Europe in review

Random crap that comes to mind

Leaving Chicago, Arriving in France

I love this place Chez Paul. I do not know what possessed me to order a hamburger. I don’t even eat them in restaurants in the US. Although possibly our adorable waitress who spoke perfect English inspired me. She did her semester abroad in…wait for it…Milwaukee!!! The hamburger came essentially raw, topped with essentially raw bacon on top and ESSENTIALLY RAW SALMON on the bottom, I discovered this after I’d eaten a few bites of it. I removed the bacon and salmon and choked down another bite or two. This was the only food that The Royal Indian Mounted Food Police and I did not share. I got sick after this. I’ll spare you the details but it went on and on and on and on. Possibly this is why I did not gain weight in Paris. I can tell you the location of every toilet between the Bastille and le Place de la Concorde.

This is the statue at the top of the Bastille a block or two from Chez Paul where this copy of lovely fellow, The Spirit of Freedom (indeed!), graced the counter above our table.

Fondation Louis Vuitton was the site of a spectacular exhibition of Impressionist paintings owned by the insanely wealthy Mozorov family in Russia. The insurance for this show cost $1,000,000,000. Seriously. The collection was amazing, chock-a-block (an expression I feel is not used as often as it ought to be) with stuff like this.

Unfortunately the reality of it was mostly this.

What I thought was truly amazing was the display of the process of the design and construction of this SPECTACULAR Frank Gehry building, if I can even call it that, structure, maybe. On the left is the maquette he presented to the design committee. It looks like someone emptied out their wastebasket after an upscale birthday party.

We took a brief detour to the fabulously glorious city of Bordeaux.

My view the entire way back to Paris on the train.

Back in Paris we had dinner, a pre-nuptial extravaganza at Le Train Bleu the glorious Belle Epoch restaurant in the Gare de Lyon. I had eaten there 10 years ago and while I loved the place, I recalled the food as iffy. The place is stunning, the food and service less so. We don’t recall exactly what the amuse bouche was but I don’t think my bouche was very amused by it. Our saltless food was delivered and we never saw the waiter again. Ever. I had lime curried monkfish—salt free, in tapioca. This is not a good idea, tapioca, in case you’re planning a menu like that. The dessert was good, if you like that sort of thing. It’s worth a trip to the bar. Don’t eat there. Bring your own salt shaker if you do. And for god’s sake, skip the tapioca.

One exciting thing I discovered at Le Train Bleu was that in the glorious mural on the ceiling was Hyéres, the town where I had my apartment. It was the termination of the Train Bleu line and a favorite resort area of the jet set, I suppose you’d call them train set, of the time.

Some puzzlements in Germany

Pflegeleicht, indeed. You figure it out if you’re so smart.

Copenhagen has a kind of peace that is not found in Paris or Berlin.

Germany, hither and tither

We met most days at Galeries Lafayette near Brandenburger Tor after work (He worked, I swanned about) for drinks in their wine bar with the unpleasant German bartender. Really I don’t know why we went there, you needed a flare to get his attention.

Last day. This is the spectacular National art gallery. The architect, Mies van der Rohe was in his 90s at the time. Apparently the largest collection of contemporary art in the world. Surprising since not that long ago they were burning contemporary art.

Bye bye Germany, bye bye husband

The real reason I came to Paris

There. Is. Just. Nothing that compares to this. Keep your croissants.

We bought the baguette and butter at the farmer’s market near our apartment. The butter was sliced off of a huge slab brought to the market from what I imagine is an adorable stone cottage somewhere just outside Paris where women wear those stiff tall white lace hats, lace-trimmed aprons over tight black dresses with white buttons, and those clunky wooden shoes.

OK, they may not be all that comfortable but it makes the butter taste better.

Post Paris

Although French people have the reputation of being unfriendly or downright impolite, there are times when they are very charming, like when complete and utter strangers stop at your table when you are served your meal and say “Bon appetit.” This happens quite often. Or on the metro or the bus when young people get up to give their seats to older people. As happened to me a few times. Shoot me.

