Friday, August 25, 2006

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral
Originally uploaded by Frenchpage.
New Page 1

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Dans ma valise, je mets:

French Elle is one of my guilty pleasures. I don't get it every week, but I do snap it up whenever something on the cover catches my attention. At the beginning of July, they had an article entitled "Dans Ma Valise, Je Mets...", roughly translated as, "What's In My Suitcase". For no good reason other than it is fun, here's What's In My Suitcase for our late season week at the beach, in which we hopefully escape this utterly rotten weather that has plagued Paris this August. I think everyone must have prayed just a little too hard for the heat of July to go away:

Dans ma valise, je mets:
-2 bathing suits
-1 pareo, purchased in a street market in Portugal years ago
-1 sundress
-1 pair of linen pants
-Shoes: a pair of flip flops, a pair of walking sandals, a pair of ankle-tie espadrille wedges, and Converse (Yes Eddie I do need four pairs of shoes for one week)
-several plain t-shirts
-1 windbreaker
-digital camera
-moleskine notebook and pen
-Reading material
-guidebooks (checked out at the library)
-Er, Elle magazine
-beach towels, including one for the dog
-a picnic backpack, I love this thing, it has little cracks and crevices to hold plates, cups and silverware
-a frisbee
-highway maps
-driver's license
-and if all else fails, an ibook with some downloads and a few DVDs, in case it rains.

Regular posting to return in a week and a half...

Friday, August 18, 2006

Des vrais Parisiens...pour de vrai

About a year or two ago, there was an amusing article in the Paris publication Zurban entitled "One Hundred Ways To Know If You Are A Real Parisian". It's a well known fact that most "Parisians" were not actually born in Paris, but in the provinces. Kind of like many people who consider themselves New Yorkers who were born in Kalamazoo. Well anyway, some of the high points of the article included:

Number 23: You know that Paris is recognized worldwide as having the best museums in the world, but you haven't set foot in one since 1988. (This is eerily true, the last time Eddie went to the Louvre was when the glass pyramid opened up).

Number 58: You know the best places in the city to watch the sunset, that aren't packed with tourists such as Sacré Coeur and the Eiffel Tower (hmm, I'd like to get around figuring that one out)

and last but not least, the incredibly true number 76:

You know you are a real Parisian if you venture out of the metro to take the bus.

It's an odd phenomenon, but many people, when they first either visit or move to Paris, have a phobia of the bus. Myself included. I'd been living here for two years before I took a deep breath one afternoon and decided to attempt to get from the Jardin de Luxembourg to the Piscine Butte aux Cailles on the bus. And I was up at the front window, glancing every ten seconds at the map above the door to count how many stops I had left, ringing the bell miles before my stop, and then performing some judo moves on fellow passengers to be sure to get right in front of the exit so there was no chance the bus would shut its doors and carry me off to the banlieue. Just last week, having dinner with a newly expatriated American who moved to Paris a month ago, coming out of the restaurant at 11pm Eddie suggested he could avoid having a metro change by taking the bus, which was direct. NO WAY! the expatriate exclaimed. I'm not ready to use the bus yet.

It's true that riding the metro is considered by many visitors to be one of the most quintessential parts of Paris living, and that may explain in part the initial reluctance to hop on the bus. I know that was the case for me. Even if it's smelly and crowded and unbearably hot in the summer, coming from a city obsessed with car culture, the Paris metro was a brilliant marvel to me. I actually went out of my way to ride it, and my heart would flutter with joy whenever a performer would get on and begin a loud rendition of the accordion theme from Amelie and then come around afterwards to passer le chapeau, or dixie cup as was often the case. But then one day, I realized that to get to the Champs Elysees, I would have to take one metro south and then change and then another line west to get there, whereas I could hop on a bus and be there in about ten minutes without changing. And so, it has come to happen that I'm a converted Parisian bus user, that I seek out possible buses instead of the metro, especially if I'm in a new neighborhood so as to get my bearings.

I do suggest taking the bus. Some of those routes are really pretty and will take you past many historic sites. Line 72 will start you off at Hotel de Ville and will take you up the right bank along the river, past the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens, through Concorde, then past the Pont Alexandre III and Trocadero with a great unobstructed view of the Eiffel Tower from across the river. And Line 27 will drive you through the Louvre courtyard at night, with the pyramid and museum all lit up and the Eiffel tower sparkling in the background. Now that is sight to behold, that never fails to impress even the most seasoned Parisiens...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Rose of summer

What would a blog based in France be without at least one reference to wine? Not a very complete blog, if you ask me.

The New York Times announces that rosé is the summer drink du jour. After years of being shunned as cloying, pink wine, it seems, is coming into its own. Perhaps there will be no more guffawing when someone suggests white zinfandel.

We go through quite a bit of rosé in the summertime in this household, I like to think it is in part due to Eddie's Provence roots, but it's also just really light and refreshing and goes with summery foods. I don't much care to drink a heavy red on a warm evening. On a trip to Marseille last summer, I was surprised when we went into more homey neighborhood cafes and ordered a carafe of local rosé, they would often bring us a bucket of ice cubes to drop into our glasses. Now, I'm no connoisseur, but I was brought up to believe that putting ice cubes in wine was just about the biggest gaffe one could commit. But we actually found it be pleasant, depending on the wine, and so now we put ice cubes in our rosé at home during the summer, and sometimes even mix in some sparkling water to make a variation on a wine spritzer. I wouldn't do this with a really good wine, but for the everyday stuff, why the heck not...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A windy, rainy day in Paris, in 2002

In the year 2002, I joined the masses of Americans who had been coming to Paris for years, decades, centuries even, for what I thought would be (ahem) a two month stay in Paris. Fresh off the plane at CDG, visions of a Hemingway existence were dancing in my head, complete with hours spent in cafes writing in notebooks and making Shakespeare and Company bookstore my second home (though I wasn't too keen on the whole Hunger Was Good Discipline bit). I decided to enroll in a short fiction writing class. It took place on the second floor of a cafe and coffee was included in the price of the course. How utterly fitting.

