samedi, février 17, 2007

Post-party discussion and Canada House

Canada House first, methinks.

Although again I slept in rather late (14h00), this time I actually got up, showered, changed, and headed out. I took care of a rather substantial run of groceries, came back, did some blogging, ate far too much tortilla (the Iberian kind, with the eggs and potatoes), and got ready to out. I had two parties to hit that night: DJ had invited me to a party at the Canadian House at the Cité Universitaire (the huge park-like complex of dorms at the south end of Paris), where he had been invited through a chain of friends-inviting-friends; also, one of my friends from the previous night's festivities suggested that I check out the Rex tonight, since Jake Fairley was spinning.

Sometime around 21h30, DJ and I met near my métro station and we headed off toward the Cité. After a moment of waiting around near the RER station, we met up with DJ's friend Alex, who DJ apparently met last year when she wanted to practise her English and he wanted to practise his French. What a great idea! I should've done something like that as well. Mind you, I had a decent base of French acquaintances when I arrived, so I was already getting a fair bit of practise.

Anyway, it was great to meet Alex (who was actually originally Spanish from Malaga) as well as the rather large group of friends she brought in tow. We wandered on over to the Maison des Étudiants Canadiens, tossed our coats in someone's room, and then headed down to the party. The party itself was a high. There was a DJ playing oddly inappropriate music (a bit too night-club for a mixer party and WAY TOO LOUD), not enough seating to chill and chat, and nobody was dancing. However, this was junior high with alcohol for 2€ per serving, so things loosened up quickly. In fact, here's me double-fisting some Heineken.

click to enlarge...your penis!

And here's a picture of me next to DJ, who was blissfully unaware that, once I posted this thing on my blog, his image would forever be associated with the keyword "double fisting" on Google Images.

OK, so to make a long story short ("Too late!"), we hung around there until 1h30. At that point, both DJ and I made a dash for the nearest subway station, but found ourselves on a deserted subway platform. After realizing that we had just missed the last train, we headed up to the surface to catch the next night but downtown to Châtelet. I was already 2am when we got on the bus, so it was clear that I wasn't going to the Rex until rather late. There was still a chance of catching the headliner, but I've been to the Rex often enough to know that the lineup would be a mess by now, and there's no telling when or if I would get in. My adventures with Greg a month back has taught me never to attempt the Rex after 1h30. So we headed back to our respective places, although not without some amusement at the ballet of inebriation, disinhibition and desperation that was Châtelet at 2h30.

Smile For Your Mind: Post-party stuff

As I had mentioned in my post yesterday, there was too much material for one post, so I put the pictures, video and play-by-play reportage in yesterday's post, and saved the more theoretical/general discussions for today. Although other things might come to me in the next few days, there were essentially three things that struck me as significant during the party:

Eye Contact

I've mentioned before that eye contact in France (and Europe in general, I think) has a more intense and overtly sexual connotation than it does in North America. Nonetheless, it takes on a more diffuse role at EDM (electronic dance music) events. Certainly, you can still indicate your romantic interest in someone by fixing your gaze intently on them, but that's usually buttressed by rather forward physical contact (i.e., close dancing, grabbing an arm or hand, copping a feel), but eye contact can also be an invitation to share a friendly moment together. Many of the people I know in EDM scenes, in Paris, Chicago, Toronto and elsewhere, have met me through moments of fleeting eye contact that have led to discussions about the DJ, the party, the club, and soon much more.

In many ways, the moment of eye contact represents the crux of my doctoral project--much in the way that Marx used the commodity as the unit of analysis for capitalism. These moments of visual alignment are bristling with the potential for intimacy, with the possibility of closeness across the dance floor. It is precisely virtual: before it is an invitation to intimacy, it is first a question of possibility. In my mind, we tacitly ask ourselves and each other, "Do you feel it, too?"

One way that I understand intimacy is through affective mirroring--the idea, conviction or aspiration that my perceptions, feelings, and emotions are the same as yours...or close enough. We want assurance that what we undergo ourselves is shared with those around us. Of course, such knowledge is uncertain; the possibility of intimacy in the way I've been conceptualizing it here requires some degree of mutual transparency at the level of affect.

