We got up relatively early in the morning and headed straight to the Louvre. As much as the Louvre is a beautiful place full of beautiful things, every time that someone comes to visit Paris for the first time, I encourage them to get the Louvre “out of the way,” as if it were a tiresome errand. I’m awfully fond of what is to be found in there, but the Louvre can sometimes be really tiring, mostly due to the massive throngs of people that are also visiting the place.
So, with memories of endless lines to buy tickets and then again to get into one of the three wings, I said, “Let’s do this Monday morning, when everybody else will hopefully be asleep or recovering from the weekend.” It mostly paid off, it seems, as there was only a short wait to get the ticket and no real line to get into the Denon wing of the museum. This may have been partially due to the fact that it was December and thus low season for tourism, but I also think it helped that the ushers at the doors had taken something bordering on an honour system for entry. As you approached one of the three entrances, all you had to do was wave your ticket at them and they would nod. I think that, at some point recently, they decided that it was more cost-effective to just glance at tickets and trust people than to carefully demand and inspect every person’s ticket.
Anyway, we did the major works relatively quickly: Winged Victory, the Mona Lisa, The Raft of the Medusa (Géricault), the coronation of Napoleon, and many others. After an hour or so of painting, we headed over to look at the collection of jewlrey and precious objects in a nearby wing, through the classical Phoenician and Mesopotamian collections and then over into the furniture and decorative arts section. By then, it was well after midday and we were hungry, so I suggested that we went to a place I knew on Montmartre for a salad. We walked along the gardens of the Tuileries until we got to Place de la Concorde, and then hopped on the métro and headed over to Montmartre.
The salad place that I am talking about has been mentioned on here at least a few times before, Le Relais Gascon. It’s a lovely little bistro on rue des Abbesses that serves meal-sized salads in huge ceramic bowls, topped with fried garlic potatoes. The salads aren’t just big piles of leafy greens; most of them also come with heaps of vegetables, meats, cheeses, nuts, and in one case, foie gras and smoked duck breast. The salads were delicious, but (un)surprisingly filling. As you’ll see below, it was perhaps too much and too late (around 2pm), considering our dinner plans.
We headed to the base of the hill of Sacre-Coeur, planning to scale the hill, but it was really, really cold today, so we decided to take the cable-car up instead. Surprisingly, there were none of those West-African and Central-African merchants aggressively selling string bracelets as they usually do. Perhaps the weather made it intolerable, or the low tourist season made it unprofitable. Either way, I was relieved that I didn’t have to fend them off my bewildered father.
Sacre-Coeur was of course lovely and the mosaics were as shiny and glittery as I remembered. But also, my dad’s anti-clerical streak resurfaced as he looked at the massive mosaic of the trinity covering the dome of the choir. “As I get older,” he said, “I’m coming to see the Catholic church and religion in general as a massive wealth extraction machine.” Again out of earshot from my more devout mother, I chuckled and told him that he wasn’t alone in that critique, especially in France, birthplace of modern anti-clerical sentiment.
We headed out of the church and zigzagged down the small streets on the hill and back to Abbesses, where we checked out another art-nouveau church. From there, we headed down rue Lepic and pointed to the café were Amélie was filmed, Les Deux Moulins, and then down to Pigalle. We were right next to Moulin Rouge, so we stopped in to make a reservation for Thursday night. As my mom had explained by email a few weeks earlier, South American men from my father’s generation associate a trip to Paris with the girlie shows of the Moulin Rouge and Folies Bergère, so we decided to splurge and pay the 99€ / person for the show without dinner.
Since we were so close by, I suggested that we head around the corner to my favourite chocolate shop in the world, Denise Acabo’s “À l’Étoile d’Or.” This woman, herself a “character” that dresses up in pigtails, plaid wool skirts, and schoolgirl blouse-and-v-neck combos despite having not been a schoolgirl for decades, collects the “Best of France” of each kind of candy and confection you can imagine: marshmallows from a convent in Dijon, salted-butter caramels from Brittany, bergamot-flavored chocolates from Nancy, and so on. Most importantly for my interests, she is the only person outside of Lyon that is permitted to re-sell chocolates from Bernachon, who is in my opinion the best chocolaitier in France. OM NOM NOM, as the LOLCATZ say.
So, after a rapid tour of all of her wares and sweets, we left with about 100€ in candy and chocolate and we were probably one of the more restrained customers that day. Her store has been “discovered” by many luxury tourism magazines—especially Japanese ones—and she is regularly invaded by busloads of heavy spenders. Anyway, she had run out of her amazing marshmallows, so I asked her to put aside a bunch for me on Thursday, so that my sister would have some to eat when she gets to town.
From there, we realized that we still had some time before dinner, so I suggested that we head over to the grands magasins and check out the famous Christmas shop windows. While we were there (by total coincidence! I swear!), we stopped in Célio and my Mom bought me an assload of new shirts and sweaters, which I declared to count as their Xmas gift for me. I usually find Célio’s stuff like a boring but more elegant version of the Gap, but this season they seem to have discovered some color, so I was happy to expand my wardrobe. Yay! Now I can’t gain any weight this holiday.
Also, we got a nice wool peacoat for my dad, which he sorely needed. He’s the kind of guy that has two or three pairs of pants and wears them until they’re falling apart, despite the pile of brand-new pants that his family has bought him. So he came to Paris with only an insulated hiker’s vest, which did not look so great for more formal restaurants.
We took a leisurely walk along the front of the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps [LINK], checking out the excellent window displays. The theme for Galeries Lafayette was apparently Alice in Wonderland, and the animated displays were really lovely and well-designed to entertain children as well as adults. The Printemps theme was “cosmic dream” or something like that, which I found less impressive. Nonetheless, very pretty.
We wandered through the luxury section of Printemps to see if we could find the La Durée counter that they had in the store, but once we found it, we discovered that they were out of the rose-flavored réligieuses that they are famous for. As we left the store, we couldn’t have known that the police would find 5 sticks of dynamite the next day in one of the toilets in the store.
It was almost time for dinner, so we headed over to Les Halles to walk around the gardens and then over to the restaurant, Chez Denise, to claim our table. If you were reading this blog when I was last living in Paris, you’re probably intimately familiar with this place, but just in case: here, here, here and here are links to my previous visits to the place. And, following in the format from last night’s post, here is my summary of dinner in point-form:
- Surprisingly, one of the servers remembered me from when I came here two years ago, including even my name. Additionally, he was the cute one.
- Apéritif? Yes please. Pastis for me and my dad, and Campari for my mom.
- We had a platter of rillettes as an appetizer, which was just way too large, even for three of us.
- Both of my parents had the famous haricot mouton (mutton and white bean stew), while I tried the tripe in calvados sauce, which was surprisingly good (I’m not usually a fan of tripe).
- Considering we had had a late lunch and it was kinda filling, we had a lot of trouble finishing our food. However, my parents just couldn’t leave behind good beans (yes, they’re Latinos), so they were painfully full by the time we were done.
- We had digestifs, and then staggered out of the restaurant. Between the wine, the aperitifs and the digestifs, my dad was a bit tipsy, so the walk home involved a lot of zigzagging.
- We walked all the way back to the Marais, just to digest some of the meal, and I kept on walking from the Marais back to my neighborhood in the 11th arrondissement.