samedi, septembre 09, 2006

Luis gets a (night) life

So, as a preface to all of this, my day began rather tepidly, with the intention to run an errand at the Louvre, hang around a bit, and then maybe see if there was some techno going on somewhere. Instead, the errand turned out to be moot, I wandered over half of the rive droite, and I ended up getting home very very late that night or very very early the next day, depending on how you see it.

I deliberately slept in today, letting myself enjoy the kind of sloth I hadn't had during the week. I wanted to do laundry, but I had no change, so I headed off to the nearby boulangerie to buy some bread. My boulangerie was closed, so I headed to Franprix (a very low-priced grocery store) and, despairing, got one of their crappy baguettes and some butter. Mind you, these baguettes would've been quite nice by Chicago or Toronto standards, but they're crap compared to the magic that you get at a boulangerie. On the way back to my place, I discovered that another boulangerie was indeed open; I had forgotten that nearby boulangeries often coordinate so that each can take breaks and holidays without depriving the locals of their daily bread. With a pain au chocolat in my hand, and enough change for laundry in my pocket, I headed home.

After a satisfying but not inspiring serving of buttered baguette, I took care of my laundry and did a bit of research online for soirées techno in Paris. I discovered this amazing website called Flyerweb, which scans all of the flyers it finds (or most, it seems) into an image database which is then browsable by date. Very useful; why don't we have something like this for Chicago or Toronto? I guess forum discussion boards do a similar thing, but not as slick. Either way, there was a minimal techno night going on tonight, which was the 5th anniversary of a recurring themed night called Minimal Dancin. The line-up looked good (see below) and the location was Nouveau Casino, which I had been meaning to check out.

Having made plans for the night, I set off to the Louvre to get a education pass for the Louvre. I didn't realize this, but if you're a teacher and/or student in particular areas of study, you get a pass that gives you unlimited acess to the Louvre and a jump-the-line privilege. The U of C Centre in Paris made up a special ID card that would fulfill the requirements of the membership offices at the Louvre. I headed over there, expecting a long line, a bit of confusion, some questions about the validity of the card or my position as a professor (long story) and at least some arguing/bargaining. Instead, I came in, sat down and explained my situation with a bit of the "oh gosh, I'm not sure what to do here" act, and the woman was like "Oh, this ID card will do fine. You don't even need to get a special pass with us. Just show the security guard that pass and you're in." Sweet! I wasn't going in today, but I needed to have it in place by monday for some activities with the Centre folks.

Still somewhat suspicious that I had escaped so easily, I wandered down rue Rivoli along the arcades to find this anglophone bookstore I remember from last year. A friend had suggested that I buy The Food Lover's Guide to Paris, but when I got to the store and asked, the woman at the counter let loose with this long rant about how it was out of print, it's been out of print for years, it will remain out of print, there is no way to find it anywhere in Paris, everybody keeps coming into her store to ask for it, etc. At this point, I realized that there was no going anywhere with this conversation, so I said "Ah, bien compris," and left.

From here, I managed to walk across a huge swath of downtown Paris. I rambled along rue Saint-Honoré through some of the really expensive boutiques, and picked up some chocolates from Michel Cluziel's chocolate shop. Delicious, but I've had better both here and in Chicago and Toronto. I walked past Les Halles, down rue Ste. Croix de la Bretonnerie (gay district), down rue des Rosiers (Jewish district), stopped for a coffee on rue Turenne near Place des Vosges, and then through Carla's and my old stomping grounds at Filles de Calvaire before getting on the métro at Place de la République. If you have a Paris map, you can see why I consider this a fair hike.

However, my walk through downtown Paris was also punctuated by something else, something very important and exciting....SPACE INVADERS! I found this guy leading into a side street going north from rue de Rivoli, one block west of the Louvre's carrousel exit. This next guy I found as I was walking south on rue de la Vieille Temple, between rue Ste. Croix de la Bretonnerie and rue de Roi de Sicile. At first I was sad, because he looked rather beat up:But then I took a few steps back...Yay! I don't know when this other one was put up, but it was obviously well after the first, based on the lack of wear.

I caught this Q-Bert mosaic on the rue des Francs Bourgeois on the way to rue Turenne:Isn't he adorable? This one is obviously made from pretty decent-quality glass tiles, and recent enough that it doesn't look crummy.

Later on, while I was looking for a record store which seems to have since moved or closed, I came across this guy:Isn't he cute?! And someone's even put their tag around him. I love how his eyes are shifted to one side.

So, enough about the daytime. I got home from all of this, killed some time on the web, did a bit of reading, and made myself a hurried dinner around 10pm. I was low on most things, and didn't feel like being creative, so I just boiled some spaghetti, melted some butter over it, and ground a bit of pepper. That was dinner. I hopped in the shower, and then headed out for the party, hoping that I wouldn't be too early. I realized that the event didn't start until midnight (most club events don't start until 11pm or midnight, and then run to 5 or 6 in the morning), but I was still used to the Toronto / Chicago timescale, so I arrived to the club by midnight, rather than 1 or 2am, when there would've been more of a crowd. I tried to delay things by walking past the club to the next major street, then turn around and head back, but that only bought me 10 or 15 minutes at best. When I got back, the doors weren't even open, so I struck up a conversation with two girls standing out front. (Since I didn't get permission to blog about them, I'm going to refer to them by initials and avoid identifying details.) E and S were sisters, and they had also worried about getting there too early, but they came straight over from a late dinner, so they didn't really have anywhere else to go.<\p>

We stood outside for a few more minutes until the door finally opened. A tall bouncer came out and prepared to send people in. He talked quietly to two men closest to the doors—notably, not very fashionably/expensively dressed and both with Maghrebi features (i.e. North African)—and they eventually nodded and left without comment. I really wish I could've heard what they were saying but they conversation was held a bit too quietly and the combined accents of the West African bouncer and the Maghrebin men outpaced my French skills. A moment later, the same bouncer asked E "How many are in your party?" She said, "Two....and this one," pointing to me. "So, then, three?" "Yeah, sure."

