"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)!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

March 9 - 15, 2009

Monday:  It’s a cloudy, but warm day.  We decided to go to back to the 13eme to buy some staples.  We seem to be going through a lot more food and staples in the house.  Probably because the apartment has a nice enough kitchen that I actually enjoy going to the markets and cooking dinner.  Whereas when we were in Montmarte, even though the kitchen was adequate, it just wasn’t fun cooking, so we went out to eat a lot.  We’re averaging eating out about once or twice a week, so that’s good for the old pocket book.

The 13eme has the largest Champion market in Paris.  Champion is owned by Carrefour so the prices are really good.  We did our shopping and lugged it back on the metro to our apartment.  Since it was a crappy day, we decided to have a quiet evening at home.

Tuesday:  It’s been switching between sun and rain.  Is Spring close by? Who knows?  We were invited over to Mehran and Christophe’s apartment for dinner tonight.  I wanted to buy a little gift.  I’m starting to understand the French concept of buying things at your favorite store or specialty shop versus one-stop shopping in the U.S.  Since we have metro passes we went back to the Monceau Florist, it’s out of the way, but well worth it. Bought a beautiful orchid and decided to head back home.  Wanted to stop by the Naturalia store, which is a health food chain and we have one around the corner from where we live.  Apparently, they sell high gluten flour.  So, went in and they didn’t have the gluten number on the packages, so I just made a guess based on the picture.  As soon as we step out of the store, what should happen, it’s raining pretty heavy.  So, we hauled ass.

After doing some chores around the house, we left to go to Mehran/Christophe’s apartment.  They are on the 13 metro line, and it is one of the busiest lines in Paris.  They technically do not live in Paris, but in a suburb called Saint Ouen.  Got to the metro and it was packed.  We were already running late, so we squished into the train.  So, what should happen after we got on the train, they had a mini-brown out in the metro.  No electricity, imagine that?  They left the metro doors open, and more people starting squeezing wherever they could find a place.  One woman was carrying her baby and just forced her way in.  I would never do that.  That poor baby could get suffocated to death, oh well.  I got pushed up against a young man so tight, that I could tell what religion he was.  That had to have been one my worst experiences on Paris metro I’ve ever had.  I’ve had a few of those instances in San Francisco, and the difference is that the French are more polite about trying to make room.

After what seemed an eternity, we took off.  The poor young man I was butt up against, literally, was feeling very uncomfortable with our new found intimacy.  So when we got to the next station, he squeezed his way out.  I took his place and a woman took my place.  She was pushed up against me so tight, you could ask me the question, are they real or fake? and I could answer pretty accurately.  Imagine that?

Finally we got to the Mairie de Saint Quen and it was such a relief to get out that Metro station.  We got to Mehran’s apartment and we were a good 45-minutes late.  He was the only there, Christophe was unexpectedly called into work and would not be back until around 10 pm.  It was sort of funny, Mehran had invited several other people, but we were the only ones who could make it.  And, he also told me that my new favorite florist is a chain, and they’re all over town, who knew? 

We first had apéros, and close to 10 we started dinner.  Christophe came just in time and we had a wonderful meal of grilled prawns for an entrée, and Choucroute (sauerkraut with various meats and sausages) for our plat, then a salad, cheese course and since it was after midnight and did not want to miss the train, we had our dessert to go.

Train was less crowded and getting home was uneventful.  Thank Buddha!

Wednesday:  Yveline our friend and Jack’s French tutor is coming over tonight to give Jack his French lesson and afterwards I will give Yveline a cooking lesson in Asian style cooking. Fair exchange, n’est pas?  In preparation for the cooking class we went out to do some shopping.  Went back to the “old Chinatown” around the corner, and I saw a wok for €12.80.  I didn’t check to see if it was a round bottom wok or a flat bottom until I got home.  As we checked out the woman punched in €9 for my wok, wow, even a better deal.

Got home unloaded the food and decided to start seasoning my wok.  Since it has a wooden handle, I couldn’t season it in the oven so had to depend on the cook top.  As I put the wok on the cook top I realized it’s a round bottom, and I’m trying to season it on a flat bottom electric stove top.  Talk about juggling.  None-the-less I was able to successfully season it, but I’ll need to buy a ring bottom.  There are some apartments in Paris that still have gas.  But there’s a big push to go all electric.  Less of a fire hazard.

