Visit to the Swedish Club

Our group “meet up” at Lili et Riton in Montparnasse

Our group “meet up” at Lili et Riton in Montparnasse

Last week we received an invitation from an acquaintance to go to a mixed French and English group get together at a local Paris cafe, Lili et Riton in Montparnasse. It was followed by a light dinner and jazz music fest at a place called Cercle Suédois (Swedish Club). Brenda and I showed up at the cafe well after the get together had started. Brenda sat down across from me and started speaking in English and French with the man next to her. Another man arrived, still bundled in wool coat, scarf, and hat and sat down next to me.

His name was Didier, and he was most interesting. We had a wide ranging conversation – first me telling him in French about our lives and how we ended up moving to Paris, then him telling me about being a Parisian who moved to paradise, which for him was the west coast of Florida near Naples. He said in passing that his life with women in Florida was thus far a disaster. His French breeding was somehow holding him back. He spoke about nuances of French language – what words you choose and how you present yourself are very important. He noticed that I still had the price sticker on my 2 euro notebook – sign of a person who doesn’t pay attention to appearances. He pointed out that if you say, “je suis à la retraite” (I am retired), people will think you are old and living on a state pension, whereas if you say, “j’ai pris ma retraite” (I have taken my retirement), it conveys that you were able to retire by choice when you were younger. He asked me whether the requirement to be appointed to West Point or the Naval Academy by a Senator or Congressman meant that only the sons and daughters of aristocrats could go to those schools. I assured him that that wasn’t the case. We talked about currency exchange rates. His opinion was that the value of the dollar was largely dependent upon the strength of the US Military. Think about that. When he departed I thanked him and wished him well. He asked me to convey his goodbyes to the others so he wouldn’t have to interrupt their conversations – yet another sign of good breeding in France. After he left, others in the group asked me who he was. Nobody knew him.


Short video of Jazz ensemble at the Cercle Suédois

Enjoying the evening at Circle Suédois with jazz group playing in the background

Enjoying the evening at Circle Suédois with jazz group playing in the background

The group conversation went on some time longer, then we all departed for the Swedish Club, located on the 2nd floor of a building on Rue Rivoli between Place de la Concorde and Place Vendome, one of the tonier neighborhoods in Paris. On Wednesday nights the club has live jazz and serves light fare for dinner, all for a very reasonable price. Our host Frederick helped our group of 10 crowd around a table near the band. The food, conversation, and music were delightful. A grand evening out.

There was something else about the Swedish Club – a door to another room with the label plate “Nobel.” Someone in our group told me that Alfred Nobel used to have an office there where he awarded Nobel prizes. I took a photo of the room (which looked like a dining room) and the label plate. I did some research and found there was much more to the story.

Site of Nobel’s former Paris house on Avenue Raymond Poincaré

I finally found out that Nobel’s Paris house on Avenue Raymond Poincaré had been torn down to build this now famous art nouveau building

Nobel was a very rich Swedish industrialist and entrepreneur. Over his lifetime he became one of the richest men in the world. Though born in Sweden, Noble’s family moved to St Petersburg, Russia, when he was 9. His engineer father moved his business there, invented the rotary lathe used in the manufacture of plywood, and the underwater mine. He also started a profitable factory making explosives in Russia. Alfred and his 3 brothers received a first class education -learning several languages, poetry, chemistry and physics. Because his father wanted him to work in the family business Alfred was sent to Europe and the US for further training in chemical engineering. Alfred met an Italian chemist, Ascanio Sobrero, who invented nitroglycerin, a highly volatile and explosive material. For many years Alfred tested compounds to mix with nitroglycerin in order to make a stable, usable explosive. In 1867, he succeeded, patenting the material under the name dynamite. Yes, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite! The new explosive coupled with other inventions at the time drastically reduced the cost of major construction and could be readily applied to military weapons technology. Nobel became rich and extremely busy founding factories and laboratories in 90 different locations in 20 countries.

Nobel loved Paris. In 1875 he moved there and bought a house at what is today 59 avenue Raymond Poincaré. The original house was completely rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style by a subsequent owner. In 1876 Nobel advertised for a personal secretary, and hired an Austrian woman named Bertha Kinsky. She only worked for him a short time before deciding to return to Austria and marry Count Arthur Von Suttner. In spite of this Alfred Nobel and Bertha von Suttner remained friends and kept writing letters to each other for decades. Over the years Bertha von Suttner became increasingly critical of the arms race. She wrote a famous book, Lay Down Your Arms, and became a prominent figure in the peace movement.

