Mass in Notre Dame, Anyone? (Day 4)

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When we planned our trip to France/Switzerland, we intended to incorporate lots of time for relaxing, soaking in the culture, and taking in the scenery – put simply, time to stop and smell the roses. But then we went crazy and decided to do everything we could in “OMG, what if we’re never here again and this is our ONLY chance to do x, y, z?!” fashion.

Except for Sunday morning in Paris. On our fourth day, May 25th, we literally strolled around the streets and, when there were chairs, we sat in them. The rest of the time we acted like chairs were radioactive bombs to be avoided at all costs, but not that morning.

We started our day in a different breakfast cafe, and this meal would offer our only real brush with anti-Americanism (or perhaps just anti-foreigner mentality – it’s hard to say). We sat at a table and the server approached. When Damian began with a smile and, “Bonjour Monsieur. Parles vous anglais?” he fired back with “Parles vous francais?” in a tone which unmistakably said, “You’re in my country, jerk – speak my language.”

So I tried. I’d read the menu, I know how to count to 10 and order coffee, so I said, “Deux le continental, un café au lait, un café allonge, s’il vous plait.” There was a lot of pointing involved in this exercise, and I can’t imagine how bad the grammar was in all of that (because I’m an anglophone!), but it worked and we got what we wanted. He also brought us a basket of pain (bread), but we didn’t want it, and when he arched and eyebrow and inquired “Pain?” and I said, “No,” he literally took the basket off of our table and put it on the table next to ours! Cracked us up.

After that, we strolled. When we first visited the Louvre, we didn’t stop to appreciate the gardens. We had time to remedy that mistake Sunday morning, so we wandered around, looking at the gorgeous predominantly lavender and violet flowers, snapping pictures and enjoying the cool but (for once) clear weather. When we found some chairs overlooking the gardens, we bought some coffee and sat down to savor it while taking in the beauty around us. We also bought some artwork from a street vendor (yay! paintings done by a French local!), and we visited the famous lock bridge. We did not buy a lock to add, though.

The fancy meal we planned for the day was lunch at L’Atelier Joël Robuchon. Joël Robuchon also has a pricey place in Las Vegas, Joël Robuchon Restaurant in the MGM Grand, which we’d heard of but never visited. So we thought, why not experience the French chef’s haute cuisine in Paris? We arrived at 2:00 PM for our reservation.

The restaurant is located just off the Champs Elysees, but to get to it, you have to enter through a drug store. Very odd. We walked past convenience store items to the back of the store, where a set of beautiful dark steps suddenly appeared as if by magic to lead us down into the mysterious underground space. The hostess materialized as we hit the ground floor, and she led us to our space at the counter (you can see the counter where we sat if you click on the first restaurant link above). For the 2:00 PM seating, we were (once again) the first dorks to arrive. (sigh)

Le menu at Joël Robuchon included three courses, and we chose the wine pairing option. From our vantage point at the counter, we could see the food preparation. I had the clearest view of the guy whose job it is to plate the food (just like in Spring) and the saucier, the person in charge of making the sauces. Interestingly, I noticed that most of the sauces were put into white squeeze bottles, making it simpler for the plater to create the fancy sauce designs on each dish.

We began the meal by asking the waiter to surprise us. He seemed a little nervous about this idea, not knowing us and our adventurous tastes, but we assured him that we would eat anything he put in front of us and love it, so he nodded assent, poured us a crisp savignon blanc, and set about to make the magic happen.

First, we were served a shot glass filled with fois gras and parmesan cream. When we lifted it as if to drink it, we were instructed to eat it with a spoon. It was rich and velvety – a combination of flavors I wouldn’t have thought to put together. Probably why I’m not the wealthy Paris chef, but that’s just a guess.

The second items (technically the first course) were a cold seafood salad, shaped and perfectly garnished, or an egg artistically nestled in an edible nest of some sort of fine crispy beige fronds. Both were beautiful as well as delectable. Course two offered perfectly grilled beef with marsala sauce with bright-colored peas and carrots, or buttery sea bass over chopped herbs. We enjoyed these dishes with a deep red burgundy wine. To end the meal, what could be better than a plate of fromage? A selection of bleu, brie, and goat cheeses arrived arranged perfectly to be enjoyed with a final glass of crisp white wine.

Nap time!

Following our afternoon food coma, we decided to spend our last evening in Paris visiting Notre Dame again. Before I talk about that, however, I realized that I forgot to mention our visit to another beautiful Paris Cathedral, Sainte Chapelle. We toured this cathedral after Notre Dame, and the stained glass depicting stories from the bible was jaw-dropping. Anyway, on that last night in Paris, I felt the need to visit Notre Dame one last time.

We arrived to find Sunday evening mass had begun, so we walked in and found seats near the back to appreciate the service. The cathedral was lit for the evening, with chandeliers and candles everywhere. The ambiance was otherworldly. Although the service was all in French and Latin, I felt familiar enough with mass to understand some of what was going on. “Peace be with you, and also with you,” receiving the host, etc. The pipe organ and the singing were absolutely gorgeous, and just the feeling of “this is mass in Notre Dame!” made the crush of the crowds worth it.

A couple of rows in front of us sat an interesting fellow. He appeared to be a homeless Frenchman. This man took it upon himself to police the tourists. He ushered people to different seats. He firmly told them “no” when they tried to take video or pictures. If anyone spoke out of turn, he shot them the evil eye. The man clearly had no official affiliation with the church, but he successfully cowed everyone around us into being the respectful church-goers we ought to have been from the beginning. I agreed with him in that sense – it’s a religious service; show some respect for God and the people around you. Still, he had no real authority, except in his mind. I suppose man needs purpose, and this was his purpose. We nicknamed him “The Enforcer.” I wonder if he’s there every Sunday evening?

We didn’t need much dinner after our enormous lunch, so we found a crepe stand and bought a Nutella/strawberry/banana crepe with whipped cream and ate it on a picnic blanket under the Eiffel Tower. Observing the crepe preparation was entertaining. We watched a man expertly ladle a precise amount of batter on three flat round crepe cookers. He flipped them, then spread on the Nutella, sliced the banana, added strawberries and whipped cream, and handed it over – fresh and fragrant. Yummy.

We crashed hard, as always, and woke the next day for our trek to Normandy on Memorial Day….

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