What The World Needs Now

So, I was privately asked by a surprising number of people why I had not temporarily changed my Facebook profile picture in a show of support for Paris. I who am usually up on the latest Facebook fads to have not done so was surprising to them. They have a point, but this Facebook Paris profile thing is just one I could not do.

I’ve been to Paris, but even if I had never step foot in the city I still would wholeheartedly feel for what Paris is going through.  Just as I felt the outrage for London when they were bombed in 2005, often referred to as 7/7 – the date of the occurrence, just as I know both countries grieved with us here in the United States when 9/11 happened.  There is this overwhelming sense of helplessness when one is reading of such a tragedy from afar. After all what can the average Jane and Joe from so far away do right?  Granted, most of the world did not have social media, let alone the ability to easily change our profile pics on FB in 2001 or 2005, but today if we can’t really do anything else, the very least we can do, and it really is the very least, is change our profile picture to show our support for Paris right? Right.

When I noticed the changing profile pictures my very first thought was that’s nice.  Our hearts are in the right places, I do not make light of it.

I get it.

I really do.

Still, I could not help but ask myself the following – where were these near instantaneous profile pics apps of solidarity for

Where are the profile pic apps for any all of them?

A couple of months or so ago, here in the US, Facebookers were able to be “StraightOutta___” whatever they chose to be straight out of in honor/celebration of the release of the movie “Straight Outta Compton”.

A movie.

A simple movie about a rap group from the 80’s was worthy of being on our profile pictures, yet today is the 580th day since 273 Nigerian school girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria. 57 escaped and 219 are still missing.

Where’s their profile pic overlay app?

Some have tried to say that most of the above didn’t count because the countries have been in some form of contentious states for years, even decades now. But just because Paris is relatively brand new to this and is considered a safe place, are they more worthy than the Israeli and Palestinian who live with the threat of a bombing as a daily fact of life? Uh. no.  And please let it begin and end right here with why tragedies to brown faces get less news coverage and hold our attentions far shorter than tragedies to white faces.  I just can’t/won’t go there with that today for we are all hurting.

We cannot look at the events of Paris and not share in their grief. Nor should we ignore the horrors of one tragedy in order to acknowledge the horrors of another.  I have no qualms for the many Facebookers who have temporarily changed their profile pictures in solidarity of Paris. Again, because I understand it, I really do. I have changed my Facebook cover to better reflect the suffering seemingly everywhere, for I have no solutions or resolutions either.

It’s a jacked-up world we’re living in and the events in Paris and in Lebanon and in Nigeria… and… and… are already fading into the happier glow of the coming holidays, because it’s all we can do to hold to what little happiness can be found out here for us.

Let’s find it and try to hold on to it long past the times that go by with auld lang syne.

<>==========<>==========<>

Slice of Life : Two Writing Teachers

Slice of Life - Two Writing Teachers

The Chick In Paris – Part IV – Fini

Bon soir!

In Part I of my post on Paris I spoke a little about the people, Part Deux covered food and in Part III – the Sites. This is a little of everything else and a wrap up.

The City that Never Sleeps versus The City of Lights

Advice for getting around Paris for the first timers (especially us New Yorkers).

Subways

Not all train doors open automatically. Depending on the subway line, you may need to push a button on the door to exit or even enter the train car.

If on the RER (commuter line equivalent to NYC’s Metro North or LIRR), go topside in the morning to be a little warmer on a cool weather. If the weather is warmer, ride in the lower level, especially in the afternoon. Because hot air does what…?– rise. The top section warms up considerably on a sunny day in warmer weather. Unless you are right by an open window capturing a breeze, it can become unbearable even with air conditioning.

Oh, and you know that nasty little habit some of us have of holding subway doors open to wait for someone? Yeah, that nonsense is not going to work in Paris – because you cannot hold open those doors for anyone. My friends and I learned this the hard way when we were separated on the way back to our hotel after a day of site seeing. Their subway doors do not bounce open at the least little resistance the way ours do. Trust me, when you feel the serious pressure of those doors closing on your hands, your body will protect itself and get the hell out of its way. That train needs to be at the next station by XYZ time and by golly it will be there! And speaking of on time…

Lastly, when the public announcement in the station states that a train is the last train for the night, they are not playing. They do not mean the last train will leave its start point at 1 AM. They mean the last train will arrive at its endpoint by that time. All passengers using the stations before that endpoint must adjust their time accordingly. At 12:50 AM we missed the train with that announcement. We were caught off guard to realize the next one was not until 5AM. They literally shut down the stations. Trains cars are emptied, gates are pulled closed and locked shut until 5 AM. What would have been a fifteen-minute ride on the subway, was now a long wait and a long ride on a crowded bus in the middle of the night that taught us not to let that happen again.

