I wanted to keep riding my emotional high for a bit before reading and travel-prepping roped me back in, so I decided to give myself a food quest today partly because I haven’t treated myself to a meal out in a while (yay constant stream of leftovers resulting from big-batch cooking!). It was also a good excuse to get out of the house instead of lazying around all day, although I probably should have paid a little more attention to the weather before leaving my apartment without an umbrella. Mist – which briefly turns to actual rain – does not make for the greatest of umbrella-less walking conditions.
After cutting through Père Lachaise, my first stop was Blé Sucré, where I had hoped to snatch a kouign amann, but unfortunately had to make due with a (still excellent) croissant, seeing as how they had run out of the former by the time I got there. So much for showing up at 10am instead of 9 like I had intended. Ah well.
I had a bit of time to kill after that, so I decided to take a little stroll along what was the inspiration for the Highline in New York: the Coulée Verte. Stretching along a former elevated metro track, this promenade runs parallel to ave. Daumesnil, and drops you off a little before you reach Bastille. There were quite a few joggers up there this morning, though I’m not sure I would have felt safe running along some of the more slippery surfaces (seriously, there’s this wood – or at least, wood-like – material that’s used on some surfaces here…literally the worst thing to walk on when there is even a hint of moisture).
My next stop was actually the primary reason for this walk, as it had been quite a while since I had been to this place, and I figured that, given the sudden drop in temperature, a visit would be well warranted. Plus, I was just really craving a nice bowl of ramen.
I didn’t take a picture of my ramen to share with you lovely people, but quite frankly, it was because I was too busy devouring it the minute it was placed in front of me. In my defense: mist and no umbrella. Fortunately, the rain actually started to let up after this point, so I was able to finish up my walk in peace. First, a walk up la Rue des Martyrs to walk off some of my lunch:
Then it was over to the canal, where once again, I was left mesmerized by the peaceful beauty that is Paris in the fall.
And it was here that I made my final stop at Ten Belles for a noisette and, because I had walked around 3-4 hours, a chocolate-caramel brownie.
Both of which proved to be helpful fuel for the walk back home:
I have a tendency at times to get a bit restless. The downside of this is that in moments where I’m hitting a block mentally, my mind tends to race in about as many directions away from what I want to focus on than I can possibly imagine. Normally, when a situation like this hits (like it did this morning when I was staring at my conference paper draft that I knew I needed to add…something to, but could not put my finger on what), I tend to seek solace not just in my usual walks, but in something more intellectually stimulating.
Like art exhibits.
The Picasso Museum in Paris is currently hosting an exhibit titled Picasso 1932, année érotique (Picasso 1932, an erotic year). There’s been a bit of good buzz around the exhibit, so I figured that, since studying erotics has been, if nothing else, at the background of a lot of what I do, why not spend some time around a thing that is both familiar yet has absolutely nothing to do with the paper I am currently blocked on.
And, as these things usually go, I think that may have worked.
I’m not an art expert by any means, but even I can say that the praise surrounding this exposition is not entirely unfounded. The whole thing is laid out like a sort of calendar/journal tracing Picasso’s life and art in the year 1932, with letters, newspaper clippings, posters and personal photographs interspersed amongst the paintings themselves.
And I’m not sure if this had anything to do with why I left with such a good impression of the exhibit, but I couldn’t help but freeze momentarily when, after stepping into one of the exhibit rooms, I came face-to-face with this :
If you are familiar with Hokusai’s “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife”, maybe you’ll agree that there is something about this piece that harkens very strongly back to it. Or at least, I thought so. There was just something about the way the female body has become so refracted, so broken down, reshaped and manipulated that it regains a sort of animalistic quality as it reaches back to envelop the head in repose that I could not look away from for what seemed like the longest time. In any case, I think that somewhat snapped me out of my tailspin because I went through the rest of the exhibit with an almost clear head (let’s be honest with ourselves, my mind is never not racing on something, but better one or a few things than a hundred).
The rest of my afternoon before my 5pm tutoring session consisted of stopping by the FNAC to pick up a book recently recommended to me (a French translation of an Icelandic novel) and then grabbing a quick snack before having to stop myself from getting too far into the book too quickly. Yes, this is a legitimate problem.
Sunny days have finally started to give over to the grey gloom of fall.
Confession time: I’m kind of into visiting old cemeteries. More specifically, visiting old cemeteries in the fall (something about the juxtaposition of the changing leaves against the cool grey of gravestones, especially just after it rains…). As a tutoring session I scheduled with a student near Montmartre got pushed back fifteen minutes, I figured I’d kill (ha) some time by walking amongst some grave stones.
