Saturday, October 29, 2011

Le Cafard

Homesickness hit us and hit us hard. I never imagined that the 330-plus days of our adventure abroad would be non-stop champagne cheer and mindless mirth, but I definitely didn’t think the blues would hit us quite so early on. The French have a fitting expression for feeling down: to have le cafard, literally, to have “the cockroach.” Yes, we’re now feeling that always-inconvenient melancholia, tinged with some serious mal du pays (homesickness) that rears its ugly head without warning. Have we had our fill of cold medieval spaces and lonely, abandoned stone villages? Everything in the Lot and the Dordogne was touched by the savagery of the Hundred Years’ War between the French and the English in the 14th and 15th centuries. Might visiting so many places that witnessed sieges, starvation, plagues and pestilence be darkening our outlook? Perhaps the total absence of others to provide even a bit of people-watching diversion is bringing us down. Or is it the loneliness of being disconnected from the rest of the world, day after day after day? We’ve taken multi-mile hikes along ridges above the Lot (including one that had us cross the river over an abandoned railroad bridge) where we passed not a soul and have wandered through hamlet after desolate hamlet with every single window shuttered and barred. It’s turned cooler, with gray skies and a thick, high cloud cover – never a good thing for lifting one’s spirits. Maybe we’re just in a temporary trough of the normal vicissitudes of travel. To put it simply: we miss our children and we miss our country – it’s le cafard.

In my last post, I waxed poetic about the picturesque town of St. Cirq Lapopie – and indeed, it is lovely, but it is also very lonely. It became clear after just a day that St. Cirq was like everywhere else in the Lot: in the off-season, it is boarded up and empty. We arrived in St. Cirq on a Saturday, the one day of the week blessed with some activity, but those wandering the streets were day-trippers. We discovered that we were two of the handful of people actually living in the town. And while our medieval stone house is charming, it has no heat, retains the cold in its brick and stone walls and we’ve spent hours stoking the fire in the cast-iron stove attempting to cut through the cold. It’s no wonder they eat belly-warming crocks full of piping hot cassoulet with sausage and beans and gulp goblets of deep purple vin noir de Cahors in these parts. Downing the stuff has certainly helped us ward off the nighttime cold. We wore our fleeces to bed on the chilliest night, threw additional blankets on top of the duvet and saw our breath the next morning. What gave us the courage to abandon the shelter of our blanket pile was the prospect of the semi-warm kitchen that would result from toasting our morning bread in an open oven and boiling water for coffee on a gas flame.

In addition to no heat, our enchanting icebox has no Internet. There were weeks on end when I sprinted through the business rat race at home and yearned for just one full day of disconnected peace and quiet. But now that we’re completely away from it all – and have been for weeks -- we both realize just how much we depend on being connected for the latest news, sports and weather, iChatting with the kids, and generally keeping in touch. Joe has always remarked that I use my laptop more than anyone he knows, so it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me. Why didn’t I recognize, especially since we’ve been abroad, that I depend on my Mac for so very many things: the weather, currency/temperature/ mileage conversions, language translations, online banking and bill paying, emailing, travel research and reservations. I suppose I allowed the romance of the road and the allure of the remote countryside to blind me to my very real and practical need to be connected. In our search for connectivity, we’ve become like compulsive smokers who furtively huddle in the shadows outside shuttered cafes and in McDo (McDonald’s) parking lots to give our Internet-addicted selves a fix from the outside world. Has it really come to this? I’m afraid that indeed it has. One late afternoon in St. Cirq, Joe cowered from the elements on a stoop in front of a closed cafe with free wifi to get his dose of the wider world. The grumpy old Frenchman putting out his trash across the street didn’t much like the look of Joe’s iPad (or maybe it was Joe) and glared at him, hoping this would send him scurrying. But Joe was connected and he wasn’t leaving his post so easily. The geezer then came over, waving his hands and grumbling, “Qu’est-ce que vous faites?” over and over. Joe tried to show him that he was just checking the sports scores, but the Monsieur was having none of this and continued his gesticulating and creating a scene. Joe finally gave up his hallowed spot and came back home, defeated. We’ve now learned our lesson. No more wireless-free abodes, be they hotels or home rentals, and we need to be especially careful about the isolation factor of where we decide to stay. Further along on our trip, we may opt for a desolate, bucolic location once again, but it will be a deliberate decision and it will simply have to have Internet.

We left St. Cirq after a week of shivering nights and headed further south, driving deep into Cathar country. Over the past several years, I read two novels about the Cathars and one non-fiction account and decided that I must visit the departments of the Tarn and the Aude in which this shameful period of French history took place and with which I had become increasingly fascinated. The 13th century Albigensian (or Cathar) Crusade was a military campaign initiated by Pope Innocent III (what irony!) to eliminate Catharism (a dualist offshoot of Catholicism that broke with Rome, believing that all parts of the material world were evil) from the Languedoc region of France. The bloodthirsty massacre, which takes its name from the southwestern city of Albi, was conducted with abandon against the Cathar heretics and spared no one – men, women children and the elderly were all slaughtered. And when Catholics refused to give up their Cathar neighbors, one religious leader (a monk!) famously declared, "Kill them all. God will know his own."

So, despite knowing that immersing ourselves in the brutal extinction of the Cathars might not be what we needed to brighten our moods (the barbaric stories of the Cathar genocide could bring the happiest souls to the brink of depression), we plowed on ahead towards our destination for the day: Caunes-Minervois, just north of Carcassonne. We stopped and hiked up the steep Cathar hill town of Cordes-Sur-Ciel where the heretics of the region took refuge and then took a break for lunch in Albi (home of Toulouse-Lautrec) with its austere and imposing red brick Sainte Cécile cathedral, unlike any other church in the world (Joe thought the cylindrical exterior of its nave looked like the space shuttle ready for launch). Sainte Cécile was built after the Cathars were wiped out to remind others thinking about defying Rome who was in charge. We got back on the road and drove further south up into the Montagne Noire (the Black Mountains) and then down to the narrow-streets of the village of Caunes-Minervois where our Internet-enabled hotel awaited.