Although it happened in an instant, I'm pretty sure that E had saved me from an hour of waiting outside or at least the price of a bribe to the bouncer. It seemed like this club was running on a "New York Bouncer" system, where girls always get in, pretty girls go first, groups of guys have to wait or bribe the bouncer, and certain men (presumably, "dangerous" or "undesireable" types) have no hope of getting in. I guess my time in Paris will give me a better idea of how consistent this practice is at this establishment, and how pervasive it is across the city.

0h00-1h00: Duplex 100

When we got in, the place was emtpy, but there was at least some music playing, so we walked around the bar a bit, and remarked on the attractiveness of the dj (Duplex 100). The music was definitely minimal, rather mid-tempo, and occasionally leaning towards click-house. I went to the bar and ordered a rum & coke, but got two instead of one (no, it wasn't free), so I gave my second to E, since she and S helped my way into the club. We watched as people started filing into the bar, lining up against the walls or against the bar, reluctant take to the center of the floor. Although we got a good laugh out of it, we certainly weren't any better. At some point, Duplex 100 dropped a particularly bassy track and 4 or 5 people broke from the crowd and started nonchalantly grooving near the front of the room. S, who had been eager to dance, took this as a cue and left us to dance. After I finished my drink, I joined her.

1h00-2h00: LLC

Laurent le Costumier (LLC) came on with a more upbeat and more emphatically tech-house set (although still shy of the clicky high-end work I expect from micro house), which got S and I dancing more enthusiastically. She liked the way I danced, especially my body-wave, which is modeled on but not the quite the same as the breakdancing move. As a sort of finishing move for other patterns, I hold my fists near my chest, elbows out, and push my chest and shoulders forward; since my lower back stretches out in the effort, I can roll back my shoulders and the rest of my torso snaps back into place in descending order, creating a wave effect. Although I'm relatively articulate about it now, you can imagine the trouble I had explaining this in French when S demanded a lesson. Instead, we settled for a few basic questions ("Do you start at the top or the bottom?") and a lot of imitation. After a few minutes, E joined us in dancing. Towards the end of the LLC's set, I told E and S I was going to the front of the room, where there was a stage on which I could put my sidebag while I was dancing (and also to get close the DJ and see the action).

02h00-3h30: Jon Tejada (live set)

Although I started this set at the front-right of the room, I slowly moved left along the edge of the stage as people alternately took and relinquished space around me. As I progressed down the stage, I was amused to recognize many of the "usual suspects" from my Toronto/Chicago days. There was one of two guys (who almost seemed to take turns) pressed to the front, yelling barely coherent words of (possible) encouragement to the DJ and whistling so loudly that the people around them cringed. When not yelling, he would dance vigorously and jostle the people around him. There was another guy, dressed rather smartly and rather certain of it, trying to catch the gaze of a certain very pretty girl next to him. His particular mating dance involved some very wide swaying, driven from his hips, which resulted, ironically, in him spending more time rubbing up against me than the object of his desire. I'm sure I could write a whole paper about that situtation. John Tejada was great; I had some memory of his earlier work that was very trance-y and very not my thing, but he has obviously changed in the intervening years since I last checked him out. He did a live laptop set, which tended to alternate between soft, atmospheric chord patterns laid over delicate beats, and grinding acid-house basslines supported by pounding bass kicks.

Sometime during this set, I made it to the leftmost corner of the stage. Shortly after getting there, a girl appears to my left and places her rather stuffed Manhattan Cartage sidebag next to mine on the stage. She makes eye contact with me (which tends to carry more potential significance in Europe in general, I find), leans in with a grin and eyebrows that are raised in some sort of question, and then she bursts out laughing. This would become A's main mode of operation as the night progressed. A was very outgoing, affectionate by French standards (she would touch my shoulder or arm when talking to me), loved the way I danced, and found me "trop drôle" (too funny). I wondered if she might be on E that night, but she never offered that information, I wasn't sure how to prudently ask the question. We chatted a bit about the DJ, about other events we've been to, and I told her that I had recently arrived to Paris from Chicago. She asked me how I had learned to speak French so well (a generous assessment on her part); when I told her about my 3-month exchange program in high school she seemed unconvinced, but when I mentioned that I was Canadian, everything seemed to make sense to her. When she later introduced me to N and L, she made a point of mentioning that I was Canadian, which was usually met with a sort of pleasant surprise that reminded me of how different my time in Paris might be if I was American. I encountered the same thing 10 years ago when I did my exchange to Le Mans, France: my friends were careful to point out that they didn't "hate" Americans in the way that Americans think they do, but they still had a different and largely positive set of expectations for Canadians.

3h30-4h30: P'toile

As P'toile (Claudia Marquardt) started up a set of minimal techno that seemed like a softer, less relentless version of a Magda set, A introduced me to N and L; N was tall and slim, with short-cropped hair, while L was mid-sized and slim, with something approaching a mop-top (In France, what would be called "skinny" by American standards seems to be default body shape for men). Both were chatty and friendly, and both were also surprisingly affectionate—they would both put their arms around my waist or shoulders when they talked to me, and N in particular would press his face against mine when talking into my ear. After some chit-chat about what I was doing in Paris and what we thought of the evening so far, N asked me if I knew where to find any "prode." It took me a few tries before I figured out what he meant: "prode" is short for "produit," which translates as "product", but also happens to sound a lot like "drogues" in French ("drugs"). I laughed and told him that I've only been here for a week, so there's no way I would have that kind of knowledge, and so he set out on his own quest for party supplements. L stuck around and chatted with me, eager to tell me what he thought about some of the elctronic artists coming out of Canada. As it turns out, L works in music (I think audio tech?) and he also makes electronic music on the side. DING! My fieldwork-alarm went off and I made a mental note to follow up on L if I get a chance.

