We've had a busy few days here since we last checked in. On Saturday, while Roberta and Maddie were off and about, we spent time with Anna just bumming around our neighborhood and lazing at the flat. She got to meet our friend Claudia at her food stall. We also introduced Anna to the Coulée Verte, which she loved. Later that night, Anna and Maddie attended a 70s/80s themed costume birthday party at Maddie's friend's flat in the 11th, not too far from here. We oldsters didn't wait up for them.
Sunday was a lazy day for the Northenscolds. Roberta and Maddie meanwhile went to see Saint Chapelle, which they came back from with glowing reports. I helped get Anna and Maddie off to the Montparnasse rail station for their train to Nantes. Roberta took in the Louvre in the morning and then met Priscilla and me at the Pompidou Centre for the fabulous Georgia O'Keefe special exhibit.
This was our first time to the Pompidou. We both loved it...the permanent exhibits and the special O'Keefe exhibit. As usual, we didn't have enough time to take it all in. But what we saw we were impressed with. We will definitely come back. I'd like to see the photography exhibits. Plus, the view of Paris from the sixth level is stunning. We made it back from the Pompidou in time for some late afternoon snacks and a dinner cooked up by Priscilla that we lovingly call garbage pail pasta. Ask Priscilla to explain it to you sometime.
Today we started with a visit to the amazing Jacques Genin chocolate shop in the Marais so Roberta could pick up some treats to bring home. Next we made our way to our favorite Paris restaurant, Mokonuts, for a wonderful and relaxing lunch at Roberta's treating. Mokonuts is less than half a mile from our flat, so it's an easy walk. After our leisurely lunch, Roberta and Priscilla headed back over to Place des Vosges in the Marais to visit Priscilla's favorite scarf shop, Sous Le Sable.
Later tonight I'll be meeting Maddie at her train at Montparnasse, as she returns from her trek to western France. She heads off to Switzerland tomorrow to visit another good friend from her study abroad. We will also bid a fond farewell to Roberta, who makes her return flight to Minnesota tomorrow. It has been so much fun having guests this week. It will sure seem mighty quiet around here after everyone leaves.
We first read of the Royaumont Abbey in the book by Annabel Simms entitled, "An Hour From Paris". The abbey was originally founded in the 13th century by King Louis IX and served as a Cistercian abbey until it was declared national property during the French Revolution and eventually sold. After going through a few different incarnations, it returned to its original purpose as an abbey in the 19th century. In the early 20th century it was sold to private owners. During World War I it served as a hospital. In the 1930s the owners turned the abbey into a residence for artists to work and rest. In 1964 the Royaumont Abbey Foundation was established, and since then the estate has served as an important center for the arts.
It was our good fortune that the Royaumont Festival was taking place through October 3. This is a major music and dance festival with performances by the artists in residence. The concert scheduled for Saturday evening was by a small baroque string ensemble, Le Consort, along with soprano and bass soloists. The abbey has an offering called A Weekend at the Abbey, which includes dinner, a room in the abbey, and breakfast. Since our concert wouldn't let out until close to 11 p.m., we decided to make a weekend of it.
Getting there from Paris involved taking the Metro from the Bastille Metro station to the large Gare du Nord train station, where we caught a regional train (RER H), taking it to the terminus at Luzarches. A shuttle bus picked us up there for the 15 minute ride to the abbey. In her book, Simms wrote of a 4.5km walk to the abbey from an earlier train stop, but since it was raining hard all weekend, we are happy that we took the shuttle bus.
A three-course meal started off our weekend. We were seated in a beautiful ancient room with a vaulted ceiling. The first course was a wonderful roasted chestnut & mushroom soup, with chestnuts coming from the many chestnut trees on the grounds of the estate. The main course was fish and the dessert was a baked pear tartlet. This was a fixed menu, so you had to be willing to eat what the chef had prepared, which we definitely were. Everything was delicious.
After dinner we made our way to the Monk's Refectory for the concert. The photo above is from a rehearsal the next day being held in this space. The hall has high vaulted ceilings and lively acoustics. The pillars made finding a seat with good sight lines a bit tricky, but eventually we found seats that provided us an unobstructed view of all the performers.
