Monday, December 13, 2010

Faking it

It was exciting to discover this new meat analog at what's sadly becoming a favorite hangout: Carrefour. While we haven't really been eating much in the way of fake foods since arriving on French soil nearly six months ago, the novelty of faux ground beef was too enticing to pass up.

Opening the package, I wasn't expecting this Hache Vegetal to bear such a startling resemblance to the Play-Doh of my youth. The best hope I had was that it would taste marginally better than the Play-Doh of my youth.

Even 20+ years ago when I still ate animals, I wasn't really into hamburger. Coming up with a way to prepare this mystery meat took a bit of effort, but I finally decided on meatballs, which I'd plop on top of that evening's spaghetti.

OK: so they aren't the prettiest meatballs ever. And why does my French stovetop (otherwise known as le hotplate) look so devastatingly mucky? Ack!

The finished product looks somewhat more appetizing than phases one, two and three. The taste: better than expected, and definitely much better than Play-Doh. The ingredients list printed on the Hache Vegetal packaging was relatively short--soy, tomato, onion, salt--and that's what I tasted. But maybe that was the sauce. In any case, when washed down with a glass of Bordeaux, everything--even Play-Doh inspired meat analogs--tastes divine.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Date with David

I'd been waiting for this day for, like, two months. David Sedaris, an author whose work never fails to make me laugh (or, at the very least, chuckle. Chuckle? This word suddenly seems awfully weird), was going to read from his new book at the Village Voice, an English-language bookshop over in the 6e, not too far from the Sorbonne.

"You better get there really early," my friend Jennifer cautioned. "I hear it's going to be packed."

It seemed silly to arrive too early, but I really wanted an audience with Mr. Sedaris. Actually--naively, perhaps--I planned to bravely ask if I could interview him for the guidebook I'm writing for Avalon Travel on moving to France, since he'd made that move himself. Arriving around 6:00 for the 7:00 appearance seemed like the right amount of time to guarantee me a spot at the author's table.

Scurrying out of the apartment toward the Metro, I dodged the fat snowflakes spilling down with cinematic bravado and rehearsed my "may I interview you?" script. The trip was uneventful, with just one train change and a single brief encounter with a fragrant homeless-looking man whose filthy, coal-miner's hands kept me mesmerized for several stops.

At the bookstore, I was surprised to see it wasn't too crowded; there were, perhaps, 12 people milling about downstairs. The rest were lounging and talking loudly in nasally American accents on the spiral staircase leading to the second-floor reading room. At the counter, I bought a copy of Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk from the crabby bookseller and got in line at the foot of the staircase, on the off chance space freed up on the next level.

Every 30 seconds or so, the door opened and more Sedaris fans--all of whom seemed to have the same whiny East Coast accent--piled in, bitching en masse about the potential wait to see their literary hero. Another shop clerk, aka the staircase cop, announced that he would let 20 people upstairs--but just 20. The rest of us would have to watch Mr. Sedaris via a television monitor mounted to the wall downstairs.

Then the stampede began.

Suddenly, I was no longer at the front of the line, but somehow at the back. From somewhere high on the spiral staircase, a large leather bag tumbled down two steps and overturned, dislodging a bucketful of "Advil--no really, it's just Advil," which landed on shoes and in hair before skittering across the floor in a hundred different directions.

"Dix-huit, dix-neuf, vignt," counted the staircase cop, making a chopping motion between me and the guy standing in front of me. "Sorry," he said, not sounding very. "We're at capacity now. We're not allowing any people more upstairs."

While debating whether or not to hang around, David Sedaris walked through the door, looking much shorter, older, and schlubbier than I'd imagined.

"Oh, hoai, Day-vid," some fat old lady in red glasses called out. "So nice ta see ya."

After greeting a handful of what appeared to be old friends from his New York City days, Mr. Sedaris suggested that he should sign books downstairs until his reading at 7:00. A small table was quickly erected, upon which a bottle of water and a Sharpie were placed, and the signing began. I was fourth in line.

"I'm going to ask Mr. Sedaris if we can have our picture taken together," I said to the young woman in line behind me. "Would you be willing to snap the photo if he agrees?"

Of course, came her reply. Yes!

Just then, a woman being eaten alive by a hideous fur coat many sizes too big for her shuffled over to the table and attempted to take a photo with her iPhone. That was all it took for Nice David Sedaris to morph into Scary David Sedaris.

"Um, excuse me, but I really don't like having my picture taken," he spat out bitchily, a sarcastic grimace stretching across his face. "No, really, I don't." He stared at her for a second or two, his forced smile inching a bit wider for mean-queen emphasis. The woman turned and walked away.

"Nevermind," I said to the girl behind me, shoving my own camera back into my bag.

From the conversations taking place ahead of me, I learned a few things about David Sedaris:

-- he shops at Monoprix
-- he rides the Metro
-- he no longer lives in France

Dammit!

Apparently, he and Hugh, his boyfriend, skipped off to England. Fine. I was too nervous after seeing a glimpse of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Sedaris that I didn't really want to ask him for any interviews, anyway.

"Hi! What's your name?" he asked as I moved gingerly in his direction.

"Who did you come here with?"

"What are you doing when you leave here tonight?"

"Who should we throw forks and knives at?"

Huh?

Before I understood that this last question in some way related to what he was about to ink into the book--in which case I'd have responded "animal killers!" or "rude Americans!"--I stood there just trying to process the random juxtaposition of his words. Apparently, I took too long.

"Vagrants. We'll throw forks and knives at vagrants!"


"Um, OK! Actually, I sat across from a vagrant on the Metro tonight. Can you smell him on me?"

"No, I can't, but do you ever wonder how long it would take before any one of us got that smelly? I mean, what if they locked us all in here right now--how long would it take to build up that sort of body odor?"

"Well," I replied, trying to sound like an expert on the subject, "some of us are more productive when it comes to manufacturing bodily smells. Me, I'd give myself about a day and a half."

"A day and a half? Really?"

"No, not really."

And we carried on like that for a few seconds more before I thanked him and went on my merry way, opting not to stick around and battle the crowd forming around the monitor for a glimpse of a man I'd just had a rather intimate conversation with.

Back inside the Metro station, my heart sank as I saw Vagrant Guy--the same fellow with the long, dirt-encrusted fingernails--pacing around maniacally on the platform. I wasn't in the mood for him right now. Walking back and forth before me in a puff of cigarette smoke, it was as if he somehow knew what had been inscribed inside my new book.

"Please don't look at me. Please go away!" I shouted inside of my head, looking down at my feet and resisting the urge sneak glances at the fully exposed bottom perched above his untethered jeans.

At last, the train arrived, and I saw Vagrant Guy enter one car ahead of mine. Phew. Cocooning myself in the safety of the sweet(ish)-smelling throngs, I cracked open my new book and chuckled all the way to Porte de Clichy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sweet (Tooth) Denial

I've always claimed to be that rarest of human specimens: she who does not possess a sweet tooth.

"I can totally live without dessert for the rest of my life," I'd boast to anyone who'd care to listen. "Just don't try to take my salted nuts or potato chips away. That's the stuff that makes life worth living." (OK: that and the wine.)

