Sunday, December 17, 2006

Shuffle

Christmas has come early in the form of a new MP3 player. My last one died two weeks into the breakup, thus separating me like a private from her marching orders.

I spent today filling the new one up with options - 240 moods in all.

The original playlist was perky, almost manaically encouraging. This new one - now that I've granted myself a small weekly allowance of emotion - is more diverse. Husker Du is still there to tell me that Love is All Around, but they've been joined by the Mountain Goats and a dose of reality.

The speed at which I shuffle through both songs and sentiments is scary. And this mutability, aside from other privacy concerns, is enough to keep me from "going personal." The very act of having a blog, as someone reminded me this week, is très indiscret. But there are levels, quand même, and a shallow end to this pool.

Others, of course, have no problem baring all on the internet. To show how very indiscreet some can be, I offer the following You Tube illustrations of my current shuffle...


The Futureheads
"Hounds of Love" by three prep school boys known as BigSplitta: Love the gum chewing, homoeroticism and big guitar finish.


Neutral Milk Hotel "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" as interpreted by Matteastin. A tender illustration of the song using by three dudes who drive pick-ups and light their furniture on fire.


The Mountain Goats "No Children" as illustrated through super-literal Japanese photomontage. A picture of a fence for a lyric about a fence. An underwater Barbie for a line about drowning. And a wholelotta punk-looking models...


The Killers
"Mr Brightside" as danced by a spanish-speaking teenager in her bedroom. She scores major points with a spinning camera move reminiscent of In Between Days. But it's her flashy scrolling text that breaks my heart - "Destiny is calling me!!!" Indeed.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

O.P.P.

"It's not you, it's me," I say to François, as I make my goodbye at the door. The phone is buzzing and I'm eager to answer, so I smile guiltily and rush out into the stairwell.

Could it have worked - a philospher in a sport coat on the rue du Louvre? I don't have much time to think as I race down into the Métro.

I'm late to meet Yann, tall and cute in the 10th. He welcomes me in but wants small talk before we get into it. And all I can think about is seeing the bedroom...

Looking for a roommate is a lot like whoring dating. Furtive textos, quickie drop-ins, and promises to call. It's sordid and exhausting, but there's a certain thrill to it all.

Getting down with O.P.P. is a new development for le Meg. It's been nearly a decade since I last dabbled in other people's property.

A whole lot has changed since then in the way that people look for one another. Simply finding eachother, nine years ago, was a word-of-mouth affair. We can now go online to fill our bedrooms. We can email, send pictures, google the hell out of eachother.

I myself was picked up through this blog. A tall Aussie sent a cautious first note. I replied and got another one with pictures and a link to her blog. The words "wine industry" and "Montmartre" were bandied about. "When can we meet?" I asked breathily on the phone.

Two anglophone girls unafraid of commitment - we jumped headlong into the affair. And even emailed eachother the next morning.

So while it was fun - my brief affairs with Yann, Julien, Mei, François, Leonard, dear Bennett and Franck - I'm pretty glad to be back in a relationship.

I know where I'm sleeping from now on, who I'm coming home to every night. I can stop running around and focus again on the important things in life.

You know, like fighting over the dirty dishes.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Super Stud(ette)

Last night I rode the train into unchartered territory, recalling Paris to the Moon and a syrupy passage about Métro stops imagined but never seen.

Adam Gopnik's heart of darkness was the Goutte d'Or, an area rarely visited by left-bankers like himself. Mine, on the other hand was the (more than one drop) 16th.

The author cooed as he trundled past the Château Rouge stop - imagining a storybook cottage waiting for his family outside. I, on the other hand, clenched as we rolled through Passy and I realized that for the first time in my life there were no brown faces on the Métro.

I admit it: I am scared to death of the 16th.

Out of the Métro and in unsafe open waters, I hurried head down to my destination. I held my bag close and made no eye contact with the nannies. I was very nearly running.

What was I even doing in that neighborhood, you ask?

Getting the best haircut of my life, that's what. A towering Scotswoman, a friend of a friend, cuts it for cheap out of her apartment. There was sipping and snipping and bagging on men while we waited for my hair to turn blond-ish. She told me tales about working the fashion shows and offered her chambre de bonne if I need it. It was another planet, but incredibly fun.

I left with a sashay and headed to my first apartment visit of the night. I was hopped up on adrenaline, feeling capable and adventurous. If I could visit the 16th, maybe I could also find an apartment.

I was not, before last night, familiar with the concept of the studette. I hadn't thought there was anything smaller than a studio until I visited this diminutive bed-box in the Marais.

A mattress on a mezzanine, a shower I had to crawl into, and no light from either window - was this really to be my new reality? An Italian girl ten years my junior explained that she only slept there after dancing.

It was raining when I left and headed back to my beloved 19th. "My email will be full of offers," I told myself as my heavily sprayed hair began to stick to my cheeks. I began to hum a little as I made my way along the Bassin - a snippet from the Magnetic Fields song Nothing Matters When We're Dancing, with lyrics altered to suit a newly-imagined stud(ette) lifestyle.

"I only sleep there after dancing..."

Monday, December 11, 2006

Save Le Meg!

Five months ago I read a headline on the Paris Blog inviting me to "Save Petite!"

Catherine, aka Petite Anglaise, had been fired for blogging and alarms were sounding all around the sphere. It wasn't clear what readers were meant to do - how exactly we were supposed to save her - but she ended up somehow with a two book deal from Penguin.

It's my turn now to summon the mighty power of the internet. My request, however, is more modest, and I have clear directions for my rescue:

Le Meg needs an apartment!

Some of you readers have discerned a shift - a bit of personal upheaval - between the lines of my recent posts. Thank you for the many encouraging comments regarding this new direction. My favorites include:

"You're only interesting when you mock yourself,"
"Your last three posts are dysentery," and
"Peeeeeee youuuuuuuuu"
Point taken: my soft underbelly is not in high demand. You want snark. Self-deprecation. More talk about vagina.

I can give you this. But I want something in return:
A studio or one bedroom apartment. Short-term, long-term, furnished, un-furnished, shared or solo, I'm a little bit pressé.
The gorgeous 40 m eden that I had arranged in Montmartre just fell through. The occupants, on the same day I was to sign, decided not to move. So I found myself yesterday looking at 10 m hovels and contemplating the potential of a hot plate.

To quote Peggy Lee, "is that all there is?"

Surely you must know of something. Make my dreams come true at leblagueur@gmail.com and I promise to write you daily missives depricating my own vagina. What more could you want?

Wait, don't answer that.

________________________________________________

A few specs, in answer to your questions:

1) The dog is not coming with me.
2) 750 for something beautiful and 500 for a dump.
3) North/east Paris preferred (9-11, 18-20), but I'm flexible.
4) ASAP or in January; temporary, shared and housesitting OK.
5) I can cook.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Mercy, beau coup!

Last night I celebrated Thanksgiving at a wine bar - a departure from my original idea to host 25 people for wild food acrobatics.

Plans change and spheres collide. Four women found themselves instead at le Verre Volé, upending tradition with oysters and foie gras.

