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Speed dating and snow: Nikki's trip to Paris

Speed dating and snow: Nikki's trip to Paris

Old Apr 4th, 2013, 09:12 PM
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Love this, particularly as I prefer to write in the first person and present tense as well when I do trip reports.I like the immediacy of it.
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 12:38 AM
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Love, love, love this.

We have Franglish evenings in a village close to ours, they are very helpful.

Two village women come to our house twice a month for help with their English, and vice versa. We were talking the other day about un bouchon, a cork but also a traffic jam. Problem was, I couldn't remember the English phrase "traffic jam"!

They are interested in our views on French politics which in turn has motivated us to pay more attention to the news, so it all helps. They also help us with local customs and the local dialect, heavily influenced by Spanish--short e's at the end of words pronounced "ah", for example. That wasn't hard to pick up but when the over 70 age group gets going, I barely understand a word.

Thanks for such a fun report.
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 03:25 AM
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Saturday morning I formulate a plan for the day. The goal is to pick up tickets to a concert that I have ordered through FNAC, the large book store chain that operates a ticket service and has locations throughout France. I plan to take the short bus ride to Odéon, pick up my tickets at the FNAC there, check out the Patrick Roger chocolate store across the street, and then perhaps get to Montparnasse for lunch at one of the creperies that looked so attractive last night.

All goes according to plan until the bus 87 takes a left where it should have been taking a right, and suddenly we are passing the Musée du Luxembourg (where I check out the long line, this doesn't bode well for my planned visit with Alan next week to see the Chagall exhibit). I assume the bus is taking a detour but will go around whatever obstacle causes the change and resume the accustomed route, so I do not get off at the first stop. But we appear to be getting farther from my destination instead of closer, so I get off the bus.

I get turned around and start walking in the direction I think I should go, but I am getting no closer to Odéon than I was getting on the bus. I do, however, walk past the Poilâne bakery, so I am forced to buy an apple tart and put it in my bag. And look, over there, a branch of the jewelry shop Metal Pointu's. Doesn't that bracelet in the window look like it would go nicely with the necklace I bought last year? Forced to go in there and find out.

I sit down on a bench at an intersection and pull out my map and see just how wrong I have gone. OK, now I know where I am, so I start walking. But once again, I appear to be getting farther from my destination. Somehow I am staring at the Grande Epicerie de Paris. I turn around and head the other way. But once again I find myself confronted by the Grande Epicerie. This feels like a scene from Through the Looking Glass. OK, I get it now, I have to go in there. The nice lady forces some chocolate samples on me. Then the other nice lady makes me take some prosciutto. And after they were so generous with their samples, don't I have to buy something?

Unwilling to press my luck any further, I give up and take the metro the two stops to Odéon. I am relieved to find FNAC right where I expect it to be, and I pick up my tickets. Then I pop across the street to Patrick Roger.

I am surrendering to chocolate. I have fought it on previous trips. Chocolate is not allowed into my house. But I have a tradition of using up spare euros at the airport by buying chocolate there and bringing it home. Why not get the good stuff instead and eat it while in Paris? So I pick up a small bag of exquisite pieces of chocolate and get on the bus.

I have given up on my plan to go to Montparnasse for crepes. I am afraid I will end up in Montmartre instead. So I take the bus back toward my apartment. A woman sitting across from me on the bus is wearing a mink coat and blue jeans.

I have lunch near my apartment at Chez Margot, where I start with a millefeuille of eggplant, tomato, and goat cheese and then try the daily special of stuffed veal breast. I hear the people at the next table repeating the phrase "hush, hush, sweet Charlotte" with various pronunciations, getting closer with each repetition. I decide it is time to go home for a nap.
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 05:40 AM
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>>so I am forced to buy an apple tart and put it in my bag>>

Lol. Ah, the joys of getting lost or just "turned around" in Paris!

