samedi, mai 26, 2007

Carla&Friends Day 8: More Arrivals and More Montmartre

After a long night out (blog post on that coming soon), I got up sometime after noon and started getting myself together to meet Carla and the crew. There had been a few more arrivals that day, with a fourth person coming to stay for the next week, and a fifth staying overnight.

I got a message from Carla around 14h00 saying that they were headed to the Anvers métro station, so I quickly hopped on the métro and found them there. Two of the group were jet-lagged and rather hungry, so the plan was to wander around Montmartre for a while, do the touristy stuff, and then head over to the famous salad place, Le Relais Gascon, where we would gorge ourselves on leafy, greeny goodness.

And all of this came to pass.

The street directly up to Sacre-Coeur was awash with tourists. Apparently, in the few days since Carla and I were here (Wednesday), someone had set off an Erratic And Slow-Walking Tourist Bomb, and the arteries of Montmartre were clogged with meandering, picture-snapping platelets. So, instead, we wandered along the main boulevard running between Anvers and Pigalle, eventually making our way past the Erotic Museum and the Moulin Rouge. From there, we walked up rue Caulaincourt past the Café des 2 Moulins (as featured in Amélie...of course) and then across towards Abbesses and eventually do the base of the hill in front of Sacre-Coeur.

One of the people in our group was unable to walk up all the steps, so I entrusted Carla with the rest of the group to climb the steps, and then the two of us waited for the next bus up the hill. Technically, the funiculaire (cable-car) should've been running, but it's been down all year, presumably for some sort of reparations. In the meanwhile, they've installed a set of small buses that run from the bottom of the hill to the top. Of course, as the bus driver pointed out once we got on, the bus can't climb steps, so the way to the top involved a very, very long and complicated route up the back of the hill. By the time we got there, I had a small collection of worried text messages from Carla. Nonetheless, everyone got to the top and had their moment to go in and enjoy the church. After a few minutes there, we wandered down the west side of the hill, passing through the Place du Tertre, with its overly-quaint and over-priced brasseries, and down to Abbesses.

From there, we walked down rue des Abbesses a few metres to Le Relais Gascon, my current favourite restaurant for salads. Since we were eatingly alarmingly early (around 18h00), we were able to wrangle a six-top table pretty easily. We got a half-litre of red wine (a Saint-Emilion from the Bordeaux region) and a half-litre of white wine (can't recall the wine region), and then a round of salads for everyone. This is the kind of place where there's no point in ordering appetizers or desserts. The salad is really all you need or can eat.

Our dinner was cut a bit short when the table next to us started smoking. One among our group was particularly sensitive to smoke (I know, not easy in France), so we wrapped up our meal and headed off into the nearest métro station. We headed back home with the idea of doing a dessert run. It was already pretty late in the evening (around 20h00), but once we got back to Saint-Paul métro station, we were going to split up and look for desserts from boulangeries in the area, and then meet back at the apartment.

As soon as we returned to the city surface in Le Marais, I split off and headed east along Saint-Antoine, while the rest of the girls headed west. It was too late on a Saturday evening to find anything in the local boulangeries, but just before I got to Bastille and was going to give up, I saw Lenôtre in the process of closing--but still open. Lenôtre is a traiteur (somewhere between take-out stand and caterer) that is just one step down from Fauchon, the be-all and end-all of traiteurs in Paris. What does this mean? It means that individual dessert tartes cost between 3-6€ each, and macarons really add up. So, you can imagine my chagrin when, after having ordered 6 desserts and almost 30 mini macarons, I get a text message from my sister saying "It's OK! We found croissants and cookies!" Well, I had kept them from closing up shop so that they could serve me, and all the food was already packed, so I just smiled and ponied up the 57€ (yes, that's right).

