samedi, février 14, 2009

Singles Awareness Day in Berlin

Happy Valentine’s Day! Or, as I like to call it, Singles Awareness Day.

So, after getting home at around 7h00 this morning, I woke up at 15h00. 8 hours, that’s a good night’s sleep!...just in the afternoon. Anyway, Florian had been up for a while and working on proofreading a book for publication, so he took a break and we had some tea. From there, Florian got back to working on his book and I set about getting some blogging done. There was lots to catch up on.

ArtHouse TeaParty!

At around 18h00, Florian had an invitation to a “tea party” at an art gallery over in Mitte, so I tagged along with him. The theme of the event was Kinder Zoo (Children’s Zoo), so there were lots of odd and rather uncanny installations involving things child-like and animalistic.

The main piece was a table covered with birthday party napkins, paper plates, half-eaten cakes, and crayon scribbles. There were folding chairs half pushed-in at the table, as if the whole party had suddenly been taken up in the rapture during the party. Oh, and the whole thing was covered in confetti. Anyway, there was no framing device to make the difference between a normal object and “art” in this instance, so people were constantly trying to figure out whether they had the “right” to sit at the table, steal a piece a cake, or otherwise alter the scene.

There was also a “talking unicorn,” which involved a long pincer device (a “grabber”) covered in a crocheted unicorn head that opened and closed its mouth when you pressed a handle. That was kinda cool.

Florian, like a good host, introduced me to a bunch of cool and interesting people, including this one artist from Dallas (I think) who was totally fascinated with my dissertation project. Without much prompting, offered her own story about intimacy on the dancefloor, telling me that she turns from a mildly shy girl into an outgoing, risk-taking (NOT an euphemism for drug-taking) “life of the party” as soon as she’s on the dancefloor. I thought she was actually describing something interesting and pretty common: the ways in which our personality shifts based on changes in context that suggest what pleasures are available, what risks are affordable, and what rules have changed. I’d like to think that my daytime self and my nightclub self are completely continuous, but at the same time I wouldn’t be writing this dissertation if there wasn’t a oft-jarring contrast between behaviors on and off the dancefloor.

It was soon getting close to 20h00, and we had plans to meet a mutual friend (and former roommate from my Berlin summer) at a restaurant up near Florian’s place, so we dashed off to the nearest tram stop. We managed to get there in reasonable time, although our ever-punctual friend was nonetheless there waiting for us. The restaurant was called Amritsar, and it served some really, really good Indian food. Berlin can be a very…um…unpredictable place for dining out, so it’s always exciting when you find a restaurant that serves good food and good value. We ate really heartily for about 13 € a head, which is nothing compared to what you pay in Paris. They had these breads called “barata”, which were like deep-friend naan and came inflated like balloons. Tasty!

The night was still relatively early (22h00) and I wasn’t going to meet my friend Janine before about midnight or 1h00, so I headed back to Florian’s place and had some tea while watching the first episode of Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, which actually shows some promise as a new TV series. An hour or so later, I finally started making my way to meet Janine. She was at a birthday party in an apartment over near my old place from last summer: Neukölln (or, more precisely the “Kreuzkölln” area between this neighborhood and Kreuzberg). The weather was fucking cold, so the trip over there was less than pleasant; I thought I was going to lose an ear to the cold before getting there.

Birthday Party!

The party itself was really nice, and a pleasant change of pace from the usual routine of “arrive-clubbing-sleep-depart” that is a weekend in Berlin. There were two birthday kids, who lived with four other people in this massive, 5-bedroom apartment that apparently used to be a doctor’s office / apartment. Janine and her friend (one of the birthday kids) gave me a tour of the place, which filled me with apartment-envy (this is a common experience if you live in Paris and visit Berlin). The party itself was packed with a mix of Germans, Spaniards, Italians and even an American, so the conversations were pretty multi-lingual. I managed to practice my German comprehension a bit while Janine chatted with a German friend next to me.

By about 2h30, it was time to get moving. Isabelle left with me, but she didn’t accompany me to Berghain—at least, not right away. Claiming fatigue, she decided to head home and sleep, and then get up at around 10h or 11h and come join the rest of us at Berghain. Such is the Berlin party schedule.


