Category: solipsism

Hipsters in Space!

Penned inside this enclosed microcosm in which everybody knows everybody, condemned without the possibility of escape or relief to live with others, beneath the gaze of others every individual experiences deep anxiety about ‘people’s words.’

– Pierre Bourdieu, “Différences et distinctions” 1966.

It’s strange to return to your blog’s statistics page after months of inactivity, especially when you discover all the myriad ways people arrive at your site while you are busy ignoring it.  A lot of people arrive here searching for Aperol, Pasolini, the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Picasso in his marinière, and—a wee bit puzzlingly—piñata sex. But however they arrive, I’ll take it. Today somebody got here from a Paris-based wine blog’s entry about Breizh Café written in the spring of last year. My Hungerdome regarding some local crêperies received one of links in this oenophile’s annotated bibliography on the subject, which reads as follows:

A 2008 piece on Breizh Café @ DavidLebovitz, containing the benign authorial blunder of complaining about hipsters (really? in the Marais? how hip? hipster complaints invariably demonstrate an anxiety about cool equal to or greater than that which the author purports to disdain in those about whom he is complaining)

A recent comparison of Breizh Café and West Country Girl @ LesBonsBonsdesRaisons, unfortunately written in the voice of a 9-year-old game show host. (It also contains complaints about Marais hipsters. It’s like people walk into the Marais and turn into frowning Mormons, or something.)

Wow! This is a series of amazing firsts for me. First off, David Lebovitz is an unofficial deity among Paris food writers, so this is surely the first time anyone has ever voluntarily mentioned anything I’ve written and anything he’s done in the same breath. Secondly, I can’t say that I’ve ever been likened to 9-year-old game show host OR a frowning Mormon, much less in the same paragraph. I’m pleased, however, to finally have such a canny explanation for the deep lines that mysteriously arrived on my forehead during the two years I lived in the Marais (though admittedly not in the “nicer more genteel” neighborhood surrounding Breizh but rather smack dab in across the street from that shower show). It’s from anxiously scowling at all those goshdarn hipsters day in and day out! Thank goodness that Pierre has come back from the grave to diagnose old David and me!

Obviously I’m showing my thin skin here, but this did feel rather like being inexplicably kicked by a stranger on a crowded subway car.  I recognize the impulse to link to other better-trafficked blogs of niche celebrities like Lebovitz, Clotilde Dusoulier, or Deb Perelman in an attempt to drum up traffic for one’s own writing, but I’m genuinely bewildered why someone would be compelled to shit on my unobtrusive and mostly uninhabited corner of the internet. Aren’t there bigger fish to fry? I guess there isn’t much more to say about it besides that, but it left a nasty taste in my mouth all afternoon.

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Somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city…

Dearest reader,

Gosh, it’s been a long time! Too long it seems, as I had to dust the metaphorical cobwebs off just to log in to my WordPress account. In the time since we last spoke I made a pretty big move, from Paris to Bloomington, Indiana. It hasn’t been easy, though it hasn’t been terrible either. I’m firmly of the mind that happiness is what you make of it, and that one can be happy anywhere. Perhaps not Antarctica or a war zone, but you know what I mean. I’m here for about a year, writing my dissertation on a fellowship while B teaches and finishes up some of his obligations at a large university nearby. That is officially too much information for a pseudo-anonymous blog, but there you go. I’ve got scads and scads of unstructured time and heaps of work to do in it, a combination that has more often than not leads to some very bad, very un-grown-up behavior. I’m not completely feral yet, but I have noticed that my work clothes are identical to my gym clothes, which are also identical to my sleep clothes. The Marais feels far away indeed.

Our last few weeks in Paris in July were rather melancholy. Most everyone we knew had either departed permanently or was on one of those achingly long and delicious vacations that Europeans take in the summer, so it was pretty much just B and me killing time. It was a record-breakingly wet summer, so my plans that we spend the month of July drinking Campari cocktails and working on our tans at Paris Plage were quickly dashed, as it rained nearly every day. We also found ourselves in a bit of a money pickle, what with the cost of moving internationally and our traveling in the spring. So those final days we were living pretty frugally, to say the least. That is to say, when we weren’t living frugally, like the day I managed to drop about a hundred euros at Dehillerin on Laguoile cheese knives and silicone trays for making madeleines and cannelés bordelais (which, um, I’ll get to making, someday), or the day when I bought a heap of antique lithographs and Turkish kilim pillow covers at the flea market. I think I was hoping that if I insulated my future digs with enough things from Paris, I wouldn’t miss it so much.

