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 ...

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