Dinner at Antoine

No, not that one. Antoine’s  Restaurant is in New Orleans. Bistro Antoine is one of the three Crespo restaurants in Old Town Nice, each one of them great in its own unique personality.

Antoine is the least cordial of the three, most formal in atmosphere and attitude. But it is closest to our apartment, just a block away and right down the street from our wine store. So it’s the logical choice for our first dinner out. We walked over from provisioning grape to make a reservation for the evening, which is absolutely necessary unless you are French and even many who are.  Recognizing us as Americans, first the waiter said yes, but Mrs. Crespo (we think) said no, then she relented and gave us a table for two outside at 7 p.m. We were grateful for the early hour, since we were jet-lagged.

Wonderful terrine for entree, with Antoine’s signature smoked fish dip in an old sardine can.

Antoine’s signature amuse bouche is a smoked fish dip served in an old sardine can with the top partially peeled back. Accompanied by a glass of olives, the spread was delicious. We followed up with an order of terrine lepin (rabbit), which was big enough to eat our fill and still take some home for a snack the next day.

Since we were sitting outside, we were treated to the show of people strolling along the street, stopping at the Antoine awning, staring at the menu board, gazing quizzically inside and finally screwing up the courage to ask for a seating. Inevitably, English-speaking people, especially Americans, are politely but firmly told “non.” A few favored French-speaking walk-ups are offered a table in the garret upstairs at 8:45, the normal early dining hour for Europeans. The rest of the supplicants are sent off to search for food elsewhere. This restaurant (as are the other two Crespo establishments) is small, packed and really doesn’t care if you eat there or not.

They profile like no one’s business. In the U.S., they would be sued the first night of operation. We felt fortunate to be honored with a seating.

For the record, the food is excellent and a great value. After our paté, Lynn enjoyed an order of duck breast, and I gobbled up the flank steak served in medallions, all washed down with a delightful bottle of Lyonnaise wine. All for 67 euros, or about $80 total. The wine was the most expensive item on our check at 27 euros. I could so live here.

 

 

 

Nice, Day One

After much internal anguish over Jose, our flight to Nice took off more or less on time. The winds shifted right after we boarded the plane, so we were forced to wait on the tarmac until new runway instructions were delivered to the pilot. Our departure was thus delayed about a half hour.

Surprisingly, our flight was less than half full, so most of the passengers in the main cabin filled into the three-seat middle section and laid out flat for the eight hours ahead. Being accustomed to sleeping on boats scrunched up in odd shapes around sail bags and deck hardware, I simply curled up across our two seats when Lynn went in search of another row.

Day dawned beautiful in Nice as we circled low over the Mediterranean and landed right past the bluest of blue water. Passport control was smooth and quick (we were the only international flight arriving), but our luggage was separated. My bag finally came out looking somewhat worse for wear, as something had chewed on the luggage tags pretty hard.

Our cab ride to our apartment took us right along the now-infamous Promenade des Anglais, site of last summer’s terrorist attack. Bollards now block vehicles from the broad walkway along the boulevard, a day late and some 80 lives short. Surprisingly, the cab was fairly expensive, 36 euros, for such a relatively short trip. Even more surprising was that our driver actually spoke some English; that in my experience is a rarity.  I was down to a 50 euro note, because the airport ATM would not take my card for cash. No harm, no foul, but my habit of holding on to some international cash proved provident.

We walked the entire length of the Cours Saleyas flower and food market toward our apartment, too far, as it turned out. Our Pebbles Apartments representative, the lovely Grace from England, walked down to meet us and lead us back to our lodging, which was more in the middle of the market rather than the end, as I had thought.

What an elegance entrance. But inside is truly an exquisite apartment.

In fact, although our apartment entrance is on the market side, it is actually almost directly across the street from our old place on rue Barillerie and Chat Noir restaurant. There is an entrance to our building from rue Barillerie, which we will likely use this week, rather than walk through the work and prep area of the restaurants on the market side.

The apartment itself is exquisite, if a bit odd. The shower/bath tub and sink are in the bedroom, and the toilet with another small sink is in the laundry closet with the washing machine. (I will write a treatise one day about European laundry and dishwashing appliances. As soon as I figure them out.)

After a brief orientation, Grace departed, leaving us welcoming gifts of lemon cookies and a bottle of Provencal  rosé. As we entered, she was reminded how beautiful she is by one of the restaurant workers outside our main entrance. She really is beautiful, and probably did not need the validation from the hired help.

