mercredi, décembre 28, 2005

"Radio Neige-Folle" Becomes "Radio Ye-Ye"

Now, I thought one of the advantages to living over here on the Continent would be an Olde Worlde rhythm to Chritstmas, with Advent, Epiphany, the Twelve Days of, etc. Well, maybe in ENGLAND.

Here, they are even lacking that predictable blizzard of post-holiday mark-downs in all the stores (these Parisians are so above discounts) (I wrote that but I don't believe it)(they're just adept at masking their excitement for such things).

And now my favorite LIVE365 radio station (well, my favorite in French), "Radio Neige-Folle" has changed format. Just one day after Xmas?

Maybe there really is a War on Christmas....

And what has it been replaced by?

"Radio Yé-Yé," exclamation point.

They've dumped their fascinating exploration of the French Xmas cannon for "la radio des années 60."

It's actually pretty good.

Right now they're broadcasting some French songster belting out a numbers that would be at home in a French version of "Hair." But with a more primitive sound, which is a plus. The playlist mixes a little beatnik doo-wop, a little cabaret with twangy electric guitars, a little psychedalia. Nice.

Here's another shot of some neige from last night. Unfortunately, we did not wake up to a winter wonderland. The snow levels have even receded a bit today, though flurries have been seen out our window from time to time.

Still looks cold, huh? High today is 26.

mardi, décembre 27, 2005

It's Neige-ing!

Well, We Just Had To Keep Playing "Let It Snow!"

A belated Xmas present for two SoCal transplants: SNOW. Let them flakes fly.

The day began grey, and by noon the first little feathery particles were starting to drift down. Dear Wife was at work in the living room (or salon) when she noticed this peculiar movement outside the window--like a small cloud of asbestos kicked off the roof above. But no, it wasn't asbestos, wayward lint, or anything else--it was snow.

Dear Wife was so excited she began to hollar and jabber and run around the apartment, dancing and cheering.

Not only did she enjoy this sudden, wintry event, but she had predicted it--nay, she had brought it upon us. She had been busily downloading Xmas tunes at the iTunes Music Store all morning, and her number one choice today, played over and over again, was "Snow," (by Irving Berlin[?], from "White Christmas"):

It won't be long before we'll all be there with

I want to wash my hands my face and hair with

We watched as a little mat of white begin collecting on the mossy roof across from us.

But then the snowfall began to fritter out, and it wasn't showing up on the newer, metal roofs, or the sidewalk below. They just looked wet.


So we went back to work.

And it started again.

Stronger, this time. Dear Wife took this picture, and it captures a bit of the "storminess." This is looking up rue Bonaparte (they just don't capitalize "rue" here, and I don't know why), toward the Seine.

And here lies the insidiously self-reinforcing power of Xmas Music: we were ooh'ing and ahh'ing to all this as we sang and danced to "It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas," "Let It Snow," and "Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Which is a memorable experience for this SoCal lad, this "heady nexus between carol, caper and climate."(V.I. Nabokov) It's like our emotional response is guided ever-so-slightly by this seasonal soundtrack...

...But, doggone it! It did look a lot like Christmas!

I went to the gym, and afterwards, up to our favorite little Chinese traiteur, just off rue des Ecoles. In the gym I'd seen little flurries come and go, but when I emerged, there still wasn't any snow on the ground. The sun was just beginning to go down as I walked over for my late lunch, and I hoped that nighttime would bring a blizzard. Soon, I was deep into my reading, ("A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again," by David Foster Wallace, a terrific gift from Dear Darling Tara, who shipped it all the way to France for us! Thank you!), and after an hour or so got up to leave. I looked out the door and--GA-ZOW!
It was like a blizzard! Even a street as big as rue des Ecoles was covered in snow! I ran outside, thankful that I'd brought Dear Wife's conveniently portable camera, and began snapping away.

Man, was it cold! I was having so much fun I hardly noticed, but my gloves were freezing to the camera (don't tell her), and my face was numb. I had to put on my hood and rewrap my scarf to better insulate me from the buckets, blankets and bushells of snow now falling on me.

OK, OK, those of you who know real winter weather must be laughing at my inexperience and wide-eyed wonder.

But even the congenitally hip Parisians were enjoying themselves, making intials in the snow sheets that covered every parked car, running and slidding in the icy stuff, etc.

Pretty cool!

RUE DES ECOLES at RUE ST. JACQUES (can you believe it?)

I wanted to photograph as much as I could, so I walked up rue Mazarine from St. Germain to the Institut de France; unfortunately, my pictures from here were too blurry, but it was quite a sight to see the cobblestone courtyard out front powdery white, and with just a little frosting on the dome. I kept walking on up to the Louvre. At the bridge (not the Pont des Arts, the other one, with traffic), there was some sort of accident--it looked like a chain reaction among scooter pilots. They all seemed OK. The snow was much heavier on the bridge, esp. on the sidewalks. I almost slipped on some icy parts. In the courtyard of the Louvre the snow was really starting to pile up--crazy! But poorly lit, so I turned to the Arc de Triomphe du Carousel du Louvre, which is the outstanding original work by Dear Wife's research subject, French Architect Charles Percier. I think it looks grand in the snow.
This is NOT the more famous, gigantic Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile, (if we want to be correct), that stands at the top of the Champs Elysées. This is a much smaller model, completed during the reign of Napoleon, and finished years before the big one. For some strange reason, Percier's little fella reminds me of the no-longer extant Septizodium, a monument in ancient Rome that was erected at the heel of the Palatine hill to honor the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus...hmmm.

