Day 56 – Au revoir Paris (part 2)

So this brings me to the end of my blog as well as the end of Paris.

I’m not one for saying goodbyes (funny then my last two blogs should be titled “goodbye” hey?). I feel that saying goodbye often puts too much focus on the leaving rather than the bits before, and the bits to come.

But I feel it’s fitting that my last entry is, if not a final goodbye, then an ode to Paris. So I sign off with my lasting impressions of Paris…

I will miss the food here in Paris. In particular the cheeses, breads, pastries, deli meats/terrines and roast chickens. I love that you can buy these things from nearly every block or market in Paris and it will be cheap and delicious. Yet I also love the chaotic French bistros, the average looking hole-in-the-wall that serves amazing dishes, the modern and inventive restaurants and of course the fabulous wine bars.

Today's bistro lunch

I was always aware that the French were leaders in the gourmet world and were famous for its cuisine. Yet I wrongly believed they were famous for their classical and traditional dishes. That’s a little like assuming Australians are mostly convicts. Yes they still embrace their classical dishes but they are also innovators in developing and mastering new cuisines and styles. Really, the one thing that has struck me most when eating in Paris was the technique and it is this technique that so many countries try and replicate across the world.

I will miss the French wine. I was already starting to feel disappointed with Australian wines before I left Sydney but now that I’ve been here two months I’m not sure how I’ll ever go back. The French wines, particularly the natural ones, taste so much smoother, so much more complex, so much more unique. In particular I will miss Le Verre Volé which we went back to yesterday just to stock up on some wines for our final nights. I love that the staff patiently sit with you to work out what sort of a wine you might like and always recommend bottles that will blow you away with their richness and individuality.

I love that everyone was wrong about French people. Nearly everyone warned me of the rudeness or brusqueness to expect but I can safely say that I have not experienced that at all. In fact, quite the opposite. I thought the French were always professional, courteous and passionate and the people I came across in shops/restaurants/public services were always only too happy to help me. Maybe this was because I was able to speak enough French, or because I made sure I understood French etiquette, but either way the only rudeness I saw on this trip came from the tourists.

Which brings me to a hate. I hate the tourists in Paris. They push, shove, talk loudly and take up too much space. That being said, the good thing is that most tourists only stick to the main tourists sites and the pretend French restaurants. By “pretend” I mean restaurants that are designed to look like tourists think French restaurants should look like (and serve only frogs legs, snails, fondue etc). So it’s easy enough to escape them and experience the real Paris.

I will miss weekends in Paris. There is such a happy and relaxed vibe. Everyone seems to leave the house and either shops at a market, sits in a cafe, wanders the streets, or sits in a park…you get the feeling that everyone here loves it here. And it makes you love it back.

I won’t miss the smells or the pollution. You can’t go far without smelling either urine, exhaust fumes or cigarette smoke. True you get used to it but I can’t wait to actually breathe fresh air.

I love French etiquette. I love how when you enter an establishment the first thing you do is greet the host and the last thing you do is farewell them. I love that there’s a level of respect in how you talk to someone and everyone is a Madame/Monsieur, and I love that it’s a given you will give a smile and a hello to whoever you’re sitting next to at a restaurant (which is just as well seeing the tables are so close together you wont be able to avoid getting friendly). I’m a big believer in manners and the French way conforms nicely to my view on how things should be.

I will miss having picnics in Paris. I’ve loved buying a whole heap of goodies and taking it to a park, the river, or the canal with a bottle or two of wine. It’s both an idyllic and inexpensive way to spend a day/evening and everyone does it so it also has the potential of being very social…especially when you forget the bottle opener (I don’t love that France hasn’t caught on to the screw top lids yet…). In fact, this is how we will be spending our final night in Paris (and boy have we bought a spread…).

I love the number of options in Paris. Every shop/restaurant/wine shop/cafe has the potential to double as a bar/night club/jazz room and the city is so large there are literally millions of such establishments. To this day I have no idea how they can all survive with the competition yet there must just be a hell of a lot of people in Paris because everything is always full. Which is another love – I love that everyone goes out in Paris! Young and old alike, no one wants to stay at home, everyone wants to have a good time.

