Tag Archives: Paris

Satie House, Honfleur France (But Really: How I Embarrass Myself on a Daily Basis)

I totally forgot to tell you who was on my flight from JFK to CDG: Bobby Flay!!!  He was wearing tailored dark wash jeans, a trim button down and narrow fit black loafers.  He wasn’t very tall, but not really short either.  While we were waiting at the gate (me acting like a complete hobo…more on that in a minute), a gate attendant fluttered out from behind the counter, enthusiastically shook Bobby’s (we’re on a first name basis right?) hand and ushered him onto the plane well ahead of pre-boarding.  I didn’t see him again.  But he was there.  Hunkered down in his flat-reclining first class seat/bed I’m sure.  Ironically, the food on the plane was not good.  I hope Bobby brought a snack.

Meanwhile, I had spent the night at a friend’s apartment, and after hitting the gym in the AM, decided to do some laundry.  Unfortunately I was having a time of it with the dryer portion of my washing/drying.  I don’t know if the dryer was just taking forever – being one of those space-saving, energy efficient jobbies, or I had set it incorrectly – if there’s not a normal dial, and I have to fiddle with LED timers that always seem to say 45 minutes no matter how long the laundry has been in, I’m apparently hopeless.

By the time I had to hit the road to make my evening flight to Paris, my clothes were still somewhere between wet and damp. Damn. I even went so far as to try to dry the underwear I had to wear that day in the microwave (oops sorry Graham! Hope you’re not reading this, and if you are…at least they were clean!)  I stuffed the clothes in varying states of mid-way-to-dry in the front part of my suitcase in a plastic bag (aka my hobo bindle) so the rest of my stuff wouldn’t get wet and headed out the door.

When I got to the gate, I had some time to kill, so…..

1 jfk Yes, if you can’t tell, that’s a wet t-shirt hanging over the handle of my suitcase.  Bobby is somewhere lurking in the background.

I then proceeded to wave around various articles of clothing like I was bull fighting, trying to dry them as much as possible.  I got a lot of weird looks and a wide berth.  I had like three tables to myself, as apparently other passengers were loath to approach.

Needless to say, when I got to France, the clothes were still wet.  Maybe a sock had dried.

I met my mom and dad at CDG for a quick snack before my mom caught her plane home (they were coming off of a river cruise that ended in Paris), and my dad and I went to Hertz to get our rental car.  The 40 extra euros to add me as a driver was a complete waste as I ineptly practiced driving the standard shift car in a parking lot for about 15 minutes before giving up.  That’s fine.  I like navigating better anyway.

I set out my wet clothes all over the back seat, and we set off for Honfleur, on the north coast of Normandy.

honfleurvacationstogocomMap from vacationstogo.com

Honfleur immediately reminded me of the old waterfront of Copenhagen, which I guess makes sense since Normandy was Viking territory for some time.2 honfleur The first of many half-timbered houses we were to see during our trip.3 honfleur 4 honfleurThe enclosed port: personal sailboats with tall masts and people lounging on deck, cobblestone streets with many outdoor cafes along the surrounding promenade.  The boat slips are in the middle – strangely like where a town square should be.  We saw the entryway draw bridge rise up to allow a returning boat to enter.  We stopped for an early dinner of moules frites (mussels with fries).

My dad is a big fan of the avant-garde composer Erik Satie (1866-1925), who was born and lived in Honfleur during the end of the 19th century before joining the arts and music scene at Montmartre in Paris.  His home and museum in Honfleur is a tribute to his eccentricity with all sorts of oddities.  Not only was he a piano composer, but he also created various mechanisms to “measure sound.”  His music is intriguing – not classically melodic, but not quite as dissonant as say Stravinsky.

Guests are given headphones with an audio tour of the house including music clips and quotes from Satie more than chronological historical information.  There are sensors on the headsets that note where you are standing in any given room, so to then play the related recording automatically, so you just have to wander at your leisure without worrying about staying on track or on pace with the tour.

In the first room of the house, there were stacks of newspapers and many many umbrellas hanging on the wall.5 satie

Opposite was a lit pear with mechanical metal wings that slowly flapped up and down. 6 satie 7 satie 8 satieThis room’s wallpaper mimics the grid paper of French school children’s notebooks.  Drawers and the piano play between 2 and 3 dimensions.  Satie’s notes are written in red ink on the floor and walls.  The one to the left says 200 umbrellas in French…Satie collected (some might say hoarded) umbrellas (as well as newspapers as noted above).

9 satieThe staircase was outlined in black-light ink. 91 satieSmall lit dioramas created by Satie, some of which had moving pieces.  The way they were embedded at the top of haphazard sticks in a semi-dark room gave an eerie feeling.

92 satie 93 satieNext, this all white room with a player piano playing one of his compositions.  The light fixture above slowly circled so that different cut out scenes in the shade were intermittently lit.  Here, a man with an umbrella (not surprising) followed by a cat and a dog.

Then it was back in the car and on to Bayeux for the night.

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Paris: Part Deux

Big news!!!  I’ve decided to start a little side business here trading in on my love and knowledge of the City of Lights!  For a small fee (depending on the length of the trip) I will plan your trip to Paris and the environs for you.  I will take stock of all of your likes and dislikes, budget, food preferences, and desired activity level, and plan a customized trip.  I will then supply you with an itinerary, maps, useful information and any necessary restaurant reservations.  (I won’t be making flight arrangements or hotel bookings, but I can recommend some nice hotels/Airbnbs or areas to stay and also give you information about transportation from the airport and all around town.)

I’m also willing to step up my research and plan trips to other European and Caribbean locations to which I’ve traveled…just ask!

While you are contemplating your next Parisian adventure, daydream on these photos from our trip in May.  (I apologize that some of the photos are grainy; as I may have mentioned before, I didn’t realize I should’ve been compressing my photos all along, and now I’ve run up against my WordPress media limit.  Unfortunately I don’t think it’s feasible to go back, delete, compress and reupload all my photos from all my other posts.  Ugh.)

