Considering all the things that have happened at the Bellevue—broken toilet seat, room change, wifi slowdowns that banished me to the lobby, a planned power outage—our last day in Montmartre went really well.
I was out of the hotel looking for coffee and something baked at maybe 7:30. It was the middle of the night out there. It was still dark, a little misty, and very few people were on the street anywhere. Even the earliest shops were just opening up.
Bread’s what we needed. We had bought fruit and yogurt the day before. I wound up walking half way to Pigalle before I found a shop selling bread. There was a cut loaf on the shelf, so I asked for the “demi baguette” and felt very worldly.
Back on the Rue d’Orsel, the streetside counter of the grocery store was just starting to set out some pastry. I ordered two coffees to go. They serve it in soft plastic cups without lids, but I managed to get both of them to my room without spilling.
We checked out of the hotel and left our bags, so we could do some wandering. We took a few back streets and wound up on Boulevard de Magenta again.
We stopped at a cafe around 10 or so where Joanna had hot chocolate and I had a glass of Bordeaux. We had seen a large building surmounted by statuary, but hadn’t gone there the day before because our route from the market took us in the other direction. This time we went to see. It’s a monumental railroad station called the Gare du Nord.
The statues represent cities connected to the station by rail. They include Berlin and London. Today there’s a tunnel, but when the station was built, sometime in the 1860s, I guess the rail trip included a Channel crossing by ferry.
Inside, the roof is that beautiful late 19th century ironwork, much like the St. Quentin market.
When we got to the market this time, it was open for business. It’s always fun to see the colors and shapes of things in markets, even at home. But in Europe or Asia, there are different things to see. Here there were whole mackerel and sea bass, tuna heads, piles of shellfish, including a pink-shelled scallop called St. Jacques. I wonder if it’s what they make coquilles St. Jacques from.
We passed a counter specializing in Portuguese food where Joanna recognized chopped pigs’ ears. The far side of the counter was a kitchen, and the lady was starting to serve lunch. The lady spoke Spanish and French, but no English. So I was able to tell her I don’t know how it’s called in French. I said “cochon” and pulled the top of my ear. The word I wanted, as I later learned, is “oreilles.”
The lady suggested vin blanc. OK. She brought us a half bottle of Casal Garcia vinho verde, a tasty Portuguese white. Why it’s called green I don’t know because I keep forgetting to look it up. I may have a bottle of Casal Garcia in the fridge at home right now. If you don’t know what to get somebody for a gift when you visit at Christmas, a bottle of red and a bottle of Casal Garcia will work: red and green wine just like Santa brings.
Pork is right up there with snails and chicken on my list of favorite meats, well ahead of beef or shrimp, for instance. So far I have eaten feet, neck, tendon, knuckle, and the usual chops, hams, ribs, etc. Sausage, of course, is one of my basic food groups.
This was my first time eating the ears. They have some tasty meat, lots of pleasant fat, and also cartilage, which gives them crunch. As Joanna told me, that’s the fun of eating pigs’ ears. They came with a mildly hot sauce on the side. Not my favorite part of the pig, but a lot of fun nonetheless.
When we left the market, we walked past the front and then turned left. We were not paying too much attention to the names of streets so I’m not sure how we wound up on Rue La Fayette. That was going to take us to the department stores, so I looked at the map.
We veered off onto Rue Lamartine, one of those narrow streets and eventually came to a crossroads called the Place de Something. I couldn’t find it on the map but I knew where we were, at the top of Rue Lamartine. It had been a while since the Casal Garcia and pigs’ ears, so we went into the cafe. There is always a cafe. A jolly short lady waited on us and also told me where the toilettes were.
This is hardly the first time I’ve seen this here, but you rarely find it in the States. You pass through a door into a unisex washroom, with sink, dryer, etc. There are two small closets, one with the silhouette of a guy in a suit, the other of a lady in a skirt. It’s private, but not that prissy American idea of private.
I remember the 1970s. When the Equal Rights Amendment was coming up for the plebiscite, opponents started a story that it would mean the end of separate men’s and women’s rooms in public places. That must had secured the shy vote, because the ERA failed to pass.
Joanna had a crepe with Nutella because, one, they didn’t have what she really wanted, which was chestnut sauce, like one she had in Avignon, and two, she wondered what the hell Nutella is. It’s a chocolate sauce, but not too sweet, so she liked it in small doses. Nutella may be in the A&P back home, but I’ve never seen anyone buy it.
I had Bordeaux and Joanna shared some of the crepe Nutella with me.