I will miss my butcher, my grocer, my cheese shop and my favourite pastry shop. I bought something in all these stores today and said my farewells (all seemed very sad to lose a valued customer). I am so happy we got our apartment where we did – Rue Montorgueil is the liveliest most beautiful market street in Paris and the quality of the produce has always been incredible. I realise I’m probably being biased but I don’t care.

My butcher

My final selection of cheese...

Buying rasberries for tonight's picnic

My Rue Montorgueil

Inside Stohers, my favourite pastry shop

My grocer

I love the French fashion. But by that I mean that everyone does their best to look good. That doesn’t mean heels, fancy clothes (it rarely gets formal in Paris despite what people say) or even make-up (something few French women wear). It’s just that no matter what time of the day or where they are they always dress at least smart casual. There’s no such thing as ducking out to the shops or pubs in shorts, singlets and thongs. While I do enjoy that liberty in Sydney at times it’s nice to see everyone looking smart for a change.

I will miss the French parks and their ability to create perfect symmetry and flowers that belong in a museum.

I will miss our little apartment. Sure the stairs are a bit uneven and old and the child outside our bedroom still screams every afternoon, but it’s been home. It’s small and quirky and I’ve loved looking out onto the rooftops of Paris and drinking wine on the couch with Demis (fighting for the last bit of cheese).

Demis outside our apartment building

Stairs to our apartment

Entering our apartment with picnic items

I will not miss any of the modern “art”.

I’m reluctant to finish this entry but once I start resorting to listing things like modern “art”, well, it could just get silly from here on in.

Paris – I think you are a city of many secrets. You hide these secrets behind your more obvious landmarks and breathtaking parks, but you openly reveal them to those who go digging. I love that you embrace your history and traditions and that they’re used each day as a platform for all the new and incredible things you produce. I love that nearly everything you produce is designed to please. You’re the city of love because spend enough time here and one learns to love all the simple things they often ignore.

Thank you Paris for treating us so well in your city – for the sunshine, the memories, and for everything in between.

Until next time xx

Posted in Week 8 | 2 Comments

Day 55 – Au revoir Paris (part 1)

This is second my last blog entry.

I will be honest and admit that in some ways I’m slightly relieved. I’m not an online personality, I’m extremely private and I’ve never kept a journal, so doing this every day has been difficult and at times felt more like an obligation rather than a desire.

That being said, I’m glad I did it. Not just because it kept family and friends in the loop (and saves me having to repeat several times what I did while away), but because it’s a record of our time here. I like to think that in years to come I can look back and remind myself of what I was thinking at that very time. I don’t just want to remember my time in Paris with the hindsight or maturity I may develop in ten years, I want to remember Paris exactly as I do today.

So my closing blog entry comes in two parts (why not, the final Harry Potter book is being split into two movies…). It’s a goodbye to me in Paris, and then a goodbye to the city of Paris.

So. Me.

I have learnt that I have a lot of stress in my life. I would never have described myself as a stressed person – I am always fairly in control, organised and practical so I find I can deal with a lot of responsibility and pressure probably better than most, and I certainly don’t stay up at night tossing and turning. But here I am in Paris, completely away from it all…and I feel different. It’s like one of my barriers has fallen down and smiling doesn’t seem as difficult. Even my health feels better and that has to be saying something seeing I’m drinking solidly and eating an intense amount of carbs every day!

I have learnt that I’m at peace with my profession. I’m doing what I’m good at and while it may not always be fun or sound cool to others, it lets me utilise my natural skills and lets me afford the lifestyle I want. And isn’t lifestyle more important than anything? Sure, in the future my career path will probably veer but I’m going to let it take its natural course. I need to stop wishing I was doing something else.

I have learnt that what motivates me is instant reward – be it enjoyment, money etc. This has been hard to accept because on the surface I feel it makes me look soulless. I look at people like Demis and my sister who are so committed to their ideas. They will go all the way in giving something a go and it’s this passion that sees them succeed at long term projects. I’m not like this and while being here I’ve questioned if maybe that means I’m lazy, unmotivated or someone who likes to take the easy way out. But I accept that my motivation is different and that’s OK. I may not have what it takes to write a novel but I am able to achieve some pretty cools things in the here and now and my need for immediacy means I get a lot done and I’m successful in my work because I’m so driven. You need a balance and I think it’s nice Demis and I complement each other that way.

