Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paris to Providence, again

Although it's still early in the season, we have the pleasure right now of looking out our bedroom window and seeing the one tree in Providence that seems bent on getting a jump on all the others for color change.

Well it's been nearly two weeks now since we returned from Paris, and as you know by now we are back in Providence, Rhode Island -- not to be confused of course with the "island of Rhodes," which really has little if anything to do with this story. Although truth be told I was on the island of Rhodes in the summer of 1972. Sadly I remember little of it, except I couldn't find the "colossus" so many earlier visitors talked about.

Work has pretty much dominated our lives since we've returned. Susie at Gracie's and me freelancing for Johnson & Wales University. Their new website is up and running strong, as of Friday afternoon in fact. Check it out:

As for Susie she's starting to shift in the "new dessert menu for Fall" mode and is putting together some slam-bang ideas for tempting Providence palates.

Meanwhile, my dad is still missing -- and Rush Medical Center seems determined to stonewall us about the DNA test until the end of time. If DNA testing routinely took this long I doubt if CSI would have ever gotten as far on TV as it did.

There is good news though: Melissa, Joyce and Carl's middle daughter had her first baby, a son Lucas in South Carolina, and our friend Drea had her second child, a daughter Oriane in Brussels. We wish them all well and long and happy lives.

I hope to get our Paris dining guide online shortly -- I'll keep you posted on that.

In the meantime, I'll keep this short and sweet -- unlike many of my posts from Paris that seemed to go on and on and on . . . a malady my mother often described as having no remedy, at least not in my case. As the poetess in her often said,

"Some may come and some may go/but Steve goes on forever."

I love you mom and wish you an early happy birthday. (She was born on October 14, the same date as Dwight Eisenhower and used to get birthday cards from him when he was president.)

Take care and have a great fall. We'll be in touch soon. Naturally.


PS: Mom and Dad -

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bicyclist on the Pont Saint-Louis

Here's a video I shot in September while we were crossing the Pont Saint-Louis, connecting the Isle de la Cite with the Isle Saint-Louis. This bridge spanning a narrow bit of the Seine is a favorite hangout for tourists and of course for performance artists seeking to tap into the euros, dollars, pounds, yuan and yen scattered around this handful of hectares.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Tango Lessons in Paris

Group tango lessons along the left bank. This is what Paris can be all about if we just pay attention:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Thursday, September 18, 2008

France, a few minutes of your time please

First off the primary reason we went to Paris was to go to Paris. Period. But since we were there we thought we would try to focus on something special. And there's nothing more special in Paris than the food.

As many of you know by now we took only one guide book with us: Clotilde DuSoulier's Edible Adventures in Paris. There is, we think, no better guide to finding your way around the back streets of culinary Paris than Clotilde. She became a trusted friend indeed, giving us suggestions that each and every time proved worth the stop and the money. Toward that end I plan to take my blog notes and Susie's notes in our copy of her book and create a PDF that people can download.

Of course, one might want to just buy their own copy of the book and spend a week or 10 days finding their own way with Clotilde's help.

Anyway, just a few observations from our latest trip to the City of Light.

Food. It's everywhere and most of it is good and I mean really good. Some of it is great and some of it is creative, but believe me it is mostly good. Still one needs to know the places to avoid. Generally don't eat at the cafes/brasseries surrounding the large, the huge places. Sit, have a drink, watch people, but steer away from the food. Generally it seems that the best food tends to be in the more quiet, out of the way streets. We usually steer clear of any place with the words Tex-Mex or American in the title. We're probably being foolishly prejudicial but hey, it's just a rule for us.

Patisserie/Boulangerie. (Pastry shops and bakeries are usually (but not always) combined so we've lumped them together here.) The French are funny people -- they want their baguette and they want it very cheap. But they also, apparently, like artisan breads and these are starting to be found with greater frequency throughout the city. If you like bread, really good bread I mean, the kind that is virtually impossible to find any more in most of the United States, by all means spend some time tasting the different breads available in Parisian bakeries.

As for pastries, well this was the primary reason for our focused touring: for Susie to taste, experience and get inspired by the incredible variety and creativity of the pastry chefs in Paris.

And for that we were not disappointed.

But be aware that pastries, their quality of ingredients and their production do seem to vary widely. A croissant in one shop may not taste the same (read "as good as") one in a shop around the corner or in the next arrondissement. This was a phenomenon we first observed we we came to Paris to live in 2006.

