Paris in February: Birthdays and other special gatherings

New Year seems many months behind us although we have only  ‘lost’ 54 days of 2011 so far .. seems to be flying by! And hardly lost as the memories will stay with us for years to come because of a few special events one of which was having my (Lesley’s) two brothers, Dean and Jonney celebrate their birthdays with us here in Paris. We are all February babies (so to speak), Dean was born on the 4th and Jonney on Valentine’s Day, the 14th  and my birthday was also this month, the 11th .. our sister Tammy just misses out, hers was on the 30th January. I won’t disclose which years we were born in but the boys are two and four years younger than me.. and sister Tammy is not much more than a teenager.. (well, only just experiencing her forties – more or less).

Celebrities, left to right, Jonney, Felicity, Dean and Gerry. What more can we say!

It was Dean’s idea to celebrate here in Paris with wife Gerry and to stay at a hotel very close by in Rue de Lyon (the Hotel Pavillon Bastille). Jonney and his wife Felicity joined us staying on board Endellion. In the lead-up to their arrival Stewart and I had fun purchasing and then ‘setting up’ their birthday presents .. it meant finding photographs of their individual faces (looking as much like a celebrity as possible), printing them and then cutting their heads out! Great fun. Then we could place them onto the celebrity characters and have even more fun posing them in front of the camera for the photos shown here. What do you think??

We had a fabulous time for the long weekend .. dinner at the Bofinger for our birthday celebrations ..

The birthday party night at Bofinger.. dressing down after the celebrity night!

it was the real birth day for Dean, ie, 4th February, and we just enjoyed seeing a small part of the city together and having their company on board Endellion (going nowhere).

My actual birthday was celebrated (again), just the two of us by then, at the Duc des Lombards jazz club ( near the Centre Pompidou in a short street of the same name full of similar jazz clubs and cafes. Cecilia McLorin Sextet ( was performing and individually they were totally brilliant. We were, however, slightly surprised with the procedure.. after booking and paying online for our tickets we waited outside and at 7.30pm the doors opened and in we went. It was a very small room with an incredibly intimate feel, we had a tiny table (very typical of French venues) close to the stage (everyone was close).

Intimate space at the Duc des Lombards jazz club.

Lovely, friendly staff offered us the menu (carte) and we chose from the uninspiring and rather disappointing list: one chicken tikka and mine was so good I can’t remember what is was. Within minutes our main meal for the night arrived on paper plates with plastic knives and forks! But promptly at 8.00pm we could forget about food as Celia and her five fabulous musicians arrived and for the next hour we had a ball .. so to speak .. along with our tightly packed neighbours. Then promptly at 9.00pm it was all over .. the staff more-or less told us to leave, but when we quizzed them they said, “yes, it’s finished, but if you want to stay you can for €10 each”. We thought it time to leave and to savour our experience with a leisurely walk back to the Bastille through the Jewish quarter.

Apparently, from what I’d read about this area, we would be passing through a concentration of gay and lesbian oriented shops and cafes.

'Oui!' .. poster in the window of the BHV department store near the Hotel de Ville.

In fact we could see this clearly for ourselves especially when one of the windows for the big department store, BHV, close to the Hotel de Ville, had a window poster with two men holding hands and agreeing to whatever for a Valentine’s Day promotion.

We loved the buzz of nightlife in this area (not often experienced by us, we’re relatively early birds) and decided to call in for a final aperitif at Cafe des Phares at our Place de la Bastille. This is one of the original ‘philocafes’, that is a philosophy cafe where locals gather to discuss big issue topics .. such as ‘the phenomenon of existence’, or ‘what does being yourself mean?’ .. not that we have participated, to date.

Robert .. and the Archibalds

A few days later we were sitting in the little La Perla Bar in Rue Francois Miron having our aperitif when suddenly Stewart barked, “there’s Robert”.

Cafe La Perla with balconies of the style of the Haussmann era.

Robert who I wondered? In he came, looking not much different from when I last saw him perhaps 12 years ago .. Robert Malherbe from Garner MacLennan days. He and his wife Dana (who worked for Stewart), I remembered well. What a coincidence  and what a pleasant surprise .. he sat and shared a small part of a bottle of wine.  He’s here courtesy of the NSW Art Gallery and the award (like a scholarship) he won for his Archibald entry in 2010: One month at la Cité Internationale des Arts, just around the corner from here and not far from our boat. He’s missing family greatly but a few days later he made time to come and visit us bringing an excellent bottle of red wine to share.

More on Robert’s work here:

Pollyanna .. and the doe in boots!

Pollyanna (Stewart’s God-daughter) came across the northern hemisphere ‘ditch’ (the channel and not the Tasman Sea) from her home in Manchester for a long weekend. For us it was a treat as we love to discuss all sorts, in particular Stewart, as Godfather, quizzes Pollyanna about her life (and loves) and art and places she knows from her time here in Paris before.

Note the 'stuffed' doe wearing boots - meanwhile Josh's litre of wine is poured to take away.

We pottered together through the markets at Place d’Aligre and called in to the Baron Rouge to ask for her thoughts on the works of art now spread throughout the small wine bar. We won’t tell you what she said exactly as we believe art is definitely in the eye of the beholder except if you have been professionally educated in this field (like Pollyanna). All we can say is we loved the atmosphere of the place, the sumptuous and good value plate of cold meats with the best bread possible and the company of our boat neighbour Josh who just happened to be calling in to top up from those massive barrels his litre of excellent wine… but, we had other views on those works of art hanging on the wall. An example you can see in the photo is a doe wearing boots! Above on the wall you can almost make out an even more bizarre artwork, it’s the bottom half of a baby doll and you can’t see but the head is a fox! There are many decorated human-looking skulls framed behind Perspex, and other taxidermy. We thought all very ‘interesting’ and definitely bizarre, and we agreed they are a good talking point.

