12 July 2006, Paris on My Own

Thursday, we got up really early by vacation standards and had breakfast at the hotel (nothing to write home about, but at the discount we're getting through the institute, we can't really complain), and David went off to the COMARGE meetings. After doing some laundry and writing for a while, I went off to the Carousel du Louvre food court for a couscous lunch, then went to visit the top of the Tour Montparnasse, the only real skyscraper within central Paris. I spent most of my time in the 56th-floor viewing lounge (entirely glass enclosed, carpeted, air conditioned, and equipped with coin-op telescopes, orientation panels, café, restaurant, and gift shop), but I visited the roof-top terrace long enough to walk all the way around, holding onto my hat in the wind.

Paris view 1In this telephoto view, looking more or less east, the tall dome is the Pantheon. Françoise's appartment is just out of sight at the right-hand side near the top. If you start at the center bottom, with the building with the greenish roof, then follow a vertical line upward past the horizontal line of trees, past the little patch of greenery among the buildings, you'll come (before you are quite as high as the Pantheon) to a small patch of red-brick buildings and roofs among the paler stone ones. The left-most building in that group is the Institut Oceanographique. You can see, at its left-hand side, its little square stone tower with a red tile roof. (If the resolution is too low in these photos, click them for larger versions.)

Paris view 2In this second view, looking more or less north, the prominent horizontal band across the bottom half of the picture is made up of the Jardin des Tuileries (with its big white Ferris wheel) on the left and the long parallel wings of the Louvre on the right. The long gray roof just below the gardens at the left side is the Musée d'Orsay. You can't really see the River Seine, but it runs just this side of the Louvre and passes between the gardens and the Musée d'Orsay. The mosque-like building on the hill in the upper center is the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur; the hill is Montmartre.

Paris view 3Here's the Eiffel Tower from the Montparnasse Tower (looking more or less west, slightly telephoto-ed). The cluster of skyscrapers in the background is the "La Defense" neighborhood, outside Paris proper. The Grand Arch is in there somewhere but mostly hidden by the other buildings from this angle.

Paris view 4Finally, looking more or less northwest, here's the gold-domed Invalides (which houses Napoleon's tomb), surrounded by the gigantic Army Museum (tickets are good for two days, because you can't possibly see all of it in one). At the extreme center right, where the museum's esplanade meets the river, you can see the first gold-topped post of the Alexandre III bridge. In about the middle of the upper left quadrant, you can see the Arc de Triomphe.

From Montparnasse, I took the 94 bus to the Parc Monceau to visit the Musée Nissim de Camondo. Françoise had often recommended it, but David was never interested, as it features mainly furniture.

Camondo houseCamondo houseCamondo houseCamondo houseCount Moïse de Camondo lived in Paris around the turn of the 20th century. In 1910, he inherited the large banking fortune built by his father Nissim de Camondo first in his native Istanbul and later in Paris. He also inherited the family mansion, which adjoined the Parc Monceau. Moïse was smitten with all things 18th-century and was a discriminating collector. He put together a gorgeous collection of 18th-century art, decorative objects, and furnishings, and he entertained lavishly (the dining room is huge, and the kitchen could clearly feed hundreds). His arranged marriage was not a success, and his wife left him, but he doted on his two children, Nissim and Fanny. When young Nissim became a fighter pilot and was killed in 1917, he was devastated, and Fanny wasn't interested in the house. She married Léon Reinach (presumably the same Léon Reinach whose father, Théodore Reinach, smitten with all things ancient-Greek, built Villa Kérylos in Beaulieu; see Saturday Afternoons in last year's vacation diary), and they moved to the suburb of Neuilly. Moïse therefore left the house and its contents (on his death in 1936) to the French nation, as a memorial to his father and his son, both named Nissim, on the condition that it be kept and exhibited intact.

Sadly, Fanny, the last surviving member of the family, and Léon, both Jewish, continued to live openly after the German invasion of France during WWII, thinking their French nationality would be sufficient protection, but they and both their children were deported and died at Auschwitz.

Camondo kitchenCamondo kitchenCamondo kitchenThe house and its furnishings are gorgeous, but the kitchen especially appealed to me. It was built as a solid, sealed concrete bunker and tiled on floor, walls, and ceiling, so no noise or odors could escape to the dining room, directly overhead. It featured this huge iron stove with two fire-boxes, four ovens, and a couple of warming drawers, all accessible from either side, and this even bigger "roasting range." The stove has down-draft exhaust, and a series of little cranks controls the draft through a chimney encased in the wall. The range is at least 8 feet tall (the ceiling is at least 20 feet high) and has three rotisserie-equipped roasting and broiling ovens. The rotisseries are turned by "windmills" spun by the rising smoke from the gas fires. The servants' hall seats up to 20, and a dumbwaiter shuttled dishes to and from the dining room. The chef in his office off the kitchen and the maitre d'hotel in the dining room could communicate by in-house phone.

Paris cocktails 1Paris cocktails 2Paris cocktails 3They threw me out at closing time (5:30 p.m.), so I just had time to get back to the hotel and freshen up before meeting David at the Institut Oceanographique for the evening's cocktail reception. Clearly these people know some really good caterers. The little dishes are plastic disposables about 2 inches square, just big enough for half a quail's egg and an asparagus tip in a mayonnaise-based sauce sauce or a bite of seafood-and-vegetable terrine.

Eventually, we and a couple of friends strolled around a couple of blocks to "Le Mauzac," a neighborhood restaurant, for dinner. First course, shared: Shrimp risotto with mushrooms.

Second course, David: "Sandre" (pike perch, Leucioperca lucioperca) with beurre blanc sauce.

Second course, Anne: "Salmon plate," with smoked salmon, marinated salmon (the best), and salmon tartar and sour-cream sauce and a large blini.

Dessert, shared: Cherry bavarois (bavarian), topped with "cassis frappé" (a quarter-cup block of partially thawed compote of black currents) and whipped cream. Very good!

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