Friday, June 30, 2006

I am away from my computer

I'm taking a little break from blogging as the influx of visitors has commenced and I'll be out of town for a little bit too. Regular blogging will continue in a week or two. Hope everyone is having a nice start of summer...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Paris Pride

Paris Pride
Originally uploaded by Frenchpage.
New Page 1

Bd Saint Michel

Saturday morning at the market

Originally uploaded by Frenchpage.
Marché bio des Batignolles, 8th arrondissment

Friday, June 23, 2006

Faites de la musique on the Fête de la Musique

Along with the kitschy celebration of the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau sometime in mid November, the Fête de la Musique is one of my favorite unofficial "holidays" in France, festive occasions that make me pleased to be living in a country that would designate celebrations to such carnal pleasures as wine and music.

The streets of Montmartre early Wednesday evening were swarming with musicians and people sitting outside of cafes on tables moved into the blocked off streets.

One DJ was actually spinning from their window.

An eventual downpour moved our group back to our living room, cracking open a bottle of champagne, diving into a rich Poire Caramel tarte and and transforming our Fête de la Musique into, in the words of one attendee, the "Fête de l'ipod".

During the Fête de la Musique, people play music on the crowded streets and dance all throughout the shortest night of the year. The métro, for once, runs all night. Centuries ago, people celebrated the Feast of St John, or Midsummer, on June 24th, where they would play music and dance. The desire to celebrate the beginning of summer, with its warm long days and warm short nights, seems to be timeless...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Three, two

The 31 things has been temporarily taken down as they will very soon become 32 things, and therefore they need some adjusting...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


In California a few years back I had a couple of friends who belonged to the Lithuanian expatriate community in Los Angeles, which along with Chicago is one of the largest communities of Lithuanians living outside of Lithuania. The heart of the community is at the Lithuanian church in Los Feliz, where they hold, among many things, Saturday language courses that are de rigeur for anyone born to Lithuanian heritage, as well as services and weddings, etc. Every year they also hold several festivals including a fair in October that lasts for three days. At these gatherings, a number of traditional dishes are offered. Much of Lithuanian cuisine revolves around potatoes, sour cream and bacon, such as kugelis, a sort of potato pudding baked in a casserole dish and topped with sour cream and bacon; blynai, potato pancakes topped with sour cream and bacon; and cepelinai, or "zeppelins", translated as "little blimps", a large potato dumpling with either pork or mushroom filling and topped with, you guessed it, sour cream and bacon. Though I find it quite impossible to go wrong with potatoes, sour cream and bacon, my personal favorite at these gatherings was always saltibarsciai, a dish whose name it took me quite some time to learn how to say, and even longer to remember how to spell. If I'm not mistaken it is roughly pronounced "shal-ti-BAR-shah". It should have this funny little "u" shape over the "S" but try as I might I have no idea how to make that symbol on my keyboard.

Saltibarsciai is a vegetarian cold beet soup, a little bit like borscht. In Lithuania it is traditionally eaten during the summer months, although it's eaten pretty much all year round in the Los Angeles community due to the warm climate in southern California. It's quite filling without being too heavy. A few years ago, as my first summer rolled around in Paris, and with it the hot humid weather, the first thing I did was email my Lithuanian friend in California to ask her to send me the recipe for saltibarsciai. Every year now, as soon as the weather turns balmy, I start to daydream about preparing a bowl of this lovely refreshing soup, with its crunchy cucumber, sweet and sour beets and dill. It is terribly easy to make, needs only to chill for several hours and if that isn't enough it's a very pleasing shade of fuschia, which may be off-putting at first to people who aren't used to pink food, but don't let that stop you from trying it. Eddie flipped out the first time I set a bowl of fluorescent pink soup in front of him, but now he is a converted fan.

The recipe calls for, among other things:

1 liter buttermilk: This was in the recipe I was originally given a few years back. However, I have heard that in Lithuania the recipe actually calls for kefir, which I had difficulty finding in California, which is why I have always used buttermilk. I have always thought that maybe some very liquidy yogurt or a mixture of yogurt and milk might work in a pinch, but I haven't tried that so I'm not certain how it would turn out. In France I look for lait fermenté at Monoprix.

