Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Chocolate and champagne

Today is Halloween but it doesn’t seem like it. No pumpkins anywhere and the weather has been very mild, with warm temps, although generally overcast skies. Leaves are falling but it just doesn’t seem like fall.

This past week has been quiet and largely uneventful – so why are you reading this you ask, this bit about “nothing”? Well I suppose because we are doing nothing but we’re doing it in Paris, the city of light, the city of love, the city of “chocolat” (show-koh-laht). As the Parisian photographer Robert Doisneau once remarked, “Paris is a theatre where you book your seat by wasting time.”

Tomorrow, Wednesday is All-Saint’s Day (1 November), one of the biggest holidays and since everything will be closed we will be out in Pere Lachaise cemetery. Rumor has it that quite a bit goes on in the cemeteries on All-Saints’ Day and we aim to find out if that’s true. Anyway there’s been a lot of activity in Pere lately; all new flowers (mostly mums) being placed in the various gardens around the cemetery and many of the tombstones have received fresh plantings as well. (Quite a cottage industry, mobile landscaping services that cater just to cemeteries; that goes to show you how important fresh flowers are here and the constant cleaning of many of the stones, often by family also demonstrates the care given to many graves here.)

Last week Susan finished the Intermediate level, scoring well on both written and practical portions of her final exam. For the practical exam she drew the recipe a passion fruit cream, raspberry tart. She considered herself fortunate since a number of others in her group drew more elaborate recipes with various layers of cake, cream and chocolate and so forth. (Upon entering the exam kitchen you draw a card from a piece of equipment to see which recipe you will have to make.)

So that’s behind her. Graduation is this Friday and we will be there – although apparently many others have chosen to take an extended vacation. Indeed, the last day of class (the final) was 25 October and except for the graduation on 3 November they don’t have to be back in class until 13 November! But we wanted to stay around this week so we plan to be at graduation. After that we will take off for Italy and southern France for a week.

So the last few days Susan has been baking at home (tarts, puff pastry and muffins) and working on card-making – she’s so happy to be back crafting again. What a lift for her spirits!

The two of us paid a visit to Le Bon Marche (“the good market”) this past week, in particular to the grocery section. The place is enormous – and they have stuff from all over the world, such as the large Oreo cookie display, but hey we did find a bottle of Yamato soy sauce (see my blog entry on the soy sauce presentation)! This is the kind of soy sauce that you use sparingly – and so far I have put it into soup as well as scrambled eggs, in place of salt. Wow! What flavor!

During our outing we stopped by the Opera Garnier, on Place de la Opera, one of two major opera houses in Paris. What an incredible building!



In the wine section at LBM they had several carts scattered around letting you taste different wines: we stopped and tried an Alsatian pinot gris (bought a bottle) and then a moved to another cart to taste the champagne (bought a bottle of that too). What a fantastic store! This should definitely be on any cook’s short list of places to go when visiting Paris. And if you’re renting an apartment by all means plan a stop before you go anywhere else. (Prices were oddly high on some things and low on others.)

Monday late afternoon we headed back to the Parc de Exposition at the Porte de Versailles, where we had seen the auto show, to attend the “Salon du Chocolat”. Susan had gotten tickets for us at school – they also had a booth in the show – and so off we went. We walked to Place d’Italie, took the no. 6 to Pasteur where we changed to the no. 12 and got off at the Porte de Versailles stop.

It was a madhouse. Most of the kids are off from school this week and I swear every one of them was there!


It seemed to us that most of the booths were chocolatiers and local confectioners hawking their wares (photo above) – we commented at one point that there was really very little difference from one high-end chocolate maker to the next, really, it was the marketing that made all the difference. Not unlike vodka I suppose.




Anyway, it was lots of fun. We enjoyed stopping at the booths from Sao Tome and Principe and Venezuela, where they produce quite a lot of raw chocolate so we could see what chocolate looks like at the beginning of its journey (photo top). There was even a vendor from Mexico tasting mole poblano, a chocolate and chili-based concoction that we thought tasted quite good (photo above). But they were the exceptions; it was pretty much all confectionaries.

Of course there were several demonstrations going on (Nestle’s large booth had one for example), usually focusing on an oven-baked dessert of some kind.

There were also the requisite panel discussions, probably with topics like “The timely Temperatures of Nighttime Chocolate consumption Among the Households of Slovenia.”

There were several vendors selling equipment, mainly for baking though.


