samedi, janvier 06, 2007

Clubbing at the Rex (again)


I had planned to get up relatively early in the morning to head over to the open-air market at Télégraphe (15 mins walk from my place), but I slept in. I had never really gotten the chance to sleep off New Year's, or the subsequent plane ride, or the past few days of student-wrangling. So I didn't hate myself too much for sleeping in. Either way, I got up with enough time to catch the tail-end of the marché. I was sidelined by a student demanding I fix "the internet," but I got that squared away quickly enough. I'm dreading the day when I finally have to just say, "Look, blanket-coverage internet in your home was not part of the package and next to impossible to deliver consistently in Paris." Not to sound like an old man, but I recall a time when a WiFi hotspot--whatever the quality and range--was a great luxury.

Anyway, I made it to Télégraphe just in time to catch the vendors packing up their wares. I bought beautiful dark-green tomatoes, some mesclun mix, and some red onions. The tomatoes were of this dark green variety, which I think I've identified as Black Ethiopian. Maybe I'll post a pic of the remaining tomato tomorrow (I used three of them for dinner tonight), because I didn't realize that dark green qualified as "purple-black" in the tomato-phile world.

So I got home, took care of some blogging, did a bit of reading, and made dinner. I had found plantains the night before at the Indian supermarket, so I decided to make patacones, which are essentially green plantains fried, smashed, and fried again. In fact, here's a quick recipe:

Patacones a.k.a. Tostones

  1. Slice plantains to about 3 or 4 cm thick.
  2. Dip in frying oil (if you don't have a deep fryer, a small saucepan with oil on medium-high heat should do it).
  3. When golden and crispy, remove from oil and drain.
  4. When all slices have been fried, smash them into flat patties, using the underside of a cutting board or something flat.
  5. Optionally, prepare a bowl of water with crushed garlic and salt.
  6. Re-fry the patties until they are crisp again, then drain. WARNING!: If you chose to dip them in garlic water before the second fry, be very careful when you put them in the oil; the water will cause the oil to bubble very high and possibly spit.
  7. Salt while still hot and serve.

Speaking from experience, you should also open a lot of windows before you try it. The whole process kicks up a lot of oil vapors.

Anyway, after an appetizer of patacones and some salad, I made a second run at the chana masala-like dish I made yesterday, although this time I used chopped tomatoes and onions like you're supposed to, and I added a scotch bonnet pepper (i.e., habañero) and some quinoa for volume.

Eventually, I got myself together and headed out for this thing going on at the Rex. The event was organized by a group called Circus Company Club; their website is still under construction, but I get the impression that they're a group of local Paris DJ's with an interest in what's going on in Berlin (which describes 90% of techno/microhouse promoters here, I think). I noticed that the event was listed on the Rex's website as "minimale" rather than "techno." My guess is that this reflects both a shift in genre labels and a bit of the "lost-in-translation" effect. On the one hand, minimal a.k.a. "minimale" seems to have become a genre of it's own, encapsulating microhouse and minimal techno under one banner, while separating itself from classic/Chicago house, darker Detroit techno, and the more pounding "big room" techno of Swedish techno mafia (Kari Lekebusch, Joel Mull, Aril Brikha, Adam Beyer) and their Italian counterparts (Marco Carola, Gaetano Parisio and others I can't think of). On the other hand, "techno" generally has a different meaning in Europe than it does in North America. Whereas "techno" in North America usually points towards the thread of music that developed in Detroit alongside Chicago house and New York garage, exporting itself out to the UK and Berlin before making a return to Detroit, "techno" in Europe has more often been used as a blanket term for all things electronic, much in the way of "electronica" or "EDM." So, in Europe (Western Europe, at least), techno scans first as a meta-genre and/or "mainstream", and only then to a smaller group as the North American reading of the word. You could thus describe a trance DJ (e.g., Paul Oakenfold) as spinning "techno" in Paris, and only connoisseurs would jump to correct you, while a similar statement in Detroit would get your face broken.

Samim, Audio Werner and Laetitia @ le Rex: Circus Company Club

click to enlarge

00h00-2h00: Laetitia

I got to the club at around 1h00, which is a bit early for clubbing in Paris (as I keep on reminding myself every time that I go out), but getting there early allows me to take the métro from my place, rather than the bus. Either way, there was a middling-sized crowd on the dancefloor and a mercifully-short line for the coat check, so there are some advantages to arriving a bit early.

