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Posts Tagged ‘City of Light’

A touch or two of Paris

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on January 4, 2014

Here are a couple of reminders of Paris, for those who are in love with the City of Light. First, a blog called Paris Daily Photo by Eric Tenin.
Born and raised in Paris, Tenin offers typical and unusual, must see, restaurant, graffiti, food, exhibition, monument, and night photos. Oh yes, and shots of the Eiffel Tower.
Then there’s David Lebovitz’s food blog Living the Sweet Life in Paris. Lebovitz is a chef who’s cooked at Chez Panisse, and you can taste French cuisine from viewing these photos.
I haven’t read any of Lebovitz’s books, but given the quality of this blog, they would be well worth purchasing. He even provides interesting illustrated recipes.
Bookmark these two websites.

Posted in City of Light, life, Paris | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

City of Light; San Francisco, Paris of the West: part 7-conclusions

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on November 12, 2013


I started the series “City of Light” to record many of our experiences during our recent two and a half week vacation in Paris. My posts were full of excitement, enthusiasm and enjoyment for the fabulous places and wonderful times we had. The second series “San Francisco, Paris of the West” attempted to parallel the first, detailing outstanding experiences to be had in San Francisco, explicitly comparing our home town with Paris in a somewhat derivative, travelog style. The first series was enlivened by my personal experiences on holiday, while the second series was often confined by my personal history with the places and events where I live. So, lets begin this final compare and contrast with:

It’s apples versus oranges. Arrondissements in Paris (arrondissements municipaux, administrative districts) are not the same as neighborhoods in San Francisco. When we vacationed in the 14th Arrondissement at various times, we experienced several distinct neighborhoods within the 14th; the upper, middle and lower, all three exhibiting different architectures, residential characters, levels of commercial activity, etc. Sometimes a neighborhood, such as the Montparnasse, spans more than one Arrondissement (14th & 6th). San Francisco neighborhoods are more homogeneous, more geographically contained, easier to characterize, and San Francisco neighborhoods are a part of, or span governmental Districts. In San Francisco, for instance, Chinatown, a neighborhood, is in District 3, but spills over into 2. I take the neighborhoods of San Francisco more or less for granted, having lived here for so many years. This faulty comparison fallacy began when I used, as a basis, arrondissments in “City of Light” and neighborhoods in “San Francisco, Paris of the West.”

With this recent vacation, I’d been to Paris three times. My wife had been there four. We’ve shopped on rue Cler, avoided the pickpockets to marvel in the gloom of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris (6 Parvis Notre-Dame), visited Le Halles, above ground and below, wandered about the startling architecture in Parc de la Villette (211 Avenue Jean Jaurès), took the barge up the Canal Saint-Martin along the Quai de Valmy, first underground and then open air, caught the remnants of Paris 1968 left in Butte-aux-Cailles, climbed to the Basilique du Sacré Cœur (35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre), then wandered the surrounding environs, and many more experiences. Yet, we can never get enough of Paris, nor have we seen everything the City of Light has to offer. Still on our wish list: the Opéra de Paris housed in the Palais Garnier for either a tour or a performance, the Musée Marmottan Monet, the neighborhood/village of Saint-Paul, the Musée d’art et d’histoire du judaïsme, the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt, etc. There’s always something more to see and do in Paris.
The Paris Metro is the 8th wonder of the world, as far as I’m concerned. You can get almost anywhere you want in the city by using the underground metropolitan system. Sure, its crowded, some parts of it are old and decaying, other parts of it are plagued with pickpockets and crime, and the whole of it is not at all handicap friendly. But its still one of best municipal subway systems in the world. The underground musicians are often a delight, and it can be enchanting to hear music waft through the metro tunnels as you rush to meet your train. And there’s rarely more than a 2 to 3 minute delay between trains during normal operating hours. So what if it occasionally takes 3 lines to get to your destination. My love for the Paris Metro is on a par with my affection for the NYC subway system.
That Parisians are rude is a complete myth. Given our accumulated times respectively in Paris—over three months for my wife and over two months for myself—we have never encountered a rude Parisian. A clerk or waiter or worker occasionally can be harried or distant or unresponsive, but rude? We haven’t experienced it. As for the ordinary Parisian on the street, and aside from dodging them walking on the sidewalks, we’ve never had to deal with rudeness. Parisians in particular, and the French in general are exceedingly polite and formal. Once you address them properly (“Bonjour monsieur,” or “Bonjour madame”), and make some minimal attempt at the social niceties (“merci” for “thank you” and “excusez-moi” (“excuse me”) madame or monsieur), the average Parisian is more than willing to help you out. Throw in some self conscious attempts at speaking their language (“Je suis américain(e)” or “Je suis désolé, je ne parle pas français”) and cap it off with “au revoir” (“goodbye”) or “bonne journée” (“have a nice day”), you can get along just fine in most situations. However, if you ignore even these basic formalities and come off as a typical American, grinning from ear-to-ear, demanding information or service or attention, you’ll get what you deserve. My wife and I had exited the Cartier-Bresson Foundation on our first vacation along Impasse Lebouis and rue Lebouis, eventually walking up allies and along a strip of boutique shops to reach rue Jean Zay. A little lost, we flipped through our Paris Pratique to find Avenue du Maine and transportation to our next destination. A Parisian man came up to us, unbidden, and after the appropriate introductions, asked us where we wanted to go. He spent five minutes giving us directions, pointing out the correct, if distant bus stops to take, and bid us goodbye. We walked away hesitantly, still not clear about his directions or the route to take, given the difficulties in language and translation. Suddenly, he was by our side again, and again after the proper introductions, he said that his wife had told him he had better show us what to do. At which time, he took us over to the right bus stop, pointed out the right line to take, and then again bid us adieu. This happened more times than we could count while we vacationed in Paris.


