Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Best. Gift. Ever.

A friend of mine sent a care package a couple weeks ago.


You have no idea how awesome this is. In fact, if you know anyone traveling or living overseas, this is probably the best thing ever to send them.

I had a flu in June that was miserable and I suffered through because I couldn't really figure out what kind of cold meds to buy here. Everything looked so weird and foreign. Will they make me drowsy or high as a kite? What the hell are all these fine print warnings trying to tell me? Do all these homeopathic things really work? Why are all the cough drops here sugar-free? I just wanted familiar so badly.

I'm suffering through this latest summer cold much easier now, thanks to the lovely care package.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Museum with a View

One of the things I loved about New York was all the hidden nooks and crannies you could discover as a local. Secret doors, speakeasy style rooms, hidden and quiet places to go when it gets to be too much.

I haven't really gotten to that point in Paris yet. I have to go and stand in line with everyone else to do pretty much anything.

I'll let you in on a secret though. I did discover a great terrace with a decent view of the city. There was only a couple other people up there, and it was totally free.


It's at the Instut du Monde Arabe over in the 5th arr, which is a quick walk down the Seine from the crowds of Notre Dame.


You have to go through some airport-style security to get in, but once you are in, the place is nearly empty. There's a good cafe on the ground floor and an upscale restaurant on the 9th floor on the terrace. Aside from a few exhibition-goers and late lunchers, the place was empty.


The view is nice! You don't get the Eiffel tower view, but you get a great deal of the rest of the city.

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The city, as usual, was wearing its chic Parisian shade of grey. I actually got caught in several downpours that day while I was out, creating an ombre effect from my waist on down where the umbrella couldn't quite protect me. I'm at the point where if my shoes didn't make a wet squish squash noise with every step, I would think something was really wrong with them.


Friday, 27 July 2012

Vaux Le Vicomte

This man knew how to throw a party.

Nicolas Fouquet, the Minister of Finance under Louis IV. He built a chateau far grander than anything France had ever seen at the time, hiring the best of the best to landscape and decorate. He threw a great party to celebrate his new home and his patronage of the arts and invited everyone. It was an extravagant affair. It ended up being too extravagant; a little too impressive.

The King promptly had him arrested for embezzlement (by none other than D'Artangnan!) and Fouquet spent the rest of his life in prison. The job paid well, but it was obvious that he was not entirely honest with the country's finances and it seemed like a great deal of them went to pad his personal project. The King stole off with Fouquet's landscape artist, architect and interior decorator to build his palace of Versailles, and confiscated all the furniture to cushy up his new home.


Now you can go and stomp around the gardens and check out the grand Vaux Le Vicomte Chateau. It's an hour on the RER or 30 minutes on the train to Melun, and then a shuttle bus will take you to the Chateau. It's still quite impressive. They were working on the dome where we were there, which I found to be a bit of a killjoy when it came to the photogenics. Imagine a great dome instead of the scaffold.

There has been an effort to restore the grandiose furnishings, which is nice but it's kind of stuffy. You can rent costumes at the front desk if you wish to do the whole chateau tour in grand musketeer style, or perhaps as the wench of the week.

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A lot of the original artwork is now in the Louvre. It was all very grand.

But the gardens, ooooh the gardens.


They were lovely, and filled with optical illusions. What looks like a flat stretch of landscape is actually many levels of landscaping that concealed surprises for you to discover as you walk away from the Chateau.

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Grottos and enormous fountains and a huge canal all appear as you walk. It's really amazing. We did see a couple people take tumbles into the hedgerows that padded drop-offs, so it's pretty important to not get too wrapped up in the romance of the place.

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In the spirt of Fouquet, there was a Champagne bar set up on one of the grand staircases. You could lounge in comfy chairs and watch the sun set with your fizzy while they piped in period-appropriate chamber music.

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A lot of the local Chateaus do special events on summer weekends. As the sun set, thousands of candles were lit in the Chateau and also in the gardens.

