Le Livre des Huîtres

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

le lait et lilet

Maintenant, il pleut.

My run this morning began no a très bizarre note when I came across a man of Asian descent who had just caught a fish in the canal. If I had caught a fish anywhere near Paris, I would throw it back in whatever body of water lay nearest (perhaps la toilette?) because there is beaucoup pollution ici. He was in the process of photographing it, and when I came by asked if I could take a picture. I could not forsake such an opportunity (in fact, I wish I had brought my camera) and took a shot of him holding his fish. Afterward, as his hands were covered in fish juice, he gestured for me to put the phone into his shirt pocket. Awkward!

We had bought a melon yesterday (along with piments langue d’oiseau “pili-pili” a spice which is described as “extrêmement fort à utiliser avec parcimonie” but is actually rather bland and explains why I am wary of eating Mexican, Chinese, Thai, or Indian food on this continent) from Morocco and it was a nice breakfast treat alongside Yerba Maté and some lait leftover from the previous apartment occupants. Don’t worry it expires on the 26th and is organic.

When Madeleine woke up, showered, etc. we went over to the bakery from yesterday evening to try more things. I got a pain baltique, which was not as dense and hearty as I might have liked (further suggesting I need to go further north, but only in the summer months) and Madeleine got something with puff pastry, almond paste and chocolate, which was also ordered by the man behind her in line. She knows what’s up.

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We enjoyed our treats with instant coffee. Thank you, Nescafé!

After breakfast, I stayed in to edit papers and Madeleine took the M4 to Montmartre. We met for lunch where I ate a huge artichoke and she had foie gras (and I had fois). Then we both had some rotisserie chicken. Her leg included a joint not normally attached in the American chickens accompanied by some pretty scaly blue skin, reminding us of dinosaur ancestry.

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We swung by the local marché on our way home, but most of the booths were still not open from lunch break.

After a nap, a bit of work, and some War and Peace (on my part) and SNL (on her part) we set out for more food and drinks. Monoprix turned out to be a solid choice. Lillet (unexpectedly on sale for 11 euros), a bag of oranges, and some buffalo mozzarella. Tonight’s food adventures bode well. IMG_4313

 

 

 

Bienvenue à Paris!

Bonjour from the city of lights!

Really, this time, for the first time in a long time, it’s sunny in Paris. We are all so happy! Yet, my dissertation director reminds me that it will not last. Rain looms on the horizon and I should probably meander in the sunshine until then. Okay, can do.

Yesterday was a travel day. We ate strangely and spent a creepy amount of time watching children in a playground while sitting next to very large suitcases. Young, blonde kidnappers–the stuff of nightmares.

Once we checked in the first order of business was to use the toilet, check email, and then buy the best butter ever! This was very successful, and we are making good headway on finishing it before Friday (when we depart from the home of the best butter–Brittany, ooh la la!). Less successful was our attempt at bread. Perhaps due to an enormous flea market inhabiting most of the third arrondisement, Poîlane had closed early. My favorite spot for dense, grainy bread was also closed. We retreated with our butter, stopping at the poorly stocked Franprix (carrots, lentils, an apple, mushrooms, a lemon, a pineapple, olive oil, rosé), to the apartment to recuperate. I then ate almost an entire pineapple. This is a problem that I have. Also, starving!

Paris by mouth recommended no currently open bakeries in our neighborhood, so I fell back on the tried and true. Delmontel in the ninth, only one number less than ten and thus not so far away.

At Delmontel (my father’s baguette stop for a the month of June 2013), I got a baguette with flax seeds, millet, and poppy seeds (certainly nothing my father would have ordered!). To complete my Parisian excursion I ate the heel and then got lost on the way home imagining that I had a sense of direction in this roundabout city. Nope.

We dined on salad with exceptional bread and butter. Also perfectly acceptable under 3 euro rosé: a Cinsault Grenache blend from Pays d’oc.

