Sunday, August 27, 2006

Stain-resistant skirt saves evening

Saturday night, John and I had a date. My daughter's art teacher from toddler daycare recommended a soiree that her new boyfriend/chef was hosting at his restaurant. It was located near Gare de l'Est, the train station featured in the movie, Amelie. We climbed the same stairs Amelie's love interest takes when chasing after the man with the red shoes, and walked along and above the train tracks until we came upon the tiny restaurant, where several of the smoking, chatting patrons were spilling out onto the street. I had forgotten what a soiree was supposed to be like, which is not like a normal evening at the restaurant. It's basically a party, but you pay a flat fee for the food (served like hors d'oeuvres) and alcohol. So, it was like going to party where we didn't know anybody. We weren't quite in the mood for that, so we took off looking for another place to have our dinner out.

This was a neighborhood I wouldn't feel comfortable walking around by myself at night where most of the dining establishments are bars and where there's a large sign with huge, dirty yellow, capital letters advertising SEX SHOP. But I felt safe with John and knew we'd get some cheap eats in the area. John spotted a nice-looking exterior to a Franco-Lebanese restaurant, named La Princesse, so we went by to check it out.

The menu looked good and very reasonable so we went in. It was a cozy place with an old stone wall on one side where there was a large and rather interesting relief of some Greek ruins. Since it was just after 8 pm, we were one of the first ones there for dinner (dinner starts around 8 pm for most people in France). After he took our order, the waiter went back to chatting with his friend, who was seated but obviously not there for dinner, instead of taking our order directly to the chef. I later realized there wasn't any urgency because our meal of assorted little dishes, usually called mezza, started off with the cold, previously-prepared appetizers of hummus (blend of pureed chickpeas, sesame paste, garlic, and lemon juice), tabouleh (chopped and dressed parsley), baba-ganoush (roasted eggplant dip), and a delicious crumbly cheese (type of feta?) accompanied by Lebanese flatbread. It wasn't bad. We finished it all rather quickly and I was nearly full. Right after, we were quickly served seven more little dishes, five of which were deep-fried (not good for our diet). John ate most of the hot dishes, which included a pastry stuffed with the same cheese served earlier, another pastry with seasoned ground meat, marinated chicken wings, flatbread stuffed with cheese and meat, and falafel (yummy fried balls of seasoned, ground chickpeas). Not bad for twelve euros per person.

We had just finished eating when the waiter brought over the menu again so we could select a dessert. In the process, the waiter clumsily knocked over my nearly-full wine glass. It was a bit of a shock getting a lapful of red wine thrown at me. For the moment, all the waiter did was ask, "Ca va?" (it's okay?). No, it's not okay. You think you'd be okay with a glass of wine in your lap? I just said in French, "No, this isn't very good." I was calm, but I was trying to convince him that this was more than just a little spill of water on the table by the tone of my voice. I did my best sopping up the mess while in my seat with some napkins. The waiter apologized and brought over a dishcloth with hot water. I continued working at my mess and finally decided it would be more effective to go to the restroom to finish the job as my legs were also wet and sticky. Eww!

The chef was very sympathetic and brought over some more napkins to me and offered to watch the door when I said I was going to dry my skirt under the hand-dryer. Thank goodness my skirt was black and dark red, and made of this stretchy, synthetic material which I discovered was non-stainable! It was quickly dried to my relief and looked as good as new, although I totally reeked like a very ripe homeless person.

I returned to the table and the puddle of wine at my feet that didn't get cleaned up, and John and I shared his dessert. He ordered the flan which was really good, but the waiter also included some baklava and other overly sweet things to appease me. He also gave us each a little cocktail of coconut milk and probably vodka. Those were nice gestures, but I was not appeased. For me, an adequate apology would be taking my dinner off the tab instead. Maybe he would have if I was wearing an expensive, white, silk dress?

I didn't let the accident spoil our evening. John and I enjoyed each other's company thoroughly. It was nice to walk through Paris as if we were a new couple, and hold his hand, put my head on his shoulder, nuzzle up against his neck. It's hard to believe we've known each other for almost ten years.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Some photos finally!

Okay, I'm finally organizing my photos on the computer and have put a few onto my new online photo album at flickr. Click on the "my photos" link in the right sidebar to view. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The life-changing effects of exercise

I stopped regular exercise in 1999 or 2000. Only because I'm lazy. Up to 2000, I was always enrolled in some university program where I could easily sign up for some physical education class that met two to three times a week. After that, I did not have the interest, determination, or self-discipline to start my own exercise regime and stick with it.

