Archive for November 2002

Notre-Dame organ concerts

On Sundays at 4:30 PM the Notre-Dame has free auditions d'orgue, which I think means organ auditions but could just be French for organ concert. Either way, if you're in Paris on a Sunday afternoon, swing by the Notre-Dame around 4 PM to get a seat. Wait patiently; admire the soaring height of the cathedral's ceiling; look pious as the mass of tourists tramp by, and prepare yourself for the thunderous giant organ filling the old stone walls with the works of Bach, Mendelssohn, Liszt, and others. Donations are welcomed.

Secret Louvre entrance part II

The best thing about knowing a secret entrance to the Louvre is that people email you saying, "oh, it's when you go to XYZ from ABC, right?" and that's not it. Now I know TWO secret entrances to the Louvre!

The greatest bank note in the world

The 20€ bill is the best bank note ever because you know it will cover whatever you've purchased even when you did not comprehend the total the cashier has just said to you. You simply hand it over with that meek smile that says, "I know how much that croissant and brioche costs and I perfectly understood what you said to me. It's just that this 20€ is simply the only thing I have."

Your smile most certainly does not say, "I am in a blind panic. My wallet is filled with ten pounds of strange change I cannot distinguish. In the hopes that this will cover the cost, I am handing you the largest bill in my wallet. If I had a 50€ note, I'd pass that to you instead, even though this baguette costs 70¢."

The cultural divisions run deepest at dinner

The US and France have such a long, wonderful history of shared values and cultural understanding. For more than two hundred years -- from fashion and architecture to politics and diplomacy -- it's like our countries have been best friends with our people "in synch." That is, until the main course is cleared when dining in France. At that point, any commonalities between French and American culture disappear with the dirty plates into the kitchen. And ill-will and anger arrises in even the most staid American diner.

First it's the dessert *then* coffee thing. Then it's the French waiter that can walk by your table five or six times without ever looking in your direction. The Americans get fidgetty. We're done when we're done, and we're done after coffee. When we ask for the check, we're ready for it.

Oh but in France how they make you wait. How they make you suffer. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes can easily pass, even if you've successfully flagged down the waiter with eyes for eveyone but your party. Even if you've asked for l'addition, s'il vous plâit, they'll keep you sitting and sitting and sitting. If you've grown up like this, perhaps you know what to do during the awkward silence that follows. Or perhaps there is no awkward silence and no one is too full or too tired to continue the conversation. But Americans, we just sit, quietly wondering what we've done to make the waiter hate us so, the same waiter who was so nice, so attentive, only an hour before. Here in France, the cultural divisions run deepest at dinner.

Steven Berlin Johnson

Steven Johnson of FEED and other fame's finally got a weblog. Though I'm trying not to read weblogs (or much else online for that matter) while I'm on "vacation" I've been unable to resist popping over to his site to see what he's writing. So far so good. I'll save the real accolades if he keeps it up for more than a month.

Chores and sickness

The original idea with coming to Paris for a month was to try and live here. By that I mean I didn't want to feel obligated to see touristy sights every day or overwhelm myself with museums. I wanted to cook in our apartment, explore the lesser known parts of the City, and maybe get to know the boulanger across the street. But that hasn't really happened. Most of the time I still feel like I'm here temporarily and obliged to get up and out the door every morning. At least, until yesterday. Yesterday I felt very much not on vacation -- I've come down with a cold, needed to go to the grocery store, and had three loads of laundry to do. Nothing says "home" like sickness and chores.

Beaujolais Nouveau

Le beaujolais nouveau est arrivé and I'm drinking some right now -- my old stand-by George Dubœuf's 2002 Beaujolais Nouveau (I've also got a bottle of Beaujolais Villages Nouveau to try next). So far it's good, though I've moved away from such light and fruity wines over the years to heavier, richer stuff. Still, it makes for a nice glass as I nibble some olives and contemplate what to prepare for dinner. C'est bon, c'est hyper bon, in fact.

Beaujolais Nouveau Newbie?

Beaujolais Nouveau Newbie? This article offers a little insight into the fuss. I have to say, I haven't noticed a whole lot of people celebrating in the streets or drinking it. But there are lots of signs in the doors of cafés and brasseries advertising its arrival.

Cheese-eating tip

New favorite snack (merci a Dean): take a Gala apple and slice it up. Take a slice of apple and spread a thin layer of fresh creamy Roquefort cheese across one side. Eat up. Repeat. I think I'm finally beginning to understand what all the cheese fuss is about.

Musée National de Moyen Age

Feeling over-Impressioned by your Parisian museum visits? Then I've got a recommendation for you: The Musée National de Moyen Age (National Museum of the Middle Ages) combines the ruins of 1st through 3rd-century Roman baths with the 15th-century residence of the abbots of Cluny and showcases tapestries, ceramics, stained glass, paintings, and other medieval arts and crafts.

