Saturday, March 15, 2014

a day in Paris

That Sunshine

On the front page of the New York Times, there is a photo of haze muting the contours of the Eiffel Tour. The heat wave has heightened pollution levels in Paris. The city, alarmed that it is now anything less than perfect, tells its residents to leave work early and use public transportation. It has announced three days of free metros and buses!

Too bad I so much prefer to walk.

And, too, let's put things in perspective. I did not notice the pollution problem until I read the NYTimes. And I swear they added a photo that was shot into the sun for dramatic effect. Compare it to mine, taken when the sun had veered to the west. Suddenly, the blue in the sky is visible again. Oh, you journalists! You do like to add drama to the story!


But, it is true that the air is warm and (unlike in Brittany) calm and in this low lying city, this means that whatever we put out there is going to remain trapped and so Paris reacts. And maybe the traffic is lessened and maybe everything is moving more slowly (a mandatory slow down is imposed), but to me, there are mad streets and then quiet streets in Paris and the mad streets still seem in that same perpetual form of distemper, while the quiet ones are so quiet that you can hear a heel click on the sidewalk if you're listening for it. (Ed always marveled how in Paris you can hear that click, having himself been raised in New York, where you could never hear the click of anything, no matter how exceptional your hearing.)


Sweet Things

I feel about pastries in Paris much as Polish people must feel about the spoils of the newly nascent capitalism: they can't really afford most of it, but they're glad it's there to tempt them.

When I first took my girls to Paris, I loaded myself with books on the culinary treasures of the city and on our first walk, I hustled them not to the Louvre, but to the then reputed temple of baked sweet things and we bought pastries and ate them on a street bench outside.

I've stopped buying pastries some years back. Oh, I'll have a tart or some small thing at a cafe occasionally and if the dinner comes with dessert, I'm happy for it, but I don't seek out the pastry stores and I would not enjoy a pastry now as much as I did then, so what's the point.

And yet I'm sure glad it's all there. Each time I'm in Paris I pick out my favorite cake and on this trip I have one as well - a divine pistachio macoron base loaded with red fruits that will ooze juices as you bite into a piece. Yes, were I having guests for dinner tonight, I would buy this:


Sunday Dinner

Guests for dinner... Soon I will return to my Sunday meals with family, but I'm not going home yet, even though I have no more Sundays left in France. On Saturday morning, two hours before the Parisian dawn, I will leave for the airport to catch a flight back to Poland.

But in a small way, I do have a Sunday in Paris because for my last dinner in this city, I go to a bakery that has a restaurant appended to it (or is it the other way around?) and it is called, of all things, Dimanche a Paris. Sunday in Paris.

It is, for my pocket book, expensive. Still two figures (total cost), but really getting up there.

If you're a student of food (and I have been that, nearly all my life), it's no good to go to restaurants you can't really afford. You're too keen at deconstructing the meal in ways you would never do at a less expensive place. Yesterday's dinner was cheap by Paris standards and I was, therefore, generously inclined in my reflections on it. At Dimanche a Paris I was a harsh critic. I minded that the entire three course thing was put before me so quickly that I was out of there in 55 minutes. I minded that there were only six shrimp for the main course and that they were dry at the edges. And I minded that the dessert wasn't spectacular. The listed flavors were phenomenal, but they were mostly lost in the execution. Here it is -- you'll note that it hasn't great visual appeal either.


Still, I would have to admit that it was a good dinner, a very good dinner and if I let loose ten extra Euros from my pocket -- so be it. Sometimes it's good to reach into your purse for that spoil of capitalism, only to satisfy yourself that you don't really care that you don't have such stuff on a daily basis.

Breakfast at Les Editeurs

I try to find alternatives to this old stalwart, but honestly -- it remains my favorite place for a relaxed breakfast of pain au chocolat and cafe creme. (I skip the pricy juice and buy an orange at the market instead.)

The people watching here is great...


(a guy and two women)

...but more importantly, the chairs inside are comfortable and there's room to bring your laptop if you want to finish a post (even though they don't have WiFi: a smart move; you'd never get people to leave otherwise).