So eye contact becomes this moment of enquiry, aspiration, projection, alignment and most of all beginning. It unleashes a cascading chain of transactions between myself and my interlocutor, where we check on each other's internal states and strive to project our own. Not surprisingly, the first phrases to be uttered after a (successful) moment of eye contact are questions like "Having a good time?", "Is this DJ great or what?", "How're you feeling?" and so on. Even when words aren't uttered, eye contact will often be followed by a smile, a nod, or some gesture to show that you're really excited by the music (i.e., pumping your fists, dancing with greater energy). And no wonder that it's called "eye contact" in English; so much of this interaction works as a metaphor for physical touch. Indeed, physical touch often follows swiftly; many times I've made eye contact with a total stranger, smiled, and then shook hands, exchanged hugs, or even bumped hips.

Although this might seem obvious, an important condition of possibility for intimacy is witnessing together. Being present to the same thing, the same event, creates a common ground of shared experience from which to begin seeking similar correspondences between feelings. Again, it's no surprise that, at moments of peak intensity or surprising wonder during a DJ's set, we turn to those beside us and say--whether verbally or non-verbally--"HOLY SHIT did you see/hear/feel that?!"

I should also add that all of this uncertainty, virtuality, potentiality, possibility also suggests the risks involved in the transaction. Eye contact can misfire. You can look away, either rejecting your or perhaps simply oblivious to you. You or I can misread each other, one mistaking sexual interest where the other was merely seeking recognition. It's an all-too-common risk for women, for whom a fleeting glance may result in very invasive unwanted attention.

Wow. That took longer than I thought. The next two points will be a lot shorter.


Continuing on the thread of "virtuality" and the realm where things aren't yet actual but nonetheless operative, I was struck by how so many of the interactions, acquaintanceships and even close friendships hinge on chance interactions. I know that it's a bit obvious to argue that friendships often arise par hasard, but nonetheless I was surprised to realize that nearly all of my contacts were had that way. I met N. and L. through another person, A. back in September; she liked the way I danced and said so (notably, after some amusing eye contact); then she made the same comment to two guys that happened to be standing next to her. One girl that I chatted with on Friday sparked up conversation because we I was wearing a Pac-Man t-shirt. For all the people to whom I have been introduced as a friend-of-a-friend, I seem to have an equal amount that I've simply met by chance.

What's interesting for me is that it's not random. It's not as if we crossed paths while catching our trains at Châtelet and suddenly struck up a rapport. Our interests and contacts overlapped enough that we were at the same event, and then a whole relationship unfolded from a casual comment or a shared glance. Moreover, the moment was not necessary but generative; commenting on our dress or our dancing or the DJ isn't the only way to start interaction. It could've happened in so many other ways; indeed, we were swimming in a sea of opportunities to get to know each other. But once that first contact takes place, a whole relationship (potentially) unfolds from it. Following this line of thinking, one of the attractions of events like these is that the crowd seems to be a space full of virtual future friends.

Living in the "as-if" and Future-Oriented Intimacy

At several points in the evening, I was chatting with various folks from Labelle Records (the label organizing this event and the "home" label of most of the DJs that night), discussing the possibility of putting them in contact with a DJ/Label/Party Collective in Chicago that I know, the NaughtyBadFun Collective. "It would be great to do an exchange between Paris and Chicago." "I'm sure they would love to have you play in Chicago sometime." "If they're ever passing near Paris, we'd love to host an event with them." "When I get back to Chicago, you're welcome to crash at my place." "I don't have as many contacts in Toronto, but I can recommend good clubs and promoters." "I'd love to spin in Toronto someday."

All of this reminded me of a particular formulation of intimacy that appears in Lauren Berlant's introduction to Critical Inquiry's special issue on intimacy. She imagines intimacy as the aspiration for a future together (the exact quote doesn't appear in the link above), which I think works really well with the sorts of conversations I was having. Even if these musical exchanges never happen (but I hope they do), even if N. or L. (or C. or F. or the rest) never come visit me in Chicago (but I hope they do), nonetheless planning for a collaborative future allows us to project future common experiences that contribute to a present intimacy as if we had already been there.

vendredi, février 16, 2007

Smile for your Mind


The day began as any morning-after might: I slept in past noon and then rolled out of bed, bleary-eyed but awake. The day itself was pretty calm; I spent most of it writing up the previous night's adventures and doing a bit of cleaning around the apartment. Near the end of the evening, I finally dragged my ass into the shower and got myself together to go out.

