"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

March 2 -8, 2009

Monday:  A cloudy day, oh well. We decided since we’re definitely going to be roaming around Paris to look for a new apartment, we may as well update the passes for a month. There are 5-zones in Paris.  Zones 1 and 2 covers Paris central, whereas zones 3-5 covers outside of the Paris areas and into the suburbs. We typically get the zones 1 and 2 passes.  This will cost you €55 or about $71. It’s quite costly, but the passes are extremely convenient.  Those of you coming to Paris this summer, just buy the Carnet, a package of 10 and will cost you €11.60. One ticket equals one ride, and you should hold onto them, since the Metro police spot checks for valid tickets.  They typically don’t hassle tourist, but just to be on the safe side, since some of them can be a**holes.  I know some of you will be staying in the town center, so you can actually walk to many of the sites.  Enough of my tourism spiel.

So, we got the passes and Randy had an inkling to go to Bon Marché.  As I mentioned, Bon Marché means “inexpensive store.”  How contrary to the name.  Bon Marché is one of the most expensive department stores in Paris.  We decided to check out the department store, too expensive so we headed over to the Food store, which is actually across the street from the regular department store.  I started taking pictures, and this man rudely told me to stop it.  So, I was only able to take 2-pictures for fear that he’d have the Fish Monger attack me with his machetes.  Most of the people shopping at Bon Marché are wealthy French people, ex-pats who don’t know any better like moi or rich tourists.  Surprisingly, I did buy a few things.  My only extravagance is food.  And, from the recent looks of me, I’ve been very generous, go figure. 

The French have this incredible collection of salts or sels.  I found a package of Sel de Mer fumé, smoked sea salt, who knew?  Plus I bought some fond.  Fond is the scrapings from the pan of sautéed meat or chicken and is used to make sauce, or as we know in the States “gravy.”  I’ve never seen this in the States, so I plan on bringing a suitcase full when I return to the U.S. I’ll tell you later how customs will react to that.

After an exciting couple of hours at Bon Marché we headed out to La Defénse.  I did notice on the metro a lot of skinny tall girls. I had heard that France is going through a “fat” problem where teenage girls are becoming obese.  Then I realized later, it’s Fashion Week, so there are hoards of skinny models roaming around the city, who knew?  

We had to buy some other basics at Auchan, the large grocery store in La Défense.  All this shopping made us so tired, so we decided to stop and have some pastries to regain our strength. Like I said, I don’t skimp when it comes to food.  Plus I hate to go shopping on an empty stomach, you tend to over buy.

Went to Auchan, did our shopping then rushed home because of the perishables we bought.  We figured this week would be a bad week to go out for dinner since it is Fashion week.  Plus I have nothing to wear…  Had a quiet evening in.

Tuesday:  We’re supposed to have dinner with our friend Léandre’s ex-wife Carine tonight, how weird is that? so we wanted to make sure we return home by 6 pm.  But it was a nice day, so we decided to check out the other sections of the 12eme to possibly live.  Got to the San Mandé area just outside of the 12eme, what a lovely area.  Really wide streets, cute stores and restaurants.  But I heard this area’s a bit pricey.  You’d think we’d be jaded at this point of having lived in Paris, but even though the neighborhoods basically look alike, there’s a “feel” to certain areas.  Let me give you an example: some places feel dangerous like they want to rob and pillage you and other’s feel like they don’t want you in their neighborhoods, and others are quaint and nice.  This was quaint and nice.  We roamed around a bit and decided to take the bus to “Nation”, another area we wanted to check.  Nation is in the 12eme, but borders the 17eme, 11eme and the 20eme, who knew?  It’s a large arrondissement (district) with busy streets, lots of shops and also large department stores. It’s a lively working class arrondissement.  It’s a potential place to live, but my only dislike is that it’s too busy and crowded.  We had to go to the bathroom and I didn’t feel like spending another €20 to go to a café so we went into Au Printemps, a large department store like Macys.  Afterwards, we decided to window shop in case we need to buy some things for our apartment. 

Normally, I don’t like taking the buses because they take so long and are always so crowded, but in the winter, they’re not so bad, who knew?  So, we decided to head towards the Républic and took the bus there.  It was getting close to 6, so we needed to return to meet Carine.

Got home, and we were both beat from all the walking.  We had walked quite a bit, so we took a quick nap.  Got up at 8:30 pm and still hadn’t heard from Carine.  We later got a call that she was stuck at work and we would have to reschedule, oh well.  So we stayed in and had another quiet evening at home. 

Wednesday:  It rained last night, and was quite wet outside.  We decided we weren’t going to let the rain deter us from going out, so we went to Carrefour, it’s like a very large Super Target, out at one of the suburbs, Montrueil.   It is really cold today, plus no sun, so it made it feel even colder.  Got to Porte Montrueil, and Carrefour was amazing.  The prices are wonderful.  And, the food section is great.  They package their food so well and in such an eye appealing way.