So I hopped on a bus that ran straight to Ostbahnhof, and from there headed over to the club. The lineup was mercifully short, not much longer than the metal stanchions near the door, but it moved slowly. I was insanely cold by the time I got to the front.

It didn’t help that I had three profoundly drunk girls behind me in the lineup. They were drinking beer in clear sight of the bouncer (generally a good way to be refused entrance), and they were talking loudly, stumbling around and colliding with other people in line (like me). However, they were doing all of this in German, and so they got in without any trouble. I had been aware that appearing to be a foreigner / tourist is usually a strike against you at the door, but I didn’t realize that appearing German actually got you so much leniency. I would’ve presumed that no messily drunk person gets into Berghain, regardless of language or ethnicity.

4h00-5h00: Damián Schwartz live

I got up to Pano just as Dinky was finishing her set, so I only heard her final track. It sounded like it had been a good set, but I wasn’t too bummed, since I’ve seen her spin numerous times before. By the time I had gotten a drink, Damien Schwartz had started his live set.

Schwartz’s live set sounded pretty good, but it wasn’t really a proper live set. I could see from where I was that he mostly had complete tracks loaded into Ableton Live, and then he had a few “DJ Tool”-type loops (simple bass kicks, etc) that he used to suture them together. It made for good music, but it sounded like a really short vinyl set, rather than a live set. I imagine I’d feel a bit cheated if I was a promoter, since the idea behind live sets is that they only last 1 hour: they take a lot of work to prepare from scratch, and they require a lot of intense concentration during performance. I’ve become more and more sensitive to this issue with live sets ever since Fantômette pointed it out to me a few weeks ago.

Near the end of the set, my two Frenchy friends from London (let’s call them Bob and Donna) arrived. They had been at Watergate to see M.A.N.D.Y. and Craig Richards and others, but they said that the sets had been crap, so they came to join me over here. Yay! They’re always fun to have around.

The bathrooms upstairs were still under construction, so everyone was forced to use the bathrooms on the Berghain floor, which tends to be rather “rich” in gay men having sex in the bathroom stalls. Good times, good times.

5h00-9h00: Matthew Styles

Overall a very good set. He leaned heavily on tracks that had more active, mobile, rhythmically complex bass lines (especially bass kicks that are pitched and occur on more than just the 4 main beats of every bar), which is totally what I like about the “Berlin minimal” sound. The set started really, really well, but it sort of flattened out in the latter 2 hours; there wasn’t as much of a shape to the set and I felt like he had gone through his best tracks at the beginning.

The Story of the Two Maris: So this guy stops me in a hallway and says, “Hey, we know each other; you know Mari, right?” Now, that’s the name of one of my roommates from this summer, so I was replied, “Yes, sure!” But I apologized and admitted that I didn’t recognize him. He said that we had met before at previous nights out. Then, he said that Mari lived in Lichtenberg now, which made absolutely no sense to me, since she had moved to NYC at the end of last summer. So I told him that we were probably talking about different Maris, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He was totally certain that we both knew the same woman and that that made us friends. I eventually acquiesced, said it was nice to meet a friend of Mari’s, and moved on—but I was impressed at how he had been aggressively recruiting me to his intimate world. There’s something really interesting about these scenes of insistent friendliness, like it was trying to conjure into existence an intimate relationship from scratch.

Random friendly dude: Next to me on the dancefloor, near the DJ booth in Panorama Bar, there is a guy in a white tank-top, slightly stocky build, a fauxhawk and glitter on his cheekbones. He makes eye contact with me while we’re dancing next to each other, and we spend a moment mirroring each other’s gestures: fist pumping, finger pointing, etc. After a minute or so, he grabs his beer, has a swig, and then offers it to me. I grab it and say thanks, and he leans in and says “Trinken ist wichtig!” (“Drinking is important!”) and keeps on dancing. About 4 hours later, I’ll offer him my drink and say the same thing back to him.

