February 29, 2008

Do you walk on grates?

Posted in Daily life, Les français tagged , , at 11:58 pm by Lauren

Since moving to Paris, I’ve noticed that French people will go out of their way to walk around grates in the ground. There are large blocks of grates, and some of the spaces under them are quite deep. Now, I understand not walking on a grate if you’re wearing high heels, but do the French have some other reason to avoid grates?

I usually walk right over grates, except when I’m wearing heels, which is approximately never. Walking home today near the Port de Plaisance in the 12th, I was shivering in the cold as I approached a grate that was emitting a warm wind. I brightened at the thought of walking over a warm grate, so I was looking at the grate as I approached. And BAM! That grate stopped me in my tracks because there was lighting down below, and I could see just how deep it was. I had to remind myself to start moving again, but the experience definitely made my heart beat faster.

Do you walk on grates? If not, why not? Fear of heights? Superstition? Love of stillettos?

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The 366th day

Posted in Daily life tagged at 9:00 pm by Lauren

Welcome to Leap Day! I didn’t do anything exciting today. Cereal and yogurt for brunch, babysitting from 3 to 6 pm, feuillette chevre epinard (spinach and goat cheese pastry) and strawberry tart for dinner, and babysitting again at 7 pm. Wow. Fascinating way to spend any day.

But the reason I even bring it up is that someone asked on a forum I participate in how people were planning on spending their “extra day.” I hadn’t thought of it like that. To me, February 29 would just be a Friday like any other. And that is how it has worked out. But maybe I should keep in mind that this year has 366 days and plan something special when I otherwise wouldn’t. Shouldn’t we all take advantage of the time that we’re given?

So, how did you spend your Leap Day? Did anyone do anything particular in recognition of this “extra day”?

February 28, 2008

Guest post: Train troubles

Posted in Daily life, Les français tagged , , , , at 6:28 pm by Lauren

Today Chez Schmanz has a guest post from someone who’s having a very different experience in France than I am: my husband. He sent me this story by email this morning, and I thanked my lucky stars that I don’t have to actually commute. So, without further adieu, here’s Allen’s story.

“I got to the train station around 7:45 am and heard an anouncement that a TGV broke down at Maisons-Alfort and none of the trains outbound would stop there or any of the next four stops. The announcement continued, saying that if you needed to get to any of those stations, you should take the train to the next station (six stops outside Paris) and switch to an inbound train. So, I followed the advice of the RATP and got on the next train. I got off at the next station, Villeneuve St George, and then crawled through the herds of people waiting for an inbound train. I managed to squeeze on the HIVA going into Paris only to watch helplessly as Le Vert de Maison flurried by the window. It is then that I discovered that the inbound trains were also not stopping at any of those stations and ended up right back in Gare de Lyon. I would say “ended up at Gare de Lyon without any hair” but I had not ripped it all out…yet.

“After some reflection about whether I was maybe still asleep and having a bad dream, or maybe had died in my sleep and gone to the Parisian train station version of hell, I went back to the platform where I had started 45 minutes earlier and waited for the next train.
By that point, the TGV had been moved out of the way and the trains were stopping at all the stations again. After some not-so-nice words to describe what RATP could do with their “conseil” that had me in Villeneuve, I got on the train and managed to get into the office around 9:30–two hours after I left the apt. To make matters worse, Daniele [Allen’s boss] arrived at Gare de Lyon around 8:30, about 20 minutes after I had mounted the train to Villeneuve and got into the office without the slightest problem.  In fact, she thought I had just slept in. Sometimes you just have to throw up your hands and give in to the insanity…or go to Malta and not think about work and France for a week.”

You’ve got to love French transportation. Anybody else have bad commute stories?

Customer service at AT&T (Cingular) Wireless

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , at 12:38 am by Lauren

Ask me why I’m writing a blog post about Cingular when I have been living in France for five months. No, really, go ahead. Ask me if I didn’t close out my Cingular account when I left in September.

