Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Jardin d'Enfants

In a little corner of the eighteenth arrondissement, there is a garden, Les Jardins du Ruisseau, a jardin pedagogique, a garden for the neighborhood children, a place where they can learn to grow tomatoes, rosemary, peppers and flowers to their heart's delight, all year long:

Families come on Sundays and picnic in the garden:

The gardens are on a former train platform of the Petite Ceinture, an old railroad that used to circle halfway around Paris from the seventeenth to the twentieth arrondissement and beyond:

It is no longer in service.

Part of this railroad is now covered with parks, basketball courts, and pedestrian walkways where kids can run and roller skate and ride their bicycles, and dogs can be walked:

There is lots of graffiti that cover the old platforms of the train stations:

Further away, the SNCF provides cars for shelter for the homeless:

Click here for more pics of the garden, and here for more pics of the Petite Ceinture.

If you read French, click here and here for more information and history of the Petite Ceinture.

Monday, May 29, 2006


For some reason around the blogosphere today, I've noticed a handful of bloggers who have chosen to blog about their Memorial Day/ Ascension weekend. I will also recount my weekend, in all its sometimes mundane, sometimes glorious, glory.

Thursday morning: Sleep in, take dog for a spin around the block, stopping at bakery for morning croissants. (Eddie prefers the croissant ordinaire, also known as sans beurre, claiming that the croissants au beurre are too greasy. I could not disagree more.)

Thursday afternoon: Attempt spin on the roller blades with two expatriate friends on the Voie Georges Pompidou, which is closed off to traffic on Sundays and certain holidays. Come to the conclusion that I am just not cut out for roller blading. Limp to Breakfast in America in the Marais for an early dinner, all the while daydreaming about buying a bicycle. With a little basket in front for the Toutou.

Friday morning/afternoon: Wake up slightly early in order to catch the first showing of Da Vinci Code. Leave theatre feeling satisfied, the movie was what I expected it would be. Meet my friend Dina on the Champs, deem it warm enough for a
caramel beurre salé ice cream cone, eat it on a bench in the Jardin des Tuileries while watching two French people in their sixties making out passionately on the bench next to us. Hope that will be me in thirty years. Walk to the Louvre to see if it's possible to look down the inverted glass pyramid from the top. It is not, as that pyramid is on an island in the middle of the roundabout, enclosed by bushes.

Friday evening: Prepare tabbouleh salad with roasted veggies: green and red bell peppers, onions, zucchini and tomatoes. Watch season finales of both Lost and Desperate Housewives. Count number of months before start of season three for both. Cannot believe we must wait a whole summer before finding out what's up with those dudes in the Arctic.

Saturday morning: Sit around house reading newspapers. Liberation: paper copy from downstairs newstand. New York Times: online.

Saturday afternoon: Drag shopping caddy to the market. Greengrocer shoves sliver of delicious sweet melon in face. Cherries are on sale but do not buy any, deciding to wait a week or two, when they should be really ripe.

Saturday 6pm: Eddie suggests going to the late show of Marie-Antoinette at Place Clichy. Prepare myself double espresso.

Sunday very early morning: Leave theatre feeling vaguely unsatisfied. Did not dislike movie, thought it was beautiful to look at and an interesting idea, but something about it felt half-assed (can I say that in my blog?), as though Sofia Coppola had a good idea but was too afraid to take it as far as it could have and should have been taken. The music was a trip down memory lane though.

Sunday, two o'clock in the morning: The streets of Paris are bustling. There is a pleasant breeze in the air. Sit on the crowded patio at Corcoran's Irish Pub, amazed that it is warm enough to be able to have a drink outdoors in the middle of the night.

Sunday 10am: Surprise myself by waking up, assumed I would have slept even longer. Prepare breakfast burritos for brunch: eggs scrambled with onion and ground chili, served on a warm tortilla with grated cheddar cheese, salsa, chopped tomato, sliced avocado, creme fraiche and cilantro.

Sunday afternoon: Decide on impromptu walk to the flea markets. Eddie directs me to the most amazing bookstore in the middle of the St-Ouen market, where I find a book I have been looking for, that I saw in a bookstore in the city for 23 euros, for just ten euros. Rave about this intermittently throughout the rest of the day. Cannot for the life of me remember the name of the shop or the name of the street it was on to tell you, will just be able to find it again by memory.
Buy bracelet too.
Walk home along the Petite Ceinture, past the shared garden plots at Ruisseau. Take photos, which will be posted later in the week....

