Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Lucky Vogel grabs a weekend in Paris: II

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Highly adequate hotel breakfast then off to the Marche aux Puces, near Porte de Vanves. This is the same rather wonderful antiques (and junk!) street market that we visited last year and about which Gary was quite enthusiastic. It's quite a long way but all on the same metro line so nicely uncomplicated. I had an excellent wander round, coffee and chat with Gary, and the young people seemed to enjoy themselves. One of the lads bought quite a stack of jazz LPs, whose price Ibrahim had helped him to negotiate.

Guided as ever by the indefatigable and incredibly conscientious Ibrahim we went for lunch at a very nice "Paul" near (I think) Odeon metro. This is I think a café or restaurant chain with patisseries attached - or maybe it's the other way round. The patisserie looked terrific (I later saw one at Gare du Nord) and the café was great - nice lunchy-snacky food and excellent cheerful service.

From there we strolled through the Luxembourg gardens, which were very pretty, and were enlivened and ornamented by fleets of donkeys doing very short trips for some very short people. Big pond, majestic palace, all sunny and cheerful.

In the garden we met a nice student of Ibrahim's; sadly, I've misfiled his name. He came for the rest of the afternoon with us and was very pleasant additional company. The next interlude was in a massive book/CD/video/everything shop of Oxford Street proportions where some of the students wanted to buy CDs, - possibly Ibrahim's new album Diasporas? (I've since ordered it from The shop looked pretty good but I was starting to lose the will to live (or at least to walk) a bit by then, so I was probably one of their less animated - and profitable! - visitors that day.

I did, however, perk up considerably at the prospect of our next bit of cultural visiting, the utterly utterly wonderful Musée d'Orsay. I have a bit of a bee in't'bonnet about this place which I shall explain some day when ink is cheaper. Suffice it to say that I was really quite blissful to be back there, ten years after my only previous visit.

Gary was also suffering from a touch of Demicentarian Fatigue Syndrome so we just sat on a bench, down near the bottom of that glorious slope, and chatted for a while. Thinking about it now it does occur to me to wonder if he was just being kind, as he's actually incredibly fit and dynamic: maybe he was just making sure that I got a break. I was by now quite grey-faced and griping on about how I felt roughly 143 years old so I must have been an utter joy to be with. Anyway, we got to sit in a wonderful place, and watch the world go by, and talk for a bit, all of which constitutes a Good Thing by any current scientific measurement.

Eventually we leapt, revitalized, to our feet and set off at a brisk maximum-art-appreciation-in-minimum-time pace (hem hem you liar Vogel) round the galleries. There's no avoiding the fact that I'm a terrible, terrible ignoramus about the visual arts but it was just wonderful. After a while of mooching around the lower levels, and admiring in passing a massive, fantastic cutaway model of the Opera, we set off upwards. I'd hoped to get out onto the balcony overlooking the Seine but it's not open in winter.

However, the climb to the upper floors positioned us perfectly for our last assault on the top few galleries which we took, with few casualties, in the face of light resistance. A skilful flanking maneouvre through the Monets, a diversionary skirmish towards Van Gogh and there we were passing That Café Scene You Had A Poster Of before wheeling for the final charge through Bloke With Ballerina Fixation and into the sunny uplands beyond. (Metaphor Control Officer please report urgently to HQ.) At some point after all this wonderment you pop out in a place where you're high up above the main floor, almost into the ceiling, and you can get to a platform on top of a modern tower which contains staircases. Great moment, terrific view.

Just before we go go, there's another (I think) very famous painting there which much impressed me. An army is camped out, their rifles stacked in threes, making a hedge or fence. Most of the soldiers are asleep, a few are talking; there are a couple of fires burning. A dog is lying down; one group of rifles has trumpets or bugles hanging there also. And then above it all the cloudy sky is filled with a massive depiction of a battle, perhaps tomorrow’s. It’s very very powerful. Ah yes, here we are: Le Rêve, Edouard Detaille (1888). Stunning.

Then we were pretty much through with the Orsay - for this visit anyway - and back down the metro. Lots of the young people wanted to press on and do more shopping, but the Mortensons and I returned to the hotel where I did some very urgent and serious kipping for ninety minutes, which set me up marvellously for the rigours of the evening.

I also phoned Henri, the extremely nice daddy of the extremely nice family I stayed with on the Haringey 2005 trip to our twin town of Livry-Gargan. We'd been discussing my visit for weeks and I was very much hoping to see them, but it was difficult with the weekend being both short and busy, and sure enough the one time Henri could have seen me turned out to be during Sunday's concert, which would have rather kiboshed one of my principal objectives. So it'll have to be another time - or maybe I can coax them to come to London some day. But it was good to have a chat anyway and to learn that next weekend they're hosting more people from Haringey - two guitarists this time, which is nice, as one of their three kids plays the guitar. It would be lovely to see them again when the opportunity arises: Henri is a sort of French Gary Mortenson, and his wife and kids correspondingly so. If you know me at all you'll know that there's no higher accolade!

Refreshed by my very skilled high-speed kipping (it's more a sort of long-course cross-country power-nap really) I was back down in the lobby at seven something, all ready to rock'n'roll or at least to limp'n'lurch. Have I mentioned that my hip was giving me trouble? Well very boringly it was and we shall discuss it no further, unless I feel like droning on endlessly about it. I did just want to say, though:

  • I was greatly tempted to write "hip was giving me gyp" (sp?) for obvious reasons. I am not, however, sure about this word's etymology and in particular I'm worried that it might have racist overtones, so, till I find out, it's left out.
  • I must emphasize that it's my hip that is giving trouble, not my hipness, which is of course impeccable.
  • Yes, I do know that I need to lose about five stone, and that it might not be 100% unconnected, thanks.

Our next stop was Anvers metro, where we met Ibrahim and a clutch of KSU people. From the metro it's a straight blast up the hill to Sacre Coeur: we (mostly/all?) took the steps as there was a bit of a queue for the funiculaire. Amusingly, the info booth at the latter's bottom station was staffed by a huge woofy great dog who stood up behind the counter, all the better to communicate with his public. Although, to be frank, his information-giving priorities were a touch unclear, he certainly made an impression and was much-photographed as a result.

Having reached Sacré Coeur (somewhat wheezingly in my case) we had a look inside. I don't think I've done this before and I was very impressed by the atmosphere and architecture. Also impressive were the guardians of the reverent atmosphere, who from time to time would call "silence!" in stern and sepulchral tones, with instant results. The views from the church, as well as of it, are beautiful too, of course. It's a truly wonderful spot and, if 600 other people and a band doing Pink Floyd covers (quite well actually) think so too, well, what the h*ll.

From there it was just a stroll round a couple of corners into the heart of Montmartre. I'd forgotten how lovely and village-like it is up there. Much touristified too, of course, but hey. I do really adore the little village square bit, tourism or none.

We found a nice, friendly restaurant where the menu was non-poshed-up but well-delivered, so I had onion soup (but of course!), roast chicken, and a lovely light apple cake. Nice wine (a 2006 Cabernet). Excellent waitress. Nice company. Amazing "Ancient Hits" collection on the muzak, including crucial trumpet moments in Ai No Corrida and Let's All Chant. My cup ranneth over, frankly. Staggered back down those eight million steps, back to the metro, back to the hotel, clunk, zzzzz.

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