Tonight is the big party for Labelle Records, which includes my friends Nathan, Laurent and Clothilde/Fantomette as well as a whole other cast of folks that I have come to know over the past couple of months. I needed to be awake and have energy for the whole evening, which is partially why I allowed myself to sleep in so late today. As midnight rolled around and I was heading out the door, I was wide awake and ready to party. On the other hand, I had made myself a rather substantial plate of hashed potatoes in the interest of providing fuel for dancing, but I just felt overfull. Next time, less fuel.

Smile For Your Mind 2: Labelle Records @ La Scène Bastille

NOTE: since I already have a lot of photos and videos and such, this post will contain the more straight-forward reportage of the event, while tomorrow's post will have some more theoretical discussion.

0h00-1h30: Be My Chose

The artist profile for Be My Chose on the Labelle Records website is only available in French, so I've included a translation below. Also, you can download and listen to three podcast mixes from the previous link, so check'em out. As you'll see in the video clips below, their sets are a bit more intense in a party setting.

Labelle Records' first duo act! Nathan H and Fantomette ("little ghost") are two complementary DJs that know how to set the decks on fire. Their styles sits somewhere between minimal and electro. More than a simple mix, they put on a veritable show. They hold a residence for the "Happy people only" night at La scène Bastille in Paris; each of their performances thrills the audience, touched by their generosity and talent on stage.

As per usual, I managed to make a fool of myself at the door; I was on the list, but I gave my name instead of the name of the person on whose list I was included, and this created a few moments of awkward confusion. Once I got everything sorted out and checked my jacket in the coatcheck, it was about 0h30. There were about 20-30 people in a space that probably could fit 200 people; pretty sparse, but the night was still very young. People usually don't show up in force until 1h30 or 2h00 around Paris. Nonetheless, when I ran across Laurent (and later C.), they expressed concern about whether the crowd would be big enough by "prime time." They had rather stiff competition that night, with Akufen playing at Nouveau Casino and a large ACT-UP Paris event going on as well. As anyone who knows me well can probably attest, it's a true sign of my dedication that I ditched Akufen to see the Labelle Records crew (*sniff*).

Be My Chose's set was great, a bit more dynamic than the stuff available from their profile at Labelle Records, sitting somewhere between microhouse and minimal techno. Although they were the opening act, the crowd grew during their set and they were able to "peak" the room a few times. ("Peaking" probably deserves it's own post on here, but the term generally refers to creating a moment of climax in your set and eliciting a "peak" response from your audience.) Anyway, here's a couple of clips of their performance. The second clip in particular shows a great peak moment in their set.

1h30-3h30: LLC

Although LLC isn't signed to Labelle Records, he's also a resident DJ at La Scène Bastille. I had seen him perform before back in September (at my very first night out in Paris), and the set seemed very firmly within tech-house territory: loud, uptempo and densely textured house beats rather than sparse, clicky-glitchy funk.

The crowd was pretty thick now and everybody seemed to be very enthusiastic about his set. At one point, a petite, thin girl came over to me and asked me about my t-shirt (I had a Pac-Man shirt on). Unfortunately, the combination of slurred speech (hers), lack of French skills (mine) and proximity to the speakers made the conversation rather difficult. Once she realized that I wasn't a native French speaker, she asked about where I was from, what I was up to in Paris, how long I was here, etc. A memorable moment in the conversation was when I told her I'd been here for 6 months. She said, "6 months?! Listen, I got the impression that you were always part of the Parisian nightlife. I see you everywhere!" At this point, she pulled over a couple of her friends and announced to them "Toronto in the house!" (or the French equivalent: "Toronto sur place!"). This seemed to merit handshakes, at which point another friend of hers appeared and said to her, "Hey, isn't this that guy we saw at Le Pulp last night?" "Yeah, totally. I see him all over the place!"

So, in summary, people do notice when you show up. "80% of success is showing up," indeed.

