Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bon Appetite!

We are running out of time and are so aware of what a difference those five extra days that the volcano took from us would have meant. Alas! This is our last full day in Paris, and it is also Loren's birthday- so I suspect it will be a great day despite the fact that it is our first day of rain!
Wednesday night we had a wonderful evening being entertained by very special friends of my sister, Carol. Sabbett and Alain invited us to their home which is right near the Champs Elysee, and it was so nice not to feel so much like a tourist. The conversation was lively and very interesting, and we were struck by the similarities in how we view our respective countries and the problems we face. They, like us, are concerned about the huge immigration, especially of the Algerians who are putting tremendous pressure on the infrastructure of France. Health care, education, government workers early retirement, and public transportation were raised as subjects of concern. We could have been talking about San Francisco!! The meal was fabulous- cold salmon with a delicious verde sauce, cucumber salad, and a beautiful bowl of fresh strawberries and raspberries with an amazing whipped cream like topping.

Today we went to the Bastille market- what fun it would be to buy all the fixings for a great French meal at the open market! I'll just have to wait and do that on my next trip to Paris.

Then we took the Metro to the D"Orsay museum. I'm not a big museum person as many of you know, but I loved the d'Orsay. It's an old railroad station with a big gold clock at one end like the one at Grand Central Station. I loved the layout, and when I turned a corner and saw Renoir's street cafe painting which was about 5' by 6' I had to catch my breath!
I had seen this painting many times before, but there, in the D'Orsay, in the city of Paris, after having experienced the Parisian cafe scene for the past week- well, all I can say is that it was magical!

Later in the afternoon, we went to the Pere Lachaise which is a very famous cemetary where many literary and artisitc people are buried like Balzac, Proust, Oscar Wilde, and perhaps the most sought after, Jim Morrison. The cemetary was huge. I mean Huge! So although it might have been fun to go searching for many of these luminaries, I only had one in mind: I wanted to see Edith Piaf!
Since I probably won't write another blog until we leave Paris, I want to tell you about an peculiar situation for Parisians on moving day, a custom for bachelors about to be married as well as the love affair Paris has with food.

Because these buildings are so old- many built in the 15 & 16th centuries, there are either NO elevators or very tiny elevators. Ours fits only two people, and you had better be on good terms with each other as it is a very tight fit. I wondered how people get their furniture in their homes.

There is no way a bed or couch would fit in the elevator, and the stairs are narrow and circular.

I was told they go through the window! And sure enough, we were out walking, and saw this moving process in action!

Another French custom is for the friends of the groom-to-be to take him out the night before his wedding, dress him up, ply him with wine and make a fool of him. This is a picture I took, and when I brought out my camera, they all shouted and posed. Then, as I was about to leave, they offered me a gift: A real carrot; a real flaccid, droopy carrot!!! Ah, the French!

If you don't enjoy food, I would suggest you go to London; Paris would be wasted on you. I am loving trying to savor the French cuisine. We discovered a wonderful Patisserie just down the block from us, so I buy croissoints there in the afternoon so we can have them with our coffee in the morning on our little veranda.

When we went to dinner at Sabette and Alain's, I went to this same Patisserie and bought some macaroons- all different kinds, which I picked out myself and they put in a charming little box!

The outdoor markets move from neighborhood to neighborhood. We have one right around the corner that comes on Thursdays and Sundays. Look at the size of those artichokes!

We haven't gone to any really high end restaurants. Things are so expensive here that the equivalent of a local, family style restaurant at home would cost you about $30.00 for lunch per person and about $50.00 for a dinner. The high end, very fancy ones are listed as being 120-150 Euros and beyond per person which is about $150.-200! AND that's with NO wine!!! But, the amazing thing is that these small, family run Bistros are fabulous! I am trying to order French things while I'm here. The other night I had a lovely fish cassoulet which was served in what looked like an ancient metal turrine that might have long been in the family! I decided to try some unknown cheese for dessert. I had NO idea what I was ordering; but I intentionally passed over the Camembert as I knew that, and I wanted something French that perhaps I could only get here. The cheese I ordered was called Cabe cou du Perigord. If any of you have a local cheese shop around you, go and try to get this cheese. It is the best I have ever tasted! Then, as I mentioned, I had blood pudding for lunch which was quite good although I don't think I'll try it again. I was quite surprised when I ordered tartar de boef and it came with a raw egg atop. Raw beef, raw egg- wouldn't that be banned in the U.S.? Other special treats are, of course, French onion soup and escargots! They taste so French when one is in Paris!

