Paris Diaries

A Dr. Pepper heaven.
March 21, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: Food, Paris | Tags: , ,

Because it was another beautiful, warm day (at least in the sun), because we had had enough of the cold winter, and because we just had another talk about budgeting last night, this morning, we set out for a picnic on the vast esplanade in front of the Invalides.

Nez's homemade salsa anchored our delicious (and cheap) picnic meal.

Nez's homemade salsa anchored our delicious (and cheap) picnic meal.

With Nez’s long coat serving as a makeshift picnic blanket (Riot’s coat was keeping Nez warm), we plopped down on our own piece of ground and surveyed our domain, which stretched from the imposing Hôtel and its ensemble of bronze canons in the background to the distant Pont Alexandre III with it glittering golden statues spanning the river Seine.  Yes, there were hundreds of other sun worshipers out and about, reading a good book, taking in the UV rays, participating in one game or another, or disembarking from double-decker tour buses.  But, there were just two people – us – who came with homemade salsa (Nez’s, which tasted great even though we couldn’t find any cilantro at Champion last night), prosciutto and paté in plastic packages, a freshly baked baguette, caramel popcorns, a pistachio éclair, and – drum rolls, please – in glorious Technicolor, two cans of Dr. Pepper!

Now, this was heaven!  C’était le paradis!

Dr. Pepper:  Invented in America, canned in the UK, consumed in France.

Dr. Pepper: Invented in America, canned in the UK, consumed in France.


We stretched ourselves under a lazy sky and thought just that.  Then, we exclaimed that we were the luckiest people in the world and meant every word of it.  We had not have a drop of Dr. Pepper since the end of April, 2008.

“Hey, you can even play soccer with those guys over there,” Nez motioned her head in the direction of a group of young men clad in the usual array of replica jerseys of the current stars of the football world.  How nice of her, Riot thought in his head, but before he said anything Nez continued.  “They all run funny.”  She laughed.

Paris as one's own reading room.

Paris as one's own reading room.

Nez works and walks so hard she wore a hole into her socks.  (Actually, these are Riot's.  He usually goes without.)

Nez works and walks so hard she wore a hole into one of her socks. (Actually, these are Riot's. He usually goes without. It's called love.)


[As always, be sure to check out the rest of our Parisdise afterward for much, much more!]


I don’t care if it’s a false spring, I’ll take it.
March 15, 2009, 10:40 pm
Filed under: Food, Paris | Tags: , , , ,

A recess monitor, herself a transplant in this city, told Nez on Friday that “Sunday is supposed to be really nice.”  Yesterday, Saturday, the sky was its gloomy self like it had been for the last two weeks and Nez was starting to write off the weather lady as a quack.  And then this morning, as we opened our eyes bright rays of sunlight shone forcefully through the overhead skylight.  “Hey, wake up,” said Nez.  “It’s beautiful outside.”  Riot rushed down to the lower level and pulled open the curtains to reveal an amazing spring day.  “See, I told you so,” said the woman standing next to him.

Amorino gelato:  Banane & coco for Nez; marron glacé & coco for Riot.

Amorino gelato: Banane & coco for Nez; marron glacé & coco for Riot.

After a delicious homemade breakfast – Nez’s pancakes have few rivals here – we went walking, taking with us our sunglasses.  We made a pit stop at the Amorino on rue de Buci for the first gelato scoops of the season.  The words sounded foreign off our tongues but the tastes were utterly familiar.  We turned left and headed for the river where the sight of people sunning by the water inspired Nez to proclaim:  “I don’t care if it’s a false spring.  I’ll take it.”

Before Riot could respond, Nez suddenly stopped in her tracks and let out a scream.  “Ah!  Look!”
“What’s wrong?” asked a surprised Riot.
“A bird pooped on me!”
“No, it didn’t.”  Riot did not see any clump of bird poop on Nez’s head.
“Yes, it did.”  Nez pointed to the spot on her head.  Yes, it did.  But only very slightly.  Riot took Nez’s napkin and wiped what little of it away.  Damn birds returning from a winter spent in warmer reaches, forgetting all of their cosmopolitan manners.

We pushed on, crossing Pont Neuf into the first arrondissement, then through the ninth to the Opéra Garnier where the same rag-tag marching band in various orange articles of clothing that we had seen playing at the exact same spot last summer was again at it, entertaining tourists and locals alike.  We stayed for a little while and then marched forth toward our destination:  the Sacré-Coeur in the 18th.  Along the way, we passed by rue Joubert, just behind the fancy department stores, where we had had lunch a few times when we first came here together in 2006 and squeezed in between sidewalk tables and waiting diners were a couple of worn prostitutes awaiting the midday johns.  Today, we saw just one or two working on Sunday with no apparent takers.

The walk across the Right Bank to the very edge of town was more like a longish hike that took us through parts of Paris that tourists often do not see.  On the boulevard de Clichy with its many sex shops and theaters, we wondered how it would have turned out had we ended up here instead.  We imagined telling visiting family and friends:  “Yes, for the best bread in our neighborhood, just head for the little storefront next to the big red “Sex” sign.”  While we are sure that we would find a way to like any place that we end up living in, we are very pleased to be living where we do now.

