Armistice Day

Armistice Concorde 1
Place de la Concorde, November 11, 1918

November 11 is a national holiday in France; it’s just too bad it falls on a Sunday this year, so no day off! It is the commemoration of the end of World War I (or the Great War as it was called before there were two), when Germany signed the armistice and the war ended at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In the U.S., today is Veterans’ Day, which honors veterans from all wars.

Armistice Poster
Poster announcing the Armistice. Vive la République!

I had noticed over the last few days that new blue, white, and red flowers had been placed near the many plaques around the city honoring Parisians who fell at that particular spot (most of them during World War II). Our neighborhood monument, the Pantheon, was particularly decorated today, with French flags adorning the front pillars.

Pantheon November 11
The Pantheon, November 11, 2007

On this day in 1920 an unknown soldier was laid to rest at the Pantheon. There is also a tomb of an unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe.

Pantheon Unknown Soldier 11 Nov 1920
Unknown Soldier laid to rest at the Pantheon, November 11, 1920

The parades of veterans commemorating Armistice Day were the largest France had ever seen: the reach of the war was far, and drew in more sons, fathers, and brothers as trench warfare for years virtually halted any military advancement on either side. Today, only three known World War I veterans are still alive in France (22 in the whole world). But the legacy of the world’s first modern war lives on, as the Great War was a major turning point in cultural and political history; the end of the long nineteenth-century. The French Third Republic survived, but the conflict laid the groundwork for the twentieth-century conflicts to come.

The Pantheon: Yesterday and Today

Pantheon Side

What is now the Pantheon, a secular monument to the “great men” (and now one woman, Marie Curie) of France that are buried in its crypt, was originally built in the mid-18th-century as the Sainte Genviève church. The Revolutionaries turned it into the monument it is today, but it hasn’t been a continuous trajectory: each new regime (First Empire, Restoration, Second Republic, Second Empire, Third Republic…) gave it a different meaning, at times turning it back into a church and finally in the 1880s reassembled what it is today.

I’ve found some pictures of the Pantheon from the late 19th century to the present day, which I thought were interesting. The more things change…

Pantheon 1880s/1890s
circa 1880, photo taken from the Luxembourg Gardens side. This little round-about and fountain are no longer at the end of rue Soufflot, which has since been widened.

Pantheon 1910

Pantheon 1944
1944, German soldiers posed in front of the Pantheon during the Occupation.

Pantheon 2007
Fall 2007

To the Barricades!

Paris Brise Chaines 1944The rich and tumultuous history of Paris can be told in part by a vast series of photographs, lithographs, and other images now available to anyone with an internet connection. The Paris en Images collection is an excellent database with a search feature which allows the researcher to find images by keyword and date. What’s even better is that they are freely available for private and scholarly use.

The barricade has been almost as much a part of Parisian history as the Seine river. Since the 16th century Parisians have dug up paving stones and piled them into barricades during numerous revolutions, insurrections, and protests. Here, I’ve picked some of my favorite images of barricades, and in places very much recognizable in present-day Paris. We think of Parisian history (and by extension that of France) as being an ever-changing series of radically different regimes. It’s interesting to me, however, to see the continuity in the form of protest, both on the right and left.

1848 Barricade
Revolution of 1848, Remains of a Barricade on rue Royale

1870-71 Barricade
Franco-Prussian War 1870-1871, Barricade at l’?toile

1871 Barricade Hotel de Ville
Paris Commune, 1871, Barricade at Hôtel de Ville

1871 Barricade Vendome
Paris Commune, 1871, Vendôme Column Pulled to the Ground

Barricade 1914
Construction of a Barricade at a Gate of Paris, August 1914

1934 Ligue de droites
1934, Protest of the Ligues de droite (right-wing political organization)

Barricade 1944
Liberation of Paris, Barricade at the Pont Neuf and rue Dauphine, August 1944

1968 Barricade
May 1968, Barricade on the rue Racine

Further reading:

Mark Traugott, “Barricades as Repertoire: Continuities and Discontinuities in the History of French Contention.” Social Science History, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Summer, 1993), pp.309-323.

Jeannene M. Przyblyski, “Revolution at a Standstill: Photography and the Paris Commune of 1871.” Yale French Studies, No. 101, Fragments of Revolution. (2001), pp. 54-78.