Well, turns out that I'm full of baloney.

While it's true I've never had a thing for marshmallows, Gummi Bears or Jujyfruits, I must admit to having a thing for chocolate, and for anything that's sort of simultaneously sweet and salty, like peanut-butter cups or salted caramels--both of which are rarely-to-never vegan.

Yesterday, with an hour to kill between dog-walking assignments, I decided to wander into Carrefour, deep in the heart of the bourgeois and ever-so-boring 16e.

The place is deceptively ginormous; moving through the chocolate aisle alone took 20 minutes. As I trolled the aisles, eyes bulging at the sheer quantity of choices in every food category, I proceeded to fill my basket with all kinds of goodies: bags of salty corn-nuts from the "Middle East" aisle, hefty bunches of those delectable Muscat grapes I've become addicted to, and giant jars of yummy lupini beans I first fell in love with in Italy last summer.

Finally, toward the end of my shopping excursion, I found the "bio" aisle, dedicated to all things organic. Here, I discovered something that made my heart skip a beat: dairy-free chocolate with, of all things, caramelized quinoa inside. Sold! (And what is it with the French and quinoa? They even sell quinoa milk at Naturalia.)

When I got home, I decided to study the packaging one last time before tearing into it. Definitely no milk, butter, eggs, or meat. But what I didn't see the first time was that this chocolate I so desperately wanted to sink my teeth into does contain decidedly non-vegan honey. Dammit!

I nibbled a square anyway, the buzz of a million stunned and dying honeybees providing the background noise inside my head. It was dark and delicious, but not worth the psychic discomfort.

While I continue exploring the mysterious world of French chocolate bars, my sweet tooth can safely indulge in two predictable favorites, hazelnuttylicious Chocolinette, and cheapo brand Belle France Caramel Popcorn. (The latter of which tastes divine when mixed with salted peanuts.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rainbow Bright


It happened so fast.

One second I was upright on my bicycle, cruising down the bike lane on a gray Friday in Montmartre, happy and sated from a delicious meal at Chettinadu. The next, I was face down in the street, spitting blood and checking for missing teeth and broken bones, while strangers disentangled me from my bike and stuffed tissues and bottled water into my bleeding hands.

It's one of those cyclist's hazards that I have a habit of falling victim to every few years. Sometimes, it's the other guy's fault; a car cuts you off or a pedestrian steps off the curb without looking. But sometimes, it's no one's fault but your own. That was the case in this situation. A guy on a Velib bike had just passed me, but he didn't get close enough to propel me over the handlebars and mouth-first into the ground. I managed that all on my own.

There's nothing quite as excruciating as the pain of having people stare at you for all the wrong reasons. I got quite a few double-takes while out and about with flesh-colored bandages holding my face in place. And never, ever, have I had more people stop to ask me for directions, or inquire about the dog I was walking, or smile at me expecting the same in return (which I could not offer) as I have this week. Je ne comprends pas!

It's been nearly a week since my wipeout, and wounds are healing, and the bandage on my face has finally come off. Looking forward to laughing again, whistling again, and saying words that begin with "B" again.

p.s. That's not a wine stain on my lips for once! That's the bruising that comes with knocking your mouth into the pavement :0(

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dejeuner Drama

Yesterday, after making the trip across town to return library books at the Faidherbe-Chaligny branch (Paris isn't like San Francisco; you have to return your checked-out items to the exact location where you borrowed them), we made a trip to our favorite daily market, Marche d'Aligre, then rode over to Boulevard Beaumarchais to finally give Loving Hut a try. For those of you who don't know about Loving Hut, it's a global chain of vegan restaurants run by the Supreme Master Ching Hai folks. The name they chose is kind of awful, but the food is actually rather delicious.

We walked in and were told we could sit wherever we wanted. It was cold outside, but the front of the restaurant had lots of direct sun streaming through the windows, so I did like any cat-in-a-last-life would do and chose the sun-shiniest, warmest seat. (Jeff wore his sunglasses indoors throughout the meal.)

The cheerful waitress came and took our order, and right about the time our food arrived, three well-dressed teenage-ish boys came through the door and walked straight to the back of the restaurant. One of them was carrying a piece of paper slipped inside a plastic sheath. I didn't see what it said, but I'm sure it was something along the lines of "Would you please take pity on me and give me some free money? I REALLY need another pair of these designer shoes I'm wearing." I was glad they didn't visit our table. After all those years in San Francisco, I've definitely maxed out my compassion for panhandlers.

A moment later, the cheerful waitress, sounding less so, could be heard telling paperboy to move along on his merry way. "You can't do this in the restaurant," she insisted, before escorting him to the door. I watched him exit, a dejected look on his face, and walk westward before disappearing around a corner. A moment later, the other two young men followed in the same direction.

After this somewhat peculiar kerfuffle, we carried on chatting and eating our scrumptious meals--Jeff got the Feuillete aux legumes and I chose the Galette aux champignons (that's mine in the foreground above)--before the calm was again pierced by a rather loud and jarring voice, in English again, exclaiming, "Yes, I definitely saw a wallet in his hand. Oh, I should have said something!"

In a not-unusual scam conducted in cities around the world, the young man with the paper had spotted a wallet on the table of a man eating lunch, and as he approached, he set his "Please give me free money" sign over the wallet, and when the man declined, he simply lifted his paper--with wallet beneath--and walked on.

The "victim," a rather handsome, middle-aged Frenchman sporting a dapper suit and a surprisingly OK-looking sun-bleached bob, didn't seem too worried about it. He left, then the police came, then I put on my nosy hat and had a chat with the loud Canadian woman who saw the whole drama go down.

After getting the scoop, I went to the counter to check out the goods for sale, discovering several different varieties of vegan cheese, loads of Tartex, and some books, including Colleen Patrick- Goudreau's The Joy of Vegan Baking. As I paid for my dairy-free smoked cheddar, blond bob man came back in. Standing beside him at the counter, I looked up at him with the most sympathetic face I could muster and said "Je suis tres desolee. Quelle dommage."

He just winked at me and smiled as if to simply say "C'est la vie."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Marché Surprise

I got these at the Marché d'Aligre today.

You might be pondering the same question I did the first time I saw them: What the hell are they?

Underneath all that somewhat disarming browny-green organic matter you'll find fresh noisettes, otherwise known as hazelnuts.

If you've never tried a fresh hazelnut, you must. Like fresh dates and almonds, they barely resemble their traditionally consumed dried counterparts in flavor or texture. They're still crunchy, but more akin to a carrot's crunch than a peanut's.

