Monday, 26 May 2014

Campo de' Fiori Market & Regola Neighborhood

The Campo de' Fiori farmers' market is just a short 5-minute walk from the GustoLab. This market forms the heart of an extremely important culinary district in Rome (basically the entire neighborhood of Regola along the banks of the Tyburn River). I did not realize how important this neighborhood was to Rome's well-established high-end restaurant & slow food movement scene until I took an "Eating Out" tour of Rome with one of my professors. He opened our eyes to a hidden foodie community -- one driven by some of the most prominent food entrepreneurs in all of Italy. The things is, you would never realize that the people walking along the side streets with you were actually food pioneers!

Anyway, the very first stop on our tour was the Campo de' Fiori market. My first thought upon seeing this vibrant market was that is had to be one for tourists. It was just too picturesque. But, our professors explained that many chefs in the neighborhood shop at this market for their fresh produce. We actually witnessed this in the flesh upon visiting a new artisinal gelato place called Carapina. The owner, Simone Bonini, came walking back in with a handful of nectarines from the market. His assistant started chopping them up to add as a fresh fruit topping.

Interested in exploring our academic neighborhood more fully, my flatmates and I decided to have dinner at Roscioli's - an artisan food shop/restaurant that is supposed to have the best Carbonara sauce in Rome. Actually, our professor (who is a major food writer in Italy) wrote the article that helped put this place on the foodie world map. We are all foodies (obviously) and are more than willing to pass dishes around the table to share. We opted to order a soft cheese plate to start and 4 main courses: lamb, pork sausage, sea bass, and the pasta Carbonara. I think the Carbonara stole the show. The sauce was so rich and golden. I love the combination of egg and Parmesan with al dente spaghetti. There is just something about having to slow down and chew your pasta that I love! The experience of eating becomes so much more tactile-oriented. The sea bass was also delicious -- primarily because it was so fresh.

Roscioli's was also a pioneer in the artisan shop-restaurant model. The combination of cafe and specialty supermarket was unheard of in Rome 10-15 years ago. Now, these hybrid food spaces are all the rage (as is the case with the behemoth gourmet grocery store, EATaly).

Sunday, 25 May 2014

First Full Day in Rome (a short recollection)


On my first full day in Rome (this past Tuesday), we headed to the GustoLab Institute where our classes our held. The 40 minute walk through the historic heart of Rome was charming and included beautiful views like the ones above.

As part of a our "ice breaker" activities, we took a walking tour of the city and partook in a Scavenger hunt that took us around to many of the historic monuments in the city.

Just like Amelie...

Anyone who has studied French in high school or college is familiar with the movie Amelie - an adorable motion picture about the life of a strange, yet kind girl living in Monmartre. The movie features some of the most intimate scenes of this quirky neighborhood in the very north of Paris. After the movie, the sights featured in the film have become very popular tourist destinations. So, I decided to venture northward to enjoy this part of the city.

Before doing so, I headed back to the 16th to have lunch with a fellow Yalie at her lovely apartment. Marilyn was a wonderful host and an excellent cook. Believe it or not, we actually had homemade Indian curry and it was delightful! I picked up some pastries from my local bakery for us to share - they were wonderful as well.

Before I knew it, I was rocketing on the Metro Line 2 toward Monmartre. Once I got my bearings, I made my way up to one of the most iconic sights in the city: Sacre Coeur.

Lucky for me, a mass was being held and I was able to enjoy the choir as I walked through the church. It was actually quite beautiful and something I was hoping to witness while in Paris. After seeing the church and enjoying the panoramic view of Paris, I walked around the neighborhood. Interestingly, there are still signs of the various public markets that used to be a staple part of many Parisian neighborhoods. You'll note in the image below that one of these markets was turned into a museum:

After exploring a bit, I made my way to one of the oldest cemeteries in Paris - the one where famous authors and artists are buried (and the one that inspired the scenes in Phantom of the Opera, I think).

I didn't stay too long because the sun was beating down on me at that point in the afternoon. As a side note, I found it really interesting that they had built and overpass through the heart of this historic place. For some reason, I found the blue overpass a bizarre compliment to the stone tombstones.

On my way back to the Metro, I stumbled across the Moulin Rouge - tourist trap extraordinaire! But, I'm still glad I saw the facade, at least.