I'm glad you enjoyed the Franglish experience. It went on the list after I read about it here in someone's trip report (can't remember who, though) and we'll be participating in it next month in Paris.
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 05:49 AM
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This is wonderful.
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 05:56 AM
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Loving this! It makes me feel like I am back in Paris.
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 06:38 AM
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So enjoying your report, Nikki. You're inspiring me to throw caution to the wind and take the bus in October while on my next visit to Paris. Getting lost is one thing I do well. Used to tell my children we were on an adventure while I tried to figure out where the heck we were on our many travels. Love your sense of humor and terrific writing style. Food descriptions - yum!
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 08:30 AM
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At some point during the afternoon I head over to the arts and crafts market at the Bastille, which takes over the space of the food market every Saturday. I end up having a long conversation with a woman who makes fused glass jewelry. We talk about the Franglish experience because she says she would like to work on her English. She is about my age, and I tell her that most people there are younger than us. She tells me that isn't as important as it used to be. She plays tennis with people much younger than her all the time. Sixty is the new forty, we decide. We talk about the different and changing natures of French and American society, and about the respective difficulties of assimilating immigrants from other cultures and providing social services for the entire population. She gives me a card, tells me she lives in a cute apartment near the Bois de Vincennes, and says I should call if I want to talk to her some more, and we can exchange e-mails. Like pen pals, I suggest. But I can't find her card now that I am home. I am, however, wearing a necklace with a mica-infused piece of glass that she made as I write this.

Saturday night I am visiting my friend Lance, who lives in the US but who has just decided to spend two years in Paris and has rented an apartment near the Picasso museum with his new wife, whom I have not met. It is raining, and when I walk to the bus I see that the next one isn't due for twenty minutes. I can walk to the Bastille for another bus but my feet are shot, and I start to look for a taxi. One of the few things I do not like about my apartment is the lack of a nearby taxi stand, and there are few empty taxis going past. But eventually I find one, and give the address to the driver. He asks if I am going there for crepes, as there is apparently an excellent creperie at the address I give him. The driver then points out good places to eat all along the route.

It turns out the apartment is across the street from the creperie but we are not going there tonight. It is a beautiful apartment in a lively and fun location, and we have a wonderful dinner there, finishing up with the Alain Ducasse chocolates. I have not seen Lance for several years and we laugh and tell stories until well past midnight.

I'm not sure what I do on Sunday morning. Probably sleep late. I get to the Bastille market just as it is closing. Still time to snag a smoked duck breast, three saucissons, two baskets of strawberries for a couple of euros, maybe some cheese, a piece of salmon.

Sunday evening I head over to Saint Germain to have dinner at Abby's apartment. I find myself very close to the area where I was wandering around in circles yesterday, but I have looked at the map ahead of time and find the apartment easily. Abby and her husband, her sister, and her sister's husband have just arrived in Paris yesterday. They spent this morning at the market and are hosting a dinner for a few lucky friends with the goodies they picked up there. There is pate, olives, salad, roasted chicken, bread, cheese, and wine. There are two humongous artichokes on the counter, but they are just there to be appreciated as art. We eat, talk, laugh, make plans for get-togethers later in the week. And then I take the metro back to my apartment and call it a night.
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 08:54 AM
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>

Can't wait to hear how this goes!

So smart for buying more hand cream...I am nursing a 75 ml tube of hand cream I picked up at Monoprix last year (Le Petit Olivier). Sadly, it's simply not going to last much longer.
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 08:57 AM
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I was just "forced" to buy a ticket to Europe. It's all your fault, Ms. Nikki. Such a delightful read.
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 08:59 AM
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Yes, Le Petit Olivier it is!
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 09:01 AM
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Lucky you to have a dinner prepared by Abby.
I couldn't be there with you all but this is making up
for my loss.
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 09:09 AM
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ttt
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 01:06 PM
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Monday I go to the Omnivore World Tour, a cooking festival highlighting young chefs, at an art deco convention facility in the Latin Quarter, the Maison de la Mutualité. This is the second year this festival has come to Paris and appeared in this venue, and I happened to be here at the right time last year also. I watch three cooking demonstrations in the main theater and one upstairs where they are doing pastry.

