samedi, mai 19, 2007

Carla&Friends Day 1: Pancakes and Trois Marmites

Well, Carla and friends were rolling in around 11h00, so I got in from partying the night before around 5h00 and hit the hay. As I was getting ready to head over to the airport just after 10h00, I got a text message from Carla, saying that their plane had already landed (early). Ack! I told them to sit tight and then I dashed to the métro.

Of course, it's never that easy when you have someplace to be. The métro was fine along the 11 line, but when I made the transfer to the RER B at Châtelet towards CDG airport, I heard an announcement saying that there had been an "incident technique" at Gare du Nord, and so the trains running in my direction were "très perturbé" ("very disturbed"). Anyway, it took me a little more than an hour to get there, and when I collected the girls, they were too tired to take the RER, so we hopped in a taxi. Thankfully (and this is a true, rare stroke of luck) we managed to get a minivan taxi that could hold all of 4 us and their luggage.

From there, we headed over to the place where my sister and her friends were renting an apartment, we met with the apartment owner, and got set up in their apartment. It's this GORGEOUS apartment that spans almost the entire length of the building on the first floor, including a smallish bedroom, a HUGE living room / dining room, and a second bedroom with two beds. Add to this a spacious kitchen with a glass ceiling, a dishwasher, and washer/dryer, and 1-1/2 baths, and we're set. I won't say how much this place costs to rent, but keep in mind that 3 girls are sharing it, and a fourth one is coming in a week.

Anyway, we headed out to the nearest Monoprix to grab some essentials (soap, breakfast stuff, milk, water) and then back to the apartment to drop it off. In the meanwhile, DJ had suggested that we go for pancakes at Breakfast In America, which happens to be right around the corner from the apartment. Now, since B.I.A. is a kitschy French take on diner food, I forced the girls to stop at a boulangerie and eat some croissants and macarons. I refused to allow their first meal in Paris to be pancakes and maple syrup.

Breakfast in America was very much the comfort food that I had expected. It was rather nice for me, since I hadn't had pancakes in almost 6 months, but I promised the girls that the next meal would be capital-A "Authentic." Whatever that means.

After DJ headed his own way, one of the group crashed in the apartment for a bit, and the rest of us headed off for a short walk to Les Halles and back (the apartment is just next to Musée Carnavalet). We stopped at a café on rue Rivoli for a bit, and then headed back to the apartment.

At first, it seemed like we were going to skip dinner and just go to bed early, but after a bit of napping and some relaxing in front of the TV, the girls woke up hungry around 9pm. I made a reservation at Les Trois Marmites, and off we went.

I can't remember precisely what each of us had, but there were avocado/tuna salads and spinach among the appetizers, and duck, pork à la normande (cream and cider), and salmon among the main dishes. My sister had the crémet d'Anjou (white cheese and sugar, folded with whipped cream, with red berry coulis on top), which was as fantastic as last time, the other two girls had chocolate fondant cakes, and I had the coupe ardéchoise, which involved vanilla ice cream, chestnut cream, and chocolate. With all of this, we had a delightful white Gewürztraminer, the name of which I unfortunately can't recall. Either way, delicious.

By this point, the jet lag finally hit the girls full force, and we staggered off to the nearest métro around 0h30 and caught our respective trains.

vendredi, mai 18, 2007

Coulisses du vin and Mind the Gap @ Batofar

After a blissful moment of quiet in the morning, I headed off to work to meet with another IT guy from UofC who was visiting town. Of course, there were unforseen IT emergencies the moment I arrived to the office, but I managed to resolve or postpone most of them in time to still head out for lunch with my guest. On the recommendation of my boss, we passed the usual dining spots and headed to Les Coulisses du Vin, which is a wine shop near our offices.

