31 August 2013

Far too much excitement

I got up at five o'clock this morning. I had gone to bed early because I was pretty tired after our whirlwind visit to the Sud-Touraine on Thursday and Friday to see friends, along with a side trip to the city of Tours. I was in the kitchen putting on a pot of coffee and I kept hearing little clicking or bumping noises out in the living room. I went to see what it might be, and discovered three small creatures flying around in the room.

When I went into the living room, the UFCs (Unidentified Flying Creatures) fled into the kitchen, and into a bedroom. Then one flew downstairs into the entryway. I started opening doors and windows so that they could get out of the house — hoping that they would. I turned on outside lights to try to attract them to the outdoors.

I'm missing the relative calm and quiet of Paris, with its sidewalk cafés and restaurants.
La Poule au Pot is a restaurant on the rue de l'Université in the 7th.

Now I'm pretty sure they were bats. When I saw the first one, I thought it was one of the big "bat moths" that we've seen here in past summers, but it definitely was not a moth. And I think moths are solitary. Then I thought they might be birds — swallows or martins — but they seemed too quiet to be birds. They had to be bats. After five minutes, the three of them were gone. One had a hard time finding the way out, but finally did.

I'm happy that none of them bumped into me or landed in my hair. Still, it was an exciting way to start the day.

Le Recrutement is at the intersection of the avenue de la Tour-Maubourg and the rue de l'Université in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. Doesn't it look peaceful?

Yesterday morning, in the suburbs of Tours, I was driving along a wide boulevard lined with big-box stores. I was going about 40 mph and headed toward an intersection with a green traffic light. As I approached the light, it turned yellow. I was close enough that I went on through, posing, to my mind, no danger to other traffic (there were no pedestrians in sight). It was a judgment call.

I continued a few hundred yards up the road to the night traffic light. We were going to turn left into a parking lot, so I pulled into the left-turn lane and stopped at the traffic light, which was red. Suddenly a man in jeans and a T-shirt, on a motorcycle, pulled up along the passenger side of the car and started tapping on the side window, gesturing for us to roll it down.

The view down the rue de l'Université from the avenue de la Tour-Maubourg

My first thought was that the motorcyclist might be lost and wanted to ask us for directions. We pushed the button to open the window. The man, quite excited or angry — I couldn't tell which, but definitely perturbed — started screaming at me. "You are lucky that I'm off duty, because I was behind you when you ran through that yellow light back there," he yelled. "You could get a 135-euro fine and four points taken off your permis de conduire for that."

He finally finished his tirade — I'm not sure what else he said, because I was so rattled by the whole situation. What would you have done in my place? Who was the motorcyclist ? He could have been a car-jacker, I realize now, thinking back on it. He could have pulled a gun on us. I guess we should not have put the window down.

Can you believe that a gendarme in civilian clothing — claiming to be one, anyway — would behave that way? He produced no badge or other ID. And what had I done wrong, anyway? I went through a yellow light, and I wasn't speeding. I probably ought to report the incident, and I might talk to our neighbor the mayor about it.

Sitting on the terrace at Le Recrutement, with no bats, crazy motorcyclists, or marauding felines to worry about

Just a minute ago, Bertie the Black Cat was outside the door meowing loudly. I let him in. Then I realized he had some mouse or other little animal in his mouth. The last time that happened, the little animal was alive and Bertie dropped him on the floor at my feet. It was some kind of mouse, and it scurried into a corner behind a radiator. Then suddenly it shot across the room, with Bertie in hot pursuit, and hid under the sofa.

I didn't know if I'd ever catch the thing and get it back outdoors. I finally did, grabbing it with a kitchen towel when he ran under the coffee table. I put it outside, and it ran and jumped off the terrace onto the driveway below. Bertie stared at me, bewildered, and probably disappointed to see his prize escape.

This morning, I managed to grab the cat and push him back out onto the terrace, with the animal still in his mouth. Maybe whatever it was was dead. All this is way too much excitement for me.

Besides, there were two other incidents yesterday, on having to do with our vegetable garden and the other with events out in the vineyard...

30 August 2013

Montaigne, Descartes et Richelieu

Photos from my walk around the exteriors of the Louvre: Montaigne, because he's one of my favorite writers. The statue of of the author of Les Essais across the street from the front of the Sorbonne building is better known. Montaigne was from the southwest and was mayor of Bordeaux as well as a member of the parlement in Paris back in the 1500s.

And the next two, the philosopher René Descartes and his contemporary the Cardinal Richelieu, because each has a town in Touraine named for him. The towns are in the southern part of the province, where I am today. A short visit...

No captions are needed — they are included in the photos. The Cadogan guide calls this part of the Louvre, built in the 19th century, "pastiche façades dripping with pointless statuary — all in cheap stone..." Oh well. I enjoyed looking at all the statues and taking photos when I was in Paris in July.

