21 May 2007

Introduction to Paris and Food Thus Far

The wierdest thing about being here is that everything is so familiar, because I've seen so many images of Paris that when I'm walking around aimlessly and I run into something famous, my thought response is "oh, so that's where that is." This is like a pilgrimage to the aura of the original, as a result.

The neighborhood where our hotel is located is called the Marais, and the hotel is right outside the Saint Paul Metro station. The area doesn't feel touristy, although we're still really in the middle of everything. We're a ten minute walk from Notre Dame, the Place de la Bastille, the Louvre is a bit farther in the other direction. The neighborhood is traditionally Jewish, and a lot of medieval architecture and structures are visible.

Right before I left, I watched Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations Paris episode, and we passed one of the places where he ate on the way to a bar on Saturday night. It seemed so incredibly cool on the show, and it's a few blocks away so I'm hoping to go there sometime this week. The restaurants around have been great, and I think even with all of the walking, which has been considerable, I am gaining some weight.

The flight here was great. It was the typical cramped transatlantic flight, except it was on Air India and we had amazing food: lamb curry, free Kingfisher beer, real silverware and knives, and Bollywood movies for the in-flight entertainment. The price was so right next time I need to fly to Europe I think I'll look there first.

We got here Friday morning, and we had to wait a long time at the airport because the shuttle company doublebooked to maximize profits and we were were waiting around Charles de Gaulle for what seemed to be like an eternity, after having to wait before customs in a glass jetway (greenhouse effect) for a long time because someone had abandoned two bags at the luggage carousels which then created a bomb threat. We finally got to Paris, dropped our stuff off, and took off for Montmartre. Parishuttle.com is not necessarily recommended.

Sacré-Cœur was nice, although the iconography and decoration was a lot too nationalistic for my taste; too much church and state in one place at one time. We were there during vespers, which was beautiful sung in Latin and French.

We left there, walked down the mont and found a café, and hung out for a bit. Even with all of the tourists, there still are Montmartre personalities and artists out. After that, we went back to the area where the hotel is, got some pizza, and hung out here.

My pizza was called Marais, and had mozzarella, prosciutto (jamon crude), peppers, sausage, and eggplant on it.

On Saturday, we went to Notre Dame, the Sainte-Chapelle and then the Institut du Monde Arabe, and then had time for lunch before the Louvre. A lot of the group went back to the hotel, but I walked from l'IMA through some of the Latin Quarter to the Louvre. On the way, I passed Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, but I didn't have the name of Don Giorgio's friend nor the time to visit -- it was closed anyway. My intention was to get market food, and what I got revolutionized my already broad concept of eggplant. Picture it: bottom layer, eggplant that has somehow carmelized, then moving up, some onions, then tomatoes, then cheese, all baked together. Amazing, and the perfect amount of it. From the same guy, I bought some lupini beans, which I am saving for a snack later. I also hit up some bookstores in the Place de Saint Michel, which is between the Seine and the Sorbonne.

To go backwards a little: Notre Dame was kind of eclectic, which is good because it is then continuously relevant, but Sainte-Chapelle was incredibly beautiful and so elegant. To state the obvious, there's a lot more Gothic here than there is classical Renaissance architecture, until the Napoleonic neoclassicism. It's rather unfamiliar to me, but of course it looks right and is the look of Paris.

So, Saturday evening, after the Louvre, we went back to the Marais to a restaurant called Le Marché. There, I had a rocket (fancy dandelion leaves, no?) and parmesan sandwich, entrecote et frites (beef and fries), and soupe de framboise (strawberry soup, like a dessert gazpacho).

Sunday lunch was fast food across the street from the Versailles-Rive Gauche train station: spinach and goat cheese quiche, and an apple tartlet. Dinner was at a place called Léon du Bruxelles, where the specialty is mussels. I tried a mussel for the first time, and I am happy I did not order a whole steamy pot of them, but it was not unpleasant. I had cod au gratin which came with a delightful iceberg lettuce salad-garnish, and crème brulée.

Breakfast is of course coffee and croissant.

Overall, Paris is definitely impressive, and I am not starving.


Anonymous said...

mi fa molto piacere vederti ancora in europa...pero' non credo che tu non abbia mai mangiato le cozze prime d'oggi. cordiali saluti, bill l.

Anonymous said...

mi appena ricordavo che abbiamo mangiato spaghetti alle cozze in spiaggia a calabria, ma forse solo wade o kobe le mangiavono. certo che non era mauro per paura di essere avvelenato!