Archive for September, 2009

paris road collage2

1. The View From My Roof: I love climbing out on the slate roof, and it is indeed the best view in Paris as I can see every major monument lit up at night.
2. Sunday Afternoons: On Sundays, Paris rests. It is difficult to find any practical businesses open and everyone takes to the streets and parks. I like to walk out to Ile St. Louis where there are always performers juggling torches, musicians playing violins, or massage school students giving free messages.
3. Macaroons From Ladaurée: I love macaroons. They aren’t that popular in the US, but here they are the epitome of pastry perfection. I am on a quest to find the best macaroon in Paris, and so far I am pretty sure it is the cassis-violette (black currant and violet) from Ladaurée.
4. Street Performers: In Paris, the street performers are legitimately talented, often having CDs for sale beside their open instrument cases. My personal favorites are the amazing break-dancers who perform at night in front of the Fontaine St. Michel. I have to restrain myself from given all my Euros to the many talented street artists. I go tossing 2 Euro coins around, forgetting that that is the equivalent of about 3$.
5. My Church: Last week was potluck Sunday. Considering I don’t get a first paycheck till the end of October, this was truly a happy day. But more than just that, I love the amazing community at this church.
6. Endives: I have about three meals that I cook in rotation in my little 2-burner kitchen/ corner of my room with the hotplate and fridge. My endive dish is my favorite, as I started loving endives when I was here before and then discovered they are almost impossible to find in the US.
7. Bocce Ball: Do not misunderstand me; I have yet to participate in this wonderful game. But every morning while I run I see the bocce ball courts in the Luxembourg gardens bustling with elderly men intent on the game. Bocce ball is kind of what you do if you are a French man over the age of 65. I may never work up the courage to try to participate, but I appreciate its existence all the same.
8. Shakespeare and Company: I have lots of free time. I start teaching the end of this week so that might change, but for now, I have time in abundance. I am trying to fill it reading quality books that I have always wanted to read but never got around to. I head over to Shakespeare and Company, the cozily crowded British bookstore across from Notre Dame, and browse for forever before selecting just the right book. If any of you have any suggestions for books to add to my list – please offer them! They need not be overly intellectual classics, just Really Good Books.
9. Nutella: Do you think by virtue of taking something every day it takes on vitamin-like properties?
10. Cobblestone Streets: I know that may not sound exciting, but I never cease to be thrilled walking down old cobblestone streets where the sidewalk buckles and rises to accommodate expanding tree roots. The myriad of cobblestone passages and courtyards give to Paris a distinct appeal. They also wreak destruction on my adorable shoes, but I am choosing to ignore that.


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Paris_70 with wm

One thing I like about living in a big city is the little friendships you develop with people in establishments that you frequent. The fruit sellers in the marketplace, the bakers at the boulangeries, the harpist who plays every weekend on the steps of Sacre Coeur – these are the people who make Paris what it is.

When I studying abroad, I befriended one such person, an elderly man who sold fruit. It just so happens that my current apartment is minutes from his stand. I see him many days after I run as I buy whatever fruit or vegetables I want for the day. Often he and the other two older men who work with him (I think they really just hang out as there is hardly enough work in the small fruit stand to keep all three men busy) help me with my French, reminding me the names of all the vegetables. One time earlier this week someone texted me with a French word I had never heard, and it was my precious fruit stand man who helped me out with modern French slang,

I want to befriend the Quiche Lady. I am always drawn to the rue Mouffetard, a narrow cobblestone street near my building, crammed with markets and cafés, and bustling with life. My favorite destination along the rue Mouffetard is a little quiche restaurant named Mouffe Tarte. I go regularly to buy a slice of quiche and eat it in a nearby garden. So many wonderful flavors, ranging from artichoke and feta, to spinach and tomato, to my personal favorite, goat cheese and fig. I have deemed the pleasant chef and owner of this establishment the Quiche Lady and I want her recognize me when I come in, to chat with me. We started what I know will be a beautiful friendship when she confided in me that her personal favorite quiche, cheese and onion, won’t be available till later in the fall. I plan on eating quiche on a regular basis until our friendship is fully secure.

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Palais de l”Elysée

Paris_34 with wm

This past weekend I visited the Palais de l’Elysée, home to French Presidents and thus the current residence of Nicolas and Carla Sarkozy. The Palais is only open to the public 2 days each year during the Journées de Patrimonies (Patrimony Days), along with all the other important government buildings. This year, the weekend coincided with the Techno parade so Paris was inundated with tourists, French people visiting their important sites, and teenagers with dyed hair, ripped neon tights, and converse sneakers.

I gained many insights into the French psyche while visiting the Palais, the greatest of which I learned while still in line to get in. I spent approximately 2.5 hours in line to get inside the grounds. While in line I was able to examine all the others around me. There were the Japanese tourists taking pictures with their iphones, the Spanish talking fast and  picnicking in line, the German tourists continually leaving the line once they realize it would take to long, and the French abhorring all the other tourists. Instead of miserably but decently waiting in line, they would just cut in front of whatever group was busy in front of them. I watched 2 French people cut about 50 people in small increments before getting inside. The French, it seems, have no respect for The Line, a principal my good American self learned in elementary school. They cut boldly, making eye contact and glaring you down. The foreigners just look surprised, but don’t resist. As for the French who get cut, they merely bide there time than return the favor. They do not confront, but instead silently combat. I have since been noticing this same principal everywhere. The French thrive on having rules merely to disobey them, which is almost respected. The love cross walks so they can know the one spot not to cross, and lanes in the road so they can relish not driving in them, and many a time do you see a French person smoking next to a no smoking sign. It is a culture that (not surprisingly) thrives on a million little revolts every day.

Paris_40 with wm

Once inside the Palais, I was delighted by the ornate splendor of it all. Note the picture ofSarkozy’s office for a perfect example. Furthermore, the very nature of the items on display was amusing. There was one small plaque denoting the room in which Napoleon I signed his abdication, but an entire chamber devoted to framed menus of what all the important heads of state have eaten while at the Palais. But then who could expect less?

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At the moment, it is very “in” to like Julia Child. I saw Julie and Julia, and I will freely confess that it did make me want to analyze her life, and sample some of her cooking. The following week, merely days before leaving for France myself, I did indeed attempt to make the infamous boeuf bourguignon. The end result was delicious. However, we did eat dinner approximately 2.5 hours later than usual and I did use every single dish and surface in the kitchen.

On the plane ride to Paris I devoured Julia Child’s memoirs entitled My Life in France. I highly recommend it. Given to me by the mother of a dear friend, the book calmed my anxious worries by its delightful portrayal of Julia’s time in Paris. In reading the book, I grew to really admire Julia Child. 

The film covered some aspects of her character, but it didn’t come close to really capturing how doggedly persistent and thorough she was, all the while shying from ever seeming arrogant. She never seemed to lose the ability to enjoy what she was doing, or in most cases, eating. I was impressed by her devotion to her husband, and his to her. And I was enthralled by her love of Paris, and perceptive insights into the quirky ways of Parisians.

julia collage

Thus, I decided that I had to make a pilgrimage to 81 rue de l’Université, or “roo de loo” as Julia refers to it. I thought it to be very close to me, but I forgot the finicky nature of street numbers. 80 and 82 roo de loo are indeed not far, but the odd numbers go up on the other side at a different rate so it was quite a hike. 

I finally reached 81, and it was another building like all the rest: tall and stately with enormous blue doors. No one else walking by seemed to think it was something. But to me, it was. A loud, tall, American who loved food used to live there. And I, a loud, tall, American who loves French food liked knowing that. To commemorate the moment, I ate several brightly colored macaroons, tossing some crumbs in the wind (to be fair, they fell all over my lap so I brushed them into the wind) in a sort of communal moment.

I do want to pause to say that while in the Bourgogne, I had legitimate boeuf bourguignon, and I can now assert than mine was worthy of the name. My current culinary success is making crêpes. The Pernot girls eat them every Tuesday night so I learned them on my first day in France. I have only had one mishap in throwing and catching the crêpes. It remains behind the stove, reminding me that I have not yet mastered the art of French cooking.

