Cooking in Paris, random, beautiful encounters, traveling to Brittany, reading Proust…
Where to even begin? We just crossed the one month threshold for our stay in Paris, which seems impossible. I don’t want this moveable feast to ever end. (In case you were wondering how I’m feeling about things.
Anyone who travels has had this kind of experience, but I’m just going to highlight it here because it’s fresh in my mind. There is something so tender and precious in the encounters you can have with strangers across culture and languages. (Paris isn’t that remote and exotic, but still…it is a foreign country.) But in the fleeting whirl of daily life abroad, the quick, kind encounters you can have with strangers live inside you because they touch you in places that don’t often get touched and affirm our capacity for decency and humanity.
I’ve been cooking up a storm since we got here (roast chicken, spaghetti and meat balls, cassoulet, Beef Bourguignon, roast pork, etc.) and it’s been wild fun. Especially the shopping for ingredients. Getting dinner worked out at home is kind of a chore based day. Simple. But here, it’s pure adventure. ‘Okay, let’s get our produce from the organic guy at Marché des Enfants Rouge, I’ll check with the butcher there and see if he’ll sell me a small amount of pork shoulder, we’ll go up to Coeur, have a coffee, say hi to Vanessa, get a baguette around the corner, check in with that butcher and see if he’s got duck leg confit, then we’ll get olives at Marché Bastille…’ Most of these moments come with a little bit of tension or anxiety, ‘how do I ask for duck leg confit?’ (easy, all the butchers have this) and what if no one speaks English? How do we find Saucisse de Toulouse? Etc, etc,. Up on Rue Saint-Maur, across from Chanceux, (1.2km) is Côte à Côte Boucherie. No reviews, no listings in Google, no apparent online presence…at all. And yet. The first time in there, we found ourselves fumbling. There was a lot of hand waving, Google translate, pointing at various meats in the case, but we had a sublime experience. We kept finding ways to communicate — and then as it all worked out you’re just watching the loveliest man behind the counter smile like his first born has just arrived. It’s beautiful and affirming. It changes you. There have been many other such moments (involving a different butcher at the same shop who found us a pork roast at a different shop, and called around for us as we tried to find a meat thermometer) and as much as anything we are doing here, these little moments where you throw yourself on the mercy of others goes surprisingly deep.
On December 15th, Linda and I hosted a dinner party here at Boulevard Beaumarchais, our current digs. (We made a cassoulet and it was rich and hearty.) In attendance, Noah & Janet, Cessy & Joel, (Noahs’ parents) and Linda’s long time friend from Maine, Kathleen. Absolutely great evening. Suffice to say that some rather remarkable wines accompanied that meal. Thanks to one remarkable wine steward.
The next morning, filled with cassoulet, we taxied over to Gare Montparnasse and boarded a train to Saint Malo, in Brittany. Which, in a word, was spectacular. Trying to somehow capture that experience in a string of sentences here is doomed to failure. It was impossibly beautiful in all ways. There was sun, there was pouring rain. There was a long, long drive. There were crepes. I could spend the rest of my time trying to get it all down and it still wouldn’t work. It was epic. Splendid. Splendiferous. Sublime. Surprising. Stunning. How was the Chateau Richeux? See previous list of adjectives. And the dinner there? Beyond belief, utterly. Refer to list, please.
St. Malo is Brittany — draw a straight left line out of Paris, and you’ll spot St. Malo on the English Channel. From St. Malo, (two nights) down to Dinan for lunch (the famed crepes of Brittany!) and a freezing walk through town (I would live there tomorrow, and so would Linda) then down toward Vannes, and La Trinite-sur-Mer on the North Atlantic. Brittany is similar the to the Pacific Northwest so we saw a lot of gray, wet weather. And speaking of that…if you’d told me all those years ago that one day I’d be hurtling through rainy Brittany with my daughter at the wheel of a Citroen, and my wife in back with Riggins, the world’s greatest Brussels Griffon, while listening to Van Morrison, Buffalo Springfield, Al Green, the Police, Nick Drake, Ray LaMontagne, well, I would have said you were nuts. I would tell you I would not be able to handle such happiness. But reader, it was thus. From our walks and our hotel rooms and our trains and our rental cars we gazed out over the Channel, the North Atlantic and vast stretches of agricultural lands on the way to our destinations. Janet plotted a course from Dinan to La Trinite-sur-Mer through 900 roundabouts and pouring rain…and then we touched down at Les Petit Hotel des Hortensias, which was, are you surprised? Charming, warm, small, elegant, perfect, friendly.
So…where do things stand? Linda is taking care of Riggins over in the 6th while I’m holding down the the fort in the Marais. Riggins’ people, Janet & Noah, are in Cairo. I’ve started to try and walk & shoot in the footsteps of Eugene Atget. Ha! We’ll see if I can keep it up. I bought my second Annie Ernaux novel today…I Remain in Darkness. I am trying to read Proust. Stay tuned.
Oh, and we had riots in the streets here a few days back — all related to the racist-based killing of three Kurds. I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, like how amazing Mont Saint Micheal was. It was!