The first chef, Guillaume Foucault, who has a restaurant in the south of France, starts by slicing a promising looking piece of foie gras, but then garnishes it with onions seeped in wine that have such a unique odor that the emcee passes the jar around the auditorium. Everybody sniffs it, many put a finger in to take a taste. I satisfy myself with enough of a sniff to know that I won't be trying to replicate this at home. He later passes around tiny slices of green beans that come out of an old confit jar. They have a distinctly odd taste. They do not pass around tastes of the delicious looking pork that the chef prepares in the oven, though.

The second chef, Jose Ramirez-Ruiz, is from Brooklyn, New York. He uses locally grown vegetables from Long Island, once again giving me that small world feeling. He treats vegetables like meat, putting beets through a meat grinder to make beet tartar, to which he adds anchovy paste. I won't be doing this any time soon either. But he also makes a lovely looking vegetable dish with beautifully browned onions that I would be happy to try. The third chef, Alexandre Couillon, has a restaurant on the Atlantic coast near Nantes. He concocts some kind of fabulous looking salad.

After watching these demonstrations in the main theater, I go upstairs to explore. There is a room filled with exhibitors, many of whom are offering free samples. There are people sipping wine all around the room, and nibbling on cheese, fruit, oysters, ice cream, caviar. There is some charcuterie sliced thin on a plate to go with the wine that one of the exhibitors is offering. I ask the young, elegant woman who is handing them out what the charcuterie is and she tells me it is "très délicieux", urging me to take a piece. It is about 96 percent fat, but it is indeed delicious.

I watch a demonstration in the pastry room by a chef from Marseille, Philippe Moreno. He puts together quite a few plates in which the arrangement of the elements seems crucial to the effect. The most startling is a bit of chocolate on a cookie, topped with bright yellow dandelion petals.

I head across the street for lunch at the Café St. Victor, which is filled with attendees from Omnivore. There is a lot of bustle and jostling to get people seated, but I am eventually shown to a table where I enjoy a substantially more traditional meal than the ones I have been observing. I start with a salade de gésier, then have a bavette aux échalotes, skirt steak with shallot sauce. The formule for two courses is 14.50 euros. The staff is working so hard to seat and serve the large crowd that they are just letting their receipts and papers fall on the floor next to the cash register, and I watch the pile grow higher as the lunch hour progresses. Somebody is going to have to do a lot of sweeping up.
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 04:39 PM
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I am sorry I didn't go to the Omnivore with you this year. We will have to do it next year! Also we cooked the humongous artichokes and they were wonderful!!
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Old Apr 5th, 2013, 06:49 PM
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After I get home, I discover my new favorite way to find things to do in Paris. I have used the website Billetreduc to buy discount tickets to shows and concerts in the past, so I look at it and find a section listing all the discounted events for the current day. You can search for theater, dance, jazz, classical music, and a list of events with tickets available will pop up. http://www.billetreduc.com/s.htm?day=t&gp=1&r=79

I see a concert of chamber music that looks appealing, and the price is discounted to zero, gratuit, free. I order my ticket on line. The only problem is that I have no printer and can not print it out. I write down the confirmation number and I bring up the e-mail with the confirmation on my phone. Then when the time comes, I take the metro across town to the Salle Cortot, in l'Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, a conservatory in the 17th arrondissement, near the Malesherbes metro station.

When the doors open, I go to the table manned by a couple of nice older ladies and give them my name, which apparently is not on the list of reservations. I give them my confirmation number, but it isn't like they have a computer to check anything. The nice lady just says, how much was it, five euros? No, I say, and she says, oh right, Billetreduc is "gratuit". Yes, I say, and she says go on in. So I go to the door and tell the girl taking tickets that the nice lady said I should go in but didn't give me anything. She just smiles and says go on in.