I saw at least two booths that were promoting the therapeutic usage of chocolate, and of course selling chocolate-based skin and body products. At both locations they were using massage to demonstrate their products; lots of people standing around watching women massaging one another. This is definitely France!


We also paid close attention to the displays of the chocolate dresses (Le Cordon bleu had entered one). The designs were creative and imaginative but aside from one or two creations, we thought the display overall was underwhelming. Maybe it was our expectations: We thought the dresses were supposed to have been made out of only but that didn’t seem to be the case.




Near the display of dresses we came across the chocolate sculptures, which had apparently been part of a juried contest. They were fantastic (photo below).


The Russians had a pretty cool display. Aside from the gimmicky name "Red October" they had these cute but little chocolate creations just standing there doing very little and one in particular we thought darkly funny (photo below).


Surprisingly we tasted very little chocolate. I did buy a piece of something at one huge booth – they were selling chocolate like hotcakes – for one euro. It was a chocolate covered bit of fluff, maybe egg whites beaten with butter and a dash of some flavoring added we thought. Not very appealing to us but I suppose if you were 12 it would be just the ticket.

When we came across the Bellefon champagne booth we had to stop. Actually it was more of an oasis than a booth: they were selling glasses of champagne and there were comfortable chairs and sofas available to sit, sip and watch humanity streamn’ n’ screamin’ by.

After our champagne break we worked our way back to the entrance and headed back to the Metro and home.

Wish you were here,

Steve

"Flags of our fathers"

We saw Flags of our Fathers the other day at a small theater on Avenue des Gobelins. What a powerful and moving film. Of course we’re a bit taken with the period of the Second World War sincemoving to France, having just been to Normandy, viewed Band of Brothers again and I finally got around to reading the book. So we were already headed in the right direction I suppose to appreciate the depths explored by Eastwood in his latest film. In some obvious ways this is quite a change from Kelly’s Heroes, but still carrying some of the same anti-establishment attitude.

The story is wonderfully told and while there will be attempts to draw some sort of parallel with Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan – Spielberg actually co-produced Flags with Eastwood – that would be a mistake. This is first of all about the Marines – a key difference for some of us – and second it takes place on the tiny island of Iwo Jima in the Pacific Theater near the end of the war. But the most important distinction is that it uses one very specific incident as the vehicle to explain how a society visualizes and then idealizes heroism. It then explores how that “idealization” is often at odds with what the “heroes” have themselves experienced. The story in fact focuses on the son of one of the flag raisers, Navy corpsman James Bradley, and his efforts to find out exactly what his father did during the war.

We urge everyone to go and see this movie: it will not be easy for some but will be well worth your time. And if you haven’t seen it by all means stay until the very last credit finishes rolling on the screen! Trust us on this. Please stay seated until the plane has come to a complete stop.

Given the overwhelming emotions we felt as we walked out of the theater and as we talked about the movie afterwards, we were therefore quite surprised to find a curious piece in the online edition of the New York Times just the other day. Titled “Burying Private Ryan” it asks the uncomfortable question: do Americans really care about the “greatest” generation and their sacrifices of so many years ago? It is a disturbing bit of news to say the least – and the answer is not all that surprising. For example in June of 1927, just weeks after Lindbergh landed in Paris (thank you very much), the six surviving veterans of the Third Michigan Infantry, a civil war regiment, held their final reunion in a small side room of the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids; not one newspaper reported that event. Neglect of veterans and their sacrifices are unfortunately a part of the American unwillingness to spend much if any time exploring their past. Perhaps all that perspective makes too many people feel uncomfortable.

Anyway I have taken the liberty of attaching a copy to the update email. You can also access it online by clicking here. I'd be curious to know what you think.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Sunday, October 22, 2006

School days and soy sauce


Today, Sunday, has been pleasant with summer-like temps and a gorgeous blue sky -- at least until clouds rolled in late in the day. (photo: Susan's class baking baquettes; oh, and yes, they were delicious.)

This past week has been just a wee bit interesting.

Susan finished the written portion of her final exam last Tuesday. Her primary concern centered on having to memorize eight different recipes, only one of which would be on the exam. They were given a paper with the recipe but with missing some of the ingredients, times, temps, etc., and they had to reproduce the exact information. A bit stressful but she passed with flying colors (or colours if you prefer).

