October 23, 2007

Telemarketing, French style

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , at 9:52 am by Lauren

Grocery shopping can be the pits without a car. I knew this before I had a car, but when you don’t have something you make do without the comparison of what could have been. (Similarly, using a payphone was never annoying before I had a cell phone, and that was less than three years ago.) But now that I am in France, without a car, grocery shopping is not fun. Correction: the shopping, the array of foods (especially the giant mushrooms I found last week)…those things are great. Bringing the groceries home – that is what is not fun.

Fortunately, somebody tipped me off about Telemarket.fr, an online grocery vendor for Monoprix (similar to how Giant grocery stores have Peapod grocery delivery). Through her referral, we wielded a 30 euros off coupon, so Allen and I decided to do some damage (to our wallets). On Sunday night, we put together a large order of the heavy, unwieldy, and non-perishable things: Fanta Citron (yum!), milk (non-perishable in France), shampoo and soap, couscous, toilet paper, and more. This way I’ll only have to pick up weekly fresh items like meats, vegetables, and yogurt.

We strategically planned delivery for Tuesday morning between 9 and 11 am, so that I would get out of bed early. So this morning I woke up to the alarm (hallelujah!), showered, and waited for the delivery man. He came in the middle of the window and delivery went smoothly. He dropped off 7 boxes, gave me the order details, had me sign, and went on his way. I started ripping into boxes; everything seemed in order. Then I looked at the list of what I’d ordered and realized it wasn’t mine but a neighbor’s on the island. Oh well. I could check the list I had in my email. I continued to rip into the boxes until I got to the box marked 1, the cold items (my Gervita yogurt!!), and realized with dismay that it was not my box 1, but the box 1 of Turrel family elsewhere in the 4th arrondissement.

What to do? I weighed my options. I could call Telemarket.fr and have them take care of it. That would require some manoevering in French. Or, I could try to chase down the delivery truck on foot; I had two of its other delivery addresses, after all. Because my fear of speaking on the phone in French defies all logic, I decided that the only reasonable course of action was to try to follow the delivery truck myself.

I threw on a coat, grabbed the cold box, and scurried towards 68 rue St. Louis en L’Ile, two blocks away. When I got there, a delivery truck was out front. Could it be? But it wasn’t. I dropped the delivery slip in the mailbox; maybe he’d want it. I then rushed in the other direction, across the bridge towards the St. Paul metro. I’d vaguely fixed the location in my mind from a glance on Google Maps. I passed the metro, continued back into the maze of ancient streets, and found myself circling blocks searching for 7 rue Caron. I wondered if I should continue farther east, but decided not to waste any more time and headed home instead.

Once home, I looked up the number for Telemarket and tentatively dialed. A woman answered, and I explained what had happened (leaving out my wild goose chase). She asked for my client number. Um… For some reason I couldn’t find it. For one thing, the man hadn’t given me my own delivery slip with my order on it. I frantically looked online for it, and she said, “Okay, give me your name instead.” So I told her and started to spell it. Unfortunately, I’d hyphenated it, which I sometimes do if I think people will be confused by there being two names. The problem was, I don’t know how to say “hyphen” in French! I was explaining in nonsense, “It’s two names, but it’s connected, but I don’t know the name of the connection.” Finally, she took mercy and asked for my phone number, which I could give! She called the delivery man and confirmed that he would redeliver.

It’s exchanges like this that really make a person long for the familiar. Normally, I consider myself to be a perfectly competent person, but functioning in another language can be so difficult as to wear away at the confidence you need to keep to adequately continue to function in that language! Explaining myself on the phone to someone who is ultimately trying to help me is a very small thing, but think of Allen’s efforts at the French office every day. He is a very competent and hard worker, with specialized knowledge in the program they are implementing at the office. But there are times when the language limits or hinders his effectiveness. It is easy for me to understand how he would prefer to work in an English-speaking office (and thus leave the dream of living all over the world behind).

And there you have it. Musings on the mundane over a scrumptious yogurt that finally arrived.

October 19, 2007

Chateau de Vincennes and Parc Floral de Paris

Posted in Exploring tagged , , , , at 2:37 pm by Lauren

Let me continue the certain-to-be-annoying trend of posting things out of order and tell you about Sunday’s excursion to the outskirts of Paris. After several weeks of talking about it, Allen and I finally got out of the house on a weekend to visit the Chateau de Vincennes. This castle is at the end of the metro line that Allen usually takes to work, and it was a short ride from our house. It sits at the edge of the Forest of Vincennes, so we made a day out of exploring the area (with the help of one of our City Walks cards).