It is no longer possible, after Sex and the City, for four women to gather chastely around a table. Perhaps this has always been true. Perhaps I am just getting older. But when a recent business dinner in Dublin included an assignment of the "Samantha" role, I began to sense that the times, in fact, are a-changin'.

Last night's conversation unfurled with the usual revelations about work. The curator from Boston explained her visit (Paris Photo). The reporter from Miami discussed a recent assignment (Castro). The Paris-based writer described her (completely awesome) book deal. And I don't discuss work on this blog.

This reasssurance of professionalism, this "go girl!" performance - this is what smart women do during the first drink. The devolution begins with the second, however, and can wind its way through any number of discursive gutters.

Our particular Thanksgiving path included the following:

1) The reporter's counsel that "sturdiness" is the most important quality in a dining table.
2) The curator's fist-in-the-air manifesto about every-day oral sex.
3) The writer's description of trans-Atlantic difference in circumcision.
4) My illustration of said difference with a wine bottle and baguette end.

In a contemplative moment, I asked my friends what they were thankful for. There was silence, glances cast toward the ceiling, and an immediate return to the sex talk.

I'm not entirely sure, was this a dismissal or a response?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Des jours et des vies

I got rid of my TV over the weekend, so my viewing is now limited to whatever Club Med Gym is showing above the treadmill.

This morning it was des Jours et des Vies. The long-running American soap opera has been airing (dubbed) in France since 1991, which is probably around the last time I would have seen it in the States.

Now, there may be subtleties that a truer devotee would discern - one not distracted by sweat and an Arcade Fire soundtrack - but it seems to me that nothing has changed. The same faces are there, and fifteen years of fake crying has not aged them a day.

I, however, am a different story. In 1991, I was a gangly 16-year old growing up in Kansas. I played basketball and spent my weekends driving around in cars. I had very big hair and no real sense of who I was.

There's no denying that, unlike Hope and Bo, I have changed a lot over fifteen years. My hair, barring any exceptional friction, is now flat. My driving days are over, both in sports and vehicular terms. And I haven't hung out in a Taco Bell parking lot in years.

Does that mean I've left adolescence behind? Some who know me behind the scenes would say no. I seem, in fact, to be going through a second adolescence these days, complete with note passing, mix tapes and hangovers.

But life is short, as the hourglass reminds us. And Paris is as good a sandbox as any.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

In the Buttes

I lay down today in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont and thought seriously about never leaving.

With the dog wandering nearby, I stretched my arms above my head and twirled the damp grass between my fingers. Tiny papers fell eratically from a canopy of yellow and black. Beyond it, white clouds raced across a blue sky.

I put my headphones on and was swollen by a song. Mirth appeared above me, having abandoned her grass-eating for a moment. I stroked her soft fur with my eyes closed and thought about that line from American Beauty - "Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in."

And then the dog threw up in my hair.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Korean snails and nothing at all to do with vagina

A hearty welcome to you Petite Anglaise devotees who have found my site by way of her completely fictionalised version of Saturday's events.

My previous post contains an image of a man wearing a giant vagina. That's a bit much for first-time visitors, especially those who have already been primed by Petite's lies. To ease your transition and help you settle into the world of Le Blagueur, I wil tell you first about the Restaurant Namsam.

This no-frills Korean joint is arguably the best in Paris, a claim that is supported by the bus-loads of Korean tourists who will eat only here. Don't believe me? There's a kiosk inside the restaurant selling little Eiffel Towers, and the tourists have covered the ceiling in thousands of Korean business cards.

We quite enjoyed our bulots à la sauce Coréenne (yes, snails) and crêpe aux poireaux (with squid). The hands-down winner was the barbecue Coréenne poitrine de porc piquant avec seiche. Whoever thought of pairing bacon with squid is a genius.

We ate and drank very well for around 20 euros a person, and I hear that their lunch specials are even better. Go see them at 87 avenue de Flandre, M° Riquet.

So there you have it - an innocent little restaurant review from a modest and misunderstood blogger. I hope this post goes some way toward dispelling any rumors you may have heard about me.

Now, about that vagina...

Monday, November 06, 2006

Vaginas and vernissages

Everyone has one true specialty in life. Mine is the vagina.


Measuring the number of vaginas in Europe and the relative health and happiness of their owners – this is what I do for a living. I went to grad school in "vagina." I have been known to make vulva-themed food for parties. I sing a song from time to time called Cooter Boogie.


In the States, this was a big hit. So imagine my surprise upon learning that such frivolity is not appreciated in France! It doesn't matter that I've mastered the new vocabulary and translated the Boogie's (many) lyrics. Talking crotch at a French dinner party is a definite non-non.


The French, as I have deduced from 26 months of careful observation, prefer to talk about "culture." Sigh...


Because I cannot beat them, I have decided to join them. I shall cleanse my filthy mouth and learn to pepper my speech with words like vernissage - which almost sounds gynecological.


You may be wondering how exactly I plan to pull this off. In fact, dear reader, it's quite easy. You need only a child-like sense of curiosity, access to the internet, and abundant coffee. A total lack of shame helps, too.


Just last week, for example, I attended two concerts, five expos, one play, a lit-mag launch, an I V Y event, and a Parisist gathering. I chatted up a sculptor, a comp lit dude, even an actors' boyfriend. Distracted by their own plastic cups, they barely noticed as I spun my web of inanity and pried the info from their arty little brains.


For your benefit, I should add.


In addition to the aforementioned mission (being a better dinner guest), I will soon be transmitting my findings via Expatica, a website for anglophone expats in France. They've asked me to compile their What's On calendar of events - covering music, exhibitions, theater & dance, and festivals. My first submission will be up next Monday, November 13.


To effectuate my transformation into Hack of All Trades, I welcome your suggestions. There may come a time when my knowledge of classical music exceeds that of the cervix. Until that day arrives, I could use a Henry Higgins or ten.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Boo (Hoo)

Evidence of Halloween is paltry today, not a ghoul or a goblin to be found. I don’t blame the French for not getting into the holiday – it makes no sense from their perspective.


Logistically, Halloween is a nightmare in Paris. School-sponsored events are out because the holiday falls during a mid-semester break. No Halloween parade for the kids to show off their costumes. No thematic cupcakes, no dry ice.

Trick-or-Treating, the raison-d’être of Halloween, is ruled out by building security. A child without a door code cannot enter from the street. Thus, the doorbells are not rung and the threats are not issued. The candy is purchased and consumed in moderation.

The cultural differences are more glaring when one considers Halloween for adults. Dressing up in costume is not just child’s play in the States. Some of my best holiday memories involved university parties, a hasty get-up and even hastier hallway kissing.

Costumes for adults fall into one of the following categories:

1) Trying to be sexy
2) Trying to be ugly
3) Trying to be clever
4) Not trying (see mask and sheet)
Most of my costumes fell into the third category and enabled a range of irregular behavior. Dressing as a bonobo allowed me to demonstrate my ape calls and hump assorted legs. Dressing in foliage and carrying a scythe enabled me to make a political statement...or at least to try (“I’m a Bush. Get it?”). Dressing as Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo gave me the freedom to leave little brown smears all over a friend's apartment.