Arriving on Thursday, we met our Airbnb host at the charming studio apartment we rented in Le Marais, which actually even had a balcony!  What a view!  (As might be expected from a 5th floor walk up with old wooden sloping spiral stairs….just added to the charm.)

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We stayed on Rue Rambuteau which cuts East-West from Le Marais to Les Halles, which is in generally the center of the Right Bank.  Les Halles was once a huge market, but when the market was moved to the suburbs, an underground shopping mall was created.  For the longest time, the park above the mall (pictured below) was the haunt of junkies and the homeless, but the government is continuing its beautification efforts.

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Le Bon Marché is one of the original grands magasins – literally big stores – aka department stores.  La Grande Épicerie is a giant food store on the ground floor of Le Bon Marché, featuring beautifully crafted baked goods, international, and artisan products.  There is even an extensive wine cave a floor below.  Here, approaching the side of the store, you can faintly see Le Bon Marché painted on the side of the building.

 

 

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Le Conciergerie was once a Parisian prison.  Located on Ile de la Cité, it is where Marie Antoinette spent her final days, and you can see a real life guillotine blade hanging on the wall.  Sweet.  The vaulted ceilings and this particular rat relief on the column show the grandeur and the detail that went into this.  Hardly the cinder block and steel of today.IMG_3249 IMG_3254 <–See the rat?

Buble but, obviously.IMG_3255 IMG_3256Some sort of traditional ethnic dances being performed in front of Hotel de Ville (City Hall) during a “young persons festival.” IMG_3257 IMG_3258 IMG_3273Release the Kracken wall art.

Place de la République.IMG_3274

Canal Saint Martin and a boat going through a lock.IMG_3284 IMG_3288 We walked along the Canal to Little Sri Lanka in the northern part of the 10th arrondissement.IMG_3292 And I even bought a few pre-made sari tops to hopefully wear to a friend’s wedding this summer.  For 8 euros, they tailored it right there while I waited in all of about 5 minutes!  Good deal – I’ll take 2!IMG_3296

Approaching the base of one set of stairs hidden in a residential neighborhood leading to Sacré Coeur.IMG_3299And all the motorcycles parked in front of this café at the bottom. IMG_3300Looking back down. IMG_3304 IMG_3306 Sacré Coeur (Sacred Heart) where we took shelter from a deluge.

A church and a moto.IMG_3322

Place de la Bastille.IMG_3337

Sunset in the streets of Paris.IMG_3346

Approaching the interior square of the Louvre.IMG_3348 IMG_3350 Square in front of the Louvre.

Jardins de Tuileries on an overcast day.IMG_3352 IMG_3355 Chairs and flowers.IMG_3356 IMG_3357 More chairs and flowers.IMG_3359 Flowers.IMG_3360 Chairs.IMG_3361 A statue in a square among les jardins (the gardens);  Found the real “buble but.”

Some window shopping at Christian Louboutin of course.IMG_3362 IMG_3378 Roses in the square of Le Palais Royal.IMG_3401Caryatids at the Louvre. IMG_3422 Pont des Arts where couples place locks as a symbol of their unbreakable love, and then they throw away the keys.  I wonder if anyone has ever come back and cut theirs off after a divorce?

IMG_3424 Ominous skies over Pont Alexandre III.IMG_3426

Versailles:  The gardens: IMG_3445 IMG_3461 Never-ending path.

IMG_3463Swans near the boat house. IMG_3476 Reflections on a clear day.IMG_3491 IMG_3493 IMG_3611Hall of Mirrors in le Chateau.

IMG_3610Looking out over the Seine at the Eiffel Tower.

Sigh.  Ready to go back.  Who else wants to go?

And Then You’re Like, “Ohmygod there’s ham in this”

Because who hasn’t been burned by the French love of “jambon” (ham)?  They sneakily slide it into everything without disclosure.  Think you’re getting a plain ol’ cheese pizza?  Well think again because their definition of “regular” pizza includes a hidden layer of ham beneath the cheese.  And maybe that’s just swell with you.  I, for one, don’t dislike pork products, but I’m not really a fan of ham, so I’m extra diligent when ordering sandwiches and other prepared foods in France.  Flashback to me as an eighth grade exchange student in Nancy (northeast part of France), staying with a host family that barely speaks English to my un-understandable French, very homesick.  I perk up upon learning that our French mom is going to make pizza for dinner, only to be unnerved by the hidden ham unearthed with that first huge bite.  Foiled again.  And so I ever so rudely proceed to pick off the ham (as inconspicuously as possible I might add…it’s not that I want to be rude, but I just can’t bring my 13 year old self to choke it down).

Flash forward to present day: I’m willing to take more chances with what I eat now and am of the mindset that if someone is preparing something a certain way, then someone must like it like that, and therefore there must be merit that ought to be tried, at least once.

Mark and I just got back from an amazing trip to Paris (one of my all-time favorite places, as you can read about in this older blog post), where we pretty much ate and drank ourselves to a 5 pound weight gain despite the marathons we were walking everyday.  In the midst of our culinary adventure, I tried a few things on the periphery of my comfort zone: namely fish ceviche and raw oysters.  Both were good, although I probably wouldn’t order a whole oyster platter for myself anytime soon.  But I’ll pick off yours.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t eat a fruit or vegetable (not including les pomme frites aka fries) the whole time.  There just wasn’t room in my stomach next to all the croissants, pains au chocolat, Nutella crepes, escargots, fromages, baguettes, coffee and wine.  Priorities.

There’s so much to tell and so many photos to show of our trip, so I’ll try to break it down over a few posts so as not to overwhelm you.  This post, as you can already guess, will be dedicated to our eating and drinking habits, which I was smart enough to generally preplan this time around.

Last time we went to Paris, I didn’t plan any meals in advance.  And we didn’t have any bad meals per se, but I think we could have done better with a bit of forethought.  For instance, a lot of restaurants are closed on Sundays and even some on Saturdays, so you have to make sure you know what’s what before stalking up to a locked door being disappointed.

This time, I did a ton of research ahead of time and made at least one reservation.  While I think this was the best approach, given the quality of meals we had, it was clear that other Americans had come across many of the same suggestions.  Which isn’t to say that these places were stereotypical tourist traps, which they weren’t, just that they are well-known to be great restaurants by the French, any everyone else.