Our home for the next three nights was the unique and difficult-to-find Hotel d”Alibert. As soon as we saw that the ancient townhome recommended highly by Rick Steves and TripAdvisor was in the heart of the medieval quarter, we knew we were in for more logistical difficulty. Joe deftly squeezed the car down the tight (but deserted) streets and waited in the car while I checked us in and asked where we could park. The affable but quirky owner, Frederic Alibert (you can't check into the hotel from 2-5pm because Frederic is napping -- it says so right on the door), finally let me in through the French (!) doors of the hotel’s restaurant (the front portal remains inexplicably locked both inside and out almost all day and night!). Frederic showed me to our large, bright room with plenty of heat (things were looking up) and then we wound down the dark spiral stairs and through a couple of stone arches to the barn-like garage at the back of the building. After demonstrating how to twist, turn, tug and then push the huge double wooden doors open (each door had its own particular set of gyrations to execute), he told me to walk out through the alley, make a right, then another right and yet another and there I would find my husband sitting in the car. “Sacre Bleu,” I thought, “just wait ‘til Joe hears where he has to drive to get the car into the garage.” I gave Joe the good news first – we have a big, warm, bright room but we have to drive through a medieval maze in order to park the car. As always, Joe masterfully negotiated the alleyways of Caunes-Minervois and guided our grey Skoda and all our belongings into the barn at the back of the inn.

The coda to our arrival in Languedoc is this: there we were, yet again, in another deserted medieval town with no means to communicate with the outside world. “Yes, the hotel has free wifi,” Frederic confirmed when we asked, “but I’m afraid it is not currently working; there have been some problems.” We took our devastated spirits up to our cheerful room and that’s when le cafard attacked with a vengence. It was a tough night of frustration and reflection and figuring out how to rally. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

La France Profonde: St. Cirq Lapopie

We reluctantly left Le Vieux Logis after a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausages, croissants and coffee, but looked forward to what we would discover in the next area of France -- the Lot. We drove along winding back roads for about an hour until we reached the lovely Dordogne town of Sarlat-la-Canéda for the tail end of its Saturday morning market. As I mentioned previously, Sarlat is a simply gorgeous golden sandstone town from the 14th century and its medieval center has largely managed to remain car-free. While we would love to have stayed in Sarlat to further explore its beautiful architecture and narrow streets, we had to get back on the road for another two hours in order to meet Sophie, the owner of our next home rental by 4pm that afternoon in the town of St. Cirq Lapopie. Although we squeezed past a gargantuan coach bus or two filled with elderly tourists along tight riverside roads carved into rock walls (which prompted Joe to accurately observe that “Europe makes their cars small and their busses huge”), there were minimal signs of life en route as we made our way deeper and deeper into the deserted province. The off-season in the Lot doesn’t mean that things slow down – it means that they shut down completely! We wound through village after village that was completely shuttered – vacant and abandoned until next June when the sun once again warms the limestone cliffs and the tourists scurry to the riverside cafes. In the meantime, all is quiet along the River Lot.

The French department of the Lot, just to the south and east of its more developed and tourist-savvy neighbor the Dordogne, may be about 30 years behind and 100 kilometers away in terms of the exploitation of tourism. Whereas the Dordogne is relaxed and slow in the off-season, the Lot is totally deserted and comes to a virtual halt after mid-September. The Lot River flows through its wide valley but as you might expect, is narrower and quieter than the Dordogne waterway.

We finally arrived in the late afternoon at St. Cirq Lapopie (whose name Joe has had a hard time remembering and has taken to calling Coquille Saint-Jacques), a formerly fortified medieval town perched over the river on a cliff. We are now so far into France that I’m not sure we’ll find our way out! We met our landlord Sophie at the base of the town near the camping grounds on the banks of the river. Visitors must park in designated lots just before the town’s gate where the cobblestone streets rise sharply and wind uphill at vertical angles straight up to the top. We are residents for the week, so we have parking privileges and Sophie was able to guide us and our car up and around the town’s perimeter and then down its impossibly narrow main street into the little passage that will serve as our driveway for the length of our stay. Guidebooks uniformly describe St. Cirq as one of the most beautiful villages in France, and indeed, it is a member of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France association, whose green and red shield is proudly displayed as you enter town. In the Middle Ages, a variety of crafts such as wood turning, blacksmithing and tanning dominated village activity and in recent years, writers and artists have taken up residence in the summer months. St. Cirq showed the promise of a bit more life than the other deserted Lot towns we’d driven through, with several shops and restaurants open and handfuls of tourists making the steep climb up the main street. We figured that some of the signs of life were due to the fact that it was Saturday, but we hoped that at least some activity would continue for the next seven days.

Sophie showed us around our cozy three-story 16th century home (one small room on each floor) and advised us about what to do and where to eat in the village. Our tall, narrow cottage is just as I’d pictured it, given the photos on the VRBO web site -- an amazing stone and half-timbered house with a sharply pitched tile roof and two little outdoor spaces: a pebble-covered courtyard through which you enter the house and a grassy garden outside the living room. Sophie informed us that the house was over 400 years old and that when first built, the ground floor, now the kitchen, housed the owner’s animals. The second floor, now a sitting room with a wood-burning stove, was where the family lived and slept. The third floor, a sloped-ceiling attic bedroom, was added years later. I was enchanted. Why go anywhere else in the region, I thought, when St. Cirq is pretty and perfect and filled with flowers? The town and our home are dripping with authentic medieval charm so why travel to find even more? Joe quickly brought me back to reality, of course, reminding me that we needed deodorant, starter logs and some food. I can always count on Joe to be the practical one on this team. We would need to leave our postcard perfect abode to make a run the next day to Cahors, capital of the Lot, about a half hour away.

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Lazy American Jaw

Six weeks into our year and I no longer have to think so much about speaking French. I remember that at about this point in my year in Tours as a student, my lazy American jaw finally started to form the words and make the sounds more easily and I didn’t have to work quite as hard. It’s always been frustrating on previous trips: just when I was getting warmed up to speaking French all the time with the words flowing more easily, our vacation was over and it was time to leave. When we arrived in France this time, I tripped over even the simplest phrases and imagined myself the Tin Woodsman, needing Dorothy to give me some emergency oil to loosen my jaw – on both sides, s’il vous plaît! Speaking French requires so much more in-and-out movement of the lips – exaggerated at times – to pronounce words correctly and achieve the appropriate intonation. Joe and I often try to determine whether someone is speaking French from across the room, just by watching how his or her mouth moves.

