Saturday, September 20, 2014

Does a Birthday Count if It's in Italy?



My birthday dinner on the terrace of a beautiful restaurant in Rome finished with this dessert, which I had not ordered.  I imagine the hotel had told the restaurant when they made the reservation for us.  It was a sweet gesture on everyone's part, except for the fact that we were charged for the dessert!  Oh well.

And how had the hotel known about my birthday? Well, apart from the fact I milked it in making the reservation and asking for a room with a view, they had ordered, at my darling husband's request, a huge bouquet of flowers for my room. And sent up a bottle of Prosecco from the management!  How sweet was that?


But the best thing about my birthday was the four hours we spent riding around Rome on the back of a Vespa, well yes, actually two Vespas since Gene came too.  Just a few weeks ago I came across a reference online to ScooterRoma and I was hooked.  Vintage Vespas? Sold!  Valerio and Lorenzo turned up at our hotel at 10:00 and dropped us off at 2:00.  I could have kept going all day.  





We've been to Rome many times before and never really loved it, but seeing it this way, along with the intelligent history and background we got from Valerio, a historian by training, was an experience not to be missed.  Not only that, we had loved the recent Italian film The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza) with its views of a non- touristy Rome and locations we couldn't identify.  When I signed up for the tour I mentioned this and we visited several of the sites.  Too cool!



Other than that, how was Rome? Frankly, still don't love it.  But that was sure a great birthday!



Sunday, September 14, 2014

Saint-Germain Sunday



Even the babies in St-Germain des Prés pay homage to the famous philosophers of the quartier.  Dress your child in very expensive onesies so they too can grow up to be Simone de Beauvoir or Jean-Paul Sartre.  It's been a long time since this was the center of the intelligentsia, although there are still a number of publishing houses nearby and a nice café, lined with book-filled walls, called Les Editeurs to commemorate them. More prevalent now and for the last few decades are upscale designer boutiques and wealthy tourists, Italians, Americans, Japanese, in search of clothes and housewares.


There has been for many years a man who moves throught the streets of Saint-Germain selling newspapers, an odd way of making a living since there are several very well supplied news kiosks in the area.  Nonetheless he's been here a long time and is a fixture, to the point that a couple of years ago someone painted his portrait, wearing his distinctive cap, on a billboard overlooking one of the intersections.  There's a bit of graffiti on it but for the most part it remains untouched by vandals or advertising companies.  Redundant, I know, but you know what I mean.


A small street off the very busy intersection of rue de Buci, rue Dauphine and rue Mazarine has become the de facto parking for all two-wheeled transport in the area.  Since it's a no car parking street, the city has taken the opportunity to fill it with Velib bikes, thus avoiding the need to eliminate car parking spaces on other streets to provide the public bikes.  Motorbikes also seem to have colonized the same block.  Very few unused spaces on a busy Saturday night; people are coming into the area, not leaving it.  The bars, restaurants and streets are jam-packed in the lovely weather.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Nothing Doing, Doing Nothing



This morning was one of the mornings our local street market is operating so as soon as our jet lagged eyes opened we strolled up to Boulevard Raspail to buy some provisions.  Along the way we came across this team of workers breaking for lunch. (Can you tell how late we slept?) you can also tell that this is not the old Paris; rather than a bottle of rouge they are drinking a can of soda.



No plans for the day, which feels good.  Yesterday we went to the Champs Élysées to see an outdoor photo exhibit on World War I, a subject much in the air on this 100th anniversary.  The exhibit was interesting more as a piece of propaganda than as history, concentrating quite a bit on photos of soldiers from all the French colonies of the time, apparently happy to be fighting in the trenches for their colonial masters, and providing patriotic text.  There was a photo of the young Capitaine Charles de Gaulle, noting his five attempts to escape after having been taken prisoner by the Germans.  Of Marechal Petain, the hero of Verdun, there was no mention.  Apparently his collaboration in the next war outweighed the victories of the first.


A stop for lunch at Rosa Bonheur de Seine, on a barge moored along the newly pedestrianized Berges de Seine, was pleasant and we met a young friend for coffee later in the pretty garden café at the center of the Petit Palais.

We had dinner with friends we hadn't seen in a while at one of our new favorite restaurants, Terroir Parisien in the 5th arrondissement, lingering until we were the last to leave.  A walk home along the boulevard and so to bed. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lafayette, We Are Here


One hundred years after the beginning of World War One, I'm adopting the motto of the Allied Expeditionary Force (that was us, the US, for the most part) to tell the French that we've arrived.  I suspect they cared more back then.

For those of you loyal readers who missed photos being posted during our last trip and who had to go all the way over to www.instagram.com/shellioreck to see what we were seeing, I think I may have fixed the problem.  We'll see if it works, and if it's worth it.

Back this time in our old apartment, the duplex garret in St-Germain des Près, we feel right at home.  So much so that in looking around the kitchen we find the dishes we bought and even some two-year old canned goods we left.  Our dear patronne, in true French style, never gets rid of anything.

Our old nemesis, jet lag, is back with us and we're giving it its head, sleeping when we can.  The weather is wonderful, which everyone keeps telling us is very lucky as the summer all over Europe was disappointingly cool and rainy.  Keeping fingers crossed for it to go on.

I'm sitting in our glassed-in kitchen, windows wide open, listening to the sound of the bells of the church of St-Germain des Près.  Time to go explore before our next nap is due.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Checking In to Check Out

The weather gods are doing their best to make us want to stay.  The sky is perfectly blue, the air is soft and warm, there is light in the sky until past 10:00 P.M. and dining outdoors is practically mandatory.  We have had drinks in the tiny garden of the apartment with two separate sets of guests and the birds continue to wake us in the morning.

