Quand à Paris-2

When in Paris or Quand à Paris in french. Early June, the husband and me flew to the City of Love, hearts heavy with desire to bring to life the titillating words that I had absorbed from a plethora of books , to bask in the romance of a French summer and  attempt to satiate my ravenous longing for sugar in its many avatars. A week’s worth of vacation to make up for a decade’s worth of dreams. I attempt to share and narrate the magic that this darling city sprinkled on us, I hope you love it as much as we did.

-The day begins at the crack of dawn. I wake up in pleasant disbelief, realizing that I’m breathing the same air as La Tour Eiffel. However, tranquil moments are few and what quickly follows is shock because the appartement is still devoid of water. Water or not, we hurriedly bustle through our suitcase-strew space to put ourselves in order and head out the door at 6 am. We are dressed to the nines: the husband in jeans & a navy linen shirt with a mandarin collar and me in a white lace fit & flare cocktail dress. Not your typical sartorial choice for a morning walk but we are in Paris and more importantly we are on our way to be captured in camera by Karina, our photographer.

img_9205

-I never take for granted the sorcery of early mornings. It is not just the quietude but the presence of a quietude that is optimistic; a happy hush; one that is completely devoid of fears that murmur in the dark of the night.
Like any other city, dawn in Paris radiates the same encouraging magic except the picture is painted a little differently: sidewalks are scattered with the quintessential rattan cafe chairs and baristas are preparing for the day ahead; a handful of people are marching to work, uttering a quick Bonjour to their fellow early risers; buttery wafts emerge from cafes and catch one unguarded, thereby inciting sudden hungers.
After a beautiful 20 minutes, we are at le Jardin du Trocadero, a lively garden across the Siene from the Eiffel Tower. The sky is streaked with blues and the La Tour Eiffel punctuates the massive canvas thus providing the perfect backdrop for a multitude of tourists and their photographers.  Our photo-shoot goes by quickly and without a hitch but those rich butter-laden aromas have made us ravenous and we need our Petit Dejuner, stat.

-I first discovered Angelina when I read Amy Thomas’ ‘Paris, my Sweet’ in which she eats her way around the city, devouring dessert after dessert.
The restaurant’s interiors ooze opulence with their pristine white tablecloths,  gilded fixtures and ornate sconces; food arrives in a tiered tea tray complete with mini croissants, confitures and pastries; by far an elegant affair. However, the piéce de rèsistance is their chocolat chaud . This hot chocolate is luscious & velvety; not demure like the chai, but, bold and seductive, like the most delicious kiss.
As if this wasn’t enough sugar rampage for the day, we also hoarded a Montblanc, and Eclair, Saint Honore and a Millefeulle for later. Paris is not cloyingly sweet, she is perfectly sweet.

-We promenade through the labyrinthine cobbled streets pausing to explore old bookstores and libraries. Every now and then, a flower shop materialises, its wares exploding like a fragrant firework. Pots of delicate lavender, bouquets of peonies and large clusters of hydrangea interrupt our walk. And if it’s not the flowers, then we stop to stare at the historic architecture. After many such halts, we finally make it to Galeries Lafayette.
Galeries Lafayette Haussmann is a splendidly done shopping mall.  I’m awestruck to the extent that it causes me to ignore the dresses à la mode that would normally make me weak in the knees. Instead, my eyes are looking far up toward the dome and the drama it exudes; the massive stained glass cupola spraying light in warm hues on the the entire premises.
A little walk up the stairs leads to a large terrace, offering spectacular views of the city. This afternoon, Paris is soaking under the blazing sun and a dramatic sky. Every time my mind tells me to run indoors away from the wrath of the heat, my heart implores me to stay and admire the city unfurling its beauty, flaunting acres of zinc rooftops and cascading streets. I did the latter. Of course. Never mind the sun burns and exhaustion, this is Paris and this is where magic happens.

Enter a caption

G

If one stands in the center of the oval room in Musee d’ lOrangerie, the person is unfailingly subjected to an effusion of blues, greens, a dash of pink and perhaps speckles of white. The reason: Claude Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’. Monet’s masterpieces , to which he dedicated close to 30 years of his life are draped on wide, convex walls and  they swathe the entirety of two oval rooms that the painter also designed. I’m no expert on art or its history but it doesn’t take one to appreciate the sheer beauty and heart that went into the making of these paintings.

My stash from the farmer’s market is begging to become dinner and although my legs are falling off, the desire to cook in ma petite cuisne parisienne gives me all the strength I need. Fortunately, we had the sense to pick to baguettes from a boulangerie and a bunch of peonies to deck up the glass top table by the windowsill. A quick meal ensues: radishes sauteed in olive oil is first which is then followed by a pan of pasta slathered in a rich tomato & basil sauce. Of course that’s not all because it seems I HAVE to bake in the miniscule kitchen and I’m grateful that I tossed in my mini baking tray and parchment paper amid the clothes in our suitcase.

To start, I cut in cold but high fat & cushy French beurre into flour, chilling the resulting dough in the refrigerator for 30 min. Then I roll the dough and gently place juicy plums and strawberries, folding in the excess pastry. A quick brush with some milk and in it goes to the oven for 35 minutes.  A flaky, golden galette emerges which we squirrel away in the last minute for the next morning’s breakfast. But dessert in not ignored because right by the peonies there is a large box of shimmering macarons which we devour whilst putting our legs up and resting them on the window. The Paris metro is chugging by, the streets are devoid of any noise save for intermittent fast-moving footsteps, my nose is buried in a book and suddenly, with no hint or warning, it is 12am.
To be continued…..