I've wanted to try these ever since they started appearing at produce markets around town a few weeks ago, along with the très autumnal chestnuts and chanterelles, but the 10-euro-a-kilo pricetag always put this notorious tightwad off. At Marche d'Aligre, they're only 4 euro a kilo. I like that price better.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vegan Food Porn (kind of)

Try to look beyond the non-planet-friendly Styrofoam packaging and visualize instead undressing and then tasting the first burrito (that's mine on the left!) I've eaten since those two awful numbers consumed at SFO (didn't notice the cheese until after the first bite) and Dulles (they didn't bother to warm the tortilla) on the way to Paris back in June. These, from Paris' only taqueria, El Nopal, were stuffed with refried black beans, rice, guacamole, nopales, and probably some other things that my taste buds didn't even register because I snarfled everything down too fast. They need to work on their hot sauce, but otherwise, El Nopal get three stars. (And please note how I've resisted the temptation to add "olé!" to the end of this post. Merci.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Living the Dream Cliché

I never thought of my life as clichéd in any way--it's been far too awkward, bumpy, and uncharted to truly fit that designation--but that hasn't stopped several people from pointing out that my path, which has led me back to France to fulfill a strong desire to live "differently," is actually a stale and hackneyed idea boasting absolutely nothing novel about it.

Humph.

"If I'd moved to China instead of France, my life wouldn't feel so clichéd," said a friend who really had her heart set on a future in non-hackneyed Asia. That was before her heart really became set on a guy who just happened to live in Paris, and two years later, she's grown somewhat accustomed to life as a walking, talking stereotype.

I don't see her or her life that way, though.

I mean, I see where she and the others are coming from. France is sort of an obvious choice, right? Just watch one of those wistful and dreamy 1950s musicals set in Gay Paree; is there anyplace more romantic, more beautiful, more wonderful for a starry-eyed American girl (woman? old lady?) to reinvigorate her life? And am I the first one to want to give it a whirl? Uhm, no.

Paris is definitely not as adventurous as a move to, say Kabul. Or Kinshasa. Or even Kiev, for that matter. But it's also not San Francisco, or New York, or Los Angeles, which is where--I think--most Americans' minds go when we think of "fulfilling the big-city dream." And besides, I've proven my ballsy spirit with months of travel in India, Cambodia, and Indonesia. (And I'm still aching to cross Sri Lanka and Algeria off my must-visit list.)

Frankly, I'm just grateful that I didn't end up "settling down" in Loomis or Penn Valley. That's not living the dream, is it? Well, for some, it is, and they're entitled to that dream. In fact, you can have it all to yourself! I'm happy to share my dream with thousands and thousands of others. Rough And Ready, California, is all yours!

France, however, is steeped in clichés. And it should be--the French invented the word, after all. It's from "clicher," a typographer's term that relates to moveable type, otherwise known as "stereotype." And while I might fit into the cliché category, the others who share that spot with me are really much more interesting. Take striped shirts, for instance.


Ever since Jean Seberg (American in Paris!) hawked copies of the International Herald Tribune in that form-fitting striped T-Shirt in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, the French sailor look has gone iconic. Every few years Vogue does a "France inspired" spread that features some pretty young think done up like Leslie Caron or Audrey Hepburn, a stripey shirt on her back and a copy of the Herald Tribune tucked beneath her arm. This cliché is one I like a lot. I hope France keeps it up so I can feel good about adding to my striped-shirt collection.

And the French really do love their poodles, too. And other sorts of chiens, petit et grand. Homeless people here, too, love their dogs. I'd previously mentioned seeing a fluffy, chow-like dog in my old 11th arrondissement neighborhood who I thought had been turned out on the street while his "parents' went on their summer holiday. Turns out he belongs to the homeless boozers who live in the square across from Nathalie's office on rue de la Roquette. He seems semi-well taken care of.

If I have to be a stereotype, I'm glad it's here, in this funky corner of Paris that I call home.

And now, I'm going to go chow a baguette.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Animal Rights (and Wrongs)

The woolly black dog sniffing the lamp post at Place Leon Blum didn't look underfed, but he did look orphaned: no visible tags, and no visible human. (You often see dogs walking off-leash in this corner of the world, however.)

"Is that your dog, by chance?" I asked the newsagent next to the Metro entrance.

"Where?" he asked, before coming out of his little stall to stand alongside me, his gaze following my finger pointing in the direction of chow-ish looking dog moseying about all by his lonesome.

"That guy there. He seems to be all alone."

"Tsk tsk tsk," said the newsagent fellow. "The french people, when they go on vacation, they just turn their dogs out on the street."

"No, it can't be so!"

"Oui, oui. It's a right shame."

"Unbelievable."

This was the third time in a month that I felt utterly and completely powerless to act on my natural impulse to help an animal in need. I did not know who to call (even if I did have a cell phone, which I still do not), nor whether I should try to wrangle the furball (suppose he did have a person, and I just couldn't see him/her), and then what to do with him if I were to wrangle him.

(The previous animal situations included one where a dog was trotting aimlessly though traffic; I asked someone what to do about it and he said to take the dog to the Commissariat. Yet, when I took that baby pigeon I found on the sidewalk to the Commissariat, I discovered they're actually pretty useless when it comes to animal crises.)

Reluctantly, I descended the steps to the Metro station and just wallowed in that heart-wrenching, gut-aching feeling of helplessness and failure. Waiting on the platform for a train to take me to yet another apartment viewing, I noticed the giant advertisement depicting two dogs, one healthy and cute, lovingly cuddled by two smiling children; the other is but a mere skeleton lying dead or near death, alone on a table:

"For him, love. For me, death. Abandoning kills 100,000 animals per year."

I'd seen the poster (the latest issued from the Brigitte Bardot Foundation) several times before, but didn't have the context to fully understand what the campaign was about, or why it was relevant right this minute. Now, I understand. And now, I've got another job for myself: figure out what the hell to do the next time I see a dog (or cat, or pigeon) toute seule on the streets. It's hard to believe that the french, who have a reputation as a dog-loving bunch of people, would treat their animal companions so poorly when they are no longer convenient. C'est dommage.

In good animal news, tomorrow Spain votes on whether to make bull-fighting illegal in Catalonia, and it's actually looking as if for once, luck might fall in favor of the animals. One can hope.

Friday, July 23, 2010

My Magic Purple Friend (or Not)

My first thought upon waking yesterday morning was (Jen, if you're reading this, close your eyes now) "Let's listen to some Prince."

No, I have no idea why.

So, I put some Prince on the stereo (aka my computer) and proceeded to get in a really good mood. (Try listening to "America" and not feeling all pepped up. Except you, Jen.)

For our morning walk, Fanny and I headed out the door in the direction of Tom and Nathalie's place on Boulevard Richard Lenoir, to feed the fish and water the pretty flowers on the balcony with the fabulous view of Sacre Coeur. As we rounded the corner onto Voltaire, there he was! Prince! Who may or may not be vegan! OK, so it was only a poster on a news-agent's kiosk, but still.

Another block down the street, I passed a typical Parisian boulangerie, albeit one with outdoor seating, where a handful of people were enjoying their petit dejeuner of coffee and croissants. I looked up, and there on the awning it read, "Les Delices du Prince" (The delights of the prince).

Hmm. Coincidence or .... ??

I guess it mustn't have been "or ... " because I kept looking for more magic purple Prince symbols, but didn't see any.

The view from Tom and Nathalie's balcony

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Home is ...