Paris closes down for lunch from noon to 1:30. Even many of the stores have signs saying "closed for lunch." The cafes come alive - and remember they are having lunches that cost minimum of $30.00 without wine- but everyone is drinking wine!! What a life!
There is a custom at many of the restaurants here to write down the order on the paper table cloth and then when we ask for the "addition" the waiter just totals up the bill before our eyes!

Another very Parisian event is hot chocolate at Angelina's. Our profoundest thanks to all of you who recommended this place! OMG!!! The chocolate is beyond description: so thick, so rich, so decadent - you can't imagine. But that's not all - it is served with a large bowl of whipped cream and you are expected to place a large dollop (or two) on top of this ambrosia. We went with Glorita and Geroncio. The next day, Glorita called to see if we wanted to meet at Angelina's again for another hot chocolate!! Noooooooo, I said! To give in to such indulgance was impossible for me, even in Paris!

We've had a number of Croque Monseurs which are great pick-me-uppers when our energy is waning mid-afternoon.

And last night we went to a charming Souffle restaurant that was fabulous! Souffles for entree, (entree in France means appetizer) for the main meal and for dessert! The one thing I have yet to try are mussels which I hope I can fit in before I leave! - It may have to be for lunch because Loren has requested that we get a baguette, some cheese, some pate, and a bottle of wine and spend his last night in Paris with a birthday picnic along the Seine.
Au Revoire from Paris.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Maintenant nous ne somme pas touristes!

It's Wednesday morning, and Loren and I are sitting at a cafe: We are here because there is no coffee at home - and there is a story about why!

We ran out of coffee; so I went to the Mono Prix to buy some more. The Mono Prix is the big department/grocery store. Remember there is a butcher shop, a bread shop, a bakery, but I hadn't seen a shop that sold coffee, so I had to go to the big store. I had many choices, and I had selected one, but I couldn't tell if it was whole bean or ground beans. A little man was in the aisle.
"Parlez vous francois?"
"Un peus. Une Peus."
"Could you tell me if this coffee is whole or ground?"
"Ohh," he said making a big muscle with his left arm. "Eez good. Very robuste."
"Ah, oui, oui," I replied. But is it ground?" I said, making a circular motion with my arm, "or is it whole bean?" I asked holding my hands in the shape of a big coffee bean."Ahh. Oui, Oui, Not is grind:"
"I don't have to grind?"
"Not is grind; No."
"Merci, merci beaucoup."

I was so proud of my exchange that I told Loren all about it when I returned. This morning, when I went to make coffee, Voila! I opened my new package of lovely espresso coffee, and WHOLE BEAN!! I thought I had totally understood my "conversation" with my Frenchman, but alas, in writing this story now, I can see that he mean't it is not ground while I thought he was saying I don't have to grind! What a difference between an adjective and a verb when you're trying to speak in sign language!
Before leaving the States, many mentioned that the French were intolerant of people who don't speak their language. But we haven't found that to be the case. As a matter of fact, often, as soon as "Bon Jour" leaves our lips, they respond to us in English! We went to buy some stamps yesterday at the post office, and Loren, in his tres chic French asked for ten stamps. I reminded him that we needed twelve, so he said, "Si vous plais, deux mas." The clerk smiled and said, "Deux plus, mas est espagnol!"
We laughed, and Loren said something about "Oui, oui, est tres complique."
One place where they have not been quite so generous is in the museums which seem to be all in French with no attempt to be multi-lingual for the tourists. Yesterday we went to a very interesting museum in Le Marais. It's housed in the Hotel du Carnavalet. "Hotel" means a very large house, and this house was LARGE! It must have had 50-60 rooms, and I couldn't help wondering what a single family did with all this space. The museum was arranged so that you moved from room to room in a chronological history of Paris. There was a 3-D model of Le Ile de Cite as it was in the very early times with huge reinforced walls surrounding it to protect it from attack. There were early pictures of the very bridges we have crossed, made of wood; some with 35 houses built across the span. There were rooms set up to show the furniture, art, procelain and general life-style of the various centuries. It was quite interesting, and it clearly showed the enormous power and wealth of the church and the royalty. It is no wonder that the revolution happened!!
Then I had lunch with my friend, Barbara who just happened to be in Paris at the same time. I had met her in San Francisco where she worked for the Canadian Consulate. She is now with the Embassy in South Africa. We found a lovely little cafe in a square. It was a gorgeous day, and we sat outside and had a leisurely three hour lunch together over a carafe of wine. She thanked me for taking the time to meet with her what with all the things I had unseen on my "to-do" list, but I told her that sitting there on a beautiful April day in Paris; eating blood pudding and drinking French wine, surrounded by French people was every bit a part of my Paris experience as visiting Notre Dame. Because of her work with the Embassy, Barbara speaks fluent French, and she was able to engage our waiter and help me with the menu. The blood pudding, by the way, was delicious!

