"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 14-20 2008

Notre Dame
Even God wants us to Save Donner Summit

Monday: This morning was wet and dreary. So, we decided what the hey, we have umbrellas. We headed off to the “Belleville” area. From my understanding, it use to be a bad area, but is being gentrified and is becoming the new “Chinatown”. This Chinatown was much more interesting. A lot of shops and stores and just fun restaurants to explore. After walking around, one gets hungry, since we were in Chinatown, may as well eat there. We had a lovely lunch, Jack with his stir fried vegetables and rice and me with a Duck Soup. Cost $30, oh well.

Interestingly, just like in the US they have illegals hanging around waiting for people to pick them up for job sites. Mostly from North Africa. Maybe I should wait at that same corner with a sign, “poor American willing to cook a 7-course meal with fruit tart “gratuit!” Or maybe I should start pawning off my jeans. Levi jeans on average cost $150 a pair, who knew.

We decided to head down to the canal, going towards the 10eme arrondisment. It was quite lovely. If I could afford to buy an apartment on that street, I’d do it in a nano second. But first I have to tell you about the prices of the apartments here. For a studio or one bedroom apartment with one bathroom averaging between 200 – 600 square feet, it will cost you anywhere between 300k – 500k euros. So that’s around half a million to $800,000. Unbelievable!!! And, did I tell you some of the kitchens are smaller than what I have. They call having 2-burners and sink with a tiny fridge a kitchen.

Afterwards we decided to head down to the Printemps department store, ‘cause Randy wanted to buy a pitcher to store water etc., and Jack wanted to find a little shoulder bag to store his maps etc. Here’s some more sticker shock. A plastic pitcher that you can get at Wal-Mart for $1 will cost you an average of $20. I got so depressed after walking around Printemps that we decided to go to a cheaper department store across the street called CA, I have no idea what it stands for, but the prices seemed much more reasonable. A shoulder bag will only set you back $20 versus $150-200 at Galleries Lafayette or Printemps. Imagine that. Like I said, we come from a third world country.

My feet were aching badly from all the walking, so we stopped at a bistro to get some tea and wine for me, had a rough day (lol). The tea cost $10. It seems wine, cheese, and pate seem very reasonable in France. Great for my “gout” (lol). But other staples we take for granted like sodas, tea etc., seem to cost a fortune.

Went back to the grocery store and got some staples. $50 later we have less than a bag. I’m started to eat dinner later and later, I’m trying to eat light so I can sleep better at night. Got home and got some messages from friends, so Wednesday we’re going out to dinner and Saturday we meet friends from SF for dinner as well. So, we should have a good week, despite the crummy whether. As a Parisienne friend told me, people do not come to Paris for the weather. I couldn’t agree more.

Tuesday: We started out late today ‘cause we had to wait for our landlady to come in and change our phone to allow us to have unlimited use on the guarantee that we’ll pay anything above and beyond the normal costs. In Paris, the phone system is expensive, and like the US different areas are toll calls, even within Paris. Not that we have to make a lot of phone calls, but just in case.

Jack and I decided to go shopping for a microwave. Our apartment does not have a microwave, if you can believe that. Some of our French friends think a microwave is evil, because of all those unknown waves. I tried to explain to them that I’m not cooking food in it, just warming them up. There’s a department store called Darty’s and they sell appliances. For a small microwave it will cost about 61 Euros. I got a bigger kick at looking at some of the appliances. What is common is to have a tiny cook top, tiny oven below it, and a tiny dishwasher below that, an all in one appliance. And, I thought our apartment was unique in that we have one of those appliances. Another funny appliance is a tiny itsy bitsy washing machine with a sink on top of it. I guess you have to be space conscious in these tiny apartments. Carole Raisbeck’s apartment doesn’t even have a dryer, so I guess I should count myself lucky that we have a washer/dryer combo, but the interesting thing is that the dry cycle uses steam to dry. The French believe in ironing everything, so the clothes come out damp, then they’ll be easier to iron. Fat chance I’m going to start ironing sheets and underwear!

Then we walked further. There’s a discount store chain called Tati’s, and they have one for women, men, maison, etc., etc., For once I saw affordable stuff. I was looking for a pitcher, and finally found one for 1 Euro, unfortunately, it was the size of our fridge, oh well. I did; however, break down and buy a grocery cart, and it has wheels. This you normally see little old ladies using in SF, but here, locals use them quite a bit to schlep groceries to and from the store. I’m loving it, ‘cause I got tired of only buying one bottle of soda, versus a couple of bottles. It’s a little different then the one’s in the US since they’re covered, versus open. And, by the way, those plastic bags that the grocery store sticks your groceries in, they’re not free here. You tell them how many you need and they charge/scan them for you.

