Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Hello, all: I've decided to start a new blog, since I enjoyed this one so much. It probably won't have as much pastry as this one did, but I hope you'll come visit anyway.

Monday, May 25, 2009

ppps: Things I Will Miss

...you mean, besides everything?

1. People - lots of them - actually walking down the street with baguette in hand, just like in every cliché photo or film of Paris that you've ever seen.

2. The prices of the clothing in a shop window being printed neatly on a discreet card, saving one the trouble of going in and asking the price on a cute pair of orange sailor shorts ("les bermudas"), only to find out that they're 180 euros, global economic crisis or no global economic crisis.

3. The green metal lounge chairs at Tuileries and Luxembourg. Plop yourself in one of these babies with something to drink and a good pair of sunglasses, and you're set for the afternoon.

4. The restraint shown by bartenders when it comes to ice. In a New York restaurant, a tall glass of iced tea typically yields two or three sips of tea, and then you're left with a pile o' ice. At Le Fumoir, in contrast, my bergamon-mint iced tea lasted through my whole meal.

5. The signs in the Métro station letting you know how long till the next train. (And, yes, I am aware that this exists on the L as well, but the L is so dreadful in every other measure, including the length of time till the next train, that this doesn't count.)

6. The little plate of saucisson, or cheese, or olives, that comes with your drink at a café in the early evening.

7. The department stores. I really didn't even buy very much, but wandering through these gorgeous stores and looking at Saarinen tables and bolts of oilcloth and funky modern lamps and crazy café society hats and fab bags (one of which I am still thinking of, wistfully) and thin leather gloves and Missoni towels and Kenzo bedspreads.... Oh, mama. And then, of course, heading to the astonishing gourmet wing of each of these shops, and spending way too much money on treats.

8. The sky staying light till 10 pm.

9. Being called "madame," in that way the French have, where, for example, when you look at a salesperson, instead of saying "Yes?" questioningly, they state "Madame" decisively, which somehow to me implies, "I am absolutely going to solve whatever issue you have at this moment, even if it's just ensuring that there is a croissant in your near future."

10. Fresh butter, non-pasteurized cheese, chicken that tastes like chicken, croissants, yogurt from Monoprix with acacia honey from G. Detou, chocolate-covered pralined almonds from Les Chocolats Rive Gauche, eating whatever I damn well want to, calories and arteries and bathing suit season be damned.

11. Seeing the Seine every day.

Clearly, I could go on, but it's too, too tragic.

pps: Things I Won't Miss

1. People who won't get out of the friggin way, and instead stand at the top of escalators, in the middle of the sidewalk, in the doorway of a shop, in the entrance of the Métro trains, and who won't move, even when they have clearly seen you, even when they're looking right at you, until you put on your mean face and say, "Excusez moi," in a peevish tone.

2. The trifecta of noise in my apartment: the battalions of screaming kids in the playground, the six-days-a-week apartment renovation below me, and the clompiest upstairs neighbors in the entire world. Seriously. I put on my noise-reducing headphones a few times, just so I could relax and read without feeling like a cartoon character who's being bounced up and down in bed by some insane pounding noise.

3. Being confronted on a daily basis with the weakness of the dollar (thanks, George W.).

{sound of either clock ticking, Jeopardy tune playing, or crickets chirping}

I can't think of anything else.

ps: Things I Am Looking Forward to

I'll start with this category, in the hopes that it will cheer me up.

1. Lots of spicy food

2. A slice. Then another.

3. People who put a little pep into it.

4. Extreme air-conditioning.

5. People who speak my language, in every sense of the phrase.

6. Non-dubbed American TV shows.

7. Eyebrows that don't raise at the drop of a hat.

8. Getting back onto some kind of reasonable diet that doesn't involve chocolate before noon.

9. Speaking of that: much less dairy, much less bread, much less sugar. A lot more vegetables (and I'm not talking half-butter, half-potato puree), and shopping expeditions to Whole Foods.

10. Personal space.


OK, I'm back, sitting at the kitchen table, with my 25 days behind me (and god only knows ahead, cf. "jour no. 21"), listening to moody Chet Baker play his moody trumpet, and being very moody indeed.

