Saturday, January 26, 2013

Beer. Yes. Beer.

Moving to Paris from the USA has been very traumatic in one clear narrow sense ~ I feared for the lack of decent beer in a wine loving country.

If there is one thing that France exports and the world demands, it's wine.  Fine wine.  Expensive wine.  With pretty labels.  Wines with Names.  Wine with Names on Labels that nearly everyone has been trained to know and love (as they reach for their wallets to shell out, how much was the bottle of Chateau Float Your Boat FrewFrew again?).

I'm a simple man.  I like wine.  I also like beer.  Maybe that makes me an egalitarian instead of simple?

The city we moved from is famously known for it's microbrew.  In fact, it's so well known that a friend who moved from Scotland to our former city did so just for the beer.  It's friends like this that led me to believe finer beer could not be found.  Afterall, the Scotsman lived in Good 'Ol Yerp, ferkripesake, and should've known better, right?

With the move to Paris, I decided I'd become a Wine Guy, again.  Indeed, Jude and I have found some pretty stunning wines for Cheap Plonk Prices.  Yet, from time to time I would be found sitting on the couch whimpering and whining and pining after a wee dram of decent brew.

I confessed to my brother, Peter (a beer fan), with "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.  It has been nearly a year and a half since my last Sampling of Suds..."  A few liberally applied Hail Mary's and Our Fathers and I should've been Good to Go.  But I'm talk'n beer in a wine country, OK?

Using the Force, I googled beer in Paris.  Two places came up repeatedly.  Could Salvation be at hand?

Off to the first place, I heard that Pacific Northwest hops were junk!  Junk!! I was told.  After a stunned look I realized he was just teasing.  Great opening line, though.

I learned there are many interesting small batch brewers all around Paris and one or two inside the city limits.  I liked stouts and porters.  That's what I told the man, and that's what I got.  Good.  Solid.  Tasty. Stuff.  On par, if not slightly better than the supposedly Good Microbrew I used to drink.

On my last successful trip down there, the proprietor recommended the Finest Beer Known to Man.  God's Own Brew.

It was after I sampled this recommendation that the Heavens Parted and Goddess of Brewers Yeast and Malts appeared to anoint me and to offer Le Don de Dieu.  Oh, Lordy Lordy, 12 percent ETOH of fabulously balanced jaw dropping goodness.

After a series of mishaps, I decided to try a second Beer Source.  Besides, the second shop is closer to where we live and, well, the prices are more attractive.  They just happen to sell God's Own Brew too.

It turns out, the owner of the second shop makes weekly trips to Belgium/Netherlands/Holland to procure the best beers he can find.  How he can charge so little is beyond me.  My liver deeply thanks him.  Deeply.  Oh, and thanks must be given for the chalice he gave me as well.  It takes a Proper Chalice to drink a Proper Beer.  Come to think of it, the chalice looks a whole lot like the one our parish priest used to celebrate mass with. 

The French make some incredible beer.  There is something of an inside joke/war going on around these parts.  It's related to the amount of hops put into beer.  The Purists have Declared War.  A True Beer cannot have that many hops and still be termed beer.  The Small Batch Brewers have called up the Revolutionary Forces and the (very humorous) War of Words has been engaged.  I've not followed the fracas, but I wish everyone well in the fight.  It's good to see that people enjoy making and drinking beer here in the Heart of the Wine Universe.

For me, I've discovered that the winter-strength ales brewed by old Trappist and Benedictine monasteries (manned by the Monks Themselves) fit my pallet perfectly.  Until now, the closest I'd come to having something this nice was a bourbon barrel aged barley wine.  It was listed at 10 percent ETOH.

The winter ales from France, Belgium and the Netherlands start at 9 percent ETOH and head north to around 12.5 percent ETOH.  These are normal drinking beers.  Nothing special.  Just something to go with dinner before Evening Vespers, apparently.  Yikes! but these are phenomenal!!  The barley wines here approach 15+percent ETOH (try Bommen et Granaten).  They are something quite special, too.

