Yes. OK. Alright. I know. I know, dammit.
I’ve been absent from this here blog since the end of April, and you’ve been worried sick. I’m so sorry ; I didn’t mean to deprive you of the voyeuristic peephole into my life that this blog provides you, which is totally not creepy at all. I even got a message on my MySpace page from a worried friend, asking for at least some more closeup images of sausages. I see: you’ve missed me so much, you’re willing to settle for pictures of my sausage.
I’m sorry, OK? Stop sulking like that. Let me try to make it up to you. Here’s the first ¾ of the month of May, all smooshed into one long-ass post, in quasi-chronological order. I’ve included most of the important details (what I ate) and such. You see, on the last day of April I flew to NYC to spend a week with my sister—which was interrupted by a quick one-day visit to our hometown to see our new niece and to attend some bull!@#$ conference that my sister had to make an appearance at for her work. Then, Carla came back to Paris with me and we spent a week together here. Then, the day before Carla left, my friends Kristy and Iyn arrived at my door and stayed for another 11 days or so. I just packed them into a plane yesterday, so I haven’t been near my blog for nearly a month.
So without further ado, The Please-Don’t-Stop-Reading-My-Blog Catch-Up Super-Post (s):
Part the First: NYC w/ Carla
- This trip involved tons and tons of walking. Whether in Central Park, all the way from the Upper East Side to Union Square, Jackson Heights, Harlem, The Bronx, or Coney Island, we were walking machines, I tell you. Mercifully, Carla and I are very similar tourists, so this is pretty much all we want from a vacation. Well, that and food.
- April 30th : Over at CDG in Paris, me and nearly 40 people nearly missed the flight to NYC thanks to some insane security checks that USA-bound flights are now apparently required to do. There were nearly 200 people in line for all of the American Airlines flights (they had all the lines merged) and there were 4 people with laptops at the front of the line, spending nearly 10 minutes with each group of travelers, asking them detailed questions about their trip to the US, where they were staying, their occupation, the contents of their luggage, how long they’ve owned the items in the luggage, etc. And all of this was before you even reached the check-in counter. Upon seeing this in action in the airport, Dorothy Parker’s immortal words came to mind: “What fresh hell is this?” Suffice it to say, things were a total mess, and when the 1-hour deadline came and went, the head check-in clerk started to tell her underlings to close the flight to NYC. The 40 or so Francophone passengers at the front of the line waved at her frantically and made it clear that nearly half of the plane was still waiting to check in. When she tried to imply that this was our fault for waiting until the last moment to check in, she was quickly shouted down. Most of us arrived 2.5 – 3.0 hours early precisely to avoid this stupidness. Anyway, I caught my fucking plane and got to fucking NYC just fucking fine, thank you very fucking much. Fuckity fuck fuck. Carla was working until late, so I went for a short walk, had some lunch, and then bought the fixin’s for some curry, which I whipped up for her so that she would have something to eat after getting out of work at nearly 10pm.
- May 1st : While Carla was at her last day of work before her vacation started, I walked all the way down Lexington Avenue from 67th St. to Union Square (14th St.), then back up Broadway to Central Park. I was just a little chafed after all of that, I admit. When Carla got off work, we headed down to Chelsea and then walked across the island to the Lower East Side, where we got dinner at The Essex. Carla had some sort of lamb thing that seemed quite nice, but I had this amazing “New American”-style mac-and-cheese made with Manchego cheese, which nearly required a change of underwear. After that, Carla and I met my cousin and her husband—who were in town for the weekend—at some rather swanky cocktail bar where we proceeded to get pretty drunk. We ended the night by walking through the Apple Store near Central Park, which is open 24 hours. Seriously.
- May 2nd : Yay, vacation time for Carla! We slept in, and then headed over to Jackson Park for brunch. On a recommendation from one of her ex-coworkers, we headed to some random Columbian restaurant for a sort of late brunch / lunch. Carla had some sort of chicken platter with a ton of side dishes, while I had a whole fish baked in peppers and surrounded by fried plantain and yucca (cassava / manioc). It was fantastic and only twice as much food as either of us realistically needed. We were convinced that we would both be going to the gym religiously, so we bought a pair of rather dodgy gym shorts for me, so that I could accompany her to her fancy Manhattan gym. I never put them on during the entirety of my stay. While dropping off my sister’s clothes at the cleaners, we got distracted by the nice weather and ended up wandering through all of Central Park and a good chunk of the Upper West Side. By evening, it was clear that I was coming down with some sort of cold, so we cancelled our more adventurous dinner plans and just walked to the Baker Street Pub, which apparently served the best burgers in the neighborhood and had an Irish waitress for extra pubby authenticity or something. Good times, although my memory of the evening was a bit hazed out by the onset of whatever it was I had caught.
