Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ode to Deliciousness

Just quickly - today we stopped at Popelini, a relatively new and amazingly delicious tiny store in the 3rd that only offers cream puffs - but think cream puffs of all different flavors (caramel, chocolate, raspberry, pistachio, praline, etc).  They were small but incredibly rich - we tried the caramel and the chocolate noir - we both liked the caramel the best though the chocolate noir was intensely rich and I can still taste that chocolate flavor on my tongue about 5 hours later.

We were pleasantly surprised to learn, upon reading this article when we got home, that we had in fact been served by the owner of the store (she's only 26!) - so its a good thing we took her advice to wait a few minutes in the store before devouring our treats as they are best at room temperature. Cake Love, eat your heart out.  It's all about Popelini for me from here on out. 

However, best line of the day goes to Mr. Oil.  We were standing in Poilane (a bakery), and he says, with a completely straight face, "I really must get serious about flan this week."

After our afternoon exploring the 3rd and the 11th, we stopped by Parc Monceau only to realize that on a sunny summer day, the place is more crowded than any university green.  People of all ages and walks of life lounged on the grass or conversed while sitting on shaded benches.  Various rose gardens throughout the park, along with other flowers, are in full bloom, so as you walk through, you smell the flowers. We must have seen about 40 strollers, at least.  The playground was full of little kids, from tiny babies (smaller than ours!) to big kids, everyone basking in the beautiful day and enjoying Sunday in Paris.   Since most everything is closed, there is little to do but enjoy the park and spend time with friends and family.  Hard to complain about that!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Things That Are Awesome

I'll admit, I have felt the first pangs of homesickness.  It started on Thursday when I shlepped all the way to the Jardin d'Acclimatation, which is a children's park originally founded by Napoleon, and which is nowhere near where we live. I had a "playdate" with two other American moms - who I never found or who never showed.  Boo.

There will be more homesickness and at some point, there will be actual tears.  But for now, I present my list of "Things That Are Awesome" to remind me that while we are far away from home, and while we miss our friends and family terribly,  some things are really great about being here.

1. The moustaches (Les moustaches)

If I were braver/ruder, I would have pictoral evidence, but suffice to say there are some amazing moustaches here in France.  They come in the very, incredibly bushy variety, and also in the primped and polished variety.  Excellent in all forms.

2. Flowers

For years I have tried to hint, encourage, cajole, and outright ask for my husband to bring me flowers.  Every so often he would comply, but now that we live one block from a beautiful French flower shop, he has already brought me flowers twice - in less than two weeks.  See below.

3. Our balcony (notre balcon)

It is fantastically Parisian, and my favorite part of our apartment.  See below.

4. Creative parking

I thought Mr. Oil was the king of create-a-parking-space, but now I realize he is more like a minor league player.  Take the case below - this car is literally parked in between two lanes, where one curves off to the side.  Totally unclear whether this is legal, but definitely awesome. The car behind is actually moving - the car in the middle is the one parked.

5. The scarf (L'echarpe)

I completely underestimated the seriousness of scarves in this city.  I thought the whole "French-women-and-their-scarves" thing was either a throwback to the 50s, or something Hollywood made up.  Wrong.  Very wrong.  This is as serious as it gets.  First of all, there is actually a practical use - the mornings are often quite cool and your neck gets cold (and yes, this is what we all tell ourselves when we decide to buy another scarf).  Second, I feel as though a scarf is a secret handshake, like if I'm wearing one, then maybe other Parisian women will think I actually am supposed to be here, despite my Old Navy capris, Timex watch, and lack of French.  I'm on a scarf-a-week plan (in that we've been here almost two weeks and I have acquired two scarves).  So the fact that I like scarves and they are the one thing besides food and cleaning products that I have purchased in this city merits the scarf a place on the "Things That Are Awesome" list.

6. Leaving the city

Today we took a day trip to Chantilly, home of creme de Chantilly and a lovely chateau.  Also fantastic was the outdoor market we stumbled upon (site of scarf purchase #2).  It was peaceful, quiet, relaxing, and the chateau was gorgeous.  Mr. Oil took many lovely photos but since right now I only have photos I took on my phone, I am including Le Boudoir on my list - the adorable cafe where we had our creme de Chantilly (which is really just whipped cream - yum) on top of mango sorbet with red berry coulis.

