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!


Anonymous said...

Absolutely love your comments/insights! They are so true and hilarious at the same time :D

SShoemaker said...

I just stumbled across your blog today and am so happy I found it! I'm a total francophile and while I've only spent 5 months living in Paris (study-abroad in Fall '07) and a short trip in other parts (Niot/L'Ile d'Oleron) I can truly relate you your love/hate list. The comment about the crowded metro made me remember a nearly awful experience due to a greve where I was stuck in St. Lazare at 11:00pm trying to get on one of the Transilien trains. Unfortunately, there were no trains, so it was either walk to Bois Colombes (in the dark, alone!) or sleep in the station. With the biggest stroke of luck in my entire life, a man pulled up to the taxi line in a brand new VW van offering to take people out toward Colombes. A bunch of people got into the van with me and he drove us all home for free! Paris is such a great city, but Parisians are pretty nuts (even though I still love them dearly). I'm definitely going to keep reading your blog... it's like a vacation and certainly cheaper than a ticket to CDG!

Rebecca Leffler said...

Glad you like it ! I'm in need of an update I know. I will get on that ! And oh how I wish my life was "like a vacation" as you say ! (OK, sometimes it's close, I admit. :) Thanks for your note - bisous !