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City of Light, part 5

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 26, 2013

RIGHT HOOK, ARRONDISSEMENTS 2, 3 & 4

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When you walk all the time, everywhere, apart from taking the Metro, your feet are bound to feel it. My wife and I each have our own podiatric issues which we managed to deal with and still have a wonderful vacation. As for the references to eating in this blog, they could have been multiplied tenfold. We considered eating and savoring the Parisian cuisine part of the pleasure of a really fine vacation. But even in Paris, with delicious unpasteurized cheese and country cured ham and freshly baked baguettes to die for, not every meal was stellar, nor even memorable. I only captured the most interesting places to eat. The same can be said for every location or expedition. Not all were noteworthy, like the times we had to visit FNAC for electronic purchases or to buy concert tickets…

2ND ARRONDISSEMENT

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Outdoor farmer’ markets can be found in every Parisian Arrondissement. The Marché Bourse at Place de la Bourse had a distinctly international flavor to many of the stalls; one featuring Moroccan couscous dishes, brick chicken, and tagines, another selling Arabic clothing, jewelry and musical instruments, and still another serving up Indian curries, tandoori everything, and various naan . We were on our way to Galerie Vivienne so we didn’t spend much time here. Galerie Vivienne is a relic of a bygone era, an historical footnote in late 18th to mid-19th century Parisian architecture when there was a rage for constructing arcades, galeries and passages throughout the city, numbering over 140 at the period’s peak. Walter Benjamin’s unfinished literary work, The Arcades Project, a pdf of which can be found here, attempted an analysis of this architectural phenomenon, increasingly from a Marxist perspective as this project developed. Galerie Vivienne itself is a collection of somewhat disparate shops; apparel, shoes, hats, glasses, home decor, books, photography, art, dining, etc.

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My wife and I ate at A priori thé (35-37 Galerie Vivienne) twice for lunch. The last time, she had the 3-cheese herb omelette and I had stuffed chicken breast. Subtle and superb. Both times I had a pot of tea; first time pu-ehr and the second time green. And we finished off with a cherry tart. I also purchased a chapeaux at Céline Robert (27 Galerie Vivienne), a fine black rabbit fur hat with the skinny brimmed fedora design that has that 1950s New York bebop jazz styling. Très chic!

3RD ARRONDISSEMENT

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The 3rd was one gallery and two exhibits for us, at the Polka Galerie (12 rue Saint Gilles). Quite an elegant photo gallery (and home of Polka Magazine) featuring, at the time we were there, the violently black-and-white photography of Daido Moriyama. His Cycle stuff is incredibly gritty, grungy, and so ugly that it is beautiful. Daido Moriyama was in the tiny front gallery space. In the back, more spacious, two-level gallery was Toshio Shibata‘s exhibit The Abstraction of Space. Shibata’s color photo’s are serene, exquisite, occasionally transcendent.

THE MARAIS, 3RD & 4TH ARRONDISSEMENTS

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Le Marais straddles the 3rd and 4th Arrondissements. As we strolled up and down rue des Rosiers, rue des Ecouffes, rue Ferdinand Duval and rue St. Antoine in the Pletzl (the former Jewish Quarter, and even older Jewish Ghetto) we encountered groups of Hassidic Jews (all men) celebrating Sukkot (the Hebrew feast of booths) and carrying around lemons or date palm fronds or tree branches. They stopped us, offered to pray for us, and even laid on hands for some kind of blessing. Unfortunately, the Marais itself has undergone gentrification in the last decade or so. Gone are most of the distinctive Jewish bakeries, restaurants, delis, kosher butchers, and Judaica stores, replaced now by posh shops and boutiques. Goldenberg’s Restaurant and Delicatessen closed in 2007, ironically to be replaced by Goldenberg’s fashion boutique. Mickey’s Deli (23 Bis Rue Rosiers) remains, an outpost of an ever shrinking Jewish presence in this neighborhood where you can still find good falafel. The monuments and plaques to those Jewish victims of the Holocaust and anti-semitism can be found, yet I didn’t notice prominent posters or graffiti for the JDL this time around.

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The Marais also has a large gay population. Gay male couples in particular are prominent on the streets. I’ll note two additional points of interest. First, Breakfast-in-America (4, rue Malher), a diner style establishment that purports to serve authentic American breakfast food. We didn’t take up their eating challenge, although we did stay long enough to marvel at their menu and decor. Then there’s Maison Georges Larnicol (14 rue de Rivoli), a sweet shop with bins and trays and jars of chocolates and cookies and candies. The place is so huge that it fronts on rue de Rivoli with a back door on 12 rue du Roi de Sicile.

4TH ARRONDISSEMENT

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The Centre Pompidou (19 Rue Beaubourg) is always worth a visit, if not a day-long stay. Unlike the Louvre, the collections of which are almost entirely “permanent” and in place with limited exceptions, the Pompidou hosts traveling exhibits of note. From the industrial architecture (that some have criticized as unfinished) to the expansive view of western Paris from its top level, I’ve quite liked the Pompidou. When we were there the last time, we did a round of the main collection. The fourth level was closed for renovation. And then there was Roy Lichtenstein on the fifth level. This was a very complete retrospective of Lichtenstein’s prolific work, from his beginnings in pop art and appropriations of comic art to his final nudes and zen-like canvases. He worked in a wide range of mediums—painting, lithography, silkscreening, ceramics, metal and plastic sculpture—his scope of materials was quite phenomenal as was his array of styles. Ever experimenting, ever exploring, it is too easy to put Lichtenstein down as a mere craftsman, no matter how skilled. His work revealed true talent and genius. This was an overwhelming exhibition.

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Finally, there was Sebastião Salgado and his latest work, Genesis, at the Maison Européenne de La Photographie (5-7 Rue de Fourcy). This was also an overwhelming exhibition, although for entirely different reasons. There were 245 photographs, all printed on a massive scale, all black and white, of places ranging from Antarctica to the African Congo to the Amazon in South America. The whole exhibit fills all four floors of the Maison Européenne de La Photographie and can be mind numbing to take in all at one time. There have been criticisms of Salgado’s photographic techniques (his unapologetic use of digital noise), his subject matter (National Geographic porn), and his epic presentation (that often reduces everything to an unrelenting sameness and flatness). There has also been criticism of his relentless commercialization of his own art in the name of “saving the planet.” I’m not interested in that so much as Salgado’s extremely naïve statements re his “love letter to the planet.” From Taschen’s publication of Genesis: “Some 46% of the planet is still as it was in the time of genesis,” Salgado reminds us. “We must preserve what exists.” And: “GENESIS, the result of an epic eight-year expedition to rediscover the mountains, deserts and oceans, the animals and peoples that have so far escaped the imprint of modern society—the land and life of a still-pristine planet.” This is complete crap! The human race, the industrialized and industrializing sectors of it at the very least, have so compromised the global environment that absolutely no part of it, no nook or cranny of it, has managed to remain untouched, unaffected, unscathed and unpolluted. I seriously suspect the same can be said of the “primitive peoples” that Salgado so lovingly photographs. Virtually all of them have been visited, if not corrupted to one degree or another, by human civilization long before Salgado captured them on his digital media. But let’s give Salgado the benefit of the doubt and contend otherwise. There is still Werner Heisenberg’s observer effect in Physics. The scientist, in observing a phenomenon, necessarily changes that phenomenon. So there is Salgado out there observing his “primitive peoples,” taking pictures of them, changing them and their cultures through the mere act of being there, taking pictures, and observing them. He has fucked over all those primitive Edens and primitive Adams & Eves with the apple of his very presence!

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