Megnut

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.

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.

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.

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.

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¢."

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!

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.

Orbital mechanics and the joy of travel

One of the first days we were here we ended up over near Opéra and decided to walk all the way back to our apartment in the Marais, hoping to stop for some lunch along the way. Unfortunately, the neighborhood was rather pricey, and we passed bistro after bistro with white tableclothes where men in suits drank bottles of wine. Finally we spotted a simple brasserie with reasonable prices and went in.

The interior was pure 70's -- all wood paneling and vinyl booths. There were two men inside, each smoking and drinking coffee at tables at opposite ends of the room. A husband and wife ran the place and quickly brought us menus when we were seated.

Suddenly being in Paris seemed difficult and annoying. There was no charm in this cheap brasserie. I didn't feel any Parisian romance or awe. I didn't even feel the excitement of travel, of being somewhere new and different. Instead I felt hungry and cranky and my feet hurt and I was tired of walking. And I felt like we'd made a mistake. We ordered croque monsieur and a glass of wine from the proprietor in French and our food arrived promptly.

We ate mostly in silence, pausing only to check our map and plot our route back to our apartment. When we were finished, the husband came over with our check and asked if we were English. With slight dread I responded,

"Non, nous sommes américaines."

His face lit up and he called across the restaurant to his wife behind the bar,

"They're American!" (but in French, of course) and with that, he proceeded to pull up a chair and began chatting with us.

I'd always assumed people's interest in meeting Americans, if it ever existed in the first place, was long gone in big touristy cities like Paris. But this gentleman began to explain his love for America and Americans and started telling us about his son who's an aerospace engineer who was going to head to the University of Texas at Austin to get a Master's in orbital mechanics. Alas, something on account of September 11th has prevented it and he hasn't been able to go.

Jason smiled as I tried to ask the man, in really garbled French, about his son's undertaking of orbital mechanics. (Since I have really no knowledge of orbital mechanics in English, why I attempted to discuss the topic in French is a mystery to me.)

"Comme le Space Shuttle!" I said. Apparently le Space Shuttle isn't the exact translation of "the Space Shuttle." Monsieur did not understand me.

"La lune, comme la lune et le monde (hand gesture of orbiting moon around earth) et la avion -- le Space Shuttle -- que va la, a la space." [translation: the moon, like the moon and the earth and the plane -- the Space Shuttle -- that goes there, to the space.]

I have no idea where I was going with that sentance, but eventually he nodded, and we agreed that we both understood that his son would have studied orbital mechanics in Texas were it not for September 11th. And then we sat there smiling at one another, pleased with our ability to communicate effectively with such a large language barrier between us.

He decided he should get back to work so he went back behind the counter and updated his wife on our conversation. We paid and headed towards the exit,

"Merci, au revior," we called and waved.

Monsieur and madame both came over. Monsieur extended his hand to me and gave me a formal and enthusiastic shake. Then he said something about Americans, the general effect being that it was a great thing we were American and that he loved America and Americans. Smiling, he turned to shake Jason's hand as well.

"Américaines," he said again, as if amazed.

"Au revior," we repeated and smiled as we stepped out the door and headed on our way home.

Marche Gourmand des Terroirs des France

Marché Gourmand des Terroirs des France
13 - 15 novembre
Châtelet, Av. Victoria
Paris

This coming weekend there's going to be a gourmet market in Paris. 25 regional producers from the lands of France will be featured, but I have no idea what it will be like or what products they'll bring. I only saw a poster for this over at Châtelet the other day as we were getting on the Metro. Sounds like something I'd like to attend. Alas, I'll be out of town.

Winter in Paris

For those wondering about the weather: it's wintery. For the first five days it was rainy but warmish, with spots of sun and an autumnal scent in the air. But then it abruptly changed two days ago and winter is upon us. I could see my breath when we exited the apartment yesterday and I'm thinking I might need to buy some gloves. Heat lamps are a must when sitting at the outdoor cafés, even if only to down a quick chocolate chaud or express.

