Sunday, 23 December 2007

Paris non fumeur

I can't believe that we may have just had our last dinner in a smokey restaurant or brasserie. Supposedly, all cafes, restaurants, etc., are going non smoking in January in Paris. Almost every time I'm in a cafe with someone, we get annoyed by the smoke, and invariably someone remarks that they can't believe it's all changing in January.

I'll have to see it to believe it. I think, but I'm not sure, that smoking can still happen at outside tables. If this is the case, in nice weather, all the outdoor space will be thick with smoke which will be a shame for non-smokers like me. (Actually, truth be known, I'm really a smoker at heart who hasn't had a cigarette in 21 years- I had a regular habit as a teen and young adult. I'm married to a deep down non-smoker who smoked for a number of years.)

Anyway, as of January 1, 2008, you will see people having heated discussions at cafes while chewing gum like mad, or while gnawing on their fingernails. And at regular intervals, someone in the group will amble over to the door, duck outside and have a smoke, and re-enter about 5-7 minutes later. People will have to get used to missing out on parts of conversations, or they'll have to tough it out.

I wonder if they'll be any surprising side effects from the ban of smoking in bars and such. For example, my friend in Dublin said that when the pubs went non-smoking in Ireland, there was an awful odor of gas throughout. This may be due to the drinking of Guinness and the dark ales and the like.

Maybe the side effect of a smoking ban in Paris will be that people will become even more amorous in public. Instead of a non-smoking section, we'll be looking for a non-groping section. Who knows, time will tell.

I expect to see some resistance. Although, unlike Cincinnati, when Paris passed the non smoking law, it provided for paid enforcers of the law who can dole out tickets for offenders- 88 Euros for an individual, and over 100 Euros for the establishment. It will be interesting. We'll be in Cincinnati until the first week of January, where people, despite the lack of enforcement, have generally obeyed the law.

Until Januuary...

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Cheeseburger please

And make it greasy. If you're anything like me, you like to have a juicy cheeseburger every couple of months. Tonight we happened into Le Seven on rue St. Dominique. The tapas with guacamole and tomatoes on the menu were what initially took me inside the smallish restaurant. I was happy to find out that they would serve dinner at 6:30, which is quite early for a French dinner.

My family piled into the back (espace non-fumeur- for what that's worth in a small room). The kids were happy to see TV screens on each wall showing a soccer match. The friendly server spoke to us in English, and when I was surprised to see cheeseburgers (not steak hache) and COLE SLAW on the menu, he explained that it was an American diner. Oh, no wonder they serve dinner earlier and have items like quesadillas on the menu.

Our food came quickly as we were the only ones there for a while. While Lyon tied Nancy in the soccer match, we enjoyed our cheeseburgers and fries. The fries were more like potato wedges, but very tasty, and come to the table with little packets of ketchup and mayonnaise, as well as barbecue sauce. The cheeseburger was everything I had hoped for despite the bizarre bright orange "cheese sauce". I was a little disappointed to see this sauce instead of a melted slice of cheese, but the overall taste was great. Tomatoes, lettuce, pickle and onion accompanied the burger which added to my enjoyment.

The curry chicken penne that my husband ordered was not as satisfying however. It tasted like some experimental dish I would have whipped up on my own. His first choice of gorgonzola penne was no longer available, so he tried the curry penne, and neither of us would recommend it.

So for those of you craving a thick, tasty burger without spending a fortune (12,50 Euros), I highly recommend Le Seven. But see if they'll give you a real slice of cheese on top. They probably don't have "American" cheese, which is fine, but Emmenthaler or Comte would be fine. Bon Appetit.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

A Little Peking in Paris

There is an entire section of Paris seemingly dedicated to circuses. It is found at the Pelouse de Rueilly in the 12th arrondisement. We were headed to the "Cirque Peking" (which was quite entertaining), but passed about 5 other "big tops" on the way to the Peking Circus. The area smelled of a zoo, and had a strange surreal feel to it. We were in the middle of carney land, but in the distance you could make out the city of Paris.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Chateau de Versailles

Friday, my posse of older French women and I went to Versailles for a tour of the Chateau followed by a tour of the town. Security was tight and tense because Libya's Colonel Kaddafi had the same plan to tour the Chateau. After our guide fought with the security at the entrance, we began our tour which included an "Argenterie" exhibit which displayed lavish silver pieces from various countries' royal collections.