A fun night frolicking in our neige-y streets.

dimanche, décembre 25, 2005

C'est La Guerre

We decided to make FRENCH TOAST for Xmas Day (they call it pain perdu over here, I beleive). I wasn't sure which type of loaf would best take the eggs/vanilla concoction, (remember all the choices at Le Bon Marché, plus we have our local Paul...), so we bought four loaves. Four in one day. Ga-zow.

EUROCHINO, the Blog of Record when it comes to the coming and goings of Dear Wife, myself, and all of Paris (I'd like to think), wants to wish all of you a very Happy Holiday. I would guess the prevailing American thought about France and Xmas (if, indeed, any thought is given to this subject), is that this country of committed secularists must represent something like the Avant Garde for those forces alleged to be destroying Xmas, ("The War Against..." etc.). But not so. Apparently, France is not against Xmas at all: despite a Parisian unwillingness to really abandon themselves to massive credit-funded holiday spending (true locals are much too savvy for retail Xmas exhortations), there was evidence all around us that the holiday, in all its holiday-ness, is very much loved here. However, it is not loved in that uniquely American, out-sized, world-will-come-to-an-end-NOW-if-you-don't buy-in-and-BUY-THIS! sorta Xmas we inflict on each other in the 'States.

Maybe this faux fracas in the 'States stems from a deep-rooted belief in the transformative powers of the purchase, a power respected and integral to American life, and recently absorbed into the sacred nature of Xmas itself. Maybe Xmas has expanded into a celebration of this culture of consumption--not just in an obvious way, a corporate-mandated way, where you assume people are following commercial directives like mindless lemmings. No, I think that by assigning religious responsibilities to the retailers, (essentially giving them a religious mandate), people seek to strenghten this bond between a ritual of commercial activity and the actual meaning of the holiday. We like shopping, and we want to validate this emotion. If you can get upset that someone is trying to sell you a "Holiday Tree" and not a "Christmas Tree,"--and not just upset, but spiritually offended--aren't you saying you find the spiritual relevant to your purchases, and that you need them to cross-confirm? Because really, if you find the act of BUYING stuff for friends, family, and YOURSELF as spiritually rewarding as prayer and church-going (and I bet many people do, especially at Xmas-time), why wouldn't, you want to put a spiritual gloss onto the secular activity of shopping? Buying has become so much a part of the Xmas ritual, it now carries with it the same responsibility for exactitude, repetition and confirmation that any church service does.

In France, I imagine the seductions of transformation through the act of shopping has intrinsically less power here because people are not so interested in transforming. A chic person is a chic person and remains so, in a generally accepted, Franco-stylish way. The job is just to keep this up--much of France and French behaviour seems like it can be explained by the phrase, "keeping up appearances." Codes of behaviour and manner and dress exist for every strata of citizen here, from the low-rise jean-wearing, shag-haircut teens to the Grande Dames in their furs. In the U.S. there's always a little (or a lot) of pressure to be different, to redefine, to improve or expand. ("Maybe the look for me should be more Metrosexual Euro-Chic--but wait, maybe that looks too gay for me, maybe I should rough it up a little and ditch that town coat for an anorak...?") Here they are blessed with a cohesive national identity and a long-standing, easily identified culture, which keeps French people somewhat whole in a way that many Americans have a hard time equalling. We Americans have that continual responsibility--and pressure to completely invent (and keep reinventing) ourselves for our role (however small) on the American stage. French people are without this presssure, (their pressure may be to live up to what tthey are supposed to be), and are therefore able to escape a lot of the heavy significance shopping often holds for us. A man buys a coat here because it is appropriate to his role in society. A man buys a coat in the 'States because he imagines it helps exemplify the character and persona he wants to project.

Here in Paris, the only big battle is between retailers and their canny customers, who are always skeptical of everything, and esp. of the promises advertising and flashy aesthetics make.

Back home, the battle is for identity. And it's a war.

Here, it's just Xmas.

Hope you had a merry one.

samedi, décembre 24, 2005

Le Bon March-HEY

Dear Wife loves foods: the fun foods that go into interesting recipes, and the fancy foods that come from far away places. She reads cook books with an almost physical delight. I can't accuse her of over-indulgence, nor can I accuse her of having any food hang-ups one way or the other--either too worried about gaining weight, or too guilty about the indulgences she thinks allowable. No, she is just fascinated by the whole pagent and arcana of good food.

So when Dear Wife discovered the big grocery store at the Bon Marché, she couldn't wait to tell me all about it. And insist we plan a trip down there to shop for our Xmas fare.

The Bon Marché is a department store chain, but like the other departmet stores here, it offers a broad mix of products; and also typical of the Grande Magasins I've seen in our adopted city, the store itself sprawls across streets and into adjoining buildings. One block carries the men's wear, the women's wear, etc.; the adjoining building houses the home collections; and across from that, the épicerie, or grocery store.

And it was fancy. Truly "Fancy von Fancy."

The fanciness really came from their extensive selection, and the internationalism of that extensive selection, which was exotic to our eyes, but is less exotic here, when the citizens live closer to Tanzania or Beiruit than New York.

Plus, we'd spent the last four months shopping in grocery stores not much bigger than a good Foot Locker.

Not that there's really anything good about Foot Locker.

But look at all the good stuff on display at the Épicerie Bon Marché!
Norwegian delicacies done-up in almost abstract arrangements.

This is the magisterial bread counter. A team of bread experts man the long counter, taking your requests, grabbing your selections, then weighing it up, bagging it, and attaching the pricing sticker. The variety of bread is vast, but there are also cookies, pastries, etc. available, also in impressively vast varieties. People just line up and wait to be served. The wait is short. They are very efficient.