All French, all the time

Today I was so close to a total day of French interaction. I was batting 1.000, pitching a perfect game, getting a hole-in-one on every hole, etc., by which I mean I was speaking only in French to people, and receiving only French in response.

Things began swimmingly when I collected my mail at American Express. Confident from that transaction, I attempted to buy a phone card at La Poste (the post office) but discovered that a phone card "not to put in the phone but to press the numbers on the phone to use" (as I roughly garbled in French, because we needed one of two types of French phone cards) needed to be purchased at the Tabac (tobacco store) or "chez France Telecom." Unphased by the rapid French response I received from the postwoman, and understanding more or less what she'd told me, we headed to the Tabac where I repeated my ill-formed but apparently comprehensible request for une télécarte, paid, and exited with a wave of the hand and an au revoir, madame.

Several hours later, lunch was ordered sans problème, entrance was ascertained to the Picasso Museum, and hot chocolate enjoyed alongside the Place des Vosges, all in French (or tout en français as I like to say these days).

I was high on French, walking the streets of the Marais with a certain je ne sais quoi strut when we stopped at the fromagerie (cheese store). Jason and I became separated in the small store and when the shopkeeper approached Jason with a flurry of French, my streak abruptly ended when Jason responded with, je ne parle pas le français. The cheeseman switched right over to English from that moment on. I insisted on French. Back and forth we went, but I wouldn't budge a linguistical inch.

I picked the cheese, "Une brique de brebis, s'il vous plaît."

"Is that all? Anything else?" he replied.

"Non, c'est tout," I said firmly, but with a smile.

He rung us up, "4.80 euros."

I handed him the money and Jason took the cheese.

"Thank you. Good bye." he said.

"Merci monsieur. Au revoir." I replied.

Hell hath no fury like a woman determined to speak French.

Safe and Sound in Paris

Am alive in Paris but only just connected from our apartment via dial-up (stupid Easy Everything internet cafes, everything's only easy there if you remember your Movable Type login and password). Have many items written but not quite ready for posting yet. Prepare for a deluge in another day or so. Paris c'est tres bon!

French language goals

One of my goals while here in Paris is to improve my French. To that end (and being a project manager-type A personality) I've established goals for my progress broken down by week. For the first week (nearly complete now) I plan to "master" the pronounciation of un (the pronoun "a" or "an") which has always given me trouble because of my fluency in Spanish. My other goal for week one is to be able to understand numbers when spoken and be able to use them easily. So far, so good, though I still get tripped up on the numbers some time.

For week two: try to speak in more complete sentances, improve my differentiation between masculine and feminine nouns, and increase my vocabulary. I'm almost ahead of schedule, having added two new words to my vocabulary during this first week: gaufre (waffle) and marron (chestnut).

Le Colimacon restaurant

Le Colimaçon
44, rue Vieille du Temple
75004 Paris

48€ for two (one appetizer, two entrees, one dessert), with 1/2 bottle of wine

Wonderful dinner last night at Le Colimaçon right down the street from our apartment. I started with chèvre chaud aux figues, a salad of mixed greens with warm goat cheese melted on toasts accompanied by fresh figs and tomatoes. The balance of the figgy sweetness with the vinaigrette was absolutely perfect and every bite, especially when accompanied by the warm cheese, caused me to exclaim, "this salad is SOOO good!" For my main course I had confit de canard, a moist and tender drumstick and thigh of duck with cripy skin and juicy in its own fat. (For those keeping track at home, my vegetarianism suffered a fatal blow with my meal at the French Laundry and has never fully recovered.) This was accompanied by two cakes of grated potatoes and was rich and salty and moist and tender and simply wonderful.

I can't believe we simply stumbled into the place while wondering down the street looking for dinner. We selected it for two simple reasons: reasonable prices (under 20€ for entrees) and co-ed (the Marais has its share of gay bars and clubs, many of which seemed to be "going off" on Sunday night as we looked for a dinner place). If you're looking to eat in the Marais, I absolutely recommend this place for dinner. The only disappointment, which was slight, was the tarte tatin, which seemed less good only because I make it often at home. I'm looking forward to going back again, maybe even tomorrow!

