Sunday, July 30, 2006

Volé Olé!

I went to le Verre Volé last Thursday night following an apéro on the rooftop of Printemps. This was my second visit to "the Stolen Glass", and I continue to love it.

The very young and adorable Nicolas will tell you anything you wish to know about the wines lining the shelves of this shop/bar. If you're indecisive, he'll bring 3-4 of whatever color you're favoring and give you full descriptions of each.

He won't mention prices, so it's a good idea to ask. Our first bottle was 5 euros but we were suprised by a second bottle for 28. I know that some of you readers wouldn't bat an eye at that, but quand meme.

We nibbled four dishes between an equal number of people and shared 2 bottles of wine. The total was around 22 euros per person.

Our two starters included a salad of mi-cuit mi-fumé salmon with beets and plenty of fresh dill & parsley, along with a plate of plump sardines surrounding a generous pile of roasted pepper and fennel in lemon & fresh basil.

Our two mains included a plate of charcuterie & fromage (2 sausages, cured ham, rillettes, slab o'butter, brie, tomme, and one other cheese), and a sausage from the Ardèche whose name I'm forgetting but was similar to a very herby meatloaf with mashed potatoes and some greens.

Le Verre Volé has a very sweet atmosphere in close quarters. What's more, it's just steps away from the Canal St. Martin, which is perfect for a stroll after dinner.

Alternately, you can buy a (chilled) bottle from their shop and just take it to drink along the banks of the canal, which is precisely what we did the following night.

My next project will be take away a bottle of red to accompany canal-side pizza, as described here by Etienne Marcel. Pizza, good wine and a balloon? A perfect night waiting to happen.

Top of the world, Ma

GoGo Paris kicked off a series of weekly soirées last Thursday night on the rooftop of Printemps.

For the uninitiated or shopping averse, Printemps is one of the grands magasins on the boulevard Haussman. While making my way through the first 8 floors of the store, I noticed that during the summer soldes a 750 euro shirt is now 50% off. What a deal!

Upon reaching the top, the views at Déli-cieux will stop you in your tracks. High but not too-high atop the city center, it's possible from this new restaurant/terrace to see all of the familiar sights without the distance afforded by the more familiar viewing platforms at the Eiffel Tower & Sacre Coeur. The beauty of Paris feels proche.

For those who want the view without the price, entry to the rooftop is free. But the terrace seems to be the perfect place to start a nice summer evening, with an inexpensive apéro in fresh air.

Drinks are surprisingly cheap here. A glass of red wine (mini-bottle, actually) is only 3.5 euros. Flutes of champagne are around 6 euros, and they sell cans of Heineken, too.

Food is available from a self-service cafeteria-style line. Grilled meats and salads were on offer, but the most popular choice seemed to be french fries.

Marco Dos Santos, a good Portuguese boy if ever I did see one, was spinning records betwen 7 and 10. DJs in the coming weeks include Joakim, Les Putafranges, Antipop, and Dirty Sound System.

The crowd: Pretty people who pay full-price at Printemps without batting an eye. GoGo fans waiting patiently for the release of their revamped online-only publication. And--what the?!--two Lido girls, in full-feather, on-site and available for posed photographs.

Truth be told, this kind of fluff isn't usually my scene. But the views and reasonable hooch make Déli-cieux a perfect night-starter or guest-pleaser. We'll be bringing our visitors back next week.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hot for picnic

I got it baaaad....SO bahadddd, I'm hot for pic-nic!


One is not born, dear reader, knowing how to picnic. Nay, this is a craft to be mastered bite by glorious bite over the course of a happy lifetime.

When I was a child, having a picnic meant a bucket full of KFC, a bag of BBQ chips, and a giant cooler full of pop (or soda for you non-Kansans). And it always involved driving somewhere.

Today, a picnic entails the following steps:

1) Empty out the kitchen: cheese, fruit, sausages, more fruit, hellloooo wine. The only time I "cook" anymore for a picnic is when I make pan bagnat.

