Musings and content from my Moleskin notebook over the past year.
I arrived early Wednesday in Frankfurt, a day ahead of the planned client summit in Berlin. Just enough time to have breakfast, meet a client, get lost in their offices, visit the local agency office, and then catch a flight to Berlin. Frankfurt was quick, but in the few hours I was there, I could tell the city had changed a lot since I lived in Germany. Many of the previously “ugly” parts now looked chic and gentrified, with beautiful buildings (if we were talking about Los Angeles, I’d call them “condos” but that seems wrong somehow) along the river, and lots of new infrastructure, including a sweet footbridge that crosses the Main river. Then, exhausted, without sleep for about 33 hours, we landed in Berlin and made our way to the Augustinehof hotel. I took a two hour nap, then refreshed headed out to dinner with Thorsten, Kolya, and Patrick–all from the Frankfurt office. We walked to the Hackische Hofe and ate at an Austrian restaurant; all four of us ordered the schnitzel with bratkartoffeln. It was a delicious meal and the three gentlemen were incredibly kind to me over dinner–despite my rusty German. Read the rest of this entry »
Sadly, my sejours in France came to an end yesterday (although the business class flight I upgraded to with miles brought me home in comfort and style). But the humid, grey day outside and the pate sitting patiently on our counter top tells me I’m still on the other side of the world. People are riding their bikes for the fourth of July weekend outside our home and all I hear are shouts in French; just now I could have sworn a group of excited boys riding by were saying, “Mais tu es con! Vas y, vas y!”
It can’t be so, but I’ll let it be so for now. Just lengthen out the sounds, tastes, smells of that place that brings me, every time to my knees. I thought this trip that perhaps I’d exaggerated Paris’ appeal; “maybe I’ve changed?” I thought. Or perhaps the city has become just another “western” place–Americanized and bland. It’s true that Paris has more amenities than it used to; it’s true it’s cleaner; I also read that the nightlife has been tamed with new city ordinances. But what remains is France’s reputation for excellent food (I had the best meals I’ve ever had in Paris this trip), public spaces where you can watch and be watched beneath a canape of trees, and now, an extensive public bike rental system that (if it accepts your credit card, it didn’t accept mine) allows anyone to enjoy a ride through the city. Also, maybe I was just incredibly lucky or in a great mood which was returned to me in kind, but the French have never been nicer than they seemed this trip. I only met one gruff fellow at a cafe in St. Germain, otherwise everyone went above and beyond to provide excellent service and helpfulness.
Here are my recommendations from this trip:
-Apostrophe Hotel; part of the Tablet group: Hidden gem in Paris in the upscale Left Bank. Walking distance to cafes and shopping. As I wrote on the Trip Advisor review, the hotel brings class and modern amenities to the Parisian hotel experience, without sacrificing charm or culture. I would stay there in a heart beat again.
-Stephane Martine: Fabulous but unpretentious restaurant in the 15th arrondissement: It took us forever to get here from Roissy, nearly 1.5 hours in Paris traffic, but the restaurant was everything I’d hoped for–Intimate, not wrought with tourists, low key yet with excellent food and a diverse menu (from fois gras to lamb to fish). I had the mussels as an appetizer (best I’ve ever had) and the cornish game hen as a main course. The wine (can’t remember which one!) was also excellent.
-Restaurant on top of the Centre George Pompidou: This was much better than I’d expected and a great place to take in the city while getting a good meal. I had the duck it was excellent and the service was also surprisingly pleasant.
I am as giddy as can be to be back in Paris, the first time since Ethan brought me back here five years ago (already!). This time, I am toute seule, here for a client conference that starts tomorrow. My flight arrived at 9:30 am, and after an hour journey via RER from Charles DeGaule airport, I emerged from the metro at the Vavin stop in the Rive Gauche. As I made the last step up from the underground, I nearly let out a celebratory whoop. Could I really be here again? I wanted to pinch myself. Paris is hot, and it’s Sunday so the city is calm. I made my way to the Atmosphere Hotel where I changed into something cooler and left my bags until I could check in. First stop: a local cafe to get refreshed with a juice and coffee. The cafe didn’t have breakfast and was nothing special, but I sat outside taking in the morning, happy to be here. Even the water the waitress brought me with my coffee seemed to be the best water I’ve ever tasted (jeez, why am I such a fan?!!). Next, I found my way to a pattisserie and bought, then ate the best croissant I’ve had since I lived here. (Side note: Why is it so damn hard for the rest of the world to repeat the recipe? How hard can it be???)
From there, refreshed with a little food in me, I made my way to the Marche via the Montparnasse Cemetery; a brief walk beneath the towering gravestones and trees brought me to a Sunday market where I wandered among the stalls of used goods. But again, like the water, like the croissants, I’ve NEVER seen a street sale like this in the States.
Where do they get all this cool stuff? Lamps, china, old film reels, hand sewn napkins, etc. I ended up buying a pretty pink beaded necklace, a dress(!), and a couple of little gifts for my friends here. The purchase of the dress was the most fun I’ve had shopping in a long time; the lady selling the dress had me strip down right there on the street to try it on, as she helped me take off my pants so I could see if it fit. With no mirror in sight, she sent me to look at myself across the street in the reflection of the nearby buildings. How could I do anything but buy it?!
Once I’d made my way down the boulevard, I decided to walk to the Denfert Rochereau neighborhood, where I’d stayed with my parents during the millenium new year we spent in Paris. I landed on a sweet little cafe and wasted no time ordering a muscat, order of pate (who knows what kind, who cares?!), and a green salad (again, how is it that a little butter lettuce can taste so damn good? Why is that so hard to find outside of this country?!)
I returned to my hotel after an extremely satisfying meal, and learned I’d been “OOpGredded” which I didn’t understand immediately till I clarified with the hotel host, “ah oui, UPGRADED!” I have a lovely if little room that overlooks the roofs of Paris, includes a jacuzzi tub with LED lights that cycle from blue to green while you tub with the windows to la ville providing an excellent view. Meanwhile, the worldcup games continue, and I forgot how much a part of European life they become when they are going on. I could hear the shouts when Germany scored their second goal from blocks away. Tonight, dinner with my former roomate, Daphne. I may just borrow one of the beautiful bikes the mayor of Paris and the JC Decaux company have filled the city with for short term rentals.
The theme for my blog has lately been “blog or die tryin” and mostly I’ve been not blogging, and not trying. It isn’t that the French bakery in Oakland with it’s tartes tintins wasn’t deserving. Or that the lovely couple, longing to live in Europe who we met at Capri on Abbot Kinney last night were not inspiring. And it isn’t that I miss Europe any less. My bones still ache for a summer in France. Weeks. Not days. Weeks, I tell Ethan. I know, he says, I know. Jihane, my Lebanese sister in Toulouse writes, where are you? How is your work? Your marriage? And I only have a few lines in my increasingly broken French via Facebook to share in return. Not because I don’t long for an evening spent by her table with her daughter and husband Wissam, who could have been an uncle, who found me the wretched and beautiful apartment on Rue du Taur. I miss them all, and I should speak of it here. But my life exists in working hours, mortgage payments and after work swims at “the gym.” When is there room left to long for poems and wax nostalgic about those 4.5 years in Europe? I do not mean, “when is there time?” I mean, when is there room.
And then, there is Haiti. Like Iran’s green almost-revolution this summer, it has crawled under my skin, filling me with both sadness and hope. And reminding me of our “chance” that beautiful French word that in an ironic twist, in our language means, “luck.” The earthquake in Haiti, the rubble and destruction left behind, the images coming through the computer screen in our quiet, clean little condo, remind me of how fragile life is; how uncertain our time here; and, how disparate our worlds are, depending on what plot of land–or what zip code–we happen to be born on. Obama wrote this today about the situation in Haiti:
“In the aftermath of disaster, we are reminded that life can be unimaginably cruel. That pain and loss is so often meted out without any justice or mercy. That “time and chance” happen to us all. But it is also in these moments, when we are brought face to face with our own fragility, that we rediscover our common humanity. We look into the eyes of another and see ourselves.”
Equally moving were the words of Madison Smartt Bell in the New York Times article, “Haiti in Ink and Tears.” Bell writes,
“Haiti offers, keeps on offering, a shimmering panorama of visual art and a wealth of seductive and hypnotic music, much of it rooted in the rhythms of ceremonial drumming. For the past 50 years a remarkably vivid and sophisticated Haitian literature has been flowing out of Creole, an ever-evolving language as fecund as the English of Shakespeare’s time. The Haitian world is not all suffering; it is full of treasure. Here are a few of the many voices, native and not, inspired by Haiti.”
That amidst our antiseptic lives in first world urban centers, we forget how to create art, write books, make music is no surprise. That there is room for it even in our suffering, is humbling. I don’t know if it speaks to the power of poems, or the power of the human spirit. But it tells me that to survive, to really survive, we must create, we must express, we must write these tears. I hope that articles like Bell’s will continue to come forth and remind us of the other narratives that exist in Haiti. Beyond the rubble and poverty and tragedy, beyond cliche pronouncements of Haitian “strength” and “resilience.” Narratives that do not have answers or solutions, but exist as the purest form of human expression.
I just finished reading Julia Child’s happy biography of her time in France, appropriately titled, “My Life in France.” I’d been inspired by the so-so movie, Julia & Julia (loved Meryl Streep, could do without the blogger from Queens; but then Laura says it’s just because I’m jealous; not so, say I, she’s just much less interesting than the gifted Meryl Streep playing as tremendous a character as Julia Child). I finished the book from the deck of our rented houseboat in the Marina, bittersweet to turn the last page. Needless to say, the book was an absolute gem and it reminded me of all the ways in which France opened me up to the world.
I wish I could say I had had the opportunity to explore the richness of French cuisine in the way Julia Child describes, but alas, I was a poor student; splurging was limited to a weekend trip to the colorful marche and a visit to the cheese counter. Still, my French roomate Daphne (who defies adjectives in her carefree, chaotic, anti-establishmentarian ways; Daphne, are you out there?) taught me how French students live on their limited budgets: pasta, lardons (kind of like bacon, chopped into half inch pieces, but much better), creme fraiche, and ketchup. We lived on the stuff and I never got tired of it. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve had just about enough. I’ve watched the town halls, read the papers, watched in horror as this country has yet again engaged in self-hating warfare. Meanwhile we can’t afford our premiums, our deductibles are sky high, and many of us can’t leave jobs we hate because we’re stuck as the sole healthcare provider in the family. And, people who don’t need to die are dying because they didn’t get preventative care because they couldn’t afford it or had a preexisting condition, or because the healthcare system we have now doesn’t adequately provide basic primary care.
The story of a widow who lost her husband to cancer and painted their story on a mural hit me particularly hard. A story like this just would not happen in France or Germany. Would not happen. Read the rest of this entry »
So, i have experienced my first night of live jazz in monmartre. we were told to go to a cafe on Rue Lepic (where we are staying!) that had a cave. I have never been into a cafe with a cave before and was curious. It turned out to be the most amazing live music venue i’ve ever been to, but probably tres normal for parisians. Not to mention the great jazz, mingling with the Anglophone pianist who asked me for my e-mail and a kiss “for inspiration”, and having some local Frenchies buy me a glass of wine.
saturday morning- at a cafe in monmartre. after all the sightseeing and the eiffel tower, montmartre still inspires the most musings in me. Read the rest of this entry »