Friday, May 26, 2006

Cornet Simple

Cornet Simple
Originally uploaded by Frenchpage.
New Page 1

Note the small size of the scoop. With Berthillon, less is more...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Food: Salade Niçoise

I figure the purpose of a blog is to blabber about whatever happens to be on your mind, and I find that quite often I've got food on the brain, and it just so happens that today I've got an itching to talk about one of my favorite French salads, Salade Niçoise.

This is a salad that I like to make for lunch in the springtime, when the weather is just beginning to get warmer, but not in the dead of summer, when I personally find it to be a bit too heavy. This is just a personal preference mind you. Not everyone would agree with me on that of course, since it originates from the warm sunny beach area of Nice and therefore most people would agree it's the perfect lunch for a day spent roasting yourself under the sun on the pebbly beach. But I personally prefer something even lighter in the heavy humid Parisian summer, like a simple ripe tomato (heirloom preferably) with sliced mozzarella or goat cheese, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with chopped fresh basil and coarse sea salt. An Insalata Caprese, if you will.

I've never been to Nice before so I probably haven't had the real thing, but you can find this salad pretty much in any cafe you go to in France. I look forward to it on the first sunny warm day in April after a long gray winter, when you decide it is warm enough to attempt lunch on a cafe terrace, albeit still keeping your coat on. According to this amusing article , there are so many different versions of Salade Niçoise going around, that you will rarely find two of the same. Unfortunately, I've definitely had some really atrocious versions in cafes along the Blvd St-Germain. Instead of regurgitating what the article said about the origins of the salad and the different kinds of ingredients that you can put in, I will just list what I like to put in my salade niçoise:

Lettuce: I agree with the Guardian article that while spicy and flavorful greens like roquette and mesclun are lovely, they don't belong in a salade niçoise. The salad has such strong flavors as it is, that it needs a bland lettuce. Personally, my favorite type of green to use is either butter lettuce or romaine, either green or purple, although I've been known to use mâche, (lambs lettuce) instead since we have it so often in the fridge. Iceberg would work as well, although personally I can't stand the stuff. You will be forgiven for using spinach in order to boost the vitamin intake, but I really don't think it works as well.

Tuna: I find it rather hard to find water packed tuna here in France. People here really seem to prefer tuna packed in oil. Which is good too. But I do my best to snatch up tuna packed in water whenever I can, just because that's what I grew up eating and old habits die hard. It's less fattening too. Also, that Starkist Light tuna does not exist here, it's the whole white tuna or nothing. That's ok with me too.

Beans: I always use a handful of those long French green beans, topped and tailed and boiled for a few minutes, not enough for them to lose their crispness and then blanched in ice water to stop the cooking. I've read loads of recipes that call for fava beans too. I haven't tried using those yet but I bet they are good too.

One hard boiled egg: Peeled and quartered. 'Nuff said.

Tomatoes: Very important. The ripest ones you can find. An unripe, pale pink, hard, flavorless tomato just makes me depressed. If it's too early for tomato season I use those little cherry tomatoes which are really sweet and flavorful. (There is a type of cherry tomato here called coeurs de pigeons, or "Pigeon hearts". Kind of a disturbing visual, but really sweet like candy.)

Potatoes: When I have them around and can be bothered to boil them for fifteen minutes, I use them. But I often skip them. I don't like skipping them, but I'm lazy sometimes. I've also had versions that include rice. If I have some leftover rice from the night before, I will use that. This afternoon's version will include some leftover couscous from last night's dinner. I've never tried using couscous before, nor have I ever heard of anyone using couscous, but I'm feeling a bit adventurous today.

Olives: Some say they are the most important ingredient since this is a mediterreanean salad. Purists say to only use black olives from Provence, but I have no problem using greek kalamata olives or green olives.

Anchovies: Ah yes, anchovies. Not everyone's favorite, and they can certainly be left out. I love them, but unfortunately never use them, because we never have them in the house. I think the smell would really bother Eddie. He already isn't crazy about the fact that I have canned tuna in the house.

Herbs: I will sometimes sprinkle either some basil or some tarragon on top of everything, but not both at the same time. Also some chives are nice.