Room where Nobel signed his will

Nobel’s last will and testament was signed in this room at Cercle Suédois

In 1890, Nobel was accused by the French government of treason for selling advanced explosives to Italy. He decided to leave Paris and move to San Remo on the Italian Riviera. In 1895 he returned to Paris, and on November 27th composed his last will and testament before four Swedish witnesses at the Swedish Club in Paris, in the very room where I took the photo. The will was a paragraph just 300 words long. No lawyer was involved. In that document he directed that upon his death all his assets would be converted to cash, invested for a safe return, and the capital would be used to fund annual prizes to those who contributed the most to benefit mankind in the preceding year. The equal shares were to be distributed in following categories: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and the promotion of peace and the fraternity of nations. It is believed that his choice of the last category was influenced by his long relationship with Bertha von Suttner. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1905.

Upon Nobel’s death in 1896, the will specified that his wealth was to be given to a foundation that did not yet exist. His executors, two engineers he trusted, did not know they had been so named. It took the Swedish Academies and the Norwegian Parliament (assigned in the will to grant the various awards) two years of debating before they formed a foundation. Then there were a great many challenges to this will from the governments of France and Sweden, various family members, and academies within Sweden. Eventually all questions were resolved, and in 1901 the first prizes were awarded.

There is also an annual Nobel Prize in Economics, though this was not part of Nobel’s original will. The prize was established in 1968 by a donation from Sweden’s central bank, the Sveriges Riksbank, on the bank’s 300th anniversary. Although it is not one of the prizes that Alfred Nobel established in his will in 1895, it is referred to along with the other Nobel Prizes by the Nobel Foundation. Winners are announced with the other Nobel Prize winners, and receive the award at the same ceremony. In 2001, Nobel’s grand nephew Peter Nobel asked the Bank of Sweden to differentiate this award from the original five categories by declaring it “in Alfred Nobel’s memory”.

And lastly, if you’re in the Naples, FL area and meet a nice French man named Didier, there’s more to him than meets the eye.

Christmas in Paris

Christmas Tree at Notre Dame Cathedral

Christmas Tree at Notre Dame Cathedral

The year is winding down – it’s Christmas time in Paris. We’ve just returned from a couple weeks in the US. I visited my mom and brothers in Illinois, and Brenda visited her mom in Spokane. My brother Chris organized an early Christmas dinner at his house in Pekin, Illinois – we even had some snow. Then we looked at more Christmas lights than most towns have – many many lights. Back in Poulsbo we visited as many friends as we could fit into a weekend and saw lots of Christmas decorations. We also saw the dentist. Now we’re back in Paris and it feels like home.

Perhaps you want to know what Christmas in Paris is like. Our apartment looks pretty Spartan. We have a 6 inch paper Christmas tree with LED lights that flicker like candles and some snow flakes pasted to the window panes. There’s a light strip in the corner that we can turn different colors, and perhaps we can light a bunch of candles to create more atmosphere. I personally don’t know about any presents – maybe some will turn up. Though our apartment decorations may not sound festive, we’ve been doing most of our celebrating outside of our home.

Christmas dinner at La Cuisine

Christmas dinner at La Cuisine

The day after our return from the US, we went to a cooking class to learn to prepare some traditional French Christmas fare – Carpaccio de Saint-Jacques à l’Huile de Truffe, Caille farcie au Foie Gras with Sauce au Porto, Purée de Panais et Poêlée de Champignons Sauvages, and Mousse Chocolat Blanc et Citron Vert with Mangue Rôti and Biscuit Cacao. So that’s sliced scallops, a deboned quail stuffed with foie gras and port reduction sauce, a mixture of wild mushrooms in a sauce and a parsnip puree, and dessert of white chocolate mousse served in a chocolate biscuit with roasted mango. After dinner was prepared, we got to eat it, and was it good! Every event we’ve been to a La Cuisine has been a hit – we always look forward to it.

Buche de Noel cake, a traditional chocolate roll cake for Christmas

Buche de Noel cake, a traditional chocolate roll cake for Christmas

Brenda went back the following day to learn how to make Bûche de Noël, a traditional French chocolate roll cake. The cake included meringue mushrooms as decoration, chocolate génoise for rolling, cherry syrup for soaking, chocolate cream for filling, and chocolate ganache for frosting. She brought her completed cake home, and we just finished eating it. Yum!

