samedi, octobre 31, 2009

Halloween in Chicago: Partytime!

Again, I’m writing this many, many days after the fact, but I needed to pay tribute to some of the costumes worn at tonight’s Halloween party (a private affair organized members of the same Chicago crew that I used to hang out with before leaving for France).

I began the evening with my parents (who were visiting me) for dinner. We went to Ras Dashen and completely stuffed ourselves Ethiopian food. I knew I was going to be dancing later that night and I should’ve known better than to stuff myself full of food, but I just couldn’t help it, it was so good. Their kifto (raw ground beef marinated with spices and clarified butter) is to die for.

I drove my parents to the hotel, ran back to my place to change into my costume, and then bolted out the door. I got to the party—at the same warehouse loft where the afterparty for Souvenir was—just in time to witness everyone’s costumes (before everyone got sweaty):

  • One friend started as Marie Antoinette—wig and all—and changed costumes at about 5 a.m. to become a “raver kitten”
  • A couple came as Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein, with an amazing streaked wig for the Bride and a hand-made papier-mâché brow/forehead for Frankenstein. And no small amount of makeup, I might add.
  • One of my friends shows up at first looking like a space satellite with planets hanging off of her. Later, she changes into a cupid costume. As the night goes on, she goes through several more costume-changes and finishes with a t-shirt that says, “364 days till Halloween.”
  • The same friend’s neighbor needed a costume at the last minute and she helped him by dressing him in a bunch of her black lingerie and making him look like Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show.

What did I go as? I went as a candy-raver. It was admittedly a last-minute cop-out costume, since I only needed to fish out an old pair of phat pants and some old wooden bead necklaces and brightly-beaded bracelets, but the costume went over pretty well. There was a marked generational gap in the reactions to my outfit. People about my age or older saw my costume and immediately said, “Candyraver!” and then slid into nostalgic conversation about the good ol’ days. Younger folks mostly had to ask what my costume was at first, and then recognized the label “candyraver” and would make a few bemused comments about how crazy everyone was back then (but without saying that they had been part of the 90s rave scene).

samedi, septembre 05, 2009

Souvenir 03: The Welcome Home (with Seuil)

OK, so I'm writing this more than two months after the event itself, but I just had to document one thread of events from the party that I thought was really interesting:

At the party itself, sometime around 2 or 3 a.m., a girl dancing near me approaches and asks, “Hey, are you Luis?” When I say yes, she seems really thrilled and says, “It’s so good to finally meet you! I’m really good friends with O [a friend from France that lives in Chicago now and was co-organizing tonight’s event] and I’ve heard so much about you. I’m Lola.” She’s originally from Poland and I just returned from a year in France and Germany, so we talk a bit about the differences between North America and Europe and the odd situation one can develop of feeling at home in one place while longing for another place. We cross paths occasionally throughout the rest of the party and check in with each other, saying things like “How’re you feeling?” and lightly grasping each other’s shoulders.

The afterparty at a friend’s warehouse loft starts at about 7 a.m. and runs until some ungodly hour that evening (9 p.m., I think). I have a great time and hang out with friends, but eventually I tire and need to get home. I’m still marginally jet-lagged from my return from France, and I’ve spent all week unpacking things and running errands. It’s nearly 2 p.m., I haven’t slept all night/morning, and I was beginning to run out of energy. I make the rounds of the room, saying goodbye to everyone.

As I’m saying goodbye to O., she sees Lola nearby and asks us both, “Do you know each other?”

Lola says, “Of course! We’re best friends.”

Her arm comes up around my shoulder, and my arm winds around her waist. While still facing O., as if we were performing for her, we turn to each other, press our torsos into a half-hug, and reach out with our other arms to rub each others shoulders affectionately. I turn to give her a peck on the check and she turns her head toward me and we end up exchanging a brief peck on the lips.

We had just met for the first time in our lives a few hours ago, and we had hardly said anything to each other after our brief conversation at the party. Nonetheless, something about our encounter made is possible for Lola to claim that we were “best friends,” for me to agree and engage smoothly with her in these gestures of intimacy. It was casual and undramatic, as if we were making observations about the weather rather than claiming a deep, 12-hour-old friendship.

O. smiles with an expression that could be indulgent or bemused or merely pleased, and she says, “Of course.”

(By the way, Seuil’s set, both at the party and the afterparty, kicked major ass.)

mercredi, septembre 02, 2009

On the importance of knickers

A piece of advice on packing and unpacking clothes: do it in your underwear.

Why, do you ask? Because, before sticking yet another 10-year-old shirt or over-worn pair of pants into a box or back on the hanger, you can slip it on and remind yourself why you rarely ever wear it. If the item only barely fits you, toss it aside and donate it to charity. I managed to clear nearly one quarter of my shirts and pants, which is quite the accomplishment for me. Yay, closet space!

mardi, septembre 01, 2009

Confit de Canard in Chicago

Today, I spent most of the day unpacking things with my friends LEO and Peeto. Well, it was mostly LEO who helped, since her workdays were a bit more flexible. Peeto, showed up after work and accompanied us on a trip to Target. Nonetheless, I was pretty impressed with how effective we were today. We got the remaining boxes out of the storage space, unpacked a few more book boxes, and made a run to Target for a few household items that I needed (especially cleaning products and the like).

For dinner, we cracked open a bottle of French wine that I had apparently had the forethought to squirrel away in my storage space before leaving Chicago, and I made the confit de canard that I had brought from France. First, I took the duck thighs out of the can and fried them in a skillet, using just the fat that clung to the meat. Once the meat was heated through and the outside had started to brown and stick to the pan, I removed the meat and threw in some roughly sliced potatoes. Then, I dumped in the remaining fat from the can of confit and let it simmer uncovered until all the liquid had either evaporated or been absorbed by the potatoes. So, in essence, it was a meal made entirely around duck fat.

In my defense, I did make some salad as an appetizer.

lundi, août 31, 2009

Die Unheimliche Heimfahrt

So, the title of this post translates to “The uncanny return home”, but the wordplay only works in German, where both expressions are constructed around the word heim [home]. Anyway, let me explain what made this so uncanny.

After a reasonably uneventful flight back to Chicago, I got off the plane and waited for what felt like an hour before finally going through immigration and customs. In a fit of honesty, I declared that I was carrying wine, confit de canard (duck cooked and preserved in its own fat), and dry sausage. This meant that my luggage got opened up and taken apart by the Department of Agriculture people, who TOOK MY SAUSAGE!!!11! The wine and the duck were OK, apparently, but I wasn’t allowed to bring in the sausage. Well, I learned my lesson: next time, don’t declare anything. I have to go back to France for a few days in late September, so maybe I’ll bring back some raw-milk cheese, too, just to be a badass.

So two friends were waiting for me at the airport (bless their adorable souls), and after making a valiant attempt to say hi to another friend that was leaving for Britain the same day (and running into another set of people), we finally made it to the parking lot and headed out. We drove back to my old apartment—which is still my current apartment. Rather than give up my lease and put all of my furniture and such in storage like I did the last time I went to France—which was super stressful and rather expensive—I decided to put my apartment up for sublease and offer to sublet it furnished for no extra charge. I still put my clothes and books and valuables into a small storage space, but the furniture, kitchen stuff, linens, and hardware stayed. At the last minute before leaving for Europe about 14 months ago, I finally found a lovely Scottish lad that was willing to take my apartment for the full year. He was just moving into town and had nothing to his name but a backpack full of clothes, so the arrangement worked out perfectly.

Now, a bit more than a year later, I was heading back to my apartment, hoping to find my apartment in the same state that I had left it. What I found was far more than I had expected: everything was almost exactly where I had left it 14 months ago. The same bottles of soy sauce and oil that I had left in the pantry were still there, in the same places, the bottoms of the bottles beginning to fuse with the shelves. The bottle of minced ginger in the refrigerator was still there, along with the few jars of Peruvian hot pepper pastes I had left behind. The bags of rice were exactly the same ones I had been using, still half-empty. There was one lonely head of garlic, now completely dessicated.

There were only a few traces of the previous tenant to be found in the house. The bathroom mat—the same one I had left a year ago—had gone from white to mottled grey. The kitchen utensils that stood in a container next to the stove were all sticky with the residue of vaporized oil from a year’s worth of cooking…although I have no idea what he was cooking, considering the same dry goods were in the same places in my pantry. There was a half-empty leather wallet, forgotten on an empty bookshelf, filled with various membership cards and photos of him and his girlfriend, whose long black hairs were still lurking around the apartment. The kitchen’s leaky faucet had clearly sprung a leak one day, as the cabinet under the kitchen sink had taken some water damage and collapsed downward.

For the rest of the day, as we made trips to the storage unit to retrieve boxes and unpack them, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the apartment had remained empty and abandoned for the last 14 months. The most disturbing place for me was the kitchen, where traces of emptiness and activity were layered on top of each other. I obsessively re-washed all of the dishes in my cupboards and tried to scrub the oily residue off of all of my utensils, while trying not to look too long into my time-capsule pantry.

How I Spent My Summer

Well, hello there, stranger! It sure has been a while, hasn’t it? I promise, I have a good excuse for being absent for so long. As you might recall from the spate of tardy posts I made in late May / early June, I had The Never-Ending Stream of Houseguests, which continued right through June (with a weekend jaunt to Berlin, thank you very much). My parents also came into town for two weeks in June to celebrate my birthday, which included dinner at Taillvent! So delicious, and only for the price of one month’s rent! A bargain, really.

