Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Kind Of Town

Much of my genetic makeup can be traced to various places in the UK, which is perhaps why I find it so easy to fit in here. And then of course there's the fact that everyone speaks English, which is often a nice change from the stimulating yet exhausting daily communication in French I've been having the last two years. I still pronounce place names as the French would, which sometimes confuses the English-speaking people I'm talking to, and I am only now breaking my habit of answering the phone with oui, allo? A few times when people have asked what I did in France, I found it hard to answer in English; sometimes only French vocabulary will describe French experiences.

And then of course there's the fact that my namesake is the titular ruler of this country, and no one has problems spelling or pronouncing my last name, although they do pronounce it differently (and more authentically) the further north I go.

This blog is jumping around in place and time as I try to catch up with the last bit of France and my first weeks in London; there are still things I want to write about that took place over a year ago, in fact. "Why do you have to catch up on your blogging?" my friend Pascoe asked me at lunch two weeks ago. A good question, especially since this takes a lot of time and energy that I don't get paid for, and most people who are trying to make a living with their own business tie their blogs somehow to that business, to attract new customers and advertise and generally bring themselves to the attention of a wider audience. Maybe the problem is that I haven't settled on a "business" yet, though I am now committed to the freelance writer/editor work, and enjoying it. The series of cookbooks I have planned would definitely benefit from a blog, but since they're on French cooking and French recipes, would that really work if I'm not in France? I'm traveling around and seeing interesting things, and in many respects this is a travel blog, but I'm not writing articles for travel magazines. Maybe I'll be able to turn all of these photos and notes into a book some day, but while I enjoy looking back through the posts and remembering the joys and the difficulties and the everyday same-but-different-ness of living in Oregon, in France, in England, in who knows where next (though I hope it's Norway and Italy, in that order) would anyone else find it interesting enough to buy a book about it?

Probably not. I haven't gone through any major epiphanies, haven't renovated a Tuscan farmhouse, haven't sought or achieved enlightenment, haven't had a string of virile European lovers (damn it anyway). I've just had a life. Done what I wanted to. Sought and taken advantage of and created opportunities. Made friends (and one enemy) and learned new things. It has been enough for me - it has been more than enough, and I have only an increasing sense of wonder and gratitude that I'm living this life - but so far I have not spent any time thinking how to translate that into income.

The nice thing about housesitting though, even though I'm not asking for or receiving money (yet) for it, is that I don't have to pay rent or utilities or internet bills, which leaves me money to go out to eat occasionally. Since I'm in England, that means fish and chips. The last time I was here I had fish and chips in Plymouth but had to peel the coating off, as I was already gluten-free back then, and back then no one was offering non-gluten alternatives. Now there are several places in London that cater to gluten- and allergy-sensitive diets, and two places which offer GF fish and chips once or twice a week, with dedicated fryers and everything. I'm not coeliac, so I don't have to worry about cross-contamination, but the owner of Oliver's Fish and Chips is very aware of the possibilities of trouble for those who are, and makes sure that on gluten-free days there's nothing that will cause problems. I talked to the owner for a bit (that's him in the mirror, and I have totally failed as a journalist because I do not remember his name) about his family who started the business - they came from Turkey 30 years ago or so - and about his efforts to try to find gluten-free desserts to serve. I suggested sorbet and fresh fruit, as he mentioned how worried he was about the possibility of cross-contamination if they made anything in house, though he did try to do an apple crumble at one point.

Frankly their portions are so big I wouldn't have had room for dessert anyway. The day's special looked really very good, but since I had come specifically for the fish and chips, that's what I had. Though I might go back, for that dish or the dish of the day, because everyone is really very nice, and the food is really very good.

I wish Mom were here to enjoy the food with me.

I wish Morgan were here, because some of my best memories are of taking him to different ethnic restaurants in Portland and introducing him (starting at the age of five or six, at least) to the flavors of wasabi and berbere and fish sauce and coconut milk and coriander. I'd like to spend some time traveling with him, talking about anything and everything, and maybe geohashing the European graticules.