The Hall of Mirrors was especially lovely with the refurbished paintings on the ceilings. At the far end of the Hall of Mirrors was a recreation of the throne of Louis XIV, and its marble ornamentation which led to the throne, set up on a platform. This was all made out of cardboard which was a little disturbing. It was like the set of a high school play, not something that one would see at the actual palace of Versailles. I couldn't believe it. It would have been preferable, in my opinion, to see nothing. Instead, after experiencing the beauty of the Hall of Mirrors, the visitor enters a sort of shadow box which cheapens the experience.

The railing in front of the Queen's bedroom was a facsimile also, but at least it was made out of wood, and looked like the real thing. I do so like the idea of my own bedroom, but it's not going to happen any time soon.

Among other information presented,it was pointed out a few times that part of the problems of France during Louis XVI's and Marie Antoinette's reign was the amount of money going to support the war of Independence in America. Many of France's nobles went to fight in the war, including Lafayette. Louis XVI was encouraged by his advisors to support the efforts of the new "Americans", despite the lack of money at home.

At first I felt bad because the French paid such a dear price for involving themselves in the liberation of my country. But then I realized that this (in part) led to the French Revolution, which gave rise to the "Republique Francaise" and "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite". Fighting in our efforts for independence, and having a bankrupted country is perhaps just what was needed to fire the people up to spark their own revolution. I wonder if this is what our American President is up to. What would another American Revolution look like? Hopefully the fate of Laura Bush would not be the same as Marie Antoinette.

As it turns out, we were quite lucky to see the Chateau of Versailles at all. Our guide spoke to a colleage as we were leaving the chateau, and it turned out that her group's visit was cancelled due to Kaddafi's visit. I hope he's not planning to see Asterix at the Olympic games tomorrow. The kids would be shattered.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Techtonic dance in Parc Monceau

This type of dance is quite popular here in Paris. Q and M have seen a lot of youths doing this dance, and have decided it is quite cool. On occasion, we'll peek into Q's room and we'll snatch a glimpse of him doing a bit of techtonic dance. He's got some good moves. I think he'd take offense at my posting a video of him, so we can watch these ados at Parc Monceau instead. They were quite willing to be videotaped.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Carte de Sejour- Final Act

Today we got all dressed in our best undergarments and headed out for our final (hopefully) appointment in the Carte de Sejour process. This was the medical inspection. I suppose we needed to be given a clean bill of health in order to have a year long visitor visa.

The medical appointment was near Bastille, France's Ellis Island, where all immigrants shed their clothing above their torsos, have x-rays taken of their lungs, and meet with a doctor.

The process went very smoothly and lasted just over an hour. Everyone was kind, helpful and even smiley. It was strange. It was too smooth.

But wait, Sean still hasn't finished his visit with the doctor. I heard him in there on the other side of the wall while I was meeting with my appointed doctor. It sounded like they were having a good time. There was talk of knee surgery... and then I couldn't listen anymore as I had to go back to the waiting room with my pulmonary x-rays in hand. I had appartently passed inspection. But where's Sean?

The woman at the front desk was feeling for me. She too wondered what was taking so long. People were being sent on to pay their money and receive their Carte de Sejour, and I just sat. And waited. Front desk woman said she could send me on, but that I might as well wait for my husband. Sure, I guess.

It turns out that without his translator present, Sean was no longer the silent monkey, but a person, and an interesting one, with stories and information to keep an audience attentive for hours if not days. Good god, where is he? I had half a mind (what's new) to storm in and see what was going on, but I just sat and smiled at the Front desk clerk.

