Wednesday, January 25, 2012

DLDGLG Goes Griswold: First Day In Paris

The following post is part of a series called "DLDGLG Goes Griswold" highlighting my recent trip to Europe from December 19th to the 30th. Stay tuned for additional posts in the coming months...

“Forget Paris,” Ahmad Wright wrote, undercutting my romantic impressions of being a writer.

I was struggling with my work and coming to terms with my life’s ambition when I began corresponding with Wright, a thriving freelancer.

Seeking his professional advice on becoming a successful freelance writer myself, I was hoping Ahmad would steer me in the right direction. He continued:
“I don't know if you've been there, but I haven't. I will no doubt, but the notion of the expatriate writer making millions off of novels and socially conscious, hip articles, while seducing the women of the world is the dominant literary fantasy […] okay well maybe it's mine (smile) but it will not help you get published. Forget lattes and big bottles of wine.”
As I prepared for me and Nic’s trip to Europe, I considered the experiences that I’d be trying to capture. Yet, I couldn’t get this advice out of my mind.

At least, I couldn’t erase the notion that the reality of something is often a far-cry from the fantasy.

Would I be able to resist the shiny veneer so often placed on “The City of Lights” by other writers like Gertrude Stein or Ernest Hemingway? I was sure I’d be capable.

And yet, I can’t “forget Paris” now that I’ve been there. I’ve seen their world with my own eyes. I can only express what I saw, fantasies and clichés be damned.

When Nic and I landed at Paris-Charles de Gualle Airport, we were half asleep and groggy. The pocks of Nic’s eyes opened carefully like little morning glories. It'd been a long trip.

When we exited the jet airliner, we dragged ourselves and our luggage through the airport to the metro train.

I sunk into the metro seat, soaked in jet lag, but happy to be at our destination.

We arrived at the Saint Michel-Notre Dame stop in the center of Paris and the city opened up before our eyes like a kid’s pop-up book, with the overwhelming and gothic Notre Dame Cathedral filling our view.

It’s was early and brisk. It was also a workday for Parisians who were scurrying along, business-as-usual.

We pushed on, down a handful of busy blocks absorbing the beauty of the architecture along the grand boulevards: sagging roofs, Beaux-Arts balconies, neoclassical columns and sculptures.

Our hotel, Jardin de l'Odeon, was a stylish auberge that sits in the bosom of the Latin Quarter.

It was cozy from the start as we checked in to a smiling and warm concierge. Since Nic and I were early and our room wasn't available they stored our luggage and we were free to survey the city.

So to kill time, Nic and I continued our exploration of Boulevard Saint-Michel while meandering back towards what became the de facto first site of our tour, Notre Dame de Paris.

We settled us down at Cafe Saint Severin just down the street from the cathedral and immediately ordered cafe au laits.

Nic's mother insisted we have the caffeinated treat when we arrived. But, more importantly, we needed one to give us both a little jolt.

Starving, I devoured a flakey croissant filled with rich almond frangipane and littered with almonds slices. The pastry felt like the first of many rewards for having traveled more than three-thousand miles across the globe.

Nic munched on a freshly baked baguette with ham, cheese, and slabs of butter - a combination that seemed to be ubiquitous among street food in Paris.

The streets were filled with store fronts featuring beautiful meats, breads, seafood, and delicate fare.

Passers-by included young women in tight trousers with high heeled boots, old ladies with shopping bags filled with morning groceries and aged-men with equally aged furry companions.

When we reached the cathedral, Nic and I studied the colossus frame and ornate design which was the product of over a century of construction.

Now, back home I had promised myself I wouldn't be tempted to overdo my writing of these memories in some ostentatious magnum opus.

(And as I write this, I continually draw back the reigns of the keyboard, governing the narrative toward calmer waters. So take my words with an appreciation for that effort.)

But, the rose window, among other sites on this trip, appeared beyond this world.

After a brief tour of the Notre Dame’s haunting exterior, Nic and I walked back down Saint-Michel towards Les Jardins du Luxembourg.