So cute, right?

7. Lamb samosa

As some of you know, I have long anticipated eating at Darjeeling, the kosher meat Indian restaurant in Paris.  Mission accomplished.  Awesome-ness includes lamb samosa and chicken tikka masala.

Things that are Not Awesome

I know, I'm supposed to be all chipper and positive now that I have officially articulated the TTAA list.  But the side of me that craves the catharsis of letting it all out wants to have its turn.   Briefly:

1. The poop parade (Baby Oil pooped about six times today - enough already!)
2. The guy at the horse stable at Chantilly that wouldn't let me show Baby Oil the horses because (and this is so classically French) we could only buy a ticket for an equestrian performance that we didn't want to attend in order to walk down the 15 feet of stables immediately in front of us.  And even though at some times of day you can buy a ticket that would let you just see the stables, at the time of day we were there, that ticket could not be bought. 

To end on a good note, however, I will tell you all about my new favorite French snack - toasted baguette with fig jam and brie.  Yum.  Mouth-watering.  Most definitely awesome.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Out and About

Big exploring day today!  First we thought we would try to find this flower market near Ternes that is referenced in David Lebovitz's "The Sweet Life in Paris."  One of my goals is visit at least a majority of places he recommends in that book - especially since almost all of them involve eating delicious things.

However, the flower market could not be found.  On the up side, we found a store that sells coffee brewed   (what I meant to say was that the coffee beans are roasted) on the premises.

This was our view on the way to the non-existent flower market. Good morning Arc de Triomphe!

So we then decided we would walk from Ternes to Mr. Oil's work, because, why not. Also because I figure the more walking I do, the more pastry I can eat. And cheese. Especially cheese.

 For instance, pastry like this makes walking totally worthwhile. And then we decided to find this place Patisserie des Reves that, to be honest, we have no idea how we heard about. Possibly from another blog. All we know is that it sounded awesome.

We were very happy to have made this pilgrimage. Although we are saving our treats for tonight.  It was definitely the coolest patisserie we've been to.  Everything was behind glass, and we couldn't even figure out how to get to the scrumptious-looking delights.  The shop girl had to show us how to open the case.

We made our way down to Trocadero, where Baby Oil and I got our first real views of the Eiffel Tower. Mr. Oil sees it every day at work, but he still thought it was cool too.

And this is Mr. Oil's place of employment, and you can see how they see the Eiffel Tower all day long.

By this time we were starving and we sat down to a very nice lunch.  Although I did choose to be amused by some of the English translations on the English menu they gave me (no idea why they thought I would need this!).

The line about "the beff paving like "before" was my favorite. I know its not nice to make fun of someone's attempts to speak or write English, particularly since I know my French is atrocious, but I guess sometimes I'm not that nice.

Baby and I decided it would be fun to complete the walk by trekking the 4 kilometers home.  About 2/3 of the way through, I realized this was a stupid plan, my feet hurt, and I was exhausted.  But I was too stubborn to figure out how to use public transportation.  So we're walking along up Rue George V, which is very shee-shee (no idea how you are supposed to spell that) with Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Bulgari, etc.  Baby Oil is in the stroller waving his Sophie the Giraffe, and when we got to the top of the street where it intersects with the Champs-Elysees, I realized that Sophie had disappeared.  Perhaps I was distracted looking at the Hermes window display but I did not see Baby Oil toss his best friend to the gutter.  So I walked all the way back down the street. No dice - no giraffe. Uh-oh - Baby Oil LOVES this giraffe. It is seriously his best friend.  I mean, I knew he would forget about its existence in about 7 minutes but it is a good toy.

Shortly after turning around again to head home sans giraffe, a nicely dressed gentleman came up to me and said, "Blah blah blah blah [French] giraffe?"  I said, "Giraffe!!"  He said, "Blah blah blah blah [French]."  I knew I was close to finding that giraffe but I had no idea what he was saying.  Through some energetic gesticulation, I ultimately determined that the street sweeper guy had the giraffe. I ran to the next block and approached him, saying, "Pardon, monsieur" (I am pretty sure that nobody ever speaks to the street sweeper guy because he seemed utterly shocked that I was talking to him - also, I am telling you that I said this to prove that I can say things in French other than "giraffe").  Then I said, "Giraffe? Giraffe? Giraffe?"  And he pulled out Sophie!  Operation Rescue Sophie was officially a success.

