"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 2-8 2008

Monday: Got up and it was extremely wet and rainy, but not too cold, so we decided to go to Notre Dame. A few days earlier, it was packed with tourist, and the lines going into the Church were astronomical. I guess the trick to avoiding crowds is to go when it’s raining. As a California boy, rain in summer is just wrong. God did not intend it that way, and I was planning on telling him once I walked into the Church. But I chickened out, ‘cause as soon as I got into the Church I saw all the priests ready to hear confession in 3-different languages. I guess I had no excuse not to go to confession, but Jack said, "I’d be in that confessional booth for at least 10-years." He just may be right. So, for a change, I decided to keep my mouth shut!

Be forewarned there’s a group of gypsy women that hang out at the church. They’ll come up to you and ask you if you speak English, simply say NO. The trick is that they have a little note on paper, explaining in English that they are destitute and want money from you. Don’t fall for it. And, of course, watch out for pickpockets.

After touring the church for the umpteenth time, we headed towards the Rue Severin again, also known as the Latin Quarter. It is a really cute area, the same area where we had dinner a couple of weeks ago where we got into a fight with our waiter. My sister enjoyed it, and then we all of a sudden got hungry. It was about 4:00 pm and we decided to have a late lunch at one of the Greek falafel places. Nothing special, but Jack said Thank you in Greek, and the waiter did not respond. We later figured out it was “Greek” to him, because he is Arab. Interesting to note, 4:00 pm in the US would be common dinner time for senior citizens. Oh well 2 out of 3 of us (my sister and Jack) were eating at a proper American senior time (lol).

I was still not feeling so hot, food poisoning takes a long time to recover from I guess, so Jack and Mina went sightseeing some more, while I headed home.

Uneventful evening, made dinner and went to bed.

Tuesday: Another cloudy day, instead of heavy rain, it was just sprinkling. The weather report said the rain would get heavy. So, we decided to go to the La Defense, at least if the rain got heavy we could take shelter in the huge shopping mall.

Got to the La Defense, and it was surprisingly cold. We had really thin jackets on, I wish I had brought thicker jackets. As soon as I started wishing for some sun, it started raining even heavier, so we decided to go into the mall. The mall was really not crowded, so I guess to avoid the crowds DO NOT go on the weekends. Much to our dismay, we went shopping.

There was a store in the mall that was similar to a “Target” in the US, albeit they had a fabulous grocery store. Got some basic stuff and we decided to just head on home and cook dinner.

Wednesday: We decided since it was supposed to be light rain and the weather report for the week didn’t look to good it really didn’t matter when we went to the Versailles, so we decided to head over there. We headed towards the RER and bought a pass that allowed us to take the train to Versailles with another ticket to allow us into the various castles. If you head over to the Versailles, the trick is get the package deal rather than buying individual passes for the individual houses on site and go on a week-day, week-end passes are much more expensive.

It was extremely overcast. We were just praying that it wouldn’t rain, because one of the biggest attractions of the Versailles is the gardens. As we got to Versailles, it wasn’t at all crowded. Probably the weather turned off a lot of people, also it was in the middle of the week.

We started in the main castle, the middle portion of the castle was being renovated and wouldn’t be opened till later this summer. We had a great time just looking at how the other half lived during the turn of the century. After going through every nook and cranny, much to our delight, the weather got better and it actually got sunny and warm. So, we headed out to the gardens. It was beautiful.

As we were wondering around it was about 4 pm and we realized we were hungry, so we went and had lunch at this café right next to the man-made lake. The lunch was nothing spectacular, I mean how can you get excited over frozen pizza warmed up. But that’s what you can expect in these kinds of tourist areas.

As we were nearing 7:00 pm, I told Jack and Mina that we were taking the little cho-cho train back, ‘cause my feet were killing me. It cost €5 each, but it was worth it. As we got on, a hoard of German school kids got on so the ride back to the castle was pretty noisy. Oh well.

As we got to the castle, it turned out that it closes at 7 pm, not 8 pm as we had originally thought. So, we decided to take a bathroom break, since we still had 10-minutes before closing. The bathroom attendant wasn’t going to wait till 7 pm, she wanted to close now. I guess her cocktail was waiting for her at home. But we just barged into the bathroom and used it when she turned her back and was scolding a man for wanting to go to the bathroom.

The ride back was uneventful. Since we had lunch so late, we decided just to eat some dessert. Why not, right. So, we went to the Patisserie and got some wonderful pastries.

