Posts Tagged ‘2010’

In Paris, Four Inches of Mayhem

December 11, 2010

Quelle horreur!  Paris came to a virtual standstill this week after four inches of snow paralyzed the city.  When the Eiffel Tower ices up, can a complete shut-down be far behind?  And why not!  If a catastrophe closes the office in time for lunch, the resourceful Parisienne can head to her favourite brasserie and spend the afternoon watching French authorities deal with the gridlock while she enjoys her cassoulet.   

Let is Snow! This cassoulet will warm and restore any ET caught in a storm

Roads into Paris were closed, and over a thousand stranded citoyens slept in their cars or makeshift shelters. More than 2,000 police and protection agents were dispatched to the aid of motorists stuck on the Paris peripherique and Ile de France highways.  The ETs trust that the patrols delivered the necessities for survival – a good vintage, foie gras, a baguette and a corkscrew.  That is what the French taxpayer should expect.

Since the Experienced Travellers can’t report first-hand, they found this wonderful photo slideshow that will entertain and enchant.  Click on the link and gaze at them while you read!

Hearing weather reports from Paris reminds The ETs of their last visit.  In September, we were puzzled by Parisians bundled into heavy coats and scarves.  Now we agree that these style choices were chic preparation for a cataclysm like this blizzard.  After all, a snowstorm is no excuse for wearing last year’s outerwear. 

The Rue de Levis market in snow (2009) by Georges Seguin (Wikipedia Commons)

We hailed the bravery of ladies in the street markets maneuvering their shopping baskets through inches of snow, over decorative but lethal pavement.  The ETs were also relieved to see how Parisians made good use of the ubiquitous umbrellas.   But as they watched the first video, they wondered about the guy who was shoveling snow with a rake. 

J'accuse! Fillon holds French weathermen responsible (Lemarie Wikipedia Commons)

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Francois Fillon accused the Météo France weather service of having “failed to forecast the snow and in any case not its intensity”.  We wonder if there will be a special session in the National Assembly to ascertain responsibility.   Perhaps Fillon weighed the political implications of denouncing Mere Nature and decided that Météo France was a better target. 

This YouTube video slideshow is a little lengthy at 4:00, but it takes you around a city blanketed in snow.

From this CNN article,  journalist Celine Martelet says that she was on a highway near Paris for three hours. “There’s an incredible silence, not one noise,” she said. “People are leaving their cars and trying to go on foot. I saw one man on skis, who was going to find his wife who was stuck in a traffic jam two kilometers away. He was going to help her get out of her car.” 

The ETs hope that the man found his wife.  Perhaps the police had already been there with wine and sustenance.  Did the stranded couple pass a romantic evening on the Peripherique under the snowy skies?

(I’m sure our friends in the Midwest shook their heads over Paris devestated by a  four inch snowfall.  We will remember you when it hits the east coast!  But don’t worry – we’re well fortified by plenty of good French wine)

Très moderne at the Pompidou

December 4, 2010

L'Art Moderne.

(Pre-emptive apologies to fans of modern art.  It’s all in the service of the Narrative.)

The Experienced Travelers are fond of old things, especially when the old thing is a vintage Hermes scarf on sale.  But sometimes they indulge Nurse’s post-modernist streak and pay a visit the Musée National d’Art Moderne at the Centre Georges Pompidou. 

Nurse was a real sport about my Proustian excursions, so despite my developing headcold I put on a pop art attitude and went along.

Georges Pompidou - He could be a "Mad Men" extra!

Unlike the ETs, Prime Minister Georges Pompidou was not fond of old things.   A man of the 1960s, he envisioned a New Paris that would personify the modern age.  Not since Haussman has a man done more to change the face of the city.  

His legacy includes the smelly, death-defying traffic lanes on the banks of the Seine, the heartbreaking destruction of Les Halles (the central market of Paris) – especially the Baltard iron structures, and the awkward Tour Montparnasse office skyscraper.  Even Nurse, in her most modern frame of mind, agrees.

Centre Pompidou exterior. It's not unfinished. It's just inside-out.

So it’s fitting that the Centre Pompidou is one of the most controversial buildings in Paris. The escalators, air ducts and climate control systems are on the outside of the structure.  

Nurse moving up in the world of art on the Pompidou escalator

By the time it was finished in 1977, the Centre Pompidou was lambasted in the press, mocked and despised.  In fairness, it does have admirers.  And in the end, most Parisians have come to terms with it’s eccentricities.  

Blue canvas - artist and purpose unknown to me

But we’re here for the art!  Nurse was in her element, rhapsodizing about the installations.  I wished for just one Rembrandt.  I earnestly want to understand “la moderne”, but time and again I fail.

The ETs did get some keen ideas for making Art of our own.  This is automatic Found Money when you add up what would be spent at Overstock.com on wall decor!  Take “Blue Canvas”.  *I* can do that!  And it’s equivalent in size to a $79 Overstock special.  Found!

