Wednesday
Jul072010

One Day in Paris



Why would anyone do that? Well, the way the flight connections worked on the return from a European vacation. And, we think, perhaps one day is better than none.

In from Orly to drop luggage at the jewel-box Hotel Duc de San Simon, and then out for a day’s wandering, reminiscences, and reconnection. Over the Blvd St Germaine to the Rue de l'Universite/Rue Jacob and a stroll among the bustling crowds along its necklace of small shops of furniture, art, antiques, decoration, clothes and jewelry; a quick glass of rose at a favorite Cafe—the Pré aux Clercs. We next pause to view the current offerings in Claude Boule's window of Tuscan picture-stone--slices of rock whose mineral constituents give them the appearance of having miniature Italian landscape paintings in them. Past the nutty odors wafting out of Huilerie Leblanc, and then right into the Place de Furstenburg and into the Rue de Buci with its open markets. Down the Rue du Four gazing in designer window shops, through the Carrefour de la Croix Rouge, under the black steel centaur by Cesar, down rue du Cherche-Midi with a dart into Poilane for a deep draft of the aroma of fresh-baked wood-oven bread, and a sachet of their incomparable sablets. Around the Place St. Sulpice, and into the Eglise St Sulpice with it's unique twin towers--our favorite church in Paris; inside is the bronze astronomical measuring line laid in the floor that Dan Brown used as a clue in the Da Vinci Code.  

Back through Croix Rouge to the Rue de Grenelle--in this couple of blocks it's ALL designer shoes--Prada, Tods, Stewie Wietzman and the like.  Cross the Boulevard Raspail, though, and it returns to a Paris neighborhood. A dodge into Barthelemy--the best cheese shop this side of the river--for a look at the ranks of amazing fromage, and to be enveloped by an intense odor of ripening cheese. A block further, the Repair du Bachus, an old favorite wine shop provides a half-bottle of Bollinger for a later glass of bubbly.  Around the corner, a must stop is Ryst Dupeyron, for one of their iconic flask-shaped bottles of aged Armagnac--a '72 this time. On down the Rue du Bac, past the tall courtyard door of an apartment we rented many years ago; a pair of shoes calls out from the window of Fairmount, necessitating a quick stop, then into the Square des Missions Étrangères for a turn around the chestnut-shaded pocket park there.  On down the Bac to the Bon Marché for a meander through the floors of one of the best department stores in the world. Then across the street to the food halls--the Grand Epicerie de Paris--to gaze longingly at mounds of bright colored vegetables, stacks of mangoes, tiny pineapples, and a display of the most varied and colorful berries of all types ever seen. Our few purchases, with one day and no kitchen, are fleur de sel to restock our pantry at home and hard to find eaux de vie d’abricot. The Fouchon outlet down the block provides a small clear box of their intense pate des fruit for the homeward bound care package.

A few blocks from the hotel sits the Hôtel Biron, a beautiful mansion set in a large garden (built in 1730 for a wig-maker who made a fortune speculating in paper money), which has housed the Rodin museum since 1919. We've not been for years; so make our way over--they've converted a church on the corner to house a grand new entrance and exhibition hall. The current show is "Rodin and the Decorative Arts", which highlights some of his work commissioned for houses and villas--doors, gates, fireplaces--as well as his association with Sevres pottery. The highlights of the museum are, of course, the monumental works dotted around the grounds--Balzac, the Thinker, the Burgers of Calais, the Three Shades and the amazing Gates of Hell. It's a bit astonishing to realize that Rodin failed the entrance exam to the École des Beaux-Arts three times! Perhaps that says something about formal education and exams. It's inching past lunchtime, and the Café des Musée nearby sports a view of the sunlit gold dome of Les Invalides set against a robin's egg blue sky filled with cotton-wool clouds--a good setting for a simple lunch of ouefs mayonnaise, saucisson Lyon and warm potato salad with a pitcher of house rose'.   

We've owned a Smart Car at home for a couple of years, so are very attuned to the huge number of them we see scurrying around Paris. At one place on the Rue de Grenelle we spot five of them parked end to end--le cinq Smart.  There are many other new members of the tiny car pantheon--some are re-creations of older popular miniscule autos--of course the Mini, a new redux of the Citroen Deux Chevaux, a VW Fox, and the new Fiat 500, which is, I think, the cutest of the lot. Then we see an old mini next to a new one, and realize how much smaller it was--and the capper is an original Fiat 500, which looks about the size of a shoe box, and would damn near fit inside of the Smart!

We reserve for dinner just down the street from the hotel at the Ferme Saint Simon in a lovely room filled with very good modern art, populated almost completely by locals and regulars. Les asperges tiede--white and green--to start, and then perfectly crispy ris de veau served on a bed of wild mushrooms for her, and a delectable boned-at-table Dover sole for me. Across from us are a chic older couple, obviously regulars and fawned over--Madame has a cute black French bulldog who sits perfectly behaved beside her, peeking occasionally over the table. She clearly sees us admiring the dog, and as they leave, she brings it over, sets it on a chair, explaining that it's a French bulldog, with upright ears, and cute face, not an English one with droopy ears, smashed in nose, and gnarled teeth--all of which she hunches over and pantomimes vigorously in the middle of the restaurant.  I ask the name, and she says "Odile--Princess Odile" - Odile is looking over the table-edge at our plates--there's nothing left but garnish, and Madame says "elle veux la fraise".  I spoon it over, and Madame gives it to Odile admonishing 'doucement' – at which she very gently inhales the strawberry. Just too cute.

Summers often bring impromptu street entertainment in Paris, and we make our way to the Pont St Louis, where we've seen much before--musicians, jugglers, fire-eaters and such. A young, lithe Brazilian has just started his act, which his sign announces as the one-man circus:  he dances, turns cartwheels, and then does some pretty amazing gymnastic work on a twin pommel. At the center of the Isle St Louis one finds Berthillon, maker of the finest ice cream in France, and after a 10 minute queue-up, we're rewarded with boules of caramel beurre salé and agenaise--vanilla with prunes soaked in armagnac.

It's 11 o’clock, the sky is just darkening, and the towering clouds are pink, taupe and gray, stretched across the cityscape littered with the spires of Notre Dame, Tour Saint-Jacques, dome of the Pantheon, and the flashing strobe of the Tour Eiffel. One day may be a very short time in Paris, but we've packed a lot into it, and in the end, it is wayyyyyy better than not being here.