Speaking of fire hazard, my guess would be Paris is ripe for a big fire.  It’s not common for people to have smoke alarms.  Also, apartments here do not have fire escapes.  And, even though the buildings aren’t tall, I still would not like to jump out of 6-story window.  So, that’s a consideration whenever we look at apartment.  Is it close enough to the ground that if I jump out the window, my fat will cushion the blow?  A few years ago there was a big fire, and it was a disaster.  People were trapped in the apartment.

Yveline came over at 6 pm and she and Jack were franchaying, while I played on the computer.  Afterwards, I taught Yveline to make fresh rolls and fried egg rolls (lumpia).  Then we ate what we made.  I was franchaying too, since Yveline speaks no English.

It was definitely a low key day.

Thursday:  Cloudy day.  We’re supposed to have apéros here with Carine and her new boyfriend Ludovic.  I’m a little anxious about this, since Carine is our good friend’s ex-wife and going through a very messy divorce and this is the first time we’ll be seeing her with a new beau, so we’ll see.

Didn’t do anything today, since it’s cloudy.  At 8 pm Carine and Ludovic came and initially it was strange, but afterwards it became easier.  I was ready to hate Ludovic, but he really is a nice man, who knew?

At about 9 pm we decided to head out to dinner.  Carine remembered a cous-cous restaurant she liked close by, so we decided to head out that way. When we got there, the restaurant was no longer there, and was replaced with some type of lounge bar.  So, I asked them if they were feeling adventurous and would they like to try a Russian restaurant.  There’s this Russian restaurant we walk by all the time by Rue Montorgueil.  Got there and it is really cute. Forgot my camera, wouldn’t you know it.  Really, really tiny restaurant.  Walls had original stone bricks and it was decorated like a cute little Russian doll house.  There was only one other couple in the Russian, Thank Buddha, ‘cause otherwise it would have been too noisy and too cramped.  Jack and I are somewhat familiar with Russian food since we have Russian and Ukrainian friends that have cooked for us.  So, we ordered food that we thought would be traditionally Russian.  Started with Borscht, Piroshkis, and beef stroganoff.  The maitre’d was a really nice friendly guy. Very talkative, in both English and French.  His Mom is the cook.  I wanted so badly to like this restaurant cause it really is cute and they’re so friendly.  The Borscht was really watery and thin.  We asked him where the beets were.  Apparently, Borscht just means a “stew or soup” and where he’s from it’s vegetable soup.  He also told us that Russians don’t eat cold soup.  I told him I don’t like cold borscht and have only had it warm, but with lots of beets, oh well.  The piroshkis were very rubbery, and the beef stroganoff, you could literally ask the question, “Where’s the beef?”  The food was just bland and dull.  Talk about bad home made meal by maman.   I felt really felt bad ‘cause maman came out to talk to us, oh well—I would have to be a food critic!

We had fun none-the-less.  Ludovic and Carine had to work the next day, so we called it a night at midnight. 

Friday:  Nice sunny day, who knew?  We’re not familiar with the 5eme so we decided to check out this area.  Part of the 5eme is known as the Latin quarters, and we do not particularly care for that area because it’s so touristy.  But we wanted to check the area around the Université de Paris, Sorbonne, which is also in the 5eme.  Got to the Sorbonne, and the university buildings are spread throughout that part of the city.  We apparently had just missed a big protest, thank Buddha, but there were still a lot of police all around the university.  The area is actually quite beautiful, with beautiful architecture.  As we were walking, we headed towards the Pantheon and around that area.  The area is beautiful, but I have some reservations about living in this area.  It is a university town, hence full of young people, so I’m thinking the week-ends are probably going to be party central and extremely noisy, oh well.

We continued our walk and found our way to the 14eme (Montparnasse) by accident.  Came across a fountain that was actually working, so we sat in the park to enjoy the fountain.  Paris has a few fountains, but not as many as they have in Italy.  Then I realized all that rustling water made me want to go to the bathroom, so we saw one of those porta potties, and what luck, it was out-of-order.  So, we decided to head back home on the bus.  On our way, we decided to drop by our friend Tracy’s office.  Got off close to the Seine and almost every block had flowers for sale.  So, after sneezing my way through the maize of flowers, we got to Tracy’s office, but she had already left.  We decided to head home, and was glad to see a bathroom.