I feel confident about not wanting children and our decision to come here was kind of a statement of that fact. It still leaves my future a little unclear though. What is the stereotypical path for those with no kids? I feel that if we’re not careful we could end up each weekend sitting at the end of the table with other families as cool “Aunty” Cat and “Uncle” Demis – almost like a single person can end up tagging along with couples. As much as I will love the children my friends have I don’t want that life, because it’s not my life and may lead to unfair resentment over time. So for me that makes it important, to not only play a role in my friends’ lives and their children’s lives, but to also expand my social circle to include others that have chosen a similar path. I need to make sure there are a few other people who are choosing the same life or I will just feel alienated. Loved yes, but alienated.

While I’m being honest, I also want to voice a strong pet hate (quite off the topic but hey, it’s my blog so there). 85% of my female friends on facebook who have a child, have their profile picture set as a photo of their baby. Where has the woman gone? I will always be more interested in the parent than I am in the child (which is a compliment I would have thought) and I’m angered I don’t always see that same sense of self in the parent. The day will come when the child has its own facebook profile but until then why aren’t I hearing about the woman, only the child??? I’m feeling forced to give up a friendship with an adult in favour of a relationship with the child.

Grrr!!! Sorry, but it needed to be said.

I have learnt that my marriage is strong. I cherish that even though Demis and I have spent nearly every second of every day with each other for two months straight (enough to drive many couples insane)…we still don’t run out of things to talk about and still adore being near each other. I will always be so thankful that I boarded that plane to Germany so many years ago.

Lastly, I have learnt that life can be amazing. I feel as though right now I am living the dream and it wasn’t a dream difficult to achieve. It’s so easy to fall into a rut but after these two months I know with absolute certainty that I will not, under any circumstances, let that happen to us. We will work hard, we will do all the normal things like paying off mortgages and accumulating wealth, but we will also taste what life has to offer. We will pull ourselves away from reality, we will step outside our comfort zones and we will never stop shaping our lives and our selves.

I don’t know what’s next – New York, Sicily, somewhere in Africa, the north of Spain…but until the day we die, it’s going to be a brilliant life. It’s completely in our hands and our hands are capable.

So thank you Paris. I would have been happy with just a handful of memories but – as it tends to happen with traveling – I ended up with a little bit more.

À demain Paris…

P.s…what does one do on their second last night in Paris? Buy three bottles of special natural wines and whole lot of cheese of course :-)

Posted in Week 8 | 6 Comments

Day 54 – This blog entry contains Michelin stars and nudity

We had every intention of taking advantage of Passage 53’s €65 lunch special. It is the cheapest Michelin star meal you can get in Paris and I was all up for affordable goodness. But when the ever so charming host described the chef’s famous tasting menu at €110…well, how could we pass that up? It was going to be several hours worth of 2 Michelin star quality and we were up for anything and everything…especially considering Sydney doesn’t even have a one Michelin star restaurant.

Le Verre Volé wins in terms of quality market food, Le Chateaubriand wins in terms of pushing the boundaries, Spring wins in terms of bursting with flavour but Passage 53 wins in terms of technique and excellence.

It’s a very tiny restaurant hidden in one of Paris’ many arcades, similar I guess to Sydney’s Strand Arcade. It is very light and clean looking with ivory leather chairs, honeycomb walls and white tablecloths. The waiters were relaxed yet professional. You couldn’t see them staring at you yet somehow they managed to time the courses and wines perfectly, they anticipated your need before you even felt a need.

We had 14 courses in total (albeit the last 5 were desserts and delivered all at once).

Here is what we ate…

#1 : Pea soup with a drop of pea sorbet, served with sourdough and spiced butters on the side (which I didn’t eat). This dish may have been simple but was probably one of my favourite due to the sweet yet intense flavour of the peas.

#2 : Oysters covered in mousse with a drop of beluga caviar and salted tuile. I was reluctant as thought this was a creamy dish but it wasn’t, it tasted entirely of the ocean (note: oysters buried within the mousse).

#3 : Crab bisque with fresh crab, tomato sorbet and a cacao wafer on top. This was another favourite – the textures had a party inside your mouth and the crab had a beautiful lingering taste.

