le Week-end

leaving paris

I always seem to have the supreme misfortune to draw the letter W when playing Scrabble in French, as there’s barely one-quarter of a page in the French dictionary devoted to words that begin with that letter. People use “Wu” for Chinese money; although I allow them, it’s not in the French dictionary so I’m not sure that’s in the official rules. In spite of their high-value, I always am irked when I pull that dreaded W tile.

But I’m not a Scrabble expert, plus the fact the French have all those gazillion verb tenses, which is another reason that I never win. And my request to play in English is still pending.

baked apricots

When I lived in the states, I used to wonder why all the people who lived in New York City would go out of their way to proclaim that they could never live anywhere else, that New York City was the best city in the world. That they could only live in Manhattan, etc..etc.. Then they’d spent three months of the year, during the summer, bailing on the city they claim to love.

Like New Yorker, Parisians flee the city after le 14 juillet for les vacances, and the city is pretty much cleared out until the end of August. What visitors to Paris don’t realize is that everyone leaves.

seats Suze

Bakeries stagger their vacations so that there is one open in each neighborhood, although the three closest to me just happen to be all closed. And visitors coming from out of town ask me which chocolate shops they should visit on their vacation, in August, and they can’t believe it when I tell them that practically all of them are closed. Fermé. But I am sure when they get off the plane at Charles de Gaulle airport and feel the blast of heat, they quickly understand that chocolate doesn’t stand a chance in this heat, and neither do we.

nectarines, pears, apricots leaves

One thing the French excel at are vacations. While it’s the source of plenty of jokes elsewhere, it’s actually nice that people here take a real vacation and relax. (A variation is when people say, “How lucky, such a long vacation!” Take it from me, we’ve earned it.) When I’ve been a guest at a French resort, if I go to a hotel frequented by mostly French guests, the rooms don’t have clocks; the managers there tell me that mostly the resorts frequented by people from North America, all the rooms have alarm clocks. Otherwise, people complain.

french breads voleur

When the French are on vacation, they don’t answer e-mails, work on their bronzage, and basically shut down everything else. I have to say, it’s something that I’ve adopted, except for the extreme tanning, which to me makes the older women look like deflated footballs—except with their stitching hidden.

paris wheat

I’ve learned to wind down in late July and August, and dial back what I do to practically nada. It drives people I work with in the states nuts, but when you’re surrounded by a city virtually deserted for vacation, it’s hard not to follow suit. Plus I came back from this weekend away to find my rubber gloves melted to the side of the sink. And although I spend a majority of my life washing dishes, the idea of being fused there for eternity isn’t especially appealing.

brie and chevre

Those aforementioned French words that begin with W, are mostly English words that have been co-opted into the French language. (There are 22 words under W in my French dictionary, out of 120,000.) Under that small section, words like Walkman, water-polo, wok, and whisky appear, as does week-end.

And during the summer, for those of us that don’t clear out entirely (because in spite of the heat, Paris is actually quite pleasant when it’s nearly-empty) le Week-end has far more importance that it does during the rest of the year.

dinner service sunflower

So during the summer, when the mood strikes, we hit the road for the country and relax, filling the car with food and wine before departing. I always stock up on bread, too, since oddly, it’s hard to find good in the countryside—it’s usually disappointing when you cut into a big, deep-dark loaf and find the inside is that fluffy, cake-like stuff. In Paris, you can find dense, grainy loaves, the hearty kind of bread I like. And I don’t like to be too far away from good bread (or food, in general) if I can help it.

ladles

So we relaxed and ate well. And our digestive tracts were healthy and happy as well. (Although after all that grainy bread, the word ‘relaxed’ doesn’t come to mind.) But of course, being American, it isn’t a vacation unless I buy something. So we headed over to my favorite antique store, hoping to score big. Again.

madeleine mold glasses1

It was tough work, but I spent nearly two-and-a-half hours sorting through things, like giant copper pots (most needed retinning), café au lait bowls (I already have about sixteen, and I don’t entertain that many people in the morning, so I think I have enough), some adorable little tartlet molds that I knew I would never use, a whole mess of enameled ladles (which I will never use either, but I couldn’t help it), a mess of glassware, and a miniature desk and chair from the 1950s that I’m going to put on my vintage desk at home, to keep me company when I’m working. Because, you know, I get lonely over here sometimes.

