Paris: The Louvre

Monday was the day of the Louvre and I was not exactly desiring to wait in any sort of line or weed through hundreds of tour groups to see the Mona Lisa. I woke us up at 8, after falling asleep around 3, and found enough energy to get us out of the door close to 8:30. The Louvre opens at 9 and we had to take the metro to get over there. Courtney got some coffee and we had some of the fabulous, buttery French croissants at a cafe across from the metro and we sped off trying to beat the crowds.

One of the Pyramids

We arrived there at 9:20, entering from the underground Carousel entrance, avoided the crowds and bought our tickets. I almost paid 19 euro for two tickets, but Courtney, being her usual intelligent self, went a found a place for student tickets. We ended up entering for free. I love socialism.
I suggested that we go see the Mona Lisa first before anything else because I really wanted to avoid large groups of gawking Asians. We walked quickly, more sprinted, and found ourselves in a nearly empty room and walked as close as we could, before being stopped by the guardrail. The painting is beautiful and small. It’s actually fairly basic and, in my personal opinion, was not the beautiful painting of Leonardo. The face is incredibly realistic as is the background, but the truly impressive aspect of the painting is that Mona Lisa’s eyes follow you wherever you go. No matter from what angle you observe the painting her eyes seem to be staring at you. It’s quite chilling and a bit unsettling, but there again is the subtle magic of Leonardo. The painting at first glance is nothing extraordinary, but the expression and watchfulness of the eyes give the Mona Lisa a realness that I have never seen in any other painting. The striking realness of her eyes, a subtle yet difficult feat by Leonardo, makes this painting the masterpiece that it is.

The Mona Lisa

After spending a few minutes observing the most famous piece of artwork in the world we backtracked through the Louvre to at least attempt to see most of the 30,000 plus pieces of art on display. Besides the artwork on the walls, the building itself is a piece of art. The ceilings are high and arched. There are frescoes on some ceilings and gold decorations on others. Among the art are magnificent windows from where you can see the Seine and other parts of Paris. It’s massive and spectacular and awe-inspiring.
We meandered through the Italian Renaissance art wing spending a little bit of time on some, walking by many and analyzing a few. All of the art was beautiful but there was so much of it that it is hard to recall many. We went through the French art wing of the Renaissance and Revolutionary periods and saw the famous representation of Liberty, half naked, raising the French flag over the defeated royal troops. We went through all of that art and ended at a very dark representation of Milton’s Pandaemonium, meaning both the modern meaning of chaos and the ancient meaning of place of all gods. In this red and black painting Satan overlooks his massive, hellish palace from the other bank of what can only be described as a moat of lava. It was done by an American painter and I most likely only enjoy it so much because I read Paradise Lost this summer.

A representation of Milton's "Paradise Lost"

From there Courtney and I went to ancient Rome and Greece where we saw a massive collection of ancient, and impressive statues. In the first room there were about four or five statues either carved from or adorned with porphyry, a purplish granite from Egypt that can no longer be found naturally. The Roman imperial sculptures were quite lavish. There’s no use in me attempting to describe all of the art we saw. We were there for four hours and walked through almost every hall and saw, briefly, most pieces of art on display. There were ancient Egyptian exhibits, Middle Eastern exhibits and Flemish painting (which I love!). Everything resonated with me, especially the ancient pieces. Courtney and I spent a while trying to identify the “nationality” of ancient Egyptian pharaohs who looked neither Asian, African nor Middle Eastern. It was glorious to traverse that museum with her. We had fun debating pieces and talking scholarly about that which we saw. It’s really nice to have a girlfriend who can hold, and likes to engage in, intelligent conversation. It’s a relief that she enjoys learning about culture, seeing art and discovering other worlds. She makes it much more fun for me and it’s another wonderful experience we can have together in our lives.

Two of us in the Louvre

By the end of the fourth hour I had museum fatigue kicking in. We decided to leave early, not finishing the Flemish art, which turned out to be quite a task! We spent an annoying ten minutes searching for the exit, finally found it and came out in the park in front of the Louvre (I don’t remember the name of it). The day was lovely and we were hungry! We knew that we wanted to see the Sainte-Chapelle next so we ventured toward the Island di St. Louis where the Notre Dame and Sainte-Chappelle reside where we also knew, from eating that picnic in the park, there were restaurants, and hopefully good ones!
At the left edge of the island, above the park for which we had been searching on our first trip to Notre Dame, we walked by a cute building that seemed residential but then my trusty nose got a whiff of something delicious. I stopped, told Courtney to wait and found from where the scent came. The place was tiny, called the Henry IV(or VI) tavern. It had a Zagat rating and a menu that featured traditional French lunch boards with meats, cheeses, bread and pickles. We were sold and took one of the few open tables left in the crammed place.