On the other hand, June 21 was la Fête de la Musique, a countrywide celebration that goes on into the early morning.  In the past we have wandered around the city listening to street bands in many areas and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  This year I couldn't walk too far, my twisted ankle having resolved into a fractured metatarsal, and we got as far as the church of St. Eustache, with its incredible organ.  An organ concert was just the thing and we really liked it.

After a horrible dinner (Pied du Cochon, next to St. Eustache, used to have quite good onion soup despite its tourist bent.  No more!) we went home only to discover a very very loud private concert in the courtyard next door, complete with lights and bands.  It went on until about 3:00 Gene tells me.  I zonked out about 1:30, noise and all.  Sunday was perfect until we came home in the afternoon to discover a little girl's birthday party in the apartment upstairs.  About a 9 on the Shriek-o-Meter.  Luckily it didn't last as long as the concert had.

The most annoying thing that happened this week however was the decision by a number of the unions representing French air traffic controllers to declare a five day strike, beginning tomorrow, the day we were scheduled to fly to London to pick up our homeward bound United flight.  We heard of the strike plans while we were in Normandy, called a journalist friend to confirm the online rumor, and immediately bought tickets on the Eurostar.  We did not get, as you can imagine, a budget price buying at the last minute.  Nevertheless if all goes well we should make our flight as scheduled.

We will be happy to get home, where we will spend the rest of the summer without budging from Berkeley before a return to Paris and to Italy in September.  See you then.

Photos are at www.instagram.com/shellioreck

Thursday, June 19, 2014

In the Country

I have always admitted my preference for cities over countryside, perhaps mentioning it too often.  When I asked B. to recommend a place we might spend a few days out of Paris she asked if I were sure.  I was.  I had suddenly yearned for a drive on narrow roads, passing cows and sheep grazing in the fields and stopping to explore towns always called Saint-something or other-in-somewhere.

Not only that, two days before heading to the maison d'hôtes B. had raved about, we were invited to Sunday lunch at C.'s place in the country about an hour outside Paris, despite her concern that I might miss the smell of bitumen.  It was super, a wonderful lunch in a huge garden with rosé to drink and lots of delicious food.  And what better way to finish the afternoon than a visit to a local brocante and a walk in the nearby village.  Except that on the walk I managed to turn my ankle, which proceeded to balloon up so that I hobbled to the train and had to take an expensive taxi ride back home from the station.

Making a long story a bit shorter, it improved enough over the next two days so I could wrap it in ice and navigate the car from Montparnasse station to a lovely house set in gorgeous gardens in a tiny village near Alençon, called, yes, Saint Denis-en-Sarthon.  Just up the road from Saint Céneri-le Gérei, one of what the French call "Les Plus Belles Villages en France".  Gene much preferred driving on the right side of the road on this trip, our marriage was not tested, and we had a lovely time.

Despite our best efforts and directions from everyone we asked, we were unable to find the Crypte Saint André in Mortagne-au-Perche, described to us by a road worker as formidable.  We also spent quite a bit of time driving tiny roads trying to find the Chateau d'O, marked on a map of chateaux in the area, but apparently owned by someone who dislikes visitors.  We finally came across it entirely by accident, hiding behind its high walls and locked entry gates.  Very intriguing.

The Chateau de Médavy, also a bit shy, doesn't open for visits until "real" summer, which to the French means July and August.  We did visit the Chateau de Sassy, home of a library of 30,000 books and visited in 1968 by Queen Elizabeth, who was given a horse from the Sassy stud farm as a parting gift.  Her bedroom remains untouched since then.  I presume it is dusted from time to time.  It looked fine.

All in all, lovely trips to the country, despite the injured foot.  This should do me for some time.  Paris looked great when we got back.

Photos can be found at www.instagram.com/shellioreck






Sunday, June 15, 2014

Burgers, Bagels and Begging

Several things have struck me as new to Paris since we were last here and none of them make me very happy.  You may recall my posts several years ago about the influx of American food.  Not so long ago it was difficult to find a hamburger, particularly a good one, in Paris.  Granted, most American visitors aren't here in search of a great burger, but the occasional craving wasn't easily satisfied.

This visit it is hard to avoid the nearly ubiquitous burger joints. Places specializing in hamburgers are all over the place, particularly in the gentrifying quartiers.  Traditional cafés have given way to Le Burger.  There is a very successful place called Big Fernand around the corner from the apartment.  And adding insult to injury, its next door neighbor is a fish and chips shop.

As an aside, I have also noticed that the more traditional salade niçoise has been replaced in many cases by the salade César, which for the French means romaine, Parmesan and always, always, chicken. Not an anchovy in sight.

As if the hamburger invasion was insufficient, the other every-other-storefront surprise is the bagel.  Yes, the French have fallen in love with the bagel, or at least something round and called that.  Having neither the desire nor the courage to try one, my evaluation is based only on the look of the pale, soft things in the window.  I do recall several years ago being invited to a pot luck brunch here and asked to bring bagels.  That required a several day search and I finally found them in the upscale Bon Marché food hall, in a plastic package.  Plus ça change...

Amusing as all this may be, the really upsetting change is the proliferation of families, apparently immigrants of Central European appearance, spending days and nights on mattresses on the street.  Most often it's a mother and one or two very small children, sometimes there is a man as well.  I'm used to the young Rom women begging on the street and the haggard old men begging in cafés, but entire families living on the street on a mattress is more than startling.