I choose a seat up front. The hall is a beautiful art deco room with wood paneling and great acoustics. The concert is a program of Schumann chamber music, a quartet and a quintet for piano and strings, which I enjoy greatly.

Tuesday I walk across the Seine for lunch at l'AOC, a small bistro serving traditional French cooking at 14 rue des Fossés St. Bernard. There is a formule offering two courses for 21 euros, three courses for 29 euros. I start with coques, bouchot et gambas en vol au vent, a medley of shrimp, mussels, and tiny clams in a pastry shell, which is wonderful. Then I have moelleux d'agneau aux aubergines, a serving of lamb cooked until it is falling apart and shaped into a cake, wrapped in eggplant skins. I overhear the conversation of my neighbors, who are discussing the Renaissance. "L'homme est un être pensant", a woman declares. "Man is a thinking being."

On that note, I finish my lunch and head across the street to the Institut du Monde Arabe for an exhibition on Scheherazade and the Thousand and One Nights. I pay the admission and walk into a room filled with displays of some of the earliest texts of this series of stories which evoke the earliest days of storytelling. I have recently read an anthology of these stories. When I was recovering from my first knee replacement, the summer before last, I kept this volume by my side as something I could read in small bits corresponding to my sleep-and-drug-diminished attention span. I finished it all over the course of the summer, including the interesting critical essays in the book. So this exhibit is timely for me.

In addition to the examples of early texts and translations, there are artifacts from the times and places that form the subject of the stories, as well as art inspired by the stories through the ages. I do not linger in these exhibits because I am saving my feet for an amount of standing I will have to do tonight and because I have to get to my class at the College de France, and while I spent an hour or so altogether, I could have stayed longer.

It is a good thing I leave when I do, because after taking the bus, stopping for cash at an ATM, and buying a cold drink at Monop' (an abbreviated name for an abbreviated version of the store Monoprix), I snag one of the last seats for the Proust class at 3:30, an hour before the start of the lecture.

Today's class focuses on the Judaism of the character of Swann in Proust's novel. There is an amusing analysis of the term "schlemihl". Earlier drafts of the novel exhibit far more anti-semitism directed at the character of Swann than the final version. The professor shows that some of the ideas that remain in the final version of the novel can be traced to themes from the notebooks that Proust discarded.

The speaker in the seminar is the son of the woman who first translated Du Côté de Chez Swann into Italian. He talks about the nature of research, and I think he makes the point that historians would do better to conduct their research along the principles of twentieth century novelists such as Proust rather than the linear, naturalistic mode of research frequently pursued.

When the class ends, I grab a taxi to the twentieth arrondissement. It is starting to rain. I have just enough time to get to La Maroquinerie, a concert venue, where I am meeting Abby and her entourage to see Sanseverino. My cab driver is a woman about twenty years younger than me who drives while following a TV show on her phone. When she sees the line of people outside La Maroquinerie, she asks me if there is a show there. I tell her it is a concert by Sanseverino. "Oh, j'adore!" she says.

So it isn't just me.
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Old Apr 6th, 2013, 12:54 AM
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I get on the line and then I notice a sign that the doors open at 7:30 and the opening act begins at 8:00. The tickets say the concert begins at 7:30, so I have arrived at 7:00. Just far enough ahead of me on line that I can't join in, Sanseverino is chatting with some of the earliest arrivals, and then he ducks into the door to go warm up. I am standing under cover, so the light rain doesn't bother me. I am worried about my feet though. I have two very bad ankles, and standing for long periods can be difficult. The tickets at this hall are all standing room. Normally I would not go to such an event, but I am not about to miss seeing Sanseverino in Paris.

The doors open and there is no sign of Abby and her entourage, so I go in and am encouraged to see a semi-circle of steps suitable for sitting on. It is good that I have arrived early, and I snag a cramped seat between a post and a video camera. For some reason people continue to use the small space between myself and the camera to squeeze past the people on the steps to the area in front of the stage. I comment to my neighbor that it is the autoroute going past us. Somehow everybody avoids knocking down the camera's tripod, which is planted on the floor next to my right hip.