Most days we would trudge over the Louvre in rain (tough life) and continue our increasingly manic quest to tour the entire damn thing. We succeeded in the end, though I’ll admit that certain sections are just a delirious blur in my memory.

I cooked a lot of rabbit and boudin noir, and we ate rillettes and cheese for many meals. Every morning we ate croissants from our local bakery Huré, and most afternoons I would insist on a Paris Brest or a chocolate éclair with my afternoon coffee. Many evenings were spent with books, a bottle of wine, and a plate of charcuterie at our favorite caves. I probably gained ten pounds that month as a result of constantly saying “I won’t be able to eat this ever again!” We took a lot of long walks, went to see a bunch of Buñuel movies, and I cried a lot on various bridges.

Inexplicably, in our final weeks in Paris a magical thing happened. We were suddenly at home. Our neighbors chatted with us, the ladies that worked in the button shop downstairs joked around when we came through. Our baker, our vegetable man, our seafood lady, that guy that owned the bookshop down the road — everyone suddenly knew us and made small talk on the street. We got into long conversations with strangers while we hung out in bars, or sat in cafes, and or waited outside the cinema. The women at the market where I shopped every week knew what kind of lettuce I wanted to buy before I told them, and the man at the butcher shop where I bought our rotisserie chickens knew I wanted enough potatoes for two people without asking.

In short we were suddenly, amazingly, after two years, a real part of the community. And then we had to leave. I think that was the most heartbreaking part of the whole thing, and the part that has made it really hard for me to come back to writing here. In the end we said goodbye to Paris, for now. But I’m happy that I left plenty of things on my list for future visits, and I’m comforted that Paris is one of those cities that only gets better as you get older.

Our move was a real monster, as we both had things in storage with our respective families. We shipped (gulp) thirteen boxes of books to the States and managed to carry the rest of our junk in our luggage (it helped that we had sent a lot of stuff back with assorted visitors throughout the spring and summer). Upon arriving stateside with miraculously none of our precious glassware or ceramics in pieces (and a giant gratuitous bottle of Aperol to boot), we then managed to drive through ten states in the course of the month of August. B worked out that we spent more time in the car than we did in any one stationary location. We took a little jaunt to Santa Fe and Taos for B’s thirtieth birthday, which was lovely. I’d really like to tell you about it because I’m so in to New Mexican food it’s kind of crazy, but that has to be another entry for another day.

After seemingly endless schlepping we made it to Bloomington, where we quickly discovered that the little 1930s Craftsman-style house we are renting had fleas. I don’t know if you have ever had fleas, dear reader, but I’ll go on the record as saying that it was quite possibly one of the most annoying things that has ever happened to me. How generations of garret-dwelling 19th century artists and writers dealt with this and didn’t lose their goddamn minds is beyond me. We only made it through by pretending that we were Baudelaire and occasionally sleeping at B’s sister’s house. It took fumigating our house with six rounds of bug bombs and vacuuming and cleaning every day like madmen before we finally got rid of the little buggers, and I still feel assume that every piece of lint and pencil shaving I see is a flea waiting to bite me. I now officially understand what is meant by “the heebie-jeebies.” So September was written off to parasites, as I for one could think and talk about nothing else. I’d tell you to try it sometime, but I wouldn’t wish a flea infestation on my worst enemy.