Parisian adults are more limited in their choice of costume. “Trying to be sexy” is not a once-a-year frivolity here. “Trying to be ugly” is just out of the question. Clever is good, but not at the expense of decorum. Dressing oneself as a turd? I think not.

That leaves #4: Not Trying. Parisians making an effort will simply accessorize.

Others will reject the holiday kit and caboodle, deriding Halloween as an imposition of Anglo-American culture and commercialism. They’re not wrong. In absence of trick-or-treating and costumes, the only visible signs of Halloween can be found in Happy Meal boxes and at Euro-Disney.

In this context, I chose boots for Halloween. And also tights, a knee-length skirt, and fitted shirt. I put on a scarf and brushed my hair, looking for all the world like a Parisian.

It is, after all, the day to be something you’re not.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Today's Shiva: destroys and does windows

For the roughly one billion adherents of Hinduism, Shiva is the destroyer - the most powerful god of the Hindu pantheon.

For residents of Paris, however, Shiva is a maid service.

That's right, folks. Shiva, acclaimed for his ability to dissolve life in order to create, can also work magic on your carpet stains and mildew.

No larger incarnating as Hanuman the monkey god, the modern-day Shiva prefers to be seen as a kicky south Asian gal with a preternaturally small waist. And s/he's waiting for you with a cold beverage.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Blogging hands are the devil’s playthings

Father, it’s been three months and 21 posts since my last confession. Things have only gotten worse with more time spent in the blogosphere.

I’ve become greedy, desiring nothing more than visits and comments. I ignore the realm of the spiritual in favor of the material virtual. Site traffic is now an end in itself.

I am envious of more popular bloggers, coveting their traffic and leaving breadcrumb comments for their visitors.

I erupt with anger when accused that I may perhaps be blogging too much. Impatience and self-denial are my new fall accessories.

Evidence of sloth can be found in my kitchen sink or in-box. I am apathetic, short of attention, and fall quickly into sadness if my stats are down.

I am a full-blown glutton for praise. So acute is my need for flattery that I offer it falsely to other bloggers. Comments are the new crack cocaine.

Pride may be my worst sin, Father. I am love with the word, but not His. On a given day I may post, edit, and re-read my work twenty times. I deceive myself into thinking that I have an “audience” and expect at any moment to be recognized on the street.

The only sin I seem not to have violated is lust. The blood flow to my nether-regions has been compromised from so many hours at the computer. I hardly think about sex anymore, but do enjoy blogging in bed from time to time.

How much worse could it get?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Video art with an egg yolk chaser

Which Dallas character do you see when you look at this installation by Sheena Macrae? And what does that say about you?

Le Meg has posted again on Parisist, this time about the MAC/VAL and its restaurant in Vitry-sur-Seine.

Have a look-see and wonder aloud, "who's that Kansas girl think that she is?"

Sunday, October 22, 2006

When IKEA attacks

I was mauled today by Swedish furniture.

An unassuming Billy case lurched from its cardboard box, ripping through my forearm and punishing my toes.

Wiping blood from a faux chêne finish is simple enough. A newfound fear of IKEA, however, may not be so easily erased.

The first time I heard about IKEA was in the movie Fight Club. "What kind of dining set defines me as a person?" asked a soul-less Ed Norton while flipping through a catalog on the toilet.



IKEA hadn't yet come to Chicago, so it would be years before my first sojourn to the giant blue box. On that day, I came away cash poor but rich with all the barware that a graduate student could need.

Outside of one or two "experimental" visits, however, IKEA was never a habit while I lived in the States. The objects in my life came from thrift stores and alleyways. Dressers were found and re-finished, not ordered and assembled.

That all changed when we moved to France. The logic in shipping cast-offs across the ocean was questionable, so we sold the old lamps, wobbly table and velvet paintings.

We arrived in Paris planning to buy new, but there weren't many affordable options. Beyond IKEA was a world in which objects were either ugly, expensive, or undeliverable. Without a car or much money, we needed IKEA if we were going to live with more than an inflatable mattress on the floor. So we swallowed our consumer conscience and set out to fill the apartment with particle board.

In a single afternoon we ordered everything - bed, dressers, bookshelves, tables, and chairs. We waited for weeks in our empty apartment until the delivery company finally turned up.

I spent days assembling the lot of it, including a bookcase that was missing a third of its shelves. Those parts never arrived, and their sister bits were transformed into a kitchen counter. We swore we would never order from IKEA again.

Our next pair of bookshelves came from Conforama. Twice the cost and doubly fugly - they now lean dramatically to the side. IKEA cases may be shoddy, but they don't require kitchen twine to keep them from falling over.

The ban on IKEA was lifted last week to buy more shelves. The boxes arrived without incident and I found myself wondering why I'd ever made such a fuss. IKEA wasn't the devil, I reasoned. They were just a private "foundation" offering affordable solutions for better living.

That was before I was Billy clubbed - before I saw the hidden evil lurking within these objects.

I tremble now in my Noresund bed, wondering when the next attack will come. I scan the room and realize that I'm vastly outnumbered. IKEA has successfully infiltrated every corner of this apartment. Perhaps tonight I will sleep with the Kroby light on, or put a Herman chair in front of the door.

My soul, I see now, is not enough for them.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Crush of the week: ¡!

I was conscripted last night into the ¡Forward, Russia! army. Headlining Inrocks Indie Club 11 at La Maroquinerie, these DIY darlings from Leeds put on a sore-neck performance to remember.

It's difficult to choose just one crush from the band - Katie Nicholls on drums was very persuasive. But the singer Tom Woodhead made Le Meg's little head spin around.

His voice never wavered as it moved between Thom Yorke trilling and gut-bust bawling. He would wrap himself in the mic cord - turning pirouettes in bondage - then break free to play keyboards and writhe on the floor some more.

What he actually looks like remains a mystery. Just meters away, I could only perceive a blur of movement and sopping hair. I'm surprised that he didn't collapse.

A sample clip from their show is below. Click here to hear the BBC radio documentary, "A year living in the pockets of iForward Russia!"

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The milk for free

Le Meg is now giving it away at Parisist, a collective Paris blog in both English and French.

Check it out for "Actus, évènements, bars, restaurants, happenings, rendez-vous, chroniques et mauvaise foi: Paris par les parisiens, pour tout le monde."

Today's post: The Rock Menagerie.

Have a look at some upcoming shows, and feel free to make flattering comments about me on their site.

Les anglophones sont arrivés!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Party Place

I always love a good party, but the Place des Fêtes seems an unlikely setting for celebration.

One hundred & twenty-five years ago it hosted a bloody battle between the communards and the Versaillese. More recently, Place des Fêtes was the bleak backdrop for a stabbing in Paris je t’aime.

On Sunday mornings, however, red is joined by a host of other colors in Place des Fêtes. Hundreds of vendors and shoppers transform this architecturally-blighted corner of the 19th into a party worthy of its name.

