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Archive for October, 2009

J’ai faim

Paris is known for shopping, but, unlike the two Obnoxious Americans in my french class, I’m not very interested in the myriad haut couture clothing stores – even though I walk past several in my somewhat surreal walk to and from the subway every day.  No, the shops that make me want to spend every last centime in my wallet are the ones that sell poivre-crusted chevre and baguette de tradition. So, to get my creative cooking juices going before dinner, and make you all hungry, a few of my favorite food pictures from the last few weeks:

Rue Montorgueil, the posh and charming market street in the 2nd Arrondisement

Rue Montorgueil, the posh and charming market street in the 2nd Arrondissement

The well-polished legumes of Rue Montorgeuil

The well-polished legumes of Rue Montorgueil

Mmmm, bread.

Mmmm, bread. And a Nestle ice cream case?

Scallops in the shell and other fruits de mer, Rue Mouffetard.

Scallops in the shell and other fruits de mer, Rue Mouffetard.

Julia Child was right - there's nothing like French butter.  And definitely nothing like a French butter display.

The butter case at the Le Bon Marche Grand Epicerie. Julia Child was right - there's nothing like French butter. And definitely nothing like a French butter display.

The best baguette I’ve had so far (and sadly didn’t photograph) is at the bakery around the corner from KC’s place in the 18th.  However, this one, from the above-photographed Maison Collet, is pretty good:

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And I really need to check out the two recommended here.

Now my stomach is rumbling.

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Tuck-Tuck

It’s been a year since Tucker died.  A year ago today I never would have believed that this is where I would be on this anniversary.  But, I’m sitting here in the library, looking out the windows at an amazing sunset (it’s even making the ugly buildings out in the Banelieu look pretty), and I’m going to stop on my way home to buy the yummiest looking french carrots I can find.

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And, I promise, back to more fun Parisian news next time!

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Fall vs. L’Autumne

It’s been brisk and chilly here for the last week or so, and even though I know that fall in New England is a tourist destination for a reason, I keep having to remind myself that the lack of technicolor in the trees here doesn’t mean it won’t be winter soon.  I’m used to some kind of glorious payoff, after suffering through a smothering summer, and before the freezing weather sets in.  But here, and in most parts of the world, leaves don’t turn unimaginable shades of yellow and orange and red – they just turn brown and kind of shrivel themselves off the branches.  It’s seriously lame.

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Look, a Bunny!  (Honestly, those leaves didn’t look that yellow in person)

But, still it’s Paris.  Maybe mother nature just decided that people had done enough work making it pretty, and adding colorful leaves would send everyone over the edge?

And, they do have some very colorful ornamental greenery in the garden:

DSC00474Swiss Chard as an Under-Utilized Border Shrub: Discuss?

It turns out that the most confusing part of it, at least for me, is that it still smells like Fall.  Even those leaves that just gave up the ghost and flopped to the ground still smell all Fall-y when you walk through them.  So, I’m walking through the Luxembourg Gardens, and the air is crisp, and the leaves are giving off that smell…and then I look up, and it looks like late November, not mid-October.

I went for a walk in the Bois de Boulogne the other morning (maybe I was subconsciously hoping the leaves there would have discovered the wonders of chlorophyl and turned pretty colors?  It was not the case).  Partly I wanted to have some nice quiet time in a semi-pseudo-rural place, but I also wanted to see what I could see of the two stables I’d heard were out there.  I found them, but it turns out that ritzy stables in the ritzy parkland that was once Napoleon’s pleasure ground are not inviting to visitors.  I did, however, see two people riding out on a hack (I can’t seem to bring myself to call it a “trail ride” in that particular setting.  It was most assuredly a hack), dressed to the nines.  Horses gleaming and with manes braided, and riders wearing tall boots (polished, of course), white breeches, black jackets, and top hats.  TOP HATS.  Sure, upper level dressage riders wear top hats as part of their show attire, but on a ride in the woods?  These were not my people.

That didn’t keep me from being more than a little bit jealous.

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Art, etc.

The good: having a place to live

The bad: the internet has been down there since the day after I moved in.  Did I kill it by posting photos of the apartment?  Is it a very very shy apartment, and it was so offended that I posted pictures of it on the internet – for the whole world to see – that it’s now shut me off from the world wide interwebs?  I don’t know, but hoping it gets fixed soon.  I would offer to call the company myself, since my roommate has been working super long hours, but A) I have the language ability of a two year old, and B) even when I called Comcast, back in Somerville, and talked to people who spoke the same language as I do, it would often take 3 phone calls and 2 tech visits to convince them that, yes, the internet really isn’t working, no, it’s not my router or my wireless hub that’s the problem, and yes, you do need to go to that scary tangle of wires outside and rework something so that the whole system works again.  I’m pretty sure en français that process would just end up with one or both of us in tears.

