Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Paris Museums

It's cram time.  Down to the wire.  Now that my departure date from Paris looms in the distance, it's time to pack in as much Paris as I can.  I feel pretty complete on seeing all the big boys in Paris, but it didn't hurt to stop in for a few special exhibits recently.

Musee D'Orsay
Oh how I'll miss this museum.  Its unparalleled Impressionist collection is like none I'll ever see again out of this country.  Put that in a spectacular old train station and you had me at Musee.

Then they had to up the ante and include a special exhibit on "Impressionism and Fashion." It was interesting to see how the colors, fabrics and textures influenced the city's designers, architects, and impressionists.  Not only that, but the exhibit was arranged with such flair.  There were bright red theatre chair backdrops and outdoor grassy green sets to add depth and variety to an already visually stimulating display.

Hotel de Ville:  Paris Vu
There's always an interesting exhibit at Hotel de Ville, and it's usually free and fabulous, so bonuses all the way around.  Paris Vu par Hollywood, or Paris Seen by Hollywood is a look at how Paris is seen on the big screen.  Over 800 films have been set or shot in Paris - more than any other city in the world, which is a consoling thought when I'm in need of some Paris time in LA.  Some of the best clips of these movies played across one of the large walls in the main room and then you could wander and look at movie posters, costumes and other sound bites playing on smaller screens.  All they needed was popcorn.

Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, An American in Paris, 1951. Mairie de Paris.

Then I visited a few new places that I've had on my list, but had never gotten around to seeing.

Musee du Quai Branly
I'd been putting this museum off for no other reason than it didn't contain French art.  Basically, it contains everything but. 

It showcases non-European cultures and displays them by country so you walk through Asia, then Africa, the Americas and Oceania.  There's art, sculpture, costumes, masks and frescoes.

I also visited during a special exhibit on hair.  Yes, hair.  There's more to hair than meets the eye.  They showed the relationship between hair and social status, how it is used in different ways in different cultures and even as a trophy in war.  If I won something along those lines, I think I'd tell them to hold that hair prize.

Musee de la Chasse et de la Nature
This one was perfect for me to visit, having just returned from safari. 

Now I could inspect the animals up close at this perhaps all too authentic hunting museum where something's might have been a bit too lifelike.  I'm not even talking about the noises that would be piped into certain rooms. 


And I was there pretty much alone.  Luckily there was plenty of weaponry around if necessary.

The museum does dive deeper into exploring man's relationship with animals and nature and gives you a few things to ponder, especially as you enter the floor that pertains to eating.  I tried to figure this one out, but basketball playing alligators with police lights blaring and lions looking on was a toughie.  I don't want to give it away, so I'll leave you to think on it during your next game of hoops.

There's still much to see, but I'm off to get in the full holiday spirit at the Christmas Markets up north.  Until then....

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving in Paris

This was my second Thanksgiving spent in Paris, and it was even better than the first.  It was a trifecta of meals, celebrating Thanksgiving and my birthday.  If you have to share a holiday with your birthday, it might as well be the one where a bunch of people get together to share a great, big meal.

I kicked off my birthday with a 10 mile run around the beautiful Bois de Vincenne with its serene lake and yellowing trees (though this picture was from summer).  I needed to make room for the meals ahead, and wanted some time to count my many blessings for starting this next year of my life in Paris.

I got my birthday massage, and sorry, but it's not as exciting as that might sound, though it was a very good Thai massage that left me energized and ready for some serious eating.

My friend Stephanie hosted the main event.  Her parents were visiting from WA where they own a working farm, so we were spoiled with local delicacies like handmade smoked sausage, smoked trout, and a fabulous sharp cheddar.

Stephanie's dad told us how they make everything, at my request and my hundreds of questions, and if he's not careful, I'll be taking him up on his offer of coming to the farm to try my hand at farm life.  Page in the Pasture has a ring to it, no?

Stephanie made some wonderful turkey with dark and white meat, and of course braised with some bacon.

She even tried her hand at my mom's cornbread and sausage stuffing, and I will say she did the recipe justice, and I may have a few converts to the Page family stuffing.

We had way too much alcohol that ranged from champagne to white to red to Pommeau, and all was delicious, even the red I had deemed undrinkable from Burgundy on initial taste.  After running out of red, I revisited the bottle and found it delicious after it had breathed for a while, and perhaps my palate was shot by then as well.

