Friday, September 30, 2011

And a Happy New Year to You

This week was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  Despite the trials and tribulations of a) cooking for the holiday for the first time and b) learning to find the right ingredients in Paris, I have to say that we had a really nice holiday and overall my food really turned out well!    I did find brown sugar (thank you commenter Ksam) - and then realized that none of my recipes actually called for brown sugar.  In the end, I made four challahs, two apple cakes, two honey cakes, leek and potato soup, 40 clove chicken, roasted veggies, grilled chicken with cabbage salad, peanut butter noodles, lamb chops, and roasted potoatoes.  This covered two meals that were just us, and one meal with guests. As proud of myself I was for getting all this cooking done, I was equally if not more proud that I actually got all the food to fit in our tiny Parisian fridge! So overall...I never want to cook again. Or at least for a few days.

It was also worth the effort to have some new friends over for lunch after synagogue on Thursday.  We'd been feeling a little down about not spending the holiday with family or our Jewish community back in DC, but after a leisurely lunch with 3 other families, all with their babies/toddlers, we felt much more holiday-y.  Full to bursting with all the food, we decided to go for a stroll around the neighborhood on Thursday early evening.  Which is when we learned the important lesson that whenever you think you've learned a neighborhood in Paris, turn onto a street you haven't walked down before and bam, you will discover yet more amazing sights.

I walk down Rue de Levis about 124 times a week. Really. It has the closest grocery store, as well as the bakery, the fromagerie, the vegetable guy, the wine store, etc.  But despite trekking up and down this street, I had never turned onto Rue des Dames.  There we discovered several restaurants we'd like to try as well as a fabulous passage. Passages in Paris are like fancy alleyways - but, as Mr. Oil puts it, without the negative connotations of "alleyway".  They are small, narrow streets, generally pedestrian-only, in between buildings.  Some are covered, some are not.  This particular passage is uncovered, and is home to an incredible sculpting gallery, where we watched some talented amateur artists work on sculptures through the window, a very cool looking wine bar, and a few other galleries/bistros/etc.  We couldn't believe that this had been so close to us for the last two and a half months, and we had never known it was there. 

On the second day of the holiday, we went to a different synagogue, one where Mr. Oil had gone when he studied abroad in Paris 10 years ago.  Quite a different scene from the English-speaking Reform-ish synagogue we attended on Thursday, Centre Rambam is an Orthodox Sephardi shul.  Different melodies, but we both still felt the sense of being in a true community, with families greeting each other, and friends who were in Paris just for the holiday reuniting with other friends and families, and so on.  The organized chaos of this kind of synagogue experience takes some getting used to - half the room is talking, half the room is praying, half the room is checking out the other half of the room, and so on.  And while it's an orthodox shul, there's definitely a range of people there.  Some women were wearing jeans, and some were wearing sheitls (wigs).  My personal favorite are the women wearing Dior headscarves and 5 inch heels, carting around their 2 or 3 young children.  Sometimes I think Parisian women have feet of steel, the way they trek all around in what must be extremely uncomfortable shoes.

To make the most of the (unseasonably? first year in Paris, so actually I have no idea) beautiful warm weather, we went for a stroll down the fashionable Rue Faubourg St Honore - home to Prada, Hermes, etc.  Nothing says "happy new year" like watching well-dressed women decked out in diamonds, stilettos, and over-sized Hermes bags order more Hermes bags.   But, you know, when in Paris...

Rosh Hashanah in Paris - check. Feeling good about starting to make a home here.  And a happy new year to you too!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Another side of Paris

For almost our entire sojourn in Paris, Mr. Oil has been talking about wanting to explore the 19th arrondissement.  I've never understood where this yearning came from, but after the day we spent there this weekend, I am very happy that he came up with this idea.

The 19eme is on the eastern edge of Paris.  It is a heavily immigrant neighborhood, as well as home to a sizeable Orthodox Jewish community.  Of course there are "regular" Parisians there as well. 

