A Celebration in Paris

Part III: Louis Vuitton and Walkabouts

The Metro yellow line took us to the northwestern part of Paris to visit the Louis Vuitton Foundation, where we enjoyed our second incredible art museum experience. The 10-minute walk from the station to the Bois de Boulogne park took us to the museum’s spectacular glass structure, designed by Frank Gehry to look like a boat with its sails inflated by the wind. Water flows down a wide set of black marble steps to a pool on which the building pretends to float. Inside are galleries on three floors and a roof deck for additional installations.

We were fortunate to see a dynamic and exciting exhibition called “Art/Afrique — Le Novel Atelier.” Representing black artists from South Africa and other parts of the continent, all the works were produced since 1989. The diverse media of the exhibition depicted impacts and influences from ending apartheid and the ensuing struggles that followed, as well as changing cultural norms of everyday life.

Paintings of graphic scenes of war and genocide; face sculptures made out of gasoline containers and other faces made from everyday items like paper clips and pencils; huge flashing sculptures of space ships; photographs of people celebrating the end of apartheid and dozens of headshots of women with unique woven hairstyles; a city of the future carved out of wood with plastic towers — all were exciting, provocative, and sometimes shocking, thrilling and shaking my sensibilities at the same time.

In between these major excursions, we walked neighborhoods, called arrondissements.  We strolled the Latin Quarter, with its buzzing student population attending the universities there.  The Eiffel Tower area is set at the end of the grand Champs de Mars park, where people were picnicking and sunbathing.  Brave adventurers were zip-lining from the middle level of the Tower to a platform attached to a building a few hundred yards away.  Don’t miss Rue Cler in that area for its early morning market; then stay for lunch in one of the many cafes that line the street.  The Ile de la Cite, home of the Notre Dame Cathedral, and neighboring quaint Ile Saint Louis (savor some ice cream from one of the several Berthillon shops) are two islands both located in the middle of the Seine.  And of course, we got to know our funky and elegant Le Marais neighborhood, spending hours window shopping and relaxing in the lovely Place de Vosges square.

I end this travel story of Paris with food. And wine. With personal recommendations in hand from friends, we had a delicious gustatory experience every evening, traveling on foot or on metro to restaurants around the city. Our 8:00pm reservations were mostly the early ones for these bistros; 9:00 seemed to be more the common dinner hour for Parisians.

One night we dined on Basque cuisine (northern Spanish) at Au Bascou in the 11th arrondissement. La Regalade, serving traditional French fare in the 14th arrondissement, had the best rice pudding in the entire world. The menu at Hanoi, an authentic Thai restaurant in Le Marais, showed off its French colonial influences. Our favorite was Astier, in the 11th, also a lively classic bistro with red-checkered tablecloths, a friendly owner/waiter, great service, and an outstanding cheese platter that must be sampled, in addition to the delicious food. Of course, we ordered a bottle of wine with every dinner, and waiter recommendations were consistently good. Prices for dinner and wine? Not very different from our center city Philadelphia restaurants, as we were surprised to discover.

Five wonderful days in the City of Lights. What a glorious way for Rick and me to celebrate 20 years together! And Paris was the perfect setting.