When we finally got home and realized that he had a virtual mountain of dessert, there was a general consensus that the fancypants food I bought from Lenôtre was worth eating right away, while the cookies and croissants would work well as breakfast the next morning. After an hour or so of orgiastic eating (although not before many pictures were taken of our fantastic spread), I headed out the door and back home. The plan was to get to bed early, since Carla and I would be heading off by train to Le Mans the following day.

vendredi, mai 25, 2007

Minimal Kills vs. Quattrocento @ La Scène Bastille

Avus, Be My Chose, Blast and Massi

0h00?-2h30: Massi

I didn't head out of my place until almost 1h00, so I rolled into La Scène around 1h30 to the sounds of Massi spinning. After getting past the guest list (this time the doorman didn't try to mess with me like that other time), I checked my coat and wandered into the main room. I quickly ran into Fantômette, who introduced me to a friend that she was talking to. There was an odd moment during the introduction; as I extended my hand for a handshake, he leaned in to faire la bise (exchange air-kisses on each cheek). This is a recurrent problem for me; the boundary between when a handshake is appropriate between men and when a kiss is required seems like a moving target to me. Anyway, this registered as a sort of rejection on my part, so he suddenly looked a bit uncomfortable and said, "Oh, I thought we were going to faire la bise..." Trying to recover from my faux-pas, I quickly leaned in to kiss him and said, between kisses, "Excuse me, I'm... *kiss* ...Canadian, and I don't have... *kiss* ...the habit of kissing people." This wasn't entirely true, since I've adapted quite well to la bise on the whole, but if my foreignness can help explain and justify my confusion around male-male kissing, so be it.

After chatting with Fantômette for a while (and promising her a set of translations that I am still behind on--sorry Fantô!), I headed off to see who else had arrived, and ran into Nathan. Nathan, of course, I knew well enough to kiss. In fact, we had exchanged kisses the first time we met somewhat at random back in September. Anyway, we exchanged kisses--pressing our lips to each other's cheeks rather than pressing our cheeks together and kissing into thin air, which implies sincere affection rather than politeness or familiarity--and we got caught up. It had been a while since I had seen either Fantômette or Nathan, since most of the weekends in May had been spent in Berlin, Nantes and elsewhere. I hung out with Nathan and regaled him with stories of my Berlin trip until about 2h00, when he and Fantô started heading toward the stage to start their own set.

During all this while, Massi's set was going on in the background. It was a mostly minimal techno set, although most of the tracks were rather busy in the mid-layer and reminded me of pared-down electro tracks. Either way, since it was a warm-up set, the whole thing was rather low-intensity. I had a real difficult time getting a good picture of Massi (as well as the DJs after him), since the party organizers had erected a bright projection screen behind him, but then vastly underlit Massi himself. You can sort of see what I mean in the video below.

2h30-3h30: Be My Chose

I was really impressed with Nathan and Fantômette's set tonight. Their selection and pacing worked really well with the crowd, and their mixing was clean and technically correct. As one of my friends, S., said, "They've made some advances since they've started!" That's a pretty literal translation of what he said; more idiomatically, he was saying that they had improved a lot.

Alas, I did not have the good fortune of previous instances to capture their best moments on video. The clips that I have capture pretty interesting parts of their set, but I'm afraid I missed most of the best transitions and peaks. Also, you'll have to forgive the photographs; clearly I need an expensive digital SLR. Any donations?

3h30-5h00: Avus

As you can hear from the videos below, Avus' sound shifted throughout his set. This British techno DJ (recently signed on to James Holden's Border Community record label) started off with a very straightforward, hard Detroit techno sound, which quickly took on aspects of acid house (his website is sub-titled "Acid House Like Mum Used to Make"), and eventually veered into tech-house and microhouse. As you might guess from my other postings on this site, I was less excited about the acid house, and more excited about the miminal/microhouse. Nonetheless, a great set all around.

It was during this set as well that I started doing my first round of "Hey, I'm leaving in a month; how about an interview?" I had already suggested interviews with some of my friends and contacts since January, but my impending departure placed a deadline on things that I hope will convince folks to make some time for me. I've tried very hard to not be too pushy while I've been here; unlike in some other ethnographic situations, the folks that I'm working with have little to gain from contact with me (in a material sense, at least), and they circulate in a scene that can often be hostile to sociological/anthropological scrutiny. I suppose this is especially true in France, birthplace of modern sociology, where there seems to be a long collective memory of social studies and their Foucauldian implications.

Anyway, my discipline calls for audio-visual evidence of my fieldwork, and I must answer.

