Anecdotes from a French Spring

“It would be easier,” I remark, “To have lunch with Jacques Chirac.” We are standing outside the Pilier Sud, at the entrance to private elevator to Restaurant Jules Verne. Our way is blocked by a pleasant but stern young man, clad in all black, with a radio headset. It is a near impossibility to make a reservation at Jules Verne, the luxury restaurant on the second tier of the Tour Eiffel.

Madelines

“Three months in advance” is their standard reply…and even then…I finally had a friend who works for the French Tourist Office in LA make the reservation…to her slight annoyance, as even for her it required multiple phone calls and faxes. It’s somewhat ridiculous…Le Grand Véfour, Le Cinq—great, three star restaurants—booked with a simple fax on our last trip to Paris. Anyway, even after going to such great lengths to extract a reservation, and a fax from the restaurant confirming such reservation, the Jules Verne insists that you reconfirm the reservation the day before. OK, slightly annoying, but not unheard of. Except that they never answer their telephone. Call, call, and call again, and all you get is a multi-lingual message telling you that all lines are busy and please try again in a few minutes. At the prices they charge, you’d think they could hire someone to answer the phones…or outsource it to a call center in India or something. Finally we sent them a fax. But, of course something has gone astray…our table has been canceled (and given to who I wonder, considering the difficulty of making a reservation and the impossibility of reaching them by phone. Have they a list of stand-ins at the ready?) Calls are made from the elevator desk to the restaurant upstairs; someone comes to confer with us…I wave my confirmation fax (bearing the imprint of the French Tourist Office) and Logan explains the multiple unanswered phone calls. Still the young man in black bars our entry to the private elevator lobby, snicker though he did at my comment about lunch with Jacques Chirac. Clearly this is a commonplace occurrence. Someone in authority explains that they had tried to call our hotel, unsuccessfully, that morning, and then—finally behaving in the manner one expects from such a restaurant—says, but of course we will take care of everything, please come up…

From that point on, all is pleasant. A sweet boy lifts us to the second étage in one of the tower’s uniquely slanted elevators; we can see the young and the vigorous clambering up and down the stairs as views of Paris flash in and out of sight between the steel girders. We are offered an aperitif in the bar, but already they have a table ready for us. It’s a small table…too small really for the theater of food the restaurant requires, but it is right at the window, on the best side of restaurant. All of Paris is below our table: Sacre-Coeur on its hill, the Place de la Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe, the roofs of the Madeleine and the Opera, the expanse of the Louvre, and, in the distance, the distinctive towers of Notre Dame and the brightly colored tubes of the Pompidou Center. Directly under us, on the platform below the restaurant, tourists admire the view. It is spectacular, as promised. Inside, the restaurant is all black and grey and leather—very eighties. It seems a bit, well, too eighties, though in mint condition. Logan admires the china, white with black geometric accents, eighties too, but handsome. I find the black stemmed wineglasses less successful. We have glasses of Veuve Cliquot vintage rose (€29 a glass!) Logan promptly knocks his over—25 euros spilling into my plate and lap—fortunately protected by my napkin. Fortunately our only mishap. Service is efficient, professional, but no better than most Paris restaurants. Food is fairly excellent. The à la carte menu is shockingly expensive—50 starters, €90 entrees, and up. But there is a very nice “businessman’s” lunch menu for 55 (the only thing not translated into English—Logan finds this very cunning). He and I have a starter of haddock prepared three ways: a soup that is almost entirely fish flavored air—really good; haddock tartare, and a little spinach and haddock tartlet. Abbie has a terrine of foie gras and oxtail—terrific. They have lamb for the main course—they proclaim it excellent. I have quail—deboned for the most part, and stuffed with foie gras. It is excellent. We drink two bottles of wine, a white and a Bordeaux, neither particularly expensive. Dessert is a sablé with strawberries, with custard and ice cream; and a lemon thing that Abbie had. Various little candies and cookies and truffles are brought to the table, of course. The wine waiter is cute. After lunch, we wander downstairs and out amid the milling crowds for the view of Paris from the open platform. Logan buys another cheap souvenir Tour Eiffel to add to his odd little collection. We make a waiter open the back door to the Jules Verne for us, so we can take the private elevator down. We are about the last lunch guests to leave the restaurant. The crowd was largely American; a few French people. What can I say? The view: extraordinary. The decor: fair. The service: good but not outstanding. The food: very good. The price: the prix fix lunch is a good value. Otherwise for the money, I’d go to Le Cinq, hands down.

After lunch we caught a taxi to the Louvre. I felt such a tourist, taxi-ing from monument to monument. Everyone was over-tired in the Louvre…but we saw the remounted La Gioconda—or rather the crowds around it. It is better located and better lit. They have moved the Veronese wedding feast to the other end of the room. All and all, the room looks better. They have also finished refurbishing the rooms containing the grand format paintings. These galleries look quite good. We escaped the crowds though, for the Richelieu wing and the Mesopotamian art, the French sculptures in the sunlit courts, and the medieval objects tucked away on the floor above. These galleries are essentially deserted.

