Wednesday, October 01, 2003

As I was about to leave Paris Sunday morning on an overnight trip to Brussels it started spitting rain. I was certain she was crying because I was leaving her if only briefly. Today on my way to CDG airport she wasn't crying; she was bawling out of control. It hasn't rained in Paris in weeks. You can call it a coincidence or the change of seasons but I'm convinced it's a sign I should've stayed.

At the airport we ran into a friend of Caroline's, actually her father-in-law's best friend, and one of probably only half a dozen people I know living in Paris. I think it was another sign to stay as if to indicate to me that I even know enough people here to encounter someone "par hasard" at the airport.

At the house before we set out this morning I reminded Caroline that we weren't going to have any tears during our goodbyes. Knowing that the Irish even turn funerals into parties I had every confidence she wasn't going to make my eyeliner run but she was absolutely hopeless when the time came. It was hard enough getting a big bisou from her 4-year old then having him tell me he was going to miss me, but when Caroline started losing it so did I. There we were both bawling worse than Paris.

It has to be waterproof eyeliner and mascara next time. Either that or I'm not leaving.

A last thought: Paris may be one of the most beautiful cities in the world but beyond the heart of the city towards the périphérique, it's seriously ugly. Where's our Haussmann of the 21st century?

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

I could happily pare my earthly possessions down to the bare minimum and live very comfortably and happily in this 23m² apartment for a pretty long time. It really felt like a home that I soon found myself referring to it as my place and not "the apartment" or worse, "the place where I sleep."

It's in the heart of St. Germain-des-Près and has everything I would need in a kitchen to survive apart from a set of good knives, another saucepan, and maybe a proper chopping board. It's the smallest designer kitchen I've ever come across-- a vitro-ceramic two-burner stovetop, combo microwave-convection oven, small frigo, and a baby Bosch dishwasher that washes a lot cleaner than the full-size model I had in my house. Apart from the kitchen, there's a very good double bed, a combo washer-dryer, decent water pressure in the small shower, a DVD player (that enabled me to watch the one DVD I had bought, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, probably more than a dozen times), a mini-stereo that was OK for sound, cable TV where I discovered that there is a station far worse than CNN for repetition otherwise known as Euronet, but best of all, the DSL connection. Or maybe I should say the AC but I think that was more for my friend Caroline when she was visiting than for me. As someone who doesn't take to heat, I surprised myself by hardly using it even during the height of "la canicule."

It is a very comfortable apartment but the best part of the experience was waking up to the bells of Saint-Sulpice in the morning. Little can top that except perhaps the night I slept with the windows completely open during an intense downpour in the middle of the night with Carmen belting out American jazz standards over the sound of the rain pelting against the sidewalk. I can still recall the scent from that evening, how intensely green it smelled after the rain had stopped. It was one of those nights; one worth losing sleep over.

I wish I could tell you that this apartment will still be available to rent should you decide to come to Paris next year, or the year after, or the year after that as the proprietor Arlene is one of the kindest and most generous individuals I have met. An apartment stay is also a much nicer option than a simple hotel room especially if you love the food markets as I do. But sadly this apartment will soon no longer be available to rent as she and her husband have since sold it to relocate to the US early next year. It's sad because those of us visiting Paris need nice places to call home if only for a little while.

Some say they don't care about the hotel room because they're only going to sleep in it. Since I sleep more than a third of my life away I think a good night's sleep ranks up there with good food. Besides that I have found the worst hotels in France, some so bad I was sure I was travelling in the third world. One was even from the French bible otherwise known as Michelin rouge. If I'm going to "rough it" I'd rather go camping in which case that's strictly outdoors for me where I will happily wipe my ass with leaves to make an outward bound leader proud.