5h00-6h00: Blast

I have to admit that I was a bit sceptical as Blast's set started, but it quickly went in a direction that I found really enjoyable. I think the set was closer to electro than minimal or microhouse in its aesthetic, but he still managed to work in a lot of minimal techno and house tracks into the mix. The set was a bit more festive and upbeat, compared to Avus' rather aggressive and serious set. Either way, I enjoyed the greater part of the set, although eventually I had to throw in the towel and head home.

Carla&Friends Day 7: Repairs and Bistro Food

NOTE: I also went out to La Scène Bastille for a techno event, but I'll blog that in a separate entry, since it may take me a while to have that one ready.

I hauled my ass out of bed early to head over to the girls' apartment, since the repairperson was supposed to come between 9am and noon. I got there just after 9, with Carla the only person awake. We hung around the apartment, checked mail, drank tea, and generally killed time. Once the rest of the team was up, they began debating what to do during the day. As before, this was a rather complicated discussion.

A short while later (and surprisingly early), the repair guy showed up at our door. I took him into the kitchen and showed him the washer/dryer. There wasn't much to say or explain, and the visit was pretty short. He looked and the handle and said, "Yep, it's broken," and then pronounced that he needed to order the piece and come back. Yay. In the meanwhile, however, he managed to pry open the laundry machine, which still had a good amount of my clothes trapped, and then ran some twine around the door latch to create a makeshift handle. After a few minutes of practicing opening the door and digging up the warranty, the repairman was on his way.

My laundry had been sitting in the machine, half-moist, for several days, so it clearly needed another wash to remove the musty smell. I sent the girls off to do their day of tourism at the Tuileries and that whole area, and I settled in to do laundry and work on my laptop (which I had rather wisely brought with me).

By the time the dinner hour rolled around, the girls had returned and we began planning dinner. One of the group was too pooped and headed straight to bed, but the rest of us headed off in the direction of métro Faidherbe-Chaligny to find something to eat. There was this well-known Argentinian steak house called Unico, which I really liked; however, it's become too well-known, since it won an award on LeFooding, so we weren't able to get a table. We headed further up the street to look for Bistro Paul Bert (another venerable bistro), and they were closed for renovations. I finally looked for Vieux Chêne, but the place was nowhere to be found (I later learned that it was on another side-street), so we settled for a place near the métro station called Le Baradeur.

The food was surprisingly good, considering the rather kitschy cuban-nostalgia décor. Carla and our other companion shared a warm chèvre salad (goat cheese), while I had a ham quiche. After that, Carla got a bavette a l'échalote, which is a strip steak that is cooked and then covered with minced shallots just before serving, which sweats the shallots and gives a particular flavor. In this case, they brought out the meat unseasoned with the shallots on the side as a sort of cream sauce. Our other companion got the pork chop with a camembert sauce, and I got a simple faux-filet (sirloin) with fries. The fries were the real celebrity of the bistro, which were crispy and golden and fresh.

By dessert, we were pretty full and I wasn't in the mood to stuff myself with food (had to go clubbing later), so all three of us shared a slice of tarte tatin (Frenchy apple pie). From there, we headed back to the subway and back to the apartment. From the apartment, Carla and one of her friends decided to walk me to the subway station. About halfway there, a low-lying dark gray cloud rolled over our heads and turned off the sun. The wind started picking up, and we began to see lightning in the distance. At that point, Carla and her friend decided that it would be best to turn around. By the time I was one block from my station, the heavens opened. I made it to the station only mildly wet, but that was mostly thanks to my deft ducking between awnings and outcroppings. On the métro train home, I saw people getting on the train who were sopping wet, and by the time I got out at my station, things were a complete mess. I waited a few minutes for things to clear up, then gave up and made a mad dash. I headed back to my place, changed into more dance-friendly gear, waited until around half-past midnight, and then headed back out towards Bastille...

jeudi, mai 24, 2007

Carla&Friends Day 6: Terra Nera and La Gueuze

Well, today's post will be pretty succinct, methinks. Essentially, my work day was a work day like any other work day. I had to stay late for reasons that I can only fuzzily recall, and then I headed home and changed for dinner.

I met the rest of the team in front of the Pantheon around 21h00 and we headed over to my current favourite Italian place in Paris, Terra Nera.

