Friday, April 30, 2010

The Atlantique

Our friends in Nantes are quite the tour guides. They always have a big plan for us. Yesterday, after lunch they drove us to the cliffs of Quiberon.

But wait, there's more. After we walked along the cliffs and saw this bluest ever sky. Earl's attempting to make a suave, debonair face, but I'm really just using him as a contrast for the sky.
And as we walked along the sandy path of the cliffs, we saw this arch worn away from years of waves beating at the granite cliffs.
Then we watched the weather come in from the ocean, sweeping away the bluest sky and threatening rain. Rain? On our 20th anniversary trip? How dare it?

Our friends' daughter Isabelle, who stayed with us in the U.S. 11 years ago, is home from Poland. We had planned to return home in time to celebrate her birthday but the time got away from us. So we stopped for dinner at a creperie. Let me correct my information from yesterdays crepe versus galette report. The difference between and crepe and a galette is the type of flour that is used. Crepes use white flour and galettes use some type of dark grain, according to my friend Danuta..
The way home with our friends is never direct. We stopped at a church named after St. Cornelius that had wainscotting in the vaults of the church that were painted with church scenes. Visitors could put a Euro in the slot to turn the lights on and illuminate the paintings. Then,since we were so close, we drove to the standing stones of Carnac. I don't know a lot about the standing stones, but I always pictured them as a ring of stones, like at Stonehenge. Wrong. These standing stones form lines of sorts, but they go on for miles and miles, as if these ancient people had nothing better to do then position stones through every season of their lives. I do wish I knew what they were for, and I wondered what in our daily lives we might think is normal that someday other people will wonder about.
We stopped at another place along this peninsula where the climate makes the water warm and I let the ocean run onto my feet.
We didn't get home until 11. Staying with tour guides is exhausting!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Food, Glorious Food


(Do you think I overuse the word glorious? Really, it should be a fairly rare occurence.)
I should have written about food today because we had some of the best meals. The day was spent trying to track down gifts that are apparently non-existent. In France, we found all kinds of NBA jerseys, even a USA olympics jersey with the names of players on the back, but no French basketball jerseys. Come on? Not even a team France with Tony Parker's name on the back?
After giving up on le basket, we tried to find French Open gear. Here in France, they don't call it the French Open. They call it Roland Garros after the stadium where it is held. A man in the Nike (prounced NIKE to rhyme with bike) store told us about a tennis shop over near the Champs Elysee. Metro and buses later, we arrived in a tennis shop that did not include in Roland Garros gear. Discouraged, we began to look for a lunch place.

Down a side street, we found a restaurant de Normande. That meant we got to have galettes, which are like crepes but they have savory food in them. For the 13 E menu, we each had a meal galette, a dessert crepe and a cup of cider, which isn't like apple cider, but more like beer with a tingle. Earl's galette had tomatoes, ham and cheese. Mine had bacon, potatoes, cheese. Hmmm. His dessert crepe was apple and mine was, of course, chocolate.
More walking, more shopping, more sightseeing. We went up to Montmartre to enjoy the view. The steps leading to Sacre Coeur are filled with teenagers watching breakdancers at the bottom. Guys walk along with 12-packs of Heineken selling individual beers like they're at a ball park. All too surreal.

Spencer's wish from France was a French basketball jersey. Since we couldn't make that wish come true, we decided to eat his favorite French meal. Steak Frites. He begins to salivate just thinking of it.
My blogging friend Linda who lives in Paris in the winter and Provence in the summer told me about the best steak frites place in the city, so we made our way there around 8 p.m. It's on Georges V, near the Champs Elysee again. The restaurant only serves steak and fries. There is no ordering, only the question of how you want your meat done.
We had half a bottle of red wine, salad to start then steak and fries. The sauce is greenish and tastes like it has basil in it too me. But wait, once you've eaten your salad then the steak and fries, they bring a second order of steak and fries. We declined the dessert.
Got to go catch a train. Hope I can blog again tomorrow.
The moon last night was phenomenal. Is that better than glorious?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