9h00-13h00: Boris / 8h00-end: André Galuzzi

I know that he has a pretty ardent following here, but I just couldn’t get into the set. He does what he does well and with lots of skill, but his preference for noisy and vocal-heavy house left me cold. If the sound had been closer to microhouse or some other minimalist strain of house, I think I would’ve liked it more. Nonetheless, it kept me dancing. On the other hand, I went downstairs for a while to watch André Galuzzi, who’s set was really good. His style was strictly on the “techno” side of the “minimal” genre, but it wasn’t as pounding and thick-textured as most of the stuff one usually hears in the Berghain room.

The friendly and talkative guy that I had met last night through Bob and Donna shows up during this set and hangs out with me for a while. He loves Boris’s set, so I leave him to it while I check out Galuzzi downstairs. In the meanwhile, Bob and Donna had gone home for a nap, to come pack for Kiki’s set at 13h00. I had told them that I better see them at 13h00 or else.

As I passed through the smoking area between the two floors, these two boys from Bavaria struck up conversation with me. One had long blonde bangs over one of his blue eyes, a small lip ring, black cargo pants, and heavy yellow boots. The other had similar pants and shoes, but he had a non-spiked Mohawk and a tongue piercing. They both appeared to be feeing very good (read: high) and I guess they wanted to make new friends. The two of them actually made a great effort sustain conversation with me while I struggled to express myself in German. Another example of persistent friendliness, I guess. They weren’t being as insistent as the other guy, but they were really committed to staying in the scene of the conversation, despite the awkward pauses as I tried to speak.

I think I saw them again briefly later in the afternoon, but that was about it.

13h00-17h00: Kiki

Great set. Good track selection, great pacing within the set. The set was heavier in style and texture than what I’ve heard from him in the past, but nonetheless there was fineness and sharpness to the sound that really pleased me. As usual, I think it had to do with my preference for a sound with fewer active elements, a strong bass, and more intricate activity in the upper-mid / treble range.

Ellen Allien, a DJ and also the label boss for bpitchcontrol, was totally trashed, again. She materialized next to me as Kiki was spinning, and soon she had taken off her bra and was swinging it around over her head. Then she and some friend of hers decided to roll around on the ground…at Berghain. Then, at some point, she showered everyone around her with beer. That woman is quite the party animal.

Bob and Donna reappeared shortly after Kiki started, and Janine finally showed up around 13h45. I was going to leave at 14h00, but instead I stayed on until 15h00 to spend a bit more time with her. She introduced me to her Swedish buddy and a German girlfriend, who exemplified the current look in Berlin of oversized 70’s secretary-glasses and super-high waists. I also got to introduce Janine and her crew to Bob and Donna and their crew of friends, and so two of my worlds finally met.

Janine was excited to discover that Kiki was actually Finnish, and so she cornered him after his set to practice her Finnish with him. I was surprised to discover that he was recently married to a woman. I totally had him pegged as queer a 3$ bill. *shrug*

So I finally left at around 15h00, despite Janine’s protestations. Janine walked me to the coat check, and from there I headed out. It was snowing, which actually sucked some of the cold out of the air. Nonetheless, I decided that I deserved to take a cab back to Florian’s place. I earned it, dammit.

17h00-end: Oliver Deutschmann

Wasn’t there, but apparently his set was good.

vendredi, février 13, 2009

Der Beginn des Berlinurlaubs

I wasn’t able to get a later flight when I booked my tickets, so this morning I found myself getting up at 5h00 to leave my place at 6h00 to get to the airport around 7h30 to get to the gate around 8h00 for a flight at 9h20.

However, all of this was complicated by the weather. The weather forecasters had been calling for snow overnight in Paris, but there wasn’t any when I got up in the morning and looked out the window, so I thought “great! No delays!” and got dressed. By the time I was outside with my luggage, it had begun to snow in big, wet flakes.

By the time I got to the airport, the snow was falling enough for the French people around me to start calling it a “snow storm,” although most Canadians would call that just “snow.” The accumulation was not much more than an inch, but the Charles de Gaulle airport doesn’t have the equipment or the experience to handle substantial snowfall. So, as I was waiting at the gate where all the Lufthansa planes were taking off, I listened to the announcements that first delayed nearly all flights by 20 minutes, than 40 minutes, than 50 minutes. Then, the flights to Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, and Munich were cancelled. At that point, I was getting nervous that I wouldn’t make it to Berlin at all. Finally, at around 9h50, they started calling our flight to board. Phew.

