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where will i eat today? or choosing a restaurant while visiting france

Eating well in France is important to me. Sometimes I organize my day around eating in a specific restaurant.

I live in France six months during the year, three months in Antibes, two months in Paris, and one month in Marseille. During those six months, I will eat lunch in a restaurant every day. Most of the time I will not repeat a restaurant. One can do the math. I eat in French restaurants 180 times each year.

If I am going to fly to France twice a year and spend between $1,000 and $1,500 for each ticket, I do not want to eat sandwiches or pizza or other fast foods while I am there. When I leave the apartment or hotel room in the morning, I do not want to carry a sack lunch nor do I want to eat “grab and go” meals. I want a good hot meal and I want to drink some wine. I will not become French when I am in France, but I can certainly pretend.

How does a visitor to France pick a restaurant? After all, eating in France should be an experience in itself. I suspect that most tourists choose a restaurant on the spur of the moment. If they are at Notre Dame, they will look around and choose one nearby, or select one that offers a menu that they understand, or pick a place that seems inviting or does not appear threatening.

That is a mistake. But, what should one do?

What do I NOT do?

Rarely will I rely on Yelp or TripAdvisor. (In fact I have blocked TripAdvisor on the my browser.) I am in France. Why would I take the advice of English speaking tourists, mostly Americans, when choosing a French restaurant in France?

I do sometimes make an exception. On the advice of Annie Sargent from The Join Us in France Travel Podcast, I have begun looking at Yelp reviews written in French by the French. That means typing into the search engines yelp.fr instead of yelp.com. But wait, there’s more!

a pleasant place to live, my neighborhood

“Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.” ― Walker PercyThe Moviegoer

“I came from a real tough neighborhood. I put my hand in some cement and felt another hand.” –Rodney Dangerfield

“I’ve had times where one of my roommates was moving out of the house in college, and because we were the only black people in that neighborhood, the cops got called, and we had guns drawn on us. Came in the house, without knocking, guns drawn on my teammates and roommates. So I have experienced this.” —Colin Kaepernick

NW Portland is my neighborhood. More precisely, it is NW 21st. It is white, mostly. I have lived within two or three blocks of NW 21st for much of my life. Not much has changed during that time. Some businesses made money and others departed, but the structures have remained.

It is sometimes called the Alphabet District. The streets, forming a grid, are named in alphabetical order. Davis, Everett, Flanders, Glisan, Hoyt, Irving, and so on.

Matt Groening, a Portland native and the creator of The Simpsons, named some of his characters after the streets, Ned Flanders, the bully Kearney, Reverend Lovejoy, for example.

One could place NW 21st in a desert, and travelers would call it a small town with NW 21st as its main street. “Artisan” is a favorite descriptive word. Ken’s Artisan Bakery offers bread that can rival anything the French have to offer. Ken was trained in France. Across the street is the Artisan of Hair. Down the street a short distance is Dick’s Kitchen that serves “Dork Burgers” and burgers made from elk, venison, and buffalo, depending on the day. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!

the flâneuse & random images around portland

“The photographer is an armed version of the solitary walker reconnoitering, stalking, cruising the urban inferno, the voyeuristic stroller who discovers the city as a landscape of voluptuous extremes. Adept of the joys of watching, connoisseur of empathy, the flâneur finds the world ‘picturesque.'” — Susan Sontag, On Photography

“I love walking in London,” said Mrs. Dalloway. —Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway 

As the images of flâneurs on this page and the language about them suggest, the flâneur is male, well dressed, a man with money who can while the hours wandering the streets. He is by himself; he may eat his lunch alone.

Does that mean a woman—une flâneuse—does not, can not, exist? Do women go for a good walk alone? Do they have sufficient income to permit the time to wander? Don’t they stay at home and watch after the kids?

Lauren Elkin, the cultural critic, has written a book Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London that was recently designated by the New York Times as a Notable Book for 2017. For her the flâneuse is a “determined, resourceful individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city and the liberating possibilities of a good walk.” (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

She does not recognize gender as a defining characteristic of a flâneur. It is an “individual” who takes a good walk. The dictionary defines a “flâneuse” as “a woman who is or who behaves like a flaneur.”

But wait, there’s more!

around downtown portland during a late november afternoon

Going away from home for a long time makes the homecoming sweet if the home is worth coming home to.

I relish the return. I was away from home for three months, I was missing my kitchen and the gadgets there and the meals I like to make, I was thinking of my favorite places to eat in Portland that I had not visited for some months, I was looking forward to conversations with family and friends in words heard and spoken and not written. The return is always sweet.

I must relearn how to live in the apartment. I must stop myself from speaking French to a server or a bus driver. I need to go shopping for food and resupply the pantry and that is always fun. The yoga classes must start and I must begin again the routine at the gym.

And, too, I want to wander the streets of Portland and remember. I was out and about the other day in the late November afternoon, capturing random moments that happened to draw my attention.

Portland, a foodie town, boasts hundreds of food carts. SW 9th and Alder might be considered the hub, the granddaddy of locations. Around one city block and extending along another it is the largest of the food cart pods. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.) But wait, there’s more!