Archive for October, 2011

It’s All About the Hair

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Meet Angelique.

Angelique

Hello.

Angelique is half Parisian, half Algerian, and the proud owner of an amazing head of hair. She works as a sales assistant at Le Chic hair and nail salon on Boulevard de Sébastopol, one of the busiest African beauty streets in Paris. She has been voted “Best Sales Assistant” via customer reviews every month since she started there. Angelique loves her work and puts every effort into her own appearance in order to set a good example for the store. All the ladies come to get their hair braided and their nails varnished by Angelique and they keep telling her she should set up her own store. Unfortunately, the guy she works for barely pays her a cent and threatens to cut off her beautiful long locks if she dares leave. It’s a tough world in the beauty scene.

Angelique

So pretty.

Angelique has always been interested in fashion and beauty – her mother likes to tell the story about how when Angelique was just six months old, she managed to apply some lipstick she had found on the floor. These days, Angelique gets up at 5am every day in order to start getting ready for the day. It takes a long time to look this good. Her hair is her favourite personal attribute – every day she cleans and styles her hair, forming it into a different shape depending on her mood and the theme of her outfit. She loves to add a bit of bling to her attire – today she is wearing a lovely yellow bow (given to her by one of her favourite clients) and a gold necklace she saved up to buy.

Angelique dreams of opening her own store one day. Not only would she offer hair and nail services, but there would be a designated space for the husbands and boyfriends to wait with televisions and magazines, as well as free coffee for all customers. She would also offer beauty consultation services for those ladies who just don’t know what to do with their hair. When she lies in bed at night time, she thinks about the design of her store, what colours she would use and what the name would be. She would really like to call her store So Angelique but she is worried she might appear too arrogant.

Angelique

How does she do that with her hair?

When Angelique is working and talking to her clients she is vibrant, fun and vivacious. However, it is a much different story when she is talking to boys. She is shy and would never dream of asking a boy out. She would love to have a boyfriend but whenever a guy shows interest in her, she turns away and hides. Lots of boys have tried – she is so beautiful! There is one boy in particular who keeps walking past her store, trying to catch her eye. He is a strange looking fellow with zebra stripes and he is always wearing reindeer antlers. Maybe one day they will meet and fall in love. Angelique certainly hopes so.

Angelique is on sale at my Etsy Store. Take her home today!

The Internet is a Mysterious Thing

Monday, October 31st, 2011

I was just looking at the analytics for my website (how many people are visiting my site etc) and in the past month, five people have arrived at my site after searching for “Bearded Mole”. I like this fact. I can sense a sock creature stemming from this…

Now That’s a Steak

Monday, October 31st, 2011

I can’t remember if I have discussed this previously, but Tom and I are currently involved in a small competition with two other couples – Sonia and Guibril, and Becky and Vivien. The competition is boys vs girls and involves the daily punishment of sit ups, push ups and the plank (hold yourself up off the floor with your forearms and toes. Fun fun.) It is in its third month, with the first month involving 20 sit ups, 20 push ups and 20 seconds of plank. Month #Two was 40, 40, 40, and now we have 60, 60, 60. It’s hard. But the reward for the team who does the most exercises at the end of each month is a dinner paid for by the losing team.

The first month was won by the girls (WOO!) and the boys took us for indian at a remarkably good indian restaurant. Unfortunately, due only to Sonia being incapacitated due to a sore back and Becky having to spend an entire day on a plane, the boys won the second month. It wasn’t a particularly spectacular win but we let them feel good about themselves and took them to a restaurant called Le Bistro du Coin on Saturday night.

I had booked the restaurant via my favourite website, La Fourchette, which granted us a 40% discount on the meal. There was no way we were paying full price for the boys’ dinners. When we arrived at the restaurant we had to wait for our table as it had been given to someone else. That’s never a good start. The owner of the restaurant was smooth and relatively friendly, however he had that French cockiness about him that lets him get away with things like not having a table for us.

When we were eventually seated, it took a while until we were served and then the food itself wasn’t all that spectacular. I ordered a piece of beef which was chewy and a fairly ordinary cut, and the eschalot sauce was gloopy and unremarkable. Others had the duck that was small although apparently quite tasty. Tom was the winner – for an extra 11.50 Euros, he ordered the côte de boeuf. A huge 500g piece of meat, perfectly cooked and very, very tasty. Back in Perth, Tom would often choose the T-Bone steak and would hack away at the huge slab of flesh, and he hadn’t found anything that could compare in Paris. But here it was.

