Thursday, July 19, 2007

Eclairs and Stinky Cheese

(Continuation of our journey to Paris three years ago)

Our apartment is in the area of Paris called the Ninth Ward. The windows to the front face a narrow cobblestone street but the kitchen window and the little patio off the living room are my favorite. Waking up in the morning and peeking out these North-facing windows gives me a view of the tall buildings around us, made of stone hundreds and hundreds of years ago, each sill adorned with undershirts and skirts drying in the sun or flowers fresh from the markets. I have been transported.

A mere two blocks from our door are the markets. Each vendor sets up a stall every day and we wander the alleys slowly, eyes jumping from boxes bursting with haricots verts to gorgeous stacks of fresh tomatoes, skins shiny in the sun. Business is brisk. The locals come with their wheeled bags and bend over the produce, seeking out the freshest ingredients to use in their meals today. From the produce stands, they make a beeline across the street and enter the cool cheese shops to procure enough of just the right fromage to compliment their vegetables. Back across the alley again to the butcher shop, windows adorned with red lamb shanks hanging from the ceiling and cuts of beef lying surrounded by accordions of paper. The next door down is the 'cave' or wine shop. As tourists, we stand out as we saunter lazily, sucking the cream from the center of our eclairs, gaping at the endless array of gorgeous fruit and delicately arranged vegetables.

Sheepishly, we enter the fromagerie, licking the last crumbs from our fingertips. Behind glass cases are solid rounds of parmesan, blocks of creamy havarti, moldy rinds of roquefort. The tiled floor and walls are a cheery yellow and the shopkeeper beams at us, offering samples of the locally made artisan cheeses. There are soft white cheeses wrapped in grape leaves, others flecked with herbs or peppercorns. She holds out piece after piece, each one more sour-smelling and earthy than the next. S. and I chuckle as our four-year-old eagerly accepts each one, stuffing it into her mouth and rolling her eyes upward as she moans, "Mmmm, this is so good!" I encourage her to say it in French and she ducks behind my legs, instantly shy.

By the time we return to the apartment, we are weighed down with a fresh loaf of bread, several cuts of cheese, half a dozen fresh brown eggs, butter and a phenomenal bottle of Pinot Grigio we sampled. The owner explained to us that this particular wine has been made by her family since 1620. It makes me feel insane to even consider opening this bottle and drinking it. I know this particular bottle doesn't date back much farther than six months ago, but the idea of drinking something whose recipe hasn't changed for over four hundred years seems blasphemous. I'm sure I'll get over it...


Jerri said...

Makes me want to go with you next time!

Gorgeous descriptions, Kari. One question: what do these places smell like? I'd love some "on the body" descriptions here, too.

Kim said...

Sounds delicious to me!

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