Letter from Amsterdam

Back in Amsterdam for August, after my longest stay back in the US since coming here in 1998, exactly six years ago. After nine (unplanned) months in California, it was surprising how easy it was to settle back into life here on the Berenstraat. After two days it seemed as if I’d never been away. The city itself doesn’t change much, and its seasonal rhythms repeat each year with familiar regularity.

Koffie

August is a month to be avoided in many European cities, a time when locals leave for holiday, and hordes of tourists overwhelm. Amsterdam on the other hand, is a fine place in August. Most of the locals do not leave, preferring to stay and enjoy the possibility warm weather and saving their holidays for the colder months. There is a large influx of tourists, Americans, French and especially Italians, however not so many as to overwhelm this admittedly small city. Restaurants, bars, museums and the city itself remain relatively quiet and accessible. And August here is a succession of street fairs and festivals: The gay pride festival with its boat parade; the intimate Hartjes Dagen weekend on the Zeedijk; the Grachten Festival culminating in a large classical concert on the Prinsengracht; de Parade, a sort of performance art traveling show; and the Uitmarkt, where the upcoming cultural season is previewed and a variety of free concerts are offered.

I returned just in time for all of this, and in time too to catch the end of a three week long heat wave–the only trace of summer this year according to locals. As is the custom, everyone has been complaining bitterly of the August weather as well as the Spring and Summer generally–it has been cool and very stormy.

Mostly I have just been reconnecting with old friends and making a few new ones, enjoying the street parties, visiting museums, sitting in cafes, and attempting to finish my novel and bring this revised travel website some degree of interest, and adding to it a number of previously uncirculated travelogues.

The Stadelijk (modern art) Museum, whose building on the Museumplien will be closed for some years for a much needed renovation, has relocated to temporary quarters on two floors of a groovy 1960’s mini-hi rise near centraal station. The building was once the Railway Post Office, and now its stripped to the concrete interiors a housing a variety of arts institutions. It’s best feature, I must admit, is the eleventh floor rooftop cafe, a cavernous space offering spectacular 360º views over Amsterdam. The world-famous Rijksmuseum is also closed for a six year renovation, with the major works relocated to a small attached annex. Though I haven’t seen the installation, I’m told it is perfect for the quick tourist visit, as all the famous works, and only those, are displayed together in a compact space!

As for me, it is nice to be back, even if it means I am drinking perhaps too much Dutch beer. The city with its canals and 17th century brick houses is, as always, beautiful–even in a rainstorm.

Clay Doyle, Amsterdam August 2004

A New York Journal, January 2000

With the Republican National Convention soon to begin in New York City, I thought I would post this nostalgic entry. It’s account of a trip to a wintry, snow covered Manhattan in the carefree pre- 9/11, pre- George Bush, pre- recession days of early 2000. It was a magical two weeks in a magical city; and though I’ve been back several times since then (and the other main character in this narrative has relocated there permanently), I’ve not had a better visit since.

New York

I wasn’t really sure if I would write about this trip to New York, as I have been a periodic visitor there for nearly 25 years. I made my first, brief, visit to New York in 1976 with a college roommate. Like all first-time visitors I was then simply amazed by the hugeness of it all: the skyscrapers, the subways, the architecture, as I suppose all first time visitors are.

I returned, alone, twice in the early 80’s. I stayed, on these visits, with a friend of a friend—a doctor who worked in a New York prison and lived in a large loft in the then decidedly unfashionable East Village between First and Avenue A. Today of course, this is prime real estate. These trips, visiting on my own, allowed me to really explore the city, and I did have the late writer and film historian Vito Russo as an occasional guide to the City’s nightlife. (Vito lived in then unfashionalbe Chelsea).

I made two short visits with my family. Once we stayed in a grand but faded suite atop the midtown Iriquois Hotel—a bargain because the hotel was in the process of being closed—piece by piece. When I next saw it, it was dark and abandoned; I meant to see on this visit if it had been reincarnated as a luxury hotel—as so many old places have recently, but I never got around to it. I have photos of my sisters ice-skating in the rink at Rockefeller Center.

On the next family visit, on the occasion of my brother’s graduation from West Point, my sister booked us into the garishly tacky Milford Plaza off Times Square (I can still remember their television commercials). Times Square, as you have no doubt heard, is now another world.

I returned to New York with Michael Logan one very hot week in July of 1984. We stayed at the fabulous Algonquin Hotel and saw Sondhiem’s “Sunday in the Park with George” which still impresses me with the way Seurat’s famous painting was recreated on stage by live actors. We visited Keith Haring’s Pop Shop and saw a very young Madonna hanging out at the Boybar. We lunched (twice) at the café which in summer replaces the ice-rink at Rockefeller Center, marveling at how much money one could spend on a hamburger and iced-teas. That sense of amazement at New York prices hasn’t changed.

I made three trips to New York in the 1990’s. A trip alone, by train from my brother’s house in Baltimore. I stayed with my Berkeley friend Jeremy in the East Village (the East Village of the musical Rent—edgy and hip, but not yet trendy). There was a great place, the Life Café, on the edge of Tompkins Square Park—it was a reflection of the neighborhood that it opened for breakfast at noon. That trip was devoted mainly to the museums and the theatre; the highlight for me being the totally amazing Part One of Angels in America.

I was also there briefly on a cross country driving trip with Konrad Kemper in 1996, and again for a few days to see the very talented Jeff Burton’s first New York photography show at the Casey Kaplan Gallery.

On both of these trips I stayed with Scott Robbe, newly returned to his long time home of New York after four years in Los Angeles, where we had the good fortune to meet through my friend and traveling companion, Rufus.

On this trip as well, Scott was kind enough to house Rufus and me (for two weeks!) in his rather spectacular apartment overlooking both Madison Square park and the famous Flatiron Building. But more than the accommodations, Scott is an enthusiastic host, and spent much of our visit introducing us to friends, taking us to restaurants, bars, a favorite show, and acting as a tireless guide to the New Manhattan.

And as you have heard, New York has changed dramatically in the past few years. Not just Times Square, but long, once desolate blocks all over the city are now alive with trendy cafes, galleries, shops and the ubiquitious Banana Republic stores. There is virtually no graffiti in Manhattan—a transformation that amazes me; and the city feels, for the first time in my experience, utterly safe—as safe as a big city in Western Europe. The downside to this prosperity and order? Everything is wildly expensive—especially housing, which is prohibitive. Anyone with a decent apartment in Manhattan occupies it through some very baroque and quasi-legal arrangement (some long ago resident’s name is always on the buzzer)—or else they live in Hoboken. The cleaned up city also means that nightlife—especially gay nightlife—is frightfully dull. Forget the 70’s entirely, it’s a mere shadow of what it was even in the early 90’s.

Still, it’s a city where even in two weeks we could not visit all the sights, museums, exhibitions, or theatre that we would have liked to have seen. It’s a city of fabulous restaurants and a city where you can get any sort of food, from any culture in the world. It’s a city where you can find and buy anything—if you have the money. It’s the only American city I know where you can routinely hear half a dozen languages being spoken at any one time. It’s noisy, it’s fast, it’s busy—but the drinks are strong and the people (like Paris, contrary to reputation) are by-and-large friendly. There’s a craziness to New York—you overhear it in the conversations of people who have tried too long and without success to achieve wealth or fame—but there’s an excitement too, which becomes a bit contagious.

* * * *

Arrived in New York on a Monday early evening in January, on a day of record subzero cold. Rufus, who had already been there nearly a week, met me at the Newark airport. He has already arranged a multitude of activities for our stay in New York: restaurant reservations, Broadway shows, etc…

The night of my arrival nothing is planned, though. Scott serves us wine and nibbly things—we are staying at his fabulous Madison Square penthouse. We go out to dinner at L’Express, a nearby French-ish bistro; I have onion soup and steak au poivre. The soup is good and the steak is especially good—but the unpeeled frites are very unFrench. After dinner Scott takes us around the corner to a very old New York bar, appropriately called the Old Town Bar—it still has it’s original 1910 interior. They have basketball on the TV and showtunes on the sound system, so there is something for everyone! There is almost no one there however, because it is extremely cold out and it’s Monday; the high temperature for the day was well below freezing and really you can only walk a couple blocks before it feels like your face is going to freeze off! In honor of my recent arrival, I have a Manhattan, which is especially tasty; then a second. My mistake though is the third, because after downing that I am extremely drunk. We take a cab to another bar—the Boiler Room—a gay/hipster joint in the East Village; there is no one there either. I have a club soda, but I am still reeling from the Manhattans. Fortunately we don’t stay long, and I am soon in bed where I belong.

Today I had to sleep late because of all the bourbon. Then Rufus and I met the photographer Ethan Hill for lunch. It is still bitterly cold out and the café we had chosen to meet in had a malfunctioning heating system! The waiters and few patrons were bundled in coats and gloves and you could see your breath inside the restaurant! Sensibly we went elsewhere—to the Union Square Coffee Shop—a sort of fabulous forties old place with a hipster crowd and designer-American food. Tasty though; I had a Cuban sandwich and Rufus had meatloaf. Ethan is doing very well shooting ads for Dell Computers and lots of other lucrative stuff. He made a beautiful portfolio on his Epson printer which he then bound in hardcover and slip-cased. It’s a thin little thing, but beautiful and has only portraits— his specialty.

We didn’t have plans after lunch, so we wandered a bit—even though it was too cold for it, really. We went into the newly hip Meatpacking District to a very silly shop called Jeffrey. Absurdly expensive designer clothes (you really couldn’t be too rich or too thin) and extravagantly overstaffed with cute shop clerks. Across the street we went to a gallery that sold art glass—lots of pieces at a hundred thousand dollars each—and most of them sold! New York is so rich; well it’s the same in LA and San Francisco—so much wealth. And desperate poverty. But New York does have a glamour that California lacks. That’s it really—its just so glamorous: women in furs; fancy stores and even fancier restaurants—by the hundreds. The extravagant 20th century architecture. We indulge ourselves in that glamour this evening with dinner at Tabla—a stylish and beautiful restaurant in the lobby of an art deco former insurance company building on Madison Square Park. It was lavish, and well, glamorous. Scott knows a couple of the waiters there (beautiful boys, glamorous in their own right). It’s an experience. From the moment you walk in the door and they rush up to take your coats and sweep you up the grand staircase to the dining room! The food is billed as Indian fusion—but it is pretty darn unique; I don’t know that you could classify it at all. The sauces and preparations are pretty unusual, but they do work. I wouldn’t say it’s the best food I’ve ever had, but it was very good—and certainly interesting. They sent us several extra things, and those were the best: an amuse bouche of pureed pumpkin, an in-between course of a shrimp (fabulously flavorful and on a excellent concoction of greens and star anise) and an extra dessert of warm chocolate-date cake. I had a starter of crispy sweetbreads in an incredibly rich sauce and a main course of scallops on a bed of chopped vegetables—those veggies were a bit of a disappointment. Rufus had an oxtail which was delicious and very rich, and Philip had a crusted skate wing that looked fantastic. Yes, the composer Phillip Littell joined us for dinner—he’s been living in New York for a while now and doing theatrical projects for Disney. It was great to see him again. He and Scott had not met before, but of course they know all the same fabulous people in New York and Los Angeles!

After dinner Philip was off to a club called Beige (the haunt, I’m told, of aspiring fashion models—everything in New York is so specialized) but we just came home to rest. It gives me a chance to make these notes.

The next morning I was still not fully recovered from travel and stayed in bed while Rufus went off to meet travel writer Rich Rubin for lunch. It was 3 in the afternoon before I got moving; but then Rufus and I took the subway uptown to the Whitney to see the “American Century” show. It was mostly pretty familiar work, but the presentation was interesting. And there were a few unfamiliar things—a positive result of being ‘inclusive’ with some works outside the white male artworld canon. This provided some new and unexpected work. We didn’t quite manage to see it all of course, so we may have to go back. Rufus especially would like to see Nan Goldin’s ‘Ballad of Sexual Dependency’, a slideshow that runs about 40 minutes; and there’s a Bill Viola work I’ve never seen.

After that we dashed over to Times Square on the subway so Rufus could deliver a note to a cabaret artist he dated in college—he’s now performing in New York. So I had a brief whirlwind tour of the new Times Square.

We had a play to attend at 8: Wit, the Pulitzer prize-winner from last year about a woman dying of cancer. It was very well written, a great character, some humor, but ultimately rather depressing. Intelligent and affecting though; only the very, very end seemed a bit overdone.

After that we had dinner at the Blue Water Grill, a seafood place in an old converted bank building. Very friendly waitress. We had some cold shrimps with cocktail sauce and then shared the fish special. It was a red drum fish from Florida—the waitress said it was a delicious, but very rare, fish. We hoped we weren’t eating the last of an endangered species. It was pretty tasty though.

We ended the evening by going with Scott to Pork at the Lure, a gay ‘scene’ where people stand around and sneer at each other. We met Scott’s friend Alan there and his boyfriend Lee from Tabla, and another waiter, Kane. Actually Rufus had met them all last week. Lee is rather intense and asks lots of questions and likes to discuss literature—an odd topic in a gay bar. Kane is astonishingly cute in an out-of-the mainstream way: he’s small and really skinny and has a very cute but perhaps oddly shaped head. The club was fine because of the company, and they had an artist doing portraits which was fun—and they looked good in the dark and after a few beers! The artist has an opening tomorrow in a gallery so I might go check him out in more critical surroundings. At 2am everyone left—really nearly everyone—but Rufus and I stayed another 45 minutes talking to Kane.

Thursday morning New York City was a winter wonderland. The snow swirled in huge flakes outside our window overlooking a white and gray Manhattan. The snow kept up all day long, and the city turned white. The temperature increased to a still-cold-but-at-least-tolerable-to-be-outside temperature, though the snow made the sidewalks uncomfortably slippery for me. I managed not to fall down, remarkably, but it did slow me down considerably. We grabbed a bit of lunkfast at the nearby Mayrose café (I had a huge and tasty American baked macaroni and cheese). Then we took the subway to Central Park and strolled through the south end of the park. The snow was still coming down and the park was all wintry white and bare black-brown elm trees with snow dusting their branches. We walked through the zoo, all beautifully restored, and the promenade down to the Bethesda fountain, and the boathouse in a frozen lake. There were a few people out, lots of children playing and sledding a throwing snowballs; and people taking pictures. We walked about an hour, until our toes became frozen in our boots and decided to stop in a fancy Central Park hotel for a warm beverage. We had our choice of the Plaza, or the Pierre, or the Sherry-Netherland, which was the one Rufus chose. It has a tiny, unprepossessing lobby and the only bar is the adjacent Harry’s Cipriani (as in Venice) very understated and very expensive! We each had an Irish coffee (30 bucks for 2 with tip!) We were entertained by eavesdropping on this group at the next table—some sort of Texas cattle baron and his wife from Dallas and their polo-playing investment bankers! It was like something out of a movie. They could not have been more stereotypical—we just couldn’t stop listening to their conversation.

