Posts Tagged ‘Proust’

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!

J’ai Faim! Le Bistrot d’Henri

August 15, 2011

Le Bistrot d'Henri

Ohhh, j’ai faim. The Experienced Travelers pledge fidelity to our food-mad Readership with a restaurant report on Le Bistrot d’Henri in the 6th, near the Place St. Germain at 16 rue Princesse.  How apropos that Melinda and I dined like “les princesses” at the Bistrot. (Hopefully like princesses that kept their heads after 1789.)  And what could be better for a girl’s frame of mind than a great meal with a flirtatious Frenchman at the next table.

We found Henri through the Adrian Leeds Top 100 Cheap Restaurants guide. Cheap was a relative term for our weak US dollar, but Adrian steered us right. This was an excellent use for the Found Money I saved by resisting the  Hermès scarf ring.

A flash in the pan promises excellence on a plate at Le Bistrot d'Henri

We settled into the deep banquette and immediately began research on a bottle of Côtes de Provence. Dancing flames and culinary gymnastics from the open kitchen sent us straight to the menu.  Here I exercised caution, because the French disguise liver with sonorous phrases that trick me every time. I once ordered three courses that were all liver and Nurse has never let me forget it.

Be upstanding and welcome this terrine into the ET Culinary Hall of Fame

Melinda and I opened the proceedings with terrine de fois de volaille de maison,  a chicken terrine that rightfully rests in the ET Culinary Hall of Fame.

Melinda practices her terrine spreading technique

Dear Readership, Henri’s terrine is a 7-euro meal in itself. During Proustian “involuntary memory” moments, it all comes back to me; textured goodness heaped on a round of baguette, going down with a satisfaction that is uniquely French.  Forget what I said about liver. I was wrong.  Henri has reformed me.

Free-range Bresse chicken with mushrooms was top-notch

We poured more wine to prepare our pallets for the plats; Melinda’s ravioli in cream sauce and my poulet fermier a la crème aux champignons, which was safely not liver, but free-range Bresse chicken in white sauce with mushrooms.  We were delighted to share an order of potatoes gratin dauphinois and dined as the restaurant filled to capacity, and the din of convivial chatter rose.

Pear clafouti with a shy creme caramel just behind

The table next to ours was occupied by two couples. The man next to us took an immediate interest in what we were eating and where we were from. He mesmerized us with a Gallic style that held us in thrall. His wife rolled her eyes to the other couple while Monsieur Charm ably pointed out the merits of our crème caramel and pear clafouti.

When done well, French flirtation is an experience that ranks with the Louvre and a ride on the Seine as necessary Parisian events.  And now I know it can be practiced in the presence of one’s wife, purely for sport and spirited repartee.

French dining offers ample opportunities for a sporting flirtation

Fortunately, all French men flirt, so there’s plenty to go around.  A first-rate engagement strategy is in play when he admires your stunning command of the French language.  I only know 15 minutes of French – all in the present-tense —   so this is a gratuitous compliment that works every time.  Flirting is harmless and character-building, and recounting it will amuse your friends once you get home.

Melinda and I said our goodbyes to Monsieur Charm (who told us it was a French custom that you don’t leave your dinner until the table next to you has finished…) and walked to the Café Flore for the ritual nightcap.

Our dinner at Le Bistrot d’Henri in the rue Princesse did leave us feeling like royalty – comfortably full of excellent food and well attended by hovering staff and our neighboring Frenchman.  Vive la France and all who dwell in her.

To check out online reviews for Le Bistrot d’Henri and get directions click here

Outdoors at the Cafe Flore - the perfect nightcap on the Blvd St.-Germain

Paris Cinema: Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’

July 5, 2011

It's not midnight, but it is most certainly Paris (Photo by Associate ET Dygert)

Spoiler Alert: Stop reading if you don’t want to know how the movie ends.  But don’t worry it won’t make a difference.

At last, a long weekend and a break from the Real Job.  Experienced Travelers need respite from everyday life so Woody Allen’s latest movie “Midnight in Paris” was just the ticket for a hot July afternoon.

Welcome to fantasy Paris, where people find taxis in the rain, and parking spaces in front of elegant five-star restaurants where they habitually dine (and not on the prix-fixe menu, either)   Suffice it to say that Experienced Travelers should suspend disbelief and enjoy the scenery.

Place Contrescarpe at the heart of the Lost Generation's playground

“Midnight in Paris” delights Francophiles with familiar locations photographed in a dreamy golden hue that sets a perfect mood for this magical fantasy tour. There’s Montmartre, the Clingancourt flea market, bridges on the Seine and even Carla Bruni in the Rodin gardens.  It’s as beautiful as your fondest memory of Paris.  (The ETs wonder if  Carla stopped after work at nearby Cantin to spend her Actor’s Guild minimum wage on cheese for the Palace)

Click here to see a detailed filming location list from the Mairie de Paris (large PDF file – takes a moment to download)

We get a typical Woody Allen story and stock characters, with Owen Wilson in a tatty tweed sport coat and wrinkled chinos, seeking life’s answers and being misunderstood by everyone.

