Sunday, December 13, 2015

from Parma to Paris

Parma's fog lifted for my departure. It wasn't a wholesale unveiling, but it was enough to remind me that no morning is the same, that no city hides completely behind its reputation.

Patrizia thought I might have time for one last walk -- perhaps to the museum whose interior is renowned and splendid -- but I decided not to rush. My train was to leave at 10:10 and I had yet to figure out how to pack the gifts, the cheeses, the vinegars -- beautifully packaged in boxes that could not be left behind.

Breakfast was as perfect as always -- well, perhaps more so, for two reasons: Patrizia added a persimmon to my tray (which honestly, I may have eaten just once in my life)...


... and secondly, after conducting a conversation in the Italian way -- of shouting for her up the stairs with one comment or another (Patrizia!), I asked if she would like to join me for a breakfast coffee and she readily agreed.


That was almost a mistake. Neither of us wears a watch and we launched a conversation that may well have continued for hours. How do you attack the topic of life's choices when your clothes remain scattered and your train is to leave in less than an hour?

And how do you say a proper thank you in the space of minutes? (Patrizia came down bearing gifts -- not as the inn keeper, but as someone who knows how to beautifully solidify the friendship that had taken hold in the last few days. There is also the nonna in her that packed me four Prosciutto di Parma panini for the road -- yes, four! -- because, you know, what you get in those food stands along the way? Junk compared to the real thing!)

We pushed it, we really did and she felt remorseful and offered to drive me to the station but I stubbornly refused, thinking that I should pay for my own follies and so I ran the distance, even pausing for that last Parma photo...


... and a second:


I made it to the station just in time.

(the clock is off, but the train is on time)

Misty landscapes float outside the train window while heavily armed police patrol the inside. I'm reentering the real world, where beauty lives with the fear of loss.


And then it's just a slow reversal of course. A flight to Paris (why fly -- Ricarda had asked, why Paris -- Patrizia had asked. Ah, the practicalities of life and the heartstrings that play to their own song! There are never good answers to those perplexing questions, even though we never fail to ask them and then agonize when we cannot find the proper answer the proper answer.). Over the Alps again...


Then into the (misty, of course!) Paris airport.

I catch the commuter train into the city. Yes, that city that made you and me cry in anger and sadness, for all that we are capable of doing to each other there and elsewhere, for the sake of fictions that we adhere to as naked truths.

But, this is not the place for such reflections. If Ocean has a mission, it is, as you well know, that it should strive to find a good way to proceed forward, despite the tedium, the disappointment, the anger, the regret that threatens to throw us all off balance.

In Paris, finding reason to smile is not hard.

I am back at my hotel Le Baume, taking advantage of the always great rates of early December. And that's a good thing. I want the familiar sounds and smells of my tiny room that looks over the quiet street.

Well, not so tiny.


After being probably their most repeat customer for decades, the hotel finally did a sweet thing and put me in one of their grand rooms. It feels strangely unParisian, as I have rarely stayed in a room where you can walk without tripping over a corner of the bed. I do not intend to get used to such unexpected luxury, but I am deeply appreciative of the gesture. There are a bunch of other sweet gestures that the hotel has put in this month for all guests, with a "thanks for coming this month" message behind them. Me, I'm just very glad to be returning. It's Paris, after all.


Same old, same old...


It's evening now and I need to find food. I go to Semilla. I read about this 6th arrondissement restaurant a few years  back (thanks, Mr. Bittman!). Here's a quote from the NYTimes article: Semilla is not quite a bistro, not quite fine dining, not quite Parisian-feeling, but very nearly all of those.

I think that's accurate. And the food is so great that I will struggle in future trips as to where I should eat, when I only have a night or two in Paris.

It's particularly easy  for me to judge since I do not have a reservation and so I am given one of the only available spots: at the counter (there's just one one such seat!)  facing the open kitchen. Can I take photos? -- I ask. The cooks are really a pebble's throw from where I am and so I feel I ought to be somewhat more respectful of them and their work.
But of course! -- the very cool waiter responds.


(They're all cool here: I think it must be part of the job description.)


Still, I'm just going to post a few photos. I am Paris sleepy -- a state that befalls me after a wonderful meal here (typically I switch to posting in the morning; we'll see if I'm forced to do that during this trip as well).

Perhaps more interesting (from a reader's perspective) were the kitchen dynamics. Semilla is extremely popular among Parisians and so the place was packed toward the end of my evening. And I had a front row seat, allowing me to see how the kitchen was handling the steady rush of orders.

They did well! The chef is young and yet he only lost his cool twice in the two hours I was there. And the demands on him and his staff were extraordinary.

the fantastically talented chef

I was terribly undecided as to what I should order and so I asked for the short (4 course) tasting menu. It was such a good decision! (Especially since they threw in a fifth course, just because.) Here, I'm about to begin on a fantastic fish dish, one that would make you reconsider the claim that fish is bland and boring. In the background, two cooks are scrambling to fill an appetizer order.


My only regret is that the tasting menus dessert was a chocolate dish. This one:


Oh, it was very good, but I would have loved to have eaten the rose pavlova with the yogurt ice cream on the side (a dessert choice on the a la carte menu)!

Paris, especially the food culture here, always reminds me that in life, it's easy to give up. But it's much more satisfying to keep on truckin'.