Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In France They Kiss on Main Street

Basilique du Sacré-Cœur atop Montmartre as seen for the d'OrsayI have never made a secret of my love affair with France. On the contrary, I'm a bit of a snob about it. I have no idea from where this affectation springs. I'm Mexican & Irish. I grew up in southern California, southern Ohio, and then southern California again. What did I know of French? As a kid, I used to daydream about being the Prince of Wales, or the newly dubbed Crown Prince of Bavaria and living in Schloss Neuschwanstein. But when it came time to sign up for a foreign language in high school, I leapt at French. My Latina mother was aghast. I could not then, nor can I now offer any credible defense.
It's has been hard getting back to posting on You Gonna Finish That?. My mind wanders. I can't seem to find a thread that will weave all the stories together. Also, I've been reading a new friend's blog, and it has soured me on my own writing. Add a crippling dash of guilt for not posting, and you have yourself a spiraling cocktail of inertia.
Auberge Au Vieux Paris - 1594"Les Premières Funérailles" (The First Funerals) detail - Louis Ernest Barrias, 1883
But that's not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to indulge in public, masturbatory Francophilia. For this writer's money, France remains the capital of all things culinary. Even the most base, back-alley café takes the time preparing its dishes as befits a nation of gourmands. Many are family run enterprises with a wife or mother out front and a spouse or son (or daughter) behind the counter. Folks take an earnest pride in what comes out of their kitchens. They show a genuine appreciation for a healthy appetite and a favorable remark. One chef in particular quite literally hung inside the little window where he passed plates through to the hostess, waiting for my reaction to his creations. I was touched. No less so because the food was absolutely delicious. For the curious, the restaurant was Le Gayridon - 19 Rue de Picardie, 75003 Paris. It was recommended by a very colorful celebrant at a local gay club in the Marais district of Paris - probably the coolest neighborhood in the City. I am so glad to have made the discovery.
Plain trees - Île de la Cité, ParisElaborate wrought iron newel - Le Petit Palais
I was on my own this trip. It had its plusses and minuses. I spent a lot of time just wandering around, attempting to get lost, but always stumbling upon some familiar site or vista that would jar me out of my nostalgic musings. I relied on my iPod during these rambles; something I detest normally, but I was in the mood for a soundtrack all my own as I relished this most beautiful and urbane of cities. But instead of monumental architecture or heartbreakingly powerful paintings, my eye turned towards food.
Lamb stew - Le GayridonMagret de canard aux pistaches - Le Petit Châtelet
I followed a few simple rules: avoid the heavily-touristed boulevards, skip any bistro with an English translation of its menu, and never ever be in a rush. I tended to gravitate to establishments where the locals were dining. I once discreetly followed a pair of stunning off-duty gendarmes on their way to lunch. It was a great success both for the meal and the subsequent scenery.
Restaurant Le Petit ChâteletMenu, Le Petit Châtelet
I broke my tourist rule just once, and only at the insistence of a Parisienne friend who met me for dinner one night. She took me to Le Petit Châtelet - 39, Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, one of her favorite French restaurants. It was a beautiful summer evening, just made for dinging out of doors. We could spy the towers of Notre Dame just across the Seine. In spite of the insipid American father/daughter duo seated to my right, Le Petit Châtelet soon became a favorite of mine as well. The headwaiter had impeccable manners. He displayed feigned, pleasant shock when I ordered a Pernod instead of wine as an apéritif. I liked him immediately. Over salmon mousse and duck, we eavesdropped on smatterings of German and English overheard at adjoining tables. I pretended not to loathe my more ignorant countrymen, instead focusing on the enchanting atmosphere and relishing being white, single and male in the City of Lights.
"Le Moulin de la Galette" - Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Musée d'OrsayLe Metro subway sign, Gare du Nord.
Paris opened up to me on this visit like no other time. I dressed in khakis and a polo shirt, eschewing my flip flops for more conventional leather walking shoes. I wasn't lugging around a backpack, and the locals rather foolishly took me for someone of respectable means. At every turn, I was greeted courteously and treated with friendliness and respect. Unheard of in France, or so I'm told.
Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris at dusk
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

1 comment:

Jeff (UK) said...

BoF, while it should never be a burden, please reflect, revel, muse, joke, tell stories, exaggerate, observe, etc., at will, but don't leave us bereft too long. Your writing is such a pleasure to share in.