Moreover, different pastry chefs produce similar, traditional items which often vary in quality as well. Take the Religieuse for example. Like eclairs, the Religieuse relies on two main ingredients: choux dough and chocolate or coffee pastry cream (I usually opt for the coffee). And boy, can those two vary widely in quality -- one will have a pastry cream with nice, rich flavor, while anther might be much more subdued, too subtle for my palate. They should be stuffed with cream, the choux dough should have a nice, smooth but firm texture to it and there should be a collar ring separating the "head" form the "body" made of vertical butter cream columns, not the more lazy approach of just piping a ring around the "neck."

Generally, we stay away from the big name patisserie: Gerard Mulot, Eric Kayser, Pierre Hermes and their ilk. Good products to be sure; you end up paying a premium for designer packaging and slick marketing. The most mediocre eclair I've ever had was when we first moved to Paris in the summer of 2006 we had tea one afternoon at Laduret on the Champs Elysees. Grossly overpriced,watery tea and not terribly good pastries.

Also, check out the items in the windows and in the cases: how do "look?" Some things like "rustic" tarts should be mess, but other things like eclairs or Religieuse for example, should have a clean look, as if they were prepared by a professional and not some 10-year-old with a piping bag.

Wine. Wine is everywhere in the city -- the big chain stores Nicolas seem to be in evry block and of coruse there are many smaller shops catering to local clientele. The grocery stores also sell wine and can often be a good value but in our opinion Nicolas often has the largest variety and many of the best deals.

And speaking of deals, wine is really quite inexpensive in Paris, at least French wine (pretty much all there is really). You can find very good quality wine from virtually all regions and in all colors for well under 10 euros.

Wine is also widely available by the glass in most restaurants in the city and many of the cafes bring the bottle to your table and pour the glass, rather than bringing you a glass already poured. In fact, we never ordered a bottle in anyplace we ate, it was always a glass. This allowed us that flexibility of ordering two or three different wines during the meal. And prices of wine by the glass can range from 3-12 euros, depending on quality and type of course.

Other notes. We liked going in September; the weather was starting to cool and we thought it nicer than July to be sure. Great for walking.

Also arriving before the first Sunday of the month was a bonus too, since that is the one day out of the month when the state-run museums are free.

Spending time strolling the back streets, looking up at the buildings, taking your time. Even if you don't have much time to spend, take time. If you're in Paris to rush from place to place then pardon me, but you're in the wrong place. Paris is a place to linger, to stroll, to enjoy and savor the moment and of course to find the unexpected twists and turns of the streets and of the city's soul. You can't rally get lost. when was the last time you read about Americans being lost in Paris?

"The top story of the day is that the Bonger family from Eugene, Oregon were found today huddling by the Metro station in Porte de Clichy after being lost for more than ten years. France's crack 'Tourist Rescue Team' found the five family members who had been subsisting on dirt and baguette chunks found in the trash bins."

Go ahead. get lost for an hour. See where it takes you.

The US tour guide Rick Steves started out years ago appealing to Americans who "thought" they wanted to see Europe through the "back door," as Steves called it, who "thought" they wanted to wander down the side streets of places like Paris -- the same Americans who now religiously carry Steves' guide books like an earlier generation carried Arthur Frommer; who in fact go through the "front door" now.

Ultimately, you have to ask yourself "Why did I come to Paris?" Let your answer then be your guide. And hey, if running around trying to meet a schedule or a deadline is what floats your boat, then by all means do it.

But remember one thing. You're going to be missing something very important along the way: peace of mind.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Paris to Providence, one planet to another

5:00 a.m. came very early for us. We've had very relaxing mornings since we came to Paris and now we're moving back to our previous routine: early to bed early to rise. . .

The bags were packed so all we had to do was shower, dress and schlepp everything down to the ground floor and wait for the BluVan shuttle to the airport.

Our neighborhood was incredibly quiet as we hauled our bags outside and put them in the back of the van. A bad omen I thought at the time was when the van pulled up the driver just stood by the back door, making no movement toward helping us. Our previous experience with BluVan was with friendly and helpful drivers. Not this one.

We pulled away from rue General Renault in the dark and spent the next hour and a half driving around Paris -- and I mean that almost literally -- making three more stops, ending up in the far southern end of the city. Of course Charles de Gaulle airport is on the far northern side.

We got to the airport a little before 8:00 a.m. for a 9:00 a.m. flight. Confusion seemed to be the order of the day and we spent the next 45 minutes or so rushing from one line to another, first trying to get our bags checked (done), asking to be given priority (finally) through an incredibly long and sluggish security line where they were actually doing one person at a time and checking their bags and of course we had our passports looked at about three dozen times by as many different people.

All of which made us feel secure - right. No, but it certainly made us realize that it wasn't just the US government that has gone hysterical in the post-9/11 age. The French have apparently taken their absurdist theater notions and applied them to how one exits the country by air (wildly known as "airport security").

