vive la différence

02/09/21 15:34

In England, it is currently twenty-five to three.  Ordinarily, it is would be after lunch that I had taken in Costa Coffee, on a regular working-day Thursday in September.  Yet, in Paris, as I’m writing this, it is twenty-five to four.   It is after lunch that I took in a boulangerie, on a day that feels like all the other days I have had in Paris. What makes today stand out?  Why bother writing if there is nothing different to write about?

Calamari on the plate, escargot on the fork

Just because it feels like every other day, doesn’t mean it is like every other day.  There has not been a day in Paris that has ever been the same for me.  Yes, essentially, I wake up, do things, see things, eat things and sleep.  But that is merely a routine.  What I do, what I see and what I eat are different.  Quite literally there are hundreds upon thousands of variables to entertain.  Last night for instance, I joined my scholastic peer for the evening.  Starting around St. Victor in the 5th arrondissement, we brushed up on boulevard Saint-Germain before crossing onto rue de la Cité to look at Notre Dame.  This holds childhood memories between her and her father.  Touching St. Eustache – my favourite church in Paris – we continued on to rue Montorgueil, and I decided it was the right time to try out the expensive éclairs.  In to Stohrer we went.  There were only four types of éclair to try and we had two of them; the regular and the Madagascan one.  The coffee and the salted caramel can wait until December.  These long, thin pastries, with their slowly condensationing chocolate strip, were a delight to behold.  It almost felt selfish removing them from the wondrously ceilinged shop.  But, if I buy them, I’m going to eat them.  Even if they are sat atop gold-coloured cardboard stands.  To say they were divine wouldn’t be an accurate description.  But to say they tasted like bliss would be a much better way of saying it.  The éclair that we get in England, the boxed, four-fingered, faux-creamed variety from the supermarkets, may as well be the cardboard that is used to house them if we were to compare.  These nigh-perfect pastries have a chocolate ganache piped lavishly through the rose-beige coloured choux.  There was a contrast between the Madagascan and the regular chocolate but as an untrained and under-appreciated food critique, I’m not going to divulge this trivial information.  You’ll need to sample these €4.50 delights for yourself.  The oldest patisserie in Paris has stood on this site since 1730 and if it is good enough for Queen Elizabeth II, then I was certain it would be okay for me.  And my scholastic peer.  And I was proved incredulously right.

From this street of market shops, through the restaurant phase and onto Bourse.  I don’t recall seeing the building before, but in fairness, most buildings with columns start to blend over the years.  This one is the Palais Brongniart.  Apparently.  It’s the historic stock exchange which I guess is similar to Royal Exchange Buildings in London.  The London building (the third one to stand on the site) was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.  It now houses upmarket boutiques, one of which is Ladurée, of Parisian pastry fame – world-renowned for their macarons.  The French building now holds events.  It is also reminiscent of the Pantheon, and for no logical reason, brings to mind l’église Saint-Augustin, located in L’Europe section of the 8eme.  I used to pass this Catholic church on my travels and always noted the violin repair shop nearby.  From my first view of her back in 2017 right up until last night, I have not seen her without some variety of restoration taking place.  She is a beauty, of that there is no doubt, but to be able to enjoy her visual attractiveness in full one day would be nice.  In the interim, I will have to put up with photos of scaffolding, awkwardly angled photos or simply dirty brickwork.

It was in Saint Augustin that my scholastic peer and I dined.  We had walked past here at eight o’clock en route to the Arc de Triumph.  The walk from place Charles de Gaulle, down to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Metro station wasn’t one of wonderment and awe.  Aside from seeing a large branch of Sephora.  It was one filled with sideways glances at the side turnings looking for somewhere to eat.  It wasn’t just a case of finding somewhere.  It had to be just right.  There was never going to be anywhere suitable along avenue des Champs-Élysées.  And this is why we strolled along a few roads after the touristic streets had finished.  Hence our return, an hour later, to boulevard Haussmann, junction of boulevard Malesherbes and place Saint-Augustine. Shall I bore you with the details of my calamar Romaine hors d’œuvres?  I could tell you about their firmness, rather than their squid-like rubberiness that I often encounter.  I don’t know if that’s because they’ve been deep-fried in batter, but these felt like they’d been shallow-fried meaning the weight of the calamari was the meaty-fishy content rather than the oil and batter surrounding it.  But fear not, I won’t bore you with the main course of confit de canard, where the duck literally slipped off the bone with a gentle touch of my fork.  What made yesterday different was the fact it was the day I tried snails for the first time.

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