I had promised to accompany my friend Randy on his first trip to Europe in late spring 2003, which I arranged for us to spend mostly in Paris, where we would meet up with several friends. I spent the winter in Los Angeles, tending to the rather grueling task of closing and packing my West Hollywood studio/gallery/living space. This task finally complete, I was suddenly hospitalized with attack of pancreatitis–surely one of the most painful ailments ever devised. The attack was the side effect of a medication I had been prescribed–with over inflated warning labels on everything from hot coffee to plastic bags, I admit I didn’t pay much attention to “caution: may be fatal” stamped on the bottle. After all, it says the same thing on a pack of cigarettes. Perhaps if it had said “caution: may lead to an immediate and exceedingly painful shut down of your digestive system causing you to spend eight days in the hospital on hallucinatory intravenous pain killers while you are allowed absolutely nothing to eat or drink, not even water” I would have requested something else. In any case, with the medication discontinued, after ten days the doctor shook my hand, pronounced me cured, and sent on my way. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but as plans had previously been made, I decided that I could just as well convalesce in Paris as Los Angeles. Thus, a bit oddly, begins yet another Clay Doyle in Paris travelogue…
18 May 2003 Paris
Late Sunday in my little room in the nicely renovated Hotel de Sevigne. New bathrooms, new paint, new furniture. Nothing fancy, but great value for the money, plus breakfast in the room! Arrived Friday after an uneventful trip from Amsterdam on the Thalys. Went out shortly after our arrival to take Randy for a walk through the Marais, across the Ille de Cite, around the exterior of Notre Dame, and finally to our dinner reservation at Balzar. A very fun dinner (even if the food is perhaps not as perfect as it once was, it’s still pretty darn good and the atmosphere of the place is just great). I had the poulet roti, with escargot to start and a fresh strawberry tart for dessert. Randy had escargot, lamb chops and the profiteroles. Lillet aperitifs and a half bottle of red wine. Two amusing Nederlanders at the next table. They had dinner, then coffee, then cognac, then another cognac and a beer and the waiter brought them the check before they asked for it and one of them read him the riot act— “We are not Americans,” he said! I thought I’d crack up. after that, our check did not come until I requested it. A nice stroll back to the hotel along the Seine.
Saturday was a very busy day. We walked to the Luxembourg garden. We went looking at a bunch of expensive galleries around the Rue de Seine in the sixth. Stopped at the usual shops around St. Sulpice. Wanted to go in the church but they were having first communion ceremonies all day. Lots of children in white robes. We did stop into St. Germain des Pres and I lit a candle to Santa Rita for my pancreas. Then took randy to Bertillion for an ice cream cone and we had some coffee in the Marais. It showered off and on all day, alternating with some sun. I bought a rain hat at Muji. We rested at the hotel and then went to the concert a bit after seven. Found it without any trouble. It was nearby, around the Bastille, but I usually seem to get lost over there. Really nice small venue—Cafe de la Danse. the concert was the Go Betweens, an Australian singer/songwriter duo/band that Randy really likes. They were fun. The opening act was Tim Keegan, a gay folky sort of singer/songwriter. He had this one really nice sad song—“Jamie’s going snowboarding”—about being abandoned by/driving away a boyfriend. After the show we had dinner at Au Gamin de Paris. Friendly, as I remember it. We shared a livery terrine to start (it was huge) and I had some lamb slices and Randy had a steak. We had a very rich super chocolatey tart for dessert. After dinner we walked around and I showed Randy where some to the gay bars were. We almost went into the Full Metal, and we would have gone into the Cox but the music was so bad, we just went to the Open Cafe. It was a bit too cold to sit outside so we crowded inside and I had a Perrier. It was after one when we got back to the hotel—my longest, most active day since the hospital. Today (Sunday) I was a bit tired, and my leg muscles were a bit sore from all the walking. None-the-less in the morning we went to the Picasso Museum and wandered all around its three floors. It wasn’t very crowded—I don’t think most tourists go in for Picasso. We had a baguette at Au Petit Fer a Cheval. It was pouring down rain. I spent most of the afternoon resting in my room. around five I went out for a walk—I went out to find the Place Aligre and the restaurant I like there (la table d’ Aligre) and I noted down the the phone number then stopped at a little Moroccan cafe nearby for a ‘the de menthe’ and a little pastry. It was raining when I left so I took the Metro back —two lines, though only one stop on each. Spent the evening resting—Randy and I had talked about going to dinner at nine, but when he hadn’t come by by 10:30 I went out on my own to get something to eat. Turns out he was in his room from eight on…not sure why he didn’t call sooner anyway I was already at Petit Fer a Cheval having a cheap entrecote and a glass of red wine, alone. Truth be told I like having the time alone, though if I knew Randy was in the hotel I would have taken him along to dinner. I thought he was out chatting up French boys!