I’ve lived in the Bay Area for twenty-three years, and in San Francisco proper for nearly fourteen years. My familiarity with San Francisco and its surrounding communities, while not breeding contempt, has no doubt made me jaded with respect to the available attractions and activities. In a previous part of this series, I noted the differences in area and population between Paris and San Francisco. Compared with the urban concentration that is Paris, San Francisco is positively rural, an impression compounded by the infusion of nature throughout the city. From the beaches to the west of the Golden Gate Bridge to Crissy Field to the east, from the manicured expanse and many attractions of Golden Gate Park to the City’s rambling neighborhood parks, some of which I reviewed in this series, San Francisco has an airy, wide open feel to it. Throw in the numerous tourist attractions—Coit Tower (1 Telegraph Hill Blvd), the iconic cable cars, the Victorian “painted ladies” on Alamo Square, the cultural institution that is City Lights bookstore (261 Columbus Avenue)—and San Francisco’s quotient for charming, quaint and enchanting is extremely high. Having lived all these years in this city, I still haven’t seen and done all that I’ve wanted—actually walked the Golden Gate Bridge, shopped in China Town, climbed the Moraga Street tile mosaic stairs between 16th and 17th Avenue, explored the new, improved Presidio, etc. So much more to see and do before I die.
What’s so great about San Francisco is the temperate climate. No sweltering summers that force half the population to leave and old people to die, and no winters with sleet and snow to brave. Its pretty much good weather all year long here, thanks to being surrounded by water. My wife and I live east of Twin Peaks and we are treated to the City’s natural air conditioning, fog pouring over Twin Peaks to moderate the weather. The neighborhood microclimates are well known, yet the overall mildness of the weather is a feature that promotes casual walking by residents as well as year-round tourism. Being homeless, not a pleasant prospect anywhere, is mitigated by being able to hang out outdoors and live rough in this city. September/October is the best time to visit Paris (or for that matter, New York City). In San Francisco, its positively gorgeous.
One thing that I’m disappointed about with respect to San Francisco is the overall attitude of the people who live here. There’s an aloofness, a sense that people here just can’t be bothered. I wrote above discounting the myth that Parisians are rude. Now, having visited New York City off and on for the past thirty odd years, I know what rudeness is. There’s no mistaking the “go fuck yourself” temperament that’s part and parcel of your average New Yorker. San Franciscans are so self-contained, no, self-absorbed, so as to be detached from their fellow human beings. The proliferation of hipsters (who squat every available coffee shop seat) and the influx of techies into the City (who drive to and from work in their private, air conditioned Google or Genentech buses) has only made things worse. Say what you will about your average Parisian (or New Yorker), they aren’t detached from their surroundings or other people. Take your “individual looking at a map” test, not as some “thought experiment” but as a real life exercise. I described what occurred when my wife and I stood around a Paris intersection looking at our map. This happened to me many times when I was a tourist in New York, looked lost, and consulted my map. Invariably, some New Yorker would come up and ask “where do want to go?” perhaps not out of pure friendliness so much as an attitude that said “hey, I know this city like the back of my hand.” When I visited San Francisco as a tourist, but before I’d actually lived in the Bay Area, I would walk around different parts of the City, often checking out my map for where to go and how to get there. This happened on numerous occasions, but no one approached me to ask “where do you want to go?” Then, one time, when I was befuddled and staring at my map somewhere in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district a man came up to me and said, in a perfect Brooklyn accent, “so, where do you want to go?” Enough said.


This concludes my two series—”City of Light” and “San Francisco, Paris of the West”—on the only theme that remains appropriate to the subject. Love. Love for Paris and love for San Francisco. Thanks for following this blog.

Posted in arrondissements in Paris, City of Light, Golden Gate Park, life, neighborhoods, Paris, Paris of the West, San Francisco, San Francisco neighborhoods, series | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 6

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on November 4, 2013


The above map, provided by a local real estate company (the name of which has been dutifully photoshopped out), provides the common realty names for various San Francisco areas. I’ve been focusing on the three neighborhoods surrounding my residence in this series; Eureka Valley/The Castro (or Eureka Valley/Dolores Heights), greater Noe Valley, and the Haight-Ashbury (including parts of Cole Valley/Parnassus Heights & Buena Vista Park/Ashbury Heights). There are two adjacent neighborhoods I also enjoy visiting and will briefly cover, while comparing them to Paris. Let’s begin with:


