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Must be the season of the witch: Nikki's autumn trip to London and Paris

Must be the season of the witch: Nikki's autumn trip to London and Paris

Old Nov 22nd, 2015, 07:44 PM
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Just found your trip report and am enjoying it very much. I read aloud to my husband the entry on Donovan's concert--we are from the same era and British invasion music still plays in our home.

My cousin and I will be in Paris in two weeks. We have only a few days at the end of a Christmas market cruise. We love Paris and after some discussion decided to continue with our plan. Your descriptions of the young people out in the cafes in the evenings struck me in light of recent events.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2015, 08:42 PM
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Monday we are planning to go to the department store BHV, where I need to buy some cabinet pulls to match ones I bought here two years ago. Before heading into the store, we have lunch nearby at La Tartine, on rue de Rivoli, where I have enjoyed some wonderful salads in the past. When we sit down and look at the carte, however, it appears that it has changed. The salad we both remember as Norwegian, with lots of smoked salmon, has disappeared, and the other choices look different also. I am thinking there has been a change of ownership or of chef. We enjoy our lunch and my salad is very good with mixed greens, goat cheese, walnuts, and smoked duck breast, but I miss the beautiful and bountiful salads of this wine bar’s previous incarnation. We have some goose rilletes to start, and these are quite tasty.

Now we are ready to tackle BHV. Alan is looking for oyster knives, and I leave him pondering the different varieties while I go in search of cabinet pulls. I walk up and down the aisles of this section several times before coming to the sad conclusion that they don’t carry the style I bought any more. Should have bought more two years ago. I didn’t count the cabinets before I came last time, and I was naïve enough to expect that the same styles would be carried from year to year. There had been lots of different ones that had the same finish and I had mixed several types. But now there isn’t anything in the same finish, and I resign myself to coming home empty-handed.

On the other hand, we now have three different types of oyster knives.

We have concert tickets this evening. My plan is to have dinner at the Brasserie Wepler in Place de Clichy before the concert and get a festive cold seafood platter with oysters and clams and crabs. But when we walk to the restaurant, it looks strangely empty. We are greeted by an employee who tells us that the restaurant is closed only one day a year and this is the day. There is a private event in honor of the winner of the Prix Wepler, a literary award given once a year with the support of the Brasserie Wepler.

We look around the Place de Clichy to come up with an alternative that is open for a pre-concert dinner. I spot Leon de Bruxelles across the street. I have never eaten in a branch of this chain, but I know they have mussels and fries and that sounds appealing.

We are early for dinner and are seated by the window. Just outside the window, a man is selling apples, oranges, and grapes from a table he has set up on the street. We each choose a different preparation of mussels from the extensive selection and are pleased with the meal. The restaurant fills up during the course of our dinner. We leave in time to walk to the theater and the man selling fruit comes chasing after Alan to tell him I have left something on the table. It is the small spiral notebook in which I have been writing my impressions. Thanks to this observant fellow, I am able to compile this trip report.

We are hearing Sanseverino at the Casino de Paris, a music hall with a colorful history. We enter the theater to a somewhat chaotic scene. People are being seated but it appears that tickets have been sold by different agencies and some parties have been allotted the same seats as other parties throughout the hall. The beleaguered ushers are earning their tips as they try to straighten out the mess. Two people are sitting in our balcony seats and the usher finds a new pair of tickets for us closer to the front of the balcony.

The thing that surprises me the most is that when I was purchasing tickets on line, it appeared that the lower level was for standing only, while the only place to have assigned seats was the balcony. But there are seats downstairs this evening and people are showing tickets to the ushers and being seated in specific places.

Alan and I are lucky to have been seated before the opening act. Sanseverino comes out and says he understands there is chaos in the theater (“c’est le bordel!”) but that he hopes we will enjoy the Johnny Cash songs sung by the group opening for him. Many people remain standing as a band takes the stage and the lead singer sings several Johnny Cash songs in English. This seems an odd choice of repertoire for a girl band in Paris, but it is entertaining.

An intermission follows this act and the ushers manage to find seats for everyone. Sanseverino comes out with a bluegrass band and sings songs from his newest album. This recording has just been released and I have never heard it. I suspect it is the same for much of the audience. Unlike the previous two concerts we have attended in London and Paris, this one is not filled with the hits people have come to hear. Donovan explicitly told the audience we would never be more than two songs away from one of his hits. And Francis Cabrel sang songs from all periods of his long career, including the one that made him a star, Petite Marie, that he must have been singing at every concert since 1974.

