Sunday, July 18, 2010

Shopping in Paris: Melodies Graphiques

According to the nuns who taught me, and anyone who has ever tried to read my chicken-scratch, my handwriting is hopelessly awful.

That said, I love the idea of letter-writing --sitting down at a cozy desk with lots of cubby holes, the rustle of scented, textured paper, melting wax sensually dripping onto an envelope, stamping the still-warm puddle with a baroque rendering my initial -- the beauty of the ritual just gets to me.

So it is small wonder that the ebony exterior and warm, lamp-lit windows of the stationery shop, Melodies Graphiques, in the 4th beckoned during my entire last visit to Paris in December. Finally I succumbed to the siren's call.

As the door bell tinkled, I told myself that I wasn't a fraud. I was Christmas shopping for my friends with epistolary leanings. I actually know people whose handwriting is not tragic.

And, oh,what a treat for the senses this shopping expedition turned out to be. Beautiful hand-drawn Christmas cards bearing whimsical images of Pere Noel in a horse-drawn sleigh. Italian paper sold by the sheet. Colored pencils displayed like bouquets of exotic flowers in glass jars and vases. Sealing wax in colors undreamed of by Crayola. Pots of gold, silver, copper and bronze dust with which to gild the seal. Family tree certificates, as intricately illustrated as the Book of Hours, just waiting to be personalized with calligraphic flourishes.

If so inclined, one can study the fine art of calligraphy here. Various graceful styles are presented for perusal on heavy creamy stock. How grand.

And I feel the flicker of possibility. Perhaps, if I put my mind to it ... and practice enough I could learn to write like this ... and play the harpsichord ... and make my own cheese .. and speak French fluently.

I realize where this is headed and reluctantly put back the calligraphy kit in its own lovely cherry wood box.

But I don't leave empty handed. I buy one of the handmade cards -- suitable for framing -- and one of those lovely family trees. I have been spending a little time on after all.

As for the calligraphy to fill it in ... well, you can pay people to do that for you you know.

10, rue du Pont Louis-Philippe
75004 Paris

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Eating in Paris: L'heure Gourmand

It's been a busy morning of shopping. I want to relax in a cozy little salon de the surrounded by all my pretty little bags, so I can inventory my purchases and enjoy a light lunch and perhaps un petit gout of something sweet to fortify me for a vigorous afternoon of sight seeing. I contemplate my choices.

There are the grand dames -- Angelina, Laduree, Mariage Freres -- all sure to be bustling this time of day. But I'm in the mood for something quieter, more personal, a bit off the beaten path.

I see a street sign, remember a blog posting and step through a large iron gate into the quiet cobblestoned Passage Dauphine. Ah, serenity. There's a toy store, a librarie, and, just as I had hoped, L'Heure Gourmande.

The interior is small, warm, inviting. Tartes, savory and sweet, are showcased under glass covers. In short order, a demi-carafe of white wine, a basket of bread and a slice of vegetable tart, accompanied by greens tumbled in tangy vinegarette, appear in front of me.

I peruse the day's yield: a few bars of convent-made lavender soap, antique crocheted gloves and a lace hanky, a lovely rose lipstick for my sister, embroidered "lingerie bags" for the girls back home (oh, how delightfully French are these), a second-hand book for my brother-in- law from "Shakespeare and Company" and, pour moi, a tiny madeleine pan.

I celebrate a day of successful shopping with a tiny sliver of chocolate mousse cake sprinkled with lovely green pistachios.

Can this day be any more perfect?

L’Heure Gourmande
22, passage Dauphine, 75006 Paris
Tel. +33 (0)1 46 34 00 40
Métro: Odéon

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Stroll down Rue de Rosiers

I didn't see or smell any roses on this street named for them in the old Marais district.

But then, I'm not sure I could have handled the sensory overload.

In this old neighborhood, the heart of Paris' Jewish quarter, ancient synagogues and crumbling delicatessens share real estate with modern fashion boutiques and industrial-mod art galleries. Soberly clad Hasidic Jews rub shoulders with tourists and the Marais' uber-trendy new denizens.

The neighborhood bustles on this overcast fall Sunday before Sukkot (the festival of the harvest). In front of the festival's traditional temporary booths, young men in yarmulkes and neatly pressed white shirts sell the four species -- willow and myrtle branches, palm fronds and puckered etrog fruits -- to families preparing for their week long religious celebration.

Parisians throng three deep around the take-out windows of the street's most popular falafel stands, desperate to get their fix before the stands shutter up for the week.

The smell of the fried chickpea-patties, eggplant and that incredible hot sauce they dress it all with is dizzying. I unwrap my prize and chow down on the spot, licking the sauce off my fingers (very discreetly because of course this is Paris not KFC) while simultaneously "licking the windows" as the French call window-shopping.

Yes, the falafel is drool-worthy, but, oh, so are the clothes -- in the season's tones of amethyst, ruby, burnt umber, charcoal and, of course, black. Even the store window mannequins here are intimidatingly chic in layered sweater dresses with low-slung belts, effortlessly draped scarves and riding boots and hobo bags.

I make myself think of those clothes, as I pass Sacha Finkelstzajan's deli and patisserie. The rich, dense cheesecake in the window looks like one my mother used to make.

Just at the end of this lovely rose-less street, I almost completely overlook the unobtrusive, adorably named salon de the, Le Loir dans la Theiere, (The Dormouse in the Teapot). With a name like that, I must to stop in.

Unlike other tearooms in Paris, which tend to be spare and Zen or gilded and baroque, this one is agreeably cluttered and cozy. People, appear to be in no rush as they nurse cups of coffee or tea in silver pots while crowded around little tables and in the corners of comfy leather couches. A chalkboard menu once filled with lunch specials, has been progressively erased until there are just two choices: a green salad with hot goat cheese and an omelet. I opt for a pot of tea.

And then I see it. The dessert I have been waiting for all my life. A tarte au citron, but not just any tarte, this, but a feat of culinary engineering. The thin, thin, tarte with its yellow custard filling, is topped by a billowing pile of light airy meringue ten inches, yes, 10 INCHES thick. The mother of all meringues. So light and fluffy it should stuff a pillow -- and oh what sweet slumber that would be.

And I weep at the knowledge that I am just too full to eat it.

Perhaps next time. For that meringue and I were meant to be.