Foie Gras, Fig Jam, Cheese, Wine

The menu was simple but tantalizing because we wanted to order everything! We wavered between a meat board with a cheese plate, a board of foie gras and escargot or a mixture of the two. We settled on the foie gras, cooked slowly in wine and served with fig jam and toasts, and a plate of traditional French cheeses. We each got a glass of wine (we were too tired for a bottle) and settled in.
The food arrived swiftly and what a sight! The cheese plate had six different kinds of cheese (1 ripe goat, blue, two bries, and two others) and the foie gras sat there gracefully on its own with a little cup of fig jam. My eyes lit up at the simply decadent sight. It was exactly how I envisioned French lunches; bread, cheese, wine and meat. I spread some foie gras with some fig jam and took a bite. I can still taste, I still remember (and my mouth has begun to water) the taste of this foie gras. There was only the slightest hint of gamey liver. Instead the coat-your-tongue delicious fat and foie gras flavor rode freely, aided by the sweet fig. Again the simple combination of two ingredients, each perfectly executed made for one of the best bites of food I’ve ever had. In fact, I clearly remember the bite that made me stop in my tracks and let the morsel of food in my mouth sit for a minute. It must have had the perfect amount, or ratio, of fig to foie gras because it was exquisite. Beyond exquisite actually, this bite of food would have gone down in  history as one of the best bites ever. It should be in the hall of fame of food. And to add to our simply delicious meal the cheese plate on some extraordinary cheeses, each pleasantly ripe and each with a different flavor from the maturation process. I know I’ve said this a lot, but what could be better?

Courtney overlooking the Seine

After lunch we hung out on the banks of the Seine in a park recommended to us by Abby (we actually found it this time). The sky was clear and the wind was pleasant. We sat. We relaxed. We hugged. We took goofy photos. The Seine is gorgeous in its swiftly shifting waves. After resting a bit  and digesting our glorious lunch we went to the Sainte-Chappelle to see some of the most impressive stained glass in the world. We waited in line for a while because the church is located within a government complex meaning that we had to pass through security. It’s very strange to walk through security to get to a church and even more odd that the government buildings (I think it’s the Department of Justice) enclose the church in their courtyard.

Tree-lined streets of the Seine

Once through security we had to pay to enter (go churches) and ascended the ancient steps into the small chapel which was lined by 15 massive stained glass windows, each depicting a different book of the Bible. There were no more English guides so Courtney and I decided to have some fun. She grabbed a Spanish one for her and an Italian one for me. We read together and actually nearly deciphered the entire guide. The windows were in the process of restoration so that three were covered, about 6 were restored and the rest remained dirtied and obscured. Still the windows were gorgeous, stunningly so. They were each made up of 100 “little windows”, or pieces of the windows connected by horizontal iron bars. They were quite the process to make, especially in the 13th century (if not earlier) and are quite difficult to restore, but the end product is worth it. They’re breathtaking. Even the dirty ones impress the imagination and introduce a sense of amazement into the viewer. We sat for about 15 minutes simply observing and taking it in. Oh the sights we’ve seen.

