There have been better days. The Avenue d’Italie apartment’s phone and Internet have
departed for Cairo (or some such, because they certainly are nowhere nearby). I am writing this journal on Saturday and have also just watched almost an hour of work disappear in the Microsoft dark hole with the stroke of a key. I hope Fran and Chris will forgive my language, if they can pull themselves away from a Parisian food show on the TV. I thought Windows did an auto-save in Word. Guess not.
Thursdays and Sundays are Farmer’s Market days on Ave d’Italie in the 13th and oh my, what a collection of things do they offer. It’s a cross section of all sorts of food purveyors with modern refrigeration equipment to farmers with baskets of fresh produce of every size and shape. They line the west side of the super-wide sidewalk (75’?), two deep with a corridor down the middle and roughly six blocks long. Interspersed with the food things are tents that resemble the Rocky Hill Flea Market with very used DVDs, swords, chipped glassware (“antiques”?), photos from “the War” (not specified) and clothing that looks fresh from a dumpster. Great people watching, but we decided to pass- up the food things.
Thursday was supposed to have been a somewhat “open” day with the only scheduled activity to be mid-afternoon high tea with Maralyn and Norm Hill at Angelina’s on rue de Rivoli. Fran and I have known the Hills for decades and only recently discovered they were due to be in Paris at the same time as us. Maralyn and Norm are travel writers (post retirement careers for both) and Maralyn is now President of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association. She had asked us to select a suitable place to meet and Angelina’s had immediately come to mind. Our dear friend Peter had absolutely insisted we visit Angelina’s because of the impression it had made on him during his last visit eighteen years ago. Peter still had a tiny confectioner’s box from his last visit and that speaks volumes from someone whose food and beverage experience is second to none. Unfortunately we were unable to make reservations for our party of seven by the Internet or by phone, so it sounded like a crapshoot from the git-go. How wrong I was.
We opted to get an early start to see if we could make suitable arrangements in person for our large group (Fran, Chris, Norm, Maralyn, two of Maralyn’s writer colleagues and me). No sense getting off on the wrong foot with travel writer mucketymucks, you know. On arrival at Angelina’s, an hour and a half prior to scheduled tea time, the staff explained that reservations were not required or taken for seating after two in the afternoon due to slower activity in the restaurant/patisserie. They promised to have things ready for our party right at three without a problem. Whew.
Now came the next challenge. What to do with Fran and Chris who had gone into a trancelike state, gawking at the Food & Wine centerfold that pretended to be Angelina’s retail sweet’s shop just inside to entryway. Imagine a fifty-foot long showcase of every yummy sweet and pastry you have ever seen…that’s what was spread before our eyes. Kicking and screaming, I dragged them back out into the street.
I discovered we were right next door to the Hotel Meurice, the nexus of the international rich and famous in Paris. I immediately recognized it by the double parked Rolls Royces and big Benz’s and the liveried chauffeurs (black suits, black sun glasses, slicked-back black hair and “attitude”). (You may recall it was from the Hotel Meurice that Princess Diana and her “friend” departed on their final, fateful journey. Diana’s “friend’s” father just happens to own the Meurice). Several years ago (in the mid-seventies) when I was rich and famous, I stayed at the Meurice but the only thing I can recall about the place is the polished brass bar in the lower level. Obviously sobriety was not one of my strong suits in years past.
As we turned the corner onto rue de Castiglione, I pointed out to Chris the tiny balcony on the front of what had been the Hotel Intercontinental (now the Westin) where over thirty years ago, Fran and I enjoyed a “gourmet dinner” of a baguette, a bottle (or two?) of a cheap (but delicious) red and a big wedge of cheese. These days the windows are probably locked and sealed, but at the time it seemed a highly sensible thing to do with our bare feet dangling over the iron railing over rue de Castiglione. Earlier that day (thirty something years ago) I had learned a critical lesson in diplomacy in the lobby of the Intercontinental. We had flown in via PanAm from New York on a red eye and had been told when we attempted to check in around 11a.m. that our room would not be available until 3p.m. at the earliest.
We had decided to grab lunch and wander through the neighborhood when in walked the crew from our PanAm flight. They apparently had a contract for guaranteed crew accommodations (on arrival) and preceded to start the check-in process only to be told, “it is impossible” and like us, their rooms would not be available until three. Hmmm? I was curious to watch what would happen next. The flight Captain, a “mature,” dashing gentlemen in his early fifties politely asked to speak to the Manager and was promptly denied that request and was directed to some thirteenth assistant somebody or other.