19 May 2003 Paris
Resting in my room before dinner. It’s seven in the evening and I’m a bit tired. Took Randy on a tour of the monuments, so walking all day. We took the Metro to the Arc d’ Triumph and then walked back down the Champs d’Elysee…well you have to see it once! Stopped at the FNAC record store and listened to some French pop albums. Continued on through the parks by the Grand Palais…there was a big exposition about trains, all along the park, to look at…then to the Place d’ la Concorde. Then a short walk up to the Madeleine. There was a mass in progress, so we went to a little cafe on the square and had French Onion soup…a cliché I know but it was good…and sat there a while. It was all rainy during our walk, but not so rainy that it was really unpleasant. Went in the church, then walked through the Tuileries then got to the Louvre just at 3pm when they reduce the price. There’s a fabulous new secret entrance at the Porte de Lions, sort of at the end of the Sully wing under the Italian galleries…no crowds at all just two automatic ticket machines and no human ticket sellers…and just as we got there the ticket machines malfunctioned…so we had to go in through the shopping mall and buy our tickets under the pyramid which was much more crowded. Randy liked the Roman and Greek sculptures…I also took him to see the Caravagios and the Leonardos that are not the mona lisa. And we looked at the Davids and Delacroix and Gericaults. And the Italian renaissance sculptures. But we just did that one wing, rested in the cafe and saw that the sky had cleared and the sun was out. so we walked back…me to the hotel and Randy to the Open Cafe. I just need to rest before going to dinner at 9 at La Villeret!
The trip to Paris has been very good for my health—long walks to get my strength back and lots of good food to get my weight up to something more reasonable. I’m very glad that I made the trip. I was so worried about it; I felt terribly weak and unsteady even up to the day I left LA. Really, the only reason I didn’t cancel was that I felt so guilty about sending Randy on his own after I promised I’d be there to take care of everything! I just couldn’t abandon him (and Logan as well, though I don’t worry about Logan taking care of himself in Paris or anywhere)! So I crossed my fingers and hoped that my pancreas would not explode somewhere over the icy North Atlantic! And, I guess it goes to show that having some responsibility is a good thing—I feel I have recovered much more quickly in Paris than I would have in LA. And of course, I’ve been having a great time here.
Just a quick description of our fabulous dinner at La Villeret. Arrived at nine and left at midnight! Amuse bouche: a tiny cup of spinach soup. Starters: sweetbreads and white asparagus for me and fricassee of chicken and girolle mushrooms for Randy—both delicious. Plats: I had calf’s liver; I’d been craving it and it was perfectly cooked. Randy had a St. Pierre; he really liked it, I still can’t recall this fish’s English name. We finished dinner and still had a half bottle of Nuits St. George 2000 Burgundy (delicious) left so I ordered cheese for us—lots of runny smelly soft cheeses, and goats cheeses, please help yourself! Then we had desserts! For me a soup with strawberries and Randy had a chocolate mousse sort of thing. Then a cup of verbena. Then, fortunately, the nice walk back to the hotel. Everything was really good, and Randy was really impressed. 145 Euros, so not super cheap, but still an excellent value.