West Portal is the residential area that runs west of the three block commercial West Portal Avenue. Bookshop West Portal (80 W Portal Ave) has been an anchor store for the neighborhood. It’s run by one of the former owners of Clean Well Lighted Place for Books, and it sells new and remaindered books, as well as provides a range of services, from author signings and book release events to a meeting place for classes and community activities. It has a nice kids literature section, tables and shelves for current fiction and nonfiction trade paperbacks, and magazine racks. The staff is dedicated and knowledgeable. This is a well loved, full-service neighborhood bookstore that easily could be found in Paris. Right next door, there’s The Music Store (66 W Portal Ave). Okay, so they’re not big on creative names here, but this tiny little record shop is crammed full of CDs, DVDs, vinyl, tapes, anything musical new or used. Mostly used. This place promotes various local and regional musical events as well and besides, its simply a cool fucking store. Lot’s of great pictures and posters. In Paris, everything has pretty much made the transition to digital, and there’s not much specialty vinyl around. Not like specialty Parisian bookstores, anyway. So The Music Store is truly unique.

San Francisco-El Toreador628x471
There is absolutely no way I can visually describe El Toreador Restaurant (50 W Portal Ave). The exterior has that bright Mexican house coloring that only hints at the complete chaos inside. The furnishings are as multicolored as the exterior, and every other surface—every wall and the ceiling—is entirely covered with stuff. Photos, murals, paintings, streamers, pinatas, dolls, sculptures, hanging furniture, “day of the dead” figurines, jugs, pitchers, dishes, signs, neon, graffiti; this is only a small fraction of the crap stuck on everything, everywhere. This is only decent Mexican food, what I used to call border Mexican food when I lived in San Diego. The amazing deal is the range of beers on the menu and displayed via empty bottles lining the walls. I’m no longer a drinking man, but I was impressed with the selection. There’s no experience comparable to El Toreador Restaurant in Paris. While the cuisine is no great shakes, the decor is authentic and eye popping. Plus, its a family owned and run establishment. After a Mexican meal, its time to take in a movie at the CinéArts at the Empire (85 W Portal Ave) across the street. First run movies, some “independent” and some 3D, in this multiplex movie theater, which offers stadium seating, air conditioning, and the usual food concessions. The CineMark chain got into trouble when a CEO (I think) acknowledged donating to the Proposition 8 Campaign and provoked a short lived boycott from the gay community. Yet, with the dwindling number of cinemas around (unlike Paris), CinéArts at the Empire has managed to weather this controversy and remain a hub in the West Portal neighborhood, as well as relevant to San Francisco in general.


Okay, Bird and Beckett Books and Records (653 Chenery St) fucking rules. This shop has had to struggle financially, like so many independent bookstores in San Francisco, and its month-to-month as far as the rent and bills. But Bird and Beckett is still here, and it is an institution not only in Glen Park, but in San Francisco as well. This place is not unusual by Parisian standards in offering new and used books and records. What is unique is the regular poetry readings and bebop jazz performances, in addition to the usual book and author events common to most other bookstores. When Bird and Beckett was evicted several years ago from down the block, its future appeared bleak. Now, at least the bookstore has a future, if only tentative. Keep patronizing Bird and Beckett to keep them afloat.

Pizza is a religion in San Francisco. Thin crust, deep dish, twice baked, New York style; people fight over which is the best. Gialina (2842 Diamond St) serves up thin-crust Neapolitan-style pizza, not to mention fresh antipasti and salads, and a roast of the day. The place is small, and Gialina doesn’t take reservations, so expect to wait to be seated. It’s also family friendly, so a few squealing kids is par for the course. Canyon Market (2815 Diamond St) is right across the street. Canyon Market considers itself a full service neighborhood grocery for Glen Park, but its somewhat of a boutique market and a tad pricy. But what stands out here is the prepared foods, the salad bar, the butchered meats, and the fresh baked breads, which rivals anything to be found in Paris. My wife and I do go out for take-out grocery food, but of all the markets we frequent, Canyon Market offers the tastiest, most varied prepared foods. Delicious.

GLEN CANYON PARKcoyote-540x405
When I reviewed Dolores Park in part 5 below, I mentioned that it had the pretense of “wildness.” Glen Canyon Park (Elk and Chenery St) is the real thing, at least as real and as wild as a park gets completely surrounded by a city. Paris offers nothing like Glen Canyon Park in a fully metropolitan setting. There are grassy areas and playgrounds and baseball fields and a recreation center. Yet it also covers 70 acres, with a free flowing creek (Islais Creek), hilly and rocky terrain laced with hiking trails, and lots of trees and coastal scrub. Red-tailed hawks and great horned owls breed in the park, and coyotes have been seen in here. An example of urban planning at its best.

I’ll conclude both this series (San Francisco, Paris of the West) and my other related series (City of Light) in a combined part 7.

