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Day 181: Cruising

If you are one of the few rich Parisians, I guess you could drive an open-top luxury car, smoke a cigar or two, and cruise around in your own good sweet time. Otherwise, you’d be like me, sitting on the bus looking out and spot how the others live ;)

My mode of transportation may not be fancy but I’m feeling great nonetheless. I’m on my way, heading out to the Beauvais airport for a quick weekend trip back to Dublin. With a schedule that can be described as bien chargé so I can see as many of my friends and family as possible, I foresee running around like a headless chicken while I’m at it. Not that I mind.

Day 180: Désillusion totale

I think I have that traveller’s dumb luck kind of thing going on. I don’t always know what’s happening in the city (there are waaaaay too much activities to keep track) and there are days, after work, I admit to being half-hearted in my exploration attempts (although I worked at pushing those aside and tried to stay motivated). Still, I somehow often come across something just after it has been inaugurated or before its closure.

Désillusion totale is a new sculpture currently installed just outside the church of St Germain des Prés. A contemporary work by Daniel Hourdé that translates to “Total Disillusionment”, this purported sculptured bird is seen by me more as a fallen angel, its wings tattered and its steps weak, disenchanted by worldly illnesses, with naught but a beak mask to protect him from the plague. What’s your interpretation?

Day 179: Pasteur

That’s quite a dashing bust, don’t you think? Standing at rue du Docteur Roux, the building behind the bust is the first building of the Institut Pasteur and today, the site of Musée Pasteur. There’s no prize for guessing that the bust belongs to the famed microbiologist Louis Pasteur.

I’ve been told that Pasteur’s body is interred in a vault of the Institut Pasteur. Not only that, his apartment of his later years is also preserved. Since I’m around the area for conference in these few days, if I could sneak a little time, I should consider paying a homage to the man who had given so much of his discoveries to the advancement of immunology and disease prevention.

Day 178: Fête des Tuileries

I don’t know what’s up with me today. Monday blues? All I managed was a couple of rushed shots and nothing really striking or interesting to show you. So I am a bit annoyed with myself right now, frustrated that I didn’t do a better job and get something more inspiring…

This week is going to be a bit all over the place for me. No time to be playing at Fête des Tuileries for sure. The funfair has just started last week and would run for a couple of months, into late August. Good to keep the school kids entertained as they go on their summer holiday at the end of this week. For now, more work awaits, along with paperworks and conference to attend this week. And a big day coming up soon too!

Day 177: Iron! Iron!

It was very strange to have the usual hums around Place des Vosges be broken by a whole lot of loud chants by what looked like a bunch of hard rockers.

Iron! Iron! Iron! Iron!

Alex and I were initially unsure if we should check the source out, you know, in case it was a more cynical gathering or something. But then it appeared the roars were synchronised to a bunch of photographers clicking away for some group shots. So I got busy too, lol. I found out later that Iron Maiden was in tonw for two nights of gigs, and their fans were certainly very vocal about their delights. I must say, their excitement was contagious and I found myself grinning at their obvious enjoyment.

Day 176: A country house in Barbizon

Another weekend, another opportunity to play tourist. Today, my friends and I were off to Fontainebleau Castle and Barbizon Village on a day tour. Between the two places, we even tucked in a huge lunch that came with kir for aperitif, 3-course meal, and both white and red wine for everyone. Not that I drank more than a glass of wine – I swapped my aperitif for a glass of fruit juice – still, you must admit that’s quite a feast considering how little we paid for the trip (€25!).

Picking a single shot from the hundred or so today was not easy. Of course I should be loading more onto a photo album or something, but given how slow I am at updating the blog in recent times (sorry folks!), it could be a while yet before I get around to it. I guess I pick this shot because I like the calm and tranquility it represents. A quaint country house in Barbizon village, away from most peering eyes (except mine, hehehe), I almost wish I could stay here and not return to the hustle and bustle of Paris so soon. Don’t get me wrong – I adore Paris, but every now and then, I’m also reminded that I’m a country girl at heart and I love having my own quiet me-time.

Day 175: Ah la la…

“Ah la la” is definitely phrase of the day.

The temperature is set to soar this weekend from low 20°C to some 32-35°C. It will then stay so for 2-3 days before another massive plummet back to around mid-20s °C. Insane? Just the thought of it… and I’ve been told by friends that Paris would easily feel like a city-wide sauna during the heatwave.

I’ve also been warned that travelling by public transport that’s packed would be equivalent to cramming oneself into a pre-heated oven. It would be better if I would consider alternative displacement methods, such as by foot or by bike (the Velib’). This is when I am glad that I have taken up an annual Velib’ subscription. Now, I just need to be brave enough to cycle with all the traffic around!

