A week in Paris. Nothing thrilled me more in the run-up to this trip than saying, "I'm going to Paris for a week to hang out with my daughter!" We had three goals: art, food and fashion.
Thankfully, Nell is better able to manage relaxation than I am and there were no early morning get-up-and-goes on our agenda. Though she enjoys a full nights sleep (no doubt catching up from the past few months) the morning plan of me tooling around from 9 till 10 or 11 followed by breakfast and getting the day going seemed to fit us just fine.
On our first evening we made a list of all the things we wanted to accomplish in the next few days. On the museum front, we did the obligatory Louvre but were not enthralled (though we had a fun meal there...more on that later). We loved the Pompidou, probably in contrast to the Louvre - the life, the light - the vibrancy of more contemporary, celebratory, relevant and familiar art. And, no crowds of tourists jostling for camera position. How many pictures are posted daily of Me and Mona Lisa or Me and Venus? The Matisse exhibit at the Pompidou was fantastic, with pairings of same subject, different treatment and interpretation. It felt as though the artist was right there explaining his thought process to us.
Monet at l'Orangerie was equally satisfying - especially the scale of the museum. In a generous hour, I felt satisfied. And as badly as we wanted to get to the d'Orsay...it just wasn't in our path. It is on the list for next time.
A quick word about the monuments and architecture - they are stunning everywhere. Paris is one monumental Ooooh, Ahhh after another. Every time you turn the corner, there is a magnificent building of substance (with incredible size and scale) to learn about or explore. Churches, state buildings, centers for arts, department stores (OMG - Galleries Lafayette - like Saks/Neiman Marcus on ultra-steroids and then some), arches, Egyptian obelisk, palaces, more museums - I felt like a country bumpkin from the hamlet of Manhattan as the splendor of the city unfolded daily. And if by chance I became familiar with an area or neighborhood - that victory was constantly balanced by discovering an entirely new district.
That leaves 4 things - shopping, eating (or eating, shopping), food tourism and the Eiffel Tower.
Shopping. Whoa. I, who hate shopping actually enjoyed it. Maybe it was because having my 21-year old daughter to guide and encourage me turned a self-critical experience (oh, I am so fat) into fun. And I discovered reserves of unknown patience with her desire to go into boutique after boutique after boutique. And she was always willing to stop while I popped into a food store to do research and clandestine photography. She has a knack for finding the classiest store of the block and killer fashion instincts. I confess I made the faux pas of stepping out Sunday in a t-shirt. (An ordinary t-shirt that I wear on Sundays.) I think I was the only woman in Paris in a t-shirt. I cured that with a 60-euro purchase and a great deal of shame. I recovered. Even the shopping bags said "style." I could have brought home a suitcase of bags.
Eating. The goal was to eat often and well. We had a list of recommendations to follow but also ate ad hoc - like the morning I came back with yellow cherries, organic strawberries and fresh latkes (gaufrettes d'agnan Pomme de Terre) from the farmers market. I am not sure what the vendor thought when I suggested he sell them with either applesauce of sour cream (I corrected myself - crème fraiche). We documented every meal. She discovered steak tartar and escargot. I caved on my cheese prohibition and will probably go into cardiac arrest tomorrow. We had traditional dishes, modern interpretations, funky presentations, great champagne and wine, awesome desserts.
Most unusual dessert - red fruits with pea mousse and yogurt sorbet. Coolest amuse - chilled turnip soup with oyster sorbet topped with turnip Carpaccio. Most delicious vegetable - mushrooms...in soup, risotto, and sautéed. Most amazing sardines - from a jar, Luz de Jean - I need to order a case. They were spectacular. Bread - oiy, how do you resist and still have room for food? With butter, olive oil, salt or plain.
We stopped mid-afternoons for a quick beer and a bite. We taught the garcon at the Pompidou how to make good iced tea (sans Sucre) - okay, bring a cup of tea and a glass of ice.... We traveled all around town for our dinners and were inspired to create a list of dishes Nell would like to learn how to cook this summer ranging from eggs (beyond scrambling), good salad ingredients with dressing, soup basics, how to make really good sandwiches, roasting chicken, apple pie, candied onions, mashed potatoes and more.
See the Food: I got to four farmers markets - each very different. I also have 4 'Les Marches de Paris' tote bags and finally found a little map that shows which markets are in each arrondissement daily. Unlike NYC Greenmarkets, produce comes from near and far - and there are vendors selling whole roasted chickens, Mediterranean dishes, and a wide range of prepared foods. A good trip to the market can be a simple prelude to a grand picnic without having to cook a thing. Enviable. The food stores that caught my eye range from the obvious Boulangerie (not so tempting to me) to the elegant classic gourmet stores, to updated sandwich shops that begin to mimic Pret-a-Manger, but so much more individualized and stylized. There is a fair representation of organic produce but I think the French are not a people to jump on a 'trend' and if they have been eating as well as they have for so many centuries, this new biologique thing is not taking the town by storm.
And of course, on the street you always see people walking with 2 baguettes in a bag for later. I got lost in the food halls at Bon Marche and Galleries Lafayette adding significantly to my new collection of beautiful tuna/sardine tins. At Bon Marche, the aisle of classic American food was comical and depressing and probably delicious. Pink fluff, peanut butter, Paul Newman's popcorn and other icons. Our legacy?
La Tour Eiffel - our grand finale. After a dinner at Coquette (yes, an amazing and fun, casual - as though anything in Paris is truly casual - restaurant) where we lucked out getting a great spot at the counter, we headed to the ET. Not only is it most beautiful lit up at night, but also it sparkles on the hour. Rather than get on the endless line (did I mention - there are lines everywhere...quite depressing) we opted for the no-line/no elevator and walked halfway up. It was breathtaking as we looked out on the city we devoted time, energy and gobs of money to these past 5 days.
It was time to go home. I sat on the overstuffed suitcase and it closed. We absconded with the Hermes amenities. We could have stayed another month and never have done the same thing twice. We will be back.
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