Someone knits these little hats and puts them on the sidewalk barriers. It’s adorable. And funny. I considered taking one (Presumably the person who makes these would welcome the opportunity to make more) but then, well, they are not as tidy as one might like and who knows who or what the hell has touched or been schmeared on them.

Parisians have great knockers. 

Sorry for that.

When I first came to Paris, Les Halles was still the food purveying center of Paris. Butchers, trucks, slaughtered animals, flowers, blood, vegetables, etc. At the time I thought it was pretty wonderful, now I am not so sure it would be charming but it makes no difference since this all has been moved far away outside of Paris where it is easier to get to and no one has to look at buckets of offal. In the meantime it has been replaced by a sprawling and strangely glorious shopping center that feels like the inside of a beehive or perhaps paper wasp’s nest. This is the first time I have ever seen it since it’s been under construction for decades. I don’t know how long it will last as there was almost no one in it. If you happen to use the Les Halles Metro stop, as we did, you can get ensnared in miles upon miles of confusing tunnels, escalators, elevators, ramps and platforms. It is not easy but it would be preferable to walking in sleet I suppose.

St Joan of Arc 

Dehillerin, not once but twice (in as many days)…first reconnaissance, and then the actual purchase. As if his apartment building isn’t already teetering on the edge of collapse from the weight of the copper pots he currently owns.

The obligatory chocolate shop explorations

The hotel room was so small you had to open the window and sit on the sill. 

The toilet, even smaller.

The new Russian Orthodox cathedral in Paris was a huge letdown. It looks spectacular on the website but in fact you can only see a little room that holds 4 or 5 icons, and a set of doors. There is also a fairly substantial gift shop selling among other things books about Russian saints who appear to have suffered a great deal. While we were there a priest in a filthy cassock, a long, thin, greasily unkempt beard, and a massive, ornate cross hanging around his neck came whizzing through blessing the bobbing, mumbling adherents who were crossing themselves frantically reminding me of a scene from some lugubrious movie except that it was bright and cheery rather than dark and smoky as I tend to think of Orthodox churches.

Achingly beautiful moments

A Painting by Chagall 

Achingly awful cigarette smoke always. 

Three, possibly four packs of cigarettes. Seriously?!

Paris nights. Chez Paul, gotta love it, bad waiters and all. Sorta like Paris.

Tale of two waiters

We had 3 nights in Paris, what this really means is 5 meals; 2 lunches, 3 dinners. Normally I would not eat much at lunch but when you’re walking 60 miles a day you can afford to eat lavishly at midday, if not drink so much, I mean you can but then you’ll be napping rather than traipsing to the Russian Orthodox cathedral after an invigorating few hours looking at broken pottery from the who-the-hell-cares-what siecle

Our first night for dinner we chose Chez Paul a restaurant I really, really like and have been to many times over 30 years. It’s very Parisian, not fancy, seriously charming, and good food. However, I have never been impressed with the service. It’s the kind of place where you call a month in advance to make a reservation and ask for the upstairs, en haut, when you finally come in they put you at a wobbly table for 1.5 in the service closet near the stairs to the crawl space and when you complain they put you between the bar the open sewer, and finally when you show them in the book you’ve reserved for upstairs they grudgingly take you up the stairs and pin you between 2 large groups and you have to share a seat with a Ukrainian matron with questionable hygiene. 

It’s France, this is part of the charm and beyond that, they’re French, they don’t even like each other so it comes with the territory. But after that rigmarole with the maitre d’ you want a vaguely decent waiter. The waiter can make the meal. Our waiter, though was about as much fun as a neck brace. Anytime you needed him semaphore would not have seemed an unreasonable method of gaining his attention. I’ve been a pallbearer with more enthusiasm. The meal itself was great and I’d go back. (It’s good food for blogthought at the very least) And to a certain extent it’s like childbirth, you forget the misery of the last time when you’re ready to do it all again.