Much to the consternation of L’Académie Française, the elite group of 40 immortels [immortals(!) – who take their language seriously] in charge of ensuring the “purity” of the French language, there is increasingly more Franglais used in everyday speech, especially in Paris. A wireless connection is wifi (pronounced wee-fee), a runner goes “jogging,” those who want a calorie-free soda order a “Coca-Light” and everyone says “bon week end” on Friday afternoon. Next to the signs for the boulangerie, patissserie, boucherie and cremerie, you now find signs for the sandwicherie. The small shops that sell bread, pastries, meat and dairy now sit next to a store that specializes in sandwiches. I’m keenly aware of my American-ness when I’m in France and do my best to avoid the more blatant Franglais when I can. Several days into our stay in Paris, we decided we needed a lens cap attachment for our new camera so we could just let the cover dangle between snapping pictures. Before heading into the little camera shop a couple doors down from our apartment, I Google-translated the appropriate photography-related vocabulary and figured out just how to describe what we needed. As I’ve so often found, the phrase le petit truc (the little whatchamacallit) came in very handy that day. “Mais oui, Madame, zee cap-key-per,” the guy behind the counter replied to my query, accent on the first syllable of the last word. I’d agonized all morning over exactly how to communicate what I needed and he made all my worry unnecessary with his instant Franglais response. Now that we’re out in the sticks, it’s been so much easier to understand what people say. Parisians tend to run everything together, dropping endings and forming their words deep in the backs of their mouths. And of course, the terribly chic and cool young people in Paris speak an undecipherable slang – even more it seems than my friends and I did and young people do everywhere. Except for a wooden plank nailed to a tree whose painted letters announced “Snack Bar” as we canoed down the Dordogne, French is so much more pure outside Paris.

I’ll need to be ready to continue working my jaw when we cross the border into Spain in a couple weeks. Despite having taken seven years of Spanish before and concurrently with French, I haven’t had the opportunity to practice it since I visited my sister Peggy for a couple days when I lived in France and she was on a college trip to Madrid. I suspect that most of what I’ll be doing en español is translating road signs and menus but I’m hoping that at least some of what I learned in all my years in Spanish class will come back to me. Joe recently admitted that he “gave up” on French, even though he took it for three years in high school, as soon as he was told that nouns could be either masculine or feminine. As a rational fourteen year-old, he concluded that it was just stupid and it’s clear from conversations on this trip that he still harbors resentment. I’ve done my best to explain the whole gender thing and how it goes back at least as far as Latin but it still makes no sense to him. No matter how compelling the explanation, he still comes back to the basic question of why? Why make a language even harder than it has to be? I’ll be sure to ask L’Académie Française the next time I correspond with them but I’m afraid some questions simply have no answers. In the meantime, I’ll just keep my jaw loose and my oil can ready.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Two For the Road: The Dordogne

While we may not be Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney in a white Mercedes convertible in Stanley Donen’s Two For the Road, we do love exploring the back roads of Europe. We left the rolling hills of Sancerre in our gray Skoda Octavia and headed for the Dordogne, land of white limestone canyons, medieval castles, foie gras, and truffles. Being in the middle of nowhere with Joe – where it’s us against the world, in a sense – and never knowing what’s around the next corner, is my kind of adventure. It may not appeal to all – in fact some have told me they would find it downright dull (or lonesome or terrifying!) -- but we’ve always enjoyed exploring the byways of France all by ourselves.

Over the past twenty years or so, the Dordogne has become a popular spot for both international tourists and country-home-buying-Brits alike (the pound’s favorable position vis-à-vis the franc in the 90s spurred the buying spree, not to mention the area’s beauty and wealth of English history from The Hundred Years War). The tourist trade has kept pace with the appetite of the crowds’ and flower-bedecked hotels, cafes and restaurants now sprout from every formerly abandoned nook and cranny imaginable. About a seven-hour drive south of Paris, the Dordogne’s narrow roads are jammed and the castles and hill towns crawl with tourists through the summer. Countless canoes, kayaks and gabarres (flat-bottomed sightseeing boats) create noisy gridlock on the meandering Dordogne River. We rented a canoe one brilliant fall afternoon and paddled our way 12 miles downriver from Vitrac to Beynac past feudal villages clinging precipitously to cliffs and lonely chateaux high on the distant hills. The garrulous owner of Canoë-Loisirs from whom we rented the boat told us he had 10 canoes on the water that day; in July and August, he rents all 800 every single day – his entire fleet! After mid-September, however, the crowds disappear, many of the hotels and restaurants close for the season and although British accents are often heard in even the tiniest of towns, the region regains its quiet, authentic charm.

In some ways, the Dordogne reminds me of the Cotswolds, a lush area of England northwest of London dotted with hills and adorably quaint villages and winding streams around the bend of each. We visited the Cotswolds for three days after the London Book Fair several years ago, driving up and down and back and forth on hedgerow-lined lanes from Oxford to Stratford-Upon-Avon. While the Cotswolds boast colorful little half-timbered cottages with thatched roofs nestled next to babbling brooks, the Dordogne has medieval castles and fortresses that rise impossibly over rocky bluffs. In an effort to see as many of the Cotswold hamlets as possible, each with its own personality and charm, we spent a good amount of time in the car, jumping out every now and then to snap some pictures and stretch our legs. We’ll have to come back and thoroughly explore our favorites one day, we promised. And we hope one day we will. On this journey through the Dordogne, however, we decided to forego the windshield tour (many of the “must-see” towns are as far as 40 miles away from each other) to stop, explore and enjoy just one or two villages (we chose Beynac and Sarlat-la-Canéda). It’s all in keeping with our “this ain’t boot camp” pacing but since my natural inclination is towards the see-everything-the-guidebook-recommends style, I’ve had to work really hard to keep my traveler-on-steroids urges in check. Rocamadour, Souillac and Autoire will have to wait for our return. We had lunch in Beynac on a terrace by the river and then hiked the steep footpaths, peeking into tight alleys and ivy-covered passages, all the way up to its daunting chateau that towers over the valley. On another day we wandered the narrow cobblestoned streets and admired the gorgeous golden sandstone buildings of Sarlat on market day, agreeing with Michelin’s assessment that the town is “improbably beautiful.”