Posted in City of Light, coyotes, coyotes in San Francisco, Glen Park, life, Paris, Paris of the West, San Francisco, San Francisco neighborhoods, series, West Portal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

City of Light, part 6

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on November 3, 2013


Don’t shop on Sunday, or for that matter, on a Monday in Paris. My wife and I metroed to Rue Mouffetard for a little sightseeing and shopping on a Monday, only to find the street all but shut down. The Metro ride to the 5th Arrondissement required three separate lines, plus the weather when we arrived threatened rain that never quite materialized. We’d been to this famous shopping street on a previous Paris vacation, on a Saturday if I recall, so this time Rue Mouffetard was a virtual ghost town. The tourist destination begins as rue Descartes, running until rue Thouin before becoming rue Mouffetard. The medieval street is quaint enough, all narrow, cobblestoned and meandering, replete with a passage or two, from Place de la Contrescarpe running downhill to Square Saint-Médard, lined with tiny shops and eating establishments of every imaginable kind (even a cinema). That length is pedestrian only during most the week, and jammed with people during that time. Not so on the Monday we visited. I’m not a big fan of all-day shopping experiences, but the subdued atmosphere, plus the overcast skies, definitely put a damper on the whole outing. I tried to locate an academically oriented bookstore (with books on Foucault, Leotard and Lacan, some even in English) from a previous vacation, which had been on rue Descartes, but was either closed for the day or permanently shuttered. And of the two Vietnamese restaurants serving a very limited selection of pho soups, one was so bereft of customers it turned us away and the other closed early between lunch and dinner. Overall, a disappointment.

Bercy Village (Cour Saint-Emilion) in the 12th Arrondissement was the opposite experience. Not medieval and charming at all, but sleek and modern. The shops and restaurants and cinema here were high end and expensive, and the layout was spacious and mall-like. The rustic edifices and street cobblestones were entirely faux, so machine regular as to be annoying. A tent lot behind the main avenue featured home decor vendors. About the only thing I enjoyed was the Asterix exhibit. We gave Bercy Village a quick once over before taking the Metro out, and this too was a three metro line ride.

A quick comment on the Metro. Out in the 12th, the Metro stations are new and sleek, with one station on the Bercy Village line even stopping on the inside of the track, and another station offering a tantalizing glance in passing of an underground garden. When we disembarked at one station and took the escalator up to catch a connecting line, we witnessed a couple of individuals desperately running down the up escalator, only to realize at the upper platform that the police were checking passengers for tickets. We’d been stopped on a previous vacation by the gendarmerie at the sprawling Montparnasse–Bienvenüe metro station for a check of what was then our universal Carte Orange passes. The police had been in full uniform and well armed, and they’d also asked to see our passports. (“Américain,” one said to the other.) This time around, it was the Navigo Découverte pass and the gendarmerie in the Metro wore white shirts, but they were no less efficient, noting that my wife and I had failed to sign our passes. We witnessed a sting involving both uniformed and undercover police with what we assumed were illegal immigrants at the Place de la République metro. The Gendarmerie Nationale are obvious, though not ubiquitous, throughout Paris.

Moving from East to West…

We got to the Musée Rodin (79 Rue de Varenne) in the 7th Arrondissement, though not to the other Musée Rodin, the villa des Brillants (19 Avenue Auguste Rodin), Rodin’s old studio/workshop/residence in the 15th Arrondissement. This was a treat for me, though not so much for my wife. The museum proper is in a modest French château (the hôtel Biron) situated in lush gardens sprinkled with statuary, all next to the magnificent gold dome of Les Invalides church. Crunching along the gravel paths, under mature trees, among grass and shrubbery landscaping, and beside reflective pools and fountains, we encountered The Thinker, Balzac, Eve, Ugolin, Orphée, the Three Shades, the Burghers of Calais, and the Gates of Hell, among the many famous outdoor Rodin statues. The marbles gallery provided views of unfinished work, and the blooming rose gardens were outfitted with a mysterious ethereal soundtrack of female vocalizing. The indoor museum was less impressive, with marbles, bronzes, and less weather proof terra cotta and plaster pieces, including The Kiss. Unfinished and partial pieces are also part of this collection, which featured a large number of female nudes, some of them quite graphic. There were also a few of Rodin’s sketches, and an original Monet as well as a van Gogh self portrait. My wife was not fond of “the same old story,” that being of the artist and his female “models” (read “serial mistresses”). Yes, there were several representations of the artist (always male, old, bearded, patriarchal) being “inspired” by his muse (always female, young, attractive, nubile). By that standard, virtually ALL of French artistic expression has been epitomized by aging, lecherous, male painters, sculptors, photographers, poets, writers, et al depicting their female models. Why single out Rodin?

We sojourned to the Musée du quai Branly (37 Quai Branly), the final stop for this post. There we were overwhelmed by the 4th biannual images of the world (4ème biennale des images du monde) exhibit which featured the previously unpublished works of 40 non-European photographers, 35 displayed outdoors along the Seine and 5 indoors in the Branly Museum.”This year, all the images presented relate to the human figure: landscapes, objects, fashion or architecture appear in the form of elements that accompany the human being” and they were featured on huge kiosks, formatted digitally and massively. This exhibition was brilliant, outstanding, thoroughly engaging, beyond superlatives. As a footnote, an oddly costumed individual trucked around an equally odd “sculpture” of melted plastic objects on wheels. He claimed to be a part of the exhibit, though that could not be independently verified. In all, the 4ème biennale des images du monde was the highlight of our visit to the 7th Arrondissement.

