Category: cinéclub

Object Relations No. 3 & 4: The Ryder and Indiana University Cinema

Moving from Paris to Indiana the past fall (see also: the things we do for love), one of the things I expected to mourn the most was my film-going. You see, I spent rather a lot of time at the movies in the past two years, watching the sort of thing that one rarely sees on the big screen in America outside of New York or Los Angeles. I started reading Cahiers du Cinèma. Wednesdays were my favorite day of the week, because it meant a new Pariscope to obsessively scour with a highlighter.  Basically I became a low-down, dirty little cinéphile, and I had friends and a city to support my habit. There may or may not have been weeping during my final viewing of Quartier Lacan at Accattone. Okay, there was definitely weeping, but that wasn’t really all that strange for that place.

So you can imagine my surprise upon arriving in Bloomington at the discovery that this is a town of serious film-going folks, small though their numbers may be. So serious, in fact, that about twenty-five years ago a group of them founded The Ryder film series and magazine. The Ryder screens independent, foreign-language, and revival films at a variety of venues around town. Many of these locations serve booze, making them aces in my book. The Ryder also publishes a free magazine available on nearly every corner around campus, which also covers about local theatre, opera, concerts, and lectures in addition to film. For those of you that wince whenever the cashier at the megaplex asks you to fork over eleven bucks for a movie, the price is oh-so-right at The Ryder.  And they conduct free-ticket lotteries at the beginning of every feature, so sometimes your next movie is on the house! Because of the relatively transient nature of the operation, everything is screened digitally, which has its drawbacks, and sometimes the projection quality isn’t great. But for many newish independent films they are the only game in town, and you’ve got to respect that the operation is likely a labor of love for a few individuals who saw an absence in their community and devoted themselves to filling it.  It’s a pretty fantastic thing, and it doesn’t happen very much anymore, especially in the arts. The Ryder is proof positive that you don’t need an enormous budget to dramatically increase the number of independent and foreign films available to a community, just the long-term commitment of people who care enough about such things to make it happen.

Speaking of commitment to film, following his 2009 appointment as Indiana University President, Michael McRobbie (a hard-core cinéphile if I’ve ever seen one) promised to fund the construction and maintenance of a world-class cinema facility on the university campus. He called it a much-deserved “place for film” for a university and town that had long shown an interest in the medium. And while presidents of all stripes often make big promises when they are taking office that end up moldering on the shelf, this particular president actually put his money where his mouth was. Appointing Jon Vickers as full-time director in 2010, the IU Cinema facility opened in the former space the university theatre in January of 2011. Most universities can’t even replace a broken photocopier that quickly. The space is exquisite, incorporating several 1933 Thomas Hart Benton murals from the original space with one of only 10 THX-certified university cinemas in the country. Thanks to unique collaboration with Sony, the IU Cinema boasts 16mm and 35mm film and Barco 2K and 4K digital projection equipment, and a Dolby sound system that makes you gasp.

It’s a magnificent facility, but it is really Vicker’s continuous programming that makes it sing. As their website can rightfully boast, IU Cinema hosts “film premieres and rare archival screenings, film festivals, conferences, filmmaker retrospectives and silent films accompanied by live music.” This year alone I was able to see everything from Los Olvidados to The Kid, Juliet of the Spirits to Ran, Agnès Varda shorts to Psycho. I watched films from the Australia in the 1970s series, the East Asian Film series, and New Trends in Contemporary Italian Cinema. Thanks to the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker series, I was able to attend lectures and film series by Chuck Workman, John Sayles, Monica Treut, and Whit Stillman this year. IU also periodically screens recent independent and foreign releases, so we were able to see movies like A Separation and Melancholia within a month or two of their release; no small thing once you get into the bowels of Southern Indiana. Next fall, they are (wait for it) hosting Werner Herzog. This news has resulted in our new favorite game: speculating on where we would take Herzog when he comes to visit Bloomington in the fall, if we were going to be in Indiana in the fall (we aren’t), and if somebody trusted us to be his chaperones (they wouldn’t). In my fantasy, the one other person in town who voted for Cobra Verde at the IU cinema can join me and Wern when we go to the quarries. In the meantime, doing Herzog impressions around town will have to suffice.

Perhaps my favorite moment of the year came when Michael McRobbie was introducing Solaris, one of the films he had specifically selected for his “President’s Choice” series. I know, I know, a university president who loves Tarkofsky! Crazy! He spoke about how establishing a serious venue for cinema on campus was not only an institutional improvement for the university’s reputation, but also an important gift to the community that this university inhabits. In an age of economic downturn and the rape and pillage nationally of public universities, it’s a rare thing for a university adminstrator to acknowledge the imbrication between the university space and the community, and the responsibility that both have to each another for cultural enrichment.

The Ryder’s showtime schedule can be found at theryder.org. Their films are screened at Bear’s Place, the IU Fine Arts Theatres, FARM Restaurant, or the Buskirk Chumley, with outdoor screenings in the summer at Bryan Park. Tickets are $5 for everybody. Food and drinks are available for purchase at the Bear’s Place and FARM screenings. Students beware, you must be 21 to enter screenings at Bear’s Place.