J'ai trompe


Trompe (with an accent over the e that I don't know how to make) means making a mistake. Yesterday was a big day of trompe-ing (Franglish) but it ended up with some great experiences.
Our first plan was to get up early and take the train about 45 minutes away to Monet's Garden. This is the garden where he painted his famous water lily paintings. The train left at 8:20. We had a wake up call for 7, but I was in the shower before then. We left the hotel by 7:30, but by the time we found the correct ticket office for the SNCF, learned that American credit cards don't work in the self-serve machines, and stood in line to buy the tickets, we missed the train by 2 minutes. Earl and I were both kicking ourselves, playing that "if only...." game. The next train didn't leave until 10:20 so we had a lot of time to kill.

When we got off the train we rented bikes. Earl always rides ahead of me because he's a faster rider. At one point, I was chasing after someone, calling to him because he missed the turn to Giverny, when it turns out not to have been Earl but someone else dressed in brown. We missed the bicycle path and took the busy road. Then we thought we were at a different museum instead of the gardens. Finally, once inside, we tried to enjoy the beauty and forget about our eventful trip there.
After walking and sitting, and oohing and aahing over the house with its bright colors and Japanese art collection, we were ready to bike back. We bought a scoop of ice cream from an ice cream truck -- I got cafe flavor, Earl had tiramisu -- we sat down and looked at the train schedule. The last train listed was at 2:20. Earl looked at his watch. It was 2:05 and we had four miles to bicycle through the French countryside.
We ditched the ice cream cones and hopped on the bikes. Then we began to ride like crazy. We weren't very far before I pictured the schedule in my head and realized we had been looking at the Paris to Vernon schedule rather than the Vernon to Paris train schedule. I yelled for Earl to stop, but he was already too far ahead. I tried to catch up to him, he even waited for me at one point, but as soon as he saw me, he started bicycling again and my yells didn't reach him. That's when I decided to stop. If I couldn't catch him then he would eventually have to come back for me. I stood still on my bike, enjoying the shadow that fell on the countryside when a cloud moved across the very blue sky. I wished I had the camera to take pictures of the scenery. Eventually, Earl came back looking for me and I explained our trompe again.
We slowly rode the rest of the way to Vernon and caught a train back to Paris.
Our next mistake was also transportation related. We were having dinner at Marie's parents. Marie is the French girl who came to stay with us last summer. Dinner time was set for 8 or 8:30. I knew we should arrive closer to 8:30. We left the hotel at 7:45 with a plan to get there by bus. We had to change buses three times. The third time, we got on going in the opposite direction. We rode to the end of the line then had to wait 15 minutes for the next bus to arrive.
At nearly 9 oclock, we found the building and someone was going into the outer gate. They let us in. But, as we looked at the tall building, we realized that we had no idea which apartment they lived in and we didn't have their phone number. We stood in the courtyard and called toward the open windows, "Marie!" "Jean-Baptiste!" No luck.
I asked people who walked in. No one knew them. Finally, a man showed us a little screen that, if the proper button was pushed, would list the tenants name alphabetically. We found their name and called. Marie came down the elevator and took us to their apartment on the seventh floor. No wonder they couldn't hear us.
Marie's parents, Jean-Baptists and Alice were very charming. We had drinks on the terrace and could see the Eiffel Tower from there. We drank a delicious honey liqueur and had some rounds of bread with pate.
We moved to the table for the first course -- a green soup. Yes, that's right, green. Many times the French will make a vegetable soup and then puree it all together so it has the consistency of tomato soup. This was made from courgette, which we had a hard time figuring out but finally decided it was zuchinni, although the French/English dictionary suggested summer squash. The pale green soup in the white and blue bowls was beautiful. I did not get a picture.
After that we ate thick tuna steaks with a sauce made from basil, lemon and cream -- yes, green again. We had white rice and carrot medallions too. Then came the cheeses -- four different kinds, all gooey and delicious melting on my tongue. Finally, dessert, which I was too full to eat, but ate any way. Raspberry sorbet made by Alice and a citron tart. Hmmm. We didn't stay for coffee because Alice was driving back to her parents' house in the suburbs.
Alice and Jean-Baptiste were very interesting and friendly. I'm glad Marie stayed with us and we were able to make this connection. Earl kissed them both on both cheeks before we left, but he blames the honey liqueur. I shook hands, but I liked them both very much. Here's what we saw when we got to the train station. And we got on the train going in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Strange Signs

