Another great day in the Marais: photo exhibition, Italian hot chocolate, Portuguese pasteis de nata…

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It was only an afternoon but a full one.  And very enjoyable.  It’s still cold and gray here in Paris on Friday February the 8th.  There’s a photography exhibition currently showing at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, so I jumped on the metro and got off at Saint Paul.

Here’s what’s great about France: the majority of museums and art galleries offer two admission fees – regular and reduced. The regular fee at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie is 8 euros and the reduced fee is 4 euros. The French government believes that while you’re unemployed, you might as well get out and look at art. Reduced admission fees also apply to those over 60, students, large families, teachers, artists and welfare recipients. Free admission is offered to children under 8, journalists, civil servants and PWDs (Persons With Disabilities.)

There are also free days. The first Sunday of every month, for example, entry to all national museums is free. This is to encourage people to enjoy art and to cultivate their minds. The same policy applies in Great Britain. This is a marvellous example of what’s called the “democratization of culture” – to make it populist and not elitist.  But who pays in the end?  We do. Those who live, work and pay taxes in France. We all contribute to the financing of French museums (among other things) through taxes.

Joel Meyerowitz – A Retrospective 

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I love street photography. Especially from the 1960s and 70s, my two most favourite decades. I really enjoyed looking at these captivating, nostalgic images. Frozen in time. I look at the people in the photos and wonder “Where are they now?”

Here’s a brief bio of the artist: Born in 1938 in the Bronx, Joel Meyerowitz is the archetypal New Yorker, embracing the 21st-century with curiosity and empathy. It was in 1962, following his first meeting with Robert Frank, that he began to roam the streets of New York with his 35 mm camera and black and white film. A long trip to Europe marked a turning point in his career. Meyerowitz permanently adopted color in 1972. He also switched to large format photography, often using an 8×10 camera to produce photographs of places and people. This retrospective exhibition presents, for the first time, his earliest black and white photographs alongside a larger body of work in color.

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If you find yourself in this part of the Marais (the lower part), here are a few places that I can recommend, all near the Maison Européenne de la Photographie and Saint Paul metro station.  La Perla is a good Mexican restaurant located on the rue du Pont Louis Philippe in the 4th arrondissement. A tad expensive, it offers a good selection of Mexican beers and a relaxed ambiance. (You’ll never get the quality and range of Mexican dishes in Europe that you do in the States.) This whole road is lined on either side with small, interesting boutiques.  It leads down to the Seine River and the bridges that cross over to the Left Bank.

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At the end of the rue du Pont Louis Philippe is this picturesque bistro called Chez Julien.  I cannot recommend it, though, because I’ve never eaten there.

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Once I got to the end of the road, I retraced my steps and headed back up to the rue de Rivoli.  It was bitterly cold and I was in need of hot chocolate.  I had heard about a place called Pozzetto located at 39 rue du Roi de Sicile that serves divine gelato and hot chocolate. I found it and went inside. It’s a cute, homey place; welcoming and warm.  I sat at a little round table and the woman who works there brought me this:

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Oh, sweet mother of the roasted cacao bean; this is what I had been missing all these years … this was the real deal: Italian cioccolata calda. Glossy, unctuous, not sweet and deeply joyous. I sat there savouring each mouthful while uttering murmurs of satisfaction and then I scraped the bottom of the cup with the spoon to get every last drop. I swear, if the woman hadn’t been looking I would’ve shamelessly licked the cup clean with my tongue.

“Splendido”, I said to the woman who was from Rome.  “Grazie”, she replied.

I will definitely return to that place. Not just for the chocolate, but because it’s unpretentious. Sometimes you get tired of chichi places and prices. Back outside I discovered an adorable vintage clothing shop two doors up from Pozzetto.  And beside the clothing shop, at n° 37, is an equally adorable Portuguese pastry shop called Comme A Lisbonne. It’s tiny, immaculate and serves excellent espresso and freshly-made pasteis de nata, those irresistible custard tarts made with a crispy, flaky pastry.  I had one.

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