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March 29, 2005

March Flies When You Are Having Fun!

March can be an interminable month as all of us know who live in the Hudson Valley where the first day of spring doesn’t mean a thing. Winter snow, cold, rain and grey days go on and on. Well, I have beaten the winter blahs this year. You can, too. All you have to do is go on sabbatical, move to another country, entertain visitors and then throw in a quick trip to the U.S. to catch up with family and friends on the home front. Nothing to it.

My sister, Anne, rang in the month with a four-day trip to Ireland. She had some use-it-or-lose-it vacation days, and, as I have mentioned before, flights to Ireland are very reasonable in the off-season. She arrived on the usual pre-dawn flight the first Sunday morning in March. We only let her sleep briefly because the sun was out, and we were determined to take advantage of the surprisingly pleasant weather. While Mark fought his way through his regular tennis match, Anne and I went downtown to search for signs of spring in St. Stephen’s Green, the largest park in city centre. The formal areas had been ringed with pansies, which will suffer all kinds of indignities like intermittent snow and sleet. Daffodils in the south-facing beds were the early bloomers. st. stephen's round.jpg

The trees around the duck pond were beginning to develop a spring flush.

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A few blocks away sits Merrion Park, surrounded by handsome Georgian rowhouses. Lots of bulbs were blooming along the pathways, merrion daffs.jpg

and the heathers' pastels were lovely.
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Mid-day, we hopped in our little car and steeled ourselves for Dublin traffic, which we knew would be worse than usual as it was Mother’s Day in Ireland – and a sunny one, to boot. We inched our way out of Dublin and headed down south to Brittas Bay, a beautiful sandy beach that reminded us of Nantucket’s South Shore with its beach grass dunes. The steady winds seem to dry out the sand, and it flows in little patterns down from the edge of the dunes.

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The omnipresent gorse makes it clear that this is Ireland and not the outwash plains off the US northeast coast.
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We were all happy to be there breathing in salt air on this brisk spring-like day, and I have to share with you this photo of my cheery companions.

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We strolled along the beach as did couples and families playing with their dogs.

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Smooth stones are strewn across the powdery fine sand, and Anne and I got caught up in hunting for beautiful lucky stones.

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Mark even joined the hunt, and we gave him lots of positive reinforcement for applying aesthetic standards (of any sort).

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As we gazed out to sea, Mark was the first to spot the off-shore windmills. We could just make out what appeared to be 7 windmills which turned to be about 4 miles off-shore at their closest point. I photographed them, but you will see they are (almost?) invisible. Apparently, there are some 200 turbines, each of which is 260 feet tall, along 16 miles of the Arklow Sandbank in the Irish Sea providing 10% of Ireland’s energy – at least that is what I have read. We hadn’t even noticed them at first, and it took some concentrated peering to see them once Mark had pointed them out. My vision isn’t that bad these days, thanks to Roger, so windpower quite literally looks like a good energy option to me these days.

Mark was teaching on Monday, and Anne and I hopped the city bus to Enniskerry where Powerscourt is. It was fall when I had been last there, and, as it was not yet raining and the weather had been mild, I was optimistic that spring had sprung in their gardens. I led Anne up into the front of the double-decker bus so that we would have a good view on our 45 minute trip. From there we would be able to see across fields, over walls into gardens, and, if we were lucky, how upstairs rooms are decorated. Anne was less enamoured than I of the thwap-thwap made by the tree branches whacking the front windows as we barreled along the narrow, winding roads that took us up into the village of Enniskerry. I find it quite exhilarating.

But she loved the views, and we snapped away as we hiked our way up out of the village into the grounds of Powerscourt. Note how the car parked in front of the understated garda (police) station matches the blue color the gardai use.
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And then the pink sheet blowing on the clothesline went quite nicely with the painted house. Is this not a tasteful little village?

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We wandered through the graveyard and grounds of the local, well-kept stone Church of Ireland house of worship and then up the long entrance to Powerscourt. To one side lies the golf course, but more interesting to us was Sugar Loaf Mountain in the distance with its snow-covered summit.

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There were few visitors on this chilly March day, and we were able to photograph empty vistas - the stairway back up to the mansion,

and then back towards the south with the mansion behind us.


There was little spring-like growth, and that meant we could see the outlines of twisting branches.


There were many humungous monkey pod trees that Anne recognized from her visit with Steve back when he was living in Portland, Oregon.