In October, November, January and February there are free concerts (by which I mean free with your museum admission of €5,50) on Fridays at 12:30 PM and Saturdays at 4 PM. On January 31, 2003 and February 1, 2003 the selection will be Musique au temps de Jeanne d'Arc, or music from the era of Joan of Arc. I think I'd enjoy that very much.

This afternoon, we enjoyed the middle age compositions of Guillame de Machaut. Sitting amongst 13th-century stone heads of the Kings of Judah while listening to the work of a 14th-century musician being produced by a strange assortment of medieval intruments (one flute-like object looked like a ram's horn) was as close as I've come to time-travel in quite some time. If only a comely lass had arrived with a cup of mead...

Mark's recommendation blog thingy

This looks really cool: Mark Pilgrim's blog recommendation engine lets you enter your URL and recommends other sites to you based on yours. Haven't had much of a chance to poke around with it, and alas further experimentation will have to wait until I have a faster, and cheaper, connection back in the States. This is more of a note to myself rather than you, but feel free to check it out if you haven't already.

Byrd vs. US Gov

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va, speaking against the creation of the Homeland Security bill in the Senate last Tuesday:

It is long past time for us to finally do our best to prevent another deadly strike by those who hate us and wish us ill. Terrorism is no plaything.

Political service is no game. Political office is no place for warring children.

And the oath of office which we take is no empty pledge to be subjugated to the tactics of election-year chicanery perpetrated on a good and trusting people.

Though I've been a bit removed from the proceedings myself, I can't help but wonder how the creation and merger of 20-odd agencies into one bohemoth governmental organization is going to do anything towards making Americans more secure. Corporate mergers rarely work. Why would public service mergers work any better? And when critical work needs to be done (in the armed forces or in companies), SWATs are organized -- small groups of excellently-equipped people given the resources, clearance, and leeway to do whatever's necessary to accomplish clearly defined goals. The Department of Homeland Security seems to be a step in a very different direction.

Apologies to Steven Johnson

Sometimes you write something on your weblog and you think the tone seems light-hearted and joshing. Then you re-read it a week later and discover, to your horror, that the tone is not light-hearted and joshing but could be seen as snooty and mean-spirited, which was not your intention at all. Then you explain to everyone that there should have been a winkie ;) or a smiley :) at the end of your post. Hopefully they all understand.

The horror of an American accent

I hadn't realized this before but American accents are just plain terrible! When I go without hearing much American English for days on end (aside from our conversations, which I somehow don't notice), overhearing that nasaly twang of an American accent makes my ears want to bleed. Eavesdropping on a nice British accented chat is so much more pleasant, regardless of the topic of conversation.

The rules keep changing

Why do the French mess with me so? Part of the progress I feel like I've made here has been with knowing how things work. And then things go and change, e.g. last night at dinner. We ordered le menu which gives one a choice of appetizer, entree, and dessert. We know from previous experience that you order the app and entree at the start, and then when you've finished, they come round and ask for your dessert selection. At least, that's how it works everywhere but the place we ate last night. Luckily my French has improved enough for me to flag down the waitress (after we patiently waited 15 minutes for her to come see if we wanted anything) and ask if we could choose our dessert. She mumbled something, seeming annoyed that we wanted dessert . Oh well, not our problem I decided. We try to play by the rules, but they keep changing them.

Bad Chinese food world-wide

Observation: Bad Chinese food in Paris is just as bad as bad Chinese food in the US.

The March of 3 Marchés

or the March of 3 Markets

The following is a description of a lovely long walk that will take you through some lively, wonderful parts of Paris and perhaps, if you're lucky, make you feel slightly Parisian as well.

Notes before starting:

The March:

Start at the Place de la Bastille (M° Bastille, lines 1,5,8) where you will find Marché #1 stretching for several blocks along the green median of the Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Loop through the market, being sure to observe the endless supplies of fresh produce, meats, cheese, fish, and wine interspersed with odd kitchen gadgets and cheap clothing. If you haven't had breakfast yet, now's a good time to grab a pain au chocolat or a brioche.

The end of your loop should bring you back to Place de la Bastille. Almost directly across the monument is the Port de l'Arsenal, a small off-shoot of the Seine filled with boats and barges. Proceed down the ramp at the edge of the Boulevard de la Bastille and walk along the water, enjoying the site of old men fishing along the water's edge. As you reach the end, climb up one of the staircases and head for the nearest bridge, to your south-east. This is the Pont d'Austerlitz.

Cross over the Point d'Austerlitz and head into the Jardin des Plants. Proceed down the stately rows and enjoy the order and majesty of this lovely botanical garden. At you approach the Museum of Natural History (Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle) at the end of the park, take the path off to your right that cuts between two giant greenhouses and wind your way out of the park at the NW exit at the corner of Rue Cuvier and Rue Linné.

From this corner, you should be facing Rue Lacépède. Proceed on Rue Lacépède until you arrive at Rue Monge. Turn left and head down Rue Monge to Place Monge and Marché #2. Though smaller than the market over in the Bastille, it's filled with similarly enticing foods and vendors and people out shopping. At this point, if you wish only to visit two markets, the Metro (M° Monge, line 7) is available to whisk you to another destination. But you risk missing the fun of Market #3 if you go now.

