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Time to Go

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

I am leaving today.  Of course it is another beautiful day here.  I would be really sad, but I am already planning to come back next year and have already worked out with the landlord here, a one month stay.  I am just not sure if it will be in the spring or in the fall, just yet.

What an amazing experience this has been.  I was so lucky to have such beautiful sunny days.  I guess it kind of sucked to get sick, because I did not do many of the things I thought I would do.  I am also kind of a lazy person, so in fact I may have never done those things anyway.  But, I will be back and then I can once again be lazy and think about doing them, and maybe even do them.

Until then though, I will carry the memories of my April in Paris with me forever.  The sun setting over my perch at the Bastille canal, watching Spanish football with a bunch of Barcelona fans, eating pate and drinking wine while watching the tourists go by on the Seine. Everything.

Tonight I will take the night train to Venice, in a second class compartment with six couchettes.  I have taken a night train before, from Venice to Budapest, but in a private cabin.  (I am trying to remember now, if we booked it that way, or if it just happened that way.) Anyway, I hope it will be an adventure, with cool people and a minimum of smells.  And when I wake up, I will be in Italy.  I am saying goodbye to one city I love, but tomorrow I will say hello to another one, one with lots of familiar faces.  Life is good.

Thanks for following along on my adventures with me.  A Bientot!

Market Day

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

I love my new apartment on the 5th floor of a building on Rue Croazatier, just a 10 minute walk from the apartment I was in the last 4 weeks that seems, oddly, worlds away.  I am literally around the corner from the colorful, bazaar-like outdoor part of the Place d’ Aligre market now.  Oh, and I now have an ELEVATOR.  I am cooking for friends tomorrow, so I made four trips down there today, because it was so easy to come and drop stuff off.

Of course, it is always interesting shopping in a foreign place, because there are things that you cannot seem to find.  For me, today, it was nutmeg.  I looked and looked.  Well it turns out that after all that I am walking by this international market on my corner and in one of the windows – I am talking floor to ceiling – there are bags and bags of spices.  So I go in and it occurs to me that I don’t even know the freeking French word for nutmeg. I guess I thought I would just figure it out?  Uh, no.  So thank goodness my new apartment was just steps away.  I looked it up (muscade, most likely would have never guessed that one) and went back to look again.  Well they had it but it was 3.70 euros for the bag.  It seemed excessive for a bag of something I only need 1 tablespoon of, so I didn’t get it.  After all that!  Dang I drive myself crazy sometimes.

While people are starting to understand me a little, and while I am starting to understand (I understood the guy in the wine shop today telling me the total – amazing!) I wish I knew how to go into a butcher and ask for some meat to be ground up.  I am just not confident enough to go there yet.  I did manage to tell the guy at the Italian deli in the covered market I wanted grated Parmesan cheese but believe me it had nothing to do with words but instead with a lot of gesturing.  Anyway he spoke back to me in English.  “No, we only have this” and pointed to that yucky ground up kind.  So I spent too much money on a block of the whole cheese  and I just pray that somewhere in my new apartment, there is a grater.

There was a long line at the Italian deli today.  In front of me there were maybe three or four woman who seemed to get enough cheese, sliced meat, prepared lasagna (something I maybe should have done, in hindsight), focaccia bread, meatballs, and other assorted items for an entire arrondissement.  The woman just behind me was getting a little impatient.  Everytime someone ordered another tray or something she said what I think was the French equivalent of “Porca Miseria.”  At one point when one of the women being waited on asked for a sample of some proscuitto and then spend 10 minutes ruminating and chewing the sample before consenting to purchase a finely sliced gram, the woman behind me was about 10 seconds away from a complete meltdown.  Suffice to say when it was my turn I did not lollygag – I did not want to have the 20 people behind me muttering under their breath something about what happened to Marie Antoinette could happen again.

Also around the corner from me is one of the Pink Flamingos chain of pizzerias here.  I think I may have to utilize that at some point.  But my nights are getting fewer and fewer and then I will be off to Venice.

If I do come back next year (and unless I get totally burned out on traveling this year, I will) then I really do need to take some French classes.  The guy who owns this place lives somewhere else and his neighbor let me in – the adorable Madame Fouquet.  She does not speak English so I tried to communicate and mostly nodded even when I didn’t understand a word she was saying.  Today I was putting away groceries and the doorbell rang, but I figured it was someone outside and didn’t worry about it.  Then I heard a key and the door opening and it was Madame Fouquet with toilet paper for me.  She went on and on about Saturdays and promenading around Paris and markets etc (at least I think that is what she was saying.)  Totally adorable.  And of course the toilet paper is pink.  I totally want to come back here and take her out for a coffee (or a whiskey) when I can communicate better.

It shocks me how easily I can move into a place and then just… be at home there.  I started thinking the other day – wouldn’t it be cool to go to a different city for a month, for, say, a year straight, then write a book about it?  Only I think I would try to go to places I have never been.  When this idea formulated some days ago, immediately I thought Istanbul, Hamburg, Marseille.  Maybe though I might have to throw in a couple of places I have been, but only briefly (like Naples.) I also had an idea to make a European guidebook or series of guidebooks about cool bars called Barhopper.   But, I think I may be getting a little too old to do that, and anyway, going to bars by yourself can get a little old.  Even in the name of research.