I’m at a loss for the best way to organize my thoughts on this, so I’m just going to go with chronologically:

photo-59View from our apartment’s balcony.

Friday morning we arrived at our rented apartment in Le Marais (super cute studio with a balcony!!) to grab the keys from the cleaning lady before setting off to our first destination: Breizh Cafe just around the block, for traditional Brittany-style crepes.  We stood in the queue waiting for it to open, along with some other American and Japanese tourists (the cafe also has an outpost in Tokyo), before being ushered into the tiny dining room.  While the crepe itself was richly salty and buttery (I just got a plain buckwheat crepe with freshly made butter and Mark got a dessert crepe) and good, the service was fairly curt.  I think our server (who was one of the only people during the whole trip to respond back to me in English when I started speaking French) was annoyed that I ordered the cheapest crepe on the menu (which was still at least 6 euros for a buttered crepe thank you very much).  To me, this seemed the like the closest place to a tourist trap that we encountered on the entire trip, and I probably wouldn’t go back.  It also could have been that we were exhausted and jet lagged and generally grumpy.  Oh well, on to the next.

After a short siesta, we rallied for our 7:15 reservation at The Fish Club.

photo 3Started by the folks who opened the Experimental Cocktail Club (first in Paris, then in NYC and London), the Prescription Cocktail Club, and The Beef Club, The Fish Club, as you can guess, serves a lot of fish and seafood.  They do a Peruvian take with lots of ceviches and raw fish dishes.  Unbeknownst to us, the kitchen actually doesn’t open until 8, so we spent a lovely 45 minutes sipping on pisco sours

photo 2

and whatever this beverage served in some sort of gourd was (I can’t remember, but it was mojito-ish).

photo 5Everything was delicious, although Mark’s super-limey salmon stood out in my mind as buttery soft and perfectly sour.

photo 1  photo 4

Walking back to our hotel, we stumbled upon a wine bar called O Chateau, where we struck up a pleasant conversation with an American couple from California who were heading out the next day.  It was such a fun place that we ventured back another evening as well.

Almost everyday it rained on and off, and it always seemed that the sun would come out right after we had ducked into a cafe for a coffee or lunch, only to inevitably start raining again immediately as we stepped back outside to continue our walk.  Saturday was no exception as we found a cute bistro near the Musee d’Orsay (Cafe de l’Empire/L’Empire de Restauration) for some traditional steak frites and poulet roti (roasted chicken).  For dinner we chose the chain Léon de Bruxelles for some curried mussels and more frites a la Belgique.

After dinner, we made our way to the Experimental Cocktail Club: a semi-hidden bar with an interesting cocktail menu.  I guess “cocktail culture” has only made its way to Paris in the last decade or so because we were asked by our French bar-mate: “Isn’t this atmosphere so American?”  I guess the French go there to soak in that NYC feeling.  I was like “I guess???”  And I do guess, as compared to typical French cafes, a dimly lit speakeasy style cocktail bar is quite different.  We had a lovely conversation with a gal (also from California) who was in Paris for a few months working as a visual effects specialist on a movie shoot.  Pretty cool for her.

And of course we had to sample some Nutella crepes on the walk home.  (After many nights of sampling, we determined which stand on our street – rue Rambuteau – had the best ones…not too underdone, not too skimpy with the Nutella.)

Sunday we ventured through the 10th arrondissement to Holybelly for coffee – a cute (but way too hot to stay inside) coffee shop started by some Australians.  I got myself a flat white for our walk up to the Little Sri Lanka neighborhood, where we stopped for lunch, again only to have the sun duck behind a cloud when we were done.  There were many delicious-looking restaurants to choose from, and I couldn’t tell you the name of the one we chose, but as it started to really fill up with the lunch crowd, we knew we had chosen well.  I had a Sri Lankan biryani – a satisfying plateful of rice and chicken.

Being that it was Sunday, I had previously done some research to find a Thai restaurant in Paris’ “Chinatown” neighborhood for dinner, knowing it would be open on Sunday.  But seeing as we had just had some Asian flavors for lunch and didn’t want to make our way to the complete opposite end of the city, we decided on some traditional French cuisine, in which we really hadn’t indulged yet (unless you count the breakfast croissants and late-night crepes).  Reviewing our hosts’ suggestions, we walked through Le Marais to Bastille to a big brasserie, tuxed waiters and all.

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Bofinger was the perfect choice for an early Sunday dinner, as it wasn’t yet too crowded, and we had a lovely seat next to a window on the second floor.  Mark started with some head on shrimp (another new thing I tried – shrimp head juice – which tasted good but I’m not sure about the look of it), while I finally got some (French) onion soup…you really can’t call it French onion soup in France…it’s just onion soup.  It was really really good – especially with the crusty, chewy baguette.  How come the baguette in France is so much better than those in the US?  And you’ll just pay a euro for it at the boulangerie, whereas a pretty miserable imitation is $3.50 at Whole Foods?!?!?

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ANYway….I also got a dozen buttery escargots (snails that is) at Bofinger, and let’s not forget about the carafe of rosé wine which was the perfect amount for two people to split.

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Monday we found some pretty delicious pizza (love how they use hot oil instead of crushed red peppers on their pizza…perfect for crust dipping) for lunch with the local business crowd (also love how business people will certainly have a glass of wine and a dessert cheese plate with their lunches).

For dinner, we went to Verjus’ wine bar.

photo 13      photo 14Verjus is a tiny trendy restaurant, started by some Americans I think, where it is crazy hard to get a reservation.  However they have an even tinier wine bar on the other side of the street that doesn’t take reservations.  We showed up right upon opening at 6, again to discover that the kitchen doesn’t open until 7.  No worries, we can amuse ourselves trying the various wines on the menu and chatting with the friendly bartender.  Our bartender/server was really the nicest young lady – she spoke back to me in French, even though she clearly spoke English very well, and we even shared a bit of an eye roll smirk at an extremely loud American couple behind us.

photo 15 I like how the etching on their glasses is of the small bar front facing the street.

