December 7, 2016, Wednesday.
Museums and More…
In keeping with my resolve to see as many new places in Paris as possible, today, I awoke and decided to go to the Musee de la Mode de la Ville de Paris (the Museum of Fashion)—after all, there is no city in the world more a la mode than Paris.
Brekkie at the Café of Cite-Universitaire:
Carrying one of Pierre Herme’s croissants with me, I went in search of a cup of coffee. As I remembered that Cite-Universitaire has a well-serviced cafe, I showered, dressed and left my room to find it. It also ticked off one more item from my To-Do List (a Walk around Cite-Universitaire).
At the counter, I ordered a Breakfast Menu Complet which came with a croissant, a small roll, butter, jam, a pot of strawberry yoghurt, a pack of orange juice and a cup of coffee. I was certainly not going to eat it all—so I ate the Herme croissant and had the coffee. The rest I deposited in my room (for future breakfasts). I then hopped into the metro and went off to Rue Raspail to find the Musee de la Mode which opened at 10.00 am.
Exploring the Musee de la Mode:
The Musee was also empty when I got there. However, before I even entered it, I got sidetracked by a street market on Rue Raspail and I went for a long browse through stalls filled with fruit, veg, nuts, dried fruit, snacks, cheese, meat, etc. What I did leave with was a black wool beret that I picked up for 10 euros (but which I think, now, was a rather foolish buy that I might not even wear!). But I rarely make such purchases—so I do not want to be too hard on myself.
At the museum, which is located in a lovely hotel particulier with a curved pathway leading to the entrance (very similar to the Musee Maillol) that is known as the Palais Galliera, I was given free entry with my Met ID card. Inside, although small, there are some elements that remain memorable. It takes you through a short history of French haute couture. The big names and some of their works are present—a lot of Givenchy pill-box hats, for instance, as popularized by Jackie O. There are gowns by Chanel and other Famed French designers who made a mark on the fashion scene with their vision and style. None of the exhibits are permanent--they are constantly changed. When I went, I found gowns, dresses, shoes, hats—some very wearable, others outrageous. I was not sure what to expect and I have to say that I was not disappointed. As a capsule of French fashion, it was quite interesting.
Off to NYU-Paris:
I left the museum before 12 noon as I had an appointment with my colleague Eugene at Boulevarde St. Germaine where NYU-Paris is located. He has spent a year teaching in Paris and since I was keen to visit our premises in France, he offered to meet me, give me a tour, introduce me to a few staff members and students before we had a coffee together.
Accordingly, I arrived at the venue at 1.00 pm and had a nice reunion with Eugene. NYU is located in a nondescript building on the main road—so it really does not have a campus. It occupies a few of the top floors of the building. Eugene took me straight up to the topmost level for exciting views of the city. It was quite stunning really, and I am glad we started off there. From that point on, we took the stairs as we passed through student lounges, classrooms, administrative offices and the like. He introduced me to a few of the senior staff members and after taking a few pictures, we set off for a small bistro at St. Germaine where we had a coffee and talked shop. Unfortunately, Eugene was caught up with end-of-term grading and could not stay long. However, he did invite me to join his class at 3.00 pm. for a tour of the Musee de l’Homme. Since I had never been there, I decided to do just that. However, with another hour and a half to spare before I needed to return to NYU, I made the lightning decision to re-visit the Cluny-Thermes which is also known as the Musee des Moyen Ages (Museum of the Middle Ages) to see the series of tapestries that is known as the ‘Lady and the Unicorn’.
A Return to the Musee des Moyen Ages:
I discovered this museum rather late in my Parisian experience, but it has become one of my favorites in Paris. With just one hour to spare, I got myself a free entry (thanks to my Met ID card) and raced immediately to the special round room at the top of the gorgeous Gothic building that is used to house the series of tapestries. They are best viewed together and this room makes the ideal venue from which to take them in.
I took pictures of each of the tapestries that depict an unknown lady and her maid in a garden surrounded by a variety of animals and birds. They are said to depict the five human senses (sight, sound, hearing taste, touch) through interesting representations. The sixth tapestry is said to represent the sixth sense (or conscience). Filled with an abundance of detail, one can gaze at each tapestry for ages and admire them endlessly. I had a short time there but I derived immense pleasure from looking at them minutely and taking pictures. Then, I hurried off to meet Eugene’s class and used the short ten minute walk to eat my smoked salmon sandwich.
