"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 23 - March 1, 2009

Monday:  Got a late start since we had a late evening last night.  Jack decided to check the mail, and what should he receive, but his “carte vitale.”  It’s official, we’re legitimately in the French healthcare system.  So we decided to go celebrate and go to the pharmacy to get his 3-month supply of blood pressure medication. How exciting.   Imagine this, in the states he would have paid 3 times what we pay in France, such a good deal.

As some of you may know, we’re trying to live in different parts of Paris to get a feel of where we eventually want to settle for the long haul.  Talk about the wandering Jew and Filipino?  We decided to update our metro passes for the week, since we want to check various neighborhoods.  We haven’t been using the metro since everything is pretty much in walking distance of where we are currently living.  So we decided to check out suburb on a metro line called “Villejuif” which literally means “Jewish Village.”  Jack would definitely feel comfortable in this neighborhood we thought.  So, we took the metro to Saint Lazare to transfer to another metro.  I guess I had too much coffee this morning and so I had to go to the bathroom.  Got to the bathroom, and believe it or not, you pay for what you’re going to do, so it’s 50-centimes to do #1 and €1 to go #2, how weird is that?  Well it least it beats paying €22 for drinks at a café.  Afterwards, we got on the Metro 7 to the end of the line.  What a disappointment, it was like a really bad ugly looking Portland, Oregon in the winter.  There was nothing quaint about it, so we left.  Then Jack wanted me to see the 14eme where he was the other day.  What a difference.  It was such a beautiful area.  Large streets, wide sidewalks and quite quaint.  This is my favorite new neighborhood.  Our Parisien friends told us that to save money, Paris has decided to only clean the sidewalks daily in tourist areas, e.g., Le Marais (where we live), Montmarte etc.  The less tourist areas would only be washed down  once a week, guess which neighborhood I was in where I got my second French souvenir (dog sh*t), if you guessed the 14eme you’d be right.  Ah Merde!, literally.

Stopped at one of the local cafes and sat and watched people for a while, plus I had to go to the bathroom, always a good excuse to get some wine, n’est pas?  After another €20 plus to go to the bathroom, I gotta start finding a bush!  But it’s so much more fun going to cafés n’est pas?  FYI…, you’ll see a lot of those portable pottys like you see in SF; unfortunately, they never seem to work.  It’s a conspiracy, I tell you!

I had a craving for roast chicken, so we went to our local grocery store.  Do you think they have whole chicken, no.  So we went across the street to another grocery store, and fortunately they had chicken.  So we came home, had roast chicken and called it a night.

Tuesday:  Using an apartment listing, we decided to check out apartments in other parts of Paris.  First on our list was Port de Clichy.  We were told it’s an up and coming area and the rents are fairly cheap.  Got there, HATED it!  Nothing quaint or appealing about that area.  My friend Monika said something interesting the other day, she said, she’d rather live in a shoebox apartment but a nice area, then a mansion in a really ugly area.  I tend to agree.  Especially since Parisiens entertain outside the home, and not typically in the home, since homes are so small.

So, onto the next stop, we headed to Rue de Musset in the 16eme.  The 16eme is the “Beverly Hills” of Paris.  LOVED IT, what a surprise.  You know when you’re in the 16eme, ‘because the few panhandlers that panhandle will ask for a €1 rather than a centime.  It’s further out and is definitely residential, but they do have quaint streets and fancy shops.  We saw an apartment in an area we liked, but thought it might be too far from the city, but we kept this area on our short list.

Then we headed to the area around Rue de Passy.  LOVED IT.  It’s still in the 16eme, but a tad closer into downtown.  They had the most quaint shops, boutiques and unique grocery stores ever.  It’s a bit more upscale, so if we lived there, I’d have get a little more dressy, or the neighborhood might not let brown trash in.  So, this is area is on our list as well, assuming we can afford the rents.

Then we realized it was getting close to meeting a friend, an ex-pat who retired in Paris.  Ted lives in the 16eme, so it was fairly close.  Got there and he lives in a huge apartment complex.  Even though it was huge, it was really quiet.  He lived on the 5th floor.  Thank God he had an elevator.  Lots of apartments in Paris are walk-ups, and whenever I see an apartment for rent that looks beautiful, but a 6th floor walk-up, guess what my answer is?

Our ex-pat friend, Ted is a lovely older gentlemen. Shortly after we arrived our mutual friend Mehran joined us. Ted has one of the cutest well decorated apartments I’ve ever seen.  I just assumed he got some really nice French reproduction furniture, but they turned out to be real antiques.  Well whenever I hear this, I close up like a turtle afraid to touch anything, since I am known to be a klutz.  Thankfully, I didn’t break anything. 

