Posts Tagged ‘France’

Returning to Paris

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

My life in Paris seems so long ago now. A lot has happened and changed in the year and a bit that I have been living in Manchester. Now all that I used to call home seems like some sort of false memory. Occasionally it dawns on me that I used to live in one of the most vibrant cities in the world. I learnt how to walk around the entire city without the use of a map, I became friends with my local boulanger, and I hung out with the BoBos. I was never Parisian but I wasn’t just an expat.

Returning to Paris for a long weekend was surprisingly challenging. While I really wanted to see my favourite city again, there was a part of me that knew it just wouldn’t be the same. Paris is no longer my home. I no longer have an apartment that I can return to to escape the car horns and throngs of tourists. I knew things would have changed and people would have moved on with their lives. That’s what happens.

However as I stepped off the plane and went to collect my luggage, I smiled to myself as I watched all of my French co-passengers rush to stand as close to the carousel as possible, blocking the view and access of everyone else wishing to collect their bags. Clearly some things will never change.

I only had three full days in Paris, one of those being dominated by the half-marathon. On the Friday I managed to cover 60 per cent of my favourite areas of Paris. My highlight: hiring a Velib city bike and zooming through Paris with the wind in my hair. There is something about this sensation that makes me feel so alive. I used to love riding a bike through the city and being able to head back to my old canal-side haunts in the 10éme instantly reminded me of why I love this city so much.

Canal St Martin

Canal St Martin

It was nice to see Canal St Martin and visit Les Récollets again. I caught up with some of my old friends but others I will need to go back again to see. The weather turned on the sunshine for me and my black jeans and long sleeved tops turned out to be poor choices. I had picnics, ate great food, sat in the sunshine, went for long walks along the Seine and discussed new romances. What else would you do in Paris?

It was great to be back and the intoxicating buzz and electrification of my senses that smacks you in the face and makes you feel so alive hit me once again. But I was happy to come back to Manchester, the city where I have created a new life and a new identity for myself. Perhaps this was because I had contracted gastro and just wanted my own bed. But ultimately I think it is more that inbuilt need to be in a place that understands you and offers you the comforts and opportunities that you are seeking at that point in your life. Paris was my crazy world one and a half years ago. Now I have something new and I like it.

The obligatory visit to the Eiffel Tower

The obligatory visit to the Eiffel Tower

Marathon Completed!

Monday, April 8th, 2013

I, Jessica Davies, writer of words, traveller of countries, blonde of hair, am now officially a runner of marathons. I DID IT! I am currently experiencing a sense of complete personal pride. In my mind, I am the fittest, most talented, most generally genius person in the world. It’ll pass, but for a few hours I am going to feel really bloody good about myself. And I think that’s fair enough – I just ran 42.195 kilometres in 4 hours, 42 minutes and 24 seconds.

The experience was extremely rewarding – as my group (we were separated into groups by expected completion times) set off from the starting line, I felt a huge surge of excitement and general “wow, this is happening!” as I joined thousands of feet hitting the pavements of Paris. The weather was PERFECT. Sunshine, clear skies and no wind. It was the wind I was concerned about – there was none of that today! It was cold at the start but by the time we got moving it got quite warm. We headed down the Champs Elysées, past the Louvre and through the centre of Paris before hitting the Bois de Vincennes, returning back through Paris, past the Eiffel Tower, through the Bois de Bologne and back to the Arc de Triomphe. Not a bad place to run. Thankfully, Paris is nice and flat so there were no major hills to climb.

While the weather was perfect and the scenery beautiful, the toilet situation wasn’t – there were portaloos set up at various points along the course, but by the time my slower group reached them they were all disgusting. Really not pleasant. I quickly ducked into a café along the route and smiled a “I’m running a marathon which is a really long way and you should DEFINITELY let me use your loo” smile and it worked. In and out like a flash, I was. Now I shall move on from discussing my ablutions.