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In the tranquil Japanese garden we saw trees getting closer to budding

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and then we stumbled on one of the huge rhododendrun trees that, for some reason, had burst into bloom quite early. What welcome and spectacular color.


We also realized that without the distracting colors of blossoms, we paid more attention to all the varieties of green in shrubbery,

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and the statuary. This gentle lion reminded me of old Zonker at home in Rhinebeck.
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Anne and I had two more days together in Dublin, foiled in our attempt to take a tour of the Ring of Kerry. The tour was cancelled as we were the only ones signed up. Hard to believe... Anyhow, we made our own fun in town as I took Anne around to notable establishments including TK Maxx (yes, the UK version of TJ Maxx, but, what with the high cost of living here and the value of the dollar these days, there are no deals to be had), Cleo's (a three generation family-run store that sells handwoven, handknit and other fiber works - and the staff there are warm and open) and the Bridge Gallery (the most interesting Irish pottery and glass in Dublin).

We spent the next chunk of March on the other side of the Atlantic. Mark and I went in separate directions much of the time. He was either in New Haven reading Rachel Carson’s files at the Beinecke or whomping golf balls with the pros from Dover in the Dominican Republic. I spent my time driving around – to South Hadley to see Jess, Anne, Janie, Xander, Kate and Danny, to New Haven to see Mom and the Bergers, to Red Hook to see more family and friends and to the Day School and Cope in Poughkeepsie. It was wonderful to see the people I have been e-mailing most of the year. I loved my time at school where I began to get to know the kids I will have in class next year, and I loved catching up with my colleagues/friends - just enough to know that I didn’t want to jump back into the fray quite yet.

Mark was able to join me for part of the time in South Hadley, and we were able to get our grandparental fixes. Janie and Xander have grown, no surprise.


Janie has been off oxygen since February 23, and she has also just graduated from her weekly weigh-ins at the doctor’s office. She is growing steadily – as is the beefier Xander. At their last weigh-ins on March 15, she was 8 lb. 6 oz, and he was 10 lb. 10 oz. They are awake much more during the day now. They both love to look at light sources – daylight out the window and light fixtures inside. Their musical mobile over their crib captures their attention for extended periods of time. We have been showing them the wonders of the malleable human face, too. When they lock eyes with us, they smile and move their lips and tongues as, of course, do we – no way of knowing which one of us starts it off.

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Xander is the more vocal of the two, and it is he who coos/hums his way through a feeding.

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Janie is quieter and calmer, but she is responsive and is beginning to make more sounds herself. All in all, both babies are pretty peaceful and can be soothed the brief times they do get fussy. Car rides, strolling and vegematics work wonders. The little darlings also seem to have come to grips with the concept of nighttime. They sleep their biggest chunks then, and for periods of time all four members of that Lytle family make it through the night for some 5-8 hours. You can see from the pictures how great they look, and they are one happy family.

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Our time in the States flew by, and before we knew it we were winging our way back to Ireland, with Susan and Greg on our tails. We got in last Thursday AM, and they arrived in the PM. We had a jam-packed and fun Easter weekend with them. They were energetic, enthusiastic and ready for anything and everything.

The sun greeted us Good Friday morning so we hit the road. Although we had anticipated bad traffic, it seems that the Dubliners had left early for Easter weekend, and the roads were easily manageable. We went south out of Dublin, pausing on the Military Road for a view back over Dublin and the Irish Sea.

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We took our time driving the spine of the Wicklow Mountains, pausing for shots of the countryside.

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The English had built this road so that they could pursue rebellious Irish when they headed for the hills, and it now carves its way through newly forested areas, bogland and the stark moors where bike riders, walkers and touring cars can enjoy the almost moon-like landscape.

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We were headed for one of our favorite spots, Glendalough, the valley of two lakes, where the priest, Kevin, first settled in what had originally been a Bronze Age tomb over looking the Upper Lake some 1500 years ago.

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Within two hundred years, St. Kevin’s monastic city spread across the glacial valley, and thousands of students came to study there. Of course, the Vikings sacked the place, at least four times, and we have heard tales of them burning out the Round Tower each time. Mark and Greg, as the males in the group, were very impressed with the size of this tall, pointy structure, which is, in fact, a neck-craning 33 meters high.