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It made for a lovely backdrop for a late garden stroll and to the really delayed firework show we were promised. The trains here don't run all night, y'all.

If you are going to miss the last train to Paris, you might as well do it with 60 other people who were also busy watching fireworks. As we stood in mutual dismay and confusion at the train station that seemed to be closed for the night, a hero of sorts emerged.


In a display of decision making the likes of the MTA have never seen, this night watchman guy with his spastic dog made some phone calls and within 10 minutes, all 60 of us were on coach buses on our way back to Paris. Amazing. It leads me to believe that this wasn't the first time the fireworks ran late but everyone was appreciative that we didn't have to spend the night fighting over who gets to sleep on the benches in front of the station. Probably not the easiest Chateau to get to and from, but definitely worth the visit if the you have the inclination.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

FO: Elm Socks

Well Hello There! Remember when I used to knit, and spin, and make all sorts of crafty stuff? Yeah, I don't either.

I did take a moment to sadly mourn the last traces of my spoiled New York lifestyle.


That last little bit of red polish? My bi-weekly pedicures and manis are all just distant memories now. New York has so many nail salons. The competition that comes with having a nail salon on every block drives the prices way down. You can get a mani and a pedi for less than $20 and do so while you let the massage chair work out your knots and get caught up on the latest Cosmo and not feel the least bit guilty about it because it's cheaper than buying a sandwich for lunch. Here, not so much. Every salon I see, I run up hopefully and press my face to the window to check out the prices. Pedicures average around $60, manis $30. Sigh. I guess DIY is in right now. I won't even begin to discuss how much I miss my waxer.

Since I'm not coordinated enough to perfectly splosh my nails with jewel shades of paint and not look like I let someone in preschool do it, I am left with one option. I guess I could just cover my damn toes up!


The weather has been improving lately- we actually got a weekend where we spent time outside! I still am paler than I've ever been in July, but I do appreciate getting a little sun every now and then. Lazing around in the park is much nicer when you aren't lying in a swampy wetland of gloom or having hellfire and hail beat you down.


These are the Elm socks by Cookie A. It's from a great book called, "The Knitters Book of Socks". I only brought a couple of books with me to France, and this is one of them.


Alas, this pattern had a few issues. The undulating rib pattern was easy and fun, but as written, the cuff of the sock is incredibly long. So long, I left out the last 2 pattern repeats it calls for because I knew this sock wasn't going to fit any higher up my calf if I kept going. A quick glance at other people's projects reveal they had the same issue. It's hearbreaking to work so long on a pair of socks to not have them fit. It was also good I stopped because I almost ran out of yarn. Once I turned the heel, I realized I dodged a bullet there and by the time I kitchnered the toes up, I was down to just a couple of yards. 400 yards is not enough for this sock the way it is written!

I am loathe to put patterns on the actual sock foot. 1. You can't see it when you are wearing shoes, which is what I usually do when I put on a pair of socks and 2. Patterns with a cushier sock yarn like this will irritate the tops of my feet and I will never ever wear them, and I hate irritated feet more than I do my unpedicured toes. So I guess we can call this my Half-Assed Elm Socks.

The yarn is String Theory Caper Sock. 80% Merino, 10% Cashmere, 10% Nylon, this is very soft. I picked this up on sale when Gotham Fine Yarns in New York closed down.

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Time and wear will tell, but I'm not quite impressed with the yarn. It pilled up and looked fuzzy while I was working with it. I'm hoping it's just the short cashmere fibers working their way out and not a structural issue.

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I've actually had these done for more than a month now. I like to photograph things outside, in good light, and These would have wicked up a puddle if I would have done it any other time. I guess all that rain is making me appreciate this sunny day all the more.

I made socks and then I pranced around a meadow in them. The end.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Breakfast for the Clever

Summer has been a bit of a letdown here. I was told that it had the potential to get hot and humid. It did for a day. It's been a rare day to break 70 since then.

