pleading, turn on turn off or a little jiggle and it seems to make an effort for a couple of more shots. my favourite impressionist is camille pissarro, though they are all too amazing it is difficult to find the right superlative so wow, wow and wow will suffice. after two plus hours i had one more museum on my must see list for the day…musée de l’orangerie des tuileries at the end ofthe tuileries gardens.

pissaro is my fave, however nothing can knock your socks off like claude monet’s les nymphéas, i can not describe them to you, hopefully a few of my pictures will give you an idea of their beauty, mystery…and size, they are easily 5 to 15 metres long (or more?) and 3 metres high. there are only two rooms and they are quieter than a library as people sit mesmerized by them for long periods of time. here is a link to a video of them provided by the museum.

phew! that was a long day…but there’s still time for a little shopping before class tonight.

bon soir


one of us is down with a serious cold and the other is feeling a bit lazy. none of this matters too much, the weather is holding with a cool sunny day – it really is autumn. the day too is quiet with only the chatter of the neighbourhood, background noises: music, cars, the sound of pots and pans, kids playing etc. those sounds that can lull you to sleep.

i took brief shot at the centre of town earlier this morning but other than some street art and general people watching it was a non activity day. the most interesting experience i had was an open air market at the bastille. it felt like thousands and maybe was, you’ve got to be comfortable being close to each other here. because of the close proximity of the stalls and the bustle of shoppers reaching for this and that there is no way to avoid touching and being touched (riding the metro is similar.) you can buy every type of food and wine imaginable as well as cds, shirts, jewelry etc. the market was about two blocks long with two rows of colourful canvas covered stalls spread between the street, trees and benches of the incredibly wide centre boulevard. it really felt like you were out shopping, chatting with strangers and the sellers trying to lure you to their produce with quick talk sales pitches.

i made a brief foray into the left bank (looking for the bon marche) to shop but found everything is closed big and small alike. only a few boulangeries and cafes are open on sundays. i did see some incredible art through a gallery window and realized what wealth can get you: the most beautiful vase for about 7 thousand euro and it looked like it was worth it. paris definitely has some high end stores, it is not uncommon to see shoe stores with prices for mens’ and womens’ shoes in the thousand of euros along with all the other fashion items. oh well…more pay would be nice?

street art abounds in paris and i’m always amazed that it is so diverse and fantastic. even the fountains are more creative than practical. i saw one breaking out of the ground as though the street tiles had been pushed up into a mound at odd angles, the water barely visible only the sound of it splashing. i hope to go back on the same route as i did not take the camera (a day off) and want to capture everything i see.

after another frustrating toilette search at the bastille (1 public toilette 11 million people and it was out of order!!!!) i made my way back home as shopping was not an option.

as i said, it’s a lazy day. read a little, nap a little, be french and enjoy the day.

bon soir.


a nice leisurely saturday, crisp and sunny, just how we like it. a couple of metro rides to get to montmartre from home but more enjoyable as there is no rush hour today. a lot of places close on the weekends, some on saturday and sunday, others on sunday monday and still others on monday tuesday. makes it tough sometimes figuring out what will be open. there is also a large jewish community which means another group of stores are closed on saturdays but open all other days. i guess it sort of spreads the number of people commuting to a more manageable 3 million a day on the metro system (that’s for you trivia buffs).

we started out the walk from the anvers metro station up through a throng of tourist shops flogging all the junk you never want to really own. the next gauntlet was a throng of black guys selling string bracelets. they were good at cornering the hapless tourist who soon had a string around the wrist before they knew what had happened. at this point the only option is to pay up! rick and i seem to be pretty immune to this, it’s either our size or we’ve gained that parisienne « piss off jack » look that sez you’re a local. we fully intended to take the funicular up to the sacre cour but we somehow ended up doing the stairs, and lots of them, but the day was too nice to get crammed in with all the other tourists going to the top of montmartre.

rick was the guide on this one with a mapped route of all the spots to see and artist residents who’ve lived in the village. it’s hard to imagine today that this was once the countryside, outside of the paris city limits. there is still a remnant of it with a small vineyard still producing grapes on the hillside and an old windmill that was used to press them.

we did a lot of up and down hills on cobbled streets past the places where van gogh, picasso, dali, utrillo and renoir, the composer erik satie’s house and of course toulouse-lautrec’s pad. you can see why it was popular with the artists. i tried to reproduce the scene by utrillo in a photo – have a look and see if you can place it, i tried to find the original but no luck.

afterwards, we descended down rue lepic (do it if you get the chance, better than rue cler any day) toward the sinful end of town…the moulin rouge and then on to pigalle. passing way too many sex shops and the like, including hookers..it’s a pretty tough neighbourhood not one i’d feel comfortable strolling through at night.

frank, my coworker will be happy to know that it was such a sleazy neighbourhood that the only appropriate placce to eat was McD’s…yes, there are pictures to prove it!

end of day, rick is really under the weather with a bad cold and i’m feeling like i’m next..damn!

yes, i can cook. i’m doing up a full three course meal tonight. shopping at all the little specialty stores was fun and sort of carries you along once you’ve chosen what the main course is going to be…and wine of course.

bon soir.

a night at the opera

…and a full day of tromping around paris. rick and i took different directions this morning, rick feeling a bit under the weather and me up way too early. i wanted to check out more area on the « right bank » which includes parts of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements and i think i hit them all. mostly a sight seeing and discovery tour for myself, unfortunately one of the things i wanted to do was visit the jewish history museum but i got there 2 hours before they opened. i did find a lot of interesting places, fountain, churches, buildings etc all documented with a ton of pictures again (they’re for me).

rick on the other hand wanted to get into more detail on notre dame cathedral (his third visit since we arrived) and explore a bit of the left bank. he also spent some time at the jewish deportation memorial, an underground exhibit on the isle de cite. here’s some text from wikipedia on the memorial:

« The Mémorial de la Déportation is a memorial to the 200,000 people deported from Vichy France to the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. It is in Paris, France on the site of a former morgue, underground behind Notre Dame on Ile de la Cite. It was designed by French modernist architect, writer, teacher, and town planner Georges-Henri Pingusson and opened in 1962.