From the bar we walked down Fifth Avenue, stopping at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and (more prosaically) at Banana Republic, and then at Saks. The Saks store is so incredibly elegant and beautiful—it’s rather amazing that the original at Fifth Avenue is so different form all the branch stores—which seem rather ordinary. I bought Rufus a belated Christmas gift—a DKNY sweater that he liked that had been marked down four times, so it was at last a reasonable price.

We got the subway at Rockefeller Center and went to an art opening in Chelsea at the Gallery 220—the artist we saw drawing portraits at the Lure the night before. Actually the show was titled Men at the Lure (Grant Schaeffer was the artist). It was a small gallery with a gay/hipster crowd (not unlike the crowds we used to get at the Gallery at The Doyle/Logan Company—and just as cheap; lots of drawings at $300 with no takers). Actually the portraits were quite nice: interesting, well drawn and nicely presented.

We came back to Scott’s to drop off stuff and change and took a taxi down to Sixth Street for an Indian dinner. Ate at Mutani where we had fantastic starters—wonderful meaty samosas; a concoction of spicy garbanzos with a puffy bread; and a fantastic sweet coconut soup that I remember from my very first Indian meal, also on Sixth Street 20 years ago. We shared a main course combo plate of more traditional Indian things that was fine, but not outstanding like the starters—I suspect we should have been more adventurous in our ordering.

After dinner, as we were in the East Village, we went out for a bit of gay nightlife. First we stopped at Wonderbar, which was cute, though not too busy. We had a comfy seat and sipped club soda and watched people come and go. From there we went to a ‘club’ at The Cock, which really was less interesting than it sounds. It wasn’t too busy either, but they had a five dollar cover and a couple of go-go boys. It was hard to tell who was less interested in the show though, the audience or the dancers. We left by 2.

Today we got up and went to lunch with Rufus’ friend Cindy. She is from Big Stone Gap and they went to school together and then to UVA together and she even lived in LA for a while. I met her once before but remembered her very differently. Now she is a lawyer and works for a small firm with offices in the Empire State Building. We went to her office (so fun—the Empire State Building!) and she introduced us to everyone who worked there and then we went to lunch. We went to an Italian place nearby and I had fettuccine alfredo for breakfast! (I really have to start getting up and about earlier in the day). After lunch, she gave us building passes to the observation deck so we went up to the top of the building for the view. It was clear today (the snow stopped and mostly all swept away) so the view was incredible—but so was the wind! So mostly you had to admire the view from inside the tacky souvenir shop that fills the enclosed part to the observation deck. On the plus side—not too crowded today!

After that we did a bit of shopping around Union Square; coffee and browsing at the huge Barnes & Noble bookstore and I bought a pair of pants at Banana Republic to take advantage of “no-sales-tax on clothing week” in New York. At 5:30 we met our friend Lauren, a producer at Nickelodeon, and her friend and colleague Dennis, back at Scott’s. We drank a bottle of wine and then all ventured out in the frigid wind to go to dinner. Scott led us to a really good little Thai restaurant in Chelsea with the rather uninspired name of ‘Regional Thai Taste’. It was very good though: lots of seafood, very clear flavors, lots of spice.

Dennis deserted us after dinner but Lauren stayed for one drink at Blu—an odd Chelsea bar that would have been very comfortable (couches and tables) except for the dance music blasting at full volume. We had cosmopolitans—tasty but (yet again) expensive.

Lauren went home after we left Blu, and I was feeling lively enough that I would have continued on from there—it was only ten or so—but we made the mistake of returning to Scott’s house to regroup. After sitting in the warm for an hour, going out seemed less appealing. Rufus wanted to go to club 1984 at the Pyramid in the East Village—which I’ll admit sounded amusing, and which might have provided a reason to venture out. Scott was coordinating meeting other friends however, and they wouldn’t be going out ’til after midnight, and by that time there would be a long line at 1984, and so then we would just go to an East village bar with a jukebox—and that didn’t seem worth going out in the cold for to me. So I decided to stay home; and then Rufus put on his pj’s and went to bed, and only Scott went out. So I’m sitting up to write this. It is very windy out!

***

An amusing weekend in New York. (Firstly, it’s probably good for the rest of our weekend that we did not venture out with Scott on Friday night—though it seems a very fun time was had by all—but the evening lasted until 7 am, which might have made it difficult to enjoy Saturday day. And our Saturday was great!)

We got to breakfast a bit before noon: just a quick bite at the nearby Mayrose (actually I had a grilled chicken sandwich). Then took the subway uptown to a matinee of “Cabaret”. We got there early so walked around a bit by Central Park South and past Columbus Circle (ugly and unimpressive) and then to Studio 54 for the performance. Studio 54, the famous disco era nightclub, has been stripped of its slick, dance-club interior (so I’m told—I never actually went there in it’s heyday), and has been returned to a somewhat decaying early 20th century theatre, but outfitted with café tables, each with a little lamp, so the interior is like a grand, but faded…cabaret. And, naturally, you can order expensive drinks as well. Actually we had decent bottle of French Champagne for 35 dollars, so they weren’t that bad (90 bucks each for the theatre tickets though. Ouch!). The production was quite good though, and the whole atmosphere is very fun. Some of my favorite songs in the show belong to Frau Schnieder, the landlady–and these were cut from the movie along with her plot line! It’s hard to see the show and not think of all its other incarnations: Isherwood’s fiction, and his autobiography, and the movie and Bob Fosse. Still it holds up well and has some great songs.

After the show we walked cross town to Bloomingdale’s. It wasn’t that exciting though. I don’t think I’ve been there in 15 years, but I remembered it as being rather glamorous—with lots of wild (if unwearable and/or unaffordable) designer menswear. It just seemed like a typical department store—the Bloomingdale’s in Century City is more interesting, if I dare to say so!

There’s a subway stop in the basement though, so we took a train down to Grand Central Station to have a look at results of the renovation. It’s spectacular! The main concourse is beautiful—and it is probably the only public space in New York City with no advertising! There is a fancy restaurant on the balcony with a spectacular view over the room, but we headed to the basement to the famous Oyster Bar. It’s not chic, but it’s pretty cool, with long counters to sit at and fabulous fresh seafood. We had a couple glasses of Muscadet and a plate of fried oysters and fresh some clams on the half shell from the raw bar. Delicious—and I rarely eat raw clams or oysters. We could have gorged on more raw things and chowders and crab cakes, but we had an invitation to dinner, so just a snack. We left planning a return in the coming week.

There’s also a big food hall beneath the station, and a wine shop, where we picked up a bottle to take to dinner. We took the train back to Scott’s and picked him up to go to dinner with Alan and Lee. They live in the West Village, and had invited us all over for a home cooked meal—which seems to be something of a rarity in Manhattan, where everyone either goes out, or orders in. It’s the only city I know where you can even get breakfast delivered! Lee is Korean, and from Minnesota, and apparently he likes to cook. Alan, a true New Yorker, never enters their kitchen. They have a cool apartment in old building which, in an arrangement typical of new York, they occupy with some kooky heiress who is hardly ever there. We didn’t meet her; she wasn’t there. Lee made a very nice dinner for us. First we had cocktails and gorged on cheese then sat down to a dinner of chicken baked with apples, potatoes, and pea pods. Scott brought a tiramisu cake for dessert. We sat around talking ’til almost 1 am—Scott and Alan didn’t want to go out because of the excitement of the night before. Rufus and I left finally to go to the East Village clubs. Rufus wanted to go back to The Cock where they have some sort of vulgar but funny show on Saturdays, but by the time we got there there was a line—it was short but it never moved. It was also a bit worrisome because everyone in line seemed to be some kind of greaseball—not at all appealing and it didn’t seem to bode well for the crowd inside—so we bailed and went to the Phoenix. It’s just a casual sort of place with a jukebox. It was fun—we had a couple of beers and watched the crowd. Then we stopped at Dick’s—not too busy—but they have a mad jukebox (it had been overridden by a DJ for Saturday night sadly) loaded with obscure New Wave discs like ‘the Xray Specs!’ We left there and went to The Boiler Room where everyone was really friendly (and really drunk) ‘cuz it was after 3 am. Then we got into a cab and came home.

Sunday began with a very late brunch with Scott. Nothing Fancy, just a typical American breakfast at a coffee shop on third avenue. Really good waffle and bacon—really bad coffee. One thing that hasn’t changed in New York is the coffee—it is still the worst in the world. I swear that they leave it simmering on the hot plate for a full day before they deem it ready to serve. Even the lattes and cappuccinos are mediocre at best. The ubiquitous ‘Starbucks’ that have sprung up everywhere are most welcome here—but of course they don’t have decent food.

After breakfast (at 3pm!) we took the subway all the way up the East Side to 103rd street to the little-visited Museum of the City of New York. At 103rd street, the railroad tracks that run under Park avenue have emerged from underground and run along an elevated viaduct and the ultra-posh Upper East Side has given way to a more Harlem-esque cityscape. Fifth Avenue though, with its views over the very north end of Central Park maintains an air of grandeur. The Museum of the city of New York, at Fifth and 103rd, is rather grand itself, though the building is far more imposing than its collections. There was a nice temporary exhibition of photographs of the ruined hospital buildings on the unrestored half of Ellis Island. There was an interesting ‘history of New York City’ room, with a timeline and fun artifacts from the last hundred years. There is also a big Broadway/theatre section of the museum, with artifacts from the Gershwins and South Pacific and Cole Porter and Noel Coward. And there were temporary exhibits of costume/fashion. There was also a collection of 19th century furniture and a few paintings, but we ran out of time and just sort of dashed by these. There is a nice shop at the museum that has good books (Dawn Powell novels) and really nice photographic prints of views of New York made from the negatives in the Museum’s collection.

Since we were on Fifth, We caught the bus that runs all the way down Fifth Avenue and got off at the stop that is directly in front of Scott’s building! It’s sort of a fun ride, as it takes you past many of the monuments of New York: The Guggenheim, the Met, the Plaza Hotel, Rockefeller Center, The Library, the Empire State Building…). We had intended to rest up a bit when we got back, before our big dinner (we had reservations at Balthazar—one of the city’s most in-demand eateries). But instead of resting we went with Scott to the Mercer Hotel for a drink. A friend of his from LA (who directs commercials with American stars for Japanese television, for products they wouldn’t dare be seen endorsing in the US) was in town to shoot something and staying at the Mercer. It’s very cool-sophisticated; spare and beautiful—and arranged so that you can’t actually sit close enough to anyone to carry on a conversation with them! Big leather sofas and chairs, very far apart. There was a whole wall of cool art books in the lobby though, so it would be a fine place to hang out alone.

Our restaurant, Balthazar, was near the hotel, on Spring street in Soho. We had heard and read great things about it, and getting a reservation was quite the process involving a call a week in advance to get the reservation, and a mandatory call back the same day to confirm the reservation. On the plus side, we were seated immediately upon arrival, and the place was very busy. The place is a pretty authentic reproduction of a French Brasserie—tiled floor, antique mirrors, dark wood, and tiny tables jammed together. There’s a raw bar with oyster shuckers—though it’s inside and not out on the sidewalk. Rufus was expecting—from all the hype—something a bit more. As he commented “this is just like any restaurant in Europe!” Well, yes and no. The food was typical French brasserie/bistro and totally excellent. We started with steak tartare—which was rich and delicious—and a very good goat cheese tart. For main courses Rufus had a large, beautiful pork chop and I had the cassoulet (served only on Sundays, and perfect). We drank a very good, and reasonably priced 96 Chinon. The service however, could not have been less French. It was rushed, and fussy, and bordered on inept. Things came to the table much too quickly—starters arrived before the wine, main courses arrived as soon as the starters had been cleared, and some one was always pouring water or wine—and worse—reaching across our table to pour water or wine for the adjacent table. We really just wanted to tell the waiter to go away and leave us in peace for twenty minutes! We settled for lounging after the main course with the dessert menus and refusing to order anything for a good long time. Finally I had some profiteroles and Rufus had a glass of sherry. In the end we stretched dinner out to a respectable 2 hours, without any coffee. Despite the service, the food was really good though, and I’d love to go back—though I would go next time at an off hour, perhaps after ten when the frenzy has died down.

After dinner we came home and changed, and went out to check the Sunday night scene at New York’s bars. And what we found is that there isn’t one—on Sunday night ‘the city that never sleeps’ seem to be, well, sleeping. We went to the Spike—a half dozen people and very bored bartenders. The Eagle—a few people—but very unattractive. The Lure—us, two other patrons, and the bartender. We had a very long chat with the bartender though, he was very nice. From there, we decide not to press our luck, and returned home.

Today (Monday) we were slow to get started as well; however we did drop off our clothes at the laundry—an accomplishment! We went to the Mayrose for lunch—I do like their macaroni and cheese (I sound like my nephew!). Rufus went back to the apartment to work on an article he was writing, and I went for a walk. Today the weather has warmed up considerably—it was only chilly—and quite pleasant for walking. I didn’t even need my hat. I walked down Broadway, past Union Square, past the antique shops, past the discount clothing shops. Stopped at Shakespeare and Company to look at books (Umberto Eco essays and the book about Hitler’s Pope), The Gap to look for cargo pants on sale (none), a discount store to look for cheap jeans (all of them cheap but the Levis). I walked all the way down into Soho and ended up back at Balthazar, where I got a café latte and pain au chocolate from their boulangerie (I couldn’t resist) and ate it sitting on a bench out front and watching the people pass by. (Good latte by the way—thank God.) The pastry was good but not sublime—I was hoping for sublime; everything looks delicious.

I was going to take the subway back home (mainly because I had to pee, and New York has no public facilities even though the mayor just last week ordered that anyone urinating in the street be arrested) when I noticed I was right in front of the Guggenheim Soho, which is open ’til 6 and is free. So I went in and used the bathroom and saw the show. It was an exhibition of Andy Warhol’s “The Last Supper”, paintings and silk-screens and drawings all based on Da Vinci’s last supper and also Warhol’s last work before his death. It was worth seeing, and it was just me and the security guards up there—and they have nice restrooms FYI.