Anyway, we had a great time, and even managed to get down to Nantes for a couple of days to visit some friends of the family, where we had some excellent food and wine (of course). After that, I spent about two weeks at the end of June doing an intense set of interviews, which turned into hours and hours and hours of transcription work. I easily spent 8 hours transcribing one hour of interviewing. It didn’t help that I let my interviewees choose the location of the interview and it was summer, which meant that everyone wanted to meet on the patio of a café somewhere, usually facing a noisy street. After the first badly-recorded interview, I switched from my iPod/Griffin iTalk setup to a new Olympus digital Dictaphone, which has served me magnificently ever since.

So I spent 12-14 hours a day working on transcriptions, during some of the hottest days of the summer (35ºC/95ºF), in my tiny attic apartment, with skylight windows and no air-conditioning. I think I lost a few pounds a day just from sweat. I got a break when I went south to visit a friend near Rocamadour, in the Lot region of France (south-west). I would work on transcriptions during the day, and then head out on hikes in the neighboring valleys and fields before dinner. It helped that the days were a bit cooler there and that my friend’s place was an old sheep’s pen, built out of stone and half-embedded into the hillside for natural air-conditioning. Oh, and the food was delicious. Rocamadour is the region that produces Rocamadour cheese, which are these little discs of goat cheese that are just on the border between crumbly and creamy. The south-west in general is the land of everything duck, so there was lots of foie gras and confit de canard (duck cooked in its own fat). And in addition to all of that, it was the tail-end of strawberry season, and the mara des bois type of strawberries were available, which is a variety that resembles Ontario wild strawberries in their sweetness and intensity of flavor. All in all, good times.

I was only in Lot for a few days, then I came back to Paris and kept working away at my transcriptions. For the last two weeks of July, I rented out a room in a flat in Berlin for super-cheap and spent two weeks saying goodbye to my favorite techno paradise. I also treated the trip as a writing retreat, and I have to say that I’m impressed with my self-discipline. I would work on my chapter from 9 or 10am until 5pm, then I’d save everything, close my computer, and head off to meet friends, go for walks, etc. Saturdays and Sundays I did no work and concentrated on just partying hard—to do justice to the Berlin scene.

I came back to Paris at the beginning of August and tried to keep up the same work schedule I had developed in Berlin. Since it was still excruciatingly hot and I had no air-conditioning, I adjusted my schedule a bit. I would get up early and work until noon, then bike over to the Bois de Vincennes and lay out in the sun until the late afternoon, then head back to my apartment and do a bit more work. Sometimes, when I was in a section of my chapter that required less citation and more argumentation, I would bring a notebook with me and just write by hand, later editing and inserting it into the chapter.

By mid-July, I finished a chapter, which was pretty much perfect timing. I sent out the chapter to my committee, partied like a fool over the weekend, and then started planning my return to Chicago. Some things were really simple, like doing a thoroughgoing purge of my wardrobe, cleaning the apartment, and sending some of my books off by mail. Other things were complicated, like arranging the closure of my French bank account when I still needed it to receive my safety deposit from my landlord here.

My friends here gave me a great farewell, including a surprise party at a friend’s place that came with this amazing photo-montage of all of us together made by one of the crew that is a professional graphic designer. I also organized a dinner during my last week here as well as a night out at the clubs that I dubbed “Luis se déchire avant de partir” (Luis gets tore up before leaving). Despite all of my preparations, the final few days were a bit hectic, but I was able to spend my last night in Paris having a pleasant dinner and a bottle of wine with some of my friends. Yay, Paris! As you can imagine, I’m really sad about leaving Paris, even if I’m also thrilled to see my Chicago friends again. Thankfully, the pain was alleviated a bit by the knowledge that I was coming back for a few days later in September. Paris, I don’t know how to quit you.

So you might wonder what I’m going to do with a blog called Luis in Paris, now that I’m no longer in Paris (well, I’m writing this from the airport in Paris, but you see what I mean). I’ve been wondering, too. Much like while I was in Berlin, I’m hoping to keep posting about my nighttime adventures and so on while I’m in Chicago, although the frequency of my party notes will vary according to my teaching workload. Also, once in awhile, I’ll post little anecdotes or short observational essays about France and Paris; little fragments that never made it into my day-to-day postings in Paris.

For example, take these pictures:

These are the little paper bags that most grocers at Paris’s open-air markets and corner shops use to sell you tomatoes, mushrooms, bananas, and pretty much anything that fares better in paper bags than plastic. I’m kinda fascinated by the images that are printed on them. In one, you have this rather simple collection of fruits, vegetables and flowers. On another, you have this basket character with an insane grin on his face, stuffed full of the same groceries. On another, you have a mixture of fruits with a palm tree looming in the background. What’s interesting is that all of these conspicuously present at least one “exotic” fruit—that is, a product that isn’t grown naturally in France. In the first image, the pineapple dominates the image from the center; in the second, the half-kiwi is one of only two items that is not in the basket; in the third, you have both the banana and the pineapple, not to mention the palm tree. Considering that most Parisians (at least the middle-class and bohemiain-bourgeois folks I know) tend to place a lot of value on products in season and grown locally, it’s an odd contrast that the bag designs used by the grocers of Paris features exotic fruit prominently. Anyway, I’m going to miss these bags, which I would re-use to store my garlic, steam-peel peppers, and preserve cut vegetables.

Stay tuned for upcoming stories of Luis’s return to Chicago!

dimanche, mai 31, 2009

Peruvian Food (and Richie Hawtin, Magda, Gaiser, Barem)

OK, so this is the second time in two weeks that I’m guiltily playing catch-up. As always, I have an excuse. This time, it was a series of things: first, I spent nearly two days just writing up the previous post, where I summarized 3 weeks of activity; second, I managed to give myself some sort of food poisoning from chicken broth that had spent too much time out of the fridge on a rather hot day; third, I spent most of Friday, Saturday and Sunday preparing for the second French installment of my Peruvian food orgy party.

So that was the last few days, and here’s what went down Sunday night:

Peruvian Food Orgy, Paris v. 2.0

I had been very, very disciplined in getting as much of the cooking done as possible the previous day, so the only things left for me today were the dishes that had to be made fresh the day of the meal. I had realized a while ago that arroz chaufa (the Peruvian version of Cantonese fried rice) always tastes better the next day anyway, so I had prepared it yesterday. The preparation of this dish is probably what takes most of my time when I usually throw this party, so my evening was much easier when all I had to do was slide in the rice in a warm oven for a little while.

Anyway, I had taken care of everything but the fried yucca (cassava, manioc) by the time the first guests arrived. Amusingly, all of my friends that I knew from the University of Chicago (many of them Americans, but some also French) arrived on time at 20h00 or a little while afterwards. My techno-related friends started arriving at 21h30 and kept arriving until about 23h00. Standard clubber timing!

Richie Hawtin, Magda, Gaiser, and Barem @ We Love Sonique @ La Grande Halle de la Villette

At about midnight, guests started leaving my place. The original plan was for all of us to head over to La Villette as a group, but a bunch of them got impatient and couldn’t wait until I was done putting away the leftovers and doing some preliminary cleaning. Thankfully, about six of my friends hung back and waited for me.

We made it to the party without incident, catching one of the last trains. There was apparently a Johnny Hallyday concert just finishing up, so there were some odd moments on the train as young clubbers were packed in with aging (mostly working class) baby-boomers and their progeny.

When we got to the Parc de la Villette, I split from the group for a moment to get some cash while the rest of them got in line. As I was heading over to the Halle (which is a massive 19th-century glass-and-steel industrial-era building), I noticed a pair of young-ish girls laughing and making their way towards the lineup. One of them stopped to fix her shoes—which is a difficult task when you’re wearing stilettos and a mini-skirt—when I passed them by. A second later, I heard her voice in my ear:


“Um, hey.”

“Yeah, uh, it was those earrings of yours that drew my attention.”

“Oh really?”



“How’s it going?”

“Uh, great, thanks.”

I was more than a bit confused at this point, since it is almost a hard-and-fast rule in France that women never make the first move. Since I doubted that she was scorchingly hot for me, I was wondering if she was after something or just being exceptionally, almost inappropriately gregarious.

“So, are you sober tonight?”

Oh, I see where this is going.

“Yeah, I’m sober, and I don’t really have any connections for anything, either.”


At that moment, my phone rang and the woman was relieved of the task of extracting herself gracefully from the conversation. I would see her and her friend a few minutes later, having jumped into line next to two men that seemed to be holding their attention.

The phone call was from one of my friends, trying to explain to me where they were standing. After a few moments of confusion, I discovered them standing right at the point where the line passed behind a barricade. One of the girls in our group had apparently had the balls to cut into the line, and then the rest of them had just “merged” behind her. I wasn’t particularly proud of the stunt, but as I glanced back at a lineup that stretched nearly to the end of a building that is easily three blocks long, I decided I could live with it. One other guy from our group, however, was pretty uncomfortable with it, and the whole thing was complicated by the fact that he had seen some other friends of his further back in the line. As we passed behind the barricade, this friend hovered fretfully on the other side of the barrier, unwilling to jump in the line but also reluctant to leave us for the back of the line. I don’t know if it was the length of the line or the fact that everyone in front and behind us was letting people cut into the line, but he eventually relented and hopped over the post. Ironically, we got in before some of the people that left the party before us.

