Thursday in Paris: Two Exhibits

So: AAC, CPA and I are still in the afterglow of our magical week in Paris. I’ve shared a lot of it with you already, but I wanted to tell you about two exhibits we saw last Thursday – our last day in Paris – which were as different as night and day, but equally valid and important.

You probably already know that, back in the day, the Jeu de Paume housed the impressionists before the Musée D’Orsay was restored over 30 years ago, at which point the art was moved there. Between 1947 and 1986, Jeu de Paume was arguably the most notable museum of impressionist painting in the world. While the D’Orsay restoration was under way, AAC, CPA and I made our first visit to Paris and visited the Jeu de Paume specifically to see the art that was then on display. It was breathtaking. But, once the Musée D’Orsay opened its doors, we never returned to the Jeu de Paume.

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Jeu de Paume at the edge of the Tuileries at the Place de la Concorde

Until last Thursday, that is, when we went to see an exhibition entitled Soulévements (Uprisings). Georges Didi-Huberman, curator of the exhibition, says:

“What makes us rise up? It is forces: mental, physical, and social forces. Through these forces we transform immobility into movement, burden into energy, submission into revolt, renunciation into expansive joy. Uprisings occur as gestures: arms rise up, hearts beat more strongly, bodies unfold, mouths are unbound. Uprisings are never without thoughts, which become sentences: we think, express ourselves, discuss, sing, scribble a message, create a poster, distribute a tract, or write a work of resistance.

” . . . . whenever a wall is erected, there will always be “people arisen” to “jump the wall”, that is, to cross over borders. If only by imagining.”

Presented in five sections: “With Elements (Unleashed)”, “With Gestures (Intense)”, “With Words (Exclaimed”), “With Conflicts (Flared Up”), and “With Desires (Indestructable)”, the exhibit spans over 200 years. It is challenging, provocative, sometimes difficult to view, but, also, inspiring and extremely timely.

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“With Elements”: The Whims, Francisco de Goya, 1799

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“With Gestures”: Anti-Catholic demonstrations in Londerry, Gilles Caron, 1969

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“With Words”: Dada raises everything, Philippe Soupault, 1921

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“With Conflicts”: The Charge, Félix Vallotton, 1893

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“With Desires”: Preparatory Drawing for “The Hope of the Dead Man I, II and III”, Joan Miró, 1973

Unfortunately, the exhibit is ending on January 15th but, if you’re in Paris and want to spend a couple of hours seeing an extraordinary array of images, Soulévements is for you.

CULTURE TIP: Jeu de Paume: Soulèvements

After that extremely intense experience, it was time to hop back onto the Metro and head across town to the Bibliothèque nationale de France to see a fabulous exhibit entitled “Avedon’s France: Old World, New Look”. We’re speaking now of Richard Avedon (1923-2004), one of the most significant and influential photographers of the mid-to-late 20th century.

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Richard Avedon

A prolific artist, Avedon worked in many media but he is, perhaps, best remembered in the United States for his fashion photography, celebrity portraiture and, most especially, for the 1957 film, Funny Face, in which Fred Astaire plays a photographer named Dick Avery (get it?) who plays Pygmalion to Audrey Hepburn’s Galatea.

It’s a marvelous MGM musical (check the film’s credits to see all the creatives from that studio) but which, for contractual reasons, was actually produced by Paramount (which wouldn’t release Hepburn to MGM, so everyone schlepped over to Paramount). Mostly set in Paris, Avedon was the visual consultant and created some sensational images that are as astonishing now as they were 60 years ago. In fact, the first thing you see at the exhibit is a large circular room dedicated to Funny Face.

MOVIE TIP: Funny Face Montage, Photography by Richard Avedon

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AAC, CPA channels Audrey Hepburn in his homage to Avedon

Here are some of Avedon’s remarkable images from Funny Face:

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This image became the logo for the film.

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Suzy Parker in the opening of the film: “Think Pink!”

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Dorothy Virginia Margaret Juba, a/k/a Dovima

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Audrey Hepburn with an assist from The Winged Victory of Samothrace

The Avedon exhibit runs through February 26th, and I encourage you to make the trek. You’ll have a great time.

CULTURE TIP: Bibliothèque national de France: Avedon’s France: Old World, New Look

All in all, a day well spent by AAC, CPA and me.

The Peninsula Paris – Unparalleled Luxury and Pampering

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Avenue Kléber entrance to the Peninsula Paris

When traveling, there are those who use their hotels and hotel rooms as a convenience where they can drop off their luggage, take a shower and sleep. There are others, like AAC, CPA and me, who like to hang around the hotel, to enjoy our accommodation and to be well taken care of and, perhaps, to be pampered – just a little bit.

Welcome to the Peninsula Paris – one of the most luxurious and beautiful hotels it’s been our pleasure to visit. Originally opened in 1908 as the Hotel Majestic and conveniently located on the Avenue Kléber within a 5-minute walk to the Arc de Triomphe, the building was sold by the French government in 2008 for a reported $460 million; it reopened as the Peninsula Paris on August 1, 2014. The extensive rebuilding cost €338 million. 

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The lobby entrance to the hotel – town cars at the wait

We first stayed at the Peninsula Paris in 2015 for a too-quick 36 hours, and were dazzled by the experience. It immediately became one of our top-5 favorite hotels of all time. When AAC, CPA’s hip thing forced us to juggle our travel schedule (see my earlier entry “Hips and Ships” for details), we decided to spend Christmas in Paris. 