The title of the concert was D'un coeur charmé, which translates to "of a charmed heart". The pieces performed were by 18th century French baroque composers–Francoeur, de Montgaultier, Bernier, Travenol, and Lefebvre. Neither of us had heard of any of these composers. Everything was sung in French, of course, but the language of love is universal, so we could figure out just when someone was being jilted or when they had just fallen head over heals in love. The soprano soloist was Gwendoline Blondeel and the bass soloist was Edwin Fardini. Along with the fabulous string ensemble, Le Consort, I'd have to say the performances were world class, from top to bottom. When you're only paying 20 Euros for tickets, you don't go in with sky-high expectations. But from the moment the first chord was struck, we knew we'd hit solid gold. The performers looked all of 25 years old, but they played and sang well beyond their years.
Our favorite place to relax at Royaumont was the cosy nooks in the cloister hallway with its vaulted ceilings. It was a rainy and blustery weekend, but in our little hideout we were as comfy as could be. The French probably figured we were crazy for sitting in such cold conditions. To us Minnesotans, it was simply perfect. We had no competition for spots.
Sunday morning, after our breakfast, we ventured out for a walk, but soon were drawn to the ethereal sounds of voices coming from the Monk's Refectory, the site of the previous night's concert. There was a rehearsal in progress of a chorale from the Normandy region. Priscilla asked about and was able to gain us entrance to the hall for five minutes to listen to the rehearsal. The sounds of the singing in that hall were absolutely gorgeous.
Although it was still raining, we decided to get out to walk the grounds and check out the gardens. The photographer in me was actually happy to be out shooting on a rainy day. Priscilla was in her element. The gardens are working gardens, not show gardens. That is exactly the type of garden we both appreciate. Priscilla especially fell in love with the marvelous fig tree in the garden of nine squares, with its beautiful lattice-work raised beds.
Our weekend at the Royaumont Abbey is a perfect example of the type of travel experience we love...something off the beaten path and distinctly unique and memorable. We're pretty sure we were the only Americans at the abbey that weekend. It was evident that the Royaumont Abbey is largely enjoyed by the French.
The afterglow from our Weekend at the Abbey has left us with wonderfully warm feelings about the experience. This was definitely one of those "pinch yourself to see if it's real" type of experiences. We will definitely be back at the Royaumont Abbey.
One of the areas of France we have wanted to visit is Provence. We love the wines from the region, plus we've wanted to take a French cooking class while here, so we combined both interests into a Provence getaway this week in Avignon, the capital of the Rhone region.
First up was a cooking class at Jean-Mark Villard's French Cuisine school. Jean-Marc, the chef, and his lovely wife Alice, the business manager, run this school out of their beautiful home in the village of Maubec, located 30km (18 miles) east of Avignon. Priscilla is going to take over the writing duties to tell you about Jean-Marc's class.
Jean-Marc Villard's School of French Cuisine
I asked Tom if I might write a bit in the blog about our cooking class as I thought it might be one of the highlights of our time here. I was right! Many years ago, I served on the board of Kantorei, a Twin Cities based choral ensemble. One of the singers/board members had a serious side gig teaching cooking classes in Provence. Occasionally he teaches in Julia Child's former home. Since hearing of his classes, I've always wanted to take a cooking class in Provence. While Jean-Marc and Alice's home is not Julie Child's, it is a dream of a home. I could live the rest of my life there...Hah!
The home is set in the countryside, with small vineyards, horses grazing and beautiful homes dotting the land. You enter the home through the garden and up onto a stone patio, where a table sits in the middle. Two large trees, planted close together, have been pruned and trained to grown up onto a pergola and provide enough shade for any hot day. Jean-Marc said it is now too cold to take their morning coffee out there. As Minnesotans we thought 60 degrees sounded perfect. Our taxi arrived 20 minutes late so we arrived late to our class. But thankfully everyone was very kind about our delayed arrival. Next time we will take more photos of the outside of the house.
