Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 2040: Paris au Ralenti (Paris in Slow Motion)
By Doru from Canada, Fall 2012
Page 3 of 19: Friday, 14 September - Expanding the Teritory and Another Torontonian in Paris
Musical graffiti along rue du Roi de Sicile
Is it jet lag? This feels like a really slow, thick morning. We start late and it takes us the longest time to figure out what else we need in the fridge. We have also started to figure out our apartment and to organise ourselves somewhat better, using all three great rooms and adapting to the limitations of the small kitchen. The kitchen would not do for a family that does cooking and baking (no baking oven) and lives here permanently, but it has everything transients like us require day to day.
This took us much of the morning and then A. called. He is on his last day in Paris; tomorrow he flies back to Toronto and we promised him a tour of the Marais. But first he has to come upstairs to get his cell phone recharged here because he did not have a plug adapter for the French plugs. I have four... He arrives, I plug his cell phone and off we go; it is getting pretty late for lunch.
Since we wanted to start anyway from close to Hôtel de Ville, I figured it was a good occasion to try for lunch another place where I had never eaten before, but which was warmly recommended by a good friend who is at least once or twice each year in Paris. The place is at 12 rue du Bourg-Tibourg, “the street of the Tea House Mariage Frères”, an absolutely must stop for us anyway.
The name of the bistrot sounds pretty original: “Le Coude Fou”. It translates to “The Crazy Elbow”! Generally, I try to talk up people who live or work in places with unusual names and to find out how these names came to be. Thus occurred my discovery of the reason for the name of the street where Bistrot Le Reminet is located: I talked with the owner of Le Reminet a couple of years ago and he explained to me why the street was named Rue des Grands-Degrés.
Not here. We are met and led to our table by a very tense waitress, who later would not understand why we try to fix ourselves the legs of our fitful, rickety table when she wanted to do it herself, not right now but just as soon as she was able to... The question on my mind: why was the table unstable to begin with?
Then, there is the matter of the beer. A. orders a Leffe draft, from the bistrot list of beverages. He is told that they ran out of Leffe. In a Paris restaurant, and Leffe is as omnipresent here as the proverbial baguettes, and it is only 1:30pm. On a Friday afternoon they run out of one of the only two beers they have listed, and with the evening crowds yet to descend on the popular area of Roi du Sicile? How will they do for dinner?
Anyway, we order. Josette has actually an excellent skewer of monkfish and chorizo, an interesting combination, and fries as the side dish. A. and I order the same full formula at €16.50: slices of apple and duck in a green salad; beef tenderloin with bordelais sauce; and panna cotta. In order: good, so-and-so, excellent. I had a glass of wine; A. had “the other beer.” No coffees; we save the coffees for later. The total bill is €63. Not bad, but we have a long wait for the bill while the waitress and a co-worker have their own lunch in the next room…
Very likely, not a place I would go back to, or recommend.
From Le Coude Fou to Mariage Frères the distance is just a few buildings up the street. The place has changed since our last visit, in 2010: the tea house-restaurant was enlarged even more, indicating that good, brisk business is going on. Right across the street a new Mariage Frères shop has opened, with only one clerk, selling only pre-packaged items. If one knows exactly what one needs, and does not particularly care for the live show of the weighing and packaging and the pretty cashier, this new store might be a good idea. Ah(!), yes(!), and the prices went up at Mariage Frères, by about 10-15%. Not that it matters when you buy 100 gr. of Marco Polo Rouge, oui, et avec ça? c’est tout, merci! (P.S.: Home, a few weeks later, I notice that we were given “Marco Polo” tea, instead of the “Marco Polo Rouge” that I ordered. Too late to do anything about it...)
We turn towards rue du Roi de Sicile to pay a visit to the very sympathique café Le Loir dans la Théière, on rue des Rosiers. Two years ago, this café was our “general quarters”, as we were staying right on top of it, three stories up.
“Loir” translates as “dormouse”, and the name of the café refers to the little dormouse that was dumped in the teapot at the Mad Hatter’s party (for those who remember their “Alice in Wonderland”)! For Torontonians, the reference is doubly meaningful, because in Toronto of the 1980s there used to be a number of “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” venues which hosted highly celebrated children birthday parties.
But back to our Loir. At 3 rue des Rosiers, at 4pm the place is packed. Median age of patrons: 25 (or so young everybody seems to us?) We somehow find a table and order coffees and a glass of wine. “We ran out of wine” is the bizarre answer from the waiter. We are confused. We repeat the question, and get the same answer. A., who at lunch was told at Le Coude Fou that they ran out of draft beer, is now told here that there is no wine! No wine in a café in Paris? He feels persecuted. How strange this day became!
The coffees finished, we continue towards Place des Vosges. It is Friday evening and rue des Rosiers is packed; while many stores have already closed down to greet the Sabbath, the falafel counters are still very busy, and so is the Finkelsztajn deli.
At Place des Vosges the crowds diminish. We rest for a while on one of the benches, and cannot but stare at and admire (and envy?) a couple of lovers who can’t seem to be able to unglue their lips for as long as we sit there, them being probably on training for a kiss endurance competition or aspiring to enter the Guinness Book of Records? We figure that their intense training will continue for sometime and decide to get up and cross into rue Saint-Antoine via the courtyard of Hôtel de Sully. At the apartment, A.’s telephone is charged, we say our farewells and “see you in three weeks for lunch at “Ferrovia” (Note: “Ferrovia” is a restaurant just north of Toronto, which has also hosted a couple of Slow Travel GTGs.), and he leaves. Tomorrow he will fly back to Toronto. We, the luckier ones, have still almost three weeks ahead of us.
Urban legend: Bistrot is a ubiquitous presence in Paris. It is sometimes spelled bistro. The etymology of the word seems to be quite nebulous; competing French regional dialects present claims to the word. I like most the following explanation: after the Russian Revolution of 1917 much of the Russian nobility found refuge in Paris. They learned French in their infancy; some spoke French better than Russian, some did not even speak any Russian... Once here, not all former nobles could continue their lives of plenty and leisure, and many started working as coach drivers, moving on later, and seamlessly, to taxi drivers. As they caught a few minutes between clients, they would go quickly to a nearby bar and order a drink. Since they were always in a hurry, they invariably ended their orders at the bar with the word “bystro”, which in Russian means “vite” (French), or “quickly” (English). A variant of this etymological speculation claims that the word was already familiar to Parisian bartenders since the Russian occupation of Paris in 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon...
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