Jan 31, 2015

Count On It: Trois Laits


Such a simple little thing, counting on your fingers. Yet even here there are cultural differences, and about the only thing the Francophones and Anglophones agree on is that all five fingers represents the #5.

Jan 29, 2015

No-Go Zones (We Went): Carayaquoise


You may have heard about Fox so-called "news'" so-called "no-go" zones in Paris. I say "so-called" twice because, really, they're both bogus. If there are any zones that are best avoided in Paris, it's the various red-light districts that tend to be on the outer circle -- just where I wander the other day to get Pippa to an audition. The neighborhood, not far from Sacré Coeur is, um, how shall I put it?...different.

Jan 27, 2015

Def-Con Charlie: Vieurals


Since the Charlie Hebdo attacks, we here in Paris are living in a state of heightened anxiety, alertness, and security measures. There's an official name for it: status Vigipirate. I could tell you it means the equivalent of code orange, but really I just think of it as Vigilant Pirate. We all must be vigilant pirates. Like these guys on a boat in the Seine.

Har matey, this vigilant pirate will protect us all.

Jan 25, 2015

Your Secret Job: Fromage du Curé


There are French people I've been friends with for almost four years now, and I still don't know what they do for a living. Are they hiding something? Covert spies? Drug dealers? Book shop owners? Or, perhaps, they're just French. So they don't define themselves, their personalities, their friends, or their lives by their jobs. The feeling is, when you're not at work, why talk about it?

Jan 23, 2015

Ancient Hot Chocolate: La Truffe


I cannot say my girls have never met a cup of hot chocolate they didn't like because, well, they both poo-poohed a $20 cup (each) of French, traditional-style hot chocolate after one sip. Too rich, too thick, too intense, too much. Too much money, that's for sure.

Jan 21, 2015

Currents of Air: Le Roumé


My friend Nancy is an American who's lived her nearly all of her adult life in France and has been married to a Frenchman for over 20 years. Yet she laughs and rolls her eyes when talking about the French and their fear of "the courants d'air [air currents, or breezes]. They're all so afraid of the dreaded courant d'air. They're so convinced you catch a cold from a courant d'air, they won't even sleep with windows open. In the summer."

Jan 19, 2015

Politically Correct, French-style: Pecura Balsamique


We are talking to friends, recently moved over from the United States to Paris, about a girl on the gymnastics team. But which one? You know, the one in the blue leotard (that's all of them), with the ponytail (all of them), the tall one (relatively speaking, at least, that's half of them), the one who's good on beam (half of them).... It's exhausting. Finally, I simply ask, "Do you mean the black girl?" It appears I've lost my American politically-correct filter.

Jan 17, 2015

A Much-Needed Break: L'Ecaillon


After three days of early morning rising, staking out news kiosks, reservations, and waiting for hours on long lines in the dark and cold, I am finally the proud owner of two Charlie Hebdos, with the by-now famous cover -- one for me and one for a friend in the US. I had to buy them at two different kiosks, because most places would only sell one at a time, to try to accommodate the most people possible.

Jan 15, 2015

A Souvenir to Remember: Fromage Fermier de Brebis Orsatelli Frères


There are souvenirs you want to remember, and others you'd rather forget. And in case you didn't get the play on words, souvenir is the French word that means, "remember". The all-too-common apron-with-boobs is perhaps the most baffling of souvenirs to me. Who wants to remember their boobs in Paris? Who on Earth buys these tacky things? Well, evidently my daughter does. For me.

Jan 13, 2015

I've Met My French Waterloo: Boulette de Cambrai


In my art class, I am trying to paint a scene that's particularly difficult for me, and I announce, in French, "I've met my Waterloo!" Surprisingly, this leads to a conversation not about the best way to tackle the painting, but about why on Earth an English speaker would refer to Waterloo as the point of defeat, when it was the place of Napoleon's defeat at the hands of the English (under the Duke of Wellington along with some Prussians).

Jan 11, 2015

Signs of Solidarity: Roquefort Carles


Day 4: Saturday, Yesterday

Gigi and I are out shopping the "Soldes" of the season, the day after the hostage situation, day four of the entire sordid affair of the terrorist storming of the Charlie Hebdo office. Paris is still not quite business as usual, but try telling that to the hundreds of bargain shoppers crammed into each store. The stores open longer than usual because it's the first weekend of the Soldes, but the streets are quieter, and some cafés and restaurants are shuttered, unusually.