As it turned out Delta was kind enough to delay our flight's departure time, giving quite a few of passengers, like Susie and I, the opportunity to make the flight (relatively) on time.

We had the same seats going back that we did going out: the very last row of two on the left side allowing us to enjoy another very bumpy ride in a tube-shaped box with a broken bathroom, tired equipment nicely matched by disinterested staff. Oh, but there was yet another opportunity to see Kung-Fu Panda, just in case we missed it on the outward bound trip. (Sadly we opted to skip it both ways.)

Less than eight hours later we touched down on time in New York, and miracle of miracles, were through passport control and had our bags and out on the air train heading toward long-term parking in less than 15 minutes! Amazing and certainly a first for us.

After loading the bags in the back of the Mini we headed for the Van Wyck expressway and eventually I-95 and home.

Or is it home?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Paris, less than 24 hours left

The first thing I thought when I got out of bed at a little after 6:00 a.m. this morning is that we had less than 24 hours remaining in Paris. That and how dark it was. Summer slips away and fall takes its place, with winter not far behind. At least that's how it usually works.

A leisurely morning, coffee and emails, blogging and reading. And the beginning of packing of course.

But the day quickly turned absolutely gorgeous and we couldn't justify staying inside any longer. We showered, dressed and headed out for the Metro, the no. 5 at Richard-Lenoir, getting off at the Quai de la Rapee, where we walked across the Pont Austerlitz to the Jardin des Plantes.

We strolled through the Jardin, along with half of Paris it seemed, and just enjoyed where we were and the fact that we were doing totally and utterly nothing but appreciating being alive. In fact, doing nothing would be the operative concept for this fabulous day.

Moving through the jardin we strolled over to the Censier-Daubenton area and had a wonderful lunch at Les delices d'Aphrodite, a Greek cafe owned by the same folks who run the nearby Mavromatis. In what has become typical fashion for us, we spent the next couple of hours sitting cheek-by-jowl with folks eagerly devouring their scrumptious food -- just like we did. Following the entrees of refreshing and clean Greek appetizers, taboule, hummous, stuffed grape leaves, Tzatziki, I had chicken with rice and Susie had a very tasty gratin of pasta, cheese and spices.

Susie and I struck a conversation with one of our neighbors, an elderly gentleman treating his granddaughter for Sunday lunch -- and of course the gist of the talk is, as always here in Paris, about food. (He really liked Smith & Wollensky in New York City.)

After lunch we strolled back to the Jardin des Plantes where we found a bench in the shade, and while I stretched out and put my head in Susie's lap and dozed off she listened to French music on her Nano, all the while watching the thousands of Parisian families play in the sun.

Ultimately I roused myself off the bench and we eventually left our spot in the shade and ventured out into the sunlight and the mass of color and fragrances coming from the jardin. Exiting the gardens we crossed over to the Seine, staying on the left bank of course, and, along with so many others sharing the same idea then strolled along the river in the direction of Notre Dame.

So many people out and so much life -- in the Plein Air museum and the attending amphitheaters along the riverfront: there were group tango lessons being given en masse as well as smaller, more intimate lessons in another amphitheater nearby, and jugglers too, practicing their tricks.

There also seemed to be quite a few more house barges along this part of the river than we remember -- some familiar boats of course but others that seemed newly arrived. And of course, there were many folks just out enjoying the sun, and being together in Paris.

We "surfaced" at Notre Dame, strolled along the gardens wedged between the cathedral and the river and then found another bench in the small garden overlooking the top of the Isle de la cite and the Memorial de la Deportation, the memorial to those Jews deported during the Nazi occupation of the city.

It is truly amazing to us the conversations that one hears just by sitting on a park bench in an area packed with people from all over the world. On the bench next to us was an older couple from Pennsylvania who apparently reconnected with a French family they had somehow come to know in years gone by. The reunion was touching to be sure although the Americans seemed hopelessly typical: quite loud, rather opinionated (a condition I am personally familiar with) and an uncanny inability to talk about where they were but rather where they were from. Odd.

On the other side, or rather more or less directly in front of where we were sitting, was the "guard" overeeing the entrance into the Memorial area. Now if you have ever been to this particular spot in Paris you know that the Memorial to the memory of those tens of thousands of Parisian Jews deported to the death camps is a poignant place indeed -- but, sadly, it was designed to allow very few people easy access in or out of the place. And to make matters worse, the French government, or whoever is in charge of such things, has seen fit to close one of the two entrances off, and to search everyone's bag who wants to go inside -- fairly typical of their attitude around the city, it is is true.

