On the Périphérique

Sabrina is the daughter of our friend David, who is in Spain for Junior Semester Abroad. She and her friend Leah were taking 10 days to visit Athens, Rome, Venice, and Paris. We realized we’d overlap in Paris, and agreed to meet for dinner on Friday. I found a restaurant, Jeanne B, which had good vegetarian options (which turned out not really to be that necessary because most restaurants did, and it turned out Leah ate fish also). Our train would arrive at 6, so it would be comfortable to meet at 9 — we could check into our hotel, and then take the Metro to this restaurant.

The train plan was a nine-minute connection in Stuttgart. The train from Salzburg got there about 40 minutes late. Oops. We frantically researched as we approached, and decided the best thing to do was to stay on the train to Mannheim, then catch the TGV to Paris from there, so that we’d arrive about 8:30. When the TGV passes 300 kph, its WiFi sends you a message on your browser that you are now in the elite club of people who have gone 300 kph in a train. Invited you to post it to Facebook. I don’t know who is impressed by this, after many years of daily service. It is pretty impressive. Sitting in a chair, moving 300 kph. So we did that.

Once again, we dragged all of our suitcases to dinner, but It turns out, that the Metro stop that Google instructed us to go to, Lamarck-Caulaincourt, is about in the center of the earth. To their credit, there is an elevator down there, and a sign next to the elevator says CAUTION 92 STEPS. To their debit, the elevator never came. On the way up the steps, a nice young man offered to carry my suitcase, but I told him that if I am carrying around more things than I can manage, I need to be made aware of that and to get rid of it. When we emerged onto the street, we discovered that it was quite hilly, and that we needed to walk up even more stairs and then a hill. Unfortunately we were disoriented and started by walking downstairs, making it worse. Eventually we got there, and dinner was in classic Bistro fashion, cheese and wine I suppose, although the really good meals you don’t remember because you are talking and not paying attention.

Saturday (October 14th) we took it easy in the morning, and explored the neighborhood where we were staying. Levallois-Perret is a suburb of Paris just across the Périphérique from the 17th. We found a beautiful fish market, a nice cheese market, a fruit stand that offered to squeeze the oranges it sold, a bar which served cafe crème, all the essentials. We saw the fancy city hall / mairie / hotel de ville, and went to the local shopping mall to get a few things. It was world class enough to have its own Uniqlo, but not its own Apple Store. I hadn’t ever been to an H&M, and was happy to find a belt with a mesh that could let it be any length. A guy with lots of tattoos liked our beards. Another person who liked our beards took a marvelous photo of us, best of trip I’m sure:

We arranged to meet Sabrina and Leah at the Arc de Triomphe, and walked there from our hotel. The line to actually get in to the museum part was much too long, and we just walked to the outside area and stood in awe of all the reliefs on the sides and watched people make obeisances to the flame of the unknown soldier. There doesn’t seem to be much movement in the direction of generating fewer soldiers’ tombs.

Sabrina and Leah had learned some things from the Internet, but not others. They knew that the thing to do was to go to the Eiffel Tower at sunset for a picnic, on Saturday, but they didn’t know that there would be guys wandering around with wine to sell. Nor did we. As it was, we bought wine from a wine shop earlier, and it had to be a screw top (which totally limits the choice) because they didn’t want to carry an opener back on the airplane from Orly to Alicante (which is where their JYA is happening). I’m sure that Rick Steves advises its customers that they won’t lack for wine at Tour Eiffel. Or for Eiffel Tower key chains sold by Senegalese entrepreneurs.

The Junior Year Abroad effect is even stronger than the Rick Steves effect. Leah said that in their one week sojourn from Alicante, where they are nominally living and studying, she had met TWO people, totally by accident, who were not in her program, not at her college, but with whom she had gone to high school or middle school. A narrowly focused world, this.

We left them at the Eiffel Tower when the sun went down. We aren’t bad company, but they sure aren’t going to meet any French boys in the presence of Sabrina’s dad’s ex-workmates.

Sunday we took it easy in the morning, went to a better patisserie, had coffee at a different bar, juice from a different grocery store. We decided to go to Foundation Louis Vuitton, an art museum designed by Frank Gehry in the Bois de Bologne, the Golden Gate Park of Paris. The line was quite long, and the trick of buying tickets online on the spot to avoid it didn’t work, in that the earliest tickets available were for four hours later. We toughed it out for 40 minutes in the normal line, and got in. They were having an exhibition celebrating the history of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which neither of us had ever been to.