Just now, I am realizing there may be a correlation between lack of exercise and my mental well-being. I was depressed and lost for at least the first half of 2000. Yes, part of it was because I had just finished one of my academic programs and didn't know where to go from there. Maybe part of it was that I had been engaged to John for almost a year and no plans for a wedding had been made. I think exercise could have improved life for me -- at least a little.

In the last few weeks, I have reaped so many benefits from exercising daily (once or twice a day) and eating lighter (less fat and carbs). I haven't lost much weight (give me time -- I'm starting my at-home cardio routine at present -- perhaps to involve kickboxing which I'm learning about from the internet) but I have a flatter belly and well-defined legs and waist. I can't fit my old jeans yet, but at least my form-fitting shirts are not embarrassing to wear anymore. I have more energy to do extra things in the evening, like playing the violin or wrestling with Maylin. I used to be tired a lot. I have more confidence and I'm happy a lot because I look and feel better. My face has a nice, healthy glow now and I must be smiling more like I used to in my youthful, carefree days because more people are smiling at me!

My strength has improved, too, thanks to my stronger abs and legs. It's much easier to carry Maylin or my heavy backpack. And climbing up six flights of stairs is a cinch!

I also feel more relaxed! I used to get a little stressed out with company over (worrying about the cleanliness of the house, worrying about whether or not they were getting enough to eat or drink), but now I'm enjoying myself more because I'm so happy to see my friends and that's the most important thing. I'm physically more relaxed, too. When I picked up the violin last night after nearly a year of dust accumulation, I found my fingers, hand, and wrist moving rather easily -- more easily than before. I used to tense up quite a bit, leaving myself stiff and sore after practice sessions.

If you don't have regular exercise in your daily routine, I highly recommend starting something now! But pick an activity you enjoy doing so you know you'll stick to it longer. I may never have a gym membership because I know I'd get bored on those machines and I'd get too lazy to go out and take exercise classes. But maybe you'd like the gym. John goes about three times a week and likes it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Porte de Vanves flea market

I spent last Sunday morning scouring the goods at the "marche aux puces" near metro stop Porte de Vanves in the fourteenth arrondissement. I was enchanted from the start. Compared to the large and overwhelming flea market (the largest in the world) of St. Ouen near metro Porte de Clignancourt, this one is charming and relaxed -- I was actually comfortable enough to chat and bargain with the dealer in French (although many of them speak English, too).

If you like rummaging through bric-a-brac (sorry, not much furniture or jewelry), the flea market of Porte de Vanves is for you. Lots of beautiful Limoges dishes, glassware, antique silverware, art (mostly bad paintings, unfortunately), gorgeous antique tools like chisels, wrenches, and clamps, toys, buttons, and old keychains. I found some old, moving, metal coin banks that resembled those featured on PBS' Antiques Roadshow. The coolest one had a seated man with the politically incorrect "black face" from the '20s and a standing dentist who would move towards him and recoil backwards while pulling out a bloody tooth, upon the deposit of a coin.

Many of the items are without price tags so feel free to make an offer up front. Some dealers seem to have a set price for their goods, but I think most of the prices are still negotiable. I had an unsuccessful negotiation for the remnants of a clock from probably the 50s. What was for sale was just the face of the clock (with a cool, Bauhaus typeface) and a beveled-edge glass cover. No mechanism, no arms, no back. I was willing to pay five bucks. The dealer was firm with his ten-euro price, trying to convince me it was a good deal because it was originally marked fifteen euros. I said that was too expensive, that there wasn't much there, and he said the glass itself was worth the price. Give me a break. I walked away and he didn't seem to care. Oh well. It's kind of funny because later I found the exact same clockface and glass cover mounted on a huge slab of orange marble -- it was not done in a tasteful way at all. Can you believe it? Ninety euros. You can avoid dealers like those. I'll probably find another one of those clockfaces again someday (for one euro) and I will make my own clock with it.

