Tuesday, March 31, 2015


Yes, I could have used a little more time here. Because Paris still can put some deft little surprises out there for even a weary returning traveler. But, the older I get, the more I want my family and my farmette guy, so that I have cut back from the three or even four week trips when Ed was still traveling, to somewhere around two weeks. (I wont hide the fact that, too, I simply run out of money faster now that I am no longer working.) So on Tuesday, I'm returning home and Paris has to fit snugly into this one day -- Monday.

But here's the surprise -- Paris throws me an enormous favor by defying the weather forecasters and throwing before me a morning with plenty of wind, but also plenty of sunshine.

I am in no hurry. I linger over breakfast, over my writing...

France -1.jpg

But when I do set out -- just after 11, I really set out! I do not finish my walk around town (exclusively Left Bank today) until after 5.

I don't sit down once, not even for a minute. If I put Paris at the end of a trip where I have hiked quite the number of hours, the city benefits from my heightened stamina.

 But it suffers from my tired eye. Four times I chide myself for not being quick enough with my camera to capture something special. Four times! And so my Parisian offerings here aren't nearly as full at they should be. I am just not paying enough attention today. Perhaps I'm day dreaming. Or perhaps Paris has engaged me so much in other ways, that I let the camera dangle.

Still, I'm not totally photographically idle. Here's my walk, as seen through my Sony:

Because I know the sunshine wont last, I head first for the park: Luxembourg Gardens.

France -4.jpg
("Oh, I'm glad it's spring! It's cold standing like this all winter long!")

France -7.jpg
(these two take to the chairs. Most of us find it a little too cold to sit still.)

France -8.jpg
(reindeer? or maybe moose, like the one I use for Snowdrop games?)

France -11.jpg
(what's blooming now in the gardens... Primrose, reminding me of England...)

I use a kitty corner exit from the park and rejoin the spike in pedestrian traffic: it's lunch hour. But I don't pause. I've been consistent: one meal out per day. (Except for Nice. Raw artichokes deserved a break from self imposed directives.)

This is the neighborhood of many children's clothing shops. Snowdrop benefits from this, of course. But honestly, the benefit is mostly mine: shopping for my granddaughter brings her closer to me. Keeping images in my head of what she is doing now and what she will be doing this summer keeps me busy for a good part of my walk.

France -14.jpg
(finally! a French child with a helmet! )

France -16.jpg
(a typical multi-street Paris intersection; nothing special -- except for the beautiful and surprisingly blue sky!)

Eventually, I am at the department store, Bon Marche. I look, but I do not buy. Or at least not until I go to the food emporium. Here's a woman having an iPhone (in French -- also "iPhone," pronounced the same way) conversation while selecting some prepared foods.

France -19.jpg

And then I turn in, along the rue du Bac. If I were to eat lunch, it would be here, at Cafe Varenne. But no, not today...

France -21.jpg

Eventually, all roads lead to the Eiffel Tower. Well, for me at least. It's usually the point where I turn back on my Left Bank walk. How to photograph the Tower today... How about with forsythia in the foreground?

France -28.jpg

Spring in the grocery stores: white asparagus! And lots of beautifully arranged strawberries.

France -29.jpg

I notice sales in some stores. This is new. France used to regulate when stores could hold sales and, too, whether a store could open its doors on Sundays. The latter still holds, but I see the sales have now entered the year round shopping scene.  Snowdrop benefits!

France -31.jpg

And finally, something for me: if I love a good macaron, shouldn't I occasionally make them back home? You need a special baking mat...

France -34.jpg

A few photos now of Easter displays in chocolate stores. These eggs are quite expensive. They're actually hollowed shells that are then filled with chocolate. Put one in your eggcup and chip away at the shell and you'll get your fix of heavenly dark chocolate.

France -38.jpg

These very large hens remind me of the brood back home: yep, three hens and a rooster. (See the frog peeking from behind the log?)

France -39.jpg

Finally, another image of a Parisian classic.

France -40.jpg

And now I am at the hotel again, putting my feet up and drinking a reviving cup of tea.