We just got back from a long and delicious dinner at a friend's house. I'll tell you all about it tomorrow, since it's after midnight here which means I'm nearly a pumpkin.
I saw this sign yesterday and couldn't figure out what it meant. (Ignore the graffiti. I'm talking about why the state or the city would put up a sign like this.)



Why would it have a line drawn through a parent and child holding hands? The other side of the sign clued me in on the way back. Does anyone have any guesses?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Food


Today was a day of food. We planned our day around a restaurant. The restaurant is the one where Renoir painted Luncheon of the Boating Party. We read the book of the same title by Susan Vreeland and decided that we should visit the restaurant, which is still standing. Of course, times have changed and the restaurant may rely more on the fame of the location than the tastiness of the food. The restaurant, called Maison Fournaise, in Chatou, a suburb of Paris, was a train ride and a walk along the Seine away. We sat on the balcony and chose from the meager menu..
Asparagus in a mediocre sauce. The tip of the asparagus was tender and sweet. The thick stalk was stringy and should have been broken off, in my humble opinion. I had duck as my main dish which was not overdone and was quite juicy. Earl ordered sea bream, just praying that the fish wouldn't be looking at him when it arrived. It wasn't
The best thing about Earl's meal was the tiny, hollowed-out zucchini filled with carrots and peas and potatoes. Isn't it adorable? I don't think the taste knocked him over, but the presentation was spectacular..
Although the food at the Maison Fournaise wasn't great, we have had some yummy food experiences.
On Sunday, following an afternoon of walking and museums, we stopped at the Cafe des Beaux Arts for ice cream sundaes. This is called a Chocolate Ligeois. The ice cream was chocolate and the whipped cream, or chantilly as it is called here, was rich and only a tiny bit sweet.
After a disappointing meal at the Maison Fournaise, we took an afternoon stroll down the Champs Elysee and ended up at Laduree, the famous tea room. Earl tried the macarons the restaurant is known for while I opted for the lemon tart. The macaroons were interesting with a soft cookie shell and an almost jelly-like filling. The lemon tart filled my mouth with a burst of sweet and tart. Hmmm.
We also drank tea. It was all very dignified with little pots of tea in the hand-filled tea bags. When the waiter brought the two pots, he took the lid off and sniffed deeply from the steam arising. Then he put the lid on and sniffed the other one. One more smell and he pronounced the pot almond tea, while he poured for me. Then he gave Earl, what else, Earl Grey tea.
One adjustment that we are having to make as Americans is being patient in cafes and restaurants. I keep reminding myself that we are paying for the seat as much as anything. So when the waiter is slow to bring us a check, he is doing us a favor. The longer we sit there, the more we get our money's worth. And, frankly, we have no place else to go, so we may as well sit until we get tired of Paris.
Here's a view of the very fancy Laduree from the street.
And I may as well include a photo of Earl on the terrace where Renoir painted, because that meal was all about location, location, location.
Truthfully, Earl would have added a lot to that painting. Here's a copy of the original for anyone who doesn't recall.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Another Day in Paris Flown Away

