"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)!

Monday, February 8, 2010

February 2 - 8, 2009

Monday:  got up early, and much to my dismay or should I say horror, it’s snowing.  Most of you know how I feel about snow, I’m a tropical fruit and I hate snow, oh well!  Turned on the news and apparently the snow paralyzed parts of Paris, especially the freeways, and the Eiffel tower was covered in snow.  No picture of that, ‘cause I was not about to venture out.

I continued watching the news, and saw that London had it really bad.  They hadn’t seen snow like this in ages, so it literally paralyzed London.  I got online and our friend Maya from London was on, so we chatted about all the problems they were having with the snow.  After all this bad news, I decided to stay in.  Jack went out and bought some printer ink and did some other errands.

Needless to say it was a snow day in the apartment.

Tuesday:  There’s always calm after a storm as they say.  Well we got up and it was extremely sunny, but cool and brisk, so there is some truth to that saying.  We decided to go romp around our old neighborhood in the Montmartre. 

Took the Metro to the Pigalle, and then starting, climbing, and climbing, and climbing. As some of you may recall, Montmartre is the highest point in Paris.  After nearly having a heart attack we made it to our old neighborhood. I was surprised we used to do this every day when we lived there.  They say you can get a tight ass when you climb stairs et.al. Well I’m proof it doesn’t work. As a tribute to my arrival, I got my first French souvenir of the season. I stepped in dog sh*t, imagine that?  I had bought a box of chocolates for our favorite bakery store clerk, Souad.  Got to the bakery and the baker said she was gone until 3 pm.  So we decided to just walk around our old stomping grounds. 

The neighborhood looked the same, but the big difference is that there weren’t as many tourists, who knew?  It was actually quite lovely.  Went up to the Place du Tertre, and noticed that the center plaza typically filled with a zillion tables for outdoor dining was gone.  It was so weird to see the plaza so empty, but at the same time comforting knowing that you can roam around without being hoarded like cows rushing into a barn on a Minnesota winter day. 

We went to one of my favorite spots close to the Sacré Coeur, a tiny little park overlooking Paris.  Sat in the sun to kill some time, and then headed towards the Church itself and walked around the shops.  There’s something comforting about being around things that are familiar.

We’re supposed to have dinner at our favorite Hungarian restaurant with José and Pablo on Thursday, so we walked to the restaurant to make reservations.  Unfortunately, got there and it was closed, oh well.

Headed back to the Boulangerie, and Souad was there.  She was genuinely happy to see us, and was touched that we brought her some chocolates.  We gave her our coordinée (address) and told her to come visit if she’s in the hood.  I doubt she can do that on our own though, because she’s Muslim.

Afterwards, we had to go to “Little India”.  If you take the metro it is the La Chappell stop and you literally walk out of the metro and the store is at the very corner.  I’m doing an Indian dinner for our friend Léandre and his friends, to comfort him while he’s going through a tough divorce.  Got into the store, and this little Indian man kept following me all over the store.  I promised him I wasn’t trying to steal anything, he was actually trying to be helpful and wanted me to tell him what I want and he’d get it, how un-French, then I realized, wait a minute he’s not French, go figure?  Got most of the non-perishables I needed and would come back on Friday to get the rest of the stuff I need.

Headed home and unpacked, and then went to our friend Matthias’ art gallery that he manages.  He also collected our mail for us while we were gone.  The art gallery is really close to where we’re staying.  It’s like 4-blocks away, who knew?  Like most things in France, it’s a tiny gallery.  The art was interesting, 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional artwork with emphasis on shadows.  Some were interesting, but some was pretty out there.  I wish I had smoked something before going in there, maybe I would have appreciated it more.  

After our private tour and much needed explanation, we bid farewell, and headed back home.  I decided I wanted to try a local butcher shop.  First stop was the Rue de Rossiér to a Kosher Butcher, I had to keep telling myself, remember don’t order pork chops.  Got there, and decided there was nothing interesting, so we headed more towards our neighborhood.  Went into one of our local Boucherie.  Ordered some ground beef (hamburger meat) and 4-sausages.  Imagine this, the total came to about $25.  In the states, that would have been $10-15 at the most, oh well, that hamburger meat better melt in my mouth.

Long day, went home and had a quiet dinner.

  Got up with really bad lower back problems.  Methinks it’s from all that walking and climbing.  So, I wasn’t up to doing much of anything.  At around 1 pm our friend Tracy called and said she’d come by to visit since she was in the hood.  She came over and we started chatting about cultural differences between the French and the Americans.  Always a great topic of discussion in France among the ex-pats.  Where do I begin, hmmmm!  Too long a list, oh well.

Tracy had to leave to tutor a student in English.  Then at 3 pm our good friend Sue came by.  We hadn’t seen her in a while so it was really nice to catch up.  At about 5 pm Jack accompanied Sue to BHV, a large department store a few blocks from us.  I told Jack to buy some “stuff” for dinner tonight as well.

I got a call from Léandre, and he said he’d come over to visit as well.  So, I told him he may as well come over for dinner.  Jack came in and I was surprised he didn’t buy much, because he wasn’t expecting anyone else for dinner.  One thing for sure, I know how to stretch a meal.  So, I made some pork and broccoli with oyster sauce, and some Singaporean okra with potatoes.  And, of course lots of wine, and surprisingly a few days ago the devil made me buy some ice cream, so we had that for dessert.  We had fun just eating and talking.  At about midnight he left, and we went to bed shortly thereafter.  It never ceases to amaze me that the French eat very late and go to bed late then they go to work the next day, go figure?

  Got up and it’s a relatively warm day, hovering around the 50’s, not bad.  I woke with foot problems, ain’t getting old a bitch, and so I pretty much tried to stay off of it.  Jack did a few errands and I puttered around at house.  While puttering a few philosophical questions popped up in my mind that had to be pondered upon:

1.    Why do the French use outdoor cafes year-round:  It is odd to me that in freezing cold weather the French still like to sit outdoors to either have a drink or have eat their meals.  Granted there are those outdoor heaters, but they typically just warm one side of your body. Talk about “Ying and Yang.” Although, you won’t catch me drinking or eating outside, you can be sure if I did sit outside I probably won’t need to order ice for my drink, not that I would get it anyway.  Jack thinks that since French apartments are so small, they will brave the cold to experience open space.  I say go to the mall, at least it’s warm.
2.    How many ways can the French tie and/or wrap a scraf:  I am amazed at the many ways the French can wrap a scarf around their necks.  I could write a whole book on how to put a scarf on.  And, once the fancier women get it on just right, they do not remove it, even if the room is heated to 80 degrees.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they slept with it on.  Some look like they never got out of bed, since they still have their blanket wrapped around their neck and shoulders.
3.    High heels and stilettos?  I’ve pondered this question before.  I am still amazed how French women can wear heels so well.  I just question why they need to wear them in the winter, especially the stilettos.  Isn’t it dangerous with all the wet, cold and sometimes snow and ice.  Or do they act as crampons like ice climbing.  Needless to say, I give them credit for wanting to risk life and limb to be fashionable in the winter.
4.    Why do ex-pats always say, France would be wonderful if there weren’t so many French people?  What does that mean, genocide?  I beg to differ, I am by no means a Francophile, but part of the experience of living here is interacting with the French.  I mean they bring so much drama to our lifes!  If not for them, what would we do without bureaucracy, wine, cheese, and pâté.  Or, what if there was customer service in France, we’d be totally lost, or worst in the Mid-west.

Enough pondering.  It’s time for me to get my ass in gear and get ready to have dinner with Jose and Pablo at our favorite Hungarian restaurant in the Montmarte.  They arrived about 7:30 pm and we had some wine and snacks.  At about 8:30 we took the metro out to Montmarte.  It’s amazing the change from the Le Marais to the Montmarte.  The Montmartre is so French, that’s why we’re going to a Hungarian restaurant!

Got to our the restaurant “Au Petit Budapest” and the 3-guys went in first, and Jack had asked Christian the owner/Maitre’d if he remembered us, he looked puzzled.  As soon as I walked in, then he remembered. Either I was very impressionable, or I guess there aren’t that many in Paris that looks like me, go figure?  

