24 February 2009

En Francais!

What do you get when you squish an English lit grad student from Albany, a ditzy, quite possibly insane, monied self-described humanitarian of a certain age from New York, and 2 dorky bike-riders from Philadelphia into a hotel suite in Murry Hill for 3 days? A lot of confusion about monkeys, endless off-topic ramblings about astrology, and hopefully a helpful jump-start on French skills.

In other words, we spent last weekend at the New Paltz immersion language class in NYC, hoping to learn enough French to get us through the first few weeks of life on our own in Paris. Overall, the course and its content were surprisingly good, or at least surprisingly well suited to our needs and skill level. The emphasis was on conversational French, and though conversation is pretty limited when you have a vocabulary of only 40 words, we came away with the tools necessary to expand. With just 4 students, we had plenty of opportunity to practice speaking and reading, to have our pronunciation corrected, and to ask questions, so if we didn't learn anything, we're probably hopeless.

The best part of being in NY is almost always visiting Cafe Grumpy, my favorite coffee spot, anywhere. Their house espresso, Heartbreaker, is terrific stuff, and they also always have an interesting guest espresso, often a single-origin. They've also got 2 Clovers that they use to brew 5 or 6 tasty offerings by-the-cup. Even though I rarely do even 1 shot of caffeine 2 days in a row, I can't choose between espresso and regular coffee, so I always do both. With 3 visits in 40 h, I was pretty wired and mentally alert over the 3 days.

20 February 2009

The next hurdle

Yesterday we got our visas from the French Embassy in DC. And on the way there sold the BMW.

So we had made appointments at the Consulate, which were scheduled 15 minutes apart. Both Rolf and I had envisioned meeting with someone in an office, who was sitting behind a desk; you would give them the required documents, they would slap the visa in your passport, and voila, you were done.

It was a pretty crappy day- snow/sleet/rain about Baltimore on down. We dropped the car off successfully, got the Metro back into town, a cab from the Metro to the Embassy in Georgetown, and then had to figure out how to get into the grounds (surrounded by a big fence). The gate door was open(ed), and at the security booth they confiscated our driver’s licenses and gave us visitor badges. We walked up to the visa section of the Consulate, and into what looked more like a bank in a bad neighborhood- 3 “teller” stations with bulletproof glass separating the staff from you. We were directed to sit down, and the guy in the third window started asking who had appointments when (we were about 45 minutes early, having been warned that if you were late, no visa for you).

The first window was for diplomatic business, which was steady, and seemed to consist of people mostly known to the staff at the Consulate, though a wide range from guys in suits, to guys who looked more like gardeners.

The middle window was staffed by a younger woman who seemed to be the assistant to the guy in the third window. He would call people up, hand her stuff, and she’d work on documents, although in a somewhat random fashion. We got called up by Window 3 Guy, and were able to produce all of the things he requested. The lawyers in France had suggested we bring 4 copies of the application, 5 pictures, etc, but they only asked for one of each item. He confirmed that the visas had been sent from France to Washington, we paid and sat down again.

In the mean time, we got to see (and hear) the others who were also at the Consulate getting visas; a really interesting mix. A bunch of Pakistani guys were there when we arrived, apparently all together and trying to go to a week long something or other in France. It seemed they did not have whatever documents they needed, and left as a group, empty handed. A lot of people there were people in the US on some kind of visas, and who needed a visa just to enter France (unlike US citizens who can enter for up to 90 days without a visa). One poor guy had lost his passport.

We were called up at various intervals for further questions by Window 3 and the woman, to confirm the spelling of our names, that we had paid, and so on. After about 45 minutes the guy who had been manning the diplomat window called us up, and presented us with our nice new shiny visas.

Once we get to France we then have to apply for a resident and work permit- this is only the entry ticket.

Until the turnstile at Union Station gobbled up my Metro ticket, yesterday I was carrying mass transit passes for 4 cities: Philadelphia, New York [we go back there tomorrow for the Intensive French weekend], Paris and Washington DC. I think I’m cosmopolitan.