I’ve decided I’m over trying to find completely hidden gems when eating abroad.  This Verjus place has been written up all over the place, and rather than trying to avoid the hype, I’m leaning in.  And to my benefit: the food was AMAZING!! So good; I ate pretty much all of it while Mark had popped out to find an internet cafe, and then ate more when we ordered another round for him.

photo 16Small plates of gnocchi and REALLY juicy and crispy fried chicken (which apparently they are known for). photo 17 Perfectly cooked steak, and vegetable dumplings in the background there.

Tuesday, Mark’s parents and aunt and uncle also came to Paris and we did a ton of walking and touring about.  By the time 5pm rolled around, we were all ready for dinner and Yelped a convenient brasserie near the Eiffel Tower, Le Campanella.  It worked out really well.  I got to order some frogs’ legs, and there were choices for everyone, from salad nicoise to chicken and steak frites.  And of course, carafes of wine.

photo 19 Frogs’ legs

Wednesday, our last day, we journeyed out to Versailles for the morning, and upon returning to the city, we went to my all-time favorite crepe stand/hole-in-the-wall Au P’tit Grec.  I almost didn’t recognize it along Rue Mouffetard what with their new bright sign, but the crepes were how I remembered, and my feta, tomato and lettuce savory crepe hit the spot.

Since we were leaving early the next morning, Mark and I met his family by their hotel near the Arc de Triomphe, where they had made a reservation at an upscale traditional French restaurant, featuring fairly bilingual staff and international business clientele given the proximity to the financial and government buildings.  Le Congres boasted a cool outdoor raw bar where they prepared the fresh shellfish (this restaurant is where I tried a raw oyster), and white linens, along with some attractive prix fixe options that included wine!

Feeling full from the last week of eating, I tried to choose something small: a dessert cheese plate as my main course and a chocolate mousse for dessert.  Well that completely backfired.  The server showed up with the cheese tray and when I asked how many came on the plate, she said three, but you can have a bit more.  As I was contemplating my selection, our main waiter came over and asked if I would just prefer an assortment.  Sure!  Well wouldn’t ya know, he came back with a huge plate with ten HUNKS of different cheeses.  Like pretty much whole BLOCKS of cheeses that you would buy at the store!  OMG.  It took me through the appetizers, entrees and desserts to make enough of a dent in the cheese so that it wouldn’t look as though I hadn’t touched it.  After all that richness accompanied by an entire bread basket (and an included glass of port which was surprisingly tasty), I had to cut the fat.  With some sugar.  So obviously I still ordered the mousse au chocolat – which was rich and dark and delicious.  Such a good meal.  And a good way to cheese myself out before going back home!

Phew – that was a lot of food.  But it was all SO GOOD.  I can’t even get over it.  I don’t know that I’ve ever had so many memorable meals in a row!  Time for my go to Paris coffee: un café creme.  Hold the ham.

photo 18  Café creme and the obligatory Orangina.

Arbor Daze

Bird chirps create a wall of sound behind my eyes.  The drone of the hospital helicopter in the background breaks through momentarily.  I hope it’s a new pilot being trained, because if it’s a true emergency, it’s been in the air for what feels like an awfully long time.  The whirring dies down and the birds are back full force.  It sounds like hundreds of birds – all the same, peeping in the same constant monotone; why haven’t they flown south for the winter?  They start early and wake me up; I testily inch open one eyelid and look up to the skylight: white sky (if I can even see the sky at all, or just the snow piled on the glass).  I easily roll over and push back to sleep, waking up in a few hours, bird free.  If the sky is bright blue (a rare occurrence these days), a wave of sleeping-in guilt washes over me and my mind ticks off the tasks I’ve set for myself for the day.  Do I need to get up and get cracking?  I’ll just shut my eyes for another 30 minutes.

Yeah right.  When they groggily open one, then the other, two hours later, the sky has clouded over and I no longer feel the pull to be productive.

Taking advantage of all that Ann Arbor has to offer has been more difficult than expected.  Not physically or logistically difficult.  More like, the excuses are endless and it’s difficult to overcome the mental barriers I’ve thrown up for myself: It’s too cold to go outside; Mark’s tired when he gets home from work, but I don’t want to go places alone during the day; I am too busy with more mundane pursuits and activities such as reading and drinking coffee.  To be fair (to myself), I did try to leave to go to the gym last week, made it a block and had to turn back for all the skidding in the snow.  The plowing here is not the best, and I don’t see how people still seem to function like there aren’t six inches of snow on the roads at all times.

When I moved to Paris in January of 2006, it was the same story.  For the first few weeks before classes started, I mainly stayed in my apartment (especially after it got dark at 4pm), eating bread and cheese, drinking tea to try to stay warm, and watching France’s version of The Amazing Race on the TV/computer (somehow TV came in over the computer).  It was cut-to-the-bone cold in Paris in January – the damp cold that you can’t shake no matter how many layers you wear.  I didn’t know my neighborhood well.  I didn’t know a lot of people with whom to explore.  So I stayed in and told myself that I would be more adventurous and relaxed when it warmed up, not yet realizing that it wouldn’t “warm up” for another three and half months.

One morning in the second or third week of my stay, standing in line to register for classes at the maze-like, government-style Sorbonne building, I noticed a calendar hanging on the inside of one woman’s cube.  I quickly calculated that as of that moment I had 14 or 15 weeks left in my Paris adventure.  That seemed like forever, overwhelming, I couldn’t get through it, I was homesick.  And what did I have to show for the time that had already been spent?  Not much.  I hadn’t really seen anything or found any hidden gems.

What a rotten story this would make:  Friends: Hey Hannah, what did you do in Paris?  Me:  Welllllll, I ate a lot of cheese!

At that moment I decided to put on my big girl pants and venture out into the cold, even if just to walk the streets and get my bearings.

