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Saturday, March 27, 2021


The time is come to complete my memory tour of old Paris with an account of my walk around the sixth arrondissement, but let me respond quickly to comments on earlier accounts. First, I referred to the chorus in the Place des Vosges as the Gay Men’s Chorus because that is how they refer to themselves. Second, Eric’s lovely story about his restaurant experience called to mind an embarrassing visit Susie and I paid to a restaurant recommended by my sister. The restaurant, in the fourth, is called Les Philosophes – clearly I had to try it. To start my dinner I ordered filets d’hareng – herring in short. An entire fairly large crock of herring arrived. I was supposed to take an appropriate amount from the crock, place it on my plate, and eat it. But I thought the whole serving was for me and I certainly was not going to let the restaurant down by leaving some of it uneaten so I set to it. The waiters courteously and tactfully said nothing as I wolfed down the entire crock of herring. They did not even charge me extra! I thought that last was a touch of real class.


On to the sixth. You will recall that each arrondissement is larger than the one preceding it and since I live in the fifth I would have to walk a bit even to start my circumnavigation. This was clearly going to be an adventure. I started by walking up to Place Maubert and turning east along Boulevard Saint Germain until I reached the eastern flank of the sixth, Boulevard St. Michel. As I was completing my circumnavigation of the fifth, I walked along the east side of that north – south boulevard but this time I crossed over to the west side and started walking south up the hill. I passed Place de la Sorbonne and the entrance to the Jardin du Luxembourg and kept walking uphill until I finally reached the southernmost tip of the Jardin, where, as you will recall, I saw the Port Royal RER station. Then, turning right I set out on the very long southern flank of the sixth, the famous Boulevard Montparnasse. If you look at the map you can see that this is a really long straight stretch. I knew from having consulted a map that I wanted to turn onto rue de Sèvres, and every time I crossed a big intersection I checked the street signs on the sides of buildings to see whether I had reached it but no luck. At long last I came to rue de Sèvres and turned north – or more precisely northeast because the street angles in, making the southern flank of the sixth much bigger than the northern flank.


After passing the tiny Vanneau Metro station and the large discount department store, Bon Marché, where Susie and I bought a pair of little night tables 17 years ago, I came to the big Sèvres-Babylone station, at which point the street bears even further toward the east. Almost immediately I took a left onto a very small street with the lovely name rue des Saints-Pères.  This street would have taken me all the way to the river but once again I cut my circumnavigation short by turning right on Boulevard Saint Germain. Walking now on the southern side of that street I passed through Place de l’Odéon with its three movie complexes and continued on to the corner of Boulevard St. Michel.  Crossing the street, I left the sixth and entered the fifth, walked past Cluny - the Museum of the Middle Ages – and made my way home.


My fondest memory of the sixth comes not from this walk but from a restaurant Susie and I went to that is just off the route of the walk. When the long stretch from Boulevard Montparnasse is almost done, I pass the little street called rue du Cherche-Midi.  There you can find a small restaurant with the odd double name Josephine Chez Dumonet.   We went there because the restaurant was reputed to have the best boeuf bourguignon in Paris and it is indeed wonderful (although pride forces me to say not quite as wonderful as the dish I cooked in my little apartment over the course of two days one time.) The portions are so large that the restaurant actually offers you on the menu the option of a half portion, which turned out to be more than enough. When Paris reopens and we are finally able to return one more time before selling our apartment, that is one of the restaurants I plan to revisit.


There are actually one or two more walks I have taken but I think this is enough of reminiscences and strolls down memory lane. Tomorrow in a complete change of tone and subject, I plan to launch on a multi-day sequence of posts in which I will attempt to capture once and for all my extremely complex and quite distinctive interpretation of Das Kapital. 


s. wallerstein said...

Just a thought that's not of my business, but you've probably already realized that I tend to towards thoughts that are none of my business.

If I were you, I'd not sell the apartment in Paris. I suspect that real estate prices in
prestigious urban areas like Paris or London or New York are going to keep going up and that your children and grandchildren (and mine) are never going to be a financial position to buy choice real estate in Paris, which as you point out, is a beautiful city and people with money from all over the world are going to want to have an apartment there. Of course if you're selling it because you're short of cash, that's understandable, but otherwise if I were you.....

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

I’ve enjoyed these posts. I have not been to Paris yet. Apart from the museums and places I want to see, two things got my attention - botanical gardens and Boeuf Bourguignon.There is nothing like botanical gardens - they are both invigorating and relaxing. When I worked on Capitol Hill I used to grab some lunch and walk down from the House Office building to the botanical gardens enclosed in a Victorian Era greenhouse. Each area had a different climate. I would eat lunch on a bench and relax.

My younger son is the executive chef of two restaurants and, as a result of his training at the the C.I.A., my cooking skills have improved greatly. Boeuf Bourguignon is one dish I thought I prepared well. The dish has improved greatly after a couple of tips from the family professional. I recently fabricated 5lbs of beef (yes, cutting up meat to certain specifications for a dish is called fabricating in the trade), made stock, and made a huge batch of Bourguignon. I vacuum packed and froze the bulk of it to save for a future dinner.

David Palmeter said...

I’m a serious contender for the award for most embarrassing moment in Paris—or in my case, the suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

When the Army sent me on temporary assignment to Paris in the fall of 1965, our group was put up for the first couple of nights at a nice little hotel in Saint-Germain. There was a US Army base nearby, and the two others I was with wanted to go to the base and bowl. In Paris (or in this case a suburb) for the first time, and they want to go to a bowling alley at an U.S. Army base!

I would have none of it, and set out on foot in the late afternoon or early evening to explore the town. I was charmed by the whole thing—the design of the buildings looked like something from an impressionist painting; the shops were exotic; many of the streets were cobblestone. I’d never seen a cobblestone street before.

After a while I got hungry, and knowing no French and having phrases only from the pocket guide-book I carried, I decided to get something easy to order. What could be simpler than a loaf of bread—the French baguette. But I knew I wouldn’t eat the whole thing. Instead, I sought one of the smaller ones that I had seen in the windows of the boulangerie. I asked the young lady behind the counter for what I thought was a small baguette. I asked, “Combien la bagatelle, mademoiselle?” When she seemed not to understand, I said it louder—several times. What could be simpler than that? Isn’t a bagatelle a little baguette?

Suddenly papa emerged from the kitchen behind the counter, a huge man, wearing a white tee shirt and an apron, covered with flour. And he was very angry. There was much shouting that I didn’t understand, but I did understand that I was in some kind of trouble. Fortunately, another customer came to my rescue. In a perfect Oxford English accent, he said, “I say, old chap, it appears that you’re in a bit of trouble.” I explained to him what I wanted, and he explained to papa and his daughter that this stupid American was trying to order a mini-baguette. Things calmed down, I got my mini-baguette and left along with my rescuer. It was then that he explained to me what I was saying when I said “Combien la bagatelle, mademoiselle?” I was asking the young lady, he told me, “How much for a good time.”

LFC said...

D. Palmeter

Great story. Relations betw the U.S. and France were somewhat strained in the mid-60s, so it's lucky that your faux pas didn't become an int'l incident. ;)

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