"The evolving Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

April 7-13 2008

Monday, we decided to check out the French school, L’Atelier 9 we plan on attending. Got there, but a class was in session, and no one heard the doorbell, so we decided to leave. The reason why we selected this school is that the class sizes are no more 9 people. So, we decided what the hell, we’re close to the Galerie Lafayette, why not just walk there, lucky me. It’s a huge ornate department store. It has this huge rotunda and was quite gaudy, but absolutely gorgeous to me. However, it was so crowded that you couldn’t really shop, not that we need anything. We were starving, so we decided to go to the Chinese restaurant on the upper most floor. It was bland, bland, and blander. Now here’s the clincher, the restaurant is a Sichuan restaurant. I was shocked. Oh well. I’ve been told that most Europeans don’t like hot/spicy foods. So we’ve decided to stick to small bistros and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that I like.

Then we headed off to the Pompidou. When it was first erected many Parisians said it was ugly, I couldn’t concur more it is butt UUGLEE!!!. We decided to head towards the mayor’s office to see and support the “Free Tibet” rally. We found out later that the run with the torch through the Paris landmarks was cut very, very, short since the security feared mob violence. It was kinda exciting, my first radical behavior in Paris.

As we continued on, Jack wanted to see the Jewish area of the Marias. We walked along this street called Rue St. Denis, my gawd; we saw some of the UGLIEST street walkers in the world. They were all dolled up in Fashion de prostitute, but they were old enough to be our grandmothers. It was like something out of Berlin 1930’s decadent. If these street walkers made $5,000 an hour, then there’s hope for me yet (lol). We continued on and went to the Jewish section of the Marais, very interesting I must say. Mostly, Hasidic Jews with the Payas (sideburn dreadlocks). They had kosher delis, and bakeries. Do not, I repeat, do not ask for a ham sandwich or a glass of milk with your corned beef sandwich, but I suppose you already knew that.

Tuesday: Went to the school, and we finally got enrolled. It’s going to cost us $900 each for a month session, but unfortunately we can’t start till May 5, ‘because they’re booked. Oh well. So we took a walk down to the Place de dome. Talk about quite lovely, there are very high end stores. I have to say, Parisian’s put a lot of thought on what they’re going to wear. Men and especially the women. They wouldn’t be caught dead on the street with “sweats”. You can always tell the Americans, Germans and the British, they’re so sloppy. The women here are incredible. They walk on stiletto heels, and they walk really fast even on cobblestone sidewalks. What seems to be in fashion for women are very tight fitting slacks including jeans over very high stiletto heels with the slacks slightly over the back heel of their shoes. And, the chi-chi ones carry toy dogs as an accessory rather than as a pet. They definitely know how to accessories.

We headed on down to the Champ Elysee. Took pictures of each other holding the “Save Donner Summit” stickers. Then we went to the American Cathedral to meet a friend. While there we met a woman from LA who volunteers there, but has lived in Paris for the past 20-years. The Cathedral seems to be a meeting place for English speakers. Afterwards we all met up at the Bastille for drinks. It seems the most popular area to meet is the Indiana Café (American café). As we were walking along the route, there were more high ends stores like Givenchy, Dolce Gabbanno, etc., and, we also have to pass the Spanish and Chinese Embassy. The latter was all blocked off and we weren’t allowed to walk by but had to cross the streets. After all the demonstrations I can see why. Got to the Bastille, it’s quite a busy frenetic area. Had a great time just sitting, talking and people watch. Drank too much, but got home OK, now my feet are just killing. So, we’re taking it easy for the rest of the night.

Wednesday: It’s been cloudy and damp, today was probably the worst day. So, we took it somewhat easy and walked around the Louvre. It was freezing. So, we sat in a little covered area and watched the people. We didn’t bring our museum pass otherwise we would have gone in. What were we thinking? We had an appointment at BNP bank in the afternoon. Banking here is not like banking in the US. Here, they’re doing you a favor. You cannot open an account unless you have a letter of reference from a financial institution. And, I’m assuming, for foreigners you must maintain minimum 8,000 Euro or $12,000 an all times. Plus you have to pay a monthly fee for the privilege. In the US, with a minimum of $500 deposit, you can get a free checking. When the banker said 16,000 Euros minimum maintained deposit, she probably saw the look of horror on our faces and allowed us to just maintain 8,000 euros. Amazing!?!?! 8,000 euros or $12,000 is a lot of many people, I wonder what locals have to do, inquiring minds what to know, and I will find out. Also, they’re real strict about checking and debit accounts here. If you mess up, the banks (all) will ban you from ever having an account. Who wants to carry around a lot of cash?

Tonight we had dinner with the Raisbeck’s. They live in the 11th. Got lost ‘cause they live on one of those small side streets. Found them, they live on the 4th floor (French) or 5th floor American. It’s a walk-up with no elevator. We also live on a walk-up. So, we’re constantly climbing stairs since we live in the highest point of Paris. Hopefully, when we return I’ll have the butt of steel. ‘Cause where we live, in order to get to our apartment we have to climb uphill. Plus we are on the 3rd (US) floor. They have a cute apartment, large, and extremely quiet since they’re on that side street. The apartment is very bohemian and eclectic. Loved it. Food was great. Carole served Alsatian, she got all her meats from the Kosher Butcher in the Marais.