I started with my favorite: Musee d’Orsay where the Impressionists are in charge and press up against those who came before and after.  Then I started ticking off the smaller museums, because, really the museums are endless (and a good way to stay warm): Musee Picasso, l’Orangerie, Musee Rodin, Le Petit Palais, Victor Hugo’s home.  Along the way, I picked up friends, and friends of friends, who hadn’t yet been to these places, and so we visited together: Marche aux puces (huge flea market on the outskirts of town), Place d’Italie (for pho), La Defense (business center of Paris).  And when visitors from home arrived, we also made the rounds, and luckily most were game to go to places I hadn’t been yet, rather than the obvious Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe (although there had to be some of that too of course).  Each week I read the Periscope magazine (which detailed all the arts and cultural activities for the week for 50 centimes) cover to cover, circling the various temporary exhibits I wanted to see or should see because they were so unique or housed in a unique location.  I saw an exhibit of Rembrandt drawings at the Dutch embassy and one of erotic drawings by Picasso at the Musee de l’erotisme.  We scooted through that one pretty quickly and came out the other side red and shrieking with laughter.  Very mature, 23 Year Old Self.

So back to the point.  Here in Ann Arbor, I’ve done similar research with the monthly Ann Arbor Observer that literally has a day-by-day account of everything going on in town, from music, to sports, to museum exhibits and lectures, even though I never see 90% of what I’ve circled.  But here are few things I have done:

I attended a fascinating lecture in the graduate library about the history of Jewish food and Jewish cookbooks in America, given by one of the preeminent American culinary traditions curators in the country.  I not only learned that the first Jewish settlers in America (in New Amsterdam) were immigrants from Brazil, but we also saw Ashkenazic and Sephardic cookbooks from various the centuries, and even menus from Barney Greengrass and the like.

We went to a free rock-bluegrass concert with some friends at The Ark, an intimate-feeling music venue on Main Street that’s also North America’s oldest continuing not-for-profit music club.  The Ark has a show nearly every night of the year, which is pretty incredible.  We also saw a movie in the historic State Theatre, which was a must-do experience, although as you can imagine, the seats in a historic movie theater are super small and Mark is pretty tall.  state theatre

We’ve tried many restaurants (of which there seem to be an endless supply), including Zingerman’s (famous deli with exhorbitant prices and super excited staff), Mani (sleek Italian restaurant with some of the country’s best pizza according to Eater.com, but you can read my review here), Grizzly Peak and Blue Tractor, two bars that brew their own beers, and Cafe Zola that has an extensive menu on which I have yet to find anything that isn’t amazingly good (including really good crepes).

We’ve gone for walks on the many trails around our home and even kayaked down the Huron River on Labor Day Weekend.  We’ve been to a University of Michigan football game, a Detroits Lions football game, and plan on checking out some college basketball, hockey and even gymnastics (I hear they have a world-class team here).

photo-46(Our resident heron we keep spotting along our Island Park walks.  This was taken during the snowstorm Sunday Jan 5th.  He was standing perfectly upright with just his shoulders hunched up and neck pulled down, like a tall old man waiting at a bus stop with his overcoat pulled high over his stooped shoulders.)

A few weekends ago, Mark and I went to the town of Plymouth, about 35 minutes from Ann Arbor to walk around.  Surprisingly, not many places were open for Saturday lunch, so we just wandered around the small town square that was lined with uniquely-styled Christmas trees.  We drove from the “downtown” to the old village, where I thought maybe there’d be more restaurants.  It was more residential in fact with bungalows and Victorian homes, but we did find Liberty Street Brewing Company, which was a fantastic little bar that brews their own beer and serves a few bar snacks, such as popcorn.  There were a fair number of people in the homey bar for a Saturday afternoon, the bartender was genuinely friendly, and the “Punkin’ Pie” beer was delish (made with zero pumpkin).

Last week, I went with a friend to the University of Michigan Museum of Art for the first time.  I really loved the modern galleries that allowed for natural sunlight to stream in.  They were having a temporary exhibit of color-blocked sculpture by Adolph Gottlieb, one of the founders of the Abstract Expressionist movement, who is best known for his paintings.  They were fun and reminded me a bit of 3D versions of Matisse’s later works.  The museum also has an impressive permanent collection, boasting a snowy Monet oil painting (appropriate for the local climate), multiple Picassos, and rooms of African and Asian art.  It’s small enough to be manageable but large enough that you will want to return to explore the work in more depth.

So, as you can see, in the last few weeks I’ve been trying to push myself to discover all there is to do here.  I’ve driven all over the place, and know my way around fairly well.  But there’s still a lot to explore.  I haven’t yet been to the University’s Museum of Archaeology, the botanical gardens, the Gerald R. Ford Library, or (I’m highly embarrassed to say) the Kerrytown Farmers’ Market (I have been to the Sunday artists market however).  It comes back to the cold and not wanting to do some of these things alone.  But like in Paris, winter lasts a long time here, so I’d better get cracking.

I’ve started a list of places to go and things to do, so I can start checking them off and holding myself accountable.  Maybe chronicling my activities in this blog will help do that.  Otherwise I’m sure to end up snuggled in bed with a book and some tea.  Although that sounds pretty good right about now 🙂

This American (Unemployed) Life

Do you ever think a book finds its way into your life at just the right moment, when it seems  it was written for you?  Or maybe it’s that you’re able to pick out relevant themes from any book you happen to be reading?

This is how it was for me in reading Ann Mah’s Mastering the Art of French Eating.   I had seen Ann Mah’s blog recommended on the French Word-A-Day email I receive, and upon further investigation, it turned out that Ann was getting ready to publish a non-fiction on French cuisine.  Well, loving all things French (some of my favorites outlined in this prior blog post), and especially a good memoir of an American abroad in Paris, I downloaded her book to my Kindle as soon as I could.

I was expecting a lot of food descriptions, recipes, textural images of the Provence terrain and Parisian location-spotting.  And I got all that.  But what I also got was a story.  The story of why Ann moved to Paris in the first place, and how she coped being there alone much of the time.

She moved to Paris for her husband’s diplomatic career.  Sounds enchanting enough.  She quit her publishing job to become the “trailing spouse,” something I didn’t know was an actual identifiable person/job/thing.  But this idea spoke to me.  (Her matters were further complicated when her husband was soon sent to the Middle East on a solo assignment, leaving her alone in Paris for their first year there.)