Today I met with my supervisor and Madeleine picked out a pastry from the Galeries Lafayette.

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We met up for a salad lunch and then took naps plus did a bit of work (and had some tea and a macaron pictured above). The sun was still shining when we awoke, and we struck out for Tentation cheese,

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Pain du coin,

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and some broccoli (not pictured!)

We also enjoyed a couple of drinks in the sunshine.

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Overwhelmed by the wines by the glass list, Madeleine asked for “la même” without even knowing what I had ordered.

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Luckily, it was perfectly refreshing and a great aperitif for our broccoli, egg, bread and cheese dinner.

encore encore

Facing the sea of festive young Brusellians (if that’s a word?) and their dangerous combination of smoking cigarettes and dancing, we kept our noble goal in mind and forged ahead. To…

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with samurai sauce.

The order of events was carefully considered here. Fries to fortify the stomach, beer intermezzo, more beer with raw milk cheeses, and finished with a street waffle (since I needed to have a crunchy waffle, so said my host).

The fries were delicious, but left us very thirsty. This led to a second mad dash through the crowd to buy a bottle of water in a post-apocalyptic grocery store scene. Finally, we reached Delirium, allegedly serving two thousand beers, of which we tried three.

001photobeersThe middle one is called Pink Killer and tasted like cough syrup. The other two were less memorable, in a good way.

We journeyed to a slightly less touristy destination for our second round. Happily our naive request for a recommendation of a strong, light, bitter beer was denied in favor of a sour beer (spontaneous fermentation–yum!), which the server suggested would be a better palate cleanser with our plate of bread and cheese.

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It was delicious! We ordered another, similar sour beer.

Then it was waffle time. I am sorry to report this waffle was no more crispy than its predecessor. Perhaps because a large group of Indian tourists had just left (taking all the crispy waffles, or at least the servers willingness to let the waffles get crispy before delivery).

We ate it anyway.

001eatingwaffleUp next…Paris! Views! Dish washing! Woohoo!

001madplaysgamesintrainstationWaiting for Thalys in Brussels!

001sacrecourviewSacré Cour in the sunset…not bad!

001jemmawashesdishesHomemade meals=homemade dishes to be washed.

encore

Dear Patient Readers,

Here we are again in Paris. This time at the tip top of a well lit and very snug apartment in the 10th.

But let’s begin at the beginning. At about 6PM on Thursday night I received two texts from XL Airways. What? You’ve never heard of XL Airways? I regret to say that the xl does not stand for excellent nor extra large seats, but probably xtremely late. That’s right, my 11:55 departure was now happening at the yawning hour of 2 AM. I later learned this was for the very French reason that the air traffic controllers at CDG were on strike.

This delay was matched and even raised by my TGV train to Brussels, which was a whopping 2.5 hours late. The fact that this never happens is attested by the form for a refund that was handed out to every passenger on board. Hopefully I can take advantage of this.

My sister met me at the Bourse stop off the number 3 tram, and we walked to the basement of a Greek restaurant where her study abroad group was in the process of drinking too many pitchers of red wine. Awkwardly there was a half hour of “superlative awards” where my sister won “most punctual” (so proud!!!), almost everyone else won “nicest” (there seemed to be a general lack of understanding of the grammatical meaning of superlative), and some people won nothing (ouch!).

When Madeleine told me that her apartment in Brussels had the shower in the kitchen, I had imagined that the shower head hung from the kitchen ceiling with a drain in the floor (something I have occasionally seen in very snug bathrooms). Happily, this was not the case. The shower just happened to be located off of the kitchen. Much less awkward. More awkward were the dozen pairs of women’s shoes that lined the staircase up and down from the toilet shared with the landlord and her two daughters. These are narrow stairs, and the addition of shoes proved unhelpful.

Fantastic morning run in a very non-French style wooded park followed by a leisurely walk into town (during which I stubbed my toe and ended up with a sandal full of blood, oops) for waffles amidst a very Asian fellow clientele.