When you exit the metro, the castle rears up in front of you. It is a surreal experience to walk up the metro stairs and be faced with a medieval castle. The building is a patchwork of construction dating back to the 12th century. It has a 12th century keep, a 14th century wall and moat around that, and then several buildings added by Louis the Umpteenth. We walked through and took some pictures of the spectacular cathedral. Unfortunately the pictures we took are not nearly as spectacular as the actual site; it was difficult to capture the effect of the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows on both sides.

Upon exiting the far side of the castle, we wandered into the Parc Floral de Paris. Normally there is a charge to visit this botanical garden, but the booths were empty and the gates open, so we walked right in. The park had an interesting layout, with an aquatic garden, an ampitheater, several small restaurants, two bonsai pavillions, a playground, and a few more traditional arrangements of flowers grown in neatly tended beds. I particularly enjoyed the bonsai area and several beds of wildly blooming flowers whose name I unfortunately do not recall.

After the Parc Floral (once we found our way out!), we walked on a wooded (but paved) bike path towards a lake in the Bois de Vincennes. At the lake, we responded to our growling stomachs with “saucisse frites” which roughly translates to “two floppy hot dogs sitting on top of an order of fries.” We also enjoyed a Coca Cola, for just 2 euros and 50 centimes. For those of you quick with the math, you’ve already figured out that this is about $3.50 for a can of coke. (A CAN.) We shared.

The lake sported a black swan, several peaceful ducks and geese, the one overpriced food stand (but it’s all overpriced when you’re converting from dollars), and rental rowboats. We had been walking for several hours by this point and weren’t up to renting a rowboat but may return in the future. We took another wooded path back to the metro, looking out for bikers, and headed home. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as a tourist excursion, but as a lazy Sunday afternoon walk, it was very nice.

Paris en greve! or Let’s strike for the long weekend…

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:20 pm by Lauren

Transportation workers began an “unlimited” strike in Paris yesterday (Thursday, Oct. 18). I’m not really sure what their demands are because, as most of you know, I live in my own bubble and ignore the news. What I do know: they are not happy. And they are on strike.

Prior to the strike, there was a lot of rumbling around Paris about how long it would last, with reminiscence of the strike of 1995, which lasted three weeks in December. People rode the bikes, walked, got to work however they could, with employers telling them to just come when they could. Popular support for the strike seemed to be low, particularly because it would inconvenience just about every last Parisien.

So, what happened? Well, yesterday (Thursday), Allen worked from home. Only the metro line 14 was running normally because it is a fully automated line. By late last night, two of the lines had 1 in 3 trains and 1 in 6 trains running respectively. Buses and RER service were at a halt.

I walked to my English lesson yesterday, as I always do, so the strike did not disrupt my day. I didn’t see a single bus while I was out, though I did see some taxis. I’m not sure if the taxis were involved or not. I was interested to see the sheer number of people on bicycles. I’m certain that Velib, a bike sharing program recently instituted in Paris, had their biggest day yet! (Velib has bicycles stationed all over the city, and users go up to an automated rental meter (like the Pay-to-Park meters in Arlington and DC) and check out a bike. They pay based on the length they have the bike out, and you can return it anywhere else in the city that has the Velib stations.) Every Velib station I passed either had no bikes or had a few lucky people checking out the last bikes available. I was also interested to see many people rollerblading or riding scooters. (Yes, grown men and women scooting around!)

After English lessons, with the parents only being a few minutes late because of the strike (good for them – one of them actually found a bus that was running), I walked back home amidst the bikes, inconvenienced tourists, scooters, and rollerbladers. I noticed a few stores that had preemptively closed for the day because of the strike.

Today (Friday), Allen had to go to work because his team had an audit planned for the day. When he was plotting his course last night, only a few metro lines were running (and not his usual RER train). It looked like he would have to take the line 14 as far as he could go and then walk over 3 miles. (And of course the same in reverse after work.) Fortunately, when he rose early this morning the line 8 was running (though it only had 1 in 3 or 4 trains coming), and despite that it was sure to be crowded and delayed, this metro goes to within half a mile of his office. He has yet to return home and update me on the horrors. (I hate a crowded metro ever since I almost passed out on one once.) This is Lauren, from Armchair News, signing off on the Paris strike!