29 August 2013

Three more views of the Conciergerie

There used to be a silver bell in the tower with the guilded roof at La Conciergerie, but it was taken out and melted down during the "events" of the 1790s  — the French Revolution, when the monarchy was toppled (temporarily, as it turned out). I see a bell up in the tower in the photo below, but it must not be made of silver.

Down at street level in the 14th century bell tower, there's a big public clock, visible in the photo below. It was the first one ever installed in Paris: « Elle [la tour] reçut en 1370 la première horloge publique de Paris qui n'a jamais cessé, depuis dix siècles, de rhythmer la vie du Palais et de la Cité. » — "The tower got the first public clock ever in Paris and it has never ceased, for 10 centuries, to set the pace of life at the Courthouse and in the City."

The Conciergerie really contributes to the picturesque views you get in the center of Paris along the Seine. These photos were taken at river level, not from the top of the 16-story Tour Saint-Jacques.

It's amazing how much I enjoyed my two short stays in Paris in July. Sometimes I think, in the back of my mind, that I don't know if I'll ever get another chance to do such a long walking tour around the city. Age, you know. Knees. Ankles Budget. Weather. I'm an optimist, but I'm also getting old enough to be a realist about such things, the effort and money required, not to mention the weather imponderables.

28 August 2013

La Conciergerie in three photos

Still from the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques, on the right bank (the north bank of the Seine) in Paris: La Conciergerie. It was part of old royal palace that used to occupy the western end of the Ile de la Cité, and was then replaced by the Louvre.

Actually, I took this photo at street level, from across the Seine on the right bank.

The concierge in this case was an official, appointed by the king, who held the keys to the royal complex and managed the estate. The Conciergerie building — refurbished, modified, rebuilt at various times over the centuries, like most old buildings — came to be used as a prison.

In this shot, you can see the spire of the Sainte-Chapelle, the modern Tour Montparnasse,
the Église Saint-Sulpice, and the Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Among its famous prisoners have been Ravaillac, the fanatic who assassinated Henri IV in 1610 and, nearly two centuries later, of course, Marie Antoinette, who ended up on the guillotine during the Revolution.

In this shot, you can see past the Théâtre du Châtelet all the way out to the Eiffel Tower, including the gold dome of the Invalides church,
the old Pont Neuf, and the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge across the Seine at the Louvre.

The history of the building is pretty complicated. The square bell tower at its northeast corner was erected in the 14th century. The three round towers are older, but the whole façade was redone in the 19th century. A 1976 Michelin Green Guide that I happen to have says that the exterior walls had recently been cleaned. Well, they have been cleaned again just a few decades later.

27 August 2013

Paris in July: a café a day (6)

The Centre Pompidou has been one of the two or three most controversial buildings in Paris since in it was built in the mid-1970s. (The other two I have in mind are the Tour Montparnasse and the Pyramide du Louvre.) It's the famous building with all its structural and functional elements visible from the outside, painted in bright colors.

It's squarely in the middle of the city, not far north of Notre-Dame and the Tour Saint-Jacques. The neighborhood is called Beaubourg — "beautiful town" — and was a village outside of Paris until the 12th century, when it was annexed.

The building was conceived of by French President Georges Pompidou in the late 1960s. He wanted to build what an old Michelin Guide that I have describes as "a living center of contemporary art where the public could participate." It's one of the most important modern art museums in the world, and the plaza and cafés around it are usually full of people.

 The Centre Pompidou seen from the top of the nearby Tour Saint-Jacques

26 August 2013

Cinq fruits rouges

Just a few more photos from the sunny Avenue de Saxe market in July, on this gray chilly August morning in Saint-Aignan.

With any luck, our current spell of gloomy weather will end soon. The sun will come back, temperatures will climb, and the many many green tomatoes in our garden will all turn red like the ones in these pictures.

25 August 2013

Le Marché de l'Avenue de Saxe

A while back I mentioned the photos I took back in early July at the Marché de l'Avenue de Saxe in the 7th arrondissement in Paris, near the Hôtel des Invalides, and not far from the Eiffel Tower. I said I'd post the photos, but they kind of got lost in the Paris scenes shuffle. Now I'm getting to them.

Shopping and working up an appetite on a beautiful morning in Paris

The view up the Avenue de Saxe, Paris 7e

The open-air Avenue de Saxe market sets up on Thursday and Saturday mornings, just off the west side of the Place de Breteuil. This is a beau quartier and it's an upscale market. Prices can be pretty high, but the displays of vegetables, fruit, fish, and meats are beautiful and enticing.

Focusing on fish for lunch

There's nothing like going to this kind of market during the morning before lunch, especially on a pretty day. You'll find your appetite is really enhanced after you've looked around for a few minutes and picked out what you want to serve and eat for the mid-day meal.

