The Knife of the Picnic

photo: ile saint louis
Every time I pass, they are over there - having a picnic.

eMails From Picnic Fanciers

Picnic Tools - eMail from Walter Conway, via the Internet:
Dear Ric,

Monday, 1. June:- Loved the piece on picnics. Although personally, I think I have done more picnics with mineral water and fruit juice than wine. Makes it easier to get through the afternoon and more refreshing after a heavy morning of touristing. The packaging of juices in Europe makes this easier than in the US.

Great advice on the knife, too. I always carry my trusty Swiss Army knife - had it for years - almost lost it once to an Italian security guard who thought I might use it to take over an airliner. He spent an inordinate amount of time opening and closing the blade... opening and closing the blade... I tell you, he really wanted to keep that knife for himself, but I just stood there, staring back, waiting for the moral weight of the passengers stuck behind me to take effect.

graphic: old laguiole knife
An old model of a Laguiole knife, with a single blade and handle of horn.

He eventually let me go, with the knife. Now I also take my Opinel which is far superior for picnics. You can buy them here, now; I've seen them in stores and fancy food catalogues. Picnics are a great way to get away from restaurants. Much more comfortable, you can eat more or less, get just what you want, and - cheapskate! - save money.

I think the French knife, the Opinel, is the ultimate picnic knife. It is the little wooden-handled job with the single, very sharp blade folded inside.

You tap the end of the handle on a hard surface, and the knife blade comes out a little; you then open it the rest of the way and lock it in place with a small collar that keeps the blade from closing on your knuckles while slicing a saucisson.

They come in a lot of sizes, but my favorite is the number 8 - with an eight cm blade. Long enough to definitely get confiscated before boarding your favorite airplane...

The piece by Murray Aronson was wonderful. May he return for many more visits.

Lastly, about 'Paris à Vélo' - this was the group recommended by Paris Connections, the folks from whom we rented our Paris flat. Seems like a good idea, we just didn't have time for it all. Too busy picnicking in - in the Jardin de Luxembourg.

Walt

Walter Conway©1998

Jack The Knife
Bonjour Walt,

Paris:- Sunday, 7. June 1998:- The reason I mentioned a knife being the only tool you really need for a picnic, is my kids 'disappeared' mine. At present I am knifeless.

Your 'Opinel' knife is not at the top of my memory, so I decided to find one. My imperfect database told me there is a first-class knife shop somewhere in the Marais. The one I think I heard mentioned is actually in the rue Sainte-Opportune, near Les Halles.

The Bazar Hôtel de Ville used to have a fair hunting and fishing department, but it is gone. On Wednesday, a lady selling kitchen knives upstairs there gave me a card for 'La Laguiole du Marais' in the rue du Pas de la Mule, which is next to the place des Vosges.

This modest shop, run by Bernard Audren, has only one brand of knives. They are from Laguiole in the Aveyron. He told me there are six makers of hand-made knives there; making modern versions of 19thphoto: shop coutellerie century models, originally designed for local cattlemen. The steels used are carbon-steel and '440 inalterable,' and a new one named ''Montezic' which combines the best qualities of the first two.

Bernard Audren's small but busy shop, in the rue du Pas de la Mule.

The knives' traditional handles are either made from the tips of horns or fine woods, including olive. These knives are made by hand and are somewhat expensive; running up to US$100. or more. The ordinary models have only one blade and the elaborate ones have a point for piercing holes and a corkscrew. These last 'three piece' models require 216 operations to manufacture them.

Thiers in the Puy du Dôme is the knife capitol of France. The small Laguiole group has also taken over an important 15th century knife centre in the western Pyrenées I was told. These types of traditional knives are not classified as weapons under French law, because they contain no spring-loaded aids to open the blades.

The 'Opinel' knife can probably be found almost anywhere and one suitable as a picnic tool will cost 35 francs; but will not be impervious to rust. Among the Swiss Army knives you see all over the place, the one to look for is the all-steel job with the real rivets. This is the one the Swiss Army uses.

At the somewhat generic 'Rasoir Service' in the rue Caumartin on Friday, I saw that they have Laguiole, Opinel, and the all-steel Swiss Army knives. All of the shops mentioned here sharpen knives and repair them.

Regards, Ric


More Picnic Spots in Paris and Region

eMail from Craig Tredeau, via the Internet:

Dear Ric,

Tuesday, 2. June:- There are some other places in and around Paris that I think would be perfect for having a picnic. For a quiet place right in the heart of Paris I would suggest place des Vosges. Its a nice place to take a break after visiting the Bastille or the museums in that area such as the Victor Hugo museum right in the south-east corner of the square.

In the Les Halles area you could picnic right in the park at Les Halles or go onto the Palais Royal and picnic in the square.

If you are going to the Eiffel Tower or Invalides you could go on to the Rodin Museum and picnic in the gardens. After going to the Louvre you could picnic in the Tuileries.

If you are going along the Champs-Elysées you could picnic in the small park near thephoto: square vert galant place de la Concorde. What I think is the best place in Paris to have a picnic would be along the pond in the Bois de Boulogne in the south-west side of Paris.

The Square Vert Galant, at the western end of the Ile de la Cité, is a good picnic spot too.

For picnics outside of Paris, if you are going to Versailles, I would suggest having a picnic in the gardens or by Le Hameau. The gardens of Fountainebleau and Rambouillet would also be great places to have a picnic. If you go out to Chartres there is a river behind the church that has a quiet spot to have a picnic.

I know I probably forgot some, but there are probably enough places in and around Paris that you could have a picnic once a week, all year long.

Regards, Craig

Craig Tredeau©1998

The Picnic Unguide
Bonjour Craig,

Paris:- Sunday, 7. June 1998:- Picnics by nature should be informal and as such, require no formal guide for where to have them. Paris as a city is particularly rich in suitable locations for them.

If you include the whole Ile-de- France, then you could probably have a picnic in as many different spots as there are days in the year - weather permitting.

For this reason, trying to write a guide to - even good - spots would be a bit redundant; you can use any general guide you have.

If you don't feel like buying one, the Ville de Paris has two free guides currently available for the occasion of the World Cup. These can be found at the Tourist Office on the Champs-Elysées and at the 15 new visitor information kiosks scattered around the city.

For the Ile-de-France, I suggest a visit to their information centre, located in the Carrousel du Louvre - under one of the pyramids - directly accessible from the métro stop Palais-Royal.

Regards, Ric

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