samedi, avril 07, 2007

Kristy+IynVisit Day 6: Shopping!

The day began with a morning trip to the marché aux puces (flea market) of St. Ouen, which is near Porte de Clignancourt just outside of Paris proper. I had vague memories of visiting this massive flea market nearly 10 years ago, but I had clearly missed out on large parts of the market. This time around, Kristy, Iyn and I did only about 50% of the market's surface area, and we had spent nearly half the day.

The outer fringes of the market are deceiving. It looks like a bunch of tents selling knockoff clothing and shoes. However, once you get a bit further in, to the bricks-and-mortar shops, you suddenly find vendors selling Napoleon III buffets, Art Déco dining tables, and Louis XIV chairs. Although there are antique shops devoted to pretty much anything you can imagine (i.e. silverware only), the real stars of the market are the antique furniture sellers. What is most amazing about the place is how you can shop for 12 000€ dining tables in one place, and haggle over 2€ rusty candlesticks somewhere else. The high-end stores clustered towards the center, with the cheaper garage-sale-type stuff at the edges.

Kristy managed to score an old sketch of Saint-Severin, a book of Dürer engravings, and a color photo of a beautiful royal tomb, while I scored a 12-piece ceramic coffee service with creamer, sugar pot and coffee-maker for 20€. The service isn't particularly pretty, but the coffee-maker is similar to the Peruvian-style drip-brew pots that I am very fond of.

Kristy and Iyn also found a bunch of prints of Rackham and Clarke illustrations (19th-c. English, Romantic / Gothic stuff), including a bunch of lovely black-and-white prints for a book of Edgar Allen Poe stories. It broke my heart to see the pages separated from the original book (it's more profitable to cut out the illustrated pages and sell them separately), although what really killed me was seeing, only a few stores away, the remains of a late-medieval antiphoner, hand-written on vellum, being sold as individual pages. Aïe!

After all of that was done, we swung by home to drop off our stuff and have a cup of coffee, then off we went to Galeries Lafayette for some shopping. We picked up some chocolates and other fancy stuff in the food area of the store, and then headed over to the main building to look at the dome and do a bit of shopping. Kristy was looking for shoes and maybe some scarves, but in the end everything was too expensive. Add to that the fact that the place was packed with people, and suddenly we were all very eager to leave.

We headed over to BHV, where we managed to find some nice cufflinks for Iyn; in a Bata shoe store nearby, Kristy found a couple of pairs of shoes that she liked and that were also in her price range. Yay!

After that, the plan was to go to Pere Lachaise cemetary to wander about, but the cemetary had just closed, so we had to look elsewhere. We headed over to the bassin de la Villette, which is part of a chain of canals that passes through the north-east part of Paris and ends in the Seine. There is a movie theatre (in fact, one on each side of the canal) that has a nice café in front of it, so we went there to sit down for a coffee and a bite to eat.

From there, we picked up some bread at a nearby bakery and headed home to eat dinner (mostly cheese and bread, really) and head to bed.

Well, at least, Kristy and Iyn went to bed. I went out to meet Anatoly at Le Point Ephémère for a minimal techno night highlighting artists associated with Mutek. The main artists included Stephen Beaupré, Pheek, and Frivolous. After a week of running around Paris with Kristy & Iyn, I was too exhausted to do anything very ethnographic, so I didn't take any pictures or go out of the way to remember the details of the night. That much being said, it was a great time! I wish I could've stayed to hear Pheek's set....

...but instead I left the bar at 3h30, got home for 4h00, woke up Kristy and Iyn, and took them to the airport so they could catch their 7h45 flight. I was so tired, I nearly missed my stop on the way back home.

vendredi, avril 06, 2007

Kristy+IynVisit Day 5: Opéra, La Durée, and dinner

I had to work again today, so off I went to work while Kristy and Iyn did a tour of the Opéra Garnier. From Kristy's account, the place was mind-bogglingly gorgeous. How surprising!

