It’s Nice to be Wanted

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

Pride in Gay Paree

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

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

Racing to embrace gays

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

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

Life in a Student Town

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

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

Relaxing in Provence

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

A Quick Jaunt from Paris

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

sidebar: A Luxury Weekend in Paris

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

The List: Stay/Eat/Play/Do

PARIS

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

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

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

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

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

Melchior various locations around Paris

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

LE MANS

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

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

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

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

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

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

MONTPELLIER

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

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

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

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

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

PROVENCE

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

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

Provence Regional Touist Board www.crt-paca.fr

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

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

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

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

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

ROUEN

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

Rouen Tourist Office

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

www.rouentourisme.com

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

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

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

A Paris Travelogue by Michael Logan

A week of meals (mostly) and lazy sightseeing in the City of Lights with my friend Randy.

Paintbrushes

18 June

My traditional first meal in Paris: Brasserie Balzar, with the now-traditional steak tartare and frites. I remember it very unclearly, as I was tired and jet-lagged and not even a good meal in Paris could really wake me up. Randy had lamp chops. After lunch and a long walk, we went back to the Hotel Sevigné to nap, and only rose at about 9 to head off to the Open Café for several large beers and people-watching.

19 June

In the morning, we lazed, then wandered: my favourite thing to do on a nice day in Paris. Lunch at Willi’s Wine Bar is always a treat, and we were both hungry enough at about 1.30 to set off towards the restaurant. It took awhile to get there on foot, and I was worried we were too late, but they were happy to seat us. We did end up the last lunchers by about 20 minutes, so my fears weren’t misplaced. I ordered a “giraffe” (500 ml carafe) of Touraine sauvignon blanc, which sounded refreshing, and was—very cool and nicely acidic. I had a lunch of cold meats. I started with super-tasty beef carpaccio, and followed that with vitello tonnatta, which was cooked veal, of course, but was arranged on the plate exactly like the carpaccio. I hadn’t had it in ages, and really enjoyed the sauce of puréed tuna. Randy ordered something with crab for a starter, and followed with the vitello tonatta as well. He thought it very odd, indeed, but tasty. For dessert, I felt compelled, as I often do, to order le specialité du collège de Cambridge (crème brulée—it’s an in joke at Willi’s,

where a patron once claimed that crème brulée was invented in a dining hall at Cambridge). Randy had the always-delicious chocolate terrine. I wanted to pick up the year’s Pudlo guide (my favourite French restaurant book, available in a Paris and a France edition), so we headed off towards the Louvre and visited the mall, rather than the musée. Then Randy napped and I made our dinner reservations for the week. After that, we wandered the Marais. We shopped at the excellent gay bookstore les Mots à la Bouche, and snacked on cold cuts & cheese with a nice Chinon at our favourite Marais wine bar, the AOC Café.

20 June

Our activity for the day was the Musée d’Orsay. I was expecting a crowd, but it was calm. There was a huge retrospective of some mediocre Dutch painter named Jongkind, and smaller ones of a Polish symbolist hack and a very odd glassblower. Most disappointing. The permanent collection is always good for a few hours, though, and I got to show Randy my favourite bad painting, a huge 1890s canvas entitled “The School of Plato.” I’ve always called it by the more appropriate title “Jesus and the Nelly Apostles.” It’s a hoot! After that, we walked back to the Marais via the Café Les Deux Palais, where Randy had a salade Perigourdine with paté and duck breast, and I had a croque madame on Poilâne bread. Les Deux Palais looks very unpromising, situated in prime tourist country and sporting a big sign offering “American Coffee.” But it’s the unofficial canteen of the Ministry of Justice, and they’re demanding customers. The place is really quite good. After lunch, we both had a long rest.

Few good Paris restaurants, aside from the big brasseries, are open on Sundays. Who knew Le Table d’Aligre was one of them? Apparently not many people, because it was very quiet. This was our first real dinner of the trip, and I was looking forward to it. Randy was jonesing for foie gras, so he ordered a ballotine of foie gras surrounded by a mixture of smoked duck breast and onion confit. It had all the usual accompaniments, but Randy was reluctant to use the cracked pepper and fleur de sel, because he liked it so much plain. I encouraged him to try them. Meanwhile, I was enjoying an asparagus dish and a half-bottle of lovely Cheverny. For seconds, I had a rascasse (the main fish in boulliabaise, and quite rare outside the Mediterranean) and Randy had confit of pork cheeks, which he’d never encountered before. He made an entire meal of cold meats (much as I had done the previous day at Willi’s), but he liked it fine. We shared a carafe of a rich, red St-Joseph from the upper Rhône Valley. For dessert, Randy chose a clafoutis au cerises and I a rhubarb tarte. Then we set off into the night and walked home.