The cheese counter--yowza. Dear Wife digs savory, and in true French form, the cheese counter here is gi-normous. This represents just a brief section of the see-through hull on this Good Ship Fromage--a veritable Super-tanker of curdled and fungi'ed goods.

We contented ourselves with a small, pre-composed variety pack of cheeses. Also bought some salami and bresoala cuts, two loaves of bread (we are planning to make French toast for Christmas Day, and I wasn't sure which type of bread would be best), and of course a couple of pain aux amandes. Two pre-fab sandwiches were très fab. If you visit this store in future, you can find these sandwiches waiting discreetly for takers at any number of their inviting chacuterie counters.

OK, it's "Amande," not "Amonde"

See, my French is weak.

(Thank you, Dear Wife.)

By the way, (no, I am not going to abbreviate that), I ate one-and-a-half of these swollen butter-devils today!

vendredi, décembre 23, 2005


Chimneys at dawn. Notice there's but one smoke trail wending skyward. Fortunately for my allergies, hardly anyone in our neighborhood burns wood in their fireplaces--which seems like such a cozy thing to do, esp. in this chill. But you can imagine the soot that would result. Not surprising then how few hearths kindle in Paris, because living in Paris is less "dirty" than you'd expect: at the end of the day, when you clean your ears out with a Q-tip, the cotton come out looking relatively untouched (depending on the state of your aural health). In L.A. or N.Y., the same procedure would bring a swab discoloration most shocking. This low-key personal pollution adds greatly to the city's charm. In a place like Rome, you feel a grit on your body after a day outdoors. Here, your only worry is the dog crap.

I called up Dear Pal Pete yesterday (returning his call, actually, but unbeknownst to me since I don't check our voicemail).

"Hey, have you checked out the new entries on EUROCHINO about our Thanksgiving in London?" I asked.

"Man, there's nothing new up about London."

"Yeah there is. I put it back on the date it originally happened. You have to go to the November archives, then scroll down--"

"Dude, that's moronic. Nobody's gonna' do that. Just put a link to those posts on your most recent posts--otherwise, who's gonna' know they're there? I don't spend all my time scrolling through your entire blog to see if you've 'back-filled' anything new!"

There is a pause.

"You don't?"

"No! Dude, how are people gonna' know you've been inserting new posts back in the old sections they've already read?"

"Oh....Well, I was gonna' announce it to everyone, y', with a new post?"

If this were a Peanuts comic strip, Dear Pal Pete would have followed my response with a "GOOD GRIEF!"

If this were the 1968 motion picture blockbuster "Bullitt," Pete would have told me, "Time starts now."

As it was, I just had to promise to keep current and let people know if I've added anything to "the past."

I added a bunch of stuff about the London trip and Pete and Kev's visits, which happened around November 16th or so until the 27th or so.

And then there was that stuff I filled in before their visit, in the early part of November. I know one entry was on the first, it had to do with Halloween.

Does that help?

From now on I'll stick to posting straight ahead, and just "recollect" from the present all of those interesting events from the past that I've yet to write.

PAUL Helps Paris Prepare for Pere Noel

Another fine afternoon spent sitting in Paul. This time I did something constructive: I drew. The slightly intimidating older lady who often waits on Dear Wife and I was working the pas fumeur room today. She said nothing when she handed me my menu, but when I asked to order, she wanted to know where was Dear Wife. Flattered by this attention, but not quite sure what exactly she was saying to me (it was all in French), I came up with a French-ish sentence expressing something along the lines of, "She is working today." This effort was well received, and she followed by with some more off-hand comments that I couldn't quite make out, so I said, "Oui, c'est trieste," which was supposed to mean, "Yes, it's sad." I made a sad face to help put this over. She chuckled, and walked away before I had a chance to really get going.

So I sat and drew. The waitress, a lady named Germaine, (how apropos) looked after me, never hurried me, and didn't bring the bill until I asked for it. I was free to sit and stare and doodle. I ordered an almond croissant, (they had one), a cappucccino, the quiche lorraine, a bottle of Pelligrino and a hot chocolate for dessert. All this was consumed over a couple hours.

And there was some sketching between courses....

People were bundled up, and some were beginning to buy actual Xmas supplies, though I think the real crush will begin tomorrow (Friday). Most bought bread, or sandwiches. A lot of characters, and since the neighborhood is an actual neighborhood, I saw many faces that I'd seen before come in and wait in line for some bread, or take a table and dine. Kind of cozy, to feel a little familiar with such a foreign place.


I liked this drawing of a father daughter combo getting ready to head out into the cold. I have very little clever commentary, so I'll let the drawings do the talking.

mercredi, décembre 21, 2005

That Little Financier in All of Us

And no, I don't speak of money matters. Over here there are bakeries, specializing in les baguettes, and there are pâtisseries, specializing in pastries; but both fill their shelves with delicacies like fancy cakes, tarts, croissants and other sweet things (attracted by the high-margins, no doubt). Bread, though just as delicious, remains remarkably cheap (60 centimes or so for a full-blooded French baguette that evaporates in your maw like a crusty cotton candy). It's an endless temptation, all these goodies, and causes a confusion just as endless when it's your turn to pick out the one you're going to take home. I often disobey this rule of one and order two different types, esp. when shopping for a new treat: this strategy is pretty safe because most times one of the little delicacies will taste crappy. Surprising, I know--maybe I'm rejecting indulgences that express some peculiarly French taste, (see escargot, foie gras, et al); or maybe I don't like 'em because my palate was formed on TasteeFreeze and the brownie portion of a Swanson's TV Dinner. It's always easy to toss that evening's underwhelming entrant into the trash. The next patisserie run will bring a new crop of contestants. And though I haven't sampled anywhere near everything the bakeries of Paris have to offer, and neither have I applied any consistent methodology to all this tasting, I can say that a few favorites have emerged. These judgments are those a rank amateur, so be forewarned, they are as illiterate a choice as anyone with my plebian, American background could make.

