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Paris, Spring 2013

Matt and I recently got back from a trip to Paris where I got to play for a whopping ten days. Some folks here have asked for some recommendations, so here’s a roundup of places that I loved seeing – the list is split between tourist sightseeing and local highlights. If Paris is a little too far away for you, we went to a few places that, believe it or not, reminded us of San Antonio (I know). So wherever you are, grab a baguette (or taco) and put on those rose-colored glasses. GO TOURIST: paris-2 In 2012 the Palais de Tokyo expanded to become the largest non-collecting contemporary art space in Europe, offering cavernous gallery spaces as an empty shell for creative experimentation. As an anti-museum, we were initially confused by the homeless people living in the courtyard, the graffiti on the statues, the pigeons flying inside the main lobby, and which bathroom sign was for men or women (my dad’s interpretations were pretty funny, and he chose wrong, by the way). It’s all very high-low (which is a San Antonio thing, just sayin), but while things may seem like they’re in disarray, this is a public institution of powerful art, and I probably could have spent a week here and not have seen it all. The show that hit the mark was a retrospective of Julio Le Parc, whose work involves light, motion, optical illusion and the participation of the audience in art; part fun house, part mad science experiment, the show is willfully participatory, simultaneously appealing from a basic level to an intellectual one. The best pieces in the show masterfully occupy the cathedral-sized spaces of the museum.  Above all, the work is humorous, playful, and challenging, something I think we could all use a daily dose of.  The show is up until May 11th.  If you miss it, oddly enough, there is a VERY similar show at the Grand Palais entitled Dynamo, with some of the exact same Julio Le Parc installations (however, Matt and I personally enjoyed this one more) – for some reason, you just can’t get your fill of Op-Art right now in Paris - there’s yet another related show at the Pompidou as well. Palais De Tokyo, 13 Avenue du Président Wilson. (near Trocadero, Metro: Alma-Marceau) paris-3 If you get museum’d out from the Louvre, get a second wind by going to the west wing of the complex, which houses the Musée des Arts Decoratifs. The permanent collection in the mansard roof tower is delightful – each floor presents a different decade of French furniture design, and as you ascend the tower, capture some amazing views through the roof windows out to the Tuileries and beyond. I’m jealous that the “Momentané” exhibit was still under construction while I was in town, it opened just 3 days ago and runs until September 1st. The show is a retrospective of 15 years of work by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, brothers who the New York Times call ‘the most important French industrial designers of their generation’. Having previously collaborated with Vitra, Camper, Hay, Flos, and Cappellini, among many others, their wide range of work, including drawings, models, furniture, films and photographs, is ambitiously presented in a temporary textile structure occupying the Great Nave of the museum. Musée des Arts Decoratifs, 107, rue de Rivoli. (Metro: Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre)   paris-4 The Pompidou is easily one of my favorite places in Paris. Besides its art and architecture collections, the exterior escalator experience up to the top floor offers unique views of the Marais neighborhood's dense roofscapes. And I think I’m a sucker for playful signage – it just does not get better than here. Finally, don’t forget to pay a visit to Atelier Brancusi, it’s the quietest building in one of the most dynamic public spaces in the city (plus, it’s f-r-e-e). Currently there is an exhibit on the modernist designer/architect Eileen Gray, I’d say it’s a must-see for architects. Here the chronological evolution of her work is displayed in a thoughtfully-paced manner, where each original piece is showcased as a landmark contribution towards her ultimate achievements of integrating the decorative arts with architecture. The exhibition design itself is restrained yet rigorous, complementing the work and enhancing our understanding in its original context, without overwhelming it. As a sidenote, the exhibit was not shy about reminding us that Le Corbusier could be a very rude man! The exhibit runs through May 20. Centre Georges Pompidou, 19 Rue Beaubourg (Metro: Rambuteau)   paris-5 If you love the Paris subway system, the Catacombs and Museum of Sewers are two