In addition to the massive amounts of line-jumping, there was a rather unpleasant trend of pushing, which just seemed to get worse as we got closer to the door. An interesting effect of these sorts of crowded situations is that, if you turn around to yell at the person pushing you from behind, you always find that they’re being pushed, too. It’s like the pushing isn’t coming from anyone in particular, but just building up as a side-effect of having so many bodies pressed into a tight space.

The pushing and the tight spaces seemed to push a young guy near me over the edge, as he started shoving around himself indiscriminately and violently, cursing up a storm and seeming to be looking for a fight with anybody that talked back him. He eventually cooled down, (not) coincidentally at the precise moment when some security guards arrived to see what the fuss was about.

0h00-1h30: Barem

We finally got in, checked our stuff, and headed toward the main room just as Barem finished his set, so alas I have nothing much to say about his set.

1h30-2h30: Gaiser live

Gaiser put in a good, solid set, although it was nothing revelatory. It had a certain punchy sound that I associate with the M_nus record label (the one that all of the artists tonight are on), with a combination of very dry bass beats, short bleepy synth patterns in the middle registers, and very sparse use of sweeps and washes.

We gathered on one of the raised balconies on the side of the hall to get some drinks and gather together as the rest of the crew arrived. Once we were all assembled, we headed down to the main floor to claim some space on the dancefloor. The crowd was already numerous and densely packed, so our rather large group got squeezed and separated, and we quickly lost each other. I was separated from the main group with another two people, and we spent a good 15 minutes trying to find the rest of our clan in a crowd of easily 2 000 people. We eventually did all find each other, near the back of the main room.

After finding everyone, several people suggested going out for a smoke, and I followed them to get some fresh air (I know, the irony). They were allowing people to leave the building to smoke on the side opposite the entrance, but you needed to have a bracelet to get back inside, which they only gave you right on the way out. If you hadn’t noticed the people giving out bracelets and left without one, you were stuck outside. One of my friends managed to do that, but thankfully we were able to get him back in by accompanying him to the door and attesting that he was with us.

2h30-4h30: Richie Hawtin

Richie Hawtin had just started his set as we were heading back into the building, and an excellent set it was. The sound was streamlined and focused, with a texture that was generally robust but never too complicated. In other words, it was minimalistic in its structure, but not in its scale. He still had his moments of experimental oddness, but they were rather few. In fact, one of my friends complained that the whole set lacked an overarching contour or structure, which I think I agree with. There wasn’t the sort of consistent departure-and-return form that he used to such great effect when I saw him at Nouveau Casino back in the Fall of 2006. In addition to the great musical set, the people taking care of visuals put on an amazing set of projections to go with his set ; they mostly involved simple geometrical forms in white on a black background, moving and rotating in various configurations. As the set went on, the visuals introduced color and representative figures; there was a real emphasis on arcs, circles, eyes (especially the iris), and spheres.

At around 3h00, two other friends arrived, who were not usually into the techno scene but had been at the earlier dinner party. Apparently, they had managed to talk their way into getting two of the last 10 tickets available at the door. Yay! And they also managed to find us in a crowd of thousands, which was even more impressive.

4h30-6h00: Magda

I liked this set less, although I’ve come to the realization that Magda’s style overlaps a lot with my own musical preferences, but at the same time rarely seems to work for me. I feel as if I should like her stuff a lot, but in the end I’m often rather lukewarm about it. The set started off at a slower pace and felt somewhat sluggish, and it meandered stylistically through electro, neo-acid-house, and even Sterolab-like dissonant atonal stuff, before finally landing in some solid, forward-driving techno. By about the mid-point of the set, I was back into it and enjoying myself.

At some point, a guy dancing energetically next to me noticed me at a point when Magda had dropped something exciting into the mix and I was dancing with renewed enthusiasm. He turned toward me with a long, drawn-out “Ouais!” (“Yeah!”), and then we proceeded through a complex, rapid, and improvised pas-de-deux of momentary togetherness. First we exchanged smiles and pumped our fists in the air towards the DJ. Then, he approached me and we danced “with” each other in the sense that we danced closely side-by-side and adapted our dancing to each other in a way that was sometimes mimetic and sometimes contrapuntal.

A friend of mine approached and said, “Oh, do you two already know each other?” (Clearly, my fellow dancer was also an acquaintance or friend of my friend.) This guy throws his arm over my shoulder and says, “Well, we do now!” And then we keep dancing together, his arm over my shoulders and mine around his waist, for a few minutes before drifting apart. I never really talked to him or got his name or anything, but for that moment we knew each other in some way, as if that moment of glancing contact was enough for some sort of relationship to emerge. Or maybe it was that we were referencing some timeless relationship, acting as if we were just continuing an already-established relationshp. It was interesting, too, that the first moment of substantial touch (arm over shoulders) happened just as this guy was claiming that we now knew each other. There’s something interesting in how temporality is collapsed and twisted in instances like these; it’s as if we don’t have time to begin and end a relationship when we’re colliding into each other on the dancefloor, and so we all improvise—relationality without relation, friendship without familiarity.

By 5h00, one of my friends ran out of energy and headed home, while the rest of us stuck it out until 6h00. At first, I left with a friend who had left his bags at my place, but then as we waited for the subway, another 6 of my friends showed up. Apparently, one of them went to the cloakroom to get something from her coat, and then the bouncers told her that the party was closing and she couldn’t get back into the main room. So she angrily had to call her boyfriend and get him to collect the remaining crew of friends to leave and join her.

The subway ride home felt like ages, but eventually I returned to my place with the friend who had left his stuff here. We ended up hanging out and chatting until about 8h00, when he decided to head back to his friends’ place (where he was staying) and I decided I needed at least a bit of sleep. I had to be at work by 12h00.

lundi, mai 25, 2009

The grand mea-culpa update

Yes. OK. Alright. I know. I know, dammit.

I’ve been absent from this here blog since the end of April, and you’ve been worried sick. I’m so sorry ; I didn’t mean to deprive you of the voyeuristic peephole into my life that this blog provides you, which is totally not creepy at all. I even got a message on my MySpace page from a worried friend, asking for at least some more closeup images of sausages. I see: you’ve missed me so much, you’re willing to settle for pictures of my sausage.

I’m sorry, OK? Stop sulking like that. Let me try to make it up to you. Here’s the first ¾ of the month of May, all smooshed into one long-ass post, in quasi-chronological order. I’ve included most of the important details (what I ate) and such. You see, on the last day of April I flew to NYC to spend a week with my sister—which was interrupted by a quick one-day visit to our hometown to see our new niece and to attend some bull!@#$ conference that my sister had to make an appearance at for her work. Then, Carla came back to Paris with me and we spent a week together here. Then, the day before Carla left, my friends Kristy and Iyn arrived at my door and stayed for another 11 days or so. I just packed them into a plane yesterday, so I haven’t been near my blog for nearly a month.

So without further ado, The Please-Don’t-Stop-Reading-My-Blog Catch-Up Super-Post (s):