2) Find a pretty place to sit. In Paris, this isn't hard. The classic choice is Seine-side, as pictured above and discussed here. Picnic along the Seine and you can look at this as the sun goes down. Other picnic spots abound, even/especially where I live in the 19th. Regular spots for us include the (city's largest) Parc des Buttes-Chaumont and the Parc de Belleville.

My favorite by far is along the Quai de Loire of the Bassin de la Villette. In good weather the picnickers are joined by dozens of others playing ping-pong, boules, and Bob Marley. What's more: the nearby Bar Ourcq sells cheap beer in take-away cups and has a stash of lawn chairs that they loan out for free.

3) Save the drama (for yo momma). Picnics have no martyrs. There are no hours in the kitchen, wasted paychecks, or nasty cleanup. No negotiation about attendees and how they'll get along. Don't get me wrong: I love a good dinner party and have a 10-person table that engulfs the entire apartment. But I realize during picnic season that life can be so much easier.

"I think of all the education that I missed, but then my homework was never quite like this!"
--David Lee Roth, Hot for Teacher

Class dismissed!

Beetle Mania!

In the year 2000, my 25th on this planet, I spent a summer in Europe.

I was not, in this regard, a unique and special snowflake.

This is what I wrote during that time to friends back home:
"...Another species - the American Backpacker - is flourishing here as well. They're most concentrated on the second-class trains where they march and slump in huge quantities - an army of hunch-back beetles. Every one of them holds a barely-hidden disdain for the others who are ruining their view..."

Though I was in Spain and southern Italy, I can see now that Paris is no different. The RER, especially, is crawling with backpacking beetles of several varieties. Some are willfully optimistic despite the crushing heat and weight. Many are oblivious, taking out children and the seated elderly with each swoop of their great backsides. And others look ready to cry.

Often I will approach quietly to observe these creatures in their train habitat. I have been known, at times, to interject with a helpful hint or restaurant recommendation. But I will leave a bad beetle to its venom if I hear any whining about waiters, shop closings, ice, dog poop, or the fact that "nobody speaks English."

Beetle Mania: Reason #274 why I love-love my bike.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Country roads take me home (or: to dinner)

It's good to have active friends.

Otherwise, it would have never occurred to me to hop a train and spend the day biking in the countryside.

Which is what we did, Saturday, my active friends and I.

After city-biking to Gare du Nord, we took the train to a little village 40 km north of Paris. Bikes are allowed on all regional TER trains during non-rush hours for no charge (more info here). On board, bikes can simply be laid to the side if there isn't a special train car for them.

Descending to the platform at Luzarches, we rode away in search of country roads and fresh air. What we got, instead, was incredibly humid air and highway riding. That's right: the active friends' guide to train/bike adventure had us peddling down the interstate for at least 1/3 of the way.

All was certainly not lost. The ride, most of the time, looked like this, and was punctuated by a well-deserved stop at the Royaumont Abbey. Founded in 1228 by King cum Saint Louis, the Abbey was occupied by Cisturcian monks until the Revolution when it was partially-destroyed and turned into a cotton mill. Today, it's a cultural center and a site for fancy wedding parties like this.

We stopped for beers at their pretty cafe and Bernhard gave us a history lesson about monks and architecture. A friend who is active and historically-inclined? Le Meg wins.

At the end of the ride, we stopped for dinner at Le Saint Come (26 rue Cygne) in Luzarches, and I indulged in an apéro of kir pèche before a menu of 1) Salade Auvergnate and 2) Steak Haché avec Bleu d'Auvergne. We also shared some cheese and a thin slice of apple tart.

Did I mention it was air conditioned? It's amazing how the appetite can return when one isn't sweating to death.

We returned home on the last train to Paris and I landed in bed just before midnight, ready for the best-ever sleep of the dead.