Thanks for asking. I DID in fact close my Cingular account. I called and asked for both phones to be cancelled on September 14. La di da, boarded a plane and never looked back.

Until December. In December I got back to the States to pick up my visa and found a notice from Cingular in the mail. (I assumed it was a note to say the account had been closed.) It was an overdue notice saying we owed over $100. Now, I could understand if somehow I owed more money for the last month I was in town (though why I wouldn’t have known sooner, I don’t know), but how could I possibly owe over $100 more to Cingular?

Let me tell you. Cingular only closed one of the phone lines on our family account. So while I was eating baguettes, Cingular Wireless was charging me for a phone line that I wasn’t using in a country I wasn’t in. So, I called them, and I explained their mistake. After a little bit of bouncing from department to department, a customer service representative credited the account for the additional months, and I paid $58.71 to close out the account for good. Zero balance.

But that was December? Why am I writing about this in the end of February? You’re an intelligent reader – you’ve guessed by now that they didn’t close the account. Except apparently they did, but not before charging me for another month. And sending the overdue balance to collections in the meantime. Thank you so much, Cingular Wireless. Worst customer service ever.*

This evening I spent about an hour on the phone with Cingular – long distance from France, mind you, and they don’t need to know that I pay pennies for hours of conversation and listening to the advertisements while on hold – and the customer care and receivables departments (the latter deals with the collection agencies) were able to close out my account and zero the balance for good. (Haha, did I just say “for good”?) Let’s all hope I’m not blogging about Cingular/AT&T Wireless again in May.

*For the record, it does have a rival for the moniker of worst customer service ever. Comcast did a number on us a few years ago when we moved out of Arlington. We paid the final bill, returned all the equipment, and thought we were finished with them. Two months later, without ever any sort of contact (though we’d left a forwarding address), we receive word that Comcast has reported us to a collections agency. I have to call Comcast to find out what we supposedly owed them. And do you know what we owed them? My modem. That’s right. They wanted us to return my personal modem that I had purchased from Amazon. That was a marathon set of phone calls with Comcast, with appropriate indignation that the first I was hearing of it was when I found out Comcast had reported us to collections. And didn’t they think it was odd that my account said “customer modem” on it and had no modem rental charge? Well, they did, but they couldn’t clear the account unless I proved I owned the modem. I had to prove I owned the modem I had purchased four years before. Fortunately Amazon.com orders can be researched and receipts printed for perpetuity. I had to fax Comcast a four-year-old receipt for them to call off the collections agencies. So you decide – does Comcast or Cingular have the worst customer service? I suppose I should order another credit report now…

No day of rest this Sunday

Posted in Exploring, TV and movies, Visitors tagged , , , , at 12:35 am by Lauren

Sunday was Elizabeth’s last day in Paris, and we had the better part of the afternoon (and of course, all of the morning, though I’m not one to take advantage of the morning hours) in which to see more of the city. It seems like there’s always something new to see. We are truly resident tourists here.

We all wanted to see the movie Paris, that just came out last week. It is Cedric Klapisch’s latest film – you might know L’Auberge Espanole or its quasi-sequel Les Poupees Russes. It stars (among several others) Juliette Binoche and Romain Duris (the leading actor in the two other movies I just mentioned). So we planned ahead and arrived at Odeon for a 11 am showing. I really enjoyed the movie and understood most of it. It followed the lives of several interconnected people in Paris.

After the movie, we grabbed paninis next door and ate them on a bench. Then we headed over to Laduree for macarons. We munched our macarons and did a City Walk that led us down Rue de Buci and then down Rue Saint Andre des Arts to Saint Michel. It was a short one, but in a very picturesque part of the city.

We dropped by the house and picked up Elizabeth’s bag, then walked to the 12th to wait for her train, which involved stopping at an outdoor cafe. We tried Les Artisans on Avenue Daumesnil, which is near one of my babysitting gigs and has great colors. I got a kir, which was a bit too sweet, Allen got a noisette (expresso with milk), and Elizabeth got a Perrier with mint syrup. It was nice to just sit outdoors for a while and watch the world go by. Then we dropped Elizabeth off at the train station, saying goodbye for a few months at least.

