samedi, octobre 04, 2008

Nuit Blanche 2008

Phew. I’m so behind on blogging, it’s not funny. It’s been a busy week, and then the weekend was even busier. Anyway, here’s the run-down for Saturday.

I slept in after last night’s outing, and then quietly worked on my proposal revisions (and a bit of cooking, certainly) until the early evening. A friend of mine was returning to Mauritius in a few days, so she decided to have her last “night on the town” tonight, to coincide with the Parisian Nuit Blanche events.

Nuit Blanche is a public art event that started in Paris several years ago and has now been reproduced in similarly-named festivals all around the world (including Toronto!). The name comes from the French expression, “white night,” which also means a sleepless night. Large and usually spectacular art installations are put together all through the city in both outdoor and indoor spaces, and you have the entire night (until sunrise) to see everything. Public transit is usually augmented for the duration of the event, although—in true French fashion—I heard from others that the métro was still closed and that the buses were a disaster. I used the Vélib bike-sharing system, which was stretched to capacity this night. I had to pass three Vélib stations before I found one that had a bike in it.

Anyway, I headed over to my friend’s place for an apéro (aperitif drink, although also used in France to refer to some drinks and finger-foods usually done between work and the dinner hour). As the rest of her friends gathered at her place, our “best intentions” to be moving about the city by 20h00 turned into something of a disaster. As we waited for more friends, we had more drinks, and got less and less…capable of the sort of organization required to move as a group. By 23h00, we were finally moving, sort of.

We skipped the display at Montparnasse (which was supposedly quite lovely) and headed toward the Marais, since we were going to finish our night at Le Pin Up, where Fantômette was spinning. On the way over, at the Concorde métro station, we were treated to a skinny boy in typical H&M fashion, dancing like a fool to all the hits from the 2008 Eurovision contest. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t an official part of the Nuit Blanche festival, but we were pretty amused by his antics.

We made it to the Swedish Cultural Centre, where there was this lovely installation that took over the entire courtyard. There were zillions of thin white strings suspended above the courtyard, each one weighed down with a small metal nut to keep it roughly vertical. Nonetheless, every time the wind shifted, the whole sea of white fibers would move and drift in a really lovely way. Also, the Swedish café in the building was open, selling traditional Swedish cakes that were Swedish-awesome.

From there, we had wanted to go to Châtelet to see the tour St.-Jacques (St. Jacob’s Tower), which apparently had some projections on it. However, it started to rain and we decided to call it a night and head over to Le Pin Up to see Fantô. The rest of the night was a lot of fun, and I discovered a “special” drink of the bar, called “Le Pin-Up Bubble,” which involves ice, champagne, vodka and violet syrup. Surprisingly delicious.

vendredi, octobre 03, 2008

Markets (not the kind that are failing) and Dinner

Dammit. I had written up a long blog post and saved it, and then apparently I did something stupid while moving around my files and now I see that I’ve lost the entry for Oct 3. So here it is again. Obviously, this will be a bit shorter than the original.

So today was the day that I was going to check out the nearby open-air market, on boulevard Richard-Lenoir. It’s open every Tuesday and Friday, and it looked like it would be a pretty big one. Upon arriving there, I saw that it was about the same size as the Place des Fêtes market I used to go to, only arranged in long rows along the middle of the boulevard and maybe a bit more expensive.

Part of the higher prices had to do with the fact that there were more specialty booths. For example, there was a woman there selling nothing but mushrooms (that looked SO GOOD), including hard-to-find Korean mushrooms and super-expensive cêpes. There was also a cheesemonger (one among many) who had a more narrow but very well-selected range of cheeses, with better prices than most at the market. I got this really buttery cheese with no particular name that is apparently a specialty of Les Vosges, some vieux Comté, and a couple of Rocamadours (small discs of very fresh goat cheese).

I was in the mood for ceviche, so I headed over to a fishmonger that looked credible and asked for some help selecting a fish. Usually I would make ceviche with Peruvian corvina, but that’s pretty much impossible to find here. So I told him what I was making and described the kind of fish I usually need, but as soon as he heard it was “raw” a little lightbulb went on over his head and he decided that what I really meant was sushi. So then he started showing me his tuna and salmon, neither of which are good for ceviche. Finally, I just took some swordfish, which is a reliable standby for ceviche.