Well, one can dream, anyway.

Le Petite Blogpost

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

I can hardly believe that I will have been here four weeks tomorrow.  Time seemed to go pretty slowly the first couple of weeks, but when I got sick, it accelerated.  It probably would have done so even more if I would have been running around.

Tomorrow I am moving.  I will leave my little attic apartment and move to a larger place with a terrace.  I want to have friends over for dinner, and it would be, well, on the difficult side to do that here.  I went to look at the building where I am moving yesterday.  There is a teensy Mexican cafe below the apartment, and a Berber restaurant across the street.  It is more of a residential street than the one I am on right now (which has the opera, also a hospital, across the street.)  I will be on the other side of the Place d’Aligre, home of a truly kick-ass market.  There is the indoor part of the market (the Marche Beauvau) and the outdoor part in the place and the surrounding streets.  All the streets are lined with butchers, wine shops, cafes, cheese shops… inside the Marche Beauvau there is an Italian stall that has burrata.  One day I was trying to buy some when I had, literally no voice.  You try that sometime.  Anyway the woman who served me finally figured out what I wanted and then told me to go home and get better (at least I think that is what she said.)  Also in the market, they have a giant rotisserie with six whole pigs turning around.  Anthony Bourdain’s wet dream.

It is raining today.  After basically, weeks of perfect weather.  Suddenly the outdoor cafe tables are empty and everyone has moved inside.  For lunch I ate two small wheels of camembert, baked until all liquidy and served on a pool of honey.  The plat came with potatoes, which I dipped into the cheese, and salad, which I barely touched.  I am not sure I can bear to leave this place.  But of course I will, and it will be fine.

Tomorrow, while William marries Kate, I will be packing up.  The cool thing, is I will never forget where I was that day.  Kind of cool, huh?

The Satellite, that Brings Me Home

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

I still have no voice.  This is, probably, my fault.  I went to picnic yesterday with friends and I talked for several hours.  Well, if you can call a cross between a whisper and a croak, talking.  After that, I tried not to talk any more. But it has not gotten better, and I am starting to get a little…. anxious about it.

It is kind if ironic because when I first got here I had all of these fantasies about not  being able to speak.  What better way to cross the language barrier?  if you can’t speak, you can’t speak in ANY language.  I’ve traveled miles and sat in a gazillion cafes in various countries without speaking hardly at all, but the difference was, I could have.  I think I have learned a valuable lesson here.  Watch out what you ask for, cause you could get it.  (Actually, this is a lesson that I have learned over and over in my life.  But still, I keep asking.)

Also last night, my coughing got so bad that I had one of those “emergency room” moments as in, what if I have to go to the emergency room?  This only happens to me when I can’t stop coughing, that I have these inane thoughts.  But then I realized that if I went to the doctor here, it would probably cost a fraction of what it would cost me to go to the ER in the states, even though I have paid a gazillion dollars into the health care system there and never even used it.  Regardless, I hope this thing goes away, like, tomorrow.

There is also the energy thing.  Today I got up and it was another beautiful day.  I have lost days to this thing already.  So I am thinking that I should GO somewhere, DO something.  Like out of my neighborhood, anyway; like besides going to the canal by the Bastille or the Monoprix.  But since I caught this thing, I have had this aversion to getting on the metro.  I think that is because I am very sure that that is where I got it, last week when I got on and it was so packed, that I could have had sex with eight different people without actually moving my body.  I just don’t want to go down there until I am better.

So today then, I got my blanket and my book, and a little pinot noir and some pate de campagne and saltines, and I walked down to the Seine.  I crossed to the left bank, because the right bank is in the direct sun, and it was hot.  As usual, I sat there for several hours, but did not really read any of my book.  I just can’t.  There are too many other things to read, mostly, people.  There was a large group of twenty somethings just to my left, who brought a plastic kitchen bucket with them.  Into the bucket, they poured one of those ginormous bottles of orange fanta, another big bottle of some kind of other soda, three bottles of red wine, a giant can of cubed pineapple, and a liberal helping of sugar (out of a several kilo sized bag.) They opened the wine with a serrated steak knife which they drove down into the cork until it went inside the bottle.  I fully expected spattered blood everywhere at any minute, but the wine gods were looking out for them.  I did have a corkscrew in my bag, and was going to offer it to them, but was way too worried that they would offer me some of that drink.  Sorry, but I just can’t go there and I am way too nice to say no.

As the afternoon progressed the banks started to fill with people.  Families, groups, couples, even a couple of singles like me.  A boy sat down next to me and though he looked very French he was reading “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” and in fact, was almost done with it.  (I am not really sure I made my way to the end of that one; maybe I did.) On the other side, a happening threesome with a fancy bag of sushi.  The bag was pink and said “Planet Sushi – Paris. Ibiza. Miami.”  Whatever.  All they need is “South Coast Plaza” to make that a little more obnoxious.