For those wishing to press on, continue down the Rue Monge until you reach the Rue Epée-de-Bois. Turn right and wander down this street until you reach Rue Mouffetard. Turn left and meander down the slight hill and into the glorious markets of Rue Mouffetard. Unlike the other two markets, this street features many permanent shops which open and expand out onto the street. Aromas of fish and cheese and meat blend in the air with the bustling sounds of transactions and purchases.

Mixed in with the many markets are restaurants and cafés where you can grab a bite to eat or partake in a restorative cup of coffee. At the base of the market, next to St. Médard church, we were lucky to stumble upon some sort of concert. Across from a lovely bubbling fountain, a woman was signing "Que sera sera" while people of all ages danced and many other observed. Somehow this struck me as exactly the thing Parisians would do while out on a Sunday at the market. Keep your eyes peeled for similar sights.

After your third and final market, you have two choices for metro stops: either continue south down Rue Mouffetard onto Avenue des Gobelins until you reach the large intersection with Boulevards Arago and Saint Marcel. There you will find M° Les Gobelins, line 7. Your other choice is to wander from Rue Mouffetard around onto Rue Censier and back up Rue Monge to the M° Censier-Daubenton, line 7 stop. Either way, your camara should be full of lovely photos and your stomach grumbling for something cooked up with all the lovely food you've just seen.

Route in full:

Place de la Bastille to Boulevard Richard Lenoir to Place de la Bastille to Boulevard de la Bastille across Pont d'Austerlitz to Jardin des Plantes to exit at corner of Rue Cuvier and Rue Linné to Rue Lacépède to Rue Monge to Rue Epée-de-Bois to Rue Mouffetard.

War and Peace and Invalides

I've been reading War and Peace the entire time I've been in Paris (it's 1,500 pages afterall) and I couldn't have chosen a better book to read while here. Aside from the fact that I love long 19th-century novels, the use of French scattered throughout (which in my edition isn't translated) is more easily understood now that I'm learning more French. Reading of battles (e.g. Austerlitz) and knowing that they're also the names of Paris train stations or Metro stops hints at their outcome before Tolstoy reveals it (since my Napoleanic history isn't quite what it should be, I don't know who won which battles). So it's been really neat to read while I'm here. But the highlight of reading War and Peace in Paris was our visit to Invalides.

The Hôtel des Invalides was built in the 1670's by Louis XIV for wounded and homeless veterans. It now contains many things military, including Napoleon's tomb, the tombs of other French military leaders, and several museums. The Musée de l'Armée (Museum of the Army) is the largest, spanning several floors and covering the military history from pretty much the beginning of time through World War II. We spent an entire afternoon there and didn't see more than half of it. Highlights for me:

Everything from Napolean, which included outfits worn by French soldiers during the Russian campaign, cannon balls, sabres and daggers, leather folders and satchels in which secretaries and adjutants carried communications, and even a stuffed horse ridden by Napolean at some point along the way. All the outfits helped flesh out my imaginations of the battle scenes in War and Peace significantly. It was really neat to actually see the real stuff from that time period. There was even Napolean's "camp" -- the tent he occupied while on campaigns, complete with bed, writing desk, stool, rugs, trunks, etc.

Another highlight was the section of the museum devoted to World War II. It was a powerful blend of objects, video, pictures, and story-telling detailing the events of the time. Objects even included an American Jeep, all kinds of uniforms and weapons from the various Allied and Axis troops, and most distressingly, a collection of leather shoes from victims of the gas chambers at an extermination camp. Throughout, one could hear tapes of DeGaulle's speeches encouraging the French to continue to fight and resist the German occupation. The entire experience was so sad and uplifting at the same time.

Funny Parisian store names

Many stores in Paris have funny names. Often they're some strange English mixture of words which sometimes make sense and sometimes seem a little ill-advised ("Pussy, pussy, pussy"?). After all my travels 'round the town, my favorite is "Mouff tarte," a patisserie on the Rue Mouffetard. Runner-up: "Diasporama," the shop for all things Diaspora, in the Marais.

Lenny Kravitz doesn't know shit about falafel

Lenny Kravitz doesn't know shit about falafel. There are several falafel take-out shops on the Rue des Rosiers in the Marais district of Paris. Since it's quite close to our apartment, I've had many falafels while I've been here. One place, "L'As du Falafel" sports a recommendation from Lenny Kravitz outside its door. But don't believe it (well feel free to believe it, the falafel was quite good), the falafel across the street (at the corner of Rue des Rosiers and Rue des Ecouffes) at "mi-va-mi" is even better. For €3.50 you can get a giant falafel to go, on fresh pita (made in-house) and every time I've gotten one, the falafels have been crispy, fresh and hot, with an almost creamy inside. It's filled with veggies too, and makes for a large, filling meal for even those with hefty appetites. I only finished one once. Best €3.50 you can spend for food, and it puts those dry, crumbly, American falafels to shame.

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