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Posts Tagged ‘St. Paul’

Wednesday 1st December.

Friend said she had a good night so I decided to show her the local sights today and help her get orientated in case she wanted to take herself off at times when I need to rest.

We walked down to the Place des Vosges, along under the  arcades, past the art shops, and she stopped first at the shop which sells antique musical instruments: she pressed her nose against the glass door and we nearly fell inside when the owner came up and opened the door and encouraged us in.  He was a comfortably-built, grey-haired gent with lots of fly-away, curly, wiry hair, rather Beethoven-like but with such a kind face.


He sat down on a stool and played one instrument after another for us, no matter whether it was keyboard, strings or wind.  Old bagpipes, early clarinets, gorgeous forerunners of the lute with inlaid ivory and wood, melodians, concertinas, all mouth-watering.

and a commercial video promoting a singer shot in his shop,

Some music was plaintif, some jolly and when he began to play a jig my mouth hit the floor as my friend immediately broke into dancing.  She was a ballet dancer and rider in her youth, so arms went above her head, toes beautifully pointed, knees bent and out kicked the heels as she span round.  The gent was so delighted, his eyes sparkled, his fingers flew, and the music surrounded us and the shop.  To anyone looking in through the window it must have looked wonderful.  My friend is very slim, with short gold hair, excellent posture and her winter coat is white and scarlet:  (she is wearing four layers of clothes here under her coat!)

I would have loved a photo of her dancing,  but did not want to spoil the moment by moving so tried to take a mental photograph instead.  I hope I have conveyed some of the unexpected joy of the moment!  It was quite magical although I did wonder if we would ever be able to escape from the shop without a proposal of marriage for my friend.  She said later that she was spontaneous and acts without thinking so was glad I was there to make our final excuses and leave.  I would so love the early lute, but it was quite expensive and I cannot play a guitar, banjo or anything like that, although I did play the violin for a while.  The wood shone like honey, the frets were beautifully carved and the inlay was exquisite.  At the end he picked a large ivy leaf out of a glass of water and ‘played’ it saying it was one of the oldest instruments.  (He is doing it briefly in second utube clip, but erroneously the narrator calls it a piece of plastic!)

The next shop we stopped at was the Russian shop, with a window full of Ikons, angels, Dolls, model soldiers etc.  We counted the dolls which fitted inside the giant one, and there were 55 one inside the other!

Then the chocolate shop and the Christmas goods are coming in now.  She was quite amazed and entranced by the quality and creativity and decided to do some shopping there on her last day.  She was very tempted by the chocolate Advent Calendar made from a tree, with a leaf to pick off and eat for each day!

So, dragging ourselves away, we went over the road to my lovely, family butcher’s shop to ask about that luscious terrine I had the other day: but there was no more, I had had the last piece and they said there would be no more made until the new Beaujolais next year.

We decided, since we had not had breakfast, to have a brunch and then to go out for dinner tonight, so dropped into the local Bistro ‘L’oulette’ to make a reservation: I thought my friend might like the experience it is the absolute best food I know.  A very friendly reception, table safely booked, and back through the Place des Vosges, down through the King’s Pavilion, and onto Rue St. Antoine for brunch.  It was sooo cold, and getting noticeably colder all the time as we walked.

We stopped to eat at the cafe on the end of St. Paul’s: I had a ham omelette and friend had a toastie hoping for lovely bread, cheese and ham, but we were both disappointed.  It felt like food for tourists who “know no better”.  According to various French TV programmes during the week, this is happening more and more in even up-market French restaurants in Paris and the French Culinary authorities are becoming really, really worried.  Interestingly this is what my US friends told me they felt was happening, in just a two year period things had changed so much.  If a name is in a guide book the punters assume the food is good, and do not trust their own taste buds to challenge that assumption.  With the mark-up they make it is getting harder and harder for the genuine places to continue to make everything fresh from scratch and still compete.  L’oulette, on the Rue des Tournelles, is still one of the good guys, so if you go to this area do call in for a real culinary experience.

However, on our way out my friend was seduced into buying two Mont Blancs – she said they were for tea: confections consisting of whipped chestnut puree, chocolate and gold leaf!!

After lunch we walked up St. Paul’s past a lovely looking shop full of African art: mostly made from recycled artefacts: we both fell in love with some white plastic bag chickens in the window: the bags had been pleated and clipped to look just like furry, feathery, birds.  So clever.  We promised to come back some time to look in but were making our way to the Red Wheelbarrow since friend wanted some books for grand daughter.  Friend was brought up on Jersey and consequently her French had always been really excellent so wanted to continue to pass on some of her experiences.

