Catching Up And A Few Good Reads

November 6, 2012

Pre-surgery ETs preparing for the tough times ahead

The Experienced Travelers have been on a medical hiatus throughout the summer and fall.  Nurse is battling a serious infection in her knee, but we are on the road to recovery.  Just one more surgery for another knee replacement and she’ll be dancing a gigue.

This is what Nurse was hoping might emerge from the kitchen but my cooking skills run more toward grilled cheese than galettes from the Marais.

In my dual-role of primary caregiver and temporary cook, I prescribed regular infusions of Chateauneuf du Pape for the patient and the chef.  It certainly improved her disposition – and heightened the quality of my cuisine.  So, Dear Readership, you went on the back burner – so to speak.  Mea culpa.

Here are a few Parisian “good reads” I bookmarked for just such an occasion.  It’s the season for fireside reading and these books go nicely with a glass of wine and ripe Norman camembert:

The French art of seduction extends to shopping. Barb and Chris demonstrate the effects in a Marais scarf shop. I think two of those scarves came home with them.

Elaine Sciolino, Paris correspondent and former Paris bureau chief for The New York Times is author of  La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life.  Oh Dear Readership, how we long to understand the game, and Ms. Sciolino guides us through the labyrinth of French social interactions and teaches us how to flirt with the butcher.

Seduction governs all aspects of French life – romance, cuisine, business and politics.  The ETs have been under the spell for years. Just as we were relieved to know the diagnosis with Nurse’s knee, we are thrilled to understand the frisson and shortness of breath we get when we start planning a trip to  Paris.  I downloaded a sample and so far, it’s terrific.

To the Dear Readership who reside in France — what is your take on the art of seduction?  We rely on you to give us the straight story.

Melinda just caught an edge of Philippe-Auguste’s legendary wall

I’ve always meant to tell you about Alistair Horne.   His “Seven Ages of Paris” is one of the best comprehensive histories of the city I’ve read – twice.  From the island of Lutetia to the postwar period, it’s entertaining, well-written and relevant.  It might make you want to find the extant remains of Philippe-Augustus’ 12th century fortified wall.  If you do, I can tell you that it’s against local law and ordinance to pry off a piece of the wall for personal home use.

A splendid view of Montmartre from the windows of the Musee D’Orsay.(Photo by Barb and Christine)

Another good read is David Downie, a food and travel author who resides in Paris. (someone else who is living the life I was meant for, but I shan’t be mean about it…) “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light” is a series of  essays on different aspects of the city, its inhabitants and its history.  You *will* reserve flights after reading “Paris, Paris”.  Mr. Downie also writes an excellent blog.

My current bedside reading includes Mary McAuliffe’s “Dawn of the Belle Époque” about the Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau et. al.  It’s a bit formulaic but provides an excellent introduction to this fascinating period in French history.

A symbol of the Belle-Époque “can do” attitude. (Photo by Barb and Chris)

And speaking of the Belle Époque – have I mentioned Proust lately?  Set aside Danielle Steel and read the Mother of All Modern Social Set Pieces – Mme. Verdurin and her Wednesday “at homes” with the little clan or the Princesse de Guermantes’ “see and be seen” party.  Just *try* “Combray” – the first section of “Swann’s Way”.  If you get that far, you’ll have friends for life in six volumes.

Choose the new Penguin editions, which are  easier to grasp than older translations. Don’t suffer like I did because I wanted to read the same translation that Virginia Woolf  read.  Historical verisimilitude is nice but it will make you want to walk into a pond with stones in your pockets – oh, wait a minute…

Paris seduction begins on the Seine, in view of the Pont-Neuf, and most likely in a light drizzling rain. Get reading and fall in love with Paris!

In fact, I think that “La Seduction..” makes a perfect pairing with “In Search of Lost Time”- the theory explained in Sciolino and the practice artfully demonstrated in Proust.

There.  Now your holiday wish list is done and you can spend the winter weekends “in Paris” – without dispensing with jammies and a cuddly comforter.  It’s good to be chatting with you again!

Paris Street Markets: rue Mouffetard (5e)

September 3, 2012

Get your little string shopping bags ready for the rue Mouffetard

Dear Readership you must wonder where we’ve been all summer.  Nurse underwent the first of two knee surgeries in July and we’ve been working through her rehab and adjustment to being home again.

So we delved into the archives to bring you a short report from a visit Melinda and I made to market in the rue Mouffetard.  

At home, the Experienced Travelers endure the weekly food shopping.  They clutch their coupons and wheel the grocery cart through crowded aisles, wishing they were treading the cobbles of a Parisian street market instead. (note: coupons for items you need are *found money*!)

The rue Mouffetard market is one of the oldest in Paris.  But like the holy grail,  it eluded the ETs because we couldn’t actually find it.  Somehow we always wound up near the Mosque and settled instead for a delicious couscous lunch which is very affordable at it’s restaurant.

So I was bound and determined that Melinda and I would overcome my faulty map reading and get from the Place Monge metro station to the market.


But determination doesn’t guarantee success.  Soon we were dazed and confused in a maze of cheap Greek restaurants and second-hand stores.

Another wrong turn

Melinda relieved me of command and in very short order we were poised at the top of the rue Mouffetard with stalls of tasty goods arrayed before us.  I was confounded again, but delighted to see what lay before me.