Once work was done, I met the two of them at Les Tuileries. We tried to get a bite to eat at one of the cafés in the gardens, but the server was too busy to bring us the menus, let alone food, so we got up and kept walking. We passed Concorde and then headed up to Madeleine, intent on showing Iyn what he missed at La Durée last Monday. We had mostly the same fantastic desserts as before, but the main difference was that we had the oddest and most amusing server ever. The man was young, but clearly trying to take himself very seriously and appear older. He had a pointy goatee and a long moustache (it wasn't waxed...but that was the only thing missing). He had wire-rimmed glasses and a very tight black vest over his shirt.

For some reason, he was intent on speaking English to us, despite his thick accent and my reasonable capacity to speak French. Once we had made our order--with his eyes boring into us with great seriousness, he came back to set our table. He was either OCD or making a great show of displaying his table-setting prowess. He carefully lined up the dishes and plates and napkins and cutlery with minute precision, flipping the knife-blades inwards and pausing for a full 10 seconds to contemplate the placement of one napkin.

When he brought out our food and tea, he paused for a moment, looked at us all, and said "Euh...I wish you...a very pleasant...euh...moment." This would be a literal translation of what all the servers at this tea salon say in French. However graceful it may sound in French, it was pretty awkward in English and it took real effort to avoid giggling.

Nonetheless, the tea and the desserts were great and we had a lovely time. At one point, Kristy thanked the server in French and he looked at her very seriously in and said, "You can say 'Thank you, Arthur.'" WTF? Later on, I thanked him for something (also in French) and he said "Bitte." (i.e., "You're welcome" in German.) After all of that, we were thinking that I should just spontaneously address him in Spanish, just to see what he does.

To top off the event, while he was waiting for my credit card to go through, he started humming along to the background music (one of the few eateries in France where I've heard music). After a moment, he looks at Kristy, and says "It's Carmen." When Kristy responds with a bland smile, he continues, "By Bizet." Now, this is funny, because Kristy was an opera vocal-performance major in her undergrad, and probably knows the opera in question inside-out. Either way, the server was clearly assuming that the Americans wouldn't know anything about opera, and would thus be profoundly impressed by his prestigious cultural knowledge. Bourdieu, call your office! Anyway, I jumped in quickly and said "Yes, she's quite familiar with it," and that put a quick stop to what promised to be an uncomfortable conversation.

Once we were done there, we got on the métro and headed back home. I left Kristy and Iyn to make a detour to Bastille, while I went home and made a quick run to the butcher for some food for dinner. There was some sort of IT-related problem at the residence when I got back so I got sidetracked for a while and didn't get to making dinner until Kristy and Iyn were already back. A couple of hours later, we ate a huge pile of steak and endless amounts of cheese, drank a lot of wine, and stumbled off to bed.

jeudi, avril 05, 2007

Kristy+IynVisit Day 4: Eiffel, Nôtre-Dame, Chez Denise

[NOTE: Now Improved with Pictures! Thanks to Kristy for taking these.]

Today was a day of real hard-core tourism. We started off the day (a bit late) with a trip to the the best croissant place in town (Pâtisserie Millet), followed by the runner-up (whose name I can NEVER remember). From there, we walked along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower, where we "embraced the suck" and got in line. It wasn't quite noon when we got in line, and it was past 3pm when we got done with that place. Ultimately, as Kristy pointed out, the tower is much more impressive from the ground. Once you're up there, it's just a view of the city like the one you can get at Montmartre or Montparnasse for much less trouble.

After that, we headed off to the Arc de Triomphe for some photos, and then over to the Latin Quarter. We got some cheap turkish sandwiches (a.k.a. gyros, döner kebab, shawarma) and wandered around the neighborhood, stopping at l'Eglise Saint-Severin to let Kristy take a zillion pictures. Afterwards, we headed over to the islands on the Seine to see Notre-Dame. As it turns out, today was the feast of the Last Supper and we were there in time for the evening service, so we hung out near the transept for a few minutes to witness the opening process and choral performance, and then headed back out.