1. Croissant aux Amondes/ Pain Amondes (?): first taste on first trip was a revelation: ardent sampler and supporter during first month here; consumption tapered to nil as both (their) supply and (my) demand waned. Interest recently reborn, but supply remains tight: still hard to find. Is it seasonal?

2. Molleaux Chocolat/Chocolate Cake: best is from La Boulangerie Pain au Prince, made with hearty slices of pear. The chocolate over here seems one step more savage than what we are accustomed to in the 'States—as though Paris is closer to the source, the headwaters of some chocolate Nile. In fact, the chocolate doesn’t taste like it comes from a watery source, it tastes mined, dug up from the earth, dark as coal—and it's less sweet than the chocolate I grew up with, it’s more gritty and uncompromisingly present. A dry intensity. Dryness of a different sort, however, is what makes most cakes sampled over here a disappointment: dryness as staleness. Paul's Molleaux Chocolat comes in a solid second place to the reliably moist Pain au Prince.

(Am I actually writing up some kind of food ratings entry?)

3. La Financier:Tonight's dessert.

Dear Wife and I were strolling through our old neighborhood, rue Monge in the Latin Quarter, the place where we first huddled in this big city. I couldn't resist popping in at the old Kayser bakery and checking for a Croissant aux Amondes, but no dice. Instead we bought some Financiers.

Easily overlooked in the typical wall of buttery baked goods that greets you upon entering any respectable boulangerie/patisserie, the Financiers huddle quietly among their own, living in three distinct breeds (chocolate, plain [which means almond], and pistachio). They are typically placed alongside their more famous cousins, the Madeleines, and positioned near the register, or caisse to better court the impulse buy. I quote from Dear Wife's post-taste research:

"The little rectangular almond cakes known as financiers are sold in many of the best pastry shops in Paris. Perfect financiers are about as addictive as chocolate, and I'd walk a mile or two for a good one. The finest have a firm, crusty exterior and a moist, almondy interior, tasting almost as if they were filled with almond paste. Next to the madeleine, the financier is probably the most popular little French cake, common street food for morning or afternoon snacking. The cake's name probably comes from the fact that a financier resembles a solid gold brick. Curiously, as popular as they are, financiers seldom appear in recipe books or in French literature."

Quoted from

I like the larger financier sold at Gérard Mulot, made in a combined pistachio/chocolate form. Excellent. Positively wet with taste intensity. But these smaller numbers from Kayser were excellent, too, and in easily controlled portions.

PLEASE NOTE: In addition to these three superb delicacies, we should mention Dear Wife's favorite treat, which is BY FAR the Pistachio Macaroon from Paul. It is sensational, and highly recommended.

Here's a shot of the interior of our local Paul. Watch out, that man is munching a Macaroon!

lundi, décembre 19, 2005

Radio "Neige-Folle"

Dear Wife and I subscribe to the Internet radio service "Live365." I think I've mentioned this before. But have I mentioned their Xmas channel in French? I think not. It is called Radio *Neige-Folle* (note "snowflakes" flanking the name). A whole new dimension in Xmas Music, experiencing all your favorite carols and croons entirely in Francais. It's been a great way for us to freshen up the season.

Sadly, Dear Wife began playing her beloved "A Charlie Brown Christmas" in early October, and has become a little innured to its beauty. Temporary, I'm sure, but we've had to reach out for new sources of Yuletide inspiration, and this station surely fits the bill.

Right now they are playing Rock et Belles Oreilles version of "C'est Nono Noël", an original composition I'm sure.

How about a little "Nous Sommes Trois Rois de l'Orient"?

Do you think they have a version of that old Exit House standard, "Jack Frost is an S.O.B."?

dimanche, décembre 18, 2005

Shopping Sunday

Normally, when Sunday comes around, you'd have a hard time finding any store open for business in Paris. This includes the grocery stores. Big department stores. Most pharmacies. I mean everything. These guys have a strictly enforced 35 hour work week, so they believe Sunday really should be a day of rest.

All that goes out the window when Xmas is just a week away.

Dear Wife and I took advantage of a beautiful Sunday (still damn cold, though) to walk through the city. I wanted to witness for myself the sight of so many stores open on a Sunday. We made it all the way to the BHV. Fun to see it packed on Sunday. Here's the view over to the Right Bank from the Ile de la Cité.

We walked to the Hôtel de Ville, the City Hall that looks like it could house Cruella deVille (and does, from what I've read of the French beauracracy contained within).

The entire square in front of the building had been turned into a winter carnival, with ice skating in multiple rinks, carousels, and a phony tobogan run for the kids. A giant igloo, too. I don't know if the igloo was made of real ice, but at the temperatures we've been seeing lately, I doubt they'd have too much trouble maintaining the ice. A little sad that the sound system was playing American female hip-hop, sung by a performer I wouldn't even dare to guess. For most of the 20th Century there existed a utopian belief that national identities would one day melt away, and we'd all become residents of the same small "Global Village." Evidence I've seen here takes the shape of Mariah Carey and baseball hats worn akew. Is this what those optimists of yore envisioned? French families ice skating to Missy Elliot?

Check out the cotton candy vendor.

Here they call it "Barbe a Papa" or Papa's Beard. The Fruedian implications are staggering.

The tower at St. Germain-l'Auxerrois looked lovely in our late afternoon light.