We made the most of another day in Paris and I have stayed up late (for me) grading papers. That was how I convinced my boss to give me all online classes, by telling her what satisfaction she would get out of imagining me grading papers in Paris.
Earl and I headed over to the market on Rue Mouffetarde this morning.
Pretty much any food that could be imagined could be purchased. Here's a seafood stall where the creatures looked as if they would crawl off their ice beds. As we walked past the fromagier, the smell of the cheeses was so strong. It made me want to stop and buy cheese. I guess that's the point.
Another thing that made me salivate was the sight of this white asparagus. I had hoped to find asparagus for dinner, but maybe tomorrow.
The stalls were selling huge bunches of lilac, which must be in bloom. Strange because the lilac is in bloom at home too and I thought Paris was ahead of us as far as flowers and trees blooming in the spring. I do hope I get to see, and smell, some wisteria in bloom. I'm hoping someday for a trellis across our front steps at home with some wisteria draped across the trellis.
The strawberries for sale in the market were the reddest I had ever seen. People were walking and munching on the fresh strawberries. A teenager walked past eating a strawberry. She had the bluest eyes and the reddest berry. She was already past me when she stopped. I asked Earl to take her picture. He said he felt like a stalker, but he took it. I think nearly any picture of this girl would wind up looking enticing. Isn't she gorgeous?
After the market, we headed for the Seine, where all things touristique are happening.
When I first visited Paris, I stuck to the Metro, the subway system. It's easy to use and feels safe. What I didn't know, was that the bus system, equally easy to use and safe, is closer to most things and allows me to see many Paris sights that I might have missed underground.
Earl and I bought a Paris Visite pass that lets us travel all we want on buses and the metro. We frequently catch a bus and figure out where we want to get off once we are on it. Tonight we were going to get on a bus and just ride the entire route so we could see the sights at night, but I had a few more papers to grade so we came home.
Our first stop was l'Orangerie, which is a small museum that houses Monet's water lily paintings.

The paintings look deceptively easy. Couldn't any one paint blobs of color and say they're water lilies?
Apparently not, because no one has pulled it off besides Monet. Even as his eyes were failing and his paintings got darker and darker in color, his blobs look like water lilies.
We had planned to visit the Musee d'Orsay on another day, (Hey! I rhymed) but the tickets to l'Organerie were cheaper with a companion ticket to the Musee d'Orsay. This museum focuses on impressionism and it's hard to believe the number of paintings done by Monet, Cezanne, Manet, Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, etc... The sheer number makes your eyes go numb.
Here's what I learned while roaming through the Musee d'Orsay today (I rhymed again!), I want to be the kind of woman that Renoir painted, not the kind of woman painted by Degas, Cezanne or Toulouse Latrec. All of the women painted by Renoir seemed happy. They were enjoying life. They were nicely rounded and living life.
The Musee d'Orsay allows no pictures inside any more. What a shame because even the museum, a former train station, is phenomenal.
So I'll leave you with a photo of me and Earl on a footbridge across the Seine, and I promise a food blog tomorrow with lots of "food porn" as requested by Suburban Kamikaze, who needs to get her skinny butt across the ocean to visit France or Greece or Italy, or someplace and start living life before it passes her by!

Fashion News


Since I am in the fashion capital of the world, I have some sad fashion news to impart.
Apparently, harem pants are making a comeback.
I know! I know what you are thinking: But harem pants don't look good on anyone. Chubby girls wear them thinking they'll cover the excess bootie and thigh, but that never works. I agree, yet, what are you going to do when the evidence smacks you in the face over and over again?

I tried to explain to Earl the benefit for shorter women like me. They are tight at the ankle so you don't have to hem them, but then they can balloon down over your shoes and still look too long.
The tiny girls in these pictures who are wearing harem pants are going to be adorable no matter what they wear. It's just one of those things, but what about the larger women who opt for harem pants? And not just harem but many-layered harem pants? Is there any hope for her?
I think it just might be best if those of us over 40 and over 110 pounds opted out of this specific fashion. We had our chance in the 1980s and I'm betting most of us embraced the harem pants then.
The thing is, if we aren't going to wear the harem bra shirt and the veils, ala I Dream of Jeannie, the harem pants are not going to be sexy. And for some of us, even that won't work.

