Paris is becoming a place where I feel more and more at home. Each time I arrive, I hit the ground running, and head straight to my friends' neighborhood, the 11th arrondissement, just off the Canal St.-Martin on Quai de Valmy. On the first day, I'll sit outside at Café Prune drinking a café crème and taking in the sights, many of which are familiar to anyone who has seen the 2001 film Amélie. Once I’ve had a good night’s rest, my friends and I will head out on bikes to visit our favorite spots for eating, drinking and shopping, with perhaps a stop to take in the latest vernissage (art opening).
My last trip to Paris was this past November, and the bike riding was challenging in the cold, blustery weather. We set out early one morning to ride along the canal and straight into the roundabout at La Bastille. It's a ride that's not for the faint of heart, with cars, motorcycles, bikes and buses all navigating what seems to be a free-for-all collision course that, fortunately, rarely sees an accident. It was a Saturday, and our destination was Marché d’Aligre, the working-class, open-air market bustling with neighborhood shoppers seeking Tunisian spices, Italian tapenades, Spanish chorizo, enormous fresh whole sea bass, French cheeses, wild cèpes and chanterelles, and rows and rows of brilliantly colored beets and winter squash.
After the market, we headed to le Baron Rouge, a matchbox-size neighborhood wine bar, to find the oyster man, who comes in from Normandy on Saturdays to shuck his wares on the street. Along with about a dozen others, we stood outside in the chilly air, at a weathered old wine barrel, drinking ice-cold Muscadet, sloshing down a dozen or two oysters and thick pieces of country bread that we waited in line to buy moments before at the 50-year-old bakery across the street.
Since the oysters were only our appetizers, we headed inside the bar and ordered a simple Chinon, made by the friend of the barman, and warmed up with some pâté de campagne (country pâté), rillettes (slow-cooked, shredded pork), Pont l'Eveque and Morbier cheeses, and more crusty bread. Then it was back on the bikes for a ride to the Marais, the city's eclectic, historically Jewish district. We bought cannelles (glazed, cream-filled pastries) from a fantastic bakery called Tout au Beurre, and enjoyed them with espresso at Fer á Cheval, a funky, welcoming restaurant named for the ski area in northern France.
Later, we pedaled up the Rue de Rivoli and across the Seine, into the sixth arrondissement for some shopping and chocolate tasting at Pierre Hermé, Debauve & Gallais, La Maison du Chocolat and Ladurée. We then cut back across the Seine, passed by the famous pyramid outside the Louvre museum and run into the forbidding traffic crossing Place de la Concorde and up to Le Madeleine. My friends led the way, winding their way in and out of cars and never seeming to stop for les fer rouge (red lights).
John Rehak — Grapevine, TX — January 31, 2007 12:42pm ET
David Myers — February 2, 2007 2:43pm ET
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