About

"The reluctant 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

June 24 - 29 2008

Monday: Beautiful day, albeit extremely humid. We were invited to Jack #2 “J’s” house for dinner tonight, and I volunteered to make dessert. Rather than getting something heavy (!?!), I decided I was going to make fried bananas with ice cream. I had to go to Chinatown (Belleville) to buy some wrappers and the ingredients for the party.

We headed towards the bank, ‘cause I needed to get €275 to pay taxes for our carte de sejour. Got to the Bank, and the ATM and the bank was closed. How odd for a Monday morning. I’m still not use to all these different opening and closing schedules for various businesses. It’s really odd, some grocery stories (e.g., G20 closes on Mondays, other’s close on Thursdays etc.) Oh well. So we decided to head on to Belleville, and look for a BNP bank, our bank in Europe.

Fat chance we should find BNP that easy. We must of walked forever. We walked so far, we actually were at the northern end of Belleville before we found an ATM. After we got our money, we headed towards the grocery store, and on the way, I was craving Chinese, dah, I mean we are in Chinatown. So, we just picked one that had the most Chinese cliental, viola, we found one. Lucky for us the food was actually very good. Lesson learned, if you’re craving for Chinese and all you see are white faces, then you know the food has been westernized. I had their Sui Mai as an appetizer, and their Lacque duck. And, Jack had their tofu stir fry. Have to remember this place, ‘cause I really like it. Can’t remember the name, it’s probably something like, “Authentic Chinese…”

Headed to the Paris Store, and as usual it was packed. I found some rambutan (Asian Fruit similar to lycees, but the outside is covered in long stringy thick hair), quite delicious actually and I though how novel, get some of those, bananas and lanka, otherwise known as Jack fruit, imagine a fruit named after Jack, who knew? This mélage, as the French would say was for my “Banana lumpia.”

Got home, and I called J up, and he said the number of people has grown to 12-people. It seems crowds in Paris always grow. Thank god I always cook more than we need, so I said no problem, but I would buy the ice cream in his neighborhood since I didn’t want it to melt.

Made the banana lumpias, then took a little nap, nothing out of the ordinary. So we headed to J’s and stopped at a corner grocery store close to his house. They only had vanilla, which was their store brand. Interestingly, I discovered the store brands are actually quite good.

As I mentioned earlier, J has a beautiful home in Paris, so we were all curious as to what his house in Florida looks like. OH MY GAWD, his house sits on a peninsula, and it is literally a mansion, it looks like a hotel. The house is surrounded by white sand beach on all 3-sides, it must’ve been 10-15,000 square feet easy. Since he recently fired his butler, yes a butler, I offered to be his servant in Florida, but unfortunately the little black maid’s outfit just did not fit. Oh well. But he did invite us to come down December when they have some type of yachting event, and they all wind up at J’s house because he’s the last house on the peninsula. Who knows, we just might take him up on the invitation. J’s actually quite a lovely man, very humble and does not care about hanging out with brown trash like moi.

Aldo, Tracy’s boyfriend only speaks French, so I actually had a conversation with him, of course he was correcting my pronunciation constantly, but it was great fun to be forced to carry on a conversation in French. Albeit he must have cringed every time I opened my mouth.

It was about 12:15 pm and we needed to head back to the metro since they close at 1 am. We got on the line we needed to get to no problem. But our connecting train was stopped and it was 10 minutes to 1 am. I of course am furious, because they’re suppose to have trains running to 1 am. But the French system is such that they’re on their own schedule, methinks someone was in a hurry for a cocktail. They could learn a little bit from the Germans. Well we had to walk home, walk we did, and it’s all uphill. Needless to say I was not a happy camper, since methinks I drank too much.

We made it home by 2:30 am, but I was so wound up I couldn’t sleep till about 4-5 am. Oh well!


Tuesday: Another beautiful albeit very humid day. I now know why Parisians have such beautiful skin, it’s sooooo humid here. It’s like a constant facial. We decided to go get our stamp taxes. These are the taxes we have to pay in order for us to get our carte de sejour. So, we decided since it’s a nice day, why don’t we wonder around the 16eme arrondisment around the Victor Hugo metro stop. It’s like the Beverly Hills of Paris. There’s a Filipino store, granted upscale, in that area, I couldn’t find it oh well. We did however, find a place where they sold the stamps we needed. I mentioned to Jack that people in the 16th are so nice, or is it just my imagination. No, he noticed it as well. Wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that we were in a higher end area, Who knew?!? But I don’t recall ever being treated this nice on Rodeo Drive. Oh well.