Nor do they post any signs explaining that one must go in on the south side and not the north. We watched as the guard continually blew her whistle at people attempting to enter on the northern side. Such a shame. There must be a better way.

Once again we relinquished our bench and headed off, this time across to the Isle Saint Louis -- and the little bridge connecting the two islands is always a hotbed of performance artists, musicians and the like. This beautiful Sunday was no exception and like many others we stood and watched as a "bicycle" artist began setting up his schtick. We stayed for the whole show -- lots of laughs and some pretty amazing bike riding. (One very smart thing he did too was to have the little kids in the audience participate just by sitting on little chairs in the street -- they loved this.)

I've got a little video of his performance I hope to get on later this week.

One thing that has struck us both on this trip - and I'm not sure frankly whether I felt this way or not before but we were both moved by the people, musicians and performance artists like -- who stand out in front of a group of strangers and put themselves on the line. These "buskers" stand there and say "I can do this -- so what do you think?" It's not the same kind of bravery one sees on the field of battle of course, but it takes a certain kind of courage nonetheless. I never thought of that before and when I mentioned it to Susie she readily agreed.

We crossed back over to the right bank and strolled toward the Marais, walking down Rue Saint Antoine where we stropped at a little cafe. It was well after 6:00 pm and time for an aperitif we thought. And we picked a grand place, directly across from the entrance to the Hotel Sully.

Susie and I talked about the future, the past and the present, watching the ebb and flow of humanity, sipping a little crisp sauvignon blanc and all the time wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. . .

The one break in our reverie came when an American couple walked up, looked at the menu posted outside and then inquired of a waiter standing nearby if they served "cocktails." The waiter looked at them with an air of uncertainty, the question had been posed in English, and the fellow, probably my age or thereabouts I suppose, said, "You know, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds." Again the quizzical look. "How about Martinis?" the American pressed. The waiter's face produced a knowing smile; he understood now. "No," he said, "they didn't make Martinis." But apparently they did have other such things. The couple walked off and then returned a moment later, deciding they would try this place anyway.

And so they did. Perhaps there is hope for the future of American touristism we thought: Try something new -- isn't that why you came here in the first place?

We paid the bill and Susie and I walked toward the Bastille, down rue de la Roquette and at Place Leon Blum we stopped at our favorite little neighborhood patisserie, Maison Rouyer, where they will sing you through your order if you want. The cutest group of young women, so amiable, kind and great pastries.

Stepping next door we picked up some Chinese takeout to take home, our last meal in Paris.

We crossed de la Roquette and strolling up Avenue Parmentier we soon came to rue General Renault.

Packing for an early departure was the order of the evening, after a quiet meal of Riz cantonnais, and brochette de poulet.

Our last day in Paris was an experience that is in one sense indescribable. Although we strolled aimlessly, seemingly without a destination, making the decision to go here there or wherever at the last moment, it was in fact all about emotions. Picking places we enjoyed of course, but spending our time walking, looking, observing, sitting, just being and living the moment.

We wish the same for you.

A bientot,


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Paris, Macaroon Class, Marie, Philippe and Valerie

A rare thing happened here Saturday morning: we actually set the alarm clock and got up early. Well, reasonably early anyway. The day began overcast but the sun would peek through occasionally throughout the day.

Susie left about 8:30 to head for the no. 1 Metro at Bastille, and she just made her 9:00 a.m. macaroon class at Lenotre as it was beginning. One of the major culinary schools in Paris, Leonotre holds its "recreational" classes (in French only) at the Pavilion Elysees, right along the Champs Elysees and indeed just in front of Nick Sarkozy's place (the Elysee Palace). The class was about three-and-a-half hours long, during which the students made three different flavors of (traditional) macaroons.

While Susie was off baking I grabbed my cameras and headed up to. . . . Pere Lachaise! Surprise! After strolling and taking photos for a couple of hours I walked to the no. 3 Metro and made my way into the city, getting off the no. 1 at Champs Elysees-Clemenceau. Susie's class was just across the street.

Here are just a few images Susie took in class:

Plenty of gendarmerie were out on Saturday -- and presumably late Friday night as well as the Pope came to Paris and held a quick midnight mass, followed by services at Notre Dame in the morning before jetting off to Lourdes. Or so we were told. Actually we never saw him so we can't be sure this all happened.

Anyway, I got to Lenotre a bit early so I just sat and watched people and took a few photos of the several million tourists who happened to be walking from Place de la Concorde toward the Arc d'Triomph.

