Paris Journal 2013 – Barbara Joy Cooley Home: barbarajoycooley.com
Welcome to the 2013 Paris Journal. Tom and I did it! We survived another year, in spite of challenges and medical adventures. Here we are in our favorite home away from home, ready to share it with you once again.
This year, we had to find a new home for our first five days in Paris. Thanks to faithful journal reader Sue, we learned about Jacques Seguin, the artist who owns a few furnished apartments in this city. One was available for us, in a neighborhood that we admire near the Jardin des Plantes, arguably one of the very best parks/gardens in France.
It was only yesterday that we arrived, not nearly as fatigued as usual because Air France is better than other airlines, and because I took a calculated risk in selecting our seats. The gamble paid off. The two of us had three seats to ourselves in the front row of the upper deck of that Boeing 747-400. Bless you Boeing and Air France! That economy cabin was peaceful, we had leg room, and we both were able to sleep.
After taking the RER B train to the Lsuxembourg station, we elected to WALK several blocks, with our limited luggage, up a hill, and over to the apartment. We arrived exactly on time, although Jacques was prepared to wait for us.
He gave us a tour of the apartment, which has everything we need but is not cluttered at all. Best of all, the apartment is at the back of a deep courtyard, and so is quiet. We hear almost no street noise.
Tom went out for an initial supply errand at the local Carrefour supermarket, only two blocks away, while I unpacked. We rested a little, then went out for supply errand number two, and then went out again for a walk through the immediate neighborhood.
This is one of the many neighborhoods that has the Sorbonne (really the University of Paris) woven into its fabric, for the Sorbonne, like some of the other medieval universities, has no campus of its own. Instead, bits and pieces of it appear here and there, in some of the oldest parts of Paris. Most of the pieces are found in the 5th arrondissement but the University of Paris is scattered well beyond that district alone.
The pieces located in our new neighborhood are generally the sciences. The Curie Insititute is not far away, and a global physics institute is also nearby. We stumbled upon a Faculty of Sciences building on the rue Cuvier – an old edifice with a brilliant zig-zagging line of red neon punctuating its façade.
Best of all is that our favorite entrance to the magnificent botanical garden called the Jardin des Plantes is just down at the far end of our block. The Jardin is home to the natural history museum, an old institution with a proper old institutional entrance.
We’ve always enjoyed visiting the Jardin des Plantes and admiring its gardens, arboretum, maze, zoo, outdoor café, and even the exhibits on its fences. I’ve learned a lot there.
Now it is our neighborhood park!
This neighborhood also shows some of the positive aspects of a university community. Lots of smart-looking people are around here, and I don’t hear so much of that stupid drunkenness one often hears around campus areas. That is not to say that there isn’t any drinking going on – we see plenty of young, graduate-student aged people socializing in bars. One very popular bar called The Local is around the corner from us, just far enough away. The Local is abuzz every night of the week, it seems. At least, it certainly was on a Tuesday night.
Our block of the rue Lacépède is more sedate. We like to see the little bookshop that also sells posters and prints, just across the street. There’s also a tiny Latin American restaurant in the building next door, but it is very quiet.
Unlike the university neighborhood where we lived for many years in Ohio, the professors and scientists seem to have no problem living near this university. And so there are no student ghettos near us. The University of Paris does have some student housing, but it is mostly located in the lower reaches of the 14th arrondissement, not here in the 5th.
There is no 98,000-seat football stadium near us now, but the Roman arenas called the Arènes de Lutece are very nearby, just to the north, at the end of the rue de Navarre. (You know that Lutece was the old Roman name for Paris, right?)
We did our usual looking around for restaurants that meet our criteria. We didn’t see many, although there are many restaurants featuring inexpensive fare like Italian pizza and pasta, hamburgers, Asian cuisine of various kinds, and middle-eastern delicatessens featuring roasted lamb.
We noted the Baleine (whale) restaurant in a corner of the Jardin des Plantes, and we will check that one out this week. How could we not? It looks pleasant and very correct, and Tom is an expert in Melville’s Moby Dick, after all!
As we were circling back toward the rue Lacépède, we saw a small resto called Les Trois Carafes on the rue Linné. After pausing to examine its menu posted on the super-clean front window, we glanced into the charming restaurant’s doorway and asked a smiling, waiting server (young woman) if she could please give me a card for the place. She smilingly obliged. “Cuisine Traditionelle Francaise,” it tastefully promised. I said “merci” with enthusiasm.
We walked on to the rue Monge, and saw where the open market takes place there three days per week (Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, I think). We came back around past The Local again, and we were glad our apartment is not close to that happy place. Happy is good, but not when it goes until the wee hours of the morning. Happy is too noisy then.
We decided that Les Trois Carafes was the place for dinner. We went back and were warmly received. The few outdoor tables were all reserved, but we really wanted to be inside to be away from traffic with its noise and exhaust. We were given the best inside table, right in the front window.
We decided that one of us would get the three-course fixed-price dinner so we could share the starter course and dessert. Tom especially wanted to have the rack of lamb, and so I ordered the three-course dinner: fresh, marinated sardines to begin the meal, then a filet de dorade with fresh vegetables and a zucchini spaghetti in a little pot on the side, followed by a pear tarte, made sort of like a tarte tatin is made with apples. The little pot on the side that came with Tom’s dinner was filled with very good rice.
The restaurant was superb. The food was delicious and inventive, yet correct and traditional in a good way. Service was attentive and not obnoxious. Prices, for Paris, were what we expected.