It turns out that our Dordogne-discovering tempo has been just right, leaving us plenty of time to enjoy our perfect accommodations back at the Le Vieux Logis in Trémolat. Our three-night stay at this 18-room Relais & Chateaux property was the first hotel splurge of our trip. Any description I attempt will not adequately convey the subtle beauty of the gardens or the romantic solitude of this wisteria-covered former farm and priory. We booked the “simplest” room at the inn but were pleasantly surprised when upgraded to a first-floor “déluxe” room that looked out on the back garden. The walls and ceiling have dark exposed beams (from the time our wing of the hotel was a tobacco barn), the floors are terra-cotta tiles and patterned curtains and bed linens in bright Provincial blue and yellow brighten the room. Joe and I wore ear-to-ear smiles as we were escorted into our accommodations. The incredibly professional service (always softened with warm smiles) of Relais & Chateaux properties is consistent and without equal.

We have two alarm clocks here at Le Vieux Logis. Joe’s watch rings at 7:30am and then the bells of the solid 12th century Romanesque church on the town square around the corner, chime at 8, although it’s tough to get out of bed and leave our beautiful room even with these two gentle nudges. It’s the promise of exploring the extensive garden outside our three huge windows that finally gets us up and out. Le Vieux Logis is in the tiny picture-perfect village of Trémolat, at a sharp bend in the Dordogne River. Claude Chabrol filmed his movie The Butcher here, thereby taking advantage of the towering plane trees and hamlet charm. We’ve been keenly aware of our limited time at this wonderful property and have done all we can to enjoy it. We have a family expression Chris coined when he was about 9 years old while we were staying at the Wilderness Lodge in Disney World. This magnificent hotel, designed and outfitted as an authentic Pacific Northwest hunting lodge, has a stunning atrium entrance with dozens of overstuffed easy chairs, comfy sofas and a large working train set. Aaron Copeland’s Billy the Kid and Rodeo/Hoe-Down playing in a continuous loop help set the stage. We were in our room settling in and Chris was just itching to explore the hotel with 6 year-old Caroline and run up and down the open hallways that overlooked the ten-story atrium with its giant wooden chandelier. Desperate to speed up the unpacking process, Chris came up with this unique appeal: “Come on family, let’s go – we need to take advantage of the lobby!” From that day forward, if we stay somewhere that merits it, Bohr family trips always include plenty of time for “taking advantage” of the comfortable public spaces of our lodging. Thus, with Chris’s entreaty echoing in our ears, we took advantage of the lobby, the gardens, and the various cozy salons of Le Vieux Logis by taking in every detail and relaxing in them for as long as we possibly could. Even the prospect of seeing more castles of the Dordogne couldn’t lure us away.

We stayed late at Le Vieux Logis on our final morning – until high noon, in fact – but it was finally time to take our leave. Time to get back in the car and back on the road. Next destination:  The Lot.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Heaven in a Wineglass: Sancerre

I woke up at first light and wondered where we were. When my foggy morning brain eventually cleared and I saw the dingy orange curtains on the windows, I realized we were in Sancerre, hilltop home of my favorite Appelation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) in the whole wide world. Two hours south of Paris, we were in white wine heaven.

Paris had quickly become our temporary home-away-from-home and we’d gotten used to waking to the sounds of our fellow apartment-dwellers. When the morning light came through the courtyard window, we knew exactly where we were. But now that we’re on the road, I expect there will be many mornings like this when I’ll awaken and have to concentrate really hard to remember where we lay our heads the night before. And then will come the next step: convincing myself that we’re actually here in Europe with another ten-and-a-half months ahead of us.

In the weeks before we left Washington, my normal optimism suddenly turned to doubt. Sometime in August, I convinced myself that something would go horribly wrong and I sat up in the middle of many a night in a cold sweat. Did the bureaucrats add more paperwork to the visa requirements and would I have a message on my voicemail to that effect? Could we actually afford to stop climbing the materialistic American ladder for a while to take a Gap Year off? Did I estimate the budget incorrectly and somehow put a decimal in the wrong place? Would the European Union finally collapse under the weight of the mounting Greek debt burden? Were we actually brave enough to just drop out of the rat race and physically leave the country?

Needless to say, I successfully escaped the clutches of skepticism and now that we’ve been in France for almost five weeks, the reality of our Gap Year is finally settling in. Unlike my tenuous affirmation to the British gent in the Paris hotel elevator who quipped as he squeezed into the closet-sized space beside our luggage” “What -- are you staying for a year?”, I can now assert with confidence, “Yes, we’re in Europe until next August.” Even Joe, who took a bit longer than I getting psychologically used to having no permanent address, car or job, is getting used to the freedom. We’ve both decided to keep our anxieties about finding jobs when we return in check by refusing to think about our next steps until next spring – April at the earliest. But my current challenge may be even greater. Getting the inexorable Father Time to heed my daily mantra: “STOP! S’il vous plaît! Or at least SLOW DOWN a little!” And to every moment that passes I plead, “Stay! Please don’t go...” The French expression, je vais en profiter, continues to follow my every thought. Yes, I’m going to appreciate and savor each and every moment of the limited time we have here. While a consummate anticipator of the itinerary ahead (especially of the days when Chris and Caroline will join us in December), I’m doing my best to live in the moment of every single day. And today, while we’re exploring the delightful town and rolling vineyards of Sancerre, I want the day to slow down to a gentle speed that allows us to enjoy every moment/sip.

Of all the wines in the entire world, Sancerre vin blanc (made from the Sauvignon Blanc grape) is my absolute favorite. This beautiful terroir also produces rosé and red wines from Pinot Noir grapes -- that Chris, our family’s red-wine-drinker would love -- but while we’re here, in my personal AOC heaven, I’ll stick to white. The local Tours Rotary Club who sponsored me when I was a student presented me with my first glass of Sancerre. There was some je ne said quoi about this crisp, minerally, slightly citrusy white wine that grabbed my attention and wouldn't let it go. I carefully wrote down the name in the little notebook I carried with me everywhere, in capital letters, of this incredible wine that struck my fancy as a twenty-two-year-old: SANCERRE. From that day forward, whenever Joe and I went out for a special dinner – a birthday, an anniversary, Valentine’s Day -- and Sancerre was on the wine list, it became part of our celebration. Caroline wrote in a recent email, “Have fun but hope Mom isn’t swimming in a vat of Sancerre.” (Be honest, Caroline, you love Sancerre as much as I do and would be doing the backstroke beside me if you could.) While not quite a swim, we did go to a generous wine-tasting at the Henri Bourgeois Estate in Chavignol (home of the Crottin de Chavignol, a sweet little goat cheese). After sampling eight varieties of white – each with a generous pour much greater than a simple tasting – we purchased four bottles, knowing there would be ample opportunity to finish them all in the ensuing weeks. I should mention that the tasting was free, unlike most such offers in Napa and Sonoma which can set you back as much as $30 for two people.