3h30-4h30: HDProject

While my most ardent interests these days have focused on glitchy click-house and funky minimal techno, I have to admit to a long-standing love of all things techno. Laurent a.k.a. HDProject's set started out rather low-key and minimal, but soon fleshed out into a banging, intense set. I was really impressed with his ability to use Ableton Live to perform a laptop set that had the same contours of intensity as a vinyl set. All in all, it was fantastic; even though I was still a bit tired/bloated from my late dinner, I still couldn't help but dance like crazy through most of this set. He was really strong toward the end of the set (see second video clip).

At some point during this set, a short woman in a black dress came over and sat on the stage near where I was dancing, facing me. Clutching a drink and swaying, she was clearly wrecked (i.e., trashed, drunk, pissed, etc). She asked me for a lighter, and then commented on the quality of HDProject's set, wrapping her arm around me shoulders and yelling into my ear. I quickly discovered that she was a laughing drunk; to her, my Pac-Man t-shirt was riotously funny, my smile was riotously funny, the way I danced, the fact that she could barely hold her drink, and so on. A little while later, she regained enough of her balance to get up and dance. She tried to dance suggestively with/against me, but she would quickly get distracted and dance with someone else. This was probably the thing that kept this situation in the realm of "Haha, she's silly," rather than "Sweet Jesus, get this woman off me!" Although she wasn't sober enough to figure out that I was not sexually interested in women, she was also not sober enough to persist in chasing me, so most of my encounters with her were fleeting and amusing.

4h30-6h00: DJ Redock

As I mentioned to C. as we were taking a break from dancing, the English expression for this sort of thing is "big-room techno." Redock started where HDProject left off, kicked up the tempo a bit, and made everything even louder and more frenetic. This set was very much in the style of the "Swedish Techno Gods" (Adam Beyer, Kari Lekebusch, Joel Mull, Aril Brikha) or the second-wave Detroit crews like Underground Resistance (Jeff Mills is one example). Unfortunately, I didn't take any video of his set (I thought I did, but it's not on my camera); on the other hand, I did take some great action shots of him doing his thing. Of all the DJs, he moved the fastest, sweeping his arms or flicking his hands with pretty much every gesture.

I danced until 5h30, and then gave in to fatigue. After making my goodbyes and wishing everyone well, I darted off to the métro station to catch the first train home. The first train home on a Saturday morning at Bastille is a funny place. On the one hand, Bastille has clearly been billed as THE place for nightclubs in anglophone tour guides, because it seemed like 50% of the crowd spoke English. On the other hand, there's a whole lot of crazy going on around there at that time of night. I spent most of my time on the subway platform watching various crazy and/or disinhibited creepy guys try to socialize with hungover English-speaking tourists, who were too timid to say "leave me alone." Thankfully, years of living in one of the crazier areas of Toronto has given me a Jedi-like ability to avoid or minimize these awkward interactions (not that it hasn't betrayed me in the past). A little while later, I'm back in my room, shucking my shoes and rolling into bed.

jeudi, février 15, 2007

La Cantatrice Chauve and 3some @ Le Pulp

Well, I went into work late (to make up for the overtime yesterday) and left on time, so I had a pretty nice day at work today. Also, one of my colleagues had extra tickets to a recent re-staging of La Cantatrice Chauve, so me and DJ suddenly had evening plans. I was supposed to also see a friend for an apéritif after work, but his last class of the day got out just before the play started, so we pushed it back to next week.

La Cantatrice Chauve (The Bald Soprano) is an absurdist work by Eugene Ionesco, who was apparently inspired by a set of bizarre dialogues he found while learning English using the Asimil method. Mr and Mrs Smith are an English couple that, eventually, have another couple (the Martins) over for dinner, which is interrupted by several things, including their jester-like maid, and a fireman searching house-to-house for fires. The play is a series of barely-related vignettes, with many moments of self-contradiction, errors in speech, and slips in logic (e.g. "How lovely that you came to dinner uninvited; how dare you arrive late?!"). The title of the play comes from a line delivered by the fireman, just before he takes his leave, where he asks suddenly "And what of the Bald Soprano?" This apparently freaks everyone out, and finally one character says "She always wears her hair the same way," and everyone seems relieved. If you can read French, there are some juicy excerpts here. The play comes to a confusing climax, which ends right back at the beginning of the play, with the Martins playing the roles of the Smiths and vice-versa.

