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Monday, February 27, 2012

Château de Pierrefonds

Sunday's excursion took us an hour north of Paris to the town of Pierrefonds near Compiègne. The Château de Pierrefonds was built in the 15th century by the Orléans family, dismantled in the 17th, and then reconstructed in the 19th century on the orders of Napoleon III. The architect Viollet-le-Duc was engaged to restore the château. He produced more a work of invention than restoration. He imagined how the castle ought to have been, rather than basing his work on the strict history of the building. The result is a "modern" medieval castle.

Here's what the castle looked like before the reconstruction.
And here is what it looks like today:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Doisneau et les Halles - part 2

Do you remember the photo exposition of Doisneau and les Halles from last week?
This is another of the memorable photos from the exposition:

Patrice and I were in the neighborhood of les Halles yesterday and we passed in front of this shop which has been in the pest extermination business since 1872.
I couldn't help myself - I just had to take a photo ;-)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Musée d'Orsay

"Let's go to Basel to see the Bonnard exposition." Patrice was all ready to plan another trip when I reminded him that we could go see some paintings by Bonnard right here in Paris. Why travel to Switzerland when we have so many museums right at our fingertips? Well, there is the chocolate . . .

And so, I took Patrice to the Musée d'Orsay yesterday. He last visited the museum when it first opened 25 years ago and was unfamiliar with the collection - after all, it's too close to home.

What a delight to revisit the museum which was undergoing renovations for the last two years. It always takes my breath away to see in person some of the most famous paintings in the world.

Of course there were paintings by Bonnard:
In addition to the collections, the building itself is beautiful. Photography is not allowed, but I did manage to get a few shots of the fabulous clocks. This one is on the inside:
And this exterior clock faces north and gives a great view of Montmartre.
Not in Paris? You can take a virtual visit to the Orsay museum here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Carnaval de Paris

We weren't able to make it to Rio for Mardi Gras; so we did the next best thing - we went to see the Paris Carnaval parade on Sunday. The sun came out after several days of clouds and rain, although it was very cold. The cold didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the dancers and musicians, however.

Last minute makeup and costume adjustments:

Lots of musicians:




and boots

I couldn't help thinking how tired those feet would be after several hours of this!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Doisneau et les Halles

This week we went to the Hôtel de Ville to see the new exposition of photos by Robert Doisneau of Paris' former wholesale market, Les Halles, which occupied the center of the city until 1969. Doisneau spent 40 years photographing Les Halles - the "belly of Paris" - from 1933 until his death in 1994. Here are a few of the 200 photos from the exposition:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Iron Lady

Patrice and I went to see the film The Iron Lady on its opening day in Paris. We left the theater with completely opposite reactions.

I was mesmerized watching Meryl Streep as she portrayed Thatcher's declining health and descent into dementia. I loved the nuance in her voice, her regard, her every movement. I remember the Thatcher years in government, but did not have strong opinions regarding her political philosophy. For me, the movie was more than politics, more than history, more than a woman with an iron will. For me the movie was about marriage and family life and the price that one pays for political power. It is also a reminder of the ineluctability of illness, aging and death. I was entranced by the acting and the moving making, and less concerned about the historical legacy of a powerful and controversial political figure.

Patrice had a very different reaction. He appreciated the movie but he detests Margaret Thatcher and her political philosophy which is diametrically opposed to his own. "It's as if someone made a sympathetic film about Hitler," he said.

Whereas I focused on the superb acting of Meryl Streep, he only saw Margaret Thatcher and her conservative, anti-labor policies. He was incensed all over again by her political decisions, her treatment of labor unions, and her actions in the Falkland Islands. It made for an interesting discussion, however, and reminded us of another biopic which we recently saw in which another despicable historical figure, J. Edgar Hoover, was brought back to life by Hollywood.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Crazy Horse

No, not Chief Crazy Horse of the Lakota Sioux, I mean the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris.

Yesterday was Valentine's Day and Patrice wanted to do something special for the holiday. Neither of us had been to the legendary cabaret for decades. Would it still be the same? Would it be sexy? The answer to the first question: yes, the show and especially the girls are remarkably true to the image created by Alain Bernadin, who founded the show in 1951. The girls all look alike: all white, all 5'5" - 5'6" tall, small breasts, trained dancers. The show still opens with the same sequence . .
Lots of silhouette images - this one reminds me of early James Bond openings.
Other vignettes are reminiscent of Cirque de Soleil - but it's all pretty softcore.
And the high heels! Check these out. . . .
The verdict? Well, I think we'll wait another 30 years before we go back . . .


Last week - the desert
This week - Paris

Sunday, February 12, 2012


On our last day, our guide Baba took us to see the historic texts that we'd heard so much about.
We were expecting a library of some sort, but it turns out the books are in the hands of private families who have cared for them for generations. Conditions are not always easy for adequate preservation.
Other texts are still in remarkably good condition.
A last look at the town with its shops and residents
Then back to Atar where our plane was waiting to take us back to the cold Paris winter.