The Captain explained that PanAm’s contract required immediate availability of rest accommodations for his crew and that he intended that the Intercontinental comply. “Impossible” responded the officious manager. The Captain responded (without raising his voice) “Very well, we shall insist the Hotel Intercontinental abide by their contract” and began plumping up the pillows on the big couches in the lobby and neatly folded his uniform jacket and began removing his shirt and tie. The rest of the crew followed his lead. You should have the faces on the Intercontinental lobby staff. Priceless! The best part was that by the time the Captain began loosening his belt, fresh rooms suddenly became available. Problem solved! The PanAm crew gathered their uniforms and marched off down the hall to waiting elevators without a word.
Anyway, back to Angelia and high tea. We arrived back at Angelina a few minutes early and found arrangements were already in process to group several tables to accommodate our gaggle of seven and exactly at three, Fran, Chris and I were shown to our table to await our guests. The staff had clearly gone out of their way to meet our needs. A bit later, Norm and Maralyn arrived and advised their two colleagues would not be joining us due to other commitments. I mentioned the change to the wait staff and we were quickly relocated to a more suitable table for five. They really jumped through hoops for us. (maybe they thought we were some of the rich and famous crowd from the Meurice…or probably they were just terrific hosts (my opinion)).
Then came the challenge of what to order. I had read that their hot chocolate was to die for and that their Mt.Blanc pastry and Mt.Blanc ice cream dish were right up there as well. Let’s put it this way…you could stand a small spoon straight up in their hot chocolate (which of course Fran and I ordered for everyone).
Chris ordered the Mont Blanc ice cream dish and I thought we might lose him because of its size. Fran and I ordered éclairs (chocolate for Fran and vanilla for me). Maralyn ordered a smaller variant of the Mont Blanc and Norm sipped a cup of tea and watched us gorge ourselves.
All too soon things came to an end and Norm and Maralyn had to depart on some secret mission to an unsuspecting hotel and restaurant they had been requested to visit and rate for future publication. TTFN.
The Mays’s headed back into the local neighborhood to rediscover what was left of Les Halles since our last visit many years ago. Thirty-plus years ago, my late Uncle Max (a frequent travel companion of mine in France) had introduced me to a restaurant supply house called E.Dehillerin in the Les Halles area and over a dozen or so visits to Paris, I had managed to completely equip our kitchen at home with scores of beautiful copperware which we still use today and hang prominently from our kitchen pot racks. It was as I had remembered. Only a bit more tidy.
I recalled previously poking around through piles of copper pots and pans and racks of stainless steel kitchen toys…and that had not changed except that years of accumulated dust had been cleaned off and things appeared to be much better organized into racks and bins spread over two floors. About the only time Fran had seen me so excited was at The Home Depot on a weekend visit. The staff, with their long gray shop coats and clipboards was equally as helpful as the folks at The Depot. 95 Euros later we headed out the door with two new crepe pans, some silicone cookie molds and a pack of large, paper-lace doilies. Oh, and a big smile, too.
Shopping bags in hand, we were off to the Metro with hopes of discovering our host’s favorite brassiere Marty on Avenue des Gobelins in the 5th Arrondisement. Unfortunately it was closed that evening so it was back to the Metro and a quest for something closer to the apartment on Ave d’Italie.
Back onto the Metro for a couple of stops and the search was on for dinner. We wandered down some residential, back streets off Tolbiac and Ave d’Italie and opted for the Globe Café, a smallish brassiere almost across the street for our apartment that appeared to cater to folks in the neighborhood (typically, our personal delight). We were not let down. An inexpensive, excellent bottle of Merlot, from Liergues (Southern Burgundy) paired well with a perfectly cooked filet mignon (for me), a cheese omelet (for Fran) and a pork medley (for Chris). Nothing very fancy, but just plain delightful. No deserts because we had been “bad” earlier in the day, but a quick stop at the MonoPrix (supermarket) for fresh eggs and croissants (for breakfast) and thence home for the evening where we confirmed our Internet and phone connections were dead.
Being eternal optimists, we agreed Friday would redeem itself . Skip
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