Monday, November 3, 2008


This weekend, Jefe and I went to Paris. Here is a list of all of the things we didn't do:

-go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower (or even go within sight of it)
-visit l'Arc de Triomphe (ditto)
-enter Notre Dame
-go inside the Moulin Rouge
-walk along the Champs-Elysees (not even close)
-eat at the Tour d'Argent (from Ratatouille)
-take a cruise down the river Seine
-admire paintings in the Louvre
-buy cheap souvenirs (this time we brought our own wine key)
-buy expensive souvenirs
-go to French Disneyland

The ostensible reason for our trip to the tourist-trap capital of the world was to attend the french leg of the Bicycle Film Festival. Due either to lack of funding, planning, or volunteers, (or perhaps some combination of these three), the festival was somewhat abbreviated; On Saturday afternoon, Jeff hunted for the bike polo players for a little while, but gave up when he didn't see anyone there, and later, we gathered with about 200 other people to watch a series of short bicycle-related films.

The audience was boisterous and the films weren't bad... The stacks of bikes outside the theatre were kind of fun to look at.

(Everyone clearly brought their A-game...but only one fender in sight)

We went out to see a few other movies (at one movie theater we were ferried across a canal from the box office to the screens). We got to do a good amount of biking around the city (see below for details), but the best part of the trip was the FOOD. We went out to several really good restaurants, and a couple of excellent ones. The first night, Friday, we had dinner at Le Chansonnier (Classic french food: queue de boeuf, cassoulet, roast chicken aux cepes, gratinated potatoes with thyme). On Saturday, we had lunch at Le Potager du Marais (a tiny gluten-free and vegetarian restaurant: curried celery soup, vegetable gratin, cassoulet du mer, gateau aux noix). Saturday dinner was at the Bouillon des Colonies featuring food from the French colonies (hummus and eggplant caviar, lemongrass shrimp with basmati, lamb confit with cumin cous cous). Sunday brunch at Doudingue in Montmartre (tartelette provencal, salmon tartar, and lots of lovely looking glutenous treats such as pain au chocolat and mini croissants). Sunday dinner at the Saint-Germain Mandarin restaurant (lemongrass chicken soup, chicken with basil, and sweet and sour pork). And finally, a cute make-shift picnic in the Luxembourg gardens (goat cheese, yogurt, saucisson, baguette, rice cakes, and fruit). When we next go to Paris, we'll definitely return to Le Potager du Marais.

Now, back to bikes, or Velib'...
In case you don't follow foreign bike news and/or urban planning news as closely as the Jefe, in the last year Paris has introduced the "Velib", a revolution in urban transport. Basically, for a small subscription fee (5 euros for 7 days, or 29 euros a year) you are allowed access to any Velib bike parked at any of the automated Velib rental points (rental points are roughly 300 meters apart throughout most of the city, an incredible feat). The first 30 minutes of your rental are always free, and each subsequent half hour is one euro. Not bad, considering you can get pretty far in 30 minutes.

Rebecca quickly became a Velib' expert. Here she is returning a bike a few blocks from dinner.

Imagine, you walk out of a building to a nearby rental point, type in your information and ride off. You return the bike to a rental point near your destination, do some shopping, eat lunch and pick up a different bike from a different rental point to continue your errands. To us, this is truly astounding. The shear number of bikes available and the ease of use of the entire system seems utopian. And, in accordance with the Utopia Rule, there are a few kinks in the system: sometimes there are no bikes available at a rental point (for instance, right after a popular event, or late at night near bars and restaurants, or for the morning commute into central Paris), or sometimes the ones that are available aren't in very good shape (flat tires, wonky steering, missing baskets, stuck seatposts, bent chainguards; though they do replace and repair bikes frequently), and you have to have a European credit card with a chip (not a magnetic strip--but Ha-ha! Rebecca managed to get hers the day before we left for Paris). Though, if we consider the Velib' as merely one more mode of public transportation to supplement buses and subways, it succeeds admirably.

In order to get the most out of your Velib' rental, you have to know where to go (unless you enjoy dodging tourists around the Pompidou Center and Notre Dame). The best guide to Paris we found is called Pariscope and is often hidden behind the counter at newsstands. I'm not sure why they hide their guides to culture while filling valuable shelf space with pornography...maybe capitalism is taking hold?

Once you have your Pariscope in hand and a good map with a street index, you're ready to go. The Pariscope lists all the exhibitions in Paris, in both major and minor museums and galleries. It also has an index of locations, hours, and prices of museums and galleries. This is very important, there are so many museums and exhibition spaces not even the Parisiens can keep them straight (someone wanted to borrow our copy to look up some museum hours).

First, a trip to the Maison des Metallos for an exhibit titled 400ml. Hundreds of graffiti artists from around the world, made art out of cans of spray paint. Some had merely painted the cans, others went much further...
It says, in French, on the bottom of the can "why is my train always late?"

On Sunday, we went to the Carnavalet, the museum of the history of Paris. We were not so excited by 18th century paintings of Parisiens by other Parisiens, so we went for the exhibit of etchings of the Paris Metro by Akemi Noguchi.

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