All in all, very good to get out and take a ramble through the streets of our adopted home. We will be leaving soon, and we want to enjoy these last days before our January vacation (yes, a vacation from our vacation).

It's a good life.

(About the quiet Sundays: it's really nice that everything is typically closed, except when it's annoying, and it hasn't been all that annoying yet.)

jeudi, décembre 15, 2005



Yes, I am still at work on this thing. Poke around if you must, but there remains much of the story to be told. Life keeps intruding on my writing time... and today I learn some of our Christmas cards have already arrived in the 'States. Cripes!

I hope to have everything done by the 20th. Maybe of December. Maybe December 2005.

As a child, I was especially fixated on one aspect of the Santa Claus story: how did he manage to get to all those kids in just one night? And as it was explained to me, Santa was not even allowed the luxury of an entire dusk-to-dawn night for his work: only in the deepest dead of night did the fat man move.

"Does he start at midnight?" I'd ask.

"Yeah, because he's gotta' go only after all the kids are really asleep," my father answered (why I remember my father, of all people, explaining this to me is anyone's guess--it does prove how early in my life I began obsessing over the control of time). Then he added, "And he's gotta' wait for the final list of who's been good, and who's been bad--he's checking up on you right to the last minute." They never missed a chance to link ethical behavior with Christmas upside.

"Yeah, but, how does he get to everyone in the whole world in one night?"

"Well, he's really fast. The reindeers are all really fast."

"How's he gonna get our presents to us," I asked, suddenly worried. "We don't have a real chimney and fireplace?"

"We'll leave the backdoor open." (This is all true, you skeptics. We did leave the backdoor unlocked for Santa.)

"Yeah, but will he get to us in time? Before Christmas morning? How can he visit all us kids in just one night? Look at all the houses he's gotta' visit just on our street..."

"Well, not all the houses have kids in 'em."

"BUT STILL! What about kids in India?" (I remember worrying about this) "Is he going to visit them, too? All tonight?"

I wanted to go quantum physics with Christmas from an early age.

This was all too much for my father (this, and many other things). I remember an uncle nearby, my Dear Departed Uncle Dave, who was in high school at the time and very science minded. He took over and explained to me how the earth rotates, causing night and day, how different time zones worked (more or less), how it is always night time in one part of the world, and how Santa could essentially keep ahead of the dawn as he made one 24 hour night time sweep of the globe.

That satisfied me for a year.

I realized this still wasn't enough time to hit every child-harboring house, and began forming complicated theories to explain Santa's ability to overcome this problem. I reasoned that the solution had to involve slowing time to a near standstill. Of great help in this formulation was an episode of The Wild, Wild West, the one in which Artemus and Jim West go undercover to work for an evil inventor who had devised a potion that allowed any imbiber to enter a world of super-speed; which, counter-intuitively, slowed everything else down. Just like quantum physics. Those endowed with super-speed could move about normally, but everyone and everything around them was frozen (just think of the CGI excesses that premise would invite in a movie/TV show of today--back then we had Robert Conrad trying to walk in slow-motion [when the potion began to wear off!], while all the extras had to stand stone-still and unsmiling as he did his best "mime-in-a-windstorm"). They utilize this alternate reality of quantum-time to walk into a museum and steal a large diamond. The real creative twist to all this occurs when evil inventor gets hip to Artemus and Jim's undercover roles, and shorts their super-speed dosages, which brings them back to real time during the middle of the heist, leaving them to get caught "red-handed"--literally red-handed, because in the transition out of speed-of-light living back to regular-speed reality, Arty and Jim both endure friction burns on their dermis because of the extraordinary heat generated by their "re-entry" to real-time. I guess you had to see it.

But it affected me profoundly.

Time compression, I used to stew, how does Santa manage to compress time? I decided that since he was a Saint and hence an agent of the Lord, God allowed him to slip the bonds of mortal time. But what was it like? If he was making his voyage in a blink of an eye, how could we hope to interact with him? And how could he really interact with us while outside the space-time continuum we lived in?

I decided it was like in The Wild, Wild West, and that Santa was able to move down the chimney (a physical paradox that didn't trouble me) and plant the presents and eat the cookies and drink the milk and then get back up on the roof and into the sleigh in an instant. I remember sneaking into the living room to watch the plate of cookies and wait for their disappearance. For their literal disappearance. Other kids stayed up expecting to see the Fat Man. I was expecting something more like physical proof of Einstein's theory.

The thought that Santa existed in an essentially separate dimension left me a little melancholy. While the Christmas parties were roaring, I would happily sing along about the jolly little man in a miniature sleigh; but once alone and in bed, these anthems took on the wistful tone of eternal separation, much closer to David Bowie's "Space Oddity;" Santa as a yuletide Major Tom, eternally circling a world he could no longer join. I would scan the skies as we drove home from Christmas Eve services or, more likely, Christmas Eve dinner at Aunt Judy's, and feel a shadow descend as I watched for him. I expected only to see a streak, like a shooting star, ("It has to be that way," I would tell myself). The sense of separation generated by the thought of a sighting mirrored very much the sort of personal space-time displasia that would occur if you looked into a backyard telescope and caught sight of the Space Shuttle miles overhead, looking like a tiny pale trident thrown across the wintry sky. How can he be up there, so far away and moving so fast, I wondered, while I'm down here, waiting for him?

Santa, please share with me your magic time-compression formula!

mardi, décembre 13, 2005

Xmas Marches to La Marseillaise

I can't let EUROCHINO just languish while I'm at work on the archives (and Xmas shopping, mainly for myself), so here is a little photo log of our around-town rambles for the last two days.