Tomorrow we have an invitation to celebrate Christmas Eve with the family of our good friend Catherine, who lives outside the city in Nogent Sur-Marne. She already let us know that we would need to take a cab home early Christmas morning. We are excited to be able to celebrate with her, her husband Jacques, and their family in this normally family only dinner and party.

Paris is a city of neighborhoods, so there isn’t a single downtown area with a mass concentration of decorations. Instead there are many areas with a few streets of decoration clumped together. We’ve put together a photo slide show of some of the decorations we’ve seen over the past month or so.

That’s our Christmas for this year. We hope that wherever you are, you have a happy and wonderful holiday. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Hugh Nelson and Brenda Prowse

See our slide show of Paris Christmas Decorations.

Thanksgiving in Paris

Canard we prepared at La Cuisine

Canard we prepared at La Cuisine

What do the Parisians do on Thanksgiving? Actually this very American holiday hasn’t caught on. There’s a shop called Thanksgiving in the Marais that serves American expatriate needs by providing turkey, cranberries, stuffing, and pies, as well as other American ingredients that are just plain missing in France – things like measuring spoons and brown sugar. This morning Brenda prepared a little speech in French to explain Thanksgiving to the dairy products vendor at our local market-now he knows! Word is spreading.

Here's our dry run cooking the canard at home (earlier this week)

Here’s our dry run cooking the canard at home (earlier this week)

For us, well we aren’t having Turkey this year, though dinde (turkey) is sold at the market. We don’t have an oven so we have to find something different that fits the occasion. On Halloween we went to a cooking school, La Cuisine, and found that the main course from that menu, Magret de Canard with Sauce au Vin, is easily prepared in our little kitchen (even though we have to open the windows and ventilate the apartment during preparation). Along with the main dish, we’re having Chanterelle Mushrooms with Herbs and Pine Nuts, Butternut Squash Gratin with Crème Fresh, Nutmeg, and Compté Cheese, Cranberry Sauce with Red Wine and Figs (Thank you David Lebovitz for the recipe !) Pour les dessert, we’re having a raspberry tort framboise. Our wine is a 2010 Hecht and Bannier Syrah from Minervois, where we were earlier this year with friends from Poulsbo on the Canal du Midi.

For me, I’m thankful to be here and that Brenda is doing the cooking. Happy Thanksgiving from Brenda and Hugh!

Visitors!

We have had quite a few visitors lately. The best part for me and Hugh is that each guest has interests that lead to new explorations and adventures for us. A recent guest whose first ever visit to Paris had a few things on his agenda: visit Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Rodin museum, the Musée d’Orsay, a boat ride under the bridges of the Seine, a visit to the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, dining at the Grand Colbert (the restaurant made famous by the Diane Keaton-Jack Nicholson movie “Something’s Gotta Give”), a cooking class at La Cuisine cooking school, and a modern Architectural walking tour.

Even though our apartment is right next to the Seine, and we walk along it and cross the many bridges with regularity, we had not previously taken a boat ride. We found the hour long trip most enjoyable and now plan to take one at night too. Seeing the historical buildings lining the Seine from the boat perspective was exciting and so much easier than walking! There is a boarding point within a block of our apartment too-how great is that!

The visit to the Rodin museum was a first for us too. The gardens and outdoor and indoor sculptures were awe inspiring. I had not known that “The Thinker” would be mounted high on a pedestal nor that it was so large. Our friend was moved to tears by the sculpture of “The Kiss” which was truly beautiful. The day we visited, a wedding event was being staged in the gardens. We wished we could be guests for that enchanting event.

I organized a special private Louvre Tour through an excellent tour company, Paris Walks. Even though Hugh and I had a previous Louvre Tour, this one was even better. Our guide was passionate about art history and because we were so interested and she was having such a wonderful time our tour was extended almost an hour. Having a guide for the Louvre in my opinion is a must- it is just too overwhelming to do on your own. With a guide you can skip the waiting lines, go directly to the best areas and get an extensive history lesson.

Musée d’Orsay is a magical place. Just being inside the bulding and seeing the light stream through the high celings gives me a euphoric feeling. Then there is the artwork-Monet, Van Gogh, Gaugin just a few favorites, the art nouveau furniture, the sculptures, the dining area. I am so happy visitors want to experience this museum.