glasses epices

I came home with four full bags, packed with stuff. How excited was I? I was so excited that when I got home, the owner called to tell me that I forgot to pay. But as you can see, it was so overwhelming being in there with anything and everything. Now I just need to find a place to put it all.

antique shop

I may not have the time to find room for it all when back at chez David, but there’s always time to eat in France. Especially out in the countryside, where there’s not much else happening.

french bread red wine raspberry sorbet

We had a fabulously super chocolate-rich gâteau Thérèse (from The Sweet Life in Paris) which Romain’s mother makes without ever looking at the recipe. It’s so good, and unpretentious. Just a simple bittersweet chocolate cake.

I’d also brought a tub of Raspberry-Red Wine Sorbet, which is my all-time favorite sorbet because it is always is just the right ending for any meal. It’s one of those things that I’m always in the mood for.

chocolate cake wheat

So now I’m back in Paris, sitting by the fan, thinking about unpacking all my purchases. It’s 12:06am and hardly any lights are on in the buildings across the way; most of the folks have departed for their vacations and won’t be back for a month or so.

sunflowers

Those of us in town are enjoying the tranquility. I went to a government office today and instead of a mob of people waiting for their turn, I went right up to the desk and was helped in less than three minutes. I could get used to that, easily.

café au lait bowl moonscape

Still, I think I do need to get away a few more weekends before the end of summer. And the next week-end is just five days away…



71 comments

  • I have to stop myself from buying more cute finds at my local thrift stores too. It’s just that sometimes they’re too cute and too good of a deal to pass up. Just looking at your pictures I see 4 things I’d end up getting. Makes me glad you’re there instead of me :D

  • Funny, the bottle of Suze reminds me of a drink I’ve heard of but never tried. Despite the bad pun I’m assured the drink really and truly does exist.

    It’s made with Suze and blackcurrant liqueur (sorry, I don’t know the proportions) and it’s called a “fond de culotte”.

    Why “fond de culotte”?

    Parceque, ça Suze cassis. (Ca s’use qu’assis.)

  • Isn’t it great to get out of the city every once in awhile.
    I live in Toronto and hope to spend the long weekend (July 31 – August 2) away in Kingston Ontario. Maybe I’ll do a little antiquing too. You never know…

  • Mmm! I love the sound of a French-style vacation with no alarm clock. I think I’ll skip to extreme tanning too, though…

  • I saw your tweet about the vintage cookware shop. I about melted into a puddle. I might spend my salary on a place like that

  • I’m reading this in my grey cubicle at work. Jealous. So very jealous.

  • Wow that reflection shot of the store is great! Very creative and well-done.

  • David, is she still just open on Sunday mornings? I was just near there last week, but not even enough extra time to drive past the address.

    Sunday is usually *my* lively local market….but oh, la vache, those kitchen goodies.

  • Sunny: I think she is open Sunday mornings, but she opened for us at around 4 or 5 pm, then a whole bunch of people showed up. Generally speaking, she is open toward the end of the week…but I’d say late Sunday afternoon is the best time to show up, unless you call first.

  • Thanks for those lovely pics of the countryside and food….you deserve a break !!
    Just keep the photos coming.

  • I love that people in Paris (and many parts of Europe) take real vacations. Many of us in the states are never away from the computer or phone for more than a day and we get nuts when we are. It would be so nice to enjoy life from a different perspective. I love the photos and good for you for bringing more stuff home with you. You’ve gotta love kitchen stuff! I especially like the sorbet!

  • What a pleasant relaxing read and studded with such enchanting photos. You’re creating quite a high bar for food, photography and writing.

  • Dear Blooger in Paris,

    I am stuck at home here in the states with no money to go anywhere for vacation.Your blog was like a two minute trip to Paris, especially with the pictures! It was a treat for the senses. Thanks for sharing!

  • ah, quiet weekends in town. I live in the Bay Area and prefer to stick around town on our summer three-day weekends. It’s just such a treat to have semi-empty streets!