Lisette made a fabulous pumpkin and pecan pie and stuck some candles in for quite the happy birthday and wonderful Thanksgiving.

And all of this fabulous food came out of this tiny kitchen with 2 burners and 1 toaster oven.  Less indeed can be more is one of the valuable lessons that I've learned in Paris.


The even bigger treat of Stephanie's Thanksgiving dinner is that she and her parents were traveling the rest of the week-end, so we all got to take home leftovers, which everyone knows is the best part of Thanksgiving.

Just in case the leftovers weren't going to be enough, I doubled down on meals and went to the same Thanksgiving meal as last year at Shelley's house where she welcomes people from all over the world to enjoy the American feast.


There was an Indian guy who was experiencing his first Thanksgiving dinner, and by the end, he was giving much thanks.  There was a woman from Barcelona who had lived in Chicago for a little while and loved the turkey day feast, so jumped at the chance to relive it in Paris.  There was a Polish girl and a German girl as well who love coming together to enjoy a good meal, and that we did.

We had a cheese taste test and naturally my team won.

There was homemade garlic-parmesan rolls with sweet potato chipotle soup.


And while we didn't have turkey, we did stay in the poultry family with chicken, which always pairs well with stuffing and cranberry.

The finale was of course pumpkin pie with hand whipped Chantilly cream.  Delicious.

On the third night, I did rest...from turkey.  We went to the other end of the spectrum with some really good Asian food in a random location off the Champs Elysee called Kambodgia.

I had some fear walking into the place.  I descended the stairs into a basement with only two filled tables, and those tables emptied as soon as I got my first drink.  I will say that my fears were baseless as the food was really good, and the place did fill to capacity around 9:30pm.  It was nice to have a variety of flavors (and friends with me who like to share) from dim sum to shrimp papaya salad and egg rolls that might have been mislabeled as beef pancakes, but still really good and not greasy.  We had a table full of great food and great conversation that lasted over three and a half hours, which was actually the shortest one of the week. 

I'm standing as I write this, while running in place to make room for the remainder of the Thanksgiving leftovers, but tis the season for good food in great quantities!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Autumn in Paris

While it can be easy to let the day after day gray Parisian weather get you down, the silver lining is that the change of seasons brings a burst of color against the neutral slate.

Bright yellow leaves are making a big showing right now.  The color pops right off the dark tree trunks.

The banks of the Seine are framed with remnats of the once large trees that shaded many a picnic in the brief summer weather we had this year.

With the gray, also comes rain showers, but then the leaves glisten, and the parks turn peacefully quiet.

There's only a few traces of red.  The stand out note is a canary yellow that makes me gasp every time I see a new cluster.

If it's going to be cold, we might as well bring on Christmas too.  The first of the Christmas markets was set-up this week-end along the Champs Elysee.  I checked them out with a French friend who had actually never been to this one.

We drank vin chaud, the official drink of the markets.  It's a warm mulled wine with spices and always feel as nice in your hands, as it does to drink.

There are many stands selling scarves, soap, toys, jewelry, and of course French foods in beautifully outfitted chalets.

The ferris wheel also goes up on Place de la Concorde this time of year, and when I arrived the Eifflel Tower was sparkling in the distance beside it for quite a lovely sight of lights.

And there's nothing like a good bistro meal to warm the soul. 

We had a ladies dinner at Chatomat this week-end, a restaurant in the 20th that I've been trying to get to for some time.  It was well worth the wait.


It's a small menu with just 3 choices for starters, and 3 for mains, but we didn't go wrong with any of them.  We received a lovely warm mashed potato amuse bouche with brussels sprout leaves in a buttery foam.

I continued with a warm winter soup with bright notes of colorful lime sliced on top, while the others had the freshest smoked salmon on a raw vegetable salad with blinis served on the side.


I wish I had taken pictures of the amazing mains of pork and steak, but then there was this.


...which led to a lot of this...

...and yes, there was a good amount of this as well.  In fact, we drank them out of the Grignolino d'Asti.


I regained composure to enjoy a wonderful dessert of a warm mix of cooked pears, topped with ice cream and toasted walnuts.


While the temperature drops, Paris still offers many ways to stay warm.  I'm soaking in all the warm moments I can before I ship off for a different warmth that includes palm trees and hugs.