A bit bleary eyed, we headed back to our simple (sparse?) room at the basic (primitive?) Hôtel du Remparts. To allow ample funds for the purchase of plenty of wine, we decided on the low-rent, concrete auberge, halfway up the steep ascent into town. It was great for the budget but not for our mood, so we spent as little time there as possible. Our third floor walk-up room was just this side of depressing and the gloomy, gray sky outside didn’t help matters, but our palates still tasted of Sancerre so we were content as we lay down for a post dégustation rest.

Joe fell asleep immediately and I took the time to lean back on my rock-solid pillow (was it filled with sawdust perhaps?) and analyze our sorry little room. The French pride themselves on their logic and symmetry of thought but I have always been amazed by the inability of budget hoteliers to center a picture over a bed. Even a Red Roof Inn in the States can mount a Sears landscape over the middle of the headboard. The walls of our tiny room are covered in pale thin-wale blue corduroy (yes, corduroy!) and the 12” x 18” pastel drawing of Sancerre in a cheap plastic frame that hangs over the bed is at least six inches to the left of where it should be (were one to achieve some semblance of balance). And given the space, the wall screams for a horizontal print but there the vertical frame hangs. There also seems an aversion to designing a room with colors that match. The floor is covered with a maroon carpet worn down to almost nothing over the years and punctuated with an occasional divot from a cigarette burn from long ago. Moving on to the bathroom that epitomizes anything but rational symmetry: the four-inch square pink floral tiles on the walls clash absurdly with the small garish orange and brown pentagon tiles on the floor. And the pièce de résistance of the room is a large but flimsy armoire tucked into an alcove next to the bathroom, its doors facing the opposite wall. If you move all the way into the recess, you can pry the left door open but not quite enough to hang something on the clothes bar. French logic at its best.

Summary of our two nights and one full day in Sancerre: heaven in a wineglass and hell for a hotel.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Au Revoir Paris, For Now

As much as I love Paris, I must admit that my heart belongs to the French countryside. So, looking at Paris in the rearview mirror wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined. (Please forgive me, mon cher Paris!) Knowing we’ll be back in April for the marathon and again for a final week to finish our year certainly helped soften the blow of our departure. For now, though, it’s time to hit the road, head south and reflect on the deeply felt pleasures of our month in Paris. We’ll have plenty of car time over the next few days as we make our way towards the vineyards of Sancerre, the castles of the Dordogne and the desolate beauty of the Lot to reminisce about our favorite Parisian delights.

There’s something about Paris that allows all who visit to make the city their own and believe that she exists just for them. Is it the art, the flowers, the food, the fashion? Or perhaps it’s the bridges, the boulevards, the parks and the wine? Or maybe it’s the flowers, the lights, la Tour Eiffel and le Seine? Lovers who have come to Paris for time immemorial believe it enchanted for them and only them; her special magic is theirs and casts a spell of romance on them alone. And of course, it’s the same with us. Paris is ours and no one else could possibly experience her as we do. And we’re right, of course. Paris is ours and will always be ours. She makes us believe in the monogamous love between a city and a couple, just as she does all the other lovers who have strolled her boulevards, crossed her bridges and sipped her wine.

Paris was everything we’d dreamed and more. There were so many lovely new surprises that triggered dropped jaws and “Mon Dieu,” yet our familiar favorites made us so very happy. We managed to eat at most of the places and visit the majority of parks and addresses on our list (they’re now all highlighted in bright yellow on our Excel spreadsheet). As to the dozen or so items we didn’t get to on this visit? Well, I’ve simply added an “x” before the arrondissement, hit sort and voilà -- a lovely little file in neighborhood order of where to go when we come back. In the meantime, thousands of other couples will have made the city of light their own, but “our” Paris will still be there, waiting for our return.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Les Restos de Paris

“I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”  Lilly Bollinger

While I do love une coupe de champagne, and have had a few since we’ve arrived in Paris, the same can be said for un verre de vin. We’ve managed to say no to wine when we eat in our little studio, but every time we’ve gone out for dinner, it’s been too difficult to resist at least a small pichet de vin (and so we haven’t!). Maybe it’s a social thing? When we’re in the company of others, a glass of wine seems a must. I waxed poetic about our lunch at Le Grand Véfour but haven’t written in much detail about our other dining experiences at restaurants (les restos for short) – and there have been plenty.

On Friday, October 7, we celebrated our first month abroad with a dinner cruise on the Seine. Yes, they’re touristy, and yes, they’re expensive, but the food and wine are excellent and what is more beautiful and romantic than sipping a glass of champagne while gliding along the Seine, watching the lights of Paris go by? We’ve had multiple dinners in past years, including once with both Chris and Caroline, on the Bateaux Mouches, but decided to try the Bateaux Parisiens this time, a smaller, more intimate cruise line. We definitely made the right choice. The lighting was low and romantic (Joe even responded to my forlorn face when we were seated and switched our white lamp with the ginger one from the vacant table next door, thereby assuring an evening bathed in soft ochre light). The food, the jazzy live music, the city of light, and of course, the company, made for a perfect evening.

A note about restaurant lighting: as Caroline and I have agreed (we pretty much have identical tastes when it comes to dining out), if a restaurant doesn’t have just the right soft, romantic lighting, even if the food and service are perfect, it’s not going to score a perfect 10 in our book. And there are a surprising number of lit-like-a-hospital restaurants in Paris. I read that the bright light craze is fueled by a desire to look “modern,” but I’ll take old-fashioned dim any day. When I was a growing up, my grandfather Darby often took us out to dinner and what ranked first on his scale of restaurant standards was high quality food and plenty of it. And by high quality food, he meant roast beef, steak, shrimp and lobster, all accompanied by big salads and lots of starch. The ambience was of little consequence as long as our plates were full. Common criteria for those who grappled with the Depression? Perhaps. For me, however, it’s the other way around. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a foodie with the best of them, but a beautifully appointed room, warm lighting and soft music will get me every time. Such an establishment has already gone a long way towards scoring well on my report card, even before the food makes an appearance.

