Friday, August 15, 2008

Dernier weekend

Saturday, 12 July

On my last Saturday in Paris, I headed out South towards the Louvre. I had visited my first time a few weeks earlier with the intention of returning, and now that it was almost time to leave and I had never made it back again, it seemed like time to finally get back and see the rest of the collection. However, on my way I visited a few other sites, such as this building :

I had seen this before - it is the round building right in front of the round courtyard by the parks at les Halles, but I had never seen it from this side - it is the Bourse de Commerce - the stock exchange. Who knew?

Continuing on my way, I passed this passage :

This was one of the passages we visited with my class, but as I had been taking notes I didn't get the chance to take any pictures. Unlike the galerie Vivienne, which I had returned to for lunch and pictures a few weeks earlier, this passage is a little older and less ornate. That is not to say, however, it is undecorated.

As you can see, the interior is a little simpler - no arches, no mosaic tiling on the floor. However, the classic components - the glass roof covering a hallway with 2 stories (the lower for shops and restaurants, the upper for apartments) are all there. The ceiling is also pretty wonderful :

After leaving the galerie, I passed this building :

I'm not sure what this was, but I love the metalwork covering the entire facade.

Continuing on my way - here is the metro stop for le Grand Palais - just next to the Louvre. While the Grand Palais itself is elegant and ornate, holding the Comedie Francaise where I had seen Cyrano, the metro stop is a somewhat different style... :

I continued on to visit a boulangerie called '215,' so named because its address is 215 rue Saint-Honoré. After being appalled at the unbelievable rudeness of the American in line ahead of me ("I'll just have a crusant." confused look from employee. Louder: "I want a CRUS-ANT." No "bonjour," no "parlez-vous anglais?" that was definitely the most ashamed I have been to be an American while in Paris. I couldn't believe this girl!) I ordered a focaccia aux légumes - a flat bread, heated for me, covered in vegetables, a little like pizza but no sauce - and a flan. I ate a lot of flan in my last few weeks in Paris, and I can tell you, this was the best. Perfect texture, perfect flavor, not burnt like some of my other flan purchases. Excellent.

I ate on the go, as I finally made my way to my destination at the Louvre. I had plans to meet Killian a little later in the afternoon to give him a tour of one of my favorite sections of the museum, the Italian renaissance. However, before he arrived, I visited a couple of sections I had been unable to visit before, including the collection of ancient textiles, where I saw this one which dates, if you can believe it (or even if you can't) to the 4th or 5th century CE. Incroyable!!

I also visited another favorite - the ancient Roman sculptures. I'm sure it goes without saying that their collection incredible. I loved getting to see some of the works I had studied in my Roman Art Class during my freshman year. Also going without saying, the art is in an incredible venue as well :

I also visited the decorative arts section, where I was impressed to find the best ivories I have ever seen, and some of which I am sure I studied in my Early Christian and Medieval art class sophomore year, including this piece :

After a few wonderful hours amidst the art, I left and headed across the river, contemplating a visit to Pierre Hermé, when I was distracted by Poilâne. Poilâne is certainly one of Paris' best known bakeries (some restaurants will set a higher menu price for a sandwich made on Poilâne bread than for one on generic bread) and while they are best known for their sourdough I am sorry to say I never experienced it while I was there. This, however, I could not resist :

Une tartelette aux pommes (apple mini-tart), that I watched them put into the window display right after it came out of the oven. It was warm and flaky and sweet and cinnamon and PERFECT. I debated going back for a second, but instead I decided to visit Le Bon Marché, the first huge indoor shopping complex in Paris. My patisserie book recommended their "Delicabar" - the small café/restaurant inside. I ordered a tartelette à la rhubarbe meringuée, à emporter (rhubarb meringue tart, to go) and then hopped on the metro to return chez moi, a necessity after a longgg day on my feet. After making dinner and eating my rhubarb tart (good, but not the best dessert I had in Paris) I had the intention of going to hang out with friends on my last saturday night in the city, but after my dearth of sleep the night before and my many hours of walking across the city, I crashed pretty early.

Sunday, 13 July

Sunday was, of course, my last day to go to the market. So many lasts and so many goodbyes in the last days - I hate goodbyes, and these were especially hard, not knowing when, if ever, I would get to see these wonderful friends again, both people and city sights. On my way walking to the market I took pictures of a few of my favorite oddities, including this false front :

Eventually there was actually a building, with real windows and apartments behind, but here at the edge there was clearly only a wall. Who knows why!