Part the First: NYC w/ Carla

  • This trip involved tons and tons of walking. Whether in Central Park, all the way from the Upper East Side to Union Square, Jackson Heights, Harlem, The Bronx, or Coney Island, we were walking machines, I tell you. Mercifully, Carla and I are very similar tourists, so this is pretty much all we want from a vacation. Well, that and food.
  • April 30th : Over at CDG in Paris, me and nearly 40 people nearly missed the flight to NYC thanks to some insane security checks that USA-bound flights are now apparently required to do. There were nearly 200 people in line for all of the American Airlines flights (they had all the lines merged) and there were 4 people with laptops at the front of the line, spending nearly 10 minutes with each group of travelers, asking them detailed questions about their trip to the US, where they were staying, their occupation, the contents of their luggage, how long they’ve owned the items in the luggage, etc. And all of this was before you even reached the check-in counter. Upon seeing this in action in the airport, Dorothy Parker’s immortal words came to mind: “What fresh hell is this?” Suffice it to say, things were a total mess, and when the 1-hour deadline came and went, the head check-in clerk started to tell her underlings to close the flight to NYC. The 40 or so Francophone passengers at the front of the line waved at her frantically and made it clear that nearly half of the plane was still waiting to check in. When she tried to imply that this was our fault for waiting until the last moment to check in, she was quickly shouted down. Most of us arrived 2.5 – 3.0 hours early precisely to avoid this stupidness. Anyway, I caught my fucking plane and got to fucking NYC just fucking fine, thank you very fucking much. Fuckity fuck fuck. Carla was working until late, so I went for a short walk, had some lunch, and then bought the fixin’s for some curry, which I whipped up for her so that she would have something to eat after getting out of work at nearly 10pm.
  • May 1st : While Carla was at her last day of work before her vacation started, I walked all the way down Lexington Avenue from 67th St. to Union Square (14th St.), then back up Broadway to Central Park. I was just a little chafed after all of that, I admit. When Carla got off work, we headed down to Chelsea and then walked across the island to the Lower East Side, where we got dinner at The Essex. Carla had some sort of lamb thing that seemed quite nice, but I had this amazing “New American”-style mac-and-cheese made with Manchego cheese, which nearly required a change of underwear. After that, Carla and I met my cousin and her husband—who were in town for the weekend—at some rather swanky cocktail bar where we proceeded to get pretty drunk. We ended the night by walking through the Apple Store near Central Park, which is open 24 hours. Seriously.
  • May 2nd : Yay, vacation time for Carla! We slept in, and then headed over to Jackson Park for brunch. On a recommendation from one of her ex-coworkers, we headed to some random Columbian restaurant for a sort of late brunch / lunch. Carla had some sort of chicken platter with a ton of side dishes, while I had a whole fish baked in peppers and surrounded by fried plantain and yucca (cassava / manioc). It was fantastic and only twice as much food as either of us realistically needed. We were convinced that we would both be going to the gym religiously, so we bought a pair of rather dodgy gym shorts for me, so that I could accompany her to her fancy Manhattan gym. I never put them on during the entirety of my stay. While dropping off my sister’s clothes at the cleaners, we got distracted by the nice weather and ended up wandering through all of Central Park and a good chunk of the Upper West Side. By evening, it was clear that I was coming down with some sort of cold, so we cancelled our more adventurous dinner plans and just walked to the Baker Street Pub, which apparently served the best burgers in the neighborhood and had an Irish waitress for extra pubby authenticity or something. Good times, although my memory of the evening was a bit hazed out by the onset of whatever it was I had caught.
  • May 3rd : Started with a morning appointment at the Art of Shaving booth in Bloomingdales for a proper straight-razor shave. The barber was nice enough and seemed to know what he was doing, but he kept on talking through the whole thing, which made me nervous. After all, he has a very sharp blade to my throat. He did manage to nick me on my upper lip, which he tried to explain away as an “ingrown hair” that got in the way. Sure, buddy. Anyway, we met my cousin and her husband at PioPio for a pile of delicious Peruvian food, which was actually very authentically done. The ceviche was delish, as was the roast chicken, the parihuela (a Peruvian seafood soup) and whatever other stuff we ordered. It was a bit of a food orgy. After that, Carla and I walked down around Union Square and I eventually ended up buying the Nintendo DSi that I had been eyeing for a while. What an excellent (time-wasting) investment that has been. I’m only disappointed that there aren’t more language-learning / iPhone-like applications available for the platform. There’s an online shop for applications, after all. Aaanyway, we ended up ordering in sushi and having an early night of it, since we had a painfully early flight tomorrow morning.
  • May 4th : quick trip to London, Ontario. Scroll down to the section on our trip to London for the details.
  • May 5th : After yet another excruciatingly early flight back from Canada, we unpacked at Carla’s place and then headed down to the Clinton Street Bakery in the Lower East Village for some grub. There were plans to see the New Bowery art museum / gallery, but apparently most museums in NYC close on Tuesday, so we just went straight to the food. On the way back walking along Houston, Carla showed me a few of the old-fashioned Jewish delis, which were mobbed with locals and tourists alike. Dinner involved some lovely Japanese home-style coking at a restaurant called Donguri [LINK], in the company of a Japanese friend of my sister. The food was lovely, if rather expensive for the portions and ingredients.
  • May 6th : in the morning, we had a lovely but also somewhat sad walk along the boardwalk of Coney Island. That place seems to be well on its way out of existence ; most of it seemed closed and half-abandoned. We joined one of my old roommates from the Berlin days at Grimaldi’s, which is apparently an insanely-famous pizza place in Brooklyn. The pizza was definitely delicious and reasonably priced, although I’ll stop short of saying it was the best I’ve ever had. After that, Carla and I walked around the current ground-zero of NYC yupsters (yuppie hipsters), Dumbo (“down under the Brooklyn bridge”), which was rich in coffee shops and conceptual “gallery” stores. Carla needed to take care of some work before our departure to Paris the next day, so I made myself scarce by heading down to The Strand near Union Square. I got really distracted and managed to spend several hours digging through the 1$ racks. I scored (among other things) “Die Besten Erstlesungeschichte für Mädchen” (“The best starting-reader stories for girls”), which was at about my level of German : OMG ponies! Seriously, there’s a picture of a pony on the front cover. Anyway, I took way too long to get back to Carla’s place and we ended up just having a light dinner and drinks at an Italian wine bar near Carla’s place with another friend of hers.
  • May 7th : Carla was belatedly reminded that she had agreed to let some friend’s friends stay at her place while she was gone, so she suddenly felt the need to give the place a thorough cleaning before our departure this afternoon. I got out of her hair by heading up to the Bronx and taking myself on a long, long walking tour through the South Bronx and then down through Harlem. It was amazing to see places in upper Harlem that were still abandoned from even before the housing crisis. I had just assumed that all real-estate on Manhattan was taken and overpriced. Anyway, we regrouped in the afternoon for some gut-bustingly dense soul food up in Harlem and then headed over to JFK for our flight.

Part the Second: One-day trip to London, Ontario

  • So we headed out at about 4am Monday morning (the 4th) to the airport and had a relatively uneventful trip over to Toronto and then to London. The only shitty thing was that I wasn’t able to do a web check-in, nor was I able to check in at the self-service kiosk. I think someone with my name has been added to the no-fly list, because for every flight beginning or ending in the US during the trip, advance check-in was mysteriously unavailable and the counter clerk had to call some central agency, read off all of the data on my passport, and then wait for some sort of approval before booking me. Hooray surveillance state!
  • Anyway, our parents picked us up at the airport and then we headed over to my brother’s apartment, who was post-call (as a nephrology resident) and left alone with the baby for the weekend. As you can imagine, he was in bad shape. We coerced him into putting on some clean clothes and going for lunch, while the rest of us took turns feeding and cuddling and entertaining my new niece. “Grandma” and “grandpa” (i.e., my parents) were thrilled to fawn over her during lunch, giving my brother much-needed time to devour a whole rack of ribs. We went to Montana’s for lunch, since chain restaurants tend to be more baby-friendly.
  • Aurorita (my niece) is, of course, the most beautiful and talented baby in the whole world, as judged by an unbiased panel of her parents, grandparents, and uncle and aunt. She is generally a very happy and non-fussy baby, although her poops are more powerful than whatever North Korea is currently working on. Jeezus.
  • After dropping my brother back off at the apartment, my sister went to our hotel room to prepare for her conference and I disappeared with my parents. We swung back by the farm to pick up some yarn and knitting needles, and then I spent the rest of the drive into town knitting a slipcase for my Nintendo DSi. After a long walk around the downtown area, we ended up back in Victoria Park, where we spent some time sitting in the sun and enjoying the weather while I continued to work furiously on the slipcase. Ahh, bliss.
  • That evening, while my sister was trapped in a series of no doubt unpleasant dinner meetings, mom and dad and I went to this Cantonese restaurant on Springbank Drive that was situated in an old Tim Horton’s building. Boy, was that odd. Nonetheless, the food was excellent. Not only was it the best Chinese food of any regional style that I’ve had in London, Ontario, but it ranks among the best Cantonese I’ve ever had. The Peking duck was extraordinary, and the various dishes with mysterious names that my mom ordered were all delicious in turn. Apparently, she had been there a week earlier with a Chinese delegation and she took notes and came back demanding the same dishes. The waitress was a bit surprised when she gave us “gwai lo” (whitey) menus and then my mom started ordering all this stuff from the Chinese menu. Anyway, Carla arrived after her last meeting and managed to try a few of the dishes before calling it quits. We were painfully, painfully full.
  • We had another painfully early flight the next day, so we went straight to the hotel and crashed and then headed back out at 4am to the airport for another round of airport-tag.