Our first stop was the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.  Unlike really anywhere else in Paris, this park is hilly. Seriously hilly. Huff-and-puff hilly. But also beautifully hilly, with a fantastic view of Sacre Coeur in the distance. It felt different than other parks - less manicured, perhaps, than Parc Monceau.  A little more wild, a little more natural.
Sacre Coeur

Of course, no exploration of any arrondissement is complete without a patisserie to visit.  So we left the park and headed to Veronique.  This charmingly tiny patisserie is home to one of only four remaining wood-burning ovens still in use in Paris.  It's possible that we went a little nuts in there, leaving with several pastries and a baguette.  Mr. Oil had the best pick of the morning with a round pastry (think cinnamon roll shape) filled with figs and pistachios. Yum.
That's the oven

We headed back to the park to eat our treats, managing to pick a scenic spot right next to a silent, contemplative group of people doing Tai Chi - so we're sure they really appreciated Baby Oil's ongoing monologue (something like this: "Ba ba ba, da da da, ah ah ah, gurgle gurgle gurgle.")
Where we ate our pastries

Our next stop was Centquatre, which means one hundred and four - also the address of this very cool art space that holds performance venues, several cafes, an incredible bookstore, and several exhibitions.  The current exhibition is called "In_Perception" and the centerpiece is this absolutely incredible interactive piece called "Batiment".  Essentially, you get to experience life outside the laws of gravity, such as:
Baby Oil climbs up a building
Me, chilling on a window ledge

This is a very photo-heavy entry, which could be because I'm a little preoccupied trying to plan and execute my cooking for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year).  We are hosting several expat families for lunch on Thursday and I've pretty much gone to every grocery store in the 17th searching for brown sugar (they don't use this in France, it turns out, which my American recipes really appreciate), baking soda, and egg noodles.  The good news is that when I went to the boucherie, both the butcher and his assistant looked at me and said, "Ah, L'americaine!" This was after I got to the butcher at about 2:45pm last Friday, needing to buy chicken to cook for that evening. They were already closing up shop, and had put all the meat away.  The butcher was telling me how he loves American spontaneity, so I explained in my halting French that that American spontaneity was the reason why I arrived at this time to buy meat for Shabbat, and could he please sell me some chicken?  Which he did. So I'm definitely feeling like I'm in with the butcher.

Back to the 19th - our day ended with the walk back to the metro through a heavily African immigrant neighborhood.  African women were walking down the street in intensely bright fabrics of yellow, blue, pink, you name it.  Definitely a nice scenery change from all the subdued colors worn by Parisians!  And if you're looking for exotic fruit in Paris, come no further. We bought a delicious mango from this place, and passed many more like it.

The 19th was definitely another side of Paris.  A little grittier, a little more exotic, a little less Parisian.  We will definitely be heading that way again.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Settling In

I'm struggling a bit with the adjustment to having a part-time nanny.  Joyce works for us about 20 hours a week, for most of which I'm currently in French class.  When I'm not in class, I'm trying to get my work back on track, which means I'm in the "office" (aka bedroom) in our apartment.  I'm finding that its easier to have someone else care for your kid when you aren't actually in the apartment.

I've been feeling guilty about the nanny - guilty that I'm not with my son, guilty that I have the option of having free time while Mr. Oil is at work, guilty in general that I have this luxury of paying someone else to care for my son.  The guilt comes in the afternoons when I have some work, but not so much that I can't take an hour or so for myself - that's when the guilt really sets in and makes it difficult for me to enjoy doing anything on my own.

I recently received a pep talk on this subject from a friend back in DC, who even pointed to actual studies showing that happier moms lead to happier kids.  Oh the power of statistics. Keeps me employed AND makes me feel better. So I did my best to repress/ignore the guilt, and decided to enjoy this lovely September afternoon in Paris. 

Class ended at noon. I walked from school to the Louvre, allowing me to walk around the shmancy St Germain de Pres area.  I finally got to use the special "Amis du Louvre" entrance to the museum, and hit up the sculpture section for a bit.  There are many amazingly beautiful sculptures in the Louvre (yes, yes, understatement of the century) and having a few solitary moments to appreciate how artists create movement and emotion out of stone - well, it was more than a little nice.

I grabbed a quick lunch after, and before I knew it, I was back at home. I had successfully spent 3 hours doing nothing but enjoying Paris, and even managed to (mostly) not feel bad about it.  Perhaps this all comes off as whiny or even nonsensical.  It seems connected to the question I receive most often from friends and family at home, "Is life in Paris very different?" My response is that of course it is different. But so much of what is different is a result of raising a child for the first time - so I'm not always sure if the difference is Paris, or parenting. The two will always be intertwined for me, but I also think that each will enhance the other. 

