mercredi, décembre 06, 2006

L'Ourcine, again

OK, so it was only a week ago that I had been at L'Ourcine, but I had good reasons.

A couple of friends had just got into town last weekend, and by Monday they had gotten over their jet-lag and I had gotten over my weekend. We made plans for drinks and dinner tonight, and that's what kept me sane throughout my workday. I had stayed late at work to take care of a laundry-list of small issues here and there, so when I finally left work, I only had enough time to hit BHV to buy some gloves and scarves before heading over to my friends' place to begin the night.

We headed out from their place in the Marais with their little dog (which they brought with them from the States) and we walked all the way over to the Arts & Metiers area. On that street corner, we finally found a café/bar that seemed to be ok with pets indoors, so we sat down and had an apéritif. After hanging out for a bit and enjoying the view and the warmth, we paid our bills and made preparations for dinner.

We had originally thought of going for cheap Indian eats uptown, but changed our mind after I spent nearly 30 minutes regaling my friends with the culinary adventures I had had with my sister the week before. After some consideration, we decided to try L'Ourcine, with Terra Nera our plan-B. We went back to their place to feed the dog, and then I did some detective work to figure out the phone number for L'Ourcine and made a reservation for their second seating (10pm). After a few minutes of downtime enjoying another apéritif of Lillet, we got a call from the restaurant saying that our table was ready early, so we headed off in that direction.

I think that they waitresses recognized me from last week, because they seated me without asking if I had a reservation. We were seated at the back, near the kitchen. I suppose this would be a snub at any other restaurant, but sitting near the kitchen in this resto is a lot of fun. They have a service window carved into the wall, so you can see the chef and his assistants hurriedly putting together your meals for you. The chef is this very tall, rather obese guy that looks like he was once a biker or a soccer thug, and on that particular night, he had a hilarious case of plumber butt. It made for great dinner theatre.

And on to the food. For our appetizers, I went with the bouillon of wild fowl with bits of foie gras (which Carla had last week), which was deliciously rich-tasting without being all that rich (and also very mild on the salt). One of my friends went with the pan-fry of baby squid and spring onions (which I had last week), which were remarkable for their perfect texture; the squid weren't too gummy, and the spring onions weren't too squishy. The other friend went with the pork soup baked under a puff-pastry shell, which she claimed to be just like a hearty mix of Southern salt pork and collard greens. Indeed, the soup seemed to have been prepared in the manner of a petit salé, with the beans substituted by little beads of tapioca and with a fair bit of mustard greens added to the "winter vegetable" mix. Very delish.

For the main dish, I had a filet mignon of pork, simply roasted with some whole garlic and baby onions; the texture was perfect: not to dry, not too raw, just barely pink in the middle and juicy all through. One friend had the noix de St. Jacques (scallops) plate, which was a similarly simple but exquisitely-executed plate; from the looks of those shells, someone seared those suckers with an acetylene torch. The other friend took the noix d'entrecôte à l'échalotte, which was pretty much a slice from a cube roll (lean filet from the rib area) crusted with shallots and roasted like crazy. She ordered it "saignant" (bloody) and they actually did it. Fantastic texture.

For dessert, both of my friends ordered the praline&chocolate cake dish, because it came with the house's milk&mint sorbet, which I both told them they HAD to try. I got their crémeux citron (lit. lemon creaminess), which was essentially a thin American-style lemon pudding. Although the texture was great, I think this was the "weakest link" in the meal for me. It was just too, too tart. It was so sour, I had to pace myself and alternate with sips of water to keep my salivary glands from imploding. I almost didn't finish it (which, if the restauranteurs knew me, would understand this as a devastating critique), and I kept wondering if someone in the kitchen had fucked up and used limes instead of lemons for the recipe. Even key limes aren't this sour.

Anyway, it was a great meal all around and we ate for less than 50€ / person (30€ menu, plus some add-ons, plus aperitifs and a bottle of wine). We staggered back to the subway, observed some guy making mischief by stealing into the conductor's cabin of a waiting train and making gag announcements over the PA system, and then said our goodbyes and went home.

mardi, décembre 05, 2006

Raining in Paris

Well, the greater part of my day was pretty boring: work, IT-related frustrations, go home, eat, blog, email. However, there were two noteworthy things:

  1. It was !@#$ing RAINING today. It was spitting water as I left work and went into the métro station, but by the time I was overground at Porte des Lilas (my stop), it was coming down in sheets. The exit that I usually use to go aboveground is next to a street that tends to collect huge puddles, so every time a car passed by a huge sheet of water would go tumbling down the stairs. So there we stood, huddled together at the bottom of the stairs, listening for signs of a red light at the intersection, so that we could safely scuttle upwards. The streets overground were flooded in the worst way. The curbs had 2-3 inches of fast-running water, so I had to do this crazy grand jeté with my toes pointed just to clear the water. The walkway past the construction site was a virtual ocean, and I had to finally give up and let my shoes get soaking wet. I was wearing my suede multi-colour Adidas runners. Sigh. I got home and put my shoes on the radiator and hoped for the best.
  2. Today was the first round of room inspections for a few of the students staying at the residences. Obviously, I can't go into details, but I was stunned at the contrasts between how people maintain their living spaces. Some places were very organized and well-put, while others looked like biohazards. There was one room in particular that will scar me for life. *shudder*

lundi, décembre 04, 2006

Untitled Monday #1

Well, I needed to work a bit late today (to help a prof with a projector setup), so I planned to come in a bit late. I spent a bit of time chatting with the folks at the front desk of the residences, then took tea with one of my neighbors, then headed off to work. After a surprisingly busy workday, I headed home.

The evening consisted of running some laundry, washing a lot of dishes, whipping up some dinner (lentil soup and sausage/wine risotto!) and doing a lot of catch-up blogging. Almost up to date! I also spent some time trying to figure out what precisely I need to do before I leave Paris for Xmas:

  1. Go out for drinks with friends
  2. Organize travel paperwork
  3. PACK
  4. Pick up my titre de séjour from the préfécture
  5. Buy gifts for people back home
  6. Wrap up IT-related projects at work
  7. One more night of dancing.

dimanche, décembre 03, 2006

Sleep in, Nonetheless

Aaah. After a long night of partying at the Rex, I slept in terrifically late and it was delicious. After some time, I eventually got up and did some blogging, caught up on emails, cooked up some of my leftover mushroom-cream chicken w/ cocoa pasta (see yesterday), and generally bummed around. It was pretty great. I don't think I actually left my apartment that day.

samedi, décembre 02, 2006

Magda, Krikor and Chloé at the Rex

Well, my disco nap Friday night turned into full on snooze-fest, so I was up rather early the next morning, wondering what to do with myself. I took a moment to enjoy the feeling of not having anything immediately pressing to do, did a fair amount of blogging (I'm still catching up on the last week), and then headed out for some groceries. Of course, I forgot that Saturday is the day that most people do their groceries, so the place was a ZOO. Nonetheless, there's a part of me that really enjoys crowds and confusion, so it wasn't unbearable.

I still had that cocoa pasta that I had picked up at the Salon du Chocolat about a month ago. At the grocery store, I picked up some onions, mushrooms, crème fraîche, a pair of chicken legs (thigh+drumstick). Later that evening, I whipped up the mushroom cream sauce and the chicken with the cocoa pasta and it was SO GOOD I JUST CAN'T STAND IT. It's probably not for every palate, but I'm pretty happy with it, so here's the recipe: (more on night @ Rex after the recipe!)

Mushroom Cream Chicken w/ Cocoa Pasta


  • Cocoa pasta (rotini), about 1.5 handfuls per person
  • Lots of butter. Lots.
  • 1-2 medium onions, frenched--i.e., sliced radially (or whatever)
  • 2-4 white mushrooms, sliced (substitute more flavorful mushrooms if they're in season
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, smashed or sliced
  • One 500ml container of crème fraîche (sorry, you can't substitute with sour cream)
  • 2 chicken legs or something similar (I recommend dark meat and bone-in)
  • A cup or two of chicken stock or water
  • Optional: some dark, mushroom-infused soya sauce for colour & flavour


  1. If you want to be all gourmet about it, you should start by browning the chicken legs in a bit of oil and then using the rendered chicken fat as the base for the next step. If you want to skip this step to save time and oil-spatter (I did), you can simply reduce the amount of stock/water you'll add later, or remove the skin
  2. Melt a lot of butter in a skillet (even if you have chicken fat from step 1), at least 1/2-cup to start. Slice the mushrooms and start laying them in the skillet over medium-high heat. The mushrooms will suck up the butter quickly, and you want to make sure that they're good and buttery before you go any further, so keep adding butter as necessary to ensure an even coating. Cover over medium heat while preparing onions.
  3. While the mushrooms reduce, peel and slice onions, then add to mushrooms. Stir and cover again.
  4. Prepare garlic, but wait until mushrooms have surrendered their liquor and the bottom of the skillet has filled with liquid; then add garlic and stir.
  5. Once the garlic has mellowed out, nestle chicken legs in mushroom-onion mixture and add liquid. Add liquid to about half the height of the chicken legs or until most of the mushrooms/onions are covered.
  6. Leave to simmer, partially covered, for about 30-40 minutes, turning the legs once for even cooking.
  7. Move the chicken to a plate, along with as much of the mushrooms and onions that you reasonably can, while leaving the liquid behind.
  8. Mix the crème fraîche into the liquid. In a pinch, you can do this with a spatula, but a whisk gives more even results. Try to avoid lumps.
  9. Return chicken and veggies to sauce and mix to coat. (If you don't have much room left in the pan, you can leave the chicken apart until the plating.) Leave the mixture to simmer gently over low heat while preparing the pasta.
  10. Boil up pasta like you would any other delicate pasta (i.e., check frequently, as it overcooks more easily than regular pasta). Drain. Add a bit of the cream sauce to coat and lubricate.
  11. Create a bed of pasta on the serving plate, place one chicken leg on top, cover with a layer of vegetables from the sauce mixture, and then pour sauce over top to coat well.

