Friday, April 17, 2009

Paris is a city that's easy to get on top of. It's not overwhelmed with skyscrapers, which means you don't have to go very far or very high to enjoy a marvelous panorama. Below are four places with terrific views and that, together, offer a perfect introduction to the city's top attractions. Try making a day of it!


La Tour Eiffel

The Eiffel Tower is the Paris icon, instantly recognized round the world. My favorite refrigerator magnet is a little metal Eiffel Tower that I bought several years ago from one of the bouquiniste stalls along the Seine.

The tower is definitely worth a visit. Elevators take visitors to the top. If you're in good shape and want exercise, try walking the stairs to the second level
(115 meters up) and take an elevator to the top from there. Walking is less expensive than taking the elevators the whole way--and there's never a line! Think about going at night, when the tower lights sparkle for five minutes on the hour. It's enchanting.

La Cathedrale de Notre Dame
Gothic Paris is on display at the cathedral of Notre Dame in the heart of the city. A visit to the top of the South Tower offers a view out over the river Seine, although be forewarned. There is no elevator to the top of the tower, so be prepared to walk all 387 steps. The gargoyles will be there to reward your effort.

Le Musee d'Orsay
The Musee d'Orsay is an easily recognized landmark along the Seine. It was once a train station (above), whose rail hall is now filled with sculptures (below). I especially love the museum's elegant grey roof. From a distance, it looks like a light covering of snow has settled on the building, even in summer.

If you've worn yourself out walking up the steps of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, wind up your day with an easy stroll through the museum's well known collection of impressionist art.

Then have a late lunch at one of the museum's lovely restaurants. The casual Cafe des Hauteurs is at the top level of the museum and offers a magnificent view over the river and toward the Louvre museum, the Opera (the Palais Garnier), and the basilica of Sacre Coeur in Montmartre.

For a more elegant dining experience in another Left Bank museum, make reservations for dinner at Les Ombres. This restaurant (above), designed by Jean Nouvel, is on the terrace level of the Musee du Quai Branly (MQB). The museum is one of the city's newest and has an impressive collection of indigenous artwork from around the world. And you'll love the view of the Eiffel Tower, where you started your day!

Note to readers: Experiential Paris will not be posting next week, so look for the next entry on May 1.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Movies transport us to other places, other mindsets, and other cultures. I love to watch movies about Paris before traveling there. And I love them even more when I get back. It's a perfect way to prolong the pleasures of the city.

Below are three movies to get you in the mood for Paris. I've chosen them according to these criteria: (a) because I love them, (b) because each offers good footage of the city itself, and (c) because there's something classic about each one.

I'll add more recommendations over time, but if you're wanting more right now, go to this entry on Ann Althouse's blog. About three years ago, she invited commenters to create a list of favorite movies set in Paris. The list is a treasure trove. (And she ended up engaged to one of the commenters!)


Diva (1982) is one of my all-time favorite movies. And it's set in Paris. It's a quirky love story set in the crime thriller genre, and there's a scene with a baguette that I would put on any list of classic movie moments.

There's also a tears-streaming-down-the-cheeks scene set in the Chatelet theater before it was cleaned up and beautified in the early 1980s. On a bare, crumbling stage, the diva of the movie's title performs "Ebben? ne andro lontana" from Alfredo Catalani's La Wally for a lone spectator. It'll make an opera fan of you.

Although reviewers at the time criticized weaknesses in Diva's plot, they all conceded this: the movie has Style with a capital S.


A Bout de Souffle is a 1960 New Wave classic directed by Jean-Luc Godard. In the twenty-first century, we take jump cuts, handheld cameras, ambient noise, and natural lighting for granted, but fifty years ago, they were revolutionary. (Read this excerpt from Richard Brody's Everything Is Cinema (2008) for more about the genius of Godard.)

Not so long ago, I saw the movie on a big screen and loved it. I can't say the plot holds up, but then again, New Wave wasn't driven by story. What sticks in the mind are the images: Jean Seberg selling the New York Herald Tribune on the streets of Paris (above), Jean-Paul Belmondo's obsession with Bogart (photo at top of this entry), and the extended death scene at the end of the movie. If nothing else, the film will give you a sense of the French take on derring-do.

This 2004 sequel to Before Sunrise (1995) finds Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) in Paris. In what is essentially an 80-minute conversation, the movie follows the pair (above) as they wander the streets and canals of Paris, catching up on nine years of life. (Recognize the Left Bank bookstore in the still above?)

While Godard was known for introducing quick cuts, the director of Before Sunset, Richard Linklater, revels in the long take. Single shots last several minutes, creating a sense, according to Roger Ebert, that the film is taking place in real time.

I'm about ten years older than Delpy and Hawke, so, to be honest, I wasn't terribly interested in the content of their Before Sunset conversation (the script for which they co-wrote). But I did love the street scenes of the city, and paired with 2 Days in Paris(2007), also starring Julie Delpy, it's great viewing after you get back from Paris. Delpy has a knack for capturing French-American culture clash. She is very loving about it--and wickedly funny. You'll catch yourself nodding in recognition.

Happy viewing, and don't forget to check in next Friday for more tips from Experiential Paris!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Both my parents, in their different ways, enjoyed leaving home for other places. Through them, my siblings and I had a chance, as children, to begin our travels.

In the early 1970s, for example, we accompanied our father on university sabbatical to Copenhagen. We were there during the winter months, and Denmark in the winter is dark and dreary. To relieve the blues one afternoon, my sister and I went to see a rerun of the 1965 Beatles' movie Help!

In Denmark, as in France, the price of a movie ticket depends on where you sit in the theater. Because our purse was light, we bought the cheapest tickets, which were in the very front row. My sister and I both prefer to sit toward the back of a movie theater. Yet even with our noses to the screen, we loved every minute of the movie.

Ever since, I've included movies on my list of things to do while in a foreign city. It's a great way to see the town and be with the locals, and in some cases, to see a film before it's released stateside.

Below are suggestions for three movie houses to visit in Paris.

Parisians are cinephiles, with a long tradition of making, talking about, and loving movies. Remember France's Lumiere brothers? These days, you can watch footage of their earliest movies, which date to the1890s, on YouTube. Amazing.

Paris in the twenty-first century offers a wide array of movie theaters all over town, and I suggest starting with one that's close to wherever you're staying or wherever your day's itinerary is taking you anyway.

Le Reflet Medicis
On a family trip to Paris in the mid-1970s, my sister and I went by ourselves to see Woody Allen's Sleeper at Le Reflet Medicis, a Latin Quarter favorite not too far from our hotel on rue Monsieur le Prince. The hotel is no longer there, but the movie house is. It's still known for showing English-language films, along with film noir revivals and independent films from all over the world.

Centre Pompidou Cinema
If you're already visiting the Centre Pompidou in the 4th arrondissement for an art exhibit, check to see what's playing at their cinema. They're known for programming retrospectives of film directors, and the museum website will tell you what's playing when. (Note that, for whatever reason, the French-language version of the site has more information about the movie offerings than does the English-language version.)

La Pagode
A Paris movie house that's on my list is La Pagode. Built in the 1890s close to what is now the chic Bon Marche department store in the 7th arrondissement, La Pagode is a Japanese-style pagoda. A revival house of sorts, La Pagode also shows English-language films, both current and classic.

To practice your French and learn a little about the history of La Pagode at the same time, you can watch a short French-language spot from Cap 24, a French television station, complete with shots of the theater itself, on YouTube. Amusez-vous bien!

Be sure to check in next Friday for Experiential Paris's recommendations for movies to get you in the mood for Paris!