Jean-Marc and Alice are such welcoming people. Alice took note of my caffeine habit and served me an espresso at every opportunity. As soon as I had finished my second espresso and a couple of lovely shortbread cookies, we headed off to the local co-op to do our shopping for our class. This co-op is such an amazing place. It is owned and run by the farmers that provide everything that is sold. From the vegetables and fruit to meat and fish, everything is produced by the farmers. Each farmer is required to also devote time to working in the co-op during the week. During Covid, the co-op was able to remain open and the community was able to eat and still support the farmers. Jean-Marc only shops at this co-op as everything is fresh and he knows every farmer. Nothing is wasted in the co-op. If any of the fresh food is aging, farmers will put is in a jar. Fruit is turned into jam, meat into a terrine or pâté. I couldn't help thinking of my Grandma Halsted during the war. She and my Grandpa Halsted owned a grocery store, and when the food was on the "edge", she would can it. Even if it was just a half a pint.
Alice runs the back of the house and Jean-Marc, the front end. Alice's brother, who lives on the property, assists with clean-up while cooking is going on, bussing dishes out of sight quick as a flash and returning them to duty minutes later. It is quite the operation. Jean-Marc has a lot of experience teaching in culinary schools, serving as a chef in several restaurants, and in his own cooking school which we experienced. Jean-Marc also had a stint in St. Louis, MO in the USA where he perfected his command of English. All of this to say that we had wonderful instruction. I learned so much and plan to use all of Jean-Marc's tricks to enhance my own cooking and baking. I think you get the idea that I loved this experience and plan to make a repeat visit. I'll let the photos speak for the rest.
On the second day of our time in Avignon we took in a Chateauneuf du Pape wine tour. The reds of the Chateauneuf du Pape region happen to be Priscilla's favorite. In fact, they were her entrée to red wines in general. Our tour was put on by Provence Panorama. We were in a small group of eight...a couple from Sweden, a couple from Poland and Switzerland, a couple from Tennessee (soon to be North Carolina), and us. We were amazed at how incredibly rocky the soil is in the Chateuneuf du Pape area. The harvesting is done by hand. I can imagine the field workers have to be careful not to turn an ankle on those rocks.
In all we visited five wineries, tasting wines from the Gigondas, Lirac, and Chateauneuf du Pape appellations. We stopped for an excellent three-course meal at a restaurant on site at one of the wineries. One of the happy surprises of these tastings was the white wines of the region. Because the production of white wines only comprises about 5% of the total production from the region, all of it stays in France. As our tour guide, Gilles, said, we keep the best for us. Priscilla, who tends to prefer red wines, especially enjoyed the whites from the region. We ended up buying bottles from each winery. We had no intentions of bringing any of this back to the states with us. It will all be consumed or gifted in France. I'd say our favorite red was actually a Gigondas–the 2019 Domaine Grand Romane from Pierre Amadieu. We bought two bottles of that wine.
Schlepping ten bottles of wine back on the train was not for the weak of heart, but we made it no worse for the wear. We have a short outing this weekend to the Royaumont Abbey which we will write about in an upcoming post. Then we will prepare for the Thursday arrival of guests from Minnesota, Priscilla's sister Roberta and our niece Maddie. And then on Friday our daughter Anna arrives on the train from Nantes, where she has her study abroad. She will spend the weekend with us all before heading back on Sunday.
In preparing for our time in Paris, we compiled a list of things we might like to see or do. This list is more like an à la carte menu rather than a schedule. When we wake to an unplanned day, we ask ourselves “what’s on the list?” Today was one of those unplanned days. In fact, most weekend days are unplanned days. We tend to do our planned events on weekdays when lines are shorter and crowds lighter. Today was looking to be cool and possibly wet. What better day to go to a garden!
The item on our list that earned our votes today was the Jardin de Plantes. This garden dates back to 1635 and Louis XIII. Originally it started as a place to study medicinal plants. The gardens are huge and quite varied. It was fascinating to see Swiss chard and fennel planted among the poppies. The color of the Swiss chard was coordinated with the poppies, the red-stemmed Swiss chard in with the red poppies and the yellow-stemmed in with the yellow poppies.