I wish Leah were here, meeting her, um, second cousins twice removed? Something like that. I think she and Alexandra would have a lot to talk about. I know I would like to take her up to Buckie to see the house where Papa was born, though now that both Catherine and Kathleen are dead, the old rope-and-wood swing in the attic where he use to play is probably gone. But we still have distant relatives there, and we could go to Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and maybe up into the highlands, following the heather and the pipes.

I wish Mom and John were here, because there are so many places we didn't have time to go back in 2007, and I wish all my friends could be here having fun with me, because travels are more fun when shared.

And I suppose that's why I want to catch up on my blogging, because that's how I feel that everyone is here with me.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Missing Portland Food

The draft of this post dates back to September 2013, when I was just starting my second year in France, getting the runaround from various school administrators, and missing my friends and family. I happened to pick up a copy of that month's Saveurs magazine, where there was an article titled "Portland: Capital of Cool and Fresh [Food]" and it made me really miss Portland suddenly, and the food scene there. I'm still subscribed to the Portland Monthly e-mails, and usually check out the news of new restaurants, new chefs, new dishes, and all of the various exciting options that a diner has in that city. Tours was less than exciting. There were a lot of French restaurants that mostly served things I couldn't eat, or things I could perfectly well make for myself for much less money. There were ethnic restaurants that were okay, but not exciting, as most of the cuisine was modified to suit the French tastebuds - as it is in the United States, generally, I have to admit. Japanese restaurants were really pretty bad in the Tours region, with no-flavor rice and fromage frais or cream cheese in most rolls, or everything tempura-fried - well, that's the same as in the States, I suppose. And eating out is so expensive, even though prices for meat and produce can sometimes be surprisingly low. I cooked for myself all year in Tours, and though I was a regular client of the magic meat truck that came by every Friday, indulging myself with rillettes and rabbit in aspic, I rarely went out to eat.

The Portland Monthly newsletter has tempted me with memories of Portland Dining Month, and new restaurants where I could feast on gluten-free pies and pastries and gluten-free sandwiches and all of the things that are hard to find in France, though Paris has more and more places that serve them, as well as non-French restaurants that stay true to their original flavors. But in general, in my experience, while the ingredients are good, restaurant food is not all that great, and there is not a lot of variation in the dishes offered, even regionally. Of course there are specialties that are highlighted - crêpes and galettes in Brittany, duck confit in the southwest, things made with melted mountain cheese in the Jura and the Alps, seafood and rosé in Provence. But even then, finding a restaurant where you can get those specialties, done well and for a reasonable price, isn't always easy.

Home cooking in France is still good if you're lucky enough to live with a family, as I was this last year, chez Bergeras. A family who cooks, that is - it's a dying art in a way, as families scatter and people move from farm to city and parents get too busy to cook for their children, who then don't grow up with a tradition of cooking at home, and fall into the fast food and frozen entrée routine. Again, as has happened in the United States, speaking in general terms. Where people still cook, it's usually very traditional, although new cuisines and flavors are popular with the younger generation, who seem to be more willing to experiment. Tradition is the strength of French cooking as well as its weakness, and for many people if something isn't made like their mother makes it, it's not right, and people are sometimes reluctant to try new things. I noticed this 25 years ago when I lived with Lilian and tried to introduce him and his family to things like gnocchi and hamburgers and clam chowder, none of which were well known at the time. I doubt clam chowder is on any menu in France today, in fact, though le hamburger is everywhere these days, with a few restaurants in Paris that only serve gourmet burgers, and even a food truck that circles the Paris streets serving burgers and fries. Kristin Frederick came from California to go to cooking school in Paris, and ending up opening Paris' first food truck a few years ago. Others have followed, and I just read about a taco truck called Cantine California which recently opened a brick-and-mortar location.