After being greeted by the couple that runs the restaurant, we sat down and I started translating the menu. After a great deal of debate over who was ordering what, whether it was okay to order the same thing as someone else, whether it was okay to share plates, and whether it was permissible to ask for doggie bags (answer: NO), we finally made our order. Among the four of us we shared an order of beef carpaccio, a warm salad of spinach and goat cheese, and a fricassée of oyster mushrooms. All of them were delicious, although I was particularly impressed by the mushroom fricassée. They were tender but firm, with a simple butter-garlic-parsely sauce that realy complemented the mushroom's flavor. God, I love mushrooms.

For main dishes, Carla ordered the piccata (braised pork cutlet) in lemon sauce. She said that she couldn't eat the pasta (which she can't...damn anti-inflammatory medication), and the waitress actually brought her a double-portion of the meat instead. Far too kind. I had a poached whole seabass with olive oil and lemon juice. Very lovely, although the poaching made the flesh a bit over-soft. Our other companions had the truffle-cream ravioli and the house special linguine terra nera, which included tasty shrimp and lardons and cherry tomatoes. Although it goes without saying, everyone was impressed with their food (although we had a hard time finishing everything).

For dessert, Carla and I shared a parfait café, which was less what we would consider a parfait in North America, and more a ball of chocolate ice cream with some sort of coffee-flavoured center. The other two shared a chocolate fondant cake, which seems to be a sure-fire winner in Paris.

After paying our bill and finishing our wine (mostly my doing, since the other 3 aren't big wine drinkers), we headed over to La Gueuze for some delicious, delicious Belgian beer. The other three girls aren't big beer drinkers either, so I got them to try some of the sweet and fruit-flavoured beers that those crafty Belgians make. I got the gueuze, which is that sweet-sour lambic beer that I like so much. Carla got the faro, which is essentially a sort of gueuze that has been sweetened with rock candy. One of the others got a bottle of the raspberry beer (which was wonderfully sweet and tart and barely tasted like beer at all), and the fourth among us drank schweppes tonic water...and hated it. Can't please everyone, I suppose.

Anyway, I finished my beer way before anyone else, so I ordered a Kriek (lambic beer mixed with sour cherries), then helped everyone else finish their beers. By this point, everyone was feeling a bit tipsy, so we all staggered our way back to the RER and headed home.

mercredi, mai 23, 2007

Carla&Friends Day 5: Revenge of the Anus God

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while might know where I'm going with the title of this post. The rest of you will have to wait. No scrolling to the bottom!

I took the day off work, so the plan for lunch was to go to a wine shop near my workplace with DJ and Carla (the other girls were at Versailles that day). This was the same wine shop / table d'hôte where I had eaten last Friday with a colleague, called Les Coulisses du Vin. Upon arriving, unfortunately, we found out that the table was taken for the afternoon. So much for eating without reservations.

Nevertheless, we bought a couple of bottles of wine for friends that we would be seeing in Le Mans, and then I called DJ (who was using my office that day) to break the bad news. As it turns out, there were some IT issues going on at the office, so I dropped by to fix it, and then sped off with Carla and DJ in tow for lunch. At DJ's suggestion, we ate at a brasserie near the Bibliothèque Nationale called L'Avenue. (No, not the famous L'Avenue restaurant in the 8th arrondissement.) The food was very good for the price and location; Carla and I had rather protein-heavy salads (goat cheese for her, ham and gruyère for me), while DJ had a pretty tasty-looking pizza. While we ate, Carla found herself vastly entertained by the young girl sitting behind me, carrying on what appeared to be an unending phone call in Russian, ostensibly to deter the very interested guy sitting at the table next to her.

