Wednesday, 24 November 2010

10 seconds of pleasure

The myth of the macoron was exploded today.Perhaps you have sampled one of these biscuits? They should not be confused with macaroons, those sickly coconut and jam cakes found in English cake shops once upon a time and a tea time standby.
No, the macoron is a highly coloured merinque fancy-2 discs about the size of a 50 pence piece sandwiched together by a cream (ganache), often elegantly boxed or sold wrapped in tubes, and available at 1 euro plus a piece in patisseries all over Paris, throughout France and thereafter the rest of the world. The birthplace of this delicacy is said to be Ladurée, at 16 Rue Royale, 75008 (Metro Concorde). It was here that it was invented by a distant cousin of the shop owner in the early 20th Century and sold in its original flavours of chocolate, almond, vanilla and coffee. The shop itself is a Baroque confection of gold, palest green and pink - an instantly memorable house style which has translated to 7 boutiques in Tokyo alone not to mention elsewhere in the world - Dubai, London (Burlington Arcade), New York and so on. Its products are much imitated creating a kind of macoron mania with intense competition to develop new and eagerly awaited flavour sensations -lime/basil, cassis and the very popular caramel with beurre salé for example - or colours which match the season's fashions and even a newly devised Macoron Day on 20th March. A marketing man's dream then - and this is just what it is.
Made from a finely ground paste of almonds, egg white and sugar, the macoron was also the answer to the patissier's prayer. Unlike other confections, it has a shelf - life of more than one day and must be kept at least overnight in the fridge to develop that distinctive crunchy texture, followed by the soft taste of the cream, which gives that sought after 10 seconds of pleasure. Boxed up and ready to go, these are at last patisserie which keep for several days, travel well and have as a result taken Paris and the rest of the world by storm. A Parisian tradition maybe now but only recently - it was Pierre Hermé, a pastry chef who left Fauchon for the small Ladurée shop in the 1990s - who kick started la folie. He has his own website and products now. Coach loads of tourists join other tasters at Ladurées 3 shops here each day.
Me? - belief it, or not, I prefer the scone.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Trips sur le trottoir

Remember that lovely image of the relaxed flaneur walking the boulevards of Paris without purpose? He (or she) is observing the gentle rythmns of life, admiring the elegant buildings and gazing with interest and wonder at the extragant and gorgeous creations of couture and confection changed weekly, or even daily, by talented shop assistants? A leisurely stroll between pavement cafes, perhaps? Well, forget it - walking the streets of Paris today is a nightmare. Officially, 16 pedestrians were killed last year (3 times the number of cyclists) and the numbers of wounded are not easily found. Pedestrians are the bottom of the going places transport heap.
Pavement hazards? Dog mess is the smallest of them. Paris may no longer be 'dog mess capital of the world' thanks to the clean up efforts of the green councillor entrusted by Delanoe, Mayor of Paris, or due instead to a declining rate of dog ownership in the city - believe what you will. Frankly, the streets were cleaner 20 years ago under Chirac and his pavement mobiles.
Today's trottoir terrors are far worse.
Should you choose to use them, or just give in and go everywhere by Metro (reasonably priced by London standards), you can expect to navigate your way along pavements through the large green and yellow municipal rubbish bins which block the narrowest of thoroughfares. When you do finally make it back on to the pavement you are likely to be run down by a cyclist tearing along it at breakneck speed with, or without, headphones. That last point only is age related. People of maturer years, those that you might think would have more consideration, desire to abide by the law or simply insight into the plight of the pedestrian, couldn't care less either. The arrival of the celebrated Velibs, meaning 'cycle freedom', has created a free for all on the pavements. Yes, there are cycle lanes expensively created but why use them when you can have licence to weave through pedestrians on the narrowest of crowded pavements, cycle on station platforms, through parks, in the elegant pedestrian corridors of the Palais Royale and even into oncoming crowds on pedestrian crossings?
Remember, pedestrians, cycles are king - but worry more about motobikes. These are the real menace on the pavements of Paris. Massed ranks of parked motorbikes are problem enough on every pavement but the moving ones are worse. Pavements are freely regarded as new by ways for motorbikes. Want to avoid a traffic jam, go up up a one way street in the opposite direction or simply get the length of the street to park your machine (your tyres are more important than people), then mount the pavement and carry on. Who cares after all?
Lastly, dear challenged foot folk, a word about crossing the road. Yes, there is a little green man which is visible sometimes if a lorry or coach has not parked on the crossing and obscured it. In theory, this means pedestrians have priority to cross the road safely. In practice, this means that cyclists are not required to stop, that motorcyclists won't stop and, if you are lucky, cars might. Bonne chance, good luck, may the force be with you. You have been warned!


Bonjour à tous!
and dear Anglophones you will get nowhere here fast is you are not prepared to greet people - shop keepers, people you pass on the stairs, those from whom you seek information and, if you are really trying hard, whoever you are sitting up against in a cafe, restaurant or train.
Dear Brits - remember the Visa card TV advert? Two and a half hours by Eurostar capital to capital or a short expanse of Channel separate two completely different cultures. Prepare to forget your inbuilt concept of personal space - you know, the one you were born with - try not to be offended if someone walks diagonally across you in the street or blocks your path as you try to cross the road at a narrow junction because they want to chat to a group of friends. Women of Britain, Frenchmen come first and would have taken your place on the lifeboats of the Titanic without a second glance - so don't be surprised if they don't offer that elderly lady their seat on the Metro or hold open a door. La politesse is different here - so just be assertive and remember to say 'pardon'. Forget that simmering sense of injustice you feel in England when you sense that someone is being impolite. Everyone is equal here after all.
Likewise, you know already that demonstrations of affection are quite open here. Prepare to see girlfriends or mothers and daughters of all ages walking slowly along arm in arm on the narrowest of pavements, or men in suits affectionately greeting each other in public places and lovers openly devouring each other quite openly on the tube. This is Paris after all. Relax, go with it, and save your energies for the important things in life -like how to safely cross the road.