Buses

The cool thing about Parisian bus lines, similar to their subways, they have an automated system in place that informs passengers which bus is coming and how many minutes until it arrives. In the middle of the night that is very helpful. The bad thing is in the middle of night and the subways have just closed, it is the only means of mass transit. When the bus finally arrived, it was packed. It felt very much like rush hour at home. Unfortunately, very much like home, a woman risks that some ass wipe will take advantage of the situation. If you read Part I of my posts on Paris then you know about young American women as targets. This is the bus ride I spoke of then.

So why didn’t we take a taxi? Glad you asked. It is not as if we did not try to …

Taxis

It was our first night in Paris, after the non-stop plane ride and a day of running around, my right knee decided I had pushed it enough and had given out a good hour and a half before around 11:30. It was now one-something in morning and I was officially in pain. When we missed the train, it was partially because we were taking so much time for photos and partially because I could not move fast enough to catch it. It was a lovely night; I would I have happily agreed with the initial idea to walk home, were I not already limping in pain.

We spotted a taxi stand. Several people like us had missed the train and were waiting in front of us. Oddly enough though we saw empty taxis passing by, none were pulling up to pick up passengers. Naturally, being New Yorkers (with me trying hard to not lose it), split into teams and tried flagging cabs away from the stand and from across the street. We were attempting to flag down taxis for at least fifteen minutes when a taxi pulled up across the street from us to let a passenger out. One of us ran across, grabbed the door and tried to explain the situation (me). The driver refused to let us in explaining the rules. Taxi’s are only allowed to pick up passengers from designated stands. Those caught picking up passengers elsewhere risk such nasty fines that they do not take the chance. This at least explained why some passers-by (obviously locals), were looking at us as though we were crazy standing in the street trying to flag one down. I honestly cannot say if it was that we were obviously tourists, that there were nine us, because we were black or any combination there of, but no one was stopping. Only two people of the few in front of us were able to get rides. After another fifteen minutes or so of this, we gave up and got on the bus.

On the plus side, coming back from a dinner cruise, it was no more or less crazy/organized than some of our taxi stands here in NYC, but we were able to get taxis within a few minutes.

Note: If you call for a taxi service to meet you at a certain time, all in your party better be ready to leave at that designated time. A ride that should have cost less than ten Euros, cost us nearly triple the amount because of those who (granted unknowingly of the cost of waiting) dawdled. Their clock starts the moment you say be there in a minute. They will happily tell you it is not a problem. They do not tell you it is because they are going back to the taxi to start the clock and that you will literally pay for each minute idling away. Tourists – 0 / Taxis – 1.

Walking

Most of us living in a tourist city are very familiar with that annoying tourist with a map and a Duh, where do I go? Where do I go? expression, standing at the edge of curb, blocking the path to cross. It’s a very different thing when that tourist is you. Still, I was very conscious of not doing the things I have seen some tourists do that tend to annoy the locals. If I had to stop someone and ask for directions, I made sure I was not out of the flow of foot traffic and apologized profusely for any names of places I butchered in the process (ex. Pontoise is pronounced pon-TWA, not PON-toys).

We were brilliantly located in the Châtelet – Les Halles area of Paris on the East Bank of the Seine River. Châtelet – Les Halles and the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank are within walking distance of several major attractions and/or a quick train ride to most others. Like any metropolis, the key to walking around Paris is to stay with the general flow and watch the traffic lights. NYC has pedestrian crossing signals of a white walking figure for cross and a red hand for don’t walk. Paris has, what we dubbed Green Guy (walk) and Red Guy (don’t walk). Let me tell you when you see that Green Guy – you better hustle (no not the dance from the 70s). The lights change quickly in some areas and I do mean quickly. Luckily, they do have the countdown to let you know how many seconds you have before the light changes, so you know whether you have time to stroll or run to the other side before the cars come zooming.

Cars

Speaking of the cars, do not even think about jaywalking, especially in a heavy traffic area. They are tiny cars, but they move. When you have the light, they stop – completely, but when they have the light – they haul ass. Unless you are on a side street or at a turning corner, then it is different. It must be rendered a considerable lack of grace (or have one heck of a fine), to use your car horn in Paris. I saw one driver wait, what a New Yorker would consider, a ridiculous amount of time for pedestrians watching street performers to note he was there and move out of the way. The performers themselves finally saw the car and had to tell the people to move. So always check behind you; otherwise, you may be surprised how quickly and quietly a car can be up on you.

