July 19, 2010 at 5:09 PM | Posted in Paris 2010 | 1 Comment

I went to Disneyland Paris yesterday, and although I had my doubts about it, I ended up having a great time. One of my friends who lives here has a year pass, and the combination of a coupon for super-cheap admission, the promise of a gorgeous day, and the opportunity to get a little further afield meant that I got over myself and my feeling that I should be doing something more typically Parisian. It turned out to be one of the most fun days I’ve had this summer.

I don't think I'll ever get over my love of finding interesting ways to "hold" or otherwise manhandle landmarks.

Sistine Chapel meets Disneyland Paris meets Kylie

Because it was there.

We got to sit at the front of our boat the second time we rode Pirates of the Caribbean....and this is the cheapskate's way of taking advantage of Disneyland's photo-taking service

"vrai" means "true"...so, in Franglais, this sign says "false alarm = true retard"

Really, any day in which someone tells you “please do not open the door until your spinning teacup has come to a complete stop” can’t be that bad. The weather was great, the lines were short, and it really is a happy place, if a little artificial-feeling (according to Kylie, the first-happiest place on earth is Disneyland–it was built first–the second-happiest is Disneyworld, the third is Disneyland Paris, and the fourth is Disneyland Tokyo).

And now it is back to reality for a few more days of work before I head to Greece for a friend’s wedding!

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A few good words

July 15, 2010 at 1:40 PM | Posted in Paris 2010 | 1 Comment

Anyone who knows me knows that my love for words runs deep. And that’s why, despite all my frustrations with the intricacies of French, I really do love it, because it is expressive in a way that is at once eloquent and succinct. And it can also be pretty hilarious. To wit, here are my current favorite words and expressions (most of them I learn in the cafeteria at lunch with my colleagues, which explains why they are largely lunch-related):

  • “L’heure bleu”: Literally “the blue hour,” it refers to the time between dusk and night when the sky is a deep…well…blue
  • “Grosse matinée”: Literally “a fat morning,” it means a day that has a slow start
  • “Baba cool”: A hippie
  • “Blé”: Mealy like a bad peach, but it literally means “floury”
  • “Fade”: Food that’s bland. I like to think of it as “faded flavors”
  • “Bricoler”: to throw together, as in, the process of dredging up a bunch of random food and somehow turning it into dinner. The reason I like this word is because of its relationship to the word “bricolage,” which is a store that sells all kinds of random crap. In one small word, it perfectly captures the process of trying to turn the contents of the fridge into something cohesive. This came up at lunch today because Michael, the intern and functionally the research unit’s little brother, is one of those tall, skinny boys who can eat an entire baguette smeared with a container of pâté and wash it down with an apple crumble meant for four people (yes, I am aware of all the hilarious French stereotypes in that sentence). He has a habit of making a whole box of pasta for lunch and throwing in all kinds of random things–one memorable day, it was tripe. We always peer into his Tupperware to see what the latest creation is, and usually it is cause for a few laughs. Today, it looked like a box of spaghetti with a side of…pureed carrots? Actually, it was pasta with pureed sweet potatoes. When I asked him what it was, he shrugged and said, “J’ai bricolé ” Literally, “I threw a bunch of miscellaneous things together.”

My funny bed

July 7, 2010 at 4:29 PM | Posted in Paris 2010 | 2 Comments

I’ve told a few of you about the crazy bed in my apartment. You sort of have to see it to get the full effect. For background, I live on the sixth floor (fifth French floor–107 steps to the door) of a walk-up apartment building in Gobelins, a fantastic neighborhood in the 13th arrondissement. I’m subletting a friend’s apartment for the summer while she is away, and while the apartment is tiny, it makes great use of the space. Case in point: the bed.

It looks like your average floor-to-ceiling bookcase and closet…

except for this little knob on one side:

Push the knob down and then pull it until the bookcase starts to move…

Keep pulling (note the cool track mechanism on the bottom that guides the bed around)…

Now start to push, and keep pushing it until you hear the knob click into place…

Pull the bed down, unstrap the mattress…

…et voila!

I honestly don’t know why these have fallen out of fashion…they make such a great use of space. Plus, not having to do a very neat job at making my bed every day isn’t bad, either.

My market basket

July 4, 2010 at 7:13 AM | Posted in Paris 2010, Paris markets | 3 Comments

I am the worst budgeter ever. Or, to be more specific, I am not a bad budgeter except when food markets are involved. Then all bets are off.

I live about a ten minutes’ walk from Marche Auguste Blanqui, which is a giant street market between the Place d’Italie and Corvisart metro stations in the 13th arrondissement, where I life. It is about seven blocks long and completely teeming with activity. There are multiple fromageries (cheese stands), charcuteries (cured meats), boucheries (raw meats), volailleries (chicken shops), poissoneries (fish shops), boulangeries (bakers), traituers (sellers of prepared foods), ethnic food stands, and that’s even before you get to the stand upon stand of fresh fruits and vegetables. I get weak in the knees just thinking about it. This market is one of the best parts of my neighborhood.

Today I set out around noon, with a “firm” budget of 15 euros, knowing my tendency to get carried away at the market. I was buying food for the week (5 lunches and 3 dinners), and I figured that 15 euros would get me half a roast chicken, some olives, some cheese, and a few fruits and vegetables. I set this budget as challenge to see whether I could do it, but gave myself a little cushion of cash in my wallet in case I saw something too good to pass up.

I know myself way too well. I arrived, and all good intentions were dashed the moment the scent of the chicken rotisseries hit my nose.

My haul?