more fascinating ways to see the underbelly of the city. The Catacombs (quite literally) offers a depth of understanding about the city, its history and geology, and Matt and I were pleasantly surprised to learn that, once below ground, it feels like you’re the only person down there, it’s not crowded at all. Likewise, the Musée des Egouts (Sewers) seems pretty kitschy, but what other city allows you to walk through its active sewer system alongside really cool exhibit displays that are suspended with counterweights to emphasize the flow of water beneath your feet? I kept joking with Matt that we should soak ourselves with water before exiting to confuse the incoming visitors, but he wasn’t really into that. Les Catacombes, 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy (Metro: Denfert-Rochereau) Musee Des Egouts, place de la Résistance, face au 93 quai d'Orsay (Metro: Alma-Marceau)   paris-6 Any architect visiting Paris should make a plan well in advance to visit the Maison de Verre, it’s certainly on my bucket list of architecture pilgrimages. Unfortunately, as I learned a week before my trip, it requires a 4 to 5 month reservation, so I’m now eagerly planning my 40th birthday trip to Paris. Sameer just told me that he got IN for his trip this summer, so maybe he'll do a guest blogpost, please. Tours are conducted every Thursday afternoon and are limited to 10 architects or architecture students only. Visit here for more information and email mdv31 [at] to inquire about a visit.   GO LOCAL: paris-7 Here’s where we get a little closer to home. Canal Saint-Martin is a tranquil, wide canal that runs on the northeast side of Paris in the 10th arrondissement, and it’s a popular place to picnic along the banks, get drinks at a bar or catch a show at a music venue, and there’s even 2 movie theaters facing each other on either side of the canal (why, I have no idea). Matt also found this to be a great place to run in the mornings, so in a sense, we can liken it to the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River, a quieter waterfront for locals. Canal Saint-Martin is wide enough to dock boats, and some of these are restaurants and bars. At Café Antipode, you can get on the boat to have a drink, a yummy lunch or dinner at a very decent price and even catch a live music show under the terrace level. It’s adorable! While our river is clearly not wide enough to dock boats, I would love to see some of the same urban activities: impromptu picnics along the sidewalks, or how about some cute, vintagey dinner barges that offer better ambiance (and food) than the stock Mexican dinner cruises we have now?  Peniché Antipode,  55 quai de la Seine (Metro: Stalingrad)   paris-8 No trip to Paris should be complete without having a picnic in one of their amazing parks – think of the last short film in Paris Je T’aime, she could be you! At the Luxembourg Gardens, enjoy watching French children push their rented vintage boats in the fountain, or discover that Parc des Buttes-Chaumont IS our Sunken Gardens! (there’s even faux bois.) Jardin du Luxembourg (Metro: Odeon) Parc des Buttes Chaumont, 1 Rue Botzaris (Metro: Laumiere)   paris-cave For some nightlife, check out some jazz in Montmartre – you enter this unassuming cafe and there's a tiny stair at the very back, leading to an intimate basement cave. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, there's free entry as local musicians come out to jam session. Autour de Midi, 11 rue Lepic, 18th (Metro: Blanche)   paris-10 Since you are in Paris, you need to do some shopping. Must go-tos are Merci, in Haut Bastille and the legendary Deyrolle in St Germain.  I opted to avoid the Saturday St. Ouen flea market (saving it for my 40th birthday trip), but that’s because I’d be too tempted to buy furniture and not be able to take it home. (fortunately, we have Roundtop). Finally, if you are still looking for clothes, make a trip to the A.P.C. stock store, it’s good (and half price). And I hate to mention since it's not French, but go to MUJI; Paris is blessed with nine stores. Merci, 111 boulevard Beaumarchais (Metro: Saint-Sebastien – Froissart) Deyrolle 46 Rue du Bac (Metro: Rue du Bac) A.P.C. Surplus, 20, rue Andre del Sarte (Metro: Anvers)   Paris-11 Before I get there, I draw a map of the arrondissements in my sketchbook for quick orientation. As in every great city, the best thing to do is wander around neighborhoods and get lost. Here are some great pedestrian streets: Rue Cler (7th), Rue Montorgueil (2nd), Rue de Charonne (11th), Rue Vielle Du Temple (4th). If none of this is enough, this blog has great food and bar recs.
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