It turns out that Sean's doctor took a particular liking to him (who doesn't? get in line, doc), and he had lots of questions for him. Sean was not sure if the man was asking the questions on behalf of the State, to size up if he was really here legitimately and was of sound mind to be in the country, or if he was genuinely interested in him as a person. The questions involved the size in square meters of our apartment, what amount of money we're living on, and did Sean think he could cope mentally not working a year. (It's been really rough, doc, but we're pulling through so far). Of course, there were the medical questions also.

At one point I was actually afraid that maybe his x-rays had spots all over them, and that he had some sort of medical issues. I tossed up a quick prayer which was immediately followed by, "Something better be wrong with him, or why else is this taking so long!"

Finally, Sean was sprung from the doctor's "examination" room, and the front desk clerk sent us to pick up our carte de sejour down the hall.

So, we're legal until October of 2008. Vive la France!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Stage Fright

On Tuesdays I've been taking a theatre class. It's been interesting and challenging.
We never know what we'll be doing in class.

Our first class had us acting as if we were a machine,all with different movements and sounds. In another class we created dialogue based on scenes from postcards. In November we focused on improv.

I think December is classical theatre, whatever that is. All I know is that today I had to memorize my lines from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, and perform WITH my fellow actor, not just NEAR her. So all week, I have been muttering my lines on the metro and while walking down the street. I've been receiving many odd looks, and I have to say that I don't care. That's the beauty of the big city. I'm just another anonymous crazy person.

Today I entered class late and the other two students were engaged in a serious piece. The teacher was constantly stopping them and criticizing and changing something about it. I was glad to just watch for a while.

Then, it was time for our dialogue in Bourgeois Gentilhomme. I was scared, but decided "what the Hell, give it your all, sister." And I did. I lost my place once, but felt that I stayed "in character" and was not afraid to be silly or project my voice.

I'm glad that I'm still taking the class. My mind tells me to quit sometimes. It's harder than I thought, because the teacher always asks more of us, and sometimes I have to be a character that I don't understand. I stumble over the words at times. My feelings have been hurt. I've been accused of not staying "in character" by another student. Sometimes I zone out, and have no idea what everyone is talking about. Sometimes for the life of me, I cannot properly say a word. (The word was "trou". I can say the "ou" sound fine on its own or in conjunction with most other consonants, but the fact that the "ou" followed that nearly impossible french "r", totally did me in. My fellow student kept trying to teach me, and i kept trying, but to no avail. "Can we just move on please!" is what I was thinking.)

Today's piece was even more comical because my character was giving a phonetics lesson involving the proper way to pronounce the vowels in French. I'm glad I stuck it out, because it was fairly fun, and the teacher didn't tear us up (this time).

Monday, 10 December 2007

November is over and...

You may remember my post from September about how our daughter's teacher stated that November can be a bleak month for the students (she actually painted a much more frightening picture- don't look for the post, I've removed it for now). The days are short (except for the school day), the excitement of moving to a new city/school has worn off, and here they are facing the doldrums that we ourselves have to contend with as adults, except at school the kids have to deal with it in a new language with new kids.

We seemed to have gotten through November okay, but December has been a bit disturbing. Things have been getting a little rough at school. Maggie was knocked down at recess one day by a boy in Quinn's class. She didn't seem to mind, however. One boy was recently "expelled" (for only a day), for punching another child in the mouth (knocking a tooth out?). Another boy keeps ending up in the office for "strangling" other students. Again, my daughter doesn't seem to mind. This may be a bit disturbing, except for the fact that she is mighty tough herself. She fires fists of fury at her father when he pronounces the french word "sur" like sewer. The pronuciation is shocking, but she reacts a tad bit strongly.