Arrival and Lunch

I landed in Berlin somewhere around noon and made my way over to the apartment of my lovely host, Florian. The lucky bastard has this great apartment in Prenzlauer Berg with a view over the roofs of the surrounding buildings, and easily three times the size of what I have in Paris. I was overcome with apartment-envy.

Anyway, we hung out for a while at his apartment and had some tea (lapsang souchong, my favorite!). From there, we wandered over to a nearby Asian grocery store to buy some food supplies, and then we stopped in a Chinese dumpling restaurant for a BIG pile of dumplings. I think we ate 40 little potsticker dumplings. So tasty.

So we groaned our way out of there and stopped at the LIDL grocery store for a few more things, and then headed back to his place. We spent a bit more time drinking tea and showing each other our music collections (NOT an euphemism for anything salacious), and then it was time for me to get ready for my night out.

Off for drinks and dinner

Another friend of mine, a French girl living here in Berlin, had suggested going out for dinner, which had the advantage of giving my host some peace and quiet for the copyediting work he had to get done this weekend. She was still at an after-work round of drinks—for privacy’s sake, let’s call her Janine—so I waited around at Florian’s place for a little while and then headed out at around midnight. It was fucking cold that night in Berlin, but the tram came quickly and I was on my way to meet Janine soon after. On the way over on the tram, two girls sat near me and spoke French to each other (there are a LOT of Frenchies in Berlin these days). They decided they wanted a photograph of themselves, so they eventually leaned across the aisle of the tram and asked me to take a picture (in German). I said sure (in German) and went about taking the picture, but when the first shot didn’t quite work, I said, “Wait! That didn’t come out right,” in French. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence before the girls started laughing, which I think registered that ambivalent moment when you’re comforted to encounter something familiar, but disappointed that you’ve traveled this far just to be surrounded by what you were trying to escape by traveling. As I’ve said, there are a LOT of Frenchies in Berlin these days.

I finally made it to a bar imaginatively named “Treffpunkt” (meeting place) on Friedrichstraße, where Janine was still having drinks with her co-workers. They were mostly a friendly bunch, so I was able to chat with other people at the table when my friend needed to spend some “friend time” with another co-worker. On the suggestion of someone else from the table, I ordered the Riesenkohlrouladen, which was a sort of fluffy meatloaf wrapped in cabbage and boiled. Yes, I was eating proper German food tonight.

As I was eating, I struck up a conversation with a young British lad next to me with massive double-0-gauge ear piercings. Or, to be more precise, he struck up conversation with me by saying, “I really like your earrings, man.” As those of you who have seen me in person (or by photo) since about 2003 or so, I have 6-gauge captive-bead earrings, which is about the thickness of a pencil and takes the shape the Greek omega sign (Ω) with a bead held between the two arms to close the circle.

So this guy just loved my piercings. He commented on how well they were proportioned to my face, how nice the earrings looked, how much they appeared as a natural extension of me, and so on. Perhaps most touchingly, he said that I looked really good with them in.

Of course I returned the compliment on his piercings. They were well beyond the size that I would’ve done with my own earlobes, but they did suit his longer and more narrow face. But I should also admit that the exchange wasn’t completely symmetrical: I wasn’t exactly raving about his piercings the way he did, and I wasn’t moved to start the exchange of compliments in the first place. But I suppose that a precise mirroring of his kind words would’ve seemed disingenuous anyway. Everybody knows that a compliment is like a gift: it creates a feeling of obligation to reciprocate.

Anyway, what was interesting about this exchange is that we started off talking about how much we liked each other’s piercings, migrated to talk about how having a visible body modification modifies how you do or don’t fit into the world around you, and finally finished with a discussion of his lesbian sister and stories of my unpleasant first years of undergrad in the isolated, conservative college town of Bloomington, IN. And at the end of the conversation, we shook hands and went our separate ways, not likely to meet again. This is the sort of thing I might include at the end of my dissertation, as an example of how moments of passing, casual intimacy are possible in contexts outside of the dancefloor. Yay, dissertation!