To paraphrase  Gump – and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Three weeks ago today (three weeks!), this chick landed in Paris and had a marvelous few days there. I may have spent the first night in pain and the last night fighting off a nasty cold, but everything in between was simply splendid! Met some wonderful people, ate some fabulous food, finally saw in person some places I once only dreamed of and learned even in a foreign country, if they have mass transit and I have the map, I can get around pretty damn well.  I have to say other than the history and architecture, it felt very much like home — just at a more relaxed pace.

Finally, let me send so much love and many, many, many thanks to Destinations by Danielle. D-Fab (the fabulous tour de force who organized this jaunt, one of my fellow travelers on this trip and a person I am happy to call friend), ma chérie, this first trip to Paris was magnifique. And I easily say the first because after this tiny but delectable taste of France, I know there are several more trips in my future. I’ll follow you anywhere my wallet will allow.

I loved visiting Paris and very much look forward to having another taste of it, but as the adage goes – there’s no place like home – and I am glad to be back.

Now to take most of what I’ve written in these four entries about Paris and post it to Trip Advisor. 😉

C’est fini!

This Chick In Paris – Part Deux

Bon soir!

In Part I of my post on Paris I spoke a little about the people, now it’s about …

The Food –

Myth busting: Contrary to a friend’s popular belief, Parisian cuisine is not all bread, cheese, butter and wine. She forgot the potatoes. I kid! I kid! (Sorta.)

Breakfast/Brunch – I must say I was quite surprised to see that according to the menu – a French Breakfast consisted of a buttered baguette, a croissant and smattering of preserve. I mean were we not in the land of the infamous french omelette? Where’s the jambon (ham) and oui, le fromage (cheese) and other goodness most Americans associate with a breakfast omelette? Yes, it is bread and butter, plus a croissant which is naturally buttery, but really? That’s it?

This gal wanted some meat and since it was closer to lunch time, ordered a Croque Monsieur. For those unfamiliar with this, truth be told, a Croque Monsieur is a glorified grilled ham and cheese sandwich. Oh, but what a sandwich!

What makes it worth it is the Gruyere cheese. This favorite of French cafés and bistros also switches genders and becomes a Madame when topped by a fried egg. And speaking of eggs…

Lesson learned – I don’t know if was just that specific restaurant where we dined, or part of the culture, but one should definitely learn how to say I want my eggs cooked well if you do not like your fried/sunny-side/boiled/scrambled eggs runny. Different breakfast meals with types of cooked eggs, same results. It did not bother me, but J & M were quite perturbed when their sunny-side up egg was served considerably less than, as J put it “crispy”.

A pleasant lesson learned is how they serve coffee. They do not steam the milk Italian style, but it is served hot. You get all the flavor, but do not lose the heat and it’s not frothy like a latte. I actually liked that.

Lunch/Dinner – I had duck, beef, seafood dishes (two as part of multi-course meals), and one sausage dish. We started learning the first night pretty much everything was served with some form of potato, the most common thing being frites (fries). By the fourth day, when someone ordered Moules Frites I was not surprised at all to see mussels served with fries. I will say I took complete pleasure in seeing a bottle of good ol’ Heinz Ketchup (in English!), appear every where fries were served, oh yeah!

The only meal that was disappointing for me a sausage and mashed potato dish from a place which came nicely recommended. I, and the only other person that ordered it, both found it to be overly salty for our tastes and couldn’t eat it. Other than that, every thing else ranged from very good to oh damn this is good.

Late night – Every major metropolis has their hole-in-the-wall 24 places to get some grub, and Paris was no exception. You know the type of place. We’re not there for the ambiance or the nutritional value of the meal. It’s not cuisine – it’s food: they’ve got – we want it – that’s all. The major difference is I’m not getting a ham & cheese crepe at 4am in New York City. I am in Paris after all.

My three favorite dishes:

Caprese Salad
No. 3: Now tell me – how can something with only two damn ingredients and some seasoning be so divine? That was the caprese and side salad. In season tomatoes at their peak flavor and fresh mozzarella are truly the key here. They were simply wonderful by their selves. With the wonderfully flavorful pesto sauce drizzled across – they were sublime.

Pan Roasted Duck with Parmesan Mashed Potatoes
No. 2: I wish I had thought to write down the name of the dish. The duck was nicely trimmed of fat, so tender and perfectly cooked. The broth of tiny diced vegetables and raisins was savory. The Parmesan mashed potatoes with a tiny sprinkling of chives balanced well with the duck. It was oh so freaking YUM!

