Monday, December 17, 2012

Sunday in two cities

For this day, I have for you many point and shoot photos, one short story about the Ed-ification of dreams and a lot of thoughts on food and the people who prepare it, serve it and eat it.

So, let's start with the last morning in Lyon. Breakfast at the funky beautiful Vintage Loft. I fit right in with my orange pants.


Then a run to the train station and a successful change of rail tickets, for an earlier departure to Paris. And a pass through a mall. Nothing there to write home about. A mall is a mall. I did pause by the fake Santa and listed in my head the many ways in which he was not credible (let's begin with the mittens, shall we?).

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The real goal was to make it to Les Halles Paul Bocuse. Those are words that inspire awe in anyone who loves classic French food. Les Halles -- food halls -- are what a fantasy market would look like: all forms of edible extravagance, coveted and beloved by the French, admired by anyone passing through. The halls are named after France's food giant -- the now 86 year old chef extraordinaire, called the pope of the kitchen, the chef of the century -- on and on. Bocuse hails, of course, from Lyon.

I have no ambition or dream to eat in one of his restaurants. Not that I am a stranger to extravagant meals -- I've eaten my share and worked as a cook in Madison's most extravagant restaurant for three years.  But his kitchen is so over the top that I can't see myself enjoying a meal there. Still, I have a great respect for him, as one does if one dabbles in French foods.

So, onto Les Halles Paul Bocuse. Me and a million other Lyonaise folk.

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those macaroons!

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here, taste my prosciutto

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cheeses arranged just so

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maman explains lobsters to a little girl

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the rustic tart bakery

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French people think these are the world's best chickens. Feathers and heads stay on. Don't know who, in the end, does the plucking and beheading...

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If you can resist the many oyster bars here, you are a finer person than I am

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who wouldn't enjoy a snack of four oysters along with the beverage of choice, served with a professional flair by these young oyster experts?

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my relationship to meringues being what it is, these tempted me no end; they just don't fare well in tight suitcases

I leave Les Halles and walk back to the Vintage Loft to retrieve my suitcase. I come upon this humbler market at a quiet square, where it's equally interesting to watch the comings and goings of the Lyonaise. BTW, the city is demographically quite diverse. You would see that at this market.

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I watch from below, he watches from above

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I mean, the definition of a rogue, no? I got a whole lecture from a shopper on how not to buy orange chanterelles at this time of the year, only gray ones. I didn't realize there even were such a thing as gray chanterelles;

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cheap; from Spain, I'm sure

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 smelled so great I almost bought one

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ah, the beautiful cabbage

And now it's back to the train station, hesitating only for a minute at this bakery. I will always admire a good baguette with cheese.

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And two hours later (yes, 465 kilometers in 1 hour and 58 minutes; I will never forgive the automobile enthusiasts in America for depriving me of a right to travel via public ground transportation in the States), I am in Paris.

Let's pause for a little story here about dreams. Because I'm feeding a dream right now and it brings back memories. For years and years I have to admit I was one of those who dreamed about owning a small second house somewhere in France. Within a train ride to Paris.

Then I met Ed and he talked me right out of that idea (mind you, it was just a dream; I haven't such resources). Who would take care of it -- he asked again and again. And the more we traveled, the more I noticed how much landlords are always taking care of problems: the plumbing, the ants, the internet -- always something. So I said -- you're right -- and I switched dreams.

The new one was an apartment in Paris (again, all hypothetically speaking). And again Ed protested (my dream). For a tiny fraction of the expense, you could stay at a hotel you liked. They would treat you as a regular. They'd clean your towels and make your bed every morning. You like that stuff. Why would you prefer your own place?

To return to! Anytime! Often! Just an airfare away!

Again, he did the math for me. So, good-bye that dream. No house, no apartment, no ownership, no responsibility ever again.

A third dream emerged: that I should travel to Paris once a month (yes, that often!), stay in my familiar hotel, eat simply, in a neighborhood place, see every exhibit in any museum, have a grand creme and a croissant every morning.

Life has treated you well if you can have a modest version of your dream. And I do. I live simply, but I travel extravagantly (meaning often). And I am in Paris, if not once a month, than at least once a year. More, if a routing has me passing through this way.

What was missing was the familiar greeting. My (small) hotel is precious and special and it feels like home every time I step through its big glass door, but in the past, they never acknowledged that I was a familiar face.

On this day though, during an off chance encounter, I swear I heard the manager say -- bonne soiree, Madame Camic (have a good evening, Mrs. Camic...)

My heart leapt.

Is there a moral to the story? Sure: we can have our dreams and visions of where we want to be in life, those are fine, but in the end what brings the greatest pleasure is a modest "bonne soiree, Madame Camic." I will remember that always.

So, I arrive in Paris.

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The imposing Gare de Lyon (train station) that Monet loved to paint, from a somewhat different angle

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I cross the River Seine to catch a metro line there (hi, Notre Dame in the distance!)

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the cool retro metro along the M10 line

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crepes are a Paris favorite too

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it's actually not that cold here now (around 50), but I remember eating here with my daughter two years ago, using these blankets to protect against the bitter cold then

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my sweet, sweet (and inexpensive! under 100 Euro, for a major world capital) single room at the Jardin de l'Odeon

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the sliver of a moon, this time over Paris

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there was a huge demonstration today on the Blvd St Germain: gay rights.

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the familiar scenes of this gorgeous city

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Pierre Herme's rendition of yule logs

And now it's time for dinner. As I've said here before, when I do not want to think about where to eat in Paris (it's such a complicated decision!), I go to Le Procope. It's never bad, always special, with fine waiters and that old Paris feel to it that leaves me happy to be there. And often, even as a single diner, I get the best table by the window. They really try hard and hundreds of years of opening their doors to the public hasn't toughened them at all. So, tonight I had two terribly unphotogenic dishes -- a mixed appetizer of grilled veggies, prosciutto and a salmon tartare:

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...and a coq au vin. I relented and extended the camera beyond the food, so you can feast your eyes on the fine waiters instead.

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A final late night walk by the Seine...

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...and a happy return to my little room on the next to last floor of the hotel. Always the same, comforting, warm.