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The settlement has a graveyard, still in use, and the remains of several churches as well as a round, stone arch at the gateway. The steep, stone roof of St. Kevin's Kitchen (really a church)is in beautiful shape.


We hiked the nature trails, pausing to watch a farmer and his dog round up the sheep.


We couldn’t figure out why the round-up, but we were nonetheless impressed by the way the sheep herded themselves together. Mark’s and my last visit had been in the fall, and it was wonderful to see the signs of spring around the lake.

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The bright yellow of the blooming gorse electrifies the landscape, but I hear tell that golfers are in awe of it more because of its stolid thorns.

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The forest's green at this time of year comes from moss on bark and evergreen trees. It won't be long, though, until the deciduous trees leaf out.

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We stopped for lunch at a pub that Mark and I have enjoyed in the past only to find that it was closed. Apparently, food cannot be served in sight of a working bar on Good Friday, but fortunately Guinness can be brought out to a dining room. So we settled ourselves comfortably in the adjoining hotel dining room. Susan and I had hearty beef and Guinness stew, and Greg was surprised by his vegetarian lasagne that had more mashed potatoes and mashed root vegetables on the side than his rather large lump of lasagne. It is amazing what dishes can be enhanced with some Irish potatoes.

After lunch we headed home by way of Bray, the town on the southern arm of Dublin's enormous, natural bay. We had another opportunity to collect lucky stones,

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and Susan left with her pockets full of smooth, ringed stones.

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Our second day with the Barlips was a Dublin day. We visited St. Stephen's Green to check for signs of spring,

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Grafton Street for people and busker watching (the most intriguing of which was the marionette who interacted with the children in the crowd),

the Book of Kells (unfortunately, along with several busloads of tourists), the market at Meetinghouse Square where we tasted and selected Irish farmhouse cheeses to take home, the Chester Beatty Museum for its collection of prints, books and ecumenical overview of major world belief systems, and we eventually ended up at the Abbey Theatre for a lively evening performance of Improbable Frequencies, a musical about spies in World War II Dublin (keeping in mind that Ireland was neutral, if one could be, at the time).

Easter was really our third and last day with Susan and Greg, and we got up and off promptly to make the most of our time. We headed out of Dublin to the north this time into the Boyne River valley

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and spent the morning at Newgrange, a huge Neolithic passage tomb. The tomb is remarkable - remarkable because of its amazing, internal state, its large size and its hard to fathom age. It dates from 3200 BCE, making it some six centuries older than the great pyramids of Egypt. We had an articulate, well-informed tour guide who both put people at ease and engaged them in the mystery of the site - this kind of job matches Irish cultural strengths to a tee. On the outside, the 80 meter in diameter, 13 meter in height mound dwarfs the individual.

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On the inside one can only marvel at the corbel-vaulted roof that is canted so that not a drop of water has seeped in - over these 40 centuries. The quartz stones come from Wicklow, 80 kilometers to the south. Some of the stones weigh many tons. And the slit left above the entrance allows winter solstice sun rays to penetrate the interior and illuminate the tomb chamber for 17 minutes five days a year (IF the sun is out). There are 97 large kerbstones ringing the mound, and eleven of them have wonderful spirals and other geometric carvings on them.

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Construction of this mound must have taken lifetimes. How did people move the monstrously heavy stones such great distances? What do the carvings represent? How did they so perfectly build the passage to line up with the sun's rays? One leaves this site in awe.

Our next destination was the town of Trim, and we headed cross country with our book of large-scale road maps in hand. As we attempted to match the unmarked roads in the countryside with the unmarked roads on the map, our erstwhile driver, Mark, took his eyes off the road - and we hit an enormous pothole, thus bringing us to a sudden and complete standstill. Mark then inched the car forward, around a corner and off the road into a parking lot at a country post office, was it? The four of us got out of the car and, on hands and knees, tried to determine how bad the damage was. A flat tire, was the first thought, however, the tire looked no flatter than before. But something was clearly wrong with the connection between the left front wheel and the steering wheel. Here we were - Easter afternoon, in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere.

Amazingly, two hours later, with the kind help of the young clerk at the Londis Top Shop down the main road a piece(equivalent to a Seven-Eleven), her boss over the phone, the AA (add another A to get the US equivalent), a local tow truck and repair garage kid from Navan, and a car rental man from Slane, we were back on the road again. We have been rescued by the Irish before, and Mark and I were, yet again, heartwarmingly amazed at the gracious help we were given every step of the way. So were Greg and Susan.

