This is how I started almost every day that I was in Paris these past two weeks:
I would go to my local cafe and have a nice little pot of tea with tartine (buttered baguette with jam) and plan my day’s outings with the aid of my outstanding booklet of detailed maps of Paris’ 20 arrondissements, while trying my best to eavesdrop on the colorful regulars. On only my third morning here…
…at Le Nesle brasserie on the tiny dead-end Rue de Nesle in the 6th arrondissement…
…(I never had an evening snack here, only breakfast) the sweet bartender knew that I liked my tea sweet and he automatically put six extra sugar cubes on my saucer. I really enjoyed the crowd at the Nesle (pronounced “Nell” when you’re talking to French people, but pronounced “Nestle” when you’re talking to yourself).
One day the boys were trying to remember the name of the actor who played Columbo on TV. Another day they were talking about how few French people went to the Champs Elysees to watch the President lay a wreath under the Arc de Triomph in honor of VE Day this year:
I like it that street cleaners pop in at Le Nesle for a cup of espresso between rues:
And I really like it when Bobo shows up:
Bobo runs into Le Nesle as if the Le Nesle is THE BEST PLACE EVER FOR A DOG TO BE!!!!!!!! and he sniffs everyone at the bar, accepting Good Morning pats from his fans, and then he follows his owner outside to a table on the sidewalk:
That’s a good place to say Bonjour to friends and neighbors passing by:
It is against the law to smoke inside a cafe in Paris, so smokers have to sit out on the sidewalk…
…which is why I did not sit outside, ever, at any cafe in Paris even thought that meant I missed sitting with Bobo and his human. Also, it was mostly cold and drizzly while I was in Paris and I like to be warm and dry.
Away from Le Nesle, my very top highest Tea Priority was to make a visit to Mariage Freres, the Brothers Mariage, known as the Princes of French Tea, in the 4th arrondissement:
The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervade each cup of tea, worte Henri Mariage, one of the brothers who founded Marriage Freres in 1854.
This shop, at 30-32 Rue de Bourg-Tibourg, is deliberately old-fashioned in its operations as both a tea retailer and as a Salon de The.
The staff, which is young, male, and dressed in white linen suits, gives you a tea-buying experience straight out of the 19th century.
Upstairs, there’s even a little Tea Museum.
The decor of the Marriage Salon de The is totally J. Peterman Colonial…
…with lots of wicker and rattan and palms…
…with the Art Deco clock that says it’s always Tea Time:
The tea menu is eight pages long…
…but I already knew what I wanted:
My pot of Vanille des Isles came with a book about L’Art Francois du The in case I wanted to cram on The French Art of Tea while my Vanilla of the Islands steeped. I got a kick out of the little shovel in the sugar bowl, and the sugar that looked like teeny bits of rock candy. What can I say? I was born in Montana, so some part of me will always be a hick.
The service was very professional, not warm but not condescending either, and nobody reprimanded me with their typically French horror of being photographed in a public place until after I’d already got all the photos I wanted anyway. There are actual laws in France forbidding people to take photos of people in public places without their permission, and I hardly ever ask permission — especially if I think they will say Non. This attitude of mine irritates some French people’s last nerve, which I soothe by apologizing in fluent French while giving them a big dumb American smile. Now, you might be surprised to learn this, but there are some French people who do not give photo-happy American tourists a break because they are just out-and-out snots and I know this for a fact because I had to travel all the way out to the “seedy” 19th arrondissement to bring you this tea story:
This is the boulangerie at 83 Rue de Crimee of award-winning female baker Veronique Mauclerc:
From a review in Elle magazine: This neighborhood boulangerie is killer [awesome]! In particular, their caramel pastry is worth the trek [to the “seedy 19th arrondissement]. It’s my Proustian experience. I’d go back on a scooter just for those caramels. Or something close to that.
In her so-called Salon de The, Veronique Mauclerc offers a degustation (tasting menu) of her breads (it’s spelled out right there, on her ardois/blackboard) for about $15:
When I arrived at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, there wasn’t a single customer in the shop but the middle-aged sales person, standing with her hands clasped behind her back, still seemed overworked as she wearily answered my inquiry as to the possibility of partaking of a degustation. After some pointed questioning on my part I got her to admit that yes, they do serve tea and bread in the salon, which she indicated by a flip of her shoulder was in the back of the shop.