#4 : A pure white course – it had melt in your mouth calamari, raw cauliflower, a touch of cream and a sprinkle of parmesan. The flavour that came out most was the cauliflower – how anyone could cut that vegetable up so thinly and yet still keep the delicate floret design is beyond me.

#5 : Prawn, orange sorbet and broth foam.

#6 : Fish, morels (mushrooms), broad beans with white & green asparagus. This was probably my least favourite – not because it was bad but simply because there has to be a scale and this one didn’t have quite as much kick and wow-factor as the others. Although was still damn good.

#7 : Sweet onion, caramelised on one side, with wafer thin slices of Spanish chorizo inserted between each layer of the onion. And a sprinkle of knock-me-dead sea salt. This dish was another stand-out. Who would have thought an onion would be one of my favourite dishes? It was sweet yet salty, delicate yet meaty…and I have no idea how the chef managed to assemble it and yet still keep the onion in tact. Yay chef!

#8 : Piglet, asparagus, onion cups with wasabi and cream and a fruit sauce. Wow – the piggiest piece of pig I’ve ever eaten.

#9 : Lamb, wild asparagus, anchovy butter, potato and cabbage. The lamb literally dissolved in your mouth.

For dessert…

(This was technically one course in the sense they came out together but make no mistake…there were five substantial dishes).

#10a – Spiced rhubarb served with rhubarb sorbet and rhubarb jelly.

#10b – Grapefruit sorbet served with grapefruit jelly and pieces in a toffee cup.

#10c – Strawberry trifle – biscuit on bottom, vanilla custard, strawberries in jelly

#10d – biscuit bottom with salted caramel, banana, passionfruit pulp and a chocolate lid.

#10e – chocolate tart with dot of orange marmelade

The best dessert was the passionfruit/banana/chocolate combo. Once you broke that chocolate lid it was a world of wonders….

Pretty much though, every dish was testament to the Michelin system which many (including myself) are quick to scoff at. With every bite you could taste the hours of work and thought that had gone into the dish and each deserved to be in an art gallery. It wasn’t just that the taste left you speechless, it was that each dish also displayed an impossible level of craftsmanship that no other restaurant I have ever eaten ate has compared with.

We left the restaurant feeling full, elated and awed. Also quite drunk to be perfectly honest. It was only when the bill came and they itemised each glass that I realised the list was really quite long. Really, they should just list the line item as “alcohol” and put one lump sum – no one wants to know exactly how much they’ve drunken.

Although in fairness at one point I was singing “Downtown” so that might have been a sign of how much I’d drunken.

Passage 53 is a must when visiting Paris. There are many other restaurants that serve sensational meals but this is one of the only ones that serves Michelin standards at affordal prices. Our bill was about €430 for two but that included a couple glasses of Bolinger plus several (and I do mean several) other matched glasses of wine. And as mentioned there was the option of the cheaper four-course lunch special. Overall much cheaper than any Sydney fine dining restaurant and ten times the quality.

The only downside of the restaurant was when I fell down the stairs on my way from the bathroom. In fairness to me the stairs were very small and narrow and I was wearing slippery shoes. In fairness to the stairs…see above re lots of wine. Amazingly though the second I started falling all wait staff magically appeared at my rescue and had me reseated in seconds. I notice they didn’t offer me dessert wine though…

After our 3.5 hour lunch we had a nap (or possibly I passed out…not sure) and then made our to the Theatre de la Ville to see Dave St-Pierre’s, A Little Tenderness For Crying Out Loud!

OK I’ve been at a loss on how much of this to write about and how to put in words whatever I do decide to write about. The link above will give you a short and sweet summary of what this piece was about, I’ll just stick to describing my experience of the opening.

(Don’t worry I doubt this will be a spoiler because Australia would never support such an act)

As you enter the theatre to take your seat there is a nude man on stage with a blonde wig heckling you. If you are lucky enough to not find someone already in your seat you soon begin to notice about 20 or so people who are causing chaos. They are randomly taking peoples’ seats, blocking the aisles, climbing over people, sitting on you, basically doing their best to make you confused and uncomfortable. That’s right, the performance has already started and we were happy to sit back and laugh at what was happening and the reactions that followed.