Alan, who is a bluegrass fan from way back, enjoys this concert more than he has expected. And Sanseverino’s natural charisma has his fans so charmed that we forgive him for not playing any of the gypsy swing numbers that drew most of us to his music in the first place. I am disappointed he does not play anything from last year's album of French songs from between the wars that I listened to all summer.

After playing the entire album, Sanseverino starts bringing friends onto the stage to join him for encores, which go on for another hour. Alan and I walk back to our apartment happy to have been here. I am struck by another of those moments of gratitude.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2015, 03:18 AM
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On Tuesday we explore a neighborhood that I have not managed to get to in the past and find our way to the market street of rue Montorgueil. I take photos of the window display at Stohrer, the oldest pastry shop in Paris, a colorful array of foods that I assume are pastries until I read the descriptions. They are not sweets at all. There are quail stuffed with foie gras, stuffed crabs, coquilles st. jacques.

We stop at a charcuterie, a cheese merchant, don’t remember where else, to buy a lunch feast. We will have this back at the apartment. We take a break in a café where I order a citron pressé and we watch the comings-and-goings on the street. There is a school across from us and we hear young children playing loudly in the courtyard, then a bell rings to signal recess is over.

A fireman is selling something on the street, and this time it does look like a calendar. He is not having a lot of success. Alan points out he is only approaching men who pass him, and his customers are more likely to be women. Indeed, a woman does stop and buy one. Alan wonders where all the old, fat fireman are, as the ones we have seen are all young and very fit. I figure they don’t let them out in public.

Dinner tonight is at Neva Cuisine, where I have eaten before with a large group of Fodor’s posters. It is fairly close to our apartment, so this is a good time to revisit it. I have made a reservation and we are among the first to arrive at around 8:00. This is a wonderful and very creative dinner. The clientele matches the décor, mostly dressed in black and gray. Not me though.

We share appetizers. There is foie gras with a lime gel and toasted brioche, and sautéed mushrooms with a “destructuration” of corn and pork belly. Alan then has a pork dish with something like grilled bok choi and artichokes. I have sweetbreads described as “ris de veau crousti-fondant au Big Green Egg.” It takes some time and a picture on his cell phone for the waiter to help me understand that the sweetbreads are cooked in a smoker that resembles a big green egg so that they come out crispy and smoky. These are accompanied by a mélange of apples and pears and, if I am reading the menu correctly, hibiscus.

For dessert we each order the destructured chocolate sphere. This is a sphere of hard chocolate that is placed on your plate and then the server pours hot chocolate over it so the sphere partially melts and reveals the ice cream within. Having had this before, it is difficult for me even to consider ordering any other dessert, although I am sure they are all wonderful.

We walk back to our apartment with the glow of having had a very special meal.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2015, 07:36 AM
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For dessert we each order the destructured chocolate sphere. This is a sphere of hard chocolate that is placed on your plate and then the server pours hot chocolate over it so the sphere partially melts and reveals the ice cream within. >>

ah yes, I remember it well! Glad to read that Neva cuisine is still going strong - what a lovely and interesting evening we all shared, Nikki - 4 or 5 years ago now, I suppose.

going back to Donovan for a minute, he was appearing near here shortly after you saw him, I think - the review was not glowing, but perhaps he had an off night.

3 sorts of oyster-knives - is that for opening 3 sorts of oyster?
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Old Nov 23rd, 2015, 07:57 AM
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Still enjoying this, Nikki. Welcome to SF. I see you brought the cold weather with you.
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Old Nov 23rd, 2015, 08:11 AM
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We always do. And rain. They should pay us to come.
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Old Nov 24th, 2015, 08:57 AM
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Wednesday is November 11 and there is significantly less traffic throughout Paris this morning. Many businesses appear to be closed. The taxi driver asks whether he has driven me somewhere before, about a month ago. I tell him I was not in Paris then and he seems surprised. I ask whether there was a woman who resembled me and spoke French with an American accent; he says yes, although she was Canadian. And what’s more, she was with her husband who spoke only English and resembled my husband. A tall bald guy? Yes, he says.