Getting back to my restaurant log, some of our most memorable meals have been:

·      Our very first dinner at Cafe Hugo on the Place des Vosges. Is there a meal more welcomed and delicious than the first after an exhausting overnight flight across the pond, no breakfast or lunch, and an all-afternoon nap? As Joe likes to say, “No one does simple salads better than the French,” and indeed, our first food in France, simple salades vertes with just enough creamy vinaigrette dressing were just right. Our plats of salmon and chicken with their respective sauces also fit the bill. The evening also confirmed that we were indeed in France, land of les Gauloises and les Gitanes, as all but us under the cafe awning were smoking. We resolved to eat inside more often. While smoking is still legal at outdoor tables, it is no longer allowed inside restaurants.
·      Le Procope. One of the oldest restaurants in Paris (it opened in the late 1600s), Le Procope is in the 6th, just south of the Boulevard St. Germain. It serves delicious prix fixe meals and the ambiance is warm and the sense of history authentic. The brass nameplate behind our banquette indicated that we were at Diderot’s table.
·      Au Bon Saint Pourçain. Recommended by several travel writers, although in few guidebooks, this quaint, inexpensive, neighborhood restaurant is on the rue Servandoni, tucked beside the Église Saint-Sulpice. We stopped by one afternoon to make a reservation for that evening and were greeted by a scowling gentleman with a big, black, bushy uni-brow sitting on a chair, holding court outside the front door. “Je voudrais faire une reservation pour ce soir” I stated. He asked me at what time and for how many people and then simply affirmed, “Bon.” He didn’t write anything down, nor did he even ask our name. He declared it: we were all set. When we arrived that evening, there he was again, greeting us with a frown and handing us over to the young waitress (a granddaughter, perhaps?). As we enjoyed our straightforward, traditional French cuisine (boeuf aux olives for both of us), along with a bottle of Au Bon Pourcain’s private label wine (all you’re asked is white or red) that evening, we admired the pen-and-ink portraits of the gentleman that included his distinctive eyebrow, hung on the wall and graced the restaurant’s postcards. This family-run resto will definitely stay on our must-go-back-to list.
·      L’Atlas. Just like New York, Paris has an amazing number of ethnic restaurants. Anticipating our visit to Morocco late next month, we decided to try a North African restaurant we’d read about for a tagine (a traditional meat stew with lots of vegetables) and couscous. While the authentic decor, food and service were excellent at L’Atlas, the fluorescent lighting took away from the experience. We’re hoping we’ll find dimmer, more romantic lighting when we reach Morocco itself.
·      La Coupole. Although this expansive Montparnasse standard and 1920s expat hangout resembled a Manhattan cafeteria when we arrive one evening unfashionably early at 7:15, its personality changed completely in a matter of minutes. What was at first an impersonal and hollow hall with its bright lights and high ceilings, swiftly filled with the hum of conversation and the clinking of wine glasses. It was rush hour at La Coupole as diners filed in and filled the seats. By 7:40, the place was full and our initial hesitation about choosing this famous bistro disappeared as we joined the buzz of conversation. The food was terrific and we continued to marvel at the speed with which patrons arrived.
·      L’As du Falafel. When Caroline studied in Paris two summers ago, the University of Arizona program was located in the Marais. Back then, she told us that one of her and her classmates’ favorite haunts for lunch was L’As du Falafel on the rue des Rosiers in the old Jewish neighborhood. Caroline is a falafel connoisseur and if she suggested it, we knew it would be good. On one of our trips to this ancient quarter, we sought out her recommendation. For a mere 5 euros, we had a warm, fresh-baked pita stuffed with falafel, shaved cabbage, grilled eggplant, chopped tomatoes and tahini sauce. It’s definitely one of the best budget meals in the city and we returned before leaving Paris.
·      Chez Louisette. Our one visit to this bizarre saloon will definitely be our last, but we’re happy for the experience. What a strange place from another time! Our stomachs were growling fiercely and we were in desperate need of an escape from the maze of the Paris flea market, Le Marché aux Puces. There were too many aggressive hawkers selling too much junk and we weren’t enjoying our visit at all, so we followed the music and ducked into this red-checkered tablecloth joint down a narrow alley on the edge of the market. A mix of sideshow and frat party, Chez Louisette featured a man on the accordion and a woman in her 70s belting out Edith Piaf standards up on a raised platform. Green, red and gold tinsel hung unevenly from the ceiling over long tables set for communal meals. The carnival effect was amusing for a while (I actually did enjoy her rendition of Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien). However, the food was mediocre, the subsequent singers were not as good as “Edith” and when the hat was passed after every three songs, we’d had enough. I was never a huge fan of the circus – it always seemed a little sad – and this place was a little too much “circus” for me.
·      Relais de Venise. Just down the boulevard from the busy Porte Maillot is a steak/frites restaurant with a winning formula. It’s so perfect, in fact, that I’m sure it’s the inspiration for Cleveland Park’s relatively new Medium Rare bistro in in Washington, DC. The Relais serves one thing, salad/steak/frites and all you get to choose is your wine, how your steak is cooked and if you want dessert. How the two eateries operate is identical: no reservations (the line forms outside the door); you’re served a simple salad (in DC the lettuce is topped with tomatoes and in Paris with finely minced walnuts); the steak is sliced and comes with a “secret sauce” -- of course, the one in Paris was slightly better – a delicious green herb concoction reeking with garlic; the frites are shoestring and salty; you’re served one portion from a metal tray and then get seconds once you’ve cleared your plate. The Relais de Venise was packed at 7:30 on the Wednesday of our visit (extremely early for a dinner crowd in France). We waited outside for about 30 minutes with the locals until a table for two freed up. Elbow to elbow with the other diners, we enjoyed our classic steak/frites and delighted in being part of the theater.
·      Café Laurent. I wish that we had known about this lovely jazz bar when we came to France in the summer of 2003 with my Mom and Dad. They would have loved it, although I’m not sure my Dad would have like the fact that he couldn’t get a good American martini (if you order a martini in France, they bring you a Martini & Rossi) or the 14 euro price of a French coffee (it’s simply too delicious to even try to describe the taste of its perfect blend of coffee, Grand Marnier and whipped cream). But for the price of an expensive drink, you get a long, lovely evening of sophisticated music and perfect tawny lighting(!) on a comfortable banquette in a lively quartier of Paris. Pas très cher, all considered. The cafe is in the gorgeous and classy but low-key boutique Hotel d’Aubusson at 33 rue Dauphine in Saint Germain. Christian Bernard is at the piano and the way he hunches over the piano to coax his expressive, jazzy style from the keys made us think of Schroeder, of Peanuts fame. Each night he plays with different “invited musician friends,” but he is what makes the music special. We wished we’d discovered this comfortable cafe earlier in our month; we made it there twice but we would have become regulars.
·      Carmine’s. We all yearn for familiarity even when we’re home and it becomes even more essential when we’re abroad. Our favorite neighborhood restaurant at home was Renato’s in downtown Potomac, MD, and we went there every Friday for take-out eggplant parmesan and about once a month for a dinner out. It’s the Cheers effect: everyone knew our names at Renato’s and they made us feel at home. And while not everyone there knew our names, Carmine’s became our Friday night go-to resto, the warm, friendly French-Italian bistro on the corner of the rue de Suffren and la place Joffre. It was easy and familiar and they make Paris’s best pizzas.

