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In France, the ambrosial fruit known as coing, or quince, is usually transformed into jelly or fruit paste. But getting at that wonderful taste takes a little work, and sometimes just finding quinces can be a challenge. But in the French countryside, quinces are there for the taking. Or are they ?
Nestled between Monaco and the French-Italian border, Roquebrune Cap Martin is where the steep Alpes Maritimes tumble right into the Mediterranean Sea. Perched on three “shelves,” the town includes turquoise sea coves on the cape, staircases running in all directions, and a hilltop medieval village featuring one of Europe’s oldest olive trees. But all these features were secondary during my recent visit : I’d chosen the destination for the architectural gems that sit right along the coast.
Paris in summer is a ghost town. Even though the juillettistes are back (those vacationers who leave in juillet or July), the aoûtiens (“Augusters”) are away for at least another week. In just a few days, I’ll also be joining the ranks of aoûtiens who have left the city in favor of sunnier climes. And one of the first things I’ll do when I get to my destination – the Var – is to pick up a Tarte Tropézienne.
Ah, almost summer ! As the days here in Paris finally begin stretching out easily to ten p.m., on the sunniest early evenings, people everywhere are lounging on outdoor café patios or terrasses. In my ‘hood, we’re catching up on local
gossip news, and just watching people go by as they leave the Père Lachaise cemetery. But some of us are taking advantage of what used to be called l’heure verte, or the green hour.
Urban poetry ? Mirrors of a changing society ? A sense of helplessness, or a search for balance ? Fragmented and isolated figures, or just insignificant clowns ? Whatever Philippe Hérard’s street murals represent to you when you gaze upon them on the walls of eastern Paris, don’t expect him to tell you what they mean. He just paints them.
Normally I don’t write much about restaurants, nor do I review restaurants here on the blog. So many people do that already, and frankly, reviewing restaurants means working when I want to just sit back and enjoy the food and wine. Like most people, I relish a relaxing experience in a restaurant, far from the madding social media crowd and photos.
It’s no secret that I love my neighborhood, on the edge of Paris. Sure, I get to other areas : the Bastille in the 11th, the Marché d’Aligre in the 12th, and across town from time to time. But the Left Bank ? Not so much. So when I cross the Seine, it’s got to be for a good reason.
If you’ve ever ventured out to the southeastern suburbs of Paris, you’ve probably been through Créteil. There, you might have seen a strange group of buildings known as the Choux de Créteil. And you might ask : what are those choux ?
Have you ever wondered why the rooster is the national emblem of France ? The word Gallic comes from Gaul, the name of France before it was France – back when Vercingetorix was kicking some Roman ass. But the Latin word gallus also means rooster. In French cooking, we talk about gallinaceous birds, otherwise known as poultry. But the real reason ? For some French people, it has to do with singing.
If you’ve spent enough time in Paris, you know that surrendering to the peaceful exploration that Parisians call flânerie is a perfect way to re-discover the city in autumn. Noticing everyone’s new fall
styles boots, uncovering an area of the city under a rain of golden leaves fluttering to the sidewalk, or even stopping in a pop-up, or temporary, exhibit, are all part of the experience.
Autumn in Paris means one thing to gourmands all over the city : wild mushrooms ! Varied, earthy, and delicious, wild mushrooms are nature’s gift to Parisians courageous enough to hunt for the delicacy in nearby Fontainebleau forest. But centuries ago, mushrooms were suspect at best. And at worst ? They were downright scandalous.
When Jasmine Vegas steps onto the stage in Paris, she’s almost always armed with her shiny “suspender piano” (accordion), vintage cat-eye glasses, and maybe even a black panty-liner to match her black dress, as she once told a surprised audience when this short-lived feminine protection was first introduced onto the market. Just who is this provocative “Dada diva” ?
Get out your wicker basket and gingham blanket : it’s picnic season ! Pâté, hard-boiled eggs, ham, and fruit salad or a full-fledged fruit tart – whatever you can dream up to put in your basket is perfect, but don’t forget the corkscrew and a bottle of rosé. And of course, the condiments. The most important one is a jar of small French pickles or cornichons.