Before long I was joined by my personal pastry chef who had in her hand nearly two dozen freshly baked macaroons. She offered them to a man and his daughter sitting on the bench where I was waiting for Susie and they gladly accepted -- which by the way, was a great way of introducing ourselves to total strangers! But when she tried to give them away to people on the street, even the gendarmes politely said, "No," as if in fact they were saying, "Are you crazy? Trying to poison us or something? Is this an Al Qaeda trick?"

So the four of us -- Jeremy and his daughter Rebecca from "The Bench," couldn't resist the cookies -- strolled along the Champs, eating freshly made macaroons while the huge sweep of humanity remained oblivious to what they were missing.

We said good by to Jeremy and Rebecca as they headed for the Metro and Susie and I strolled through the Tuileries. We walked as far as the Louvre and then headed to Les Halles and lunch at our favorite cafe near Saint Eustache, the Cafe Etienne Marcel. We each ordered the Crocque Monsieur with a side of frites to share.

After lunch we strolled passed Detou, almost next door -- actually Susie did go in and browse baking supplies for a few minutes -- and then turned up rue Montorgueil, heading for the no. 3 line at Sentier. We got off two stops later at Republique, and found our way back to Gouymanyat, the spice shop we had visited the Friday we arrived in Paris.

From there we returned to Republique and the no. 9 to St. Ambroise and home where we unpacked and readjusted our personal baggage, so to speak.

About 4:30 or so we headed back out and down to the Place Leon Blum where we caught the no. 69 bus for Gambetta, for Place Gambetta in fact, and got off just short of that near the Gambetta entrance to Pere Lachaise. It was there that we met up with Marie and Philippe. Philippe, certainly one of the most knowledgeable people in Paris when it comes to the cemeteries in this city, and is in fact a walking repository of incredible information, now lives nearby in Gambetta and gave us a short tour around the Mairie and the Place itself.

Naturally we stopped at one of the best patisserie in the area, "Sucre Cacao," at 89 Avenue Gambetta. Incredible creativity and variety of treats to match. Prices were, we thought, a bit high.

We soon found a nearby cafe to sit, have caffe and spend next hour or hour and half doing what comes so natural in this part of the world: talk, laugh and just be alive.

Eventually we had to say au revoir. Marie and Philippe were off to their evening's adventures visiting friends outside of Porte Bagnolet, all the way at the end of Metro line 3, past Gallieni in fact -- while Susie and I got on the no. 3 toward Republique and back down the hill to meet up with our friend Valerie.

After playing a bit of metro exit tag -- we had never clarified with Valerie exactly which exit at the St. Ambroise stop we would meet and there were four or five -- we met up on the street. The three of us walked to nearby Blvd. Richard-Lenoir and Blvd. Voltaire and sat and had an aperitif while we caught up on the latest news from the west side of Paris.

The last time we had seen Val she had come to Providence, on my birthday as it turned out, and spent a couple of nights visiting New England before heading west to the wilds of Las Vegas.

After an hour or so we walked around the corner to where we were hoping to have dinner: "Le Refectoire," another Clotilde recommendation. Although we didn't have reservations -- it was Saturday night after all -- they still seated us and we spent the next couple of hours talking about . . . what else but food, particularly the baked and pastry kind.

The service was good -- and I wasn't far off the mark in assuming that our waitress had once fronted local bands. Anyway I had duck breast with a gratin dauphinois, Susie had lamb and Val had fish. The wine was a light red that seemed to suit our needs just fine. Desserts were light, easy on the preparation and not terribly challenging -- particularly for these two women.

The three of us walked out into the late night air feeling its bracing quality for the initial moment after leaving a closed-in environment and realized, again, how wonderful it was to be alive and in Paris.

We walked the few meters back to the intersection of Voltaire and Richard-Lenoir where we hugged and said good night and au revoir. Valerie walked north toward Filles des Calvaire and her Metro, and we turned south and walked home.

Yes indeed. Good to be alive and in Paris.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Paris, Montmartre and St. Denis

Another wonderful day in Paris -- sky clear with hints of overcasts on the fringes of the city but this would prove transitory.

We had yet another leisurely morning, sipping coffee and relaxing; Susie had leftover pastry treats from the previous day's safaris in search of the not-so-elusive "really good pastry." The truth of the matter is that they are not hard to find at all. But, and this is a bit but, but one does need help to weed out the mediocre, of which there is, in fact, a great deal.

About noon we got our act together and, locking the apartment we walked downstairs, out the door and turned left heading for the no. 2 metro at Menilmontant. After crossing much of the northern half of the city we got off at the Blanche Metro stop in Montmartre, and walked the long block to rue Rachel and into Montmartre cemetery.