***

This spring, without really planning to, I ended up spending 24 days in France—nine in Paris and the remainder touring the towns and countryside in a wide arc around Paris from Reims in the Northwest to Chinon in the southeast. I made two separate trips to France; the first a last-minute press trip organized by the French tourist office to promote the “Gay Friendly” Loire valley followed by a long-planned trip with my business partner (Mr. Logan) and my mother (Abbie), AKA Nonna, which took us to Paris, Chablis, Berry, and again the Loire valley. The press trip focused on the cities of Orleans, Tours and Amboise, so the only real overlap was Amboise, which I visited on both trips. A detailed and chronological account of the trip would be lengthy and unnecessary, therefore I will recount only some of the more entertaining anecdotes, such as the one above.

***

Our first press visit was to the Parc Floral de la Source—a large garden of a former Château that now houses offices for the university. It was chilly, and just slightly too early in the season for most of the flowers, except the tulips. The most remarkable thing a about it is that it is the source of the river Loiret—hence the name. I don’t think I’d ever actually seen the source of a river before; so somehow I always imagined something rather grand—melting glaciers or something. Here the water bubbles up out of little hole in the ground and forms a small decorative stream that runs through the rather formal garden. It looks quite artificial really. When we dined a few nights later at Les Quatre Saisons, a beautiful inn and restaurant (with very good food) which sits picturesquely on the banks of the Loiret a dozen kilometers or so outside of Orleans, the decorative little stream had become a wide and rather impressive river. I still have trouble believing all that water comes out of a little hole in the Château grounds, but I’m assured by those with a more thorough knowledge of earth sciences that this is just the way these things work.

***

Our guided tour of Orleans took us to the old city hall, and the rather nice Cathedral of Sainte-Croix, and of course numerous statues of Jeanne d’Arc—patron and liberator of the city in 1429. The city was preparing for the annual festival in her honor on the 8th of May, taking place a few days after we depart. Apparently, each year a local girl—a virgin of course—is chosen to play the role of Joan, and she rides into the city on a horse and then much feasting and drinking ensues. Orleans is a pleasant and compact city of (newly) cobble stoned streets and quaint buildings. It’s easily explored on your own. Except for one thing you won’t see—and this is what I love about these guided press tours—the secret entrance to the excavated medieval gate and drawbridge. We were assembled on the main square, in front of the large equestrian statue of Jeanne d’ Arc when our guide from the Orleans tourist office takes out her keyring and presses something that looks like the little device that unlocks the doors on a car. She presses a button and a three meter square of cobblestone(!) in the place du Martroi, slowly, silently, and electrically opens like a huge trap door, and out of the ground rises a steel spiral staircase. Descending the staircase to some depth, we explore the foundations of the city wall, and drawbridge gate, and medieval moat. Rather impressive. It seems it was unearthed while constructing an underground parking garage. When we exit, the whole thing is closed up at another push of a button and the massive cobblestone trapdoor disappears seamlessly into the surface of the square.

***

Another guided tour—this of the privately-owned Clos Lucé, the final home of Leonardo da Vinci, in Amboise. Our guide is a completely charming young man with an endearing shyness and beautiful blue eyes. I would mention his name, but he seemed so shy that I think it might embarrass him. He keeps apologizing that he only gives tours to children—perhaps afraid that a group of fully adult homosexuals may be bored with his presentation. Actually I think he was an inspired choice. They run us from place to place on these press tours, so our (or at least my) attention span often grows rather childlike; plus the Clos Lucé is the perfect place for children. It is filled with reconstructions and models of Leonardo’s inventions that you can actually play with, and has lots of interactive exhibits, all of which seem more ideally suited to children, who may become bored with the don’t touch aspects of the Châteaux and Cathedrals. Again we got an insider treat—our guide unlocked the gate in the basement of the house that provides entry into the underground tunnel that once connected the Clos Lucé with the nearby Château d’Amboise. (So that Leonardo could be visited by his patron François I without the king having to go outside.) The tunnel has mostly collapsed but a hundred meters or so of dark, damp, off-limits passageway remain. It’s rather fun to explore, in a creepy way. Fortunately, I have learned a few things while traveling, and have a flashlight in my bag!

We meet up with our guide again, unexpectedly, at the bar La P’tite Chose in Tours, at a meeting of the local gay social group. Here we have a chance to chat with him and his friends over drinks. We discover that badminton is the group’s most popular sporting activity.

***

I’ve decided I really like the quirky Hotel de L’Abeille—the group is split, and this is the hotel I’m not staying at. The staff is gay, and friendly, and a few of them rather cute. The rates are really cheap, around 50-70 euros per room. The lobby is comfortable and has free wifi. (Why is it that the most inexpensive hotels are likely to provide free internet, while a in a room that costs several hundred euros, they will add an additional, sometimes absurdly high, charge?) The whole decor may be aggressively over the top, but the place has character and charm. The clientele is mixed. Gay and straight couples as well as one really attractive young man on his own! Breakfast looked good. My hotel, across the street (Hotel d’Arc) is just comfortably bland. And none of the other lodging in town seems very special at all.

***

Andrew, one of the writers, tells us a story about the gay sauna in Orleans—the brand new Savon—which I had declined to visit on a Monday night. He said he was in the steam room with a cute French boy—apparently there was a decent crowd of two dozen or so—and he started chatting him up—fluency in French, which I definitely lack, can be an advantage. Anyway he tells us, admitting it was a totally corny pick up line—he asks the boy if he has ever had sex with an American. The boy says no. So Andrew asks “Would you like too?” To which the French boy replies, “Yes…with a young American.” A hysterical story as he told it, and that he would tell it with such relish and amusement is a good example of his personality. You should also know that besides being charming, Andrew is extremely handsome, rendering it even more amusing.

