Friday, November 30, 2012

Arts et Cuisine

Last weekend I went to the 8th annual "Food and Culture" seminar, an event co-sponsored by the Université François-Rabelais and the Institut Européen d'Histoire et des Cultures de l'Alimentation (European Institute of Food History and Culture). There were panelists from all over France, and one or two from other countries, though the focus was on the state of cuisine and food culture in France for the most part. The IEHCA is, among other things, trying to get UNESCO approval for the entirety of French culinary history through the present day being designated as having world heritage status. Tours itself is in the running for the title of Cité de la Gastronomie, representing the core principles of traditional French cuisine and terroir. Part of the IEHCA's project is trying to work with the French people themselves, fighting the decline in traditional family meals, the rise in quick MacDo lunches instead of unhurried solid bistro fare, and the lack of actual decent bistros to eat in.

There were panel discussions on service and presentation, on depictions of food and eating in paintings and movies, and on the question of whether cooking, or l'art culinaire, is worthy of being an Art-with-a-capital-A - and if so, why? I found most of the discussions very interesting: philosophical approaches to the nature of art, whether it's a technical skill or an aesthetic experience; the role of food in religious iconography; films like "Babette's Feast" and "Ratatouille" (and they didn't mention "Tampopo" but I thought about it); food's influence on other Arts - architects are hired to design restaurants and generations of 18th-century silversmiths spent months designing ornate serving dishes - and Art's influence on food, as seen in highly stylized platings and vertical pastries. The fleeting nature of the medium, and the fact that it depends on individual tastebuds.

I took about ten pages of notes, in a mangled Franglais. Here are some random jottings:

  • T-Fal is experimenting with a pan that changes color depending on how hot it is.
  • Formal dining and religion both involve transubstantiation, rites, a specific order of events, and servers who are in ritual clothing.
  • Many words in many languages, such as bitter, describe tastes as well as emotions.
  • No one not of peasant class was ever depicted in the act of eating during the Renaissance, and in general not often thereafter either.
  • Old men and widows were once supposed to avoid eating chicken because it would make them lusty.
  • Most artwork depicts ingredients, rather than finished dishes.

An interesting definition of "artist" came up in the second panel discussion, about how to be an artist one needs to be recognized by the public, generally because they're purchasing if not simply admiring one's works, and one must also have a group of students to pass techniques on to. That seems to limit the chef = artist possibilities down to the top-name varieties - or else it opens it up completely to anyone who has a restaurant and a sous-chef. If a soufflé falls in a kitchen and there is no one to eat it, does it have a flavor? Another topic was whether cooking and the restaurant business was like theatre, in that you're performing for an audience, or whether because food can't be fully appreciated without eating it, there is no audience but rather a collaborative effort.

After all that talk, it was time to eat; I'd paid my 28 euros for lunch and to guarantee my place in the food photography session that first afternoon, so went over to the Hôtel de Ville where a buffet had been laid out. I'd rather hoped for a sit-down lunch, because I find it annoying to walk around holding tiny plates and forks, and because there's usually more chance of food I can eat, but alas, it was not to be. I ate the middle out of a slice of tourte à la viande and enjoyed some of the pork rillettes that had been molded into the shapes of geese and pig's heads, but everything else was dangerous. I got a little dish of something I thought was described as tartare de saumon but which tasted like mayonnaise mixed with chunks of butter. I had half a cup of chestnut soup, which did have cream in it, but marrons are in season right now and its smelled divine (it tasted good, too). I had a slice of ham and a spoonful of butter-laden parsnip purée and a glass of local red wine to wash all the dairy products down. And a dried fig with a bit of Sainte-Maure de Touraine tucked inside, which was really delicious. And then I took a probiotic pill, and went downstairs to look at the "Street Food" photography exhibit.

The big-name draw to the conference was Thierry Marx, and he was supposed to be on the first panel but was delayed somewhere. He had sponsored the "Young Talents" portion of the recently-completed 4th International Festival of Food Photography, and some of those photos were on display. The photo entries for the main competition are on the festival's website; I particularly like the ones by Pauline Daniel. Food photography was my chosen breakout workshop, but as I mentioned to Mom recently, it was more a philosophical and historical overview than a how-to session (which is what I'd hoped for, since I'd like to improve my camera skills). I did get some good ideas from the exhibit photographs, though.