In the afternoon, we met Glmorita and Geroncio and went over to the Museum of the Deported. It is at the very end of the Lie de Cite, and is a very moving monument to all those French who lost their lives in concentration camps between 1940-1945. You can see nothing from the upper garden entrance. Going down a narrow flight of concrete steps, there is a beautiful black iron sculpture that makes one think of barb wire placed in front of iron bars that look out over the Seine. There is a small room with French inscriptions from French writers such as Sartre, St. Exuperay and others which I wasn't able to translate. Then a long tunnel stretched out with small crystals lit up. There were millions of them, each representing one life lost. This was not a proud time for the French. The Nazis co-opted the French, and many of the Jews, gypsies, and others were taken away by the French police, not the Germans.

Loren and I had walked along the Seine to and from our various excursions. We noted that at night there were many lovers, strollers; and people having picnics along the banks. I put that on my list of things to do. So after seeing the deportation museum, we went down the one commercial street of the Ile de St: Louis, found a charming wine shop, and bought a bottle of wine. Did I tell you that Paris, although exhorbatantly expensive, is the only place I know where a bottle of water costs more than a glass of wine! We brought our bottle of wine to the counter and asked the shopkeeper if he had an opener. He pointed to one that cost more than the wine, so I asked if he had any wine with twist off tops. "Oui," but not French, just Australian. Loren said that would be fine, but the shopkeeper said, "NO! I will open your bottle of French wine for you." Isn't that funny?
We had packed some sandwiches - baguettes, ham and cheese- and we took them down along the river bank. After an hour, Geroncio and I went back up to the corner to buy the famous glace -a special kind of ice cream that sounds something like Berhtoulli. I had Moka, Geroncio had chocolate, and we got Praline and Grand Marnier for Loren and Glorita. So picture these four weathered travelers, two from San Francisco and two from Rio de Janeiro, sitting on the pavement in front of The Seine on the Ile du St. Louis, licking ice cream cones. I have no idea what the young people were saying as we plopped our elderly bodies along the wall, but at that moment I was part of Paris!!
We parted company and came back to our flat. It was 9:30, so we decided to have a little more wine out on our balcony and wait for the Eiffel Tower to sparkle on the hour of ten! This is the view from our flat at night. Can you see the tip of the Eiffel Tower in the center, Notre Dame over to the left? The large church to the right of Notre Dame is St. Pauls. Life is good! Bon Soir.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Qu'est que c'est Paris?

Ok- I am sitting in Glorita's tiny flat right now. This is the only place I have been able to find wifi in all of Paris, so I will take you on a photo tour of what makes Paris, Paris. (Let me first apologize for all the misspellings of the French words- but I think you will be able to decipher what I am saying. One of the most amazing differences is the tiny little stores where people go to buy things. There is, of course, larger grocery stores, but most people go to the Patisserie for their sweets; they go to the butchery to buy their pate; they go to the boulangerie to buy their baguettes.
These shoes are real chocolate. They cost about $50.00 each!!

The displays in the patiseries are amazing. I have taken a fancy to the macaroons... delicious!