- May 3rd : Started with a morning appointment at the Art of Shaving booth in Bloomingdales for a proper straight-razor shave. The barber was nice enough and seemed to know what he was doing, but he kept on talking through the whole thing, which made me nervous. After all, he has a very sharp blade to my throat. He did manage to nick me on my upper lip, which he tried to explain away as an “ingrown hair” that got in the way. Sure, buddy. Anyway, we met my cousin and her husband at PioPio for a pile of delicious Peruvian food, which was actually very authentically done. The ceviche was delish, as was the roast chicken, the parihuela (a Peruvian seafood soup) and whatever other stuff we ordered. It was a bit of a food orgy. After that, Carla and I walked down around Union Square and I eventually ended up buying the Nintendo DSi that I had been eyeing for a while. What an excellent (time-wasting) investment that has been. I’m only disappointed that there aren’t more language-learning / iPhone-like applications available for the platform. There’s an online shop for applications, after all. Aaanyway, we ended up ordering in sushi and having an early night of it, since we had a painfully early flight tomorrow morning.
- May 4th : quick trip to London, Ontario. Scroll down to the section on our trip to London for the details.
- May 5th : After yet another excruciatingly early flight back from Canada, we unpacked at Carla’s place and then headed down to the Clinton Street Bakery in the Lower East Village for some grub. There were plans to see the New Bowery art museum / gallery, but apparently most museums in NYC close on Tuesday, so we just went straight to the food. On the way back walking along Houston, Carla showed me a few of the old-fashioned Jewish delis, which were mobbed with locals and tourists alike. Dinner involved some lovely Japanese home-style coking at a restaurant called Donguri [LINK], in the company of a Japanese friend of my sister. The food was lovely, if rather expensive for the portions and ingredients.
- May 6th : in the morning, we had a lovely but also somewhat sad walk along the boardwalk of Coney Island. That place seems to be well on its way out of existence ; most of it seemed closed and half-abandoned. We joined one of my old roommates from the Berlin days at Grimaldi’s, which is apparently an insanely-famous pizza place in Brooklyn. The pizza was definitely delicious and reasonably priced, although I’ll stop short of saying it was the best I’ve ever had. After that, Carla and I walked around the current ground-zero of NYC yupsters (yuppie hipsters), Dumbo (“down under the Brooklyn bridge”), which was rich in coffee shops and conceptual “gallery” stores. Carla needed to take care of some work before our departure to Paris the next day, so I made myself scarce by heading down to The Strand near Union Square. I got really distracted and managed to spend several hours digging through the 1$ racks. I scored (among other things) “Die Besten Erstlesungeschichte für Mädchen” (“The best starting-reader stories for girls”), which was at about my level of German : OMG ponies! Seriously, there’s a picture of a pony on the front cover. Anyway, I took way too long to get back to Carla’s place and we ended up just having a light dinner and drinks at an Italian wine bar near Carla’s place with another friend of hers.
- May 7th : Carla was belatedly reminded that she had agreed to let some friend’s friends stay at her place while she was gone, so she suddenly felt the need to give the place a thorough cleaning before our departure this afternoon. I got out of her hair by heading up to the Bronx and taking myself on a long, long walking tour through the South Bronx and then down through Harlem. It was amazing to see places in upper Harlem that were still abandoned from even before the housing crisis. I had just assumed that all real-estate on Manhattan was taken and overpriced. Anyway, we regrouped in the afternoon for some gut-bustingly dense soul food up in Harlem and then headed over to JFK for our flight.