Anne-Claire Si Fodil is an expert in food imagery and she introduced the beginnings of what has become "food blogging" as well as general illustration of food products and dishes. As noted earlier in the day, there wasn't much in the way of depictions of finished dishes in art, and the first such picture she referenced was a drawing of a savory pastry from a recipe book dated 1898. Food photographs started appearing around 1903 and by the 1940s there were color photos that started portraying not only the ingredients and the final dish, but also tables with multiple items. In 1977 the first (to her) "art" photo of food appeared with the full-page "Cerises en Beignet" (below, right), and from then on the medium developed to such an extent that now there are artists using food to create photographs of landscapes and photographs of food that are so artistic you don't even realize they're of a particular foodstuff.

Can food photography, the panel mused, being something that is both artistic and illustrative, help diners and chefs both learn how to appreciate food more? By emphasizing the beauty of a dish, it encourages us to slow down and enjoy the visual aspect of eating; by highlighting the previously ignored details of a humble rutabaga, for example, it could inspire chefs to a deeper understanding of their ingredients.

The phrase paparazzi gastronomique was used to describe the obsessive food bloggers (guilty!) who take pictures of everything they eat in restaurants, and it was noted that some restaurants have banned photography entirely. I've stopped using a flash in restaurants, personally, but don't plan on stopping my obsessive behaviour. After all, if I don't practice, how will I get better?

The famous M. Marx (the bald guy in the middle of the panel below) was there for the second day's opening session, which centered on the question of what creativity is, and where it comes from, and how that applies to cooking. One of the other chefs said that to him the creative process was the spirit of joy and exploration and curiosity he enjoyed working with his entire kitchen team. The pastry chef on the panel said that he didn't work that way, but was driven by what the customer demanded, and that faut qu'il y a un but, un thème assez précis. That struck home with me - I think I'm like that, better at being creative on demand, for other people, than in coming up with things on my own.

The thing about creativity, though, concluded the panel, is that in cooking you can be as creative as you want, but if the customer doesn't eat what you make, it's useless. Thierry Marx said that as far as French cuisine goes, if chefs don't move towards new things and innovation, what will happen to the culinary arts? When clients are stubborn, you might have to work towards basing the dishes in tradition and more familiar flavors, but you don't have to stop any forward (or sideways) movement entirely. The fact that chefs require paying customers in order to survive was mentioned again, as well as the fact that it's easier to handle new flavor experiences when you're traveling but that people (i.e. the French public) expect the traditional and comfortable tastes of home when they're in France. But that's changing, said Marx; do we go to a restaurant because we're hungry, or because we're looking for a different experience than we'd get at home? And chefs in France used to be judged on how well they faithfully reproduced a standard dish, but now they're being critiqued on their original interpretations of same. "Dare to be creative!" was his constant theme.

One of the other chefs described how he'd been working with a group of American chefs, and that when it comes to cooking, "with Americans everything is possible" because they look at ingredients and wonder what can be made from them, rather than what should be. And that the French chefs are afraid of making mistakes, and they're stuck in "the way it's always been done" - the example was celery-root peelings, which French cooks throw away, but which (according to him) were turned into another dish in Korea. But be proud of France's culinary heritage, repeated Marx, and the fundamental strengths of French techniques that chefs around the world study even today.

And yet the weaknesses of today's France were admitted, with Marx saying that "en France on mange vraiment mal" especially when compared with someplace like Italy or Japan, where no matter how small the town or out of the way the tiny cafe, the food will be good and well-cooked by someone who knows what they're doing. The panel blamed this on the lack of family cooking at home these days, la cuisine familiale. As in the US, there's less and less cooking done at home, and more things being heated up in the microwave, so children don't grow up being at the very least familiar with the concept of cooking, much less educated in basic techniques. I didn't get a chance to ask a question of the panel, but it would have been this: we educate children to learn to appreciate other forms of art, by giving them books to read and taking them to museums and such, but you can't create a museum of foods they can go to and taste, so how should we teach children about food? After all, it's one thing that children aren't growing up learning how to cook, and another that they're not growing up with an educated palate. The first will deprive a country of chefs - but the second, much larger population, will deprive a country of people who even consider patronizing the places the chefs work.