When to go: The market also runs Tuesday and Friday mornings from 7:00-14:30, but go Sunday (7:00-15:00) for the real action. Arrive early for shorter lines and fresher pastry. Stay late for the best seafood deals in town.

What to buy: In October, buy mushrooms. A spore-only stand sells cépes on the cheap, along with girolles, lactaires and trompettes de mort. Apples and pears shine now, along with strange and seasonal stars like kaki (persimmon) and coing (quince). The cheese shop across from the Fun Guy is our choice. Check here for the best autumn cheeses. Finally, no trip to Place des Fêtes would be complete without a stop at the fish stand. In the last hour of business, all the food is divvied onto wax paper squares and accompanied by a song: “Red tuna, calamari - four euros! It’s crazy!!” And it is crazy, selling seafood for four under five.

Maintain a healthy blood sugar by snacking on accras de morue from the Caribbean stand or the spicy cheese Lebanese flatbreads. Shop around for the best prices on pain au chocolat, but don't blame Le Meg if you eat all five for two euros.

What’s around: Start your morning with coffee or brunch at La Pelouse, a revamped café at 86 rue Botzaris. After the market, stop in at Le Vin de Ma Vigne, a wine shop at 25 rue Fêtes. A guy doing his best Louis Armstrong voice on the grand piano will entertain while the owner prescribes an accompaniment for your sauce de girolles.

Before heading home to cook, take a nap or a pony ride in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. It's just a stroll away down the rue de Crimée and the leaves there are currently on fire.

For a list of other outdoor markets in Paris, click here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Vege-mighty


I eat meat. I love to eat meat. I still love to eat meat, even after reading Fast Food Nation and working as an anthropologist in the world’s largest slaughterhouse.

I don’t cook it much at home, but almost invariably order meat when eating out. Paris bistros are a playground for those who like their dinner wrapped in bacon, drizzled with demi-glace, and slow-cooked in lard for seven hours.

In the past two years, however, nearly all of our visitors have been vegetarian. Many have been lax and willing to content themselves with fish. But strict vegetarians are difficult, a sort of bonus round in the “where should we eat?” challenge.

There are plenty of options for street or casual eating. But a sit-down dinner is a different story. Vegetarians, regardless of dietary restrictions, want a “Paris Bistro Experience.” They don’t want to be consigned to special restaurants with names like Aquarius. They don't want another cheese plate.

I was hoping that Les Allobroges would provide the perfect solution. A traditional bistro in the 20th arondissement, Les Allobroges offers a 29-euro vegetable tasting menu in addition to meaty fare.

We visited Saturday night with two friends who chose the tasting menu. The veggie parade kicked off with a rémoulade de choux fleur et endives tiédes (a chunky slaw of shredded cauliflower with warm endives). The interplay between flavors was interesting, and the endive in particular was rich enough to have been braised in veal stock (is that the secret?). Next came a risotto aux cépes and légumes sucré-salé - carrots and parsnips in a sweet and sour glaze. Both were delicious on their own but there was little harmony between them.

Meanwhile, the carnivores were sharing a (vegetarian) starter of légumes d’automne au reblochon - blue potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes & beets under a blanket of stinky cheese. This was followed on the 33-euro menu by a gorgeous cannette longuement rôtie au banyuls, chutney de fruits sec - a young duck slow-roasted in sweet fortified wine with dried fruits so that its skin was carmelized and slightly crackling. A fricassée de homard et lotte, caramel de homard (braised lobster & monkfish in a sweet lobster reduction sauce) was ordered as a single plat for 15 euros.

While the meat-eaters finished triumphantly with desserts selected from the regular menu, the tasting menu offered no choice for vegetarians. A pear poached in white wine was a bit nul in its watery sauce. The final compote de coing needed some other element to balance its singular quince quality.

Overall, we were well-pleased with the food chez Allobroges. Their menu represented a Greatest Hits collection of October produce, and a light touch in preparation allowed these seasonal stars to shine.

On the down side, the service was cool and the lights were too bright. The décor reminded me of a Midwestern hotel lobby circa 1987.

When faced with the challenge of vegetarians, however, Les Allobroges remains a good place to sample French food without Passard prices.

Les Allobroges
71, Rue des Grands Champs
Paris 75020; M° Maraîchers
Tel: 01 43 73 40 00

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bon weekend

A blanket of grey will soon be drawn across our Parisian sky, but the coming (and aptly named) Sunday promises to be gorgeous.

Locals are advised to profiter in one of the city's parks, like the Buttes Chaumont in the 19th. This photo was taken last weekend, but such golden days are sadly numbered.

If lying around in green grass isn't your thing, you have plenty of other options for the weekend:

Words

Lire en Fête is happening this weekend, with 4,000 literary events across the country. In Paris you'll find everything from a Proust lecture to an all-night poetry slam. There's a literary brunch in the morning and a cabaret at night.

Sounds

Pere Ubu is playing on Friday at the Nouveau Casino. Taking their name from a french play, Pere Ubu formed in the year of my birth in Cleveland, Ohio. Others call them proto-punk, they call themselves "Avant Garage." See them for 18 euros at 109 rue Oberkampf. For some Aprés Avant Garage rage, the P'tit Garage is just around the corner at 63, Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud. Bartenders pour cheap drinks while spinning the sweet sounds of garage nostalgie.

Bubamara looks like good fun on Sunday - a franco-balkan trio playing "tzigano-klezmer" for free at Cannibale: 93 rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud in the 11th, Métro Couronnes. They play early at 18h, but you might stay for dinner because the food's not bad chez Cannibale. And they have options for our visiting vegetarians.

Sweet pop on Monday from the over-stuffed mouths of the Magic Numbers. The first self-titled album from this UK foursome was a bit too saccharine for my taste, but "Forever Lost" sure was catchy. They play at the Boule Noire at 8:00.

Sights

New expos are running at the Centre Pompidou, including Yves Klein, Fabrica: Les Yeux Ouverts, and (what I'm excited about) Robert Rauschenberg. Don't forget that they're open late until 10:00.

The I V Y Paris artists will exhibit in the Carrousel du Louvre as part of the Expatica Welcome to France event. The I V Y exhibition will be showing off the breadth and scope of the expatriate artist scene in Paris. The Welcome to France event as a whole offers programs from 11-6 helping expats learn about everything from immigration and taxes to cooking and wine.

Bon w/e!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Le trajet de Fifi


I recently spotted this charming couple along the Boulevard Saint Marcel in the 5th.

Is it just me, or does the dog actually look bored?




Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Leaving Ellie


My little elevator.

It was love at first sight when I met her in the lobby. She was slim, well-adorned, and complicated - like every other Parisian girl I would come to know.

Ellie's slender shape is what originally caught my eye. She's tiny, accomodating only three French or two American riders. Four have been known to ascend, fuelled by hope and red wine. Four have also been known to get stuck.

Pull back Ellie's glossy black outer door and there's a golden retractable gate. Once inside, her buttons must be pressed delicately and held for at least a few seconds. She will tolerate no thick-fingered jabbing.

