Sunday, May 31, 2009

I flipped!

Since we arrived in Paris, Kathie has been telling me over and over again that I will "flip" when we visit Giverny where Monet painted his famous water lilies - and more. Today was the day and boy did I flip!

The photo above is an example. Click on the album link on the bottom to see most of the pictures I took today. If you like Monet, flowers, water lilies, and more, then you'll like these pictures...

I'm still flipping.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

The "Chef" Refuses!

It should come as no surprise that the French take their food very seriously. They take dining very seriously too. There's no "herd 'em in and get 'em out" attitude here. If you go out for dinner, you are treated as a guest to the point where it is still considered rude to bring l'addition - the bill - without it being specifically asked for. Want to sit at the table all night long? No one will bat an eyelash at you. Want Fido to sit in your lap while you eat? Bring him or her along! (Can you see Fido in the snap above?)

If you don't like something or it isn't cooked to your expectations, you simply send it back. The other night I ordered the "croque madame" because I just had to try one. Remember my previous post on this topic? Well, it appeared without the egg and, as we all know now, a croque madame is not a madame if there's no egg. I mumbled something about the egg and the waiter whisked the dish from the table - my objections only heard by his shadow - to have the egg added. A few moments later it appeared, with a smile from the waiter, and an egg. Yes, it was good.

Of course, the tradition cuts both ways. We were in a sandwich shop and Carol ordered a sandwich on a baguette. The young waiter who took our order came back and sheepishly informed us a little later that "the chef refuses" to make that sandwich on a baguette - a baguette may only be used if the sandwich is "take away" (aka to go), he explained. Imagine, a sandwich chef? Well, if it had been Los Angeles, it would have been the sandwich artiste who refused. In either case, we shut up and ate our chef-inspired sandwiches. Yes, they were good. (And, by the way, when is a sandwich maker a "chef"? Answer is: only in Paris!)

Today we said good-bye and à bientôt to our great friends Carol and Charlie from Washington, D.C. We'll miss you guys!

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Typical Day in Paris

Our dear friends, Carol and Charlie, arrived on Saturday from Washington, D.C. With no time to spare, off we went for a typical day in Paris.

Starting with a flexible plan with the help of the Internet, tour books, and maps...

First stop - Musee Rodin for a stroll through the beautiful gardens that display his statues...

Then a little sustenance...

Oh regard! (aka LOOK!), there's Les Invalides!

Steps from Musee Rodin, we find Napoleon's modest little tomb...

And a few unassuming statues...

Time for more sustenance at Le Relais de l'Entrecote (oooh, love those steak and frites - this coming from a non-beef eater, but when in Paris...) along with a serenade from a street band...

More strolling on the Left Bank to Place St. Michel...

And at last, more sustenance in the form of Champagne cocktails on a boat by the Seine, again with street music and this view...

Good night, Paris. (Je t'aime!)

And, by the way, welcome to Paris, Carol and Charlie...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Alternative trendsetting in Paris

I saw this sign the other day...

It basically says that only electric cars that are charging may park here. Anyone else gets towed away and as I mentioned in a previous post the guys on "Parking Wars" are pussycats compared to the parking police here in Paris.

I happened by at exactly the right time because there was an electric car getting charged...

And then last night we were out on our nightly walk and happened to see an electric car driving around - maybe even the that was getting charged? It certainly appeared to me that the two young men that were driving that car were on a trendsetting edge that Paris is known for in many ways!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Night at the Opera

When the topic of the opera came up today, my immediate reaction was: I don't think I have the proper attire for the opera. Because I was thinking of this opera house, the fabulous Opera Garnier.

as opposed to this opera house, Opera de Bastille, the people's opera house.

Fortunately, I did have something to wear to this opera house.

Guiseppe Verdi was born in 1813 in the province of Parma and composed 30 operas before his death in 1901.

Composed in 1859, A Masked Ball is an intense melodrama in three acts. We had the privilege - thanks to Kim and Adele - to attend this performance tonight at Opera de Bastille.

The opera is based on a true story - the assassination in 1791 of Swedish King Gustave III during a masked ball. However, Verdi changed the characters where Gustave became Riccardo, the Earl of Warwick, who was in love with his friend Renato's wife, Amelia.

Needless to say, it was a night to remember...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

What I love about Europe

Well, it's "small". And I don't mean that in a pejorative way at all. I can't tell you how thankful I am for the fact that yesterday I took a plane to Copenhagen, met customers and partners and was back in Paris to sleep in my own bed. Today, I took the train to Cologne and spent the afternoon with an important customer and am writing this blog post on the train ride back to Paris. And, I will sleep in my own bed tonight.

Everything - and I mean everything - is within a two hour flight. What's not to like about that?

50% of my business is within a two hour flight and the other 50% of my business is - well - much further away?! Hmmm, let me think about that for a second...

