The upside to visiting Paris with a first-timer: The excuse to retread paths well worn.
There is the Angelina chocolat chaud yet undrunk, the freshly baked Poilane pains undiscovered.
The sister, she has come to Paris with guidebooks well-marked and images of Amelie’s Montmartre flitting through her head. But first, the basics must be covered; important stops must be made.
First, there is the pilgrimage across the Seine to Île Saint-Louis.
We wend our way past the little creperies and patisseries along rue St-Louis-en-l’Ile. It feels like we’ve been walking forever, but it’s only just taken forever because of all the ducking in to poke at cheeses and eclairs. (There is also the long, yearning look around Mon Vieil Ami, the popular bistro whose manager all but laughed at us when we dared to step in and meekly ask if we might be able to get a reservation that very day.)
The wallets never come out — we’re saving ourselves. And soon enough, Berthillon is before us.
Patiently, we line up, squinting hard at the little board of dozens of flavors of exquisite ice-cream — the Louis Vuitton of glace, if you will. Salted caramel, cassis, grapefruit … the choice is impossible. Reluctantly, we settle on just rhubarb, blood orange and red peach.
The flavors are especially intense in the summer sun; the scoops, though generous, all too sudden feel all too small.
I begin to think that it’s good I don’t live here — with these versions of oranges and peaches around, I might just stop eating fruit altogether.
Not much of a macaroon person myself, I’ll make an exception for Ladurée.
The bakery, which first opened in 1862, is the Berthillon of macaroons, churning out flavors such as anise, pistachio and, of course, chocolate. (According to David Lebovitz, Ladurée’s four stores sell over 4 million macaroons a year.)
We haven’t much time for more than a box of dozen macaroons to go. Another stop is in the cards.
Carrying on with our afternoon of Paris clichés, we check out the Ernest Hemingway haunts in St. Germain de Pres.
Les Deux Magots and Cafe Floré look like they’re in full tourist-trap mode — crowds are packed into the tables on the sidewalk. Cameras are in hand, English words fill the air.
But across the street, Brasserie Lipp is quieter.
It is still light out, and dinner isn’t too far off. We sit outside and order a bottle of rosé and a few small plates — escargots, a foie gras terrine and a Hemingway favorite, cervelas.
Years ago, in “A Moveable Feast,” Hemingway described his Lipp experience: “The beer was very cold and wonderful to drink. … After the first heavy draft of beer I drank and ate very slowly. When the pommes à l’huile were gone I ordered another serving of cervelas. This was a sausage like a heavy, wide frankfurter split in two and covered with a special mustard sauce.”
The mustard is tangy and hot. The sausage, smooth, soft and satisfyingly salty – like deli bologna, we whisper, acknowledging the sacrilege of such a comparison.
Sipping and chewing, we ponder the growing crowds on the street, the lines of gendarmes along parked cars. Within moments, the crowd erupts in cheers as a motorcade passes bearing Barack Obama.
We look at one another, marveling at the unscripted moment and our accidental front-row seats.
Later that night, there will be the trauma of a friend’s backpack stolen, the filing of a police report, the frenzied trip to the American embassy. (These tourist traps, there is a reason they are billed as such.)
But before all that, there is our little evening snack: A bottle of wine. A plate of sausages. A brief unblemished moment.
Berthillon, 31 Rue St-Louis-en-l’Ile, Ile St-Louis, Paris; Phone: 01 43 54 31 61
Brasserie Lipp, 151 Boulevard Saint Germain, Paris; Phone: 01 45 48 53 91
Ladurée, 16 Rue Royale, Paris; Phone: 01 42 60 21 79