Le Livre des Huîtres

Some pearls from a year in Paris. Advice and Requests most welcome.

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In Paris listening to a daily dose of philosophy mostly espoused by Americans in a poorly ventilated room of a French University. It is a very bizarre experience and during my non-conference hours I go to the grocery stores or look for apartments online. I imagine it is worthwhile getting to know what philosophers of mathematics are up to because they sometimes ask interesting questions and they greatly outnumber historians of mathematics in the United States. In an ideal world, they will all become devotees of history and buy my (future) book. For now, I consider the new vocabulary of modes, search space, and overspecification.

Yesterday, though, included a far more Parisian experience (well, not truly so since I imagine the grocery shopping is rather authentic) and a delightful surprise. When I told my mother that I had bought a couple dresses during the sales she recalled that a couple of devotees of this very blog (!) we’re also planning to be in Paris during the sales. So last night we met at Frenchie Bar à Vins.

The experience was fortuitous. Reviews repeat the near impossibility of getting a seat without arriving at 6:45 to queue before the doors open. We were all late (for a couple of reasons) and managed to be seated without a moment’s hesitation. It’s a tasty restaurant, the best part was the tortellini–both gorgeous and delicious–and not unlike many small plates places in Brooklyn, except the delightfully low cost of wine! At the end of the meal I went to use the toilet, and when I returned a conversation had been struck with our table-mates (it’s a tight space). They were a couple from Israel: a chef and a photographer. When my devoted relatives described me as a cooker of foods (not in those words), the chef grabbed my hands and examined them. I thought this might begin an awkward palm reading, but he was simply looking for scars, and I have a couple so that checked out (phew)!

The night ended with ice cream (well, sorbet, to be technical) on the île st louis and then a very long night of tossing and turning in 90 degree weather (had been 103 when the sun was shining). We may have a future ice cream related rendezvous (if you’re reading this, let’s definitely do ice cream Saturday night!), in the meantime it’s back to objects, representations, and things in themselves.


travailler dur

It was sunny today, and I was mostly underground.


After seeing my sister onto the shuttle at 6ish AM (following a night’s sleep that wasn’t very sound for either of us), I set off on a brief run around the BnF and over the Simone de Beauvoir bridge. It’s a nice route, since it’s entirely pedestrian and on wood planks rather than cement or gravel. The apartment felt empty when I returned.

At a quarter to nine I set off for my final meeting with my French director. Things to be on track, and I feel much more prepared than I did on May 14th. The meeting was brief and afterward I walked to Place Monge to travel down memory lane and buy far too many groceries for 30 hours of food. Since I had only been eating mediocre supermarket apples, I was excited to visit the Picardie stands. At one I bought Elstars, strawberries and a conférence (bosc) pear. At the other I bought green asparagus. The farmer showed me the asparagus bottoms before I chose my bunch, and we both agreed that one looked better than the other. I had thought to buy favas (since I keep reading about them in spring recipes), but instead opted for petit pois (thank goodness, because I do not think I would have had the patience for favas this evening), and I even went back to my cheese lady, which reminded me of why I stopped going since she always adds an extra hundred grams to my requests. Finally, I bought a middle eastern filled flatbread, one that I had been oggling all last year and finally felt rash enough to buy the one with spinach and cheese for lunch.

On the way home I stopped by Monoprix for the last time to buy Perrier (get it while it’s cheap!), a wine glass to replace the broken one (about twice the size, I hope that is perceived as a good thing by our host), and some plane snacks for tomorrow.

Home again I took a very brief nap (the toilet has been dripping all week, so we turn it off and on as necessary, I had to shut it off to sleep). At slightly after noon I walked to the BnF for a 7 hour sitting session.

I am a very good walker and a very lousy sitter. However, the books were mostly entertaining. At least the ones that were not “hors usage,” which turned out to be about 1/3 of what I had requested. Many highfalutin geometry introductions about how this will finally be the textbook that students want to read! I guess they’re still trying to achieve that goal…

Home again, I realized why so many people just want to watch television after a day at the audience. Nothing beats sitting on an uncomfortable chair like sitting on a cozy coach. Likewise for reading with conversation and watching with mindlessness. I watched the Simpsons and Friends–in French! And now that it’s almost nine o’clock and the sun will set in about thirty minutes I think I will turn in for the night. Maybe some War and Peace, and hopefully a thorough rest in preparation for more library sitting followed by plane sitting tomorrow!