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The Liege waffle was unfortunately not crispy, but very tasty. Familiarly tasty in fact. After a bit of thought Madeleine hit upon the fact that this waffle tasted exactly like a delicious morning bun. My coffee, on the other hand, tasted like water.

After this surprisingly filling meal, we wandered throughout the city center as it became more and more inhabited by attendees of a gay pride parade. This confused my gentle host, who was not used to such a boisterous Brussels.

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I bought some lovely miniature strawberries.

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We had lunch at a self-declared healthy chain. This was necessary because there were more waffles, frites, and beer on the future menu. We shared a spinach soup and a lentil salad.

Then we went to the Magritte museum. I did not lie about my old age so I had to pay full price. Six euros is the cost of honesty.

(I am going to wake up my sister so we can buy bread and the best butter before the afternoon turns to evening. More later)

Come see Brooklysts

Could I stay silent for long?

No, not at all.

Come see (and follow?) my new blog with a slightly easier to remember name…

les bons

Ahem. In reaction to the deep negativity of my last post several of you (I’m talking to you parents!) responded in defense of Paris. Of course, I was not planning to end things on such a bad note. Through a happy turn of events I have landed a spot in the Maple Leaf Lounge at CDG (there are three types of people in an airport lounge at 9:15 in the morning: those drinking coffee, those drinking wine, and those drinking hard liquor disguised as coffee). Thus with unlimited versus 15 minutes of wifi, I can take some time to tell you about the good things of Paris that I am sure to miss sooner of later (that, or watch the meerkat show on tv).

1. The butter. Last night I enjoyed a dessert of chocolate bread and beurre au barat. Though we ended up throwing more food than I’d like to admit in the trash, I took care to ingest every last bit of the good stuff. Even if it meant that my butter:bread ratio was more or less 1:1. I know good butter can be bought (and I know exactly where and which one, too) in New York, but it costs a pretty penny and I don’t think it is sparkled with those lovely crunchy salt crystals. One mystery of Parisian butter that I never quite understood is that the choice was always between sweet or half-salted. Does there exist a whole-salted? It would be very very salty (this meerkat show is very captivating–thank goodness the sound is off).

2. The history. As a resident of Paris the city became increasingly ugly. People and cars and confusing roundabouts and cigarette strewn sidewalks. Having visitors encouraged me to visit the more scenic corners and to look up. A Dominos pizza store (of which there are many–what???) might be housed on the bottom floor of a gorgeous late-19th century building. Though I eventually grew tired of running around and around and around the Île St-Louis, I was always delighted to read the dozens of plaques marking every other house (practically) on that tiny piece of real estate. The streets composed a discrete textbook of who’s who (my favorite explanation of a street, where normally they put the person’s dates and professions, was “Rue Bonaparte: Napoléon Bonaparte–oh thank you for the clarification).  The pharmacies were older than most American cities.

3. The libraries. Free research libraries are a wonderful thing. Quiet, clean, with friendly staff and a very decent selection of books. Oh and historic (see above).

4. The markets. Ugh! Now I am going to need to pick out my own apples and strawberries! Allez-y madame, un euro! Though these weren’t farmer’s markets by any stretch of the imagination, I do enjoy the social institution of outdoor food shopping. Plus, through my Ruche I was able to meet a farmer or two (you can tell the farmer’s by their fingernails). Finally, markets gave me the illusion of having halfway decent French, since I can understand food words.

5. The wine. So cheap, so mysterious, almost always drinkable and sometimes very good.

6. The bakeries. Though I never found my ideal bread (which perhaps does not exist), I did enjoy buying my ryes and boules. Yes, they smelled heavenly and symbolized the Parisian populace. I felt less like a foreigner when foreign guests necessitated I make one or two baguette purchases a day. Especially those at noon or in the early evening, when I line might form out the door. And when I felt like treating myself, not much beats a butter croissant for more or less 1 euro (see #1).

