Wednesday, 9 January 2008

We'll always have Paris

Of all the travel memories that Diane and I share this image holds a very special place.
On a cold winters day after walking the old historic market area of les Halles we ducked into the dark and glorious Eglise St. Eustache at the bottom of rue Montorgueuil. Here amongst the sombre side chapels with their vaults and family tombs, past the smoke stained Rubens you come across this diorama and it hits you hard. A simple naive monument depicting the last traders leaving the market for the last time when it was pulled down to make way for what must be the largest Metro maze in the world. Standing there in the semidarkness amongst somber religious icons this gaudy childlike plaster installation confirms why Paris is such an extraordinary place. No stuffy planning committee to oversee the interior of this historic church where Moliere, Madam Pompadour and many others were originally buried. He was moved to Pere Lachaise later. Parisians still mourn the loss of the belly of the city.

But all is not completely gone. If you go up rue Montorgueuil look down the side alleys you will find knife makers, shops that sell those wonderful plastic Croque Monsieur signs, shops selling rules of the hotel boards that tell you that washing your feet in your room is verboten. All sorts of clues to an extraordinary time. These streets were the service areas to the great halls of Paris. On another trip in a side street we found a Foie Gras dealer that had been there for over 100 years, in another alley we found a game supplier with a similar history in a three level building where the game birds are received in the cavernous basement into which you can drive, then the produce moves up a floor to be dressed and finally to ground level to be sold both wholesale and retail. Bresse chickens amongst a very wide selection of other Produit Fermier or classified farm produce.

On our first visit to Paris we stumbled upon Dehillerin the legendary cookware shop. To our surprise with the franc at 9.5 to the Aussie dollar we could buy a very comprehensive batterie de cuisine and not go to jail when the credit card bill came. The pots are still in use after 25 years. A couple of years ago the shop looked sad and almost empty but there is a website. Andre Simon a similar cookware store has gone and now the wonderful fa├žade holds another chic boutique.

At 15 rue Monmatre you will find le Cochon a L’Oreille a very small bistro seating about 18 inside and about 10 on the street. .
All the walls in the dining room are covered by hand painted tiles each wall depicting a different time at the market. From the toll of the opening bell to the last orders of the day. The bar is best example of an original Zinc I have seen. It is totally preserved including the purpose built wine coolers and compartments for all the required mis en place for the bar. During our first visit I was drawn by the XXXXX anduilette and we struck gold. The normal chef was away and the summer stand-in was a true student of classic les Halles bistro fare. Visitors since have reported less than perfect dishes but I can say that on each occasion our meals were brilliant. The patron grumpy, intoxicated and utterly delightful.
Our Paris ritual has been made: Saint Eustache and an andouillette at our zinc.

Is Salle Wagram still there?


Hospitality Lawyer said...

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t h e - g o b b l e r said...

What a great memory. I felt like one of the 'moderns' as you talked me through the streets.
George by your posts, I reckon you've got an eye for a bargain & an antique so it'll only a matter of time before you'll appear on the ABC's Collectors program!
On a seperate issue, how amazing that such a small bistro can survive after all these years?
The wonders of a larger population, a culture of food appreciation & a history of patronage!
Keep the memories flowing!

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

I am not a big hoarder except for books. But I love watching the collectors on one show they had the largest coffee collection they said, in the world it was going into a coffee museum in Queensland.
The little bistro is protected by heritage overlays as is most of old Paris.If only les Halles could have been saved but that was just not possible. I think it was demolished as late as the 80's The "new" market Rungis is also an extraordinary trip. Will post on markets later. Back to the little bistro: its a local hangout they do the usual arrogant Parisian thing on the first visit but if you come back the real hospitality begins.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

To answer my own question, Salle Wagram is still there its the old dance hall where Last Tango was filmed. Ms Paris Crayfish from previous post took us there in the eighties when it was still a traditional dance hall dark seedy and magnificent a great place to get drunk, now as I saw on the web its a posh reception centre but still there in its glory.