Xmas, as you can see, is everywhere.

Two of the most prominent and visited department stores in Paris live but a block from each other, just behind the famous Opéra de Paris Garnier: Au Printemps and Galeries Lafayette. They are like the Gimbel's and Macy's of "Miracle on 34th St." Eternal rivals.

(You can just see nemesis Galeries Lafayette in the distance behind Au Printemps)

It was around Halloween when they put up the Xmas lights at Galeries Lafayette. Dear Wife and I were surprised, and we wondered if this wasn't a departure from the usual French approach to Xmas (an approach I did not and do not claim to know, but that I'd imagined would be less, uh, enthusiastic than America's). Perhaps Gal-Laf was stooping to this level because of desperation, we theorized--maybe they needed sales, and weren't above a little Yuletide Razzle-Dazzle to gain same. But then Xmas lights began blinking on all over the city. Public workers were stringing nets of blue lights in avant-garde designs between the buildings on the rue du Fauburg St. Honoré, right in front of Hermès. Shop windows were sprouting holly and pine. Our own Xmas Faire arrived in the place St. Germain-des-Prés. Ads with Pere Noël began appearing in the Metro stations. Clearly, Christmas was coming.

Two weeks ago we visited Fed Ex, and across the Boulevard Haussmann we saw Au Printemps, all done up in its Holiday Jewel Tones, clearly excited to be at the party--as every retailer, large or small, now seems to be. Perhaps the beginning of the Xmas season starts slowly here because the French (and everyone else, come to think of it) are without the helpful starting block of Thanksgiving; the decorations and ads began struggling into the public eye after Halloween (or All Saints'Day) here, and initially nobody seemed very happy to be reminded that the year is almost over and the cold weather is coming.

Well, the cold weather is here.

Tonight we again went to FedEx (anymore, this seems like the only thing that'll get us riding the 7 Metro line up to Opera--'though this time we refined our route by jumping onto the 3 at the Opera station instead of exiting there, and then we rode the 3 west northwest to its next stop, Havre-Caumartin, where we emerged practically at FedEx's doorstep) (cold weather is a remarkable engine for ingenuity). This time we'd planned to do some Xmas shopping after our shipping duty, (67Euros for a letter to be sent to PA, USA). We started at Au Printemps, but as it was already 7:30PM, and they had just closed.

So I began snapping pictures of their incredible lights with Dear Wife's still-new camera--and promptly lost Dear Wife. Or maybe she lost me. There were crowds on the sidewalks, it was dark, and everyone was in black, just like Dear Wife. Just like me. Standing there, turning around and around like Marlo Thomas, I strained for a glimpse of her, but she was nowhere to be seen. We had just decided to walk to Galeries Lafayette before she vanished--had she walked on? I could've sworn she stopped next to me when I pulled out the camera... I began moving forward in the chaos, up the Boulevard, toward Galeries Lafayette. What was she wearing, I tried to remember, and the image of trying to describe her appearance to a Gendarme flashed hot under my frantic brow. I remembered what she was wearing (that says more about living in Paris for three months than it does about my attentiveness as a husband, I'm afraid): most distinctly, Dear Wife was wearing her white wooly cap. I pressed on, focused on finding fuzzy frost colored bonnets bobbing at a height off 5'7", 5'10" in her boots. I was beginning to panic--"How am I gonna find her?!". Soon I was hustling up to every white-topped figure moving away from me, hoping it was her; I felt like a cop from North by Northwest, in the train terminal scene where they are trying to apprehend Roger Thornhill/George Kaplan/Cary Grant by grabbing every Redcap and spinning them around violently. North by Northwest: did you know this referred to the Airline?

I didn't spin anybody around violently. And I didn't find Dear Wife.

I felt completely spun by the time I reached Gal-Laf without a sign of her. "She must be looking for me on this same stretch," I thought, "Better go back again to where I lost her." Of course I was irritated by now--pissed, fuming, truly frightened, whatever, but on the walk back I recognized it was probably all my fault, and dammit I was missing her. I resolved to be nice about the whole thing and take responsibility for it, and I recognized the real scare I was having, losing her in such an impossibly congested, crazy area. When I got back toward the spot I'd started from, there she was, of course, sensible one she is, standing right where I'd decided I'd lost her 15 minutes earlier. She looked just as worried as I'd felt. I apologized.

We should put a plan in place: if ever we get seperated again, meet at the nearest Paul.

I could take their delivery buggy, illegally parked here on the corner of Boulevard Haussmann and Place Diaghilev.
She had been watching the window animation at Au Printemps, and with good reason--it was the funniest, cleverest display I'd ever seen. Spectacularly good.The little characters you see are automated marionettes, controlled by wires attached to overhead robotic puppeteers. Ingenious.

I marvel at something like this here in France, and then out comes the ugly worry that what I'm seeing was in the windows at Macy's New York for Xmas, 1999. A worry that the innovation took place in America a while ago, and has since been dumped for something newer, better, even more cutting-edge, so let's sell this old stuff to the French. The same way we'll gladly sell slightly out-dated military hardware to allies (and not-so-allies, sadly). It probably is not true. But this suspicion, this myth of the migration of American innovation, which creeps out and blows a little black cloud over every clever idea I've seen here, ideas that initially may seem to represent the best of 21st Century France--this suspiscion is insidious, and comes from American dominance (both perceived and real), and I wonder if French people feel this too. The problem is that on the one hand they want to defend and promote their French innovations, and claim them; and on the other, the disbelief that, in the face of such seemingly overwhelming American superiority, they can really create anything meaningful. It's a less shockingly toxic version of the oft-cited, popular Arab contention that the hi-jackers couldn't be Arab because they did such a great thing (perhaps many mean "great" in the sense of "evil enormity"), and look at how inept we Arabs are, how incapable we are of doing anything "great."