February 27, 2008

You want French food? A.O.C.’s the real thing.

Posted in Food, Visitors tagged , , , , at 2:07 am by Lauren

Saturday night we had the most amazing dinner at A.O.C. The initials stand for Appellation d’Origine Controlee, which basically means, “We French people know where this comes from and certify it’s okay.” So if you’re looking for great French food in Paris, look no further than this unpretentious, homey restaurant in the 5th arrondissement.

Table at A.O.C.

We had an early reservation for dinner, which turned out to be an invitation to eat with all the English speakers in Paris. Only two tables were French speakers, and more than five others were English speakers. Still, the waitstaff pleased me immensely by speaking only French with us. That alone is enough to make me love a restaurant. Ah, supporting my ego is tough… But they did speak English, for those of you who want to try but don’t speak French. (Strangely, while they did speak English, the waiter told the table of Brits in the corner that he didn’t. I guess I was mistaken and only one of the waiters spoke English? Or someone was getting the snub.) Anyway, we had taken the early reservation in order to assure ourselves a table since we’d only called a few hours before. However, it seems that wasn’t necessary, and we probably would have been able to get a later reservation. Several people without reservations were also seated at our early eating hour. 

We started out with the house aperitif, which was pink, sparkling, and just yummy. I was trying to figure out what was in it (I think Campari was one ingredient) by spying on the bar. We chose the wine of the month (le coup de coeur de la patronne, specifically) to drink with dinner, which was a red Domaine Richaud.

The specials and the regular menu looked so appetizing. I went for a plate I’ve been dying to try since I was 11 years old, reading Asterix and Obelix in Turkey: wild boar. (Thank you, Mom and Dad, for making it possible for me to write that sentence.) I didn’t know what to expect when the plate came out, but I was pretty sure it wouldn’t look like Obelix’ big cut of meat on the spit. Still, I was salivating at the thought. And not only was I getting wild boar, but it came with mashed potatoes with chives and smoky lard flavor (but not the actual bits of meat – yay!). It was excellent, and I’d order it again in a second.

Wild boar

Elizabeth also ordered off the nightly specials, getting the coquilles Saint Jacques, and her scallops were perfectly prepared if a little hard to get out of the shell. Apparently it had been a popular dish at lunch that day because they ran out within half an hour of our arrival. Hers was accompanied by a puree of potatoes (or perhaps cauliflower) with a taste of cheese.

Allen went for the assiette rotisseur, a selection of meats from the rotisserie. He was crazy for the pork and could have eaten just that. (Frankly, I couldn’t tell what was what in the heap of meat on his plate, but the bite he gave me tasted pretty darn good. Moist and juicy.) His had roasted potatoes under the cuts of meat.

The dinner portions were exactly the right size, so we opted for dessert. However, the dessert portions were pretty large. We could have shared a dessert between the three of us and been quite happy. Allen and I had the creme brulee (with vanilla from Reunion), and Elizabeth chose the impressive ile flottante.

AOC Specials

In sum, A.O.C. has amazing, fresh, truly French food. Go, bring all your friends, and definitely try the wild boar. Now I’m off to clean the drool off my keyboard.

City Walks revisited: Canal Saint Martin and Parc des Buttes Chaumont

Posted in Exploring, Food, Visitors tagged , , , , , , , at 1:44 am by Lauren

Remember our goal to do all 50 City Walks before leaving Paris? No? That’s probably because we haven’t done one in so long. We revisited that goal during Elizabeth’s visit though, and we achieved two City Walks on Saturday and then finished out the day with an amazing meal.

Elizabeth and I had heard that Saturday would be a beautiful day, and we decided to do a photo walk. So we chose several City Walks (two we definitely wanted to achieve and two side walks if we had time), and around 12:30 pm, the three of us set off into the city. Unfortunately the weather was warm enough but with gray skies. Still, we were ready for adventure! We were returning to Canal Saint Martin because the City Walk card detailed a beautiful square in the middle of the Hopital Saint Louis. It supposedly rivals Place des Vosges for the title of most beautiful square in Paris and was designed by the same architect.