Some of the trees in this garden were planted in the 17th century. They have grown to a magnificent size, as shown in the photo below. Just for a frame of reference, my wingspan is 6 feet 6 inches. I know, your wingspan is supposed to be how tall you are. My height genes never got that memo. The alpine garden section, accessed by a tunnel under a road, was a particular favorite of ours. While the Tuileries tends to get all the press, our vote goes to the Jardin de Plantes. Its gardens are much more beautiful and the crowds are significantly smaller. That’s a winner in my book.
One of the pleasant surprises about life in Paris has been the gardens and parks. This city has done an incredible job creating green spaces in the midst of the city that everyday folk can enjoy. It’s a common occurrence to come upon a small public garden tucked into a corner or courtyard while we’re out walking in Paris. Invariably, these gardens are well kept.
On our way to the Jardin de Plantes we got our first sighting of the Yellow Vests. When we came up from the Metro station we saw folks milling about wearing yellow vests and police officers and emergency vehicles in the area. We wondered if we shouldn’t ought to turn around and head home, but we decided to press ahead. We’re glad we did. The march turned out to have been a peaceful one, with a police escort. The marchers carried a banner that read “no hate, no arms, no violence.” With all the bad press coming out of France with the Yellow Vest protests, this was a breath of fresh and peaceful air.
Another activity we had teed up for our time in Paris was the Marais Food Tour put on by Paris by Mouth. Thursday was our day for this tour. Our guide, Andres, really knew his stuff, although neither of us is quite sure what he said that prompted the reaction from Priscilla in the photo below. We started at an award-winning boulangerie, and then moved on to a chocolatier, a charcuterie, a fromagerie (cheese shop) and a pastry shop, before winding up at a wine shop for a tasting of the foods that we’d collected along the way with three different French wines. It was all delicious and was a memorable time. Andres did a great job in explaining the importance of quality ingredients and careful preparation in French foods. The French take their baguettes seriously!
There were three other couples besides us on the tour, all Americans. Now we have more food shops to return to. In fact, we’ve already been back to the boulangerie to pick up Priscilla’s pain chocolat and a baguette. It’s nice that they are a short walk from our flat. By the time we got back to our flat, it was around 7:30 p.m. We both agreed that dinner was not necessary.
One thing we’ve figured out during our first month in Paris is that if you’re going to eat out, do it at lunchtime. Most restaurants have what they call the formule, which is a set price menu with a choice of starter (the French call this course the entrée) and main meal (the French call this course the plat), or a choice of either entrée or plat and dessert. So basically you get two courses for one set price, which is usually around 16 Euros. Typically there are two entrées and plats to choose from and one dessert for the formule.
Priscilla and I prefer cozy restaurants that offer imaginative and quirky fare. We have found two favorites, Miss Lunch and Mokonuts. I’ve written before about Miss Lunch, but today was our first lunch at Mokonuts. This restaurant is run by Moko and Omar. Moko is Japanese born and U.S. raised and Omar is a Parisian of Lebanese descent. They met in NYC. A long trail that started in the corporate and legal world led them both to starting up their own restaurant in Paris. If you’re in Paris and decide to go, make a reservation. They only have 24 seats, and since they’ve been written up in The NY Times and other places, those seats fill quickly. It’s not a long wait though. We made our reservation yesterday. After making our reservation we decided to sample the baked goods Mokonuts is known for. We had coffee drinks and shared a piece of the apricot fennel tart. It was without a doubt the best dessert we’ve had so far in Paris.
I’m not going to give a complete rundown on our lunch today, but I will show a photo of the delicious white asparagus starter that Priscilla and I shared. I’d make a lousy food writer. I love enjoying good food, but I don’t care to write about it. I’d rather write about the experience. Lunch out is taken at a leisurely pace here. Our reservation today was for 12:30 p.m. We didn’t leave the restaurant until around 2. That is pretty typical. You’d best plan for a couple hours. And the good news is that no one is pressuring you to be done and gone. You’ve got your table for the lunch seating, that’s all there is to it. In fact, it’s best not to be in a hurry to pay either. They won’t hurry you, and they’d rather you not hurry them to get you your check. It’s just the way things are done around here. I quite like it.