We stopped at the conservation office to inquire about a particular burial. Just before we left for Paris, I had received an inquiry from a woman in the US asking if I knew the whereabouts of a certain Catherine Fuchs or Visser, who had died in Paris in 1831, possibly as a result of cholera. (This happens occasionally, a consequence of my Paris cemeteries website being fairly visible I suppose.)

Sadly, the answer was not forthcoming since the information we had was limited to just the year of death and apparently due to the record keeping they need the month at least as well. A method to the madness there somewhere I'm sure.

So we left Montmartre and strolled over and down rue des Abbesses breathing in the life force of this very dynamic part of Paris. ("Life force," pretty good, eh?) we doubled back taking rue Durantin all the way back to near the cemetery, and eventually finding our way down several quiet side streets to the Metro no. 13 at Guy Moquet. We took the no. 13 outside the city, getting off at the second to the last stop, the basilica of St. Denis, last resting place for the kings and queens of France. (photo below: place in front of the basilica.)

Well it used to be at any rate. During the revolution the radicals stormed into the church, raided the crypt, where French royalty had remained undisturbed for more than a thousand years, turned all of the sarcophagi over and spilled the remains out into gigantic piles. (In case you're wondering, the bones collected and are presently sealed up in two mass graves in the crypt.)

You can, however, see the heart of Louis XVII as well as the graves of Marie Antoinette (everyone is pretty sure it's her) and her husband, Louis XVI (photo below). Their remains were dug up from the mass graves, not far from the Madeleine church, where the bodies had been dumped after they were executed on what is now the Place de la Concorde.

Anyway, we met up with our friend Marie outside the church -- she was kind enough to give us a tour of some of the more interesting aspects of the "necropolis."

Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, in happier times:

While the entry to the church itself is of course free, there is an admission fee of 6.50 euros to visit the necropolis, which makes up roughly half of the church. This also includes a visit to the crypt as well. Here you can see where they are attempting to excavate portions of the original church, and of course get a general sense of where all the tombs were originally laid out in niches on trestles. As a result of the revolutionaries' fervor to create a new world, there is little today to suggest what must have been a very quiet, cold, eerie and dark place for royalty to spend eternity with their own, presumably talking about royal stuff.

Today the church is very well lit, even in the crypt, although you might want to tinker with your manual settings on your camera if you opt to try and take photos (which is what Marie is doing in an earlier photo below). The marble effigies on display today were, of course, not always there. Many of the early kings and queens were laid out in simple stone sarcophagi, and the effigies only added at a much later date.

After a leisurely stroll -- note the frequent use of that word "leisurely," pretty much our motto for this trip -- after a leisurely stroll through St. Denis, the three of us collected ourselves, stepped outside of the cool champagne light of the church into the stunningly harsh glare of the sun, found a nearby cafe table outside and sat down. We ordered caffe and chatted for the better part of an hour or more, discussing life, death, France, royalty, stupidity, and various other things that struck our fancy at the moment.

We eventually said au revoir to Marie -- she headed off for the Metro and Susie and looked for the tramway that runs around the northern edge of the suburbs. We soon found it, and after a few minutes wait, boarded the tram -- similar to the ones in Strasbourg and identical to the one that runs along the southern edge of the suburbs.

After seeing a bit of "outside" Paris, we got off a few stops later at La Courneuve where we switched to the no. 7 Metro.

A few stops later and we got off at Jaures to change to the no. 2 -- big mistake since we had to walk up several hundred flights of stairs (maybe an exaggeration) to connect. we then got off at Pigalle in Montmartre, where we connected to the no. 12, getting off at Madeleine.

After browsing the desserts at Fauchon -- slick, very slick, great packaging -- we strolled down Blvd. de la Madeleine which of course became Blvd. des Capucines and naturally that became Blvd. des Italiens (Italiens!) where we stopped, said enough is enough, its time for an aperitif.

We popped into a cafe, bistro really, or maybe a restaurant, anyway we had a wonderful glass of Alsatian pinot gris and warmed ourselves. Late in the day with the cloud cover occasionally dropping rain in tiny does and keeping the sun at bay, we found ourselves getting a bit chilled. This stop made perfect sense to us.

It was a short stroll down rue Gramant, just across the street from our cafe, to rue Saint augustin and to our dinner for the night: Kintaro noodle bar.

After consuming the better part of a 50-lb bowl of noodles each, along delicious gyoza, fried dumplings, we strolled to the nearby no. 3 Metro at Quatre Septembre, and got off just a few minutes later at Parmentier, just a few short blocks from our apartment.

Another grand day in one of the world's grandest cities.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Paris and the never ending Pastry Quest

Another sunny day in Paris.

