"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 21-27 2008

Monday: Whenever we have a big meal the evening before, my body seems to tell me I need to sleep in. So, today I didn’t get out of bed til almost 11:00 am. I guess I am back to my Serene Lakes schedule (lol). As I said before, Jack has been possessed by the Shopping devil. He seems to enjoy window shopping, so we headed to Les Halles, a big shopping area in the 1eme arrondisment. It was pretty much like any other mall; the difference is that the stores are a little more affordable then the “downtown” shopping area. We decided why don’t we walk down rue de Montorgueil, an up and coming area that straddles the 1eme and 2eme arrondisment. What a lovely street. The street is a very long pedestrian street with a couple of scooters and maybe an occasional car thrown in, as I mentioned, the French don’t believe in restrictions. The street was lined with cute shops, restaurants and cafes. Loved the area. Jack finally found a shoulder bag to hold his maps, and it was reasonably priced, by French standards anyway, €15. As we continued walking down the street, I thought I saw Dali, with his trademark pointed upwards waxed moustache. Could it be an impersonator ala Elvis Presley, or was he just his double. I kept staring at him, he must have thought I was weird, and I wanted to take his picture, but I chickened out at the last minute.

I was jealous Jack found something to buy, so I said, let’s go back to the Galerie Lafyette and see if they have a change purse for me. I was using a plastic sandwich baggy, and my French friends were embarrassed to be seen with me whenever I took it out. I mean it is trés practique. You can see your coins and readily pick them out. They didn’t have what I wanted, so we decided to have our afternoon requisite of Pastries at the upstairs café. It was delicious. For some reason pastries tastes better in France, go figure?

Since we had all that sugar in us, Jack wanted to check out the L’homme section of the department store. I have never seen so many designer labels under one roof. Not even Macy’s Mens in SF has this many labels. I saw a beautiful light summer jacket, I thought, maybe at the most €80…., WRONG, I left out another 0, it was €800. Oh well.

Down further in the basement is the Gourmand shop, literally called “Gourmand.” I had to go see this. Wow, the food stuff was incredible. Hams from Spain, specialty Italian pasta, cheese from all over France, and Asian products that would normally cost 1/10 the price in a US Chinatown. I saw some Foi gras, it looked like €1.50 for a little less than 8 ozs. Great, let me just get a little slab. WRONG, it was €150. I guess it was wishful thinking on my part.

I was wearing new shoes today, and my feet and back were killing me. So, I told Jack let’s head home. Got home, fell asleep, woke up and had dinner. No walk tonight. Lesson learned; don’t break in new shoes in Europe!

Tuesday: Got up and the sun is actually trying to fight its way out of all the clouds. I thought about doing a spring ritual dance ala May pole dance. But than I thought I’d better not, our neighbors might think I’m a wickan. So, I decided to don my red afro wig and started singing, “The sun will come out, tomorrow, bet your golly…” Eat your heart out Annie. As I’m looking out the windows, I notice, once again, that our pigeons have no fear. They seem to like to perch on our window sills. For some reason I’m remembering the reality show “Survivor” and thought wait a minute, if we’re really desperate I can make squab in a quaint piquant sauce. Who knew?

Got a call from Cathy, Carole’s sister, we’re going to try and get together for dinner Wednesday evening; it will be an early dinner, 7 pm since they have to get up tres early to catch their Thursday morning flight back to the US. So, that should be fun.