Lest you think things are sounding kind of dull around here, let me remind you that I went to Mars yesterday:

marsAlso, we had full intention of taking a picture of our dinner last night, but were also completely starving. instead, here’s evidence of our membership n the clean plate club (I am pretty sure Madeleine is president and I am vice president).


Ne pleure pas

This morning began with a run in Parc Bercy, but it didn’t really begin until we each had croissants. The best croissants in the world, that is.

The difficulty of having breakfast at Blé Sucré is that by 8:30 AM the best meal of the day is over. Sure, you could have another croissant, but that is probably not a good idea. So one picks at crumbs for a few minutes and considers whether the 40 minute walk would be feasible tomorrow. Whether this sort of thing justifies living in Paris indefinitely. It might.

Afterward we went to the delightfully overwhelming Marché d’Aligre where everything is sold by at least seven different vendors with varying degrees of price and quality. Since we owed no allegiance, we bought cherries from one, figs from another, mixed greens from another, and carrots and apples from the last. Crazy Americans!

Back home I tried to make instant coffee blended with milk and ice. Forgetting that coffee is hot and Parisian ice cubes are tiny, I ended up with weak, cold, somewhat foamy coffee. I then continued paring down my list of books to consult tomorrow. Apparently I can only request five at a time. If all goes well, this could be the fourth chapter!

Today was somewhat sunny and vaguely a holiday, so the Parisians and tourists were out and about. Our neighborhood is basically students, but closer to the town center congestion became difficult. On the way to the Musée des Arts et Métiers (where we were to meet at 6:30) I took precaution by making dinner reservations at Aux Tonneaux and then bought some pearl sugar at G. Detou. They only sold it in kilo and larger bags, so there are many Liège waffles in our future.

The Museum, the only museum in Paris I have been to three times, is a lovely squeaky place. We looked at meters and air pumps and magic light boxes. At almost 8, we went to dinner. The place was crowded, but the waiter seemed to recognize us as he spoke in English before we said anything. We sat outside next to a table of mysterious European foreigners. They were eating and so not talking. When our food came, we did more or less the same. My duck was exemplary, Madeleine’s steak fell below expectations.

Home for dessert waylaid by a broken glass of dessert wine. Vanilla yogurt, perfect cherries and slivered chocolate.


l’académie des sciences

Yesterday was whirlwind, which could explain why I did not post last night except the real reason is that we watched The Usual Suspects, and my eyes were tired.

I began the morning by hustling over to the Académie des Sciences. There I received a badge and some sort of instructional pamphlet that may be a picture book for 10-year-olds (it’s part of the “citizen collection”). Then I went up up up to the archives where I filled out several forms (so French!) and received the biographical dossier of Michel Chasles and Jean-Victor Poncelet. They may or may not have had additional papers on Chasles (rusty French), but I just made it through the two files (having to skim through Poncelet’s widow’s letters, which did not appear to be (and hopefully weren’t) terribly relevant) before I had to leave for Jussieu and a lunch meeting.

My trip happened to overlap with a meeting of my group. We have an acronym: HSMIMJ (Histoire des sciences mathématiques Institut de Mathematiques Jussieu). Anyway, this meeting involved discussing prior meetings (a meta-meeting if you will). Although I got lost several times, the two main themes appeared to be a disturbing lack of general secondary literature among the current generation of graduate students and the possibilities of automatized learning.

A much needed coffee was in order (there had been wine and cake at the meeting), so I walked up to Sugar Plum Bakeshop, an American style coffee shop that also bakes and designs wedding cakes. They have decent coffee, and usually decent wifi but not yesterday.

In the evening, I had a skype conversation with both of my directors and now we are all (more or less) on the same track. I have a good hunk of library work cut out for me on Friday and Saturday (these things always end up last minute it seems).