4h30-6h00: Aril Brikha (live set)

N comes back, triumphant in his quest. N and L take turns disappearing to the bathroom. Every few minutes, a bouncer walks by and commands us to pick up our bags from the stage. As soon as he passes, we put them back down. Brikha's set sounds great, although not as hard as I've heard him before; perhaps it has something to do with the minimal theme tonight, even though hard / throbbing minimal techno is certainly possible. A short girl with a drink tries to reach around me to put her drink on the stage. I don't see hear and nearly knock her glass. I excuse myself, hoping that next time she'll say "pardon" or touch my shoulder before she stretches across my space with a glass full of liquid. After three times, the inevitable happens. Thankfully, it's all across the stage and not on me. I shift my bag out of the way (as well as her jacket), and she makes an exasperated gesture, glares at me, and then turns to complain to her friend nearby. A minute later, her friend—who also had a drink on the stage—pointedly grabs my shoulder and says in my ear "Excuse me. I don't want to spill my glass." ("J'ai pas envie de faire reverser mon verre," which is a bit more accusatory in the Frensh, I think). As she pulls away with her drink, I notice that both her and her friends jackets have become wet with spilled alcohol as it moves across the stage. I move my bag, but leave their jackets without comment.

A eventually needs to leave, so she makes her goodbyes to me, N and L. While I'm dancing, a guy that I had seen running drinks to the DJs on the stage comes up to me, holding 3 glasses in his hands. He motions to the third glass with his head, and I grab it, pointing to N and L over my shoulder with a questioning glance. "No, it's for you." "Oh." "It's just water." "Oh, cool. Thanks!" I'm more than a bit puzzled, but the guy disappears without further comment. For the record, it was indeed just water. At around 5h45, I finally decide to leave, hoping that the métro would be running again. I shake hands with N and L, planting a kiss on each cheek in the manner suggesting good male friends. Although they were affectionate enough to put their arms around me and get very close to me during the evening, at the moment of farewell there were no hugs; hugging was even too sexualized for this friendly (and probably drug-enhanced) situation, and the platonic embrace doesn't seem to work in France.

It's almost 6am, and I stumble back to the métro and ride it home, exhausted. I leave the station at Porte des Lilas and find my boulangerie is already open. Great! I get a chausson poire-chocolat, a baguette, and I head back home. The sun comes up as I get ready for bed. Thankfully, my room has light-sealing blinds.

vendredi, septembre 08, 2006

Rest and Risotto

Well, after a very busy week and a lot of running around, I finally slowed down a bit on Friday. Truth be told, there was a not-insignificant amount of stuff to do at work, but the after-work was nice and relaxing.

I started my day by trying to get up hella early and failing. The alarm clock didn't go off, and this time I reset the alarm to the next minute and it still didn't work. I guess I need to change the batteries. Anyway, I still had to walk to the nearest métro station with a photo booth and take my carte de séjour pictures. (On the way, I stopped at a nearby boulangerie and got a pain au chocolat and a Chausson Poire-Chocolat—think croissant wrapped around melted chocolate and pear—gawd, are those things ever tasty when they're fresh!) After the crap I went through to get my captive-bead piercings out of my ears for this photo, I was telling anybody who would stand still long enough about my ear-piercing woes. With photos in hand, I zipped off to the Centre.

At the Centre, I put the finishing touches on my visa paperwork, then discovered that the printer in the computer lab was "broken." As it turns out, several print jobs had been sent to the printer in 8x11" format instead of A4. When the printer gets a print job in a format it doesn't have, it waits for someone to manually re-direct the print job to a particular paper tray. So I had to sit there at the printer for several minutes, pressing buttons as I cleared the print queue. After that sillyness, I sent around a precisely-worded email to the students in English (rather than the usual French) and I logged into the computer lab computers as an admin to see the system preferences settings. As it turns out, the global default paper size had been set to 8x11; this means that students can still override the setting when they print from Word, but it also means that they have to remember to override it. Not satisfied with the prospects of 25-odd students being expected to remember something they don't usually do when they print at home, I got into the system preferences on all of the computers and just re-set them to A4. Problem solved!

Alas, there were other problems waiting for me throughout the day, but thankfully none of them were insurmountable. Things quieted down around 3pm and there was a student at my residences that was feeling ill, so I headed home and checked in on him. With the courtesy call taken care of, I just wandered back to my room, surfed the web and made risotto. I had thought about going out that night, but I decided against it, since I still had saturday and sunday ahead of me. Considering my night on Saturday, that was a very good idea.

Since this is already turning into a food blog, I thought I'd post some pics and a recipe for my What I have at hand Risotto:

1 dry Chorizo, half-eaten 1 Onion or a couple of Shallots, diced fine as much Garlic as you can take, crushed Olive Oil, enough to cover a small frying pan a handful of Arborio Rice a saucepan full of simmering Water, preferably with a Bouillon cube in it a forkful of Butter (to finish) some Tumeric for colour (just a bit!)