I had woken up with some feelings.  Like, I am here in Paris and I “should be out exploring every nook and cranny, only I can’t!  Cause I am weak and have a cough!”  You know, all that drama Pisces stuff.  But then, after an hour sitting by the Seine, happy in my little world, it occurred to me that THIS is what I wanted all along, all these months leading up to me coming here.  I didn’t really WANT to navigate the labyrinth. I just wanted to eat pate and drink wine on the banks of the Seine.  I don’t know where that simple fact got away from me for the time that it did.  I guess it is like not being able to speak.  If you can’t do something, you suddenly feel like you need to do it.  But now I realize – I don’t need to do anything except for that which makes me happy.  And thankfully it does not take that much to make me happy.

We all watched the many tourist boats go by (and I tried to read, unsuccessfully) and then I looked behind me, I guess at around 5, to an amazing cloud.  It was a giant cumulus lit from behind and with a sunburst coming through towards Notre Dame. Zeus laughing.  But it was still hot so I didn’t think it was going to, like, do anything. A little later though, the boy next to me, the one reading Dave Eggers, looked up, took an analysis of the sky, put his shoes on and got out of there.  Then I heard thunder.  Nobody else moved, I didn’t move.  We didn’t want to move.  But then it started to rain.

At first I, and the collective we, thought we could take it; but it soon became apparent that it was time to move.  All of a sudden, raindrops the size of macarons. A summer squall! (Well, not really, because it is not even summer, but I just like to say “a summer squall!”)  Many of the people, including the youngsters with the kitchen bucket of extra special punch, moved under the closest bridge.  Me, I headed for higher ground, and the nearest cafe.

Lucky for me, there was one right there, and I got under the awning just as the sky was getting really dark and the wind picked up.  Where the heck did THIS come from?  Out of nowhere, I guess.  I ordered a glass of wine with my croaky voice, sitting under a canopy, just out of reach of the raindrops.

The wine was not so good, but the people watching was cool – I could have stayed there, but traffic on the street was not doing my lungs any favors.  A really handsome guy that works there came out to serve some coffees to some Germans and smiled at me. He looked like Klaus Maria Brandauer, only way cuter.

But I had to go. So I went in to pay, and the guy smiled again and asked “English?” to which I croaked “yeah, when I can talk.” He laughed and said, “too much partying!”  No.  “Vacation!” No. Not quite.  “Working!” Kind of.  “You want another one?”  No… it figures that there is a cute guy, maybe even my age, that wants to talk to me, but I can’t.  I have a feeling I might have to go back to that place.

I walked back over the river, and the sky was yellow.  Yellow!  With Notre Dame in the distance.

I can’t stop being enraptured.  I am enraptured by everything.  I am enraptured by sitting for hours, not speaking, not reading.  Just SITTING.  Yesterday, at the picnic, Scott asked me what place I love the most, out of all the places I have been.  “Here,” I said.  Without a moments hesitation.  Paris.  This is it.  The Satellite, that brings me home.

The Mute Ciao

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

I cannot breathe and I cannot speak.  My voice is totally gone.  I mean. TOTALLY GONE.

Mostly, because of Spain, friends, and football.  I got sick on Monday night.  It was one of those, uh oh my throat is a little scratchy things.  You know, the ones where you hope than maybe you just breathed a little too much exhaust that day, and that it will be all gone in the morning, only to sleep 12 hours and then wake up all sweaty realizing it is not just exhaust.  But a full on, energy sucking, nice day destroying, Spring cold.

So, basically I stayed in bed all day on Tuesday.  It was good for my budget, at least.  In the evening, thank goodness (because I was getting really sick of reading) the movie “Murder on the Orient Express” came on, in English with no subtitles.  So.  Can anyone answer this question that has been nagging at me since?  Why on earth would 12 people commit a murder when they knew Hercule Poirot was on the freeking train?  Why?  I think I first saw this movie when I was 10 or something, because I remembered they all did it.  (Or maybe, that is the case in many Agatha Christie mysteries, except not in Evil Under the Sun, because I just watched that most hilarious movie with my mom and grandma last Christmas and I was sure they all did it, but they all didn’t.) Anyway, watching this movie certainly took the sting out of being bedridden.  Especially Wendy Hiller, who’s performance is so SCENE SHATTERING that she basically annihilates anything in her path.  One sentence from her may sound like “she was my GAWD DAUGHTER” (take about 3 minutes to say that line to get the full idea) but what it really means is LAUREN BACALL, PLEASE LET ME SHOW YOU HOW TO DELIVER A LINE.”  Most hilarious.  If you have ever seen Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, I think now I know where Gary Oldman got his motivation.  Oldman’s Dracula + Hiller’s Ancient Russian Princess = separated at birth.

Anyway.  Yesterday I woke up a little better, but not much.  A trip to the store completely drained me of any energy I woke up with. But in the evening was the Spanish Copa del Rey football cup, Barcelona vs. Madrid, and there was going to be a party happening across the river, at a restaurant called Dans Les Landes.  I met Nancy and David there last Saturday for lunch, and it was AWESOME.  And they had SPANISH DUDES working there.  So, our plan for watching the game got switched from a pizzeria to this place, in, well, about 20 seconds.  We also had Scott and Andrea, fellow slow travelers from Canada, meeting us there.  And Sophie, who I have met on several occasions already and is a walking encyclopedia of food, not to mention other things, and does these trippy tea rituals after dinner, which are almost as baffling as Murder on the Orient Express.