Bistro du Coin steak

It was even served with bone marrow

The desserts were ordinary – my moelleux au chocolate tasted like it came out of a packet and Tom’s profiteroles were mostly whipped cream. The other waitstaff were a bit strange, too – they managed to drop two wine glasses in the time we were there and one waiter kept asking us if we wanted the bill. None of the other food we ate was worth photographing – that’s how much I am not going to go back. Unfortunately Tom has now had a taste of the giant steak so will be wanting to return but I think he will be going on his own.

Eating Oysters From a Car Bonnet

Monday, October 31st, 2011

On my list of things I like eating, oysters come close to the bottom with absolutely no desire whatsoever to eat the sloppy, gloopy, ocean-filled things. But when our new neighbour, Julie, invited Tom and me for lunch at Le Baron Rouge in the 12th arrondissement, her description of what we would be eating appealed even to me – let’s stand around eating oysters and drinking wine off car bonnets. Yes please.

Le Baron Rouge is a wine bar where masses of Parisians (and a whole lot of Poms) flock every Saturday and Sunday to drink wine and eat oysters and charcuterie plates. The wine bar itself is tiny – a typical French bar with lots of wood, blackboard menus and effervescent staff. By the time we arrived it was getting close to 2pm, so the place was packed with people carrying wine glasses, laughing, spotting friends on the other side of the room, and generally feeling very pleased to be alive. The lack of space meant that patrons had spilled out onto the footpath and road outside and had created mock tables using the lids of bins and the roofs and bonnets of cars. Luckily the bar is located in a quiet streets so traffic wasn’t a problem.

Baron Rouge

The place to be.

We pushed our way in, with Julie and her friend heading to the bar to buy wine and charcuterie, while Tom and I joined the queue for oysters. We were worried we would miss out, but basket after basket of fresh oysters continued to arrive as people ordered mounds of the disgusting things. The speed and agility demonstrated by the oyster shuckers was amazing – they had a very simple oyster shucking ‘machine’ – basically a blade on a handle connected to a wooden block. The oyster was placed on the block, the blade inserted, lifted et voila! A freshly shucked oyster.

Baron Rouge oyster shuckers

Quick hands required to shuck oysters for so many people

We bought two dozen oysters and headed to where Julie and two friends had secured our own car bonnet (a little white Opel). It was here that we consumed two bottles of wine, two dozen oysters and two plates of charcuterie and pâté. Amazing. Want to know how much it cost? This is the best part – for all of that, between five people, it was less than 15 Euros a head. HA HA HA!!! Take that, Australians! You may have sunshine and beaches, but we have fine wine and oysters.

Wine, charcuterie, oysters from the Baron Rouge

What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

This wonderful experience is going to be repeated. It was one of those moments that you wonder how on earth you got there and when you are going to wake up. Thank you, Paris.

The Oddity of Time

Monday, October 31st, 2011

I have fond memories of pointless, rambling, never-ending conversations in my university cultural studies classes where we would discuss a topic of grandiose proportions, ducking and diving between ideas, concepts and beliefs. I used to love these discussions because they would take up the entire two hour class and we wouldn’t really have to do anything. The topics would range from the meaning of life; the impact of gender; religion; whether or not nudity was bad… Strange things, really. One topic of discussion that was quite frequently raised was the concept of time and space, and over the last two days I have had moments of “Time is a weird thing.” Let’s discuss.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, France changed back into winter time. Before I went to sleep on Saturday night, I turned my clock back and instantly gained an hour! What surprised me was before I went to bed, I googled to see what time the the big all-knowing, official clock would actually change, and discovered that it depended entirely on what country I was in. There wasn’t a single hour where all clocks across Europe and America would shift. It was 3am for France and Germany but 1am for Greenland and some of Portugal. The rest of Portugal changed at 2am. Jordan changed their clocks last Friday. I then read a news article stating that Mr Cameron is contemplating setting Britain’s time to be the same as Central Europe. But England has Greenwich mean time! They can’t change! That would be weird because would Portugal and Spain change as well? How can humans fiddle with time so easily? I guess we invented the idea, so we can decide how it works.