Jessica's Perfect Day in the 1st

My friend Jessica (who I met while living in New Orleans) is a post-colonial French historian. So, she has had the great fortune to live on and off in Paris throughout her PhD to conduct research. She also had the great fortune of calling the Les Halles neighborhood home. As I've mentioned before, Les Halles was right in the center of the 1st arrondissement (e.g. the historic heart of Paris). Before I left for Paris, I asked Jessica for some recommendations of things to do in Paris. She shared some wonderful recommendations with me and over the course of my stay in Paris, I tried to complete Jessica's list which included walking through les passages in Paris. These are covered walkways with restaurants, boutiques, bakeries, and other little odds and ends shops. They are really fun for people watching. Here is one I stumbled across on my way to the National Library one day:

I also have a tendency to walk into any church that I pass by. The one bordering Les Halles is Saint-Eustache (a huge Gothic wonder). Interestingly, there was an altar dedicated to St. Joseph inside the church. This alter included a wood carving of market vendors. This caught me off guard because I normally associate St. Joseph with New Orleans and the Sicilian tradition of crafting elaborate food alters for St. Joseph's Day. I want to read up a bit more on the French connection to St. Joseph and trace the similarities/differences between the ways in which Italians and French people venerate this particular saint. I don't think it is a coincidence that the focus on food/St. Joseph is important to market workers in both locations.

Next stop was Jessica's all-time favorite gelato place. She actually said to me that if she only had an hour in Paris that she would go to this gelato shop! I have to admit, it was the best gelato I had ever had at that point (...I've found some spectacular places in Rome!) I took my cup of gelato to one of the street side tables and people watched as I happily dug into my tiramisu and nutella flavored gelato.

With my belly full, I walked along Rue Montorgueil - one of those classically charming Parisian streets peppered with artisan meat, cheese, and chocolate shops, restaurants, and flower shops. So much fun!

Look at these adorable piggy pastries:

And I thought the pink meringue was just lovely:

Eventually, I made my way home with a pep in my step. It's hard not to be happy when you are in Paris in late spring.

La nuit européenne des musées

If someone were to ask me what one of my best experiences was in Paris, I would definitely say La Nuit européenne des musées (the European Night of Museums). This is a cultural event that happens across Europe every year in May for one night. Most major museums (something like 4,000 in total) open their doors free to the public from 6-midnight. Because most museums charge a 8-15 Euro entrance fee ($12-20), it's actually a pretty sweet deal to participate in this museum night.

When I was in Paris in 2009 with my mom, aunt, and cousin, we tried to go to the Musée d'Orsay, but it was so busy that we decided not to wait in line. This made me so sad considering that this museum hosts one of the most magnificent impressionist painting collections in the world! So, my first stop on La Nuit européenne des musées was this beautiful museum. The museum occupies what used to be a train station right along the Seine river. You can easily recognize the building by its giant clock (pictured below from inside the museum looking out into Paris). Yes, the woman walking across the frame of my picture is wearing a red baret (sadly, she is not a Parisian, but an American tourist).

The Musée d'Orsay was wonderful!!! The first exhibit I walked into was one featuring Toulouse Lautrec paintings. When I think of Lautrec, I think of the Moulin Rouge and large dance scenes with women cast in eery green and red floor this painting:

Almost immediately after that, I made my way up to the top floor to see the impressionist gallery. FABULOUS! Renoir is my absolutely favorite impressionist. I have this visceral reaction to his paintings - normally a chill runs down my spine. I just find their soft brush strokes, whimsical colors, and general composition so pleasing. He is such a master of capturing light as well - particularly the ways in which light pools in the folds of rich fabrics. I am a big fan of this painting of two girls at a piano:

A few other paintings that stole my breath include:

More Renoir:


Then, I made my way to a special exhibition on Van Gogh's institutionalization, The Man Suicided by Society. The exhibit talked about Van Gogh's transformation in the mental institution and the societal pressures that induced his mental illness. Aside from this intriguing history, I also got to see some magnificent masterpieces.

Eventually, I pulled myself away from the impressionists and explores some of the post-impressionist paintings, which were just as stunning. Then, I left the museum and made my way to the Petit palais to see the Paris 1900 Exhibit. But, the line was too long, that I decided to head over to the Musée d'Orangerie instead. This was quite fortunate as I got to see Monet's water lilies and another museum full of wonderful impressionist and post-impressionist paintings! The walk through the Tuileries at sunset was stunning (as expected). AND the expansive water lily paintings were just so awe-inspiring.