The Indian summer has been nice and all, but I’m glad fall is finally creeping in (and just in time for Halloween too…though no one really celebrates that here).
Friday. Reading. Reading and realizing I need to actually write this presentation for a conference in New Jersey in a couple weeks (literally) that I’ve been putting off. Eeep.
Saturday was much more fun though.
It’s always such a delight to me to meet up with friends/former classmates/former students (still cannot believe I can write this last one) when I’m in Paris, and yesterday was no exception. First up was coffee with a former student (who herself was also a grad student during her time in the course I was TFing, and yes, before you ask, that is a very strange thing to encounter) at La Fontaine de Belleville, which is quickly becoming my favorite spot in the city if for no reason other than the live jazz on Saturdays. I’m also kind of determined at this point to go there enough times that they start to recognize me and can predict my order of a café noisette with optional sablé cookie right away. Will update if/when that moment ever happens.
After enjoying the music for a while, we headed out for a bit of a stroll, during which we stumbled across what I am starting to consider as the new manifestation of the theatre of the absurd.
A suitcase was abandoned near rue Montorgeuil. Seeing that the state of emergency that followed November 2015 – and that Macron has pretty much signed into law – is still in full force, this seemingly innocuous navy blue object was treated with all the care of a live land mine. There was the cordoned off perimeter – which, let’s be honest, would have been about as useful as a paper umbrella in a blizzard if there actually was anything dangerous in the suitcase –, policemen announcing that passerby were to stay back, and a little robot poling and prodding the offending object, confirming what the exasperated crowd of onlookers already suspected: there was nothing inside. I think though what solidified the theatricality of the whole thing was what happened immediately afterwards. As pedestrians were allowed to move freely again, a small crowd of people gathered around the suitcase to stare at it, poke it, turn it upside down, take photographs of it, simultaneously elevating its status to ‘sacred object’ while debasing and destroying it even further.
Hyper-security can produce such strange spectacle sometimes.
Later that evening, I met up with another member of my cohort who is also living in Paris at the moment, and I finally tried Da Vito, the pizzeria that’s a front for that one speakeasy bar (Moonshiner) behind a fridge that I think I have written about here before. Honestly, not bad at all.
And finally, today was the last day of that Shakespeare monologue workshop/meetup I signed up for a few weeks back. As it was the final class, it mostly consisted of everyone presenting their monologues, getting a bit of feedback, and then heading out to a pub for some drinks to celebrate the end of the course. I think I’m going to try and keep a foot in this group somehow, if not just as a good resource to refresh some of the more ‘classical’ elements of my technique a bit (plus, it’s not like I’m actively hustling for auditions anyway).
The weather has started to turn a bit, and soon I think my walking habit will be tested. I’m going to try and hold out as long as I can. Wish me luck.
You know what’s fun? Reading through archived newspaper articles from fifty years ago detailing the very violent reactions against a certain play you are studying, and realizing that you could replace any number of the outraged comments with a certain orange man’s tweets and no one would be the wiser.
My, how little things have changed.
It seemed only fitting, then, that drinks on Friday night involved going the Illegal Mezcal popup at Red House, where there were various iterations of the following image:
The weather has been rather…unseasonably nice lately, so this morning when I woke up, I was determined to walk from my apartment to the Comédie-Française where I was seeing a matinée at 14h. It took about an hour (so, a bit over twice as long than if I had taken the metro), but given that the show was scheduled to last for two hours, I didn’t want to risk not getting any sun time. As to the show itself…I honestly don’t know what to write because I’m still kind of speechless.
I say kind of because although there were elements of this show that really blew me away – the sound design in particular, especially the way music transitioned from Bach/Strauss-esq melodies to what I think was Rammstein, or if not, something like Rammstein, was especially on point – I think I am slowly coming to the realization that I don’t like the architecture/spatial dynamics of the scène à l’italienne (i.e. your basic stage setup with a proscenium, box seats, balconies, etc.). Something about the way the seats curl into the stage space makes it seem so constricting, which can be a detriment when, particularly in a show like this one that harkens back to the tragic familial downfalls of Classical theatre, you almost feel as if you want the stage to be invading your space, rather than the other way around. One of the closing images involved a character who, after having bathed in the ashes of his dead relatives, strips down, takes up a machine gun, climbs onto a platform upstage and shoots out into the audience while strobe lights flash and machine gun blares louder and louder. Knowing that the original production of this show was staged in Avignon in 2016, I can’t help but wonder if the openness of the Palais des Papes would have made that moment more impactful (not that it didn’t leave an impression because believe me, mentally juxtaposing that image with what happened in Paris two years ago definitely left its mark).