We walked towards the Bastille and then followed Boulevard Beaumarchais to Place de la Republique and then cut over to Canal Saint Martin.

Canal Saint Martin

Though we tried to see the fabled square in the Hopital Saint Louis, access to it was locked. What we could see through the gates was charming. It gave me a bit of heartache to not be able to get in. So much for going back to the canal for the purpose of completing the City Walk. The hospital itself was a beautiful structure, and we wondered aloud about what it would have been like in 1607, when it was built to house plague victims.

We then returned to the canal and sat and ate lunch next to one of the locks.

Lock at Canal Saint Martin

 Allen and I realized that the creperie hadn’t charged us for our cokes, so when I went back to pay, the owner told me they were free because I’d been honest. It’s kind of funny – they’d have been free either way. But I was glad I went back. It’s one thing to rip off a chain store who accidentally didn’t charge you, but I hate for a small business to lose money. Especially small businesses with such friendly owners.

After lunch, we followed the canal up to the point that it went underground. We left its side to walk up to Parc des Buttes Chaumont, following a couple of guys that had been strolling along the canal with their “contemporary art.”

Baby legs

 We dubbed them “Baby Legs.” It was really funny to follow them with Elizabeth and I trying to surreptitiously take pictures from that close behind them. Lots of people were giving them weird looks. And can you imagine? “Hey, Gustave, I was thinking I’d get my baby legs, and you’d get your baby legs, and we could all go for a walk to the park.” Genius! Once we got to the park, we ended up lounging on the same lawn, where we saw a photographer walk up to them.

Baby legs and photographer

 We theorized that the photographer could have been following them and taking pictures of people’s reactions. Frankly, Elizabeth and I would have been their stars. Let us know if you ever see the photography collection that resulted in.

Parc des Buttes Chaumont was supposed to have a 98-foot waterfall, but it wasn’t running on Saturday. I was a little disappointed, but I couldn’t complain too much. The view from the top of the hill was really quite pleasing.

Allen at Buttes Chaumont

Oh, I meant this view. You can see Sacre Coeur off in the distance.

Sacre Coeur from Buttes Chaumont

We ascended to a beautiful gazebo and took several pictures of it above and below.

Gazebo at Buttes Chaumont

The blue sky came out for us for just a little while, conveniently in time for gazebo pictures. Allen took this one, with the new plantings in the foreground.

Gazebo from below

Afterwards we headed to a Russian Orthodox church tucked in an alley. We’d never have found it without City Walks. It had beautiful painted wooden doors. I took pictures of the individual door panels. Here is my favorite of the moment.

Painted door

 In fact, I took about fifty pictures of the church from every angle, so here’s a link to the Picasa album that has the rest of them (and all of the pictures from Saturday’s exploring). After the visit to the church, we caught the metro at Danube to head home. We’d thought about walking, but it was already almost 5:30 pm, and we had a dinner reservation for 7:30 pm. (How American of us, by the way, having such an early dinner reservation, but we’d only made it earlier that day, and we’d hoped to have more luck getting a table by asking for an early time.) We were all tired on the metro, and when we got home Allen took a nap.

At this point in the blog post, I can’t believe we were still going on Saturday. So I’ll write about dinner at A.O.C. in a new post.

February 26, 2008

More pictures on Picasa

Posted in Daily life, Exploring tagged , , , at 1:34 am by Lauren

I’m working on getting my blog up-to-date with Elizabeth’s visit from last week. I’m just missing the events of the weekend. (And don’t worry – I did a whole lot of nothing today (Monday) so I wouldn’t have to write anything about it.) But in the meantime, I’ve put all my pictures up on Picasa.

You’ll find several new albums there. I’ve added new babysitting pictures (of Roxanne, and in a new album with Michael and Katharine). I also added pictures of my tutoring kids, Adrienne and Natsumi.

