Wednesday, August 27, 2014

France, Redux

We're home. We're pretty sure the cat is happy about that as he keeps tearing about the house and consecrating our ankles with love nibbles. The only downside? My jar of gateaux de foie shattered in transit. Guess I just have to eat it. The adventure continues...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Truck of Goodness

At 11:45 pm on a side street in Paris, the purveyors of pork park their mobile pantry. Cooks scramble outside to identify their beast of choice; there are no cuts here, no plastic wrap, no packaging. A hog my size would have landed on me if not for the lightening reflexes of those who came to score the beast. A fine specimen it was, destined to be divided first into primals and later into exactingly precise morsels of pleasure. A nose, a tail, an ear, a knuckle. Nothing is not used.

Inside the restaurant, a nearly endless array of small plates streamed from a kitchen smaller than most walk-in closets. Goat cheese in lemon-infused oil; broccoli soup; eggs and hash browns in Worcestershire; tarbais with lardons; smoked magret with figs and hearts of palm; the best kidneys I've ever had; a sponge cake and meringue confection; warm chocolate mousse with cherries aux noix; ginger-lime sorbet drown in tequila blanco with sea salt.

Our friends in Paris, Daniel and Ellen, picked the spot and accompanied us. Thank Pete. Never would have been able to eat all that by myself.

Je M'Appelle Danté

I do not travel far, but I know of many special places. I can leap three times my length, but only under special conditions. I prefer to eat a melange of animal products, but only from a pouch, and only when I'm satisfied that I have taken part in the hunt. Did you know that my grandfather was a proud mountain cat of Tunisia?

My humans leave me often; I do not know where they go. I suspect I would not like it there, but I am not sure, lacking experience. When they are gone, a lady who smells like 87 cats comes to feed me. It is fine, but I miss the hunt. She's all business. Sometimes, a lanky, odd human comes. He sleeps here. He is satisfactory, because he doesn't smell like 87 cats, but when I bring him my prey, he does not respond, possibly because it is dark outside, but that is the best time to track prey. I worry about my humans; when they are not here I cannot sleep on their faces, which prevents them from freezing to death.

I will wait. They will return soon. If there is justice in this universe, they will come back as me.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Getting our contemporary art on

I was anxious for a contemporary art experience here as the Lyon museums and galleries were closed during our visit. So on our way out of Perouges we took a side trip to St. Etienne, to see the largest modern and contemporary art museum outside of Paris. An amazing space and a great show of Chinese artist Wang Luyan (note Michael peeking out from behind the gun).

St. Pierre church

Out in the seeming middle of nowhere, in the tiny mining town of Firminy, is a Le Corbusier church, part of a complex of buildings planned in the 1970s to bring modernism to the masses. It's a whole lot of concrete goodness, with some wonderful skylights and windows, including a collection intended to resemble the constellation of Orion.

In Paris...

...everyone looks like this.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

We built a wine museum and no one came

Hameau Duboef is a massive complex of museums--one dedicated to wine, one to winemaking and one to wine transportation--between which one has to take a motorized mini train. There are vast tasting rooms with seating for hundreds and expansive gardens (with the aforementioned mini adventure golf). And it's all totally empty. Eerily empty. Creepily so. Made even more so by the music they pipe into the vacant gardens.

It reminds me of the Bay Area's ill-fated museum of wine and culture, Copia, which failed miserably, in part because people never showed up.

Perouges views

Ce N'est Pas Un Pizzè

Surrealist humor aside, the famous Galettes de Pèrouges are ubiquitous. Along with the day-tripping tourists who must have it explained to them: "This is not a pizza; this is not a brioche." I mean, there's a stand by the info booth, another before you enter the main gate, one right next to our hotel, two competing shops 30 meters up the street, and another by the south gate. Also, it's what's for dessert at every restaurant, and woe the diner who dishonors this proud tradition with a mere glacé or crème brûlée.

About the only thing that rivals the galette and the tourist for its sheer pervasiveness is the foie gras. Every restaurant offers at least six variations, from turrine to gâteau to côte to rillette to salade gourmande to foie stuffed into an artichoke heart. That one I must try. I think there are an equal number of foie dishes to every other dish on every menu. And it's not just here: we stopped for lunch in St. Lager and guess what was featured? Even better, it came with fig compote. Karen's salad came with bacon, which she donated to the cause, so I stacked the above along with some greens and goose fat gelée onto a poppy seed roll and ended up in my fourth foie coma in as many days.