    If (when!) I ever get to Paris, perhaps I’ll do a few weeks to overlap empty summer Paris, and repopulated early autumn Paris.

  • What a beautiful story. Your stories are so well-told that I feel like I’m in France with you enjoying the week-end!

  • Being in a DC/NY relationship and commuting between the two cities at least monthly, I can’t figure out why both cities clear out in the summer, but the stretch of I-95 between them is a parking lot all summer long. It’s like everyone clears out of DC and NY and just “vacations” on the NJ Turnpike for 2 months. (“Look kids, it’s the historic Vince Lombardi Rest Area! Let’s all go to Roy Rogers!”)

  • One of top things on my (lengthy) list of why I belong in Europe is their two month stretch of vacation. A close follow up is siesta. Such beautiful photos from what looked like a great weekend away (filled with some excellent goodies and finds). I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to swap lives and return to North America….

  • Speaking of finds…I found and bought a nice 14″x18″ slab of marble ($6.00) at the Salvation Army today! Go Me! I’ve been looking and waiting for a couple of years I just knew I’d eventually find one. I love hunting out treasure! Wish I could do it in Paris, too!

  • I have trouble with the letter K as well as W in French Scrabble.

  • Colleen, the endless parking lot on I-95 between NYC and DC, not to mention the mass of oiled humanity lazing around in the extreme heat on the NC/VA/MD/DE/NJ beaches, is precisely why I don’t vacation in August. DC clears out and for one glorious month, those of us who stay behind enjoy faster commutes, shorter lines at the local coffee joints, and longer lunches without the need for reservations at downtown restaurants. The Saturday farmer’s market is uncrowded, meaning more free samples!

    Sure, we have to stagger through the haze of 90-degree humidity, but it is the trade-off for enjoying a few weeks when the city’s pace actually slows. I’ll save the vacation for late October, when the weather is crisper, the leaves are turning, and everyone else is back to school and work!

    As for David’s musings on le Week-end, I’m rather smitten with that raspberry-red wine sorbet. The raspberries are melting off the bushes here, but there are still juicy blackberries available to give me ideas.

  • I sooooo envy you!!

  • That remark about tanned older women looking like footballs is pretty gross. I mean, older tan men have that same look. It’s just a bad look for anybody. Makes one look like George whatever his name is who played James Bond in at least one movie. Oh, yeah, Hamilton.

  • But New York is wonderful during the summer…because all the rich people go away!

    .

  • Wow I love your photos here, they really convey a sense of the sleepiness of the city when everyone is on vacation! But David, FOUR bags of stuff, I am so curious, what did you buy? You are so lucky to have shops like that. Back here in Singapore, we have nothing of that sort.

  • Is Berthillon on the Ile St. Louis still closed in August? Only in Paris could you find one of the world’s finest ice cream shops closed for the month of August!

  • Sounds a bit desolate but also very appealing (for Parisian residents, anyway).

    David your photos are always great but these are just gorgeous, maybe the best ones yet!

  • What a sweet post. Merci beaucoup y gracias.

    How do you take photos of sorbet without it instantly melting? I guess you are so good at this now, your pics are taken in an eye blink.

    Kathleen

  • David, David, David!! I enjoy your blog so much – you seem to be able to find joy in most everything – and your descriptions put me right there with you. Thanks for always putting a smile on my face.

  • Bernadette: Actually a certain amount of Parisians don’t mind staying in Paris, since it’s so quiet. And a few places do stay open, and you can get into places easily and take care of basic services, like going to the post office and shopping, with a lot less hassle. I was in and out of a government office yesterday is about 3 minutes flat. A record!

    oakjoan: It seems to be a phenomenon much more so with French women from what it looks like to me, the total overtanning. Unfortunately like smoking, which is more prevalent in French women than men, I see a lot of teenage girls with remarkably dark tans, too, even in the middle of winter.

    In my opinion, aside from being unhealthy, you’re right: it isn’t at all attractive no matter which sex it is.

    dkahane: They are, but most of the other ice cream shops in Paris are open, and other places in the Île St Louis sell Berthillon as well, when the “mothership” is closed.

    bunkycooks. Yes, it is a nice tradition. People make fun of it elsewhere, but it’s nice to wind down for a few weeks. Or months : )

  • MAYBE this was a great post, and perhaps you had bunches to say. But I didn’t get past the gorgeous photo of Romain holding those sunflowers.