Jack and I never shop for the same things, so we agreed that we’d meet up in an hour.  I started roaming around and went to the Seafood section.  The Fish Monger was originally from the Philippines, but lived in Paris the past 17-years.  I think he must’ve moved here when he was in his early teens, because his French is excellent.  He was so nice and helpful, how un-French, but then again he isn’t.  He was the only employee joking around with his customers and just having fun.  I’m sure the French thought he was fou (crazy).  I asked him if he liked living in Paris, and surprisingly he said, no, he preferred the States, go figure?  People were constantly trying to interrupt us, how rude, he just didn’t acknowledge them, so in some ways, he acted very French.  He gave me some free samples of prawns and advised me on what fish to buy.  So, I told him I would only buy fish from him in the future.  So we became buddies.

After chatting with him longer than I should’ve, I met up with Jack and we finished shopping.  We had bought too much and we would have to carry the food home.  I may have mentioned this already, but a lot of French people lug around little roller luggages.  At first you think, wow they sure travel a lot, but then you learn that many use them to schlep things around.  In fact, I saw a man open up his luggage and stick his groceries in it.  Now why didn’t I think of that?  Jack and I probably have the strongest arms and shoulders from all the carrying we’ve been doing.  Wouldn’t you know it, as we’re leaving Carrefour it starts to rain/snow, so we hauled ass to the Metro station.  Today is Wednesday, and on Wednesdays there is no school.  They split their school week, and I had forgotten about that, so the Metro was PACKED.  Here’s Jack and I carrying huge grocery bags on the metro.  It was not pretty.  I forced myself to a seat and didn’t care how I got there, I must’ve banged my shopping bag across some heads, but I didn’t care.

Got home and was too exhausted from all of today’s excitement, so we stayed home and had some fish and shrimp that I bought from the Fish Monger.

Thursday:  Got up unusually late. Jack had to do some errands, go to the Post office etc.  I stayed in.  Jack came back and said he dropped by the Healthcare Department to check to see if his card works.  It worked, but they still had me in their system as Diaz (first name) and Randy (last name).  The counselor did tell us earlier that it would take a long time to correct and for me to get my own card, but how hard can it be to update my name? go figure?  As I mentioned, the healthcare system is incredible here.  Their philosophy is preventive medicine is good medicine, and a healthy country is a successful country.  What a concept. I still haven’t found a primary doctor. As some of you know I am very “descriptive” about my ailments.  And, some of you have even called me a hypochondriac, well maybe I am a little bit.  So, I would like to find a doctor who speaks relatively good English.  Jack’s doctor’s English isn’t that great, and with my French, my fear is If I go in for a hang nail and find out later I’m asking for a hysterectomy, that’s not good, even for a hypochondriac.  So, rather than looking in the yellow pages, I’ve decided to check around with friends a bit more.

While I was waiting for Jack I noticed it was particularly busy today.  As with most streets in Paris, the streets are narrow and only allow one car to drive through.  It is not unusual for a loading truck to park, do his business and have a line of cars waiting behind him.  And, surprisingly the people waiting are very patient.  But sometimes, when the driver decides to take a coffee break in the middle of the street, this pisses off the people behind him, so they start honking, totally understandable.  And, that’s exactly what happened behind the apartment.  People were honking like crazy, what a surprise?

The weather was weird, so I took a quick nap, and when I woke up realized it was late, so we stayed in without even knowing it.  Oh well.

Friday:   We decided to go to the Château Vincennes today.  Been to the park (Bois) in the summer, but never in the Chateau.  So, we decide to walk to the Hôtel de Ville metro stop since it was a beautiful sunny day.  As we got closer to the Hôtel de Ville, we noticed a huge line for 2 blocks.  I told Jack, wow look at the line to go see the “MILK” premiere, which was on that line, but as we got to the movie theater, we noticed the line wrapped around by the department store BHV.  Apparently there was a casting call for models.  Well in my fantasy, I decided I wanted to try out since I use to be a fashionista.  Got in line and they kept saying, “suivant, suivant” I’m hearing svelt, svelt, I have lost a little weight lately from all the walking, but suivant means next, oh well.  I guess I won’t be gracing their magazine with my presence, and if they ask me in the future I will have to say non merci, you had your chance!

Cattle call in front of BHV 

Took the metro to Château de Vincennes and you could see all the thin men and women walking all “dolled” up for fashion week.  Some of them were truly beautiful and handsome young adults, hate them!