Although I generally book all of my hotel reservations through the sensational Veronica at AmEx FHR, on this occasion the hotel was offering a deal that was too good to pass up and which, unfortunately, AmEx was unable to match: stay 2 nights and get the 3rd free. As we were staying a total of 6 nights, we ended up getting 2 nights for free. Additionally, when we booked the trip in August (sometimes it definitely pays to plan ahead), the rates at the hotel were as low as I’ve ever seen them, literally hundreds of Euros lower. Perhaps it was a flash sale, and we got lucky.

In the months leading up to our arrival, I must commend the superb concierge team, who assisted us in making dinner reservations and dealt with an assortment of requests. Because we were in Paris over Christmas week, we decided that we wanted to send our holiday cards from the hotel and, sure enough, our intrepid hotel concierges were happy to oblige. Always prompt, always cheerful, armed with lots of useful information, each of them was a joy.

A great feature of the Peninsula hotels and that they basically have 24-hour check-in; that is, you let them know what time you plan to arrive and, in most cases, your room will be waiting for you. As we flew overnight from New York to Paris, we were at the hotel before 10:00 AM and, yes, we were immediately escorted up to our room, a junior suite. 

The guest rooms in this hotel are gorgeous, and I thought you might enjoy seeing where we stayed.

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Our bedroom area

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iPads on both sides of the bed – they did everything. We had dueling remote controls!

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The living area (printer included at the desk)

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We got goodies.

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As we arrived on Christmas Eve, we were given these for Santa to fill.

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This is our dressing room – loads of room for all our stuff.

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Perhaps the pièce de résistance: our bathroom

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We each had our own sink.

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Generous walk-in-shower

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Excusez-moi, but here’s our Japanese toilet (with heated seat)

Perhaps now you understand why we didn’t mind spending time in our room after a day of sightseeing or museum-going. It was the perfect place to hang out and relax.

The rest of the hotel is equally gorgeous. Allow me to give you a quick tour of some of the public spaces:

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The lobby

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Side entrance to the hotel

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The grand staircase

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AAC, CPA under the Christmas tree

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Le Lobby, the main restaurant, where we had breakfast each morning.

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AAC, CPA’s Continental Breakfast – enough to share

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On Christmas morning, we were treated to a floorshow with breakfast!

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The intimate Bar Kléber – great for a pre-dinner cocktail

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Negronis, anyone?

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L’Oiseau Blanc, the hotel’s rooftop gourmet restaurant, view included

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The view from our table at L’Oiseau Blanc on our last night in Paris

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A replica of the real L’Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird), which gave the restaurant its name

Just a final word about the hotel staff: from the front desk, to the doormen, to the maids, to all of the restaurant personnel, everyone was pitch-perfect. It’s the mark of a truly great hotel where everyone makes you feel welcome and always greets you with a smile.

There are Peninsula hotels all over the world. We’ve been extremely fortunate to visit the ones in Beverly Hills, Chicago and Paris. They are each in their own ways superior properties, but the Paris hotel is the absolute top. If you have the means to splurge for a special occasion, by all means you must stay. At the very least, drop by and take a walk through the lobby and, perhaps, have a cocktail at the Bar Kléber or afternoon tea at Le Lobby. You won’t regret it.

LODGING TIP: The Peninsula Paris

CUISINE TIP: Le Lobby

CUISINE TIP: L’Oiseau Blanc

IMBIBING TIP: Le Bar Kléber

Paris Muse: The Best Way to See Paris

Happy New Year! AAC, CPA and I returned from the City of Light on Friday afternoon. Over the next few days, I’ll be telling you more about our Rainbow High week in one of our favorite places on the planet.

Today’s topic is seeing Paris. Although we’ve been there over a dozen times, there are a few things we haven’t yet done. For instance, some years ago we made a quick visit to Musée du Louvre, but only to see the “Big 3”. Even your faithful correspondent, TheCulturedTraveler, was at a loss at how to see the most famous museum on the planet.

Enter Paris Muse, which is in the business of providing private tours to the discerning traveler (cultured or not). I happened to stumble upon them when doing some research a couple of months ago. They offer all kinds of tour options from the great museums, to walking tours around Paris, themed tours, family-oriented tours for kids aged 6 and up. There’s even a “Cracking the DaVinci Code at the Louvre”, which is much more interesting than you might expect. Or how about “The French Revolution: A Murder Mystery Tour”, which is also very family friendly? 

When you decide to book a tour (or tours) on their website, it’s incredibly easy. You’ll have an option of being in a group of no more than 4 people but, for a total of an additional 20 Euros, it’s just you and your guide. Should you want to book a tour for your family or friends, I believe it’s up to a maximum of 6 people. It’s such a great deal. 

What makes Paris Muse so superior are two basic things: 

First, I had questions prior to booking a couple of tours online and sent an e-mail inquiry. I kid you not but, within 15 minutes, I had a reply from the intrepid Tricia, who runs the office and seemed to be available 24/7, and she answered all of my questions. She was amazing. We had wanted a tour of Notre Dame Cathedral on a particular day, but their website indicated that nothing was available. One more e-mail to Tricia and, voila!, the perfect time slot on the day we wanted materialized. Paris Muse absolutely runs a first-class organization.

Next and, perhaps, most importantly, the guides are incomparable. They are knowledgeable, accessible, friendly and totally passionate about their subject matter. They also make it very personal. It’s like having a good friend showing you something they love.