    I miss him so much! (and you too, mister)

  • Living in Provence I have the opposite situation. Every one comes down here for their holidays and I wonder why a car journey that normally takes 30 minutes suddenly takes 45 and every local restaurant is full! Maybe I should go to Paris for some tranquility!

  • Having just made my first visit to Paris this year, and having fallen head-over-heels for the place, I’m still in the ‘why would anyone ever leave?!’ mindset. You could, however, probably draw me away with that cheese and sorbet, breadcrumbs-in-the-woods-style.

  • Okay, I’ve looked back through 3 times.
    I am livid that you did not include a picture of the miniature desk & chair.
    I cannot bear knowing I will never see it.
    Loved the rest of the post though.

  • Sugahmommy and Maureen: Unfortunately I had to take the train back to Paris, so my loot is in the trunk of the car, which is still in the countryside. May offer a peek of my haul when I get it back…which I hope is soon!

  • I’m making raspberry sorbet in the morning – My Cuisinart ice cream maker “innard” is chilling in the freezer right now.

  • I’m so glad to hear someone remark on the quality of bread in the French countryside. Here in the Centre there are some pretty serious bakeries with wood fired ovens producing amazing LOOKING bread which is not at all what it seems and disappoints almost every time.

    Now summer’s here, there are brocantes every single weekend in every village near us. The one in ours lasts 3 days and is HELL. We’ll be going away for that one. To Paris perhaps? Now that’s a good idea!

  • i need to stop at that shop..with a wad of EURO :)

  • Ha, I was a bit baffled too last July when I stumbled on the closed doors of Berthillon. Ice cream parlours closed for the summer, only in Paris :) but yes, there were plenty of others nearby.
    We have a joke here in Belgium: Obama’s motto is “Yes we can”, but the motto of the Wallons is “Yes week-end”. They seem to share the French ability to totally wind down. Here up north we do our best but still remain a bit too uptight, I’m working on it :)

  • ok, seriously, where is the recipe for the raspberry and red wine sorbet???
    I am sitting in my office in geneva, where i must add the weather is lovely, and conteplating ducking out for lunch and not coming back and just hopping the train to Paris.

  • That gâteau Thérèse looks divine!!

  • Hello David,

    “Folks gone for one month or so”, really? Well, I don’t know if we live in the same country but most of us (i.e. French) don’t take vacations that long! Our employers (in the private sector as well as in the public sector) would definitely refuse! We have 5 weeks of vacation per year and generally, what we do is 1 week for Christmas, 1 week for Easter or la Toussaint and 3 weeks in July or August. But then again, it tends to change because most people have no money to go away!

    It’s just that I get quite annoyed when I hear that we, French, never work, are lazy, etc. Personnally (and I’m not alone in this case), I work more than 55 hours per week and no vacation for me since 2001!

    Thanks anyway for your great blog.

  • Oh, you just make me want to be there! My favorite thing to do after a pique-nique in the countryside, is to drive around looking for brocante signs, and finding treasures. After my purse strings are loosened by the wine consumed at lunch, I usually find lots of things I simply can’t live without!

  • I’m reading this and having a multisensory experience – toast browning in the toaster, hot coffee, the quick wheels of the TDF on the television and online (the live feed is running in a small window next to your wonderful column, and the riders have just crested the Col du Tourmalet, and into the valley below). I can’t help but envision your le Week-end as I watch the Tour – and I think, could there be an finer job than being the shooter aboard the helicopter, taking in a birds-eye view of the landscape? It renews my love of the French countryside, and your description of dialing down with food, antiques, family, and friends completes the experience perfectly.

  • Hi Leaf: I did not say anywhere in this post, nor do I think, that French are lazy at all. In fact, I said that the ability of the French to appreciate their vacations was a positive trait. One look behind the scenes in a bakery, restaurant, or pastry shop is enough to show how industrious French workers can be.