Anyone have a cracker? Cheeses at the Fromagerie Vernon

Once the Roman road to Italy, the rue Mouffetard is replete with everything you’ll need for a five-course meal and something to wear as you serve it up.  Hemingway lived nearby at 74, rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, and like the fantasy in the movie Midnight in Paris. We hoped he would appear so we could help him with his shopping which we assumed meant getting drunk, debating the meaning of art, and having fistfights.

Baguettes, gros pain, pain au levain, pain de ménage. How to choose!

Many French families shop every day – even office employees who go first thing in the morning, and again after work.  During the day, you’ll meet an army of dapper ladies, nannies with strollers and retired gentlemen who can browse at their leisure thanks to the generous French pension programme.

Knowledge and experience at your service.

Anyone who leaves the rue Mouffetard hungry must be an ascetic in an extreme state of self-denial.  I was lost again – lost in my hungry thoughts of those scallops, that loaf of bread, and this bottle of wine.

A little something to keep the ancient Romans from getting thirsty on the road

I think that the Romans chose the rue Mouffetard for their road because they could pick up tasty victuals for the trip on their way out of town.  While all roads may lead to Rome, this road will also satisfy any appetite, ancient or modern.

Generations of dedicated shop owners and purveyors of fine foods have kept the rue Mouffetard vital. Salut!

Time-Lapse Through Paris!

August 4, 2012

Pont-Neuf in the rain. Paris romanticism as it’s best. Photo by Barb and Chris

The Experienced Travelers lovethis time-lapse video of Paris by Mayeul Akpovi.  It’s almost as good as being there, without the food, of course.

Click here to watch the video

Back to our regular posting schedule when Nurse is out of rehab. She is adjusting to her faux knee and working hard to get back on her feet again.

Dining Out – Léo le Lion, Paris VII

July 12, 2012

Léo le Leon on the rue Duvivier in the 7th arrondissement. Will the Lion roar after a fantastic meal, or whimper over dashed expectations?

The Experienced Travelers have passed Léo le Lion in the rue Duvivier many times over the years.  The online reviews were positive, so it was time to try this neighborhood restaurant. This was Barbara and Chris’ first dinner out in Paris, and we wanted it to be grand.

Barbara and Julie consult with a local over Léo le Lion’s menu.

Barbara and I joined another lady reviewing the menu.  When I asked if she had eaten here, she said no and immediately started pointing up the street toward Le Florimond.  Once I assured her we had reservations at Le Florimond the following week, we debated the finer points of the menu and she agreed that we should carry on.  Was this a premonition?  Would we spend the evening chez Léo wishing we were down the street chez Laurent?

Preparing to dine; Julie, Nurse, Christine and Barbara pose for our loquacious waiter

So in we went to a cozy room done in dark red and pink –  hues that will flatter every girl’s complexion.  The tables were a tad snug even for Paris, and those of us in straight-backed chairs wriggled and shifted our way through the meal. But the meal was what we were there for, and so, dear Readership let’s dig in.

Nurse’s Gambas rôties décortiquées et leur rizotto au basilique. Beautiful and bountiful.

Nurse had shrimp with a risotto that she’s still talking about.  Our waiter explained that the arborio rice was cooked in chicken broth with fresh basil, a touch of garlic, salt and pepper.  Simplicity at it’s best.  I don’t recall that she shared her shrimp, which tells me all I need to know.

My Filet de bar au four à la crème de lentille. Two things I wouldn’t have put together that heretofore shall always be together!

My filet de bar was similar to sea bass and the lentil cream was a wonderful surprise.  I had to make choices here, and decided to leave the broccoli behind in favor of the fish, sauce and mashed potatoes.  Altogether, it was a wise strategy.

Magret de canard aux deux pommes, sauce au cidre for Christine

The duck in cider sauce arrived looking like it had been passed over a match, so Chris took the risk and ask for it to be cooked a little longer.  This is a Parisian restaurant so we took cover and expected a tirade of abuse from the waiter, or worse, the chef.  What a relief when her dinner returned, cooked the way she wanted it, accompanied by nothing more than a smile.  What they said about us back in the kitchen is a mystery and it shall remain thus.

Fresh scallops in a delicate cream sauce make a luscious presentation

Barbara’s scallops were perfectly done and brought a smile of delight. They must have gone well with the chardonnay.  I don’t know why we had chardonnay since Barbara doesn’t like it, but maybe the scallops made her forget.  Better than needing the chardonnay to forget the scallops.

The food was satisfying and inventive. And it was a great meal for Barbara and Christine to inaugurate their dining experience in Paris.  Our meal came to 118 euros for four plats and the bottle of wine.  We thought the entrées were a bit expensive and decided to forgo them.

Was it the chairs?

So why did we decide to finish our wine and get dessert elsewhere?  We think the room felt too cramped, even though it wasn’t full. Maybe it was those straight chairs.  Maybe it was the waiter who pronounced “no kiss for you” when we opted not to have dessert.

It’s not that we don’t recommend Léo le Lion.  We appreciated the quality and care that went into our meals, but there was something we can’t define that made us ready to move on after dinner.  So tell us about your experience at Léo le Lion and help the ETs bring closure to our questions!

