Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Food Post

Well, I'm in Paris. There are going to be a few food-related blog posts.

Ellen and Leslie came over yesterday evening and we went to dinner next door at le Vernissoir. I had been looking forward to a little rabbit stew, but they had changed their menu for the summer, so instead I had to console myself with a little duck terrine, perfectly done steak with fingerling potatoes and a little dessert. The terrine and steak were wonderful, but the dessert was the best part. Ellen and Leslie shared a "reimagined chocolate tarte" (deconstructed into its constituent elements and reassembled), while I had the deconstructed mojito, shown below:

On a biscuit base (in the Irish sense of biscuit), there was mint ice-cream, meringue, and two little infusions of rum, which one could presumably suck on, inject intravenously, or ingest by whatever route one fancied.

It was both delicious and highly entertaining! It was also great to see Ellen and Leslie again. Paradoxically, though we live only about 30 miles from each other in the U.S. (they live in Palo Alto), we end up seeing one another far more often here in Paris. And it is way more fun seeing Ellen over dinner here in the neighborhood than at dull staff meetings at Genentech. Though I would like to believe we did our best to minimize the dullness of our staff meetings.

Why not make your own deconstructed mojito as you read this blog post?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Putting Lipstick on the Pig

Apart from yesterday's scheduling debacle, my first week back at ACCORD was really enjoyable; Our teacher, Oceane, who grew up in New Caledonia (sort of the French equivalent of Van Diemen's Land, regular readers will recognize it as the place of exile of that arch-anarchist, Communard Louise Michel) was enthusiastic, engaged, and highly motivating. Over the course of the week, we covered material as diverse as French outside metropolitan France, art and art history, feminism, careers and work, and beliefs and superstitions.

So, for example, under that last rubric, we learned today of the prevalent French belief that it brings good luck to walk into dogshit, provided you do so with your left foot, rather than your right.

That sound you hear is my irreverent guffawing. I'm sorry, citizens of France, and denizens of Paris in particular. But this is as good an illustration as you could ever want of the activity known to Americans as putting lipstick on a pig. When you kiss it, it's still a pig. And that brown stuff on your shoe, that's still merde.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Quelques photos

Today was not the ACCORD school's finest hour - both my morning class AND afternoon workshop fell victim to teacher scheduling problems. And, in the case of the workshop, to some unforgivable cheapskatery (not to say ass-hattery), on behalf of Manuel, the smooth-talking empty suit of a "director" they installed last year. He continues to preside over a gradual erosion of quality and standards that is directly relatable to his own cost-cutting measures.

But enough carping. One good result was that I re-registered this morning for another 3-month stint at the gym, and got to work out for 45 minutes this afternoon. Just cardio stuff so far, but it's a start. Tomorrow I re-start my private lessons with Danielle (aka Madame Cruella), and will have dinner in the neighborhood with Ellen and Leslie, who have flown back from Palo Alto atypically early this year.

I leave you with a couple of photos of Arts et Metiers, one of the closest metro stations to here, and one of my favorites; I love the whole Jules Verne vibe.

This last picture speaks for itself (I hope):

Bonne nuit à tous mes lecteurs.

Ordure in the Streets

It happens every time I come to Paris. Regular as clockwork. Sooner or later, in one class or another, we will be practicing our mastery of the conditional, and one of the students (usually American, usually female, but not always) will start off a sentence "If I were mayor of Paris ....."

I think we all know that there is only one possible ending to that sentence. Anyone who has spent more than an afternoon in the city can fill in the rest .....

Because Parisians are notoriously bad about following the recommendation above, making scenes like that below (look away if you're thqueamish about puppy poop) commonplace

that never-to-be-fulfilled conditional "If I were mayor of Paris ..." invariably ends with dreams of draconian punishment for scofflaws of the pooper-scooper regulations. Yes, there are actually regulations, but since they are generally ignored and never enforced, one asks oneself  "What use are they?"

This general scorn for pooper-scooper laws is somewhat baffling, because in other respects the casual visitor might be forgiven for thinking that Parisians are obsessed with litter control. The quiet of my little side street here in the Marais is interrupted not just once, but twice, a day for garbage pickup (non-recyclables, recyclables), with an extra-loud glass pickup every few days thrown in as lagniappe. When I first came to Paris, in the spring of 2011, I didn't yet have a cellphone that worked here in Europe, so I used to have to phone the U.S. using a prepaid phone card from a public kiosk. It was a running gag that, no sooner had I punched in the (lengthy) code sequence to get through, but the glass collecting truck would roll up, rendering things inaudible for the next several minutes.

