What a different prospect faced me yesterday! The sun was shining, ducklings were swimming in the creek (the Muette?), and there was so much green from the trees that even the rather haggard hookers standing guard at the path we took into the park couldn't take the sparkle out of the day. I decided, however to not face all of that walking without a little sustenance, and, before we'd even made it in the park, had rather a lovely little meal (grilled goat cheese in pastry on a salad, yum!) at K'Fe Court, 85 Boulevard Flandrin (about half way between the Port Dauphine Metro stop and the entrance to the park, going along Avenue Foch). Don't ask me how I was able to turn down the raspberry macaroons and lychee ice cream dessert - it was just the most perfect combination I'd ever seen, but the day was wasting away.
So ... Odette was known for taking walks in the Bois, so I was interested in following the route she took, but I was also very interested in seeing the island in the middle of the lake, which had a restaurant that Proust set several scenes in, including one in which the narrator waits for hours on a foggy autumn day for a woman he wishes to seduce, whom he keeps expecting to appear through the mist. The lake itself was huge, with people renting rowboats and flailing around in the water. The restaurant, I'm pleased to say, is still there - a Swiss chalet brought over in pieces and rebuilt on the island in the 1850s. You had to take a boat to get to the island itself, whcih seemed like a good deal for E1.50 (and much better than swimming).
The restaurant was so cool - I was completely able to imagine the scenes described inside it happening. Upstairs I could just see the chandeliers for the ballroom, and it looked completely untouched and just the place to invite people to a private concert. We, however, were not feeling posh enough to eat there (I'd expected as much, thus the lunch elsewhere) and settled for going for a walk across the bridge to the next island, where many people were happily ignoring the "no picnicking" signs. They were also engaging in rather a lot of nude sunbathing, so the atmosphere was very "Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe." I decided to give my feet a break and spend some time out of the sun, and took a nap on the grass. I fell asleep thinking of Proust and of the book I was reading by George Alec Effinger (which is set in Algeria), and it all kind of blended together into this one thought: Proust can provide the locations, but it's up to you to provide the memories - going in search of someone else's experiences, you wind up creating your own.
A while later we ambled off toward the Jardin D'Acclimatation, aka the zoo where the narrator ran into his childhood sweetheart Gilberte. It was quite cheap to get in to, but ... well, I think that's because it's not really a zoo anymore so much as a kiddy fun town. There were all sorts of rides above and beyond the standard carousel (skipped) and train (taken) - a miniature boat ride, a racing horses ride (kind of like the scene in Mary Poppins), a bizarre rollercoaster with cars that you could turn in different directions - the whole thing just made me think man, I have got to get my brother and sister in law out here when Babybot 2.0 is big enough to travel (maybe just before he turns two so you can skip the plane fare?). The zoo bit appears to be pretty much stripped out, which is doubtlessly appropriate given the sizes of the available enclosures. All we saw were some fairly common birds (parakeets and cockatiels - give me a break!), farm animals, and ... well, there was supposed to be a bear, but he was cleverly hiding from the heat. There was also two different pony rides, one for big kids and one for little ones (where there parents walked alongside them the whole way). I was unable to summon Marcel's ghost in this place, so after having a medicinal shot of ice cream, we headed out to the Les Sablons Metro stop, with a happy little detour to the Petrin Medieval bakery (3 rue d'Orleans), where I finally got the macaroons I'd been looking for (in green apple, raspberry, and melon (80 euro cents each) and the elusive petites madeleines, in a nice little bag all ready for me to have with my morning tea.
From there, we headed to the La Duree tea house, a place Odette considered "smart." Since they close at 7 (I guess ladies don't do tea after dinner hours), we wanted to get there before it was too late. The inside was a bit beat up, about what you'd expect from a place that had been decorated 150 years ago - green paint, gold trim, cute paintings, and sweltering inside. We settled for a shockingly overpriced glass of La Duree blend iced tea (six euros, my God!) and the "Mini-macarons glaces," four assorted mini macaroons on top of a scoop of ice cream (in my case, rose flavored). Oh, the yum! Eating a raspberry macaroon dipped in melting icecream was the highlight of ecstacy for my day. (Full menu here, it may make you cry a bit if you have a sweet tooth.) Frustratingly, we discovered there was an entire upstairs area that was much nicer and air conditioned to boot - I guess just the tourist lowlifes get the crummy seating area. That said, it all seemed rather "Sex and the City" (not that I'd know, really) and was a very pleasant stop.
Afterwards, there was a final visit to make, once we'd briefly seen Boucheron (the jeweller where St. Loup wanted to buy a necklace for Rachel - shut up tight as a drum as it was almost 7) and the back end of the Ritz (Proust's home away from home - how did he ever get the money to eat there?). We were off to Rue Hamelin, Proust's final residence in Paris. We walked over from the Champs Elysee on Rue Pierre Charon, a route that fortunately allowed us to pass by the church of St. Pierre de Chaillot, which was totally renovated at some point and time and in which I could not imagine Proust having had his funeral service. All of the neighborhood still seemed pretty classy and very Hausmannian - as if it had been just utterly redone in the late 1890s. What was odd was that the building that is reputed to be the one Proust imagined as Odette's house (the one she lived in while single and where she and Swann lived with their daughter, Gilberte) was only two blocks away, on Rue LaPerouse (#3, actual home of actress Laure Hayman). I could in no way imagine Swann running back and forth behind the house looking to see if his girlfriend had brought somebody else home ... there was no alley for him to run in, and all of the houses were shared! I thought he was actually ... I don't know, in some place more suburban. This neighborhood was 100% urban. I will have to rethink how it looks in my head.
That said, the actual place where Marcel died was a brand new building in 1892 and not even two decades old when he moved in. Nowadays 44, rue Hamelin is a hotel, the three star Hotel Elysee Union. So for those who want the full on Proust visit to Paris, you can sleep in the very building where he spent his last three years. Perhaps I would have stayed there if I'd known.
It was now around 8:30 and I was ready to return to the land of the living - and my birthday celebrations. Off we went to Boissiere tube stop and then to the Left Bank for a Moroccan dinner at the restaurant Fantasia (59 Rue Dauphine), which had the most spectacular prix fixe menu I'd seen on the whole trip - fourteen euros for three courses, when dessert alone was typically running six! W chose the menu and had filled chicken pastries (four, generous!) as the first course, a fantastic duck and dried fruits tajine for the main course, and a fresh fruit salad as the dessert. I got salade mechouia (roasted green peppers and tomatoes) and a lamb tajine made with olives and dried lemons. As a special birthday present from the gods, the first half of this entry disappeared into the ether forever when I attempted to send it off of my phone at the end of my meal - frustrating me to no end as I'd spent bits and pieces of an hour getting it together. Oh well. I had a blog entry but I eated it.
I was greeted on my return to Montmartre (at nearly midnight!) by a brass band playing on the street as a part of some city wide music festival. My trip was pretty much over and I felt I'd really got quite a taste of Paris. Now I'm having even more of a taste as I brought home some brie from the only freaking grocery store open in all of Paris on a Sunday (the Marche Franprix, 2 Rue de Chateudun, bless their hearts as buying some groceries was my only goal for my Sunday in Paris), and I'm about to plunge into one of the eight (count 'em) big bottles of cider I brought back. Yum! Back to reality tomorrow, but for now, it's time for dinner and a quiet, sunny evening in my little London home.