Saturday, December 13, 2008

Things I love this week/Things I do NOT love this week

Things I Love this Week
1) DS Magazine

Scarlett Johansson on the front cover, Rebecca Leffler inside on the back cover – what could be better? (Well, there are some great articles in between too.) Check it out, the December/January issue of DS Magazine is at a kiosque near you ! (well, only near you if you live in Paris, sorry) See p. 130 for my column: “Une New Yorkaise à Paris.” This month’s adventure is “How to be a Princess in Paris without royal blood.” While I probably won’t be allowed in any of the establishments I mention since I pretty much give readers a guide to how to profit from said establishments in the cheapest way possible, I’m happy to share my secrets with DS readers. So GO BUY A COPY NOW!

2) Stephen Colbert

The funniest person in America today is intelligent, witty, immodest and went to Dartmouth College. (Oh stop, I said IN America today, but thanks for the accolade) – it’s Stephen Colbert, of “The Colbert Report” fame. Actually, the semi-fictional character Stephen Colbert went to Dartmouth, but the REAL SC actually is a Northwestern alumnus.The Comedy Central pseudo-news anchor is the reason I wake up every morning – no, sorry that’s #2 on this week’s top 10 list (see: breakfast), but he is the reason I turn on my Slingbox after breakfast (with the exception of Tuesdays – hello, “Gossip Girl”!). Colbert took America through the elections with his satirical political commentary, and has been a Bush-el (pun way intended) and a peck of fun even after Obama was elected President. Last week, Colbert waged war on Kanye West (“Operation Humble Kanye”) and signed his "A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All" DVD for Barbara Walters telling her “To Babs, You are hot,” and his Christmas special was, as “not Stephen Colbert” put it, “The most significant thing to happen to Christmas since Jesus.” He also plays the President of the United States in Dreamworks’ upcoming “Monsters vs. Aliens 3D.” I’d totally vote Colbert for President 2012 ! Let’s wave the red, white, blue … and Dartmouth green ! Oh and did I mention SC lives in Montclair, NJ?
Here’s a clip from the Christmas Special featuring the equally fabulous Jon Stewart:

3) Breakfast

There’s a reason we say “Good morning.” Not “Bad morning” or “Okay morning,” but “GOOD morning.” The reason? Breakfast. In French, le petit déjeuner (or, literally, the “little lunch”). Actually, in French “jeuner” means “to fast” so dé-jeuner, means literally to un-fast, or to break the fast – breakfast! However, lunch in French, is called le déjeuner, so it makes sense that most French people choose to break their fasts around noon, and skip the most wonderful time of day that Americans have chosen to break their fast, namely the morning. Breakfast, in France, is not considered to be a real meal. The French take their mealtime very seriously, but breakfast? Not a meal. The typical French breakfast? An espresso. (and a cigarette, of course). There’s also the “Yes, I’m French, but I’m sort of hungry” breakfast: namely, an espresso and possibly a croissant, or some toast with jelly. French schoolchildren spread nutella on their toast and drink chocolate milk out of bowls. Yes, milk or coffee out of a large bowl – do the French think that by treating their young boys like dogs, they will grow up to be anything but? This might explain the behavior of the adult French male population. “Ok, so I cheated on my wife. I blame the milk in the bowl!” I, however, despite my utter Frenchness, am très American when it comes to breakfast. I adore breakfast. It’s quite simply my favorite meal, and favorite time of day. (When else can we have an excuse to eat sweets and desserts disguised as “part of your complete breakfast”?) I am France’s largest importer of peanut butter (confirmed. Ask the FDA. There is not a jar of peanut butter in any Whole Foods stores in the tri-state area since my last trip there) and have now been forced to import packets of oatmeal since French people don’t even know what oatmeal is. (And, when I describe it as a hot, wet, cereal-y substance, don’t want to know what it is.) I keep hoping the French government will launch a national campaign to get people to eat breakfast. I’m always alone on this one, since the government officials who would launch such a campaign don’t eat breakfast themselves. I could eat breakfast for lunch, and breakfast for dinner (after breakfast for breakfast, of course.) There’s nothing better. Cereal, oatmeal, granola, yogurt, fruit, smoothies, muffins, English muffins, scones, French toast…the list goes on forever. My current winter breakfast favorites aside from my aforementioned affinity for all things oatmeal, include toast with almond butter and honey (best on Eric Kayser’s sesame bread or “pain paline”), yogurt parfaits made with honey, granola and fruit, the scones from Rose Bakery (think: maple syrup, raisin, sesame/date or cranberry) and the eggs Florentine at Coco & Co. Getting hungry? EAT BREAKFAST. Vive le petit déjeuner!