We’ve relished eating out in Paris but the food and the wines and the restaurants of the southwest beckon. While we’ll no longer be in Paris, there will certainly continue to be many verres de vin and coupes de champagne in our future.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Golden Rings and Other Scams

Joe and I pride ourselves on not falling for scams when abroad. But it’s one thing to read about what to avoid in guidebooks and on blogs, and yet another to experience it first-hand. The other day we were walking along the river, admiring the sweep of the Seine and the beauty of the tropical greenery of the Musée Branly. Out-of-the-blue, a clean-cut young man swooped down in front of us and then popped back up with a shiny gold ring in his hand. “C’est a vous Madame/Monsieur?” he asked. I firmly replied, “non,” it was not ours and without even looking at him, we purposefully walked on. He’d tried his ruse just as we’d read to expect. Had we been unaware and hesitated for even a moment about the 10-cent brass ring he presented, he would have told us that the ring he’d found on the path was not his, and that he couldn’t possibly keep it for himself. When we finally relented and took the ring, he would have told us that he’d just lost his job/was having trouble feeding his new baby/had sick parents who were in trouble – just fill in the blank – in the hope that we’d pass along a few euros. The next day I was running on the opposite bank of the Seine and just as I passed by, a ruddy-faced, babushka-wearing peasant woman tried the same scam on a Scandinavian-accented English-speaking couple pushing a stroller. I would have intervened, but they appeared not to be falling for the golden ring trick either.

And then there are the teenaged Romanian gypsy “deaf-mute” girls scurrying around the Champ de Mars and near La Place de la Concorde looking for victims. I recently walked behind a bevy of them, dressed as typical teens but with cardboard clipboards and pens in hand, as they chatted effusively and made their way under La Tour Eiffel. At the wave of some invisible hand, they scattered. Approaching unsuspecting tourists, they shook their heads, repeatedly passing their fingers in front of their mouths and ears, indicating that they could neither hear nor speak. It appeared to me that their communication faculties were in perfect order as I’d followed them across the Pont d’Iéna to their champs of battle. They each carry a petition asking anyone who takes the time to read it to sign in support of help for their deaf/mute lot. And once you stop, take pity and add your signature to their appeal (which actually cites the names of legitimate charity groups), they grab your sleeve and pester you until you relent, giving them their “minimum 5 euro donation.” Periodically, the three-soldier, machine gun wielding French army teams in burgundy berets that patrol the major Parisian sights appear from around a corner and the teens instantly fold their clipboards and scatter like mice. What amazes me is that people actually fall for this stunt and give these girls money. Doesn’t the fact that their clipboards are ragged pieces of cardboard tip them off?

Not quite to the same degree, but cons nevertheless, are the waiters who attempt to get you to add tips on top of tips. By law, all eating establishment bills include a service charge for les serveurs so it is not necessary to leave anything in addition. If you pay with cash, it’s customary to leave any loose coins you may have received as change, but I have yet to see a French person who pays with a credit card, in cafes and fine restaurants alike, leave an additional tip in cash. French restaurant credit card slips don’t include a space for a tip so it’s not even possible to add one on your own. We did, however, have a waiter on the touristy Place du Tertre on Montmartre, try to give himself an extra tip. Our bill for dinner was something like 79 euros and Joe handed over his Amex to pay. The waiter came over with his handy-dandy, hand-held credit card machine and asked, “quatre-vingts cinq (85), OK?” “Non,” Joe replied nicely, and pointed to the 79 figure on the bill. No harm, no foul. Joe signed, the waiter smiled and we were on our way. We’ve also had one waiter and one waitress tell us that service was included on our bill but not the tip. I’m just happy we understand what that actually means: the tip is included but not an extra tip. Leaving some loose change here and there is hardly a problem, but a year’s worth of double-tipping would do some real damage to our budget.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Paris as Pygmalion

There’s woman in our neighborhood who looks like a birthday cake. The first time I saw her, she was sitting at an outside table at the corner brasserie with a double-decker platter of shellfish in front of her. She was all by herself, but appeared to be having a lovely time. I was running a routine errand at the local Monoprix (I take that back -- is any errand in Paris simply routine?), and as I rounded the corner of the brasserie’s terrace a splash of color caught my eye. Was I seeing straight? There, amidst the blacks and grays and browns of the café crowd, was a woman bedecked in Lilly Pulitzer frosting colors of candy pink and lime green and canary yellow. I turned back, retraced my steps and slowly came back around the corner a second time. I wanted to be sure to capture all the details so I could share every one of them with Joe. Was this confectionary vision really sitting at our corner café? Decades beyond “a certain age,” she sat straight and dignified and I could tell, even seated, that she carried herself regally. On her head was piled a multi-layered hat of no fewer than half a dozen floppy fabric brims, each just a bit smaller than the one underneath, giving the effect of a multi-tiered birthday cake. On the Mad Hatter’s arms were numerous wooden bracelets of varying thickness, and from her ears dangled intertwining loops, all painted with flowers in colors that matched her chapeau. The table concealed what she wore below the waist but around her shoulders was a satin cape-of-many-colors, and around her neck a scarf (what else?), all vivid and floral and dazzling. As if the candy colors were not brilliant enough, her hat and her cape were festooned with silk flowers and ribbons, all adding to the birthday cake effect. My gaze finally made it to her face, much of it hidden by the brims of her hat, but her infinite deep wrinkles were in full maquillage, including rouge on her cheeks and bright pink on her lips, which she was careful not to smudge as she delicately slurped back an oyster.

