Our first morning in Paris!!!
We walked from our gorgeous hotel to Le Louvre to have breakfast, aka “petit-dejuner”, at Café Marly. It’s something all the guidebooks say to do (and some websites too). Apparently Parisians think it’s a must do/gauche.
Tea and baguette with butter and jam is something I could live off of so it wasn’t a total loss to us. That said, I’d advise skipping the restaurant, but think the terrace would be lovely people watching in warm weather.
Next, was Le Louvre itself. I have such mixed feelings about this majestic museum. It’s lovely, and full of history. But it’s also filled with people – people walking in all directions, but none looking where they’re headed. People – pushing, bumping, stepping on your toes, keeping you from experiencing artwork and artifacts. The experience becomes navigating visitors rather than enjoying and reflecting on art and culture.
Because we had other plans for the day, we decided to just see a special exhibition, Art of Alexander the Great’s Macedonia, and return to the larger museum if we had time later in the trip. (Can you believe we didn’t?!)
Oo la la, was it ever a lesson in Frenchness!
First, every Frenchperson is an art critic and historian. They way they pontificate with complete conviction on everything is as astounding as it is amusing.
Second, no one gives a merde about your personal space. Fortunately, I had read David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris before the trip and was prepared with some pointers for handling myself. To paraphrase:
• Don’t leave room between you and anything: One woman next to me actually bent over in front of me to read placards detailing artifacts. As we moved slowly down the line of items on display, she contorted herself in some sort of museum-specific yogic side bend, reached her arms out across the length of my body – almost to where Ryan was on my other side – and felt across the descriptions as if they were braille. As her fingers crawled across the columns of names and dates it was as if she thought she could just crawl across the descriptions to wherever it was she thought she should be.
• Bump as you are bumped – it’s the Parisian way: We began to use the “It’s not my fault” statement learned from our initial hotel experience as a way to amuse ourselves over otherwise potentially frustrating cultural differences throughout the trip. It’s not my fault you were standing there when I walked into you. You shouldn’t have been standing where I was walking! It’s not my fault I brushed past your shoulder so hard you lost your balance and your shoulder is now bruised. I have no idea what your shoulder was doing there anyway. It’s not my fault you were looking at that piece of art and now I’m in your way blocking your vision. You shouldn’t have left space between you and the glass. It’s not my fault the dog pooped on the sidewalk. It’s not my fault most of the cabs in the city are on strike, and I’m not, but if you’re not going to the airport, then I don’t want your business.*
From Lebovitz I also learned to push and bump as good as I got, and soon, I had people apologizing, “Pardon” to me just like a real Parisian!
(Yes! The person being bumped is the one who apologizes – to the bumper! The Pacific Northwest mind boggles.)
After Le Louvre we made a pilgrimage to Les Halles in the 1er arrondissement. Les Halles was once a lively central marketplace.
It was torn down in the 1970s and turned into an ugly modern shopping area called Forum des Halles, but the surrounding streets still have a market feel to them and are lined with quaint, yet legendary, restaurants, bakeries, and specialty shops. Lebovitz has a handy guide of what to see and eat on his lovely website.
High on my priority list was a visit, nay a pilgrimage, to E. Dehillerin — the legendary cookware shop frequented by the likes of Julia Child and Ina Garten — aka “The French Chef” and “The Barefoot Contessa” respectively.
Jen – to the dear husband who has gifted her with this trip: “Okay, you realize this is important.”
Ryan – the dear husband: “Of course!!! I will be both reverent and silent. . . . . Oh my God, it’s a duck wearing a scarf!!!!”
Yes. There in the window of the shop was indeed a duck wearing a scarf. I’ve come to expect this sort of exclamation, so I gave the guy a big kiss.
Inside we perused the shelves of gadgets, industrial-size soup pots, copper pans, knives, food mills, wooden spoons, cookie cutters and more.
I limited myself to an olive wood salt holder (and would later buy obscene amounts of hand-harvested sea salt to fill it with), a wooden spoon, and a holiday tree cookie cutter – all made in France. Next time, I plan to buy one of their famous copper pots.
The store has a framed photo of Julia Child in a place of honor. The man behind the counter wrapping my treasures in brown paper teased me when he discovered I did not speak fluent French. Intending to charm him, I told him that I was there on a pilgrimage and pointed to the photo of our cooking icon. Smiling he said, “Ah, yes! Julia. She was here quite a lot.” Then he asked me if I’d seen the movie (referring, of course, to the film, Julie and Julia) then proceeded to chat with everyone around him, employee and customer, in English and in French about the film.
This seems inefficient.
We visited the fabulous G. Detou where I proceeded to buy 5 different kinds of dijon.
I was looking for a few other items, but the small shop was very crowded so I decided to queue up. The thing is, there were three different lines all with seemingly different purposes. Indeed, one line was for having items rung up. Another was for paying for said items. The third was for for showing your receipt and picking up your purchases.
Seemed kind of inefficient. But when traveling, you go with the flow.
Terroir, Appellation, and a 16th Century Wine Cave
We didn’t get to see and eat everything we wanted to in the area, as next up we were off to a wine tasting at Spring. The restaurant and boutique hosts private afternoon tastings for small groups in English on Thursdays (and some Fridays).
We first stopped in at their boutique — where I bought the previously mentioned salt —
– and had a glass of champagne. Josh, who would lead of lesson and testing, actually gave us three different smaller glasses in addition to our Crémant for comparison.
We learned how terroir is the single most important concept in understanding French wine. It’s the flavor of a place. A wine’s taste is influenced by sun exposure, microclimate (even from row to row in a vineyard), soil, and other regional factors. It’s terroir reflects the place the wine came from, and a legally defined terroir is its appellation. In the US we refer to wine by it’s varietal (grape) and in France it’s by region – which is why understanding terroir is so important.
We tried several whites and reds including from Burgundy (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay), Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot), but our last taste — a white from Jura – - was enjoyed in the restaurant’s 16th century wine cave. The things one gets to do in Paris!
We were planning to go to Willi’s Wine Bar but were surprised to find they didn’t even open for another hour and a half. (Who opens at 7:30?!?!) We decided to call it a day, and it had been a busy and fulfilling one at that. Back to the hotel for hot baths and an early bed. Tomorrow – Notre Dame!
Planning a trip to Paris? Here are my Relevant and Recommended Links:
À la Mère de Famille (scrumptious chocolates)
David Lebovitz on Fleur de sel de Guérande
* And here I discover “C’est pas ma faute.” is Very French indeed! In fact, I recall Mr. Lebovtiz discussing this phenomena in his book as well.