After stopping in the gardens behind the cathedral for a few more pictures and buying some scarves at an overpriced souvenir store, we headed over to Ile Saint-Louis to grab some Berthillon ice cream. As always, Berthillon (see below) didn't disappoint; their ice cream was simply divine. A little while later, we grabbed a spot on the terrasse of one of the cafés overlooking the back of the cathedral, and we hung out for a bit, preparing for our dinner later that night.

Dinner was at Chez Denise (Au Tour Montlhéry), which is this old restaurant that dates from the time when Les Halles was still an open-air market, not an underground shopping mall. The dining is very much home-style, which means the portions are huge and served to the center of the table (to be shared by the diners). I've been here once before and had a really great time. We started by ordering some steamed asparagus in vinaigrette with this HUGE slab of rillettes. After that, I had a strip steak that looked like it was 750 grams, Kristy had the mutton and beans, and Iyn had the boeuf gros sel, which is essentially a very slow-cooked stewed beef brisket served with coarse sea salt. We weren't even able to finish our main dishes, so we let the desserts go and just ordered some digestifs. After a moment to take our picture in front of the restaurant, we hiked back to the métro and headed home.

mercredi, avril 04, 2007

Kristy+IynVisit Day 3: Louvre, Crêpes, Trois Marmites

Well, I had to go in to work today, so Kristy and Iyn went to the Louvre and took that in while I toiled away at work. It seemed like everyone knew that I was taking most of the week off, so I had a week's worth of IT issues to deal with that day. Nonetheless, I finished only an bit later than usual and headed off to find Kristy and Iyn.

When I collected them at the Louvre, they were dying of hunger, so we hopped over to a crêperie that I knew would had "service non-stop" (they stay open between lunch service and dinner service, which means between 15h00 and 17h30). The place is called La Crêperie du Clown (yes, that is it's name), but the owners seem to prefer spelling it differently: La Crêpe rit du Clown ("The crêpe laughs at the clown"). Very funny.

Nonetheless, they had a very nice crêpe-centric prix-fixe menu, and each of us had a lovely savoury crêpe, followed by an equally lovely sweet crêpe. The meals came with cider or apple juice, both of which were really, really good. When we ordered coffee and the check, service suddenly became glacially slow. Once our coffee had arrived and we had finished it, I sent Kristy & Iyn to wait outside, hoping that this would remind our server that we actually needed our bill sometime soon. A few moments later, he delivered the bill, I layed out the money, and we were off again.

Since we were very close by, I showed Kristy and Iyn l'Eglise St. Germain des Près, which is gorgeous. Unlike most churches, this one has maintained a painted interior, which means that it doesn't have the cavernous, grey look that many medieval churches now have. I actually tried to snap a picture of the choir while showing Kristy how to fiddle with shutter and exposure settings:

After that, we walked down to Saint-Sulpice and took a look in there as well. After Saint-Sulpice, we took a moment to return to the Pantheon (where our restaurant was the night before) to get a few pictures by daylight. From there, we headed off to Montmartre to see Sacre-Coeur and watch the sun set from the top of the hill. When we got there, we realized that the Funiculaire (the cable-car) wasn't working, so we hiked it up all those stairs. Kristy kept a running count, and if I'm not mistaken, it was about 290 stairs. Although the climb nearly killed us, the view from the top was lovely and Sacre-Coeur was even lovlier. The interior of the church was as beautiful as I had remembered, although I think they've done some restoration to the ceilings in the intervening years; all the mosaics were shinier than ever.

As we left the church, we stopped to take a picture of the Eiffel tower in the distance, and then wandered our way down the the side of the hill and back to the subway station. From there, we headed off to Les Trois Marmites for dinner. The great thing about this place is the 19€ menu, which allowed us to have dinner for 3, plus apéritifs, a good bottle of wine, digestifs and coffee for 100€ even.