Jill Harsin, Barricades: The War of the Streets in Revolutionary Paris, 1830-1848. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

Flea Market Finds

Painted drawer knobs at a big flea market in Montmartre

Parisian flea markets have become quite the attraction, which means that, for example, an old wooden cork screw worth 1? now usually goes for 10. While I love to go to the big market at St. Ouen, the prices are so inflated (I bought an old perfume label for 5? – it’s a piece of paper!) that now I seldom buy a thing.

Place Maubert Flea Market
Place Maubert Flea Market on September 9th

Not so at the brocante on Place Maubert last Sunday. The sellers there were really trying to get their stuff to move. There were books, bags, and housewares for 50 cents or 3 for 1?, glasses for 10 cents, and one seller offered an all-you-can-carry price of 5?.

Tin Boxes

Yellow BagAfter buying a bunch of tins and a useful yellow bag (the whole bunch for 2? ), I found an old photography print of a Parisian street (La rue Cler) in the early 1900s. The print seller also had tons of old books and said I could take all I want for 5?. I filled my bag with anything that looked interesting: an homage to Marie and Pierre Curie when they won the Nobel in 1935, a propaganda-filled Vichy-era agenda (which merits at the very least its own blog post), and a little beat-up book about making your own toys. I also grabbed some pretty hard-cover books, including Renée by Etienne Marcel (for my sister-in-law, Renée), one by Balzac (Les Chouans, the word Chouans meaning French royalists) and another by Zola (L’Argent or Money).

Old Books

It wasn’t until Monday morning that I thought to check the publication dates. The Zola book was a nice surprise: the publication date, 1891, as well as the publication house are the originals. There is a stamp from a library inside, which may mean that the binding is not original (though it looks very old), but it is pretty exciting to have a first edition, in any case! I usually attribute only personal value to the objects I pick up at these things, but for once, I may actually have something valuable to others as well.

Zola l??Argent
1891 edition of L’Argent

The hunt is half the fun, though, and I’m happy to dig through the dust and come away with nothing. There’s just something magical about the possibility of finding a hidden treasure, whether it be a book of historical significance or just a pretty tin box to store sugar cubes!

Market Green Bean Casserole

On Sunday I accompanied two friends to the fruit and vegetable market at Place de la Bastille. The market closes around 2pm, so our mission was to go at 1:30 and see what kind of end-of-the-day deals we could get. At around 1:45, the vendors start to offer huge quantities of vegetables and fruits for 1?. It gets very animated.

Bastille Market
The Market at Place de la Bastille

I will warn you that a huge bag of food for 1? can mean a lot of rotten fruit to sort through. This was the case with a huge bag of bell peppers I got: I had to throw away half of them, but it was still an amazing deal. The cucumbers I got (7 large ones for 1?) were all edible, as were the beautiful tomatoes (I couldn’t resist and got both vine-ripened ones and grape tomatoes). The green beans didn’t look too bad, either, so I stocked up on about a kilo of those as well. But what to do with so many of them? Homemade green bean casserole, of course!

Green Bean Casserole

There’s no can of soup in my version – I made it all from scratch and with my own, newly-invented recipe.

What you need:
1/2 – 1 handful green beans per serving (I used about 2 handfuls for this recipe)
4 large white mushrooms, chopped into 1/2-inch chunks
1 tbsp butter
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp flour
1/2 cup milk
1 small piece of toast, crumbled
salt, to taste

What to do:
In a non-stick frying pan, melt the butter and add the mushrooms and onions. Cook until the onions are golden. While these are cooking, wash the green beans and remove their tips. Cut into thirds (about 1.5-inch long pieces). Put the green beans into a glass baking dish, cover with some salt, and mix in the mushroom and onion mixture. In the same non-stick pan, pour the heavy cream and add flour, mix well (it helps to use a non-stick whisk to avoid clumps – I don’t have one, so I just used my wooden spoon). Add the milk and cook about 1-2 minutes over high heat, to reduce. Pour over the green bean mixture and then sprinkle on the crumbled toast. Bake, uncovered, about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Cécilia’s Cake

Praline Cake Close

My friend Cécilia is one of those bakers that knows just when to add a touch of this or that. She had me over for tea last week and made a gorgeous gâteau aux pralines from her own recipe.