We elected to take two tours: Introduction to the Treasures of the Louvre (a 2½ hour tour) on Monday and Notre Dame Cathedral (a 90 minute tour) on Tuesday. When you book a tour online, you receive an almost immediate confirmation, along with the name of your guide and an assigned rendezvous point (photographs attached). When you arrive at the assigned spot, your guide will be waiting with your name on a placard.

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AAC, CPA outside Musée du Louvre with the Tour Eiffel in the background

Our Musée du Louvre guide was Irina, originally from Russia, but living in Paris for the past decade. She has two Master’s degrees – in French literature and journalism. She was marvelous in squiring us around the massive Louvre and showing us things we’d never seen there before.

We started over 3,700 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia. Irina led us right up to the Code of Hammurabi, which features the first laws ever put down in writing. The text is written in cuneiform script and the Akkadian language. In fact, it predates biblical law by centuries. If we had seen nothing else at the Louvre that day, seeing this work of art, history and literature would have been more than enough. And we were just starting.

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The Code of Hammurabi

I could take up a lot of space telling you what we saw that day but, instead, I’ll concentrate on a few photos. You’ll get the idea.

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One of the entries into the Palace of Darius, built over 2,500 years ago.

Of course, the “Big 3”:

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The beautiful Aphrodite, a/k/a the Venus de Milo

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The Winged Victory of Samothrace

We couldn’t even get close to the Mona Lisa – there were literally hundreds of people crowding in to see La Gioconda. Fortunately, we discovered another, earlier version of the painting in an adjacent gallery, which we went to see. If you look closely, the model bears an uncanny resemblance to someone we all know and love.

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The alternate Mona Lisa

Finally, here’s a picture of Irina with AAC, CPA at the conclusion of our tour:

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Irina showed us a great time.

The next morning, we had our tour of Notre Dame Cathedral with Jason, a Harvard PhD candidate specializing in the history of architecture. He’s wrapping up his dissertation this year. Like Irina, he’s very personable, highly knowledgeable and has a great passion for architecture.

We spend most of our tour studying the exterior of Notre Dame, which took well over 100 years to complete and is one of the first buildings to use flying buttresses, which support the extremely high exterior walls. The structure was erected in stages and underwent a controversial restoration in the mid-19th century, led by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. Due to his expertise, Jason was able to explain the intricacies of the architectural history of the cathedral over the past 800-plus years.

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AAC, CPA anticipates our Tuesday morning tour.

Various shots of the cathedral:

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And, finally, here’s a shot of AAC, CPA and Jason at the conclusion of our tour:

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So, if you’re planning a trip to Paris and would like to experience a terrific private tour that is immersive and entertaining and educational, contact Paris Muse. You’ll have a wonderful time.

Culture Tip: Paris Muse

 

Dinner at Le Grand Véfour

There are many astonishing and multi-Michelin starred restaurants at which one may dine in Paris – Taillevant, Guy Savoy, Arpege, Tour D’Argent, Le Cinq and a few others  – but there is one that, for us, tops them all: Le Grand Véfour.

Taken from a brochure that this restaurant places on each table:

“In 1784, with development work at the Palais-Royal complete, Mr. Aubertot, a café-owner by trade, opened the fashionable Café de Chartres on the site currently occupied by Le Grand Véfour. This hotbed of political chatter soon became the place to be seen, as the Palais-Royal was the ideological center of the movement that led to the French Revolution on 1789.

“During the Revolution, the Café de Chartres became a luxurious restaurant and future headquarters for the post-Jacobin extremists who came to power in July, 1794. Napoléon Bonaparte and Joséphine dined there.

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Napoléon Bonaparte and Joséphine Beauharnais

“The reputation of Café de Chartres reached its zenith during the Restoration, with the arrival of Jean Véfour, who gave his name to the café and oversaw its transformation into a sumptuous restaurant that had all of fashionable Paris clamoring to get into.

“On February 25, 1830, Victor Hugo and his friends dined at Le Grand Véfour to celebrate the opening night of “The Battle of Hernani”, one of the poet’s plays being staged for the first time at the Comédie Francaise.

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Victor Hugo

“During the Belle Époque, the elite rubbed shoulders with the demimonde at Le Grand Véfour, where La Belle Otéro pirouetted on the pink marble tables under the adoring gaze of her royal lovers.

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La Belle Otéro

“Between 1914 – 1945, the restaurant faded from the limelight. After the Liberation of Paris in 1945, the owner of Maxim’s, Louis Vaudable, purchased Le Grand Véfour and handed it on, in 1948, to Raymond Oliver who reigned there for 36 years and restored the restaurant to its former splendor. Colette and Jean Cocteau made the establishment their restaurant of choice and celebrities from the world of art and literature streamed into Le Grand Véfour including Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

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Colette

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Jean Cocteau

“Jean Taittinger acquired this temple of French gastronomy from Raymond Oliver in 1984 and, after a meticulous renovation, restored the luminous decoration.

“Today, Guy Martin has taken on the task of reversing the ravages of time to fully restore Le Grand Véfour – an establishment that has been at the epicenter of Parisian life for over two hundred years.”

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Guy Martin

On Monday evening, AAC and I dined at Le Grand Véfour – for the 4th time. It is the only restaurant in Paris at which we have eaten more than twice. It’s a culinary and sensory experience that deserves to be repeated.

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AAC, CPA arrives at Le Grand Véfour – let the games begin!

The first thing you notice upon entering the restaurant is the jewel-box splendor of the dining room, the sense of history, and the adventure upon which you are about to embark. The service, from the maitre ‘d who escorts you to your table to the men and women who serve you, is understated, classy, casually correct and almost invisible. It all just somehow happens.