Laetitia's set worked quite well for an opening set. She was spinning mostly microhouse and slightly downtempo minimal techno, which set the mood for the evening without exhausting the crowd. The sound overall was very microhouse-y in the sense that the focus was on timbral and rhythmic complexity in the upper frequencies, and concise, punchy beats in the lower frequencies. See here for my previous discussion of the difference between microhouse and tech-house/techno, under the heading for Jake Fairley.

2h00-3h30: Samim (live)

Samim's set, on the other hand, was much more techno. It was arguably minimal in the sense of thinner layering, but each layer was pretty thick with sound. The tempo was a little bit faster, the bass was louder and more resonant, the mid-to-low range was kept rather dense, and the treble was spare but occasionally pretty piercing (i.e., a real fondness for distorted feedback whines as articulating elements). Despite the sometimes-excruciating high-end stuff, the set was great. It reminded me a lot of Krikor's set a month ago, although not quite as intense.

I have a tendency to arrive at an event, pick a spot to dance, and then spend the rest of the night fixed to that spot, leaving only occasionally to get water. I suspect this is a remainder from my raving days, when you were going to parties in non-club locations; you were pretty much roughing it in banquet halls, warehouses, even abandoned barns, so there was more of an incentive "camp out" in a particular spot with your friends. Anyway, I was doing my best to move around throughout the night, which was much facilitated by the fact that I couldn't stay in one place for very long. I stood to the left of the dancefloor, at the point where the seating area ends, and found myself constantly jumping from shattering glass as people would pile their empty drinks on the nearest table; I walked up closer to the stage and against the wall, and apparently found the "drug dealers' sweet spot," because I was constantly being propositioned or requested for drugs; I danced in the middle and found myself crushed by a group of tall men on something rather powerful; I walked to the far right and was overcome by the powerful scent of someone who had forgotten to apply deodorant; and so on...

3h30-5h00: Audio Werner

Werner's set started off a bit quiet and definitely minimal, but quickly became one of those sets that is minimal density/variation but maximal volume/intensity. The tracks were mostly techno with the occasional microhouse bit, and even some excursions into something more electro.

During the latter part of his set, I ran into one of the people I had met at my first outing in Paris back in September, N. N was as friendly as before and exceptionally excited to see me; he was even more elated when I remembered his name. Considering that he immediately started to complain about the lack of drugs for purchase, I presumed that he was sober at the moment, which suggested that his enthusiastic friendliness last September wasn't just "the E talking." Anyway, we chatted for a little bit, and then he introduced me to another of his friends, O, who was very nice (and rather cute, I might add). All I got by way of introduction from N was "This is my buddy, O," but O got nearly 30 seconds of something in his ear before he shook my hand. I think I heard the word "Canada," but otherwise not much else. Although N was sober (and trying hard to correct that), O and another of his friends were clearly quite high on something (I'm going to guess coke, just because they didn't have grindy-jaw or jiggly-eyes). But perhaps they were high on their mother's love (see: 80s after-school specials and/or Clone High).

5h00-?: DJ Sety?

I wasn't entirely sure who was spinning at this point, and I couldn't find anyone on the dancefloor who knew, either. I hung around for a little bit longer, then headed over to the coat check. As I arrived, some interesting drama was unfolding. This very small (i.e., shorter than me), slim and otherwise very effete man had flitted past the lineup to collect his jacket. Another guy in line confronts him. The first guy's female friend tries to defend his actions and minimize the damage ("It's not that big a deal, man"). This very short, rather slim and presumably gay man is being surprisingly aggressive about the whole thing. A bouncer materializes and parts the two, telling the second guy (non-tiny, not-so-gay) to chill out and let it be. What's more surprising is that the little guy, after getting his jacket, turns around and attempts to start something with the other guy again. Before he can get three words out, the bouncer reaches between them, grabs the little guy, yells "What's wrong with you? You crazy?", gives him a light slap to the cheek (low pain, high humiliation), and then shoves him aside. Without another word, the little guy departs with his friend in tow.

Once I had my jacket, I headed off to find N, but he was nowhere to be found. I ran into O, passed on my goodbyes to N as well as him, and then headed out the door. The subway wasn't quite open when I got outside (around 5h30), but the gates opened within a few minutes and I was on my way home. As I was making my connection at République, I noticed a young man waiting on the platform next to me, dressed in the French equivalent of "streetwear," a bleach-blond fauxhawk over a base of brown hair, and a large combination of nose-splint and forehead bandaging. This was one of those situations where I was really, really interested in finding out what happened, but well aware that I have no right to ask. His eyes had this mixture of stare and glare that seemed to transmit both vulnerability and hostility.

