Often just the smallest change can have a huge effect on our environment and our well-being. Once again, a European country—in this case our beloved France—has initiated a program requiring rooftop gardens or solar on all new commercial buildings. This is a direction we need to be going in the U.S. also. Gardens not only attract bees but they provide food and beauty to the beholder. Let's find ways to bring these good ideas into fruition in our own lives. Here's to life!
It seems everyone loves the favorite French pastry, le croissant. The word of course, means “crescent” suggested by its curved shape. In this fun article shared from Bonjour Paris, we learn which boulangeries expats favor for their morning delight. When I first started going to France one just asked for “un croissant, s'il vous plaît”, but in more recent years it's a good idea to ask for “un croissant au beurre” to get the flakiest and most delicious variety. Enjoy this little overview and learn where to head for your breakfast treat the next time you're in Paris. Bon appétit!
I was amazed to see this video recently and I know you all will enjoy it too. Who would have thought of putting bee hives on the rooftops of Paris?! It was interesting to hear the bee keeper comment on the fact that “city bees” are actually happier here than in a rural setting with its pesticides and mono-culture. The bees in Paris access the lovely flower gardens in public parks as well as all the geraniums and other flowers on the balconies all over town. Especially engaging were the hives on the roofs of Notre Dame Cathedral where the director enjoys watching them from his office, and the bees at the famous restaurant La Tour d'Argent whose honey is served to its gourmet clientele. Beekeepers have been placing hives all over Paris for 8 years, and there are now a total of 300 which give 7 tons of honey a year! The Japanese are especially fond of Paris honey and it sells for 200 Euros a kilo.
This place is an absolute jewel on so many levels. An intimate setting in a historic building from the 15th century, housing treasures from the Middle Ages, the Musée de Cluny has always been one of my favorite Paris visits. It is located in the same neighborhood as our last visit, right at the corner of Bd. St-Michel and Bd. St-Germain in the heart of the Latin Quarter. Before you even enter, you have before you one of the rare non-church buildings in Paris dating from the 15th century built in what is called secular Gothic. It was originally the home of members of the Cluny religious order.
The Musée de Cluny is now called the Musée Nationale du Moyen-Age. Here you will find a beautiful collection of sculpture, stained glass, and other art objects from the Middle Ages, from around the 12th to the end of the 15th centuries. Another amazing aspect of this museum is that long before it was a house, it was the site of Gallo-Roman thermal baths called the Thermes. This facility, built around 200 A.D. was open to the public, and many of the ruins can be viewed from the street as you pass by. You can also visit the restored baths on the interior of the museum. Another reminder that Paris was a flourishing city almost 2000 years ago! But of all the beautiful objects in the Cluny, perhaps the most compelling is the work called La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady with the Unicorn).
This is a six-panel tapestry housed in its own private room and dates from around 1500.. A tapestry is a woven art form, in this case in wool and silk, and most frequently originating from artists in Flanders, in what is today Belgium. Your first sight of this magnificent work will take your breath away. There are six large panels arranged along the walls, each panel showing a noble lady with a unicorn on her left and a lion on her right. Each panel depicts one of the five senses, and you see a portion of the display at the top of this page. For a detailed look at each panel accompanied by music of the period, see the video included at the end of this blog. The 6th panel is shown just above and is the one that has intrigued people down through the centuries. On the tent above the lady is written “A mon seul désir” (to my only desire). What does it mean? Is it a “6th sense”? She is reaching into a jewel box. Is that a hint as to the meaning of the words? I would be interested to see what my readers think of these words. Please leave your ideas and comments below. I have thought a lot about these words and what they might point to. If we ask ourselves, “what is our only desire?” and look more deeply within, I believe we will find that what humans long for is something way beyond the everyday needs and desires of our lives, something beyond the understandings of our mind. I think we all feel some kind of an attraction to a higher and deeper sense of being, of goodness, truth and beauty. For me, this is said beautifully in the expression “Enchanted by the Mystery.”
A stroll through the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter in medieval Paris.
The Latin Quarter on the Left Bank is my favorite neighborhood in Paris. Perhaps because I was a French teacher, perhaps because I led student tours for many years, this colorful part of Paris traditionally frequented by students, intellectuals, writers, artists and the young in general has always been close to my heart. The members of my tours were always surprised to learn that it got its name “Latin Quarter” because in the Middle Ages Latin was the language of learning, and the University of Paris had its beginnings in the 12th century right in this part of town.