Yesterday I was set to meet Jean Louis, the present tenant at 2, rue Gustave Rouanet, and his landlord, Patrick, and together we were going to sit down, sign some papers, and voila! I would be granted a new place to call home for the next year, and possibly longer. Just before hopping on my funky green borrowed bicycle and heading north along the Canal St. Martin, I hopped on the slightly less funky internet to see what I could discover about this Gustave Rouanet fellow. I thought maybe there’d be something portentous there; you know, maybe he was the guy who started Paris’ first vegetarian society or something. (He was actually a lefty upstart and writer of scathing anti-establishment articles in the socialist press.) Armed with my newfound knowledge, I’d know for sure that the place was meant to be for me (or not).

Well, I found something altogether quite different when I went snooping around cyberspace, and it wasn’t “good”-different. Turns out that last month, at 4 in the morning, a young couple in their early twenties arrived at this very apartment building after a night partying with friends, and as they went to open the front gate, the two were stabbed by a “North African looking guy with bleached-blond hair.” (I have yet to see even one such fellow with bleached-blond hair; maybe they all dyed their heads en masse after reading this story in hopes of circumventing hair-related profiling.) The 21-year-old girl died. The boyfriend is still in the hospital.

Reading this story kind of put a damper on the whole oh-my-god-I’m-excited-about-my-new-apartment thing, but I went ahead and cycled over to the backside of Sacre Coeur to make good on our agreed rendezvous. When I arrived, Patrick and Jean-Louis showed me the bike parking room. It would have easily held all of Jeff’s bikes. Sigh.

“Say! Before I came here today I did a bit of internet research and found out there was a murder here recently. You didn’t mention that when I asked you if the neighborhood was safe.”

“Bof—it never even occurred to me,” said Jean Louis. “It was a crime of passion. A jealous ex-boyfriend. It could have happened anywhere.”

I totally got it. And he was right: it could have happened anywhere. But it didn’t happen anywhere. It happened right here in my new building! Together we piled into the elevator, a space which becomes very intimate very quickly when you are three adults and it’s 95 degrees outside. Entering the apartment, the living room suddenly felt very small. How would I possibly fit my couch, sideboard, coffee table, and chairs in here? Inspecting the closets one more time, I gauged the space and made a mental comparison to our Golden Gate wardrobe and thought, “No way. This is never going to hold all of our clothes.”

I shared my concerns with Patrick and with Jean Louis, who suggested I give it some thought and get back to him. I told him I thought that was a great idea. As I left, my mind was already made up, but I went downstairs and decided to query some of the building’s residents anyway, to get their impressions of the neighborhood, its degree of safety, and anything else folks would be willing to share.

The first two people I bumped into were a middle aged woman and an old man in the foyer. The old guy has lived in the building for 34 years. “It’s a great building, great neighbors, and a nice neighborhood,” he insisted. The woman, his personal grocery-shopper, agreed. “That murder was highly unusual for this neighborhood, and for Paris in general,” she said. Stopping into the concierge’s office, he, too, echoed their sentiments. “No, no, this is perfectly safe place. When do you move in?”

Well, the answer to that is: never. Boo hoo.

So: where is home? Back to the ol’ drawing board.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

March of the Pregnants

There’s a certain Parisian fashion that hasn’t gone out of style in the five years I’ve been away: being pregnant. But it’s all about the timing. You don’t want to be hugely pregnant in the fall or winter. You want to become pregnant in those cold months, then try to forecast B-Day for sometime during the summer, which allows one to tack one’s maternity (and paternity) leave onto the head or tail of one’s annual vacation, turning four weeks into a leisurely eight or more (lots more, according to that NYT piece).

I thought it was a fluke when I first began noticing the armies of big-bellied moms-to-be marching the hot summery streets all those years ago, but I’ll never forget August 1, 2004: the day our apartment building suddenly erupted in a chorus of newborn infants’ cries blasting in from all directions. I began asking around and discovered that this is, indeed, a very deliberate family-planning strategy. They take baby making so seriously here that there’s even a dedicated lane at the Bastille Monoprix for pregnant women (though they’ve got to share with folks in wheelchairs). I wonder if anyone has jutted their stomach in a feigned pregnancy to try bypassing a long line?

For all the pregnant women walking around Paris (I easily cross paths with 10 or more a day), there is an equal number of anorexic men and women (yes, the manorexics are just as ubiquitous as those of the female persuasion) tipping the scales (or not, really) in the other direction. It’s startling at first; you want to just butt into their lives with a gentle “Honey, please: Eat before you die. Let’s go get you some smoked almonds.” But you don’t, because you don’t know their story. Maybe it’s not anorexia. Maybe it’s cancer. Maybe it’s a severe food allergy. Maybe they’re vegan and just returned from a month in Argentina. Whatever the case may be, it’s none of our business, and none of us should judge those proverbial books by their covers. I say this rather smugly and Aurelia-knows-best-y only because of a recent experience involving a new friend who happens to be very thin. She’s been on the receiving end of a lot of unsolicited commentary about her weight, and the harsh judgement has really worked a number on her spirit. I will not make that mistake again.


I wasn’t able to stealthily snap photos of either pregnant women or anorexics this week, so I’m posting some images of recent restaurant meals instead. Bon appetit!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Big Question

Whenever I leave my camera at home, there is, inevitably, a moment I happen upon that will never, ever be repeated, and one that I would really have liked to capture in digital form for future amusement and memory recall. Like today, for instance.

As I moseyed up rue de la Roquette, a police van with siren blaring blasted up the skinny one-way street, stopping suddenly on the corner just a half-block ahead. Walking closer to the van, I could see through the tinted windows a man in a crisp, button-down shirt handcuffed in the back, three officers sitting across from and beside him. Just then, another officer came running out of the boulangerie on the corner bearing a siren-worthy baguette, a sheath of paper twisted around the middle. All that fuss for a stick of bread? Honestly! Or how about the woman at Starbucks (I returned again today; I hope this doesn’t become habit), awkwardly eating her chocolate-chip muffin with a spoon? Just shove the damn thing in your mouth, lady. That’s the way we do it in America! And hey: Starbucks sells pancakes—yes, regular old flapjacks—in little stacks, right alongside the muffins and scones in the glass case at the counter. What’s that all about?

Yesterday, coming home from the Bibliotheque Parmentier, I walked toward the Mairie de l’Onzieme, lured by the sound of live music—drums and tambourine, mostly. As I rounded the corner to the square in front of the Mairie, I saw it was another wedding taking place (each arrondissement has its own town hall, which is a popular place to get married, just like San Francisco’s City Hall). This time, the nuptials were of the North African variety. Four men in red tunics, matching pants, and pillbox hats pounded on their drums and shook their tambourines, while a crowd of smiling men and women formed a dancing circle around the bride and groom, who were each dressed in traditional western wedding wear. Women in hijabs took turns ululating, and the men held their hands above their heads, snapping their fingers. It was a beautiful scene that prompted spontaneous tears--joyful ones. Today as I passed the same spot, I noticed butterfly-sized confetti shaped like hearts littering the square like leaves from a fairytale arbre d’amour. It warmed my heart. Maybe love is the answer, but, then, what is the question?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Far From the 8th

One of my favorite films, Paris, Je T'Aime, is comprised of 18 different stories, one of which is particularly poignant; it's titled "Loin du 16e" ("Far from the 16th") and tells the story of a young spanish-speaking immigrant woman who leaves her working-class apartment -- and her infant daughter, to whom she sings a sad little lullaby before depositing her in daycare -- in the gray Paris suburbs and takes a gruelingly long train ride to her job in the ritzy, bourgeois 16th arrondissement. There, in the home of a wealthy family, she cares for their infant daughter, to whom she sings sad little lullabies. I relate to this story whenever I report for work in the chi-chi 8th to care for Junior (aka "Junes" or "Joonynoots"), the spoiled springer spaniel whose young, soft-spoken and extremely goodlooking Greek dad is clearly a millionaire, and then some.