Thus rejuvenated I walked back to Scott’s; first over to Washington Square and then down Fifth Avenue. When I got back, Rufus wanted to go to the movies, so we took the subway back to Soho and saw Pedro Almodovar’s film “All About My Mother” (which we had to see in the states because we really needed those subtitles to be in English). After the movie we walked to Greenwich Village and had slices (pizza slices—really good ones; one of the things you cannot get in the Netherlands is really good pizza). Then we walked some more, into Chelsea, and had Krispy Kreme donuts for desert.

Tuesday we were prompted out of bed at a reasonable hour by the arrival of some workman to replaster part of Scott’s hallway wall. So we left the apartment around 9:30 and set off to get a small breakfast. We went to the café at the ABC home/carpet store just down Broadway; it’s quite a mad little place—as Rufus remarked, “it’s as if Miss Havisham opened a tea room.”

Everything in it is for sale: venetian chandeliers and marble tables and all sorts of doo-dads. We had Café Latte and a bagel and a chocolate croissant—for 15 dollars. The store is just as mad—lots of odd antiques and faux antiques and decorative junk. After that we went in search of film and stumbled upon this great used camera store. They had a huge inventory of used photographic equipment in beautiful condition; lots of Olympus stuff, including the 100mm lens I have been looking for—but the prices are outrageous! I talked to Scott about it later and he said you have to bargain aggressively with them—something I’m not too good at.

We had arranged to meet Jeremy Proctor for lunch, so at 12:30 we returned to Scott’s apartment. The plasterers had finished their work already. Jeremy arrived about one. He has only recently returned to New York City, where he lived some years ago, after taking an undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley and masters degree in theatre at Harvard. He also spent this past summer at a theatre company in Moscow as part of the Harvard program. We got updated on all this during lunch back at the hip Union Square Coffee Shop. We ate the afternoon away, with soups and a quesadilla and pasta for Jeremy (who has always been a vegetarian) and a Caesar salad for me and a turkey burger for Rufus. And berry pie. A huge lunch. Jeremy has the classic good looks of an actor—tall, dark haired, handsome. He was really good-looking when he was 20, he’s really good-looking now, some 13 years later, and he will undoubtedly really good looking 15 years from now. He’s been back in the city only a few months, and auditioning for plays and commercials, and TV series such as the Sopranos and City of Angels. With his looks, and his training, it’s pretty easy to believe that there are big things in store for him; although Jeremy seems, unlike most aspiring actors, to be far more interested in acting than in celebrity or money. But he’s always been odd that way! In the mean time, he is working for a design firm—the same firm he worked for when he lived in the East Village eight years ago—building sets and installations for corporate events. After lunch, we walked over to Chelsea and saw the design offices—which are pretty cool, and also have this huge woodworking shop attached.

The weather today was back to being pretty awful—cold, a bit wet, and very slippery. I had thought that maybe it would be a good day to go to the MoMA and hang out indoors, but by the time we left Jeremy it was already almost 4 o’clock. So instead of art we took the subway to the East Village to the Kiehl’s drugstore and I spent 90 bucks on shampoos, shaving creams, soaps and lotions. Crazy I know, but Rufus got a bunch of samples from them a couple years ago when he worked at the magazine and their stuff is really good—and more than a little hard to find. I hope I find the products as terrific as I remember them! From there we went shopping in Soho to try to find Rufus some new boots—without much success. Anything he liked—at the various discount shoe emporiums—was not available in his size.

By the time we returned to the apartment, it was snowing quite heavily. We had a drink there with Scott, then the three of us set off for the evening’s entertainment. We had tickets to ‘De La Guarda’ a mad theater event that Scott had recommended highly—and that people we talked to seemed to love or hate; no one takes the middle ground. We dashed through the snow down to Union Square, to a theatre in an old bank building. The performance, which runs just about an hour and ten minutes, takes place in a space without seats. You enter a dark room, where the walls and ceiling are covered with paper and just sort of wait. Since Scott had been before, he rather knew the best place to position us for the show. It’s not really theatre but sort of circus/acrobatics/performance—but the whole thing is done by performers on bungee cords! There is lots of flying and bouncing and things dropped into the audience. It’s interesting, because there is sound and noise, but no dialogue or language—perhaps a few words of Spanish; the show was developed by a theater troupe in Argentina—but it is completely accessible regardless of what language you speak. I think it is all just action and physicality, and mindless fun—but I can totally see how you could read some deeper meaning into it if you are so inclined. I’m sure some do.

After that we walked in the blowing snow to the East Village, to a sushi restaurant, and had a big platter of sushi and sashimi. That was good—I hadn’t had sushi in a while, and it was a treat. After that we went to the Boiler Room—walking down the now totally deserted East Village streets, with the snow piled high and still falling—and had a scotch; and then to the Wonderbar for another. We ran into Kane and two of his friends there. We had a good time except that Rufus knocked a full glass of scotch and soda into Scott’s lap right after we got there, and that had to be very cold. At least he was wearing black so it didn’t show. We stayed for two drinks then left Kane and his friends. The snow had stopped by the time we left—much to Scott’s displeasure, as he was really hoping for a storm that would prevent him from going to the office—but the streets were snowy and slick and we had the slowest taxi ride ever back to the apartment.

The next day we were a bit slow to get going—naturally! I hung around the apartment ’til well after noon (we had some yummy Balthazar sticky buns that we had picked up the day before at Dean & Deluca for breakfast). Rufus had an article to work on so I went out in the afternoon without him. I walked down to a little diner joint on 16th street called Chat and Chew to have a bite of lunch. I sat at the counter and ate more macaroni and cheese. It was quite good and a dollar cheaper than Mayrose. I was thinking it would be a fun article (for what or whom I don’t know) to write about all the different macaroni and cheese from all the different café/diners in Manhattan. Then I thought I should really do it with my nine-year-old nephew Jonathan, as his favorite food is macaroni and cheese. He, being a child, likes it creamy and mild and I prefer a sharper cheese and a baked crusty top. I think we’d be a good macaroni and cheese team!

Fortified, I took the subway uptown to the Museum of Natural History. There was an old man playing the flute in the subway car. I gave him a dollar—his song was cheerful, but more than that I was impressed that he could stand and play the flute and keep his balance as we lurched in and out of stations.

It was still very cold and the park as seen from the museum was covered in white. In fact the area all around the museum is very beautiful—a monument to the early 20th century. You have the park, with the towers of midtown rising to the south; the museum, built in three styles—a late 19th century Richardsonian Romanesque revival, a monumental early 20th century classical revival, and a late 20th century transparent glass cube. And surrounding the museum and stretching up and down Central Park West are the ornate prewar apartment towers with their setbacks and fanciful roof lines.

The vast museum was nearly deserted, I bought a general admission ticket and a ticket to the tropical butterfly environment. I went to see the butterflies first—they’ve set up a green house which they stock with cocoons of various species and the butterflies hatch and fly about. They had some very large ones from Costa Rica—one landed on me and rode me around while I toured the exhibit. They are very strange creatures, each species of caterpillar will eat only one species of plant; in the cocoon the caterpillar breaks down into single cells ’til there is nothing left of it and the cells reform into the butterfly; butterflies can eat only liquids and live a short time—their only job is to mate. As you can see it was an educational, as well as pretty, exhibit.

From there I visited the one hall open in the new Earth and Space center currently nearing completion. It was all about rocks essentially—and volcanoes, earthquakes, tectonic plates and that sort of thing. Very multi-media and slickly put together. The whole center, when it opens, is supposed to be quite spectacular. From there I went to the fourth floor to the hall of Dinosaurs (and prehistoric mammals). This was only partially open the last time I visited the museum, but now the entire floor has been completed. Visually it is spectacular—with vast reconstructed skeletons and models of the beasts—and scientifically it is quite complex, allowing one to trace the evolutionary lines of different classes of prehistoric creatures. My favorite thing about the exhibit (after watching the BBC series “Walking with Dinosaurs”, where one followed the daily activities multi-colored dinosaurs in minute detail) were the signs all over the museum forcefully warning that we don’t know with any certainty what color dinosaurs were, how they interacted, how they moved or really very much at all about them! The curators are obviously not amused by conjecture presented as fact.

The dinosaur section is huge so I didn’t have time to explore the really old sections of the museum—the huge halls of dioramas of stuffed exotic animals or the cabinets full of gemstones. It was closing time by then, and I was meeting Rufus for a full evening of Broadway theatre.

We arranged to meet at the Oyster Bar at Grand Central. This time we sat at the counter at the raw bar, and sampled a selection of raw oysters selected by the counterman. We followed that with a couple of bowls of clam chowder—good, but next time I would opt for the stew or panroast, which is concocted from fresh seafood right before your very eyes by a chef who’s only job is to make the stew/panroast (I couldn’t tell what the difference was between a stew and a panroast even after watching him make them—but they are served in different bowls). Everyone was ordering them so they must be as good as they look. We were going to order some fried clams or calimari too, but we were full after the chowder. Instead we split a piece of key lime pie.

I have to say the Oyster Bar is one of my favorite places in New York, It’s not fancy, and it’s not really cheap. But the food is delicious and I love the counter and the prewar ambiance of the place.

After dinner it was off to Times Square and the beautifully restored Moorish-style Martin Beck Theatre for the revival of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate. The songs in the show are some of Cole Porter’s silliest; they are also among Rufus’ favorite Broadway tunes, so we just had to go. Both leads were replaced by understudies that night, but it didn’t matter too much to me—I didn’t really know who the leads were anyway. Besides it’s quite an ensemble show—almost every character gets a big number to sing. It was very big and elaborate and fun and the songs (as they should be with so slight a book) were given center stage and presented with (I think) all of their multitudinous and very silly verses.

Cole Porter should be enough theatre for one night, but we were only halfway through our evening. By a strange coincidence, an old college friend of Rufus’, from UVA, who he hadn’t seen in eight years was performing that night in a Times Square Cabaret. We dashed (rather literally) over after Kiss Me Kate to the Cabaret room at the Firebird restaurant—a swanky but tiny shoebox of a room with baby grand smack in the middle and a dozen tables surrounding it. We were seated at a table to the side and back (it seemed like the worst table in the house, but I wasn’t complaining because if he turned out to be truly awful I would not want to be sitting front and center). New York seems full of these prissy, expensive cabaret rooms, and one does wonder who spends their evenings in them. Surveying the crowd at the firebird, we found theatrically attired women of a certain age; natty sweater queens of a certain age, and a variety of eccentrics all, one assumes from appearances, working one way or another in “the theatre”.

I have to say, I had quite prepared myself for the worst. Jack Donahue surprised me though with a pleasant, entertaining, and compact collection of songs. He’s strikingly handsome—which never hurts in a singer; he’s very charming and tells amusing stories between songs; and the songs themselves seemed well chosen from, in some cases, very unlikely sources (you can buy his forthcoming CD and judge for your self on that though). He’s got a good voice and sings well, though (as Rufus tells me he trained as an actor) he tends to over act while singing—emoting as if from a theatre stage rather than in a room of 30 people. We met him for a drink across the street after the show, so Rufus and he could catch up briefly on the last eight years, and he is equally charming offstage.

However, before we could leave the Firebird to meet Jack across the street we had a rather interesting encounter. Towards the end of Jack’s show an odd little man took a vacant chair at our table. After the show he began a conversation with us—first a series of fairly awful jokes; then some complaints about his grandchildren, particularly their lack of penmanship; and then the usual complaints about the state of the world. One could tell that he was going to be quite the eccentric because he was wearing pince-nez! It turns out that he is Bill Holt, the owner of the Firebird cabaret, and restaurant, and he is what could only be described by that archaic New York term ‘impresario.’ Did he therefore offer to pay our outrageous cabaret bill (70 dollars for the 45 minute show and two drinks)? I’m afraid he did not. What we got instead was a guided tour of his over-the-top Russian restaurant and highlights from his life story. It seems he married an exiled Russian noble (despite giving every appearance of being something of a mad old queen) and is obsessed with Russian culture. After making a killing in the insurance business he decided to open a Russian restaurant. It’s madly opulent, with Russian paintings (authentic and copies,) ballet costumes in Plexiglas display boxes, family photos, elaborate place settings—all quite mad—and a bit reminiscent of the Russian restaurant in Tallinn, so I’m willing to believe it’s a moderately authentic reproduction. By the time he finished our tour, the staff had locked the doors and were counting great stacks of money.

Across the street at the Irish bar where we finally met Jack for a drink, a rather strange friend of his was singing a Bob Dylan song in a dead-on impression. It was a night of non-stop entertainment.

Thursday we left behind the world of the theatre for the world of art; we decided to visit some of the new galleries in the meatpacking district and the streets just west of Chelsea. Had lunch at a really charming little French café in Chelsea called Le Gamin. Great coffee, slow Euro-style service; and really good croques and crepes. The new galleries are springing up on the cross streets between 10th and 11th avenues—in between wholesale shipping and car repair and what little industry remains in Manhattan. Between the trucks and the building renovations (and the snow and ice) finding, and getting into, some of the galleries was a little difficult. A lot of the galleries, even here, deal in established artists and big names. The mammoth new Gagosian gallery held only one piece: an enormous Richard Serra rusted iron walk-through sculpture which filled the entire building. We saw a very fun video (and I don’t usually have the patience for video art) at the Paula Cooper Gallery (‘Telephones’ by Christian Marclay) made entirely of short movie clips featuring telephones. We also saw some Dan Flavin sculptures (see, names) and I thought again how easy a time an art forger would have with his work. I like them though and thought about making one for myself. We toured one enormous building that was all galleries; here finally were some new and emerging artists. Most of the work was derivative, and dull, and not very interesting, but a few things stood out.

There were some terrific black and white paintings of the surfaces of water done on Plexiglas by Sarah Leahy. These were really quite beautiful and fresh. They were also really inexpensive. There only flaw was that they were attached to the wall with screws through holes drilled in the corners. As a gallery owner, I can guess that this method was used because the artist couldn’t afford the cost of framing the works—but the paintings are really too elegant for this treatment. I wish her great success so that she can raise her prices and have her next series beautifully framed, as befits such fine work. Also, after slogging up eight floors of galleries, we saw some terrific large scale paintings of crowds of men in 40’s style hats. The view was from slightly above so all you could see mostly were the hats. It was an odd gallery though—everyone there busily shouting into cell phones in Spanish and no information at all on the artist—I don’t even know his name.