We circled the Luxembourg Palace, past the Medici Fountain and up along towards the basin with the Eiffel Tower quietly peaking through the background.

The garden grew yards of grapes, persimmons, and other fruit.

By this point, our caffeine rush began to crumble and we arrived back at our hotel just in time to access our room.

The accommodations were modestly sized with a closet, double bed, bathroom as well as a dicephalus entertainment center that served as both television and Apple computer.

Our room looked out from the fifth floor and down the street to Odéon Theatre. Nic and I poked our heads out of the window and studied the city around us, eyes drooping from exhaustion.

Then, we slept hard, tired from the trip and a long impromptu walking-tour we’d just completed.

In the evening, we made our way across the Seine River, staring at an active and sparkling Paris skyline.

We walked up through to the main plaza of the Louvre to La Pyramide.

The famous glass structure stood out of the ground like a giant, half-buried jewel. Camera flashes added glitter to it.

We made our way towards Place Vendome and the streets glowed and hummed with chatter.

The mixology world doesn't look to Paris for the newest cocktail creations. Still, I wanted to see how the European sensibilities interpreted classic drinks.

Nic and I entered the Ritz and headed towards Hemingway Bar, a renownd cocktail bar, which we soon found out was already full.

But we made the best of our situation, hovering creepily around an unguarded bottle of Louis XIII de Rémy Martin and what appeared to be ancient bottles of eau de vie.

With cocktail hour scuttled, our hunger got overwhelming. So Nic scouted our options on the street and chose a little restaurant called Le Bis Repetita.

We sat outside facing the avenue warmed from above by a heat lamp with a bottle of Chateau la Borie 2009 Côtes du Rhône.

The exotic aromas opened up the cherry and raspberry tones very nicely when it got past the lips. This wine just soiled the tongue.

Nic ordered their chateaubriand with a fois gras emulsion and sauteed potatoes.

The slab of savory fois covering the beef had that signature flavor delivered in its familiar rich and creamy texture.

The lightly seasoned potatoes were starchy and plump.

I ate a juicy entrecôte bérnaise accompanied with crispy pommes frites.

Needless to say, there was nothing left in the wine bottle or on our plates.

Walking back past the Louvre, filled with food but still unsatisfied thanks to our failed visit to Hemingway Bar, we decided to stop by another tavern on the way home.

Weeks ago back in the United States, I had stumbled across GG2P, a blog for Paris tourists, through Travel Onion (one of the sites I use to research food and drink within vacation destinations).

Le Fumoir had come highly recommended and, based off of the description, felt like a good fit for a night-cap.

We entered the lounge. It tilted towards the tourist clientele with tunes that reflected an early twentieth-century Americana, which had withered away long ago, and images of famous expats.

Still curious of what I'd get for a cocktail, we both reviewed the menu's alcoholic beverage section. I ordered a Negroni. Nic requested the Champagne Cocktail.

Nic's drink, which was beautifully garnished with some sort of brandied berry, had that mild sweetness and robust bitters essence that is quintessential.

My Negroni had nice balance but it was served on the rocks.

I wasn't quite thrilled with that dilution of water into the cocktail, which basically drove out most of the Campari flavor (my favorite ingredient) from it by the end.

And yet, there was an authenticity in the product that often seems missing back home.

I realized that while food and drink continues to improve in many parts of the States, many more experiences simply allow for unforgivably bad imitations of authenticity.

After another round, Nic and I paid our tab and made way back to our boutique hotel. We both lurched toward the bed and quickly slipped into deep sleep.

Tomorrow we would be venturing farther into Paris.

Nic and I would need all the rest we could get.

Note: This post has been revised since its original publication


  1. Thanks L, I knocked the Negroni but overall it was still an amazingly charming place. We both obviously have great taste!

  2. Nice! I'm reading this as I head that direction. Hemingway Bar sounds too intriguing not to try & definitely Le Fumoir.