For appetizers, I had escargots, breaded and deep fried with parsely sauce. Kristy and Iyn had a savoury clafouti made of leeks, which they both seemed to enjoy immensely. For the main dish, I had duck breast in apricot sauce, Kristy had a pork chop cooked in honey, and Iyn had the beef bourguignon. All three dishes were fantastic, although I was especially thrilled with mine. Kristy and I both had the cremet d'Anjou (cream cheese and meringue mixed together) with strawberry sauce, which was excellent, although a bit sweet. I can't even remember what Iyn had. We did have a lot of alcohol, after all.

After all of that foodie exertion, we took a long walk to the 11-line subway stop and glided back home.

mardi, avril 03, 2007

Kristy+IynVisit Day 2: Versailles and Terra Nera

[NOTE: Now Improved with Pictures! Thanks to Kristy for taking these.]

Due to staying up until all hours last night, I slept in a bit, then dragged myself to the shower (right around the time that Kristy and Iyn knocked on my door to see what was up). We headed off to the UCParis center (my work) to fax a my teaching application, and then continued on to Versailles. The lines at Versailles were as long as usual, so we took about 2 hours to get our tickets and then get into the building. Once inside, Kristy declared the palace "rediculous" (which became a recurring word to describe the overwhelming beauty of Paris) and spent nearly 10 minutes per room, snapping numerous pictures of pretty much every square inch of each room. Iyn and I stood by and watched.

By the time we got outside to go see the outdoor areas (parks, the canal, Marie Antoinette's "village"), the weather had cooled off substantially. It was still lovely when you were in the sun, but the combination of wind and clouds made things pretty damn cold. Add to this the fact that none of us had dressed for a cold day, plus Iyn still heavy with his cold, and things got miserable pretty quickly. We still had a great time, but we were totally exhausted by the time we got back to the RER station.

Unfortunately, it was already pretty late in the afternoon, so we didn't have time to go home and change clothes before dinner. We headed over to the the Luxembourg gardens and had a quick beer at La Gueuze (previously mentioned here) before heading over to Terra Nera (previously here).

I had wanted to start us off with mozzarella in carozza (breaded and deep-fried mozzarella), but they were out of it that night, so we went for a plate of antipasti and some beef carpaccio. This posed a bit of a challenge for Kristy; you see, Kristy is a picky eater. She doesn't eat vegetables (seriously), she doesn't eat fish, and she's wary of anything that doesn't come in a carb or protein form (pasta, bread, cheese, meat). Nonetheless, Kristy made a valiant effort, eating a few bits of antipasti and trying some of the beef carpaccio (she loves beef, but the idea of raw beef weirded her out).

For our main dishes, Kristy had the ravioli in truffle sauce, Iyn had a pork piccata with gorgonzola sauce (orgasmic, according to Iyn) and I had gnocchi alla sorrentina (a sauce made of cream, tomatoes and cheese). By the time we were done our main dishes, we were all unbelievably full and Iyn looked like he was going to fall over dead. We settled up the bill and lurched back home, collapsing in our respective beds.

lundi, avril 02, 2007

Kristy+IynVisit Day 1: Delays and Creamy Chicken

I got up very, very early in the morning to head to the airport and pick up Kristy and Iyn. I checked their flight status and realized that the plane was 4 hours behind, so I went back to bed (thank goodness for internet flight-checking!) and got up a few hours later.

I got to the arrival area of Terminal 2E a bit early, so I took a moment to drink some coffee and sit down. A few minutes later, their flight appeared on the board as "landed", so I headed over to the plexiglass wall that separated me from the baggage claim and watched for Kristy and Iyn. What I soon found out was that the customs and passport check were taking very, very long. The first group of people that streamed out were actually from Detroit (I learned this by asking the other folks waiting at the plexiglass like me); the Detroit flight had landed almost an hour ago, so this was some indication of how long things would take.

