Paris, Day 3: Serious Service and Astonishing Art

We planned to wake up early, see the Louvre and then go to lunch at a 3-star (the highest appellation possible in France). Not so much. We slept until 11am and that meant that lunch was our breakfast. So as to not completely lose out on sightseeing, we took a taxi to a point about ½ way up the Champs Ellysses and from there walked up to the Arc d’ Triomphe.

In retrospect, I’m not sure what the big deal is about the CE. Oh, I know it has a history and is grand and all of that. I dare say we both thought it was pretty ugly. It’s just a street lined with stores (seeing the car dealerships reminded me of Van Ness Street in San Francisco) and not even particularly great stores at that. I mean, if we’d seen Chanel’s place or any of the great designers at least we’d understand. But this was more like Target and Macy’s than anything impressive.

The AdT was also a so-so sight. It’s big. Very big. And interesting. But nothing I’d specifically recommend to a tourist. Maybe if I was more into history than I am . . .

Lunch, ah lunch at Taillevent. Seriously amazing food. Seriously incredible service. For not-rich people like us, they offer a small number of prix fixe lunch menus, four courses for 80eu (approx. $100). Yes, that is a lot of money, but for 2.5 hours of delicious food it’s an event not a meal. (At least for us foodies it is.) It was THE meal of the trip. This is the kind of place where when you go to the bathroom you are escorted there, and they are politely waiting to escort you back to your table when you are finished.

Our amuse bouche was a perfect lentil soup, thick and rich with bits of sausage – it’s the lentil/pea soup I always wanted to make and can’t. The bread (of course) was superb. J started with a scallop dish of a couple of perfectly fresh scallops sliced in ¼” disks and presented like a flower on the center of the plate. Preserved red onion was sprinkled over, and a bright citrus sauce drizzled over that. I had an artichoke and shrimp dish that melted in my mouth. For our main course I had a red snapper, roasted with paprika. Very fresh and tender. J had a braised beef dish that had him surreptitiously cleaning the plate with a bit of bread at the end. The digestif was a spectacular failure for us – preserved prunes in a rich, deep prune sauce and a quenelle of Rocquefort cheese. We ‘got’ the point, but just didn’t like the taste (and I for one loathe the moldy cheeses). Dessert was beautiful. A three inch long ‘box’ of chocolate filled with chocolate mousse and embossed with gold leaf (including a ‘lock’) served alongside a box of apple preserves, minced fine and perfectly spiced. We shared a bottle of Pinot Blanc Trimbach (’02) which we both enjoyed very much and had café (chocolate for J.) with dessert. Simply incredible.

From there we walked down to the Opera Garnier. This is an old-fashioned Opera House in the style of grand opulence. If it can be carved, it was. Gilded, absolutely. Made out of marble instead of plaster – heck yes. Everywhere you look in the main hall there are faces of gods and goddesses, muses, and cherubs. It is incredibly overdone – and glorious. There are even tall cast iron lamp posts where they used to have gas lamps so all of the wealthy people would glitter even more brightly. But here’s the super special dissonant aspect: the ceiling of the seating area was painted by Marc Chagall. He used motifs from well-known operas, but they are unmistakably done in his style and they stand out like an alto in a room full of stringed instruments.

From here we (finally!) went to the Louvre (which fortunately was open until 9pm).

The first surprise was that the glass pyramid is the ceiling of the entrance to the Louvre – you can’t get in any other way. The second was that your museum pass doesn’t get you to the front of the first line, which is a security line. All bags must pass through an xray. So we waited in a fairly long line (about 45 mins) just to get inside. And then – thank you Rick Steves! He has a cogent, interesting, and effective tour that took us through the Greek Sculptures, up to the Italian Renaissance, and ends with the French Impressionists. Since those are our ‘big 3’ we were happy. A few comments:

  • The Venus de Milo (Aphrodite of Milos) is almost more interesting from the back.
  • The Winged Victory of Samothrace looks as if it is just about to take off.
  • The Mona Lisa has better press than she’s worth (you also can’t get closer than 15 or so feet away and she’s behind 3 inches of green tinted glass.
  • The best kept secret of the Louvre: the ceilings. Yes, look up.

It took a few hours, but we developed museum brain drain and had to leave (when you don’t care that it’s a totally new Renoir (to you) in front of you, its time to go). So much more to see (next trip).

Dinner was a long evening at Café Soufflot where Bernard served us a lovely bistro meal of grilled skirt steak and duck (guess who had which) with salads. Simple preparation and excellent quality. J continued to practice his French and we had a quiet evening.

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