Since Nick and I to stay for a weekend, during which we gave him all manner of vehicular treats, I have been looking for opportunities to treat his siblings the same. So my second opportunity involves a special something for Joel. Joel is an easy recipient – he is fascinated by food and cooking. Luckily for me my neighbour Claire, a Parisienne who has a second home in St Vaast, has stumbled on a website which offers Secret Food Tours. They run them in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin and Barcelona. When I make further enquiries I find that the Paris tours take place around Montmartre which is on the doorstep of our friends’ apartment off Pigalle and the meeting point will turn out to be at the Anvers Metro which is just round the corner.
So Joel and I board a train at Valognes and travel for three hours to Paris St Lazare. From the station it is a fifteen minute walk to rue Victor Massy. We offload our bags then head into the centre of Paris for an afternoon activity. There are so many possibilities and I had planned to take the Metro to Jardin des Tuileries and perhaps slip over to the Musee d’Orsay. But Joel mentions that he would love to see the glass pyramid above the entrance to the Louvre since it features in the novel and film of the Da Vinci Code. So it is that we spend a couple of hours at the Louvre and this is thoroughly enjoyable as we take in some French and Italian Renaissance art, we talk about the pictures and those that we like in particular and of course we gaze upon the loveliness that is the Mona Lisa. Personally I have never thought that she is that lovely. As Joel and I stand and regard La Gioconda, we are very much in an ethnic minority.
I would say that 90% of the ‘audience’ consists of far Eastern tourists armed with their mobile phones and selfie sticks. I noticed this before when I came to see the Mona Lisa and also when visiting other parts of the exhibitions. Many people view the museum through their devices. They arrive in front of a work of art, capture the image on their device and move on without stopping to consider the painting they have just photographed. As we continue our exploration we find ourselves at the Arts of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. We both really enjoy looking at the sculptures, artefacts and face masks. We round a corner and are confronted with a huge stone head and neck carving. “Gosh” I say, “that looks just like one of the Easter Island statues!” Well, of course, it is one.
By now it is almost time for the museum to close so we make our way to the nearest Metro and back to Pigalle. We are going to eat at one of the local restaurants and I have chosen the one that offers north African fare. We choose tagine and Joel and I tuck in heartily. After we have paid the bill the owner regales us with anecdote and advice for the budding chef. The advice is well meant but not entirely appropriate and I should have kept my mouth shut!
Next morning we are up early and clear up the flat of such untidiness as we have made, which is negligible, and head out for breakfast at a local café before meeting up with our tour guide at Anvers Metro. Her name is Solene, a lively young woman who steers her motley group around the set course with skill and humour. We are an American family of three, an Oriental family of three, an American librarian who lives in Dubai and Joel and me. We sally forth. Our first port of call is the Chocolaterie Maison Georges Larnicol. This establishment carries the award Meilleur Ouvriers de France, something to look out for when choosing where to buy goods. We are shown fabulous sculptures in chocolate, the Eiffel Tower, the Notre Dame…… And we get to choose two handmade chocolates each.
Our morning progresses; we are taken to a Patisserie whose speciality is Macarons, thence to a Fromagerie, a Boulangerie and a Boucherie where Solene makes various purchases. Slightly uncharitably I think she is doing her personal shopping. However, we fetch up in a small café bar where we then proceed to have a tasting of bread, cheese, charcuterie, washed down with red and white wines and our Degustation is wound up with eclairs and coffee. During this delightful interlude we hear some wonderful food-related anecdotes, most notably an explanation as to why French bread comes in a stick shape. And why we chink glasses when we toast each other. Eaten over a couple of hours the little nibbles amount to a good meal and Joel and I merely need to buy a sandwich at Gare St Lazare whilst we wait for our train that will carry us back to Valognes.