Wednesday, August 09, 2006

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.


Sarah said...

I'm enjoying your descriptions of restaurant meals and dishes you've cooked--keep them coming! And overall, I'm enjoying reading about your adventures on your blog. It brings back memories of my two years in France--both the good (like walking everywhere) and the bad (the bureaucracy and endless paperwork). I'm hoping you'll also share more about how your daughter's learning French. (Can you tell that food and language acquisition are two of my interests? I have a blog about each--come visit!)

Caroline Jou Armitage said...

Thanks! I took a quick peek at your language blog and it looks really interesting. I will definitely check in again. I will post about Maylin's French after school starts. For the moment, she's using mostly English, but if she's around French kids or at school, she's speaking French.

Sarah said...

Fantastique--I'd love to have your input! How lucky she is to grow up bilingual.