Actually, I'm moodier than I'd expected. To be honest, I was expecting to enjoy my time in Paris, maybe do a little reflecting on my life and my future, eat some yummy food, and then come back home, ready for whatever's next.

Instead, Paris slowly, over the course of my 25 days, got completely under my skin. In addition to the sheer pleasure the city offers, I also liked the challenge of speaking French (and feeling like I was improving), and I really liked my blog. It gave me a good focus on my experience, and it made me appreciate what each day gave up to me. I'm going to miss it! {Merci beaucoup for your clicks and comments.}

And of course, Paris also represents something, something that I, in my aimless state, am very susceptible to: it represents a life lived with meaning, in beauty, a life lived richly.

Unwisely, on the plane I chose to watch "Revolutionary Road," a movie that I'd initially avoided, but then became curious about as I heard the backlash to its negative reception, and even more curious after I saw the well-received "Reader," which I deeply loathed. I figured, maybe I'd just got my Kate Winslet movies crossed.

At any rate, as many of you know, the plot point for "RR" is that its protagonist (Kate Winslet) wants to escape her typical 1950s suburban life and move her husband (Leonardo DiCaprio) and children to Paris - "to live," as she puts it. Paris is the Shangri-La, the city on a hill, the antidote to the regular-old, garden-variety, 40-hours-a-week life that pretty much all of us figured we were going to avoid, and which pretty much all of us now have - some of us contentedly, god bless you, and some of us, not so much.

Of course (and I really don't think this is giving away anything, since it was all quite clear from minute one), the new life in Paris never happens, and much tragedy ensues.


{last pic: painfully appropriate detail from Rodin's "Porte de l'Enfer" at Musée d'Orsay}

a few things I forgot to mention:

There are actual windmills in Montmartre.

The guy at the concert at Châtelet who, right as the conductor took his place for the second encore, shouted out "Chicago!"

The fact that the next day, Le Fumoir's music mix included Tony Bennett singing "Chicago," and on my last night, Jean Julien was playing Sinatra singing you guessed it (Jean Julien confessed that it's his dream to be married in Vegas; this to me is inexplicable, in the same way that French humor is inexplicable).

This incredible Hair by Kenneth holdout at Garnier.

Yet another potentially irresistible set of wheels.

I'm risking my foodie street cred, but I did want to tell you that part of the reason I so loved Eric Kayser's chocolate mini financiers is that they reminded me of chocolate Dunkin' Munchkins.

Our collective crush on Jean Philippe, the waiter at Le Verre Volé.

The Parisian obsession with Obama.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

jour no. 25 - enfin

Well, I'm packed (though still worried if I can manage all this luggage; I may collapse and call it quits on my three-block walk to the Air France bus stop), the laundry is running, I'm drinking my last cup of tea, and Elton John is singing "Rocket Man."

Clearly, there's some serious melancholy going on here.

I'm not going to wrap this blog up yet, however, as I feel I need to do some sort of summation. So there will be at least three more posts (maybe today, if the CDG wifi cooperates): What I'm Looking Forward to; What I'm Not Going to Miss; and What I Am Going to Miss, Deeply and Truly.

{top photo: a rose from Amy's lovely garden}

Saturday, May 23, 2009

jour no. 24 - and on top of everything else,...

...today, my French finally decided to kick in. This afternoon, I had conversations in shops about ink-jet cartridges, tax refund, customs, and gift wrap, and I understood everything! And tonight, I was even kind of bold speaking up to bartenders and waiters.


And now I'm leaving - such bad timing.

{Note that I'm basically constructing arguments for why I should return to Paris, toot sweet.}

{And note the lovely giftwrap on the present for my hosts, courtesy Le Bon Marché.}

jour no. 24 - the Last Supper

Look, I know there are more restaurants and wine bars and cafés in Paris than an entire army of New York gals can shake a million sticks at. But I wanted to go back to La Cave du Daron and Le Verre Volé for my last night.

Jean Julien at La Cave du Daron (that's him hiding behind the cheese) is one of those great hosts: everyone who enters his shop/bar is made to feel welcome, and if you stick around, you'll probably end up a bit tipsy, too. Or maybe that's just us.

