Writing: at Elian Poupard’s flat in Ivry, just outside Paris. Just finished a heavenly meal consisting of home‐made (!) bread, five different types of cheese, berries confiture and red wine.
Oh, what a day. What a superb day. I was prepared to fun days, but not to one like this!
The first good thing that happened to me today was the ability to get the f**k out of Luxembourg as soon as theoretically possible according to Einstein’s theory of relativity. I woke up at 9:00am, one hour prior to the TGV’s scheduled departure time, got everything packed within 10 minutes and just fled the scene.
At morning time, Luxembourg wasn’t any prettier than it was last evening. You know, they say Luxembourg’s outskirts are much nicer; I certainly hope so. My advice: if you’re planning on staying in Luxembourg, then at least do it just outside of the city. The Luxembourg‐Gare (central station) area is not the place for you.
A quick sandwich from the same place I had the bad sandwich the day earlier; ate it on my way to the train station. I left early, just to be on the safe side. Boarded the TGV train—very comfortable first‐class seat in a car almost empty of humanoids.
An intense‐looking old man boards right after me and starts talking on the phone in a voice that made me want to learn French just so I could tell him to shut up. You know, of those voices that just penetrate your brain, bypassing all mental filters and at the end stab your brain cells.
The TGV is a French fast train, often reaching speeds of 220 km/h or even more. The ride to Paris took two hours and five minutes, during which I had the chance to finish yesterday’s blog entry.
I have never been to Paris before. Never been to France at all. Actually, lets make it simple: my entire Europe experience prior to this tour included Prague (10 years ago), London, Amsterdam, Delft, two nights in Frankfurt and one day in Brussels. So much to look forward to in Europe in so little time; and Paris was certainly something I was looking forward to experience.
Prior to arriving here, I heard all sorts of stories about the English‐speaking tourist’s life here—all of which sum up to one word: hell. The French people apparently can’t speak English very well, and even those who do—aren’t necessarily happy to speak it anyway. Also, this is a big city and the possibility of getting lost—if you don’t know your way or the French language—are not small.
What else?… oh. Yeah, I heard that people are rude.
What I also heard, though, about Paris—and in fact, about France in general—that these chaps here know their way around food. That alone is enough reason for me to want to be here. While I am a big fan of Italian cuisine (simple and tasty), I was looking forward to attempt something with a French aroma to it.
A few weeks ago, a Knopfler fan who answers the name Elian Poupard contacted me and suggested that I spend the night at his flat in Ivry, just outside Paris. I happily agreed; ever since, we met a few times before & after a few Knopfler concerts so we were no strangers anymore.
We agreed to meet in Paris Est—in English, Paris’ eastern train station—at 12:05pm, the train’s arrival time. The train made it on time and I met Elian on the platform.
From Paris Est, it’s a long 35 minutes subway ride to Ivry, where Elian lives. The subway system in Paris is surprisingly simple comparing to London’s Tube and NYC’s subway; using a simple subway map, it’s hard to get lost in here even if you can’t speak French to save your life.
Arriving at Mairie d’Ivry station, I took the steps to exit the train station and looked around.
Welcome to France!
I was happy to be in France at last; the weather, however, seemed to not be as happy as I was as it was raining—not violently, but adequately annoying—all the time. A parapluie (pluie = rain; parapluie = for the rain = umbrella. Even the word “umbrella” sounds like love‐making) was very much in need, and so Elian and I found ourselves struggling for parapluie space during the 5 minute walk towards his apartment building.
Quickly unloaded everything at Elian’s place and he showed me around. Everything seemed normal until we entered Elian’s temple: a small room, with a desk in it, computer, some shelf space, a sofa… oh, yes, I almost forgot: and fifteen guitars. Two of those guitars are Mark Knopfler’s Signature Stratocasters, one of them personally signed by Mark himself.
Hundreds (I’m not kidding) of CD’s, DVD’s and other sorts of media, including all sorts of music—quite a bit of Knopfler material but lots of other stuff.
Writing: on board the 6:01pm Thalys train from Paris Nord to Köln.
As I was hungry, we started talking about lunch and dinner plans. Elian mentioned that he makes his own bread using a bread maker that he has at home, and asked whether I would like to have some fresh home‐made bread once we’re back from the concert. I looked at him, not quite understanding what’s the purpose of this question. Are you kidding me? Is that even supposed to be a question?!
He then opened up the fridge and started showing me what we’re going to have for a post‐concert meal; all sorts of cheese, some confiture… then pulled a bottle of red wine. Holy smoke, we’re going to have a wine & cheese dinner!