Other random ingredients: If I have a cucumber around I will chop it up and put in a few slices. Same with bell peppers. Also, if I have a can of corn that is opened in the refrigerator, I will put in a spoonful. That's just my own little thing, I seriously doubt that anyone in Nice does that.
I hate raw onions, but if I liked them, I would probably decorate the salad with a few slices on top. I have heard sweet Vidalia onions are nice.

Dressing: One recipe I read claims that a true salade niçoise will have no dressing, only a drizzle of olive oil, since the tomatoes provide the acidity. I'm sorry but I really don't buy that at all. The dressing is one of the best parts and should include:

Olive oil, of course. Again, this is the mediterreanean we are talking about here.

Vinegar: Either red wine vinegar or balsamic is lovely.

A dab of spicy dijon mustard. NOT French's Mustard please! Pardon me, but do you have any Grey Poupon? At the very least use some Grey Poupon.

A clove or so of pressed garlic, mashed with salt to release the flavor.

Half of a shallot, finely minced.

Salt and pepper.

Shake it up.

Don't forget a nice crusty wedge of bread to mop up the dressing with. Yummy.

Gotta go, it's lunchtime....

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Sidestreet treasures

After a leisurely Sunday brunch with an old friend of Eddie's, we discovered this cute little dead end street with a charming square at the end of it:

Then, while climbing up the hill towards Abbesses, we came across another one:

Friday, May 19, 2006

Voie Touristique

I have a bad habit, whenever guests come to stay with us, of forgetting that they actually really would like to see the major Parisian tourist sights such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame, and not just the things I find to be superbly splendid in this city.

In preparation for my father's recent visit to Paris, I spent a month coming up with all sorts of activities and things I wanted to show him. High on the list was the LA art exhibit at the Pompidou, which I had not yet seen. Plus a trip to the Museum of Science and Industry at the quirky Parc de la Villette, which seemed the sort of thing one's father might be interested in. And a Sunday trip to the Bois de Boulogne to watch the dog slip and lose her footing and fall into the lake and then crawl out and shake herself in an I-meant-to-do-that kind of fashion, because an outing like that is a big part of the fabric of our everyday lives here. Lovely meals were carefully planned as well, some to be prepared at home: homemade quiche, salad with goat cheese and lentilles de Puy, morning croissant and coffee in a bol, and then some to be consumed in restaurants: lunch at the local sushi joint, takeout falafels from the Lebanese up the street, Vietnamese spring rolls in Chinatown, and the most delicious pizza this side of the Italian border, which just so happens to be right downstairs.

He loved everything. But I noticed a pattern in his narration on the videos he took of our outings (my father filmed everything, complete with narration, so he could relive the trip over and over and so everyone back home could feel like they had taken a trip to Paris too):

In line at the Pompidou: "Here I am in Paris, about to see an exhibit about art in Los Angeles. You can hear Mongolian monks chanting in the background on the esplanade behind me"

At the Parc de la Villette: "Here I am in Paris, about to go see an exhibit about Star Wars"

On line seven: "Here I am in Paris, we are on the métro on our way to Chinatown.
We soon began to make jokes about it, culminating on on the day before he left, while standing in line at the cheese shop, in which he proclaimed "I can't wait to tell Philippe (our French downstairs neighbor in California) about all the wonderful French food I ate in France. The sushi was divine, the vietnamese unsurpassed, and you were right, that pizza was something else", which led us into a final fit of uncontrollable giggles. But on his final evening in our apartment, hearing his girlfriend shout into the phone "I can't BELIEVE you've been to Paris this many times and STILL haven't been to the Louvre!" as he held the receiver away from his ear, I had to grab the phone from him, realizing the error of my ways, and explain to her that I took full responsibility for the untraditional tone of my father's stay.

When you live in Paris, everyone and their grandmother comes to visit. People start coming out of the woodwork. Our spare futon mattress is booked solid in the summer months and reservations start coming in around early spring. The truth is that people come so often that, dare I say it, gulp, I get a little....tired of going to the Louvre after the umpteenth time this year. Nowadays I show our guests where it is and arrange to meet them at closing time in front of the glass pyramid. That isn't to say that I don't absolutely adore the wondrous major monuments that the city is so well known for. When I first came to Paris, I spent the first six months visiting these major monuments constantly. I thought I would never tire of gazing at the rose window in Notre Dame, and that the day would never come that I would have seen enough of the Louvre.

