My friend, The Geezer

I read this book several years ago and fell in love with it. When I pitched my own (still unfinished) book to Algonquin, I was asked if I had read French Dirt. Oui. A couple of times. Little did I know that a few years later I would be introduced to Richard Goodman through a mutual friend, Jo Maeder, albeit by email. Richard is a seriously talented writer. A recent post on his blog has proven his way with words once again. He is a poet. Paris on a rainy day. My dream at the moment. And when you are finished reading this, open a bottle of red. Start a fire. Curl up under a soft blanket. And fire up Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. You deserve a trip to Paris. We all do.

Merci, Richard.  Bon appétit!

Paris in bad weather

“Then there was the bad weather,” begins Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of living in Paris in the twenties, A Moveable Feast. “It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drove the rain against the big green autobus in the terminal….”

I’m not dumb.  Start with Hemingway.

Hemingway knew exactly what he was doing when he began his poem to Paris with a cold, rainy, windswept day. He knew that bad weather brings out the lyrical in Paris and in the visitor, too. It summons up feelings of regret, loss, sadness—and in the case of the first pangs of winter—intimations of mortality. The stuff of poetry. And of keen memories. The soul aches in a kind of unappeasable ecstasy of melancholy. Anyone who has not passed a chill, rainy day in Paris will have an incomplete vision of the city, and of him- or herself in it.

Great photographers like André Kertész understood how splendid Paris looks awash in gray and painted with rain. His book, J’aime Paris, shot entirely in black and white over the course of forty years, draws heavily on foul weather. I don’t know of anyone, with the possible exceptions of Atget and Cartier-Bresson, who has come closer to capturing the soul of Paris with a camera. The viewer will remember many of these photographs—even if he or she can’t name the photographer—because they have become part of the Parisian landscape in our minds’ eyes. That solitary man, his coat windblown as he walks toward wet cobblestones; the statue of Henry IV on horseback reflected in a puddle fringed by—yes—those sodden leaves. Kertész’s Paris sends a nostalgic chill through our bodies.

On one memorable trip to Paris, it rained. When it didn’t rain, it threatened to. This was in October, so leaves were starting to fall from trees, and that added a sense of forlornness to my visit. Each morning, I stepped out from my hotel on the Left Bank just off the Boulevard St. Germain into a dull gray morning. The sky hung low, the color of graphite, and it seemed just as heavy. The air was cool and dense.

But I wasn’t disappointed. After a shot of bitter espresso, I was ready to go. That week in October I set myself the goal of following the flow of the Seine, walking from one end of Paris to the other. I had bad weather as my companion, and a good one it was, too. I walked along the quays and over the bridges in a soft drizzle. The colossal bronze figures that hang off the side of the Pont Mirabeau were wet and streaming. The Eiffel Tower lost its summit in the fog. The cars and autobuses made hissing noises as they flowed by on wet pavement. The Seine was flecked with pellets of rain. The dark, varnished houseboats, so long a fixture on the river, had their lights shining invitingly out of pilothouses. The facade of Notre Dame in the gloom sent a medieval shudder through me. None of this I would have seen in the sunlight.

 

Then there is the matter of food.

There may be no Parisian experience as gratifying as walking out of the rain or cold into a welcoming, warm bistro. There is the taking off of the heavy wet coat and hat and then the sitting down to one of the meals the French seemed to have created expressly for days such as this: pot-au-feu or cassoulet or choucroute.

I remember one rainy day on this trip in particular. I walked in out of the wet, sat down and ordered the house specialty, pot-au-feu. For those unfamiliar with this poem, do not seek enlightenment in the dictionary. It will tell you that pot-au-feu is “a dish of boiled meat and vegetables, the broth of which is usually served separately.” This sounds like British cooking, not French, and the dictionary should be sued for libel. My spirits rose as the large smoking bowl was brought to my table along with bread and wine. I let the broth rise up to my face, the concentrated beauty of France. Then I took that first large spoonful into my mouth. The savory meat and vegetables and intense broth traveled to my belly. I was restored.

I sat and ate in the bistro and watched the people hurry by outside bent against the weather. I heard the tat, tat, tat of the rain as it beat against the bistro glass. The trees on the street were skeletal and looked defenseless. Where had I seen this before? In what book of photographs about Paris? I looked around inside and saw others like myself being braced by a meal such as mine and by the warmth of the room. The sounds of conversation and of crockery softly rattling filled the air. Efficient waiters flowed by, distinguished men with long white aprons, working elegantly. Delicious food was being brought out of the kitchen, and I watched as it was put in front of expectant diners. Every so often the front door would open, and a new refugee would enter, shuddering, with umbrella and dripping coat, a dramatic reminder that outside was no cinema.

I finished my meal slowly. I had left almost all vestiges of cold behind. My waiter took the plates away. Then he brought me a small, potent espresso. I lingered over it, savoring each drop. I looked outside. It would be good to stay here a bit longer.

I got up to go. Paris—gloomy, darkly beautiful Paris—was waiting.

Critters

pigeon

I started looking through my photos from the January and March trips to France (yet once again) and found an theme:  critters.  I did not realize I had so many until I started looking for them.  Of course, what would it be like in Paris without pigeons?  Bertrand, our guide par excellence, said that you can be fined for feeding them in parks.  I threaten my students with horrible punishments if they do it.  They are very annoying.  (The pigeons, not the kids.) But I decided to start with a picture of one anyway.

