Day 14: Paris, France
When I got here I worried that I would disturb everyone I'm rooming with by getting up early. Instead, two or three other ladies were up when it was still dark and banging around without regard. At the end of it I think I was almost the last person to get up so there's that. Breakfast is not included but the convenience of wearing slippers, the refills of coffee and being so close to my room makes it worth it and I pay an exorbitant 9 euros for coffee, juice, baguette and toppings, scrambled eggs, hard cheese and dried ham (basically prosciutto). Banging away on my laptop and mapping out where I'm going to go, I happen to turn my head and realize there's some sort of market going on right outside the hostel. Also, it turns out that of all the places I could have chosen to stay in Paris, this hostel happens to be in an Arabic section and there's a Lebanese bakery right next store... I am not even kidding.
So the market - it's mostly vegetables and fruits but plenty of tables selling toys, shoes, weird no-name electronic accessories and several fish and meat stations. I take a video as surreptitiously as I can but it's super crowded and I think I take more footage of people pushing into me than the stuff for sale. I see a citrus seller who has stuck a bunch of the stickers from his oranges onto his face and I ask him if I can take his picture which he enthusiastically approves and even poses for me. I see a meat counter and look for some charcuterie to buy for later but it's just raw meats and then offal (organ meats) and I try to take a picture of the tray of brain slices on top of the counter but I can't get a good angle. The guy in front of me buys intestine, liver and either kidneys, heart or gall bladder - raw and animal unknown, it's a tough call for me as I am more familiar with these things cooked but picture, picture. I finally can't stand the pushing so I cross the street and see a huge mass of people stationed on the sidewalk and think maybe this is part of the transit strike? I go over and walk through and realize it's people selling stuff out of garbage bags rapidly and in a way that does not suggest legality. It's mostly random items and a lot of brand new skin creams. This is an even denser and pushier crowd and I am relieved when I make it through to an open space.
Have walked a bunch yesterday I have a base level of familiarity with my immediate area so I head off in an alternate direction. My mission is pastries, a baguette, cheese and charcuterie. And a giant bottle of water. Also maybe some more coffee. Not long after the garbage bag crowd I see an old patisserie and go inside with high hopes and walk out with two things I have some knowledge of and one thing I am clueless about but I am hopeful it is something peanut butter related (an unlikely ingredient here but whatever). I wind up with a giant and super dense, honey-soaked doughnut, a pistachio and butter cream cake thing and the thing I'm clueless about is... ? I still don't know but it does taste a little like halvah so I wasn't totally off about peanuts. Everything is way too sweet for me but I taste it all and give the rest to someone on the street and keep on moving. I go down street after street and can't seem to find a good bread place and no cheese or charcuterie and I go into a grocery store out of desperation but it's tiny and overpriced and doesn't have an appealing selection so finally I try typing "fromagerie" into my saved map and somehow it works (though doesn't later - maybe I was in a hotspot) and I have a new direction across some river. I stop in several patisseries along the way because they are everywhere but hold back from another purchase just yet. I do get a baguette! 1 euro ha ha. Finally cheese! I get four different kinds and a tiny jar of thyme-infused honey and then relent and go into another patisserie and buy a single, small beignet. Next giant water, again 1 euro. Having given up on my prepared and cured meat dreams, I stroll off and at that exact moment of defeat I see a small charcuterie shop. I get some head cheese and chunky duck pate and walk the hour back to the hostel laden down with delicious treats - enough food for several lunches. On a whim I buy a small carton of beautiful wild strawberries to accompany the cheese and then I really commit to not buying anymore. I borrow a knife at the hostel counter and eat from my cache outside at a small table. I barely make a dent but luckily these things don't really need refrigeration so I bundle everything up and put the bag in my locker. Later I worry about the stinky funk of the cheese spreading through the whole room but whatever it's fucking France my roomies can deal with it.
I start "Marseilles" on Netflix but give in to a mini nap halfway through the first episode. It's about 4:30 and I am woken up at 6 by roomies everywhere. I do some more site work, make sure I'll all charged up and get ready to head out again. It's a little about 7 when I leave and my plan is to walk to a wonderful little brasserie in Montparnasse where I had the best salad of my life about eight years ago. The walk is again, about an hour and a half but winds up being longer because the light of dusk it fantastic and I keep taking detours to snap pics. I have to cross two rivers to get where I'm going and when I'm about an hour into my trip I start asking myself why I'm going somewhere I've been before even though the salad was that good. I stop in another patisserie, ok four of them, and in the last I buy a giant lemon cookie, an almond croissant and large creme-filled beignet which I will sage till after dinner. It's dark now and it starts raining a little bit and I'm walk by some beautiful government buildings and then I see the tiniest little alley and a small red facade of a restaurant. I check out the menu and it's classic French stuff I've never actually tried and I go in. It's a small menu and they only offer three-course sets; I choose eggs poached in red wine, veal kidneys with mushrooms and a pistachio souffle for dessert. The egg dish needs salt and the kidneys are less exciting than anticipated; I've had them before so it's not they mystery but the fact that the flavors are so similar to the the first course but at least it doesn't need salt. The dessert is delicious - I've never had a souffle before so I have nothing to compare it to but it seems very well done to me. At the end of the meal I get up to use the restroom and leave my stuff at the table and immediately regret it because it's the kookiest bathroom I've been in yet. I have a thing about photographing bathrooms you see... anyway I pay the bill and say I'm going back to the toilette once more and take a pic. I have to go out the back of the restaurant and cross a little courtyard to get to the bathroom. The doorway is too low for normal people and I have to duck my head to enter. Inside is a teeny tiny space with multiple mirrors and a giant stone barrel sink that's bigger than the toilet and bigger than the standing area. Picture, picture.
I take the metro back and arrive just before midnight. I eat my bag of pastries on the same couch I enjoyed last night and wonder why I do this to myself. In my shame and self pity I take a pic to out myself on the internet and make light of it all so I feel better and then I go to bed.