Joseph Beuys “Homogeneous Infiltration for Piano” 1966

While Nurse was transported by the creative use of media and shiny things, I kept thinking of useful stuff around the house that could be art-ified.  *We* have a piano.  *We* have throw rugs.  Why not? 

Lifting the spirits

Nurse wandered off to deeper inspiration while I sought refuge on a comfy bench to deal with my escalating headcold. 

My reward for immersion in modern art - a fantastic view. St. Merri in front, Notre Dame and the Pantheon in the distance

This was a fortuitous move.  From where I sat in Pompidou’s monument to the new modern city, you get the most exquisite view of the buildings and mood that he wanted to eradicate.  Sorry Georges.

Note Georges Pompidou's unfathomable Tour Montparnasse just to the left of my shoulder

Take That, Georges. Even on a grey day, the view over Paris makes me sigh.

By now, I am delerious from the headcold.  But the mounting congestion helps me see things in the art that I was missing before!  Eureka! The ETs have found an “art appreciation”  research study that will keep them in Paris for years!  My opinions of Georges and Jackson Pollock are rising every minute.

The Stravinsky Fountain outside the Centre Pompidou meets Nurse's criteria for an art experiece. It's whimsical, has moving parts and sprays water

The ETs both approve of the Stravinsky Fountain.  Created in 1983, the sixteen sculptures were inspired by composer Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”.  They move, twirl and spray, which entertains small children and the ETs. 

Our foray into modern art had inspirational moments.  The ETs duly pondered them over a glass of wine. Did Georges, perhaps, have a point?  At a cafe in the heart of Paris, even ETs can be great art theorists.

Artistic inspiration comes from many places

Bayeux, Butter and Brandy

November 21, 2010

Normandy - pastoral farmland and some wickedly narrow roads

The Experienced Travellers had a wonderful visit to Normandy.  It deserves more rigorous investigation on a future trip.  Normandy’s reputation for seafood, dairy and apple products make it a promising destination for hungry travellers. 

The Hotel Reine Mathilde where the ETs outwitted French parking authorities

We stayed in Bayeux at the Hotel Reine Mathilde.  A central location can be handy, unless you have a car.  I never quite grasped the “colored curb” parking protocol and spent anxious nights listening for the Parking Lady’s turbocharged vespa. 

This water-wheel brought out the photographer in Nurse

The center of Bayeux is old and evocative, with a magnificent Cathedral built over Roman ruins. In more recent times, De Gaulle made his first speech on liberated French soil here.   I don’t know what DeGaulle did after his speech, but the ETs give Bayeux five stars for shopping and dining.

The Bayeux Tapestry - an inspired work of public relations. photo by Gabriel Seah

William, Duke of Normandy became King of England in 1066 when he conquerored Harold at the Battle of Hastings.  I’m sure William’s people held a medieval Kaizan which determined that a 224-foot embroidery was necessary to commemorate the victory. 

It conjurs images of medieval French ladies working their needles round the clock, powered by a local chevre and shots of Calvados.  The ETs don’t mean to annoy the French, but we feel the tapestry could stand a good dry-cleaning. 

Another local boy, Taillevent, was a famous 14th century chef who cooked for the Valois kings.  He wrote one of the first French cookbooks which is a primary source of medieval cooking technique – in case you find yourself planning a joust and a banquet.

Getting the beef off the skewer was a delicate operation that became challenging after the second glass

They have gone beyond roasting mutton over a fiery pit at Le Petit Resto, located just behind the Cathedral.  With heightened appetites and high expectations, we enjoyed their artful presentation of local cuisine. 

A dash of chocolate mousse sets off gateau aux pommes smothered in caramel sauce.

In an agrarian economy, it’s important to maintain strength and stamina.  Normans achieve this through regular infusions of Calvados –  a powerful brandy distilled from the local apples. 

During the first world war, Calvados was requisitioned for use in armaments due to its alcohol content.  The ETs are not surprised by this unique contribution to the national defense. 

After an educational sampling, we unanimously agree that this is how jet fuel must taste.  It’s like swallowing a fireball that descends to your gut, then ignites vital organs.  Only a people as solid as the local stone could withstand this experience.

Calvados pot still - or an armaments factory? (Photo by Hennrik Mattson, Wikipedia Commons)

Here’s something to try for your next French dinner:  The “Norman Hole” is a brief break during the meal when you have a glass of Calvados to aid digestion. We’re sure this refers to the “hole” that the Calvados burns through your stomach. We survived Grappa, but Calvados is in a league of it’s own.

Salute the Colonel. (Photo by Santaduck, Wikipedia Commons)

Norman cheeses include Camembert, Pont l’Évêque, Brillat-Savarin, Neufchatel, Petit Suisse and Boursin.  Another local cheese is Livarot.  I have read that Livarot is the stinkiest cheese on earth, smelling strongly of local livestock pens.   This cheese gets wrapped in layers of military-grade material and rides in the car trunk.