I had a better time negotiating for seven, neat, elongated animal "porte-couteaux" (for propping up your knives at the dining table). Two sheep, a bear, a fox, a warthog, a rabbit, and a kangaroo. They're very nicely done. I forgot to ask but I think they're silver because some are a bit tarnished. The woman was asking for eight euros a piece. I offered five. She said maybe, depending on how many I wanted. I picked my seven out of the nine available (the other two were cats with amputated legs) and offered thirty for my set. She said forty. I said thirty-five. She said forty. I said thirty-five. She tried to convince me they were worth forty. I said I'd think about it, and that's when she caved in. Yay! I felt even better about my purchase when I ran across very similar items at another dealer's table -- six for sixty euros. Woohoo! I got mine for half price! Good day, good day.

I walked through the market for over an hour and still didn't see all the merchants. Can't wait to go back next Sunday with John and Maylin. Beware, flea market shoppers: the bric-a-brac magically turns into clothing around 12:30 pm.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Comedy of errors in the beautiful French countryside

Whenever John and I take a road trip in France, we inevitably make several blunders. They're usually navigational because if you miss one teensy-weensy sign on the highway (no prep signs), it could cost you a half-hour of extra driving. But this time, before we even took off for our trip to Brittany for the four-day weekend last week, I made a huge hotel reservation blunder that cost us an extra 3-4 hours of nail-biting on the road. It all turned out all right in the end, thank goodness. But when I booked a place in Morlaix (way out in the west of Brittany), I thought I was booking it near St. Malo and Mont St. Michel, very popular sites for European and American tourists. It was mostly my fault for not knowing French geography very well, but the discount site I was on was a bit deceptive saying the hotel was near St. Michel. Alas, the tiny village of St. Michel is not the famed Mont St. Michel with the amazing abbey-topped little mountain off-shore which can be accessed by foot at low-tide.

Quiet Morlaix was actually the better bet for a more relaxing trip since it's not the ideal place for most tourists (the majority of shops were closed for the French "conge-annuelle," or annual freeze, that happens each summer from mid-July to mid or late August). Without the shops, it was still a very charming little town with its mini-train ride for tourists, harbor of little boats, awesome 18th-century viaduct (a hundred yards from our hotel!), and half-timbered homes (two of which we visited) from the 16th-century. The food was good and cheap. Our favorite was Ar Bilig, a simple creperie with the best crepes ever! We had two lunches there, and profitted at least once from their 8,90 euro menu which is composed of a ham-egg-cheese crepe, a butter or sugar crepe, and a chocolate or jam crepe. Their perfectly chilled alcoholic apple cider from the maker Kerne, was the best I have ever tasted. Just the right amount of sweetness, and I could barely taste the alcohol (4.5%). The restaurant two doors down from them had good crepes, too, but had a great petoncles and frites deal for 11,50 euros. The petoncles seemed to be baby scallops, served marinated and steamed in their shells. Delicious! The best fries on our trip.

Morlaix's first big industry was piracy, and somewhere along the line, it became tobacco products. Their large factory just recently shut down, so I'm not sure what they have left besides tourism.

Our biggest navigational error came early on in the trip. John planned for us to stop at a particular distillery in Normandy to buy some calvados, the famed liquor distilled from apples, but we took the wrong highway and realized our mistake way too late. Another wrong turn put us in the direction towards the coast, specifically towards the pretty harbor town of Honfleur. I told John, since we're all the way out here, let's just go to Honfleur since we've never been there before. That was the nicest detour ever. We had a delightful, ridiculously inexpensive lunch at the cute Au Nelly's, which only seats about 30-35 people inside. I had an appetizer of raw oysters, a main dish of mussels and fries (moules frites), and a floating island (ile flottante) for dessert (for those of you who don't know what that is, it's a light meringue floating on a bit of creme anglaise -- mine also had a little caramel added on top). The fries were tasteless, but everything else was marvelous, and it only cost us just under ten euros! In Paris, this meal would have cost around three times as much.

We drove through Deauville, which is pretty much a resort town for Parisians. It was very beautiful, but much larger than Honfleur. Kind of ritzy with all the upscale shops and expensive homes. Nice place to walk around though. Next time.

