While it would have been wonderful to have nothing but multi-star meals during this trip, the simple truth is that it’s not possible. Paris is expensive, and the weak dollar means that the whole country is steep, even down in the provinces. The challenge has been to eat well on a budget while still choosing meals that will make for good copy–since despite all snark I am trying to make this trip worth reading about for all you good people who voted for me–without running up an insane tab.
Keep reading École Vieille…
We began our day yesterday with a visit to the Wednesday market at Laverac, where vendors, including Dominique and Christiane, have tables set up displaying the best of the region and beyond. Besides stopping by to chat with the Chapolards–and so I could say thanks and goodbye to them–we also provisioned ourselves for lunch, dinner, and a final project: cassoulet.
Keep reading Mercredi Gras…
Yesterday I spent all day in the expert hands of the Chapolard family. The four Brothers and their wives (and now a couple of kids) all work together on the farm that their Father started, raising pigs and turning them into superb meat and superlative charcuterie that supports all of them with a dignified living: true sustainability. The two kids have started a dairy on the property, with about fifty head of cattle, and they produce raw milk, yogurt, and some cheese. The rest of the operation is all pork, all the time, and I was honored to don a work smock, apron, and boots, and spend a day learning from their expertise, passion, and hard work.
Keep reading Quel Jour…
Château de la Grangerie was built in the twelfth century as a monastery. Today, three generations of the Langalerie family make Armagnac, Floc de Gascogne (Armagnac diluted with the unfermented grape juice that all such brandy begins as), and the prunes for which the region around Agen is rightly renowned. We swung by for a visit, since Kate loves their Floc and the site is beautiful.
Keep reading Duke Of Prunes…
Today was busy, and the sun arrived to make it truly splendid. We drove all over the area, covering a lot of ground and several subjects; Kate wanted to give me an overview of this place and a sense of the history and geography that have made it what it is culinarily. I have much to report, but for now here’s a quick look at what we had for lunch at a little épicerie that just opened last summer. The proprietor was an executive at Bausch & Lomb who got laid off and decided to follow his passion for food. The hill town of Lectoure should be happy that he did. The tower above is part of the Cathedral there; we visited a few gorgeous churches from my favorite period, Romanesque (though this one is actually early Gothic). The area has hundreds; it lies right at the confluence of two of the major Medieval pilgrimage routes to Santiago di Compostela.
Keep reading A Pilgrimage Of Sorts…
Last night at dinner Jack mentioned that the big agriculture fair was happening down at the convention center at Porte de Versailles. This was doubly coincidental; not only did it accidentally correspond with my visit, but it was in the very same space where I used to install and deinstall copious quantities of contemporary art at the FIAC every October. That fair has moved back into the Grand Palais–it was relocated during extensive renovations–but this agriculture thing is freaking gigantic, using just about all the halls, which translates into acres upon acres of floor space dedicated to food and drink of every imaginable variety (provided it has something to do with France, or at least Europe). This here is the real Charcutepalooza.
Keep reading Ivresse Oblige…
After yesterday’s somewhat frenetic mission to stay awake, today had a more leisurely feel. I added a couple of days to the beginning of the trip so I could acclimate, see friends, wander around a bit, and do some non-meat-related things that involved galleries and museums and such. Today was mild, once again rubbing catlike on the lower edge of warm, so I strolled around, heading South from the hotel into the Jardin de Luxembourg and beyond for lunch and more.
Keep reading Friday In The Park With Peter…
I was at dinner last night with an old friend and we realized that it has been ten years since I was last in paris. (Which makes it twenty years since we met, but that’s another story). I spent the first day doing my usual jetlag-defying routine, perfected when I used to come to Europe several times a year for work: lots of coffee and water, no naps, plenty of walking, and nary a thought toward what time it is back home. It’s remarkably easy, especially if one goes easy on food, which can be coma-inducing in excess. Ironic for the beginning to such a culinary odyssey, perhaps, but I didn’t face-plant and it was remarkably easy to make it past midnight and get a good night’s sleep on the local schedule.
On the way in to Paris from Roissy, the weather was mild, even warmish, and very foggy. Having slept for exactly zero minutes during the flight, I was a little groggy, with my interior state mirroring the mist outside. It feels like spring here, even if the bright green is limited to the fields since trees aren’t budding just yet. It has been a cold winter in Europe, but mercifully that has abated, and temperatures are right where they should be, which means I can swan around in nice clothes instead of a big parka.
I thought a little bit about the random coincidences and accidents of fate that led to this trip, going way back before I stumbled on some reference to the contest on someone else’s blog. My maternal Grandmother spent a litte time in Paris before World War Two; she and her parents and older sister fled Germany when things started to get very ugly. Soon enough, Paris wasn’t safe, so they moved to Bordeaux, and then on to Casablanca, followed by Cuba and then finally to Boston when their cousin in Chicago was able to get them papers. This all took a couple of years during which time she would have been in high school. She never went to college, either, but she spoke five languages and did the Times crossword in pen every morning. Leaving Bordeaux with forged documents, they escaped by the narrowest of margins: the very next train to Spain was stopped by the Germans.
Twenty years earlier, my paternal Grandfather–whom I never met, and whose name I have for a middle name since my birthday would have been his fiftieth wedding anniversary–spent eighteen months in a trench not far North of here engaged in a tiny part of the wretched, pointless, and seemingly eternal exploration of what twentieth century weaponry could do to nineteenth century tactics. At one point, during an assault, he was out in no man’s land and turned to call back for help carrying a wounded comrade when a German bullet went in his open mouth and out his cheek. A minor wound, but about an inch from a fatal one.
But for these accidents, I wouldn’t be here. The city looks about the same as it did then, of course, but the circumstances of my visit couldn’t be more different. I’m here for entirely hedonistic reasons, which is pretty special, and I’m grateful. I know my ancestors would approve. Today begins the real eating, and I’ll make sure the camera comes along.