samedi, septembre 23, 2006

(Non-Tourist) Paris by Night

Ah. Today was a true day of sloth. So much so, that I have very little to show for it, except for some pictures I took from my window (also, I made some headway on my Merleau-Ponty book, Causeries). I spent the morning sleeping in (I didn't get home last night till 3-ish) and then a fair bit of the day doing some retro-blogging; that is, cleaning up the formatting and spelling on a few posts and catching up on days missed. Afterwards, I wandered around my neighborhood to buy a few things (I had simultaneously run out of shaving cream, butter, deodorant, and lettuce). I also picked up a jug of orange juice, because I'm convinced that I'm giving myself scurvy. In N. America, I never had to think about maintaining my Vitamin C levels, because I was constantly adding lemon juice or lime juice to many of my recipes (let's hear it for latino cuisine). But the French diet—particularly the Northern/Norman French diet—is rather short on the citrus. Add to that the fact that I spent two weeks eating pasta and rice before I managed to buy fresh veggies, and you can see why I was checking my gums for bleeding. Anyway, I now have enough O/J to keep me un-scurvied.

As if the weather was an accomplice to my sloth, it began raining in the evening, eventually becoming a downpour. Since I didn't have an umbrella with me, this was yet another excuse to stay in and be lazy. Considering that I've had rather active Saturdays for the past three weeks, I didn't feel too bad about it. There was also an evening mixer going on in the cafeteria area of the residences, but at some point the party was changed from "drinks provided" to "BYOB," which also provided a convenient excuse to stay in my jammies. So, the final result is a fair bit of blogging and this lovely set of photos. This is Paris by night, but not the lovely, romantic, diffuse-glow Paris of the Louvre or the Latin Quarter. This is Porte des Lilas, the New Jersey of Paris. My building sits nearly on top of the boulevard péripherique (the highway/ring-road for Paris) and the city's strict laws about building height are slackened or entirely disregarded in this neighborhood. As night fell, this was also a good opportunity to test out my camera settings again.

Here's a shot of the skyline as the sun was setting:

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Taken with 1/15s shutter, 1600 ISO, no flash

And here's several test shots of the Boulevard Péripherique, as it approaches from the north:

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This one is nice and blurry. Taken with 2s shutter, ISO 80, no flash.
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This is too dark, but very precise. 1/30 shutter, ISO 1600, w/ flash.
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A bit blurry, but much brighter. 1/10 shutter, ISO 1600, no flash

I also took a few pics of the actual Porte des Lilas roundabout. I'm not sure what triggers it, but every once in a while, the traffic at this intersection seizes like an epileptic kid at a Grateful Dead revival (how's that for imagery?). The result is a cacaphony of horns and insults for at least an hour.

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Pretty bright exposure, but a bit of blur. 1/10s shutter, ISO 1600, no flash
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Sharp, but underexposed. 1/8 shutter, ISO 400, w/ flash
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The flash was bouncing off the rain, but the glow is nice. 1/30 shutter, ISO 1600, w/ flash

vendredi, septembre 22, 2006

Shop-Talk over Champagne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jeudi, septembre 21, 2006

Dinner with Renovations

My own Private Space Invader

Cute, eh? It's actually just my phone in extreme closeup, but I quite like it. It has a certain spaceship look to it.

So I spent the morning/lunch running from room to room in the residences, testing signal levels. The building that I'm in is normally for individual students, but since U of C has taken over two floors (and a bit) and internet connectivity is normally available in all of the residence halls at U of C, the Centre tries to provide WiFi coverage here as well. The problem is, the walls here seem to be made with lead sheathed with asbestos, because we have two DSL modems in two rooms connected to two of the most powerful wirelees routers on the market, and we still get barely more than two rooms' coverage in any direction. The result is that a lot of the students sit in the hallways to use the internet. This would be annoying but OK, were it not for the fact that a lot of their language instruction homework is available on the web and, of course, most of the students do their homework late at night. The security guards, on the other hand, don't want anybody loitering in the halls after 11pm, so there has been some tension. Now, the expected reaction at the point would be to shrug your shoulders, say "Ah, France!" and do your homework at the Centre or during pre-11pm hours—or download your homework files ahead of time and save them to your hard disk. But these students paid $15,000+ per quarter to be here, and that buys a fair bit of entitlement. So I've been trying to blunt the testy emails of some students while trying also to convince the Centre that spending money on a difficult-to-broadcast WiFi network is a worthwhile expenditure. Thankfully, the staff have been open to the idea and not too put off by the students' complaints. The result, either way, was that I spent a few hours running from room to room of U of C's block of rooms, checking levels with my laptop's wireless card.