The list of other things that Ellie will not tolerate has grown over time. There have been minor tantrums and strandings all along, but our real trouble began last winter. Without warning one day she refused to come to my floor. No technician in the world could convince her to return to me. There was nothing to do but get out at 5 or 7 and walk.

I'm not the only tenant on the outs with Ellie. More recently she has refused, following a fight with the conceirge, to visit the lobby. This creates the odd necessity of climbing up one flight in order to ride for 4 or 6 and then walk one. Try explaining that to a visitor.

With all of this drama, my legs have understandably started to wander a bit. I've been sneaking around and climbing the stairs behind Ellie's back. It makes me feel better about myself, less dependent. The more I climb, the more I realize I don't need her anymore.

We both know that it's over. And yet last night - when it was late and I'd had to much to drink - I found myself still wanting to be inside of her. Ellie opened up and took me in without a word. We moved silently in the dark as if nothing bad had ever happened.

Call it a breakup ride.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Nuit Blah(nche)



I was firing emails into the abyss last week, trying to drum up some excitement for the Nuit Blanche. Some friends claimed prior plans, but others just came right out and told me that they hate the Nuit Blanche.

How could this be? How can one hate an all-night carnival of contemporary art?

I chalked it up to that particularly Parisian quality of considering everything municipal to be chiant. No surprise, really, that the city’s “Sleepless Night” would be snubbed by those who also scoff at Pei’s pyramid and the Eiffel Tower.

In the end, with the help of Bernhard and Andreia, I was able to piece together a five-man gang for my first-ever Nuit Blanche. During our fortifying dinner of asorda des mariscos and 2 desserts we discussed options and decided to try the Goutte d’Or neighborhood. Around Paris, there were six different quartiers selected to host contemporary art events. In the Goutte d’Or – the heart of African Paris – there were 27 official installations concentrated mainly between Chateau Rouge and La Chapelle.

We set out just after 10:00 and ambled through a crisp and beautiful autumn night. The milk-heavy moon filled the train yards with light as we passed through the haunting landscape between Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est.

Our first stop was Rue Pajol and the former workshop of Carlos Regazzoni. No fewer than five Nuit Blanche installations were planned for the Halle Pajol, whose perimeter fence was newly decorated by a timeline history of the quartier. The only trace of Regazzoni, the Argentinian sculptor who had previously leased the space for over a decade, could be found by looking at the walls of the halle. They weren’t there anymore. Removing them was probably a necessity for extracting some of the 2700 examples of l’Art Ferroviaire which used to occupy the 2000 m2 warehouse constructed by Gustave Eiffel.

The streets were flowing with people outside the Halle Pajol – young and old, hip and square. Kids ran circles around their parents, clearly thrilled by the idea of a state-sanctioned all-nighter. A neon light blinked “Nuit Blanche” above a smaller sign indicating “one hour wait from this point.” Whatever was happening in the Halle Pajol was only going to be seen after several hours of standing around. We decided to move on, and headed for the area around Rue Léon.

The streets, independent of any art happening, were entertaining enough. Local boys sat on their cars, surveying the scene with crossed arms and wary expressions. Jugglers entertained the line waiting at the Comptoir Lavoir Moderne Parisien. Dingy neon cafés were uncharacteristically full, and the sounds of jazz manouche drew Nuit Blanche refugees into the small and pleasant “Shango” bar.

The only installations we managed to see were those set outdoors with no lines. We encountered Erwin Wurm’s piece “My home is yours” by chance as we were walking along rue Affre and looked up to find lamps, beds and dressers hanging horizontally from the buildings. Another nod to Debord and the situationists who were the inspiration for much of Nuit Blanche (click here for more on that).

Laurent Grasso’s performance of eternal sunshine provided the necessary excuse to cut our night short. Du Soleil dans la Nuit was set upon a raised athletic court and simulated daylight (like in the movies) using giant helium balloons. If this was daylight, I considered, and we were supposed to stay up until dawn…did that mean we could go home? My Nuit Blanche ended just past midnight – two hours after it began.

What I liked was the carnivalesque atmosphere – the mixing of people who don’t normally share space in this city. What I didn’t like can best be explained by returning to the example of Regazzoni. His warehouse, which I visited several times in 2004 and 2005, embodied the very spirit that Nuit Blanche seems to be striving for.

A visit to Regazzoni’s workshop, before the city kicked him out in 2005, brought visitors into a corner of the city that many had not previously visited. The unpublicized, unmarked nature of the space led visitors to wander through a series of squats (one run by environmentalists offering a vegan meal) before locating the atelier behind its iron menagerie courtyard. The interior space of the warehouse was warmed by the light of a canteen offering cheap meals and even cheaper drinks. Disciples from the Association El Gato Viejo wandered among the crowd offering information and soliciting donations.

The sculptures themselves, lit by cold and sparse lighting until the city cut power in June 2005, were a delight. Made from cast-off railway materials and weighing as much as several tons, his work comprised an “insane bestiary” of giraffes, gorillas, and other animals. There were planes, too. Not everything was good, but a good deal of it was great. And more than anything, one had the special feeling of being at the right place at the right time - a sense that was heightened as the threat of eviction, first issued in October 2004, became increasingly real.

The city, despite a 4,000-signature petition and some negative press, managed to get Regazzoni out and to transform the Halle Pajol into an acceptable space for the Nuit Blanche. Something spontaneous had become normative – an authentic contemporary art happening was erased in favor of something programmed. One could stand Saturday night in the graveyard of Regazzoni’s atelier and read the following (translated) words about the city’s mission for Nuit Blanche:

“Contemporary art mixes with the city and creates a singular time-space where each person is invited to circulate, rediscovering a transformed everyday terrain or exploring some overlooked places.”

It’s a nice idea. It was better in practice.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Flip the tape, dude


I rearranged the boudoir last weekend and discovered a box of mix tapes under the bed.

Do you remember the mix tape?

I'm listening now to "Mix Tape #1," which was given to me ten years ago by a bearded poet in Arizona. I can barely make out the song list now, but know from repetition how every song melts into the next. Disorientation sets in if, out in the real world, a particular Built to Spill song isn't immediately followed by Refrigerator's "Colton."

I've been putting a lot of my music on the computer lately, devising song lists to distract my culinary victims. It's not the same, is it? A mix tape was always heavy, there were choices involved. You couldn't fit everything on it - not even a fancy 90-minute tape - and the order was incredibly important. Putting 72 songs on random feels, by contrast, a bit cavalier.

The advantage to computer music is versatility. This is important in Paris because I can no longer predict what people will like. The tastes around the table may range from Fado to German electronica, from Brit pop to Django Reinhardt. I can't put on GBV after a night of drinking and expect folks to know it, much less pump their fists in the air (Loretta, you are missed).

So we experiment, all of us, with eachother's "international" music. I try the Mountain Goats with one country and get Die Sterne in return from another. Half of it I like, and the other half I hope to learn to like.

But on some nights, when every fiber is sick of growing, it's great to just kick back and rewind with a mix tape. To conjure, with the help of Uncle Tupulo, the known but long ago world where real men wore hoodies and drank Old Style - where Converse were universally filthy.