I felt reasonably strong for most of the course and have potentially become addicted to sports-energy-goo-things. They’re DELICIOUS! I was eating chocolate flavoured goop whilst running through Paris in the sunshine! How great is that! The last five kilometres were a little bit extremely tough as my thighs were screaming at me, my feet were questioning my motives and my original plan on telling myself that five kilometres is the shortest distance I will ever let myself run in the mornings on my everyday jogs didn’t really work. Five kilometres became REALLY LONG and as I watched other runners dropping off, getting cramp and walking I doubted whether or not I would make it. This is starting to sound like a soap opera. Anyway, I didn’t stop, I popped another energy goo and as I hit the final kilometre the adrenaline kicked in as I realised that I was about to finish running a marathon. LET’S RUN FASTER! Without any consultation with my brain, my legs started working harder and I crossed the finish line in an impressive non-jogging pace. Hardly a sprint, but still. I was impressed.

Somewhat pathetically, I almost cried as I crossed the line, I was that glad it was over and that proud of my achievement. No tears were physically shed but they were in there somewhere. I collected my horribly green tshirt and my ridiculously hideous medal before walking very, very slowly to the metro. Walking down stairs in currently a challenge. Yes, the medal is awful – it is a huge rectangular thing with very poorly shaped text and images and some terrible colour choices. Whoever designed it needs to go back to design school. But still. I have a medal! WOO! It’s like winning the Olympics.

So I am now looking for another marathon to run! But if I do it I will have to take my amazing friends who met me before the marathon and positioned themselves at multiple points along the route waving flags and cheering for me as I passed. Knowing that they were waiting for me spurred me on and I feel so grateful for having such wonderful, supportive friends. Merci, mes amies! Vous êtes les BOMBS! A super huge thank you to Becky for your artistic sign-making skills and for being heavily pregnant yet willing to stand outside in the cold for hours waiting for me to run past. You’re either crazy or amazing.

And just to make this sound even more like an Oscar acceptance speech, I also would like to thank my friend Brett for making an unexpected, unrequested but ultimately generous and life changing gesture of sponsoring me so that I could afford to run in the marathon. Without him, I probably would have said “Bah, too expensive!” and never gone ahead with it. Then there were my fantastic parents who also helped me out and my friend Sonia who insisted on donating to the “Make Jess Run a Marathon” fund. And finally to my cousin, Sam for his kind shoe donation. I would like to recommend that everyone buys Mizuno shoes. They’ll get you across the line!

So my brain isn’t functioning properly, my legs are so, so, so stiff and I’m not sure I can stand up from this chair. But that was one of the best days of my life. Can I do it again?

Yum.

Monday, February 25th, 2013

This morning I ate this with my coffee:

Escargot pistache et chocolat

Escargot pistache et chocolat

It was from Du Pain et Des Idées (one of the best bakeries in Paris and where I bought my galette de rois from this year) and it was just amazingly good. Simple, crispy, buttery, pistachioy, chocolatey. Pure delight for my tastebuds. Gosh I’m going to miss French baked goods.

Is that the Eiffel Tower?

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

I wanted to share this strange site that my friend Becky and I stumbled across on a walk last weekend. We were wandering through the 15eme arrondissement and discovered this:

Odd.

Odd.

Next to it was a fish market, which somewhat explained the existence of a light house next to a train line in the middle of Paris but we both still had many questions. The fisherman wasn’t very talkative.

Little Popelini

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Yesterday I went on a random walk through Paris and as I was heading through the Marais I realised that I would be going past a cake store that I have been meaning to try. As I am about to leave this great city, I felt it only appropriate that I stop and sample their goods even if I had only just eaten lunch. Named after the inventor of choux pastry – an Italian genius by the name of Popelini – this patisserie only sells small choux balls filled with delicious flavoured creams. I, of course, sampled the dark chocolate and as I stood outside in the snowy weather and bit into the exploding puff, my eyes lit up and a huge smile took over my face. Why hadn’t I tried one of these earlier? I am not a huge choux pastry fan and I never choose eclairs – but this! WOW.

