On Monday I had one of those beautiful moments of meeting a previously anonymous blog reader who reached out me to a few weeks ago and offered his home and local expertise to me while in Paris.
Before meeting Pierre in a cafe near the Arc de Triomphe, I lunched with Eric Grabli, a private equity guy who Seth Levine introduced me to. Eric shed good light on France and European business culture. His thoughts — delivered in a slow, deliberate manner — were consistent with what I’ve heard from others (and which I’ll summarize later). We gorged ourself on sushi and water.
I then hooked up with Pierre, the blog reader and friend and host, and we drove back to his house 30 mins north of Paris. I’ve spent a lot of time in European capitals so staying in the countryside where it’s quiet was a refreshing change. After taking a nap and cruising on wi-fi, we went to a free one hour concert at a church. It was quasi-opera, quasi-drama. Apparently something uniquely French. A handful of opera singers sang different numbers but in quite a dramatic, acting style. It was fun and entertaining.
Pierre and I went to a local creprery for dinner where I had my first two authentic French crepes. Back in San Francisco I am a frequent customer at Crepes on Cole, a "creperey" run by Middle Eastern dudes who serve excellent Americanized crepes…which means a crepe stuffed to the brim with meat, lettuce, cheese, and the like. Predictably, French crepes are smaller but more eloquent. We had a dinner crepe and desert crepe and alcoholic cider to wash it down. We talked globalization, France, travel, America, and business. A good conversation.
The next morning we set off early in the morning for Paris. I spent the day by myself exploring. I started at the Arc de Triomphe, took a few pictures, and then sped over to the Eiffel Tower. By arriving before 10 AM, I beat the long queue, and took the elevator up to the very top. I must admit that seeing the Eiffel Tower on my "Paris By Night" car tour a couple days before gave the same feeling as when I saw the Roman collisieum or David by Michaelangelo: "Oh shit, there it is!" You see it in endless photos, you know exactly what it’s going to look like, but then when you see it in person, it overwhelms. The view from the second level of the Eiffel Tower is arguably better than the very top because it’s open air. At the top you’re enclosed top to bottom in protective glass, and the view is only slightly better. After going to the top, I just hung out near the grass field under the Tower. I gazed up at the massive structure and when my neck hurt I looked at tourists try to take the perfect picture in front of it, a difficult task given the size imbalance between both subjects of the photo!
I walked around Paris the rest of the day. I walked from the west side of the City (Eiffel Tower) to the East Side near Gare de Lyon train station. I stopped at a cafe for lunch but otherwise it was walk, walk, walk. I made a decision not to visit The Louvre while in Paris. I’ve seen a number of rock star museuems and since I have so little time I didn’t want the queue to eat up 1/2 or 3/4 of my day. The musueum itself is huge, too, and could easily take three full days to visit all the art. Without the Louvre on my agenda, I could walk slower, get lost, and take better photos.
I met Pierre at a cafe in the evening and we came home and had dinner with his family. We had a traditional French meal on their table outside. The air was still and you really felt like you were cozily ensconced from any of a busy city’s stresses.
Wednesday morning I went for a one hour run in the woods and corn fields of Northern France. When I popped out of the woods and into endless corn fields, I felt like I had just walked into Field of Dreams. Awesome sceneary and true tranquility. The only noise on earth was my breathing and feet hitting the gravel. I went into Paris in the afternoon and visited the Musee D’Orse, home to many famous modern paintings. Van Gough’s self-portrait highlighted his room, and many Monet, Renoir, Degas, and others abound. D’Orse is a great place to visit in Paris not only because of its outstanding art but given its proximity to the Louvre the queue is compartively short.
I met up with Pierre and we went to the Palace de Tokyo, described here.
We had dinner at a Lebonanse restuarant — interesting timing, I know! — which was excellent. I love Middle Eastern food. More good conversation. A Ben stuffed with food and 4 liters of water from the day (yes, it’s been *very* hot in Paris, thus lots of water consumption) wobbled into the car and we cruised back to the house in thunderstorms and lighting.
Paris is without question a world-class city. Everyone must visit Paris. Would I want to live or work there? No. I will explain why when I summarize and analyze my findings of French culture on my main blog.
A giant thank you to Pierre and his family for being wonderful and generous hosts!