To the Berghain Kantine

Right, back to the story of tonight. Janine decided she was too tired to join me for a night out tonight, but that she would join me for sure tomorrow for a big night of partying. This was OK, since my two French-but-living-in-London friends were in town as well and joining me. The plan was to meet at the warm-up party going on in the Berghain Kantine (the old worker’s canteen next to the power plant that is now Berghain), so I made my way over slowly. Even though it was a warm-up party, I felt terribly, unfashionably early, coming to Berghain at midnight.

Amusingly enough, there was already a lineup outside of the main doors of the club, as clubgoers concerned with getting rejected by Berghain’s famous doormen decided to take advantage of the tendency to be less picky at the beginning of the night. On the other hand, the warm-up party—which was supposed to have started at 10 or 11pm—was practically empty. I grabbed a beer and sat myself in a corner on a comfortable chair and waited for my friends to arrive.

The music was being provided by a tag-team of 3 Berghain resident DJs, including Prosumer, Tama Sumo, and Steffi. They would each put down 4 or 5 tracks, and then hand the decks over to the next person, so there was a nice variety in sound without the set feeling incoherent or erratic. It was mostly minimal house of the light and subtle kind, although Steffi seemed to push things in a harder and more techno-y direction when she was at the tables. Regardless, it was good fun and a great way to get the night started while other folks were lined up outside, waiting to get into Panorama Bar.

My friends eventually showed up and we spent a few minutes complaining about air travel and weather delays before taking to the dancefloor. One of the two had just decided to start a record label in the UK with a partner, so I was excited to talk with her about what she’s doing to get it off the ground, what her plans were, etc.

They introduced me to another French guy that they knew, who lives here in Berlin at the moment. I’ve definitely seen him around at the Berlin clubs this summer and he recognized me as well, as his first question was, “You live in Berlin, too, right?” See? I do party in Berlin a lot. Anyway, he was nearly as talkative a person as I am, so we spent a good long while chatting about everything and nothing until he was distracted by a pretty girl with blonde curly hair. Priorities!

I’ll admit that I had him completely pegged as queer, but that may be due to the contexts in which I see him (i.e., only at Berghain). Regardless, it’s always good to make new friends, no?

At some point around 3h00, this thin guy in a body stocking decorated with ruffles to resemble a dog's ears and tail, holding a suitcase, appeared standing on the bar. The stocking covered his face, too, so he was this faceless dog-person thing with a suitcase. After standing on the bar for a while and striking a few poses, he made his way over to a stage-like area in the corner of the bar (where we were sitting) and started a performance that was synced to some video projected behind him of himself walking through forests. It's hard to make out a narrative from the whole performance, but he danced around in a jerky fashion, with gestures that implied distress or confusion. After a while, he disappeared behind the screen and came out in a plain white body stocking without any decoration. He picked up the suitcase, opened it up, and produced a pair of high heels, a wrap dress, a wig and a microphone. He puts all of this on and strikes a few poses, continues to dance spastically, and then bows. Thunderous applause. I'm left a bit confused.

Into Panorama Bar

By about 4am, we decided that it was time to make our way over to Berghain proper (or to Panorama Bar, to be precise). As we were heading out from the Kantine, I muttered under my breath to my friends, “You go ahead and hit the door as a couple. I’ll follow you as a single.” This sort of de-grouping has become something of a second nature to me now, at least for getting into Berlin clubs, where they often don’t like groups.

In retrospect, this was a stupid move. There was no line anymore in front of the club (one of the benefits of a Friday night with impossibly cold temperatures), so the bouncer must’ve seen us leave the Kantine as a group. I know that the bouncers here have refused entry to people that they thought were lying about the size of their group, so I got nervous when my friends said that they were a couple and the bouncer said, “Oh really? There’s only two of you?” He asked them two more times, and then sent them in. Then he looked at me and said, “How many are you?” Seeing as I was literally the only person standing at the door, it was obvious that he knew that we were really all together. On top of this, this bouncer was one that rarely worked the door when I was coming here weekly in the summer, so there was no certainty that he recognized me as a regular. At that point I had no option but to stick to my story, so I said that I was all alone. “Alone?” he said, unbelieving. “Alone,” I said, quietly panicking.