  1. Round-trip train ticket Paris-Luzarches: 7 euros
  2. Entry to the Royaumont Abbey: 5 euros
  3. Beer at the Abbey café: 2.50 euros
  4. Dinner at Le Saint Come: 16.50 euros
  5. Pole dance and karaoke performance by Andreia on the train ride home: priceless

In total, ten wonderful hours for 31 euros. Thanks Bernhard & Andreia!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

French food 101

A few nights ago I took Jennifer to dinner as payment for her tour of the Louvre. This friend, who trained me eight years ago to be a waitress at the Lucky Platter, is now a fancy art historian visiting for research purposes.

I asked her to surprise me, showing objects that she herself wanted to look at. Jennifer was a little down on men that day, so we saw a lot of things that looked like this.

We left as the sun was setting and headed for the Bistrot Paul Bert in the 11th. With a solid 30 euro menu (entrée, plat, dessert), the PB makes regular appearances on mainstream lists of "best" or "budget" Paris eateries (see here). It also pops up frequently in the blogosphere (see here).

I translate the menu items below to give you an idea of what a traditional bistro menu might offer:


  1. Gaspacho andalou à la coriandre fraîche - Cold tomato-based soup (from Andalucia in Spain) with cilantro and chunks of cucumber, sweet peppers, and onion.
  2. Petits filets de sprat marinés, salade de rattes à l'aneth - Small, marinated filets of herring with a salad of small dilled potatoes.
  3. Carpaccio de merou à la citronelle - Fresh raw grouper with lemongrass.
  4. Salade de haricots verts avec pignons de pins et au parmesan - Salad of green beans with pine nuts and parmesan.
  5. Hure de cochon maison et sa vinaigrette moutarde violette - Homemade head of pig (headcheese) with violet mustard vinaigrette.
  6. Feuilleté de ris de veau à la crème de morille - Thymus gland of veal (sweetbreads) in puff pastry with a morel mushroom cream sauce.
  7. Assiette de melon et jambon serrano - Plate of melon and serrano ham.

Plats (Note says "Our red meats are served rare, medium-rare, or "badly-cooked")

  1. Dos de cabaillaud rôti au beurre salé et sa pôelée d'epinards frais - Roasted fresh cod with salted butter and sautéed fresh spinach.
  2. Lotte rôtie à la tomate fraîche et sa ratatouille - Roasted monkfish with fresh tomato and ratatouille (stew of eggplant, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, peppers, garlic and olive oil)
  3. Tartare de boeuf et sa frites maison - Raw beef with homemade fries.
  4. Epaule de cochon de lait rôtie, ail echallotes et grenailles - Shoulder of milk-raised pig with bite-sized potatoes dressed in garlic and shallots.
  5. Rognon de veau juste rôtie au four et ses petits legumes - Veal kidneys, barely roasted in the oven with tiny vegetables.
  6. Onglet de boeuf au poivre et ses frites maison - Peppered beef (similar cut to a flank steak) and homemade fries.
  7. Côte de boeuf légèrement crèmée et son risotto aux cèpes - Rib steak with a light cream sauce and wild mushroom (porcini, in Italy) risotto.


  1. Tarte fine aux abricots - Thin apricot tart.
  2. Fontainebleau aux framboises - Creamy white fresh dessert cheese from the Ile-de-France with raspberries.
  3. Ile flottante à l'ancienne, vanille de Tahiti et pralines roses - "Floating Island" of poached meringue floating in créme anglaise (light Tahitian vanilla cream sauce) with pink pralines.
  4. Clafoutis aux cerises - Custard tart with cherries.
  5. Profiteroles maison - Puff pastry balls filled with homemade vanilla ice cream and homemade chocolate sauce.
  6. Kissel de fruits rouges et sa glace maison au fromage blanc - Thickened purée of red fruits with homemade ice cream of fresh cheese (similar to frozen yogurt).

