June 09, 2023
Dear Frenchly Readers,
It was almost an afterthought, taking my kids to Sainte-Chapelle this past April. We had gone, with Frenchly contributor, Philip Ruskin, to marvel at the reconstruction of Notre-Dame. We had eaten Berthillon ice cream on the Île St. Louis and bumped into Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman while we were at it. We had walked and walked and walked and it was going to be evening soon. But as we were strolling up the Boulevard du Palais in the golden light, and passing the Sainte-Chapelle cathedral, my heart did a little skip, bump. “Let’s go see if we can get in,” I said.
A gothic chapel known for its intricate stained-glass windows, Sainte-Chappelle was begun around 1240 and was finished and consecrated in 1248. It became the royal chapel of France, within the Palais de la Cité, which housed France’s monarchs until the fourteenth century and is located on the Île de la Cité. It was King Louis the IX who commissioned the chapel, mostly because he wanted somewhere to house his large collection of Passion relics, including the Crown of Thorns. The Crown was later moved to Notre-Dame, where it survived, somehow, the 2019 fire.
Going up the narrow stairs and then into the upstairs chapel with the stained glass all around me, the incredible detailed paintings on the floors and every wall surface, and the way the light came through, was transfixing. Even to a couple of jet-lagged American kids full of sticky, sweet ice cream. “One can understand how you’d feel closer to God here,” I said out loud, perhaps foolishly. It felt, indeed, like a holy place, one where just the light and the height of the roof would change you, make some kind of believer out of you.
But I think what I loved the most was putting my hand on the bannister as we were leaving via a narrow staircase. So many had put their hands where mine was that the wood was worn down and indented and I could feel the passage of time and everyone who had gone before me, that collection of human spirits and full hearts in one room.
Later, after dinner at a fish restaurant called Soces in Belleville, I ordered some Framboise as a digestif. By Framboise, I don’t mean the Belgian Lambic beer that is pink colored. In this case, I mean the eau de vie, or water of life, that is clear and made from macerated wild raspberries and is local to the Alsace region of France. I became obsessed with Framboise on this trip to France and was interested in the subtle differences, bottle to bottle.
At its most basic, a glass of Framboise can taste like the flavor of raspberries on steroids, sending your taste buds to do cartwheels. But that simple raspberry flavor is for novices! When Framboise starts to get interesting, in my opinion, is when you can taste a bit of the earth, sun, mulch, or even a tiny hint of barnyard underneath—lending an amazing, transcendent complexity to the raspberry flavor. Someday, I will spend a month studying Framboise and all the complex subtleties bottle to bottle. But until then, the holiness I unexpectedly felt at Sainte-Chapelle, and then the incredible layers of flavor in that glass of Framboise, made me say, Mon Dieu!
À cuisiner, regarder et lire çe weekend:
It may be because I have a fourteen-year-old graduating TODAY from the eighth grade of the small school he has been attending for eleven years. But I am obsessed right now with this 2021 show, Mixte (Voltaire High, in English), about the 1963 integration of girls into an all-boys, French high school. It is funny, touching, well-done. Ricocheting between Friday Night Lights (which my older son and I are watching and takes place in a Texas football town in the early 2000s) and time traveling back to 1960s France is heady, to say the least.
It’s been raining where I live in Maine for almost two weeks. Or maybe longer. I have lost track. And though we need the water (and wish we could have shared some with Canada where terrifying wildfires have been raging), it’s been cold and hard to stay upbeat. This weekend, when the graduation hubbub dies down on Sunday, I have decided to make this Provençal Potato Gratin from none other than Julia Child. It looks warm and simple. On my way there, I am tempted, but don’t hold me to it, to make this rainbow sprinkle cake for the 8th grade picnic tomorrow. I make all my recipes gluten-free with my own mixture of flours, but you, too, can do it easily with any GF mix out there. Just remember you may need a little more oil or butter and milk as GF flours are drier. (Figure about 1/8 cup more milk or water per cup of GF flour and an extra soupçon of fat.) You all know my cake theory of life, right?
I loved reading this piece of Cat’s this week about the new Picasso show at the Brooklyn Museum. And here’s a roundup of opinions from Frenchly writers, and written up by Keith Van Sickle, about living in and moving to France. We have a new freelancer, Katherine Miller, who’s just joined us, and has written this week about free things to do in Paris. And don’t forget your bottle of Rosé for the weekend. National Rosé Day is tomorrow. I’ve already got mine!
One last tidbit: This article from 1998 in The New York Times about eaux de vie (“Fruit’s Essence Captured in a Bottle”) ends with a lovely anecdote about Paul Bocuse, the maître of modern gastronomy, from my other hometown, Lyon.
Stay well. Dodge raindrops or smoke,
Photo credit: Marsden Shetterly
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Caitlin Shetterly is the Editor-in-Chief of Frenchly. She is also the author of 4 books: Fault Lines, Made for You and Me, Modified, and the upcoming novel, Pete and Alice in Maine, which will be published on July 4th, 2023 by Harper. She is a native daughter and she lives with her two sons and husband in an old house on the coast of Maine.