Mr. Smith goes to Paris

Posted in Visitors at 2:02 pm by Lauren

With Allen’s parents in St. John all summer, before Friday we hadn’t spoken to them since before Allen left for France. We knew Allen’s dad was visiting in October sometime (or we thought we remembered that we knew), but we had no idea when. But when Allen called his mom on Friday, it turned out his dad was coming this week!

The French couple I wrote about in my “Friend Audition” post had invited us to their place for dinner for Monday, but we cancelled because we wanted to be sure we’d be able to see Allen’s dad when he came. We worried that our reasons for cancelling didn’t sound very plausible, but they were true. (You know: what do you mean you had no idea when your dad was visiting Paris?) They very graciously rescheduled, and on Monday night Allen, his dad, and I went out to dinner at a little Italian place Allen found.

The Italian restaurant is a short walk from our place, and I think Allen is developing an addiction to their lasagna. At least, it is the type of place where you try something once, and it is so good that you can’t help but order it the next several times you visit. Allen’s Achilles heel is the meat lasagna, a large cut of the traditional dish that is just packed with meat and swimming in sauce. It comes with an appetizing and fresh green salad, garnished with cherry tomatoes, black olives, and a ball of fresh mozzarella. The first time Allen and I visited, I had the lasagne du jour, which was salmon lasagna and was impressed at just how much salmon there was within! (Salmon seems to be much more of a commonplace food in France, and much less of a luxury, which is how I tend to view it in the U.S.)

Monday night, Allen ordered (you guessed it!) the meat lasagna again, and so did his dad. I opted for a gorgonzola ravioli, which came out as little purses of pasta twisted closed around balls of gorgonzola. Delicious! We got the update on the house in St. John (finished and ready for rental!), Allen’s mom (she’s in a program to be a curator at the National Gallery of Art), and his dad’s business in Paris. We also pulled out a map so that Allen’s dad could remind him of the places they used to frequent when they lived in Paris during Allen’s childhood, and now Allen and I have a few more places on our list of things to see and do in Paris.

We parted ways to let Allen’s dad try to sleep off some of the jet lag before his conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see him again before he left. We had planned on having him over on Wednesday after his conference, but Allen got wind that the transportation strike was going to start earlier than we’d thought, at 8 pm Wednesday night, and we didn’t want to take any chances that his dad would get stuck away from his hotel. Now we’re crossing fingers until we get word that he’s arrived back in the US without any problems from the strike!

October 14, 2007

Noctilien – Nighttime transport in the city of lights

Posted in Babysitting, Exploring tagged , , , at 7:04 pm by Lauren

This is the type of story my mother will hate to hear. So I’ll just start this by saying, “Sorry, Mom.”

Last night I got a closer look at getting around Paris at night, after I finished babysitting in Montmartre (18th arrondissement) and began to find my way back to Ile St. Louis (4th arrondissement). I had a wonderful babysitting job this Friday and Saturday night, with a couple of fun New Zealander families in town from London for the weekend. They were very kind and generous, to the point of paying for my taxi fare home afterwards.

On Friday night, the streets were full of people, so rather than calling a cab to the apartment, I walked out to the main intersection and flagged a taxi down there. It took between five and ten minutes, and there were people all around, so I felt very safe.

On Saturday night, I seemed to be competing with every other breathing being in Paris to find a cab. Luckily, I had informed myself, and I knew I could take the N14 bus almost back to my apartment. So I set out to the street (comfortable with how easily it had gone the night before and armed with backup info). The first N14 was passing as I arrived at the major intersection, so I decided I’d go farther down the street in the direction of my place, looking for a taxi on the way to the next bus stop. I reasoned that it would be easier to find a cab when there weren’t competitors at every corner.

About a block down the road, I already regretted my decision a little because there were fewer people on the street, but I like to look purposeful when I’m walking, especially at night, so I continued in the direction of the next bus stop and home. Before I got there, I found another busy intersection and stopped to try to flag a cab again. After about five minutes, it seemed I’d hit the jackpot: an empty taxi pulled up right in front of me! But as quickly as I got my hopes up, I lost them as the woman who had flagged the cab ran up to its door. “Go ahead,” I said in French; I had noticed her as I passed the corner she was on.