The Salon de The is a single wooden table in a hallway between the shop and the oven — one of only four remaining traditional wood-burning bread-baking ovens left in Paris. The couple shown here were just finishing their coffee and rolls and were very gracious about making room for me while they gathered their things to leave. The place was now empty except for me, the customer, and the passive-agressive shop assistant.
It was while I was photographing this famous wood-burning bread-baking oven that I heard the shop assistant mumble something about “photographie”. That’s right: she literally said it behind my back. So I put the camera away and settled into a chair, awaiting my own Proustain experience with France’s most famous female bread maker. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And it dawns on me that I’m being iced. I have transgressed the unwritten law of Paris snots, Thou Shalt Not Be American, and I’m never getting service, no matter how long I wait, or if I do I can’t be sure there won’t be spit in my tea.
So I gather my things and walk to the front of the shop and I say to the shop lady, in English “I guess it’s too inconvenient for you to do your job, bitch,” and I leave. I head to the metro station and as I turn the corner I see this:
It’s busy and noisy and fast-paced…
…the shop assistants are very helpful in answering customer questions about the types of bread they make on the premises and as I wait to pay for my pain chocolate I see that the ovens are behind the glass wall and they are just about to roll in a tray of baguettes. I say OH! Les baguettes! And I raise my camera…
…and the shop assistant yells to the baker: “Yannick! the lady wants to take your picture!” And Yannick goes:
I take the photo and I holler to Yannick, in English, “Thank you!” And Yannick waves back and calls out: “Sank you!”
Artisan Boulanger Bio, 62 Rue d’Hautpoul. Yo, Veronique Maclerc: This is how you run a bakery, bitch.
When I went for tea at the famous Cafe Le Select on the Boulevard Montparnasse that forms the border between the 6th and the 14th arrondissements…
…the head waiter showed me where I could find Rick, the American artist who sketches in the cafe every day…
…and the banquette where I can find Mickey, the 20-year old house cat who rules the roost at Cafe Le Select:
The tea is always good in Paris cafes because they have machines that get the water really hot hot hot. I like that.
I can not look at the crowd at Cafe Le Select…
…without thinking of the wonderful book that Rick Tulka drew about Cafe Le Select…
…called Paris Cafe: The Select Crowd:
You can read about Rick and see his art by clicking on this link…
…or you can meet him at Cafe Le Select (with fellow blogger and Friend of Rick, Carol Gillott of Paris Breakfasts:
Meanwhile, back in the corner banquette, look who else has also showed up for work — ordered his coffee, opened his lap top, spread a towel next to him so that Mickey will sit within purring distance…
(He was French and not a big talker or else I’d have more info to give you about this Monsieur, but he’s clearly One Of Us, seeing as how he brings a towel and all.)
And then it was off to Giverny…
…where my sweet room at the B&B (Coin des Artists, which used to be the village grocery store in Monet’s day ) came with a tea service at my disposal…
…but I didn’t make tea in my room, preferring the great stuff that came with breakfast…
…(note that those chairs are copies of the chairs in Monet’s diningroom) and the Happy Hour that came with a happy friend named Toddy…
…whose ears you see in the center of this photo of my other favorite beverage:
On one of the three days that I spent in Giverny I walked 4 kilometers to the neighboring town of Vernon…
…to research Monet’s life in Normandy, and to reward myself with afternoon tea at Cafe Globe:
Cafe Globe was filled with lots of local French people such as these two gentlemen:
Even though the couple sitting next to me were Americans with their Rick Steves’ Guide to France I really enjoyed my tea time at the Globe and here’s why: When the old guy in the background of the preceding photo shuffled up to the bar to pay for his lunch I asked him if it would bother him if I took a photo of his jacket:
Mais non, he said: I wear this because les Americans were the heros of my childhood. Then, because he was so proud of his system for the portage of cash, he made a lengthy exhibition to the barman about how he keeps his money in his hat, which looks as if it’s from The French Foreign Legion, and I didn’t get to ask him for more info about how he got his jacket because I was laughing too hard about his hat.