We started our search for pastry at a leisurely pace this morning -- and in fact headed off to the 6th arr. to have lunch at "Cuisine de Bar," which is apparently operated by the folks who also run the nearby Poilane bakery. The reason for the hike for lunch? They are known for their tartines, an open-faced sandwich that is usually finished off under a broiler with cheese. It was worth the hike believe me -- and Susie had a scumptious fueillete-abricot for dessert.

After lunch we strolled a bit in the 6th before heading to the metro and out to the 10th arr. for another pastry shop suggested by Clotilde, "Du Pain des Idees." Located at 34 rue Yves Toudic, Clotdile describes this as a "beautiful 1889 bakery," and indeed the interior is worth the drive, as we say. The meticulous care taken in preserving this fantastic interior warrants taking a little time out of your schedule and stopping by. Plus, you can pick up some incredibly delicious sweets for your trouble. We certainly did.

From the bakery it's just a short walk to the Canal Mt. Martin and then a stroll down toward Richard-Lenoir and our apartment.

After a short break at home, we went out late in the afternoon and walked up to Pere Lachaise. Susie sat on one of the benches in front of the chapel with a nice view of the city, and read and made notes -- she's come up with some wonderful ideas for the restaurant's dessert menu to be sure.

I, of course, strolled around the cemetery taking photos.

At closing we headed for the entrance, or rather exit I suppose and strolled home. Just short of our apartment we stopped at the Square Maurice Gardette and watched the families, the people , the entire neighborhood it seemed, outside in this pleasant little bit of green, enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and the company of their neighbors.

We ate at home that evening, finishing up the remainder of the food in the house. A big mistake as it turned out since I thought I would be very French and fix a concoction of potatoes and cheese, roughly mashed together. What sounded like a good idea became something rather less than that.

Many of you might be familiar with the bags of powdered concrete, you know the kind where you just add water and voila! you have a rock-hard substance fit to build a house on? Well you have some idea of what I created in the kitchen. Apparently the cheese I used (Camembert) and the potatoes together in just the right proportions form a concrete-like material that can easily shut your system down. Anyway, it tasted pretty good.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Paris, Soup and Book Hunting (pt 2)

Wednesday began with another clear, warm sky. Susie and I again took our time in rousing ourselves, letting the day evolve quietly and at its own pace.

In fact we didn't leave the apartment until nearly noon, since our next two primary food objectives were nearby.

After coffee, breakfast, showering and getting dressed (the latter particularly important to walking the streets of Paris), Susie and I left the apartment and strolled down Avenue Parmentier toward Place Leon Blum. We crossed the Place and turned down Avenue Ledru Rollin (buried in division 4, Pere Lachaise BTW), heading toward rue Charonne, where we turned right. (photo: browsing the puppet shop window along rue Saint Louis en ilse.

Just a few doors up this very old street (in fact it was the main road from the village of Charonne into the capital, entering at or near the Bastille) we found our first objective:"Le Bar a soupes." Started by a young woman who was impressed with the soup bars in London, the striking yellow front was hard to miss. We walked inside and were greeted like old friends. After a quick tour of the soups of the day -- all made fresh every morning as are the desserts and ice tea -- we made our choice and picked a table near the front window, overlooking the street.

Susie ordered the tomato-ginger and I had chickpeas (with bits of raisins). We also opted for the formule, which gave us a little cheese as well as drinks and dessert, and all for less than 10 euros a person! The food was, to say it again, incredible. Service was friendly and the ambiance worth a stop in its own right: lovely large canvases of "grosses legumes" dotted the walls, which only added to the feel of being in a tiny country guest house.

After a relaxing lunch watching the Parisian world slip quietly by us, we paid our bill and walked back out into the sunlight. Back at Avenue Ledru Rollin we turned right and walked a few short blocks to rue du Fauburg Saint Antoine, where we turned left and then made a quick right onto rue Vollon. We quickly found what we were looking for: "Ble Sucre." Located at no. 7 rue Vollon, Ble Sucre is a pastry shop (of course) and yet another Clotilde suggestion. Susie bought a couple of small bags, one of chocolate sablee and the other of mini palmiers, and we headed back home.

A short walk back up Avenue Ledru Rollin and across the Place Leon Blum we were soon back in the apartment where we took a short break in our edible adventures.

After our short Intermezzo, Susie and I both grabbed our walking shoes, the backpack, our weekly Metro pass and headed back out onto the streets of Paris.

We walked down rue du Chemin Vert, just around the corner from our apartment, all the way to the end at Blvd. Beaumarchais, where we turned left and then a quick right onto a familiar street, rue du Pas de la Mule. We were now officially in the 3rd arrondissement, home to some of the more trendy, up and coming shops, residences and spaces in the city -- but still a cool place to get an idea of what old Paris, at least pre-Haussmann Paris was like. With it's tiny, curving streets, meandering along the Marais ("marsh") neighborhood has much to offer the casual stroller.