Needless to say, as the day progressed it got hotter and more humid. So, I told Jack I need something to cool me down. Right around the Victor Hugo metro was a Hagen Daz ice cream store, so we went in. It’s €10 ($15) for most of their ice cream dishes. The wait staff are from all over the world, and you can tell what languages they speak by looking at their lapel pins. The lapel pins have flag(s) of different countries. Some had 3-flags signifying that they speak 3-languages. Granted you have to know country flags. Thank God I know the basic European ones, but we stuck with speaking French. We got what amounted to something that looks like an ice cream sundae. Imagine 2-SMALL scoops of ice cream with a little brownie and some whipped cream. It was a quarter of the size that you’d get in the US and we had the privilege of paying a total of $30 for it. Oh well, we learned. If in Paris, go to a gelato place, it’s cheaper and better!!!

Decided it was just too hot to roam around, so we headed back to our hood. We got there, but decided to sit under some trees in our neighborhood square to cool down before going home and taking it easy, ‘cause tomorrow is a big day. It’s a huge sale or SOLDES day as they say in Paris for the department store. It happens twice a year, and I need to rest up and build up my strength to do some serious shopping. We’re going with J since he has a car and we figured it would be less crowded in the suburbs!


Wednesday: “SOLDES”. My new favorite word. Yippee, we get to my favorite sport, shopping!. J invited us to come along and shop at the big stores in the suburbs. Couldn’t pass up this chance. He is unbelievable. He drives like a true Frenchman. He scared the sh*t out of me, but it was fun nonetheless. We got to our first department store, and it’s a store only for merchants/businesses called METRO. J was able to use his friend’s pass so we got in. A lot of the stuff was 50% off, so I was in shopping heaven. Also, this is the place where restaurateurs buy their meats, produce etc., granted in gigantic bulk.

I bought a fan in preparation for the upcoming hot summer nights for €28 I thought that was a bargain since I saw them at other department stores for €40.

The fun part was going to the food store. We had to put on special jackets to go to the refrigerator section. It was literally 2 very large rooms that was 35 degrees I would guess. They had all sorts of packaged desserts, meats, seafood, you name it they had it. Now I know why some of the stuff looks familiar, I ate a few of them at some restaurants we went to. I found some wonderful duck thighs and got a package of those, hope they freeze in my freezer. Oh well, we’ll find out. I bought gigantic Costco sized cokes and limonade (like 7-up). I figured I’d take advantage of J offering to drive us home. Can’t imagine trying to lug this all up a hill without a car, yikes. €150 later, I figured I did enough damage, so what happens when the shopping gets too tiring, we eat. We ate at their local café and it was just OK.

Speaking about not having really outstanding French food lately, a Parisian couple, born and raised here, told us that because Paris gets so many tourist a lot of the French restaurants are doing mediocre food, because the patrons are tourist and they’re not coming back, plus many don’t know any better. This Parisian couple told me that they had gone to a 4 star Michelin rated French restaurant recently, and they said it was so mediocre and they were quite upset that it was expensive to boot. They told me something I already knew, the ethnic restaurants are much better, and for authentically good French food, you need to go to the small towns outside of Paris. I wanted to go to Alan Decasse’s restaurant or Paul Bocuse’s in the Saint German de Prés, but after checking their menus, €80-100 for a starter and an average plat costing €120-150 without wine is a little pricey wouldn’t you say. Even if we could afford it, spending that kind of money for dinner is just too outrageous.

After the café, J took us to Carrefour, which is the grand Wal-Mart of Paris, but much nicer. Went in and I saw the exact fan that I just purchased at the Metro for €18, was I pissed! I could have used that extra €10 for 2-scoops of ice cream, oh well.

We figured we did enough damage, so J drove us home. We used my “garmin”, and I don’t think it was too accurate. It took us to some strange places, then we hit traffic, mon dieu! J was great, he maneuvered through traffic like a mad Frenchman, and he’s an American Jew, who knew? I guess it’s all that practice “ketvetching”

Got home safe, amazingly, although we spent about €200 there really wasn’t much to show for it. But I had a challenge, where was I going to put all this bulk soft drinks. Where else, but under the bed.