They are not yellow. They’re a very chic shade of green and we stand by that!

Addendum:  A Word About The Coats

I know you’re going to ask.  Barbara and I independently brought new bright green raincoats.  I can’t tell you how many people waited for us to raise closed umbrellas and lead a tour group back to the bus.  I decided to break with the typical Parisian black coat and “go green” knowing I would be easy to find in any Paris crowd.  So there.

So What’s for Dinner?

June 25, 2012

Everyone’s doing the shopping – what’s on your menu tonight?

The Experienced Travelers have all the flashing Eiffel Towers, Montmartre sno-globes and “I Ate Snails” tee shirts we’ll ever need.  So we are left to apply our considerable shopping energies toward something with immediate benefit – the fresh food on offer in the irresistible Parisian food markets, that will be destined for our rental apartment kitchen.

Nurse in the kitchen after she has given me a job to do elsewhere that is more suited to my talents.

I believe that because it’s French food and a French kitchen, our humble victuals will automatically transform into haute-cuisine, no matter how badly I prepare them while Nurse is out of the room.

When our friends Barbara and Chris arrived jet-lagged, dinner at home was the way to enjoy good food and have an early night.  We drew up our dinner strategy over chocolat chaud.  Barbara, Chris and I had assigned courses to buy, while Nurse directed our forays.

Imagining a hot skillet and a little butter, Christine chooses carefully.

Christine was in charge of veggies, and applied her business acumen to the rows of attractive fresh vegetables.  The French have come around to the practice of self-service.  Years ago, you had to wait for the Produce Man to choose, bag and weigh for you.  This was never an inconvenience because the Produce Man was often attractive and flirtatious, making it a pleasure to part with a few francs.

Faced with a myriad of choices, Chris decided some plump and pretty white asparagus would grace the table admirably.  We’ll have to ask her if she thought the Produce Man would grace the table admirably too.

This is a long way from Betty Crocker. Barbara casts a knowing eye over the dessert choices.

Barbara had the enviable category of dessert and found a small pâtisserie in the rue Cler.  The hardest part was deciding among the calorie-laden choices.  Despite her jet lag, Barbara called upon her Sacred Heart French and did an admirable job communicating with the assistant behind the counter.  Nice work, Pal!

With cunning, I chose the main course so I could procure one of the roasted chickens that turn slowly in special chicken ovens strategically placed outside many bûcheries.  Equally cunning, these ovens waft the enticing smell of roasting bird into the nostrils and brain synapses of passing shoppers.  Those ovens deliver a real return on investment.

Hard at work choosing the main course. Photo by Chris

There is purchasing protocol at the bûcherie too.  I discussed with the butcher the merits of each chicken – size, price and worthiness.  After choosing our chicken, he gave me a ticket to take to the cashier at the back of the store.  I paid, then brought the receipt back to the butcher and collected my prize, wrapped and ready for the table.

Meanwhile, I trusted that Nurse was creating calligraphy menus and place cards, and letting our complimentary bottle of wine breathe.

Barbara and Chris weren’t too jet-lagged to stop at Cantin for a lovely smelly bit of cheese to have before dinner.

If you’re staying in a hotel, visit the charcuteries, where you can buy ready-to-enjoy foods prepared by the the talented staff.  The butcher will cut your chicken and the  local wine shop will be happy to uncork your bottle.  All you’ll need are utensils and a pleasant spot to eat.

A most important assignment for Christine

So under Nurse’s supervision, we set to work in our apartment kitchens.  In short order, we were dining en famille on the fruits of our shopping – and at a very reasonable price, leaving Found Money for our adventures the next day.

Confounded by two unfathomable French corkscrews.

Dear Readership, don’t be shy about shopping at the local stores in your neighborhood.  If you’re uneasy about speaking French, rely on the international language of pointing, gestures and smiles.  It’s an affordable way to dine and there might be a handsome Produce Man to make it worthwhile.

The colors of happiness. Photo by Christine

Impressions from the Musée D’Orsay

June 9, 2012

The Musée D’Orsay is proof that good things can happen to an old railway station. Photo by Christine

The Experienced Travelers promised to visit more museums and fewer cafés in an effort to elevate the intellectual tenor of our Paris visits.  We kept our word, and spent time at the exquisite Musée D’Orsay.

The shopping commenced before we crossed the threshold. Imagine what will happen when Christine and Nurse find the gift shop (gift shops are the shoppers reward for an erudite afternoon at the museum) Photo by Barbara.

Opened in 1986, the “M’O” houses art created between 1848 and 1914.  If we paid attention in our high school art appreciation class, we know this means the museum holds an immensely popular Impressionist collection.   Popular is an understatement.   The entry queue is often long, and we have two hints; buy your ticket online ahead of time, and consider visiting on Thursday evenings when the M’O is open till 9pm and everyone else is queued up waiting for a table at the Violon d’Ingres.

Nurse’s hotwheels careened us past the waiting crowds and through Security.

Here’s good news for people with limited mobility. You can cut the line!   Nurse was using “hotwheels” because of  her bad knee, and the very determined Security forces ushered us past the waiting throng.  Better yet, we were able to borrow a wheelchair –  after the typical miasma of French bureaucracy and paperwork.   This convenience got complicated because the M’O is riddled with stairs.  So we toured the back hallways and secret doorways, and maneuvered Nurse into elevators the size of linen closets.

The Impressionist painters were mocked and derided by the critics. After years of rejection by the prestigious Salon de Paris they brought their work to the public at the rival Salon des Refusés, where they were mocked and derided by the public.

But it was worth it.  Given the ferocity of  the crowds in the galleries,  you would think they were showing van Gogh’s ear instead of a self-portrait.  The Renoirs, Manets, Monets,  Gauguins and Toulouse-Lautrecs were stunning.  So stunning that I wanted to remember them forever by taking “no flash” photos.

I could almost taste the heavy brushstrokes on this Monet still life.

Suddenly, like the charge of Napoleon’s troops, the uniformed security contingent rose as one, to smote me and my camera.  The management of the M’O prefer that I remember the Impressionists forever by purchasing lovely postcards and souvenir drinks coasters in their gift shop.  Thankfully I had Nurse riding shotgun in the wheelchair which parted the crowd for a timely retreat to the linen-closet elevator.

An illegally-got Degas. Barbara and Chris are deeply sorry for this photo and apologize to the management of the M’O for their transgression.

We were four intellectually curious women experiencing some of the greatest art on earth.  So its embarrassing that we were overheard saying “oh, those colors would work for the bathroom” and “how would those Cathedral at Rouens go along the stairs?”.    This happens every time we visit a museum.  Maybe that’s why we gravitate to cafés.  It’s time to get rid of HGTV and Martha Stewart Living magazine.

Will it go over the fireplace?

So wheeling through the secret passages and “no entry” doorways we went, emerging each time into a room of extraordinary artwork, but never the room we were trying to find.  But no matter.  We came away with strong impressions from Mary Cassatts tender images of mother and child, the bleak hopelessness of Degas’ Absinthe drinker and appreciating that Berthe Morisot held her own with the boys at a time when it just wasn’t done.

Another Monet. Barbara and Christine promise to make a YouTube video of their apology to the M’O authorities.

If the ubiquitous Impressionism calendars make you weary of these French masters, a visit to the M’O will remind you that their use of light, their style and their appreciation for nature and simplicity was revolutionary and wonderful.

Outside the M’O, you can buy your own original art, then let these strapping young men pedal you home. We considered towing Nurse’s hot wheels behind us, but thought better of it

The Impressionists broke the rules of academic painting by depicting day-to-day life, painting outside in nature and painting outside the lines, if you will.  So why can’t the ETs be rule-breakers and take no-flash photos or discuss home decor when they should be debating brushstrokes and chiaroscuro?  We held our own Salon des Refusés later that afternoon at the Café Central and it was a huge success.

Nurse will not “refuse” a martini no matter what the social and artistic convention might be!

On the Champs-Élysées

May 27, 2012

The legendary Avenue des Champs-Élysées where chestnut trees shade the wide sidewalks

The Experienced Travelers confess that the vast Champs-Élysées is not a favorite destination in Paris. But despite our personal preferences, we felt we owed it to the dear Readership to investigate the legendary avenue.  This way you are fully informed when you loiter there on a café terrace and spend twice as much money for the dubious pleasure of doing so.  There.  Have we made our feelings known?

Melinda outside Restaurant Fouquet, where 30 euro buys you a smoked salmon starter and you can rub elbows with the elite. Fouquet is an historical monument.

Extending 1.8 miles from the Place de la Concorde to the Place Charles de Gaulle, the Champs-Élysées begins peacefully with lovely gardens.  Then just beyond the Grand Palais, it bursts into the frenzied madness that gives the ETs a case of vertigo.  But the Champs-Élysées has it’s fans and you may well become one of them if you have energy to spare and a penchant for shopping and clubbing.

The Champs-Élysées decked out for Christmas. Perhaps the ETs could be persuaded to love the avenue if they got a ride on that ferris wheel. Photo by David Monniaux

A walk down the avenue lit by fairy lights for Christmas might soften the ETs feelings.  Or maybe we should wake early to catch a morning vista that highlights the Historical Axis, a miracle of urban planning with the perfect alignment of the Petit Carrousel, Tuilleries gardens, Luxor Obelisk, Arc de Triomphe and La Grande Arch at La Défense.

Louis Vuitton’s store window. This talented zebra tosses exquisite handbags with aplomb. You can take one home, but the zebra stays…

I recently read an article that described the Champs-Élysées as a the urban equivalent of an airport duty-free mall. (I wish I could remember where I read that…).  Several high-end stores are there – Cartier, Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton – but so is Disney, Gap and Nike.  We suppose it’s an egalitarian mix, but the French government is taking steps to limit the encroachment of chain-style retail in an effort to restore the old girl’s reputation.

See and be seen in 1903 on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.

With a little imagination,  the grandeur that recalls her proud and elegant history is still there.  As the city expanded westward through the late 1800s, the wealthy built fashionable town homes with elaborate gardens along the avenue and it was the perfect promenade for the elite.  The Élysée Palace, home today to the  new French President Hollande, was once owned by the Marquise de Pompadour.  Were she alive today, we suppose she would gleefully drop Louis XVs Found Money down the street at Benetton. (Alas things didn’t work out for La Pomp, but that’s another post)

A relatively quiet moment at the Place de l’Étoile. Buckle up and prepare for a crazy ride. Barbara and Christine took this picture on our last visit.

Napoleon commissioned the crowning glory of the avenue, the magnificent Arc de Triomphe.  It now serves as a giant traffic roundabout that Parisian drivers regard as a eight-lane NASCAR track.  On a clear day, the trip to the top is rewarded by the excellent view.

In the dark days of the Occcupation, the Nazis staged regular military parades.  Four years later, the Free French and Liberation forces took back the avenue with triumphant marches of their own.  Now, Bastille Day celebrations on the Champs-Élysées are a riotous time and a legitimate reason for champagne before noon.

Risking personal safety for the sake of a photo. It only took one valium to prepare me for my mission.

Today the triumphant marches down the avenue are Manolo Blahnik-shod  troops of shoppers liberating handbags, clothing and glittering bling from locked display cases in stores. If your exchange rate against the euro is better than our dollar, you can help free France from the daunting European financial crisis. Do your part and shop for the good of la belle France!

Resting at the Cafe Roma. Would Mme. de Pompadour care to join me?

The Rue Daguerre Street Market

May 7, 2012

Hard at work at the Boucherie Brossard – Rue Daguerre is indeed a moveable feast

The Experienced Travelers are home again after a wet but wonderful trip to Brittany and Paris.  We saw, we shopped, we drank and we dined.  These are our  ET core competencies and we exercised them with vigor.

While Nurse tended to domestic affairs, I made a foray to the rue Daguerre market in Montparnasse to channel the hunger pangs of Hemingway and other Lost Generation writers.  It didn’t do much for my literary acumen, but it certainly inspired my appetite.

The Brasserie Chope Daguerre was an alluring way to stay dry and I know Hemingway would have stopped.

Just around the corner from the Denfert-Rochereau metro stop, the rue Daguerre has real neighborhood shops, and fewer of the trendy boutiques that are squeezing out small merchants in other markets.  The cobbled street and cries of the vendors make this a fun stop, even in the rain.

This is a cheese plate just waiting to happen.

The aroma from the Fromagerie Vacroux et fils beckoned me in out of the downpour.  This is a very friendly establishment with a wide selection of cheeses that would top off an ET dinner at home perfectly.

I was drafted into counter service, but you’ll notice he didn’t offer me the knife

My apprenticeship as a cheese lady ended shortly after the picture was taken.  I knew it wouldn’t last when they didn’t give me the white coat.  Not to mention that recommending a comté or a chèvre is not among my core competencies and I know my limits, dear Readership.

Pasta in all it’s forms – homemade and ready for the ETs pot of boiling water.

I was lured south of the border by the homemade pasta at La Maison de la Pâte.  The proprietor didn’t offer me a job here, but that didn’t stop me from browsing the mounds of ravioli, linguini and gnocchi.  I came this close to phoning Nurse and telling her to put the water to boil.

I know what won’t be on the menu tonight

Butchers who sell horse meat advertise using handy signs, like the happy horsies above Davin Julien.  While this isn’t standard fare in the US, the French, among others, do consume it.  Well, I had just seen the movie “War Horse” and there was no way it was going to feature on the ET table that evening.  I ate raw oysters in Brittany and that was eating adventure enough. I am, at heart, a conservative diner.

So if you’re staying in the 14th arrondissement or want to spend a morning browsing a friendly market, the rue Daguerre is a recommended stop.  Then you can walk a few minutes to the boulevard Montparnasse and spend the afternoon over a bottle in the spiritual company of the Lost Generation at La Rotonde or Le Dome.

A friendly thumbs up from les fils at Varcroux et fils

Paris QuickPics: Bon Appetit

April 27, 2012

Choose something to satisfy your sweet tooth on the rue St. Dominique

The ETs received long distance trunk calls today demanding food pictures. Well, dear Readership, I have to save them up to dole them out to you over the coming months,  or you’ll just get cranky later on.

A little light lunch? Yummy croque-monsieur from the Cafe des Deux Musees. Much better than the fare on Verona St.

Allright, enough complaining!  Unlike the candidates in presidential races in France and the USA, the ETs deliver on their promises. I will disclose that we’ve had some great meals over the past few days which we’ll share in upcoming posts.  Keep your napkins at the ready.

Impending death by umbrella. The velocity of the dangerous prongs catches even the most experienced Parisian by surprise.

You will be relieved to know that the weather is marginally better so we won’t spend another post complaining about it. People in the streets are smiling because they’re no longer in danger of being impaled on some French businessman’s umbrella while he talks on his cell phone. The umbrella dance is a learned skill, particularly when one is holding it aloft over Nurse and her hotwheels.  I am geting better at it.

Barbara and Nurse in a cheerful mood because they dodged the umbrellas and made it to lunch. That croque-monsieur landed right in front of them a few moments later, causing more delight.

With our good nature restored and our appetites in full gear, we’ll continue the quest for the best mousse au chocolat.  It was definitely not the one we had tonight at an unnamed cafe near Notre Dame (I should have known better….)

Inedible mousse au chocolat

We heard from our sources that Mariah Carey and her husband are here on a mad shopping spree.  I wish them luck.  Barbara and Chris left the Galleries Lafayette laden with bags while some very happy salesladies restored order to the shelves.

