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Posts from the ‘France’ Category

2–sunday in the park with michael, or how to visit paris without seeing notre-dame de paris

“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” –Orson Welles

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words, like ‘What about lunch?'” —Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne

Spending a lot of money on a trip to Paris suggests that the “bang-for-the-buck” better be good. Deciding to focus on a restaurant instead of a major tourist site takes courage. There are no guarantees that the meals will be good. They can be mediocre and expensive. The choice of a restaurant should, therefore, be well considered.

For this Sunday meal I have chosen a restaurant because of its design; it is in the style of Art Nouveau and heralds from the Belle Époque period. I believe that Bouillon Racine has been designated an historical site.

At the end of the last post in this series–“1–sunday in the park with michael, or how to visit paris without seeing the eiffel tower”–I had walked from Place Denfert-Rochereau, had passed through some parks, and had finally entered the Jardin du Luxembourg.

I continued my walk toward the Luxembourg Palace and altered slightly the direction I was taking toward the northeastern exit. Bouillon Racine is not too far from there, only a few blocks, a turn right then left then right. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

The Luxembourg Palace and the gardens to the south of it have an extraordinary history. It is my most favorite place in Paris. I return to it each visit. But wait, there’s more!

1–sunday in the park with michael, or how to visit paris without seeing the eiffel tower

The temptation is to see the biggies.  That is, those famous sites which everyone sees during their first visit to Paris and which everyone asks about later, if they had not been to Paris–ever–and would certainly want to visit themselves if they had a chance to go, one day. The Eiffel Tower. Notre Dame. The Louvre. Sacre Coeur. They are the biggies.

I suggest, however, an alternative approach to Paris. The tourist destination is important, of course, but I would add two equally important items to an itinerary: the meal, i.e., a visit to a restaurant, and secondly, the walk, i.e., becoming a flâneur.

Instead of choosing a destination as the goal for the day, select the walk or a restaurant, that is, the meal. The tourist destination will appear. If it doesn’t, the meal and the walk will be sufficient to call the day a success. You are in Paris.

I will illustrate by narrating a Sunday in Paris in August–a day in the life of a flâneur.

Lately, I have been staying, one might say living, in the Denfert-Rochereau quartier

Sunday, August 27, I decided to eat at the restaurant Bouillon Racine. The bouillon restaurants have an extensive history in Paris, especially in the mid-1800’s and the early 20th century, not only for the type of food they served but also for their Art Nouveau decor. A good meal–hopefully–at Bouillon Racine, a restaurant that has an history and a beautiful setting, was my focus for the day.

Where I was to eat was decided. The other two items, the walk and the tourist destination, needed to be considered.  I could have taken the #38 bus anytime before the lunch hour and arrived within a block of the restaurant.

My wish was to walk, however. That is a part of my method. When I arrived home in the late afternoon, after the walk and the lunch and seeing the tourist places, I had walked about 7.5 kilometers.

À la Defense Nationale 1870-1871. Place Denfert-Rochereau in Paris. The statue of the lion dominates the plaza. Avenue Denfert-Rochereau then Boulevard St Michel goes north through the trees.

From the Place Denfert-Rochereau I walked north on one of the major boulevard, Boulevard St Michel. Bouillon Racine is a few doors off the boulevard. What would I see before I arrived?

It is a pleasant walk and quiet. Large walls of an hospital and apartments line the west side, as well as apartments on the east side. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

The end of Avenue Denfert-Rochereau opens up to Port-Royal and a busy intersection. But wait, there’s more!

montparnasse 1900 & the belle epoque & fast french food

“Don’t judge a book by its cover” ― George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss

You might decide not to venture into the restaurant Montparnasse 1900 in Paris. You might notice the large fancy windows and the classic bistro tables and chairs outside, then decide to look through the door into the dining room of the restaurant, and see the elaborate art nouveau Belle Epoque decor, but then say, “I cannot afford a meal here.”

That would be a mistake. The Montparnasse 1900 serves “French Fast Food.” It is my own assessment of its cuisine during the lunch hour. (I have never eaten during the dinner hour.) The meals are rather inexpensive and the dishes are not complicated. Many of the plates are prepared in advance thus the designation “fast food.” Only the main dish will arrive warm.

The restaurant is known for its “Menu Belle Epoque.” For 36 euros you will be given an aperitif, an entrée, a main dish, a cheese course, a dessert, a 1/2 bottle of wine, and finally a coffee. Not bad. However, if you examine the menu, you will note that the only dish which needs preparing at the moment is the main dish. If you order fish, it will be cooked and arrive with mashed potatoes. If you order the beef, it will be cooked and brought to your table with mashed potatoes. French Fast Food.

The food is good bistro fare despite my characterization of its preparation. The restaurant is worth a visit, and I will go back once again. I like the Menu Belle Epoque.

It is a popular restaurant. It fills quickly. I recommend arriving around 12:30. I was the only foreigner.

Paris has a number of restaurants that have been designated by the government as historical monuments. Montparnasse 1900 is one of them, and for that reason it worth eating a meal there.

The restaurant space was created in 1858, bought by the Chartier brothers in 1903 who opened eventually two other restaurants–Bouillon Chartier and Bouillon Racine–in the Belle Epoque style. The brothers renovated the space in 1906 and gave it the beautiful nouveau art decor.

In 1986 the government listed it as a historical monument. It went through some more periods of restoration, and in 2003 it opened its doors once again. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.) But wait, there’s more!

in modest telling, short histories on placards in paris

Paris is beautiful because it has history. Where ever we turn we see it. We may not know the details, we may not know the story, but we can see it, immediately and without question.

One will look at the La cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris and will say, ‘There is a story there, and I know history when I see it, and it has been made here, many times.’

The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Panthéon, Napoleon’s tomb all manifest history. We cannot look away. We whip out our cameras and take pictures.

With little notice, I think, and often ignored are other references to the stories that have made Paris historically vibrant.

I am reading Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance by Robert Gildea. It tells the stories of the many ordinary men and women who resisted the Nazis and the Vichy government during World War Two. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail.)

Who were they? Where did they come from? What prompted them to risk their lives? As I read, I ask myself, “Would I have stepped forward and risked my life? What measure of courage do I have?”

Around Paris are small placards permanently attached to walls and columns. In a few words they tell the names of those who died resisting the occupation of France during the war.

On August 25, 1944 Paris was liberated. During the days preceding, the Germans were still counterattacking and killing Resistance fighters as they encountered them in the city.

If you walk around the Odéon and Saint Sulpice quarter, but not exclusively there, you will see where young men and women died. Evidence of such resistance is commemorated all over Paris.

The doctor Jules de Seze, who fought during the World War 1 and earned the Chevalier de la Légion d’ Honneur Croix de Guerre, was killed by German gun fire on August 20, 1944. He was 70 years old.

Marcel Raoul, a combattant also during the WW 1, died while fighting for the liberation of Paris on August 21, 1944.  He was a part of the FFI, or Forces françaises de l’intérieur.

Victor Rastello, 44 years old, died on a corner where an Italian restaurant now exists.

On August 25, 1944, the day of liberation, Jacques Guierre, 20 years old, died. He was also a FFI. He died on the corner outside the Odéon Theatre just north of the Jardin du Luxembourg. But wait, there’s more!