While I walk this friendly, old (he's 12) beast up the Champs Elysee and around the grassy park areas sandwiching the Seine, trying to yank him away from every dead pigeon, dirty napkin, random fish head, and pile of human excrement (he loves the stuff) he drags the two of us toward, my terrificly well-behaved little Fanny sits home in her tiny, temporary 11th arrondissement abode, dreaming of the Snausages and Pupperonis she rarely-to-never gets to eat (she's supposed to be vegan, too). Well, I make up for the neglect with praise when I get home, telling her what a good girl she is for not being equipped with coprophagic tendencies, and for not nearly yanking my arm off whenever she smells something tasty hiding in the bushes.

Saturday is my last day caring for Junes. His regular dog walker comes back from vacation then. I think I'll be ready for a vacation of my own come Saturday. (Or at least a massage for my over-yanked shoulder. There are lots of Chinese massage places in Paris, so I think I might have to spring for one, since I'll have the cash in hand to indulge.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Signs


It's been a rather depressing week. We still haven't found a permanent place to live (according to the NYT, there's a housing shortage here; I'd read just the opposite in the French press not too long ago), and we spent approximately 10 hours over two hot, frustrating days attempting to get our visa/carte de sejour malarkey sorted out at the prefecture de police in the 14th, enduring streams of vomit deposited at our feet courtesy of a little girl who drank too much milk for breakfast (I can't blame her; I'd have barfed too), and having "adults" ruthelessly cut in line ahead of us after we'd waited hours and hours, only to discover that we were in the wrong place altogether. Nothing--as I'd conveniently forgotten in the last five years that I haven't lived here--comes easy in France. Everything is a bureaucratic climb of the Mt. Everest variety. I've wanted to give up scads of times, but we're hanging in there.


The good news this week is that A. I finally got Velib to work (thanks to Sacha--my teenage Franco-American step-nephew-in-law, or some such approximation), who called Velib on our behalf, and discovered that it might just be a matter of wiping the puce on our carte bleu really clean before swiping it through the kiosk), so now we two are completely mobile. It feels great to be on bikes a deux again! Good news B: I got a job! It's a part-time gig, but it's something. Yes: I am, perhaps, Paris' newest professional dog walker. Thanks, Phil, for giving me the job! (My first client is a springer spaniel-type dog named Junior, whose dad lives in a fancy building on Avenue Montaigne, right there next to Chanel, Hermes, and Versace.) Maybe this job is a sign that yes, I really am supposed to be here. Or not. I'm still mulling that one over.

When I'm feeling totally bummed out like I've been for the past 10 days or so, I look around this good-looking, historically rich and interesting city and tell myself that it's not so bad, even if we are living out of suitcases in a place without WiFi. I could be feeling depressed in, say, Lodi or Auburn. Now that's a depressing thought. One of the little things that keeps spirits afloat (besides the daily doses of baguette in the tradition graine style) is the French tendency toward erecting signs and placards for anything and everything. Some of these signs make no sense, like the one below from yesterday's trip to the Parc de la Villette that seems to be saying "no flowers, please." (The one above seems to suggest that holding your child's hand is a criminal activity.) Though I understood perfectly the sign I randomly glanced up to when stopped at a light on the rue de Rivoli today, which announced that "Leo Tolstoy lived here in 1857." Now I'm thinking about Anna Karenina and getting all depressed again. Time for a new topic. Ideas welcomed!

Friday, July 9, 2010

One Really Great Thing About Paris

Would you look at that price tag? Mind you, this is the big jar. That's less than half the price -- even with the euro-to-dollars conversion -- that I'd pay at Rainbow. I think this might be the only thing that's less expensive in France than the US (besides fresh fruit and vegetables), but if it had to be something, I'm glad it's Marmite.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When you find a fledgling pigeon on the streets of Paris, you …


a. put her in a box and bring it to the police commissariat, hoping they’ll help
b. put her in a box and bring her to Miao Wiao, hoping they can point you in the right direction
c. listen to Miao Wiao’s advice and take her to a “great animal place” a long metro ride away
d. Take her to a vet who suggest feeding her biscuits soaked in milk, exactly what internet sources suggest NOT doing
e. bring her home, feed and water her, and hope she sprouts functioning tail feathers overnight

(answer below!)

Up the rue de la Roquette, between our temporary apartment and the Cimitiere du Pere Lachaise (where, among others, Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, and Edith Piaf are interred for all eternity), there’s a little gated park that seems always to be empty. It’s a pretty park, like so many others in Paris; there are bright green lawns surrounded by two-foot-high green fences, a circular fountain with benches on three sides, trees, flowers, and a general air of tranquility. At least it seems so from the outside, where I’m always standing , looking in. This park, also like nearly every other park in Paris, is a dog-free zone. So Fanny and I stand outside, admiring the beauty from a distance.

It’s a sad little sight watching Fanny as she catches a whiff of that heavenly greenery, probably wondering why the hell we’re not actually going in. It’s a bit like looking over the prison wall and seeing Shangri-la or some other verdant paradise; so close but yet so very, very far.

Just outside this park is a “pigeonnaire.” I didn’t know that’s what it was called until I studied the sign. It explains that this bird palace was erected as a joint project between the city of Paris and the SPA as a creative solution to the city’s pigeon “problem.” The Pigeonnaire sits on a single metal post roughly 8 feet high; the structure itself is a tall, three story affair with little curved doorways and pigeon-sized decks on each level. Here, the birds gather to nest, preen, and, presumably, stay out of humans’ hair. What a nice, clever idea I thought to myself. San Francisco should be so smart; they’d never think of something so humane, so dignified. Hmf! I’m glad I said goodbye to that draconian place.


A mere hour after marveling at Paris’ animal-friendly ingenuity, I was standing in the local police station, bearing a box containing one scuttling, pooping, fledgling pigeon. The commissariat was not the place to go searching for assistance. Inside, a group of about 5 or 6 twentysomething flics surrounded me, interrogating me about all sorts of things that had nothing to do with this bird. “Where are you from? Do you understand what I’m saying? Where do you live?” After wasting five minutes of my time, they suggested I just put the bird back on the sidewalk where I found it.

“But there are all sorts of dogs out there who might eat her.”
“Ah, well, that’s just nature for you.”
“No. That’s not ‘nature.’ Domestic dogs are not ‘nature.’”

I left in tears, with the one nice flic in the bunch calling out “Desolee, madame” after me. Next stop: a nearby pet-supplies store. I figured they might have some ideas. The nice young man behind the counter suggested I bring the pigeon to some place that didn’t sound good once he mentioned “puppies and kittens for sale,” but he was certain that they’d take this little critter in and care for it. After a wild and wonky metro journey that included getting stopped briefly by metro flics for squeezing through a turnstile instead of using my ticket, I arrived at this awful pet store. The young retards running the place were of no help at all.