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The dining room as seen from the entrance. Our banquette is at the upper right corner.

You are already aware of some of the luminaries who have dined there over the past two centuries. Some of them have been honored by having banquettes named for them: Napoleon, Joséphine, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Colette, at whose banquette we have sat each of the 4 times we have dined at Le Grand Véfour. 

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Colette’s plaque at our banquette.

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The beautiful place setting 

Once seated, we were offered an aperitif to enjoy while perusing the menu, and it seemed appropriate to commence our evening with a glass of Ruinart Rose Champagne.

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Whetting the appetite, as it were.

The menu, while not large, is extremely diverse and offers a mouth-watering selection of entrees and plats.

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The menu cover

In addition to the current menu, there are a few “all-star” choices, referred to as the “classics”. One of our faves is the duck liver ravioli with truffle emulsion cream: exquisitely thin and delicate dumplings filled with the tenderest duck liver and topped with a light truffle cream. It’s not unlike popping a little heaven into your mouth.

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Duck liver ravioli with truffle emulsion cream

To accompany the ravioli, our sommelier recommended a split of Blagny Meursault 2011 produced by Louis Latour, which beautifully supported the delicacy of the pasta and the bite of the duck liver.

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I love the white Burgundies!

To follow the ravioli, AAC, CPA and I went our own and separate ways: he to have the braised filet of sole with crunchy skin, which was beautifully and lovingly prepared to maintain the delicacy of the fish, and I to have the filet of lamb with parsley root in fine puree, accompanied by butternut gnocchi, with Jamaican pepper juice which was, to put it mildly, a taste sensation, verging on sensory overload. Each of our plats were accompanied by a potato puree au jus – creamy, buttery, and substantial.

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AAC, CPA’s braised filet of sole

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And my lamb with butternut gnocchi

For this course, we switched to a Chateau Peyrat Fourthon 2008, which was a delicious counterpart to both the sole and the lamb.

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Our red for the evening

While we were taking a break after our plats, we stopped to appreciate, yet again, the beautiful dining room:

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It truly is like being inside a beautiful jewel box.

Although we had each ordered a dessert, Le Grand Véfour must have a true sugar addiction, because desserts here are served as a multi-course affair. First came a duet of a block of dark chocolate and a cauliflower mousse (I’m not kidding):

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The dessert marathon begins.

These were accompanied by plates of petits-four for each of us:

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A little something to accompany our chocolate and our cauliflower mousse

Oh, and there was a multi-layer citrus-type cream with a meringue topping that showed up as well:

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Kinda tart, but kinda sweet

Also presented at this point were delicious and very fresh grape and orange gelatin candies:

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So sweet and fresh

At this point, I want you to understand that we hadn’t yet received the desserts that we had actually ordered!!

At one of our earlier visits to Le Grand Véfour, we were astonished and delighted to discover that one of the dessert options was an artichoke crème brûlée, with candied vegetables and a bitter almond sherbet. Fortunately, that’s still one of Guy Martin’s classic creations and it was, once again, on the menu:

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The astonishing artichoke crème brûlée

AAC, CPA chose another classics – the Cube “Manjari”, with orange pepper infusion, which I must share with you in the following photographs:

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The Cube “Manjari”, as presented

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Peeking inside the cube

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The cube reveals all of the goodies inside.

You’d think that would be it, right? Not quite so fast, please.

Once these amazing desserts had been consumed, our waiter is back, first with a large platter bearing a variety of chocolate truffles and fresh caramels (you may have as many as you like) and, also, with the traditional yellow angel food cake, which concludes every meal at Le Grand Véfour:

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The end.

You would think that you’d be ready to explode at this point but, in reality, we were beautifully satisfied. Our three-hour dining experience had come to an end, but the evening was a combination of great food and great theatre, memorably served up for our culinary pleasure. 

Your final thought is that, one day, you will return again to sample the magic that is Le Grand Véfour.

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A last peek from the sidewalk

And, speaking of magic, here’s a last image from our Uber ride back to the hotel as we raced past Place Concorde:

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Paris at about 11:30 PM

 

 

A Night at the Opera

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AAC, CPA; TheCulturedTraveler and Unnamed Guest

So, our Paris adventure continued last night (Christmas) when we attended an opera at the Palais Garnier – Iphigénie en Tauride, by Christoph Willibald Gluck – preceded by dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the historic opera house. So adjacent, in fact, that you can enter the opera house from inside the restaurant – more about that later.

It had always been intended that there would be a restaurant adjacent to the Palais Garnier. But it took almost 140 years for L’Opera to be opened in 2009. The restaurant is where the original carriage entrance was located and patrons were dropped off to attend performances. While architecturally trendy and modern, L’Opera pays respect to its renowned neighbor. Additionally, due to the fact that the Palais Garnier is a national monument, the restaurant’s structure was forbidden from touching any of the existing wall, pillars or ceiling. The cuisine under the direction of Chef Chihiro Yamazaki is modern, yet classic, with an Asian influence. The menu also features many seasonal ingredients.

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AAC, CPA arrives for pre-opera dinner

We were immediately shown to a lovely table and looked over the menu, as we snacked on a delicious amuse bouche, a truffled mushroom mousse. Here’s what we had for dinner:

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Smoked salmon, black radish, red currant, pomegranate and lemony cream for me

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Duck fois gras, apple and arugula jelly, gingerbread for AAC, CPA

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Miso-marinated black cod, kohlrabi with saffron, daikon turnip for me

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Beef tataki, small grenaille potatoes with lemon and thyme for AAC, CPA

Every bite was a taste sensation, generously portioned, very fresh ingredients, beautifully prepared, as you can see.

