30 October 2014

Wednesday morning on the Place de la Concorde

I'll get back to the Burgundy trip report soon. Right now, I want to post some photos I took in Paris, while the experience is fresh in my memory. I went there yesterday because I needed to get a document notarized (U.S. term; légalisé in French) at the U.S. Embassy on the Place de la Concorde.

When I got to the Place de la Concorde at 10 a.m., the top of the Eiffel Tower, in the distance, was shrouded in low clouds.

Why the légalisation? Walt is going to start taking a retirement pension from California in December, and because California is a community property state, he is required to have a notification form signed by his spouse (me) and notarized. The spouse, by law, must be made aware of the pension being collected, and California wants proof. France doesn't have notary publics, so I had to go to the U.S. Embassy — the consulate, actually — to see a notary — a consul, actually — for the official stamp and seal.

A quiet moment on the Place de la Concorde in Paris (29 October 2014)

To get an appointment at the U.S. Consulate — these days, you can't just walk in — you have to make an appointment weeks in advance for a specific day and time.There are two security checkpoints to go through before you can enter the building. You're not allowed to take any electronic devices in, so they have to be left at the second security desk. That includes cameras, computers, tablets, and mobile phones. The consulate says it can't be held responsible if any device is lost. I also was not allowed to take in a Chapstick that I had with me.

The traffic on the Place de la Concorde can look kind of chaotic, but it flows well.
That's the Eglise de la Madeleine in the background.

I arrived early for my 10:30 a.m. appointment and I had to wait around outside for 30 minutes before I could be admitted. When I did get in, there were at least 100 people seated in a big waiting room where there are a couple of dozen teller-style windows with big screens that display the ticket number of the current or next "customer" to be taken care of. People are there to get visas for travel to the U.S., new U.S. passports, or, like me, to get a document notarized or make a sworn statement in front of a consul.

About the first thing I saw when I left the consulate was this bus. Maybe I could have hitched a ride home on it. The ZooParc de Beauval is just two miles from our house outside Saint-Aignan.

At 10:30 sharp, I was called to a window. The whole process took only 20 minutes — I was amazed, because in July 2013 I had to go make a sworn statement at the same place, and because I had an afternoon appointment, I had to cool my heals for a couple of hours. Morning appointments (a new feature) are the way to go, and getting there early to be the first in line really helps. I walked out with my notarized document, carrying the raised seal of the U.S. federal government. It cost me $50 U.S.

Looking up the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe

Okay, I didn't plan to write all that. It just flowed out. The U.S. Embassy/Consulate complex is on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, just at the eastern end of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées and not far from the Louvre and the Seine. You can see the Eiffel Tower from there. The Place de la Concorde is an expansive space that is often filled with speeding cars and lumbering buses. I took some photos, above. Click or tap on the images to see them at a larger size.

29 October 2014

Arrêt momentané

I have to go to Paris this morning. My train leaves Saint-Aignan/Noyers at 6:44 a.m. I'll be in Paris before 9:30, if all goes well. I have an appointment at the U.S. Embassy at 10:30. It's no big deal — I just have to have my signature notarized on an American document, and the embassy in Paris is the only place in France where I can have that done... for a $50 fee.

Add to the $50 fee — notary publics in the U.S. charge between $5 and $10 for the same service — the train fare from Saint-Aignan to Paris and back, plus lunch in a café or restaurant, and the total cost is about $150 U.S. I'm trying to remain sanguine about that. C'est quand même du grand banditisme...

Yesterday's lunch was a blanquette de boulettes de veau with a mixture of white and wild rice. I had made veal meatballs a week or two ago and had some left in the freezer. I used chicken broth instead of veal broth to make the blanquette sauce.

On the positive side, the weather in Paris is supposed to be sunny and fairly warm. A walk from the Embassy, at the Place de la Concorde, through Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Quartier Latin and on to the Gare d'Austerlitz might be the day's most pleasant activity. I'll be back in Saint-Aignan before 6:30 p.m. this evening, if the trains run on time. The Burgundy saga will resume tomorrow.

28 October 2014

Crossing into Burgundy

When you cross the river at Sancerre or Pouilly-sur-Loire, you are officially in the Burgundy region. Pouilly is in the département called la Nièvre, which has Nevers [nuh-VEHR] as its main city. We were just going to drive through, because our destination was the Yonne département, whose main city is Auxerre [oh-SEHR].

Houses along the road as we arrived at Pouilly-sur-Loire

We had planned to have lunch in Pouilly. I had picked out a restaurant by looking at French TripAdvisor reviews. It was called Chez Mémère, which means something like "granny's place" — mémère is baby-talk. We crossed the bridge over the Loire and turned left up the town's main street.

This street narrowed radically as we drove into the village center.

It turned out that the main street through the town (pop. 1,710) was very narrow and surprisingly busy. There were cars parked on one side of the street, which meant there wasn't enough room for two cars to pass each other. One had to wait. I think it was just the lunch-hour rush, since it was ten past noon.

Walt had just read through the menu when I snapped this shot.

We easily found a place to park, told Callie to guard the car, and walked back to the restaurant. There was a chalkboard outside on the sidewalk advertising a 14-euro menu that looked excellent, with three courses (starter, main dish, and dessert). Fourteen euros is about $18 U.S. these days. Wine and coffee would  add a lot to the final check, so lunch would have cost close to $60 for the two of us.

Chez Mémère's front door seen from inside the restaurant

We pushed open the door and found ourselves in a room crowded with 15 or 20 tables, of which two were already occupied, each by a group of four. Those people all turned and looked at us with curiosity, and I nodded and murmured Bonjour. There was a second room on the side, which had maybe as many tables and was empty. The hostess of the restaurant came out to greet us. I asked for a table for two.

A winery across the street

« Vous avez réservé ? » No, I said. I don't know why I hadn't. It had been hard to imagine that a restaurant in a small town like Pouilly would be all booked up on a Tuesday at lunchtime. Well, we were turned away. No room at the inn. I wonder if all the tables were really reserved, or if it was the kind of restaurant that really cooks fresh food and makes only enough for customers who have reserved in advance.

A doorway near the booked-up Chez Mémère restaurant

And why did they put a signboard out on the sidewalk advertising their menu if they knew that they wouldn't be taking any walk-in customers? The woman — was she Mémère? — was nice enough to point us toward another restaurant, which she described as being « à l'autre bout du pays » — at the other end of the village. We moved on. It's funny how people in the French countryside use the word pays (which means "country") to describe a village.