I decided then to just take the bird home and figure it all out once I got there, but with my eye on the lookout for a vet’s office along the way. We didn’t pass one. At home, I gave the pigeon a comfy towel to make herself at home on, before cajoling her to drink some water, which she finally did do. After some internet research, I realized I really should have just left her where I found her; she was probably learning to fly from the ground up, and her mother was probably nearby with food ready to be delivered. How many times during the course of my tenure at the SF/SPCA did I counsel people on this very subject, and how could I have neglected to heed my own advice? I think the moral of this story is “Don’t call people ‘retards’.”

Monday, June 28, 2010

I Need a Place to Live (dammit!) aka An Outsider's Lament

Susa and Leesa are a couple of Paris-based bloggers I had the good fortune of meeting yesterday at a trendy cafe on the other side of town, near the Tour Eiffel. Susa blogs about fashion, and is as lovely and interesting as she is thin. Leesa, who looked so familiar that I thought we might have met before, blogs about life in France -- and about the scrupmtious sweet things she loves to make, buy, and bake. I met them through Owen (that's him on the left), who also blogs about life in France, and who was in town this weekend to catch up with some of his old friends, some of whom now work for Green Day as tour managers/wranglers. (They put on a great show, by the way.)

One thing I didn't really have a handle on before meeting Susa and Leesa is that bloggers tend to be an insular group; their social networks consist of, while not exactly entirely, but in good part, other bloggers. Even though I don't consider myself a blogger, I guess--by virtue of me sitting here at Le 2001 Billard Club typing this entry--I'm a blogger, too, albeit a totally unknown one. I feel like an outsider in this unique, 21st century subculture, but hey: what else is new?

Today I returned to the Century 21 office on Rue Voltaire (across the street from a hair-do place called "Salon Volt-Hair") anxious to give little miss Sylvie my dossier; I was there Friday, lured by a photo in the window of an apartment for rent that was right up my alley: affordable, old (built in 1900), with wood floors, firerplaces, and pretty windows, and literally two buildings down from where I'm staying now. To rent the place (it's first-come, first-served), I needed to bring an "attestation de hebergement" explaining my current living situation, ID, my visa paperwork, and my "RIB," which is basically my debit number so rent can be withdrawn directly from my bank account.

I got there good and early, hoping to be the first person to view the new-on-the-rental-market place. When I arrived, I was greeted by little miss Sylvie, who asked if I had my paperwork in order. I reached into my bag and proudly withdrew my dossier, which she looked through before asking where my last three paystubs were. Aha! Owen warned me this would happen. Apparently, they forget to tell you when laws are changed, rules amended, or, in this case, when dossier-requirements are updated. "My last three pay stubs? The paper you gave me didn't mention that."

"Well, we need that."

Hmm.

If Owen were in my place, he's have called Sylvie out on that little oversight. I didn't think I had it in me to do it, but it was either that or start crying.

"I just moved here a week ago," I said. "How am I supposed to provide you with three pay stubs? I have a working visa, but I haven't had time to find a job yet."

"Well, that's just too bad," she said, more or less. Then we sat and stared at each other for a while. The word "awkward" seems appropriate to describe those moments. Finally, I said something along the lines of "Surely you've had other people like me here wanting to rent apartments. Is there anything else that can be done? Can't I put up more money or something?"

Finally, she said she'd see what she could do, then made copies of a couple of the documents before telling me she'd call me tomorrow. I'm not holding my breath, but I have to be hopeful. I have no other choice.

I got a rare email from Jeff yesterday; he's still cycling around the south and says he might return to Paris as early as Wednesday. I could use a friend right now, so I hope Wednesday is the day. A clap of thunder just rumbled through the hot Paris evening, timed almost perfectly to the growling of my stomach. Back to the little apartment for salad, baguette, and a spot of Monoprix ratatouille.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The People in Paris

Michel and I cross paths at the billiards hall sandwiched between a popular outdoor café and a government nursery, down a little dead-end alley across from where I’m staying. Neither Michel nor I has WiFi at home, so we come here to get connected; he to online poker, me to email and apartment-hunting sites.

Michel and I talk a lot now. When we first swapped this-is-my-life stories, he proudly offered me photos of his smiling, blue-eyed grandson, and explained that he’s estranged from the baby's father, his own son. Why? I asked. I'm Jewish, he replied, and my son refused to have the baby circumcised. “I’m not religious at all,” Michel insisted in kilometer-a-minute french. “But this is tradition that goes back to my father, and his father, and his father, and so on. It breaks my heart to know he’s breaking that tradition.”

I kept my own opinions about religion, tradition, and circumcision to myself.

“Will you ever make peace with your son?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

Yesterday, San Francisco-based friends Diep and Jim came to town after a visit in London, before heading off to Amsterdam and Berlin. We spent the hot, sun-drenched day hopscotching from one tourist attraction to the next: Pere Lachaise, the Marais, Notre Dame. We split up at 5:00 with the plan to rendezvous later for a boat ride on the Seine.

I left the apartment at 9:45 and pedaled off toward Pont Neuf. It was probably 80 degrees. Riding along the left bank of the river, I passed a group of tango dancers gliding around before a live band, mobs of teenagers straddling bottles of Champagne, families picnicking beneath a pink sky, and lots and lots of tourists strolling and speaking loudly in English, Italian, and Spanish.

At 10:15, the three of us were sitting aboard an open-air boat, staring at the cityscape from a totally novel perspective. The moon was full. Everyone was smiling. The Eiffel tower was as beautiful as I've ever seen it. It was, to use a cliche, "magical."

p.s. The best part of the evening might've been the part where I didn't get run over on my ride back to the Bastille. It's the little victories.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Cold Feet

This was supposed to be an entry on getting cold feet about the France move, but I lost my enthusiasm in the middle of writing and decided to scratch it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Things I'll Miss, Part Deux

Each night on my way home from school over the last year and a half, I'd pass this rust-gobbled gas guzzler parked over on 38th Avenue at Judah. And every single night, without fail, I'd get a good laugh as I'd pedal past.

Sophisticated humor? Absolutely not. But something about this van's silly embellishments appeals to my sophomoric side. I doubt very much I'm going to see anything as funny/retarded as this in Paris, but you never know.

I'll miss you, Vangina. Thanks for the good times!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

CESEDA L315-1

Well, we did it! We've got our CESEDA L315-1 visas in hand, finally!

What, exactly, this means, I'm not sure though; the nice fellow at the French consulate said the Paris prefectures have been acting odd lately, denying people their actual residency cards once they arrive.

"Hold on a minute here," I said to Monsieur Calvet. "We're packing up our entire lives and moving to France and you're saying we may not have a legal right to reside or work there?!"

"Fingers crossed," he said, gesturing with two hands and four fingers in a manner that did not instill confidence. "Call me if there is any problem, but you should be OK."

Well, fuck it. We're still going.