Part the Third: Carla in Paris

  • May 8th : I actually had to go into work the same afternoon as we arrived into Paris to run a teleconference, so we had no time to be jetlagged. We had a light lunch and then took out Vélib bikes and headed over to my workplace (Carla’s experience biking in Manhattan has apparently prepared her well for Paris’s streets). While Carla went for a walk in Bercy park across the water, I set up the teleconference. By 19h00 or so, things wrapped up and we headed back to my neighborhood. Since we were already feeling tired, we decided to be lazy and have dinner directly underneath my apartment, at L’Homme Bleu. This Moroccan/Berber restaurant has a favorable review on Le Fooding and it always smells fantastic in the hallways of my building at about 19h00 each evening, so I was happy to finally try the place out. The food was delicious if a bit pricey for home-style Moroccan fare, but there was no doubting the quality and the generous portions. Between the sheer quantity of food we consumed and the buckets of wine, we were totally ready to crash by the end of dinner (keep in mind we didn’t really sleep on the plane).
  • May 9th : The day started with a trip to the an outdoor market on boulevard de Charonne, where we managed to acquire a tasty, tasty whole chicken. We made lunch out of it (with an almost perfunctory salad) and then tried to walk off the food over in the 17th arrondissement. An old friend that lived in the area had us over for a cup of tea, and then we went for a little meandering walk through her neighborhood of Batignolles. That evening, we went over to the house of a colleague of mine, who made us an excellent dinner—especially so considering that she was getting ready to leave for Chicago the next day. I only have vague memories of the dinner (thanks to some great wine I brought), but fresh asparagus was involved and so were some paupiettes, little dumplings usually made of ground meat stuffed into thin sheets of other meat.
  • May 10th : This day started as a leisurely stroll through Le Marais (which is one of the few neighborhoods open on Sunday, thanks to its history as a Jewish district), punctuated by a visit to L’As du Fallafel for Lenny-Kravitz-approved falafels and fancy hand-made marshmallows at Boulangerie Malineau on rue vieille du temple. We managed to walk all over the islands on the Seine and then back up to my neighborhood, where we had a sort of “dinner” at Le Bague de Kenza. Of course, I put that in quotation marks because what we really had was a few small savoury pastries followed by a mountain of sweet, sweet Algerian pastries. God, that was a huge pile of delicious sin.
  • May 11th : I don’t quite remember what we did during the day (after work for me, anyway), but we ended up having dinner at Nos Ancêtres les Gaulois, this odd restaurant on l’Ile Saint-Louis that apparently attempts to approximate Celto-Gallic cooking. The “salad” course is a massive basket of raw vegetables delivered to your table, which you hack away at until it is delivered to another table. There’s a self-serve cutting table at the front of the restaurant with a wide collection of prepared meats, including dry sausages, smoked meats, terrines, rillettes, and bean salads. You refilled your wine jug from a big barrel near the front of the restaurant, just opposite a massive pair of bison horns (or something similar). When you’re done your “appetizers,” a waiter comes over and asks you what cut of meat you want and how to have it cooked, and then they grill it for you over a charcoal oven right there in the restaurant. Considering that the desserts were clearly pre-made and probably supplied by a third-party kitchen, the only substantial service required of the staff was the grilling of the meat, so we wondered why the place had such a large staff. A staff, coincidentally, that were all relatively young, male, brown-haired, about the same height, and with similar Mediterranean / south-French looks. Carla quickly wove a complex backstory of gay sex and nepotism between the creepy manager and his stable of boytoy waitsaff, which caused us to spend the rest of the meal over-interpreting the smallest gesture from the personnel and nearly falling out of our chairs with barely-suppressed laughter. Oh, and we made friends with this quartet of very, very, very wealthy Mexicans at the table next to us.
  • May 12th : Of course, Carla couldn’t very well visit without a trip to Les Trois Marmites, where we had, for 21€, a better three-course meal than you can have for 61€ elsewhere in Paris. Delicious as always.
  • May 13th : Whenever Carla and I are alone in Paris, we splurge on at least one fancy, fancy dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Tonight it was Pierre Gagnaire, who has a reputation for offering very innovative creations in his tasting menu. It was, of course, excellent, but only a few of the 9 courses in the tasting menu were really earth-shakingly amazing. Generally speaking, he was really strong in the desserts and sweet-tasting things, but his meat and fish courses were less strong and his vegetable-centric appetizers were delicate but lacked the sort of spark and creativity for which he is supposed to be renowned. The service was very attentive and earnest, but lacked the sort of effortless poise and near-flawless care that we witnessed at Taillevent about two years ago.
  • May 14th : Carla really wanted to revisit Taillevent again, but we certainly couldn’t do two massive three-star dinners in one trip, so we made lunch reservations and did the three-course lunch menu (with two additional “sneaky courses”, as Carla called them). In general, our memories of the place were confirmed: every dish brought to our table was a revelation in deliciousness—a sort of arresting experience that often left us struggling to maintain composure; the service responsive, perfectly timed, and graceful without ever hovering or intruding; and the whole thing cost us about a third of our previous night’s dinner. To be fair, this was the lunch menu, but even Taillevent’s dinner menu is about 30% cheaper than Pierre Gagnaire’s. You can count us among those Parisian diners that don’t understand why this place was demoted to two stars. That night, by the way, we went to an Uighur restaurant up the street from my apartment (rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud). The food involved a lot of hand-pulled noodles, vaguely familiar spice mixes, and a texture that was somewhere between a curry and a stir-fry. Delicious and cheap. Between lunch and dinner, we had spent the day at the Bois de Vincennes admiring the castle, the chapel, the temporary exhibit of Bulgarian Icons, and then the floral park, which was gorgeous even in the pouring rain. Rhododendron season!

Part the Fourth: May 16th, One Night of Partying

  • Even though this happened after my sister had left and my other houseguests had arrived, this still felt like it was “in-between” their overlapping visits, so here it is.
  • After having dinner with Kristy & Iyn and leaving them to succumb to jet-lag at my place, I headed out to a friend’s birthday party at her boyfriend’s place near Bastille. At the party (which was otherwise lovely), some couple that nobody seemed to have invited got very drunk and proceeded to make out, grope, dry-hump, and quite possibly fuck all over the apartment. This included one moment when the girl spilled part of her drink while trying to jump up on her partner, and then he slipped on the puddle and crashed onto the (new) hardwood floor right on top of her. Both of them were too drunk to feel any pain. At some point, probably at the urging of the increasingly incensed host, they disappeared to the room where everybody had left their jackets. I inspected my jacket closely for jizz stains before heading out to my next “appointment.”
  • I made a brief visit to On Cherche Encore to see my friends PanPan and Aclank at their monthly soirée, Distance Minimale. I hung out with both of them as they took turns at the decks along with their guest DJs (whom I have managed to forget ; sorry!). About an hour after I had arrived at the bar, and two or three tracks into PanPan’s set, one of the bar owners came to tell him to cut the evening short; I overheard the phrase “grosse deception” (“big disappointment”). Then, three guys walked up to the DJ booth and started to hit buttons and turn knobs on the mixer until the music died out. While one tried to scratch PanPan’s records with the needle from the tonearm, the other yelled “Maintenant on va tous arreter à picoler!” (“Now, we’ll all stop drinking!”) In the confusion, the lights came up and the owners started pushing everyone to the door, announcing that we had these three men to thank for cutting the night short. I still haven’t figured out what that was all about, but those same three guys were standing at the door, trying to conduct some sort of argument with the bouncer and one of the owners.
  • So, all in all, the theme of tonight was “Lovely parties thrown by lovely people but marred by dicks—both literal and metaphorical.”

Part the Fifth: Kristy & Iyn’s Visit

  • May 15th : So there was one night of overlap with my sister’s visit, which made for some crazy times in my 220 sq ft apartment. After collecting them at the airport (while Carla, the dear, cleaned up my apartment), we dropped off the luggage at my place and then headed over to Le Train Bleu at the Gare de Lyon for lunch. This is one of the last grand train-station restaurants in Paris, which has preserved its opulent interior. The price-to-quality ratio was certainly distorted by the history and décor of the place, so we ordered frugally and just enjoyed the view. After a bit of walking that afternoon, we returned to Les Trois Marmites for another lovely dinner (the staff must think I’m stalking them).
  • May 16th : After having some boulangerie-bought sandwiches for lunch and sending Carla off to the airport, we headed to the famous flea market of Saint-Ouen, where Kristy proceeded to get prices for very expensive tapestries and artwork for her clients back in Paris. There were no purchases that day—she needed confirmation from her clients—but it was fun to shop as if we could afford it. There’s something crazy about being able to just buy and sell objects that were made centuries ago…I dunno how I feel about it, really. I don’t recall what we did for dinner, but see above for my night of partying.
  • May 17th : after a slow start to the day, we hit a neighborhood garage sale in the Passage des Panoramas and then spent the rest of the day walking around the Marais. Much like the previous week with Carla, we ended up getting marshmallows at Boulangerie Malineau and falafels at L’As du Fallafel. Mmm. After a stop for coffee at a café on Place des Vosges and then a walk up to the top of the Parc de Belleville to see the sunset, we went home and I made my guests a some urad dal curry and Bhutanese red rice (which was delicious, if I dare say so myself).
  • May 18th : Kristy’s b-day! We got all dressed up and headed to Opéra Garnier to see a ballet called Onéguine, a ballet based on the Pushkin novel, Eugene Onegin, with a pastiche of music made of music by Tchaikovsky. The performance was excellent, overall: great sets, good costumes, excellent characterization through choreography, but the group numbers weren’t well synchronized. We were a bit aghast, though, to see how many people were attending a fancy show in such a fancy place in jeans and other casual wear. I mean, come on folks, when are you going to dress up if not for a show at the Opéra Garnier? Don’t you feel a bit weird in your athletic wear, surrounded by several tonnes of marble and gold and crystal? Sigh. Anyway, we afterwards went to dinner at Terra Nera, which has slid a lot in quality since I started going there, but still managed to please through sheer quantity of cream and cheese in their pasta dishes. I don’t know whether it was the lipid overload, the mixture of prosecco and mid-grade wine, or some cross-contamination in the food, but I spent that night on the verge of barfing. Yay!
  • May 19th : I had a grad student dinner at a prof’s place, so I helped my houseguests buy themselves some kebabs from the place up my street (they suggested the kebabs, not I), and then I headed off for dinner. Somewhat astoundingly, there were only four of us at the dinner and we polished off five bottles. Bravo us!
  • May 20th : Kristy and Iyn did the Louvre while I was at work, and then we caught up and headed over to the left bank for some amazing crêpe action at La Crêpe Rit du Clown. I only have vague memories of what we ate, but I do vividly recall a crêpe filled with molten marzipan and poached pears. I really need to go on a diet after this. Anyway, after a fair bit of walking in that area, we took the bus back to my neighborhood and had some drinks at the famous Café Charbon.
  • May 21st : My two friends headed out with their mp3 players in hand to do some sort of walking tour that they had downloaded, while I stayed home and did a bit of work and catching up. I also just chilled and lay still for a while, which was glorious. That evening, we headed over to L’Astier [LINK] for a birthday dinner in my honor (although it was nearly one month early). Appetizers included some sort of eggplant tart, an asparagus velouté, and a rabbit terrine. I had a roast pigeon, which was surprisingly tasty, while Iyn had an excellently-prepared cod and Kristy had a very meaty duck breast. I only remember the desserts vaguely, but there was roast pineapple and egg custard involved.
  • May 22nd : in an attempt to repeat the success I had had two weeks earlier with Carla, I took them to my morning market and then brought back a roast chicken, upon which we gorged ourselves. We walked it off with a trip to the Bois de Vincennes, including a quick walk through the castle and then an extended stroll through the floral gardens. That evening, we passed through Montmartre to pick up a massive amount of chocolate and candy for Kristy and her mother at L’Etoile d’Or of Denise Acabo, headed down to the St. Germain area on the left bank, and then walked over to the islands for a scoop of Berthillon ice cream. Dinner was again an at-home affair, where I oven-roasted a whole trout in parchment paper and Kristy made this lovely hot-cold salad with tomatoes and pine nuts and chick peas.
  • May 23rd : Kristy was determined to get some shoes to match the Skalli bracelet and the matching scarf that she had bought earlier that week, so we started our day off in Les Halles. Once Kristy had enough of Paris’s attempt at American-style shopping malls, we headed above ground for a quick stroll and a light lunch at Les Têtes Brulées in the Montorgueil district. From there, we walked all over Montmartre and hit the super-cheap shoe stores between Sacre-Coeur and Barbès-Rochechouart. We never found anything that matched her bracelet, but the walk was very nice. We eventually made it back to my neighborhood and bought a metric tonne of Algerian pastries at Le Bague de Kenza, which we deposited at my place after promising that, at dinner, we would skip dessert and eat them instead. For dinner, we checked out the little café on the corner across from L’Astier, called Les P’tites Indécises (“The little undecided things / indecisive ones”). The food was actually very good, although perhaps a bit pricey for a corner café. They managed to pull off a few attempts at fusion cuisine without appearing gimmicky or shallow. I had a large filet of sea bream prepared in a teriyaki glaze that was light and not too sweet, Kristy had an asparagus-parmesan risotto that was creamy without being too heavy, and Iyn inhaled his honey-roasted lamb so quickly that I can only assume he liked it.
  • May 24th : Kristy and Iyn had their flight at 16h00, so we got up a bit early and set out have one last walk through the city. I took them to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, which was gorgeous in this late-spring weather. We got croissants and coffee at the top of the hill and then walked down through the park, stopping to get pictures from every possible angle. Kristy noted that their trip had been a tour of Paris’s parks. I noted that the some species of tree had been pollinating those wispy white floaters all over the park, collecting in cottony bunches here and there, which means that the trees of Buttes-Chaumont had been jizzing on us all morning. These are the sorts of insights that make me a valuable guide to Paris, no doubt. We still had a bit of time, so we walked through the Parc de Belleville on the way back to my place, and then we hopped on the RER over to the airport. Alas, the last I heard from them was that there was a horrible connection in Atlanta on the way home and that they plan to avoid flying Delta in the future. But they’re home safe and sound!

