Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Good things...

Summer has arrived in the city and the day's temperatures are supposed to clear 29 degrees Centigrade.

I lamented on my Facebook wall this very morning that I just might give my life for a Great Baguette.

After having a taste of what's possible when we lived in the 16th arrondissement, I have been munching my way along rue de la Convention down in the 15th.  Nothing.  Nope.  Nothing but air-filled Wonder-bread style baguettes.

I couldn't believe it.  This was not why I moved to France.  I thought Good Bread was more widely available than this.

By contrast, I wish there was some way to rid the city of pick pockets.  They are a nuisance and are more readily found than Great Baguette.  Fortunately, they have become somewhat easy for me to spot.  From the way they hold their satchels (where they store their booty), to the way the rove about in sometimes boisterous gangs, to the way they find and work their prey.  I don't like being prey, but that's what happens when a person grows older and slower.  I try to keep the important stuff inaccessible to Thieving Hoards of Rom Youth.

Over the Champs-Elysees

Summer has arrived, and with it the heat...

Over breakfast and just after I shared my Great Baguette lament with the world on Facebook, Jude suggested that "using the Force", that is, to make a quick Google search, was in order.

Two articles instantly stood out.  The first was a blog entry from 2011 that talked about the best baguettes to be found in Paris.  The second was a blog entry on David Libovitz' site that recently dates from May, 2012.

Both sites talk at some length about how decent bread is not a "given" here in Paris, and the two sites talk about what to look for in a good baguette.  Further, Paris Notebook had a link to a Google Map that marked boulangerie locations throughout the city.  I saw there are potentially three good places to buy bread near our apartment.

My wife and I headed out to buy some books.  Jude was lacking something decent to read and found WHSmith by "using the Force" (Google).

Our Metro line is conveniently located and we were able to reach Place de la Concorde in 15 minutes.  We found the well stocked and air conditioned English bookshop at 248 rue de Rivoli just a few moments after crawling out of the Metro.

Two good things [1]
Cheap Plonk and the most evil thing on Planet Earth...

I must be pretty clueless about a lot of things here in Paris.  I was clueless about Cheap Plonk (less than 8Euro) wine and Bubbly Stuff (also less than 8Euro).  I was clueless about how to turn off automobile horns (it turns out, eggs are most useful and very effective at turning off noisy klaxons de voiture).  I was clueless about Rom Curses.  I was clueless about Good Baguette.  I was clueless about Evil Bookstores.

Evil?  Why, yes.  Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.  Evil.  Evil in the sense that bookstores are categorically NOT supposed to sell the most evil thing on Planet Earth; Devon Clotted Cream.

I have an old friend to thank for this.  He turned me on to Devon Clotted Cream one day while we sat for a cup of tea located in a brick hut somewhere out in the vasty sheep filled fields of Hertfordshire.  It's so Evil, this Devon Stuff, that the only way to get through the experience is to pile, slather, scoop, cup, or gingerly finger it up on top of scone or, it turns out, when in France, a decent Petit Pain (containing nuts, raisins, and figs).

Avoiding yet another Thieving Hoard of Rom Youth as we boarded the Metro at Place de la Concorde (they jumped on right beside us, ready, no doubt, to work us over if they could), Jude and I made our way to the first purveyor of Great Baguette on my list.  We instantly know this was The Place by the way it smelled.  If you had a good sniffer, you could follow the incredible smell straight into the shop from at least a city block away.  It smells SOOoooooo much better than those Baguette Dives that line rue de la Convention.

Two good things [2]
Je voudrais deux baguettes de tradition, s'il vous plait...

Today's midday meal included Great Baguette.  Yes, we have found Great Baguette!  For only 1Euro10 per Truly Great Baguette.  Spread with Grand Fermage aux cristaux de Sel de Mer de Noirmoutier (butter laced with a very special sea salt - it is better than you could possibly know unless you've tried it yourself). Chased by Cremant de Loire Monmousseau, for only 6Euro99 per, making it a Truly Great Cheap Plonk (in a rose to help chase the heat of a summer day away).  Followed with Petit Pain piled, slathered, scooped, cupped, and gingerly fingered up on top of each tiny morsel, that most evil thing on Planet Earth; Devon Clotted Cream.