We were going to continue our day of art with a return to the Whitney Museum—to finish up where we left off and have a look at the Bill Viola and watch Nan Goldin’s slideshow in its entirety. We had thought (along with quite a few other college students and art loving cheapskates) that Thursday nights from 6-8 were free entry—but alas it turns out that that is only the first Thursday of the month, which this wasn’t. Having paid to see the show once, I was loathe to give them another $25 for the two of us to spend an additional hour in the museum. We were supposed to meet Lauren there, but she hadn’t shown up. We were walking up Madison avenue trying to decide what to do (and there is very little to do on these residential blocks of the Upper East Side) when we ran right into Lauren on her way from the subway. After a good deal of walking east we found a café/bar (so unmemorable I can’t recall its name) and plotted dinner over a martini. We were thinking Italian and not too expensive—actually I had a craving for ‘New York’ Italian and when I said I just wanted someone to bring me plates of food, Lauren said she new just the place. We were joined by Lauren’s friend Dennis, who lives nearby, and we all took a taxi down to Little Italy.

La Mela is perhaps the ugliest restaurant I have ever seen. You might, if you were being very kind, call it fun-spirited and leave it at that. It’s a long, narrow, crowded place; the walls are covered entirely with stapled up snapshots and laser prints of the patrons; the furniture is plastic and covered with the most garishly colored plastic tablecloths imaginable. To top it all off, hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room is a sort of homemade plastic cock and balls arrangement which light up when the owner (owner? Maitre’d?) pulls a string. Well, despite this assault on the senses, the staff is most congenial and the food is just as Lauren described—copious platters brought to the table with no questions asked! First they plonk down two (liter!) bottles of wine—decent stuff—a red and a white from Italy, and then they lay on the antipasto: Grilled peppers, caprese, etc. Next is a huge platter with three pastas: a gnocchi, a penne in ragu and spaghetti. Finally a platter of secondi: garlic roasted chicken, prawns, veal picatta. Oh yes and a selection of desserts.

After dinner we actually persuaded Lauren and Dennis to join us for a drink, so we went to the Wonderbar. Just one though; After that it was home for everyone.

Friday Rufus had a meeting at Travel & Leisure magazine. I went to Chelsea for a haircut at a place called the Service Station, and had a bowl of onion soup at Le Gamin. We met up again at the Museum of Modern Art for the ModernStarts ‘People, Places. Things’ retrospective on the origins of “modern” art. Fridays the MoMA stays open ’til 8pm so we had a leisurely stroll through the galleries—till the very last few rooms of ‘places’, where we were, as usual rushed, by the museum’s imminent closing.

We took the oh-so-convenient Fifth Avenue bus back to Scott’s apartment—the bus stop is literally at the door to his building. Scott arranged dinner reservations at Alley’s End—a stylish restaurant tucked away down some stairs off a little alley in Chelsea. We had a nine-thirty reservation, but didn’t get a table till almost eleven. The place was a complete mob scene with (as the very fun girl behind the bar described them) obnoxious straight guys trying to impress their girls, and a Fellini-esque cast of mob-family characters assembling for a private party. I didn’t mind the wait though—we had seats at the bar and the bartender liked us; the crowd was a hoot, the martinis good. When we were seated we got a really fine booth and the food was really good. I had a ceviche starter then a steak with mashed potatoes; the short menu was all stylish American food. The wait staff, who were very nice, kept warning us that the kitchen was very slow, but to me the pace seemed merely refreshingly European.

After dinner we went for ‘just one ‘ drink at the Phoenix—which of course turned into three before we called it night and headed for bed.

On Saturday, Rufus and I took the Subway to Brooklyn, to meet our friend Jeremy at his new home. He’s got the top floor of an old Brooklyn brownstone with a view across the rooftops to the skyline of lower Manhattan. It’s an old Italian neighborhood with long shopping street full of cafes. He took us to the Harvest, a popular spot with big American Breakfasts—eggs, pecan pancakes, French toast, hash.

After breakfast we had a nice long walk—we walked all the way back to Manhattan as a matter of fact. It was a nice day, not so cold, and very clear. We walked the promenade along the east river in Brooklyn Heights, then took the pedestrian promenade across the Brooklyn Bridge. Great view of both the bridge and the city. We sort of strolled all over lower Manhattan and into the West Village and finally back to Scott’s.

Jeremy had a dinner engagement so Scott took Rufus and I down to Chinatown to a funny little place specializing in Chinese seafood. We had some seafood wontons and salt-baked prawns and a whole steamed sea bass.

After dinner we went back to Chelsea, to the bar Blu to meet friends: Mike Ognibene, who we met a year and half ago in Amsterdam; his Bosnian boyfriend Edin, and Marc Leonard, a friend of Scott’s. We chatted (as best one can above the blaring music) over several cocktails.

Sunday we had another big American breakfast at Chat and Chew then went to the movies to see ‘American Beauty,’ which Rufus had been desperate to see. It actually lives up to its rave reviews; it was much better than I thought it would be from seeing the previews. In the early evening Scott took us to the old gay bars of the West Village—which must now be the dullest gay bars in New York. The clientele at the Monster looked like they hadn’t left those barstools since 1969; The crowd at the Hangar likewise looked as if they stepped out of some 70’s leather bar timewarp—and to top it off they were all watching the Super Bowl! As Rufus said, “For this we rioted!?!”).

We had one more drink at a fashionable Italian restaurant on 10th street—Caffe Torino—in a building that used to be The Ninth Circle—a rather fun bar of the 1980’s frequented by artists and punks and hustlers. Scott and I realized that we had probably both been there at the same time some night long before we knew each other. On my first few visits to New York City, it was the only bar I liked to go to. One wishes it was still there.

We had dinner that night at a little hole-in-the-wall Italian place with great food—run by three brothers, I’m told. It’s called Piadina, in Greenwich Village, and its got great pastas and antipastos. I had ravioli with butter and sage and Rufus had a great penne with a meaty ragu. During dinner it began to snow, and afterwards we went for a walk in the snowstorm—Scott and Rufus throwing snowballs at limousines and café windows.

On the way back, we stopped at Splash, Chelsea’s biggest and glitziest gay bar. They have the usual over-muscled and not too exciting go-go dancers.

There was a bit of a crowd, and we had a drink before returning home. By this time the snow had turned, sadly, to rain.

Another threatened snow storm evaporated by morning, leaving our last day in New York mostly clear and not too cold—and so not interfering at all with our planned departure. We had our final lunch at the nearby Union Square Coffee Shop, and a very American farewell: Chicken tamales, meatloaf with mashed potatoes and kale, and a Cheeseburger with French fries. I never did get the chocolate layer cake I had been craving for days, though!

After lunch I finished the roll of film in my camera—two weeks in New York and I shot only one roll of film—it’s really pitiful. My only excuse is that most of the time it seemed too cold for pictures (its hard to shoot with gloves on); though I do regret not getting pictures of the Empire state building aglow in the swirling snow.

We took a car to the Newark airport, and nine or so hours later a cab to the Berenstraat in Amsterdam, and the first thing I noticed, standing on our street at a quarter to nine on a Tuesday morning, was how quiet it was! No horns blaring, no traffic, no construction. Quiet! The next thing I noticed—but this is a fluke—was how warm it was. Compared to New York where it was below freezing for most of two weeks, we arrived to find Amsterdam mild and clear.

Clay Doyle, January 2000

Paris, Beaune, Chablis – Spring 2002

One of my many wine and food journeys through the French countryside, this time the Burgundy region, accompanied (as often) by Michael Logan. This trip produced the Bourgogne slideshow photographs and the short food and wine article for Out & About. What follows is a rather detailed account of the trip…

MOOOOOOOOOOOOoooOOOOooooOOOOoooOOOOoooOOOOO

25 May 2002 Aboard the Thalys to Paris

Ah well, here I am once again racing towards Paris. I’m a little tired, though I went to bed early, I didn’t sleep well, waking up very early, and repeatedly. I guess I was just overly excited about the trip. So it’s nice to be underway.

We’ve reached that part of the trip where the train goes really fast —so we’ll be in Paris in no time now; this trip I think is even faster than the last time I took it; I guess they just keep trimming the travel time bit by bit.

And Paris… well, we must go to the Pompidou Centre, and the Palais de Tokyo exhibition space; There’s that funny museum in a mansion in the 3rd that is supposed to be quite nice… not sure what else Logan wants to do… the Louvre no doubt —we’ll have to go late. And we must shoot some video of Paris… and with Logan doing his turning around —perhaps at the Palais Royale. And I want to have some oysters. And some foie gras!

Natalie Merchant and her band were in my car on the train from Paris…

25 May 2002 Paris

1 am, so really, we’re back early I suppose. Watched the Eurovision song contest in a little bar/coffee shop in the Marais, with a small but enthusiastic gay crowd. Not as fun as in Amsterdam though. Latvia won… it was neck and neck with Malta. The most fun really was Slovenia —with these drag queens. Well it was fun to watch —and the interminable voting. Mad little “fairy tale” vignette films about Estonia between each song! Curious, but they grew on you and seemed rather fun by the end. Before that we had dinner at Balzar —white asparagus (good, but I agree with Nathan, slightly over cooked) and steak tartare —that could not be improved upon —and frites —the only thing they could do to make those better would be to serve more of them!! And I had a bite of Logan’s delicious chocolate eclair —the dessert of the day. We left the restaurant and it started to poor down rain —almost out of a clear blue sky; so we caught a bus over to the Marais. It cleared up quickly; walking back to the hotel there’s a big bright full moon and the city looks so beautiful.

26 May 2002 Paris

Up late today… and all day, off and on rainstorms; so we went to the Pompidou Centre. There was a big surrealist show that was actually a bit overwhelming. Magritte, Dali, Max Ernst… I like the Magrittes, but a lot of the the rest just doesn’t appeal to me. Maybe we should have gotten the audio tour… it was huge. The whole post-1960 floor of the main museum has been reinstalled —and all my favorite works are gone! That was bit disappointing. I suppose they have to rotate things, but all-in-all I did not think the current selection was nearly as impressive… the collection does have to compete with the views over Paris —and more people seemed to be looking out the windows than looking at the permanent collection. Of course the sky was beautiful —very dramatic clouds in a changing sky. At one point the Sacre Cour looked like something from a fairy tale with a backdrop of fluffy clouds… we had a coffee and tart at Georges around tea time —super expensive; and then there’s the odd and aloof fashion-model staff…

Dinner tonight at a new place —the Table d’ Aligre at the Place d’Aligre (there’s a famous covered food market there) in the 12th not far from the Bastille. A pleasantly unassuming place with really good food, and really inexpensive. Good cheap wines too. We had foie gras and this braised lamb with artichokes and olives —it was delicious, especially the fat. I had an apple thing for dessert. The waiters were really nice and then when the one found out we were Americans he wanted to know about taking the train from New York to Montreal —which oddly enough I happened to know something about; so I told Logan to tell him that it was really nice —that’s what I’ve read anyway. Dinner for three with wine and the foie gras was 108 euro’s —a great deal, and very pleasant. We had a long walk back, now it’s time for sleep.

27 May 2002 Paris

… a day of doing very little. Slept much too late, but then we walked over to the Marais for a very late breakfast around noon. I had a cup of excellent tea (Marriage Bros.) and a croissant served by the cutest teen you can imagine! Afterwards we collected Brian and went over to the sixth, around Saint Sulpice. for some shopping. We had salads for lunch at an unremarkable but decent Bistro (ubiquitously named Bistro du Metro); We stopped in Saint Sulpice to look at the Delacroix’s and the crumbling chapels. We watched some shirtless boys disassembling the market stalls. We dodged intermittent rain showers. We shopped… well Brian shopped and Logan and I looked. We walked back through the Luxembourg gardens. Logan and Brian went off together to go to a used record store (where Logan was picking up a Joni Mitchell etching he had bought on ebay!) and I walked back towards the hotel. I stopped in a church, St. Ettienne du Mont, a sort of pretty gothic/renaissance hybrid begun by Francois I. Inside they have a tiny relic of St. Geneviève; they used to have her entire corpse, but the revolutionaries burned it and threw it in the river! I came back to the hotel, and Logan came back and we were going to go to the late hours at the Louvre… but we never made it. There was a tremendous rainstorm with thunder and a deluge… when it let up a bit we just walked down the street to have a glass of wine. We had dinner at nine at the Caveau de Palais, as Brian is quite fond of it. The food was quite OK, but we were seated upstairs and it was not so festive… really so much of the fun is a lively atmosphere and getting to see what everyone else is eating. That odd woman still rules the place with authority and the little dog still runs in and out. My cod was good, and brian had a quite wonderful whole fish, and it’s not terribly expensive… just wish we had gotten a table downstairs. We strolled home after, and went to sleep…

27 May 2002 Paris

Today quite active… we managed to get up at a reasonable hour and have our breakfast downstairs at 9:30. After breakfast we got on the metro and went to visit the Catacombs. I wanted to get us there before they closed for lunch —but they’ve changed the hours again, now they don’t close for lunch but they don’t open until eleven… so we had a twenty minute walk around the neighborhood–a nice market street lined with food shops and butchers and bakers and fishmongers. Not too many people in the catacombs —one had a bit of a feeling of being all alone down there at times; It’s quite large. Well, I had just been in September, but Logan and Brian had not been in a while. It’s a pity they don’t have a nice guide to explain everything though. Afterwards, Brian was hungry so I suggested we get back on the Metro line 4 and have Lunch at Deux Palais. We had a good lunch there —it really is one of the best of these generic Bistros —good frites, a decent roast chicken, Logan had a very good steak tartare and I had a delicious fresh strawberry tart. And we had a little pot of beaujolais. And the place was all full of smartly dressed Parisians from the Palais du Justice.

After lunch, Brian went to rest and Logan and I went to check out the new exhibition space in the Palais du Tokyo. It’s a cool space —this big 30’s style Neoclassical/fascist architecture —the interior of the new space has been stripped back to the framework. But it’s all so hip… like it’s been turned over to hipster teens and they’ve run amok. A huge space with really just a few highly over-conceptualized pieces of art… Outside, in front of an arcade of impossibly tall square pillars, three French teens attempted tricks on skateboards —they seemed so much like they should have been a piece of installation art. And in the other half of the building, the more conventional old modern art museum (of the City of Paris) goes to the other extreme —way too staid and dull (they do have good temporary exhibits here —it’s where we saw Douglas Gordon several years ago —but the temporary exhibition space was closed for installation.)

