Thursday, July 23, 2009

Notes on Paris

I know, I know -- worst blogger ever! As I near the close of my third summer in Europe -- a pretentious opening clause if there ever was one -- I find I just have less and less to say about the minutiae of life here. And apparently, I don't have the energy to come up with a theme either. So here are some random things I've been noticing lately.

*All of the bakeries in my neighborhood are closed on Wednesday. Of course that was the day I came home so hungry I could eat an entire eclair in one bite. On my way walking around my neighborhood (for more closed bakeries) I had an imaginary discussion in my head with an owner -- why all on Wednesday? Well, because that is when bakeries are closed. Why not have some close on Monday or Tuesday, like other shops? Because then it wouldn't it be Wednesday, now would it? QED.

*On the topic of bakeries, there are five of them within a 3-minute walk of my flat. This may be the thing I'll miss most about Paris.

*To finish the topic of bakeries, I've become incredibly snotty on the topic of baguette quality.

*If you've never seen it before, the water running through the streets to clean out the debris is charming. Good use of water? Not so sure.

*Anyone who tells you that the French are rude has either never been here, or hasn't been here in about 30 years. I find the French almost unfailingly polite, and if anything, we are comparatively rude. Everyone here says "Bonjour" when they come across one another, even complete strangers. You are expected to greet all shopkeepers when you enter a store, before you make a request. When you're done, you are expected to say goodbye. You say hello to people in the apartment building you don't know and people in the park who catch your eye. It's almost courtly.

*For my Obie friends who went to the reunion, my toilet here also has separate buttons for No. 1 and No. 2. No. 1 works for everything but the most persistent, um, clogs.

*The parks and libraries all have free wi-fi provided by the City of Paris. Even as a non-citizen, I can check books out of the library free of charge simply by providing an address. Apparently you can even give the address of a hotel.

*I'm also going to miss the expired, half-priced Covent Garden soup pints that my grocery store gives away for less than two euros. Spinach, asparagus, ham & lentil, carrot & coconut milk... great stuff.

*I hate to say it, but food in restaurants has been disappointing. There has been a great deal of discussion of "the crisis in French cuisine" in recent years, and now I see why. Classic French cooking is kind of passe at this point, and also often incredibly bland. For example, I had a rabbit leg served in a glass dish for lunch this week. This sounds incredibly cool, until you taste the rabbit (dried out) and the sauce (blander than 70s-style Ragu). Even when well cooked -- for example, a duck confit I enjoyed greatly a few weeks ago with a Stanford friend -- you realize that the food is fixed in a particular place and time. Traditional is great for a visit, but to live in it must get stale after awhile. Even the ethnic food is bland.

*After writing the previous note, I fear I may be deported.

*The use of public parks is pretty remarkable here. Because there is no air conditioner and little indoor space, people use public spaces very well. The park across the street from my apartment has at least 30 people in it all day long, and the park is only one square block. On weekends it is positively packed. Children are running everywhere, but plenty of regular people are just sitting on benches -- reading books, listening to iPods, playing guitars, staring into space. It's a good thing.

*This week is Paris Plage, where the city imports tons of sand and turns the Right Bank, from Bastille to the Louvre, into a big beach. It's done for Parisians who can't afford summer vacation on the ocean. (Really.)

I only have two weeks left, which means this trip has gone by amazingly fast. I still have many things to do -- the Musee d'Orsay, the sewer tour, maybe Giverny. But all in all, I think I'll be ready to go home.


At 4:53 AM, Blogger Sheila said...

The gardens at Giverny are absolutely stunning and are not to be missed. I like them better than just about anything at the d'Orsay.

The mistake we made was assuming that the bus/train combo that gave us about an hour and a half (I think?) would not be enough time. It was precisely enough time to wander happily through the garden. But there is also the house, so we opted for the later bus/train combination, which meant that we had waaaaaaaay too much time for the house--which, eh--and way, way, WAY too much time for the rest of the town. of which there is very little. And the food available in Giverny is appalling, so lingering at a cafe is not recommended.

And I have experienced Paris now at the ages of 9 (1980), 14, 15, 16, and 36, and the Parisians were absolutely delightful and warm and friendly to me, every single time I've been there. (Whereas Americans in Paris are, all too often, awful. Not most of them, but the sticky-outy ones stick out because of their awfulness.)

At 8:44 PM, Blogger jp said...

I can see where finding things to write about would be hard (I even find commenting on blogs hard!) but how about some photos? Please? :)

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