See how good life suddenly becomes when you find Truly Great Baguette?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cleaning up...

After the Rom curse had been placed on me, nothing seemed to go right.  Such is supposedly the Nature of Curses.

First, after a very quick delivery of our new Orange TV/Livebox/Telephone system by la poste, it took a week to sort out the fact we had a dead on arrival Orange TV box.  Everything else worked, but not the Orange TV box.

After sorting out the Orange TV situation, first in an all french on-line chat with, then with a mostly English speaking India call center, I took the dead box to a local boutique where we were able to exchange the dead for the living.  All was suddenly good until we discovered that the old tube-type TV that came with our apartment was in it's final stages of crossing over to the other side.  It was dying.  Quickly.

Passy Distortions
Time to transform our TV situation from Alien Green wavering imaged skin tones for something a little less Alien Green.  So, it was off to the local Darty to spend a little money.  After an hour of working through the purchase process, again, all in french, we exited the store with a new Samsung HD (only 720p, but, beggars can't be choosers and, besides, it was only 66cm across) and a receipt for a new micro-onde.

Have your ever seen an old man hauling a new 66cm Samsung HDTV box through the metro system in Paris before?  Neither had we.  Until now.  That old man was moi-meme.

Along the way, Jude spied a musician.  He was playing a very nice classical accompaniment on a French Horn (bien sur!).  My wife said "Give me some coin.  I'm going to counter that Rom Curse right now!!"

By giving to the Forces of Good, it was hoped my Rom Curse would be cleared out of our lives.

Our new appartement is looking wonderfully fit, clean, and healthy.  Our new micro-onde is working well.  Our new tele gives us drop-dead gorgeous images every night.  Our Orange TV box provides hundreds of HiDef channels of very wonderfully French programs (including live broadcasts of the 2012 Tour de France!).  Doves are building a nest just outside our livingroom window in a tree that is no more than 15 feet away.

Passy Distortions
Sunday, last, dawned clear and bright.  As the cross-walk graffiti says, "Regarde le ciel."  Squinting ciel-ward, we could confirm that yes, le ciel was crystaline blue.  It was going to be a good day.

Around 15h00, Jude and I headed out for the Champs-Elysees.  We had to see what the party of the final etage of le tour was all about.

Wiggins still wore the Yellow Jersey.  Mark Cavendish, the non-kilt wearing Scotsman Best Sprinter Of ALL Time was in the mix.  The peloton looked, well, somewhat smaller than is usually does.  Maybe too many people crashed and burned during the previous weeks of le tour?  Or maybe they went by so fast it only looked like a smaller than usual peloton.  The fans were waving and cheering each lap as the peloton worked it's way around the 16th Arrondisement.

After meeting a group from Sussex, England, we learned just how nice everyone around us was.  We learned how well behaved bicycle spectators can be.  We were seriously enjoying a warm summer day on the Champs-Elysees.

Gods! this must be paradise!!

Walking along a rue near our apartment, a woman stopped us and asked if we had been to see le tour.  All in French, we did our best to share a few videos we took just a half hour earlier.  Smiles and well wishes all around and a few coins to a French Horn player a few days earlier appears to have put paid to that Dastardly Rom Curse.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Tools in Living Skills

Les fous américain have landed

We are now successfully installed, if not yet fully functional, in the 15th arrondissement.  Walking around the quartier a little today revealed all we were looking for.  Les parcs.  Les boulangeries.  Les boucheries.  Les magasins of all kinds.

I think we're going to love living here.  Though I don't know how we could love this any more than we already do.  I'm sure we'll figure something out.

Reflecting a little on how we arrived in this place at this time, I realized there are a few tools that have facilitated the transition nicely.

Life skills tools
... so many problems to solve, such little time...

Tools.  Well, we're les fous américain, right?  We tend to do many things ourselves.  We like to avoid spending money when the job at hand can be done ourselves.  We will spend money on tools.

I can't tell you why.  All I know is that some silly little things in life bring great pleasure.