And as I said, the baked goods are yummy.


Jardin du Luxembourg

How can I not have a paragraph or two on this beauty, this exquisite piece of real estate -- my most favorite spot in the most beautiful of cities?

Since I read for the first time the sunny forecast for my days in Paris, I've wanted to do this and today was the chosen day, my last day, ending a stream of great days and now giving me a chance to have it all: terrific lunch food, spread before me on a garden chair facing the sun, maybe before a yellow primrose garden, maybe among the budding chestnuts.

(young women, in love with life, and with lunch in the park)

I go to Gerard Mulot -- it's my neighborhood's bakery of choice. They warm up a small quiche (say chicken and veggie) and throw in an endive and cheese salad and then you can select your favorite macarons and you're set. I take the whole bundle and walk over o the gardens.

(passed over: not tempting anyone today)

(so many flower shops! I like this one)

And now I am one of the many, many who have come to eat at the Jardin du Luxembourg: hungry for lunch, hungry for spring! Yes, there's a chair facing the primroses!  I eat the most glorious meal of all and after, I close my eyes and listen to the crunch of footsteps behind me. No, not on snow, on pebbles.


It is probably the most blissful moment of this Parisian visit.



Sights and Sounds

So, is there a strike in France at the moment? Maybe. I come across a huge demonstration today:


I can tell they're dentists. But what's the issue? Why the sign that tells me that health cannot be bought with money? (The French are such idealists!)

A demonstrator explains it to me: it used to be that you worked hard, got accepted into dental school (there are six public ones in France) and you got your degree. Now, it seems that a private school has opened up and all you need to get in is 10,000 Euro. Talent not required. And the accredited dentists and students of the traditional schools are mad.

A vendor follows along with plastic whistles for sale. He must have a list of demonstrations each day and he takes his business where they're looking to make noise. The streets of Paris are filled with dentists whistling today.

I walk on. I'm on the Left Bank today and I am doing the big promenade, from one end to the other. Meaning I'm heading toward the Eiffel Tower. It's always a lovely walk because you can keep to streets that are entirely quiet. And it takes you past the market on Rue Cler...



...and there are glimpses of the Tower throughout...


...and if you're not in a hurry, you can pause for a coffee and finish up the last of your macarons...


...and then, of course, you are rewarded with the Tower itself. Which I showed you at the beginning of this post.

On a day like this, there'll be plenty of children in the green spaces and play areas, including these three, who almost remind me of the three little monkeys who speak no evil, hear no evil...


And if you're ho hum about the Tower, you can ooh and ah at the blossoms that frame it...


In fact, spring blossoms make every structure, building, church, even the most austere church, look radiant and beaming.


And so ends my big walk, my best walk on this last of the string of sunny days.

Le Couche de Soleil

It's a nice expression, isn't it? Couche de Soleil. The setting of the sun. Coucher means, too, to put to bed, to lay to sleep, so you can imagine it as a sort of lullaby to the sun.

I know where I want to witness the setting of the sun on this last day in Paris -- in the Gardens, of course. It's tricky, because the sun sets at 6:40 and the Jardin du Luxembourg closes at 6:30 and, too, when the French close something at an hour, they get everything set to shut down exactly then.

So I come fifteen minutes earlier. And already M. Gendarme at the gate shakes his head and tells me no. The park is closing.
Oh, but I just need one picture!
He softens.

And now the golden colors of the day culminate in a golden sky and the sun's disc reflects in the pool where on Sunday children will sail their little boats and even though there is an attempt to get everyone out -- after all, it's 6:25 already! out! -- and still they find it hard to budge because when the day is this beautiful, you don't want to let go.


Alright. M. Gendarme did me a favor so let me be gracious and leave. I can take my last garden shot from the outside, looking in among the chestnuts.


And now it's nearly dark and the activity picks up at the bars that hug the Place de la Sorbonne.


I do not pause. I have a dinner to eat, a suitcase to pack and an early flight to catch.