Anyway, cooking that up took longer than I had expected (especially because I added too much liquid and needed to reduce the sauce later), so when I had finally finished eating, it was already 23h30 and I still hadn't showered or changed. Once that was quickly taken care of, I headed for the métro and caught was seemed to be the last train of the night towards the Rex.

Closer: Magda, Krikor and Chloé at the Rex

click to enlarge

0h00-2h40 : Chloé

I got into the line outside just before 1h00; the line seemed impossibly long, but after 30 minutes I was inside. I had this odd moment at the door, where the person doorperson (not the security guards) stopped me before entering and asked me: "Who are you here to see?" I started to list the DJs playing that night, and he immediately waved me in, as if I had said a secret password. I made a mental note to always memorize the name of one of the night's DJs in the future. I'm guessing that this was some sort of filtering mechanism, although I didn't see anyone get turned away from the door while I was in line. Perhaps I looked like a tourist that night.

Either way, I got in, sailed past the coat check (I nearly froze in a tiny hoodie, but at least I can roll it up and stuff it in my bag rather than check it), and headed off to the bar. I had the luck of finding an opening at the bar as I approached, so I was served in a few moments and I was off to the dancefloor with my 9€ vodka-tonic in my hand. If you have read about my previous exploits at the Rex, you'll know that I have certain reservations about the place. It tends to get way overpacked, the prices for booze are insane, and the last time I was there my bag spent a few hours steeping in someone else's vomit. The place was still packed and expensive this time, but at least my night was puke-free.

One of the upsides of the Rex is it's powerful and smooth sound system. I've seen Chloé around at Katapult events, but it was nice to catch her in a larger club with a substantial sound system. Her set would probably be classified as "techno" in a generic sense here, but it sounded to me like some sort of maximal microhouse. The tracks tended to always include a bit of house-y swing (especially the alternating low-hi signature) as well as microhouse's tendency towards glitchy sounds, but the overall weight of the sound seemed to be classic big-room techno. As it turned out, this was sort of a theme for the evening.

2h40-3h45 : Krikor

Krikor was definitely the surprise find of the night for me. I had already seen his name pop up a few times while skimming the Karat record label's offerings on Beatport, but his recordings weren't quite as arresting as his live performance. The set could've sat comfortably next to ghetto-tech sets from Detroit; it was a fair bit faster than Chloé's set, with lots of sonic jump-cutting between hacked-up samples, but with a pounding bass kick punctuating everything. The best I can recommend as an example is to listen to Krikor's solo EP on Karat records at Beatport (here) and then imagine a very punchy bass kick and a generally more frenetic texture.

3h45-6h00? : Magda

At around 3h40, Krikor turned down the volume on his set as if he were going to finish. Everybody clapped and cheered and called for an encore. After a moment, he started back up with another final track, but the encore didn't seem to finish. Instead, the tail end of his live set merged seamlessly with the beginning of Magda's set, and only 15 minutes later did I realize that he had finished and Magda had started.

Magda's set was sort of what I've come to expect of her. Good, medium-intensity techno, mostly minimal-sounding tracks, but executed with maximal effects. In other words, she would lay down the bass and treble of the tracks as she mixed them in such a way as to create a massive and often body-rumbling sound out of relatively sparse textures. My only complaint with her set was that she was fond of tracks that used feedback / squeal elements, which were sometimes excruciating.

At one point, a guy next to me leaned over to his friend and said, "She's minimal, but only in volume!" And he was right, in a sense. He was saying this in response to one of many pauses Magda placed into her set. After a solid opening of 30 minutes or so, Magda would more and more frequently finish a track by playing to near-silence, and then bringing up then next track on full volume, or by bringing in the next track very quietly, and then suddenly dropping the bass. Either way, it seemed like she was borrowing from Richie Hawtin's bag of tricks regarding departure and return (see my previous discussion here), but departing into near-silence, rather than into unusual or "experimental" tracks. Either way, she seemed to read the crowd pretty well, keeping her moments of quiet short enough to prevent people from getting bored and leaving the dancefloor.

At around 5h40, I finally tuckered out and headed for the door. Thankfully, my bag was in decent shape this time and my ride home on the métro was pretty uneventful. I passed by my bakery (which is open by this hour on Sundays), but decided against buying bread. I was tired and my hands were dirty and I really wasn't in the mood to shop for baked goods. Nonetheless, I did manage to brush my teeth, pull out my contacts, and put my party-clothes in a neat pile before collapsing into bed.

vendredi, décembre 01, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 10: Transport Mayhem

OK, for the record, we did everything we could to make this day go smoothly. Carla's flight was at 11h30, so we needed to be there before 10h00, so we left at 7h00 with the intention to stop for coffee and pains au chocolat at my local boulangerie (we made a ritual of it) and then continue straight on to the airport. The trip usually takes 40mins to 1.5 hours depending on traffic, so I thought that getting on the train at 7h30 was a reasonable plan.

We get to the subway station and there's a huge line of people waiting to buy tickets. Fuck. It's the first of the month, so of course everyone and their dog is buying their monthly carte orange metropass. OK, fine, I have a French bank card, so I can use the automated tellers and save some time. 15 minutes later, I have the tickets in hand and we haul Carla's (very heavy) luggage down to the subway platform.

On the way down to the platform, one of the information-display television screens has the message "Signal problem on line 11, traffic greatly disturbed." Aw, fuck. While on the platform, a train arrives quickly, but it is packed to the doors with people. Aw fuck. We let that train pass, and I notice that the "spare" train that is often parked on the next platform over is being pulled out. Good. This one comes along a moment later with only a few people on it. We pile in and position our luggage in a corner.

At the next stop, there a huge, teeming, angry mass of people who pile on until the train is completely full, with those left behind trying desperately to push their way on. Carla and I (along with everyone else) are smashed up against the windows and her luggage. Well f.u.c.k. After waiting almost a minute on the quay (with people still pushing), the doors finally close and the subway starts moving. Halfway through the tunnel to the next station, it lurches violently to a stop, waits for another minute, then pulls into the station. There's another crowd, even larger. Aw, FUCK!

What was terrifying at this moment was that we were only at the fourth station in a line with 13 stops. The train took nearly 5 minutes to lurch from station to station (when it would normally take 30 seconds), and each station had a larger and larger mass of angry morning-rushers who were behaving more and more like animals. By the time we were approaching République (where a lot of them got off), I was becoming truly concerned about a stampede/suffocation situation.

When we finally got to Châtelet, it was 9h00. We had only one hour to get over to the RER B platform (itself a 15-minute walk underground) and then to ride the train out to the airport, and then to scamper our way over to Carla's terminal (the furthest distance away from the RER station). AAAARGH!!!

Well, off we run with luggage in hand, getting an all-over workout as we slung luggage down multiple flights of stairs (mostly downwards, thankfully), maneuvering between rush-hour foot traffic at the same time. We get to the RER platform, and the next train is going to the airport, but it isn't an express train. This one will stop at nearly all the stations between Châtelet and the airport (the express only makes about 4 stops before the airport). Well, there's no use waiting for the next express train, so we piled on and enjoyed a moment of repose, even if we knew the battle wasn't over.

We had made the transfer in about 15 minutes, and the train ride up to the airport terminal 2 was another 40 minutes. By the time we got there, it was 9h55 and we needed to be on the other side of the terminal by 10h00. Carla was already making contingency plans if she missed her flight. Not easily discouraged, we zipped through the terminal on foot (hint: if you take the bus from the RER station to terminal 2A, it takes longer than going on foot because it's the last stop). At 10h05, we arrive, panting, at the Air Canada line. The flight still seems open, and there's virtually no line-up.

