Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Joyeux Noël

This year, we decided to give each other an early Christmas present - a trip to Paris! La Ville de Lumière seemed especially bright, with holiday displays in the windows of the shops on the Champs-Élysées, an enormous tree in front of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, and "Joyeux Fêtes!" greetings hand-painted on the windows of every cafe. It was everso tres romantique; so lost in love were we, as we embraced our way from the Musee d'Orsay to the Tour d'Eiffel, that we hardly noticed the freezing drizzle, our failing umbrellas or any onset of les sniffles. Was it our passionate kisses or the dizzying heights of la Cathédrale's bell tower that made our knees feel weak?

It will come as no surprise that our stops at the Centre Pompidou and Sainte-Chapelle were mere interludes between meals. We stopped for sustenance as often as we could, at a traditional creperie near the Arc de Triomphe - where we enjoyed mugs of cider with the specialties de la maison - or for quiche and (French) onion soup at a cafe on the Ile St-Louis.

Our important gourmandising, though, was saved for the evenings.
We dined at Brasserie Flo on Breton oysters (which were kept and prepared on the sidewalk in front by this man, whom we shall call Pierre), choucroute, and Tam's first steak tartare, which was minced and bound with egg in the kitchen, then tossed with herbs and spices tableside by our waiter - tres chic. Brasserie Flo was founded in 1886 by an Alsatian named Floderer and purchased in 1968 by Jean-Paul Bucher (whose purchase of the famous Cafe Balzar caused great controversy in Paris a few years ago, but on whom we have no position) - the first of his many restaurants. Brusque service, expensive champagne, clouds of smoke, everything you could
possibly ask for in a French brasserie.

Le Coupe Chou in the Quartier Latin, with its stone walls, candlelight and open fire, was a different gastronomic experience altogether. It serves classic Parisian fare: pates and terrines, escargots, confit du canard, boeuf bourgignon. The food was lovely, but the true highlight of our evening there was the masquerade birthday party going on in the next room. Parisian after Parisian arrived decked out in top hats, wigs, masks, fishnet stockings and elaborate shoes, passing by our table with a swish of feathers and fur. It was a most entertaining sight to contemplate as we sipped our wine and quaffed our coffee.

The next day we felt brave enough to take on the overwhelmingly giant collection of art in the Louvre. It seems to be a peculiarity of art museums in Europe that people come great distances not to see the beauties of the Mona Lisa or the Winged Victory of Samothrace, but to take pictures of themselves with an arm around said famous works. Indeed, any actual close examination of these pieces arouses considerable irritation among fellow museum-goers whose photos you have unwittingly marred with your presence; the etiquette is to line up and have your friend/wife/uncle snap a quick photo of you grinning with, say, the Dying Slave, then move quickly out of the way for the next guy. Unenthused about this mode of observation, we headed for some less frenetic parts of the huge museum, and spent a happy few hours examining Corot and Degas at leisure.

In the last few hours before our train departed, we indulged in that most Parisian of all pastimes, shopping. We made a quick sashay through Le Bon Marché, all decked out for the holidays in sparkling lights and golden baubles, watching elderly French ladies in hats and furs debating over Chanel bags and Hermès scarves. Then we crossed the street to Paris' grocery store du monde, La Grande Épicerie de Paris, which sells everything from perfect glossy fruit tarts and glorious fresh produce to olives and cheeses; it even has an American specialties section where you can buy things like Heinz ketchup and Karo syrup. We bought some Camembert to take home, and spent the train ride home looking around innocently when people wondered what could be causing the terrible smell in car 4.
More pictures of our exciting adventure are available here:

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

Awww, it looks like you had an amazing time! Paris is beautiful when it's all decorated for Christmas, isn't it? We were there last year shortly after Christmas and I have an almost identical shot of Notre Dame & the Christmas tree! I also had to laugh about your museum etiquette observation... I rememebr when I visited MOMA in New York in 1997 I was so taken with the idea that nobody would stop you from taking pictures with the artworks. I remember enviously watching a group of friends stand in front of Matisse's dancers, copying the hand-holding circle so their friend could snap a photo. This Does Not Happen in European museums! The first time I saw the Mons Lisa in 1983, my abiding memory was of the grouchy lady who switched off the lights in the room every time a tourist's camera flash went off. At least they're a LITTLE friendier now ;-)