I miss the food trucks in Portland, and my almost-weekly treat of a takeout lunch from the pod at 10th and Washington. Thai this week? How about Cuban (gluten-free!) or Ethiopian or Greek Brazilian Japanese Szechuan Indian Russian Paleo Grilled Cheese Only? I ate once or twice at Nong’s Khao Man Gai, and was interested to see the recipe for her famous poulet et riz à la Nong in the magazine article. I heard that she opened up a restaurant as well, last year I think? and that she just won $10,000 on Food Network's "Chopped." It was odd to read the recipe for her iconic dish, while sitting on a train in France.

I don't know how long I'll be in Portland when I go back next year - yes, I do plan on returning now! Look for me in early July - but I do know that I will enjoy exploring old favorites and new arrivals around town, food trucks and restaurants alike. I will of course need money to pay for my meals, so if anyone knows of short-term contract work that needs to be done next summer, do keep me in mind, please. Six months, I think, maybe? I might look for a technical writing gig; I can deal with day-long computer sessions (I've spent my last 10 days like that in fact) if it gets me the funds I will need to take off on another global adventure afterwards. But I will - and I do - miss things I could find in France, food-related and otherwise.

I miss being able to go into almost any corner store and find duck confit in plastic pouches ready to heat and serve, fresh quail eggs, jars of peeled and roasted chestnuts, and miles and miles of cheeses that I cannot eat. I miss walking by bakeries and yearning after the marvelous breads and pastries, and I miss the coffee - or at least the experience of drinking coffee in a Paris café. I miss the mobile meat truck in Tours, and I miss Jeannette's roast chicken with fried piper béarnais and plenty of salt. I miss the cheap wine, though it's probably quite a good thing that I do.

There were a few amazing meals in France, and the eternal fun of going to the farmers' markets and following the seasons through the produce for sale. And there are so many regions whose specialties I haven't yet tried, wines I haven't tasted, cheeses I haven't nibbled the very tiniest portions of, people I haven't met or worked with or interviewed, places I haven't walked or hiked or taken pictures. I will definitely be going back to France some day, but I am enjoying being in England now (though it is really NOT August weather, even for this latitude) and sampling its delights: fish and chips, oatcakes, cider, and of course food from every place that Britain once colonized. I am happy being where I am, remembering where I've been, and looking forward to the next adventure!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Cats And Champagne

Every birthday weekend should start out with champagne, don't you think? Perhaps not a river of champagne but at least a glass or two. I didn't go into the shop above - I think I saw it when I was walking to the cat café for brunch on Sunday - but as luck would have it, there is a small store/champagne bar, Ma Cave Fleury, that sells biodynamic champagnes and wines just across the street from the hotel where I was staying. After I found out that the front office wasn't open until 4pm, and realized that I still had an hour before I was to meet John and Anne at their flat, I dragged my body and bags over to the other side of the cobbled street. Plus I really, really had to pee. It wasn't a long trip up from Pau, but long enough when you count the time to get from CDG via RER. There was no one else in the bar, so I dumped my bags in the corner, had a lovely pee in the tiny bathroom, and then settled down on a comfortable chair for a glass of bubbly from the family vineyards.

The bar is owned and run by retired comedienne/actress Morgane Fleury and the house wine is from her fourth-generation family business, Fleury Père Et Fils, south and east of Paris; it's in the Aube, on the banks of the Seine, not north on the Marne where Mom and John and I were traveling last year. Maybe a boat trip on the Seine is something that needs to go on the to-do list for the future, because the champagne was quite good.

I had a glass of champagne with my Sunday brunch as well, at Le Café des Chats, just a short walk from the hotel, in the direction I needed to go to get to the Place Bastille for the opera later that afternoon. This salon de thé just opened last year and you already need to make reservations to get in, especially for Sunday brunch. There weren't any cat cafés in Tokyo when I was there, but there are dozens now, apparently, and a few months ago Lady Dinah's Cat Emporium opened here in London, where you can get afternoon tea, if you have a reservation. I don't think I'll go, since although the website says there are "gluten-free options" the whole point of British afternoon tea is little sandwiches and cream pastries and things like that, and in general even the gluten-free options are full of dairy: cheese, clotted cream, buttery sandwich spreads. Not to mention the average $50 price; I don't like tea that much.
And there's no guarantee that the on-site cats will be friendly; at the Paris café there was only one cat that was interested in snuggling. The rest were unmoved by chin scratches and petting, simply tolerating the people around them or ignoring them entirely. I've got a cat to snuggle with at this house, though she's a bit of a biter, but she's a sweet and fuzzy little thing who is possibly pregnant. There may be kittens when I come back to housesit again at the end of the month.