There were in fact several possible endings suggested by the original playwright, some of which were difficult to stage (i.e., destroying the set every night) or illegal (inciting a revolution within the audience and then shooting the audience members). The original staging at Theatre de la Huchette (which has been running continuously since 1957, much like the Mousetrap in England) simply runs back to the beginning of the play with the roles switched, and then stops arbitrarily; however, this "new" staging at Théâtre Athénée takes this same loop strategy, then interrupts it when all the characters come on stage, address the audience, and hold an impromptu lecture on the various possible endings. The idea of discussing the endings rather than actually doing any one of them is sorta neat, but it ran about 30 minutes longer than it needed to. One other change they made to this "newer" version was that they shifted the emotional delivery of many of the lines, emphasizing a darker and more awkward interaction between the various characters.

Anyway, the play was good, although I really want to go see the original one now, so that I can make a comparison. There was certainly a lot of humour to be found in the script. Mind you, I nearly missed the play, because I was running late and missed my connection on the métro at République. The theatre itself was beautiful; it was an old theatre obviously dating from the time before amplified sound, since the main floor didn't go further back than 30 rows and 20 seats across, but there were 3 balconies above it.

After the play, DJ and I headed over to Place des Vosges to grab a drink and some food at a café there (Café Hugo). After 1 litre of wine (between the two of us) and a great deal of UofC-related chatter, we staggered back to the métro and headed home. I, however, wanted to go out to Le Pulp for another one of their Thursday night events, particularly since tonight's program included a bunch of people from the Crosstown Rebels label. (The last time I was there was about three weeks ago.)

3some @ Le Pulp: Shonky, Dyed Soundorom and Jamie Jones

12h00?-3h45: Jamie Jones

It was already 1am when I caught the last train back to my apartment, so it was 1h40 by the time I changed and headed back out. I tried catching a night bus downtown, but I missed it and realized that the next one would take 30 minutes to arrive, so I grabbed a taxi instead. Thankfully, taxis don't cost much when traffic is low, so I got there for 8€. It took a while to get in; while I was waiting, a young lesbian couple speaking North American English wandered past the line, into the club (clearly they had some sort of line-jump), and then shortly back out. As they were leaving, they held a deliberately loud conversation with the bouncer over the heads of those in line, asking which night was the "girls" night; one of them made a point of saying in very clear English "Too many men" just before they walked away. A couple of guys standing in front of me looked at each other and said "She's right, this place is a sausage fest." Although Thursdays are normally a "mixed" night, the complaint wasn't entirely true. When I got in at 2h30, the place was packed with a pretty even mix of genders. While it's always pretty speculative to play "spot the lesbians" at events like this, about 10% of the females were clearly dressing/acting/groping the part. Gay men, on the other hand, were in relatively short supply.

Jones's set was first and foremost a house set. Were there minimal textures and microhouse elements? Sure, but the tracks he selected always seemed to place an emphasis on house-y rhythms and even the occasional vocal track. In a way, it's what I imagine microhouse would sound like when it doesn't pass through minimal techno.

3h45-4h45: Shonky

A friend back in Chicago made a point of telling me how hot Shonky was (in both senses), and he certainly had a point. Not only is Shonky pretty darn cute, but he spins a great set. (The guy in the foreground of this picture was acting creepy all night, coming on to everything with a vagina and being rather grabby. Thankfully, French girls are very good at rebuffing these sorts of attentions.) Shonky's set was mostly techno-centric and mostly minimal, with occasional minimal house tracks. Although the tempo was generally not as fast as big-room Marco Carola-style techno, Shonky maintained an emphasis on loud, punchy bass kicks and sparse mid-frequencies.

Midway through his set, I saw N. come up to the front of the crowd to say hi to Shonky (N. was last seen on this blog here). After the usual greeting, he drifted off to chat with a cloud of other people he seemed to know. There was a Labelle Records party coming up the next day, so he was doing a lot of canvassing to get support. The night is up against Akufen at Nouveau Casino (always a big draw) and a huge ACT-UP Paris charity party with a long list of DJs.

3h45-6h00: Dyed Soundorom

The whole crew, J. Jones, Soundorom, and Shonky.