There was a panel discussion that was supposed to be on the relationship between pastry and architecture, but it ended up being hijacked by an audience member who talked really loudly even though he had a microphone and for much too long (and mostly about himself and his considered opinions), so I left a little early. An interesting quote from the architect Le Corbusier started off the discussion, however: "La femme sera heureuse si son mari est heureux. Le sourire des femmes est le don des dieux. Alors faîtes donc de votre cuisine le lieu du sourire féminin! Et que ce sourire rayonne de la cuisine sur l’homme et les enfants présents autour de ce sourire." ("The wife will be happy if her husband is happy. Women's smiles are the gifts of the gods. And a well-made kitchen is worth peace in the home, so make your kitchen the place of the feminine smile! And may the smile beam forth from the kitchen over the man and the children in the presence of that smile." - quote and translation provided by panelist Catherine Clarisse, architect and author of the 2004 book Recettes d'Architecture.)

There was one more panel that afternoon that I took notes on, about the art of service and the profession of waitron, which was somewhat startling as I didn't think people actually made a career of that any more, but apparently they do. That's another area of restaurant life that hasn't made much progress (officially) in France since the early 1900s either, the professional maître d'hôtel on the panel noted, and archaic traditions combined with the fact that the choice of going into what is essentially vocational school for a career in the service industry needs to be made when French students are 15 years old or so is making it difficult for restaurants to hire qualified staff, and to keep them in le métier de la salle. There are living-wage rules and a good social support system here in France (as well as a built-in tip on the restaurant bill) that could make it economically feasible to have a career like that, but I wonder if you could get by in the United States? Have a glass of vin de Touraine and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Orléans: High Hopes And High Ceilings

I was required to show up in Orléans last Monday at the Office français de l'immigration et de l'intégration, the new (since 2009) administrative department that deals with foreigners in France, including students. While I have a year-long valid student visa, in order to stay for that year I also needed a valid carte de long séjour, a long-stay residence card. Orléans is the headquarters for the Centre region, including the department of Indre-et-Loire, in which Tours is located, and my appointment was set for 1:30pm. I went a little early so I'd have time to look around the town. Unfortunately the tourist bureau was closed - I hadn't really looked up "what to do in Orléans" before leaving - but the cathedral was right there. I am constantly amazed by the size of the cathedrals here, and the one in Orléans must be among the tallest in the country.

A fellow visitor was kind enough to take this picture of me in front of the main door so I'd be able to give you some idea of the scale of this structure. I'm approximately 5'7" and the door is what, six times my height to the top of the arch? And the door itself is less than one-third the total height of the ceiling of the cathedral. So that's - hang on, doing some math ... I come up with approximately 107 feet tall. Immense. And impossible to picture the work being done by hand back in the 13th century (with additions and reconstruction over the next few hundred years).

Orléans and its cathedral are closely linked to Jeanne d'Arc, who lead the resistance against the invading English army in 1429 and broke a siege that eventually led to France retaking control over much of the territory held by both Phillip III of Burgundy (then a separate realm) and Henry VI of England. I'm sure the tourist office would have been able to point me to more historic sites in the area, and when I have time perhaps I'll go back and look for them; I didn't see much more of the city than the cathedral on this visit.

It's nice to travel alone, because then you can spend as much time as you want looking at things, or passing them by completely, without worrying about someone else's interests or priorities or schedules. But it's not nice to travel alone, because then you can't share ideas and images and discoveries, which is part of the fun. Taking pictures and blogging about them afterwards isn't the same at all. The back of the cathedral is ringed with alcoves where specific saints are portrayed and venerated, and when I saw St. Helene I thought of my friend Helen, and wondered if she would enjoy seeing this place, and experiencing France as I am. If you're reading this, Helen, remember that I've a spare bed for guests, and open for visitors in February and March and after mid-June! Oh, and that goes for the rest of you, too. I've got classes in April and my friend Pat is visiting then, and Mom and John will be here for most of the month of May, but if anyone happens to be in the area, do stop by and say hello.

Orléans has an excellent tram line that goes through the square in front of the cathedral and winds around back towards the station, and I followed it looking at the houses along the way, and looking for a place to eat before my appointment.

There's a slightly different style to the houses that I saw here, compared to the ones in Tours, but I can't really say how. More brick is used, and the chimneys are taller, and the façades seem flatter. Maybe it's because the little mini-balconies and ironwork are missing. But there are the same winding streets that go in random directions and lead me astray, so I knew I was still in France.

I did make it back to the center of town, and saw a Chinese deli/restaurant that looked pretty good. There were only a few people when I walked in, but within five minutes (I must have arrived just before the businesses took their lunch break) the place was packed with people eating on site or ordering to go.

