Monday, September 24, 2012

Mona & Mary

Tonight Mr. Oil and I had the privilege of attending the opening of a Mary Cassatt exhibit at the Mona Bismarck American Center for Art & Culture.  Yes, occasionally we are just that cool.  Also it helps that one of my close friends is the director of exhibitions. 

Mona who, you might ask?  Mona Bismarck had the kind of life that many might think only exists in the movies. She grew up in Kentucky, and through a series of (five) marriages to some wealthy guys (and some who wanted her wealth), became a paragon of style and fashion, eventually becoming titled as "The Best Dressed Woman in the World."  Which apparently is actually a title.  In 1958, she was named to the International Best Dressed Hall of Fame.  Again, apparently this is a goal to which I did not even know that one could strive.   But Mona wasn't just about the clothes - she loved art and culture, which may explain why she had a home in Paris, and why Salvador Dali painted her portrait.   Upon her death, she continued the support of the arts that had begun in her well-dressed life by establishing the Mona Bismarck American Center (yes, it's a mouthful) which exists today in her gorgeous former home in the 16th arrondissement.
Mona Bismarck, one fashionable lady.

Seeking to marry American and French cultural interests, Mary Cassatt of course is a natural candidate for an exhibition at the Mona Bismarck Center.  An American who spent much of her life and career in France, Cassatt was also a path-breaking female artist at a time when that universe was still dominated by men.  Because simply being a woman limited her access to the kinds of scenes her male peers were painting (bordellos, etc), Mary Cassatt focused her artistry on depicting the daily lives of women.  Which provides for a wonderful historical perspective on quiet moments at home in the late 19th century. 
Mary Cassatt, "The Fitting"

Mary Cassatt, "The Bath"

The exhibit features drawings and engravings from Cassatt's wide body of work, showcasing her interests in print-making and pastel transfers as well as illuminating how she was inspired by Japanese wood block prints.  Spread over three large, classically Parisian rooms (think beautiful molding, fireplaces, etc), the setting inspires just the kind of quiet contemplation that Mary Cassatt's works portray. 

When you attend an exhibit opening, in addition to getting first glance at the exhibit, you also have access to some fantastic people-watching.  I was somewhat under-dressed, as I wasn't wearing my fur wrap, or a one-shoulder leopard print dress.  In fact, I was wearing jeans because I realized this afternoon that the only maternity pants I have are jeans. Which suits my work-from-home/stay-at-home-mom life except when that life is interrupted by my super-cool-artsy-Parisian life.  Apparently I'm no Mona Bismarck. 

As if the night wasn't already excellent enough, Mr. Oil and I stumbled onto a fantastic Thai restaurant just a few blocks away from the Center, which - wait for it - actually had a vegetarian menu.  With tofu!  And was delicious.  We love you Tong Ming.  What a great night!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Maternity Style

In a city where style is paramount, I was curious about what Paris has to offer when it comes to maternity clothes.  So I headed to les grands magasins for a little maternity window-shopping.  I probably should not be surprised that most of the clothes I saw I would never wear, even if I wasn't pregnant.  But somehow I was surprised, nonetheless.

Exhibit A:  Maternity miniskirt. Please note that based on my pregnancy with Baby Oil, the amount of material that makes up this entire skirt would not have covered even my pregnant belly.

Exhibit B:  Overalls.  Perhaps if you are quite slender to begin with, and gain only a small and adorable bump during your pregnancy (read: most Parisian women), then you could pull off this look.  I'm fairly positive I would look like an overweight hick. 

Exhibit C: Formalwear.  Inspired by my friend LJ's need for a formal maternity gown, I made sure to check out the formal wear selection at Galeries Lafayette (please note that Printemps, in fact, carries NO maternity clothes.  Which is sad for me, and for Printemps.  Not sure what they're thinking there.).  Perhaps Parisian women want to flaunt the enhanced bust that accompanies most pregnancies. Also, it's not clear where the dress actually allows for the pregnant part of your body.  I'm  glad I already have a dress for the soon-to-be-Mr-and-Mrs wedding!

