Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Meeting at the Café

August 31, 2016 – Dick Walsh passed away in 2011, and the citizens Sanibel Island miss him still.  We always will.  He was a fine lawyer and a great Floridian, who served on the Sanibel City Council and was involved with the Committee of the Islands, a non-partisan political committee that I led for four years.

Tom and I had the good fortune to be able to spend a couple hours with his daughter Abra yesterday.  Several times as Dick and I sat next to each other in Sanibel’s city hall years ago, Dick had told me about Abra.  He just knew that she and I would have a lot in common, much to talk about.  My interest in the urban life and landscape, and her background in city planning, plus the love we all feel for Sanibel – yes, we have much to talk about.

He wanted us to meet.  I did meet Abra at the memorial service for Dick in January 2011.  (Five months later, my own father died.)

Abra has lived in France for twenty-some years, I believe.  She and her French husband have raised a family here, in the town of Versailles.  They were away for vacation for most of August, but before they left, Abra was sure to set up a time when we could get together and talk.

She suggested meeting at one of our favorite places, the café at the Petit Palais museum, after she had a business appointment in the city yesterday afternoon.

The Pont Alexandre III with the Petit Palais in the background.
We sipped on Badoit.  Each of us ate a macaroon.  Mostly, we talked and talked. 

We loved Abra’s resonant voice.  She does not sound like she’s from her home town of Chicago anymore.  She almost has a French accent when she speaks English!  She claims that her English has deteriorated.

We talked about family, education, cities, food, architecture, Tom’s textbooks, you name it.  Those were two fascinating hours.

After leaving the café, walked through two galleries and talked about some of the paintings in that great permanent collection.  Then the museum started to close up, and Abra needed to catch her train back to Versailles.

So we said our goodbyes and made plans to keep in touch about next summer. 

Tom and I walked back to the apartment just in time to change clothes and walk to dinner at L'Ardoise du Quinzieme, on the rue Sebastien Mercier.

Back of the dining room at Ardoise du Quinzieme
This restaurant just opened last year, and we were fortunate enough to find it then, with the help of  We enjoyed our dinner there last year, and hoped that the place would survive.
It has.  There were signs of success here and there in the décor.  Two cheerful young women ran the dining room, and we never saw the chef.  He was too busy making magic in the kitchen.

Cod with white beans
Our server suggested we try a new hors d’oeuvre that the restaurant was offering for just 6 euros.  We said yes, and she brought out a little plate with six piping-hot fish fritters and a bit of sweet and sour sauce.  The fritters were perfect.

Duckling filets with smooth potatoes.  Apricots are superb this season.

Tom ordered the cod filet served on a bed of big, softly cooked white beans, and I had the roasted duckling filet on a bed of velvety puréed potatoes.  Each of us had a millefeuille with vanilla cream for dessert – a classic, light and airy French pastry.

Millefeuilles with vanilla cream.
The restaurant successfully filled with patrons.  We felt finely fed and ready to walk again.  I like it when the restaurant is a 30-minute walk from the apartment, because that gives us another hour of walking, in addition to whatever hike we may have taken earlier in the day.

Tonight we will dine with our friends the Beckmans, about an hour’s walk from our apartment.  The plan is to try a new Brazilian place.  I hope I have time to tell you about it tomorrow.  If not, see you next summer!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Coming Down from Montmartre's Split Personality

August 30, 2016 -- Montmartre has a split personality.  Parts of it retain a sleepy, quirky county-village quality, while other parts are solid tourist attractions which seem to be almost artificial.

We began with a sleepy, quirky village part by exiting the Lamarck-Caulincourt metro station and turning around immediately to climb the hill via old stone steps, under the shade of mature trees.  We veered off to the right on the shady Avenue Junot so that we could visit the charming lane called Via Leandre once again.  That is one of the few places you can find real townhouses in Paris.

Looking at Pont Neuf from the Passerelle des Arts

Continuing along the Avenue Junot, we noted the memorable modern house designed by Alfred Loos in 1925 for the writer Tristan Tzara.  Not far away, across the street, the fascinating sculpture of a man coming through a stone wall captures our attention.  It is by the Jean Marais, and was installed in this quiet spot in 1989.
Sculpture by Jean Marais, "Le Passe-Muraille."

The street changes names to the rue Norvins, and it leads right into that other kind of Montmartre, jam packed with souvenir shops, questionable cafés, and lots of tourists from all over the world.  The change is sudden, abrupt.

We looked off to the right at the busy Place du Tertre, with its outdoor cafes in the middle and portrait artists all around the edges, drawing the faces of willing tourists.

Walking on, we paused for a moment to listen to an elderly busker playing the accordion near the side of the Sacre Cœur church.  Tom put a euro in his case.  We turned the corner and gazed up at the elaborate church, then, turning our heads, we looked out at one of the spectacular panoramic views of the city.
View from Montmartre, in front of Sacre Coeur

Moving on through the plaza in front of the church, we stopped to watch three young men who were tap dancing on squares of plywood.  They had a tiny boom box that was putting out a lot of sound.  Tom admired their techniques and talents as percussionists, and so he put a few euros in their hat.