We have to go to the groceries today, since we’re low on provisions. You have to plan this event, ‘because it’s not all one stop shopping as you might think. As we headed towards the grocery store called “Champion” like a mini-grocery chain store, Jack got his first authentic French souvenir, he stepped on dog poop. Dogs are popular in Paris, and you have to very careful when walking around the streets. We got tons of grocery, so much so that we couldn’t fit it in my little grocery cart. You have to be careful when shopping as well. You can’t think American ‘because if you buy too much you won’t have room in your fridge or cabinets. As I was wandering the store, I saw an American couple, aside from the telltale signs e.g., the man was wearing a Hawaiian shirt (French don’t do Hawaiian), and their accent, they were sort of wandering the store in a dazed stupor, I guess they were in shock. So, I said, I’ve seen that expression before, it’s called “Sticker Shock,” oops I mean shell shock. No need to see a Psychologist, it will past with age or a lobotomy. They just laughed hysterically. As usual, we overdid it so we had to squeeze everything in. I’m also getting use to the prices. I’m salivating when I see a box of cereal for sale at $10 or small bottle of tomato sauce for $8. I don’t know how long my grocery cart is going to last. It’s taking a major beating on the cobblestone streets. After all it was a cheapy cart €15, whereas the really good ones sell for about €50. Keep in mind the Euro today is at $1.60. Oh well, just as long as it last another 7-months, I don’t care.

This afternoon was really nice, warm and sunny. I guess my singing to Annie’s song, “The sun will come out…” did the trick, so we decided to visit some very famous Parisian residents, not that I’m name dropping or anything, but we went and saw Chopin, James Morrison, Edith Piaf, and Oscar Wilde. They live in a swanky area called Pére Lachaise. I told Jack that’s where I want to move after living in the 16eme. There’s a little catch though, you have to be dead first, since it is a famous cemetery. Jack said he could easily take care of that for me?!?! Even after life, location, location, location is important. Seems the higher you are in the cemetery the lovelier it gets. Jack was, excuse the expression, dying to find Pissaro’s tombstone. We looked, and looked, and looked, and I know he didn’t move. And, where he was supposed to be did not have a forwarding address, so we just gave up. Maybe next time. We went to see Seuret instead. Jack told me that LaCroix was buried there too. I got all excited, imagine a famous designer. Turned out he meant De LaCroix a famous painter. Couldn’t find him either. They must move around a lot like we do in the US. Oh well.

As usual, my feet were killing me. Got home early evening, will cook a light supper of fish and skip the after meal walk, since I think we did enough for the day.

Wednesday: We decided that Wednesday and Thursday would be our museum days. So, we got up early 9:00 am and got out of the apartment by 10:30 to hit the museum. The first museum we hit was Picasso, in the Marais. These were works of his that were not very famous or well known. While in the museum, I turned a corner and saw a clock hanging on the wall and said, “Jack, it’s really later than I thought.” He said it was a painting, Ah, for minute I thought we took longer getting ready than I realized. Oh well, what do you expect from “brown trash.” I found the museum somewhat boring, since I didn’t recognize any of his works. He started out as an impressionist artist and moved on to more interesting stuff.

We headed over back to the Pompidou, the ugly building I mentioned earlier. Actually, on the inside it’s not bad at all. You get quite a view of Paris from all sides of the building, I guess being a glass building helps, duh! Lots of impressionist paintings, too many to name drop. Was getting hungry, so we decided to eat at Léons de Bruxelles afterwards. It’s like a Red Lobster restaurant, but specializing in Mussels. After the bad food experience with mussels we had at the Place de Tertre, our friends recommended this restaurant for “moules” even though it is a chain. Great choice, you could get moules in various sauces like a plain broth, meuniere, marinara, and today’s special was Roquefort cheese, I think not on the latter. Had their simple broth special and it came with a salad, fries and a dessert. As I mentioned, wine is cheaper than soda, so I had the half liter of their house wine. Bad idea, tell you more later.

Than we headed towards the Louvre. You could spend days in there, the wine started doing a number on this old body. I felt like I needed a nap, and it certainly didn’t help that my feet were killing me from all the Museum walking. Well I sat out most of it, while Jack toured the Louvre. He had an overwhelming emotional experience. He saw his favorite painting, “Boheme” by Frans Hal. He could have died and went to heaven, and he would have been happy.

So, when I get older and my grandkids ask me what did I do at the Louvre, I can say I took a nap (lol). Lesson learned, if you’re not used to drinking wine for lunch and doing a big chore or walking afterwards, don’t drink. By the way, I think I mentioned that the next 2-weeks kids are out of school. Talk about our wonderful timing with coming to Paris with the Euro being so high, now we have hoards of teenage kids all over the place to contend to on our museum days. Timing is not our better suit.

We got home, and got a message from Cathy and Bob to join them for dinner at the Le Train Bleu, at the Gard de Lyon station (train station). We thought it would be an adventure so accepted their invitation. By Parisian standards our reservations were quite early, 7:00 pm, but Bob and Cathy were returning to the US early the next day.

All I can say about the building is WOW, WOW, AND MORE WOW!!! I forgot my camera, but they have a website, you should check it out. The building is unbelievable. http://www.le-train-bleu.com/ It was a bit pricey, but what the hey, as Cliff Busby once said to me, “you can’t take it with you….” We had their pre-fix dinner, but the dessert was another thing. It was called rum baba. Let me tell you, just whiffing it got you high. It was a gateau soaked in a brown simple sugar, than coated with tons of rum then topped with crème fraiche. They gave us American size portion for this dessert. Oh la la. Anyway, lots of good food and wine. We finished about 10:30 pm and the place was packed. What a wonderful experience. I guess I’ll have to take out a second mortgage if we continue eating like this. Or I’ll start looking like a house, and put it up for sale…. $5,000 an hour anyone? Spitzer, you’re on my list.

Thursday: Our last museum day. Got up early again and was out of the house even earlier, 10:15 am. First museum we hit was the Rodin museum. I like 3-dimensional art, so I loved this museum. It was a beautiful warm sunny day, and the grounds were great to walk around in. I saw the “thinker” and it inspired me to ponder life. Life is good. No complaints. Well maybe a few, Paris is too damn expensive. And, Rodin also made me ask this simple question, “Why is he sculpting so many naked men? Hmmm?

Afterwards we went to the L’Orangerie museum, where several impressionistic paintings are at. It was a very small museum, so we were able to go in through it in a half an hour.

Lunch time came pretty quickly. So we were pondering whether we should eat at a café or get a sandwich and sit along the Seine. The latter won out. French are a curiosity. They have you pay for plastic bags for your groceries, but will spend a fortune with fancy food packaging. Case in point, got a pastry that cost maybe €3, they packed it on one of the fanciest free boxes I have ever seen. My guess is that box must’ve cost them more than €3. Or today, when Jack ordered the Couscous, it was about €4.50, but came in a free Tupperware container that you can certainly reuse. Go figure? They could have put it in a paper bag and I would have been happy. We sat along the Seine, just like the locals, and had a beautiful day watching all the barges, and tourist go down the Seine.

After lunch, we went to the D’Orsay museum. Has to be my favorite museum. Since I had no wine for lunch, I was doing much better than the day before. We saw so many famous paintings like Van Gough, Cezanne, Matisse, to name drop a few. We spent close to 4-hours there. It was packed with kids and tourist. I can’t imagine what it’d be like in the summer. Check out this site.


5:30 pm we’re pooped. Went to our favorite bakery to get my favorite baguette, which is a baguette that has 2-ends on both sides, and will have a salad for dinner. Have to do laundry. My load is about a quarter US standard size, but in our apartment it’s extra full. I’m praying I don’t jam up the machine. Tomorrow we get to sleep in, YIPEE!

Friday: We definitely slept in. We got a late start and decided why don’t we go to the Shoa museum (French Holocaust Museum) in the Marais. It was a beautiful day when we left our apartment. So, we decided to take the bus. It takes a little longer, but worth the view and sights. Got to the museum and it looks smaller than it actually is. It’s quite intense. If you’ve ever been to the Holocaust museum in Washington DC you’ll know what I’m talking about. You get to see history, versus how people interpreted objects, history, etc. through paintings etc. It was sort of surreal as well, they had a list of French Jews that were basically incarcerated and most killed, and on the wall were quite a number of “Schwartz’s”. It’s a small world so may be they could’ve been long lost relatives of Jack’s. It was very, very informative, videos, biographies, histories etc., you can spend hours in there, but we just stayed for 2 since it was so overwhelming.