Day 174: Sales in the city

The shopping madness begins. Les soldes started yesterday and already I’m hearing of bargains being picked up by my friends and my colleagues. I’ve been completely swamped with work right now though, so no time to do my part in, errrm, contributing to the economy ;) This is, of course, good for the health of my bank accounts.

Now, this shop in Marais is amusing. Have you figure out why yet? Look again at the photo. I’ll give you a couple of seconds to play detective. Spot the magic yet?

On a normal day, a sign for boulangerie patisserie means I should be standing in front of the windows and start to drool over freshly baked breads and pastries and all things delicious. But I’ve been deceived. All there are in the shop now are men’s clothes. Never mind. I’m sure I could spot another few boulangerie nearby.

Day 173: Opéra Garnier

A little something from another famous landmark of Paris today for you – the figural group by Aimé Millet of Apollo, poetry and music at the Opéra Garnier. Standing tall and proud, Apollo holds the lyre high, which I take to interpret the triumph of music that one finds in this opera house. I have yet to attend any events here but for the 2011/2012 season, I’m going to try to watch an opera or two under what would be a magnificent setting.

Palais Garnier is steeped in grandeur. Various statues adorned the building, alongside busts of great composers along the front façade. In the interior, sweeping stairs and opulent chandeliers, deep crimson carpets and curtains, glittering gold borders and carvings – it’s no wonder this opera house inspired the creation of The Phantom of the Opera.

Day 172: Fête de la Musique

Summer solstice and the city is alive with music. Except perhaps Butte aux Cailles, which businesses were on strike this evening over a recently introduced regulations on business operations. Still, had it not been for this stark absence of music in the neighbourhood, Lih King and I would not have gone to the Chinatown area and being serendipitiously entertained by the Hot Club of Beijing.

I love jazz. I just love jazz. Love love love jazz! And the trio played amazing gypsy jazz with an infusion of Asian influence. Normally based in Beijing, the band is made up of a mix of French and Chinese musicians. What captured my attention most was the vocalist singing songs reminiscent of 1920s Shanghai. He may be French but his singing in Mandarin was flawless. Needless to say, I’m rating this evening fantastic :D

Day 171: Happy hour

It’s Alex’s birthday today (joyeux anniv’ Alex!) and after work, we headed out for a little celebratory food and drink session. With happy hours everywhere in the city (they usually run from around 5-6pm till 9-10pm) time to enjoy a cocktail or two before dinner, and off we went to Café Mabillon.

My choice of cocktail is new in concept for me – it is red wine-based instead of particular liquour(s). I can’t remember its exact name, but it sure is fruity and rather easy to drink, accompanied with nuts and olives as nibbles. The soft candies garnish were not quite as “marshmallow-y” as I thought they would be, which would be fun to dunk into the drink. What can I say? Food and drink are very much about the senses and playful food evokes child-like excitement ;)

Day 170: Come to Daddy!

There is a particular humour to this rather basic graffiti found at Bassin de la Villette. “Come to daddy!” says the monster with an evil and gleeful grin. The phantom-y cat knows something’s up and and couldn’t try to escape quickly enough!

It is Father’s Day today, and it is a rather poignant day for me. I do not remember any celebration that I may had had with my late father, and at home, it was more of a day where we celebrated it with granddad. However he is no longer with us for another celebration. As I walk the streets of Paris, I’m reminded of us planning a trip for him to visit me here after my move but time ran out on us.

Anyway, sorry for the change of mood. Back to happy. Think happy thoughts. Think Happy Father’s Day. Think happy memories :)

Day 169: Musée Jacquemart-André

Tucked away in the rather posh and affluent 8th arrondissement is Musée Jacquemart-André, formerly home to a certain Monsieur Jacquemart and his wife Madame J neé André. Not a museum frequently visited by foreign tourists, there was nonetheless a queue when I went there for a visit with my friend, most of them French and trying to catch the Caillebotte Brothers exhibition before its closure in a couple of weeks. Like me really. I’ve been wanting to see the Impressionist-half of the siblings, while being mildly curious about the photographer-half of the duo.

