"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

June 16-22 2008

Monday: Got up early this morning and headed towards the bathroom, got dizzy and fell flat on my back. Thank God I have a hard head and didn’t get a concussion, ‘cause I fell hard on my head. Jack got up and asked what I was doing; I told him I was laying there resting before I went to the bathroom, so he went back to bed. I’ve been feeling really dizzy and not well. Methinks I caught Jack’s flu. Wouldn’t you know it! Back home if one of us got sick, the other would sleep in the Den so we wouldn’t catch the ‘bug.’ Here since our quarters are so tight, I’d have to sleep in the bathtub. Oh well.

Needless to say, I had to stay in today to try and recover, ‘cause I know it’s in the early stages and my cough hasn’t broken yet. So, I’m taking it easy since we’re supposed to meet our friend Stephen on Wednesday. We met Stephen and his partner last year when we were on a South America cruise. We also have our big meeting with the prefecture on Thursday for our Carte de Sejour. So, I have no choice but to get better.

Jack decided he was well enough to go to the grocery. So he went on his own to get our weekly provisions. On his way home, he stopped at our Patiserie and got a baguette and a nice little pastry for sick little ‘moi’. How sweet. He met a man at the Patiserie who comes from Marin county. They live down the street from us, he’s a photographer and his wife is an artist. We’ll probably get together with them as soon as we’re feeling better.

Taking it easy today, so not much is happening!

Tuesday: I am sicker than a dog, so I stayed home while Jack decided to go to visit the suburbs and check out the scene. So, I’m watching TV and they have news about Gays getting married in California, since as of today it is now legal. There are still a lot of right wing bigots that think it’s going to be doomsday. Well I hate to break the news to these folks, the sky didn’t fall, their marriage is in tact, and the economy is still the sh*ts, so I guess life goes on. People don’t realize that there are 1,000 legal reasons for same sex couples to get married. For example, hospital visitation rights, inheritance, taxes, retirement, adoptions, and the lists just keeps going. Oh well, at least the younger kids are learning to be more tolerant and accepting since all polls leans towards acceptance. I just hope the Republican party won’t use this as a wedge issue as they did in 2004 election; there are bigger things to worry about, like maybe FOOD and HEALTHCARE!

Speaking of healthcare, I just found out my healthcare insurance is being cancelled (Kaiser). My cousin’s mortgage company where I get healthcare coverage is having financial difficulties so he’s had to cancel everyone’s insurance. I checked into continuous coverage and it will cost me $800 a month, imagine that! In France, it will cost you a little over $100, and it’s FULL coverage, so this just might be the incentive for us to stay in France. Thank God I have French coverage while we’re here!

Quiet day and night. Got a call from our friend Stephen, we’re going to try and get together before he leaves for Tunisia on Thursday. Hopefully, I’ll feel better. Maybe all I need is a little alcohol, vin blanc anyone? I haven’t been pickled in awhile.

Wednesday: Nice sunny day out, albeit a little cool. I decided I need to get some fresh air. So, we decided to go to Belleville (Chinatown) and buy some provisions. On our way there, there was a group of Metro Police checking everyone’s passes. Of course, I get stopped, ‘cause I guess I look like Abu Sayef. He let me go after he was satisfied my metro pass was legit. It’s amazing to me, they do everything possible to prevent people from jumping the entrance in the Metros by putting all sorts of barriers. In New York, SF, Chicago, or DC, they don’t have all these barriers, and I don’t ever recall people jumping the toll entrance. But here in France it’s a totally different story. They are so very ingenious about sneaking in. They’ll jump the one’s they can jump, and some of them actually go through the exit by flashing their hands over the electric eye to let them in. There are more ways, but those are the most common. So, with that said, they have to hire all these police guards to check to see if you’re legal or not. Personally, I think if they didn’t put all these barriers they’d probably not jump the toll entrances.

Inquiring minds what to know, which is the most visited country in the world? If you answered France, you would be correct. They had 82 million visitors in 2007. US came in third. French tourism has increased dramatically after the government successfully campaigned to change attitudes about tourism here because it is one of their main livelihoods. It wasn’t that long ago that the UK wrote a scathing article of why NOT to visit France, primarily because of the rudeness factor. That’s why if you were ever here in the 70’s, 80’s or even early 90’s, people were generally rude and not helpful to tourists, but thank God that’s all changed.

Got home, got a message from our friend Tracy that they’re going to have a picnic by the Pont Neuf little island in the Seine. Told them that we may make it depending if our friend Stephen calls to try and get together tonight.

Stephen called to postpone our get together til tomorrow night. Since it was already late and I didn’t’ feel like going out, we stayed in.

Thursday: Today is our big interview with the Prefecture to get our carte de sejour (green card). We got up and it was an extremely cloudy day. So, about 1:00 pm we headed to the 4eme arrondissment where the prefecture is located. We had an appointment to meet at 2 pm, but on the appointment sheet it said don’t come early, or for that matter don’t come on time. Wouldn’t you know it, as we got there it started raining. Oh well.