I also took video at the market to try to fully capture its essence - although I must say this does not fully succeed at conveying its life and atmosphere. Do note, however, the roasting chickens turning on their spits, as well as the potatoes underneath catching all of their drippings.

I bought some of these potatoes, as well as a cuisse de lapin - a rabbit leg - from these roasters, to have for my dinner that night. I also said au revoir to my fruit vendors. My would be suitor I was sorry to leave; however, my other friend I was sorry to leave... not only because of the incredible deals he gave me on the fruit I bought!

After the market, I set out through the 5e to visit a tarte shop for lunch that my patisserie book had recommended, but as it was Sunday, the shop was closed - lame. So instead, I made my way down past the jardins du Luxembourg into the 6e, where I discovered Le Procope :

According to a sign on the outside of the Café, this is "The oldest café in the world (founded in 1686), and home to the most famous center of the literary and philosophy worlds. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was frequented by La Fontaine, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, Danton, Narat, Robespierre, Napoléon Bonaparte, Balzac, Hugo, Gambetta, and Verlaine." (to name a few).

Ok, well that's cool.

The interior represents perfectly this old and stately setting :

As amazing as it was to eat in such a historical place, I will admit that that was not the reason why I decided to come in. In fact, this was :

LES ESCARGOTS. Perhaps the ultimate in French Cuisine, and proving the point that the French will eat anything that moves. I had not yet partaken of this delicacy, and seeing it offered on the menu here was enough to make me come in. I will admit, though, that when my waitress actually came and set them before me on the table I had a moment of terror. Oh my god, I can't do this, I can't eat SNAILS! But then I reminded myself that (1) they were the entire reason I had come in, and (2) I had PAID for them, so I was damn well going to eat them. So I grabbed on to one with the grabby-thingy and pulled one out with the mini-fork-thingy and took a deep breath, and ate one. The flavor, from what I could tell, came pretty much entirely from the garlic butter sauce they were covered in, and the texture was similar to that of shrimp or lobster, but perhaps less chewy (although I will admit I am not much of a fan of lobster and shrimp so I haven't had it on that many occassions to really be able to compare it). While it was not really a bad thing to eat, psychologically it was too much - I had to give myself a mini pep talk before every bite. Thus, in the end, not bad, but I don't think I would order it again.

For my plat principal, I ordered un joue de boeuf braisé (a braised ox-cheek), which was served in the mini dutch oven it was cooked in, with juices and carrots and potatoes :

The meat fell apart on your fork, and was just incredible. This I would absolutely order again.

For dessert they offered their house ice cream, which they have been making for centuries and undoubtedly is very good; however, it was a flavor I didn't especially want (mango, perhaps?) and I anticipated a golf-ball sized serving just like at Berthillon, for only an additional 6E to my bill, so I decided just to go with a coffee instead :

The fact that I did not get dessert here of course does not imply that I did not get dessert at all! Instead, I walked just a few blocks over to an Amorino, a chain store selling gelato across the city. I ordered two kinds - noisette et tiramisu (hazelnut and tiramisu), which the adept ice cream professionals shaped into this flower :

So much more ice cream, for less money - only 4E. And this ice cream was just wonderful. (though perhaps more than I needed after such a lunch, but that is a minor detail indeed.)

I had chosen to pass through the 6e because I wanted to make my last stop into Pierre Hermé to pick up some macarons to take back to the states. I am sorry to say that while the flavors more or less kept over the course of a week or so, the texture sadly was not nearly as magical as when they are fresh from the shop.

I then turned South from Pierre Hermé and walked down to the Tour Montparnasse - the only sky scraper in Paris. At 56 stories tall, it is both a "blight on the Paris landscape" as well as offering an unparalleled view over the city. On one side of the top floor, you can pay some exorbitant rate like 7E to take an elevator up to the top to see the view. However, on the other side, there is a restaurant. Isabelle had told me that it was not very good food (although plenty expensive, to dine with such a view! At least 50E for dinner, easily.) But if you just get a drink, you can experience the view at approximately the same cost as just taking the elevator to the other side (my drink was 9E, but I could have had a coffee for 6). Plus, if you go at a weird time, such as, say, 4:00, like I did, then there is no one there - so you get a table at the window, and you don't feel bad for taking a table at a busy time.