We approach the security guard in line, who asks for my sister's passport. He looks at her passport, then says "Columbia?" My sister is Canadian and carries a Canadian passport, but her birthplace is marked as Cartagena, Columbia. I wasn't sure why he needed to know that, and Carla wasn't quite sure what to say, so I just nodded. He smiled, clearly unperturbed by the fact that we were about to miss her plane, and said, "Ah, Columbia. Salsa!" Now, if there's something I've learned in my years of travel, it's that you agree cheerfully with whatever the person holding your passport says. So, nodding with my most "I'm not a terrorist!" grin, I say, "Yes! Salsa!" This was apparently the magic word, because his grin widened and he waved us through to the check-in counters. OK, sure. Fine.

After all of that mess, the check in took about 30 seconds and was problem-free. Boarding was beginning in about 40 minutes and she still had to pass security, so we still didn't waste any time. We took Carla over to submit her tax-refund papers, and then off we went to the security checkpoint. I said my goodbyes, waved her into the security line, and then headed back towards the RER station--this time not running.

After all of this mayhem, it was a bit of a relief to go to work. Sure, I had stuff to do, but there wasn't an intercontinental flight hanging in the balance. After work, I went home and relaxed for a while, then noticed that there were decent number of techno-related events going on this weekend. Well, I hadn't gone out to do what my doctorate thesis is supposedly all about since late October (thanks to Hawaii and then Carla's visit), so what the hell! Next weekend I have to prepare to return to Chicago and Canada, so let's have at it this weekend. I pick out something to do friday night, and then set my alarm clock for 10pm and take a disco nap.

I don't wake up until 6am the next morning

jeudi, novembre 30, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 9: Shopping and Cows

That morning, I took Carla to work with me, showed her around, introduced her to my co-workers, and then set her loose on the Cour Saint-Emilion region nearby (by way of the footbridge named after Simone de Beauvoir). The Cour Saint-Emilion village is named after the town and wine region near Bordeaux; this is because there used to be a train station here that would deliver all the wine from that area, and then the wines would be stored in little single-story buildings to age. As a result, the area is one of the few where there the equivalent of what you might call "simple" houses. Of course, most of them are trendy new shops rather than cute housing, but at least they preserved the buildings.

When my day at work was done, I met Carla at the métro station and we headed over to Galeries Lafayette (see previous visit here) so that she could finally see that amazing dome (and also so that we could shop like crazy). We spent a good amount of time hitting the first few floors, buying a couple of cute scarves, and then heading up to the top-floor observatory. Although Galeries Lafayette is certainly more affordable (and more "popular" in the French sense) than Le Bon Marché, the prices still weren't low, either.

We took a rather middlebrow high tea at the little Maxim's shop on the third floor, made fun of the high-fashion collections in the women's department, ogled shoes, went over to the men's section to make fun of their high-fashion collections (note to Karl Lagerfeld: what have you been SMOKING?!) and then had a good snark in the men's underwear section. The male undie mannequins were as iron-assed as last time, and Carla pointed out that they could also "lead a parade" with their huge, anatomically-correct-but-proportionally-alarming penises. I LOVE that you can buy underwear with a see-through ass in this store. Very posh.

I had been shopping for gloves (Paris doesn't really get into freezing temperatures, but the wet cold takes a toll on my hands), but I couldn't find anything satisfying. I have this now-romanticized memory of THE.PERFECT.GLOVES from more than 10 years ago and now anything else I see is always profoundly disappointing. On the other hand, I did leave with two beautiful french-cut Thomas Pink shirts (thanks, Carla!).

Afterwards, we finally headed off to l'Ilôt-Vache (scroll down on link) on Ile Saint-Louis for dinner. The place is adorable. The owner apparently has some sort of bizarre cow fetish, because the place is wall-to-wall cow-tchotchke; my sister even noticed a lovely oil painting of a mad cow behind my head. The table settings are mis-matched china and glassware (although the serving dishes that come out of the kitchen are of a uniform style), and the floral arrangements are massive, complex, tropical, and statuesque. Apparently, the floral arrangements change frequently and is part of the spectacle here.

For an entrée, I ordered this fantastic roquefort and pear pastry, while Carla ordered something equally cheese-intensive (I can't remember...). For the main dishes, Carla got a roast duck breast in a tart red berry glaze, while I got a steack aux trois sauces. This steak came with three sauces and they were HOLY CRAP! amazing. There was a pepper sauce, a roquefort sauce, and a béarnaise sauce, and they all explained to me why saucier (sauce chef) is the highest position in the French kitchen, after the head chef. When I ran out of beef to dip into the sauces, I turned to the bread, then eventually to a fork. I was shameless.

For dessert, Carla and I shared a coupe normande, which was essentially a large glass sundae goblet filled with Berthillon's green apple and pear ice creams, covered in an ounce of calvados (apple) liquor. It was to die for. And we might have (from over-eating), if we didn't order a coffee to kick us back up a couple of notches ("BAM"). We lurched home at a reasonably early hour (for us) and set Carla off to pack for tomorrow's odyssey to the the airport.

mercredi, novembre 29, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 8: Long Walks and Moroccan Food

Off I go to work. Carla stays behind and then eventually makes her way out to the Cluny Museum (medieval history). I go find her after work and it's not too cold out, so we start walking. After several days of TOO MUCH FOIE GRAS, we decided to go Moroccan that night, so I made reservations at a place that had been recommended by my boss and a friend. But it was 3pm and our reservations weren't until 7:30pm or so. So off we go on a brief walk past Notre-Dame and over towards Ile Saint-Louis.

By the way, I found this last Sunday in the same neighborhood, but forgot to post it. So here it is, as a quick break from The Walking Story.

click to enlarge
As seen near the Shakespeare & Co. Bookshop.
click to enlarge

Anyway, we hit Ile Saint-Louis and hit that olive store that I love, Oliviers & Co., only to find that the usually friendly saleswomen have been replaced by the most dispassionate and my-soul-is-black-like-my-turtleneck salesguy I've ever seen (and that's saying something in Paris). On the upside, there was this rather working class North African guy working on the heating duct right above the cash register, so it was a bit of fun watching the clerk ring through my purchase with his face about two inches away from this (brown)(non-élite)(rough-speaking)(slightly frangrant) HVAC repairman's ass. It had all the Marxist/Marx Bros. markings of "mass cult" comedy of the Chaplin era.

Then we hit Berthillon for a couple scoops of heaven. Unlike when we visited this place on a Sunday afternoon in June last summer, there little to no line this time (it ain't summer no more) and we were cheerfully eating our ices within minutes. Carla got pear and some sort of chestnut & liquor combo, while I got a scoop of strawberry and a scoop of turrón (an Iberian nougat, not to be confused with Peruvian turrón de doña pepa or similar things). All delicious and overwhelming. I had to stop walking just to properly take in the full power of its amazingness.

I realized as we walked off the island that there was a little restaurant on the isle, called l'Ilôt-Vache (the islet of the cow) that I had been meaning to check out. We walked by, wrote down their phone number, and agreed to try and make reservations for the following (and final) night.

Then we walked our way through the Marais to the the rue des rosiers, the main drag of Paris's oldest Jewish district (more Askenaz than Sephardic, from what I can gather, but I'm not an expert). We hit l'As de Falafel for a Lenny-Kravitz-approved falafel (apparently he dubs this the best Falafel in Paris). Luckily we were there during low tide, so we were seated quickly and not hustled out of the restaurant. The last time I was there, we were nearly shoved out the door when we took to long to pay and gather our things. In the evenings, there's usually a huge crowd outside waiting to get in. Anyway, it's worth the execrable service. This is the best damn falafel I've ever had anywhere (admittedly, I need to spend more time in NYC comparing falafels, but still...). There "special" falafel includes cabbage, eggplant, hot sauce, tahini, the whole thing. Anyway, we took our falafel-y pit stop, then passed by la boulangerie Matineau (on rue Vieille du Temple around the corner) to get a canelé (cinnamon-sponge pastry).

We headed north past Fragonard and Muji (stopping at each, of course) and by then it was getting close to dinner time. We headed towards place des Vosges to admire the gorgeous two-story ceilinged apartments, and then continued on to our final destination for the evening: Au Petit Cahoua (24 rue des Taillandiers, 11eme).

We got to this place (just east of Bastille) a little early, so we took a brief walk along the street and noticed a couple of vintage shops, a fondue restaurant, 3 (dance) record shops, and a DJ gear store. I made a mental note to return here during business hours. Looks like fun.

