GIRLS, GRILLS AND GRAVES IN PARIS
by Judith Fein
photos by Paul Ross
There are worse things that can happen when you are traveling than to be obliged to spend twenty-four hours in Paris while you are waiting for a flight to Africa. When my husband and I found ourselves in this fortunate predicament, we tried to track down a reasonably-priced hotel with free airport transfers. The bad news was a breadbox-sized hotel room in the l8th arrondissement, but the good news was the l8th arrondissement. Even though I had lived in Paris during my reckless youth and I thought I knew the city like a native, I was ignorant of the delights of the l8thSnot the least of which was the chickens roasting on spits in several of the local cafes, restaurants and gourmet shops that lined the streets.
If you have never been to Paris, when you go, your taste buds will immediately be confronted with an inalienable truth: the French can make anything look and taste great. A grilled chicken in, let’s say, Nebraska, even if it’s basted in succulent French secret ingredients, will never taste like a Parisian chicken. It may be something in the French air, or the particular fields where certain herbs are grown, but even a plain ole barbecued chicken tastes like it could be served to royalty.
There are several ways to sample the culinary delights in the l8th: you can eat in a restaurant, which is less expensive at lunch than at dinner, but can still be costly. You can sit down at a café or gourmet shop and be served. Or you can ask for your “poulet a emporter” (take-out chicken) and you can consume it back at your hotel, on a bench, or under a tree. (NOTE TO EDITOR: THERE IS AN ACCENT “GRAVE” OVER THE “A” in POULET A EMPORTER) When you have filled up on grilled chicken, you can try barbecued and laquered duck at one of the many unassuming, inexpensive and delicious Asian eateries in the neighborhood. All the delicacies of the Orient are displayed behind glass cases; you point and are served whatever your heart and belly desire. You pay according to the quantity you consume.
No matter where you walk in the l8th, if you look up you will probably see the famous white dome of Sacré Coeur church. Kick off your heels, slip into your tennis or walking shoes, and head up the hill. The Romano-Byzantine basilica of Sacré Coeur was designed by the architect Abadie. Construction was begun in l875 but it wasn’t completed until l914 and the total bill came to–mon dieu!–forty million francs.
The area the church is in, known as Montmartre, was a fave hangout for artists, and tourists trek there to find modern day Renoirs and Manets. Although they may be disappointed by the rather commercial art, the experience of Montmartre is never a let-down. At the Place du Tertre, talented portrait painters will whip up an uncanny likeness of you in short order, and the lively square, with its colorful umbrellas, paintbrushes and paint pots, is a must for photographers. You will also feel very noble about the calories you have expended in making the climb, so you can reward yourself in one of the hilltop cafes by sipping a kir, made from white wine and crème de cassis. Or you can savor a glass of Beaujolais Village. There are vineyards on the hill of Montmartre and, at harvest time in the fall, there is a costumed wine festival for vintners, wine connoissuers and tourists.
When you descend the hill, you will probably land close to the legendary Moulin Rouge, which looks like a huge red windmill. Inside, Toulouse Lautrec became enamored of the sensuous dancing girls and immortalized them in oil on canvas. Today, a line still snakes around the block with tourists waiting to see the girlies–and I am sorry to say we did not see a show there so I cannot attest to the amount of skin which is exposed nightly.
Speaking of sex, the main streets are dotted with sex shops. Young girls press their noses against the glass windows and giggle. A few couples walk inside to get a closer look at the doodads and thingamajigs, and men who look like accountants and government workers saunter knowingly inside. I didn’t see anyone actually buy anythingSbut I did see a number of people shell out money for the peep shows that were advertised in store windows.
What was far more interesting to me was the Museum of Erotic Art–which boasts seven floors of artistic erotica and costs seven Euros to enter. At one Euro per floor, it’s a great deal. There are titillating figures on Greek urns, audacious African antiques, a graphic protest against female circumcision, outrageous phalluses of every size and shape, and wild depictions of the sex act performed by acrobats and people with the flexibility of Gumby.
Erotica is, evidently, an international pastime, and there are samples from Nepal, Indonesia, America, Russia, India, Thailand, and anywhere else you can name. Some of the exhibits are extremely witty and funny, like phallic votive amulets and paintings with a toilet bowl in the center; you look inside and see all the humans, bottom side up, who use or hang out around the porcelain throne.
The charm of the l8th arrondissement is that it covers all of the essentials–food, sex and death. My husband and I were looking for a shortcut back to our hotel, and we suddenly found ourselves walking past tombstones, in the middle of the city. When we started reading the names on the tombstones we were startled– the Cemetery of Montmartre houses so many famous skeletons that it rivals the more famous Pere Lachaise. Quite by accident, we had found ourselves in the middle of a fascinating and macabre Paris landmark.
We scurried to the entrance of the cemetery and found a map. All of the celebs are listed, and it’s easy to find their final resting places by jotting down their section and plot numbers. For the literary minded, there is the tomb of one of the most prolific writers in history–Alexander Dumas. He penned plays and poems and letters and works of non-fiction, but he is probably best known for The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. Other literati include Emile Zola (Nana and Germinal) and Stendhal (The Red And The Black). Within bone-rattling distance are several masters of music: Offenbach, Berlioz and Adolph Sax, who invented the saxophone. For cinephiles, there is the tomb of Francois Truffaut; for drama buffs, a visit to the departed Georges Feydeau is a must. If you like dance, then you will weep at the graveside of the unfortunate Nijinsky, and a statue of the costumed master will keep you company. For romantics, the original Dame aux Camelias or Lady of the Camelias (named Alphonsine Plessis) is a permanent resident of the cemetery.
Walking through the cemetery worked up an appetite, and we had one last meal of barbecued chicken before we left on the airport shuttle. In twenty-four hours, you can satisfy most of your human desires in the l8th arrondissement, and grilling chicken back home can help to keep the wonderful memories alive.
18th Arrondisment Rotisserie Rosemary Chicken
1 whole chicken 1/2 tsp. crushed, dried Rosemary 1/2 tsp. crushed, dried Basil 1/2 tsp. crushed, dried Thyme 1/2 tbs. powdered Paprika 2 tbs. Olive oil salt & pepper to taste
Thoroughly wash and pat dry the chicken. Combine all the spices except the Paprika. Generously brush the entire bird with the olive oil and cover with the spice mixture. Let sit in a cool place for 20 minutes. Shake on the Paprika. Put the chicken on a skewer over medium heat about 5″ from your heat source and let thoroughly cook for @45 minutes or until the juice runs clear. After removing from the grill, let the chicken sit for 4-5 minutes until firm before slicing.
Montmartre Poulet a l’ail (garlic chicken)
1 fresh, whole chicken 2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and crushed 1 cup lemon juice 2 cups white wine 1/2 cup olive oil salt & pepper to taste (optional for those who like a more spicy kick, a sprinkling of either white pepper or 1/4 tsp dry mustard)
Rinse chicken with cool, chlorine-free water and dry with a paper towel. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and marinate the meat for a minimum of 2 hours in the refrigerator. (Overnight is better but remember to turn the bird every half-hour for the first two hours in order to soak completely.) If you wish, you can pull back the skin and place some crushed garlic against the meat. Preheat broiler to 425 degrees and cook until meat is not pink (about an hour). Let it cook down before slicing and serving.
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