Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Stylin' Gym Gear

As anyone who has the mixed blessing of being my "friend" on Facebook knows, one of the first things I did upon returning to Paris, was to renew my membership at the local Club Med Fitness Club (what I had been referring to confidently as "la gym" until today, when Nolwenn, our improvisations class teacher, gently informed me that going to "la gym" had definite connotations involving female gymnastics and for me to say I had gone to "la gym" was at best creepy, maybe even sort of pervy; le sigh) for another 3 months. In an effort to use public shaming as a mechanism to get myself to go, I have been providing a daily update on my progress over on Facebook. Mercifully, I will spare you the details here.

French fitness clubs don't seem substantially different from their American counterparts; it is a relief to ascertain that sweaty French people are no more or less elegant than sweaty Americans. Representation of the sexes is very different in the Paris gym, not as overwhemingly male as in the Castro - no surprises there. There is a certain amount of low-level flirting in both places, but for the most part people concentrate on their exercises.

In general, I wear one of several nondescript old Genentech T-shirts to the gym. Because, after working there for 17 years, my supply of old Genentech T-shirts is entirely inexhaustible. Seriously; I'm sure any of my former colleagues can relate. That place gave out T-shirts as if they were M 'n M's -- all you had to do was sneeze and you'd get one. Recently, however, for reasons that were almost entirely laundry-related, I found myself compelled to don two of what I consider to be my klassier T-shirts. Certainly two of my favorite T-shirts; I think you will understand why:

I am happy to report that both of these shirts, but the first in particular*, provoke a much more interesting** level of chit-chat with other gym-goers. Thanks are due to Katie and Adam for the first and to Katie's mom, Paddy, for the second.

*: about 50% of people who comment on it appear to do so for cat-loving reasons (nothing wrong with that); about 50% actually seem to GET THE JOKE (a pretty useful filter right there)

**: compare to some random, double-helixy, generic Genentech shirt.

For the record, I was doing very well in closing in on my 21 days gym-going to imprint those positive neuronal behavioral pathways when Satan, the prince of darkness, threw a spanner in the works by having one of his vile minions sneeze on me in the metro, thereby giving me the COLD FROM HELL; however, I got back in the saddle (literally, of the stationary bike) on Friday and am 6 for 6 this week, and I promise never to bring this up again in the blog, because it seems as if I obsess about nothing else already on Facebook.

Magnificent tomatoes --- at a price!!

Take a gander at those tomatoes. The photograph doesn't even come close to doing them justice. They are, without a doubt, the most delicious tomatoes I have ever tasted in my 55 years on the planet. They quite simply eclipse all other tomatoes from my memory and set a new standard for how tomatoes should taste.

But such excellence in tomatoe-dom does not come without a price. For the specimens shown above, the price exacted was my abject humiliation at the hands of a couple of Parisiennes well-versed in putting mere foreigners in their place.

It all started innocently enough. I headed out in the late afternoon to the Marché des Enfants Rouges (I am still unclear as to exactly who these eponymous ruddy children may have been) to pick up some 30-month Comté (the black tar of Comtés) at the fromagerie, having previously established that the maximum age of Monoprix-stocked Comté is 24 months. Having secured my fix of Comté, I was ready to go home when I noticed this appealing maraîcher right next to the cheese shop. Hmmm, I thought, I need to get some tomatoes, and I sidled into the store, to get a closer look.

What I should have done: enter the store decisively, sing out "Bonjour", and wait for someone to come help me

What I did: wander into the store in a fugue state, forgetting to issue the obligatory greeting (this alone marked me as a barbarian, but it gets worse), sidle over toward the tomatoes, upon seeing these very attractive clusters of tomatoes on the vine, and (I shudder now at the atrocity of my own behavior) PICK THEM UP AND HOLD THEM IN MY HAND .....