We opted to skip dessert, as we didn’t need a sugar rush before the opera, if you know what I mean. The cost of the above, with a large bottle of Evian, was just 100 EUR which, we felt, was a bit of a bargain.

CUISINE TIP: L’Opera Restaurant

From there, we went through a black door, down a corridor and, somehow, we were inside the opera house. What’s most interesting – although I probably shouldn’t share it with you – is that we somehow ended up beyond the point at which our tickets should have been scanned for admittance. I hope that no one will take advantage of this information – you know who you are!

Although we had been inside the Palais Garnier many times – in the old days, one could wander around unattended on non-performance days – we hadn’t been inside the building in about 12 years. As we had some time before the performance, we wanted to revisit this amazing building.

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The world famous, Palais Garnier, home of the Opéra National de Paris

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AAC, CPA somehow gets in without having to show his ticket

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AAC, CPA in the grand foyer by the Christmas tree

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The grand foyer and Christmas tree at the far end

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The grand stairway leading to the main floor of the auditorium

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AAC, CPA overlooking the grand staircase.

We had wonderful seats on the main floor, 8th row center.

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AAC, CPA seated and waiting for the show to begin

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The mylar show curtain, which reflected the auditorium.

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The auditorium behind where we were sitting

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More of the auditorium

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The sensational Chagall chandelier

The Krzysztof Warlikowski production of Iphigénie en Tauride was a revival originally presented in 2006. It was a pretty wild affair, presented as a memory play as the now elderly Iphigénie recalls the events of the opera, which was a bit confusing if you weren’t familiar with the story, but never mind. It was very theatrical and entertaining in its unusual way. The performance was sensitively conducted by Bertrand de Billy, who we’ve previously seen at the Met in New York.

While the performance – the last of its current run – was warmly received, there were a very few unhappy attendees who felt it necessary to boo. I rarely approve of booing, but can sometimes understand it if the director and the production are so misconceived that showing displeasure should be encouraged but, in this case, it was unacceptable. I mean you don’t boo the chorus under any circumstances – they’re simply doing their job. There was no ambiguity regarding the principals, all of whom received deserved ovations.

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Curtain call

CULTURE TIP: National Opéra de Paris

And, so, our magical evening at the Paris Opera came to an end. We retrieved our overcoats from L’Opera and called for our Uber. Upon entering our car, we glanced over our shoulders for one last look at the Palais Garnier as we headed back home to the Peninsula.

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Christmas in Paris

Bon jour, mes amis! I hope that Santa was good to each and every one of you. I, myself, felt very blessed today. I woke up next to AAC, CPA and am in the beautiful city of Paris. As Ira once lyricized, who can ask for anything more?

When last I left you, we were about to prepare for our Christmas Eve festivities, starting with a cocktail downstairs at Le Bar Kléber, which was doing a brisk business when we arrived at about 7:00 PM. The barman was very talented and delivered our cocktails with great flourish and enthusiasm.

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The view from our barstools

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Christmas Eve Negronis, mais sur.

IMBIBING TIP: Le Bar Kléber

From Le Bar Kléber, we Uber’ed over to Bistro de L’Oulette, a charming restaurant on the Rue des Tournelles near the Place des Vosges. We’d eaten there a few years ago and have always wanted to return. It’s a tiny little place, probably no more than 12 tables, and has a very friendly and welcoming staff.

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Once we were seated, the maitre ‘d approached with a plate of amuse bouche and offered us an aperitif, and we each opted for a glass of champagne. All were delicious.

As it was a holiday, the restaurant was featuring a 3-course pri-fixe for a very reasonable 52 EUR. The restaurant also has a delightful wine list at excellent prices and a wonderful variety of choices.

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Our table was decorated for the holiday.

Four our mains, AAC CPA had medallions of monkfish with a shrimp risotto, and I had medallions of lamp with a parsley crust, accompanied by crisp sauteed potatoes and mushrooms. Both were mouth-wateringly delicious.

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AAC CPA’s monkfish

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My lamb

Oh, and did i mention that we split a split of Joseph Drouhin Aloxe-Corton 2013 which perfectly complimented our entrees. Every bite was a taste sensation.

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A beautiful pairing for our entrees, AAC CPA hides behind the wine.

CUISINE TIP: Bistro de L’Oulette

Following dinner, it was back into the Uber and a quick return to the hotel. By that point, we were pretty tired. We struggled to stay up for awhile and finally gave up the ghost around midnight.

And then we blissfully slept for over 9 hours. It was heaven.

This morning, we went down to Le Lobby, for breakfast. It’s a beautiful room, with a beautiful staff, providing beautiful service.

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The entrance to Le Lobby

AAC CPA went for the 45 EUR continental breakfast which could, in fact, feed us both. I opted for eggs and then I poached some of his goodies.

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A very happy AAC CPA checking out his continental breakfast

While we were eating, we noticed that a guitarist and vocalist were setting up shop right next to our table. We were at first concerned, because we noticed the amplification that accompanied them. However, once they started to perform, it was totally delightful. Their repertoire was a combination of holiday music and American Songbook. It was a really nice touch to provide live entertainment for us.

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Live music 6 feet away from us!