Dinner with French Friends


Last night we went to dinner with Danuta (who is Polish but married a Frenchman nearly 30 years ago), her daughter Agnes who is 27, and her son Vincent who is 19. This family is not typically French because -- one, they don't have a television, and two, they are passionate about music. Their entire family play instruments or sing. Vincent came to Paris to composer school when he was 14. We were visiting then when he took his exams, which required writing the part for different instruments and voices for some kind of classical music. The family has three other children and the husband, Michel, was not in Paris.
We met them for dinner at about 8:30 and we begin to wander down Rue Mouffetard in search of a restaurant. There are tons of restaurants but they did not meet the requirements of the French family. They are very picky about their food. Vincent has been this way since he was little. He would not eat the noodles that the other children were served, but wanted a grown up meal.
Inevitably, he argued with his mother at each place we paused. But this was not a real restaurant, this was only a bistro. He called a cousin who knew the area well to get her opinion. He spoke to his father.
Danuta rejected a number of places because they were winter foods -- fondue or raclettes. Those were for skiing season, she explained.
We finally settled down to eat dinner out doors a little after nine. Truthfully, it wasn't a great choice. The restaurants in France have different priced "Menus." Each menu has starters or entrees, then the meal or plats then dessert. Sometimes the "Menu" includes wine as well.
I wanted the goat cheese salad, but there wasn't a plat to choose from that looked great. I ended up with steak au poivre - that's a pepper sauce, but basically it was covered in gravy. The salad was terrific and luckily filled me up mostly. Also the dessert I chose was chocolate mousse -- lighter than air but much more scrumptious.
Earl had onion soup -- of course that was French onion, and Danuta didn't tell him he should have had a warm weather choice. He ordered turkey cordon bleu -- basically deep fried turkey. We were both pretty disappointed in our dinner choices. Earl's dessert was Tarte Normande, which is an apple tart with creme fraiche on the side. His dessert was good too.
Agnes got fish and it was like surgery for her to eat it. Yes, it looked like a real fish lying there on her plate. She used her knife and fork to carefully pul out the meat, looking for tiny bones.
The company was the point of the meal though and we enjoyed catching up on all of the friends and relatives.
Earl bought Vincent a coke because when he was 14 and we were having dinner near l'Opera (Oh, a truly great restaurant as Vincent recalls), Vincent and his father fought. Vincent wanted a Coca Cola but his father told him, "You'll drink wine like the rest of us." Our friends in the U.S. get a kick out of that story.
We left the restaurant after 11 and walked back to the apartment where Vincent and Danuta were staying for the night before catching the train back to Nantes in the morning. Vincent was going to play the piano for us, but since it was after 11:30 we cancelled the piano date
"Vincent plays very passionately," Danuta explained, and it was too late at night for such a raucous piano concert. He will play for us when we visit Nantes at the end of the week.
Agnes headed home to her Paris apartment while Earl and I walked back to our hotel.

Earlier in the day, Earl and I went on an excursion. We stopped for cups of hot tea to give us some energy. 9 Euros was the cost. That's basically $13 for two cups of tea. Then we went to Luxembourg Gardens to walk around. Everyone in Paris was there to enjoy the beautiful weather.

The seats and the benches and the walls were all full of people. The areas of grass in the center remained pristine. No one is allowed to walk on the grass, much less lay on it or sit on it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

That Famous Tower

Earl and I have visited Paris before and we have gone up the Eiffel Tower. The most recent time, Earl and Spencer went to the 2nd floor because the top floor was closed. When the kids were little, Tucker and I went all the way to the top while Grace, Spencer and Earl went to the second floor and then back down. Tucker claims now that he is afraid of heights, but I set him up on a wall and took a picture of him on the top of the Eiffel Tower, so I know he isn't really afraid. When kids have fears, like Grace's fear of elevators, they show even when they're little, like 9 months old.
So one of the things on Earl's list during our visit in Paris was to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. It opened at 9:30 and we were pretty much walking underneath the tower as the gates opened and people began to move. We dodged young African men selling Paris scarves and Eiffel Tower key chains. Here's the view on the ride up the elevator.
Things worked out perfectly and in no time at all, we were on the troisieme etage staring down at all of Paris.
The day is perfect, a little hazy for taking pictures, but no complaints.