The museum is absolutely stunning. I could not justifiably describe it – it is something you should see for yourself. The tropical conservatory, ornated staircases, decorated apartments and opulent dining room are but some of the features. The dining room is today a café that serves delicious salads and a few other special dishes, and they entice diners in by displaying a mouth-watering selection of cakes and tarts right by the door to enter the eatery. Smart marketing move ;)

Day 168: Column-y at Palais Royal

Adjacent to the Louvre is the Palais Royal, with distinctive black and white columns of varying heights at its forecourt. Les Deux Plateaux, also known as Colonnes de Buren, were a total of 260 columns installed by Daniel Buren some 25 years ago for considerable costs. They were recently restored over a period of about a year for an amount close to €6 million.

Each time that I’ve passed by these columns, a few common activities were observed. One, children running around and jumping on and off the shorter columns. Two, people standing on the columns, often pretending to be statues, taking posed photos. Three, teenagers congregating around certain columns. And last but not least, folks with camera trying to find a way to photograph these columns and still do a good job of it. I was in the last group and I’m not even entirely sure if I did a decent job with my shot…

Day 167: Oh sugah sugah!

Now that I know a handful of pâtisseries and chocolatiers of Paris, I’m branching out to another form of soother to my über sweet tooth – candies! I do wonder what would a candy shop be called? Bonbonerie?

Le Bonbon au Palais is a total candy wonderland. Its unique selling point is that they gather candies and chocolates from different regions of France and bring them all under one roof. Imagine to have one stop shop for all your French candy needs… I reckon the owner recognised the sugar-crazed look in my eyes because he was offering samplers of this and that and guess what, I bought them. Such a sucker, right? Still, who can resist candies?! Yum, yum and yum!

Day 166: Go Brasilia!

The food challenge continues and this evening I even managed to round up a few partners-in-crime for a spot of Brazilian food in the northern neighbourhood of Notre Dame de Lorette. It was fun to have a girls’ night out like this, chit-chatting over dinner, and for some, a lot of giggling after the potent cocktails they served – you know who you are ;)

We were also mildly amused with the decor within. A whole lot of thongs hanging from the ceiling – not string underwear thongs but flip-flops thongs, painted murals, bedazzled figures, multi-coloured disco-lights in toilet, carneval footage on (silent) tv screen. And of course, a whole lot of photos of people we don’t know all over the walls. Un peu bordélique

Day 165: Cuba Compagnie

I don’t think I have mentioned in this blog yet, of my current culinary project: Resto A-Z. The concept is simple enough. Take an alphabet, pick a country’s name based on the alphabet, choose a restaurant that serves the relevant cuisine and eat out. It’s quite fun really, and a very good way to explore international dining experience within the city.

I started with A a few weeks back with an Afghani restaurant, then Ethiopian for E and I’ll be going to a Brazillian restaurant tomorrow in honour of B. Tonight though, it’s C for Cuba. I know, it’s not in alphabetical order, but say, imagine if you’re hankering for some Thai food – do you really want to wait all the way to T? No, right? Having said that, I’ve also done French, Indian (and Italian), Japanese, Lebanese, Moroccan, Thai and Vietnamese so F, I, J, L, M, T and V are off the list too. Pretty good going :D

Day 164: Knight in shining armour

I am a knight and I am shiny

Street art in Paris is not just about mural or graffiti pictures. There are quite a lot of tiled and mosaic images too, such as the Invader series (I have a few photos from different locations which I should create a mosaic of sometimes, hehehe) but for today, let’s just work with a single tiled image. Of a knight in shining armour.

I have been joking with friends that I need a strategy to get my paperworks going. I’m still waiting for various documents, running around bugging different people for different attestations etc. Perhaps I should play a damsel in distress, and that I am really really worth rescuing from all the red tape inconveniences. Except I don’t quite know how to. And I don’t even have those huge round eyes à la Shrek’s Puss in Boots to evoke sympathy. Drat.

Now, where is my knight to come to my rescue?

Day 163: Parc des Buttes Chaumont

Parc des Buttes Chaumont sits near Belleville and since I was in the neighbourhood for lunch today (excellent authentic Thai food, if you’re wondering), I could not resist taking a walk there for some post-lunch afternoon stroll. Not longer as off the beaten path as it used to be – yes, tourists have discovered this little gem in the north-east of Paris, although they seem to head straight only for the belvedere – it is still one of my favourite places in town.

Perhaps it is the memory that I’ve attached to the park. I was visiting Paris one summer before heading to Italy, staying with a friend, and for the first time, explored the city extensively by car, and the park was one of our visited places. I remember us sitting on the slopping hill, basking in the sunshine while talking about our dreams and aspirations for the future. How simple life was back then. I was idealistic, naive even, with so much I aspired to do. It was very good time.

