Cheese is the best thing there is, unless you’re lactose intolerant. I thought I was, at least until very lately, but it turned out to be an imaginary intolerance. Actually, it was a severe case of media brainwash, thus called by my physician, but that’s a totally different story. Anyway, as I said, cheese is the best thing there is. Especially this one, imported from Burgundy, France, by my parents who came back yesterday, served tonight for dinner with baguette and some other fine stuff and, most importantly, with a (actually, two and a half) bottle of Maranges, a very fine Burgundy wine, with a nice aroma of almost overly ripe cherries to lighten the almost overly creamy heaviness of that wonderful cheese. A cheese, of which my parents couldn’t recall the name, otherwise I would have told you, please believe me!
When in Paris, it’s one of my strange habits to have the first coffee in the day in the Marais, don’t ask me why, there are perfectly fine alternative locations all over Paris, but no, it has to be the Marais, Paris’s oldest quarter, you won’t find much of Haussmann’s architecture here, it’s filled with beautiful hôtels particuliers, the residences of the aristocracy, erected hundreds of years ago, and still teaching us lessons about grandeur, in comparison, the front door of Mrs Kennedy’s lodging on Park Avenue appears to me like the back entrance to a dubious embassy of a totalitarian country with a laughable gross national product, sorry, New York, and don’t get me started on Trump and his golden tower, anyway, the Rohans and consorts had much better housing, one of those palaces, that’s what these hôtels particuliers really are, palaces, now houses the Picasso Museum. Then there’s Place des Vosges, a cliché, I know, but I have to pay it at least one visit each time I’m there, it actually looks nicest off season, in January, early in the year and in the morning, on a frosty day, void of people and tourists, under light snow, when only birds have left their prints, I like it in the rain, too, a little morbid, but I rather hate it when it’s full of people in summer, people with too much time on their hands ruin everything, loitering with intent, thirsty for a tan or whatever they do on a lawn – I do sound misanthropic, don’t I? Don’t get me wrong, I like people. Just not in places that look better without.
Let them eat cake, qu’ils mangent de la brioche, Marie Antoinette is said to have replied quite stupidly when confronted with the people missing their daily bread, and although this has often been disguised as quite untrue a quotation, it somehow still sticks to her. So, whenever I’m in Switzerland or France, I think of the Queen of France when I have brioche, although never when I eat cake—you see, truth be told for once, brioche is nothing like cake, it’s way too neutral in taste, it’s great with breakfast and café au lait, but it does taste wonderful cake-like when stuffed with truffles from Sprüngli, one of the world’s finest chocolatiers. So, as a basic rule, whenever you’re in France, have brioche, but whenever you’re in Switzerland, try a Truffe Brioche. For Marie Antoinette’s sake.
Paris in 1958 was very different from today, from the Paris I know. First of all, it was so very dirty. It was none other than André Malraux, de Gaulle’s guy for everything cultural, who had all the blackened historic façades cleansed, he wanted Paris to be the City of Lights again, the most important operation in urban architecture since Baron Haussmann changed the face of Paris altogether in the 1850s and ’60s, and there was quite some dirt that had laid up since then, believe you me (and by me, I mean my mother, she should know, she did live in Paris in the early 1960s). Second of all, one of my favourite areas, the Marais, was considered a troubled district, it was quite run down in those days, don’t imagine you’d have found any of today’s fashionable cafés and restaurants there, no art galleries, no stylish designer stores, no perfumed air emerging from the Guerlain and Diptyque boutiques, certainly no gays, not even closeted ones, instead you would find a butcher right on Place des Vosges, just like in Jean Delannoy’s 1958 movie “Maigret Sets A Trap”, and a butcher who let you witness his bloody business through his shop windows at that. It was a different time, one might say, I say it was a better time – or more precisely, it was a more authentic time, a time where there was not yet a Louis Vuitton store between the Flore and the Deux Magots to please people suffering from logomania in every possible spot, or otherwise Simone de Beauvoir would have had to look for another place to work and have her p’tit noir. By the way, neither she or Jean-Paul Sartre were very fond of Malraux, trop réac politically, and I think, she might have sensed the side-effects that Malraux’s polishing of Paris would bring. Who knows? Luckily, she died long before the Louis Vuitton people opened their store on Boulevard Saint-Germain.
This morning, I felt very French. Very, very French. So, instead of having my usual toasts with tea, I had to leave the house to get some Franzbrötchen at my local organic bakery. They are not really French like a croissant, but the Franz-part of the word comes from the time when Germany was occupied in the early 1800s, when Napoleon had just invaded the country, and he was definitely a Frenchman, a Franzos’. Nothing lasts forever, and the Russians made him go back to where he came from—later the French got sick of him, too, and sent him far off to St.Helena, an island so secluded nobody really knows where it is. Anyway, Franzbrötchen are part of the culinary leftovers of that time and I do enjoy them a great deal: a buttery, crispy, cinnamon flavoured delight to have with your coffee in the morning, and, in my case, François Truffaut’s masterpiece “The Last Metro”. As I’ve said, I felt very, very French this morning.