From there, we released DJ back into the wild (i.e., the office) and wandered over the Simone de Beauvoir footbridge, and over to the park at Bercy on the other side of the Seine. Carla had wandered through here before, but I never had, so she directed me through the park. We headed eastward, pausing in the roseraie (Rose Garden) to taken pictures of the zillions of varieties of roses that they had growing there. We continued walking through the variously-styled zones of the park, all of which were gorgeous, and over to the Cour Saint-Emillion. This area (and the neighborhood surrounding it) is made up of simple, small houses that used to store the wine that came in by train from the Saint-Emillion region of Bordeaux up until the late 20th century. Now, most of the little houses have been converted into "quaint" living units for upwardly mobile families, except for one cluster of about 20 houses. These houses were converted into a shopping mall.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love shopping as much as the next girl, and whoever did the design for the remodelling did a good job of preserving buildings that could have otherwise been razed and replaced by high-rises. In fact, my immediate reaction to the place was similar to the one I experience at the Distillery district in Toronto: relief that the wave of gentrification preserved rather than erased a historical site, but also disappointed that it turned it into a celebration of normativity. The crowd was just so bland, compared to other parts of Paris. Looking around at my fellow shoppers, I couldn't help but notice that they were almost exclusively white-French, expensively dressed, pushing baby strollers and/or walking dogs, and paired heterosexually.

Anyway, we still had a lovely time wandering around and snickering at the merchandise in many of the stores. Of course, there was no snickering in La Cure Gourmande, where we gave in to temptation and bought a boatload of choupettes (sort of like old-fashioned lollipops), berlandises (hard candies filled with exceptionally good fruit pastes) and caramels. Once we had our sugary payload in hand we decided it was time we finally checked out the Institut du Monde Arabe.

The Institut du Monde Arabe is an organization dating from 1980, established by France and a large coalition of Arab countries, to act as an academic and cultural centre that would represent the Arab world to France and Europe more generally. Although we weren't particularly in the mood to check out their museum, Carla and I were intensely interested in the building that was designed for the institute, which is a fantastic example of what Arab ultra-modernist architecture could look like. (You can see a picture here, although it doesn't quite to it all justice; check out Google Images for more.) We spent a fair bit of time staring in wonder at the automated diaphragms in the south-facing wall, which evoked Arabesque geometric patterns and created a filtered-light effect that was very effective in controlling light. What was the coolest was the automation; depending on the levels on sunlight and the seasons, the apertures open and close. After ogling the hot modernist design (and pondering how a building designed in the 80s could still look like it was designed yesterday), we headed up to the top floor for a bit of tea on the terrace. With a lovely view over the city, carla and I enjoyed some mint tea and sparkling water with rose syrup, along with a few middle-eastern desserts (lots of layered pastry and honey and nuts).

Carla was up for more walking (she's still got that sciatica that flares up when she's sitting), so we wandered up to Bastille and hit the FNAC store so that I could finally buy Björk's new album, Volta. From there, we headed back to their apartment to drop off the stuff and meet the girls who had been at Versailles. They were already home when we got there, so we both got caught up on each other's day and then started planning for the evening. The other girls didn't want to do a big night out, so they headed off to spend a bit of time in the Centre Pompidou, and then from there grab a quite bite nearby and head to bed early.

Carla and I decided to head off to Montmartre to walk around a bit more and see the Sacre-Coeur and the neighborhood. We headed over to the Anvers métro station and wandered up the hill to Sacre-Coeur, doing our best to ignore the enterprising black men trying to con you into buying a bracelet from them. They walk up to you and say "Excuse me!" and ask you to hold length of thread or embroidery floss. Then, they quickly braid and/or knot a bracelet out of it and tie it to your wrist before you can do anything. Once it's tied, the cut of the remaining string and demand payment. Anyway, I brushed past one of them with Carla while saying "Désolé, désolé" over and over (which translates to "Sorry, sorry" but in this context is more like "No, I can't spare any change") and the guy yells to my retreating figure, "Hey, are you a Parisian or something?" To which I replied, "Yeah, sure, whatever." It's funny that this would be the moment that I successfully pass a Parisian.

After hiking up the hill and seeing the church (which is as lovely as ever), we decided to walk down the hill through the garden pathways on the east side, rather than through the place de Tertre and tourist-crammed gift shops of the west side. I had never been down this way, and I was pretty impressed with what they had done with it. A series of steep stairs and zig-zagging paths traced this much steeper side of the hill, cutting through tight clusters of bushes and trees, and passing over a presumably man-made set of waterfalls and cascades that ended in a small grotto near the bottom. The pathways were far less travelled than the streets and squares on the other side of the hill, which meant that were were able to meander and chat without being bumped and shoved, but also meant that we had to manoeuvre around the occasional cluster of homeless men chugging liquor or disaffected youths smoking hash. Mind you, nobody bothered us, so it was still a good time.