I made it home in one piece, passing by my boulangerie for some morning bread and a pain au chocolat and then hit the sack.

vendredi, janvier 05, 2007

Spice Shopping and the new blogger

To begin with: I've moved over to the new version of Blogger! Woohoo! It doesn't mean a great deal for the overall appearance of the blog quite yet, but it does include a feature that I had long hoped for: labeling. Yay! Now you can search my entries based on labels such as Partying, Fooding, and Recipes. It's gonna be awesome. Speaking of recipes, scroll down to find a short recipe for a curry-ish lentils + rice dish.

So work was a bit quieter today. I got up in time to drop by my boulangerie and buy a sandwich for lunch, and the work day ran by relatively quickly. I got a bit of my own administrative business done (i.e., renewing memberships, answering emails, re-contacting people) and only had to field a couple of service requests. I also spent a bit of time researching grants and such, and was frustrated afresh with how I fall through the cracks. There are funds for foreigners to come work in the states, but you can't already be in the states as a student. There are funds to work abroad, but you must be a U.S. citizen. There are similar restrictions on a lot of Canadian grants (they want you to be at a Canadian university).Also, there is a surprising lack of funding overall for American studies. If you're coming from overseas, there's funding. If your work is very specifically Canada-related, there's funding. But if you want to with American popular culture, you're apparently on your own. I still managed to find 2 or 3 grants that I can look into, but that was only after searching through about 290 different grants. Meh. One day, when I'm a big-shot scholar, I'll sponsor some funding for work on pop-music topics that doesn't have a long list of prerequisites.

Enough ranting. Once I got off work, I headed over to this Indian supermarket near the La Chapelle métro stop, called "Gopaul & Co." (I think). Aaah, it was great. I got some decent-looking hot peppers, some nice mangoes, some orange-flower water, some chana masala mix, jars of crushed garlic and ginger, and some other stuff. When I got home, I realized that I didn't have onions or tomatoes (which you need as a base for chana masala), so I threw this together instead:

Curry-esque Rice & Lentils


  • approx. 3 tblsp. of olive oil
  • 1 tblsp. of crushed garlic
  • 1 tblsp. of crushed ginger
  • 2 small finger chiles (or one larger jalapeño)
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 cup lentils, washed
  • 1 tblsp. of chana masala spice mix (available at your favourite Indian foodstore
  • 1 small can of tomato paste or concentrated crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bouillon cube (optional; you can also replace water with stock)


  1. Heat the garlic and ginger in the oil in a medium-sized saucepan, stirring frequently.
  2. When the garlic has just begun to mellow, add the chiles, chopped finely.
  3. Once the chiles are a bit soft, add the rice, as well as a bit more oil if necessary. Mix to coat.
  4. Turn heat to highest setting, and begin to add water. Add one cup, add and mix the masala mix, add two more cups.
  5. Add lentils, tomato paste, and bouillon.
  6. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water if sauce thickens too quickly.
  7. Dish is ready when sauce has reduced to a gravy and the rice and lentils are soft enough to eat.

Voila! I also made another round of my mango salsa (these mangoes were better than last time, but still not fantastic), but this time I added a bit of orange flower water to offset the tartness of the mangoes. I'm hoping it'll all come together as it marinates.

One final note: today I discovered my first persistent wrinkles. I've got a little one right in the middle of my forehead and two shorter ones symmetrically placed over my eyebrows. At 28, I suppose I can't complain, but there's something terribly final about your skin beginning to wrinkle. I certainly have no more right to call myself young, I suppose. I'm still torn as to whether I should run out and buy a facial mask, or I should start working on that "aged gracefully" look. On the upside, my hair is still naturally brown and all there (and that's after years of harsh dyeing).

Anyway, enough narcissism. The rest of my evening was pretty uneventful: I did a bit of reading, answered emails, finished a few more chores, and then hit the sack.

jeudi, janvier 04, 2007

Spoke too soon

Ahh. Do you remember the good old days of one day ago, when I was saying that the new group of students were nice but needy? Right. Well, it turns out that "needy" is just a nicer way of saying "demanding." The kids are still quite friendly, but today I've been asked (or half-asked, or just presumed) to do a number of tasks that are nowhere in my job description. As I had guessed from yesterday, a lot of this comes from the fact that this group isn't a French language group. They'll be taking some French classes while they're here, but many of them have arrived with little to no French. So, they're able to use a line that the previous group couldn't: "Can you do this for me? I don't know how (to say it in French / to understand French)." Mercifully, they are (mostly) still very thankful, but eventually I'm going to have to make my boundaries a bit clearer. I will not be interrupting my dinner to run their errands.