We had some champagne and apéros.  Lovely evening.  Ted and Mehran had plans after the apéros, so Jack and I returned to our neighborhood.  We decided to go to a restaurant in Tiquetonne area of the 2eme called Au Clair de Lune, a Moroccan restaurant we’ve been wanting to try, since we walk by it all the time.

We found a gem.  The food was really, really good.  For our entrée, I had the mussels in a wine and garlic sauce, and Jack had a tomato mimosa salad.  It was excellent.  However, the serving sizes could have been a whole meal.  We sorta regretted that we had ordered tagines for our “plat” to follow.  Jack ordered a fish tagine, and I had the mutton tagine.  Looking back I wish we had split an entrée.  And, since there’s no such thing as a “doggy-bag” we forced ourselves to eat the tagines.  They were fabulous!  Way too much food though.  Oh well, we decided to forgo the dessert.

After the heavy meal, we literally rolled home…

Decided to check some more apartments today. Went to La Chapelle area close to “Little India.”  HATED IT!  Jack had a tutoring lesson at 5 pm, and it was about 4 pm when we got to the area.  So, Jack headed out to the suburb, and I would join them later for dinner.

So, I continued on to Belleville to do some food shopping at a Chinese Market, then I went home and took a quick nap.  At about 6:30 I headed out to Maisons-Alforts, where Yveline and Léandre live.  Some of the metro lines actually go out to the suburbs, thankfully, Metro 8 went out to their suburb.  It took 45-minutes on the metro from the le Marais, so it was quite a schlep.

As I arrived at Maisons-Alforts, I noticed it was definitely residential.  Lots of single family homes and a few apartments, but mostly single family homes, what a surprise.  I had to walk a couple of blocks to Yveline’s apartment, but I managed to find it.  She lives in a very modern apartment on the 8th floor, and as luck would have it they have an elevator.  Thank you Buddha!.  Got up there, and Léandre was busy making a traditional French dinner, Pot-au-Feu (Pot on fire).  It’s like a beef stew, but with chunks of beef, and whole vegetables rather than chopped vegetables, minus the tomato and thickened broth.

We had some apéros, then had a fantastic paté that their father made of duck and foie gras, lucky me.  It was yum, yum good.  Then we had the Pot-au-feu with various mustards.  The French have such an incredible variety of mustards I can’t even begin to tell you. Then we had the proverbial different French cheeses before dessert.  For dessert, Yveline made a apricot tart.  The evening was loads of fun.  For my readers out there visiting France, it’s very rare that you get invited into French people’s home, so if you ever get a invitation while in France, you are very special indeed and I suggest you accept and cancel all any conflicting event.

Since the metro closes on week-days at about quarter to 1 am, and we had to connect we decided to leave at 11:30 pm.  Léandre walked us to the metro for the exercise, then we headed home.  It was a nice evening, “tout à fait”

Thursday:  Very, very cold today.  Methinks I want to stay in, but gotta go shopping since we have friends coming over for dinner tomorrow night.  But before we go shopping we decided to check out another apartment, this time along the Canal St. Martin.  So, we took the metro to the Gare de l’Est.  It’s a really nice area right along the canal.  I could see living there.  So, we put it on our short list.  We returned home to check on that particular apartment; unfortunately, it would not be available until July, and we need one starting May.  Oh well.

Jack and I went back out and went to the “old Chinatown”.  As I was ordering some pork ribs the guy behind the butcher counter kept asking me something, but I didn’t understand him, ‘cause of his heavy Chinese accent, but Jack did.  He was asking me if I wanted to whole slab or part of it.  So, I guess Jack’s tutoring is working.

Returned home and gotta call from our Malagasy friend Sarinda inviting us to her house next Saturday for Malagasy food.  Wow, I’m excited, we’ve been to Madagascar before, but all I recall having was fries and some type of grilled meat.  So, this will be an adventure for me.

It was really cold tonight so we just stayed in, had an early dinner, 8 pm and called it a day since I will be busy cooking tomorrow.

Friday:  A friend of ours has a new boyfriend and has decided she wants to move in with him.  She owns an apartment on the outskirts of Chinatown close to the Olympiad Metro station, and wants us to consider renting it long term.  I never really think of Chinatown as an area I’d want to live, I think of it more as a place to shop and eat.  But we decided to explore the area and I kept an open mind.  Got there and I was pleasantly surprised.  It’s a little more residential. Nice shops and stores and far enough away from the hustle and bustle of the center of Chinatown.  But close enough that if I need to go to the Asian market it’s 2 bus-stops away.  How cool is that….  So, this was a pleasant surprise.  She wasn’t home, she’s in Reunion Islands for a winter break, so we have to wait until she returns after the March 11 to see the interior.  It’s a very modern building, but nice and it also comes with a garage.  I doubt we’ll get a car, try driving in Paris and you’ll understand.

We’re having an ex-pat dinner tonight, so I needed to get a few more items from the Market and it was a good test to see how far the center of Chinatown is from our friend’s apartment.  It was a quick hop, skip, and a jump (2-bus stops) and we were there.  Went to my favorite store called, “The Big” store.  I find it amazing that a lot of the Asian markets have weird American names, oh well.  Now they say the French are mean and rude, try going into Chinatown in Paris, and I bet you’ll find a group even more rude and mean, they make the French seem down right friendly.  Got the stuff I needed and got into line.  A French woman in front of me got into an argument with the check out clerk.  She was questioning why she was charged higher than the actual price, legitimate, no?  Well this clerk was the rudest thing.  It finally got settled by a couple of centimes, was it worth the fight? Then it was my turn.  She gave me this nasty motion to put my stuff on the counter, didn’t say a word to me, and I refused to acknowledge her.  Two bitches at a stand still, let’s see who wins.  Got our stuff through, and Jack dealt with paying for it, because I refused to talk to her.  She just went on to the next customer and completely ignored us, how rude!  I call it a draw though, since I ignored her as well.  I’m debating if I want to go back to this store in the future, but I’ll probably get the same treatment at other Asian stores, and true to form I did.

Got home and I seem to always be forgetting something.  So, I went to the Chinatown 3-blocks from us, and what is today, Bitch day or what.  I’m going through the isles and no-one is moving so at first I was polite and saying “pardon” they just ignored me, tried to be polite once and I just gave up, so I just shoved my way through everything and every one, like every one else was doing.  And, it worked, go figure?  Like they always say, do as the Roman’s do, in my case it was do as the Chinese do, and I’m part Chinese, who knew?

Finally, got what I needed and went home and started cooking.  Mehran came a little early because he wanted me to teach him basic Asian cooking styles.  I made some of the dishes ahead (e.g., egg rolls) or otherwise dinner wouldn’t be ready til midnight.  So, He helped me make the rice paper wraps.  Aldo and Tracy arrived and what a nice surprise, she made a carrot cake for dessert. 

After cooking and having a few drinks, our friend Ted came.  Michelle was supposed to come with Beray her friend from Turkey, who helped us last year by giving us some tips when we were in Istanbul last September.  Unfortunately, Beray’s  baby sitter didn’t show up, so she came solo.

We had a great time, and unlike French dinners, ex-pats usually call it a night no later than midnight.

Saturday:  Our friend Tracy told us last night that today was forecasted to be sunny and warm, and it was.  We decided to check out yet another neighborhood Pont Charenton. 
We left the house literally with our winter apparel, scarf and all.  As we got out of the metro station, I was schvitzing, or for the goys out there spritzing, so I took off my scarf and unbuttoned my 50-lb jacket cause it was warm.  I thought it was way too suburban and quiet.  The suburb borders the 12eme, so we walked towards there.  The 12eme is actually a nice area.  A mix of residential and commercial, very nice blend.  Then we continued on to a suburb known as Saint Mandé, which Yveline told us was really nice, but pricey.  Got there and she was right.  What a nice place.

So, looks like we have more options again.  Paris has so many interesting different neighborhoods, you could spend a lifetime exploring it.  Even our native Parisien friends have told us they’re not all that familiar with some of the “arrondissements”.  And, as I ponder that, I thought well when I lived in SF, I was not at all familiar with any of the outlining areas, so it’s “la meme chose” (same for Parisiens).

As I mentioned I always have to go to the bathroom, go figure? But it seems the portable toilets never seem to work in Paris.  They’re always out of order, so when I do find one, it’s like let me thank Buddha now.  And, as luck would have it I found one when I needed it so I had to take a picture of it.  Personally, I think it’s a conspiracy so that people are forced to go the cafés and order something so they can use the bathroom.  And, if you go as often as I do, I think that would average out to about €100 a day, just to go to the bathroom, imagine that?  And, you get fat in the process because you always have to have an obligatory pastry, n’est pas?    

We decided since Jack had a tutoring lesson at 6 pm and I had to start cooking for another little dinner we’d head home.  So, we took the RER into Nation.  I told Jack let’s stop at this arrondissement since I’ve never really walked around it.  I think I may have mentioned that the French love to protest.  That’s part of their culture.  So, as we got out at Nation to take a peak, true to their nature there was huge protest, protesting against evictions and the high cost of living in both the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.  It was such a nice day that we sat in the plaza and listened to the protests and at the same time enjoyed the sun.

After basking in the sun, we headed home.  Jack had his lessons, and Léandre and Sarinda were to show up for dinner at 8:30, but they didn’t arrive until after 9.  So, after a few cocktails we had dinner.  I served dinner at about quarter to 10 and we finished at about 1 am.  This is typical for a week-end dinner in Paris.

Sunday:  Nothing to report today.  Stayed in the house to do house chores, how exciting is that?

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