Saturday, August 29, 2009

The little things I love

August was a brutal month. But there were the little moments throughout. There always are.

I think this is one of my favorite photos so far. I took a ride on the ferris wheel.

And took in the view from the top.

Ahhh, the fruit.
Then there are the macarons.

Sometimes I have to stick my head out the window to take in the evening view. Gorgeous.

And Place Vendome, je t'aime.

New York, New York

Although I’ve surprised myself with not missing tons of things back home (except all of you, of course), now that I’m about to return, I am unbelievably excited for many things.

I’m excited to read magazines again: smutty fashion magazines and the local rags.

I’m excited to eat bagels and pizza.

I’m excited to take taxis home—instead of the Velibs—and to watch all of the lights and people and energy whizzing by the window.

I’m excited for the restaurants and to drink and to stay out past my bedtime.

I’m really excited to see my apartment again. I feel like it’s a part of me.

I'm excited for yoga.

I'm excited not to work for two weeks.

And I’m excited, so excited, to see everyone. A bientot!

Top 10 tastes in six months

As I look forward to my NYC visit, and all of my lunch and dinner and cocktail dates (cannot, cannot wait!), I’ve been hitting the rewind on my past nearly-six months here. Here are the Top 10 things I’ve eaten.

My first Nutella crepe
That fruit salad infused with vanilla
Chicken pastilla
Bernachon Pâte d’Amande Pistache tablette
Lunch in Nice
Cantaloupe. Perfect.
The Eric Kayser baguette, dressed with olive oil, mozzarella and salt and pepper when Mom and Bob were here
An octopus salad, done perfectly at Bistro Paul Bert
The warm pain au raisin from Stohrer
Ladurée’s strawberry and pistachio Saint-Honoré

Spike Jonze, Catherine Keener and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs?!

Where the Wild Things Are Trailer #2

Donald Mitchell

Melissa has shared many beautiful things with me here in Paris. One of them is Donald Mitchell.

A couple months ago, after a heinously drunken Saturday night when I wanted to just pass out on the sidewalk, but instead got sick on my doorstep and dragged up the six flights of stairs by my very forgiving friend Michael, I had plans to meet Melissa. I hadn’t been that hungover in I don’t know how many years, but I couldn’t flake. So I threw on my baggy jeans, added extra blush to look alive, and met Melissa at Galerie Impaire, where she was doing a little consulting work.

Galerie Impaire is affiliated with Creative Growth, an art center in Oakland, CA that’s devoted to mentally, physically and developmentally disabled adults. There are about 150 artists there, and they’re likely to work five hours a day, for several days a week. When verbal communication fails, their art is how they express themselves. How wonderful that Elias Katz, a psychologist with developmental disabilities expertise, and Florence Ludins-Katz, an artist and art teacher, created this place where these artists can work, and that Tom di Maria opened Galerie Impaire to represent their work here in Paris.

Melissa showed me around the gallery, and I was so drawn into the story and the artists. She explained that they mostly fell into one of two categories: they either created these outrageously over-the-top fantasy worlds and characters—an indication maybe of the world as they see it or how they wish it to be. But in any case, very far from reality.

The other camp falls into a repetitive mode, drawing or painting the same thing, shape, person, whatever, over and over. Like Donald Mitchell.

Mitchell grew up in San Francisco. He was a late learner (didn’t speak until he was five) and stuck in special ed classes. When he was a teenager, he was running across the street and hit by a bus. Afterwards, he was diagnosed with moderate mental retardation and schizophrenia, and ran a bit with a bad crowd, leading to stints in juvenile detention as well as psychiatric facilities. A caseworker finally recommended him for admission to Creative Growth in 1975. He’s been working there since.

The more you look at Mitchell’s work, the more moving it is. Some drawings are intricate and feathery. Others are bold and geometric. Most are black and white, created with ink and paper, though he has done some beguiling watercolors. By the end of my visit, I knew I wanted to take one home with me and narrowed it down to four considerations. I went back a few weeks later with my decision and credit card.

The reason I’m writing about him now is I was just cleaning my apartment before leaving for New York and stopped to look at my Donald Mitchell. It makes me so happy.

As Melissa pointed out, mine is a little unusual. It has his trademark human figures, drawn in a repetitive pattern. But it also has some color and words, both of which are rarer for Mitchell. I like that it incorporates some of his dark, hashing marks but still feels light.

His story haunts me a bit. Life is so fragile. And when it’s reduced to such simple thoughts and expressions, it’s somehow more moving. It's bigger, more emotional. So happy I have this.

