June 24, 2009

A Moveable Feast

crêpes on a sunny day

After our weekend wallowing in The Mountain Cheese, we took the TGV from Annecy to Paris, in order to spend a few days of vacation. We checked-in to our hotel near Montparnasse and jumped on the Metro to Montmartre to take in the view of the city from the Sacré-Coeur basilica, and, more importantly, find a good place for dinner.

the other streets were really crowded

We wandered the crowded streets a bit, debated whether or not we wanted to pay the admission fee to climb the steps to the top of the dome of the basilica, considered whether or not my fear of heights would paralize me halfway up the narrow staircase, and then turned around and bought gelato. Eventually, the hoards of tourists and hunger pangs forced us back down the hill, and an inebriated vagabond, who was trailing a little bit too close behind, flushed us out of the series of narrow alleys we were strolling through to a main street lined with cafés. Still indecisive about dinner--we're always indecisive about dinner--we ducked into a bar near Abbessess to regroup over mojitos and caipirinhas.

Our cocktails came with popcorn

Fortified by our tropical libations, we headed back down the alley in search of food. After spending 4 days in the Haute-Savoie eating large, traditional French meals accompanied with much cheese and wine, we opted for something a bit different for dinner.

Le Mono, a Togolese restaurant we found in a restaurant guide given to us by LSB's folks before the trip, was a bit of a hole in the wall, but in a cozy way. Our Mozambican (which is nowhere near Togo, in case you were wondering) waiter was desheveled and more than a bit odd. He spoke English in long, slow, drawn-out phrases that left a lot space for us to make quick, slightly uncomfortable glances at each other while we waited for him to finish. He pointed out the items on the menu that he recommended, and when I asked about a few of the other things listed, he gave me a strange sideways look, as if to say, "nooo...I wouldn't advise you to order that."

It is probably needless to say, but we ordered from the list of waiter-approved items, which started with an appetizer sampler of various fried things from the sea (cod, crab, oysters, etc.) and the house punch--a seriously potent blend of rum, lemon, muddled (more like pulverized)ginger, and cane sugar. LSB ordered a whole fish (Kingfish, I believe) for the second time on the trip (in spite of her previous well-documented difficulties). I don't remember what I ordered, because something entirely different came out. It was some kind of ochre-based stew or savory broth with chunks of fish in it. I also had manioc (a.k.a yucca or cassava), which our waiter described as "a tree that grows under the ground." I guess that's a good enough way to describe a big root.

The combination of the house punch, odd atmosphere, and way too much--but quite good--food left us sleepy and lethargic, so we called it a night.

The following day started with coffee at a corner café. We wandered mostly around the Left Bank, stopping in St. Sulpice, strolling through Luxembourg Gardens, pausing for crêpes, and continuing on to the Pantheon for some after-lunch crypt-peeping. We crossed the river to visit a speciality food/baking store to buy some gifts for folks back home before heading back toward the Latin Quarter for another decidely unFrench dinner. Wait, that's not exactly true--we did have rosé with our sushi.

In the morning, after a short ride on the Air France bus to Orly, I found myself on Air Iberia once again, for my return trip to Boston (via Madrid). LSB got to sleep in before catching her British Airways flight out of Charles de Gaulle and then was upgraded from her luxurious World Traveller Plus seat to First Class.

At least my plane was not musty this time.

June 22, 2009

Je t'aime, le fromage de montagne!

There, I said it. Okay, so I know that "I love you, the mountain cheese!" may not make complete sense gramatically. It does to me, though, and to my friend Bucky who first uttered the phrase over 10 years ago in adoration of a different type of cheese from a different French mountain range.

This time, it was the Alps and the Reblochon. I ate alot of it, with almost every meal in the course of our long weekend in the Haute-Savoie. To summarize, I ate it:

- with a baguette in front of a mountain chapel

- with a baguette, some terrine, and some rosé by the lake

- baked in a tartiflette (potatoes, onions, cream and bacon)...twice
- as part of an after dinner cheese course (the cheese course being one of my favorite things about France)

Me and a French dinghy

I learned that "reblochon" basically means "milked again." Further research discovered that it actually comes from the word "reblocher" which literally means: "to pinch a cow's udder again." In the olden days the Man used to tax the farmers on how much milk they produced, so they would only partially milk their cows, measure the milk, pay the taxes, then go back and milk the cow again after the taxman left. Apparently, the remaining milk was richer and used to make this delicious cheese.