Essentially, you just bring these things together in the order they're listed:

  1. Chop the Chorizo into smallish cubes and put on a hot dry pan until they render their fat.
  2. Add onion, garlic and olive oil, until the onion begins to brown.
  3. Add rice and stir over high heat until the rice is glossy and a bit transparent.
  4. Add about 1/2 cup of stock/water to rice, which should make it sizzle. Stir continuously until the liquid has been absorbed.
  5. Continue adding water in small units and stirring until it is absorbed.
  6. When the rice is almost ready (soft grains, creamy sauce) add a bit of tumeric and butter
  7. Remove from heat and serve.

jeudi, septembre 07, 2006

"On va boire un coup..."

So, in the preceding couple of days, I had managed to get into contact with Mélanie, an old friend from the days when I came to France as an exchange student. She sent me an email, suggesting that we should get together on thursday (tonight) to "aller boire un coup." Roughly translated, this means "go out for a drink." Not at all surprisingly, this was not just "a drink."

After sleeping in more than I had intended and feeling a bit confused about how I might've slept through my alarm clock (more on this the next day), I got myself together and headed out. In an attempt to make up for my late arrival, I decided to overdress. Mind you, I'm not capable of overdressing in the way French businessmen might; I don't have the budget for Armani suits and none of my shoes are all that nice. Instead, I wore a pair of navy corduroy pants, a powder blue penguin shirt with contrast cuffs, a pair of cheap but nice black leather ALDO boots, my black Anemone moulded vinyl messenger bag, and a cute tie that was navy blue with diagonal rows of multicoloured boxes. All of this layered onto a stocky latino with 6-guage piercings, chin-strap facial hair and a buzz haircut made for a lot of interested stares from the businessmen who shared the subway with me. Interestingly enough, the businesswomen were mostly uninterested.

The day at the Centre was busy but unexceptional, including the usual fixing of things gone wrong. I also started putting together an horaire de permanence (office hours), which will hopefully keep me from being overworked. As it is, I'm only supposed to be working 15 hours a week. I nonetheless managed to stay rather late today, mostly because I had a date with Mélanie @ 7.30 downtown, anyway. After killing time in my office trying to take care of various small tasks, I decided I might as well arrive early to our meeting place, since it was right on rue Rivoli, in the middle of a nice shopping district. I can just wander around for a bit.

As I was heading out to do just that, I passed by the break room and heard a few voices. I popped in to say goodbye and one of them said, "You're not going to leave without drinking a cup of wine with us, are you?" Well, there was no denying them at that point. Although I was just about to go out and have drinks anyway, I didn't want to be antisocial...and I was pretty sure refusing the wine would be an antisocial gesture. So, on an empty stomach that hadn't seen more than a croissant that day, I had two substantial glasses of wine while we chatted and bitched and dished and so on. At some point, I asked what the time was and realized I only had about 30 mins to get to where I was going. I still don't know how to judge travel times in Paris, so I'm always predicting it will take more than half an hour. Of course, I arrived in 15 minutes and Mélanie called me to say she was going to be late.

On my way to the station, I noticed this street sign. What's up with that? How did I not notice a street named after a major 20th-Century French composer two paces from my workplace? Well, I made up for it by taking this nice photo.

But as I emerged from the Saint-Paul métro station (ligne 1) on rue Rivoli, what should I see, but...SPACE INVADERS!!This totally made my day. I'm more and more fond of these little mosaics, and I keep asking myself: how does one lay graffitti-mosaic? See linked article for further discussion...

Drinks with Mélanie were great. We met at a small Dutch bar right near the subway stop called Klein Holland. After a bit of catching up, this "aller boire un coup" turned into heading off at 9.30pm for dinner in the nearby rue des Rosiers, which is the oldest Jewish area in Paris. We had a plate of falafels and other Middle Eastern delights at a neat (but very busy) café called Chez Marianne.

Afterwards, I tired Luis dragged himself back home. Before I could get to bed, however, I had to deal with my earrings. I needed to give Arnaud 3 passport-style photos for my application for the carte de séjour; by French law, these sorts of photos must follow strict guidelines that include the removal of all earrings. But here's the problem, I have those stainless steel captive-bead earrings, which don't come out easily. Essentially, these sorts of earrings should only be affixed and removed with a pair of smooth-nosed pliers. Do you think I have that sitting around in my apartment? Hell no. Do you think that I'm going to trek around Paris tomorrow morning and find a reputable piercing shop before 10am for the photos? Also, hell no. Can I just jam a pair of scissors into the earring and pull outwards? Hell yes. It didn't hurt, since all I was doing was applying outward force on the ring itself. However, it totally bruised up my fingers in the process. Ugh. Now I have my super lame retaining rings (i.e. metal tunnels) in my ears, and they'll just have to stay there until I can visit a piercing shop.

mercredi, septembre 06, 2006

And Finally, the Tour

Finally, after a week of delaying, I got my place in decent enough order to post some pictures without (too much) embarassment. But before we get to the peep show (and there is a money shot, so to speak), here's a quick summary of the day:

Since I no longer had any fixed meetings to attend, I let myself sleep in a little bit wednesday morning, and then dragged my ass over to the Centre to be productive. I caught up a bit on some blogging, did a non-insignificant amount of dépannage (trans. "un-breaking" or "repair"), and helped a professor with some rather involved A/V work for her language class. It was one of the more uneventful days I've had, but certainly not light. I think I got out of there around 6.00pm.

I took advantage of the remaining sunlight to make a quick run to the nearest supermarket (named without irony Champion) and got some more basic stuff (e.g., milk and water) as well as some housekeeping and toiletry items I needed. For the small handful of things I needed, it seems like hardly worth the trouble to wait in line when I saw the mess and the cashiers. Apparently, EVERYONE does their shopping on Wednesday, or some such. Thankfully, there was a guy in front of me in line with a fantastic butt, and that gave me the courage to wait in line to buy my stuff.