France -42.jpg

Dinner -- tonight it's easy. I have a reservation at Pouic Pouic. I end Paris and indeed, my travels in this way. I am thrilled that as of this year they are open seven days a week and so I don't have to worry about a Monday closure. That means, too, that the second chef in command has a chance to take over the kitchen occasionally. I am close to the open kitchen and I watch him work. This is what I love -- the detail, the care he takes with every dish. When someone puts all their skill and effort into their work, we benefit. I have always admired people who try hard in life -- in whatever domain they choose for themselves. At Pouic Pouic, the chef tries hard.

France -3.jpg

I wouldn't normally choose cod for a special last meal, but I am so glad I took a chance on it -- a heavenly presentation over a bed of braised endives! Memorable.

France -8-2.jpg

After, I walk home, along familiar blocks that are predictably crowded now.

France -15.jpg

I realize that passing through a city is different than settling in. You treat it as a gift, a little bonus. You relish every hour. And at the end of the quick trip, you think about all the things you'll do next time, during a longer stay.

Between a few evening hours and a few morning hours, I manage to write this post. I'll be on track now, reverting to posting in the evenings (US central time). Next post, therefore, will be late Wednesday. Thank you so much for patiently reading and those who comment -- for adding your words to this story!

Monday, March 30, 2015

from Marseille to Paris

It is a leisurely morning at Les Acanthes, but not one that offers time for excursions. I work on my computer while Odile and Pierre tend to house and garden. And then I eat breakfast, which at this guest house, always includes four types of local organic honeys. Perfect for one of the baguettes. (The pain au chocolat, I eat in its own splendid form.)

France -3.jpg

I glance at my iPhone. Enough time for a short walk. Just up the street and back, enjoying the sunshine, not minding the wind (I keep the jacket on!), admiring the lenticular clouds that have been forming here ever since the mistral struck.

France -7.jpg

France -9.jpg

I see that it is Palm Sunday. Here, the branch of choice is not a palm at all, but rather that of an olive.

France -11.jpg

I lose track of days and holidays when I travel, but every once in a while, I get these reminders.

France -17.jpg

Of one thing I am certain: it is spring!

France -12.jpg
(the poppy)

France -13.jpg
(the plum)

Okay, time to head out to the train station. Warm goodbyes, always a touch sad, though I promise myself that I will return within the next year.

France -15.jpg

It's a clockwork travel day. The subway is timely. (A brother protectively tells his sister it's time to get off. Yes, he takes her hand...)

France -23.jpg

The train, a TGV (train a grande vitesse -- meaning part of the bullet network), leaving from Marseille St Charles is timely as well.

France -27.jpg

France -28.jpg

It's a three hour ride to Paris (distance: just short of 800 km). Here's a TV screen telling us how fast we're going and reassuring us that we can order a nice organic meal while we travel.

France -10-2.jpg

The passengers? Oh, there's a range of ages. Here's a Frenchman whose hairstyle may or may not look good on Ed:

France -30.jpg

And this little girl is on her screen, while her dad is on his. Not for long though. She wants a more active play. He takes out coloring materials and she happily colors for a good portion of the travel time. Snacks during the journey? A bottle of water. The French do not believe in feeding their children (nor themselves) between meals, even during travel. (By comparison, the English munched continuously between London and St Ives. Chips and the surprisingly popular fruitcake.)

France -3-2.jpg

And outside? This is one of my favorite train rides in France and the scenery is lovely, especially in the more southern parts.

France -5-2.jpg

France -1-2.jpg

The trees are just budding, but the landscape already has the colors of spring. It will be a while before we can boast of these tones back home.

France -2-3.jpg

As we pull into Paris, the weather changes. We've left behind the sunshine of southern France. Paris comes with a trade: like me for myself, not for my weather! And I do. I really do.

I walk the forty minute distance from the Gare de Lyon (train station) to my hotel. May I draw an analogy here -- there are drops of rain beginning to form -- just occasional ones. Not so much that it would cause you to open your umbrella, were you to have one. (I don't.)

France -3-3.jpg

But here's a pleasant fact: Paris is really in full bloom! Along the river bank I pull my little suitcase between signs of real spring.

France -4.jpg

France -7-2.jpg

France -8.jpg

I pick up the Boulevard St Germain and now I know I have only 20 minutes to go. Fifteen if I really push myself.

France -10-3.jpg
(brasserie: alone)

France -12-2.jpg
(shop window: so, you think you want chickens?)