But enough of my angst about spending an hour in Louvre.  Back to what's important - les macarons. And cheese. After my macaron blitz in July and August, I wasn't sure if there were remaining patisseries that required a visit.  Then Mr. Oil read about Victor & Hugo (love the name, of course), which is conveniently located up the street from French class. 

Victor & Hugo wins for most intimidating patisserie experience.  The employees are dressed in all black, in quite a chic manner - the man helping me was wearing an open black blazer over a black button-down shirt with subtle light stripes, black pants, and requisite Parisian pointy shoes.  Everything looks pristine, as though you shouldn't touch it - which is an odd experience for a store in which you are supposed to eat everything.  There was a small kerfuffle between this man and another worker, in which she expressed concern that he wasn't placing my macarons in the container in the appropriately careful and specific manner required. So even the employees are afraid to touch the products!

In the end, I can't decide whether the macarons are spectacular, or overdone.  We specifically wanted to try the mango macaron, which is actually mango and assorted spices.  One bite was deliciously exotic, the next was all spice and no mango.  In theory I would consider trying another batch of the mango, but in reality I think I'm too scared to go back there!

Not far from Victor & Hugo, I found a delightfully charming and not-at-all intimidating fromagerie.  This place just beckons you to come inside - it is literally wall-to-wall cheese.  I left with half a round of reblochon and a good-sized chevre - the woman said this chevre in particular was simply magnifique.  (Okay, so actually I really didn't understand anything she said about the cheese, but she seemed quite excited. And I think magnifique was thrown around.)

Yay happy fromagerie

We have a quiet weekend ahead.  Should be nice after all the gallavanting about in the Loire.  So we'll stay home, and eat our delicious cheese!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ups and Downs in the Loire Valley

We spent 36 hours in the Loire Valley this weekend. Well, more like 32 hours and a long afternoon at Ikea. More on that later. 

So yes, it sounds lovely to just rent a car and drive off to the Loire with no agenda, no itinerary, and nothing planned save a place to spend the night.  However, on Saturday night when we realized that our chambre d'hotes (B&B) was literally in the middle of nowhere, the closest several restaurants were closed, and the next closest restaurants were completely booked, we wished we had planned just a bit. After driving back, forth, up, down, and generally all around going nowhere, in the rain, at night, with Baby Oil sitting pretty in a poopy diaper, we got desperate and went to the bar in Cinq-Mars-en-Pile, the nearest town.  Which we quickly renamed Sh*t-Pile-on-Mars.  The bar was the only open establishment and while they had a menu, they informed us that they were not serving food that evening. Only darts.

They pointed us down the road where we found this:

That's right, a pizza truck.  From whence came the worst pizza of all time.
Turns your stomach a bit, right? We didn't actually eat it.

I'm not really doing this story justice, because I am leaving out the part where we were lost for an hour and a half in the afternoon trying to find our hotel, which may or may not have involved some fairly juvenile yelling on our parts about someone's skills (or lack thereof) as navigator.  Also, I did not mention that as I'm the only one who knows how to drive stick, I was doing all of the driving, which is atypical for us. Ultimately, we concluded that what we really need to make our marriage work is for Mr. Oil to learn to drive stick.  So I can get back to navigating.  Role reversal is not our forte.  But one of the many, many reasons that I forgave Mr. Oil for getting us lost (yes, yes, honey, I know it wasn't your fault) is because he later said to me, "You know, we are really so lucky, after all, we have our health and we didn't get in a car accident."  Go us!

After the Sh*t-Pile-on-Mars dinner disaster, it seemed that the universe was determined to make it up to us. Breakfast at our hotel was fantastic - the best croissants we've had in France, homemade brioche, and fresh homemade yogurt, all with an assortment of homemade jams - apricot, nectarine, strawberry and plum.  The couple that runs the B&B also lives there and this is their drool-worthy kitchen:
But you have to live in the middle of nowhere, 10 minutes from Sh*t-Pile-on-Mars