Paris QuickPics: When it rains…

April 25, 2012

Even the cafe terraces are deserted from the wind and rain. We'll call upon St. Genvieve to vanquish the storms.

The Experienced Travelers like to think we can cope.  But today, the driving wind and rain in Paris made us long for a cozy table in a warm corner with an attentive waiter.  We’ve never had such inclement weather.  It’s a wet, bone-chilling cold that sent us puddle-jumping from café crème to chocolat chaud to stay dry in between errands.

A touch of domesticity. Nurse gives her knee a rest between outings

Our studio apartment bears no resemblance to the palatial embassies nearby, but it’s comfortable and the ground floor location is ideal for Nurse’s bad knee.  While her “hotwheels” do double-duty as a bedside table,  they got me into a bit of trouble with a stern Train Man on the TGV to Paris from Rennes, but that’s another story.

Julie, Barbara, Christine and Nurse expand their appreciation of fine wine and French culture.

Our friends Barbara and Christine arrived this morning and it didn’t take them long to get their priorities in order – errands, food shopping then some well-deserved refreshment to build fortitude for more shopping.

Barbara and Chris working their way up to more well-earned refreshment and a better understanding of French vintages.

To ease our jetlagged Associate ETs into Paris time, we composed an early dinner from the bounteous fare in the market – white asparagus, fingerling potatoes, shallots and three outstanding deserts.  For  the main course, the delightful man behind the counter directed the full, unequivocal force of his French charm at Barbara and promptly sold us a most excellent roast chicken.  It just goes to show that flirtation pays!


Brittany QuickPics

April 23, 2012

Beautiful Pont-Aven put the ETs in an impressionist frame of mind

The Experienced Travelers send greetings from the wild western coast of Brittany.  Our base of operations in Pont-Aven is just right – large enough for a good crêperie and small enough for a quick exit.

Nurse's first half-dozen of Brittany oysters. I'll tell you what I think of them in a later post....

It’s been a wonderful visit.   Suffice it to say the coastline is rugged, the fields of yellow rapeseed are amazing and the oysters are absolutely just right (according to one of us who will eat them.)

The harbor at Camaret. The ETs thought any of these boats would do nicely for a cruise after our seafood lunch.

When we weren’t thinking about our next meal, we were amazed by the natural beauty of the area.  The French foolishly rented us a large vehicle which was fast, comfortable and just as wide as most of the roads we traveled.

The ancient stones near Carnac. Not to be mistaken for a test-drive course in a rented Peugeot SUV.

I take no responsibility for the  mark on the front right fender which has nothing to do with Brittany’s famous standing stones that are older than Stonehenge.

Nurse on the Quiberon coast waiting for.... more oysters.

We’ll write in more detail about our visit to Brittany, once we’ve had a chance to settle from the seafood and Crêpes Bretonne.  Meanwhile we have a train to catch…..

Springtime in Paris

April 14, 2012

Springtime in Paris - time for the ET annual pilgrimage

The Experienced Travelers are busy with spreadsheets and schedules, which means we’re preparing for our return to Paris. O joy, O delight. It’s time to gather more blog content.  We consider it our contribution to the well-being of the Dear Readership, to whom we are devoted.

The butchers of Paris prepare for the return of the ETs. A little asparagus would go nicely....

This year we’ll be traveling with our very good friends Barbara and Christine. So there will be four meals to photograph instead of just two.  Already an improvement, don’t you agree?  Dear Readership, these girls are tireless shoppers and they’ll set a new standard for ET mercantile efficiency.

We're ready for a few new accessories and Featherstone in the Marais might be just the place to find them.

Nurse and I will kick off the trip with a few days driving in Brittany.  Expect oysters and seascapes.  Then we’ll join B&C in Paris for a week of arduous shopping, dining and sightseeing.  There are new restaurants on the itinerary, and our annual visit to Le Florimond for the lobster ravioli. We are open to suggestions if you can recommend a thrifty meal.

The ETs are committed to continuous improvement so we’re going to  neighborhoods that I want to know better, like Passy and Montparnasse.

We'll kick the tires and take the bus, once I figure out how to read the schedules.

We’ll also conquer our fear of les correspondances and ride the bus instead of hauling our sorry selves through the underground maze of the Metro. Expect reports from the Orsay, Marmottan and Rodin museums, the Maison Balzac and the market in the rue Dauguerre.

We’re cashing in our “spare change” jars.  Scientifically, this counts as Found Money since no one pays attention to spare change.  How efficient it is to rid ourselves of these pesky coins by turning them into euros and leaving them behind in Paris.  À bientôt!

Dinner and a Show: Chez La Mère Catherine in Montmartre

March 18, 2012

The place du Tertre on a warm Friday evening

The ETs willingly succumb to the charm of Montmartre , despite the wild throngs of tourists in search of Utrillo and other starving artists from it”s golden years.  Hoping to get a sense of neighborhood life on the butte, Melinda and I made the climb one evening, after the tour busses departed.

We wandered around looking in shops and admiring village architecture masked by windows hawking teeshirts and Monet-themed umbrellas. It wasn’t long before we were hungry, with nothing to guide us but posted menus and the apparent satisfaction of patrons on the terraces.