At that moment, a man ran up to the cab too and slowed when he saw it was taken. He asked me if I was waiting for a cab too and what arrondissement I was headed to. I said 4th, and he said 20th; we couldn’t share. Happy to be standing with somebody (after assessing the situation and deciding he wasn’t dangerous or a mugger’s decoy), we talked a little as we watched the filled cabs drive by. He tipped me off to how to tell if the taxi was already taken (I’d been flagging them all). It turns out that his company is sending him to Columbia, Maryland in a year, and so he asked me a little bit about it as a friend of his had told him there wasn’t really much of a nightlife there. I don’t know a lot about Columbia, but I told him a bit about DC since it’s not too far.

Glad as I was to have some company (remembering a girl I met in my freshman year of college one night – she walked up to me on the street and said, “My mom told me nobody should ever walk alone at night, so do you want to walk where we’re going together?”), the taxi situation wasn’t getting any better, and I wasn’t yet at the next bus stop. I had really preferred to take a taxi – because I’d been paid taxi fare, and because I’d get home faster and delivered to my door – but at this point, I was also just ready to be moving in the right direction! So I left the guy at that corner and continued a few blocks down to the next N14 bus stop. I checked the schedule: about ten minutes to wait.

Suddenly, I was surrounded by people, which is something I don’t appreciate in an unfamiliar area at night. It turned out to be two couples, a bit drunk, and clearly English speaking. One woman walked up to me and attempted to ask directions in “French,” saying, “Saynt Germayn day pray?” I answered in English, “I’m not sure if the bus goes there, but it does go to Chatelet, if that helps. Where exactly are you going?” The other woman said, “The Marais.” (This confused me. St. Germain des Pres and Le Marais are not in the same place.) I told her that was walkable from Chatelet, and the women started telling the guys, “This lady’s going to Chatelet!” in voices just loud enough to betray how many drinks they’d had. And thus I gained my next nighttime traveling companions.

We boarded the bus together, and I found out they were from Australia. They’d watched the rugby game that night. (England beat France, knocking them out of competition for the Rugby World Cup, which is in France this year; this is a particular pity because France had beat New Zealand’s All Blacks, who were the favorites for the World Cup. I bet you had no idea I knew so much about rugby…) They appointed me their tour guide, and we figured out where the St. Germain des Pres couple needed to get off the bus. I got off the bus at Chatelet with the other couple who was headed to their hotel in Le Marais, and I walked them down Rue de Rivoli past the Hotel de Ville. (As we passed signs for the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) on the bus, they got very excited, “Hotel de Vull! Hotel de Vull! That’s right near our hotel. Hotel de Vull is this really famous hotel in Paris…”) But again it was nice to have someone to walk with (even though I don’t particularly want everyone to know I’m a foreigner, particularly at night). I left them near their hotel and continued on the short path to Ile St. Louis and home.

A few minutes walk later, with a final obstacle course up our pitch black dark spiral staircase (I like to call it the Tactile Dome, after a San Francisco attraction that you navigate by feel.), I was able to crawl into bed and – finally – sleep. Good night, Paris. Good night, bus. Good night, Australians, and good night fuss. Good night taxis without any space. Good night, Hotel de Ville. Good night, mace.

October 12, 2007

The first day – or should I say week? – of Christmas!

Posted in Cross Stitching tagged , , , at 2:48 pm by Lauren

Christmas is coming!

Okay, it’s just October. But if you haven’t started your Christmas cross stitch projects before October, you’re doomed, and you’re really working on finishing them for the next Christmas. So, as far as cross stitch is concerned, Christmas is coming!

This year, I’m working on a project that I bought too late last year to start in time for last Christmas. It’s a Prairie Schooler design of the 12 Days of Christmas, with a Santa and a depiction of the gifts of the day on each separate piece. I plan to make them into ornaments. I’ve finished the first day of Christmas, but it took me a week, hence the title. At this rate, I’m not going to be done with all 12 in time for Christmas. (See, you have to start early.) I’m more than halfway through the second one. I’m finding the colors very interesting because I didn’t think I’d like some of the combinations when I bought the threads, but they seem to work together and come off as very bold.