The following months flew by, with a little trip to California and visits to Colorado and Michigan for the holidays punctuating long periods of rather solitary writing on my part. I’m a jerk and a half to complain about having nothing but time to research and write, but I’m finding it hard to feel purposeful and excited about my work everyday. The town we are living in is lovely, but this work is very lonely. I find myself talking a little too long to the cashier at the coffee shop or the grocery store. Thank goodness for the convention of Midwestern small talk, or I’d be a goner. I miss teaching, even teaching those crazy and disorganized classes at the university in Paris, where I did (as silly as it sounds) feel like I was making some kind of an impact on my students. But I’m deep in my writing now and it makes for good company on the days I let it. I suspect that what I’m writing it only feels stupid because I’ve been thinking about it so long, and some days it actually feels okay. On the days it doesn’t, I keep running over the final passage of the Great Gatsby in my head: “Gatsby believe in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther…” Writing well and with discipline may not really be an ‘orgiastic future,’ but I do find reassurance in the idea that tomorrow I will be better than I was today if I keep trying.

For those of you that have dozed off already or are wondering where in the hell all the food talk has gone, I’m still eating! Say what you will about the Midwest, the produce and the meat here in Southern Indiana are to die for, and I’m a happy camper in the food department, especially at home in a kitchen four times the size of our little culinary closet in Paris. We’ve been cooking up a storm with the welcome addition of some lovely culinary tools and cookbooks from Santa, including a stand mixer, an ice cream maker, the new Silver Spoon, and two tomes by Yotam Ottolenghi. And I still get my mandatory offal fixes, like when B took me to the oh-so-lovely Restaurant Tallent here in town for my birthday last month.  Veal sweetbreads and seared foie gras never tasted so good.

So thanks for coming back, my friend, and I hope you stay even though my life has gotten exceedingly less glamorous in the past six months. Thanks especially to An Accidental Expat for his kind comment that prompted me to write today, and to M, whose gentle prods about the blog make me hope that she hasn’t banished me from her Google reader just yet. I’ll be back soon!

Clarence Rides The Rino

So you know how it goes when you have a really great friend and you haven’t talked to them in a long time and you really ought to get in touch but it can’t just be a “hey, how ya doin’?” kind of catch-up, it has to be long and involved and messy and full of apologies about what a cruddy friend you are for being MIA for so long?  And because that interaction is so dread-inducing, you keep putting it off, and putting it off, and putting it off.  Which only makes things worse, of course, but you aren’t really thinking about this rationally anymore. You’re just a jerk-off who hasn’t been in touch for months.

Part of the problem is that I’m admittedly kind of a train wreck about my t-minus 50 days left in Europe. I’ve been crying over my dissertation. I’ve been crying at the cheese store. I’ve been crying over Godard movies. I’ve been crying over commercials. I’ve been crying over shoe returns, papercuts, the homeless couple who have taken up residence on my block with their two wee dogs, and my last day of a job that I didn’t particularly like in the first place. I’m a capital M Mess, people.  It’s no excuse for abandoning this here blargh, but it’s definitely contributed to the paralysis I’ve been feeling with regards to catching up.

A-hem.

Let’s start small, shall we?

I ate at Rino!

The occasion was my mother’s visit, which was lovely. We decided to take her to Rino, as she had been hearing all about the goodness springing forth from talented young chefs in Paris working outside the conventions of the Michelin star system. That is to say, she (like everybody else I know) watched the hundredth episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, in which our sourpuss host treated the contemporary culinary scene in Paris as if it was this fraught battle ground between stuck-in-the-mud, Michelin-starred chefs (Eric Ripert was his co-host for the episode) and young, impertinent Le Fooding-backed geniuses who are reinventing the landscape with every licorice-smoked langoustine tartare they prepare.  Which, yes, okay, sure, I guess that’s basically what is happening, but also, can we say also file this under rich people problems? Yes, there a lot of amazing new restaurants in Paris, some of which have a price point that can be met by proles like me and my boyfriend, provided we don’t buy shoes and eat dry lentils for the rest of the week (adding water would put us over budget). But it’s hardly a “revolution,” and it seems kind of gross to use that sort of language to describe the culinary landscape in Paris when uh, well, there are kind of a lot of real revolutions happening elsewhere in the world.

(Aren’t I fun to hang out with now! Do you see what kind of self-loathing monster I’ve become since we last spoke? Did I mention that I’m actively contemplating becoming a vegetarian! Should we quit this entry, bury our face in our sixth consecutive Margaret Atwood novel, and plan another tear-drenched trip to the Louvre this afternoon? No?!  You mean you want to hear about the food?)

