Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The wandering

As the final weeks of our sejour commenced, what I really wanted most to do was just to really be here, to see, to hear, to smell, touch and taste "here." So I set off wandering around in the afternoons, after my class, a nice lunch and a little homework.

Dennis' daily hikes filled his head with ideas for places for us to go together -- not the monuments, museums and architecture one usually "must see," but things like someone's private Japanese garden,
Japanese garden

a rose that actually smells like a rose,
My favorite
a row of birches shimmering in the breeze coming off the Seine,
Birches along the Seine

and the taste of an apple crepe ordered at a window and carried off down the street.

There's a bridge that attracts musicians. We wandered across it, enjoying a piano tune. The player was perhaps performing something that might well have been his own composition. We don't know. Notice the bride and groom who stroll across the bridge behind him. Anything can happen. It was Saturday.

One of the oh-so-many King's palaces had a rose garden. Think about this. Roses, dozens and dozens of them, some of them bound to be the poster plants for "antique roses" being perhaps centuries old ... Varieties created way before looks and carefree cultivation were all that mattered. Smell these roses. Go ahead. They don't mind. Every one of them has a unique scent. Ahhhh. All my time in this garden I spent bent over, my nose in some rose or another.
Like a bee, drawn to the flower

One doesn't hear horns honking much in Paris, with two exceptions: marriages being celebrated by everyone who was invited to participate, as they drive apparently all over town hanging out of their windows and yelling and honking; and police convoys (and they always seem to travel in packs). So traffic has a bit of a different ring to it. It's more of a hum.

And there are all these little unique shops with their windows full of different kinds of things. If you see something that interests you, you'd better just stop right there and go inside and check it out. You won't remember where you saw it, and you won't see it anywhere else. No going back!

There was a hunt for the best yogurt. Yes, yum. My favorite was actually a fromage blanc with granola, served up at Telescope, near my school. Makes me want to start making yogurt again when I get home. Bread, granola, yogurt, fresh berries. Best breakfast in the world.
Telescope's fromage blanc
 et granole; Credit: Farfalue

A lizard, fish, crawfish-looking fountain? Well, why not?

Sea-themed fountain

Off to the side somewhere hidden, a courtyard with an old massive port that once opened to let in coaches, once blue, now with the paint very nearly completely peeled off. Oh, and a pot of yellow pansies beside it. Someone must have thought that one through.
The blue door

Things in the market that I've never seen before:

The roots of a celery plant.
Celery root

Apples that are sort of shriveled up, each box labeled with the variety. I wonder what one does with them? One of the stories in the Premiere Gorgee de Biere was about going down to the cellar and smelling these apples, and what a treat that was. Indeed.

Pommes ratatinees

And outside a shoe store, for no good reason, an antique pitcher filled with a colorful mix of tulips in full bloom -- it's being what I'd call late winter here and all...
Tulips on the sidewalk

So, this will go on for the next several days until the sun sets for the last time on our trip, we put away our things, fold everything up, compact it all into the couple of cubic feet we're allowed for luggage, and head for home!

Sunset from 7 Quai Voltaire

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Getting away from Paris for a long weekend

My french class made a weekend trip to Normandy last Friday, and I took advantage of a full day, Saturday, to relax and "faire du shopping."
Bayeux, Saturday morning

Bayeux, the town we spent most of our time in, is small, with a walkable downtown. I had noticed on Friday night as we explored a little that there were lots of small shops with all kinds of things for sale, and it seemed like a good place to look for the little gifts I wanted to take back to friends.
Gift shop

So, Saturday, after a leisurely breakfast, I headed off to town.

Before I got there, however, I came upon something that always enchants me, a weekly market. Coming upon one of these by surprise, as I did, just makes the day for me. There's an atmosphere that's special -- the sounds, the smells, the sights, catching little bits of conversations as people greet each other, ask questions, corral their kids, and such.

And, a market gives me a chance to practice french!

This market had every kind of thing for sale: Animals, clothes, books, CDs, vegetables and fruits, flowers, cheeses, and all kinds of meat, fish, and shellfish, as well as prepared foods for eating then or taking home.

Chickens for sale

I could have spent the whole day there. 

Gorgeous veggies and fruits
Cheese market
When I texted Dennis photos of the rabbits, chickens and ducks, he suggested they would make great gifts. Perhaps...