    From the looks of the semi-deserted streets and restaurants, people begin to clear out of Paris right around the 14 juillet, and then return (for the rentrée) sometime late in August to early September. As mentioned in the post, not everyone leaves and as you pointed out, there are certainly folks that don’t take or get vacations.

    The five weeks of vacation you mentioned is more than twice what Americans normally get (I think 1 to 2 weeks per year is normal) and I think Americans, and America, would be much better off if people took longer breaks and had the time to actually relax.

    Laurian: It’s from my book Ready for Dessert.

    Chrissy: I know, it’s kind of unfortunate. You’d think that out in the countryside, folks would want more rustic loaves. But perhaps because they take more time and skill to produce (and hence are more costly) people are content with that less-than-stellar bread? I don’t really know the answer…

  • As an ex-New Yorker I have been trying to adapt the 6 week holiday but still find myself on the computer all the time, working. it’s time to shut off the computer i guess.

  • Beautifully written. This actually made me very excited to leave Philly for my annual family vacation in Toledo, OH. While it may not be the French countryside, the thought of leaving my laptop at home and turning off my blackberry made shoulders relax considerably.

  • I enjoyed your weekend.

  • Thank you David for this fabulous post! You made my day.

  • Beautiful first picture. Looks like it has a background screen from a movie studio.
    Fun text and interesting information as usual. Chapeau, David.

  • Scrabble in French, nooooooooooo.

    A lot of restraint shown in the antique shop :)

  • If you are successful in your request to play scrabble in English, be sure to use an English scrabble set! They change the proportion of letters for each language. We once played English scrabble with a German set of tiles and it was a disaster. English needs a lot more vowel symbols than German, apparently. I’d guess that a French sets would have a lot more Qs, which would drive a player nuts in English. Just imagine having 3 Qs at the same time…

  • I love this post David! And the chocolate gateau therese, I am going to buy your book today! Really, going to Borders this afternoon. And wow about French vacations, whether it’s 5 weeks or 2 months, it is way better then our two weeks over here in the states. :) You must do some extra relaxing while on these vacations in honor of the people in the US who can never do that kind of extended vacationing!

  • “And although I spend a majority of my life washing dishes, the idea of being fused there for eternity isn’t especially appealing.” No truer words were ever spoken! And what is it about those mini tart pans that makes them so tempting? Can’t wait for the next le Weed-end installment. Give yourself double bonus Scrabble points!

  • I’d like to chime in with Maureen and add that I would be delighted to see a photo of the minature chair and desk!

    After reading this post, I wondered… Is the “closing down” of Paris what has enabled your scheduled NYC visit? I wasn’t sure if you make it stateside often, least of all to my home city. I am teaching this summer, about four hours north of NYC, and am considering ending the class a day early just so I can go home early and catch your talk at Borders!

    (After giving my father my copy of THE SWEET LIFE IN PARIS he volunteered to be my proxy and attend :) )

    Cheers!

  • We used to play scrabble with my husband’s parents (French). One credit for an English word, one credit for a French word, double for a word that was the same in both languages, and triple for a word that was the same but meant something different in each language (an being the best example). My mother-in-law always won.

  • I made that delicious and super easy chocolate gateau last year after seeing the recipe and charming bit about Mme.Therese in Sweet Life. Tucked inside the Scharffenberger chocolate that I used was a recipe from…DL!!
    What a huge, small world we live in. Serendipity. (and smooth marketing ;)

  • Just now saw the post about you coming to NYC!
    HUGE red letter day on my calendar…can’t wait for you to come and breathe some fresh air on this grumpy (it’s so ‘yoomid’ and we’re sticking to each other) town!

  • “I came home with four full bags, packed with stuff. How excited was I? I was so excited that when I got home, the owner called to tell me that I forgot to pay.”

    I fell off my chair reading that. Priceless :D

    Make sure you print out and save the blog entries and comments (in a shoe box). One day it will be nice to look back and remember the days.

  • Wait … where’s a picture of the little desk and chair? I want all of the stuff in your photos, including (especially) the chocolate cake. Guess I’ll have to make it for myself. I second Colleen and Laura on the misery of I-95 between NY and DC. Too many cars and nothing remotely fun or interesting to look at. I gather you do not have AC in your apartment. Not even a little window unit? Ugh.