Part the Second: One-day trip to London, Ontario
- So we headed out at about 4am Monday morning (the 4th) to the airport and had a relatively uneventful trip over to Toronto and then to London. The only shitty thing was that I wasn’t able to do a web check-in, nor was I able to check in at the self-service kiosk. I think someone with my name has been added to the no-fly list, because for every flight beginning or ending in the US during the trip, advance check-in was mysteriously unavailable and the counter clerk had to call some central agency, read off all of the data on my passport, and then wait for some sort of approval before booking me. Hooray surveillance state!
- Anyway, our parents picked us up at the airport and then we headed over to my brother’s apartment, who was post-call (as a nephrology resident) and left alone with the baby for the weekend. As you can imagine, he was in bad shape. We coerced him into putting on some clean clothes and going for lunch, while the rest of us took turns feeding and cuddling and entertaining my new niece. “Grandma” and “grandpa” (i.e., my parents) were thrilled to fawn over her during lunch, giving my brother much-needed time to devour a whole rack of ribs. We went to Montana’s for lunch, since chain restaurants tend to be more baby-friendly.
- Aurorita (my niece) is, of course, the most beautiful and talented baby in the whole world, as judged by an unbiased panel of her parents, grandparents, and uncle and aunt. She is generally a very happy and non-fussy baby, although her poops are more powerful than whatever North Korea is currently working on. Jeezus.
- After dropping my brother back off at the apartment, my sister went to our hotel room to prepare for her conference and I disappeared with my parents. We swung back by the farm to pick up some yarn and knitting needles, and then I spent the rest of the drive into town knitting a slipcase for my Nintendo DSi. After a long walk around the downtown area, we ended up back in Victoria Park, where we spent some time sitting in the sun and enjoying the weather while I continued to work furiously on the slipcase. Ahh, bliss.
- That evening, while my sister was trapped in a series of no doubt unpleasant dinner meetings, mom and dad and I went to this Cantonese restaurant on Springbank Drive that was situated in an old Tim Horton’s building. Boy, was that odd. Nonetheless, the food was excellent. Not only was it the best Chinese food of any regional style that I’ve had in London, Ontario, but it ranks among the best Cantonese I’ve ever had. The Peking duck was extraordinary, and the various dishes with mysterious names that my mom ordered were all delicious in turn. Apparently, she had been there a week earlier with a Chinese delegation and she took notes and came back demanding the same dishes. The waitress was a bit surprised when she gave us “gwai lo” (whitey) menus and then my mom started ordering all this stuff from the Chinese menu. Anyway, Carla arrived after her last meeting and managed to try a few of the dishes before calling it quits. We were painfully, painfully full.
- We had another painfully early flight the next day, so we went straight to the hotel and crashed and then headed back out at 4am to the airport for another round of airport-tag.
Part the Third: Carla in Paris
- May 8th : I actually had to go into work the same afternoon as we arrived into Paris to run a teleconference, so we had no time to be jetlagged. We had a light lunch and then took out Vélib bikes and headed over to my workplace (Carla’s experience biking in Manhattan has apparently prepared her well for Paris’s streets). While Carla went for a walk in Bercy park across the water, I set up the teleconference. By 19h00 or so, things wrapped up and we headed back to my neighborhood. Since we were already feeling tired, we decided to be lazy and have dinner directly underneath my apartment, at L’Homme Bleu. This Moroccan/Berber restaurant has a favorable review on Le Fooding and it always smells fantastic in the hallways of my building at about 19h00 each evening, so I was happy to finally try the place out. The food was delicious if a bit pricey for home-style Moroccan fare, but there was no doubting the quality and the generous portions. Between the sheer quantity of food we consumed and the buckets of wine, we were totally ready to crash by the end of dinner (keep in mind we didn’t really sleep on the plane).
- May 9th : The day started with a trip to the an outdoor market on boulevard de Charonne, where we managed to acquire a tasty, tasty whole chicken. We made lunch out of it (with an almost perfunctory salad) and then tried to walk off the food over in the 17th arrondissement. An old friend that lived in the area had us over for a cup of tea, and then we went for a little meandering walk through her neighborhood of Batignolles. That evening, we went over to the house of a colleague of mine, who made us an excellent dinner—especially so considering that she was getting ready to leave for Chicago the next day. I only have vague memories of the dinner (thanks to some great wine I brought), but fresh asparagus was involved and so were some paupiettes, little dumplings usually made of ground meat stuffed into thin sheets of other meat.