I had a cat deign to park his butt on the other chair at my table, but once a few families with children arrived, he was off and down the stairs to where all of the cat houses are, along with more tables. I enjoyed my vegan platter with hummous, guacamole, eggplant caviar, and a yummy carrot spread, all eaten with the still-warm rolls from Helmut Newcake instead of the house bread (apparently they now serve corn tortillas with this platter, and salsa instead of hummous). It was more than enough food for lunch, especially with the generous side salad.

My final birthday glass was a gift from Aurélie, as we stood at the top of the Tour Montparnasse; I didn't get a glass of champagne with my sushi on Monday, but I probably could have. Ah, well, there's always next year. I might not be in Paris for a third birthday in a row, but I will do my best to make sure there is champagne.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

I'll Always Have Paris

So, Paris! My birthday weekend that I'm only now getting around to blogging, more than two months after the fact and over a week since I left France itself. That was such a great weekend that it makes me happy just to look at these photos again, remembering the long walks and sunshine and the magic of just Being. In. Paris. I first felt that magic when I was 21 years old, on my way back from a not very successful school year in Tokyo (also a neat city, by the way). I walked for two days straight, it seems, my back itching and peeling from a bad sunburn I'd gotten on the beach in Sri Lanka: from Notre Dame along the Left Bank to the Eiffel Tower and down the other side to the Louvre. I think no matter how many times I visit, I'll always feel that thrill when I think about where I am. Perhaps I should look into finding a way to live there for a while - not to make the magic wear off, mind you, but just because I enjoy being there so much. There have been some housesitting offers in Paris, but I don't want to go back and start the three-month Schengen clock ticking yet.

I walked for two days straight that weekend in May as well, in some of the neighborhoods I'm more familiar with, and into new ones. I arrived on Saturday and the weather was clouding over, with scattered rain, but Sunday was clear and warm, and the banks of the Seine and the canals were filling up with people enjoying the day.

The view from my hotel window, temporarily without pigeons.

I usually stay in a youth hostel in Paris because it's cheap and fairly near the Belleville neighborhood (gluten-free and international grocery paradise), but I decided to treat myself to an actual hotel for my birthday, and one that was more in the center of town. I stayed at the APPI Hotel on Rue Saint-Denis, in the middle of shops and bars and restaurants and on the southern edge of a fairly dodgy district full of sex shops and sex workers. On the plus side, it's close enough to Notre Dame that you can hear the bells ringing in through the open windows - but you have to watch out that the pigeons don't come in the windows once they're open. I stayed in a tiny narrow room at the top of a steep narrow winding staircase; on every other "landing" there was a tiny narrow toilet, with phone-booth-sized showers on the rest. But even with the sex shop next door and the bars all around, it was surprisingly quiet. Quieter than the youth hostel, in fact, especially since there was no one climbing into a bunk bed overhead at 4am.

I couldn't check in right away, but that left me time to head over to visit my Scottish relatives in another part of the city. Since I usually walk more than I ride the metro, I didn't bother with day passes, and just bought single tickets. I traveled to their flat (Châtelet - Opéra - Villiers - Rome) and enjoyed tea and conversation for a few hours.

We commiserated over the labyrinthine and contradictory administrative procedures in France. Anne had a story about going to the same fonctionnaire two times in a row while trying to gather all the paperwork for yet another dossier, and being told (by the same person) two different things about what she needed to fill out and provide as documentation. I countered with my difficulties in completing the application procedure for French schools, where in order to hand over the exact piece of paper they require I would have to go back 200 years and completely change the governmental structure of the United States.