The IU Cinema’s schedule can be found at www.cinema.indiana.edu, along with excellent podcasts.  Ticket prices vary, but many events are free to the public. However, the Cinema requires that you pick up tickets for all screenings, even the free ones. Tickets for first-run and popular films often run out weeks in advance. You can pick up tickets at the IU Auditorium Box Office, which is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday or online at the cinema website. Tickets are available on the first day of the month of the screening, so we made a habit of planning our film-going in advance and getting our tickets all at once. A box office in the cinema lobby is also open 30 minutes prior to any screening and a standby line forms there, but again, the early bird gets the worm.

Such sweet sorrow, yes?

About a week and a half ago M left Paris. She stayed as long as she could this summer, but needed to get back to the States to move to Boston, where she’ll be living with her wonderful husband this year while he studies at the Big Fancy School near there while she works on her dissertation. We had sort of “reserved” her for her final week in Paris. We didn’t do anything particularly out of character, maybe a few little things that we hadn’t managed to do before, but basically we just shared a few lovely days of rambling around town, chatting and lounging in the park, seeing films at our favorite places, and eating some great meals. It was impossibly sad.

M was the first person I came to know in Paris. We were both working at the same university here and had both had a terrible time with the process of getting a visa back in the United States. I contacted her about her consulate visit before she arrived, and she sent me a long, concise, yet surprisingly warm e-mail about what I could expect from my own appointment. I recall showing the note to my mother and declaring that I was going to make friends with this woman. At our first staff meeting, I pounced on poor M, declaring that I thought we should be friends. She seemed a bit flustered by my forwardness (she’s unfailingly reserved with new people), but nevertheless agreed to my proposal that she accompany me to see Lars von Trier’s Antichrist at Le Nouveau Latina next door to my apartment. That lead to coffee, and that lead to falafel, and the rest is history as they say. Somewhere along the line we picked up B and the three of us were inseparable ever since.

Being in Paris for two years has been a magnificent experience, one that I wouldn’t trade for anything. But a huge part of what has made it so amazing has been the presence of these two remarkable people in my life. I fell in love with Paris because I fell in love with M and B. I truly have never felt more cared for than I do with this crew, and I know that they feel the same way.

The best part of leaving Paris is that I get to take B with me. The worst part of leaving Paris is that I don’t get to take M. Her final week was profoundly bittersweet, with poor B having shepard two women liable to burst into tears at any moment around town. I spent most of the day she left sobbing, and even though it will come three weeks later, I don’t think that the day we finally leave Paris will be anywhere near as difficult.

The good news is we’ve talked every day since she left, and I know that it’s only a matter of time before visits to Boston and the Midwest will be planned. I also know that she will be my Skype buddy during the long, likely lonely days of writing I have ahead next year. She’s not getting rid of me this easily.

A few have you have asked about my list of things to do in Paris before I leave. We’ve crossed off a lot in recent weeks, though I haven’t been stressing about doing everything. There is something strangely reassuring about the idea that there are still things left to do sometime in the future, a yet-to-be-determined “next time” with two of my best friends in tow. But a few little things that can be crossed off the list include:

Take B and M to the Cimitière Montparnasse

Not only did we cross this one off the list, but we did so with a bang. We tracked down all but one of the graves we wanted to visit (damn you Eric Rohmer!), blessed M’s new Repetto Zizis (the same ones that Serge wore, but in black, not white) at Serge Gainsbourg’s grave, and finished our afternoon in Montparnasse with a coffee at Le Dôme with M and E. It was a perfect afternoon.

Visit the Maison Rouge

What a lovely place! We especially liked touring the current exhibition of contemporary Canadian artists called “My Winnipeg.” Oh, and they have one of the only original-style Photomatons in town.

Go to Marché des Enfants Rouges as many weekends as possible

The last few months we have been positively religious about our Sunday Marché visit. M was the one who “discovered” what we now fondly refer to as “McDo Bobo,” so it was fitting that her last Sunday morning was spent happily over a yummy marinated tuna tartare.

And finally:

Eat at Frenchie

So after two years of trying to get a reservation at this place, they apparently finally took pity on the Americans on the 4th of July and granted us a table at 7 p.m. (the French equivalent of social suicide). The food is excellent, though the service was kind of weirdly abrupt. Um, yes, we do want that final hunk of foie gras before you whisk away our plates, thank you very much! Still, it was a lovely evening. I’m not going to spill too much ink over it, because too many people on the interwebs already have, and there are indeed better places to eat in Paris along the same lines that aren’t going to give you an attitude (La Gazzetta, Rino, and Yam’tcha among them).  But still, here were the highlights:

Followed by a visit to Le Champo for a final Monica Vitti flick, Buñuel’s Le fantôme de la liberté, it made for a perfect Fourth of July in Paris. Three little Americans (okay, two little Americans and one little Soviet), three friends forever.  Don’t worry, the blog snark will be back next time. For now, I just want to wish my lovely friend M happy travels always.  Thanks for letting me come along on the ride.

Slightly More Rarified Bottom Feeding

Apparently all this time I thought that you wanted to be talking about what I ate for lunch, you actually just wanted to talk about The Bachelor, huh? Thanks for all the nice comments. I am happy to hear that among other things, B’s sister who I hope to charm is as much of a TV addict as I am.

And, for the record, our money’s on Emily for the finale (obviously). I’d put Chantal’s odds at ninety to one.