***

Amboise, a small, almost too cute town straddling the Loire, is a real discovery. Two beautiful, luxurious manor house hotels, at very reasonable rates for such unrestrained luxury—the Manoir des Minimes and Le Clos d’ Amboise, and a restaurant that is so fantastic—and such a bargain—as to be almost beyond belief.

The amazing dinner was at the recently opened Pavillon des Lys—8 courses for €38 euros. I have no idea how they do it. Each course was amazing. The chef/owner, Sébastien, a gay guy (which is why they put it on the itinerary, I suppose), does all the cooking alone. There are two waiters. It is a small restaurant, about nine tables (with four lavish bedrooms as well.) Dinner consisted of…

Champagne and little snacks in the garden

Then dinner…

1. a beet and parsley cappuccino

2. foie gras and potato tart with Coteau du Layon wine

3. smoked salmon with a local Sauvignon wine

4. roasted sea bass

5. medallion of beef with (Chinon wine, I think)

6. chariot of local cheese

7. pre-desert course of little parfait and cookies

8. a chocolate mouse thing

9. a green apple clafouti with calvados ice-cream

and a glass of poire William in the salon.

hmm…seems like more that 8 courses. It was fantastic! They serve only two multi-course set menus (one vegetarian, rather a rarity) which change daily.

I immediately made reservations for my return trip with Logan and Abbie, as we would be staying nearby. Our encore dinner was equally impressive. Logan and my mother loved it. It was a warm evening, so all the tables were set up outside in the walled gravel courtyard. The indoor tables with lamps and stuff…all as formal as if in the dining room. The weather was perfect for it. We were the first to arrive (at 7:40) and the second to last to leave (at just before midnight.) Well, we spent an hour on the upstairs terrace having our coffee (or verbena) with a tiny chocolate pot de crème and waiting for the check. From the terrace there we had a postcard view of the illuminated St. Hubertus chapel, with the Château behind, as dusk turned into night. Amazing. We were the only ones invited to have our coffee up there, so didn’t we feel special? Same waiter as before (and Sebastien said hello briefly at the end of the meal). Only nine tables, but all were full. And this time only 33 euros! So it went like this:

Aperitif: Kir Vouvray pettilant with little bites: a shrimp, a tapanade, a spoon of beet, and a little glass of melon.

Then

1: a goblet of almost pureed vegetables and herbs; a parmesan cracker

2: Foie Gras with sel gris and a tiny lettuce salad

3: Crabmeat, tomato and avocado mille fiule with a crispy pastry

4: A small filet of fish on a bed of baby peas

5: A half quail with some mushrooms and tiny root vegetables

6: Cheese from the cheese board—a long plank that it took both waiters to carry to the table (actually the cheese is a supplement to the menu, but they comped us on it.)

7: rhubarb clafouti with strawberry ice-cream

8: a glass of fresh sliced strawberries with a glass of vanilla ice cream

9: a mango parfait, a little raspberry on a cookie, a tulle cookie

Then the delicious pot de crème with coffee on the upstairs terrace

We did not drink too much, just two bottles of wine and our aperitifs. We had a light red Menetou-Salon with the first 4 courses, and a Chinon with the quail and cheese.

Oh, the Manoir Les Minimes is fabulous. It’s a grand manor house; my room is extravagant—my bathroom even has a view of the Chateau. Owned by two charming gay guys (in matching pin-striped suits!) Everything in Amboise seems to be owned by homosexuals. Even the director of the Château d’Amboise, I’m told, is gay!

***

At the first dinner at Pavillon des Lys, after everyone had made their selections from the enormous Chariot du Fromage, one of the writers remarked that he had selected an particularly pungent (I believe his descriptions was stinky) cheese. Christophe remarked casually, not really as an explanation, that the cheese in question was from Alsace. Except that in giving a correct French pronunciation to that region of Eastern France, it sounded like “It comes from Al’s ass.” That got everyone’s attention, and much merriment ensued. It took Christophe a few seconds to understand what all the laughter was about.

***

A nice tour of Tours—excuse the obvious pun. It’s one of the larger cities of the Loire, and a big university town. Lots and lots of students. A cute half-timbered medieval quarter with lots of crowded sidewalk bar/cafes. The ruins of the enormous Basilica of St. Martin of Tours—now the city streets run right through the footprint of the giant church; only a couple towers remain. A new, much smaller, 19th century basilica was built during the religious revival to house the relics. I was the only member of the group who wanted to see his relics—so our guide took me to the reliquary under the alter while the rest of the group had coffee. Two interesting stops on the tour that I would have never discovered on my own: We visited a traditional silk weaving factory where they still weave fabric by hand on 18th century looms. For historical restorations I presume, as it is a tremendously expensive process. Apparently it is the only surviving weaver from the time when Tours was the Royal silk weaving city. The fabrics are beautiful—but even the spools of thread were astonishingly beautiful—they glowed with an almost internal light. We also visited an artisanal baker, where all the bread is made by hand and baked in a traditional, pre-WWII brick oven—one of the few surviving in France. Really good bread—in a country of good bread—but a dying artform in an age of more modern, mass production techniques. Anyway the brick oven is essential to the perfect texture of the soft interior and crisp crust of the breads at Veiux Four.