Guess what. It kind of did. Sort of.

It's just that since those early days, I have discovered so many, many other lesser known, less grandiose but equally wonderful things that I'd rather show people. My favorite little winding streets in the 20th, for example, or the Parc des Batignolles with its charming little stone waterfalls and bridges, or the Japanese garden at the annex of the Musee Guimet. Visiting the Latin Quarter cafes that can boast Hemingway's Butt Sat Here is definitely something we should all see once, but afterwards I'd rather go to my local brightly painted red and yellow cafe with coffee for one eighth the price of Les Deux Magots. As for food, it's true that when Eddie and I go out to eat, we rarely have traditional French cuisine. Part of the reason for this is that traditional French cuisine is normally not very vegetarian friendly, but it's also just that because Paris is such a cosmopolitan city, the ethnic cuisine and restaurants are truly outstanding, and so Indian and Lebanese places are staples of our dining out ventures.

My San Francisco uber hipster friend, Seth, made a side trip from London to stay with us last July. When we were roommates in Northern California many many moons ago, in between our digs through vintage clothing shops to see what archaelogical wonders we could find, we took it upon ourselves to start a quest to locate the quaintest coffeehouses the Bay Area had to offer. Most of them were housed in creaky Victorians and had well worn couches upon which the resident cat would be snoozing. Honoring that tradition, I looked forward to showing him around some of my favorite cafes in the eleventh arrondissement, on and around rue Oberkampf.

He loved them.

On the third day, he said "I probably should get a look at the Eiffel Tower or something, before I get back on the Eurostar".

Oh right. Of course you should. I nearly forgot about that.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Five things

I've been tagged by The Bold Soul. Here goes:

Five items in my fridge:

1. cheese, cheese and more cheese
2. a couple of bottles of sauvignon
3. strawberries
4. jars of indian curry
5. branston pickle

Five items in my closet:

1. about eight or nine vintage coats. I simply adore coats
2. gold lamé high heeled sandals
3. an extra box of new black converse chuck taylors
4. a Longchamp handbag
5. a few pairs of Levis jeans

Five items in my car:

Hey, wait a minute, I no longer own a car. Can I say what used to be in my car when I owned one? Let me see if I can remember

1. Discman and tape deck converter (it's been a long time since I've owned a car, I never actually had a real CD player in any car I've owned)
2. Spare quarters for parking meters
3. a pack of road maps of California
4. a water bottle
5. There were probably some things under the seat that I didn't know about

Five items in my purse:

1. cell phone
2. iPod
3. Paris Par Arrondissement
4. lip gloss
5. carte orange

Five people who are "it" now

I don't want to put anyone on the spot. If you feel like doing it, you can let me know afterward. It's actually quite fun.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Originally uploaded by Frenchpage.
New Page 1

Friday, May 12, 2006

Funny cup handle

Funny cup handel
Originally uploaded by Frenchpage.
New Page 1

At the Amelie cafe, rue Lepic, Montmartre

Thursday, May 11, 2006

As if there wasn't enough to see already

A friend forwarded me this article today about new museums opening and re-opening this year in Paris:

Cultural News in Paris from Budget Travel Online

The aquarium sounds interesting, as does Le Corbusier's apartment. It's like I keep saying: everytime I think I have seen everything in this town, there is always something else....

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Father visits his daughter

My father is on a plane, probably over Iceland, as I write this. I will pick him up in a couple of hours.

It's been a year to the day since last I saw him, May 10th, 2005. Waiting over coffee in the main hall at Bradley Terminal, me with a mocha with whip and him with his standard tall latte, waiting till the last possible minute before I dragged myself tearfully up a long narrow gate and turned to wave one last time.

The guy at the baggage x-ray noticed my red face and puffy nose and wordlessly passed me a kleenex box, as though he did it all the time, a gesture which made me laugh, a little embarassed, in spite of my howls.

It's the one thing I don't like about living abroad. The one thing. I miss my family.

I promised myself I would never go a year without seeing my parents. I may yet still be able to keep that promise.

