I’m back in Paris and it’s so nice to just be here. It has been a lazy trip so far. Jim and I have been catching up on our sleep and getting adjusted to the time difference. We should be completely normal, so to speak, by tomorrow morning.
Most tourists will buy their metro/bus tickets individually or as a packet of 10. Savvy travelers may get a weekly pass, but the best choice is the Carte Orange. This is what the locals buy. You’ll need to get your mug shot taken in one of the convenient photo booths, I like to use one at the Louvre station. We arrived on Saturday, so we need to wait until Monday to buy the pass, as it is good for one week, beginning on a Monday.
Saturday night, we went down to the metro to travel over to our friend Jean-Pierre’s abode. I sallied my way over to the ticket machine and was offered some assistance by one of the nice gentlemen hanging around the dispenser, just waiting to give help to the confused tourist. Skip these guys. They’re hucksters.
The ticket dispensers do not accept bills, only coins and credit cards. The instructions are not very clear and it gets frustrating when a group of people begin piling up behind you. Here’s where the hucksters come in. “Do you need help? Here are tickets for 10 euros…” Take their tickets and you’ve now bought a bunch of used tickets for too much money. If you are frustrated by the machines, go to a window.
Dinner ala Jean-Pierre
Our friends Jean-Pierre and Philippe love to host us for dinner. Jean-Pierre has a great flat on the top floor of a building in the 20th arrondissemont. When I win the lottery, this is where I’m moving. It’s got a great combination of stores, parks, metro stops, restaurants, and people. It’s middle class, affordable, and comfortable.
Jean-Pierre surprised us with les clafoutis de Christophe, a cookbook for a dish that is similar to a quiche, only lighter and with a cakey crust. He served his favorite clafoutis, cherry tomatoes, cheese selection, and a lady-finger/apricot dish. Tonight we will meet them again for dinner in the 13th arrondissemont.
Marche aux Puce
Flea markets are popular in Paris. If you needed a few extra bucks, you would have taken your stuff and sold it outside the city walls to avoid taxes. Now that the walls are gone, the Parisians still head to the outer ports to get rid of their junk.
The marche aux puce at the Porte Saint-Ouen is the world famous destination for antiques, fine art, and really bad merchandise. It’s huge, confusing, and exhausting. It’s more of a bohemian shopping mall than a flea market. We head for the opposite side of the city, Port de Vanves.
In this working-class neighborhood, people line up their tables and blankets along two small roads between housing complexes. They enjoy the weekend selling, bartering, and mostly playing card games and socializing. The merchandise is a mixture of used house-hold goods, mid-century décor, decorative items, and lesser quality art. If you take your time, you can find some great gems here.
In the past, we’ve purchased a Steinlen etching for about $100, a 19th century etching of St. John the Baptist for about $30, a wonderful baccarat vase for $20, and a nice hunt scene lithograph. We’ve also bought some odd items, last year I grabbed a couple hand-carved vases made out of spent shells from a large tank in World War 2. The returning soldiers would grab the casings and carve designs into the copper sides. I paid about $5 for each of them.
This weekend, the flea market was filled with goodies. I started the day with a movie poster for le Diabolique (10 euros). I then dug through some prints and found a large four-color aquatint print of a lake scene. The paper is not in the best shape, but the image is solid and looks quite nice. I also purchased “the Orphans,” a stone lithograph from World War 1. It’s a nice complement to the Steinlen etching that I purchase earlier. Both of these prints cost 25 euros.
I later found an odd looking kitchen appliance that features a glass vase suspended with a holder. It looks like you could put a burner underneath and boil liquid in the vase. I thought it could make an interesting flower vase.
Did I need any of these purchases? Nah, but I’m happy with them and the aquatint will look great in Maison Bleue.
Coffee in Paris
Heidi visited me recently in Sunnyvale and we went to an espresso class together. The espresso part of the class was a disaster. Five espresso experts ran around trying to impress each other with their grinding, tamping, and brewing styles while the leader verbally ran in circles for 2 hours. When we finally got to try these uber-cool espresso grinders and brewers, the results were universally pathetic. I have never had such horrible tasting coffee in my life.
However, the second part of the class was about steaming milk. This is where we come back to Paris. To create really good steamed milk, use full-fat milk and steam it in small batches. Don’t use a big pitcher and continually re-heat it as seen in the generic American cafés.
When it comes to food, the French do it right. I’ve often wondered why their coffee was so much better than at home. I assumed it was the beans and the milk, but it is in the preparation. You want the milk to have small bubbles throughout, not a layer of bubbles on top of warm milk. A spoon shouldn’t be needed to create the foamy top. This happens naturally when the milk hits the coffee.
One day, Jim and I decided to visit a café near Chatalet-Les Halles for a petit dejeuner. When we found it closed, we crossed the street and went to an open bar. I cannot tell you how delicious the coffee was. It was the mother of all coffees.
We went back yesterday and the coffee wasn’t as good. It was still tasty, but not drop to your knees and thank Elvis good. This takes us back to the espresso class. A barista tries to make a great cup of coffee with consistent technique. The machines may be slightly hotter/colder, the pressure may be stronger/lighter, the winds may be blowing from the south, and the landlord could be singing show tunes in the shower. The point is, you can’t brew a show-stopper every time. You can, however, fly to Paris and watch the people pass by as you sip your coffee in an outdoor café with an amazing croissant.