Thursday: Went back to the bank to finish up our transactions. Then we headed to the Eiffel tower. If you ever go to the Eiffel tower, trick is get off at the Ecole Militaire. It’s a lot less congested. It was a somewhat sunny day, so we got some sandwiches and decided to sit out in the park and watch all the tourist. I suppose I can say that now, since technically we’re not tourist. Then we went back to the Marais ‘cause we were craving bagels. Got to the bagel store, and turned out the bagels came from New York City. Just like that salsa commercial, “From New York City…” Oh well.

They have a little scam here that I found very interesting. This happened twice already. A person will pretend to find a gold ring. Ask if it’s yours. And, if you say no, they will say since I found it I’ll give it to you for X number of Euros. So, while in Paris, be aware they have scammers as well.

Paris has a great system of bikes throughout the city. You can get a bike by leaving a deposit and dropping off at various locations. Considering how French drive, it’s a risky proposition if you don’t know what you’re doing. So, we’ll wait til we familiarize ourselves more with the city.

Went to the grocery store and encountered our first certifiable crazy person. I said politely “pardon” and he just started screaming and yelling at me. I felt like saying “F*ck you”, but he was holding a cane and I didn’t want him using it. So, I just ignored him.

Friday: We decided to check out one of the 2-major Chinatowns. It took us forever to get there. It’s in the 13th arrondisment. We finally found the central area. It was a bit disappointing, ‘cause it’s nothing like the Chinatown in SF, NY or Vancouver. It seems to be in a rougher part of town as well. We had an interesting time non-the less. Chinatown Paris should be called, Vietnam town. It seems all the major restaurants and shops are Vietnamese run and owned. I had a good time going into the Asian market, ‘cause it was all very familiar to me albeit really expensive. I would have bought more, but our kitchen cabinets are so tiny, I just bought a few Asian essentials.

We decided to have lunch there. For a pre-fix lunch it cost us about $15 each. I had no idea what I was getting. But turned out I got a nice won ton shrimp soup, a plate of bbq pork and duck, a beignet for dessert and a quarter liter of wine. So, I guess considering how bad the dollar is, it wasn’t too bad. Also remember, Europeans have coffee after their desserts, NOT with them, unless you specifically ask.

We decided to take the new street cars rather than the metro all the way back home. The streetcar went through the 15eme arrondisment. I’m glad we don’t live there. It’s not a very interesting area. Very dull, with nothing interest. Just a bunch of apartments and streets

I had my first rude encounter today. My metro pass wasn’t working, and I went to the station agent. She didn’t look at me or acknowledge that I was in line, she wasn’t even helping anyone. So I just barged up to her and asked her if she spoke English in French. She took her arm and made and X and said NO French only. So I showed her my ticket, and she looked at it and pointed to the entrance. Hopefully she activated it so I’ll be able to use it tomorrow. Well in any big city you’re always going to encounter a “beyatch” and this was my time. Thank God I come from SF, so I didn’t take it personally.

By the way, when you get on the metro you will have musicians playing for you in the actual train, and then they go around asking for money. Today, we had an interesting couple, a violinist and a clarinet player. As they played classical music, I found out later they were Americans. Boy Americans are poor and from a 3rd world country. I might have to start timesharing my kidney (lol).

Got home, and we got an invitation to see a gallery show featuring our artist neighbor. My feet were killing me and my left knee started to really bother me, so I decided to stay home and sit this one out. Jack went, but didn’t stay long, since, like everything in France the gallery was quite small.

Saturday & Sunday: My knee was worst, so I decided to ice it and keep off my knee until Sunday. Good thing I did. Jack went out and did some errands, and I decided to watch TV. Imagine this, if you get cable in France you get 600 channels. No not 6, 60 but 600. It’s amazing. Also, if the movie has nudity in it, they show the nudity on commercial TV. The French aren’t freaked out by nudity like Americans are. As much skin as Americans show, I just never understood why nudity is such a bad thing, and murder and killing on TV is OK. Oh well!

Sunday morning we decided to go to the Montmarte Cemetery. It is really at the bottom of the hill from us. So, if someone dies in my neck of the woods, I would just roll them down the hill and they’d fall smack dab in the middle of the cemetery in no time. We went and paid homage to the impressionist artist Degas, and a famous composer, who I know nothing about. Afterwards we decided to go back to the African market since it’s Sunday and they might have more interesting food stuff out. Wrong, still boring as ever.

Went up to Sacre Coeur and sat at the bench to watch people. Since our apartment is only 2-blocks away, went back for lunch then headed to the 1st Arrondisment to Brentano’s bookstore. One of a handful of English bookstores. And, Boy was it expensive. If a book normally costs $10, it’s going to cost another $5 on top of that. They have no shame. It started raining like crazy, so we decided to head back home.

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