Cooking class is a blast! La Cuisine is a wonderful small cooking school only about half a mile north of our apartment. It offers a myriad of classes from cutting up a whole chicken and using all the parts to create a divine dinner (french onion soup with broth from the carcass, ailles de poulets from the wings, paupiettes de volaille-pounded flattened chicken breasts stuffed with herbes and mushrooms,) to making the perfect french baugette, or shopping at the local market for the best ingredients to make a sumptuous lunch. Our recent guest put the baugette making class high up on the enjoyment list.

Another new discovery for me and Hugh was made on the Modern Architecture Walk sponsored by Paris Walks. The Arab World Institute, which is less than half a mile east of our apartment, has a world class view of Paris from atop the sun terrace, and it is a free elevator ride to the top. While climbing to the top of Notre Dame can’t be beat, the Arab Institue elevator is a wonderful device ensuring that less nimble guests can view Paris from above. The walking tour also led us past the ebullient Frank Gehry cinematique, the controversial National Library which is designed like four open books, the brand new Cité de la Mode (les Docks) and the stunning Simone de Beauvoir footbridge.

Another dear friend arrived in Paris today. We will have many different experiences as she loves gardens!

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Le 6 Paul Bert-Hugh’s Birthday Dinner!

I subscribe to a blog written by David Lebovitz, chef and author of The Sweet Life in Paris. Because of David’s review of a new Paris restaurant, Le 6 Paul Bert, Hugh and I celebrated Hugh’s 62nd birthday there. Owner, Bertrand Auboyneau also owns another bistro, also called Le Paul Bert and a fish house, Ecallier de Bistro.

We had a wonderful evening! What we liked best about this small galley shaped restaurant is that our table was at the end right next to the stainless steel kitchen where we could watch Canadian chef, Louis-Phillipe and his assistant prepare the small “plats” of over 30 different savory dishes from which we chose. It was exciting to watch and seemed effortless-though we know that a great deal of labor went into the delectable creations. For 38€ (euros) each, we could chose 3 of the plats and have dessert. Wine of course was extra. Our waiter was very patient with our rudimentary (but improving!) French and kindly recommended just the right wine to accompany the superb meal. I love that the portions are small and that there are so many choices. Not many Parisian restaurants are like this.

Another highlight of the evening was watching the glow on the face of the kitchen helper when chef Louis-Phillipe ran over and high fived him. Mr. Hugh had a most indelible birthday. His choice of the chocolate ganache dessert with the additional crumbles of crunchy darker chocolate and dollops of a piquant creamy strawberry sauce created his look of diverted wonder.

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Lauren Meyer bonne journée

Hugh, Lauren, and Brenda at dinner at Le Reminet

Hugh, Lauren, and Brenda at dinner at Le Reminet

Late in March we had the opportunity to have dinner here in Paris with Lauren Meyer. She works for a company on Bainbridge Island planning tours like the ones you might receive from your alma mater, “Join us for a 2 weeks on the French Riviera!” or something like that. She said that the Naval Academy and Georgia Tech, both of which send Hugh mailings with these types of travel opportunities, are clients of her company. Lauren was in France doing some advance planning for one of these trips (she was working the whole time), but was able to take a break her last night in town and have dinner with us at Le Reminet, a local restaurant about 50 yards down the street from our apartment. Unfortunately husband Greg didn’t get to make the trip. She sent us a nice note after returning home:

Hi Brenda and Monsieur Ewg,

I am filled with memories of a fun, relaxing evening surrounded by two lovely people in a beautiful room with stone walls and warm light.  Thank you so much for the delicious dinner in Paris. It is tops on the list of moments I enjoyed on my trip to France.  Your home away from home is lovely. I hope you get hours of curling up in that “book nook” with the world’s best view.

Thank you Lauren for taking time from your busy schedule to spend time with us.

Just goes to show that it’s not all work and no play if you have a chance to visit us in Paris.

Street side crèpes!