As you can see, there are items for adventurous as well as skeptical eaters. Steak is always a safe bet for the gland-wary.

And vegetarians, contrary to popular rumor, won't starve in Paris. Especially if they eat fish. But even strict vegetarians can usually find a starter or two, plus cheese and dessert. Vegans: good luck to you.

Menus like this usually include all but wine and coffee. A bottle of Tavel Rosé, very cold and very good, was 20 euros.

Those visiting Paris might experience sticker shock in reading that a 30 euro menu (80 total for 2 people with wine) is the foundation of a "budget" restaurant in Paris. But so it goes. One eats out less frequently in Paris, favoring picnics and cheap ethnic food in between splurges. Tourists who eat au restaurant every night are living much larger (in terms of both wallet and waistline) than the average local.

Having said that, moments of indulgence in Paris restaurants (after much homework to weed out the duds) provide plenty of justification to stay. Or, for visitors, to return.

Bon Appétit!


Summer is here, and with it the impulse to seek out a mass of warm bodies for some good old standing, sweating, and swaying en masse.

Unless you're me.

I've never been one for crowds, truly. Taste of Chicago? Kill me. Arena rock? Heyl no.

And although I was precisely the right age for its debut, I have never been to Lollapalooza. But I did go to the Louvre last night, which has similar crowd conditions as well as other commonalities...

Top 5 similarities between the Louvre and Lollapalooza:

1. Clothing Optional (click). Or, at least, minimal clothing required. It's hot, folks, and skirts that ventilate the goodies seem to be the order of the day.

2. Segregation. There are subcultures within these crowds. The same kids that press up against the AT&T stage to see Red Hot Chili Peppers are gonna be, weeks later, snapping photos in the Denon Wing. Both have their groupies who hardly know why.

Down the hall, Arts of Islam is the smoking section of your college town diner. The cool kids peer out of their thick-rimmed glasses while listening to the same iPod tunes that are performed on the Bud Light stage.

3. Dirty hippies (click). Men with beards are everywhere.

4. Same price. Well, sort of. A one-day pass for Lolla is $65, roughly the equivalent in euros of a one-year pass that gets you into the Louvre with no waiting and with a free guest on Wednesday and Friday nights.

5. Love is in the Air! (click)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Chaud 'nuff

It's not for my own sake that I complain about the heat. It's out of concern for poor Mirth, here. I came home from work last night and found her exactly as I left her, panting before the fan in our 6th floor apartment.

I protested much while in the US about the constant air conditioning, especially while watching An Inconvenient Truth. But the absence of climatisation in Paris really does have a way or reorganizing one's life.

La Page Francaise has a nice little list of beat-the-heat strategies to check out. Readers over 18 may also want to check out this vintage nugget from Gone Feral. Here are my own adaptations to the canicule:

1) No eating! Or at least noting sauced or sautéed. For days the only things that have passed my lips include fruit, cheese, bread and salad. Oh, and chocolate. From the fridge. With ice cream.

2) No drinking! Alcohol dehydrates, and I already feel pleasantly lightheaded from the heat.

3) No touching! Or at least not after 7 am.

4) No working! My office, like many, is without air conditioning. We show up early, make an effort until noon, lie listless in a pool of sweat for several hours, and then go home early.

4) No RATP! The second worst place on earth to be during this heat is on a Paris bus. The first, without question, is on the dank and airless subway. Solution: on your feet, soldier! Alternately: bike riding is the best and only way to catch a breeze in this town, and it's damn fun.

In conclusion, french people are skinny and have more vacation than you because it's hot. So turn off that a/c, America, and get ready for greatness!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Plum sucking in the city of lights

Things are different here in France. And by 'things,' I mean fruit.

I have just finished my morning snack (doesn't everyone eat 10 times a day?) and feel compelled to tell you about it. Despite clear warnings from blogophobes that they really don't care what a narcissist eats for breakfast.