From there, we cut back across the front of the hill and over to Abbesses square, then over to Le Café des 2 Moulins (obligatory in a post-Amélie world), down past the Moulin Rouge, and back towards the Anvers station. By then we were getting peckish, so we headed over to the Indian neighbourhood around La Chapelle métro station, with a quick stop at the Indian Grocery store, Gopaul & Co., to buy Carla some rosewater and orange-flower water.

I took Carla to Krishna Bhavan, which is a this fantastic South Indian vegetarian restaurant that I had visited twice before. The food was as good as previous visits, and our waitress spoke better English than French (which suited us just fine), but the main difference this time was that we scored these pics:

Carla is the 3rd person that has seen this thing in person and all three of them can't deny that this is, indeed, a butt playing a flute. Add to this the fact that the eyes are half-lidded and askew, and I'm at a total loss. It seems to me that this must be some minor deity or important character in an otherwise unknown-to-me epic narrative, but I have no clue where to start figuring it out. I've decided the least I can do is post the pictures and hope that the Internetz Hive Mind™ will have something to contribute.

I had been wanting to get a picture of this image since I had first laid eyes on it, but I was worried about the social niceties of taking it's picture. Imagine explaining myself if one of the servers asks: "Yes, sir, I find your deity highly amusing and just a bit absurd. Can I take a picture of it? I'm sure you're thrilled to know that your religious beliefs provide me with entertainment." So, clearly, some degree of subterfuge was necessary. Since I was sitting between Carla and the Anal Flute Deity, we struck upon a great idea: I posed as if Carla was going to take my picture, but Carla would aim at the image over my shoulder, and I would lean out of the frame. The results were good and nobody gave us a second glance.

After a deliciously satisfying but (for once) not excessive meal, we headed off at a brisk pace again. We walked over to the locks between the Canal St. Martin and the Bassin de la Villette (near Jaurès Mº station), and then kept walking to a little café / bar called L'Ile Enchantée. I had been to L'Ile Enchantée once before to meet Laurent and Nathan (that was when I first met Fantômette as well, I think), and I remembered the place as very nice, not overcrowded, well-priced and friendly. We wandered in and sat down, my sister getting a mojito (which was lovely) and me getting a pint of Afflighem (which was great, although Afflighem always make me wish I was drinking a trappist beer). We chatted until well past midnight, and then continued our walk at a brisk pace until we came to Belleville métro station. From there, after having walked what felt like all of Paris, we went our separate ways and called it a night.

mardi, mai 22, 2007

Carla&Friends Day 4: Chez Denise

Before going on about my day, I need to post this adorable picture that my sister took of DJ and I after drinks last night at Café Hugo. This was taken on rue des Francs Bourgeois just east of Musée Carnavalet. Take a look at the stoplight just above our heads (you may have to click on the image to get the full-size version to see the detail). Poor DJ, who already gets enough flack for adopting some of the mannerims of French masculinity, will have much 'splainin to do with this picture.

So, a large chunk of my day was taken up at work, as a sort of "perfect storm" of stuff came up all at once. After getting home and working a bit on blogging and email correspondence, DJ and I left from our place to meet my sister and her friends over at Chez Denise for dinner. While DJ and the girls got either the mutton stew, the onglet (hanger steak) or the lamb chops, I decided to go with the tripes au calvados (tripe in calvados sauce). I know, I know, tripe is some nasty shit, especially when you considering that you're eating the stomach lining of a cow. However, here's the problem: I LOVE the broth that is made from tripe (as featured in "special" Vietnamese phỏ soups and Mexican menudo), so obviously tripe itself must be delicious, once I get past the awfulness of the texture.

As it turns out, Chez Denise has some sort of magic touch when it comes to preparing offal, because the tripe had none of the chewy, wriggly texture that I recall from previous experiments, but rather a firm and meaty texture. With the texture much more palatable, I found the flavour--especially with the calvados sauce--exquisite. That much being said, I'm still undecided as to whether I'd order that again; this experience taught me both that tripe can be tasty, and that tripe is usually poorly prepared (since no tripe I've tried before tasted like this).