These are the makings for ratatouillepoivrons, aubergines, courgettes, et tomates

Artichauts, petits pois, carottes, et pommes de terre nouvelles

The Saturday morning in early July when I went to the market, I didn't really need to buy anything. CHM, who lives nearby, had already planned our lunch. He stayed home to cook while I went out for my walk and photo shoot. I have more photos for another day...

24 August 2013

Le Louvre, and that balloon

I'm winding down my Paris series, though I still have a few days to go in August and plenty of photos that I haven't published yet. Bear with me. This is the Louvre, seen from the other side of the Seine, showing the Pont du Carrousel. Earlier I posted this closeup view.

And about that photo of the hot-air balloon yesterday: here's another shot of it and the moon, taken a few seconds after I took the one where the balloon had just passed across the moon. I just want to show you how far from the house it was. The montgolfière was moving along at a pretty brisk clip over the vineyard.

I took the photo through the bedroom window, with the camera at full zoom. I was lucky that the photo was as sharp as it was — which was not very...

23 August 2013

Double whammy



I love both. And Callie loves both the moon and the balloon.
She went crazy yesterday morning when she saw both at the same time.

The top photo shows the Porte Saint-Martin, seen from near Arts et Métiers.

22 August 2013

Four photos from the Fourth Third

It was July 6 and I was in Paris for the first time in two years. It's hard to believe Walt and I live so close to Paris and hardly every go there any more. When we lived in San Francisco, between the late 1980s and 2003, hardly a year ever went by without a trip to Paris. Some years, we made the trip twice.

I spent that Saturday afternoon out walking around the city. I wandered through the Marais, which is the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. The café above is at the corner of the rue de la Perle and the rue Vieille du Temple.

Did you know that there is a Hôtel de Saint-Aignan in Paris? There is, and that's it above. It's on the rue du Temple. In French, « hôtel » means of course a hotel as in English, but it also means a grand house in a city. The Hôtel de Ville in Paris is, for example, city hall.

The Hôtel is Saint-Aignan was a residence, and now it is a museum. The figure above is what you see on the big carriageway doors that close the hotel's courtyard to the street. The Hôtel de Saint-Aignan was recently restored. More about it later.

Finally, another café, this one on the rue de Turenne, near the Eglise Saint-Denys. I stopped here and had something to drink. As you can see, there weren't many people sitting out in the hot sun that afternoon.

21 August 2013

The Paris metro early on a Sunday morning

Can you imagine the Paris metro with no people in it? It's easy — all you have to do is go down into a station at about 6:30 on a Sunday morning. As you can see, I had the place to myself.

This is the Ségur station, in the 7th arrondissement. It's just on the edge of the 15th, and a five-minute walk from CHM's apartment. Twice in July, at the beginning and again at the end of the month, I had occasion to take the metro from Ségur to the Gare d'Austerlitz. It's a direct line — no changes all the way to Austerlitz.

My train back to the Loire Valley was at 7:38 a.m. on those Sunday mornings, so I left CHM's place on foot, pulling my suitcase behind me, at about 6:30. I wanted to make sure I'd be at Austerlitz on time. As you can see, one time I had to wait more than eight minutes for a metro train to pull into the station. The other time, I was luckier and the wait was shorter.

I had time to examine all the advertising and posters in the Ségur station. There were no people to block my view. There was plenty of seating.

I arrived at Austerlitz with time to spare. No jostling, no lines to stand in — just a smooth ride. Even at the Gare d'Austerlitz metro stop, there were few other travelers.

As I walked along the platform at Austerlitz, I noticed that the metro tunnel was all lit up ahead of me and the train I had just gotten off of. There was a metro employee in the tunnel, but I tried not to get him in the picture or let him see that I was taking a photo. He might have thought I was a terrorist or something.

I headed for the sortie and walked through a series of corridors and up a few flights of stairs to get to my SNCF train, destination Blois. One Sunday, I had time to sit down and have a café and a croissant before my train was announced. The other Sunday, I had less time but I never had to feel rushed.

20 August 2013


...including a café, Le Flore. The other famous café in the Saint-Germain neighborhoods is Les Deux-Magots, of which I posted a photo earlier.

From the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques, looking out over the place Dauphine and the western end of the Ile de la Cité
toward Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the 15th arrondissement beyond

In the photos above and below, you can see the tower of the Eglise de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which was built in the fields or meadows (les prés) outside the city of Paris around the year 1000. It replaced a Benedictine abbey that had already been in existence for 400 years but had been sacked repeatedly by invading Norsemen in the 10th century.

Here and below, one of the oldest church towers in France, according to the Michelin Green Guide

The abbey (a monastery) grew into a huge walled complex of buildings by the 14th century. The wall with its defensive towers was torn down in the 17th century when the area was developed as a new residential zone. As you can see, today it is in what we know as central Paris. The church, which as been greatly altered over the centuries, was dedicated at the time when construction of Notre-Dame cathedral was just getting under way. The remaining Saint-Germain bell tower — two others have long since been demolished — is one of the oldest in France.