Thanks, Melis.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The medical mysteries of acclimating to a new city

I had to get some blood drawn today (by the cutest, plumpest old lady), and it got me thinking.

Since I've been in Paris, I went flying over my handlebars, and flying down a flight of stairs. I was accosted by a taxi driver, and I accidentally got drunker than I've been in years. I lost my glasses, a pair of nice earrings, and I broke my watch.

I've never exactly been a study of grace, but what's all that about? There must be some sort of neurological explanation, or at least a crackpot theory, about the high incidence of accidents when you're new to a city.

Pourquoi moi?

I feel lame. And I feel like I've been letting you down. The whole idea of coming to Paris was to live. To eat, explore, breathe in and absorb this city. But all I've been doing for the past 10 days—for most of the summer, really—is working. I'm exhausted. But more than that, I'm annoyed.

What happened to the laissez-faire sensibilities? To the blow-off month of August? What happened to the laughable French work ethic? Everyone else seems to be relaxed and smiley from their vacances, so I know it's not all a myth. Unless you're the American writer working through six weekends of the summer, waiting for a contract, and trusting that big things are going to happen.

Adding salt to the wound, I found out last night that they wanted/needed me to go to the Venice Film Festival next week for a project I've been working on. Of course, the first potential boondoggle I've had since I've been here (nope, no product discounts), and I'm already scheduled to be out of the country.

But that's okay. The disappointment of no Venice and the exhaustion of 60+ hours a week will all be worth it when I'm back in New York next week. I can't wait.

Room with a new view

I discovered something sort of cool tonight.

I can't see the Eiffel Tower from my apartment. But, when the lovely landmark has its hourly display of strobing lights, I can see the reflection of it in my neighbhor's window.

I'll take it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Prefall fashion trends

• Black sequined anything
• Black leather with zippers
• Nautical stripes
• Over the knee: if not boots, then at least socks
• Peep toes
• Red

French word of the day: bronzé

Def: tan

Everyone is returning from their summer vacances this week. Stores, boulangeries, restaurants are opening one by one, bringing daily life back to the city. Sure enough, the Frenchies are blessed with great skin: it seems to soak up the sun and turn golden brown, making everyone more beautiful than normal. However, I've noticed quite a few people recently whose tans are disturbingly dark and au savage. Their skin isn't merely tan, but orange. Fashion faux pas, don't they know?

Work is for the birds

The problem with working 15 days in a row is that it prevents me from doing what I really love: gushing about Paris.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Hit pause

When I don't want to go to work, like today, Saturday, I pause while crossing the street to the office to remind myself that I'm lucky to be here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The little things I love

This morning my senses and my mood were especially attuned to the city.

• Ah, that unmistakable smell of bread baking at the boulangerie.
• The taste of creamy milk in my coffee.
• The sun breaking through the grey skies.
• Seeing an older couple—probably mid-seventies—holding hands.
• The ride through Place de la Concorde—this morning, it outshone Place Vendome.
• Noticing the neck of the Eiffel Tower for the first time from a spot of my commute that I pass every day.

Ah, Paris

What's not to love?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

French phrase of the day: Les années folles

Def: The roaring 20s

Literally, les années folles means the crazy years, but this is the phrase the French used for that divine era in which e.e. cummings, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, John Dos Passos, the Fitzgeralds, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, Janet Flanneur… everyone… was running around Paris, having the times of their lives.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Not dead, just tres chaud

This is how Milo stays cool, fools.

Mrs. O

I don’t get enough Obama footage over here (you’re all a little overexposed back home, maybe?). But I love that Michelle wears dresses from Target (Merona for Target, specifically). So cool.

French word of the day: la chaleur

Def: heat

The country is being smothered by a heat wave. It’s hot in Paris, but it’s apparently broiling down south. So hot that certain regions have mandated a lower speed limit (la vitesse limitée) to lower emissions and smog.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The blue hour

The sun is sadly setting earlier by the day. But every night when I look out the window, I'm still in awe of twilight's beauty.

Monday, August 17, 2009


I’m so ashamed. I just went to McDonald’s. I haven’t been in probably about four years—my last recollection was stopping at one with Aim as we were driving home, hung-over, from some Babson reunion. I think I just got fries—I can’t even remember the last time I had anything else there.

But there is a McDonald’s right outside our office. And there aren’t many places in the neighborhood for snacks. The thought of a vanilla soft-serve crosses my mind from time to time, especially on a sunny day like today. And well, I finally gave in.