We chose to take a quick nap before venturing out, discretion before valor. But shortly thereafter, we were on the streets of Vielle Ville Nice, in search of basic groceries and a cash machine. On the way, we stopped at Bistro Antoine to make dinner reservations at the ungodly but so American time of 7 p.m., which was the only time they could accommodate us anyway. Antoine is one of the three restaurants owned by Armand Crespo, each one of them excellent and all among our favorites. Antoine is the most formal, but also the closest, so makes the perfect first night dinner. Tomorrow will be Chat Noir, when Giorgio the proprietor returns from visiting his son in Marseille. Later in our stay we will visit the other two Crespo establishments, along with a couple of our other favorites. There is no need to be adventurous in restaurant selection when you have experienced the best already.

Our first-day quest led us to Wayne’s, the English speaking bar where we had spent so much time last visit. Tom the Australian bartender was still there and remembered us after we re-introduced ourselves. We gulped down cold beers and an order of frites to carry us over until dinner. We will return to Wayne’s more than once, especially on Sunday for the obligatory Bloody Mary.

 

 

Onward, back to Nice

After four glorious days in Newport watching Southern Yacht Club decisively win the NYYC Invitational Cup on our first try, I spent two gut-wrenching, stomach-turning days fretting about Jose just off the coast of New York.

I would tell the tales of the fraternity house in Newport, but what goes on in Newport, stays in Newport. Suffice it to say that SYC won with the highest differential, the lowest average finish score and the only team to fly the Golden Spinnaker every day possible. This was at least as good as the Saints winning the Super Bowl. The big difference was that Lynn and I were part of the owning syndicate.

Glenn and Tracey (he’s on the right!) visiting the Coronet at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport.

The only downside was the nearing presence of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Jose, churning around just off the coast of North Carolina, but inexorably crawling up to Long Island and New England. Our friends and fellow IC visitors in Newport, Glenn and Tracey Knoepfler, planned to drive up to Martha’s Vineyard after delivering us to the Providence train station for our very pleasant three-hour trip along the coast to Penn Station and NYC. Glenn and Tracey will feel Jose’s effects more than we will. But that will just add to their adventure.

Regardless, I tossed and turned for two nights until we arrived at JFK to confirm that our flight to Nice was departing on time. First was the fear that the flight would be canceled, leaving us with no place to stay in New York and an unused night in our apartment in Nice. After a couple of aborted phone calls with Delta, I was assured–if not completely convinced–that the flight was scheduled to leave on time and would not be canceled.

But on Tuesday, I checked the flight status and learned that the originating flight from San Francisco was five hours late arriving in New York. After an Uber trip of an hour and a half to JFK, we checked in to learn to our relief that our flight would board and leave on time, notwithstanding the five-hour delay from San Francisco. Evidently, any West-Coast passengers heading to Nice will arrive a day late. But not us.

The night before, we had taken our grandson Grayson to dine at one of our favorite New York restaurants, db Bistro Moderne, one of celebrity chef Daniel Boloud’s more casual locations in the heart of Manhattan. It is literally next door to the Algonquin Hotel, where we stopped in for a pre-dinner cocktail and a chat with the ghosts of the Round Table just a few doors down from New York Yacht Club.

This is the keeper trophy that has been on display in the lobby of Royal Thames Yacht Club the last two years. Obviously, it’s too big for any of their trophy cases as well.

(Side story here–I could not resist walking into NYYC and asking if their Invitational Cup trophy had been returned to the Manhattan clubhouse. It had not, depriving me of the sinful, hubristic pleasure of taking a photo of me with the permanent trophy, as I had done with the keeper trophy in Royal Thames earlier this year. It’s ours now. And our great friends at the Thames couldn’t be happier unless they had defended.)

Grayson seems to be doing just fine in his first year at Parsons. He is quite the sophisticate, ordering an Old Fashioned before dinner. I asked him where he developed a taste  for such things, and he answered simply, “Galatoire’s.”

Dinner at db Moderne was its usual greatness. We started it all off with an order of roast peppers, generally called padron peppers in Spain. Lynn enjoyed her scallops (well done) with roasted cauliflower. Grayson and I couldn’t resist the duck tortolloni.  Our entrees took a long time to come out, and the waiter explained that one of the dishes had to go back to be prepared again. Better late than bad, and he compensated with a tasty flatbread to tide us over. Our wine selection was a Magellan Langeudoc, one of the best values on the list at $49.

We bade our goodbyes to Grayson so he could take the subway back downtown to his dorm and repaired ourselves to the Hotel St. James on 45th St. between 6th and 7th avenues. To be polite, the St. James is not the Algonquin. But it is cheap by New York standards and offered me a room for $229 in the thick of Fashion Week and the U.N. General Assembly.