4) Largo Winch

He’s tall, dark, handsome, has French nationality, and an inheritance of 20 billion dollars. Unfortunately, he’s a fictional character. Largo Winch, the hero from the eponymous comic book-turned-film, is pretty much the perfect guy (minus the fact that he has lots of people always trying to kill him.) He’s sexy and charming, almost invincible (he managed to escape gunshot wounds, his car flipping over numerous times, and being shot at by men from a helicopter) and he can give a great massage (see: the scene in the hotel spa with Mélanie Thierry). While I’m not typically a fan of adventure films and/or comic book adaptations, “Largo Winch” is surprisingly a pretty good movie. I attended the Paris premiere of the film on Tuesday night, complete with the film’s director Jerôme Salle and cast (including, my potential future husband, the sexy and talented – and did I mention tall and French and handsome? – Tomer Sisley). The after-party was held at the fabulous Grand Hôtel Interncontinental. The all-Gallic crowd (minus the lone American girl cough cough) included the film’s cast members Mélanie Thierry and Anne Consigny, plus superstar actor François Cluzet, and a select few B-lister Frenchies like Mylène Jampanoui. The action-packed “Largo Winch” hits French theaters on Dec. 17 and, seeing as Wild Bunch is handling international sales, plus most of the film is in English, a US release date can’t be too far behind.

5) Soup

The French fat lady has sung. And I think I see a French pig flying past my window. Yes, the unimaginable has happened. I’ve been cooking. As in, from scratch, not from the Picard frozen food box, or warming up restaurant leftovers. It’s a simple formula really: global financial crisis + poverty = I’ve become a gourmet chef. My greatest recent discovery? La soupe. Who knew that just by warming up vegetables and putting them in a blender, one could have a hearty, flavorful winter soup? (Actually, apparently everyone knew this but me – I did always wonder how they got the soup into the can/box … now I know.) Soup is a great excuse to mix your favorite ingredients together – even those not ostensibly culinarily compatible. Think: pumpkin and vanilla soup, broccoli almond soup, sweet potato, butternut squash and ginger soup, carrot, cilantro and coconut soup, tomato soup … the possibilities are endless…. And WARM!

6) “Frost/Nixon”

Ron Howard’s film adaptation of Peter Morgan’s play, “Frost/Nixon” is one of the more intelligent, witty and interesting films I’ve seen this year. Frank Langella is superb as Nixon, and Michael Sheen manages to balance ridicule and kick-ass candor in his role as British TV presenter David Frost. While the film moves along slowly at some points, the denouement is captivating, and the plot keeps audiences on their toes. The movie manages to exist on two levels, to please both audiences well versed in Nixon history and those completely ignorant of the Watergate facts. Langella and Sheen steal the show, but are surrounded by a stellar supporting cast including Toby Jones, Oliver Stone and the stunning Rebecca Hall. Kevin Bacon is somewhat miscast in my opinion as Nixon’s assistant Jack Brennan, but hopefully Howard’s film will bring home the bacon at the box office anyway.

7) “Mon chien,” aka the dog in Francis Huster’s “Un Homme et son Chien”

Francis Huster’s very French (read: sloooooooow-moving and action-free) film “Un Homme et son Chien” is incredibly moving and had me sobbing for nearly all of its 1h34 minutes. Jean-Paul Belmondo plays an old man, rejected by both society and his loved ones, who must endure his final days with only his memories… and his dog. Belmondo is wonderful, as is young starlette Hafsia Herzi and the supporting cast which include cameos from Jean Dujardin, Jose Garcia and Aurelien Wilk.

8) Artistic Nail

Nail salons in Paris are few and far between. Trying to find a nail salon in Paris is like trying to find a person smiling, a free taxi or a restaurant serving dinner before 8 PM. Artistic Nail, is a tiny place on the rue Cherche-Midi, right behind the Bon Marche department store in the 7th arrondissement. Artistic Nail’s Sarah is my manicurist/unofficial shrink (yes, I pay her 30 euros to paint my nails…and, thus, listen to me vent about my life for ½ hour once a week while I peruse all of the gossip magazines offered). I leave with perfectly-manicured, shining nails every time. Artistic Nail doesn’t come cheap, but it’s worth the money for the best manicure this side of the river Seine.

9) L’Altro

I took a few months hiatus from my favorite left bank Italian restaurant, and returned again this week only to discover that l’Altro remains … my favorite left bank Italian restaurant. Diners can watch the young, Sicilian staff cook up delicious fare on the other side of the glass windows on the bottom floor, or choose to sit upstairs. The pennette bisi – penne served with a cream of pea sauce and crispy ham – is divine, and my secret to getting through the cold Paris winter. All of the pasta dishes are fabulous – try the pennette Sicula, an adaptation of Sicilian favorite pasta à la norma with eggplant, tomato sauce and ricotta cheese, or the pennette served with a lemon cream sauce. The appetizers are great too – their grilled vegetable platter with smoked bufala mozzarella is wonderful, and can even make for a light lunch in itself during the warmer weather. Their desserts are light and delicious – try the panna cotta or the crema de limone – and the chocolates they give you with your coffee or cappuccino are the only chocolates I’ll eat to this day. While the great food doesn’t come cheap, it’s relatively affordable and always a pleasurable experience. Ciao !

10) The Cappuccino at l’Hôtel

l’Hôtel (yes, that’s it’s full name – l’Hôtel) on the rue des Beaux Arts could possibly be my favorite spot in Paris. The boutique hotel attracts high-class tourists, celebs (think: Johnny Depp) and …well, me. I rarely see the bar area crowded, and the drinks are relatively affordable for such a fine estabishment. Their cappuccino has been keeping me warm all winter – served with just the right amount of foamy milk, and with a Jean-Paul Hevin chocolate on the side. It’s the best way to pass a cozy afternoon on the left bank.