***

Christophe (our host from the LA office of the Maison de France) wore his “Sophie” (The Doyle/Logan Company logo and mascot) T-shirt to dinner last night. It was sweet. I had been wearing mine occasionally during the trip—I brought both, as they are black (I travel in black, it’s just one less decision to make.) The business card, I realize from this, is very successful—everyone remembers the dog logo “Oh I have your card, I remember the dog!”

Sadly the only word that adequately describes dinner is ‘ridiculous.’ Yes, you can have a bad meal in Paris—even an expensive bad meal. It was good that we were, by then, tired of eating. Christophe was a bit sad, because it was our last dinner, and it was a disaster; but really, the place was so absurd as to be amusing. It is a “trendy” restaurant. Well just that word is enough to set off alarm bells for me, and for Andrew too. Christophe says that some “trendy” restaurants in Paris are quite good, and fun, and I have no reason to doubt him. He’d never been here before. I’m rather sure he won’t be back. It was the Cantine du Faubourg…a very big place, in the basement of a building in the fashionable eighth arrondissement. Well, already it was trying too hard to be trendy. Orange plastic T-rex’s on the stairs going down. Gauzy curtains. Cool, modern, straight edged furniture and goofy lamps. Actually it was kind of pretty, in a sort of LA, sort of just past being trendy, way. And the clientele was not trendy—pretentious, plastic surgeried, breast enhanced, yes—but trendy, no. I thought they might all be people who made a lot of money in illegal activities. Mixed with just plain rich people from the neighborhood. Anyway, all this is forgivable…but as a restaurant, the place was a disaster. We were seated….early, 8pm, there was only one, maybe two other tables occupied in this huge space. We ordered drinks. They never came. We waited and waited. Finally the waitress came and told Cristophe that they couldn’t do drinks because “the computer was down” but we could have wine instead. We said “fine”…but got a good laugh out of that. Then, mysteriously and without explanation, our drink order (just slightly wrong) arrived. We were offered a very limited menu. Some kind of shrimp starter and chicken skewers or tuna steak for a main course. The little filo wrapped shrimp things were fine—they were served for no reason on long tiles, which didn’t really fit on the table. The mains they mixed up…I got chicken instead of tuna, but both were said to be equally insipid, so I didn’t miss much. The chicken on a stick was just that…coated with some kind of spice and served with noodles that Christophe aptly described as “bland”. The tuna came over-cooked (not very trendy!) and with a pyramid of instant rice! The harried, clearly unskilled waitress had to bring all the dishes to the table, two at time, unassisted, while dozens of staff did nothing but glide elegantly around the room, looking beautifully detached. Honestly, the place had an enormous staff—all very pretty, dressed in all black or all white outfits—but they did absolutely nothing but swan around the room, looking pretty. Dessert was decent; red fruits and lemon sorbet. The PR director—a fabulously dressed black woman, came over to greet us and deliver an obviously insincere “anything you need just ask” speech. The highlights of the restaurant it seems, are that they change the interior decoration twice a year, and that they will send a car to pick you up and bring you to the restaurant! It is probably the only way they can get anyone in the door. Yet it was quite full when we left at eleven. We had a good laugh about it, and as I said, as we were still full from our very nice lunch, it hardly mattered. Perhaps it was even better at that point to have an amusing story.

(That really good lunch, by the way, was at L’Ecluse St. Honoré, one of a small chain of wine bars featuring Bordeaux wine and simple, excellent food. As it was a very hot day, we were served two cold courses, both excellent, and a dessert. All the while we were entertained with amusing stories by Patricia Deckmyn, the exceedingly charming and witty ‘Ambassadress’—public relations director—of the restaurant.)

***

We sit in a café on the Rue de Rivoli, because my mother wanted a croque monsieur. It’s an inexpensive neighborhood café and tabac—The Jean-Bart—with nothing to call attention to it and consequently devoid of tourists. I’d been here before; the food is good and it is remarkably cheap for Paris. It’s pretty busy on a Friday night, and we’ve snagged a sidewalk table at the very end. Service is slow, but the atmosphere is festive. At the table next to us, separated only by the space of the doorway, are three French boys. They are drinking a bottle of rose from coca-cola glasses, smoking, talking on their mobile phones. They are dressed in the international style of youth: baggy jeans, an expanse of boxer shorts showing, one expensive designer accessory each, casually worn. The prettiest one—though it’s a close contest, sports a Gucci belt. One is rather hyperactive, always leaping up, leaving the table, going off for extended periods. The other two are far more languid. They slouch in their wicker chairs, opposing sides of the tiny cafe table, legs entwined. They might be gay. They might not. Clearly they are no older than 17, probably younger. Clearly they are enjoying their evening on the town; the wine, the cigarettes, the casual interaction with the waiter, the calls to friends on the mobile phones. It’s a scene I can’t imagine in America, and I can’t but feel that the lack of such casual, and innocent, adult fun is somehow detrimental to developing responsible, well-rounded adult personalities. The waiter, himself about 20, faux-hawked and cute mainly because he tries so hard, is friendly and funny despite the crowd and the frantic pace it demands. A young man stops at my table and asks for a cigarette—not for him, but for his girlfriend, who laughs and remains shyly in the background, clearly embarrassed. Her boyfriend is gregarious and clearly unembarrassed, or if he is conceals it completely with bluster and good cheer. I proffer her one of my Galois and light it and he kisses me on the cheek and she, laughing, says “merci, merci.” The boys, two now, abandoned again by their manic friend, stare languidly into each others’ eyes, whisper secrets, smoke their own cigarettes.