This has been a bad week for bottom feeders like me.  First, Charlie Sheen unleashed a sound-bite ready storm of interviews that I consumed like a cokehead trying to budget their stash. Just one video and then I’ll get to work! Well, maybe if I just watch all the videos now, then I’ll be able to get some work done. There are more videos!? Gimme my fix! Poor B, who is diligently trying to do some kind of project that involves lots of Latin translation and spreadsheet columns (I had no idea that Medieval Studies involved so much Excel) has been forced to listen to near-hourly updates on the status of Sheen’s dubious sobriety, two live-in girlfriends, and child custody.  I’m relatively certain that B wasn’t even aware that Sheen was still on television, as when I first showed him a video he made a comment about Hot Shots 2, which is digging pretty deep as far as I’m concerned. B is like an old man whose cultural references dropped off somewhere around 1995. Mention any band popular in the past five years or so and you’ll get nothing more than a blank, uncomprehending stare. Play any band popular in the last five years or so and you’ll surely have to listen to the entirety of Peter Gabriel’s So during dinner.

And if Sheen’s rapid televisual disintegration wasn’t enough, the swirling mass of controversy John Galliano’s bar fight and subsequent dismissal from Dior has kept me riveted to all fashion blogs French and American.  Part of my interest in this whole fiasco stems from the fact that La Perle, the bar where the incident took place, is a mere stone’s throw from my apartment and was a frequent setting for boozy evenings during my first year in Paris.  I’ll cop to still kind of liking it in an “ooh, look at all the beautiful people” kind of way, but B and M have made it abundantly clear that they hate La Perle in so many myriad different ways that I can’t suggest that we go there anymore. The two of them even make a point of crossing to the opposite side of the street from the bar when we walk by after eating pizza at our cherished Pink Flamingo on the same street.  If either one of them walked by La Perle without muttering something along the lines of “hipster scum” under their breath, I would die of surprise.

Anyway, we used to hang out there a lot. The booze is ridiculously cheap for the neighborhood, and if you get there early enough you can snag a booth to while away the evening. I live for bargain beers and booths. We never saw John Galliano there, though there was always the possibility that he might be around, as it is the watering hole for all the local designer ateliers. I find the description of La Perle as “a neighborhood bar” in the New York Times rather laughable, as I’ll bet you ninety-six percent of the people that go there don’t live within a twenty-block radius of the place. (Did that sound smug?  I didn’t mean it to.) In fact, I’ve bristled at most of the characterizations of the Marais that have accompanied news coverage of the Galliano event. Yes, of course this neighborhood is filled with gay bars and fancy clothing stores and falafel joints. But it’s not even faintly dangerous, nor soulless, nor hopelessly bourgeois. It’s my wonderful, weird neighborhood, one I feel more attached to than anywhere I’ve lived in recent memory. That is to say, I definitely feel like a Maraisienne these days than anything else, and you better watch what you say about my beloved marsh. Thems fightin’ words.

* * *

I had a lovely week otherwise, the highlight of which was a girly day with M and her lovely friend AR.  The three of us had lunch at Rose Bakery, which I’ve been wanting to do for ages (it’s on the list!) and I can’t wait to tell you about (tomorrow: Clarence Goes to Tea!). Then, we did a bit of window licking in the Marais before heading to the superb “Women in the Orient” exhibition at the Musée Quai Branly. To my dear Parisian readers, I’d definitely recommend you go and see the amazing collection of historical and contemporary garments from Jordan, Syria, and Palestine curated by Christian Lacroix. I’m usually hesitant to recommend things at Quai Branly because it is so goddamn dark in there that people with bad eyesight like yours truly usually spend their whole visit worried that they are about to walk into a poorly-placed glass wall. But this exhibit is worth strapping on your pocket flashlight and venturing in.

* * *

Among a smattering of other smart things that M said while we were window shopping (this girl understands a bias), she made a great observation that A.P.C. basically gets all of their design ideas from Eric Rohmer’s movies. You know, the ones where all the bobos hang out in their beach houses and talk endlessly about their romantic problems and nobody seems to have a job? Well, it hardly seems necessary to spend hundreds of euros on an aesthetic so easily obtained by just by watching the Six Moral Tales, which I intend to start doing this weekend. For your Friday afternoon looking pleasure, here are some sartorial ideas from all six:

The Bakery Girl of Monceau (1963)

Susanne’s Career (1963)

My Night at Maud’s (1969)

La Collectionneuse (1967)

Claire’s Knee (1967)

Love in the Afternoon (1972)

And, finally, French summer beach style owes everything to 1983’s Pauline at the Beach:

Happy Friday, dear reader.

Clarence Puts on His Fancy Pants: La Gazzetta, Spring, and a Handful of Other Pseudo-Accomplishments

In my looooong absence (sorry ‘bout that!), I managed to make a pretty serious dent in The List, my to-do list for final five months and change in Paris.  It’s a pretty idiosyncratic affair, but nevertheless it goes a long way in justifying indulgences.  We have to eat at this incredibly expensive restaurant! We have to buy this stupid print! It’s on THE LIST! Best of all, it’s not even me that has to do the justifying. M and B are my own private little enablers, both deeply concerned that I won’t finish in time. The List ties in pleasantly to M’s preemptive nostalgia for leaving Paris months before she has even left. She has begun, rather annoyingly, I might add, declaring that everything we do might very well be for the last time.  “This might be the very last time the three of us eat pizza at La Briciola.” Uh, highly unlikely.  “This might very well be the last time we all window shop on rue Sainte Anne!”  Well, maybe, but have we ever done it before today? She’s even begun keeping a journal in which she chronicles all of her “last things” in Paris. I’ve been giving her a hard time about it because I don’t want this to become a moody, end-times kind of period. I also don’t really want to think about the fact that I’m not going to live in Paris by the end of this year, and that I won’t live in the same city as M. Sometimes you can only just trace the periphery of something sad, because you know that if you actually dive in, it will be too much to bear. So that’s what The List is, limning the contours of something that throbs.

