Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunny Sunday. I have been passing this pretty little restaurant, Chez Julien, often, as it is quite near. So today I stopped in for lunch and it was very good. I need to learn, however, always to ask to see a menu when none is posted. Before taking my seat. Most restaurants have close quarters and so I found myself elbow to elbow, literally, with the folks alongside. Once fitted in, it is not very cool to have a look at the menu then get up and leave. Least expensive item offered was a chicken quarter for 22 euros, and that suited just fine. And it was extremely good, covered with chestnuts and little browned potatoes. Two glasses of wine at 10 euros each and there you have it, about $45 for what was really a fancy drumstick. Ah, life at the high end. Nancy Machiah had called to ask if I might be interested in a 4:00 p.m. concert of the Orchestre National d’Ile-de-France. I was, so we agreed to meet. The venue was Salle Pleyel, one of Paris’ major performance halls. It is quite old, but has had a major facelift within the past few years and it is startlingly austere. If visuals matter at all, then a concert at the Salle Pleyel should precede, not follow, an evening at the glorious Opera Garnier or the beautiful Theatre des Champs-Elysees, . In the category of ambience it comes up short. The seats are comfortable, it is easy to move about and there are no unobstructed views. But it bears no resemblance to those grand old concert halls scattered all across Europe, and, in fact, across America as well. Not a lot of style here, from the ceiling lights down. And the orchestra? Not bad. It was led by Juraj Valcuha, a young Slovakian who is probably destined for a place among the good ones. He has a staccato style, occasionally interrupted by bursts of energy which are as effective as they are unexpected. The program today was unusual in that it featured a violist performing back-to-back pieces including a vibrant number by Carl Maria von Weber. His name was Antoine Tamestit and he really gave a brilliant performance, ending with an encore that sounded like “The Flight of the Bumblebee” for viola. He was a hit. For the second half the orchestra played Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, one of my very favorites. It had a lot of verve and the flutist whose fourth movement solo is a key to the whole, was especially good. Our seats were at the end of the row and slightly under a balcony, and this location did not allow for a full appreciation of the acoustics. Too bad because, as I understand it, they really create the signature feature for this very big hall. I hope to get back here again soon, but it will be to hear the performance, not to see the performance hall. Nancy, whose apartment is within walking distance, obviously knows the neighborhood well and she suggested Brasserie Lorraine just down the block. What a good choice. As we were early arrivals we got a really nice spot and made the most of it. It is a good-sized restaurant on the Place des Ternes, and a growing crowd of diners enhanced the ambience wonderfully. For us it was fish and lamb followed by a shared creme brulee and Calvados. Sweet dreams!
This is the area dominated by the Arc de Triomphe, one of Napoleon’s better ideas, although he was not around to see it completed. The Arc is impressive at any time or day or night, from any angle. The Metro has one of its biggest stops beneath the circle surrounding the structure and I, having arrived via the underground, headed down the steps for a quick return to my part of town. But it was only about 8:30 p.m. and I was in no hurry. So I reversed course, came back up the steps and struck out down the Avenue Champs Elysees. It was brisk but not at all uncomfortable and I was dressed to suit the weather. A great night for walking and to absorb what may be the quintessential Paris. Sunday night. People everywhere, cars jammed on the avenue, break dancers and boom boxes, sidewalk cafes, buildings artistically lighted, lots of couples and lots of single people like me. A melange. A delight. How nice to see the night from street level rather than training along underneath. Down the Avenue past the Place de la Concorde and its Egyptian obelisk. So very nice to be a part of this that I stopped at one point to savor the whole. It took about an hour to get home. One of my better hours.

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