It was about 2:30 when we left and we decided to have lunch. We had heard about a really good falafel place in the Jewish section. The falafel shop was closed, but we found another Kosher place selling middle Eastern food, but it’s still Passover week so no leaven bread, and the thought of eating falafel with Matzas (crackers) didn’t sound too good. So, we continued on and we saw this long line of people waiting. Wow, a concert, famous rock star, a line for a museum, or some famous person and people were waiting for autographs, what timing. As I turned the corner, I realized it was a falafel restaurant and the line was the take out line, owned by Arabs so no worry about unleavened bread. Always a good sign when the line is long that the food is good. We decided, what the hey, and waited in line, get our falafel and eat it in a park or along the Seine like we did yesterday. The line wasn’t moving, so I asked for a table outside, and we got seated immediately and had a wonderful lunch of babaganoush, humus, etc.., this time I decided to do wine, since I knew we wouldn’t have a busy schedule. I did notice that the person who was in front of us in line was just getting served as we were half way through our meal. Not that we were in hurry or anything, but it seems lines move very slowly in France, and people have no problems with it, but will rush through the metro ready to stomp over anyone in their way to catch a train, go figure?

Headed towards the LGBT center, but our friend who volunteers there wasn’t there. So, we decided to check out the shops around the area, big mistake. Friday afternoons and evenings are big shopping days, so it was mobbed with all sorts of people. So, we took the subway back and went to our favorite café around the corner, sat and had wine and beer and chatted with a Canadian couple. Life is good, no complaints, well maybe a little, got a little too much sun…. felt wiped.

Saturday: What a beautiful day. We decided to see the other “central park” Bois de Vincennes. So, we packed a picnic basket and headed to the park. After taking 2 very long metro rides over, we finally got to the park. Houses along this park were quite large, in fact, some of the homes were like homes in Pacific heights in SF, and they were single family homes. Who knew? Families with picnic baskets were coming in droves to enjoy what really is the first day of warm weather without the fear of rain. As usual I had a mission, finding the bathroom. They do have them, but it seems that the public toilets similar to the one’s in SF (except free) are mostly out of order, especially in the tourist areas. And, the public one’s are harder then h*ll to find. I think there’s a conspiracy, they want you to go into the café to buy beer, wine or coffee so you can use their bathroom. After awhile it can get expensive to have to go to the bathroom. Managed to find one in a restaurant. Pretended I was a customer and just used their facilities. Still not used to having males and females share the same toilet area though.

I have to admire French women. They must have ankles of steel. I saw a few walking around the park with stiletto heels. And, I saw men and women with scarves wrapped stylishly around their necks. A Parisian friend of mine told me that once they get that scarf on just right in the morning, it ain’t moving. Through rain, sleet, snow or a heat wave, it stays on til they get home that evening. I believe it, cause every fold is just so. This you would have to see to believe. I mentioned women are very fashionable, at the park today a woman close to 60 years old had a white blouse with violet and different shades of purple flowers. Her hair actually matched her blouse. I am not exaggerating! I had to take a double take. She was very statuesque but the hair threw me. It was shaven along the sides, she had a tusk of hair at the top crown of her head. The roots were white with a dark shade of purple about 2-inches above that, and the top was a light violet color. Now that takes some guts. Ah, you gotta love the French woman for being fashionably brave. Inquiring minds wants to know, how often does she change blouses? Cause I’m sure that hairdo must’ve taken some time.

Who says I’m not a nature person. We went to the floral expedition area where they had more varieties of tulips than Joan Rivers had facelifts. They were incredible. And, wouldn’t you know it, I forgot my camera. Oh well. We had our picnic at a little nice area and enjoyed the afternoon. Since, we did all the walking, we also treated ourselves to some ice cream, which I don’t usually eat because I’m lactose intolerant, but what the hey, hospitals and doctors are cheap here, about the only thing that’s affordable.