As he started putting whatever the ingredients are into the bread machine, I was sensing something different in the air. I mean, literally. There was this sort of stench… I couldn’t pinpoint what it was. The smell was so offensive, for a minute it felt as if my face is coincidentally located right behind the asses of 14 angus bulls after they had a bad Taco‐Bell chilly meal. And you know the situation… it’s quite impolite to ask.
Elian: “Do you smell the cheese?”
Oh, yes. Another thing I heard about France. The stinkier—the better, that’s what they say. Well, we’ll see about that.
Was still raining outside as we made our way to the metro station. Upon arriving, Elian realized that he forgot his metro pass at home; another 20 minutes delay as he went running back home to fetch it. Down to the metro line and we went towards Trocadero, which is a famous circle in Paris, located across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.
Elian had done some research prior to that, and decided that we should go to a place called Carette, a patisserie (a place specializing in dessert‐type pastries) located right at the very‐touristic area of Trocadero.
So, this patisserie, as you can see, has a roofed terrace in North America, we call these “patio’s”). Parisians appear to like the concept of terraces very much as, of the dozens of restaurants / patisseries / boulangeries I came across—most had terraces. The atmosphere is brilliant and very inviting; not too quiet, not too loud.
You look at people around you and you get a sense of warmth. I can’t understand why some people claim that Paris gives you the sense of estrangement—it certainly doesn’t, at least for me.
Another thing I felt while being in there (as well as the restaurant the day later, which is today) was that the French have a different approach towards eating in a restaurant than North Americans. Of course that there are exception to the rule, but the general difference appears to be this: North Americans go to restaurants in order to eat; the French (and this is true for other parts in Europe) go to restaurants for an experience. The entire process of going out, being seated, being served, talking, sharing laughs, paying and going out—an entire process that the French simply enjoy. In other words, being hungry is not always the sole reason for going out to a restaurant; it’s the experience that counts, and it means a lot.
And you see it not just on clients’ faces; you see it in the staff, too. Being a waiter in such places is a respectable job that is taken seriously, much unlike students working in Boston Pizza who are there for performing (usually; again, exceptions to the rule exist everywhere) the minimum they have to do in order to maintain employment.
[Turning Bitching mode OFF]
Carette are well‐known around the city for their Macaroons; being a restaurant mostly oriented towards desserts, they still had an interesting menu. We both opted for a chicken‐breast sandwich that was served cut into 4 parts, with the most delicious salad I can remember myself laying my tongue around (I believe the raisins made all the difference). To start—of course, some red wine.
Here are some pictures showing Elian’s approach towards good meals.
Don’t judge me by the expression on my face—I was very tired…
Folks, I savoured every minute of this delicious meal. Typically, restaurants in touristic places serve sub‐quality food; if that was sub‐quality, then I’m really interested to see what good quality is. It was a delicious meal. That salad, with the sandwich, washed down by good red wine—all together happening while having a conversation with an extremely interesting & funny Frenchman—absolute bliss.
During lunch, I was determined to learn some French from my knowledgeable companion. One sentence we came across was “Miss, you are very beautiful” which, in French, looks like this:
“Mademoiselle, vous êtes vraiment très belle!”
Simple sentence, yet it took me a few hours (!) of practice in order to get it just right. I feel bad for Elian, as I had to practice this on him. Sorry mate, I had to.
So, as we were having lunch, I was practicing this sentence over and over again. During one of my attempts, just at the instant I said “Mademoiselle”, a gorgeous mademoiselle approached the table right next to us, accompanied by her young daughter. She thought I was talking to her and looked at me—needless to say I did not complete that sentence, however Elian had a good laugh. Instead, I mumbled “excuse moi” or something.
Foot… put into mouth… yes, it fits.
Anyway, a few minutes later the young daughter decided to show us her ukulele:
Sandwich is done… then came the desserts.
Five macaroons, each of a different taste, delicious, with a perfect cappuccino to end. Now that’s what I call a great lunch. Thanks Elian for a great introduction to Paris!
(And sorry, mademoiselle, for that awkward situation)
On a full stomach and with joyful hearts, we decided to make our way back to Elian’s apartment and spend some time there before heading out to the Bercy. Weather was rainy, and I was seeking some peace and quiet rather than going on a tourist walk. 40 minutes or so later, we were back at Elian’s apartment.
Was great to pick an MK Signature Stratocaster again and play. Oh, do I miss playing my guitars & piano… and recording… I envision being locked down in my basement for a few weeks upon returning home.
At around 6:00pm, we made our way towards the Bercy.
The Palais Omnisport de Paris‐Bercy (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palais_Omnisports_de_Paris-Bercy) is located in an area in Paris called Bercy. It is a sports arena, and can seat between 7,000 to 17,000 people, depending on the event.
Was still raining when we arrived there. Nelly, an avid Knopfler fan whose fan‐hood towards Knopfler far, far exceeds mine, was already there. We took a joint photo under one parapluie.
