Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tumbleweeds, creepy tombs and Tarte Tatin

Naturally, a tumbleweed's direction is dependent upon which way the wind blows. Which is why George Whitman affectionately labels those who stay at Shakespeare as tumbleweeds.

It happened that Jamie, Dylan and myself were gathered in the writer's studio maybe for the last time yesterday. Each of us having made plans to push on in the coming days. Having shared countless laughs together over the last few weeks an impromptu decision to visit the catacombs set in motion one of those priceless days of happenstance.

Off we went on bikes as the snow fell across Paris. The snowflakes had this movie set feel to them, small, odd shaped dots of white in no particular hurry to reach the ground. From everything I am told snow in Paris this early in the year is unusual. Glancing back as Lester and I led the way, the sight of the three of us on bikes riding across Pairs to visit the catacombs gave me a flash of the movie Goonies, which then made me smile.
So as far as I can gather the year was 1780 and Paris was over-flowing with dead Parisians. Full to the brim with bones Cimetiere des Saints-Innocents had to be closed for public health reasons. It was finally decided that all the bones from Paris cemeteries would be stored in abandon limestone quarries. Open to the public, these piles upon piles of bones and skulls can be visited deep under the streets of Paris.

Certainly, given the historical context of the catacombs, it is interesting to see such a sight but it seems even the curators knew something needed to be added to the experience of wandering past an unfathomable amount of femurs. “Why not add famous quotes about death...” someone must have said a few years ago as I walked past a wide range of quotes written in marble plaques throughout the catacombs. Most of the quotes are from famous Frenchmen long since dead, but I couldn't help wishing to find Woody Allen's quote "Life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering - and it's all over much to soon" in some dark, damp corner of the catacombs but no such luck.
Once again above ground with the living, having dropped the bikes back off at the shop, Jamie, Dylan and I made our way by foot across the Seine to the Marais in the 4th Arrondissement. We were headed for Le Loir Dans la Theiere. Known for their tarts, I went with the Camembert/spinach/walnuts combo, Dylan tried another one and Jamie ordered duck terrine.  Having not understood what a terrine was he ate it and then complained it tasted like cold meatloaf. Dylan and I laughed. But to be fair I only know what terrine is because the Chef made it in Provence.
Having stuffed our faces with savory, we washed it down with red wine and moved promptly onto the sweets. (note- this is not my typical diet, but rather a fitting last meal with some good friends). The three of us dived into a chocolate mousse with a layer of some sort of cream, a towering piece of lemon meringue and the infamous Tarte Tatin, something like an inverted apple pie which has as many creation stories as it does chunks of apples. Dylan rattled off the version where a woman was baking a pie for the king or something, mismanaged the journey from the counter top to the oven and dropped it face down, in her hurry she salvaged the wreckage, flipped it on a plate out of the oven and voila, Tarte Tatin.
A cold walk back to the bookstore had us laughing and freezing and discussing odd bits about life. It was a winter day that began with no plan but grew to into hours of boisterous banter and wonderful stories traded between three guys who happened to tumbled through Shakespeare around the same time.

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