Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bixi vs. Vélib

There isn't really any competition, but it has little to do with the bike-sharing system and everything to do with the host city. While Montréal seems French in so many ways, it's actually a closeted Dutch city, where biking has become so popular and so mundane that driving almost plays second fiddle. Lots of people use Bixi to get around, but even more appear to have their own bikes and to ride them everywhere. The following video is characteristic - or possible an under-sampling - of the biking scene in the city.

I took this video at 8 AM from our private terrace at L'Auberge de la Fontaine, in the Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood. (The stress of planning and executing a wedding melted away as soon as we arrived at this hotel, the perfect honeymoon home-away-from-home.) After biking the entire length of this bikes-only, protected path later in the day (see map below), Maggie and I only confirmed what we first suspected when I made this video in the morning: we need to move to Montreal.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Manifestations Place du Palais Royal

We saw our share of demonstrations, street art, and public theater in Paris. But only once did I see politically-motivated Aquascript (TM).

On the occasion of la Journée Mondiale de l'Eau (World Water Day), April 12, 2010, basic-needs NGO Solidarité International sponsored an art installation that used carefully timed droplets of water to depict bombs and form words saying things like, "I am the leading cause of death, more than . . ." and the same thing in French. I didn't get shots of all the words, but I did get a few of the bombs and a skull-and-crossbones. Sorry it's all backwards - I caught this while still mounted on a Vélib' on my way to the library.

Pretty nifty, eh? You can see a video if the set-up and full execution of the installation at Aquascript's website (see above).

The Place du Palais Royal's placement across from an entrance to the Louvre makes it one of the most central, most visible public spaces in the city. As such, there are new demonstrations, art installations, and events almost every week. It's a spot that's worth passing by often, and once you're there, plan on making like this Aquascript installation - just go with the flow.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Souvenirs III

Our next sentimental purchase was more ornamental than practical. We'd seen dry goods canisters at restaurants, museums, and in friends' kitchens, but never realized the amazing diversity of styles and shapes until we started visiting antique stores (more on that in another post). Eventually we stumbled upon this set of Art Deco canisters from the 1930s.


They're ceramic and quite heavy, so we had the antiques dealer ship them to us. Good thing he did the packaging, since another box we shipped (with books and miscellaneous stuff) eventually showed up in Somerville looking like it'd gotten in a fight with a customs official:

Busted Box

We're grateful our canisters arrived in perfect condition, but slightly sad since we realized that it's probably not safe to actually use them to store tea, coffee, flour, and spices (as the stenciled words on each instruct). We figured out that these canisters were probably decorated with all manner of lead paint and other toxic substances, so despite our ambition that most of our souvenirs would be useful, these particular pieces will have to remain purely decorative.

Well, almost purely decorative. Even if they don't hold tea, coffee, flour, or spices, they still contain a tasty melange of memories - the very definition of a souvenir.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Souvenirs II

While in Paris, we did our part in supporting the local economy - but as locals, not as tourists. We bought an air mattress, a few mugs, lots and lots of cheese, and a few other items that probably wouldn't qualify as "souvenirs." Towards the end of our stay, we started thinking about the material legacy that Paris would leave in our lives. Sure, there were the 10,000+ photos we'd taken, and I guess this blog counts as somewhat "material" (or at least "documentary"). But come on - we live in a material world, and we are material girls, so it was high time we picked up a few things to inspire bouts of nostalgia once we'd returned to our regularly scheduled American life.

We started simple: a set of "Prince and Princess" plates we'd first seen at Le Bon Marché in the winter, then rediscovered at another store in May.


Each small, plastic plate (clearly intended for children) depicts a prince or princess offering suggestions for proper table etiquette, always in the first person so as to lead by example:

  • I carry my food to my mouth.
  • I don't eat chicken with my fingers.
  • I don't put my knife in my mouth.
  • I don't talk with my mouth full.
  • My hands rest on the table.
  • I only leave the table when the meal is finished.
Besides pointing to some interesting cultural differences in manners, the plates are brightly colored (the photo doesn't do them justice) and never fail to stimulate conversation. Plus, they're dishwasher-safe!

Prince and Princess plates: find them at a novelty shop on the Ile-St.-Louis near you, and collect all 12!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Last Lunch in Paris

In the middle of our marathon last day in Paris, we practiced the skill we most appreciated acquiring over our nine months in France: dropping everything to enjoy a leisurely lunch.


One last time, we visited Le Baratin, the celebrated gastro-pub conveniently located a block-and-a-half from our apartment. I'd been for lunch with my mom and Cathy; Maggie and I had been to dinner there once (Mo and Héloise's treat!); but Maggie and I had somehow failed to hit up Le Baratin for their super-economical lunchtime menu.

The whole restaurant is tiny, but we sat in the tiniest section, up a few stairs from the bar and next to a food-and-art library that we could have spent the next nine months working through.


To eat, a few staples of Le Baratin, starting with whitefish and a simple green salad.


Maggie's first course was artichoke au jus. I had some delicious braised oxtail over chickpea-carrot stew. For dessert, we shared the by-now-familiar strawberry soup and a slice of strong cheese.

DSC_0037Cheese plate

When asked what we miss most about Paris, we tend to talk a lot about the food culture. It's not too hard to see why. That Le Baratin takes such care in arranging wine bottles above a bookshelf full of reference works that reinforce the professionalism of even the tiniest of out-of-the-way, hole-in-the-wall restaurants - well, that says it all.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

First Foreign Correspondent

We may have left Paris, but we still get updates from time to time thanks to our eyes and ears on the ground, Héloise. She recently emailed this shot of the fallout from Nuit Blanche, which Boston clearly needs to get going.