I did not understand why the restaurant was not full of people. Later I learned why. It has not been there for very long, and its predecessor, called L’Ecureuil (The Squirrel), was not good, according to customers and reviewers. As far as I can tell, Les Trois Carafes took over this space at 2 rue Linné sometime in 2012 – probably later in the year.
Early today, we had to go across the city to see our friends who own the apartment where we normally would be, and where we will be starting on Sunday. The mission was to pick up the keys to the place, but also just to visit a little and to see improvements that have been made. New windows (French doors) have been installed, and they make a big difference. The apartment will be cooler and quieter. Hooray!
For this outing, we needed to purchase a new set of metro tickets. Most metro stations’ ticket machines will only accept credit cards with chips in them. Almost all American credit cards do not have chips – just the magnetic stripe on the back. But Bank of America now offers a Travel Rewards Visa card with the chip and with no foreign transaction fees.
This past Spring, I called the bank and asked for this card. No problem, they said. Tom and I each have one of these Visas with a chip now.
We tested this Visa with a chip first at the airport yesterday, where we had no problem buying the RER tickets. But that wasn’t so much of a test because some of the RER ticket machines at the airport do work with the chipless cards. Some do, and some do not. Please don’t ask me why.
But at a not-so-grand metro station such as Jussieu, on the line 10 near us here in the 5th, we expected to need the chip. But we had it, used it, and it worked!
After our visit over in the 15th, we decided to walk back to the 5th, taking our time.
At the Place Cambronne, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at one of the brasseries there, which has been sensibly renamed “La Place.” I chose the chicken Caesar salad, and Tom had the chicken supreme with a nice ginger cream sauce. He ordered a plate of fries, because the chicken came only with rice. That was a good choice, because the fries were great. He allowed me to have a few.
We were then fortified for whatever came next in our little adventure.
When you walk in a city like Paris, you never know what you might see. Surpises happen. For example, as we were strolling down the rue de Babylone in the 7th, we looked across the street to our right and there was a group of the Republican Guard, in their dress uniforms, carrying ceremonial swords, standing in formation in the front courtyard of their caserne. Tom explained that a caserne is where they live, like a barracks, but much nicer than a barracks, because this is, after all, Paris!
The uniforms and soldiers were so tall and handsome (all men except for one woman) that I photographed them as they marked out through the gate and then boarded a small, blue bus. Perhaps they were going to a dress rehearsal for the Bastille Day military parade. I do not know.
At the Sevres-Babylone square, we rested on a park bench for a while, then exited the park at the far end and went on, to the magnificent fountain in the square in front of the great, hulking Saint Sulpice church.
Skies were threatening to rain, so we sought cover in the church. We spent 10 contemplative minutes there. Skies were still somewhat dark, but improving, when we exited the side door. The troll-like, formerly homeless man who is often outside that door was not on duty. He was nowhere to be seen. I hope he’s okay.
Slowly we walked on, skirting the edge of the Luxembourg Gardens, looking at the current photo exhibit on the great iron fence along the northeast side of that park. The photos featured scenes of the Tour de France over the years. It was a reminder that it was time for us to be home, watching the end of this day’s stage of the Tour de France on French National Television (France 2 and 3).
Skies were improving as we turned toward the Pantheon. But we weren’t attracted to that hulking edifice; we went down rue Saint Jacques, like returning pilgrims, and turned toward the Place de la Contrescarpe.
Balzac called this the “grimmest quarter of Paris,” but I rather like it. The Place de la Contrescarpe marks the beginning of the rue de Lacépède – our home this week.
The Place is a circular space where the rue Mouffetard and the rue Lacépède meet. There are ice cream shops and places to stop for a drink. The circle is paved with cobblestones, and so cars proceed slowly (usually) and a fountain bubbles away in the middle of the circle, which is a space separated from the cars by a heavy chain that is draped between short stone stanchions.
As far as I’ve been able to discern, a “contrescarpe” is the fortified outer edge, or bank, of a ditch. This makes some sense because the Bievre, a long-buried river, used to be near here. The Bievre was severely abused by early industry.
If this was once the grimmest quarter of Paris, it certainly is no longer. I can think of plenty of other places in some other arrondissements that are worthy of that description. Rue Lacépède, however, is a smart, charming place.
Stopping at the Carrefour supermarket was essential, because one does not climb four flights of stairs without one’s groceries. Having to go out again, shop, and climb those stairs yet one more time seems excessive. So we bought a few items at Carrefour to complete our adventure.
At home finally at the end of the day, we settled in to watch the Tour de France enter Marseille. Gorgeous city, surrounded by gorgeous countryside. J’aime la France.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Lion statue just inside the entrance to the Jardin des Plantes, the beautiful botanical garden/park only a block away from the apartment where we are staying this week.
The other lion – chow time.
Across the street is a charming bookstore that sells prints and posters, too – livres et curiosities.
Tom with books about his side of the family (an inside joke).
A few more scenes from “our” block of the rue Lacépède.
The nearby marketplace on rue Monge prepares for Wednesday, one of its three market days per week.
Inside Les Trois Carafes restaurant.
Filet de dorade at Les Trois Carafes. Delicious !
Faculty of Sciences building with its neon stripe on the rue Cuvier.
Brug, a relative of jimsonweed, in the Jardin des Plantes.
An entrance to the Museum of Natural History.