The term “praline” means so many different things: chocolate in Belgium, pecans in Georgia, and in this case, candied almonds. The small town of Roanne, France, has a pastry shop that is nationally known for the founder’s version of a brioche with candied almonds: the original “Praluline” ?? a play on the chef’s name, Auguste Pralus, and the word “praline.” The concoction became an instant hit, winning Pralus the national “Meilleur Ouvrier de France” (best artisan in France) award in 1955. Many Roannais pastry shops have imitated it, but the “true” recipe remains a secret to this day.

Praline Cake

Cécilia’s praline cake was also based on a brioche recipe, but was moist (preferable to the Praluline, in my opinion) and not too sweet, which really brought out the flavor of the almonds. In her experience, it is better to let the dough rise at least 12 hours, but even though this one only rose for a few hours, I thought it was perfect.

Cécilia has hinted at creating her own blog to share her recipes and beautiful travel photos. I hope she will!

Praline Cake Slice

Drama on the Seine

Seine at Night
The beautiful ?? but choppy ?? waters of the Seine.

The Seine river is the place to be on a Saturday evening. From candle-lit picnics to tango dancing, there’s something for everyone, drawn to the water by some primordial urge for the lapping of waves or the constant, reassuring flow of water. It’s a romantic walk, from the quays near Notre Dame to the far-reaches of the 13th arrondissement, which I highly recommend when the weather cooperates, and was our main event this past Saturday.

But the Seine is also notoriously dangerous: in 1843, Victor Hugo‘s daughter and her husband drowned in the river when their taxi boat capsized, and the swift currents have carried off many victims over the centuries. In my research of 19th-century newspapers I often come upon articles about drownings in the Seine ?? young boys carried off, workers accidentally falling in only to be swept away, futile rescue attempts… This river is more wild than it appears, with often-changing water levels (many times flooding), a violent undertow, and a steady flow of river boat traffic.

While enjoying the former, romantic side of the Seine on Saturday evening, we came across a reminder of the latter. Just west of Notre Dame we noticed a small crowd gathering to look into the water. I thought maybe someone had dropped something, or perhaps a dog had fallen in (we often see dogs swimming in the Seine, which is worrisome to say the least). We glanced over the quay and sure enough, it was a man.

Seine Guy in WaterOnly the silhouette of his head was visible, which meant he was a strong enough swimmer to be treading water beneath the surface. He was staying close to the edge, which was smart, but there was no ladder in sight. A floating jazz bar, however, was not too far away and there was a tire hanging from it that appeared within arm’s reach. He made his way over to it, but must have been tired because he had trouble grabbing the tire. People began to take notice of the situation, however, and the jazz music soon stopped while several workers from the bar scrambled to find something for the fallen man to grab onto.

Luckily, the man operating the floating bar was very quick to grab a long ladder and put it over the side of the boat. He climbed down to rescue the man, but once it was clear he could climb up himself, he did so, and was finally safely out of the water. We couldn’t tell if he was with a group of concerned friends or if only curious passers-by made up the surrounding crowd. In any case, there was a collective sigh of relief when he was finally out.

Seine Guy Climbing
The man who had fallen in is able to walk up the ladder.

The rescuers arrived shortly thereafter and I directed them to the scene of the incident, telling them to speak with the man at the floating bar, who had rescued the man from the water. Several boats full of sapeurs-pompiers were on the scene, some of them in wetsuits. This is a highly-skilled, hard-core group. We’ve seen them in the Seine before: the following photo is from last April (we’re not sure if this was an Lose Weight Exercise or if they were diving for something or someone in particular).

Sapeurs Pompiers
The sapeurs-pompiers diving for…something? 

In any case, the incident Saturday night and the serious emergency response made the lesson clear: be very careful about falling into the Seine, an accident that should never be taken lightly. The river has become a fixture of daily life in Paris, but we should never underestimate the danger beneath the surface.

Jardin Geometry

Luxembourg Urn

Last weekend I went with a talented friend to the Jardin du Luxembourg and Montparnasse, to embark on what she calls a “photo safari.” The goal was to practice using my new camera: a digital Canon EOS Rebel XTI. Before the safari, I knew how to use the “automatic” and “close-up” settings, as well as how to switch from automatic focusing to manual. Impressive as I know those talents sound, I really do have a long way to go in learning about aperture, shutter speed, and so much more.

