Archive for March, 2012

I Need a Holiday

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Gosh… living in Paris is TOUGH. I need a holiday. So I am catching a train to England tomorrow morning to visit my brother. Almost everyone in Paris who has heard of my up and coming travels has questioned my sanity and why on earth I would choose to go to England, land of bad food, socks with sandals, and POMS. Well,

  1. My brother lives there
  2. I think country England is actually quite pretty and the pollution in Paris is making me nauseous again
  3. My brother happens to be the second-biggest hunter of delicious foods in the world (after me).

So I don’t think it will be all bad, but I’ll let you know how I go. In case it is a complete flop, (it won’t be – I am, of course, super excited to see my big brother) the day after my return to Paris, we are heading into the mountains (I believe the Alps but Tom and I are currently having an argument about where exactly our friends are taking us) where we are guaranteed superb fondu, cheese and more cheese. It is moments like this that make me forget that I currently am at war with French bureaucracy and allow me to remember why I am fighting to stay in this country.

Green Fingers

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Look at what I grew!

Hyacinth

Hello.

Two weeks ago, I paid a visit to one of larger plant nurseries in Paris, Truffaut, and purchased a few green things for the apartment. This included a hyacinth bulb that had a small, green bud poking its head out of the leaves. This week exciting things happened and within a day it had transformed from green lumps to bright purple petals. It was truly amazing – I put it on my desk in front of me as I worked and over a two hour period it opened up. I have never stopped to watch plants grow – I should do it more often.

There is a second bud starting to form behind the leaves and I hope it doesn’t do too much over the next week while I am away visiting my brother in England. Unfortunately you can’t stop nature.

While at Truffaut I also bought two leafy green things for me and a cactus for Tom. They are both surviving and actually growing which is some sort of miracle as I have a tendency to kill plants.

Plant

Apparently this plant is dangerous to small children. I have left Magyver in charge.

Maiden hair fern

My maiden hair fern is so soft compared to Tom's spiky cactus.

Very Confusing.

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

There have been many moments during my time in Paris where I have felt the need to slap myself because that is the only way I could possibly come back to earth and be able to reassess what was happening. One of those moments is right NOW. Allow me to vent.

After having received my Visa to live in Paris for another year, I returned to France and then had to send another stack of paper into the immigration department. Despite fellow Visa-Applicants telling me that I wouldn’t hear back for months, I received a letter in the mail saying they had received my pieces of paper and that they may, or may not, contact me again. Excellent.

Yesterday I was having a really great day – the sun was shining, I had started a new sewing project, everything was oh-so-lovely. I then went to my local indoor markets to buy food for dinner where I am fairly certain the vegetable shop man cursed on me by trying to hit on me while selling me carrots. After he had asked me if I lived far from here and if I lived alone, I then quickly paid and returned home. Upon my return, I checked the mail and discovered two letters – one from Orange, my useless telephone company, and the other from the immigration department. Wow.

The Immigration department appear to be working in some sort of super-speed power drive because they had already set a date for me to go and have a medical examination, hand in more pieces of paper and be interviewed, and this date is next week. WHAT ON EARTH?! Since when did any sort of bureaucratic process in France happen so quickly? Anyway, the big problem is that I will be in England on the allocated date and therefore cannot have my lungs x-rayed. So today I rode down to the Immigration office to ask whether or not I could change the date.

The office has the appearance of a shelter or squat and is an old, dirty, concrete building that clearly no one cares about. Only foreigners have to go there so why invest money in it? The security man at the door did a thorough check of my bag before asking what I was needing. When I explained that I wanted to change the date of my appointment, he said I have to wait until AFTER my appointment to make a new date. I looked at him like he had just told me the Queen of England is really a man and questioned whether or not I would get in trouble if I didn’t turn up to my appointment. No, it’s fine. Right.

Most of my brain believes that there is no way this can really be true, but there’s part of me that realises I am in France and so there is a high probability something this strange could be the case. I have spent the afternoon trying to call the office and get a second opinion but no one is answering the phone. At first I thought it was just lunch time but now I am thinking it is an exceptionally long lunch. Oh, and their website isn’t working properly so I can’t look at that either. I love France.

A Week of Food Miracles

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

I don’t know what it is – maybe it is the arrival of Spring and the warmer temperatures. Maybe there is something in the water. Maybe there are some higher, more powerful beings at work. Whatever it is, I am, and will be, eternally grateful because this miracle worker has brought me two cuisines that in the past year of living in Paris I have missed greatly.

I’m certain that I have previously complained about the lack of decent Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean restaurants in Paris. Generally speaking they lack flavour, spice and/or have strange ingredients that only the French would use.

Dear France, Japanese food does NOT have cheese as a main ingredient. From Jess.