And next time, I will finish telling you about our Brittany trip.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Attic sales, not garage sales

I said in a previous post that I thought yard sales didn't exist in Paris. Well, they don't. They are actually called "vide-greniers" (empty-attics). There are definitely more attics than yards or garages in Paris. I found the term online at this link, http://parisvoice.com/01/may/html/tips.cfm, which is an article about finding deals at flea markets from the Paris Voice site for English-speaking Parisians. Then I found an online calender for vide-greniers in France, http://vide-greniers.org/, where I came upon many rummage sales in Paris, and also a big toy expo at the coliseum-sized space, Palais d'Omnisports in Bercy (12th arrondissement), which I think Maylin will enjoy very much.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Bach: perfect cardio music

I'm back from a long weekend in Brittany, where we enjoyed seafood, crepes, medieval towns, beaches, and tide pools. As usual for a vacation, we ate too much and didn't do enough exercise. I'm starting a new exercise regime as of today, perfect for a lazy, classical music lover. I was planning on going outside to jog in order to get some sort of cardio activity in my day. But, I couldn't think of getting dressed and going out. Instead, I jogged in place for 35 minutes to all the allegro (fast) movements of Bach's first three Brandenburg Concertos. Baroque music is great for cardio -- the tempo is pretty even and if you stick to the faster pieces and maintain the quick tempo, you are guaranteed to sweat in the first fifteen minutes. When I wanted to work myself harder, I tried to kick my knees up towards my chest for about twenty counts. Then, when my calves started hurting (I was not smart and was running in my bare feet) I put my hands down on the armrest of our sofa, propping myself while I kicked back with straight legs, all the while maintaining the same, fast tempo. Sometimes I did a side-to-side, swinging movement, also with straight legs. I got what I wanted -- my heart pumping, my brow sweating, but I don't think I'll be able to walk tomorrow. Next time, running shoes!

Last night, I also started up my ab workout again, which has had some surprising results! In just a week and a half of continued ab concentration (using mainly the short ab section from the New York City Ballet Workout video) before our long weekend away, I lost at least an inch to my waist and a friend who I hadn't seen for a few weeks thought I looked slimmer!

If you want to do what I did, get the New York City Ballet Workout 2 DVD (available on amazon.com), and focus on just 3-4 of the individual floor exercises every morning (and some evenings). I start out with Stretches, go to Abdominals and Leg Darts, then Floor Barre 1 (and sometimes Floor Barre 2), go back to Abdominals and Leg Darts, and end with Stretches. I think it only takes about 20-25 minutes. If I have extra time and energy, I do Abdominals and Leg Darts again! The cinematography is beautiful (unlike most exercise videos) and the classical music is equally enjoyable. For these sections, it's not necessary to have any previous ballet experience. For most of the rest of the video (where you're standing), I would recommend some ballet classes beforehand so you know how to position yourself properly and place your weight correctly. This way, you'll maximize the effectiveness of each movement. Unfortunately, on this video they did make a few confusing editing errors (which they should have corrected from the first video -- same workout, but minus the ability to select individual exercises from the workout). In the Stretches section, there's the part where you pull your knee to your chest and then flex your leg up. If you follow the demonstration as closely as possible, you end up spending too little time on your right leg and too much on your left. When the woman prematurely goes to her left leg, continue working on the right side until the man demonstrates the left side.

When doing these floor exercises, it is very important to keep your lower back flat against the ground. Don't think of sucking in your belly to do this. Instead, think of pulling your navel down towards your spine. If you don't do this, you could hurt your back. I constantly have to check in with my back. The other good thing about this is that this means your ab is contantly engaged.

I more recently added the MTV Pilates DVD with Kristin McGee. It's fun and adds some variety to my workout. The background music is a little annoying, especially since it doesn't match her rhythms, so feel free to turn off the music in the audio options menu. It's better to have some Pilates experience beforehand so you don't hurt yourself. Some moves are rather advanced. I was lucky to have my new sister-in-law give me demonstrations of many of the basic Pilates exercises and tell me a few tricks on how to modify moves to make them easier or more difficult. I have a great Pilates book by Brooke Silver called, The Pilates Body. It gives you some background on Pilates, the man and the method, the philosophy behind the method, and lots of instructions and illustrations on how to perform each movement effectively and safely. When I get bored of the video, I intend to choreograph my own workouts with the help of the book.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Over 200 pages!

Thank you, loyal readers, for staying by my side for over two-hundred pages! I hope it has continued to bring you enjoyment, even though it's not my best writing -- just a first-draft, first-hand account of my life in Paris. The last two entries have been especially long, but it's not necessarily a trend of where things are going. I wonder what my blog will become when I move back to the States, but that won't be for another two or three years, so have fun reading this while it lasts!