As our meal was coming to a close, a woman sitting with a large and recently-arrived group began to sing. She was clearly trained in the 3-mile-vibrato school of operatic vocal technique, butchering what sounded like a 20th-century English song setting and turning it into a warbling mess. She only sang a few bars before stopping, which was a relief to me, since she was making my skin crawl. However, some well-meaning and obviously drunk/insane people at other tables clapped afterwards, and a few minutes later she burst out in a complete rendition of the same song. Thankfully, I had my back to her table, so I didn't have to embarrass myself by being impolite. However, it may have been worth it if seeing me writhe in pain might have prompted her to stop sooner. When she finished were impromptu performance and people started clapping, one of the servers zipped over and said rather plainly, "Stop singing." The singer didn't seem to speak French (although she spoke English with an American accent), but one of her compatriots tried to protest to the waiter; the waiter shrugged and said "This is a restaurant, not a concert hall," and walked off into the kitchen. He was quite right; music is rarely an element of fine dining in Paris, and more likely to be found in bars, cafés and brasseries. As we were paying for our bill, Carla noticed that there was faint background music pouring out of speakers in the ceiling (which had been unused all night and in every visit prior to this one). Clearly, someone was making a point.

After dinner, we meandered back to Carla's apartment to eat dessert; Carla had swung by La Durée during the day and brought back a payload of tartes and pastries and macarons. We enjoyed a raspberry and rose petal réligieuse, an "ivory bollywood" (a bit of meringue wrapped in a big frothy ball of flavoured cream and covered in shredded coconut), and a pile of tasty macarons. From there, DJ and I wandered our way back home and off to bed.

lundi, mai 21, 2007

Carla&Friends Day 3: Luis does Laundry

On the way to work, I got a call from owner of the apartment my sister and her friends were renting, telling me that she would drop by the apartment later to check on the washer/dryer, and would call for the repairman if need be. In the meanwhile, my clothes were still stuck in there and I had a pile of dirty clothes and nearly no underwear. Yay.

I dragged my butt to work and got a fair bit done (mostly in the way of tending to IT emergencies), and then headed home. On the way back, I heard from my sister that the repairman would be coming by Friday morning, so that means that I won't be seeing that batch of clothes until Friday at the earliest. With that in mind, I headed home and started making a Herculean effort of catching up on all my laundry with the crappy machines available in my building. The good news is that few people seem to do their laundry in the early afternoon on a Monday, so I was able to get most of my laundry done in only a few hours--without the usual bloodsport for dryers.

I kept myself locked up at home until I got a decent amount of work done, while Carla took the girls out to L'As du Falafel for some of their delicious falafel spéciale. At around 22h00, DJ and I headed out to Place des Vosges and met Carla for a drink (the other two were staying in). I usually go to Café Hugo when I'm on Place des Vosges, but the service I got the last time I was there was crappy enough that I was motivated to try something else. We tried a café-resto called Ma Boulogne on the other side of the square, but as we ordered our drinks, we realized that the prices were insane. A kir was 5€, and it was mostly syrup and very little wine. Realizing that none of us had brought cash, I ran out to the nearest bank machine. This was a bit of an ordeal in itself, as the first bank machine I found was apparently out of order. By the time I had done the circuit of Le Marais and returned with cash, Carla and DJ were pretty ready to finish our drinks and move back to Café Hugo. We hung out there for a good while, drinking champagne and relaxing, until about 1h00. After walking Carla back to her place, DJ and I walked up to rue de Bretagne and caught the night bus back to our place.