How could I miss that?  I couldn’t.  I knew that I had to motivate myself to get over there, and while the journey was not easy (hot metro, drenched in sweat, worried about staying upright) once I got to the restaurant all was well.  I stayed upright.  I ate a ton of food.  Duck hearts, seared in olive oil (the first time I had these, on Saturday, it was such a revelation that I almost Did Not Stay Upright), sardine rilletes with pimenton, insane little croissants with some kind of melted orgasm in them, the most fantastic caesar salad with white truffle oil… there was a lot more.  Not to mention, a lot of wine.  Basically, it was like watching the super bowl, but with some people from Barcelona at the bar next to you, also some really animated Chinese dudes drinking out of coca cola bottles with straws, and some French youngsters drinking out of the economy magnum sized bottle of wine (which I immediately knew, we should have also done) and going out to smoke every 15 minutes.  Our team – Barcelona – lost.  But I don’t begrudge Madrid the win, because in the end, I am just happy that somebody wins.

Then it was late.  Not too late to not make the last metro, but too late not to try not to. I had an ambitious thirst for a cab ride, one that could not be quenched, so I just stayed in the bar with Scott and Andrea until it was too late to even try.

What a ride.  It was a religious experience, this cab ride.  I am serious.  Every cell in my body was happy.  Tired, sick, but happy.  The back seat of a cab never felt so comfortable, and whatever crappy pop music the cabbie had on was like the most genius symphony.  The windows were down, warm air outside, and then, there was the train.

I love the train that crosses over the Seine by the Gare d’ Austerlitz train station.  I love it.  It comes out of the metro station into the bright light, and crosses over, and then is gone again.  I love being on it, and I love watching from the banks of the river.  I have no idea why I have this particular fascination with this particular train, but I do.  It slays me.

So last night, crossing over the river in my comfy seat, with the cool breeze from the water coming into the cab, there it is, on the next bridge, heading in the opposite direction.  The last metro.  Am I in a movie?  Because, sometimes, it kind of feels that way.

Then I woke up with no voice.  Another hot, beautiful day.  (When I travel, I always like to bring a little California weather with me.  The locals always appreciate it.) But though I have no voice, I do have energy.  So I head out into the day.

I hope you have made it this far because this next part is a little amusing.  I have a red tank top that I bought in Italy some years ago, that has the Coca Cola logo but instead of saying Coca Cola, it says Ciao Ciao.  You know, humor.  So I learned something today.  You want to get some attention from the dudes in this town?  Wear the Coca Cola logo across your chest.  Even if it doesn’t even say that. I went to the market at Richard Lenoir Blvd.  Up and down the Blvd, it was like “Coca Cola! Try my oranges!” “Coca Cola! Try my Pineapples!”  I swear.  I have never got so many offerings of fruit samples in my life.  But then when I got to the Italian booth in the market, the guy said “Ciao.”  It doesn’t end.  I was walking up my street, and there was this dude I actually have noticed before, due to his Vuarnet Sunglasses T Shirt (anyone, and I mean ANYONE who ever surfed, skied, or sunbathed in California in the 1980s had a pair of those sunglasses, but last time I checked, those were the 1980s).  I was walking by and he was like, “hey, Coca Cola!”  Or maybe it was “hey want to get some Coca Cola” or “do you like Coca Cola” or even possibly, “do you want to snort some coke?” but in my mind I was like, you know, you are cute and I could possibly get past the Vuarnet T shirt.  But not being able to read is past my comfort zone.

There is a building on my way to my Bastille canal afternoon hanging spot where blind people live, so there are always some blind people walking around with their tapping sticks.  I passed by one guy today, blind, with his stick.  But his eyes went straight to the Ciao Ciao.  What is UP with that?

Sorry to be so long winded.  Maybe it is because I can’t actually speak, that I feel the need to write so much. Tomorrow it is suppose to be even hotter, and I hope that I will be in good form to take advantage.  Onward.

Worth Fighting For

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Did I tell you guys that I am now staying until May 5?  No, I guess I didn’t.  Well, I am staying until May 5th.  So, right now I am in the middle of my stay here.

I am already trying to figure out how, and when, I can come back and do this again, next year.  In fact, I am trying to figure out how I can extend this year, the Year of Living Without a Real Home, into next year.  I am… at home, having no real home.  I guess the fact that I am in Paris right now seems to make this all a little easier than it would in, say, Istanbul (a place that I want to try to do this in next year, but by myself? Can I do it?)

Today I walked down to Gare de Lyon to pick up my train ticket, which I already booked and paid for online, to Venice on the night of May 5th.  Only, the ticket machine thingy would not take my card.  OK, here is one of those situations when being clueless about the French language sucks.  I go to the info guy, ask him (in really bad French) if I can speak English.  He sends me to a really long line.  I stand in the line, worrying all the while about not being understood… although there is no need to really, we are in Paris not some random outpost where they REALLY won’t understand.  Even so, there is the worry, from hearing other people talk about lines, that I will embarrass myself only to be sent to another line.

Finally I get up there and the agent figures out what I am trying to accomplish, but my credit card won’t swipe. After a few swiping attempts the agent consults another agent, he says something, then she disappears.  I figure I am going to at the best lose my money, at the worst be arrested.  Just kidding but after all that time in line I had to amuse myself somehow.