Lest you get sappy too, dear reader, let me say that I’m not too worried about the blog. I  fully intend on seducing the shit out of you, so long after I have no Paris restaurants to tell you about you still want to come here. Come autumn we will be visiting Amish farms and learning to make our own kimchee and planning a barbecue tour of the American South. I’m playing the long game for your affections. Consider yourself on notice.

So back to The List, let’s see what I’ve accomplished lately, shall we?

  • See the Jean-Michel Basquiat show at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris before January 30th

That one was a bit trickier than I had anticipated, as every time we were over in that part of town, there was a line down the block to get in to the exhibition. But a teeny-tiny bit of advance planning meant we were able to buy tickets online, and gloatingly skip past a line of impatient tourists. Suck it, short-timers.  The show itself was pretty great, but I won’t bore you with my art history 101 analysis, as it has closed already, so if you were going to see it, you saw it.

  • See the Arman show at the Centre Pompidou before January 10th

Now this was seriously awesome.  I only really knew Arman as “the trash guy,” but the retrospective at Centre Pompidou was exquisite.  It’s pretty rare to encounter aesthetic objects that completely shift the way that you think about a given piece of material, but that is exactly how I felt about Arman’s work in burned furniture, resin, and cut household objects. As someone who used to work on the exhibition end of the art industry, I am always thinking about the sheer labor that goes into the hanging of large-scale artworks.

An exploded car hung vertically, entitled “White Orchid,” drove home what an accomplishment the installation of this enormous show. Perhaps our favorite part of the exhibition was in the collection of paper ephemera. A notice, issued by the Black Panthers of America, encouraged people to bring in “any and everything” to be cut in half by “artist Arman’s amazing saws.” The halved objects would then be signed and sold back to the owner for a fee, which Arman was then charitably donating to the Black Panthers. Did this fundraising event actually transpire? Where are the photos? Internets, you let me down!

  • See The Gospel According to Matthew and Oedipus Rex at Accattone, working towards the project of seeing all of Pasolini’s films on the big screen

Yes, I’ve started taking pictures inside of movie theatres. Sue me. To be fair, most of the movies I see have pretty small audiences. It’s usually me, B, M, and a creepy-looking guy that is slumped down unconscious in the back row. So I’m not too worried about the etiquette. I don’t use a flash, either, Miss Manners. We’ve still got Porcile, Accattone!, and Medea to go. I’m starting to get worried about this one. While Accattone! is on regular screenings, I haven’t seen Porcile or Medea in my Pariscope, like, ever. If you are playing along at home, let me know if you see either of those playing in Paris. I’ll buy your ticket and a beer.

  • Obtain an oyster knife and oyster shucking glove, learn to shuck oysters, and do so for my friends on New Year’s Eve

Done and done.  Except instead of a shucking glove, we decided on this amazing device known as the Clic’ huitres. It’s sort of a rubber stabilizer that makes it easy to get leverage on your oyster. On New Year’s Eve we bought two dozen bivalves, an assortment of excellent cheeses, some beautiful foie gras, and a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. Only Prairie Wolf showed up to our last-minute gathering (more oysters and foie gras for everyone!), but the three of us had a pretty lovely time. We only sustained one oyster-related injury (Prairie Wolf cut his thumb), but he was so drunk by the time it happened that he barely noticed. B proved himself to be a dyed-in-the-wool shucking demon, expertly prying apart shells without so much as a drop of liquer going to waste or a shard of shell ending up in the meaty bits. That’s right, people. Not only can my boyfriend explain to you why the bits of mortar you are looking at in this heap of rocks are actually from the late Roman Empire and not the early part (silly rabbit!), he can also shuck the shit out of a pile of oysters. Don’t you wish I hadn’t gotten here first?

  • Eat a Pierre Hermé foie gras and chocolate macaron (if possible)

As we weren’t in town for the holidays, I was worried that we would miss the limited window of time where Pierre Hermé’s foie gras macrons are available. When we finally got our lazy asses to the store on January 6th or so, we discovered that the only way the foie gras macarons were available was in boxes of sixteen.  Fifty euros for a box of cookies?! But it’s on THE LIST! We bit the bullet, bought the box, and had an impromptu macaron-tasting party that evening. We sampled both the classic dark chocolate and foie gras as well as the wild rose, fig, and foie gras variety.

The verdict? Well, they aren’t like anything you’ve ever eaten before. There is a strange harmony between the fatty richness of the liver and the sweetness of chocolate. But, to me, the sweetness of the macaron somehow accentuated the meaty quality of the foie too much. It was really overpowering to me. Sometimes macarons are too rich for my palate, and these were the worst offenders yet. But B and our new friend L really loved them, so who am I to judge? Should you want to drop the bones, I’d definitely encourage you to try them next December. I’ll be sticking with my classic lemon and rose. Unless a white truffle or green tea with red bean makes it into my life again.