To celebrate, we went to Bruno's for Coral's going-away party. Coral, who just turned 20, is the daughter of one of our oldest and dearest friends, Candace. We've known Coral since she was in her mother's womb, and have loved her to bits since we first held her tiny body in our arms all those years ago.

When Coral was nine, we took her to France with us for vacation. We had a lot of fun doing really goofy things, like spending all day at Disneyland Paris just to ride a total of three rides. (But the It's A Small World ride was worth all that standing in line, just for the look on that kid's face.)

Now, Coral is making her first trip back to Europe to accomplish two specific goals: 1. To get some chef's training at a French culinary academy, and 2. To spend some time working on an organic farm as part of the WWOOF program. She'll be gone three months, and we'll be meeting up with her in Paris in July before she heads back home.

Bruno's, by the way, has a very vegan-friendly bar menu: fried okra, french fries, and hushpuppies, for starters, and pints of beer are only $3 during happy hour.

p.s. The red beret was our bon voyage gift to Coral; I'd told her I had something silly for her, and she was sure it was going to be a bottle of that mustard salad dressing we ate at every picnic during that long-ago vacation. I wish I'd thought of that!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Triple Blech

One of the things I'm most looking forward to about this France move-- on a very base level--is the access I'll have to one of my favorite foods, Tartex. They used to sell this wonderful, weirdly meaty vegan spread at Rainbow, but they haven't carried it for about five years now. Every now and again, Claudia will surprise me with a can procured at some random health-food store on one of her travels, and I've recently discovered they sell cans of the herb flavor at Golden Era, of all places. but before that, I could only get my fix in Europe.

About this time last year, I made a trip to Vietnam, and on my last day in Ho Chi Minh City, I made my standard grocery-store excursion to load up on small edible trinkets for friends. Browsing the canned food aisle, I discoverd these tins of vegan pate. How bad could it be? I bought three at about $.30 each, and figured I'd give them away to my vegan-pate-loving compadres. First, though, I'd have to taste the stuff to A. make sure it wasn't horrible, and B. To determine whether it was good enough to hoard all to myself.

The first can I opened was a grave disappointment. It stunk, literally and figuratively, and not in a "faux meat" sort of way; just in a "something's wrong here" sort of way. Still, I had to taste it. Bad move. The flavor was sort of bitter, backed with a metallic bite and a hint of, perhaps, botulism. It was also kind of gritty/grainy, while simultaneously too fluffy. Jettisoned into the garbage, toute de suite.

Second can? Same deal.

A year later, I decided to give the third can the opportunity for redemption. It failed. If this is even possible, it looked, smelled, and tasted worse than the other two cans combined.

Moral of this story: Um ... don't buy vegan pate in Vietnam.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Banksy Goes Native (American)

The SF Chronicle is reporting that a new mural in the Mission is the work of everyone's favorite super-famous/underground street artist, Banksy. Both this one, another in Chinatown, and especially the third one spotted in the Mission have all the Banksy hallmarks (irony and solid artistic technique, in particular), but the one above Amnesia is a bit sloppy, what with all that mucky red paint all around. Could it be the work of Banksy copycats, or are they the real deal? Keep your eyes peeled for this man!

Monday, April 19, 2010

No Elephants Were Harmed in the Making of this Movie?

Jeff and I took in a matinee today at my tied-for-second-favorite theater in San Francisco, the Embarcadero Cinema. They always run the newest foreign films, plus they offer nutritional yeast for the popcorn and sell veggie dogs at the concession stand. (My first favorite theater is The Clay, for the nutritional yeast, the single screen, intimate Art Deco lobby, and great location. The other tied-for-second theater is The Balboa, because they let you in free on your birthday AND have veggie dogs.)

The flick* we went to see was called "Exit Through The Gift Shop," which I just figured out as I type this must be a reference to a scene wherein the film's primary subject, a guy named Thierry Guetta, gets busted at Disneyland for being at the scene of an art crime (Banksy did a little Guantanamo-themed thing at Thunder Mountain and Thierry documented it). He ends up getting ruthlessly interrogated by Disney cops, then getting released after he stealthily deletes the evidence. I'm guessing they must have told him to, um, Exit Through The Gift Shop. That makes sense, doesn't it?!

OK: so this film was advertised as a "Banksy documentary," but it was really more about this other guy Thierry, a frenchie who lives in LA and got himself all mixed up in the renegade street-art scene by way of his cousin, the Paris-based arteest known as Space Invader. Anyone who's been to Paris in the last decade has seen his work (it's glued onto buildings, monuments, and streets throughout Paris), and from this film I learned a lot more about this crafty feller and some of his creative cohorts around the globe.

I recommend this movie, but I have to give a disclaimer, which is that for animal people (and just plain smart, sensitive people in general), there's a disturbing scene in which an elephant is delivered in the back of a crappy U-Haul-type truck to Banksy's 2006 LA art opening. That was bad enough, but then they painted the poor beast fuchsia ("with children's finger paint") and stenciled her with fleur de lys before turning her into a living art installation. It was very disturbing.

After seeing some of Banksy's work, I really thought he might've been hip (and sensitive) to issues relating to animal exploitation within the broader framework of contemporary social issues, but apparently not. Why is it that seemingly smart, talented people in tune with complex human-oriented concerns can miss (or dismiss) those connections that are so obvious?

P.S. At film's end, as the credits rolled, a message telling us that "No Elephants Were Harmed in the Making of this Film" appeared. I didn't feel any better about it.

P.P.S. I didn't take the Space Invaders photo pictured here, but the person who did deserves credit, which you'll find here)

* In France, slang for "cop" is "flic." If you're in Paris doing some guerrilla street art and hear someone shout, "les flics!" you better make a run for it!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The 'hood

Last weekend, in spite of the terrible weather, we stuck with our plan to meet up with Adam and Cheryl on Angel Island for an overnight bike/camp excursion.

Well, we kind of stuck to the plan; we decided to go for the day and not the night. It started spitting rain as soon as we pedaled off down the street, and was in full pissing mode by the time we reached the Pier 41 ferry terminal, where we bought our tickets and got in line behind seven zillion Italian tourists who were all gorgeous and, unlike the two of us, dressed in chic weather-appropriate clothing.

Settling into our seats for the short ride to Tiburon, I watched Jeff's visage morph from flesh-colored to an alien green. "How you feelin'?" I asked. "Not well," he replied, before heading out onto the deck to stare at the wet horizon for a while.

When we arrived at Tiburon, the ferry to Angel Island was nowhere to be found; we sought cover from the elements beneath a too-narrow awning, hoping with crossed fingers that a boat would show. Just then two cyclists rolled up, and one looked awfully familiar. Turns out it was our friend Adam's twin brother David, and his girlfriend Dominique, who'd come down from Santa Rosa and were also headed to the island for the day.

Finally, a couple of adults and two kids popped out of nowhere and said they were expecting us. "There's your ferry!" they said, pointing to a tiny little speck of a boat. Five minutes later we were docked at the Angel Island ferry landing, and not long after that, the six of us shared a lovely picnic of fruit, bread, Tartex, beer, and--because it was Easter--some chocolate eggs.