The orange rind is wrapped in rings of dried bullrush which resemble the stripes on a Colonel’s uniform, giving Livarot a dandy nickname.   The ETs haven’t tried it yet;  perhaps someone among the Readership can report?

The spires of Bayeux Cathedral

After sampling the wonders of Normandy, the ETs conclude that it was the combination of Livarot, Calvados and Norman strength that gave William a decisive win at Hastings. 

William Conquers (Photos from Wikipedia Commons)

Honoring Veterans in Normandy

November 14, 2010

No mission too difficult; No sacrifice too great; Duty first. 6 June 1944

The recent celebration of Veterans Day in the U.S. reminded the Experienced Travellers of their conquest of Normandy and Omaha Beach. 

Our first skirmish was the two-hour drive in the rain after a restless overnight flight.  Nurse was all for comfort, and deftly slipped out of her bra in the front seat of our tiny Renault, under the delighted gaze of a passing truck driver.  There are no candid photos of this skillful feat, unless you count the one that the French Traffic Surveillance camera took of my speedy vehicle.  

We used Bayeux as our base camp for exploring the area.  We had just one day to see the beaches, so we concentrated on Omaha Beach, where American forces landed during the allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France during WWII.   

Taking Omaha Beach on D-Day 1944. (Photo by Robert Sargent, Wikipedia Commons)

Omaha Beach today. Imagine thousands of GIs disembarking after a fantastic voyage across the Channel.

The wide, sweeping beach is tranquil, but it’s role in the liberation of France is evident everywhere.  There are still hulks of troop transport carriers and weapons scattered around the area. 

Nurse inspects the German gun battery at Longues-sur-Mer.

 The German coastal defenses were geared toward seaborne assult.  After a close inspection of this gun battery,  Nurse decided that an outdoor terrace offered a superior vantage point for planning an invasion of the local moules-frites vendors.

ETs contemplate their invasion of Norman cuisine

 As a dutiful second-in-command, I undertook reconnaissance to locate a sunny table with a view.  I can imagine what one of those soldiers would have given for my cafe creme.  Restored and refreshed, we revved up the Renault.  After a series of scenic wrong turns and dead ends, we arrived at the American Cemetery.

American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer holds over 9,000 soldiers

France granted this land to the US  in perpetuity.  White Crosses and Stars of David mark the graves of the fallen on this bluff overlooking the beach where they died.  The visitor’s center is very informative with excellent displays.  If we had it to do again, we would start here, then see the beach.  

The German Cemetery in La Cambe

We made an unplanned stop at the German cemetery which is maintained by the German War Graves Commision solely through donations.  Over 21,ooo soldiers are buried here, with 300 interred in the mass grave.  The German 352nd Infantry Division was made up of inexperienced recruits.  The American 29th Infantry Division was untested in these conditions.  Both sides suffered heavy casualties.

A more peaceful landing unless you're a fish

Our Renault troop transport brought us to Grandcamp Maisy in search of rations and an appetite for moules.  We found the only restaurant on the harbor that wasn’t serving fish and had to settle for quiche.  ETs are always prepared for privations, so they settled in and enjoyed their lunch. 

A canine companion barking orders - "eat your quiche and forget about moules"

It was an evocative day of sightseeing.  We headed back to Bayeux in a cool drizzle, pondering the soldiers of all nations who fought and fell on D-Day, and those who risk their lives today.

Les Braves - the French government commissioned this sculpture to honor the Americans who liberated France. They symbolize the Wings of Hope, Rise of Freedom and Wings of Fraternity.

We’ll tell you more about Bayeux and Normandy in our next post.  And yes, Readership,  there will be food pictures.

Les Macarons

November 7, 2010

Les Macarons. One ET shares the French obsession with them. The other ET is mystified.

Occasionally, the ETs respectfully disagree over a point of French life.  The frenzied, national devotion to the macaron is a serious point of contention, with Nurse firmly on the side of the French.   You can see where that leaves me.

The obsession in question is made of two thin-crusted cookies with soft centers of almond meringue held together with a layer of rich, sweet ganache.  If you’re already spinning from sugar overload, I am sympathetic. 

Nurse has a fondness for the macarons that her friend Pauline made with whipped cream.  So when she saw a patisserie window in full macaron splendor, she was hooked.  I can’t fathom why.  The fumes make my teeth hurt.

A new solar system - macarons suspended by wire over pink sugar, each with a decorative cutout

Macarons come in all colors and flavors.  They’re lemon, raspberry, mocha or pistachio and always a garish hue.  The blinding saucer-sized varieties  from the corner patisserie are Nurse’s favourites. Her blood sugar rose the moment she had the bag in hand.  A circulatory system overload caused by the almond meringue and the lemon ganache made Nurse handle her hotwheels like a NASCAR pro.  No one was safe.