Day 162: Cupcake ramblings

Looking at these cupcakes at a shop window, I feel a pang of longing – I can’t tell you how much I miss having an oven in my kitchen. Nearly 3 months now without one, it goes without saying that I haven’t been baking, roasting or grilling anything. No quick breakfast muffins, no shepherd’s pie, no roasted vegetables… Good thing this city is full of cakes and tartes and quiches, so it’s not all lost.

One thing though – the price tag. I would quite happily fork out a small fortune for a fantastic piece of pastry, especially when it’s something that I could not made easily myself (read: I am rubbish at delicate cakes and tarts) but for cupcakes which is not too complicated at all, I am soooo not willing to pay anything between €3-4 for one. That’s even enough for me to buy the basic ingredients to make a dozen or two of cupcakes (minus the fancy icings) already!

Ps: I’m not claiming I could whip up the best cupcakes ever though, ok? ;)

Day 161: Infiniment vanille

Pierre Hermé has changed its window front again. And I think I may be going round chez Pierre a tad too often, even if I’m just getting a tart or two to share with friends, or stock up on some waffles and chocolate, or to get a small sachet of macarons to snack on. Ah if only they do customer loyalty card – you know, like coffee shops would, where you get a stamp for every purchase – I’m quite sure I’ll be in line to get free goodies very quickly, hehehe.

For anyone who ever consider vanilla as a boring flavour need to be re-educated and it’s just as simple as getting the infiniment vanille tart. The unmistakeable fragrant, perfectly baked tart shell, spongy cake centre and luscious and smooth vanilla cream layer over the top – it is not secret that this is perhaps my favourite pastry, even more than those which are chocolate-based or fruit-based. Ah, even thinking about it now is making me drool… but no, I won’t go back there again this week. In fact, I must not. Someone save me please!

Day 160: Burlesque doll

One thing about living in Paris is the availability of artworks everywhere. There are galleries – indoor within premises or outdoor open air stalls – catering to all kinds of arts, from the antiquities to the contemporary, from the cutesy to the vulgar (trust me, there are etchings commonly sold along the river bank that had Eiffel Tower does funny thing to itself), from paintings to sculptures to installations. Anyone can be a collector. The only points of the question are, how much do you value one and how much are you willing to spend to acquire one?

Artclub Gallery on rue de Rivoli is one of the many galleries that I often take a peek into. They often have rather particular pieces, and today, behind the windows to the side of Louvre, there’s a series of burlesque dolls peering out with their coquettish pouts. I think they are rather adorable. And fun enough to compete with a couple of paintings on the window to the side of Place Andre Malraux, which featured surrealistic Simpsons in a Parisian metro surrounded by Charlie Chaplin, Hulk, Vishnu, Tintin et al and another, also similar in style, of Simpsons visiting Parisian museums (it was a “portmanteau” of Louvre and Musée d’Orsay) with Mona Lisa guarded by a couple of Terminators and surrounded by Bruce Lee, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Asterix, Smurf et al.

Day 159: Make love or war?

After a series of non-street art photos, you’re getting mural works two days in a row. Not only that, they can be found on adjacent streets. Am I slacking, by going back to the same place for my photos? Maybe. However, with things hopping busy on my end, time is a bit on the premium. Plus, I like this mural. I was debating with myself yesterday, at the junction between the streets, on which mural I should photograph.

I like that the setting is edgy. A Keith-Haring-like background, laced with additional graffiti, they serve to emphasis the rather aggressive passion between the couple. It’s, errrm, animalistic? In my head, I was humming to Savage Garden’s The Animal Song. Of course, on the other side, a reminiscent of a classic pose by Robert De Niro. “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?” (If you haven’t guess it – it’s a scene from Taxi Driver.)

Together, it’s as if a reflection on human psyche living in a big city. Your relationship may burn fast and hard but also short-lived, while a sense of impatience and frustration bubbles underneath, ready to take one’s emotion over to spill. There’s always turmoil aplenty, running circular like an infinite loop. Does taking ourself out from urban living help us to find the balance within? That is the million dollar question.

Day 158: Have a cold one

Tucked in one of the smaller streets behind Port Royal is this creative piece of street arts, which incorporates mural painting to exposed brick façade, along with fake wine leaves snaking around the edges. As a result, my brain is running away with the image of a hot day in the Caribbean where one grabs a cold drink and sit out to watch the world goes by.

In the mean time, the weather in Paris continues to be dull for most part and rather chilly too in the evening. I may have to pull out my little fleece throw from storage so I can be snuggly wrapped up when I sit in my apartment to read. I am just starting to read Harry Potter in French and it’s taking me quite some effort since I don’t always have the vocabulary to understand everything, and the name changes are confusing. For example, Hogwarts has been rechristened Poulards, muggles are somehow Moldus, and even Snape is now Rogue apparently. One word – confusing!

