Saturday, December 10, 2005

from Paris: people doing their thing

My line is this: what I love most about being in Europe is watching people going about their daily lives. It sounds ho hum, trite, bahn-al, but it happens to be the truth.

Taking pictures of them – now that’s another matter. Yesterday’s walk produced almost no good shots. Actually, in truth, it produced no shots at all.

But today taking out the camera was a joy. Most people did not mind (with one notable store-clerk exception…okay okay, just tell me nicely, I’ll put it away). The sun was out and even though the temps were nippy, it was well above freezing.

Walking, watching, daring to shoot, with an apologetic smile, a nod of thanks, to you, who let me take these:

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woman in beret, crossing street

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family walk

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boules on Place des Invalides

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in the sun: child in a scarf and pigeon

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winter roses and men talking

From Paris: Brittany snails and goat droppings

Of course, I remain drawn to the foods here. They compete for my attention. And today I came across some foods that made yesterday’s loot seem like cold potatoes (though sweet potatoes they were).

My traveling companion (let’s call him ed – nice and easy to type) ventured out with me for the hike on the left bank. His slow pace (ankle problems) was compatible with my desire to stop, look, listen, photograph. I did wear him out. But not before the look of defeat became evident on his face.

He had come more to get away from work and to prove me wrong about Paris than to revel in the life of this great city. But I know better. I have traveled here with reluctant Americans before: people who are willing to give France a chance but hold back their favors with respect to Paris. People who love the quiet of the countryside, who hate noise and the anomic nature of big city life in the States.

Converts – I’ve made converts of all of them. To stay in a Parisian neighborhood that has several local cafés to choose from, where there is no traffic, to walk through the parks, the backways, the great squares, to turn your back to the Eiffel Tower and face the children’s playgrounds – it’ll do it every time. And when they are bewildered at the serenity of it all, the civilized manner of the waiters, the bon journé greeting at every shop, when their senses are thoroughly confused by it all, I take them, smugly, to be sure, inside the food shops.

Ed lapsed into acceptance at my favorite cheese store. I could not pull him out. They don’t like idle visitors here – it’s small and cramped, they want customers. But he wouldn’t budge. He smelled the butter content and the washed rind, he looked and finally said – this is the guy who never spends if he doesn’t have to – I’m going to have to take some of this stuff home.

But I already knew I had him inching toward Paris-adulation last night. As he dipped the freshly baked bread into the butter, garlic and herbs swimming around the Brittany snail, he said to me: please, tell the waiter to tell the chef how good this is. I did. Because it was.

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crotin de chevre: literally -- goat dropping

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a mountain of tommes

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favorites: blues and yellows

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the snails that broke the camel's back

Indulge me. A day cannot pass without this admissions: the pastries here knock me out every time.

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the only pleasant aspect of "divorce" is the pastry named after it

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a refreshing moment at the hotel: tarte de Normandie

from Paris: comparative analysis

Local flavor, chocolate indulgence or high art: which would you prefer? Time constraints make it impossible to indulge all your senses all the time. If you go to the museum, you’ll have to skip the neighborhood walk. If you idle away a few hours at a café, chances are you’ll rack up the calories (who can say no to the gateau or the tart there?) and your derrière will eventually grow too big for the tiny chair at the café table.

So you have to choose.

Same goes for pastry selection: local flavor, chocolate indulgence or high art? Which one?

On my first day here, I have to say that I went all out. I went in and out of pastry shops, dizzy, seduced by the smell, the visual displays. Each time here, the offerings overwhelm me.

I checked out the local little place on the rue du Bac:

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local flavor

I went in at least three chocolate shops, absolutely torn as to where my Euro should land. The Maison du Chocolat impresses. So does Cacao et Chocolat.

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chocolate indulgence

Those are the giants. Then there are the little gems, without the name but with equal amounts of fresh intense flavors.

And of course, I paid a visit to my hero, Hermé’s where the lines were long, as people were anxious to bring one of these home for le diner.

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high art

I promised myself ten hours on the stationary bike back home. I vowed I’d ride Mr. B every single day of the winter months. I swore I would do push ups and pull downs and whatever else is required. And then I went for all three.