Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

I'm not sure if I mentioned this here or not but I decided to stay in Paris over the Christmas holiday this year and celebrate with friends. While it was tough being away from my family for the first time and missing out on a Christmas to be told for many generations to come thanks to the generosity of my grandfather I'm at peace with my decision. It was all made just a little bit easier thanks to the internet, free international calling and the wonders of Skype.

I haven't been working either for the past couple of days and I've really just been enjoying the time off, hanging out with friends, meeting new ones and doing all sorts of things that I dare not write about in this here blog. Actually the past week or so has been filled with such mundane tasks as going to my local Social Security office, the bank, dry cleaners etc I'd rather not bore you with the details.

2008 has been a really amazing year for me and I feel truly blessed for all my good fortune, m wonderful family and the great friends that I've made. To close out the year I will once again be dining with friends and drinking copious amounts of champagne. I'm really looking forward to what 2009 has to bring and hopefully a much sought after Carte Vitale is in my future as well.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Paris Christmas Revisited

Thanks for La Rêveuse and her helpful tip about Big Huge Labs Mosaic Maker I was able to make this nifty mosaic.

Click on image to enlarge

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Paris Christmas Decorations

I took the following photos over the past couple of weeks to record this year's holiday decorations throughout the city of lights. The photos were taken either with my Canon point and shoot camera, my Canon Digital Rebel or my iPhone. Enjoy and have a Merry Christmas!

P.S. I wanted to make a cool collage with all of the photos but I couldn't figure out how to do it. Booowoo!!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Terrorized by the Taxi Driver

I'm all about principles and I have strong convictions and I'm about as stubborn as they come. It's possible that that combination of traits will either get me thrown in jail, killed or both but I definitely won't be the one getting carted off to prison for stealing bottles of champagne at a swanky Parisian club. On the other hand it is quite possible that I would be partly responsible for the kidnapping of a friend by crazed Parisian taxi driver.

Some city dwellers when it comes to public transportation swear by taxis, some swear by the bus and others swear by the metro. I personally hate taxis. I hate waiting for them, I hate the fares and I especially hate being taken for a ride (sorry for the lame pun) which brings me back to the kidnapping story. After a night of shenanigans it was time to call it a night and head home. My two friends and I hopped into a taxi and headed home. My friend YM told the driver where we were going and we were on our way. A few minutes into the taxi ride I suggested a specific route and a modified destination to the cab driver. This combined with our speaking English amongst ourselves apparently set him off. After threatening to not pay the fare and asking to be let out of the taxi the driver took off like a lunatic throughout the neighborhood, ran several red lights in the process and eventually after sufficiently terrorizing his passengers came to a stop. That was my cue to exit the taxi stage left. YM stayed firmly planted in the backseat of the taxi while Juliet moved to the front passenger seat and the two tried to negotiated a peace agreement and a fair payment.

On principle I wasn't having any of it. I wasn't about to reward this lunatic for his wreckless behavior. After a while I let my friends convince me that we should pay the driver something, granted his did bring us closer to my place. But in exchange for the fare I asked that he provide me with his taxi driving credentials (license number, employer or something so I could report the incident) This request sent Mr. Taxi Driver over the edge and took off at high speed with 3 of the 4 doors wide open and my friend YM still in the back seat.

I realize how crazy this story sounds and I realize how much crazier it must have sounded to the Paris police officers we spoke with and to the lady at the embassy. However, for the police to act so nonchalant about it and to essentially give us the ole brush off was not cool. YM couldn't be contacted during the ordeal because the battery on her cellphone had died, which partially worked to her benefit. Fortunately, after over an hour, my friend YM was able to peacefully negotiate her release and was returned home safely and unharmed.

If you see a taxi with these plates run...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

You Say Curry I Say Curry

There are about 4 or 5 places that I go to regularly for lunch when I’m at work. There’s one placed called Roxanne that I really enjoy and because of my frequent visits I’ve somewhat “befriended” the workers and they’re always kind and patient with me. There’s another sandwich place closer to my office called Les Enfants de la Cuisine that I go to on occasion because they offer hot sandwiches. I generally like going here because they offer a large variety of sandwiches which are within my self imposed eating guidelines.

The problem with Les Enfants is that whenever I order a curry chicken sandwich the man behind the counter gives me this quizzical look and repeats my order back to me “un sandwich curry” and I reply “oui”. What I really want to say is “isn’t that what I just flipping said” but I was raised with some manners and so I refrain. Actually, I don’t say that because I’m not sure how to in French and the last thing I would want is for the process to repeat itself over again. And folks isn’t not like my pronunciation of curry and his pronunciation of curry are all that different. They each have the same number of letters and syllables. Go figure.

So I’ve officially decided to remove Les Enfants from my lunch rotation until further notice. This isn’t really saying much since I only have 2 more working days until the beginning of next year but the folks there don’t know that.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Orange vs. L'Étrangère Americaine

I’ve had a love hate relationship with Orange, my cellphone carrier here in France, ever since moving here. Initially I opted for a prepaid plan because I didn’t want to be tied to a contract and I didn’t want to deal with exorbitant cancellation fees either. The start of my new job coincided with the release of the new iPhone and that was enough to make me decide to commit to a monthly plan with Orange. The first few hours of our new relationship was wonderful but the reality of our new commitment quickly set in. I’ll spare you the details but let’s just say that there were multiple trips to the Orange store on the Champs Elysees, one neck rolling incident coupled with a screaming match in poor French served up with a teary breakdown on top.