A short chat with Nelly, and a few Knopfler ultra‐fans who are members of AFMK (Association Francophone Mark Knopfler; link here)—a French organization wholly dedicated to Mark Knopfler—who had heard about this little journey I’m doing and decided to introduce themselves—nice to meet you all! Nelly and I then went on to seek the location of Porte 35 where fan‐club ticket pickup was taking place.
Trusting Nelly for navigation has quickly and painfully proved to be disastrous as we literally circled around the Bercy—in the rain!—only to realize later that we were walking one level above the one where the gates are located. At the end, we found it.
The only problem with the markknopfler.com ticket pickup at the Bercy was that it was very, very slow. Normally, markknopfler.com ticket pick‐up takes a few seconds per guest; there were four people at the desk, only one serving the audience. A line‐up started forming outside the gate, people waiting in the rain… very messy. I waited for about 20 minutes for the pickup… don’t know what went wrong.
Floor Y, row 1, seat 1—dead centre, so I was told (in reality, it wasn’t; the seat immediately to my left was; and no, I’m not complaining—just mentioning a fact).
This is a big venue. Also, very nicely laid out—a good change comparing to Luxembourg’s boring Rockhal. Some pictures:
Kate Walsh was the opening act for the concert; after a 30 minutes intermission—just around 9:00pm—the lights went down to the sounds of Feelin’ Good and the concert has started as a band of eight super‐musicians captured the stage.
News break: I have just received a very important email. Apparently, Boston Pizza in Canada is now launching a new menu. That presents a particularly interesting challenge to my ass, as it probably is the only body part of mine that cares. How ironic, to get such an email just a couple of hours after leaving the city offering the best food in the world.
Writing: still on board the Thalys train. One hour to go till we get to Köln, then an hour wait before boarding CityNightLine’s night‐train to Kolding, then Middelfart, Denmark. Talk about a long ride.
Approximately 12,000 (!) people in the audience gave remarkably loud cheers to the band—upon entering the stage, between songs, after songs… you name it. Folks, it was loud. Knopfler appears to have a very strong fan‐base in France; his concerts in Paris are usually sold out, and yesterday’s concert was the only Knopfler concert to take place in Paris this tour. People came excited; and take my word for it, they were.
This concert for me was more about the audience than anything else. By far the loudest audience in a seated venue so far this tour (the fact that there were 12,000 people there might have helped). An awful lot of love was thrown into the air by the audience, which made last night’s concert a mesmerizing experience. Hats off to a great audience.
Mark appears to have at least some basic French skills as he was speaking some French to the audience during the concert.
The sound at the Bercy isn’t known to be perfect but, from the centre of the front row, I couldn’t see what the heck was it that people were talking about. The sound was great and I could have heard almost each and every instrument, in each and every song. Perhaps the sound wasn’t as good at the back… again, the Bercy is a huge venue.
About the music: technically‐speaking, no concert is perfect but some are “better” than others when you only look at precision (or, to be more exact: dissonances. “Precision” isn’t a right word in this context because this entire band tends to improvise so it’s impossible to really predict what it is that they were intending to play). My ear picked a few “mistakes”, but certainly nothing that would ruin any song.
Paris’ concert featured a song that was only played twice (!) before during this tour. After Done with Bonaparte, I realized that the band members were keeping their instruments so I knew what’s coming; turned to Nelly (who was seated next to me) and told her “oh, I know what’s coming, I think you’re going to like it” and as soon as I finished talking, “A Night in Summer Long Ago”—one of my all‐time favourite Knopfler creations—had its introduction notes played by Mike McGoldrick; played before in Vancouver and the second Los Angeles concert, it was a pleasure listening to this masterpiece again.
I believe it was right after Romeo and Juliet when the audience stood up and started cheering a theme that I only heard before in soccer games. I don’t think it has a name—if it does, someone please comment on this post and let me know—but it’s a very common cheering song. Mark and the band appeared to have prepared for this moment, as Mark, Richard, Glenn and Danny accompanied the cheer. Hilarious.
The audience in Paris took the concept of Running of the Bulls to a whole different level as, right before Speedway to Nazareth, people came flocking the front (there was a barrier between the front row and the stage) using significant aggression. As always, Nelly was the first one to charge the stage; she made it to the front, but had to retrace her steps as she lost her camera (I later found it for her; don’t mention it, Nelly, the pleasure is all mine. Oh, that would cost you $100). I had to block my ears once Speedway at Nazareth ended as I wasn’t able to bear such loud cheers.
Other than a perfect Marbletown (as this band appears to produce on a nightly basis), yesterday’s concert included one of the most electrifying performances of Telegraph Road’s outro solo. Try getting your hands on that one, perhaps through the Simfy recordings available for purchase (no, I am not receiving anything for this “promotion”). It was truly remarkable and made me throw limbs at random directions all throughout; luckily nobody got hurt.