Anyway, enough of that. I discovered tonight, after a surprisingly hectic first day back at work, that I make great pseudo-steamed fish. You see, while I was re-stocking my fridge at my local Frenchy-Target store, I saw it, shining in the distance. It was a daurade royale (gilthead seabream), glittering a brighter silver than his neighbors on the crushed ice. His (or, since this species is hermaphroditic, her) eyes were crystal clear and the gills were bright red. No, mom, the tail didn't still have rigor mortis; this is a supermarket after all. Either way, s/he looked delicious. I tossed out any other plans I had for dinner and brought this shiny fish home.

OK, so here's what you do to make a poor-man's steamer:

  1. Cram a sprig of thyme or some other aromatic into the cavity of the fish.
  2. Find a deep frying pan with a cover. Preferably, the cover should be airtight or have a vent that can be closed.
  3. Cover the bottom of the pan with oil, and bring up to high heat. It should be hot enough to make water crackle.
  4. Place the fish into the oil (carefully!) and then add just enough water to cover the pan again (at least 1/2 cup).
  5. Cover immediately and reduce heat to medium-high.
  6. Wait until the skin on the top begins to split on its own. Flip over fish, and add water if necessary to prevent drying
  7. Wait for about the same amount of time. If you want to test the fish for doneness, pull back some of the skin with a fork (it should be very loose by now), and slide your fork into the line along the backbone (the flesh is a bit darker there). Pull the flesh a bit with your fork to expose the meat close to the spine. If it isn't opaque and white, keep waiting.
  8. Once ready, remove from heat and plate immediately.
  9. If you're not a fan of picking at fish carcasses, you can pull all the filets off with a knife and fork while it's still soft and easy to handle. The meat should slide right off the bones.

And voilà! A sort of super-low braising that approximates steaming. The results today were delicious, especially with the thyme.

On a totally unrelated note, I was reminded today of my body's uncanny ability to wake up at a given time like an alarm clock. I had apparently forgotten to set my alarm clock last night, but I woke up this morning at 9:10am, when I had to meet the students in the lobby at 9:15 to take them to the Centre. How did my body know to wake myself up before 9:15? This certainly wasn't the first time this has happened. When I was in high school, when I was getting up every morning at 5:30am for orchestra or choir practice, I would quickly start waking up one or two minutes before my alarm would go off. This habit has continued to today, although my waking schedule isn't a stable as it was during my high school years. On many occasions, I find this even happens when I'm not getting up at a regular hour. If I need to be awake the next morning at a particular hour and it's really important, I can just look at a clock and think about the time I need to wake, and then I always open my eyes moments before my alarm clock sounds. I still can't explain it, except for to presume that humans have a surprisingly developed innate sense of time.

Well, that's enough randomness for now! It's off to bed for me.

mercredi, janvier 03, 2007

Les Invasions Barbares

OK, so the arrival of the new batch of students wasn't quite that violent, but it was certainly exhausting. Just like last October, I am momentarily breaking my ban on blogging about my job at UCParis, since my life will be nothing else for the next couple of days.

The Lila staff were kind enough to let me sleep in as the first students arrived in the early morning. By approximately 10am, I had showered, changed and slipped out the door. I checked in with the folks at the front desk and then headed off to the nearest métro station to get ID cards and plastic sleeves for the cartes oranges. The carte orange is a weekly or monthly transit pass, which the students need to attend classes. Métro stations have a nasty habit of running out of these when you most need them, so I made an early run for them, in case I needed to visit multiple stations to get it done. I got the stuff without trouble, although the line moved terrifically slowly.

When I got back (with some edibles from the bakery, of course), I got a skeleton key from the building staff and got to work on the WiFi networks. When the students left last quarter, someone in the building staff went to all the rooms that had WiFi equipment in them (modems, routers), disconnected them, and put them in my room. This was a great idea, in the sense that it ensured that materials didn't disappear over the holidays. However, this also meant that I had a jumble of identical-looking equipment that had been configured in very specific ways.