My father hasn't been to Europe in 25 years, doesn't travel much. Likes his morning coffee in a travel mug with Boeing written on the side, while flipping through the LA Times, in his baseball cap.

For him to trek across a continent and an ocean to see his daughter, it just means so much.

I will cry when I see him, and I will cry when he leaves. My father means so much.

I've had a weird nervous sensation since last night. Somewhere inside me, I just want his approval. I want him to like where I live, what I'm doing, my life. I want him to like our little apartment. My gaze sweeps with mild irritation over the layer of dust in the entryhall that has been there for a month, from the construction workers' constant drilling and pounding on the downstairs cafe, neverending.

What this all means is I probably won't blog for a week or so, although I probably will still put up some moblog pictures, since that doesn't take too much time. Otherwise, it's Sightseeing City for a whole week.

In the meantime, may I suggest that you direct your attention this way to my friend Catty's new blog, Paris is an Old Dog, a fellow expat in Paris who is new to the blogosphere and a wonderful writer. I was thoroughly entertained while reading about her experiences as an Australian expat living in London for a few years and her current adventures navigating the cobblestone jungle, and I am looking forward to reading more...

Les Saints de Glace

My mother, born in Germany, always told me about the "Eisheiligen" , or "Ice Saints".

These are three days in the month of May, usually between the 11th and 15th, where the temperature can suddenly plummet, causing a late frost. For centuries, before the invention of The Weather Channel, gardeners in the areas that are now Austria, Switzerland and Germany would align their plantings after these dates, and avoid planting delicate things that would be ruined by a drop in temperature.

Last week, as I was gushing joyously on the phone with my mother about how I was strolling around the Jardin de Luxembourg in a skirt and sandals, she heeded her warning to me: "Well, don't put your sweaters away just yet, remember that next week is the Eisheiligen".

"Yeah yeah yeah" I said, going back to my gushing.

When I was a small child, we lived in the middle of nowhere in New England for a couple of years. My parents have a funny story about how one year on the 9th of May, there was a huge snowstorm that dumped several inches of snow and ice. This was too much for my parents, a snowstorm in May, and within weeks plans had been made to pack up our belongings and head west to sunnier, warmer pastures in California.

This story intrigues me, because if it weren't for this snowstorm I may well have become an East Coast rather than a West Coast girl. Imagine. Life would have been so different.

Several things about the Ice Saints. The actual days are the 11th, 12th and 13th of May, although the cold snap can occur a few days before or after. Traditionally, after the 15th of May, known as "Cold Sophie", the chances of frost decrease. Some people, however, say that when Pope Gregory adjusted the calendar in the sixteenth century, the effects of the Ice Saints are now felt between the 19th and 22nd of May. It is possible that during this time, the earth moves through a cosmic cloud which affects the amount of sun that can get through, and that could explain the phenomenon.

Today I met my friend B for a late morning coffee on the blvd Voltaire. I was late in meeting her, though, because I had to run back upstairs and put on a sweater.

When I got home this afternoon, teeth chattering, I called my mother. "You were so right" I told her. "The Ice Saints are a couple of days early this year".

Children, let this be a lesson to you: Don't doubt your mother.

Frenchless in France has a lovely post on the Ice Saints and their various celebrations in Provence.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Yes, I do miss them, sometimes, just sometimes...

My little dog (lets call her Toutou) had un petit accident during the night. Over the weekend, we went to the market and I noticed they sold some cheap cuts of meat specifically pour chien. Since the poor dog lives with one strict vegetarian and one nearly vegetarian, I figured I owed it to her to get her a little treat. She was very excited and gobbled up the cuts I gave her in about seven point five seconds, before I even had a chance to put it back in the fridge.

Well, this morning, we woke up, and I guess it had been a bit too rich for her little doggie tummy, because there was crotte all over the living room rug.

So we rolled up the old rug (it was old and filthy, we've been meaning to get a new one anyway) and dumped it in the garbage downstairs, then hopped on the bus towards the Champs Elysees to buy a new rug. We were lucky since even though today is a holiday, many of the shops were still open. Eddie had half the day off but then in the afternoon had to make an emergency trip to the office, leaving me to lug the new rug back home on the bus.

Except for a brief period of time in my teens when I was cruising around California in an old Volkswagen Beetle, I've always hated driving. I've never subscribed to car culture, I hate sitting in traffic, I hate how otherwise kind and gentle people become road rage monsters behind the wheel, making gestures that normally one does not make in polite company. I should qualify all this actually by saying what I hate is city driving, I do like a road trip on an empty highway with the windows rolled down. But otherwise, one of the many things I adore about living in Paris is the convenience of public transportation, the fact that the metro and bus goes everywhere, and that having a car is actually more of a pain than not having a car.

Except when you have to lug a rug back on the bus.

I had a little fantasy, while trying to keep the rug from tipping over onto people's laps in the bus and then trying not to whack cyclists off their scooters as I carried the rug sideways down the narrow Parisian rues, of just being able to toss it into my car, drive home, then leave it in the car till Eddie came home and could help me load it into the elevator.

Then again, that thing would NEVER have fit into the back of my VW anyway....

(P.S. That's not my Toutou in the picture, but she had a similar look on her face this morning)

Armistice Arch

Originally uploaded by Frenchpage.
Kinda hard to see, but the Arc de Triomphe is wearing a big flag today too

Armistice Bus

Originally uploaded by Frenchpage.
I noticed while out and about today that most of the buses are wearing French flags in honor of Armistice Day today

Friday, May 05, 2006

Formules de politesse

I spend a lot of time thinking about social codes and levels of politeness over here in France. The whole tu/vous thing, which I still stumble over sometimes and doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Having to address people when you speak to them, not just say "Bonjour" but "Bonjour Monsieur" to the baker. Every morning I see our neighbor downstairs while I'm taking the dog out for her morning business, every morning I smile and say "Bonjour", and every morning he replies with "Bonjour Madame" and every time he does that I curse under my breath and say to myself that I have to remember to address him as Monsieur tomorrow. Which I never do. Such is the drivel that runs through my almost-bilingual head several times a day. Even after years and years of studying French, I am still sometimes taken aback by the level of politeness that is so inherent in daily french life and the language.

The other day, on line 10 coming back from brunch at Breakfast in America, an older monsieur was standing between the two rows of seats, and I was trying to pass by to get to where Eddie had found some seats. I let slip a quiet, sing-songy "Pardon" to the monsieur. To which he looked up at me, not having realized I was standing there, moved into the seat and said "Eh bien, je vous en prie, Madame". He might have even bowed a bit. I passed by without another sound, sat down and contemplated.

Now normally, when someone says "Pardon" to me, when they are trying to pass by, I don't say anything, don't even look up, perhaps grunt in recognition and then move out of the way. In comparison to this man's flourish, my initial demand and resulting response truly felt impolite. Seeing as it was an older gentleman, I should have said "Pardon, Monsieur", followed by "Je vous remercie, Monsieur". That kind of civility, though, does not flow easily off my gum-smacking tongue. To my laid-back California ear, such niceties even smack a bit of condescension, even if I know it is not the case here. Such an elaborate language in California would, in my opinion, be used to as a form of subtle sarcasm. But it isn't the case here at all (or, well, at least most of the time, there are always exceptions). French society, and inherently the language, is built around a democratic notion of defining space and relationships, respecting the other person's anonymity and level. The French are quite proud of their language and the more elaborate, flowery and polite the language you use, the better response you will always get.

Case in point: as I was writing up this entry, I received an email from the university office regarding my French test results from last year. On Friday I had painstakingly drafted an elegant and polite email, using long-winded sentences punctuated by "Madame, Monsieur," at every other line, in order to ask if it would be possible to pick up another copy of my test results even though they were from a year ago. I had expected an answer that would indicate that since they were from last year, I would need to come in to fill out a form and pay a supplement to receive them. Instead, though, the lady sent my results as an email attachment, even wishing me a "good reception", thus saving me a calculated afternoon trip into the Latin Quarter.

Exagerrated politeness, it would seem, will take you far in this country.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

You Know You're In France When... # 356

....The Osbournes is on TV but I'm not hearing any BEEEEP! BEEEEEEP! BEEEEEEEEEEEP!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Why I live where I live

After reading The Bold Soul's post inspired from Sunday Scribblings, I decided this might be a good way to ease back into blogging after being bone-achingly ill last week. Of course, it's no longer Sunday, I hope that doesn't make a difference.

