Sunday, May 5, 2013

Paris (France)

Since Rich was going to be working outside of Paris for some time, I decided to tag along so I could actually see my husband and some more of the city. This was my third trip to the City of Light, and let me say straight out (and hope not to earn your eternal ire): Sorry, folks, I'm still not quite feelin' it. Maybe it is because there are so many expectations from films and literature and pop culture, it would be impossible to live up to. The architecture is impressive but not really my style. People rave about strolling along the bridges on the Seine, but my attempts to capture this romantic interlude have been more gray Paris than gay Paris. And while I am sure that dining in the hallowed halls is everything I would dream it could be, for most meals, it seemed to my mind (and budget) that you had to pay dearly for it... But maybe also, Barcelona has spoiled me - give me Catalan modernisme, eternally sunny beaches, and affordable gastronomy by chefs named Jordi!

That is not to say that I found nothing of interest in Paris. Indeed, we were so dazzled by one place that we went twice. E. Dehillerin is a dark, unassuming spot in the 1st arrondissement (as neighborhoods in Paris are called). Inside, what looks like a dusty hardware store is, upon closer inspection, a veritable treasure trove. For a chef, it would be easy to believe this place has everything your heart desires. The ceiling-high warren of shelving holds every conceivable size and shape of pans (bundt pans the size of a half dollar!) and utensils for which you could only hazard a guess at their purpose. Should your preference run to copper, cast iron, or stainless steel, E. Dehillerin is like a fine armory from which to choose your gleaming weapons. The styles and options are myriad, but for the uniquely French cook, there were such specialized items as soft-bristled croissant brushes (they look like something you should groom a horse with) and escargot dishes (not unlike those dented platters for devilled eggs). To add to the temptation, none of the wares are marked with prices. Each shelf or container has a coded number that you look up in one of the three binders in the store, and one of the aproned old men will wrap up your selections in brown butcher paper. We managed to tear ourselves away with a particularly fine chef's knife, fierce-looking shears, and a French rolling pin.

The other reason for visiting Paris, for me, is the art. I had been to the Louvre (overwhelming) and the Musée d'Orsay (wonderful) previously, but this time, I wanted to try to make it to some of the other 204 (!) art museums in the city. The Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and the Petit Palais had some nice, free permanent collections of modern and fine art, respectively. The Musée de l'Orangerie is small but superb for contemplating Monet's series in water lilies. Again, I have to admit the artistic high point reveals my slight Catalan bias. The Centre Georges Pompidou had a phenomenal Salvador Dalí exhibit occupying almost the entire expanse of the sixth floor. We were a little concerned that having waited for 1.5 hours in line and having been to his museum in Figueres, we'd be disappointed. How wrong we were! With some ridiculous number like 400 of his works on display, there was plenty to amaze, astonish, and just plain be weirded out by. Although I may not always understand it, I am always fascinated... and as a much bigger fan, Rich, who gave up the chance to sleep before his next shift, thought it was totally worth it!