Creparie artisan in the Marais

Crèperie artisan in the Marais

Oui! There really are crèperies with windows opening onto the street so you can walk right up, order, pay then continue on your way while enjoying a delicious snack. In the Marais, a lively neighborhood within half a mile of our apartment, this delightful frenchman sings and jokes while preparing your crèpe. You can have sweet (sucre) or one filled with chicken, egg, ham and or fromage. (cheese)

Dinner at Le Petit Bofinger

Back when we were still living in Vincennes, Brenda and I had picked out a restaurant that we wanted to try called “L’Hedonist“. One night we set out to show up early and beat the rush, only to discover that l’Hedonist was closed. We found ourselves wandering around Vincennes with no idea where to eat. After checking a few places and falling into that rut of indecision, suddenly Brenda thought of Yelp, which it turns out works just as well in Paris as in the US. A few minutes later I had located Le Petit Bofinger, a 4 star plus restaurant a few blocks away. Perhaps you recall the Steve Martin movie Bowfinger or are familiar with the German economist Peter Bofinger–well, this restaurant wasn’t about them, though the resemblance of the name to the movie title was probably why I immediately announced that we were going there.

It was just 7:30pm, and we were about the first to show up. Our waiter greeted us at the door and took our coats, then showed us to our table. He proceeded to help us in every way, taking our orders and suggesting a glass of wine to go with our appetizer and dinner and then an after dinner aperitif made from prunes, if I understood correctly, to go with dessert – boy was that good. Brenda thought the prune nectar tasted a bit like fire water. Turns out that Le Petit Bofinger [bowfeegyeh] is the smaller affiliate of Brasserie Bofinger in the Bastille, established in 1864 and billed as the “the most Alsatian Parisian Brasserie” and the most beautiful brasserie in Paris. Within an hour of our arrival the place was packed.

Dinner was wonderful, as good as we’ve had anywhere – I’ll let the photos do the talking. The service was absolutely perfect. L’Hedonist is still on our radar – we’ll let you know.

 

 

What is Picard?

A Picard store from the outside. Looks like they sell auto parts.

A Picard store from the outside. Looks like they sell auto parts.

I have been walking past this shop for over a week and cannot figure out what it is. There are people inside bending over containers but from the street I cannot see what Is in them. The place is all white walls, floors, even the bins into which people are peering. The lighting is bright white fluorescent. Near the front door is a flyer with a photo of heart shaped cookies being dipped into chocolate so I surmise that this is a specialty dessert shop. In we go and guess what? Everything in Picard is frozen! Every white bin is a freezer loaded with pricy, frozen food. Organic vegetables in wine sauce, shrimp and fish and pastas, mangos, strawberries, milk, butter, whole dinners all conveniently ready to defrost and eat. What a cool (literally) place.

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Brasserie Gallopin à Paris 75002

Hugh, Jeff, Brenda, Carrie in front of Gallopin

Hugh, Jeff, Brenda, Carrie in front of Gallopin

Last night we met long time Bainbridge and Poulsbo residents (now of Port Ludlow) Jeff and Carrie Goller for dinner at Brasserie Gallopin. It was wonderful. We met at the Hotel Scribe where they were staying and walked the 10 blocks or so to the restaurant, including past the Paris Opera, which was ablaze in light.

We all ordered the fixed price 3 course dinner with appetizer, entrée, and dessert. We each had 4 choices for each course, so between us we were able order practically everything and discreetly share. Our waiter helped us to select an excellent bottle of wine, and the service was in every way wonderful, plus they bailed us out with an English version of the menu. Check out the link below to see more about the historic restaurant and menu, as well as the beautiful classic interior of the restaurant.

At our table as the main course was being served

At our table as the main course was being served

Jeff and Carrie let us know they were coming to France on vacation. It was so great to see them and spend some time together in Paris. Back home they operate Goller Grade and Gravel, and Carrie is also a well known local artist.

Pictured are two of the main courses. risotto cremeaux de coguillages de Saint-Jacques aux herbs fine (scallops on a bed of risotto) and cuisse de canard rotie, reduction au cassis, endive braisée (roast duck with braised endive.)

Scallops on a bed of rice

Risotto cremeaux de coguillages de Saint-Jacques aux herbs fine (scallops on a bed of risotto)

We voted Carrie’s, appetizer, ballottine de foie gras de canard au Lillet, chutney fruits secs (duck pate) the best of the 4 appetizers. Jeff hoarded the moelleux au chocolate “Gainduja” Vairhona with glace vanille dessert, Hugh and Carrie had Far

Duck

Cuisse de canard rotie, reduction au cassis, endive braisée (roast duck with braised endive.)

Breton aux pomes Royale Gala, caramel epicé which was fabulous and Brenda had Selection de Fromages.

We noted that diners were arriving to eat dinner as late as 11 PM-just as we were finishing our espresso.

Brasserie Gallopin à Paris 75002 – Negociants Paris / Lyon.