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Day 212: Musée de l’Orangerie

Given a mention of Paris and Impressionist art, most would think Musée d’Orsay right off the bat. I don’t blame them. It is a magnificent museum and perhaps my favourite among the many in this city. However, just across the Seine, there is a smaller museum that boasts a quaint collection of Impressionist art. It’s a pity that this place is often overlooked by visitors but for me, that’s good news because it means it’s never too crowded at Musée de l’Orangerie.

The main attraction of this museum though lies in two oval rooms, forming the sign of the infinity loop. Within the rooms, eight rectangular painted landscapes with waterlily can be found. This is where Monet’s masterpieces are on display for everyone to admire. It is so very easy to just sit in quietly (there are benches in the centre of the rooms) and gaze at the paintings. Of course, to get the real thing, I could also take a trip out to Giverny. If only time is not such a premium nowadays…

Day 211: Cimetière du Montparnasse

Culturally, I’ve been taught that cemetery is one place you don’t go to unless (1) it’s part of funeral/burial ritual, (2) it’s a designated prayer day, and (3) it’s dictated as part of specific ceremony. My grandma would be horrified to know that I’m visiting one as if it’s a place of attraction. However, in Paris, that’s what some of them are considered. You could even get a map that marks out the graves of the “stars” of the cemetery.

Perhaps there’s an energy of morbidity around. With Hungry Ghost Festival taking place soon, and having just visited an exhibition on Voodooism at Fondation Cartier, it seems natural to take a walk at Cimetière du Montparnasse nearby. Truly, it’s a very well-kept compound, with a sense of calm and zen. It is also fascinating, given it’s a multi-denominational cemetery, with interesting and varied monuments setting one grave aside from another. Just look at the one above. It could have easily passed for an art display anywhere, if you discount the other graves that you could see in the background.

Day 210: Mr Chat

Mr Chat!

I’ve walked rue Bonaparte quite regularly, thanks to the presence of a number of delicious shops along the street, but tonight, for the first time, I spotted this Mr Chat. Of course I don’t see it during the day, since it’s hidden within the shutters of this shop, lowered only after close of business.

I particularly like it that Mr Chat is so happy, reading away his time. I’m not unlike him actually. Have I told you how book-buying happy I’ve become lately? I’d say, by now, if I am to move, I would need at least 2 boxes for the books that I’ve acquired. And I’ve only live here for a few months. I think this habit is just going to get worse with time, but in a good way, right? I mean, it’s books, and it’s about reading. Surely it can’t be bad… ;)

Day 209: So alone…

The risk of dreaming is loneliness? At least that the hypothesis postulated by Aerosol in this art-graffiti wall of his.

Dream is a two-edge sword. On one hand, we could not not dream. To not have dreams is to live a monotonous existence, without anything to look forward to and nor something to aspire for. At the same time, to dream also means to put ourselves in a state of fantasy, imagining something that we may put too much hope on, and hurtful when it’s misguided.

What we should aim for is a balance between the two. Afterall, isn’t much of our lives about balance in one way or another? Too much of something is bad enough, too much of nothing is just as tough. However, I don’t see loneliness in either scheme of dream. Am I missing some obvious link?

Day 208: Everybody goes to the Louvre

The city is becoming void of locals as everyone goes away for their summer holiday. Its effects be seen everywhere. Shops closed for their congés annuels, less passengers on the bus (still plenty on the métro though, which tourists feel more secure taking than buses), free flowing traffic for a change… When August rolls in, there would be even more who leaves Paris. I wonder if there would be more tourists than residents then?

Over at Louvre though, there are still throngs of people passing through at all time. Quite a stark contrast in comparison to the quartier where I work. It seems regardless of the time or day that I go by the palais, the queue is always long and a ton more other people are posing for various photos including play look-I-can-pinch-the-top-of-IM Pei’s-pyramid. Obviously this is the social quartier of the season ;)

Day 207: Little Red goes to the wood

The marketing team behind this poster has quite a sense of humour.

The mairie is currently encouraging its residents and visitors to appreciate the green spaces and tropical woods surrounding the city. They are not wrong you know. There are a lot of beautiful green spots in Paris that one could explore, and I don’t mean just Luxembourg or Tuilleries Gardens. In particular, the focus is on Parc de Bagatelle, Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes.

Anyway, I digressed. So while the mairie is trying to forge a culture close to nature, are we all supposed to turn into a curious Little Red Riding Hood? There is a wolf lurking somewhere out there, with a sly grin in his face. Hmmm… Still, the poster brings a smile to my face every time I see it. While a photograph of a poster is not terribly exciting, I still feel it should be shared :D

Day 206: Cultural station – Kiosque des Noctambules

The very first time I walked past the kiosque des noctambules (sure, I didn’t know the name back then either) I was perplexed by its colourful bejewelled state (who installed a glass bead-like art sculpture here?) and then noticed people coming up from underneath. Curious. A quick investigative effort revealed that it is the entrance to the métro station of Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre.