When we got back to the restaurant, they were ready to seat us and we got started. We didn't think to get mint tea (next time!) so we missed out on our waiter's spectacular tea-pouring style, but instead we ordered some Moroccan wine by the glass and some water. However, we didn't miss out on the tagine and pastilla. Carla's tajine was the chef's special, which included chicken, dried apricots and cinnamon. My pastilla was just pastilla (i.e., a thick spicy shredded-pigeon filling wrapped in phyllo pastry and covered in icing sugar), but that was all I wanted. It was delicious. Mere words do not express. Also, there was this little antipasto-style side thingy that I snacked on that seemed to be essentially vegetables in a simple pickle with a LOT of cumin. I have to try that at home.

For dessert, I had a simple "salade d'oranges," which was a purist plate of orange slices (peel removed) with a thin layer of icing sugar. Carla had this "pastilla du lait," which was essentially dessert version of my main dish, but substituting a milk-based custard with orange flower blossoms instead of the meat filling. It was also to die for.

Then, for no good reason, we each had a shot of liquor after the meal as a digestive, and staggered home.

mardi, novembre 28, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 7: Au Bon Marché and l'Ourcine

To begin with: HAPPY 100 POSTS! This post is the 101st post on this blog, which is great proof of my commitment to post every day (or nearly every day, and occasionally with delays). I've put a surprising amount of work into keeping this blog, but I've found it endlessly rewarding (from a semi-field-notes, shorthand analysis sort of way).

While at work, I managed to get through to l'Ourcine and make a reservation. L'Ourcine was this lovely (and very affordable) restaurant in the 13th that I had visited at the beginning of my stay with Val.

Meanwhile, Carla had gone off to Musée D'Orsay to see lovely pretty impressionist/art nouveau things. As I headed out of work, I text-messaged her and then headed over to the museum. By the time I got there, she was near the inside front entrance. The security line was insanely long, so I texted her again and she came outside and we headed off with the plan of getting a coffee at Les Deux Magots. I couldn't remember the precise address for Les Deux Magots, so we got off at the métro stop near Le Bon Marché and headed towards the southern base of rue Bonaparte. From there, we stumbled across the chocolate shop of Pierre Hermé, who apparently worked for such venerable institutions as Fauchon and La Durée (see yesterday's post) before striking out on his own. Although he is apparently known for his other chocolate desserts as well, we were particularly interested in his macarons (again, see yesterday's post and/or La Durée), which are reputedly more adventurous than those at La Durée. We bought a box of 7 varieties for tasting, and then stood in the alleyway nearby (it was rainy) and split each of them in half and ate them all. The surprise hit was the passionfruit and dark chocolate one, although I had a real passion for their caramel+sea salt one as well. They had a white truffle macaron as well, which the salesperson warned us emphatically "is to be tasted last." Quite right; while creamy and rich as you might expect from a truffle, the flavor was overpowering. There was a substantial chunk of whole white truffle in the middle, which sat rather heavily in the stomach and coated my mouth in a way that wasn't entirely pleasant. Nice idea, clumsy execution. But everything else in that box was flawless.

We continued up rue Bonaparte and eventually found Les Deux Magots, although not before stumbling on place du Québec, which, of course, had a Québécois bar right at the corner. It was amusing timing, since Québec had just been officially designated a "nation within Canada" (to the endless irritation of indigenous Canadians, no doubt).

We got a table at Les Deux Magots, got a salad and two glasses of champagne (we were avoiding coffee that day after a week of overcaffeination) and drank in the (slightly over-lit)(smoky)(alarmingly expensive) ambiance. I'll try this place again when it's nice outside and the terrasse is open, but otherwise I think I'd better leave this place to the tour-bus crowd. Nonetheless, I still need to find a good café in Paris where I can sit down with a book (or laptop) and not be bothered for hours. I miss that from my days in Le Mans (at Le Globe, place République).

We still had a bit of time to kill before dinner, so we headed over to Le Bon Marché and did a bit of shopping. We were hoping to find some nice scarves for various folks back home, but the price range was a bit high and the selection not quite as broad as the other grands magasins. On the other hand, the place was decidedly less crowded and touristy. In the end, Carla bought one of those special odor-control cheese containers (very important for French cheese!). And the off we went to L'Ourcine!

L'Ourcine has the "intimate" thing nailed right down. The place doesn't seem to hold more than 30 diners (with little space left over for walking), the kitchen is visible through a hole ingeniously cut through the back of a vanity dresser to create a sort of service window, and the bar is essentially a cubicle with low walls. I was seated facing the kitchen, so I had had endless entertainment watching the fun in the kitchen. The chef (and owner) was this tall, rotund guy with a shaved head and alarming teeth that looked like he might break you in two at a soccer riot. Under his command, he had two cringing but efficient assistants who seemed to do a lot of the cold preparation and plating. Since the service window opened onto the general dining room and thus a bell was out of the question, the assistants had mastered the fine art of clapping three times in a way that was audible to the servers, but not noticeable to the diners.

Anyway, onto the food. It should be noted that this restaurant is a menu-only place. That is, you have a prix-fixe 3-course menu of 30€ which you must order from, but you often have 5-8 options for each course. For entrées, Carla had a bouillion sauvageon (mixed wild game), with croutons and cubes of foie gras, while I had pan-seared baby squid with sprouted onions. For main dishes, I had a noix d'entrecôte (cube roll or rib-eye roll) with a shallot and green peppercorn preparation, while Carla had some complicated lamb dish (sorry, my memory is getting hazy). For dessert, Carla had some sort of cake thingy that most importantly involved their milk-and-mint sorbet (I don't know if they invented this, but it blows my mind, it's so good), and I've managed to forget what I had for dessert, although I remember raving about it at the time. Carla? Any help? (UPDATE: Now I remember! I had a banana + "exotic fruits" mousse that was delicious and had the most odd-in-a-good-way texture. And Carla's cake thingy was a praline & chocolate cake, with that amazing sorbet.)

We started heading back from there and, on the way, realized that we had been eating too much foie gras that week (don't ask how we knew). The return trip was also marred by a pile of dog poop that found itself under my foot. After having spent nearly 3 months without ever stepping on the dog leavings that are !@#$ing everywhere in Paris, I was disappointed to finally fall prey to them. I spent the rest of my walk home trying to find pointy things to scrape my shoe on. Of course, I was wearing shoes with deep treads. Go figure.

lundi, novembre 27, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 6: Taillevent and other minor expenses

Tonight was the night we went to Taillevent for dinner, so allow me to reduce the rest of the day to bullet points:

  • We started the day at La Durée teahouse. Our first waiter was a dick; he told us that the only thing available were the pastries, but the guy sitting next to us got an omelet from a different waiter. Mercifully, there was a changing of the guard and the waiter for the rest of our meal was quite lovely. The place is known for its macaroons (soft meringue cookies filled with creamy stuff) so we got a huge order of them, a couple of croissants, and some tea. The macarrons were delicious, but the tea was served in BAGS. We were horrified. On the way out, we bought a few pastries from the counter, including a rose-flavoured religieuse.
  • We were near Faubourg Saint-Honoré (luxury and high fashion strip of Paris), so we went to Furla and Carla bought a rabbit-fur purse (we cried for the rabbit...then bought it).
  • Then we went to Hermès, where we window-shopped for a while and then bought Carla some perfume.
  • Then we went to the Maison du Chocolat and got some chocolate for the folks at home. When I usually shop here, someone materializes to attend to you and take your order. This time, none of the 5 employees in the tiny shop could be bothered to help us. And when we finally made our purchase, the guy at the register grabbed the 100% cacao bar and said "This bar is very strong, you know," in this condescending tone that suggested that: a) we couldn't read, and b) we couldn't handle dark chocolate. I'm disinclined to return.
  • Then we went to Fauchon and bought several packages of marrons glacés, fruit candies and chocolate for various people at home.
  • Then we headed over to TATI to pick up my tailored suit.
  • Then we headed over to Au Bon Marché to check out the Grande Epicerie (see here for previous visit), but the place was insanely packed. Instead, we headed to the second floor for a quick bite to eat. On the way out, I got some of their fantastic ham from the deli counter.
  • Then it was back home to start preparing for Taillevent. Shower, shave, change.
  • Carla came over to my room when she was ready and helped me pick out a tie-shirt combo (we went with pink shirt and grey tie with pink-gradient polka dots on the diagonal; I swear it looked better than it sounds). We realized that the shirts I had bought on Friday were still wrinkled from the packaging, so I pulled out the iron and Carla did a quickie-iron while I tried on a few other tie-shirt combinations.
  • We head outside and miraculously catch a taxi and head over to Taillevent.

Which brings us to...


So, to echo a review posted on Chowhound a while ago, everything about our experience at Taillevent was perfect (or, as you'll soon see, everything within their power was perfect). The service was door-to-table-to-door (they even guide you personally to the restrooms), with a balanced tone that was never unnervingly subservient or affected. The décor was an interesting mix of masculinist "smoking room" wood and austere minimalism. Amber-coloured wood paneling would frame white-on-white abstract canvases or recessed niches of painted-metal sculptures.

