Thursday, July 24, 2008

Frrrrrrrrrrom Paris to Berlin, and a little Corsica: Part I

Trite and true (har har) lessons from the past two weeks:
1. Be ballsy.
2. Ask strangers for advice and take it.
3. The world is tiny.
4. Make the most of everything.

Gideon ('10) and Sarah ('10) stopped into Paris for the day a couple of weekends ago. Charlie and I joke that our tiny apartment is more like a hostel--there's an extra person in the place more often than not. But I love having visitors in this town because when they get obsessed with Paris, it makes me fall in love with it all over again.

Gideon and Sarah's Paris in 24 hours: They stopped by the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay before meeting up with me for lunch at a traditional bistro in my neighborhood. We walked across Pont Neuf and along the Seine to Notre Dame and continued on to Berthillon on Ile de St. Louis. Met up with Gideon's uncle at the Hotel Costes (it's the kind of place where you feel underdressed unless you're wearing an Oscars-worthy gown) for some cappuccino. Gideon's uncle is friends with a NY Times columnist and he promised to set up a lunch for the two of us when I get back to the city. Sick.

After coffee, Gideon and Sarah visited the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre while I cooked dinner for Giuli, Elsa, and her best friend from middle school. Gideon and Sarah joined us after their escursion and left painfully early in the morning, pain au chocolat and viennoise in hand. I don't know if I succeeded in making Sarah fall in love with Paris the way she wanted to. It's hard when you come to this city with such a picture in your mind of how it'd supposed to be. Eventually Paris more than fulfills those expectations, but it takes time.

"There are two kinds of travelers. There is the kind who goes to see what there is to see and sees it, and the kind who has an image in his head and goes out to accomplish it. The first visitor has an easier time, but I think the second visitor sees more. He is constantly comparing what he sees to what he wants, so he sees with his mind, and maybe even with his heart, or tries to. If his peripheral vision gets diminished—so that he quite literally sometimes can't see what's coming at him from the suburbs of the place he looks at—his struggle to adjust the country he looks at to the country he has inside him at least keeps him looking. It sometimes blurs, and sometimes sharpens, his eye." Adam Gopnik, Paris to the Moon.

It's getting to be the time of the trip that I have to say goodbye to people. Giuli left for the States as did most of the kids doing the Columbia program. Elinor threw a going away party for the Columbia kids and somehow everyone I knew in the city ended up in her apartment. Six degrees of separation at its finest in a flat overlooking the Eiffel Tower lit up in blue for the EU presidency. Small small world.

Flew to Napoleon's hometown with Elsa for a weekend of much needed sun (Paris has been freakishly cold all summer) and rest. Corsica is amazing--the water's more turquoise than the Caribbean, the food is perfect, and the temperature is always exactly right. Elsa has a gorgeous house on the island in the Mediterranean and we spent every day sleeping, eating, swimming, boating and shopping. Tough life.

Jean, the chef who I made a meal with early into my trip to Paris was also visiting the Paparembordes in Corsica when I was there, so good food was not hard to find. Since Corsica is halfway between France and Italy geographically, and its cuisine is equally bicultural, he thought it would be the perfect segue for my culinary summer in France and Italy. There was, as a result, an abundance of traditional Corsican fare that weekend. The first night was lobster salad, veal with olives, roasted fennel and endives, and peach sorbet with fresh peaches. Lengthy discussions about the pros and cons of Sarko and the future of the EU (Corsica is still France after all) were as free-flowing as the champagne.

The next day, after tea with almond canistrelli (think: tiny biscotti) for breakfast, we joined the couple I met at dinner the night before on their boat. We cruised the Mediterranean for the good part of the afternoon and pulled up to a quiet cove for lunch--un repas de roi. Steamed prawns, preserved and pressed fish eggs wrapped in paraffin for safe keeping (quite the delicacy, I promise), hard boiled eggs, roast chicken, salad, addictively good bread and a raspberry tart. How Jean could call all that a "picnic" with no trace of irony in his voice, I'll never know.

Shopping, pizza and nightswimming rounded out the night.

Sunday was met with another royal meal--a Corsican brunch of mimosa eggs, chicken salad, roasted red peppers in garlic olive oil, roasted baby artichokes with red onion and pecorino--and a poolside pedicure. (What?!) Swam and shopped away the afternoon before dinner on the (mosquito-infested) beach.

Monday was Bastille day and we celebrated it down to the roasted wild boar and parade down the Champs Elysees on TV. A tart with sauteed onions, olives and anchovies was everything I wish a quiche always was and salad was the perfect counterpart to the intensity of the maquis-coated meat. Elsa and I headed back to colder, grayer Paris that night and watched the fireworks on the Champ de Mars during the taxi ride back from the airport.

Still to write about: a new shift at the IHT, the best place to get dinner in Paris, Crazy P and Niels (the tour guides from Montmartre)'s reappearance, an epic night on the Pont des Arts, exhilarating moments in Berlin, etc etc etc. But I have a visitor (Anna '10) coming tomorrow (today!) at 8 (in 4 hours) and some sleep would be more than nice. Haven't done much of that recently. (Too much to see, to think, to write, to read....but that's a whole other blog post....)