- May 10th : This day started as a leisurely stroll through Le Marais (which is one of the few neighborhoods open on Sunday, thanks to its history as a Jewish district), punctuated by a visit to L’As du Fallafel for Lenny-Kravitz-approved falafels and fancy hand-made marshmallows at Boulangerie Malineau on rue vieille du temple. We managed to walk all over the islands on the Seine and then back up to my neighborhood, where we had a sort of “dinner” at Le Bague de Kenza. Of course, I put that in quotation marks because what we really had was a few small savoury pastries followed by a mountain of sweet, sweet Algerian pastries. God, that was a huge pile of delicious sin.
- May 11th : I don’t quite remember what we did during the day (after work for me, anyway), but we ended up having dinner at Nos Ancêtres les Gaulois, this odd restaurant on l’Ile Saint-Louis that apparently attempts to approximate Celto-Gallic cooking. The “salad” course is a massive basket of raw vegetables delivered to your table, which you hack away at until it is delivered to another table. There’s a self-serve cutting table at the front of the restaurant with a wide collection of prepared meats, including dry sausages, smoked meats, terrines, rillettes, and bean salads. You refilled your wine jug from a big barrel near the front of the restaurant, just opposite a massive pair of bison horns (or something similar). When you’re done your “appetizers,” a waiter comes over and asks you what cut of meat you want and how to have it cooked, and then they grill it for you over a charcoal oven right there in the restaurant. Considering that the desserts were clearly pre-made and probably supplied by a third-party kitchen, the only substantial service required of the staff was the grilling of the meat, so we wondered why the place had such a large staff. A staff, coincidentally, that were all relatively young, male, brown-haired, about the same height, and with similar Mediterranean / south-French looks. Carla quickly wove a complex backstory of gay sex and nepotism between the creepy manager and his stable of boytoy waitsaff, which caused us to spend the rest of the meal over-interpreting the smallest gesture from the personnel and nearly falling out of our chairs with barely-suppressed laughter. Oh, and we made friends with this quartet of very, very, very wealthy Mexicans at the table next to us.
- May 12th : Of course, Carla couldn’t very well visit without a trip to Les Trois Marmites, where we had, for 21€, a better three-course meal than you can have for 61€ elsewhere in Paris. Delicious as always.
- May 13th : Whenever Carla and I are alone in Paris, we splurge on at least one fancy, fancy dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Tonight it was Pierre Gagnaire, who has a reputation for offering very innovative creations in his tasting menu. It was, of course, excellent, but only a few of the 9 courses in the tasting menu were really earth-shakingly amazing. Generally speaking, he was really strong in the desserts and sweet-tasting things, but his meat and fish courses were less strong and his vegetable-centric appetizers were delicate but lacked the sort of spark and creativity for which he is supposed to be renowned. The service was very attentive and earnest, but lacked the sort of effortless poise and near-flawless care that we witnessed at Taillevent about two years ago.
- May 14th : Carla really wanted to revisit Taillevent again, but we certainly couldn’t do two massive three-star dinners in one trip, so we made lunch reservations and did the three-course lunch menu (with two additional “sneaky courses”, as Carla called them). In general, our memories of the place were confirmed: every dish brought to our table was a revelation in deliciousness—a sort of arresting experience that often left us struggling to maintain composure; the service responsive, perfectly timed, and graceful without ever hovering or intruding; and the whole thing cost us about a third of our previous night’s dinner. To be fair, this was the lunch menu, but even Taillevent’s dinner menu is about 30% cheaper than Pierre Gagnaire’s. You can count us among those Parisian diners that don’t understand why this place was demoted to two stars. That night, by the way, we went to an Uighur restaurant up the street from my apartment (rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud). The food involved a lot of hand-pulled noodles, vaguely familiar spice mixes, and a texture that was somewhere between a curry and a stir-fry. Delicious and cheap. Between lunch and dinner, we had spent the day at the Bois de Vincennes admiring the castle, the chapel, the temporary exhibit of Bulgarian Icons, and then the floral park, which was gorgeous even in the pouring rain. Rhododendron season!
Part the Fourth: May 16th, One Night of Partying
- Even though this happened after my sister had left and my other houseguests had arrived, this still felt like it was “in-between” their overlapping visits, so here it is.
