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Day 202: Gare St Lazare

Bus no 21 runs between Cité U (well, Stade Charléty to be more precise, but it is adjacent to Cité U) and Gare St Lazare. After 4 months of listening to the announcement the morning that the bus is destined for Gare St Lazare, I decided to travel in that direction to see what the fuss is about.

While the station is not particularly large, it is the second busiest after Gare du Nord. A lot of commuters who live in the western suburbs and work in Paris would take their Transilien trains to/fro Gare St Lazare daily, and passengers north-bound towards Normandy (such as Deauville, where there is a real beach) would also grab their trains here. I was hoping to recreate the feel of Monet’s painting but there were just too many people around. Plus the train nowadays don’t give out that much smoke.

Day 201: Paris Plages

In Paris, you don’t have to go to the beaches. The beaches come to you instead ;)

The mairie has been busy since the weekend, constructing the quay-side beaches which make their appearances annually in July and August, for approximately 4-5 weeks. When I passed by this evening along Voie Pompidou, the landscapers were busy putting in the final touches while anyone unauthorised were barred from entering Paris Plages.

Trucks and trucks of sand have been brought in, new lounging chairs set in intermittent distances, and shower areas set up too. Now, nobody’s allowed to swim in the Seine (and I’m not sure if anyone would really want to either, without taking on the risk of disease) so the beaches would be use mainly as sand pits and sunbathing spots. However, there is also a floating pool near Pont Marie for a quick cooling dip and aquagym. And over at Bassin de la Villette, I believe there would be an artificial wave good for surfing too!

Paris Plages 2011 runs from 21 July to 21 August at Voie Pompidou, Hôtel de Ville and Bassin de la Villette. Click here for the full programme.

Day 200: Wispy

It’s not uncommon to find exposed walls of buildings which has been transformed into art canvases. At times, there are definite stories to tell. Other times, the works are more abstract and this one that I spotted today falls more in the latter category.

Nonetheless I like the gentle and wistful quality of this painting. There’s something familiar about it. In parts, it reminds me of broad strokes and wavy flow in Van Gogh’s Starry Night, perhaps just a bit more haphazardly in this case instead of the elegant, post-impressionist style applied by the Dutch master. (OK, my imagination is running too wild. Never mind. I’ll leave this be.)

Day 199: Ben & Jerry’s

I’m starting to think of Place St Michel as “city centre” of Paris and location of choice for many meet-ups . A little bit like the front gate of Trinity College in Dublin kind of thing. It’s easily accessible by public transport, has iconic meeting point (the square in front of the fountain), widely sign-posted and hard to miss while at the same time easy to spot people. Perfect.

Around the square are a number of cafés and bookshops. Unlike many (touristy) cafés and restaurants in central Paris area which prefer to boost the availability of Berthillon ice cream, this one opts to serve Ben & Jerry’s instead. Local and artisanal vs international and factory production – I think I know which one I’d go for ;)

Day 198: Modernised Louvre

It has been a while since I last visited Louvre. Well, no time like present to revisit, when a recent acquaintance suggested a trip to say hello to Miss Mona Lisa. Of course, Louvre is more than just this masterpiece of Leonardo. We’ve all heard of the time any visitor would need should each piece of work in the collection of Louvre be examined for mere 30 seconds each (some 12-13 days!) and so most time, tourists only zoom from one room to another in search of the most well-known pieces, snap a few photos, and off they go.

In any case, not all rooms are opened nor all items on exhibit at any one time. In fact, several rooms are currently closed for renovations, and some other rooms clearly have just been re-opened. Rather to my horror, these rooms now spot a modern office look with the beautiful old ceiling frescoes nowhere to be seen. Or worse, some rooms have had new frescoes painted to “themify” the rooms, e.g. Egyptian motifs in rooms where Egyptian artefacts are exhibited. I couldn’t even bring myself to photograph that. Seriously, why would one authorise such atrocity?

Day 197: Why so red?

I recently blogged about the Montsouris reservoir and if you look back again at the accompanying photo, you would notice a fountain from which water is flowing freely at its centre. Named Wallace fountain after its generous donor, Sir Richard Wallace, there are over 60 of these fountains around Paris to provide free potable water in public spaces from spring to autumn.

Normally dark green in colour, imagine my surprise when I came across one today that’s fire-engine red! Mais bien sûr, this particular fountain is situated in the heart of Chinatown area, and this is the one colour that Chinese loves most. Perhaps the residents nearby feel they require the fountain to “fit in”, culturally speaking?

Personally, I’d rather they be dark green than red.

Day 196: La vanité…

Parisians are, in general, a stylish lot of people. Standing at the fringe, I often wonder where so-and-so bought her effortlessly fabulous outfit and fashionable item of clothing/accessory/footwear. Often I couldn’t help feeling a little dowdy in comparison but reminded myself in turn that these don’t change who I am, only the “outer shell”, of what I wear.

La vanité mise à nu par ses thuriféraires is another thought-provoking sculpture by Daniel Hourdé, installed just across the road from Désillusion totale, that perfectly represents the stripping of vanity to reveal the fundamentals, the depth beneath this layer of superficial mask. We are vulnerable under it all; usually only the most devoted see this side of us, with the truest standing by us unconditionally. Trust of this kind is hard to come by and if you have earned it, never take it for granted.

Day 195: Fireworks of 14 Juillet

Despite being a frequent visitors to Paris (and France) in the past, I have actually never been here before for La Fête Nationale. We don’t call it Bastille Day here and in fact it may even confuses the French – “c’est quoi, le Bastille Day?” So, my first celebration, and although I skipped the military parade in the morning, I was at Champ de Mars (with a few thousand others) to enjoy the fireworks in the evening.

My friends and I got there early to bag ourselves a sweet spot at the feet of the equestrian sculpture of Marechal Joffre, having a spot of picnic and chit chatting while enjoying a pretty decent free concert prior to the start of the fireworks. As the sky got darker, the Eiffel Tower started lighting up while I played with a few settings on my camera, capturing something like above, which I thought was really cool. The fireworks finally began just after 10pm, and for about 40 minutes, we were treated to a visual feast of bangs and sparkles, dancing to the songs of Broadway Musicals. Two words – über impressive!

(For additional photos, see here)

Day 194: Those “fat words”…

I needed a quick book-fix after a relatively stressful day at work. At Gibert Joseph, I browsed through the English books section, picked up a couple of novels, and was heading back downstairs to the cashier to pay for my purchase. There, lo and behold, a book that’s promoting for all the “fat words” of the world.

“Fat words”? Actually, gros mots translates as swear words… aha, now, you’re probably thinking – interesting book! Especially one which promises a guide of 80 most commonly used, errr, colourful phrases. In 12 languages, no less. Of course, that means this book is now categorised as “dictionary” and I can think of a couple of people who wouldn’t mind having one on their bookshelves, hehehe.

Day 193: Pepper

There is a giant blue pepper (by Patrick Laroche) sitting at Place René Char, nestled between Boulevard St Germain, Boulevard Raspail and rue du Bac. Very shiny and as much as I love my veggies, this is just weird as an art concept. Seeing the “pepper holder” referring to Galerie 208 Chicheportiche, there are, presumably, more vegetable sculptures in that gallery.

Aaaaand speaking of pepper, I recently tried stuffed chilli pepper at a Peruvian restaurant near Jardin des Plantes. Delicious and authentic food to be had there, and boy has that dish had a good kick of spice in that chilli. Even for someone with high tolerance to spicy food, I was losing my tastebuds to the heat of the dish. Not a dish I could recommend to too many people I guess, which is a shame, because it was pretty tasty.

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