So cute and so delicious!

So cute and so delicious!

 

The chocolate cream was dark, rich and plentiful inside the pastry puff. I almost turned around and went back in for a second but probably would have felt very sick if I had. One was perfection.

Popelini
29 Rue Debelleyme
75003

It’s the Final Count Down (Again)…

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

I have lots of final count downs. Two years ago it was counting down to moving to Paris and now it is for leaving. Apologies for not having written in a while but my life has literally turned upside down and inside out and then been stuck together with packing tape. I am writing this from my apartment which is very quickly turning back into its original prison-cell-like form with only hard plastic furniture and bare walls. Yesterday a friend came and took my couch so I now have no where comfortable to sit. This is probably a good thing as staying inside is less and less appealing and I have been going for a lot of long walks through Paris (in the snow).

So what has been happening…? Lots. Apart from unintentionally starting the War of the Anglosaxons, I have been spending most of my days packing, cleaning, calculating box weights and how much I can fit in my suitcase, eating, working, and catching up with friends. It has been busy busy busy which is somewhat pleasing as it doesn’t give me time to feel too sad about the fact that I am leaving. Today is Sunday – so I have four more full days in Paris before my time here is up. Of course, it won’t be forever and at least I know I will be back in April to do a stupidly long run and eat more good food. Plus I will soon be a surrogate Aunt and will need to return to play with my adopted nephew and I have friends to visit! So Paris and I aren’t over yet – as my mum hates me pointing out, it’s not like I am going back to Australia.

Over the next few days I plan on eating as many delicious pastries as possible in between working out how to get all of my stuff to England. I had a successful day with the post office on Friday after I carried 30 kilograms worth of books there by hand to send on to Australia and England. There is a special shipping rate for sending books but you can only send them in 5 kilogram lots. So I had spent the first half of the week scrounging in Parisian bins looking for small cardboard boxes. I am quite fortunate to live near a clothing warehouse area and every night there are hundreds of cardboard boxes out for rubbish collection. So I became a crazy hobo and got my hands dirty and managed to find enough perfectly sized boxes to send my books. When I got the boxes to the Post Office I managed to smile nicely and flutter my eyelashes enough for the Post Office Man to ‘overlook’ the extra 100 grams in some of the boxes. It makes a huge difference! To send 5 kilograms of books to England cost 8 Euros. To send 5.1 kilograms of books to England cost 34 Euros. I had to repack two of the boxes but now they are all on their way to opposite sides of the globe.

Boxes o' Books.

Boxes o’ Books.

I am most likely going to send two or three boxes with FedEx as it is cheaper AND they will come and pick the boxes up from my apartment! And plus I can then say I FedExed them and that makes me feel like I’m in a movie.

So that is my exciting packing news. Tomorrow I plan on going to the Australian Embassy to vote in the Western Australian state election which will either be really exciting or really disappointingly frustrating. I am betting on the second option. But at least the Embassy is next to the Eiffel Tower so I can pop over and see that while I am there. Give a final salute to the big pointy thing.

Verjus is Vergood

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

I have added another major tick to my “Culinary Adventures To Have Before I Leave Paris” list. Last night my friend Jen and I had a “Day After Valentine’s Day” date at Verjus – another highly prized, much talked about restaurant in the Paris foodie world. Located in the first arrondissement next to Louis XIV’s old haunt, the Palais Royal, Verjus is a bit more upmarket than previous restaurants we have been to and we went there for their 60 Euro degustation menu.

I should perhaps mention that my day began with a pre-breakfast meal of drugs – cold tablets, nasal spray and cough medicine. I wasn’t particularly impressed that my body had decided to give me a cold on the one day that I really wanted my taste buds to be fully functional. But being a non-believer in colds, I pumped myself full of drugs and ignored it all day.

Goodbye, cold.

Goodbye, cold.

