Summer in Paris including a trip to the new Branly Museum
25.07.2006 - 28.07.2006 22 °C
Paris Trip Diary 25 – 28 July 2006
Very early (6:30 am ) Eurostar for the 2 hour 50 minute trip to Paris on a packed train (lots of Japanese and American tourists). I was staying at a new (to me) hotel, the Eldorado near Place de Clichy. At Gare du Nord, I managed to get through the onslaught of gypsies (women and children – no men in sight) -- asking “Do you speak English? – and then presenting a begging note. Something for us to look forward to when Romania and Bulgaria join the EU ; we won’t have to go to Paris to be pestered by gypsies.
Place de Clichy more promising than my previous experience there (when I thought it a bit dodgy), and Hotel Eldorada a hip fun place. I was in the 6 room original hotel in the garden at the rear of the premises … but later I was to learn that the garden was actually packed with people eating at the adjacent bistro .. and they went on talking until nearly 2am. It all got a little weary making when I was trying to sleep. Perhaps it was just so very hot .. maybe with the windows closed (but then, bad weather …).
There was an interesting Irish bar next to the hotel which provided a great view of the street during a dramatic thunderstorm on Tuesday evening. Anyway, the neighbourhood is safe and interesting, but somehow totally out of the way. Two Metro lines go through Place de Clichy, but neither of them seen to go anyplace of interest to me ; that meant I always had to go a long distance and change trains. I won’t be staying there again in spite of the reasonable price (55 Euros) and nice décor.
My main goal for this trip was to ignore my birthday .. ( 67 in case you really must know), and to see the newly reopened Museum Orangerie (of Monet’s Waterlillies fame). Alas, me and several thousand others wanted to see the newly reopened museum and because it did not open until 12:30 (30 minutes after noon!!!), the queue was so long and the heat so intense that I decided I will make another trip in the autumn when I can only hope it will be easier to see the paintings.
Paris always fascinates, so I soon got over my ‘disappointment’ and went on a walking trip through Tuileries Gardens where a small scale fair was gearing up for a day’s delights : ferris wheel, roundabouts, water slides, etc. It was designed for children, so it had charm rather than noise and drama and looked like the type of thing you would see in a small town rather than in central Paris.
Biggest surprise is that the Inter Continental Hotel is gone .. well, not gone .. but now renamed the Westin (part of the USA owned Starwood chain). I hope that they eventually have some proper signs made, because the brushed aluminum ‘Westin Hotel” sign is downmarket, especially next to the very grand entrance. Since $650 a night is not in this year’s budget, it is all academic.
Thanks to an article in the New Yorker about the fashion designer Balenciaga, I went to the Palais Royal to see a most curious exhibition of his fashion wear. Best known to me as the home of Jean Cocteau (and Colette until her death in 1954), the Palais Royal (for students of the French Revolution; this is where Charlotte Corday bought the knife which she used to murder Marat). The arcades around the gardens are very chic and many of them had dresses, shoes and handbags from the great era when Balenciaga took centre stage in world fashon with his petite robe noir ( ‘little black dress’). Strictly speaking this was not an ordinary exhibtion, you view the work by window shopping along the arcades which are selling their usual collection of coins, medals, ceramics. Shoes, etc…. but in many of the shops there are three or four Balenciago items along with the usual goods of the shop.
Hot weather and crowds in the streets are nothing new to Paris, and the French (well, those who had not fled to the country .. this being the big holiday season when many Parisians go out of the city), deal with it so well compared with the sweating, frowning, and panting which I saw in London just one day before.
Highlight: 3 course meal at Gai Moulin, rue St Merri. 20 Euro set meal (wine extra).
A half bottle of St Nicholas de Bourgueil ….. a fine red Loire wine .. chilled in the French fashion at 9 Euros was excellent value. Interesting menu and fun atmosphere.
Low point: the new Museum Branly .. a Grand project of Chirac .. it houses ethnology (the collections of the former Museum des Hommes). I saw a review in the New Yorker (27 June 2006) which said ‘you may find it the greatest monument to French popular culture since the Pompidou’. Count me out .. the building is a mess; the collection simply not up to the standards one expects from any world class museum. A long tedious spiral walkway leads up to claustrophobic display areas. I remember acres of red lino and dramatic lighting of artifacts in very dark areas. Very quickly I lost concentration and was simply trying to find my way out. What a wasted opportunity.
Although Paris is much smaller than London, Paris ( 2.1 million versus 8.5 million in London according to Wikipedia) it seems ‘bigger’ because it is easy to walk through several neighbourhoods which are so close and yet so diverse .. the overall impression is one of millions of people out and about. Much of London seems under populated and quiet in comparison .. I guess that Paris is simply more compact.
A delight .. 40 years on (I first visited Paris in 1966) .. and I hope to make many more visits.