Back to Blogging

About 2 weeks ago Rolf was all “what blog??” Until we went to France, when he suddenly became a blog hog. Ok, I’m back.

19 February 2009

Them's the breaks

We're back stateside for a few days of final prep. We've got to transfer the cars, pick up the visas, arrange the actual move, take our immersion language class, cut phone and cable obligations, tie up the loose ends on the house repairs, etc, etc, so I was most looking forward to stealing even an hour each day for some riding. I can't remember a winter I've ridden less; between the schedule-hogging house work and episodic snow and rain that left roads and trails unpredictable in the freeze-thaw cycles, I've never gotten into a routine. Add in a week of eating out in Paris, and I'm craving some consecutive rides, even if modest, before the move.

Still tired and jet-lagged Sun AM, we took the mountain bikes to Sewell for a few laps. Fun place to ride, with log piles and roller-coastery single track. There's even a big teeter-totter set up in a sandy clearing, but not being the dare-devil type, I've stayed away from it.

I blame the time change, the Weyerbacher Heresy I had at Standard Tap Sat night, the Somalian pirates, the weakness of the US dollar, and most of all Karen (for awakening, through the France move, a willingness to try new things), for the split-second decision to ride the teeter-totter. Going up was easy, had plenty of speed. What I hadn't counted on was that the weighting keeping the entry end down meant I was well past the fulcrum, and about 7 feet off the ground and fast running out real estate, before it even started to tip.

The sensible thing at that point would have been to slow down and get my butt way behind the saddle and ride it out. Instead, I shrieked like a 4 year old and let go of the bars. It may be everybody else's fault I got on that stupid thing, but I have only my own lack of commitment to blame for the way it ended. And that was with a loud thud when the ground and I merged at high speed. It was not a surprise when the doc at the ER informed me that my ribcage is once again no longer of one solid piece.

Since there's a lot of box-carrying and cleaning up that's going to be a lot more difficult and painful with broken ribs, it's an inconvenient time to have had that lapse in judgement. But I'm grateful I didn't puncture a lung or damage internal organs that might have precluded flying, because that would have sucked, and worse, Karen would have killed me. It's ironic that only after leaving a nearly 8-year stint working on alternatives to existing mu opioid pain therapies do I finally understand first-hand how patients have to titrate pain relief with side effects. I'm especially glad that the French embassy didn't search our bags when we went for our final visas today-- the combination of opioids and a screw driver (we'd completed the sale of one of the cars in northern VA on the way down, and I had to remove the license plate) might have given them pause.

As it is, though, we're officially cleared for take-off. I trust we'll execute a better landing on arrival in France than I did at Sewell.

15 February 2009

Green Machines

Recycling is a time-honored practice in the design world. Take for example the rediscovery and subsequent incorporation of classical Roman architecture in the US and UK in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, known as Federal architecture in the US, or the unfortunate recent rerun of hippy fashion. These borrowings or revisitings potently evoke nostalgia, either for times experienced first-hand or imagined.

Nostalgia has clearly been a major driving (I apologize in advance for this...) factor in the recent reinterpretation of several cars. In the US, there was the PT Cruiser, which kind of generically referenced a whole genre of cars from the heydays of US's automobile industry. The more recent Dodge Charger more directly recalls its namesake series of muscle cars of the 1960s.

More specific references to cult car hits have come from Germany. The New Beetle was a wildly successful reinterpretation of a car that virtually everybody who graduated from high school between 1955 and 1985 has at least one memorable personal experience in or with (I have 3 of our 1969 bug). It's hard to figure out how much of the new car's appeal derives from nostalgia as compared to its current design, but it's certain that BMW's modern Mini is succeeding primarily based on its form, since although it was a cult favorite, the original never achieved the ubiquitouness (ubiquitosity?) of the bug.

