Sunday, September 9, 2012

Paris: Day Seven (Sunday)

This was the end of our first full week in Paris and it was a delightful one, to say the least.

This was Sunday and a sunny day at that, so we decided to take a trip to the park.  When I lived here as a starving student, going to the park was one of the--if not the--cheapest things to do. It's also one of the most quintessential Parisian activities.  For those who have seen Seurat's Sunday on la Grande Jatte, the scene will be familiar--people seated on the grass enjoying the sun and their picnics, children playing and dogs chasing balls.

We went to the Parc Buttes Chaumont, which is not well known to tourists (fortunately), but is one of the most popular parks in Paris.  It happens to be within walking distance of our apartment, so after Valery prepared our lunch, we set off.  We walked up to the Canal St. Martin, crossed over and passed through a 'real' open-air flea market (as opposed to the Marche aux Puces, which is largely for tourists) and walked up the hill (the Butte) to the park.

The place was full of people, but it was not at all as overwhelming as those places we've been that are wall-to-wall tourists. In fact, during the entire time we were there, I heard nothing but French being spoken around us.  In every available place, sunny and shady, people had spread out their blankets and were enjoying the last bits of sun to grace this city for the next six months or so.  I lay back in the grass, hoping to avoid getting hit in the head by the chestnuts falling freely from the trees around us and listened to the French surrounding us.

We brought our picnic lunch-- ham and baguette sandwiches, fruit, beer and chocolate and enjoyed it immensely.  As the sun began to fade, we set out for home again, where we took our obligatory naps and got dressed for a night out.

Our evening plans were pre-determined, as I had purchased tickets to a string quartet concert at the Sainte Chapelle.  We made our way there on the Metro, and found our seats in the tiny chapel, still filled with the light from the setting sun.  The concert could not have been more beautiful.

We heard Mozart (A Little Night Music), Albinoni, Pachelbel and Grieg, among others.  The Albinoni piece (Largo) was especially beautiful and reminded me of the day my father died, because this was a given to me by Francesca, who told me it was the saddest music ever written.  I don't know about that, but it was plenty sad, and I wept openly, the hot tears literally flowing down my face.  I've not cried real tears in many years, and the release was wonderful.

After this, we emerged just as the sun was setting and walked the few blocks to our final destination of the day, the restaurant called Au Pied du Cochon.  Years ago, I went to this place as a starving student, thanks to a friend whose parents had given him an American Express card--for emergencies only.  It took me a few days to convince him that a trip to good french restaurant qualified as an emergency, and we had a meal that I have never forgotten.

This was the first place I'd ever eaten oysters, and also it was my first encounter with real French onion soup, so naturally these two items were high on my list.  The place did not disappoint. it was very crowded when we arrived, but in about ten minutes we were given a seat inside on the ground floor.  The service was bright and welcoming, despite the fact that we were obviously American.  My insistence on speaking French was certainly appreciated, as the waiter tolerated me and was kind enough to help Valery in English, with a few items.

We ordered a dozen oysters, I had the onion soup and a filet du boeuf with bernaise, Maddie had the same with sauce au poivre, and Valery had the magret du canard (duck breast).  Maddie had a mousse au chocolat for dessert, and the bill arrived with three little pink meringue piggies on the plate.  It was the most expensive meal we've had so far (300 Euros or about $375), but it was well worth it.

After that, we walked back to the Seine for a view of the Eiffel Tower all lit up, and took the Metro home, satiated, tired and very very happy.  Another wonderful day a Paris!

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