Eventually the on-stage performance starts. There’s an intro and some movement pieces but about 10 minutes into in the lights come back on and absolute anarchy ensues. 20 nude men (with blonde wigs) suddenly charge for the audience followed by screaming and raging women. For the next 20 minutes they are doing everything they possibly can to push the boundaries, involve you, shock you, offend you and cause sheer terror among the audience – all happening while the first few seconds of Harry Connick Jnr’s It Had to Be You is playing loudly on loop. It was the funniest thing I have ever experienced but it was also horrifying. Words just can’t describe it.

The rest of the performance? Well it was intense, poignant, beautiful at times, affronting at other times. I won’t admit to always understanding each dance piece but I can say that it certainly made you feel. Sometimes the feeling was so strong as you watched something so offensive/crass/full-frontal that you didn’t know how to react because there is no standard reaction to something like that…so you just laughed.

But the piece was overall about tenderness and as the piece progressed they touched on this quite beautifully. You felt something because you were part of the performance and dicks and breasts aside, they were quite talented performers.

It wouldn’t be everyone’s thing at all, but if you have an open mind (very open mind), a sense of adventure and a willingness to go with the emotions, then you will appreciate this performance. I will never forget the degree of nakedness and some of the shocking scenes I saw (and felt) but I also wont forget how they were able to turn that around and leave you with something so much softer.

I started the day with Michelin stars and I’ve ended it with a crowd full of nude people.

Oh how I’ll miss Paris…

Posted in Week 8 | 2 Comments

Day 53 – Jazz, chocololate and Spring

After yet another late sleep-in, we made our way to Saint Germain to attend a jazz and chocolate degustation hosted by chocolatier Michael Richart. I was expecting it to be a fairly tragic event but in actual fact it was surprisingly good.

15 of us huddled into the small upmarket chocolate salon (the word shop just doesn’t suit this establishment) and the event started with an introduction from Monsieur Richart. In all honesty, we were there for the novelty factor and the chocolate so the fact his introduction went for 15 minutes (it was a one-hour event) was a little perplexing. I say perplexing because we had no idea what he was saying expect that he repeated the words “flavour”, “chocolate” and “jazz” several times, and judging by his eyebrows he seemed very passionate about whatever it was he was saying. Still, how much could there possibly be to say? You eat, you listen right?

We were given five homemade chocolates and for each there was a two minute guitar performance (that would match the chocolate) followed (and preceded) by more intense speeches by Monsieur Richart. Possibly there was a question or two for us but considering most of the small group did not speak French (and thus could not have worked out that he was in fact asking us a question) there weren’t many replies. If he wasn’t asking us a question then I guess he just liked moments of silence a lot.

As silly as it felt at times, the chocolate was damn good and I hate to say it but each piece did match the music. We started with bold caramels, moved on to angry chocolates, romantic roses, energetic passionfruit, and exotic spiced chocolates. For 10 Euro a person I would say it was definitely worth it, especially as a box of 10 chocolates alone cost more than 20 Euro.

Later than evening we had our long awaited dinner reservation at Spring. Spring is a fairly new and modern restaurant and one of the hardest places to get a booking at. It has a fixed menu that changes daily depending on what’s available at the market and is everything a restaurant should be.

We were seated in the less popular downstairs (as were not fussy) and have to say that I preferred it to the more crowded and dark upstairs. Downstairs is like a light coloured cellar with smooth wooden tables, white-washed walls, light bricks and a rustic bar. There’s only a handful of tables so the service is excellent yet you still get a good balance of intimate vs ambiance.

The food was sensational. The matching wines (all French) were equally sensational and so very perfectly paired.

Our amuse bouche was a couple sticks of crispy asparagus which you dipped into a garlic and anchovy sauce.

This was followed by a foie gras served with peas and mint in beef broth (my second favourite dish)…

Then, poached hake served with toasted crutons, clams and wholegrain mustard (sounds weird but it was the best dish by far)…

Then, duck served with orange rind, white fennel and a cucumber emulsion…

Then, a plate of five different cheeses (optional extra course)…

For dessert strawberries and cream with toffee biscuit…

Followed by pistachio ice cream (hands down the best ice cream I have ever eaten) served alongside strawberry soup with a dollop of olive and vanilla granache.

