Tuesday, June 25

I have a fantastic wine and cheese lunch at Ô Chateau and take a long walk home.

Domesticity is settling in here this morning. The apartment is starting to feel like it's really home. Did another load of laundry, a big load of dishes, and swept the floor. The apartment is well-equipped with everything I need. Broom, mop, and vacuum for cleaning. One of those cute little shopping carts on wheels that you see often here, "un caddie" in French. Even an iron (un fer à repasser). It's also nicely decorated. I also have a flat-screen TV with cable, but I haven't even turned it on yet. I've been much too busy to watch TV! I think there's one English channel, Sky News.

I really should start watching some TV, the French channels. My comprehension is awful at normal full speed conversation, and watching TV a little bit every day would be the best possible way to work on improving it. I don't see how I'll find the time though.

The cute picture above is hanging in the bathroom of my apartment.

This enormous clock is hanging above the sofa in my apartment.

I had the most brilliant lunch at Ô Chateau, the wine tasting and wine bar I've mentioned before. It's owned by one of my favorite bloggers, Olivier Magny. It's on the right bank in the 1st arrondissement, near the Louvre. Next time you're in Paris, you absolutely must try this. You'll never forget it. One of the best things I've done in Paris.

Olivier Magny's blog posts have been published as a book in both English and French. The English blog and book are titled Stuff Parisians Like. While waiting for the lunch to start I was reading the French version at the bar, titled "Dessine-moi un Parisien". The chapter on Parisian attitudes towards Americans was hilarious.

The lunch lasted two hours. This picture shows the remains of our meal, as we were leaving. It was a five course wine and cheese lunch, with bread and charcuterie accompanying the wine and cheese. There were eight of us, a couple from Australia, a couple from the Yukon in Canada (really!), two sons and their father from New York and Connecticut, and me. It was held in a private room with floor-to-ceiling wine racks. A personal sommelier conducted the meal (in the sense of conducting a symphony). He explained in detail each wine and each cheese, where they came from, how they were made, and why they paired together well. It was all in English, except for the wine, the cheese, and the menu, which were most definitely all French. The lunch cost 75 euros, about $100. But it was worth every penny.

We had an incredible roquefort with the last course. I told our sommelier that it was at least 10 times better than the roquefort I bought at Franprix last night for dinner. He wrinkled his nose as only the French can do and informed me politely but firmly that I needed to throw the Franprix cheese in the trash. After the meal, he gave me the card of the fromagerie he uses. No more Franprix cheese for me!

The sommelier talked about the difference between "left bank" and "right bank" Bordeaux. I learned where these terms come from. You have to face downstream. Then the left bank is on the left and the right bank is on the right. In Paris, at Île de la Cité anyway, the Seine flows from east to west, towards the English Channel. So the left bank is the part of Paris south of the Seine, and the right bank is the part north of the Seine.

The sommelier talked about how each region is different with different climates and geographical influences that make a difference in the wine. For example, the mountains in the south and east, and the ocean in the west. Then he mentioned the Belgium influence in the northeast, and said "they're all crazy, the Belgians". Finally he talked about the north and just said the "the Brits are an absolutely horrible influence - there's no good wine from Normandy, only cider and Calvados". Very, very funny.

We also learned that basically France had no spring this year, so this will not be a good year for the wine. And severe hailstorms in the Loire Valley destroyed most of that crop for this year AND next. He says climate change is already taking a big toll on the French wine industry.

Our sommelier mentioned while talking with the couple from the Yukon that he can't understand Canadian French. Every Frenchman I've ever met who has visited Montreal, without exception, has told me the same thing - they don't understand a single word.

I learned another thing. In much of my French cooking I use lots of wine (boeuf à la bourguignonne, coq au vin, etc.) He confirmed my suspicion that it's a waste of money to use really good wine in the food. Buy a cheap but drinkable bottle for the cooking, and a good bottle for drinking with the meal.