Anywho, we spend a good hour and a half drinking Champagne and eating fabulously stinky cheese and fabulously tangy sausage before walking over (through a beautiful dusk, along the canal) to my third meal at Le VV.

Let me just point out that, all in all, I didn't eat out a lot of dinners during my time here. And still, on my final night, I wanted to go to Le VV (which doesn't look like much from the outside) for the third time.

The four of us had the asparagus yet again, along with brandade with artichokes, veal pâté with tomato confit, and tuna tartare with avocado as starters. My main was the rouget again, with baby vegetables. We polished off a couple of great reds from the Rhône, chosen by the ever-charming Jean Philippe, and to finish, a bowl of cherries from Nîmes and a lovely raisin-y dessert wine that pretty much finished us off.

At 2, it was implied that it was time to leave, and then at 2:30, cabs were called, so we took the hint.

No one washed my feet, but it was still a perfect last supper.

jour no. 24 - penultimate day, afternoon

In my last afternoon here, I did some errands in my lovely neighborhood of the 17e, then headed to the 11e, where I wandered a bit, then drank a coffee and read an art mag at L'Autre Café. Nothing special, nothing newsworthy: just that perfect kind of artful laziness that Paris specializes in.

And maybe a touch of melancholy.

jour no. 24 - workin' it

OK, last day. Lots of chores and errands (I used to feel the title of my memoirs would be "Chores and Errands") - clean my darling apartment, try to cram all my new stuff into my luggage, pick up a few things at the store (including some lovely-looking gouda-and-sea-salt crackers for my plane ride), etc.

Early on in my sojourn, I posted about the adorable appliances in my kitchen. Well, my love affair with French efficiency doesn't end there. Just take a look at this baby.

Let me just say I loathe vacuuming. We all have that one task that sets our teeth on edge; my Mom hates dusting, others hate doing dishes or laundry. For me, it's the drudgery and back-ache of vacuuming.

So imagine my delight at meeting this absolutely doll: the Samsung euro vacuum (not its actual technical name, FYI). First off, it's a Samsung, so I feel as if I'm talking on a mobile instead of doing housework. Second, it's got incredible power for such a little guy: I had to turn it off at one point, it was so eager to suck up an entire throw rug. Third, it's just so well-designed: easy to use, easy to carry, easy to pull around, easy to zip into corners.

For some of you, this might seem like the most unromantic Paris post in the history of blogging. But for those of you who curse the pathetic and enraging design flaws of everyday gadgets like vacuum cleaners, this innocuous-looking gadget will be, as it was for me, a testimony to the potential of humankind to evolve to new levels of dignity and grace.

And it's so damn cute, too: the Wall-E of the vacuum world.

Speaking of cute: I bought this hairdryer just as something to use this month; I was planning to leave it behind. But at this point, after its three weeks of selfless service, and its absolutely adorable looks, I'm just too attached. It will be crammed in somewhere, bejaysus.

jours nos. 23 + 24 - say it ain't so!

I'm shocked. It's coming to an end, my sojourn, after which I have literally No Plans. Suggestions on what to do with my life are very welcome.

I did get one lovely vision of a potential future from Amy, who I met last night; she's a friend of a friend, but hopefully now just a friend. She's American but has lived here for years and years, in an absolutely lovely house just west of the 17e, where it's very lush and parklike. At any rate, after telling her and her two friends (one of whom is such a dead ringer for Julia Roberts, both in looks and voice, that I kept feeling like I was in the dinner party scene in Notting Hill) the overview of how I ended up with time to kill and a trip to Paris, Amy said, very decisively, "This is what you do. You move to Paris, rent this room from me, get paid to have lunch with French businessmen who want to improve their English. You meet my friends, join one of the 150 expat associations, I'll introduce you to handsome French men."


Meanwhile, I'm cleaning out the pantry. Breakfast today: melon, grapefruit juice, tea, yogurt with honey, croissant, and fig bread.

I feel gooooooood.

jour no. 23 - Hélène Darroze

Hélène Darroze is considered one of the top foodie restaurants in the city, and the prices reflect that: mains at dinner range from 56 to 75 euros, or you can spring for the 175 euro prix fixe. So afternoon tea, at 28 euros complete with a glass of Pol Roger, is an absolutely bargain, and I don't want to hear any disagreement.