I’m getting to be more local every day. People even come up to me asking for directions. Go figure? I can barely get around the US without a Garmin navigator, and they’re asking me? Friends say the locals will always know that I’m a foreigner or an American, I’m only mistaken for American the minute I open my mouth. And, as some of you know, keeping my mouth closed for even 2-minutes is a challenge.

Tonight we had dinner at home. I made a big pot of spaghetti. It’s the most I’ve eaten since we’ve been here. When is the “French paradox” going to hit me. I mean I eat like the French do, I even have afternoon pastry and wine. Go figure, I haven’t lost weight yet, and with all this walking, I’d better be model thin when I get home.

Tonight’s a beautiful evening, so we’re going to try and make a habit when we eat a home we’ll take a little walk after dinner. I just wished the area where we live was a little flatter. We lived on a hill in SF and now we live on a hill in Paris. We have come full circle. Went around the corner and smack dab hit the tourist area. For some reason it seemed pleasant. The weather was nice and people were having fun buying cheap chatkis and people watching or eating at the outdoor cafes. I thought it was a Belgian thing, but Moules et frites (mussels and fries) are also very popular here. There were street musicians. It was quite nice. We explored some new areas where we had a great vantage point of the city. Ah, life is good. As we walked, we saw some of the typical street artists sketching portraits. I have to say, they’re damn good. Unless they can make me look 20 years younger and 20 lbs lighter, I ain’t buying. Don’t they believe in impressionistic sketching.?

Wednesday: We were suppose to hit the museums today, as a going away gift, friends got me a matching pass that SLPOA gave Jack so we could go together. But I’ve been having stomach problems still trying to adjust to the time, weather, and water. So we decided to wait til next week since we’re meeting up with friends tonight for dinner I want to make sure my stomach is OK. Turns out next week is some kind of holiday for the kids. So, we just may be surrounded with tons of kids at the museum next week. The sun is out, so we’re going to take advantage of it, explore other parts of the city, ‘cause it’s suppose to rain the remainder of the week (YUK), I’m going to start singing, “April in Paris…raining and raining….”.

Headed first towards the Meridien Hotel at the E’toile. I had to leave a note for some friends arriving today. They hadn’t checked in yet, so I went to the Concierge to leave a note. As I was standing there 2-men in suits came after me. As soon as one of the concierge was free, the two barged in when I was clearly there first, well don’t mess with a SF beyatch, I just bitchily said, Excuse, gave them a dirty look and the Concierge gave me his undivided attention, afraid I was going to start a scene if he didn’t serve me next. Something I discovered here in France, which I had read about, but didn’t’ really believe. Men in suits feel entitled to be served first, the fancier (more expensive cars) feel they have priority on the road, and the French don’t believe in lines, especially the older ones. I’ll get to the line thing latter. After I left a note, we headed towards the 16eme.

We walked along the Boix de Bologne, one of the 2 “central parks” of Paris. Loved it. Had lunch at one of the lunch spots there and sat in the sun. What a nice change to having sun versus misty gray weather. As we walked along the 16eme, otherwise known as the Beverly Hills of Paris, I told Jack forget the 10eme, this is where I want to live, fat chance…

Now the car part. As I mentioned people in fancy cars feel like they own the road. As we were sitting at a bench along a Rue Passy, I literally saw fancy cars continuously harassing and honking at uglier cars to let them pass. I guess they haven’t heard of road rage here. Also, if you parallel park and the space isn’t large enough, the car trying to park will not only bump your bumper, but literally push your car to make room to park. I have even seen men lift smaller cars out of the way. I guess they never heard about getting your car “keyed” here either.

Now for the lining up part. We had to return to the bank to submit even more paperwork (W2) for Uncle Sam, yes Uncle Sam will get you coming and going. Well as Jack was standing in line, one gentleman (dressed in a suit) just went over to the receptionist and she stopped everything she was doing to answer his question, even though she was already attending to a customer. One woman barged in and did the same, but this time the receptionist got out of her desk and escorted her up the elevator to someone’s office. Keep in mind the lines were getting longer. Jack was suppose to have been next in line, and some older woman behind him was about to step in front of him, and he was ready to pounce, but he just barged in front of her and wouldn’t give her the chance to be next. As gruff as the US is, I have to say I have never seen lines not respected at all, or banks allow queues to get outrageously long. Customer service is not the same here as in the US. I learned you have to acknowledge people first before they even look at you. Once you do, they couldn’t be nicer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, I’m just making an observation, because every culture is different and we have to respect that.