Beets: Most recipes for saltibarsciai require boiling 1 pound of beets until tender and then peeling them and cutting them into matchsticks. However, the recipe I was originally handed suggested using a jar of pickled beets instead, liquid and all. I think this works nicely, it is less messy and time consuming and so I have therefore never deviated from this method. A bonus with using the pickled beets is that you get a nice sweet and sour element. In fact, if you do choose to boil beets instead I would suggest adding a dash of vinegar and a pinch of sugar in the final stages (actually that is something you can do anyway if you so desire).

All together now:

1 jar of pickled beets, julienned and reserving liquid OR
1lb raw beets, boiled, peeled and julienned, plus one cup of the boiled water, cooled

1 liter of buttermilk (or kefir, or yogurt, see above)
1 medium cucumber, julienned
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and yolks separated
a handful of scallions, chopped
1 bunch of dill, finely chopped
1 tsp salt

For garnish:
sour cream
8 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and cooled
a bit of the chopped dill

In a large bowl mash the scallions with the salt and the egg yolks to release the flavor. Coarsely chop the egg whites and add them to the bowl. Add the pickled beets along with their liquid, or else the boiled beets plus the cooled water used in the boiling. Add the cucumber and the buttermilk. Add about three fourths of the dill, setting aside a bit for garnish. If you like a more sweet and sour taste you can also add a dash of vinegar and/or a pinch of sugar. Stir, cover and chill for at least three hours.

Ladle into bowls and spoon a dollop of sour cream on top and a sprinkling of the remaining dill. Serve alongside 1 or 2 potatoes per person, which you will then dunk into the soup, one bite at a time.

Makes a lovely light dinner on a hot muggy summer evening. You can even drop a couple of ice cubes in there if it's a real scorcher of a night.

I shouldn't talk about Lithuania without mentioning Carra , who grew up in Lithuania and was a child during the revolution there and now lives in the Pyrenees with her British husband. I am certain she can pronounce "saltibarsciai" much better than I can.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Solar power parking meter

Solar power parking meter
Originally uploaded by Frenchpage.
New Page 1

This parking ticket distributer runs on solar energy from a panel on top

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

An ode to Paris in the summertime

Paris wakes up with the first signs of the warmth of summer.

It trudges lethargically later on, in August, when everyone but the tourists clears out, but for those first few warm days, which usually rear their heads in June, though sometimes as early as May, everyone looks at the city as though they had never seen it before. New summer dresses are still crisp and sandals have not yet rubbed feet into a blistered mess. Toenails are newly french manicured or painted red. Blindingly white winter skin begins to turn brown again, or in some cases, pink. Shoulders are bare, camisoles are the only way to go; indeed, there is no other way to beat the heat.

My insomnia has stuck. We both toss and turn in the crisp white sheets, the fan blowing warm air on us as we attempt to sleep. All the windows in the apartment stretched wide wide open, with the light from the moon and the street lamps pouring in, as though we were sleeping outdoors. We may as well be, not that it helps, not that it provides any relief from the heat. Usually I will just get up, go for a walk, attempt to write but the words just don't come. And neither does sleep.

My blogger's block has stuck too. Looking around it seems many other bloggers feel the same. But that's ok, because this is no time to be holed up indoors on the laptop. People have poured back into the streets and sidewalk cafes, taking advantage of the lateness of dusk, shunning sleep. Enjoying summer in the city. We are joining in.

A Friday evening in the cool dampness of the medieval cellar of a bar in the Latin Quarter to hear a friend of a friend's group play sultry music from all over the Spanish-speaking world: Spain, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina. The friend of the friend is a German girl who sings in Spanish, studied music in London, and now lives in France. If that's not Paris cosmopolitan for you then I don't know what is.

A Saturday night at a party at the home of a certain Parisienne bloggeuse, although leaving into the warm humid midnight before the real debauchery with egg tossing and dressing up as royalty began. Whose tart mojitos helped me to sleep soundly that night, the only time this week.

A Sunday, early evening, after the heat of the blistering afternoon sun has mercifully let up, lying in the soft cool grass in the park nearby, his head on my lap, sharing a can of Coke, listening to some long-haired youths playing guitar nearby, simply staring up at the blue sky, until dusk began to fall. Then slowly heading home, pouring ice cold rosé into wine glasses, slicing ripe red tomatoes and plucking pungent dark green basil leaves for a meal inspired by the season, with blushing apricots for dessert.