Minis are hugely popular in Paris, where parking spaces are both fleeting and tiny. But if early trends are any indication, the Mini will soon be supplanted by the new Fiat 500. If Ferraris and Lamborghinis are the Anne Hatheway of wet dreams involving Italian cars, the Fiat 500 is the Italian Maureen Stapleton. Like the stock beetles and Minis, the original 500s had squirrels-in-running-wheels for engines. Or, if you've driven or biked behind one grinding up one of Italy's abundant steep slopes, you know they were powered more specifically by squirrels-with-digestive-problems.

So in 2007 and about 30 years after the original 500 series was discontinued, Fiat rolled out a reinterpretation of the car, and in Paris, the car is everywhere. The car is undeniably cute; no word yet on whether it joins the New Beetle, Mini, and even (surprisingly, to me) the PT Cruiser as a major chick-car.

Regardless, one has to wonder, with French Nationalism waxing in response to non-European immigration and augmented further by the economic downturn, when the French will get into the act and release a reinterpretation of the iconic Citroen 2CV. I might just buy one of those. As long as it came with a can opener.

13 February 2009

Lucky Friday the 13th

Today was lease signing day, at the apartment. Our last real estate transaction, our house closing some 12 years ago, included the last-minute surprise that the sellers didn't have the legal rights to the house. So it's fair to say we were a little uneasy this morning about what awaited.

It was no surprise that we arrived at the address before either of the agents, since we were actually actually on time. So we were perplexed when a different woman motioned us in from behind the gate and shuttled us upstairs. With our language skills still lagging, we couldn't figure out how to politely ask who she was. A stand-in for the owner's agent (who we later learned had had her car stolen yesterday)? The guardien/building-keeper? A neighbor mistaking us for dog-whisperers (tiny dogs with outsized ill tempers abound in this neighborhood)? 

As she chatted with us on the way up to the apartment, she wasn't talking about any of the limited number of things my French is up-to-date on, so other than the fact that she'd pushed the button for the 6th floor when we squished together on the elevator, I still couldn't discern from her patter whether we were even talking with the right person. It wasn't until we'd been in the apartment for nearly 5 minutes that I realized that she's the owner, and she lives next door.

That certainly explains why the owner's agent had been able to tell us during our first visit that the neighbor was a lone woman. And there was that moment of recognition-- dread, even --- that we were going to learn a lot in the next hour about what it was going to be like living on Avenue Henri Martin.

It turns out that Madame C. is a charmingly down-to-earth woman in her 50s who was extremely accommodating and helpful throughout the lease review and signing, and not at all like the some of the owners we'd heard about from our agent, who she referred to as "dragons." She could still turn out to be overbearing, paranoid, and/or a serial killer, but if she's half as nice and normal as she seemed today, getting the apartment and the owner is definitely a 2-fer as far as luck goes. 

We celebrated this evening with dinner at the most innovative place we've eaten this week, appropriately enough in the 13th arrondissement. We had a really nice meal at good value. Excellent value, actually, since as desert arrived, the couple seated (very closely, since this is a tiny restaurant) next to us got ready to leave, and they offered us the last 1/3 of their unfinished bottle of wine, the same one we'd ordered. Not being fools, we cheerfully accepted. After all, we wouldn't want to do anything to change our luck.

12 February 2009

Clams Roulette

Now that the most serious work for this trip done, we've spent the last couple of days exploring parts of the city on foot. One of the most striking things is how there is commerce everywhere. I'm not sure it's possible to live more than 2 blocks away from a vendor of just about any needs-of-life goods. In that regard, the city seems more like a collection of small villages, admittedly with unvillage-sized buildings, than like a big city. The commerce falls into a few noticeable groupings.

The first is the pharmacy. I had read that the French are famously fond of self-medicating, but it was still surpring to see that pharmacies are more abundant here than are Starbucks in Philly. If france ever decides to redesign its flag, I would suggest a green neon cross.