Next week is the practical portion of the final: they will be given the recipe but can not utilize any notes, etc., and of course it has to be made within a certain amount of time, or points are deducted. By the end of the week, however, the intermediate level will be history and Susan will have some well-deserved time off before beginning the final level: “Superior” (”supérieur”). Since that level is taught in French only it should be loads of fun.

And speaking of French this last week also saw the conclusion of Susan’s second two-week session of French lessons at the Alliance Francais. With an erratic schedule for the next several weeks it is unclear if or when she would be able to continue French. Naturally since I speak fluent English I am little concerned for myself but she feels the pinch of the upcoming superior level so again, a bit more stress.

But we keep reminding ourselves that what we’re doing here is good. In fact, ‘we’re just happy to be here.” And lucky too.

Last week we both attended an interesting presentation Le Cordon Bleu: Mr. Yamamoto from central Japan came to talk about soy sauce in general and his micro-brewed soy sauce in particular. as a consumer of lots of soy sauce we both found his talk quite fascinating, and enjoyed hearing the process explained from a very small producer’s point-of-view. The challenge now is to find his product here in Paris. The Japanese shops seem to be generally located in the 2nd arrondisement, near the Opera and Place Madeleine area so it looks like we will be headed up that way later this next week. Anyway if you're interested you can find out more about sauce sauce online. Just click here! (photo above: Mr. Yamamoto)

By now you’ve also seen my blog entry on our day trip to Versailles this last Saturday (21 October) so that’s old news for you.

We saw the movie The Queen in a local theater Sunday afternoon – what an outstanding performance by Helen Mirren (among others) in a truly great movie. We can't wait for Clint Eastwoods first half of his WWII epic about Iwo Jima, Flags of our Fathers; that opens here next week.

Anyway, we had no sooner left the dark of the theater to a beautiful bright, sunny afternoon and started walking down Avenue des Gobelins toward our apartment when we began hearing the whistles, you know, police whistles. First one, then two, then three and four and five. And then came a half dozen police shooting past us on roller blades, scooters and bicycles, halting cross traffic, and then zooming on down the street. And right behind them were literally thousands of roller bladders of all ages, sizes and obvious skills whizzing down the street! We just stood on the curb watching the parade. Funny we had seen something very similar on the Champs Elysses this past May, and on a Sunday. Must be something in the water here.

This coming week will see me finishing Pere Lachaise cemetery, at least for the moment – although we both plan to return there on All-Saint’s day of course. I will then turn to tracking down and photographing the statuary in the remaining city cemeteries.


We strolled through the nearby city gardens and you'll be happy to know that the colors are still with us so we feel safe for the moment.

We hope you are all well and that winter is still far from your door.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Versailles


Saturday dawned with a forbidding look to it. (Susan kept referring to the sky as ‘brooding” all day long; that’s what she gets for being a voracious reader!) The plan was to head out to Versailles, something we had been meaning to do now for some weeks. And so we did. (photo: colorful urn at the Chateau Versailles.

And speaking of photos see the rest of my photos online; just click here!)

After our morning coffee, we showered, dressed and walked the ten minutes over to Gare Austerlitz where we picked up the C5 RER train to Versailles, about 20kms from Paris. (The rail transport system here revolves around three components: the Metro which pretty much feeds central Paris and the immediate suburbs, the RER trains which go a bit further into the suburbs, with far fewer stops in historic Paris but with a smoother ride, and the SNCF trains, which go to pretty much every else in France.)

We boarded at about 11:30, climbed to the upper deck of the train and enjoyed a scenic ride along the Seine and through the southwestern suburbs to Versailles (if you like looking at never-ending strings of apartment complexes). After the train station (which sported quite an attractive façade I might add) we turned right, walked up to the next block (Rue de Paris), and turned left, up the tree-lined boulevard we could see the entrance to the chateau:





Those of you who have been there already (and you know who you are) will forgive me for just a moment . . . This place is HUGE! Massive! Enormous! Ostentatious! Grandiose! Extravagant! Flamboyant! Did I say BIG? We had always heard it was “large” but I had no idea it could pass for a small country!


So we walked through the “gate of honor” – which was only fitting of course – passed the “gate of having to go” (the queue for the “toilettes”), passed the entrance into the apartments and on into the gardens proper. We decided that our focus for this trip would be spending our time outside, exploring the gardens and particularly Marie Antoinette’s estate. We opted not to take the “petit train” that whizzes visitors around the grounds, or rent one of the electric cars, although that did rather appeal to my ambition to be a professional golf cart driver. We came to walk and walk we did (it’s 3.5kms from the chateau to the end of the Grand Canal).