21 May 2003 Paris
Tuesday was a rather efficient day! In the morning went shopping with Randy in the Marais and bought a birthday present for a friend in the states, plus found a cute gift box to put it in. Then we took the Metro out to the Trocadero and the Tour Eiffel. Not really much of a line to go up into the Tour (Paris just doesn’t seem so full of tourists) but Randy wasn’t in the mood. We had some mediocre salads at a mediocre bistro and then went back to the hotel. I rested for an hour and then went out to mail the birthday gift. Found a big padded envelope to put it in at the stationers near the hotel, then took it to the post office at the end of the street. All very easy. Then I went wandering around hoping to find a wireless network I could use to check my email. Well, it couldn’t be more convenient! there is one in the range of the Open Cafe, so could sit there and have a tea and check email and stuff, while I check out the boys passing by! I went back this morning for coffee, and to send some replies.
Dinner at 8:30 at La Table d’ Aligre. We were the only American rufuses there of course. Randy said, after we were seated, “He knew who you were!” and I said “Of course. We are the only party of Americans.” OIC!
Dinner was pleasant, and reasonably bargainy. I had the most trouble translating the menu there for some reason. Actually felt like I rather made a fool of myself trying to communicate with the very friendly staff, but oh well. The walls were covered with some very interesting watercolors…mostly of banal american locations (airports, motels, etc) but very nicely done and interesting. They were for sale for 550 Euros, not a bad price but too much for me. The women who painted them happened to be dining in the restaurant and the waiter pointed her out. Anyway, I had the house made foie gras to start and randy had salt cod in a sabayon over rice. I had a special of fried pork medallion in a good mustard sauce with mashed potatoes and Randy had fried rabbit with some big wide hand cut pasta. For dessert there was a fantastic looking vanilla soufflé, but we neglected to notice that it had to be ordered early in the meal (naturally) so randy had this crispy pastry envelope filled with incredibly rich dark chocolate and I had this soft biscuit filled with (I’m not sure what actually) and raspberry sauce.
Today Mr. Logan arrived. We went to meet him in his hotel and Brian and his sister and his niece had arrived too. Logan suggested we all go to Polidor for lunch, so we did and I had lentil cream soup and hachis parmantier. Then we all walked over a visited Notre Dame. Brian and family went back to the hotel and Logan and Randy and I sat at the AOC cafe. I’m resting now but soon will be having another gorgy dinner at Balzar! Brian’s’ sister (Michelle) and niece (Lauren) seem very nice. The weather is still chilly and overcast, though there was not any actual rain today.
24 May 2003 Paris
Saturday late afternoon, raining, a good time to catch up my journal. Balzar Wednesday night—I had white asparagus and then the steak tartare. And one profiterole stolen from Michael Logan. It was all quite delicious. We finished dinner at ten, so everyone decided we should go to the Tour Eiffel. We took the metro over and there were hardly any people there. The Africans selling cheap souvenirs practically outnumbered the tourists. Well the weather was iffy and it was late, and it turned out that the top level was not open—perhaps because of the weather. So we went up to the second level and had a view. Then we took taxi’s back to our respective hotels. So speedy!
Thursday was a bit of a lazy day. I took Randy over to the St. Chapelle, but it was closed because of a strike. So we met Logan et al at the Samaritaine Department store because I wanted to take them up to the Panorama. It was closed too—not sure why. But we had some hot chocolate at the roof terrace cafe so we did get a view of the city after all. Then we strolled through the courtyards of the Louvre, and we sat in the garden of the Palais Royale (while michelle and Lauren and Brian went to find a sculpture) by the fountain (very pleasant, and we imagined some lounging boys to be our dates). Then the six of us went to lunch at Willi’s. It was a very fine lunch. I had slices of quail and vegetables in a rich, red “barbecue” sauce—but I think I should have had the tempura prawns—the ladies had them and they looked fantastic. I had a bit of Randy’s foie gras too, which was excellent. I had a fish—the rascasse—on Logan’s recommendation, it was quite good. Actually the table was 4 rascasse and 2 lamb chops. I can’t quite remember what I had for dessert—but I’m sure it was some kind of strawberry thing; I’ve been eating a lot of strawberries, they are really excellent. Some coffee and then we got up and strolled our separate ways. Logan and Randy and I met later at the Open Cafe and sat there during happy hour (6-8).
