OK I am back in charge of a laptop now and can do things with photos, at last. I’m afraid this means that my travel diary is rather out of sync with the dates, but nothing to be done about that.
With my friend, L, suffering from jet lag (she flew in from California) and I shattered by all the worry (albeit unnecessary) and discomfort of the travelling we opted for a slow start to the day.
I rested my leg until lunchtime as it was really sore while L went out to explore the local neighbourhood. This visit we are staying in a 1930s apartment near the Eiffel Tower in the 7th Arrondissement.
This is the Rue Dominique (in the C16 was the Chemin des Vaches – Road of the Cows: reading the history of the area I see that this was a very rural area full of woods, fields, marshes and farms until various religious and military institutions began to move in from the C17 onwards. Ravaged by the 30 years war many religious houses born out of the counter reformation came to find sanctuary here. At the same time Noblemen wished to leave the crowded and noisy Marais and discovered the charms of the Left Bank. The river provided easy access to Versailles to where the Court moved in 1672. The building of Les Invalides and the Ecole Militaire followed and then the University and the National Assembly. Later the area was to to be the site of no fewer than five Great Exhibitions, from 1878 to 1937, each of which included further redevelopment, including of course the Eiffel Tower) and we are staying on a small side road off it.
Redevelopment in the C19 and C20 means that this area does not have the elegance of our beloved Marais but is much cheaper whilst still being central and bustling. Since we hoped to take a few side trips this time we did not want to feel we were ‘wasting’ an expensive rental. The familiar buses go from either the end of the road or from just over the Seine which is only two blocks away.
On her wandering L found some small supermarkets just round the corner which will prove invaluable and a mobile phone shop at the end of our road; as we had decided before coming that we would both get French SIM cards for our phones for while we were here, this is the first thing we did in the afternoon. Knowing us, we will probably do some things separately so being able to phone/text each other cheaply would be helpful. Despite a few misunderstandings, my French is hardly up to tech standards, all was safely sorted. To celebrate we treated ourselves to tea in a sweet cake shop nearby, also conveniently at the end of our road. It is called the Moulin de la Vierge
and has the prettiest tiling on the walls and ceiling and lots of fairy lights festooned everywhere.
L had a raspberry millefeuille and coffee, I had a raspberry macaroon which tasted blissfully of almonds and rapberries, and tea.
As we ate I heard one customer telling another that this bakery sold the best cakes in Paris. We only ate half our cakes and brought the rest home for another day: we were given sweet little boxes in which to bring home the remnants.
Apparently there are several outlets for this baker/cake maker and reading the history of the Patisserie I came upon the following on their website: the oldest outlet at Vercingétorix in the heart of Montparnasse dates as far back as 1356, it is the location of the original le Moulin de la Vierge, and the whereabouts of the legend that became our history.
This little jewel houses the oldest wood burning oven still active in Paris. Inside the tiny boutique, the signature styles of the Art Nouveau period are revealed in the bucolic landscapes mirrored in the ivory ceramic tiles and flowered frescoes, gazed upon from a sky of wheat bearing angels. Under the bakery, the original wood burning oven (Lefort 1907) continues its role of baking the baguettes and special country breads available in the Moulins de la Vierge boulangeries around Paris, while the storefront windows honor the French pastry artists. The combination of the original architecture, the ambiance and the epicurean delights inside create a typically Parisian atmosphere, sought out by many seeking to delight in it’s historical beauty.
Certainly this became our ‘go-to’ baker of choice and barely a day went past without a baguette, some croissants or a petit patisserie finding their way home chez nous!!
And this is how it got its name, again from their website:
For lovers of history and tales of lore… We present you the official legend of le Moulin de la Vierge (the Windmill of the Virgin). Our story begins in 1356, at the original location where the windmill stood, that became the home of our very first boulangerie.
In September of 1365, Edward of Woodstock, known as the Dark Prince, defeated the French in Potiers. He captured King Jean II and many of his chevaliers, forcing their withdrawal to the suburbs of Paris. Nearby, on rue Vercingitorix, lived a poor miller whose windmill had fallen to abandon. With no wind to turn its sails, he fell deeper and deeper into destitution.
Day after day collectors came to his door presenting him with debts he could neither read nor pay. Until one day, when he ventured into a nearby convent and fell to his knees before the statue of the Virgin Mary. He confessed to her of his pitiable situation and pleaded for salvation.
But as the days passed, convinced that she had not heard his pleas, he began to wonder if he had confided in the wrong person. Perhaps he would have had more sympathy from the Devil, who might have taken pity on his situation.