After all of that, I pretty much got home and started working on blog stuff and took care of some email housekeeping that I had neglected while Val was in town with me. I also made some spaghettoni aglio e olio with shallots, but it wasn't my best effort. After all of that uneventfulness, here's the photos I finally took of my place. The first (left) is a shot from the entrance to my apartment. Roomy, no? Well, I didn't have any illusions going into this. Any place described as a "studio" by European standards is going to be small. On the upside, I do have my own bathroom and kitchenette, which is a step higher than a lot of residences.

Here's one side of my closet......and here's the other! I'm actually pretty happy with the closet space. After buying the necessary clothes hangers (cintres in French), I managed to get all my stuff in there with a fair bit of extra room. Note that there's a big empty space up top. I'm thinking of getting some cheap IKEA storage boxes to make better use of that area.

Voilà my desk / table. It's not very easy to see, but about 2/3 of that is a desk area, and 1/3 is a little detachable table, that you can pull away for some attempt at proper dinner seating. It's actually a rather well-designed table, with a small shelf that runs the entire underside of both tables for little things like unused computer cables, sunglasses, and even my laptop, if I needed the table space.

Ah, the kitchenette. This is probably the least pleasing aspect of it all, although I'm just relieved that I didn't have to share my foodspace with anyone else. There's a small fridge underneath the counter, as well as a cupboard. I suppose that the cupboard should be for storing dry goods and the shelf above the kitchen would be for plates, but I need my foodstuffs close at hand when cooking. Besides, all I have for table/cookware is a melamine plate, a melamine bowl, a glass, several forks, one spoon, no knives, one chef's knife, a wooden spoon, a saucepan, and a couple of small frying pans. Also, please note that the stove is ELECTRIC. I did not come all the way out here to cook on an electric !@#$ing stove. OK, enough venting. I feel strongly about food preparation.

Here's the bathroom. It's small, but it's mine and I have no complaints.

And, finally, my bed! The mattress is some cheap kind of foam, but it works. Mind you, it's a far sight from the sweet queen-size box-spring mattress I left with Shayna back in Chicago. Shayna, don't forget that I get that back when I return!!

So, after all of that, I sit down to start typing this up, and what do I see? Ta Daaa! A praying mantis! I won't sleep alone tonight, after all! I decided to grant the little guy clemency from my "you trespass, you die" rule for bugs, and let him conduct his Dance of Bug Death with the lightbulb. This was probably because by then I had already opened a bottle of wine and had two large glasses, so I was feeling pretty good about the world.

mardi, septembre 05, 2006

More dépannage and more food

The evening before, Val secured permission for me to be absent for most of the morning today, which gave us time to go on a quest for the best croissant / pain au chocolat in Paris. My only limitation was that I had to be back by 13:30 to give a presentation to the incoming students on the Rive Gauche site, which was put together a couple of years ago as a compilation of orientation materials for visiting students.

So, after a fair bit of research the night before, Val located a number of articles and reviews dubbing the Pâtisserie Jean Millet as the best viennoiserie (specializing in croissant-type pastries) in town (7ème arr., between Invalides and Eiffel). And let me tell you: they indeed make the best freaking croissant I've ever had. Val took a few pictures of the whole adventure, so I might post them here as an update later if Val sends 'em to me. I got a croissant and coffee, and Val got a pain au chocolat and tea. Both of our pastries were very, very dry and flaky, with the outside layers flaking off at a finger's touch and the inside full of huge air bubbles. The whole thing tasted like it had been made with a whole stick of butter, it was neither too sweet nor too salty, and the top had a brown singe to it that showed it to have been aggressively baked at high heat. Hah. Agressively baked. I like that.

After all of that fun, Val bought a few of their attractive-looking chocolates and headed off. Of course, we weren't done. Val had also read about a boulangerie only two blocks down called Poujauran, so we headed there for another round of pastries. Val got her pain au chocolat and I tried their apricot-filled croissant. Then, we headed north towards the Seine. Right where some random street met the quai near the Seine, we found these (see images). There was this corner portal on an otherwise unexceptional office building, with beautiful glass doors and statues/reliefs flanking the doors on each side. To the left was a strange mix of iconography that suggested a biblical Eve character (serpent), stereotyped native american (grass skirt, hair), and african (the shape of the face and the body). It's a bit hard to tell from these photos, but click on them for a closeup. To the right was a figure helpfully labelled as la seine, using the trope of wavy hair and rippling robes to suggest the river. Ah, for the days when the seine looked as clean as that! Mind you, I haven't caught a wiff of the seine since I got here, so maybe they've cleaned it up a bit. In addition to these two, check out the detail on the door handles:

Now that is some sexy metalwork. Val immediately recognized the mermaid figures as a character from a legend, but I totally forget the name, so Val: if you're reading this, could you post a recounting of the tale in the comments?

So, after that moment of decorative loveliness, we headed over to the gravel path along the seine, sat down a few paces away from a dozing homeless man, and ate our Poujauran pastries. They were delicious, and knocked the socks off of anything you could find in N. America, but it didn't create the sort of gastronimic orgy in my mouth that the Millet croissants did. But of course, that's like saying that a Lexus is somewhat lackluster in comparison to a Porsche or Ferrari.