21 June

Rouen

My friend and business partner, Clay Doyle, suggested that Randy and I make a day trip to Rouen, where neither of us had ever been. It was raining on and off when we arrived (one hour and five minutes by train from the Gare St-Lazare). We left the train station and made purposefully for the Cathedral, since I was convinced from long experience that the tourist office would be across the street from the cathedral. I was right, of course, and wanted to get directions for lunch. I forgot to ask, though, and went back about an hour later as our lunch window was nearing its end. In the meantime, we wandered, and visited the St-Maclou church. Clay also gave us a lunch –the restaurant Le Vieux Carrée was great! Our lunch there was our big meal of the day. We both started with an asparagus gratin, very eggy, with fennel seeds on top. The fennel was a nice touch. After that, I had a pissaladière tarte with caramelized onions, anchovies and olives. This being Normandy and not Provence, there was a custard base to the tarte as well, which I wasn’t expecting. It was very tasty anyway. Randy had a skate wing, which he liked a lot. By mid-meal, we were the only people in the place (we’d arrived for lunch just a bit before 2, and they were quite busy), so I was a bit relieved when an odd gay couple (probably drawn there by a recent article by Clay in Out and About, I imagined) stopped for coffee. They were followed by some young straight French kids in love.

For dessert we both had a very good rhubarb tarte, and I bought a couple jars of jam to take home. After lunch, we returned to the very impressive cathedral to look inside (it was closed til 2 pm), then made our way back to the train station. With a few minutes to kill before the train, we sat down at a café and had Kir Normandes, which (no surprise) involve cider. Quite odd.

We got back to Paris to find the metro unusually busy, and every third passenger seemed to be carrying a musical instrument. We both wanted to rest, but a bad band was making a racket by the Metro entrance. I discovered in my guidebook that it was the solstice tradition of the Fête de la Musique, when anybody could set up and play late into the night. We got enthusiastic, and went down to the Metro entrance to hear what was by now a much better band. Apparently the etiquette of the evening involved no one group monopolizing a good spot. I got the bright idea to go to the Trocadero, because I thought it would be a happening, young music scene. The trains were by now truly mobbed, and there were lots of policemen in the Metro keeping order. We never got to Trocadero, because I found a discarded program for the evening’s more organized events, and thought an alternative-rock bill at place Denfert-Rochereau sounded good. So we made our way there, and stood around in a big, fun crowd (I fell in love three times), but the music was uninspired. When the last act turned out to be bad, mass-market American punk à la Green Day (but worse), we split. We set off towards home. I suggested we come up from the subway at St-Michel, and walk home from there, hoping to hit on a fun scene on the way. There was an odd little band at Place St-Michel doing a sort of klezmer-ska-Camper Van Beethoven thing that was ragged but fun. When they quit, we wandered toward home, and ran into a huge throng of gays on rue des Archives. The DJ playing standard gay dance music didn’t seem at all in the spirit of the evening, so (with much pushing and shoving) we moved on. At our doorstep, and disappointed by the Fête de la Musique, we heard something fun coming from the Metro entrance. There was a band standing around, waiting for a loud horn group to finish up. They looked like teens from the neighborhood, mostly Jewish kids, with an incredibly cute, baby-faced lead guitarist who couldn’t have been more than sixteen. Then they started to play–the Pink Panther theme, also in a klezmer-ska-Camper Van Beethoven vein, but much better than the kids at St-Michel, and with a big dose of Django Reinhart added. They were brilliant. They drew a fun, cute, mixed crowd, and encouraged audience participation. Gentle moshing ensued. We were very, very happy. I tried several times to photograph the angelically beautiful guitarist with my cellphone, but it was too dark, and the photos all came out crappy.

22 June

In the day, we went to Montmartre and to the Catacombs. Heights to depths. It was a concept.

Montmartre was as dull as I remembered. The basilica of Sacre-Coeur is astonishingly ugly, and historically associated with the right wing of French politics. The neighbourhood is full of t-shirt shops and pushy street vendors. The views are spectacular, though, and the funicular is fun.

After our trip to the top of the hill, we headed back to place Denfert-Rochereau, and the Catacombs. The caverns full of human bones arranged in layers like a fancy paté are very impressive, and the tour is very popular with boisterous American kids. It’s a jarring combination.

Both Randy and I were especially looking forward to our dinner at le Villaret. I’ve been there many times, and i has never disappointed—and once again, it didn’t. We were the first to arrive (always embarrassing), but a French couple followed almost immediately, which was nice. I ordered us two glasses of Banyuls for aperitifs. I still think it’s an odd aperitif (I drink it with dessert, since it’s the only wine I know that goes beautifully with chocolate), but what do I know? For wine, I ordered a positively cheap white Burgundy from Pernand Vergellesse (Clay and I drank some when we were there, and liked it a lot). It was brilliant–exactly what a white Burgundy should be, with buttery and tannic flavours above the fruit.

For the amuse-bouche, they served a little cold asparagus cream soup, ideal for the warm weather. For the first course, I had a delicious terrine of pigeon with a confit of onions and balsamic vinegar, and a rocket salad. Randy had a salad of langoustine tails. Since I couldn’t taste his (I have a potentially-fatal shellfish allergy), I forget the details. So does he. During the first course, the surrounding tables filled up. To my left was a very odd couple indeed–a Frenchman of about 50 with an American girl of about 24 (Randy says “no way, she was 35.”) He manages the Gipsy Kings (!) and she works for the record company. He was obviously trying to seduce her (in a businesslike way, just to keep his hand in, cuz he’s French) while she kept talking about her recent wedding. To my right was a party of four Americans from Boston, who were grateful that I could translate the entire menu for them. I couldn’t talk any of them into ordering lamb’s tongue, but they enjoyed themselves hugely, nonetheless.