The layout of the restaurant was very interesting; the whole place was arranged to maximize the amount of banquette seating by using half-walls to divide the rooms into smaller squares. Each square had a ring of banquettes followed by a ring of tables, and then the centre of the square had a small table that was used by the waiters as a "command central" station. The waiters would write your order on a little piece of paper and leave it on the table, and then the busboys would quietly read the paper to figure out which course you were on and what sort of silver to (quietly) bring out. What was most interesting was that pairs (such as my sister and I) were seated at what would normally be a 4-top table, with both of us sitting on the banquette and facing towards the central waiters' station. I suppose part of this was to ensure that we could summon a waiter by merely looking up (not that this was ever necessary), but it also had the felicitous effect of clearing the inner area around the waiters' station of any obstructive chairs. Also, the waiters seemed to use the space between the tables and the waiters' station to store your white wine bottles, water bottles, decant your red wine, and so on. (Note: this is one of those restaurants that use wine cradles before decanting and candles during decanting. Classy!)

We both had the big seven-course tasting menu, which was prefaced by a velouté soup made from foie gras (that's right, a whipped foie gras soup). I can't remember every course (Carla, do you?), but here's what I recall:

  • A cold preparation of tortoise meat (sort of like crab) in a cream sauce with a layer of fine radishes
  • Noix de Saint-Jaques (scallops), seared and served over a purée of celery and watercress
  • Langoustines (large European prawn) with some sort of buttery vegetable preparation that I can't recall
  • Roast duck breast with a dark, sweet sauce that seemed to have soya as a base.
  • Ossau-Iraty cheese (a sheep's cheese similar to a soft Parmesan), turned into a mousse and topped with a black cherry marmelade.
  • A "millefeuille" of chocolate mousses that was actually four dollops of differently-flavoured mousses arranged in two rows and separated by layers of chocolate.
  • A plate of chocolate bonbons.
  • Some other cake-like thing that I seem to have forgotten.

In addition to all of this, we started the dinner with an apéritif and finished with coffée and a digestif of Poire Williams liqueur. Our sommelier was fantastic and, although he appeared to be twelve years old, managed to telepathically read our fragmented requests and turn them into a perfect white wine and a similarly perfect half-bottle of red for the duck course. I can't recall the precise wines, but Carla has them written down somewhere.

All in all, a fantastic dinner. Definitely once-in-a-lifetime (although I hope to make it multiple times if I ever have a money-making career). The only hiccup in the evening was our neighbors in the table to the right of us. A somewhat oddly-dressed couple came in shortly after us; the man was wearing business-casual slacks, a heavy-cloth shirt and a cheap-looking tweed jacked that didn't match anything else. His companion was wearing relatively standard black dress pants, but she had a one of those semi-sheer polyester ruffled-neck peasant blouses that screams "Reitman's 2002!" If you're not Canadian, think of the Dress Barn or something like that. Also, she had bright white bra straps showing through.

All in all, they had an air about them of "mid-life crisis and his slightly inappropriate date." Or possibly "Middle-manager and his secretary." Either way, the creepiness turned into annoyance quickly. The man eschewed the tasting menu and made an elaborate show of ordering à la carte, pointing out banalities to his date (who made a good show of being impressed) and asking for pointless details from the waiter. Once he finally made his order, he called over one of the sommelier (there were two on staff that night) and started to put him through his paces. He would ask for a wine pairing recommendation, then immediately find a myriad of problems with the recommendation. He would argue about the character or taste of the wines offered, and would again try to make his connoisseurship as public as possible, proclaiming, "Well, we all know that grape variety is useless after six years," or "Obviously that wine region is too smoky to be paired with shellfish." From the sound and appearance of things, the sommelier found most of his "obvious" knowledge to be categorically wrong, so he had the unfortunate task of pretending to concede to the patron's opinion, then re-wording his disagreement as an extension or modification of the patron's opinion, and then pretending that the final result was in fact the patron's idea all along.

Once the wines started actually being served, it just got worse. As each wine came out and was opened, he would go through this passive-agressive (and again public) process of saying that the wine was lovely, but...just not [insert abstract word here]. He would complain that it wasn't "pointed" enough, or too "evanescent" or some other adjective that is difficult to contradict in empirical terms. He was ordering exclusively by the glass (a great expense to a restaurant with wine cellars such as Taillevent) and sending back nearly 2/3 of them with some form of rejection.

The whole process was excruciating to watch, but thankfully we had already put nearly a bottle of white wine into our bodies by the time this man got into full swing, so we weren't too bothered by him. We just felt sorry for the poor sommelier. After a while, we noticed that the head waiter and eventually the maître d'hôtel came out to "check" on his table. None of this seemed to deter him, and by the time that we were leaving (and we were one of the last tables to leave), he was still going strong, ordering individual plates and then demanding elaborate wine-matching services. As we headed out to meet our cab, I made my best effort to subtly express my sympathies to the maître d'hôtel. "Good luck with our neighbors," I said. After a brief pause while he figured out the reference, he said, "Ah...yes. They're in the middle of tasting, I believe." "Mmm, yes. It appears so." What's missing from this conversation are the facial expressions and other non-verbal cues, which turned this conversation into: "So sorry you have to deal with that asshole." "Thanks, we hate him and, in advance, any progeny he may have by that polyester-wearing hooker he brought with him." "Ew."

But aside from that little story (which was amusing in its own way) dinner at Taillevent was perfect and magical and overwhelming. Carla and I couldn't find the words to describe the taste of anything at that moment, let alone a week after when I finally wrote the review. After all of that, we took another cab home, staggered to our rooms, and passed out with easily 750ml of wine and liquor in us.

dimanche, novembre 26, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 5: Brunch, Modern Art, Dinner

Well, we got up rather late (see yesterday), and then slowly organized ourselves for brunch over at a friend's place. She lives in a really nice are of Paris, a little bit South of where I am, where the buildings were never Haussmann-ized. The place still has a bit of a village look to it, even though it's mostly apartments.

After a delicious brunch, Carla and I wandered through the neighborhood and headed back to my place on foot. After taking a little break to organize ourselves, we headed back out onto the town towards the Modern Art Museum.

However, there was a little glitch. I had read the hours for the Palais de Tokyo museum (also modern art), which ran until midnight on most nights (including Sundays). However, the Palais de Tokyo is currently in the process of putting in a new installation, which means very little is visible. On the other hand, the modern art museum of Paris (which is right next door and part of the same building complex) has its entire collection open, but closes by 18h00 on Sundays. We got there at approximately 17h15, so we went straight into the modern art museum and saw as much as we could before they kicked us out. Then we went to the Palais de Tokyo and wandered around what was available in their exhibit (which was a grand total of two rooms). We took a moment to drink something at their trying-too-hard modernist café, and then spent a long time looking over the books in their bookshop. In some ways, the bookshop here is the height of the visit.

From there we headed out to the Latin Quarter, in search of a restaurant that had been recommended to us. The place was supposed to specialize in duck dishes, and we are both fans of duck, so we were ready to explore. Unfortunately, we only had vague directions and a name, so we never actually found it (for the record, it's L'Autre Domaine and it's at 6 boulevard Saint-Germain). Eventually, we fell upon a Beaujolais-region restaurant that had lots of nice-looking grilled food.

I had an amazing onion soup gratinée to start (I forget what Carla had) and then each of us had a roasted meaty dish that was well-prepared and tasty. The food was excellent, although I take a certain pleasure in saying that it was the culinary low-point of her visit. We ate very well that week...

samedi, novembre 25, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 4: More Le Mans and Jazz in Paris

S. and N. were too nice to wake us up that morning, so we both slept in until at least 10am. I finally got myself together and say my good mornings, only to see N. in the process of making a tarte au chocolat (somehwere between a chocolate cake and a brownie). Carla and I drank some coffee, we each had a little bit of yogurt, and then we headed out with S. to the local farmers' market to accompany him on his weekly grocery run.

For a town the size of Le Mans, the market seemed enormous. There were at least two if not more vendors for each specialty, and pretty much every specialty was there. After picking up the necessary fresh veggies, S. showed us around the other vendors tables and pointed out some of the local or unusual produce. We got home to find out that we still needed bread, so we headed back out for bread and also stopped at a butcher to pick up some rillettes.

Lunch, as per usual with N., was amazing. We had a pintade (a.k.a., guinea fowl) prepared in a thick sauce of apples, raisins, cinnamon and some other lovely stuff. Amazingly delicious and very delicately prepared. For dessert (after a rousing cheese course) we had the tarte au chocolat. Now stuffed to the gills, we piled into the car and headed to another, closer abbey (l'abbaye d'Epaux) to wander through the buildings and the grounds. With a bit of time left to us, N. and S. also took us on a quick tour of the racetrack grounds for the 24 heures du Mans (the famous yearly 24-hour car race in Le Mans). Finally, we zipped home, picked up our bags, and then headed over to the train station to catch our train back to Paris.