Tom just put some euros in the tap dancers'

We descended the steps of the rue Maurice Utrillo.  I was thankful we weren’t climbing them; there are so many!  We passed by the outdoor cafés at the bottom of the steps, and went on through the garden to the east of the Sacre Cœur steps.  We were in that quiet, country village of Montmartre again.  We paused to talk to and photograph a beautiful, young, orange-and-white cat who was lolling about and mewing for attention, just over the little fence next to our path.

Cat in the garden on Montmartre

Suddenly we were at the base of the Sacre Cœur steps, and were thrust back onto a busy, noisy commercial street with more souvenir shops.  We turned left and began our descent, out of schizophrenic Montmartre, down the rue des Martyrs, into the heart of the right bank.

We were thirsty, and Tom was hungry, so we began to look for a quiet café terrace just off the rue des Martyrs.  We wanted to be away from the traffic, and we needed to be in the shade.

At last, we saw something on the rue Choron that would do nicely.  Actually, we each saw different things.  Tom spotted bright red tables on the north side of the street, and I saw wooden tables under a mustard gold awning on the south side of the street.  I was puzzled about why Tom was veering to the north.

He laughed when he realized the red tables belong to the FranPrix grocery.  We’d never seen a FranPrix with café tables in front.

View from Chez Vous -- lots of parked motorcycles and cafe tables in front of FranPrix, on the rue Choron.

So we settled in at a table on the south side of the street, at a place called Chez Vous, around 4:30.  After we ordered beverages, Tom went inside to ask about something to nibble on.  A charcuterie and cheese plate was suggested, and soon it appeared before us.  It cost only 10 euros, and it was so very generous!  Once again, we had to spirit away some of the food in a shopping bag.

Chez Vous, at 15 rue Choron in the 9th arrondissement, has some pretty good reviews on TripAdvisor, so you might want to try it if you are going to be near there at lunch or dinner.  We recommend it for drinks and snacks, for sure.  It is a friendly place, and prices are very reasonable.

Restored for walking, we continued the descent toward the Seine.   At the boulevard des Italiens, we paused to photograph the top of the old Credit Lyonnais bank headquarters.  We visited this fascinating building during Heritage Days in 2012, and I wrote about it in my Paris Journal on September 17 of that year.  Memories . . . .

Top of the old Credit Lyonnais building at 19 Boulevard des Italiens, in the 2nd arrondissement

By the time we reached the Louvre, we were thirsty again.  Tom bought a bottle of water for a euro from one of the illegal vendors.  The water sellers are the one type of illegal vendor that I don’t mind; they aren’t competing with legitimate businesses because there are no businesses selling water out there in these vast stretches of space where we walk, along with so many others.  Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

We walked under an archway in the Louvre and skirted around the great glass pyramid.  We walked through another arch to be in the Cour Carrée, where we rested on a bench for a while.  A man played the flute in the archway behind us, putting sound to our relaxation.

We rose and walked through another archway, leading to the crosswalk to the Passerelle des Arts, with the Institut de France standing boldly on the other side of the Seine.  Soon we were back on the left bank again – our home turf.

The Passerelle des Arts and the Institut de France.

Turning right to walk for a bit along the Quai so we could reach the rue Bonaparte, we soon noticed that the Beaux Arts school had lots of reconstruction/renovation going on.  I look forward to visiting when the work is done.

Soon we were at the Place Saint Sulpice.  We entered the church and paused for a short time.  The church interior was still warm from the heat wave that passed two days ago.  It takes a while for all those stones to lose the heat.

Saint Sulpice altar

Then it was time to meet a new friend for drinks at the Café de la Mairie, on the Place Saint Sulpice.  We’d never met him before.  David was introduced to me via Facebook.  His girlfriend’s aunt is a friend of mine on Sanibel.  David was about to start a four-month study program at Sciences-Po, a part of the Sorbonne.  He’d never been in France before.

Over drinks we talked for an hour and a half about places he might go and things he might do while in this best city on Earth.  He’s about 25, graduated from Kent State University, and studied at Stanford Law.  He’s a charming, smart young man.

Place Saint Sulpice

Then Tom and I took the metro home.  We decided that at last we would dine at the neighborhood brasserie, Le Commerce Café (not the same as the Café du Commerce).  Amazingly, we’d not been to our casual neighborhood brasserie yet this summer!  Le Commerce was busy, but still had plenty of room for us.  Tom ordered pasta alfredo, and I ordered the Obama Burger (because it comes with both sautéed onions and pickles, plus a mysterious but good “sauce Americaine”).

We’d forgotten how copious the servings are at Le Commerce.  The generous portions are no doubt one of the reasons why the café is so popular.  I put aside most of the hamburger bun, and gave most of the fries to Tom.  Still, we had plenty of food left on the plates when we were done.  The server was concerned, and once again we had to explain that the food was good, but “c’est beaucoup.”

Back in the apartment, we read in the evenings.  That’s when Tom reads the news (which I read in the mornings), and when I read books or watch Netflix movies on my Kindle Fire.  We haven’t turned the TV on yet this summer.
Angel in Saint Sulpice.