Okay, let’s do this.

Rino (46 rue Trousseau, 75011 Paris, Métro Ledru-Rollin) is the brainchild of Giovanni Passerini, the former second-in-command to Petter Nilsson of La Gazzetta, which is conveniently across the street from Passerini’s newish digs.  Winner of Le Fooding’s 2010 “Meilleur bistrot d’auteur,” Rino is a delightful fusion of Italian forms with a decidedly progressive New York via Paris, seasonal ingredient-driven sensibility. If that makes any sense. (I’m rusty.) It’s really good!  It’s unfussy!  You don’t have to make any decisions, aside from if you want five or seven courses. Culinary proles we may be, but when you finally get a table at a place where you have to reserve months in advance, the answer to that question is always seven. Especially when the add-on courses involve lobster and cheese, which they did on the night we dined at Rino. Done and done.

I was excited to share this kind of beautiful, rarefied cooking with my mother, who is definitely Clarence’s mama and a lover of food. But I was also psyched by the relaxed, casual atmosphere of the place, which makes catching up with family and drinking a little too much while you enjoy your seven course meal a pleasure, not a white-linen headache. The servers were extremely knowledgeable about the menu and very kind to the Americans. And we had a great view of the kitchen, where Passerini himself had his hands in every single thing we ate, which is something I really appreciate about the Le Fooding-sponsored “revolution.” If I am spending 250 euros to experience a particular chef’s cooking, I damn well want to see him in the kitchen.

Well, what did we eat?

First course was pecorino ravioli, served in a sweet pea sauce and topped with fresh licorice. The salty tang of the pecorino wedded perfectly with the springy sweetness of the peas, and the whole thing was elevated by the unexpectedly bitter aftertaste of the licorice.  It was smart, but not so smart as to be anything but totally delicious.

Next up was maigre de ligne in with both conventional and wild asparagus and roasted onions. It was perfectly cooked and an exquisite use of spring vegetables.

Third course (the optional one the night we dined at Rino) was tagiatelle and lobster in a cucumber broth. I was excited as soon as I spied Passerini lovingly pulling out each individual strand of fresh pasta.  The cucumber broth was light and perfectly balanced with the lobster.  Europeans have gotten me thinking that the American thing of drenching lobster in butter is overkill. Light vegetable broths, like celery or cucumber, actually help the lobster’s sweetness to sing more than a heavy dose of butter.

Our meat course was a sinfully-tender pigeon served with bing cherries, another kind of pea sauce, and braised cabbage. I’m a total slut for small birds, so this was the best thing I’d put in my mouth in a long time. Nevermind that thing I said about becoming a vegetarian.

Then we had a cheese plate, which was well-balanced if otherwise unmemorable.  What completely did me in, however, was our dessert.  Strawberries, rhubarb, Greek yogurt ice cream, and fried cubes of a sweet semolina custard. Lord have mercy, I could eat cubes of sweet semolina custard all day long and never tire of it.

There! That wasn’t so terrible! I have a feeling that this is like ripping off a bandaid. Stay tuned for tales of a life-changing vacation to Georgia and Ukraine (What?! I know!), our mother/daughter culinary odyssey in London, and a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT. And feel free to leave your vitriolic comments about what a lousy blogeuse I’ve been in the comments! I’ve missed you, dear reader. You’re looking more comely than ever.

xoxo t.

Even Clarence Can’t Eat the Whole Burrito: Jack n’ Grill in Denver, Colorado

I am back in my hometown for the holidays. I won’t spell out the name of my hometown explicitly so as to maintain some kind of pseudo-anonymity on this site (snort, and let’s be honest: real life familiarity with me goes a long way in liking this blog, am I right?).  But anyway, I’m from a town in the mountains near Denver, Colorado, and not one of the shitty ones. You do the math.

My would-be glorious reentry into American life has been somewhat tainted by my affliction with the head cold that will. never. end. Seriously, I was sick for nearly two weeks before leaving Paris, and am still a snotty, grizzled mess a week and a half into my Colorado respite. That’s right, I just described leaving Paris as a “respite.” Go ahead and throw a rock at my mountain-home-in-a-not-shitty-Denver-bedroom-community. I certainly would if I were in your position.