What's neat about this wine shop is that during the lunch hours, it is also open as a table d'hôte. The phrase "table d'hôte" used to refer to a communal table at a hôtel, where guests would come to eat a meal from a set of prepared dishes. What it means currently (and in this case) is a dining space with communal seating, with a fixed menu that usually involves choosing between a set of pre-prepared dishes (thus, usually stews and the like). In some restaurants, this involves a buffet-style service, or a family-style service, where a waiter brings several items to the table for you to put on your plate, and then passes it on to the next table. In this case, we had a communal table (almost all to ourselves), with a prix fixe menu of items that had been prepared in advance.

However, this place was proof that a table d'hôte can still boast some excellent food, despite it not being entirely made-to-order. We split an appetizer of excellent foie gras (yes, I know, it's cruel yet tasty, and I cried tears of ambivalence about it), then one of us had some salmon in a wine-butter sauce, and another had some veal in a mushroom sauce. Both delicious. The real highlight of the meal, however, was the fact that your wine was picked from his entire wine stock, at the price of the bottle. We tried a really fantastic white wine from the vacqueyras region, that had a very fruity nose, but was rather smooth in the mouth. Not all that dry, actually. Also, towards the end of our meal, the owner made himself a meal and sat down with us to eat, and he gave us a bit of his wine as well, which was this lovely basque white wine. A quick web search tells me that the most common white wine from the Basque region is Txakolí, but I'm sure the one we tries wasn't that variety. There was at least one more "x" and a double-r. But it was similarly unpronounceable.

Once we were done with lunch, we headed back to work for a little while, and then we parted ways while I went to meet some friends of my sister's who were in town for the evening. I took them to Le Relais Gascon (the salade restaurant that I visited once with DJ & Sara, and later with Carla). It was as delicious as last time, although I really struggled to finish my salad. I mean, I had just finished lunch 2 hours before.

As evening fell, I headed back to my place to do some work, answer a fuckton of emails, and plan out my evening. I was going to go to Batofar for the Minibar Mind The Gap event, but I also had to pick up my sister from the airport at 10h00 the next morning. Once I made peace with the fact that I wasn't going to get much sleep, I started getting ready for my night out on the town...

Mind the Gap @ Batofar

0h00-1h30: n'eric

[I didn't get to Batofar until after his set, so I don't have much to say about it. Nonetheless, Anatoly told me that the mixing was sub-par, but the track selection was great.]

1h30-3h00: noé

After taking a bit longer than expected to get to Batofar, I slipped in around 1h30, checked my jacket, and wandered around the club. After a few minutes, I ran into one of Anatoly's friends, who quickly pointed me toward Anatoly. We hung out and listened to Noé's set near the middle of the room (Anatoly had found the room's "sweet spot"), which I found to be less minimal and more tech-house and house.

For some reason, the crowd was sloppier and rowdier and more messed up than usual. Certainly, pretty much any night out clubbing involves some people who are intoxicated and a variable amount of sexual play and pursuit, but this crowd seemed out of proportion with the usual "minimal techno" crowd. If anything, this was a good example of the post/structuralist "limit text," which reveals unreported or underdescribed limits and norms by exceeding them.

For example, there was a girl in front of me who was very, very drunk and dancing rather erratically. She would move her limbs in wide arcs that took up far too much space on the dancefloor and frequently hit people near her, and she would stumble and veer all over the place, constantly colliding with people. When she wasn't dancing like a madwoman, she was alternately flirting and making out with the men around her. Occasionally, she would rebuff a guy who made advances, doing it in a spectacular way that seemed to invite the other men around her to somehow defend her honour. In other words, she was a big histrionic mess.

Yes, there is always "that girl" or "that guy" at every event, who is so out of his/her gourd, that they become a walking PSA for drug use / alcoholism. What was surprising about the crowd tonight was that this woman wasn't alone. She was perhaps the most spectacular, but at the same time there were several other examples of the same thing. One girl was clutching a column, eyes nearly completely shut, barely paying attention to a guy that was alternately trying to convince her to go home (with him) to recover and then trying to feel her up. I lost track of the number of people who collided with me, tripped over me, or nearly put out my eye with their elbows. Thankfully, nobody spilled a drink on me, but that was mostly thanks to my quick moves to avoid it.