August in Paris

Trying to find a restaurant that's open in August in a non-touristy area of Paris is not an easy task. Many Parisians skip out of town for a month-long summer break to the beach or the countryside, including our neighborhood butcher and dry-cleaner, and a bakery down the street. It's a little eerie seeing most of the native population disappear. It's a good thing for drivers, though -- there's always parking available.

Most of our restaurants in the area are closed, so my friends and I were lucky to find Brasserie Niel open, which reportedly had good club sandwiches. I was so looking forward to my pastrami club, but when it came, it was not recognizable. It was a sad, droopy thing with soggy lettuce and nearly burnt toast. I presumed the regular chef went on vacation. The service wasn't much better, with our server refusing to give our party more than one pastrami sandwich. He said there was only one left. But an hour later, I glanced over at another table which just received a pastrami pita. Hmmm...our waiter was lying! He also reprimanded me later for taking some ham out of my bag for Maylin. All meat from outside should remain hidden, he said. He even backed himself up with a statement printed in the menu. I didn't realize this brasserie was kosher. They don't serve pork, so my ham was a big no-no. Still, I think I'll come back to the restaurant again, when the real chef has returned from vacation.

The weather here has been on the cool and wet side. Every day brings at least a little drizzle, if not a huge downpour. Sometimes, I find myself needing a light sweater. All this after some sweltering days at the end of July convincing me to go out and get a fan. So one hot day, the day after coming back from the States, I went out to do some errands, including shopping for a fan. I didn't want to go far because I'd have to carry it home somehow while pushing Maylin in the stroller, so I shopped in the neighborhood. First, I went to the large sporting goods store near the Arc de Triomphe to get some tennis rackets and a tennis skirt (great summer sale -- a seventy euro racket for half-price!). I took a little too long there because as I came back towards home to the electronics and appliances store, I found that they had sold out of all their fans! I was a bit clueless. I had passed the store earlier and seen at least three people in the vicinity carrying home the same fan. They must have had a sale (or not -- it was a very hot day), but I should have seen the sell-out coming. But, no worries, it's definitely cooled off since then.

Maylin and I are having a great time. After coming back from car-dependent California, I feel a sudden burst of energy to take advantage of as many of the kid-friendly, no-car-required activities they have here. Last week, we went to an indoor public pool for two and a half hours (and enjoyed some rain coming through a broken skylight into the pool), saw the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie in a theater (Maylin got bored for the last half), and went to an amazing exposition at the Grand Palais for four and half hours by Maylin's request (photo blog soon). Next week, we'll go to the zoo with some Australian friends, and hopefully, this week, we can go to a farm (in a forest on the south-eastern border of Paris) and/or Deyrolle, a curiosities/natural history shop including many taxidermist-preserved animals (e.g. gazelle and polar bear). Many of the animals are on sale, with a female goat going for 995 euros and a gazelle for 15,500 euros! How would you like one of those in your living room?

In the States, I was really enjoying being able to go out in shorts and flip-flops and not feel self-conscious. I've come back to the city where shorts will bring you funny looks, where you are required to look your best before going out the door. You don't have to dress up, but you have to look nice -- not sloppy. And absolutely no sneakers! Unless you're jogging or you're a tourist. Today, I wore my white linen, sleeveless, button-down shirt, my jeans, and my cute, black-heeled sandals (entire, reasonably-priced outfit purchased in the U.S.) so I was casual but a little dressy. I wore that to lunch and to walk the dog.

During the walk, with Maylin behind me pushing her baby doll in a toy stroller, I was just passing a man in a van stopped at the light. He was asking me something so I came back (people are often asking for directions). He asked if I was Chinese, I replied I was Taiwanese, and then he said I was very beautiful. Welcome back to France! Now I can feel even more self-conscious! It was more comfortable in the States where you can smile at women and men, or they can smile at you, and it doesn't mean anything beyond a friendly greeting. You have to be more careful here.

I am ten pounds over my usual weight so I'm trying to exercise again, with John's encouragement. I've actually been quite disciplined, doing some selected exercises from my imported New York City Ballet Workout video every morning when I get up, and now I've just added a Pilates video that a friend loaned me. This MTV Pilates video is a very good workout which gets me sweating, but there are some moves that are way too advanced for a beginner like me. Pilates is very ab-focused, so it's great for getting your belly in shape, but some of the advanced exercises require strong abs for completion. I'll have to try to modify those more difficult moves.