When the opening act comes on stage, everybody stands up. I am saving my feet though, so I get a view of the action between the people in front of me. There is a young singer named Sarah Olivier. She has an edgy act that lies somewhere between jazz, punk, and performance art, and she plays a pretty good blues harmonica. She sings dark songs about late nights, sex, and alcohol, if I am understanding the lyrics. Her accompanist is a sensational British string bass player. Remember what I said earlier about not carrying an instrument bigger than I am? This guy swings it over his head.

While the opening act is in progress, I finally see Abby behind me. We talk during the intermission and I learn that they got turned around coming out of the metro (how on earth can that happen, I wonder?) and got soaked in the rain. She doesn't look happy.

I, on the other hand, am extremely happy. Sanseverino comes out and everyone gets on their feet, including me. From the first few bars, it is clear that the new bluegrass band is terrific and the music is upbeat. Sanseverino has done for bluegrass what he did for gypsy swing, which is to make it his own. The lyrics, at least those that don't go by too quickly for me to catch, are funny, political, wry takes on modern life. Between songs he tells stories that I wish I understood better, I always seem to be missing the best parts, especially of the more off-color stories. He both speaks and sings very fast.

One of the first things he does, though, is to kick a cell phone out of the hand of a guy standing right in front of the stage who is holding it up to record him. It is an amazingly good shot, and the phone goes sailing over the heads of the crowd. People applaud. I remember hearing somewhere that you can tell where a man grew up by throwing him a ball- in the US he'll go for it with his hands, but in much of the rest of the world he'll go for it with his feet. Sanseverino clearly grew up where they use their feet.

I put my camera back in my purse.

He performs for two hours. I am a bit insecure standing on my step, so I am reaching across the woman next to me to lean a bit on the post. But my feet hold out, I'm glad I've been saving them all day. I have a great view of the stage. The music makes me happy. The crowd loves the music, loves the performer. It's not just me. There is the same feeling of enthusiasm and energy for the performers and the music that ran through the crowd at that Allman Brothers concert I saw in New York (was it only two weeks ago?) at a much larger theater, where my friends and I all ended up on stage.

Somehow, this is the Paris night life of my dreams.

When the concert finally ends, I find Abby and her entourage and tell them I hope they are smiling. They are indeed. We walk outside and are heading for the metro station where I hope to find a taxi. We haven't been out for more than a couple of minutes when a taxi with a promising green light on top comes down this small street and it whisks me home in five minutes.

I think I have finally stopped humming the music from my orchestra concert last week
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Old Apr 6th, 2013, 03:31 AM
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Alan arrives Wednesday morning. If he is to stay awake for any length of time he needs some coffee, so we head out to le Sully where he has a shot of good strong Paris coffee at the bar. We walk along the Seine and see an old boat house full of construction debris. It is not, as we first fear, a pile of garbage, but signs of a renovation. We learn later from a sign elsewhere that this is part of an effort to spruce up the banks of the Seine through several construction projects.

We pass through the interconnected courtyards of the Village Saint-Paul, a former monastery that has been renovated and contains art and antique shops. We see the largest remaining segment of the wall built around the city in the twelfth century by King Philippe Auguste on the rue des Jardins Saint-Paul. There are groups of kids coming out from the adjacent school, and suddenly we are surrounded by thirteen years olds. I remember that French schools have a half day on Wednesday. Alan has finally retired from the eighth grade, where he has been teaching for quite a few years, but it appears that he just can't get away.

We turn onto the rue Saint-Paul, which has several jewelry shops where I have enjoyed shopping on previous trips, but I restrain myself and we turn onto the rue Saint-Antoine. We find ourselves in front of the Atelier du Chocolat, where the look on my face is enough to bring the sales clerk to the window with an open bag, waiting for my selections. Have I mentioned that I am embracing chocolate?

