Friday, June 25, 2010

Missing Paris, Part Deux

Last spring, misty for Paris, I wrote down this list of favorite Parisian things on my blog "The House Where the Black Cat Lives" and , in the process, talked myself into spending Christmas in Paris.

Now I have a whole new list.

The jolly red-faced accordion player belting out Jingle Bells on the Pont Marie bridge -- and somehow working "Merci, Madame" into the lyrics when I toss a euro into his cup.

Decorating the mantle in my very own Paris apartment with boughs of holly and Pere Noel tealights from Monoprix.

Bouche de Noel -- in all sizes, colors and flavors, but always the same familiar log shape.

The blue doors of Paris -- cerculean, azure, marine -- especially lovely when set off against red. See my attempts to recreate this effect at home.

The perfect croque monsieur topped with browned cheese and bechamel at a run of the mill cafe.

Restaurants with house cats (and dogs).

Being recognized by the proprietor of the neighborhood wine store.

Sipping champagne, nibbling on a wedge of Roquefort while watching the ballet "Neige Blanche" (Snow White) in French on TV and talking to my sister on the telephone in English.

Enchanting toy shops with music boxes.

Tiny hole in the wall grocers that sell cantal cheese, bayonne ham, fresh clementines, elephant garlic but NO sliced white bread.

Lighting a candle for my mother in St. Louis en Ile church on Christmas knowing how much she would have enjoyed this gorgeous place.

Slipping over to Charolotte d'Isle for my daily fix of chocolat chaud -- this trip's guilty pleasure.

Creme caramel at Cafe des Musees. Oh, I just can't say those words enough.

Standing at the counter at Hermes while the oh-so-French-sales lady pulls lovely silk squares from the case and swirls them about on the glass for my approval. Finally, "Oui, c'est ca!" It's like being a kid in a (very expensive) candy store.

Stationery stores with lovely, heavy writing paper, embossers, sealing wax, fine-tipped pen nibs and pots of colored ink. Oh, how I wish I'd listened more to the nuns and practiced my handwriting more.

Watching the frazzled restaurant owner enjoy a moment to kiss his little boy good night before he scampers off to await Pere Noel . I am completely charmed. It brought back memories of my childhood with a father in the restaurant business.

Buying chicken from the butcher, cheese from the fromagerie, vegetables from the market, bread from the boulangerie and cake from the patisserie to improvise the perfect dinner.

Stepping through the gate into the cobblestoned courtyard of my (rented) apartment building and climbing those creaky windy stairs, knowing that for 10 days any way, Je suis une Parisienne.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Eating in Paris: Chartier

I'll give it to you straight. You won't come here for the food. Chances are you won't even remember what you ate later. You will, however, remember almost everything else about this fabulous Belle-Epoque eatery: the line outside (which moves very quickly), the time capsulish décor, the bustling wait staff, and the extensive, if unremarkable, menu of correctly done -- and cheap -- French classics.

The crowd is eclectic, the noise level high and the wait staff can be grouchy or hilariously funny. They are all very competent, whether bearing huge heavy laden trays up stairs, juggling customers or adding up long columns of figures in pencil on the tablecloth.

After we were seated at a small table by the kitchen entrance, much to our disappointment, the waiter sidled over and, in French, said two of his out of town regulars who always sat at this table, wanted to know if we would trade places. Pas de problem! After much smiling and nodding, shaking of hands and raised wine glasses across a crowded room, the table swap was made much to everyone's satisfaction, especially the waiter, who as a reward for our cooperation turned into the Most Charming and Attentive Waiter Ever.

I left there humming. Like Amelie, I just love making people happy. While the food isn't the best in Paris -- the shrimp were a little rubbery, the hamburger steak bland --the duck confit and the accompanying potatoes were quite tasty. And it's hard to beat that atmosphere.

Oh, and did I mention this restaurant is featured briefly in a scene in one of my very favorite French movies, "A Very Long Engagement?" (click here for film trailer) Look for it about midway through in one of Jodie Foster's scenes. Even though it's set during World War I, this is still one of those movies you'll want to see before going to Paris.

7 Rue du Faubourg Montmartre75009 Paris, France

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Musee de Cluny

Deep in the Latin Quarter, the cool dim interior of the Musee National du Moyen Age, better known as Musee de Cluny, still feels like the medieval convent it once was. The stone walls invoke a hushed sense of awe. The gap between the centuries closes and blurs. It's easy to imagine shadowy dark-robed nuns silently gliding over the well-worn pavers on their way to Vespers.

It's also easy to imagine a lovely teen aged Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, standing by the window in her fashionable white widows weeds as she impatiently waits for her true love -- soon to be her next husband -- to take her back to England.

The collections here, which all date from the Middle Ages, for the most part aren't the familiar masterpieces of the Louvre or Musee d'Orsay, but that's not to say they aren't simply splendid.
In a class all by themselves are the six Lady with the Unicorn tapestries. Yes, I've seen these before in numerous reproductions gracing a plethora of items sold in museum gift shops all over the world. But all six original tapestries together in one room are just -- breathtaking. There is no other word for them.

A sweet, plaintive soprano, accompanied by a strummed lute, tears me away. I follow the music into a cavernous, yet oddly intimate, room covered with \ carvings where a chamber group rehearses for a concert. No one seems to mind so I slip into a seat and let the music wash over me. The rehearsal progresses in fits and spurts, the group stopping now and again to discuss some bit of harmony.

There is something about chamber music, so beautiful yet so melancholy, that causes tears to well up.