CUISINE TIP: Le Lobby

After breakfast, we decided to take a little constitutional, as the weather is mild today. We decided to check out the competition’s holiday decorations at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel George V. We’ve stayed there on occasion and have always been wowed by the floral arrangements in their lobby. Here’s what we saw today:

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Meanwhile, out in their courtyard:

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Ice blue penguins!!!

LODGING TIP: Four Seasons Hotel George V

‘Tis the season to be jolly, indeed!

And now, it’s time to great ready, once again, to prepare for our 2nd evening out in this enchanted city. The bill of fare: dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the historic Palais Garnier, home of the Paris Opera, where we have tickets to see Iphigénie en Tauride.

More to follow!

 

 

 

Bonjour Paris!!

Greetings, Ladies and Germs – we made it!

As it’s now Christmas Eve and, as we got a lot of livin’ to do, I’m going to make this a brief entry with some photos of the past 24 hours, starting at JFK last evening before our magic carpet ride (courtesy of OpenSkies) to the City of Light:

When you’re flying overnight on either British Airways or OpenSkies, there’s an option available where you can eat on the ground before you board the plane, so that you can go right to sleep – good idea, huh?

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I wasn’t kidding!

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And here’s AAC CPA, chowing down on his pre-flight supper

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At the gate, just a few minutes later

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A little preflight Rose Champagne

The flight offered dinner service, but AAC CPA and I opted to have our beds made up and – as the flight time was just a little over 6 hours – decided to get some shuteye. As it turned out there was a lot of bump and grind for a few hours but, thanks to my pharmaceuticals, I was blissfully unaware.

About an hour before landing, I had a little continental breakfast:

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There’s turkey and Swiss cheese inside that croissant, folks!

Once on the ground, we picked up our luggage and Uber’ed into town. It was a pretty great deal and, perhaps, even less than the cost of a taxi.

We got to the spectacular Hotel Peninsula – a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe – in just about 20 minutes and our beautiful room was waiting for us – more about that in a later post. We dropped off our stuff and headed out for a little walk to shake off the jet lag.

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AAC CPA enjoying the sights

Of course, AAC immediately felt peckish, so we headed over to one of our favorite establishments in Paris for the elegant quick bite: Ladurée.

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Yummy, yummy, yummy

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A happy AAC CPA, who knows that lunch is about to be served

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The absolu-delish Club Ladurée

After lunch, our very satisfied AAC CPA and I made our way back to the hotel. And along the way, we stumbled upon this amazing and always surprising sight:

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Is that an amazing photograph or what?

And then, when we got back into our room, here’s what was waiting for each of us:

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And, yeah, there were some goodies inside!

And now, dear friends, it’s time for me to get changed and head downstairs to Le Bar Kléber for a lovely cocktail before we head out for our Christmas Eve dinner.

I’ll be back soon to report on our Paris adventures. In the meantime – whether you’ve been naughty or nice – I wish you a very Joyeux Noël de Paris!

Let’s Spend the Holidays in Paris!

“New York has neon, Berlin has bars,
But ah! Paree!”

Follies, 1971

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Fifi D’Orsay extols the virtues of Paris in Follies

Greetings from a frigid (27° but feels like 18°) but brilliantly sunny afternoon in New York City, where the weather of late has been totally schizoid. We had weather in the teens a few days ago and, yesterday, it was pushing 60°. It makes a person lose faith in weather prognosticators!

But, we don’t despair – we pack. On Friday, we’ll be winging our way to the City of Light, a/k/a/ Paris, for a week of holiday cheer. You may recall, from a former post, that we were originally planning to be in Hong Kong for the holidays. But then there was that hip replacement and cancellation of a trip to Amsterdam. Because we didn’t want to forfeit the Amsterdam airfare (on British Airways), we had to come up with an alternative plan. Et donc – Paris!

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The Champs Elysee all gussied up for the holidays – December, 2014

BA has a subsidiary airline – Open Skies – and that’s how we’ll make our way to and from Paris. We’ve flown them on a couple of other occasions and, if you plan ahead, you can obtain a competitive fare (not now, of course, at the last minute). They have a good business class cabin (referred to, by them, as “Biz Bed”), which gives you a seat that fully reclines so you can get some shuteye on the flight over. Open Skies has a fleet of mostly 757s, and the cabin interiors are acceptable, but could use a redo. However, it’s a way to snag a good fare and fly nonstop to Orly.

Another thing to note is that, since these are evening flights, meal service onboard is minimal, as passengers mostly want to get some sleep. For those passengers in Biz Bed, there is a full meal service on the ground at JFK called “Sleeper Service”, which is available in the Terraces Lounge.

 

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Our Open Skies chariot awaits

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The “Biz Bed” Cabin

And as an added treat, Open Skies currently has a promotion that entitles us to a complimentary Uber to and from JFK, so we’ll start our trip off on the right foot.

TRAVEL TIP: Open Skies

So what, you ask, will we be up to in Paris? For starters, we somehow scored the deal of the century at the Peninsula Paris. It’s a new property, under 2 years old, and it’s sensational. Located on Avenue Kleber within 5 minutes of the Arch de Triomphe and the Champs Elysees, it a very convenient base of operations. When we booked last August, the hotel had a promotion wherein you paid for 2 nights and the 3rd night was complimentary; as we’re staying 6 nights, we ended up with 2 free nights. The rates were so low, in fact, that I booked directly rather than reserve through the AmEx FHR program (which features all kinds of giveaways and benefits), as it was still less expensive to book through the hotel.