Here is Loren biting off the end of a freshly baked, warm baguette!

Here is a display is a shop that only sells Fois Gras. Did you know that Fois Gras is NOT pate? Pate has other parts of the animal in it; Fois Gras has ONLY the liver. Can you imagine a dtore that only sells Fois Gras?And the store fronts of all these places are works of art in themselves. Everything is displayed so beautifully.

Another very French thing are the markets that are in different parts of the city on different days. One of the best ones is right in our part of Le Marais. Here is a picture of a man in the market place fixing crepes! Yum!

Another very unique tradition is for lovers to put locks on one of the bridges as a symbol of their attachment to each other. Isn't that wonderful? The French are so romantic; there are couples kissing every where. It is kind of contagious!!

Most large cities, of course, have a public transportation system. But the Paris Metro is like no other. This picture is one of the Metro stops. Many of them are designed almost as works of art. I think it would be wonderful if all the artists of San Francisco could bid for a design of all the Muni stops. Wouldn't that be charming?

I also want to give you an idea of why the song "April in Paris" was written. We couldn't have picked a better time to come. The trees are just beginning to blossom, and you can feel Paris waking up after their long winter. Notre Dame in April is magical!

I think also because the weather has just turned so warm that the cafes are bustling. Everywhere we go the sidewalks are filled with people drinking and eating and laughing. I still haven't quite gotten used to hearing the French- it surprises me and is a constant reminder of where I am. The French language is so beautiful to hear.

We went on a hop-on-hop-off city bus tour yesterday, which was wonderful as it gave us a real sense of the layout of the city. We stopped off and had lunch at Montmartre - a very touristy place, but full of energy. After lunch we went and actually bought a latte at Starbucks. It was so familiar- with Tall, Grande and Vente sizes, but the latte itself tasted very different. I think the milk over here has a different taste. Montmartre is where the Moulin Rouge is- a bygone era, but still an attraction for the tourists.

We saw the Place du Concorde, the Opera House, the Invalides where Napoleon's tomb is, the Arc du Triumphe, the Champs Elysee, but by far the most amazing up close and personal thing was the Eiffel Tower. What a beautiful structure that just screams PARIS!!

I love San Francisco for being such a wonderful walking city, but it doesn't compare to Paris. We have walked all over, and I find myself drawn to the river each time. There are pathways that take you down along the river, and at night time all the young people spread blankets along the banks of the Seine with their wine bottles, cheese and baguettes. This picture is looking down towards the Ile de Cite and Notre Dame at sunset. Who could not fall in love with this place?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ces't Magnifique

Paris: What a surprise! When I think of some of the great cities of the world, I think New York, Rome, London...but perhaps on top of the list is Paris. So I am dumbfounded to find such a small town, intimate feeling to this City of Light. For some reason I find myself comparing Paris to New York. Perhaps because New York is a familiar city to me; one that I find ezxciting, cosmopolitan, alive. But unlike New York, Paris is a horizontal city. The Montparnasse Tower is the only skyscraper in the entire city, and looming over the tops of old buildings, it appears to be an alien space ship that surely is here only temporarily. New York City envelopes you; Paris embraces you. The wide expanse of boulevards never give the sense that it is crowded: The East and Hudson Rivers contain New York; The Seine cradles Paris. It is just so much fun crossing over the bridges from the Right Bank to the Ile du St. Luie to the Ile de Cite to the Left Bank, all the while passing bevies of lively Frenchmen laughing at bustling cafes.

The scale of this city is massive. It is not going up like New York, but as I mentioned, it is a horizontal city. We're walking down this grand boulevard, and I ask, pointing to an exquisite palace, "What is that beautiful building?"
"That's the Louvre." Ah it is gorgeous.
Turning to the right, I point to another beautiful building and ask, "What is that?"
"That's the Louvre."
What! The size and scale of this one museum is unfathomable.

It may be horizontal, but my gaze is often drawn towards the sky. Notre Dame, Sacre Cour, St. Chappelle, the Eiffel Tozer... Oh the Eiffel Tower! We haven't gone to see it yet, but she is visible from our small balcony. We can just see the top part, and at night it is all lit up with a huge beacon of light that rotates so it gives the appearance of a light house standing guard over the city. And what a surprise when all of a sudden the whole tower was sparkling like a Roman Candle on the fourth of July! It turns out that every hour on the hour the tower shimmers for five minutes! It's fantastic!