Without further ado, let me present the First Day of Christmas a la Prairie Schooler!

First Day of Christmas

My “typical” walk through Paris to English lessons

Posted in Exploring at 12:30 pm by Lauren

Yesterday on my way home from my second English lesson, I thought about how I should really bring a camera on my walk to and from the lessons. But for now, I’ll just verbally walk you along my route and the sites I pass along my way.

The walk is slightly over two miles, and it starts at Ile St. Louis in the 4th arrondissement and ends in the 15th arrondissement near Montparnasse. I first head across the Pont de la Tournelle to cross the Seine, looking right for a lovely view of Notre Dame’s flying buttresses (now I’m an architect apparently – I think that’s what they are). Once across the bridge, I continue one block until I reach Boulevard St. Germain, where I take a right. In no time at all, I’m passing the building where I babysit evenings. When I pass Square de Cluny on the left (along with the Museum of the Middle Ages inside the old monastery of Cluny), I take a left onto Blvd St. Michel, which brings me past the Sorbonne. That’s where I take a right onto Rue de Vaugirard to continue towards the Jardin de Luxembourg, the Senate building (Palais de Luxembourg) and the Musee de Luxembourg. After the Jardin de Luxembourg the walk loses some of its charm for a several blocks until I hit a major intersection with a distant view of the Eiffel Tower to the right. Two days a week, I’m seeing the sights of Paris and feeling the burn on one of the more interesting two mile stretches in Paris! (On the other hand, I suspect I could plot a two mile course in about any direction from where I am in Paris, and I’d hit several historic spots along its way too!)

You can see my route with Google pedometer at this link: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=1384936.

On the way home, just before sunset, my walk gets an additional perk. I get to watch the uniformed guards at the Jardin de Luxembourg close down the park for the day. They leave the gates open so that people can get out, but they have to make sure no one new comes in. So they stand at the door and, without speaking, use their bodies to block people from walking in to the park. Both days I’ve come back from English lessons so far, I’ve watched the guards silently move in front of people to block their way. It’s very confusing for the people trying to get in the park, and very comical for me. Bonus!

No such thing as a free lunch?

Posted in Working at 10:51 am by Lauren

Now that I’m no longer working with Allen, there is one thing I am really missing. (Eh hem, that is, besides you, Allen.) What I am really having a hard time living without these days are those free lunches in the office cafeteria. Right now, at 12:30 on a Friday, I am pouring myself a bowl of Fitness cereal (a health cereal with actual flakes dipped/covered in actual chocolate…but that’s another story). If I were at work with Allen, I’d instead by lining up in the cafeteria, taking a tray and a roll, choosing three items with difficulty among the many desserts and sides, then choosing the main dish which also included one or two sides. To finish it off, cold, sweet, cold water, which is a luxury to me these days.

For the sake of making myself drool into my cereal, I will give you a few examples of delicious meals I have had at the hands of the French cafeteria workers.

Some desserts I have enjoyed: fresh pineapple (a quarter of the pineapple, still in the rind), fresh mango, various yogurts and puddings, pain perdu (leftover rolls cut in half and cooked in a simple syrup with a smattering of sugar on top), Paris-Brest pastries, chocolate eclairs, hazelnut cream with a pirouette.

The small side dishes defy explanation because I just don’t know what to call them or what they are. Some identifiable ones have included some kind of cold soup (cucumber?) with smoked salmon, various pates with toast, dry salami, pickled beets (beeeeeeets!!!), a whole tomato with mozzarella slices wedged into slices in the tomato (!), and various salads.

Lastly, the entree bar, where it was quite common to see salmon (and many other fishes), lamb, and veal mixed in with the chicken, beef, and pork. Allen and I really liked a lamb and couscous dish. A stuffed veal entree was pretty good as well (until I got sick about looking at the meat because I’d been listening to Peter, Bjorn, and John who sing, “flesh is flesh, flesh is flesh is flesh,” and sometimes I just can’t think about “flesh” while I’m eating it). One day I enjoyed a salmon stuffed crepe. Probably my favorite two dishes were a pork tenderloin dish with a wine sauce (similar to a pork dish that my brother-in-law Ryan makes), and a moist orange-infused chicken breast.