I guess a picture is worth a thousand words, eh?

p.s. Did I mention that I boarded the train 5 minutes before it left the station and no one said a peep? That I didn't have to go through a pat-down search after the metal detector because there was no metal detector?! Oh, and the bar cart is being wheeled through and I don't have to pay for my drinks? Sorry, gotta go now...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

VO versus VF

No, this has nothing to do with a certain Seagram's brand.

VO = Version Originale
VF = Version Française

As movies are released they typically appear here in France - assuming they came from Hollywood - as VO or "version originale" to start with and then a few weeks or months later they get released here as "version française".

What's the difference? VO means the movie is released in English with French sub-titles (sous-titres). VF means the movie is dubbed into French. So, the key for us anglos here in France is to get to the movie while it is still "VO".

This afternoon, we went to see "Good Morning England" which was hilarious and we absolutely recommend it.

Skill testing question for readers: What is popcorn called in France? Le popcorn.

Friday, May 15, 2009

You've gotta love the French!

Jackson came home yesterday to announce that since he didn't have a holiday this week that there were two next!

The French enjoy 11 national jours feriés each year. During May, there is a holiday nearly every week (except this week, whereas next Thursday's holiday is followed by: "You shouldn't come into the office next Friday since Thursday is a holiday and no one will be here Friday either!"

By law, every French citizen is entitled to 5 weeks of paid vacation. This is even better than Canada!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


After going around the corner to a less visible (to the people watchers partying at the three cafes in our little square) Velib station, we were able to actually unleash a bike and go for a spin!!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Parking Wars - Paris Edition

Paris is awash in law enforcement. So far I have seen cops on foot patrol, cops on bicycles, cops on motorcycles, cops in cars, cops on inline skates, cops on horseback, cops in boats on the Seine and, I'm sure, there are cops in the air. They are everywhere and when you don't see a cop, you see the army walking around in threes with their machine guns.

So, it is not surprising that Paris is also awash with parking enforcement people - and they mean business. I see cars getting ticketed or towed all the time. We also ran across the use of the famous "boot".

If I was A&E TV I'd be thinking about a new series: Guerres de Stationnement, édition de Paris. I wonder if Steve "Garfield" speaks French? I can only imagine what a Paris street argument with Paris parking enforcement would look like. It would be worth pulling up a chair at the local brasserie to watch though!

A perfect day for a 4.5 km (2.8 mile) stroll

The weather forecast had called for rain, so we awoke to a brilliantly sunny day! To save some energy, we decided for forgo the one hour walk to get to the beginning of our walk and took the metro to the Bastille stop. In an Off the Beaten Path section of someone's blog, I had seen this lovely find.

or to give you a better idea...

From 2009-05-10

A freight train ran here from 1859 to 1969, with a portion of it elevated on a viaduct. It connected the station at Place de la Bastille to the station in Saint-Maur in the 12th arrondissement. After its demise, it became an eyesore until in the 1990s, a project by landscape architect Jacques Vergely and architect Philippe Mathieux transformed it into the secret garden walkway that it is today.

As we walked, we passed through gardens and flowers and in between apartment buildings. One of the most bizarre sights, which stopped us in our tracks, was this.

From 2009-05-10

Though, of course, we didn't know it at the time, (I love the Internet. It makes us much smarter...) but later discovered that it is 12 reproductions of Michaelangelo's "The Dying Slave" which is the crowning glory atop the (believe it or not) Bureau de Police in the 12th arrondissement.

A great way to spend Mother's Day, which was topped off with a lovely dinner compliments of Sarah and Chris with finds from our lively Sunday neighborhood market!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Stephen's Cheese List or We've died and gone to cheese heaven

Just a few interesting facts to add to Stephen's cheese list.

The French consume approximately 42 pounds of cheese per person per year. Americans, not so much, 20 pounds. Experts say there are nearly 200 varieties with another 100 with similar variations.

Our friend Stephen Bacon stayed with us not long after we arrived in Paris. Stephen is a cheese connoisseur and has sent me his list of favorite French cheeses for publication...