The next day, after an exhaustive and exhausting walk through 40 km of copper cookware at Dehillerin, we had lunch at some little place, I dunno, near there. Frankly, I was going to just sit down on the curb and sob if we didn’t stop soon, and the place (Ok, it was Le Petit Marcel) was right there and they were serving, well, food. But then it turned out that the place was cute, very Belle Epoch, bright and lively. We were welcomed happily rather than grudgingly, were seated right in the thick of things rather than in the broom closet and the food appeared to be, at this point I didn’t really care if it was good or bad because the experience was shaping up to be a good one. 

For a few terrifying moments I thought I’d ordered salmon pasta and while I was determined to eat it, I was not going to be enjoying it with brio. But it turned out that the pink the RIMP gleefully pointed out to me as salmon [I’d ordered “what they’re having” at the next table] were carrots and it was good but nothing special. What was special though was the waiter. He was great, jolly, good at his job, welcoming, funny—after I’d ordered and he was walking away, he said, “à demain.” Which means I’ll see you tomorrow. Prompt courteous and tolerated my French. When he brought our meal he spent quite a bit of time fussily arranging the food on our table. When he was done I asked, “Donc, vous etes prêt?” So, are you ready now? He looked at me for a second and then burst out laughing. What more could I have asked for? The point is, I’d rather eat there with the just OK food and the jolly garçon than at Chez Paul with good food and the dead-to-the-world waiter. Come to think of it, I could be his pallbearer.

Good waiters trump (Oh how I hate to use that word) mediocre food any day of the week.

Chez Paul


Le Petit Marcel

I’m blaming Jim Morrison

Or What Goes in Must Come Out


I was a good couple of blocks into Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris last October when I had the sudden realization that I was going to be very much in need of “facilities.” There are not a lot of facilities in most ancient French cemeteries. In fact there aren’t a lot of “facilities” in general in France. So it behooved me to find another venue. And fast. The streets surrounding the cemetery are not populated with cute cafes and bistros where one might purchase a coffee in exchange for unloading the remains of recent meals. Instead there is a dreary assortment of funerary shops whose windows feature granite and marble grave stones, gray and mauve fabrics, and gloomy artificial plant arrangements that didn’t seem like the sort of places you’d just pop in for a pit stop. At the far end of the street, a good 2 blocks away, there was some neon signage that might possibly have indicated the presence of a toilet, er, cafe. And, indeed, it did. The second we entered I bolted down the stairs into the bowels (as it were) of the cafe where the toilets are almost always located in these old buildings. In this case there was un hommes and une femmes in the very cramped area at the bottom of the stairs. You literally stood on the last step to wash your hands in the communal basin. Of course the hommes was in use!! But there was no time, no choice . . . I used the femmes. (I am gay after all so I get some sort of pass here). In the midst of what was one of the most prodigious and, shall we say redolent, toilet-related events of my life someone, a woman I presumed, tried to open the door. 

After some time, during which I said more than just a few of my most potent prayers to various saints (and to be fair, I had lighted many, many candles, with no particular intention in mind so I ought to have been able to call upon the reserves there, at an assortment of churches—one of them would have come in handy right about then) that she not be waiting when I made my exit (really it would be impossible to walk past anyone in the tiny cramped area outside the door), I frantically flapped my hands around in a very masculine manner attempting, futilely, to “freshen” the air inside the tiny chamber. When I opened the door the woman, a young very chic French woman stood hunched over on the step proving to me the uselessness of prayer. In order for me to get out she had to go directly into the toilet. I did not meet her gaze. 

Once upstairs drinking my Coca Light (I had to order something) I made another silent prayer to St Whoever-was-listening that she not be seated in my general vicinity. Another miss there. She was seated in the booth behind me looking directly at me. Fortunately I did not have to look at her but I could feel that gaze on the back of my head.

This episode, though, was only the beginning of months of misery. Whatever I got there stayed with me and I have existed since then on a steady diet of Imodium, popping them like M&Ms to keep myself from further events of this same nature. Weeks stretched into months the entire time I’m thinking “Oh, this will clear up” until, finally, I went to see a doctor.

In order to determine what it was that was making my life a misery I needed to give them a specimen. I had not thought this through, although I had never had to go through this before so I really wouldn’t have known what I was in for, and therefore how to think it through. But now having lived through it, I’d gladly have at least considered living on Imodium for the rest of my life. 