Pingusson intended that its long and narrow subterranean space convey a feeling of claustrophobia. »

we both headed home early in the afternoon for similar reasons…frustration at not finding a public toilet!!! there are lots of them, but never when you really need one.

we also needed naps to help us through the evening as we are off to the opera garnier (you may know it from the « phantom of the opera ») to see a ballet.

it is a magnificent building of baroque splendor…it oozes opulence and pretension (it was marvelous) by the gallon. we had loge seats (semi-private box) which we’d bought before leaving on the trip. cheap, but fancy seats (20 euro each) looking down on the stage and the rest of the audience. i think we’d have had a better view though if we’d bought the really cheap seats in the gods as we would have had a straight on view. we forgot the camera so i bought a cheap kodak disposable that i hope captured some of what we saw. i also took some shots with my phone, including a couple of videos. the place is gilded to the hilt and has an incredible chandelier and ceiling painted by Marc Chagall yet again another contrast of modern and classic melding together.

the ballet was « hommage à jerome robbins » with four parts, including classic, contemporary, modern and, if you can imagine, slapstick. i found three of the four pieces to be entertaining with great dancing, the slapstick left me a little flat. music was from ravel and chopin along with a young composer, nico muhly and a the choreographer, benjamin millepied who is the same age as my son providing what i thought was the best piece of dance.

it’s past midnight and time for some shut eye, we had a very late dinner with wine…of course and mousse chocolate, can’t remember the last time that dinner ended at 11:30 p.m.

bon soir.

medieval provins

what a great day! a pleasant train ride for an hour and twenty minutes each way for only 32 euros round trip for both. the day was sunny as we passed through what felt like the prairies only the villages were more interesting. the grain elevators were pretty well the same with the odd architectural creativeness.

provins was a complete fluke, we found it early last year when researching medieval sites. it was completely charming, full of ancient houses leaning at all angles holding each other up. the streets twist there way up the hillside to a walled older town with many intact buildings dating back to the 1100’s. we climbed caesar’s tower, perhaps the best castle type building i’ve ever been in. the structure of the bell tower was amazing with original great wooden supports and two bells one much larger than the other. thank goodness my butt is not bigger than it is as one of the stairways to the top was no wider than my shoulders or behind. at the top we had a great view of the town and the land beyond. the rest of the structure was void of decoration but was a great architectural example of early masonry skills. an equally old church, town square and houses really gave a sense of how life was 500 years ago. we walked through the old town and onto the walls that surround the city, it was quite unique as many of the towers have different shapes. the two main gates were at least 10 or 15 meters thick with a road wide enough for a single car. we had a pleasant lunch in the town square: pate and a main course something like chicken cordon bleu and a glass of wine. for rick a chicken salad and shaved fresh beef made into a pattie…not mcdonalds for sure! afterward we walked down to the « new » town, which looked as ancient as the medieval town and just as enjoyable. take a look at the pictures, i’m sure you’ll agree.

chinese take out for dinner with wine…of course.



second visit in two years! the good and the bad…(bad) they had scaffolding up around a big chunk of the cathedral (good) i took so many pictures on the last trip i didn’t care. it was a glorious day, sunny with a cool breeze (took way too many pictures again)

we walked through the old medieval part of town, something we did not do on the last trip. it was quite pretty with a slow moving river complete with swans and old buildings. it was novel to see buildings with boat storage under them from such a long time past. the town is old, but not as « ancient » looking as some of the other old towns we’ve been to in the past. turns out that a few hundred years back the government wanted them to plaster over the old wood frame buildings to reduce fires. now they want the owners to peel away the plaster to make them more quaint!

inside the cathedral the organist was going full out and played for an hour or more. many of the relics and other items we saw on the last visit were in storage during the renovations. still a truly impressive place and the stained glass windows are awesome, something the camera just can’t capture.

before leaving we had supper in a restaurant across from the cathedral. i had the biggest bucket of mussels that you could imagine and wine of course. rick stuck to steak and pommes frites! and wine of course.

a nice quiet train ride back to paris to do this write up and load today’s photos.

bon soir.

day of the dead

who says you can’t take it with you? the old wealth of paris and others have found a way! an amazing tour of pere lachaise cemetery took up the best part of our day and was worth the wait. an incredible array of gravestones, sepulchers and small to major mausoleums house the body…not sure about the soul as i’m sure some of the ostentation was a payoff for past sins!

it was fascinating to see the beauty of such a sombre place, the cobbled roads, the unknown silence, a strange peace all accompanied by falling autumn leaves and a crisp breeze. the most moving were the several memorials to the concentration camps of world war two along with other memorials to french resistance over the many decades. (we’re not a nice species when it comes to respecting each other)

we took another extended walk in the hood, stepping outside the comfort zone into some of the less well heeled areas with low income housing but still a pretty pleasant environment with parks, great play areas for kids and and great alleys of old cobbled streets too narrow for more than a small car and old buildings converted to quaint homes.

first night of french class. a real international mix of german, austrian and canadians learning the lingo. fun to be downtown at night when all the younger crowd comes out. a very late supper at home and wine….cheap wine, water cost more!

tomorrow chartres. bon soir