Five random things I love about Paris

July 20, 2009 at 12:02 AM | Posted in Paris 2009, Paris markets, Wanderings | 3 Comments

These are a few photos I snapped on a walk on Saturday morning:

1. The seriousness with which le pain quotidien (daily bread) is taken

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I had known that each neighborhood’s boulangeries rotate the days on which they are closed, so a neighborhood will never be fully without bread. What I didn’t know is that they extended this practice to their vacations.  The translation of this note, which is taped onto the metal shade of Boulangerie Julien, my #1 neighborhood bakery that is temporarily closed for vacation:

This boulangerie belongs to Group 1.  Closed for annual vacation between July 13 and August 2.  The closest bakeries are…

What struck me most is not that they would helpfully point you in the correct direction for an alternative source of baguettes and croissants and religieuses and mille-feuille, but that the bakeries are actually organized into groups to help keep a neighborhood in bread for those who remain in town during the national holiday month of August.

The problem now is that Gosselin, their first suggestion, was my backup baguette for when Julien was closed on Sundays.  So now I have to find a backup for my backup, because Gosselin is closed on Saturdays, and while they are pretty good, a) it’s a bit far for a pre-coffee, pre-work baguette run (about 3 blocks, whereas Julien was about 2–yes, you can feel free to slap me if you want to), and b) I’m just not totally convinced that it’s worthy of moving up to the coveted #1 favorite baguette spot.  The eclairs and chocolate tarts were good, but not especially memorable, and it’s just missing that je ne sais quoi.

2) Telling it like it is

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Sign outside the sandwich shop on R. St. Honore (actually right next to Gosselin).  At least they’re not pretending to be something they’re not.  In a moment of hungry desperation I once got a sandwich here…and let’s just say that they don’t engage in false advertising.  But to be fair…I was on the same side of the street as the shop so I couldn’t see the awning, and it was Sunday so everything else was closed. I guess I thought there would be some osmosis effect from Gosselin. I was wrong.

3) Really great samples if you are a woman

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I’m not being sexist or exploiting my gender, I’m just being honest–women, especially youngish foreign women who make an effort to speak French with the vendors and end up (I hope) sounding charmingly foreign rather than annoyingly foreign, are offered samples incessantly at markets. When I went to the Marche Bastille with my parents and Judy and Rusty, and happened to be wearing a strapless sundress (mega bonus sample points!), they couldn’t believe how many offers I got of slices of melon and cherries and tomatoes and olives and cheese.  Anyway, I stopped by the Marche St. Honore–honestly, pretty puny and empty–and got accosted by a bored vendor of dried fruits, glaceed fruits, and olives.  First, he gave me a sample of every single dried fruit (there were probably 15).  I had zero intention of buying so I felt a little guilty…but so it goes. They were too sweet for my taste, although the fraise de bois (wild strawberry) was pretty good.  Then I saw the olives and moved over to look at them, and he eagerly began offering tastes of every kind of olive that was there.  Again, I had no intention of buying, but he got a distraction, and I got to practice my French and have a snack, so I think it all worked out okay in the end.

4. Packaging

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I stopped by the Pierre Herme boutique on R. Cambon, because really, who cares about the Chanel store when you can gawk at chocolates?  The nice thing about confiseries and chocolateries is that you can go to the fanciest places in the city, like Laduree or Pierre Herme or Jean-Paul Hevin, and try their most famous product for pocket change (well, 3 euros for a macaron and a bonbon is not exactly pocket change, but it’s a lot less than a Chanel purse! and a lot more delicious! and, thanks to this blog, just as immortalized!).  So I continued my cross-boutique comparison of bitter chocolate (chocolat amer) macaron, and also got a bonbon caramel buerre sale enrobed in dark chocolate.  I have to say, for all my exultation of Laduree, Pierre Herme’s macaron was better.  The cookie part was fleshy with just a little give, and the ganache was fresh and thick, and the store’s ambience felt a bit more focused on the food, rather than on creating an atmosphere of opulence (but sometimes you just want to feel opulent while eating your amazing macaron, and in that case, Laduree is still where it’s at).

But the packaging.  The other nice thing is that, even when you buy 3 euros’ worth of candy when the person next to you is dropping 100 euros or so, your purchases are still treated with care.  When I told the woman that I wanted one macaron and one bonbon, she got out a pair of scissors, carefully cut the confection bags so that the candy wouldn’t look like it was drowning inside, and wrapped it up, no questions asked.  Pierre Herme is one of the more famous chocolateries in Paris, so she also put in the catalog of chocolate and macaron flavors (this brochure is more detailed and should give you a taste of the willpower it took to buy just 1 bonbon and 1 macaron)

I will add the caveat that in some ways Pierre Herme is the exception, because in most cases when you buy food, things are wrapped up beautifully (cheeses, croissants, patisserie) in minimal packaging.  Rather than shrink-wrapping cheeses, they are wrapped in individual pieces of paper that are either taped or folded shut, which not only lets the cheese breathe, but also helps reduce packaging waste.

5. Its location as a crossroads of Europe and the world

Between the two summers I have spent here, I have either been visited by (in a dedicated trip) or met up with (for people who happened to be coming through Paris) probably 15 different sets of friends, family members, and friends-of-friends.  Between plane layovers, Europe trips, friends flying in for long weekends, and full-on, week-plus vacations, everyone seems to come through Paris.  This past weekend, one of my friends from HSPH was doing some contract work for the WHO in Geneva (where she lived for a year) and came to Paris for a night.  It was fantastic to see her, and really fun to get to explore parts of Paris together.  Forget all roads lead to Rome…it seems to me, in my TOTALLY unbiased opinion, that more roads lead to Paris.

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3 Comments »

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  1. Loved your blog and felt like eating half of what you were describing. Can’t wait for your next blog entry. Have a wonderful birthday tomorrow! Tell me all about how you celebrated. By the way, Karen is typing this as I dictate. Have a happy, happy birthday!!!!!!! MWA with an extra large bubble!

  2. Oeuffi, it’s great to read of your ever more intimate relationship with Paris. It really is a magic place by MY important measures – art, history, food, architecture, and did I mention food and art and that tarte chocolat at La Ceresaie? Hope you have a WONDERFUL BIRTHDAY! Go have a macaron on Oncle Rut and moi. We’ll settle up in November.
    xoxoxoxox, Joodles and Rut

  3. Did I mention what I love most about Paris????? The food, the art, the food, the paintings, the food, the sights, the food markets, the cheese, the pastries, the bread, the desserts, the bread and the food. Oh, and the museums, and that tomato soup we had at the last restaurant we went to…and the bread. Keep the blog going. I LOVE it.

    xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo(more than from Judy!),
    Mom


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