So, after all that, I headed home and sat around my place, enjoying the sunny weather, catching up on stuff, and generally wasting time. Yay!

lundi, avril 20, 2009

Radio silence this week

Hey kids! Guess what? I've decided that I'm going to finish my revisions to my second chapter by this weekend, and I'm not allowed to blog until then. Rest assured that my life is currently very boring and un-blog-worthy, so you can just check out for now and come back next Sunday. In the meanwhile, here's something to tide you over:

mardi, avril 14, 2009

No, I didn't call Africa for 6 hours, why do you ask?

So, yesterday I got a call from my cell phone provider, SFR, telling me that I had an unusually high usage of long distance minutes. In fact, there were 230€ worth of calls. After a moment of confusion, I got more details on the consumption and the reasons became really clear: all of the calls were made to Africa, which I never call, and they were made during the space of time between when I lost sight of my old phone two weeks ago and when I blocked the line a few hours later. And the first phone call started minutes after I last remember having my phone in my hands, which means that I hadn’t lost my phone, but instead it had been stolen from me when I wasn’t looking. Hooray!

The woman on the phone told me to call the client services hotline to report the theft and ask them to refund the charges. When I called the hotline, the guy on the line told me that any charges incurred between the loss of the phone and the blocking of the line were non-refundable, but if I lodged a “déclaration de vol” (theft report) with the police and faxed it to them, SFR would check my phone records to ensure that these numbers had never been dialed before from my account, and then they would reimburse some or all of the charges. Yippee.

So today after work, I went to the commissariat near my workplace in the 13th arrondissement and spent nearly two hours filling out the theft report. It took ages to record all of the information, and even longer to get the document finalized, printed out in triplicate, and then signed and notarized. When all of that was taken care of, I called SFR to find out what number I should send the report to, and after three unsuccessful attempts at speaking to someone who could help me, I finally got through to someone who told me to just mail the whole thing in. Ugh, fine.

So anyways, that’s that for the time being. I now have to wait for about 5 days to hear back from SFR about what they’re going to do with those charges. Whee! Between this and the massive electric bill I got for the winter, I might as well just make a pile of money and burn it and then go live under a bridge.

lundi, avril 13, 2009

Masomenos, my dear

OK, I’m a good 1 week behind on blog posts and I don’t foresee catching up in the next few days, so here’s something to tide you over: recent releases by Masomenos, whose tracks have been getting more and more attention. Enjoy!

Go to Beatport.comGet These TracksAdd This Player

dimanche, avril 12, 2009

Sunday at Club der Visionaere

When I got home from Berghain, it was about 14h00 or so, and I had plans to meet up with a friend from the Chicago scene (let’s call her Ellen, for ease of reading), so I got to bed and tried to get a few hours of sleep. At around 18h00 or so, I got up to take a shower and found a text message from Ellen, saying that she and a friend were at Bar25 already.

So I took a quick shower to make my body forget what I had done to it, put on a fresh set of clothes, and headed off to Bar25. The line at the door wasn’t very long, which at first felt like a relief, but the line was barely moving at all. This was partially because it was Sunday and, since the bar is open all weekend nonstop, anybody with a stamp from earlier in the weekend has the right to jump the line and enter. So there were lots of people bypassing the line and holding things up, but also the doorpeople were constantly concerned with exceeding capacity (like anybody checks in Berlin).

Anyway, both of the women running the door were clearly cranked up on speed or coke, and thus making little sense. They were cracking jokes, then arbitrarily picking people out of the line and sending them in, sending other people away, and leaving others to just wait and wait in line. At some point, they decided to start asking people that were leaving if the were planning to come back. If they said they were leaving definitively, then the doorperson would count the number of people in the departing group and try to find a group of the same size in the line. Since people were always leaving in groups and I was all alone in the lineup, I ended up spending nearly 30 minutes at the front of the line, waiting for them to let me in. Of course, the doorpeople here are famously fickle, so I couldn’t risk arguing with them.

Eventually, after calling me several times to see what the hell was going on, Ellen and her friend came out and we hopped into a cab toward Club der Visionäre.

When we got there, Matthew Styles was spinning, and the rumor on the dancefloor was that Ricardo Villalobos had arrived on his boat (which was indeed moored at the dock) and he might come spin later that night. How exciting! Villalobos is known for magically appearing at Berlin establishments (especially Club der Visionäre) late on Sunday for one last DJ set before the end of the weekend.

Anyway, Styles was spinning relatively minimal house (but with more frequent vocals) and a bit of techno, which Ellen and her friend preferred to what was playing at Bar25 (and from what I could hear while in the lineup, me too). It was a bit more upbeat and energetic, too.

Shonky, a Parisian DJ now moved to Berlin, is in the corner near Matthew Styles, chatting with another Frenchy guy in a black turtleneck (seriously). After a few minutes, Ellen and her friend and I end up moving near that corner to get a bit more space, and Ellen chats up the Frenchy dude after Shonky leaves (go Ellen!). It turns out that this guy is also a DJ, and that he would be filling in for Mr. Styles when he needed a break from his all-night DJ set to get a drink.

I never got the Frenchy guy’s name, but he put down this amazing track that just got all of us FREAKING OUT, and it turns out that it was that recent release from Masomenos called “Les Trois Petits Cochons” (The Three Little Pigs) [see previous link for sample]. Sometime this coming week, I’ll have to make a post on what Masomenos is up to these days. As Fantômette had described it a week ago, they’re something of a breath of fresh air to the minimal scene.

Anyway, by about 1h00 I realize that I might miss the last train to Florian’s place and that I had a train to catch, so I said goodbye and headed out in a hurry. I obviously had managed to obtain a contact high from all of the pot being smoked around me, because I caught myself spending 10 minutes closely inspecting an U-Bahn system map in the Märkisches Museum station. What was so interesting?!

samedi, avril 11, 2009

Snax Club, Berghain, Picnics and Fisting

Yes, all of this and more in today's post!

Having gotten home at the relatively early hour of 8h00 in the morning, I slept until about 13h00, when it was time to start getting ready for the day ahead of me. Florian and I were going to a picnic to celebrate the birthday of a friend of his, and then I was supposed to meet Bob, Donna and Janine at another Frenchy friend’s place for crêpes, and then off to the clubs for a night/morning/day of partying.