Things I DON’T Love this week

1) The question : How are you ?

Or, in French, Ca va ?
Correct response : Oui, ça va. Et toi, ça va ? (Yup, everything is going well. And you?)
Actual response: “Actually, now that you asked… my husband left me, I lost my job, I have no money and just stubbed my toe and am in excruciating pain. And you?”
“Ca va?” is the question du jour here in France. When passing someone on the street, “Hey, ça va?” – clearly, I don’t actually have enough time to truthfully answer that question before the other person passes by me, so a simple “Oui et toi?” usually comes out of my mouth. Then there’s Gchat, email, Facebook chat – “Ca va?” I don’t think I’m allowed to send enough characters at a time to appropriately respond. So do I just simply answer “Yes” or do I tell people the truth and risk causing them severe depression and pain when exposed to the intricacies of my current state of suffering?

2) Vanessa
(from “Gossip Girl”)

Dear GG writers,
Get Vanessa off the show! You couldn’t have put her into the car with Mr. Bass on that fateful night? Or had Jenny Humphrey aaccidentally pull her hair too hard in their little catfight over Nate? I ADORE the show, but Vanessa really needs to go (as does Aaron, please ! You couldn’t have found a better-looking Brooklyn hipster artist character? I know a few…hundred, I’ll send them your way? Anything but Aaron, please!).
Xoxo France’s #1 Gossip Girl fan

3) Foie Gras

Who decided that, just because it’s almost Christmastime and the new year is around the corner, everyone should eat foie gras, foie gras and more foie gras? ‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring…because that French lady just exploded a poor duck’s liver and served it on a plate with some fig jelly. In America, around Christmastime, we bake cookies, build gingerbread houses and sing Christmas carols. In France, you fatten ducks and serve their livers on a platter. Okay, so you have other Christmas food traditions, but they are all chocolate-based (those of you who know me know of my abhorrence of the cocoa family) such as la bûche de Noel or involve heavy cream and truffles. Look, I understand you need to fatten up your ducks, but aren’t there other ways aside from large chocolate-filled logs?

4) Rachael Ray

You know that sound you hear when someone scratches their nails on a blackboard? Picture that, combined with large potfuls of disgusting food and you’ve got… Rachael Ray! Somehow the woman with the most annoying voice in show business (yes, Fran Drescher, your Nanny pales in comparison to RR) managed to not only score her own Food Network show, but also her own morning program on a major US network. Her culinary secret? Take hundreds of random ingredients, throw them into a bowl and – bam! Dinner is served. She’s everywhere, this woman. Every time I turn on the TV, I hear her voice, and hear the sound of beef simmering in beer and cream with brussel sprouts and paprika and why not some tomato sauce and mini hot-dogs thrown in while we’re at it?

5) France’s Habitation/Audiovisual Tax

Chère Mademoiselle Leffler,
We love to make it extremely difficult for you to stay in our country and refuse to give you your working papers to stay here, however, we’d like you to pay us a 500-Euro “habitation” and “audiovisual” tax. We don’t want you to have free healthcare, but we do want you to pay us a huge sum of money. We think this is fair. Why? Because we’re French, so we must be right. That’s how it is – it’s been this way since Louis XIV walked the streets of Paris, so no changing things now. That would be so – gasp! – modern and logical.
The French Government

6) “La Guerre des Miss”

This “comedy” (note the quotation marks) starring Benoit Poelvoorde is quite possibly the worst film I have seen this year. The story about a small French village who hold a beauty pageant, is neither funny nor moving, and is an example of the fact that there are TOO MANY MOVIES made in France every year.

7) French people who don’t shower and then board a crowded Metro at the same time as me
(I don’t think this one needs explanation.)

8) Lateness

In France, “lateness” is synonymous with “to have plans.” Have a dinner at 8PM? Arrive no earlier than 8:30PM. A meeting at 10AM? Be there at 10:45AM. Do not even call or text to say you’re late, under an hour late doesn’t qualify as being late, “c’est normale” (“that’s just how it is”). When the person you are meeting calls to ask where you are, the appropriate response is: “J’arrive.” The French “J’arrive” – or “I arrive”/”I’m on my way” – might mean that “I arrive…” … in 5 minutes, in one hour, or even in 5 hours – the phrase is vague and never clear. Then there’s the “on ne va pas tarder” (“we won’t be much longer”) – which, again, could mean an arrival time anywhere between 3 seconds and 3…hours.

9) Slow walkers

‘Twas the month before Christmas and all through Paris, not a creature was stirring…instead, they were all crowded onto the streets of my neighborhood, walking at a pace equivalent to a snail drugged with morphine. Is there a page in the Paris tourism guide books that gives directions to the Louvre, recommends a good restaurant to eat foie gras and then says “please walk to all of these locations very, very slowly so that the girl with the big bag of groceries and late for her next meeting and freezing cold has to navigate around you and lose the feeling in her toes just walking down one short street because you can’t move faster” ? Page 7: “How to walk slowly, or, better yet, stop randomly while walking so that the person behind you trips over you.”