Then I made an album called Restaurants in Paris, which so far only includes pictures from La Nature a Paris and L’A.O.C. The day Allen and I spent at Canal Saint Martin with Antoine and Typhaine is documented in an album.

The biggest album is pictures from Elizabeth’s recent visit. Once I get those last two blog posts up, those pictures might make a bit more sense.

The final new album is simply called February in Paris. It contains all of the “leftover” photos that I took around Paris on my daily walks. I have to do something with all the pictures that remain after I choose my daily Gallery Schmanz pick!

Eat, walk, shop: what else is there?

Posted in Babysitting, Daily life, Exploring, Visitors tagged , , , , at 1:29 am by Lauren

On Friday, Elizabeth and I got up “early” (that is, before 11 am) to go out to lunch and do some shopping. We arrived at La Nature a Paris at noon exactly, right when they opened. Elizabeth had wanted to try it after reading about Allen and my dinner there. She ordered the Grande Chevre (salade de chevre chaud as a plat). It was indeed grand, as it came with four slices of toast with entire mini wheels of goat cheese on each. I ordered an entree for my meal, having just the caviar d’algues. Both of our dishes came with a heaping amount of salad. Because I’d saved some cash by just getting an entree, I opted to try one of the fresh juices as well. I picked the “refreshing” banana apple lemon juice. (I considered the apple guava passion juice, but didn’t think a “general stimulant” would be a good idea for a walk and babysitting just in case it wasn’t just the energetically stimulating type.) It was very good, and between the juice and the salad, I think I got three servings of fruits and vegetables in that one meal. So of course I followed it up with the scrumptious chocolate mousse, and Elizabeth had a huge piece of tarte tatin.

While we were sitting in the restaurant, a horse went by, and then another and another until about 30 or 40 garde nationale horses and their riders had passed. Stupidly, we didn’t take any pictures. But it was quite a sight. And right behind them was a city bus.

After lunch, we walked over to Lush, so that Elizabeth could stock up on Karma perfume, and then we headed to Gudule (also on Rue de Buci) which sells silver jewelry by the pound. I never buy or wear enough jewelry. I found a pair of turquoise earrings and a hammered silver pair. I spent under 30 euros on the two. Elizabeth chose a pair of silver dangly earrings with balls and cubes. I’ll definitely be back there. I saw two gorgeous pendants with pictures of birds on them. I know that may sound strange, but I loved how unique they looked. But at 30 euros each, I wasn’t buying them Friday!

After our earring shopping, we had to book it to Agnes’ apartment so I wouldn’t be late for babysitting. I arrived just on time! Elizabeth did a little browsing in an English bookstore on the way home and met me later at Mimi and Jack’s for (guess what) more babysitting.

Another fresh Italian dinner at L’Epicerie Fuxia

Posted in Food tagged , , , at 1:13 am by Lauren

With the carte de sejour business behind me, it was time to enjoy Elizabeth’s visit! Allen’s colleague Michael was also in town, so Thursday night found the four of us at L’Epicerie Fuxia, or as we call it, The Italian Place. Michael asked us, “So, this is your favorite place to eat, is it?” At first we kind of denied it, “Well, it’s just that we know it’s good, and it’s reasonably priced, so we keep coming back.” (Meanwhile Allen ordered the lasagne carne for the 10th time. Literally.) But by the end of the meal, I realized the restaurant was fully deserving of being our favorite restaurant. So there.

Elizabeth ordered an eggplant dish, and Michael chose the scallopine parma. I went for one of the daily specials, the scallopine toscana. Heaven! Two thin slices of veal scallopine with sauteed bell peppers and oh-so-fresh artichokes with a faintly tomato-based sauce. On the side was a handful of penne pasta. It was wonderful. Elizabeth and I also ordered prosecco for an aperitif, which was very good, and we tried a new red wine with dinner. We shared a tiramisu among the four of us for dessert.

Sound good to you? Come visit us, and we’re sure to bring you there. Just ask our former guests.

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