The Parisian tolerance for dog poop on their sidewalks remains puzzling. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the word "ordure", which in English has quite strong negative connotations of filth and excrement, is a relatively mild term in French, no stronger than, say, "garbage" or "rubbish" in American or British English.

But "how is David able to post so early today?", you may be wondering. Well, because of a temporary staffing issue at school, they ended up having to combine two classes, to form a monster group of size greater than 20. Given the lack of chairs and the general air of exasperation that seemed to have set in, I decided that discretion was indeed the better part of valor and that a morning spent skipping ("secher" = to skip class) might be in order. I do have a workshop this afternoon, so it's not as if I won't be learning anything. Plus I can read up on all the gory details of that gruesome quadruple murder in the woods near Grenoble (this kind of article, filed under the rubric "fait-divers"- "diverse facts", or human interest stories, - is a staple of the free daily newspapers handed out by the Metro entrances. Appalling journalism, but pretty helpful for one's French).

You know, I may just be getting the hang of this keyboard.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Marianne gets un "relooking"

One of the major advantages to the current apartment is its proximity, not only to school, but to such important transportation hubs as the Place de la Republique, which is served by something like six different metro lines. Almost all of central Paris appears to be constantly in a state of renovation, and Republique is no exception. When I was here in the spring, they had started a reconstruction project that promised to extend to mid-2013. God knows what improvements are planned, but while I was away the work manage to engulf Marianne, the central statue of the plaza, and symbol of the Republic. She has gone from


so God knows how she will emerge next summer. Possibly with a Mohawk.

Adding to the general air of hubbub and confusion is the fact that this week is what is generally referred to as

Yes, it's "la rentrée", or back to school week, across the entire country. And, of course, if you happen to be Parisian, Monday marked the first day back after abandoning the capital to the foreign hordes for the month of August. All of which probably goes a long way toward explaining why Darty was such a zoo on Monday afternoon when I ventured in to look for a new notebook computer. The result, by the way, is working out quite well (or you wouldn't be reading this ). As a testament to our almost infinite adaptability as a species, I have to confess that Stockholm syndrome is already setting in with respect to the hideous froggy keyboard. For instance, it's great at doing accents, and other froggy idiosyncracies (possibly I mean idiosyncrasies, but if I turn on spellcheck in this thing I'll be doomed for life).

é à ç è ù € £

See what I mean?

I leave you with a photo to show that the Colonel has that healthy French diet firmly in his sights:

But now it is time to go watch them restage some aging pensioner's apartment for sale on Channel MK6's exciting "Maison à Vendre". The pensioner in question has already been moved to expostulate "madre mia", which certainly sounds like some Romance language, if not exactly French.

A très bientôt !

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Those cats aren't going to whip themselves!!

Well, it's been a shamefully long time since I've posted to this blog. But that's all going to change. Now that I am back in Paris for another 3 months, I owe it to you, my public, to keep you abreast of all the latest developments ici in the France of Monsieur Hollande, as I continue my never-ending climb up the cliff-face of French language and culture.

Zut, alors! This time around my ascent is being rendered that little bit more complicated by the fact that I am documenting it on my nouveau Acer, purchased yesterday at Darty for more Euros than I might have liked, and equipped with an indisputably French keyboard, which is the cause of some hilarious typos. It turns out that reprogramming it to be American is a very bad idea, as my recollection of what keys go where on the American keyboard is very imperfect.

Here's an especially fun activity you might want to try sometime, preferably when you are befuddled and jetlagged. Try entering the 18-digit code to access your WiFi network on a keyboard where the keys have apparently been randomly reallocated by malevolent French elves. The term "laff riot" comes to mind.

But it's great to be back, to be recognized and welcomed. I started class again yesterday morning, and so far things are going great. Right now it's time to write my homework essay on the mysterious allure of Alcatraz as a tourist destination, as well as figure out, if cinema is the "7th art" in French, what do the other six (or more?) correspond to?

Enquiring minds need to know. Check back soon for the answer to this, and other equally fascinating, questions.