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Le Jardin du Luxembourg

I spend more time in the Luxembourg Gardens than almost anywhere else in Paris. I love big city gardens. They are like the streets in that they are a meeting ground for all sorts of people, a crossroads where everyone relaxes and spends time together. As I live near the gardens, I start every day there with a morning run. Often I get lapped multiple times by the firefighters who also exercise in the garden. I don’t really know what would happen to Paris if there was a fire, because it seems that all the firefighters are always in the garden, either running, or marching and playing instruments in the firefighter band. During my run I see lots of people walking dogs. Parisians love their dogs. You rarely see strays and even many of the homeless people have little, surprisingly clean, dogs beside them. I also pass the Tai Chi people. At least I think that is what they are doing, because they move to much for it to be yoga. They kind of float through the trees in this odd, but fascinating, rhythmic dance. It looks much easier than running.

After a picnic with the Palais du Luxembourg in the back

I spend many afternoons in the gardens too. Sometimes with peers for a picnic, but often I am there with the little girls. Basically, the Luxembourg gardens are the main social setting if you are 7. Every day as I pick them up they ask to go, and when I say yes, they run off to tell their friends that we will be making an appearance. If we miss it a couple days in a row, you are basically out of the in crowd. The kids have a specific spot in the gardens, not the touristy playground, but the pavilion. I sit on a bench or chair surrounded by lots of other nounous (nannies), most of us foreigners, and let the children run like banshees. It is strange to me, this way of meeting up with friends and playing. It is far from small town get-togethers or play dates. But it is beautiful and surprisingly peaceful to sit in my chair and half read, half wait for one of the girls to start hitting the other, all the while sheltered by leaves slowly turning from green to gold, and surrounded by the sounds of laughter, fountains, and gently plopping chestnuts.

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Rue de Télégraphe

I am thankful. Today I went back to the church that I loved so much before. It felt a little like coming home, and it was unspeakably special to be somewhere where I knew people and God was being praised. This is not a photo of my church, but rather the Eglise Saint Germain. My little church of Télégraphe looks very much like a normal functional church. And I would rather spend my Sundays in it than any of these lovely churches in Paris.Paris _4 with wm

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Art museums are one of the things I love most about Paris. There are lots of things in Paris I would love to do with friends, but an art museum is one place where I am usually content by myself. I like to wander at my own pace, backtrack, sit and sketch, then wander some more. Today I spent about 3 hours in the Musée D’Orsay. The building itself is spectacular, a renovated train station with huge clocks looking out to the Seine.

For most people, the Musée D’Orsay is the “Impressionist museum” because it houses many of the famous Manet’s, Monets, and Degas that defined the movement. After spending some of this summer researching impressionism in Cincinnati, I see it in a different light. Don’t get me wrong, I still happily meander the impressionism halls and I can’t help but be delighted by the myriad of colors in the shadows, the quick brushstrokes, and the interest in nature. But I grew disenchanted with all of the artists themselves as I read about their squabbles, their faults (Monet really failed as a husband, fleeing to England one time when Paris was in danger . . . but leaving his life and enfant behind). As I walk through those galleries, I look at the works and can’t help but think of the men and women behind them. It gives me a wonderful sense of belonging, of being part of a secret of sorts, of not just being another visitor in the crowd at the museum.

The museum also has wonderful sculpture, or as a professor at Hillsdale once said jokingly, “the stuff you trip over when you step back to look at the art.” I love sculpture all the more after trying my hand at it last spring – much harder than it looks. I like the clean lines of sculpture, the marble perfection. Most of the sculptures are classical figures, religious figures, or studies. But amidst them all, there is one happy polar bear. I don’t exactly know how he came to the museum, but he seems to proudly refuse to succumb to Parisian elitism. After I returned to my little room, I ate Kraft Mac n’ Cheese for dinner, carefully brought over from the States. I can feel Paris judging me, but no amount of condescension can destroy how perfectly wonderful it tasted.