 And now, to the weight loss in France update. Not! So, back to my Fitness cereal. 😉  

Au boulot – on the job with Allen

Posted in Working at 10:27 am by Lauren

Part of the reason I’ve been a little incommunicado since arriving in France is that before coming over, Allen’s boss secured me a job for three weeks at Allen’s office. They needed someone to help do their dirty (more accurately, dusty) work up in the archives, and my situation was perfect for it for a couple of reasons. I speak French well enough that Allen doesn’t have to translate instructions (which is what he had to do when some English-speaking employees were visiting), and I’m a lot cheaper to employ (as an old boss of mine would say) because they wouldn’t have to pay for my airfare, lodging, and per diem. So I got the job!

It wasn’t glamorous work (but it’s not as if I thought I was signing on to draft a peace accord in the Middle East or anything). Put on a white “bluse” or lab coat, go upstairs to the dusty, dusty archives, and pour through boxes that are improperly archived. The most interesting work was doing inventories with Allen because in those cases I had somebody to talk to. But a full week of my time was spent “reconditioning” files. 

“Reconditioning” just means taking improperly archived files and properly archiving them. How, you ask, does one properly archive a file? Well, you go through every last solitary paper in the box, remove all paperclips and other metal (hallelujah, we got to leave the staples in), take papers out of plastic or colored paper folders, replace folders with folded white pieces of paper, label those new “folders” in pencil (not pen!), and label the box. The “best” part was taking the papers out of plastic folders. Apparently if you leave plastic and paper in a box long enough, the ink from the paper will fuse to the plastic. I’m not a chemist, in case this precise scientific explanation confuses you to think otherwise. Not only will the plastic affect the first page, but the second, third, fourth, and twentieth pages will all stick to the one before them in the pile. It makes a lovely noise when you pull them apart, trying to make sure everything’s still readable. Sadly, for all of the boxes that I archived, there are probably ten that won’t be addressed because of time constraints, and in ten years all of the paper will be inextricably stuck together. Fortunately, part of Allen’s team’s job this year is teaching people how to archive properly from the start.

Another task I took on at Allen’s job was copying the number and date of memos onto paper folders. (Note: we do have archival folders in the United States, yes? Why do they not use folders here? Personally folding the paper actually takes some time. And then there’s no tab, so you have to pull out everything in the box to find what you’re looking for.) So, I’d take the 11 X 17 equivalent paper, fold it in half, and then put a memo into it, copying the number and date onto the paper folder. Doing this meant scanning the memo itself for information, which is where I learned the French word for guinea pig (cobaye). I also got to scan memo after memo about precisely how much of a specific chemical compound would give a mouse/rat/beagle/rabbit/guinea pig seizures/foaming at the mouth/lethargy/spontaneous death. (PS to the chemists out there: giving an animal a drug until it dies does not count as “spontaneous” death.)

So, now you know where I’ve been. The upside to all of this is, 1) I got paid (actually, come to think of it, I haven’t gotten paid yet; maybe this week?), 2) I got to spend every waking moment with Allen (no really, every last waking moment – and we didn’t kill each other!), and 3) the free lunches. Oh yes, and I got to practice my French: Apres administration de 50ml, on a observe la mort spontanee chez le cobaye. 

October 10, 2007

Sunday in the provinces

Posted in Exploring tagged , , at 3:17 pm by Lauren

Actually, we didn’t leave Paris last Sunday, but we did set off in search of a street fair celebrating the culture of the people of Aveyron, a southern province of France (just north of where Montpellier is!). Allen and I have decided that anything within about two miles – oh, forget it, just anything within Paris! – is considered “walking distance.” So we set off on foot to Bercy, which used to be its own town, but is now the farther end of the 12th arrondissement.

We expected it to be about 50 degrees because that’s what the thermometer told us it was in the courtyard, but apparently our courtyard is an icebox because it must have been 20 or more degrees hotter in the sun. This was fine for me because I’d just worn a jacket over a t-shirt, but I was feeling bad for Allen who’d worn a sweater, and we tried to stick to the shaded sidewalks. Unfortunately this meant we didn’t get to walk right along the Seine, but we did avoid some of the rollerbladers and cyclists by sticking to the higher ground.