On the other hand, that might not be a bad idea, come to think of it.

As I was standing outside the hotel that evening, waiting for a friend to arrive so we could visit over dinner, I began to feel after a while that I was getting some strange looks from the passers-by. I finally realized that I was probably being taken for a not very successful prostitute, there in front of the hotel and sex shop in my decidedly unsexy corduroy pants and black rain jacket, so instead of standing there I started walking up and down the street. I might have still been seen as a prostitute, but at least I wasn't noticing the looks any more.

Sunday morning I saw actual prostitutes in the red-light district to the north, five or six blocks away from where I was staying. It was only 10am but there was a woman in a black lace skirt advertising herself in front of what in Tokyo you'd call a "love hotel," her breasts pushed up and almost spilling over her bra, dark nipples reflecting the chill of the morning air. I thought about asking to take her picture, and now wish I had done, and given her some money for the photo. But I continued on to my hotel, where I dropped off the gluten-free treats I'd bought at Helmut Newcake, and set out again for Sunday brunch, and then the Opéra Bastille, my other birthday indulgence.

One of the things that I meant to do that weekend was go to the Palais Garnier, the gold-plated ornate 19th-century building where the Paris Opera and the Ballet d'Opéra also perform. I thought that the ticket I'd bought was for a performance there, but instead it was at the newer building (1989) at the Place Bastille. The ticket, even in the second balcony, was more expensive than my round-trip plane fare to Paris, but I'm glad that I was up in the balcony because then I could see all of the patterns, while avoiding the toe shoe noise and the fixed smiles that ballet dancers always seem to have. The first piece was particularly lovely, Balanchine's "The Crystal Palace" with music by Bizet: patterns and poses and precision. You have to be really precise when you're doing Balanchine's choreography because it's so structured that it's immediately obvious when someone isn't in the right place; a black tutu was out of line at one point, so that the dancers on that side formed a squashed triangle instead of a square. It's so old fashioned, but in a good way, like watching clips of Nadia Comăneci instead of modern gymnasts. I don't go see classical ballet all that often, preferring modern dance - some ballet positions are just silly looking, like the one I dubbed "laying an egg" (which can be done both as a soloist or in a lift with a partner). But the sparkly tutus on the corps de ballet glittered in red, or blue-black, or green, or pink, and all of the colors were on stage at the end for the rousing finale. Fun and pretty.

The second piece was choreographed by Benjamin Millepied (fantastic name for a dancer, isn't it? even better than Lucas Threefoot) who - as I have just googled and found - starred in Black Swan, a movie I will probably eventually see some day. It was Daphnis and Chloe, music by Ravel, and with a live chorus joining the orchestra, though they stayed offstage. This was still essentially classical ballet, but modern-er, with everyone dancing in their white underwear. While not as intricately drawn, there were still nice patterns to see from the second balcony. I particularly liked it when a solo male dancer was in the middle of the stage, the lighting overhead casting shadows as he danced, as if there were another dancer under him, something I wouldn't have seen from lower closer seats. There was a nice use of reflections in the plastic shapes that were the only stage setting, as well. However, a sign of how dull this ballet actually is is that I got distracted by the flautists in the arpeggio section that starts with the sunrise theme, the best part of the music really (you know, this part). As far as the story goes, all I could tell is that one of the white nightgowns got kidnapped by the black yoga pants group (whose leader had earlier been cast out of the white underwear group), possibly got rescued, and then everyone dyed their clothes in bright rainbow colors, and they all lived happily ever after. The end.

