Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Paree Is for You and Me--Day Ten

It's lundi de Paques, and if you don't know what that means it's probably because the French-English dictionary, along with everything else, seems closed on the Monday after Easter. Unfortunately we don't learn this until we're out and about, hoping to see Place Madeleine in action with its markets and lively food shops. They are all closed, and even the church, which looks oddly like our Supreme Court building, has a mass going on, so you can't get close enough to the altar to see where the banners head up, and it's as if they've risen heavenward along with the lord.

Of course it simply all means the French are wise in holidays--why close on Sunday, when most places are already closed? Have the holiday on Monday and get that extra day off. So we walk about, trying to figure out our next move as our first has been thwarted. Along the way we find the store where my Republican parents mistakenly purchased me.

After a walk through H&M (the only store open in the row with Galleries Lafayette and Au Bon Printemps) to discover their prices are low as their quality sort of is also, we get to l'Opera by Garnier, and feel hungry for wedding cake turned into building. It is spectacular, the kind of place made for society's best to make grand entrances on grander staircases.

In the Opera's library they also have intricate models of the stage designs for some classic operas, doll houses for the melodramatic.

And in the ultimate expression of bronzing the orchid (remember, use this phrase to replace the cliche gilding the lily) , the ceiling of the actual theater is covered with a Chagall painting. Since, of course, you go there to sit in the dark and stare at the stage and not the ceiling.

All this considering of culture we both don't quite get (although we are tempted by the opera version of Cronenberg's The Fly in LA soon) , builds up our appetite so we are off in search of a quick sandwich. It takes awhile but we get a couple of "it's all about the baguette" sandwiches and go sit in Jardin Tuliere by the big fountain where kids rent model sailboats from a very Michel Simon character and somehow don't fall in. Now this is Paris. Fortified, we head to the Orangerie, only to discover it's damn cold. We have to wait, a not-so-good 45 minutes, to enter, and fortunately get in the door right as it starts to rain/sleet. Still, we're quite chilled, and that takes a bit of the fun out of two rooms encircled by Monet's water lillies. Laid out like that, it's one of the few times a painting captures the play of light over time, a place you could easily hang out in for hours.

Downstairs there's a small but choice collection--once all owned by one much too lucky person. Cezanne, Renoir, Picasso, etcetera. Outside, we take in obelisks and towers and get in that Metro pronto.

Back at the hotel we rest, plan Tuesday's Versailles trip, and I iron, which means going into the hotel's basement where one wall is covered by deer skull trophies and the dates the buck got bagged. A tad creepy, but I emerge unwrinkled. We opt to aperitif at La Tourville, and Amy gets what we joke is 20 cocktails, something called a Mary Tartini that is vodka, chambord, and strawberry puree that comes still in a shaker. I order a mint julep because it's supposed to be spring, dammit. And we take in Paris cafe culture, from the young chatting, flirting, to what looks like a mom and her mom having a spat (the younger woman leaves in a huff). We hope to have dinner at Le Gorille Blanc and Metro there only to find that it, and my two back-ups (I did try to plan, I did!) all were closed for the post-holiday holiday. We do get to see Le Bon Marche's sign look like a cross from the El Rancho in Citizen Kane and something from a horror film, though.

We end up subwaying (mode of transport, not for dinner) back to our area and hoof it up to Fontaine de Mars, which is exquisite as its mosaic tile doorway.

The place is renowned as perhaps the home of Paris' best cassoulet, and it's a dish of French homeyness we cannot refuse. But to start we share a terrine de gibier, a bit mild but when you add in the crusty bread and fig chutney, sort of mild-manneredly exquisite, and we begin to drink a Lagrazette Cahors, which is deeper than your average philosopher, or red wine, or philosopher after a deep red wine. Then the stew. Simply the beans would be enough, perfectly plumped yet still firm and happily napped in a tomato sauce cooked long enough to get down to essences. But of course there's duck, so much you can have a second helping from the Staub pot if you're as big a pig as I am. And speaking of pig, there's two kinds of sausage, both distinct and brilliantly tasty. All together, this is a pot you want to lick clean.

We opt to share dessert, all cassouleted out, and choose the tourtiere landaise. This might not mean much to you, and might even scare you if I tell you it's prune based, for the poor, maligned dried plum has become merely a punchline for grandpa's bowels (and what are you doing punching grandpa in the bowels?). But as with most things culinary, the French elevate the prune to something sublime (can you elevate something sub-anything?). The pastry is about a half inch thick, all flake and layer top and bottom with something distinctly custardy between, plus those chopped prunes. Atop sits a mound of Berthillon (ahhh) prune and Armagnac ice cream, and you add all this creaminess and flakiness and richness together and you get, well, this unbelievable treat.

Sometimes it's good not to get to eat where you thought you wanted to.



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