Just to be clear - this is their private kitchen. Not the place where we ate breakfast. But it was just so lovely that I had to get a photo. With delicious French carbohydrates filling our stomachs, we headed to our first chateau of the day, eager to take advantage of the sunny day.  The universe completely made up for the previous evening when we got to Villandry.  Home to the only remaining large-scale decorative kitchen garden in the Loire, Villandry boasts the most amazing garden we've ever seen.  Something like more than 85,000 plants laid out in intricate geometric designs, mixing and matching flowers with actual vegetables like peppers, cabbage, and more.  We very much enjoyed that also arriving early on a Sunday morning to tour these beautiful gardens were a group of Harley-Davidson motorcyclists.  Yup, that's right, the bikers do the chateau thing too. Gotta love France.
View from the chateau rooftop
After a quick stop in Amboise for lunch - sadly, we didn't have time to tour either of the chateaux - we went to everyone's favorite migraine-inducing destination - Ikea.  Our "fully furnished" Paris apartment came with nary a dresser, nor a full set of sheets.  European beds have these weird sizes and we spent at least 30 minutes debating what size sheets we needed.  We really don't understand why we are so confused by the sheet thing - you know, between the two of us we have a whole bunch of university degrees, yet we cannot figure out what size our bed is.  Nine bajillion years later, we had spent an insane amount of money on not that much stuff.  The only highlight of the Ikea experience was when we let Baby Oil sit on the floor for a bit to play (poor kid had spent the whole day in the car seat or stroller) and he was immediately set upon by two cute little girls.  Ladies' man at 8 months old. We are so proud.

And in a new section we'll call "Baby Oil's Favorite Part of the Trip", it was probably eating grass at Azay-le-Rideau.
Or eating the chair in this restaurant.

Or playing with the menu in Amboise.

Nah, definitely eating the grass.  I sure hope he realizes just how cultured he is - not every baby gets to eat chateau grass! 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Une Noisette

Mr. Oil recently taught me how to order my coffee like a real Parisian. You walk into a cafe, up to the bar, and say, "Une noisette, s'il vous plait."  A minute later, the server places an espresso in front of you, with just a drop of milk - noisette is a nut (hazelnut, I believe), and the idea is that the amount of milk is the size of a nut.  You drink your coffee standing there at the bar - it takes about 2 minutes, since it's tiny - you pay, and you are on your way. Back to work, or the park, or wherever the day takes you. 

I'm quickly becoming addicted to the noisette experience.  It's just a brief time-out from your day - I can pop in with Baby Oil on our way home from running errands, or Mr. Oil and I stopped for a noisette on our way to the metro the other morning. Unlike the American experience of getting a mid-day coffee, which you then bring back to your desk, this requires you to spend at least a few minutes in the cafe.  Drinking out of a real cup.  In Paris. 

Une noisette!

This week, Mr. Oil and I got our first taste of Paris' Little Tokyo.  Rue Sainte Anne, in the 2eme,  consists of Japanese restaurant after Japanese restaurant.  Mostly sushi with a few noodle places thrown in.  We arrived at the un-chic hour of 8:15 so it was easy to get a table at Koetsu. Unlike Wada, our last upscale sushi experience, Koetsu was pleasantly busy and felt much less pretentious.  The sushi was excellent, but really the best part of the night was walking up and down the street, looking at all the great places we'd like to try and feeling quite satisfied with our Little Tokyo experience.

I know, yum.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Good Waves

In several ways, today felt like the first official day of my life in Paris.  I started French school today, Baby Oil had his first day with the nanny, and we went to our new French pediatrician. 

I was unexpectedly excited when I got on the bus this morning to go to school. It felt good to be out during rush hour without the baby, and I love school. Yes, I'm that cool.  So I get to Alliance Francaise, pick up my student card with my class assignment, find the room, and take my seat.  About five minutes later, a woman comes in to explain that the professor is sick so there will be no class today.  And we will be reimbursed for the cost of today's lesson.

Hold up. I hired a nanny, so darn it, I was going to have a French class today.  I headed back to the front desk, explained that I wanted to go to class today.  I'm sorry, the woman told me politely. There is no teacher. And no other class with room for another student.  Then I explained, slightly more emphatically, that I was paying someone to watch my child so I could learn French today, and I either a) wanted a class today, or b) wanted a make-up class, not a reimbursement. 