I tried two artsy pictures. Do you like either of them? The one with Earl's reflection is taken at the top of the tower. At various places around the summit, it lists different cities and the distance away. The photo on the left was taken from the second etage with Earl leaning over a rail and the rest of the Eiffel Tower behind him.
Since Earl claims that he doesn't mind heights but just doesn't like elevators, he decided we should walk down from the second floor, which shouldn't be that far. But here's a picture from the first floor, so you can tell the second floor is even farther up.
We went looking for a market, but I was sketchy on the location, so we ended up having lunch in a cute little street. Although it was nearly 12:30, no one was sitting down for lunch. When the waiter convinced us to try his restaurant, he thanked us by giving us a kir aperitif. Kir is champagne and cassis. Lovely way to start lunch.
We started with salads, goat cheese for Earl and avocado for me. Then Earl had beef bourguignon and I had lamb chops, both accompanied by carrot and green beans cooked in garlic and butter. We were swooning with joy. Another pichet of red wine helped round out the meal.
I guess you could say we're enjoying ourselves.
A Japanese girl took a picture of both of us. She didn't get the entire Eiffel Tower, but you can't have everything.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Finalement!


Guess where we are?
After all the cancelled flights and volcano dust, our plane left on time and arrived pretty much on time.
We didn't get a lot of rest and Earl definitely had a tougher time than I did. That's why he is snoring behind me right now. This was the smallest amount of space I've seen on an Air France flight. Here's a photo of Earl sitting as far back as he could. Can you see the metal that runs along the back of the seat that gouges into Earl's knees. When those guys in front of us laid their seats down, ouch! Also, the flight attendants banged his knee every time they came down the aisle with the food cart.
In spite of the small amount of sleep we got, we were determined to stay awake when we arrived. We made it to the hotel about 2. We showered and went in search of a Brasserie, which is a French restaurant that serves sandwiches and food all the time. Many restaurants only serve meals during normal hours, so dinner isn't available until 8 p.m. and no one is serving lunch at 3 p.m., except the brasseries.
We sat outside because the weather was in the mid-70s to 80. A breeze kept us cooled down.

I ordered a pichet of red wine, which is a small pitcher, and we both ended up having four glasses -- but the glasses were small, really. Considering that I hadn't had any alcohol the past three weeks, the wine really hit me. I would say I was tipsy, but I think it went farhter than that.
Then we ended our meal with little espressos. Earl doesn't even like coffee, but he agreed to drink an espresso in the hopes of staying awake.
After our lunch, we went walking. We took a bus and then walked down by the Seine and enjoyed the sunshine. And so did an old couple making out along the river. It seemed so French that this guy with a mane of white hair had his hands on either side of this older woman's face and they were, well, Frenching, right there on a bank beside the river.
I love that the sun was shining and the leaves are unfurling, which makes for much better photos than our last trip during March a few years ago, when everything was still pretty gray.
As our energy started to wane, we stopped at another cafe near Pont Neuf for a second espresso. We were setting small goals for ourselves -- if we don't
go back to the room until 7 then we can stay awake until 8... Finally, we caught a bus and returned to the room.
And there is one thing I hope everyone will agree on when they see these photos, and that is that the $25 I spent to have my hair blown dry and straightened on Thursday was definitely worth it. Even after a night on the plane, it still looks fabulous.

A Cat Story

If you've read my blog in the past, you know how busy I am this time of  year with 8-10 page research papers turned in from each of my s...