And finally, Exhibit D: Undergarments. It turns out that Parisians are as serious about their lingerie and undergarments during pregnancy as they are the rest of the time.  Which is to say, they certainly market a lot of these products (I have no way of knowing, of course, whether women actually wear them!). 
I borrowed this from a website, I think it really portrays more than I could describe.

The overall message seems to be that simply being pregnant is not a good reason to not look good in every layer of your clothing.  I am more of an adherent to the being-pregnant-is-a-good-reason-to-embrace-elastic-waists-and-sweatpants memo, but this Parisian message is certainly in keeping with the expectation that you not gain an unseemly amount of weight (my doctor already suggested that I ate too many "am-bur-ghers" while in the US in August) and that looking good is something that any woman should simply want to do.  I think I missed that memo as well....did I even shower today?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Date Night Paris

I've always known that I have a great husband.  Yet occasionally he does me the favor of reminding me exactly how and why he is so great.  Last night is a perfect example.  It was our first night out together in a number of months, and I have to say, he really outdid himself.

We went to dinner at Hotel du Nord in the 10th arrondissement. Located right on the Canal St. Martin, sitting outside this charming restaurant offered excellent people-watching as well as the chance to savor one of the nicest nights we've had in Paris this summer.  If you can call early September summer.  Hotel du Nord also has the unique quality of being a French restaurant that offers not one but two vegetarian entrees, in addition to multiple fish and meat options.
This doesn''t really do the scene justice.

Close-up of awesome hipster guy with crazy beard and strange glasses.

Mr. Oil selected the dos de cabillaud, which was simply and elegantly prepared.  Even better, it came with a side of possibly the best mashed potatoes I have ever eaten. We thought it might better be called "butter, with a side of potatoes." I stole more than a few bites in between enjoying my own "millefeuille de thon a la japonaise."  I'm not a food writer, so I will just show you a photo:

But what really made the dinner amazing was dessert.  In honor of a)date night, and b)me being pregnant, we splurged and ordered two desserts (we are typically the share-one-dessert type).  Dessert #1 was a classic moelleux au chocolat - molten chocolate cake - with both vanilla ice cream and a light yet delicious creamy sauce.  Totally legit cake.  Dessert #2, however, was the winner - pain perdu au caramel beurre sale.  Pain perdu is the foundation of what we know as French toast.  It's not a breakfast food so much as a rich, egg-ily drenched sweet.  In this case, served with a tiny pot of rich, succulent caramel made from salted butter.  Pour said caramel over said egg-ily drenched deliciousness, and you have a taste that will stay in your mouth for a long, long time.  Sorry, no photo - too excited to pause for documentation.

As the evening progressed, the scene got even more interesting.  Quickly I became the most under-dressed woman in the restaurant, and I had again missed the memo about short skirts and tall heels.  A parade of languages accompanied the heels as well.  Sitting outside did have one disadvantage, as patrons from inside the restaurant began to linger outside the door for a cigarette break.  We were treated to one of those only-in-France scenes in which three woman, all dressed to go out, stood around smoking and chatting.  Nothing out of the ordinary there - until we realized that in fact the woman in leopard-print capri pants and platform sandals had a baby strapped to her in a Baby Bjorn.  While standing with her smoking friends around 10pm at night.
You can't see the cigarettes or the baby, but they're there, I promise.

If you're going to have not one but two serious desserts, it is good to have a plan to work it off.  Mr. Oil's date night plan went further than just the meal.  After we finished, we hopped on two Velib bikes, part of Paris' city-wide bike program.  Across the city, there are stations where you can rent a bike for just a few euros, and then return it at any other station.  You have to guarantee the bike with a credit card so you don't steal it, but otherwise you get to ride through the city's many bike lanes on a well-maintained bike that even comes with its own nice basket to hold your bag.

