Tuesday, April 16, 2013

April In Paris

I never knew the charm of spring
I never met it face to face
I never knew my heart could sing
I never missed a warm embrace

'Til April in Paris, chestnuts in blossom
Holiday tables under the trees
April in Paris, this is a feeling
That no one can ever reprise

A sunny Sunday in Paris this past weekend, and the first really nice day I've enjoyed in that city all year. The hordes of tourists must have been thrilled as well, and there were lots of them wandering around with me; must have been spring break week in China, Germany and America, from the accents I heard. The open-topped tour buses were everywhere. I took the métro from the hostel to the Place de l'Étoile, and walked all the way back down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (about 4km/2.5 miles) through the Jardin des Tuileries. They were having a show jumping competition at the Grand Palais and I thought about seeing if I could get in to watch, but decided that it was too nice to go inside.

I'd like to start riding horses again. I'd like to lose some weight and get in shape as well. I'm not feeling unhealthy, but I have a suspicion that even with all the walking I do, my stamina is not what it could be. And I'm not feeling unattractive either; I could have been the model for Gaston Lachaise's 1932 "Standing Woman" (with a little creative modeling in the chest region, that is) and I think it's a very beautiful statue. But I would like to be able to get into the slim-legged pants I brought all the way over here with me. That's another reason I want to get back into cheesemaking - it really burns up the calories. At least if you're not putting the calories back on by eating all the cheese, which is what I did back in Oregon. Well, that particular temptation is removed now, at least.

I dropped down to walk along the Seine for a bit, and saw that the tour boats were also doing a brisk business. The water level is quite high, nearly up to the footpaths, and when the boats go by the waves splash up and soak the feet of the walkers and joggers if they're not careful.

I had a reservation at Helmut Newcake for brunch at noon, and so I reluctantly left the river and immediately got lost in the streets again, though I was headed mostly in the right direction. I didn't have time to wander too much, so when I found a métro station I went underground for a bit and popped up again at the Goncourt station, just a quick walk away from the shop on Rue Bichat. The Sunday brunch at Helmut Newcake is a set menu, and I wasn't thinking "dairy" when I made the reservation, so I didn't ask for anything special, and therefore was served very buttery eggs and pancakes that had milk or cream in them, I think, and feta on the salad. I had thought about perhaps going there with Mom and John, but while the food's good, it's kind of expensive, and I would have to double-check that butter etc. could be avoided. There was a choice of having smoked salmon or ham, grapefruit juice or orange juice, coffee or tea or hot chocolate. The focaccia-style bread was a bit too salty and dry, but the seeded loaf slice was good, and when they brought me dessert with my peppermint tea at the end and that dessert turned out to be a cream-filled profiterole, I was able to switch it for a berry-studded lactose-free financier instead.

When we're on the barge, we'll be cooking our own Sunday brunch. Some of the tour boats aren't on the river, but the old canals, and make trips up and down through the locks. That's another thing to look forward to next month. After brunch I followed the canals back up to the youth hostel, threading my way through the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people along the quais to either side, sitting in groups and picnicking on salads and baguettes and cheeses and wine, leaning against each other in pairs smoking and talking, or stretched out eyes closed in the sunshine. Every café I passed had all of its outdoor tables full, and I have a feeling that few people in Paris went back home and inside any time before sunset, if then.

I never knew the charm of spring
I never met it face to face
I never knew my heart could sing
I never missed a warm embrace
'Til April in Paris
Whom can I run to,
What have you done to my heart?

- music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by E. Y. Harburg (1932)

It was a beautiful warm spring-into-summer evening in Paris, and also in the southeast suburb of Créteil, where I spent the night at fellow student Galina's home. After a delicious chicken curry dinner cooked by her husband, we took our cups of tea out onto the terrace and listened to the birds while chatting in four languages (English and French for me, French and German and English for Roland, and English, Russian, German, and French for Galina and her daughter Anna).

There's a very interesting set of buildings in Créteil built in the '70s called "Les Choux" ("the cabbages") that we passed the next morning while riding the bus to Rungis. I didn't get my camera out in time to take a photo, but there's a short video about them here if you're interested. The buildings behind Galina's house are somewhat older (WWI or so) but not as old as the convent and church whose former lands they're built on. The bells were calling the nuns to evening prayer as we left the warm terrace and the lazy cats sprawled on the flagstones absorbing the last of the day's heat.

It started raining again on Monday.

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