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Side entrance to the Peninsula

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The spectacular lobby at the Peninsula

TRAVEL TIP: Peninsula Paris

By now, you’re perfectly aware that I’m intrepid when it comes to planning, so I know you’ll believe me when I say that we have all of our evening meals planned. Whenever we go to Paris, we typically have one blowout, super, over-the-top Michelin meal. This year, we’ll return to one of our favorite restaurants anywhere, Le Grand Vefour, a jewel box of a restaurant, originally opened in 1794 and located in the arcades of the Palais-Royal. We usually don’t return to restaurants in Paris, except on rare occasions where we might go back for a 2nd visit. However, our dinner at Le Grand Vefour next week will mark the 4th time we’ve dined there. It’s that special. One of the charming details of the dining room is that the banquettes are named for notable Frenchmen and women: among them, Victor Hugo, Jean Cocteau, George Sand, Emile Zola, Joséphine de Beauharnais and, at the adjacent banquette, General Bonaparte. The banquette we always request is named for the noted French author, Colette (né Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette).

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Le Grand Vefour in the arcades at the Palais Royale

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The jewel-box dining room at Le Grand Vefour

CUISINE TIP: Le Grand Vefour 

Other highlights of our week in Paris:

We’ll be going to the famed Palais Garnier on Christmas night to see a performance of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride, preceded by dinner at L’Opera, the restaurant adjacent to the opera house. If you’ve never been to the Palais Garnier, it’s a must – think Phantom of the Opera on steroids.

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The spectacular Palais Garnier

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Inside the auditorium with the famed Chagall chandelier

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The grand stairway to the stalls

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The ultra-Rococo grand foyer

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A scene from Iphigénie en Tauride

CULTURE TIP: Palais Garnier

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L’Opera, which is adjacent to Palais Garnier

CUISINE TIP: L’Opera

And, while we’re on the topic of shows, the famed Théâtre du Châtelet has, over the past 10 years, presented over 25 Broadway musicals on its stage. Several years ago, we saw an excellent production of Sweeney Todd and, two years ago, we saw the out-of-town tryout of An American in Paris on Christmas Eve, which opened on Broadway a few months later. This year, the Châtelet is presenting a new production of that old chestnut, 42nd Street – not our favorite show, but a fun way to spend an evening. After all, the show contains these immortal words: “Musical comedy – the most glorious words in the English language!” And the Châtelet always delivers: full (sometimes oversized) orchestra, large casts and it never stints on the glitz and glamour.

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Théâtre du Châtelet

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The gorgeous auditorium at the Théâtre du Châtelet 

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42nd Street at the Théâtre du Châtelet 

CULTURE TIP: Théâtre du Châtelet

Although it’s going to be our 13th or 14th visit to Paris (can’t get enough), we still do a bit of sightseeing on occasion and maybe revisit some favorite places. Because we are Philistines when it comes to art (sad, but true), we decided to avail ourselves of this outfit called Paris Muse, which specializes in private tours in and around Paris. So we’ve booked two excursions: the first will be a 2½ hour Introduction to the Treasures of the Louvre and the second will be a 90 minute tour of Notre Dame Cathedral. We’ve been to both places in the past, but not as an immersive experience. I’ll report back to you and let you know how it goes.

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No caption necessary

CULTURE TIP: The Louvre

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Notre Dame Cathedral

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The Cathedral

CULTURE TIP: Notre Dame Cathedral

We also discovered that one of our favorite museums – the Jeu de Paume, located at Place Concorde and on the edge of the Tuilleries – is currently featuring an exhibit entitled Unrest, which is described as “a transdisciplinary exhibition on the theme of collective emotions, political events insofar as they imply crowd movements in conflict: there is talk of social disorders, political agitation, insurrections, revolts, revolutions, vacancies, riots, upheavals of all kinds”.

Seems like an appropriate time for this exhibit, right?

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Musée Jeu de Paume

CULTURE TIP: Jeu de Paume

Otherwise, weather permitting, we hope to walk the streets of Paris until we drop. It’s a city made for strolling and we intend to show off AAC CPA’s new and improved hip as we make our way through the Marais or the Champs Elysee or the Place Madeleine, especially as we’ll be having a lovely lunch at Caviar Kaspia one afternoon.

So that, in a nutshell, will be our Parisian holiday adventure. I’ll fill in more details as they happen.

Restez à l’écoute et de joyeuses fêtes à tous!

 

 

TBT: Thanksgiving 2015 and a 2016 Update

Greetings, gentle readers, and a very Happy Thanksgiving to all. I’m reposting last year’s Thanksgiving entry below, as I thought it would be interesting to revisit where we were last year and, also, to post some thoughts about what makes me thankful.

This year, we’re home in New York. We live literally at the staging area for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Our street was closed off last night with all kinds of activity; in fact, I think that some of the high school bands were sleeping in buses just outside of our building. We heard them warming up this morning, just before they turned the corner onto Central Park West to join the parade. I guess it’s a big deal.

When we’re in town on T-Day, I do the cooking, soup to nuts (although we serve neither soup nor nuts.) We have a wonderful extended family who, year after year, join us to celebrate. I have this thing covered and am very organized, thanks to my handy spreadsheet which tells me what to do. I don’t even have to think, just tick off the items one by one and – VOILA! – Thanksgiving!

Here’s our table set and ready for action:

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Thanksgiving

And here’s our bird, just before going into the oven:

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My 15⅓ pound beauty waiting to be roasted!