I had trouble finding some properly hot peppers for my ceviche, but luckily I came across a Senegalese merchant selling creole food. I bought a bunch of accras de morue (cod fritters), and along with it he gave me a container of super-spicy habañero pepper sauce. Mmm.

I headed home and busied myself making ceviche and putting away my groceries, worked a bit more on my proposal revisions, and then went out to take care of some errands and do some laundry.

By the time evening came around, I had a dinner date with a friend who had recently arrived to Paris as well as with one of his friends, so I grabbed a bike from the Vélib station near my place and headed over. My friend was over near the Ecole Normale Supérieure, which is near the bottom of rue Mouffetard. I had picked the route that seemed the most direct on the map, but I didn’t realize until I was pedaling my way up a steep incline that the route went up and over the hill upon which the Pantheon sits. Ack. Next time I’ll use Googlemaps’s “Terrain” setting to check before heading out.

Anyway, we met and headed over to rue Mouffetard (known as being the cheapest street in Paris for restaurant food) and had a pretty decent meal. Considering the blah food I had here two years ago, I was pleased to get something that was edible this time.

From there, we were still in the mood to go out, so we started walking to the Marais to see what was going on. After some discussion and a lot of wandering, we found our way to Yono in the Marais. We had a (rather expensive) drink, and then decided to keep moving. One of the guys in our group really wanted to go to a club that he had read about, called OpA near Bastille, so off we went.

The club was a pretty good example of what a “mainstream” club in Paris looks like: polished décor, surprisingly small dance floor, bottle service taking over most of the seating areas, an almost exclusively hetero crowd, guys being very assertive in their advances and girls being defensive, and a random mix of “electro” hits as soundtrack. To the DJs credit, he was actually beat-matching the tracks and making something out of it, but the selection was still crap. Nonetheless, I amused myself by again observing groups homosocial groups of (presumably) heterosexual men engaging in intense homoerotic play while throwing themselves at any female within sniffing distance. I had just been talking about this with my companions earlier that night, so I felt a bit vindicated by having some empirical proof to show them.

jeudi, octobre 02, 2008

Luis braves Paris traffic and gets drenched

Work, again, was busy but I can feel things tapering off. I managed to completely spoil my diet during the day, thanks to some free food kicking around. There had been a conference that day and the director had ordered a ton of very nice hors d’oeuvres and the like, and there weren’t enough people at the conference to eat it all. So, of course, they brought in the grad students to eat up the leftovers. I certainly didn’t complain, considering that I had planned to skip lunch, but I felt kinda gross and overfed for the rest of the afternoon. I also sat in on a wine and cheese tasting hosted that afternoon, so I was pretty damn full by the end of the day. Mind you, I was pretty impressed with myself. I drank 5 glasses of wine during the tasting and didn’t even notice. My wine tolerance is back!

After my success with Vélib last night, I decided to try my luck getting home from work. This was a considerably longer trek, but I was heartened by the fact that there was a system of dedicated bike paths that led from my door, along the Canal St. Martin / Boulevard Richard Lenoir, past Bastille and along the river to where I work. Besides, the trip would be mostly along flat terrain.

So, at around 18h00, I headed over to the nearest Vélib stand and grabbed a bike. The map I had consulted said that there were bike paths, but it wasn’t clear about whether they were one-way or two-way paths. The bike paths themselves had obviously been built over time in a piecemeal way, so I sometimes found myself having to backtrack, cross over to the other side of the street, or just join the insane automobile traffic.

All of this was complicated by the fact that we were apparently experiencing some sort of flash hurricane in Paris, which began about 5 minutes into my bike ride. First the wind nearly flayed the skin off my face (and nearly threw me off the bike and into traffic), then the rain started pelting down into my eyes, soaking my sweater and my bag, and then the rest of the ride was a lovely combination of both.

So, the weather was not on my side and I still didn’t know the route (and I nearly had a heart attack trying to go around Bastille at rush hour with wind and rain on my little bike), but I still made it home in 30 minutes. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make better time in the future! Hooray for bike transport, I tell ya.