My feet still hurt and I'm still exhausted, but man do I feel a sense of satisfaction that I found that giraffe.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Tour and Food

The last few days have been pleasantly uneventful. Which is mostly sad for you, if you were hoping to read about continuing escapades with les pompiers or getting reprimanded by old women.

Today we went to see the end of the Tour de France. I likened it to watching Fourth of July fireworks on the National Mall - something you must do once, and then not necessarily ever again.  (Oh, except one big difference is that the US understands that if you are going to stand around for hours, you need somewhere to go to the bathroom. Apparently the French never have to use the toilet.) Mostly we stood around for hours and then watched the cyclists ride by in an intense blur.  And since they ride around the last bit several times (I thought 6, Mr. Oil swears its 16), you wait a few minutes, and the blur repeats.

There - now it's like you were there too.

One thing in general I have noticed is that Paris seems to have missed the memo that smoking is bad for you.  Everyone smokes here. All of the time.  This missed memo was never more clear to me than this afternoon, as we stood in a crowd of people along the blockade on the tour route with Baby Oil sitting pretty in the Ergo, smiling away.  The girl standing literally in front of us, also surrounded by 15-20 people, pulled out a cigarette and started to smoke.  If ever my eyes shot daggers, it was in this moment.  Because seriously lady, you are standing in front of a baby.  My baby! I think the shooting daggers thing might actually have worked, because after a few seconds, she graciously left the crowd to smoke elsewhere.  Perhaps a newly discovered maternal superpower?

Also excellent about the Tour de France - the 60-year-old-plus men in suits guiding spectators through the metro and towards the exit.  It's not clear why they needed to be wearing suits and ties on a Sunday in order to say, "please exit this way."  Or really why they were needed at all, given the plentiful police presence.

It's a toss up, however, whether my favorite part were the overdressed men, or the...well, I'm not sure how to describe this in a word or even two.  About 30 minutes before the peloton (the cyclists) came through, there was a parade of sorts made up of a decorated cars and "floats" (loosely defined) for various products sponsoring the tour.  So Nestle had a car, as did Vittel (a bottled water).  All of these floats were really advertisements, and all featured good-looking 20-something men and women dancing to some form of techno music.  None were as completely amazing as the Extra float. Extra is a laundry detergent.  So they chose to advertise their product by having two men, in excellent shape, dance suggestively wearing only bright red underwear that said "Extra!" on the rear.  I think it was effective because its really the only part I remember.

So - Tour de France, check.

I also wanted to briefly mention some of the general deliciousness we have been experiencing.  Following the sage advice of Posted in Paris, we believe we have settled on our home boulangerie, Maie des Anges on Rue de Levis.  Yesterday evening we came home with a fresh loaf of la tradition, still warm from the oven.  Add a nice chevre and a bottle of Cote du Rhone, and that's one nice Saturday evening.

My favorite treat to date is the briochette avec vanille et rose that I ate at Nature de Pain last week. That was now four days ago, and I am still thinking about it.  Rivka (foodie queen over at Not Derby Pie and also my friend), for some reason I thought of you when I ate this.  Mostly because I thought you could probably figure out how to make it, which would be awesome.

Two other things I have been thinking about.  One - why does Europe not understand that it is possible to have soft, comfortable toilet paper?  Two - America has these trash bags with pull handles that make it so much easier to tie the trash bag.  Why don't those exist here?  Mr. Oil keeps telling me we should make a list of what we want to get in the states when we go to his brother's wedding in Chicago next month, and the only thing currently on my list is trash bags.

And finally. Our first take-out sushi experience was mostly a miss.  The only plus was that since the place is literally next door, we could actually take a roll back that was disgusting (please explain why in a tuna & avocado roll you would use tuna salad - yes, like canned tuna with mayo - when you also included a perfectly nice tuna roll in the box).  However, I did love the adorable soy sauce containers that came with it -

  No annoying plastic pouches that squirt all over you, Paris is much too refined for that.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A few things...

A few vignettes from our first few days...
(by the way, since it appears that for some reason people I do not know are reading this blog, I'm adopting the practice of not referring to my husband or child by name. Henceforth they will be known as Mr. Oil and Baby Oil.)

Too good for the 16th...

We had a meeting at the bank Tuesday morning. We had google-mapped the address provided to us by Mr. Oil's admin person, but once on the street, we could not find the bank. So we asked a Darty employee (France's Best Buy) standing outside the door to Darty on Avenue Paul Daumer in the 16th.  "Ou est le Societe Generale?" (Where's the Societe Generale bank?).  The guy looks at Mr. Oil and says, as only a snotty Parisian can, "I do not live in this neighborhood. I only work here. I do not know." And turns away.

PS.  The bank was across the street.

Be polite...
I had Baby Oil in the Ergo, and was getting on the metro.  The platform was crowded, and I was trying to squeeze my way through to the middle.  An older woman grabs my upper arm (hard!) and loudly whispers to me in French, in quite a terrifying manner, "You must say pardon!"  I then "pardon"-ed my way away from her as quickly as possible!

Be polite part deux...
We were on a walk, and saw an important-looking building surrounded by police, guards, etc.  Wondering what it was, Mr. Oil turned to a policewoman and asked, "What is this building?"  With the patronizing tone of a teacher correcting a student, she replied, "Bonjour?"  Mr.Oil and I were confused until we realized that she meant that if we want an answer, we should begin with a more polite introduction. Mr. Oil tried again. "Bonjour.  What is this building?"

"Bonjour!" she replied. "This is the presidential palace."  Thoroughly schooled, we said merci and continued on our way.

[also, just to clarify, both of the interactions above were conducted entirely in French. apparently, the whole, "they appreciate when you try to speak the language" does not necessarily apply.]

Everything tastes better in France...
Naturally, after being fortunate enough to never get sick once throughout my pregnancy and Baby Oil's first six months, I am of course under the weather the week we arrive. So I went to the pharmacie (no need to translate that, right?) and explained that I have a cough and a sore throat, and did they have something for that? (In case you are thinking I am some sort of French-speaking savant (eh-hem Ryan Marks), what I actually said was, "Je cherche...something for a cough? And a sore throat? You speak English?" )

So the nice girl in la pharmacie explains that she will sell me a cough syrup and some cough drops. Fine, par for the course. But when I got home, I discovered that the French make their cough syrup the flavor of caramel!  I am not kidding. It tastes like liquid caramel.  It is the best tasting medicine ever. Way to one-up us on health care France! Oh, and the drops? Black licorice.  And I happen to like black licorice, so that was another score for me.

Tri-lingualism required
It turns out that our washing machine is German.  Which of course means that all of the words on it are in German.  In turn this means that I spent a chunk of the afternoon using Google Translate to look up all the words on the washing machine, and then trying to figure out how to wash the clothes.  Do I go with pflegeleicht (believe it or not, this word means "easy") or with koch/bunt (my bff Google Translate says "cook/colored")?  I would like laundry to be easy.  I don't want to cook the clothes. Yet the clothes are colored. What to do!

It's possible that I shrank the only long-sleeve shirt that Mr. Oil currently has in Paris.  Where it is cold.  

Also, the dryer is French. I don't actually speak that language either.  So maybe that's where the shrinking occurred...

And finally...
On a serious note, today was the day I realized just how hard this is going to be. Yes, I still think it is exciting, and that we will be glad that we came.  But it is hard to live in a country where you don't speak the language. And you don't know anybody. And the rules for everything are different, and you don't know how to get things done.  Of course, as my friend Dani (technically my sister's best friend, but I like her enough to claim her a friend of mine as well!) pointed out to me today, when I was fortunate enough to grab tea and pastry with Dani and her husband Jacob, "Why did you think it wouldn't be hard?"

Point to Dani, I concede.  My answer was and still is that I really hadn't thought about it.  Which brings us to just now.  Trying to be all reflective and philosophical this afternoon, I was feeling particularly compassionate towards Baby Oil, who has been tired and cranky and, based on an earlier diaper, constipated.  I did all this research about constipation on the internet, tried to feed him food that would help, and after he was done eating, he seemed to just want to cuddle up with me on the couch, which was very sweet.