Posted in 12th Arrondissement, 4ème biennale des images du monde, 4th biannual images of the world, 5th Arrondissement, 7th Arrondissement, asterix and obelix, Auguste Rodin, Bercy Village, Carte Orange, City of Light, Gendarmerie Nationale, Les Invalides, life, Montparnasse–Bienvenüe, Musée du quai Branly, Musée Rodin, Navigo Découverte, Paris, Place de la Contrescarpe, rue Descartes, Rue Mouffetard, series, Square Saint-Médard | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

City of Light, part 5

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


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…


marcheGalerie Vivienne in Paris
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.

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!


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.


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.

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.


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!

Posted in 2nd Arrondissement, 3rd Arrondissement, 4th Arrondissement, A priori thé, Breakfast in America, Céline Robert, Centre Pompidou, City of Light, Daido Moriyama, Galerie Vivienne, Genesis, Goldenberg's, life, Maison Européenne de La Photographie, Maison Georges Larnicol, Marais, Marché Bourse, Mickey's Deli, Paris, Polka Galerie, Roy Lichtenstein, Sebastião Salgado, series, the Pletzl, Toshio Shibata | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 4

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 23, 2013

Consider this an extension to part 3 of this series.

Before I get to the subject matter proper, let me note something right off the bat about my comparisons between San Francisco and Paris. San Francisco is exactly 231.89 square miles and approximately 825,863 in population as of 2012. Paris is 40.7 square miles, with approximately 2,234,000 people as of 2013. The density of Paris is 54,899/square mile, as compared to 17,620/square mile for San Francisco. Both urban experiences are very different from one to another. Ambling about San Francisco neighborhoods with one, two, at most three story houses which, if Victorian and no matter how quaint, are rarely older than the beginning of the 20th century or mid-19th century earliest, is quite different from strolling comparable Parisian neighborhoods of consistently four, five or six story tall apartment blocks, ranging from the 1600s to the 1800s in age. It’s often said that both San Francisco and Paris are walking cities. Yet the sense to walking each is quite distinct.

Now, The Castro. There’s no precise geographic definition of “The Castro” as such, given that the concentration of gay people around Castro Street from 19th Street to Market is the focus of a much larger gay community that extends up to Eureka Street, over to at 22nd Street, and down Market Street past Dolores to straddle Church Street. Some contend that the community goes past Guerrero Street into parts of the Mission, over to Noe Valley and Corona Heights, up to Twin Peaks, and across to the Haight-Ashbury, with incursions into the Duboce Triangle and Dolores Heights. With the rather nebulous geography to this designation, I’ll roughly spiral out from its iconic center, The Castro Theatre at 429 Castro Street. The Theatre has been in the neighborhood for over a century, with a Spanish Colonial Baroque façade and massive neon sign, and a luxurious and ornate single screen interior with subtly convex and concave art deco walls and ceiling, plus the dark, capacious balcony. The “Mighty Wurlitzer” pipe organ rises from the orchestra pit and is played before films and events, as well as nightly just for fun. The Castro Theatre is host to various special events; singalongs, film festivals (most notably, Frameline and the Jewish Film Festival), actor and author speaking engagements and the like. In contrast to Paris, San Francisco is gradually losing its cinema culture. The Castro Theatre is helping to hold the line against this loss.

Cliff’s Variety Store is right down the street, and has been there for 75 years. This is more than a hardware store. If you can’t find it at Cliff’s, good chance it doesn’t exist. In the Boy Scouts, Tenderfoots were sent out to other campfires to find “left-handed smoke turners,” as a prank. Good chance Cliff’s has those, too. There is nothing like Cliff’s, not even in Paris. This matrix along Castro Street from Market Street to 19th Street, and from Diamond Street to Noe Street, contains at least a dozen full-on bars, making these eight plus blocks one of the most intense party scenes in San Francisco. Which makes the existence of the Hartford Street Zen Center (57 Hartford St) all that more remarkable. Sister center to the San Francisco Zen Center, imagine attending the Friday night Hartford Street Zen Meditation & Recovery Meeting, based on Buddhist and AA principles, in the heart of the Castro, among throngs of alcohol-crazed revelers. A truly extraordinary experience. I mean, drinking is everywhere in Paris. People drink mostly wine and mostly with meals, and less often other types of alcohol at bars. Zen centers and AA groups can also be found in Paris, of course. But there is a frenzy to American alcohol use, and abuse, that is hard to find anywhere in French culture.

Food is a big part of French culture, and its large on Castro Street as well. I’ll briefly mention my favorite places, the ones I frequent often. Frapez Spa (4092 18th St) is a fruit and vegetable smoothie bar that I hit three times a week, right after gym, for a healthy and filling 20 oz drink. The Anchor Oyster Bar (579 Castro St) has been in the neighborhood for 35+ years, offering fresh oysters, fish, crabs, shrimp, etc. The New England clam chowder and the chappino are particularly good. Buffalo Whole Food & Grain Co (598 Castro St) is a great little organic foods grocery with fresh vegetables inside, fresh fruit outside, and also a wall of supplements. Finally, there’s Spike’s Coffee and Teas (4117 19th St) where I regularly get my green tea. I can set up my laptop and work away (no wifi!) or read the NYT or just people watch. Plus, I have a card where I can pay in advance.

