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


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?"


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.