Since those initial dark days in our relationship things had improved and we were on a solid ground, that is until I decided to change my calling plan (again) to include calls to the US and Canada. I tried to make this change in the store but for reasons I will never understand I was unable to. My only option was to cal their customer service line. Normally, I would outsource such a task to native French speakers but for some reason I decided to make the call on my own. It wasn't until a few days later and 30 euros in extra charges did I realize what a bad idea that was.

Surprisingly, when I called Orange back to them to discuss the problem (I had outsourcing issues that day and was stuck making the call myself) the woman on the other end of the line was fairly nice and helpful. I didn’t understand exactly what she was saying but I think she said that she would credit my account and that the my plan would change the beginning of next month. Not ideal but not horrible either. Today I get a call on my cellphone and it’s Pamela from Orange on the line speaking in rapid fire French. While I was able to catch some of what she was saying I wanted to be 100% sure so I passed the phone over to my colleague. Turns out my plan will be changed as of tomorrow instead of having to wait 3 weeks and my account will be credited accordingly sweet.

Who said the French were lacking in customer service?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Apero Jazz Chez Le Faitout

I really enjoy my neighborhood in Paris and its surrounding quartiers, some may find it a bit 'hood but I really enjoy them for their authentic vibe and atmosphere. Last night on a whim I found myself at Le faitout, a restaurant in the 19th arrondissement of Paris where several musician friends of mine were playing a jazz set. It's easy to find oneself in hibernation mood during Parisian winters which is why I try to make a conscious effort to get myself out of my apartment as much as possible. I was hoping to grab a bite to eat there as well last night but to my disappointment they don't offer their standard menu on Monday nights. I really like their food because they don't offer your standard French fare and they serve dishes such as a vegetable lasagna, thai curry vegetables with rice and wait for it… free range chicken with a peanut sauce. Oh and did I mention that their prices are very, very, reasonable? It's one of those hidden gems in Paris that only locals seem to know about.

Despite the lack of dinner I had an enjoyable filled with friends, good music, vin chaud, popcorn and an impromptu game of Scrabble which I won of course. Really, who could ask for anything more?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Paris Snow

This past Tuesday it snowed in Paris. Seeing snow generally shouldn't be a big deal for someone from New York that is used to seeing snow on a regular basis during the wintertime. However, snow in Paris just seems magical and it's 100x better because you get the falling effect of snow but it never really sticks to the ground long enough to become a nuisance.

Yes that IS the Eiffel Tower covered by snow and fog

Christmas Baking Party

Back in October while at dinner with friends I was complaining about my lack of stove and my friend KD kindly offered to let me borrow hers. Out of that discussion came the idea to have a Christmas baking party and like that the date was set.

Fast forward to yesterday where a group of French, German, Finnish, Greek and American friends got together in KD's apartment in the 10th to fete the holiday season. We drank gluehwein which is a traditional German hot wine, ate some Finnish joulutortut (star shaped pastries) and some other things in between that I didn't find out the names of because I was too busy stuffing my face.

My contribution to the affair were good old fashioned butter cookies and I think they came out pretty well. They didn't look so beautiful but they tasted pretty good and the other guests agreed. My plans were almost foiled when I realized that I couldn't easily find some of the ingredients needed for the recipe especially for the cookie icing.

Some of you out there reading this might be thinking to yourselves "Oh why didn't she just go to the Le Grand Epicerie in Paris, they have products from all over the world." And I'll tell you why, supermarkets (especially French ones) intimidate the hell out of me. I'm like a lost puppy whenever I go into a supermarket (hence my soup and lentil diet as of late) and that feeling would only be magnified if I went to Le Grand Epicerie.

Overall, the evening was great, I ate and drank more calories than I wish to contemplate (hence my return to a soup and lentil diet) and I passed out almost immediately when I got home.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

L'usine à gaz

During a team meeting at work the other day my boss made reference to the phrase l'usine à gaz or gas factory in English. My British colleague and I both looked at each other quizzically because we had no idea what the heck he was talking about. My boss went on to explain that a gas factory refers to a solution to a problem that is even more complex than the problem itself or an unnecessarily complicated solution to a problem.

Even after the explanation and after several examples were provided by my boss, my colleague and I still couldn't come up with an equivalent phrase in English. After doing some research on the internets my British colleague found the term "white elephant" which I have never heard of before and I discovered the term "Rube Goldberg" machine which I had never heard of before either.

After a few moments of reflection it hit me. Americans don't have an adequate equivalent to the phrase l'usine à gaz because more so in France than in America do they develop such complicated solutions and processes to solve simple problems and it's only befitting that they coined a term to describe it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Reflections on the Homeland

While it was great to be back on American soil and revel in all the English being spoken however I had a few thoughts and observations:

1. My family was putting on the full court press for me to come home and that made me feel all sorts of guilty. Do I quit Paris to please them or do I stay and continually be selfish and live out my dream. That experience makes me not want to return to NYC for a while.

2. I never realized how hardened New Yorkers can look. I don't know if it's the current economic crisis, the season or their nature but some of the people riding the subway with me looked downright scary. Seriously. Where are the subway riding lovebirds when you need them?

3. The vibe is the city is definitely different. When I was getting my haircut in Soho last week I noticed that the streets were damn near empty. The streets in NYC are barely empty when there's a blizzard. And even though most stores had significant markdowns prominently displayed in the windows there were hardly any shoppers in site.