I continued my trip in search of yogurt and coffee but couldn’t get this woman out of my head. She was still in her seat, enjoying her seafood, as I made my way home that afternoon. I wondered if Joe would believe my description or would he think I was making it up, exaggerating what I’d seen for the sake of a story?

Two days later as we headed home from La Motte-Piquet metro stop, there she was, slowly crossing the street in multi-colored sartorial splendor. Her birthday cake hat was again what first caught my eye. “There she is!” I exclaimed. “You see, she really does exist!” This time I could see her fully upright, all the way down to her painfully thin legs in her bright pink tights and lace-up mauve shoes. She was maudlin and magnificent and melancholy – all at once. Who was this woman and what went through her mind as she prepared herself to go out into the world each morning? Did she see her confectionary costume the way others did and giggle just a little?

I’ve concluded that our colorful neighbor in pink and green loves what she sees in the mirror. If not, how would she move with such grace and carry herself so proudly? Despite the stares and whispers as she passes by, she believes she is beautiful and struts her stuff with aplomb. Perhaps Paris has a Pygmalion effect on all who are fortunate enough to visit her. She believes we’re beautiful, charming and confident and so we live up to her every expectation.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Paris is Burning

Although the first several days after arriving in Paris were cold, gloomy and damp, they were perfect for catching up on sleep and warding off jet lag. For the past three weeks, however, it’s been a glorious Indian summer: clear, blue skies, no humidity and getting progressively warmer. Temperatures have broken through the 80-degree mark multiple times and the last gasp of summer is winning the weather battle for now. We’re close to experiencing the canicule (one of my favorite French words, meaning heat wave) because even the evenings provide little relief from the heat. Don’t let anyone tell you that Parisians don’t wear shorts. When it’s hot, they do indeed and the shorter the better. No, they don’t wear them with sneakers or Birkenstocks (those are the Americans and the Germans), but they do wear them with strappy, healed sandals and stilettos. And no matter the temperature, they sport scarves: striped and solid, bulky and delicate, muslin and wool (only men and women over 70 wear scarves of the silky Hermès variety). Most scarves are tied in a Parisian knot (fold it in half across the middle, drape it around your neck, insert the loose ends through the loop hanging in front and pull them through), although we've seen many more than on past trips of the loopped-multiple-times-around-the-neck-with-just-a-bit-of-a-loose-tail-hanging-down-in-front type. Over the past few sweltering days, many Parisians have kept their scarves in their armoires, but there are still the die-hards who continue to wrap their necks despite the temperature. Are French necklines more susceptible to the cold than the rest of the world’s? Or is it a corporate plot by the Paris scarf purveyors that has convinced the citizenry that they must cover their necks?

Since we’re now into October, I must admit that I’m longing for fall color and except for some luminous yellow poplars at Versailles, there is only brown to be witnessed. The French term for autumn foliage is les feuilles mortes, literally dead leaves, and I can see that it’s an apt expression of what we’re seeing in Paris. From green to gone appears to be the life cycle of Parisian leaves. The city of light has many splendors, but autumn color is not among them. I do recall some semblance of New England glory the fall I spent in Tours, but there’s no evidence of this in Paris. We’ll soon be deep into the countryside down in the Dordogne, Lot and Aude departments and we’re hoping to find some fall color once we’ve left the city. The flowers are fading quickly, their early brown spots exacerbated by the heat and the pink and purple dahlias have lost their crisp edges. I recently ran by the Tuileries flowerbeds whose brilliance we sat next to only last week and they’ve have already faded several shades, the lines among the colors blurred.

We took advantage of the beautiful weather and headed to the Bois de Boulogne over the weekend for a run. On previous trips we’d only walked along the border of the huge park on the western limit of Paris but we read that it is a great spot for runners so we decided to explore. Completely unlike what I expected, the park is covered with thickets of trees except for two lovely lakes and two giant hippodromes. I would have been better prepared about what to expect had I paid attention to the first part of its name: bois, meaning woods. I was looking forward to expansive green vistas and at least a few flowers since the Bois de Boulogne is described by some guidebooks as “one of the most spectacular parks in Europe.” While it is large, it’s definitely not my favorite park in Paris (I’ll take Les Buttes Chaumont, Le Jardin de Luxembourg or the Parc Monceau any day). I have to admit, however, that it was terrific for running. Hundreds of chalky, limestone sand paths criss-cross the woods and the circuit of the lakes was wonderful since the people-watching distracted me from the pains in my thighs. As on the city streets, you can immediately distinguish the French – the men wear running shorts à la Bill Clinton (the short kind he wore before his handlers convinced him they weren’t presidential) and the women wear long black leggings (they're fine with exposing their long bare legs in micro-minis on the Boulevard St. Germain, but certainly not while running in public -- mon Dieu!). Neither the men nor the women wear what we would call “proper running shoes.” Their footwear consists of Puma-like flats that appear to provide little cushion or support. Joe and I both did eight miles through the park, each taking our own route since my pace, compared to his, is anemic. That day the temperature reached a sizzling 88 degrees and we sat for a long time on a park bench trading stories of our individual courses and sucking back multiple cold water bottles. Parisians were out in droves and we watched walkers and runners pass by as we cooled down. Families with babies in poussettes, lovers with arms entwined and hands in each other's back pockets and groups of young-people-sweating-in-scarves leisurely ambled by. Parisians have perfected the art of strolling and try as we might, we still have to work very hard to deliberately walk so slowly.

Lower, seasonal temperatures in the 60s are predicted for the end of the week and we’ll welcome the change in weather. Surely the investors in scarf futures want cooler temperatures to prevail and I’m looking forward to wearing the two new scarves Joe bought me at the Boulevard Raspail's open-air market yesterday. Although he drew the line at getting a scarf for himself, we’re doing our best to be Parisian.