Because of this, the traffic in New York is choked, even by Manhattan standards. The “don’t block the box” rule has been suspended, as has the prohibition of horns. Diplomat and police cars are everywhere, as mighty potentates from impotent, itty-bitty countries clog surface arteries at every intersection. This is their New York vacation, paid for by their abject subjects. The Uber ride to JFK took an hour and half.

So here we sit in Delta’s Sky Lounge, sipping wine and eating snacks (lunch), waiting for our flight to leave for Nice at 8:30 p.m. The Sky Lounge is packed. Many flights to Europe leave in the evening. We are esconced at a table near the bar. Life is good. Nice awaits, less than 12 hours ahead.

 

A look back on our adventure

Our Senior Year Abroad is over.

In the last 13 months, we have visited Paris (twice), Nice, Venice, Florence, Rome, Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona and London for a total of about 21 weeks.

We have crossed the North Atlantic on the Queen Mary 2 for seven days and nights, crossed the English Channel by train from London to Paris, taken other trains from Paris to Nice, Venice to Florence, Florence to Rome and back and Madrid to Barcelona, plus assorted day trips. We have flown in and out of airports in Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris, Nice, Venice, Florence and Brussels.

And now it’s back home for a while. A long while. For more than a year now, we have been planning the following trip even before taking the next one. Now we are just planning when to take our boat to the Gulf Coast this summer and maybe a baseball trip to Miami and Tampa, since we will not be frequenting the home park of the team formerly known as the New Orleans Zephyrs.

Traveling for longer stretches makes you appreciate home and friends more. The familiar haunts and habits that become so routine in everyday life take on more pleasure and importance when you return to them. Friends become more special. The coffee tastes better here. Can’t get French Market with chicory over there. Or anywhere else but in New Orleans, for that matter.

Every time we return home, our friends ask the same questions, so I thought I would answer them right here, along with offering a few tips for travel abroad.

Question #1–What was your favorite city?

Answer #1–All of them.

  • Paris is Paris. Even in the 20s.
  • Nice is nice. (Sorry, I’ve been wanting to say that for a long time.) The Mediterranean there is a pure blue, like the sky. The food is great, and the city buses will take you as far east as Monte Carlo, west to Cannes and north to St. Paul de Vence. For one euro.
  • Venice is La Serenissima. You have to go there to understand. Go there. Go while it is still there, because that is not a given for the long term future.
  • Florence is the birthplace of the Renaissance. Yes, you can actually get blasé about another Michelangelo. No, not really.
  • Lisbon is a real gem just now being discovered. Go there before everyone else discovers it.
  • Madrid is huge and bustling and alive. And the Prado is just one of its great museums. Which is sort of like saying the Louvre is just one of Paris’s great museums. The Prado is at that level, though.
  • And then there is Barcelona, everyone’s favorite. Barcelona is to Europe what New Orleans is to the United States. Great food, great architecture, lots of history, very laid back and enjoying a culture all its own (which, by the way, is NOT Spanish but Catalonian). No one doesn’t like Barcelona. And Milk restaurant on carrer Ample makes the best Bloody Mary in Europe. If you find a better one, let me know and we’ll go over to test.

Question #2–how you you find apartments in the cities you visit?

Answer #2–Type the following into Google: “Apartments for rent in (fill in the blank with your city name).”

It helps to know the city, so you can choose the right neighborhood, but even a little research will give you a good idea of where you want to stay. It didn’t take long for me to find Alfama in Lisbon even though we had never been there before.

Friendly Apartments is a huge company that manages more than 3,000 apartments in some 35 cities across Europe and the U.S. You can try them first. But Barcelona has MH Apartments, Florence has Apartments Florence, Venice has Apartments Venice and Nice/Cote d’Azur has Habitat/NY (yes, New York). They all carefully screen (or in the case of MH, own) their apartments, so you can rest assured your choice will meet your standards. If you use VRBO or Air BnB, you take your chances, as we learned to our disappointment this last time in Paris.

Question #3–How much weight did you gain living and eating the local cuisines?

Answer #3–None. We ate pasta and pizza and potatoes and anything else that looked good, all washed down with gallons of great local wines and never gained a pound. In fact, I lost weight after three months in Europe.

But we walk three to five miles a day in these cities, not counting time spent standing in museums and cathedrals.