Stained Glass of Sainte-Chappelle

Then we went home, on the way receiving information about the strike the following day which put my mind at ease because now we knew what to expect from the trains en route to the airport. We were in fairly good spirits when we got home because of our wonderful day and food, but unfortunately there was a nasty surprise (well a semi-expected surprise) awaiting us at home. Air France had emailed Courtney and informed her that her flight was cancelled, and they did so a courteous 18 hours before she was scheduled to take off.
That threw us for quite the loop. Courtney called Air France who informed her that she could switch flights for free on Air France but they only had one flight to Malaga that night and by the time it would have landed Courtney would have missed the last bus back to Granada. They figured out a convoluted journey for her where she would have gone to Barcelona and then had to fly a different airline to Granada, but I didn’t exactly trust it. My instinct was to spend an extra night in Paris. Luckily our landlord told us we could spend the extra night in the apartment because no body was coming the next day, so I was inclined to stay. I didn’t want to send my baby off on an iffy flight. It was not secure enough. I called Lithansa and changed my flight to Wednesday. Courtney changed hers to Wednesday as well. Then, elated that we would have another night in Paris together, I called our landlord Viktor who told me that it would only cost 50 euro for the extra night instead of the normal rate! Thank God. He was a wonderful landlord. It was 9:00 and we were spending an extra day in Paris. We were ecstatic and hungry. We went out into the night hoping that any restaurant would be open.
In my wanderings of our neighborhood prior to Courtney’s arrival I had seen what seemed to be a very good French bistro so we walked in that general direction with the prayer that something would feed us. We passed by the place which was empty except for one table, but the menu told us that they did not close until 10:15 and it was only 9:30. We asked if they were open and the waitress turned to the chef, who was sitting at one of the tables. He agreed and we were seated. Our waitress did not speak very much English and we spoke no French so it was very interesting communicating with her. Thankfully she was one of the nicest waitresses I have ever encountered. All three of us laughed as we tried to translate the menu into English. It took some effort, but in the end we figured it out. Our waitress was so kind that when I ordered a bottle of wine, she came back with a different one because it was better. She was extraordinarily patient with our awful French and seemed to enjoy conversing with us. I ordered beef tongue salad and some sort of fish with a butter sauce and rice. Courtney got veal and an assortment of sorbets for desert. They gave us some cheesy breads upon which to snack and those were incredible so I had high hopes for the meal. Bread quality is generally, but certainly not always, an indicator of the quality of the restaurant.

Beef Tongue Salad

Courtney and I were the only ones in this romantic bistro tucked on a side street in the residential 7th arrondissement. We had a window seat to a quiet, tree lined street which in turn was lined by gorgeous white apartment buildings. Best of all we didn’t have to leave in the morning. We could have an extra day with each other in the most romantic city in the world. Magical.
First my salad arrived. It was literally beef tongue cut into a basic salad with some sort of vinaigrette (I’m guessing champagne or sherry). The tongue was unbelievably tender.  It fell apart on the tongue (hahaha) and released an usual beefy taste in the mouth. Mixed with the greens and vinaigrette it was a surprisingly light and refreshing appetizer. The tongue, though somewhat fatty, did not feel fatty at all. Very impressive.
Before our main dishes arrived Courtney and I, likely influenced by the tremendous bottle of wine, began to talk about our history. We wanted to attempt to trace all of our meals out together. Of course we started from the beginning with Balthazar, and were pretty stalled there because that simply led to a recount of how we came to be a couple. Each of us love reliving the story (it’s actually very sweet). I’ll never get tired of eating with her. We always have something to discuss and we almost always enjoy each other’s company. She appreciates food and conversation; two of the most important things in my life. And what better place to mix the two than the dinner table? For her, as well as for me, it’s a place to converse, not only a place for consuming fuel. And during our joyful recollection of our past I could not help from smiling about how lucky I am to have such a wonderful person with whom to share such a wonderful experience. I’m beyond lucky to have her in my life. I could not help from smiling because of how lucky I was to be in Paris with such a magnificent person and extraordinary girlfriend. Besides the city of Paris itself, she made the journey magical because of her company. Brian said it best when I told him to go to Paris; he didn’t want to go alone. Meaning not that nobody would go with him, but that he doesn’t have a girlfriend with whom to go. Paris is the city of love for a reason and it is meant to be enjoyed romantically. I’m lucky enough to have that kind of special person in my life. Thank you Courtney.

Fish with a Burr Blanc

Our entrees arrived; Courtney’s veal with mushroom wine sauce and my white fish with burr blanc and rice. Each of us also got a little side dish from the chef. Mine was zucchini au gratin while Courtney received potatoes. My fish was cooked to perfection. It was juicy, not dry and overcooked. It was perfectly seasoned simply with salt pepper and green herbs such as thyme and parsley. The simple sauce accentuated the fish’s natural soft flavor will providing a beautiful side note, almost like Scotty Pippen feeding Michael Jordan for an easy dunk. Courtney’s veal was equally tender and delicious. Her sauce did not overwhelm the flavor of the veal and the mushrooms only added to the experience. Wonderful. For desert we had four types of sorbet, each heavenly in that they tasted like the fresh fruit from which they came. We left around 12 and for the first time in Paris left the waitress a tip. She deserved it. She was wonderful and one of the best waitresses who has served me. Courtney and I went home, happy, full and excited to spend more time to together. The Paris night was quiet, calm and cool. Perfect.

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