Yes, you can see I retain my sense of American Over Exuberance.  I have yet to develop a Parisian oh that's just sufficient attitude toward anything good and nice.  Certainly not in the face of these new found loves.  Ranked in no particular order, because they are all Simply Incredible to me and my Aging Taste Buds don't really know any better -

If you find yourselve in a Monoprix on a Desperate Friday night and just HAVE to have a  decent beer, I've found one brew that I like -

There are plenty of great beers to choose from.  If you visit either beer shop here in Paris, the staff will happily recommend things that might surprise you.  Try la cave a bulles down in the 4th (Simon is a brilliant man) and take a close look at the ancient buildings as you make your way up to Heaven's Gate.  The alchemist Nicholas Flamel frequented the area.  If you live south of the river, try the Bootlegger at 82 Rue De L'Ouest.  The Gates of Paradise are painted red and the lights announce you are about to enter Everlasting Paradise once and for all time.

It's trying hard to snow outside.  The wind whips bitter cold from the Seine up to Montmartre.  It's winter.  Still, I can't bring myself to wish for spring.  Not yet.  There will be plenty of time for whichever spring/summer/fall beers that come along.  For now, it's Deep Winter and these high ETOH monk's beers are keeping me warm and toasty.

More of my photos of beers found here in Paris.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

How to fete in Deepest Winter?

There are any number of wonderful ways of celebrating winter around the world.

Place Vendome ~ la traversee de Paris 2013

You can celebrate Samhain, Guy Fawkes Night (oh, now this is a Good One), Diwalii, a good 'ol fashined Nativity Fast, Bodhi Day, Winter Solstice (what's not to like about building a bonfire and dancing the night away while completely nakkid?), Mondraniht, Saturnalia (with a tip to Old Rome), Hogmanay (I'm sorry I sold my kilts, really I am, but the world is a safer place for it), Pancha Ganapati, Imbolc, and, of course, Christmas in America (where you are encouraged to spend, spend, spend as a spiritual exercise of keeping the Top One Percent firmly in their place - at the top).

Here in France, there are the traditional Lighting of the Lights each night down the Champs Elysee, and the very important Sacrifice of the Sapin (Christmas Tree to normal folk) in Your Livingroom.  Yet, the whole season somehow seemed less festive than I imagined it would be.  Even New Years Eve was a surprise.  The French are a reserved lot after all, right?


I simply did not understand how Winter was to be properly celebrated.

Place Vendome ~ la traversee de Paris 2013

Up before dawn with breakfast in the belly and my big cameras slung around my neck, I was out the door and into the metro before, um, what's this?  Clouds?  Drizzle?  Rain?  Ugh.  Well, there was nothing for it but to soldier on.

Popping up out of the metro at Concorde I made my way over to Place Vendome.  This is where began my education into how the French really celebrate Winter.  Avec du vin, du fromage, et un petit morceau de pain.  Zut!  Il n'est pas deja 09H30!!  On doit de la nourriture, n'est pas?

Vintage Bicycle ~ Place Vendome ~ la traversee de Paris 2013

Oooooo... wot's this then?  A two seater Bugatti?  And over there, a Jaguar XK120 OTS?  And, OMG!, a full blown Ferrari F40?  Jesus Christo! and here they all come!!  Automobiles.  Vintage automobiles.  Of all manner of marque and stripe and condition of the "silencers" on their exhaust systems.  Heavy American Iron.  Old British High Carbon Content Steeled Beasts.  Bright Eye Searing Red Italian Slippered Gorgeous Supple Leathered Hand Hammered Aluminum Bodied Race Cars.  Piles and Stacks and Generous Helpings of French Goodness on Four Freak'n Wheeled Art Works.

Voici la traversée de Paris deux mille treize.

la traversee de Paris 2013 ~ pont Sully

Now this, my friends, is a party.  A party worthy of Fun.  A party worth celebrating avec la Bruit et la Vitesse.  In other words, a party to welcome the Full Onslaught of Winter.

After several hours in Place Vendome, I made my way over to Pont Sully.  There are two bridges there that feed automobiles off la rue Saint Germaine de Pres, across le Seine, and sends them past the old Sully Armory and into the former prison at la Bastille.

Alfa Romeo ~ Place Vendome ~ la traversee de Paris 2013

Kilometer after kilometer de voitures anciennes.

