Back in Seattle

January 18th, 2009 by Paul

Airports sometimes seem to be worlds unto themselves: not quite a part of their worldly location, looking more like other airports than the cities or countries they inhabit. All duty free shops look the same, regardless of what language the signs are in.

In this way airports provide the liminal experience between vacation and work, or a life in one city to another. By the time we had sat down at Charles de Gaulle airport, I felt I had already left France. It would not be long before we would in the below-freezing temperatures of Chicago and then to the foggy, gray skies of Seattle.

So far, the culture shock has been minimal. US dollars looked a bit odd at first, and I still sometimes think I need to say “bonjour” when I enter a store or café, or say “au revoir, bon journée” when I leave.

While such things aren’t necessary here, I did have my reintroduction to the peculiar brand of Seattle politeness as I was waiting for the bus. The bus approached the stop and opened its door. No one was getting off the bus, but everyone waiting paused for moment, a couple feet away, wondering who would be the first to board.

I didn’t hesitate: I walked right in and was the first person on.

The Last Days

January 11th, 2009 by Paul

It hasn’t entirely warmed up yet from the cold that seems to be on the minds of everyone in Paris. At least the sky is clear. On Friday, while we were leaving the Louvre just after dusk, Misty remarked that this was the first time she remembered seeing the moon during our time here.

In all the times that I’ve been here this is the first time I’ve been to the Louvre. I was dreading the crowds, but as it turns out going late on a Friday during a frigid January is a great time to visit the museum. The biggest crowds were around the Mona Lisa, of course, and it wasn’t very easy to get past the mass of camera phones to get a good look. Other than that, it was easy to move around, and quite peaceful if you had an interest in 18th century decorative arts and the like.

The night was beautiful, and eventually we found ourselves looking out the windows onto the Cour Carré or the Pyramide rather than at the artwork.

There are many things that I will miss about living here. I’ll miss the bakeries where we got our daily baguette. I’ll miss the boucheries where we bought meat for our dinners and the pâté for my lunch (I’ve developed quite a terrible addiction to the stuff, so I’ve resolved to start making pâté and rillettes at home. If it turns out well, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to share).

I’ll miss the new friends we’ve made here, although it’s never goodbye because we know we’ll be back to Paris someday.

I’ll miss the Metro. Living in Seattle, it’s easy to develop transit envy for practically any city that has even a modicum of fast and reliable public transportation. Even among larger cities, though, the Paris Metro is something entirely special. You are never more than a five minute walk from a Metro station, and in general it is easy to get from any part of the city to the other. Unless you are going from the 11th arronidissement to the 5th — then you might as well walk.

For the past couple weeks, we’ve been in that period at the end of any long journey where thoughts always turn toward returning home. While Paris would be an easy city to live in for us, we’re also looking forward to getting back to our home in Seattle. We’re looking forward to seeing our friends again, to our apartment on Capitol Hill, and our rabbits.

There’s a parting phrase in French, bonne continuation. I don’t think we have a good translation for it in English, but it can be taken to mean “all the best” or “good luck for the future.” It’s more of a permanent goodbye, though, and while we have to say au revoir to our life in Paris, I would prefer to also say à la prochaine. Until next time….

Paris Chicago Seattle

January 6th, 2009 by misty

We’re finally feeling the cold here, I mean, it’s not -30C like in Poland, but it’s -7. It’s -1 in Chicago, 10 degrees in Seattle. How I miss the days of 10 degrees – it’s been weeks! I thought Paris and Seattle had the same weather, I was very wrong. Tomorrow, we can look forward to highs in the -1s. So, I have been living below freezing for a month and yes, it’s unusual to see the Eiffel Tower covered in snow, but I’m ready for the tropical climate of good old Seattle. I want to wear only one pair of gloves! I want to not have to watch out for both black ice and doggie gifts. Maybe I’m just sad because our wine shop took the extended vacation (a second august) and our neighborhood is still just struggling back to life after la crise de foie of Christmas.

And yet, I can’t help wondering when is the soonest I can return to Paris?

French phases à propos

January 2nd, 2009 by Paul

You had a fantastic fin d’année, but you drank too much and the next day you had a terrible gueule de bois (a hangover, literally a “face of wood”). Or did you eat too much because you have les yeux plus gros que le ventre (“eyes bigger than your stomach”) and now you have une crise de foie (“liver crisis”)?

Luckily, when a holiday falls on a Thursday, many French take a pont (a bridge) and take the Friday off as well. Then it’s a good day to glander, to idle, perhaps catch up on episodes of “Heroes” or watch The Lord of the Rings. Careful that you don’t take too many idle days, or someone might accuse you of avoir un poil dans la main (to be a lazy person, literally “to have a hair in the hand”).