She writes about leaving her job to “leap into nothing.”  I never thought of myself as someone whose identity is wrapped up in their work, but nevertheless I felt disconnected, disoriented and out of the loop after leaving my job and home to follow my fiance to Ann Arbor for his career.  I felt a little worthless and unidentifiable.

I didn’t realize that “trailing spousehood,” where one person follows the movements of the other’s career path, is common, and reading about someone else’s experience trying to sort out their life somehow legitimized my choice.  Perhaps it’s the unusual few where both partners have the corporate-ladder-climbing careers in the same place at the same time.  I haven’t done any research whatsoever except for reading and talking with other trailing spouses, so this is all just my observation and in no way rooted in evidence, but it seems to me that oftentimes the trailing spouse either already has, or develops, a creative, entrepreneurial, individual, freelance, secondary or family-oriented life’s work for themselves.  Even if it’s the kind of profession that is easily transferrable from place to place (teaching, banking, etc.), career progression may still be halted/stalled/regressed by moving.

This is what Ann did.  She parlayed her publishing background into a journalism career that she could do from anywhere.  Even though she had writing experience with articles in numerous publications, she still struggled to find the freelance writing jobs she wanted in Paris, agreeing to chronicle orchid care, instead of expounding on her preference: food.

Right after the move, I felt like, “What am I doing with myself?” in that heavy way your ribcage gets when a bit depressed, but I knew in my head that this was the perfect opportunity to explore all sorts of other activities and relax a bit, which, for months, was really difficult because I felt like I should be doing some sort of work.  There may have been a mid-dinner break down or two in the early days.

I know they say children are happiest with routine.  That’s certainly the case for me too.  Pulling myself together, I made written schedules.  Even if it just said, “Wake Up, Read at Starbucks, Grocery Shopping, Laundry” that got me moving with tasks to accomplish and a purpose to my days.

Now that I’m finally stationed in Ann Arbor for a while, after traveling to and fro over the past few months, I’ve got a few different routines depending on the day and am genuinely happy with my existence as it is.  Everyday I practice the art of doing what I want to do and not doing what I don’t.  It’s hard not to obligate myself to tasks and activities that I think I ought to be doing, but each day I start over in striving to do what makes me happy that day.

My ideal day is filled with things that I enjoy doing (and a few things that are necessary but not necessarily enjoyable): I wake up, make a cup of coffee and check emails.  Then I might choose one room or chore to tackle right away; I find that I have the most energy right when I wake up and can usually clean the whole bathroom quickly, or at least make it presentable.  Then I might go back to any follow up emails concerning the wedding or sorority volunteer work.  I might take some time to work on this blog (which takes a surprising amount of time for me to finish), or run some errands.  I’ve gotten in the habit of going to Barnes and Noble for a Starbucks holiday beverage (fyi, if you are a B&N member, you also get a discount at the store’s Starbucks cafe!!) and to work on the blog or comb through wedding magazines (so much fun but so expensive….better to just read them, take notes and put them back, only purchasing if there are a lot of good pictures that need to be ripped out).  In the afternoon, I go back home and either do another round of follow up emails if necessary or make a snack, put in a load of laundry, and catch up on some DVRed or Netflix shows.  Right now I’m marathoning through “Gossip Girl” and “Scandal” and “The West Wing” complete box set is on deck.  Maybe I’ll start to feel bored when there aren’t any more addicting shows to watch!

Since Mark gets home relatively early, I usually start dinner on the early side, and I love watching “The Chew” on DVR while cooking.  For those that don’t know “The Chew” is a talk show slash cooking show on ABC with Daphne Oz (Dr. Oz’s daughter), Carla Hall (“Top Chef”), Clinton Kelly (“What Not To Wear”), and chefs Michael Symon and Mario Batali.  The hosts are kooky and silly, and it’s just a fun show with good recipes, cocktails and crafts.  It’s the kind of show I would like to be on if I could host a daytime talk show!  Also, if you fast forward through the commercials (and cooking segments that involve items I would never eat in a million years), an hour-long show is really only 30 minutes – perfect timing for prepping dinner.  Sometimes I think I can’t get a real job because I don’t want to be stuck at work until 6pm while Mark is home hanging out at 4:30!

I’m also excited to continue exploring Ann Arbor – the restaurants, the museums, and the surrounding towns  (I’ll write more about what we’ve already done in another post).

On the other hand, the seemingly continuous grey sky, cold temps, and perma-snow-coating make me feel not in the least bit obligated to go outside everyday.  Lounging (hibernating) on the couch with tea and a good book sounds like a great way to spend the winter months to me.  I just downloaded Ann Mah’s first book, a novel entitled Kitchen Chinese and am also in the middle of Taste by Anthony Terlato (on wine) and This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (using this downtime to catch up some classics).

I think I’ve come around to this idea of trailing spouse, and I’m looking forward to going with the flow and finding happiness everyday in life’s little treats like craft projects, chopping vegetables, glossy magazines and pumpkin spice lattes.

J’adore Paris…I hope you do too

I’m writing this blog post because three of my good friends are going to Paris this fall and I am insanely jealous.  No, in reality, I want to give them some good suggestions of things to do in a limited time there.

I lived in Paris from Jan to June 2006 but had been there a few times before and one time since (and hope to go back in the near future).  I absolutely love that city, like everyone else in the world it seems.  I believe it’s the number one tourist destination in the world, so there are innumerable volumes of information about what to do and see.  I’m hoping here to give a few interesting ideas that aren’t quite as obvious (although you gotta see the obvious ones too if you’ve never been).  My disclaimer is that it’s been a while since I’ve been, so certain spots may be closed or different.  Definitely Google everything since some museums are closed certain days, to get information about ticket prices and discover interesting walking tours that might take you by some of these sights.  We can go into greater detail offline if anyone wants specific metro/travel info/walking tour ideas.  Second disclaimer is that I don’t know how to do accents on this Mac computer, so all my French writing will be sans (without) accents…sorry!