Back to the apartment Madeleine and I finished off the gold medal winning Beaujolais along with roasted leeks and tomatoes and probably the best grilled cheese I have ever had (melted goat cheese, mustard, French mayonnaise on Eric Kayser sourdough). Madeleine had been in the pastry district looking at Rodin and chose Le Saint Honoré. Certainly the most worthwhile application of choux pastry that I have ever experienced. How do they get the crystallized sugar inside? I have no idea–it was amazing.

IMG_4345Here is Madeleine on Monday after we enjoyed an early dinner at Verjus (see how sunny, it’s only 9 pm). The picture isn’t centered because there was a major make-out session going on off-screen on the left. We’re hoping to eat at Aux Tonneaux des Halles tonight and will be very sad if they are closed for the Ascension!


un bel accent

On this morning’s run I discovered we lived fairly close to an Eric Kayser. While the bakery is a chain, it is a very exclusive and highly regarded chain.

I had originally planned to get the best croissants in Paris for breakfast. But what with all the bird watching, I forgot to set my alarm. So I found a nearby market and stopped by Eric Kayser for two croissants and a tart au citron for breakfast and dessert.

At the very miniscule market (two grocery vendors (no farmers), one clothes stall, and one middle eastern food place (they were rolling out flatbread, it looked delicious). I bought arugula, cherries, apples, fennel, and leeks. At one food stall I got a free apricot and at the other I was complimented on my French accent. I’m afraid this is 100% due to being a white girl at 9 in the morning, My accent is far from beautiful.

At home I ate my croissant (and instant coffee with milk–oh Brooklyn Coffee Roasters I miss you!) and shared an apple. Then I roasted some lunch time vegetables, wrapped an apricot in a napkin and a piece of chocolate in some aluminum foil. Then over the stairs and across the street to the Bibliothéque nationale I went.

The BnF is deliciously quiet. You must put all the items that you wish to bring down into a clear plastic box with a handle that makes a special squeaking sound against my shoulder as I walk. The French academics are very good about rolling their computer extension chords into neat coils.

I had to get permission to photograph the figures and sign a waiver explaining I would not publish them. Actually, I was intending on publishing them, but as it turns out the online versions are better since there is a terrific stain running through the BnF’s copy. Sigh!

I got a café crême after lunch. It came from a machine, but in a ceramic cup. I read the first edition of Lacroix’s Trigonometry textbook (1797), it’s completely arbitrary what is and isn’t in the special reserve room. The book ran to about 15 editions–so it makes for a fairly fruitful comparison along the first half of the nineteenth century.

The afternoon was kind of sleepy. Looking down for 6 hours hurts my jaw. By the time I walked out at 6:30, I was next to starving. A friend of a friend was supposed to come to dinner, but just stayed for a glass of rosé–missing out on the silver and gold winning beaujolais(s) that were to come.

I made a savory bread pudding of sorts with spinach, leeks, mushrooms, and one of the three goat cheeses that Madeleine had picked out (this was her job for the day, she went over and above). While it baked (we were so hungry, and the oven is not fast), we had an arugula, cherry, fennel, and goat cheese salad. The first cherries of the season for me! A very nice start, although someone commented that they bore resemblance to plucked out eyes.

The egg dish was nice too. We alternated between our beaujolais with general approval. Maybe the silver was actually better?

The problem with lemon tarts is that they do not sit well in the fridge or on the shelf. The filling needs a cool environment and the crust tends to lose it crispness at these temperatures. So while we gave the exterior low marks as compared to the interior, one shouldn’t take this assessment too seriously.

We finished The Birds. Tippi makes it to the end! Board up the windows!


The day began with a run along the Seine. As it turns out there are many beach like bars on this part of town. Fancy cocktails and riverside lounging. DJ sets, too! It’s awfully schmancy, though less so when deserted at 7 in the morning.

Mondays are funny in Paris. No one seems to be awake yet from le weekend. During my run I realized that we lived quite near a Monoprix (possibly my favorite major French grocery store).  However, I found out shortly thereafter that the store didn’t open until 9 am. This meant a pretty lousy breakfast (we were still hungry from a miniature dinner) of salted oats and instant coffee (without milk–some milk brings up the quality of instant coffee dramatically). When nine o’clock finally rolled around I rushed up the stairs, down Rue Thomas Mann, left on Ave de France, and down to the Monoprix. Feeling flush I bought nectarines, apricots, apples, milk, eggs, beaujolais and balsamic vinegar potato chips (goodness!).