Yes, that's an old school Citroën delivery van sitting in a fountain at the Parc de Belleville. It's surrounded by streetlights, and it's about to be overrun by Tilal, who's breaching the fountain defenses. Thanks, Héloise, for reminding us of all that there is to miss about Paris - public art, parks, and thoughtful friends.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Concert #3

Soon after we first arrived in Paris, the "sweet" sounds of my clarinet reverberated through the courtyard as I tried to get back in the habit of practicing daily. To my knowledge, no neighbor ever complained - but I did get lots of invitations to play with people the neighbors knew. Héloise, for instance, connected me with her pharmacist, Catherine, who was looking for a clarinetist with whom she could play through a collection Yiddish folk music. We got together a half-dozen times over the course of the year and ultimately decided to repay Héloise's social networking prowess with an informal concert for her, her kids, and Catherine's parents. It turned out that the concert took place during Dimi's visit, so she attended as well.

As was my habit, I recorded the concert - but unfortunately I botched the recording, such that only one and a half tracks exist. Here they are:

<a href="">Piste 1 by Paris Chamber Players</a>

<a href="">Piste 2 by Paris Chamber Players</a>

Luckily, Dimi took charge of the Flip Video camera during the concert, and there are lots of clips to give you a better sense of what (and how) we played. Also there's lots of footage of the kids, who were (as always) unbearably adorable, even when they got a little tired of the whole concert thing.

This is just me warming up, but I include it because, at the end, Catherine says either "He is very handsome" or "He is very good." Either way, it's all good.

Mehdi and Nahel watch attentively while Héloise prepares her iPhone for recording. Tilal dances like no one's watching, and Catherine's parents listen respectfully.

A rare, full track. We could have rehearsed more, but that would have taken all the spontaneity out of the concert. After the hesitant beginning, we make it through the whole thing unscathed and rather spiritedly.

I love the way Catherine celebrates at the end of this one.

Dimi got all meta, filming Mehdi filming us.

Nahel gives new meaning to "interpretive lap dance."

More meta filmmaking. An almost complete "track."

Drama! Tilal knocks all my music off the music stand, then cries about it.

After struggling to find the pages I needed to continue, all is resolved and we pick up where we left off.

The kids were getting bored, thus all the ambient noise and the sterner-than-usual looks from Catherine's parents. Dimi also apparently discovered a new camera angle.

The finale of our Yiddish repertoire was a canon without a satisfactory end, but we made do anyway.

Encore! An Irish folk song. I don't know why, but whatever.

The end! (This post is dedicated to Catherine, who's waited way too long to hear herself play, and to my grandfather, who eats this stuff up.)

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Musée National Eugène Delacroix

After the disappointment of having to pay for a museum on what should have been a typical First Free Sunday (see also: Château de Vincennes), we sought vindication in the form of another museum visit, this time to the Musée National Eugène Delacroix.


Occupying the former apartment and atelier of the über-Romantic painter, the (smallish) museum showcases many of the famous artist's lesser-known works, as well as a number of sketches and personal items collected during Delacroix's voyage to North Africa. The only major works on hand was an early draft of The Death of Sardanapalus, and completely missing were any references to a work we'd learned about through the "Jeunes ont la parole" program - The Women of Algiers (in their Apartment) - or my personal favorite work in the entire Louvre - Liberty Leading the People.

The Death of Sardanapalus



We were in and out in under an hour, but that shouldn't diminish the importance of the museum's collection. If you love any of the works above, the Musée National Eugène Delacroix offers many equally delightful gems. And even if you find the museum itself disappointing, at the very least the garden separating apartment from atelier provides a fantastic refuge for the weary First Free Sunday aficionado.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Skype and Family

One forehead wrinkle for each question
I'm in Israel right now! It's all thanks to Birthright Israel Foundation, which pays to send hundreds of Jewish youths to the motherland every year. In 11 days, my tour will take me to most of the major historical, religious, cultural, and political sites in the country. This stint on the other side of the pond has brought back some of the challenges that we faced during our first weeks in France. What will I eat? Will I make friends? How will I communicate with loved ones back home?

With France already under my belt, I can answer all of these questions with ease. I will eat everything anyone puts in front of me. I will make some friends, but not too many (especially since I'll have Robert with me). And I will communicate via Skype, the free internet-phone and video-conferencing software that everyone should know about.

There's not too much to explain - you download the software, set up an account, find your peeps online, and press "call." Skype is how we were able to check in with people back home throughout the year, including at Thanksgiving, when we said hi to my entire extended family.

I don't have a phone in Israel, so if I want to call home, it'll have to be with Skype. And that's fine by me.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Souvenirs I

It's not the prettiest thing we brought back from France, nor is it one that we'll keep for all that long. But in terms of utility, it ranks up there with cocoa from La Bonbonnière and pullovers from Galeries Lafayette:


Yup, it's a poop bag. We only saw two poop bag dispensers in 9 months, and both were in rich suburbs of Paris. The bag above (and the other 10 that we took as "souvenirs") comes from Sceaux, where we visited the lovely park and said goodbye to Damien. It reads, "A small, daily gesture . . . a big gesture for the environment and for other people. Thank you."

The other bags we saw - but didn't take (stupid, stupid, stupid) - were in Versailles.


I want to criticize Paris for not offering poop-bag dispensers, but I know they don't have the spare cash that Versailles and Sceaux have. So here's a cost-effective idea: after having already coordinated bike-sharing, and now car-sharing, would it really be so difficult for the City of Paris to promote poop-bag sharing? People with extra, appropriately-sized plastic bags could bring them to drop-off points, where dog owners could pick them up, and use them to pick up after their dogs. Simple! Safe! Socialism! Petition your arrondissement council today!
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