Finally, a few tips that we have learned about eating, drinking and living in these places:

  1. Don’t go into restaurants that either:
    • Show photos of the food. If you have to see what it looks like, look on the diners plates.
    • Have waiters standing outside barkering you into their restaurants like they are Bourbon Street strip clubs. There is usually a reason the waiters are not busy, and it’s usually because their restaurants are not good.
  2. Check the back label of any wine you buy. If there is no back label at all or if the label is printed only in the local language, buy that. It means this wine will never be exported to the U.S. The Europeans save the best stuff for themselves.
  3. Learn the following words/expressions in the local language:
    • Good morning
    • Good afternoon
    • Please
    • Thank you
    • Very good (spoken to your chef or waiter after a great meal)
    • Pardon/excuse me

No one will confuse you with a native, and in fact, most people in the major cities speak English a whole lot better than you speak their language. But using a few words of greeting lets them know you respect their language and their culture. And so they treat you with respect.

4. Never, ever, ever use a selfie stick. In fact, don’t take selfies at all. The selfie stick is one of the major threats to Western Civilization, right up there with ISIS and pine trees. Don’t be one of Those.

5. Never, ever, ever pack more than one bag per person. You don’t need that much stuff, and you will be sorry, really sorry, to lug that extra suitcase around. The best way to pack is to pile all your clothes up, then start moving stuff away. You’ll be amazed at how much you just don’t need.

6. One of those unneeded things is a hair dryer. All apartments come with hair dryers. Even if you own a European model (which we do, having overpaid in Paris last year), you can leave it at home. The reason apartments come equipped with hair dryers is that they don’t want you plugging your American Monster Air & Leaf Blower into their tender electrical system using your two-dollar adapter and blowing out all the circuits in the place. This actually happened to Lynn many years ago at Royal Thames Yacht Club. Today the club provides hair dryers in each room. And they still let us stay there when we visit London.

Like I said, it’s great to be back home, but just writing this last segment makes me want to go back already. Je suis desolé. Adieu, Senior Year Abroad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A flavorful au revoir to Paris

For the third time in 19 months, we bid Paris au revoir. This time is a bit more melancholy than before, because the next stop is home, not another European city. But after a week of sub-freezing weather, we are ready to head back to the warmer, moister climate we call home.

But first, we took a last walk around the old familiar neighborhoods in the Latin Quarter.

Hemingway’s address was 39 rue Descartes, even though this doorway is over 37. The poet Verlaine lived here too.

Since our flight did not leave until the evening, we had plenty of time to take a nostalgic tour down to the old ‘hood, stop to take in Hemingway’s apartment on rue Descartes, then pop in for lunch at one of our old favorites before heading back through delightful rue Mouffetard and its markets.

Le Petit Perigourdine was barely occupied when we walked in, so we had our choice of tables. We took the third one offered after Lynn deemed the first too close to the door, and the second was squeezed between two occupied tables in the rear. Finally settled in our selected space, we ordered full plats for lunch, since we figured we would not eat another real meal for several hours again.

Le Petit Perigourdine is located on the corner of rue des Ecoles and rue Valette right in the shadow of the Pantheon two blocks up. As good as bistros get.

Lynn went for the lamb shank, and I ordered the rabbit in a spicy mustard sauce. Both were mouth-watering delicious, giving us second thoughts about leaving Paris after all.

On our way out, we stopped at a large table of American women from Colorado who had wandered into the bistro by sheer happenstance. We recommended they have one order of the creamed potatoes, just to see the show if for no other reason. We had learned in our last visit that the waiters bring out the potatoes in a copper pot and make an impressive display of pouring out the creamy pommes from on high into the diners’ plates.

After our brisk walk back one last time through the rue Mouffetard markets and a wave at our friendly wine seller, we packed up and summoned Uber for the long ride to Charles de Gaulle Airport and our flight to New York, which would not arrive until about 5 a.m. on our body clocks.

Our Uber driver actually arrived earlier than scheduled and was forced to park a block up, because the police in the tiny guard shack staffed 24/7 across the street from us would not allow him to park in front of our apartment.

The apartment across the street from us is guarded by two police 24 hours a day, seven days a week, sometimes augmented by more local gendarmes and even soldiers in camo armed with automatics. The sign to the right of the tiny guardshack identifies the building as Espache Rachi, which is a Jewish performance center.

I was still lugging the bags (one of which contained four bottles of Bordeaux) down the four flights of stairs, and Lynn realized she had forgotten to toss out the remains of the refrigerator. Some pieces of really good, really stinky cheese were tossed into the garbage at the last minute.

Charles de Gaulle is Paris’s main airport, and the French take no chances these days with security. Soldiers in camo carrying automatics at the ready routinely patrol in groups of three. Our Uber driver dropped us off at the ground-level entrance to Terminal 1, where passengers walk in and line up to check bags before they ever are allowed into the main part of the airport.

From bag drop, we took the escalator upstairs and found the Priority Lounge, which, like all lounges in CDG, is situated before you even enter security. As we walked through the door and checked in, what did I see on the TV monitor but live coverage of the record-breaking finish of the Vendée Globe sailboat race solo around the world.