Dining in Montmartre can be a hit-or-miss proposition.  On past visits, I avoided the central place du Tertre which is overrun by the aforementioned crowds.  But we were hungry, and somehow the crazy circus of passers-by fit our mood, so we decided to give it a try.

A Montmartre tradition

We found an outdoor table at Chez La Mère Catherine on the perimeter of the action, and got to work immediately by ordering our first bottle.  Wine is welcome at any meal in Paris, but mandatory for an evening in Montmartre.

A table for two was all we needed

It turns out that we made a fine choice.  Chez La Mère Catherine has been dishing up frogs legs, pork confit and crêpes suzette since 1793.  Opening a restaurant in the midst of the revolutionary Reign of Terror demonstrates a commendable optimism on the part of Mère Catherine.  And it was optimism well placed.  Her restaurant has outlasted two French Republics, the Paris Commune, the Second Empire, the Siege of Paris, the Nazis and the introduction of the Euro.

It is said that during the Battle of Paris in 1814, some invading Cossacks slipped off to Montmartre for a taste of Paris nightlife and made their way to La Mère Catherine.  Out on the town without the knowledge of their senior officers, the soldiers had alot to do in a short time. Between rounds, they yelled “Bistro! Bistro!” (Hurry! Hurry!) and coined the term.   The ETs feel justified when they can learn history while dining out in Paris, and here we find that Mère Catherine was right in the midst of it all!

Relaxed and dishevelled with toasts all round. The magic of La Mère Catherine transported the ETs

Once our attentive waiter advised us on dinner, we settled back to watch the show unfold.  Before us went groups of kids out for a Friday night, befuddled tourists swept along by the crowd and hungry portrait artists in search of paying subjects. This was better than the Lido, and cheaper too.  I don’t mind the Montmartre crowds when I am a drinking spectator with dinner on the horizon.

Tasty marinated pork isn't terribly photogenic

At last our meal was served.  Melinda chose tender pork marinated in cider with potatoes lyonnaise that were fine.  I had the ever-popular beef bourguignon with pasta and a grilled tomato that was adequate and filling.  Our satisfaction rose with the arrival of a gâteau au chocolat with crème anglaise  and raspberry coulis.

Fit for a Cossack - beef bourguignon and some puzzling pasta

Mère Catherine is a purveyor of standard cuisine and on that count, she delivers.  This wasn’t a Michelin meal.  But dear Readership, consider the balmy evening breeze, the checkered tablecloth, the warbling chanteuse accompanied by a rickety old piano, the entertainment in the place du Tertre and the warm goodwill engendered by the wine.  Clearly, you can have a delightful night out in Montmartre.

Popular lore claims that it was here that the revolutionary Danton wrote “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die”.  That was far more likely in Paris of 1793 if you were a fleeing aristocrat with the family jewels sewn into your seams.  Yet the ETs agree we could fare worse than to make our final stop at Chez La Mère Catherine to enjoy the ambiance over a leisurely, satisfying meal before the guillotine falls.

What might Danton have made of the raspberry coulis? Vive la France!

Paris Neighborhoods: Rive Gauche – The 7th

March 4, 2012

There's lots to see in the 7th arrondissement

The Experienced Travelers slip into comfy shoes to continue our tour of Paris neighborhoods.  All aboard the Batobus to visit the left bank’s elegant, aristocratic 7th.

The 7th arrondissement is bounded by the Eiffel Tower and the Musée d’Orsay, with the Seine along it’s curved spine.  There is real life here in the 7th, which is well-served by bus and metro. It’s an oasis of normalcy when the Euro-mall atmosphere of the Champs-Élysées makes you long for the madness to cease.

Hotels in the 7th run the gamut from budget accommodations to more luxurious digs, with many in the mid-range. We like the Hotel Muguet, where rooms range from 115 – 180 euros. (we must do a write-up on this ET favorite).  Apartment rentals are numerous and Paris Perfect has many flats in the area.

The brilliant gold dome of the Hôtel des Invalides is a hallmark of the 7th. In addition to Napoleon, it has a fine military museum. If you visit and locate Napoleon's stuffed dog, please write us immediately with details.

What’s Nearby:  Eiffel Tower, the Hôtel des Invalides, Place de la Concorde, Le Bon Marché department store and la Grande Épicerie, the Musées Rodin, d’Orsay and Louvre, UNESCO, the École Militaire,  Gare Montparnasse, the Paris Sewer Museum and shopping at Sèvres-Babylone.

Le Bon Marché, a 7eme alternative to "les grandes magasins" in the boulevard Haussmann. Photo by François Rejeté

So let’s have a look around.  Near the edge of the 6th at Place Saint-Germain is the Sèvres-Babylone shopping mecca.  This is a welcome alternative to the crazy crowds at the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.  Scores of boutiques and specialty shops hover like flying buttresses around the legendary Le Bon Marché department store and it’s enormous gourmet specialty store, la Grande Épicerie.  One-stop shopping, dear Readership!

Along the Seine, the 7th is a nerve center of French government and foreign affairs (in a manner of speaking).  Dominated by the forbidding walls of embassies and ministries, the Assemblée Nationale and the Prime Minister’s Hôtel Matignon, it’s a  sea of suits, smartphones and sunglasses.