Now, resting before a drink, and dinner at La Villeret. All day today it’s been gray and raining, or drizzling. No dramatic downpours but no bits of blue sky or dramatic cloudscapes either. And rather chilly for the time of year…

Later…

Had a delicious dinner at La Villeret. We set out early and stopped at that attractively modern little AOC wine bar where I had tea the day before. We had a couple glasses of wine —very economical, Chinon 3 Euro’s a glass; the same cute boy was there, and a very nice woman. We sat and chatted and drank our wine and watched the gay boys rendezvousing, while it poured down rain outside. Eventually we paid up and went to catch the (very crowded) 96 bus to dinner. At 8:20, we were among the first to arrive at La Villeret. Of course it filled up completely as we sat there and ate. For starters: Logan had a concoction of cold lentils with bits of lamb tongue and foie gras on top —it was really delicious; Brian had the white asparagus —cooked the way I like, with a bit of rigidity, and served with a delicious vinaigrette and a slab of lardons. I thought mine was least successful, a sort of a crab salad, with pastry and wild asparagus. But it did have lots of crab. My main course though, was the best I think —a big hunk of braised pork shank with the most incredibly delicious honey glazed skin and honey sauce. Mr. Logan had a beautiful hunk of fish and Brian had veal liver. For dessert I had pan fried fresh cherries with some ice cream —delicious; and Logan had rhubarb with a blanc mange. We drank a bottle of 96 Savignier from the Loire. Dinner was first rate, and really a bargain (130 for three) for such elaborate preparations; It was the fanciest meal we’ve had so far this trip, even though the room and all is quite casual and neighborhoody. After dinner we took a leisurely stroll back to the Marais —it had cleared up for the moment —and sat at the Open Cafe and had a couple of drinks and watched the boys go by. The best of the lot was our super-cute waiter, Cyril. Finally we decided to walk back to the hotel —just as it started to rain again!

29 May 2002 Paris

Today we managed to get up and down to breakfast before 10 again! After breakfast, Logan and I headed over to the Musee d’ Orsay. There was a special Mondrian exhibition —his painting before his trademark abstract style —that we wanted to see. It wasn’t crowded —no lines or delay to get in, and though there were a lot of people at the Mondrian exhibition, it wasn’t unpleasantly crowded at all. The museum is in the midst of some sort of renovation, so a number of galleries were closed, and most of the big academic paintings were off view —no loss really, except for Jesus and the Nelly Apostles. We looked at the kitchy —but fun —sculptures in the center, and of course went up to the rooms on the top to see our favorite impressionists. I hope they re-hang the whole museum once the renovations are done —there are too many fabulous little paintings stuck away in tiny, grim rooms. After, we walked along the Seine, heading for the Marais, and lunch with Brian. It was a nice day, perhaps slightly cool, but dry, with clouds that were purely decorative. We stopped at the Bouquiniste Alain Huchet —fortunately, one of the few bouquiniste open today —so Logan could look for a cookbook birthday present for June. He found something in short order —we barely spent anytime browsing; just as well I suppose, as I really didn’t need to buy anything! We met Brian back at the AOC Cafe, so we could have these delicious looking club sandwiches that we saw people eating the night before. They were good; the cute boy was there again; I think he is a member of the family that owns it. After that we went shopping —the Camper store for new shoes, the Chaise Longue just to look at silly things, and the FNAC record store at the Bastille (with a stop at the place de Vosges, just for fun). Now we’re resting up in our room and listening to a Marianne Faithfull album (her new one, released only in Europe) on the iBook cd player, before we go out to a trendy restaurant for dinner.

Later…

Dinner at Salon d’ Helene… the little downstairs place of Helene Darroze, chef-of-the-moment in Paris. Actually the bistro —well not really a bistro —is very successful; a small, elegantly modern room, spacious and comfortable, serving little tapas-like plates of things. The food’s a little bit French and a whole lot “chef”. The service is friendly and casual —the whole little room attended by one cute girl and one cute boy. (after you get through the entrance that is, shared with the upstairs restaurant, where a boy in a little cap opens the door for you and a man behind a big desk checks your name off a computerized reservation list! Anyway, the food was interesting and complicated, and fortunately also delicious. We had seven little plates to share, which they brought round in two groupings; then a round of 3 very interesting cheeses, then dessert. Let’s see, first there was a soup with asparagus and foie gras with bacon on top; fava beans with black truffle and foie gras ice-cream(!); and a piece of almost raw salmon with couscous. Then we got a little pot of sweetbreads; a big piece of pork lard with roasted potatoes and girolle mushrooms; a plate of shredded oxtail; and a big lump of roasted foie gras. Then a spanish cheese, a soft cheese and a roquefort. My dessert was ille flotant–a very tasty and light meringue floating in a soup of summer red fruits —no creme anglais —very tasty; and Logan had a really chocolatey millefiulle. Dinner was nice —lots of eating but all so small that I don’t feel at all bloated; and while you wouldn’t call it cheap, it wasn’t too expensive —considering Logan ordered a bottle of champagne as soon as he sat down, and at € 70 it was a third of our bill! There were a lot of less expensive wines to chose from, so I think you could eat there for 50-60 euros a person —a good deal for a really fancy place. I took a copy of the menu —it changes monthly with a daily special.

We were going to go to the Eiffel Tower after dinner —but of course dinner went on a bit too late. The weather was nice, so it would have been a good night. I’ve been going to go the last few times I was here… and just haven’t made it.

30 May 2002 Beaune

Our first day in the countryside and, of course, today was all about gorging ourselves! We’ve had two cheese courses today! Oh those country meals.

Getting here was pleasantly uncomplicated. We caught a bus just steps from the Agora St. Germain, which took us to the Gare de Lyon. We caught our TGV train and rode a little over an hour and a half —through incredibly picturesque countryside —to the station in Dijon. At the tiny Avis office at the train station, everything was arranged and it took about 30 seconds to get our car —a really nice VW Golf. Avis is so nice to deal with. We drove straight out of Dijon and about halfway to Beaune on the N road. I had scoped out a place for lunch the night before in the Routard Guide, in case we were hungry —and of course we were. This place was in a tiny village outside of Nuits-Saint-Georges, the Auberge du Coteau in the tiny village of Villars-Fontaine. All the meats are cooked over a wood fire in a fireplace at one end of the dining room (a bit like in the Vosges). Logan had wood-grilled lamb and I had wood-grilled beef. There was homemade terrine, and our first of many “Jambon Persille” to start. Then they left the huge groaning cheese board at our table. Very tasty, and a fine introduction to the Cotes d’Or.

It was a quick, and very scenic, drive into Beaune. We circled the town looking for the “Hotel de la Poste” and pulled up in front of this very glamourous establishment. The Logan got out his confirmation, and realized we weren’t staying at the Hotel de la Poste (rejected as part of our austerity plan) but at the Hotel de France. So we drove on, and found it —a much more basic sort of Logis across from the Beaune train station.

Beaune is still a fairly small town; the historic center enclosed by mostly surviving ramparts. We were just a block outside the center. We took a late afternoon stroll into town to check out the sights. There’s some pretty little squares (one with a miniature carrousel), a nice shopping street, the very famous Hotel Dieu —the medieval hospital —which we decided to visit later. We did stop into the Collégiale Notre-Dame, a crusty old (mostly) Romanesque church. And we scoped out various restaurants —one very beautiful place, all the tables set up in the garden of a villa. This is the Jardin de Remparts, which has an excellent reputation, and undoubtedly the prettiest location in Beaune; sadly it was already ‘complet’ during the weekend of our visit. After our exploration of the city, we stopped at a little outdoor cafe and had a kir. The kir is especially good —really good cassis made locally in Bourgonge, and proper Bourgonge Aligote wine. The weather was especially nice and summery as well.

We did find the Americans in Beaune! After being so conspicuously absent in Amsterdam, and even in Paris, Beaune was positively swarming with Americans. (On the other hand, Chablis, we would discover later, was all Brits and Australians. And in the historical sites, the Abbeys and Churches, the few visitors tended to be Germans.)

Because the weather was so pleasant in the evening, I really wanted to eat outside. All the terrace restaurants seemed rather touristy, unfortunately, but we did find one, La Grilladine, that despite being full of Americans, seemed nice. It had a nice looking menu, a good wine list, a Bottin Gourmand recommendation, and a pretty interior where some locals were eating. We got a very pleasant outdoor table, and it turned out the food was very good —and we had what turned out to be our favorite bottle of burgundy on the trip —a Fixin. I had a tasty boeuf bourguignon and the jambon persille to start; I’m afraid I don’t recall what Logan ate (probably foie gras!). It was really nice on the terrace, and entertaining as well. The Americans were typically loud and demanding, and the several waiters were young, and obviously new summer help. Well they were quite unbothered by it all, but the headwaiter was in a tizzy; he was this very ‘Basil Fawlty’ sort of character caught between the demands of the patrons and the inexperience of his staff. One thought he might at some point simply explode!

There’s not much happening in Beaune after dinner, so we returned to our room overlooking the train station. Now there’s no passenger service in Beaune after about 11pm —but apparently it sits on the main freight line between Paris and Geneva! About every 20 minutes a huge freight train would roar past the station. Strangely though, the noise didn’t really bother me.

31 May 2002 Beaune

Mr. Logan has picked out some far-flung sites for us to visit today. They don’t seem so far-flung on the map, but actually driving to them you feel the distance. We’re heading to the Southernmost part of Burgundy — almost into the Beaujolais, north of Lyon. All along the N road, (the main roadway, but still only one lane in each direction most of the route) there are the most stylishly grisly highway markers. They are life-sized black and red metal cutouts depicting a stylized, but very recognizable, dead person! There is a marker placed at every point on the road where someone has been killed! And there are, I must say, quite a lot of them. Most chilling are the little groups where 3 or 4 people have died together. Well, I told Logan. at least if we get killed driving this road, we will get little markers to commemorate the event. Perhaps they would even append a little sign: “American Rufuses”. And the way people drive it is no wonder so many die on the highway —they go so fast on these narrow, curving roads. I cannot drive fast enough for the locals, and then someone is tailgating at high speed; I frantically try to find a place to pull over so they can get past. Fortunately there is not a whole lot of traffic, and one often has the road to oneself for a while.

Our first stop is Paray-le-Monial, the most perfectly preserved of the Cluny monastic churches. It is a sober Romanesque church, said to be a smaller version of the great church at Cluny, now destroyed. The church sits facing the river and is quite impressive. There is also quite a nice garden behind. The church’s main claim to religious fame is that it is here that the cult and the doctrine of the “Sacred Heart of Jesus” originated. I don’t think I understand the Sacred Heart well enough to try to explain it… but apparently at some point in the middle ages a young nun at the convent down the street saw a vision of Jesus with a flaming heart on the outside of his chest (we also visited the little chapel where she had her vision.) This seems to have been thoroughly (and perhaps rightly) ignored until the 19th century, when in a frenzy of religious ferver it was revived, and formalized by the Vatican, and Paray-le-Monial became a pilgrimage site. Anyway, out in the garden there is this pavilion which tells the story of the visionary nun in an endless series of narrated dioramas. We started to watch, but it just went on and on, and we were shortly defeated. There was also a nice street market in town that day, and we bought a little pastry to eat.

From Paray-le Monial we had a short, but circuitous drive to Cluny —the seat of the once-powerful Cluniac Monastic Order —to see the remains of the great church. It was at one time the largest church in Christendom, but it was demolished during the Revolution, and really there is not much left. From the excavated foundations, and one remaining chapel, you can get an idea of the size… they sell you a ticket which entitles you to a tour, but we discovered that most of what is interesting to see you can see for free. The admission doesn’t get you much. The town itself is somewhat interesting; We climbed to the top of the cheese tower (no idea why it’s called that) for the panorama, and we visited the little town church, which was very cute and crusty.

From there we next stopped at the little medieval town of Tournus to see yet another Abbaye Church. The Abbaye de St. Philibert is one of the oldest romanesque churches in Burgundy. It’s a fortified structure with great thick round pillars and not many windows. There was a pretty little courtyard, and (I later read) another chapel above the gloomy narthex, which we missed. Also in the town is a preserved (or restored) medieval pharmacy, but after not finding it following a cursory stroll through the town, we gave up and headed back to Beaune. With all the driving added in it had been a long day. The scenery however —forests, vineyards, cows, canals, little stone villages —was beautiful.

Later…

We had dinner at Bénaton, a little chef-run place that is reputed to be one of Beaune’s best. It’s a small dining room, and though there is a nice garden at back, all seating was indoors. fortunately we got the table by the door, as it was quite warm. The food was good, with an amuse bouche, starter, main course, cheese and dessert. Sadly, I didn’t write down what we had, and now I can’t remember! It was on the other side of town (by the hotel de la poste) so we had a leisurely walk through the deserted town after dinner.

1 June 2002 Beaune

Today we are up for a morning visit to Autun, to see another 12th century church. We went to see the Cathedrale St. Lazare, famous for its stone carvings by Gislebertus. There’s a big last judgment over the door, and lots of smaller scenes on the capitols —Adam and Eve, things like that, all very stylishly, almost modernly, realized. We had lunch in a fancy hotel nearby —I had us seated on the terrace, as it was a very sunny day, but I roasted poor Mr. Logan. They didn’t have an umbrella for us, as this French family at the next table was hogging two. Despite the lack of umbrella, it was a nice lunch —we had just a main course and dessert —but again, I don’t really remember what we ate. Afterwards, we had a rather exhausting hike around the old ramparts —but never quite getting on the top of them, which was our intention. Then we drove to see the old Roman city gate and the remains of the Roman Amphitheater. As a Roman City in the first century, the population of Autun was four times what it is today. After that, we hurried back to Beaune, because we still had our sightseeing to do there. We took this tasting tour of the Cellars of the hotel Dieu —very touristy really, but also sort of fun —there are like 14 different wines to taste, all down in this refreshingly cold and dark cellar. And then you can buy things, but of course we couldn’t because there was no way to take them home! Then we visited the Hotel Dieu itself —The most famous sight in Burgundy, and really it is very beautiful. The courtyard is surrounded by restored medieval buildings, with those famous brightly-colored-patterned tile roofs.

Later…

It’s 11:30 pm here at the Hotel de France, across from the rail station in Beaune. It’s a funny hotel —in many way a quintessential Logis de France. Everyone is super friendly —a typical family owned hotel.

So for my food and wine of Burgundy article… aperitifs: Kir, which is really good here in its region of origin and the Cremant du Bourgonge, a cheap, but very refreshing sparkling wine. The best food of the region, I think, is the simple, basic sort of country food… the Jambon Persille; the escargot (but how on earth did they first think to eat them?!); the meats grilled over a wood fire or the classic braised dishes of boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin. Plenty of nice cheese too… and of course the red burgundies are a delight.