Does that not sound like paradise? I guess you had to be there.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hairy Paree


I must have been asked this question two dozen times: How does the dog like Paris?

"Her french is coming along," I usually respond. But in truth, the hound seems quite happy here in the city of light sidewalk droppings.

Mirth, a name that rolls uncomfortably off the french tongue as Murt, is our ten year-old dog. Securing her entry into the country was no easy matter. France is not as strict as the Commonwealth countries that require quarantine, but she (and I) did have to jump through a number of hoops before getting on the plane.

The first requirement was identification through either a tattoo or a microchip under the skin. Mirth has the microchip, an electronic ID that’s read by passing a hand-held scanner over her back. As a precaution in case it’s also a listening device, we hold a pillow over her back whenever talking politics.

The chip was done by a Boston vet who also completed her rabies vaccination certificate. All together, this cost around $200. In addition, this paperwork required the stamp of a Government-approved veterinarian. There was one such vet in Massachusetts. Having already sold my car in preparation for the move, I persuaded a friend to drive me across the state to spend the day in a puke-colored waiting room. Uncle Sam’s Vet charged $100 for the privilege.

After all this, Mirth was ready to be crammed into her $100 plastic cage. Her $200 flight from Boston was relatively short, six hours, but she emerged from the plane’s hold with some serious psychological trauma. I know, I know - it sounds ridiculous. But she was shaking and yelping continuously during our first two weeks here. A French vet gave her tranquilizers, and over time she was able to forget the plane and to focus on baguette.

Which, it turns out, is her raison d’être. Unable to work in France, Mirth spends her days lying around the apartment and dreaming up new ways to steal baguette. She will climb the kitchen counters. She will lunge at dangling loaves on the sidewalk. She once circled the stash of a homeless man before being dragged away by her apologetic owner.

The french aversion to scooping poop is Mirth’s second favorite reason for living here. Markings everywhere! The sidewalks provide enough canine gossip to keep her mind busy for the rest of the day.

“No she didn’t! That bitch peed on top of my mark!”

“Mmm, that sexy German Shepard has been sniffing around again. Do I detect a faint whiff of baguette in his urine?”

I, too, enjoy her walks. It brings me into contact with neighbors who coo over her, ask questions about her race and sometimes offer a corner of their baguette. Shop owners will sometimes allow her inside and offer a little something to eat.

The only real drawback about Mirth in France is the dog hair. Her endowment wasn’t such a problem in the Midwest, but the french seem less comfortable with hair as a fashion accessory. As a result, we spend an awful lot of time vacuuming and rolling our clothes. And still nine times out of ten my black jacket is covered with a hundred tiny white hairs.

I wonder sometimes if, like other children of immigrants, Mirth is ashamed of me. I try to see myself through her eyes when we meet her friends on the sidewalk. What must she think of her American mother - covered in hair, clutching a plastic bag, and speaking with that accent?

MOM!! Do you see any of the other moms picking up poop?! You’re so embarrassing!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Paris, plus calme


My relationship with the city always shifts, at least temporarily, when friends visit Paris. Like a sponge, I absorb their impressions and find myself both loving and hating the city in new ways.

Playing tour guide breaks my routine and forces me into neighborhoods that are usually avoided. Travelers generally don’t care about the merits of Belleville or my favorite dive bar. They want to stroll along the Seine, chase after ghosts, visit postcard Paris. And in accommodating them - usually in the 1st, the Marais, and the Latin Quarter - I’m always reminded just how beautiful this city is. I become a booster, a hack historian. “Look at this!” I squeal, impervious to the wearied faces of my companions.

And wearied they usually are. For visitors, Paris is exhausting. To get around, unless you spend a fortune on cab fare, you need to walk, climb stairs, and spend hours in the Métro. I myself was drained during my first visit to Paris. I had to buy a special numbing cream (Nifluril) for my aching feet, much to the dismay of my guides. Walking doesn’t faze me anymore, though, and I will drag visitors around for hours before I notice that they are half-crying. A Saturday stroll for le Meg can be a death march for someone used to driving.

To complicate matters, the “rest” afforded by cafés or restaurants can be quite stressful for visitors. American tourists in particular are overly-sensitive to how servers are treating them, and a five euro coffee (in the tourist zones) can feel exasperating. For dinner, I often struggle to find a restaurant that can accommodate friends’ requests for something “cheap” and “real French” that has vegetarian options (and is also open on Monday).

It’s hard to tell a tourist that they need to spend 30 euros to have a decent meal in Paris (excluding the good North African or Asian options that visitors never seem to go for). But there’s nothing worse than spending 21 euros on something awful, knowing that you could have had something delightful for 10 euros more. And when it’s awful, these wearied travelers (with high expectations for French food) seem to be slightly broken.

On the other hand, when it’s good – when Paris performs brilliantly on the food front – I find myself feeling so proud. I had this feeling the other night at Chez Casimir with friends who were returning from 3 months in the States. Chez Casimir, for those who don’t know it, is the cheaper sister bistro of Thierry Breton’s Chez Michel. We’ve been three times over 2 years and have never been disappointed.

We were just beginning to catch up when the first starter, a terrine de campagne, was brought to the table. Served in a giant ceramic terrine with a knife in its heart, this was slightly edged out by the deliciously salty tartare de haddock à l’ancienne.

By the time the plats arrived, we had landed again on our regular topic – comparisons of the US vs. France. Andy and Caroline, who lived together in the States and spend months there every summer, couldn’t wait to return to Paris. After months of eating in New York, Andy was happy to be back at the French table. “This is exactly what I want,” he said, while taking bites of his confit de porc et son gratin. “Talking with friends at a restaurant like this, where you can eat like this for not much money. It’s so calm.”

And he was right. Because I live here, it’s not exhausting to zip by Métro over to Gare du Nord, walk three blocks, read a menu, order, and then relax. I know how to speak, I know this food. I’m not freaked out over the 100 euro bill (for four) because I don’t eat out every night. For visitors, this whole experience would be completely different.

As I explained to a dear friend visiting from Norway who asked how on earth can you live here? our Paris has nothing to do with the one she witnessed around Châtelet. I work. I go to the market. I ride my bike. I walk the dog. I see shows and expos, but not three per day. It is calm.

Could this mean that I’m settling in?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Full Frontal Opera




I spent last week apologizing for my Saturday plans.

I can’t,” I’d say in a whisper, “I’m going to the (barely audible) opera.”

You’d think I was seeing a sex show.

Opera, where I come from, just ain’t right. It sits on a high shelf in the foreign food aisle of my Midwestern imaginary, alongside all the other expensive and weird things that you buy only for company.

So I was nervous when friends, over drinks, invited us to go. But then (sip) we’re in Paris. And we (sip) only live once. We’ll drink first, and it’s (sip), it’s a story.

This kind of cabernet logic is exactly how I ended up at my first Paris sex show. But that’s a different story.

…or is it?

Not so different, in fact, if the opera in question is Salomé. These friends had the foresight to select, for our first time, an opera that doubles as a strip show.