10) “Les manifs”

Les manifestations, aka protests, take place in Paris at least once a day and manage to affect me negatively in one way or another. Every time I take the bus (which is many times a day - see: the recession and my feelings on the metro), there is “une manifestation” that prevents the bus from passing by. French people somehow find a way to protest something every day.

Celeb spottings of the week:
Frances MacDormand, having lunch at my favorite place on earth (or at least in Paris), Rose Bakery. (which just won an honorary Le Fooding award may I add – congrats, Rose and co. !)
Jocelyn Quivrin and a pregnant Alice Taglioni doing some grocery shopping at the Champion on the rue de Seine.
Stefano Accorsi and Laetitia Casta grocery shopping at la Grande Epicerie at the Bon Marché.

Good news du jour: Bob’s Juice Bar is opening another, bigger location near Arts et Metiers circa March of next year! Details to follow… stay tuned.

Bad news du jour: Apparently, Eric Kayser just throws away all of the bread and pastries not sold at the end of each day instead of donating it to charity – what a waste !

Quote du jour: “Where are you? I hear sun in the background.” –Tina Fey, to Alec Baldwin, on the phone, on “30 Rock,” the best TV show ever in life.

French Idiom du Jour: Panne d’oreiller literally means “pillow failure” aka “to sleep in (usually when one is late for work / an appointment)”. Hey, Pierre you’re late ! “I know, sorry, my pillow failed!” Oh how I love this language!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

10 things I love this week

1) The 6th Arrondissement – aka The Twilight Zone

Hey you – yes, you, old French lady about to get on the 87 bus with a big bag of groceries from l’Epicerie at the Bon Marche on one arm and a cane on the other – have you heard about a little something called THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS? Actually, no, Madame La Riche hasn’t heard, nor have any of her neighbors apparently. The streets of Saint Germain-des-pres are filled with consumers of all ages buying clothes and bags, splurging on 3-course meals in restaurants, and sipping ridiculously overprices coffees at Café de Flore. Yes, Mesdames and messieurs, “You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone…” (cue the eerie music). You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land called St Germain-des-pres whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead - your next stop, the Bon Marché department store. There, you’ll see strange things like plump wallets bursting at the seams, people smiling (unless they’re French of course – those people smiling are clearly tourists) and – gasp! – aliens from another dimension trying to mingle with local shopkeepers (oh sorry, those are just tourists again). At first, I figured that these people who have the time to shop at 3 in the afternoon on a week day must have been victims of the financial crisis and are simply unemployed with nothing else to do. Then, I saw them do peculiar things like not checking the price of something before putting it in their shopping carts or buying four Louis Vuitton bags at one time. These do not look like the symptoms of unemployment/poverty to me. (I’m no money doctor, but I can diagnose a bad case of Imoutofajob-itis almost immediately.) It’s uncanny, I tell you. It’s the fifth dimension over here on the Left Bank – no one seems to be struggling to make ends meet. There’s always food on the table and little old ladies with golden canes and bags of $15 apples getting on buses. I keep waiting for Rod Serling to pop out and ask if I’d like to have a steak frites with him down the street. OMG it’s “The Obsolete Man”!!! No, sorry, that’s just today’s newspaper with George Bush on the cover…

2) Ginger
gin⋅ger   [jin-jer]
a reedlike plant, Zingiber officinale, native to the East Indies but now cultivated in most tropical countries, having a pungent, spicy rhizome used in cookery and medicine. Compare ginger family.

2. My favorite addition to winter beverages and foods.
While “Zingiber Officinale” may sound like the name of the President of a small country (“In today’s headlines, Zingiber Officinale declared war on the Sushi region…”), it’s actually a pungent herb that adds tons of flavor to whatever it touches. If you can take the heat, try Zen Zoo’s ginger tea – it’s so strong, it might make you cough and turn red in the face at first, but it will clear your sinuses (and pretty much every air pathway in your whole body) and give you a jolt of energy that puts coffee to shame. However, if it’s coffee you crave, Nespresso has a new ginger-flavored holiday season espresso that it much more subtle, but still delicious. I’ve been adding ginger to my cooking as well (yes, that wasn’t a typo, I have indeed actually been cooking)* (*see: global financial crisis). My (and by “my,” I mean a recipe I recently saw on the NYTimes website and then made) “Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash soup” with ginger will keep you warm this winter, and I make a wonderful tofu dish that includes ginger in the sauce (ask me for the secret recipe). Carrot, apple and ginger juice is a wonderfully refreshing cocktail – try it at a Cojean near you, or La Ferme, BioBoa or Rose Bakery, or make your own. Other Gingers worth noting: Ginger Rogers, Ginger snaps, Gingerbread, Ginger Spice - oh and my mother has a cousin named Ginger, I think.

