Quotes

Feb 23, 2014

Skate Date at City Hall: Vieux Pané

THE STORY:

It's not Rockefeller Center. I think it's even more atmospheric than that: Check out the ice rink that's put up in the square of Hôtel de Ville (not a hotel, but rather City Hall) just across the bridge from Notre Dame on the Right Bank. What I love is how this square is used in such a joyful, family-friendly, modern way, when it's got such history.



Which doesn't mean there's not still the odd political protest here. It is City Hall after all.


A City Hall has stood on this spot since the 14th century. The first stood from 1357 to 1533. The second, Renaissance-style structure was there from then until 1871, when it was burned in rebellion. The square in front was used as place for executions until 1832, including, famously, the guillotining of Marie Antoinette during the French revolution in 1789.

The current -- third -- Hôtel de Ville has been there since the turn of the century (1900s, that is). Not only is it still the seat of Paris' government and the home for the annual ice rink, but they also hold wonderful, free exhibits here. Among others, we've seen great exhibits on Sempé, a history of haute couture dresses, and the current exhibit of Brassaï, a wonderful photographer who documented Paris in black and white in the early 1920s. I think Paris looks pretty good in color, too, especially City Hall on a clear night.



It's a beautiful setting, made even prettier by the lovely winter wonderland lights that sparkle while the rink is up, from early December through March.
 

The skating at the rink is free. It's the skate rental that costs money and generally creates the bottleneck of people waiting. Avoid sunny weekends at all costs, but other than that, there's usually no line at all. One of Gigi's best friends lives right across from it and simply has her own skates. That way, she can simply go on the rink whenever she wants. The girls are invited to birthday parties here every once in a while. But it's very romantic -- and makes a great daddy date, too.

  

THE CHEESE: Vieux Pané

Vieux Pané is an industrial, pasteurized cow's milk cheese froma small department called "Mayenne" in the heart of cow country -- in the Loire, by the frontiers of Brittany and Normandy. It is aged for two weeks, during which time the crust is washed, but it becomes only lightly moldy and stinky; frankly, it's not in the same league of stink as the unpasteurized washed rind cheeses like Epoisse. It's decorated with little square impressions in a grid on top and is, itself, in the form of a square. Unless you only buy a wedge, in which case you'll get a triangle.
 
 
Vieux Pané is mild and creamy, but lacks the sweetness of a Brie or Camembert or the power of a Livarot or Pont-l'Évêque. It's a little like a poor man's version of these cheeses, with a tiny bit of salty-acid-stink but nothing too aggressive or impressive.

THE CONNECTION:

First of all, this story is, once again, in honor of the Olympics. This time, it's about my personal favorite winter Olympics sport -- ice skating.



At first, I was very excited for the cheese connection because I thought the script said "Vieux Pavé" meaning "Old Cobblestone"; the best cheese I could find to honor the history in this old cobblestone plaza would be one that looks like, and is named after, old cobblestones. However, it turns out it says "Pané" which means, cryptically, "Breading". While the cheese looks exactly like a cheese that would be named for cobblestones, with all those little squares, it doesn't look anything like a cheese that would be named for breading. 'Tis a mystery.

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