So she comes back with a piece of scotch tape.  Seriously. Then she tapes the swipe area of my card.  And swipes it and voila! It works.  I have no idea if this will ever help the readers of my blog, but I, for one, am going to start carrying some scotch tape in my backpack.

So after that I walked down to the actual train station where I will be departing from, just down from Gare de Lyon: Gare de Bercy.  And it is not like the uber fabulousness of Gare de Lyon, but rather like a train station in Fort Wayne Indiana.  So, now I know I do not have to get there early.

Later in the day, mostly because I did not feel like getting on any metro because it was Oh So Awesome outdoors, I decided to walk around the Marais a little.  After about 10 seconds of that I was sick of trying to navigate all the tourists and then happened upon a Scottish pub, called the Pure Malt.  I instantly went (inside, LOL) and asked the guy behind the bar for a glass of wine in French.  “I SPEAK ENGLISH, YOU KNOW.”  Hehe… I guess that should have been totally obvious, it being a Scottish bar.  But heck how does one navigate these things?  How do I know the Scottish owner doesn’t have some French dudes working there?  How do you tell the exact moment it goes from Bonjour to Bonsoir?  How?  How?  Anyway the guy turned out to be pretty nice, maybe I should have asked HIM about the whole Bonjour/Bonsoir dilemma.  Except he would have answered me in Scottish, and then I would still be up the river.  Right?

At any rate, I love all these daily trials and tribulations.  Besides the awesomeness of being here, eating dinner with the window open and the birds singing outside, the cool people I have met and the fantastic wines I have drunk, and all the cheese… well you get the idea.  Besides the awesomeness of all that, there are the trials and tribulations.   And this, my friends, is what makes travel worth fighting for.

The Great Splurge

Friday, April 15th, 2011

I have been here two weeks today.  It has gone by quickly, also slowly, kind of the way life does.  Like you always think time is going by so fast, but then ten years ago seems like a long time ago. Doesn’t it?

Anyway I often feel that I should be checking my mail or something.  Is that weird?

I worked a lot this week.  All day Monday, till 4 on Wednesday, and till 6 yesterday.  But Tuesday!  I had intentions of getting that day written up earlier.  I had been living so… frugally.  But then I got a nice gift so that I could maybe loosen up a little here, money wise (THANKS DAD!) so I went out on Tuesday and went on a Spending Rampage.  Within reason, but it was SO awesome.  I bought a whole bunch of groceries, I bought shampoo and conditioner.  I bought a phone card.  I had been buying it all in dribs and drabs to keep in the budget.  To buy everything all at once was pretty liberating.

Then I decided to take myself out to lunch, and I got on the metro with the intention of changing onto a metro to get me to the Odeon area as I have hardly been to that side of the river at all.  But, the metro going to Odeon was not working at the station I tried to transfer at, so I hopped on another line and just got off randomly.  What the hell, right?  I had no idea what I would find up there. What did I find?  The Hard Rock Cafe!

I don’t generally go to the Hard Rock in the U.S. but I confess to a certain desire to visit them overseas.  Someone I know once called them “ramped up Applebee’s” but Applenbee’s ain’t showin’ no 1980’s OMD videos, Dawg! So of course I had to go in and was very happy to find that had a HUGE bar.  (I tried to go to the one in Venice last fall, and they don’t even have a freeking bar.  Lame.) So I sat down at the bar and proceeded to drink white wine, eat some overpriced crappy food, watch videos and write in my journal.  My bartender, Chadia, was totally awesome.  She thanked me for asking for my wine in French and she was just really personable and nice.  I totally want to go back there because of her.  Hard Rock Cafe, give that woman a raise!

I left there pretty happy, it was just really nice to go out and spend some money.  Except that after about an hour after leaving I was totally, insanely starving.  I am not sure how I could eat some pseudo Asian chicken lettuce wraps and then be so hungry an hour after.  But I was.  Also, I was just walking around aimlessly, and somehow found myself at Les Halles.  How, I have no idea (I kind of have no idea where I was initially, I guess.)  Just the name “Les Halles” made me more hungry.  So I started thinking about the little plate of salami they gave me at the cafe near St. Paul on my 3rd day, and then I totally wanted to go there.

So I did and ordered a glass of wine but they didn’t give me any salami… my life, the comedy.

It was OK to not have anything for a post lunch snack because I was going to Nancy and David’s for dinner.  They had ordered up these big trays of shellfish to eat.  Oysters, and big shrimps and snails.  And we had pasta and some cuajada (a sheep’s milk cheese kind of dessert that I love and they have at my local market).  It was a FEAST.  It felt like a day of riches.

Today after working a couple of days, I decided to go down to the Eiffel Tower because I never really went right up to it before.  I have always seen it from afar.  Before I got there though I got a bee in my bonnet to have an Italian pizza, so I did at a place called Gusto something or other  (is it just me, or are there an insane amount of Italian restaurants in Paris?)  Then walked to the Eiffel Tower.  It really is an amazing structure.  I was very tempted to go up but there were a LOT of people there… so I meandered down the river and looked enviously at some houseboats, then walked over to the other side, down Champs Elysees, by the Concorde, to the Tuileries where I was forced by exhaustion to sit down and have an overpriced glass of wine at a one of those cafes there.  I think I walked about 50 miles today, seriously.  Then I walked to the metro station and the train home was so packed that out of the stress of it all I was forced to go to another cafe, on the Bastille canal, for a REALLY overpriced glass of wine.  If it makes you feel any better, I am making dinner at home tonight.  I was tempted to get take out Asian at one of those Asian deli places, but I think I will save my weekend splurging for tomorrow… and Sunday….