This is all by way of saying sorry for not having posted anything in a while.  I’m still pleading je ne suis pas en linge.

So, a few highlights from the last couple of weeks:

La Nuit Blanche. This was an all night arts festival in Paris.  Various installations were set up in prominent places around the city.  We went to the Luxembourg gardens, where we stood in a long line (thankfully entertained by an interesting photo exhibit on the Mekong Delta), to see this:

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The disco ball swayed gently in the wind, making those beams of light sway over the ground like some out-of-control searchlights.  Pretty cool, especially in comparison to the Eiffel Tower, and it’s own very in-control light.

There was also a sound installation, which was impressive in a creepy way, and a carrousel of black and white projections, meant to recall Plato’s cave, which reminded me more of a poor-(wo)man’s imitation of a Kara Walker piece brought to life.

We also went to Notre Dame, where there was a super weird (yes, I know, art is art, but I’m judging here) installation of huge plastic “crystals” that seemed to grow out of the floors of the chapels that line the aisles of the church, and glowed different colors.  The effect of the niches glowing in Technicolor was interesting, but close up the crystals were just strange, and seemed to have no relation to the spaces they were in.  The most impressive part of our visit, actually, was the adventure of trying to get inside.  The French have an interesting concept of lines.  People had formed a very orderly, if serpentine, line snaking away from the door.  Then, when we were about 20 feet from the entrance, a parade suddenly marched through the square.  You know, as it happens.  Random parades, just popping up all over the place.  Well, parades are all well and good, except once it had passed through all of the seemingly well-behaved middle aged people in the crowd lost their collective minds, and turned all crazy rock-concert mob on us.  There was a mad crush towards the entrance – yes, the entrance of a medieval church with an art exhibit in it.  Everybody go!  Take your chance, get inside, you might miss the weirdo crystals that are going to be up and glowing all night!!  Don’t mind those other people in your way, you’ve got pointy little old-lady elbows, use ‘em!  And, if that doesn’t work, just squish them in the direction you want to go.  Mind over matter, or something like that.

So, after fearing somewhat for our lives, or at least our wallets, for about 20 minutes, we finally coasted with the crowd up to the door, and were let in.  The contrast of the dark, calm, quiet of the interior with the herd of insane art patrons we had just been vomited out of was pretty surreal.

Speaking of art patrons, I also became a member of the Louvre last week!  (ahem, there was a segue there…) They have these great youth memberships for anyone under 26 – 15 euros and you’re in free for a year!  I went to visit my favorite piece of art –

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…and tried not to make annoyingly superior facial expressions at all of the people making a bee-line for the Mona Lisa (or, if you’re lucky, one of the tens of thousands of other pieces in the Louvre), only to snap a picture and walk away again.  Plenty of people have commented on this “I go to museums to photograph things in real life that I could just look at pictures of in books if I wanted to do that” phenomenon, so I won’t go into it here…except to say, The Hell?  I just don’t get it.

On that topic, there was this article in the New York Times a few months ago.  (For the record, I’m one of those people who reads wall labels, sometimes before, sometimes after looking at a piece. Sometimes I look, then read, then look again.  I read them because I’m always interested in the historical context of a piece, rather than its artistic merits alone.  I do, actually, think that knowing that a piece is 300 years old and from Papua New Guinea tells me more about what I’m looking at than looking alone.  On that point Michael Kimmelman and I seem to disagree.)

In non-art-related activities, I saw an improv comedy show this week, in French (well, in very simple, somewhat poor French, as it’s normally a group that performs in English, and French was a second or third language for most of the performers).  Highly entertaining, and even I could understand most of it!

I also discovered a lovely little library at the Foyer International des Etudiants, which reminds me of the Vassar library, except it’s only one room, and you can see the Eiffel Tower out of the windows.  I’m not complaining.

Finally, my classes started last week, but the strangeness of an advanced-beginner French as a Foreign Language class really deserves its own post, which I promise to write soon.

This post brought to you by the letter A, and a number of blurry photographs.  Thank you lack-of-flash.

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Home Sweet Home!

I moved into my new place today, so, as promised, a few pictures!

The main room, from the entry way.  Behind me are the kitchen and the bathroom, and next to me is a dining table.  Note big windows on the wall to the left, and cat on the couch.  :)

The main room, from the entry way. Behind me are the kitchen and the bathroom, and next to me is a dining table. Note big windows on the wall to the left, and cat on the couch. 🙂

Well, if you tilt your head (sorry for the technical difficulties!) you can see the stairs up to the sleeping areas.  My bedroom is on the left (or, the top, as it is right now...)