We had tartines, one with Spanish-style ham and a tomato confit, and the other with fresh cheese with olives and favas. Then came what basically turned into The Jam Course: along with a drop-dead amazing olive oil madeleine, a sweet fruit bread, a ginger scone, and a pot of clotted cream, our charming back-up waiter brought over a tray of confiture from an Alsacian artisan named Cristine Ferber; Gina had been on the lookout for these babies, as she'd heard they're the best, and I wouldn't argue. The poor guy had to stand there forever while we each dollopped spoonfuls of various flavors on our plates: vanilla-apricot, rose petal, fig, framboise...

To close, a chocolate creation that had a layer of crunchy chocolate meringue and a layer of hazelnut cake, as well as a chocolate-yuzu macaroon and a cannot-be-topped lemon macaroon with a filling of salted caramel.

Oh, and we had tea, too (darjeeling for me, an herbal infusion for Katie, and jasmine for the other two ladies).

Then we had a frenzied shopping session in the Grande Epicerie, Bon Marché's huge gourmet market, where I picked up a couple more gifts, as well as, pour moi, fruit pâtes (high-end Chuckles) and yet more honey. The pâtes were an unusual purchase for me in that they're lightweight; my luggage is going to weigh a ton. I'll be crippled by the time I hit JFK.

jour no. 23 - the final days: the checklist

Another lovely, delicious day in Paris. Warm and sunny and breezy, lively and bustling, and filled with fattening temptations.

Since Thursday was yet another fête (Feast of the Ascension, third holiday this month), and since kids had Friday off as well, there seemed to be a lot of out-of-town Frenchies on holiday in the big city, as well as lots and lots and lots of Americans (Memorial Day weekend, maybe?). It was kind of a pain in some respects (those damn lines at the museums), but also kind of fun - like the city was a big carnival.

I got out of the house relatively early (for me) - around 12:30. I stopped by Eric Kayser for croissants (note usage of the plural) and a loaf of fig bread. These ouvriers were picking up baguettes and sandwichs (for some reason, in French, the plural of "sandwich" is "sandwichs" instead of "sandwiches"; the copy editor in me flinches every time). I love the universal appeal of really good bread in France; Eric Kayser is not the cheapest place in the world to get a baguette, but you'll get one of the best baguettes of your life, just like these guys, who were amused at having their (blurry) picture taken.

I will miss Eric Kayser...

I went over to the 7e to hit the posh Bon Marché to find a gift for my hosts in absentia. While perhaps not as grand as Galeries Lafayette, Bon Marché is no slouch in the Gorgeous Department Store category, and not only did I find a lovely gift, but I had a very enjoyable hour amongst the accessories. You really don't understand the art of shopping till you've watched French women shopping for scarves; it's awe-inspiring. And I was of course giddy that there was a hat section and a glove section and a scarf section, as opposed to a shelf of hats, and a counter for gloves, and a rack of scarves.

I bought a few more gifts, then lugged my loot over to Jardin du Luxembourg to kill some time. I hadn't been back since Jour No. 4, and whaddya know: I've been in Paris long enough for there to be a complete change in flora at the gardens.

Then to Hélène Darroze, to meet Katie and her visiting friends for afternoon tea. But that gets its own post...

Friday, May 22, 2009

jour no. 23 - Vendôme

I love this crazy monument, and that's not even taking its fantastic history into account.

Place Vendôme was created by Louis XIV, who intended it to center on a giant statue of (who else) the Roi Soleil, in Roman dress but with a 17th-century wig. Luckily, this was never built.