Luxembourg Tree LinesOne aspect of photography, which doesn’t have much to do with the camera, is composition. We found all sorts of interesting perspectives and geometrical shots. Angles here and there, triangles, intersecting lines…
My goal in taking a shot is to find an “anchor” in the foreground, contrasting shades and shapes, and interesting lines, like the shot to the right.

Most importantly, I have to get comfortable taking lots and lots of pictures, and more often! I have a tendency to keep the camera in its protective bag, inside another bag, so when I want to shoot, I have to unzip twice, pull it out, take off the lens cap…in the mean time, the sun has gone behind a cloud, or the perfect people-shot moment has passed. That’s why the photo safari is all about camera-in-hand at all times. It was a blast and I think I’m making progress – and I hope the pictures show it.

Montparnasse Church

Luxembourg Triangle

Montparnasse Church 2

Luxembourg Trees

Moving Across the Seine

When we left Paris in late June we also left our former apartment in the Marais neighborhood. We returned to Paris and to a whole new daily life in our new place, in the Latin Quarter.

Pantheon at Sunset
The Pantheon at sunset, just a few blocks away.

I’m still exploring the neighborhood: I took a “wrong” turn just last night and discovered a little cobblestone street I hadn’t noticed, down the block from the new apartment.Jardin des Plantes Statue Small

When we first scoped out the new place in the fifth arrondissement, we were thrilled with its proximity to the Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden which has on its grounds the Museum of Natural History. Although many parts of it are geometrically arranged and well-manicured, the Jardin des Plantes tends to feel more wild and relaxed than the Jardin du Luxembourg on the other side of the arrodissement.

Across the street from one of the entrances to the garden is the Parisian Mosque (La Grande Mosquée de Paris), a beautiful structure built in the 1920s that has since been a cultural center for Parisian Muslim life. Muslim or not, anyone may sit in the peaceful courtyard restaurant and enjoy a glass of the best mint tea this side of the Mediterranean.

Mosquee de Paris
La Grande Mosquée de Paris

Wandering around has unveiled other treasures: hidden gardens, an antique arena, and the city wall from the reign of of Philippe Auguste (1180-1223), which happens to make up one of the walls in our building.

Hidden Park
A little park we stumbled upon. The grass here is not off-limits…for once! 

Best of all, we’re only a short walk from our old hang-outs in the Marais, so we can still have the best of both the left and the right bank.

Berry Tart

Berry Tart Close

My first trip to the outdoor market at Place Monge (open Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday) was a success: I took a friend’s advice and went about an hour before it was closing town (things start to wind down around 1:30pm), and got some great deals on fresh fruits and vegetables. Ratatouille (zuchini, eggplant, red peppers, and tomatoes), leek soup, and green salads (two heads of lettuce for a euro!) are all on the menu for the next couple of days.

Berries Fresh One fruit vendor was desperate to get his berries moving: he was selling each small basket (barquette) for a euro instead of 2.80. I bought 5: 3 strawberries and 2 blackberries. Granted, these fruits have seen better days, but they are perfect for a fruit tart, the recipe for which I’ve been developing in my head, with no hands-on experience yet.

So here’s my first version of my berry tart recipe:

What you need:
Lots and lots of assorted berries (about 2-3 pints)
Pâte brisée (I am cheating and buying this pre-made; it’s still amateur hour)
3 tablespoons polenta (to absorb extra liquid)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 eggwhites, beaten
2 tablespoons milk (I wanted to use cream, but had used the last drop in my coffee)

What to do:
~Pre-heat oven to about 180 C or 350 F
~Rinse the berries and remove the stems from strawberries. Chop any larger strawberries in half.

Strawberries Fresh

~Spread out the dough in a tart pan and sprinkle with the polenta. This is supposed to soak up extra liquid. I’ve also read about using crumbled cookies.
~Arrange the berries face-down on top of the dough.
~Sprinkle the berries with the sugar and drizzle the eggwhites on top.

Sugar-Sprinkled Berries

~Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.
~Refrigerate for an hour.
~Serve cold, sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Berry Tart

Better next time:
I’d like to try adding a taste of vanilla extract or vanilla-flavored sugar. I think the crumbled cookies would probably work better at soaking up the excess liquid, because this version was still a little runnier than I’d prefer. Not a bad first try, though, and this method is less complicated than most berry tart recipes I’ve found elsewhere.

To find an outdoor vegetable market in Paris, click here for a complete list by arrondissement.