Walking on Sunshine

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

Oh… where do I begin.

I feel like I am in some kind of fever of happiness.  It is hot here.  Hot, sunny, unbelievably beautiful.  I am feeling a bit crisp as I have spent some days hanging out in the direct sun.

For much of the 1990s I used to be a fixture in Dolores Park in San Francisco on sunny weekends.  I had my “perch” and if it was nice out, my friends knew where to find me.  It was where I found my center; my meditation zone.  It was the place where, on a warm day, I could feel the earth below me and the sun on my face and all the chaos around me (and believe me there was chaos) dissipated into a million little sunlight crystals on the outside of my eyelids.  I drank thousands of bottles of wine there, as well as nursed dozens of hangovers, while looking over the skyline of San Francisco and at a lot of gay dudes in speedos.

Then I left San Francisco in 2002 and I guess, until this week, I kind of forgot that feeling of laying in an urban park, with no money in my pocket but with some wine in my bag, and with a book which maybe I would not even look at due to other things that are infinitely more compelling.  I’ve found my Paris “perch,” and it is at the canal that leads from the Seine to the Bastille.  There, I sort of sink back into the earth, which is littered with cigarette butts and other assorted flotsam and jetsam.   But it is urban earth and ultimately it is this that I feel most comfortable in.

I have been reading though – don’t get me wrong.  One thing that seems to be repeatedly written about Paris by various expats, travel writers and what have you, is that “Paris should be first discovered by those in love, or by the young.”  Well.  I have two answers for that.  The strong answer and the mild answer.

#1 – What a load of effing crap. (Strong.)

#2 – I guess that hasn’t really been my experience. (Mild.)

Having said that, it would be cool to be in Paris in love, and it would be AWESOME to be in Paris and be young, or especially, to be a Parisian child.  To get wheeled around in a comfy stroller and then be able to run around in these fabulous parks, and then to be fed all manner of the best possible sweets… I reckon children could give a fig about all this beauty everywhere.  But the treats?  It’s like mecca for 4 year olds.

It is like mecca for me, too, food wise and I don’t even have very much money.  Today I was lucky enough to hang with my friends Nancy and David, who organized a small picnic with some frequent posters on the chowhound.com message board.  We sat on a tiny strip of park somewhere in the Marais eating roast chicken and potatoes, an amazing pate akin to the best cold meatloaf on the planet, bread and cheese and fruit, a selection of fabulous desserts (see “4 year old mecca,” above) and wine (even though a sign leading into the park had an illustration of a guy drinking out of a bottle and the word “vin” underneath with a line drawn through it.  According to David but maybe he was just messing with me.)  The chicken was purchased at the Sunday market on RIchard Lenoir Blvd, but there was some discussion leading up to the purchase, as in, we needed to go to “book” the chicken for pickup later in case they ran out.  I love roast chicken and I also love that the need to “reserve” one comes out about 25 seconds after “hello.” Fantastic.

After the hours of eating and drinking in the park, we all go our separate ways.  Walking though streets crowded with locals and tourists and folks, I suppose, coming in from the suburbs for the day I feel as though I am walking home.  And I am, kind of.  I head to the canal and it is too hot to sit in the sun so I find the shade of a tree.  Everyone is out.  It is too hot to be in.  Laying on the grass seems so much better than sitting in a cafe.  Some people on a boat are attempting to barbecue, fairly unsuccessfully.  As in, they are smoking out half of Paris. It is nice to know there is one thing the Parisians cannot do.

Now the sun is going down, and I am eating some of the leftover chicken and potatoes.  Outside my windows the sky is painted pink.  I could wake up tomorrow to cold or to rain.  I don’t care.  After just over a week, this is my home, for now at least, and I can’t really be persnickity if the world decides to go back to normal.  Onward.

Dandelion Wine

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

I’m starting to get very settled in to my little apartment.  The floors are a little slanted, and the first three floors to get up here are easy but on the last landing, the stairs themselves get bigger. It is all a bit precarious to be totally truthful but I guess I would not have it any other way.  Marble floors freak me out way more than my crooked linoleum one.  Also white furniture freaks me out.  Thank the travel gods there is no white furniture here.

Other than that, I guess I don’t have a lot to report.  Yesterday it was cloudy and I forced myself to stay in and work all day.  I am not on vacation.  I am living here.  There is a major difference.  The difference being, I really have to work.  So work I did, except for a couple of excursions to the store.  It was not easy as from my working place I look out to the sky, which seemed ever-changing and constantly inviting.  I applaud myself for my self discipline.  Now if I can just keep that going.

Oh, and that was no drum and bass party I heard the other night.  I am realizing now, that there is a train passing nearby, or under the house, and I can only hear this train from my bed.  It is not loud and sometimes I can swear I hear music with it, like it really is a club somewhere.  But at 9:00 in the morning?  Whatever it is, it is the sound that comes with my experience.  I am already getting used to it, and may even come to love it.  Maybe even miss it.  But check in on that one with me in two weeks.

