In our family, there is a phrase we use for when the options for something are so numerous and overwhelming as to be useless; we say “field too large.” We cribbed it from tech stuff, and I’m pretty sure we’re not using it properly, but that’s what it means to us. “Hey sweetie, we need to come up with dinner.” “Well, all of Braga is at our disposal.” “Yeah, that’s field too large, help me out here.” It’s never an accusation, more like a cry for help or at least an admission to being swamped. As our old boss (we worked at the same company for awhile) used to say, I told you all that so I can tell you this: normally we have blog posts written many days in advance, but I am furiously typing as our admittedly-self imposed publishing deadline approaches because I’m trying to tell you about our time in Paris but the field is too large and I’ve been stuck. So, to completely mix metaphors and possibly sprain your eyeballs, I am reminded of how you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.
Our stay in Paris, much like our stay in Barcelona, was a training exercise as much as it was a sight-seeing trip. We have aspirations of traveling quite a bit (frickin’ really, John? We’re all shocked.) and we’re trying out new behaviors to see if they can become habits. One of the behaviors we’re trying to modify is the pace at which we do things in the places we visit. While we aren’t prohibiting ourselves from having super busy days we are trying to adapt to this being more of a marathon than a sprint. To wit, we are planning for A, single, activity of note, plus A, single, meal of note. The rest of our time in a day can be wandering about, or even chilling in a cafe or even in our flat. Non-notable meals will be simple fare or even home prepared; we are making sure to reserve accommodations with kitchens. The jury is still out on how we actually feel about this strategy, but we can’t deny that it was feasible; breakfast most days was either simple pastries from the place on the corner or else the same things we eat at home – eggs, toast, yogurt, cereal, whatever. Lunch or dinner, when it wasn’t out, was often leftovers, sandwiches, or maybe a little takeaway along the lines of Chinese or pizza. No, it’s not glamorous, but 2 bistros a day for 14 days can actually be a little grinding in our experience.
And so. On our first full day in Paris we slept like … well, very sleepy people. We had a simple breakfast…
Hang on a sec.
The previous night several things were accomplished. We found a shampoo that Lisa quite likes, is French, and therefore hard to come by otherwise. We also did a small shop at the grocery store so we’d have some basic provisions. And, we got the EU Covid Certificate! While it’s an EU-wide standard, each country still has its own rules about providing them. In Portugal for example, we have to be established residents with tax numbers before they’ll give us one. We brought the American cards with us, but they were iffy when we first arrived in Portugal and, as cases spiked and new measures rolled out, they basically became pointless. We could eat outside… you know, in December. Not actually horrifying at the right places, but still. In La France, however, you go to the Pharmacie (I think that’s how you spell it there, dear Lord this going to multiple countries does weird things to your brain), pay the nice people your 36 euros, and they transfer your US card info into their database, and bam! You’ve got the digital pass that is accepted continent-wide.
Sorry for the digression, but I’m pretty sure this didn’t come up in the last post. ANYWAY, that tangent sprang from a description of breakfast, which was cereal and milk. I know, how Parisien. We’re about to redeem ourselves, promise. Our first item on the agenda was lunch at Le Bristol Hotel’s restaurant, aka the Michelin-starred 114 Faubourg. Lisa’s review over on Facebook captures it pretty well. All that need be added is that the snooty “Michelin-starred” there is actually kind of a joke for us. We’ve been to a few Michelin-starred places; mostly one-star, but at least one two-star. Almost all of them have been incredible disappointments. Not that our palettes are so refined that we can actually make such distinctions. No, the disappointment has been that we… well… we are apparently not fancy enough for these places. They come across to us as fussy, and overly-complicated, with opaque menus that often leave us scratching our heads for what looks even vaguely appetizing. Now, we are fully aware that this is on us; our plebe nature is apparently bone deep and we can’t shake it. Nevertheless, we’ve mostly given up on such meals as throwing good money after bad. However… well, Lisa alludes to a story at the top of her review that is actually much more vibrant and worthy of its own telling some day, but short version is she fell into a solo lunch at 114 Faubourg, she had a sublime time, and wanted to share it with me. She did, and it was again sublime. I seriously think that we’re going to go back and tell restaurant war stories when it gets slow around her, but for now let us press on.
That day, we pressed on from lunch to the Musée Jacquemart-André, the result of a random die roll (you heard me) to determine what priceless cultural experience to partake of that day. Normally the Musée Jacquemart-André would rate a “yeah if we’ve got time and are nearby” kind of rating, but at the time they had a temporary exhibition featuring the work of Botticelli. So, you know. (Maybe you don’t know. See here for why you drop what you’re doing and scurry if there’s an exhibition of his work.) So we scooted over, stood in a bit of queue, and then made our way into the museum. A bit about the “normal” museum – I know I threw a little shade at it up top, but it’s actually a pretty neat place – converted from, you know, the once-home of Edouard André and Nélie Jacquemart, it is a lovely collection that probably is more notable for its in situ displays of period furnishings than a (I’ve got to get used to saying things like this even though it feels asinine) pretty run-of-the-mill visual art collection.
As for the Botticelli exhibit… ok, my Seattle peeps will get this, try to follow along otherwise. You know how Seattle Art Museum (SAM) has two kinds of exhibitions? Either an incredibly thorough deep dive on a fairly obscure or at least less-famous artist or movement, or a really fancy-sounding exhibition that turns out to be scrounged up bits borrowed from other lower-tier museums, with lots of “context” and “early influences on the artist” to flesh it out? Yeeeeaaahhh… so, clearly being in Paris the curators have a better network of colleagues than SAM’s do, so the scrounging wasn’t so… scrounge-y?, but there was still a definite sense of them making a lot of hay out of a very modest amount of grass. The highlights were several preparatory studies for the Birth of Venus; fully painted figures with variants in the hair, hands, pose, etc… Well, there was another highlight, although we’ll have to explain in another post. However:
In any event, it was a charming if modest exhibition, and certainly expanded our Botticelli vocabulary. Post Jacquemart-André we strolled down to a taxi stand and scooted back to our flat in the Marais (heh) for a very quiet evening of tunes and reading. We needed our rest, for the next day we would begin to hunt our white whale.