If Proust had preferred Laduree macarons to madelines, perhaps he would have been less pensive. (Photo by Roboppy. Wikipedia Commons)

 

Catherine de Medici’s Italian pastry chefs introduced them to France in the mid-1500s as a simple almond cookie.  The fanaticism began when the famous pastry shop Laduree pioneered the ganache filling in the early 1900s.  Laduree’s website offers this secret to macaron success:

These small, round cakes, crisp on the outside, smooth and soft in the middle, are made every morning in Ladurée’s “laboratory”. The pastry chefs measure out very precisely the required amounts of almonds, eggs and sugar, before adding one final ingredient, a pinch of unique “know-how”, essential to the making of such a delicacy. Once cooked and filled, the macaroons are put to one side for 2 days before going on sale, the time it takes to achieve a perfect balance between texture and flavour.

The part about them sitting around for two days is certainly a point for my side of the argument.  

The discs of delight make creative window dressing a snap. Does anyone but me question why you can use a glue gun on a macaron?

Patisserie owners are enthusiastic about decorating with them and I suspect it’s because profit margins on macarons must be enormous.  If you’re willing to part with 2-3 euro of  “found money” for a few bites of sass and buzz, join Nurse! 

Disagreements over who makes the best macarons are serious and consequential.   In Paris, there are several top contenders.  Laduree and Dalloyau  are two of the oldest practitioners in the city. 

Pierre Hermé –  who has written a book on the subject – has a contemporary flair and unusual flavors like rose and lychee.  (You can devour 20 of them in your own home for just 58 euro plus shipping.) 

Lenôtre  will send you a 116-piece “colonnade de macarons” for 164 euro which will turn your office holiday party into an EMT convention.  Finally Gérard Mulot on the Rue de Seine has fierce adherents who swear that his are the only ones.   

So, Readership, do you have a position to take on the subject of macarons?  Do you back Nurse in her devotion to the colorful, ganache-filled biscuits?  Or do I have the right approach – bisquick and Fluffernutter?

Toussaint in Père Lachaise Cemetery

October 30, 2010

Visit Rossini over Halloween in Paris

Happy Halloween to the Readership. The Experienced Travellers wish you more treats than tricks.  

In France, they invoke their Catholic heritage and make national holidays of  Holy days and Saint’s days.  Add in numerous Bank Holidays and it makes for a very relaxing schedule.   In the grand French tradition, it’s an opportunity to exercise the right to outdoor leisure and convivial dining over a long weekend.  Vive this French bureaucratic policy!

Forget healthcare reform. Insist on a constitutional right to Saints Days and Bank Holidays

Toussaint – the Feasts of All Saint and All Souls  – is the first three-day weekend after the rentree.  It’s a time to honor Saints like the remarkable Genevieve, and to remember the deceased.  

In memory of saints and singers, the ETs recall their visit to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.  It’s the largest cemetery in Paris, and justly famous.  Residents include Colette, Piaf, Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Rossini and Jim Morrison.

Edith Piaf's burial drew tens of thousands mourners to the cemetery and Paris traffic to a standstill.

When the cemetery opened in  1804, people  thought it was too far out of town.  But some flashy marketing saved the day.  They reburied Moliere and La Fontaine here, then intered the “remains” of  medieval lovers Abelard and Heloise.  Before long, everybody wanted in. 

Oscar Wilde's dying words - "either that wallpaper goes, or I do"

Here we can survey the sweeping history of arts, letters and science, especially when a certain Belle Epoch author is buried within.  It was my secret mission to “stumble upon” his grave and leave a token of my esteem.  Nurse thought we were out for a walk.  Just as well…

Hopelessly lost among the Immortals

Knowledgable ETs take provisions.  Fortunately we packed food, because we spent the day horribly lost.  The free cemetery map wasn’t up to the job.  One allee looks very much like another.  Everything was uphill.  Under a  dire sky, we trod the gravel paths arguing over magnetic north.   

Ravensbruck memorial

I must mention that the most arresting monuments in the cemetery are the Holocaust memorials.  We come to see the famous graves, but these  deeply moving tributes are the ones we remember.  

By late afternoon, I understood which way to hold the map.  My secret plan was coming together.  Nurse was getting suspicious, because I confidently scampered up hills and between mausoleums.  At last, I found him.  

Marcel Proust. If only I hadn't eaten that last madeleine.

Certain ETs pay homage to the great Belle Epoch author. His monument is almost as high as the six volumes stacked.

He doesn’t draw Jim Morrison’s fledgling hippies, or lover’s pleas like Abelard and Heloise.  We devotees come for a moment of involuntary memory or a spot of tea.   

Nurse was good-humoured about it.  This was nothing compared to the truly scary Proustian fieldtrip to Illiers-Combray.  But that’s for another post.

Spend next Halloween in Paris

Enjoy Halloween.  Perhaps the candy and the costumes will invoke an involuntary memory of your own.

Park it! Outdoor living in Paris

October 27, 2010

 

 
 

The right configuration: One chair with arms, and one without for the feet.