A few days ago, going through some old papers, I came across my first assignment with the class. We were supposed to do a ten-minute, freewriting exercise on a recent trip we had taken. Because it was a freewrite, it's choppy and ends abruptly, but as I was reading this, it brought back a lot of memories of my first impressions of the city that I was just setting out to discover.

A recent trip

I arrived in Paris on a windy, stormy afternoon in March. It wasn't particularly cold, but rain poured down very heavily all day. I was relieved to walk off the airplane after eleven hours and very happy it had not exploded somewhere over the Atlantic. (Note: this was only a few months after 9/11, my already strong dislike of flying was in full force at this time.)
My first thought upon driving into town was that the city was gray. Not just because of the storm clouds, but the buildings were gray, the sidewalks as well, even the river was a grayish green color. This was quite a shock to me, coming from the brilliant orange light in Los Angeles.
I wanted very much to have a look at the Eiffel tower, and so after dropping my suitcase at the hotel, I fought back my jet lag and headed out with my dog into the rain to catch my first sight of it. Despite my raincoat and umbrella, I was soaked by the time I stood underneath its arches. The cuffs of my pants were drenched. The dog's fur was dripping. I decided to duck into a cafe to get dry, and see if the rumors were true, that dogs really were allowed in cafes and restaurants in Paris. I found a very Parisian-looking cafe on a little side street and taking a deep breath, marched through the door and waited to be told I couldn't come in with the dog. Instead, the waiter gave my dog a pat on the head, and directed me to a table by the window. The dog flopped down under the table at my feet and began snoozing. I ordered a cafe creme and, holding it between my palms to warm my hands, looked out through the window into the wet street with its rushing gutters and trees swaying heavily in the fierce wind.

Chinese lanterns at Paris Plage

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hey Mango

Mangos. I heart them to pieces. More like to drippy messy slices.

I ate my first mango at the age of sixteen on a trip to Brazil to visit my best friend who was studying there for a year. I was so taken with this fruit that when I think back on my food and drink consumption during that visit, the things that immediately spring to mind are Brazilian cafezinho (Brazilian coffee boiled with sugar, strained through a cloth strainer and served in little cups with sweetened condensed milk), Guaraná soda pop (made from a local tropical fruit, with an extraordinarily high caffeine content), and ripe mangos. Yep, I was one wired little sixteen year old when I got back home from that vacation.

For years after that trip, I eagerly looked forward to the months in which mangos were in season. I would always eat them plain, perhaps with a bit of yogurt, and then one day about eight years ago I was walking around the Garment District in downtown Los Angeles, and I saw a teenage girl chattering in Spanish and selling mangos which had been peeled and sliced and wrapped in a paper towel, for a dollar each. What intrigued me was that after she cut the mango, she would sprinkle some lime juice and salt and chili powder all over the slices. Given my fondness for odd and unusual and seemingly contrasting taste experiences (I recently subjected Eddie to Pesto Fraise Basilic), I got in line and watched as she peeled and sliced an orange mango, wrapped it in bit of newspaper, and handed it to me.

"What, no lime and chili and salt?" I asked her, my face falling.

She looked a little surprised. "Oh, you want all that? Chili too?"

"Well duh" I said, though probably not in those words exactly.

She sprinkled the mango with a dash of salt and a bit of chili and stuffed a lime wedge in between the slices, and handed it to me.

From that day forth, nearly every mango I've ever prepared for myself has been sprinkled with lime, chili and salt, though I've met a few folks who use cayenne pepper instead of chili powder. Since then, I've come across another delightful recipe at other street food vendors in Los Angeles that is similar but takes it a step further: Combine cucumber and jicama along with the mango, peel and slice all three into thick spears, arrange the spears in a glass or a plastic cup if you're feeling environmentally naughty, and sprinkle with lime, a pinch of salt and just a quick dash of cayenne, not too much as it's quite fiery. A very refreshing and exotic snack, especially during these hot summer months, and hey, the catch phrase "fat-free and lo-cal" never hurts, does it?

But the lovely mango is a ubiquitous world traveler, and can be found in a variety of prepared forms. There's the mango lassi of Indian origins, a yogurt drink that can be served either sweet or salty and provides a particularly pleasing coolness to counteract the spicy heat of that cuisine. Also served on the south Asian subcontinent are green mangos that have been picked before they have ripened and are subsequently crunchy and slightly tart, and are prepared as mentioned in the previous paragraph, with lime and chili powder. Having never been east of Turkey, I've yet to get my sticky fingers on this yummy sounding treat, but I do hope that one day, green mangos will be mine. In France, Berthillon makes a mean mango sorbet, so flavorful that I've actually wondered if it isn't simply just a frozen puréed mango, and nothing else. Finally, when one requests the dessert menu in Thai restaurants in the western United States, more often than not it will list fresh mango served with coconut sticky rice. This is another one of my very favorite dishes, although if you are anything like me, a trip to a Thai restaurant often involves stuffing myself with so much pad thai, that I sadly have to push the coconut rice to the side of my plate and head straight for the mango itself...