The BnF doesn’t open until 2, so I decided to work from home. After a simple lunch of lentils and vegetables, Madeleine set off for the cinema museum. We rendezvoused at Au Fer du Cheval with small glasses of wine and a plate of potato chips. Our dinner plan was to enjoy steak and/or duck confit at Aux Tonneaux des Halles. My father had warned me that the restaurant might be closed on a Monday evening, but as this blog attests we went there last year on a Monday evening.

Well, he was right, the place was completely boarded up. Having been forewarned, I developed a back-up plan. Not far from our original plan was the Verjus wine bar, where we had thought to eat on Thursday. Since the hour was still early, we walked through the charming galérie and very fortunately found two recently vacated seats. Verjus is run by an American couple and the clientele reflects this. Hence the volume level was a bit higher than usual French experiences. In particular, as Madeleine pointed out, pairs of women from Southern California.

We enjoyed two glasses of wine, Madeleine was particularly impressed with her flavorful Patrick Miolane, St Aubin from 2010. My red was not quite worth writing down.

After a thorough menu consultation we decided on sharing fried chicken, a salad with rhubarb and haloumi, and codfish beignets. Each plate was tasty, though a bit lighter on the vegetables that I may have preferred. In particular we liked the pickled rhubarb and the mint sauce that accompanied the beignets. Dessert options were variations on the same theme–brownies or clafoutis. We decided to head home in the evening light and stop by the grocery store for a combination of caramel ice cream, sheep’s milk vanilla yogurt, dark chocolate, and French strawberries. Very fine indeed.

We’re watching The Birds now. I may skirt some pigeons and gulls tomorrow! Picture updates soon.

moules et trains

After a leisurely, cloudy afternoon we returned to the inner walls to find what had been advertised as ti’punch–a drink that probably has origins in the triangular trade–rhum, sugar, and lime. After a substantial period of wandering, we ended up deciding to return to our prior lunch locale.


This time we sat outside and played gin. Madeleine got to try a ti’punch and I had a kir breton (which I now know is apple cider with cassis).


When I went in to pay the proprietress asked “qui a gagné?” and after a necessary repetition for understanding I explained that I had, but that it was my sister’s first time playing.


We were glad to have made prior reservations at our moules frîtes destination, as tables were quickly filling up. We shared a half bottle of muscadet and each chose a set menu. I (not on purpose) had the gizzard salad, moules marinieres, and two scoops of ice cream for dessert. Madeleine had the boudin noir with apples and the moules crèmes. Both came with fries.


Madeleine patiently opened all her mussels, and after devouring mine rapidly I was left watching her eat. We shared dessert, choosing a scoop of salted butter caramel and pistachio. Surprisingly, we appeared to be the only English speakers in the establishment. Overall, Madeleine and I were very impressed at how the Malouins continued speaking French with us, despite our quiet and muddled attempts and their very probable English fluency.


That night we watched an episode of the Simpsons in which Homer raises a lobster.

This morning, which feels like a long long time ago, I failed at a morning run trying to get into town (the bridge was up) and then attempting a nearby park (opens at 8). At an earlier hour than usual we walked for the last time into town and had some pretty delicious coffee at an ice cream parlor (the outrageous sundaes were tempting, but a bit too enormous for after breakfast).  At the mini underground grocery store we bought some fruit and bottled water, and the cashier gave Madeleine a rose (for mother’s day?).


Both our trains arrived on time, but our second train did not travel with très grande velocité, and consequently we were 90 minutes late. By a stroke of luck, there was some free internet before the train left the station, so we were able to notify our airbnb host of the delay. All worked out fine, and we are safely installed in apartment #3.


Arriving in Paris on a Sunday is not a good idea. Especially after 1 pm, when many of the grocery stores closed. Fortunately, we aren’t too far from Chinatown, where we picked up a strange assortment of dumplings and vegetarian options. View to a Kill (dubbed into French) is on tv and we’re drinking rosé. Tomorrow, back to work!