Also, correspondingly, there were more guys actively trawling the dance floor for available (e.g. intoxicated and impaired) women and they were generally more aggressive about it. As I had said before, I'm used to a certain amount of all of this when I go out clubbing in Paris, but the quantity and intensity felt excessive.

3h00-??: Cabanne vs. John Thomas


After hanging out in the chill-out are for a while (they have this awesome fish tank, which I had missed on my previous visits) and listening to Anatoly and his friends tell Russian jokes, we headed back out onto the dance floor to hear Cabanne. Cabanne's mixing was great, but his his track selection was uneven, so I was only really enjoying maybe 1 out of 5 tracks. John Thomas, on the other hand, consistently chose tracks that were perhaps minimal in some sense, but too hard-techno to blend well with what Cabanne was putting on. Also, he was clearly proud of his scratching skills, but I can't say that it did a great deal to improve his set.

After about an hour or so of dancing and dodging drunk/high people, Anatoly called it quits. I decided to head home, too, so we could share a cab. In the end, I didn't come out of there with my usual panoply of photos and video and such (partially because the lighting setup was hellaciously difficult to photograph, and party because my camera just wasn't up to it), but I did take a few:

jeudi, mai 17, 2007

Ow, Ow, Ow

Oh God, what were we thinking?

Last night, DJ brought a 5L mini-keg of Heineken to our little Eurovision party. By the voting round, we had already finished it, so we moved on to a bottle of vodka and some strawberry liquor that I had kicking around. By the time the voting results were being posted, DJ was violently ill. After DJ found a brief hiatus in his retching to head back to his room, I spent the next few minutes clutching the toilet bowl and praying for death.

All day DJ and I have barely left our rooms, convalescing and regretting and generally feeling like ass on a stick. I could barely bring myself to drink water, and my nasal passages were still burning from all the gastric acid (yes, you can imagine why). DJ couldn't keep solid food down until late in the afternoon. We debated whether it was the food or the alcohol that did it to us, since it seemed like a rather strong and sustained reaction for excessive drinking--especially for two guys who can usually hold their drink. Later today, I went back and ate bits of pretty much everything we ate last night, and nothing made me feel ill...

Either way, I will never mix beer with vodka again. Lesson learned.

mercredi, mai 16, 2007

The Eurovision Drinking Game, Luis & DJ-style

Well, tonight DJ and I sat down to watch the finals of Eurovision. DJ bought a mini-keg of Heineken, and I was supposed to bring a printout of a drinking game for Eurovision that I had found when I was doing research for a term paper on it back in 2004. However, I totally forgot, so we made up our own game. It was surprisingly effective, seeing as both of us were sick as dogs afterwards.