The rest of the day was spent trying to get Apple's Boot Camp and Windows XP installed onto a student's intel-Mac. The program works well, and I'm thrilled with the results, but the setup process still takes ages, mostly thanks to the Windows setup program.

Nonetheless, I had dinner to look forward to. One of my Parisian friends had invited me to dinner with another friend at her place, so I headed out after work to the Marché des Enfants Rouges in the Marais district to pick up a few nice things. I got some pleurotes (oyster-ish mushrooms) for a creamy chicken dish I plan to make tomorrow, some very nice red Bartlett pears and a 1/2-round of camembert aged with calvados (apple) liquor. After dropping off some stuff at home and relaxing for an hour or two, I headed out to my friends place.

She had made a delicious salad with baby spinach, avocadoes, tomatoes, chicken, and pecans. I would've liked to add red onions and lemon juice, but that's the latino in me speaking. She also made a delicious savory tart/quiche made with mostly zucchini and eggs and TONS of cheese. As you might imagine, there is no way that could ever disappoint me. The wine was great, too. We had a Côtes de Blaye wine (I don't remember the precise vintner), which was quite oaky but at the same time not too pungent; after a few minutes out of the bottle, it was very smooth.

As dinner wound down, we got to talking about last week's Techno Parade. I brought up my impressions of masculinity and male sexuality at the parade, and that got us onto a broader topic of masculinity and sexuality in France. What was really interesting was how the responses and theories I got from these two Frenchwomen formed a sort of a cluster of ideas that often conflicted with each other. One of them suggested that current fashion has placed a greater emphasis on feminized or androgenous males, so the sometimes feminized appearance of men in France was merely a side-effect of fashion. A bit later, they both noted that a lot of men they knew (including a boyfriend of one) were heterosexual but could also be described as fin ("fine", "delicate") in contrast (but perhaps not opposition) to "macho." At the same time, one of them had a story about a gay male friend who was reproached by his boyfriend and his friends for acting to "hétéro," while another noted that there's a whole system of gay male desire that rejects folles (lit. "crazy women", fig. "queens, fems"), while seeking out macho or straight-appearing guys. Throughout all of this, it was clear that they thought that straight men in France felt uneasy or confused by the fluidity developing between straight and gay realms of masculinity and the diffusion of non-straight, non-masculine ways of being into some sort of public masculine sphere (or masculine public sphere...I'm still thinking this through).

After dinner, we walked from my friend's apartment to her newly bought apartment (what we would call a condo in N. America, I think) in an old building about 10 minutes' walk away. The building was part of a Haussmann-style apartment block (see: pretty much any street in downtown Paris), which seemed well-kept. Her actual apartment, however, was still in the early stages of renovations. She had already gutted the place very thoroughly, and it looked like a bit of a disaster area. Nonetheless, she had lots of plans for the place and it was exciting to think about what the place might become. I was impressed with how much hassle one has to go through to renovate in an old building. How do you fix a leak if there are no blueprints left of the original plumbing? You bust the wall and find out. The place will be great when it's ready, but at that moment, at 12:30 at night, it looked like a scene from a horror movie. Oy, homeownership!

mercredi, septembre 20, 2006

Fog over Paris (with Lentils)

I should admit that the scene in this picture didn't last more than an hour Wednesday morning; but if you look at a picture from the same vantage point two weeks ago, you'll see that the fog was pretty dense.