Take, for instance, the Grand Opening of Jami's Jam.  Abricot and quite tasty, or so it was reported.  There was a problem.  To get at the abricot jam, we needed to pry the lid off.  Alas, what to use?  Hmmm... nothing seems to be working.  I don't want to cut myself or make a mess of things that might lead to a hospital visit.  My French is not up to explaining strange wounds to Gallic Doctors.

Ah!  I have it.  We have a Leatherman.  Yes, it's the self same Leatherman that used to live in our Emergency Prepardness Kit back in the States.  We brought it with us after reading of another fou americain's experiences of how good a tool it was to have here in France.

With a satisfying rrrrrip of Velcro(tm - no doubt), I pulled the Leatherman out of it's case and proceeded to lever the lid off of Jami's Jam.  Two seconds.  The deed is done.  Five seconds later, the abricot jam is spreading into the creases and crevices of one of Paris' many fine baguettes on it's way to bringing a healthy smile to my face.

Life skills tools
 ... um, how wide is that bed sheet?  Exactly?...

Then there are things which need measuring.  Like les matelas.  Is it "full" or "queen" sized matelas, Dear?, or some odd size we've never heard of?  Well, let's head down to Castorama to see what kind of trouble we can get into, shall we?

Castorama is one of France's Great Stores pour faire le Bricolage.  For us Yanks, think in terms of Home Depot and you'll come close to understanding what Castorama is.

Wandering the aisles I find Just the Tool I've been looking for.  It measures things.  It's yellow (not that color matters much).  It's laid out in millimeters and centimeters with marks at every meter up to 3 meters.  It's cheap at 3Euro50.

Hmmm... yes... um... hold on.  What's this?  Oooooh!  A much cooler tape measure.  It's orange and black (and here I thought color did not matter).  It has a magnet on the end of the tape.  It is 5 meters in length.  It has a WONDERFUL locking mechanism.  Quel est le prix?  Wow!  Would you catch a gander at this?  4Euro95!  Still cheap.  Even more fun!  We'll take it.

Now we know exactly what sized sheets to get for our new bed.

Life skills tools
... tools of food preparation must be tended to periodically...

The last tool we've found incredibly useful is a grinding stone, a whetstone, and a few drops of special oil.  Again?  A grinding stone, a whetstone, and a few drops of special oil.  It's part of a two step system.  All of which we brought with us.

First you use the grinding stone.  Then the whetstone.  A bit of oil on each.  You work these until a very fine sharp edge has been achieved.  Jude is an incredible chef, after all.  Dull knives will NOT do.  Nope.  Simply will not do.

So there you have it.  Our top three favorite tools for living in France.  A Leatherman.  A metric-ized tape measure.  A knife sharpener (grinding stone, whetstone, oil).

Very useful, all of it.

Of course, the most useful tool of all still escapes us; speaking intelligible French.  It seems the impossible will take just a bit longer.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Curse

We are in the middle of a grand demenager to our new appartement.

The skys have been dark and filled with low hanging clouds.  We've been dodging rain drops with each trip we've made.  The metro is sometimes full of commuters and many times not.

It's a haul of some luggage or other.  Filled to the brim with our worldly belongings.  Five large valises moving from the 16th arrondisement, one at a time.

Taking the number 6 metro to Pasteur and connecting through the tunnels, up and down stairs, to the number 12 metro line.  Boarding another train and exiting up into the light deep into that most Parisian place, the 15th arrondisement.  Past the locals and around the dog sh*t.  Onwards, hauling and dragging our valises filled with what's left of the stuff of our lives.

Each return trip, we see the group of Rom musicians gathered at  Sevres-Lecourbe.  They await a train to take them to richness and fame.

Time Keeper's Goddess

Enter the Goddess of the Age of Rationalism

Today we had a middle aged accordionist join our car as we rattled up the line, returning to our appartement in the 16th.

The man played two songs.  He played them sufficiently well to be called a traveling Rom musician.  Not great stuff.  Just sufficient.  Two songs.  That was it.

Next thing we know, he's calling out "Bonne journee.  Bon jour.  Merci.  Merci.  Thank you."  He started walking the car.  Tip cup rattling like the train we rode.  Soliciting for a bit of dosh to feed the clan.