We met for a drink at the Verjus winebar located underneath the restaurant and as we walked in we both agreed that the ten or so people in the wine bar would all be non-French, most likely American, British or Australian. CORRECT! Not a word of French was being spoken and I don’t think there were any French people in the wine bar or the restaurant at any point in the entire night.

The upstairs restaurant is small and cozy with lots of wood and great windows that look out at the Théâtre du Palais Royal and the little passages surrounding the building. We were served by lovely waitresses who told us about the set menu, happily gave us tap water and recommended a good bottle of wine to go with our food. And then it began…

I got to eat ALL of that!

I got to eat ALL of that!

We were served eight plates in total and we could have also had cheese for an extra 12 Euros but we figured eight was enough. Each plate was beautifully presented with bright colours and interesting mixes of ingredients. It amazes me how chefs know to put some of these ingredients together and in what sort of quantity/shape/texture etc. Nothing was disappointing or disagreeable – I even ate clams and scallops and enjoyed them! I was very annoyed that, despite ignoring it, my cold had taken over by this point and I didn’t get to enjoy my food as much as I wanted to. However, the highlight dishes for me were the clam soup, the hanger steak with carrots, and the chocolate ganache.

Duck.

Duck.

Steak.

Steak.

Somewhat strangely they brought the two dessert plates out at the same time which I didn’t really agree with because I had both of them staring at me and it was as if the dessert courses weren’t as important as the others. That said, it isn’t every day that I have two plates of dessert sitting in front me and I get to eat BOTH of them.

Two desserts, one spoon.

Two desserts, one spoon.

The cardamon panna cotta had a very gelatinous texture which distracted from the flavour but once you got over that and mixed it with the pears, dates and almonds it was delightful and light. The chocolate ganache was one of the best chocolate ganaches I have ever had (and I’ve had a lot) and the Golden Graham ice cream was amazingly creamy. I could have kept eating both of them all night. In fact, I could have started the entire menu again – it was all so good.

Chocolate.

Chocolate.

For 60 Euros it was one of the best value dinners I have had in Paris – the quality of the ingredients and the presentation and craftsmanship behind each dish was just wonderful. I will definitely try and go back.

Except next time I go, I am going to take a large bucket of socks that I have pre-rolled into balls that I can stuff into the mouths of all of the excessively loud American tourists who surrounded our table. I had my back to a window, but on every other side of the table were groups whose voices became increasingly louder and louder as they fought to talk over the top of the rest of the noise. I really wanted to stand up, blow a whistle and call “Time Out” and offer a small piece of wisdom that I learnt at Primary School – if everyone speaks softly then everyone can be heard and no one needs to yell! The problem with these situations is that you start eavesdropping on the conversations because you can’t hear anything else and you have to listen to their discussions about how they don’t understand how the degustation menu works or how the guy who likes motorcycles proposed to his girlfriend on the plane on the way over because it was Valentine’s Day and yet before their friends arrived they had a little tiff about how she didn’t have a clue where they were going and that was his fault. Wow. I should write a book about it.

Loving Lithography

Monday, February 11th, 2013

Yesterday afternoon I ventured beyond the southern peripherique in sloppy, snowy weather to attend a lithography workshop organised by the Harvard Club. Yes, I was mixing with the finest and brightest once again, only this time I actually felt like one of the most qualified attendees. My non-law/business background and lack of doctorate, made me one of the more ‘artistic’ people in the group – or at least I told myself that.

What's behind mystery door number one?

What’s behind mystery door number one?

Thanks to my friends Jen and Greg, I was able to attend the workshop run by an American artist, Jonathan Shimony, who has lived in Paris for many years. He originally moved here for one year and then never left and now has an amazing studio with lithography, etching and other styles of printing presses. I walked in, inhaled the fumes of paints, solvents and other delicious chemicals and felt as if I had just walked into heaven. I was brought back to earth by the sudden need for me to shake hands and pretend to be interested in networking with Harvard Alumni (don’t get me wrong – they were all very nice people, I just find the whole thing disgustingly fake.)