She then explained politely that they cannot allow a make-up class because their computer system does not allow for that.  So you can pay me back for one day of class, but you can't let me sit in on one extra class?  Oh French logic.  Dejected, I left the reception desk to call Mr. Oil.  He instructed me to stand my ground and demand to be taught French today (because, naturally, I was going to learn the entire language in this one day). 

I marched back in, half-terrified and half-super impressed with myself, and said, "I want to speak with someone else!"  The woman shrugged her shoulders and said, Fine.  I found another woman, explained my situation, and she said, Didn't my colleague already help you?  Yes, I said, but I did not like her explanation.  It's possible I got a little loud and frustrated.  She finally relents and says, wait a moment.  Returning a few minutes later, she explains they have moved me to another class, this is not a problem, and I should proceed to my new classroom.

Finally ready to learn some French, I found my new classroom and shyly entered, feeling bad about being the add-on and being late.  Ah!, my French teacher exclaimed, our lost student!  Turns out I was on the list for this class the WHOLE TIME.  They had sent me to the WRONG class to begin with.  Yeah.  Turns out that in Paris, a little yelling will get you exactly what you should have gotten but without an apology from anyone.

This afternoon, I took Baby Oil to his first French doctor's appointment.  I had no idea what to expect.  Certainly I did not expect that when I rang the buzzer to be let in, that the doctor himself would greet us, show us to the waiting room, and then escort us for our appointment to his office. Which is also his examining room.  He was friendly and charming, taking time to chat and get to know us, and then examined Baby Oil (practically perfect in every way, of course).

But this doctor found a permanent place in my heart when, after pronouncing Baby Oil healthy and normal, he went on to say (and really, I could not make this up) that I am an excellent mother, that I have instilled in my baby an unusual amount of confidence and security, that I give off "the good waves", and that my husband must feel that coming home to me every night is like coming home to his own personal therapist (yes darling, I am a constant source of serenity for you).  He then instructed me to tell my husband this, keep up the good work, and come back in a few months.

(Please note: as I write this, Mr. Oil is basking in my good waves by attempting to measure the size of our French mattress with an 8.5x11 piece of paper, then convert that precise measurement into centimeters in order to purchase new sheets.  He may well need a therapy session when this is over.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Big Neon Sign

Sometimes I feel like I have a big neon sign over my head that reads, "American! Alert! Stupid American!"  Never have I felt more like this than the day when I realized that in the process of devouring a croissant aux amandes in the Galerie Lafayette "food court", my black shirt was actually covered in powdered sugar and croissant crumbs.  Like all over. The kind of mess that you really hope only to make when you are at home on your couch, watching original shows on USA (I miss American cable).  

There was also the morning this week when I was hurrying to get out of the house with Baby Oil - didn't want to be late to our first expat playgroup.  I didn't have time to drink my coffee so there I was, in my American rain jacket from REI with my coffee in a hot pink Starbucks travel mug, pushing my giant bright red American stroller.  Parisians do NOT under ANY circumstance drink coffee while walking. Or consume anything while walking, other than cigarettes of course.  Instantly self-conscious, I made it to the park (one block away), quickly stowed the jacket underneath the stroller, chugged the coffee, and continued on my way.

At least Paris is providing some other distractions for people to gawk at other than American expats.  There is an art exhibit of sorts in Parc Monceau right now, featuring a variety of sculptures placed around the park. Why would anyone want to look at me when they can stare in bewilderment at this:
Yes, folks, that's right - modestly covered naked chicken sculpture.
close-up view

And in a special section I will call "And that's why...", today's topics include:

1. And that's why you don't spend money on baby clothes

A very generous aunt and uncle of Mr. Oil's gave us some lovely gifts last weekend in Chicago, including a pristinely white one-piece Ralph Lauren outfit from Bloomingdale's.  It's a nice soft fleecy material, making it the warmest thing we had on the trip, so I put Baby Oil in the outfit for the plane ride.
I figured if he looked angelic, maybe he would be angelic on the plane - and it worked!

Of course, following the natural law of baby expenses, the more you have spent on something, the more likely it is to get ruined. (As an aside, I define "expensive baby clothes" as anything not purchased at Target or anything not on clearance.)  We made it through the plane ride just fine, and back to our apartment.  Baby Oil was greedily guzzling down his bottle when he looked up at me with a particularly adorable face. Uh-oh.  Before I could say "Ralph Lauren outfit!", the kid had completed probably the biggest poop of his life.  Through the diaper, up his back, all the way to his neck.  Poop central.  Whereas with a regular onesie, I likely would have thrown it out, I had to save the Ralph Lauren outfit.  So I stood over the sink rinsing poo off this thing and thinking to myself, "And that's why you don't spend money on baby clothes."   Don't worry - Ralph Lauren will live to be worn another day!