Thursday: Jack and Mina went to the D’Orsay museum. I decided to stay behind to do some errands, like laundry and then go to the grocery store. Uneventful, except at the grocery store I was in the line with one of the grocery clerk’s that we don’t like. She’s a “bitch.” But I figured the line was short, so as I got in line a British couple was in front of me. He forgot to weigh his apples and get a tag. In most grocery stores in France, you weigh your produce, and press a button of the item, e.g., a picture of an apple, then it automatically prints out the price and bar code for the clerk to scan. In a way, if you wanted to be dishonest, I guess you could weight it, get a tag and then go back and get more apples. But it seems to work, I haven’t seen anybody being dishonest.

Anyway, as we were standing in line the bitchy clerk was trying to explain to the British couple what they needed to do, he just didn’t understand, I was in a helpful mood, so I explained to him in English what he needed to do. You would have thought I murdered a child the way the clerk looked at me. She gave me the dirtiest look ever. I’m assuming she originally perceived me as a poor immigrant, since I’m not white. As I mentioned, Parisians are very status conscious. So, believe it or not, among the lower class French, especially the immigrants, speaking English is perceived as being “rich” Americans or British. In the latter case, it’s probably true since their pound is so strong, but for us, little do they do they know we come from a 3rd world country called Etats-Unis. Oh well, whatever, she’s still a bitch. I must stay away from her line in the future.

Jack and Mina came home, we had dinner, and after dinner Mehran and his sister Perri stopped by for a short visit. She is a hoot. She looks like Zsa Zsa Gabor, and lives in La Jolla. Mehran and Perri were bantering like all brothers and sisters, so cute. Perri told us that she has been to Paris a number of times, and every time she comes, there’s not one day where it isn’t raining. Well that’s promising! They’re going to the south the next day to look at some properties for Perri to possibly purchase. I told her since we just came back from the Versailles, I expected nothing less than a 10,000 foot square castle.

Friday: its Mina’s birthday, so we did something special. We did the Canal ride going towards the Seine. We figured it would be much more interesting than the canal ride we took last week. You definitely get what you pay for, this tour cost €17 each, versus last weeks €1 tour. It was the best decision we’ve made. We got on the tour boat and there were only 18 passengers. So, we pretty much had the boat to ourselves. What a treat.

We went through 7 locks towards the Seine, very interesting. What was even more fascinating was we went under Paris. We literally sailed about 2 kilometers under the city of Paris. Apparently, the underground waterway was built so that it would not reduce Paris’ surface space. The tunnel was quite wide and lit by a series of domes similar to sky lights, but they were open. As we went through, our tour guide decided to play clarinet. Apparently, he was a trained classical clarinetist. The acoustics was incredible, it was so surreal to be sailing under Paris with very somber interesting music.

After the cruise, we went to the Notre Dame and accidentally came across a band performance. They appeared to be a military band. They were playing tunes from West Side Story. Really good. I started singing, “I feel pretty, oh so pretty…” all the way home.

We had to get home soon, since our dinner reservations for the Basilic in the Montmarte was for 7:30 pm. They only had 2 openings 7:30 pm or 9:30 pm, so we picked the earlier one, ‘cause we knew we would not eat a lot during the day to save our appetites for dinner.

The restaurant was typically French. It was located at a corner intersection and the restaurant was shaped as a corner. The décor was traditionally French country with a very rustic feel. We got in and there was only 1 other table occupied with about 8 Italian tourists. I guess they eat early.

As we walked in, Mina and I got our English menus, while Jack got his French menu. We didn’t know that. So, when Mina asked Jack for help on the menu, he kept telling us in French and translating it, and we’re trying to figure out what he’s talking about. All Mina wanted was help reading it, since she forgot her reading glasses. Turns out Jack’s French must be pretty good for the waiter to give him a French menu, bravo.

They had a suggested meal of the day, a turkey gizzard salad, followed by a grilled flat fish and then dessert. I decided I haven’t had any luck with the proposed menu, so I got the herring with warm potatoes as an entree, and the duck as a “plat”. Boy was I ever wrong. The entrée came and it was so salty, and the whole dish, although presented really well, was floating in oil. It wasn’t even olive oil, I think it was corn oil. Then when my main dish came, it looked like a chicken pot pie, but only mixed in with mashed potatoes. It was blah, blah, and blah. Jack got the suggested menu, and it was fabulous. The turkey gizzard salad was great, and the fish was very good. Wouldn’t you know it, the one time that I decided to veer away from the suggested menu, it turned out to be a big mistake. My sister was happy with hers, she just got steak and potatoes. Well at least we can say we’ve been. It’s a well known restaurant in the Butte (rim) of Montmarte. Oh well.