I wonder what has become of me. Usually I would have inquired of the boy's mother who either had or didn't have his tooth knocked out (but was indeed socked in the mouth) as to whether the boy was okay, and did she feel okay with what the school was doing about it, etc. Perhaps it's the fact that as a whole we are really enjoying ourselves here, and I myself am totally loving living here, that I'm choosing not to get as involved as I usually do. There is a fine line between being a control freak or busy body and an advocate for the students, and sometimes the line is blurred with me. I did write a note to an administrator who told me basically it wasn't my business.

So there you have it. The teacher kind of was right about this time of year, but instead of hurting themselves to get out of school, they are turning on each other. Soon, we have a holiday break which the students can obviously use.

When I asked M's teacher in September about how the rest of the year unfolds (after the bleak NOvember discussion), she stated "they survive." Not the most positive of descriptions. I'm starting to understand exactly what she meant by that. This has been some sort of physical, psychological, social, cultural and academic bootcamp for the kids. And yes, siree, they are "surviving" quite well. I think.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Yes I did

I traveled as far away from our apartment today as possible without leaving zone two of my metro pass. Charenton Ecoles was my destination, and it is outside of the peripherique of Paris. What was so intriguing that I took an hour commute to an otherwise unknown metro stop? Well, this gem of a bike was the reason. It was being sold on Craig's list for 20 Euros, and in the end, I paid 15 Euros for it. The big adrenaline rush for the day was taking it into the metro. Bicycles and roller skates and blades are not allowed on the subway. But this little colorful bike hardly takes up any space, so I snuck her on, even passing a group of police as I transferred trains at Opera. Phew, as Maggie would say. I just looked at the map again and realized if sneaking the bike onto the metro hadn't worked, I would have ended up paying well over 60 Euros for that little bike because the cab fare for such a long route would have been astronomical. Double phew!

Christmas at Galeries Lafayette and Printemps

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Musical moments

Last night while settin' on the couch and listening to a French "jazz" station (89.9), which really sounded more like 60's lounge music, we heard the song "Fever".

You know the song. Here are some of the lyrics:

never know how much i love you
never know how much i care
when you put your arms around me
I give you fever that's so hard to bare

you give me fever
when you kiss me
fever when you hold me tight
In the morning
Fever all through the night

It's kind of a sassy song. It ended up being our wedding song by default. We never picked a song, but at the end of night, the band who played at our wedding (Drums for Peace), encircled us and played "Fever" very slowly. It was magical as we stood outside under the stars on my parents' patio in the hot and misty air in the early hours of the morning with drums and voices surrounding us and wishing us well.

So I say to my husband, next to me on the couch, "hey, they're playing "Fever"!" "Yeah", he said disinterested, "they play it all the time."

Just now I was listening to a Nick Drake song and thought, "What if Nick Drake and Norah Jones ever played together?" I don't think I'd be able to handle it. Their voices are so beautiful and their music is so soulfull on their own, I can't imagine what it would be like to hear them together.

Favorite Norah Jones song (for the moment): "Nightingale"

Monday, 3 December 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like...

a Charlie Brown's Christmas. At least here in our apartment, anyway. We got this little tree from the flower shop down the street. I think the kids wanted it because it looks like it needs a little cheering up. We'll do our best.

We decorated a little bit for Christmas, but there is not comparison to what the Galeries Lafayette's windows are showing.

Sunday, 2 December 2007


We just arrived back from a nice trip to Brussels. What a time we had! Here are my top 7 (because it's such a magical number) memories.

7- Tin Tin murals.
6- A Dungeon and Dragonesque carrousel.

5- Waffles and frites(apparently Belgium is the true home of the "French fry".)
4- Tasty brunch in a fantastic bookstore.
3- Mannekin pis dressed up like Saint Nick, and "taking care of business".

2- City Hall lit up at night with Christmas lights, and the nearby Christmas market. Truly spectacular.

1- Seeing Sean's family, including watching Jeremy's soccer game (he is FAST!), and much imaginative play among J, Q and M which involved building forts and marching. Not to forget, M senior, a teen,entertained us with various music videos and humorous episodes from Mad TV, along with a cool dance she performed live. There is a whole world out there about which I know nothing, and M helped shed some light there.