We went to a market and bought some Brie cheese...Brie tastes so delicious in Paris! Then we went to a Boulanger (excuse all my French misspellings) where we got two long baguettes - still warm. There is a custom that you bite in to the end of the baguette as soon as you pay for it! So you see people walking home with their baguettes poking out of their backpacks or satchels with the end bitten off! Then we went to the butcher shop and bought so,e pate! Our first day in Paris and we did all that! Don't we adapt well!

I will try to find a cyber cafe to write again so I can include pictures. I'm a bit surprised how scarce wi fi is in this city... but check back from time to time. The adventure continues.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


I'm writing this 30'000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean sometime between Wednesday and Thursday. Liliane and Gerard landed in San Francisco about three hours ago, and I hope they are oohing and ahhing about what a lovely place they found at 18 Clipper Street. I still will not believe we will make it to France until we take that first step onto French soil! We have gone through an emotional roller coaster ride over the past few days to the point where I totally believe in the power of The Gremlins!

As you know, we had planned the perfect vacation, leaving last Thursday, 4/15, for our house swap in Paris, followed by three days in Amsterdam and two weeks in Berlin. Then the volcano...then the cancellation of our flight...then rebooking on Air Canada through Toronto...early morning trip to the airport...cancellation of the second flight...holding for three and a half hours on the phone with Air France...rebooked on AF flight leaving at at 3;30 Tuesday 4/19...cancellation of third Paris to tell Liliane and Gerard we are not coming, but we decide to leave our house for 10 days so they can still come to our about a trip to Big Sur, Hearst Castle, Hemet, Venice Beach, Palm Springs, ...AF flight reschedled to leave 5/20 at 2:40 Liliane and Gerard to tell them we are coming...flight rescheduled to leave 5/20 at 9:18...and Voila! Here we are, up in the air on AF flight 83 headed to Paris, France. Meanwhile, our friends, Glorita; Geroncio, Val and Larry have been waiting to play with us in Paris since last Friday. I can't imagine what our reunion is going to be like. I feel as if we are the stars of an on-going soap opera: "Tune in tomorrow for the next episode of 'Merde!'"

So what have we learned from all of this? I,m proud of the way we have handled it all: First of all, we constantly reminded ourselves of how lucky we were. We had our own home and great friends in San Francisco cheering us on. We did not have three children under the age of seven sleeping on cots in an airport in Frankfort for four days; we did not miss our son's wedding like some distraught mother explained to a news reporter.

One of the very first things Loren said was, "Let's see if we can discover a reason we are here in San Francisco instead of in Paris, France. I'm not sure we actually discovered the reason, but we did have a fun time: We went to the French Cafe Passion for dinner one night; had Sunday brunch with friends Carolyn and Liz at Cafe de la Presse, and we drank French wine at home. When we thought that our second plane had been canceled and that it just wasn't going to be worth going to Paris at this time, both of us immediately said that we hoped Liliane and Gerard would be able to get to SF, and, if they did, our house would be there for them. We had fun planning where we would go for ten days. We are resilient people, and although I hope never to go through such a topsy turvy ride again, I think we learned that life is worth living and loving regardless of where one is. Angeles Arrien, a very wise woman, encourages us all to "not be wedded to the outcome." We made Plan A, switched to Plan B, and are now operating on Plan C. The big question now facing us when we get to Paris is, "Why are we here?"

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Still waiting in SF

After hearing some of the tragic stories of a mother missing her son's wedding, a family with three young children camping out for three days on the airport floor in Berlin, and people spending $700/night at the Frankfurt airport hotel or paying $3,000 for a rental car - and that only after waiting in line for eight hours, our plight is a mere set back. Yet is still seems worth telling.

After hearing that our last Thursday's flight had been canceled, we got on the phone and Air France was able to re-book us on a flight through Toronto for Friday. But The news, however, was not good, and we really didn't want to get stranded in Toronto for days, but we were unable to get through to either Air Canada or Air France to cancel. So Friday morning we got up at the crack of dawn; an overly generous neighbor drove us to the airport at 4:30 am, but were told by Air Canada that we couldn't even go to Toronto. The Toronto airport was jammed, and they didn't want to bring in any more people scheduled for Europe.