Wait. What was I talking about? Pèrouges has a galette-based economy. It is the focus of labor and production. It is a final product and a mechanism of trade. It is customizable, but only in the approved fashion--cream, berries or sorbet (i.e., you can have it in any color you like as long as it's black). It is breakfast, dessert, mid-morning, mid-day, and mid-afternoon snack. Pèrouges eats, sleeps, breathes, and presumably farts galette. And we wouldn't have it any other way.

Alien: Vinyard

I never realized H.R. Geiger dabbled in farm equipment. We came across this monstrosity when driving around on the back roads searching for an open tasting room. We never found one. I suspect because all the inhabitants are dead.

Meanwhile, Outside Pèrouges

There's a wine amusement park. They have a Baccardi-style train (see Puerto Rico). Beyond the tour and tastings and topiary, they tout Adventure Golf. Karen got a hole in one (!) and also nearly managed to lose a ball (!!). Clearly the French are unamused, as the place was a ghost town, even on a Saturday.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Now That's a Tasting Room

French wine is different. First, it's cheap, but that has nothing to do with quality. Second, the Chardonnay doesn't taste like butter and wood (I can't stand California Chardonnay). Third, if you want, you can get a plate of ham and cheese while you taste, instead of a communal basket of crackers. I think I like it here.


I guess Beaujolais is where God goes to get away from it all.

Michael getting medieval


A preciously restored medieval town perched atop a hill, Perouges features cobblestone streets, narrow meandering roads, cute little buildings, and architectural fragments everywhere. The crowd is a motley mix of day trippers from France, tourists, and Goths doing photo shoots.

Belle Beaujolais

We're taking a side trip on our way to Perouges to explore the route du vin and lovely surrounding countryside.

Our Lyon patisserie

Where we've been having breakfast every morning. Lovely croissants, pastries, and sandwiches.

Put the foie gras down and step away from the table

The amount of foie gras Michael was served last night was equivalent to what we might put out for a party of 20.


Try the Gorgonzola and foie gras flavors.

Lyon does lighting

These people know how to light their buildings. In fact, they host conferences on it. Every night, the church on the hill is bathed in luminous interior and exterior lighting.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


While Michael has been eating massive amounts of foie gras and boudin noir, I've been indulging in the Lyonnaise delicacy of quenelle. The quenelle is a beautiful thing, part dumpling, part soufflé. Light and airy and oblong in shape, it comes in a few varieties, although I've only sampled the pike fish and original flavors. And, it's smothered in rich, creamy sauce, either cheese or crayfish. I'd been doing pretty well with the quenelles until last night at Cafe Comptoir Abel, Lyon's oldest bouchon, when I was served one the size of a super burrito.

1999: The Distant Future

I already went on one rant about overnight shipping; I know you've been eagerly anticipating the next.

There is much to love in France. The food is ridiculous. I ate a third of a pound of foie gras earlier tonight. The wine bars are lovely. The accent is impenetrable, but I think they do that as a kind of affectation. Service is slow, but like I said I just ate a piece of foie the size of a gerbil, so maybe that's for the better.

No, the problem is that in all other matters, we should have let the Germans have it for efficiency's sake.

Take French telecom: for the most part my phone tries to decide whether it should be on Orange or Bouygues. Don't worry if this doesn't make sense to you; AT&T can't figure it out either.

Then there's the internet. Lyon should be praised for establishing free, public wi-fi, provided that it actually worked. Rather, like all things this time of year, it appears to be on vacation in Mallorca. I guess it wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have to log in every time I wanted to use it. Or if the login had functional buttons, like "Login."

I think they do this for security reasons, but u:7372305484 p:VivelaFrance. You're welcome.

Anyway, the pic is a movie set in the miniatures museum, but much like the aliens from Galaxy Quest, the French think it's for realz.

Willy Wonka was a Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkey

Welcome to Bernachon, not the home of the Whopper. It's a bit like walking into Tiffany's, but it's all made of chocolate.

Welcome to my concrete spaceship


Always littering a perfectly good hillside or valley or other scenic setting with amphitheaters or aqueducts or what have you. Karen's got some good shots of the terrific museum that goes with.

Taking Catholicism to New Heights

Look closely: the label for this product is Jèsus sec, or dry Jesus. Now, the transubstantiation thing is weird enough, but leave it to the French to cure and age it. There's probably a perfect sacrificial wine pairing as well.

Visible storage

At the Musee de la Civilisation Gallo-Roman.

En vacances

We love to identify the French as our best practice examples for work-life balance due to their month-long summer vacations. But being here as a tourist during that month kind of sucks. Prior to our visit, I had read that by the second part of the month, things should be relatively back to business. Relatively.