Mark was undeterred by the afternoon challenges, and we proceeded towards Trim. We managed to find the turn for the ruins of Bective Abbey, Ireland's second Cistercian monastery, that Mark and I remembered from four years ago.

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We parked alongside the River Boyne by a wonderful, old arched bridge. We actually parked in a no parking zone, a lane that seems to belong to the Boyne Anglers, George, and I am sure there are A LOT of fish there, especially on a nice, misty day like this.

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Sprinkling rain made it a brief stop and soon we were back on the road to Trim, the site of Ireland's oldest and largest Anglo-Norman castle. It struck us as pretty young in comparison to Newgrange, having been started only some 800 years ago. Mark, Greg and Susan are standing in front of the finest stretch of the curtain wall that runs from the River Boyne up to Castle Street.

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Along this side there is a barbican built out over what used to be a moat at Dublin Gate, the gate that opened on to the road to Dublin.


Another bit of the moat is still watery at the canal where deliveries from the River Boyne were made.


It was getting a bit chilly in the damp, late afternoon, and we headed back to Dublin for our Easter supper and a Guinness. We were, not surprisingly, relieved in the end to get back to our flat in Shanagarry. We had had our adventure for the day - and, hopefully, for a while to come.

Since then, Mark and I have returned the rental car and picked up our wounded Mazda. It works now, but it needs more done. We will do that, we promise, before more guests come to visit. Rest assured!

Posted by gretchen at 12:59 PM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2005

Bon jour!

One of our reasons for returning to Ireland for the year was so that we would travel - and travel beyond Ireland. Family events – sports – and work! – have tightened up our schedule this year, but, what could we say to a 4 euro airfare to Paris? It was too tempting. Mark and I booked a flight over last Wednesday night, and we returned this past Saturday evening to Dublin.

Wednesday dawned cold, blowy and snowy, and we recalled anxiously how four years ago around Christmastime Dublin’s airport had closed after was it a one- or a two-inch snowfall? The city had slowed down, and children somehow had come up with sleds or trays and tried valiantly to slide down the hill on the other side of the river Dodder from us. Alas, the grass was deeper than the snow, and the sledding was short-lived. Fortunately for us, this year the snow only dusted Dublin. Dublin snow.jpg
Our hour and a quarter flight to Paris was delayed an hour – and that was because the Paris airport had closed for a while earlier in the day. By the time we arrived, airport life was back to normal.

Mark and I tromped quite a distance through the airport, as everyone must, to get to the bus which would shuttle us to the RER, the train into the city. There was a single and long line for tickets so I headed over to try out a ticket machine. This would be tricky because my French is just a touch rusty – and certainly my vocabulary had never included any tech/computer language, having studied in the dark ages. But knowing that there is always an “I quit” button somewhere, I started to respond to the French screen. I seemed to have entered a destination, number of tickets, something about plein tariff (full price, I guessed), aller-retour (must mean round trip), and then numbers popped up, what seemed to be a rather large sum of money. As I pondered whether I had erred somewhere, a man in Orthodox dress appeared behind me and asked me a question, in French, of course. I laughingly explained that I didn’t really speak French and was just trying to figure out the machine because the ticket window line was so long. He joined in, and we re-tried. He seemed amazed that I was managing the machine, and he was also somewhat startled by the sum required, apparently, to get to Paris. The two of us headed over to the information booth and found out that we were at the correct machine and had come up with the correct amount as well. So, my compatriot and I returned to tackle technology again, chatting. He described himself as a man of the world though originally from the south of France, and he found it quaint (or did he say, cute) to hear that we are living in Ireland. At the machine, he proceeded to purchase his ticket with a credit card. I, on the other hand, was less successful. I found that the machine would only take French credit cards (of which Mark and I are short these days as must many be who travel through the international airport) or coins – and we would have needed 31 euros, which, let me tell you, weigh a half a ton each. So, I rejoined Mark in the ticket window line. We were now more than half way through, and the wait did not seem so long, even though it was way past our dinner hour.