The city gets under my skin when it is like this, and all I can do is just go with it…

Monday, June 12, 2006

Beep Beep

When I was a car owner, nothing annoyed me more easily than the car in front of me gently swerving from left to right, going five miles an hour, not paying attention to the road and narrowly missing the bus pulling out from the stop, who would honk angrily. A glance through their windshield as I put on my blinker and sped up momentarily to pass them almost inevitably proved that they had a cell phone glued to their ear, oblivious to the fact that they were steering a few tons of metal down Wilshire Blvd in the afternoon rush.

I no longer drive, but now whenever I'm trying to make my way along the crowded sidewalk on the rue de Rivoli (a difficult feat, as you most certainly know if you've ever gone shopping on Rivoli), someone will unexpectedly make a large swerving left turn out of the Zara and cut into my pedestrian lane without checking over their shoulder, then proceed to gently swerve from left to right while going five feet an hour, forcing me to calculate their next move so I can momentarily speed up to pass on the left, without crashing into oncoming shoppers. Almost inevitably, they are chatting blissfully ignorantly away on a cell phone.

I think politicians should be doing something about this, and leaving the internet neutral...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Blue Sand in the Jardin

Blue Sand in the Jardin
Originally uploaded by Frenchpage.
Jardin de Luxembourg

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Blogger's block

Don't know why but this week I've got a bit of "blogger's block". Maybe it has to do with the weather turning lovely again and wanting to sit out in the park instead of holed up in the living room tapping away on the laptop, or maybe my mind is churning with summer plans and all the things I want to do while the weather is nice: evening picnics, weekend trips to the beach, day trips to the lake, renting a rowboat at the Bois, downing as much Berthillon as possible, and of course, the inevitable influx of visitors. I actually had a bout of insomnia the other night, which is odd because I never ever have insomnia, but I attribute it to both a full brain and the fact that it is getting lighter earlier and that messes me up a bit. Insomnia can sometimes be a blessing, as I learned while taking advantage of being awake at 3am to talk to friends on MSN who are normally only online in the late afternoon in California, and then taking a five am stroll up to Montmartre with the baffled dog (who is not accustomed to being taken out by her owner at such an ungodly hour).

Montmartre was calm and empty, I have never seen the art market on the Place de Tertre with absolutely nobody in it. It's probably the only time in my life I've walked through that place without being badgered by at least three of those artists who sketch portraits for tourists. The streets were empty too, with only a light on in the back of the bakeries for the baker baking bread for the morning rush of people, and a few waiters in locked cafes beginning to take chairs off of tables. It was a very pleasant temperature, warmish with a cool snap. Up at Sacré-Coeur, the city of Paris was lit from the east in soft pink light. There was no one around except for some early birds walking dogs and one woman photographing the cathedral. I also noticed tons of pigeons everywhere. I wasn't sure if there were more pigeons than usual, or if it was just because there weren't any people around that it seemed like there were a lot of them. I was kicking myself for not having brought my camera in order to take some pictures of Paris in this quiet hour to post on the blog, since it most likely will be quite a long time before I'm ever out and about at that hour again. But then I decided, well, perhaps that moment was mine, and perhaps you will just have to come to Paris and take a morning walk to have your own moment.

So anyway, blogger's block. I'd like to instead refer to some posts of other Parisian bloggers who posted entries that I was delighted by and in some instances, could relate to:

-Mrs B in Paris has posted a five-part guide for tourists visiting Paris that is very comprehensive, which I will be referring to my influx of summer visitors as required reading.

-Etienne Marcel mentioned a restaurant with a four course vegetarian menu in the 20th arrondissement. I am so there.

-Maitresse wrote about reverse culture shock when returning to the US for a visit. I love these and am looking forward to my next visit to the US so I can compose my own list.

-Catty at Paris is an Old Dog has a nice anecdote about why she loves the south of France and a trip she took there with her former Frenchie a few years ago.

-Finally, I love this new blog, Paris Breakfasts, which is all about cafes in Paris with a few nice watercolors thrown in for good measure.

Some more posts will be churned out in a few days, but for now, the sun is shining, and I'm off to go sit on a bench in the park with a book and the ipod....