Ginette de la Côte dAzur
101, rue Caulaincourt
When I dined here with Ian and his man I didnt realize I was embarking on a dining tour of France...I didnt even know what I was going to be doing the next day. And it was a spur-of-the-moment restaurant choice toowe were about to take the Métro from Lamarck-Caulaincourt to Arts & Métiers and walk to Le Taxi Jaune (q.v.) when we passed this place, which is at the top of the stairs down to the Métro entrance. The awning still reads Chez Ginette (its former name), and I pointed to it and said brightly to Ian hey! little gin! His man said hed dined here a few times in years past and liked it, so we decided to put off Le Taxi Jaune for another night and save ourselves the Métro journey (which, considering the likelihood that jet lag would knock me out before too much longer, was a wise move).
Au Pied du Sacre Cur
85, rue Lamarck
This restaurant isnt actually at the foot of Sacre Cur as the name implies, its at the foot of the stairs leading down to rue Lamarck from Caulaincourt Square (and therefore overlooked by my hotel). As you can see on their website, its a cozy orange-toned place, seating maybe 26-30 people at most. I had a delicious duck breast (with heavenly fries on the side) and a glass of a Saint-Émilion. Coffee afterwards was less of a hit but by that point I didnt really care...I had dined well and happily after a stressful evening spent fretting in my hotel room about how disinclined I have become on the subject of human interaction, and this turned the night around for me. The waiter was enthusiastic and polite, too, really making me feel welcome.
Le Taxi Jaune
13, rue Chapon
In Autumn of 1998 I lived just up the road from Le Taxi Jaune, and I would eat there about once every other week. It has a new owner now and the decor has changed slightly, but I was relieved to find that the food is still good, if different. I went on a Friday night and didnt have reservations, and as a result I nearly didnt get a tablebusiness has been quite good for the new owner, and only the fact that I was dining alone and would fit at the chair between the door and the kitchen got me a seat. I dined on the sautéed bacon-wrapped cod, which was warmly delicious, served in a ring of steamed carrot slices and small potato dice on a spread of pesto cream, and a couple of glasses of the house red wine; for dessert, which for some reason I was in the mood for, I had a fendant of carmelized apple, caraway, and spice bread with a bit of ice cream.
First stop: home sweet home. Paris is where I want to live and work, and since I first visited it in 1989 it has been one of the only consistent forces driving my choices and actions. In 1989 and 1998 I lived there for a couple of months at a time, but without attaining employment I couldnt sustain the experience and returned to the United States penniless and frustrated; this was my first time visiting Paris in passing, almost as a tourist.
Shes in great shape.
I stayed at the Hôtel Caulaincourt Square, which I learned about at www.jack-travel.com. Its a sort of combination hotel/hostel, and its pretty cool. Noisy people in the next room were the only thing I didnt like about this place; other than that, the location is great, the views out the street-side windows are lovely if not expansive, the price is impressively cheap, the folks at the front desk are really helpful to the variety of would-be guests they encounter, and in short I had a great time staying there. There was no question in my mind, after that first night, that I would be booking a room there in advance for the night before my return to the U.S. (If you decide to go there, though, DO book in advancethey have a pretty full registry. Then again, thats pretty basic advice for any trip to Paris.)
The Caulaincourt neighborhood itself was a treat...it was, for me, a lovely reminder of how enchanted I was by that middle belt of Montmartre when I first visited it in autumn of 1989 (and rented a furnished apartment in a condemned building for two months, but thats another story). Aside from its cap and foot, Montmartre is utterly charming, and this particular section was such a pleasant neighborhood that Ian and I both were kind of taking notes for future residence consideration (in case the opportunity ever arose). My first day there, I found almost everything I wanted nearbylaundromat, small supermarket (FranPrix), an impressive variety of restaurants, fresh fruit stands, tiny markets, pastry/chocolate shops, cafésironically the one thing I think I never found there was a newsstand, which still strikes me as odd.
The hotel isnt far from the Lamarck-Caulaincourt station of Métro line 12, though there are a few flights of stairs involved (and many more if the elevator from the platforms is out of service or full...Lamarck-Caulaincourt isnt the deepest Métro station in Paris, thats Abbessess as I know from painful first-hand experience, but its a pretty wearing hike up to the surface). From a Métro station you have of course pretty much all of Paris within your reach, and while line 12 itself doesnt have many of the yummiest destinations as stops, it does connect with nine of the other thirteen lines along its route, missing only lines 5, 7, 9, and 11 (which is the only one that doesnt run near it). I love the Métro. Unless I concentrate on keeping a neutrally nonchalant expression, I still get a big smile on my face when I ride it.
Well I could write forever about Paris, but the point of this narrative is what I had to say about my time in Paris during this trip. Unfortunately, Paris this first time back in four years was lost to me thanks to the terrible combination of relative shell-shock and insularity. The first was the result of being so tensed and twisted by the disruption of my Seattle stressesthe first few days of this trip I spent in bewildered confusion, unable to understand how and why I was even in this setting, so far out of my daily context, let alone what I was going to do now that I was irreversibly in it. I was repeatedly flailing around, looking for the Undo command that would let me get back to the routines I knew. It was awful, just awful, especially because I knew this was a better situation than I had in Seattle but I couldnt see that. The second part of it, the insularity, was Ians fault, actually: he had been in Paris for two weeks, during which time he hadnt spoken English with anyone, and he was desperate to be his usual witty self in his native tongue, to shore up his self-confidence. I was so dazed by my situation that I just hopped right in to English with him, hoping it would help me get my bearingsin fact it had the opposite effect, from the moment we got on the RoissyBus from the airport to the Opéra that first morning.
