When we considered a destination to celebrate my wife Ginnie’s 90th birthday (quatre vingt-dix), we both named Paris as our first choice. It proved to be a delightful decision.
Here are some of the highlights:
Our small hotel on the Rue Saint-Honore was in a perfect location, around the corner from the gold statute of Jeanne D’Arc and the Hotel Meurice on the Rue de Rivoli, where in August 1944, German General Dietrich Von Choltitz, defying a direct order from Hitler, refused to destroy Paris.
We began the trip by getting a little taste of home when we attended a concert by The Cleveland Orchestra at the new, spectacular Philharmonie de Paris hall designed by Jean Nouvel to hear Mahler’s 3rd Symphony. Our band never sounded better and the Parisian audience, with its rhythmic clapping, demanded six or seven “curtain calls” by conductor Franz Welser-Most.
Our ritual trip to Chartres provided a splendid surprise: In a monumental, multiyear effort, the world’s greatest Gothic cathedral is being cleaned inside and out –paid for by the French Culture Department and “amis” of the cathedral (why doesn’t the U.S. have a culture department?). The interior had become badly discolored over the centuries since the mid-1200s, but now was clean and creamy white, contrasting with the great stained glass windows, to be seen just as it was over 800 years ago. It was an amazing revelation.
In the Bois de Bologne is the recently opened Louis Vitton Foundation museum, an incredible Frank Gehry structure that must be seen – it defies description. It is the most fantastic building I have ever experienced. Designing it was a severe challenge, building it was even more imposing. We had lunch in the “Le Frank” restaurant.
We had a warm and affectionate reunion with Jacques, our exchange student in ‘68-’69, and his wife Suzanne. We had drinks in our favorite bar at the Hotel du Louvre, then a superb dinner at Brasserie Vagenende and lots of conversation.
At the urging of Meredith and Oliver Seikel we took the Metro out to La Defense, the new corporate business complex with its grand esplanade where one can walk among a group of 72 buildings, many are architectural showcases. This is the new France, immensely impressive.
Picasso was on display in an ambitious show at the Grand Palais, which featured him and the work of many of those he influenced. His museum in the Marais palace recently opened after several years of renovation and provides an extensive exhibit of his work, far better than when we were there in 1999.
One of the more unusual buildings in Paris is the Institut du Monde Arabe or Arab World Institute designed by Jean Nouvel, which features the culture and key contributions of 18 Arab nations. The structure, located on the Left Bank just upstream from Ile de la Cite, utilizes movable louvered windows to control the internal environment. It has a rooftop restaurant with great views of Notre Dame and Paris.
And one does not go to Paris without experiencing Notre Dame. We toured it once again and attended Sunday mass, and found it as awe-inspiring as ever.
On our last Saturday afternoon we relaxed by strolling for several hours through the Tuilleries gardens with countless other pedestrians, stopped for a café au lait and later a sandwich and beer in the outdoor cafes. This is a great attraction and asset for Parisians.
This was our tenth trip to Paris and we found it to still be our special place. It is such a vibrant city, which presents the old glories and is now full of new stunning glimpses of the future. It has always been a center of art and culture, and that strong focus is evident today. Paris exemplifies what a modern urban culture can be. We should emphasize that we have never been mistreated in France and on this trip we met with many courtesies and helpful assistance that enhanced our experience. And I now have new information to add to my A Paris Lover’s Guide to Paris.