I could not fault the meal even though I truly tried. The only fault I could give the restaurant was that they didn’t have a hand moisturiser in the bathroom (and their scented soap dried my hands out).

Equally impressive was that once again their dishes didn’t come with dairy (apart from the cream with strawberries which wasn’t strong and easily shoved off…and the optional plate of cheese of course….). They asked at the beginning if we had food allergies and I mentioned I didn’t like to eat too much dairy in my meals to which they scoffed and said the chef does not cook with dairy.

And that’s honestly what I have found here in Paris.

So many Sydney restaurants are French inspired and they are hanging on to this classic French idea that butter and cream etc must go in meals. But modern French has moved on and the best chefs are utilising oils and fresh ingredients rather than traditional and heavier dairy products. I haven’t even come across a baguette that’s had butter in it so that must be saying something. I never in a million years would have believed that I would have less trouble in Paris than I do in Sydney re the whole dairy situation. And also feel so much more justified in my taste choices…if the top Parisian chefs scoff at butter than who can dare point the finger at me?

Probably the most entertaining part of the night was at about 9.30pm when a young American couple were seated at the table next to us. Straight away the woman started complaining that they had booked a month in advance and would not spend so much money just to sit downstairs. The host explained that they were told at the time of booking they could be seated anywhere and that upstairs was unfortunately full…so the couple walked off in a huff. I just don’t get it – you would think they would book to come for the food (which was the same wherever you sat) and the quality but clearly they just wanted…what? I don’t know. Oh well, it provided a good five minutes of drama.

Anyway, suffice to say we left Spring extremely full and extremely content. I now have a good handful of Paris restaurants that I can safely say are the best meals I have ever eaten…what more could I hope for from this trip? If this is what the rest of my life is like then I feel very very privileged and pretty damn excited.

Tomorrow we are off to have lunch at two Michelin-star restaurant followed by a somewhat unusual theatre/dance experience. There’s not a lot I can say about it now but let’s just say its experimental, would never be allowed in Australia and involves complete nudity (not on our behalf…at least I hope not…).

Just your average Wednesday, followed by your average Thursday…

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Day 52 – Not like Leonard Cohen

You know it’s time to leave Paris when:

  1. by default you have dessert after every meal including breakfast
  2. you no longer take photos of pastry shops
  3. you begin to like – no, need – the smell of cigarette smoke
  4. you’ve replaced water with wine (and not in the Jesus/miracle sense)
  5. you expect all meat to be raw, even when it shouldn’t
  6. you think waking up at 9am is shockingly early
  7. a dinner booking at 8pm seems scandalously early
  8. you’ve given up removing dust from your clothes
  9. you arrogantly believe everyone should get out of your way; and the main reason,
  10. Your body starts knocking on your insides yelling “OK girl, you’ve had your fun, you’ve lived it up in Paris and I havent made too much of a fuss but enough is enough, get this body back into some kind of normal existence!!!”

I guess 52 days of excesses is, well, excessive.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depend upon how you look at it), there are another four full days of excesses to be had.

Today I grunted at waking up at 10am, had breakfast and stayed in bed until close to midday. By 1pm I was sitting in Autor d’un Verre (a no frills natural wine bar serving simple yet quality meals) with a bottle of red, cod ceviche, and organic chicken casserole with mash. Demis had what looked to be a giant ball of mozzarella cheese (which he adored but regretted the side effects) and duck (which wasn’t as good as my superb chicken).

Cod ceviche

Organic chicken

Big ball of mozarella

Duck breast

It was a comforting place with an old woman cooking in the kitchen and her son serving. It all took a while but hey, we had nowhere to be at at 15 Euro for two courses – who’s complaining?

Front counter/kitchen of Autor d'un Verre

(Sigh) I really wish Sydney had places like these – basic restaurants/bars/cafes selling incredible food at cheap prices (cheaper than any disgusting food court) with unusual yet exquisite wines (sold at retail). Problem is, that anytime Sydney does open up a place like this it becomes the hype, is impossible to get into and then develops attitude.