The occasional rain drops turn into a light drizzle by the time I reach the hotel (Le Baume, used to be called Jardin de l'Odeon, but they rebuffed it and gave it a less generic name. For me, it was good enough without the facelift, but what I really notice now is how well they did the soundproofing: you no longer ever hear your neighbor!).

 France -13-2.jpg

And now here's the thing -- I am home free. Well, not free exactly, but I surely have all my adventures behind me. I smile to myself because there is no more surprise and for once, this feels good.

The hotel will have an umbrella for me to use.
There will be extra pillows, so that I can prop myself up in bed to use my computer.

The room is tiny, but so are my needs.

France -15-2.jpg

I like quiet and it will be quiet.
I like a warm floor and, unlike at a place I stayed oh, a few days back, the floor will be warm. 
I don't have to go far to find a pleasant walk, but on the other hand, I can walk all day long too, if this is my inclination (it almost always is).
Clean. Extra clean. With a good WiFi.

I always remember the day I told Ed (nearly ten years ago) that if I were rich, I would buy a small apartment in Paris and call it my second home. He asked then, quite sincerely -- why would you want the headache? Wouldn't you rather find a hotel you like and call that your second home? And have the maid make your bed every morning? I mean, I would hate having a maid touch my things, but you like that sort of stuff.

Wise words. The wealth isn't there, but I want nothing more than this room, a few steps from the Luxembourg Gardens.

The showers continue, on and off, but I am happy to walk the streets of Paris even under these wet skies.

France -27-2.jpg

The Luxembourg Gardens are open now until 7:30. 7:30! I remember in December they shut their gates at 6. I always tell myself I like being here at all times of the year, but spring in Paris surely trumps winter!

France -22.jpg

France -23-2.jpg
(the noble chestnut)

Still, after an hour and a half of walking, umbrella up, umbrella down, umbrella up -- I need a warm space. Dinner isn't until 7:30. Pretty early for Paris, but it's not yet even that yet. I find a bookstore. I go inside.

It goes without saying that I love bookstores here, even though I would never pick a book in French for pleasure reading. But to browse while taking in the smell of books! Heaven.

 France -29.jpg
(Hermes' new book on macarons; later, I see that there will be an English version on Amazon in October!)

And I notice that upstairs, there is a children's section. I don't know that Snowdrop's parents want her to learn French as a second language, but I am here and I may as well get to know the offerings.

France -33.jpg
(a few titles are translations from English language favorites)

A woman is here with her son. She says to him -- we need to find a book for your little brother. The boy seems totally disinterested in this project and so she turns to me. I look like a stateless person. People often ask me for directions, even though I so obviously have a camera dangling. I could be from here. I don't look like I'm from anywhere. Maybe I wear my national confusion on my face. In any case, she asks advice as to books.
This one -- she says, picking up, of all things, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, but in French. It looks colorful. Do you recommend it? 
Ha! I offer high praise. She looks for others by the same author. I retreat.

It's time for me to eat.

Dinner is so often a headache for me in Paris. Yes, I have one place to love, for my last night. But other times? It's not that there aren't choices, it's that in so many Parisian restaurants in my price range, they no longer take the extra care you'll find say in La Napoule or anywhere else outside this city. Shortcuts that bother me because in Paris, you don't want that disappointment. And I don't want the big, the impersonal. And so I bypass the whole struggle. I pick Italian. La Bocca della Verita.

It does have one issue -- no set price menu and so inevitably, you're going to spend more than you should. But, I stay with a light appetizer of endive, white asparagus and parma ham, followed by a pasta dish with artichoke and calamari. At least I can pass on dessert. And yes, I would go back. When I asked the waiter about the artichokes, he explained to me exactly how they were prepared (sauteed, but just for one minute... love those artichoke dishes here! ). Everything is extremely fresh and cooked just right. The chef is from Naples. He cares. Yes, I'd go back.

And now to retreat to my little room! It feels late, but of course, Paris is going to continue its nightly game of food and drink and conversation for many more hours.

France -43.jpg

At the hotel, I open the window for a few minutes, just to hear the sound of occasional footsteps outside. I think -- this is such a good way to end a trip across the ocean.

Tomorrow I'll post at a delay. You know the routine: on Tuesday I have flights to catch. I'll publish sometime before the end of the day.