McDonald’s in Paris is a funny thing. Before you walk by the stank of the bathrooms to get to the counter way, way in the back, there’s a “McCafe” where they sell macarons, croissants and espresso. Classic. Only in Paris.

I had another only in Paris moment last night—I, um, also went to Starbucks. This was my first visit to a Starbucks in probably seven or eight months and the only reason I went is because we had a meeting for work—a Sunday evening meeting before the madness of this week began. Just like New York, Starbucks are everywhere in Paris and they’re a convenient and logical meeting place. Except this one had twenty-foot ceilings and crystal chandeliers. Probably faux-crystal, but still, it was funny to be sucking on a raspberry frappaccino in such grandeur.

But I am really not meant to eat at these places—once in awhile in the states, maybe, but never in Paris. For there I was, out on the Champs-Elysée, enjoying my McDonald’s ice cream, when something fell on me. Sure enough, a pigeon shat on me. A sign.

Mel? Alex? WTF? What is going on with me and the pigeons?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Beating heart

There's so much life and love here. Was it the same in New York and I just didn't notice? Sometimes when I'm walking around, I get teary-eyed at the beauty and magic and don't know if it's because I'm so happy being surrounded by it all or sad that I don't have anyone to share it with.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Another cooking class

Nomiya is the restaurant perched on top of the Palais de Tokyo, all but impossible to get into because of its views of the Eiffel Tower and its sheer novelty (the French have mastered the pop-up shops, especially at Colette, but pop-up rooftop restaurants are a whole other ballgame). But with the restaurant, the museum and Electrolux (maker of kitchen appliances) launched two-hour cooking workshops, which I gladly opted in for.

The site does a good snow-job of making it sound like you’re in fact going to be cooking up on that roof, under the personal tutelage of Gilles Stassart. Even though neither was the case, it was a fun class nonetheless.

The space is white, slick and huge. There were 11 of us with a charming female chef, and we were divided into three groups: one preparing the fish, one preparing the veggies, one preparing the dessert. Which group do you think I joined?

The lunchtime menu was grilled sardines with coriander (now I know I like sardines—yay!), sautéed Provencal vegetables and plum clafoutis. I liked the simplicity of the menu as it was manageable for a large group and also the essence of modern French cooking: let the flavors of the ingredients do the work.

Although I didn’t touch the sardines, I kept my eye on the group as they deboned, dressed and cooked them.

I wanted to get a close-up of the skin so you could see the brilliant color—such a pretty, iridescent blue-silver—but it was something I couldn’t capture with my little camera.

Nor could I capture the gorgeous colors of these berry sauces, one cassis the other groseilles, which accompanied the clafoutis.

I worked on the clafoutis—a custardy cake that’s baked with fresh fruit and made with plenty of eggs, butter, sugar and cream.

Aside from baking with Pichet back in New York, it was my first time using scales to measure ingredients, which is how the French do it, and is a more precise way of baking, which is what you need when baking. Or so they say.

It turned out okay. I would have liked more plums baked in the cake and a less eggy/custardy consistency.

This is me feeling all Julia Child in an apron, smiling because dessert is on the table.

I was also happy as the fun and lovely patissier Rachel Khoo happened to be taking the same course, and she’s next on my list for cooking adventures in the city.

Two days in Paris

August in Paris is a wasteland. The last days at the office before this past week’s closure was just like being a college student right before winter break: Everyone atwitter about their holidays, where they’re vacationing, the prospect of sleeping late, partying and not having any professors or exams to worry about. The air’s festive and charged, and then—boom!—everyone splits.

I, of course, was happy to visit Prague again. But it’s also been nice to “vacation” here in Paris.

I spent Thursday exploring on foot and Velib. Opal had told me about this neighborhood, Butte-aux-Cailles, a hilly spot in the 13th arrondisement that’s really cute, so I wandered out there.

The arrondisement is actually where I stayed last summer with my apartment swap, but it’s a big, varied neighborhood, and I didn’t explore this part. You can see the juxtaposition of the quaint village-y architecture against the new 20th Century monstrosities—typical for the outer arrondisements of the city.

The 13th is also where Les Frigos are, and, though this was a totally different part of the neighborhood, you could still see the renegade artistic flair around.

Which is funny, if you think about the Parisians who lived here 300 years ago, before paint in a spray can was invented.

I liked these pups, on guard outside a government building.

The next day, I saw more art, this time inside a museum: the Palais de Tokyo.

I’ve wanted to visit this museum for a while, hearing alternately that it’s the coolest, most under-appreciated museum in Paris and that it’s a dump. I guess it’s a little of both, but I had a great visit.