At dinnertime, Paris restaurants move away from the formule or anything resembling prix fixe. Instead you’re ordering off the open menu, and the prices go up significantly. At lunch you might pay 16 Euros for two courses, while at dinner you’ll pay that much and more per course. So now you see why I say that eating lunch out in Paris is the best deal going. While we don’t eat lunch out every day, when we do eat out, it’s usually for lunch. We will most likely go out for lunch weekly to Miss Lunch and Mokonuts, since most restaurants change up their formule weekly.
The other major thing we did today was visit the Bibliothèque Nationale. The primary exhibit we went to see is called Manuscripts of the Extreme. The four categories in this exhibit are prison, passion, peril, and possession. The basic concept is to show writings from people who were at some extreme point in their life. Some of the scripts were written in the writer’s own blood, since they were in prison and were not afforded anything to write with. This is an incredibly powerful exhibit. None of the descriptions were written in English and there was no English guide, so Google Translate saved the day for us. We were able to translate each sign so that we had a good idea of what was being shown. For as much as I get on Google’s case, I have to hand it to them this time. Google Translate is an amazing piece of software.
By far the most moving works displayed were the movie storyboard books drawn by Jewish youth who were about to be deported to Auschwitz, where they all perished. Those booklets are so beautiful, poetic, lively, and yes, sad. They were written accordion style, so stretched out they covered the length of one entire long wall.
I will leave you today with a happier image of youth, this photo of a Parisian school group on an outing of some sort. It is surprising how many schools we come upon during our wanderings in the city. We often see groups of students out on some sort of adventure. I can’t say exactly why, but seeing groups of young students excitedly going about their days always makes me feel happy and hopeful. I guess that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
This morning we attended the riverfront Easter sunrise service of the American Church in Paris (ACP). The spire in the photo above to the left of the Eiffel Tower is that church. After the service we had breakfast at the church. During breakfast we got to know a couple who now live in Brittany since retiring, but lived in Paris for decades and attended the ACP. Ellen is originally from Green Bay and Jean-Pierre is from Brittany. They first met as pen pals back in junior high. Their lives took them different directions, but eventually they got together and were married thirty-some years ago. We really enjoyed getting to know them and hope we can get together while they are in Paris for several days. They still keep a small flat here.
After the breakfast we attended the 9 o’clock service in the sanctuary. It was a beautiful service and was definitely in the Protestant tradition. While we’ve enjoyed the services we’ve attended at the French Catholic churches here, it was nice on Easter Sunday to be able to understand everything that was being said and done. We were thrilled to have a congregation singalong of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus close out the service and Widor’s thrilling organ Tocatta as the postlude, just like back home at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
On our way back to the Metro station after the church service, we stopped to check out the beautiful park, Jardin de la Nouvelle France. This park dates back to 1859. The plantings and landscaping are so beautiful. It is a magical space. We basically had the place to ourselves at ten-thirty in the morning.
Later in the day we attended the one-year anniversary celebration of Babbaluscio, the Aligre Market stall run by our new friend, Claudia (aka Miss Lunch). We had a delicious lunch of spring rolls, egg bake, sweet potato pancakes, and baklava, along with delicious Mimosas made with fresh-squeezed orange juice and Italian Prosecco. Everything Claudia serves at Babbaluscio is vegetarian. While at the party we got to chat with Claudia’s brother-in-law, Charles, who was volunteering behind the counter, and their mutual friend from NYC, Gary, who can be seen behind Priscilla in the photo below.
All in all, it’s been a beautiful Easter Sunday and weekend. The weather here has turned warm and sunny, reaching into the mid- to upper-seventies during the day, and cooling into the fifties overnight. Perfect weather in my book. One of the delights of living in Europe is that we can leave our windows wide open on beautiful days, as you’ll see in the photo below. We’ve been fortunate to have no days of solid rain since arriving here a month ago. That’s right, today is our one-month anniversary of arriving in Paris. It’s hard to believe that our time is half done here. We are looking forward to the coming month. I hope you stay with us for the remainder of the ride.