Exercise videos are hard to find in Paris. It's an American invention that hasn't quite made it over here. Maybe they don't need to exercise as much over here with all the walking (and sometimes, the smoking) to keep them slim.

John's on a diet, too, so I've been cooking lighter -- mostly fish and veggies, with few carbs. I'm still trying to figure our what the American equivalents are to the French white fish -- dorade, Cabillaud, Grenadier, etc. I think it's the dorade that is our favorite so far because it isn't so tender that it falls apart when you cook it and it doesn't have a fishy flavor. My favorite way to cook fish now is my Mommy's way -- seasoned on both sides with salt and black pepper, then pan-grilled in hot oil with minced garlic and chopped green scallions. Yum! I've also prepared fish in the Provencal way which is also tasty, with olive oil, fresh tomatoes, garlic, pitted green olives, freshly ground black pepper, and a little salt (the olives share some of their saltiness with the rest of the dish).

My favorite vegetable right now is the slender French string bean (the ones I've bought are actually from Kenya) which can be simply steamed for four minutes (sweet and a little crispy on the inside still), or lightly sauteed after the steaming in a little olive oil (or butter), minced garlic, and salt. Miam! (French equivalent of "yum" in English)

For the Parisians who stay in town, this is the perfect time for summer cleaning of their apartments, and therefore, disposal of unwanted items. I have not found an organization like the Salvation Army or Goodwill to which one could donate items (one charitable organization exists that I know of, but it only takes clothing). Yard sales or garage sales don't exist because people don't have either yards or garages. Maybe apartment building associations could organize something, but getting rid of junk must not be that important because it hasn't happened yet. So every summer here on the sidewalks, I'll find various items ranging from old dishwashers and dilapidated kitchen cabinets to stained mattresses and shabby couches. If you're lucky, you might find something interesting or charming. I saw a cute, white, wooden side table with a little drawer that would've been perfect for Maylin's room, but it required a bit of repair. Yesterday, I recovered an amazing rolling three-tiered medical cart from probably the 1920s, in nearly perfect condition. I bet it would fetch 50-100 euros at a Paris flea market. I cleaned it up thoroughly and now it serves as a one-of-a-kind organizer for Maylin's toys. For the rest of the summer, I'll keep an eye out for the find of the century.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Adventures in the Ile de France

When I recounted my July 31st (with Maylin and a good friend) to John, he remarked that he was a bit envious that I was having all these Parisian adventures while he was doing less adventuresome things in his office. Since he found it interesting, you may, too. I thought it was a great day, even though some parts of it were not too glamorous.

My friend needed a translator to renew her titre de sejour (equivalent to a green card) at the immigration office so I agreed to help. The office was kind of in the boonies compared to the one I usually go to (near Notre Dame). We actually had to take the train out of town to Nanterre. I presume one office isn't enough for all the foreign residents in Paris.

We had a very loud and clunky ride on an ancient train. Impossible to talk over all the noise. We exit the station and immediately see signs pointing to the office. My friend tells me she had followed those signs in the past and got completely lost. Turns out they were from an previous construction project -- detour signs that never got taken down. Okay -- lesson one, ignore yellow signs when no construction is apparent.

After passing the typical security checkpoint (complete with x-ray) at the entrance of the building, we make our way to the bureau. It is only 10:30 am and the line's already way out the door. I ask the security guard if I'm in the right line. Yes, I am. Darn -- this line, the line for just making an appointment to renew my friend's titre de sejour is about ten times as long as the line for the actual renewals. In the two and half hours of waiting...
- my friend and I chat away happily
- Maylin finishes the Cheerios I packed for her
- I run off to the convenience store inside the building to get more snacks (including Pringles) for Maylin
- she shares her chips with some other young children in exchange for their chocolate-covered cookies
- I complain about the length of the line with the children's mother (she explains about a new law I had never heard of -- I'll deal with that when John's company notifies me)
- Maylin and I use the restroom a couple of times (a man fills his water bottle in the ladies' room when there's a men's room just next door)
- we realize there's only one staff person dealing with our line, instead of the usual two, which isn't enough anyway
- we discover that about half of the people in line are waiting for nothing because they're trying to get appointments for their relatives which isn't allowed until a certain day a couple of weeks later (why not put up a sign at the beginning of the line?)
- Maylin finally warms up to the kids in the last fifteen minutes and starts playing with them
- we finally take our turn at the counter and get assigned an appointment for November(!) (with no choice of dates or times) which takes a total of two minutes. Welcome to French bureaucracy.