However, some sort of divine spirits (namely my friends Becky and Vivien) have led me to a Thai restaurant a mere 5 minute walk from my house that ticks every box in my “Thai food must include” rules. It is wonderful. A group of us ate there last night, sharing a tasting plate for entrée and then five main dishes. Each dish was flavoursome, hearty and exciting to the palate. One dish was beef with spicy sauce and wow, it actually was spicy! I even experienced a burning back-of-throat moment as a chilli flake got stuck on the way down. It was glorious. Another highlight was finally discovering pad thai that actually tasted like pad thai. A year’s worth of searching and finally!

The restaurant is owned by a lovely old Frenchman and his thai wife and has a very homely feel about it. It is hidden away in a side street so not many people have discovered it yet and it was therefore easy to get a table on a Saturday night. Hopefully enough people come and try it so that it didn’t close down within a few months, but at the same time I hope it stays a local hangout for Thai food lovers.

Miracle #2 happened last Thursday when Tom and I invited our friends Sonia and Guibril to try a new burger restaurant I had spotted near the canal, Le Mal Barré. I walk past it every day as I return home with my lunch time baguette and the menu has sparked my interest. Burgers with ingredients OTHER than plastic cheese and non-bacon bacon. What was this? We had to try.

Sonia and I were both undecided over the same two burgers so we decided to try both and share. A fabulous idea. The first was chicken with fig and spinach – very tasty and the fig was certainly a great addition. The second burger was chicken with avocado, sundried tomatoes and cantal cheese and was my favourite of the two. Both had juicy pieces of chicken and were really well cooked. The boys both went for the double steak burger – two beef patties with salad, tomato and onion and they both had huge grins as they munched away. Clearly impressed.

Chicken burger

Mmm... chicken burger.

The only downside of the burgers was the bread – why, oh why, do the French insist on using sweet, American-style burger buns when they make such amazing bread? When I suggested baguettes would be better to Sonia and Guibril, their French faces told me I had just uttered the worst possible sin – baguettes are baguettes, not burger buns. Sorry. But they did agree with me that the bread was too sweet.

The burgers were served with a side salad and homemade chips – big pieces of potato with the skin still attached. Now that’s a chip worth eating. The American theme of the restaurant continues in its dessert menu with your options being either cheese cake or cupcakes. I went for the ‘originale’ cheese cake and it was good! Apparently it is baked by an American so there aren’t too many French additives, other than a speculoos biscuit base. Very tasty.

Cheesecake

The presentation could do with some work but still tasty

So my week of food has been particularly wonderful, and the miracles continued today when I baked a banana cake that when I first put it in the oven it appeared to not want to rise but simply burn from the top down. But that Food God stepped in once again and my cake suddenly decided to rise and the end result is a rather delicious afternoon tea. Ahh food. How I love thee.

Spring Time in Paris

Sunday, March 25th, 2012

As I write this I am sitting next to my window, facing out into the park behind my apartment. I am sitting on my dining/work/extra-space table as it is the only thing in my apartment that puts me at a high enough level to look through the window properly. Today is too beautiful to not appreciate in its full extent.

It is Sunday afternoon and the first official day of Summer Time. Paris is alive. The park is full of families having picnics, children playing on the swings, old people sitting on benches watching others go by. There are also the occasional drug dealer and homeless person but everyone blends together.

Last night Europe moved its clocks forward an hour and there appears to have been an instant effect – people are wearing shorts and tshirts, the new leaves on the trees have burst out of their buds, and everyone is smiling. It is definitely contagious – the only thing keeping me inside is the banana bread that I just took out of the oven. After a slice of cake and a cup of tea, the Parisian sunshine and I are going to get acquainted.

Magnolia

The magnolia (I think that is what we decided it was last year) is back in bloom

A Little Bit of Paris

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

This is a beautiful video about the oldest piano store in Paris. Just glorious.

La Mer de Pianos from Films & Things on Vimeo.

Understanding Paris

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Last week I furthered my understanding of Paris by attending two events – an exhibition by illustrator and comic designer, Jean-Jacques Sempé, and a lecture about American artists in Paris in the time period between the two World Wars. Both provided an interesting insight into the development of Paris during the 20th century.

Sempé

The Sempé exhibition was held at the Hôtel de Ville and I had to elbow my way through the mass of people who had turned out to see it. Despite having been open for numerous weeks, there was still a huge interest in the works of the French illustrator. Sempé is known for his comic character, Petit Nicolas, and his representations of France as he provides a comical yet truthful view of la vie en France. The exhibition had a huge selection of his work and it clearly demonstrated the processes and time Sempé puts into his drawings before he is able to publish. It is sometimes relieving to see that it takes time and effort to get work published and that I have to put my head down and get some work done if I want to get anywhere with my writing.

Sempé

So French.

American Expats in Paris

My American friend, Greg, had a spare ticket to attend a lecture on the American expatriate artists and writers who arrived in Paris in the early 20th century. The talk was run by the Harvard Club of Paris and it wasn’t until the day of the lecture that I realised I was going to be hanging out with Harvard graduates. I put on my “I’m intelligent” shoes.