We have lunch at La Tartine. This time I get the salade bergère, filled with smoked duck breast, ham, and warm goat cheese on toast. Alan has the salade nordique after hearing my recommendation, along with some very good, well priced wine.

There is a couple about our age sitting a few tables down from us who catch our attention. The man is looking at the woman in a way that I would kill to be looked at. He is caressing her hands, and as the meal progresses their faces are getting closer and closer. Is it getting warm in here or is it me? We speculate on whether they are having an affair or are old married folks like us.

After lunch we walk to the Hotel de Ville. There is a free exhibit about Paris during the resistance and the liberation of Paris. There are photos, and posters and papers urging people to fight, as the day of liberation approaches. There are handmade flags representing the allies that flew from the Hotel de Ville. It is sobering to think that many of the events portrayed took place right where we are standing, and it is hard to imagine what it must have felt like to be in Paris at that time. But Alan is starting to fall asleep when we sit to watch a video, so we head back to the apartment for a nap.

Dinner is at a place I have enjoyed in the past and which I am looking forward to sharing with Alan. We take the bus to Au Vieux Chêne at 7 rue du Dahomey in the eleventh arrondissement. We start with beef carpaccio and wild mushrooms with poitrine fumée (French bacon) and parmesan, I think. Then we both order lamb sweetbread tempura with spinach and sorrel. It is all wonderful. We share two terrific chocolate desserts. Alan says the wine is very good, at five euros per glass.

As we get off the metro on the way home, Alan says, "It's OK to throw out the ticket now, right?" I say we have to wait until we exit through the turnstiles. And indeed, as we reach the top of the escalator in the Bastille station, there is a line of metro police checking tickets. I have not encountered this before, and I count this as very lucky timing.
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Old Apr 6th, 2013, 06:30 AM
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Lunch on Wednesday is at Le Buisson Ardent, 25 rue Jussieu, near the amusingly named bookstore Mona Lisait. This is another restaurant I have enjoyed before and have wanted to share with Alan. There is a lunch menu for 19 euros for two courses, 22 euros for three courses. We have a wonderful meal. I start with a goat cheese tarte with escargot, pistou (a French version of pesto), pine nuts, lettuce and vinaigrette. Alan has a terrine with foie gras, dried fruit chutney and sangria jelly. For the main course I have lamb shoulder confit with lemon confit, potatoes, and wild mushrooms.

We walk from here to the College de France, where I am following a course on the human condition in the Hebrew Bible and in surrounding civilizations. Today's topic is friendship, love, and sexuality. After discussing the fact that there is just one word for all three conditions in biblical Hebrew, the professor moves on to the Song of Songs and the signs within it of Egyptian and Hellenistic influences, as well as the erotic poetry of the ancient middle east. Fascinating stuff.

Alan has been walking around the Latin Quarter while I was in class and we meet to continue our walk. We go to the Musée du Luxembourg but the line for the Chagall exhibit is over an hour, and I don't think my feet can take it. So we walk into the park and watch the chess players for a while. They are so absorbed in their games that they are not distracted by me taking photos.

Then we walk to the bus stop to head home. The sign says that bus 87 is detoured and won't stop here. I thought the detour was in the other direction, that was how I got turned around the other day, but we walk to the next stop. The sign says a bus is due in fifteen minutes. A bus pulls up almost immediately with the number 82 on the front but the sign on the side says 87. I ask the driver if this is bus 87 and he says yes, so I point out that the sign in front says 82. He shrugs. The bus is nearly empty. And it wasn't supposed to come for fifteen minutes. After a couple of stops, the driver gets out and pulls the sign off the side, the one that says 87. We are becoming a bit anxious, but the bus makes the left turn to cross the river and we get off at our stop.
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Old Apr 6th, 2013, 07:05 AM
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What a lovely report!
My morning coffe has been improved by reading your take on my favorite place.
"Embracing chocolate"----my kind of thought!
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