We started our last morning in Paris once again lingering at breakfast way too long, gabbing away with the British, joined by a female from San Francisco and a model-looking couple from Belgium. Once having our fill of baguettes, croissants, and other fine examples of French boulangerie, we headed for a stroll along Canal St. Martin – the area now in a process of gentrification, aspiring to become the next coolest Parisian neighborhood. Personally, I don’t think it stands a chance with all the other cool neighborhoods already in existence here – it’s somewhat architecturally challenged.
The next stop was Ile St. Louis – the second and the smaller island of the Seine, next to Ile de la Cite (where Notre Dame stands) which I managed to overlook during my prior trips. This tiny island consisting of two long streets, one intersection, and stately palaces along the Seine, instantly won my heart as my favorite Parisian neighborhood. Most of the palaces were built in the 17th century, they are quietly elegant, and the main street has a slew of adorable little shops and restaurants bearing strong resemblance to a quaint French village.
We split our last crepe by the Notre Dame (violins, please!) and treaded to the Latin Quarter. The Latin Quarter was never my favorite part of Paris– too noisy, somewhat dicey, too crowded, too many tourists and mediocre restaurants. Nothing seems to have changed there. We grabbed some dinner, not our best in Paris, and rushed off to the performance of Balanchine’s Jewels at the Opera Garnier. Now remember, the other opera house, Opera Bastille, was modern, Zen even, with clean lines and understated elegance in the Japanese way. Perhaps, its architect wanted to counteract Garnier’s extravagance. Garnier is the most outrageously opulent opera house I have ever been to. When you walk in, you feel like you are entering Aladdin’s cave and the feeling is that of being inside a pirates’ treasure trove filled to the brink with randomly piled jewels. I am not sure how I feel about the décor. It didn’t please my senses nor did it offend them. It was designed to impress and bedazzle visitors with its blinding opulence and over the top wealth. The ceiling was painted by Chagall. Again, I am not sure it fits the already overdecorated interior and seems to be just another jeweled bounty mindlessly tossed by the pirates into the trove to sparkle on top of the piled gems.
If I had mixed emotions about the décor, the intimate size of the theater was straight forward great. Even though it is bigger than most European theaters I’ve been to, it is still small enough for the audience to feel like a part of the action. What’s even more amazing is the size of the stage which is bigger than any stage in any other opera house – it looked like it was bigger than the orchestra where the audience sits and the orchestra pit put together! Before the ballet started, the entire company plus the students of the ballet school pranced onto the stage to the sounds of Bolero and positioned themselves artfully in a choreographed arrangement. The whole scene was reflected and magnified by a mirror at the far end of the stage. The total effect was magnifique!
As to the ballet performance, it was sweet, but no Russian ballet it was. No one yet has outdanced the Russians in this area!
Although, I must say, since the fall of the Soviet Union they haven’t produced any more Baryshnikovs or Nureevs. They still manage to stamp out great ballerinas, but the guys are all gone. While during the dark ages of the Soviet times ballet was the dancers’ ticket into the light, apparently they no longer want to endure abuse and drudgery of the Russian ballet school and can find another route into the light. And who can blame them? But boy, how much would I love to see the likes of Baryshnikov flying in giant leaps across this enormous stage!