I had non-gluten-free stir-fried chicken with basil, and some very nice bean thread noodles with tree ear fungus. I don't know why I've been in the mood for Chinese food lately but I've also been eyeing some of the restaurants here in Tours and thinking of dim sum.

The official business at the OFII was a walk in the park, contrary to my worries of not having the right paperwork or not answering the questions correctly and being told to go home and pack up to leave immédiatement. But just as my freakouts related to getting my visa in the first place were completely unnecessary, my concerns about getting through this particular bureaucratic maze were as well. In fact, I got some useful tips on applying for health insurance - my interviewer told me that in fact as a student I cannot be denied insurance - and on applying for another year's stay in France. "Actually, if you wanted to stay ten years that would be just fine," she said. "If you're still a student, there's no problem." So now I have to figure out how to stay a student for the next ten years. That university degree in Medieval French poetry is definitely a possibility now ...

After the interviews and the x-rays (no tuberculosis here!) and the pasting into my passport of the carte with its official seal of approval, I had just enough time to do a little window- and food-shopping at the mall by the train station before catching the 3:40pm back to Tours.

As the duc de Magenta once said, "J'y suis, j'y reste!"

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Quiet Friday Afternoon In Tours

Le chat est sauvé!

Ils ont dû bousculer la branche à la fin pour le descendre, et le chat est tombé deux mètres à la fin, mais il s'est enfui rapidement, donc tout va bien.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Paris Weekend 3: A Delicious Sunday

I got a post-saint's-day present from the staff at the hostel of an umbrella, clear plastic with black trim and in good shape, that had been left by another guest at some point. This was good, as the fog had turned to rain by Sunday morning, and I had more walking to do. Besides the visual art I had planned to see, there was also edible art, the gluten-free pâtisserie at Helmut Newcake, the much-touted GF bakery that opened last year. It was advertised as Paris' first GF bakery, but as I'd also found GF treats the day before at a place that had been around longer, I expect there are more little corners of the city where one can find such things. At least I hope so. It's worth getting lost to come across hidden places with delicious food. Since the bakery doesn't open until 10am on Sunday, I mapped out a bit of early-morning exploration: take the metro to Gare de l'Est, walk through the Jardin Villemin, and then head down Rue Bichat to the bakery.

A map is always a good place to start, but of course I got distracted and off course pretty much immediately. I came out of the metro station near a large attractive church, and went over to see what was inside. The Église Saint-Laurent has been at that location, according to 6th-century bishop Grégoire de Tours, since the era when Paris was called Lutèce, and has existed since in one form or another through various sieges and pillages, with reconstructions or additions in the 12th, 15th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. It's your basic amazingly high-ceilinged, stained-glass-windowed, dark and gilded and chilly cathedral - a dime a dozen here in France. There was some sort of mini-service going on when I got there, and it was nice to sit and think for a bit, listening to the echoes of the chanting rise up towards the vaulted roof. I ended up staying for the first half of the service; the priest was from someplace in Africa, and I had to listen very carefully to understand what he was saying sometimes. The lessons and the sermon were on the end of days, but my day was only beginning.

I did have an actual map, but since I didn't know which way to orient the map even at street crossings, I ended up getting lost again. But this let me walk down a street that appeared to be entirely devoted to baby's and children's clothing. Seriously, every store on both sides of the street was either selling new clothes, displaying used clothes, or advertising tailoring of clothes for the younger set. And it also let me see this mini-Arc de Triomphe, and the Place de la République, which is undergoing some serious renovation right now, with all the streets and sidewalks torn up, and the large statue in the middle completely covered in plastic. I only got lost once or twice more after that, and finally arrived at Helmut Newcake.

As promised, there are rows and rows of gluten-free pastries; on Sundays they do a brunch, but that doesn't start until noon, and I couldn't wait until then. During the week they offer non-sugary foods like pastas and sandwiches and soups and pizzas, but prior to Sunday brunch it's all tarts and muffins. And coffee, thank goodness - though I'd already had some at the hostel, and only wanted a bit of decaf - because I'd gotten chilled in the church and the walk in the rain.

I ordered a pistachio tart topped with currants, and a mini-cake with maple syrup and walnuts. The tart was good, and the tartness of the berries made a nice contrast with the sweet cake layer. The mini-cake was really dry, though, as if they'd used too much rice flour. It crumbled into sand and required a good bit of water and coffee to manage, but the flavor was nice. I later added an apple muffin with a second cup of soy-milk café crème, and that was marvelously moist, filled with big chunks of soft spicy fruit.