Last month a friend asked if I could recommend an interesting hotel not too "over the top" in terms of price for his trip in October. Unfortunately, Paris has gotten almost as expensive as London. Finding a decent hotel with a bit of character means spending on the plus side of 100 euros. The following are ones I've passed, stopped at, and thought if I was ever looking for a hotel in Paris I may consider staying here. The list starts with those in the 5th and 6th because I would lean more towards left-bank than right-bank, a few in the 4th because the Marais and l'Ile Saint-Louis are just as nice, and lastly, two on the right but only if you must. If you discover any small hotel gems in your travels, email me the details and I would be happy to keep building and revising this list. Of course, if any of the following turn out to be a dump of the worst possile kind, please let me know:

Hotel Henri IV 9-11, rue Saint-Jacques 75005 tel Euros 128-165
Hotel Mayet 3, rue Mayet 75006 tel Euros 80-140
Hotel Le Brea 14, rue Brea 75006 tel Euros 96-155
Hotel Axial Beaubourg 11, rue du Temple 75004 tel Euros 105-175
Hotel Bourg Tibourg 19, rue du Bourg Tibourg 75004 tel Euros 150-250
Hotel des Deux-Iles 59, rue Saint-Louis-en-l'Ile 75004 tel Euros 133-150
Hotel Galileo 54, rue Galilee 75008 tel Email is HotelGalileo@wanadoo.fr Euros 131-153
Hotel Langlois 63, rue Saint-Lazare 75009 tel Euros 78-130

Monday, September 29, 2003

Early Tuesday I set out across Pont Neuf towards the shop Maurice had sent me to buy foie gras. It was such a beautiful morning I stopped and sat in one of the alcoves closer to the right bank to gaze at the top of the Eiffel tower while the rest of Paris was rushing to work. This was my last morning to suck in a bit of the city before spending the night at a friend's place before leaving France the next day. I affectionately refer to where they live which is only 30-40 minutes from the west of Paris as the "country" because at night one can bear witness that there are still stars in the sky and risk running over wild boars driving home.

I was glad to find that Foie Gras Luxe was already open when I arrived at 9 AM. Maurice had advised me to buy it mi-cuit in glass jars containing only the key ingredient along with salt and pepper. Some brands contain preservatives and/or alcohol such as port or cognac which I don't think is as desirable. The 'purest' available was Godard's Foie Gras de Canard Entier du Sud-Ouest containing the basic ingredient and some seasonings which I elected to take in tin cans primarily for weight considerations. I was a little hesitant to depart from Maurice's advice as I am convinced he knows nearly everything about food and dining in France, but Monsieur Giovannoni of the shop did not think mi-cuit could be brought into North America and assured me whether packaged in tin or glass it was simply a matter of presentation and not of taste.

After I made my foie gras selection I received a small lesson from Monsieur on how to best serve it but not before giving him a near heart attack with my serving queries. Although I have ordered it in restaurants I could not recall what accompanied it apart from toast. Just foie gras and toast seemed a bit bare on the plate so I ask about serving it with a bit of salad and possibly a vinaigrette dressing. Monsieur feigned a heart attack at the mere suggestion of this. "Jamais, jamais!" A bit of salad greens was acceptable but not vinegar with foie gras! Then I asked about sprinkling Fleur de Sel on it (because I put it on everything these days) to which he was equally horrified. Monsieur is a purest so he doesn't even find Sauterne jelly or a barely sweet chutney or fruit preserve, perfect accompaniments to foie gras, necessary.

The conversation then gravitated to wine. Keeping in mind basic wine guidelines I could never quite figure out what wine would follow if Sauterne was served with foie gras as a starter. I made a better impression on him with my wine suggestions-- Montbazillac and Le Pacherenc du Vic Bilh. He opined Jurançon, Loupiac, or a Late Harvest Gewurtztraminer would also be appropriate even though his preferred wine to accompany it would be "Un Grand Bordeaux." He would drink a great Bordeaux with the foie gras course and continue straight through the meal with the same wine.

The tins were priced at 25 euros for 200 grams and 42 euros for 400 grams. Later in October I'll post comments on Godard's foie gras including the accompanying wine but probably not Monsieur's choice of a great Bordeaux.

Coordinates: Foie Gras Luxe, 26, rue Montmartre Paris 75001 tel
Open Mon 0800-1200 & 1430-1730, Tue-Fri 0600-1200 & 1430-1730, Sat (in Dec) 0800-1700

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