In the evening Randy, Logan and I decided to go to this “Spectacle” at Notre Dame (actually it was Logan’s idea in a rare lapse of judgment). It began at nine and mercifully lasted only one hour as it was torturously dull. It was basically a novena to the BVM, with a slide show and recorded music. It was sort of like being invited over to the Virgin Mary’s house to see her travel pictures! “and here we are in Egypt…”
Fleeing that, we went to the AOC cafe and had little snacks. Then back to the Open Cafe to meet Brian. Brian was complaining because while he was there alone guys tried to pick him up. Why is this a problem? Anyway there is a super sweetypie waiter there—of course all the waiters there are cute, but Kevin is the cutest of them all. He was there when we were there earlier and very sweet, but the poor thing seemed totally worn out by the time we returned at 11:30 at night.
Friday we went to Versailles on the RER. Takes about 45 minutes. Then we walked and walked. It was a very nice day for it, warm and sunny. we strolled through the huge gardens, the Grand and Petit Trianons and then out to Marie Antoinette’s little faux farm (Logan really wanted to see it). Everyone rebelled on the walk out to the little farm—they sat down and refused to go on. I managed it though—very pleased with my energy level. After that we took the “mini-train” to a cafe and had a spot of a late lunch, then back to the chateau. We sort of dashed through it lingering only to look at the chapel and the hall of mirrors. Well how much flocked wallpaper and mediocre paintings can you stand? Brian and Michelle kept losing their tickets—so there is a family resemblance. Took the train back and had a very brief rest and then dinner (again) at La Villerette. The girls didn’t come and Brian was in a frenzy because of some problems at work, but the food was good anyway. I had some langoustines, and then a pigeon. Logan had the mushrooms and a rabbit (leg, saddle and liver). Randy had langoustine soup and “assorted” lamb—a sweetbread, a fabulous liver, a chop or two. Brian had the sweetbread/white asparagus that I had before and the Lamb. No cheese course, but we all had this “brownie” with chocolate mouse and white chocolate Ice cream. Then we walked back to our hotels.
The city does not seem too mobbed with tourists. There is not much of a crowd or lines anywhere. There are some Americans, lots of Brits and Australians. One sees American homosexuals at the Open Cafe—quite a lot really. But it’s nice the city is not mobbed. And it seems very relaxed—especially compared to the war frenzy and the orange alerts of the US. Security here actually seems lighter than it has anytime since September 11—everything functioning normally (except for the occasional strike) and no teen soldiers with Uzi’s at the Gare du Nord!
Today (Saturday) rainy again. Didn’t do too much. Logan and Randy went record shopping at FNAC, I went to a cafe. We had a little lunch and toured the St. Chapelle to see the windows then had some Bertillion ice cream. We are supposed to go to a party at Peter’s friends’ place this evening.
29 May 2003 (Hemelsvaart) Aboard the Thalys to Amsterdam
As always, I tend to lose track of my journal as a trip goes on; I’ll try to recap (briefly) the past week.
Saturday night we went to the party at Peter’s friends’ apartment in the third. It was a really nice flat, very large with 3 bedrooms and two and half bathrooms! Lots of people there too; silly gay-sians, lots of indolent expat Americans, and wacky young French girls. We got restaurant tips from a girl who used to be a chef. All the guests got very drunk. We arrived at 9:30 and were the first guests to leave at nearly one. Peter says the guests stayed until five in the morning. He says there are constantly guests, and a continuous party. I had the idea of going to a bar as it was Saturday night, but was very tired once we left the party.
