Vocabulaire d’aujourd’hui: vendredi, 30 mars 2007

30 Mar

I can’t vouch for the spelling of anything…
pour emporter: to go
mignardise: small ramekin-type things, as in the pots for pots de creme (which must go by another name in French)
echarpe: scarf, as in the very long strips of cotton and intentionally wrinkly silk the Parisian women oh-so-chicly drape around their necks
pintarde: guinea fowl
chou: cabbage
l’addition: the bill, as in “L’addition, s’il vous plait”

Today was definitely an adventure day. I trucked off to the Centre Pompidou, the modern art gallery, earlyish this morning (the Pompidou doesn’t open until 11. How civilized). The first two paintings I saw were a Mark Rothko (I love the gigantic orange and purplish Rothko at the SFMoMA) and a Jackson Pollack–two artists the SFMoMA docent who led our tour a few weeks ago talked about.

She had asked us to think about “the body” as a theme. For Pollack, the body wasn’t a representational thing, it was more about his impact, as the painter, on the canvas–the physicality of the drips from his paintbrush, the physicality of the goops of paint on the canvas (she didn’t say “goops”).

The Pompidou’s Pollack was after the drip period and had big, thick white brushstrokes that sculpted an abstract figure of a human body out of the negative space of the black background. It was really cool. And the Rothko was dreamy reds and blacks. I didn’t get lost in it like I do the one at the SFMoMA. I find that one so meditative, with its gigantic size (the viewer’s body is an integral part of the perspective of the whole piece) and gradations of the color that just really pull me in.

I picked up a Plan de Paris and decided to track down Chez Marianne, the place where Susan says she and Michael always stop to get a falafel as soon as they arrive in Paris. I would never have found it without the Plan. Seriously. In Paris, streets will be one or two blocks long; they change names two, three, more times; and it goes without saying that nothing is on a grid. And I’ve discovered that many of my friends’ favorite restaurants are on streets that aren’t on the tourist maps. Maybe for good reason.

Chez Marianne was hopping. I practiced my French and (I think) asked for a falafel to go. Once the cashier had a spare second to enter my order, the falafel came within a minute. And it was delicious. Perfectly soft and warm eggplant, falafel cooked to a perfect crisp, and pickled cabbage in the bottom (surprisingly good). No french fries a la Ali Baba’s Cave in SF. Remembering that French people don’t eat while walking, I devoured it with all the other to-go window patrons of L’As du Falafel, watching orthodox Jewish pre-teen twin boys pass me by and listening to the guy from the falafel place across the street from the hopping L’As du Falafel try in vain to drum up business. (There are about five falafel places in a one-block radius.)

One of my goals in Paris is to get real pots de creme pots, like the ones Martha always shows in her recipes. My first stop was Dehillerin (18-20, rue Coquilliere), where I tried to describe what I was looking for (“Je cherche les pots pour pots de creme”). The helpful man showed me pitchers, at first (“pots of cream,” makes sense), then asked me what I meant (“comme mouse au chocolat”), then showed me heart-shaped things with holes in the bottom, then said, “Oh! I know what you’re looking for. Mignardise.” He then taught me how to pronounce it. Their mignardises weren’t quite what I wanted, so I went across the street to Verrriere des Halles (15, rue du Louvre) where I was allowed to go into their stock room. I thought I found the perfect little jars, just like Martha’s, when the guy pointed out that they had “un chapeau” (a hat). They were sugar containers. I didn’t know how to ask if they were oven-safe.

Off to the Louvre, where Dave Walker’s advice to “picture the Mona Lisa as tiny. Think of it as the size of a postage stamp and you won’t be disappointed” was helpful, especially considering the maybe 2 ft. x 3 ft. Mona Lisa is hung directly across from the 18 ft. x 30 ft. The Marriage Feast of Cana. (Apparently, Da Vinci so loved the Mona Lisa that he carried it around with him for years. Maybe he wanted it to be small enough to fit in his carry-on.)

I focused just on the big sites: Winged Victory of Samothrace, Venus de Milo, Hammurabi’s Code, etc., and still spent about 2.5 hours there.

On my way out, I almost ordered a latte from the museum cafe just so I could ask them to draw the Mona Lisa in the foam. Then I realized that they’re French, so they’d probably refuse AND mock me. But then I saw the Starbucks in the Louvre… You’ll never truly be able to appreciate the sfumato technique until you see it in coffee on foam.

Leaving the Louvre, I headed in what I thought was the direction of the Marais for dinner, but ended up SO FAR AWAY it’s not funny. I was momentarily distracted by a cute store, where I realized my 1.5-day-old-dream of owning a French scarf (and found the cool vinyl decals that were in either Domino or Lucky a few months ago).

Once I realized I wasn’t getting closer to the Seine, I also realized it was getting dark and I was in the Les Halles area, the area my guide book says is lousy with pickpockets and drug dealers and basically adds, “Don’t go here at all, but seriously, DO NOT GO HERE AT NIGHT.”

I started trucking as fast as I could without looking like a streetwalker. (According to my dad, who only knows this because he tried to ask one what time it was and she was walking so fast he couldn’t keep up, prostitutes used to get booked on loitering charges in Paris, so they had to keep walking to stay ahead of the law–literally and figuratively, I guess.) Some teenybopper asked me for change for the Metro, and although I kept cool, I half thought that if I played it wrong, I was going to get jumped by a band of drug-dealing gypsies. I’d like to believe that my chic French scarf and confident, “Desole, je ne peut pas” convinced her I wasn’t a tourist, but I think that’s pure delusion.

Oh, and on the way back from A L’Impasse, I saw and heard my first accordion player since arriving in Paris AND saw about 100 inline skaters zoom around a corner. I wondered if it was the French version of Critical Mass.


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