I woke up today with the following two thoughts – I have not walked through Place des Vosges yet and I also have not crossed the Seine.  Well, I could really give two figs about Place des Vosges, it’s pretty and all but it doesn’t exactly drive me to distraction thinking about it.  The river on the other hand, well that drives me to distraction.  So with that in mind I left midday (after some work, also a trip to the Nicolas wine store chain) and walked by the Place des Vosges which pretty much looks the same as last time I saw it.  Then I went to the Musee Carnavelet, which is the Paris history museum.  It is a cool museum with interesting artifacts from Roman times until sometime after 1830, but the after 1830 part was closed today.  So I only got to 1830.  There was a lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair in a pendant and on a ring which I found creepy and also, totally fascinating.  Did you know that there are some hypothesis that Marie Antoinette was actually dying of ovarian cancer when she get her head cut off?  I didn’t know that from the museum, I knew that from before.  Unless I dreamed that.

There were some school groups at the museum.  I spent my two hours there mostly trying to stay ahead of them, or get behind them.  The older ones (14 or 15 or whatever) were, of course, obnoxious as kids of that age tend to be (I know I was.) But there was a group of younger kids that were so cute.  They must have been 8 or 9, and I saw them twice sitting on the floor while their teacher talked to them about Napolean.  An assortment of races, all Parisian, all learning about the French Revolution.  Little hands in the air.  I wanted to get a picture but I thought that might look pervertesque.  So I didn’t even try.

Later I crossed the Seine.  I packed my little bottle of wine and some potato chips and crossed over, and perched myself on the river bank for a couple of hours.  Across the river a guy was playing his guitar.  At one point, he was singing Bob Dylan.  Like a Rolling Stone.  A couple of nights ago it occurred to me that no one, save my landlady knows exactly where I am.  People know where I am, but not really.  If the bottom of this ancient building were to give away and the whole thing plummet into the depths of whatever train thingy is down there, no one would know I was down there.  A complete unknown.  As you can see, the utter romance of Paris is totally getting to me. Like a rolling stone.  Heh.

It really does feel good to be on my own here, however.  I am totally digging it.

As I sat on the cement quai with my legs dangling over the edge, I noticed that the real party seemed to be on the other side of the river – at least the dude singing Bob Dylan was.  On my side, a young woman sat close to me.  She read from a prayer book, occasionally closing her eyes and praying.  She had a box of cookies in her purse and would eat a cookie between each prayer.  A tour boat went by with a bunch of school kids on it and they all screamed and waved at us.  The girl waved and smiled, and so did I. There are worlds of differences between her and me, but we still smile at the same things.

The dander of dandelion is flying through the air.  A ton of it.  It gets in my wine, on my clothes, in my hair.  It is the spring snow that peppers the view of the Notre Dame and the Hotel de Ville and the fancy apartment buildings across the river.  I pick the fuzz out of my wine while the sun goes down behind me.  My butt hurts from the cement, and I am totally in love. Next time I should probably bring a cushion, though.


Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

Yesterday, I had the grandest plan for this, my second full day in Paris.  I was going to get up early, go to the Richard Lenoir outdoor market, then make use of the free first Sunday in many of the cities museums.  Initially, I thought I would go to the Cluny, because I truly love the tapestries and other weird medieval stuff in there.  Then, I thought, well, I SHOULD go to the museum of modern art at the Pompidou, because I have never been there before.  But then it occurred to me that I could go to the Louvre, for FREE.  Well, I knew that I would probably not be able to do them all unless somehow I got up at 6 AM which was basically 200% impossible.  So I decided to figure it out later, which is what I did, kind of.

Unfortunately, I could not sleep last night at all.  I was watching that cheesy TNT production of the Mists of Avalon dubbed in French, and it appeared that they were going to play the entire gazillion hours of that mess, but at half past midnight I thought well if I am going to get up to go to that market I had better get some sleep.  Alas, there was some kind of drum and bass party going on in the ‘hood; the sounds so low that if I had been tired, I would have slept through it.  Kind of like a booming sound from time to time.  Then it started to rain.  I lived in San Diego too long I guess, we never check the weather report in those parts, there is no need to; so I guess I was kind of surprised it was raining after such a gorgeous sunny day.  (Why my last six weeks traversing the US didn’t correct me in this seriously lame way of thinking is a mystery to me.)  Anyway,  I like the sound of the rain, especially on the roof of an attic apartment in Paris, but that, the drum and bass party, and some truly bizarre, also unsettling, dreams kept me from getting any sleep until whatever time in the early morning, so I slept until 10:30.  Thereby, missing the market part of the day, because heck if I am ever going to get out of here right when I wake up.  It takes some hours.  Next time I am not going to fight it, I am going to watch all of the Mists of Avalon dubbed in French.  Lesson learned.

So over my coffee I thought, I will go to the Louvre, and then after that, I can go to the Pompidou.  If I can motor through them, then I will head on down to the Cluny.  HAHAHAHAHA.  That is pretty funny, huh?  Even I know myself, that this is a completely insane undertaking.   To make matters even more, uh, me, I had stashed all my cash somewhere in the apartment so well that I could not remember where I put it.  I actually had enough to go out (since I only can spend 25 euros a day, it is not that hard to find laying around the house) but I knew that if I did not find it I would just obsess about it for the rest of the day.  I finally remembered where it was and managed to get out of here at 12:30. I swear, I drive myself crazy sometimes.