And then he pooped all over me.  C'est la vie!  Fortunately, poop is the same here as in the US, so I can take comfort in that.   

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bienvenue a Paris

Everything was going just swimmingly.  Flight was fine, and we were very proud of how we navigated Charles de Gaulle with 6 pieces of luggage, the pack n play, two strollers, four carry-ons, the carseat, and the baby.  Got to the apartment just fine, discovering that the place is even lovelier in person than in the photos we had seen. Amazing natural light, gorgeous and extremely Parisian balcony, etc.  Went through the apartment with the landlady, which felt like it took forever (probably due to the lack of sleep and the fact that I had no idea what Mr. Oil and she were saying), and then finally, gloriously, we were alone in our beautiful Paris apartment.

And then. Mr. Oil was bringing the luggage in from the hallway and I went to help him. All of a sudden I heard a "click" behind me, and realized that we were now locked out of our beautiful Paris apartment - with the baby inside.  Worst parenting moment ever!  And its not like he was napping - oh no, he started screaming at the top of his lungs.  I wasn't even wearing shoes.

With no cell phones, and one of us with no shoes, we were freaking out. Mr. Oil ran outside the building to find someone to ask for help. I started ringing doorbells on other floors, and finally found someone at home on the 2nd floor (we live on the 5th floor).  Our kind (oh, and very Parisian - will get to that in a minute) neighbors called a locksmith who said he could arrive between 20 minutes and 1 hour.  Meanwhile, Mr. Oil had stumbled upon the ultimate Paris emergency resource - les pompiers.

Les pompiers are firefighters. Well, that is at least how Mr. Oil is translating it.  All I know is that within about two minutes, five tall, burly, and strangely good-looking pompiers arrived, in their pompier uniform (black polo shirt, tucked into fairly close-fitting black pants, in turn tucked into tall black boots), and begin taking turns kicking the door with those tall black boots until they dislodged the door enough to jimmy the lock.  Mr. Oil of course freaked out even more when he realized their plan was to break down the door, and tried to explain that since they were firefighters, shouldn't they have a ladder, and the balcony doors are open, so couldn't they just climb in instead of destroying the door?  But no, it appears that is not how les pompiers operate.

The neighbors had followed the sound of the banging, and came inside to make sure le bebe was alright.  At which point the husband said, "Bienvenue a Paris!".  And while we are dreading telling the landlady that within an hour of arriving, we had ruined the front door, at least when we leave we will always have a piece of Paris - a new front door on the 5th floor of 78 Boulevard Malesherbes.  (To those who might worry - the door still locks).

Oh, right, the neighbors.  First of all, their apartment makes our apartment look like...well, look a lot less nice.  I think they combined two apartments into one, since their kitchen alone was about the size of our entire living room.  Fully decked out with utterly to-die-for everything, and a very French rustic farm-style dining room table (correction - the dining room table alone was basically the size of our living room).  Given that it was a quiet Sunday when the French generally just hang out at home (because, by the way, NOTHING is open on Sundays), the man was of course impeccably dressed in a button-down shirt with a sweater, nice jeans, and real shoes (eg., not slippers, flip-flops, or sneakers).  The wife, who was of course amazingly thin, was wearing some sort of slouchy jeans rolled up at the bottom, and a slouchy (yet cool-looking) t-shirt - if I had worn this outfit, I would have looked like a slob. She looked amazing.  Their son had one of the best lines of the day - "Quelle problem!" Yes, Alissandro, it is quite a problem when you lock your six-month-old inside your apartment with no key, no phone, and minimal French.

However, all's well that ends well. While I of course believe (somewhat) that Baby Oil is traumatized and does not want to be left alone because he thinks we will abandon him again, we actually recovered, went for a walk, found a baguette, and later had dinner at Rimal, a Lebanese restaurant just up the street. (Shout out to Josh R - Mr. Oil went for the lebneh in your honor - delicious!) 

It is still strange to think that we live here now.  More on that in the days to come, I'm sure.