Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

I roasted a pumpkin for dinner last night, but it wasn't one of these, which would have melted all over the oven.  These gorgeous faux potirons are another one of chocolatier Patrick Roger's sculptures in chocolate, in the window of his boutique on Boulevard St-Germain.  Notice the little fresh chestnut in there too?

Less appealing, and less Halloween appropriate, is this fellow in the other window.  Keeping watch over the pumpkin patch, maybe?

Not a lot of Halloween in Paris this year, at least among Parisians.  I know of several parties for ex-pats, but the Halloween fad here among the French seems to have passed.  On the other hand, what's going on with this fellow leaning out the window of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs?

Although it's been there since way before Halloween, a skeleton is always appropriate, even if in Pepto-Bismol pink, and whoever stenciled this rather lively one on the street took good advantage of the existing elements in the sidewalk.  Great sixteen-pack!

Tomorrow is the big fall holiday here, Toussaint, and lots of folks have taken off for the last week since the schools have been closed.  Toussaint is traditionally the day people go to cemeteries and care for the graves of the dead.  Not likely to be what we will do, but you never know. 

On the other hand, Candelaria, the great little Mexican bar and restaurant in the Marais, will be celebrating Dia de los Muertos with special drinks and tamales.  Now that's more likely!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Bit of This and That

The yearly Salon du Chocolat took place without me last week.  I like chocolate, but not enough to go to a trade show and battle the crowds to see the latest ideas of what to do with the cacao bean, although some of them were apparently quite risqué.  For some more detailed information, see here.

Parking is at a premium on the streets of Paris and bumper kissing is typical.  I liked the primary colors this pairing presented.

While there is an Avenue de New York in Paris, I much prefer this ad hoc renaming of a street someone stuck on the side of a random building.  I guess someone other than me remembers the old TV show of my childhood: "There are 6 million stories in the Naked City.  This is one of them."

And just in case you didn't know where to put the car:

Although in view of the trash cans, maybe GARBAGE would be more appropriate.

In the last couple of years there has been a rash of huge product ads covering the scaffolding surrounding public buildings undergoing renovation.  Watch ads on the Louvre, YSL ads on the Musée d'Orsay, and this ad on the Conciergerie.  It would appear however that the complaints about these ads have reached a point where they had to be addressed.  This sign is prominently placed next to the Swatch ad:

It says "This signage contributes to the financing of the restoration work on the Palais de Justice, part of the national patrimony."  So there!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Traipsing Through the Tuileries

 I think Jack Russell terriers are the breed of dog I see most often in Paris, which is odd.  Though small, they have an enormous amount of energy and living in a typically small Parisian apartment must be tough for them.  This one however was having the time of his life chasing his ball in the Tuileries garden last weekend.

 It was a beautiful day to be out and about and it was only by sticking to the side paths that we avoided the crowds of people enjoying the weather and the art installations that had been placed in the gardens as part of the annual FIAC contemporary art salon.

You probably know that French parks typically don't allow people to walk, play or picnic on the lawns.  These boys, who kicked their ball onto the adjacent lawn, were standing stymied at the lawn's edge, not knowing quite what to do: should they go onto the lawn to retrieve the ball or not?

They looked back and forth at each other for a minute or two and finally the smaller one got up his courage and dashed onto the lawn, grabbed the ball, and ran off as quickly as possible.  I left them playing happily once more.

It seems the chairs surrounding the lawns have had a new coat of paint this year, and unlike the darker green of previous years, this time the paint matches the green of the lawn with uncanny precision.

And then of course there were the other colors to see, like this enormous sculpture that looks like a huge multi-colored peanut

and this shipping container turned pop-up movie theater.

I love the guy with his bag of popcorn in hand, ready for the show to begin, but that balloon is going to cause an argument!

The largest piece I saw in the garden was this one, a cylinder that must have been more than 50 feet long, widening as it went.

I was more interested in the view of Sacre Coeur between the buildings though.

(Sorry I didn't make notes of the artists and the names of the pieces.)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunning in the City

The last two weekends have been bright and sunny and Parisians are taking full advantage of what may be the last of the season.  They're out in the parks and cafés, faces turned to the sun as if storing it for the gray days to come.

