I just got back from a business trip to Paris. It was hectic and I worked a lot of hours, but I still found time to enjoy a few of my favorite things about the city and explore new places as well.
I stayed in a small village called Malakoff which is located just outside the Peripherique, the highway which loops about the city center. Malakoff is unpretentious and has reasonably priced hotels and excellent Metro access, so it's a good jumping off point for getting around the city. It also has cafes, restaurants and open air markets, offering a miniature slice of the more extensive set of options found a few kilometres away in the heart of the city.
Here's a typical street in Malakoff.
And here's a hint that the political climate here might just vary a mite from that found in the US.
In the mornings during the week, I stopped in a couple of small cafes with my colleagues and I had a typical French continental breakfast -- cafe au lait, a croissant, possibly a baguette and orange juice. The coffee in Paris is much stronger than typically found in the US and kick starts the day in fine fashion.
The evenings offered a chance to relax and pick from a variety of menu choices. Our first night, a large contingent of us headed to an old style restaurant called Nos Ancetres Les Gaulois on Ile-St.-Louis, just a couple of blocks from the Notre Dame cathedral. This small island is one of the oldest parts of Paris and our room in the restaurant felt like a cave carved out of stone and brick -- not for the clautrophobic. The food here was basic. One would first choose from appetizers which were offered on large tables and consisted of mounds of cheese and sausage to be sliced on the spot, plus a variety of vegetables and breads. All of this was accompanied by table wine; our group filled small stone carafes as a way to minimize the trips upstairs to refill a glass. Later, we picked from entrees of various sorts of meat. My choice was lamb chops, which were tasty, but not prepared in any sort of special style. Later, the cheese course arrived and again we had a chance to pick off our own slices of soft or hard cheeses. Dessert was also offered, but by then I was slumping after many hours without sleep, so a few of us returned to the hotel.
The second evening was more distinctive -- a visit to a jazz club in the famous Montparnasse district called Le Petit Journal. The concept was a good one: combine the supper club experience with fine food, hearkening back to a number of movies set in Paris where jazz and nightclubs played a prominent role. And I must say, our fixed price menu did have fine choices and I was able to indulge in my preference for fish in both the appetizer and main course. But the music was so-so. The group included about 25 instruments and as a result, musicians packed in tight on the stage. Most of the group was young, possibly even high school age interspersed with a few veteran jazzmen. For example, the trumpet player had wild curly gray hair behind a receding forehead, but played credibly in a variety of styles.
The music was mostly from the Duke Ellington songbook and worked well enough, though the ensemble work was not as tight as I've seen among some award winning jazz groups at Massachusetts high schools. The main issue was the singer. After a couple of instrumental pieces, a woman who resembled Carla Bruni-Sarkozy -- at least with her combination of medium length brown hair and rounded cheek bones -- joined the group. Her breathy vocals -- think of Marilyn Monroe serenading JFK -- stepped through the lyrics, but it sounded like an academic exercise; her singing simply lacked soul. At one point, I whispered to one of my French colleagues that it sounded like she'd learned the songs phonetically. Still, the combination of fairly good jazz -- from the musicians -- and fine food made the evening work and I thanked our host for setting it up.
It was a late night and we got on the Metro for our return trip to Malakoff just before the subway lines closed at 12:00 midnight.
I'll talk more about this trip and further adventures about town in my next post.