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Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

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 4

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 19, 2013


A note. I’m not following a day-by-day plan here in recounting our experiences in Paris this last vacation. Rather, I’m doing it by Arrondissement, starting with the 14th and combining Arrondissements when appropriate, as well as somewhat thematically, so as to provide a slightly different structure to our experiences.

The French do parks and gardens quite differently from, say, the English or the Americans. I’m not going to do a comparison, just a description, starting with the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th Arrondissement. We visited the Luxembourg Gardens and did what one is intended to do in a French garden; stroll, relax, catch some rays or shade, and enjoy a balmy late French afternoon in late September. Everything is orderly and geometrical. There’s no grass, that is, no grass to walk on, just walking paths, stone, sand and gravel, mostly under rows of mature chestnut trees. Other plants and flowers are in specific beds. Designated areas are set aside for tennis, basketball, stables for ponies used for kiddie rides, a carousel, a puppet theatre and such. Several sculptures are also scattered about. A raised reflecting pool and fountain to the south of the Palais de Luxembourg is the focus for the various garden paths, as well as the main congregating area for most of those relaxing. My wife and I appropriated several chairs where we read our e-readers and newspapers while watching people as the sun edged toward evening.

We walked a couple of the neighborhoods around the Luxembourg Gardens, and had sweet treats at Bread and Roses (7 rue de Fleurus) and chocolat chaud at Angelina right next to the Musée du Luxembourg. In each of these establishments, it’s possible to add a pound or two simply by breathing in the atmosphere. Both Bread and Roses and Angelina have two locations in Paris. My wife had conceived of a walking and eating regimen for Paris in which she and I walked all day and everywhere, eating whatever we wanted, with the idea that we wouldn’t gain any weight. This diet worked for the two of us both previous times we’d vacationed in Paris. It worked for my wife this time around too, but unfortunately for me, it seems that my metabolism has sufficiently changed in the last few years that I did manage to gain a couple of pounds despite all my walking.

The neighborhood immediately above the Gardens, and to the east, is a bit hilly, sliced up with small streets, and crammed with shops of all description. On our way to it, we passed the Sénat building, where a minor police operation was in progress. As a small group of gendarmerie opened the gates and prepared for whatever was to go down, and as my wife and I walked by across the street, we passed an individual slouching against the building, a lesson in studied, low key casualness who kept an eye on us through surreptitious glances. Undercover cop, we whispered to each other, from our individual backgrounds in lefty politics. Sure enough his walkie-talkie squawked as we turned the corner. The neighborhood we entered is gay friendly, apparent from the gay and lesbian couples openly holding hands on the street and the posters in shop windows advertising gay events. In addition to the San Francisco Book Company, there is this stylish Euro-chain MUJI at 27 & 30 Rue St. Sulpice, and the aggregate of shops in Marché Saint-Germain-des-Près (14, rue Lobineau). The Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe is also located in this neighborhood (2 Rue Corneille), where we found a gaggle of artists occupying the stairs sketching their surroundings.

The main part of Saint-Germain-des-Près, where Hemingway and the Lost Generation hung out, is along the Boulevard and centered around the church of the same name. Alas, the Village Voice Bookstore is no more, but the Taschen Bookstore (2, rue de Buci) is prospering. The jumpy young sales clerk was busy keeping watch over all the pervy old men who were pawing and drooling over the publishing company’s softcore porn, but he did have time to talk to us about the efforts Taschen is making to promote Sebastião Salgado‘s new exhibition Genesis, including a massive book nearly as tall as my wife. More about Salgado later. Saint-Germain-des-Près is also home to Les Deux Magots (6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés) and Café de Flore (172 Boulevard Saint-Germain), two of the more famous cafes frequented by members of the Lost Generation. Café de Flore is where we met Terrance Gelenter at the beginning of our stay in Paris, and where he holds regular office hours on Sundays. The streets to the northeast of this main drag, up to the Seine, are full of galleries selling artwork. Every time my wife and I lingered to view a particular gallery, we were approached by freelancers trying to interest us in “really good art, not this crap,” each time a different scam artist.

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Speaking of scam artists, after we walked past the bouguinistes on Quai de Conti and turned onto the Pont des Arts on one occasion to admire the locks placed along the bridge’s length to symbolize the love of so many couples, we encountered a version of three card monte in progress by individuals attempting to bilk passers-by out of their money. After warning my wife not to get roped into this scam, I suddenly felt as if I’d figured out their tricks and just as suddenly jumped into the game. The result: I lost €50 on one bet and momentarily, my pride. Fortunately, I have no gambling addictions and quickly backed away.

Onward to the 1st Arrondissement. A stroll along the rue de Rivoli which, when it runs across from the Louvre as a covered sidewalk, is an incredible pain in the ass. The shops along the street are way overpriced, the crowds of mainly tourists are a zoo to walk through, and the whole experience is like an obstacle course or a contact sport. The French have this unnerving habit of walking straight at you, bumping into you hard or nearly pushing you into the street. Now imagine mobs of who-knows-what jammed onto narrow sidewalks, all jostling to get past. Fucking crazy. We had visited the Louvre the two times previously we were in Paris and we weren’t going this time. The tourist madness on rue de Rivoli was most discouraging. Not so the concert at Sainte-Chapelle (4 Boulevard du Palais). This Gothic cathedral hosts classical music events that draw more tourists, but fortunately the numbers are limited and the events are under tight control. We enjoyed nine or so versions of Ave Maria, performed by a string quartet and sung by a mezzo soprano at the 7:30 concert. The main hall was being restored, so half of it was covered with scaffolding. The day outside was overcast, so the extraordinarily beautiful stained glass windows were subdued, not featured to their greatest glory. Yet the music was ethereal and, dare I say it, heavenly.