  • Eat at La Gazzetta

For my (gulp) 28th birthday celebration, B had tried to snag reservations at Spring sometime in early October. They laughed at the audacity of a young man who wanted not only to eat at Spring in December, but on a Friday night as well. They offered him a Thursday night in early January, and he delightedly accepted, realizing that it was just a few days after M’s birthday. So for my birthday, we ate at the (also much-hyped) La Gazzetta (29 rue de Cotte, 75012 Paris, Métro Ledru-Rollin). Let me just say that I can certainly see what all the fuss is about.  Swedish chef Petter Nilsson offers a fixed-price, five or seven course dinner that changes on a weekly, if not daily, basis (five plates 39€, seven plates 52€). Everything was totally inventive, unexpected, and exquisitely executed.  On the evening of my birthday, we started the evening with an aperitif of aged Amontillado sherry from 1922. Seriously! Bring on the Edgar Allen Poe jokes from a group of literature graduate students! It was surreal it was so perfect. Dinner was Saint Jacques scallops served in a shrimp and bacon broth; red chard and cauliflower served with an egg yolk confit, giant capers, and crunchy almonds; an aromatic dish of white beans and cod; Breton lobster in a light celery broth with fresh hazelnuts; a Pierre Duplantier chicken cooked with cedar, peppers, and pickled pink onions; mandarin oranges soaked in espresso served alongside chocolate and bread sorbet; and finally, an almond and yougurt daquoise paired with fresh lychees and mint. The ambiance of the restaurant is comfortable and cool without feeling fussy. I’d actually go so far as to say that it is a bargain for the kind of meal you are getting.  We’re excited to go back and see what the bounty of spring brings to this innovative restaurant.

  • Eat at Spring

Even before arriving in Paris, I’d heard of Daniel Rose’s much-celebrated Spring (6 Rue Bailleul, 75001 Paris, Métro Louvre-Rivoli, but don’t even think about trying to walk in without a reservation unless you are Brad Pitt). An American chef cooking something that all the Parisians are twitterpated about? This must be a thing to behold. Spring was closed for renovations during our first year here, which somehow managed to only increase the buzz that surrounded this restaurant and this chef. As I said earlier, it was next-to impossible to get reservations. Poor B must have called for three weeks without ever getting through to a real live human being, only to be scoffed at when he asked for a reservation in December. Still, we got a pretty amazing table for dinner on January 6th, which ended up timing perfectly with M’s return to Paris after traveling with her husband for her birthday a few days earlier.

The renovations were well worth the wait – the space is quite fantastic if you are interested in watching expert chefs yield their knives. Like La Gazzetta and many of the best new restaurants in Paris run by young chefs, the menu changes on a daily basis and reflects the incredible diversity of seasonal ingredients available here in France. Our meal in January began with champagne and a single perfect oyster dressed with a fresh herb and soy vinaigrette.  I expected the vinaigrette to overpower the oyster, but it instead brought out some of the green, salty notes that I might not have otherwise picked up on. That is to say I could have shot those bad boys all night long and been one happy camper. But instead we had to move on to a course of foie gras, served with house-pickled vegetables and a quince chutney.  Then on to another noix de Saint Jacques (sea scallops) dish, this time in a chestnut and bacon foam, with both roasted chestnuts and crispy deep-fried chestnut slivers. As an unexpected pop of flavor, the dish was spiked with red cipolline onions. Heaven.

Next up was a whole battered and fried merlán truffle butter, Meyer lemon wedges, and a frisée salad dressed with a lemon curd vinaigrette.  Yes, we are the type of table who fights over who gets the fish head.

The meat course was a perfectly cooked piece of venison served with both roasted brussel sprouts and tart, flash-fried brussel sprout leaves. Somehow M translated chevreuil as baby goat, so we ate this course assuming that was what we were eating. B kept insisting that his father’s venison tasted JUST LIKE this baby goat flesh and wasn’t that STRANGE? Then we went home and looked up what chevreuil actually means. It’s venison, fyi. And at Spring, it’s like buttah.

Then, we added a cheese plate, because hey, if you are only going to get to eat at Spring once in every six lifetimes or so, well, you probably should add a cheese plate. We’ve been debating for the past half hour or so what all was on it. Brillat-Savarin and Roquefort Papillon, for sure. The other two are up for debate. This is why one ought not to try and write about meals they ate a month and a half ago.

Finally we made it to a two-part dessert.  First up was a piece of pineapple soaked in Japanese whiskey served with vanilla gelato and some kind of crushed cookie and lime zest…

…followed by a pistachio ganache and chocolate mousse served with a smoky black tea wafer. I could happily spread that pistachio ganache over toast for the rest of my life.

It was pretty cool, all in all, to have an opportunity to eat at a place like Spring, though I didn’t particularly love the staid, stuffy crowd that we dined alongside. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is I like in a restaurant, and I find that the Michelin-star experience is one that generally leaves me cold, even if the food is something to change your life over.  I’ll take every time a more casual and innovative restaurant, one where their might be misses in individual dishes but where the overall experience makes you want to spend the evening relaxing with friends, perhaps talking and laughing a bit too loud. I’m so lucky to have such great peeps for such a very purpose.

