Category Archives: France

Postcards from Paris – memories of late summer

I was day dreaming about Paris, especially after watching the Woody Allen movie Midnight in Paris. I have quite a bit of Paris photos especially on my last trip there, right at the tail end of summer just before autumn, when the slightly browning trees were basking in the golden sun. But I always think that my Paris photos are so kitschy and that the last thing the world need is another photo of the Eiffel Tower. So the only set of Paris photos I posted here was my visit to the hamam. But after my hard disc failed on me (“hard” disc is such a misnomer), I decided from now on I’ll just post whatever photos I like before I risk losing them. I truly enjoyed this visit. I believe it was MP who once told me to take pictures when I’m happy. Sound advice. Hope you’ll enjoy them.

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Enchanting Midnight in Paris

It’s really not hard to be charmed by Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s latest creation and love letter to Paris. Probably anyone who loves the City of Lights would find even more reason to enjoy the movie. In a way, Midnight in Paris portrayed what I think is most beautiful and charming about Paris – the night.

The movie itself is very beautifully made, almost magical – in sync with the fantasy elements of the story: the movie opens with a series of postcard-like montages of iconic Parisian landmarks and then the picturesque lily pond which perhaps inspired Monet. The main character, an American writer Gil (played by Owen Wilson) visits Paris with his fiance and her parents. While wandering through Paris at midnight, he steps into the 1920s, and soon he meets Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Josephine Baker, Cole Porter, Picasso, Degas, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Dali. In real life, Paris was the mecca for these writers, artists and musicians. In Gil’s fantastical escapades, the bohemian nostalgia is enhanced by the cinematographic effects of golden hues, rosy tints and warm soft lighting, which just made everything glow, and Owen Wilson even blonder.

Some may find Gil’s infatuation with Paris silly. But bathed in such romanticism peered through rose tinted lenses (and literally so), Midnight in Paris, to this tourist is very swoon-worthy. Suddenly, I wish I was in Paris again.

Postcards from Paris – off the beaten track

Although Paris has never been on my wanderlust radar, I’m blessed to have visited it four times. This time round, I managed to visit some other interesting parts of Paris, including the part of the 5th Arrondissement where the Grande Mosquee du Paris is located.

This post is not about the complex issues facing an ever evolving migrant and multi-religious society or historical legacies. Rather, it’s just to showcase another side of Paris that is more popularly associated with the touristic Eiffel Tower or Louis Vuitton on Champs-Élysées. It is a pity that I didn’t get to visit the mosque proper as it was past touring hours. Still, the Hammam (bath) experience was quite unique.

Obviously, no photos of the bath itself – though you could read about it here.

 

Display of North African pastries at the Salon de Thé outside the Hammam

 

Sample tagines, couscous and mint tea in this atmospherically decorated restaurant

Grande Mosquee de Paris

 

The debate at Versailles

Just over a month ago, I was lazing on a friend’s couch somewhere in the north of France. On the TV was a programme that featured a talk-show host and a group of people in what appeared to be an animated (or heated? I couldn’t tell) argument.

I asked my friend what was it all about.

“They are arguing about an art exhibition in the Palace of Versailles,” said my friend.

A TV debate about art exhibitions? On the screen, a red-faced man was waving his arms in the air while the melee continued in French.

I brushed the thought aside. That is, until days later when I visited the Palace of Versailles myself. After enduring a 45-minute queue outside the main gate (furthermore with an already pre-bought ticket in hand, otherwise, expect to queue for 1 more hour at the ticket booth) under the blazing sun, I was nudged by the human traffic into the palace.

Once a symbol of opulence, decadence and absolute monarchy that sparked the Revolution and changed the history of France forever, the Palace of Versailles is now an invaluable money-making machine for the French tourism industry.

Walked past a few rooms and then the subject of that inexplicable (at least, to me) TV debate became apparent. A mix of disapproving murmurs, amused giggles and appreciative pauses hung over the visitors’ din and camera clicks.

