08 November 2009

Rain of terror?

One rainy day last week when I came back from my morning bread run, our building's concierge (in French, "keeper" or "caretaker"-- he doesn't make dinner reservations for us, or anything) was polishing the elevator door handle in the lobby and commented first on the rain and then, C'est hiver: it's winter. It's been rainy, dreary, and dark here lately. And judging from the concierge's comment, there's little reason to expect a change in the near future.

Since there's no specific event or season to train for, the wet weather has put a damper on our riding. We'd planned to ride this morning, but it was wet and about 40 degrees when we got up, and well, there just seemed to be many more reasons not to go (for instance, having to take showers with our bikes on returning) than to go. And while it's painful to watch the tiny little bit of fitness I had leave me, not riding does enable other activities.

Like leisurely cups of coffee together and extra-special breakfasts on weekend mornings. A few weeks ago I ordered 2 coffees from Square Mile Coffee Roasters in London, a relatively new roaster that has already gained a reputation for good coffees. I bought the La Vega & Cipresal from Guatemala and the Kagumoini from Kenya, two very different but excellent coffees. The La Vega & Cipresal is toasty and roundly sweet/nutty whereas the Kagumoini is full of black/red fruits and autumn spices. Because I don't drink caffeine every day, I'll not manage to get through both bags while still fresh, but having 2 coffees to compare is a lot more fun than just 1. I'll definitely order from them again. The only problem with having one's good coffee at home is that you can't have while eating a good bakery breakfast out. We devoured an exceptional baguette and some treats under awning in the rain at Blé Sucré in the 12e, and maybe the only way it could have been better would have been to have a good coffee alongside.

Two terrific autumn coffees.

The tarte tatin, a play on the classic french dessert-- poached apple filled with some kind of crumble-like filling, sitting on a cookie-like base, and of course, covered in delicious perfect caramel. We don't go to Blé Sucré that often, since it's out of the way for us, but when we do go, it's torture to decide what treat to get. This choice easy since it was among the few remaining options by the time we got there. That this was left either speaks badly of the tastes of the patrons who passed it up or of the quality of the shop's entire offerings.

Last Sunday was the first Sunday of the month, which is a day when the national museums in Paris charge no admission for entry. The goal is to draw the locals in to their own museums. Some of the museums participate year-round, others only in the winter months. Last weekend we visited 2 of the latter. We visited the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle on Ile de Cite. Both museums had their high points but were crowded. There were plenty of Francophones, so it seems the free first Sunday approach is working, but even this late in the year it's hard to escape tourists, and there are always knuckleheads like the American in line ahead of us at Ste Chapelle who had such an unnatural fondness for his umbrella that he couldn't bear to put it through the security X-ray machine. The lengthy the exchange with the security guard came to its climax when the American pointed to his umbrella and, evidently not knowing the french word from umbrella, pronounced umbrella with a (poor) French accent. Oh yeah, now the guard will understand. In any event, we were glad to see both museums for free, no matter the company.

The Conciergerie is one of Paris' oldest buildings, located on the Ile de Cite. The oldest portions of the palace were in place before the 10th century, but it was extended/renovated/fortified through the 13th (Louis IX, later St. Louis) and 14th (Philip IV) centuries before being dumped for bigger and blingier digs, the royals eventually winding up on the right bank in the Louvre. The palace eventually became a prison whose greatest notoriety derives from the Revolution, where it was the seat of the Revolutionary Tribunal during the Reign of Terror. Prisoners brought in for their trails could expect 1 of just 2 fates: release or guillotine. Highlighted spots in the building include Marie Antoinette's cell and chapel, and the so-called grooming room, where prisoners on the way to the guillotine, some 2500 of them in the last 18 months of the RoT, were removed of the last of their personal belongings and got a nape shearing to make the guillotiner's job easier-- after all, he might well have been the hardest working man in the history of France. But all wasn't terror and grimness for the condemned. According to the placards in the museum, they were given a last “feast.” Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a table for a feast in Paris?

The Conciergerie

St. Louis built Sainte-Chapelle to house his Holy Relics (no, not his rock band, real relics, including the crown of thorns), which he bought used but not cheap in a bid to increase the power and prestige of France. There are 2 floors of chapels. The lower one was for the help and received a colorful updating/restoration (it's not clear from any of the text I've seen whether it's faithful to the original) in the 19th century. The upper one is what all of the fuss is about, primarily the stained glass windows, which are currently undergoing cleaning (yet somehow the place isn't lousy with the scent of Windex) and repair. It was a dreary rainy day, so we didn't see the windows at their best, but even on a crummy day they sparkled. Not that the rest of the interior was built to fade into the background. Let's just say that the French kings left no lilly unguilded.

Ste Chapelle against the gray sky

The lower chapel-- not too shabby for the B-chapel

One of the restored stained glass panels.

Having obtained our small dose of culture, we set off to the falafel stands of the Marais for lunch, huddling in a doorway to avoid letting the rain dampen the crispy goodness. Then an hour or so half-hearted shopping, followed by some whole-hearted hot chocolate drinking. What Paris lacks in coffee (which is a lot) it makes up for in hot chocolate. These particular emporter cups came from Angelina's on rue Rivoli, and we wandered under the protection of the arcade while enjoying the winter warmer. A bit sweet for my tastes, but still very thoroughly chocolatey. Looking forward to searching for a favorite, which might just be enough to sustain us through the damp, dark, winter to come.

There's a lot going on on this lamp post base on the Pont Au Change, on the way over to the Marais.

Rain or no, the Marais was hopping...

... but we were standing firmly on 2 feet to make sure not to spill any of the falafel

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