Thursday, July 24, 2008

We’ll Always Have Paris

As I read the blog of my colleague, Jackie, who just returned from eating her way through Paris (Jackie, I hope you packed your stretchy pants!), I’m recalling my visits there and wishing I’d been blogging in those days.

Well, it’s a toss-up. If I HAD been blogging then, I’d have spent precious time at the computer instead of exploring. But blogging forces you to pay more attention to what you’re seeing, eating and experiencing. Also, you can sit in an Internet café and capture your experiences at the keyboard when your feet have had all of the Louvre or the Great Wall of China or (you fill in the tourist-must-see) they can handle for one day. (Sometimes being in the Internet café becomes the experience itself. Once I was caught in a blackout in one with an array of people from all over the world during a fierce thunderstorm in Siena, Italy. Being inside that stone maze of a town with the thunder rolling through, I felt as if I were a pin in God’s own bowling alley!)

On my most recent trip to Paris, this time with my husband, Andy, we stayed in a great bed and breakfast in Montmartre, in a neighborhood where we lived as temporary locals. We saw tourists and other Americans only when we ventured beyond the few blocks where we bought our groceries and typed our e-mails. The shopkeepers were startled to see us, and many spoke no English at all. But our curiosity about authentic local foods and our willingness to try to communicate in French—as pathetic as we were at it—melted any negative feelings they might have had about tourists. They treated us graciously and with hospitality.
Tomatoes like this will make you want to dodge the supermarket forever after.

“Bonjour! Je voudrais deux baguettes, s’il vous plaît” (pronounced badly) began to come to me easily (In case you have even less French that I do, that’s, “Good morning, I’d like two baguettes, please.”) We shopped for our food the way Parisians do—bread from the boulangerie, cheese from the fromagerie, fruit and veg from the sidewalk stands and sweets from the pâtisserie. This made for great snacking, picnicking and eating at home when we were just too tired to leave the flat after a long day of prowling. Eating this way was also less expensive, but, more importantly, it allowed us to get an idea of how Parisians go about their daily lives.
The street view from our window: the meringue-like basilica of Sacré Coeur and
the intriguing cemetery of Montmartre were a quick stroll away.

While we ate our share of meals out—always looking for places where the locals dined—we took many of our meals in our B&B, a flat we had all to ourselves in one of the many Haussmann-styled buildings that give Paris its seven-stories-with-a-balcony-covered-in-geraniums look. (They don’t call ’em “French doors” for nothing!) Each day while we were out and about, our hostess, Francoise, would sneak in and leave a round of creamy camembert for us in our tiny kitchen, a bottle of wine, or, once she decided she liked us, a jar of her mother’s wonderful homemade strawberry jam.
Our kitchen window offered an array of fresh herbs and
a view of the neighbors’ kitchen windows and THEIR fresh herbs.

Jackie rhapsodizes in her blog about the macarons at Ladurée and Pierre Hermé—and the pictures she took certainly back her up--at least visually. While I haven’t made it to Hermé yet, Ladurée was a revelation in the way Parisians take their time and take their afternoon repast. And yes, I, like many food-obsessed visitors to Paris, have since tried to make macarons, with varying degrees of success.
My first attempt at making macarons—trickier than a soufflé, they are.

And she apologizes for misspellings, since she’s typing on a different keyboard. That’s a travel frustration I find intriguing—what are all those extra characters on the keyboard? And where did they move the @ sign? When you’re blogging or e-mailing from a foreign keyboard, you find yourself fumbling as if you’re back in Typing I class. After awhile, you peck out a hasty “sorry for the typos” and keep right on going, because you’re under the gun, spending both time and money (as in by-the-minute Internet charges) so you don’t want to waste any of either.

So what if it’s been almost two years since our last visit to Paris? There's no blogging statute of limitations, is there? One of the pleasures of travel is that by looking at photos and recounting to others what you did while you were there, you continue revisiting a place for years to come. We'll always have Paris, as Monsieur Rick says. He's right. And so is Hemingway. Paris IS a movable feast, but the urge is strong to return and plunge once more into its sights, sounds, textures, tastes and aromas . . . its Paris-ness!
Where else would you find door handles made of copper pans and lids?

To whet your appetite with great pix and commentary, check out Jackie’s blog, Foodie Reflections. Welcome back, Jackie!

And if you want to see some of our meals and get a feel for our visit, more photos of our trip to Paris are located in the Tours section of my website, Hungry Passport Culinary Adventures. Just click on the Eiffel Tower photo on the right hand side.
Maybe by the time I return they'll have that leaky-sphynx problem taken care of!

Some things are just too odd not to shoot a picture of.
(I just noticed our reflection in the glass in front of this poster!)

Au revoir!

1 comment:

Jackie said...

Of course I brought only stretchy pants and skirts, and am glad I did. I love how you described staying in Montmarte as "temporary locals" and eating the way the French do. I hope to have that type of experience on my next (and there will be a next) visit to Paris.