Once Telegraph Road has ended and people started giving each other some breathing space during the intermission before the encore, I decided to switch places with Nelly who were two “rows” behind me (don’t mention it either, Nelly. No problem. That’s another $100). I watched the encore behind four or five layers of humans, which didn’t really make the experience any less exciting.
Concert ended at around 11:00pm to the sound of an extremely happy audience. What a blast of a concert!
Left the venue; Arnaud and David—Elian’s friends—both went home and so did Elian and I. Two subway rides instead of one (faster, considering the huge queues that formed at the station) and we were home within an hour.
Loan, Elian’s girlfriend, was already asleep which was a shame as I was looking forward to see her. And… yes, you can imagine… the smell of fresh bread welcomed us oh so joyfully! I took a quick shower while Elian prepared dinner. This is what it looked like:
Elian had a great idea for a meal theme: Wine, cheese and Stratocasters—exactly the three things that make men happy.
Wine, cheese, bread and more cheese were consumed very happily. Along with the berry confiture, that was a delicious, fantastic dinner.
One cannot possibly write a blog entry after consuming such dinner; sleep was very much in order, and so at around 1:30am we bid each other good night and I was off to a wonderful night sleep after a kick‐ass day in Paris, courtesy of this brilliant Frenchman.
Thanks, Elian, for a wonderful day!
Waking up this morning, I found a note from Elian telling me that some breakfast is ready at the dining room. What a great host. I took everything easily—no need to rush—shower, slow & relaxed breakfast… then packed my stuff and went to meet Elian at Le Figaro’s building, right in a particularly exciting area of Paris.
The plan was to have lunch together (so I can have the real experience of an authentic French brasserie; I was definitely looking forward to that), then leave my backpack at Elian’s office and go do some sight‐seeing. The plan was to meet again around 5:00pm so I can take my backpack and make my way to Paris Nord station.
Was great meeting with Elian again. We went to a restaurant called Au Petit Riche, a few minutes walk from Le Figaro’s building.
Right as we entered the place I realized that this place knows its food. It looked, and felt, respectable. Suits were worn by almost all employees in the restaurant; service was simply outstanding… and the food?
Elian ordered escargot as an appetizer. Yes, that’s snails for you. He worked very hard to convince me to try one…
I did. Yes, I ate a snail. It was great. And trust me, I had to overcome so many mental blocks in order to eat that.
I ordered, as an appetizer, something off the menu that, if I recall right, consisted of a cow’s cheek and a calf’s tongue, mixed together with crispy vegetables in between. Sounds awful? maybe it does; it was my first time trying this thing out and it was delightful. That’s what it looked like:
And here’s Elian with the escargot:
Delicious starters—and off to the main meal: sea‐bass fillet for me, and some chicken breast with vegetables somehow inserted into it for Elian.
Here’s another issue with French restaurants: appearance counts, and so are the tiny little details of each and every dish. The sea‐bass you see on the right came with two small sides—olives and something else I couldn’t quite figure out what it was—in a brilliant oily sauce that made every bite feel like heaven.
Desserts followed shortly after (great Tiramisu!). Wine all throughout… and cappuccino at the end. What a lovely meal. Not too filling, not too fat—yet absolutely brilliant.
Took some shots on our way back to Elian’s office:
Elian’s back in his office and I decided to go see what the Champs‐Élysées is all about. Ten minutes on the subway and I arrived at the beginning of the Champs‐Élysées. It makes a beautiful walk, but it’s very busy with cars, tour buses and millions of tourists roaming the streets. Terraces of restaurants, brasseries, boulangeries, (whatever)eries—weather was perfect and everything was so alive.
Returned back to Elian’s building and took my things. Bid this great Frenchman goodbye, and we vowed to get together again before too long.
Hats off to Mr. Elian Poupard for being a great host—thank you Elian for making these 30 hours in Paris so fantastic, and see you again soon!
It started raining as I made my way towards Gare‐du‐Nord. I decided to walk fast rather than taking transit, merely for sports sake. Took me 20 minutes to arrive, sweating but happy, to the train station.
Leaving Paris after just one day is very, very stupid. I really hope to come back to this great city soon; Elian—start doing restaurant research!
Signing off this post on 10:05pm, June 10. I’m at Köln’s Hauptbahnhof; the CityNightLine train service to Kolding departs in 20 minutes; I should arrive to Kolding on 7:28am tomorrow morning, then a short train ride to Middelfart. And if that’s not enough, how about another 1.5km walk to my hotel there.
… And I know, very deep inside, that I am doing this for something worthwhile for myself as well as for others.
See you all in Denmark,