I have to admit that I wasn't as thrilled with his set, but it was nonetheless pretty good. His selection of tracks tended more toward deep house and dubby house, with occasional techno-y moments. Shortly before I left at 5h30, Shonky came back on to throw on a few tracks. When he did, several people in the crowd applauded. While I don't know if the intention was to congratulate Soundorom or celebrate the return of Shonky, it elicited a rather sour look from him.

I sauntered onto the métro, swung by my boulangerie for a baguette and a pain au chocolat, and then headed back to my place to get some sleep.

mercredi, février 14, 2007

Eat this heart out

The majority of my Valentine's Day was spent at work; several tasks and scheduled appointments gathered together on Wednesday to create a tightly-packed sequence of stuff to keep me busy. Although it was mostly fine, the last thing I did that day involved a video-conference for a dissertation defence, where the Internet-based video-conference technology wouldn't connect to the other device in Chicago. The connection was finally made (for reasons that were not entirely clear), but not before a fair bit of drama.

The evening, however, was looking up. I was going over to a colleague's place for dinner, and I was bringing the anticuchos de corazón that I had been marinating since last night. Also, my colleague had bought a whole wild seabass, so we were going to make ceviche as well. I brought over the fixings for the ceviche to make at her place; when you're using fish with such tender and good-quality flesh, you don't really need to marinate it for any amount of time. It's more like tangy sushi.

The night itself was very pleasant, much great conversation, much delicious food (including mine, thank you very much) and a slightly hectic run to the métro to catch the last train. Rather than give details, here's my recipe for the ceviche and the anticuchos:

Ceviche de Corvina (White Sea Bass)


  • 15-30 limes (for 1-2 filets)
  • 2 bitter oranges (if unavailable, an underripe orange will work)
  • 2 red onions, medium, sliced into thin half-rounds.
  • 2 medium-sized hot peppers, finely diced (A mixture of red and green make it pretty). This is normally an ají limo or amarillo in Peru, but whatever's fresh and spicy
  • 1 tbsp of ginger, crushed, grated or finely diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely diced
  • A handful of cilantro, chopped finely


  1. Cut the fish into 2cm cubes and soak in a bath of salted cold water while you prepare the rest of the mixture.
  2. Juice the limes and oranges, taking care not to over-squeeze the limes (that makes for bitter juice). Place in a large nonreactive (non-metal) bowl.
  3. Add onions, hot peppers, ginger, garlic and cilantro. Mix and salt to taste.
  4. Drain and pat dry the fish, add enough of the citrus mixture to cover the fish and mix.
  5. If the fish is fresh and tender (like corvina), wait a few minutes and then serve. If it's tough (like shark or octopus) marinate overnight. Soft fish will actually get firmer over time (as if it were cooked), while tough fish will tenderize over time.
  6. As an alternative preparation, you can slice the fish paper-thin, rather than in cubes. This creates something like tiraditos, which is the Peruvian equivalent of sashimi. However, your fish needs to be really fresh for the thin slices to work.

Anticuchos de corazón (tangy beef heart shish kabobs)


  • 1 beef heart (usually 1 - 2 Kg)
  • 2-4 cups of red wine vinegar (enough to cover)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of cumin (to taste)
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 whole head of garlic (that's right), crushed or finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. of ají amarillo molido. If you don't have it, substitute a hungarian paprika.
  • 1 tablespoon of achiote (annatto). Not crucial to flavor, but adds the right color.
  • Salt & pepper to taste


  1. Cut the heart in half to expose the cavities and wash thoroughly, getting any clotted blood out.
  2. Trim fat and veins on the exterior, taking care to remove any hardened vessels that sometimes run along the outside.
  3. On the interior, trim away the tendons that criss-cross the cavities.
  4. Start making 1"-wide slices. To remove any remaining fat, fascia (membrane) or connective tissue, press the slice firmly against the cutting board (trimming-side down) and run the knife parallel to the board, about 1-2 mm away. This should remove a thin slice and leave the rest of the meat.
  5. Cut into 1" cubes. The cubes should consist of firm, dark red fatless meat.
  6. Toss in a nonreactive container (I like 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bags) and add all the other ingredients. Squeeze out as much air as possible and put in fridge overnight.
  7. 30 minutes before serving, place the cubes of meat on skewers and grill over a medium-high flame. Traditionally, you make another basting mixture out of oil and cumin and some other stuff, but I find it's just as easy to baste with the juices from the marinade. Watch out for the vinegar fumes, though!
  8. If you don't have a grill, you can also broil in the oven. Failing that, you can sear them in a lightly-greased pan and use the marinade to de-glaze.