So here I am, overlooking the city...

And here was my view!!

To be able to see the city sprawling before me was pretty incredible. This is a view to the west. To the North, I could see the Place de la Concorde, and the Madeleine and the Opéra, and the Louvre; however, with the way the windows were it was next to impossible to capture these monuments in a photo.

I sat in the restaurant for nearly two hours, soaking in the sights. Eventually, I decided I had better leave. On leaving the tower, I found another open-air market, much like my marché de la bastille, except that instead of selling food and household goods, this market was for artists to sell their art.

Oh Paris, comme j'aime tes surprises!

I returned home to reheat my roasted potatoes and rabbit. I had never had rabbit before... It tasted like meat. I couldn't really discern anything too foreign about it. The potatoes were greasy and delicious, cooked in the roasting chicken juices.

After dinner, I made my way to Pont Neuf, the bridge that crosses the western tip of the Ile de la Cité, to watch the sunset. I don't think these next images require any captions.

After the sun had set, I sat on the tip of the island with some friends from the Boston program, enjoying this last evening and soaking in the city.

Paris me manque.

Il ne reste qu'un jour que je dois racconter.

A bientôt, à vous et j'espère aussi à cette ville que j'adore.

Le dernier jour avec BU

Friday, 11 July

First thing in the morning, I had my final exam for my class. The exam was pretty straight-forward, just like the midterm was. Lionel, my fabulous professor, wasn't there, as he was already on vacation with his daughter in the south of France. I'm pretty sure the whole class missed him. After the exam, I walked across the 7e, passing through the champ de Mars, where I saw this :

The trees in Paris (as well as surrounding areas - I noticed this in Chartres also), when they are in important, monumental sites, are all uniformly square. It really makes the perspective they create that much more powerful. While they might have you believe that the trees just grow this way, I finally saw someone trimming them - just as you would a topiary.

After passing through the champ, I made my way to another restaurant recommended by my patisserie book - les deux abeilles. The decor felt like a new England beach house - worn wood floors, white walls... My table was right under a potted tree. Very calming and refreshing :

I ordered a flan au confit de tomates :

The texture of the flan was incredible - so light and creamy. For dessert, I had a clafoutis aux peches :

Unfortunately, the texture on this one was not as spectacular - I think they must have had tiny pieces of nuts throughout the clafoutis, because it wasn't entirely smooth, which is unusual for a clafoutis.

After my meal, I made my way along the Seine and then across the pont Alexandre III :

As you might guess from the date on the seal, this bridge was constructed for the 1900 world exhibition in Paris. It goes directly to the Grand and Petit Palais, the major exhibition halls for the fair. The bridge is regal, and just stunning:

And here is the Grand Palais:

It's huge curved glass roof can be spotted from all over the city and along the Seine.

Directly across the street from the Grand Palais is the Petit Palais, my destination :

I had seen this ad in the metro, and it caught my attention, so I decided to check it out. My fabulous "étudiante de l'histoire de l'art" card got me in for free, just like it did at every art museum in the city - such a wonderful tool! It's a really nice exhibition; I didn't know much about flamenco going in, but they had some incredible paintings by Manet, Courbet, Picasso, and many, many others, as well as videos - including 13 seconds taken by Thomas Edison, as well as longer, later videos exemplifying the dance.

I didn't realize going in what a stunning building the Petit Palais is :

That is an exhibition hall just off the main entrance. The flamenco exhibition was happening on the other side of the museum, and due to some maintenance work that was being completed, you had to walk around an outdoor courtyard to get there :

There was a little café just to the side of the courtyard, and if I hadn't just eaten lunch it would have been a wonderful place to get lunch and relax for a while, looking at the gorgeous juxtaposition of nature and architecture.

The Petit Palais also houses an interesting collection of art, ranging from pieces prepared to be exposed for the 1900 exposition to a series of early Christian icons and ancient Greek and Roman pieces - very eclectic. It was a beautiful museum I would certainly visit again on a another trip to Paris.