Abbaye de Bellocq (E, fermier)
Ami du Chambertain (C, semi-soft, fr Gevrey-Chambertin in Bourgogne)
Bethmale Chevre (G, semi-firm, silky texture)
Bressan (E & C)
Brillat-Savarin (C, semi-soft, triple fat, round, thick crust)
Briede Mellun
Bleu d’Auvergne (C, moist & creamy, 50%, fr Auvergne)
Boulette d'Avesnes (Conical cayenne covered cheese with mixed herbs)
Bucheron (E, short logs, aka Boucheron/Boucherondin, fr Loire Val,)
Camembert Affine au Cidre de la Maison
Cantal (CU, 45%, semi-firm, fr Auvergne)
Cantalet (C, fermier, like cheddar, fr Auvergne)
Chabichou du Poitou (G, 45% fermier, fr Loire Valley),
Chaource (C, 50%)
Coeur d'Arras (C, RW, heart, fr Maroilles fam ?)
Cœur de Camembert au Calvados (C, soft, soaked in Calvados, fr Normandie,)
Coulommiers (CU&P, rich and creamy)
Crottin du Berry (du Chavignol ?) (G, 45%, sft, fr Berry & Perigord)
Epoisses de Bourgogne (C, 50%, RW w/ marc de Bourgogne.)
Explorateur (C, 75%)
Gaperon (Garlic/peppercorns. Bound by string, low fat)
Langres (C, plateau of Langres in the region of Champagne-Ardenne)
Livarot (C, 40%, semi-sft)
L'ami du Chambertin (CU, Epoisses-like, moist, RW w/ Marc de
Bourgogne, fr Gevrey-Chambertin in Burgundy)
Morbier lait cru (Nov-Feb, line of ash in the middle, delicate flavour)
Munster (fr Alsace, very pungent, rich, strong, creamy with a hint of sweetness)
Neufchâtel (soft, slightly crumbly, mould-ripened, Normandy, 6thC, heart shape)
Ossau-Iraty (E, 50%, raw milk, firm, fr Basque)
Pavé d'Affinois (C, soft-white, vegetarian)
Pavé d'auge (C, aka Pave de Moyaux, fermier, Normandy, reddish rind.)
Pont l’Eveque (CU, 40%, white orange rind, Normandie)
Pavé de Moyaux (see Pavé d'auge)
Pouligny-Saint-Pierre (G, AOC, pryamid shaped, fr Berry)
Raclette (C, raw, WR, fr Savoie)
Reblochon (C, semi soft, fr Savoy mountain region)
Roquefort (E, 50%, blue, balance of sweet, acid and salt, deep full flavour)
Roquefort, Petite Cave (Wailtrose)
Soumaintrain (powerful rich flavour w/ pungent smell; sweet, salty, creamy milk)
Tomme Cabriolet
Tomme d’aiguebelette
Tomme de Chèvre au Muscadet (G, firm, fr Loire Valley ; Cambridge Cheese stall)
Tomme de Savoie (C, semi firm, skim? fr Savoie Fr Alps, gray-brown rind)
Tomme Fermière des Lindarets (C)
Tomme Noir des Pyrénées (CP, semi-soft, black wax rind, pale, small holes)
Vecchio Corse

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Coffee hunt

My search for good coffee is finally over. Before we moved to Seattle, I don't think we knew what good coffee really was. Then, after a few years living in the heart of the Starbuck's death star, we grew to understand coffee and its subtleties.

Eventually, we tasted the ultimate: home-roasted, home-ground, home-percolated coffee that was unbelievable. Who was our saviour? None other than Kim Cameron. Yes, that Kim Cameron.

Now, at home in Seattle, we have our own green beans delivered to the house. We roast them in our Italian roaster, grind them in our Italian grinder, and have great coffee every day. Gone are the days of lining up at a Starbucks. (Sorry Howard.)

We recently came across a blog post titled "How not to drink black tar in Paris?". I don't dislike the coffee in Paris but also don't yearn for it. The coffee in Paris is kind of like a slap that would wake you out of a sleep. Nothing wrong with an occassional slap - especially if leather is involved - but I don't particularly wish to endure one with every demi-tasse. As the blog author wrote:
...the French market is saturated with Robusta beans, grown in their own former African colonies. Robusta coffees are high in caffeine content, and brew into dark, oily, acidic liquid that gives me a toothache just thinking about it. In countries that are known for better coffees, like Italy and Spain, the predominant type of bean is Arabica, which is much more aromatic and less acidic than Robusta.
The author was kind enough to name a few places where one could either get a good cup of coffee or buy your own beans and have them ground. One of them was less than a 5 minute walk from our apartment which fortunately is equipped with both a mocha pot and a French press. I walked into Verlet and threw down the gauntlet, in French: Je cherche le bon cafe pour mon press, Monsieur - I'm looking for good coffee for my press. He smiled wryly at me and responded: Then you've found the right place, my friend!

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Friday, May 8, 2009

An assault to my senses!

I felt I couldn't let this one go by without a blog post.

Last week when I was exploring the Left Bank, I started by crossing Pont Neuf at the eastern tip of Ile de la Cite where I snapped this magnificent statue of Henry IV.

I have to admit that I'm so smitten with Paris that I can hardly believe the beauty that awaits around every corner. So, you can imagine my shock when, unsuspectingly, I turned the corner onto Place Michel Debré near Boulevard St. Germain and I came face to face with this.