2. And that's why you don't fly to Chicago from Paris for five days with an 8 month old

Duh, you're saying.  But just for posterity, here's a few reasons.  While baby may arrive looking like this:

you will arrive looking more like this:
Okay, I didn't really look like naked chicken sculpture, but trust me, you would rather see this.

And, of course, because you will likely end up so completely drained that you get sick and can't leave your bed for a day.  If you're thinking that seems fine, then you may be forgetting we are now talking about cranky baby + tired daddy + sick mommy (I'm trying to skim over the part where Mr. Oil has to be in charge of Baby Oil which, he has explained, is VERY difficult).  Totally worth it though to be there for the beautiful wedding of Uncle and Auntie Oil.

One last note - we have made friends!  We'll call them Mr. and Mrs. Magnum.  Aside from the fact that they also have no other friends here, and they have a baby boy just a few months younger than Baby Oil, I also knew we should be friends for real when I saw the inside of their freezer.
Magnum bars - hence Mr and Mrs Magnum

As a firm believer that ice cream is one of three perfect foods in the world (pizza and french fries being the other two - though its possible that a fresh French baguette may need to be added to the list), any woman who stocks her freezer solely with ice cream bars needs to be my friend.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Go America

We just made our first trip back to the US since moving to France. Right, it was all of seven weeks ago that we moved.  But Uncle Oil was getting married, so off to Chicago we went.  The experience of being in the US as an expat was a little strange.  I certainly took advantage of the fact that everyone speaks English to strike up as many conversations with complete strangers as possible.

For instance, on our first afternoon in Chicago, I went for an iced latte at the coffee shop near my sister's place.  I explained to the girl at the counter that I just gotten off an international flight, and had flown by myself with the baby, and was desperately in need of caffeine.  She said, "Welcome home!"  And in a moment of inexplicably excessive patriotism, I replied, "Go America!"  She gave me a funny look and then said, "Yeah! Go America!"  And gave me a free cookie.

We also spent an afternoon shopping, since that is a more affordable activity in the US.  The shop workers would all ask where we were visiting from, and it was pretty cool to say, "Paris."  I also discovered that Baby Oil has about the same celebrity status in the US as he does in Paris - lots of ooh-ing and ahh-ing, and I really loved the girls at Nordstrom who said he should be a Marc Jacobs baby model.

On the other hand, spending a weekend with family also made us realize that we live far away.  It's a struggle to figure out how to really live in Paris while trying to stay connected with family events - we already have one Bat Mitzvah (not attending), another wedding (attending), a new baby (plans tbd), and a Bar Mitzvah (attending) in the next 12 months.  And those are just family events. Of course we don't want to miss family occasions, but on the other hand it is both expensive and exhausting to fly in from Paris.  And we want to travel in France and Europe too.  And Mr. Oil has this pesky thing called work.

The conclusion for me right now is that I don't feel like we really quite belong anywhere.  We are a bit out of the US loop, and not quite settled in France, which isn't permanent anyway.  I guess the lesson is we should just go with the flow, be prepared for multiple poopy diapers on trans-atlantic flights (thank you Baby Oil), and trust that our family & friends understand the hard choices we have to make.

Monday, September 5, 2011


We are going to Portugal for a week in December.  Which feels like a million years from now but we stumbled upon one more reason to be excited about this trip - Comme a Lisbon and their pasties de nata. No, I'm not spelling that incorrectly.

Comme a Lisbon is a tiny hole in the wall in the Marais that serves espresso, pasties de nata, and sells a few select coffee/tea related products. There is enough room for about four people to stand in there.  We stumbled on this place when trying the gelato at Pozzetto.  The gelato was good, but basically just gelato. Nothing particularly special, especially when compared to pasties de nata.

Pasties de nata are a Portugese specialty, consisting of custard inside a tart shell.  The owner of Comme a Lisbon did warn us that not all pasties de nata are made equal, and some are better than others. His, based on his mother's recipe, are superb.  One of the best tasting things we've eaten in Paris.  I know I keep saying that, but each time I do really mean it.