***

Logan, always the culinary adventurer, ate a pigs foot (deep fried and admittedly tasty, if bony) at Brasserie Flo in Reims, and a plate of horse tartar (which I declined to try, but which he declared the best tartare ever) at a sidewalk bistro in Bourges. I’ll refrain from the “I’m so hungry…” jokes.

***

Open ateliers in Belleville (an artsy Paris neighborhood). Very crowded. Too many children—not really the children I mind so much as the attendant strollers, chariots, etc. which consume so much space. Followed about the same route as we did two years ago. Saw perhaps ten percent of the open studios. A few very good artists…nice etchings, a few nice painters. I had the idea that it would be great to do an annual Belleville/LA show…bring the works of the ten best artists to LA for a group show. The work is cheap…the artists almost all unknown. Much of it would be hugely popular in LA. Some of the work is really good…and we saw only a fraction. Belleville is fascinating. Deteriorating buildings opening into magical, spacious courtyards. Wonderful restorations hidden here and there. A fascinating neighborhood of terrific, ungentrified, raw spaces. Dilapidated, but not at all dangerous (at least it seems so). Is there any place like it in LA, I wonder, or even in Amsterdam. Lively too, as there are shops and cafes; Chinese and Jewish restaurants. Ugly sixties high-rise housing too, but not so much as to be overwhelming. Hilly, unusual for Paris; an ancient aqueduct; an abandoned rail line. Secret courtyards and amazing raw space.

***

Renting the car in Paris (from Avis—the best choice I think in France) was more trouble and time consuming than renting at a provincial train station. The girl that helped us was obviously new, and took forever. She wanted to see out plane tickets! Said it was an Avis requirement…I had never heard that one before—the rental agency was at a train station, and I had arrived in Paris, as often, by train, I’m not sure what I would have produced! Fortunately I had my itinerary and my e-ticket computer printout with me, as they were in my passport case. I thought they might want to see my passport…but she didn’t ask for that. Rented many Avis cars in France and it always takes like five minutes…in Dijon or Orleans…but at Paris Gare de Lyon it was a big production. The staff not even bilingual…good thing Logan was along to help me with all their questions. Really, I have always just shown them my reservation and they’ve tossed me the keys! Surprisingly, driving in Paris was the easiest part. Drove back to the hotel, then out of town, with no problem, no getting lost, no real traffic. But I’d take the train out of town just to avoid the Paris rent-a-car location.

***

The Hotel Crystal, in Reims, is unchanged, and Madame Jentet seemed younger than ever. Surprised, when I greeted her by name…but quickly recovered and didn’t let on that she didn’t have a clue who I was…but I would not expect her to remember me from our brief meeting seven years ago! We visited the Cathedral, of course. Had dinner at the Brasserie Flo. The restaurant we had planned, and had been to before, Au Petit Comptoir, was closed on Monday. After dinner Logan and I had a walk and visited the tiny Lesbigay Bar! It was predictably dead at midnight on Monday, but kind of cute. A silly boy bartender sang along with the CD’s. I had gone into the tourist office in Reims earlier as a kind of test (are regional tourist offices gay friendly even if you are not on a gay tour?) and asked the girl at the desk about gay clubs. She didn’t bat an eye, tried to find some information and marked this place on the map. Turns out it is listed in the general tourist guide as well. She said from there I could find information on everything else. I guess there is a disco, but I didn’t bother asking about that for a Monday night!

***

The Hostellerie des Clos, in tiny Chablis, hadn’t changed much either. Comfy cheap rooms combined with fancy expensive dinners. Had a walk around the town, to the church that is always closed, then dinner in the hotel restaurant. Set menu for €52 euros…white and green asperges, salmon-trout, veal liver, cheese, strawberry and chocolate dessert. Two bottles of Chablis and one bottle of Banyuls with dessert and after. Quite drunk on the Banyuls; it has a very high alcohol content; delicious with chocolate though. Ate at the hotel restaurant the second night too…a la carte, so it cost twice as much! Oyster and crayfish terrine and then a pigeon. Logan had morels stuffed with foie gras and sweetbreads. Abbie had green asparagus with truffles and then scallops. I have no idea how much money we spent there…I don’t want to know…but the set menu is a much better deal; of course it always is. We were going to eat the second night in the restaurant in the village of St. Bris that we discovered on out previous trip, but found it is both closed on Wednesdays and under a new owner—so who know if it is still good…it couldn’t be as unique and special as before, anyway. A strange note though…everything in the Yonne region seems to be closed on Wednesdays! Both restaurants we wanted to go to, the market across from the hotel—it just seems a very strange day for everything to close. Also in the Yonne, the churches are never open…where as in the rest of France they just leave the doors open all day so you can wander in and have a look about. Anyway, spent our second day in Chablis driving around on tiny roads and stopping in cute tiny towns. Visited the Abbaye church at Pontigny…I didn’t remember it until we got inside; it is really beautiful in its starkness. I remembered it then, and recalled my photos of it. Ended the day in Auxerre, visiting the Abbaye there, St. Germain, a quite beautiful church and cloister done up with very high tech lighting and museum installations. Tour of the crypt with (9th? 10th?) century frescos…anyway, supposedly the oldest in France. Also visited the Cathedral of St. Etienne; strangely more impressive on the outside than in, even though the exterior was extensively scaffolded. They do have a reliquary with some bones of St. Steven (he of the stoning) behind the altar.

