Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bordeaux IV

29 August

Lazy Sunday morning.  I had been thinking about trying to visit St. Emilion and see some vineyards (and, you know, maybe taste another wine or two...), but I realized that morning that since I had left for Europe exactly one month earlier, I hadn't gone two days in a row without getting on a train.  Any time I stayed somewhere for three nights, one of the days I would head a different nearby city for the day to take full advantage of the region.  We had our tickets booked to head up to La Rochelle for the following day, and the idea of making our way across the city to the train station and chugging our way out to wine country for a few hours sounded like too much.  Two-thirds of the way through my trip, and I was tired.  So we ate yogurt and fruit in the hotel, and booked our hotels for Tours and Paris, and finally headed out to find some bread around 11:30.

Unlike in the US, where we're offended by shops that aren't open 24/7, most French businesses are closed at least one day a week, often two.  Even the Louvre is closed one day a week (Tuesday, if you were wondering.)  One of the marks of a good restaurant that I would look for was that it's closed at least one day a week - it shows that the restaurant cares both about the quality of life of its employees, and, by taking care of them, it cares about the quality of its food.  Compared to the US, there's just such a different idea of what is important in life, and the French are willing to sacrifice a little convenience to guarantee time away from the metro-boulot-dodo doldrums.  Most boutiques, pharmacies, even groceries are closed on Sundays - and, in retrospect, had we gone to St. Emilion, I bet most of the wineries and shops there would have been closed, too.  For us, this meant that the normally full-to-bursting, pedestrian-only rue Sainte-Catherine, just around the corner from our hotel, was startlingly empty.  And quiet.

Unfortunately, it also meant that our friendly neighborhood Paul, where we had been getting at least two flûtes a day since we arrived, was closed.  How inconvenient!  So we had to wander a little further afield.

In doing so, we passed the beautiful, macaron-replete windows of pâtisserie Maison Larnicol, so I had to stop in.  Turns out this is the Southernmost outlet of a Breton chain, though I didn't know that at the time.  Having definitively decided only that morning while booking hotels that we would not be stopping in Bretagne (Brittany in English, the remote, Northwestern-most région of France) as I had hoped, when I saw the kouignettes I had to have one.

Kouign-amann is the pastry of choice in Bretagne (that is, when taking a break from crêpes, of course), and a kouignette is a smaller version of the standard.  Bretagne, like the Pays Basque or Alsace, is another region with decidedly foreign imprints on the language and culture.  In Bretagne (called Breizh in the native Breton tongue), Celtic influences from invasions that took place a millennium ago are still very much present, noticeable in names like the decidedly un-French sounding kouign-amann, which derives from the Breton words for cake (kouign) and butter (amann).  Fittingly, a kouign-amann is a flaky round cake made with a dough similar to bread dough but with lots of butter, and then sugar is sprinkled between layers.  Maison Larnicol offered a variety of flavors, but I chose nature - plain.  The vendeuse, or shopkeeper, told me it would be best heated up in my oven before eating.  I'm sure it would be, but having no oven in my hotel room (again with the inconvenience!), I had to eat it at room temperature.  How I suffered on this trip.  It was a little chewy, and tasted of honey and butter.  What a delight it would be all hot and crisp, fresh from the oven!

After scarfing down the kouignette, we wandered through the golden triangle at the heart of Bordeaux until we stumbled upon an open Paul (oh joy!), where we purchased bread so fresh from the oven it was too hot to handle (oh rapture!!).  We walked back to the Monument des Girondins to sit on a shady bench and eat our bread. Miam!!

It was a beautiful, perfect day - the kind of day I wish I could put in a bottle and keep with me forever, just to keep the blues at bay.  A few fluffy clouds broke up the monotony of a brilliant cerulean sky.  The ground was just starting to accumulate fallen leaves, marking autumn's imminence and spiking the air with just a hint of that intoxicating crisp fall aroma.  The Sunday emptiness meant the city was quiet, save for the breeze shuffling the tree branches above and the faint conversation of the classic auto show on the Esplanade des Quinconces.  How utterly tranquil to sit and nosh on our hot bread.  Life doesn't get much better.

Once sufficiently sated, we wended our way down to the river and inevitably ended up at the miroir.

It was midday, and not nearly so crowded as the day before.  There were a few kids, though, and one notable young British boy, after being warned by his cruel father that they would be leaving soon, protested "But I want to stay here!" as he dashed and splashed away across the shallow depths.  Thank you, little British boy, you made my day.

And while I, too, would be happy to stay here, we decided to do a little more sight seeing.  We wanted to check out the Musée des Beaux Arts, but on the way we stopped briefly into the Cathédral Saint André.

The clearly visible bricks in the vaulted ceiling gave the cathedral a wieghtiness that belied light, airiness of its construction - or perhaps it merely emphasized what a remarkable feat of engineering the construction was.  (And is.) 

The museum was very close to the cathedral.  It was a small collection - maybe 5 or 6 rooms total - but a very good one.  Highlights included three Titians (including the Rape of Lucrece!), and a fabulous painting by Jean-Eugène Buland, which was undeservedly hidden away in a corner.  But the most fun pieces were in the courtyard just outside the museum - more of the city's cows:

And my favorite:

Note the small red plaque on the left on the barrel.

Vacchus, the beautiful wine (/sounds like bovine - ha)
Here is a cow who knows how to take care of herself.
Before going out for the evening, there's nothing like a good bath.  Soak in a little wine, it's good for the complexion!  All those seeds and tannins tone up the teats.  Mmmmmmmmmm I'm going to make all my friends envious; they'll ask my for my beauty secrets.
I'll be quiet now and take advantage of my rejuvenating treatment, 
made in excellent vintages.

Amen, sister.

By now it was late afternoon, and we were feeling peckish, so we stopped in a café/salon de thé called Karl for the least regionally-appropriate meal I'd had in weeks.  How deliciously illicit it felt to break my (self-imposed) rules with an assiette de soleil:

Hello, sunshine - this platter came with fromage blanc, a small pain aux raisins, some tomates confites, grape leaves stuffed with an acidic marinated rice mixture, and a small bowl of pesto.  What a lovely change of pace!  In place of wine, I had a lovely glass of jus d'abricot - apricot juice - that was sweet and refreshing and came with an ice cube.  Probably the only one in all of France.

For dessert, I noticed the crumble aux pommes et fruits rouges on the specials board, and, with fond memories of A Priori Thé, ordered one:

It was cooked and served in a cute wooden barquette and came with a pitcher of sinfully vanilla-y cream.  It would have been better with more tart red fruits and apple and a little less crumble topping, but it wasn't half bad.

Karl just happened to also be a hop, a skip, and a jump away from the miroir d'eau, so we stopped by one last time.  It was much busier than it had been earlier, and we appreciated watching the children for a short while.

Bordeaux is a beautiful town, I can't wait to go back and get to see more of both the city and the nearby vineyards.  Three days was not enough - but time was running out and there was still so much I had not seen and tasted and experienced!

Coming soon: La Rochelle, land of ânes-en-culottes.

A bientôt,

1 comment:

I need orange said...

Excellent pics, as usual, and lovely lyrical writing. You evoke the experience beautifully.