7. The size. I probably used public transit in Paris about 20 times all together and took a taxi once. The city lends itself to the pedestrian (in square kilometers, if not traffic laws), and I will miss that.

8. The adventure of shopping for cheese. My cheese success was hit or miss, but it sure was fun bringing home something new and different. (The meerkats are facing off with an owl!). Specialty shops in France aren’t just for the well-to-do or food obsessed, they’re for everyone. If you bought a tiny and inexpensive cheese (hello, rocomador), no one thought worse of you. Well, as long as you gave exact change.

9. The garbage workers. I don’t know how many people it took to clean the streets of Paris (pretty much on a 24 hour schedule), but those men and women in bright green sure put in a huge amount of effort. They were also very friendly when I ran past them early in the morning. Never a rude comment and sometimes a good natured bonjour or bonne courage. I also appreciated their amusing truck advertisements, which pictured refuse workers materializing out of nowhere to hose down dog poop or catch a plastic bag. I imagine that if the visitors and inhabitants of Paris were more diligent about not throwing their trash every which way (and maybe composting?), the city would sparkle.

10. This blog. Thank you all for the dedicated reading, the lovely comments and the helpful suggestions. Without this blog, I would never have gone to the Puces (Clignancourt Flea Market) which housed a varying assortment of bric-a-brac including a disturbing taxidermied head of a bird on the body of a cat, some pretty fantastic prints of advertisements and illustrations, mostly hideous clothes, and enormous furniture pieces. I think I liked the laissez-faire vendors best of all as they sat reading paperback novels, greeting old friends, and generally ignoring the rest of us tourists. And knowing that I had an audience encouraged me (from time to time) to do things I might not ordinarily do (like stop studying and leave the house!). I will be back in Paris from time to time, but most likely will be switching my writing energies elsewhere. Where, exactly? I will let you know.

Gros bisous!

 

la mauvaise

Tomorrow I leave Paris. That was fast. As an appropriate send-off here comes a two (or three?) part series of Paris associated lists. First, the ten bad things I shall not miss about Paris, a.k.a. why I am happy to go. Ahem, I’m afraid by it’s nature this isn’t the most upbeat of posts–except that all the below are coming to an end (more or less).

1. The weather. Yes, you have heard me complain often enough. And, yes, this means that I am in fact looking forward to thunderstorms in sticky 90 degree weather. But it’s the end of June. I am wearing blue jeans and a scarf and carrying around an umbrella. Plus, I have made a solemn vow never to complain about heat (this was made in Vancouver, and has held good since).

2. The cigarettes. Although, who knows, maybe I will start to crave a second hand nicotine high?

3. The homeless problem. I didn’t write very much about this issue of Paris in part because I found it depressing and disturbing. In short, there are a lot of people living on the streets of Paris and asking (with varying shades of politeness and desperation) for money.

4. The isolation. This was in part due to my professional situation, in part due to my language inabilities, and in part due to my rather stay-at-home personality.

5. The crowds. Please don’t tell me that I am moving to a city with 7 times more people.

6. The street stenches and trash. Though the garbage is collected daily, Paris is certainly the smelliest city I have ever lived in and early morning runs revealed obscene amount of refuse often unseen by later risers.

7. The pigeons (and the people who feed them).

8. The teenagers. Why are they never in school? On the other hand, the younger Parisian children are absolutely charming and adorable.

9. The time difference. Very difficult to keep in touch with you Californians nine hours away.

10. The tap water. I look forward to re-hydrating with the deliciousness that makes bagels taste so good (I know, of course, that this is not the reason why bagels taste good since bread in Paris can be quite lovely and the tap water is at best mediocre and at worst undrinkable).

l’été

Paris opens the summer with a festival of music at every other bar and street corner.