Outside the cafe was the back of an old church. We went around the front and discovered that it is Notre Dame de Lorette. It’s old, maybe 17th century. The interior is decorated with Baroque paintings, scenes from the life of the Virgin, and from the Gospels.
One of the side chapels is devoted to St. Therese of Lisieux, as in Sacre Coeur.
In the transept, on the right as you face the sanctuary, there is a dome whose four pillars are each devoted to a different virtue. One is Fortitudo, in which Jesus is called the Fortitude of Martyrs. The other three are Fides, Spes, and Charitas. These involved such themes as not fearing to die, and expecting the resurrection, and visiting prisoners. I remembered St. Paul: “Faith, hope, and charity: there abideth these three, but the greatest of these is charity.”
Appropriately enough, I guess, we took Rue des Martyrs back to Boulevard Rouchechouart and the hotel.
We cabbed to the Mercure Orly Aeroport Hotel. There’s a sign at the Bellevue that warns the cab ride usually costs 50 euro. You have to go across the entire old city from the Montmartre through the Left Bank to the southern suburbs. We were leaving at rush hour. The lady at the hotel desk had to call twice to get us a cab.
I expected to pay a premium, but no, the fare came to 50 euro 20. So I was ahead of the game.
The hotel is fine, like every airport hotel I’ve visited. Not like every one. the hotel at Lantau in Hong Kong had all kinds of bars and restaurants. This had only one. It was OK, which is to say it was the worst restaurant meal we had in Paris. If I was somewhere else—say in Holland, or even England—the food would have been more than OK. But compared to what we have been finding in France, this was American bar food, and kind of bland.
The St. Jacques, juicy scallops served en brochette, wrapped in bacon, with a side of Napa cabbage were very good, but not oh-wow surprising or bursting with flavor. The duck breast had to be the blandest duck I’ve eaten anywhere. Good, but only good.
We had a nice St. Emilion by the glass, and then I ordered a half bottle of Burgundy. It was a white called Macon Villages. I was surprised. For some reason I expected a red, but hell, I was half in the bag. It was strong enough to hold up against the duck so I was happy.
The best part of the meal was the creme brulee, which Joanna and I shared for dessert. The rich vanilla, controlled sweetness, and of course, pudding texture were perfect. Had I known, I would have been tempted to order three courses of that for dinner, along with the Macon Villages.
My father used to say that God watches over fools and drunks. That’s why I have always felt that my life has been doubly blessed.
My luck was in full swing by the time we left the Mercure in the morning. The shuttle was dead on time and took us to Orly Ouest, which may be where all the international flights leave and arrive.
The check-in counters aren’t lined up by airline as they are at Newark Liberty.
The terminal has four halls and lettered sections inside the halls. The departure board tells you the hall and section for your flight. We needed Hall 3 and Section D. Ever since I nearly missed my flight to Bangkok because I went to the wrong terminal, I am eager to get to an unfamiliar airport as early as I can. We were days early for our flight, so there were maybe a dozen people in line ahead of us.
When we got our boarding passes, we were assigned seats in the 12th row of the plane. Must be a small airplane to have economy seats in the 12th row.
We were sitting at gate 31, which is actually Gates 31 A through F. Our plane was to board at 31 B. There were announcements all over the place, but I didn’t hear one for British Airways 8001, which, as often happens, was combined with flights of two other airlines—Iberia and American, I think.
In any event, we were last to board, which is great because there are no lines, no waiting while people stuff the overhead bins. We get to row 12 and we are in business class.
God watches over fools and drunks. I got another upgrade. There are no built-in TVs on the plane. When the seat belt lights went out, the crew handed out iPads. The games were in French—real French, not pidgin French. I wasn’t in the mood for a movie. Who wants to watch the Lone Ranger by the Walt Disney studios?
I had to ask the kid across the aisle how to turn the damned thing off.
About an hour into the flight, it got even better. The drinks cart came by. I started with a short bottle of a 2012 Medoc, Chateau Moulin de Hontemieux. Joanna had apple juice.
My kind of fruit juice keeps the creative juices flowing because it lowers the inhibitions and convinces me that I am witty. So hell, I’ll write anything.
Joanna ordered more wine with lunch and so did I. She gave hers to me. I am really enjoying this business class. Be well, all.
P.S. Got to Newark on time, a little after one, and breezed through border control. It would have been even faster, but the couple ahead of us were clearly Moslems, so were being fingerprinted and questioned and photographed.
Made it home by 3 in the afternoon.