Books I read this month include The Dream Lover:  A Novel of George Sand, by Elizabeth Berg, and Paris Without End:  The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife, by Gioia Diliberto.  I recommend both highly.  In both cases, I was impressed with the amount of research done, and with the quality of the writing.

I also read The Paris Key, a novel by Juliet Blackwell, which was good entertainment, but not in the great literature category. 

Soon, I’ll probably be reading novels that take place in Florida.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Take a hike, in Paris

August 29, 2016 -- Spectacularly beautiful Sundays are the days we love best for walking along the left bank of the Seine.  We began our trek with a stroll down the picturesque rue Rouelle to the flowery Square Bela Bartok.  After a short walk along the Quai de Grenelle, we were able to descend the steps to the riverbank at the Pont de Bir Hakeim.

View of the right bank from the left bank, looking at the Place de la Concorde.

As we walk past particular places or scenes, I remember things that happened there – either to us, or to people we’ve read about.  When I walk along that Quai de Grenelle near the tall buildings of the Front de Seine, I think about the Princess, or so she was called by the residents of the area.  She was a homeless lady who we used to see on the rue Linois, before the new Beaugrenelle mall was built.  When she first came to Paris to find work, she was a beautiful young lady from Brittany.  She became a secretary in a government agency, and then she became an escort, who was able to live lavishly in a nice apartment facing the Seine, along the Quai de Grenelle.

Bad things happened, and then she was homeless.  She angrily refused help when it was offered.  Finally, after decades of her living on the street, social workers found that one of her suitcases was full of cash that she’d saved.  Finally, she was moved into a nice assisted living facility on the edge of the city.  She resisted at first, but then she adapted.

The police headquarters and Notre Dame, as seen from beneath the Pont St. Michel.

So, stories like that are constantly popping up in my memory and in our conversation as we walk along. 

I see the Pont de Bir Hakeim and I think of all the wedding photographs we’ve seen taken there.
As we walk along the Seine, I remember the hard, gritty industrial look that the FranPrix loading dock and the gravel and sand depot had.  Now, those facilities are still present, but they’ve been trimmed back and tidied up as their turf has been opened up to pedestrians and bicyclists as part of the Berges de Seine pedestrianization project.  Still, it seems odd to have these gritty facilities in the middle of the city, on the waterfront.
A new wall mural along the Seine's left bank.

We pass under the Pont de l’Alma and I remember when the frayère was created there – it is a little scoop taken out of the Seine under the bridge, to create a shallow, shaded area for fish spawning.

I remember the big, bold statues that stood for a few years along the Port de la Bourdonnais, near the Eiffel Tower.  Looking across the river, we see the flame statue on the Place de l’Alma, and we think of Princess Di and how she died in the tunnel beneath that place.

We enjoy all the fun amenities that have been added to the riverbank in recent years.  Particularly, we enjoy the vegetation – much of which has been planted in large wooden planters interspersed with built-in benches.  We love seeing people using the benches and game tables for Sunday afternoon picnic lunches with their family and friends.

We notice all the new wall murals and remember ones from the past. 

As we pass by Notre Dame, we remember the funky Six-Huit bar/café/boat that used to be moored there.  How did such a shoestring operation get such a prime mooring place?  It is still a mystery to us.  Now, this is where the elegant Maxim dinner boat is moored.  That’s more like what one would expect to see there, in such a prized location.
View of Notre Dame from the place where the Maxim boat is moored.

We often stopped for refreshments on the Six-Huit, as we now do on the Rosa Bonheur near the Pont Alexandre III.  But we will probably never board the Maxim dinner boat.  For dinner, we’re to be found at a land-based restaurant.

Since it was Sunday and we were out and about at mid-day, and since we’d already walked for an hour and a half, we had decided to climb the ramp to the street level as we passed the Musée D’Orsay.  

Strolling by the Caisse des Depots (next to the museum), I peeked through a window to see the statue by a French sculptor named Jean Dubuffet – something I remembered from a similar walk on July 19 of last year.  When I see it, I also remember that there is a Lichtenstein sculpture deeper inside the building.

Then, at the corner of the rue de Bac and the Quai Voltaire, we see the big brasserie and restaurant, La Frégate.  We enter, because we are hungry.

Appropriately, the server asked us if we wanted to dine in the bar/terrace or in the restaurant.  Tom answered, “Le restaurant, s’il vous plait.”
Dining room at La Fregate.

At La Frégate, the two are very different.  The bar/terrace menu is classic brasserie – and quite informal.  The restaurant menu is classic, fine French food. 

We were given a prime window seat at 1PM.  Most diners were out on the terrace.  We almost had the dining room to ourselves, but soon a few other tables were occupied by other families or couples out for their Sunday dinner.  The view of the Louvre and people walking across the Pont Royal is lively.
We ordered the charcuterie platter (about 10 euros) to share as a starter, and then we each had Sole Meunière – a bargain (in Paris) at 29 euros.

We were ravenously hungry, and the charcuterie cut the hunger pangs down efficiently.  The platter held variety of saucisson sec cut into thin slices, a little Parma ham, small samples of two kinds of terrine, a few tasty cornichons (gherkins), all accompanied by a basket of traditional baguette slices.  Tom also indulged in butter.  We relaxed.