As a reward for those of you who read all the way to the end of my posts, here's a link to an amusing anti-valentines cards website.

mardi, février 13, 2007

Brussels! and Beef Heart

OK, beefheart first. I'm going over to a friend's place to make ceviche/cebiche and anticuchos. The ceviche I will make on the spot at her place (she's buying seabass for the occasion), but I needed to start the marinade for the anticuchos tonight. I'm making anticuchos de corazón (marinated heart skewers), so the first thing I needed to do was get a beef heart. At the open-air market this morning, I found everything else I needed (and even some stuff I didn't need), but no beef hearts. The closest thing was a few lamb hearts. They were tiny and cute (as cute as internal organs can be), but way too tiny. Besides, can you imagine trimming and de-veining a heart the size of your fist?

Anyway, I tried again after work, stopping off at a halal butcher shop near my place. Same story. I headed over to Belleville--Paris's china-maghreb-jewish-thai-vietnam-town. The store on the corner offered many other things I needed (bitter oranges, cilantro), but only pork hearts. Ew. Across the street, I walked into a very large butcher shop and asked the guy that looked like the owner. His answer: "Of course! How many do you need?" I was going to be feeding a group of people, so I was ready to order 2 or more, until I saw the hearts. These things were clearly cut from a freaking BULL. Each heart weighed 2 kilograms (about 4.5 lbs). I took one, and the butcher was nice enough to trim most of the fat off for me (although I later discovered he left the cartilaginous arteries in there).

Also, as I was arriving and leaving the Belleville métro stop, there were several groups of police officers stopping people on the street/in the métro station, demanding their immigration/citizenship papers. I hadn't witnessed a contrôle de papiers (paperwork check) since the first time I came to Paris as an exchange student in 1996, and I had forgotten how disturbing the sight can be. Although I realize that it's a part of immigration/border control, there's something sinister about going into "ethnic" neighborhoods on a busy day and ambushing anybody that looks Asian, African or Arab. I was spared the treatment (perhaps because I didn't fit those categories, perhaps because I was wearing the nice leather jacket my family got me for Xmas), which was good, since I had left my passport at home today. From now on, there will always be a photocopy of my passport on me.

So, I got home, dealt with a bunch of distractions, made some congee, and then got to preparing the beef heart. This thing is HUGE and I don't have much counter-space, so things were pretty awkward. Also, the veins on the outside of the heart were pretty hard, so I spent a lot of time carefully trimming them out. Also, the inside of the heart has all of these tendons that cross-cut the heart's chambers and help with the contractions of a beating heart. They're nasty and chewy, so I had to trim them out as well. Oh, and to top things off, this heart was DEFINITELY not halal; in other words, the blood hadn't been completely drained, which meant that there were dark little clots of blood lodged in all the chambers and veins, which I had to wash out. After nearly shredding the first few pieces in an attempt to trim them, I remembered a great trick: Take a slice of the heart, lay the side that you want to trim down on the board, press hard with your left hand, and slide the knife along the bottom, about 1-2mm from the cutting board. If the pressure is right and the blade very sharp, you should trim a very thin strip of tissue without wasting much of the edible meat.

Anyway, after cutting the heart into 1" cubes and throwing them into a large Ziploc bag, I added nearly an entire bottle of red wine vinegar, a bit of vegetable oil, a ton of cumin (more than a 1/4 cup, ground), some ají mirasol molido, some salt, and a whole head of finely chopped garlic. Mix, press out as much air as possible, stick in fridge overnight. Wash garlic stench from hands and clean beef blood from...well..everywhere.

And now, for something completely different. Pictures from Brussels!

The next few are all different views from the centre of the main square of Brussels. Gorgeous!





Unmistakably phallic!

Okay, now I'm kinda spent and just want to nap...

These were some of the first covered galleries in Europe

This was just an abandoned lot, but it stuck out among beautiful art-nouveau buildings.

I was particularly compelled by the brightly-coloured lightbulbs

This old art-nouveau store was turned into the museum of musical instruments.