So we went home and I began calling Air France to rebook us. Each time I dialed, there was a lengthy recording: for English, push one; to make reservations, push... etc. After getting through the whole thing spiel, the recording said, "Due to high volume, we are unable to process your call at this time. Please call back later." I knew I had to persist, because so many were trying to rebook and the seats would be gone. So for 45 minutes I kept pressing "redial...redial...redial..." each time listening to the spiel and pushing the buttons. Then, OMG, the music started playing and I was IN the system. They didn't hang up! I was on hold with Air France for over 3 hours when a lovely French accented young man came on the line asking if he could help! What's the next plane you can get us on, I asked. Not Saturday, not Sunday, not Monday... "I can get you on the non-stop flight leaving San Francisco on Tuesday, April 20."

"Great, I said."
And we learned that Liliane and Gerard, our French exchange couple, were able to rebook for this Wednesday- ces't perfect, no?

Presently, we are in a state of limbo or suspended animation. Our suitcases remained packed, although we have retrieved our toothbrushes; the refrigerator remains empty; we have been sleeping on the couch so as not to disturb the ironed pillow cases. It's as if we have left, as if we know we shouldn't be here. It might, perhaps, be a bit like those stories of people who have out-of-the-body experiences and are looking down on themselves. I am hyper. I need to leave the house and do things. We went out to lunch on Thursday with friends; we went up to Melisa Hickman's for lunch on Friday; we went to Sam's Chowder House in Half Moon Bay on Saturday; and treated ourselves to a lovely French brunch at Cafe de la Presse with friends, Carolyn and Liz. I am wearing my red beret and listening to Edith Piaf cd's; we rented two films that take place in Paris. All this activity helps me.

Loren, on the other hand, has a different coping mechanism. He is so calm, to the point that periodically, I'll look up and he is asleep with the newspaper in his lap. He woke up yesterday morning and said, "I have no list!" This was a revelation. What does one do when there is no to-do list?

In the meantime, we have been in touch with our friends, Val, Larry, Glorita and Geroncio, who are waiting for us in Paris. Val and Larry went over to our place to meet with Lilian and Gerard and to get the keys. They said the place is beautiful, and located in a great place. There is a small round elevator in the center of the building. (Apparently they put elevators in place of the spiral stairs that many of these old buildings had previously.)
The small outdoor patio is charming, and there is a modern lovely kitchen. The weather in Paris is gorgeous. Larry and Val are planning to cook a French meal for six in our new place the first night we arrive, and Glorita and Geroncia will join us! Beautiful friends, a wonderful home, French food, and sunny skies- what more could we ask for? I just wish we were there to enjoy it. Keep your fingers crossed that flights will be up on Tuesday. If we can't get there on Tuesday, we're not sure what we will do.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cest la Vie!

Day one of our trip - and the adventure begins! We awoke to news on the radio that all flights in and out of Heathrow airport were closed due to the volcanic eruption on Iceland! Phew! I thought! thank goodness it's not Charles de Gaulle. Unfortunately, it turned out that our flight WAS canceled. We are scheduled to leave tomorrow on a flight through Toronto, but our French exchange couple called and said their Air France flight has been canceled for tomorrow, so we are not hopeful we will be out tomorrow.

The ironed duvet cover and pillow shams sit pertly on the bed; our house is sparkling; the refrigerator is empty, and we are in limbo!

With nothing to do, we went out today to the Ferry building and had lunch with Sue Davies and Phyllis Paulo. To commiserate, we ordered a bottle of French burgundy wine! It helped a little, but we are very sad.

Some of you may recall that I was chosen to go to Paris when I was working at the San Francisco Day school. We had a sister school in Paris, and a group of faculty members were going over for a visit with the French teachers. I was so excited; the morning I was due to leave I woke up with a 103 degree temperature and was so sick with the flu that I was unable to go! What is it about Paris and me? Will I ever get there? Tune in tomorrow for the next episode of "April Sans Paris."