Clothing must be more important here than anywhere I've lived in the US, because clothing stores are abundant. Window prices vary from the extravagant, say, 700 euros for a pair of shoes, to reasonable, say 65 euros for a nice-looking sweater. There's obviously some correlation of style and price with neighborhood (fashion show-worthy along the Champs Elysees to bohemian grunge in Monmartre), but I've been surprised that the places we've walked have supported quite a range within each neighborhood.

I pay most attention to food shops, though. It appears to be illegal for there to be more than 100 m between patissiers, the purveyors of bread and pastries. This is an example of useful government and sensible legislation. In the 1990s, bread connoisseurs lamented a decades-long decline in baguette quality in France in general and Paris in particular. I don't know whether rediscovery of artisan bread similar to that in the US has occurred here, but the average quality of bread we've sampled has been very high. One could, actually, live happily by bread alone in Paris. But that would mean missing out on all of the other goodies made with exquisitely flaky puff pastry and filled or exactingly topped with fruit or chocolate. That you're never more than 100 paces from these delights is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing part is obvious, the curse being only that sampling them all is virtually impossible.

In close second in terms of density of food shop are butchers. France is not an easy place to be a vegetarian, as substantial pieces of meat are still a major part of normal meals. Butcher shops still start with pieces that are identifiable as animals, and depending on their specialty, sell mostly either naked cuts or pre-tied, stuffed, and seasoned (but not cooked, except for chicken roasting on the spit outside of some establishments) offerings. Calves' liver is ubiquitous in the butcher shops, but I've not yet seen sweetbreads or other offal in display. Cheese shops, fish shops, and produce stands also abound, and many hybrid shops that sell wine, teas, some cheeses, some pastries, etc. I'm not sure the quality or diversity of ingredients here is any better than in Philadelphia; we're blessed there with active farmers' markets, real butchers in the Reading Terminal and Italian markets, and good cheese shops and specialty vendors. But the availability here is notable.

Thus far in our (very limited) Paris dining out experience, I would argue that Philly has higher quality, more innovative, and definitely more diverse eating. The sameness of Parisian restaurants is remarkable. Whether bistro, brasserie, or restaurant, the offerings are nearly identical. And frankly, they're not so interesting that they warrant sampling over and over and over again. Furthermore, the sauces that distinguish the dishes, and presumably the restaurants, are not the extraordinary elixirs you'd expect from the originators of the codified sauce world.

That said, we've had a run of good food in the last 24 h. We had a nice lunch today at a Brasserie local to our apartment, intrigued as we walked past last night by their 4 taps (a relative rarity here-- Monk's or Standard Tap would make the average Parisian's head explode). Roasted milk-pork with frites, and on-tap Abbaye de Leff hit the spot. The waitress was great, food was good-- we'll definitely be there, again. And last night we went to a seafood restaurant in the 14th arrondissement rumored to be among the good quality and value places in Paris. Describing it as a seafood restaurant was more apt than we anticipated, since not only was there no land-based animal on the menu, but there was almost nothing but the fish itself on the plates.

As a complimentary starter, they brought a bowl of tiny clams, sauteed in butter and pepper, like mussels. Since exploring the full extent of my allergies, especially in a foreign country, is like playing Russian Roulette, I don't usually eat shellfish. But since we were only a block away from a hospital, and Karen, who usually shames me out of pushing my luck with shellfish, couldn't wipe the smile off her face while eating them, I gave one of them a shot. It was what seafood should be-- it was like eating the ocean. And that's pretty much how the whole meal went: oven-roasted baby sole, whole and sooooo lightly breaded and seasoned, perfectly crisp on the outside but delicate and moist inside; mullet, firm and moist and a little bitter, with a little sauteed spinach and a spinach sauce, the only sauce or color on any of the plates; and a fillet of sea bass, sweet and decadently succulent. It was like eating real and ripe fruit-- luscious and hedonistic. It seemed when the plain plates showed up that the food could be bland, but I'm not sure I've ever tasted (cooked) fish so clearly before. It was just all about the fish-- perfectly fresh ingredient, perfect cooking. Wow. We'll go back.