Show of hands: who knew there was nudity in opera?

Opera, in my mind, has always been associated with elites. Boston types, puritans, not the sex-having kind. So I was surprised, I’ll admit, when Salomé began to slowly take off her clothes.

It was innocent during the first of seven veils. Flutes whistled anemically while Salomé pranced around for her step-father. The fluttering ribbons recalled a gymnastic floor routine more than any peep show.

But then, about halfway through the dance, a shift occurred in Salomé. She became fuller, more frantic, more Beyoncé. She was rolling, and then writhing, on the floor. She was spreading her legs and ripping veil after veil, with the orchestra growing louder by the minute. She flew raggedly around the stage – a blur of red hair and white skin. The sixth veil came off, and then the seventh. And these were followed in short order by the shirt, the bra, and the skirt.

The climax (mine, anyway) came when Salomé, fully naked, began to grind against the bars of a cage.

Welcome, people, to the opera!

The closing scene, in which Salomé tongues a decapitated John the Baptist, was a “safe choice” according to Bernhard. Apparently there are productions in which she has sex with the head.

So, to recap: the opera, which costs 20 euros, is actually cheaper – and sexier – than a Paris sex show. And you can, if you want, bring your own binoculars.

Season tickets available here.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Amusez-vous



So, you like being told what to do?

Good. Here’s your schedule for the next week:

ThuSept-7: At 7:00 listen to Jonathan Ames reading from his book Wake Up, Sir! at 7:00. The hyperactive Ames has been compared to Sedaris and appeared often on Letterman. The Village Voice Bookshop: 6, rue Princess, 75006 (FREE). When it’s over, go drink some wine at the Caves Miard at 9, rue des Quatre Vents.

FriSept-8: Arrive before 21h30 for Fêtes de Nuit. The gardens of Versailles play host to “Les Noces de “l’Enfant Roi,” a bizzaro tribute to young royal loving that is executed, of course, upon a floating stage with fireworks (30 euros).

SatSept-9: Le Baratin is all the rage, and I’m told the brains are “interesting.” Be sure to reserve at 01 43 49 39 70, then go to 3, rue Jouye-Rouve, 75020.

SunSept-10: Arty, are you? There’s a Paris salon for people like you. IVY has the details on her website – RSVP and get directions to an apartment in 75017. The meetup starts at 19h30.

MonSept-11: Stay out late at the Flèche d’Or watching Hot Club de Paris, Tilly and the Wall, and Lo-Fi Fnk. 102bis rue de Bagnolet, 75020 (FREE). Show starts at 20h.

TueSept-12: Be there for the first night of On n’est pas de vedettes, an annual festival of chanson hosted by Au Limonaire. Thirty singers (some famous, some inconnus) will take the stage over the course of two weeks. Three per night, and the lineup for each evening is a surprise. Reserve for an early dinner at 01 45 23 33 33, or come only for the show at 21h. 18 Cite Bergere, 75009 (FREE/donation).

WedSept13: Go back to the Flèche d’Or to see Katel. I know, I know – you’re exhausted. But she’s really good. Listen here if you don’t believe me (FREE).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Le Coup de Chance

My first cut in Paris went something like this:

I arrived at a recommended salon armed with pictures and a modest vocabulary. I asked for a coupe de cheveux en dégradé and a brushing. What I got was the exact same cut that every other woman my age seemed to be wearing.

So the next time I changed both salon and approach. I chose a hipster-looking coiffeur and told him in broken French to “create whatever you dream.” My stylist’s dream, it turned out, was to give me a modified Job Bob with slightly longer layers. He earned points, though, for managing to smoke and snip at the same time. I went back to Les Intondables twice based on the merits of its jukebox and proximity to Sushi Yakatori Bagel.

Months later, with frange dangling in my eyes, I ran a search on “English-speaking salons” in Paris. I visited an English website. I called and booked an appointment speaking English. Upon meeting my stylish, I burst forth all in English with my stream of requests and small prayers. I watched Aurélie’s face begin to blanche. She spoke beautiful French and not a word of my mother tongue. It was, however, the best cut I’d received in Paris, so I returned three times before she disappeared into the suburbs.

Last week, returning home from a battle over my working papers, I paused at the doorstep of a trendy salon. I had recently seen enough vacation pictures of myself to know that a cut was in order tout de suite. So without an appointment or a second thought I found myself walking into the “Toxic” branch of Toni & Guy. The music was thumping, the stylists were beautiful. The beverage girl seemed to be flirting.

I knew I’d found someplace special when the shampoo chair began to vibrate. I felt so relaxed after tea and massage that I scarcely noticed my transformation. Gone now is the pony tail, the wispy lock across my forehead. In their place are seven hundred jaggy bits which, when taken together, make me look “butch.” Or so le mec tells me. Seven hundred bits which, when they grow out, are going to look completely CRAZY, ensuring that I will be back at Toni & Guy before the last autumn leaf falls.

The problem now is that my hair is much cooler than I am. Like Diderot’s new dressing gown, it just calls attention to my many other deficiencies of style. I can no longer wear those shoes with my new haircut. And that skirt? Forget about it.

Between the hair and my reduced wardrobe of six well-worn items, I feel I’m two giant steps closer toward being parisienne. All I need now is some lingerie.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Riding High


Tonight, dear reader, I will be living your fantasy.

I hurry now to finish this post, knowing that you are the only thing standing between me and a private club that I recently joined.

The doorman will flash me a smile as I slip him my card. I’ll descend into the basement and past the kids who are already going at it. I’ll follow a corridor into the heart of the club and find myself surrounded by dozens of half-naked women. They will be readying themselves for the effort to come - adding jewelry and adjusting their complicated lingerie.

Welcome to the Club Med gym.

Cloob Med is the city’s largest chain of fitness centers, and the site of tonight’s continuing anthropology fieldwork. I observe as the natives try to adapt to this curious new technology.

Behold: the female approaches the Stair Master. She walks twice around, sniffing, and gingerly mounts it from behind. The hair is perfect, her makeup fresh. She climbs for fifteen minutes on level 2 without breaking a sweat. She remains the picture of perfect aloofness, even while a jewel-encrusted string (I am not making this up) carves a new trench in her backside.

What (really--I’m asking) is up with French women and their lingerie?

A recent study confirmed that they spend, on average, 20% of their clothing budget on lingerie – an estimated 2.6 billion euros per year.

I’m not knocking the general idea, mind you, but at the gym?

For my own part, I’ll be riding tonight in my sensible whites. For there’s nothing worse while working on cardio (and mentally rehearsing your next karaoke triumph) than the cold hard feel of rhinestone in your ass.

Or so I suspect…

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Signs of the Times


Two years ago I stood dumb before my fishmonger, wondering why in the world I wasn’t getting any scallops.

Had I used the wrong word (Coquilles Saint-Jacques)? Had I not ushered the proper greeting? No, I understood after the third repetition: they were not in season.

Not in season? In America I could buy scallops whenever I wanted. But now, on the eve of my first dinner party in France, the pesky bi-valves were nowhere to be found. With Serge and Agnès arriving in less than an hour, I pointed hopefully to some white flesh-looking fish and returned home to struggle with its bones.