Well, if you tilt your head (sorry for the technical difficulties!) you can see the stairs up to the sleeping areas. My bedroom is on the left (or, the top, as it is right now...)

For a comparison (and by special request), the room KC and I stayed in the first week…

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Really need to figure this photo alignment thing out.  Sorry.

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Chez Moi

I have a place to live! Well, I at least have the promise of a place to live. Sometime in the next week I will be moving into an apartment in the 1st Arrondissement, shared with a young French woman and her very cute little cat. It’s not at all the kind of place I thought I would end up living in – first of all, who lives 3 blocks from the Tuilleries Gardens and Place de la Concorde? Generally not people who up until two weeks ago were spending most of their days mucking out horse stalls. Secondly, it’s a very unusual Parisian apartment. It’s much more like a New York-style loft, with one large main room, half of which has a kind of mezzanine sleeping area, and a small kitchen and a bathroom off of the main room. It’s small, but gets great light and seems very quiet and peaceful. Despite it’s unexpectedness, I think it will work out well, and I’m really looking forward to moving in. After two weeks of living out of suitcases the daily hunt for that shirt you know you packed, somewhere, if only you could find it at the bottom of your bag, gets pretty old.

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The first week in Paris has been a bit of a temporal vortex.  As, I find, are most first weeks in any new place.  You’re so wrapped up in the newness of it that every day feels fast, so packed with figuring and planning and doing, but in sequence they seem to linger, so that suddenly you realize you’ve been here a week, and it seems like you’ve been climbing that same twisty, uneven staircase to your teeny tiny little hotel room for months, instead of just six days.

I and my trusty traveling companion KC (who is, indeed, trusty, and fun, and speaks much better French than I do.  Basically, just the kind of person you want to have around when venturing off to foreign lands.) arrived at Charles de Gaulle last Wednesday, with suitcases in tow (and, in my case, one very large duffel bag over my shoulder, which left me with a truly bizarre bruise on my collar bone for a day or two).  We managed to fight the jet lag for almost 28 hours, until we both became narcoleptic and decided to succumb to unconsciousness even though it was still light out.   We made it all the way to 7:45.

In the week since then most of the time we’ve spent planning and figuring has been devoted to finding more permanent places to live than this bohemian little hotel we’ve been staying in.  Several options are in the works, but more on that as soon as something actually comes through.  Stay tuned…

One of the unanticipated bonuses of intensive apartment hunting in a new city has been the number of different areas we’ve been forced to explore.  I’ve seen 14 of Paris’ 20 Arrondissements (Still unexplored: the 7th, 11th, 12th, 14th, 15th and 20th.  That’s right, I haven’t been to the Eiffel Tower yet – it’s in the 7th.), and not all for apartment-hunting purposes.  Sometimes just for plain old exploring, or some of the best falafel I’ve ever had (in the Marais, the old Jewish quarter in the 3rd).  Although, if someone wants to start a company offering tours of Parisian internet hotspots, I’m your girl.  We’ve seen the insides (and outsides, and parklands) of a fair number of them.  A few things I’ve learned along the way:

1. Yes, it does feel a little bit strange to be checking your email on the steps of the Pantheon, but really, no one cares.

2. Don’t sit directly under a tree in the Palais Royal.  Or, if you do, look up first to check for pigeons.

3.  The French call wireless internet “wee-fee”, which gives the whole thing a rather Munchkinland-esque feel.

However, I’m not just here to wander the city looking for places to live.  I’m also enrolling in a language school (if you’re really interested you can find out more here: http://www.ccfs-sorbonne.fr/), to try to improve my French to the point where I can say that, yes, I do speak another language.  There are lots of reasons for that, but a big one is so that I don’t end up as one of those Americans in a foreign country, fanny pack securely around my middle, saying to someone, far too close and far too loudly, “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?  CAN YOU TELL ME WHERE I’M GOING?”  I start to recite verb conjugations to myself whenever I see those people.

So, registration was last week, which involved some pretty hilarious examples of French bureaucracy (note: Student ID pictures taken while standing behind a walk-up counter, after you’ve been trying to understand French for about an hour, are not flattering), and some moments when I was actually surprised at how much French I can understand.  And how little I can speak.  I feel myself getting this frozen “Oh crap, I have to say something now!” look on my face whenever someone asks me a direct question.  My brain is usually still at least half a sentence behind (if not just whirring around trying to latch on to the last word I understood, which was said approximately 3 minutes ago), and there’s no way I can process the question and produce anything close to language before the next ice age hits.

But that will all get easier in no time, I’m sure.  That’s why I’m here, after all.

And now, because my resident blog-expert friend said that one must include at least one picture with every blog post…enjoy!

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