Jan 9, 2015

Dying (Eventually): Foissac St. Hilaire


I receive an e-mail to sign up for Mealtrain for my friend, Sarah, undergoing chemo in San Francisco. It's a website that lets you schedule a day when you can bring a meal. This is, it turns out, an extremely American way to help out a friend, and I'm not talking about the internet part of it. I learn that bringing a meal to a friend or neighbor with a newborn baby, or during an illness, or after a death is simply not a French thing, no matter how French the food.

Jan 7, 2015

Yes, We're OK: P'tit Basque


DAY 1: You may have heard the news -- a terrorist shooting in the Marais at the offices of a satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo. While it's true we live in the Marais, we were nowhere near the scene of the crime, so don't worry about us. But not everybody was so lucky. Anthony's boss lives right in that area, and his daughter's school is just buildings away, so he rushed home to be with his family.

Gigi's school is in the neighborhood, and the elementary and middle school kids get out around 12:10, just after the attacks. Amazingly, they let the children leave as normal, many of them walking home alone -- some of Gigi's friends live right next to Place des Vosges -- with no special warnings, advice, chaperones. Somehow, I feel like this would be handled differently in the US, but I'm not actually upset by it. It just seems odd to me, that they let them all walk home, especially considering the perpetrators were still at large; however, to give them credit, the children get out of school at 12:10, and since the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office was just at noon, it's entirely possible the school didn't yet realize it was sending children to walk home through a danger zone. Luckily, the incident was over by the time the children would have walked through the area, and the place was swarming with police; perhaps it was safer (though certainly more traumatic) than usual.

I hear about the attack because I am out running errands with the girls in the 6th arrondissement after lunch and think of stopping at Gerard Mulot for a treat. I know I am nearby but have a stupid-phone and need to ask Anthony the specific address of the bakery. I then receive a series of texts from him:

1) 76 rue de seine. A few blocks past Odeon
2) I think it's closed today according to google
3) Yes, it is closed today. Just checked their site.
4) Their Marais branch is open today. 6 rue du Pas de la Mule 75003.
5) By Place des Vosges
6) But don't go there. There was a shooting right around there. 11 people dead. At noon today.

What?! That last one really sneaks up on me. Actually, the final number is 12 dead, two of whom are policemen, and 11 more seriously injured. The first evidence we see is walking home from the metro on our way home from gymnastics. We live right next to Hotel-Dieu, where the wounded are being treated, and the news reporters -- and, of course, police -- are swarming around it.

Gigi sees a busload of people being delivered to the hospital with Red Cross blankets. They're walking off the bus themselves, so I assume they're witness or the mildly injured, but I'm sure they all need to be treated for shock.
I'm getting messages from family and friends making sure we're OK and so, I want to assure you, the four of us and all of our friends are, in fact, fine. It makes me terribly sad, though, needless to say. This is considered the biggest/worst terrorist attack in France in a very long time. Some say since January 1995 when a bomb in the Saint Michel train station attributed to Algerian extremists killed 8 people; over 200 were injured that year in total. Many news outlets are going further back, to the Algerian war in 1961, to find a single incident this deadly in France.
Interestingly, just a week ago, as we walked out of Harrod's in London, we saw a plaque commemorating the spot where six people died on December 17, 1983. Without any other information, and no specific memory of the event, we simply go by instinct: six people dead in one spot in London in 1983? It must have been IRA terrorists. Sure enough, we are correct in that assumption. It turns out another 90 were injured in the bombing.
I am also sad to report that what you're feeling today when you read the news and think "Oh no! I hope they're safe!" is pretty much what I often feel when I check out American newspapers. Just recently, I look at the San Francisco paper for local news and see the Mission District cordoned off for some shooting, and that's besides the numerous school shootings from around the US that seem to happen on a regular basis. So while I hate every bit of today's Parisian news, I still feel safer in Paris than in a US city.
UPDATE, DAY 2: We see the signs of solidarity spread everywhere around the city. There's even a "Je suis Charlie" on the Google France home page:
The city is quieter than usual. And feels a bit weird. The rainy gray morning didn't help matters, but now it's sunny and blue and looks a little cheerier. Still, it's not its normal self.
Letters from both of the girls' schools: various security measures put in place. A moment of silence at noon, at which time the Bells of Notre Dame -- and churches around the city (probably the whole country) also ring out. Most flags at half mast.