(Totally missed the Eurovision song contest this year…I don’t even know who won! But Martin was going to tape it so we could watch it together later)
Sunday we had a very nice lunch at Bofinger (oysters and rack of lamb for me). Then we took the Metro out to the Bellevue neighborhood in the 20th arr. to check out the open ateliers weekend. There were 122 venues scattered over quite a large area—we saw perhaps 25 of them. The art was mostly pretty cheap—20 to 300 Euros, so that was nice. Much of it was very decorative—pretty little abstract paintings and figurative sculptures which did nothing for me. There was a fun squatters collective in a big cool abandoned factory that was fun, and these really great moody little landscape paintings painted on top of photographs. These were shown in this cool little wine bar (Le Baratin, at 3 Rue Jouye Rouve). We had only a glass of wine, but they had food as well that looked fabulous. This went on until 9pm (the art things in Paris seem to run from about 3 to 9 in the evening) then we went to the Open Cafe for a Sunday evening drink. Mr. Logan returned to his hotel and Randy and I had a falafel and then we went to the Full Metal bar, which had a nice mix of people. Still managed to be back in the hotel by 1:30.
Monday had a quick walk around and a coffee with Randy, and put him in his taxi to the airport. I took another cab to transfer my things to Mr. Logan’s room at the Agora St. Germain. I really liked the Sevigne though—nice people, comfortable room (except the pillow, too pouffy) great shower and an unbeatable location. Logan, Brian and I set out in the afternoon and stopped at Balzar for a lunch of steak tartare! Good but sort of bloating, and I’m afraid it was my idea. Then we went shopping in the St. Germain des Pres and visited St. Sulpice. Then we had a long afternoon rest before dinner. Went to Benoit for dinner, the five of us. It is a very festive restaurant, the staff is so nice. I had the balontine with smoked duck and foie gras stuffed inside, and then a roast duck. Logan had a slab of foie gras and the rest of them had the crab soup with the roué and croutons. The charolais beef was fantastic (Michelle shared hers) with equally fantastic scalloped potatoes. Logan had rougets, and we had a nice bottle of Charles Jougouet Chinon. There was the usual cornucopia of desserts: a plate of complimentary profiteroles; I had a lovely custard thing covered with fresh strawberries. There was a giant chocolate mousse. Then verbena and the plates of little cookies and truffles.
There was a very amusing table of stylish, cute young Americans sitting next to us. They were having a great time, smoking, talking, offering advice to us. There was one boy who was very cute and very gay and reminded me very much of Rufus Wainwright. Anyway I have decided that it’s only the most fun-spirited Americans who have come to Paris this year—the war, and the anti-French nonsense has weeded out all the undesirables perhaps; and that can only be a good thing!
Tuesday we went shopping with Brian in the Marais. I bought a few gifts, and we had a salad at Petit Fer a Cheval. Then Logan and I took the long metro ride out to the suburb of St. Denis to see the Cathedral. It is famous for being the very first high gothic cathedral and also as the burial place of (all) the French kings. Lots of groovy tombs and funerary monuments.
We had a pleasant dinner Tuesday at Le Amoges, one of the places the girl
at the party suggested. It is between the Bastille and Nation. It was a simple place, but the food was quite good. I had excellent sardines to start and then a really tasty skate wing (raie) for my plat. I don’t think I had ever had skate before, and it was delicious! I don’t quite remember my dessert.
Wednesday we went to the Louvre in the afternoon—after three for the discount and in through the secret entrance at the Porte de Lions. That really is a great way to get in…no crowds and you can go directly up from there to the long Italian gallery. We looked at that, and a bunch of the Egyptian collection.
I met Peter at the Open cafe for a drink and then he and I met Logan, Brian, Michelle and Lauren at Bofinger for our last dinner in Paris. I had foie gras and a rare steak, and floating Island. With six of us, it was a festive end to my two weeks in Paris.
3 June 2003, Amsterdam