Risotto with Shrimp
No. 1: The seasoned shrimp and risotto. I need to give a tiny be of back story here. The duck dish above and the shrimp/risotto were both from L’Amazonial and were literally the first french foods to grace our palettes. I had ordered the duck and M ordered the risotto. Typical tourists we are sampling from each other. Each of us gave pause when the risotto hit out tongues. Creamy, cheesy and still somehow perfectly firm. It was served atop of a sauce that tasted a whole lot like the broth served with my duck sans the veggies and raisins. As much as I loved the duck (drool), the was risotto was my first oh damn this is good moment. We all also agreed though nicely seasoned and very delish, the shrimp was a little dry. I presume that seemed to be the style of the dish as repeat orders had the same results. Notice I said repeat orders? After some sight-seeing, when we returned for dinner, three of us ordered the dish and we came back the next day for it. Yes, it really was that good.

Desserts – Oh you didn’t think I was going to leave it out did you? For shame! The bad news – because I choose art over food as my focus this trip I did not make any specific food runs. I know, what kind of fat girl am I, right?! It happens. The good news – I did have a few desserts. I am a fat girl after all. It happens. The two best were an apple galette with vanilla ice cream and of course a crème brulee.
Apple GaletteCrème Brulee

The apple galette was mouth watering on sight. The crust was perfect. Not over buttery, too sweet, not so dense you wanted a hacksaw to cut through it, but not so flaky it turned to dust at the lightest touch. The apples were tender, delicately sweet and just spot on good. The caramel swirls were just – well icing on the cake – lol. The crème brulee – oh what can I say. The sugar topping was expertly torched. If I had a toothpick to get to the edges, I could have lifted the shell as a whole disc. The crème was simply ooh la la riche! And for once not served in some little squat ramekin as generally served at restaurants here in the US, but in a nice wide one. Plenty of torched sugary goodness and even more crème to enjoy.

We enjoyed two three multi-course meals. One at wine pairing event, restaurant and another while cruising along the Seine. Were they delicious in their own right? -yes. The wine pairing dinner introduced me to something called a dorade. The menu card that came with the meal simply called it “Dorade with avocado and mango salsa.” The fish was so delicate in flavor that the avocado and mango nearly washed it out, but it was tasty. I actually looked up the word dorade to confirm it was indeed fish. The river cruise had this interesting soup, pairing a warm puree of zucchini, green beans and Lima beans, with cool pieces of its composite vegetables within. Two unique tastes and textures I would order again. Otherwise the two meals would be unfortunately forgettable were it not for the marvelous company of my dining companions.

Other than breakfast, wine or some form of liquor was a part of nearly each meal. Still, I was not any where near laden down with all this famed butter and cheese and I have to say a part of me is highly disappointed dammit. Perhaps this richness is in the outer regions of Paris. Probably where all the fat Parisians are hiding also. Next trip to France I must go in search of them and their famed über rich food.

Trip-Advisor et al, have their uses as an excellent resources, for where to dine, but please don’t let it be one’s only deciding factor. If I only followed those suggestion I may never have discovered that risotto. Overall, while I enjoyed nearly every morsel that crossed my lips, the meals I enjoyed the most were in the places we simply happened across in our travels. I would suggest the same to other first-timers.

Bon appetit? Indeed!
Me and a famed baguette

Next – L’Art (The Sites)

This Chick In Paris – Part I

Bon jour!

Ever go to a restaurant and receive a dish that has a smear of some flavorful sauce as a part of it to your plates? You get a good hint of the taste, but damn if it does not have you wanting to try some more of it. Spending a week in Paris is akin to that. I’ve had hint of that wonderful taste, but there is so much more to it.

The People Culture –

For the record French women do not all sound like breathless sex kittens. And no, all the men do not sound like a mix of Maurice Chevalier and Pepe LePew (oh just Google it if you’re too young to know the former). Speaking of LePew – there was no more body odor in Paris than one would find on the NYC subway in the summer in rush hour. Yes, there were definitely some people who, without any secret, needed to be banned, armed and hammered to the nth degree (see what I did there?), but I did not find this overwhelming cloud of BO funk permeating the air within any closed quarters.

Speaking of clouds, after years of having smoking banned at nearly all public places in NYC, it took a moment to adjust to the constant state of nicotine that went hand-in-hand with eating at any outdoor café or restaurant. This seemed almost mandatory the closer you sat to the street: a glass of wine, some form of bread food and a ciggy. For me it was a flashback to the 70s- 80s, when it was still prevalent here. For some of the younger ones traveling with us it was a culture shock to see our waiter (clearly on a smoke break), smoking a cigarette as he sat on his haunches at a nearby table conversing with fellow diners.