Somehow, I don’t think this was carried live in the U.S.

In France, long-distance sailing is considered a major sport, worthy of live TV coverage and taped reports on French TV news. Winning skipper Armel Le Cléac’h has ascended the level of major rock star in France, especially having broken the race record by no fewer than four days. And at the same time, another French sailboat is on its way to winning the Jules Verne Trophy for fastest time around the world.

We enjoyed some afternoon snacks, a couple of glasses of wine and a cocktail in the lounge before plunging into the security lines downstairs. French airport security, like most other European airports we have seen, is thorough, efficient and actually helpful. You keep your shoes on, but always take out your iPad. For some reason, European airport security is more interested in tablets than laptops.

At CDG, our gate for Norwegian Air was literally at the end of the security line. The seating area was tiny, especially for a huge plane like the 787 we were scheduled to board. Since we were seated in row 7, just behind First Class, we were among the last to board. Norwegian’s version of the new 787 Dreamliner features nine seats across each row, and this flight was completely full, so Lynn was squeezed into the middle seat between me and a rather large, heavily perfumed lady on the aisle. Luckily the 787 flies at 40,000 feet booking nearly 600 miles an hour, so the entire flight from Paris to New York took a remarkably short 6 and a half hours.

I watched the interactive map in the seat back in front of me for half the time and read some of Dos Passos’s early post-WWI novellas the rest of the flight. Dos Passos was part of Hemingway’s Lost Generation circle in Paris of the 1920s, so reading him on the way out seemed fitting. Au revoir, Paris, until next time. A night at a JFK airport hotel and the presidential inauguration await us tomorrow before we reach home.

Last pasta in Paris

Our last dinner in Paris was pasta. L’Angolo is steps from our apartment, and we very much enjoyed it earlier in the week. It is a tiny Italian restaurant run by an Italian family. They require reservations, but neither answer the phone nor have an online service. Somehow, you just need to know. So at 6 p.m., an hour before they opened, Lynn marched down to the restaurant to reserve in person.

Nothing like great Italian food in Paris.

Except there still was no person in the restaurant. The well tattooed chef pulled up on his motorcycle, and somehow the two communicated that we wanted to eat there at 7:30, their early seating.

L’Angolo’s menu is interesting. They offer some 20 kinds of pizza on one board, another 20 kinds of pasta on another board, and six different ways to prepare veal on yet a third board. And a fourth board lists the starters. Having seen their portions on our last visit, we knew better than to have starters, although their mussels are exquisite.

Within minutes after we sat down, the place filled to capacity and became quite lively with Italian spoken as much as French. We heard hardly any English except from our table and from the very helpful hostess, who spoke our language quite fluently.

Their wine list is also simple but spectacular. All Italian all-star wines at prices that are a bargain even by European standards. We slurped down a bottle of Monepulciano d’Abruzzo that was just delicious. My new criterion is to look on the back label. If there is no English or no back label at all, that means the wine will never make it to the shores of the U.S. to be marked up scandalously by our American neo-Puritanical system.

We had spent the day in the 8th Arrondisement at another house museum Lynn found, the Hotel de Camondo. Built in the first decade of the 20th century by a fabulously wealthy heir to a banking fortune, the house was furnished in late-18th century style right down to the wall paneling. Moise Comondo spent his life collecting and contemplating the 18th century.

Barely visible from the park outside, the mansion is hidden behind foliage in a most tony Parisian neighborhood.
A kitchen fit for a New Orleanian–the oven is to the right and the stove to the left. in their time, they were the most advanced kitchen appliances available.

However, his life was marked by sorrow. His only son was killed in WWI, his wife ran off with an Italian count who worked with Comondo’s horses, and after his death, his daughter and her two children were hauled off during WWII by the Nazis to Auschwitz where they died. Ironically, Comondo’s widow, who survived the war by converting to Catholicism and posing as the Italian countess she actually was, later divorced her Italian count and inherited her first husband’s fortune from her daughter. She outlived them all and spent her last years gambling away the family fortune in the south of France until she died in 1963. I conjured up the vision of an ancient, dissipated old woman living in Nice, spending her fortune down to the last sou until she was forced to live on the kindness of strangers.

Somehow that seemed a fitting end to a generally sad story of the rich and famous in pre-WWII France.

We washed down the sorrow with a glass of wine and lunch at a nearby place called Cafe Zinc. It is so named, because, well, all the fixtures are zinc. I had my first and last salad Nicoise in Paris, where they used canned tuna. (They use canned tuna in Nice too.) As I have mentioned before, the best salad Nicoise is served at Cafe Degas in New Orleans. Where we will be in just a bit more than a day and a half.