But we were back on a quest and no lallygagging for us. No siree. After skirting the Place des Vosges and passing through several waves of tourists, like us probably striving to find some sort of peace of mind in a city that tempts you with such things, we came to the corner of rue de Sevigne and rue des Francs Bourgeois (which were on in fact, Pas de la Mule becoming Francs Bourgeois). We had arrived at the Musee Carnavalet, once the residence of Madame Sevigne and now the home to the museum of the city of Paris.

Having explored this wonderful space on numerous occasions in the past, my goal today was singular: a quick browse through the museum bookstore. I was rewarded with a discovery of Michel Dansel's Au Pere-Lachaise: son histoire, ses secrets, ses promenades, the nouvelle edition.

From the Carnavalet we headed south, crossing into the 4th arr. and walked down to the rue Saint Antoine, where we stopped in and took a peek at St. Paul. One can only imagine the sights those stones have seen, the things they have witnessed along this very old street. After exiting the church we wended our way through the back streets heading for the Seine where we crossed over to the Isle Saint Louis. we strolled up the rue Saint Louis, running virtually the length of this island, what had once been a quiet place to graze sheep and crossed over the Isle de la Cite and Notre Dame.

We left the church to other seekers of truth. Although we did stop to identify the old street marks out in front of the church on the pavement that hardly anyone looks at -- they are in fact looking up at the church -- marks identifying the spaces we had seen in the daguerreotypes in the Orsay a fews back, we left the island walked toward the Place St. Michel and Gibert Jeune, one of Paris' largest bookstores. In fct, they are a collection of bookstores all clustered together around the Place St. Michel, each store designed around a different topical theme: science, literature etc.

Again with the quizzical looks when I asked about Paris cemeteries, between Susie and I we found the shelf with what we were looking for -- sadly all books I've already found before, although they did have one devoted just to photographs of how trees in Pere Lachaise have sometimes taken it upon themselves to devour the ironwork around some of the grave sites. A little too specialized for my tastes.

From Place St. Michel we strolled back streets down toward St. Germain des Pres, with no particular objective in mind. Along the way we came across a superb jazz trio playing on the street and stopped to hear a few songs before they broke and we moved on.

Eventually we came in behind this very ancient structure, St. Germain des Pres, and found a table at a nearby cafe. Wedged between a Russian couple on one side -- who could only communicate with the staff in English -- and a young American woman with her Rick Steves guide at the ready -- we felt truly at home.

We ordered two glasses of Mentou-Salon, a delicious white wine we had come to appreciate when we first came to Paris over two years ago, and sat and sipped and watched the world. And in Paris that can be a full time jib, believe me. One thing we have noticed is that more places, like this cafe, where they bring the bottle to the table and pour the glass there, rather than bring you a glass already poured. Interesting.

We sat and talked, watched, sipped and enjoyed being alive and in Paris.

At a little past seven we paid the bill and strolled down rue Bonapartre in the direction of St. Sulpice, which we found still undergoing major renovation, and onto the Luxembourg gardens, passing the Hungarian Institute along the way.

We turned into the gardens and walked to the other side, to the Blvd. Saint Michel entrance, where we exited and then crossed the boulevard over onto rue Gay-Lussac (buried in division 26 Pere Lachaise) and looked for "Les Papilles," and our dinner.

A short stroll up the rue Gay-Lussac and we were standing outside of no. 30, a wine shop and restaurant. We walked inside and were seated near the front, beneath the many shelves of wines -- French of course. The menu was a fixed four-course meal, no choices, no substitutions and yuou could choose your wine from any in the shop and for a nominal corkage charge (7 euros) they would pour it for you. The staff is small, serious, friendly and yet very businesslike. We asked for a wine suggestion and were presented with an incredible white burgundy (34 euros).

Not long after we were seated, two men from Salt Lake City were seated next to us (coincidence?), and the four of us chatted amiably throughout the evening, mostly about food and largely about France.

The meal was itself superb. A celery soup with bits of pork belly and fruit in the bottom, which came in a large tureen, a nice touch.. Next up were chicken pieces with a pasta, all together in a large pot, again brought to the table and shared by the two of us. This was followed by a cheese course and for dessert was a simple small glass of mascarpone with apples, almonds and pistachios mixed in.

A grand meal to be sure.

We said au revoir to our hosts and to the two guys from Utah -- they were heading up Gay-Lussac and were heading down toward the Cluny Metro to get the no. 10 to Austerlitz, where we changed to the no. 5 and got off at Richard Lenoir and home.