Our trip into Paris went quickly from there. We awaited the express RER, which Irish friends had told us would shorten the journey by half an hour. A seven minute wait and a half hour later we were in the metro station at St.Michel, walls tiled in colorful shards of sunlight, and then above ground heading west on St-Germain. There were few others on the street on Wednesday at 10 PM, and the menacing snowfall had only left little piles of white around the bases of lampposts and trees. Parked cars that had spent the day on the side streets had an inch or two still on their roofs. Bistros were open, store windows alit dressed in strikingly fresh and good taste, and movie theatres advertised the mostly American films on view, including Fils de Chucky. In twenty minutes we were at Hotel de Bonaparte, a familiar entry in the row of attached buildings, with its glass doors sliding open for us, the doorbell announcing our arrival and the friendly, bilingual Frenchman at the desk. We quickly dumped our luggage in our little second floor double (third, to Americans) which overlooked the street and headed out and around three corners for a late dinner. The haricots verts were as I remembered them, cooked to perfection (not squeaky and not squooshy) with a lovely Dijon dressing, the highlight of my meal. We were not only the last people in the restaurant to be starting dinner, we were also the oldest. How did it happen that so much of the world is younger than we are now?

Our first morning in Paris dawned sunny and brisk, and there were no signs of the forecasted snow. Bonaparte view.jpg Mark started his day with a chocolat, but I could not resist café au lait to wash down my hard roll and croissant that is the French/hotel breakfast. How easy it is to return to caffeine. We hurried on out to walk in the sunlight Seine 1.jpg
and worked our way along the Seine,
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towards and then past Notre Dame

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and its snow-covered gardens,ND garden snow.jpg
across Ile St-Louis (NOT stopping for ice cream at Berthillon, believe it or not) and the Seine
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on into the Marais to follow a walking tour Mark had found in our guidebook.

Monks and Knights Templar settled in the Marais in the 13th century, and the religious street names, as in the rue Temple, reflect that era. A medieval wall has been incorporated into the wall of the Lycee Charlemagne that edges its football pitch on one side and the street on the other. medieval wall.jpgIn the 17th century the aristocracy followed Henry IV into the Marais as he built what is now the place des Vosges,
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along with its arcade,
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and they constructed lovely creamy colored mansions. Some of these hotels particuliers now house government departments or museums. The Hotel de Sully currently has an exhibit of a former colleague of Mark’s from Bard, the photographer, Stephen Shore. Shore exhibit.jpg

The pink brick Hotel de Chevry seems to be a library now. Marais mansions.jpg Caddy corner from the hotel particulier where the government handles internal disputes in the civil service (helas!) is a 17th century relief of a winemaker, perhaps suggesting a source of solace after the resolutions of said disputes. winemaker.jpg
A little passageway leads to the side entrance of the Eglise St-Louis-St-Paul, a Jesuit church from the 17th century. alley to church.jpgAside from a couple of street people bringing their belongings in from the cold, Mark and I were the only people there. Paris, all in all, was still while we were there. It was a peaceful and quiet time to explore.

The Marais later became the Jewish quarter and in the 1960’s into the early 1970’s became gentrified (again, when you think about it), now drawing a significant gay population. Wandering through this historic area affords excellent eating and fun shopping.

During our travels we located wedding dresses for Kate

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and options for Danny the groom as well. groom.jpgThese items are all in raw silk and, we were drawn to the festive three-piece set with the longer jacket – but are they your colors, Danny?

After (salty) mussels and (salty) onion soup and (fabulous, thankfully) draft beer alongside the place des Vosges,we footed our way over to the Musee des Arts and Metiers. As with many Parisian museums, this was much more than we could take in thoroughly in an afternoon. However, we enjoyed looking at and trying to read about applied technology from astrolabes and sets of stacking brass weights to jacquard looms, tunnels, bridges the French had built in their colonies, velocipedes and the TGV. There was a particularly wonderful airplane with very large feathers for propellers, about which we could find no information about how much time it actually spent in the air. airplane.jpg
The model trains were gorgeous, and we thought of you, Jesse. train.jpgThat night we had dinner at a favorite, Bistrot Aux Charpentiers, which felt like the right place after our afternoon. It has carpenters’ models of roof frames and old photographs of the carpenters themselves – and it was in our hotel’s neighborhood, in deference to our tired feet.