 

On the Hemingway trail

This is our second time living in Hemingway’s old Paris neighborhood. Last year we lived closer to his old apartments and to Shakespeare & Co., the bookstore run by Sylvia Beach that plays a large role in A Moveable Feast. This year, our apartment is closer to Blvd. Montparnasse, where Hemingway and his buds hung out drinking and generally carousing.

Our plan for this bitterly cold Tuesday was to make a long circuit along Montparnasse to stop in four historic Hemingway-era bar/bistros, then along Luxembourg Gardens where Papa would take his young son to play, then back to our old ‘hood near his original apartment. Our survival plan included stopping for coffee and a drink along the way to sustain ourselves through the sub-freezing temperatures.

The walk from our apartment to Port Royal, which becomes Montparnasse a few blocks later, is only a few minutes.

Great table, but it wouldn’t fit in my pocket as a souvenir.

Closerie des Lilas is the first building at the start of Montparnasse, so that made an easy starting spot. In Hemingway’s day, Closerie was a cheap bar where he could spend his afternoons drinking absinthe and jotting notes for his books. Today, it is a swanky, expensive restaurant, long removed from but profiting by its literary associations nearly 100 years ago.

We walked into the handsome, wood paneled bar without being greeted, and I found the little brass plaque at the corner engraved simply with E. Hemingway, spelled correctly, despite the note in John Baxter’s Hemingway’s Paris that it was spelled “Hemmingway.” When no one came up to ask if we wanted to be served, we walked out, satisfied with our observations and warmed enough to proceed down the street.

Lynn shivers in front of the entrance to Closeries des Lilas.

A couple of blocks down is La Rotonde, another famous Montparnasse bistro that was a favorite of the expat crowd in the 1920s. There we sat down for a quick cafe Americain. Their version of cafe Americain is to give you a regular cafe in a large cup and hot water on the side.

You get to dilute to your taste. Lynn received a small bit of chocolate to drop into her cafe, even though we ordered the same coffee. (Have I ever mentioned the French love their sweets? Sitting outside–outside!–was a very elderly lady dressed in matching electric blue hat and coat looking for all the world like a member of the Lost Generation drinking her own cup, spooning dollops of melted chocolate into her cafe.)

Rewarmed, we started off again for Le Select and La Coupole, which stand across the street from each other. We decided on Le Select in deference to the bar by the same name in St. Bart’s, where we have had many a cheeseburger and beer in paradise. In the Paris Le Select, we chatted with our very friendly bartender who is a native of Sri Lanka and fled with his family to escape the civil war there several years ago.

Le Select, a legend on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

I ordered a pastis, the closest one gets to absinthe these days. Sure enough, it turns milky when you add water. The licorice flavor spreads warmth all down your center as you savor each little sip. Lynn opted for a glass of white wine.

Warmed and fueled again, we started back toward blvd. San Michel and the Luxembourg Gardens to find a U of Paris sweatshirt for our grandson Grayson, who will be starting college next fall. He has been accepted to Parsons School of Design, of which we are all proud, but the Paris campus is a bit far to find for authentic gear, even if they have such. Besides, he just returned from New York this past weekend, probably with his own Parsons sweatshirt.

The souvenir shop was located on rue Soufflot, the street leading up to the Pantheon and our old neighborhood. We walked over to rue Montaigne St. Genevieve and dropped into Le Petit Cafe for lunch of a hamburger (me) and open face ham & cheese (Lynn). Lynn’s jambon et fromage was served spread all across the plate, well enough for both of us to eat. The cheese part was semi-melted brie, laid under slices of ham/bacon and all on top of sliced tomatoes and brown bread. This is what passes for a light lunch sandwich (dejeuner) in France.

By now, it was approaching mid-afternoon and just barely above freezing. We completed our circumnavigation along rue Descartes to rue Mouffetard near frozen but still moving steadfast. Lynn had her eyes set on having her nails done, so she stopped in at the nail salon on Mouffetard, noticing that it was the same brand as the one she had used the year before along the Luxembourg Gardens. I chose to use the time to go back to the apartment and take a quick late afternoon nap.

Lynn later calculated that we had marched more than three miles in our Hemingway walk. I acknowledged our feat by going back to the wine store and picking up a couple of bottles of Bordeaux, the criterion being that the bottle has either no back label at all or if there is one, it is only in French. That way we know this wine will never cross the shores of the U.S.

 

 

Museums old and new

Having seen firsthand the lines Sunday at L’Orangerie, Lynn wisely ordered tickets in advance for Monday. We took the Metro across the river and down to the Concorde bridge, walked across the Tulieries and were greeted with a small line standing in the bitter cold waiting to be allowed into the building.

