We had quite a big day today! Most of it was completely wonderful.
I woke up kicking myself that I forgot to take pictures of R and Connie and me. I had the camera with me precisely for that reason and never even thought of it. And by the way, R emailed from the Eurostar. They very nearly didn't let her on the train, but she did prevail.
Connie and I didn't set our alarm this morning and slept until 8:40, which is like noon for non-morning people. We had one last breakfast at Au Tramway, but since today is Sunday, the bistro was well stocked with locals. There were young families and older men and small groups of friends. We were the only tourists.
When we came out, the sidewalk in front of our hotel had been transformed into a market! When we arrived on Thursday we saw the tail-end of a market, but we had no idea when it would return or how extensive it would be.
It was blocks and blocks long - stalls of vegetables and smelly cheeses and breads and seafood on ice, dozens of varieties of olives, chickens sizzling on outdoor rotisseries, charcuterie - all manner of French deliciousness. One stall had a huge cast-iron skillet - maybe someone knows the name for this? (Stephanie?) - in which a vast quantity of new potatoes were sizzling with garlic and onions.
You know I love markets, and so does Connie, and the surprise of finding this on our street after breakfast was such a delight.
We didn't get on the metro until almost 11:00, so I was a little skeptical about how much we would get to. Our first metro ride seemed long on the map, but the trains arrive so frequently - a three-minute wait at most - and then zip so quickly from stop to stop, that there really are no long train rides.
Our first stop was the Musee Marmottan Monet, just inside the beautiful Bois de Boulogne, a huge city park. There was a line to get in, and the museum limits the number of visitors allowed in at any given time, generally a good thing. Unfortunately it started to rain while we were waiting, and our umbrellas were at the hotel. Not because I forgot them, but because I left them there on purpose. Typical of me. My mom had her hoodie, and a nice solo (French) visitor shared her umbrella with Connie while I took shelter under a tree. A few minutes later, the sky was beautiful clear blue. That's the kind of day it was.
The Marmottan is the largest collection of Monet's work, bequeathed by a family who were great supporters of the artist. I thought we were only there for the permanent Monet collection on the lower level, but it turned out to be much more. There was a special exhibit in celebration of the museum's 80th anniversary: 100 Impressionist masterpieces held in private collections - and thus rarely seen - assembled for public viewing.
In addition, the Marmottan has a permanent collection of works by and about Berthe Morisot, a female Impressionist pioneer, who was also married to Eduard Manet's brother Eugene Manet. And they own an impressive collection of medieval illuminated manuscripts, which I love.
It was all wonderful, although the Monet collection blows the rest away. It features much of his later work, which is more properly thought of as post-Impressionist or even proto-Modern. In that vein, a circular room is filled with a series of wildly colourful, almost completely abstract water lilly paintings - paintings that were never shown in the artist's lifetime.
This visit came at a great time for me, too. The Impressionists were the first art I was exposed to, and I was mad for them as a child and young teenager. But I OD'd on them, and came to see much Impressionism as saccharine and cliched. Once I found Picasso and other Modernists, I couldn't see the Impressionists with the same eyes again. (Picasso would have approved! He hated them.)
But, after a long period of not looking at Impressionist paintings, I can now appreciate them again. (That happens with all kinds of art, doesn't it?) I still strongly prefer the later, post-Impressionist paintings that prefigure Cubism, but I do appreciate Monet again.
All in all, the Marmottan was terrific. Connie was quite over the moon.
After the Marmottan, we decided to continue to our next stop and eat lunch there. That proved to be a mistake. Walking away from the museum, back through the Bois de Boulogne, we could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It thrills us every time! I feel the same way when I see the Empire State Building in New York.
We had another easy and fun metro ride (our last!) to the 7th Arrondissement, exiting at the Varenne stop, right in front of the Musee National Rodin. Also right in front of a brasserie... that was closed. And so was the next one, and the one after that. And it periodically started to rain in sudden cloudbursts, and we'd have to duck under an awning. There seemed to be no open restaurants near the Rodin Museum.
I would not have minded for myself, but I am responsible for my mother's comfort on this trip, and I was afraid she would be tired and hungry, and possibly wet. I was brainstorming backup plans, while keeping up an optimistic, non-frustrated front. I've noticed that if I show the slightest bit of fatigue or dismay at anything, my mother says, "Oh my god oh my god," and seems very worried. Perhaps we are several steps outside her usual comfort zone, and she relies on my direction to ward off anxiety? Or perhaps I'm misinterpreting the "oh my god"s? I don't know. All I know is that we needed lunch, the restaurants were all closed, and it was periodically raining!
At last a cafe appeared, as it always somehow does. Although this one took quite a while and we were several blocks away from the museum. Cafe au lait never tasted so good. Connie had a seafood salad and I had a salade nicoise. She was ready to order dessert when I wondered what time the museum closed. We had a good laugh over the thought of the museum closing while Connie devoured a tarte aux peches.
We hiked back to the Rodin Museum, and strolled through the magnificent gardens and most of the rooms in the small museum. The gardens are particularly wonderful, with unexpected views of you-know-what. I love Rodin, and have visited this museum before, as well as the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. We did this one at a more relaxed pace, less closely observed than the Marmottan, and that was fine with me!
At this point I expected Connie to want to go home, and thought we would skip the third site on our list, especially since we started the day unexpectedly at a market. But no, Connie was up for one more stop, as long as we took a cab. We did, and enjoyed the city scenery en route to the Pantheon.
I don't know why, but I wanted to see the Paris Pantheon again, and I thought my mom would enjoy it. Understatement! She totally flipped.
It is a most impressive monumental building, with a crazy number of huge Corinthian columns, multiple coffereed domes, and enormous open space - way too much for any one building. Plus it's all meant to be a temple to reason and humanism. Many French greats are buried there: Rousseau, Diderot, Dumas, Hugo, the Curies. It was a fun stop, and brief.
The Pantheon is undergoing a huge facelift; right now the centre dome is under wraps. You can follow the progress at #AuPantheon. I'm loving the Pantheon having its own hashtag.
Everywhere we go, I have to pull Connie away from the gift shop. Not because she wants to buy herself things - that would be great - but because she feels she must bring gifts back for her grandchildren. Her grandchildren do not want or need the crap she would buy them and I'm sure they would prefer she didn't waste her money on trinkets. R was very helpful in this regard. Now I'm all that stands between us and a suitcase full of made-in-China.
We took another cab back to the hotel. Before heading upstairs, we stopped to go to a bank machine and buy water, and the only store open nearby was a patisserie! So we bought water and two desserts! Then we promptly collapsed on our beds, and Connie was almost instantly snoring. There were Happy Mother's Day messages from my sibs waiting. This was kind of a special Mother's Day!
I started writing this post, but put it down to go to dinner. Yes, more lamb at Au Tramway! Tonight the potatoes were even better - more crispier and more garlic-drenched. I had a quarter-litre of bad red wine and we reminded each other that we had dessert waiting in the room!
Also at Au Tramway, there is an enormous shaggy cat that sprawls out on the banquettes, forcing customers to choose other tables.
Tomorrow morning we take a very early train to Giverny. My mom is anxious about it, I can tell. There are several trains we can take, and I paid extra for flexible tickets, so there is truly no cause for concern. But this is her. She is already getting anxious about the cab home from the airport in New York, and how our luggage will get downstairs here at the hotel. (Answer: by elevator.) I wish I could reassure her but it's beyond reason.