Had dinner, then about 10 pm our friend Mehran said it’s so beautiful out, why don’t we go out and have drinks. The sun doesn’t go down till about 10:30 pm. So, at 10:30 pm we met Mehran at the metro station and walked to the Sacré Coeur and took the funicular up, how touristy. We sat outdoors at the café and had some wine and watched all the crazy tourist till about 12:30 am. Ah, la vie c’est bonne!


Thursday: Low key day. Got started late, didn’t’ get out til 2 pm. The weather was lovely, not too hot and not too cold, but definitely still humid. Decided since it was a nice day, we’d take our metro line to the last stop, Mairie d’Issy (#12 line). Jack went there a couple of weeks ago when I was sick and wanted to show me the area. If we do decide to move to Paris, we’re thinking of moving more on the border of Paris since it’s quieter, and you get more house for your money, but also more importantly, you’re on the Paris metro line, so you can get into Paris within 15-20 minutes.

We went to one section of town a couple of miles East, it was not at all quaint, it looked like any other US suburban, but when we got to Issy, it was quite lovely, it looked like Old Paris, beautiful old historical buildings. So, we wandered around a little bit and then had some wine at a sidewalk café to soak in the ambience. Afterwards, went home and had a quiet evening.


Friday: This is our big to get our physical and hopefully our carte de sejour. So we left to go to the Bastille, and went through the regular lines to get called in for our physical. The key word in French bureaucracy is INCONSISTENCY! Keep in mind that Jack and I are pretty much doing this process side-by-side. Jack and I got called in together for our height, weight, eye test etc., we went through the usual except I got a blood extracted and Jack did not. Then we had our X-ray’s. Good to know we do not have TB. Then we went and had our interview with our doctors. Mine was really nice. He must’ve been about 7 foot tall. He claimed he didn’t speak English very well, but he actually did quite well. He told me the group that he found hardest to understand were Americans, but he understood people from South Africa, go figure. I told him that I didn’t understand people from New Zealand or for that matter people from the South, especially Alabama, he didn’t get it, but that’s OK. He gave me a passing mark, not good for a hypochondriac.

After we were done, we were told to go to the Prefecture Office around the corner. Well Jack went ahead, and the woman behind the counter told him that his carte de sejour cannot be processed in that office and he would have to return to the 4eme arrondissement. But clearly on our form it says to collect it in the office we were at. So, we haul ass to the 4eme arrondissement prefecture office, and were told to go to another office. Jack showed his paper, and he was told to return to the main carte de sejour office across the court yard. I’m told that I have to go back to the Bastille office after 1 week. This running around is driving me crazy. So, I get back to see Jack and he tells me he’s told to go back to the Bastille Office within 7-15 days. We figured we’d be safe and go a week from this coming Monday, and definitely not on a Friday when everyone seems to be in hurry to get out of town or quick to get their wine. Only difference, in France if the office hours say close at 5 it doesn’t mean that, it pretty much means whenever the person in the office feels like closing it. Oh well, one small price you have to pay to live here. I’ve heard worse stories from the various “blogs” about getting carte de sejours, so I guess I shouldn’t complain, but I WILL!!!

After an exhausting afternoon, Jack and I went home and took a nap. Afterwards, I just did not feel like cooking. So we walked in the Caulaincourt neighborhood nearby. Quite lovely. Discovered 3 good restaurants for dinner, a cute French Bistro, a Peruvian restaurant, and a Turkish restaurant. So, after walking around a bit it was about 9:15 pm and we decided to go to the Turkish restaurant. It was called L’Anatolie, really cute. It’s a Friday night, and we were the only ones there, we didn’t care. Got a beautiful corner table by the window looking out into the street. We had their “degustation assiette” assorted appetizers. Wow it was really good. A lot of yogurt based dips, grilled vegetables, and this salsa like dish, but had lots of cucumbers and very spicy, served with their fat round baked break, yum, yum. I had asked our waitress if she had a recommendation for me and I like lamb, agneau, pronounced anyo. So, she recommended a dish I don’t venture to pronounce. Jack had a fish steam in a bag.

Our main course came and Jack’s fish dish was DELICIOUS! It had nice spices and had a little bite to it. Mine came it was lamb cubes in basically 2 sauces of béchamel and a sweet tomato. Very good.