I thought it was a joke (forgive me, César Baldaccini, sculptor of the strange). But, mais non! Here's the proof.

It is a legitimate piece of art created in the mid-1980s. I literally was shocked. Poor me and my spoiled aesthetic sensibilities.

Artwork everywhere!

We managed to get to the Kandinsky Exhibit at the Pompidou Center. It was quite interesting to see such a large collection of his works in one place. I didn't know it but he painted in Paris for quite some time and his wife left a lot of his work to the Pompidou Center.

Walking over I was reminded that the French seem to have taken even the lowly cupcake to a new artistic high. Unfortunately, Kathie hustled me out of this store pretty quick - before I could get my sugar fix.

If you ever happen to be in the area and need a cupcake stop by Berko for your fix. I'm told they are delicious!
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Thursday, May 7, 2009

What about this instead of a truck?

Chris currently has a car and is planning on buying a truck to transport his tools from job to job. But now, he's considering this instead!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

At what age do you think it's a compliment to get carded?

Today, Sarah, Chris, and I were food shopping (what else do we do here?).

I had purchased my items and Sarah was following with her one purchase, a bottle of wine. As I turned around to see if she was coming, the store clerk (or whatever he's called en francais) kept his hand on the wine bottle and wasn't letting go. He looked at me and asked if this was my wine purchase, which he was hoping I would answer "oui". I laughed and told Sarah that he doesn't think that you're old enough to buy wine. The legal age here is 16. WELL! She was not impressed! She has just recently attained the legal age aux Etats Unis, which is 21. So, I want to know: what is the age that you stop being insulted and think you are being complimented when you're asked for your ID????

Monday, May 4, 2009

Who are these happy people? or What happens when you run away from home!

When vous becomes tu

In English, "you", as a pronoun, is used in all types of relationships. However, in French there is a formal you - vous - and an informal you - tu. I was taught in school what the textbook difference was (i.e., your boss or parents versus your friends). I also know that it can be considered impolite if you use tu in the wrong situations. So I have generally always used vous when speaking with anyone in French.

Today I learned a new French verb: tutoyer (to use tu) which is used when one wishes to communicate on more familiar terms (i.e., switch from vous to tu). I learned it when one of my colleagues said I could tutoyer after I responded in the vous form in an instant message to him.

The funny part was when he told me that I could "tutoyer" him my brain thought that tutoyer was some sort of future tense of the verb "kill" ("tuer") so I thought he was telling me that I would kill him for something he did. When I told him that he replied: "mort de rire" - He was dying laughing!

...but at least now I could "tu" him!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Marchés aux Puces

Paris is well known for its flea markets - "marchés aux puces" - so on Saturday we headed out to the marchés aux puces at the Porte de Clignacourt. It was an easy trip up there from Les Halles on the #4 metro line. We spent a few hours walking around the various shops and itinerant vendors stalls to see all kinds of goodies from clothes, Rolex watches (ya, right!), furniture and gawdy entrapments of all kinds mixed in with the occasional interesting find.

Anyway, the first dozen and a half of the pictures in the slideshow above give you an idea of the flea market. Later that evening we went out for a stroll and I, once again, got a lot of great shots of the area around Notre Dame Cathedral. As I told Kathie: "I can't go by without taking some pictures!". I hope you enjoy them.

There's something about Paris at night that captivates me...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

May Day! May Day! or Let's take a day trip to Auvers sur Oise!

It started on Thursday when I sent Jackson to work with details of all the things I wanted to learn about using the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français) or train Web site. Futile previous attempts to get information on train schedules and fares had left me fou. Come to find out, when Jackson asked his friend for help, he said that tout le monde has the problems using the SNCF! Great...

A poster in a shop on our street showed information about a "special" train to Auvers sur Oise (the final resting place of my favorite Vincent van Gogh - it was also a place that my art group visited in 2001 - lovely.) We just had to get to Gare du Nord (easy since Jackson had gone there to catch his chemin de fer - they really call them trains - to Koln last week).

Yesterday was a national holiday here, so everything was closed in Paris except the train stations...

After unsuccessfully trying to purchase the billets for Auvers in a kiosk, I went to ask the information person for directions to the guichet with a live person. I don't want to bore you with details, but, as Jackson so fondly likes to describe these life challenges, it was a goat rodeo.

Luckily we were at Gare du Nord plenty of time in advance of our "special" train. To summarize, the information we were given as to where to wait for the "special" train was contradicted many, many times. It became an activity to pass the time just to go up to a different "information" person and see what he/she had to say.

My theory is that since it was May Day (May Day!), the people who were stuck working on the day when the rest of France was not working were all new hires who had no clue about anything train-related.

All this nonsense was forgotten after we spent an exquisite day in the gorgeous warm sunshine of Auvers sur Oise, thinking of poor Vincent who should have spent many more years on this earth creating...