When the two plates of Sole arrived, we were almost speechless.  These looked exactly as they should.  Perfect, we thought.  When the servers asked if we wanted them to debone the fish for us, we each answered “merci non, je le fais.”  Of course they do not know that we’re from Florida and we know our way around fish.  I like to debone the sole myself because I retain more of the fish on my plate than the servers do; they generally leave too much on the bones, so that they can have a neater result.
A place where graffiti is encouraged on the left bank.

I poured the clarified butter over the fish and steamed potatoes, added a little salt and pepper, and voila!  This is a Sunday dinner to live for.

Tom ordered ice cream for dessert.  It was so good that he thought it must be Berthillon.  Tom asked about the brand.  It was something else, not Berthillon, and we couldn’t quite understand the name.  It must be a small operation, like Queenie’s on Sanibel Island.

La Frégate is beautiful and historic – dating back to 1870. Its lovely interior – with trompe l’oeil frescos on the ceiling, a stained glass wall, dark wood panels, and Art Nouveau light fixtures – is what a traditional Parisian restaurant should be.  Owned by M. et Mme. Couderc, the place has had recent infusions of money for deep cleaning, restoration, and replacement of the awning on its extensive façades, along the quai and the rue.  I searched and searched, but could not find the name of the chef.  The man we saw who looked like he might well be the chef was perhaps Vietnamese or Cambodian in ethnicity, about 50-some years old.    Whoever the chef may be, he’s doing a fine job.
Franprix containers on a barge, waiting to be loaded onto trucks,
right in the middle of Paris.  (Franprix is a grocery chain.)

I have another fond memory of a Sunday dinner at La Frégate one year when we were similarly tired and hungry from walking.  That time, the weather was cool, and I ordered the blanquette de veau.  Now I always think of that particular dinner when I hear or read the words blanquette de veau.  In my mind, that was the perfect example of that classic dish.  The blanquette de veau is still on the menu at La Frégate.

The first time we stopped at La Frégate, many years ago, my expectations were low but we were tired and thirsty. The place was looking a bit tattered, and I thought any brasserie in such a location must be a tourist trap.  That first time, we had the brasserie fare, and I’m sure it was good.  But it is the restaurant food that is so notably perfect and, well, classic.

If you go to La Frégate for dinner, you should make a reservation.  You can use or to do so.  But for lunch, a reservation may not be necessary.

Thomas Jefferson statue with the Musee D'Orsay in the background.

After this Sunday feast, we walked on down to the Pont de l’Archeveche, where we turned the other direction on the rue Maitre d’Albert to reach the Boulevard Saint Germain.  Turning right toward the metro stop, we passed through the triangle of green on the north side of the Place Maubert.  

There, memory struck again.  I remarked to Tom, as I always do in that spot, “They burned Protestants here.”  A tall, scholarly looking man walking nearby turned in surprise to glance at me.  Maybe he is surprised that anyone knows or thinks of this anymore.  Tom responded to me, “Well that was a long time ago.”  I said, “That’s true.” And we descended into the metro station.

In the evening, I just ate a little green salad and Tom snacked on various things.  Then we went out for a stroll in the evening air.  Down the avenue Emile Zola we went, almost to the very end.  There we were in the midst of people and restaurants of Middle Eastern persuasion.  At the plaza where the rue de Javel intersects, we turned back up the Avenue to go home.

So ended a full day of 22,000 steps and lots of memories!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Sizzle Fizzles

August 28, 2016 -- Weather has been an issue during the past several days, both here in Paris, and back home on Sanibel Island.

Here, we’ve just endured five days of a heat wave, or la canicule.  Temperatures in the 90s are normal for a summer day on Sanibel; but here – unlike Florida -- there is very little air conditioning, and the heat in the city can bring on some damaging air pollution.
The Evangelist, statue on the facade of
the Saint Sulpice church

Here in France, there is an organization called AirParif which provides useful, easy-to-understand information about the air quality – for yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  The AirParif web site is even available in a good English version.  It is an excellent web site; I don’t know of anything like it for the U.S.A.

Thanks to AirParif, I know that through most of this heat wave, Paris had mediocre air quality.  Then Paris had some bad air quality two days ago.  Fortunately, that day Tom did not go out for a walk.  The air quality is particularly an issue for him because he had pneumonia this past winter, and it took several months for his lungs to recover.

I had some bronchitis earlier this month, too.  That’s something I used to get every summer for the first few years we stayed in Paris – say, from 1998 to 2002.  But Paris air quality has improved significantly, overall, since then.

Each night during the heat wave, the air has not cooled down until about 3AM.  So I have been getting up at that hour to open all the windows.  Then I close all the windows at about 9AM, before the air starts to cook up bad ozone (and nitrogen dioxide).

I make up for lost sleep by taking a siesta in the afternoon. 

Veal belly, green beans, and puréed carrots

Those long, early morning walks have been a lifesaver for me.  Now the heat wave is over, and we will resume a more normal schedule.  Today’s high temperature will be only in the 80s.

The restaurant behind us is where Tom wanted to go for dinner last night.  Le Café du Commerce has had air conditioning in the past.  We have heard the restaurant’s two rooftop condenser/compressor units when they’re running because they’re so close that we see them from our kitchen window.

Inexplicably, the restaurant did not turn on the a.c. yesterday evening.  I used two of the resto’s postcards to fan myself.  A few others in the resto used their menus or napkins as fans.  One woman and her daughters left before ordering because the place was so hot.

Steak with Bearnaise sauce.  Fries came in a separate bowl.

Nevertheless, we had a nice dinner of steak/frites with Béarnaise sauce for Tom, and veal belly with green beans and puréed carrots for me.  Servings were large enough that we had to sneak half of the veal and steak into a zippered food bag again.  Tom topped the dinner off with a delicious baba au rhum for dessert.  I had my first glass of Calvados for the year.

That was a nice dinner in a beautiful restaurant, with excellent service, but the ambiance was bad because of the heat.  Ambiance matters.

This week we will be getting together with friends on three occasions, and I’m sure we will make a little visit to Montmartre.  Then we pack and leave for home on Friday.  So if I don’t have time to blog much after today, watch for new postings in my Sanibel Journal soon – just type in your browser.

Meanwhile, peace and love to all.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Paris in the summer, when it sizzles

August 27, 2016 -- The restaurant Bacco on the rue Mademoiselle gets into the spirit of the 15th arrondissement’s past with a décor that is “industrial.”  The tables have metal tops, the colors are dark, lighting is good, and lines are simple.  We were warmly greeted when we entered; the hostess called me “Madame Barbara.”

We were pleased that the air conditioning was turned on for this sizzling hot evening, but we noticed that it seemed a little weak.  Sure enough, as the dinner hour went on, more people filled the space, and the kitchen fired away – the dining room became uncomfortably warm.
Mural at the top of an apartment building near the avenue de la Motte Picquet

We were given a mis en bouche of velvety, cool potato soup with several other flavors blended in – too many to remember.  But it was delicious.

Our starter course was very good, too:  la burratina: mozzarella burratina D.O.P.*, pesto de pistache, caviar d’aubergine et jambon de Parme Ferrari 24 mois.  This was a mozzarella burrata with pistachio pesto, eggplant, and Parma ham aged 24 months.  Balsamic vinegar and olive oil were brought to the table with it, so I drizzled some on the plate.  I’ve never had a burrata that was so good!

Tom’s main course was l’onglet d’Angus : cœur d’onglet de bœuf Angus, sauce au poivre sauvage de Madagascar, pommes « Pont-Neuf », asperges vertes et carotte nouvelles.  These were morsels of Angus beef steak with wild pepper sauce from Madagascar, “Pont Neuf” potatoes (essentially, steak fries), asparagus, and baby carrots.  Tom said the beef was good, and correctly prepared given the type of cut.  But most interesting was the way the dish was arranged on its rectangular plate (below).

My main dish was le risotto tourteau-gambas: risotto à la chair de tourteau et au safran, gambas juste poêlées, pointes d’asperges vertes, coulis de pousse d’épinard au beurre noisette.  This was a crabmeat and jumbo shrimp risotto with saffron asparagus, and a spinach sauce with brown butter.  It looked beautiful but the flavor was a little heavy and dull.  The shrimp were almost overcooked, but not quite.  I didn’t finish the risotto, which caused the waiter a little concern.  He asked about it, and I explained that it was good, but “c’est beaucoup” – too much.

Crabmeat and jumbo shrimp risotto at Bacco.

Our shared dessert was le canon de cacao: Parfait glacé à la mangue, fruit de la passion, cylindre de cacao croustillant garni de mousse légère au chocolat blanc.  It was excellent!  The centerpiece of it was a cylinder made of a thin crust of cocoa filled with a light white-chocolate mousse. 

The cocoa cannon with white chocolate moose and mango sherbert.

Chef Olivier Thiebaut is doing a good job at Bacco, but the menu is short, so it is difficult to visit the restaurant very frequently – there just isn’t enough variety.  But it is open for both lunch and dinner, and its style of cuisine – a mix of French and Italian – is unique for the neighborhood.

The neighborhood was quiet again as I walked early this morning.  Joggers, delivery truck drivers, and a few walkers like me were the only people out and about as the sun rose just after 7AM.

I walked up the Avenue de la Motte Picquet.  When I was near the equestrian statue across from the Ecole Militaire, a little woman passing by me stopped to say, in French, that this is the only time of day when there is a little coolness for walking.  We chatted about the weather for a minute or two, and then went on our separate ways. 
The St Francois Xavier church on the
Boulevard des Invalides

If this were a small town, I wouldn’t have been surprised.  But to be stopped by a stranger on the streets of Paris just for idle chit-chat is very unusual.  I took it as a sign that this will be a good day.

I walked to rue Cler.  The only action on that market street was – you guessed it – several trucks making deliveries.  After inspecting that sleepy market, I continued on the rue de Grenelle to the Place Salvador Allende, then turned back to the Avenue de la Motte Picquet toward home.  On the way, I looked up to see a cute mural of an old blue race car at the top of an apartment building just off the avenue. 

I went on to the Place du Commerce again, because I’ve learned that pausing there for a rest before going home is a great way to cool off.  The park benches are clean, and the flower beds are stunning.

I sit beneath the trimmed chestnut trees with my back to the Commerce Café, so I just hear the pleasant clinking of tableware being arranged and set.  I pretend to look at my phone a little, but I’m really listening to the birds.

Another sizzling summer day has dawned in Paris.
*Denominazione di Origine Protetta

Friday, August 26, 2016

Who wouldn't want to be in Paris if being home wasn't possible?

August 26, 2016 -- Ann Hildago, the mayor of Paris, got her start in politics here in the 15th arrondissement.  She’s a liberal, and the 15th arrondissement is generally more conservative than she is.  Nevertheless, she has proven to be a good administrator, and so she was elected to replace longtime mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, when he retired in 2014.
Shoppers in the rue de Furstemberg.

She is an immigrant, born in Andalusia, Spain, in 1959.  Now as mayor, she is determined to build two refugee camps in Paris.  She says it is not possible to “sit idly by while the Mediterranean becomes a graveyard for refugees.”  The number of refugees in France is expected to grow to 30,000 in 2017.

I have seen coverage of this new refugee camp story in British news media outlets, but I haven’t seen any in American publications so far.  So I share this with you.

Construction of the camps has started, but the exact locations have not been disclosed because the City wants to avoid violent protests.

One of the camps will be somewhere in the densely populated northeast part of the city – where many refugees are already camping.  The other camp will be south of the city – perhaps not far from the 15th arrondissement.  One camp is for single men; the other is for women and children. These camps will have modular shelters for up to 1,000 people, and will conform to United Nations standards.  They are scheduled to open sometime in September.

Rilletes of trout with toast, a mis en bouche at Stephane Martin
Meanwhile, there is a large makeshift camp in the Jardin d’Eole, north of the Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est train stations, on the edge of the 18th and 19th arrondissements.

French police have broken up makeshift camps in the capital more than two dozen times this year.  They take the campers to local shelters, but these shelters are only for short-term stays.  Soon, the refugees are back out on the streets, looking for a place to camp for the night.

Most of the refugees here in Paris are from Sudan, Eritrea, and Afghanistan.  Paris and Calais are the main destinations for migrants in France.  In Calais, they seek a way to cross the channel and enter Great Britain.

Charities and individuals in France are also being encouraged to take in refugees.  Many are doing so.
Back in the spring, Mayor Hildago angered wealthy residents of the 16th arrondissement by announcing a plan for an “emergency accommodation center” for homeless and migrants in that arrondissement’s Bois de Boulogne (a huge park).

Also in the Spring, ten restaurants in Paris opened their kitchens to refugee chefs from Syria and other countries.  They cooked from June 17 to 21, for what was called the Refugee Food Festival.

Yesterday evening, we took shelter from the extreme heat at the Restaurant Stephane Martin – an honestly and truly air conditioned place on the rue des Entrepreneurs.  We thoroughly appreciated an elegant dinner of bass filet and eggplant for me, and veal and mushrooms for Tom.  Tom also had a lovely apple tart for dessert, and I had a rich little fondant of dark chocolate imported from Tanzania.
Bass filet with thin slices of grilled eggplant

We were surprised when we entered the place to be greeted by Steven, the server who used to run the dining room at l’Alchimie until three years ago.  We had a lively conversation with him – especially because we were the only diners in the restaurant!  The heat must be causing people to stay home.

I took my long walk in the early morning again today, to avoid the heat.  This time, my route included the avenues de Suffren and de la Bourdonnais.  Seeing the brasseries set up their rows of little round tables and chairs in the morning is fun.  I also enjoy seeing the delivery trucks supplying wonderful ingredients for the days’ meals in various eating establishments along these commercial ways.

Roasted veal and button mushooms cooked in butter
I generally take very few photographs when I’m out walking alone in the morning.  For security reasons, it is better to look like a Parisian who knows where she’s going rather than a vulnerable tourist pausing to photograph the wonderful sights.  I’m just being extra cautious; the streets of the 7th arrondissement, where I walk in the mornings, seem to be extremely safe, as are most streets of the 15th.  (Actually, a violent crime rate map that I recently saw indicates that the 15th is even safer than the 7th.)  

One commentator on TripAdvisor states that, “The violent crime rate in Paris is a fraction of the rate of any US city.”

Apple tart at the Restaurant Stephane Martin
According to this interesting U.S. State Department report, pickpocketing is the only main concern, and that is particularly around tourist attractions – and, I would add, on line 4 of the metro.  Read that State Department report if you want to know more.

Toward the end of my walk, I sat in the Place du Commerce to cool off and admire the flower beds before going home to water the flowers on the balcony.  I remembered that yesterday evening, as we walked home from Stephane Martin, we saw a sign at one end of the park, announcing a regular boules tournament there -- the Boulodrome!  

Moelleux au chocolat made with dark chocolate from Tanzania
To accommodate enthusiastic boules players, a high temporary wire fence has been constructed on either side of that far end of the park.  This is to prevent them from hitting passersby in the head with their boules.

That would be an ignominious way to go:  "Tourist killed by errant boule in Paris park."

For those of you who are not familiar with this game, according to Wikipedia,  "Boules (French pronunciation: ​[bul]) is a collective name for a wide range of games in which the objective is to throw or roll heavy balls (called boules in France, and bocce in Italy) as close as possible to a small target ball."

Even though the evening air was stifling hot, dedicated players were out in the park, throwing and rolling their boules.

Laissez les bon temps rouler . . . . 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A New Day

August 25, 2016 -- I rose at 6:30AM and dressed for my morning walk: black cotton tank top, black Zenergy pants (all Chico’s), black Sketchers, and my black camera bag slung diagonally across my body, with its peace symbol turned outward.  Outside, the air was as cool as it will be today: probably in the lower 70s, with rising humidity.
Statue of boy with seashell at the Village Suisse

I walked silently and swiftly in those Sketchers, up the rue du Commerce and avenue de la Motte Picquet toward the Champ de Mars.  Shops were closed.  A few joggers appeared, here and there.  Trucks tried to make their deliveries before the streets became busy:  a huge bakery truck, a truck with goat cheese from the provinces, a truck with escargots from Rungis (the wholesale market just outside of Paris).

Otherwise, the streets were quiet.  As I approached the neighborhoods on either side of the Champ de Mars, I listened.  Songbirds were singing their morning repertoires.

I moved silently through these neighborhoods and through the gardens on either side of the base of the Eiffel Tower.  I’m always impressed by the thick canopy of tall trees there, and the extreme calm right next to such a major tourist attraction.

To accomplish this loop, I did have to walk for a short distance on the sidewalk of the Quai Branly, right in front of the Tower.  Across the river was the Trocadero.  Nothing was open yet; the throngs of tourists hadn’t arrived.  They were still sipping coffee and eating croissants at their hotels.  The Trocadero appeared to be empty.

The area immediately below the Eiffel Tower is now cordoned off with tall, temporary wire fencing.  A temporary building sits next to the security entrances to house all the security personnel, I guess.  To exit the area under the tower, people must pass through turnstiles not unlike the ones in some of the metro stations.

No longer can one just walk idly through the crowds under the tower.  Movements are tightly controlled there.
One of the planters at the Village Suisse

As I gazed ahead down the streets that would take me back to the avenue de la Motte Picquet, I noticed a slight haze in the air, highlighted by the angled morning sunlight.  A hazy, hot summery day had begun.

To avoid the road work areas at the busy corner of the avenues Suffren and la Motte Picquet, I took a turn through the Village Suisse.  All the antique stores there were closed, but I love to look at the magnificent flower beds in large square planters at the Village Suisse.  Someone works hard on these plantings, and I am dazzled by the results of their efforts.

On the way home, I stopped at the bakery. First, I said good day to the beggar from the neighborhood who often sits near the entrance.  We’ve seen this man on the streets of this neighborhood for several years.  We don't think he is homeless -- he's just living on limited means, with the help of social services and subsidized housing.

I bought the usual baguette for Tom.  Then I turned the corner and headed for home.
I realize that on this walk I’d seen a few homeless people sleeping here and there who do not look as worn out, sick, dirty and desperate as many who have substance abuse problems.  Today, I’d seen some of a different type of homeless – people who look habitually cleaner, more resourceful, and healthier.  I would not be surprised at all to learn that these are refugees – recent arrivals from Syria or Afghanistan.

Duck breast slices in sweet and sour sauce with potatoes au gratin

I’m glad my Sketchers are so quiet that I didn’t disturb their sleep.  I wish all of them well.
France has much in the way of social services to help all the different kinds of homeless people.  In the summer, there are special programs that pick up the slack as some of the private nonprofits take a summer break.  I don’t think anyone has to go hungry in Paris, but some may resist going to the soup kitchens and shelters for various reasons.

Sometimes I see social workers sitting with homeless people, talking with them about their situations.  I think France does a good job of caring for the least of these.

We don’t take for granted our ability to go out and enjoy life here in Paris.  We are thankful, every day. And we’re doing our part to stimulate the economy here – an economy which is slumping.  Business is visibly off.

Last night, we dined at Le Blavet, one of our all-time favorite little Parisian restaurants, tucked away on the rue Lourmel, just off the rue des Entrepreneurs.
Beef filet with foie gras et sauce Perigordine, and potatoes au gratin.

The evening was very warm, and there is no air conditioning at Le Blavet.  So we started with a couple of cool dishes:  gazpacho for Tom, and a salade landaise au copeaux de foie gras, magret de canard fumé et gésier confit for me (a green salad with foie gras, smoked duck, and confit of duck gizzards).  Delicious!

Then came a steak with foie gras and sauce Perigordine for Tom, and slices of roasted duck breast in sweet and sour sauce for me.  Both dishes were accompanied by gratin dauphinoise – potatoes au gratin.  Excellent!

There was too much food, so we spirited away some meat and potatoes in a zippered food storage bag.