A week later, it's as wet as ever. (The drought has got to be officially over.) Instead of the usual morning stroll to the dog park, we made a beeline toward Mojo for coffee and a quick stop at the local farmer's market. We didn't get far--the corner of McAllister and Divisadero, to be exact--before we were sidelined.

A local character, a thirty-something blind fellow who always knows you're coming and is fearless when it comes to asking strangers for favors--turned toward us as we waited for the light to change and asked if we were going to the corner store. We said no, but asked if he needed something. He replied yes; could we get him one jar of mayonnaise and another of relish? Sure. Why not? The fellow reached in his pocket and waved a bill at us, saying, "This is a five, right?" and Jeff reached for his arm, steering him toward the store's door, suggesting he might like to avoid the rain by standing inside. He seemed reluctant to get too close to the door, though.

After collecting the condiments, we stood at the counter and told Rami that we actually wanted a bag this time (we normally bring our own). He looked baffled, and we told him it was because we were shopping for the blind guy, who didn't have his own a bag. "Yeah," said Rami, "that guy's not allowed in here." Really? Why not? We wanted to know. "Because he's an asshole."

Blind guys can be assholes, too? I hadn't really stopped to consider that.

God, I'm going to miss this neighborhood.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Work (it)

There are oodles of French expat websites listing jobs compatible for somewhat bilingual foreigner-type people like me, and several times a week I poke around at the classified ads to see if there's anything that looks particularly well-suited to me or Jeff. I'm partial to FUSAC, since we had such good luck finding everything from Christmas ornaments to an apartment on this site, but I've also recently discovered Bonjour Paris, which is where I found a job that I thought would be perfect for Jeff. Turns out I was right!

The advertisement called for a bilingual bike tour guide/mechanic to lead (mostly) North American tourists on a trip that parallels the Tour de France. Jeff had all the necessary skills and experience, though he's not exactly what you'd call "fluent" in French. I helped him write a truthful-but-persuasive cover letter, and after two interviews, he got the good news directly from the tour-company owner that he'd been hired. Hooray for Jeff! It's only a temporary assignment, but it's nice that Jeff gets a working holiday doing something he's passionate about, and who knows? The experience could lead to something more lasting.

Between working for friends Billy and Jill on a WorldFest-related project, doing a bit of freelance PR stuff for Allison's Gourmet, and trying to survive the school semester, I've managed to squeeze in a little bit of extracurricular fun. Last night I braved the rain to join Anthony for opening night of mutual friend and former Nevada City-er D'Arcy Drollinger's new play, Scalpel! Back in August I'd gone to the Brava Theater to see the very first live read-through, and never imagined the finished product would come to life in such an amazing way. The music, set design, "special" effects, hair and makeup were each awe-inspiring. Campy and fun. Hurry and see it before it closes on April 17!

I met so many interesting, talented, inspiring people last night, but above all, I enjoyed getting to know Frank S., who juggles work as both a curator at SFMOMA and as a college literature professor. Funny, nice, and totally brilliant, Frank shared some very thoughtful advice about making the most of grad school (before getting his Ph.D, he did an MA in English Lit, too), and even offered up some networking connections in France. Thanks, Anthony, for the introduction, and for having such lovely friends!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lucky Pierre

I finally received a letter from SFSU's creative writing department; I'd applied to their MA program back in December, hoping to transfer from English Lit into something better aligned with my primary interest, which has always been writing (rather than reading, as it turns out).

I've decided not to open this particular piece of correspondence, however; my future has been decided, and as it turns out, it doesn't include finishing up any MA degree at SFSU. If I was accepted, well, that'll be sad, since I'm moving in a few short months, and if I didn't get in, well, that's a sad little story of its own, for all sorts of obvious reasons.

For now, it's all about focus: focus on finishing out this semester, on solidifying plans, spending time with loved ones, and on manifesting something meaningful--something that makes life worth living.

A week or two ago, in my 20th Century American Poetry class, we read an essay by Frank O'Hara, a mid-century poet whose work I really love, especially for its humor, which is sometimes very, very dark. In this essay, "Personism: A Manifesto," I learned a new euphemism: "Lucky Pierre." I'd never heard it before, but it's a fun way to say "menage a trois."

Rarely do I have the opportunity to squeeze menage-a-anything into everyday conversation, but the idea came up again when we heard back from Simon, our former landlord in Paris.

He is, in fact, using our one-time dwelling as his office, and has offered the place up to us over the summer if we need a short-term rental. He also let us know that Pamela's piece in Marie Claire about their "Lucky Pierre" experience might actually be made into a film. He figures Kermit the Frog is the best bet to play him on the big screen. (I'll cast my vote for George Clooney, if they try to Americanize it, or Clive Owen if they go English.)

Yesterday we met with Eli and Tracy, who we were introduced to by Lynn, my former boss at The SF/SPCA. They're looking to move out of their moldy place in the Outer Sunset and closer to Berkeley, where they'll soon be opening their chocolate factory. (They make the most amazing chocolate bars under the name "Bisou," which means "kiss" en francais; these bars are fair-trade, vegan, made with just three ingredients, and totally delish.)

It looks like E & T will be subletting for at least the first year we're gone, while we figure out if our move will be permanent. We weren't really sure whether or not we wanted to go the sublet route, but they plied us with chocolate, and we're weak like that.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hooray for Healthcare!

Not too many people know this, but five years ago when we were conducting our first living-in-France experiment, Jeff and I decided we'd give parenthood a go. It was part biological clock, part romanticism; have you ever seen French children? They're the cutest things ever, AND they're well-behaved. I wanted to be part of that. Jeff ... well, not so much, but he agreed to give it a try. Close to the end of my first trimester, we decided to tell our families, and many joyous long-distance phone-calls were made. About a week later, I had a miscarriage. Big bummer.

I hadn't planned to go to the hospital--I thought it could wait 'til morning when I'd visit my private doc--but after describing the symptoms to my belle soeur Nathalie, who lives in Paris and is a medical professional, she suggested we meet at Hopital St. Antoine, a public hospital just two blocks from our place.

We three arrived at about 10 0'clock at night and went straight to the emergency room. There might have been one other person waiting there, but the doctors saw me almost immediately. After a thorough exam, they confirmed the bad news, and suggested I stay overnight. I told them I lived nearby and that I'd prefer to come back the next day. They said "pas de probleme" and made an appointment for me to return the following morning.

When I arrived, they ushered me into a private room, tucked me into bed, and gave me some medication and an IV. I was there for the better part of the day, and throughout my time there, someone or another would come in to make sure I was OK, bring me water, and generally extend a bit of kindness in my direction. After my experience at General Hospital in San Francisco the year before, my stay at Hopital St. Antoine seemed positively magical. When I checked out, they promised to send me a bill, but forewarned that because I didn't have insurance, it was going to be pretty expensive. Very, very expensive. They were sorry. I was worried. When the bill arrived two days later, I was indeed shocked at the amount: 88 Euro.

I don't know if the health care reform bill Obama just signed into law will translate into hospital bills that are truly affordable for Americans, but even if it's just a symbolic gesture to prove he's serious about making change while he's in office, it's a step in the right direction. Hopefully, though, neither I nor anyone reading this will have any reason to experience the newly revamped American medical system (or the old French one, for that matter) any time soon.