I got in late to work because I was supposed to have a late-afternoon meeting that would have been outside my regular work hours. So I roll in around noon with a sandwich under my arm, and everybody's out to lunch. So I head down to the break room and have a leisurely lunch with a few of my co-workers, and then slowly make my way through a day of dépannage. I eventually make it home in the late afternoon/early evening. After my grocery shopping trip on monday, I was suddenly well-prepared to make some awesome lentils, so I spent a large part of the evening making lentils and blogging saturday's affair (it took a while to blog, you know). Here's my recipe for Amazing Spicy Lentils À La Somewhat Peruvian:


  • Love
  • Lentils (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 medium Onion, sliced thin
  • A generous handful of Lardons
  • 3-5 cloves of Garlic, crushed or chopped
  • 1 hot thai hot pepper, sliced
  • Cumin (at least 1 tbsp.)
  • 1 tbsp of ajì mirasol or rocoto
  • Salt & Pepper to taste


  1. Soak lentils in water for a couple of hours, then drain and leave to one side. This isn't compeltely necessary, but it cuts down on cooking time later.
  2. In a saucepan or pot, add Lardons on high heat and allow them to render fat.
  3. Once there's a bit of fat coating the bottom of the pan, add onions. Stir and allow to cook, until onions begin to burn a bit. Deglaze if necessary.
  4. Add Garlic and Hot Pepper and reduce heat. Add cumin and fry until Garlic has mellowed.
  5. Add lentils and enough olive oil to coat lentils lightly. Stir mixture together.
  6. Add ajì mirasol or rocoto and enough water to cover lentils about 1". Bring to boil.
  7. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally
  8. When lentils are completely cooked and water has almost completely evaporated (i.e. sticking to the bottom of the pot), stir in a dab of butter and remove from heat.
  9. If you're Indian or you like dal makhani, add more butter.

mardi, septembre 19, 2006

Of Sex and Spatulas

I bet that got your attention.

So, I had totally forgotten to mention that yesterday I had my first experience with la drague in Paris. The verb draguer means "to dredge" or "to trawl," but it also has a broad slang meaning, that sits somewhere between "cruising," "hook up," "hit on," "come on," "flirting," and "sleaze." Within a queer context, la drague refers to the quiet, public and often anonymous sexual practices of gay (mostly) men within city spaces. On the one hand, it can refer to exchanging smoldering glances in the métro or flirting with a shop attendant, on the other hand it can refer to anonymous sex practices in public parks or sex clubs. What I like about this whole thing is that the reference can span such a wide range.

Anyway, my experience was rather on the tame end of this spectrum. I was sitting on the subway on the way to work, and a guy sat across from me and made a point of staring at me for a significant amount of time, and then looking away, and then looking back...etc. To better appreciate the gravity of this behaviour, I should point out to my N. American audience (which I all of you, I guess) that eye contact means something different here. In N. America, eye contact can communicate a sense of honesty, self-confidence and transparency. Here, eye contact means sexual interest first and foremost. On the upside, this means that you can make your interest known to a person merely by locking eyes with them. On the downside, this means that a curious glance or accidental eye contact may give the impression of erotic consent where there was none. So, for example, if a guy is looking at you, and you notice, and you look back at him to figure out what his damage might be, you may be giving him the impression that you want to get in his pants; then you spend the next few minutes having to rebuff his advances with increasing emphasis. Thankfully, the guy on the métro in this case was rather cute, so I looked back. It was a public place, and it was rush hour, so there wasn't much we could do but exchange glances—but all of this in the context of the everyday anonymity of Paris life was pretty potent stuff.

As luck would have it, he was getting off (ha!) at my stop, so we struck up conversation. I had to get to work, he had to get to work, so we exchanged phone numbers and agreed to get a drink sometime soon. How about that for the efficacy of the male gaze! Laura Mulvey, eat your heart out.

And now, on to the spatulas. Oh wait, you thought that the sex and the spatulas were connected? Oh, I'm sorry. You pervert.

So, I decided that I really needed a decent silicone spatula, since all I've been working with at home has been a wooden spoon. Wooden spoons are great for many things, but it's a bit of a pain in the butt when you're trying to make a smooth sauce or something like that. So I headed over to BHV after work, and discovered that silicone spatulas are expensive in this neck of the woods. A single-piece silicone spatula (that is, with no seams between the handle and the spatula) ran me 10€. That's $12USD or $15CDN. Of course, "surprisingly expensive" is something of a leitmotif for this entire trip to Paris, so this didn't come as such a shock. On the other hand, the cheap plastic utensil jar that I got for all of my kitchen utensils was 14€!! WTF?