For the main course, I ordered the dos de lieu jaune, which I remembered as being a tasty fish. It was very richly flavoured, and sat on a lovely leek purée. Randy had a dish that was mostly mushrooms, asparagus and artichokes, with a bit of mackerel. It was perfect warm-weather food. For dessert, Randy had a sort of milk-chocolate soup with a cookie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I had a sablé cookie on top of a layer of very good raspberries and whipped cream, with a spoonful of rhubarb sorbet. We walked home in a fine mood through intermittent light rain.

23 June

In the day, we went to the Louvre to see “The Raft of the Medusa,” and a few other highlights. Then we shopped—it was the season for les Soldes—the big summer sales.

Dinner was at Le C’Amelot (on the rue Amelot, on the border between the 3rd and 11th arrondissements. This is the new place we tried in Paris on this trip, based on very favorable reviews both in the New York Times (by Jacqueline Friedrich, who wrote the wonderful Wine and Food Guide to the Loire Valley) and in le Pudlo de Paris 2004. What tipped me in its favor was the fact that they serve a set meal, with choices only for dessert. I knew Randy agreed with me that lack of choice is a luxury, so I reserved a table.

We’d walked by the restaurant the night before, coming home from Le Villaret. It was super-cute, and looked tiny and rustic. They had the wine list posted in the window, and I noticed absinthe listed among the aperitifs. Of course, I had to have it, so when we arrived the next evening I ordered two. They came in proper, tall, parfait-shaped absinthe glasses, with proper, flat, antique, slotted absinthe spoons, sugar cubes, and a miniature pitcher of water. I instructed Randy in the ceremony, and we drank what tasted like slightly watered-down Ouzo. Sadly, a little crock of delicious, garlicky sausissons secs in olive oil arrived as an amuse-bouche, and clashed violently with the absinthe. They were, of course, swept off the table when our soup course arrived, so we missed out on enjoying them.

Our wine choices included my usual suspects of Loire Valley and Burgundy whites, so I asked for a recommendation and got a white St-Joseph, which was a bit pricey but really, really good. It was especially nice in contrast to the Pernand Vergellesse of the previous evening, because it was equally fruity while much less tannic, so the flavours were vastly different.

Our first course was a cold tomato soup with a curry cream quenelle. That could go either way but it was brilliant. The soup itself was just tomato-y enough, the quenelle was just curry-y enough, and the tiny croutons were just crunchy enough. Very refreshing on a warm and humid (and incredibly windy!) day. We got two bowls, each containing a quenelle, scattered croutons and a dusting of finely chopped chives. Then a big footed bowl of soup arrived—that sort of French bowl with the lions on the side–so we got a generous course of soup, both in quantity and in time.

That was followed by a couple slices of roasted monkfish on a bed of fennel remoulade with a simple sauce of some meaty jus and some mild acid (I forgot to look at the menu again as we left). It was a perfect smallish portion of beautifully melded flavours.

The main course was a Pintade de Bresse with roasted potatoes and girolle mushrooms. The entire pre-dessert menu was ideal for showing off the virtues of a really appropriate white wine, so I’m glad I asked for advice. By this time the very specific absinthe buzz had kicked in, and we were plastered–but in a good way.

For dessert, I had a mi-cuit chocolate soufflé cake thing, and Randy had peach slices with milk/mint sorbet. Mine was excellent but his was better. Our walk home revealed just how buzzed we both were.

24 Juin

A day of shopping–Randy went hog-wild at my favourite men’s clothing store in Paris, Melchior. The clothes there are beautiful, but designed for a longer, leaner silhouette than mine—so I shop there vicariously. I a bit wild at Celio (Spain’s answer to The Gap) Then, lunch in Belleville at le Baratin. Clay, Randy and I had been in Paris last May for an open artists studio weekend in Belleville, and we’d been smitten with this little bar. The place has been written up as the pick of the 20th in the new Pudlo guide! I started with one of the specials: a whole small rouget, simply prepared. It was very nice. I followed that with poitrine de porc with mashed potatoes, then charentais melon in a light vanilla syrup. Everything was simple and delicious. Randy started with especially good sautéed chicken livers on a salad, then lamb shoulder with curry and rice, and finally a clafoutis au cerise again. For wine I chose a cinsault vin gris from “the Valley of Paradise”–slightly, pleasantly sour and a tiny bit pettillante. After lunch we popped into a show of photos of the restored Giotto frescoes in Asissi ,with lots of useful explanation. The Italians seem to have done a great job. And, apart from a nice little concert at the Sainte-Chappelle, that was Paris. A good time was had by all.

The next day, we set out for London.