Saturday, February 21, 2009

Just thinking . . . But that comes later. First I acted on a tip for a restaurant and I went to the Le Petit Zinc for lunch. Good tip. This place is the personification of Art Nouveau at its most attractive, with dozens of stylized prints and painted tiles everywhere. Fine place, this Left Bank eatery, and one of those places where you can get a nice window seat and not be scrunched in among businessmen, ladies out for lunch and couples nibbling on one another’s earlobes while chattering away. Not that I can understand anything anyone says, but close quarters can crimp the solo diner’s style. After soupe de poisson and some beaujolais, I found myself in the neighborhood of the Musee Rodin, so I entered the sumptuous grounds, and ended up staying more than two hours. This is not a great huge place, but there is more than enough here to catch the eye and draw attention. Actually, if all one did was visit the gardens which surround this beautiful old mansion, that would be time very well spent. Most, well really all, of Rodin’s nameplate pieces—the Three Shades, the incredible Gates of Hell, the Thinker and the most moving piece of all, the Burghers of Calais—are outside. There are quite a few more bronzes, the enormous Balzac and the monument to Hugo for example, situated among the trees and along the lawns. The reason to visit inside, where an audio guide is a must, is to be briefed on the career of this extraordinary artist and marvel at the mediums in which he excelled: terra cotta, stone, marble, plaster, bronze. In the mansion, called Hotel Brion, Rodin’s career is outlined, from a no-name to a Salon rejectee, to a man inspired by Dante and befriended by Hugo. His work is transcendent and, since he donated most everything he created to this place, this is where you go to see the best of it.
Since being in Paris I have assiduously avoided the big ticket. No new fashions, no big oil paintings, no Lafite Rothchild, no duck l’orange at Tour d’Argent about 100 yards from my door, and which can cost as much as a round trip ticket on Air France. But I did want to recognize the hospitality showered on me since day one by Nancy Machiah and so tonight we went to Cafe de la Paix. Not round-trip ticket big, just night-to-remember sized. I had stopped in the bar alongside this opulent restaurant on my way to the Opera a few weeks back and determined that at some point I wanted to come back and dine. Cafe de la Paix is the dining room for the Intercontinental Hotel in Paris and, befitting an institution of its stature, the staff—from maitre d’ to master chef—makes for a very special dinner occasion.
The name itself inspires. We had a grand meal. Pate de foie gras to start, followed by scallops for Nancy and sea bass for me (done beautifully and each dish with a fancy French name) accompanied by a white burgundy recommended by the sommelier. For dessert we had an assortment of chocolates, a perfect complement to a very fine dinner. So what to do next? Walk down to the Place Vendome and head for the Ritz. There are not any off-the-mark Ritz Hotels that I ever have come upon, but it does seem that the one here in Paris is particularly special. The Hemingway Bar is tiny, about six tables, probably always occupied, but there are cushy seats at the bar and that is where Nancy and I alighted. She had some grapefruit concoction and I had brandy. Notable for this place is that they serve Maker’s Mark and, when I asked her, the bartender said it was the one bourbon they poured most. I had not seen MM anywhere else around town, so it was good to be able to let everyone know I just live up the road from Loretto. I also wrote down the name of Woodford Reserve for the affable drink mixer and suggested that they might want to offer that one as well. Hotel bars either work for you or they don’t. Some of them today are replete with pulsating sounds for dancing, where you can cavort about as though you’re in Hernando’s Hideway. The Hemingway Bar does not pulsate. But it relaxes you. Nancy and I got in separate taxis at the end, heading respectively toward the Arc and the Ile, bringing the curtain down on a dandy night in Paris.

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