Sunday, May 6, 2012

Whipping Cats Bicentennial Post

An auspicious day for Whipping Cats* and, we hope, for France. Congratulations to Monsieur Hollande as he assumes the role of president of the Fifth Republic. Here in Paris, people have taken to the streets to celebrate, and to join the big socialist rally** going on down at the Place de la Bastille. Earlier this evening, I watched the results on TV with Nancy and Gabriella and their neighbors at the little bar on their corner. The degree of resentment against Sarkozy was remarkable, though obviously this bar cannot have been entirely representative, as he did get 48% of the vote.

*: for this blog. It is never an auspicious day to whip cats, neither singly nor multiply. Leave Smudge alone!
**: yes, America. Europe is full of socialists. They are everywhere, kind of like LOLcats, but with better spelling and syntax.

Why eat Toblerone when you can have chocolate to which the candied fruit and pistachios have been added by hand?

For those readers who may be lamenting the apparent recent decline of this blog to nothing more than food porn and poems about cats, rest assured that the management is fully aware of the problem and will be taking steps forthwith to reverse this decline. For instance, we will very shortly be reintroducing the ever-popular "Geek's Corner" feature.

That was the semaine that was

I'm desperately trying to use today (which is gloomy and overcast) to try to get this blog up to date, so I hope my readers will forgive me if I write one of those "OMG it's been a busy week and this is everything I did in the last seven days" kind of posts.

The main issue last Sunday was dealing with the delicious leftovers from the previous evening's revelry. These included this delicious millefeuille:

which my classmate Ai had been kind enough to bring on Saturday evening. In addition to this, there was a multitude of strawberries and an enormous bowl of whipped cream. Obviously the only sensible course of action was to go out and buy another bottle of champagne and invite Nancy and Gabriella over to help out. We spent a lovely afternoon together and deluded ourselves that the long walk we took afterwards neutralized our caloric excesses.

After an afternoon class with Danielle, I saw Nancy and Gabriella again on Tuesday (which was, of course, a holiday to celebrate the International day of the Worker). We went to see a fine Chilean movie ("Viejos Gatos") together. Afterwards we enjoyed an aperitif at their friend Monique's apartment; later on I watched "Pekin Express", which is France's version of "The Amazing Race".

Here is a random picture for your amusement:

Wednesday night was the big debate between the two remaining presidential candidates, Sarkozy the incumbent and Hollande the challenger. I wish I could report that I watched the whole thing, but I gave up after the first 20 minutes or so. Sarkozy irritated me so much I wanted to stick pencils in my eyes just to make it stop. We got to watch highlights in the following day's class anyway.

On Thursday evening I went with Danielle to a flamenco concert at the big hall in Parc de la Villette. Lord knows why -- it seemed like a good idea at the time. I'd forgotten how much certain* aspects of flamenco make me want to run screaming into the night. Still, it was culcha, and we all need a little culcha in our lives.

OK, this is as updated as things are going to get for the moment, because it's almost 6:30 pm and I have to go join Nancy and Gabriella and their neighbors to go watch the election results later on at the bar down the street from them. Let's hope things go according to projection, and that we will be seeing the last of this particular individual (seen here cozying up to Marine LePen). I wonder how long before Carla Bruni dumps him if he loses?

Coming very soon (I promise) -- details of my activities on Friday and Saturday -- in a very special post #200 to this blog. And I have some thoughts (well, more of a rant) about certain aspects of the French language that I know you will want to hear.

* : the caterwauling, the ridiculous macho posturing of the dancers -- oh, let's be brutally honest here -- the whole damned spiel, with the possible exception of the guitar-playing, which is unfortunately usually drowned out by the hideous caterwauling

Apéritif dînatoire

Our final lecture with Andre, a week ago Thursday, was devoted to the art and vocabulary of wine-tasting. Initially the plan had been to visit the Wine Museum and hold the class there, but the school wasn't keen on the idea (unclear why, because everyone in the class was well above the minimum drinking age). So instead, we decided to hold the practical part of the class here in my apartment on the following Saturday evening.

It was a great success. Nine people squeezed into my little apartment, where we tasted a total of four wines, each paired with an appropriate dish. Here are the wines we tasted, in order from left to right:

By popular acclaim, the wine on the left, a "Floc de Gascogne", was the hit of the evening, possibly because of its fortified nature (17% alcohol). We enjoyed it with some delicious foie gras, with truffle salt or cherry jam. The next wine was a "mature" white, a 2008 Meursault (premier cru), excellent with the shellfish dish that Andre had prepared. I'd give more detail on aforementioned shellfish dish, except that my allergy prevented me from examining it up close. Myself, I had a nice slice of smoked salmon on toast for this second course. The third course was a variety of stinky cheeses, brought by Ben (the Chinese philosophy student in our class), enjoyed with the 2010 Petit Chablis. In conclusion, we enjoyed the fine bottle of champagne that Ben brought, with strawberries and fresh whipped cream.

Oh, and I think there may have been a lemon tart and some fine Swiss chocolates to go with the coffee afterwards.

One of the early thoughts for the evening had been that we might do the wine-tasting first in my apartment, then eat at one of the restaurants down the street later on. As it turned out, there was clearly no need to eat anywhere later on.

A great time was had by all.

"Out and About in Paris" and "Rue Art" (photo collections)

Here are links to a couple of photo collections over on Facebook. They should be visible, even if you are not a member over there. Sadly, I have reached the point of no return on FB.

I am proud to say, however, that I have never "twittered" or "tweeted", or whatever the verb is for the ridiculous activity in question. And if you seriously believe that the benign force of Twitter and other social networking platforms topples bad, mean dictators, then you have obviously drunk of the Kool-Aid, and this blog is not for you. Mainly, they would like you to buy stuff, or they would like to learn information about you that they can sell to other people who want to sell you stuff.

Out and About in Paris, Spring 2012

Rue Art

The very large library

Francois Mitterrand cannot be criticized for thinking small. Quite the reverse, one might reasonably accuse him of having suffered a certain folie de grandeur. He certainly managed to leave a hefty architectural footprint on the city of Paris, thanks to the large number of so-called "Grands Projets" that were commissioned and executed during his term in office. These include the pyramid of the Louvre, the Opera Bastille, the Arche de la Defense, and the National Library of France that now bears his name.

Last week, our sortie pedagogique from school was a guided tour of the library. Completed in 1996 (something of a rush job, because Mitterrand wanted to see it completed before his death), it is widely regarded as perhaps the least successful of Mitterrand's "Grands Projets". Per Wikipedia:

"Construction of the library ran into huge cost overruns and technical difficulties related to its high-rise design, so much so that it is commonly referred to as the "TGB" or "Très Grande Bibliothèque" (i.e. "Very Large Library," a sarcastic allusion to France's successful high-speed rail system, the TGV)".

I would have to concur with those who maintain that it is a classic example of the kind of architectural folly that ignores function for the sake of form. The docent who guided our tour tried to be upbeat, maintaining that it was a place of pilgrimage for architects, a building not to be missed. When pressed on this point, he ruefully acknowledged that it was mainly so that they could learn to avoid making similar mistakes in the future. On the plus side, the little internal trolley system for moving books around was kind of charming. Almost everything else about the place sucked. But our docent was wonderful.

As were the amazing Coronelli globes: