Paris: Day 1

May 8, 2018 • 11:30 am

I can’t promise to post a daily account of my Parisian adventures, as I’m too busy eating and walking around this most beautiful of cities. The weather is perfect here: about 29°C (84° F)—in fact it’s a bit hot—but still sunny and cloudless. Just right for walking around until it’s time for a rest and a cooling citron pressé in a café.

Yesterday after I arrived I decided to stay up all day and crash at night, which is the best way to cure my jet lag. I slept a bit on the plane, but it was uncomfortable even in Premium Economy seats (I’ve accumulated enough miles for free but tiny upgrades), and so I watched three movies: “Lady Bird” (excellent; reminded me a bit of “Juno”), “Darkest Hour” (pretty good, also shows how bibulous Churchill really was), and “Letters from Iwo Jima” (also quite good, Clint Eastwood can be an excellent director).

After arriving, I met up almost immediately with two friends to have lunch in one of my favorite restaurants: Chez Denise in the First, a great bistro that has lost none of its character since I first came here in 1989. If you’re in Paris, this is a must-go bistro. I’ve sent many people here over the years, and none have been disappointed.

I’m going again soon, so I didn’t do much photography yesterday, but here is the menu outside (not everything on offer is listed) and photos of the two desserts we shared: millefeuille (layered custard pastry) and the fantastic baba au rhum, a luscious spongecake soaked with rum (they put the bottle on the table so you can soak it with more rum.  I had the salade frisée for starters and the onglet de boeur avec frites (hanger steak) for a main course, along with a liter bottle of Brouilly, which we shared.  As always, the steak was fantastic, and I’ll have it again very soon!

The menu (in Euros). As I said, I had the frisée and the onglet de boeuf grillé, truly one of the great pieces of meat in Paris. Most of the entrées (appetizers in France) aren’t listed on this outside chalkboard menu, but are posted (also on chalkboard) inside the restaurant. There is no written menu, and the desserts are recited by the waiter.

Bon appetit!  Here are the desserts with the lagniappish bottle of rum. Note that the baba au rhum, graced with two dollops of whipped cream, is already soaked in rum (this is pre-our-addition). And the millefeuille is one of the best I’ve had in Paris, with crispy layers of pastry and scrumptious eggy custard between them.

After lunch, I was in a food coma, but my foodie friends insisted on checking out Bachir, a famous Lebanese ice cream place in Les Halles. There was a big line at the place, and they had all kinds of flavors, including rose petal.

I was able only to manage one small bite of a friend’s cone, which (their speciality) they roll thoroughly in crushed pistachio nuts and top with whipped cream. Here are some locals enjoying their cones.  Everyone loves good ice cream!

Outside the Pompidou Center (the human gerbil cage), an old man with two carts was feeding the pigeons. It was clear that this was one of the important activities of his life, and it made me sad when people ran through the pigeons to disturb them. When that happened the old man yelled at the miscreants, but they paid no heed. Someday I will be that old man, but feeding a single duck instead of a flock of pigeons:

And the Hôtel de Ville, the first building I ever saw in Paris, and the administrative headquarters of the city of Paris. When I first came here in 1989 on a Guggenheim Fellowship, I was immediately driven to the labs and villa of the evolution group at Gif sur Yvette, out in the suburbs where I stayed for a couple of weeks. But that first weekend I took the RER line B into Paris and emerged from the Metro at the Hôtel de Ville. I instantly fell in love with the city, a feeling that has grown over the years; but of course this proved to be only one of many splendid buildings in Paris. I photographed it for the memories.

Tomorrow the food photos begin in earnest, with a new visit to L’Ami Jean, a restaurant I thought I’d discovered but was then publicized by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker. Has it been ruined by the publicity? Stay tuned.

Other monkeys besides humans also enjoy ice cream (h/t: Michael):

46 thoughts on “Paris: Day 1

  1. Looks yummy already. I would definitely have ordered that hanger steak too. I am keeping track of all this for my next visit to Paris!

    “And the Hôtel de Ville, the first building I ever saw in Paris, and the administrative headquarters of the city of Paris.”

    This conjured up a vision of you being whisked from the airport in the back of a black SUV with a bag over your head. Surely not? LOL

    1. We didn’t go through Paris, we took the Peripherique around it. So I didn’t even see anything of the city until the first weekend after I arrived. I lived in Gif-sur-Yvette for a few weeks, and then moved into Paris, right in the center (Rue Jacob in the 6th) for six months. My first sight of the city really was the Hotel de Ville.

  2. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Paris three times over the past few years; my favorite part of each trip was having time to just walk and explore and stop at a café when the mood struck me. Enjoy!

  3. I was in Holland last week, and also watched Darkest Hour on the flight over. I thought Oldman’s performance was excellent, and that it was a much better movie than Dunkirk.