We got there at 2:00 pm and they told us to wait for the next agent to assist us. It appears there are different locations you can go, and depending what country you are from you go to a particular area. We were in the Americas (North/South), and Saudia Arabia Peninsula. We told the receptionist that we wanted to be interviewed together since much of our stuff (e.g., statements etc. are joint). It appeared he understood, but about quarter to 3 pm I got called and Jack joined, but the woman said Jack would have to wait, and I’d have the privilege of being alone with her. I was ready to start a fist fight, but all-in-all I have to say she was extremely helpful. She spoke absolutely no English, or if she did she refused to speak it, but that was OK, since I told her although I spoke very little French I understood more, and she seemed pleased I said that. After all that we had to go to another building to make an appointment for a physical. Like I said, France is not “one-stop-shopping” you have to go to several locations. So, we made an appointment for next week.

We had an appointment to meet up with Stephen at 5 pm at his hotel. Since we were an hour early, we decided to head home and put our stuff away and change into something more comfortable, jeans, we had gotten dressed up for the interview.

Met Stephen at his hotel at about 5:15, but there was no answer from his room nor was there any sign of him in the bar, where I thought he’d be. So I decided to go up to the room. As I got to his floor I realized none of the doors have room numbers I thought, how odd? As I proceeded, totally by accident, I looked at the floor, and I said the numbers on the floor in an off color from the carpet color, very hard to distinguish. I knocked on his door, and Stephen had been on the phone that’s why we weren’t able to get a hold of him.

We headed off to Le Marais to meet up with our friends Mehran and Tracy. Tracy is an ex-pat American who lives in Paris with her French/Italian boyfriend, who speaks no English by the way. We all met, had a nice chat, and Tracy just got her much sought after “carte de sejour vie priveé” with a check on it that she can work. She just had an interview and accepted a job waiting tables at an American restaurant called, “we serve American breakfast.” What a kitchy name.

Stephen had to meet friends later, and Mehran had to meet up with his partner. So, Tracy, Jack and I had dinner at Le Petit Marche café/restaurant, one of her favorite restaurants. It was basically a French restaurant with Asian fusion. It just didn’t quite make it. It was trying to use Asian flavors, but they just didn’t get it. I think they thought Asian flavors were to use soy-sauce and lots of sesame oil. We had all commented that the food was strong with sesame flavor. Oh well. I have to say that I have yet to have a really good French dinner. Thus far the ethnic restaurants have fared better! I didn’t have the heart to tell Tracy how I felt about the food, but after a few drinks, I broke down and told her. She didn’t mind at all that I wasn’t that keen on the restaurant.

Friday: Got up late and decided to head to the Bon Marché a department store in the Saint German de Prés. Typically this phrase means “less expensive store.” But no way is this less expensive. It’s probably the most expensive department store in Paris and is located, of course, in the Saint German de Prés, only one of the most exclusive areas in the hood. I was more interested in their food market, ‘cause I heard it was fantastic. Well I wasn’t disappointed, it was incredible.

The food market had aisles broken into different national foods, to meats, produce and cheeses. I went to the seafood market, and they were having a promotion on prawns. They looked delicious so I decided what the hey, I’d order a half kilo. As I asked the man to give the half kilo, just before he scooped another hand full, I told him c’est bonne, that’s good. He wrapped it up and gave me my package with a label on it saying, €18 ($24) YIKES!, but I was too embarrassed to return it was packaged in this seal-proof bag. So I’ll feast on it tonight.

We came across the cheese section, and they were selling packages of different cheeses from different regions of France, so we got one of those too. Decided we did enough damage at the grocery store, and headed home to get a baguette and feast on the cheese for lunch, the prawns can wait. The cheeses were excellent, we had a goat cheese, a soft white and blue cheese that was just fantastique. Glad we went to that grocery store, but I don’t think I’ll make it a habit since it is pricey. One thing I noticed though, an 8-oz cream cheese is only €2.75 whereas in the ‘American’ grocery store it was €4. So, now I know where to get cheaper cream cheese. Who knew?

This week-end is the “Fête de la Musique” which is one of the largest music festivals throughout Paris. It’s held in every single neighborhood in Paris. Our Boulangerie lady told us that there was going to be at least 4 bands just on our block. I guess we won’t be getting any sleep. Oh well, at least we can participate.

Tracy invited us to hang out with them tomorrow in their neck of the woods to check out their music festival. They’ll also be all sorts of food stands etc., looking forward to it.

Saturday: It’s a beautiful day, albeit very warm and HUMID. So, we’re waiting for Tracy to call us to find out where we should meet et.al. We decided rather than wait around we told them we’d meet them at our favorite bar in the Marais and take off from there. So, Jack and I headed toward the Belleville area to hear an African jazz band. It was 2 pm, got there and nothing was happening, and very few people attended, waited for half an hour and still nothing. We made the executive decision to leave.