So. Off to the Louvre on the metro which was easy and weirdo free, but then I got into that carrousel du Louvre shopping center and was hit full force with the assault of every other person on the planet being there at exactly the same time as me.  Well not really, but it sort of felt like that in that moment.  Add to that half of them texting while walking and the other half taking  photos of their kids in various unphotogenic settings…. then I saw the line to get into the Louvre.  Quel horror! Mi dio!  No freeking way.  There were hundreds if not thousands of people waiting to get in there.  Then I saw a Virgin megastore.  Je adore Virgin megastore, buh buy Louvre.  I went straight to the listening stations.  I wondered, if I buy something that I wanted to buy at home, and will eventually buy at home, does it count towards my budget?  But then I thought, well, that might be problematic, since it could get me into all kinds of snafus with wine, mustards, chocolates etc.  Because let’s face it I pretty much want to buy stuff.  So I decided to just listen to some records for future refererence.  But then after about 10 minutes of listening to the new Mogwai record I was like, are you out of your mind? It is free museum day!  Come back here when museums aren’t free. So I hung up my headphones reluctantly, but the cool thing is I can go back and listen for hours if I want to.  At least that is what I told myself.  I swear – I totally drive myself crazy sometimes.  I am starting to wonder if I drive other people crazy too.  It would not surprise me in the least.

I walked to the Georges Pompidou thinking if the line was long, I just would not go in.  It was a little rainy and very cloudy today but not really cold, so I figured all the museums would be crowded.  But when I got to the museum there was no line to get in.  I think that the universe wanted me to go in, because later in the day, there were lines, and plenty of them.  I am now wondering if there was some kind of trippy Mists of Avalon thing, where the goddess lowered the fog, and let me in, then put the fog back up. Whatever it was, I am so, so, SO glad the Louvre did not work out, and that I was able to get in with no fuss, because the Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou is one of the most incredible museums I have ever been to.  EVER.

I love modern art especially from the first half of the 20th century, but for some reason I end up going to museums with medieval and Renaissance art.  This is why, I guess, I never went to the Pompidou before (except to have a drink on the terrace upstairs.)  Now I feel so lame.  I saw so much today – so much color, so much beauty, so much ugliness, so much weirdness.  It was… an assault on my senses, and a good one.  A great one in fact, though I did get quite dizzy and overwhelmed from it all.  Along with the Braques and the Kandinskys and the Picassos, there were some really crazy surrealist films shown in narrow corridors lined with paintings.  Not too many people went into watch them, or to look at the paintings, and there was a Dali in one of those corridors, with sand in the painting.  From his house in Cadaques, I guess.  I was intrigued by the little Man Ray black and white portraits of his friends/compatriots (hello, Alice B. Toklas.  What up?)  I spent hours staring at giant canvases full of little bits of color, those trippy films, plus the greatest hits of the above painters.  After a while I felt as though I was going to pass out, and not from hunger (though I had only had a banana and a chocolate croissant to eat all day.)  So I went downstairs to the cafe that overlooks the main floor and entrance of the museum.  I spent a happy hour there, drinking a little bottle of white wine and getting over my very real attack of Stendahl’s Syndrome.  There is an area where they show little kids how to do create art, and the people watching was awesome times infinity.  But outside, the line was getting not only long, but insanely long.  When I was done I wanted to go back up and look some more, but the lines were crazy up there, too.  So I walked around the top level with its fantastic views, then got out of there.

I started to walk home but of course, walked in the completely opposite direction and refused to get my map out because this is the way I roll.  (This, I know, can drive some people other than me crazy sometimes.)  It was only when some dude from Cherry Hill, New Jersey asked me for directions that I finally got my map out.  And I was walking, I dunno, somewhere totally wrong.  Which was OK until I hit the scuzzy Rue St. Denis, it brought all those weird dreams I had last night back… I think now maybe I was dreaming of the future last night.  Got my bearings finally and headed down the Rue Rosiers when I realized I was totally starving and also, thirsty and that it was 6:30 PM and all I had all day was a banana, a chocolate croissant, a little mandarin orange and a 1/4th bottle of white wine.   I totally wanted a falafel, the urge was intense, but the lines were long, and we all know I can’t fathom dinner without wine with it.  So I walked a bit more and spied a wine bar and was like I have to SIT DOWN, NOW so I went in.  I ordered a Sancerre Rouge and the waiter said, small, or medium?  Well, medium of course.  A medium was 8.40 euros, but it was pretty big and came with a plate of salami (bonus!) so I spent at least another happy hour there.  Maybe longer.  At the table next to me there were a group of youngsters who ordered giant crepes with boatloads of chocolate on top.  It took a great deal of willpower to not run my finger through one of those bad boys.  Seriously.

I think it was Ernest Hemingway who wrote, when one is hungry, the colors of the world are more vibrant, outlines sharper, beverages more tasty.  This is not exactly the way he said it, but this is the way I remembering it now.  I am not hungry, but I can truthfully say that traveling with constraints has sharpened the outlines of my days here so far.  I want more.