I admit it, I’m guilty. I ate oysters (non-kosher) the day before Passover and because of the Whole 30 Diet (that I’m still on, having lost more than 7 kilos/16 pounds!), no matzahs will be on the Seder plate this week for this little (and now thinner) “semite.”
Oysters à la Geraldine and Jeffrey from the Bastille Market
Balenciaga at the Bourdelle
Le Jardin Atlantique
Every Sunday afternoon, while my Ann Arbor friends are in Paris for their annual two-month stay, together we eat oysters. They’re leaving this week, so this was our last Oyster Sunday of the season. They ritualistically go to one vendor in particular at the Bastille Market with whom they’ve developed a strong relationship, to pick out a dozen oysters for each of us, usually from the island of Oléron and the Basin of Marennes off the west coast of France. The “Fines de Claires Vertes” and the “Pousse en Claire” oysters are produced in claire ponds, are certified by independent inspectors and quality controlled. They are considered to be the ambassador for the local cuisine, have a delectable taste that is world renowned.
No offense to Oléron oysters, but where I grew up in “La Nouvelle Orléans,” the oysters come from the Gulf of Mexico where they grow like weeds. They are decidedly different animals (actually “mollusks”) from their French cousins: fatter and plumper, sweeter, more opaque and fry up to make an incomparable delicacy that the French oyster will never know. A New Orleans friend who tortures me by sending photos of such delicacies, just this week sent a photo and note from his Parisian friends who boasted about their €14 per dozen French oysters, having dined by the Seine on their “Ostreidae.”
Jeffrey buys them for less than half that at the market and loves to shuck them. It’s all part of the ritual. Sometimes I think he only eats them because he can shuck them first (although I know that’s not really true). This Sunday he proudly showed me the oyster knives he purchased for pennies (actually “centimes”) at “Emmaüs” and often he cuts himself in the process, but he doesn’t care (but, we do, when he’s bleeding into the oysters…yuck).
(For those who don’t already know about “Emmaüs” — these are second-hand shops all over France run by a non-profit organization, started by Priest Abbé Pierre in 1949, where big bargains are to be had.)
The day, and in fact the entire weekend, was so gloriously warm and sunny that while we were dining on oysters, the entire rest of the Paris world was out taking in the rays. I said my good-byes and joined the hoards by heading over to the little-known Musée Bourdelle for the “Balenciaga, l’Oeuvre au Noir” exhibit.
On till July 16th, even if you don’t care about fashion, don’t miss this one. Black is back and Basque-born Cristóbal Balenciaga conjured it up like “an alchemist of haute couture.” Displayed against the sculptures of the late 19th-and early 20th-century sculptor, Antoine Bourdelle, in his studios and the Portzamparc wing of the museum, the more than 100 fashions of the skillful designer and tailor outshine the masters’s plaster and bronze casts. As a one-time Fashion Institute of Technology student of women’s tailored wear, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Balenciaga’s silhouettes and rich fabrics, some of which are adorned by beads and sequins, feathers, ribbons, lace and other “petits détails.”
The museum is hidden away on a residential street in the shadow of the Tour Montparnasse. At one time, this part of Paris was home to many artists’ studios including sculptor Aimé-Jules Dalou and painter Eugène Carrière. Bourdelle’s wife and daughter along with a generous donation from Gabriel Cognacq created the museum that the sculptor had dreamed of his whole life, adding the display rooms to his studio and home, then filling it with thousands of sculptures, paintings and pastel drawings. There are two beautiful gardens in which we took a brief repose before walking to another little-known spot on the Paris landscape.
On the roof of the Gare Montparnasse…yes, on the roof (!), is a garden known as the “Jardin Atlantique” that covers the tracks and platforms over 3.4 hectares. Created by landscape architects Brun, Penna and Schnitzler, it opened the year I arrived in Paris, having escaped me all these years until now. My friend who accompanied me to the Balenciago exhibition discovered it on her own, just by looking closely at a map of Paris in search for a nearby gardenistic repose.
One might never know it existed and access isn’t so intuitive. After many tries, we accessed it from track number 3 inside the station. There is a flight of stairs leading up to the garden, after having attempted to ride an elevator (now closed/condemned) on boulevard de Vaugirard. The best access we later learned is on boulevard Pasteur at 1 place des 5 Martyrs du Lycée Buffon in the 15th. We had as much trouble finding our way out as finding our way in. That evening, “par hazard,” I met someone who lived in one of the contemporary apartment buildings that overlook it. She frequented it by its own special private entry for residents and was loathe to tell me about it for fear others would discover it, although she has a special key.
The garden is surrounded by office buildings and residential apartment buildings and anchored by a small museum honoring Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, commander of the French armored division which entered Paris first during the liberation of the city from the Germans in August 1944. The garden was awash with sunbathers, picnickers and Sunday strollers.
The entire day was a series of synchronistic coincidences in light of an upcoming excursion planned over Easter weekend to Bordeaux, St. Jean de Luz and Bilbao in the Basque Region…leaving for Bordeaux on an early train from Gare Montparnasse at the end of this week and planning for a tasting of Arcachon Bay oysters. (But, not on my Passover-approved food list.) You’ll hear all about it next Monday!
For a chuckle this Passover, have fun with this video someone sent me: youtube.com/watch.
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(with Geraldine on Oyster Sunday)
P.S. Don’t miss TOMORROW’S Après Midi, when April Pett, tour guide and owner of April in Paris Tours. Learn how a small town girl is making hundreds from around the world fall in love with the City of Light. Join us!