Afterwards, we headed off in the direction of the Eiffel Tower, thinking we might look around, dash up to the top, get a few pictures, and then make it back to the Centre in time for my presentation. This seemed like a fine idea, although I noticed that it was already 11am and I should be on the RER by 12:30pm if I'm to reach the Centre on time. So we headed over, then got in a huge, sprawling line. It took a good long while before we hit the ticket booth, and then we got on the elevator to the second floor, where we were supposed to transfer to another elevator for the final ascent. What we should've expected (but didn't) was that there was another huge line running all the way around the second level of the tower just to get on the final elevator to the top. Clearly there was no way we'd get up there on time. In fact, just getting the the second floor had taken quite a while, and it was already almost 12:30. So, we cut our losses, took some pictures from the observation deck, then got on the elevator and headed back down. We dashed off to the RER stop and I made it back to the Centre—beaded in sweat—with just minutes to spare.

The presentation itself went fine. I just walked them through the whole Rive Gauche site, while constantly making it clear that the design was not my own. Don't get me wrong; the content of this site is profoundly useful (although requiring a bit of updating here and there), but the site's layout and organization was, to put it lightly, atrocious. It's like an explosion of mismatched animated gifs. Nonetheless, all went well and one of the students even volunteered to help with the re-design. Not bad, all around.

On a more amusing note, one of my co-workers came in after my presentation to speak briefly to the class, and he asked me "Is this your VGA adapter?" In fact, I had taken the adapter from his office in a panic while I had been trying to get my laptop hooked up to the projector. So I say to him "Oh, I stole it from your office." However, I mixed up one slang word for "to steal" (piquer) with a rather different word (niquer), which resulted in me saying "I f*cked you with it in your office," or something like that. Thankfully, he had a sense of humour and the students didn't quite pick up on it (well, I think some had an idea).

I spent the rest of the afternoon doing a bit of IT support while Val started re-imaging the computers in the salle informatique with a new build. Unfortunately, there was some issue with permissions on the master disk image that forced us to update the computers one by one instead of en masse. Nonetheless, all was eventually taken care of. Since we were staying late, we decided to go straight to dinner and I checked in with Sebastien for a few suggestions. He gave us a short list of four, from which we eventually chose a spot in the 13eme, called L'Ourcine.

We made our reservations and headed over to the restaurant; we had managed to sneak in to an early first-seating (7pm, which is unthinkably early by European standards), so we only had two hours to eat our meal (also unthinkably short by European standards). Nonetheless the meal was amazing and we got out just in time for the next seating. I had a fantastic Sauternes apéritif (sweet white wine from the Bordeaux region), and then a poêlée de cèpes, avec echalottes et ciboulette (a sort of French stir-fry of a particularly meaty mushroom variety with shallots and chives); the shallots were browned to a candy-like flavour and the mushrooms had that perfect balance between high-heat sear and meaty firmness. I should have taken a picture, alas, but it seemed like this place was not the sort where photo-taking tourists were common or welcome. Maybe when my french is better, I can pose as a restaurant reviewer. I'll also need to upgrade my wardrobe substantially....

Anyway, my main dish was a noix de veau prepared with a milk marinade and a fair bit of garlic and butter (and parsley). At first, the shape and size of the noix, as well as the texture and complete lack of fat, made me think that noix was a french culinary euphemism for testicles. I've eaten bull testes before (thanks, mom) and I have to grudgingly admit that they are delicious. So this ball of meat was also fantastic, and I spent the night thinking I had eaten a massive and very well prepared veal testicle. Afterwards, I looked it up online and discovered that the name refers to a bundle of three muscles near the hip of the veal that are usually very tender and free of fat or cartilage. Sorry Val! If I hadn't told her that I was eating testicles, she might have tried them. It was delicious. Dessert was a molten chocolate cake (mi-cuit) with a sorbet of milk and mint. Again, fantastic. The whole thing together was a lovely night, and we also had the pleasant experience of arriving early to an empty restaurant, and then watch it slowly fill throughout the meal. By the time we left, the place was jumping.

So on the way out, I come across this:Amusing, n'est-ce pas? What some of you might not already know is that part of my project here in paris is to work on Electronic Dance Music (EDM), and that one of the more active sub-genres is minimal techno. Minimal techno, in turn, is often associated with a genre of lifestyle and personality that can be pretentious, faddish or ostentatiously austere. So there there's this Minimal Shop which you would expect to provide lifestyle products for techno geeks. Upon first glance, not so much.

lundi, septembre 04, 2006

Food and Frenzy

Since today was a bracing mix of highs, lows and intensity, I'm going to front-load the delightful surprise that made my evening. As Val and I were exiting the métro station Madeleine, we came across this awesome display of Lego™ bunnies and neon pink Post-It™ notes. Those of you who know me well probably don't need any explanation for why this sort of thing creams my proverbial Twinkie™, but here it is for the rest of you. This sort of thing rings my bell on several levels:

  1. bright colours,
  2. pixel-like graphics / technology-nostalgia,
  3. cuteness (i.e. OMG bunnies!!),
  4. everyday/urbanscape art (see yesterday's post),
  5. and did I mention bright colours?

Thanks to all of this as well as the rest of my night following this, the earlier part of my day was just a prelude to awesomeness.

My day started early and already a bit hectic. At 8.15am, I was to meet with the students I was responsible for and take them by métro to the UCParis Center. After being sidetracked by a request for help from the student whose baggage was lost last saturday, I headed downstairs in a rush—only to find merely one of five students waiting for me in the lobby. After a bit of waiting, another one showed up. Finally, I went back upstairs and found the rest of them catching up. With a bit of hustle (and a stop at the boulangerie), we made it into the métro and to the Center relatively problem-free.

Once I got there, however, it was non-stop. All the students needed to be enrolled into the virtual clasroom for their courses right away. One of the old (virtual) courses from the summer should've been copied into a new version for the fall. An unexpected student has arrived and she needs to be added to everything.

