mercredi, décembre 17, 2008

ParisFamilyXmas Day 5: Buttes-Chaumont, Chez l'Ami Jean

According to the weather forcast, today was supposed to be sunny and somewhat warmer.

Lies!! All lies!

It was cold and wet the entire day, with a fine, mist-like drizzle and a low cloud ceiling the entire day. Nonetheless, this didn’t prevent us from going through with our plans of visiting the Buttes-Chaumont park. My dad’s still a farm-boy in a way, and he loves trees and birds. In particular, he loves walking through big parks and forests and identifying trees, identifying birds, and observing how they grow, what they’re doing, etc. So Buttes-Chaumont seemed like a must-see for him, since the entire park has been arranged in a sort of “English garden” style. That is, the trees and bushes and plants have been mostly arranged to look like a “natural” scene rather than a manicured garden. Also, the whole park covers a steep hillside with cliffs and waterfalls and pools and so on, so the whole thing looks really lovely.

Our walk through the park took pretty much the entire morning, as my dad needed to stop at every tree and inspect it, and then identify all of the birds in its branches. My mom obligingly took pictures of trees he couldn’t identify, presumably with the intent of identifying them later.

After the park, we started looking for a subway station and instead found ourselves near Belleville park, so we walked down the pergola-covered stairs of the park and admired the well-kept gardens, and then kept walking the short distance to my neighborhood. Somewhere along rue Oberkampf, near rue St.-Maur and opposite the very popular Café Charbon, we came across a bistro that I had heard about: Au Pied de Fouet (At the Foot of the Whip). I had been told that it served up solid, no-fuss, homestyle French food, so we dropped in. It was nearly the end of the lunch period (14h00) and they were to close between services, but nonetheless the lady server cheerfully waved us in.

The food was tasty and well-prepared and the service was chatty and casual, which made for a very pleasant lunch. I can’t remember precisely what we had, but I know that my parents both had the “salade de la mer” (seafood and rice salad) as an appetizer while I had the quiche Lorraine. I think my mom had fish as a main dish and I had chicken, but my memory’s foggy.

Anyway, I had to teach my English class that evening and I had a few things to take care of at the UofC center over in the 13th arrondissement, so I sent off my parents to wander around in their neighborhood and otherwise entertain themselves and I headed over to work. After taking care of some paperwork and some errands at work, I headed over to the Ecole des Chartes for class. The plan was to give the students an “easy” class by showing them an English-language movie, so I had rented out the film “You, Me and Everyone We Know” by Miranda July (2005), which I was pretty sure none of them had seen and which focused on the awkward banality of American suburban life—a topic many French intellectuals seem to love (mostly because they like to imagine that it only happens in the US). I quite like the film because it highlights how hard it is to maintain normality, that is, how much effort everybody expends to live a “good” / “normal” life, while trying to make it appear effortless or natural.

The movie deals with some difficult and uncomfortable topics (divorce, teenage sexuality, death, loneliness, kinky fetishes, internet courtship), but there was no nudity and no on-screen violence, so I figured that the movie wouldn’t be particularly shocking to these adult students, considering the sort of scenes regularly shown in cinemas and on TV here in France. What I had forgotten was that, as a grande école this class was largely populated by the privileged and conservative right-wing of the French population, and so their threshold for sex and difficult topics was possibly lower than the general population. Most of the students nonetheless sat through the whole thing quietly, but at least two students stormed out of the class during a scene where teenagers were engaging in oral sex off-screen. I made a point of not looking at the door as they left, so that I wouldn’t know who it was and there would be no suspicion of me “punishing” those who left. Anyway, it gave them something to talk about.

To avoid further discomfort, the other English teacher and I decided not to run a discussion after the movie, and instead let them go home early. From there, we walked back to the video shop to return the DVDs and then went our separate ways. I met up with my parents, who were waiting for me at their apartment, and we got ready for dinner.

Dinner was going to be at a Basque restaurant in the 7th arrondissement that only had a table for us at 22h00, so we had a bit of time to kill. We decided to head over to the Ecole Militaire, so that we could walk along the Champ de Mars and up to the Eiffel Tower. As I had sort of expected, my dad wasn’t particularly enchanted by the thing. He was impressed by its size and construction, but he was completely uninterested in joining the throng of people underneath the tower, waiting to go up.

From there we walked along rue St. Dominique at a leisurely pace until we got to rue Malar, where our restaurant was located. It was nearly 22h00 anyway, so we headed in to see if our table was ready.

The restaurant’s called Chez l’Ami Jean (“Buddy John’s Place”) and it specializes in Basque food from the southwest region of France / northeast of Spain. As you might expect from that region, most of the food involves foie gras, duck fat, smoked duck meat, eggs, and strong-flavored cheeses.

I have only a vague memory of what we ate for dinner, but I recall my mother eating some sort of artichoke puree with bone marrow on top, I had a parmesan cheese soup, and my dad had some seared tuna. The main dishes I barely recall at all, but I’m pretty sure they were stew-like dishes. Anyway, the restaurant itself is a neo-bistro that has haute cuisine aspirations, so the dishes were perhaps “rustic” Basque classics, but the portions and presentation were very precious and the dishes were mostly given fancy twists. While the food itself tasted quite good, I got the feeling that it would’ve tasted just as good without the fancy fuss and at about half the price. Overall, it’s a good restaurant that I would happily return to if invited, but I wouldn’t got out of my way to go there, given the other options in the city.

One of the upsides of the smaller portions, though, is that we all got home satisfied, rather than nauseatingly overfull.

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