Or don’t worry about any of that and just have une bonne année!

Le fin d'année

Revelers on the Champs-Élysées

Le fin d'année

The Grand Palais on the Champs-Élysées

Le fin d’année

December 29th, 2008 by Paul

Paris has been fairly quiet this past week. Many of stores are shuttered with notes saying they’ll be open after the new year. Other Parisian transplants most likely returned to their home cities and towns, while the rest of the city is huddled inside to avoid the below-freezing temperatures. However, in a bizarre reversal of norms, the Monoprix was open this Sunday.

On Christmas Eve we went to Patricia’s Paris Soirées, where Misty was invited again to sing, having delighted everyone the last time she sang there. On Christmas we made a cuisse de dinde (turkey leg) for dinner with brussel sprouts, some salad salad, and a tarte au fraises. (I also had to have some foie gras, a traditional appetizer on holiday occasions. I enjoyed it: Misty would have none of it.)

This weekend Misty and I took a walk through the ménagerie in the Jardin des Plantes. The animals seemed to be loathing the cold weather about as much as we were, with the possible exception of the snow leopard who appeared to be eyeing the French children a bit too closely. We also had lunch at Breizh Café, where we learned just what a galette should taste like, rather what had passed for one at the tourist café in Le Mont-St-Michel.

On Sunday we had a fantastic time at a cocktail party hosted by our new friend Howard, even if we did stay out a bit late. For Wednesday we’re having dinner at the Bistro Paul Bert, and if we’re lucky we can find a place not completely overrun with crowds to watch the New Year festivities.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday, and I wish everyone a safe and happy nouvelle année!

It’s beginning to look a lot like…Noël

December 22nd, 2008 by misty

This weekend Paul and I braved the balmy 11C weather (58F) to celebrate the holidays. Mind that I had the flu and a temperature of 40C which is higher than the water temperature I use to do laundry, so our daytripping was curtailed. The weather is cloudy but warm and I did enjoy the fake snow machine at the Swedish Cultural Center for the sense of winter wonderland.

Paris isn’t overflowing with Christmas shoppers. Strasbourg in Alsace with its world famous Christmas Markets hosts over 2 million tourists for the holiday while Paris probably only has somewhere between 1 million and 34 million. Something like that. You really can’t tell the difference.

Tour Eiffel in EU colors

Tour Eiffel in EU colors

We started with drinks at Au Petit fer à Cheval Friday night, a great old zinc bar in the Marais. I then slept for 36 hours or thereabouts and returned to the world for a whirlwind of Paris’ Christmas Markets. The Left Bank stalls were traditional, with the addition of mint tea with pinenuts (my favorite!) to the vin chaud and biere allemande on offer, and Peruvian flute players. Small wooden sheds decked with holiday lights on a bed of astroturf filled with knickknacks, chocolates, and charcuterie.

The disturbing thing we noticed as we hit two more Christmas markets was that all the stalls at all the markets were exactly the same. Each vendor was part of a chain with few exceptions. At St. Surplice, there were hand-made doggie bags. Which is say, someone took stuffed animal dogs, emptied out their insides and put a zipper and strap on them. Dog purse. I would like to see someone put a little yorkie in one of those.

Poodle shaped purse

Poodle shaped purse

Along the Champs-Elysees from the Ferris Wheel at Concorde to Franklin Roosevelt, stalls upon stalls of Christmas cheer await the giant crowd of tourists pushing slowly on to the even bigger crowds in front of Champs’ megastores. Quality of wares decreased and so we have nothing to bring back to our friends – unless you wanted 20 € plush toy eiffel towers with malevolent smiles, santa hats with red spirals going up instead of an actual cap, incredibly ugly jewelry shaped like snakes, or a Christmas back scratcher. Please tell us now if any of those items were on your list, we still have 2 shopping days to go!

We enjoyed it as much for the silliness of the mercandise as the presentation and showmanship (break-dancing Santa in front of drink stall). The vin chaud here is brilliant and the macarons even more so. That’s the thing about Paris, the best gifts are edible and would not last the shipping. Paul and I will happily eat these for you and think of you fondly while we enjoy ;>

How do the French stay thin?

December 21st, 2008 by Paul

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It’s commonly called “The French Paradox.” The French eat foods high in saturated fat, drink more, eat later, eat chocolate and pastries and baguettes made from refined flour, and yet obesity rates in France are some of the lowest in Europe.

Even as there is evidence that obesity is on the rise in France, it’s still uncommon to see overweight people walking the streets of Paris. So while the nutritionists can point to the lack of processed foods or snacks in the French diet, perhaps it’s also because of the streets themselves.