At the Sacré-Coeur, we parked ourselves on the sloping greens in front of the basilica and soaked in the remaining warmth if not sun.  The contingent of so-called “string men” who tried to accost tourists, tie friendship bracelets on them, and extort money were out in force at the foot of the stairs.  (Here’s an internet article.)  Near us, a group of Canadian college kids, with quite a few wearing kitschy Université Paris sweatshirts, were discussing how some of them eluded the scam and others did not.  “I had to pay,” snapped one whose sense of manly pride was obviously hurt, “he wouldn’t let me go.”

It got cold quickly after the sun started to dip beyond the horizon.  We strolled downhill and then the more gentle grade of the 9th to the 2nd and finally back to the 1st where we stopped by Café du Musée (10, rue du Louvre) for some delicious hot crêpes to consume across the Pont des Arts on the way home.  To continue the spilling theme of the day, Nez managed to get much of the melted sugar from hers onto her clothes.  Oh well, it happens.

Crêpes by the river:  Beurre & sucre for Nez; noix de coco for Riot

Crêpes by the river: Beurre & sucre for Nez; noix de coco for Riot

On the wooden bridge, people were congregating once more in circles with assortments of food and beverages.  A few more times like this and we would be convinced that the harsh winter was indeed history.  Near home, Nez pointed down the crooked rue du Four, which becomes rue de Sèvres, and said:  “Look at that beautiful sunset!”  In the distance, layers of red-orange, pink, and yellow skies stacked high above the Bon Marché department store like a celestial millefeuille.


[As always, be sure to check out the rest of our Parisdise afterward for much, much more!]

There it goes (A false spring).
February 28, 2009, 12:00 am
Filed under: Food, Paris | Tags:

After a morning burger at an American diner (themed) restaurant right in the heart of Saint-Michel we went walking aimlessly toward somewhere and then toward the river.  In the shade, we could still sense the winter chill but as soon as we got to the Pont au Double Bridge, for the first time in a long time with a full contingent of rollerbladers and roller skaters flaunting their mad skills, we felt the sudden sun rays beating against our exposed faces.

“Spring?” we thought in unison, which was quickly followed by, “We should have brought our sunglasses.”

Sunlovers by the Pont des Arts.

Sunlovers by the Pont des Arts.

It must have something to do with the angle of the sunlight that caused the welcoming beams to mercilessly assault our unprotected eyes.  Where, in fact, were our summer shades?  Through our squinty gazes we saw the square in front of the Notre Dame packed, dare we say, tightly with visitors of all stripes.  Gone, it seemed, were the days of hurried steps across this wide expanse under the unrelenting wind and cold.  Today, we could not walk a few steps before running into someone taking or posing for a photograph.  We found a spot to sit and marveled at the scene.  To our right, a young couple bathed under the bright day, heads leaning into each other, eyes closed.

“There goes our very own private Paris,” Riot said.

“I know,” replied Nez.  “Where did all of these people come from?”

Sun-starved Parisians along the Seine.

Sun-starved Parisians along the Seine.

Along the river, flocks of sun worshippers, many paled from the months of half-baked daylight, flung themselves against the uneven cobblestone ground and rough limestone walls.  We went down to walk among them along the peaceful river.  We found a spot near the Pont des Arts and got reacquainted with the semi-forgotten art and joy of people watching.  There was a couple with an open bottle of wine, there was the father chasing his son, hoping to get to the boy before the boy got to the river, there was another pair of lovers squeezing in for a self-photo, there was an elderly gentleman with the morning newspaper neatly folded in the palm of his hand.

“It’s so warm now, I could even go to the river and write,” said Riot.

“Yes, you won’t even need to take the train anymore.  You could walk everywhere now.”

“I already walk everywhere.”  It was true.  This was the second month in a row that Riot had not renewed his monthly Navigo pass.  We only budgeted transportation for Nez, who could not be expected to walk to the suburb and back daily.

The bateaux mouches are getting full again.

The bateaux mouches are getting full again.

We continued our walk along the banks of the Seine, which on the north side allowed us to go all the way to the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor by the Musée d’Orsay.  Along the way, we caught sight of something that our brains took some time to register:  full sight-seeing boats gliding on the glistening water.  The tourists did what they do and waved wildly in the direction of the people on shore.  The latter seemed to have forgotten what to do in return.  Give it time and they too will wave back.  We knew we would, too, in due time.

“What will you miss most about this place?” asked Riot, who always felt a creeping sense of sadness to see the days ticking away toward spring and then summer and then the end to this chapter of our Paris.

“I’ll miss being able to walk everywhere,” Nez responded with a hint of melancholy even though it was abundantly clear that she could not wait until it was warm again.

Riot and Nez enjoying the first warm day of the year.