After the Musée d'Orangerie, I made my way back to the Petit palais hoping that the line would have subsided by 10:30 pm or so. No such luck. So, it was on to the Louvre! (Below you'll see the Musée d'Orsay clock from the street):

By the time I got to the Louvre, I was so exhausted that I sort of was just roaming about hoping that I would stumble across some masterpiece...and I did! Found the Mona Lisa and many other famous paintings/sculptures etc.

Around 11:30 pm, I was desperate to escape the Louvre. But, it's so expansive and I was so tired that I had trouble navigating the "this way to exit" signs. At one point (I think I was in some classical statue gallery), I stumbled across this sculpture of a baby in duress. I felt like that baby. I just wanted out! Eventually, I found my way back to the central information desk and to the metro (after a few more false turns).

Overall, the night was magical. Walking along the Seine, watching the sunset, observing Parisians and tourists alike soak in the early summer was just really refreshing to see that amount of happiness/appreciation in one place.

Eiffel Tower and the 16th

The world gets smaller and smaller, I swear. When I was in Paris with Elah, we went out for coffee with a friend of hers. His name is Justin and he graduated Yale 2010 as well. During the course of our conversation, we someone figured out that Justin and I had a mutual friend Margaret (who went to high school with me at Upper St. Clair). Not only do we have this mutual friend, but she also lives in Paris! We were not able to meet up that weekend, but I planned to see her when I made my way back to Paris in a few weeks.

Before I knew it, I was back in Paris on my way to have an aperitifs dinner party with Margaret, Justin, and his house guest. Margaret is staying with her aunt and uncle who live in a beautiful, upper/upper middle class part of Paris -- the 16th arrondissement. This part of Paris reminds me of the scenes depicting Julia Child's life in Paris in Julie and Julia (2009):

Lucky for me, Metro Line 6 passes right by the Eiffel Tower on the way to the 16th. Naturally, I took a little side trip to experience one of the best views of the tower from across the Seine river.

Eventually, I made my way up Victor Hugo Avenue towards Margaret's place. It was a truly stunning apartment in the heart of the 16th with vaulted ceilings, hardwood floors, and expansive kitchen, and just a lovely, warm environment. We had quite the eclectic spread for dinner: American-style nachos, hummus, bubuganoush, baguette, strawberries, red and white wine, berry tart etc. The conversation was as dynamic as the food offerings -- ranging from travel to French politics to living as an American in Paris. At one point, we moved out onto the 5th floor terrace to watch the sunset.

Margaret shared some interesting facts about the re-structuring of Paris in the mid/late 19th century. See some more info on the master architect, Haussmann's vision. At this time, most of Paris was deconstructed and rebuilt with the uniform, stone-front facades we know today. Many of the apartment buildings in Paris follow a certain 7-floor architectural plan. According to Margaret, the ground floor of apartment buildings were meant to house various commercial institution and the owner's/operators of those stores lived on the floor directly above. Of the apartments in these commercial-residential buildings, the second floor apartments were the most modest. Interestingly, the third floor apartment was considered the most prized. You'll note that these apartments have the largest windows, highest ceilings etc. They were considered far away enough from the street to not "dirty" wealthy people's lives with the daily goings-on of the street below, but they didn't have to walk up several flights of stairs to get to them. The 4th and 5th floors were comfortable living spaces with slightly smaller windows and lower ceilings. The 6th floor was almost equal in stature to the sophisticated 3rd floor apartments (and had a great view to boot). Last, but not least, the 7th floor with its large dormers were servants quarters and had separate entrances and staircases. In the last few decades, Parisian families have begun reclaiming the servants quarters as hip places to raise families. So interesting!

After our dinner party, I made my way back to the Eiffel Tower to catch a glimpse of this beautiful structure at night. I was hoping to see the light show that goes off every half our or so, but I didn't catch it in time. However, something better happened. A gorgeous pseudo-harvest moon (e.g. red moon that rises in autumn. I call it pseudo because this happened in spring) began rising up over the horizon. The picture below does not do this moment any justice, unfortunately. The moon was huge and mesmerizing. Everyone watched it creep up along the left side of the Eiffel Tower. Beautiful!

And...heere is a youtube video of what that light show looks like when you do catch it: