Friday, September 28, 2007

Yummy in My Tummy

I’m so freaking full right now. Like loosen your pants full. And although I have not used the phrase “yummy in my tummy” since perhaps, age 7, the meal I just had definitely qualifies as exactly that.

I was in the library, watching “Nosferatu,” as you know, and I saw Mary from my art history class there. We decided to go to dinner together, and she recommended a place that she and her roommate Clarice had been before. It’s called La Tour Maubourg (which is also the name of the subway stop it’s across from), and it’s pretty much on campus. It’s also right by Mary’s apartment, so we picked up Clarice on the way.

I ordered something called “Moules Marinières, frites,” primarily because it was 11€, and when I asked the waiter what “moules” are, he said “seafood,” which is good enough for me. He brought out our plates and my order was exactly two things: a huge bowl of mussels, and a huge plate of fries. I cannot explain how excited I was about this.

I was getting the mussels out with a fork, but the waiter showed me a much more efficient way to eat them, which is to use an empty mussel shell kind of like chopsticks to pinch out the edible part of the next mussel. I was also very excited about this.

Then I moved on to the fries. (I broke my law of always eating fries first, and I was punished for it, as they were cold.) They were (still) very good. I asked the waiter if the French do in fact in fries with mayonnaise (just in case it was some kind of strange urban legend created to laugh at tourists), which he verified. So I asked for mayonnaise so I could have the French french fry experience, and it’s actually quite good. If you don’t actively think about the fact that it’s mayonnaise and just focus on the flavors, it’s quite enjoyable.

Then we got the dessert menus, with a recommendation for the crème brûlée. I heeded this advice, and holy crap. Up until this point, my favorite non-chocolate dessert has been Mrs. Diaz’s flan. Crème brûlée is proving to be a huge challenge to that; not least because it shares a lot of the same flavors and texture. Like with Mrs. Diaz’s flan, I cannot describe how good this is. Plus, you use a torch to make it! So it’s not just gastronomically pleasing, it’s pyrotechnically engineered.

The one thing that struck me as extremely strange about the restaurant is that almost every patron surrounding us was American. We’re not that close to any tourist sight, although we are not out of walking distance from the Eiffel Tower or Les Invalides. This might also explain why the menu seemed to be particularly French, in a foreigner’s conception of the cuisine. The food was good though, and not ridiculously expensive, so I have no complaints. If they’re super-French, even if to a hyper-realistic extent, that’s fine by me.

I don’t have any pictures since I went right from the library and I don’t bring Candide to school, but I plan to be a weekly regular at this restaurant, so there will be other opportunities. In fact, I think I will take Graham and Ciara there next week, so Candide will be with us then.

La Défense

I'm writing this blog while watching a movie for my art history class ("Nosferatu," which is based off of Bram Stoker's "Dracula"), so I may not do a good job of either, but I'm willing to make the attempt at multi-tasking.

Yesterday was a Journée Porte Ouverte, which I thought might be like the Journée du Patrimoine or something, except it was at a specific address in Neuilly instead of at several places across Paris. I went on the subway after class to discover that apparently, I live two metro stops (in the direction going further from Paris) away from this:



Then when I got to the place, I realized it was actually more of an open house at this community building. Basically, there were a wide variety of different locally based associations (including ones we would recognize like AA and Amnesty International). I collected some information about a few groups that are focused on cultural exchange between French people and foreigners, so we'll see how that goes.

When I left, I figured that since I was already halfway there, I may as well walk to La Défense, which is this very corporate looking town just past Neuilly. There's a huge broad pedestrian walkway to La Grande Arche, which you can see in the background in the picture above. The walkway is dotted with art things. The following pictures are a chronological account of my walk to the Arche.

The corporate nature of Neuilly is really much closer to Manhattan in appearance than Paris. There are banks everywhere.
Each of this spire things is topped by something that looks like a traffic light, and there's a spiral thing that goes around it at the bottom. They're all in this big sort of wading pool (but not for wading). those white things in the background make up a sort of sculpture garden.
A closer look at the lights
The statue garden
I really liked this one; it's very energetic.
Here's a weird feet statue. I have no idea what this is supposed to represent.
From a distance, I thought this was a building, but I don't think there are any entrances or exits, so I assume it has some other kind of significance, although I have no idea what.
This is near the end of the broad walkway, look back towards Paris. Do you see that thing all the way in the back?
It's the Arc de Triomphe. It's actually very far away, but still strikingly clear (moreso in person than in this photo).
At this point, I'm approaching a big plaza in front of La Grande Arche. They sure do like their fountains here.
The fountain closer up (maybe those strips are the same as the building)
Carousel!
Inexplicably, moon bounces
This is a big TV screen on the left (with audio) and lots and lots of benches. So I guess the plaza is... a living room?
Les Quatre Temps is a ginormous mall. I think it's at least the size of King of Prussia, although I'm very bad at spacial relations. But really, this place is huge.
I can only describe this as a corporate-looking McDonald's.
Here's a close-up look at the Arche from right below. I didn't take a picture, but there are a bunch of steps leading up to it, like the Philadelphia Art Museum.
This is a shot of the plaza (that I just walked through) from the top of the Arche stairs. Clearly, the architecture here is overwhelmingly modern.
This is taken after walking under the Arche to the other side. I guess the traffic light things are sort of like bookends for La Défense.

This is taken from turning around at the further end of the Arche (i.e. I'd be looking in the direction of the plaza now). Obviously, there are a bunch of standing glass panes; I don't know why.

I was most excited by the fact that there's an Auchan at Les Quatre Temps, because there isn't one in Paris itself. Auchan is most easily described as a French version of Wal-Mart (and similarly, Wal-Mart can't be found in New York). Why does this excite me? Because we have it in Shanghai! I bought some things there, including M. Neige of the M./Mme. books, because as my friends know very well, I love snow.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

French Dining

Last night, my host had four of her grandkids (who are older than me) over for dinner, and she invited me to join them. A French dinner is actually rather involved, as well as late (we started everything around 8:30). First, we started off in the living room for conversation and an aperitif, or a pre-dinner drink. We had champagne, but I assume you can use other light drinks as well. We then moved to the dining room, where there was an entrée waiting for us. (Entrée is actually appetizer in French; literally, it means "entrance." I don't know why we use this for "main course" in English.) This consisted of a very large shrimp on top of some creamy concoction with shredded crab meat; it was quite good. Dinner (served with bread and wine) was sweet and sour chicken over rice, which I assume she selected because of my presence. (I think she thinks doing Chinese things expresses consideration for me. This includes wearing an outfit she bought at a "Chinese" store, but is in fact, not remotely oriental.) The women are served before the men. Second servings are offered, and then when everyone's finished, we move on to dessert. It was a small cup of chilled chocolate cream, which is basically pudding, except amazing. There were also these little rolls of thin crispy chocolate sheets, which I'm having a difficult time describing, but they were good. After dessert, we moved back to the living room for coffee, which was accompanied by little chocolates especially meant to go with coffee. By the way, espresso drinks come in the teeniest servings I've ever seen, but they're really, really black. The cup seriously probably holds the same volume as a baby's hand. We finished off the night with a glass of orange juice.

I had absolutely no idea what went on because my French still isn't that great and they were talking quickly and colloquially. (Sort of like how we may say "eye-uh-no" instead of "I do not know.") In any case, hopefully by the time Christmas rolls around, I'll be able to understand what's going on.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Strike?

Note: I have a post about Saturday, but I'm having some issues with uploading my pictures, so it'll be posted (retroactively, as usual) by the end of the week.

I have definitely just walked past some kind of mass vehicular strike or demonstration on my way to the library. At first glance it just looked like a traffic jam or even an accident - innumerable cars stopped dead in their lanes, loud whistles, honking horns, and shouting people. I assumed that the whistles were coming from police, but as I kept on walking, it got more and more quiet, but no less jammed. Then I realized that all the cars I was now passing were empty. No one was impatiently drumming their fingers on the steering wheel or cursing the driver in front of them. About every 500 meters from that first cluster of loud, whistling people, there'd be a smaller, calmer cluster of people who I can only assume were the drivers of the surrounding cars. So I have no idea what's going on, but traffic on Avenue Rapp at the very least, is not moving, and it seems not to displease anyone, as it seems also to be intentional.

Today I finally went to go buy my French textbook, which I've been putting off because the school bookstore is out of them, and I didn't feel like going all the way to Boulevard St. Michel to get it. I'm glad I went though, because the bookstore is called Gibert Jeune, and it's so large, it's actually split into - I think it was six - buildings. Each building has a theme, kind of like NYU's school's bookstores: one is law/econ, another is languages, a third is the hard sciences, then there's the "general" or main store, and there are a couple others I didn't look at. It was really interesting; this one store is spread out across an entire Place (i.e. plaza).

In personally exciting news, Graham (who is also writing a trog about his semester in London) and Ciara (who is studying just about everywhere in Europe) are coming to visit! They'll be here next weekend, and I'm definitely looking forward to it. Good times will be had by all, and Candide will be along for the ride. For Graham's housing, I have reached out to someone on CouchSurfing.com, and I will, of course, let you guys know how that turns out. Ciara and I are also planning to go to Amsterdam at some point, and we plan to CouchSurf there, so I'll trog about that, too.

On a somewhat cultural note, I've gotten very used to having a viennoise (which is a kind of baguette) with chocolate chips on a daily basis. It's a good mid-day snack, and it's only 1 €, which isn't too bad.

Tip: If you study abroad in Europe, don't eat lunch at a boulangerie (or equivalent) every day. That's a very silly waste of money; after a few times, it's not like you're getting a new cultural experience. Pack a sandwich and cook dinner on your own. (Tangentially, sliced ham is surprisingly expensive in France. If you don't get it at the deli in the supermarket/butcher, it's sold in packs of 3-6 slices, which is way different. Also, mayonnaise here is like it is in China - way more eggy and potent-smelling.) Go out on the weekends and spend your money at places worth spending it. Also, as Mr. Graham suggested before I left, you can save a lot eating at restaurants for lunch instead of dinner. There's often a price-fixed option that includes multiple courses, and you can still pick your main course - it's a good deal.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Internet Dependence

Pre-trog note: I will be uploading (hopefully more interesting and Parisian) posts about the weekend tomorrow.

I've always known that I, like most of my generation and after, have internet dependency issues. However, it occurred to me today that I actually have no idea what's happened in the world since I left the States. I don't read newspapers; I read the news online. Since I'm accessing internet exclusively at school in computer labs and at the library, the news is not my homepage, which means it doesn't occur to me to go read it. (Sad, but true - this is why the news is my homepage.)

This morning, I had to turn down a new project from my employer (from New York) because it would've been exclusively email-based. That sort of job didn't exist even ten years ago. (Ok, I have no idea if that's true, but you get what I'm saying.) I can, at face value, buy into the whole technocratic theory (based on no reading on the subject whatsoever). I mean, if I'm a rural villager in sub-Saharan Africa with no access to electricity, clean water, or plumbing, how can I even conceptualize a computer, let alone networks and instantaneous data transfer (like trogs, for example)? It's patently obvious that technoliteracy is necessary for what we consider success in the Western world. This is clearly a problem, since a lot of the world is still struggling with "hard copy" literacy. The rich-poor gap is necessarily tied to the technoliteracy gap (perhaps with an exception for the oil states - again, no reading, just ideas that could be entirely wrong). I am of course, no expert on the subject, and I realize this is not a novel concept, but having just surfaced in my mind (albeit from bigger truths that I have been aware of), it has novelty for me.

In other less depressing and less parenthetical news, I had an interview on Friday, and now I have an internship at a law office. It specializes in international construction law, so basically I can pretend all of the clients are the Bluths. I have compromised between getting exposure to the field of international law and wanting to travel by reserving the right to take one Friday off per month, and really, I can travel on weekends without Friday off anyway, so it's all good. Oh, and the lawyer who runs the office is American, so it's not that my French has gotten super-amazing super-quickly, but that French is not required (beyond some basic conversational ability for my own sake) for my work. The office is shared by EU lawyers, so it should provide some interesting perspective.

Also in other news, it turns out I did pay my balance that was due in September, but citibank never updated the online account (I will assume for security reasons). Although this does not change the principle of the thing (i.e. they still didn't tell me that my account was having issues, even knowing that I wasn't at my home address), I am much less irritated because I don't actually owe them anything. But I'm still switching all my citi accounts to HSBC the second my CD matures. In March.

Last of the personal musings, I have somehow become some kind of peer authority in my calc class. People seem to assume I know what's going on. They ask me for notes and how to do problems. I don't know how this happened, and I do not encourage it. I do somehow usually have the right answer, but I'm not always sure how I got there other than instinct. (I am Asian after all, so naturally math always makes sense on some intuitive and profoundly theoretical level. In a related matter, I have decided to take my art history class pass/fail.)

Tip: When travelling abroad, always make sure someone is receiving your important mail, whether that's your parents or your neighbors, just in case something is going wrong with your credit card or health insurance (among any other crucial accounts). This is more important than making sure your plants get watered, and if people can do that, then they should be able to do this.

Tip: Don't listen to people who say you can't get an internship in France for a semester. Depending on your field, it might be true, but try anyway.

I promise I will try to stop posting about general things in the world that randomly occur to me and refocus on an actual travel blog, but at the same time, I am not purely travelling. I live here. So I need to do things like go to class and do my laundry, unlike someone exclusively devoted to travelling. Ergo, I apologize for this, past, and future less travel-related (and perhaps less interesting) posts, but this is merely a reflection of my actual not-always-riveting and not-always-sightseeing life in Paris.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dinner, dessert, drinks, and downs

Last night, a group of us went to this restaurant by the Grands Boulevards metro stop:

It was pretty reasonably priced, with appetizers and desserts running 2.50-6€ and main courses around 10€. Our waiter was the first stereotypically French waiter that I've had, in that he seemed very impatient and snappy. Dinner was pretty good, although not mindblowing, so I was surprised to find an excessively long line to get in as we left.
I did, however, find the billing amazing. When we asked for l'addicion, he promptly wrote the prices on our paper tablecloth and literally did the addition.

We then went across the street to get some crepes for dessert. (We didn't order any at the restaurant.) I had an almond one, but I was informed that although good, the dough was actually much thicker than they really should be.
We then crossed an intersection to arrive at this Irish pub.


I had a Guiness here, and Hannah and I stayed downstairs to try and decipher the rugby game while the other girls went upstairs for a slightly more peaceful enviroment.

After some prolonged observation, I kind of get it now. Each "down" starts with something I'll call an engagement, since the ref says "Engage!" to begin it. The teams are in a formation such that all the players are bent over at the waist at more-or-less 90-degree angles and interlocked to form one flat-looking mass of backs. Then the ref says "Engage!" and drops the ball (which is sort of American football/egg-shaped) on the ground between the two teams. I'm guessing that only one certain position on each team (who is located at the end/back of the formation) can pick up the ball, because the front rows of the teams, well, engage, and the whole mass of each team tries to push the other one away. When one team finally gets the ball, it can only be carried while running or passed backwards. In some cases it is kicked forwards, but I can't decipher when this is allowed and when it's not, or when this would be strategic or not.

I have no idea when a "down" ends in rugby, or why, because it is definitely not when any part of a player or the ball touches the ground. Typically what happens is, if a player cannot pass the ball to a teammate before the other team's players tackle him, he has to kind of poop out the ball while under an enormous mass of people to another teammate. (It basically looks like laying an egg.) This keeps going until, for reasons unknown to me, the play is stopped.

"Touchdowns," if that's what they're called, are scored when a player touches the ball to the ground across the end zone and are worth 5 points. The kick afterwards is an additional 2 or 3 (I can't remember).