Duck-like Parisians

No one pronounces oui as "we" or even "oowe." It's all very nasal and quacking-like, a sort-of "wanh." I never noticed before but it sounds like a millions ducks quacking at once. Why do they call the French "frogs"? Ducks would be make more sense.

Free museum Sundays

On the first Sunday of every month the national galleries in France are free. On subsequent Sundays it's half-price. Judging by the line in front of the Musée d'Orsay and the crowd inside the Louvre today, this fact is no secret in Paris. Nonetheless, if you're looking for a cheap way to see some wonderful art and can deal with the crowds, it might be worth it. We skipped the Louvre Top 10 (Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, etc.) and went to see the objets d'art from Napoleon III's Apartments, The Restoration, and the July Monarchy.

And because we know a "secret" entrance to the Louvre, there was no waiting in line! Of course, I can't tell you where this secret entrance is because if I do, it won't be a secret much longer and then it will have long lines just like the main pyramid entrance. If you're planning a trip to Paris soon and want to know (and will keep it a secret), email me and I'll tell you where it is.

Parisian apartment living

I very much feel like I'm living in France already due to two nearly back-to-back trips to the BHV department store. First we needed a halogen light bulb. A little while later (after an "error du outlet" as you could say in Frenglish), a new fuse. I've gotten very good at going to the electronics department of the BHV with the item I need in tow, saying "Je cherche comme ça" and then being led to the item in need. There's nothing like a fuse purchase to make you realize you're not staying at a hotel.

DC Social Life and international relations

I read an "article with potential" on the plane in W magazine (whose tagline should be "our fashion layouts double as porn!") (runner-up tagline, "this magazine is total superficial shit, worse than InStyle") about the lack of social scene in Washington DC since the Bush II's came to town. Apparently G.W. doesn't like to entertain much and his social schedule is in line with his political approach: isolationist (he likes to order Tex-Mex, invite close friends over, and go to bed by 9 PM).

It made me think about what this does for international relations and I'd love to see a publication with more substance (The New Yorker? The Atlantic? The Times or the Washington Post?) examine the history of DC social life. Is there any relationship between the number of state dinners/presidential entertaining policies and the way the US interacts with world? Are relations smoother when we have a more social president? Or are they worse? When there is more socializing between branches, do Congress and the Executive get along more smoothly? Is there a reduction in filibusters? Or not? I think that would be a totally cool article. If you're an editor, or you know an editor, at one of these publications, could you make this happen? Thanks.

The last day

Movers are here. Cat is dispatched to new, temporary, home. Everything is upheaval, chaos. Day is beautiful San Francisco, warm and sunny. View to Mt. Tam and Marin, with Golden Gate Bridge, aches my heart. No time for reflection. Off to Paris in 24 hours. The end of one phase and the beginning of the next. Good-bye San Francisco. Good-bye.

1880 Census Data Online

The 1880 US census data is now online and available for free searching. I spotted this the other day via Metafilter and did some quick poking around to see if I could find any ancestors. Lo and behold, I turned up Charlie Curtiss (living at the time with Henry Coolidge and family). Charlie would go on to marry Henry's daughter Lizzie in 1886. My great-grandmother Lottie Curtis would be born six years later. I also turned up Charlie's father (my great-great-great grandfather) Sumner Curtis living with his wife Angeline (Rice) Curtis in Vermont but the site is so overwhelmed I can't get that data to load now.

It's pretty cool to be able to find this stuff online, and also interesting to see the discrepencies in the data. Our family bibles (from which I built branches of my family tree several years back) lists "Charlie Curtiss" as "Charles Sumner Curtis" (one S). And "Lizzie D. Coolidge" is recorded as "Lizzie Gray Coolidge." I can almost picture my great-great-grandmother say "G" with a strong accent that caused the census taker to write down "D" instead. It's amazing what stories I can concoct for these ancestors just by seeing their census data online.

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