As I began to deal with that, I was called away to speak to the students about how to get onto the WiFi at the Center. As I finished with my little presentation (which I stumbled through in french then english), I returned to my office, only to be followed by five students as class broke for lunch. All of them couldn't get onto the network, and it took almost half an hour before I figured out that there was a capitalization error beteween the actual password and the paperwork I had found in my office when I arrived. Thank goodness for Keychain Assistant on MacOSX! I was able to hack into my own keychain and figure out what my WiFi WEP key was and compare it against the one on paper. I like simple solutions. In the midst of all of this, Val and I were trying to find a way to update the builds on all of the laboratory computers without interfering with classes—despite some odd complications and a conflict with labor day in the US (i.e., nobody in Chicago was answering their email).

The rest of the day was full of similar problems, tasks and occasional solutions; good moments, bad moments, but all of them intense. For the sake of professionalism (and ethics) I won't go into details about the inner workings of the Centre. The end of that story was that I wrapped up the day exhausted, but moderately pleased with my performance on rapidly shifting ground.

From here, the story pics up after my encounter with the pink Lego™ bunnies. After thinking ahead and actually making a reservation, we finally ate at Brasserie Bofinger—the same brasserie we had tried to get into yesterday. As you might gather from yesterday's post, this place served awesome seafood and I was really eager to go. Val started with the soupe à l'ognion, which she professed to be the best she's ever had, and I ate the millefeuille de crabe et pomme Granny as an appetizer. With a name like millefeuille, I was expecting some sort of layered confection of crab meat and crisp, thin-cut apple slices; the contrast of crunchy acidulated apple slices and soft, wet crab meat would've been perfect. Alas, the plate I got consisted of three blobs of crab meat interspersed with three dessicated (and thus chewy) slices of apple. The flavour was still mind-blowing, but the texture wasn't what I expected.

The main dish, on the other hand, totally surpassed all expectations. Val got some sort of beef preparation that I totally forgot as I was swept away by my main dish. I got the choucroute de la mer, which included a mound of Alsatian sauerkraut (stay with me, here), a langoustine, several pieces of delicately prepared fresh fish and a pool of the most amazing butter sauce. It tasted like a salty caramel, scented with a combination of spices that were too subtle for me to detect.

Finally, the dessert. Val got a chocolate cake, which I also completely forgot about, because I had le trou normand. So, I realize that this translates into "The Norman Hole," but bear with me. This is a sundae-sized glass cup, filled with 3 scoops of green apple sorbet (essentially, green apples crushed and frozen), decorated with a lattice of hardened caramel and fruit, with a side of calvados (apple-based) liqueur. You take the calvados, dump it on the sorbet, and eat. Holy !@#$ it was delicious.

All in all, it was good to be Luis by the end of the night. The evening was only marred briefly by the waiter at the end of the meal. We pulled out a coupon that gave us a %20 reduction for the meal and he didn't like it one bit. He eventually took it, but not without a fair bit of hostility. Ah well, at least the food was good!

dimanche, septembre 03, 2006

Space Invaders!

Is that a Freudian slip or a Jungian synchrony? Whether id or collective unconscious, this was what caught my eye as I was sauntering over to the Télégraphe métro station on some errands this morning. Apparently, this guy takes the pixellated image of space aliens from early ATARI games, turns the pixels into glass tiles, and makes mosaics. More fascinating, is how he lays them up on these crazy locations around the city. I mean, this one was about 3 metres above the ground, on the wall of an ancient cemetary. How does one lay tile stealthily?

Anyway, the day that led up to this discovery started rather early. I got up, with the intention to head out early with Val to l'Orangerie. The night before, I had told Val "Oh, you really have to go. It's this lovely converted train station and there's tons of great late 19th and early 20th century art—and we must have lunch in the beautiful salon!" (Now, those of you who are familiar with l'Orangerie and another certain museum will detect a forthcoming irony in all of this.) I had to be back to the residences by 3pm to give a tour of the neighborhood to the incoming students, so the plan was that Val and I would hit the museum in the morning, then lunch, then I'd head back to the residences while Val continued to look around. I got up early, but checked the hours for l'Orangerie and discovered that they only opened for individual guests (in contrast to groups) after 12:30pm.

Not wanting to wake Val up unnecessarily, I left her an email about this, then I headed out into the quartier. With my extra time, I thought, I could walk to the nearest métro station and prepare for the afternoon tour, which would culminate in a visit to the métro to buy cartes oranges. These are weekly or monthly metropasses that require a permanent ID card and a corresponding coupon that works like a perpetual subway ticket for its duration. The ID card was important (to be caught without it brings down a heavy fine), and this card required a particular form and an ID photo from a photo cabin—both of which were available at most métro stations. To make things go more smoothly, I decided to get these forms in advance and secure the location of the nearest cabine foto.

The nearest photo booth wasn't in the Porte des Lilas station, but the next one over: Télégraphe. I walked over, picked up the carte orange forms, checked out the photo booth, and then walked out of the station and into the SPACE INVADERS! mosaic. After getting a few shots of it, I continued on my way back home. At some point along the way, I passed a boulangerie that had strategically directed the exhaust fans from their kitchens to the street. As I passed through that miasma of baking bread, I couldn't help but duck in and buy a baguette and a pain au chocolat (something like a pastry roll full of chocolate). Just to be completely french about it, I ate my pain au chocolat on foot, then hit a café looking over the place and had a coffee with my still-warm baguette keeping me company.

As I enjoyed my coffee, I called Val to catch up with her. She had some amusing news for me: after doing a bit of web research, it became clear that the museum I had been hyping hadn't been l'Orangerie, but the Musée d'Orsay. Dammit. Thankfully, Val hadn't been to Orsay either, so we still made plans to go.