We cruised down the Canal St Martin, glancing at the many, many groups of friends sitting on the edge of the canal sharing wine and food throughout the evening.  Past Republique, we turned and headed into the Marais, passing bars and bistros all bursting with Parisians and tourists alike enjoying the glorious Saturday evening.  We parked our bikes to walk for a bit through Les Halles - more bars and bistros and people having a good time, including some bars that made both Mr. Oil and I feel immensely grateful that the period in our lives in which we went to such places is over.  Picking up more bikes by the Chatelet metro, we cycled down Rue de Rivoli - past the Louvre, where at night you can see sculptures through the windows, past the Place de la Concorde, which epitomizes Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower, Assemblee National, Les Invalides, and even the Arc de Triomphe, and up our trusty ol' Boulevard Malesherbes to home.  There's a Velib station on our corner, so parking doesn't get more convenient than that.  I was even able to overcome the fact that I've barely exercised since we moved here, and that I haven't been on a bike since before Baby Oil was born.

Romantic canal-side dinner for two followed by romantic night-time bike ride through the heart of Paris?  Date night indeed!

PS Hey, great husband - don't let this go to your head too much - instead, I suggest you focus on planning our next date night...

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Parisian Pregnancy

So here's the skinny on pregnancy in Paris:  it's not quite as glamorous as you might think.

On the one hand, there are fresh croissants, incredible pastries, delectable chocolates.  On the other hand, there is a major lack of pants.  Allow me to explain.  When you go to to the obstetrician in the United States, you put on a hospital gown or at least you are covered with a drape from the waist down.  When you go to the obstetrician in France, he says, "Take your pants off."  At which point you go around a screen, take everything off from the waist down, and then you casually walk over to the examining table feeling really exposed, and then you sit there, half-naked while the doctor examines you.

I thought I was getting used to it, but today at my regular monthly appointment, I realized that I still am not quite down with France's comfort level with my nakedness.  I miss the drape.  And if you think it feels strange when it is just the doctor and me, imagine our appointment for the 12 week ultrasound - ultrasound technician, Mr. Oil, and me.  Half-naked me, of course.  At one point, I tried to ask a question of the ultrasound lady (who only speaks French), and Mr. Oil corrected my conjugation.  I replied, "I'm lying here with no pants on, and you expect me to conjugate verbs correctly?"  We both started laughing, and the French ultrasound lady was simply confused.

The French health care system prides itself on economic efficiency, among other things.  This manifests itself by requiring the patient to trek to multiple places for various types of appointments - one office to see the ob, a separately run lab every month for blood and other tests, and a third separate office for ultrasounds.  In between, the patient is supposed to cart around any number of papers and forms between offices.  I still haven't quite mastered the system - although I do now have a bright blue folder that I labeled "C**** - Pregnancy", in case there was any confusion in our home of course - as evidenced by the gentle reminder from my doctor today that I'm supposed to go to the lab before I come to see him each month so that he has the results for the appointment.

And while I'm very happy with my French ob (he speaks English, in case you are curious), we did have a slight culture clash about the amount of weight I'm "allowed" to gain in this pregnancy.  I'm the first to admit that I gained way more than necessary when carrying Baby Oil.  Like, a lot of chocolate pudding, bagels & cream cheese, and Chipotle more than necessary.  That said, it all came off pretty easily so I am not overly concerned.  However, when I informed my ob as to how many pounds I gained with Baby Oil (you'll notice I'm carefully not writing the number here), his jaw literally dropped.  Seriously.  His mouth was gaping open.  He then informed me that I will not gain more than 12 kilos (26 pounds) in this pregnancy. Ha!! Is he going to pry the cheese from my bloated hands?

I am not going to down play the apprehension I feel at times about having a baby in a foreign country. We were so unbelievably fortunate when we had Baby Oil in DC to have family close by, and also to have a large and wonderful support network of friends and community members. Good thing we've gotten good at ordering delivery!