Monday morning was still Easter as far as Paris was concerned, and that meant no museums for us. Instead Jeff and I journeyed over to Sacre Coeur and Montmartre. The weather was cool, breezy and overcast--a huge improvement over the weather I had experienced when I was there, which was shade-free and stagnant with a 100 percent chance of skin-sizzling sky-lasers. (Jeff took the above photo during his November visit.) Sacre Coeur sits, cherry-like, atop the hot fudge sundae that is Paris. Over a decade ago I climbed three-fourths of the way up its many, many stairs in the merciless noonday sun before concluding that I preferred not dying of heat stroke to putting a check in the box for Famous Church #104,939.
Jeff showed me that life didn't have to be that way, and for a few euros we rode the funicular, a.k.a. Wuss Train, up to the top. My feet were really starting to hate me by then, after days of walking for miles and miles, and because of possible rain I wore my leather boots. They're knee-length, and I wear them with socks inside of tights. Their footpad is...acceptable. That day one sock decided that it didn't want to stay up, and it bunched itself into a little ball beneath my instep, enraging me.
Anyway, Sacre Coeur, i.e. Sacred Heart. Here's the view, once again from Jeff. The interior wasn't nearly as interesting as the exterior, especially its strangely elongated domes, which reminded me of my favorite pharaoh Akhenaten's daughters' heads. I've thought about Akhenaten at least once a week for the past twenty years and will mention him at the drop of a hat. Please do not question this.
Here's the thing about Sacre Coeur that I missed the last time I was in Paris: everything going on behind Sacre Coeur. One would assume that on the other side of this church you'd see a whole bunch of steps headed back down the hill. Totally wrong! On the other side is the bohemian area of Montmartre I'd come to romanticize while studying 19th-20th century art history. Let me just throw some green underlined names at you: Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, André Derain, Suzanne Valadon, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Maurice Utrillo, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and African-American expatriates such as Langston Hughes worked in Montmartre and drew some of their inspiration from the area. And it was bizarre and to see their actual homes and studios, as if they were at one time real people in human bodies moving around and making things.
And how about their hangouts, such as La Maison Rose, which from a distance looked like a child's mural of a pink restaurant?
Or the Lapin Agile (the nimble bunny!), too adorable to be believed, where I sat on a bench, took off my boot, and pulled up that lousy sock of mine?
Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and other impoverished artists lived and worked in a commune, a building called Le Bateau-Lavoir, during the years 1904–1909. According to Picasso biographer John Richardson, this studio complex sounds completely horrible:
"The place was so jerry-built that the walls oozed moisture--'glacial inwinter, and a Turkish bath in summer'--hence a prevailing smell ofmildew, as well as cat piss and drains....On a basement landing wasthe one and only toilet, a dark and filthy hole with an unlockable doorthat banged in the wind, and, next to it, the one and only tap...There was no gas or electricity."
Denise Acabo, the sweetest woman in Paris, welcomed us into her tiny candy store and, since we couldn't understand the French descriptions of her many chocolates, we asked her to please select some for us, whatever she liked. We were the only customers at the time and received her complete, doting attention as she spoke to us in charming, broken English. We were touched by her kindness and her obvious love of her wares--she became visibly excited as she described each one to us. We left the store with a bag of candy and the feeling that Paris had just given us a hug and a kiss, and we ate the chocolates in bed that night.
Art history and sweets out of the way, Jeff was a man on a mission to eat the best baguette in Paris, and I'm going to let him take over for a couple of paragraphs.
On my last visit to Paris, I became obsessed with baguettes a la ancienne. I purchased a book by Peter Reinhart called The Bread-Baker's Apprentice and baked many a loaf attempting to get the flavor, texture, crust, and crumb right, with some decent success. So, on this trip, I wanted to try baguettes from a few of the places Reinhart, and others on Chowhound, had mentioned: Gosselin, Eric Kayser, and Julian, plus also Au Levain d’Antan, the winner of the 2011 Best Baguette in the city award-- in Paris, the size, shape, and ingredients of a baguettes de tradition are regulated, so it's easier to compare.
On our trips around Paris, we hit each of these boulangeries. I expected Gosselin to be my favorite, since it was the one touted by Reinhart, but while I found it good, the inside was too yeasty for me. The Kayser and Julian baguettes were similar--very good, large crumbs, a sweet inside from the longer fermentation process, and better than anything I could get in Illinois. But, in the end, I agreed with the judges. The Au Levain d’Antan baguette was amazing. The outside crust was hard, but crumbly, with strong flavor. The inside was all holes and sweet, moist bread that was delightfully chewy. We ate half of the baguette walking down the street to the metro, and the rest almost as soon as we arrived home. Just one more thing to haunt me now that I've returned home.
Madame Manners says, if you eat a baguette on the street, break off pieces small enough to place in your mouth; don't tear into it with your teeth.
[I'm back.--Kelly] After a walking past dozens of sex shops lining a street called Place Pigalle, which I had never heard of but Jeff seemed to very much know about, we let Montmartre in search of lunch in the form of Le Bistro Paul Bert. But--ack!--it was closed.
So we began a long walk in the general direction of our apartment. A few days earlier we had spotted a restaurant that served mussels, dubiously called Academie de la Biere, or Beer University (not to be confused with Bovine University). We walked at least a mile into the increasingly brisk and damp wind, craving protein and the absence of the increasingly brisk and damp wind. We hoped that Beer University would be open, and it was! We sat at a communal table--next to us was a group of about eight people leisurely finishing a big meal--and ordered what ended up being a mother lode of mussels. Restaurants vary wildly when you order mussels, we've found, and we were awestruck by the huge bowls of mussels and fries set before us here. We could have easily shared one order, but here were two.
(The fries, of course, did not meet Jeff's exacting Belgian standards. Sigh.)
But the mussels were great--a ridiculous 75+ per serving, we estimated. Mine came in a wine-cream sauce, and Jeff had curry. It took us a while to mostly-finish them, and we tore off pieces of our prize-winning baguette and dipped them into the sauce. Jeff ordered a Belgian framboise beer that he liked, but our waitress winced when he pointed to it. She pointed to a different framboise called Grisetta, quietly insisting that he order it instead, which Jeff did.
And now Jeff has a new favorite beer.
Warm, happy, and stuffed to the gills, we walked back to the apartment. With the aid of Dropbox and his computer at home, Jeff managed to stream the previous night's episode of Mad Men on his iPad. He hung it from the light fixture over the bed using his belt. Such is our love of and dedication to Mad Men.
Another lovely day. That night I wrote:
I feel so closely bonded to Jeff when we are in a foreign country. We kind of exist inside our own bubble anyway, but when our surroundings change, we don't know a soul, and we don't speak the language, a second bubble envelops us. And this place is so beautiful, romantic, and the food is simply incredible. I adore my husband.