We spent Sunday in a state similar to jet-lag. Now the sun is up at 7am (I could see where I was going this morning on my run) and it sets by 5.30pm. I wanted to eat dinner so much earlier than usual and I had to sit around and wait until it was an appropriate hour. By 4pm, it had started to get dark and I felt the urge to return home. Considering only a few weeks ago, we could sit outside in the sunshine until at least 8pm, this change is quite dramatic. My entire system is confused and I know it will take a few days to get back into a rhythm.

To push things even further, this time fluctuation has clearly played with my mind so much that not only did I gain an hour yesterday, but I appear to have gained a day today. I spent all of yesterday CERTAIN that it was the last day in October and that (Monday) would be the first day of November and I would therefore have to start writing my 50,000 words for Novel Writing Month. Not the case! The old 31st October has crept up on me and surprised me with ghouls and ghosts and pumpkins. Not that I mind. Any extra time is always welcome when long plane flights back to Perth are looming in the distance.

Autumn Colours

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Paris is well and truly in the midst of Autumn. The trees along the Seine are looking beautiful. It amazes me how colourful Autumn can be – in Australia everything just goes from brown to slightly browner.

Paris is Autumn

Colour.

Going Inside the Giant White Bubble

Friday, October 28th, 2011

For a few months I have wanted to go to an exhibition being held at the Institut du Monde Arabe. The glass fronted building of the institute is impressive in itself, however there has been a large white bubble-building in the front courtyard that has intrigued me. I finally got around to visiting the exhibition this week as it closes at the end of the month.

Institut du Monde Arabe

The wall of the Institut du Monde Arabe

The exhibition focuses on the work of Iraqi architect, Zaha Hadid, and is located inside a moveable building designed by Hadid herself. The building is organic in shape – like a freeform bubble – and has been designed to be moved and relocated as the exhibition moves between cities. The exhibition had already been shown in New York and Tokyo and yet the quality of the materials and the solidity of the building made it difficult to believe that it was transportable.

Zaha Hadid building

Amazing.

The exhibition itself was a bit disappointing. Its key focus was the way in which Hadid’s architectural firm is redesigning the concept of a skyscraper – turning it from being an individual entity that is designed to impress and stand out, to amalgamating towers into the surrounding landscapes to produce a more useable space. The exhibition had examples of the company’s work and highlighted some of the techniques used, however, like most ‘conceptual’ exhibitions, the audio guide merely prattled on about modernity concepts of space and how towers were symbols of power blah blah blah. While that is all very interesting and so forth, I didn’t come away feeling like I really knew what Hadid’s motivations were and how she managed to get from being a female in Iraq to running a multi-million dollar architectural firm in London. Plus the examples of her work were all current works that were either recently or near completion. I couldn’t gauge a sense of progress, development or future aspirations. Pity.

Luckily the building the exhibition was showcased in was so wonderful. It allowed for a very easy flow within the space and the exhibition was clearly designed to fit within the area. What was also interesting was that it was France-specific, with information about buildings that Hadid is designing in Marseille and Montpellier. Clearly as the exhibition moved between cities, the exhibits would change somewhat to highlight what was more relevant to that country.

We’re In!

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Great news, everyone! This evening I officially signed a contract to say that we have extended our stay at Les Récollets for another year. This is going to be the view from my window every morning until the beginning of 2013.

View from my window

Ain't it beautiful?

Now all I need is a visa… Santé! Pop the champagne, folks – time to celebrate! Big thanks to my friends who helped me throughout the extension process. You’ve made me a very happy girl.

One Canadian After Another

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

In the eight months that we have lived here, I have only met two of my next door neighbours, despite them changing on a fairly regular basis. For the last three months, Josh Schwebel, a conceptual artist from Montreal, was living next door and formed the best lunch club in the world with me. But then he left me.

Now there is a new Montrealian living next door – Julie Favreau, another artist who has come to Paris to work for three months. Julie managed to get free beer on her first visit to Café A (the café at Les Récollets) so I think she is a good person to hang out with. I like neighbours – particularly when they invite me into their significantly larger apartment.

The point of this entry is for you to go and check out their work because I think they are both cool people who have far more talent than me.