Then it was back on the metro and off to Gare Montparnasse. The stations and trains were relatively quiet and empty on that Sunday noon hour, and I had time to listen to the musicians along the way, and drop a euro coin into each hat. Ah, Paris ...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Paris Weekend 2: A Foggy Saturday

I rode the metro a lot last weekend in Paris; while the city (at least the inner part) isn't really all that huge, it's often more convenient to hop on the subway than try to figure out which direction the streets are heading, because they're always heading in odd directions, and without a reliable guide like the sun to help in orientation, it's easy to get lost and turned around. At least that's what happens to me. I got lost a lot that weekend while walking around, and it was foggy all the time, so I took the metro whenever possible. Sometimes the rumbling of the wheels on the tracks had a humming buzz to it that reminded me of a digeridoo, and that reminded me of Morgan, which made me wish he were there with me.

Saturday I started out by visiting the organic market near John and Anne's flat; they'd told me it was a good one, and one of only a few marchés bio in Paris. I had a day of sightseeing ahead, so I did not buy any fruits or vegetables (or squid), and though I had hoped for some breakfast, it was all full of wheat and/or dairy, so I ended up eating a few small sausages from the rôtisserie at the southeast (west? north? who knows) corner of the market and feasting my eyes on the displays instead.

I'm not the only person who corrects errors on random street posters.

The second art exhibit I'd planned for the weekend is at the Musée Jacquemart-André through January 21, 2013 and features the works of Canaletto and Francesco Guardi, along with other members of the 18th-century Vedutisti, painters who took Venice as their subject. The Infinite Art Tournament introduced me to Canaletto, and I wanted a closer look at his intricate work. The museum itself is worth a look; it was completed in 1875 as a private home (read: mansion) at the direction of Édouard André and Nélie Jacquemart, his wife and an artist in her own right. They started collecting artwork from all over Europe using his family fortune and her discerning eye, and opened their home to specially-invited members of the public in 1876, giving balls and sponsoring exhibitions over the next thirty years, when they weren't off traveling to collect more art. The main rooms alone are works of art, painted and gilded up to and over their high ceilings. You can look at pictures of the museum here, but since cameras were forbidden inside I couldn't take any myself.

Detail, detail, detail! On one painting by Luca Carlevarjis titled (in French anyway) "La Place Saint-Marc Vers le Sud" the painted square was filled with hundreds of painted people, and I swear in the middle of the square there are two dogs getting it on. That is the kind of detail I didn't expect. Canaletto's works invited closer inspection, right down to the hair-fine detail that I had a hard time imagining could be done with a paintbrush. The pen and ink studies were also amazingly intricate. You can see an image of "La Libreria, le campanile et la Piazzetta vus de l’est" on the museum's website. I also liked Bernardo Bellotto's "La Tour de Malghera" (here's a photo taken at another exhibition).

My friend L. had come to Paris to spend the day with me, and dutifully went around looking at the artwork, even though - as he explained afterwards - his eyes don't see things in the same way. Colors aren't what I see, and apparently dimensions aren't either, so I'm not sure what he got out of the exhibit. Or out of spending the day with me; we are/were in a strange place, he and I, in terms of our relationship. 23 years ago I was an au pair in a small town on Lake Annecy, east of here near the Swiss-Italian border, and towards the end of my time there I met L., who'd come down on his motorcycle to camp by the lake. We had a short but intense affair, but he wanted to get serious and settle down and I did not. So I went back to the United States, and when he visited less than a year later I was less than completely welcoming and thoroughly platonic. However, we kept in touch via phone and letter over the next decade, both still feeling emotional and always what-iffy, though I didn't make it back to France and he didn't come back to the States. He eventually got married and now has two boys, but things got complicated back in 2007 when I came over here for a visit, and we both realized that while 20 years made a huge difference we still had unresolved feelings. One of the reasons I asked him to join me in Paris was so that we could talk about it, and yes, you may now scold me, Kate and Mom. And anyone else who thinks it's a bad idea to ask someone you maybe loved and maybe still do whether there would be a chance of a future together, at some future time after children were no longer in the equation. Being part of a divorce myself, I don't want to put other kids through that.