As the trees go bare and the days grow shorter,  the Experienced Travellers wistfully revisit balmy afternoons in their favourite Paris parks.  Ooh, to drag a green iron chair to the edge of a fountain for a spot of lunch. 

Fountain-side in the Palais-Royal garden

The ETs have a particular fondness for the Palais Royal garden –  an 18th century outdoor entertainment complex.  Desperate gamblers lost the family manse in the dens over the arcades.  Prostitutes did a bit of marketing in the allees.  Actors and revolutionaries argued in the cafes.  

Then on a hot night in 1789, Camille Desmoulins leapt onto a table here in the Cafe Foy, and delivered the tirade that “started” the French Revolution.  By morning, cockades made a fashion statement that few would dare debate.

Perfect for a touch of insurgency - or lunch.

You can still promenade here, dine at the Grand Vefour or shop where Charlotte Corday bought the knife that killed Marat, but the crowd is more law-abiding.   The Palais Royal garden is a fine venue for recharging.  ETs aren’t likely to hop on tables and make proclamations, but they do enjoy an al fresco lunch in the shade.

The Jardin des plantes - zoo and botanical garden

In the 5th arrondissement, the Jardin des Plantes contains the Paris zoo, a spectacular botanical garden and the Museum of Natural History.

Fricassee? Don’t scare the wildlife!

The ETs thought the animals looked relaxed, but that wasn’t always the case.  During the Prussian siege of 1870, food was so scarce that zoo animals turned up as exotic dishes on restaurant menus.

The Paris Mosque - lunch and a Turkish bath

In search of a more amenable meal, the ETs head directly to the nearby Paris Mosque.  The excellent couscous and mint tea gurantee a restful afternoon.  It’s a lovely setting, and for the price, one of the best meals in Paris.  If you leave here without wanting to lay mosaic tile throughout your house, you are superhuman.  Did I mention the gift shop?

Float your boat in the Luxembourg Gardens

Perhaps I saved the best for last.  Deep in the 6th arrondissement, the Luxembourg Gardens are a leafy venue for sea-worthy children to hone their skills.  Formerly Marie de Medici’s backyard, today the gardens afford unparallelled vistas across the parterres to the rooftops of the 5th and 6th. 
More piegon trivia;  On his way home from Gertrude Stein’s salon, a hungry Hemingway used to catch the delectable birds for his dinner in the Lux.  (The ETs feel closer to Hemingway since GR’s pigeon dish.)

A perfect picnic

So find a garden or a small neighborhood park, arrange your hotwheels and enjoy a baguette with ham and cheese.  It’s free, it’s relaxing and it’s very French.

More lunch with Gordon: the food!

October 24, 2010

Little beehives of sweet and salted butter. Every detail was exquisite.

Go slip into your best bib!  The Experienced Travellers are taking you on a culinary pilgrimage as they revisit their Gordon Ramsay lunch at the Trianon Palace Hotel.  By popular mandate, here are the complete, unabridged  food pictures.  Consider yourself warned.

(If you haven’t read the first post on this topic, start here  and follow with this entry!)

Gordon's idea of a perfect afternoon

This  journey required a roadmap, and it was thoughtfully provided by the maitre’d.  Armed with flutes of fine champagne, we strategized over the menu to plot our meal. The ETs were focused, confident – and hungry.  We knew we could go the distance. 

A different take on caesar salad

The amuse bouche was a caesar salad. On top is bufala mozzarella, with a little something extra.  The fork pierces the cheese and “whoosh” – it’s stuffed with a delicate salmon mousse!  Underneath is shredded lettuce, anchovy and a crouton.  We never found out what the black disc was, but who cares!  The champagne flowed, and all was well.

Very high-end chips and dip

These are perfect paper-thin potato chips (not the wavy kind), and crisp sesame bread with two dips – one eggplant and the other with caviar.  My standard for chips and dip has been raised forever.

An artful lobster tortellini

The first course on the menu arrived.  Lobster tortellini with squid carpaccio in a consomme broth.  It was lovely to look at, and spectacular to eat. 

By now,  Nurse progressed from the champagne to a Fitou Cuvee Cadette 2007 from Domaine les Milles Vignes.  I had a Riesling.  A mild light-headedness and all-around goodwill was setting in.

One plat - John Dory

We rested between courses, while our attentive waiters watched over us.  Up came the second course.   For me,  John Dory – with a cepes and chanterelles mushrooms fricassee in a basil vinaigrette (and a little smiley of sliced radishes for good measure). 

The Pigeon. This dish changed the way we looked at pigeons for the rest of the trip.

Nurse chose the  pigeon.   The taste and texture suggested that this Bresse pigeon could be a relative to the famous chickens of the same area.  This was served on potatoes and artichoke terrine, Muscat grapes and almonds.   The memory of this dish threatened every plump pigeon we saw in the Luxembourg Garden.

There were waiters whirling all round us, clearing dishes and using those little crumb brushes.  The room felt smaller and more expansive at the same time.  We were beginning to feel… so very full. 