Jonathan began by discussing the history of printing and lithography and I became instantly aware of how little I know about art history. Here I am attempting to get into these fields and I feel like I am a bit of a fraud. Obviously these things take time and research and you need to learn them from somewhere – I just haven’t.

We were then given crayon-like drawing implements and spaces on large blocks of limestone and told to draw. A few scratched heads and embarrassed faces later, everyone had added their piece of ‘art’ to the printing blocks and Jonathan then demonstrated the printing techniques on his amazing press.

It was wonderful to watch and participate in the whole printing process although I have so many questions and want to go back and experiment further. Jonathan mentioned the lack of continued interest in the lithography methods and so when I waved my arms around with excitement and declared that I will continue the traditions for years to come, he said I was welcome to come and be his studio assistant whenever I wanted, just as long as I was willing to get my hands dirty. OH YES PLEASE! If only this had happened two years ago and I wasn’t about the leave the country… Even so, I hope to be able to go in and spend a few days with Jonathan and watch the process much closer and ask the millions of questions floating around in my head.

Sometimes my talent amazes me.

Sometimes my talent amazes me.

The Frenchie Experience

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Yesterday afternoon I discovered why people like Twitter. I had been dabbling with it for a few months now and was starting to see the benefits and then yesterday afternoon at 4.30pm I realised why it is the BEST THING EVER. I happened to spot a tweet (look at this lingo! I’m down with it.) from a restaurant in Paris that has grown its reputation to such an extent that you need to book a table a few weeks in advance. Frenchie is one of the many set formule restaurants in Paris that the BoBos and the expat-wannabe-BoBos adorrrrrrrrreeeee and will drop into sentences, such as “Last time when I was dining at Frenchie, it was DIVINE” or “I am free any day except the 16 March 2020 because I’m having dinner at Frenchie.” And so while it was on my list of restaurants to go to before I leave, I had decided the slightly elevated price and the expat-blog hype meant it wasn’t worth the effort. But then imagine my surprise when in a Twitter message less than 140 characters in length I discovered there was a table for two available that night at 19h. Oh. Hello.

The fact that I had seen this message in combination with my recent decision to ‘just follow the path life takes me on’ and that my foodie friend Jen and I were planning on meeting for half-priced cocktails at that exact time anyway, all seemed to come together and form a HUGE BLINKING SIGN THAT SCREAMED, “BOOK THE TABLE!” So after my usual umming and ahhing and indecision, an SMS confirmation of “YES.” from Jen made me pick up the phone and reserve la table pour deux. And who said getting a table at Frenchie was hard?

Looking across to Frenchie Wine Bar

Looking across to Frenchie Wine Bar

The restaurant is gorgeous – a wood, limestone, cozy design that is then replicated on the other side of the pedestrian street at Frenchie Wine Bar. The area around the restaurant isn’t much (the streets in this part of the second arrondissement are full of warehouse clothing stores and brothels…) and I’m not entirely sure why they chose to be there. But clearly it works – they are booked out for their two sittings per night at their restaurant and the wine bar opens at 7pm and a fists and elbows fight for a table.

The menu offers two entrées, two mains, two desserts (or cheese) for 45 Euros which is on the pricier side. But after doing a head count, the restaurant would only cover approximately 65 people per night, and there were at least five chefs in the kitchen. And the ingredients… oh yes. The food.

For entrée both Jen and I had smoked fera (that’s a fish apparently) with avocado and grapefruit. This dish was potentially the highlight of the night – who knew smoked fish could taste so good? I didn’t want to finish it because then the experience would be over.

Delicious and pretty!

Delicious and pretty!