As I prepared to wait another hour to see my friends, I begin to hear distant drumming. Now, an airport terminal is possibly the last place I would've expected to hear distant drumming, but nonetheless there it was. At first I thought it might be some sort of hare krishna procession, but: a) we're not on the West Coast of the US; b) post 9/11, I suspect religious processions are not welcome in terminals.

The noise was coming from above, on the departures level, so after making sure that the Chicago flight hadn't started to flow into the baggage claim area, I headed up the stairs to see what was the matter. As it turns out, there was a union strike / demonstration of some sort. I couldn't figure out what the acronym stood for, so all I could figure out was that they were unionized and pissed off. They were beating empty water drums with sticks and chanting something rhythmic that I couldn't make out. Also, the leader had a bullhorn, which is always bad news.

A while later, the group reappeared on the arrivals level, stopping to rest on the row of seats behind me. Of course, this didn't stop them from drumming and yelling, so now I had this once-amusing noise-parade parked behind me. Clearly, I wasn't the only one unamused, as soon a few people around me abandoned the French pro-union ways and started heckling them: "Au chômage!" they yelled. This translates to "go to unemployment!" in other words, telling them to give up their cause and collect unemployment insurance instead. Very sweet.

Kristy and Iyn finally arrived and claimed their luggage, and we started the trek back to my place. Alas, Iyn had developed a powerful cold / flu / plague just before the flight, so he was miserable. We stopped at the pharmacy near my place to get him some decongestants, and it turned into a drug-fest. Pharmacists in France have the power to give out many medications that would normally require a doctor's prescription in the US or Canada. The pharmacist asked me a bunch of questions about Iyn's symptoms, and then we left the pharmacy with 4 different medications (all of which cost only 7€!).

After checking in to my building, getting the keys to their room and letting them settle in, Kristy and I headed off downtown to exchange Kristy's travel vouchers for a set of transit passes. This had to be done at this one particular office near the Tuileries (gardens of the Louvre), so we headed over there and took care of business. While we were there, we took a short walk past place de la Concorde, over to Madeleine. We stopped at La Durée for a bit of tea, some macarons, and a fantastic réligieuse filled with rose petals and raspberries. On the way back home, we also stopped in at the Maille mustard store at Madeleine and I picked up a few little bottles of unusual mustard flavors (Cognac, Thai Spice) as well as a small crock of their fresh "on tap" mustard. For the record, the fresh stuff is amazing, and far better than what you get in a bottle at the supermarket. Finally, we swung by Fauchon (also on Madeleine) to pick up a bottle of violet mustard, which is a mustard preparation from Brive, France, which uses grape must instead of white wine.

With that taken care of, we dropped by my place and collected Iyn, who was feeling better. We did a quick run to the grocery store, picked up the necessary items to keep everyone fed, and then headed back home for dinner. I made my frenchy creamy-mushroom chicken, which Kristy had always liked. It was great to finally make it for her with real creme fraîche. The chicken turned out a bit tougher than I would've liked, but Kristy & Iyn seemed very happy to eat it. We were also joined by DJ, who brought up some wine. I had already opened a bottle of wine, so we made our way through two bottles by the end of the meal.

This was part of my plan all along. By the time we were done, Kristy & Iyn were so sleepy, they went right back to their room and collapsed in bed. I, meanwhile, stayed up until 5am working frantically on a teaching application that was already past due. Yay!

P.S. Check out this ad that I saw on in the airport. This is part of this amusingly relativist ad campaign by HSBC.

dimanche, avril 01, 2007

The Day In-Between

This was pretty much my one day of rest. I had spent the last week welcoming / orienting the new group of students, hanging out with Anisa, partying with Mark, and yesterday I went out for some fieldwork and fun at Le Rex. Tomorrow morning, my friends Kristy & Iyn arrive from Chicago to spend a week with me, running to and fro around Paris.

So, my schedule, like many Sundays before, was essentially blog--eat--sleep. I also did what felt like 100000000 loads of laundry. I can't say how much I dislike the laundry situation in our building, although I appreciate that it is at least IN our building. meh.