Not a soul in the Salle de Matisse.

Similarly, the rest of the museum was wonderfully devoid of crowds. Except the brilliant Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit. Man, that guy could take pictures! Some of the photos gave me goosebumps, but taking a picture of pictures doesn't really do them justice.

Next time I go, I want to dine on the giant terrace and gaze at the Eiffel Tower.

In between my museum visits, I did the cinema en plein air. It’s just like New York. Except it’s Paris! Tee hee.

I took a picnic dinner to the Place de Vosges for The Three Musketeers. (I wanted to pack up that little cutie in the glasses, who was almost as entertaining as the movie.)

Since I’m not taking French lessons at the moment, and I haven’t been very diligent about studying on my own, I’m trying to watch French TV and films to at least get the words inside my head, even if I don’t understand them.

I’m not sure this strategy is really working, but at least it’s fun.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Man bags are in

Big, expensive man bags.

Weather check: heavenly

I couldn’t ask for better summertime weather. Today was a perfect day. No humidity. Blue skies. Sunshine and sundress and sandal temperatures.

But not every day is like this. Tomorrow is supposed to reach 90 degrees (32, Celsius—I really have to start using the metric system). It will be hot, especially in my treehouse. But it will also be fleeting. There is rarely more than a two- or three-day stint of hot and humid weather before some front moves in and cools everything off dramatically. So then there will be a grey day in the 70s. A little cool, but not cold. And the day after that will be a little warmer. And then a little warmer, still. And then it comes full circle with the pitch-perfect day, crossing over into hot territory.

Just like Popeye used to say: if you don’t like the weather, stick around awhile. It will change.


Life is good when one of your most favorite friends invites you to share her five-star hotel in a beautiful European capital city because she’s there for work and you have the time and say why not? and scoot off to Prague for a few days.

Life is definitely good. The office is closed. All of France is on vacation. The weather has been perfect. I’ve been eating delicious dinners and sweets, biking around Paris, hiking around Prague, sleeping, relaxing, reading. I am smiling.

Alex and I flew to Prague on Sunday night after a fast but perfectly balanced weekend in Paris. In addition to Saturday’s adventures in biking and eating, we brunched at Chez Janou, poked around the Marais and then pedaled over to the Cartier Fondation—one of my favorite spots in Paris—for the graffiti exhibition, Born in the Streets. I sort of wanted to hate the exhibition (graffiti?? really?), but it was pretty great. The curators did a brilliant job of tracing the movement and the original graffiti artists, and having a multimedia experience that made it all but impossible to refute that graffiti is indeed an art and has defined a couple generations around the world now.

So with those deep thoughts in my brain and some Haribo gummies in my travel bag, we set off. The decadence began with our airport transfer. Alex had phoned the Mandarin Oriental to get a car to pick us up when we landed. Said car was a shiny black Mercedes sedan, with wet hand towels and bottles of water for our travel-weary selves. It made the drive to the hotel a treat in and of itself. After a hot shower, I fell into the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in, with pillows to die for, and slept for over nine hours. Sigh.

Prague is a beautiful city. It’s fairy tale beautiful.

But for better or worse, there’s no great shopping or museums (aside from the Kampa) so the days were spent wandering around, either with Alex or solo when she was working.

From Malá Strana, I hiked up to the Prague Castle past a monastery and this wonderful orchard filled with apple and pear trees and blackberry bushes. So cool to see those things in the middle of a city.

I do like Prague’s bohemian charms. Just little things like the marionette shops and produce markets.

Because the hotel was in the same neighborhood, I walked by the John Lennon wall several times.

We had a couple amazing dinners, including one at La Finestra, an Italian place that’s the sister restaurant to Aromi, where I ate with Dad, Chris and Dana when they were living there. I had the best bass of my life at Aromi so I felt compelled to get seafood again. I went with grilled octopus, which consisted of two long tentacles that came on a ginormous platter. I think it turned Alex’s stomach, but they were utterly delicious. Besides, her ragout had rabbit in it.

Before I left town, I indulged in a couple treatments at the Mandarin Oriental spa (I’m telling you, life is good) and saw Gehry’s Dancing House from across the Vltava and a powerful sculpture/memorial to all the victims of Czechoslovakia’s communism rule.

The only thing that would have perfected the trip was if we had had a Madonna sighting. Despite our hotel lobby lurking, bordering on stalking, we didn’t see Madge, who was also staying at the Mandarin.

Thanks, Alex!