Paris VII: les banlieux

10 September

My mom was headed back to the US on the afternoon of the 10th, so we got an early start to get ready to take her to the airport.  We paused for a moment for our last café together.

I accompanied my mom part of the way to the airport on the metro, then spent the day meeting friends in the city.  Unfortunately, I hardly took any pictures during the day, but that was in part because I spent the day revisiting spots I had already been to in the last week.  At noon, I had a lunch date with my friend Victoria, whom I met during college.  She went to high school in Paris, and her mother still keeps an apartment just outside of town.  She had just arrived in Geneva a few days earlier, where she was going to spend the next few months interning at the World Health Organization, but she hadn't found an apartment there yet.  I suggested she come to Paris for the weekend, and I was thrilled when she decided to do so.

We met for lunch at le Loir dans la Théière, where we both had tartes aux oignons rouges and we split a clafoutis aux mirabelles and a slice of tarte aux nectarines de vigne et romarin.  It was one of the few meals I had in France where I was good company instead of a good note-taker, but since I'd eaten almost the exact same meal just a few days earlier, I figured I could get away with it.

After a very pleasant lunch, I had another date with another old friend.  I met Isabelle through the Boston University program I attended in 2008.  Though her day job is with BU, she is also a professional photographer, and I first got to know her when she led an atelier de photo - a photography workshop - one gray Sunday afternoon.  After an hour or two of taking photos all about the lovely jardins de Luxembourg, we decided to sit down for a juice in a café near the park.  At the café, Isabelle and I discovered we had a mutual love of pastry, and later that day she introduced me to my first Pierre Hermé macaron.  Another of Isabelle's strong recommendations that day was Angelina, which she enthused had "the best hot chocolate on the planet," a fact I verified for myself a few weeks later.  Fast forward to two years later: when we were deciding where to meet, I suggested Angelina, and naturally she agreed.  It was wonderful to see her again and catch up on the last two years, though neither of us was feeling up to tackling the heavy, rich hot chocolate at that time; I went for an apricot juice instead.

After saying goodbye to Isabelle, I went back to the hotel to relax for an hour or so before heading out across town to Victoria's apartment for dinner.  Her apartment is a little outside of Paris proper, in Boulogne-Billancourt, one of the banlieux (the suburbs) of Paris, just south of the bois de Boulogne.  While in US the suburbs are often considered safer and cleaner than inner cities, in France the word banlieu has a decidedly negative connotation.  The banlieux are often home to immigrants and the working class, and in many cases they are can be dangerous places.  But Boulogne-Billancourt is a little more affluent than some of the other banlieux, so though I was out of Paris, I was still a ways from really slumming it.

Though it is illegal to build buildings taller than seven stories in Paris proper, each banlieu plays by its own rules.  Victoria's apartment is on the eighth floor, and the horizon is dominated by two tours: the Eiffel, and the Montparnasse.

Throughout most of our undergrad years,Victoria and I celebrated Thursday nights with weekly dates to watch Grey's Anatomy and, usually, to cook dinner together.  At lunch, we decided to continue the tradition by cooking dinner together that evening.  We started with a trip to the grocery to pick up ingredients, then came home and cooked up a feast of rice, sauteed spinach, caramelized onions and mushrooms, and chicken in a lemon-butter-basil sauce.  After a month and a half of eating out every day, it was wonderful to have a home-cooked meal for a change!

We ate on the balcony as the sun set and the Eiffel tower lit up.  We watched the tower sparkle at 9:00, and then, surprisingly, sparkle three more times before the regular 10:00 sparkling - who knows why we got a few extra shows!

It was a gorgeous evening, and it was so nice to spend it relaxing over a home-cooked meal.  Eventually, though, it was time to head back to the hotel and retire for the evening - though we parted with plans to meet again the next day.

11 September

Our plans for the next day were centered on another banlieu, Saint-Germain-en-Laye.  Before we headed there for the afternoon, though, I had the morning to myself, which began with a viennoiserie aux pepins au chocolat:

Viennoiserie refers to a subset of pastries that are based on sweetened yeasted bread dough (there's usually no yeast involved in a "pâtisserie"), and pepins au chocolat are chocolate chips.  The dough was very similar to that of a brioche, sweet with pockets of warm chocolate.

Before meeting with Victoria, I had a few hours to myself.  I spent most of my time walking, first down the rue Rivoli where I found this unique facade:

This is why I love Paris.  For those of you who, like me, want to know why, there is a banner hanging near the top on the right that reads, which explains this is "L'aftersquat Rivoli," of course.  Aren't you glad you asked?

From there, I headed up to Montmartre for a while. It's such a cute neighborhood - if you can handle all the hills. 

If I lived in Paris, I would keep red flowers in my window boxes.

Around 2:00, we met and took the RER (the commuter rail that reaches further into Ile de France than the metro) to St-Germain.  Victoria had been there with friends during high school, spending lazy afternoons in a huge park with a view of the Paris skyline.  Our first stop when we arrived, though, was to La Crêpière, because it was well past lunch time and we were decidedly hungry.

I ordered the crêpe au fois gras et aux figues fraîches:

As you might have guessed from the name, this extravagant crepe was filled with fois gras and fresh figs.  It was rich and sweet, but it could have used a little more complexity: a little acid, perhaps, or salt.  It came with a beautiful, lightly dressed green salad, and we ordered a pichet de cidre to go with it as well, of course.

For dessert, we split a crêpe orange miel cointreau:

The cointreau, an orange liqueur, was flambeed at the table.  The alcohol wasn't too strong, but the orange flavor was somewhat bitter - it could have used a little more miel (honey) to counteract the harsher flavors.

Following lunch, we headed down to the park.  The park sits on a wide, flat plateau, which seems sometimes to go on forever.

Looking over the edge of the plateau, the horizon is broken by the highest points in the Paris skyline: la Défense, the Eiffel and Montparnasse towers, and, sometimes, Sacré Coeur.

To the left, La Défense, with the Eiffel tower peeking out on the right
After walking along the edge of the plateau quite a ways - maybe twenty minutes-worth - and still with quite a ways to go before we reached the end of the park, we spread out a blanket in the grass so that we could have a picnic, of course.

It was a perfectly beautiful afternoon, warm and breezy under a blue sky dotted with hundreds of cotton ball clouds.  That morning Victoria had picked up a baguette from the boulangerie that was voted to make the best baguettes in all of Paris in 2010, and we munched on it with chèvre and a fig-thyme compote.  Life doesn't get much better.

Eventually, some hours later, a policeman biked by to contritely inform us that the park would be closing soon, and we might consider beginning our long mosey back to the entrance.  We complied, but with a couple of pauses along the way to take a picture or two.

Remember how I said I got a new skirtEt, voilà !

Once we had finally made our way back out of the park, we hopped on the RER to head back into Paris.  Our evening wasn't over yet, but that story will have to wait for another post.

Coming soon: The end of my journey, including the video you didn't realize you've been waiting for all your life - let's just say it involves the Eiffel Tower, a thousand AIDS medication-distributing volunteers, and the Village People.

A bientôt,


I need orange said…
You got some great sky pics! That vertical one, at the giant flat park -- I got a sky just like that from the plane window, the previous day.....

Love the ones at the end, too.

And all that food is making me hungry.

I miss French food..............