For those who are familiar with his films, yes, this play is based on Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969), which was itself nominated for Best Screenplay in that year’s Oscar ceremony. The premise revolves around the Essenbeck family, steel industrialists – loosley based on the Krupp family, themselves still based in Essen, Germany – who, after the Reichstag fire, choose to begin doing business with the Nazi Party, despite the reservations of the family patriarch, himself a holdover of the former German order. As you can perhaps guess from the title of the play, things do not exactly go well for them. Indeed, once all the machinations, backstabbing, betrayal, incest and walking-on-a-tightrope nervewracking paedophilia (I honestly have no other way to describe how unsettling this particular scene was), the family is but a shell of what it once was, a monster ready to openly weaponize the Third Reich. And really, there is no point in which you see this people as anything other than damned. A key element of the staging were cameras that followed them around, projecting close-ups of actors’ faces on a screen upstage as well as small screens on the sides of the proscenium, sometimes in real time, sometimes integrating pre-recorded footage (during a depiction of the Night of the Long Knives, two male actors dance on stage while behind them, their virtual selves, as well as the virtual bodies of other men, embrace in a frenzied orgy), sometimes using a stylized filter. This latter element in particular, what with the usage of mise en abyme, turned these actors into more like disjointed bodies, especially when there was a slight delay between the movements of the physical body on stage to its ‘real-time’ projected image. There was no mistaking the fact that we were in a hellscape. Sometimes video elements can be overkill. Here, they worked just fine.
But of course, with the weather being as nice as it was, I needed a bit of a pick-me-up after all that intensity, so my last stop of the day was to Montmartre for one of my favorite Paris events : the Fête des Vendanges!
This is an annual celebration organized around the grape harvest in Paris’s last working vineyard (pictured above). Throughout the four days of the festival, the neighborhood organizes exhibits, concerts, talks, tours, workshops all with the aim of both celebrating Montmartre as well as wine/food in general. Honestly, it’s probably one of my favorite events of the year, and it serves as my annual reminder of why I love fall (although, you’d think it was late summer with the weather…).
I started my afternoon with a visit to the Musée de Montmartre to check out their exhibit on Montmartre on film, as well as take a stroll around the gardens before the museum closed. The expo itself was very well organized and extensive, featuring clips, posters, props and memorabilia from various Montmartre-set films. This one, for instance, might be familiar to some:
I’m glad I set aside some time for strolling around the garden as well, because I managed to catch the tail end of this little choral concert near the museum café:
I’m not sure if I’ve really gone into detail as to how things have changed regarding security measures in the city since the events of two years ago, but I definitely noticed a difference between this year’s Fête and the others I’ve attended. Previously, the food and wine stalls around the Sacré Cœur were open access, and crowds could just flow in and out as they pleased. This year though, that area was fenced off with two security checkpoints, one for entry, one for exiting. The downside of this – other than the disruption of the normal crowd movement – was that people tended to bottleneck up near those two points, making navigating the area a bit cumbersome at times. I have more thoughts about the État d’Urgence measures, but I’ll save those for another time.
Fortunately, even with the bottlenecking, I was able to find the two friends I was meeting up with, as well as snag a commemorative wine glass:
As we were not too keen on spending the whole evening crammed amongst the crowds, the three of us pooled together to purchase a bottle of white wine (only 8eu I think!), as well as some Comté cheese, cured ham and bread, and then made our way to the back side of the church for our apéro-picnic. As I had not had anything to eat since my bowl of leftover butternut squash soup at lunchtime, let’s just say that I thoroughly attacked that cheese with all the muster my plastic knife could afford.
So I think I underestimated just how exhausted I was from this past weekend because yesterday I slept in until noon. This threw somewhat of a wrench in my study plans (as well as my grocery-shopping plans), but I made up for most of that by going to FNAC and buying a book that I think is going to kick my ass (hello again Merleau-Ponty…). I did manage to get a bit of reading in over a pot of tea at La Fontaine de Belleville – as well as a new bag of Belleville coffee…finally -, so I’m not about to call the day entirely wasted.
Today though brought my reading experience to a whole new level.
