Une traversée de Paname

Voyage has many synonyms in French, delightful, tricky words like baguenaude (stroll), croisière (cruise), randonnée (ramble), trimard (meander), vadrouille (jaunt) but one of its definitions is être transporté, as they say of wine. Traversée is a crossing.

The title here is a riff on the 1956 film, Traversée de Paris, in which two men ferry suitcases full of contraband meat across town during the Occupation. Not only a great black and white film but an excellent introduction to mid-period Jean Gabin, as well as actors Bourvil and Louis de Funès. For excerpts from the film and the hints for the meal du jour, read to the end.

Paname is one of Paris’s nicknames. Let’s save that story for another day.

Our journeys long and short are never quite what we say they are, even now, the bars and half the stores closed with nothing to distract us. That’s why the idea of errance, wandering, or being à la derive, is challenging : to be awake inside the dream, to encounter with eyes open. We plan meticulously in advance but from the moment we close the front door, we go astray in a bewildering city that refuses to be the same thing twice. The town is a secret source, memories new and old intermixed. Our plans change, much like Traversée de Paris, set in the long night of the Occupation, when two men only need to get across town but…

Here we begin a never-ending journey, a jaunt, food and drink included, in which we cross paths with ourselves as many times as possible. Anyone who has a map of Paris on the wall can mark the obsessive-compulsive route I take, slowly weaving a web across town. As John Lee says, I’m going down to the bottom to see what’s going on.

Time : near the end of winter, early February, Bastille just after dawn. (All photos good or bad mine, unless someone protests.) In one direction, the rebellious Saint-Antoine district, in the other the chi-chi Marais, royal headquarters for Henri IV, who never got to enjoy the buildings he designed.

Over the river and through the enchanted woods to Bastille, to the Sunday market on Richard Lenoir.

Everything’s ready. There’s time to socialize before things get busy.

Cheese heavier than a big bass drum : a round of Salers on the left and Cantal on the right.

The flowers are in neat piles. Tempting to steal a handful. Nobody’s around…

Half-asleep, the chef stirs the ingredients for the Tartiflette.

Light the lights on the underwater theatre. The fishman practices his chant, reciting the names of the strange creatures on sale, the Lautreamont du Bastille.

Always time for a smoke and a round of Sudoku.

That’s one way to stay warm, with your back parked in the roasting oven.

Tartiflette, to which the man is adding the second round of ingredients, is essentially potatoes au gratin. But that leaves out the good parts, the endless regional variations which give us Tartiflette de Chatenay with Savoy cheese reblochon plus coriander, Tartiflette with the Artois Maroilles, Tartiflette Saint Agur and back around to where we started, Tartiflette Savoyard. It’s good walking food, especially on a cold morning.

Here are Louis de Funès and Jean Gabin going at it hammer and tongs in an excerpt from Traversée de Paris :

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFrtiwAj-ug

That seems to cover it for the first randonnée, with three French passions, food and theft and maybe later, a confession in church.

Who knows what the priest is reading while he waits for customers ? Maybe Louis Ferdinand Celine, maybe something more contemporary.

Continental hits the pause button for a few days while I clear the desk. Back with everything next week.

Originally published at https://continentalriffs.substack.com.

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