Friday, December 31, 2010

Thursday in Paris - New camera, Favorite stroll, dinner at L'avant Gout

Susie at L'avant Gout
We missed the Orsay on Thursday.

Originally we had talked of meeting up with Matt & Susan for an afternoon of centering our intellectual chi at the Musee d'Orsay but with the arrival of blue skies and a committed sun we felt the driving urge to be outside. (Of course the sun would trick us later. . .)

First stop of the morning was to pick up our train tickets for Brittany and get a new camera, an inexpensive one to use while we're in France. After doing a bit of online checking with the large electronic stores here in Paris (Surcouf, FNAC, Darty),  I had pretty much ruled out the more obscure, brands such as Ingo and models such as the "Hello Kitty" (in pink but hey, it's less than €70) and settled on a Panasonic Lumix.

So we bundled up and headed out a little after 10am, walking to the the Richard Lenoir Metro and taking the no. 5 to Place d'Italie. After climbing out of the Metro and then back down into the bowels of the shopping center, we walked straight to the SNCF store, where there was a queue (of course). Susie got a waiting number and since we had a few minutes I popped around the corner and checked out the FNAC store's camera selection. They had a wide variety of models but not the one I was looking for, so I went back to keep Susie company waiting for an agent.

(And no, we still cannot use our US-based credit cards to retrieve tickets from the automated kiosks -- seems dumb to us but then we're just tourists.)

After a few minutes waiting we were called to one of the agents, and moments later we had our tickets in hand and on our way upstairs to the Darty store. They didn't have the exact Panasonic model I was looking for but the next model down in the line and that worked for me and the price was right. The salesman printed out the receipt, we stood in (another) line to pay and then went to the back of the store to pick the item up.

With new camera in hand we found our way of the building, and headed straight for avenue des Gobelins, a stroll through familiar territory, a walk we had made many times when we lived in the 5th.

A casual stroll up rue Mouffetard (and there's really no other way to stroll through the "Mouff" than casually), led us place many familiar sights:

Rotisserie chicken


La Fontaine wine shop - a past favorite
And a few not so familiar:

At last we reached the Place Contrescarpe -- hangout for Hemingway & Crew in the 1920s -- and turned down rue Lacepede turning right on rue Monge and a few doors down stopped in at Pascal Pinaud's pastry shop to say hi. Pascal was there and so was his brother Jean-Marc -- but the visit was brief, they were deep in work it seemed so we didn't tarry long.

Stepping back out onto rue Monge we walked across the street to check out the window of a new boulangerie -- neat Christmas decorations and a brisk baguette business it seemed, and perhaps that partly accounted for the air of detachment we sensed at Pascal's. After all, things change and being a pastry chef in Paris has to be incredibly stressful and demanding. Only a few, a very few, get to the top and the rest. . .

Anyway, we walked over to the Jardin des Plantes and past the newly opened greenhouses. Be aware there is a fee to get inside. As we strolled through the "gardens" toward the Seine, the absence of color seemed to fit nicely with the gray overcaast sky and sense of winter in the air. But this barrenness is merely preparation for the lushness to come, a springtime in Paris that we know so well.

From the Jardin we crossed the busy Quai Saint Bernard and walked down to the edge of the Siene, passed the large river police (fluviale) to stroll along the Jardin Tino Rossi. Our walk naturally took us through the Musee du Plein Air, the open air museum where you can find some truly fanciful and remarkably imaginative sculpture hovering right along the edge of the river.

 There were few others braving the swollen Seine -- house barges were uncertainly and awkwardly moored to the quai and one can only wonder what havoc was being created in the underground network of channels beneath the city. In fact, the flooding was so bad at that by the time we got to the Pont de Sully we had to leave the river's edge and move up to the street level. The tradeoff was we got to browse the handful of bouquinistes who were open for business on such a chilly afternoon. It was also curious to observe how the closer one got to Notre Dame the less "books" one saw and the more tourist kitsch.

 One curious phenomenon we came across concerned the "locks of love" on the Pont de Archeveche. We first saw this strange tokenism of love undying in Florence, on the Ponte Vecchio some years ago and apparently the trend has taken root in numerous other locations around the world.  Not surprisingly Paris has it's own version. We were there just in time to see a wedding couple place their lock, their symbol of eternal affection (or obligation?) on the railing of the bridge.

 From the bridge of love we resumed our stroll on the left bank, chilled to the bone we were in dire need of heat -- and so set our sights on the bookstore complex Gibert Jeune, near the Place Saint Michel. Skirting Shakespeare & Co., we crossed rue Saint Jacques, and turned down rue de la Huchette, a very old thoroughfare and now the very heart of tourist Paris. We quickly threaded our way through the mass of humanity in search of plastic Eiffel towers and t-shirts that clearly prove they were in Paris, and scurried inside Gibert Jeune -- and found ourselves amidst a mass of Paris and French tourists.

C'es la vie.

We browsed for a bit -- Susie on the 2nd floor among the baking books and me on the ground floor among the Paris books. (I was successful, she was not.)

Eventually we had to leave and after paying for my selection on impossible-to-find books on Paris cemeteries (in French) we headed back outside, into the cold, into the waves of flesh and crossed onto the Ilse de la Cite, the heart of Lutece, the beginning of the city. As we approached parvis de Notre Dame, the open space that marks the most famous view after the Eiffel Tower in the city, one started to see the horro: a snake coiling around and around, for hundreds of meters, a coil of bodies waiting to get inside the church as if their very lives depended upon this one thing, that they would once again be whole and complete but until that moment when they would cross the threshold of ancient marble and stone they were doomed to remain unfinished, deformed, incomplete, unclean.

We opted to remain unfinished and gave the lines wide berth as we hurried onto the right bank in search of mid-afternoon tea, coffee, warmth and quietude. We found it back at Carette along the edge of the Places des Vosges.

After recovering ourselves a bit from the cold pavements, we walked home, passed Gerard Mulot (and we would come back here tomorrow), passed the Laguiole knife store, onto Boulevard Beaumarchais, turning east onto Chemin Vert and through the garment district and home.

Once again we had rediscovered Paris, the places we knew, or thought we knew, we saw in different eyes. The city had changed, perhaps, but really it is we who have changed -- and that's the beauty of coming back to Paris again and again. It's all about recovering your spirit as you rediscover yourself.

Later that evening we hopped back to the no. 5 at Richard Lenoir and got off at Place d'Italie, turning down rue Bobillot, walking past the commuter traffic jams, to meet up with the group at L'avant Gout for dinner. Barbara, Andrea and Andie's friend Sarra were already outside waiting for us and the five of us went in to get warm and ready ourselves for another dining adventure.

And what food it was! I had the breaded lamb's tongue roasted with kohlrabi (incredible) and the calf steak with a delectable "potato" roll. Matt, sitting next to me, got the pot-au-feu, which came with broth on the side and little containers of red onions and cornichons. All was washed down with an Alsatian pinot blanc and a Rhone Saint-Joseph.

Matt and Susan

 The evening slipped away into night as we talked, sipped and smiled our way into the moment, with few worries about what the next day may or may not bring. Life is short.

After paying the bill -- something that's really become a bit of a nuisance I must say -- we all walked back to the Place where we said adieu and got back on the no. 5 to Richard Lenoir, and home.

Wish you were here,


L'avant Gout. 26 rue Bobillot, Paris 75013. Phone: 01 53 80 24 00. Website.

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