But the fact of the matter is I haven’t been back to the States in nearly a year and a half, and I was longing for a break from some things. Like being jammed onto the RER every morning and spending a half hour my face in some French guy’s smelly armpit.  Or having to walk everywhere in a blizzard, only to discover that the thing that I have trekked to isn’t open at two p.m. on a Tuesday. Perversely, I was even getting kind of sick of French food. Everything seemed suddenly somehow too complicated and fussy. All I wanted was a burrito or a hamburger, a big box store, and my mother’s entire enormous house in which to luxuriate and watch reality television, preferably whilst in my sweatpants, which are apparently acceptable restaurant attire in this (not shitty, I swear!) mountain community.

Also, I basically couldn’t wait—I mean, chomping-at-the-bit couldn’t wait—to eat at Jack n’ Grill (three locations in Denver, but I like to go to the original location at 2524 N. Federal Blvd. Denver CO 80211), for my money the best New Mexican food in Denver. And I’ll put my money where my mouth is on this particular bet. I’ve already been there twice in a week, and I’m plotting my next visit as we speak.

What’s so great about this Jack n’ Grill, you may ask? There are plenty of places in Denver that you can get a burrito smothered in green chile. Silly rabbit. Lots of things are great and totally singular at Jack n’ Grill. For those of you that actually care about all things New Mexican (hi Max!), the family that runs the place (and I mean literally—I think everyone from the line cooks to the bartenders to the waitresses to the little kids running around the dining room is related here) is originally from Albuquerque and they take their chile seriously. They even sell roasted green chile from Hatch, New Mexico in the fall (a great stopgap if you can’t make it south for the real Hatch Chile Days).  Perhaps even more impressive than their pork green chile is their amazing vegetarian red chile, the likes of which you don’t find ever often in Denver (or many places outside of New Mexico and Arizona and my extended family’s kitchens, for that matter). And if you think I’m talking about chili con carne, as in tomato and bean-based TexMex soup, get your shit together and book a plane ticket to Albuquerque. Seriously!  I’ll tell you where to eat.

But if you are a genuine chile-head in Denver, Jack n’ Grill is just about the best thing ever. Their gigantic burritos are something to behold, and you can always order things “Christmas” (as in, half green, half red chile). Even Clarence is out of his league when confronted with a Jack n’ Grill burrito, which my father lovingly describes as a “feeder.”  As in, this burrito will feed you tonight, tomorrow morning, and maybe a snack tomorrow afternoon.

My personal favorite is the chile relleno burrito ($9):  two egg battered chile rellenos (wonton wrappers are for American Chinese restaurants and American Chinese restaurants alone, people) and refried beans wrapped in a giant flour tortilla and smothered with chile and cheese. Blasphemous as this may sound (believe me, I know!), it is just about the yummiest thing ever.  If the idea of making chile rellenos into a burrito makes you squeamish (I understand), go ahead and order the chile relleno plate ($11) and the burrito fixings will be replaced with pinto beans, calabacitas (roasted squash and peppers), and rice.  Look at me accommodating vegetarians on my site! You never thought you’d see the day, did you?

Or, if you are feeling a bit more carnivorous (always), grab the carne adovada plate ($12). Pork loin, slow-cooked in the house red chile until it is basically falling-apart tender, is served with fried potatoes, pinto beans, and rice. Or, order carne adovada in almost any other iteration – in a burrito, some tacos, or (my personal favorite) in a stuffed sopapilla ($11).  That’s right – imagine red chile-braised meat and pinto beans stuffed into a sopapilla that is then deep-fried and smothered in chile and cheese.  Rib-sticking, holy-shit goodness.  If that looks a little too indecent for you (go home!), you can also order a variety of gorditas, which are basically tiny sopapillas stuffed with the filling of your choice and served with chile for dipping.  My mama likes to do this for lunch, saving two for a tidy little take-out dinner.  I usually veer for the enormous feeder plates that make from some pretty excellent (if aesthetically unappealing) leftovers. Don’t worry, we always scrawl our names into the styrofoam carry-out containers so there is no confusion about whose is whose.  Hell hath no fury as this gal if anyone touches my leftover stuffed sopapilla.  For serious.