Florian and I had been given the task of making potato salad, and of course we were determined to make it the best potato salad ever. We headed over to Lidl to get some supplies, and then went back to his place to get to work. I made some mayo from scratch, replacing the vinegar with the juice of a lime and adding quite a bit of Dijon mustard. In addition to a finely diced onion, and some yogurt, we also threw in Bärlauch (leaves of Bear’s Garlic or wild garlic), which is a leafy herb that looks like basil but smells and tastes like garlic. By the end of it all, we had some very tasty kartoffelsalat.

By about 17h00 we were heading over to the birthday picnic, which was being held in a park near Zionskirche in Mitte. The birthday girl turned out to be Canadian (from Ottawa), as did her boyfriend (also Ottawa). There were four other friends in attendance, including a couple of Anglophones and two Germans (and some kids, of course).

The spread for the party was great and pretty vast, including piles of sparkling wine, meatballs made by someone’s German grandma, a carrot cake that could bring you to tears (with an icing that tasted like cookie dough with pudding consistency), hummus, tabouleh, and several other savories. At one point, I managed to put my plate on the bench, stand up to help someone with something, and then sit right back down on my plate, tomato sauce and all. I had the pleasure of asking Florian to help me wipe my butt, which prompted jokes about turning into an incontinent old couple. The picnic ended up running a lot longer than I had expected, eventually passing over to candlelight drinking in the park and then drinks at a Frenchy bar nearby (I think it was called “Visite ma Tante” or something).

By about 22h30, I made my move, hoping that I could still make it to my friend’s place in time to join them for crêpes. I was actually too full of carrot cake to eat anything, but I still wanted to hang out with them before heading out.

I had to run by Florian’s place first to change clothes and drop off some stuff, so that made me even more late for the crêpe party. I got to our friend’s place in Neukölln just before midnight, too late to join in the crêpes (not that I was hungry anymore), but in time to get some drinks in me and chat with the Frenchy Krew. Bob & Donna were planning to go home and nap and then hit Panorama Bar later, while Janine was going to go to Watergate to check out Steve Bug. Our host was going to stay in tonight (after having been at an outdoor party all day), but he invited us to join him at another outdoor event Sunday afternoon.

My plan was to spend the night at Berghain, starting with the Snax Club event and then moving up to PanoramaBar to meet my friends when they got there. Snax Club only happens once a year and none of us had ever been to it (indeed, 50% of our group couldn’t go, since it’s “men only”), so we spent a lot of time extrapolating about what it might be like. Here’s everything that we could gather from descriptions and information on the club’s website:

  • It happens once a year on Easter weekend
  • The doors between the PanoramaBar and Berghain rooms are shut and the ones between Berghain and Lab.Oratory are opened, essentially shrinking the space reserved for “normal” / “straight” clubbing to PanoramaBar, while expanding the sexclub portion of the building to two rooms.
  • It’s men-only, and is billed as a “pervy party,” which seems to imply that the sexual play will not be limited to a couple of darkrooms.
  • Lab.Oratory is reputed to be the most hard-core (gay) fetish sexclub in Berlin, with every night being devoted to some form of kink, including fisting, piss, scat, s/m, and numerous other fixations.

So with that, we imagined a nightclub space with lots of groping and grabbing on the dancefloor, lots of shirtless and nearly-nude guys, the stench of sweat and poppers, and a fair bit of fucking on the sidelines. Of course, since this is Berlin, this was all a vast underestimation of what was really going to take place there.

We hopped into a cab at about 1h30 to get our nights started, with plans to drop off Janine at Watergate, then me at Berghain, and then Bob&Donna at their hotel nearby. When we stopped at Watergate, Janine saw that the bouncer was one that she knew and so she managed to negotiation a line-pass for all of us. I was still determined to check out Snax Club, but Bob & Donna jumped out of the cab to follow Janine into the club.

Round One: Snax Club @ Berghain/Lab.Oratory

So there was no small amount of confusion about which lineup to take to get into the club tonight. Normally, there’s just one easily-visible lineup that gets you into Berghain/PanoramaBar, and then there’s a side entrance that the clientele of Lab.Oratory use, which never has much of a visible lineup. Add to this the fact that Lab.Oratory usually only has its doors open for a couple of hours between 22h and 24h (to encourage everyone to show up at the same time and get it on), and you can see why most Berghain-loving clubbers are used to just showing up and standing in the first line they see.

So tonight was confusing, because there was a MASSIVE lineup heading towards one door, and then at the same time you have a much shorter line heading towards the door that leads up the staircase to PanoramaBar. When I first got into the Snax Club line, I turned to a girl standing behind me and said, “Am I in the right line, here? I’m pretty sure this is for Snax Club.” It was her first night going to Berghain, so she was totally lost and about to spend an hour waiting to get into the wrong party. Thankfully, a few meters ahead, there was a bouncer checking to make sure that people were in the right line. He said, in a thick German accent, “Hier ist a fetisch partei, dere ist normaler partei.”

I should have been paying closer attention to what the bouncer was saying.

While waiting in line, I befriended a short little Spaniard from Valencia and a couple of statuesque Sicilians (one of which was pretty damn hot) among whom we all chatted in a mongrel mix of Spanish and Italian. One of the Sicilians had lived in Argentina for a while, so conversation quickly turned to “why the rest of the Hispanophone world can’t stand Argentines,” which got pretty boring pretty quickly.

So when we got to the front of the line, a guy in front of us had a brief exchange with the bouncer, and then he dropped his pants to show that he was wearing a jockstrap underneath. I wasn’t paying close attention to the conversation, but that started to set off some red lights in my head. And then, the Sicilian couple in front of me ran into some trouble:

Bouncer: What are you going to wear inside?

Sicilian Dude: What do you mean?

B: This is a fetish party. You can’t go in looking like that. Do you have a jockstrap or something?

SD: No, but we can take off our shirts or something…

B: Where’s the fetish in that? No. Go home and change into something fetish and you won’t have to wait in line; I’ll let you right in. But you’re not getting in like that.

Well fuck. I’m certainly not dressed in anything approaching fetish gear. I let the little Spaniard next to me go ahead of me and keep the bouncer busy while I pondered my options. I had to think fast, as the Spaniard’s military-style cargo pants were apparently getting him in without much comment. I suppose I could just go to PanoramaBar and forget Snax Club, but I should at least try to negotiate with the bouncer here, in the hopes that he might let me jump the Pano line if he turns me away. Also, this is the bouncer with the lip piercing that has let me jump the line twice before, so there’s a chance that he might be lenient with me. Nonetheless, offering to take off my shirt wasn’t likely to work, especially since he just sent away two guys who had offered the same thing. Clearly, I’m going to have to double-down on the nudity.

Me: I’ll go naked.

Bouncer: What?

LMGM: I don’t own any fetish gear, but I can strip naked. A lot of guys are going to do that, anyway.

B: Hm, well, totally naked? Seriously?

LMGM: Totally. I promise. I might keep my shoes on, mind you.

B: Um yeah, you’d best keep those shoes on. Alright, go in.

Phew. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into, but I (correctly) assumed that the coat check wasn’t within the line of sight of the door, so the bouncer wasn’t likely to check on me to see that I was vollnakt. I asked the guy at the ticket booth whether I could use the same ticket to get into PanoramaBar later, and he said I would get half price. Not ideal, but fair, I suppose.

I checked my jacket and scarf, and also threw in my brightly-coloured t-shirt, leaving just my undershirt, which seemed more appropriate for the evening. Indeed, everyone else was in fetish gear, especially of the sort that was either made of a few straps of leather or had the ass cut out of it. Lots of piercings and tattoos and bare chests and jockstraps and facial hair and hey, is that guy actually fingering his partner in the coat-check line?

So that’s how the evening started. I actually found myself taking off my shirt within an hour or so and stuffing it into my shoulder bag. The vast majority of guys were at least shirtless (if not much more), so I felt a bit out of place with my titties covered. I’m not one for stripping, but I felt like I was completely clothed, compared to the folks around me.

So how to describe the scene at Snax Club? Well, to put it concisely, these folks don’t fuck around. They sure do fuck a lot (and lick, and suck, and fist, and many other things), but they sure don’t do it halfway.

To begin with, the Lab.Oratory floor, which usually serves as a sexclub on regular nights:

  • There was grabbing and groping and necking on the small-ish dancefloor in the center of the complex, with the occasional bit of oral sex and fingering at the edges of the crowd.
  • Take any one of the hallways leading out from the dance area to hit the darkrooms / orgy spaces, which are massive and labyrinthine.
  • To the right of the dancefloor is a hallway with a sort of sling-gallery; there are a alcoves with slings in them, each one filled with a guy taking one or two fists up his ass and/or cock. The air is pretty ripe with the smell of sweat and lube (but to the fistees’ credit, not a whiff of feces).
  • Further down the hallway is the famous bathtub. It stands there, alone in an alcove, a testament to the more raunchy practices of this sexclub. The bathtub serves as a place for piss and scat play, from what I understand. Tonight, there’s a guy in a full-body gimp suit lying in the tub, but nobody seems to be doing anything about it. I watch where I step and move on.
  • The hallway comes to an end and branches off to the left and the right. The right leads to a dead-end corner where some guys are standing around jerking off and looking at each other. The left branch leads to the massive orgy space behind the dancefloor proper.
  • In the large space behind the dancefloor, they’ve put in a “special theme playground,” which is made to look like a construction site. There’s a concession truck parked in the middle being used to sell drinks, and then there’s a sort of tent to the left that has been divided into various cubicles by PVC sheeting to create semi-private spaces. To the right is a labyrinth of netting and plastic sheeting, with a couple of construction-site office trucks parked in the corners and a large plastic kiddie-pool that is currently being used for piss play (at least, that’s what it smells like). Again, I watch out for puddles and push on.
  • There are some toilets in one corner of the building (for those who prefer not to do it on someone’s slave).
  • Near the entrance, there’s a nondescript stairway that leads up to a gallery space where a couple of “cages” have been set up, so that guys can engage in prison-sex fantasies or maybe show off while assuring that enthusiastic fans won’t grab at them.