Tonight we took our French friends out for dinner. We literally went across the street from their flat. This restaurant is known for their Alsatian cuisine. Alsace food is very popular in Paris. Walked in and was greeted by the owner Matre’d who is Chinese. Jack made a comment, he looks very Alsatian!?! Our friends told us that it’s not uncommon for people of Chinese ancestry to own and run restaurants specializing in cuisine where they grew up. Who knew? But then again, that’s no different then the restaurants in SF. Most of the Chef’s in SF specializing in Italian, French etc. are Asian or Mexican Americans. Dinner was at a traditional time 9:00 p.m. we started with a traditional Alsace appetizer which I can’t recall the name. They’re very thin pizza, we had 2, one with ham and cheese and the other with escargot. It was really good. Then we had the Chacroute with several types of meat. We didn’t stop there, we later had 4-different types of desserts. By this time I was ready to explode. So, we all decided let’s walk it off. Keep in mind it was close to 11:30 pm. As we walked along the main streets I noticed people were still dining. We went down to the l’Opera from the restaurant, a good half hour and then stopped and had a night cap. I decided to just have sparkling water. Had a great evening, got home at 1:00 am.

Thursday: This morning I am totally hung over and feeling like crap. Got a message from Carole that they’re going to check out our “hood” so we’re going to get together for cocktails and dinner, so I told Jack since I feel like crap we’ll just check out some neighborhood restaurants that our landlady recommended for Friday. I’d invite them all to our apartment, but we’d have to take turns sitting on the one coach.

We decided to head towards of the Central metro station to ask why we haven’t received our passes. We applied more than 3-weeks ago online in the US. Well we met the wicked witch of the east reincarnated as a Metro Customer Service rep (the latter title meant loosely). She had a long face with a long nose, I swear there was a wart growing one side of her nose, but later found out it was her brain. We had the audacity to interrupt her coffee break. Jack spoke very politely to her, in French, and she yelled at him and said N A M E !!! Sarcastically, she even scared me. A Parisienne friend told us that when someone gets that rude, you have to show anger, and then they respect you more. All I knew was she was a mean nasty person. After sweet talking her to death, she finally responded and gave us our passes with the same stoic ugly face. Well at least we got our passes. Can’t wait till June 19 when we go; hopefully, for our last interview with the Prefecture to get our Carte de Sejour (green card).

So much for walking around the hood. We took the metro to the Notre Dame and I of course being the good Catholic went in and lit another candle for my late father. It was freezing cold, but it was nonetheless fun walking around that neighborhood. I’m starting to believe our friends when they say you can walk across Paris within 3-5 hours easily.

Went back to our neighborhood. I had to get some black thread, ‘cause I took the magnet clasps out of my messenger bag and needed to resew it. I finally figured out what was de-magnitizing my metro tickets etc., DUH. Well that little thread cost me $5. We later did our French duty and bought some pastries. The pastries cost less than the thread. Go figure?

There’s a brouhaha brewing in Paris. Apparently, Bridget Bardot, for some of you who remember her, I was too young (lol) is going to be sentenced for inciting hatred against the Muslims in France. Go figure, she’s an animal rights advocate, but wants to blow-up all the Muslims from France, but God forbid we should euthanize or harm animals. They’re also starting to crack down on illegal immigrants as they are doing in the US. I better be careful, they might deport me to a third world country called the Etats Unis.

We’re home now and are going to take it easy have a light supper and maybe walk around the hood again. It’s starting to rain, so screw the walk after dinner.

Friday: I promised my French friends that I’d make them a NY style cheesecake, since apparently it’s not common here at all. So, I checked out some American groceries. But before we did, we decided to head towards the Ile Saint Louis, a little island community across from the Notre Dame. This was quite a lovely place. Beautiful shops, restaurants and great views. I found out later that this area was for the nobility, I guess I fit in perfectly, since I have been known to be a beyatchy queen.

Afterwards we headed back to the La Marais where the American grocery is located. They had tons of cream cheese. It cost €4.50 about $7 for an 8 ounce bar. I didn’t buy it yet, ‘cause I don’t want it sitting in the fridge, but I did break down and I bought a jar of peanut butter for $11 and a can of baked beans for $5. It’s all over the news lately that the dollar is now at it’s lowest point ever. It cost $1.60 yesterday for a €. Isn’t our timing coming to Paris just perfect? Our friends tell us many French professionals are moving to Belgium, UK and Germany for higher paying jobs, apparently the French don’t have high salaries, and it’s getting expensive for them, so if it’s expensive for them, just imagine how it’s expensive it is for Americans. So, for example let’s say the $ and the € were equal, it would still be expensive at €7 for a jar of peanut butter.

We decided to have a lunch at a local pub. It was nice for a chance to have “greens”, it seems Parisians are not big on vegetables, unless you’re having a salad as a meal. It was very reasonable, cost us €17 for the 2 of us. We’ll definitely go back.