Day two also started out sunny, and after the previous day’s shift to snow in the afternoon, we knew we should at least start out outdoors in the good weather. We had hoped to walk through the Luxembourg gardens, but it was locked up. luxembourg garden.jpg

Instead we made our way across the street to rue de Fleurus to locate Gertrude Stein’s flat. stein sign.jpgHaving read both The Book of Salt and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas this fall, I had the urge to see her neighborhood, which is still a residential area and quite nice. 27 rue de fleurus.jpg

While our destination for the day was really the Louvre, we went by way of Le Bon Marche, opened originally in the mid 19th century. Though “good market” can mean bargain, that is not the case here. This is an amazing department store full of a vast range of excellent quality everything. I wanted to look at the colorful jacquard table linens, and, on our way to check about tax back, we wandered through many other departments. Had there been readily available salespeople, I know I would have returned with fanciful buttons, dyed faux fur ribbons, embroidered dragonfly patches, and knitting yarns in addition to fabrics. We were tempted by the zotty (but very pricey) stockings and socks. Mark was amazingly patient as I poked my way around these specialized departments. And, guess what? We hadn’t in the end spent enough money to qualify for tax back!

We walked north to the Seine. From the river the big, blocky Louvre, first a fortress, then a palace, now a museum for the past 200 and some years, is all you can see, far too large to photograph. Up close you see the textured surfaces.louvre surface design.jpg

We entered through the Portes des Lions, the cats still edged in snow. porte des lions.jpg

Once in the courtyard, it is I. M. Pei’s pyramid that draws your eye. Mark and I talked about how it relates/doesn’t relate to the original Louvre as we regarded it from the gate, in the courtyard, from within and through gallery windows. pyramid 1.jpg

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It is most certainly a highly functional entry and gathering space, and the daylight inside is wonderful.

While Parisian streets seemed sparsely peopled, the Louvre seemed full by comparison. Nonetheless, it wasn’t crowded, and we could choose to visit whatever part we wanted. We even thought we could take a peek at the Mona Lisa, and, though we could actually get somewhat close to the glass covered painting, the crowd itself was more intriguing.

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Throughout many museums and even most of the Louvre, people are allowed to take photographs. The museum map asks people not to use flash, but we never witnessed anyone of the many guards restrict a visitor’s use of flash. In fact, at the Mona Lisa, the flashes were constant. I had seldom traveled through a museum before with a camera, but I had our digital with us and decided to capture a few myself. The 18th century painting of the Grande Galerie du Louvre, jam-packed from floor to ceiling, did not look all that different from today in fact.

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I was also intrigued by the rather grotesque 16th century four seasons paintings by Arcimboldo and snapped spring...


and summer.


And having lived with an eel in the classroom with Mary Ellen, this fish market caught my eye.

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Mark and I spent much of our time with the Italian paintings. There is no way a camera will capture the subtlety and richness of those colors and textures. Museum-itis struck, as it always does and especially so in a museum as vast as the Louvre. So, after a lunch break and a tour of painting from the Netherlands and Flanders, we hit the streets again.

Mark had found another walking tour in our guide that looked like fun. Back when Paris had no sidewalks or sewers, shopping wasn’t particularly pleasant. During the peace and prosperity of the 19th century, 150 passages couvertes were built, covered shopping arcades. There are 18 of them still around these days, some recently renovated and handsome, some fairly grungy. As the sky turned grey again, we took on some serious window shopping in the arcades and passages just north of the Louvre. It turned into a curious museum experience itself walking by art galleries with antiquities or contemporary work, toy stores with wind-ups, tea shops, Internet cafes, classrooms, shops selling war medals, books, music boxes, lead soldiers, discount shoes, Asian fast food, musical instruments, antique dolls, vintage clothing, designer fashions, or antique clothing - all specialty businesses. Exhausted, Mark took us into a creperie where we rekindled ourselves with a sweet, something we figured we will actually attempt to recreate at home. We pulled ourselves back together and headed south towards our hotel. When we walked back through a Louvre courtyard at the end of the day, the sunlit stone block was gorgeous.

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The Seine softened in the late afternoon light as well.

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We had our last dinner in our neighborhood once again as there are many choices just around a few corners. Though tempted by the name L'Enfance de Lard, its menu was less interesting than that of Boucherie Rouliere . We had a dining experience that incorporated all the basic elements of our Parisian meals - freshly baked, dense and tasty bread, lovely and affordable wine, and interesting sauces. Although smoking is banned in public places and theoretically limited to smoking areas in restaurants, there was no evidence that the French pay any attention to those parameters. Smokers sat either side of us this evening, and one took care to exhale behind herself rather than into our faces in the tightly packed space. Tiny dogs accompany their owners off-leash into restaurants and usually are quite well-behaved. Tonight's chien felt the urge to issue a bark every two or three minutes, and his mistress would respond each time with an ineffectual shhhh! We could only laugh - and then walk home carefully, with our eyes peeled, avoiding the inevitable droppings that Parisian dogs leave everywhere.