Leaving the museum, here is another view of the pont Alexandre III, across the Seine towards rive gauche and les Invalids (with the gold dome) with the petit Palais at my back :

I did not, however, cross the bridge again. Instead, I made my way over the Madeleine area, just up the street from the Place de la Concord. I had visited this area before - it is home to some of the fanciest gourmet traiteurs in Paris : the patisserie LaDurée, which I had visited a few days prior, and the world renowned Fauchon. I had visited the shop before and only browsed, seeing all of their fancy products. They actually have multiple shops around the Madeleine square, and the first I visited held their wine shop and their products in jars and boxes - chocolates, foie gras, olives, spices, even "beurre de cacahouettes" - so-called peanut butter (only 8E a jar...) This time, I visited the other store, which has more ready-to-eat products : a deli counter, a café and patisserie, and another counter just like a patisserie except that instead of selling sweets, they had savory versions of all of the classic pastries - salmon and pea eclairs, tartes covered in colorful and beautiful vegetables... Everything was perfect and lovely and so interesting because it wasn't just a dessert like usual. Unfortunately, with the workers standing right behind the counters, I didn't take any pictures. I did, however, buy an eclair... but I was just more boring and just got caramel :

The eclair is probably the most popular French pastry, selling more than any other pastry, but for me I think this is the only one I bought while in Paris. It was exquisite.

I made a quick stop home to relax for a few minutes and change before it was back across town for our au revoir dinner with the BU program at a restaurant right near the BU center. I had a salad of mozarella and tomatoes, a chicken dish which was served with potatoes and vegetables, and a slice of chocolate cake, all of which was very decidedly mediocre. I didn't bother to finish the cake. It was a pity that it was late enough that there weren't any patisseries open to get a proper dessert (I suppose my clafoutis and eclair would have to suffice...)

After dinner, we went over to the BU center for the final goodbyes, where my photograph of the café from A priori thé won the photo contest. Renee, the program director, gave a speech, which was somewhat eye-opening for me, but not in the way probably intended. She had also given a speech at the orientation, and her French sounded impeccable to me. When she spoke English, she had an accent, so I couldn't tell whether she was French or American. She told us she was from Rhode Island (so there is the accent, as well as the nationality) but that she was married to a Frenchman and had been living in the country for many years. At the last night, hearing her speak again, it was incredible to me to hear how prominent her American accent was when she spoke French. It was amazing to me how different it was to hear her after 8 weeks in the country!

It was strange to say goodbye to the people I had become so accustomed to seeing over the previous two months. I hope I will cross paths with many of them again soon.

After the BU goodbyes, I headed over to Killian's to drop off the digital photo frame I won for the photo contest, and then we headed to a friend's apartment and met up with a few of Killian's friends from school. We had planned to meet people at the champ de Mars, but when we arrived it began to rain, and as I had just missed the metro, my friend Rafael offered me a ride home which was UNBELIEVABLY KIND of him and for which I am incredibly grateful. I finally got to sleep around 3 or 3h30 AM... thus beginning my ridiculous lack of sleep over the course of the next three days.

I'm so close to finally reaching the end of these accounts!

Alors, j'espère, à très bientôt,

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

la bonne cuisine

Thursday, 10 July

I ate very well the last week, and Thursday was possibly the best of all. However, my fine dining experiences would have to wait until lunch, because in the morning I had the oral defense for my rapport de stage - a five minute oral presentation presenting my internship, followed by about 10 minutes of questions from a panel of 4 professors and internship coordinators. I got the grade for my stage a few days later - an A- overall, which is completely irrelevant because I am not bothering to transfer the credit to Hopkins, since I have enough credits to graduate and it won't count towards my major.... OH WELL, too bad I spent so many hours on the rapport... I'll get over it.

After the presentation, I went to the Marché de la Bastille, just like every Thursday. My friend Julie came with me, and we got fruit and wandered for quite a while. It's interesting, I hadn't noticed before how many more clothing and non-edible wares are at the market on Thursday as opposed to Sunday, when the vast majority of the stands are foods. After the market, I walked through the 4e to get to a restaurant recommended by many sources - my book of patisseries, my former TA Cosimo, and Isabelle, amongst others - Mariage Frères, Paris' premier Traiteur du thé - a tea house. I had visited a few days prior to get my mom's souvenir, a jar of tea, but since then Cosimo had highly recommended their Thé au chocolat - a chocolate infused tea. Unfortunately, they did not have their menu posted outside the restaurant as most restaurants do, so I was unable to check the prices until I sat down... I should have realized that if the tea alone sold for 10-15E / 100g, the lunch would be pricey.... They had a carte for 35E that gave you a plat, a tea, and a dessert... And since I had come to have all three, I decided to get the carte, which was less expensive than ordering individually. Here is my table :