The pre-dessert. Custard with raspberry chutney

While waiting for dessert, we were served a pre-dessert.  Maybe it was meant to get us warmed up for the actual event.  This custard with raspberry chutney was light and wonderful. 

At this point, we’re an hour and fifteen minutes into it, and the ETs are deeply aware of the importance of pacing.  We slumped slightly in our chairs.  Eyelids were drooped.  Heads bobbed from side-to-side.  How do the real food-iacs do this? 

Strawberry cheesecake in a puff of smoke

Now the real dessert arrived – floating on a gossamer mist.  Heaven-sent strawberry cheesecake.  Fresh, chopped strawberries with lovely crusty bits and a sabayon.  To demonstrate the educational value of this meal, I can now say and spell sabayon (a whipped sauce  – this one flavored with kirsch).

C'est frommage - the cheese course

As we wearily rested our spoons from the cheesecake, we heard the rumbling of a cart.  And there appeared before us, an abundance of cheeses.  All the will, and all the strength of the French nation was on that cart;  slices and rounds;  blocks and wedges.  We chose a bleu, a hard yellow cheese, a brie and — the shining star – an Époisses de Bourgogne.

Delectable bread

Cheese of this magnitude deserves a remarkable conveyance.  The artisan bread filled with hazelnuts and golden raisins was perfect.  

The ETs marshalled our diminishing strength to give the cheeses the attention and praise they deserved.  We quietly called upon the Immortals of France to lead us through.  This was the last course on the menu.  Surely, we could persevere and conclude this exquisite meal with honor.  

Truffles. The final movement.

But there was more.  Yes, more!  The final course is perfect ice cream truffles asea in a bowl of dry ice, smoking like holy incense at a sacred feast.  The truffles transported the weary ETs to a final phase of dining that passeth all understanding. 

Only a visit from Gordon himself could bring the ETs to rise from their chairs.  He didn’t appear, but the ETs did slowly stumble out of the restaurant,  awed by the experience.  I have a vague, wine-infused memory of paying the bill which I did without a qualm.

It was a magnificent, memorable meal. 

A reflection of perfection.

Julie’sParis will continue…

October 15, 2010

Inspiration for menu planning

The Experienced Travellers are home again, but the magic of Paris lingers.  The sights, sounds and flavours are still foremost in our minds.  And  I re-lived many of them when I checked my American Express statement yesterday.  I don’t regret a single euro.

A balmy evening on the terrace at Le Bosquet

So by popular demand, I’ll continue to write  juliesparis.  Perhaps 1-2 posts per week, depending on how much reality interferes with my inner world of life in the city of lights.  Lord knows, I have the photo archive and Paris info spreadsheets to keep it going!

Metro station, St. Germain

I want to thank all of you for your readership, comments and support.  This blog was a fun experiment and it will live on.  Let’s live “la vie Parisienne”  for a few minutes each week.  Now, that’s “found money”!

The spirit of Paris endures

La Mode Parisienne

October 13, 2010

La Mode Parisienne

Experienced Travellers watch the whirl of life around them.  Though I’m not a fashionista, here are a few observations about what people are wearing – and buying in Paris.  

Everyone carefully orchestrates their clothing, shoes and makeup, even to run the shortest errand.  It is a matter of national pride that the ensemble is right – whether it’s understated elegance or chic grunge.

Count the coats in this picture. It was in the high 60s and yet the coat is paramount.

Jackets and coats – preferably leather –  come out immediately following the rentree in September.  And wool scarves by early October.   No matter that the sun is blazing and it’s 75 degrees, the coat and scarf make a statement to the world, and they are mandatory attire. 

The legs matter!

Stockings and tights were a prominent accoutrement.  Ladies of every age and build made the most of them.  They were often the only splash of color or design.   And I saw lots of black tights under knee-length jersey tops finished off with a sporting pair of boots.  Lots and lots of boots on the streets…

They are all made for walkin' - and showing off those hose

What amazes me is the number of small, independent clothing shops featuring one or two designers, particularly in the Marais and around the Place St. Germain.  Each shop has a unique style and the clothing is paired with jewelry, handbags and accessories.  It’s a “one stop outfit” in an artisinal style.   ETs like this strategy because it gets you to the cafe faster.

That certain "je ne sais quois"

I loved this twirling shoe diplay in the Marais.  Gentlemen if you’re in the market for a red shoe with a chunky heel, there are plenty in stock.

Red shoes at morning / sailors take warning

Any style works, as long as it’s well-executed.  In this case, if you’re got it; flaunt it.  Jacket.  Boots.  Handbag.  It’s all there.

Retro works!

So how do ETs decide what to pack for Paris?  They are resigned to the truth.  They’ll never look like French ladies, so comfort is paramount, and black is best.  But that doesn’t mean a girl can’t shop for a dishy new jacket and top while she’s in Paris.  Besides, it’s research for the blog.  

If Foucault were alive today, he would be studying the physics of platform stillettos on cobbled streets.  And he’d be a happier man for it!