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What’s great about living in a neighborhood in San Francisco or Paris is that you’re in a village where you can meet most of your needs within easy walking distance. Case in point, Pioneer Renewer (4501 18th St), an old school shoe repair shop where I’ve had a half dozen of my shoes stretched to fit. The place is great, from the goofy decorations to the gruff old cobbler who takes care of my shoes. Then there’s Books & Bookshelves (99 Sanchez St) where you can find unfinished wood furniture and shelves of poetry books, perhaps the widest collection of poetry up to and including City Lights in North Beach!

A couple additions to my “village” are the Immune Enhancement Project (3450 16th St) and Ike’s Place (3489 16th St). The former offers therapeutic massage and acupuncture (both of which I’ve extensively used) and the latter has a monster menu of over 50 sandwiches (many of which I’ve sampled), plus 4 additional locations. The therapies at IEP are common fare in Europe, whereas Ike’s cuisine is quite unique, as attested to by the lines around the block at lunch.

Church Street is another main commercial drag in the Castro area. Aardvark Books (227 Church St) reminds me of the San Francisco Book Company in the 6th Arrondissement, a store crammed floor to ceiling with used books from cheap paperbacks to collectors editions. There’s also graphic novels, comics, magazines and new books. Like a lot of used bookstores in SF, this place is hanging on by a thread.

We’re back on the food tip now, with references to Paris. Chow (215 Church St) is a decent enough local restaurant, unremarkable by San Francisco standards, let alone Parisian. It’s part of a San Francisco micro-chain. Thorough Bread and Pastry (248 Church St) rivals a good Paris patisserie/boulangerie, with its selection of sweet and savory baked goods, artisan breads and sandwiches. This place has tables but somewhat limited hours. Further up the street, there’s the completely unique Chile Pies (314 Church St), a sweet and savory pie shop that offers sit down and take out meals based on, what else, pie. There’s ice cream as well. It’s an offshoot of Green Chile Kitchen, so look for the big neon “PIE” sign. Further along still, there’s Samovar Tea Lounge (498 Sanchez Street). Lots of folks on the Eurasian continent love their tea, and as a consequence, make a ceremony out of drinking tea. The Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Russians, British, and lastly, the French, are all keen for tea and ritual tea drinking. I found Parisian thé shops and cafes, while certainly more interesting than their British counterparts, just as limited, with a preference for perfumed teas. Samovar is no great shakes regarding the food it serves, which is small portioned and expensive. What is marvelous here are the teas. A half dozen each of green teas, white teas, black teas, oolongs, pu-ehr teas on a changing menu. Excellent.

Our final destination is Mission Dolores Park. Unlike the managed and controlled French and British gardens/parks, in which man’s mastery over nature is evident, American gardens and parks are studies in “nature,” with a pretense to “wildness.” Grass is omnipresent, and meant to be walked on, sat on, picnicked on, etc. There are official tennis courts, a basketball court, a soccer area, and an extensive modern playground for the kiddies. There’s also an old clubhouse with restrooms. The unofficial areas of the park include gay beach (for sun bathing), hipster hill (millions of dead hipsters, please!), dog hill (watch out for dog shit), etc. The park’s microclimate is usually sunny and warm, perfect for the regular SF Mime Troupe performances by day, the Symphony performances, and the big screen Opera rebroadcasts in the evening. This is a magnificent resource for not just the neighborhood, but the entire city of San Francisco.

Posted in Aardvark Books, Anchor Oyster Bar, Bay Area, Books & Bookshelves, Buffalo Whole Food & Grain, Castro Street, Castro Theatre, Chile Pies, Chow Restaurant, City of Light, Cliff's Variety Store, Eureka Valley, Frameline, France, Frapez Spa, gay, Hartford Street Zen Center, Ike's Place, Immune Enhancement Project, independent bookstores, Jewish Film Festival, LGBT, life, Mission Dolores Park, Paris, Paris of the West, Parisian cafes, Pioneer Renewer, Samovar Tea Lounge, San Francisco, San Francisco Book Company, San Francisco Mime Troupe, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Zen Center, series, Spike's Coffee and Teas, The Castro, Thorough Bread and Pastry | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

City of Light, part 3

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 16, 2013


We vacation in the 14th Arrondissement, regularly staying at the Hotel Ibis Alésia Montparnasse on rue des Plantes. Anyone familiar with European hotels knows that a reasonably priced hotel room is about the size of a walk-in closet, plus a bathroom. This time, my wife and I decided to rent apartments, two to cover our most recent two and a half week vacation, both in the middle 14th.

