June 20th, 2008

Sea dragon

End Paris day 1

Yesterday really was quite a bit of fun. Travelling on the train was easy and allowed for napping, and getting to the hotel wasn't a struggle. When we got here, there was a bit of panic getting the room - some very tired
Americans named Sewell had been checked into it. (Turns out their room was under the name of the large party they were with, but in their jet-lagged state they said, "Yes, that's us" when they heard my name). So we wound up in the deluxe room with the garden terrace, upon which we ate le petit dejeuner this morning. (And now we have to change rooms, which is a bit of a hassle.)

For once I tried one of the cafes on the street where the hotel is (Rue Lamark), winding up at the (insert name here), where we got a quiche du jour that was so big, I was sure it must have been the quiche du month. Seriously, it was six inches tall (or more) - the manliest quiche I had ever seen. While we were there, the chef switched from Sade to some anti-American French rap, the perfect lead in to a lunch time conversation about how the French feel about Obama. The rain really kicked in while we were eating, so we slowed down - when we finally left, we pottered some more, stopping at the freaky antique shop across the street (L'art Maniac) to admire old slots and fortune-telling machines.

Then, since the rain was holding odd, we went to Parc Monseau, which I'd read was full of follies. It most surely was, with a sort of loggia of greek columns, a pyramid , and all sort of other silly things, along with lots of flowers and a pond. It was quite lovely.

Afterwards we started seriously on the Prousting, which fortunately took us by many fun places, such as La Duree, home of the best macaroons in Paris - not that we would know, since it was 15 minutes before closing, the line was 10 people deep, and the pastry case was wiped out. Maybe I can find out Saturday.

After our stroll through the Champs Elysee, it seemed to be dinnertime, so off we went to the Rive Gauche. We bombed out with guidebook recommendations, but found a great place called "Le 24, specialites du Perigord Nord" (59 Rue St Andre des Arts, really just a cobblestoned alley and look about 700 years old). The food was nice, the atmosphere was good, and afterwards it seemed like we'd really done our best to have A Day.
Now we're on the train to Chartres and Iliers-Combray and it's already time for lunch! Where are my madeleines?
Sea dragon

Proustiana day 2: the way near Swann's

Today we headed to Iliers-Combray, the town in which young Proust spent his summers and the setting for most of book one of The Work. The NYSL article that's been serving as the giude for much of my peregrinations suggested it was quite near Chartres; conveniently, Time Out recommended it as a day trip and gave the correct station from which to depart. We made it in the 1215 train, but had an hour layover in Chartres. So in the cathedral we went. It's a funny thing, with its painfully mismatched spires looking like David Bowie's eyes. But when we walked in, POW! The Medieval Christian church experience hit full force, as the organ was going and the spookiest tenor was making the dark stone echo with his voice. Some freaks were walking the stone "labrinth" in the front of the church (I'm convinced it was some kind of DaVinci code thing). The walls were crazy with stained glass; some sign said it was the best collection of it in any church in Europe, and I could well believe it. Awesome!

Still, an hour was about enough, and after a quick trip to L'Atelier du Chocolate Bayonne, we were off to Iliers Combray.

First stop (after taking a picture of a map with the Route Proustienne marked on it) was the town church. Poor Eglise Sainte-Jacques! While it certainly couldn't compare to Chartres, it was just so run down! The front door could barely open and much of the paint was peeling off the walls. The stained glass windows were modern and plain; I couldn't imagine anyone in those flat images, much less the Countess Guermantes. The paintings on the beams overhead provided more room for the imagination, but I had my most fun visualizing the Proust family in the little stalls, waiting for church to start. (More tomorrow ...)