Despite the fact that I was raised in the “breadbasket to the world,” I had no sense of seasonality before moving to France. The same items were present year-round from my stadium-sized grocery store. They were cheaper in certain months, but always available.

In France, during that first month, I felt constrained. There were fewer options in smaller stores that seemed never to be open when I needed them. The recipes that had formerly dazzled were, without the right ingredients, of little use to me now.

I had to re-learn how to eat.

Eating in France means following the seasons. My next lesson was the autumn appearance of wild mushrooms. Months later, the arrival of clementines marked time for a city without snow. Oysters burst onto to scene with crowds gathering for free tastings at the local poissonnerie. Within months friends were whispering about springtime lamb and asparagus. And summer, before I knew it, had come 'round again - bringing deep red tomatoes and stacks of fresh herbs.

Last night I cooked again for Serge and Agnès. This time, however, I went about it in a much different way. Gone were the convoluted recipes and fusion acrobatics. In their place, an offering of what’s best in September:

Salad of endive, radicchio, beets, pears, goat cheese, and hazelnut
Roast chicken and potatoes with green beans
Seasonal plums (mirabellle, Reine Claude, quetsche) with a runny Brie de Meaux

When you buy food that’s in season, you don’t have to do much besides put it on a plate. The Brie de Meaux, which had been aged for eight weeks in my butcher’s cave and set out only when it was ready to be eaten that day, was runny and redolent of green summer grass. The plums were at the peak of ripeness – perfect in the moment and rotten the next morning on my counter.

So to paraphrase the Rolling Stones:

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes to follow the times
You just might find...you get what you need (and more).

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Weekly Gaffe: A+


[The Weekly Gaffe is a non-weekly series about french foibles.]




Overheard recently:

le Meg - You know, I really like Peter.

le mec - And why is that?

le Meg - The way he signs his emails; it's just great. When everyone else is full of "pas mal" and avoiding hyperbole...

le mec - Meg?

le Meg - ...he says "A+". I mean, it's almost transgressive. Top of the morning, nothing could be better...

le mec - Um, Meg?

le Meg - ...allright it's a little bit dorky, but...

le mec - Meg!!

le Meg - Yes?

le mec - See you later.

le Meg - Where are you going?

le mec - à plus tard.

le Meg - Well, then, when are you coming back?

le mec - à plus...A+...get it?

le Meg - Fine. Don't tell me. I'm not your mother, anyway.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Comeback Kids


On Monday morning I awoke early, walked the dog, and got myself ready for the first day back to work. I grabbed a jacket on my way out the door and reluctantly covered my rapidly-fading tan.

In the subway it struck me with unwelcome force that summer was fully over. SLAM!

On my left I spied leather boots and tweed. On my right: scarves as far as the eye could see. The billboards were peddling their back-to-school wares and I had a strange hankering for root vegetables.

La rentrée, dear friends, is in full effect. And the effect is substantial, as are the vacations from which the French are returning.

“Vacation?”

The brows of my American readers are pinched. Let me explain:

Vacation [vey-key-shuhn] - noun
A period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel.

“Whah?...”

I know: it’s a difficult concept. French workers (those with a real contract, anyway) are entitled annually to five weeks paid vacation. In practice, however, the French take closer to seven paid weeks every year.

“But that’s almost two months!”

This figure is almost impossible to understand for Americans who, at all levels of employment, have a very different orientation to time off.

Nearly a quarter of American workers, particularly those in part-time or temporary jobs, are not offered any paid vacation. I spent many years waiting tables, during which time I was obliged to locate a replacement for every day of (uncompensated) “missed” work. If I couldn’t find a replacement, I couldn’t go. Vacations, as a result, entailed economic hardship and were limited to summer weddings and a few days around Christmas.

When paid vacation is offered, it’s usually a pittance and dependent on the number of years employed by a company. Because American workers change jobs more often than their European counterparts, their vacation eligibility is kept relatively low. Nine days per year is the average for workers with one year at a company. What’s more: these precious days are often “spent” by workers with health problems or care-giving responsibilities after their small allotment of “personal” and “sick” days has been used up.

Finally, there is a class of American worker who, despite a more generous benefits package, chooses not to take vacation. A recent survey showed that among workers who are entitled to paid vacation, 36% were not planning to use all of it. These are the people who “do not have the time” for a vacation, who feel their whole professional universe will crumble when they leave their desk. Often these unspent vacation days are translated into a monetary pay-out at the end of the year or when the worker changes jobs.

French workers and their families leave town for three weeks minimum in late July and August. The obvious result is that businesses are closed or operating with minimal staffing during this time. The workers may be traveling or spending time at the family country home - the important thing is that they are not working.

As a result (or perhaps cause?) of this time away, the French tend to be much less work-oriented than Americans. At a French dinner party you will not be asked about your profession. At least not until after the more-interesting topics (including your last vacation) have been exhausted. By contrast, I often found myself in Boston wishing I’d brought a stack of resumes to hand out at social events. “Where do you work? What degrees to you have? From where?...”

My Boston salary, it should be said, was more than double what I now earn. And thus we stumble upon the main argument against French vacation: that it just costs too much.

But is that true? And moreover, so what?

My salary, while low by American standards, is sufficient for my life in Paris. This is helped by the fact that I don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars every month for health insurance, car insurance, car loan, and gas. If I didn’t have student loans, which the French don’t, I’d be living even higher on the chestnut-fed hog. Same goes for “if I owned my own apartment,” which many Parisians do.

To experience serious salary increase, the French would have to barter away the things that make their lives better. And the overwhelming majority of them are unwilling to trade this for the contestable glory of consumer living.

So they sit, well-tanned and talkative, on the first-Monday Métro. Smiling contentedly that they still have something from which to return.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Applause, please

I learned today while troweling the depths of Site Meter that I was selected as one of Expatica’s “Favorite France Blogs.” It just goes to show that blowing off work really does pay off.

In the spirit of “giving back,” I offer the following advice, gleaned over the course of seventeen posts, to young writers struggling to incorporate blogging into a well-rounded life:

#1: DO install and use a Site Meter. This will allow you to monitor site traffic and divine whether former boyfriends are reading your blog.

#2: DO pepper your text with sexual innuendo, especially when discussing local produce. This will yield a 50% increase in visitors who are key word searching for porn.

#3: DO NOT guilt-trip friends for not reading your blog. Track their behavior and punish them later.

#4: DO cease all external communication. Direct friends and family to the comments section of your blog.

#5: DO mistake traffic for accomplishment and link-adds for friendship. This will help to sustain the overblown ego required for your task.

#6: DO NOT listen when your techie friend tells you that 50% of visitors are in fact machines.

#7: DO spend all your money doing “cool” and “interesting” things that can be written about.

#8: DO delight your friends by constantly taking photos and using “blog” as a verb.

#9: DO NOT instruct your husband every midnight to “guess how many visits I had today!”

#10: DO get back to work, you f*!#ing slacker.