- After having dinner with Kristy & Iyn and leaving them to succumb to jet-lag at my place, I headed out to a friend’s birthday party at her boyfriend’s place near Bastille. At the party (which was otherwise lovely), some couple that nobody seemed to have invited got very drunk and proceeded to make out, grope, dry-hump, and quite possibly fuck all over the apartment. This included one moment when the girl spilled part of her drink while trying to jump up on her partner, and then he slipped on the puddle and crashed onto the (new) hardwood floor right on top of her. Both of them were too drunk to feel any pain. At some point, probably at the urging of the increasingly incensed host, they disappeared to the room where everybody had left their jackets. I inspected my jacket closely for jizz stains before heading out to my next “appointment.”
- I made a brief visit to On Cherche Encore to see my friends PanPan and Aclank at their monthly soirée, Distance Minimale. I hung out with both of them as they took turns at the decks along with their guest DJs (whom I have managed to forget ; sorry!). About an hour after I had arrived at the bar, and two or three tracks into PanPan’s set, one of the bar owners came to tell him to cut the evening short; I overheard the phrase “grosse deception” (“big disappointment”). Then, three guys walked up to the DJ booth and started to hit buttons and turn knobs on the mixer until the music died out. While one tried to scratch PanPan’s records with the needle from the tonearm, the other yelled “Maintenant on va tous arreter à picoler!” (“Now, we’ll all stop drinking!”) In the confusion, the lights came up and the owners started pushing everyone to the door, announcing that we had these three men to thank for cutting the night short. I still haven’t figured out what that was all about, but those same three guys were standing at the door, trying to conduct some sort of argument with the bouncer and one of the owners.
- So, all in all, the theme of tonight was “Lovely parties thrown by lovely people but marred by dicks—both literal and metaphorical.”
Part the Fifth: Kristy & Iyn’s Visit
- May 15th : So there was one night of overlap with my sister’s visit, which made for some crazy times in my 220 sq ft apartment. After collecting them at the airport (while Carla, the dear, cleaned up my apartment), we dropped off the luggage at my place and then headed over to Le Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon for lunch. This is one of the last grand train-station restaurants in Paris, which has preserved its opulent interior. The price-to-quality ratio was certainly distorted by the history and décor of the place, so we ordered frugally and just enjoyed the view. After a bit of walking that afternoon, we returned to Les Trois Marmites for another lovely dinner (the staff must think I’m stalking them).
- May 16th : After having some boulangerie-bought sandwiches for lunch and sending Carla off to the airport, we headed to the famous flea market of Saint-Ouen, where Kristy proceeded to get prices for very expensive tapestries and artwork for her clients back in Paris. There were no purchases that day—she needed confirmation from her clients—but it was fun to shop as if we could afford it. There’s something crazy about being able to just buy and sell objects that were made centuries ago…I dunno how I feel about it, really. I don’t recall what we did for dinner, but see above for my night of partying.
- May 17th : after a slow start to the day, we hit a neighborhood garage sale in the Passage des Panoramas and then spent the rest of the day walking around the Marais. Much like the previous week with Carla, we ended up getting marshmallows at Boulangerie Malineau and falafels at L’As du Fallafel. Mmm. After a stop for coffee at a café on Place des Vosges and then a walk up to the top of the Parc de Belleville to see the sunset, we went home and I made my guests a some urad dal curry and Bhutanese red rice (which was delicious, if I dare say so myself).
- May 18th : Kristy’s b-day! We got all dressed up and headed to Opéra Garnier to see a ballet called Onéguine, a ballet based on the Pushkin novel, Eugene Onegin, with a pastiche of music made of music by Tchaikovsky. The performance was excellent, overall: great sets, good costumes, excellent characterization through choreography, but the group numbers weren’t well synchronized. We were a bit aghast, though, to see how many people were attending a fancy show in such a fancy place in jeans and other casual wear. I mean, come on folks, when are you going to dress up if not for a show at the Opéra Garnier? Don’t you feel a bit weird in your athletic wear, surrounded by several tonnes of marble and gold and crystal? Sigh. Anyway, we afterwards went to dinner at Terra Nera, which has slid a lot in quality since I started going there, but still managed to please through sheer quantity of cream and cheese in their pasta dishes. I don’t know whether it was the lipid overload, the mixture of prosecco and mid-grade wine, or some cross-contamination in the food, but I spent that night on the verge of barfing. Yay!
