Thursday, July 22, 2010

Paris - L'Orangerie, Ile de Cite and St. Louis, Shakespeare and Co.

Although this Paris trip was supposed to be about visiting off the beaten track, less touristy attractions, this view of the Eiffel tower was so breathtaking that we could not resist stopping to take some photos.

Then it was off to the L'Orangerie Museum in the Tuileres Gardens to see the Monet Water Lilies that were less prominent in the previous museum that we visited. This time we were not disappointed. Before entering the rooms with the huge water lily canvases, we had to pass through a totally white and bare room which was supposed to instill a calming effect which Monet desired you to have before viewing his paintings. Finally we were ready to see the Water Lilies and were they ever magnificant! Spanning entire walls, the paintings conveyed the beauty and sereneness of Monet's Givency property.

We walked along the Seine to reach the two islands Isle de Cite and Ile St. Louis. Along the way, we passed the Paris Plage, which turns part of the Right bank of the Seine into a "beach" for several weeks in July and August. There were beach chairs and loungers covered by umbrellas, water stations for getting wet (primarily used by kids), sand lots, games and refreshments.

We strolled through Ile de Cite to see the facade of the Notre Dame Cathedral again since on the previous trip, it was covered with scaffolding. To our delight, we found a jazz band entertaining the visitors in a park just facing the Cathedral. While the band had the usual bass and drums, it was unusual that the lead instrument was a violin. We sat on a park bench and listened to the band play for over half an hour. The best for me was a moving rendition of one of my favourite songs, "My Funny Valentine". We next went to Ile St Louis in search of Berthillon ice cream. Although just about every other store and restaurant sold Berthillon ice cream, Rich wanted to get it from the actual Berthillon parlour. Imagine our surprise when we found out that it was closed for summer vacation, to reopen in September. The French, and Europeans in general have the right idea about work vs vacation. Could you imagine a North American ice cream chain closing during prime tourist and ice cream eating season? We settled for getting the ice cream at some other restaurant and had an amazing mix of cappuchino and dark chocolate.

Finally we visited Shakespeare & Co which Rich has declared as the best book store ever, and his favourite stop of the trip. I first saw images of it in the movie "Before Sunrise" where Ethan Hawke is shown promoting his book when he runs into the love of his life, Julie Depry. It lived up to all our expectations when we saw it in person. The book store has been in existence at one location or another since 1919 and carries mostly English language books. It was frequented by famous authors such as Hemmingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce. It has books from floor to ceiling along all walls, nooks and crannies. There are wooden ladders to climb to reach the higher books.

The upstairs is a really cool area, designated as a "reading" area since most of the rare books and magazines are not for sale, but you are encouraged to sit and browse through them. There were all sorts of different seating options including comfy arm chairs, benches, wooden chairs at a big table, velour theatre seats, etc. I sat for a long time reading what was equivalent to a 1950s gossip magazine, like today's People magazine. I read an article about Bing Crosby written by Bob Hope, an article about the power of the paparazzi to spread rumours about the helpless stars, and an article about a French movie depicting a jewelry store heist that caused a furour by giving step by step instructions on how to break into a real jewelry store using an umbrella as an essential prop! The store even had a typing room with an old fashioned manual typewriter that was made available for customers who wanted to "type letters".

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