On a separate note, the rentree has begun.  The rentree is when everyone comes back from August vacations.  Its akin to back-to-school but it permeates all parts of life, and across all demographics, regardless whether you have school-age children or not.  The city is plastered with advertisements about the rentree, from cell phone ads encouraging you to buy a plan to keep in touch with your friends during the rentree to this ad for yogurt.
For us, the rentree means a few things. We have hired a part-time nounou (nanny - but nounou is more fun to say) who will watch Baby Oil while I take a French class for a few weeks and when I work.  Which means I have to start working again, which in turn seriously cuts into my wander-Paris-and-eat schedule.  Conversely, getting in a "normal" routine will probably make it feel more like we live here, and less like this is one crazy, extended vacation with all the cheese you can eat.

And of course I now also fret that I will have less to blog about!  However, since I've adopted a general attitude that euros are like Monopoly money, I have signed up for a variety of activities and classes (no, not with the baby, silly - adult activities!) like a pastry class at the Cordon Bleu, a tour of Paris perfume houses, and a wine tasting class.  Plus, in addition to our Portugal trip, we are planning a few other excursions - Loire Valley, Normandy, and Provence.  Listen, its a hard life, but someone has to live it.  I'm willing to take this burden on all of your behalves. (Is that the plural of behalf?)

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Payoff

Paris has made us very clumsy.  In five weeks, we have broken one wine glass, one drinking glass, and one bowl - and the apartment only came with four bowls.  I blame August for the bowl.  A few weeks ago, we had a hot day.  Really hot. Makes-you-understand-why-Parisians-don't-stay-here-in-August hot.  Makes-you-wish-your-neighbors-couldn't-see-through-your-windows-so-you-could-walk-around-in-your-underwear hot. It is also possible that our short time here has turned us into hot weather wimps, as it was regularly 90+ degrees (yes, that's Fahrenheit) in DC.  But Paris heat is exacerbated by the total lack of air conditioning.

We live on the fifth floor.  And we love that we are on the top floor, we can see the sky, etc.  But on this day, we remembered that heat rises.  Baby Oil had to be put to sleep in our bed, because our room was a few degrees cooler than his room, and the poor tyke was soaking wet with sweat after just a few minutes of sleeping crying in his crib.  Anyway, so I was doing dishes, and I was cranky and sweaty and hot, and I dropped a bowl.  Definitely August's fault.

However, the heat did not stop us from having a pretty great weekend. The highlight of our adventures in the 18th and the 9th was the discovery of Flunch.  Yes.  Flunch.  Flunch is a cafeteria-style lunch place.  But French cafeteria-style, which makes all the difference. There's a cheese tray.  And wine is encouraged:

Don't want salad bar? Try the seafood stew with fresh mussels.

An exciting discovery, courtesy of our new friends Noah & Elizabeth, is that if you have a baby in a stroller, you get into the garden of the Rodin Museum for free.  And your husband only pays 1 euro.  This is the cheapest deal in Paris!  The garden of the Rodin Museum holds a number of his works, including the Gates of Hell and the Thinker.   Also, its pretty.  And shady.

There better be a big lock to go with that big key.

In real life, not through my iPhone, the flowers are colorful, and that's the Eiffel Tower in the back.

Great parenting moment - Baby Oil with bottle in front of The Thinker
The day got even better with our sighting of an unending stream of roller bladers by the Pont Alexandre III.

And people silly enough to wait in a line, in the heat, simply to shop at Abercrombie & Fitch on the Champs-Elysees.

We also saw pretty things, like these statues on Pont Alexandre III.

And then we came home, to break dishes. And sweat. Eventually, finally, blissfully, the sun went down and we realized the payoff to getting through a hot Paris day in August.  Sitting on our balcony, in the cool air of dusk, with Mr. Oil eating leftover nectarine pie out of the pan and me eating ice cream out of the container, gazing over the rooftops of the 8th arrondissement and noticing for the first time the beautifully intricate sculptures on the building across the street, we looked at each other and said, "We live in Paris!"  And in that moment, I did understand why Paris is so romanticized, and so romantic.  So I probably shouldn't complain about the heat because after all, I live in Paris.