Jack n’ Grill hamburgers—legendary in their own right and lovingly named after members of the family whose photographs adorn the menus—are enormous and pretty life-altering if hamburgers are your thing.  I especially like the Anna burger ($8), a 10 ounce beef patty served on a (wait for it!) sopapilla with green chile and cheese. I dare you to eat more than half. Or, order a Jaxx burger ($8), served on a bun with guacamole, sour cream, bacon, green chile, and cheese.  Life doesn’t get much better than guacamole and bacon together.  Add some green chile and my brain just exploded.  Jack n’ Grill’s breakfasts (served all day, YES!) are also killer.  Huevos rancheros ($7) with that red chile! Smothered breakfast burritos ($8) stuffed with eggs, ham, fried potatoes, green chiles, and onions! How could you start the day any better?

All of this can be washed down with some of the biggest and most seriously delicious margaritas in Denver. Anyone still going to the Rio Grande downtown for such things deserves everything that comes to them in LoDo on a Friday night, which has officially become the urban planning equivalent of date rape.

Moreover, like I said before, not only is this a family-run place, but it’s owned by quite possibly the nicest family in the world. There does seem to me something distinctly American about this warm, relaxed, and totally democratic kind of restaurant, where waitresses call you sweetie and their kids play outside the kitchen.  I’ve missed this sort of thing, and can’t seem to get enough of it when I’m visiting my hometown. If you find yourself in Denver, please make this your must-eat. Your margarita is on me.

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.

Redemption

On Monday B and I went to the Préfecture du Police in an attempt to renew our paperwork so that we can continue legally living and working in France.  Because, uh, it’s kind of unclear as to whether or not we are currently legal, a state of affairs that is strikingly reminiscent of the first three hazy months I spent in France.  It was a dark time.  I didn’t have hot water or internet or a bank account with money in it or real friends just yet, so I spent most of my time eating falafel and shivering next to my radiator.  I had been told that renewing my contract and my visa would be a snap compared to last year.  I should have seen this headache coming, but somehow in the halcyon days of summer it didn’t seem like anything could possibly go wrong.

Somehow, however, papers managed to not get filed by my employer to reauthorize me to work in France. I’m not blaming anyone, though I do suspect that the bug-eyed woman at my university who is supposed to be handling our affairs with the office of immigration might have slacked off a bit this summer.  This woman has made an art form out of plaintively blinking and stammering. She’s an expert in this peculiarly French office-drone trick of passing the buck, usually down the hall to her unsuspecting colleagues. I guess that person exists in every office, in every corner of the world, but somehow it never makes you feel any better to know that when someone drops the ball and suddenly phrases like “You’re not getting paid!” and “You might be deported!” start getting tossed about.  So I’m waiting, nervously, for a renewal of my “authorisation du travail” (work visa), so that my “carte de sejour” (life visa?) might also be renewed, so nobody can use my name and “deported” in the same sentence for a while.

“Visa” is a problematic term here, as is “carte de sejour,” “titre de sejour,” and “authorisation du travail.”  I apparently have anywhere between one and all four of those, though I don’t actually have in my possession anything that is actually titled as such.  So it’s difficult to say what paperwork needs to be filled out for renewal. I have no idea what that paperwork is actually called, and neither do the French people. There were some reforms made sometime recently, reforms that were supposed to make the process easier for people like us.  You know, people who are only here for a limited period of time and make the equivalent of six sesame seeds in wages ever month.  Apparently not everyone in the Kafkaesque bureaucracy that deals with foreigners has been alerted to these reforms, however, so the process that one goes through for renewal is decidedly unclear.

There are many of expat blogs devoted to bitching about French bureaucracy, which is admittedly Byzantine. If I could write a novel about it and make a million bucks I totally would, but I think that has already been done six hundred times or so.  It hasn’t been that bad, not by a long shot, and I feel guilty when I bitch about the number of hours I’ve logged at various offices around town and seemingly millions of copies I’ve made for various applications that seem to go nowhere.  Obviously, most foreigners that find themselves trying to work in countries like France and the United States have a much more difficult time than I do, which is why you shouldn’t be interested in my kvetching (and also why you should give Stephen Colbert a big giant round of applause for his recent testimony before Congress, the final moments of which we watch on a near-hourly basis).

