Wednesday, September 20, 2006

L'Ecole Buissonniere

Today I played hooky.

I love the French phrase for playing hooky, which is "faire l'ecole buissonniere," or go to the school of the greenery or bushes. Conjures up idyllic notions of walking through the countryside or wading in a stream. I guess my stream is the Seine. I did check out the scenery and the greenery. But I did not sit at my desk working. Not today.

It was one of those gorgeous blue-sky September days in Paris. I didn't intend to blow off all my work. Feeling rather productive, I made some business calls first thing and then decided to get fit and go for my morning constitutional. Here's the stream I followed.

I headed first to Invalides, which is right around the corner : . One project that I am attempting is to find as many ways to walk across, around and through Paris dodging the rain, for all those winter months when there never seems to be a day without at least a little precipitation. The courtyard of the Invalides is a splendid find in this regard-- gets me across a major stretch, all under the colonnade. Oh, and I did swing by the museum boutique, just to see. Lovely place for Christmas shopping. But true to my exercise regime, I kept moving and didn't stop to buy a single thing.

I wandered around the gardens a bit -- why hadn't I done this before? Beautiful fountains, and I came upon a spot where a ceremony must have taken place just moments before. Fresh white long-stemmed roses were strewn upon a memorial to victims of terrorism. Spread out on the other side of the statue were large, formal floral arrangements with official ribbon sashes proclaiming the bearer's office: Maire de Paris, Le Premier Ministre, le Syndicat du RATP.

Between the Hotel des Invalides and the Seine is the broad, grand esplanade. (Check it out on google earth -- invalides paris.). Let me make a little confession here: I am so comforted by the built environment of Paris that in that sweeping, wide-open space I find myself feeling just a teeeensy bit agoraphobic. Too much free area. I dread crossing it. But today I descended the esplanade to my beloved Pont Alexandre III, heading toward Le Grand Palais. Every time I glimpse Le Grand Palais from afar, with its proud tricolore flying atop the dome, I feel as though I'm looking at a Pierre Le-Tan New Yorker cover.

Today was my day to enter. I hadn't been inside since the 10-year renovations were completed. The feature attraction right now is the Biennnale des Antiquaires, gorgeous paintings, antiques, jewellery. Fortunately I got reduced admission of EUR 12,50 with my Amis du Louvre membership card. The exhibitors were fabulous galleries, and many of the well-heeled attendees seemed to be there to pick up a little Bonnard or Degas for the study at home. Needless to say, in a sea of Chanel flats and Hermes ties I was way underdressed in my black jeans and walking shoes, even though I was wearing Bally sneakers, tres francaise (no one at TJMaxx had known what to do with them, I guess). I sat for a pause at the little cafe de la Biennale and got a Perrier in a plastic cup for EUR 4,50. That's when I knew it was time to leave. Fortunately they did have lots of good free magazines as giveaways, so I grabbed some as I headed out the door.

At this point I realized that hooky was in full swing, so I hopped on the first bus I found -- the 83. I hopped off randomly in the 5th arrondissement and happened upon the Academie de la Biere ( ) The chef's special was moules paysanne, which, with a glass of crisp muscadet and crusty bread, was heaven distilled into culinary form. And at EUR 9,00 for the entire bowl, it more than compensated for that earlier glass of Perrier. After lunch I walked up the boulevard and sat in the sun and drank a cafe at Le Select, reading my French magazines and nibbling on the little chocolate-covered almond that accompanies your express in the good cafes.

Then I walked most of the way home, took the 92 bus for the last bit, landed back in the apartment and took a nap. Absolute bliss. I never do this.

I finished off the day by heading over to "Bunches," my favorite new florist at the corner of boulevard Raspail and rue de Vaugirard. For EUR 10,00 you can choose either 5 bottes of flowers (which can be an entire armload of sunflowers or irises, probably 30 - 40 total, or a botte of 50 tulips or 40 roses. What's not to love? So the apartment is now filled with bright red tulips -- in a cheerful yellow teapot on the dining room table, in a tall glass vase on the marble mantel, in a little tumbler on the bedside table.

Greenery -- by the armful or the dayful -- does wonders for the soul.

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