vendredi, septembre 22, 2006

Shop-Talk over Champagne

The first thing I did this morning was relish the experience of sleeping in. In the past two weeks, I had been forced to come in to work on a Friday to cover for lost time or to take care of something pressing. This Friday, I had made sure there was nothing that couldn't wait till Monday. It was delicious. Of course, that didn't stop a certain someone at the Centre from calling me at home to ask me some IT support questions, but that was a merely a few minutes of distraction from otherwise blissful sloth.

For breakfast, I had a Petit Suisse which I'm pretty sure is what God would eat for breakfast. It's the French equivalent to German Quark; it's extremely fresh cow's milk cheese that hasn't been yet been salted. It's somewhere between very fresh and soft cream cheese and rather solid yogurt. Since it's neither salty nor sweet, you can top it with sugar, jams, fresh fruit, or you can mix it with savory things to make sauces and spreads (e.g. lox or roasted onions). It's especially popular as a breakfast for little kids, because it's a rather concentrated wallop of milk solids and milkfat, but made delicious with the addition of sugar or jams. Of course, I couldn't help but smear my petit suisse with Bonne Maman strawberry jam.

Eventually, I did have to get dressed and leave my apartment. I had planned on making this chicken in mushroom-cream sauce that I'm particularly fond of, but I still needed a few ingredients. Besides, I needed a baguette. Rather than go to my usual boulangerie, I tried another one a bit further down the street. I felt like I should really shop around before I commit to a boulangerie. It's an important relationship, after all.

In the end, the baguette I got from the "other" boulangerie was wonderfully soft and fresh inside and had a very light crust that didn't scrape the roof of my mouth like many baguettes do. But a few hours later, the baguette was already hardening to a rock-like consistency. Today's lesson: don't buy a baguette from that place down the street unless you're going to eat it immediately.

Dinner was great. I prepared two chicken thighs in a creamy sauce made from browned onions, pan-seared oyster mushrooms, a fair bit of garlic, and crème fraîche. The secret ingrediet is the crème fraîche, which is somehow a bit different from the kind of stuff you find in N. America; crème fraîche is exactly what is sounds like: milk cream that has been coagulated with milk bacteria to the consistency of a Greek yogurt. It's like sour cream that isn't sour. However, crème fraîche has a couple of important advantages over sour cream: it can be made into whipped cream and it doesn't curdle when boiled. Thus, you can make delicious cream sauces where the cream forms part of the cooking base, rather than folding in the cream at the end of the process.

I didn't have the presence of mind to photograph the process of making this cream chicken, and I think I messed up a couple of steps, so I'm going to try it again in a week and photo-blog it. But, for the record, it was delicious! I at the chicken things and put the cream sauce over a bed of rotini, which filled me nearly to exploding in a way that I haven't felt in weeks, which was a bit of a problem because...

...I was supposed to go out tonight. You see, I had this friend of a friend of a friend (who by now is simply "a friend") who is Parisian and still has a sister living in Paris. I had contacted her sister shortly after getting here, but she was busy and I was busy, so we didn't get around to seeing each other until tonight. The plan was for drinks somewhere downtown, and I got a text message around 8pm saying "Let's meet on Place des Vosges around 10h30." So, I finished my dinner and then spent about 1.5 hours trying to somehow will my body to digest my dinner faster, so I wouldn't explode at the first sip of liquid.

What I didn't realize until I got there was that B. (for the sake of confidentiality, I'm referring to her by an initial that may or may not correspond to a part of her name) had also brought along her friends, which made for lively evening of conversation. At first there were 4 of us, but in a moment 3 more people showed up and yet another a few moments after that. We ordered a bottle of champagne (32€) for the table, and worked our way through 3 bottles by the end of the evening.

I sat beside a young woman, J., who struck up the now-familiar line of questioning about what I was up to in France. Rather than being tired of this, I really enjoy having this conversation over and over since my arrival, because it allows me to verbally work out my project afresh and also forces me to find the right words for it in French. I've discovered that the best way to sum up my project in French terms is to say that I'm working on an anthropological project on electronic music and its cultures. Once I had told her as much, I. was full of helpful suggestions. I should definitely check out the gay clubs, she said. Unlike the N. America, where the dedicated techno and house scenes have moved out of predominantly gay locales in the last decade or so, French (and, from what I gather, European) "electro" finds its leading edge as much in gay clubs as straight ones. She was a bit puzzled at why I had chosen Paris as a fieldwork site over Berlin or London or Ibiza, so I explained that a lot of it had to do with what resources were available (i.e., my job at the Centre) and what language skills I had. Also, there's a certain advantage to working at a site that isn't necesarily the world-capital of a particular musical genre. There's still a lot of "field" left to "work" in Paris, and my hope is that the electro scenes are a bit more intimately connected here.

J. also had an interesting observation to make about electronic music in Paris. More so than in N. America, electronic dance music genres form a part of the mainstream as well as the underground (with scare quotes around both terms). So, you can go to minimal techno / microhouse events like that ones I've been to the past two saturdays, and then hear some of the same stuff while shopping at Zara or H&M. In a sense, EDM (electronic dance music) is more a part of general, everyday life here, while there are still spaces and events that inscribe communities of connoisseurs and devotees.

I also learned a great new word from J.: "bobo." Similar to "bogo" in the states, "bobo" is a short form for "bourgeois bohème." That is, a class of moneyed bourgeoisie that prefer a veneer of dissipation. She was quick to maintain that bobo neighborhoods were still glamorous, just a bit décalé (lit. "shifted forward or backward, staggered"; here, more like "urban decay" or "run-down").

Among the people at the table there were 4 American students, all of them involved in different programs at the Université de Paris. Two of them were Northwestern students on study-abroad programs, so what do you think happened when Northwestern students and a U of C student get together? Shop talk. Heidegger. Adorno. Authenticity. Oh my! Despite the nerdiness of the moment that was very Chicago, I got some good pointers on Heidegger, so it was well worth the geek-out.

With a not insignificant amount of Champagne in me, I wandered off with B. and her friends as we made our separate ways home. A few of us went to Bastille to pick up the night buses (it was around 2am), but I quickly realized that my bus line ran through République, so I hoofed it about 1km north and finally caught my bus home.

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