A l'isle Saint Louis Local stopped me and asked pourquoi est-ce que vous prenez les photos de voiture?  Knowing Parisians HATE to have their photo taken, I had to perform a rather quick mental calculation.  What I came up with was a mixture of Franglais and the Complete Unknowable.  Still, I was able to convey il y a 600 voiture qui passe pres d'ici.  Aujourd'hui est la traversée de Paris.

The questioner gave me a quizzical look and asked six cents de voiture anciennes pres d'ici?  C'est formidable, ca!

Place Vendome ~ la traversee de Paris 2013

A more complete accounting of my photographic adventures from la traversee de Paris are found here (simply scroll down through 100+ images).

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Winter Holidays...

Spending our first year away from our first country (the US) has been interesting.

Over the winter holidays, it's easy to miss friends and family.  It's been just the two of us, Jude and I.  We go everywhere together, but we also enjoy the occasional diversion of company.

Our first landlords were in town for the start of the season.  Their family had been here to spend a week in their Passy apartment.  It was filled with grandchildren and soccer rivalries (between father and son in law). 

We met our landlords over a very fine lunch at our favorite restaurant.  Three hours passed in the blink of an eye.  We laughed.  We talked.  We looked at photos of their grandchildren (adorable, we must say).  We plotted and planned.  Our friends want to go to the US to ride a motorcycle down Route66.  We want to rent an old car and drive down the National Sept.  We parted with bises and well-wishes.

Out for a New Years Eve Adventure...
We missed being around them the moment they walked away.  We had to find something to do.  We needed to figure out how to enjoy the season without being too sad or too isolated.

Walks and visits to an art show and an artist (who is quickly becoming a pretty good friend), as well as a stroll down the Champs Elysee and promenade through the Tuilleries were very nice ways to pass the time.  Our holiday season was turning out to be fun, even as we wished we could share the experience with people we care about.

For New Years Eve, Jude cooked up a couple wonderful steaks.  I opened a delicious bottle of champagne.  Over dinner, the subject of free Metro rides all night came up.  Plan A was quickly put into action.  It would be interesting to see la tour Eiffel on New Years Eve.

It was raining and cold.  A Little Weather wouldn't stop us, no would it?

Others appeared to have figured out the free rides gig.  The people.  Oh, the people.  Packed in like a Tokyo train at Tokyo rush hour.  Onto every Metro train that pulled into the station they poured.  Drunk Arabs.  Drunk Germans.  Drunk preschoolers (or so it seemed). A few adventurous French.  Packed like a tin of Pickled Sardines.  A good number of these Pickled Sardines carried their own open, soon to be emptied bottles of their favorite hooch.  A Little Weather wouldn't stop a Planned Event like New Years Eve in Paris. 

We must've been the oldest people on the train.

 ... everyone was at la tour Eiffel or on the Champs Elysee...
Several arretes du Metro were closed, including the one we intended to debark at.  We made it as far as the Trocadero.  Taking one look at the rather large throng headed to la tour Eiffel, we decided to retreat.  Somehow we found our way to our ligne du Metro to safely effect our military style repli.

Plan B was pressed into action.  We made our way to an open and very empty arrete du Metro and walked home along  beautifully festively lit and surprisingly deserted streets.  As we walked, we could see into brightly lit apartments where parties were joyously playing out.  It was good we had borrowed a large umbrella from an Italian hotel when we were in Milan the prior month.  The rain come down.

Once back to Home and Hearth and after illuminating the TV, we saw that les immisions does not show parties around town or from around the world.  There are no brightly lit disco balls dropping into the New Year.  There are no views of Drunken Preschooler Sardines wandering the streets of, well, any city, really. 

Jude stumbled on a New Year Eve spectacle.  We watched as people were entertained by various circus performers doing incredible feats of all manner of circus-y things.  We listened to the host talk amoungst Famous French People while the acts changed on stage.  We saw that things here are celebrated with a simplicity and style that many Americans might find naive.  Yet, we could see that simplicity might be a nice counter-weight to the violence that has become America.

Happy New Year!

It is fun to see how things are done here in Paris.  We got to see Paris lit up at night.  We got to lacher les vitrines as we wandered around town.  We got to bises and serrer la main of people all over the city.  We got to wish folks a bonne annee.  We got to participate in the Holiday Season in ways we could never have anticipated. 

We got to experience New Years in Paris.