The upper 14th was the epicenter for an artistic earthquake between the two World Wars, of which the Lost Generation was only a small part. Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Cocteau, and André Breton populated the Boulevard du Montparnasse and congregated in cafes like La Rotonde, Le Dôme, and La Closerie des Lilas, and nearby nightclubs like the Dingo American Bar and Restaurant. However, the 14th below the Cimetière du Montparnasse was, and is more sedate, a quiet working- to lower middle-class neighborhood straddling rue d’Alésia. Our first apartment was a comfortable ground floor space on rue Furtado-Heine, whereas our second was a swankier fourth floor apartment on rue Gassendi, which meant taking four flights of stairs at least twice a day.

Rue d’Alésia from the round about to the 15th Arrondissement is a low key commercial street with lots of shopping, the usual eating establishments, and plenty of people watching. There’s a charming park, Jardin de la rue de Châtillon, in the neighborhood, and a nice farmers’ market, Marché Villemain, on Sundays and Wednesdays between Avenue Villemain and rue Raymond Losserand. Everything one might want can be had within a few blocks, from shoes and clothes to Monoprix and Bio organic groceries. And while the Alésia nightlife is subdued, there is still plenty to do. We enjoyed dinner a couple of times at Le 14 Juillet Restaurant at 99 rue Didot, both times savoring the chicken liver salad and one time ending the evening sharing their massive chocolate-drenched profiterole. And we caught a film, Ron Howard’s latest movie “Rush,” playing at the nearby multiplex cinema. The showing was in English, Paris being one of the biggest cities in the world for film.

Rue Gassendi crosses rue Daguerre, a much more lively street of restaurants, brasseries, bistros, caves, cafes, etc. often teeming with young people. The last block of rue Daguerre before it meets Avenue du Général Leclerc is pedestrian only and swamped with business and people into late into the night. We returned to one of our old favorites, Café D’Enfer at 22 rue Daguerre, but this time we found the place a bit less magical. Much more enticing was La Maison Péret at 6 rue Daguerre, a bistro and brasserie serving up charcuterie, sausages, hot and cold country meats and traditional country dishes. Lest it be thought that all we did was eat on rue Daguerre, the Photoclub Paris Val de Bièvre is located on 28 ter, rue Gassendi, a half block down from the street named after one of the originators of the darkroom photographic process.

My wife and I are big photography enthusiasts. We saw an exhibit of Michael Kenna at the Galerie Camera Obscura at 268 Boulevard Raspail in the 14th. We walked to the Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson a few blocks away at 2 Impasse Lebouis for a stunning show of Sergio Larrain‘s. A Magnum photographer, this exhibition of Sergio Larrain’s included pictures and old videos of street kids shot in Santiago, Chile. The wonder of the 14th Arrondissement, this small slice of the 14th in particular, and almost any Parisian Arrondissement generally is that they’re all jam-packed with things to see, stuff to do, food to eat, etc. Each and every neighborhood is crammed full of life, so much life, that a score more vacations would not exhaust the activities, charm and beauty Paris has to offer.

Which brings me to death. Dividing the upper 14th from the rest of the Arrondissement is the sprawling Cimetière du Montparnasse. Located at 3 Boulevard Edgar Quinet, this tranquil, tree-filled and well maintained cemetery is not nearly as well known as Cimetière du Père Lachaise to Americans. However, many notable individuals are buried here, including Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Eugène Ionesco, Guy de Maupassant, and many others. The famous Catacombs of Paris are also located in the 14th, at 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy. The Catacombs ossuary was created when geological weaknesses resulting from haphazard mining coincided with a perceived need to eliminate the helter-skelter Les Innocents graveyard in the 1780s. My wife and I stumbled upon a kind of boutique devoted to Catacombes de Paris called Comptoir des Catacombes (31 Rue Remy Dumoncel), featuring everything from skeleton jewelry and candy to tour guides and gothic literature. The guy behind the counter was taken by my anatomically accurate Archie McPhee skull key ring attachment. That and the fact I was dressed all in black led him to believe I was a devotee of some sort.

On the final day of our vacation, we took a tour of the Tour Montparnesse, a modern spire at 33 Avenue du Maine looming over the former artists quarter of Montparnasse proper. Higher than the Eiffel Tower, the 360 degree panoramic view of all of Paris afforded from the top of the Montparnasse Tower is truly breathtaking. It was a fitting conclusion to our overall trip.

Posted in "We'll always have Paris.", 14th Arrondissement, Alesia, Cafe D'Enfer, Catacombes de Paris, Cimetiere du Montparnasse, City of Light, Comptoir des Catacombes, Foundation Henri Cartier Bresson, Galerie Camera Obscura, La Maison Peret, Le 14 Juillet Restaurant, life, Montparnasse, Montparnasse artists, Paris, Photoclub Paris Val de Bievre, rue d'Alesia, rue Daguerre, rue Furtado-Heine, rue Gassendi, Sergio Larrain, series, Tour Montparnasse | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

San Francisco, Paris of the West, part 2

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 14, 2013

In an alternate evolutionary scenario, the asteroid that slammed into the Earth some 66 million years ago to create the Chicxulub crater, enshroud the planet in a decades long “nuclear winter,” cause the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, and bring about the rise of the mammals never happened. The large dinosaurs grew bigger, more competitive and fewer, leading to the virtual extinction of all their smaller cousins and competing mammals. Then, in a further evolutionary twist, a handful of ultra-dinosaurs developed and all but wiped out the large dinosaurs, leaving only a scattering of small dinosaurs and mammals to survive across a gutted planet.

