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Monday, October 27, 2008

What I Took From France

The last post on our French trip ... and it typifies two things I love about this country, and Paris in particular.

We live in such a young country, so it's really tough not to be impressed by how old Europe is. In Vancouver, a home that was built in 1912 is a rarity, and is classified as heritage. In France, it would be considered nicely broken in.

What I really enjoy is how many establishments, be they food, clothing or otherwise, have been around, well, forever. Marie-Anne Cantin has been selling her amazing cheeses on rue Cler since 1950, Poilâne has been baking their famous bread since 1932, and on rue Montorgueil, Stohrer has been operating as a traiteur and patissier since 1730. The latter also lays claim to the best eclairs in Paris, and after one visit I won't argue. Although in fairness, more research is needed ...

In Vancouver, we love our restaurant patios. The moment there's even a hint of sunshine, we're clambering for any deck space we can find. I would suggest that the French have us beat in this department.

True, in Paris the city seems to allow them to set up a table on any sidewalk, even to the detriment of pedestrians. Many, including the Café Flores in St Germain des Pres (where one goes when Deux Magots is overcrowded), have even been permitted to encroach on road space.

The epitome of the Parisienne experience for me is parking my butt in one of those surprisingly comfortable rattan backed chairs at a sidewalk café and ordering un express or better yet un express or un pastis and watching the world go by. Provided you don't do this during the lunch or dinner rush, there's no hurry to vacate the table. This little pause allows you to regroup, plan the rest of your day, catch up on Le Monde or just ... breathe. If there is one French custom I could bring to Vancouver, this would be it.

Even many of the city's monuments provide opportunities to dine al fresco. At the Musée Rodin, there is a café in the gardens. While not "gourmet" it is not badly priced, serves beer and wine, and comes with one of the nicest backdrops in all of Paris.

While not strictly legal in Parisienne parks, picnicking is yet another way to take advantage of the scenery. We've enjoyed many bottles of Bourgone and wedges of Comté on the banks of the Seine, but this trip we had what was probably my favorite picnic in Paris.

The location: Cimeterè Père Lachaise.
The food: Banh Mi from Saigon Sandwich.

It was a perfect combination of surreal surroundings (we were steps from Chopin's grave) and food that was not entirely "French." Yes, I'm aware of the French-Viet Nam connection, but the Asian food scene in Paris ain't nothing when compared to Vancouver. Still, the sandwich was really good, and reminded me, albeit a little too much, of home.

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