With that, I headed home and made myself another salad with leftovers from last night, plus some lightly pickled onion slices and chopped hot peppers. Delish! All vinaigrettes taste better with french mustard, I might add.

lundi, septembre 18, 2006

Invader, the Space Invader

Well, I was going to post about Invader today, so let me get the "what I did today" stuff out of the way first:

I slept in (I didn't need to be in until noon anyway), and then made my way to the Centre. There was a fair bit of petit dépannage (little repairs) so I spent a fair bit of my day taking care of that. And then a fair bit more chatting with a few people back in Chicago (thank you, iChat). Sometime soon, I also have to invest in Skype. Anyway, I got a recommendation from DJ for a decent shopping mall that wasn't in the middle of nowhere and creepy (see last week), so I hoofed it over to Place d'Italie for a bit of groceries and such. I hit up Darty, hoping to find a true US-Europe electrical converter. You see, I brought my clippers with me with the idea that I would cut my own hair (as I did in Chicago), and save myself a fair bit of money. But, of course, I forgot to buy a transformer in Chicago, where it would've been 1/2 the price, I'm sure. As it turns out, what I picked up at Darty was an adapter, but not an actual 110-220v transformer. It was too cheap to be true. After a bit of research on their site, it looks like I'll eventually have to give in and buy a 35€ transformer to make the clipper magic happen.

As for groceries, I went to the Champion that was in the building, only to discover that it was in the middle of renovations. It was still open, and I could still buy most of the stuff I needed, but the place was a mess, a maze, and a jungle of lineups. On the upside, though, I bought the fixings for a nice salad, which is promptly made and ate as soon as I got home. Mmmm. Fresh veggies.

So, after my revelation about the disconnect / guerrilla advertising between the cute space invader mosaics I've seen on the streets of Paris and the t-shirts I saw at the Parade, I did a bit more research on the person(s) behind the tile mosaics. At first, I only had this site to work from, which merely listed the cities that had been "invaded" and sold cute little maps of the invasion. I eventually tried the root domain of the URL and got this adorable flash animation and interactive site/store. It's a "A REALITY GAME BY > INVADER" ! Love it. Take a good moment to check out all of the links on this page, as there's a lot of info to be gleaned from it (and lots of pictures!).

This eventually led to a semi-official site for the Paris invasion, which includes images of most if not all of the Paris invaders, with addresses, sortable by arrondissement. A bit more googling led me to the web page for an art exhibit of Invader's work in L.A. at Sixspace, called Rubikubism. Apparently, he's been doing a bunch of installations using worked-out rubik's cubes, such as this:Pretty hot, no? It seems like he's also making mosaics with rubik's cubes now, as well:

But that's not all! There's also a great photostream/pool on flickr that includes pictures of Space Invaders all over the world. And, finally, a (silent) video from Invader's site that shows him on French TV, doing a very quick deployment of a small tiled invader right on the set. Oh, and here's a link to a "DIY tiled game character" post on Instructables, which is this amazing online DIY community; the guy pretty much reverse-engineers the Invader's process and then lays it out for you. Neat!

dimanche, septembre 17, 2006

Sunday, Sunday

OK, you want to know what I did Sunday? Look at the posts for Saturday. There. I slept in later than I care to admit, spent many hours blogging up the previous day, then made some quickie pasta and went back to bed. At some point, I'm pretty sure I took a shower.

Nonetheless, I might as well link to something interesting, so here's a little video clip from Saturday's Techno Parade that I had forgotten to mention in my blog posts. Just as we were approaching Châtelet, the lead float began playing this track, which—I'm guessing—is entitled "Shame On You, Mr. Bush." There's an long a cappella rant that substitutes as the track's breakdown, but what I recorded here was a few seconds of the main hook, which is just someone yelling the track's title over a house-y beat.

NOTE: You may need to click on this, then hit your spacebar to play it.