Normans. They are a separate breed of French. I was reminded of this on my last day in Giverny, when I stopped in at the famous Hotel Baudy, the old hangout when Monet was still alive and this village was crawling with young artists who wanted to be Impressionists when they grew up:
This is a very lively place with a huge lunch crowd and an enormous dinner crowd made up of the tourists who day trip to Monet’s garden. I had my 2:30 tea in the front room, where the bar is, which is in effect a front row seat to the three ring circus that is Hotel Baudy…
…where I could keep my eye on everyone who came for lunch…
…or came in for a quick cup of coffee, like these honeymooners from Spain:
This American lady took their place and I watched as she sounded out the menu, and then adjusted her scarf so the Hermes logo was visible:
I didn’t like her at all. Then a village regular came in for his kind of amber-colored eau de vie, which was served in a wine glass:
He had ripped trousers, scuffed shoes, and was in need of a haircut — he looked just like Monet before the world fell in love with his haystacks (when he was poor and undiscovered)!!!!
And here is where I bagged that rarest of photographic feats when stalking the Frenchman on his native turf:
I caught him doing the Gallic Shrug!!
And now, in order to keep up with this thrilling saga one tea cup at a time, we must whisk ourselves to Marrakech, Specifically, to the Casbah :
On a rue called Tadla (which looks exactly like all the other rues in the casbah which is why I always got lost whenever I went out and could only found my way back by accident and slow process of trial and error):
The Riad (Morrocan home with interior courtyard garden) Orangers d’Alilia was my home base in Marrakech — that’s the French woman, Madame Joelle, who runs it, dressed in white:
It was under the orange trees in the small inner courtyard….
…where Fatima welcomed me to Morocco with a much-needed cup of tea. I’d had a busy morning in Paris, then schlepped to the airport and been stuffed on a full plane (Easy Jet) that was the most claustrophobic experience I’d ever had, and now it was almost seven o’clock at night and I was nervous about traveling in Marrakech on my own. It was good to calm my nerves with a cup of mint tea.
There were little russet-colored birdies who flew into the riad to sit in the orange trees and sing. I gave crumbs of my biscotti to them. Now I know why old ladies feed the birds. It’s because they are lonely.
I would highly recommend this riad to any traveler.
I did not expect such understated luxury in Marrakech, or rose petals on the bed…
Mint tea is OK for certain social situations any time after high noon or for calming nerves in the early evening , but I need a real tea when it really counts — at breakfast. For those times, Carol Gillot had given me a stash of India tea lightly flavored with vanilla which I brewed in a little silver pot of just-boiled water:
To make the most of my 48 hours in Morocco I had arranged on Day One to spend the morning at the Majorelle Garden and then travel 20 kilometers to the west of Marrakech to meet a Peace Corps volunteer in a village called Tameslouht:
When I got off the bus I realized that we had not arranged any specific meeting point in Tameslouht, but it was very easy to locate Sara by asking around the village for “The American”. A young womb working at the new community center knew exactly who “The American” was and she graciously made a telephone call to Sara, and while I waited for her I was given a tour of the center’s facilities, which included classrooms for adult education in literacy, sewing, and weaving — as well as two rooms of little kids in day care:
They were told to Say Bonjour to the lady — which they did, in unison, while staring at me like I was a unicorn. CUUUUUUUUTE. Then I singed their VIP Visitor’s Book and Sara came to collect me.
Sara Quinn has a blog about her Peace Corps experience — you can read it by clicking here — and she took me to the home of the President of the Women’s Craft Association of Tameslouht to inspect the many things they create (subject of a future post). German travelers Wilhelm and Ursula were also checking out the array of clothing and accessories and we all drank tea with Sara and Zenib and Sara’s darling Moroccan fiance, Mustafa:
Then Sara took us on a tour of her town.
The next day, Sara traveled to meet me in Marrakech to guide me around the souk (market) and the Djemma El Fna (main square, where the snake charmers and the storytellers convene) and other insider points of interest but we did not have tea so those stories don’t belong here, except for the part where I tell you that Sara is the cutest damn Peace Corps Volunteer ever:
I flew out of Marrakech that evening, arriving in Paris IN A REALLY BAD MOOD at midnight. I was so pissed off that I didn’t even photograph the “tea” that was served at breakfast at the hotel I stayed at in Orly Airport.
