Today has spit rain, rained during sunshine and sparkled brilliantly blue with white clouds. And I spent 6 and a half hours walking in it (minus 20 minutes to eat felafels and 20 minutes to sit in St. Eustache church of the gothic gloriosity. Even with stopping and trying to find my favorite sunscreen (made in Paris, advertised in France, but not for sale here, at least in the 5 stores I tried), my little trek google mapped as 12+ miles. Thought you might like some pics.
I started at home in the 15th arrondissement and started my fruitless search for my sunscreen. They didn’t have any in the Sephora in my neighborhood, so I went to the Galleries Lafayette, the Very Fancy Parisian department store by the Paris Opera house. They didn’t have my sunscreen either.
I was leaving the store and almost stumbled over 8 women friends giggling and whipping out their iPhones to take pictures over my left shoulder. I couldn’t get my iPad out quickly enough to get the photo of THEM, but here’s what they were photographing. Vogue-readers’ True Paris!
I wandered through southern Montmartre, then further north toward Sacre Coeur.
I’m wasn’t doing so many tourist attractions like this one (Sacre Coeur, Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which is beautiful, but which I spent quite a bit of time in a couple of weeks ago. It’s also a wicked climb up what seem like 40 flights of stone steps. I just got to the bottom, looked up and smiled at it. You don’t need to conquer the same mountain four times. That can be merely derivative.
Today, I wandered and window shopped (for me, that’s not clothes, it’s my art forms: food and churches and people). I wandered north and east, looking. Not talking, just listening to conversations going on around me, and taking in the feel of this part of the city. Paris’ sections are wildly different. I’ve spent time in many of the neighborhoods this trip. I take classes in some, walk through others, go to others in search of something. Wow. I just compiled the list of the arrondissements in which I’ve been in the last month: 1st, 2nd, 3d, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th 14th, 15th (where I live), 16th, 18th and 20th.
Lots of people – residents, writers about Paris and foreigners living here – say that Parisians don’t know other areas of the city. They don’t even know their OWN neighborhood. I’m starting to buy it. I’ve asked 10-20 people for a street name which turns out to be within 3 blocks of their business or where they’re walking with a grocery trolley. They don’t know where it is. And this has happened 5 or 6 times. On the days when the iPad’s goofy, I now just wander until I get there, or enjoy the charm of having 20 interrogative and very polite conversations to work on my French.
The first class at L’Ecole Lenotre should have been simple. The web site gave the address with no map. But how hard can it be to find 10 Ave. de la Champs Elysee? I still gave myself half an hour to get lost. I was only 15 minutes late because #10 is not between 8 and 12 Ave. de la Champs Elysee. It’s 4 blocks to the southeast of there, tucked back into a park. Go figure. THAT was a day for adrenaline. I ended up going back to two of the most helpful and thin people (who didn’t know where Lenotre was EITHER, but were very nice) and giving them the very elegant tartes aux chocolate avec canelle that I made during the class.
But, like I said, yesterday had no stress. I didn’t have to find ANYTHING. I wasn’t going to a new school under time pressure. I just wandered, and thought that if I ended up near Les Halles, the site of the old food market of Paris, I’d buy some pectin NH (the strong, professional pectin for clear fruit tops of tartes) and maybe stop at Dehellerin, Julia Child’s and my favorite cooking store with its old-hardware-store feel, and see if they’d gotten in another set of square stainless nesting cutters. Do you have any IDEA what it is for a Type A like me to just wander around? That’s why I’m documenting it – it’s my first day of aimlessness in two months over here. We won’t talk about the decades before that.
This was pretty much my scenery for an hour:
Then I found myself in Les Halles. And I stopped and got a taboule salad and some felafel’s at a Libanese restaurant. I fell in love with felafels that my friend Tammy and I shared one a couple of weeks ago in the Jewish Quarter (I’d only had bad Indianapolis felafels before, but these turned me right around. They were EXQUISITE.) I looked them up on line and discovered that the original felafels are middle eastern and made from fava beans, but have become really popular fast food in Jerusalem. However, many Jews have an enzyme deficiency of G6PD, so fava beans can precipitate a life-threatening reaction. So in Jerusalem felafels are made with chickpeas. I decided not just to go back to the place Tammy took me, where I’d fallen in love with the things, but to eat my first fava bean felafels and do a taste comparison. This is, after all, an educational cooking sabbatical. I can’t just eat what I KNOW I love. I have to Branch Out. But, as a reward for open-mindedness, Jerusalem won anyway. Hands down. I liked the mint in the taboule, but I never need to eat another fava bean.
Then I drifted about, trying to find Dehellerin’s, where I’d been a couple of times before, but parts of Paris are like the shifting staircases and disappearing rooms at Hogwarts – they move about. So, instead of looking at tarte rings or little tiny boat molds, a beautiful gothic church emerged from the drizzle. As I opened the door, a young French couple came out and asked me what church it was. I told them I had absolutely no idea. I found out from about 40 signs inside. It was St. Eustache. It was gorgeous and peaceful. I sat there for about 20 minutes, then as I was leaving, I noticed three engraved panels of the pastor’s list. US churches often have a room with portraits of their pastors, often going all the way back to 1912 or even 1840. St. Eustache didn’t have portraits of their priests, but they had all the names and dates. Okay, RCA buddies in the Hudson Valley, this outdoes even your 350 years, eh?
I finally pried myself away, crossed the street, right into the evasive Dehellerin’s. There seems to be some sort of metaphor buried in there.
No more square cutters, but I did pick out exactly the tiny tarte molds that I’ll get before I leave.
And on the way home, I walked by the Communities of Jerusalem’s church, St. Gervaise, by the Louvre, by the two islands in the Seine, Ile St. Louis and Ile de la Cite. I walked across the Pont Neuf, the “New Bridge,” that is actually now the oldest bridge in Paris, started in 1578. I limped home in my bad shoes for another 4 miles because I walked up and down through St. Germain des Pres (Hemingway territory), Rue de Bac, south, then west toward Invalides. I looked left from the sidewalk and saw Rodin’s Burghers of Calais.
Right there. Just by the sidewalk. Another casting is in London by Parliament. It’s one of my favorite sculptures – the story comes from a 14th century battle of the 100 year war. The English King Edward III agreed to lift a year-long siege of the French city of Calais, if six of its leading citizens would surrender themselves to be executed and appear with nooses around their necks and the keys to the city to hand to the English. That’s the moment of the sculpture. The English were so impressed by the courage and self-sacrifice that they later freed them.
And onward, with the Dome des Invalides in sight (the old military hospital that is now a military museum, with Napoleon’s tomb just under the dome. I was limping like one of Napoleon’s soldiers on the retreat from Moscow at this point (darned shoes!), but I found the above-ground train at Grenelle, walked parallel to it forever to the corner with the MacDonalds and the Monoprix (the supermarket), turned left at Commerce, bought a bit of pate forestier (with mushrooms) and ½ a farmer’s chicken for dinner with the arugula I already had.
Tired and sated. It was a very, very nice day.