The first night in Paris on my tours I wanted the group to experience the narrow medieval streets of this historic district. I suggest starting out at the métro Maubert-Mutualité, crossing Bd. St-Germain and taking Rue Maître Albert, leading into Rue de la Bûcherie, across the river from Notre Dame. Just delight in the tiny streets that haven't changed all that much for 800 years! There are several charming places to have dinner along these streets and also along la Rue Galande, a little to the left, across Rue Lagrange.
At the end of Rue Galande, you will come upon the lovely little church St-Julien-le-Pauvre, one of the city's oldest religious buildings. It was built on the ruins of a church destroyed by the Normans in the 9th century and rebuilt in the 12th century in Gothic style. At the end of the 19th century the church was given to the Greek Orthodox faith. (For more details on Gothic architecture, see my blog of Feb. 8, 2016)
From the front of the church go to the Rue St-Jacques and onto the Rue du Petit Pont and just before you reach the river, turn left onto Rue de la Huchette. This little street and all the other ancient streets around it lying between Bd. St-Michel, Bd. St-Germain and Rue St-Jacques are very interesting and exciting places to stroll, especially after dark. This is not elegant Paris! But it is old Paris—passageways unchanged for centuries including rue de la Harpe, rue Xavier Privas, and the very very narrow rue du Chat qui Pêche. These streets are crowded, noisy, youthful and colorful: lots of cheap restaurants, many of them Greek, with the waiters standing outside trying to lure you in.
On Rue de la Huchette, be sure to take a look at the tiny Théâtre de la Huchette, with continuous performances of Ionesco's plays for over 48 years. Just wander around these narrow streets, and maybe pick up a baclava in one of the many shops specializing in Mediterranean pastries.
One treasure you want to see is the church of St-Séverin. Rue de la Harpe crosses Rue St-Séverin but everything in this neighborhood is so close you won't miss it. If you are here at night you will enjoy the lighting of this Gothic gem, and if during the day, you may want to visit the interior. Interesting to note that this church is a stone's throw from the mighty Notre Dame and I have always wondered how the relatively small population of 12th and 13th century Paris could sustain so many churches.
In future blogs we will look at more of my favorite spots in the 5th and 6th arrondissements. Stay tuned!
After leaving the magnificent Sainte Chapelle we re-enter the modern world and make a left on the Bd. Du Palais, turning left again on Quai de la Corse and noticing the two remaining towers of the medieval Concièrgerie. The Concièrgerie was a prison in the 18th century and it was here that Queen Marie-Antoinette was held prisoner during the Revolution, before her transfer to Place de la Concorde to be executed. We turn left again on rue de Harley, go up a few steps and enjoy the beauty of la Place Dauphine, a fairly undiscovered and quiet spot in Paris, and a good place to sit and rest for awhile. The lovely stone and red brick town houses that line the square were built in 1607 and one of them houses the restaurant Chez Paul, a Paris classic. At the end of the Place you will notice an impressive statue: the good King Henri II on horseback—and directly behind the statue, steps leading down to the Square du Vert Galant. This is our final destination of the day and where we finally get to eat the picnic delicacies we purchased a few hours ago at the Maubert-Mutualité outdoor market.
As we enter the little park, we are under the famous bridge called Pont Neuf, which, despite its name, “New Bridge” is actually the oldest bridge in Paris, dating from 1607. It was built by King Henri II whose statue stands above it. The bridge crosses the Seine with 12 arches at the river's widest point. All along its length on both sides are a series of grotesque heads, each with a different expression. So we proceed to the very tip of the island and sit on the stones or benches to enjoy our group picnic. It is not against the law in France to consume alcoholic beverages in public, so go ahead and enjoy some wine as we share our various cheeses, pâtés and baguettes. But don't forget to look around you, for this is one of my favorite spots in Paris. First, you have a great seat to watch all the boats floating past, and speaking of boats, the Seine excursion boat company I recommend (because the boats are smaller and this location is easy to access) dock along this quai. In front of you is the lovely pedestrian bridge Le Pont des Arts, a destination not to be missed, especially at night when you get a view of Notre Dame on one side and the Eiffel Tower in the distance on the other. From our vantage point you also see one side of the Louvre across the river and almost directly across from where we are sitting, the former large department store La Samaritaine, a Paris icon.
It was built in the 1920's in art deco style and was previously a very popular site with its roof garden offering one of the best views of Paris. It has been undergoing renovations for several years and when completed will house shopping, food stalls, a luxury hotel, office space etc. Most of the building, which spans two blocks, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. So we come to the end of my favorite day in Paris, our visit to Ile de la Cité. It is a tour lasting about three hours but it took five blogs to share with you all the details. And we did go literally “from one tip of the island to the other” all the way from the Memorial to the deported ones to the picnic spot. Linger and rest in this special place before your afternoon activities. Bonne continuation!