Quand à Paris-1

When in Paris or Quand à Paris in french. Early June, the husband and me flew to the City of Love, hearts heavy with desire to bring to life the titillating words that I had absorbed from a plethora of books , to bask in the romance of a French summer and  attempt to satiate my ravenous longing for sugar in its many avatars. A week’s worth of vacation to make up for a decade’s worth of dreams. I attempt to share and narrate the magic that this darling city sprinkled on us, I hope you love it as much as we did.

Day 1

-Apprehension has captivated me in the flight and no, it is not aviophobia. After devouring and gobbling books about this enchanting city the past few years, the desire isn’t only to navigate and strut down those winding, cobbled streets. It’s more than that. I’m inclined to fit in, ramble in french, splash on that red lipstick, strap on those stilettos and feel at home.

-The taxi ride from the airport to our Air Bnb appartement in Rue Humblot begins uneventfully. However, many zinc rooftop sightings and a handful of traffic violations later, we caught a fleeting glimpse of the Iron Lady, La Tour Eiffel, a glorious manifestation of my dreams, standing tall, proud and bewitchingly beautiful. What follows however, isn’t so pretty. I bawl like a baby, face buried in the husband’s old backpack while he quietly caresses me, fully in the know of these disobedient but happy tears. After I regain composure, I wonder if Parisian cabs are more equipped to handle emotional outbursts, the likes of the above, presuming the likelihood of their frequency!

-The appartement is quaint, tiny, possessing a tinier kitchen. I assume the owner to be an equestrian or an enthusiast . The walls proudly display paintings of horses. The remaining walls are stacked with books and other collectibles. A large window opens to a busy street, the Paris metro chugging frequently. Fingers crossed, I take a quick peek into the minuscule kitchen, smiling as I spot the baking oven.
I attempt to chat with the owners in french, unsure if months of classes will payoff. But, thanks to my teacher and the homework I so religiously abided by, the language flows without interruptions. Admittedly, the words are simple, the sentences are short and blemished grammatically but the components are glued correctly much like the compartments of a train. I’m now overcome by a rush of optimism, enthused to immerse myself in this verbal dance of words, en francais.

-The first stop: The street is enlivened by a Sunday farmer’s market spilling with colours and fresh smells. Chaos, cacophony and conversations reign along with nature’s bounty.Under a tarpaulin sheet, crimson hued cherries, miniature radishes shaded in fuchsia, delicate strawberries, plump peaches, grande et petit tomatoes are organised in mounds and crates. A sight for sore eyes, a plethora of inspiration for a food lover. I request the grocer to bag some fruits; a Galette is brewing in my mind.

-We promenade to the Champs Elysees; the walk is très long. Fortunately, not one minute under the blazing sun is tiring or boring, it is instead, unraveling mysteries and satiating the imaginative mind, one cobbled street at a time. Of course, I bid goodbye to my heels and I rely on my very dependable, flat, ballerina shoes.
The Pont Alexandre Bridge spanning the Siene is studded with ornate nymphs, cherubs and the quintessential Parisian lamps. Woody Allen has magnificently captured it in the final scene of Midnight in Paris, where Owen Wilson and Carla Bruni walk under the rain and I had always wondered if reality channels the same charm. Turns out , it does and more, even if at this moment, the earth is parched beneath the afternoon sun.

-The Champs Elysees is car-free since it is a Sunday mais  siezed by throngs of people. The pavements house quaint patio-style restaurants, all flaunting red and cream woven chairs. We silently navigate through them all because I’m miserably sugar starved and nothing will appease this monster like French dessert. Lo and behold, shimmering in the sunshine is a soft green facade with gold gilded intricacies. C’est Laduree! Macarons, a passionfruit-chocolate bar and a raspberry-litchi-rose cream concoction are devoured with an intense fervor and a silent exchange of smiles between the husband and me. We are after all, at a temple, a temple where peity is reserved for macarons & its kin.

– Jardin des Tuleries near Place de la Concorde is peppered genrously with tall, boxed trees. Under the canopies of these trees are cafes enticing one with the luxuries of shade and respite from the sweltering heat. Glasses clink, plates clatter, wines flow.  A little girl glowers at her mother’s cigarette, clearly unmasking her distaste towards smoking, a couple transforms menu cards into makeshift fans and we take pinched sips of iced drinks After traipsing around the city for 15 kms, we concur that sipping on iced drinks isn’t doing the needful. Fortunately, nestled within the jardin is a pond and at its hem are lawn chairs with low hanging backs. An hour later I realise, a nap did do the needful.

Carousel at Jardin des Tuleries

-We head back to the apartment meaning for it to be a quick stop only to discover that all water for the entire building has been shut off. A phone call with our owner informs us that a leak in the basement has resulted in the above and it being a Sunday, the plumbers aren’t showing up anytime soon.
But, one never sulks in Paris; her magic is too entrancing. One instead, scours for grocery stores and lugs back 10 litres of water in bottles to make do for the next 24 hours simultaneously hoping the universe is transmitting telepathic pleas to the plumbers. One smiles and forgivingly succumbs to the magnetic attraction because,  C’est Paris! Oui?

-We are strolling by the greens in the confines of La Tour Eiffel, when delicious wafts engage our senses, shaking us off from our nonchalant walk. In a little concession stand, a man is making crepes. We stand in line and gaze at the sight like little children; he pours loose batter on a hot griddle and quickly using a spreader transforms it into delicate pancakes, then slathers them with generous spoonfuls of confiture de fraises. Dinner looks good.

-The evening light is gently masked by deeper hues. Dusk is working its way in signalling a time for the stars to shine and more importantly for the golden lights of the Eiffel Tower to shimmer by the Siene. And shimmer she does as if swarmed by a million fireflies. The city is crackling with magic and unfurling the sweetest dreams, trapping us into her cadences and we are not ones to be repelled. We let her sweep us…..We’re in Paris.