Strikingly, most of the singing was en anglais. Expectedly, the quality was varying. I was very impressed by the amount of outdoor grilling (the sky was hazy with smoke) and the duration of the drum line (we walked away after watching for ten minutes with no end in sight). The event seemed very family friendly, although the crowd that kept the party going until my 7 AM run was not accompanied by youngsters.

As this is Paris there was plenty of garbage. We saw children fighting over empty plastic plates. Some children will fight over anything that another one of them wants.

I suspect some of that merry making included rain dancing, since the summer so far can best be described as gloomy. The faintest hint of sunshine has us all racing out of doors (with an umbrella because who knows how long it will hold). If you don’t believe in climate change, please keep those ideas to yourself. The Parisians are angry. Summers were once sunny.

Long long hours of daylight though. We go to bed later and later, and I need to practice my naps to stay halfway coherent through the day.

Or else it’s all gobbledygook.

au revoir les fromages

Two nights ago my mother said, remember next time that the cheese place has a limited sheep’s milk selection. To which I replied with grave solemnity that, I am sorry to be the one to tell you this, there might not be a next time. By which I meant, our ample supply of cheese would probably last until Tuesday–our last day in Paris.

Oh, but it was a grand way to go.

I do not pretend to be a sage of cheese courses, but I will go out on a limb to recommend a general rule of thumb would be to represent as many animals and textures as possible. With that in mind, three cheeses can fit the bill quite nicely.

Food shopping with my mother is a breeze unless she says, you choose, because I know she knows better.

Not so long ago we had been waxing poetically of the wedding cheese–that is, the cheese that stole all our hearts at my cousin’s wedding last September. Fittingly, the cheese is called la tentation, and it is probably because it was so aptly named that I remembered all these months later.

Lo! Amongst the other soft cow’s milk there it sat quivering to break free of its feeble wooden crate and when we asked madame (one of the co-owners) for it she inquired whether we wanted it more firm or more creamy.

I do not think I need to answer that question for you, dear reader. Then she gently poked the top of each cheese twice and chose the creamiest of all. La tentation is made by the same geniuses who make St Nectaire, but it is twice as much cream. Goodness gracious.

Next, a brebis. Since our most recent soft sheep’s milk had looked unctuous on the outside but been instead amonious on the inside, whereas our most recent aged sheep had made us all wish to go immediately to its hometown of Corsica (as if Napoleon was not enough). Because of all that we decided on an aged (but not the oldest, which my mother knew was commonly available back in the states) sheep from the Pyrenees. Bringing it home, the scent was suspiciously pungent, which prompted my mother’s opening comment. However, the worries were ill founded as this cheese was absolutely pleasant.

Finally, a goat. There were many chevres to choose from of all sorts of shapes and vintages. We ended up with a plateau of sorts, displayed in an out of doors glass case which rose up with the press of a button. Like my favorite goat cheeses, this one boasted two tints, a bright white in the centre and around the edges a beiger (apparently not a word) tone. The consistency lay between firm and creamy. Something equally at home crumbled in a salad or spread on a tartine.

All of them raw and full of things guaranteed to satisfy each step in the digestive system. With a fig filled fruit bowl…heaven can wait.

l’échange de parapluie

What with all of Monday’s feasting, it wasn’t until we were halfway home (uphill) from Angelina that my mother realized she had left her umbrella there. Since the weather report forecasted showers aplenty, this was a serious matter indeed.

Only two days later I was hoping my mother had taken shelter in the rough weather when she burst dripping through the door (or rather struggled with the key and walked in–it is a difficult door to unlock.) Wisely, she had purchased a new umbrella on her way home.

And then there was one.

The next day my mother went to the Louvre, which is just across the way from Angelina. She stopped in and inquired (in French so I am told) after her parapluie. The host brought forth about twenty umbrellas somewhat in accord with her description, but unlike Goldilock’s porridge and Cinderella’s glass slippers, none were exactly right.

With admirable honesty, my mother confessed that these were not her umbrellas. To which the host replied, “Choisissez, madame.”

And then there were two.