3) William Safire’s column “On Language” in the New York Times

Last week, Safire introduced me to my new favorite word (apologies to former vocabulary flings “ubiquitous,” “ameliorate” and, ironically, “sesquipedalian” – it’s been a good ride, but it’s time to move on) “Frugalista.”
He writes, in his Nov. 21 column: “But wait: one entry on the Oxford shortlist rings my bell, with its rich etymology, current utility and potential staying power well beyond the nonce. It is frugalista, defined as “a person who lives a frugal lifestyle but stays fashionable and healthy by swapping clothes, buying secondhand, growing own produce, etc.” This could become the nom de guerre of the “recession warrior.””
Thank, you Bill! (I’ve read your articles nearly every week since I learned to read, I can call you Bill right?) I much prefer to think of myself as a “recession warrior” alias “frugalista” than simply “impoverished” or “broke.”
And this, week, Monsieur Safire wrote about “Generation What?” After the “lost generation” came the “great generation” followed by the “silent generation” and then the “baby boom generation” before “generation x.” Safire writes about soon-to-be President Obama’s referral to the “Joshua Generation,” the new generation of African-Americans. Safire quotes Obama: “It was left to the Joshuas to finish the journey Moses had begun,” Obama said to the youthful successors to the aging leaders of the civil rights movement, “and today we’re called to be the Joshuas of our time, to be the generation that finds our way across the river.”
And what about the rest of us, Bill? Are we simply “Generation Frugalista”? Some have referred to us as “Generation O” (O for Obama, of course), though I see it more like “Generation Woe … is me.” Tom Brokaw referred to members of the “Great Generation” as “those American men and women who came of age in The Great Depression served at home and abroad during World War II and then built the nation we have today.” The generations who experienced the greatest turmoil ended up boasting the greatest feats in the end. I do believe this is what is in store for our generation. We’ve lived through an ostensibly interminable war in the Middle East, we were there for the horrors of 9/11 and now we’re experiencing one of the worst economic recessions in recent history. This can only mean that we’re headed for greatness. Soon, we’ll replace “Generation Woe…is me” by “Generation Oh…My G-d, look what we’ve accomplished.” But that’s way too long to catch on – especially if we have to compete with the harmonious alliteration of the “Joshua Generation.” How about simply “Generation Whoa”?

4) Antik Batik

Gabriella Cortese’s dazzling designs have been putting “les paillettes” (sparkles, in French) on les Parisiennes since the company was founded in 1992. I adore the unique “hippie chic meets glitz” style of the collection and have been wearing Antik Batik on TV, on the red carpet and on the streets of Paris for the past couple of years. It’s my brand du jour you might say. Among others of course – I am always loyal to my forever faves Zadig & Voltaire, Vanessa Bruno, Paul & Joe and Tara Jarmon – but Antik Batik has been putting the twinkle in my eye and the sparkles on my dress all year. The clothing is a mélange of crazy colors and more basic pieces. This winter’s collection ranges from heavy wool sweaters and hot fur coats (see: the rabbit fur coat I haven’t been able to take off since the cold air hit) to dark blue and green silk dresses with black sparkles and backless silver and gold shimmering tops and dresses. The clothing reminds me a lot of Anthropologie – very feminine and classy, but also unique and colorful. I hope Antik doesn’t become antique anytime soon.

5) Barbara Walters’ 10 Most Fascinating People of the Year

I approve of only 7/10 of the choices – Langella can act, Tiny Fey is brilliant and hilarious, Michael Phelps is an Olympic champion (and a fan of breakfast which puts him atop MY list of the year’s most fascinating people), Rush Limbaugh has intelligent things to say, Will Smith has the right to say “I am Legend,” and Sarah Palin is a nincompoop, but the fact that she somehow managed to run for Vice President of the United States of America despite her affinity for shooting animals and extreme ignorance makes her quite fascinating. However, Barb honey, what were you thinking? The “pregnant man”? (Who is not even actually a man, mind you.) Miley Cirus? (Cute? Maybe. Spunky? Ok. But fascinating? Please.) Tom Cruise? (Have the forces of Scientology taken over your brain too, Barbara?) – though despite some quirks in the selection, Barbara Walters’ annual 10 Most Fascinating People selection continues to fascinate me… and audiences across America.

6) Giada

Martha WHOwart? Barefoot Contessa, put your shoes back on. There’s a new Queen of Cuisine in town. (No, it’s not me – though I admit, my culinary talents have been shining through during this recession period.) Giada De Laurentiis is De coolest. She’s built an empire around her homemade Italian cooking. Giada has two shows on the Food Network (yes, I watch the Food Network and no, I neither knit nor own 17 cats – the Food Network isn’t just for Miss Havisham-like housewives, thank you very much) – “Everyday Italian” (which, ironically, isn’t on every day, but most of them) and “Giada at Home” (a home in which I wouldn’t mind living – the woman can cook!). Her recipes are simple, and always flavorful and delicious. It’s as if a pretty, young American woman ate a little old Italian grandmother and spit out her recipes.

7) Facebook (pronounced “fesse-book” in French)

It all started as a distraction during Finals period when I was a wee student at Dartmouth (actually, more like a “oui” student, since I was always taking French classes). Today, Facebook is not only a global phenomenon, but it has changed expat life in numerous ways … or at least MY expat life. Not only can I avoid having to write long emails to everyone I know detailing my life (I have a blog for that, haven’t you noticed?) by simply posting self-explanatory photos of my daily goingson, but I have also been able to get back in touch with people I haven’t seen or spoken to in years. Ok, so some of them I could have gone my life without speaking to again and not have batted an eyelash (see the 400 people from High School who I can now call “friend,” but who I may have exchanged a total of 13 words with respectively during 4 years of school), but others simply disappeared for awhile, and thankfully are back in my life. Even my mother is now on Facebook! So far I’ve managed to find or be found by: a French girl I went to camp with when I was 12 last seen drinking bug juice in a log cabin, my senior prom date last seen riding in a limo down the parkway to the jersey shore, and countless friends from childhood, high school and college last seen… well, who knows when, but I’m guessing I had braces and/or pigtails so let’s try and erase those images from our memories please. Sure, it’s basically self-advertising (“Monique has posted photos of herself…but only the ones she has hand-picked, decided she looks beautiful in, photo-shopped and then made sure to post to the pages of the “friends” she has in common with her ex”) and gives guys the easy way out when wooing girls (“Pierre has poked you. Poke back? Join Pierre for a late-night drink then go home and sleep with him?”), but it can also be a great way to make new friends, and stay in touch with the old (remember, one is silver, the other is gold…and that random guy you met at that party on Saturday night who poked you then asked you to be his facebook friend? He’s aluminum.) And, my procrastination gene thanks the inventor of “facebook chat” immensely. Those crazy kids at Facebook have thought of everything – Have you always wanted to “send cupcakes”? “Send challah”? Or even “send a badger”? Now you can ! Facebook is the Barack Obama of the internet – YES WE CAN … send cupcakes, badgers and challah. And, best of all, we never have an excuse to forget anyone’s birthday ever again.

8) Strange winter vegetables

Can you pass the celeriac please? I’ll have it with a side of turnips, parsnips and…can’t forget the rudubaga. Wait rudu-wha??? Yes, winter is the time when the weather gets cold, snow falls, it gets dark early…and people eat bizarre vegetables. While many winter vegetables taste the same and look the same – I probably couldn’t distinguish between a yam and a sweet potato in a blindfolded taste test, and, let’s be honest, is there really a difference between turnips and parsnips besides the pre-nip prefix? – they all sort of mold together into a harmony of squishy, semi-sweet starches and legumes. While I’ve always loved sweet potatoes and yams (or are sweet potatoes actually indeed yams? We’ll never know exactly – it remains a Thanksgiving mystery for all time), this winter I’ve been living happily ever after by eating pumpkin whenever I can. And while butternut squash is far less plentiful in Paris than in the states, I’ve been able to dabble in a bit of the subtler orange winter vegetable as well. Even the “ips” (turn and pars, that is) are much less boring when served alongside their orange-colored cousins.

9) The Sun

I’m starting to forget what it looks like since it’s been so long since the sun has graced Paris with its shiny presence, but, if my memory serves me correctly, I think I remember being quite fond of it, so I’ll put it on this week’s Top 10 list.


Zack Snyder came to Paris to show exclusive footage from his upcoming superhero flick “Watchmen” to select VIP super-cool fabulous members of the French press (cough cough). I’m usually not a fan of the genre, but the footage I saw was incredible – a mix of emotion and, to use non movie-critic terms, really, really, really cool special effects. The film’s all-star cast includes Denny from “Grey’s Anatomy” aka Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman (who is not only very funny in the Farrelly brothers’ last film, but was also surprisingly very sweet when we hung out in Deauville last year at the Fest, so I am now a fan), Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode … and a whole lot of other people. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product, which hits US theaters on my half birthday, March 6, 2009 ! (and French theaters on March 18).

French idiom of the day: “Poser un lapin.”

“Poser un lapin.” In English, literally, “To leave a rabbit.” “Poser un lapin” means to stand someone up. Clearly, this expression is used quite often in France, the land of lateness and cancellations. A good one to know. I, however, don’t plan to pose my lapin anywhere anytime soon (see: my extreme love and affection for my new rabbit fur coat from Antik Batik.)

French idiot of the day: Bertrand Delanoe

This is a new category I created, not only because of the alliteration between “idiot” and “idiom” (see above), but also because…well, I come across at least one every day. Today’s French idiot is Bertrand Delanoe, mayor of Paris, aka the man who thought it would be a great idea to put dangerous killing machines all over the city and disguise them as bicycles for public amusement. While the new “Vélibs” seem to be quite popular with locals and tourists alike, they are, in sum, THE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE. Not only have they installed a Vélib station right underneath of my apartment that runs almost the entire length of my street and thus attracts Vélib riders of all forms at all hours of the day and night, but now I have to walk around not only avoiding dog poop on the sidewalk, flying cigarettes and that sketchy French guy I never called back the other day, but also bikers riding at the speed of light next to me. Sacre bleu! The streets of St Germain des pres used to be a safe haven for me; now, I walk down the rue de Buci and need to avoid being trampled by a little old lady on a bike. What has the world come to? The Vélibs are also dangerous for those riding on them – I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen buses .0004 centimeters away from crushing Vélibbers. The taxi drivers hate them (I know this because somehow every time I’m out at night, someone must write “Please vent to me” on my forehead because cab drivers always enjoy complaining to me about the Vélibs, their salaries and rowdy passengers on my way home for some reason unbeknownst to me), the bus drivers hate them and I certainly hate them. Come on Bertrand, you got rid of smoking INSIDE, now get rid of these damn bikes OUTSIDE. Merci beaucoup.

Quote of the Week: “I made another decision today. I’m not dying […] And even if I fail, they say if you keep getting excited about life, the blood rushes to your brain better. I’ll love life, Alan.” -Denny Crane, on his “mad cow disease”/Alzheimers on “Boston Legal”

Other, less profound, quote(s) of the week: Jenny vs. Vanessa over hottie Nate on “Gossip Girl”:
Jenny: "What's wrong, Vanessa, are you that desperate?!"

Vanessa: Why what's wrong Jenny, are you that jealous?!

Jenny: "Oh My God!!!"

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

10 Things I love this week

1) Nulla

“Australia” is the most expensive film ever to be shot in…well, Australia obviously. And, despite the fact that the world’s economy is in turmoil and there are people starving across the globe, I think it was money well spent. Baz Luhrmann’s epic film boasts incredible cinematography – the landscapes of Australia and widescreen shots of stampeding cattle and horses are absolutely breathtaking. Nicole Kidman is stunning in her best role yet – she manages to mix off-beat humor with emotional sincerity in her portrayal of strong yet sensitive British woman, Lady Sarah Ashley, aka “Miss Boss”. Kidman’s chemistry with Hugh Jackman is electrical – not only do the two make a physically perfect couple (hear that, Brad and Angelina?), but their love scenes manage to be credible despite the overlying melodramatic cliché à la Luhrmann. Jackman makes a studly cowboy – I’d let him explore my outback whenever he wants, what a hunk ! The actor showed off his French-speaking flare at the Paris premiere of the film on Monday night. Jackman wowed the crowd by reading a scripted intro during which he taught the mostly Gallic audience members some Australian lingo. Nicole Kidman looked radiant as usual in a sparkly silver and black dress as she joined Jackman and director Luhrmann on stage. “Australia” brings us back to the olden days when movies told stories, made audiences laugh and cry within the same breath, and kept everyone tied to the edge of their seats. The “Wizard of Oz” mise-en-scene is a bit over-the-top (or more like over-the-rainbow), but all is forgiven as we find ourselves teary-eyed as the famous "somewhere over the rainbow" song plays in the background and we remember our childhood dreams. “Australia” is a tragedy, an adventure movie and a love story all in one (yes, there’s time for all of that – the movie runs almost 3 hours long). Luhrmann’s re-telling of Australian history is ambitious, epic and highly entertaining. And I dare you not to fall in love with Nulla, the mixed-race young hero of the film, played by the incredible young actor Brandon Walter. Though Kidman and Jackman tower above him in stature, Walter holds his own as the feisty yet emotionally unwavering half-white, half-Aborigenese boy who sings his way somewhere over the rainbow. So follow, follow, follow, follow, follow the yellow brick road….to your nearest theater to see the grandiose “Australia.” (Or if you’re in France, you’ll have to wait until the film’s release on Dec. 24th) Sure, it’s cheesy at times and some of the love scenes are completely ridiculous, but isn’t that what a movie should be? I was ready to leap out of my seat and cheer every time Kidman and Jackman reunited. I can’t remember the last time I felt that way in a theater, and I see quite a lot of movies. Thank you, Baz Luhrmann for bringing the magic back to the cinema and reminding audiences (and me) that there’s no place like … the movie theater.

2) Bubble Tea

While the concept of gelatinous black balls hovering in my tea was a bit strange at first, I am now going bubbles over bubble tea. The Taiwanese delicacy features tea – hot or cold, with milk or without – with tapioca pearls, that one drinks with a large, wide straw. I discovered Bubble Tea at my new favorite Taiwanese tea room (okay, so it’s the only Taiwanese tea room I know, but it’s cool, I swear) Zen Zoo, located on the rue Chabanais in the 2nd arrondissement. Their ginger tea will clear your sinuses – it’s a powerful jolt of ginger-filled energy – and their milk teas combine delectable flavors of sesame, green tea or coconut. While I thought I’d discovered a little unknown hideaway, Zen Zoo gets packed late afternoon with bubble tea-loving Parisians and their take-away counter is always crowded. I’ve never tried the food there, but the dishes roaming by me on my numerous trips there smelled delicious, and sell at ostensibly affordable prices.

3) Nespresso Caramel flavor

Global economic crisis? What? You’d think they were giving away gold for free, the way people are lining up at Nespresso stores across the city. There’s no gold, but there are shiny yellow spheres on sale – that is, the new seasonal flavors of the common over-the-sales-counter drug we call Nespresso. This year’s special holiday season flavors include: mandarine orange, caramel and ginger. While I nearly spit out the mandarine orange during a taste test (read: I thought I’d sample all three scents at one time while waiting on line) (see: my heart rate has hit an all-time high), the ginger flavor is subtle yet delicious and the caramel is stronger, but wonderful. I recommend the caramel “long” with some milk and sugar for a luscious homemade caramel latté. (and, by “homemade,” I of course mean I press a button, wait a few seconds, then add a bit of milk and sugar and – voilà! My kind of homemade cooking!) I’m still waiting for George Clooney to pop up and serve me a coffee just like in the ubiquitous advertisements, but even without George, it’s très bien.