The List

There seems to be a rash of “life lists” and “bucket lists” circulating on the ol’ blogosphere lately. And while I don’t have too many “life goals” at this point, I do have an ominous event looming at the end of next summer:  I’ll be leaving Paris. I don’t have a firm departure date just yet, but like all good things, this one will be coming to an end sometime in early August 2011. The mere thought of it makes me sad, and a few days ago I sat in the park in front of the Musée Picasso (closed interminably for restoration) and wept at the thought of having to leave this city. I’ve never been happier in my life than I have been living here. And while I’m excited for the next chapter, it’s still going to be a tough transition come next summer.

It’s easier than you think to become complacent when you live in a place like this for a long time. While I’ve certainly done plenty of amazing cultural activities since my arrival, I’ve also managed to avoid some really important one (like, uh, stepping foot in the Louvre). So I have compiled (along with B) a “to-do list” of sorts so I don’t forget all the things I want to do before I leave. I’ll share it with you, dear reader, and periodically update you on my progress. Some of these things are pretty cliché, so I’ll ask you to promise me that you won’t make fun. Telling you about things has been a great incentive to do things over the past ten months.  Better yet, if you are in Paris (or are planning on being in Paris) and want to join me in any of these activities, let me know!

The List

Muesums and other cultural attractions

  • Buy an annual pass and tour the Louvre from top to bottom (this will take a while, so I’ll list the collections so I can cross them off periodically:  Egyptian antiquities; Near Eastern antiquities; Greek, Etruscan, and Roman collection; Islamic art; sculpture; decorative arts; painting; and prints and drawing).
  • See the Jean-Michel Basquiat show at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris before January 30th
  • See the Arman show at the Centre Pompidou before January 10th
  • Visit the Musée National Gustave Moreau museum
  • Visit the Musée de l’Orangerie
  • Visit the Musée Carnavalet
  • Tour the Catacombes
  • Take B and M to the Cimitière Montparnasse
  • Visit the Crypte Archéologique in front of Notre Dame
  • Visit the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle
  • Visit Fondation Dubuffet
  • Visit Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain
  • Visit the Musée du Vin
  • Take B to the Musée du stylo et de l’écriture
  • Visit the Maison Rouge
  • Visit the Musée des arts forains
  • Visit the Musée de la vie romantique
  • Visit the Musée Jacquemart-André
  • Go to the top of the Tour Eiffel 
  • Go to the top of the Tour Montparnasse
  • Go to Versailles
  • Go to Chartres with B
  • Go to Giverny with my mom
  • Suck it up and go with B to Parc Astérix

Green Things

  • Ride bikes to the Bois de Boulogne and have a picnic
  • See the tulips in the Bagatelles in the spring
  • Take my mother to Parc Butte-Chaumont and buy her a drink at Rosa Bonheur
  • Take my dad for a bike ride along the Promenade Plantée to the Bois de Vincenne and rent a boat
  • Return to Fontainebleau with B in the spring and find some morels

Movies and Concerts

  • See Nouvelle Vague at the Casino de Paris on November 30th with M, AC, and B
  • See somebody at the l’Olympia, preferably somebody French and venerable
  • See The Gospel According to Matthew, Oedipus Rex, and Accattone! at Accattone, thus completing the project of seeing all of Pasolini’s films on the big screen
  • See 8 1/2 and La strada, thus completing the project of seeing all of Fellini’s films on the big screen
  • See Les Quatre Cents Coups, À bout de souffle, Pierrot le fou, Les Carabiniers, Masculin, féminin, Week End, Vivre sa vie, and Cléo de 5 à 7 on the big screen

Clarence, King of All Things Good and Plentiful

  • Eat as much charcuterie, foie gras, rillettes, truffles, rabbit, duck, rotisserie chickens, and oysters as possible
  • Try as many French cheeses as possible and keep a record of ones I love
  • Try as many French wines as possible and keep a record of ones I love
  • Learn to shuck oysters and do so for my friends on New Year’s Eve
  • Eat at Spring (B snagged reservations on January 6th , probably didn’t need that kidney anyway)
  • Eat at Yam’Tcha
  • Eat at Frenchie
  • Eat at La Gazetta
  • Eat at Rino
  • Have brunch at Rose Bakery with M
  • Go to Marché des Enfants Rouges as many weekends as possible and take my mom there when she visits
  • Eat a Pierre Hermé white truffle macaron and a foie gras and chocolate macaron (if possible)
  • Throw a proper ex-pat Thanksgiving feast
  • Throw a party for Fête de la Musique and make a thousand paper cranes to dump on the crowds for Raidd Bar’s annual block party

Save Me From What I Want

  • Buy an oyster-shucking knife and an oyster-shucking glove from E. Dehillerin
  • Convince B that the only thing we can afford from E. Dehillerin is an oyster-shucking knife and glove, or, price shipping costs for copper cookware and cast iron pots from E. Dehillerin
  • Buy the rest of Lacan’s seminars in French (four to go!), figure out how to ship books internationally on the cheap
  • Find an amazing set of vintage Laiguole cheese knives, preferably with wood or horn handles
  • Buy the perfect beret
  • Find vintage lithographs of our favorite landmarks in Paris (including the Hôtel de Ville, preferably on fire, Tour St. Jacques, Porte St. Denis, Notre Dame, Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, and Sacré-Coeur) at le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen
  • Find a vintage map of the Marais (Saint-Ouen, you’re on notice!)
  • Visit Deyrolle, the famous taxidermy shop.  Resist buying a stuffed bunny.