I lived in the 5eme arrondissement (5th district or section of Paris, also known as the Latin Quarter due to all the students there) in an excellent spot on Rue Broca.  My friend Sara had come to France six months earlier and found this amazingly located apartment that I then took over when she left in January.  The only problem with the apartment was the insanely small under-window heating unit that barely heated the two feet in front of it, let alone the whole place.  Given the cost of electricity, I mostly kept it off and dressed in layers upon layers throughout the winter months (and that was pretty much through April).  At night, I would wear long underwear, sweatpants, a hooded sweatshirt with the hood pulled up, and thick fuzzy socks over regular socks.  Luckily I had brought my dad’s old down mummy sleeping bag, so I put that in the bed and slept in it under the comforter.  Most nights I would boil a pot of water on the stove, toss the water and put the hot pot between my feet, soles wrapped around the contours of the metal.  Since Paris is on the water of the Seine river, you get that intensely damp cold that cuts right to your bones and makes you feel as if you’ll never be warm again.  Showers are a double-edged sword of life-giving warmth followed by cold misery upon exiting.  I immediately chopped off all my hair to make drying it as fast as possible.

Okay, enough about the weather, since these friends are going in the fall and the season will be beautiful!  I could go on and on about all the details of actually living abroad, and perhaps one day I will.  I kept a daily journal from day one through the flight back home, and maybe I can type it up and turn it into a book someday!

paris

To start, study the map of Paris to orient yourself as to the location of everything.  I like this map from http://www.apartment-in-france.com:

Image

Most things are within walking distance, although sometimes it can be a long walk.  I prefer strolling through the winding roads (les rues) because you end up coming across different and interesting architecture, signs, cafes, etc. that you may not have seen otherwise.  If the weather is bad, the metro and the buses are super efficient and easy to use.  They have daily and weekly passes, and there are night buses that run in loops around the city if you find yourself out well after hours and don’t want to pay for a taxi.

Next, go to one of the many magazine stands and purchase a Pariscope magazine.  This is a weekly publication that lists literally EVERYTHING going on for the week – from museum exhibits to parades to movie listings.  It’s a great way to find out what’s happening NOW so that you don’t miss out on something unique.

Okay, on to some of my favorite things to do/must-dos in Paris and les environs (surroundings):

1. If you’ve never been to Paris, you clearly have to go to the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysee, Tuileries, Place de la Concorde (where the guillotine was set up during the Revolution) and the Arc de Triomphe.  I go back and forth on whether or not you actually have to go up to the top of the Eiffel Tower.  I guess it’s something to do, but I tend to think it’s always a little bit anticlimactic.  When Mark and I went up in the fall of 2011, it was completely foggy and you couldn’t see two inches in front of your hand.  If you decide you do want to go up to the top, I recommend going early in the morning and queuing before it opens.  Once it opens, the line will move quickly, but depending on the weather, if you go later in the day, you will for sure be standing in line for a while as you wait for people to come back down.  Bring a snack.

2. Alternatively, go to the Eiffel Tower and take pictures of it from the ground and stand in awe of its sloping metal enormity.  Then go to Tour Montparnasse on the edge of the 14th and 15th arrondissements.  Until 2011, this was the tallest skyscraper in France, and there is an observation deck on the top from which you have a fantastic view of the city – INCLUDING the Eiffel Tower!!  That’s the best part: if you go up the Eiffel Tower you see the city but not the tower itself.  Duh.  So go to the top of Tour Montparnasse and take in the whole cityscape without actually having to see the large dark glass office building on top of which you’re standing.

3. Museums.  Whether you love to hate museums, you have to admit that Paris has the best museums.  How could they not?  There are so many!!  Obviously the Louvre, in which you could spend days and days and never see it all, which has ancient treasures, historic artifacts and “The Mona Lisa”.  My personal favorite is the Musee d’Orsay which is in a converted train station and houses a huge collection of Impressionist paintings (among lots of other things).  Check out the cafe which is on the inside of the huge outward facing clock. Then there are all the various smaller (but still not that small) museums including: Musee Rodin (dedicated to Rodin, who sculpted “The Thinker”), Musee Picasso, Musee Marmottan-Monet (which houses Monet’s painting “Impression soleil levant” which gave rise to the name of the Impressionist movement), Musee de l’Orangerie (which is in the Tuileries gardens and houses Monet’s huge series of water lilies, les Nympheas, that take up the whole walls).  You can purchase a museum pass for 2, 4 or 6 days and check out which museums it gives access to, but one of the best features is that you can go straight to the front of the line, at least for the permanent collections.  It does not get you in free to the visiting exhibits, and what’s so cool to me is that Parisians flood these exhibits. On opening day of a new exhibit, you will certainly be standing in line for a while and the museum rooms will be smashed with people elbowing to see what’s on each wall.  I feel like Americans just aren’t that pumped about our own museums like Parisians are about theirs.  Just Google Paris Museum Pass for details.

4. Outside of Paris, but still quite accessible are Versailles and Giverny.  Versailles is the magnificent palace, famous for the hall of mirrors and expansive, manicured gardens.  Explore the history of King Louis XIV, King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette.  You can get there easily by train and entrance is included with the above-mentioned museum pass.  Giverny is the home and gardens of Monet, where he painted his famous water lilies.  It’s a bit trickier to get to – the best way is probably car – but you can take a train and then a cab from there.  Giverny is lovely and if you love Monet and flowers and gardens it is a wonderland.  Otherwise, it might not be worth using up one of your precious Paris days to head out there.  It is not included in the museum pass.

5. On the northern outskirts of town, Le Marche aux Puces, or flea market, is well-worth a visit.  They have everything from antiques to Converse to cute shoes and accessories for 5-10 euros.  When I went, I got a pair of black pointy flats for 10 euros and a vintage belt with a huge gold buckle.  Take the metro to Porte de Clignancourt; check out Frommer’s for a good history of the market and specific walking directions once you exit the metro.  Don’t try to walk all the way up here from center city – it’s far and you will pass through some sketchy neighborhoods.