4) “Agathe Cléry”

This musical comedy directed by Etienne Chatilliez stars the funniest woman in France (or shall I say the funniest FRENCH woman in France ;), Valerie Lemercier, as a racist marketing director who develops a rare skin disease that turns her skin black. The musical score, composed by Matthew Hebert, is fabulous and will have you singing about racism all night. Lemercier is fantastic – who knew the girl got rhythm?? She can dance ! – and the supporting cast, wonderful too. It’s far from the movie of the year, but I’m hoping it will perform well here in Gaul – let’s hope Black don’t crack at the box office ! The film premiered in Paris on Sunday night complete with an after-party at Danish restaurant Flora Danica/le Copenhague. The film’s cast, including Valerie Lemercier, Isabelle Nanty and Anthony Kavanagh nibbled on salmon and sipped champagne with a view of Paris from the top of the Champs-Elysées hot spot.

5) Porridge

It was like a scene from “Goldilocks and the three French bears.” My porridge at Rose Bakery was neither too hot nor too cold, it was indeed “just right.” Only my chair was a little too small, there was no bed to sleep in, and I actually had to pay for my porridge (what a little thief that Goldilocks!). While the Rose Bakery variety is fantastic, I’ve also been making my own homemade version of porridge – in America, we call it oatmeal. In France, they call it …. Actually, they don’t call it anything at all. Nobody eats oatmeal here, and most French people don’t even know what it is. Quel dommage! (“What a shame!”) Because oatmeal is not only one of the best ways to keep warm in winter, but it’s also a very healthy food. It’s rich in fiber, helps to lower cholesterol, has phytochemicals that help fight heart disease and… well, it tastes really good with maple syrup, brown sugar, honey and/or raisins. Join the porridge party !

6) Hôtel Bel-Ami

This hidden gem of a boutique hotel in St German-des-pres is unknown to most tourists, but it’s a great left bank spot to crash – whether for a few minutes for just un café in the bar, or for a few nights in the hotel. The Hôtel Bel-Ami, is not only home to the TV shoots of Rebecca Leffler (I’ve filmed shows there almost every other day this Fall), but it also boasts a nice bar/café area, a cute little spa/fitness center, and not too shabby rooms as well. Bring your bel ami to the Bel Ami !

7) The Starter Wife

Welcome to Mollywood! Debra Messing brings “grace” to her role as Hollywood divorcee/Mom/budding writer in this wonderful USA series, now in it’s … well officially first season, but there was a mini-series just last year with pretty much the same cast and storyline. Messing is brilliant – she brings her witty performance savvy from “Will & Grace” and adds more heavy emotion. The show strips Hollywood down to its bare bones for a satirical look at life after divorce in Tinseltown. The supporting cast is fabulous – Hart Bochner is bookworm buff as Molly’s writing teacher/current flame (why did I never have writing teachers that look like him?), and Judy Davis, Chris Diamantopolous and Danielle Nicolet provide wonderful distractions as Molly’s group of eccentric friends. G-d bless the USA…network !

8) Sally Brompton

Dear Sally Brompton, WHO ARE YOU? How do you always know exactly what is going on in my life? It’s uncanny the way my NY Post horoscope is always right on the mark. It’s scary sometimes how you have an eery ability to see what’s really in my stars. What’s your secret? Where are you getting this information? Do you have hidden cameras following me around that you use for material for your “Virgo” section? In any case, keep it up, it’s nice to see the stars and I are on the same page (literally, the same page, I believe it’s page 7 in the Post?) And it’s not just Virgos, apparently. I have a friend who is a Sagittarius and also swears by your prophecies. Keep it coming, Sally B. ! Love, Virgo in Paris

9) Acerola

Acerola, also known as Barbados cherry (which sounds like something young girls do on spring break) or wild crapemyrtle, is a tropical fruit with a high vitamin C content. Acerola juice contains 32 times the amount of vitamin C in orange juice, and is a great way to add vitamins and energy especially in winter when our immune systems are suffering. I get my acerola fix at Bob’s Juice Bar – yes, I FINALLY made it to the original spot on the Canal Saint Martin where I sampled not only a delicious quinoa salad and coffee cake muffin, but also a healthy concoction of carrot, apple, lemon, ginger and acerola. Acerola is the new O.J., haven’t you heard? ;)

10) The fact that le Bon Marché will be open on SUNDAY every weekend in December

If you live in America, you’re probably thinking ‘Big deal, everything is open on Sunday anyway!’ If you live in France, you’re thinking ‘Holy merde! OPEN? On a SUNDAY? No way, I don’t believe it.’ Oui oui, mes amis, despite the fact that the entire city of Paris (other than, perhaps, some stores and cafes in Le Marais – go Jews!) closes on Sundays, le Bon Marche will be opening its doors to local holiday shoppers (and swarms of tourists) on Sundays through the end of December. While I may risk being trampled by Japanese tourists rushing to the Louis Vuitton stand or American tourists rushing to the bread counter in la Grande Epicerie, it’s a small price to pay for such exciting news !

French expression of the day: “Se géler les miches” – to be freezing cold. If you’re coming to Paris anytime in the imminent future, there’s an expression you’ll be learning, whether you like it or not. Welcome to la Tundra…

Street of the day: Via LaFleur in Italy !
(further proof that I do indeed have Italian grandparents hidden somewhere with a fresh bowl of pasta ala norma waiting for me)