After a quick stop at home, I zipped over to the Musée d'Orsay to meet Val—that walk from the Invalides stop was a lot longer than I remembered! We discovered that this museum has free entry on the first sunday of every month (today!) which made me feel a bit better about eating lunch and then dashing without re-visiting the contents of one of my favourite museums. The food in the museum's "fancy" restaurant was delicious, and Val caught up with me in the embarassment department (see last night) by spraying sugar all over herself. I had opened a sugar packet for my coffee, then realized that it was delicious without it, so I offered it to Val for her tea. Not realizing it was already open at one end, she grabbed the other end and flicked it to gather the sugar on the other end. Instead, she sprayed herself and part of the table. Thankfully, Val dealt with the situation with grace (unlike I, who laughed like the uncultured jerk I am) and didn't hit diners on either side of her.

With lunch taken care of, I bid farewell to Val and the musée d'Orsay, then zipped back home for the orientation tour. All in all, things went surprisingly smoothly: I made them fill out their carte orange cards; I gave them a tour of the residences; I walked them towards the métro station; we stopped on the way to take out cash; I helped them get their pictures taken and buy their carte orange coupons; we walked back as I pointed out useful stores and services; and at some point I gave them the safety lecture (i.e. "Treat this neighborhood as you would Hyde Park in Chicago"). At some point, I also showed them the Space Invaders mosaic near métro Télégraphe, and one of the students immediately found another one a block down. I've made a mental note to post that one on here as well! After all of that, I spent another hour or so helping one of the students call Air France to look into her lost baggage, then I headed off to meet Val for dinner.

[side note: I saw a poster in Télégraphe that advertised an upcoming concert by Basiani in September. Yay! Basiani is a wonderful Georgian ensemble that would be the perfect counterpoint to the performance I heard the night before.]

At first, Val and I had plans to have a grand night out at Brasserie Bofinger. Despite the slighly amusing name (for anglophones), my sister and I ate there last summer and it was fantastic. The place is one of the first Brasseries in Paris (from 1864, I think), serving great food from Normandy and amazing seafood. In fact, they have a fishmongers' stand outside, filled with ice and displaying their various catches of the day. Everything is recently arrived from the coast and headed straight for your plate.

Alas, it was not to be—at least not tonight. Val had the bright idea to call ahead and we discovered that the place was full for the night. I suspect we could've shown up and waited for an opening (I think they only reserve for one seating), but instead we headed over to rue Mouffetard, famous bohemian restaurant row now mostly filled with tourist bait. Of course, I'm sure there are still great restaurants on this row—for example, Val would've taken me to her favourite Mediterranean restaurant, Savannah Café, if it were open that night—but the place we found was not so fantastic. Two paces south of the Savannah Cafe was a restaurant located in the house where Paul Verlaine died (as we learned from a prominently placed plaque) that lured us with its complex set of prix fixe menus and a "happy hour" offer that included free kir. Alas, my fish soup was adequate, my fisher's plate (a hunk of unidentified white fish with some sauce and rice) was unexciting and I've already forgotten what I ate for dessert. I'd like to say that I omitted the restaurant's name out of kindness, but the name was as forgettable as the food. Of course, the food was cheap, so that brings the tenor of my complaint town a couple notches. Ah well, you win some you lose some!


On the way home, I had this moment on the subway (alot of these moments seem to happen on the subway, eh?) that has stuck with me. Shortly after I boarded, a man got on: young, tall, lanky, black (I'd guess from Côte d'Ivoire, but I'm no expert) and wearing the French version of hip-hop-associated clothing. Most notably, he had a little phone/mp3 player in his hand, blasting through it's tinny speakers what sounded like a cross between dancehall and 2-step with french lyrics. Although it was just a tiny thing, the device projected—especially the hi-hats, snares and vocals—across a large part of the subway car. Nobody else on in the car payed it any mind, except another young black man sitting across from him, who—seeming to know him—leaned over, shook his hand, and sat back in his seat for the rest of the ride.

This moment made me think about the more agressive side of music, sound and space—both good and bad. From its point of issue, sound tends to fill a space, surrounding people, resonating through bodies, invading orfices, and sometimes piercing thought. Notably, sound is rather hard to consribe in open, public spaces without expensive and cumbersome barriers or oppressive "noise" control. In this case, the efficacy of sound as a form of resistance or confrontation is ambiguous at best; perhaps some riders detested the imposition, perhaps some delighted in the impropmtu serenade, perhaps some of them stuck their iPods in their ears and turned up the volume. Nonetheless, this use of sound put the burden of intervention on the shoulders of his fellow travellers. If someone wished interfere with this sound field, she or he would have to put finger in ear, ask him to turn his device down or off, get off at the next stop, or turn up his/her own music. For a few minutes on the #11 line of the Paris métro, this man compelled a carload of strangers to a reactive stance. Whether they liked it or not, he put them all into a virtual, potential state of defensiveness.

And then, as if on a whim, he flipped as switch and the sound, his sound, dissipated. Although he may have been fulfilling the unsaid wishes of some of those around him, he made it all a moot point. By cutting his own music while the reactions of those around him were still in the virtual realm of the future, he turned the potential will of others into concrete actions of his own. His work done, he stood up and got off one stop before me. Not a word was said.

Hi Mom!

So, every photographic travel journal requires the "hi mom!" picture. It's almost a genre unto itself. This is the picture where you stand in front of something pretty, make yourself look like the respectable and responsible kid your mother thinks you are, and then wave for the camera. Here I am! This is to repay mom for all the vacations and backpacking tours I've taken where I've only taken pictures of landscapes and buildings.