Then at about 10:30 pm 2 other people came to the restaurant. I thought it was quite odd that for a Friday night it was so empty. Oh well.

Took a long walk back home and sat in the park for a bit then went home and crashed to get ready for a big day tomorrow, “Paris-Gay Pride Celebration”


Saturday: Gay Pride celebration, suppose to be one of the biggest in Europe. They’re expecting about 800,000 attendees. We decided to meet up at J’s house since he lives in the Marais. Got there at 2 pm and J’s friend Kathryn came. She’s a lovely, lovely woman originally from Paris. Very well educated and traveled. She has lived all over the world, but always returns to Paris, her home.

The 4 of us took off to visit our friend Aldo, who has the antique store, and then to the Bastille, where the parade was to end. We are to meet our friend Mehran at the Bastille. As we got closer and closer to the Bastille, it became more crowded and lively with loud disco music. Met up with Mehran and decided to walk down the street further, find a café, order some spirits and watch the parade/floats go by, how French.

Found a lovely café right on the route and great table for people watching. As you can see from the pictures, it was quite the festival.

Interesting thing happened on the way to the bathroom. I decided since there would be a lot of people, I would stick my wallet and cash in my bag that has a zipper. How fortuitous I did that, ‘cause on my way to the bathroom walking around the café someone was really close behind me, excuse the pun, but he was butting up against me, I thought how nice, a cute friendly young man. As I got closer to the entrance to the café, my pants pockets were turned inside out. The joke was on him, he didn’t get anything ‘cause I didn’t have anything, but I got some cheap thrills. Oh well!

Afterwards we all decided to go for Chinese. History lesson, in the Marais is the small Rue au Maire, it’s about a block long, but is the original Chinatown of Paris. There still exists a small Chinatown, but much of the restaurants and stores have since moved to the 13eme arrondissement, and the Belleville area.

We found a restaurant so reminiscent of SF Chinatown I was shocked. Who knew something like this existed in Paris. It was noisy, crowded and family style. There were 5 of us for dinner and it totaled under €40. I have to admit it was average and mediocre food at best, but for that price it’s a good deal.

After dinner we took a stroll back to J’s and had a wonderful tart that Jack bought that was really nice and fruity.

Got home, about 12:30 am and it appeared there was a party in our building. There was a note downstairs that said our upstairs neighbor was moving and she was having a going away party sorry for the noise, and the neighbors could join if they wished. Turns out that in Paris, that’s done a lot as a courtesy, but no-one really ever takes them up on the invitation.


Sunday: Our neighbor wasn’t kidding when she said she was having a party, the boom-boom music didn’t end til 5:30 am. In Paris, people take parties like this in stride. In the U.S. at 2 am the police would’ve been called in for noise abatement. Needless to say, I got very little sleep last night. Then I heard this big banging on our stairwell. At 10:30 in the morning, they’re hauling a piano from her apartment. Our stairwell is a typical Parisian stairwell where it’s just a little wider than a spiral staircase. Picture that. I couldn’t believe they got that piano down, ‘cause she’s on the 4th floor and we live in a walk-up. Feel sorry for the movers. Oh well. Turns out she was the one that was playing classical music that I use to listen to, who knew?

Our new friends Jöel, he likes using his French name in France and when he’s in the states he uses regular Joe, and his wife Cynthia called. They have an apartment in the Ile St. Louis where they live there every other month or so. They live in West Virginia normally. Great couple. She’s half Filipina so we have a lot in common (see first dinner party picture, she’s the one at the head of the table in the first picture, and husband Joel at the head of the table in the 2nd picture). They’re having tons of problems with their phone etc. Here in France they have a one system communication box for your telephone, internet, and TV. So, if one doesn’t work, typically the others don’t worry. In fact, whenever we use our phone, we have to turn off our TV to make sure we don’t get disconnected. We finally connected with Joel and Cynthia, we’re trying to organize a get together for drinks at their place and than go to a Balinese restaurant. Who knew they had a Balinese restaurant? Should be fun.

Quiet day at our apartment, until a percussion band marched down our street. They were probably high school students dressed in Napoleonic costumes and practicing marching in preparation for Bastille Day. Never a dull moment on our block.

Took a walk to Sacre Coeur, returned, had dinner and quiet evening at home.

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