Saturday was our third and last day, and there was no snow in the forecast. We packed up, checked out, left our suitcases for a later return and made our way over to the Institut du Monde Arabe. On our way we saw, and then heard, recycling in action.

A crane lifts up the large green cylinder, holds it over the truck’s container and the glass contents cascade from the base with an extended, enormous crash, only sounding like breaking glass as the last few bottles drop. Quite a startling experience.

At that same spot on the rue des Ecoles, Anne and Anne-Lise, we were interested to see how Paris deals with insufficient classroom space.
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However, the most interesting structure on our walk was the Institut itself, built of metal and glass with mouche-arabies. These photo-sensitive openings regulate the light and heat that enters the building – and are reminiscent of traditional lattice work in the Arab world.


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While most people were lining up for an exhibit on Ancient Egypt, Mark and I headed for Le Ciel Dans un Tapis, a gorgeous exhibition of woven rugs primarily from the 16th and 17th centuries. The earlier rugs tended to have simpler geometric designs and fewer colors. The later were more intricate, often with floral elements, with more shading and quite intriguing to investigate close up. The lighting was subdued, and people whispered as they looked. This was one time I wished my French was stronger so that I could have understood accompanying text more fully.

As we emerged from the low lit, quiet exhibition, we were struck by the brightness of the winter day. We hurried along to keep warm and crossed the Seine to Ile St-Louis’s more residential area, under the arch,

and we came up to a lovely lace curtain.

lace window.jpg

We were actually headed on over to Sainte-Chappelle on the next island, Ile-de-la-Cite, but we had to stop for mustard purchases on our way. We passed Notre Dame on its north side and were struck by the shades of its stone - almost black, sandy or white - reflecting how recently an area had been cleaned.

ND 3 colors.jpg

We ran into our first waiting line at St Louis’s Sainte-Chappelle. Each of the museums we had been in so far had x-rayed our bags, but this was the first one to have a wait both there and at the ticket window. We figured it was worth it in order to revisit the stained glass windows in bright daylight. Unfortunately, by the time we got in, the sun was wrestling with the clouds, and the chapel was darker than we had remembered. Nonetheless, you can get some sense of the upper chapel (for the holy relics, the king and his entourage) from these photos – the colorful floors,


floor 2.jpg

the richly painted fleur-de-lys lower walls and columns,


and the upper two-thirds of the walls seem to be all colored glass (most of it the original 13th century work), primarily blues and reds in the twelve windows around three walls which retell the biblical story of humankind from creation through Christ’s redemption.

stained glass window.jpg

red close-up.jpg

blue close-up.jpg

The Apocalypse in the rose window in the west has more white.

rose window.jpg

In the lower chapel (for the palace staff) the low ceilings are painted like a starry sky,


and each glass window represents one of the twelve Apostles.

apostle window.jpg

We spent quite some time in the upper chapel enjoying the light, but hunger eventually sent us back out into the cold.

We eventually found a restaurant still serving lunch, refueled with some incomparable cream sauces, and then headed back to our hotel to pick up our luggage and retrace our steps on the RER to the airport. Walking up a side street, we heard what sounded like a brass band – and it was, and a rather pink one.
pink band 1.jpg
They were energetic, had a sense of humor and played quite a range of music, classical and pop. Most strollers on St-Germain just walked on by. How could they? Pulling our suitcase along the sidewalk we also came across a pianist, whose upright rested on a four-wheeled platform. He was pounding away, playing lively tunes. A couple stopped to listen. Everyone else went about their business, whatever that is on a Saturday in the 6e arrondissement – shopping? We were on our way to the airport and home in Dublin where we, too, have buskers - but they play fiddles and accordians.

It always feels good to get home to your own bed, and we have wonderful memories of our full, three days in Paris. I have just finished breakfast and have dabbed my mouth with my new French napkin, butterflies woven in to remind me that spring is not far off. Looking forward to seeing many of you in person soon...

Posted by gretchen at 04:29 PM | Comments (8)