I love lions on the other hand.  At the Musee d’Orsay–

The lion is the symbol of Arles–

How about seven three swans a-swimming in the Seine?

swans in Seine

Or “un loup qui voit?” In the courtyard at Les Invalides, there is an interesting critter carved up high.  Supposedly, Louvois, the minister of war under Louis XIV, who later was in charge of buildings, asked if he could sign his name somewhere in the Invalides.  Louis said no, so the cunning Louvois commissioned this lucarne:–

louvoit

Loup (wolf) + voit (sees) = Louvois (same pronunciation).  Clever, non?

How about a salamander in the Opéra Garnier?  I don’t know… the more I look at it, the less it looks like a salamander.  A gila monster?

salamander opera

Another one?  Spotted while walking along the Seine (on what used to be a busy expressway that it now a pedestrian walkway thanks to Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris)–

salamander2

The fountain at St. Michel–

St Michel

Dog lover?  The French sure love them.  Canines can follow their owners almost anywhere (not museums as I found out while living there in 2008).  Suggestion: always look where you are stepping.

At the market–

market dog

In a diorama-type scene about the building of Notre Dame–

creche dog

In the Marriage at Cana painting at the Louvre (the largest painting in the museum, opposite Mona)–

A dog was here- evidence near the Eiffel– at least I hope it was a dog and not a loup

pawprint

How about the mythical critters atop Notre Dame cathedral, seen from the bell tower walkway?

This guy is my favorite…

ND5

A whimsical elephant at Beaubourg/Centre Pompidou– (in the summer he squirts water)

elephant

No montage would be complete with a king on a horse– Louis XIII in Place des Vosges

king on horse

A former horse butcher shop in the Marais–

chevaux marais

The window of the Disney Store on the Champs-Élysées–

belle bete

The rooster is the symbol of France (dates back to the days of Gaul)– Le Coq Sportif shop:

le coq sportif

A black cat in Montmartre (always makes me think of Lautrec’s Chat Noir)–

montmartre black cat

Back to the Marriage at Cana

cat

Death by snakebite at the Musée d’Orsay (my title, not the real one)–

snake arm

I am very fond of les flamants roses

flamants

I prefer looking at them in the Camargue, though–

A cicada in the window in Arles (music to my ears in the summer)–

arles cicada

A piggy spotted in Arles as well–

arles pig

Also spotted in Arles… in town above one of the buildings–

arles critter

Can’t leave out the bulls and cows–

Nor the lambs in the Christmas crèche (santons from Arles) at Notre Dame–

creche lambs

The huntress and her buddy in the park in Senlis–

senlis huntress

And last but not least, can you find the pet bunny seen in the rooftop garden of a home in Aigues Mortes?

bunny in AM

And my 2017 group of “critters” who made the trip an unforgettable one–

group

Today’s recipes are brought on by my longing for lemon after my friend Mme M posted a photo of lemon cookies on Facebook last week.

lemon tree

I love lemon anything.  Daughter-in-law loves Chicken Piccata and I must confess that I had never made it before last week when she, Son #1, and Granddaughter came for dinner. Easy!  No idea why I didn’t discover this dish sooner.

Chicken Piccata

from Simply Recipes

Serves 4

  • 2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (1 1/2 pound total), or 4-8 chicken cutlets
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch ground black pepper
  • 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock or dry white wine (such as a Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup brined capers
  • 2 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley

1 Slice the chicken breast halves horizontally. If the breast pieces you are working with are large, you may want to cut them each into two pieces. If the pieces are still a bit thick, put them between two pieces of plastic wrap and pound them to 1/4-inch thickness.

2 Mix together the flour, salt, pepper, and grated Parmesan. Rinse the chicken pieces in water. Dredge them thoroughly in the flour mixture, until well coated.

3 Heat olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet on medium high heat. Add half of the chicken pieces, do not crowd the pan. Brown well on each side, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the chicken from the pan and place on a plate. Cook the other breasts in the same manner, remove from pan. Keep them warm in a 225°F oven while you prepare the sauce.

4 Add the chicken stock or white wine, lemon juice, and capers to the pan. Use a spatula to scrape up the browned bits. Reduce the sauce by half.

Whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.

Serve with the sauce poured over the chicken. Sprinkle with parsley, if you wish.
lemon cookies

Lemon Cookies

adapted from Chef in Training

makes 4 dozen (depending on the size, of course!)

For the cookies:

1 c. butter, softened

1-1/4 c. granulated sugar (next time I might use only 1 cup)

1 egg, room temperature

2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 Tbsp. lemon zest (one med. sized lemon gave me enough juice and zest)

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 tsp. lemon flavoring (I wanted them very lemony)

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

2-1/4 c. all-purpose flour

Glaze:

1-1/2 c. powdered sugar

1 Tbsp. lemon juice (a bit more in case glaze is too thick and needs to be thinned)

1 Tbsp. milk (a bit more can be used to thin the glaze if it is too thick)

1/4 tsp. vanilla

To make cookies:

Preheat oven to 350˚F.  Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In large bowl, cream butter and sugar together.  Add egg and beat well.  Add lemon juice, zest, lemon flavoring, and vanilla and mix until well blended.

In a small bowl, whisk together salt, baking powder and flour.  Add to butter-sugar mixture until well incorporated.

Roll or scoop (I use a small melon baller) cookies into 1-inch balls.  Place on cookie sheet, 2 inches apart.

Bake at 350˚F for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.

Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Combine glaze ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until smooth.  Drizzle or spread as much or as little as you would like over the still warm cookies.

Bon appétit, mes amis.  I hope you enjoyed the menagerie!  Happy Easter!  Joyeuses Pâques!  Or just Happy Spring!