He motioned for me to wait at the door for a moment, which elicited a sinking feeling in my stomach. I’ve seen this before at Berghain. The bouncer says “wait over here,” lets in a few more people, and then finally says “no.” I could see that there were security personnel free on the inside to frisk me, so he wasn’t holding me at the door for any other reason than to either a) say no; or b) fuck with me.

After 15 excruciating seconds, he finally went with option b. He waved me in and, as I passed him, I muttered my usual “Dankeschön,” and he started to chuckle. Asshole.

In sharp contrast, the bouncer doing the security check was none other than the American guy that I’ve chatted with before and that has let me skip the line on a few occasions. He gave me a really quick once-over and sent me in.

One of the two members of Pigon was spinning when we got upstairs (I think it was RNDM, but it might’ve been Efdemin), but his set was over shortly after we got upstairs.

The next set was by Patrice Scott, a Detroit-based American DJ that I hadn’t heard of before. His set was very much reminiscent of old-fashioned Detroit techno; although the tempo was in keeping with the slightly more relaxed speeds of Berlin-style “minimal,” the sound was a lot heavier and the textures were thicker.

Anyway, I have to admit that I wasn’t paying as much attention as I could’ve, because I started feeling rather odd. I was having a hard time concentrating, my eyes were constantly half-lidded, and felt groggy and sluggish. At first I thought that maybe the beer was hitting me harder than it normally does, so I switched to water. But nothing changed. So then I began to wonder if someone had slipped something in my drink.

Then, my friends told me that they were going to leave, because they had been up since 6h00 the previous morning. At that point I suddenly realized what was wrong with me: I was tired. I had gotten up at 5h30 Friday morning, traveled to Berlin, had an otherwise busy day, and it’s now more than 24 hours later. So no surprise that I was feeling out of it.

Anyway, I stayed on for a bit longer and tried to muster up some more energy, but then finally I decided to cut my losses and save myself for Saturday night. I left at around 6h30 and got back to Florian’s place around 7h00, where I did my best not to wake my gracious host.

jeudi, février 12, 2009

What happened to Thursday?

Well, I normally write my blog notes the day after, and the day after Thursday was a loooooong Friday. Since today’s events weren’t particularly enthralling, let’s just skip to Friday, OK?

mercredi, février 11, 2009

Beef Bourguignon, Baby!

Sometime last week, at the height of my flu/cold/plague, I bought a couple of bottles from the little corner shop on my street. The more expensive one, a 1998 bordeaux at 6€, turned out to be corked. Even without the use of my olfactory senses, I could tell that this wine was totally undrinkable. So I put it aside and lurched back downstairs the next day and asked to replace the bottle. The shop owner insisted that I had just picked a “bad quality” wine, and told me to pick another bottle of similar value. So I did, and that bottle was corked, too. I was too sick and tired to go back down and fight him over it, so I left the bottle in the fridge overnight with a ball of plastic wrap (this is a trick for removing the “corked” taste that sometimes works) and waited for it to mellow out. It was still undrinkable the day after, but it was probably usable for boeuf bourguignon, so I left it in the fridge and waited for a good day to make that most famous French stew.

Tonight, on the way home, I decided to finally make the boeuf bourguignon. It was a relatively simple affair. I stopped at a grocery store and bought a pot au feu (“stew”) packet, which comes with a lot of leeks, a lot of carrots, and a bit of celery, one onion, and one turnip. Personally, I would’ve used more onion, but I couldn’t complain with the convenient packaging. I also picked up a pack of stewing beef, which here is helpfully labeled “bourguignon,” because what other thing would you make with cheap beef? At least, that’s what I assumed the French packagers were thinking when they decided to label it so. I also bought some candy, but that’s neither here nor there. Moving along…

So I stopped to get some bread at my bakery, and then it was time to make the bourguignon. I’ve written about the recipe here before, but I realize now that I never gave an actual recipe, so here it is. There are many, many possible versions of this, and this is the simplest version I’ve done so far, and it turned out EXCELLENT.