For dessert, I had a cool Dame Blanche (ice cream with whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce; Tom had a little apple tart called a panier de pommes (basket of apples) with a luscious creme Anglaise and a little scoop of ice cream --all very pretty, smooth, cool and tasty.
Panier de pommes -- apples in a pastry basket, with Creme Anglaise and
raspberry sauce, accompanied by a scoop of ice cream

This place should be packed every night, and it isn’t.  I don’t understand why.  The prices are amazingly good; my three-course dinner was 27 euros.  Tom’s had a 7-euro supplement because he ordered one item (his steak) from the 34 euro menu.  But 34 euros is also a good deal for three courses!  (Tax and tip are always included in these prices.)

The one criticism we have had about Le Blavet in past years is that the service has been slightly begrudging.  But that wasn’t true last night.  Our server, a young woman, did a good job.
Dame Blanche at Le Blavet

The location of the restaurant is off the beaten path, and I don’t think Le Blavet advertises much.  The restaurant is participating in, with a 20 percent discount on certain nights.

For quality and price, you just can’t beat Le Blavet in Paris.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Hot and flawless

August 24, 2016 -- This summer, there are once again many parts of the street that are dug up and fenced off – work zones that we pedestrians have to weave around.  Tom chalked it up to flood damage to the electrical network this past spring and early summer.  But I’ve been wondering about that, because the signs on these work zones refer to projects for upgrading the reseau de chauffage – which means “heating network.”
The Eiffel Tower in the early morning light.

Today, I used the computer to figure it out.  These projects are for the upgrading of an urban heating network, run by the Compagnie Parisienne de Chauffage Urbain (CPCU).  This utility provides heating and sanitary hot water for the equivalent of 500,000 housing units in Paris and surrounding communities.

The heat is generated by a mix of recycled domestic waste; natural gas, coal, and oil; and, coming soon, geothermal heat and biomass.  I believe that the “mix of recycled domestic waste” means a trash burning power plant.  I know there is such a facility on the east side of Paris.

Some of the heat production facilities have been and are being converted from oil-burning to natural gas-burning.

CPCU is a big deal in the 15th arrondissement because there are two heat production facilities here.  At the Grenelle facility are five boilers, three of which run on natural gas.  The other two are oil-burning, but can be run on biodiesel.  The Vaugirard facility has three natural gas-burning boilers.
In total, the CPCU has eight production sites.

This idea of central heating distributed by a network is not new.  I remember the old central boiler and system of hot water heating pipes that served many of the older buildings with radiators on the campus of the Ohio State University.
Roasted bass filet with Duxelle de Champignons and creme de bacon sauce.

The CPCU in Paris as well has been around since 1927.  Since then, it has never ceased modernizing and expanding.

Its production facilities must have burned coal at first, but in 1941, the first trash burning power plant went online.

In 2009, when the T3 tramway was being constructed, the CPCU took the opportunity to expand is network under the long expanse of those tracks, and for the first time, it dismantled one of its older production facilities at La Villette, giving the land back to the city.  Now, in that northeast corner of the city, CPCU has a geothermal heat production facility (on the Quai de la Gironde, Boulevard MacDonald, in the 19th arrondissement).

Of course the CPCU can only serve buildings that have a central hot water heating system.  Many apartment buildings, like the one where we stay, have individual hot water heaters in each apartment.  Ours is over the sink in the kitchen; it burns natural gas, and it heats the water on demand for the bathroom fixtures and kitchen sink, as well as for the radiators in each room.  Its pilot light burns all the time.
Lamb shank in honey-thyme sauce with semolina at L'Alchimie

We certainly do not have the radiators turned on now, however.  Yesterday, the temperature hit 90F, and today it will be in the mid-90s.  No we do not have air conditioning.  We open the apartment at night, then shut it up during the day to keep the cooler air.  That only works for a few days, until the entire building heats up.  We’re now in day 2 of a five-day heat wave.

Last night, we dined on rue Letellier at L'Alchimie, which is not air conditioned.  Still, at that time of the evening, temperatures were only in the upper 80s and it wasn’t too humid.  This morning, when I walked from 7 to 8:30, I could tell that the humidity is up.  It is around 65%, which is still far better than Sanibel’s typical 90%.  So we’re doing okay.

After we were seated at the table in the front window, the place began to fill up with regulars, all from the neighborhood, it seemed.  (I was surprised when the French people at the table next to us did not know the difference between leg of lamb and lamb shank!)

Dinner was flawless.  It began with a shared starter of foie gras, accompanied by piping hot, scrumptious rolls.
Foie gras with rye toast, but we used the hot rolls instead.

Tom had a souris d’agneau (lamb shank) with semolina and a honey-based sauce.  It was stunningly good.

My main course was a roasted bass filet on a bed of finely diced mushrooms cooked in butter (Duxelle de champignons), served in a pool of crème de bacon sauce.  It was heavenly.

We shared a fig-and-almond-cream tart for dessert.  The pastry was light and flaky, and the figs were soft and sweet.  So was the scoop of white chocolate ice cream.

The value was incredibly good.  Each two course dinner was just 27 euros (including tax and tip).  (Three courses would have been just 31 euros.)
Fig and almond cream tart with white chocolate ice cream

L’Alchimie remains my favorite restaurant in Paris.  Hats off to Chef Eric Rogoff!