I'm not saying this perception of French uncompetitiveness, at least in the realm of ideas, is correct--I think people probably have it all wrong, because I think the genuinely original and the genuinely French do exist--look at films like "The Triplets of Belleville," or the truly well-done "Red Lights,"or "With a Friend Like Harry..." (all movies, I know--I'm trying to stick to what I know). But this feeling of's cancerous, and I feel fearful. Afraid France will be made to suffer. Not by America, but by life. The beautiful sister doesn't glide from triumph to triumph in order to insult her ugly sister and make her life a hell, but that's what happens. This may explain the rivers of schadenfruede over here at the American misadventures in you-know-where....


CLICK ON that picture, would'ja, and appreciate just how much WHIMSY is at work here. Distinctly French whimsy, (if they didn't in fact buy the whole rig from WalMart). The guys on the ground are actually WALKING around the tub in circles, with a hilarious step movement. Just too cool. Au Printemps also devised a little raised gantry directly infront of the window so the junior set can step up and see everything up close.

And for the non-junior set, they provide this adjoining window:
I feel like a Tex Avery-style narrator should be announcing, "And now, something for the tired business man." There is something wonderful about a country, or perhaps just the mindset that would lead to this window being placed next to the Salle de Bain Muppets. And this pattern continues down the whole block-long row of Xmas windows: alternating displays of stag party and kiddie puppet show. Is it a truly foreign aesthetic at work here, something exotic and praiseworthy; or is it just a distillation of Xmas demographic demands, and what works for Au Printemps' bottom line: "sex and puppets sell"?

This window had mishappen monkey puppets cheering as their baboon-butt brother holds onto a rat's tail and gets pulled back and forth across the room at speed--truly, wonderfully bizarre.

There's a carbonated up and down movement to their simian hysterics. Look at how freaky those monkeys look! They are holding rolling pins!

Our carefree stroll through this consumer Christmasland took a sour turn. Guess who's moved into the BNP bank just off the Place Opéra? Weezbees, 9 o'clock.

Dear Wife and I decided to live a little and dine here in the Opera Quartier. We settled on a decent looking restaurant purporting to serve Italian food, a "Bistro Romain." After sitting down, I noticed that the restaurant name was written in a script that would look unsettlingly comfortable branded across a box of frozen food. Then Dear Wife's lasagne came out looking like it should have been served on a trans-Atlantic flight (coach-class, of course). "They just can't do Italian food over here," Dear Wife said after the first bite, obviously in a pique. But my veal parmagiana was good, even if the accompanying "tagliatelle" had been headed for that same coach cabin service cart as Dear Wife's dinner. Hey, we're still in Paris, man!

samedi, décembre 10, 2005


I am in the process of a total rebuild for EUROCHINO. This is my Xmas gift to our friends and family, a complete, in-depth account of our life overseas so far. The Blog will be in all its fabulous fullness 10 days from now (when the Xmas cards revealing its existence will be arriving in the mail boxes of said friends and family). That tenth day should fall on December 20th, unless either the cards or my writing get delayed. In which case I will have no qualm about changing the date I posted this promise.

So goes the Holidays.


Dear Pal Pete came for a visit, but his stay was so short, and so beset with commitments outside our little Bonapartment (the DaDa exibit, the Vanderslice concert, dinner at Bergamote, brunch at Paul, an ill-conceived trip to the Aston Martin dealer on rue Franklin D. Roosevelt, etc.), I didn't have a chance to show him the wild 2001:A Space Odyssey silverware the Bonapartment came equipped with:

"Rotate the Bonapartment kitchen drawers please, Hal."

jeudi, décembre 08, 2005

They call them "Lardons"

Lardons are just what they sound like: fat chunks of bacon-ish ham. And just as tasty as you'd expect. This is how the Quiche Lorraine at Paul appears, with a generous salad and half of a tomato, roasted with herbs á la provéncal(something tells me all those accents are going the wrong directions and over the wrong letters). I usually give my tomato to Dear Wife. Everything else I eat, including all the bread they set on the table. Paul is a famous chain of Parisian bakeries, many of them with very cozy cafés inside. We love eating there, and we love the fact that they all have a non-smoking room.

Be sure to try their Hot Cocoa, or Chocolat Chaud: it is outrageous, like a liquid chocolate bar.

And it's one of the cheapest places to eat in Paris, esp. with such comfortable surroundings. Price for the quiche: 6.60 Euro, or about $7.80 in U.S. dollars.

A steal!

lundi, décembre 05, 2005


I told you, man.

These BNP Paribas Bank Fairies come from a series of books called "Arthur and the Minimoys," which I gather was originally published here in France. The material on the website betrays eager straining for English language success: has it already come, and I am just unaware? There's mention of a film that has been, or maybe is being directed by Luc Besson. Didn't he do "The Fifth Element," or "Delicatessen," or something?

They are disconcerting, n'est pas? These weird, generic characters, with Troll Doll heads grafted onto barely pubescent Barbie bodies, and the bodies unnaturally tanned (from a can?) and aggressively revealed beneath strappy, stringy leatherwear. And hawking financial products. For a bank. Is this what they call in France "La Synergie"?

"Joyeux Noël, mes petites Weezbees!"

The "Shag," Still Fashionable on the Continent

An observational-type sketch today, at McDo's (McDonald's).