Here's the five courses and pairings:

  1. Wine: Champagne region. Champagne Grand Cru, Lancelot-Pienne, Brut - Blanc de blancs. Grape: Chardonnay. Cheese: Brie de Meaux.
  2. Wine: Loire region. Saumur. Domaine des Guyons, Vent du Nord 2011. Grape: Chenin Blanc. Cheese: Sainte Maure de Touraine (a goat cheese).
  3. Wine: Beaujolais region. Brouilly. Domaine de Briante 2011. Grape: Gamay. Cheese: Tome d'Auvergne.
  4. Wine: Bordeaux region. Haut Médoc. Diane de Belgrave 2008. Grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. Cheese: Comté, from the Jura region, aged 24 months.
  5. Wine: Sud-Ouest region. Monbazillac. Château la Robertie 2010. Grapes: Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Cheese: Roquefort. I learned that sweet wines go best with blue cheese. Boy, do they ever!

It was a perfect evening, so I took a stroll. Started at Place de la Concorde, wandered down through the Tuileries to the Louvre, strolled along the bank of the Seine, crossed over the western part of Île de la Cité, then came home through the Latin Quarter. Tough life, isn't it?

Had one of those bad news / good news encounters on the train. Bad: A young women offered me, the old man, her seat. First time it's ever happened to me. Good news: Our conversation was in French, and I didn't even notice or realize it until later. Not a long conversation: Voulez-vous asseyez? Non, merci, mais non.

The legs are getting strong. They feel like steel pillars. Feels good! I love walking in Paris.

Place de la Concorde and the Egyptian obelisk. I had to apply some effects to this photo to make the hieroglyphics barely visible. The light wasn't perfect for my iPhone. Sorry.

They have it all roped off so you can't get closer like usual. And those tents are for some kind of work they're doing. A sign say it's preparations for something special on July 14. Wonder what that could be? I'll have to come back on July 14 and see!

The Seine from Pont de la Concorde. You can just barely see the towers of Notre Dame in the distance.

A pretty bed of flowers in the Tuileries. They've had a very bad cold spring in Paris, so the flowers aren't their best yet.

Statue in the Tuileries. Médée by Paul Gasc, 1896, marble. Again, I had to apply some effects.

The big circular pool in the Tuileries, with the carousel. I sat on a chair here for quite a while and just enjoyed the evening.

Another statue in the Tuileries. That's the Louvre in the background. Jeune fille allongée by Aristode Maillol, 1921, bronze.

Arc du Carrousel.

The Louvre.

My Canard. This duck adopted me while I walked along the bank of the Seine. It kept looking over its shoulder and adjusting its pace so that it kept exactly 4 feet in front of me, quacking loudly the whole time. The people on the benches were pointing and smiling at us. Very cute. We were a little parade to amuse all the people out enjoying the evening and the river.

Pont Neuf and a bateau mouche tour boat, with Île de la Cité on the right side of the bridge and the right bank on the left side of the bridge.

Pont Neuf again. My favorite bridge in the world. I can't see it often enough or take enough pictures of it. Can you see why? Again, that's Île de la Cité in the background.

The Palais de Justice on Île de la Cité. You can only barely make it out, but above the the doors are the words Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité. My heart always skips a beat when I see it.

Place Saint Michel on the left bank. In 2006 I helped thousands of drunken students celebrate France's victory over Portugal in the semi-finals of the World Cup in front of that statue of Saint Michel. Talk about joie de vivre!

People enjoying dinner on a cruise boat on the Seine, with Notre Dame in the background. This is the narrow fork of the river between Île de la Cité (on the left) and the left bank (on the right).

The old Sorbonne building on rue des Écoles. They don't hold classes here. At my conference in 2006 we had a reception, the opening and closing plenary sessions, and our lunches here, but the working sessions were in a different more modern building.

A Velib rack around the corner from my apartment. During the day these racks are usually empty because all the bikes are checked out. You see people riding them all over the city.