Thank you, America

After choosing an apartment comes the anxious time of waiting to hear whether the owner will choose you for a tenant. Unlike Twinkies, apartments in Paris have a short shelf life, and like the housing market around San Francisco at the height of the dot-com boom, apartments are rented in what is akin to a silent auction. Our agent said that the owner let her agent choose the tenant and that the seller's agent had decided by the end of our apartment visit that we were acceptable. So even if it wasn't a big surprise, it was nice to have heard already yesterday that the owner had accepted our request, and that the lease signing is scheduled for Friday. Now it's just about money: we need to transfer 4 months' rent to other peoples' bank accts, 2 months to the owner as security deposit and 2 months to the owner's agent, 1 for the first month's rent and the other as a fee. Though in the US (or at least Philadelphia) it is usually the owner who pays the “finder's fee,” this fee was good news, as the normal agent's fee for furnished apartments here is 2 months' rent. I think she gave us a bargain because I'm charming and handsome, but Karen figures it has to be something, anything, else. Maybe it's a token of appreciation for America's election of Obama

Whatever the truth, we're grateful for the lucky break.

11 February 2009

Parisian apartment math: 17+2+3 = 1

More precisely, 17 apartments viewed, in 3 arrondissements, over 2 days = 1 lease offer.

We were lucky to have the services the past 2 days of Cosmopolitan Services Unlimited, a company that specializes in handling relocation into Paris. Our shepherd, Sophie, had identified 17 furnished apartments in our specified price range and feature set, an impressive feat given that we changed the search from unfurnished to furnished late last week when we learned our stay would probably be shortened. We requested a focus on the 17th arrondissement, since all we spoke to in Paris said it would give good quality-of-life and -commute. There weren't so many apts available in the in the 17th, so we saw 7 there, 1 in the 8th, and 9 in the 16th, in the regions of those districts that border on the 17th and offer similar commute. 17 is a lot of apts to check out, and I'm really glad we saw so many.

Apartments tell you a lot about life in a place, or at least life for your rent brethren. Apparently people looking at the same apartments as us don't shower or bake. Or at least don't mind wet floors or microwaved food. Most of the apartments had tubs with handheld shower nozzles and no shower curtain or door, and several lacked ovens and had only tiny microwaves.

Even so, most of those places were fine, and we're lucky enough that we can afford to pay enough rent that all of the apts were in nice neighborhoods. The composite average apt we looked at had 1 modest-sized BR with a small bed, a LR/parlor that was just large enough to serve as multi-purpose living room/eating room, a small bathroom with a sink and a bathtub with the requisite handheld nozzle (but no toilet), and a very small separate room with a toilet only, or a toilet and an airplane-sink. Furnishings were often kind of random in style and quality, but all included a washing machine and cooking range, and all had some kind of heat, but none had air conditioning.

Upgrades (for our preferences) included bigger kitchen, even with an oven or dishwasher, bigger bathroom or regular size bathroom with a shower, heavier construction, windows on opposing sides of the apt for effective cross-ventilation (see “no AC” above-- it's hot here in the summer), double-glazed windows, good views or especially good immediate surroundings, and nicer furnishings. None of the places we looked at had all of those upgrades. I suspect that getting all of them would put us out of our price range.

Apartments also tell you a lot about yourself and the way you interact with what's around you. It was really striking, by the 5th or 6th apartment, to realize how our experience in Paris will be influenced by the apartment we choose. Some were high-floor apartments, where you looked out over the jumble of tin and mansard roofs, with chimneys housing as many as 14 flues, antennae, and satellite dishes. Some of those views were aesthetically pleasing, others dreary. Others looked out onto courtyards (quieter than the streets when your windows are open in the summer) of endless other apartments, some onto the street, some at the Arc de Triomphe or Tour Eiffel. Ornate late 19th/early 20th century Beaux Arts style vs sleek modern, small street vs grand blvd, mostly residential vs active commercial block-- no matter how much time one spends away from the apartment exploring, where you live influences which city you see and get to know. And in the end, it's an active, deliberate choice, and so it says a lot about you.