Yellow plums are currently in season, yet I am sorely out of practice after spending three weeks in the US. Fruiting in France does not come as naturally as you might imagine. The stuff here is juicy. With the first desk-side bite I managed to dribble at least half a pint of yellow liquid into my lap. Yes, there. And yes, white skirt. But you know what? It didn't matter. So good.

I approached the second plum with more trepidation. After making a tiny incision with my teeth, I managed to suck most of the juice from the plum, leaving a withered bag of skin and pulp. Budding naturalists and readers of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek will recognize this as the giant water bug's approach to draining a frog.

I then went out and bought a sack of peaches and cherries for further experimentation.

This is the first time I have posted about fruit on this blog, but I warn you, dear reader, it will not be the last.

Nor will it be the last time that I blatently try to attract readers who are keyword searching for porn.

Welcome to the blog!

Le Merdier = a fine mess, a jam, a fix (literally, the shitpile)

Following in the footsteps of American dieters who place carrot sticks in the fridge at eye-level, I have taken lately to leaving my grammar books on display. By fanning them attractively, the stack will someday lure me while en route to other pressing obligations (red wine, couch) and nudge me toward conjugation.

Learning a language and losing weight are not so different, in the end. Both require (I am told) some degree of self-discipline over time. Or, in my case, short bursts of super-hyped effort that will inevitably fizzle in favor of other distractions (white wine, boules).

The similarities don’t end there. Like the dieter who wears too-small jeans as a cilice, the language slacker living abroad benefits from near-constant appraisal of her “progress.” I can read this in the eyebrows of my compatriots: raised = sympathetic, as when speaking to a child; furrowed = really? Two years and this is the best you can do?

I can also measure it by the number of missing words in a conversation: “We went to Normandy over the weekend and ___ ______, then ___ my grandmother _­_ ___ ___ the chicken!” To which I invariably reply, “ah bon? C’est super.”

And like the waistline of the dieter, my language comprehension will advance or retreat significantly during any given month. One week I’m feeling strong; I can watch the Simpsons in french! The next week I’m straining to follow conversation for more than five minutes. Well-worn explanations include: the heat, those iron pills I’m taking, whatever Mercury’s doing, and sobriety.

This month’s scheme: total immersion! Except, of course, for really technical conversations, moments of fatigue, or, ahem, this blog. My American but french-speaking husband will indulge me, my colleagues will coddle me, my friends will be startled (or not) as to how truly un-clever I can be.

So watch this space for updated accounts of french foible-ing, and remind me from time to time about how great life will be once I fit into those jeans.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Vive la France!

I live in France.

On a recent trip to Turkey, this declaration prompted a delicious poppy seed celebration of France on flatbreat.

In the United States, by contrast, this divulgence is generally greeted by one of the following reactions:

1) “Don’t they hate us?” Most often asked by males owning multiple golf shirts and at least one SUV. Likes: freedom, Fogerty, the fetus. Dislikes: my own stuck-up ass.

2) “French women don’t get fat, right?” This question is invariably posed by women and often as a pretext to recite some morsel from the best-selling book of the same title.

3) “France is dead.” More specifically, Paris is too expensive, too self-satisfied, too bobo to hold the attention of real artists (Berlin) and adventurers (Bogotá).

4) “…………….” Silence is the most common response to any discussion of current residence. This is true even among close friends and family members. I briefly considered halitosis as the culprit – perhaps folks just wanted me to cut the story short so that they could start breathing again. With the passage of time and much Listerine, however, I’ve come to favor an alternate explanation – that people just don’t know what to ask.

I touched down in Paris yesterday, determined after a three-week Midwestern jaunt to put an end to all this. The details that can’t be conjured keg-side (“How’s France?”) will be dissected here for the viewing pleasure of loved ones and strangers. Perhaps I’ll learn a thing or two in the process and gain a better understanding about this hateful/skinny/bobo paradise that I’ve unwittingly adopted.

It couldn’t hurt, right?