I suppose you could link this series of non sequiturs under the rubric of “things you look at,” but it’s a stretch.

So if my most recent blurry (arty!) shots were bugging you as much as they were bugging me, you’ll be pleased to know that I have ordered a new camera! Unfortunately, the camera I wanted (Canon PowerShot SD780IS 12.1 MP Digital Camera) isn’t available in France and even if it was, digital cameras are a lot more expensive here. Just in case you were wondering, yes, all the best stuff does indeed end up in America.  Have I mentioned how much I miss Target?  Oh, okay, I guess I have.  Anyway, I’m using M as a mule to bring back my new camera from the United States, that is, unless she decides to keep my new toy for herself. It must get tiring having to think about depth of field and contrast and value all the time.  My new camera is apparently totally idiot proof and requires no thinking whatsoever.  It’s also has over twice as many megapixels as my current camera, so I suspect the images on Keeping the Bear Garden in the Background will be sharper in the future.  They will still probably suck compositionally, but hey!  At least I’ve learned to turn the flash off when I’m photographing food.  Baby steps to the elevator.

Last night we went to see Inception, which was pretty great!  I’ll admit here that I’m biased because I was really jonesing for a Hollywood blockbuster, as one can only watch so many thoughtful European movies without beginning to long for a car explosion.  I was amazed how easy it was to watch a movie in which everyone is speaking English! Since I’ve paradoxically been watching mostly Italian movies in the theatres for the past six months, I’ve gotten used to reading French subtitles and listening to spoken Italian.  I understand about ninety-five percent of the time, but it’s a lot more work and slows down suspending my disbelief (obviously, Pasolini isn’t really worried about suspending my disbelief, but that’s another thing).

Horrifyingly, however, they turned off the air conditioning about halfway through the film last night, rendering the packed movie theatre into a death sauna.  This seemed kind of ironic, because both B and I had both gone back into my apartment to fetch an extra layer, as we were anticipating a proper American multiplex freezer during the movie.  Instead, we were drenched in sweat.  B whispered at one point that he was contemplating taking off his shirt. The French seemed unbothered by this development.  They were also nonplussed by a public service announcement at the beginning of the film that depicted a child being brutally killed in a car crash. I was too paranoid that somebody was going to sit next to me (weird movie theatre phobia) to pay attention to the ad, but B gasped and said to me “So, apparently it’s all right to show a dead child on public service announcements here!”  The girl sitting next to B, who I’d already decided that I hated because she had taken off her shoes to sit cross legged and her dirty little foot was well within our space, decided to generously “enlighten the English person” and explain to an apparently dense B that it was an ad meant to shock and teach.  No shit, Sherlock.  B responded tersely in French that he understood the function of the ad, but that it’s content wouldn’t likely be shown in an American movie theatre and was jarring to him for this reason.  Apparently she still assumed he was still too slow on the uptake to understand, because she responded in English that “The death was just acting. It was not real!” Really? Thank you, kindly French person! I’ve been in America for so long that I’ve actually come to believe that advertisements on television are documentary reality! I assume everything is reality television! Are you saying it isn’t?!

Anyway, condescending people aside, the movie was good and totally worth a night away from my beloved Latin Quarter Art et Essai cinemas.  We both agreed that we could watch weightless fight scenes all day long.

On our walk home, B said, “You know, I think we’ve been watching Antiques Roadshow for long enough as a couple now…” To be honest, I don’t even know how that sentence ended because the first half sent me into a fugue state.  I hate Antiques Roadshow.  I hate the stupid, rambling, and often erroneous narratives that people give about their treasures.  I hate watching people wait in line to find out how much they can hawk their precious family heirlooms for. Most of all, I hate the smug appraisers, especially the supposedly charismatic ones that make bad puns. But B loves Antiques Roadshow.  I mean, sometimes I find him at three o’clock in the morning deep into Nashville Hour 47.  He has even woken me up in the middle of the night to see a particularly amazing item be appraised. This is especially ridiculous given that he isn’t watching these episodes on television, he’s watching them streaming from PBS’s website.  Meaning I could just as easily watch the clip of the amazing item in the morning. But I’ve been trying to humor him by watching it with him because he is incredibly patient with my atrociously bad, bottom-feeding taste in television.  No one should have to sit through an entire season of The Real Housewives of New Jersey against their will, but this poor guy has and without a single complaint. He even listens to my running unfunny commentary during these shows and makes a valiant effort to be a responsive interlocutor to my pop psychology. “Definitely Danielle is a delusional paranoid! Totally!”  So I feel obligated to try and like Antiques Roadshow, but man, is there something I’m missing?

Clarence in Paris: Pink Flamingo Pizza

Pink Flamingo Pizza

205, rue Vielle du Temple, Paris 75003

Métro:  Filles du Calvaire or St. Sebastien-Froissart

I’ve been wanting to try Pink Flamingo Pizza since every single person I know sent me this New York Times Frugal Paris article when they found out I was moving to France. The idea was so lovely – order your pizzas, take a pink balloon, and go find a spot along Canal St. Martin and wait for your picnic to be delivered. I’m surprised that it took me so long to actually go to Pink Flamingo. Some of that can be attributed to the long hard winter that made sitting outside anywhere seem less than delightful. But most of it can be attributed to the fact that when I investigated the Pink Flamingo website (yes, I like scouring menus on websites as a hobby), the whole thing seemed, well, kinda gimmicky.