A contemporary art piece by Jean-Michel Othoniel, it was commissioned for the centenary celebration of the inauguration of métro in Paris. First introduced in 1900, métro line 1 was used to transport visitors of the city to enjoy the sites and sights during the Exposition Universelle of 1900. Back then, the line runs between Porte Maillot and Porte de Vincennes and Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre was one of the eight stops of the line. Pretty steep in history eh?

Day 205: Aftermath of a fire

A few days ago, en route to work, I spotted firemen at Cité U. Normally, they can be seen during sunny weekend morning playing baseball at the pitch, but on a weekday morning, that could only mean trouble. Sure enough, I looked up at the building next to where they were and big gaping holes with black charred beams were staring back at me. Ooops.

The fire broke out on the night before (and nope, I didn’t hear any siren even though my building is not too far from it) and has ravaged through the roof of that particular wing. A video that I found online showed it to be a pretty huge fire although well-contained that it didn’t spread further. For now, the residents of the building have been temporarily housed elsewhere in Cité U.

Day 204: Black swans

There is a pair of black swans at Parc Montsouris with bright red bills. This is rather unusual, as the swans normally spotted around this part of the world are white. A quick wiki check told me that black swans are more commonly found in Australia and New Zealand. I can only assume then this pair is part of introduced population? It is a veeeery long way to migrate from Oz to France otherwise.

While I was there, park visitors were amusingly throwing grass in to feed the swans. A woman even remarked “Do you think they eat grass? I hope they won’t get stomach ache.” Well, seeing the swans are herbivores, I’d say they’ll be alright. Sure, the grass is not the same as vegetations found in the lake but it’s not too far off either. Eat, swans, eat.

Day 203: La Marguerite

You know I’m always on the look out for nice pastries. However, it is also prudent that I don’t overdo it. As of present, I seem to be stepping in a pâtisserie about once every fortnight and for the intermittent weeks, perhaps a chocolaterie every second fortnight?

Arnaud Delmontel is a bit out of the way and quite a chance discovery. I had trodded my way to Montmartre in search of a small shop where I’ve previously bought some lovely matcha madeleine but unfortunately the shop is currently closed for its congé annuel. However, right across the street is Delmontel and its cakes on display just called out to me. Like moth to a light, I fluttered my way over and bought les petits gateaux for myself and Anne. The verdict? Mine was rich an creamy but Anne’s was a tad dry on the outside. A place to revisit when I’m in the area again next but perhaps not one to deliberately journey out for.

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.

Day 192: Avenue des Naked City

The signs of Parisian street name are generally quite standardised. There are a few odd ones here and there, mostly because they were signs from the old days before the city council imposed a regulated signage system. Or you are rich enough to own a building and pay for someone to redesign the marker that sits outside your building. (Read all about the fascinating history behind street name signage here.)

They probably wouldn’t have approved one for Avenue des Naked City, not that we have a street of such name but it is also grammatically incorrect. However it hasn’t stop someone from getting creative and labelled this on rue de Beaume. Whether if this is a prank, or someone trying to do some clever marketing (according to Google there is a band of this name), well, I don’t know.

Day 191: Chinese tv series

I climbed a gate this morning to get out from the compound of my building.

My friend and I were heading out to go to the market when we were stopped at the main door. There was a filming across the road, and we would have to wait till an all-clear was given by the director. They were filming some Chinese tv series (I didn’t quite catch the name). 10 minutes later, we were still waiting and our receptionist then offered to let us out via the garden. Sure, why not?

Except there was a locked gate to the garden, that was what. And this time she didn’t have a key for that. Climbing over then. Of course, as we walked past the set, we noted they were changing scenes and we could have actually came out of our building the proper way. Never mind.

I now wonder what series is it exactly.

Day 190: Réservoir de Montsouris

From the exterior, this glass building could pass for an old, disused metro station from the era of Art Nouveau. It’s pretty yet subtle, with names inscribed on the wall referring to rivers near Paris. This hints on the purpose of the site itself, formerly a stone mine but today a water reservoir that would serve the left bank and areas south of Paris.

Water channelled in from the aquaducts of Loing, Lunain, Vanne and Voulzie are stored away from plain sight, under grass-covered hills of which the glass building sits atop. The interior resembles a massive cathedrale which has been inundated with clear water (Google and you will see), and how I would love to see that for myself. However, as you can imagine, for health and safety reasons, a tour into the reservoir would just not be possible. What a pity.

Day 189: Rollerblader

Swish, swosh, swish…

In Paris, it is very common to see someone on a pair of rollerblades, getting around from one place to another. Even the policemen. There are events catering for groups of rollerbladers citywide, and one of the largest is Pari-Roller, when thousands of rollerbladers take to the road on Friday nights, covering tens of kilometres route for about 3 hours around the city. They are really quite impressive and the group has been active since 1994!

