Paris - Days Five and Six
After yesterday's very pleasant weather, our day began more in the Provence mode than we would have liked, with grey skies and a steady cold rain.Not much fun slogging through the rain to look at sights so decided that today we would visit Le Bon Marché, our favourite department store in Paris and pick up any bits and pieces that we still needed to fill in the shopping gaps. It's a wonderful 19'th century building, straddling the 6'th and 7'th on the left side of the river, with a fabulous food hall and wine cellar. Took the Métro and arrived at about 11:00 and very surprised at how quiet and un-busy it was. First stop the food section and picked up some long pepper, a hard to find type of type of dried pepper that looks like a small black dry catkin, and which tastes like black pepper but with floral notes that span a much wider and richer taste spectrum than ordinary black pepper as well as a bottle of sel de citron which looks and smells wonderfully lemony and which will work very well sprinkled on asparagus or grilled fish. V loaded up on freshly baked Madelines.
Fascinated by the size of the scarf section in the men's department and it brings to mind one of the most interesting differences in men's dress in France as compared to our part of the world. Scarves,carefully selected and tied in an artfully artless way, are de rigeur for men and it's rare to see a male from a 6 year old to a pensioner without a stylishly draped scarf. I bought a very nice silk and cotton version in Lourmarin in Provence but I'm not comfortable wearing one for the same reason that I don't like turtlenecks, they're hot and itchy, with the emphasis on hot. Have been wearing it however, but interested to see the range of choices and prices in the Marché and the degree of importance that the display demonstrated that scarves hold in men's wardrobes.
There is an extensive book store on the top floor where I parked myself on a very comfortable leather couch and looked at photography books for an hour while V did the rounds of her favourite departments; would happily have stayed longer. There are couple of very decent restaurants in the store and we had lunch at one, Primo Piano a very good Italian café; we each had pasta Norma, a favourite, salad, a glass of wine and a coffee. Very good.
Rain had let up so we walked through the 6'th, past Saint-Sulpice, to the Marché Saint-Germain where we had read that the type of pottery that we had been trying to track down in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue last week might be sold. Found the merchant but not the right kind of pottery and secretly pleased as the thought of adding another couple of kilos of earthenware to our rapidly expanding luggage was not a welcome thought.
I took the Metro home but V decided that she'd like to visit the other two grands magasins, Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, both near the Opéra. I had a very pleasant couple of hours reading and watching the rain, V on the other hand did not. She'll tell you why below.
Dinner was at Aux Crus de Bourgogne, just off the Rue Montorgueil, about a 10 minute walk from our apartment and a recommendation of our hostess. Fabulous dinner with a really fabulous wine, a burgundy whose name, unfortunately, I did not make a note of. V had a delicious starter, oeufs mayonnaise with a fluffy mound of sinfully-addictive, freshly-made mayonnaise followed by a Beef Bourginon which she loved, while I had goose rilettes as an entreé and tripes au calvados as my main. Lots of wine and then profiteroles for dessert for V and a baba au rhum for me; they brought my baba and left a bottle of rum for me to pour and there the three of us sat, the bottle, V and I. Very dangerous as I once again melted my baba with a slight overdose of rum and drank my dessert while V thought it would be new culinary landscapes to soak her profiterole. A Calvados and coffee to finish; the rest of the evening has faded from memory and only a rosy glow remains.
Tuesday was our last full day in Paris and we were blessed with the weather. Since neither of us had been to the Eiffel Tower in over 25 years we decided to remedy that oversight and join the throngs. My last visit was on a trip that my daughter, now 36 but then 8, and I took together to Paris for 10 days at almost exactly the same time of year. At that time we took the elevator to the top and there were minimal crowds, no waits and the whole stunning vista looking down the Champ de Mars to the École Militaire. This time there were hoardings around sections of the base to screen the repair and construction works being carried out and blocking the view down the Champ de Mars and people in their thousands, in long snaking lines, waiting for extended periods of time for their chance to ascend to the top.
Left the tower grounds and walked past the Musée du quai Branly, with its street-facing, four storey facade a verdent, vertical garden entirely covering the front of the building with barely room for the windows. Tried to comprehend the logistics of creating and managing it but quickly gave up and just soaked up the sunshine on our walk to the 6'th.
We were getting hungry by this point and since the restaurant on Av. Rapp that we had been recommended to try for lunch was under renovations we just picked a random cafe terrace and sat. Had a flashback to the old days 30 years and more ago to when Paris really could be tough slogging for foreigners. Our French is not colloquial but serviceable for mundane matters such as basic restaurant survival and we had had no problems in the prior two weeks; granted we may have been meeting with extraordinarily gracious serving staff at literally every meal but that only serves to make the point. Our waiter, a member of the Olympic eye-rolling team, refused to understand us, the meal was atrocious and when it was time to pay Madame at the cash very acidly told me that they did not accept credit cards, while a credit card terminal sat on the counter between us. Cafe Le Dome, on Rue Saint-Dominique, don't ever go there!