Parisians do have a certain joie de vivre mixed in with a healthy dose of but of course! about them. Obviously, I can’t speak for all of France, however, trust me, after a couple of days it becomes pretty easy to spot even the most bohemian Parisian native from a Portlandia tourist. Even when Parisians do grunge, there’s a certain finesse about it. You can’t put your finger on it, but you just know.

What I do want to know is – where are the fat Parisians? The only clearly fat people I saw were without a question fellow tourists. As I said, after a couple of days, it becomes easier to spot who’s who. Only at the Bear Den (a gay bar we discovered not far from our hotel), had any men of girth. Even so our bears from the US would dwarf most of them. And corpulent native women? They simply did not exist within the city. Some very curvy girls – yes, but even Botero would be hard pressed to find models for inspiration here. So seriously – where are they?

They definitely were not at the club four of us ladies went to Friday night. On the advice of our concierge we went to a place in the Latin Quarter, arriving a little after midnight. When we got downstairs past the bar into what looked like a small place, to say we were unimpressed was putting it mildly. If there were six people on the dance floor it was a lot. We were sure our guy misunderstood us, but decided to hang in there for a bit. Good thing we did, because an hour later the place was a mass of hot, sweating, gyrating bodies coming out of the woodwork. There was a couple that was owning the dance floor, if it got any hotter between them they would need to get a room.  Looks were deceiving as we later noted a separate indoor lounging area and an outdoor smoking area. It was not quite the tiny place we thought it to be. Some hip-hop, some reggae, some Soca, some meringue as well as French tunes throbbed the air. Rihanna was truly the DJ’s favorite as at least six of her songs played. Other than the French songs we could have been in any underground in the City. Viva Parisian Nightlife!

The only downside of the night happened as the four of us walked back to our hotel. L & M walked a few feet ahead of J & I in our separate conversations. A group of about six young men (young in my eyes as the oldest person among us), being half-drunk young men on what’s now early Saturday morning were walking in the opposite direction when a couple of them spotted L & M. I don’t know if it was because L & M are two young, beautiful and very petite women, that they Black, that they clearly were not French or all of they above, but the next they J & I knew three of the males had changed course and were rapidly coming up behind L & M. One of the females in our group was not-so-casually felt up by a male when we rode the bus late the night before, after the trains stopped running. Also, I had heard some young French males target young American females in such a manner. So, call it instinct or just being on guard, but I got ethnic in a heartbeat when it looked like one was about to reach out and touch… “Do it and I’ll fuck you up!” Came out of my mouth so fast and with such vehemence it wasn’t funny. I was reaching for my keys to use as a weapon if needed when I remembered I didn’t have them on me. Luckily L & M sensing the guys approach had turned around to reclaim their personal space just as I called out. Between L & M’s quick turning and my threat the idiots backed off. At least one clearly understood what I said and how I meant it, repeating the words to their friends as they quickly backed-off. Sexual predators exist in any language and apparently so does a properly nasty “I’ll fuck you up!”

And speaking of nasty, I’ll confess here that I arrived in Paris fully prepared for the infamous French attitude for those like me who couldn’t be so bothered to learn even a smattering a phrases. I only encountered one person who blatantly chose to ignore me. The woman looked in my face with clear contempt, then continued speaking to her friend as though I didn’t exist and I had yet to speak. In all honestly, having been the recipient of such here in the states, I could not discern if the rudeness was a Parisian thing or if she was simply a bitch. My vote is for the latter. Every else where I went someone either spoke broken to perfectly accented English (ah, Jordan you loquacious charmer!), or we pantomimed until we figured things out. Perfect example – I caught a cold and wanted to go to a Pharmacy to purchase cold medicine. Pantomiming a sneeze got me a pack of tissues. Seeing the word médicamentnear the counter easy enough to say. However, they thought I had allergies, an easy enough presumption given the season, but not quite what I wanted. Let me take a moment now to honor my high school English teacher for instilling in me the penchant for looking at the etymology of words. As I explained to a friend, it came in handy as by some miracle I remembered the word rheum (as in runny eyes or nose) is old French and Greek in its base. It turns out it is also the modern French word for guess what? – the common cold. Less than ten minutes after I walked in, I walked out with two packs of tissues and Actifed (and the old Actifed that worked better before the US changed the formula a few years ago to boot). Thank you Ms. Warren!

All in all, for someone who’s majority of french speaking skills can be summed up in Fère Jaques and a certain phrase via Patti Labelle, I think I did well in Paris. Granted, if I want to travel the rest of France I’m thinking it would behoove me to pick up a Rosetta Stone first.

Next up – the food!