This story starts at a restaurant near the Sacré Cœur, but it won’t end there. There’s more to tell before and after. I am choosing to begin with dessert. Literally.
For all my Outlander fans, in Paris (or maybe all of France, I don’t know) a “Dame Blanche” is a vanilla ice cream dessert with hot fudge and lots of Chantilly cream. Not only is it rich and heavy, there’s a lot of it. The portion size is enormous. There is a chocolate version called Liégeois Chocolat, which is equally delicious but not necessary to my French Outlander experience. These are both presented in the same line on the menu (no space or slash), so I think it’s all one dessert, and the waiter is confused. I keep pointing, and the look on his face as he walks away clearly says “I hope she has a hollow leg,” but that is only in retrospect.
What arrives is two overflowing parfait glasses, and I proceed to take them down like I have never eaten before and am new to the concept. I think my dad might have taken a bite or two, and that’s being generous.
To be fair, I had walked with my dad for over four miles that day, so by the time we got to dinner I was famished… even after having what seemed like an entire braised and shredded duck with mashed purple potatoes (akin to Shepard’s pie) for lunch… and that was just the main course. The entrée was a cream seafood soup and bread. Dinner was a veggie burger and fries. Given the way I usually eat, this was way past “I had too much to eat” and solidly into the perfection of gluttony.
Not being hungry has never stopped me from eating ice cream before, and I have my doubts it ever will again. French vanilla tasted roughly the same as it does in the United States, but chocolate ice cream is beyond comparison… less sweet and much darker, closer to a 60-65% cacao.
Incidentally, the rich desserts sort of made up for the lack of good coffee. Perhaps I was just ordering it wrong, but I thought it was terrible. The one thing I didn’t try that they had at the Charles de Gaulle airport Starbucks was a chocolate cereal milk latte. The rest of the time, I went to independent cafes or had instant Nescafe in my hotel room, which was arguably better than purchasing coffee elsewhere. Go to France for the food, clearly.
Earlier that day, I got my Doctor Who fix. One of the most famous episodes of the show takes place in part at the Musée d’Orsay Van Gogh exhibit, and to see it in person was astounding. Every Van Gogh you’ve seen in print is there. I saw the real Starry Night. I saw The Church at Auvers. I was mere inches away from haystacks and sunflowers. If I’d had four or five weeks in Paris, at least one would be dedicated to that room alone. I am not a visual artist by any definition. I would have just stared. I would have let his crazy mix with my crazy and see what writing came out of “us.”
Since I was short on time, I fairly quickly wandered around to the other Impressionists, spending a good five minutes looking at one light green stroke of paint on a Monet up close, then backing away until it looked like a leaf. I marveled at Gougin’s use of color and how it seemed he was the only person who painted people of color in that era. I loved his use of bright, engaging colors with cartoon-like black outlines so that everything stood out, like words with every syllable accented. Gougin’s art didn’t so much speak to me as it yelled in my direction, screamed and dared at me to look. Simplicity was complex. These were island people with spartan houses and blank expressions, so the question for me was, “are they happy?” Perhaps they didn’t so much like being painted, but it was more than that. I wondered if they felt impoverished or empowered.
The next truly overwhelming installation I saw was Monet’s Water Lilies, in permanent residence at the Musée de l’Orangerie. It covers several rooms and defies speech. Yet another work in which you constantly get very close, then very far away, then very close, just to see how the magic is put together. Monet was in his eighties when the collection was painted, and then stitched together to be hung. If you look very, very closely, you can see the stitches, but like everything else in an Impressionist’s work, blends “seamlessly.” When people talk about Water Lilies, they generally only mean the light blues and purples, but the actual cycle is so much more. The way they are hung now is, in essence, virtual reality. You don’t so much look at the paintings as step into them…. Claude Monet in “Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.”
I am finding that talking about Paris is more suited to several entries and not one gigantic read, so you’ll see more as the days progress. My Facebook friends have seen all my pictures because I couldn’t snap a photo without posting it five seconds later. Sorry I’ve kind of left you out in the cold, Fanagans. I was too full to move, much less write.
And not nearly caffeinated enough. What is sold in the United States as “French Roast” is just a terrible, terrible lie they tell little kids at bedtime.