No matter what they wear, or what they're doing, Parisienne women are chic

Paris by boat

October 12, 2010

One view from the Seine, with the Grand Palais in the distance

When Experienced Travellers yearn for something nautical, they buy a one-day ticket on the Batobus, Paris’ water-taxi.  You can ride the circuit, or get on and off at different stops and sightsee.  Batobus gives you city transport while you rest and admire Paris from the river.  How splendid!

The romantic Pont Neuf, near the tip of the Ile de la Cite

There are 37 bridges in Paris spanning the Seine.  The oldest of them is the Pont Neuf.  Completed in 1607 during the reign of Henry IV, it has a reputation as the most romantic bridge in Paris.   But before it became a romantic venue, it was a center of petty criminal and commercial activity.   

In this century, the artist Christo wrapped the Pont Neuf in sand-colored fabric.  This might qualify as either criminal or commercial activity, depending on your point of view. 

An address to admire: the Ile St.-Louis in the center of Paris

The Ile St.-Louis is a most prestigious address, and a very good retirement plan if you’re lucky enough to call it home.  At one time, it was used to graze cattle.  Today the most popular grazing is at Berthillion – arguably the best ice cream in Paris. 

Why do I think George Clooney has a home in the Ile?  Well if he does, he is in stellar company. Baudelaire, French poet, essayist and notable laudanum addict was briefly a resident here.  And Proust placed Charles Swann’s home on the Ile.

In addition to quiet wealth and aristocracy, there’s also shopping.  The Rue St. Louis-en-Ile is lined with boutiques, food stores and small designer clothing shops. 

Shopping on the Rue St. Louis-en-Ile

Our Batobus comes upon Notre Dame from the west, where the Ile St. Louis almost nudges the Ile de la Cite.

This makes anyone a photographer. You can't get a bad picture with this kind of material

The banks of the Seine are justly famous as the perfect  place for a rendez-vous with a certain someone.  As always in France, the tradition continues.  This couple was occupied with La Gloire  as we waited for the next Batobus.

With the Louvre as their backdrop, this couple carries on a deep intellectual conversation

As the boat pulled alongside the Eiffel Tower stop, we were glad we remembered the Batobus and had a day of riparian delights on the banks of the Seine. 

The trinket sellers will drive you made, but a view of the Eiffel Tower is on every ET's list.

You don’t have to take an expensive Bateau Mouche dinner cruise to enjoy Paris from the Seine.  I feel in my bones that this is somehow “found money”, but I need to make a few calculations to confirm this.   

From my archives - The Concergierie towers on the Ile de al Cite

Feet on the street – Part 2

October 11, 2010

La Fontaine St. Michel

I left off with that dreamy omlette, so I’ll resume my tale and take you through the 6th, past Les Invalides and add an addendum on our dinner.

The 6th arrondissement is perfect for ETs

There is an abundance of strolling, shopping and old things in this area.  Benjamin Franklin thought so too.  Cafe Procope was his hangout, so it’s only fitting that I should honor his legacy with a cafe express.  This cafe was the first to serve coffee in 1686.  The Founding Fathers all organized business trips to Paris – and often left their wives at home.  I wonder if they had French nieces too….

Robespierre, Danton and Marat also found it a convivial place where-from to run a Revolution.  I wonder who paid the check? (and I bet Citizen Robespierre didn’t have to wait 20 minutes to get it)
Rue de Buccci – the market street of the 6th

Experienced Travellers know not to travel the Rue de Bucci hungry.  I was still luminous from the omlette, so it was a permissable route.  This is the local marche, lined with cafes, epiceries, produce stands and shops.  My hero Janet Flanner lived nearby on the Rue Jacob and it was a favourite area for The Lost Generation.

Take-away salads on the Rue de Bucci

A popular spot for lunch and some mid-day flirting

I made my way down the Blvd. St. Germain and over the Rue de Grennelle, which takes me through Embassy Row.  Hmm. Lots of police , the road closed to traffic and absolutely NO SOUND except footsteps on the pavement.  Oh dear.  Even ETs can’t plan for every turn of events. 

I kept my head down and walked.  Very fast.  I’ve been reading too much Alan Furst. This must be what the streets were like at night during the Nazi occupation.  Alan’s heros duck into a doorway and press against the wall if a car approaches.  Especially if they’re  using forged papers and carrying microfilm.   Fortunately, I had no need of doorways or false alibis.

Les Invalides - army museum and military hospital

I emerged a little out of breath and regained my wits on a bench at the Invalides.  Les Invalides was established as a military hospital by Louis XIV – and his appetite for war consigned many of his troops to it’s care.  It is still used as a hospital today, and houses the Army Museum and the very grand tomb of Emperor Napoleon. 

The gold dome is beautiful at night when it’s lit.  The French are very very good at lighting monuments.  They’re also very good at integrating contemporary art with ancient or historical buildings.  I admired this installation in the Invalides garden.

