Vive Le Pain

One of my most vivid memories of Paris is not standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower or touring the opera house. No, the thing that often comes first to my mind when I think of Paris is the time we walked down the street knawing on baguettes we bought at Paul, a chain bakery a friend of mine later called “The French McDonald’s”. It was our second day in the city, and we were on a (incredibly disorganized) walking tour. We thought we looked so Parisian enjoying fresh bread, but I’ve since learned that it’s considered so American to eat on the go so I doubt we fooled anyone. But we enjoyed the snack that kept us from passing out in the heat as we reached mile ten that day.


I also remember visiting Shakespeare and Company the day after the walking tour – one of the most famous bookstores in the world located near Notre Dame. (You can read about this random guy who slouched all over me in the shop thinking I was in his group here.) I didn’t exactly need any more books, but when you’re an English major in Paris for the first time, you’d have to be an idiot not to buy something. So I did and later regretted not buying a tote bag, too.

Spending time in Paris reminded me that I knew nothing about the Fench Revolution which is always a topic I’ve wanted to learn more about (apart from what Les Miz has taught me – all set to a catchy score).

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Enter The Beginner’s Guide to the French Revolution by Peter Davies whose cover features Delacroix’s Lady Liberty Leading the People (1830), a painting we saw earlier that day at the Louvre (so meta). I mean, how could I not get it?

I think this photo is especially good because that random woman is reading the wall text in the corner.

At checkout, they asked me if I wanted them to stamp with their logo. Hell yes, stamp my book! I didn’t come all the way here to buy a stamp-less book like an idiot.

But in typical fashion, I read about three pages, saw something shiny, and left it to collect dust on my bookshelf. Adding it to my Books I Meant to Read list. I read it after that Marie Antoinette biography (for the sake of chronology), and then tried my hand at making French bread (a food I don’t know how to cook). And let me just say that Paul (the bakery chain or Hollywood) isn’t racing to hire me.

I used the recipe in Joy of Baking (that’s right- a recipe out of an actually book) which actually worked pretty well. Even if the loaves didn’t look particularly pretty. I think what went wrong was my over-kneading the dough so the loaves didn’t rise properly.

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Crossing “food stylist” off my list of career prospects

If you have any good French bread advice (everyone always does), let me know. I think I’d use the same recipe again, but not mix for the 12 minutes Joy recommends.

Anyway I think if the Champs-Élysées is not just around the corner like it was this summer, French bread is best enjoyed with Les Miz (That’s right Aaron Tveit [or Ramin Karimloo, depending on which adaptation you’re watching] To the barricades! With these delicious homemade baked-goods. No revolution is complete without baked-goods.) Or, you could just enjoy this from Key & Peele: 

 

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Mmmmm…carbs.

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Exit Through the Gift Shop 

So this is going to be my last post for this trip. I know, I know. You’re heartbroken. But I’m planning on keeping this up when I travel because 1) my daily life is not interesting enough to warrant blogging and 2) this world really needs more snarky, unqualified opinions. And I’m happy to fill the void.

About the name: Someone asked me about the “Jane Austen Drank Here” name in Paris so I thought I’d wait until the last post to explain it. Amy Sherman-Palladino who created “Gilmore Girls” had a production company called “Dorothy Parker Drank Here.” Since I basically worship Amy Sherman-Palladino (she’s usually on my fantasy dinner party invite list), I decided to steal her idea and modify it for my own personal use. I liked using Jane Austen as the subject since I like her work and because you don’t generally associate her with drinking like you do Dorothy Parker. I honestly have no idea where or what Jane Austen drank, but the name seemed fun.

This particular post is called “Exit Through the Giftshop” in reference to the Banksy documentary and because whenever you leave a tourist-y place, there’s always a gift shop. I would know since I’ve been in most of them at this point. Seriously, I bought way too much junk on this trip.

I’d also like to thank all of you who have been reading this over the last two months. Even though the work is its own reward blah blah blah it’s still nice to know that there are people out there reading this. So thank you.

I’d also like to thank my mom for letting have this trip. And for giving birth to me. A shout out on my blog will, of course, not make us even. But many thanks and much love to you, Mama, all the same.

So goodbye/cheers/au revoir/ciao from Europe. See you when Jane Austen goes drinking again.

BFB

Jane Austen Wrote Here (And Here, Too)

I love traveling with fellow smartasses. It makes the journey so much more enjoyable when you can trade snide jokes with the person standing next to you. Bath was a haven for us in that respect. But let me back up.

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Flowers in a park in Bath

While I’m in London, I actually have to go to school (which totally cuts into my wandering-around-aimlessly time). I think I’ve already alluded to the Shakespeare class I’m in, but I haven’t mentioned the other, far more enviable class. It’s called “Jane Austen to Downton Abbey: Literature of the Country House” and the reading list is spectacular. We just finished Pride and Prejudice and are now 100 pages into Wuthering Heights. Tough work, but someone’s gotta do it. Every class we take a field trip to some literature-y place in London. Thursday we went to British Library and toured their “Treasures of the British Library Collection.” A bit of a step up from the Special Collections I work in back home. Their collection includes a Gutenberg Bible, Jane Austen’s manuscript for Emma, and the original lyrics to “Yesterday” in Paul McCartney’s handwriting. And this is only a few objects. Literally every single major British writer (Shakespeare has his own section) is represented in this display case. (They don’t allow pictures inside or I would share some.)

