Day 9–Alliance Francaise and the Ballet at Palais Garnier

As I was walking back from the gym, it occurred to me that as much as we romaticize it, Paris is still a working city. People opening shops, taking their kids to school and going to work. I know this isn’t a profound thought but, compared to Toronto, it does have this overlay of beauty that makes it hard to appreciate that there is a quotidien life here. It’s probably heightened, now that we are staying here, maybe because we aren’t engaged in it except through observation.

We ended up going to the Alliance Française today for testing. Let me say, it was daunting! I told the evaluatingprofesseur that I wanted to read Camus’s La Chute in French. She thought Georges Simenon (mystery writer) was probably more my speed, so I am registered in the B1 French oral program, Sandy in another program altogether. Between us, given her greater appreciation of the language coupled with my shamefully forward utterances of a language I’ve never studied formally, we’d make close to one whole Francophone. Anyway, we’ll see what a few weeks of classes does for us.

For lunch, we went to Café Varenne, 36 rue de Varenne, at the corner of rue du Bac, a place where they have inscribed the names of regulars on the wall (W Wells, of IHT and Patricia Wells fame, #6). It’s also apparently a favoured hangout of Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa herself, although she wasn’t there today. It was a very busy place, friendly and efficient service, full of French folk enjoying their déjeuner but really mediocre cuisine, except the desserts.(Maybe we ordered badly?)  Reasonably priced, though, even with a cool, lively Saint-Amour. It was, however, not mentioned by Pudlo (or François Simon, whose website we have also been checking), so we might have known better.

We went to a modern ballet (“Le Parc” with Emilie Cozette, principal) tonight at Palais Garnier, the more ornate of the two opera houses in Paris, When Charles Garnier was designing it, it turned out that the location was over a water-bed that couldn’t be drained or filled, so Garnier had to build a water-tank to hold the water which is where the subterranean Phantom of the Opera myth arose. This is an exquisite building but the view from the back of some of the stall in the upper balconies isn’t all that conducive to watching anything, let alone ballet or opera, but it was all I could afford the first time I was there (about 25 years ago). Our seats were better this time around. The Palais Garnier also has a Marc Chagall faux ceiling, itself very beautiful although the photos I’ve attached don’t do it justice.

As for the ballet, well, not particularly my thing especially when set to Mozart, maybe my least favourite composer. (As Glenn Gould put it, “The problem isn’t that Mozart died too young but that he lived too long.”) Anyway, it was better than I expected, given my low expectations, sexy in a stylized way although I didn’t mind the diaphanous gown segments. As part of conjugal harmony, I had agreed to go, kind of reparations for the times I have dragged Sandy through innuerable, interchangeable vineyards and wine shops all over France and California. The audience loved the ballet, though, Sandy, too. I did mostly as well, at least in between bouts snoozing.

The best part was that it was only an hour and a half long–very civilized, very French, still time for dinner, especially when it began at 7:30. Afterwards, we stopped in at our local, Café Doucet, 41 rue Vaugirard, for acroque monsiuer and salad. (Need those greens.) Since we were the last patrons in the place, it felt like we were in the Edward Hopper “Nighthawks” painting, French-style.

It was a lovely spring day today but by about 5, it got overcast. Still no umbrellas. Must attend to that tomorrow but I have my first art lesson at 10.