On each balcony, they had a different example of musical notation

lundi, février 12, 2007

Hotels near Luis

[No Brussels pics just yet. I'm getting to them, I'm just busy. Not lazy. It's hard not to look lazy when managing communication with potential consultants can also be described as "answering emails."]

So, after a rather long day at work, I headed back home, but with a substantial detour. My mother is planning a trip to a medical conference in Nantes in June, and we're hoping that she can stay in Paris for a few nights, too. A lot of this rests on whether I can find her reasonable accommodation in Paris, so I took to the internet last night, trawling around. I knew that I would find significantly lower prices if I looked at non-chain hotels in the suburbs near my place, rather than in Paris. Although I have a Paris address, I live just on the city limits, with Les Lilas and Pré Saint-Gervais literally 1 block away from me. When I do groceries, I'm in the banlieue (suburbs, but also euphemistic for "the ghetto" or "projects," since the two are often coextensive around Paris). Les Lilas is a rather urbanized and working-middle class / mixed area that I've really come to like.

The problem was finding the hotels in Les Lilas. The usual online Hotel search engines (, expedia, etc) didn't even have Les Lilas as a city you could search in. I checked some of the French discount chains, but they only had locations at Porte de Pantin (closer to the airport and several conference sites) or Porte de Bagnolet (close to the airport and the bus station). I was contemplating wandering around my neighborhood, looking for hotels on sight, when I came across the website for this département's Tourism Board (FYI: It's #93, Seine Saint-Denis, which includes the location of the banlieue riots last year). Like any decent local-tourism website, they had directories for local hotels. I found two for the municipality (commune) of Les Lilas: New Residence and Hotel Paul de Kock (don't giggle, the place is nice).

The first is an apartment-style hotel in a slightly newer-looking building, while the second is an old-fashioned hotel. Also, the first has more complicated apartment-style policies (30% down payment on stay for reservation, 100% upon arrival as security deposit; 14-day cancellation policy) but provides you with a kitchen and full bathroom, while the second has standard booking policies. A "studio" in New Residence will cost you 48€/night for 1 person, 58€ for two, with a slight reduction if you're staying for 7 nights. In Hotel Paul de kock, a room with a shower (but shared bathroom) will cost you 35€/night for either one or two people, and 40€/night for shower and bathroom in your room.

What's great about these hotels is that they are both about 50 feet from the end of the 11 métro line, Mairie des Lilas station. In other words, you're staying in the banlieue and enjoying it's correspondingly low prices, but you can get downtown by subway in 20-30 minutes. Also, the same night bus that I take to get back from the clubs at night (N23 or N16) runs by this area as well. Next time I need to stay in France for a short stay, I know where to go!

dimanche, février 11, 2007

Post-Brussels & Indian Cooking

Well, I'm back from Brussels. I'm not posting much in the way of details of my trip, although I will post some lovely pictures in a day or two. What I can say about the trip is that I ate a lot of amazing moules frites (steamed mussels with fries) and fantastic Belgian beer (especially the Trappist stuff).

In the place of a review of my Brussels trip, here's a list of things I've discovered about cooking Indian food over the past few weeks:

  • Tomatoes and Onions go into everything. The base for all currys that I've made is a bed of finely chopped onions, fried until golden and sweet, and then mixed with finely chopped tomatoes until both reduce to a mush. Not only does this give great flavor, but it also provides a thickening base for the dish.
  • Garlic and Ginger in great amounts. Equal amounts of crushed/chopped garlic and ginger always go in after onions and tomatoes, and before the dry spices. The smell of this combination as it cooks is instantly recognizable.
  • Simmer down, add water, simmer down. Instead of adding a ton of water and walking away, add only enough liquid to cover the food. Simmer and stir until the liquid is nearly gone, and then add another cup or so of water. Keep going until everything is thick and saucy. Something about this technique seems to help create thick sauces.
  • Always more butter. Seriously. The more butter you can include, the better. Start the onions and tomatoes in clarified butter (ghee). When you add the spices, add some butter as well. When you think your sauce is just thick enough and you're going to remove it from the oven, fold in some more butter and stir. Or you can just pour a ladleful of melted butter if you've got that handy. Butter butter butter.