 

Tongari Kun, by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. At the state's room of the Versailles Palace

 

Work by Takashi Murakami, inside Chamber Sacre at Palace of Versailles

 

Works by Takashi Murakami, inside Palace of Versailles

Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami’s works are on display in the Palace of Versailles, till 12 December 2010. That is, if it is not taken down before then:  some people were unhappy enough to file a lawsuit against showing the works there. Guess juxtaposing contemporary art with things of the past is not everybody’s cup of tea.

For me, I got to see two different art styles on one ticket. So I think I got a pretty good deal.

 

Oval Gold Buddha, by Takashi Murakami. At Versailles courtyard

 

p.s. Incidentally, Takashi Murakami is no stranger to the French creative scene and has collaborated with luxury label Louis Vuitton.

23.09.10 – Paris

Wanted to do something a bit different in Paris, something less popular with tourists, so I can avoid the crowd.

Paris is a city which attracts a lot famous people – including foreigners – who lived, breathed, created and died here.

Went to Pere Lachaise cementery to visit the grave of Chopin who died in Paris (it will be his 151st death anniversary this October). While his body lies here, apparently his heart was taken back by the Poles to Warsaw (does that mean he was dismembered?!). Other famous figures lying in peace here include George Bizet (composer, most well-known for his opera, Carmen), Francis Poulenc (20th-century composer who lived on the Left Bank), Jim Morrison of The Doors (drug overdosed), Edith Piaf and Balzac. Didn’t get to visit the entire cementery which covers a huge compound. Nonetheless had a pleasant walk on the grounds that are pretty with trees and their browning leaves. Also a quiet place for contemplation and enjoying a peaceful morning, until a tour group arrives…

Another famous person who lived in Paris was Picasso, who was not originally from France. Yet on his death a large collection of his works were given to the French government, in lieu of taxes owed. I think the French government probably got the better end of this deal, as there is now a Musee Picasso. But it was closed for renovation! Nonetheless was satisfied with a free Brancusi exhibition at the Pompidou centre (yet another art exhibition centre, amongst the countless in Paris).

Walked around the neighbourhood and passed through the so-called Jewish quarter, where the only thing jewish about it is some jewish pastry shops and jewellery shops selling accessories with the star of David motif. But there are also other small boutiques around, selling one-of-a-kind designer pieces. Was very tempted to buy a bag from Celine Jeanne…

After a beer with grenadine, decided to walk to the Mosquee du Paris. Glad I chose the route I took, because there was a big protest on the other bridge with ambulance sirens in the background, fire flares, and police roadblocks.

Why the mosque? Because I wanted to try a Turkish bath. You’ll need to check which day to go: for instance, today is for women only. It was quite an experience, although I could hardly sit still in the steam room with sweat oozing from all pores, whereas the other women were all busy catching up with the gossip of the day. Too bad I can’t speak French as this is certainly a social activity! There were also scrubs and massages by morrocan/algerian women. Thereafter, you can retire to the mosque restaurant for some couscous, tagines, mint tea and sweets. Both the bath house and restaurant are atmosphericly decorated with Islamic motifs. As I left the restaurant, I saw the woman who gave me the scrub leaving work wrapped up in a overcoat and headscarf. On the other end of the building, around the corner, men were walking to the prayer area. Prayer time perhaps.

Culinary adventure

Just when I was fretting that I can’t seem to find traditional French food in Paris, I accidentally ordered andouillette for lunch today!

*This post has been edited to include how this happened.

Me reading a French menu with basic English translation.

Waiter walks over and graciously tried to speak English as much as he could since I comprehend almost zero French.

Waiter: What would you like to eat?

Me (thinking the “sausage” dish sounds promising): I’d like to have the sausage please.

Waiter (looks at me for a while): This is special.

Me: Great! I like special!

For the record, this is not something I would normally eat.