I grew up in Southern California in the (once) quiet little beachside town of Santa Monica, two blocks from the border of the city proper of Los Angeles. At the age of nineteen, after my first experience abroad, which was a year in Germany after high school, I spent a weekend visiting family friends in the Bay Area and fell in love with Northern California. As only the carefree mobility of youth can allow for, I packed my 1974 Volkswagen Bug to the brim with everything I owned: Nirvana CDs, candles, a CD player, hair barrettes, my collection of vintage 1940s housewife dresses, stacks of poetry books, etc, and headed up Highway 1 to Santa Cruz, California, unable to see out my back window. It was 1993.

I stayed in the Bay Area for the better part of the mid-nineties and then moved back down to Los Angeles when I decided to go back to school to get my degree at the ripe old age of 23. No longer a spring chicken, the thought of living in a dormitory and becoming the designated alcohol purchaser for a whole floor of freshmen was less than appealing. Plus, I had acquired a dog from my séjour in Northern California. So instead I found a charming studio apartment off of Melrose avenue, built in 1921 (ancient for Southern California) in a row of red clay roofed bungalows. The studio had built-in arched shelve enclaves and a built-in dresser, as well as a built-in ironing board that folded out of the wall. Big windows opened up into a shared courtyard. It also had cockroaches the size of mice (these particular ones were actually waterbugs). Despite the fact that it was far from the UCLA campus, it was a great place to be a student. A public MTA bus stopped practically in front of my house and dropped me off in front of my first class, so every morning I would join the masses of Central American housekeepers on their way to their jobs in Malibu in the long trek along Sunset Boulevard. I'd interrupt my studies in the middle of the night to join the beautiful people in the line at Pink's Famous Hot Dogs, occasionally ordering my chili cheese dog behind some famous person or another. There was a coffeehouse down the street that offered bottomless cups of coffee, the lifeblood of university students.

I returned briefly to San Francisco at the end of my studies, where I sublet one bedroom apartment on top of a rather large hill from a friend who was going to India for a year. The apartment was in Noe Valley, at the top of Castro Street. It had a beautiful view of the bay, and I would drink my coffee on the plant filled terrace every morning, but I cursed my aching calves every time I realized I had forgotton to buy milk at the grocery store.

By this time, I decided the time had come to fulfill my dream of moving to Paris for a while to study French. And so I arrived on a windy, rainy gray day in March, intending to stay for two months. That was in 2002.

I'm still here. It happens.

Before crossing paths with my wonderful Eddie, I lived in the teeniest chambre de bonne in the sixteenth arrondissement, which was owned by a wealthy French family whose children I tutored in English in exchange for the room. Imagine, these kids had their own nanny AND their own private English tutor. The room was incredibly tiny, a six floor walk up with a sink, shower, hotplate, tiny fridge, small closet space, and a fold out couch. The toilet was out in the hallway. I ended up staying in this room for a couple of years, even taking in a few incredulous houseguests along the way. While visitors from the US were often horrified at how small the place was, it never really bothered me. It had the basics of what I felt I needed at the time: a water boiler to make coffee, linens, a few dishes, a wine bottle opener, a fridge to store my cheese, a very good heater, and a place to rest my weary head at the end of the day. Otherwise, Paris was my living room. I would explore different neighborhoods during the day, check my email on my laptop whenever I could find a cafe with a wireless connection, explore the numerous museums, sit in the upstairs room at Shakespeare and Co and read, eat baguette sandwiches by the river during the summer, take the train out to various little villages in the Ile-de-France and so on.

Then I met Eddie, and that was the end of that.

We now live in a one bedroom apartment in the northeastern corner of the seventeenth arrondissement, about two blocks from the border of the eighteenth. Our neighborhood is quintessentially Parisian. We have four bakeries in a three block radius, a newsstand, several cafes, a sushi restaurant, a Lebanese restaurant, a park, a swimming pool, and a weekly street market that takes place twice a week. We are a twenty minute walk to Sacre-Coeur and to the weekly organic market at Batignolles that Clotilde from Chocolate and Zucchini writes about from time to time. Our neighborhood is far enough from the center of town to be quiet and less crowded, but we are still able to reach the Latin Quarter in 20 minutes by metro.

We also have an espresso machine and wireless internet throughout the apartment, so nowadays I sometimes have to remind myself to get out and enjoy the cafes of Paris…