During the Performances

If a performance makes use of fire or explosives, take a shot. If you can really hold your drink, you can take a separate shot for every explosion.
See: Lordi (Finland, 2006)
Gratuitous Modulation
If a song needlessly shifts gears into another key (usually a semitone higher), take a shot.
See: every single !@#$ing entry.
Leather pants, leather bodices, leather hair accessories, whatever. If an animal used to wear it, you take a shot.
See: that horrifying costume on the woman from Slovenia.
Naked Brigitte Bardot
If Brigitte Bardot runs on stage, naked, and douses the leather wearers with red paint, you drain the whole keg. We're not saying this has ever happened, but it would be TOTALLY RAD if it did.
Fake Tans
If a performer's skin looks like cooked meat or carrot juice, take a shot. Extra points if they're from a Nordic or North-Slavic country.
See: Belarus.
If France's entry is a bizarre experiment in music-making that is sure to be wildly unpopular and thus confirm France's self-image as still the epicentre of the avant-garde, take a shot.
See: everything France has submitted in the past 10 years.
If Iceland's entry has that "WTF?!" quality that both explains and exceeds Björk, take a shot. See: Iceland
Fabulous Drag Quens
Any use of drag that could be described as "fierce" deserves a shot. Note, only fabulous drag merits this honour.
See: the Danish entry ("Drama Queen") or the insanity of Ukraine's entry this year, or for that matter Dana International (1998).
Earnest Fist Clenching
If a performer holds his or her free hand in a fist in front of him/her, and then pulls it down to assure you that he/she is Totally Having Real Feelings, take a shot. Again, it's your call if you want to take one shot for every clench, or just one for the whole song.
See: Serbia's K.D. Lang with a bowl-cut (2007).
Tokenistic Self-Essentialism
If a performance throws in some musical element or staging or costuming or props that seem to scream "Look! We are a country, and we have Culture! It is very special!" take a shot. You may take individual shots for each qualifying element in an act, but in certain cases (Ireland) this could prove fatal.
See: take your pick
Token Brown Guy/Gal
If an otherwise lily-white country tosses in a token non-white person for authentic weight, take a shot. Note: this only counts if the music they're performing would fall under Guy Ramsey's definition of "Race Music." If a black woman is singing polka, that probably merits its own drinking rule.
See: Belgium, Poland, Romania, the Netherlands.
Hit & Run Cooter
If a female performer is wearing a costume that nearly exposes her ladyparts, take a shot. If a male performer is wearing pants so tight that you can take a guess at the status of his foreskin, take a shot. This also counts for female or male camel toe / hungry butt.
See: Moldova, Macedonia, the dancer in the white pants for the Portuguese entry.
If, at any time, a fan is being used to give the performers a windswept look, take a shot. If, conversely, someone onstage is holding a handheld fan and using it as some sort of dance prop, take two shots.
See: Denmark, Portugal
Any reference to universality--especially of music--merits a shot. "All the world come together" or "Music knows no colour or creed."
See: Any performer singing in English
Jazz Hands
Any use of "jazz hands" must be mitigated with alcohol. If the jazz hands are occurring with a column of dancers mimicking the "Shiva" effect, take as many shots as there are arms.
See: Belarus
Standing Drummer
If there is a drummer onstage, and s/he stands up to show that s/he is Really Into It, take a shot.
See: I'm too lazy to look it up, but there's alot of it
Jackson Family-style Dance Breakdown
If there's a sudden shift in the flow of the music, accompanied by the performers trying earnestly to Get Down In Sync, take a shot. Extra shot if they're actually out of sync.
See: Spain, Russia.
Genuine Aesthetic Experience
If you actually, truly, honestly like a song, without going through layers of irony and camp, drain that spittoon you put under the keg to catch the beer drippings.
See: Georgia, Andorra.
Snarky Posters in the Audience
If you see someone in the audience holding up a sign that registers some sort of disapproval or ridicule, take a shot.
See: "Where's Andorra" at the finals (which they didn't make)
We added this because Eurovision always finds ways of exceeding our expectations for crazy.
See: Entry for Bosnia-Herzegovina dressed as a toilet-paper cozy. Armenian entry singing in front of a tree covered in toilet paper.

During the Voting

Voting for Neighbors
If a country votes for the nations that share its borders or political affiliations, take a shot
See: all the Scandinavian nations, Greece and Cyprus
Voting for Immigrant Minority
If one of the top 3 point-scales (12, 10 or 8) goes to a country that supplies them with immigrants, take a shot.
See: Germany and Turkey, France and Turkey, etc.
Voting to Apologize
If a country votes for a former military enemy or victim of genocide, take a shot and feel ambivalent about it.
See: All the former Yugoslavia countries; Turkey giving 12 points to Armenia
Voting on Actual Quality
If you find yourself agreeing with the voting from a country, drain your glass.
See: Latvia giving Georgia 12 points.

mardi, mai 15, 2007

Luis & DJ watch the Eurovision semi-finals

OK, it's time to talk about Eurovision. Actually, Wikipedia has an alarmingly-detailed entry on Eurovision 2007 which provides all the details for this year's competition, including a lot of nerdy statistics and such. Also, the main article on Eurovision provides a lot of background.