After lunch I left Demis and walked over to the giant gourmet food store Le Grande Epicery to stock up on French goodies I plan to take home with me. Of course being alone meant I also took the opportunity to pop into Zara and pick up a bright green skirt (60’s retro colours…a must for summer 2011) and a couple of other essential pieces.

I literally dumped my things at home and then out we went for gyros. That wasn’t originally the plan, we had planned to go to another wine bar for a plate of chacuterie (deli meats and cheese) and of course more wine, but (and this is testament to my current state) I just couldn’t stomach any more good food for today.

The gyros was probably a mistake though. It was cheap and tasty but not worth the effort considering half of it ended up on my face.

Lamb pita

We had an hour or so to kill before the jazz performance we had tickets to kicked off, so we decided to lounge about in the Luxumbourg Gardens, where I wrote half this blog entry on my iPhone. Gotta love sunshine at 9pm.

Blog entry in action

Lazing at Luxembourg

Tonight’s jazz performance was Robin McKelle – an American. OK so here’s the deal. She was described as smooth, sexy and sultry – a female version of Leonard Cohen. When I had looked her up on YouTube the first clip that came up was perhaps not quite Leonard Cohen but definitely a little edgy and very sultry.

The performance was nothing like that. It was more like Bette Midler meets Dolly Parton but take it down a couple of notches and maybe place it in Lonestar, a theme park or the local RSL. It’s not that she or her band were bad, they were good musicians, but it was repetitive, a little old fashioned and very insincere. You know it’s not going to go well when the singer acts like a Diva and gives sound instructions at the start of the performance, dances like a stripper when she’s old and frumpy…and it didn’t get any better when at the end she forced everyone to stand up and clap (there is NOTHING I hate more than being forced to clap in a song, unless of course it’s standing and clapping and possibly waving my arms in the air).

In short, Leonard Cohen would NOT be happy at the comparison and I felt it was very inaccurately advertised. What happened to the Robin McKelle of YouTube?

On the way home we decided to stop for Nutella crepes and for the second time today my face was covered in food. I know the crepe man thought he was being nice by pouring half a jar of nutella onto my crepe but not only do I NOT need the calories, I took one bite and a volcano amount of chocolate goo literally exploded from the crepe. No photos for obvious reasons…

Tomorrow we have our Degustation Jazz & Chocolate event (I don’t have high hopes but I’m curious) and then our long awaited dinner at Spring.

Hang in there stomach…

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Day 51 – Versailles to ourselves

Today we went back to Versailles. We got a few odd looks on the train, people were probably thinking “stupid tourists going all the way to Versailles when it’s closed”. But this was all very much part of our plan. We loved the gardens (opened daily) and couldn’t think of a better way to spend a sunny day than lying in a secluded spot eating, reading and sleeping. The fact that the palace was closed meant that there were hardly any people at all in the enormous estates.

We walked for a good half an hour and found a spot where you could lie down and your 360-degree view was nothing but grass and trees, and not a person in sight. All you could hear were the birds and the sound of Demis munching on pizza biscuits.

We spent a good few hours there (I may have fallen asleep at some stage) and I felt very very happy.

Happy is a strange feeling. I don’t mean to sound cynical it’s just that rarely have I defined my state of feeling as happy. Sure I’ve been happy to do something, happy to see someone, happy with how things are going, but there’s always something prickling my subconscious, some piece of reality that serves as a reminder that I could be happier.

It’s refreshing to feel happy – with no caveats and no disclaimers. I guess that’s why sometimes you see people smile to themselves (something that has always bothered me, usually because I suspect them as being part of some religious cult but sometimes simply because I’m not a smiley person and feel that others smiling at me for no reason is suspicious, freaky and annoying) – maybe it’s because they’re happy?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an unhappy person and my life is in no way miserable. But it’s not often I drag myself away from everything to the point where I feel there is nothing to worry about, nothing to do, no responsibility or action I’m in charge of, nowhere I need to be, and no deadline. When you get rid of all these thoughts I guess that’s when you’re able to work out what the hell do you feel and it’s nice to know that taking all these things away – I am a happy person.

Do you remember being a kid and you were out playing at a friend’s place and you knew it was time to go home soon but then you find out your parents have rung up and your allowed stay for dinner and suddenly the world is huge and full of possibilities? Suddenly you feel free and energised and nothing can hold you back. A few extra hours you hadn’t planned on open up a world of wonders.