The Hostelerie des Clos is very comfortable with reasonably priced rooms. No-hassle, free wifi internet. Very beautiful public areas and courtyard. The whole town of Chablis seemed to be getting a makeover—restored streets of medieval buildings and a new fancy hotel and new fancy restaurant being prepared to open. It seems it has become something of a real tourist destination since our last visit. Logan theorizes that the magazine article in “Saveur” which led us there three years ago started a trend.

***

Drove today on very tiny roads from Chablis to Briare, to see the pont-canal. It is very impressive. A beautiful piece of very elegant 19th century engineering. Very, very long too, as it crosses an extremely wide section of the Loire as well as the 16th century shipping canal that runs alongside it. It’s very strange to see this long bridge of water crossing a river. Funny too, to think that when it was built, in the late 19th century, it was already obsolete. Canal shipping, so vital for centuries, had already been replaced by the railroads. Strangely, no one was at the canal itself, except a group of Dutch students.

***

Lovely here at the Château de la Verrerie, as always. Arrived in the early afternoon and walked around the grounds—it was quite hot today. Logan and I borrowed bikes (in rather poor repair) and cycled around the grounds a bit. Visited the chapel—which is more beautiful inside than I remembered, with lovely paintings on the wooden ceiling. I love it here, because it is like staying in a private home—albeit a very, very grand private home. They have wifi here now, too…the only problem is that it doesn’t penetrate the thick stone walls…so you basically have to go down to the office to connect. Also they charge 10 euro for the password to the network (good forever we are told…although how much time does one spend at La Verrerie!) which I think is just silly. Nice dinner at the restaurant on the grounds, La Maison d’Helene. More white asparagus, as it is the season. And strawberries, which are uniformly outstanding. Logan ordered the most expensive Sancerre on the menu (57 euros) justifying it by saying it would cost three times as much in LA. We had a red Fixin (burgundy) too. The wine bill for this trip is going to be huge…I don’t even want to know about it. The Chablis was very good of course. We played several games of Cluedo in the lounge after!

***

A Saturday morning visit to the pretty village of St-Aignan. It was very busy, and it turned out that Saturday was market day. A fun market in the center of town with meat, vegetables, cheese, etc. Really cool Romanesque church with a crypt full of medieval frescoes. Impressive hilltop (private) chateau. We drove from there to Civrey, to the pleasant Hostelerie du Château de l’Isle and settled in early. We switched Abbie’s upstairs room for the one she had before in the little woodshed annex. She likes it; no stairs and a stall shower. It’s the cheapest room they have, and only used, I think, for overflow. There is a nice new glass pavilion where they serve dinner. They only have one menu per night…I can’t say I remember exactly what it was…though I do remember enjoying it. I got a kick out of Logan asking our teen waiter for advice on which of the old Vouvray wines was best. (He had a definite opinion though.) We had a Vouvray and, I think a Touraine red. We were the last diners in the dining room—a sudden rainstorm had blown in during dinner, and the rain was drumming down on the roof.

***

Discovered Loches, a pretty little town with an impressive castle-like chateau (small manor house, interesting church, donjon, intact walls with only one gate) and saw the sights. Interesting in that there were basically no tourists. Churches were busy in the morning (surprisingly so, until we realized it was mother’s day in France). But it seems no one visits Loches. What a contrast to Chenonceau! An amusing sight: two carefully marked handicapped parking spaces closest to the foot of a long staircase leading up to the Château gate! We also visited a ruined Abbeye on the opposite side of the river. Then I drove to Montresor, just because it was nearby and Logan loves it so. We sat in that same café (Café de la Ville) and had a little wine and shared a gigantic salad of meat (it was just after lunchtime). Then Logan and I went for a walk…he saw an empty house for sale, right on the little river that runs along the village, so we noted the phone number! It is all very pretty. Visited the little gothic church that was built as a funerary chapel! Talk about a nice tomb!

***

No trouble finding our hotel in tiny Chinon, and got lucky with a legal parking place just across the narrow street. The Hotel Gargantua—after the character by Rabelais; it’s not that it’s so large. In fact it’s a rather quirky, family run hotel, in an old (16th century) renaissance house. Pretty cool actually. Right in the center of town. Great view of the Château de Chinon. Nice big room and very low prices. The other nice, inexpensive hotel in town, the Diderot, seems a bit swankier and a bit more professional; it’s bigger and in a 19th century building with a cute garden. A toss up perhaps. Dinner was good, we ate in the dining room because of the variable weather, though it had stopped raining and was warming up again. (The next night they were serving dinner on their terrace, which seemed really pleasant.) That night though, we ate at Au Plaisir Gourmand, for our gourmet meal. We got the best table. Abbie had a lobster salad which was great. Logan had veal sweetbreads and kidneys. I had a menu—crab terrine, lotte in verbena, duck breast, strawberries. It was good, as always, but not as good as Pavillon des Lys—where both the food and the setting (outdoors in the courtyard, with coffee on the upstairs terrace) were magical—and cheaper!

***

We drove to Candes St-Martin to see the old, partially fortified church. It’s been fixed up a bit. We just went for a drive after that…up the Loire to Saumur, and past, to a little town that Logan remembered—where we visited another church. Took a much quicker road, on the other side of the river, back to Chinon. Good luck in finding our same parking space. We spent the afternoon shopping in Chinon (shoes, pastries—langues des femmes, pates de fruits—an extra duffel bag!) We sat in the pretty square and had some coffee and water.