Sunday evening I went to the top of the Tour Montparnasse, the second-tallest building in Paris. I'd thought about trying to get a ticket to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but they were all sold out that weekend, and in any event that's a mesh-floored spindly sort of construction (yes, I know it's iron and has been there for ages) and I figured I would be more comfortable on solid concrete anyway. Plus there's a champagne bar at the top of the Tour Montparnasse - and one at the top of the Eiffel Tower, if I ever get up there. I bought a ticket for the elevator up to the 56th floor, where there is a 360-degree view of Paris through the floor to ceiling windows, if you can fight your way through the hordes of tourists to get near the windows to actually see it. Most of the floor space is taken up by souvenir shops and a café or two, and when you get off the elevator you have to go through a line that leads to a photo opportunity in front of a poster of a view of Paris as seen from the top of the building, for which you will be charged a considerable sum, I imagine, but I never went back to claim mine. Instead, I climbed up the stairs to the very top, and saw the view for myself.

I do regret that I didn't ask Aurélie, a friend of Florence's (from the Oloron region but living in Paris), to take a non-poster-view photo of me at the top, or that I'd snapped a shot of the two of us drinking champagne, but I was too busy chatting and looking at the city from above to think about it. I'd hoped to see all of the lights of Paris spread out beneath me, but we'd gotten there in the late afternoon and it would have been another two hours before those lights came on, and it was getting cold up there, so we went back down and found a little crêperie Bretagne, one of dozens in the area, and not far from the hotel where Mom and John and I stayed the year before. I wish I'd done more research before that trip, because we might have been able to eat at one, though it's hard to avoid the butter even with the gluten-free buckwheat-flour galettes de sarrasin. But they're good, and I enjoyed drinking cider from a teacup, which Aurélie said was the tradition in Brittany.

I also regret not going over to the Eiffel Tower after we finished eating and talking, and Aurélie got on her bike for the ride back to her apartment and I headed for the nearest metro station. I saw the top of the tower all lit up, and considered the trip, but decided I was too tired. However, now I have a reason to go back to Paris (as if I needed one).

And I regretted being there by myself, in a way. My morning coffee at the Place de la République was sipped at a table with an empty chair, one that I wish had been filled by family and friends, so that everyone could enjoy Paris with me that day, and my 50th birthday.

After I had my coffee and orange juice - trying to figure out why coffee and orange juice purchased separately are more expensive than coffee plus orange juice plus a pastry in the set menu - I walked over towards Belleville, thinking to go to the big Parc des Buttes Chaumont and wander around a bit until Helmut Newcake opened at 10am and I could buy bread for my brunch, and a treat for Monday morning. Instead, I found myself at a smaller park I'd never seen before, the Parc de Belleville, that starts at the top of a hill with an excellent view of Paris and then spills down stairways and paths through plantings of mock orange and roses, to the Rue des Couronnes.

Belleville is full of Chinese groceries, Vietnamese restaurants, Moroccan couscous and kebab takeaways, halal butchers, and places to buy produce where you'll have to know what you're asking for because all of the signs (if there are signs) are in another language, and the fruits and vegetables come from Thailand or Taiwan or Tunisia. The park was full of people doing tai chi.

On my way back towards Rue Bichat and the bakery, I passed a large Asian grocery store, and went in and rummaged around for a while. I bought some really excellent wasabi peas and a bag of freeze-dried durian, but I couldn't buy as much as I wanted as I only had a carry-on, and I didn't want to carry too much on the plane anyway. There were two big bins of banana-leaf-wrapped steamed somethings - sticky rice, maybe? All the signs were in Chinese, and I had already scheduled a brunch reservation and didn't want to spoil my appetite, so I didn't buy any. I'll bet they were good, though. I looked for the seaweed paste I fell in love with in Tokyo (gohan desu yo!) but couldn't find any. I suppose that means I'll have to go back to Tokyo, too.

So many places to visit again. So many places I've never been. I'd like another 50 years, please.

I bought gluten-free rolls at Helmut Newcake, where they're making their own bread now, as well as sweet treats and beautiful pastries. The rolls were for brunch, and I bought a slice of lemon-cornmeal cake and another of banana bread for Monday's breakfast. I walked back to the hotel to drop off the breakfast breads and Asian snacks, past an open-air seafood restaurant where - had I not been headed towards brunch - I might have stopped and slurped up some oysters from the bar at the end of the stall. Expensively-dressed Parisians were eyeing the expensively-priced shellfish, but I went on, over the Canal St. Martin, where tourist-filled tour boats were going through the lock. I thought about canals and locks, and the fun (wet, cold, rainy fun, but still fun) that I had with Mom and John on the Marne. I'd like to do that again, too.