Inside, L’Orangerie is like no other art museum in the world. The art was created specifically for the space and given to the French state by Monet. Altogether, eight immense Water Lillies adorn the walls of two elliptical rooms positioned end to end. That’s all there is to the main museum–eight huge paintings that evoke the full day from sunrise to sunset over Monet’s beloved gardens in Giverny. The effect is stunning and contemplative, as Monet planned.

This is just one of the eight water lily paintings Monet created for this museum. If you look closely enough (I did), you can see the seams in all the huge panels.

Downstairs, L’Orangerie showcases a more conventional gallery of major Impressionist works collected by Parisian art dealer Paul Guillaume and his wife, including large collections of Renoir, Cezanne, Rousseau, Matisse, Picasso, Derain, Utrillo and Modigliani. The paintings are all arranged according to artist along a narrow double hall that makes viewing easy. The hallway also exhibits four models of the L’Orangerie building in its various stages from original construction under Louis XIV to house (what else?) orange trees to its contemporary layout as a double museum.

The star of the day was a temporary exhibit of American paintings from the 1930s, which drew the largest crowds, as it was closing at the end of the week. The highlight of that show is Grant Woods’ iconic American Gothic, being shown for the first time in Europe. The six small galleries were tightly crowded with visitors viewing American masters like Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keefe and Jackson Pollack, grouped thematically with commentary on various aspects of the Great Depression in the U.S.

For such a seemingly small museum, we still spent more than two hours walking through, before stopping for a quick sandwich in the tiny cafeteria.

By now, it was well past 2 p.m., and I wanted to venture forward to see the Musée de l’Armée in Les Invalides, which we had not seen last time we were in Paris, because we couldn’t find the entrance. Lynn demurred, wondering if we wouldn’t be better going over there another day. I insisted, since we were almost there; from L’Orangerie, you can see the gilded dome of the church where Napoleon is buried, which was really what I wanted to see.

Cannons line up in the courtyard of Invalides, the dome over Napoleon’s tomb looms in the background of this massive museum complex, which also serves as a military installation. As you can imagine, entry is a bit more restrictive than most museums.

As it turned out, Invalides is huge, so big that we could not tour the entire museum before we were ushered out at 5 p.m. right as we walked through 1943 in the Great Wars sections. Although we had to leave just before the Allied invasions of France, it was interesting to read the accounts of the two Great Wars from the French perspective, which you can imagine is somewhat different from our own American history.

Napoleon’s tomb is impressive, classical and un-Napoleon like, not marked with his name. It simply towers there on the lower level under the dome of the church surrounded by bas relief sculptures that depict Napoleon as a Roman god. He would have liked that.

A tomb fit for an emperor. The friezes along the perimeter depict Napoleon as a Roman consul.

On the upper level of the rotunda are several rooms of tombs of great French military figures like Vauban and Marshall Foch, creating a pantheon effect in the church. The entire space is voluminous and unheated, so visiting in the depths of winter is physically challenging.

After being booted from Invalides at 5 p.m., we worked our way home on the Metro for a well deserved glass of wine before another delicious dinner at La Forge around the corner. The proprietors seemed pleased that we returned so soon, as the restaurant on a Tuesday night was much quieter. The food and the wine were no less wonderful, however.

 

Sunday and you know what that means

After our feast Saturday night, we slept in on Sunday. Actually, we generally don’t need much reason to sleep in because of the late sunrise, gray clouds and cold temperatures. Besides, we are on vacation.

Sunday’s forecast was for more rain, turning to snow by the afternoon, so we hustled out to see the morning activities in the Mouffetard markets. The street was bustling with people shopping for the weekend, singing in front of the church, having a Sunday morning coffee (outside!) and standing in line at both the sweet shops along the pedestrian mall.

This is not the end of the line on this Sunday morning in Mouffetard. The French love their sweets.

We walked into TournBride, a small establishment offering home cooking, specifically onion soup, which we deemed the perfect dish for a cold Sunday brunch. And the menu promised Bloody Marys.

Indeed, the promise was fulfilled. While certainly not the level of the Ritz, TournBride’s version simply mixed the vodka and tomato juice, then presented the eager customer the fixings of Worchestershire, Tabasco and celery salt on the side. Just fine with me.

The basics with the fixings. It’s not the Ritz, but we have had many worse.

Lynn preferred to have a glass of wine, since we had just tested the Ritz Bloody Marys yesterday. The onion soup came out in large hot crocks with rich cheese melted over baguette pieces soaking in the broth. In short, everything that defines French onion soup. We scooped it up to the last drop.