But the day wasn't over. One of my U of C professors was in town, accompanying her partner on her European tour. Her partner is a jazz pianist and vocalist, playing two nights in Paris at the New Morning as part of her tour. My prof had reserved two comps (complimentary seats) for us at the Saturday show; we arrived at Montparnasse at 18h30 and the show was at 21h00, so we had some time (we thought). It took us nearly an hour to get home by transit (to get from the train quays in Montparnasse to the métro ligne 4 requires nearly 1.5km of walking through tunnels). Once we got back to the residences, I was greeted with the news that none of the 3 WiFi networks were working. While Carla showered and changed, I forwent my shower and started working on the various wireless routers. Of course they would choose tonight to be finicky; and I couldn't just leave it till tomorrow, because the students had papers to submit by Sunday morning (nobody had told me about this, either). Ug.

By the time I have everything in reasonable order, we have a little less than 30 minutes to get there. By some miracle, we cross the threshold at New Morning at 21h03, but I still felt horrible, since I had said that we would show up early to claim our seats. My prof had indicated that they would be holding seats for us, so I felt even more horrible, thinking that she had been sitting alone at the front, trying to save seats for us against an aggressive crowd. There were tons of people there. Not only was every seat in the house taken, there were people sitting in the aisles and standing around the bar. Carla and I made a few futile attempts to maneuver around the room to find my prof, but to no avail. We waited until the end of the first set, and then took advantage of the flow of people in to the bar to find my prof, who had come out to look for us as well. After a warm greeting amidst a torrent of bodies, she told us that she and her partner's niece had been sitting at the artists' table behind the bar.

We headed back there and took a seat. I have to admit that there was something amusing and very fun about having a "private" table behind the bar and even elevated a couple of feet for a better view of the stage. We enjoyed the rest of the show from there and even got to meet the owner of the club, a grande dame if there ever was one, who was gracious enough to order us a round of drinks. At the end of the show, we hung out for a minute while the crowd filed out and then met my prof's partner at the stage door for a round of thanks and compliments. As we were heading out, we overheard a middle-aged man with an American accent say the following to a pair of young girls:

"Essentially, I see music as the relation between the Artist and the audience..."

I don't know what was more annoying, his hipster wanking or the fact that the two girls were eating it up with a spoon. Either way, I was amused with how the rest of us all overheard the same phrase and had similar reactions to it. "Yeah, I never heard that line before." *eyeroll*

Carla and I stumbled onto the street at 0h30 in the morning and found ourselves completely famished. We started walking down Faubourg Saint-Denis, hoping to find a some cheap restaurant or brasserie that was still open, and stumbled across, Julien. As a brasserie, they were open till 2am, so we happily sauntered in for a late dinner. The place was hopping, and one look at the interior would explain why. The brasserie dates back from 1903, and the interior is a well-preserved monument to Art Nouveau. The walls all have complex biomorphic scrollwork and moldings, alternating with glass and painted-glass artwork. The ceilings were topped with stained-glass and everywhere there was wood. Although we didn't want to seem too conspicuous, we managed to steal a few images:

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Of course, I totally suggest that you go to the website of the managing company, FLO Brasseries, and click on the link to Julien and check out the "l'endroit du décor" link. Either way, we also soon discovered that the food was very good. I had a plate of oysters as an appetizer, while Carla had something that involved cheese and pastry dough (for the life of me, I can't remember the exact ingredients). Carla had a Chateaubriand steak with fries (the steack et frites staple at brasseries) and, believe it or not, I can't remember what I ate (I'm writing this a week later, mind you). I think I had a duck plate, but I could be wrong. Either way, the food was delicious and the ambiance was perfect (if a bit smoky).

We wandered out around 2am and started looking for a taxi, not realizing that it was 2am on a Saturday night and everybody was looking for a taxi. Aw crap. We walked towards République, thinking that we might find more taxis there. As we walked, we passed taxi stands full of people waiting and fighting with each other for taxis. When we got to République, we realized that going there was a bad idea, because everybody else was there, too, looking for a !@#$ing taxi. From there, we started walking in the general direction of home, too desperate to wait for a free taxi at République. By the time that we were halfway to Belleville (i.e. 1/4-way home), we saw a line of taxis heading towards République. The first two passed us without stopping, but the third had to wait at the light, so we jumped in. I wasn't sure why the first two taxis wouldn't stop for us (we were pretty well dressed, and the neighborhood wasn't particularly bad), and our taxi driver wasn't exactly enthusiastic either, but he took us home and that's all we wanted.

Either way, we fell into bed at around 4am.

vendredi, novembre 24, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 3: Luis buys a suit and Le Mans

The cold was in full force by that morning, so we stopped by a pharmacy to get some decongestants and vitamin C. Then, we headed off to Patisserie Millet (of "best croissant in Paris" fame) to have a coffee-and-croissant-enhanced breakfast. I took some of that cold medicine, which had the highest over-the-counter dosage of pseudoephedrine my sister had ever seen. By the time we were leaving the patisserie, I could already feel the effects: my nose was almost painfully dry and I was more than a little bit jumpy. We had also bought me one of those spray-decongestants for "instant relief", but the stuff was AWFUL. They actually put menthol in the spray! Can you imagine what it feels like to spray menthol up your nose? I'm surprised I didn't just hemorrhage all over my breakfast.

Anyway, we headed off from there towards the Montparnasse train station. We were visiting some friends of the family in Le Mans (they had taken me in nearly 10 years ago when my exchange partner in there went ballistic) and we had a train at 14h30 from that station. However, I also needed to buy a suit. You see, I had been successful in making a reservation at über-restaurant Taillevent for next Monday, and this was definitely a jacket-and-tie place. Of course, when I flew to Paris, I didn't pack all of my suits or other heavy formal stuff.

So off we went to TATI, which is apparently the French version of Walmart of Dress Barn or something like that (it's not even classy enough to be a Target). While it may be an unadorned mess of bargain-basement products, it is truly European in that it offers decent knockoffs of Armani suits from 29€. Within a few seconds of finding the suit section, I had already found a nice slate-grey pinstripe suit. I tried on a few sizes, asked about alterations, and then headed to the cashier. On the way out of the mall (yes, it was in a mall), we stopped by a slightly higher-end menswear store to pick up a couple of nice shirts and discovered that they also offer alteration services (retouche). Well, that took care of everything, then. We wrapped up the sale, left my suit to be tailored, and then headed off for lunch.

We didn't have much time before our train, so we grabbed lunch in the restaurant at the station. The food was surprisingly good, although the service was slow considering that it was a train station restaurant. Nonetheless, the meal was pretty filling, which he later regretted when we saw the dinner our hosts had prepared for us...

After paying for the bill, we zipped off to our train (we had only a few minutes left) and hauled-ass into our seats. The train was full, so we had to sit a few seats away from each other, but it all worked out. Unfortunately, I was in one of those accursed "square" seating areas (i.e., 4 seats facing each other), which meant that the rather tall man across from me kept playing involuntary footsie with me. Mercifully, the ride was only an hour long.

One of our hosts—let's call him S.—met us at the train station will his usual warm cheer. By then, I really had to pee, but the washrooms were on the other side of the train station, in an area with a lot of construction, so we just headed out, with a promise from S. that we would find a washroom or a secluded corner on the way. As we loaded into his car, he said that he knew of an abbey nearby that sang mass in plainchant (i.e., "Gregorian" chant) and had wonderful architecture and gardens. It was only halfway there that we realized that this was the same abbey (Solesmes) that I had visited with the student group a month ago. Anyway, Carla hadn't seen the place yet and I was always happy to check it out again, so we continued and eventually found the place.

Once we got there, I finally found a washroom and peed like there was no tomorrow. We wandered around the little gift shop in the front of the abbey (of course they have a gift shop!), checked out the property, and then attended their vespers service (if you're Anglican, think "evensong"). The ritual/performance was great, nowhere near as slow and equal-length as they have been reputed (there is a "Solesmes" style of Gregorian chant that presumes all notes are of equal length). Also, their chapel was beautiful and very interesting in its decor.

After the ceremony, it was getting on time for dinner, so we bought some bread at a nearby boulangerie and then headed back towards Le Mans. By the time we got there, S.'s wife, N., had prepared an unbelievable spread. She prepared a seafood choucroute, which managed to beat out a similar dish I ate at Bofinger at the beginning of my stay in Paris. We also had something delicious for dessert, but I had drunk a fair bit of whiskey and wine by then, which, combined with my cold medicine, made me unfit to drive my body, let alone a car. After the standard good-night kisses, we each went and crashed out in our respective rooms. (I was on the fold-out couch.)