Perhaps the problem is that I lived in New York City for just a bit too long to have much patience for creative ingredient combinations on pizza. At an old-school New York pizzaria, there are only a handful of toppings available and you can bet your ass that none of them are pineapple. Or perhaps it was my time in Southern California, home of the stupidest pizza in the world, that got my guard up. Either way, Pink Flamingo boasts unique, vaguely filmic pizzas in a kitschy environment and I’ll admit I got nervous when I saw formulations like La Che (Cuban-style pork marinated for 24 hours in garlic, lime, green onions, and coriander with fried plantains), La Gandhi (Sag Paneer, Baba Ganoush, and mozzarella), or La Bjork (smoked salmon, fish roe, and crème fraîche) on the menu. It seemed to be the recipe for a California Pizza Kitchen style disaster.

But I just kept hearing good things about Pink Flamingo, and when I by chance walked by their smaller Marais branch on rue Vielle du Temple on my way to APC to admire things I cannot afford, I was pretty charmed by their funky décor and the VW bus that sits out front. You see, as a child I was totally obsessed with pink flamingos and wanted nothing more than grow up and be the crazy old lady with a veritable flock of plastic ones in her front yard. To see that much pink flamingo kitsch aggregated in one location, in Paris no less, got me all hot and bothered.

I had suggested to S that we eat there on the hungover day that followed our night of being blind drunk, but we had already been badly burned by brunch by Breakfast in America (already said my piece on this, but you can mentally insert a shudder in all references to this place hereafter) and neither one of us were interested in another stupid contrivance with bad food. B finally agreed to check it out with me on our weekly date night (I know! If I wasn’t so happy I’d gag too!) after we saw a pretty rare print of Pasolini’s Mamma Roma, his totally mesmerizing (if depressing) indictment of Italian culture. It was my first Anna Magnani film and oh man, is it worth the trip to Accattone if you happen to be in Paris in the next few weeks. I guess Criterion has also already gotten their sweaty little paws on the thing (I jest, I totally love those guys), so you can probably Netflix it too if you don’t live in Paris or if you can’t stand the atmospheric charm of Accattone.

It was rather late and rainy by the time we finished the film, so sitting along the Canal while we ate didn’t really seem like an option. We headed to the Marais branch of Pink Flamingo and immediately found ourselves transported into a Jim Jarmusch film – Tom Waits on the stereo, checkerboard tablecloths, dim lighting, pictures of Brooklyn on the walls, and what B calls “a studied grittiness” (I was going to just steal that outright, but all those lectures I give my students about plagiarism have finally gotten to me). We decided to go for it an order some of the more adventurous combinations on the menu: La Basquiat (gorgonzola, fresh figs, and prosciutto) and L’Almodovar (a “paella pizza” with chicken, shrimp, mussels, chorizo, fresh peas, and a tomato saffron cream sauce). It smelled really good in there, and we were impressed to read that all the flour used on the premises was organic and that all the ingredients were bought fresh daily from small, local producers and retailers. The guys who worked there were surprisingly nice, especially given that they are probably some of the hippest hipsters in the hippest part of the Marais (that’s pretty hip, people). And the pizza:

Oh.my. lord. This stuff is delicious. Thin, perfectly charred crust, sweet tomato sauce, and a carefully considered combination of toppings that were flat-out alchemic in your mouth. Both B and I walked in to this place expecting to get something out of our system, and instead found ourselves waxing poetic about these perfect pizzas. We brought the menu home and now find plotting future visits to this place one of our favorite activities (“Ooh, next time we should do La Macias (tajine-style chicken cooked with onions, ginger, coriander, and cinnamon, served with pickled lemons, and green and purple olives) and La Poulidor (finely-sliced duck meat, apples, and goat cheese)!” or  “Don’t we practically have to order L’Obama (grilled ham and pineapple chutney) at some point if we really want to call ourselves good Americans?”). Best of all, my local branch not only does home deliveries (by cute hipster boy on bicycle no less!), but will also happily bring you your pizza on the grounds of the Musée Picasso if you want to have a picnic. But I suspect we will be trying the Canal delivery service next, as boozing by water features is already in pretty heavy activity rotation. Might as well add some truly fantastic pizza into the mix.

Details: Go with it and you won’t be disappointed! Pizzas range from 10.5 – 16€ apiece, and we did see a happy couple share one. Clarence only shares pizza if he can still eat the quantitative equivalent of an entire pie, so B and I were pretty stuffed with two pizzas. Free bicycle delivery to a local outdoor picnic spot, complete with a souvenir pink balloon so the guy can find you. Home delivery requires that you spend at least 15€ euros and they charge you 2€ fee. As far as I can tell, that’s a lot of hipster sweat for a small price. Open everyday for lunch and from 7-11:30 p.m. They also appear to be in Berlin as well! Their website is definitely worth a gander.

* * *

B came to my place in a state of pure glee a few nights ago and drug me to see this billboard:

This baby, you see, appears to share the same name as one of my favorite readers.  A silly association, perhaps, but we thought of you, Hattie.  Hope this delights you as much as it did us.