St-Malo (les premières 24 heures)

Our train pulled into the station at 13:05 pm and we were met by our AirBnB host several minutes later. St-Malo was once a pirate town and is now a tourist town. We are staying about a mile outside of the walled city. It’s a nice downhill walk to a fortress of hotels and restaurants.


Tourist locations can be worthwhile. After all, I am a tourist here, too.


When I booked the train here, I knew only that Brittany is famous for milk products, apple products, and things from the sea.


Now I know that the town is famous for being the birthplace of the discover of Canada and that in the past the city gates would be closed from 6 PM until 6 AM when they would unleash English mastiffs outside to ward off thieves.


By the time we settled in was the dangerous hour when lunch is no longer being served at the best of places. We walked into town hoping to find a crêperie. After passing a few suspiciously good deals for moules frîtes, we encountered Crêperie Cantal (or something like that), where the chef was presenting an incompetent american with a selection of interesting local beers. Though there was no one else in the restaurant, the chef told us we were welcome to sit down. Madeleine ordered the number 3 special (lardon, champignon, oeuf, crème fraîche) and I ordered the number 1 special (chevre, tomate provençale). We shared 25 cL of semi-douce cider. Upstairs we heard the chef (in both French senses of the word) frying up our crêpes–good smells wafted down and we poured cider from a small pitcher into wide mugs.

Admittedly, Madeleine’s was better and I should have gone with my gut instinct of mushrooms and eggs. However, she was very generous with sharing and we went from being very hungry to very satisfied.

We walked and enjoyed the beauty of the city and the ocean as storm clouds slowly gathered overhead. Suddenly it was rainy and windy, and after seeking shelter in a bookstore for 20 minutes we set homeward. Both of us were exhausted from lack of sleep the night before (and sadly failing to sleep on the 3 hour train ride), so we took damp naps.

The night proved gloomy. At the local mini-Carrefour we bought fancy tuna and salad fixings. Although the kitchen is three times as big as the Paris apartment, it seems to forgo necessary tools (dishtowels) in favor of unnecessary ones (ravioli cutters). So cooking was kept to a happy minimum. For dessert we enjoyed our first Kouign Amann of the trip (with caramelized apples) and a chocolate mousse thing. We drank a local cider that had won last years silver medal. We watched the Simpsons and slept heavily.


In the morning I went for a quick circuitous run around the city. We returned to town a few hours later for coffee (at another non-internet guided spot) and a tour of the history museum. I was most impressed by the collection of ship building tools as well as various three-dimensional maps illustrating triangulation to measure the meridian and positions of fleets in various naval battles. We bought a mini-kouign amann at a bakery that boasted a wide variety of flavors. Though the almond and pistachio and raspberry all looked extraordinary, we settled on the salted butter caramel. This is, after all, the land of salted butter caramel. There is even a butter store (La maison du beurre), at which the friendly young salesman directed us to a very small and inexpensive goat cheese for our lunch salad (we may be back tomorrow for some butter).

With our lunch salad we enjoyed a gold medal winning cider. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference! We have moules frîtes dinner reservations–stay tuned!


l’Institut Suedois et Frenchie

There is absolutely no reason to check the weather in advance in Paris. Well, maybe an hour in advance, but any greater interval and your guess is as good as anyone’s whether it will be sunny, raining, windy, calm, or cloudy with a chance of meatballs.

Yesterday Madeleine toured the free museums of the Marais and I stayed in and tried to work. We began the day with what I called brunch (since we ate closer to 9:30 than 8), which consisted of everything we needed to finish eating such as smoked trout, over easy eggs, avocado and steamed broccoli. We also each had a piece of toast and some yerba maté tea.

As had happened yesterday, we set a time and place to meet in the afternoon. Since it was supposed to be sunny (and it mostly was except for some dramatic morning showers), we met at the Swedish Institute at 15h for coffee. Neither of us were much in the mood for sweets, although the cakes there are lovely and come with whipped cream, so we just sat outside and drank.


However, knowing that dinner wouldn’t be until 21h30, we had to eat some sort of midday meal (besides cashews and fruit), so stopped by one of my favorite bakeries (134 RdT) to get a sandwich and some schwarzbröt.