  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 200 grams (a small plastic bag full) of picholine olives
  • Half a rotisserie chicken
  • A disc of Saint-Marcellin cheese (creamy cow’s milk cheese with a soft, edible rind)
  • A wedge of Saint-Nectaire cheese
  • A wedge of Roquefort and a large round of goat cheese with a thick, edible rind (I was getting ready to leave, and then I saw a stand selling cheeses for 1.5 euros each and totally couldn’t resist. This is a lot of cheese, even for me. I figure it will last me awhile)
  • 2 zucchini
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 giant artichokes
  • 6 apricots
  • 1 Charentais melon (a small, highly scented cantaloupe)
  • 3 nectarines
  • 500 grams of cherries
  • 1 baguette
  • 1 sac of 10 chouquettes (sugar-crusted pastry puffs)

Basically the only thing that I successfully resisted was some kind of cured ham product, although I was sorely tempted by a dry-cured sausage with pistachios inside, a specialty from Lyon. With all that cheese, I figured that I had enough saturated fat in my market bag to last me awhile.

I profoundly overshot my budget (like, by almost double)…but how often will I have access to a market like this? Plus, the (highly subsidized) canteen at work closed on Friday, so I will have to start bringing my lunch. The canteen is a story for another day.

A petit sac of chouquette

The sac, a little more petit after I was unable to hold off until post-photo shoot. Look at those delicious insides!

Tonight I’m looking forward to a dinner of a steamed artichoke with the leaves and then the heart dipped in melted butter, various cheeses smeared on the fresh baguette, some olives, and a ripe nectarine for dessert. I’m officially in France.

Velib’–Paris by bicycle

July 1, 2010 at 3:22 PM | Posted in Paris 2010 | 2 Comments

I finally landed the correct combination of European credit card and courage that were necessary to join Velib’, Paris’ revolutionary bike-sharing system. Velib started shortly before I arrived my first summer, and it has intrigued me ever since. Basically, the way it works is that there are big banks of bikes set up all over the city–apparently at least every 300 meters. You need a special credit card that has a computer chip in it, and at one of the kiosks you either buy a 1 euro day pass, a 5 euro week pass, or a 30 euro year pass (I did a week pass) that gets loaded onto your Metro tap-card. That gives you access to unlimited bike riding for the week. The first half-hour of every ride is free, and after that it’s 1 euro for the first extra half-hour, 2 euros for the second half-hour, etc.  You find an available bike, tap your metro card on the little box that locks it to the stand, and then it releases out of its dock. And you can drop off and pick up a bike at a different spot, so as long as there’s an empty “parking spot” at a kiosk, you can drop off your bike.

In many ways, Paris is set up for biking–there are wide bike lanes on most streets, and drivers are very aware of bikers (because there are so many of them). But some of the streets are small and curving, many of them are one way going in the wrong direction, and it’s very easy to get distracted by something beautiful or interesting and sort of forget where you’re going. And it’s also easy to get turned around and end up going in the completely wrong direction. And the drivers, while aware, are not exactly known for being courteous. So I was kind of scared to Velib’. I believed in the system, but wasn’t sure that I would like the reality as much as I liked the idea. Also I was terrified of being flattened by a car. Also I was afraid I would get lost. Or that I wouldn’t be able to find a bike bay and would be riding around for hours, the euros adding up exponentially.

There were a lot of excuses for why I didn’t want to do it. But for some reason, it felt really important to me to face my fear and get on the damn bike.

So on Tuesday, an hour and a half before my first French class on the opposite side of Paris, I stuck my bag in the basket on the front of a bike at a dock near my house, checked to make sure that the tires were inflated and the chain was attached and the seat would tighten and the lights were working (it’s estimated that if crews didn’t ride around and repair the bikes, the entire fleet would be un-rideable in a week’s time). All was fine. So I took a deep breath, tapped my metro card, took the bike out of the dock, and set off.

I turned down every wrong street imaginable. I chickened out and walked my bike through a few insane intersections and traffic circles. I stopped a few times to check my map book and found that i was riding in the exact wrong direction.  But I made it to my French class in one piece. And, more importantly, I had a total blast. I rode home that night. And have ridden four or five times since. I’m totally hooked. It’s amazing how fast you can move and how well you learn the ways that the streets connect. And today, riding home, with a baguette in the basket on the front of the bike, I felt like “une vrai parisienne.”

First night

June 27, 2010 at 2:55 AM | Posted in Paris 2010 | Leave a comment

When your day starts with seeing the sunrise over Paris immediately upon hitting the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport, and ends with a picnic under the Eiffel Tower (I took this photo at 10:45pm and it was still pretty light outside), it’s hard not to feel like the city is saying “Bienvenue!”

Paris, Take Three

June 24, 2010 at 4:39 PM | Posted in Paris 2010 | 1 Comment

I’m heading off to Paris tomorrow for my third summer in a row. I’m really looking forward to it–seeing my friends and colleagues, exploring a new neighborhood, attending a new French school in the evenings, and of course, the very difficult process of finding my favorite neighborhood baguette. It’s a rough life, I tell you.

My preparation for this trip has been characterized by a complete lack of preparation. I started packing (and thinking about packing) today, have yet to do the deep-clean of my apartment to get it ready for my subletter, and my paperwork is, shall we say, less than organized. But the weather in Boston is disgusting (hazy, hot, and humid), I have had to do a ton of work before leaving, and my social life has definitely taken priority over logistics-related activities. Maybe my apartment will clean itself…

Anyway, I’m planning to keep up with this blog again for the summer, so stay tuned for updates, stories, and other deliciousness!

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