6. My favorite food in Paris are crepes.  Savory or sweet, somehow I’ve never had one in the US that can measure up to the ones in Paris.  I think it’s because they use different crepe batter for sweet vs. savory crepes.  Crepes are a cheap, versatile food for breakfast, lunch or dinner that you can walk with or sit down and enjoy.  I find that you really can’t go wrong with a Nutella crepe at anytime of the day or night.  I’m pretty specific about my savory crepes, so I can tell you that my absolute most favorite crepe place is Au P’tit Grec on Rue Mouffetard in the 5eme right near my old apartment on Rue Broca.  Rue Mouffetard is worth a trip in and of itself: a small market-lined street where you can get anything from fruit to cheese to flowers.  Au P’tit Grec is a hole-in-the-wall pretty far up the hill, and at the bottom of the road is a cute square with cafes where you can have “un express” (an espresso) outside overlooking a fountain.  There is also a cute square at the top of the road with cafes, but I prefer the square at the base as there is more people-watching.

7. French coffee is wonderful.  I don’t know what makes it so good, but I was never an espresso drinker until I got to Paris.  Maybe because I was a poor post-grad and espressos were the cheapest drink, but somehow I could make an espresso last an hour.  That’s the thing about French cafes – they never kick you out.  Just buy something cheap, crack a book and soak up the surroundings all afternoon.  I remember one afternoon, I sat at a cafe for hours and various friends popped in and out for a coffees.  I also highly recommend the cafe creme.  Again, I’m not 100% sure how it is made, but I believe they warm the milk/cream, as opposed to a cafe au lait, where I think they give you cold milk in the hot coffee.  Cafe cremes came to be my favorite French drink…somehow better than a latte, although it may be very similar in real life.  I’ve never had something like a cafe creme anywhere else in the world.

8. Well actually scratch that.  Cotes de Provence rose wine is my favorite French drink.  This specific region uses a lot of grenache grape.  I don’t find the wine to be overly sweet, and it’s the perfect light, crisp wine.  Also, it’s great that you can buy good bottles for 2 euros at the grocery store.  It’s fairly hard to find Cotes de Provence rose in Baltimore, so I try to carry back as many bottles as possible in my suitcase.

9.  It wouldn’t be my blog without some good pizza references.  My two favorite pizza places in Paris are both near my old place and Rue Mouffetard.  The first is Pizza Cesar on Boulevard Saint-Michel near the corner of Avenue des Gobelins.  Just good, cozy pizza, whereas so many pizzas in France tend to have thicker, carboardier-type crust.  What I like about Paris pizza places is that they have spicy hot olive oil on each table, sometimes instead of crushed red pepper.  This oil is particularly good on the crust.  The second pizza place I frequented was right next to my apartment building on Rue Broca, Matana.  Thinner crust and not too heavy on sauce and cheese if I remember correctly.  Definitely pop your head in or call ahead if you are making a special trip because the owners are religious and so it may be closed on certain holidays/days of the week.

10. I can’t really say that I have the best suggestions for nicer restaurants, as I never really ate in those while living in Paris, subsisting on cheese and bread, pasta, salad and pizza.  I have heard that L’Ami Jean near the Eiffel Tower is “foodie,” trendy and excellent.

11.  I love being outside in Paris.  You can spend hours wandering the gardens and open spaces.  There are the big ones: Tuileries, Jardin du Luxembourg, Champ de Mars, but here are a few smaller ones that are hidden spots to visit: on Ile de France, the island in the Seine where Notre Dame is, there is Square de l’Ile de France on one end back behind Notre Dame and Square de Vert-Galant on the other end.  You may have to go down some stairs located on the bridge to get to this one…watch the boats float by on both sides of the park.  In the Square de l’Ile de France is where the Holocaust Memorial is.  It only takes a few minutes to visit but it is incredibly moving.  It’s actually called the Memorial of Martyrs of the Deportation, which is appropriate because the structure of the memorial is to make you feel as though you are looking out into the river through slats in the deportation boats.  Chilling.

12.  Other monuments and memorials are hidden gems to find all over the city.  Apart from all the interesting churches that are mostly open for you to go inside and look at the beautiful architecture and paintings (including Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur of course), there are cool architectural features all over the city.  There is the fountain at Place Saint Michel.  There is the unofficial Princess Diana memorial, which is at Place d’Alma near  to where she was killed in 1997.  This is a huge golden flame, The Flame of Liberty, that replicates the flame held by the Statue of Liberty and was a gift by the International Herald Tribune in 1989.  I think Parisians find it silly, and it’s not worth a visit unless you’re really into Princess Di.  Trocadero is a neat area across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower where you can climb up the long, high staircase for a good view of the Tower.  If you walk east down Avenue du President Wilson, you’ll come to a cluster of great off-the-beaten-path museums:  Musee Galliera (fashion museum), Palais de Tokyo (the gift shop is worth checking out for different and nifty finds) and Musee d’Art Moderne.

13. Bastille and Le Marais.  On the northern side of Rue de Rivoli is the historic district of Le Marais.  Historically the Jewish quarter, you may be hard pressed to find the temples as they are typically closed to the public and hidden away, but you will find Jewish influences all over the place.  Very cute cafes in the winding roads back here, and this is also where Musee Picasso is located.  Walk to the east until you come across Place des Vosges – a very swanky residential address along a green square, where you will also find (and can tour) Victor Hugo’s home.  Keep walking east until you hit Place de la Bastille – grab a coffee or dinner in one of the many international restaurants.

14.  Okay last thing for now, I swear (although I could go on):  Laduree.  Famous tea shop has THE BEST quintessential French macarons (macaroons).  Not cheap, but a must.  Stand in line and get 4-6 flavors in a “to go” box and savor them while you walk along the quays of the Seine and look at the bookstalls and art dealers set up along the bank.

P.S. If you have extra time check out La Defense, which is a modern Arc de Triomphe in the financial district.  If you take the metro beyond the real Arc, you will reach La Defense metro stop.  Walk around, see the modern arch, and as I recall, there may be an art gallery inside the arch at the top.  Also if you have extra time, head south on the metro to Place d’Italie for “Chinatown” and other good Asian cuisine, such as pho.

Phew.  Everyone feel free to comment on this post with your Paris favorites and soon our friends will have tons to do!

Bon Voyage!!