At around eight o’clock we set out for the evening, and stopped for two very cheap glasses of rosé not too far from where we would be eating.


If I look very hungry it is because there were no snacks and the bar regulars were singing along very loudly, but we did get to sit outside in the sunshine.


I don’t believe I have ever eaten at a restaurant with exactly two seatings. When we arrived on Rue du Nil, our fellow diners were waiting outside for the first seating to end and the tables to be prepared. At almost precisely the hour of reservation, we all entered. If I do say so, we had an optimal table, fairly central with a peak of the kitchen.

The service was brusque, which I found somewhat surprising considering there are only two choices for each course on the menu and everyone’s timing was more or less the same. We were possibly the only table with tap water, but lest you think we were being stingy, Madeleine ordered the supplemental foie gras, which was very beautiful and I forbade her to take a picture of (that’s what the Asian tourists at the table near us were doing, I imagine you can find their images somewhere on this internet). Possibly the best part of a very good meal were the accompanying tiny wild strawberries, no bigger than almonds and tasting like candy. Upon the waitresses recommendation we had a Bandol rosé (I asked in French for a wine recommendation, she looked quizzical, I asked in English, she said white wine? I said, would red wine be possible? she said, anything is possible. We settled on rosé), which very nicely complemented the spring flavors.

The butter was nice and salty.

For the entrée and plat we had “une du chaque.” First, something Madeleine accurately described as a deconstructed chicken pot pie and a mackerel with Japanese accompaniments. There were foams and flowers and many different vegetables, too. Then, we had pigeon (so good, we should eat ALL the pigeons) and a white fish. Madeleine said the pigeon tasted like steak,  more accurately it tasted like duck. She protested that it was in a steak sauce, which happened to be the pigeon’s juices from a very rare sear. Who knew that pigeon goes into steak sauce! The presentation was again lovely, probably some of the most beautifully plated dishes I have ever had. You will have to use your imagination. We may have chosen poorly on dessert, since the only thing we did not eat were the cherries. Instead I had the cheese plate (from Neal’s Yard) and Madeleine had the chocolate. Tied for first place as most delicious thing that evening was a bruléed piece of Brillat-savarin served alongside the chocolate cake?mousse?brownie? slice. More savory things should be sprinkled with sugar and broiled. Accompanying dessert we shared a glass of Frères Parcé, Rivesaltes “La Soierie de Rivesaltes” 1996 as recommended on the menu. I figured since we were celebrating Madeleine’s birthday (merely three years before that), it was a very appropriate gesture.

French rosés are not high in alcohol (generally) and the portions had been European sized, so we walked rather than stumbled or waddled home. Although it was quite late, I read some War and Peace. Those aristocrats are such jerks!

Quelques photos terribles et des plats délicieux

We are not cinematographers.

Mostly we are eaters. Eaters and walkers. Eaters and readers. Eaters and thinkers.  Eaters and drinkers.

Today I went to IHP. Forget Proust and madeleines, all one needs to travel back in time is a route once walked often and then abandoned. Each step up Rue St-Jacques was a step toward the past. Once inside I read several relevant things and drank a very cheap café crême (most definitely made from a pod). We were originally planning to meet at Angelina at 4, but an sos email moved our plans to 3. Not being terribly hungry, I mostly observed. This paid off when the Chinese girl next to us shared her St Honore with some French navy officials in exchange for trying their dessert. Afterward, the Navy awarded her with a good luck pin. Vive la France!


Suddenly it was evening time. I don’t know how this happens, but I had barely an hour to mull around on the internet pretending to be working hard before it was time to face the rain and attend happy hour. At a local bar Madeleine enjoyed her first Parisian mojito (it’s the national drink , so say I) and I had the cheapest rosé on offer (not bad at all). These were accompanied by somewhat damp potato chips.


Dinner this evening was quite a mélange. Inspired in part by the meal adjacent to ours during hot chocolate we had green beans, avocado, smoked trout, lentils, harissa, lemon, and an omelette with fancy cheese. Altogether quite satisfactory and a perfect way to polish off that Lillet bottle (because we are going OUT tomorrow night–stay tuned).