What’s more important : how your food looks, or how it tastes ? Any professional chef, myself included, will tell you that both are essential. What your dish looks like whets your appetite, and makes you want to take that first bite. But how food tastes is the most important, and it’s what keeps you going back for more. Or is it ?
With such beautiful spring days here in Paris, we’re taking full advantage of being outdoors, whether in our sunny courtyard, or in the local parks and gardens, like the Buttes Chaumont nearby. But sometimes one of the best parts about living in Paris is leaving Paris.
Who hasn’t ever dreamed of living in a penthouse apartment ? For the views alone, a flat on the top floor of a city building is tempting, even if the price is far less so. Penthouses are also known for their luxury appliances and frequently large outdoor terraces. But whoever invented the penthouse clearly never visited Paris, where life at the top takes on a whole different meaning.
Many books have been written about how to dress like a Parisian. When I first moved to Paris, I thought I would just naturally soak up the local style, through fashion osmosis. In my mind, the process also included a fairy-like personal shopper, who would actually go into stores for me and do the dirty work. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who doesn’t like shopping, right ?
Ça roule, ma poule ? How’s my hen rolling ? Huh ? The last time I saw poultry roll was in a game of turkey bowling back in high school. Frankly, I thought the game was a waste of a good turkey – why roll poultry when you can eat it ?
Have you ever had a great cup of coffee in Paris ? If you haven’t visited the city in the last seven years or so, your last cup of caoua [ka wa] here was probably burned, bitter “sock juice,” a purely utilitarian beverage found in any number of the average-to-poor cafés around the city. No longer ! The “third wave” of coffee has arrived on Parisian shores.
Have you ever met the kind of person who says things were better “before” ? Before what ? Even though I feel passionate about the history of Paris, and especially eastern Paris, I’m not nostalgic by any means. Why is it that I keep running into people who say C’était mieux avant ?
What is it about Paris that inspires flânerie, or aimless wandering, past shop windows and brightly lit cafés, where couples sit enchanted with their own company ? It could be the short, typically northern-latitude winter days, when only the highest apartment windows shine with the reflection of a sun so low in the sky that it seems it will never climb back up to its summer zenith.
We all know people who wear skinny jeans and lumberjack shirts, have a beard, or ride a skateboard. But put those things together, along with a penchant for free-trade organic foods, or a love of music and films hardly anyone has ever heard of, and you get the now well-known phenomenon known as the hipster. But what, specifically, does a Parisian hipster look like ?
Between you and me, I can’t think of any vegetable more unglamorous than beets. Before I moved to France, I associated beets with the evil witch in a fairy tale. In my mind, before she tucked into her toadstool and eye-of-newt omelet (or a small child), she would start her meal with beets.
Have you ever been insatiably curious about someone you see regularly in your neighborhood ? It happened to me last summer. I kept seeing a tall, beautiful, and muscular woman, who ran. And ran. (Apparently, she loved running.) She had a large unmistakable tattoo covering her thigh : the colored interlocking rings of the Olympic Games. What was this champion runner doing right in my neighborhood ?
What do a market gardener, an accordion player, a grumpy concierge, and a leather-clad hairdresser have in common ? They all, at some point, have shared in the legendary history of the rue de Lappe in Paris’ 11th district. In the late eighties, this street was known as a cut-throat alley, but today, despite the flux of party tourists and a regular rotation of residents, what remains constant in the rue de Lappe is the spirit of the bar-owners and the one remaining Auvergnat who calls this street home.
The first time I was faced with a mound of black figs, I have to admit I felt a bit half-hearted, and even a little anxious : a well-meaning friend had brought me a whole basket of the fruit from her parents’ house in the Parisian suburbs. Sure, I’d seen figs a few times at the local market, and I thought they looked good, but I’d felt too intimidated to buy any. Now that they were in my hands, what in the world was I going to do with all these figs ?