Day 157: Clock tower

Today’s street exploration got me photographing a landmark of the 12th arrondissement for the first time for this blog. Peeking between buildings when viewed from Pont d’Austerlitz, the clock tower of Gare de Lyon is quite swanky, with its feature reminiscent of the Big Ben in London but with prettier clock face.

Come to think of it, I have not only not used the train station before, I have not even walk around the area surrounding it. My faithful pocket map of Paris told me that Viaduct des Arts nearby runs parallel to the railway station, and it also serves as the site of Promenade Plantée which I’ve heard a lot about. I must put it down for a weekend stroll sometimes.

Day 156: Rainy day exploration

It was warm enough for us to eat outside in the garden yesterday evening but this morning, we woke up to the unmistakeable sound of rain pitter-pattering down rather ernestly. For a moment or two, I felt like I could almost be in Ireland. Almost. Still, we were now all confined to the indoors until whatever time after lunch when we’ll leave for Paris.

I took this time to properly explore the house that we’re staying in. It is akin to Aladdin’s cave, with wondrous stuff here and there, from a mask made to resemble the face of an owl to really old publications such as this – La Semaine de Suzette (click linky for more info about the weekly paper). There were also vintage hats and Nancy Drew book series and old maps of Nantes and x-ray images – quite a veritable mix, isn’t it?

Day 155: Chirp chirp

We had a visitor this morning and it seems like it has taken to Anne. The tit first approached us when we were having breakfast in the garden, fluttering its way between Chloé, Anne and I. It flicked nervously from one spot to another, and momentarily even landed on my knees and stayed there for a few second. Oh how I wish I had my camera at that point!

Throughout the day, it has been returning every so often to trick Anne into feeding it some breadcrumbs. It is just so adorable, but the lack of bribery offerings on my part means it didn’t come very close to me, boooo. On the other hand though, it gave me opportunities to photograph it, so I guess we’re even.

Day 154: Belfry of Église Sainte-Croix

This is not my first trip to Nantes. I was here once about 3 years back, on Anne’s invitation for her birthday bash. She also kindly played tour guide, showing me around the city and we even went to Les Machines de l’Ile for a (slooooow) ride on the mechanical elephant, which was really cool.

Today, I was treated to a refresher’s tour of Nantes while Anne showed off the city to the rest of the “Brainiacs”. Along the way, we passed the Église Sainte-Croix – aka Church of the Holy Cross – which once even functioned as a prison, ironic given a church’s role that usually provides sanctuary. I wish I could be up at the belfry, looking down the city as these music-playing sculptures are. The view must surely be striking.

Day 153: Monument aux 50 Otages

Wheeeee… long weekend!

My friends and I left reasonably early this morning for Nantes, in an attempt to avoid heavy traffic leaving Paris given the ritualistic exodus of Parigots for destinations all over the country (and beyond?) for the 4-days weekend. For us, we’re off for a much needed quiet R&R weekend in a small village just outside of Nantes and all I anticipate doing are eating, sleeping, chit-chatting and reading. Maybe a bit of sight-seeing.

This monument at Pont Morand in Nantes is a war time commemorative memorial sculpture. In 1941, fifty hostages were captured and executed by German occupation authorities for their pro-communist and anti-fascism efforts. The monument serves as reminder of their resistance against the occupation and it is represented by an central arrow flanked by two women, allegorical for la Résistance (to the right, with a sword concealed in the folds of the cape) and la France Renaissante (to the left, holding an ear of corn).

Ps: pretty blue sky is always a good start to the weekend ;)

Day 152: On the rooftop

It is not unusual to see balconies filled with blooms of all colour in Paris, no matter the size of the balconies. If anything, they make me wishing for my own, where I can tend to a pot or two of flowers, maybe some fresh herbs like basil and rosemary and lavender… OK, OK, hang on – I actually don’t have any green fingers so the plants would die quickly enough. It’s probably a very good thing that I do not have space to grow anything.

But, this rooftop garden takes the cake. I pass rue de la Glacière on a nearly daily basis but I’ve not noticed this before. My defense is, I’m usually inside the bus and since we don’t have transparent top to the bus, you know. However, I walked home this evening and suddenly, ta-da, there it was. I do wonder, how does the owner grow such huge trees up there. Surely the root system requires a lot of anchoring to make sure they don’t ever get blown away by strong wind, which happens from time to time?

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