The exhibition was refreshingly free of bullshit. I was on the third floor before I encountered the word “temporalities”. The show is in all, the last moment before the curator’s demise, when his whole life passes before his eyes. Everything is from MoMA and pretty much obviates any need to go to New York.  It’s hard to imagine that modern art is twice as old as the space age.  Best hits of the twentieth century.

We walked back to Levallois-Perret, and stopped at Zinc du Marché, a bistro with yummy chestnut velouté and whelks, and had dinner.

Monday – Friday I worked at the Avid office in Levallois-Perret. It is a sales office. Hardly anyone ever talked to me. I’ll never know for sure if it was because they were French and I was American, or because they were sales people and I was an engineer, or because they were reasonably well-dressed and I was in T-shirts and tourist pants. Probably a combination. Anyway, everyone was very helpful, the Internet was fast, you could see the Eiffel Tower out the window, and it was a short walk from the hotel. I got quite a bit done while I was there.

Tuesday I went to the Parc Citroën, which the Guardian called one of the fifty most beautiful English gardens in the world. Even accounting for the late summer, I think not. It might be one of the most beautiful gardens built on the grounds of a demolished auto manufacturing plant; but the sensibility of the assembly line remains in the aesthetic, and without any attractive industrial ruins which you encounter so much in the world of art and landscaping.

It was the first place I saw a drinking fountain that dispenses carbonated water. I walked back through the Bois de Boulogne. It is a nice summer place with families and ducks. It had a reputation of being cruisy in the days before grindr, but I didn’t see much of that in progress or in detritus. I don’t know what the background count of used condoms is on the streets of Paris, which number I could compare with the density in the park.

Friday I went to see the 3-D map room at the Musée de l’Armée. There was also a show of the Life of a Soldier, with the interesting organizational premise, that it takes the aspects of a soldier’s life; and in one room shows that aspect through the centuries kind of mixed up.  Napoleon is also buried there. The crazy thing is this is what Trump’s tomb is going to look like, and he didn’t even do anything.

But Thursday I took a day off and we toured. We went to Jeu de Paume, a museum featuring a retrospective of a German photographer, Albert Renger-Patzsch, and an exhibition of Ali Kazma, who had some visually interesting short videos with no dialogue, including one about the World Seed Bank in Svalbard, a frame of which enticed me there in the first place. Afterwards, as we walked through the Tuilieries park where it is located, we saw several art exhibits which were part of a public art program. We walked along the Seine and Ray checked out old postcards, not really buying any, then headed up to the Pompidou center to see Domestikator, a work we’d heard about, basically a small building which looks like two houses fucking. It turned out to be the same public art program as the Tuilieries art, but the Louvre directors didn’t want it to be shown there. Pompidou was fine with it. We didn’t actually go in the Pompidou center because these days there are long security lines to get in anywhere big, even if you already have “skip the line” tickets. They don’t have TSA PreCheck for museums in Paris. Instead, we had a falafel to tide us over before a long walk to the same Vietnamese restaurant, or at least the same area, as we’d eaten at with Harvey eleven years earlier. Google said the same restaurant was open, but when we got there we saw they’d put up a sign that they were on vacation. So we went to another one nearby, which was excellent. The radio playing upstairs featured some kind of chant: it was Diwali that week but I didn’t think that was big in Vietnam.

Most nights we found some place to eat in our little suburb, always either French food or that of French colonies. Monday night we had Lebanese food. Tuesday night we went to another delicious local bistro, Coin de la Rue. Wednesday night we had couscous at a Moroccan restaurant. The Lebanese and the Moroccan places weren’t bad, but I think it’s best to stick to the local specialty.

Friday  we went a bit further afield and further upscale, and went to “l’assiette et le bouchon” (“the plate and the cork”), a really nice bistro in the 17th. Everything there was really pretty, and delicious: oysters on a bed of mushrooms, mushroom soup, scallops on a bed of chopped pears, sweetbreads with mushrooms, and a slice of cake.

Saturday  we left for Rome. First a TGV to Torino, then a very slow Italian sleeper train to Orte, just outside Rome. Crossing the Alps, there weren’t any signs of fall colors to speak of. The seasons have changed from the past.