On the way out, we stopped at a local wine merchant who was tasting a fine Gamay outside. I had spied a Loire Valley cabernet franc that looked interesting, so we bought the Gamay and the Loire to test back home. Since we traveled to Europe with three bottles of wine packed in our bags, we planned to go back home with at least as much.

Check out some of the prices.

After a walk around the rest of the neighborhood, we repaired to our apartment to store the wine away and pull out the laundry we had left in the washer to dry. European washer-dryers take forever to dry clothes, because they never get very hot in order to save energy. When we pulled out my pants, we realized they had stayed in a bit too long and were tightly wrinkled. Ironing didn’t help, so we ran them through the wash again and hung them to dry on the towel heater on the bathroom. An elegant and effective solution.

We started down the stairs to explore more of the Montparnasse side of our neighborhood, but the rain started to come down as we walked out our door to the street. Since by now we had not much more than 90 minutes of daylight, we retreated to the quiet of our apartment to watch the rain come down. Despite the forecast, it never snowed, but the rain fell until well into the night.

If we are stuck in the house for a late afternoon, Sunday is the day to do it. At least we could watch the CNN International feature on the America’s Cup. Can’t see that at home in the U.S.

 

 

 

 

 

Dinner and a night out with old friends

If Saturday’s visit to the Ritz was new, Saturday night’s dinner and drinks renewed old acquaintances.

We summoned Uber for the short ride down to Ciasa Mia on rue Laplace across the street from last year’s apartment, even though it is only a 15-minute walk from our current place. As we approached the Pantheon, we ran into a wall of traffic, police and crowds of students. Apparently, the students returning to the Sorbonne were staging some sort of mass demonstration, and the local authorities were taking no chances. Police wagons with flashing blue lights were lined up a full block of the street alongside the Pantheon, and SWAT teams in full riot gear stood by, shields in hand, ready to fend off any violence.

The crowds seemed to be peaceful, perhaps partying as much as anything. We remembered pretty much the same event last year when the students returned to school from Christmas break. As a result of the police barricades, we were forced to make a long, circuitous route to the restaurant that in all took longer than the 15 minutes it would have taken us to walk.

The two attractive servers and the chef at Ciasa Mia welcomed us warmly, even as we walked in a few minutes early. The women dress in some traditional outfit from another day and another country. The proprietors, Francesca and Samuel, are from Italy, and their wine list is almost exclusively Italian, even if their food defies geographic definition.

Three hours and at least eight courses constitute the SMALL tasting menu at Ciasa Mia.

We ordered the small degustation, which is preceded by no fewer than three amuseé bouches not listed anywhere on the menu. Three hours later, we were the first to leave the restaurant. We simply could eat no more.

Again, we marveled at Samuel’s concoction of a single egg yolk the innards of which he drains with a syringe, then injects truffle oil. Served in a single spoon, the truffle-filled yolk is consumed in one obscenely rich gulp. This too is not a published element of the tasting menu.

The three main tasting courses included smoked duck with a shredded potato pie and chickpea pureé (hummus); stuffed chicken roll presented cooking over an open flame of pine needles accompanied by stuffed spinach rolls and finally an offering of a small but thick perch filet accompanied by sauteed vegetables.

Those are just the listed dishes. That doesn’t include the palate cleansing chocolate/licorice wafer or the weightless spongecake that gets you ready for dessert of mousse under a paper-thin wafer with rich cocoa sauce ladled over the top. After all that, we had no space or desire for café.

Waddling out before anyone else in the tiny but packed restaurant, we walked to the other end of rue Laplace and down to Pomme d’Eve, a South African bar occupying the former wine cellars of the medieval Eglise St. Genevieve on the street above. Pomme d’Eve’s proprietor recognized us as soon as we walked in; we shook hands warmly a year after we had last visited.

Pomme broadcasts NFL games, so we watched the first half of the Atlanta-Seattle game while sipping Havana Club on the rocks (he remembered that too). Our host updated us that his business has fallen off, because of the fear of terrorism. After three attacks in Paris and the most recent one in Nice, not to mention Turkey, Germany and the U.S., people young and old, he said, have become wary of congregating in crowds these days. And that has affected bars and restaurants all over Paris, giving the barbarians a short-term victory.

Terrorism or not, by now we were well past our time for us to summon Uber again for the short ride back up to our rue Mouffetard neighborhood. The streets around the Pantheon and the Sorbonne were quiet again, as the demonstrating students had found a much warmer, more welcoming atmosphere in the local bars that are omnipresent in the Latin Quarter.

Our night of reacquaintance was done. Time to climb the 61 steps up to the fourth floor. Snow is predicted for Sunday.