  • 500 g. of stewing beef (approximately), but in large chunks (note, the more chewy connective tissue the better; it’ll all dissolve into the sauce)
  • 1 onion (or maybe more)
  • 6 medium-sized carrots
  • 4 leeks (whites and a bit of the green)
  • 1 large turnip
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • several sprigs of fresh thyme
  • rosemary (optional; I just had it kicking around)
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • a bottle of wine
  • some water and/or stock
  • olive oil
  • a few tablespoons of flour


  1. Prepare all your vegetables first. The leeks always have grit between the layers, so start by cutting them length-wise, and then crosswise into half-moons about 1cm long. Put them in a large bowl with a lot of water and separate the layers of leeks with your fingers, leaving them to float to the top and release their grit.
  2. Dice the onion and celery, and place to one side. Peel and dice the turnip and place with the onion.
  3. Peel and dice about 2 carrots and place with the onion and turnip, but also peel the rest of them and cut them into relatively large rounds.
  4. Peel and mince the garlic as finely as possible. Put to one side.
  5. Finally, get a large stock-pot or dutch oven and place it over medium heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pot to a depth of a few millimeters.
  6. One the oil is good and hot, CAREFULLY place the pieces of meat into the pot with a pair of tongs, taking care to leave a bit of space between them for proper cooking.
  7. WAIT. The meat will probably stick to the bottom of the pan and that’s what you want. You need to wait for the meat to caramelize to the bottom of the pan and develop a crust, so give it at least 2 minutes. Then, test by giving the meat a gentle pull with your tongs. When they pop off the bottom of the pan with a bit of gentle pulling, turn them over and fry the other sides of the meat. It’s Ok if a few bits of the browned meat stay stuck on the pan for now.
  8. Once all of the meat has been browned, remove the pieces from the pot and place them in a large bowl (a bowl is better than a flat dish, because the meat is going to leak a lot of molten fat and blood while you’re working on the next few steps).
  9. Toss in the onions, celery, turnip, and the diced carrots (but not the sliced carrots) into the pot and dust lightly with salt. Mix to coat and then cover a leave over low heat for a few minutes.
  10. When the leeks and onions are translucent and beginning to get soft, add the garlic and the rest of the carrots, mix, and leave to sweat a couple of minutes longer.
  11. Dust the contents of the pot with a layer of flour and quickly mix. Keep mixing as the flour cooks into the oil and begins to thicken everything. When you see the flour-oil mixture beginning to really stick to the bottom of the pan, it’s time to deglaze.
  12. Pour just a splash of wine and quickly mix. Once that’s absorbed, pour in a bit more and mix again (this method helps to avoid lumps in the sauce). After that, pour the rest of the bottle in, along with about 1 liter of water or stock.
  13. Add about a teaspoon of salt (you can always add more later) and 4 crushed black peppercorns (or half a teaspoon of ground pepper).
  14. Place the meat back into the mixture. If you have some potatoes kicking around the kitchen, you can wash them and throw them in here, as well.
  15. Place over high heat until the liquid starts to boil. At that point, reduce to a simmer and cover.
  16. Leave to simmer for at least 3 hours, preferably 4.
  17. When the meat comes apart easily and the connective tissue has become soft, remove meat from mixture, along with the potatoes and any other bits of vegetables that are large enough to pick up with the tongs (don’t sweat the smaller veggies).
  18. Place the remaining sauce over high heat and stir frequently, until the sauce has reduced by about half its volume and it’s thick enough to cover the back of a wooden spoon.
  19. Return the meat to the pan, stir until coated, and then turn off the heat and leave covered for a few minutes. When the stew is cool enough to eat, serve and dig in.

lundi, février 09, 2009

Exquisite bureaucracy, storms and headaches

So I think I figured out why I had this bizarre headache and toothache all day yesterday and today, but more on that in a moment.

After work, I headed over to BIULO (Bibliothèque InterUniversitaire des Langues Orientales — Inter-University Library of Oriental Languages), so that I could consult a book on Japanese nightlife (hostess bars, in particular). The book, in case you’re interested, is Nightwork, by Anne Allison.

Anyway, I’ve been to a bunch of different libraries in the past few days and I need to go to at least one more before this first round of reading is done…but this library takes the cake for antiquated bureaucracy. The library is free entry, but you have to sign up and get a library card. The library card is a piece of coloured construction paper, with your details written in by hand, and with your picture pasted on with glue like a kindergarten project.