The scenery is wonderful… lots of forests, and rolling hillsides covered with vines… and everywhere tiny herds of white cows —the famous charolais beef (dare I say though, that I prefer the chianini beef of tuscany?). But driving along the tiny roads is really beautiful —it’s a prettier landscape even than the Loire, I think, and seems somehow more remote. That is except for Beaune —Beaune is overrun with tourists. All the American Rufuses who are not in Amsterdam and not even in Paris, seem to be here in Beaune —along with a fair number of German tourists as well. Actually, when you get out of Beaune, and visit the other towns —places more famous for history and architecture than wine —then there are no more Americans, and all the tourists are German! But really, nothing is very crowded…

… so back to our silly hotel… when Logan made the reservation, they said we had to take one dinner at the hotel, so he booked us here for Saturday night. Well fine… and we went down to dinner tonight around eight —and they had totally forgotten about us as they had booked a tour group of 45 persons into the restaurant! I thought this was very silly —so they were going to put us all alone in this sort of annex room, which seemed very depressing, but we got them to put us at one of the tables for the bar that sit out on the sidewalk facing the train station. That was perfect, the weather was quite warm, no breeze, a beautiful sunset —so really it couldn’t have worked out better. And the man running the place, and his teen son, were both really nice and really friendly. We had a very simple regional meal–snails and the jambon (delicious); a sort of flank cut of the charolais beef (inoffensive but unimpressive); a big-ass assortment of local cheese, and some cassis ice-cream. We drank a nice cote de nuits 96 burgundy; and I had a glass of marc de Bourgonge after dinner. The owner even gave me a cigarette to have with it. We watched the bus group arrive (it was dinner stop on a trip from Paris to the south of France) and we watched the people come and go from the train station. It was quite nice actually —much better than eating in the slightly stuffy, climatisee, dining room.

2 June 2002 From Beaune to Chablis

We left our hotel in Beaune and arrived in Chablis a bit after five. It’s a longer drive than one might think —although our trip today included plenty of rufusing. The first 90 minutes involved finding and visiting a ruined Abbey (Saint Margaritte) outside the town of Builland, not far really from Beaune itself. We got a bit lost finding the town, and then finding the Abbey ruins involved a bit of detective work —they are not marked by any sign, or monument marker, which is a bit unusual. We saw a picture at our hotel, and I wanted to visit. So we found them eventually (they are indicated, vaguely, on our Michelin map) up a very narrow, dead-end road above the town. It’s a nice ruin, the substantial remains of a small gothic church, and other buildings —but you can’t get too close. The ruins are privately owned and surrounded by a double fence of barbed wire. They are quite isolated, but we were not alone —there was also a family of German hikers and a bicycle tour. There was even a little parking lot, so one assumes there must have been signs to it at one time —though we were the only car to come up the tiny road. Fortunately! The drive from Beaune to there, and then on to where we picked up the bigger road to Chablis, took us through a forest, which was really pretty. Forests, fields of wildflowers, white cows in little pastures, some rugged stone cliffs, tiny villages —and all very peaceful. Very few other cars, and all quite sleepy —well it was Sunday, and everything in the villages was closed up, of course.

We made it to the bigger road, which was also quite scenic, and where we quite sped along, between the villages. We were heading to the Abbaye de Fontenay —a sight Logan picked out —halfway between Beaune and Chablis. Around 1pm though, I started to get hungry —and the towns we were passing through seemed so small as to not really have any restaurants. Logan checked the Routard and found a highly regarded place in the town nearest the Abbaye: Mirrabelles, in St. Remy next to Montbard. We located the restaurant without too much trouble —and it was complet! Well it was Sunday lunch after all, but it must be very good; it’s quite an out of the way spot —even for the town of Montbard. Well, we went into the town center and had lunch at L’Ecu, the Logis in town. It was ok, nothing special, and a little pricey. We did get to sit on a nice shaded terrace, and at least we didn’t starve. (Good thing we did not wait and try to eat at the Abbaye —it’s totally isolated and the only food there is in three vending machines!). Anyway we drove into the isolated valley and found the Abbaye. It is the oldest surviving Cistercian Abbaye. (The Cistercian order was founded by monks who found the Cluny order too luxurious. Those kooky monks.) It has all been recently restored, and is quite an intact complex from the late romanesque/early gothic period. An impressive and somber romanesque church, a beautiful cloister, gothic chapter house and scriptorium, a dormitory with a ships hull wooden roof, and a huge 13th century gothic forge —almost as big as the church. Apparently it was the first iron works with a waterwheel for power; water was also diverted for fountains on the monastery grounds. It’s all quite pretty; smaller in scale than some of the other abbayes we’ve visited, and very peaceful. A few busloads of tourists, but they were sort of easy to ignore.

A lot of the way, we drove along the canal du Burgundy —it’s long, and very tranquil —with lock houses, and with boys diving and swimming from the banks or the bridges. After Fontenay, we drove on to Chablis, a cute little town with a gothic church towering over the center. Haven’t really explored yet, just arrived at the hotel and decided to rest a bit.

Later… in Chablis

Here we are in our little room in a cute fancied-up hotel in Chablis, the Hostellerie dus Clos. The room is cute but tiny; it looks out on a nice little courtyard, where I may go to continue typing in a bit. It is supposed to have the best restaurant in Chablis, so we will see. I am a bit hot and tired from driving all day.

And Later Still…

So we had dinner at our hotel tonight —at the world’s fanciest Logis! Well actually the rooms aren’t that fancy at all, but the lobby/restaurant is totally over the top. And all kinds of waiters and waitresses in fancy dress running about —in stark contrast to the poorly dressed Brits, and even the casually attired French patrons. Anyway we had aperitifs in the courtyard, dinner in the fancy dining room and our after dinner infusion du maison in the “salon”, in big wingchairs. Dinner was delicious —fairly inexpensive ingredients, but very well —and elaborately —prepared. Only mini-pricey at 49 euros each —and with a good Chablis for 20 Euros. They have a lot of reasonably priced Chablis —and some very expensive ones for the rich foreigners, I’m sure. Anyway, we had a little amuse bouche of cold tomato soup with a bit of shrimp in it —I ate Logan’s as well; Then a salad of little white asparagus, wild asparagus, and (mostly) little mushrooms in a delicious sauce. Then I had a pike fish mouse with crayfish and crayfish sauce, and they made a delicious piece of grilled sander for Mr. Logan. Then we had veal kidneys(!) in a Chablis sauce —three little slices really, in a sauce that was just perfect for them. Then an assortment of local cheeses. We drank a 1998 La Chablissiene Vielles Vignes —the sommelier recommended it; he wouldn’t let Logan order the one he had picked out that cost twice as much —he said this one was much better. I thought it was good —but then what do I know. For dessert we had some strawberries, very fresh, very delicious, with some little syrup and a croustillant. Then our infusion de la maison —with vervienne in it and the usual plate of very tasty little sweets. We took a short walk around the deserted town after dinner, and now we are resting in our suite… there are lots of really big mosquitos out in the town… so I’m a bit apprehensive. The room is not climatisee, so we have to leave the window open —it’s quite warm tonight.

and one more thing…

Cloches! The main courses arrived covered with silver cloches, which were whipped off in unison. Lots and lots of staff actually —and we didn’t even see into the kitchen. In the morning we have the true test —the breakfast!

3 June 2002 Chablis

I will mention the excellent breakfast at the hotel. They actually set up early this morning to serve it in the courtyard —I could hear them through the window —but then it started to rain and they had to move everything inside. It was a very good country in breakfast —lots of tasty pastries; good bread for toast; jams and honey in little crocks; good yogurt in glass jars, some dried fruits, and oddly, a custard. Tasty. The inn is a bit of an odd hybrid: the rooms, and the breakfast, seem like a really good Logis; but the lobby, and the staff and restaurant are like a Leading Hotel of the World. It would almost be stuffy, except there are enough people working here who are obviously summer help —less than perfect and sort of amused by what they’re doing; it helps take the edge off. And the food is really good, and the prices not excessive for the quality of the food —and the rooms are not expensive. It could use more French people though —there is far too much English being spoken; lots of Australians and Brits. It does have a big elevator, and the whole place is wheelchair accessible —a real rarity among country inns —so there are a number of guests in wheelchairs, living it up, which is a nice touch, and probably worth mentioning in an article.

A trip to Mr. Bricolage!

We asked the woman at the desk about having our laundry done and she directed Mr. Logan to this “Pressing” in a mall outside of Auxerre —at the “Geant”. Well, I knew by the time we were halfway there that it was too far to leave our laundry —when would we get back to pick it up, next year? But we sort of followed through anyway, and found this sort of mall on the ring road around Auxerre and went into this huge K-Mart sort of store —very American, except for the French-speaking —and inquired about an electrical adapter to replace the one I left in Beaune. they didn’t have one, but the cute boy (yet another one) consulted with someone and told us to go across the road —to Mr. Bricolage. Just like in America, though we could see it across the street, it was impossible to walk to; we had to get in the car and drive there! It’s a big Home-Depot like store, and they did indeed have just what we needed; Mr. Logan loved the place, and I had to talk him out of buying pricey European light bulbs to take home! After we left Mr. Bricolage, we realized we should have just bought new t-shirts at the Geant —easier and probably cheaper than the laundry —but we didn’t drive back to do it. Instead we set off on the day’s sightseeing.

And on to the relics of Mary Magdelene…

After we left Mr. Bricolage, we drove south to Vézelay, an old monastery church and hilltop village. It was a very important pilgrimage site in the middle ages —they have a reliquary in the crypt with the bones of Mary Magdelene! We got to see them. The church is large and very handsome —rather light inside for a romanesque church, and very austere except for very nice capitols on the pillars carved with flowers, bible scenes and religious legends. On has to hike up this long, slightly steep main street —lined with galleries selling ugly paintings, and lots of restaurants —to the church. The monastery buildings were mostly pulled down, leaving the church surrounded by a large park with amazing views down on the surrounding countryside and other little villages. There were surprisingly few other visitors, and we had the place mostly to ourselves. It had been sprinkling or threatening rain on the drive down, but when we left the church the clouds had dispersed and it became a sunny, and very warm, day.

From Vézelay we drove about 15 km to the town of Avallon —an old fortified town with a funny old romanesque church —the nave descended in steps so it was on about four different levels. the town also had an old clock tower, and the old ramparts. Driving back to Auxerre to visit the Cathedral there, we stopped in a really cute little town called Cravant. We stopped because it just looked so picturesque from the side of the road —there was a stone gate leading into town. Just a little place with tiny alleys —petit rues —running behind the houses, and a pretty little gothic church with fabulous gargoyles, that was all locked up (there was a sign directing visitors to someone’s house to get the key, but we didn’t bother.) There was also this mad enclosed pool fed by a fountain from a nearby stream —no explanation as to the purpose at all —but it looked like some sort of healing waters (at least I’d like to think so); it was enclosed, so not really decorative, but didn’t really seem functional either. Logan suggested it was for watering livestock, but I pointed out that it would be rather difficult to get them in through the rather small doors! (It was and old public wash-house of course —there was one in Chablis as well, we later found.)

From there we drove on to Auxerre —it’s a rather large town or a small city. You even have to pay for parking, though it’s quite cheap. And it was lively after the other places we’d been —lots of young people, students racing around on motorbikes and having drinks in cafes. It had a big old gothic church, Cathedrale St. Etienne —quite tall, with impressive windows, and below, a romanesque crypt, leftover from the previous church, with some old frescoes still extant. The old part of town has some narrow lanes with half timbered houses; It’s built on a hill and the river runs along the edge of the old city (now the modern city sprawls across both sides of the river). There are a couple of other large churches as well, which we did not visit. And the city has a long shopping street (in addition to all the mega-stores on the outskirts), but apparently the shops in this region of France are all traditionally closed on Monday.

We didn’t have dinner at the hotel tonight, but we had aperitifs and then afters —I had their excellent infusion maison, and Logan had this mad bright green mint liqueur called Gat 27. A bit like scope on ice. We had dinner at a place down the street called Bistro de Grand Crus, a simple little place which was fine but not amazing, and not so busy on a Monday night. We probably should have driven out of town to a little country inn —there was one that sounded really good in Logan’s wine book —but I didn’t really want to drive anymore; most of the other places in Chablis were closed on Monday night. Logan did have the Jambon de Morvan —a sort of prosciutto-like ham, but served in thick slices. I had some white asparagus, and then a cuisse de canard and Logan had a nice piece of white fish. It was all fine. Pretty cheap too, except for the €30 bottle of Chablis.

Had a long walk around the totally deserted and shut-up town, our after-dinner infusion and drink at the hotel, and now to sleep. We have dinner here at the hotel tomorrow —I’m planning an easy day of looking around the town and then driving a route of nearby wine villages.

4 June 2002 Chablis

We had lunch today in this terrific little restaurant —a tiny place we just happened on. Actually it was mentioned in Logan’s wine book, but it didn’t make it sound like much. It’s one of those discoveries that one makes in the French country side that is just a very happy accident. It’s Le St. Bris, in the little village of St. Bris Le Vineux. The owner of the place is Jean Francois Pouillot, and he works mostly alone in his small restaurant. When we arrived for lunch, at about 1:45, there was just one table occupied; he emerged from the kitchen and gave us a warm welcome, seated us at a little table, and got us a half bottle of the local white burgundy from nearby Chitry. We ordered just the simple plate of the day, a grilled Andouillettes de Troyes; with an apple rhubarb tart for dessert. There were several very delicious sounding menus written on little chalkboards —but they were all four and five courses, and we really wanted a small lunch. Apparently M. Pouillot decided we had to have a starter anyway, so we brought us a little crock of 6 escargots to share. They were delicious, in garlic, butter and parsley. Then our plates with beautiful white andouilletes —usually not my favorite I must confess, though they are a specialty of this region —and it was delicious (just the slightest suggestion of that innardy smell that is sometimes so overpowering). They were flavorful and tripey but not at all gross. I hope I’m not damning with faint praise here —but it was good and nicely presented on a plate with a few little vegetables. Then we got two huge slices of the apple rhubarb tart —the rhubarb green and crisp, finely chopped and mixed with a bit of custard. After that, coffee and some special little chocolates and biscuits from the bakery in the town. All the time the owner would come out to chat (in French of course) and ask questions of us; he told Logan that he prefers to work alone; he feeds 10 to 15 people at lunch and at dinner, and he likes to be able to interact with the diners, and do everything himself. I wish we had found it earlier in the trip, as I would like to go and have his huge groaning multi-course meal. I’m sure it’s fabulous. On the menu outside it said “a true cuisine de chef still exists” —his motto for the place. I just think it is great —a real find, and a place to look forward to returning —delicious, personal, interesting and inexpensive. I get much more excited about a place like this than about the very fancy place at our hotel —even though the food is indisputably terrific, it has been featured in bunch of magazines even.