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La Tour Eiffel

I like to watch La Tour Eiffel light up on the hour. It twinkles like a thousand fairies (I love that I get to employ that illusion!) and never ceases to pull me from whatever I am doing and watch. Last night I grabbed my camera to snap a shot before I went off to bed, and it came out crazy blurry like this, but I decided I liked it. Inside my room there are more exciting lights as whoever lived here at some point covered the ceiling with those stick on glow in the dark stars. I have basically the whole galaxy – every 5 year old’s dream. I was going to rip them all down, but I am slowly growing attached.Paris_4

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I hate technology.  I try to avoid it if possible, or let someone else do the paperwork and set up for its acquisition.  Thus, sorting through technological procedures in French = nightmare.

I needed to buy a cell phone, and then get prepaid service, but I wanted to do it as cheap as possible.  So, I took someone’s advice and went to Barbes-Rochechouart, which is in the not quite as nice section of Paris. I wandered around until I found a kiosk with exceptionally ghetto neon paper and marker signs and decided that it looked promising.  First I wondered around looking for the cheapest phone.  A far cry from rather sedate US shopping, the French forsake their laid back approach to life the second they cross the threshold of a store, or at least one where telecommunications are at stake.  It takes me about 20 minutes to slowly make my way to the front and procure a piece of paper that says I want a certain phone.  Then, I fight my way to the back to pay and get my phone, before fighting back to the front to have it activated, which takes about 20 more minutes because several more aggressive shoppers continue to shove in front of me. An hour after entering, I depart with my phone.

Then I attempt to get service.  I just want to put 100 Euros or whatever on my phone. That’s all. I don’t want Internet, texting, photo, video, etc.  I want to call, be called, and maybe check voicemail.  Basically, I wanted the Brick — my beloved huge US phone that is indestructible, 5 years old, and doesn’t even have T9 capabilities.  The French telecom lady is talking a mile a minute, telling me I automatically get all these bonuses, and talking so fast I can’t keep up (of course even in English, I am practically cell phone illiterate), so I think I have texting also, but I really don’t know.

Next I attempted to buy  Internet that is better than the temperamental connection in my apartment. Failure.  Not only is it monumentally expensive, but just to buy internet service– even if I pay for all the months up front, I have to provide my passport, visa, copy of my French bank account statement, annulled check from French bank, letter from M. Pernot saying I have a house, a copy of his identification, something that verifies his address, and something else from my bank that I have forgotten, probably a vial of my blood and a promise to give them my first born child.  The French LOVE photocopies, I am finding. They revel in red tape, special offers that don’t exist unless you know magic codes, and old school negotiation tactics. Thus, I am not getting Internet.  But I do have a phone.  And probably could have gotten free Internet on it if I had known what I was doing. Oh well, tant –pis (too bad!).

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I have spent the weekend in the countryside with the Pernots, my first time in Burgundy. Their country home is perfect, exactly what we all imagine when we think of rural France. Steep roofs with terra cotta shingles, think stone walls covered in ivy, and bright red doors and shutters. Inside there are low stone doorways, exposed wooden beams across the ceilings, smooth brick floors, and old style beds hung in light draperies. The grounds are enclosed by a low stone wall and contain an impressive garden with flowers, fruits, and vegetables, and all throughout there are plum, apple, and pear trees. For lunch we dined almost solely on the things grown within sight of the kitchen, before spending the afternoon biking throughout the surrounding farms. The vegetables were actually gathered in this basket and did, in reality look as perfect as they do here.

For dinner, we visited neighbors. Another perfectly picturesque kitchen and perfect meal as well as fast banter around the table beginning with numerous discourses on gardening. But what really strikes me is the hospitality of the people here. I think we often do the French a disservice when we think of them. The pace of life is slower here, the process of forming friendships more gradual, but relationships go deep, and are strong. It is a beautiful hospitality, not birthed from bubbling kindness as ours is, but from a quiet deep reverence for relationships, friends, and family.

The following day was a special day. Every so often, there are shooting days, were all the old men of the town gather around and shoot skeet all afternoon. It is loosely a competition, with the mayor in charge of launching the skeets In reality, they shoot approximately every 45 minutes, and in between, visit, drink, and occasionally sing rousing French songs. C’est la vie.

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