There will always be new neighborhoods for me to discover in Paris, I think, even if I do go live there for a while. It's not a huge city, but it's full of so many little streets and alleys and interesting buildings that each time I go there I see something I've never seen before. Often because I've gotten lost. That weekend it didn't matter most of the time if I got lost, because I didn't have any particular place to be at any particular time for the better part of three days. Perhaps that's the best frame of mind to be in when wandering around Paris.

Monday morning I didn't have to check out of the hotel until noon, so I decided to go to the Les Halles area for my morning coffee, where the old food market used to be. It's now a modern shopping center, currently under construction. I found a café where I could stay out of the off-and-on rain, and drank two espressos while eating my lemon cake and banana bread, and watching the people pass by on their way to work. The sparrows got the last half of the banana bread, as it was somewhat dry and I'd already eaten the lemon cake. Also I think they might have attacked me if I hadn't shared.

I'd never been to this area either, or seen the Bourse de Commerce de Paris (not the modern Bourse that is the stock exchange building). It's a circular building dating back to the late 18th century that was built to store the wheat coming in off the barges from the fields around Luzarches to the north and Brie to the east. That's where all of the grain for Paris was weighed and measured, and prices set. Over the next century it turned into the main commodities exchange, with not only wheat being bought and sold, but also other grains, sugar from the colonies, alcohol, coffee, and cocoa. In 1998 the commodities market shut down and combined with the stock market at the Bourse de Paris at Palais Brongniart, and now it's the home of the Chamber of Commerce.

The church of Saint-Eustache is nearby, on the northern edge of the Jardin Nelson Mandela (whose head you see above). It's another place I'll have to go back to visit; I could have gone in but there seemed to be a food-distribution event inside, and the weather was clearing up, and I had other plans.

I decided to take advantage of the rent-a-bike system and see a bit of Paris à vélo on my last day there. The rain had sort of cleared up, but I had my jacket and I didn't care if I got wet. There's a bike stand near the hotel, and I put my carte bleue in the slot to unlock one, checked to make sure the automatic headlight was working, adjusted the seat, and was off.

I crossed the Pont Notre-Dame over the Île de la Cité and followed the bike path along the river all the way to the Eiffel Tower, and then went back over the Seine via the Pont Iéna. I bicycled along the Voie Georges Pompidou and the Quai des Tuileries, and made my way back to the stand near the hotel, where all of the slots were full. Fortunately the bike stands are scattered fairly thickly and I was able to find an open slot a few blocks away using the handy map provided by the Vélib' organization.

Although I'd flown in to Charles de Gaulle, I was leaving via Orly, and since I'd never done that I decided to start in that direction, even though I had a few hours to spare. There's a bus that goes directly to Orly from Place Denfert-Rochereau and even though it takes longer than the shuttle you can catch from the Antony metro stop it's a lot cheaper and I had plenty of time.

Enough time to have lunch, in fact, which I needed after my early and sparrow-scavenged breakfast and my hour-long bike ride. Though I'd pledged to finally eat in a "real Parisian bistro," I never did get to one - on Saturday they were all full of tourists, and on Sunday I had brunch with cats (more on that in the next post) and a galette with Aurélie. There were a few restaurants along the edges of the Place Denfert-Rochereau, and I chose the Japanese restaurant across from the bus stop. Not traditionally French at all, but fairly good, and cheap, and filling. And I read a French newspaper while I ate, so that counts.

And that was it, then, for my Paris weekend. I will go back again, possibly as soon as next February. Maybe someday I'll decide to get an office-type job again, and I'll find work there, or there will be a housesitting gig of three months or so. Part of me will always be there, I think, locked tight in its embrace, always and forever in love with Paris.