As we started to leave around 9:30ish, the place was packed. So we headed to the Place de Tertre for Mina to buy some last minute gifts. She was able to bargain with one of the store clerks and she got a great deal on some scarves.

Saturday: Another miserably overcast day. After a late start, since we had a long night, we decided to go visit the Saint Denis cathedral. So, we headed out that way. It’s in Saint Denis, a suburb of Paris. Went to the church and paid our homage, and decided to walk around the town. The town was very interesting. It’s an immigrant town, so most of the people are from the Arab nations as well as Africa. We decided to walk along the main shopping area. We had never seen so many knock-offs being sold openly, even though cops were patrolling the streets. We decided not to buy anything.

Later we decided to head over to the Montparnasse. We got hungry at about 4 pm, seems to be our meal time, and decided to go to Leon’s de Bruxelles, one of my favorite chain restaurants. Mina was able to try their typical Moule et Frites (mussels and fries). I got the mixed seafood, it was huge. Imagine, been to a number of restaurants and some pretty well known ones, and one of my favorites turns out to be a chain restaurants, who knew?

Decided it was getting late so we headed back, but got off a couple of stops before ours at the Barbes Rochechouart station where all the cheap stores are at and in particular Tati’s just in case Mina came across some souvenir stores. What a mistake, it’s a Saturday a big shopping day. I HATE that area. It was crowded, people pushing and shoving. I had my feet banged, run over and stomped on. I couldn’t wait to get out, plus it was sprinkling. When we finally got out of the area, it wasn’t any better at the bottom of Sacre Coeur, so we just headed home and decided to have a quiet evening in.

Sunday: Overcast, what a surprise. After lunch, Mina had to buy some last minute souvenirs so we went to Place de Tertre where she was able to get souvenirs for a bargain.

Afterwards, we decided to head to the Bastille to the outdoor market. Sometimes the clothing section stays open till late afternoon. As we got there, the vendors were just shutting down, so we decided to wander around so Mina could see the neighborhood.

Our friend Mary Jo invited us to a concert at the American Cathedral at 4:00 pm. She’s in the choir. So we headed out to the cathedral and it was strange to hear all the people speaking English. There’s a certain comfort in that. The concert was great. For the most part they sang acapella. Afterwards, we waited for her in the reception to congratulate her on a wonderful concert. They’re so good that they actually recorded a CD!

We headed towards the Champs Elysee to catch the Metro. Mina wanted to walk into the Louis Vuitton store right at the corner where our metro was located. We decided to wait outside. As she came out, she told us some of the prices. You could rent a nice place in Paris for a month for the price you’d pay for a handbag. Imagine paying $4,000 for a handbag. Oh well. Headed home to get ready for another exciting meal out in our neighborhood. We’ve been wanting to try this restaurant around the corner. Hopefully, I’ll have better luck.

We decided to go to the restaurant that I’ve been wanting to try, but it was closed. I tell you our timing is wonderful. So we headed towards another restaurant in our neighborhood that was recommended by a local called, Le Restaurant. What an ingenious name. It’s nothing pretty to look at, but we heard the food is great. Got in and decided not to order the formule, but order stuff we liked from the menu. The service was atrocious. Our waitress was just not friendly, and it felt like we kept interrupting her and the other wait person’s coffee break. The place was packed by 8:30, but not a single French person was in there. The couples on both sides of us were Dutch. One of the couples was funny to watch, ‘cause he ordered a salmon salad, but the salad didn’t have any salmon. So, he asked the waiter to come over, he didn’t understand and had to point out that the menu said salmon, and the waiter starting “fishing” in his salad looking for the salmon. Convinced there was no salmon, the waiter came back with a plate of salmon.

My food was actually good. I had the fried sardines as an entree and the house fish for a plat. Now for most Americans, they would not be able to eat this fish. First of all, it was not filleted there were bones. This would turn off even a seasoned fish eater. But it was good nonetheless. Jack’s dish wasn’t very good (it was rubbery) but Mina’s dish was good, they had hare and chicken respectively. I guess 2 out of 3 is not bad odds, but the service sucked. The meal was quite expensive compared to our fancy dinner the night before. Oh well, you learn.

My sister leaves tomorrow so we decided to head home so she could relax.

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