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!)