In the 20th century, Saint-Germain became known for its two famous cafés, hangouts for Paris Left-Bank intellectuals, writers, and artists (Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso, Juliette Gréco, and so on). Across the boulevard from the cafés is the Brasserie Lipp, then and maybe still frequented by writers and political figures in search of a choucroute garnie. The neighborhood has really changed over the past 40 years, however. No longer bohemian and intellectual, it's now fashionable and touristy.

In the 1960s and '70s, the hub of activity in the Saint-Germain neighborhood was an establishment called Le Drugstore, which was right across the boulevard from the Café des Deux-Magots, at the corner of the rue de Rennes. It was a good place to go for coffee, a hamburger, or a club sandwich, not to mention an ice cream sundae. Au Drugstore Saint-Germain, you could buy a newspaper and a pack of Gitanes or Gauloises, and then lounge on the terrace for part of the afternoon. Unfortunately, it was the target of a terrorist bombing in the mid-1970s (I worked in the neighborhood at the time). Two people were killed and more than 30 injured. But the Drugstore re-opened and stayed in business until the mid-'90s. It's gone now, replaced by an Armani boutique.

I know Walt has many memories of the Drugstore and the Saint-Germain neighborhood — Saint-Sulpice and the Alliance Française — from the early 1980s, when he lived there for a few months in a pension de famille. The proprietor of the boarding house was Madame Cornille — which can be translated as  "Mrs. Black-Eyed Pea" — and one of her employees was a decrepit old codger that Walt dubbed « Croque-Monsieur ». Judy "Seine Judeet" remembers these characters as well, I'm sure, as do I. Encore une fois, de bons souvenirs...

19 August 2013

Paris street faces

Walking around one of the neighborhoods where I used to work in Paris — the area of Saint-Germain-des-Prés off the rue des Saints-Pères — I noticed these two "street faces" or architectural ornaments.

I think I was on the rue du Pré-aux-Clercs when I saw these figures. Things like these are why it pays to walk in Paris whenever you can. Taking the bus is another way to tour the city, because you get great views of places and people, but it's not like being on foot.

I didn't color the eyes blue — that's the way they really are.

I haven't been very good about responding to comments recently. I do read all the comments, of course, but often it's on my tablet where it's not as easy to leave a comment as on the laptop I'm using right now to type this text.

Mme Bavard, Bob, really. Bet the name fit. Our Peugeot dealer here, from whom I bought my car, is named Monsieur Danger. I wonder if Mme Barbier is going to change her name if she goes into another line of business...

One of these days, I'll get back to posting food and cooking pictures. Want to know how to prepare zucchinis/courgettes? :-)

18 August 2013

Paris in July: a café a day (5)

This is another café in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. It's near Invalides, on the avenue de la Tour-Maubourg at the corner of the rue de l'Université. It's a nice urban neighborhood but not what you would call quaint. It's near the river and not too far from the Eiffel Tower.

Walt and I almost always go have a meal or a glass of wine at Le Centenaire when we are in Paris. We have a really good memory of the place that dates back to 1995. Back then, we had been on vacation in France for nearly three weeks, staying in a rental property (un gîte rural) that we  found lacking in charm, atmosphere, and convenience. It was near Cahors down in the southwest. We left the gîte several days earlier than planned and drove to Avignon, where we stayed in a hotel for a couple of nights. We were headed to Paris to spend a few days there before flying back to San Francisco.

At the time, when in Paris we often got a room in a hotel just outside the western gate of the Luxembourg Gardens, off the rue de Fleurus and near Saint-Sulpice. As we drove up the autoroute from Avignon to Paris that day in October — it takes a few hours — we talked about where we would stay in Paris those few remaining days of our trip.

What about an apartment rather than a hotel room? I stopped the car at a rest area and made a call from a phone booth to a rental agency in California that specialized in short-term Paris rentals. We had rented an apartment from them the year before, on the Ile Saint-Louis, and really loved it. This time, they had a last-minute deal on a small apartment in the 7th. We booked it on the spot. I think it was $75 a night.

We drove our rented car into Paris at mid-day — it was the weekend, so there was almost no traffic. It was beginning to rain — it might have been the first rain we'd seen in our three weeks in France. We were early; check-in at the apartment wouldn't be for a few hours. We found a place to park the car and spotted Le Centenaire on a street corner.

We had lunch. It was the best roasted chicken we thought we had ever tasted. The wine was good too, and the frites and the salade verte. We were happy to be back in Paris rather after nearly three weeks of doing entirely too much driving on twisty narrow roads. Even the rain seemed like a nice turn of events, and appropriate for Paris. De bons souvenirs...