On a smaller scale, I’ve often spotted rollerbladers at Pont au Double (next to Notre Dame), and these are no common rollerbladers. They are true showmen. For their and our viewing leisure, they spend hours performing feats which I know not the names of the tricks, be it a forward or a reverse run, fully standing or otherwise. If you have some time, you should go round and check it out.

Day 188: Au Vieux Paris

I was crossing Île de la Cité to get to the Left Bank when this sight caught my attention. First of all, yes, it’s very picturesque. However, more strikingly, is that the terrace is empty. Empty! That’s unlike Paris that I’m seeing everywhere, where tourists and locals alike (ok, maybe less locals) jostle for a spot outside, all year round. And Île de la Cité is right smack in the centre of Paris! The signage indicates that this is not a mere café or restaurant, but also a guesthouse (auberge). In fact, it is auberge depuis 1594. Truly befitting the name “At Old Paris” then.

I can only postulate the reasons for it being this quiet: (1) it was closed (but a quick search online says it’s open daily), (2) it was a bit chilly (although not overly so to discourage outdoor coffee intake), (3) it was not yet opened for the evening (it was, afterall, not yet 7pm), (4) they don’t serve just coffee and snack (afterall, it is more of a restaurant), (5) questionable quality (but reviews online had plenty of positive things to say that I’m curious to try it out) and (6) it is not well-known (not everywhere is Le Precope or Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots).

Day 187: Le jardin des éphémères

Just recently I blogged about tennis-themed set up at the parvis in front of the Hôtel de Ville, but as Roland Garros moves on, the same large space undergoes a rather magical transformation into an ephemeral garden for the summer. Every year, a different garden is constructed, and this year, Anamorphosis is brought to life by François Abelanet.

Walking around the garden, each step brings forth a new perspective, a trompe-l’œil, thus a continuous source of fascination. There’s even a view point platform built, but the queue was a tad too long for me to want to join in. I may wait for another day, perhaps early in the morning or a sunnier day, to explore further.

Addendum: … or not. The garden has moved on before I have time for a second go, booo.

Day 186: Tour St-Jacques

I briefly mentioned The Way of St James a few months ago (some 100 days apparently), when discussing motif of the medieval door at Musée Cluny. What I didn’t go into, was that Paris is the starting point of one of the French pilgrimage routes. This is marked in the past by the church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie and its tower, where a relic of St James was preserved. Unfortunately the church has been destroyed and all that is left today is the flamboyant Gothic tower.

Sitting near Châtelet-Les Halles, the tower most recently underwent a stint of preservation and restoration works about a couple of years ago. Atop, as you can see, is a statue of St James. As far as I know, the tower is not open for visitors to scale the heights for yet another Parisian vantage viewpoint. Instead there’s a meteorogical station housed in there? Just as well. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of space to accommodate many people up there at any one time – the queue would have been too insane.

Day 185: The Take-Off

Since I’ve been taking photos from a bus and a train this weekend, I may as well continue the trend with photo from within a flight cabin, right? We landed in Charles de Gaulle airport this evening a tad delayed following a late departure from Dublin, and on arrival, the plane started to make its way slowly towards the terminal area when we had a tarmac pause.

From my window, I could see a series of queueing planes, waiting for their take-offs. Within a few minutes, three planes set themselves soaring into the evening sky. While this is fun, it’s not quite as impressive as seeing a queue of planes waiting to land. I was once treated to such view and within the horizon, while a plane was landing, there were four others waiting for their turns. As each plane loomed larger, those following suit also increased in visible size.

Day 184: Dublin Bay

How beautiful the sight of such blue open sea against the small cliffs of green. This is the kind of scenery that makes Ireland attractive to visitors, even if the threat of ever-present rainy weather lurks closely in everyone’s mind. Then again, without the natural watering system, would the country remains so green? In any case, there’s always a pub here and there that one can dashes in for shelter, chips and pints.

I took this shot as I sat in the DART (the suburban rail system) while it runs along the Dublin coastline. This is the stretch between Killiney and Shankill. What you don’t see is at the foot of these soft cliffs are secluded beaches, which on a sunny day, are filled with families and friends on picnics and swimming outings. Sure the water would be freezing, but I haven’t seen it stop anyone just yet. Not if you’re Irish ;)

Day 183: Sparkly

It’s weekend in the Irish capital. That means a lot of fashion observations to be had, and how different it is here in comparison to Paris. There are certainly more colours (French wardrobes have more neutral colours and good ol’ reliable black), a lot of more skin (some of the right amount, others rather questionable…) and a variety of trendy pieces and accessories.

The wearer of this pair of sparkly shoes practically skipped along the street before halting in front of the bus stop. She must had had a good dancing night out. I know I certainly have, and it felt sooooo good. It has been a while since I danced and I miss it lots. I’m waiting for September to come round so I can start with dance classes in Paris. Salsa, tango, what else?

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