Hawaii photo Extravaganzaaa!

OK, so we take a break from my narrative of CarlaVisit to look back at some pictures of Hawaii that I have finally pulled off my camera. You can see the glib posts that these correspond to here, here, here, here, here and here.

Let us begin with the view of the beach from my awesome hotel room. The first picture captures the intensity of the sunlight, and the second captures the colour of the ocean.

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This is just proof that the vegetarian sandwich shop really was called Ruffage.
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Hey look! A mosaic! I'm not sure why!
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A little souvenir market covered in ancient trees.
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This one and the next one are the façade of the Sheraton Waikiki, which seems to be located in a colonial plantation house.
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This store was right next to the Sheraton Waikiki, in the middle of a lengthy strip of over-expensive luxury stores. We weren't sure if this was very clever or naïvely ironic.
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The Waikiki sunset (this is why everyone wants space on this beach), with a homeless man digging in the trash. This sort of encapsulates the experience on the beach (as opposed to the shopping strip). I'm glad the local police are tolerant towards the homeless and mentally ill; I'm always unnerved in urban centres that hide/remove their dispossessed (I'm looking at you, Rudy Giuliani).
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This store is called "80% Straight, Inc." Based on the type of bathing suits for sale and the rainbow flags flying from the hotel in which this is located, I think this store isn't naïvely ironic.
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This one and the next: gorgeous views inland.
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This one and the next two: two views of the beach and Diamondhead. Isn't Hawai'i photogenic?
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This one and the next: another set of beautiful sunsets from the bar at the Sheraton Waikiki
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Sushi time! A bunch of us at Sansei sushi bar, including Andrew scratching himself in a way that says "Spoon me!" (sorry, inside joke, but couldn't resist) Also, Mike and Rumya looking unsuspecting.
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Distraction is the only way I can get Greg to smile for the camera. Right after this, he gave me the finger.
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A surprisingly intimate profile of Kate (I swear I'm gay!) and the back of Shayna's head.
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This one and the next: the gorgeous gardens at the Honolulu airport.
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jeudi, novembre 23, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 2: Italian in Paris

After chatting with the folks at the front desk (they're friendly and chatty), we headed out to my boulangerie for some pains au chocolat and coffee. From there, Carla went back home and I headed off to work. While I was at work, Carla did some internet work and a bunch of laundry (she was coming from a previous week at a conference, much like me). Thanks for doing my laundry, too, Carla!

After work, I had a meeting for drinks with a colleague visiting from the UK, so we headed over to the Latin Quarter for drinks, and then moved on to dinner at this fantastic Italian restaurant called Terra Nera ("black earth"). I had the carpaccio de spada (swordfish carpaccio) as an appetizer and my sister had some sort of warm goat-cheese salad. For main dishes, Carla had this amazing ravioli dish in truffle-cream sauce. From the taste and look of it, the cream sauce was literally a handful of shaved black truffle whipped into creme fraiche. It was kinda insane. My main dish involved a sort of seafood-y penne carbonara, with shards of smoked ham, shrimp, onions and this amazing cream sauce. I forget what my colleague and his partner had, but I'm pretty sure it was amazing, too.

The high point was the desserts, which were nearly deadly. I got the baba al limoncello. I had thought that this was going to be an Italian version of the South American dessert babaroi/babarua, but instead it was the European version of baba, which involves little champagne-cork-shaped bits of fried dough soaked in various things. In this case, it was a ton of limoncello (lemon liquor). The baba act like little sponges and each one holds almost an ounce of alcohol, so you can imagine what it was like to be presented with a dish of 10 baba with a little bit of whipped cream to hold it together. It was delicious, but I thought I was going to pass out by the end of it. My sister got a Neapolitan dessert called pastería (no relation to the Moroccan pastilla). This cake had a pie-crust base, with a layer of glazed pears and then a layer of orange flower blossoms. It was fragrant and delicious and light and not very sweet. If you ever have the opportunity to order it in a restaurant (especially this one) definitely try it.

After a great night of intense fooding (I was a bit too tipsy to walk easily and far too stuffed to walk comfortably), we said our goodbyes and staggered off to the nearest subway station. As we were heading home, I noticed that my throat was sore and scratchy. I remembered that my boss at work had been getting over a cold when I saw him on Wednesday. Hmmm. If I get his cold, I'll...

And then I spent the rest of the night coughing, blowing my nose, sweating, and feeling like my head had been set in gelatin.

mercredi, novembre 22, 2006

CarlaVisit Day 1: The Arrivëdness

At approximately 6am (which is 7pm Hawaii time), I get my ass out of bed and start my trek towards the airport by public transit. I stopped at my boulangerie to buy some coffee, a pain au chocolat, and another to bring to Carla at the airport. Having just landed there the day before, I felt like I was a trauma victim returning to the scene of violence or something: "No!! No more recycled air and duty-free shopping!!!" Anyway, I was surprised with how well I timed my trip. I got there just as Carla's plane was landing, so I just stood around, checked out the cute guy next to me, and waited for her to pass customs and claim her luggage. About a half-hour later, she came out and we started making our way over to the RER station.

When we got there, I noticed that all the electronic ticket machines were off. Hmmm. After checking a few, I noticed that there were a bunch of SNCF (the national rail company) workers in blue suits talking to a crowd of people. I approached one woman and asked her where I could find a "billeterie" that worked. She said nothing was running. I asked her where the human-powered ticket booth might be. She said nothing was running. After a moment of silent confusion, she finally offered the necessary details: there had been a power surge and the entire RER B line had been cut off. All trains are out of service indefinitely. It may be up in an hour, it may be up in a day. Ah, Paris, how you welcome your guests.

At that moment, my sister and I had a flash of insight about the difference between customer service in North America and in France (or Europe in general). In Canada or the States, a situation like this would be narrated by the following formula: "Here's what's wrong. We're sorry for the inconvenience. Here's what we're doing to fix it. Here's a reasonable prediction of when we'll fix it. Here's what we can do for you in the meantime, and/or here's what you can do to circumvent this problem. Again, our apologies." The French narrative, however, goes something like this: "It's broken." If you're lucky and get a polite person, you might also get a shrug a perhaps a "desolé(e)", which is the least intense (and therefore least sincere) form of apology in the French language.

Anyway, despite my misgivings about taxis in this town, we headed up to the surface and caught the first taxi we saw. The cabbie was unsurprisingly unfriendly; he refused to let my sister keep her sidebag on her lap, even though she had her laptop in there, he didn't take credit cards (even though airport taxis are supposed to), he stopped for a few minutes to mess with his equipment while the meter ran, he kept the radio blaring and only reduced it a little bit when I finally asked him to turn it down, and he conducted loud cellphone calls through his car stereo, so we could all enjoy his aimless and curse-filled chatter with his buddies. On the upside, he got us there in reasonable time and he didn't try taking us on a "tour" (i.e. taking the long route for better fare).

We rolled into the Residence Lila and got my sister into one of their rooms. After getting her settled in, I left her to take a nap and then I headed off to work for a few hours. When I got back from work, we did a bit of grocery shopping, a bit of email-checking, a quick visit to my boulangerie to get some bread and introduce my sister, and then we headed out for dinner. I had heard of this great cassoulet place near the Eiffel Tower, called La Fontaine du Mars, so we headed out there. We were a bit too early for the restaurant (we arrived around 19h00 and most restaurants in Paris don't open until 19h30), so we took a little walk along rue St. Dominique. We actually came across Patisserie Millet, which is the "best croissant in Paris" place that I had visited with Val nearly 3 months ago. We stopped for a croissant (almost spoiling our appetites), did a bit more walking, and then finally made it back to the restaurant.

All in all, the food was great. For appetizers, my sister had a velouté of cêpe mushrooms and I had gnocchi made with morel mushrooms. For the main dish, I tried the cassoulet, while my sister had something involving stuffed cannelloni and foie gras. We had a bit of beaujolais nouveau ('tis the season!) and left feeling a bit tipsy and very tired. I was still settling in from my 11-hour jetlag, and Carla had just flown in that morning. We staggered straight home and fell asleep.

mardi, novembre 21, 2006

Zombified in Paris

After my second red-eye flight, I finally landed in Charles de Gaulle airport and got off my plane. With everything still a blur, I claimed my luggage, headed through passport control and luggage, and then headed off to the RER terminal to get myself home. The ride home through the tuesday morning rush was unpleasant to say the least, especially on the final leg in the hot, sweaty, overcrowded line 11, but at least I got home.

I had hoped to make it in to work for a few hours that day, but it was not to be. I showered, did a bit of unpacking, then emailed work and told them that I was taking a day off. Besides, I would have to get up again at 6am to go get my sister from the airport the next morning (she's coming to visit). I took a nap for maybe 4 hours, forced myself awake for the rest of the evening, and after taking care of a bit of blogging and a lot of catch-up email, put myself to sleep around midnight.