We strolled down along the central artery of the gardens to the halfway point of the Grand Canal, passed the boat rental dock. The grounds are covered with statuary depicting virtually every major scene form antiquity and nearly every significant story from Greek and Roman mythology (or so it seemed to me). There is also major construction as well as ongoing restoration of both the chateau itself and the grounds. (Some of the gardens were closed while a large chunk of the chateau’s façade was encased in scaffolding, much like the rest of Europe.)


It was nice to see a few beautiful flowers still holding court (although most had been removed for the winter) amidst fall color change.


At the center of the Grand Canal we turned right toward the Grand Trianon and Marie’s private estate. We slid beneath the portico of the Grand Trianon (photo above), a small palace that Lou the 14th built over the village of Trianon, so that he could get away from the hectic court life at Versailles. Of course he had to demolish the village of Trianon first, but what the hey, they’re only peasants.

But that paled in comparison to what we soon came upon: the storybook hamlet (“hameau”) created for Marie Antoinette. But to get to the hamlet you first had to go through the English “landscape, cross the English river, all apparently designed to create the easy informality of what was perceived as the English idea of place.


This is where she would come to indulge her rather childlike fantasies, in world apparently designed to allow her to escape from another, harsher world of court life and all its unpleasantries.

Once you get past the obscene indulgences of such a place it is truly remarkable to see – Nevertheless you have to wonder just what these people did all the time? And as you look around the seemingly endless gardens you also have to wonder if they actually used all this space. Of course it also helps to explain why they eventually lost their heads, literally. It’s hard to have much sympathy for them after seeing Versailles.

Take the RER line C (no. 5) to the Versailles station. The official tourist office is to the right out of the station and then the first left and on your left. You can also find information desks to the left as you enter the grounds of the palace itself (look for the big “I”). And of course you might want to check out the chateau’s official website (in English). Bathrooms are scattered throughout the grounds and there are several places to find food within the park as well.

You can also download the very same maps and guide which they will give you at the information booths; just click here!

Wish you were here,

Steve

Monday, October 16, 2006

Loire valley


Saturday morning was overcast and rather dreary in Paris when we woke up. After a leisurely morning over coffee and toast we showered, packed an overnight bag and headed off to the Austerlitz train station, an easy ten-minute walk from our apartment. The plan was simple: train to the Loire valley, walk around, and train back the next day. At least that was the general idea. I bought our tickets online, but we didn’t need reservations since it was such a short ride (about 2 hours or so) to Amboise, one of the small towns smack in the middle of chateau country, and our destination for the weekend. (photo: how it must feel to always behanging over the edge.)

So off we went. After arriving at the train station we walked up to one of the automatic ticket kiosks to retrieve the tickets I had bought online – assuming this was going to be as simple as the Italian rail system. Well we were certainly wrong in our assumption. The automatic ticket retrieval system requires you to insert the credit card you used to purchase the ticket, but unfortunately for everyone who is not French the machines do not accept, or rather “read” credit cards from banks outside of France. Of course we didn’t know that nor was it posted anywhere online or on the machines themselves. No, we had to go and stand in line for 20 minutes and actually speak with a human being in order to find that out and of course retrieve our tickets. Not very nice of the French, was it?

But we made our train in plenty of time, found a couple of seats in one of the 2nd class compartments (which seat eight, unlike the Italian trains where the old compartments seat six) and enjoyed the peaceful ride south to Amboise. Aside from the ticket issue we both agreed that this was one of the smoothest rail beds we have ever ridden on – it was almost as if you riding on glass; there were hardly any bumps at all; and the speed! Whoa! Even though this was not one of the high-speed TGVs our train clipped right along, something you didn’t really notice until we went into a long curve and the G-forces really pushed you to one side or the other. Amazing.

So we made good time and by about 11:30 we had arrived at the small station in Amboise.

The weather had cleared a bit on our way south and in fact by later in the afternoon it had turned mostly sunny. Anyway, we left the station and walked to our B & B, “Le Vieux Manoir”. Run by Gloria and Bob, an American couple originally from Boston it had been suggested to us by Mark and Kate, the couple we met during our brief stay in Normandy several weeks ago. They had just come from there and highly recommended that we go to Amboise in the first place. So here we were – and we enjoyed every minute of it.