No Penelope at that point but a lovely young woman called Paradis was helping out in the shop: from the Persian name pairi-daeza ‘enclosed space’  a term that was adopted by Christianity for the Garden of Eden.  We had a long chat, she has been here long enough now, over two years, and suddenly yearns longingly to get back to New York to continue her Theatre Studies: however the work she has done over here she could not have done there.  She says she has one complication which is that she has fallen in love with a boy over here, but he has dual nationality French/Canadian so at least he can get a work permit on the same continent, even if New York is a harder nut to crack.  Penelope came in and Paradis went off to her lunch.  A lovely, lovely girl, wonderfully referred to by us and Penelope using the old hippie term ‘heavy chick’.

A look at the books, chat to Penelope, and then off to wander round the old part of St. Paul’s village before later giving into the cold and going home.

I took my friend to Rue Charlemagne to show her the best preserved and largest part of the oldest city walls in Paris, then along Rue de Jouy, Rue Francois Miron, into another book shop for her to buy a children’s book, and to the oldest wooden house in Paris,

it is just a trifle bent nowadays!

and them to the  glorious ‘Izrael’ shop, a spice and dry goods shop like no other.

How to describe it: you enter a small but very deep shop, with windows packed, I mean packed, with tins, bottles, strings of dried peppers, dried fungi, dried apple and onion hanging down: you pass through this curtain and walk through corridors made up of thigh-high open sacks of dried apricots,  peaches,  ground almonds, spices of every colour, nuts of every kind: literally piles of gleaming, glistening candied fruits, whole oranges, pineapples, limes, lemons, cherries, raspberries, strawberries, currants: huge unwrapped branches of angelica, all green, moist, aromatic and massive – we are talking about 12 inches long and at least three inches in diameter: and mighty hunks  of different kinds of halva – again 18 inches by 10 inches by 12 inches – sitting open on shelves: crunching semolina under foot slippery as ball-bearings, wall to ceiling shelves with jars of different spices swirled together making abstract patterns, every kind of pickle, sauce, oil, condiment, from every country in the world.   (The shop was too full and too busy for me to take internal photos but I hope to go back and get some, which I will post later).  You walk past, and nearly fall onto and into all these open sacks and bowls and plates, and baskets: no thought of health and safety, just a riot for the senses.  It is famous all over Paris, this shop. Unimaginable and I fear I cannot capture it for you.  Think Aladdin’s cave, with smells.

Finally, we stumble out into the snow flurries, put our heads down and walked determinedly home for twenty minutes through the other part of the Marais to give my friend a sense of the rest of the area. It is so cold with hard, small pieces of snow biting our faces, noses red and dripping, and my cough getting worse by the minute.  Every so often we turn a corner and hit a wind tunnel.  But even so the snow melts as it hits the ground.

We fell into the wonderfully warm flat, had a cup of tea and both flopped into bed and slept the sleep of the just, or rather, the exhausted.

When we woke, refreshed, we sat and drank more tea, ate our mont blancs, talked and much later ambled out to dinner.

Welcomed in a lovely manner, we sat and had a slow, relaxed evening.  I chose creamed goat’s cheese with herbs and aubergines, my friend shredded rabbit and red onion marmalade: then we both had fish, a kind of sole, with an orange and grapefruit sauce and perfectly plain, perfectly boiled, rice.  Neither of us could remember having ever tasted anything so divine in our lives before as that sauce.  My friend wanted red wine but was worried that the proprietor would try to talk her out of it, with fish.  But no, he was there to please and suggested a red which he felt would go well with the fish, and apparently, it did!  And to add further indulgence, late in the evening we each had a different pudding which we shared: prune ice cream with armagnac and poached pears with hot cholcolate and cardomom sauce.  Wow!!

My friend had barely been in Paris for twenty four hours and already felt as if she had been living in a different world for several days.  So many sights, sounds, smells, experiences.  And so much walking.  Replete in every sense of the word, we walked quietly back under the old street lights, through gently drifting snow, a day of ‘moments’ and such a thrill to see that someone else felt the same about them as I do.

On returning to the apartment I found an e-mail from my other friend, she definitely cannot come.  I’m so sad: I wanted to be able to share this healing experience with others.  So many I know would benefit, and they want to be able to come, but cannot.  This really makes me sad but there is nothing else I can do.

Perhaps this is just my time.

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