Saturday, November 19, 2011

So Full

We had a relatively unplanned but no less excellent day in the 20th arrondissement today.  The Newyorkifornians are still in town, and we decided to visit Pere LaChaise, the famous Parisian cemetery.  I have a thing for cemeteries - not in a morbid or macabre way, but simply because I think its amazing to wander through and imagine what life was like for the people and families buried there.  Pere LaChaise has to be one of the most peaceful places in Paris. It is also said to be the most visited cemetery in the world, but it felt like new ground to us.

The cemetery opened in 1804 and is still in use today.  Any number of famous historical figures are buried there - from Chopin to Oscar Wilde to Edith Piaf to Jim Morrison - but visiting the grave sites of the famous isn't of great interest to me.  I like to look at the names and dates of unknown people - to notice who died young during the years of World War I, who passed away after a long life through the Belle Epoque, to imagine what it must have meant to family members to design and dedicate a tombstone in 1847.  It is the history major in me who loves to meander through the evidence of generations, traditions, memories, wars, illnesses, love and respect from the past 200 years of Parisian life.
Pere LaChaise
Mr. Newyorkifornian had a brilliant idea which I would love to see become a reality.  If you've ever visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, you know that when you enter, you are handed an identity card of someone who died in the Holocaust, with a few tidbits of information about their life, their family, etc.  His idea is that when you come to Pere LaChaise, you should be able to pick up a card that would tell you about one regular person or family (regular = not famous), with a little about their life, the times in which they lived, etc.  How amazing would it be to feel like you were able to dig a little deeper into what is already a fascinating experience!  

(As an aside, an unpredicted benefit of the visit was that pushing the stroller on the cobblestone hilly "streets" of the cemetery put Baby Oil right to sleep, and allowed me to burn off some calories that I would promptly replace later that day.)

Following Pere LaChaise, we decided to make our way up to the Belleville area.  We'd heard promising things about this neighborhood on the border of the 19eme and 20eme, plus I had two spots I wanted to visit from David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris. 
Exploring the 20eme

Belleville was originally a separate village outside of Paris, but was incorporated in 1860.  The main street, Rue de Belleville, is exactly what you want a Parisian street to be - full of boulangeries, fromageries, boucheries, etc - with a splash of New York thrown in - lots of cars, crowded streets, a more urban feel than our neighborhood.  We headed straight for Boulangerie 140 and Brulerie Jourdain.  David Lebovitz wrote that Boulangerie 140 (named for its address, 140 Rue de Belleville) has some of the best bread in Paris, so we picked up a baguette and a loaf of delicious-looking sesame bread for good measure. And some chouquettes.  Also, the Newyorkifornians went with an apple-coconut tart with a blow-your-mind crust. 

While waiting for Brulerie Jourdain to re-open after their afternoon break, we stepped into Fromagerie Beillevaire.  It is everything someone with modern American aesthetic taste would want from a French fromagerie - cheerful signage, bright lights, and over 400 cheeses carefully selected and many in fact ripened in the proprietors' caves.  Two cheeses - one hard (forgot to note the name in my excitement of its perfect flavor!) and a Brillat Savarin (now officially Mr. Oil's favorite French cheese) - went into our bag along with our goodies from Boulangerie 140.

At Brulerie Jourdain, I practically felt the caffeine seeping into my bones from the intense aroma of coffee permeating the store.  Honestly.  It makes me consider the idea of coffee perfume - if I could smell that all day, why wouldn't I!   

They roast their own coffees on the premises.

Our final happy discovery was Patisserie de L'Eglise, just around the corner on rue Jourdain. I absolutely love when the most delicious looking patisseries turn out to have deliciously rich histories.  This particular shop has been around, in the same location, since 1887! Such lovers of history as Mr. Oil and myself had no choice but to leave with mouth-watering, drool-worthy, heart-stoppingly-fabulous pastries - the caradou and the tarte triollo.  The caradou involves a caramel and milk chocolate cream on a hazelnut biscuit - and they manage to make the biscuit soft and inviting without being mushy.  The tarte triollo was our favorite - though you should not underestimate the power of the caradou - fresh figs, almond-pistachio AND white chocolate cream on a vanilla crust.  For a rich, creamy and buttery treat, it actually managed to taste refreshing.  Good thing I pushed that stroller up those hills in Pere LaChaise because I am now so full of bread, cheese and pastry thanks to Belleville. 
Caradou on the left, Triollo on the right