Now, on to Berghain, which is not normally a sexclub, although the gay crowd there still tends to be pretty hot & sleazy on regular nights:

  • The dancefloor was unchanged, and the only major difference was that there was much more nudity than usual on the dancefloor.
  • They hung sheets in the seating area near the bar (where the swing is) and along the catwalk that goes across the back of the room, creating a series of darkly-lit corners and half-hidden spaces for sexual play. There certainly is some sex going on, but it’s not quite as hard-core as downstairs.
  • Every once in a while, somebody gets head or a rim-job while ordering his drink
  • The darkrooms are densely packed and full of fucking, especially the darkroom area on the main floor. I tried to walk through and get a good look, but I couldn’t even get through the press of bodies.
  • Thanks to the fact that you could have sex pretty much anywhere, the bathrooms were uncharacteristically quiet and free of sex-related detritus.

I kept on moving around from one floor to another, and too often to really keep track of DJ sets, but Ben Klock put in a good (if somewhat overly violent) set in Berghain, followed by an excellent set by nd_baumecker. Boris was spinning for a while in Lab.O, which was pretty unexciting, but I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of his work.

I did manage to make the acquaintance of a nice Italian chap, who managed to keep me entertained (along with a dude from Australia) for a substantial portion of the evening. We traded phone numbers and email addresses, and I now have a standing invitation to visit London, England. Yay, intimacy! It was pretty hilarious, explaining the topic of my dissertation to this guy in this context.

Round Two: Panorama Bar

9h00-12h00: Daniel Stefanik

By about 9h00, it was time to head over to Panorama Bar. My friends were planning to get there around then, and I was getting a bit tired of all of the mansex. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for the hedonist fun, but I was having a hankering for being in a place where I could sit down or lean on something without first checking that I wasn’t about to coat myself in someone else’s genetic material. Call me a prude.

Anyway, as promised, I was able to get into Pano for half price, which came to 5€. And considering the excellent set Daniel Stefanik put on, it was the best 5€ I spent all weekend. His set was pretty much exactly what I like about the PanoramaBar sound, combining a very warm and bright minimal house sound with tooth-rattling bass kicks and (rhythmically, melodically) mobile basslines. At some point in the set, he put down a white label record that sounded awesome. It was in the “tropical minimal” vein that has been emerging in this last year, including almost purely acoustic Afro-Caribbean percussion for the drum patterns and a sample of group singing (again, sounding like a field recording from somewhere in Central Africa) deep and low in the mix, fading in and out like a sonic wash, rather than dominating the track like a typical vocal sample. It’s hard to describe the track in detail, but something about the ensemble of elements struck me as fucking fantastic.

Alas, white labels are thus called because they don’t have identifying labels on them. They are usually test presses of soon-to-be-released tracks that are passed to influential DJs to “test” on the dancefloor before the final mix is pressed and shipped. I tried to get a hold of the guy when his track ended to ask him what that white label was, but he quickly disappeared into the crowd.

Bob & Donna showed up shortly after I did, but alas just after I had heard that excellent white label—so I was left struggling to describe the track to them.

12h00-13h00: Boris

Ya know, this set was better than usual. Yes, this is a prime example of damning with faint praise, but my expectations have become pretty low with this guy, so this was a pleasant surprise. He still managed to have two near-trainwrecks within the first few minutes of the set, but at least his track selection and sequencing felt a bit more coherent. Usually, when I see Boris spin here, he throws a whole jumble of different styles together without much to connect them. Some DJs can pull of very eclectic sets like that, but it takes some serious skills, especially in ordering the tracks in a way that will create something more than a “parade of tracks I like.”

Regardless of my own reservations, the homos of Berlin seem to luuuurrrrve Boris, and turn out in droves for his set. I dunno, maybe Berlin gay guys—however hardcore fetish-y and hypermasculine—still enjoy a bit of “handbag house” from time to time. Either way, Boris’s appearance up here in PanoramaBar prompted a mass migration of guys from Snax Club (which I think was closing up at this point). Not all of these “migrants” changed their outfits before coming upstairs, so there was some amusement in the crowd as a couple hundred men showed up in leather, plastic, and rubber with their asses hanging out. Of course, the sort of hipsters that frequent PanoramaBar/Berghain are already inured to the sleazier aspects of gay nightlife (and value these sorts of things as an index of “open-mindedness”), so the amusement was mostly limited to giggling, some pointing, raised eyebrows, and the occasional curious question (“How do you even put that thing on?”).

Nonetheless, there were certain moments that tested the limits of the regular PanoramaBar partygoers. For example, I was in the smoking area with Bob when this skinny, near-naked guy appeared. I remembered seeing him around in Snax Club, because he was walking around naked and his gargantuan saline-injected balls were hard to miss. Yes, dear reader surprised at your own vanilla-ness, there exists a fetish around injecting saline into your balls and/or cock to make it look like you have a very particular and acute case of elephantitis. If you need to, take a break to wash out your eyes, cuddle a furry animal, and maybe listen to 70s music un-ironically. Feel better? OK, let’s continue.

So the fact of this guy’s massively-inflated balls was pretty visible at this point, because he was only wearing a well-worn jockstrap, the elasticity of which had given way, thus giving the impression that he was smuggling 1kg worth of plums under there. Two other guys that were just hanging out and smoking noticed this, and one of them pointed to his bulge with a smirk on his face and said, “What the fuck’s going on down there?” Obligingly, Mr. Balloon-Balls pulled down his jockstrap.

Both guys were clearly surprised, but that affective jolt went in different directions for each of them. One gave a shocked guffaw, as if he had just witnessed some particularly absurd, Monty-Pythonesque slapstick, while the other one threw his hands in the air and walked out of the room with his eyes wide, as if to say, “Woah. I give up. Let me off this ride.”

A minute or so later, Mr. Balloon-Balls was joined by a guy dressed in a black leather outfit that covered his entire body except for his ass and cock (and balls), which offered some rather impressive piercings. Mr. Balloon-Balls decided to greet him with a blow job, and so he bent over, with his asshole winking at the rest of us, and went to work. A third guy, who just happened to be passing by, took the initiative of spanking him roughly.

Sitting on stools near me and Bob were two girls, smoking, dressed in their Berlin-techno-hipster finest. Oversized 70s secretary glasses, ruff-necked blouses tucked deep into high-waisted skirts, and second-hand pumps. The looked at each other with this searching look, as if palpitating the other’s face to find some hint of what the other would do about this. Should they be shocked or blasé? In the end, they settled for a smirk and raised eyebrows, in a sort of understated “Well, isn’t that something.”

A bit later, Donna finds me on the dancefloor and says, “Hey, there’s a woman walking around in just a g-string and a t-shirt!” A few minutes later, as I’m walking out of the bathroom, I see the woman she was talking about. A quick look at her g-string and her adam’s apple made it clear that any gender classification would be more complicated than just “woman.”

Also, as I was coming out of the bathroom, a tall guy that I recognized from many previous Berlin nights stopped me, saying:

Random Dude: Hey, I bet you like house music.

LMGM: Yep! I sure do.

RD: In fact, I think you love house music.

LMGM: Lemme think about it…yes. Yes I do.

RD: You see, man, I’ve lived here in Berlin for many years and soon I have to move far away and so I am very high tonight and house music has always been so important for me and when I come to Berghain it is so nice to see people who love the music and don’t just do drugs but drugs are sometimes nice and everybody likes to have fun but it makes me happy to see people like you who are here for the music.

LMGM: Yes, totally.

I’ll admit that I didn’t totally follow what he was talking about, but it seemed that all he wanted from me was a sort of approving, reflective presence. I just needed to say yes, smile, put my hand on his back when he draped his arm around my shoulder, look him in the eyes, listen, and nod. In other words, all of the gestures of intimacy. I don’t think it was a fake intimacy, either; even if I wasn’t in the same affective place as he was, there was something about the simple fact of being in one another’s presence and the vagueness of anonymous contact that allows for warmth to pass where understanding and knowledge sometimes can’t.

13h00-??: nd_baumecker

I had only heard a few tracks from this guy (which were great), when my feet told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to go home. Fine. I had already seen nd_baumecker earlier in SnaxClub. I said goodbye to Bob & Donna and started making my way to the exit.

While picking up my jacked from the coat check, there were three guys dressed in fetish gear engaging in blow-jobs and rimming just across the room. Again, nobody was showing any shock or outrage, but there were a lot of smirks and raised eyebrows.