Last week we went up to Belleville to see some friends who live just at the top of the Parc de Belleville and spent the afternoon sitting on the terrace of the café at the top of the part of the park in the photo below.  We weren't the only ones there and the sun had a chance to shift and hit each of us before we finished our lunch and reluctantly got up to go.

Many others had simply stretched out on the lawns for picnics and naps.  This park is really used by the inhabitants of the quartier as well as others who come from farther away for the pretty surroundings and the 180 degree view of Paris from the top.

On our stroll down through the park to the bus stop we came across this church shining in the sun and read the historical information plaque at its base to learn that it was a headquarters for the Commune of 1871 and the priests assigned to it were condemned and executed by the revolutionaries.

It's beautiful city, but there's a lot of blood that's soaked into its soil over the years.

This is the courtyard of our friends' building. Typical of the buildings on the street, it's hidden behind flat and dull facades that give no hint of what's behind.  Since this is one of the few affordable areas left in Paris, the apartments are becoming more in demand and consequently prices are rising.  Gentrification looms, but the population is still very mixed and kids of all colors were playing in the streets and the park.

By the way, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that one bus will take us all the way from our house to Belleville.  Our goal has become to avoid the metro if we possibly can.  The buses can be crowded, but not as unpleasantly as the metro, and since we're rarely in a hurry it's our transport of choice.

The gadget on the home page of the transport system,, will tell you the way to get where you're going using any mode of transport, at any time of the day, and giving you a choice of fastest, least walking or fewest connections to make.  Although it occasional goes bonkers and wants me to go somewhere I know is slightly out of the way, all in all it's a great tool.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Market Saturday

It's been a while since I posted photos from a market and last Saturday we took a bus over to the big and upscale market on Avenue President Wilson, just outside the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée d'Art Moderne.

In contrast to our favorite market on Boulevard Richard Lenoir, near Bastille, the President Wilson market has fewer stalls and fewer of the stallholders and shoppers are of North African origin.
Some of the products are rather more expensive as well, but maybe the locals don't mind.

I was sorely tempted by these ready-to-cook escargots; can we all admit that the rubbery little bodies are only a vehicle for the delicious garlic butter?

I've recently been told that scallops, coquilles Saint-Jacques, have a season, and this is it.  They're found on restaurant menus at the moment, and piles of them were available at the market, sold with their coral roe, which is valued here.  In the States I think they throw it away before sale; I never see the scallops sold with the roe attached.

It's mushroom season too, and piles of girolles are available for the buying.  I bought 250 grams (I'm getting used to European measurements at last), sautéd them with some chervil and scrambled some eggs into the pan for lunch the next day.  Yum!

I wish I knew more about fish; I'm always reluctant to try a species I don't know, but there are so many and they look so interesting!  Maybe if I cooked at home more, but there are so many restaurants and so little time, as they say about other pursuits.

There were dessert choices to make before we went home and that little pear tarte...see the one just on the far side of the strawberry one?...came home with us.

All that shopping tired us out and we spent a pleasant hour sitting in the sun on a café terrace at Place d'Alma, sipping coffee and enjoying what was probably gong to be the last of the good weather before getting back on the bus to go home.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sunny Update

I have mentioned we've been eating, right?

But we have been waking a bit earlier and managing to get out and see a bit of the world.  We get the newspaper and walk over to one of our favorite cafés in the middle of tourist St-Germain des Prés for coffee and the crossword puzzle and a bit of people-watching. 

Lots of English speakers; many of them not native but German, Scandinavian, Italian or Eastern European who use English as a common language when traveling.  It's usually the language the café waiter can most easily understand if the customer doesn't speak French.  Not to say there aren't a lot of Americans and British as well, along with the occasional Australian.

I've been walking a bit slower than usual since I have a bit of residual difficulty after my back surgery and felt some comradeship with this building, whose vertebrae seem to lack much cushioning between them.

The sun has finally come out for the first time since we arrived and we've been promised three days of it before the gray returns, and maybe another day or two next week.  Lunch yesterday on a sunny café terrace allowed us to shed our jackets and enjoy a salade Nicoise.

The "Cezanne and Paris" exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg was interesting, but yet another example of how curators reach for themes that don't really support an exhibit.  Cezanne did work in Paris, coming back and forth from his native and beloved Provence for most of his life, but little of the work was specifically about Paris and other than three or four cityscapes location wasn't particularly important to the work in the show.