If St. Bris is full, or a large group comes by, he sends them to the Auberge des Tilleuls in Vincelottes. We actually stopped there first for lunch (this is the place I had thought about going for dinner the night before), but decided that all the set menus seemed too large for what we wanted… but it’s good, regional cooking, and a beautiful terrace, tented, on the waterfront along the tranquil river Yonne. Very pretty, and it’s a Logis as well. Still I’m glad we moved on to Le St. Bris —it’s a special place.

We explored Chablis on foot in the morning. It has a pretty little riverfront promenade, with a few little parks, a swim pool that is filled from the river in the summer months, An old riverside washing house, some mills —one of which is of course a restaurant. We tried to go in the pretty —and from a distance, imposing —little gothic church, but it is in the midst of a re-roofing, and it was all locked up. We visited the town cemetery as well —another old church, but likewise locked up. The rest of the day we spent driving around the nearby wine towns —just cute, very little towns —with interesting old churches, all of which were locked up. And we drove by the cremant caveau of Bailly, and we had our fabulous little lunch in St. Bris, and saw an old Templar church (the oldest church in the l’yonne) in Fontenay des Chablis. The highlight of the days sightseeing though was Potigny —where there is an old, very handsome Cistercian Abbey. Very little visited, compared with the more famous abbeys, but really worth it —large and imposing, beautiful light inside; we bought a little guide in the shop to tell us all about it. I think the best thing though is being able to appreciate it in complete tranquility. During most of our visit we were all alone.

Back in town we stopped at the caves of the Chablis wine growing commune, La Chablissiene. Logan bought 6 bottles of wine —which we are lugging now; I wanted to have some shipped to Amsterdam; but apparently they can’t ship outside of France. There are good things, very inexpensive, and shipping within France doesn’t amount to much —but so much for the common market I guess… at least where wine’s concerned. The only way is to bring a car so that one can drive it back —so I guess I’ll just look for some of these things in Amsterdam. After that it was back to Hostellerie du Clos, and making some notes, and then off to dinner…

Back in the hotel now, and it’s storming. A sudden rainstorm has blown up out of nowhere, and it’s dark and thundering and pouring down rain!

Later…

OK, I have to say that dinner at our fancy hotel restaurant was a bit too big. I liked the less expensive menu with the kidneys more. Everything tonight was really tasty; it was just too much, too many courses of very rich food. We had an amuse bouche of cold cantaloupe soup —delicious. then we had a salad with foie gras and girolles mushrooms. This was a replacement for the morell mushrooms stuffed with foie gras —which Logan was dying to have —but which for some reason wasn’t available. Then I had a little soup of crayfish tails and Logan had a morrel soup with green asparagus. then we had “line caught” bar, pan fried. Then we had a medallion of lamb. Then we had a cheese assortment. Then we had little fried pastries filled with rhubarb and accompanied with strawberries. Then we had our infusion maison, and the little cookie things. So you can see —it was a groaning amount of food. We drank another chablis (1998) of course, and an Irancy red Bourgonge (2000, a more robust year for this very light red) with the lamb. It stopped raining so we could have a walk after dinner, but it wasn’t enough. I feel like I’m going to have to work at losing some weight when I get back to Amsterdam.

5 June 2002 Aboard the TGV to Paris

A long, sort of exhausting day, the return to Paris. It lacks the excitement of the outbound journey, and perhaps it was a mistake to book the return in the afternoon; there’s something good about getting the travel over with early in the day. But then it took us an hour and a half to drive from Chablis back to Dijon —even using the autoroute, it’s a longer trip than I thought. Then getting the gas, and finding the train station. So around 12:30 we set off for a quick tour of the town. It’s sort of a large place —bigger than any of the other cities we’ve been to on this trip, and bigger than Tours for instance, and very grand seeming, with a huge baroque complex in the center housing government offices and a musee des Beaux Arts. This was the Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, but much and often added to over the centuries. There are also a number of Churches: the Notre Dame, with a very funny gothic facade absolutely covered with protruding gargoyles; and a big gothic church with a very odd looking renaissance facade —and inside a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary from the twelfth century. (It is believed to have saved the city from siege by the Swedes in the 16th century and from destruction by the Germans in WWII.) And Dijon has a big shopping area, with a Galleries Lafayette and H&M, and a big old iron covered food market, which was unfortunately closed for the lunch hour when we were there. So that’s it —we skipped a big lunch, as we’ve been eating far too much, and just had a hot cheese/onion/ham sandwich which we took away from a bakery. It was very oniony. Now we’re on the TGV —this one seems to have originated in Lucerne, Switzerland —and we’re racing back through the Burgundian countryside (very pretty) towards Paris. There was a storm last night, and now remnants of it all day; lots of wind, but then some sun too; and then brief bits of rain. Apparently the weather in Chablis, especially, is very unstable, and they are prone to sudden storms rising up from nowhere.

Specialties of Chablis/ the l’Yonne:

Gougères —little cheese puffs, a snack with an aperitif

Andouilletes —tripe sausages

Pain d’ Epices —gingerbread

Jambon Morvan —prosciutto like ham served in thick slices

soft cows milk cheeses —famously Époisses, a smelly, runny cheese; and chaources, a milder creamy cheese

Cherries —in springtime; asparagus in season

Escargots —from burgundy

“Terrior de l’Yonne” organization for regional products: butchers, bakers, and restaurants.

Wines:

Chablis —very dry chardonney grown in a small appellation surrounding the town on limestone soil. On of France’s best white wines, and the best of the Burgundy whites.

Cremant de Bourgonge —the best from Bailly near Chablis; this area is quite near the champagne region, and like many champagnes it is a sparkling wine made from Chardonnay grapes —but much cheaper.

Bourgonge Aligote —a cheap white wine that, with the local creme de Cassis, is the basis for a proper kir.

5 June Later… Paris

Our train arrived right on time at the Gare de Lyon and the bus trip to the hotel was super easy —it’s practically door to door service. It was nearly six by the time we got settled, and we were pretty hungry too. Logan decided he wanted to eat at Bofinger —for a very typical last meal in Paris. He called them but they wouldn’t take a reservation, but said if we got there by seven we could likely have a table. So we walked over to the Bastille and arrived at Bofinger a bit after seven. There were only a very few tables occupied at that hour of course, so it was no problem and we got a nice table on the ground floor. All was very pleasant until they seated these two very odd women at the table next to us. One was very loud, and despite a funny sort of accent, very American. She was ugly in the extreme, with unkempt hair, warty complexion, and some kind of hideous pink sleeveless hand-knit top. Her companion was none too attractive either, but at least very quiet in a mousey sort of way. Well the loud one was just complaining about everything —they were eating there on some sort of voucher given by a tour company or something, anyway they weren’t even paying for dinner, but nothing seemed to suite —“We don’t want any wine, we want coffee and tea —this coffee’s too strong! Sausages! who would eat sausages for dinner? Can we have extra vegetables? How about broccoli? Do you have broccoli? She wants a salad too… ” The waiters were so accommodating to all this, I was absolutely amazed; where the Parisians get their reputation for rudeness, I don’t know. Anyway, at first it was impossible to ignore this woman, and Logan and I both inwardly groaned —it stopped our conversation, and her voice just reverberated in the space between us. Apparently she was here to see the Louvre —that was her mission —and if she was forced to endure the city of Paris in order to do it, she was just going grit her teeth and soldier through it. Oh how I wanted to tell her to lighten up, have some wine, enjoy her free meal! Well, fortunately, the restaurant filled up quickly, the noise level rising to drown her out more-or-less, and their food came and she shut up —occasionally —to eat. And the ironic thing is they devoured the food —every bite: the onion soups, the fish, the mashed potatoes, the artichokes, the side of greenbeans; the extra salad —Logan said she commented constantly on how delicious it was, so go figure.

I enjoyed my dinner as well, but then I expected I would! We had Lillet served with a little dish of green olives and tiny pretzels. Then I had my big platter of six oysters with a glass of Chablis, while Logan had foie gras (again!). Then Logan had a fish that was the daily special, and I had braised duck. We had a nice bottle of Burgundy (a Mercurey) with it. Then Logan had a coupe colonel and I had a chocolate tart. It was all quite good —maybe it’s a little pricey, now that with the Euro one is aware of the prices —and it was great fun to watch the waiters dashing around, in and out of the kitchen, up and down the stairs, carrying trays piled with dishes and grand plateaus de fruit de mer. We stopped afterwards at the Petit Fer a Cheval for a drink —it was full of fashion-modelly drunk rufuses inside —but we sat outside so it was ok.

6 June 2002

Logan left early in the morning —before breakfast —so I had breakfast alone in the hotel, then set off dashing all around Paris on my own. And I really did dash around. First I took the Metro out to the 16th, where I’d never really been before, a sort of a well-to-do but non-touristy area, and walked several blocks to find the Foundation Le Corbousier —housed in a double villa he built in the 1920’s. One of the Villas is open to the public, and it is quite fabulous —very cubist, very stylish, probably not so easy to live in; but it’s on four levels with lots of windows, and interior spaces looking into other rooms and cool built-in bookshelves, and picture rails and light fixtures. I left there and walked all the way to the Trocodero —just to see the neighborhood, which is very residential, very typically Parisian. At the Trocodero I stopped to take in the view of the Eiffel tower, and the view of all the tourists and school kids taking in the view. Then I walked another couple blocks to the Palais du Tokyo, where I made a second visit to the hipster contemporary art space. The Wolfgang Tilmans had just opened, and I wanted to see it. Actually it was impressive and beautifully installed —this huge curving white space with a very high, sky lit ceiling; and the pictures —huge, tiny and everything in between, tacked to the walls all over the place. And some of the pictures were very affecting, especially the snapshotty portraits. But so much of his work is so banal —I know that the banality is sort of his stock in trade —but really I think it’s too much; and actually his newer work is more abstract —big photogram things and such; they don’t have much emotional appeal, but they do show some effort.

By now I was quite hungry, so on a whim I dashed to the subway and went to the Palais Royale and to Willi’s wine bar —arriving about 2:15, just in time to have a nice lunch at the bar: Asparagus and broadbean soup with a glass of Riesling, and veal liver with a cote rotie; a refreshing dessert of fresh cherries and orange slices with a slab of hard bitter chocolate. Very tasty. After lunch I had a bit of a walk around the Palais Royale, then took the metro out to the eighth and walked around looking in shop windows. Finally got back to the hotel after six; Went to the laundromat down the street at seven so I could have some clean clothes. At ten, walked over to the Marais, and had some dim sum things at that little place by St. Paul. Then sat at a sidewalk table at the Open cafe and had a few beers. Checked out the Full-metal and the QG bar —neither very busy, then checked out the Arene —busier, but as dreadful as I remember it being (thought I’d give it a second chance); and really expensive beer too.

7 June 2002

More photography… Before lunch, the show at the photo museum at the Hotel Sully —which after I paid my 5 Euros, I realized I had already seen —last year at the Van Gogh Museum. It’s this personal collection of American photographs from 1840-1940. It was interesting enough to see again though. And then, after Lunch, I went to the other photo museum in the Marais to see the much hyped Klien+Paris exhibit. Big and garish, and many funny juxtapositions; mostly crowd shots from the street, or group shots a society events. In between I walked out to the Place de l’Aligre and had lunch at the Table l’Aligre. I had the daily menu: a crab salad, a roasted codfish, and a creme brulee; it was all very tasty and included wine, and a cafe —all for 20 euros. A good deal, especially when you consider that I had just spent that morning 10 euros for two cups of coffee and a piece of toast at the AOC cafe.

It was a bit gloomy all day in Paris, but now that I’ve come back to the hotel to rest after a day of dashing around, it’s cleared up and become quite sunny. 8 pm and it’s very sunny and bright. I’d take this computer to a cafe to make my notes, but I haven’t had it plugged in and the battery is not charged.

Later…

I had a lie down in the early evening, then went out for a walk at dusk to take some photos and have a snack. I was going to stop at the Deux Palais, but it was closing, so I went to the Panis and had a croque on country bread.

8 June 2002

Out today pretending to shop. Actually I bought a summer shirt and some boxer shorts at this cheap, stylish store from Spain called Celio. Then it was just browsing around the St. Germain des Pres and San Sulpice. Then I happened by a little movie theater where they were showing the Larry Clark film “Bully”, so I decided to go see it. It was really good, I thought. Then over to the Marais for a bit more non-shopping —I tried in vain to find this one men’s clothing store that I had seen earlier in the week. Then on my way back to the hotel, I stopped at Notre Dame and caught a bit of the Saturday evening service. Lots of singing, and very nice to experience the church in use. I hadn’t a big lunch on Saturday, so I went out to dinner at Polidor. It was fun —because of the people —but it is not as cheap as I remember it. (dinner cost me as much as lunch at Willi’s.) I had a lentil soup (rather dull) and the pintade with cabbage, which was quite good, and a huge tarte tatin with creme freche. Sat with a girl from London and her two French friends; they were nice.

Dithered about where to go for a drink that night —Keller or Docks or Transfert. Decide on Transfert, but it was a mistake —it’s the tiniest bar in Paris, and was empty as well. So after taking the metro there (it’s at the far end of the Louvre) I had to walk back to the Marais, and just went to the Full Metal, and actually didn’t stay out too late.

9 June 2002 Aboard the Thalys to Amsterdam

Very tired today —too little sleeping the last three nights —so most of the trip back I’ve just been listening to music and staring out the window at the landscape. Some really beautiful cloud formations as we sped through Northern France. Holland is predictably gray.

I had an early lunch before I left Paris —a steak tartare at the Terminus Nord. It is yet another Flo group brasserie, but anyway that does assure that the food is of a high calibre. I was torn between steak tartare and oysters —I only had time for one course. Had the tartare and a half bottle of Cotes du Rhone. Anyway it is directly across the street from the station, so it is very convenient.

Now I have my article to write, but it won’t be done on the train. I finally get out the computer, and we’re racing into Schipol already —so we’ll be in Amsterdam in 15 minutes.

It’s Nice to be Wanted

France has a long history of tolerance for alternative sexuality. It’s been a refuge for homosexuals from Oscar Wilde to James Baldwin to Gertrude Stein, and a live and let live attitude regarding love and sex seems to prevail. Recently though, France has been moving beyond tolerance to a genuinely enthusiastic embrace of gay residents and visitors. The mayor of Paris is openly gay. Recent legislation extends domestic partner (essentially marriage rights) benefits to same sex couples–and this approved under a conservative national government. Gay bars, bed and breakfasts, shops, restaurants, gay organizations, saunas and discos are proliferating–not only in Paris, but in smaller cities throughout France. The national and regional tourist offices, businesses, mainstream hotels and restaurants, and individual city governments are all enthusiastically welcoming gay travelers. It’s nice to be wanted!