We were there specifically to see Jane Austen’s writing desk. Now when I said desk, you’re picturing like a chair and table, right? Like something we all had in our college dorm rooms? Nope, it’s like a little tray-thing that flips open to be a flat surface. A little underwhelming but still– How cool! Jane Austen literally write on this thing. You almost want to press your face against the glass and see if you can catch some of that creative spirit, but not really because that would look really weird.

We wandered around until making our way to (where else?) the gift shop. Let me just say that the British Library is losing its mind over this whole Magna Carta anniversary thing, and it’s really starting to show. The Magna Carta will be 800 years old this year (Isn’t it marked on your calendar?), and the British Library is super excited and wants you to be, too. They sell (I’m not making any of this up): Magna Carta facsimiles, bound copies, CDs, pillows, soap, whiskey, and rubber ducks. So you could hypothetically sit in the tub listening to Magna Carta music, drinking your Magna Carta whiskey, while you read the Magna Carta to your Magna Carta rubber duck before going to sleep on your Magna Carta pillow. But there’s this desperation in their celebration. Like “Please care about this as much we do! This is such a big deal until 2040 when the Magna Carta is 825, and we try to sell you the same stuff all over again!” (For real though, as someone who has written papers about obscure works of art, I totally get their vibe.)

I just bought a Jane Austen Christmas ornament. Because it didn’t happen unless you got the Christmas ornament to prove it, right?

Friday we went to Bath where Jane Austen spent some time during her life. Bath totally embodies my theory that England can perfectly balance past and present. Like, you pass an Apple store on the way to the Roman baths. Which prompted many smart-ass remarks of “Did Jane Austen get her iPhone here? Did she shop at that Urban Outfitters? Isn’t there a scene in Pride and Prejudice where Darcy goes into a Tesco?” We had lunch at a local pub where they display Jane Austen’s picture (making all of my #JaneAustenDrankHere dreams come true!). I don’t think she actually drank here, but whatever. Let me dream, okay?

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#JaneAustenDrankHere
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The pub where we had lunch

We toured the Roman baths for about an hour. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Bill Bryson has a little audio tour here. I’m trying to read his book on the U.K. called Notes from a Small Island, and I can’t get into it yet. But he has a nice voice. Also, I hate to brag, but I’m basically an audio guide connoisseur at this point. Just a little something for the CV. (But can I still be a connoisseur if I had to look up how to spell “connoisseur”?)

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Roman baths
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Sculpture of Roman emperor with Bath Abbey in the background
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Goddess Minerva who was worshipped at the Roman temple

The baths are really cool, or well, warm. They take you through a tour about how it used to be a huge temple complex, too. I won’t bore you with all the history of it because I have already forgotten most of it. However, I do remember that at the end there is little tasting room. Well, not a room. More like a corner with a sink in it. And the famous Bath water. It reminded me of the scene in The Office when they get the aluminum water bottles from Sabre, and they’re like “It tastes like I’m drinking batteries!” Yeah, Bath water is like drinking batteries. Or, as Charles Dickens said, like “warm flat irons.” They put that quote on the wall next to the sink! Like they’re proud  of their weird water! And we all have to go along with it because it’s historic. It’s the Emperor’s New Water.

Their gift shop was really cool, though. They sell lots of soap. Bath bath soap. And little bottles of their water which you would buy, presumably, for your enemies. (The sore throat I’ve had this weekend developed after drinking the water in case you were wondering why I’m so bitter about it.) And they had Latin translations of the first two Harry Potter books. Which I kinda regret not getting. Because no one taught me Latin in my 13 years of Catholic school, then I should probably learn it from a book about witchcraft, right?

After the baths, we went to the Royal Crescent which was basically the Hollywood Hills of 18th-century Britain. More “Did Jane Austen touch this lamppost?!” jokes. After that some of use noticed a church higher up the hill (Bath is like a giant hill), and when you’re wearing shoes with poor arch support and you see something that’s far away on a hill, you should go look at it. Bonus points if you’re a little dehydrated.

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Royal Crescent
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The church that was closed
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Bath Abbey– also closed when we got back to the town center

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After we traipsed up the hill and discovered the church was locked, we walked around Avon Lake that runs though the town. They have a small pet cemetery in the park next to it. Then we bought some gross sandwiches for the ride home.

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Avon River
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Avon River
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Street art

Okay, before I end this: is Bath named for the Roman baths? Like, was everyone just like “We have these bath things, let’s just call it “Bath”? Bill Bryson did not talk about this in the audio tour.