Off to the Musee de l’Homme with NYU Students:
I arrived on schedule at NYU and met Eugene and his class in the lobby. We set out immediately, taking the metro to Trocadero—once again, we got the opportunity to ride on the No. 6 train that took us across the Seine past the Eiffel Tower. At Trocadero, we walked past the Palais de Chaillot to the Museum. Eugene had made a group booking and we were ushered past the entrance into the main hall.
The Musee de l’Homme (Museum of Man) is devoted to Anthropology. I had never been inside and, in fact, had never even heard of it. I did not think that I would find it fascinating, but indeed I did. It is beautifully laid out and wonderfully curated and contains a treasure trove of large and small items from every part of the world that are superbly displayed. The falling cascade of busts of males and females from varied parts of the world is itself a reason to go. They are superbly carved in wood with amazing detail. Other things that caught my eye was a fallen elephant with its guts exposed and tumbling out—we had seen a similar sight in real life on a rhino in South Africa. Best part of all, the museum offered brilliant views of the Eiffel Tower from its many windows and because we were at an elevated level, we had the chance to see the many sculptures scattered around the premises from new and interesting angles. As the evening wore on, as night fell and as the lights came on at the Tower, we got even more stirring pictures.
After spending about two hours at the museum, enjoying the commentary of my colleague, listening to questions raised by our NYU students and pondering their comments, we called it a day. The students left, Eugene and I walked to the metro station and then parted ways.
Christmas Market on the Champs-Elysses:
I hopped off at the Champs-Elysses and, on emerging at ground level, found myself stunned by the fairyland in which I found myself. The famous avenue was ablaze with Christmas fairy lights and color as I had been deposited in the very midst of its well-renowned Christmas market that occurs at this time of year. I had an appointment for dinner with my French friend Livia at 6.00 pm and with an hour to spare, I began to check out the stalls. I have to admit that I was really exhausted throughout most of my time in Paris as I was simply trying to bite off more than I could chew and barely gave my legs any time to rest. The end result was that my right knee began to hurt and I was often so fatigued, I simply had to flop down somewhere. Still, I did not let it deter me from doing what I wished to accomplish.
The Christmas market is huge—it spans both sides of the Champs-Elysses. It features a great deal of German food stalls—there is bratwurst and hot gluhwein (mulled red wine). On the French side, there is raclette and Croque Monsieur. There are also a lot of stalls selling crafts—if you are in need of Christmas presents, this is where you can buy the lot. Woolen caps and gloves and mitts and lots of hats with fur pom-poms (which is quite the rage right now) were all over the place. I merely window-shopped, but it was fun to be a part of it all and to see the amount of variety of items being sold.
Dinner with Livia at Le Bistro Marboeuf:
Livia in the step-daughter of my French friend Genevieve whom I had seen last week in Lyon. I have known Livia for many years and we always make plans to meet when I am in Paris. Livia had suggested we meet at Rue Marbeouf and I set out to find her. We met on schedule and at her suggestion, we made ourselves comfortable at a very typically Parisian bistro called Le Bistro Marboeuf. I welcomed the opportunity to have a companion for dinner--one of the downsides about being alone in Paris is that I rarely enter good eateries to have a complete meal as I have never fancied dining alone.
With Livia for company, I ordered a full three-course meal: I started with the foie gras (which was just superb) served with toast points, went on to steak-frites served with a three-pepper sauce and I finished with Iles Flottants, which is such a delicate dessert and so rarely found on American menus—it was swimming in a sea of custard and was studded with toasted nuts and drizzled over with a caramel sauce. It was quite the best iles flottants I have ever eaten and even Livia was astonished at the size of my helping. Since I had asked for sautéed vegetables instead of frites, I ended up getting both! Livis had the French onion soup that she pronounced to be simply superb and a Lyonnaise casserole of meat rolls. My dessert was so large that I urged her to share it with me. It wasd a simply delightful meal—although I would have preferred to have my steak (ordered medium rare) done better. I am discovering that it is best to ask for a well-done steak in France. As French gastronomy goes, this was up there.
Livia and I parted company at about 8.00 pm after having had a lovely evening together and catching up on all sorts of personal and family news. We took a few pictures together on the Champs-Elysses and then I headed home and went straight to bed at about 10.00 pm after what had been another very fruitful day.