Eurovision started back in post-WWII Europe as a way to bring back together a group of countries that had recently been bombing the crap out of each other. Organized by a conglomeration of European TV broadcasters, the competition requires each country to submit a song. The songs are then performed in a long showcase that is broadcast around Europe (and now around the globe), followed by a complicated process of voting. The winner usually gets nothing more than the honour of having won (although they are almost always courted for recording contracts afterwards), but the country they represented gets to host the competition next year. This is a rather ambivalent prize, since on the one hand the country enjoys a spike in tourism and an opportunity to advertise itself as a tourist/business destination, but on the other hand the cost of hosting the event can be prohibitively expensive for smaller countries. Even the economically-strong Ireland found itself in financial straits in the 90s, when it won Eurovision three times in four years.

There are several specific rules to the game, although they have changed over time. They are well-summarized in another Wikipedia article as well as in a section of the main article devoted to rules, but here are the main ones:

  1. One song per country (the first competition in 1956 being the exception, with two songs per).
  2. The country must be part of the European broadcasting community. This currently includes liminal countries like Turkey, Georgia, Morocco, Israel and Jordan (although not all of them have taken advantage of the opportunity).
  3. From 1966 to 1972, and again from 1978 to 1998, the entrants were restricted to singing in their own native language. This was dropped because that tends to give anglophone countries an unfair advantage, and also exacerbates cultural tensions in countries that are multi-lingual or have significant minority language groups.
  4. The song must be newly-composed. It can't have been recorded or performed publicly before the competition (although one can perform it within a certain window before the competition as promotion).
  5. Performers do not need to be citizens of the country they represent; thus, Céline Dion sang for Switzerland in 1988
  6. No more than 6 people on the stage
  7. The song must be performed live (not lipsynched) without vocal backing tracks. Before 1973, performers were required to sing with a live orchestra. Before 1998, host broadcasters were required to provide a live orchestra if the performer so chooses. Since 1999, performances have been done exclusively to instrumental backing tracks, with some performers incorporating other instruments on stage.
  8. Broadcasters are not permitted to insert commercials during the performance or voting phases.
  9. Broadcasters cannot interview participants or fans before the voting phase is completed.
  10. The competition is won on points. Each country votes for songs (other than theirs) by assigning a set of points from 1 to 8, and then 10 and 12. Thus, the favourite song would get 12 points, the next favourite 10, and so on.
  11. Originally, votes from each country were decided by an internal jury, but since 1998 almost all countries have used some form of televoting, which has the additional advantage of generating income for the contest (those calls aren't free).

The list goes on. While the competition has mostly become a campy, kitschy confection, the complex latticework of rules and regulations are taken seriously and hotly supported or contested. Indeed, there is a whole audience of fans that take great interest in the minutiae of the contest.

Similarly, the details and politics of the voting process is often of prime interest for many viewers. The point system is such that the relative standing of competitors can vary widely as each country announces their votes, thus heightening the suspense. In addition to the interest of seeing how your aesthetic decisions align (or don't) with those of other countries, there is a political side to the voting that is exasperating for some and fascinating for others. For example, many of the former eastern-bloc countries give each other the highest points, while neighbouring countries like Finland and Sweden often vote for each other. Since the advent of voting-by-phone, some countries tend to give their highest points to the nations that also provide them with immigrants, such as Germany voting for Turkey. A more interesting turn of events this year was when all of the former Yugoslavian states--who no more than 10 years ago were killing each other in droves--gave each other high points, or when Turkey gave Armenia it's highest score ("Sorry about that whole genocide thing, guys.").

Anyway, DJ and I spent the evening watching the semi-finals, which included all the crazy that I could want. We ate junk food, drank rather strong cocktails, and howled with delight as a chunky opera singer from Slovenia sang to us in a tattered leather bodice, a Danish drag queen did a flashy, glam-y song called "Drama Queen," and the French entry included a falsettist with a dead cat on his shirt. Also, one of the hosts for the show is called Nikko Leppilampi (shown below). How awesome is that? I'm totally naming my next pet Leppilampi.