In the past two days we’ve taken in two fine museums within walking distance from our flat, the Picasso Museum yesterday and the Henri Cartier-Bresson Museum today. The Picasso Museum is housed in what used to be a hotel. It had been closed for five years for a major renovation project, reopening in 2014. The first time we tried to visit the museum in 2009, the line was all the way down the street and it was raining, so we opted out. In 2011 we couldn’t visit due to the renovation. The third time was a charm. The crowds were light and the weather beautiful. The exhibits at the Picasso Museum are incredibly extensive. In total there are 38 rooms with work displayed. The first two floors house a joint Calder/Picasso exhibit, Calder was an American artist (primarily sculptor) who also worked in an abstract style. The upper floors of the museum are dedicated to Picasso’s works. The curation and display of the work were top notch. Priscilla and I agree that this is one of the most impressive museums we have ever visited.
While I doubt Picasso needs any introduction, Cartier-Bresson might. Henri Cartier-Bresson was one of the great photographers in the reportage style. He was a founding member of the famous Magnum photography agency. Before his death, Cartier-Bresson and his wife and photographer, Martine Franck, set up a foundation with the mission to preserve and share his work. Today we saw the photographs of Guy Tillim, in a body of work entitled “Museum of the Revolution,” and the work of Cartier-Bresson from France during 1926 - 1938. All of the work was fabulous. I could look at Cartier-Bresson’s beautiful black and white prints all day. Tillim’s huge panoramic street scenes from several post-independence African countries were amazing. I picked up a copy of Cartier-Bresson’s seminal book, “The Decisive Moment.” I’ve not been able to find this book in the States.
On our way back to our flat we stopped at a French burger joint—yes they do exist—in the Marché Enfant Rouge. That burger and beer tasted mighty darned good. As we continued on our way home, I split off to get some groceries while Priscilla lugged my Cartier-Bresson book back to the flat. I’ve gotten pretty good with my grocery-store French. I’ve also gotten to a pretty good place with the guy that runs the boutique coffee shop near us where we get our ground coffee. He professes to not having much English, but between my awful French and his slightly less awful English, we get it worked out. The ground coffee you get in the grocery stores is ground super fine for making espresso. It doesn’t work well if you’re making pour-over coffee as we are. By acting it out, I was able to communicate to our coffee guy that I wanted a coarser grind of coffee. He breaks out in a big smile now every time he sees me.
At this point I probably owe you all an explanation for why I’m shooting film on this trip. Those of you of a certain age may remember the introduction to the animated series “The Jetsons” in which George Jetson is stuck on an out-of-control treadmill, screaming “Help Jane! How do you stop this thing?” Well, that’s a bit how I was feeling with the social media treadmill. I was feeling pressure to get images shared out quickly and I was finding myself craving those likes and follows. Shooting film on this trip is my way of opting out. This ties in a bit to our decision to not post about our trip on Facebook. We didn’t want Facebook owning these memories.
The night of the Notre Dame fire, I had two cameras with me, one digital (iPhone X) and one film (Olympus OM-2s, loaded with black and white film). As I was photographing and filming the fire on my iPhone X, the thought occurred to me that I should share something about this, as it was terribly important news. So I shared one photo to Facebook just after seven o’clock local time. Then I went back to photographing and filming. I decided that it was more important that I be in the moment. The thought occurred to me that it would have been better if I’d have had my big Nikon digital camera with me that night, but it was too late for that. I was there and the fire was raging, so I shot with what I had.
Seeing the man in the photo below taking a selfie with Notre Dame burning in the background is a sign to me that things have gotten out of whack. Certainly lots of us were making photographs, but why that one man felt the need to place himself in the scene is beyond me. Just to be clear, his reaction was way outside the norm for how the French reacted that night to the tragic Notre Dame Fire. The overwhelming reaction was shock, disbelief, and deep sadness.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a diatribe against all things digital. I’m as digitally connected as the next person, and probably more so. What we are trying to do, though, is to find a happy medium, where the digital world enhances our lives rather than consuming them. Pulling away from that instant feedback loop is one key way of jumping the treadmill.
Believe it or not, we’re finally caught up with the goings on here at 24 rue Saint-Paul. I’ll try not to get so far backed up in the future. The next post will be covering Easter Sunday. We have ambitious plans to attend the sunrise service at the American Church in Paris. Priscilla doesn’t quite know how we’re going to pull that off, since we can’t seem to manage to get out of the flat before 11:30 a.m. most days.