Once you have your library card, you present it at the front desk and they keep it. In exchange, they give you a square plastic tile with a number on it. This is, apparently, the number of the “place” assigned to you in the library. It’s a small library, so by place they mean “one quarter of a wooden table.” No lamps, no desks, nothing to separate your space from the other 3 people at the table. The woman told me that she gave me a “place” for people with laptops. My dreams of an Ethernet jack were dashed upon arriving at the table. All that this special “place” had was an electrical outlet about 3 feet away from the table. Yay!

Now, for actual access to books. Nearly all of the books (aside from reference books) are kept in closed stacks, which means that you have to request the book and wait for it to come out. At the BnF (*sigh*, I can’t believe I’m thinking fondly of the BnF), you can request the book ahead of time online and have it waiting for you when you arrive at the library. If you order it during your time at the library, you do it directly from the online catalogue and it usually shows up in a few minutes. So at this library, you go sit at one of a handful of catalogue terminals (or—get this—THE CARD CATALOG) and then fill out a form IN DUPLICATE, where you have to fill out a bunch of your own details (including my mailing address!), and all of the details of the book: call number, title, author, publication year, etc. You drop this off at the receptionist and wait for the book to arrive. When it does, one of a handful of bored-looking student workers will walk the book over to your “place.”

But this is IF they bring the book to you. You see, the online catalog DOESN’T ACTUALLY RECORD THE ITEM’S STATUS, so you don’t know if the book has already been checked out, is lost, damaged, or otherwise unavailable. So there was a chance that I came all the way over here after work, opened a lending account, filled out copious paperwork to request a book, only to have a library worker return the slip to me 30 minutes later with a box checked “unavailable.” Seriously.

Thankfully, the book I needed was available, and I spent the next 3 hours or so scouring the book and getting what I needed out of it (the “abusive lover” approach to books, which you develop when you’re a doctoral student).

When I got home, I figured out why I had been having an awful headache all day yesterday and today, accompanied by a generalized toothache / tender gums. As it turns out, there was a massive low pressure system moving over northern France, and tonight the forecasters were predicting hurricane-force winds over Paris. My body has always been sensitive to abrupt changes in barometric pressure (bloody noses, headaches), but I’ve never had anything quite this excruciating.

To add to the fun, the winds themselves were indeed frighteningly strong. I’m on the top floor of my building, so I was getting the full force of the wind on my apartment. Of the three windows in my apartment, one of them is an original window from the 19th-century construction, which was creaking and pulling and rattling and otherwise threatening to burst open. Occasionally, the whole building would creak or groan, which also set my teeth on edge. And, in case I ever managed to get close to sleep, occasionally objects on the street below would tip over and tumble noisily along the street. So, it wasn’t a great night.

dimanche, février 08, 2009

"You'll have to excuse me, I'm not at my best...

...I've been gone for a week, I've been drunk since I left
These so-called vacations will soon be my death
I'm so sick from the drink, I need home for a rest

Ah, the sounds of Canadian frosh week. Ironically, I never had a proper Canuck-style frosh week, since I went to the US to start my university education. Anyway, I haven't been drunk for a week or anything, but boy, I've been tired.

I was still trying to recover from my cold today, and although I was actually somewhat productive on the dissertation front (I read a couple of articles), I was mostly still really out of it after everything my body had been through in the past couple of days. I was really groggy, which I tried to fix with a really strong coffee in the morning, which just made me feel oddly manic. That gave me enough energy to do the laundry, but today was a good example of how being more alert (i.e., caffeinated) doesn’t make you more efficient or effective. After finishing with the laundry and lugging it back upstairs, I decided to have a snack of cashews and some Coke Zero (I know I know, but it tastes good here! I think it’s the lack of high fructose corn syrup). I took out a bowl for the cashews, and a glass for the Coke. I poured a handful of cashews into the bowl. Then, I poured a glassful of Coke…into the bowl. With the cashews. And it took me almost 3 full seconds to realize what I had done.

It was not my most dignified moment.

Also, I developed an odd headache during the afternoon, which I first thought was about being over caffeinated, but didn’t go away when I switched to water and took a pain reliever. Oddly enough, the pain went right down into my teeth, as if I had been chewing on metal all last night or something. All of my teeth (or the gums, really) felt tender, and it was hard to chew on anything hard. Really odd…