***

Last night in France, back in Paris. We did a bit of last minute shopping in the Marais—somehow the thought of leaving brings out the desire to buy things. We had dinner at C’Amelot on the rue Amelot in the nearby 11th. They have the one menu per night. It was a cold pea soup with mint (delicious); monkfish; and pigeon with polenta. Abbie wouldn’t eat the pigeon, though she declared the polenta excellent. I’m sure she had enough to eat, and Logan and I split her pigeon. The one choice you have there is dessert: she had the best, a strawberry granita with strawberries and cream; Logan’s was second-best, a warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice-cream. And mine was good: warm cherries with a (fennel? very subtle) ice cream. We walked back to the hotel, the convenient and very inexpensive Sevigné, across from the St-Paul metro station. It’s actually a short walk. Logan was tired, but I wanted to visit the bar Andy Wahloo, where I had been taken once by my Parisian friend Mafoud, so I walked over there and had a glass of wine. I’m glad I saw it again. I really like it….fun atmosphere, comfortable, cute waiters. A nice end to the trip, as we won’t count the Aéroport Charles de Gaulle!—Clay Doyle

FIN

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.

THE RED and THE WHITE: A food and wine tour of Burgundy

One of France’s most famous wine regions, Burgundy features a picture-postcard landscape of vineyards, forests, fields, canals, medieval towns, and Romanesque monasteries; charming country inns; and of course, delicious food and wine. Easily accessible from Paris—and considerably less expensive than the French capital—Burgundy is ideal for a relaxing holiday or a romantic getaway.

The Red and The White

The Red: Beaune and the Côte d’Or

For many, Burgundy is synonymous with red wine. Red burgundies are made from pinot noir, but they will not be labeled with the grape variety, and only the least expensive will be labeled Burgundy. Most will carry the appellation of a specific, often tiny, area, such as Fixin, Mersault or Rully–the villages of the Côte d’Or, or golden hillsides—each with its own distinctive character. Many of the wineries—and there are many—offer tastings; unless you are a serious oenophile, it can be a bit hard to know where to begin. One of the best ways to experience different wines is with food—and the restaurants accommodate with a huge selection of the local product. Not surprisingly, the region’s delicious specialties are a perfect accompaniment to burgundy wines. Classic Burgundian dishes include escargot (snails in butter and garlic), jambon persillé (a terrine of ham and jellied parsley), the braised dishes of coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon, and meats (especially the famed Charolais beef) grilled over a wood fire. Beaune, the beautiful medieval town that is the spiritual center of Burgundy, boasts a selection of fine restaurants. Le Jardin des Remparts (10 Rue de l’Hôtel Dieu; +03/8024-7941; $18-25) may have Beaune’s best food, and the tables set within the walled garden of a manor house make an unbeatably romantic location. The smaller Le Bénaton (25 Faubourg Bretonnière; +03/8022-0026; $18-22) offers equally fine, creative food, if a less impressive location. Though it looks touristy, La Grilladine (19 Rue Maufoux; +03/8022-2236) around the corner from the Hotel Dieu, has good regional dishes, a great wine list, and pleasant tables along the sidewalk. There are also many country inns thoughout the region where you can eat—and drink—extraordinarily well for very little money by sticking to the menu du terrior, the regional specialties. A delicious example is the Auberge du Coteau in the tiny village of Villars-Fontaine (03/8061-1050; $8-10) near Nuits-Saint-Georges, where the meats are roasted in the dining room fireplace. And do have a Kir, the local aperitif, properly made with Bourgonge Aligote and locally produced créme de cassis.

Glass

The White: Chablis and the Yonne

Chablis, unlike Beaune, is just a village–one of many tiny, picturesque towns scattered about the quieter, less touristy, white wine region of the Yonne. Though the name Chablis has been appropriated (unfairly) by cheap wine producers around the world, the real thing is a distinctive, sophisticated dry chardonnay whose character none-the-less varies greatly with the style of the many individual producers. Start your tour of the wineries with a visit to Les Chablisienne (8 Boulevard Pasteur; +03/8642-8989) in Chablis, a wine cooperative with 280 members. In nearby Bailly you’ll also find the best of the sparkling, champange-like, Cremant du Bourgonge (the Yonne is adjacent Champagne). Try a glass while nibbling a Gougères, a little cheese puff that is a local favorite. Other regional specialties include Andouillettes (tripe sausages); Jambon Morvan ( a raw cured ham served in thick slices); soft cows-milk cheeses–famously Époisses, a smelly, runny cheese; and Chaources, a milder creamy cheese; Pain d’ Epices (gingerbread); and in springtime, fresh cherries and asparagus. Chef Michel Vignaud’s Hostellerie des Clos (Rue Jules-Rathier; +03/8642-1063; fax +03/8642-1711; $20-40), in Chablis, is the region’s best restaurant—it was created as a showcase for the local wines, and gourmet menus are excellently crafted to show them at their best. Everything is top quality, and set menus provide excellent value. A good choice for a less formal meal is the Auberge des Tilleuls (+03/8642-2214; $12-16) in Vincelottes, with al fresco dining at tables set along the picturesque river Yonne. Not to be missed is the tiny Le St. Bris (13 Rue d l’ Eglise; +03/8653-8456 $10-15) in the village of St. Bris le Vineux, where chef-owner Jean Francois Pouillot will prepare you a memorable meal of regional specialties. In addition, restaurants belonging to the Terrior de L’Yonne association are highly recommended.