Riot and Nez enjoying the first warm day of the year.

We crossed the river and plowed deep into the 7ème all the way to the upscale food emporium at Le Bon Marché.  There, Nez’s small little pleasure awaited in the form of boxes of mac-and-cheese sitting patiently on neat rows of food “from home.”

“Take three,” Riot said.  “Knock yourself out.”

Nez engulfed three boxes of Mississippi Belle Macaroni and Cheese Dinner in the firm embrace of her arms and headed to the register with an insuppressible smile.  It was that kind of day where happiness lay everywhere we cared to look and so, too, was a few sprinkle of the seeds of sadness.

Nez treasures her mac-and-cheese in Paris.

Nez treasures her mac n' cheese in Paris.


[As always, be sure to check out the rest of our Parisdise afterward for much, much more!]

On a cold autumn day.
December 5, 2008, 10:03 am
Filed under: Food, Gusteau, Paris | Tags: , , , , ,

This morning, it was Gusteau le chaton’s turn to go under the knife.  Because Nez didn’t have to work until the afternoon, both of us took him to the vet on rue de Cherche-Midi.  We wondered if the little fella had moved on from being a chaton to being a mere chat, as he surely weighed a whole lot more than when Riot took him to the vet for his shots not more than a month ago.

After bidding him goodbye on the shiny examination table, we walked home on the pretty little street whose charming name literally means “seeking midday” (as far as we could tell).  Even though it was raining lightly, we paused at the famous Poilâne at number 8 for some morning bread.  The interior conjured the image of an artisanal bread shop with its wares neatly laid out on wooden shelves, very orderly and welcoming but not at all over-the-top.  The sweet smell of freshly baked bread wafted through the air.

Not seeing the usual baguettes we had in mind (see below), Riot resorted to asking the lady standing by the bread rows for the “spécialité de la maison.”  The jovial and friendly young grandmotherly figure in a smart smock gave off a hearty laugh and pointed to an empty shelf as if to say, “there is none left.”  Then, she quickly turned to the lady behind the sole counter in the middle of the small store, also outfitted in the same professional overcoat, and said:  “They asked for the spécialité de la maison and we have none left.  Ha ha ha ha ha.”

Poilâne sourdough

Poilâne sourdough

So, we settled for a quarter of a sourdough loaf on the row below that seemed just as delicious.  We noted the steam escaping from the inside as the knife passed through the clearly freshly baked bread.  The bread lady handed our goods, which now also included a croissant, to the accountant (for she looked just like the accountants of yore, pencil, notebook, etc., just about the only thing missing was the green visor) who took our money and bid us a good day.

Poilâne croissant

Poilâne croissant

The bread was heartier than the usual baguettes but was just as tasty.  The crust was a thin layer of golden crunchiness that complemented the soft interior.  On the website we read about a young baker from Normandy who came to Paris in 1932 to open his first shop and “[d]espite the fierce competition, he was determined to bake the traditional French sourdough loaves which were not as popular as baguettes.”  That explained the lack of baguettes when we first came into the store.  Nez’s croissant was amazing, the buttery flavor really came through and also literally through the paper bag in came wrapped in.

While Gusteau was recuperating at the vet (“il est tranquille,” was the only thing Riot could understand in the voicemail message the vet promised he would leave at around noon and did) and Nez was off at work, Riot did several loads of laundry.  Because it was cold and rainy, the small homeless population of Saint-Germain-des-Prés sought shelter in whatever warm shelter they could find.  That, it appeared, was fine by everyone else who went on as if they did not see, hear, or smell anything different.

As did Riot until he was startled from the pages of Joseph Heller’s classic by a screaming woman inches from his face.  Before he could think of anything to do or say, the woman had retreated to a corner of the laundromat, screaming all the while.  The place thinned out quickly and before long it was just Riot, the wet laundry, and an angry transient by the dryers.  Riot was loading the dryers when he was met by another barrage of vehement uttering he didn’t understand save for a “chinois” thrown in here and there, maybe even a “Sarkozy” or two.  Later on, the clothes came out of the dryers spewing steam like the sourdough of this morning – it was a cold day – and out of the corner of his eye he could see the equal-opportunity madwoman in a peaceful slumber.

Gusteau was picked up at around five.  Unlike his American counterpart, he did not have a plastic collar around this neck to prevent him from licking his wound and there was no admonition about using shredded newspaper in his litter box for the first few days.  Just a reminder to apply daily an antiseptic solution to the wound, which the vet was astonished to learn that we didn’t already have a bottle sitting in our medicine cabinet.  And another reminder to watch Gusteau’s diet as he was already a hefty 4 kg and could “expand.”

Gusteau already back at play after his operation

Gusteau already back at play after his operation

Riot and the subdued cat in a heavy carrying case walked home along the lively streets illuminated by the holiday lights.  In front of the mairie, two tall Christmas trees were driven into the sidewalk.  (Had they removed the concrete panels?)


[As always, be sure to check out the rest of our Parisdise afterward for much, much more!]