If you want to confer with the political elite, go at noontime when they’re busy legislating the Fifth Republic over lunch.  The ETs  don’t bother them much and they reciprocate by granting us tourist visas and dispensation from the V.A.T.

Cafés, food stores and restaurants on the rue Cler. You won't leave hungry!

Come with us now to the ET Paris power base – our center of operations near the rue Cler, where we habitually stay. Within walking distance to Napoleon’s tomb (and stuffed dog) in the Hôtel des Invalides or the Eiffel Tower, this neighborhood has a comfortable pace and the convenience of food stores, groceries, local cafés, restaurants and shops on our doorstep.

The ETs profess complete loyalty to our preferred cheese and baguette ladies, Monsieur charcuterie, the mean fish man and the hearty smoking guys at the fruit-and-veg.

Does anyone have a knife? Cheese and other goodies in the rue Cler. This is *not* the mean fish man.

We like having the post office on the corner, where we buy the “whatever fits in this box can be shipped for one price” mailers.  We’ve used them twice, and our treasures arrived the following week – in great shape.

Dinnertime shopping near the Place de l'Ecole Militaire. Grab an inexpensive alfresco meal at the numerous grocery stores or the rue Cler market.

If you want to dine out, try Christian Constant’s trio of restaurants on the rue Saint-Dominique, or our favourite Le Florimond.  For a quick lunch, there’s the Café du Marché or Café Central where we had the best burger on earth.  Enjoy an affordable full breakfast at Le Petit Cler which has the largest café au lait on the street.  This doesn’t scratch the surface of the dining possibilities in the quartier.

Rodin's The Thinker. We surmise he is pondering which 7th arrondissement restaurant to book for dinner.

Don’t overlook the exquisite Musée Rodin  located in his workshop, the Hôtel Biron (which once housed the Academy of the Sacred Heart, an ET alma mater). This compact museum features a delightful sculpture garden where you can contemplate “The Thinker” contemplating you.

We would be remiss not to mention that ET hero-author Nancy Mitford entertained DeGaulle’s Chief of Staff at her home in the rue Monsieur.  One day we’ll write up our pilgrimage to Nancy’s digs and my brush with literary greatness.

We’re ecstatic that we’ll be returning to our haunts in the 7th next month. Watch for “as-it-happens” reports from our habitual table at La Terrasse du 7eme.

The ET version of "The Thinker". Definitely pondering dinner....

Paris Books: A Moveable Feast

February 18, 2012

Hemingway at 113 rue Notre Dame des Champs; strong and hungry (Wikimedia)

The Experienced Travelers are reading Hemingway.  Hemingway, the legend of his time.  He knew Pound and Stein and Fitzgerald and Joyce and he liked them all some of the time.  Other times he despised them truly.  Times in between, he was indifferent.

Hemingway lived in Paris with Hadley and his son, sometimes on the rue Cardinal-Lemoine where the goatheard brought the goats early to sell milk, and sometimes next to a sawmill in Montparnasse where the wood smelled sweet.  He wrote and struggled and played the horses and observed.  Mostly he observed the faces of people and knew they would die soon or betray someone or sleep well after they were full and spent.

La Rotunde (Wikipedia)

This was 1920s Paris, between the wars.  Americans lived cheaply and ate, drank and loved well.  Americans came to Paris to live cheaply and they did.  Paris embraced them.  The Closerie des Lilas was the best place to write, in the morning when they washed the floor.  Lipp and the Rotund were for people on exhibition and they did that.

But Hemingway was hungry alot.   He had a  grinding emptiness in his gut. Every writer should be hungry because it makes him see better.  He saw the Cezannes with clarity.  He thought he would like Cezanne most of the time.  He walked home through the Luxembourg gardens or along the quays because it was the way to avoid the patisseries and restaurants where people ate golden oysters and drank Sancerre outside and were satisfied.

Ezra Pound was one of the good Christian men on earth.  He was a true friend when you needed one.  Miss Stein gave him a small chair which broke.  She could have given him a large one, for a man of his stature and talent, but she didn’t.

Alice and Miss Stein (

Miss Stein was built like a peasant woman. Her companion had hair cut like Joan of Arc.  27, rue de Fleurus contained the work of men who were hungry and who broke ice to wash in the morning.  Later Hemingway hated Miss Stein after she begged Alice please don’t.  He told the maid not to say he was there, and left.

La Closerie des Lilas in the 1920s (Wikipedia)

Hemingway wrote well in Paris, first for regular pay and then not for regular pay because the novel had to come.  Sometimes people would interrupt him to tell him he wrote well which was indiscreet because you never tell someone that to his face.   He thought they knew he could kill them because he knew he could, and you can tell when a man has that in him.

Then they had a whiskey or the red wine of the quartier, which was good and it lasted.  People are truer when they are drunk, and Hemingway was true alot and had to walk home in the rain which was the cold regular rain that stripped the trees bare.

The ETs will finish Moveable Feast soon and return to real stories which are better.  Hemingway’s book is short and good and it gets in your head.  Pound told Hemingway to distrust adjectives and Hemingway showed that to the ETs.  Shortly the ETs will forget this and do things normally.  Beware when we begin again with Proust.

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