Imagine yourself shopping along Rue de Rennes in the Montparnasse area of Paris. Or perhaps walking down Rue Faubourg St-Antoine on your way to the Monoprix. While walking you may have to speed up to pass people who are walking slower than you, or stop because there are people who are going in the opposite direction and there isn’t enough sidewalk space for everyone. Perhaps you have to swerve to avoid a scooter, or a car, or a delivery person, or the lovely and plentiful sidewalk hazards left by dogs. You may suddenly stop because the person in front of you who is talking on his cell phone stops and isn’t paying attention to the people around him (and if he were, he wouldn’t care).

When walking on these busy streets, you are never at a constant pace. You are constantly slowing down, speeding up, stopping and moving again. What you end up doing is something close to what athletes call interval training, something many fitness experts recommend as a fast way to lose weight.

This type of walking, of course, is common to many large cities, whether walking the Champs-Élysées in Paris, 5th Avenue in New York, or Leicester Square in London. So perhaps it’s not so much how the French stay thin, but how Parisians stay thin.

If you’re really wanting to stay thin the Parisian way, then take eating seriously: eat unprocessed foods in moderation, cut out the high fructose corn syrup, sit down and enjoy your meal, and don’t snack all the time. Then go for a walk on a really congested sidewalk.

If that doesn’t work, then take up smoking.

Parties in Paris

December 17th, 2008 by misty

Saturday, Paul and I had a few people over to celebrate December. We tried a white elephant gift exchange but I think my guests were too polite to get into the Stealing spirit. Well, I also made the spending limit 10 euros. What can you buy for less than 10 euros?

Bottle of wine from Saumar Champigny
Mini votive candle powered fondue set
Mr. Grumpy hand warmers
Foot long cardboard eiffel tower filled with Lindor milk chocolates
Cardboard form of an elephant for decopatch supplies
Edith Piaf Greatest Hits CD
A Japanese towel specially designed to clean the backs of your faucets. I won this and I have never had a better gift. Truly, I know just what faucets are going to get it!

After our friend Howard was kind enough to take us to a French party. Everyone there had a “detail” like a pin on the back of a shirt, a small toy chick in a pocket, a small cow toy hanging from an earring, one fake sideburn, a clown nose, bangs like Cameron Diaz in There’s Something About Mary, blue hair, etc. The party was super informal, silly string was constantly sprayed. Everyone used the “tu” form which we thought was cool. As we were by far the oldest people there, Paul and I were happy to fit in at all.

Paul was monopolized all night by a man dressed as Vincent Cassel playing Mesrine, the French gangster. The man was either trying to practice his English or get a date with Paul. Meanwhile, I “geeked out” considerably with my IA buddy, Milan, and practiced my French by discussing Vincent Cassel’s other films with another mec named Vincent. No one has seen Eastern Promises. How can that be?

Algerian pastries at La Bague de Kenza

December 14th, 2008 by Paul

If you think of the words “Paris” and “pastry,” what comes to mind? A croissant or pain au chocolat? A macaron? How about baklava?

While I don’t think I’ll be able to separate Paris from pain au chocolat, I won’t be able to think about pastries in Paris without also thinking of the Algerian pastries from La Bague de Kenza.

We didn’t even read this article in the New York Times before we happened on La Bague de Kenza on Rue Faubourg St. Antoine, just down the street from us. We were just walking down the street one day and saw through the window a store full of the tiny delicacies stacked into pyramids on silver platters. How could we resist? We walked in, sheepishly, and even with our basic French could only manage to point at what looked good.

We pointed at the cute pastries made from almond paste and shaped to look like whatever fruit it’s flavored with: orange, pear, apple, banana, fig. We pointed at the small rolls or “fingers” filled with pistachios. If the woman behind the counter suggested something, what else could we do but nod, unwittingly, knowing that everything would taste wonderful?

We weren’t disappointed. Despite their looks, the pastries aren’t overly sweet. Some of the fruit can be very sugary, but others are softer and more subtle, and remind me more of halva.

La Bague de Kenza has two locations in the 11th arrondissment, one in the 15th, and another in the suburbs. Paris will always have pain au chocolat, but I’ll always have my memories of Algerian pastries.

Paris instructions

December 12th, 2008 by misty

What I’ve learned from living in Paris

The mice in the metro stations are cute
Bus drivers slow down if they see people running for the bus
People will block your way on the street, subway, store, bar, wherever, they aren’t being rude, they just don’t notice you.
Wine is sooooo good
If you don’t give someone a cigarette, he may spit on you
There is foie gras at the grocery store
You are never very far from a ham sandwich