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…
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 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/20/health/nutrition/20recipehealth.html?emc=eta1 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.
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!!!"