And here she is, post-oven:

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Just 2 hours, 40 minutes later!

Starting off the festivities with a chilled aperitif, I think:

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The holidays are a time to cherish and celebrate with good friends and family

Oh, and here’s what we had to eat:

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So, that’s what we did today. Just finished the dishes and putting our feet up and relaxing – turkey sandwiches, anyone?

And here’s my TBT blog from last year:

Greetings from sunny St. Maarten. And happy Thanksgiving to those of you who observe/celebrate it. AAC CPA and I went into town for all of 15 minutes to purchase some Belgian chocolates as a gift for our wonderful concierge, Jola. She has taken such good care of us. Then we got back on board as quickly as possible. The ship is fun today because most of the passengers are off exploring and we have the run of the place. Woo-hoo!

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A gorgeous St. Maarten beach

Our butler, Alex, has already been here to start setting up for our Thanksgiving feast, as we’re hosting our group chez nous. We’ll be 8 for dinner. Alex did a preliminary setup, and he’ll be back later to put the finishing touches together. We’ll start with cocktails and hors d’eauvres at 7:00, followed by the all the Thanksgivings fixings at 7:30, served buffet style, as I want everyone to have as much or as little of everything that they desire. Pumpkin pies for dessert, natch. I, of course, have already started my prep work and the turkey just went into the oven. (Truth or dare?)

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True or false: Is this me prepping the turkey?

So is Thanksgiving a day of reflection for you? Do you take stock and count your blessings? Or is it just another day where we all eat too much and pay for it on Friday?

For me, I tend to be overly-analytical about everything in life so today’s just another day to do more of the same.

However, in these dark and dangerous times, I think it’s a good idea to consider who and where I am at this point in my life. Am I measuring up? Do I have what it takes? Am I headed on the right path?

Here’s where it stands for me:

I have AAC CPA and we both have our health. That’s first and foremost. Added to that, we’re extremely fortunate to have the resources that allow us to live this lovely life (which, in turn, provides fodder for this blog) which we never ever take for granted. We have the added blessing of getting along famously with both of our families (I think that may be a rare thing), and a circle of friends, who keep us amused and on our toes. And, I think, there’s real affection there, too.

We have very good and dear friends in London – they know who they are – who just had a bit of a close shave in the London tube. Thankfully, they’re all right and nothing really terrible happened. But they wrote to tell us about it and to ask if we were having 2nd thoughts about our upcoming trip to London. (Yes, gentle readers, we’re somehow returning to London – our 3rd time this year!! More on that very soon.) I replied with no hesitation whatsoever that we wouldn’t dream of cancelling our trip. We love London and the thought of spending Christmas there is simply irresistible.

And herein is the real thing for which I’m most grateful today: AAC and I live in NYC and were there on that terrible day in September 2001. Then and there, we made a vow to each other that we would never put off anything that we wanted to do, whether it was to read that book, see that play, try that new restaurant, or get on a plane or ship and hit the road. In these uncertain times, we try not to live in fear but, rather, to live our lives fully and enjoy them to the best of our abilities.

I didn’t mean for this post to turn into any kind of sermon, so mea culpa if it came off that way. It’s just my way of saying how truly lucky and blessed we are.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Autumn – New York

Greetings from New York City on a lazy weekend afternoon. The last time you heard from me, we were aboard the beautiful Crystal Symphony sailing across the placid waters of the Atlantic from Lisbon back to the States. It was a glorious voyage: calm seas, warm weather, and a most congenial crowd. Perhaps, in another post, I’ll tell you more about the crossing and our adventures onboard.

In the meantime, it’s been a tumultuous 11 days for almost everyone. TheCulturedTraveler does not discuss politics – that is not the purpose of this blog – but I’d venture to say that, regardless of your political affiliation or interest, we Americans a charting a new course through unknown waters. There has been either lots of exhilaration or lots of hand-wringing (depending on your point of view), none of which is going to change the outcome of the election. 

As we all breathlessly await the next administration to take over the reins of government, I decided that it’s time for a diversion – one upon which, I hope, we can all agree: Today in New York was a sensationally perfect and beautiful autumnal day.

AAC CPA and I were out and about with purpose: we went into our backyard (a/k/a Central Park) to look at park benches. As AAC CPA believes that everyone should support the Central Park Conservancy in a way that is meaningful to them, so he believes that we can always do more to preserve the most beautiful part of New York City. So, he and I are considering the possibility of “adopting” a park bench. 

Did you know that there are more than 9,000 benches in the park and that over 4,100 of them have already been adopted? Of course, if we’re going follow through, it will have to be a bench that is close to where we live so that we can go and visit with ease. It turns out that there’s a section of the park that has recently been restored to its former glory and there are still a few benches that are available. That was the point of our mission today.

We found 3 prospective benches which seem to be available for adoption. They’re in an excellent location, so we’ll have to contact the Conservancy to see if can snag one. Stay tuned for further developments.

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AAC CPA scopes out a potential bench for adoption

As it was a perfect late autumn day, I thought you might enjoy seeing some photographs of the park. I think we’re at the height of fall foliage and the colors were spectacular.

See for yourselves:

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Central Park West on a beautiful fall day

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Central Park is all its autumnal glory

So, even if you’re in a funk about the world around you and feel nothing but despair and disappointment, I hope that the natural beauty of the park will, in some small way, make you feel a little better. 

And finally, consider this: With a little bit of luck (and lots of support for the Central Park Conservancy), these trees and this park will outlast not only the next administration but the many others that will succeed them.