I wander into the gift shop, purchase a book mark from my favorite Unicorn tapestry, "All That My Heart Desires," and step once into the bustling 21st century.

Who knew "getting all medieval" could be so tranquil?

French Movies: A Man and A Woman (starring Anouk Aimee's Hair)

One of the things I always do before a Paris trip is watch French movies. They get me in the mood and immerse me in the language as it's spoken over there (as opposed to the more formal French on language tapes). I always pick up a few new phrases with every film I watch. They also provide an interesting perspective on French culture and style.

One of my favorites is "A Man and Woman." Made in 1966, it still feels absolutely contemporary. And so stylish. Critics of the movie call it "banal," and it is -- in a good way. Because it isn't really plot-driven (the only question is does boy actually get girl) and there isn't much action, viewers can focus on the interaction between the characters and the movie's incredible style.

I am mesmerized by Anouk Aimee's hair in this movie. I want my hair to look like this -- a timeless bob with long sexy, layers that still looks good windblown or after she runs her fingers through it (and she does -- constantly) . Her clothes are timeless, too, as they are in every movie. She is my style icon.

But it's that hairstyle I truly envy.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Paris Neighborhoods: Butte-Aux-Cailles

Butte-Aux-Cailles, in the 13th, is very different from the rest of Paris. The architecture is different and it has a real village feel. The 13th is home to a large immigrant population, so when you get off the metro here you can indulge in any number of good and cheap ethnic eats.

On Saturdays there's also a huge open-air market near the Place d'Italie where I bought some jewelry for the girls back home. Also a good place to sample and snack.

There are a number of shops in Butte-aux-Cailles. Easily one of the most charming is the "honey place." This tiny shop is dedicated to all things related to bee-keeping and honey. You'll find beeswax candles, honey soap, every kind of honey imaginable in all sizes of jars (some of it from the owner's own hives), artisan crafted glass honey drippers. Oh, and some pretty amazing homemade pain d'epices (now I know why Clothilde Dusolier raves about it in her book) in big and small loaves. Pick up an assortment of these goodies to make a honey of gift bag for the folks back home. The owner is also quite nice and soft-spoken.

There are a lot of good restaurants in this neighborhood, but you won't find a more popular lunch spot than Le Temps des Cerises, a very French café where you'll sit cheek by jowl with Parisians. The only English I heard spoken here was by my table mate who interrupted his French conversation to help me order my steak au point (medium). Great three course lunch menu, VERY reasonably priced. Nothing fancy. I highly recommend the bavette steak which comes with great Roquefort sauce and a pile of some of the best frites I've every had and the pear clafoutis for dessert.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

So Where Does the Apostrophe Go?

As I prepare to celebrate my half-century as a Southern belle, I am having a crisis. After decades of writing -- and even more speaking -- this quintessentially Southern word, I am suddenly thrown into paroxysms of uncertainty over exactly where the apostrophe belongs in the last word this blog's title.

Is it "ya'll" as my third grade teacher insisted, a grammatical lesson I have always heeded religiously and unwaveringly? Or is it "y'all "as a certain vociferous contigent of my fellow Southerners insist? It's a suprisingly heated -- and very divisive-- debate for a group of folk famous for being laidback (except when it comes to SEC football).

Internet research presents compelling arguments for each side. The fact is the word is a colloquialism meant to be spoken rather than written. The placement of the apostrophe really doesn't impact the pronunciation in any way. Try it. Y'all. Ya'll. See what I mean?

Linguists have hopped on board the bandwagon insisting that since it is a contraction of "you all" which is really bad English for "all of you" it should be "y'all." But then there is the equally valid point that it's really a contraction for the way Southerners say you all -- ya all or "ya'll. "

In common usage, it's six of one, half dozen of the other.

The whole thing is making me all swimmy -headed.

The "y'all "camp scored a big victory when the magazine Y'all began publication and winning many over from the "ya'll" side. So it may soon become a case of majority rules.

If that's the case, I've decided to give it a shot. I moved the apostrophe in this blog title up a space just to see how it feels.

It feels weird. Looks it, too.

But is it the kind of weird like putting shoes on the wrong feet?

Or is it the kind of weird like getting used to new glasses?

Too early to tell.

So why am I throwing all my Southern neuroses into a blog post that's supposed to be about being carefree in Paree?

Because if you're one of the rare people who reads this blog, and you happened to notice something different, but couldn't put your finger on what it was, I wouldn't want you, precious reader, to think you are losing your mind.

It is, however, entirely possible that I am.

A bientot, y'all.

(Oh, hell, I don't think I can do it. What's your opinion on the subject?)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Six Months Later ....

Hard to believe it's been almost six months since I last bade au revoir to Paris. But then if you truly love Paris, you never really say goodbye. It just becomes part of you.

I always keep a little Paris with me through the food I cook, the clothes I wear, the books I read, the movies I watch -- and through my community of fellow Francophile bloggers.

All of this helps tide me over until the next time I see Paris. And there is always a next time.

I created this particular blog as a short-term effort to keep my friends up to date on my Christmas 2009 visit to Paris and as a resource guide for December travelers. However, the blogosphere being what it is, I receive numerous queries about visiting Paris other times of year. I have additional recommendations from other visits that I will be happy to share here as I think of them.

I also occasionally post Parisian -inspired musings, recipes, decorating projects, etc. on my regular lifestyle blog, "The House Where The Black Cat Lives" which is really about my life with cats -- tres Parisian in and of itself; Julia Child once wrote that Paris is a city of cats. I'll link here when I have an appropriate post.

Until then, a bientot!