The walk from the train station took us pretty much across town and across the Loire River – really an easy 15- or 20-minute walk to the “centre ville”. We were soon right in the historic center of this pretty town sitting in the shadow of the huge chateau on a bluff overlooking the river. We skirted the edge of the base of the chateau – which seemed to be watching us wherever we went in town by the way – and promptly got lost. Our map, a hand-drawn affair we printed off the Internet served us well but only up to a point. Fortunately we stumbled across a town map posted on the street and eventually found our way to the B & B, where we met Gloria and Bob our hosts. (photo above: "Le Vieux Manoir.")

Gloria was kind enough to provide us with some bits of local information about what to see and do in Amboise. And since we were a bit early to check in we left our bags (backpacks really) and headed off to explore this tiny corner of the Loire.


Our first stop was “Clos Luce” (photo above), a small chateau just outside of town where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life, working for Francois I, the king of France. We skirted the edge of the downtown, the streets reminding us of our days in Florence: narrow sidewalks tapering off into nothingness, although without the perennial dog poop everywhere. After about a 20-minute walk through a largely residential neighborhood we found ourselves at the entrance to Clos Luce. We walked in, bought our tickets and began our tour of the house. The space inside is pretty boring really, with very little in the way of interpretive signage and lots of stuff thrown in to illustrate the kinds of things that might have once been in a house like this one at some point within the last three or four hundred years. The lower level of the house contains small-scale models of some of Leonardo’s more inventive machines; the full-scale models are outside in the park.

The multi-directional gun:


The tank:


Indeed, the real attractions to this place, making it a worthwhile stop are the café and the park.



Gloria had suggested we stop at the café after touring the house – and so we did since we were ready for a bite of lunch. We had buckwheat crepes stuffed with ham and cheese and an egg over easy on top (but inside mind you), accompanied by a bottle of local sparkling cider. The crepes were delicious, but we were a bit ambivalent about the cider. It reminded us of Vernor’s – a Detroit soft drink we used to consume by the gallon years ago – but with a yeasty finish which sort of put us off. Anyway the cafe was in a very nice spot, overlooking the town and a great way to just kick back and relax for an hour or so. (photo: Susan sitting in front of the cafe at Clos Luce in Amboise.)


The other cool thing about “Clos Luce” is the “parc Leonardo.” As you walk down the down the hill from the main house you come across a pretty little park filled with full-scale replicas of Leonardo’s machines, some of which you can actually work, scattered around the park in small clearings. The signage is excellent and multilingual, and there is voice narration provided at many of the stops (also multilingual). At some of the stops there are huge copies of several of Leonardo’s more well-known paintings hung in the trees, which adds to the imaginative and dynamic effect of the place. It really was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon: Susan got to play with the multi-directional gun; we both got to play inside the tank and work the water screw (a cool way to bring water up and out of the river using a screw-like rod which you crank by hand). (Admission: €12 for adultsLocated just out from the centre ville. See Their website: www.vinci-closluce.com.)


(photo: Susan playing inside the tank.)


After leaving the “parc” we returned toward the center of town and the Chateau Royal D’Amboise.


It’s pretty hard to miss this chunk of stone sitting on the hill overlooking the town. Once inside and after a short climb though you’ll find some of the most spectacular views of the Loire valley. We took a leisurely stroll around the outside popping into the small St. Hubert chapel (photo below) to see where Leonardo is buried. (Gloria warned us that during the revolution when the bodies of the kings and queens were being desecrated and thrown out of their various resting places in Paris and elsewhere, they did the same to Leonardo’s remains as well. Consequently today there is some doubt as whether the remains actually reinterred in the 19th century were his. Personally he’s here somewhere and that’s pretty much what counts.)




As we neared the one end of the complex, where the old walls still stand, we came across a series of stones in a small garden, and each stone was topped by a crescent and had Arabic writing on it. We wondered what this was all about -- there was no sign of explanation. As it turns out, the Emir of Algeria had once been a prisoner here for some years in the late 1840s and the stones mark the burial sites for those members of his family who had died while they were in captivity. The monuments themselves look to be fairly new, and in fact we were told that the entire garden complex is itself brand new, having been laid out just this past January.




After appreciating the various views of the river and the town from the top of the walls – recalling what it must have been like for the kings stroll about here blithely unaware – or were they? – of what was happening just a few hundred meters below them we headed toward the entrance to the main building.