As he reached our end of the car, I was staring off into space.  No.  Actually, I was watching the hydraulic pressure gauge.  I was wondering how much pressure was being indicated on the dial.   I was wondering what happened to the gauge as it measured the opening of the metro rail car doors.  I wondered what the hell that damned tip cup was doing under my nose.

Such persistance, this!

After more than a few seconds passing with the tip cup firmly planted under my nose, I slowly, disdainfully, moved my eyes over the top rim of my glasses and looked the Rom accordionist straight in the eyes.  I did not let my gaze wander.  I just look deeply eye to eye at him.  Then, very slowly, I oh so very very slightly wagged my chin "No!" from sided to side.  I held his eyes firmly with mine.

We reached the next metro platform just in time for him to break our stare and continue his chant of "Bonne journee.  Bon jour.  Merci.  Merci.  Thank you."

Then, very quietly, under his breath, quite sotto voce, he cursed me.  He cursed me with his best Rom curse.

Saint Rationalism

Enter the Seer of Hermetic Sciences

Interesting times, these.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Goddess of the Sky and of the Moon

School has been let out and all hell has broken loose.  Gods and Goddesses are at each others gate in all out open confrontation.  Some simple human fool has let loose a terrible God.

Paris Thunderstorm

Goddess of the Sky and the Moon's pixies...

The destruction of Paris continues apace.  The English speaking international school for the spawn of diplomats and other overly wealthy Anglo-Saxon types is now well into a major wall removal street ditching noise producing deconstruction job.  Workman might not realize the digging would have unintended consequences.  The work proceeded at a reckless pace.

In Paris, just to name a few, there is the Goddess of the Sky and of the Moon, Gods of the River, Goddesses of the Statuary in Public Places, and Gods of the Cavernous Underworld.  All you have to do is visit the museums and look carefully around public monuments.  These Gods and Goddesses are celebrated throughout the city.

What I find amusing is that most people think these images are fabrications of fiction arising from the overly (wine) lubricated minds of France's well known artists.

One day, to the destruction noises from the school was added an oh so very special Parisian scent.  It was the kind of scent that makes one realize there are a great many humans living in close proximity here and that dead things are not always pleasant.  It was the kind of scent that told one there is a reason the Romans invented pipes to plumb shit away from human establishments.

Like a Jen from a Lamp, the God of the Cavernous Underworld had escaped the Deep Dark Realms to freely roam the streets of Passy.

Paris Thunderstorm

As the Goddess passed...

We now understood what the school was having destroyed.  It was the boys and girls bathroom.

Nature is, we are often told, supposed to be about "balance."  I'm not entirely sure who's story this is or actually how accurate the idea of "balance" is.  I suspect a ruse and a lie and someone somewhere is benefiting from this timeless lie.

More properly considered from the perspectives of Gods and Goddesses, the God of the Cavernous Underworld had to be put back in his place.  Otherwise the place would, quite literally, stink.  Screw "balance."

There was a hint of electric anticipation in the air.  The Goddess of the Sky and of the Moon was casting aside Her Deep Slumber.

Last evening, around 17h00, give or take a minute or two, our Goddess had a thing or two to say about the free roaming stink god.  Once loosed on the world, He would not go quietly nor would He be easily controlled.

For twenty or thirty minutes we witnessed the power of Our Goddess.  Impressive are Her abilities to light up the sky.  Fabulous is Her strength to hurl great sonic walls of sound off the rooftops of Paris' ancient architecture.  Rather serious forces were put to work.

Lightning danced between clouds.  Thunder rolled almost continuously.  Rain drenched the city.  Gutters were rendered useless.  Lakes formed along the rues and avenues of the city.  The Goddess sent humans scampering, slithering, and sloshing into places of hiding.  Hail nailed streets and buildings hard to terra firma and strong-armed the God of the Cavernous Underworld back into his place.

Chasing the God of the Cavernous Underworld back into dark places...

Jude thought tornadoes might be developing. Looking at the photos I took as the storm was ending, I can't say she was wrong, though I wondered at the time why she was hiding the salle de bain.  I failed to understand she would know of the Goddesses strength.

It took twenty or thirty minutes for the Goddess of the Sky and of the Moon to complete her work.  The task was done and the God Chasing thunder and lightning moved east of the city.