Instead, in 1810, Napoleon had the Column built, to honor his victory at Austerlitz (as if the Arc du Carrousel wasn't enough). But that's not the end of the story. During the Restoration, in 1818,

...the statue of Napoleon was removed, melted down, and replaced by a giant fleur-de-lys. Then, in 1833, Louis-Philippe - always keen to oblige the prevailing mood - had the Emperor restored complete with bicorne hat; but the statue displeased his nephew, Napoleon III, who removed it to Les Invalides and replaced it with a copy of the original figure. In 1871, the Commune revolutionaries - under the guidance of the painter Gustave Courbet (!!! -Ed.) - brought the whole column tumbling down. Finally in 1875, Republican President McMahon had it restored with the present-day figure crowned in Caesarean laurels. (Seven Ages of Paris, Alistair Horne)

Oh, those nutty French! Just can't make up their minds about anything.

jour no. 22 - disorienting

We trekked to the 13e for some Vietnamese food at Le Bambou. Overall, it was great to have something other than rich French food, but a lot of the dishes were sweet, which isn't my thing (I tend to like my savory to be savory), and I didn't get as much of a spice fix as I needed.

And, as with Grand Sichuan in New York, something about waiting outside, then having mad waiters runners around and taking your order within two minutes, and the food coming out hot and fast - anyway, I ate way too much, way too fast.
As with the Japanese restaurant a couple weeks ago, I found it so disorienting to be in an Asian restaurant in Paris. I just could not get my languages straight, so even ordering a couple more beers threw me off; for some reason, I kept wanting to say, "Dos cervezas, por favor." The synapses would not fire.

But it was fun to have the waiter in this scruffy joint say, after clearing the table, "Voilà!"

jour no. 22 - le bateau

I've always wanted to do this! Maybe our leisurely afternoon cruise wasn't as glamorous as Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant dining on a fancy bateau (i.e., no fab hairdo, no moonlight, no international intrigue, and no Cary Grant), but still: it's great. Despite the pushy crowd, despite the crackling speaker, despite the tour guide who gave ten times as much info in French as in English - I loved it.

There are a slew of different tour boat companies on the Seine, and each has a different array of boats. We chose Bateaux Parisiens, which has a dock right across from Notre Dame, and lucked out with the boat: it had an open-air top deck, and then a small section of seats in the stern, which we wisely chose, thereby avoiding most of the crowd, as well as the tourguide.

I didn't learn very much about the monuments and other sights, thanks to that crackly speaker and the tour guide's abbreviated English version (after giving a load of history and fun facts and architectural points in French about whatever sight we were seeing, she'd then say something like, "On your right, the Concorde"). But it was a lovely day, and overall, the experience was just as satisfying as I'd hoped. And I picked out a couple of options for my future home (either an apartment on Ile-St-Louis, or a bateau like this one; you can all come for dinner).

Plus a couple of "only in France" moments: the tourguide announcing halfway through that we'd be stopping for five minutes for the crew's dinner break (!!!), and a bizarre over-aggressive-French-guy-in-training with great hair who put the moves on Katie.

jour no. 22 - le fumoir

Pia and I found this place last year: it had a good-looking crowd, a cool vibe, and that je ne sais quoi that could be called restaurant charisma.

After a late start yesterday (I was very tired after all that artifying the day before), I got on the Métro rather aimlessly, wondering where I could get something nourishing to eat at the odd hour of 3pm. Then, "Le Fumoir!," I thought, maybe not with an exclamation point, as I was very tired, but definitely with satisfaction.

Le Fumoir is right off the Métro, just west of the Louvre. Since yesterday was yet another holiday in France, there were quite a few people hanging out in the sidewalk café, but inside was relatively quiet, and felt very cool and refreshing compared to the strong sun and heat outside (it was summer weather yesterday). Also, since there's no smoking allowed in bars and restaurants now (though I can't explain the place near my apartment where everyone is smoking hookahs), the terrace of most restaurants is Secondhand Smoke Central. So I took a seat at the bar.

More reasons to appreciate Le Fumoir: it's a very handsome restaurant, it serves all day, the bartenders know how to make real cocktails (a rarity in Paris), there's a big selection of super-fresh juice combos, and the people-watching is excellent.

I had a yummy caesar-style salad, with romaine, haricots verts, white asparagus (which I still don't understand the point of), roast chicken, tons of parmesan shavings, and croutons. And a bergamot-mint iced tea. And a café, which comes with gingersnaps. I read the International Herald Tribune and felt very cosmopolitan, indeed.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

jour no. 22 - speaking of cars...

... here are a few good reasons to not want the French auto industry to completely collapse.

On the other hand, they don't make 'em like this any more, so maybe the industry should collapse (more than it already has, I mean).