Ian and I went around Paris, showing each other some of our favorite places and recalling some of our favorite memories (Im afraid I hogged the stage for most of them, albeit unintentionally), and we had a hilarious time. Especially that first day...after I tried to introduce him to my absolute-favorite pastry in the entire world (a very particular form of figue sold only at a shop just east of Ste Trinité), only to find that apparently the shop that sold it was no longer there, we went to Montmartre to see if I could get a room at the Hôtel Caulaincourt despite a mixup of bookings online and via fax, and while on Montmartre I was back in my first Parisian stomping grounds and therefore dragged him all over. By early that afternoon I had dragged him down to the Temple area, where I lived in 1998, and to Le Web Bar, where I used to log in practically every day; we had lunch at Aux Templiers (3, rue Perrée, 3e), a little café near Le Web Bar, and laughed ourselves almost senseless just being hysterically witty in our own language...BIG MISTAKE. (Also, this was the site of the incident for which he blames me for his crotch being red for weeks afterwards.)
The thing is, this backfired in two ways. First, and most immediate, was how it prevented us from having to think in French, which turned every interaction with any other person into a conscious translation, and that is NOT the way to experience Paris. Second was the strange transplanting of our U.S. relationship into this Parisian environment: it was a setting we each knew and loved for individual reasons, suddenly shared and fused by our U.S. context, and it was completely bizarre, like having someone elses face pasted over that of another family member in a family photograph, somebody you knew almost that well but never in that context.... We kept commenting on how natural this was, how it was the most natural thing in the world to be sitting at a café in a Parisian neighborhood, unhurried and happy to just be conversing as we looked at the city we both loved so much and its inhabitants going about their day-to-day business.
Anyway, the combination of these complications, and the temporal limitation of my stay there, led to a situation which I had dreaded in advance, that of visiting the city I love and want to live in and feeling (as I said above) like a tourist...worse, like a ghost, wandering around the old familiar places, unable to continue the old experiences, unable to create more-than-fleeting new ones. Because I had anticipated this back in Seattle, I made only one thing a given in this trip, and that was that I would only be in Paris momentarily at the beginning and end of my vacation. If I had unlimited time to be in Paris, if I was living there or filthy rich, I would approach the city in a completely different way; but even to pass through Paris under these circumstances was liable to be bitterly difficult for me. And on the first pass, that was the case. I got my carnets of Métro tickets as usual, I visited some of my old haunts, I fell right back into old routines easily enough, but I did it all with a sense of just passing through.
And I didnt really want to stay there...after about one full day, I was ready to leave town, just because it was too confusing to be airlifted from one day-to-day context to another that was once natural but now was surreal. At this point, I was only staying through to the end of Ians trip there (a 3-day overlap with my arrival), and it was more and more awkward for me as the hours passed, forget days, this was like recovering from a horrible hangover and discovering you have no idea where you are.
Nevertheless, Ian and I visited and gabbed and made the best of our respective predicaments (he about to leave, I flailing about in the first waves of a larger shipwreck). We had a ball, overall, jet-setting around town and just being palsy-walsy as we in fact rarely are in the U.S. (the bulk of our friendship there is lived online). There was so much to share, we hardly worried about running out. On Thursday we grabbed lunch at Café Vavin (18, rue Vavin, 6e), a little restaurant at the corner of rue Vavin & rue Notre Dame des Champs, after I made a quick visit to Marie Papier (26 rue Vavin) for a nice notepad. Afterwards we strolled through the Luxembourg Gardens and the Odéon quarter, talking about Sylvia Beach and just everything in general, followed by a quick browse through one or two parts of the Gilbert Jeune complex of bookstores and finally a welcome coffee (him)/Orangina (me) at lÎle de France (59, Quai de la Tournelle, 5e), a café across the Seine from Notre Dame. (Very special thanks to Ian, who is now living in Paris, for getting the names and addresses of these little cafés for me after the trip!)
Friday morning I showed up at Ians apartment and said I just noticed that Chartres is about an hour away by train, and theres trains all day. Wanna go? And off we went. (Thats the beauty of European rail travel for ya....)
Unfortunately, because we were gabbing in English while the girl at the ticket window was preparing our reservation, I missed what she said about the timeframe. Which is how it turned out that I didnt notice until we were well underway that we would have at most an hour in which to get to the cathedral (the point of the trip), see it, and get back to the station in time to get him back for an appointment he had later that afternoon. Oopsie.
Even with only approximately half an hour in which to take it in, I enjoyed the cathedral at Chartres very much. I definitely want to go back and spend a day or two there next time Im in France...and I want to dig out all my old notes from my high school Humanities class in which I was taught about this particular cathedrals history and features.
We got back from Chartres and said good-bye at the Montparnasse train station. The next day he went back to the U.S. and I got on a train to Switzerland.
Text © 2003 Mark Ellis Walker, except as noted