Afterwards, Jack decided rather than take the metro back, why don’t we take the bus and enjoy the sun and views. Well I can tell you I’ve been on some crowded buses in my life time, but this took the cake. It was jammed packed with people, strollers, babies, I was half expecting to see chickens and goats as well, what the h*ll were we thinking. The only view I saw was the back of someone’s bald head. At least I could see my reflection, and could fix my hair a little. Plus it’s not air conditioned. Thank God deodorants are very popular now. I remember many years ago, in a similar situation, I would have passed out from all the air l’naturale (BO). People were using babies in strollers to push themselves in and out of the buses, I couldn’t believe it. Forget it if you’re old and can barely walk, you’re fair game. We were supposed to take it to the end of the line to connect to our metro station, but we couldn’t take it anymore and left after awhile and wound up on the metro anyway.

Monmarte area where we live, was bustling with people. Saturday is a big shopping day for people, since many stores are closed on Sundays. We headed up towards our favorite café, but it was jammed packed with people, mostly tourist so we decided to come home and just relax.

Sunday: Got a late start as usual, I mean it is Sunday after all, a day of rest. We’re invited to our friend’s home late afternoon for afternoon tea, or in our case early cocktail hour. Our phone, internet connection and TV are all out of order, so we really can’t do anything until Josephine our landlady comes in and fixes it anyway. The sun is out, but it’s supposed to rain later today. Oh well. At least yesterday made up for it.

Our landlady came and told us she needs to sell our apartment, because she found a new house and will need to sell this rental and her own home to purchase a much larger house in the 19eme. Now here’s the shocker, this tiny apartment is going up for sale for €270,000 which is close to half a million dollars. Apparently, the higher you go up towards the Sacre Coeur the more money you can command, just like at the Pére Lachaise (cemetery). Sh*t happens. Now I’m totally shocked!!! We could be homeless in Paris. Oh well it will be an adventure living in the park, better yet we could take refuge at Pére la Chaise, our neighbors certainly won’t care.

We left about 2:30 pm for a D’lunch (lunch/dinner) at our friends house. Since I don’t like going empty handed we got some flowers. We saw all those lovely tulips in the park yesterday, so I said why not get some tulips. You’re not suppose to bring roses (too romantic), or lilies (funeral flowers). So we got the “tulips” and went to our friends house. Got to our friends home Mehran and Christophe at about 3:30. As our friend open the door, he said, oh how lovely, lilies. It turns out the tulips weren’t tulips they were water lilies, another faux pas. I should have paid more attention in my botany classes.

Our new friend from the American Cathedral, Michelle was there, and another person we just met Nina, an American freelance photographer who has lived in Paris for the past 12 years. Sunday is synonymous with champagne. So, the champagne kept pouring in along with different appetizers. After, downing several bottles of champagne, we had our d’lunch. We had our first course of a frittata or a thick crustless quiche, chicken salad, and sweet and savory breads. It didn’t end there. After that we had a cheese course. My new favorite cheese is “tombe savoie” really rich. More champagne, and more wine. Then we had a little surprise for Christophe since it was his birthday last week, we had the most delicious cake with strawberries and chocolates. Ah, life is good. After that Christophe kept taking out all sorts of aperitifs from Calvados, Chartreuse, brandies. Then the coffee came. You get the picture, we weren’t going anywhere if you know what I mean. The French know how to enjoy a good meal and good company. I still had my American hat on and kept thinking, are we overstaying our welcome? But here in France, it’s expected you spend at minimum 6-hours for a meal and visit.

After 7-hours, 10-10:30 pm I was fading, so we all decided to head off to the metro together, before they shut down. Very warm tonight, it was 73. Got home, passed out from too much food and booze. La vie est bonne!!!

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