For main I had pigeon which was served with red endives and beetroot and something cubed and crispy. It was a bit of a muddle of textures and flavours, and I couldn’t quite stomach the fact that the pigeon was really REALLY undercooked. It was essentially raw. Normally I wouldn’t be so squeamish about this as I do love a bit of blood in my meat, but having just gotten over a case of gastro, eating raw meat wasn’t so appetising. My stomach issues aside, I still think it should have been cooked more – there was a little bit of crisp pigeon which was amazingly good and I wished the whole piece had been like that. The sauce was nice and it was tasty but not the best thing I have ever eaten.

I'm not sure why the French use endives so much. They're good but not THAT good.

I’m not sure why the French use endives so much. They’re good but not THAT good.

And then came dessert. I had a brown sugar tart which was served with a caramelised apple gloop (it was as if they had caramelised apples, turned them into mush, and then pushed them through a sieve to form gloop. REALLY GOOD.) and ‘hay’ ice cream. This was amazing! The tart wasn’t too sweet and remarkably light with a super crunchy crust and creamy inside. The gloop was tangy and bright and then the ice cream was creamy and ‘hay flavoured’. I have no idea what made the ice cream ‘hay’ but it was really delicious so I don’t care. I’ll have more of it!

So good. So so good.

So good. So so good.

So a very enjoyable meal was had, including some tasty wine and prompt and amicable service. The down side was the table sitting behind me. Luckily I had my back to them otherwise they would have annoyed me more than they did. A foursome of late-fifties Americans – two couples I presume – whose voices pounded around the walls of the very small restaurant and stabbed like very sharp knives into our ears. With each bottle of wine they ordered, the louder and more obnoxious they became. The room was full of expats (so therefore generally noisier than the average French group) but the conversation topics and general intelligence of this particularly table made us, and I suspect the entire room, cringe. As we were leaving, Jen asked the eventually friendly waitress whether or not there were any French people dining in the restaurant or if it was entirely foreigners. “They are coming at 9.30 for the next sitting,” was the fantastically witty response. I left Frenchie laughing and very happy.

Marathon Training Run #5 or Am I Dead Yet?

Monday, February 4th, 2013

I am starting to fear Saturday mornings as they now equal “Long Training Runs.” I suspect this fear was part of the reason as to why I couldn’t fall asleep on Friday night and only ended up having about 4.5 hours of sleep. Woo. My alarm went off at 7am and I had a long discussion with my pillow about why it should let me rest my head for another few hours. But I lost the argument and up I got.

As per my previous runs, I set myself various distances that could be achieved.

  • 15 kilometres was the minimum distance unless my leg had physically detached from my body
  • 20 kilometres was good
  • 25 kilometres was my ultimate goal for the day and would result in a parade thrown in my honour (by myself).

I headed east, aiming to reach a ring road that runs in part just inside the peripherique and that is now the route of Paris’s latest tram line. I was planning on running south of the river and as I don’t know that area very well and would most likely get lost, I thought that following a tram line would be a smart idea. And it was! The roads have recently been done up, there’s new art work at some of the new tram stops and the footpaths are generally quite wide and nice to run on. It is good to run in places you have never been before because it is distracting and I found myself going further and further much more quickly than expected.

I managed to find some very impressive hills in a city that doesn’t really have hills. In fact there were quite a few inclines that I had to remind myself would go down eventually. By the time I reached the polar opposite side of Paris to my apartment, I had completed 17 kilometres and feeling good. So I kept going.

By the time I weaved my way back to the centre of Paris and then along the river and back towards my house, I reached my apartment having completed 29 kilometres. I couldn’t exactly stop there. So another lap around the block and I stopped my run at 30 kilometres over three hours. There was more than just a parade! I think Paris went into a state of shock as this weird, red faced Australian started jumping up and down making primate noises. That is the longest distance that I have ever run. The last time I did 30 kilometres we walked the last two. There was no walking this time and I did it on my own. I was pleased with myself and relieved by the fact that I can make that distance and the idea of running further wasn’t the most ludicrous thing ever. It was perhaps the second most ludicrous but not the first.

Statistical satisfaction.

Statistical satisfaction.