  4. That menu has me salivating! Interesting to see “haddock” on there. The French for haddock is ‘aiglefin’ but I guess the menu item might be smoked haddock? Also the menu spells ‘steak’ as ‘steak’ and not ‘steack’, which used to be the default option. I’m off to France in a few weeks’ time and greatly looking forward to checking out similar menus every day!

    1. They also have “foie de veau a l’anglaise”, so maybe there’s an English influence in general on the menu.

      (Mind you, the Quebec French spelling of “steak” is “steak”.)

      1. Of course we know from “french fries” that when a country names a food referring to another country it is to be taken with a grain of salt. Actually, several in this case. LOL

        1. I generally (the current situation excepted) generally work on the assumption that if a place name is included in the name of a food it tells you one thing – where the food is *NOT* from.

  5. The Hotel de Ville photo reminds me of a joke my French teacher used to tell to illustrate a grammatical point. You need to know the origin of the misquote for it to make sense.

    Anyway, a man is searching for the train station in Paris. He comes across a beautiful building whereupon he exclaims “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la gare!”.

    1. Ah, that takes me back! That was the response allegedly made by Oxford undergraduates to tourists asking for information about Balliol College, circa 1968.

    2. Love the quote, but he could be wrong.

      And it’s funny you should mention that. My first sight of Paris (other than generic scruffy suburbia and enormous rail yards) was the frontage of the Gare du Nord.

      “C’est magnifique, et c’est vraiment la gare!”


        1. I love St Pancras, and not just the Midland Grand Hotel frontage, but also Barlow’s magnificent all-over glass roof (the biggest in the world at the time of its construction, I believe). And also that all the original cast iron pillars are still there, with the ironfounder’s name cast into them.

          BUT I think the greek-temple facade of the Gare du Nord outdoes it. Certainly my first sight of it had the same effect as the Hotel de Ville had on Jerry. “So this is Paris!”

          And Paris remains my favourite city too.


            1. OK. Well, the outsides are in two totally different styles, the Midland Grand’s mock-Gothic vs the Nord’s Greek temple.

              In fact the interior of St Pancras would fit better stylistically with the exterior of Gare du Nord, I think. But certainly St Pancras benefits internally from being a smaller (or, shall we say, less huge) station. It means the one impressive overall roof can cover the whole station and it’s far less crowded and confusing inside.


    3. The full quote is “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la gare! C’est la Folies Bergère”.

      Spoiler: the original quote is from a French general watching the Charge of the Light Brigade, who said “C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre: c’est de la folie”.

  6. There’s an OK cartoon from the late 60s about the adventures of two cats in Paris entitled “Gay Purr-ee” with the singing voices of Robert Goulet and Judy Garland.

  7. The photo of the old man and his pigeons is worthy of a frame and an honored spot on the wall. I absolutely love it.

    1. Thanks, I was a bit proud of that one. I’ll see how it looks in black and white. The pigeons were just settling down after somebody had disturbed them, and the old man was upset.

      1. Pigeon Man is the famous, Italian homeless anarchist Giuseppe Belvedere. He is looking somewhat infirm these days. Video:

      2. I would be willing to buy a print of that one. It really speaks to me. You could add Photographer to your CV, along with Duck-Minder.

  8. The chalkboard item 4th down: “Foie Gras de canard maison” [homemade duck foie gras] appears to be painted onto an adhesive strip of material rather than chalked.

    I am thinking this is a protection measure against Pamela Anderson & her ilk who I assume would rub off that item otherwise.

  9. I was going to suggest that you take up the care of pigeons. I am sure that Darwin would also approve.

    1. No don’t. They shit everywhere. You get a new appreciation of pigeons when you’ve spent a week shovelling their crap off the roof of a medieval cathedral.

      Having said that, in Trafalgar Square you can now see men with magnificent raptors on their arms wandering about. They are there to keep the pigeons away.

  10. I was going to recommend a wonderful seafood restaurant on Boulevard de Montparnasse in the 6th. I dined there when I was there in December, but when I looked it up on the intertubes it wasn’t there any more. C’est dommage! When I’m back to Paris in September, I’ll have to remember your recommendations.

  11. They don’t look that happy eating ice cream! How could you not be ecstatic if you get pistachios on your ice cream?? 🙂

    1. Perhaps they are living by the notion that, as Sartre said “We must act out our passion before we can feel it”.

  12. I lived in Paris for 16 years and the best ice cream, my friends and I all agreed, was chez BerthillionL on the Ile de la Cité, 29-31 rue Saint louis. Give it a try if you are over that way. I hope they are still as good.

  13. Although I have only been to Paris once (for a week in 1993) it always intrigues me. Both because of the influence on Montreal (my original city) in language, food and architecture and because of the Metro, in specific.

    I would love to go back, but …

  14. I still pinch myself every time I walk past Hôtel de Ville… it’s stunning! I can see why it made you fall in love with Paris! For me it was walking through the backstreets of Montmartre that convinced me to move to Paris. So many things to love about this city 🙂

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