There’s a photographic error in this photo, the tea box should say Nuit à Versailles, too, not only 277, I mean what kind of information is that anyway, 277, just a stupid number, not even a nice one, but that damn Stelton cork-screw covers that tea’s much more evoking name of a night in Versailles. It’s a very tasty green tea, aromes of peaches, violets, kiwis, orange blossoms, and other yummy stuff that is to transport us to this magical place in France. Actually, just as it happens, I’ve never been to Versailles, however near to Paris, not once, so I’ve no idea whether there are any peach trees and violets in the palace’s gardens or not, kiwis are from New Zealand anyway, so I don’t really trust them, these fancy Dammann brothers. They just tell you n’importe quoi. Versailles, however, has a very culinary sound to me, my parents often visit, but rather the weekly market in the old town of Versailles than the palace itself, my mother always brings home artichokes, organic ones, of course, over the years it has become kind of a family thing to have our artichokes from Versailles, so whenever I see or eat an artichoke, I don’t think of the South of France where they grow but of Versailles, and I’m kind of disappointed that there aren’t any in this blend—but on the other hand, who wants a tea tasting and smelling of artichokes?
88 degrees Fahrenheit in May, or wait, it’s June now, anyway, 88 degrees Fahrenheit this time of year are, well, what are they? My mind has gone blank, that’s for sure. I can’t think straight. This heat is killing me. Totally. Gotta face the facts. So, for my last supper before extinction I decided to have insalata caprese, my own version of it at least, it’s kind of a messy version, very messy, I mix it all up, the mozzarella, the basil, the tomatoes, il Tricolore in a bowl, so to say. With some olive oil from Sicily and crushed pepper from some place else. Anyway, as you can’t have water with an Italian dinner—food iconoclasm, I say!—I opened a bottle of wine, a fine wine at that, admittedly not from Italy, no Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino, but a fine wine from Bordeaux, a claret as the Brits say, a 2005 St.Émilion Grand Cru, some Château Peyreau—or was it Peyraux, or Peyreaux? Who knows, it’s pronounced all the same anyway—just to cherish summer in spring, high spirits for high temperatures—I’ve told you, my brain has gone soft. Anyway, cheers and buon appetito for now, and as soon as temperatures drop, I’m back. Promise.
Last night, I was watching Jean Gabin going through another man’s wardrobe, he was playing Maigret of course, so the indiscretion was work related, it was done in fine style, with the utmost calm, actually, everything Jean Gabin does is so wonderfully calm, so composed and tranquil, as if his entire being was a neverending stream of contemplation, and while he was inspecting the clothes of one of his suspects, Jean Desailly’s, as of course I was watching Maigret tend un piège from 1958, he uncovered the label of one of the suits, some fine tailoring by – no, not by Prada or Brioni or Zegna, but by Bernheim & Fils – a tailor whose shop was on rue de la Boétie. This scene struck me, but why? The wardrobe belonged to some Parisian interior architect, these were the 1950s, our times’ fashion victims weren’t even born yet, of course this man had his suits tailor made. Suddenly, I felt very poor, poor in style, my suits are all mass produced bullshit, however prestigious the labels, and while I continued watching Maigret meddling in this guy’s life, I felt like putting on my white Charvet shirt, the only thing in my wardrobe that might have a chance to find a fellow counterpart in that fine French murderer’s wardrobe.
These are my favourite columns in the whole world: the ones arcading Rue de Rivoli’s famous addresses, Galignani, for instance, my favourite bookshop, and some cafés offering a place to sit and sip something while overlooking Parisian traffic alongside the Tuileries Garden, the Louvre, or Joan of Arc in front of the Hotel Regina, the most beautifully situated hotel in all of Paris. If you ask me, columns are the best architectural invention since the roof, a roof might offer more shelter from the rain, but so does an umbrella, columns, however, provide us with style, maybe this is why the Acropolis was covered in columned architecture, just to show us what real culture is all about, but then again, Greece isn’t known for rain anyway, is it? Anyway, Paris is blessed with some of the most beautiful columns ever built, some of them with no purpose besides being stylish, but that’s more than fine with me, they stand alone, minding their own business or carrying Napoleon’s statue, they adorn parks and façades, churches and museums, palaces and townhouses, I once started counting them, I made it to 963, then I lost count, there are far too many. Paris is all about exuberance, believe you me.