Our local bakery and morning breakfast stop (more on that in another post) re-opened this week, as did a restaurant on our street and our current favorite wine bar. But all of the galleries, and numerous other boutiques and restaurants are ferme. If you are lucky, they will post something on their website, or at least leave a sign at the door to disappoint you once you arrive. Or, in the case of the wine bar at the end of the street (which, of course, is supposed to be awesome), they keep it shuttered with no information in situ or online. We keep watching it for signs of life...

The cheese is alive!

The cheese here is over the top, ubiquitous and provided at every meal. The locally produced version is wet and milky, served in a bowl, and doused with herbs. It all tastes different, with an unctuousness and a tartness that you don't find in even artisan-produced US cheeses.

The cheese here is alive. It reminds me of a radio show interview with a French chef in which he was bemoaning the way Americans treat cheese, hermetically sealing it in plastic, relegating it to a too-cold refrigerator. "In France," he said, the cheese is alive. We leave it on the counter to breathe and grow." And enjoy, although I may need to take a cheese break when I get home.

Les Halles

We spent a good couple of hours at the gourmet market Les Halles de Lyon, marveling at the culinary delights, picking up provisions, and eating lunch. Primarily made up of charcuteries, fromageries, and patisseries, it is missing some of the mess and chaos of the fish, raw meat, and veggie stands of other markets in Europe. But it provides a lovely tribute to all the great prepared foods of Lyon.

Time to Eat Again Already?

It is seemingly always time to eat. Karen found this great little non-traditional bouchon run by a couple of Japanese imports. They make a serious homage to Lyon's culinary traditions, but with some subtle Japanese ingredients and techniques.

First up: Karen's lightly smoked salmon with tomatoes, beets and artichokes. I went for the cold mussels in a mussel broth, mushroom and cream reduction. Superb. For the mains, Karen had this perfectly cooked piece of white fish that stood atop the most vibrantly colored beet emulsion. Steak carpaccio for me, because sometimes I like to take a break from the blood sausage and enjoy the raw beef. It was so thinly shaved I swear it only had one side.

Crême brûlée and molten white chocolate cake go without saying, of course.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Make No Sudden Moves

So my brother and I have this running joke. When we visited him in Vegas, something came up about the availability of cheese. I don't know why. I suspect Karen was trying to get her cheese fix. Anyway, the question was posed, "What kinds of cheese are available at the typical buffet/wine bar/restaurant?" The answer was, "All of them." I inquired about lion's milk cheese. I don't think that's a thing, but one rule is certain: you must be very careful when milking the lions.

Going Postal

So I'm wrapping up a project while we're over here, and I needed to overnight my external drive to my video editor--the French Internet is apparently unable to handle 11GB uploads. So we started asking around: "Where is the FedEx office?"

Nonexistent, it seems, in France's second largest city. We asked at the Beaux-Arts Museum (surely they ship things), but they did not know. We asked at the office of city management, but were told they aren't allowed to release that information. We went to the tourist info center, and they didn't know either. So they sent us to the post office, who were very friendly and helpful. I could mail it via French Post, but they could only guarantee sometime in the next 2-6 days. They did provide the address for DHL, however.

Two hours later, I'd walked halfway across Lyon before finding a taxi that would take me to 6 Rue Lertot, out by the tracks. He dropped me off and split. The folks at DHL were quite helpful. But I was stranded in some kind of industrial zone without a ride. So I walked halfway back across the city again before finding another taxi. When I told him where I wanted to go--the square outside our apartment--he asked why I wanted to go there, implying there could only be two reasons: smoking pot or something else I couldn't understand. He replied that it was better that way.

Lyon views

Be my puppet

Musee Gadagne provides two museums in one--one devoted to the history of the town, and one dedicated to the puppets of the world.

Village des Createurs

In the hip Croix Rousse neighborhood, the Village des Createurs is an alley of design, fashion, and jewelry studios. Wallets made of measuring tape? Oui! Coin purses made of basketballs? Mais oui!

Museum of the Resistance

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

French dude with dog, eating dinner and smoking

Last night we dined at Sud, one of the more casual brasseries operated by legendary Lyon culinary figure Paul Boucuse. Apparently it is the place to celebrate birthdays, as during our dinner four different people were feted with music from a giant antique music box and clapping. In the outdoor seating area, this guy spent the entire evening with his dog in his arms, eating and smoking.

Wine bar in the alley

Dramatic costumes

From the Lyon Opera at the Museum of Decorative Art.