13 March 2009

Base period

Though I haven't been training, or even riding, since I've been here, there's no shortage of other ways to apply the training principle of adaptation through overload.

When you speak the indigenous language like a 2-year old, any situation in which you need to convey or, worse for me, receive any complex idea is kind of stressful. Add in unfamiliar protocols, and it becomes something akin to interval training.

Take food shopping, for instance.

Paris is famous for its food markets, and they were a serious draw in our thinking about this stint, just as the great markets in Philly were a major factor in our choice to move to there over a decade ago. But the way we shop at home, at independent butchers who break down and age their meat themselves and will get offal when I ask for it, poultry vendors who not only sell fresh pigeon and duck but understand why I want (and provide) chicken feet for making stock, and local farmers who bring their old laying hens so I can make pot au feu and make sure that a basket of white peaches is waiting for us when they hit their peak, is very interaction-intensive. Not so easy when your 40-word vocabulary includes more descriptions for the weather than for flavors. It's kind of the VO2 max efforts of food shopping.

And as I said, I haven't been training, so when we got here, that was out of the question.

There are basically 3 ways to do your (fresh) food shopping here. The first is the supermarket. Though they vary in size, most are pretty similar in size to those in center city Philly, ie, a quarter or less the size of your typical suburban US supermarket. They carry the same general categories of foods as in the US-- dairy, fruits and vegetables, staples like flour and cereal, canned goods, cleaning stuff, etc. And they work more or less the same way-- you get your cart, wander around to collect your items, bring them to the cashier, bag (here, everybody bags themselves, which is the way it works most of the time at our KindaStale at home), pay, and go.

As such, the supermarket is the endurance ride of food shopping for the linguistically challenged. All you need is a Bonjour when you get to the cashier, a Non when she asks if you have their member card, and a Merci, au revoir as you leave. You'll maybe do a couple of harder efforts should you need something from the meat counter (if there is one), but mostly you cruise and enjoy the scenery. You have as much time as you need to marvel at foie gras in the grocery store, puzzle the difference between the 40 different fromage blancs and yaourts in the dairy section, giggle at the fact that even most of the cereals for adults have chocolate in them (or demand why, since they're made by Kellogg's and other familiar brands, you've been deprived of them in the US), search in vain for canned/boxed chicken broth (there may be 50 different kinds of boxed soups, but no chicken broth for using as an ingredient; you can be stubborn and buy the bouillon cubes or pastes, but unless you like the taste of salted petrochemicals, you'll wish you hadn't), wonder whether the jars of dull grey opaque stuff in amongst the brightly colored fruit preserves were once also brightly colored fruit preserves, delight in finding Kleenex, in amusing sheep-spotted boxes no less, and speculate whether a 3.25 euro bottle of wine can possibly be anything but putrid (biensûr, it can). Since you came on foot, you don't buy heaping carts of food at one time. Which is a good thing, since your small refrigerator wouldn't hold it, if you did.

Our first few days here, we tried 3 different supermarkets in our neighborhood to stock the pantry and get enough food this easy way to carry us through until comfortable enough to shop someplace more challenging. We have a Monoprix, which in our neighborhood is just a supermarket but in some others is a combination department store/hardware store/food store (but without greeters), a Casino, which I believe was the sponsor of pro racing team a decade ago, and a Franprix. They pretty much fall in that order in shopping experience, though the Casino has a meat counter where one can get Italian pancetta, mortadella, and prosciutto sliced to order, and the Franprix has the coolest technology. Since the cashiers there are at street level but the bulk of the store is down about 8 steps, they have a little tow-line to pull full shopping carts from the shopping area to the cashier area. Kind of like a bowling ball return for shopping carts. I've not checked to see if they rent shoes, too.

Next week, permanent markets.

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