The sewer smell is gone.  For now, at least.

It makes me wonder what the Gods are up to in the UK and Russia.  Surely, workmen there haven't loosed their own Stink Gods on the world, have they?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Scientific reasoning applied

We may be on the cusp of making a huge new scientific discovery.  If the current evidence holds, we should be able to make an announcement soon.

Ahead of that, it might be worth considering the Scientific Method.  First, we observe a phenomenon that might not fit existing frameworks of reality.  Then we create a hypothesis, test that hypothesis using evidence and information, and then refine the hypothesis as new data emerges.

This early morning, at 1:57am, I observed something which may well deserve further investigation.

As with many recent adventures in Paris, I was awakened out of a deep sleep by an annoying sound.  In what has become an unpleasant emerging pattern, I swung my legs out of bed, made my way to the window, and opened the curtains to find the source of the noise.

Something must happen to Paris after the sun goes down or after a big football match (it had been Spain vs Italy earlier in the evening).  The city transforms itself and majick must be more easily manifest.

I am reminded of Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" where strange unexplained things happen.  Only, it was 1:57-freak'n AM in the gawd-forsaken morning, and not midnight.  Woody obviously does not live here.  Either that or a movie titled "1:57am in Paris" would have been a little awkward.

Passy at Dusk

Paris, near the Transformation Hour

The noise source was readily apparent.  A large ant-like creature was sitting in the middle of the intersection of rue Chardin (named after Teilhard de, no doubt) and rue Beethoven.  It had extended it's huge claw and strange sling structure extended and seemed to be seeking food.  It's too early to tell if the structure was a well-adapted antenna or some other not yet described biologic appendage.  Further inspection will be required for proper classification.

Like many creatures who inhabit Earth, this ant-like being was attended in some form of symbiotic relationship by fat squishy looking mites (parasites?).  They were tan in color, large of belly, and were marked with bright yellow stripes down their backs.  No doubt, these stripes are used to warn potential eaters that these mites (parasites?) are lethal.  Which really means they'll like taste really good after roasting over an open pit fire.

While the large ant-like being stretched it's claw to find a white over black Mini-Cooper (BMW manufactured vintage) to it's liking, the mites (parasites?) seemed to run around attending to other ant-like beings and expressing concern over who might be observing them.  No doubt, the mites (parasites?) were concerned about being found tasty.  They were quite animated in their gestures and motions.

The large ant-like being had placed the white over black Mini-Cooper on it's back in a motion reminiscent of the much smaller leaf cutter ants found in the forests of Brazil.  The mites (parasites?) sensed the ant-like being was ready to move on, so they scrambled back onto their hosts.

At this point I could observe several things of interest.  This was actually a group of three food seeking ant-like beings.  The first being had already gathered it's food and was moving up rue Chardin.  The second had just finished collecting it's food.  A third being, as of yet unsated, followed the first two around the corner and up the street.

Study in Platinum

Is this the Paris Transformation Portal?

Here are my rough observations -

Large ant-like creatures come out at night (1:57am, to be exact) to collect Mini-Coopers.  They do not seem to eat them in place.  Rather, they were seen hauling these Mini-Coopers away for consumption elsewhere.

These large and previously undescribed by science ant like beings are attended by large bellied squishy looking mites.  While somewhat agile, their size and girth appear to render them easy prey for mite eaters.

Here are my questions - 
Why Mini-Coopers?   Might the answer lay in a prior observation that involved the playing of Angry Birds, expensive restaurants, la police, and the quiche pre-cursors called eggs?

Here is my initial hypothesis -
At some yet to be understood point in time, Paris allows weird and strange creatures to be seen by mere mortal humans.  These creatures appear to include large ant-like beings that carry BMW manufactured Mini-Coopers away from cross-walk marked street corners.  It is quite likely, therefore, that a nest of as of yet undetermined size contains a queen who eats Mini-Coopers.  If I were a betting man, I'd put money on the fact this nest will be found somewhere in the vicinity of Paris, France.

Bentley ~ Double Parked for Dinner

  Are Bentley's smart enough to avoid consumption?

There you have it.  The development of a scientific proof based on a hypothesis.

Stay tuned for further developments, information, and discoveries.