All very pretty. Here is my tea :

I was all for trying the thé au chocolat, but my meal came with a recommended tea, and when I asked my waiter if it would be odd to substitute the thé au chocolat for the recommendation, his reaction told me it certainly would be odd. Nevertheless, he brought out thé au chocolat and thé au chocolat caramel for me to smell. The chocolat caramel smelled just delectable, but I stuck with the recommendation which was tasty, but pretty much just tasted like tea. I really am lacking in the sophisticated tea-tasting palate area. Here was my meal :

As pretty as it was delicious - veal in a special tea-based sauce, with a small side salad and roasted vegetables. It was quite lovely, but whether it was especially complemented by the recommended tea was beyond me.

Of course there was dessert as well:

I got a tarte à la fraise which was very good, but I'm not sure that it was worthy of the "best dessert ever" title I had heard given to the desserts here. Nevertheless, a very satisfying meal.

After lunch, I walked home to study for my final exam for a little while before heading out to wander through the 5e before dinner. I got off the metro at the Gare d'Austerlitz and meandered through the 5e towards les Fontaines, the restaurant where I was meeting Killian... but back to that later. Coming out of the station, I walked through the jardin des plantes, the garden I visited a few weeks earlier where all of the plants are labeled. The garden is also home to the Natural Science Museum of Paris :

Which is guarded by this formidable figure:

The landscaping in Paris, especially in the parks, is often simply breathtaking...

Such a force of perspective walking through the garden!

There is also a menagerie at the jardin des plantes, which you have to pay to get into (welcome to Paris - you have to pay for everything.) However, these lil guys were hanging out outside :

Wallabies! pretty awesome.

I also passed by this sculpture, of, erm, a nymph beating a fish?

I have no idea.

Leaving the jardin, I passed by one of Paris' many universities, Paris 6 :

The universities in Paris all have numbers instead of names, like American universities. Lionel, the professor for my class, works at Paris 8. Evidently Paris 6 is linked with Mme Curie.

Turning the corner, I came by this fountain :

And then found myself in another park, that is really quite unusual for Paris...

What is this big open space? In walking around, I found a sign that said

Lutèce was the name of the Roman settlement that developed into Paris over the next two millenia, so this was their "physical training area," evidently. Another sign explained that this area was created in the 2nd century, CE, to display gladatorial combats as well as theatrical productions - it was a center of civic life. Pretty crazy to find it today!!! Europe is so old!!

Eventually I wound my way around to the restaurant, which Cosimo had recommended as "la vraie cuisine française." Killian and I had been talking about dining there for about a month and finally in this last week we made it. We ordered off the carte, where we could each get an appetizer, main course, and dessert for 28E - quite a steal after my lunch!! For our appetizers, Killian got a salade niçoise, and I had a tatin de tomate :

A tatin is a tart that is baked with the crust on top, and then flipped upside down so that the crust is on the bottom to serve. My tatin is on the left, with a small salad of greens on the right. Delicious. Then the plats principals - Killian had a bifteck et frites which was served with a bearnaise - an incredible sauce that I shudder to think what it does to the arteries... but it does taste wonderful! I had the canard - duck :

The square to the top is potato, sliced very very thin and then roasted, I think... Flaky and delicious! Everything was just lovely. Including, of course, dessert. I had a crème brulée (how much more classic French can you get?) :

Killian got a "tiramisu aux fraises" which wasn't much of a tiramisu, except that it was in layers, but was light and lovely, with pistachio ice cream on top -

The lady at the table next to us was alone, and when she was debating ordering Killian's dessert we recommended it to her, and then spoke with her for the next ten minutes or so. She used to work at the Sorbonne, but now she is retired. It was awesome to get to see that I am comfortable enough with my French that we could have that conversation - I am not sure I could have done that when I arrived.

Dinner, in true French fashion, lasted a little over two hours - just past 7h30 until about 10h00, at which point we had to head home to study for our final exam the next morning. Or, well, maybe he studied... I just got home and fell asleep. Such a nice end to a good day of eating!

A bientôt,