They give you this handy toilet insert for the ease of collection. Bluntly speaking, you sit on it and fill it. Eight hundred MLs is pretty much but there was a moment when I thought there was going to be an overflow issue. This sort of stress makes me sweat, so there was that too. 

When that portion of the exercise is complete there are several vials that need to be filled. For this they give you a pair of latex gloves and a not at all handy tongue depressor with which to shovel your specimen into the various vials. There is no explanation on the instruction sheet as to what exactly one does with the rest of the “specimen” and/or proper disposal of the receptacle. I figured it out but seriously, this was not even vaguely fun.

From there the vials go into bags that are clearly marked as containing something dangerous. Bright orange and black. When I had to hand them in at the clinic I did not meet the technician’s gaze either. I did thank her, though. 

The next Bond Girl

The Royal Mounted Indian Food Police and I had lunch at Laduree on the Place Madeleine. I love Laduree. It is gloriously pretty, the service is impeccable, their french fries come in a cute stack and the butter comes rolled up all pretty-like (I had a plain omelette…with fries). Sitting next to me on the banquette was the next Bond Girl, Lea Seydoux and her famous actress mother, Valerie Schlemberger. I mean on the banquette, at the table right next to us. 

In a million years I would never have known who they were but apparently the talent for spotting inauthentic Indian food is closely related to spotting French movie stars. Although she did win best actress at Cannes last year so one might have reason to know her but neither one of them looked anything like the picture below. And certainly not a soul in the place recognized them. It’s a good thing there wasn’t a curry on the menu, he’d have been all over that shit too.

First meal in Paris, fail

I have no idea what compelled us to go into this place. It was Italian. We’re in Paris. That’s France. Nineteen euros later I got this miserable plate of bolognese. I mean out of a can might have been worse, but not by much. First meal in France. Not so much.

The next night, no reservations, no room at the inns, three of them. Finally got seated outside at some crappy place only to have every person around us light cigarettes. We left. We did eat, but it was nothing to write a blog about.

Le Train Bleu

Tonight I am having the Paris contingent for Mexican hors d’oeuvres, if one can say that. And I am put in mind of my trip last year. Loralyn and I decided to eat at Le Train Bleu.

This Belle Epoque restaurant is in the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris. It is up on the second floor overlooking the comings and goings down in the station. The place is stunning. Beyond what I could ever have imagined. The trip to the bathroom was like a trip to another world. The place is vaguely run down but more than serviceable and it’s dusty edges give it a realistic quality. 

Unfortunately, the food was not exactly Belle, though it was époques between sightings of the server. The menu itself was not appealing. Very old school, straight laced, nearly unappealing. The service was annoying, tooth-sucking, oblivious and patronizing all at the same time. I would love to go back. I’d endure the crappy service, but not for that food. 

Maybe I will merely drink at the bar. Which would be fine with Loralyn.

Crustillantes, or something like that.

On menus in France you will occasionally find something called croustillantes, generally it is an accompaniment or side. It can be all sorts of things, sweet or savory, but the word essentially means “crispy things.” The last time I was in Paris, having dejuner with my sisters and my friends Michael and Terry in the unprepossessing La Tartine on the rue de Rivoli, I had a very fine salad topped with 3 or 4 melted cheese-covered croustillantes. The salad was great (and I returned to La Tartine many times in the course of the month I was there) but the croutillantes were outstanding. Toasts covered with cheese, drizzled with honey and topped with sesame seeds.

In my re-creation they are grilled left-over French bread, smeared with left over boucherelle (or maybe boucheron, they taste the same to me) cheese that I processed with cream cheese. I didn’t have enough to use the cheese by itself and, really, the cream cheese made it smooth and spreadable when the crumbly goat cheese is, well, too crumbly. 

Croustillantes are easy because you can make the toasts days before, or really, whenever you have leftover bread, put the cheese on them hours beforehand. And then broil them right when you need them. I served these with fig jam this time. But I made quince jelly last fall that was AMAZING with them.