Sunday, 19 October 2014

Moving Gently into Autumn

Autumn is a season that I really like.

In theory, at least. I like those first frissons of cold as I leave the house on a September morning. I like the smell of acorns crunching under my feet as I walk through the forest. I like that sensation, more easily experienced in France than anywhere else I've been, of being closer to the seasons as I eat my way through the fresh produce from the market and wash it down with a glass of post-vendanges wine.*

In reality, the Parisian autumns of the past few years have been somewhat different. Instead of crisp, cold mornings, we've had dull skies and endless rain. Rather than turning glorious shades of burgundy, gold and brown, the leaves have wilted from green to grey, then quickly turned to a slippery mush as soon as they hit the soggy pavements. (Admittedly, the food and wine have always been good.)

This year, however, it's different. There have been some days of pouring rain, but the temperatures have been unseasonably warm, so that when the sun comes out it feels like summer. The weeks since the rentrée have flown by, largely, I'm convinced, because the weather is so nice, it's easy to get out of bed in the mornings. At the same time though, there are enough signs of autumn to allow me to enjoy the change in the season. For some reason, the warm weather seems to have led to more beautiful trees, often with several colours of leaf mixing on an individual branch.

Today, Understanding Frenchman and I were treated to an especially beautiful Sunday. We started off with a trip to the swimming pool and were delighted to find that the movable roof had been rolled back and we could swim in the open air. After that, we went for a walk in the Bois de Vincennes where, exhausted from the swimming, we were able to lie down on grass and watch the clouds scudding across the blue sky as the slowly-turning leaves rustled in the breeze.

Elle est pas belle, la vie?

* I should confess here that I have never participated in the vendanges - the connection is purely psychological.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A Happy Paris Day

Yesterday was one of those days that make me happy to be in Paris.

It didn't start off so well. I woke up to a grey morning at 7am with the aches and pains of a cold that has been nagging at me since Thursday and spent most of the morning doing housework ... slowly. By midday, however, with the hoovering and bathroom-cleaning out of the way, the next task on my list was to make chocolate brownies. Things were looking up, especially when the brownies came perfectly cooked and not at all burnt out of our notoriously unreliable oven.

By the time I left the flat in the early afternoon, the skies had brightened and so had my spirits. I met my group of expat copines at Anvers metro and we made our way up the Butte de Montmartre to the heart of the Fête des Vendanges.

I hadn't been to the Fête des Vendanges since that memorable occasion back in 2009 when my mother was smacked on the derrière by an official member of the French Society of Bottom Slappers. We didn't see the parade this time (that takes place this afternoon), but we spent more time just strolling among the stalls and trying out different wines. It's not an event where the producers expect to sell large quantities, so rather than offering free tastings with the expectation that you will buy a few bottles afterwards, many of the vendors just sell small glasses for two or three euros each. I didn't buy any bottles to bring home, but my friend did talk me into buying a vine for my windowsill - watch this space to see if Projet Potager one days morphs into Projet Vignoble (or, more realistically, whether I manage to keep the plant alive at all.)

There are also endless opportunities to sample cheese and sausage, and you can buy bigger portions of take-away food such as tartiflette, raclette sandwiches and even a foie gras toastie with caramelised onions. There was also an event called the Ecole du Gout where you could watch chefs preparing food and taste the results, but that was quite crowded and a lot of the time you couldn't really see what was going on.

Apart from one tightly-packed street, however, the rest of the fair was not too crowded at all. The sun was shining on the Butte and it was a beautiful place to enjoy a glass of wine in the open air and gaze out at the views. Montmartre is one of my favourite parts of Paris and I always come back from there a little bit more enamoured of the city I sometimes love to hate. 

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Quelle Horreur!

"I ate a croissant on the metro the other day," said my friend. From her tone of voice and her demeanour, you would have expected a crime more heinous - eating chocolate cake out of the bin, for example, or a lifelong vegan confessing to just having devoured a plate of offal. And because we were amongst non-French, our gasps of horror and cries of shock were mainly put on for the occasion.

But who hasn't been there? Had one of those days when you have to get across town in your lunchbreak, or go to an after-work gym class, and been absolutely starving and surrounded by shops selling delicious food, but had neither the location nor the time to eat it in? And so you end up, as my friend did, breaking off tiny morsels inside the paper back and conveying them surreptitiously to your mouth and hoping that your fellow-passengers' disapproval won't result in you being thrown off the train and possibly expelled from the country as well.

There are other activities, however, which seem to be far more socially acceptable in France than they are in the UK. Public displays of affection, for example, or clipping your fingernails on the bus.

My friends and I spent quite a long time discussing the whys and wherefores of these apparent contradictions and finally came to a clear conclusion. Eating pastries on the metro is not shocking because you might be spreading crumbs, leaving litter or annoying your fellow passengers with overly-loud chewing noises. It's just that by eating your snack on a crowded train, without even a table, a cup of coffee and some quality conversation to accompany it, is showing remarkable disrespect for the croissant.