Although I’ve been back in Rome for a week now and settling into some semblance of a daily routine, I’m slowly transcribing the scribbled notes from my notebook and posting them here. I’ve combined the posts for Sarlat (a small medieval town in France’s Dordogne region) and Paris into one, primarily because I spent a good chunk of my time in Paris shopping (which makes for an exciting wardrobe but a less exciting blog post) and moving from patisserie to patisserie (and there are only so many ways I can describe a croissant, no matter how excellent).
Saturday morning in Sarlat is market day, and because there are few things I enjoy more than an early-morning browse through a good farmers’ market, I set out in the morning with an empty stomach and high expectations.
In many European cities, farmers’ markets are constrained to specific streets, piazzas, squares, or otherwise defined areas, with a relatively linear design and clear start and end points that make it easy to eat your way from one end to the other without much confusion. In Sarlat, though, the market takes over the entire town. The streets are flanked with table after table selling sausages, fois gras, nuts, wine and other regional specialities, and the smell of meat – duck confit, roasted goose – lurks around every corner and lingers at the end of each narrow street.
After looping through the market several times, I return to the bed and breakfast with a baguette under my arm, a wild boar sausage that promptly saturates the air in the room with a rich, almost woody smell that I find tantalizing and my mom finds repulsive, and a delicate slice of comté cheese wrapped carefully in several layers of patterned tissue paper.
Just when I had allowed myself to believe that Sarlat was home to fewer lecherous, creepy men than other French or Italian towns, the ultimate, most archetypical creep, the kind of creep that you might expect to find in a movie or a novel but certainly not in real life, rears his well-coiffed head at a sidewalk café – the same sidewalk café, in fact, where I had just sat down, flipped open my notebook, and ordered a late afternoon glass of wine.
Even before I look up I can sense his eyes boring into me, and a few seconds later he makes his approach, sidling up to the table next to me and then edging his chair closer, closer. He gestures to my notebook and then to himself before leaning in and announcing that he is a poet d’amour – a love poet – and then smiling in a self-satisfied way as though expecting me to immediately swoon at his feet. He tosses his espresso back in one quick motion, then leans even closer. “That means, you know, that I am good with the love. I know my way around l’amour.”
I gulp down the rest of my wine in record time.
One day, we hire a cab to drive us to nearby Baynac, another medieval town in the Dordogne region that happens to have its own castle perched on the edge of a cliff. We manage to choose the only rainy day in the entire week for this trip, but the heavy rain clouds do add a certain sense of drama to the castle, especially when a flock of crows streams overhead. Inside the castle it’s dark and cool and exactly as you’d picture an authentic medieval castle to be. There are swords and long spiralling staircases and rooms with fireplaces nearly large enough for an adult to stand up in, and a certain sinister feeling can be felt lingering in the air – or, at least it can until another tour group makes their way through the castle, cameras held aloft and voices echoing.
It takes two trains to go from Sarlat to Paris: First, the slow train, which seems to spend more time pulling into and out of a million different stations than it does actually travelling at any decent speed, and then the TGV, which skims through the French countryside much more efficiently. Still, the TGV takes three hours to reach Paris, and three hours is a long time to spend in a pre-assigned seat across the aisle from a French child preoccupied with throwing her blanket and babbling incessantly at top volume.
In Parisian clothing shops, there is rarely a mirror inside of the fitting room. This ensures that you have to venture outside to see yourself in a larger, communal mirror, and while doing so, to seek approval from the sales girls, who will stand off to the side with their hand on their hips and their lips pursed in silent judgement as they watch you twist and turn in front of the mirror to examine your backside in a pair of tomato red jeans or a slinky silk skirt. Their faces hold only the slightest hint of approval or disapproval. When you purchase something, they spend several minutes carefully wrapping it in tissue as though it were the most delicate piece of jewellery on earth, spritzing it lightly with perfume and slipping it almost reverently into a bag. The whole process is neither efficient nor fast, but when you actually emerge from a Parisian clothing shop with a shopping bag in hand, you feel more of a sense of accomplishment than the act of shopping would normally command.
At the dinner table next to ours, a middle-aged couple were seated. She had small, suspicious eyes and a nose like a balloon; he had unremarkable eyes but a nose like a hawk’s beak, long and narrow and sharp. They ordered matching appetizers and main courses and then fell into a heavy silence, which they broke only after shooting dissatisfied glances towards our table (I’m not sure whether they were more perturbed by the fact that I had ordered salad for a main course or by the way I was attempting to wrangle the lettuce leaves onto my fork, or perhaps just by the fact that I was speaking English). Every few minutes they would glare in our direction, lean in close towards the table, and whisper in rapid-fire French for several minutes before leaning back, shooting another round of suspicious glances towards our table, and then stabbing a fork forcefully into a confit duck leg or a bed of roast potatoes.
There is a metro line that runs through both St. Germain and Montmartre, or, more specifically, that runs through the neighbourhood of the apartment we’re renting and almost directly to my favourite boulangerie in the entire city, which happens to be in Montmartre. The thing about bakeries in Paris is that they’re almost all excellent, so using the Metro to shuttle across the entire city with no purpose other than buying a few pastries seems slightly ridiculous. That is, until you taste these pastries for yourself. I order two – a long, thin multilayered strip of croissant dough slathered with more butter and then folded back and forth over chocolate pieces, and a pain aux raisans, oozing just the slightest amount of custard and dotted liberally with plump raisins. The pastries are still warm, and I transport them back down to the Metro, back through to St. Germain as though they’re previous cargo – one hand holding the bag shut, one hand cradled underneath, nose positioned to inhale the little wafts of doughy, buttery bliss that escape from the bag every time its moved.
View more photos from Sarlat on my Facebook. There aren’t any from Paris though – since I’ve spent quite a bit of time there before, I wanted to focus on soaking up the atmosphere rather than toting around a camera.