I was pretty impressed with how easily I fell asleep, considering that midnight here is about 1pm Hawaii time, but I suppose that an 11-hour jet lag is so extreme that your body just gives up trying to stay awake.

lundi, novembre 20, 2006

Limbo: My Day in George Bush !@#$ing International Airport

So, after nearly 10 hours in the air from Honolulu, with fitful sleep and my contacts nearly glued to my eyeballs, we arrived in Houston, TX. After the madness of catching my connecting flight on the way to Honolulu, I took a certain pleasure in watching everyone around me freak out as they realized their plane was leaving in 10 minutes while I sauntered slowly off the plane. On the other hand I had an 11-hour layover. In other words, I spent last night on a red-eye flight, I would be spending this night on a red-eye flight, and I had 11 hours to spend in GEORGE BUSH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT in Houston, Texas. Heaven help me.

The first thing I did was pull out my contacts. Then, I pulled out my laptop and looked for wireless networks. Sprint PCS offered something for a relatively reasonable amount of money, so I signed myself up. Or rather, I tried to sign myself up. The stupid registration/purchase page of Sprint's contained poorly-written code that caused it to break in both Safari and Firefox/Mozilla. Eventually, I found an old version of Opera browser that would accept the antiquated code and I was online. I immediately started looking for information on transportation. If I have 11 hours to myself, I might as well see a bit of Houston; perhaps breathe some non-recycled air.

Alas, there was nothing but prohibitively-expensive taxis and prohibitively-slow buses to get me out of here, so I braced myself for a day of terminal-surfing. I got some coffee, found a seat near a power outlet (I wonder how much airports pay to charge people's laptops?) and surfed the web. When I had read every single blog I could think of and browsed every bit of news I could find, I got on Blogger and started back-blogging the previous days.

Which reminds me that I had forgotten to blog about an amusing theme to my time in Hawaii. After some amusing bedtime stories during our first night together at the hotel, Andrew and Greg and I had developed something of an inside joke involving apparently platonic friendship and "spooning." I'm not going to give details, to protect the innocent-ish, but rest assured that it was funny. Anyway, Andrew and Greg and I spent the rest of the weekend dropping the theme into casual conversation in a way that was probably familiar to our U of Chicago friends, but probably bewildering and/or titillating to the rest. At one point, we were eating sushi in a large group, and Andrew and I were having some sort of discussion over who was going to spoon who that night. A moment later, our very own Shayna had to explain to a new acquaintance at the table that Andrew and I were not a couple; it's just that Luis (me) engenders homoerotic innuendo wherever he goes. And she's right, of course. But what I enjoyed most about seeing my U of Chicago compatriots in Honolulu was how I had already saturated them so well with my dirty, queer sense of humor, they began to produce the innuendo for me. More than once, someone else in the group would "go there" well before I did. I appreciate not having to do all the heavy-lifting in the maintenance of the level of discourse. And I love the idea that my legacy to the U of C cohort will probably be a filthy, filthy sense of humor.

So that's it. Aside from this brief flashback, I have nothing else to say about my time in Houston, and that is precisely what was horrible about it. I just sat in terminal lounges, checking my mail periodically, and eventually snacking on horrible airport food. Eventually, 6:50pm came around and I traipsed onto my next plane, bound for Paris...

dimanche, novembre 19, 2006

SEM Day 4: Stand and Deliver

After dragging our hungover asses out of bed, we headed off to catch some Sunday morning papers. We would've totally slept in, but several friends of ours were giving papers, so we made the effort (you hear that, Rumya and Jim?). After a light lunch, we (Andrew, Greg and I) began preparing for our own session.

Now, the important thing to remember here is that our session was scheduled at 2pm - 3:30pm (14h00-15h30 for non-Americans). Now, I don't know how academic conferences are organized in other fields, but at all the music-related conferences I've been to, things end decisively at noon on Sunday. This is mostly because everybody needs to fly out Sunday afternoon to be available Monday at their educational institution. Thus, when the program committee for this year added another set of sessions after lunch on Sunday, they pretty much exiled a half-day of paper panels to a purgatory of inattention. On the upside, we could pretty much assume that nobody few people were going to show up for our papers, so we didn't have to sweat as much about quality and preparedness. On the downside, we all ignored that and worked hard on our papers, so it was a bit frustrating to deliver your paper to a crowd in the single-digits. During all of the preceding days in the conference, friends and colleagues of mine would take turns apologizing to me in advance for missing my paper. They were flying out of town, or they were taking advantage of Sunday afternoon to finally see a bit of Hawaii before their return flight.

Anyway, the paper went well enough, we all took a moment afterwards to grab some ice cream at Coldstone Creamery (cake batter ice cream!!), and then I headed off to the airport to catch my flight. I spent a couple of hours in the terminal, admiring their gardens again (I'll post pics soon), and then got on my flight, headed towards Houston. As I contemplated the 48 hours of travel ahead of me, I fell asleep in my profoundly uncomfortable airplane seat...

samedi, novembre 18, 2006

SEM Day 3: Papers, Parties, Prostitution

OK, I just threw in the last one for alliteration's sake, but I suppose no conference review is complete without some metaphor involving comparisons between the sex trade and the Obscene Paper-making Machine that is academic conference culture. "Blah blah sell your soul blah blah performative courtship rituals blah blah never mind that we're equating the politics and risks of sex work to a self-congratulatory circle-jerk between privileged academics."

I suppose I should pause here and say that I do like SEM (otherwise I wouldn't be a member) and I get an immeasurable amount of inspiration and instruction out of its conferences. If it sometimes tends toward a careerist clusterfuck, it is no more so than any other academic conference I've attended; Ethno/Anthro jobs are scarce, after all.

So, Saturday itself was a fun but densely-packed day. I went to a series of morning sessions, then a big block of papers on "DJ cultures" (I have my issues with that term), took a short lunch at Ruffage again, skipped a bunch of medium-interest papers for a short and intense visit to the beach, then off to the official banquet and the Uchicago/Upenn party afterwards. A few of us made it to the sushi place again for late-night 50% sushi, but the 15-odd people who followed us an hour later missed last call, so we just sat around and drank. The bar seemed to be determined to close early, and they were already turning up the lights by 1am. What's up with that? From there, a few of us who had Sunday morning sessions headed off to bed (with some cocktails, of course), while another part of the group headed off to find a bar that was open (or a liquor store, failing that).

UPDATE: pics of Hawaii here.

vendredi, novembre 17, 2006

SEM Day 2: Give it up for the Beach

After an early morning session that was just un-missable (i.e., the papers were too promising for me to sleep in), I grabbed a bit of a late breakfast and caught a few other fragmentary paper panels. After a while, me and a bud from the University of Toronto (hi Kate!) headed off in search of cheap sushi, and ran into the folks from the morning panel (many of whom had a U of Chicago connection) and we all ended up at an awesome local Hawaiian place. For around $10 each, we each had a towering mess of lotus leaves, slow-cooked pork, poi ("special" day-old flavor!), various pickled things, and some fish. Tasty!

UPDATE: see pics here.

I skipped the afternoon plenary sessions (precisely because they never scheduled a break in the schedule), bought myself a pair of hideous board shorts, a beach towel, and a reed mat, and hit the beach. I sprayed on a bit of tanning oil (SPF 4; hooray for my brownish ancestry!), inflicted my hairy body on the general public, and got my tan on. After a few good minutes of roasting on both sides, I hit the water. The shallows were warm and clear and there were little fishies swimming by, which could've entertained me for ages. Indeed, I once got a fantastic sunburn in Grenada by spending the entire day floating face-down, snorkeling over a reef full of fish. Some of the fish were actually pretty big and in really large schools and it was a lot of fun to find yourself surrounded by them. Also, there was this pair of tiny neon-blue fishes that looked like miniature swordfishes and swam really close to the surface. If it was possible, I would've picked them up and hugged them, they were so cute.

And then back to the conference. That little bit of sun had me in a much better mood, and I headed off to catch the last few papers of the day and then head off to the Popular Music Section meeting (a subgroup of the SEM). That meeting ran a bit long procedurally (i.e., Roberts Rules + slightly OCD academics = slow progress), but it's always fun to see the popmusic folks.

That evening, we hit the Harvard reception party, ate a lot of their fantastic baked brie and drank their free booze, schmoozed, and then headed off with a few of my folks to that sushi place in our hotel, Sansei, for 50% sushi after 10pm. There were about 9 of us in the end, and we ordered about $200 worth of sushi (that's after the discount). It was fantastic (especially the maguro!) and we all went away a bit over-stuffed and satisfied.

Afterwards, it was back to our room for more beers and cocktails on our balcony. Yay Hawaii!