Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Back in Paris

It's been a while since I have posted anything here, as in a couple of years. Oh, well. CAM and I are back in Paris, no kids. CAM has a scientific meeting out at the Expo Center at Porte de Versailles, which is where she is now. It's pouring out, so it seems like a good time to hole up in this hotel room and write.

The reason I am in a hotel room instead of in our apartment is that the place is rented for a couple of days. So we are in the Hotel Sevres Saint Germain until tomorrow. It's nice enough, although it serves as a reminder of why staying in an apartment is a pretty good deal in Paris. We are paying 170 euros a night for a room that is just a little bit bigger than the double bed it contains, looking out over a courtyard with no sun. The staff is nice, but it is by no means a luxury hotel. Plus, it is entirely populated by tourists, obviously. For 170/night you can get an awfully nice apartment, with a kitchen, etc. For a little more than that you can get our apartment, with plenty of room for four adults or a couple and some kids, plenty of sunlight, away from the tourists.

The hotel is in the 6eme, off the Rue de Rennes and Rue du Cherch Midi, a very nice left-bank neighborhood, a little higher end than our area in the 15th. It doesn't make me wish our apartment was here, though. The price you pay for the tonier neighborhood is higher prices for everything, from the cafe on the corner to the patisseries. And especially this time of year, when the Parisians are starting to leave town for August, a good quarter of the voices on the street are speaking English. In the neighborhood, we had coffee this morning at the Cafe Nemrod (I wonder what that means in French? Where does the old insult nimrod come from in English?) Cafes are one of those French institutions that don't vary much in some ways. They all have the canopies over outside seating at the little round tables that people sit all on one side of facing the street. they all have a few tables inside, and a bar, usually metal, where you can order a coffee to drink standing in the morning, while watching the odd collection of workers and nicely dressed old ladies downing beers or strangely colored aperitifs at 830 in the morning. They all have food, amazingly elaborate food by American standards, but usually routine on a French scale. They differ in how nice the people are there, how much they go out of their way to make sure you spend a couple of pleasant moments there. Kind of like hotel staff, who can either do their job routinely or act like they actually care about looking after you. Anyway the Nemrod is really nice, beautifully taken care of, and the waiter was willing to engage us in French, making jokes, bringing us little glasses of water (no ice of course) with our coffees. We'll go back tomorrow and he will remember us.

We had lunch yesterday in a wonderful little place CAM found in the 14eme called L'Atelier d'Antan (Old-fashioned Workshop, sounds better in French). It is tiny, maybe eight or nine tables, with a little bar in the back, run by a man named M. Alcaraz, which I know because he had a big diploma from some cooking instate up on the wall. His wife waits on the tables, he supervises the kitchen and runs the bar and schmoozes all the customers. The food was wonderful, simple and homey. CAM started with a pate de poisons, mostly salmon, a light pink slab with a little salad on the side and a dollop of wonderful homemade mayonnaise, one of those pleasures that you wouldn't know existed in the US. I had a terrine de a little crock of pate-type pork (innards, probably) with pieces of toast and cornichons. Then CAM had a sauté of veal, c common lunch dish here, pieces of veal sautéed in butter and flour and served with in its brown gravy. My main course was wonderful: swordfish (espadon, I think) which was just incredibly well cooked, it tasted as though it had been infused with butter somehow, and then roasted at high temperature so the whole rim of it got dark brown and crunch, while the inside just oozed slightly salty fish-juice and butter. Amazing. It came with ratatouille on the side. Really great. We skipped dessert.

One mysterious story. There was a gentleman sitting next to us, eating alone. Maybe 65. He got up to leave before we did, said goodby to the proprietors (they knew everyone in there except us) and walked out, leaving his cell phone on the table. CAM said excuse me, Monsieur, your mobile, and he said, oh no, I make a habit of leaving it here and left. The wife came over, caught Carol's eye, so Carl smiled and said oh I thought Monsieur left his mobile. The woman said oh no, it's mine. She then started to make up the table, and when she set down the napkin, she carefully folded the cell phone inside, so it was sitting next to the place setting. Does the guy come back for dinner, and always expect his cell phone there? I don't get it, and we didn't ask. No way to say, Hey, what gives with the cell phone in the napkin, to a proprietress of a nice French restaurant in Paris. Not with my French, anyway. More later. One more try to get a photo into this stupid program....

Location:Paris, France