I took the kid to Italy for his thirteenth birthday; we just got back a few days ago. I realized when we arrived in Rome that it had been fifteen years since I was last there, an inconceivably long time given the crucial part Italy played in forming who I became artistically and culinarily. The visual influences became apparent immediately in my paintings, and that continued until I left figuration behind entirely a few years later. The culinary influence proved to be even more durable, and increased in importance as I began growing and cooking food all the time when we left Brooklyn for the country. Now that I write about food for a living, the Italian approach to ingredients—the simplicity, the honesty, the glorification of peasant frugality—remains one of my touchstones.
I do enjoy a vacation from blogging sometimes. There has been no shortage of cooking, both here and in Vermont, but not so much documentation. Among other memorable events, I taught a bread class, cooked for 75 or so people at a charity benefit, and fed my family daily as is my wont, but just wasn’t feeling the writing about it part. With an average of a post every other day for six and a half years, I don’t feel bad about taking a break. So now, as regular content resumes—subject to an impending deadline and how well I stave off the cold that Milo caught right before his birthday, torpedoing a weekend’s worth of fun—I’ll begin lazily simply with a few shots of How I Spent My Summer Vacation. Read the Post I’ve Seen Fire And I’ve Seen Sauce
The return trip went smoothly, though it took longer than I would have liked. It was particularly galling to fly right over my home town–I even saw my house, since we were descending into Newark and roofs were visible–since if I could have jumped out there and parachuted down it would have saved me four hours of flying, customs, and then driving back up. Notwithstanding the time, it still amazes me that one can travel so far so fast. I love it. And even though my ten days in France were full of fun and flavor, it was very nice to get home.
Friday night we gathered at Le Volant, a Basque restaurant in the fifteenth arrondissement not too far from the Eiffel Tower. Jack from Trufflepig arranged the fête, which began with drinks and copious charcuterie. Cathy welcomed everyone and introduced me, and I croaked out something incoherent about how happy and grateful I was for the experiences of the week. There was much chatter and merriment, and eventually we sat down to dinner.
La foire nationale à la brocante et aux jambons (the antiques and ham market) takes place every spring and fall out in the Parisian suburb of Chatou. It began in the middle ages, when during holy week vendors would gather to sell their hams right in front of Notre Dame. Over the ensuing centuries, the market was subsequently moved to various other spots in the city. Over time, other flea market-type vendors joined the market, and eventually, in 1970, it ended up in Chatou, right under the RER station (which makes getting there from Paris extremely easy).
As part of my grand prize, Toma The Antiques Diva gave me and Cathy a guided tour of the old Foire de la Brocante et aux Jambons outside of Paris in Chatou. The unlikely combination of ham and antiques turned out to be a winner, and because it was a glorious day and I averaged about 200 photos per day on the trip, I’m breaking it up into two sections. First, the antiques.
French hotels often have a separate little room for the toilet, which makes a sort of sense, I suppose. Unfortunately, because in Parisian hotels space is at an absolute premium, sometimes there end up being rather a lot of doors and cramped little bathrooms (plural) in one’s otherwise comfortable hotel room. The first one I stayed in last week had the two rooms on opposite sides of a tiny vestibular hallway, at the end of which was a closet. With both bathroom doors closed, one could access the closet. With either open, the closet was not operable, nor was the other bathroom door. After struggling with this arrangement for a bit, knocking doors together and cursing, my solution was to leave both doors open wide so that they both pressed against the front of the closet, with one behind the other, and I left my clothes in my suitcase. I could have kept all the doors closed at all times, but by that point I was not going to let the doors win.