The talk was presented by a Harvard lecturer, Sue Weaver Schropf, and explored why so many artists and writers from America decided to move to Paris between 1913 and 1930 and what happened when they got here. There were many post-lecture discussions about Midnight in Paris as essentially the lecture covered the same time period, only with a better script and no terrible acting. Essentially, these artists were coming to find a place where they could work with other artists and not be restricted or controlled in the work that they were producing. It was a city of cultural and artistic development where ideas were flowing and it was ok to be different.

It was an interesting talk, although I would have liked it to have gone a bit deeper into modernist theory as I was craving a university level cultural studies class . Obviously time and audience-knowledge didn’t allow for it but the talk was still an interesting overview of that artistic movement.

What I really enjoyed about the evening was the room we were seated in and the Harvard graduates themselves. The room was beautiful – located in a building just off the Champs Élysée, it had a frescoed ceiling, big french windows and a view of the Grand Palais. Spectacular. Almost as spectacular were the egos sitting in the room.

Maybe I am jealous (I’m not), but it does seem that being a Harvard graduate is a very socially and economically important thing. I have only seen this sort of networking on television and I thought that that was where it belonged, but apparently it exists in the real world, too. After the lecture, the woman in charge of the evening thanked the speaker and then proceeded to make the claim that the only other place in the world where people are encouraged to come together and work and discuss and create amazing things is the Harvard campus. I almost laughed.

Then came the drinks and nibbles and the real networking began. I stuck to Greg like glue, not wanting to reveal my true identity incase I would be kicked out onto the street (nice street, though). However, we did begin talking to two men who were both very interested in my ‘escape to Paris’. I think the subject of the evening’s lecture helped as I am in a very teeny-tiny way following the steps of Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. I just need to start drinking more absinthe and hanging out with more prostitutes.

Anyway, as a result I have decided I need to read more books from that time period. Another thing to add to my to-do list.

So Beautiful

Monday, March 19th, 2012

I am in love.

With a dress. I ran past a photograph advertising this Chloé design on Saturday morning and had to stop and look closer. What a shame it costs over 2500 Euros and you need to look like these girls in order to wear it. Maybe I will just superimpose my head on them and pretend.

Chloé dress

So beautiful.

Left, Right, Left, Right

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

The weekend before I returned to Paris, my friend and running buddy, Becky, completed the Paris Half-Marathon. Impressive stuff, although her boyfriend, Vivien, a man who runs very infrequently, completed it too, which is potentially even more impressive, but I am on Becky’s team. Anyway, Becky is now in training for the full marathon – a decision that has made me question her sanity, but she is a neuroscientist so she must have a fairly functional brain.

She has been going on long runs and this week I put up my hand to accompany her on her Saturday morning death-jog. What can I say? It was early in the morning, I wasn’t fully awake and my brain was clearly in some sort of self-harm mode. So this morning, at 10am we met in the front courtyard, kitted out with water-bottle holding waist belts and GPS watches. We looked impressive.

I must say that the great thing about going for runs in Paris is that time and distance passes very easily due to all of the distractions. We spent most of the time either looking at beautiful buildings, pointing out newly blossoming trees, or dodging Parisians and dog poo. Constant distractions. We ran down to the Seine and then along towards the Eiffel Tower. By the time we had reached there, an hour and a half had passed and we were 13km from home. Time to turn around and go back.

Our total distance was over 23km and we ran for two and a half hours. Considering the longest I have run previously is about 15km I was extremely pleased. My knees are currently yelling at me and I want to go to sleep, but knowing I am capable of running those sorts of distances is very good for the old ego. If I have managed to recover from this run within the next week I might agree to go again on Becky’s next cross-city adventure.

Paris run

Look at us go!

Spring has Almost Sprung

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Paris is currently preparing itself for the arrival of Spring. Today was a particularly beautiful day with temperatures reaching a whole 11 degrees! It felt warmer though with the sun shining and people starting to remove layers of clothing. Tom and I made the most of the good weather by playing some table tennis on one of the tables next to the canal. As we arrived at our usual spot, one of the two tables was taken and the other was being guarded by a sunglass-ed man. He clearly wasn’t about to play table tennis so Tom and I took it and played a game with the guy sitting on the bench less than a metre away. At one point I took off my jacket and placed it on the bench next to him as it was the only clean surface available. He barely flinched. He eventually stood up and walked off, much to my relief as I was worried I was going to accidentally whack the ball into his face.

It wasn’t until Tom and I were heading home and we walked out of the park that I realised this guy wasn’t just a keen table tennis viewer. He hadn’t gone home, he was hanging around the park, still wearing his sunglasses and a very ‘natural’ look on his face. Our epic sporting feats had clearly disturbed his usual drug-selling techniques and we had infiltrated his zone. Clearly I am getting to know my neighbours better.

Meanwhile, you’ll be pleased to hear that I beat Tom in the first match, and he won the second. And we avoided hitting the ball into the canal.