Last summer we went to Normandy to see a show of the work Bonnard did after moving there and that was interesting because it was completely different than the city-based interiors I had known him for.  That wasn't the case with the Cezannes, but it was a show worth seeing nonetheless.

Apparently there has been a rash of telephone thefts, mostly iPhones and smartphones I imagine, in the metro and on buses, inspiring the authorities to suggest you be careful using them in public.  The pickpocket who took Gene's phone out of his pocket must have been terribly surprised to get the cheapie Nokia we bought for 24 euros in Italy two years ago.

Nonetheless, it caused us to waste an afternoon looking for another cheapie phone (yeah Darty!) and the enormous frustration of trying to program it and understand how to use it.  Luckily our landlady's 23 year old grandson was kind enough to spend some time helping out.  What do you do if you don't have an available under 25 year old around?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Day and Night

We're still living a nocturnal existence, getting out only for a short time in daylight and making dinner the big event of the day.  While we're hoping that will shift soon I'm not pushing it, particularly since we are now definitively into autumn.  The skies are leaden, it's been raining nearly every day, and we've pulled out the warm jackets and mufflers.  An occasional walk or outing for coffee is all I feel the need for at the moment.

Since this is typically one of the loveliest seasons of the year in Berkeley we've been getting reports of soft days and pretty sunsets back there and we keep telling ourselves, "but we're in PARIS!"  That can make up for a lot of gray sky.  The art exhibits are beginning to open, there's lots of music scheduled, game and mushrooms and pumpkin soup are on restaurant menus.  Now we just need to wake up and go.

The first few days here we spent seeing some of the friends from California still in Paris after E's big party, along with E and D themselves.  They've left now, and some local friends are back after the rentrée.  Last night was the first time I spent much of the evening speaking French and I was pleased that it wasn't too bad.  It is time though to go back to taking regular classes.  Maybe that will get me out of the house.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Evening Outings

We manage to get out of the apartment in the evening, when our jet lagged bodies still imagine it's morning back where they came from.  Luckily the day after we arrived we got an email that put a spring in our step.

The super-talented Braden Perkins and Laura Adrian of Hidden Kitchen Supper Club are in the process of opening a wine bar and a restaurant just off Palais Royal.  The process has been tortuous and getting all the appropriate permissions from the city has left a long trail along the way, back one step, forward two steps, back another.

They thought they'd finally be able to open the wine bar, called Verjus, at 47, rue Montpensier, the other night but were foiled once again and need to wait another two weeks for final permission to sell the lovely wines they'll be offering with the help of Juan Sanchez of la Dernière Goutte.  And so meanwhile, a little party sans alcool but with lots of Braden's wonderful food.  What a great welcome back to Paris.

Verjus should finally be open, unencumbered, on October 20.  Fingers crossed.

And the next night we dined with friends at Vivant, a restaurant that's been getting a lot of attention for its impeccably sourced products cooked simply and very well and its wide offering of natural wines.

A 10:00 p.m. reservation meant that some of the options had run out, but the burrata with capers and fruity olive oil and the crisply sautéd boudin and the perfect poularde with crunchy vegetables (thank god!  the French tend to over cook vegetables, I think) made us very happy. Delicious as the food was, the setting was equal to it.

The old tiled shop walls had been left in place and accompanied by a mix of flea market chairs and tables and charming servers.  Classic Paris setting melded with modern Paris eating made for a special meal.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Home is Where the Heart Is

Well, we've made it back to Paris, ensconced in our little garret and feeling just fine.  We thought for a quick minute to have escaped our usual horrible jet lag when we slept through the first night after a genial evening spent with our friends C and J on their last night in Paris before leaving for Italy, but the gods were just fooling with us.

Last night we juggled sleep aids at 3:00 a.m. and I've just woken at 11.  Gene is still asleep and I'm wondering whether to let him stay in dreamland or make him get up and face the world.

Although we missed E's big birthday party, which was fabulous by at least five different accounts, she and D are still in Paris and thanks to E's wonderful idea, we'll be dining with them at Restaurant Petrelle, where the party took place, to get a bit of the atmosphere we missed.

We've got a month's worth of catching up to do.  Stay tuned (now that's a phrase from the dark ages...does anyone still remember when you 'tuned in' to radio and television?)