Tracy called, and she just had an MRI to check why she’s having shoulder problems.  She asked if we wanted to go out to dinner, said sure, she came by about 7:30 pm.  Tracy got here and she and Jack are trying to translate her medical records, bonne chance!  Then they decided they didn’t want to go out and I should rustle up some food, so I did.  45-minutes later we had a Larb salad with turkey and lumpia, and a shrimp dish with rice, followed by a yummy dessert that Jack had bought earlier.

Had a fun evening with Tracy.

Saturday:  Tonight is our friend Vanya’s birthday party.  So, we went out to find a birthday gift for him.  I told Jack let’s go out and buy some cigars since that’s what he smokes.  Jack said, he hates cigars and I had to remind him it’s not for him.  So after lunch we strolled down to Rue St. Honoré.  Got to the store, and it’s actually very, very close to the Palais Royale where we have our summer picnics.  Got to the cigar store, and they had an incredible selection.  I guess they would since it is a cigar store.  The prices were unbelievable.  Imagine paying €40 for one Cuban cigar.  No, we did not buy that, but a lesser cigar from the Dominican Republic.  Satisfied that we were able to find a gift we now had to find a birthday card.  As I mentioned, Paris is not a one-stop shopping area, so we’re looking for a card shop.  So, we walked around the Palais Royale shopping area and I saw a mannequin with the most interesting wedding dress.  See picture below. Yes, those are pasties. Inquiring minds want to know, how do you lift and separate in that?  And, do they use super glue?

Afterwards we came across a Monoprix, and we were able to find a card.  To reward ourselves, we decided to go across the street and have a snack at the Galleries Lafayette.  I love their food court.

Got to the food court and I decided since I am on a diet and trying to cut down on pastries, why don’t I have a cheese plate instead.  Is that brilliant or what? So Jack got a Napoleon and I got a huge cheese plate, with lots of tiny baguettes, yum-yum.

We were beat from all the walking so decided to return to the apartment to rest a bit before going to Vanya’s birthday party.

At around 8 pm we headed out to the 15eme where Vanya and his girlfriend Laurence live.  We were the last one’s to arrive, imagine that.  Vanya introduced us to his friends, they were all really nice and very accomplished.  Their friend Victor and Vanya kept saying hold on and we’ll have the mageetous ready. I thought it was something French, so not to be impolite, I said OK.  So, we sat down and I decided to go to the kitchen where Victor was and he was mixing a concoction that looked familiar, and he kept saying mageetous, then it finally hit me, he meant to say “mojitos” J in French is pronounced G, and G is pronounced J, go figure?  So we started drinking the mojitos, they were good so I chugged them down like lemonade since it was so warm inside the apartment.  Then we started on the wine.  As we were drinking, and I’m listening to all the French around me, I remembered a really funny Steve Martin quote, “Boy, those French, they have a different word for everything!”

When the French have meals, they want to be comfortable.  So, buffets are NOT common here at all. It will always be a sit-down.   It is not uncommon if you run into a friend and s/he is having a dinner party and will say to you, “…I would love to have you over for dinner tonight, but I just don’t have the room…” and believe it or not it’s not considered rude to say that.

So, all of us were sat at a makeshift long table squeezed very tightly, but fun.  We started with foie gras and toast, and believe it or not followed by a large pot of Chili con carne, who knew? Then a cheese course followed by dessert.   The French will always offer you cheese after a meal.  So, this was definitely a low cholesterol dinner!

Had tons of fun.  Vanya and Vincent are both film directors.  So, I told them if they ever need to find a young leading romantic man, they need look no further than me, but I don’t do nudes… That got a few laughs, go figure?

We left at about 12:30 am in fear that we might miss our train.  It’s a Saturday night and the last trains are just before 2 am, and typically packed because everyone is trying to get home before it shuts down.  It’s actually a status symbol to go home after 2 am via cab.  My question is, who are they trying to impress, the cab driver?

The metro was packed as expected.  Got home and I fell fast asleep. Had a wonderful evening.

Sunday:  Jack has his French tutoring today in Maisons-Alfort with Yveline. It’s a sunny day today, so Yveline and Jack will be doing a walking a tour in French.  I woke up and felt like total crap.  Tracy called Jack to see if we want to do a picnic.  I could barely get out of bed so I stayed in.  I’m wondering if I’m coming down with the flu, or worse a hangover from one too many mageetous and wine?

Jack came home about 5 pm and was exhausted from all the walking.  I stayed in with the hmmm the flu?!? I’m feeling a little bit better.   So, we stayed in and had a quiet dinner.

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