Stewart and Pollyanna at the Big Ben Bar at le Train Bleu.

Our Pollyanna itinerary was very flexible .. we enjoyed exploring the back streets of the Latin Quarter via the Ile St Louise and the banks of the Seine. We were focused on finding hidden places like the Compagnon du Tour de France (not related to the bike race) Museum – this is like the trade guilds; and wonderful, small art galleries, fromageries (cheese specialists), window shopping (brilliant fashion, no global brands on our tour), sadly inaccessible churches like St Germaine de Pres (another story) .. and the impromptu visit to one of our favourite places, le Train Bleu, for an aperitif (they welcome everyone for a coffee or more at their Big Ben Bar) and just to savour the decor and atmosphere.

Other pleasures we’d like to mention..

Visiting the Louvre..

Stewart has special treatment for Mona Lisa.

no queues for us as usual and it’s free. On top of that Stewart received a personal invitation from the security staff to come inside the roped area to view ‘Mona Lisa’ up close .. which is a ‘must see’. In fact we were more interested in the Meissoniers (like Remembrance of Civil War, more here if you are interested) and the Davids (eg, the Oath of Horati) the former we had been reading about in the excellent book, Ross King’s The Judgement of Paris, and the latter watching and learning about through the totally brilliant BBC Power of Art series by Simon Schama.

We headed off to visit the most highly publicised exhibition in Paris:

Our always interesting entrance to great galleries, this time it's the Grand Palais.

Monet at the Grand Palais. The first major exhibition in France of Claude Monet’s work in over 30 years .. there were more than 200 paintings on display from both French and foreign museums including the Melbourne Art Gallery, sadly no haystacks. As is often the case, we were almost more enthralled by the back passages of the Palais as they had to escort us via tight security through the underground secure car park and into their goods lift.

We're inside the Grand Palais watching the queue snake away into the distance!

Meanwhile, as usual, we watched as the long snake of a queue stood in the rain.

We were extremely lucky to have free tickets to the Opera Bastille.. thanks to our friend Laurent .. a very interesting experience which we will talk more about later but we have to tell you briefly about this particular production of Francesca da Rimini – synopsis here via Wikipedia.

We have done some research on why they used this set (modern bow of battle-type ship and wheelchair) but can anyone enlighten us further? From the opera Francesca da Rivini.

In this production they cast the anti-hero, “an ugly deformed man” according to the synopsis, in a wheelchair. Not only that .. as the curtains raised for Act II when we were about to meet him the set was dominated by the vast bow of a ship, then a ramp dropped down and out came the ‘anti-hero’ in his wheelchair! With assistance he could almost walk a little as he burst into his wonderful baritone voice. Why portray the “ugly deformed man” in a wheelchair .. ? And it was not even a wheelchair in keeping with the era in which it appeared to be set (originally set at the end of the 13th century) but one of contemporary times! I have since discovered this production had some very bad reviews but nothing to do with the wheelchair specifically, in fact one reviewer praised the baritone’s ability to handle his wheelchair!

Hints of Spring.. are here

Jardin du Luxembourg and sunbathers.

Capturing the sun along the banks of the Seine (in flood, January).

Recently it reached 16 degrees and now we have daffodils coming into flower, cherry trees looking gorgeous already, beautiful buds on many of the trees.

Petanque at the Jardin du Luxembourg - note the rack of hanging coats.

I love to see on any sunny day the Parisians (along with a few tourists I’m sure) sunning themselves in chairs provided by the parks or just sitting on the banks of the Seine.. or in almost any weather, playing petanque (or boules).

We’ve loved discovering new cheeses, the latest is called la Colline aux Chevres (goat hill) and it isn’t listed in our book but we have found out all about it from their website.

The new find, Colline aux Chevres .. mmm, delicious.

It’s a raw goat’s milk cheese produced in the Tarn region which is down south. Totally complimentary to our other favourite cheeses .. it has a soft and delicate flavour with a hint of rosemary!

There is so much more going on here .. including lots of small jobs on our boat .. that’s another story, maybe for later.

As you can tell I’m sure, we continue to love our time in Paris .. although preparing for our departure in late March with enthusiasm to be on the move again.

Our love and best wishes to our families and friends.

About Lesley and Stewart

Loving great waterways of the world.
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4 Responses to Paris in February: Birthdays and other special gatherings

  1. Wow! First blog I’ve ever viewed.
    Thought they were a simple text only thingy.
    Didn’t expect the full travel brochure complete with annotated photos.
    I’m still lost in Paris, somewhere under a Gallery i think!
    If Marg see’s this she’ll be off in a flash – I’ll be left in the dust at Junee!
    Enjoy what the rest of us only read of or see on television travel shows.

    • Lesley says:

      Many thanks for your comments Stuart .. we look forward to keeping in contact and hope that ‘our’ year behaves itself at the reunion!

  2. Marg says:

    Just loooove your blog Lesley and Stewart. Is Pollyanna her real name? Never heard of another one outside the storybook. And the wheelchair user in the opera – how bizarre. All these arrangements for people in wheelchairs – like affirmative action for queues at the Louvre – but yet they still couple ugliness with disability!

    Loved the card you made for your brothers and sisters-in-law. At Computer Pals some of our members play the same cut and paste tricks with their grandchildren, and even with John, cheeky people.

    • Lesley says:

      Hi Margaret .. lovely to hear from you as always and thank you. Yes, it’s our Pollyanna’s real name, named after a family boat!
      I thought we were the only oldies who liked playing with people’s faces and bodies.. I feel better now!
      Take care and love to you and John

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