  • I live in Carnegie Hill on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. I moved here right after college almost 30 years ago. At the time I couldn’t afford to leave in the summer, even for a weekend, and I was envious of everyone who could. Now, I can afford to leave, but you couldn’t pay me to. The city, especially up here, is awesome in August. Central Park is gorgeous, great farmers markets, the sidewalks are quiet, the shops empty and the annoying overprivileged brats have all cleared out to the Hamptons and Provence.

    Loved the book and love the website, David.

    Good job.

    Will

  • How do you get to this lovely part of the countryside from Paris via train?

    We leave (husband,1 year old, and me) for two weeks in Paris on August 3rd and are looking for a few day trips out of paris- countryside preferred for my son, photo opportunities for my photographer husband and just exploring opportunities for me.

    I personally love Paris in August- more laid back, less traffic, and the city is quiet.

  • Le sigh…Oh I miss the antique stores in France. We stopped by this one small village and I fell in love with 20 little glass dessert bowls. I wrapped them up very carefully and carried them with me for the next 3 weeks in my huge backpack. My husband thought that I had lost my mind, but I knew better than to let out even a peep of a complaint.

  • The funny thing with the French businesses and holidays is that some customers expect that many still contract for large projects late in june or early july, and expect to find it delivered in september, despite the fact that they are not there to contribute to the project, nor those who are supposed to build it. They are usually delivered for Christmas.

  • For ParisPaul (and other Suze fans):

    FOND DE CULOTTE
    1/2 creme de cassis
    2/3 gentiane (suze)

    Serve cold or over ice.

    Yummmmmm……

  • I just returned from 15 days in la France during la canicule. The ONLY reason we went in July was to attend a wedding. It was 103F (40C) in the village just outside of St. Tropez where the church was. The fete after the ceremony was more in the countryside, so much more comfortable. After that weekend we headed west to the Perigord. In the village of La Bugue we had a lovely lunch at La Pha. The terrace out back is directly on the river, shady, quiet. Prawns in Pha sauce…wonderful. Obviously Vietnamese influence, but also the usual regional dishes were available. Chilled Rose. Around 2p our waiter said the staff (all 4 of them)) were having their lunch, but we were not to rush. We did not. What other country makes parking meters inoperable during the lunch period?

  • David – I made the chocolate gateau this afternoon and it is cooling on the rack. And smells heavenly. But it has sunk! Collapsed!! Please tell me that it is supposed to do that because of the egg whites. Not that it matters really because we will eat it regardless. I’m just wondering if perhaps I took it out of the oven too soon.

    It’s supposed to sink, or sigh, a bit in the middle. Here’s a picture of the chocolate cake, in addition to the one in the post. -dl

  • Oh, le sigh. This post makes me long to be on a French holiday — was supposed to be with my sister in law in the Loire right now, visiting family; instead, blasted work and funding got in the way. This helped me feel liked I’d escaped, even if just for a few moments. Thank you!

  • Caitlin: We drove out there, then I took the train back. You really do need a car there because the towns are so small and not well-connected by the trains. Late summer is a great time to go because there are so many flea markets.

    Maureen, Jean-Marie: I posted a picture of the desk & chair, after I got everything unpacked!

  • Take me with you next time….please. I’ll bring the good bread! :)

  • I live in Zimbabwe and am in South Africa for a course. I fix myself sandwiches for supper despite having been given money to spend on takeaways or dining out by my company. My mission is to save and buy staff that is scarce or more expensive back home. Unlike you David, I am just beginning to acquire the basics like cast iron pot and food processor. Yesterday I was feeling a little bad about indulging so much. I was even thinking of taking some items off my list. Now, no more!!! Thank you for encouraging me with your article.
    During the world cup final, a man from England stayed at the place where I am staying. He seemed to be having so much fun and talking of going places. He gave me the determination to want to do the same. Next December (summer + school holidays in Zimbabwe), I will make sure I get out of the house and relax. One definitely needs that!!

  • What a lovely post-we all need to take more time off!

    Wishing you and Romain a lovely summer!