With the rain still pouring down, I got some bread and some eggs and then dragged myself upstairs and tried to dry off. I spent the rest of the evening FINALLY having a quiet night at home. Yay!

mercredi, octobre 01, 2008

Raclette, Wine, and Bike-Sharing

After another marathon day at work, I ambled home and got ready to head over to a colleague’s house for dinner. She was planning to make raclette, so I went to the somewhat upscale-looking wine shop across the street from me and asked for some recommendations. I left with a bottle of red wine of the Côtes du Luberon appellation (from the south-eastern extreme of Rhône wine region, east of Avignon), along with a bottle of Burgundian wine for my own consumption. I can’t tell you how glad I am that I’m back in the land of cheap and high-quality wine. Those two bottles cost me 24€ in total, and each one would easily run $40-50 in the US.

I headed over to her place and had a great dinner with her and her husband and a mutual friend of theirs. At one point, their friend annoyed me with a rather crude deployment of the Paradox of Voting to support his complaint that the voting masses (in this context, read: Americans) are stupid. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to articulate my rebuttal really well in French, which I guess shows me that I need more practice in academic / argumentative French. Also, it didn’t help that he was constantly calling me an American—despite my frequent corrections—and would make comments like, “I don’t much like that art exhibit, but it’s good enough for an American,” with this tone of voice that implied that he thought I would be delighted to hear this. Ugh.

Anyway, as I left after dinner, my colleague told me that there was a Vélib station nearby. Since she lived at the top of a hill in the 19th arrondissement, I could just grab one of those bikes and coast all the way home, rather than schlepping to the nearest subway station. I wasn’t sure if my year-long subscription had gone through yet, but when I dropped my Navigo card on the little card reader next to one of the locked bikes, the light turned green and the bike was unlocked. Yay!

The ride home was indeed super-easy, taking maybe 5 minutes to coast downhill. It took a few minutes to find the Vélib station closest to my place, but eventually I did and headed home. My project for tomorrow: take the Vélib home from work.

mardi, septembre 30, 2008

Québécois Drag Queen

Well, my original plan today was to get home from work and relax and generally unwind, but nothing of the sort. Devon, a good buddy that I know through my Totally Rad Designer Friend, Amy Kwong (of SmittenKitten fame), had been in town this last weekend, and tonight was his last night. I hadn’t been able to hang out with him last weekend, since I was in Lille, and he is going to leave tomorrow (Wednesday). So tonight was the only opportunity I had to hang out with him. I sent him a text message from work and he told me that he was going out to a drag show with friends, so we made plans to meet up later that night.

Work was hell today. I’m still not one to blog in detail about my work, but I’ll tell you that it was deeply unpleasant and I left work 3 hours after I had planned to, exhausted. Thankfully, at least, I got a lot of difficult things worked out, so I’m hoping that this will make things easier tomorrow and for the rest of the week. This is the first week of having the full host of autumn-quarter students here, so that’s why things are as crazy as they are right now.

Anyway, I made my way home much later than I had expected. I limped home around 18h00, packed some leftovers into my maw, and then ran back out the door to meet Devon and his crew at 19h30. We met at this bar in the gay district of Paris called Cox (yes, that’s right), where we had a drink before wandering through a bunch of side-streets to get to a bar / theater called Tango. The event, apparently, was a solo drag performance by a queen from Montréal, Mado, doing a show called “Les Invasions Bâtards” (a play on the Denys Arcand film, Les Invasions Barbares). The price was 20€ for a two-hour show, which made me re-think my complaints about cover charges for techno events. Yeesh.

The show was mostly pretty amusing, especially her deft changes to the lyrics of Québécois folk songs to turn them into bawdy and queer parodies. On the other hand, her “French people do this! Québécois do that!” stand-up got old really fast. Perhaps the highlight of the night, though, was her medley of Québécois pop songs that have lyrics that are so awful, you don’t actually need to do anything to make them a parody. Pretty damn amusing.

After that, we all stumbled out and the other boys went off to find falafels, while I went home for some well-deserved sleep.

lundi, septembre 29, 2008

More shit hits the fan

So this is another case of a day that was totally taken over by “current events.” I came home from a relatively tiring day of work, planning to get some dissertation work done and maybe relax a bit.

Instead, I got home and turned on the TV to discover that the bill proposing the financial rescue plan in the US had been defeated in the House of Congress, which was a surprise. After a week of super-intensive work on this plan, under the threat of a economic meltdown, this bill was supposed to pass ASAP.