Between episodes of mountain cheese consumption, I did other things. LSB has all of the pretty pictures here (including a montage of me looking contemplative on a dock). I'll try to cover the rest below.

We stopped at the store and picked up a baguette and...er...reblochon and hiked up into the mountains. Near the top is La Grotte de St. Germain and a chapel built directly above it. As I understand it, St. Germain was a monk at the priory in Talloires who, in an effort to live a more simple and rustic life, started spending his nights in a small cave (the aforementioned "grotte"). After a while, I think he went a little batty and just stayed up there, living the life of a recluse. A hermit with a view.

la grotte de St. Germain

While LSB was in meetings, I took a boat tour around the lake to Annecy. I met a couple of caravaning Scots on board with their two friendly spaniels: Paddy (a cocker) and Fudge (a springer). I never did get the names of the people, but I learned that they were traveling through France and then onto Italy. It was in Annecy that I ate my first tartiflette of the trip. I washed it down with a bottle of strong "Yeti" beer at a restaurant on a canal.

Yes, that is A Moveable Feast next to my tartiflette (I am the cliché)

Once Leah was free from work, we spent our last afternoon in Talloires, sitting in the grass on the lakeshore, drinking rosé and eating baguettes with a certain mountain cheese that I tend to enjoy.

LSB, Lake Annecy, and Reblochon

I had tartiflette again for dinner that evening and dreamed about a cave-dwelling life, double-milking cows for my livelihood. Strange. Maybe it was all the cheese. Or maybe it had something to do with this guy...
creepy saint at the chapel of St. Germain

Bon nuit!

June 06, 2009

Réponse automatique d'absence du bureau*

*My mysteriously translated automated "out of office" response message after I logged-in to my Outlook account in France (I know, I know...but, I had a valid reason for checking my work e-mail on vacation. Really).

My experience with Iberia was different

It began in Terminal E. More precisely, it began at Houlihans Bar & Restaurant in Terminal E of Logan Airport, where FC Barcelona was in the process of beating Manchester United in the Champions League final (Iberia, Spain's national airline, flies out of E, which would explain the loud and proud Barcelona contingent in the bar). Fortified by a couple of beers and the winning atmosphere of Houlihans, I made my way to the applicable gate to board my flight--the first leg of my trip was to Madrid.

My plane smelled musty, vaguely like moth balls and ancient body odor, and the upholstery resembled a couch from the 70's abandoned in someone's basement. There were babies everywhere; international babies--all of them either crying or on the verge of crying. I settled into my seat, only to learn that the inflight movies were "17 Again" and "Last Chance Harvey."

Don't get me wrong, I've flown on worse airlines. Ukraine International, for example, where the landing gear was still being retracted and seat belt light had hardly gone out (or was there a light at all?) before the flight attendents were pushing carts up the aisle, loaded with nothing by liquor bottles clanking together as they hastily filled plastic cups on their way to the back of the plane. However, that flight was only a few hours, from Frankfurt to Kiev, and the liquor cart helped ease my fear.

Iberia was better in many ways, but, to be honest, I was a bit nervous about flying across the Atlantic on a plane that smelled like an old decommissioned subway car. Luckily, I had at least brought ear plugs to defend against the crying masses.


I managed to get through "17 Again" without any trouble and the babies were actually well behaved. Even the little Sikh in the row next to me who looked like trouble at the beginning of the flight, eventually settled down as her dad paced the aisles to keep her occupied. To make a long story short, I had the beef (with red wine) and discovered that Zac Efron is like Teen Wolf on the basketball court.

All in all, the 1977 flying Greyhound made it to Madrid-Barajas, where I spent my 2-hour layover before continuing on to Geneva, where I met up with LSB, fresh from her "World Traveler Plus" experience on the delightful and modern British Airways. A short (but speedy) taxi ride later we were in The Haute Savoie.

vive la france

More on this part in the next installment...

Posted by Picasa