Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Paree Is for You and Me--Day Seven

This is the day when vacation goes strange, as we get the email, and then make the call, and find out the news about my brother-in-law. That's not until before dinner, though, and the immense pain-weirdness of it all is for later in the day. In the meantime we Metro out to Jardin des Plantes as we haven't been out that way yet and want to see the famed market on Rue Mouffetard, especially in full Saturday mode. In addition to the narrow street jammed with sellers of fruits, vegetables, cheese, and more, there are old houses like this one, incredibly decorated.

And seafood like this, that made us wish we had a kitchen.

But alas it's frightfully cold this morning, and when we opt to sit at a beer bar to have two caffes the woman asks us if we have umbrellas, as a close-to-freezing drizzle sets in. (We did not have beers. Sure, you can drink early on vacation, but it makes the ambulatory part less easy.) As we head Seine-ward we get to St. Etienne-du-Mont right at noon, and it turns out that some churches sieta. I didn't realize the church needs sleep. So instead of doing that first we go to the Pantheon, which is half-Greco-Roman and half-St. Paul's in London (or so the guidebooks say, as London awaits its visit by INOTBB--if London is reading this and wants to sponsor a trip, please contact us at the email at the bottom of this page). The Pantheon is impressive, massive, monumental, and really really cold--probably too big a space to even bother trying to heat. There's a flower show outside, however, in time for what-should-be-spring and is the day before Easter, daffodils in pots everywhere, looking defeated in the icy rain. But inside, there's just space....

And tribute after tribute to the glories of France. One of my favorites is this painting of Joan of Arc in a moment not her most favorite, no doubt.

But there are also statues in the spot where an altar should be, as the Pantheon has been a monument to the state and/or a church off and on for years. France perhaps wisely fought its separation of church and state battle quite publicly (and bloodily) over its history, unlike us Americans, who pretend it's not an issue and therefore never quite figure it out. Not that a statue like this one isn't much different than a Pieta or one of the items you might see in a side chapel at Notre Dame--we people sure get our sorts of worship be-puzzled too often.

You do have to hand it to the French, though, that in the crypt they worship their best thinkers and writers--one contains the remains of Hugo, Dumas, and Zola. Talk about a trinity. Again, if America had a national crypt for its genius, we'd have Disney, Ford, and King in there (that's Stephen, not MLK of course).

From there we walk--very slowly as this is probably our worst foot day--to the Luxembourg Gardens nearby. It would be much easier to enjoy if the weather was warmer and our bodies didn't hurt, but you can tell how it must be amazing in a pleasanter season. Kids float cute toy sailboats on an octagonal pond, bulbs break through the chilly ground, and a Medici fountain makes you think you're in Florence.

We do head back to St. Etienne, as it's part Renaissance, part Gothic, and the burial place of Pascal and Racine (guess they were B-listed and kept from the Pantheon across the street).

From here we go hunt down the tiny store that sells the leather Eiffel Tower key chain Amy wanted, a nifty, sort of typical souvenir done upscale. We saw it our first day in Paris' streets, but that was a Sunday, so the store was closed. Today it is open, and Amy is happy. To make me happy we then look for the nearby Shakespeare & Co., as it's necessary every now and then for me to remind myself I was a writer once. It's an impressive collection of books in a less impressive building, but it's so crawling with tourists/shoppers that people knock over piles of books trying to negotiate the small space. It doesn't feel properly contemplative. I want something more spiritual that I don't get, but I feel that void at City Lights in San Francisco, too. Maybe that's why I don't really write anymore--I don't have the ability to make those imaginative connections.

From there we wind through the Latin Quarter and St Germain, stopping for deliciously buttery sable cookies at Carton (oh, we started the day with savory pastries, so skipped lunch), and before we knew it were by St. Sulpice, so figured when in Paris, do as the Catholics do and keep going into churches. Its outside is under rennovation and therefore covered with scaffolds, and its inside is much plainer than many of its fellow churches. Well, except for the one chapel with three Delacroix paintings--there must be a rule that each church has to have something fantastic.

We Metro hotel-ward, stopping at the simple, chic Brasserie Tourville at the top of the Metro stairs for cocktails, a fine excuse for sitting. At the hotel the vacation gets complicated. At this point I can't think beyond I have to be there for my sister, so we assume the vacation will be cut short. There's anger, misery, incredulousness. Guilt at thinking, "How can he do this now while we're on vacation?"

There's a need for supper, too. We head off into the sleet, only to discover that cobblestones are so picturesque, so slick. We get to Cafe Constant, one of the many establishments in Paris owned by Christian Constant, who seems to be sort of a Mario Batali style empire-builder. It's a wonderful nouvelle take on the bistro--for instance my lobster ravioli starter is napped in seafood foam and garnished with caviar (and a flavor parade). Amy's starter of asparagus viniagrette is simple and simply perfect. For mains Amy has the veal special that is almost outshone by its accompanying mashed potatoes while I have quail stuffed with foie gras over lentils that's earthy, delicate, delicious. Everything pairs perfectly with a bottle of 2006 Joseph Drouhin Laforet Bourgogne, an affordable, approachable, agreeable (I'm out of a__ adjectives) Burgundy. For dessert we share a special, an apple dessert, the fruit sliced gorgeously thin, with just a tiny hint of flaky pastry beneath and a scoop of very French, very vanilla ice cream.

Then back in the room, after a full full day and then the emotional sucker punch, we can only watch TV. What's on? A dubbed into French version of the South Korean horror film The Host. A properly unsettling way to end the day.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can find a clearer version of Joan of Arc's execution at Joan of Arc Picture

7:16 PM  

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