I ate my late lunch in the basement dinning room at the Cluny McDo. I brought my sketchbook, intending to draw hell out of all the great faces and wild characters to be encountered in an overseas McDonald's, but dammit if I didn't mis-time it! As soon as I finished my meal (Le Menu Royale Deluxe, Maxi size), everybody downstairs had cleared out. Me in an empty basement, pen in hand, poised to draw...something? Anything?

I was forced to the McDo at Cluny because their Luxembourg location remains in remodel-enforced closure. The Cluny sucks for drawing.

dimanche, décembre 04, 2005


It's time I stop being sick and get this Blog back in action. I propose we commence with some shots from today.

The Xmas Faire is ON! Twenty or so small wooden boothes have been installed in the place in front of the eglise St-Germain-des-Prés. It looks like a village of elf cabañas.

They have boothes huddled on either side of rue Bonaparte, some crowded around the Zadkine (or is it Laurens?) sculpture right in front of the Louis Vuitton, and backing up to the café Les Deux Magots. What must the Paris literrati think of such a messy, low-rent yuletide scene? (The pitiable, consumptive figure loitering in the foreground of the picture is unknown to me--they have a lot of panhandlers in these parts).

Perhaps he was hoping for some candy. Be sure to CLICK ON THESE PICTURES for a better view. Attracting a lot of attention was this booth, one of the first in a long train attempting to escape the village on the place by squeaking out along the Boulevard flank of the church St. Germain-des-Prés (creating a sort of Banlieue de Noël). Most of these Boulevard break-aways were just as unpopular with the passing crowds as those shacks staking their claim in the village proper, but this booth was an exception. Lots of candy. Lots of action. Our intrepid photo team of Chino & Chino caught candy on the hook, slowly stretching itself to sticky equilibrium. Inexcusably, our photo team failed to capture the actual confectioner's aerial feat of kneading said candy into pliant smelt, an act wherein flaccid cartwheels of candy cud were swung around his head like a pizza maker spinning dough. Xmas pageantry, Paris style. The masses responded with purchases and admiration. Our camera team could only struggle to find the camera.

We walked on, not buying anything, me feeling pangs of guilt for every customerless booth (it just ain't Christmas if everyone's not making their numbers). Funnily, the silent Asian man who carves the vegetable sculptures (did I write about him before?) had possibly the biggest crowd in the village gathered around him. There he sat, on the sidewalk, a little band of rutabega roosters and carrot koi before him, his black sweatshirt hood drawn tight around his head, which gave his face the circular perimeter of a Japanesse Noh mask. He remained as ever, heedless of everyone around him, truly intent in his work, bowing reflexively each time a coin was dropped, never looking up.

Eventually we came to the front door at Paul--Paul, our favorite boulangerie/eatery. Happily, they were open (it was Sunday, afterall), as we'd been planning for at least a day to sit down here and order some omelettes and cocoa. But at the threshold Dear Wife hesitated and asked how did I feel about Chinese food? So we ate Chinese, crossing the street to visit the little traiteur (I have no idea what that means). The Dim Sum style raviolis were sensational, the chicken only so-so. The so-so-ness made us miss our little traiteur-in-the-wall next to the Grand Action Cinema Les Ecoles.

All the main stores were closed today, (Sunday, man, Dimanche), so we found a little grocery that wasn't and bought some bottled water, and while doing so we enjoyed an easy stroll in the blue glow of a winter's early evening. I hadn't been outside at night for a week. Mercifully, it wasn't so cold. And the walk was definitely worth the small risk of relapse. The city was beginning to show a nice Christmas mood in all sorts of places. We saw some funny muppet-like sculptures on the awning of one kids' store. They really look like they're gonna jump on those cars!

Even the banks are getting in the mood. I would imagine a French bank to be quite a stuffy place, but apparently not so. We are Societé Générale people, but BNP is finding a way to my heart with efforts like this:

They have wrapped their entire St. Germain-des-Prés bank branch in this fantasy flower design. The genesis is unknown, but the imagery is meant to invoke fairies, in particular a type known as WEEZBEES(?), or having to do with WEEZBEE somehow. For the past few weeks, the bank's street-side vitrines had been showcasing some enigmatic scenes involving bland, CGI fairies with french text promising more to come. And then this appears.

First of all, what bank has shadowboxes at street-level? Architecturally, they belong at a large jeweller's, or a toy shop. And if a bank should have windows tailor-made for advertising to passing pedestrians, why showcase Weezbees? Whither the prudent practice of placing placards to trumpet CD rates, home mortgages, free checking and the like? Instead we have this massive fiberglass confection, jiggered up like a less luxe version of a Main Street window at Disneyland, USA or Euro. A big forest and elves? It looks like a tie-in for FernGully III: Return to Paribas.

Is this just authentic whimsy, or incredibly maladroit marketing?

That is what I like about living in a completely foreign place, I don't have to know the answer to that. There's no way I can know. I am allowed to appreciate gestures like these apolitically, with nothing beyond the scent of bondo and lacquer to distract me from the charm of such public poesies. Vive BNP!

It was beautifully blue and crepuscular when we returned home. This is the view of the Xmas Faire from the corner of our block, taken before we turned right, and headed for home, a few doors down and 96 steps up, (and those 96 Steps were not so easy after spending a week in bed).

A good first day back out.

P.S. After being laid up for so long, and so soon after our disorienting trip to London (menus in English? cars on what side of the road?), I was totally discombobulated returning to Paris city life, as estranged from my surroundings as if I had walked out into Istanbul. I couldn't decide which way to look when crossing the street, or what to say when confronted by another person. Even the Metro seemed totally wrong, all the routes I'd used before impossible to remember and the spacious cars not right, either. And then that damn BNP Fairy Forest thing just did me in....