UPDATE, DAY 3: Out with Gigi at the Bastille, and we see a convoy of 16 police vehicles racing by with sirens blaring. In fact, the city has an almost constant hum of sirens.

The hostages have been taken, and now the texts I'm getting from Anthony are about how his building is in lock-down mode. This BBC map, modified by Anthony, will show you why:

Our kids still have school today, but with full security measures in place. Even at the middle school dismissal, they are now asking each individual child where they live and judging if the route home will be safe. After all, at the time of dismissal, there are still hostages being held, and all of the gunmen are at large. I've never seen so many parents at pick-up.


The streets are just covered with machine-gun-toting, bulletproof-vest-wearing police and military. There's even the Protection Civile, which I understand to be akin to the National Guard. I've never even see these blue and orange uniforms or trucks before.


And everywhere, everywhere, the signs of solidarity.

Now it's dark -- Friday night at 11pm as I'm writing this. The weather is nice -- mild and dry. But I have never, ever heard the streets so quiet, especially not on a Friday night. All the neighborhood cafés are closed. In fact, it is so unbelievably still that I actually research to see if the city has instituted a curfew (appropriately called a "couvre-feu" or "fire-cover"). The gunmen have been killed; the remaining hostages -- those that weren't murdered -- have been freed. No curfew, but I think everybody is just hunkered down at home, breathing easier but still happy to be inside.

And I hope -- I hope! -- that this is the end of the updates for this post.

[Click here for Days 4 and 5...]
THE CHEESE: P'tit Basque
P'tit Basque (sometimes written more fully, but incorrectly, as Petit Basque) is, as the name implies, a small cheese from the Basque region of France, in the south by the Pyrénées. It's a pasteurized sheeps' milk cheese, an industrial brand that's been produced since 1997.
It has all the hallmarks of a mass-produced industrial cheese: the dry, hard crust (all but inedible. I certainly wouldn't want to chew on it), the rubbery texture, the slightly bland flavor. The cheese itself is not inedible, mind you; it just doesn't have the same intensity and pizzazz of so many of the farmhouse and artisanal unpasteurized sheep cheeses of Basque country. I will say this, though, it has a pretty crust, brown and white with basket-weave imprints on it.
I feel slightly wrong writing this connection: It comes from the fact that the cheese comes from, and is named after, Basque country. It's a wonderful area, so I don't like maligning it. But, there's no whitewashing history, and this area has been a hotbed of terrorist activity with the goal of achieve Basque National separation -- mostly on the Spanish side, but on the French side, also. The main paramilitary group fighting for liberation was the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), founded in 1959. Since 1968, they are considered responsible for over 800 deaths, thousands of injuries, and dozens of kidnappings. The most recent ceasefire has been in force since Sept 5, 2010, and the ETA declared a permanent cessation to violence on October 20, 2011.
It's not my favorite cheese, but, frankly, it didn't do anything to deserve to be the one selected for today's post.

Jan 5, 2015

A Windmill of Words: Tomme de Brebis Artisanale du Comminges


To know Pippa is to know that anything that could be said in five words can also be told as a half-hour story, complete with choreography, props, and the occasional burst of song. But mostly words. Words and more words. I would say she's a chatterbox, but I like the French expression much better: she's a moulin à paroles -- a "windmill of words", which implies not only volume but unnecessary volume.

Jan 3, 2015

A Hop Across the Channel: Welsch


Just hopped back to this side of the Channel from a New Year's week jaunt to England. Yes, there's culture and history, but one of the things we enjoy most in London after living in Paris is.....get ready for it......the food. No, I'm not being sarcastic. Yes, really. And no, we are not crazy. Not only is Paris not home to the best food on the planet (for instance, in most -- though not all -- ways, we prefer San Francisco's food), we don't even think it's the best food on one end of the Chunnel Eurostar.


Jan 1, 2015

World's Biggest: Grain d'Orge


How can we have lived in Paris and not tried out the world's biggest temporary, indoor ice skating rink? It's a travesty, really. So this year, we remedy that, with 50€ worth of tickets to skate inside the Grand Palais -- transformed annually from a boring old museum to a flashy disco ice rink.

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