Monday, September 21, 2009

The Beautiful Swamp

Next to our apartment building is a book store that caters to the student population of the Sorbonne. On display are books like "The Rights of Man in the European Community", and "The Responsibility of Members of Society." I did not think they would appeal to the average person walking by. Quite the contrary. While standing outside puffing on a stogy, no matter the time of day or night, I observed passersby stop, ponder, perhaps have a chat with their fellow travelers then continue on their way. I've seen this same behavior in front of stores that sell plumbing materials. Rich suggested that the French are more contemplative than the Americans, and he may be onto something.

Monday - September 21, 2009 - Paris, France

Monday mornings seem a good time to hang around, drink some coffee, move at half speed and catch up on delinquencies (like journal writing). Rich (the manly man) did an impressive amount of calisthenics, then went off to jog around the Luxembourg gardens. Lu and Kat did laundry (trying to find the best way to relieve Rich's trousers of his falafel droppings), and I did nothing productive. Well, I did offer a friendly wave and "Bonjour" to the waitress who was cleaning her tables in the restaurant courtyard next door (our side window overlooks it). She smiled and almost waved back. I mention this only because it provided some consternation to Rich later in the day when he and Lu went into the restaurant to check out the courtyard dining. The waitress said, and I'm paraphrasing, "Well, hi again you good looking flirt, you have such a nice smile. I saw you watching me." or something like that. Pure gold.

Kat and I struck off on our own to explore the Marais quarter. Meaning marsh or swamp, this ancient area of the city was originally used for growing market vegetables. It was a short walk up St. Michel, across the river (our first crossing since arrival) to Ile St. Louis, then to the right bank. The streets are narrow and twist around, so unlike the wide, dignified, right angle boulevards and streets that make up so much of Paris. We wandered around a beautiful church - St-Gervais et St Protais, and came across an artisan shop that showcased monk produced items. I didn't know they were still making monks. Unfortunately it was closed.

Before getting too far into the area we retreated for lunch at Au Lys D'Argent right on Ile St. Louis. We had eaten there with our granddaughter Emily back in 2006 and really enjoyed it. We enjoyed it again (sometimes you can go back). The food is excellent, not very expensive and the place has a real homey atmosphere. Seated next to us was an American woman and her daughter (of 19) who were on a month long grand tour. You can't help but eavesdrop when people are 18 inches away from you, however we try not to jump into conversations. This was their first time in France and they spoke NO French, and were struggling with the menu. Kat finally offered assistance and before long we were best friends. Random encounters can be so enjoyable.

Since neither of us are interested in the more modern arts, we passed on the two most notable museums in Le Marais; The Pompidou Center and Picasso's. Instead we headed over to the Place des Vosges, a gorgeous park enclosed by like facade-d buildings of red brick and stone. This square is said to be the prototype, copied by the architects of many other countries. What a great place to sit, relax, and perhaps become a little more contemplative.

Le Marais is also the center of the Jewish community in Paris. Hidden down Rue Pavee is a beautiful synagogue (Agoudas Hakehilos). It was originally designed in 1913 by Art Nouveau architect Hector Guimard who was famous for his Metro entrance ways. The front is said to represent an open holy book. We can see that. We are so glad we decided to explore this part of the city. The streets are lined with interesting shops, food stores, and restaurants. As we walked by a small antique shop we heard little peals of laughter coming from the doorway. Just inside was a beautiful child playing to the stream of people walking by. He carried a small fan duster and had wrapped a string of beads around the top of his head. I couldn't resist and took one of our favorite pictures of the trip.

We headed back to the apartment to swap out the clothes in the dryer, and take a little nap. This sightseeing takes a lot out of you. Rich and Lu were not around (they had talked about taking a nighttime river cruise) so we decided to head up through St. Michel (the madhouse) and over to Notre Dame.

Dusk is a beautiful time to enjoy the square in front of Notre Dame cathedral. This Monday night it was almost deserted, and the lights were just starting to come on. What a tremendous difference a few hundred feet (and a river) makes. Just off the square is the Quasimodo souvenir shop where Ed and Alicia and Emily all bought their Paris scarfs. Such pleasant memories and enjoyable times. As we wandered so did our thoughts. One took home: where do we eat tonight? We strolled, checking menus and decided on a very clean, very charming "Caveau de la Colombe." It was late (9:30) but they smiled us in to a wonderful dinner. Kat a chevre salad with duck (huge slices that looked like country bacon), apples, etc. and I my first tartine - a large thin slice of sourdough bread covered with spinach, egg, and an enormous piece of smoked salmon. It was lightly broiled and delicious. The salmon melted in my mouth.

I noticed in the attached caveau a dark yellow wine and asked our Romanian Gwenyth Paltrow look-alike waitress if it was a Sauterne. No, but similar, and only 6 Euros. I was on that in a heartbeat. As I turned to leave, a small (20cl) bottle of absinthe beckoned me from it's shelf. 15 Euros lighter, we headed back home, with full stomachs and our treasures. It was 11:00, Rich and Lu were up, so we opened the absinthe and shared it with our stories and adventures of the day.

By the way this absinthe was light tan/greenish and very similar in taste to sambucca (without the coffee bean). Contrary to folk lore there were no hallucinations or weird goings on.

That I can remember.

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