Dining Out in the City of Perpetual Light
Parler Paris–your taste of life in Paris and France
Monday, June 13, 2005
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Dear Parler Paris Reader,
The sun sets at 10 p.m. here in Paris these longest days of the year, tomorrow being the Summer Solstice and the official beginning of summer. (In New York City, it sets at 8:30 p.m. by comparison!) With warm weather like we’ve been having — today it will hit 90 degrees — everyone has taken to the “terrasses” and the great outdoors to dine and soak up the rays.
Under the arcade of the Place des Vosges is one of the most elegant and cool outdoor dining spots in the city. There are several restaurants to light in, including Ma Bourgogne (where you will find mostly tourists who don’t mind spending more to say they have been there) at number 19, Coconnas (for the affluent middle-aged French) at number 2Bis and Café Hugo (where the young, beautiful French land because it’s the least expensive, most casual and still chic) at number 22.
A friend whose family has owned a home all their lives in the Bois Bouleaux at Cognières in Yvelines, a fern-filled wood about one hour from Paris, annually gathers all family and friends for a massive all-day picnic under the tall trees in the back “yard” of many acres. Saturday, folding tables and chairs were placed around the expanse of mossy plain. Pot luck dishes and bottles of wine were brought in by all participating, musician and performer friends came dressed in costume, just to entertain and be entertained. An enormous canvas was stretched between two trees, with cans of paint and brushes set out for anyone who wanted to express himself in color. Bongo drums softly kept a rhythm most of the day. We circled the tables, filled our plates and our cups, played musical chairs as we met and mingled. By the end of the day, the canvas was filled, our bellies were sated and our skin rosy from the warm sunny rays filtering through the leafy trees.
Sunday afternoon, we headed for the Marne river to take a taste of the “joie de vivre” at an authentic “guinguette,” Chez Gégène, on the river’s edge in Joinville-le-Pont. The wait to get a table was a good 30 minutes…no surprise. The French in their Sunday finest were lapping up mediocre food at picnic tables covered in red check oilcloth with a view of the Marne on one side and the dance hall on the other, and loving every minute of it.
The guingettes have survived more than three centuries and three wars. Painters, musicians, writers, filmmakers, boaters and restaurateurs have immortalized them. The authentic ones are those along the edge of the Marne, which have kept their “girlish” figure by maintaining their ageless ambiance to perfection. They were the smaller dancing venues of the 19th-century — the word coming from “vin aigrete” or bad, cheap wine, signifying open-air café. These were times captured in such famous paintings as Renoir’s “Bal Moulin de la Galette” and were the perfect place for wealthy husbands to spend their Sunday afternoons amusing themselves with their mistresses.
The “regulars” started to file in about 2:45 p.m. and the dancing to a live band on the two interior dance floors started at 3 p.m. A couple in matching lavender outfits were one of the first to show off their fancy footwork. A tall black-haired woman wearing a flapper style black fringed dress had a much less assuming partner. It was time turned back to another epoch.
There are a few guingettes along the Marne: The Guinguette de l’Ile du Martin-Pêcheur in Champigny-sur-Marne, at Joinville-le-Pont there are Chez Gégène and La Goulue and at La Varenne Saint Hilaire there is La Grenouillère. Annabel Simms, author of “An Hour From Paris” has a delightful article about the guinguettes with complete directions on how to get there.
An American friend who “summers” in Paris takes liberty with the enclosed courtyard of his Marais “hôtel particulier” apartment normally off-limits to the residents, by using a step ladder to climb through one of the massive windows and setting up plastic patio furniture and folding chairs. We all laughed about the absurdity of it all as we “chowed down” on Texas style barbecued ribs and Cajun red beans and rice under the bright night sky Sunday evening. The F
rench participants learned to eat the ribs with their fingers, but complained about the low quality paper napkins and plates and the neighbors overlooking the scene have learned to ignore the revelry for which they are jealous or come and join in the fun.
I say, join in the Summer Solstice fun.
A la prochaine…
P.S. Tomorrow night dining out will be on the streets of Paris during “Fête de la Musique!” Don’t miss it. For details, visit http://www.fetedelamusique.culture.fr
* Rue Daguerre By Adrian Leeds
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Dining Out in the City of Perpetual Light
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