The next decent cup of tea I had was back at Carol Gillott’s apartment in the 15th arrondissement — I had searched high and low all over Paris for my favorite patisserie — Pithivier! — and found it right across the street . I’d caught Carol in the act of painting a chocolate Religieuse there, in the background, so this is a tea cup still life that I call One Paints and The Other Doesn’t:
I’d got an email from a dear blog reader, Laura, about the cafe in the 6th arrondissement that I’d photographed for you two weeks ago — Le Conti. Laura had always thought this cafe was a figment of the imagination but non, it’s real — so for her I made this one of my last cups of tea:
I was instructed, by Laura, to ask about a resident terrier named Orson. Ah, Orson!, the handsome young barman said, “Orson n’est plus d’ici — his owner took him to live on his parents’ farm. Hmmmmm….
I wonder if “sent to live on a farm” means in France what it means in America?
My time in Paris was coming to an end now, and to understand this next cup of tea you must know that my days in Paris had a purpose that I have not discussed with you, dear readers. I had set myself the task of visiting every arrondissement — 20 in all — to fulfill a Wish List (of unusual sights, experiences, personalities) that has taken me five years to put together. It was much, much more physically challenging and mentally exhausting than I’d anticipated. But I’d always planned to end the quest with a big splurge cup of tea in the ultra ritzy 8th arrondissement, as a reward for accomplishing a difficult task.
It was a cold, rainy day and I didn’t bother to wear the dress shoes that I’d packed or this occasion and I don’t have to tell you that after two weeks on the road my hair was a fright — I was a total mess. Still, when I went to both Le Bristol hotel (room rates start at $800 at night) and the Georges V (as I walked in Robin Thicke was strutting out) I was met with extraordinary courtesy. I inspected their tea rooms and menus (both charge 48 euro for Afternoon Tea — that’s about $60) and found them both lacking: the teas at Le Bristol were all very perfumy and came with a rack of pastries that I didn’t have any interest in; the teas at the Georges V were better and the pastries were not as froofy, but there was a piano player banging away in the salon which I found extremely annoying.
I was feeling depressed. Did I mention the cold, and the rain? And that I was fatigued with travel, Paris, myself, and my loneliness? I had wanted this quest to end with a nice big India tea bang and it wasn’t happening.
Then I noticed that right next door to the Georges V was the Prince of Wales hotel. Just as luxe, only open for five days after a two-year long renovation. The hospitality was exquisitely warm and professional, and the tea menu was outstanding. I sank into a leather sofa and ordered Tuareg Tea.
Well, I did ask beforehand if Tuareg Tea was the same kind of tea that I remembered drinking with Tuaregs when I was in the Peace Corps in Niger. Yes, I was told — it’s a black tea served tres sucre (very sugary). It wasn’t. It was a hay-tasting mild tea (did I mention that they’d only been opened for five days? Still working out the bugs)…but I was so grateful for the comfort and quality of the service, and so happy that I wasn’t forced to buy pastries I wouldn’t eat, that I did not go into my usual high dudgeon. I sat contentedly and sang to myself along with the soothing background music, Frank and Nancy Sinatra (Something Stupid) and Dusty Springfield (The Look of Love)…
…and watched people drink champagne cocktails…
…and chatted with the young hostess (that’s her, in the while collar and cuffs) about her childhood in Senegal…
…and wished I had those lighting fixtures in the form of the three feathers of the Prince of Wales….
They would totally work in my dining room.
No, it’s not over yet. There’s one more cup of tea, the one I had after a lunch of pate and baguette and classic onion soup on my last day in Paris, in a hot trendy bistro in the Marais called Les Philosophes.
They had the grace to serve Mariage Freres tea, a perfect way to redeem a trip that was feeling, at this point, like it was two or three days too long. It was still raining and cold and I was tired of Paris but I was GOING HOME!
As I type this, I’ve been home for about 46 hours. I have bought new curtains for the dining room and went on a shopping quest to re-accessorize the kitchen in shades of lime and apple green with a few gun metal and bamboo accents. I’ve ordered French cafe curtains from Williams Sonoma. I’ve been busy. Jet lag gives me a lot of nervous energy but also, I’ve become used to a frantic pace of life (that 20 Arrondissement TO DO List was a massive project that required ten hour days of TO DO-ing) . That’s my excuse for the length of this post — hope you enjoyed your trip in my Tea World!