Had a fabulous meal of palacintas, paprikash, and crepes for dessert.  We actually finished pretty early at about 11:30 pm.  We wished Jose and Pablo a safe trip back to their Florida home, and we’d get together when they return late April, then we went home.

Friday:  Another relatively warm day.  As I mentioned, I’m having a few of Léandre’s friends over for dinner tomorrow night.  I’m doing Indian.  Realized I needed to go out to get some perishables (e.g., vegetables).  In Paris, unlike the suburbs, there is no such thing as one stop shopping.  You must go to several stores to get several different “specialty” items.  So, first we went to the Old Chinatown, then to G20 grocery store, and finally back to Little India.  Whew, with all that done, I can finally make a few dishes that need to be made the day before.

Jack went to Le Défense and did some errands.  He said the mall was packed since it was the last day of sales.  France typically has 2-soldes (sale) periods one in July and again in January, and I stayed home to cook.  When he returned, he took a quick nap and I had to wake him since we have a social engagement to meet our ex-landlady and friend Joséphine and her husband Mathieu.  They had just moved to the 19eme arrondissement when we left last October, but we never got a chance to visit them before we returned to the U.S.

Very, very artistic couple.  Mathieu is a French actor and film maker.  He comes from a French film dynasty.  To name drop, his father was Jacques Démy, who help start the new wave movement in Paris.  Joséphine is an artist who creates 3-dimensional art.  Very interesting indeed.

Their home is literally a house, surrounded by apartments.  Very unusual. They had their own private entry with separate offices and a guest house.  I was surprised because their kitchen was so large, and it even had a commercial oven.

We had some wine and hor d’oeuvres.  Had a great time chitchatting and giving them some tips for when they go to Hawaii next week.  My father’s family are from Kauai and it just so happens that that’s where they’re going.
We left about 8:30 pm and headed home.  We decided to eat at a Chinese restaurant in Old Chinatown.  The food wasn’t very good, oh well.  I have yet to find a good Chinese restaurant in Paris, HELP!!!

Saturday:  Very overcast, cold and combination of rain and snow.  I guess a good time to stay home and cook for tonight’s dinner.  Our housecleaner is suppose to come today.  I guess I didn’t time the dinner well.  It would make more sense for her to come after I make a mess, oh well.  She came late, not a whole lot to clean since we keep it pretty clean, so she changed our sheets and washed them, and cleaned the bathrooms.

I told our dinner guests to come at 8 pm.  There was suppose to be 10-people, but I got an email from Alexandra and she’s come down with a cold.  Then I got a call from Vanya saying their baby is sick and they can’t find a babysitter so he’d come by himself.  For a minute there, I’m thinking no-one wants to come to my party, oh well!  At quarter to 8 got a call from Léandre that they are running late, typical for Léandre so I wasn’t surprised.  First to arrive was Aly and Sybile, they brought over a beautiful bouquet of flowers, how sweet.  Then Vanya came solo, and brought some nice wine.  We started off with appetizers of samosas and papadums.  Then Léandre and his sister came.  We had a great time chatting.  Keep in mind French dinners start late and end very late, this is normal.  At about 9:30 pm I started serving dinner.  We ate, and ate, and ate.  It was about 11:30 pm and we had dessert of ice cream and lycee.  At about midnight we had coffee and chocolates and dégustation (after dinner drinks).  At 1 am Léandre and Vanya went out to have a smoke, and then they returned about a half an hour later.  We continued to chat, and about 2:15 am the dinner ended.  This may seem strange for most Americans, but this is very typical here.  The French know how to enjoy their meals.  They love the art of conversation and sometimes evening bantering.  Cleaned up and we didn’t get to bed til past 3 am.  All-in-all it was a nice pleasant evening, but I was exhausted.

Sunday:  I woke up with a pretty bad sore throat and it’s turning into a bad cold. Tracy was sick with a cold when she came over, and so were Jose and Pablo, and Vanya’s baby when we went to visit a few days earlier.  So I guess it was inevitable that I’d come down with a cold that every one else is coming down with.  I stayed and literally slept all day, so I guess my body was telling me to take it easy so I can recover from the cold.

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