Also, I was thrilled to see my favourite central-asian country, Georgia, compete in Eurovision for the first time. The singer, Sopho Khalvashi (სოფო ხალვაში) looked great in a classy red dress, her song was catchy and a bit Björk-ish, she was surrounded by four male dancers in traditional Georgian regalia, and she had great stage presence. More importantly, she had a pretty impressive set of pipes on her; one of the interesting things about the rules of Eurovision is that singers must perform live and without vocal backing tracks. As a result, it's usually painfully, painfully evident when somebody can't stay in tune. Anyway, hooray Georgia! She actually got through the semi-finals and into the finals, where she placed a very respectable 12th.

In the past decade or so, there has been increasing grumbling from Western European countries ("old Europe") as the winners in past years have been almost exclusively from Eastern European countries, many of whom have never won the contest before. There are many reasons for why this has come to be, mostly revolving around Western Europe developing a dismissive and ironic distance from the competition while other countries have become increasingly invested in Eurovision as a place to argue for their Europeanness (and thus access to the EU). Anyway, you can see what I mean in this nifty hot-to-cold graphic that was posted on Wikipedia. Essentially, the redder countries placed higher in this year's competition.

OK, this post is already getting too long, but here's a few links to interesting articles and amusing commentary on Eurovision. Coming tomorrow, the Eurovision Drinking Game!

MetaFilter Eurovision Comment Thread
Someone posts a link to the live internet broadcast of Eurovision, and a group of MeFi users provide a play-by-play commentary. Hilarious in it's own right, but doubly so in tandem with the show.
Hitting the Right Notes
Stephen Moss of Guardian online's Comment is Free section gives an amusing editorial for the Eurovision finals, arguing that the UK needs to take it more seriously. Plenty of comments after the article, too.
GoFugYourself's Eurovision Coverage
I love the gals at GoFugYourself; they bring bitchy wardrobe critique to a whole new level. Although they didn't have the advantage of watching the competition on TV, they nonetheless wrote a stirring tribute to the insanity.
But How Did They Sound?
A review of this year's Eurovision contest by Bryan Coll for Times magazine online. Everyone seems to be more interested in the insane tinfoil-wrapped drag queen from the Ukraine than the earnest, fist-clenching, ugly-younger-sister-of-K.D.Lang winner from Serbia.
Anyone for Sopot? (A Eurovision rant)
An editorial in an English-language Finnish magazine, critiquing Western European critics for complaining about recent Eurovision results. Includes a surprisingly lucid discussion of the politics and aesthetics of Eurovision participation and spectatorship.
BBC photo gallery
11 pictures taken from the event.

lundi, mai 14, 2007


Well, the weekend in Nantes was great fun. I spent a good couple of days with friends, wandering around Nantes as well as doing an old-fashioned Sunday Drive up the coast from Pornic past St. Nazaire, La Baule, and finally Croisic. We occasionally got out of the car to walk closer to the ocean, but the winds were really high that day. Later in the afternoon, a massive storm system swept through the area and drenched everything. Fortunately, we were already back in the car by then.

In addition to everything else I did in Nantes, I also ran into a certain person that I had never expected to see again--and certainly not in Nantes; I'm still figuring out how I feel about the whole thing, but it was pretty bizarre.

Anyway, most of today was pretty straightforward. I limped my way to work, got caught up on a bunch of stuff that had been waiting for me, went out for Pho with DJ in Belleville (delicious!), and then headed home and started looking for recordings of the Eurovision semi-finals and finals on a particular internet service that starts with "bit" and rhymes with "abhorrent." Why put all that effort into downloading Eurovision? Because tomorrow night DJ and I are going to eat junk food, drink liquor, and laugh our asses off at the campy glory that is Eurovision. It's gonna be great.