Pictured above is the reading room of the Institute Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Art (INHA) at the Richelieu site of the BNF. This is actually the site where the original national library was located before moving over to its current location in the 13th, but as it has been under extensive renovation for the past few years, I wasn’t able to stop in here until now. Most of the people who come to study/work here are art/art history students – as evidenced by the kinds of books on their desks -, but I and my small yet very substantial philosophy book felt very much at home. The downsides of this reading room, however, are that places are first come, first serve, and I can’t exactly request all the materials I need to be delivered there, considering they are either 1) housed in the main library, or 2) housed in the collections of a specific department, and thus cannot be transferred out of said department. Ah well. I don’t doubt that I’ll be coming back to work here again, though. The pull back is too strong.
In any case, now that I’m finally caught up on all my sleep – which, yes, I am aware that such a thing as catching up on sleep doesn’t actually exist – , I’m going to try and make it to my local market tomorrow morning (bright and early!) before getting started with whatever else I plan on doing. While I’m on the subject of food shopping, it’s crazy how much I miss having someone around to bounce ideas off of in terms of what to cook for dinner that night/week. Normally, cooking projects are things I look forward to, but lately I’ve been feeling kind of meh about the whole process of cooking in general. Maybe a market trip will help. I certainly hope so.
I know that popular opinion still hails Paris as one of the food capitals of the world, but sometimes I wonder if maybe we need to rethink that…
My favorite thing about this is that little reminder to practice regular physical activity written at the bottom of the ads. It’s cute.
In other food-related news, today was one of those days where sitting at the library reading for longer than my usual 4ish hours was just not going to happen. Coupled with a somewhat sour mood that has been nagging at me for the past few days – this may or may not have something to do with the cold I’m currently getting over, as well as the general feeling that can only be described as a screaming ‘blegh’ that comes with the realization that the partner that would normally help care for you is not there and you have to make soup for yourself while dealing with the sinuses from hell -, I felt like I deserved a treat. After all, it’s Wednesday, the middle of the week, and sometimes it’s nice to make yourself feel a little good.
So I trekked over to Blé Sucré, a boulangerie I usually stop at for a croissant or kouign aman if I can get there early enough in the morning (seriously, if you ever get the opportunity, get the kouign aman. Buttery, sweet, sugary goodness. I get cravings just thinking about them). As I arrived just after 4pm, the majority of the viennoiserie were gone, but thankfully a small stack of cookies in the display case caught my eye.
Originally, I thought this was a chocolate chunk-macadamia nut cookie, but after taking a bite, realized that what I thought were macadamia nuts were really almonds. It was a nice surprise, though. I love almonds.
Of course, I’m not planning on making these cookie trips a regular thing (granted I did walk pretty much all the way across the city after eating this, so I’m not too worried about it ‘going straight to my hips’ or anything). But I’ve started to readopt a habit I first cultivated when I was doing my masters here, namely, putting the books down and letting myself be in the world, allowing myself to enjoy a little of whatever indulgence without feeling guilty about it. One of my professors when I was at Reid Hall made a point to tell us at the beginning of the year how important it was to ‘go outside’, even if the work we did regularly confined us to the inside of libraries. With all the walking I do, I guess you could say I didn’t need much convincing in order to adopt the idea.
And because it’s always good to end on a positive food-related note, this evening, I had some delicious bibimbap in the company of good friends. I’ll save those strange pizza/burger/things for another day.
Honestly, with the amount of speakeasy bars that seem to pop up every five seconds in Paris – and always with a line of patrons waiting to get in -, it’s a wonder that the term can still mean something.
Granted, that doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy going to them because while the ‘speakeasy’ concept has surpassed its origins as part of the underground of Prohibition-era America, the cocktails at these Paris bars are usually rather good. And, yes, sometimes the concept behind the bar itself can be kind of cute.
Last night, I met up with a friend at Lavomatic, a speakeasy bar hidden within an actual working laundromat (hence the name). As we arrived during apéro hour, the wait wasn’t too terrible, although we unfortunately did not get there in time to score a table with a swing for a seat (of which there are, I believe, two). Laundry-themed decor dots the interior of the small – yet very cozy – bar, and the noise level didn’t get too crazy while we were there, even with the cramped space. As for the drinks, I really enjoyed my cocktail, and I’m curious to go back again and try some of their other creations as the menu changes seasonally. Price-wise, they run anywhere between 9 and 13 euros, with most coming in at either 10 or 11 (they’ve also got some wines by the glass on offer for a cheaper price, think 5/6 euros).