So anyway, we went to the Préfecture on Monday with everything from our electric bill to x-rays of our lungs, all in triplicate, so that we might have the opportunity to continue teaching the youth of France outdated American idioms for another year.  Oh, yeah, and so that I can also continue going to restaurants and taking pictures of things I eat and sharing them with you here.  Let me tell you what, going to the Préfecture sucks.  It’s the place where Marie Antoinette crashed the night before she hit the guillotine, people.  To say that it has a lousy vibe would be the understatement of the year.  After being nearly strip-searched at the entrance, you go into the special area for renewals.  The smell of nervous foreigner body odor hits you like a wall when you walk in.  You take a number, hope for a chair, and then wait for what feels like sixteen years, only so you can be told that you don’t have all the paperwork you need (even though you’ve brought everything on all seven different lists from four different websites that you’ve managed to get your hands on).  They’ll give you what’s called a “recipisse,” which is basically a document with a stamp on it that certifies that you are indeed jumping through all the hoops that are being set in front of you, and this is apparently enough to keep working and living in France, that is, until you get your mother’s cousin’s birth certificate and your dead dog’s immunization records and return for another round in two months.  It’s awful.

Despite having strictly-worded appointment times, B and I had to wait three hours to speak with our immigration officer.  B, his usual cool-as-a-cucumber self, quietly read poetry and examined the maps on the walls.  I sweated through my shirt, agonized about how I had filled out my forms, tapped my foot, and picked the cuticles on my thumbs until they bled.  I had to pee about an hour in to the wait, but I was terrified that my number would be called if I went to the bathroom and they would deport me for my transgression.  After another hour of fantasizing that I would actually wet myself when I sat down with my application, I finally decided it was worth the risk and went to the ladies room.

The bathrooms were horribly bleak, with no toilet seats and crusty door locks.  The sink was a long, trough-like apparatus, with cold water and soap that smelled of ammonia.  As I was washing my hands, I glanced down at the drain and saw a trail of blood that led to a cream-colored object.  Horrified, I examined it more closely and discovered that someone had left a bloody tooth in the sink at the Préfecture.  And not just a baby tooth or a little chip of a filling either – a huge, ghastly-looking molar with long bloody roots still attached.  I gasped and redirected the steam of water so that I could turn it over and get a better look at it.  I was so aghast that I almost went to get B so that he could see it.

What the hell happened there?  I could just imagine some poor woman pulling out her own tooth, abandoning it, and then returning to the waiting room so she wouldn’t be deported, perhaps with a wad of toilet paper stuffed in the oozing socket. Can I admit something to you? I have to say that tooth kind of made me feel better about my day. I mean, no matter how bad things got for me from that moment forward, I wasn’t having the worst day possible. Not even close. Not by a long shot. I was practically relieved when I was told by the immigration official that my file was incomplete and that I would have to return again in two months. Paperwork! Paperwork is easy compared to extracting your own tooth in a dirty public restroom!

Anyway, I haven’t felt like I’ve had much to write about lately, but I knew I’d have to tell you about that tooth. Man, I wish I’d had my camera, though there were enough complaints about the cyst-popping video thing that I suppose that the really abject stuff isn’t what you really go for, dear reader.  On the off chance that you are the one person reading this blog that really does go for the gross stuff, I’d love to direct you to my newest obsession: ear-wax extraction videos.  There are lots of different kinds, but I like the medical ones where you actually go inside the person’s ear canal with some kind of amazing little camera and watch as whole giant slabs of crud are pulled out with tweezers, revealing the shiny clean eardrum beneath.  The best part is when the person with the earwax clod goes “OH WOW!” because they can suddenly hear for the first time in like six years.  They do it every time.  There’s something comforting about that.

Docteur Papa Update!

Remember this little Freudian nightmare?

Well, looky-see what we found at the used bookshop yesterday!

Apparently a diet high in carrots, bat wings, and magnesium will help you have a boy, that is, if you think genetics are a load of baloney (who doesn’t!). Your progeny might end up looking like this guy, however: