Thursday, September 6, 2007
After a few weeks away it's always a pleasure to come back to Paris. You might think I would be jaded after all this time, but my first glimpse of the city is inevitably a thrill. This time there was quite a lot to catch up on: the city has made thousands of sleek silver bicycles available at stands throughout the city and there is free wireless Internet access in parks and libraries.
I wasted no time in trying out both, first at the poetically named Bibliothèque l'Heure Joyeuse in the 5th arrondissement, where I enjoyed an inspiring view of Saint-Severin church as I worked. It's a children's library, but French kids have good library manners and it felt much more serene than any café. I tried to pick up the Internet in the Palais Royal gardens today but discovered that not all gardens are equipped with WiFi (I could have gone to Les Halles, which is rather less romantic).
Having mastered the Velib system in Lyon and ridden my own bicycle for ten years in Paris (which I proudly still have in Nice), I couldn't wait to get on a bike. To my amazement this proved simple, requiring no permission letter from my parents or multiple passport photos. I simply punched in a request for a seven-day pass (€5) at one of the stands, authorized a deposit of €150 which would be used only if I failed to return or damaged a bicycle, and helped myself. The bikes are rather heavy in the front and I felt a little nervous as my precious new computer jiggled in the basket - would the insurance cover it if I hit a big cobblestone and it went flying over the handlebars? I decided not to take my computer along for the ride next time.
I'm taking advantage of my time in Paris to catch up on restaurants and the shot above is from Hélène Darroze's new bistro Toustem, whose dining room across from Notre Dame is an odd juxtaposition of heavy beams, gothic doors, orange floors and white chairs. I've never felt completely at ease in her ultra-chic rue d'Assas restaurant, but here her cooking is at its generous best. I loved this dish of macaronnade, penne in a mushroom cream sauce with big chunks of pan-fried foie gras.
If you look carefully you can see Darroze in the background (second from the left in the group of women) - she was not in the kitchen but had dropped in with pictures of her baby girl. What does a two-Michelin-star chef drink on her day off? Diet Coke - so you don't ever have to feel embarrassed about ordering this in a Paris restaurant.