Notes From A Paris Diary Before The Pandemic: I. A Morning on Ile St. Louis

I bet 17th century and Rich agrees. That’s our first impression of our pied-à-terre for the next three months. A Paris apartment on Ile St. Louis.

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The features Americans usually love are here. A staircase confined within massive wood railings, the steps edged with ancient wood. High beamed ceilings, grooved and gouged with age. Undulating tile floors. An entry door, probably recycled from a dungeon. It needs a good push to open.

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Inside, the apartment is furnished in both vintage and Ikea. A cupboard proclaims its age on numbers carved on its middle door: 1779. It faces an Ikea-style loveseat sofa bed that looks more worn-out than any of the old furniture. It is the only soft, lounge-y piece in a living room full of large, hard surfaces and is a bit shabby from use.

On our first morning, we go to a fromagerie a few doors from us. The night before, we subsisted on little Trader Joe bags of trail mix, too tired and sleepy to drag ourselves to the neighborhood market. It is about 9:30 and the length of the street, ordinarily teeming with tourists, is quiet and nearly deserted. We choose three cheeses. The selection here is ample but not as varied as another fromagerie, a few blocks down the street. One we’ve patronized in a previous stay. That cheese shop has been around a long time and, happily, is still there. This one was not here during our previous stay.

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Fromagerie Ile St Louis

An unexpected little event perks me up a bit. A face well-known to French filmgoers pops in, his toddler perched on his shoulders and his wife a couple of paces behind. He came in just to say hello to the cheese merchants.

Daniel Auteuil. I am surprised at how short he is—as surprised as I was when I first saw Jerry Brown at a Long Beach campus in his first term as governor. Also shorter than I expected, white and pale, and looking a bit bewildered. Auteuil looks chunky, casual, and content.

I saw him, for the first time, in the haunting, lyrical film, Manon of the Springs—an uncouth, tragic, almost ugly rube trying to romance an ethereally beautiful and virginal Emmanuelle Beart.

Rich, staring with knitted brow at the euros in his hand, misses him.

From the fromagerie, we go to a bakery where we used to get the best almond croissant. But, we face our first disappointment: a sleek, fancy bakery has replaced the old one. The new bakery is dressed up to appeal to tourists but its façade of dark, smooth wood seems out of place.

Still, the pastries look scrumptious and the current owners preserve the old French tradition of baking bread a few times a day. The baguette we get later in the afternoon is fragrant, crusty, and very warm. Sadly though, their almond croissant is a soggy, amorphous mass (mess?). We will have to find a new source for the flaky buttery croissant we remember, its layers embracing soft warm marzipan so full that it sometimes oozes out and gives the bottom a crunchy caramelized crust.

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