That’s how I felt lying there looking up at the trees.

Of course as we were walking back to the train station and marveling at how perfect the day was Demis did the worst thing in the world. He said “well the day’s not over yet, we could have a terrible train ride back”. That’s right, the fool jinxed us.

We got to the train station just as the announcements were advising us that all trains back to Paris were cancelled until further notice. And so we waited about two hours until whatever it was sorted itself out before we could make our way home. By that stage I had also developed a cold.

But really, the universe is going to have to do better than that. I’m still happy.

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Day 50 – Italy’s Eurovision entry

This morning I woke up feeling slightly queasy, which is not surprising given we drank quite a bit last night. The fact I had no headache though was evidence to the fact we were drinking natural wines all night.

For dinner last night we took our friends to Le Verre Volé (which we had been dying to go back to) and once again had an incredible meal. There were two standout dishes – the pigeon ravioli cooked in chicken broth, and a plate of some prehistoric shellfish that I honestly can’t remember the name of. You had to pull them apart and inside was a gooey string of flesh that tasted exactly like the ocean.

The waiters were as passionate and attentive as always. We were served three bottles of wines over the night which not only complemented our meals but tasted so incredibly unique and beautiful that it almost made you cry. Especially because I’m sure there’s no way I will be able to buy them outside of Europe.

After dinner our waiter suggested we go to Au Deux Amis – a wine bar (serving natural wines) on Rue Oberkamf. It’s a fun and unpretentious place that was crowded, rough around the edges and full of bobos. I squeezed my way in and the quirky barman suggested a perfect bottle of red to match our night. We took this (and the other bottles that followed) onto the footpath where everyone kind of spilled out to, and spent the night drinking and chatting. Great energy and great people – what Paris is all about.

Today we decided to keep it relatively low key. We went to the markets in the morning and picked up some cheeses, terrines, fruit, roast chicken, sausages, breads and pastries; and then headed out for a picnic by the Seine. The weather was beautiful and everything tasted so good…particularly after a late night.

Once we made our farewells to our friends, Demis and I headed over to the Hotel Lutetia to watch the first of the Saint-Germain Jazz Festival events we’d bought tickets to.

The first supporting act, Marion Corrales, was bit so-so. She kept trying to sing (in not very good English) as though she were part of an Irish folk group but it just didn’t match the accompanying guitar. The only song I really enjoyed was when she was singing a lot deeper and rougher. I think the crowd agreed as after her set there was only a polite applause.

Or at least her applause was nothing like the roaring applause the main act, Raphael Gualazzi Septet received when they came on stage. Or perhaps I should introduce them more accurately as Italy’s Eurovision entry!!!!!!!!!!!

Of course, it took Demis and I while to realise this very important fact. When they first started playing my mind registered that here was another Italian jazz band just like Eurovision but thought nothing more seeing neither the presenter nor the guidebook had thought to mention it. But when they started playing Follia d’Amore – a few things happened simultaneously. First Demis said he liked the song which I thought odd because it had literally just started (he loved Italy’s entry in Eurovision), then, I said to Demis it must be a cover as I had heard it before, and a milisecond later lightbulbs flashed over our heads as we both turned to each other in utter amazement and delight yelling “Eurovision!!!!!!”. Probably to the annoyance of the sophisticated audience seated respectfully in the little ballroom.

Honestly, you would have thought that the Jazz festival would highlight in bold the very fact that this group was on Eurovision. It’s like they don’t take Eurovision seriously or something…

Anyway, they were a sensational group and performed with so much energy it was hard to stay seated. Every song sounded different and they used their various instruments creatively. Sometimes you were laughing with them at some of their songs (they didn’t take themselves too seriously which was cool) and other times you were mesmorised by their dramatic sequences. I loved it.

My favourite song was Fantasy & Reality – halfway through the singer starts grunting his way through the song and somehow it just works. Go the grunt.

We have a couple more events booked for this week which we’re looking forward to. And of course I have already gone through the Eurovision playlist and the program to see if there are any other Eurovision performers being hidden from me – luckily (for the program organisers who would have received a phone call tomorrow morning) there doesn’t seem to be.

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