Enjoyed the rest of the afternoon walking slowly through the district and ended up at the Odéon in our old neighbourhood. Métro home and then out to dinner at 20:00 at Le Boui-Boui, another of our hostess's suggestions. Another wonderful dinner but with, literally, a slight hiccough. V started with a camembert salad which turned out to be a whole warmed camembert with its top sliced off, resting on a bed of salad greens, very very rich!. I had a fricassee of mushrooms to start and for our plats, saucisse de Lyon for me and for V a rare steak, in both cases accompanied by aligot, a dish neither of us was familiar with. The dishes when they arrived contained our meat selections alongside an imposing if not frighteningly large mound of shiny looking mashed potatoes. If the camembert starter was rich, the aligot was worthy of midas and as we discovered when I looked up the recipe later, is composed of, for the sake of proportions, 2 kilos of mashed potatoes, butter, 2 cups of crème fraîche, a clove of garlic and 3 cups of Cantal cheese all whipped to a shiny, stretchy mass and a picture of which can be seen on the restaurant's home page. It was glorious and worked very well with the meats but the quantity was rich, daunting, overwhelming and much was unfortunately returned to the kitchen.
Home to organize for our departure and up early on Wednesday morning to leave. Our hostess had made arrangements for her regular taxi driver to pick us up and so at 7:30 we filled his taxi and set off. We had left ourselves lots of time to get to CDG for an 11:00 flight imagining that there would be quantities of rush hour traffic to deal with but the roads were virtually empty and when we raised this with the taxi driver much of the mystery of the last two weeks became clear and many pieces fell into place. I mentioned in an earlier posting that May 1 was May Day and a national holiday, today May 8 is also a holiday, Armistice Day and we were told by the driver that large numbers of people use the time between holidays and the next weekend as a continuation of the holiday. We had not previously understood why so many children were not at school and why so many restaurants whose days of business were posted as being open were in fact closed when we tried to make reservations and their message on their voice mail said that they were "faire le pont" a phrase with which we were not familiar. Our driver explained that everyone "makes the bridge" between the holidays and the weekends and takes those days as a vacation. Lesson here, a great time to visit but in early May you take your chances with the holidays and with what may be closed.
The Paris apartment, Paris Chéri owned by a charming and very helpful couple, was beautiful, modern, large and very well situated in the 2'nd. We loved it, and loved the fact that it was well-supplied, had a washer and a dryer, not a small matter, and a complete range of modern appliances, and was 5 minute walk from a great shopping street and yet was quiet and welcoming. Our hostess Marie, called periodically to stay in touch and to offer suggestions and recommendations for restaurants and things worth seeing. Very highly recommended.
Virginia says: I had been looking forward to getting to the big department stores, with fond memories of shopping very successfully there in years past. So I decided to start off at Au Printemps and then move on to Galleries Lafayette. What a mistake!! I think the tour companies must just take all their groups there and dump them off..it was an absolute zoo. At Au Printemps there was a roped off area with security guards letting people in two at a time to the Chanel handbag department. The lineup stretched down the aisle and around a corner. Unbelievable! I fled and went to GL, thinking it couldn't possibly be as bad. Wrong again, it was even worse. The same huge lineup for Chanel bags...why are they in such high demand??? Most of the shoppers in the lineups appeared to be Japanese but everybody else was there too, except no locals, not surprisingly. I did my best to persevere, but the store was crowded and hot and I ultimately had to concede defeat and left empty handed. This was a blow. Re fashion and what you should pack for France. two words...jeans and black. In Provence everybody seems to wear jeans all the time, fancy restaurants included. The only people dressed up were North American tourists. And in Paris it is all black all the time. Well, maybe in August some colour appears, but I wouldn't know. We saw the occasional pair of brick red jeans, more on men than on women, but that was it for colour. The store windows had colourful and floral outfits, who is wearing them? Even at the Opera, where people were actually dressed up a bit, all black with maybe some grey as an exotic counterpoint. If you ever want to feel really conspicuous, try riding the Metro at rush hour in your pink jacket, you are guaranteed to feel like a parrot at a crow convention. Oh, and never, ever, leave home without your perfectly draped scarf. It was such a fun day to be able to walk all along the left bank. Paris really is a glorious city and, as usual, we hated to leave. We enjoyed being in the 2nd, it was new territory for us and a lively and interesting part of the city. The apartment was amazing. We are already planning our next visit....