In addition to our goal of finding the Aveyron festival, we brought with us one of our City Walks cards from a set given to us by one of our cat-sitting clients. The set contains 50 walks both on and off the beaten trails of Paris, and we’ve made it our goal to do all 50 during our stay here. Some of you have heard me talking about needing structure before, and if you’re wondering, yes, it does apply to seeing the sites of Paris as well. This one promised a walk through two of former president Mitterrand’s grands projets (big projects, haha), but we actually skipped crossing the river to walk through his namesake library. In hindsight, that may have been a mistake because what we saw of the other grand projet, the Parc de Bercy, was quite impressive.

After 30 minutes of walking or more, we came upon the Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy (or some combination of those words), which was a sports dome that had grass growing up every outer wall! Slightly less fascinating, but still noteworthy is that it contains some type of skating rink. I’ve filed that fact away. The dome was at the closer end of the Parc de Bercy, so we snuck in through some side gate. The park was easily longer than a football field, and it was filled with ponds, streams (canals, I should say), play areas, gardens, benches, a skate park, and various park buildings. It went on and on, even spanning a major street with two sloping bridges. People filled the park, walking, playing sports, enjoying time with kids, drinking wine… There were even people taking advantage of – wait for it – wifi hotspots in the park! I have never in America seen free wifi hotspots in a public park, but we need to get on that NOW! Once we’d made our way through the entirety of the park, we came to Bercy Village, a quaint shopping center filled with cafes and stores (mostly chains) built into the former skeleton of a winery storage. Even Sephora took on an old world air to it under those domed brick arches. Again, people spilled everywhere, filling cafe tables that lined the walkway between the shops. Continuing on, we saw a museum of carnival and fair equipment, which unfortunately was closed.

We came upon a little hitch at this point because we couldn’t seem to find the streets that had the Aveyron festival. We checked a map, but it wasn’t detailed enough. We wandered around some streets where it definitely wasn’t. Then, by chance, we wandered up a street to the right of the park (getting ready to head back, actually, though I regretted going back knowing we were really, really close!). We head some singing, and turned to see people in traditional costumes doing a dance. Hooray! We hurried into the throng. (Let me be clear: not to dance.)

Once we were among the boothes though, I actually became overwhelmed. People were just charging up to the booths and buying this and that, as if they knew which was the perfect pate or what that pastry actually was! Allen and I walked through the whole fair first to see what was there. What we saw were mostly sausages (including wild boar sausages and pates), pates, breads, wines, Roquefort cheese (ah!), olive and nut oils, and jams or sauces. I saw a beautiful imperfectly formed ceramic plate with a green glaze and a cardabelle etched right in the center. (If only it hadn’t been 50 euros!) For those of you who don’t know, a cardabelle is a thorny plant that looks like an evil dried up flower, and people in the south of France consider them good luck and hang them over their doorways.

Once we’d taken a look at everything, Allen and I set to sampling and purchasing a few things to try. First we choose fouace, which is a dessert bread with sugar on top and a hint of anise. We tried some jams (but Allen, who is the jam lover of the two of us, didn’t feel they lived up to the high price), and we sampled some pate. We noticed that everyone was carrying or eating plastic containers of a yellowy substance that looked like it had the consistency of cream cheese or pudding. Upon further investigation, we learned that it was called aligot, and a jolly old French man in traditional garb told me that it was made from potatoes, cheese, butter, creme fraiche, salt, and pepper – and just as much cheese as there is potatoes. Allen and I ordered a container of it and a sausage for good measure. We took it on the road, and also grabbed a piece of gallette a la broche on our way out, which is a cake made by dripping batter all over a paper cone on a spit and turning it slowly while continuing to cook on layer after layer of batter. We ate the gallette a la broche first; it was sweet and dense like shortbread. Then we moved on to the sausage, which was still almost too hot to eat. It was delicious, and I’d have been happy bringing ten more of them home! (Good thing we waited until we left!) It was moist and meaty and perfectly grilled.

Then we determined to stick our fingers in the aligot, and we got the best surprise yet! Aligot is apparently the most delicious form of cheesy garlic mashed potatoes ever made. Remember: just as much cheese as potato! Wow! We dug at it with our fingers for a while as we walked and then saved the rest until we got home (when we promptly devoured it without even bothering to heat it up). I’ve already found a recipe online, and I’m ready to try to make it on my own!

Altogether, Sunday was an extremely successful day between several hours of walking, the discovery of aligot, and some lovely Parisian scenery that’s closer than we would have thought!

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