Only then did I come to my senses, but of course by then it was too late. The vile deed was done. I looked around, as if in a fugue state, only to find myself being stared at ("stared" isn't really the right verb here, but "laser-crucified" isn't in the dictionary) in contempt and disbelief by at least half a dozen French people, each of whose mouths was frozen in a rictus of horror, reminiscent of Munch's "The Scream". The store-owner fixes me in her sights and bellows, in tones that still chill my spine, "Monsieur, J'arrive!"

So I stew in my guilty juices while she takes her sweet time in wrapping those radishes for the garrulous old lady who is staring at me as if I were a particularly loathsome toad (crapaud). The stress takes its toll, so that my palms start to sweat. This in turn starts to dislodge the tomatoes from the vine. So that, by the time the dragon lady comes to put me out of my misery why - wouldn't you know it - a couple of the little tomatoes come loose and go bouncing around on the floor, like so many little pellets of possessed vegetable matter.

I have blocked the following 90 seconds out of my head, apparently. Let's just say that it was bad; very, very bad. Of course, at no point did any French person behave in a way that was anything other than correct. But they have other ways of making you want to curl up and die.

In the night I had a dream. In the dream, I was stuck in an infinitely large fruit and vegetable store, unable to touch the produce, and nobody would come to help me because the way I had said "Bonjour" upon entering the store had marked me as a foreigner, and thus, in all probability, a barbarian.

But man, those tomatoes are simply extraordinary. So, despite the angoisse, I have to think it was worth it.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Stationery Fetish

Stationery shops have always had a bizarre seductive appeal to me. I don't know if it's a holdover from my schoolboy nerdishness, when shopping for school supplies before the start of a new school year could keep me engaged for days (important to get the right coloured three-ring binders, and to have enough of those sticky circular reinforcement thingies for the much-pawed pages in which the holes just gave way; not to mention highlighter pens of assorted degrees of eye-assaulting neon virulence).

So when I came across these fine items in Gibert Jeune the other day, for a mere 2,03€, there was no question of leaving the store without them:

"What are they?", I hear you ask. Why, they are handy stencils of the map of France, with the major physical geographic features imposed (on the right), and the various towns and departements on the left.

C'est genial, non ?

David's Surefire Tip for Driving Prostitutes Wild

Carry a large umbrella!

Perhaps I should elaborate.

The plain people of Ireland: Yes, please do, you've got our attention!
WhippingCats Management: Silence, rabble! etc etc

As I was just about to explain, in any large city, prostitutes are going to be a feature of the landscape. Here in Paris, depending on the route I choose to walk to school, I can take the Boulevard St Denis, which will take me right by all the Asian prostitutes clustered outside Gibert Jeune, or I have the option of taking Rue Blondel which is where, not to put a tooth in it, the over-the-hill prostitutes hang out. Actually, the French term for what they do is "faire le pied de grue" (they make the foot of the crane). Or, if I put my mind to it, I can avoid both blocks in question, but on a rainy morning it's not the first priority. So on Thursday morning I found myself launched down the Rue Blondel, where the "girls" were clustered unusually densely, with only my umbrella to defend myself. Let me tell you, they just LOVED that umbrella. They kept leaping out of the doorways to better admire it. Or perhaps it is an accepted superstition among the filles de joie that "un mec qui porte un grand parapluie sera muni d'un grand .... portefeuille*".

In other news, on Thursday evening I was having dinner in my favorite little neighborhood cafe, when I was witness to a touching scene. This enormous, multi-generational, American family party of about 16 people piled into the banquette for dinner. They ranged in age from 8 to about 80 and the quality of their French seemed to decline by generation; the grandmother's French, in particular, was really good. It turns out that she had gotten married in the church across from the cafe and the next day, two generations later, her granddaughter (also present at dinner) was getting married in the same church. This warmed the cockles of even my unsentimental heart. I bade them my good wishes as I left; they were entirely charming and I hope the wedding went off without a hitch.

*: You can look it up; translation engines are a dime a dozen these days.