Went to Aldo’s antique store, which is Tracy’s boyfriend’s store. Got there and Tracy was there talking to another gentlemen. His name is Jack from St. Louis, but splits his time between St. Louis, Palm Beach Florida and, yes Paris. He had to go back to his apartment around the corner to take care of some domestic issues (maid issues), so I asked if I could come along. WOW! What an apartment. It’s on the ground floor overlooking a courtyard with a huge statue. It has 18-ft. floor to ceiling windows, a loft, 3-bedrooms, 2-bathrooms, and American style kitchen. I thought I died and went to Paris heaven. He only lives here in the summer, so I asked him if I could move in when he’s not here, fat chance. Then I asked if I could marry him, no response, Oh well. Jack (#2) is really sweet. At first I thought he was gay, but my “gaydar” wasn’t working. He has a lot of gay sensibilities, loves to decorate, has a lot of good feminine characteristics etc., etc., but loves women, so I asked him if he wanted to hang out with us today, and he said he did.

Went back to the antique story, and we were feeling thirsty, so we decided since it was so difficult to have 2-Jacks with us, we would call our Florida Jack “J” but the French “J” is actually pronounced “G”. But as the day progressed, I just started calling him Gi-Gi. Went to a café, ordered a few drinks and some munchies to tie us over til dinner.

At this point we were only 4-people, then we become 5, Mehran joined us and we went through the Marais, it was JAMMED PACKED. On top of being a beautiful day, there were some bands playing and people just squished together. We got a call and some other people who wanted to join us so we went by the Louvre to meet them. Our group grew, we became 7 Joel and Christina joined us, then we became 9, Felipe and Cathy joined us. What a crowd. Try to organize a group marching through Paris with all the crowds is impossible, but we did it.

We went to one of the concerts, but it was so packed we decided to leave. and go to the Pont Neuf and hang out at the bridge. The bridge was crowded. At this point it was about 9 pm and some of us were getting hungry, so we decided to all march down to the Les Halles to one of Mehran’s favorite restaurant. Felipe is Parisian and worked on several historical projects for the Louvre, so as we walked to the Les Halles, he gave us quite the personal history lesson. We got to the restaurant “Comptoir” about 10 pm, and it was packed with people. Fortunately, they were able to accommodate such a large crowd. The group was craving for marguez, a street food. It’s like a chorizo sausage, but not as oily, typically served in a pita bread with sauces and fries. Unfortunately, no street food tonight. Apparently, this year, Paris is clamping down on homemade food for health reasons. The food at the restaurant was great, and believe it or not they had Marguez but with couscous, so a couple of us ordered it. The place is more North African cuisine. The waiter was a young, cute gay guy, he didn’t know what to make of us. We left him a nice tip, even though we didn’t have to, just for putting up with us. All-in-all it was a good fun dinner.

As we left, the group wanted to go back to the Marais, ‘cause as Martha Vandella once sang, “There’ll be dancing in the streets…,” Jack and I wanted to head back to the Montmarte, because we knew there was going to be a lot of music and things happening, plus it was 1 am and I wanted to be closer to home, since in case they didn’t extend the metro as they claimed they would. As we walked towards the metro the streets were jumping with people, a band was playing “Black magic woman”, but it was odd to hear it with a heavy French accent.

Got out of our metro station and it was a ZOO, there was a rave dance party as you walked out. Too young and loud. Headed back to our apartment, and at the corner they were playing Moroccan music, and across the street from our apartment there was a Kletzmer band playing traditional Jewish music. It was too much for the auditory senses, so I decided I’m staying in. Staying in didn’t help, cause all the music was filtering up to our apartment from all over Paris, unbelievable! But Jack decided he didn’t want to miss anything and went out. He came back 20-minutes later and just said it was too crowded. Oh well.

Sunday: Hot and humid today. Meeting Jack’s cousin’s daughter Laura for lunch and spending the afternoon together. Laura was on a 6-week college program to travel and learn about Europe. They had spent time in the UK, Germany, Italy and lastly France. They leave Monday to go back home.

We got to her hotel, and she looked a lot like her mother. Her father, Jan, is Jack’s first cousin. Since we figure most young people like pizza, we would look for a pizza restaurant that Tracy recommended. Well we could not find it to save the world, so we decided since it was already 1:15 pm and I’m getting cranky we will eat at Léon’s de Bruxelles, my favorite chain restaurant. We went to the one in front of the Bastille. We got a lovely table outside, and had moule and frite.

Afterwards, we went to the Jewish area, “Rue de Rossier” and then to the gay area of Marais. We stopped along the street and decided to have a drink and just people watch.

She had to be back to her hotel to meet up with her friends. They’re doing a last evening farewell to Paris, and hanging around 2-old foggies like us probably wasn’t her idea of having fun. None-the-less we had fun.

Came back to our hood, went to the Patisserie and got a baguette and of course some pastries and are calling it a day, since the past couple of days have been outrageously exhausting.

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