My final story covers our experience with L’Open Tour. This is the Hop-on, Hop-off Tour Bus that, in Paris, offers four different routes. Originally, we’d intended to take all four routes, and found the Paris Grand Tour the most extensive, and the most serene given that we started at 10 in the morning, after packing a couple of baguette sandwiches. But by the second route, the Montparnasse-Saint Germain tour, we were tired, the day was hot and humid, the bus was crowded, and the passengers were pushy and annoying. We cut the whole experience after the second route and retired to a cafe for some Orangina and a light meal. Halfway through our L’Open Tour day, and three-quarters through the Paris Grand Tour, we got off at the Jardin des Tuileries at Place de la Concorde next to the Louvre. The Tuileries has the same features as other classic French gardens, although we didn’t venture very deep into this garden. Instead, we lounged in the shade next to the reflecting Bassin Octogonal and devoured our lunch. There is nothing like a French baguette. And a baguette sandwich made of sweet butter, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, ham and/or tomatoes? Sublime. This was perhaps our most satisfying meal of our whole vacation.

Posted in 6th Arrondissement, Angelina, bouguinistes, Boulevard Saint-Germain, Bread and Roses, Café de Flore, France, Genesis, Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, L'Open Tour, Les Deux Magots, life, Lost Generation, Marché Saint-Germain-des-Près, MUJI, Odéon-Théâtre de l'Europe, Paris, Paris through Expatriate Eyes, Pont des Arts, rue de Rivoli, Saint-Germain-des-Près, Sainte-Chapelle, San Francisco Book Company, Sebastião Salgado, series, Taschen Bookstore, Terrance Gelenter | 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 »

Let me make one thing perfectly clear…

Posted by G.A. Matiasz on October 13, 2013

I’m a stone communist, on my best days. When I’m feeling idealistic I’m an anarchist, and when I’m feeling practical I’m a socialist. I’m a liberal when I’m depressed.

Recently, I started a series on my experiences in Paris while on vacation, and how this relates to living in San Francisco. If you’ve been paying attention, I’m NOT blogging anything about the current political mess in this country. That’s because US politics amounts to a steaming pile of dog shit, whether I’m feeling like a communist, anarchist, socialist, or liberal. I don’t want to spoil your appetite with a jpeg of that now, do I? You want my full-on commie pinko analysis of the current state of politics, in America or the world? I will occasionally break for a semi-relevant political post on this blog, but the really juicy stuff can be found on my other blog at “What’s Left?”

Posted in American Experience, anarchism, communism, liberalism, life, Paris, politics, San Francisco, socialism | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

City of Light, part 2

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


It’s a quick and easy fantasy.

Move to France, become an expatriate, live in Paris. Add some details. Live on the Left Bank, hang out in cafes, drink absinthe, write the great American novel. Being a writer and having recently spent two and a half glorious weeks in Paris, I’m particularly keen on this fantasy. It’s as old as the Lost Generation of American artists (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Eliot, Stein, Duncan, Pierce, Seeger, et al) who exiled themselves to Paris in particular, and France generally, after the First World War. Perhaps older.

But, alas, I get homesick easily. I’ve been to Paris three times now, and after several weeks, I start missing the United States, even while I dislike some aspects of this country intensely. When I spent six months living on kibbutz in Israel with my Jewish girlfriend, I was seriously homesick. So a prolonged life as an expatriate American residing in Paris is truly a flight of fancy for me, one I would never really fulfill.

Nevertheless, there are a few details that might help one live out such an expatriate fantasy in Paris, if one should so desire.

Paris through Expatriate Eyes. My wife and I attended events sponsored by Terrance Gelenter in the US, and then met him while in Paris this last vacation. A raconteur, a flaneur, and a charming man who wears his Brooklyn Jewishness on his sleeve.

WHSmith. One of the biggest English-language bookstores in Paris. Modern, filled with latest books and magazines on every subject, which hosts English-language events.

Shakespeare and Company. One of the oldest English-language bookstores in Paris, proud as a center of English expatriate literary history, full mostly of used books and memories now. It also hosts English-language events, tours, a newsletter, etc.

San Francisco Book Company. Founded by the owner of San Francisco Carroll’s Books, who seems to have moved the bookstore lock, stock and barrel to the 6th Arrondissemont. San Francisco Book Company is part of over 200 bookstores in that Arrondissemont alone.

AngloInfo. A self-proclaimed, global expat network centered in Paris and the Ile-de-Paris, replete with event listings, discussions and blogs, directories of businesses and services, and classifieds.

WICE. Anglophone association providing cultural, educational & social activities to the international community in Paris. They are a membership organization with programs, events, and instruction.

FUSAC. An English-language magazine distributed throughout Paris offering classifieds and other advertising covering a variety of categories that has cohered a community of interest around it.

TimeOut Paris. “Your critical guide to the arts, culture and going out in Paris.”

US Embassy in Paris. And if you’re really serious about becoming an expatriate…


Posted in American Embassy in Paris, AngloInfo, expatriate, FUSAC, life, Lost Generation, Paris, Paris through Expatriate Eyes, San Francisco Book Company, series, Shakespeare & Co, TimeOut, WHSmith, WICE | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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 »