I can't complain. I'd much rather be comfortable than in New York right now. Like most of Europe, they don't really do AC here, and when they do, it's a trickle of cold air that teases you if you stand just right to get to it.

They do have a lot of big windows and cross-breezes though. I was never a fan (har) of the blasting ACs you get everywhere in the states. Here, you don't even need a sweater to go to the movies. Crazy, right?

Despite the known miserable heatwave, I developed a craving for walking along the Highline Park and visiting the People's Pops stand there. Anytime I was anywhere near West 14th street, I would dart over and buy a popsicle. I do admit, I've done this several times in one day. They are that good.

The other day, over my standard breakfast of yogurt and granola and fuit, I had a moment of clarity.

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Apricot and cherries go together awfully well. They are both excellently in season here. The sunny tartness of the apricots balance the dark, brooding deepness of the cherry juice.


I was grateful to find Greek Yogurt here. You can get the Fage brand that we love so much in New York, but it's super expensive. Like, I can buy two four-packs of the store-brand stuff for the price of a single Fage. And it taste, well...the same!


What to do with this beautiful mess?


Roast the Fruit. It concentrates the flavor and makes sure you don't have a watery mess.


Add the fruit mess to the yogurt, add lemon and some honey.


Spoon into popsicle molds. Voila! 5 hours later, you have an indulgently awesome breakfast.

Was that not the most ingenious way to cheat on breakfast ever?

Breakfast Popsicles

-about 1 lb of fruit- I used cherries and apricots, but whatever mix of berries and fruit would work. Strawberry peach? Raspberry grape? Try it!

-juice of half a lemon

-1/4 c honey

-2 1/2 c greek yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350. Toss your washed, sliced, pitted fruit onto a rimmed baking sheet. I use parchment paper or alum foil on the bottom, but also I hate doing dishes. If your berries are really tart, you might want to add a little sugar at this point. If they are peak summer sweet, you really don't have to. Roast the fruit for about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. The juice should get syrupy and sweet. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Blend together the yogurt, honey and lemon juice in a big bowl. Add the cooled fruit and juice mess.

Spoon into popsicle molds. If you aren't that fancy, spoon the mix back into the yogurt cups and stick a popsicle stick into the center. Freeze for at least 5 hours, or overnight if you've thought about this ahead of time.

(You might notice that I used the word "mess" quite a bit. Between pitting the cherries, the sticky berry juice, the unwilling-to-blend creamed honey I shouldn't have used, and the spooning into the narrow molds, I needed to hose down the kitchen afterwards.)

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Slothful Sundays

I found the best way to spend a rainy Sunday morning in Paris is at Le Baron Rouge.


Tucked away on a side street by the Place de Algire in Bastille, this is a fantastic wine bar. Yes, it's perfectly acceptable here to show up at 10am and expect to get served wine.


They sell by the glass, pitcher or bottle, with a constantly changing menu. There are giant barrels of wine- you can BYOB to be filled, or buy a jug to go. It's cheap as hell, and you can really discover some gems. Most of the wines they had were drinkable and interesting and from producers I had never heard of.


They do simple plates of cheese and charcuterie, and everyone stands around tipped over wine barrels, eating and chatting. It's a chatty and happy place. It's too bad that in New York, a wine bar is usually a bit of a pretentious place to get a drink. Here, it's just where you drink if you like wine.


This also reminds me that I should probably clean up my lenses a bit! Shooting in the rain all the time means they get smudgy and need a good cleaning. It looks like I took these with a cell phone.

Monday, 23 July 2012

St. Sulpice


Guess what happened about five minutes after I took these pictures.




Hint: What else happens on a sunny, bright warm Paris day?


Yeah, that's right. I managed to get caught up in an epic thunderstorm/hailstorm again. It came out of nowhere. I literally hopped into the church, took a quick walk around, and came out to completely different scene, as people darted for cover in soaked-through clothes.


I have no idea why this almost daily occurrence keeps catching me off guard.

St. Sulpice, 5th arr.