Friday, August 11, 2006

Really Old Food at Fearless John's

Since just a few days remain, I've been taking time away from packing boxes to go do a few of the things I've missed in our time here. Yesterday, I "finished off" the Musée d'Orsay, visiting the last rooms I never had the energy to see before. Today, I went back in time 800 years by visiting the Tour Jean Sans Peur, or the Tower of John Without Fear, located near métro Etienne Marcel, in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris.

I took the line 7 to get there, preferring to walk outside rather than transferring several times to get to the nearest metro stop. The streets around Les Halles buzzed with activity, despite the lack of Parisians in town in the month of August (they're on vacation.) Cheap and tacky clothing stores, fast food joints, and pickpockets vied for the best action from the local tourists, and I walked quickly and purposefully past the sex shops (yuck), the local ruffians trying to hail me with "young girl! young girl!" and the orange-t-shirted CARE workers pushily soliciting donations to feed the poor. This is not my favorite quartier.

Since I had read in my Vie Pratique, a supermarket recipe magazine, about a new exhibition on medieval food, cooking, and kitchen practices, I had been wanting to go to this museum. I checked out the website, and found that the remaining tower was preserved and refurbished to teach about life in the middle ages in Paris. Jean Sans Peur was a cousin to the king Charles VI, and murdered another cousin of his (Louis d'Orléans), hoping to be in line for the throne, since old Charlie-boy was kind of nutty. (Bouts of psychosis and possible schizophrenia, according to modern scholars, let to the name "Charles the well-beloved" being changed to "Charles the Mad".) He was involved in lots of crazy medieval politics, and was eventually murdered himself by another cousin, the next King of France, and frankly kind of an ugly dude.

I admit to being a bit of a medieval buff, but the political stuff is not what interests me as much as the daily life. Learning about what people ate, where it came from and how much it cost, what they served with what, the utensils used, the spices, the recipes, the diet--this is what I find interesting, and the exhibit in the basement of the tower was fascinating to me. They had even set up a tiny mock medieval kitchen, though it was very sparsely furnished and didn't quite live up to my ideas of what it would be. Nonetheless, I found myself hungrily reading every word, popping my head into every nook and cranny, and even taking a look down the hole of the indoor latrine (an indoor 'outhouse') in the tower. It was only when the worker came to tell me they were closing that I finally shook the spell the tower had upon me. It is amazing to see that a place like this still exists, right inside this modern and vibrant city. The tower was restored and refurbished in 1999, when it was opened to the public. If you go, however, bring a translator--it's all in French.

If you're interested in Medieval cooking as well, try looking at this site (also in French) that discusses food, meals, eating, cooking and politics in the Middle Ages. (I borrowed the images from them--I hope the copyright has run out after 800 years or so!)

Bon Appétit!



At 2:44 PM, August 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, Mrs. B. I'm a recent avid reader of your blog. I like your sense of humor, your outlook, and also your taste in reading materials. But now -- NOW -- I feel you're a kindred spirit in that I am also a devoted follower of all things medieval. I've been kind of stuck in the medieval history of western Europe, but would like to wander over to Asia Minor and the Middle East some day. I also find the daily life of folks in these times fascinating. The food, the drink, the role of women in the gentry as well as the commoners, how children were raised, how they used to eat peacock (!) etc. I am especially an admirer of Eleanor of Acquitaine. What a modern tigress! It's most diverting, I must say. Thank you for sharing your treasure find with us. I will neatly tuck it away in a corner of my mind for future reference. And best of luck to you in your journey back to the States. I envy you your last chance at confit de canard!

At 6:39 PM, August 11, 2006, Anonymous The Bold Soul said...

Some packing advice:

Based on the recent thwarted terrorist events in the UK, new US security rules now prohibit liquids, creams or gels of ANY kind in carry-on luggage. I mention it because as you are packing for your trip home you will need to figure out what to do with any liquid makeup, lip balm, lipsticks, face creams, eye drops, and anything else that is non-prescription. You either have to pack it in your checked baggage, overnight it home via FedEx or it will get chucked in the garbage upon arrival in the states. This applies whether you're traveling domestically in the US or coming in from outside.

This, by the way, INCLUDES items purchased in the duty-free in France: no liquors or perfumes allowed. Women everywhere are having to leave behind costly perfumes and makeups at the gate; no hand creams, eye-drops or lip balms to help cope with the dry airplane air.

My mother and sister are flying to California tomorrow from here in New Jersey and it's making the packing a bit of a creative challenge. They're packing it all in their checked baggage in plastic bags for easier security screening, and hoping it doesn't melt or explode all over their luggage on the flight.

Just wanted to mention it since with all the packing you are doing now, it might be easy to overlook this new wrinkle. You can check the US Transportation Safety Agency website for updates closer to your travel date at or check with your airline's website or the website of the first US airport where you'll be landing.

Good luck! Moving is terrible and moving internationally just complicates it even more. Hope it is going well so far.

At 5:25 PM, August 13, 2006, Anonymous mj said...

I have been an avid reader of your blog for the past six months. I have loved your take on Paris and will miss your American views on life abroad. Maybe someday I'll get to spend a year in Paris and I'll visit this museum, too. I look forward to reading about your adventures stateside. Welcome back to the Midwest!

At 4:20 AM, August 14, 2006, Blogger Clare said...

Hi Ronica

Has Les Halles turned into a Parisian Soho? I assume that this is the Les Halles where the famous market used to be?

We haven't been to Paris for years, but Alexandra really wants to go so we are thinking about it for next Vacances Printemps (Paris in Springtime LOL). We used to walk everywhere, one time was from the hotel in Boulevard St Germain over to the Hotel de Ville and then up to "department store" land. I was 5 months pregnant!

Hope you are going to continue with your Blog and don't worry - you will return!


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