- May 19th : I had a grad student dinner at a prof’s place, so I helped my houseguests buy themselves some kebabs from the place up my street (they suggested the kebabs, not I), and then I headed off for dinner. Somewhat astoundingly, there were only four of us at the dinner and we polished off five bottles. Bravo us!
- May 20th : Kristy and Iyn did the Louvre while I was at work, and then we caught up and headed over to the left bank for some amazing crêpe action at La Crêpe Rit du Clown. I only have vague memories of what we ate, but I do vividly recall a crêpe filled with molten marzipan and poached pears. I really need to go on a diet after this. Anyway, after a fair bit of walking in that area, we took the bus back to my neighborhood and had some drinks at the famous Café Charbon.
- May 21st : My two friends headed out with their mp3 players in hand to do some sort of walking tour that they had downloaded, while I stayed home and did a bit of work and catching up. I also just chilled and lay still for a while, which was glorious. That evening, we headed over to L’Astier [LINK] for a birthday dinner in my honor (although it was nearly one month early). Appetizers included some sort of eggplant tart, an asparagus velouté, and a rabbit terrine. I had a roast pigeon, which was surprisingly tasty, while Iyn had an excellently-prepared cod and Kristy had a very meaty duck breast. I only remember the desserts vaguely, but there was roast pineapple and egg custard involved.
- May 22nd : in an attempt to repeat the success I had had two weeks earlier with Carla, I took them to my morning market and then brought back a roast chicken, upon which we gorged ourselves. We walked it off with a trip to the Bois de Vincennes, including a quick walk through the castle and then an extended stroll through the floral gardens. That evening, we passed through Montmartre to pick up a massive amount of chocolate and candy for Kristy and her mother at L’Etoile d’Or of Denise Acabo, headed down to the St. Germain area on the left bank, and then walked over to the islands for a scoop of Berthillon ice cream. Dinner was again an at-home affair, where I oven-roasted a whole trout in parchment paper and Kristy made this lovely hot-cold salad with tomatoes and pine nuts and chick peas.
- May 23rd : Kristy was determined to get some shoes to match the Skalli bracelet and the matching scarf that she had bought earlier that week, so we started our day off in Les Halles. Once Kristy had enough of Paris’s attempt at American-style shopping malls, we headed above ground for a quick stroll and a light lunch at Les Têtes Brulées in the Montorgueil district. From there, we walked all over Montmartre and hit the super-cheap shoe stores between Sacre-Coeur and Barbès-Rochechouart. We never found anything that matched her bracelet, but the walk was very nice. We eventually made it back to my neighborhood and bought a metric tonne of Algerian pastries at Le Bague de Kenza, which we deposited at my place after promising that, at dinner, we would skip dessert and eat them instead. For dinner, we checked out the little café on the corner across from L’Astier, called Les P’tites Indécises (“The little undecided things / indecisive ones”). The food was actually very good, although perhaps a bit pricey for a corner café. They managed to pull off a few attempts at fusion cuisine without appearing gimmicky or shallow. I had a large filet of sea bream prepared in a teriyaki glaze that was light and not too sweet, Kristy had an asparagus-parmesan risotto that was creamy without being too heavy, and Iyn inhaled his honey-roasted lamb so quickly that I can only assume he liked it.
- May 24th : Kristy and Iyn had their flight at 16h00, so we got up a bit early and set out have one last walk through the city. I took them to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, which was gorgeous in this late-spring weather. We got croissants and coffee at the top of the hill and then walked down through the park, stopping to get pictures from every possible angle. Kristy noted that their trip had been a tour of Paris’s parks. I noted that the some species of tree had been pollinating those wispy white floaters all over the park, collecting in cottony bunches here and there, which means that the trees of Buttes-Chaumont had been jizzing on us all morning. These are the sorts of insights that make me a valuable guide to Paris, no doubt. We still had a bit of time, so we walked through the Parc de Belleville on the way back to my place, and then we hopped on the RER over to the airport. Alas, the last I heard from them was that there was a horrible connection in Atlanta on the way home and that they plan to avoid flying Delta in the future. But they’re home safe and sound!
So, after all that, I headed home and sat around my place, enjoying the sunny weather, catching up on stuff, and generally wasting time. Yay!