It's about 1 pm. Time for lunch! On the way towards the train station, we find a simple Turkish restaurant on a large commercial plaza surrounded by modern high-rise, office buildings. We eat our delicious, seven-euro (advertised for eight euros!) dishes outdoors in the perfect weather (I had a lamb kebab and my friend had the seasoned beef, both including salad, rice, fries, and pita bread). A great deal, perhaps because we're outside of Paris.

Afterwards, we take the escalator down to the trains and I glance over back to the plaza and see a large fixture of clothing on wheels roll quickly and hit a pole in the strong breeze. The merchant and I smile at each other in amusement.

We decide to do take advantage of the big summer sales and took the train to the large mall at La Defense where the Grande Arche is located (a modern version of the Arc de Triomphe on the other end of the Avenue Grande Armee). This particular station required us to use our tickets to exit, as well as enter. On the way out, a nice man with a large piece of luggage saw us with Maylin and her stroller and offered to get us in through the special gate (for handicapped passengers or passengers with bulky items) on his ticket so we wouldn't have to get ours out. He put his ticket in, we waited for a moment, and then he got bonked in the face from the doors which opened towards him because a woman was using the gate at the same time from the other direction. Poor guy. We all had a good chuckle.

My friend spotted a photo booth in the station and decided to have some pictures done for later use (we're always needing passport-size black and white photos for everything in France). Everything seemed to be going smoothly until the pictures came out. My friend's face got stretched horizontally. I never look good in those photo booth pictures because of the awkward lighting, but widening someone's face? That's just not nice. We decided to keep those crazy photos because no one's really going to look at them anyways.

At the Quatre Temps mall, we went into Sephora, a fragrance and cosmetics store which you'll find in larger cities in the States. I needed to find some more of my favorite shade of their generic lipstick. Although I couldn't find it because it seems the San Francisco Airport Sephora carries different ones (at least, with a different numbering system). I did find a shade that was even better. Maylin had the grandest time playing with all the makeup and clean-up materials. It was like a big science lab for her. She sampled different lipstick colors on her hand like we did, played with the brushes, washed off makeup with the cotton rounds and water provided, and tried on various perfums recommended by my friend. Then, there were all the different-colored, jewel-toned bath beads to touch. Pretty and fun!

At Zara, one of the affordable, trendy clothing stores, Maylin spotted all the cute shoes and brought them to me to try on. (The next day, she played "shoe store lady" at home and offered me all of my own sandals, neatly displayed on three of her little chairs.)

Bad signage led us astray a couple of times but we eventually found the family restroom where there was a little kid-sized toilet. My friend was waiting in a long line for the ladies' room and I thought it would be a shorter wait if she came and waited for us so I left Maylin for a moment to take a few steps towards the line to call to her. I immediately got reprimanded by a woman, possibly a nanny, in the lounge area of the family restroom. She said something about it not being safe to let my daugher go "pipi" all by herself. I got very angry at her for criticizing my parenting skills but my French didn't work too well at the moment so I didn't say much. Maylin wasn't even on the toilet yet. Plus, I was right there and the door was open. She immediately thought I was abandoning my child. Why are some people so quick to judge? Later, when I told John about what had happened, he reminded me that these criticisms are common in the French culture. I had forgotten about that, but this was my first personal experience. Hearing about someone else go through it and experiencing it first-hand is completely different.

Around 6 pm, we exited the mall and tried to get into the metro with Maylin sleeping in her stroller. We attempted one of the access gates I would normally use to get the stroller through, but it was broken and the agent on the intercom directed me to another gate next to a store that I couldn't find. I found another gate, pushed the button to talk to the agent, and got the same agent who said the right gate was still a little further. We walked some more, but found nothing. We gave up, went to the last gate, picked up Maylin, and folded up the stroller. As is usually the case, in the metro station, there were no elevators or escalators to be had so my sleeping girl and stroller had to be lifted over and over again. Great workout and inconvenience for mom.

That day was not too unusual. A little charm, a lot of hassles. C'est la vie!