Hollywood screen writer Gil (Owen Wilson) wants to fulfill his literary ambitions by writing a novel, and romanticizes Paris of the 1920s.  He’s engaged to upper-crust princess Inez (Rachel McAdams) who is firmly planted in the present – and most of the exclusive stores in the rue Saint-Honoré.  They tag along on a business trip with her unenthusiastic parents, where they meet Inez’ annoying, pretentious former boyfriend. One night, in a drunken stupor, Gil is transported in a classic Peugeot, back to the 1920s where legends like Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso and Gertrude Stein help him find his true self. It’s light on plot, but that’s not why we paid a ruinous $10 plus popcorn to see it on a large screen.

The well-heeled shop in the Place Madeleine while more pedestrian ETs lunch on public benches

This crowd gets no sympathy from ETs who know better.  They are blasé enough to treat the Hotel Bristol like a Holiday Inn Express, wealthy enough to order room service for breakfast (imagine the Found Money!) and crazy enough to consider an impractical  18,000 euro chair. No one rides the metro, there’s no fumbling for museum passes, fighting with ATMs or sightseeing from l’OpenTour busses.  There is no fear of the American Express bill to come, and no one mentions ruinous exchange rates.  Suspend disbelief – suspend, suspend, suspend.

The ETs stopped by Ernest Hemingway's Paris doorway. Gil did the ETs one better with the vintage Peugeot.

After all, this is Woody’s homage to Paris, city of lights.  The opening picture-postcard sequence sets the mood for a magical city that we could not begin to afford.  And thanks to Gil’s obsession with the past we get imaginary visits to the Steins on rue de Fleurus (Kathy Bates *is* Gertrude), drinks with Hemingway at Polidor, a Josephine Baker floorshow at Bricktop’s, working girls in the Place Pigalle and a humorous sequence with Djuna Barnes dancing the Charleston.   A basic knowledge of Lost Generation history helps.  “She’s back in Paris.  The trip to Kilimanjaro didn’t work out.”

Place du Tertre: A moment from 1920s Paris or the ETs last trip?

When all was said and done, I felt that Woody overlooked a nod to the important personage who, one hundred years earlier,  created the underpinnings for his protagonist’s self-awareness.  The resolution is taken right from Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time”. It’s the same story; frustrated artist in search of self-realization through art realizes that the story to write is his own.  The past fuels the artistic endeavor of the present.  Of course I haven’t found a single writer or reviewer who mentions this parallel, and I will be accused of Proustian obsession by certain people who shall remain nameless.

Midnight in Paris for lucky ETs

My viewing companions gave the movie a 4.  I generously rated it a 7.  Every time the camera swept across the city I love best, I got weepy.  Like Gil, I went on a trip through the past – when I had the best omlette of my life at that café, how I crossed the Pont des Arts there, and climbed those steps to Sacre Coeur.  Recherchez, dear Readership.

(So what did you think of the film?  Leave a comment and let us know!)

April in Paris

March 28, 2011

 

Mise en place in Paris. All that's missing is an ET.

The Experienced Travelers toil and sacrifice to entertain the Readership with anecdotes about Paris.   From time to time, we must refresh our photos – and our palettes – with exquisite new wonders to share on Julie’s Paris.  Thus, it is solely for your benefit, dear Readership, that I return to our beloved Paris in early April for an extended weekend of ET research and grocery shopping.

Is there falafel in my future on the rue des Rosiers?

Nurse declined to come along because it’s a quick visit, but I have the next-best travel companion on board – Nurse’s daughter, Associate ET Melinda. Melinda is an excellent photographer, a first-class shopper and a true food enthusiast.  She will be a boon companion and a welcome addition to our blog.

Fans of Nurse will be pleased to know that she’ll oversee operations from Command Central, directing our every move via phone and text message.  Believe me, nothing will get by Nurse and she has firm opinions about how this trip should go.  You’ll be hearing from her!

The gardens behind Notre Dame are perfect for a picnic

Melinda and I will make the most of four days in the streets and boulevards.  My cunning plan will keep us busy exploring neighborhoods and restaurants.  I have accounted for the mission-critical aspects on my ET spreadsheet; Omlettes – check.  Croissants – check.   Pâté and a crisp Sancerre – check.  It’s been a long winter and I am ready for spring in Paris.

Yes, I'm dreaming of this hamburger. It was spectacular.

I want to prowl the less-touristed streets of Montmartre and watch edgy young “Bobos” on the cafe terraces near the Canal St. Martin.  I’m curious to explore elegant Passy and we will  lunch-tour at the popular Wine Museum.  Maybe this time I’ll genuflect at Proust’s cork-lined bedroom, where he wrote his masterwork and ate takeout ice-cream from the Ritz.

Why not suggest a sight or a memorable meal using the Comments link below!  We travel to serve to the Readership so you can wine, dine, shop and explore Paris along with us.

Pray for good weather and watch for real-time reports.  Oh, la la.

Melinda and I will be reporting from Place St. Andre des Arts

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


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