I won't lie; it took ages to figure out which modem went with which wireless router. And it took even longer to figure out how to make the modems and WiFi routers talk to each other. In most cases, both the modems and routers came with built-in DHCP server firmware, and they would get positively cranky if you turned this feature off. As a result, you had to configure both devices in a way that would allow them to both serve as DHCP servers without coming into conflict. On the upside, I took advantage of the opportunity to clean up a few administrative issues, such as normalizing the encryption types across all the networks, setting the broadcast channels to avoid interference, setting IP addressing to avoid conflicts, etc.

At some point after this, I settled down with some of the folks from the front desk to a spot of lunch. 20 mintues into lunch, there was a knock at the lunchroom door as 4 more students arrived. I ran out and got them their arrival materials, showed them how to use their keys, and then reminded them of the meeting / tour at 4pm.

A few more arrivals later, it came time for the meeting. Thankfully, one of my co-workers from the UCParis centre was there to help, which made this a lot easier. I made some introductory remarks, advised them on building etiquette ("always say 'bonjour' or 'bonsoir' when you pass other residents, or you will seem quite rude"), gave them a tour of the building, and then headed out into the neighborhood for some more touring. I took them past my boulangerie, the nearby métro stop, several other shops and over to the next métro stop, where we could buy transit passes and get photos taken for their ID cards.

Alas, this métro stop, Télégraphe, no longer had a working ticket booth. Instead, they had automatic ticket machines (which didn't take American credit cards) and an "information" booth, which was essentially a transit worker without a cash register to sell tickets. Those who had brought cash used the machine (only one of them took cash), while the rest got their ID pictures taken in the photo booth. Once that was taken care of, we headed back down to the closer métro stop, Porte des Lilas, where there was a ticket booth that took American credit cards.

Finally, we staggered home and took over the cafeteria on the ground floor for some final information. I lectured the students on how to use the phones in their rooms and how the room-cleaning services worked. While the students worked on putting their cartes oranges together (i.e., cutting and pasting their ID pictures, filling out their names and addresses, laminating them) two of the students piped up to tell me that they were missing bed linens. Off I went to ask the security guard to fetch the necessary linens (the daytime staff had gone home). I get back to discover that one of the students needed a few more items, while another student needed a different set. Off I went to get more stuff. The security guard brought back some of the items, but couldn't find the rest. A third student informs me that he doesn't have a comforter. This time, I head back to the storage room with the security guard to find everything.

When I had finally sorted everything out, I took the students back to my room to distribute phones for their rooms and let them rifle through the stuff the previous group of students left for them (half-finished bags of pasta, spices, oils, etc.). I spent a not-insignificant amount of time giving catch-up information to those who arrived late, and then wrapped up my day writing an endless stream of information emails to the students, giving them their phone numbers, their housecleaning days, the passwords to the WiFi networks, and so on.

In general, this group was friendlier and better behaved than the last group, but they were also a fair bit more needy. Unlike the autumn students, these kids didn't necessarily speak French (most spoke nearly none at all), so they would request my help for the simplest of tasks--especially when the task required speaking to a French person. Nonetheless, although the neediness may have been exhausting, it was also followed with sincere gratitude, so I wasn't entire put off. I just hope they can become independent more quickly. If not, I'll be babysitting 'till March.

mardi, janvier 02, 2007

Back from vacation


Well, I never really got around to back-blogging the last few days before I left for Chicago, and I didn't see the point in keeping up the blog during my time vacation time in Chicago / Toronto (this is "Luis in Paris", after all). So that explains my puzzling absence from the Intarwebs.

Anyway, the x-mas holidays were great and mostly relaxing, but these last few days have been exhausting. I went up to Toronto on the 29th to spend the weekend with friends, and we went out and partied a fair bit. The climax of the whole thing was New Year's Eve, where we stayed out pretty much all night. This would be totally normal for a New Year's sort of celebration, but the kicker was that I had to fly back to France on NEW YEAR'S DAY.

Take a moment to think about that. I partied until about 7am, slept until noon, packed, had brunch with my sister, and then got on a red-eye flight from Toronto to Paris. "Why," you might ask, "would you be so insane as to fly the day after a night of hard partying?" The answer is simple: I had to.

You see, the next batch of U of Chicago students at the UCParis centre start arriving the morning of Jan 3rd. Since I'm responsible for welcoming the students and showing them around, I had to be there by Jan 2nd at the latest. Since there are no flights for Paris leaving Toronto on the morning of the 2nd, that meant that I had to fly out the evening of the 1st to arrive in time to prepare the welcome.

So, here I am, late in the evening of the 2nd, trying to force my body to sleep (it's only 4pm by North American time) and dreading tomorrow morning. At least New Year's was worth it!