As he spoke aloud such horrific thoughts, out of nowhere appeared a strange little man with a malicious sparkle in his eyes. He came towards the miller and removed his velour hat, twisting it in his fingers, and politely introduced himself to the distressed man. “ Miller, you have called upon me. Here I am, Lucifer himself. ”
“ Is it really you, Lucifer? ” retorted the miller, taken aback at what had just happened… “ How funny it is to see you here. I always imagined you as more of a strapping man, with broad shoulders and big hands and feet… As someone that would swallow me whole, like an ogre or a werewolf. How funny are the notions we conceive in our minds ”.
To which Lucifer replied, “ It is not my size that is of concern, it is what I can offer you that only you can behold. I heard your complaints and have come as you desired… to bring you riches and happiness! ”
“ Oh but sir, ” explained the miller, “ riches and happiness are merely characters in children’s tales. For years I have awaited their arrival, yet I no longer believe they will come”.
“ Believe you me, my dear friend. Nothing is impossible where the Devil is concerned. What exactly do you desire of me? ” asked Lucifer.
“ Simply to hear the rustling of the wind that may turn the sails of my windmill ”, muttered the miller.
“ And so it shall be… Behold its wings! ” cried the Devil.
As the miller raised his head he cried out, “ I do not believe my eyes. It’s true it turns… But how did it come to pass? I didn’t feel the slightest of breeze pass by. If so the leaves on the trees would be dancing as well. It is quite the miracle… Your powers are great indeed! ”
“ And now what more do you wish for? ” asked the Devil.
“ Ah, but sacs of wheat! What meaning is it that my windmill turns if I possess not a grain to feed the mill…? ” he replied.
“ Look over there, down the road, ” replied Lucifer. “ Do you see the donkeys coming this way? They’re coming with sacs filled with the finest of wheat, with which you may make the finest of flour to sell and become rich! ”
“ It is true, I see them coming this way. This time I have been saved. Thank you Mr. Lucifer… I don’t know how I could ever repay you! ” cried the miller.
“ But it is not as complicated as you might think, ” quickly replied the Devil. “ To kindly prove your gratitude, you can simply sign on the bottom of this page. ”
“ Oh but not another contract, ” retorted the miller.
“ No collectors this time! Don’t worry my friend, I am yet an accommodating Devil, who understands the trials and tribulations of men, ” he proclaimed. “ Later when you are no longer of this world, many years from now, you can pay me back… in another world. ”
“ But how is this possible? Can we bring money to another world? How will I be able to pay you in this other world? ” asked the miller.
“ The money is not important, ” replied the Devil. “ I ask simply for recognition in the form of a small gift. ”
“ How can I refuse such an offer, ” said the miller. “ But what type of gift do you ask of me? ”
“ A gift of little value, ” said Lucifer, “that will cost you next to nothing.”
“ If money is not an issue, then we are in agreement. What exactly must I offer you? ” asked the miller.
“ Just your soul, ” said the Devil. “ It’s of little significance, the soul of a man… it weighs less than a grain of wheat! ”
“ But if it is something so insignificant, why do you ask of this as a gift? ”
“ It’s just a simple fantasy of mine, ” replied the Devil.
“ Well if it’s merely just a fantasy of yours, then why not, ” agreed the miller. “ I will give you my soul. But before I sign, ” he hesitated, “ let me think things over. Give me five minutes and I will return to sign your contract. And we shall have a deal. ”
And with this, the miller, an honorable man who represented all that was good to those who knew him, thought to be prudent in his decision… and perhaps not engage in a deal for all of eternity.
He quickly returned to the convent to seek the advice of the Mother Superior. As he ran through the church he passed the statue of the Virgin Mary and stopped dead in his tracks. Having seen no one in church at this hour, he was startled by the voice that seemed to come from the statue. As he stood there, rather frightened, he witnessed as it came to life. Rolling her eyes, with the disapproving look of an angry mother, she scolded the miller for being so naïve.
“ Stupid man, who told you to call upon Lucifer! You should have come to me first before committing such a grave mistake. You did not have enough faith in me… and now you have given your word and your promise must be kept, ” she explained.
“ You will sign the contract, as an uneducated person would, but listen carefully. With your index finger, make a cross at the bottom of the page. Not in ink, but in holy water. And with this you will see the true face of the Devil! ”
Ever grateful to the Virgin Mother, the miller followed her instructions and dipped his finger in the holy water. As he touched the Devil’s contract with the holy water there was an eruption of light and the parchment paper burst into flames. And with that the Devil vanished, leaving behind the faint scent of sulfur.
From that day on the windmill continued to turn… and the exquisite white flour poured from the sieves. There were no more collectors, in this world or any other.
Years later, in memory of the miraculous story of the miller and his windmill, the name was given to the street that later became the inspiration for the bakery that is today Le Moulin de la Vierge.
Aren’t we lucky to have such a find just a few doors away?
The rest of the day was spent quietly planning and booking our trips. My knee was hurting a lot so I decided to make some changes round the flat and use the crutches all day, every day, instead of the walking stick and see how it goes.
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