Also, they’ve got some rather amusing bar stools :
After finishing our drinks, we headed over to Boca Mexa for some tacos – and, for me at least, some actual mouth-burning spicy salsa, yay -, and I was once again left pleasantly satisfied by how much easier it is to find good Mexican food here now than it was when I first studied abroad in 2011 (hell, when I came back again to start my M.A. a year later, El Nopal was still pretty much the only worthy place for tacos in town).
Today was, theoretically, going to be a day of traipsing about outside, considering it was the annual Journée sans voiture (day without cars) *, but the light mist hanging in the air all day made the thought of staying outside for prolonged periods of time a bit less appealing. Not that this stopped me from walking to my Shakespeare monologue class near Opéra this morning.
The class runs at the somewhat awkward time of 12 – 2, so it’s a bit too early to eat lunch before going, and then a bit too late to be thinking about lunch when class lets out. Normally, I would have headed home to have some leftovers, but the cozy potential of the grey sky was just too good to not take advantage of in a café somewhere. Unfortunately, I forgot that it was fashion week, meaning all the usual – tiny – places I would hit up for my hot beverage fix were filled with folks in town for the big event. So I ended up just going to Wild & the Moon because 1) it’s bigger, and 2) I figured I could get a specialty coffee for my pains.
Really though, no one should be surprised that I chose something black.
Guys. I’m going to get very, very basic for a minute here, but, today I discovered – to my surprise – that my local marché has…kale.
This discovery came as a surprise to me because three years ago when I first lived in this neighborhood, there was no kale. As someone who grew up eating hearty, leafy greens on a regular basis – greens, or horta, are actually a very big part of the Greek diet – including kale, not being able to find it (or comparable greens, aside from maybe chard) easily was a bit of a downer. Hell, it’s why I used to trek out all the way to the marché in Bastille because at least there I’d have a chance of finding it. Maybe.
And really I am quite surprised I did not come to this marché more often when I lived here last because it’s actually rather good. The photo above is the only one I took during this visit, but you can just imagine an entire street lined with produce stands similar to this one, displaying seasonal fruit and veg (including another Paris rarity, corn! Spot it on the left side of the photo), butchers lining their stands with terrines, sausages, and cured meats, cheesemongers proudly showing off giant wheels of comté and huge hunks of butter, and fishmongers scooping mussels into paper bags.*
Indeed, this morning’s trek was a bit of a shift from how last night ended.
I joined a friend at the Gaumont theatre on the Champs-Elysées for the French premier of It last night, and while I won’t say it was the most frightening thing I’ve seen, the kids’ performances – as pretty much every critic has said – really sold the film for me. And because it was a premier night, several members of the theatre staff were dressed up as Pennywise, though the creep factor didn’t really set in until, before the film started, they told us to reach under our chairs to see if we found a red balloon (those who did would be able to claim a prize afterwords). Not gonna lie, I genuinely thought for a minute that when I reached down, one of the roving Pennywises would end up grabbing my hand from under the seat.
I think what hit me most though was the whole 1980s setting in general. This is a period that I think – for now anyway – I’m going to almost always associate with him. The classic movies of the period that It – and to a greater extent, Stranger Things – were ones we spent evenings watching together, particularly as they recalled a time he grew up in, and that I only caught traces of what carried over into the 90s. At the same time, going to the movies was one of the first things I did alone after the breakup. Maybe I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ve found that ‘taking back’ some of the pop culture things we consumed collectively and ‘rebranding’ them for myself has been one of the more effective ways I’ve found to process everything. Feeling like shit after heartbreak is like trying to lift an impossibly heavy rock off your chest, but, at least for me, not allowing yourself to enjoy things, even the things that you used to do ‘together’, only makes that rock heavier. This film – and others set to come out in the very near future – was one we were ‘supposed’ to see together, that we had talked about when it was still in production. But there’s no hard rule that says that these ephemeral things that once belonged to the ‘us’ need to be divided out, crumbling assets of a once stable life.
Anyway, all that is to say that even though this time, I spent the evening at the theatre in the company of a good friend, going to the movies by yourself is actually really nice (and in a way, very self-affirming).
*One thing I learned when I last lived here was that shellfish, and in particular oysters, have a ‘season’, which starts to kick in at around this time of year. It’s not uncommon, therefore, to see stands at markets selling oysters by the case (as well as individually), but my lack of confidence in my ability to not stab my hand right through when I shuck one has, for now, kept me from buying them.