Pride in Gay Paree

You’ll feel especially welcome during the last weekend in June, when Paris’ puts on it’s huge annual gay pride celebration. Watch the festive, chaotic and very long parade from any point along its considerable route from Place d’ Italie to Nation (Bastille is a convenient location) or join in and march with a favorite group–every one is welcome to participate as well as watch. Afterwards, the Marais becomes a huge street party for the remainder of the evening. Naturally there are disco parties and special events the whole weekend long. And while Paris Pride is the ultimate, cities throughout France now have gay parades and events–you could spend all of June celebrating gay pride, French style.

Even on a normal day, Paris is the center of gay life in France, with a huge gay community, bars and clubs of every description, trendy gay restaurants, stores selling trendy clothes and campy doodads, and an excellent gay bookstore (Les Mots a La Bouche). Begin your exploration of Gay Paris at the Open Cafe. It seems like every gay boy in Paris eventually strolls by these sidewalk table, and you can happily linger over a coffee, beer or cocktail. Pick up free copies of the several weekly gay agendas for detailed listings of the many other bars and events. The Marais, the lively and traditionally gay quarter of Paris is so popular now that gays have begun colonizing adjacent areas as well–Rue Oberkampf, Canal St. Martin, and the slightly seedy Second Arrondissement are all worth a look. Of course you will see gay people everywhere in Paris and you should feel at home wherever you go.

Racing to embrace gays

Many visitors–and many Parisians themselves–have the impression that that gay life in France begins and ends in Paris. Now a number of regions and cities throughout the country are taking various initiatives to prove that they are just as gay friendly as the capitol. Leading the pack in the this regard is Le Mans, a Loire Valley town best known for the exciting (but not at all gay)Circuit Des 24 Heures du Mans auto race. Yet the city also boasts an organization of gay friendly businesses—Charte d’accueil et de bienvenue Lesbian and Gay Friendly—which now includes most of the hospitality industry in Le Mans. For instance, the grand old belle époqueHotel Concorde, traditional and charmingly old-fashioned, proudly displays its gay friendly charter at the front door. Restaurants are also gay friendly; try traditional cuisine of the Loire atLe Grangeraie in the center of town, or venture out to the nearby nature reserve L’ Arche de la Nature, for a simple but delicious buffet on a farm.

For something more exciting, you can practice your own racing skills on a gas powered go-cart at the very butch Circuits “Alain Prost”. The hunky staff won’t care if you are gay or even if you send your cart crashing at high-speed through the track-side barricade! Auto racing is a theme running through the town, and for aficionados there is great collection of historic vehicles in theMusée de l’Automobile. Historic Le Mans—dating back to the 13th century–is really the highlight of the city however. Vieux Le Mans, the medieval core, boasts the largest concentration of half-timbered buildings in France. And not to be missed–not that you could–is the immense Cathedral St. Julien which spans the entire range of medieval church architecture from fortress-like Romanesque to flamboyant high gothic. The gay “scene” is small town, but in addition to the gay friendly bars and cafes, you will also find a gay disco (La Limite), cabaret (Palace Cafe) and sauna (Le Nil), should you find yourself craving company.

Life in a Student Town

In Montpellier, in what is thought of as the more conservative south, perhaps it is the presence of so many students that lends a gay friendly atmosphere. Of the city’s 240,000 residents, 60,000 are students, creating an overwhelmingly youthful vibe. Add to this the relentless sunshine, and the plentiful terrace cafes that surround every square and you have one of the best cities for people watching in France! The Cafe de la Mer is the gay cafe, with tables spilling out into a popular square, and ultra-cute waiters. Grab a table and a pernod and watch the boys (and girls) go by. The nearby Rue des Teissiers is a narrow passage lined with small gay and gay friendly cafes, their sidewalk tables creating a sort of nonstop block party. For late night partying, Le Heaven and Le New THT offer boys, drinks and small dance floors once you have buzzed your way in. For sun and swimming, the Mediterranean beaches are a short drive from town and the surrounding country side is dotted with ancient villages, Languedoc wineries and ruined Templar castles.

Back in the city, the best way to see the city’s rather hidden historic sites is with the excellent three hour guided tour offered by the Office du Tourisme Montpellier. You’ll get a look into the courtyards of private renaissance houses and the 12th century Jewish ritual bath–rediscovered after seven centuries! Montpelier is home as well to some really great food; for an incredible meal don’t miss La Compagnie des Comptoirs—or their (much less expensive) sister restaurant on the beach at nearby La Grande Motte. The latter is a tent which sits directly on the beach affording incredible views of the Mediterranean and the option of a post lunch swim; the entire restaurant is dismantled in the autumn, and re-erected each spring.

Relaxing in Provence

Provence is probably the most popular holiday region in France after Paris. It’s a perfect spot for sun, scenery, wine, and lazily whiling away the days at an outdoor restaurant or a hotel swimming pool. For a real treat, L’Hotel Les Ateliers de L’Image is the sort of hotel you actually hate to leave to go sightseeing. The rooms are simple, cool and comfortable; The public areas are fashion magazine chic; but it is the large, stunningly beautiful pool and the extensive grounds that make the hotel a destination in itself. Though located in the heart of little St. Remy, the pool overlooks the open countryside–perfect for cooling off midday, or for a midnight swim. As there are only 24 rooms, it feels very exclusive, and very private. The highlight of St. Remy are the excavations of the Roman city of Glanum. You can see the foundations of the ancient buildings and the Roman street grid, yet two thirds of this sizable city remains buried. There is a short walking trail to take you there. This entire region of course was an important part of the Roman empire, and reminders of this ancient heritage are everywhere. In Arles, the Roman arena is still used for bullfights and the local variant, bull racing. In bull racing, unarmed (and apparently reckless) young men compete with bulls–the bulls are never harmed, and they, not the boys, achieve fame and status! Again, for the best look at Arles’ many Roman ruins and Medieval buildings, the Arles Office de Tourisme offers excellent guided visits in English. TheMusée de L’Arles Antique features extensive ancient artifacts from the region. Fascinating and beautifully presented, this relatively new museum should not be missed. Avignon is home to the monumental Palais du Papes, the temporary residence of the popes during the 14th century. It’s an impressive example of religious fortress architecture. The town itself is charming, retaining its old city wall and filled with sunny squares and outdoor restaurants. And with six Michelin star restaurants, Avignon offers some pretty impressive Provençal cuisine. Avignon is also the center of gay life in the region. It’s handful of gay bars (Le Cid CafeLMCafe), clubs (Le EsclaveThe Cage) and sauna (H Club) draw gays from throughout the region. Mostly though, province is more about relaxing than a pulsing nightlife–and you may be surprised to find that there are huge number of gay and specifically gay friendly hotels, bed and breakfast properties, country houses and villas–many quite luxurious–scattered throughout the region. The organization Gay Provence is an excellent source for Provence accommodation, restaurants, and information; they are very eager to offer advice and assistance and maintain an comprehensive and informative website. Spring, early summer and Autumn are the best times to visit Provence–it is warm but not so crowded. If you want to see the world famous Avignon Arts Festival though, you will have to brave the July heat and crowds–and book everything well in advance.

A Quick Jaunt from Paris

Only an hour northwest of Paris, and easily accessible by train, the charming city of Rouen is perfectly located for a weekend trip from Paris. This medieval town, where Jeanne d’Arc was burned at the stake, has much to offer–historic architecture, an impressive cathedral, a good art museum, great Norman food, and pleasant inexpensive hotels. And Rouen also boasts a lively and friendly gay scene, including two very busy lesbian bars. Reserve a room at the the gay-owned La Vieux Carre, which also has a very pleasnt restaurant. It’s very reasonably priced, centrally located and oozing with half-timbered charm. Exploring this small city is effort free–you can easily visit all the main sites on foot. While the Cathedral Notre Dame–made even more famous by Monet’s paintings–is the most impressive building in town, other nearby monuments worth seeing are the flamboyantly Gothic Palais du Justice, The Eglise St.-Ouen, the Horloge medieval clock tower, and the streets of ancient half-timbered houses. A visit to the pleasant Musée des Beaux-Arts makes a restful change from the crowds at the Paris museums. Too much culture? Rouen offers an astonishing range of shopping for its size–from incredible chocolates and pastries to handmade luxury items, and branches of the famous Paris design houses such as Hermes. In the evening, gay life beckons. The XXL has a bar on the ground floor, a small disco below, and frequent theme parties–often a decidedly sexual theme. A casual, friendly atmosphere pervades, thanks to the efforts of gregarious owner Stephane. Just down the street, Blues offers a huge cocktail menu, and a laid-back lounge atmosphere. The lesbian scene is particularly lively (because of the link to gender bending heroine Jeanne d’ Arc?) with two busy bars. Le Miss Marple–named for the famous fictional detective–andL’Insolite are both filled with friendly and attractive women.

sidebar: A Luxury Weekend in Paris

The Marais is funky, fun, and tres gay, but perhaps you dream of that chic, ultra-luxurious, and very romantic Paris you’ve seen in so many movies. Could it get any more glamorous than a weekend at the Four Seasons George V Hotel? This historic property, with huge rooms, stunning decor, staff rushing to accommodate your every whim, and every amenity you can think of, is one of the world’s great hotels. See Robbie Williams check out as the Rolling Stones check in—the hotel routinely caters to celebrities and presidents—yet Director of Marketing Jean-Pierre Soutric is enthusiastic about welcoming and accommodating gay guests. The concierge can even direct you to the current gay hotspots. It couldn’t be more luxurious and romantic, but of course all this comes at quite a price (do inquire about the many discounts and packages on offer). Still, you’ll be the envy of your friends back home. The Hyatt Regency Paris Madeleine is smaller luxury hotel, with a cool, contemporary look, stylishly comfortable rooms, friendly staff, and a relaxed atmosphere. It will appeal to artistic types (it’s Pavarotti’s hotel of choice) and again, gay guests are enthusiastically welcomed. Now, put on your best Paris suit (or pick up a stylish yet reasonably priced new one from local menswear designer Melchior) and head out for a deluxe meal at one of Paris’ famed restaurants. Try the chic, contemporaryMaison Blanche, with its stunning city views or the George V’s own 3 star Le Cinq. However, whether you opt for luxury hotels or a pension in the Marais, Michelin star restaurants or cozy bistros, an evening stroll through Paris with a special friend is as romantic as any movie, and costs nothing at all.

The List: Stay/Eat/Play/Do

PARIS

Hotel Ambassador Concorde 16 Blvd Haussmann, +33 1/4483-4040 fax +33 01/4296-1984,www.hotelambassador-paris.com, 200-500 Euros)

Hotel Four Seasons George V 31 Avenue George V, +33 1/4952-7001 fax +33 01/4952-7011,www.fourseasons.com, 565-2250 euros,

Hotel Hyatt Regency Madeleine 24 Boulevard Malesherbes, + 33 1/5527-1207 fax 33 1/5527-1210, www.paris-hyatt.com, 355-600 euros

Paris Tourist Office and Convention Bureau 127 Avenue des Champs Elysees, 33 01/49.52.53.27 Fax +33 1/4952-5330 www.paris-touristoffice.com

Open Cafe 17 rue des Archives, +33 1/4887-8025

Melchior various locations around Paris

Maison Blanche 15 avenue Montaigne, 33/1 4723-5599 fax 33/1 4720-0956

LE MANS

Hotel Concorde 16 Avenue Général Leclerc. +33 2/4324-1230, fax +33 2/4324-8574,www.concordelemans.com, 88-140 euros

Le Grangeraie 23 place de l’éperon, +33 2/4323-9306, 14-20 euros

Le Mans Tourist Office Rue de l’Etoile, +33 2/4328-1722 Fax : +33 2/4328-1214, www.ville-lemans.fr

La Limite 7 rue Saint-Honoré, +33 2/ 4324-8554

Palace Cafe 101 avenue du Général-Leclerc, +33 2/4387-0936

Le Nil 36 rue de Fluerus, +33 2/4323-2681

MONTPELLIER

La Compagnie des Comptoirs La Grand Travers, La Grande Motte, +33 4/6756-4342 fax +33 4/6756-4342, www.lacompagnedescomptoirs.com, 20-25 euros

Languedoc Roussillon Regional Tourist Board 417 rue Samuel Morse Montpellier,+33 04/6722-81.00 Fax +33 04/6722-8027,www.tourisme-languedoc-roussillon.com

Cafe de la Mer 5 place du Marché-aux-Fluers, +33/4 6760-7965

Le Heaven 1 rue Delpech, +33/4 6760-4418

Le New THT 12 rue Saint-Firmin, +33/4 6766-1252

PROVENCE

L’Hotel Les Ateliers de L’Image 36 boulevard Victor Hugo Saint Rémy de Provence, +33 4/9092-5150 fax +33 4/9092-5150, email info@hotelphoto.com

Arles Office de Tourisme 43 Bd de Craponne, +33/4 9018-4124, www.ville-arles.fr

Provence Regional Touist Board www.crt-paca.fr

Le Cid Cafe 11 pace de l’Horloge, +33/4 9082-3038

LMCafe 40 rue des Lices, +33/4 9086-1967

Le Esclave 12 rue du Limas, +33/49085-1491

The Cage Gare Routière, +33/4 9027-0084

H Club 20 rue de Paul-Manivet, +33/4 9085-0039

ROUEN

La Vieux Carre 34 rue de la Ganterie, +33/2 3571-6770 fax +33 2/3571-1917, vieux-carre@mcom.frwww.vieux-carre.fr, 60 euros

Rouen Tourist Office

25 place de la Cathédrale, +32 2/3208-3242 fax +33/2 3208-3656,

www.rouentourisme.com

XXL 25 rue de la Savonnerie, 15:00-4:00, +33/2 3588-8400

Blues 15 rue Saint Etienne des Tonneliers, +33/2 3588-8400

Le Miss Marple 35 rue de la Tour de beurre, 18:00-2:00, +33/2 3588-4732

L’Insolite 58 rue d’Amiens, 19:00-2:00, +33/2 3588-8400

RESOURCES

Maison de la France (www.franceguide.com) The French tourist offices are an invaluable resources. Before you go, make use of the website to explore options and request information. Upon arrival, local offices can provide information, maps, assistance and often excellent walking tours.

Gay Provence (www.gay-provence.org) Providing booking for gay friendly accommodation throughout Provence as well as information on bars, clubs and restaurants.

By Clay Doyle {Published in a slightly different form in Out & About, June 2004}