We were lucky to see many apartments we'd have been content to live in for a 6-mo stay. But we were even luckier to find 2 that we'd be happy to live in for 5 years or more. And interestingly, they were very different places.

The first was in the 17th, on the 3rd floor (in Europe, the 1st floor is what we'd call the 2nd floor in the US), on the corner of a 19th century corner building that looked out onto a little Place (square/circle), with lots of big trees, a little open space (rare in the city), and an ornate gothic building on the other side. It had high ceilings with plaster moldings, with windows that were old, leaky to both air and noise, but charming and well maintained, and with views so engaging and immediate that you felt physically connected to the neighborhood. The owner must be a woman in her 50s-- it felt like very old world, elegant and simple. It also felt immediately like a home. The downside was that the street it overlooked was busy, so that physical connection with the neighborhood came at a noise cost.

The other was in the 16th, on the 6th european floor, set back a little on a grand blvd. Art Deco-era bldg, with high ceilings and very simple plaster work, but furnished in a sleek minimalist Euro-modern style. The views were also good, but being so high and in a more “monumental” immediate neighborhood, at more of a distance, the city as a backdrop, not as a living companion. Between the height, the set-back, and the double-glazed windows, it was possible to shut the city noise out if you wanted, a place to retreat.

In the end, we chose the 2nd, because we like being able to control our environment (or have the illusion of it), and because we've never lived in a place like that. Our house in Philly is much more like the place in the 17th, where live very integrated into the life on the street. The place in the 16th will be a novel experience, what I imagine living in a high-rise is like. Today we'll walk through both neighborhoods more extensively, gathering more info before signing a lease before we leave this week.

Whichever of these apartments comes through, it'll be a great place from which to experience Paris.

08 February 2009

... and some French bread

After a week of ups and downs, we made it to Paris for a week of logistical legwork.

An overnight flight helped neutralize a close-quarters flight; between the on-demand video system Karen loves so much stuffed under the seat where your feet used to go and some very tight row packing,  I was grateful to be only semi-conscious for most of the flight and so only half-aware of the pain in my knees and neck. I'll try to forget that going back will be a longer flight during the day.

In the end, we got to Charles de Gaulle safely and after the ritual of the US Air baggage delay, we were on our way to our hotel. Well, we were on our way to someplace near our hotel, anyway,  because we forgot to print out the hotel address, and our cabbie didn't know the area. So we found a local landmark and hoofed it from there.

Sunday in La Defense, the suburb just outside Paris proper where Karen will be working and where we're staying this week, is best described as quiet. Mostly a business park with densely packed, if somewhat whimsical by US standards, corporate highrises, it has a modern glass "arch" with a view in the distance of the Arc de Triomphe. A kind of then-and-now thing, I guess. We encountered a few tourists checking out the main promenade, but until the offices open again tomorrow, it's mostly tumbleweeds. 

That meant we ate lunch at our hotel, in the bar, since all of the other eateries were closed for Sunday. This suited me just fine. Counting on a long stint in Paris, I figured I'd have time to ease into a re-acquaintance with my decades-old school French, and we were to take an immersion refresher in January in NY, but it was cancelled due to low enrollment. So I was looking forward to a hotel environment to ease into making an ass of myself with my poor French skills. So it was astonishing that I failed to live up to even those lame goals. Italian and even German words stumbled out, but any French words that actually made sense were a complete accident. Yikes. Lunch was mediocre, but there was good bread, at least.