Came back to the apartment to take a nap before meeting up with Carol, her sister Cathy and boyfriend and Cliff for drinks and dinner. We had a wonderful time having drinks at our neighborhood café around the corner. Unfortunately, it started raining, and it POURED. We headed up to the Place du Tertre area and decided to eat at one of the most touristy spots in Paris. It was almost a cliché, French singers/music, tourist everywhere, mediocre food, and we didn’t even have real French bread, some soft white stuff. We all pretty much had the same dinner, a Moule (mussels), and I found mine extremely bitter and not good, but the 2nd course a confit de canard, (duck confit) was OK, and I had a cheese plate, while the others had a dessert. So, it came to about $80 a couple. I don’t think we’ll go back, way too touristy, but the company was great. Invited Carol and the gang over for champagne back at our apartment. Surprisingly, I had enough chairs to seat them all, wow!.

Saturday: Since we had a late lunch date with our friends from SF in the La Marais, we had a late start. Our lunch reservation was for 1:30 pm at restaurant Monjul. I have to say, this was the best meal I’ve had in Paris to date. We had their Pre-fix lunch (3-courses), first course was a vegetable turine, 2nd was a salmon en croute with a ratatouie and some delicately placed hot sauce, and the 3rd was a lovely chocolate tart, and it goes without saying we had tons of red wine. The presentation was beautiful. They treated us poor souls, so I don’t know what the total bill came to, but I’m sure it cost a pretty penny.

Then we our friends on a mini tour around the hood, a lot of the Jewish groceries etc., were closed since today is the fist day of Passover. We did the traditional obligatory café crème at one of the nearby cafes and took a walk along the Seine. It was unusually warm today. I, unfortunately had dressed for a blizzard so I was sweating like a pig in heat.

Later we met up with a friend for cocktails, and met his French friend, Ann, what a lovely woman. We had a treat time chit chatting. She spoke English really well. They had tickets to see a Czech Opera and had extra tickets and invited us along. I can barely understand French, imagine me trying to understand Czech, so we passed on the Opera.

Funny thing, someone took over Jack’s body. Since we arrived, Jack actually enjoys window shopping. I HATE it, ‘cause it’s quite depressing since everything is so expensive. I’d like to know what shopping queen has possessed his body?

Returned to our neck of the woods, and there was a wonderful guitarist playing at the square, so we listened to him for awhile and got back home around 8:30 pm, early by Parisian standards, but I was pooped.

Sunday: Ah, a day of relaxation, wrong. We went back to the Hotel Meridian; our friends left us their tour “stuff” at the concierge, since they won’t be needing it anymore. We got there, and were surprised we got a little care package in addition to all the tour stuff. We got chocolates, gummy bears, Courvoisier, great parts of my favorite food group, chocolate, alcohol, fat and sugar, how can you go wrong with that? We decided to head over to the Grand Palais and the Invalides. The sun started coming out and it was absolutely beautiful. The Grand Palais was having a stamp collection exhibition, I think not. So, we headed over to the Invalides, somewhat like a French tribute to the fallen soldiers, and I believe it was also some kind of hospital or whatever for the veterans. Along the way we saw groups of guys playing soccer, and even an American ex-pat group playing touch football. Interestingly, the police were out in force pulling over people with expired registration, and all along the grassy areas were signs that read, “Prohibited to play ball.” Yes, they play attention to signs in Paris (lol). We hung out there awhile until just before 5 pm and headed towards the American Church of Paris down the street which is different than the American Cathedral. Every Sunday afternoon they have a free concert (e.g., pianist, violinist, opera singers etc.). Tonight Sylvia Ho was the featured pianist. Wow, was she fabulous. She played Chopin and Debussy, it was just incredible, and she got a standing ovation. You’re probably asking yourself, what’s a good Jewish boy doing going to all this Christian churches, so I promised Jack we’d try to find a Synagogue to give equal time.

Since we were no where near a Metro, we decided to walk to the Champ Elysee, got on the metro and headed home. It was about 8:00 pm and we went to the Boulanger, but all seem to be out of baguettes, so it was a great excuse to go out to dinner. I found my new favorite place in the hood, a Moroccan restaurant that specializes in Tagines. There was some type of family drama happening in the kitchen, we heard yelling, crying and screaming. Jack and I were thinking oh my god; we hope they don’t take their anger out on our food. We were totally caught off guard by all the drama. I thought it was one of those Muslim honor rights killing you hear about. Then one of their teenage sons stormed out of the kitchen, and slammed the glass door next to us. I thought it was going to shatter. I’m guessing his wanted to go out and play and his parents wouldn’t let him. Oh well, drama follows me everywhere. At 8:00 pm there were only 2 other couples. By 9:00 pm, the place was packed. The food was great. I had the lamb tagline, and Jack had the Fish. Needless to say, we also had a dessert. We’ll definitely go back.

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