On the night bus back, DJ and I witnessed one of those amusing moments of Paris-ness. A seemingly uptight man was reading the newspaper quietly when an apparently drunk and definitely "eccentric" man sauntered onto the bus and sat down next to him. This other man, who was wearing an admiral's cap and a loud primary-colour blazer, started cheerfully talking to the man next to him, ignoring the other's closed body language. Nonetheless, but the time DJ and I were getting off the bus, the two were chatting and the uptight guy was taking a picture of the nutty one. I've noticed before that there is a generally higher tolerance for the milder forms of mental and personality disorders. In fact, as my sister has pointed out, French psychiatric definitions are such that people like him are usually understood as "odd" or "eccentric," rather than insane. It's not an illness that necessarily needs quarantine and treatment, but a variant of norm that simply needs to some accomodation. Now, if only the many schizotypal folks in North America and the rest of the world could enjoy such tolerance.

dimanche, mai 20, 2007

Carla&Friends Day 2: Marché and Laundry Drama

Well, today was supposed to be a simple day, but the results were mixed. The plan was to get up early (to help the girls re-set their body clocks) and head off to the market at place des fêtes to stock up their kitchen with fresh produce. I had also noticed the evening before that they had a washing/dryer in the apartment, so I was also planning on bringing my clothes and my laundry detergent.

After packing a suitcase far too full with clothes and waiting for a break in the rain (which never came), I dashed out and over to the métro station. After lugging my surprisingly heavy load down into the bowels of the métro system, I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten the laundry detergent. Well, fuck. I texted Carla, telling her that I was on my way, but had forgotten the detergent, and would pick it up at a grocery store near her place. Most of the grocery stores in my neighborhood opened up for a few hours Sunday mornings, usually from 9am to noon.

I got off at the Saint-Paul station, only to find that the two grocery stores nearby were both closed. In walked a few blocks, in the rain, to the Monoprix nearby, convinced that it would at least be open. No such luck. Defeated, I headed over to Carla's place. By then, it was already 10h00 and it was essential that we get there by at least noon. The market closes between 14h00 and 15h00 on Sundays, but most vendors start packing up much earlier, depending on how much they've sold. One of our group was still in her jammies, so we left her with instructions to buy bread at the local boulangerie, and the rest of us headed off to market.

At the market, Carla and I succumbed to the acquisitive hypomania that always overtakes us at places like this. While Carla bought more flowers than there were vases at the apartment, I picked up kilos of onions, potatoes, cheese, fresh veggies, eggs, fruit, and so on. I even picked up a roast chicken with the intention of making my increasingly-famous chicken salad. On the way home, I left the girls on the métro platform for a moment, while I dashed back to my place, picked up my laundry detergents (along with a whisk for making mayo) and rejoined them.

After a long trip back to the apartment (including a short detour into a corner store to buy oil, which resulted in me knocking over a bottle of beer and cutting my thumb on it), I threw a load of laundry into the machine and started making a very late brunch. By about 3pm, we sat down to some warm chicken salad, some purple potato salad, some fresh frisée, gariguette strawberries, cheese, bread and so on. We stuffed ourselves silly, then relaxed for a bit. The laundry machine was taking indecently long to finish, was rather reluctant to let us open the door when it seemed to be finished, so the girls went for a walk while I struggled with the machine.

After trying various methods of jiggling the handle, jiggling the door, pushing and pulling and doing everything but a !@#$ing rain dance, the door finally opened with a simple tug. Relieved, I opened the door only to find that the contents were pretty much wet. At this point, it was nearly 5 hours after I first started the machine. With a sigh, I put back half of the load and set it to dry again.

What I didn't realize then, was that that would be the last I would see of that pile of clothes until at least Friday. When the load of laundry finished drying, the door wouldn't open again. The handle was still as loose and seemingly ineffectual as before, and I tried my best to figure out what the "magic" move was that made the door open earlier. Eventually, I realized that the handle was too loose. I gave it a jiggle and a tug, and the whole thing slid out. A quick look at the jagged edge of the plastic on the business end of the handle made it clear that the thing was broken. Well, great.

I then spent the next couple of hours trying to find a way to force open the door without damaging it. I could see the spring mechanism that locked the door, but I couldn't get at it at the right angle to make it open. Finally, at some point near midnight, I gave up, wrote an email to the apartment owner on behalf of my sister, packed my dirty laundry back into my suitcase, and headed home.

I omitted to mention that there was a techno night going on at Le Triptyque, with various artists from Ghostly International playing, including Matthew Dear. Somewhat oddly, but perhaps appropriate for a Sunday night, the party started at 19h00 and ran to midnight. If it wasn't for the laundry debacle, I would've been there, but instead I got to hear about it from Anatoly the next day. Grrr.