And I did indeed find some nice gifts there, other than the beautiful and healthy little animals.

Catalan Paella in the market

Gorgeous dessert
Bayeux, as does all of Normandy, enjoys a great reputation for its regional dishes, among them, just about anything and everything made from apples.

Another specialty is dairy, so there are lots of dishes with cream sauces and cheese. Among others, the region is famous for its Camembert.

One of the students in our class and I had dinner together Saturday night and ordered several small plates to share, so we got to try five different regional cheeses, as well as a fabulous polenta dish with little slivers of brightly colored veggies tucked in everywhere.

Bayeux has a botanical garden, and it just happened to be right across the street from our hotel, so I spent a bit of my afternoon there. So peaceful and beautiful.

And for my friends who are as transfixed by birds as I am, I awoke every morning well before it got light to a vibrant dawn chorus, owing to our hotel's being adjacent to the garden. I hadn't heard this much birdsong in weeks. As is always the case for this trip, I couldn't put a name to anything, but whoever they were, merci beaucoup! 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Gardening, Paris-style

While last week, nothing topped a good hot chocolate, this week, nothing tops a Paris garden in springtime. Our weather turned truly spring-like this week, and we were able to shed the wool hats, sweaters and jackets (and for me, the wool base layers...). We visited lots of little gardens. They're everywhere, often tucked into recesses behind walls. I would turn a corner, and all of a sudden there's a little gate and I hear birdsong and the strong scent of flowers. I'm simply drawn inside these worlds of green, magenta, yellow, red and white as though I had no power to resist.

Austin has lots of little neighborhood parks too, but all pride about Austin aside, these little gems here in Paris simply put us to shame (excepting of course our Japanese Garden, which is a treasure in any season). I don't know who tends these gardens, but they are beyond magnificent. And they're everywhere!
Jardin de Voltaire

Almost daily we stroll past Voltaire's little pocket garden, on our street. Not a park you can actually go into, it's just a bright spot along the walk to the area around Place Buci, one of our favorite destinations for drinks, dinner and shopping.

Promenade Plantée
We strolled La Promenade Plantée last Sunday -- the first-in-the-world elevated park (the model for the High Line), repurposing a part of an abandoned rail line. About 2 1/2 miles long, it passes through two parks, Jardin Hector Malot and Jardin de Reuilly, while being a park itself. A triple-delight.

On the Ferris Wheel
A day later, we rode the Ferris Wheel, for splendid views of all of Paris. It's at the back of the Tuileries, a rather formal garden close to where we are staying. It's beautifully planted with beds of tulips, redbuds in bloom, lilacs, and pansies, daffodils and other winter bloomers (winter, for us in Texas).

Tulips in the Tuileries
Dennis goes on long walks each day, in the mornings while I'm in class and discovers things that we go off together to see in the afternoons. He hit the jackpot today! He orchestrated a "small garden tour" day just for me, a beautiful walk that took us to 3 of these small gardens and the Luxembourg Gardens, one of the most well-known in Paris. Two of the gardens flanked Le Bon Marché and La Grande Epicerie, rather over-the-top stores in Saint Germaine des Prés. So, we made the tour of those grand edifices as well. But back to the gardens -

Square Boucicaut

The first was Square Boucicaut. Flowers everywhere; birds singing; kids playing; Parisians lounging, relaxed, in the chairs and on the benches. The second, just a block or two away, was Jardin Catherine Laboure. Slightly larger, a little more elaborate (espaliered apple trees waist-high, in full bloom - can you believe it?), totally amazing.

Next was the Luxembourgh Gardens and I simply can't say enough about this grand example, certainly nothing that hasn't already been said.

Pictures describe Luxembourgh better than words anyway, so, have a look for yourself!

Our last garden today required a bus ride across the Seine all the way to the East Train Station. Jardin Villemin was just incredible. I was stunned upon entering to see peonies in full bloom, the size of a dinner plates. We don't have those in Texas, no we don't.

All day I've been hearing these lovely little birds singing their hearts out, but just never get a look at one. They must be tiny or in the very tip tops of the trees, or both. It's a nice reminder that naming a thing can often shut down curiosity about it. It's good to simply listen and enjoy, see and enjoy, feel alive and enjoy!

I hope your spring gardens are all blooming beautifully too.