Anyway, this political implosion was just breaking as I turned on the TV—CNN was broadcasting the eerie silence on the Congress floor as the votes were still being counted—so I spent the rest of the night watching the drama unfold. Oh, and maybe I blogged a bit. But mostly I just watched the DRAMA.

dimanche, septembre 28, 2008

Lille, Trains, and Sushi

Well, after a night of partying, I realized that I had done something really stupid. You see, my plan was to return on Sunday (today), so my hotel reservation ended today. But when I was shopping for train tickets, I picked the least cheap return ticket, which was at 22h00. Have you figured out what’s wrong with this picture?

That’s right. Check-out time from my hotel was at 12h00, so I had 10 hours to kill. Add to this the fact that I didn’t get to bed until around 6h00 or 7h00, and you can see what kind of day I had ahead of me. I got up around 11h00, took a quick shower, packed my bags, and then checked out and asked the concierge to hold my luggage.

At this point, all I wanted to do was sleep more, and that was the one thing I couldn’t do. I could go grab a coffee in a café (which I did), I could haul out my laptop and work on my field notes (which I did), and I could wander around and take photos (which I did), but I couldn’t put down my belongings and just take a nap.

Lille, at least, is a really lovely city, with some great architecture and very friendly people. So here are some pictures I took of the downtown area near the train station, as taken by my sleep-deprived self.

Thankfully, I eventually had a bright idea. What if I exchanged my ticket for an earlier train? I know that my train ticket to Lille on Friday was at the “Prem’s” rate, which allows absolutely no exchange or refund, but I distinctly recalled paying a bit more for the Sunday evening return trip. So off I went to the train station, where I used one of the SNCF’s surprisingly easy-to-use exchange kiosks to exchange my ticket. Alas, I had to pay another 30€ to exchange the ticket this late, but at least I was going home at 18h00, instead of 22h00.

When 18h00 rolled around, I got on the train and got ready to enjoy a 1.5-hour nap. Then a young couple sat down across the aisle from me with a toddler that had just started using language and hadn’t yet learned social norms about volume. This is unfortunate but understandable; the fact that the parents showed no interest in actually teaching their child to speak at a reasonable level drove me and everyone else in the train nuts. It wasn’t until I got off the train in Paris, grumpy and sleep-deprived, that I recalled that I had brought earplugs with me for the music festival. Dammit.

On my way through Gare du Nord to get to the métro, I passed this rather unlikely shop in the underground walkway that sold specialties from Auvergne (read: dry sausages and cheese). Unable to say no to well-prepared French dry sausage, I stopped to try a sample and ask the guy about his wares. This is clearly prime sausage-selling season, as I left his place with two plain sausages and two peppered sausages for 15€. And keep in mind that these are big, half-kilo sausages. Yay! Porky goodness.

I trundled my way home and dropped off my stuff, and then zipped over to my friend’s place—the one that took me in at the beginning of the month when I was homeless—to return the spare set of keys I had been using at the time. On the way home, I realized that I was starving and only had a big pile of dry sausage to eat. I took a quick walk in my neighborhood and discovered (to my delight) that there was a rather respectable-looking sushi place around the corner, called Sushi West. I’ve always been very wary of sushi in Paris, having had some pretty awful experiences, but I’ve heard since my return that things have improved.

Sushi West’s menu was certainly geared toward conservative Frenchy palates. Salmon and Tuna was in everything and most “sushi combo” plates were made of exclusively those two fish. There were lots of “special” maki (rolls) that were filled with pretty standard fillings (green onions, cucumber, oshinko, tempura shrimp, avocado, etc.). And, most disappointingly, there were two maki labeled “very hot!” that were, in fact, tasteless; I’m not even talking “mildly hot,” but rather “did you forget to put hot sauce in this?”

The whole thing was pretty expensive, but a good price for Paris. I paid 25€ for a 25-piece sashimi set (with mackerel and sea-bass included in the combination along salmon and tuna), a cucumber roll, and a spicy tuna roll (super disappointing). The sashimi was fresh-tasting and generously portioned, but the rolls were lackluster. Nonetheless, everything tasted very fresh and dependable, so I took a take-out menu home with me.