But when I saw L. again, it took about an hour to really realize that it was him there with me - part of that was a change in hairstyle, part in a lack of any immediate emotional impact. And then I realized that in many ways he hasn't changed very much, which is and is not good for any of us, really, as some things are just fine the way they are. On the other hand, he still has a ... a grey spirit, is the only thing I can think of. He doesn't expect or look for happiness. He loves his family but seems more to think about responsibility. Of course, this is often the usual result of having to work long hours, keep kids at their homework, deal with upkeep of a home and garden, and handle all the requirements of leading a life that involves kids and homes and gardens and jobs. But he was like that twenty years ago, too. His favorite group was The Cure; when I just looked them up on Wikipedia I got this quote from one of the band members: "Nihilism took over [...] We sang 'It doesn't matter if we all die' and that is exactly what we thought at the time." And that is exactly my impression of L., then and now. After we finally got into the conversational swing, things were easier, and I think we're comfortable friends now, but there will be nothing more. It was a strange parting, though, and an emotional one, in a repressed sort of way, and I'm still not sure that nothing will ever come of this in the distant future, but I am no longer foggy in my own feelings, and hope L. does not have a conflicted heart either at this point.

Be that as it may, we did have a nice day together, though I found myself talking more than usual in an effort to keep things - light? happy? frivolous? - not as grey as the foggy day around us. Le brouillard. And it was chilly, too, so I was glad we stumbled upon Bio Sphère Café, an organic and gluten-free establishment conveniently close to the museum. I had a buckwheat crêpe with pumpkin, egg, and leek, and L. had one with smoked salmon, and we both had gluten-free treats and tea for dessert.

After lunch, we started walking towards the Seine; while it's easy to get lost in Paris, at some point (at least if you're heading mostly towards the south and west) you'll run into the river, which provides a constant landmark. And of course there's the Eiffel Tower, visible most days, but not so much last weekend. My new-ish hiking shoes were giving me problems, unfortunately - the left shoe doesn't fit quite right on my left foot, which is a different size due to the incident back in 1999 or so when I fell off a horse and broke both bones in my leg, right above the ankle. My foot's slightly twisted, and slightly smaller, and it's hard to find a pair of shoes that work for both sides. Evidently I need to look for another set of insoles, because I developed a nasty blister on the left, and what I believe is a subungual hematoma on my big toe, something that "typically heals without incident" according to my research, so I haven't gone to the doctor for it yet. If my toenail starts to fall off I probably will go to see her, and right away, too. However, even with the blister and the painful toe, I did make it to the Champs de Mars before I had to sit down again.

The United Buddy Bears were spending their last weekend in Paris, and we walked past all of the countries represented, though since the country names were in French they didn't come in the order my brain assumed. For example, Germany (Allemagne) comes before Australia (Australie). Some of the painted bears were very creative, while others used pretty stereotypical representations - the Irish bear was dressed as a leprechaun. I liked Hungary's bear (bottom left, in red), but wasn't sure what the wispy floating cloud people were supposed to signify. Looking up that particular bear, I now find that the artist Sala Lieber created them to celebrate "the significance of the Hungarian family and its cohesion ... [the] floating masses are the daily life." Hungary is looking more and more interesting all the time.

The bear from China says "I will eat you up, and your economies too!"

It was getting dark, so there wasn't time for a carriage ride, but since they were charging something like 100 euros ($125 dollars or so) for a one-hour ride, it wasn't that appealing anyway. But I did take a picture for Leah, because every time I see a horse, I think of her, and wish she was here with me too. L. drove me back to the youth hostel to save me the walk, but given that it was rush hour on a Saturday evening and the crazy Paris drivers were even crazier, and pedestrians were ignoring all signs, and bus drivers were honking and blocking intersections, I could have taken the metro there and back and there again in the time it took to drive. But I appreciated not having to walk any more. We kissed goodbye, both cheeks in the French fashion and once on the lips as a farewell on my part, and he drove back to Amiens, and I went to find something to eat.

I asked the young woman at the front desk of the youth hostel if there was a good place to eat nearby, and she recommended some place called La Rotonde, and even gave me a 10% off coupon, but I assumed that any place that was (a) close to a youth hostel and (b) catering to that crowd was probably full of wheat, dairy, and lots of alcohol, so I set off in the other direction where I'd seen some Asian restaurants of various sorts. However, now that I've looked at the menu, I'll probably check it out the next time I spend time in Paris, because I'll undoubtedly be back at St. Christopher's.

But I had dinner at a little place just outside the metro stop, Restaurant Chamrouen Crimée, with Vietnamese and Chinese specialties, and roasted ducks in the steamy windows. I had duck with rice vermicelli noodles in a tasty rich broth that was infinitely satisfying after a day spent in the fog.