There are only so many faces out there.

We are headed to Bercy, the site of the former wine market in the 12th arrondissement along the Seine, another corner of Paris that I have not yet explored. This is an area that saw intense urban renewal after the wine market became irrelevant due to modern transportation and distribution methods. Some of the old wine storehouses have been converted to use as cafes and some have become the Musée des Arts Forain, a private museum with an astonishing collection of antique carnival games, rides, and attractions.

This museum can be visited on guided tours that are conducted in French (although this past summer saw some English tours offered as well). Alan is given a flier in English that explains some of the attractions. In addition to tours, the facility acts as a function venue, hosting corporate events and private parties. This would be a great place for a party.

We spend two hours visiting with a very entertaining guide, trying out the old carnival games, riding on carousels with bicycles, learning how to tell whether a carnival horse is English, French, or German (the horses always face outward, and English carousels go clockwise so the horses look left).

We return to our apartment to finish up our market purchases for lunch and spend our last afternoon in the Batignolles neighborhood, which we will be sorry to leave. Dinner is at a restaurant here called La Bonne Heure, a play on words. Bonheur is happiness. The restaurant has a large collection of antique and vintage clocks on the wall that display the hour in keeping with the literal meaning of “the good hour”. They are all set differently however. I guess all hours are good here.

We spend a pleasant hour here ourselves, eating foie gras, souris d’agneau (lamb shank), and a molten chocolate cake with two spoons. There is a light misty rain as we walk home.

Thursday morning, November 12, we pack up and leave. Our flight home is uneventful, just the way we like it. We are unpacking and settling in Friday for our brief stay at home when we hear the news about shootings and terrorist bombings in Paris and spend much of the next week following events as they unfold. We are grateful that our friends in Paris are all right but cannot help but think about all the people out in the street who became targets. It is hard to reconcile these events with the wonderful vacation from which we have just returned. But I am very glad to have been able to go and hope fervently to return in the not too distant future.
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Old Nov 24th, 2015, 11:47 AM
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NIkki, I also hope you return to Paris and London and write another amazing trip report. This one is pure pleasure.

Enjoy San Franscisco.
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Old Nov 24th, 2015, 12:08 PM
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What a fabulous writing! You have a great writing style.
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Old Nov 24th, 2015, 12:14 PM
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Thank you very much for this report, Nikki. It's been most enjoyable to read. EJ
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Old Nov 24th, 2015, 12:51 PM
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Excellent report, Nikki. You left just in time -- not for safety reasons but just because you did not have a pall cast over your fun at the last moment.
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Old Nov 24th, 2015, 03:02 PM
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Thank you all for your comments. I was afraid I had put everyone to sleep.
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Old Nov 24th, 2015, 04:58 PM
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Throughly enjoying this.
Well done Nikki, and thank you.
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Old Nov 25th, 2015, 11:21 PM
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Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed report, Nikki. I found your reflections about changes since your last visit most interesting. It would be nice if all the things we remember could stay the same...

I used to live around the corner from LaTartine, and it was my daily hangout. The owner couldn't afford to continue doing business, so sold it to a few local investors in 2009. I tried it a couple of times after that, but the spell had been broken, and it just made me too sad to return.
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Old Nov 26th, 2015, 09:54 AM
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My visits to La Tartine were in 2012 and 2013, so after the 2009 change. I am wondering whether there has been another turnover since then, or they could have just rethought their menu.

Not all the changes from my previous visits were sad; some were very nice. Big cities are in a continuous state of flux, part of what makes them exciting.
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Old Nov 26th, 2015, 11:19 AM
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Thanks, Nikki. I'll be in Paris 12/4-18 and appreciate the timely information.
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Old Nov 26th, 2015, 09:53 PM
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Such a lovely read, thank you.
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Old Nov 27th, 2015, 04:22 AM
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NIKKI, wonderful report about two of my favorite cities.

Continued good health and happy traveling....
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Old Nov 27th, 2015, 01:35 PM
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Lovely report, Nikki. You have a way with words and no doubt a way with life. Hope you are having fun out here in the Wild West. I wish you good health and many more trips to France.
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Old Nov 28th, 2015, 12:36 AM
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not sleeping, Nikki, dreaming.
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