Garden art at Les Invalides

Thank goodness it was time for dinner, and we had reservations at a wine bar called Number 7.  

The obligatory swirl

My knowledgable friend Terese encouraged me to order the St. Emillion, and I always follow her advice.  Now, I want to know if St. Emillion can be my new patron saint.

Nurse is a thurifer in our Church of St. Emillion

Nurse, resplendent after a day of rest, ordered a crab and zucchini terrine topped with chopped lime that was so refreshing.  The plates were sprinkled with a very interesting paprika.  So now we have to scour the market to find a small bottle for the suitcase.

Crab zucchini terrine. I had enough wine to wonder how they got the zuchinni to stick together.

This is where we learned that not all mashed potatos need to be mashed – some can be chunks! We finished the meal with a pear clafoutis and a cafe noir.

Pear clafoutis - the walk home will do us good

Thank goodness I walked all day.  I have a caloric theory that you can excercise ahead of time to offset the evening meal.  This operates on the same principle as “found money” and is equally sound.

The longer I spend in Paris, the more my theories are borne out. 

Feet on the street – Part 1

October 11, 2010

 
 
 

Cheese ladies chatting with passing neighbors

Nurse was resting her back today, so I revisited some neighborhoods that I know and love. 

 

Experienced Travellers always devise routes ahead of time that balance historical sights with local interest – and of course, food.  A walk  from the Latin Quarter to St.-Germain, through Embassy Row, past Les Invalides and back to the Ecole Militaire sounded just right.  Part I will focus on the Latin Quarter to  Place St. Michel. 

Reliable #82 dropped me near the Rue St. Jacques to begin my trek. I will never fear Parisian busses again.  It’s far superior to taking the metro, unless you’re in a hurry.

Riding the #82 bus through Montparnasse

The Latin Quarter has teemed with students, tourists, nightclubs and fast-food since the Collège de Sorbonne was established in 1253.  Would Abelard and Heloise be surprised by the Greek take-away and post-card vendors?  Perhaps our friendly Medievalist can weigh in on 13th century student life?  

The 5th is where you go when you need a gyro in Paris

Gyros on the Rue de la Huchette

For years, I’ve heard about an eccentric Latin Quarter hotel with a devoted clientel,  that has cheap rooms and unparallelled views of Notre Dame. (J-P A. may know of it)  Well here I was on the doorstep, so I asked to see a room.  Now, bear in mind this is 75 euros with no view – about the price of a Holiday Inn Express – and the maid was cleaning it.

A little too “La Boheme” for the ETs

I suppose it works if you’re young, tormented and writing quatrains about man’s inhumanity to man.  I didn’t inquire about availability.

But if you’re past the prime of youth, don’t despair.  Enjoy this memorable view of Notre Dame from the Place St Julien le Pauvre.  
This view doesn’t cost anything – found money!

Lovely old streets surround the church of St. Julien le Pauvre

Pondering medieval fast-food and tormented poetics gave me an appetite.  Much to my delight, I enjoyed the perfect omlette.  Lightly crusted on the outside, slightly runny on the inside, and filled with ham and cheese.   The new gold standard. 

The best omlette I have ever eaten. Thank you, La Fontaine St. Michel

Rested and restored, I set out to explore the 6th between Place St Michel and the Place St. Germain.  And an eerie experience on the Rue Grenelle in Embassy Row.  Watch for Part 2!

There’s going to be a transport strike here on Tuesday to protest the Government’s move to raise the retirement age to 62.  Limited train, metro and bus service will be fun to negotiate!

Ladies who Lunch at the Fontaine St. Michel

Lunch with Gordon

October 1, 2010

Cheese selections and a knowledgable guide

See the complete food photos here

Gordon Ramsay’s restarant at the Trianon Palace Hotel in Versailles.  I expected fast, mediocre and expensive.  I was only right on one count.

The three-course lunch menu was actually eight unbelievable courses, wine and champagne.   The 15-table restaurant was comfortably full.  Nurse noticed lots of generous businessmen taking their nieces out for a leisurely lunch….

Our table looked out over a community of contented goats and sheep, presumably from Marie Antoinette’s Petite Trianon.  It might be a point of conscience that lamb was not on the menu.

It took two and a half hours to eat and four waiters to serve.  Paper thin croutons and potato crisps with two spreads – eggplant and goat cheese with caviar.  Caesar salad and mozzarella stuffed with salmon mousse.  Pate de fois gras.  Lobster ravioli.  Roast pigeon.  John Dory.  Custard with raspberry coulis. Strawberries with creme freche and a crumbled crust.  Five kinds of cheese (the cheese that the French don’t export.)  Desert truffles served on dry ice.  Complete exhaustion.

I immediately underwent a psychic exorcism to forget how much it cost, so don’t bother asking.  I was repeatedly amazed by the delicate, interesting flavors and textures.  It’s good to experience this kind of dining  just once.  I have to hand it to Gordon.

See the complete food photos here


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