Chocolate Land

Monday, October 24th, 2011

We all know that if I was sentenced to death and I was allowed one final meal before my beheading, it would consist predominantly of chocolate. Chocolate cake, chocolate biscuits, chocolate sauce, chocolate ice cream, chocolate chocolate… I’d probably ask for muesli and yoghurt as well, and lots of really good cheese, but I would leave enough room to gorge myself on chocolate so that I ended up killing myself with cacao overload rather than having my head removed.

Somewhat unfortunately, I don’t think I will be committing any significant crimes any time soon so my last supper will have to wait. However, I came fairly close to chocolate death on Saturday afternoon when I attended the 2011 Salon du Chocolat with Tom and our friends Sonia and Guibril.

Salon du chocolat

The Salon du Chocolat awaits

Salon du Chocolat is French for ‘Insane Chocolate Fair’ – a large convention hall filled with row after row of stalls selling chocolate related goods. There were high-end chocolate craftsmen, international chocolate makers, bio/eco/organic brands, local chocolatiers, and a strange assortment of chocolate paraphernalia (jewellery in the shape of chocolates, cooking utensils etc.) This being France, there were also two or three stalls selling foie gras and adding chocolate sauce in order to make it theme appropriate.

Salon du chocolat arc de triomphe

Only Leonidas would make something as tacky as this

The main purpose of the Salon du Chocolat is for retailers to present their products and provide little samples that amaze and entice you, resulting in the purchase of more chocolate than you really need. As you can expect from a chocolate-related event held in Paris, it was very, very busy. There were human traffic jams as everyone fought their way to the next chocolate sample. Of course, we’re talking about FRENCH humans who are incapable of seeing other people and who merely barge their way through, stepping on your feet, walking into you and then blaming you for the collision. I think Sonia and Guibril found my intolerance for the crowds amusing as I would push my way through until I found an empty space and then rest there for a while, calming myself down before tackling another onslaught.

As for the chocolate, I wasn’t overly impressed. There were a LOT of stalls and we did sample a lot of chocolate, however none of it really blew me away. I was judging each chocolaterie on the quality of their plain dark chocolate and I can’t say I really liked any of them. I put this down to two factors:

  1. It was mostly French chocolate, which, in my opinion, isn’t the best in the world. The French are very good at putting chocolate INTO things, however their straight chocolate lacks substance and spark. The Belgians kick French butts at dark chocolate making.
  2. The chocolate that was available for sampling had been handled by so many people before I could put it in my mouth. Gross, but true. The teeny tiny pieces that were on offer had been sitting around in strange temperatures and then chopped up by someone wearing plastic gloves. It was hardly the best tasting conditions and the chocolate suffered for it.
Salon du chocolat chocolate

Lots of chocolate

I may have felt differently had I been allowed to taste entire pieces of chocolate. Some of it was really dreadful though. I had a few pieces that had the texture of soap or were gritty and appeared to be full of sand. Not pleasant at all. On the other hand, the higher-end chocolatiers had some amazing chocolates on display with intriguing fillings and beautiful designs.

I did sample one piece of chocolate that did make me very, very happy – it was a japanese chocolate company called Tokyo Chocolate and the chocolate looked like a bright green worm. It was green tea flavoured with a crunchy wafer on the inside, surrounded by dark chocolate. It was absolutely amazing. I stood there looking dumbfounded for a little while, hoping they would give me the entire bowl to finish. Sadly they didn’t. The other chocolates on offer from Tokyo Chocolate were beautiful – bright shiny surfaces and amazing intricate designs. I want to find out where I can buy their chocolates because green tea is good for you and so I should probably have some more.

For Tom, the highlight of the Salon du Chocolat was the alcohol companies that were also promoting their wares with free samples. The perfect accompaniment to chocolate – a glass of Baileys Irish Cream whizzed together with ice. We spent a fair amount of time standing next to the Baileys stand, taking turns to get more rounds. It made tackling the French human traffic jams more bearable.

Baileys at Salon du chocolat

Thank you, Baileys.

Overall, the Salon du Chocolat proposed the ultimate experience and I think if I had been more willing to buy, I could have gained more enjoyment from it. However, nothing enticed me enough to want to make a purchase, particularly considering I have a box of Willie’s Venezuelan 72% in my kitchen. Now THAT is a death-defying chocolate experience.