So when it came time to venture into the city to find dinner, I had to modify my original goal of staying out of tourist areas. Though that's still a goal, I need to bring some language game to do it justice, and watching some speed skating and ski jumping on French-commentary EuroSport after lunch didn't quite bring me up to speed. We got a couple of recommendations from the staff at the hotel and cross-referenced those with other sources and decided to try Chez Andre in the 8th arrondissement of Paris proper.

Now, we've spent a fair bit of time in Italy over the years with our bikes, including living in apartments in small villages and at least briefly integrating ourselves into the mercantile life there. But it didn't take long to realize that Paris is whole different world-- the scale and intensity are completely different from Tuscan hilltop towns. Kind of like moving to NYC from pretty much anywhere in Montana, I would guess. And so while it's obvious that there's a lot on offer, there's also a lot more to do to cope, and that means a lot of things to screw up until you figure them out. 

Our first flub was getting cash. We've done this a lot in Italy. Find ATM. Use ATM. Done. But none of the ATMs here would give us cash. Is it a case of over-protective banks at home (we've run into that in the past), or a case of incompatible card technologies (the French vending systems use cards with chips in them). We'll have to work that out. Our second gaffe was getting to dinner by public transit. Paris has an awesome metro system, with a stop just 5 minutes' walk from our hotel. We found an open ticket window and bought week-long transit passes to get us through the week, and at the end of the transaction the sales agent was nice enough (and I mean this-- I think most would not) to tell us that the passes were good Mon (tomorrow)-Sun. Um, that didn't help us tonight. Already holding up the line at the only open window, we went to a machine to buy tonight's tickets, only to learn that it wouldn't take paper money (we hadn't yet conducted a transaction to generate coinage) or plastic, despite its claims to the contrary. So after 10 min of failed reasoning with the machine, we were back at the ticket window for our getting-to-dinner fares. So it goes. We got our train and away we went.

As we rode from suburb to the 8th, each stop was busier than the one before. Emerging from the Franklin D Roosevelt metro station to street level was my first experience in Paris since 1984. Though early on a Sunday evening, the sidewalks were bustling with people, many young. Traffic dropped when we turned off of the Champs Elysees to get to our restaurant, but this is unmistakably a Real city with lots of traffic of every variety-- car, scooter, foot, bicycle. Paris is going to be a really cool place to live. Six months will not have been long enough when it's time to go back home.

Dinner at Chez Andre, which is listed in the restaurant guides as a "bistro,"  was fine. Nothing special, food-wise, but nothing to complain about. Most of the life-in-Paris books I've read have been written by British men, who have apparently spent their entire lives eating nothing but fish and chips and packaged foods. Philadelphia (and the rest of the east coast city scape) has great fresh food availability and outstanding restaurants, so it'll be interesting to see how eating in Paris feels. I'm expecting the average take-your-chances dining out food quality to be lower than in Italy, where's it's so easy to get simple food of high quality and value, though perhaps with higher highs if our budgets will allow. Our first dinner together featured a lot of mustard (in both green lentil and endive and blue cheese salads), well-prepared meats (beef and duck, both of which were "gamier" than in the US, which isn't necessarily a bad thing), and reasonably priced wine. And a basket of good, crusty bread. No complaints.

The most memorable event of the meal, though, came as we'd nearly finished, when a table of 3 anglophones were seated at the table behind us. They asked for the menus and wine lists, and as the waitress started off to fetch them, one of the patrons added, "Oh, and can you bring us some French bread?"

French bread, in Paris? What will they think of next?

07 February 2009

From the rollercoaster to the precipice

So this week I got on HR's radar screen- they realized they couldn't promise to send me to Paris for 2 years when the merger will occur this year and they have no idea what will happen after that. After a few days of stomach churning uncertainty, the pronouncement today was that the assignment is now for 6 months. Ok, not quite what we were planning for (we'll be there for TdF, but no cross in Belgium...). But it should be an adventure, regardless.

We head over tomorrow for the apartment hunting trip.