Saturday, November 19, 2011

Paris - Day Five - Oscar Wilde, Exotic Animals and L'Ami Jean

Tuesday, true to predictions, was a rainy day in Paris.  It drizzled on an off and we were prepared with our umbrellas.  Today we were going to the Musee d' Orsay where I wanted to see the exhibit titled Beaute, Morale et Volupte dans L'Angleterre D'Oscar Wilde (Beauty, Morality and Voluptuousness in Oscar Wilde's England).

We got there in the early afternoon and there was a very long line, despite the rain.    A lot of good people watching in the large courtyard in front of the Musee.  There were two guys selling (and wearing)     umbrella hats out front and I was reminded of a story Gerard Butler once told on Jay Leno about his father, owning an umbrella store and wearing one of the things around town.

After an hour of waiting in line, we finally got in and were able to see the exhibit.

It was very good, the main theme being that with so much Victorian Era (and residual Calvinist) conservatism and functionality in the arts, this repression ushered in a sort of backlash led by the, painters, artists and style icons of the period.   The thrust of it in art, furniture, etc....was beauty for beauty's sake, without regard to functionality, which to some, implied a certain decadence.  The era ushered in many portraits of beautiful women, some scantily clad, lounging around playfully and the use of color, vibrant, their features showing a youthful, maidenly,  yet voluptuous sensuality.  The furniture followed the same form over functionality credo and we see some eastern influences in their designs.

One sweet little moment was watching a crowd of elderly tourists (female heavy) feasting their eyes on the pen and ink drawings of Aubrey Beardsley Erotica with its depictions of penises everywhere.  That was the one wall you could not even get near.  Being familiar with them, D and I found it very humorous observing these elderly ladies, their noses barely inches from the art, almost as if they could sniff the subjects.  Aside from the big grin on my face, all I could think was "hooray for decadence!"

Some Examples of Aubrey Beardsley Erotica

After several hours of browsing this exhibit and a few others, we opened our umbrellas and headed for our next destination, Deyrolles.

For those of you not familiar with the famous Paris taxidermy shop, this is a "must see" when you are in Paris.   It is one of the most amazing places I have ever been to.  One could spend several hours just browsing through this jungle of exotic creatures, from the largest to the smallest, all featured in a charming, old wood plank floor environment that invites one to stroll from one room to the other.

The storefront window displays a few of the animals, but the downstairs is a small room featuring whimsical gardening and horticultural tools, postcards, catalogues, etc... and when you walk in you think you are in the wrong place.   But beware,  once you round the bend of the stairs going up to the second floor, because what meets you there is a wonderland unlike any other and better than any natural history museum I've ever been to.

           The front window at Deyrolles is but a small appetizer to the wonders inside and upstairs.

Here is a link that will help you learn a little about this French wonderland, since there is no photography allowed once inside the establishment.

More links to Deyrolles:

Several hours later, with the perfect little bat skeletons still in my mind,  we left the shop as they were setting up for some kind of cocktail party that night, the cases of bubbly and catering starting to arrive.  That made us remember we had seen some of the animals at another such party scene, except it was in 1920's France as shown in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" and wondered if it was filmed in the shop.  Will have to check it out now and see the movie a third time to verify the memory.

By that time it was getting late and we took the metro back to our apartment to freshen up a little for our 10:00 p.m. dinner reservation at Chez L'Ami Jean.

Small but cozy Bistro.

Still raining, we entered the small restaurant to find it was very crowded.  We took off our coats and the lady behind the bar hung them up.  There was a group of four people leaving (American) who took forever and were very loud in trying to locate their umbrellas among the many.  I hung on to mine (it was a nice wood handled one that belonged to the Apartment) while they were in the process and the French lady, after 10 minutes of them blocking the entrance, looks at me and rolls her eyes a little before coming forward to help them out the door.

Breathing a sigh of relief,  I finally put my umbrella down and we waited a few minutes for them to clear us a place at one of the communal tables.  It was a very cozy arrangement, as a lot of the smaller Bistros are and, if you know what to expect (we did), the food takes center stage and the general, serious enjoyment of it by all concerned is part of the experience.

After getting a recommendation and some tasting samples, we ordered a nice bottle of red to go with the heartiness of the Basque food before trying to navigate the incomprehensible menu.  To help us along, we were brought some thick crusty bread and olive oil.

Between my not so extensive French and D's better (she studied French at the Sorbonne for a six week summer course while in college - my idea, which she is now grateful to me for) and a little help from our non English speaking waiter, we ordered several appetizers to include some charcuterie and cheese, plus a salad.   I ordered a pork stew entree and D ordered a white fish.  While they were both delicious, her fish was full of small bones and whenever she got a mouthful, I would see this look come over her face, which made me laugh.

The evening was very enjoyable and we relaxed in the warm, convivial atmosphere.   As people left, I was quite content to see my (the apartment) umbrella, which I was keeping my eye on, was still there, nice wooden handle visible among the cheaper fold up portables.

Some serious eating going on at Chez L'Ami Jean

By the time dessert rolled around, we ordered some berry tart and the specialty of the house, the creamy rice pudding.  When they brought it out, we were surprised how large a bowl it came in, served with foamy cream on the side and some candied nuts.    While the tart was yummy, the rice pudding was "to die for."

I hadn't tasted rice pudding that good in ages.   My maternal grandmother, whose father was Basque, was an excellent cook, but this one even beat hers.   It was heavenly, and although we were full, we made a very valiant attempt to eat it all.  As I am writing this, my taste buds are salivating at the thought of it.

"To die for" creamy rice pudding with sides.

When we were finally able to pry ourselves away from the table.  We had the waiter call a taxi for us and when he signaled it was there, we scrambled to find our coats and grab our umbrellas before heading out into the rain.

When we got back to the apartment, as I was closing the umbrella (with the nice wood handle), I got the shock of my life to discover that it had the name of a famous hotel on the canopy, while the apartment one had been plain black.  

I started laughing again, after all my wasted effort and worrying, it looked like someone else, somewhere, like me, was holding a nice umbrella with a wooden handle and wondering where their fine hotel logo went.

So far, with all the eating, I weighed myself on the bathroom scale, only to discover that, with all the walking we were doing, I had lost a pound and half. D was not far behind in that regard. That is the beauty of living in a city.  One can indulge in food (fresh, well cooked food, to be fair) to one's heart's content and, if one has a good metabolism and loves to walk, it doesn't show a bit, except on the contentment on one's face while indulging. 

Songs out of tune, the words always a little wrong...Canzoni Stonate 

Photographs of Chez L'Ami Jean (Basque Restaurant) courtesy of

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