The existing buildings (the chapel and the chateau) are just a fraction of what was once an enormous complex that was designed to cater to the kings and queens of France; Catherine de Medici and her husband Henry II spent some time in Amboise, although it is most famously known for being where Leonardo spent the final years of his life in the service of King Francois I. And when Leonardo died he was buried in San Florentin (curious isn't it that Leonardo was from Florence). The church was originally part of the chateau complex but when it was demolished in the 19th century his remains were moved to the nearby chapel of St. Hubert. His bust today marks the site of the old church.) Indeed, the city of Amboise itself was in large part filled with people whose jobs were mainly to look after one aspect or another of the chateau.


Even the present-day “entrance” is really the “rear” of the original building; the old entrance has long since been bricked up and you’d never recognize it today if it were not for a painting that sits in one of the rooms inside (which gives you the proper perspective).

So we paid our €8 each and walked inside. The interior of the building is nicely laid out and provides good signage throughout, even though there are very few rooms remaining and n fact there is very little to see here. Still it was a pleasant stroll throughout and we got yet another grand view from the top of the chateau overlooking the river.

After we left the chateau we walked over to the bookshop, browsed for a few minutes and then headed down and out by the “Heurault” tower passageway, the second cavalry town passage. You can return to town by the main entrance but we wanted to see the “culs-de-lampe”, which is literally translated as “lamp bottoms” and are small, witty and sometimes crudely obscene graphic carvings along the columns as you walk down the hill. The folks of the late-Gothic period might have denied the value of the bath but they certainly could tell a dirty story or two; and in stone to boot.


(Admission fee; bathrooms just off to the left by the bookshop as you crest the hill, coming in the main entrance.)

After leaving the chateau we returned to our B & B and found Gloria chatting with two other guests, David and Glynnis from the UK. They asked us to join them for a glass of wine and the sun being just about over the yardarm we couldn’t refuse. So we sat and talked for the next couple of hours; at one point Michael and Pam from British Columbia, also staying at the “Le Vieux Manoir”, joined us.

That evening was a first for me – meeting not one but two people who have actually seen a ghost: Gloria, who claimed the B & B is haunted and that she actually saw the ghost when they were working on gutting the interior of the B & B some years ago now, and Pam who used to see the spirit of a little boy in the house where she grew up. An interesting afternoon of conversation to be sure: ghosts, travel, wine stories and of course food, always food, and naturally where to find it in France.

We then had a grand opportunity to try two vintages of some of the local Sancerre wine: David claimed the Brits tended to favor the 2004 since it was more complex and that the French supposedly leaned to the 2005 since it was more straight on, more sauvignon-like (which is the grape of the Sancerre). It was remarkable that the two vintages (two different producers as well) were in fact so very dissimilar. I favored the more complex 2004.

As the evening wore on and the sun wore off and as the conversation turned more and more to food we realized that dinner soon beckoned. Earlier in the day Susan and I had asked Gloria to make reservations for us at L’Alliance (another Kate and Mark recommendation) and we were slated to go there at 8 pm. Well sure enough Pam and Michael were also going there at 8; David and Glynnis had just eaten there the night before so they were off to try someplace new (a 1-star Michelin, L’Epicerie which we learned the next day fell far short of stardom).

The four of us down in the lounge at just about 8 and we walked the two blocks or so to the restaurant where we found the staff very willing to accommodate our request to put two pairs of twos together in a 4-top. The food was delicious, the meal enjoyable, the company superb and all reasonably priced in the bargain: €18 per person for the 3-course “menu” (company not included). It pretty much beats a la carte hands down. We had two reds from the region with dinner: a Mentou-Salon and a somewhat beefier Chinon. The service was impeccable as well. (L’Alliance, 14 rue Joyeuse 37400 Amboise. Tele: 02 47 30 52 13. Closed Wednesdays.) We are pretty much believers in the “menu” system (also called “formula”) here in France.

The next morning we took our time getting about the day, which had dawned foggy and dreary and just begging to be rained upon. At breakfast Gloria informed us all that the big “marche” (market) was underway down next to the river so Susan and I headed off there after we finished our coffee and fresh croissants (a superb breakfast compliments of Gloria and Bob). David and Glynnis were off toward Normandy and Pam and Michael were packing their stuff up and getting ready for the trip home: they were heading to Paris, staying overnight near Charles de Gaulle airport and then off to BC the following afternoon. But we hadn’t sent the last of them yet.


