Tuesday, June 15, 2010
A Real, Live Frenchman
Bonjour de Tours!
We arrived in the Loire Valley, Sarah's former stomping grounds, early this afternoon. The river and cityscape here in Tours are lovely, despite the overcast, tepid weather. We hope to get some brighter days ahead when we venture out to the chateaux and vinyards. Thus far, we've established our bearings and plan to go out this evening for drinks at one of the numerous pubs located in Tours's scenic, pedestrian-exclusive centre. Around 25,000 students attend the university here, so there are plenty of places to grab a beer or apperitif. We're enjoying the lower prices here, as compared to Paris, and also the pure, easy to comprehend French dialect.
People in the Loire, by national reputation, speak the truest form of the French language. Personally, I can really tell a difference. After only a few hours, I'm already speaking a lot more of the native tongue in this area. The locals are much more patient, and their clear, well-enunciated accents are music to my ears! I had my longest sustained conversation yet this afternoon with a French nun at the Basilica dedicated to St. Martin of Tours. I told her all about our trip so far, and she said she'd pray for us while we are in Russia. She was a very sweet lady, and I really appreciated that she took the time to let me speak some French with her. C'etait tres sympa!
Now for the update on our final days in Paris. We were definitely spoiled for the last 48 hours because we had a real, live Frenchman to do all of our speaking and negotiating for us. We met Thomas back in the summer of 2006 while working in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. We became good friends with him and always hoped that we'd meet again, preferably on his turf. He now lives in Valence, near Lyons, but made the trip up to hang out with us for a couple of days in Paris. It was great to Thomas after four years. We had a wonderful time!
The afternoon of Thomas's arrival was, as has been typical for our stay in France thus far, overcast, chilly, and intermittently rainy. The weather did hold off long enough for us to make it to the top of the Eiffel Tower, something Thomas had never done before despite the fact that he lived in Paris for five years or so before relocating to the South. We climbed the stairs to the second floor, then took the elevator all the way to the top. My head was spinning a little bit during that ascent; the top is farther up than it seems. The heights didn't sit so well with Thomas. At the top, he started to turn a little green. The observation platform was also packed with people, so enjoying the view took some patience. Still, it was very cool, and a must-do during any visit to Paris.
I'm glad we went up the tower when we did because we were able to witness a pretty rowdy public demonstration occurring in the streets below, on a bridge crossing the Seine to the Trocadero. For those of you who don't know, Europeans take their football (soccer) very seriously. Currently, the World Cup, which only occurs every four years, is in full swing in South Africa. The afternoon of our climb up the Eiffel Tower, Algeria had just lost their game to Slovenia. Many of the Algerian fans (Algeria is a former French colony, so their are lots of Algerians in Paris.) had been watching the game on a huge screen that the city set up on the lawn in front of the Trocadero. After the devastating defeat, the fans stormed a nearby bridge, screaming, waving Algerian flags, and causing a general ruckus. Let me tell you, I'm glad we were above the street and not on it. Traffic on the bridge came to a standstill, and the rioters began climbing on top of peoples' cars. They took a double-decker tour bus by storm, scaling the sides and sending frightened tourists running every which way. (Of course, whoever takes those bus tours deserves to be accosted.) It was one of the craziest scenes I've ever witnessed. Eventually the "bad-ass cops that they save only for breaking up this kind of stuff," as Thomas described them, showed up and ran off the mob. For the rest of the evening, as we walked the streets, we saw Algerian fans everywhere being stopped by police. It was some rowdy stuff.
The next day, we took a not-so-scenic walk through a residential area of Paris to visit the Bureau des Objets Trouves (the police department housing the bureau of found objects) where we hoped someone had brought John's wallet. No such luck. Tant pis. We were grateful for Thomas's help; he did everything he could to make sure we covered all bases in the search. He also helped us inquire at the metro station where he spoke some rapid French that John desperately tried to follow. Eventually, John turned to me and said, "I think I'm out of luck. I heard her say "la poubelle." That means "trash." :(
After these unsuccessful inquiries, we rode the metro out to Pere Lachaise cemetery where a number of famous French people are buried. However, it is best known to tourists as the final resting place of Jim Morrison, who died under suspicious circumstances (well, let's be honest, it was probably a heroin overdose) while in Paris with his girlfriend. We got off the metro into a full-blown thunderstorm, so we rushed into a nearby cafe for overpriced crepes and coffee and shelter from the storm. Once the rain let up, the weather became quite nice, and we enjoyed a good walk amongst the gravestones. We found Jim, and we saw a really great orange kitty that reminded us of Natty.
Last night, Thomas called up a couple of his Parisienne lady friends and we went out for dinner. Here is the cool part: apparently, there is a website in France that features one restaurant each month. The only place this restaurant is advertised is on this website. There aren't even any special signs when you get there. The surprise: all the food is 50% off! Hooray!!! So, John and I got to enjoy a fabulous French bistro experience with real French people without stressing over prices. Okay, you know it's coming...here's what we had.
1) Carpaccio de boeuf: Paper thin slices of raw beef, topped with basil pesto and shaved parmesan.
2) Kate: Filet de Dorade (some sort of white fish) with fresh salsa and sauteed spinach. The fish was reminiscent of trout -- white flesh, but a nice, fishy flavor.
2) John: I bet you know what he ate...filet de boeuf. With tender baby potatoes in butter and ricotta. I didn't tell him he was eating ricotta until AFTER the meal. :)
3) Kate: Palet ou chocolat (chocolate lava cake) with kiwi and cactus flower ice cream. Odd flavor combo, but it worked!
3) John: Mousse au Chocolat Blanc with fresh berries and mint. Tres riche!
We had a lovely, delicious meal, and great conversation with Thomas and his friends. It was certainly one of the more memorable meals that I've had traveling, and it's always great to sample cuisine that is traditional, yet of the moment as well. Haute cuisine. The experience was a great ending to our time in Paris, and we had a blast with Thomas. He's great fun!
More to come from Tours! Love you all!