Beyond Food and Wine

Of course you can’t eat and drink the whole day; but fortunately there is plenty to do between (or instead of) lunch and dinner. The gently rolling hills are popular with cyclists, and you can rent bikes for a few hours or a few days, with maps and itineraries provided: in Beaune at Bourgonge Randonnés (7, Avenue du 8 Septembre +03/8022-0603); and at the Chablis Tourist Office (1 Quai Biez; +03/8642-8080). Beaune itself has much of interest. Most famous of its historic sites is the Hôtel-Dieu, a beautifully restored medieval hospital complex. Also worth a seeing are the Romanesque church, Collégiale Notre-Dame, and the town ramparts and moat. The region was a center of the medieval monastic tradition—the powerful Cluniac and Cistercian orders were both founded here—and a wealth of surviving monasteries provides a fascinating glimpse into French history and architecture. Many of the still extant monastic sights are well worth visiting, and represent Burgundy’s main cultural attractions. The ruins of the Ancienne Abbaye de Cluny—once the largest church in christendom—give a glimpse of the power of this monastic order at its height, but the perfectly preserved church at Paray-le-Monial reveals the architectural style at its apex. Situated in an isolated valley halfway between Beaune and Chablis, the self-contained monastery of the Abbaye de Fontenay (nearest town: Marmagne) is remarkable for its completeness and tranquility. The pilgrimage church of Ste-Madeleine offers amazing views of the surrounding countryside from its location atop the picturesque, if touristy, hill town of Vézelay—as well as housing the reputed relics of Mary Magdalene. A personal favorite is the little visited Cistercian Abbaye of Pontigny, north of Chablis, for it’s tranquility and fine architecture.

Pontigny

Sleeping Around

The entire region is well provided with rooms in all price categories. For luxury accommodations, look to hotels belonging to to the association Châteaux & Hôtels de France(www.chateauxhotels.com). For simpler, and very reasonably priced, hotels, as well as restaurants with reliably good regional food, look to the inns belonging to the Logis de France(www.logis-de-france.fr). In Beaune, Le Cep (27 Rue Maufoux; +03/8022-3548) offers the towns most luxurious lodgings; the Hotel Du Poste (5, Boulevard Clémenceau; +03/8022-08 11; fax +03/8024-1971; www.hoteldelapostebeaune.com) and the Blue Marine (10-12 Boulevard Maréchal-Foch; +03/8024-0101) are also excellent full-service hotels. For a less expensive alternative, the Hotel Belle Epoque (15 Rue du Faubourg Bretonnière; +03/8024-6615; fax +03/8024-1749) offers very pleasant rooms in the town center, while the Hôtel Grillon (21 Route de Seurre, east; +03/8022-4425; fax +03/8024-9489) offers comfortable, bargiany rooms, a good restaurant and a rural ambiance, a few kilometers from the city center. In Chablis, theHostellerie des Clos (see above) offers pleasant and inexpensive rooms in the former convent that houses their luxury restaurant. Nearby, in the picturesque and tiny village of Cravant,L’Hostellerie Saint-Pierre (5 Rue de l’Église; +03/8642-3167; www.hotels-tradition.com/saintpierre/)—owned and run by a gay couple—offers tasteful, comfortable rooms and a friendly welcome to gay visitors. Some hotels close during the winter months, and all will be at their busiest in August, and during the wine festivals in November.

Getting there, getting around

You’ll definitely need a car to explore the region. You can easily drive from Paris, or take the TGV (frequent connections from the Gare d’ Lyon) to Dijon and pick up a car at the station. All the major companies are represented; expect to pay about $200 for one week. The area is well served by major French autoroutes, but it is most enjoyable to travel the smaller, scenic, departmental roads. All roads are in perfect repair and well sign-posted, though a Michelin road map is indispensable. Be aware that you can never drive fast enough for the locals—let them pass!

The (limited) gay scene

You may want to schedule a few days in Paris if it’s nightlife you crave; if you can’t wait, the best option is the Sunday night only gay disco at L’An-fer (8 rue Marceau; +03/8070-0369) in Dijon. Dijon, a university town, also has two gay bars: Caveau de l’univers (47 Rue Berbisey; +03/8030-9829) and Le Phaune (4 bis, Rue de Serrigny; +03/8050-0169) as well as a gay sauna, Le Relax (97 Rue Berbisey; +03/8030-1440). Auxerre, a mid-size, lively town 20 minutes from Chablis, also features a gay sauna, Le KLS (21 Avenue de la Tournelle, 03/8642-7687).

Resources

More information is available on the internet at from the Burgundy Tourist Office(www.burgundy-tourism.com), the Chablis Tourist Office (www.chablis.net) and theAssociation of Alsace, Burgundy and Champagne (www.abcoffrance.net). Gay listings are available online from the France Queer Resources Directory (www.france.qrd.org) and the gay magazine Têtu, available throughout France, has excellent regional agendas. The Burgundyvolume of the Touring in Wine Country series offers the most comprehensive English guide to the region’s wineries and restaurants.

Article and Photos by Clay Doyle {Published in Out & About, October, 2002}