So we strolled down to the river and found the market in full swing: it seemed that pretty much every French man, woman and child for miles around were out strolling the market, even on such a lousy day: looking for underwear, fresh rabbitt, paella takeout (photo below), fresh breads, fresh fish, even tractors and bulk spices, whatever you need they had it. It brought back memories of every Wednesday near the fortezza in Siena, the big market day.


After strolling for a bit we walked back through town once more and then headed back to the B & B. We grabbed our bags, paid the bill, thanked Gloria for a grand time and then walked the 20 minutes or so to the train station – where we found Pam and Michael waiting for the next train to Paris. We helped them load their bags onto the train and the four of us grabbed a pair of seats across from each other, and chatted much of the way to Austerlitz station in Paris, where we said goodbye and wished them well. It was only later that I thought to ask Pam if she thought she would ever see another ghost.

We strolled back to our apartment, unpacked and enjoyed just being at home. It seemed like we had just left. . .

Wish you were here,

Steve

Friday, October 13, 2006

Dreyfus


Friday afternoon was a pleasant day here in Paris. Susan had some chores to do and late in the morning I headed out to Pere Lachaise to get in a few hours of shooting. (Man I wish I had a euro for every time someone approaches me and asks where Jim Morrison is buried -- talk about globalization!)

Anyway Susan and I linked up later in the afternoon, meeting at the metro stop next to the Pompidou Center, and then walked a block down to the Rue du Temple and turned into the Museum of Jewish Art and History.

Ever since we arrived in Paris the first of August we had planned to see the Museum’s Dreyfus exhibition: “The fight for Justice.” Since it was extended to October 22, naturally we procrastinated but at last we got there. (photo: statue of Dreyfus, in the courtyard of the Museum of Jewish Art and History.)

We paid our admission, picked up our audio guides and headed into the museum. This place is really a stop worth making. The museum is a fascinating exploration into the Jewish experience in France told chronologically using a wonderful array of artifacts, paintings and photographs. Along the way one can get a full sense of France’s ambivalence to its Jewish population over the centuries, an attitude never more apparent than in the Dreyfus affair in the 1890s; and sadder still in France’s even shabbier treatment of the Jews during the Nazi occupation. The exhibition itself is mostly in French – although there is some very good interpretative signage in English. It would be of some help if you came prepared but the care and attention to detail in the layout and sheer volume of visual materials facilitates ease of understanding. This was one very moving and powerful exhibition.

After we left the museum we headed home, stopping to pick up some fresh bread for dinner along the way and called it a day. It was time for champagne! And why not?! I can’t believe how much different champagne there is here, everywhere – and all of it very inexpensive. Anyway, a few weeks back I discovered “Fontaines”, a little family place on the Rue Mouffetard crammed with bottles of wine, where they only buy from producers they know – and believe me these people know their wines. This evening we had a delicious sparkler from Wanner-Bouge. With frozen raspberries in the glasses it’s exactly what an aperitif should be.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Desserts, whither thou goest I shall go

OK let’s talk about why we’re here in the first place: desserts. And we’ve had plenty of ‘em over the past several weeks, compliments of Susie the pastry student and Le Cordon Bleu.

Let’s start with the "Jamaique", a chocolate sponge cake with pineapple-coconut mousse and a mango-passion fruit mousse, from September 5:



And on September 6, a "Fraisier" (sponge cake with strawberries and pastry-butter creme):



And on September 11, Susan's first "Opera " cake (sponge cake with chocolate ganache and coffee-butter creme):



And then we had "Three-chocolate Bavarian creme" on September 14:



Followed by "Heavenly chocolate" (chocolate mousse and "dacquoise") on September 20:



And at the same time, just for something different, we had truffles and coffee-chocolate candies:



On September 27 we had "Plaisir" (Pleasure), sponge cake with vanilla and chooclate mousse:



And recently, on October 10, Raspberry-Passion fruit creme cake:



And on October 11, Walnut cake (sponge cake with caramel mousse):



Mind you these don't include the stuff Susan baked at home . . . Yeah! It's great to be married to a pastry chef, take my word for it! Man can this woman bake!

Anyway, we're taking a break from desserts and head off to the Loire valley Saturday morning for an overnight -- a quick train trip to Amboise where Leonardo da Vinci is buried in fact. More about that later.

Wish you were here,

Steve