Got to the Château de Vincennes, and the sun was out and it was just beautiful.  We wandered around the grounds and I decided if I can’t be a model for a day, I would do my own posing for the pictures…

 In order of Fashion week, our take on striking that pose

Afterwards, we went back into the town center at Les Halles and I decided we should sit at the café and watch all the models promenading.  Got to the café and we were fortunate enough to get a table in the glass enclosed room looking into the square, great spot to people watch.  Well it was sunny today, and the effects of that room was like a “green-house” I swear after sitting for 15-minutes I’m sure I grew something on my body.  So we ordered some refreshments, a quarter carafe of wine for me and pastis (Licorice liquor) for Jack and of course since I’m on a diet I decided against pastries and had a plate of French fries.  We decided rather than cook tonight we’d go out to dinner.  So we sat and really enjoyed people watching.  It’s one of the busiest pedestrian streets around in the Le Halles area.

Afterwards we left and went home.  I was a bit tipsy from the wine, so I decided to take a short take.  Well it was a lot longer than I anticipated, so we missed out on going out to dinner… oh well.

Saturday:  We decided to go to the Chinese Museum (Cernuschi) in the 8eme right next to Parc Monceau, one of my favorite parks in Paris.  Got to the museum and saw the most incredible flower shop.  It was huge and they have everything. It amazes me that even in the winter they have the most beautiful flowers at the stores and also in the parks, how do they do this?  I told Jack we’d have to come back and maybe find a gift for Sarindra.  We’re having dinner with some friend’s at Sarindra’s apartment and she’s making a special “Malagasy” dinner.  Sarindra is originally from Madagascar.

Got to the museum, and we did the whole museum (the free part) in what seems like half an hour.  It was very small.  So, we decided to take a stroll through one my favorite parks, Parc Monceau.  There was a wedding party in the Parc, the bride had really neat wedding dress, it had lots of layers and it looked like she was a swan floating.  The park was beautiful, lots of flowers in spite of the cold weather, go figure?

Beautiful bride and gown

We decided to head back to the flower shop, Monceau Fleur, what an incredible shop.  We bought a potted plant for the apartment and a orchid for Sarindra.  Headed home afterwards and walked by the Jean Claude Gautiér studio.  There were ropes all around his building and security guards up the wazoo.  Since I gave up my “model card” I didn’t dare try to go in.

Got home, took a quick nap and then we headed out to the burbs, which is the end of the 4 line.  Sarindra’s apartment, like many apartments in Paris is really tiny, but she was able to fit 6-people.   First course was a tea smoked duck, followed by a dish of tomato prawns and a dish of pork with chopped manioc leafs.  The pork reminded me a lot of lau-lau in Hawaii, which is cooked in tarot leaves.  Even had the same flavors.

Had a great time, then we headed home around midnight.  Didn’t want to chance missing the metro.  Got on the metro and it was packed.  A couple of models got on the train and they were drinking champagne out of the bottle.  How classy is that… well at least they were drinking Veuve Cliquot.  One thing I notice about the youth in Paris, they can be noisy and rowdy, but they’re always polite.  If they accidentally bang in to you they always say, pardon.  Maybe it’s just me and having seen so many wild teenagers in SF and Las Vegas, American kids are more violent. Here, their bark is louder than their bite.  If you visit Paris, let me know your thoughts about the youth.

Got home at about 1:30 am. Was pooped, so went straight to bed.

Sunday:  It’s raining.  Oh well.  Jack has his French tutoring class today, so I decided to make some scones.  Flour in Paris is very different.  They don’t have the high gluten we have in our flour in the US, so it’s trial and error for me.  FYI…, the lower the number on the package, e.g. 45, the less gluten.  Typically number 65 on the flour is equivalent to our “all purpose flour”.    I had the #45 and it came out OK, but not as dense as the scones I normally make, but it was OK, not my best.  So, next time I’ll try a higher gluten content.

Yveline came, and Jack had his lessons.  I’m listening in, and he really is doing well.  Well I guess I now have my own personal interpreter.  After his lesson, I joined in on the conversation.  Yveline loves to gossip, and being the kindred spirit, I listened.  Imagine me understanding gossip in French, how funny.

We invited Yveline out to dinner, but she had plans.  So, Jack and I went to a neighborhood Japanese restaurant for sushi.  It is unbelievable how many Japanese restaurants there are in Paris.  In the culinary world, we went through a Japanese phase a couple of years ago in SF, so I guess now it’s Paris’ turn.  Oddly enough, I had the proverbial sushi, and nori maki, but I also had yakatori (skewered meats/chicken/fish), and they gave me one with beef rolled around brie, how odd was that?  I ate it, I have to say it is a bit strange.  I think Asians cuisine should stay away from “fromage” n’est pas?

Came home, just exhausted from all the eating… 

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