The somewhat flawed analogy here is to bookstores.

When I was growing up, and aside from paperback book racks in every drugstore and mom-and-pop bookshops, small, medium and large bookstores abounded. Then came the book chains—the Pickwicks, Crown, B Daltons, Borders, and Barnes & Nobles. Following Marx’s inescapable logic of capitalist competition, the bookstore chains grew and competed and killed each other off, until only two monopolies remained; Borders and Barnes & Nobles. In the process, virtually all the smaller bookstores disappeared or were done in. When I last visited NYC, Barnes & Noble was on every other block, and bookstores like Forbidden Planet had been unceremoniously killed off. Then, Amazon, the mega-monopoly, arose. Borders bit the dust, and sickly Barnes & Nobles is holding on by a thread. In the cracks left by this “free market” debacle, there are still small bookstores left, but they are non-existent in some places, and few and far between in other locations.

So now we’re in the present, both here in San Francisco and in Paris. Paris first. As I posted below, there are three well-known English-language bookstores in Paris, and the San Francisco Book Company has kindly provided this link to a list of some 240 plus bookstores in the 6th Arrondissemont alone. In Paris, France, where the bourgeoisie rose to power and ushered in modern capitalism, chain bookstores are held at bay and independent bookshops of all sizes and shapes are alive and well.

Not so in San Francisco. Borders is gone, and Barnes & Noble has been reduced to four stores scattered in Bay Area cities immediately surrounding San Francisco. In the process of the demise of these two monopolies, a number of other local independent bookstores went belly up; Stacy’s, Clean Well Lighted, Cody’s… Amidst the carnage however, small indie bookstores have survived and some still thrive in the Bay Area. In my three neighborhoods, three bookstores of note pursue differing strategies for survival.

In the Haight, and aside from the very limited, anarchist specific Bound Together Books, there’s Booksmith. Booksmith is a full-service, full-hour, full-inventory destination bookshop that is a wonder to browse. It’s a stand alone bookstore with book events, author signings, literature readings, etc.

Phoenix Books in Noe Valley is part of a small, local, one-owner chain of used bookstores that also sells new books. This indie chain includes Alley Cat Books, Badger Books, and Dog-Eared Books. Phoenix survived the death of Cover-to-Cover and the Mystery Bookstore in Noe Valley and was recently sold to a local buyer to keep the rest of the chain solvent. Unfortunately, Zoltar, the gypsy fortune teller, will not be staying.

Finally, there’s Books, Inc in the Castro/Eureka Valley neighborhood; gay-oriented, but still very much a full-service bookstore that weathered the death of A Different Light bookstore. Books Inc is an example of a mini-chain that is bigger than just San Francisco. Bay Area wide, Books Inc is a regional success story, with stores at SFO, the Ferry Building and surrounding cities, that hasn’t gotten too big for its britches. It also has book events, author readings and signings, and the like.

Books Inc is part of IndieBound, a consortium of independent bookstores which uses Kobo, the ebook reader as an alternative to Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook. I own a Kobo, and I’m proud to support local, independent bookstores.

Posted in Barnes & Noble, Bay Area, Books Inc, Booksmith, Borders Books, Bound Together Books, Chicxulub and dinosaur extinction, City of Light, Eureka Valley, Haight-Ashbury, independent bookstores, IndieBound, Kobo, life, Noe Valley, Paris, Paris of the West, Phoenix Books, San Francisco, San Francisco Book Company, series | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

City of Light, part 1

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 12, 2013

My wife and I recently vacationed in Paris, France. And while I took along my laptop, a 2011 MacBook Air, I only powered it up at the end our day, at night, when we were done with our tourist/sightseeing adventures, and then mostly to check my emails. The rest of the time, especially when we were lounging in Parisian cafes enjoying the good weather, the baguette sandwiches and the people watching, I perused a couple of hard copy English-language newspapers, mostly notably, the daily International Herald Tribune. But I also purchased and read The Weekly Guardian, the weekend edition of The Observer, and on occasion The Financial Times. At home, in the US, we subscribe to The San Francisco Chronicle. There is something tactile and soothing about the printed page which is entirely different from the frenetic feel to news provided by the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I regularly frequent Huffington Post and Politico. But when I was in Paris, I abstained from my internet addictions and rediscovered the joys of reading old-school newspapers once more. The change of pace, and especially the changes in brain activity, have given me an appreciation of what has been labeled the slow news movement. There is something to be said about taking a step or two away from the craziness of American politics, as served up by the immediacy of the internet. My wife and I will always have Paris. Now, thanks to an appreciation of an admittedly dying industry, newspapers, we also have our brains.
casablanca 2

Posted in "We'll always have Paris.", Bogart and Bacall, brain changes due to internet, Casablanca, City of Light, Financial Times, Huffington Post, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, International Herald Tribune, life, Paris, Parisian cafes, Politico, series, Slow News Movement, The Observer, Weekly Guardian | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »