Reflections On A Year in Paris

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France

In October, we celebrated our one year anniversary in Paris. Whoa. That went blindingly quick. You know how sometimes, at the end of a party, you are unintelligible, your pants are nowhere to be found and you can’t remember the name of the Germans you are in a hot tub with? That’s the way I feel now. (As you can see, a year here has done nothing to improve my metaphors.)

Leaving our USA lives was quite difficult, mostly because it was such a llllllooooooonnnnnnnngggggggg period of time. Or it was supposed to be a long period of time. The year has flown by, a series of whooshing memories, highlighted by painful quasi-French interactions, travel memories and some really good wine. I feel the need to take stock of things, and will do so now:

I guess I should have translated the word "Bijoux." This picture is less cool if it turns out to mean, "Disposable Chopsticks."

I guess I should have translated the word “Bijoux” before including here. This picture is less cool if it turns out to mean, “Disposable Chopsticks.”

When we first got here, we were understandably interested in “French” things. We wanted to learn all the little differences and soak them up. We delighted in the fact that salad comes after dinner here and that you don’t need to refrigerate your milk or eggs. The French have a slew of official and unofficial holidays with unique ways of celebrating them. We loved the differences! Then, slowly, Paris started to lose its shine. I noticed that Asian rug stores had going-out-of-business sales every month. Episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (nee, Buffy Contre Les Vampires) are always on. When low voter turnout lead to right wing political gains in the last French elections, I had to ask myself, “Is it really all that different here?”

There are also amazing scenes all over this city. I will never tire of just heading out with a camera and capturing some magic.

There are also amazing scenes all over this city. I will never tire of just heading out with a camera and capturing some magic.

Perhaps out of the realization that life in Paris isn’t too dissimilar from life back home, we are starting to revisit things we thought we had to give up while here. I have been reunited with hot sauce (and it feels so good!) We golf. Movie night is a perfectly respectable way to spend an evening, and I spent much of October waking up in the middle of the night to listen to my San Francisco Giants win the World Series. Old habits die hard and we have stopped fighting. If the French can at Burger King, is it wrong that I wear tennis shoes every once in a while? I think not.

The museum scene here is staggering, still. Malcolm is really into World War II right now, having begun reading the Henderson’s Boys books by Robert Muchamore. On our way to the World War II exhibit at the Musee de l’Armee, we detoured. Malcolm wanted to show us stuff he had seen on a field trip to the Musee d’Orsay and we happily obliged. We ended up with a relatively uncrowded viewing of Whistler’s Mother, Von Gogh’s Starry Night, sculptures by Rodin and numerous other masterpieces. Back home, we might detour to stop at the mall or grab something at Starbucks. Here, the unplanned activities involve seeing some of the most famous pieces of art in the history of the world. Like I said, staggering. This is quite the unique opportunity.

The Eiffel Tower is like a dead whale being eaten by a pack of sharks. You wouldn't want to get close (tourists, pickpockets, etc.) but afar: pretty cool.

The Eiffel Tower is like a dead whale being eaten by a pack of sharks. You wouldn’t want to get close (tourists, pickpockets, etc.) but from afar: pretty cool.

The food scene in Paris is radically different than we would have guessed upon arrival. The charming open air markets that dot the landscape here sell factory farmed fruits and vegetables from decidedly un-French places like North Africa and South America. Hamburgers are a hot commodity on menus here. 70-90% of Parisian restaurants are reheating frozen food. Mind you, the onion soup made in centralized kitchens is pretty good, but then again, so is an Awesome Blossom. If you want to find fresh food prepared by real chefs at a restaurant, you have to work much harder than you think. The processed food industry has hit the French food scene and hit it hard.

So, there you have it, the state of our state of mind, if you will. To be sure, France has changed us, but not as much as I might have thought. We have a little over seven months left in our adventure, and nobody knows what we have in store. Actually, now that I come to think of it, the Germans in the hot tub said something about knowing our future. If only I could remember…

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Paul is a Dork

One of the French traditions that I am loving the most right now is the Sunday Roast Chicken. (Don’t even think of stealing the name for your bowling team. I got dibs.) Sacrosanct, like scarves or complaining about your landlord, there is nothing finer than sitting around the table on a day of rest, enjoying fresh, uncomplicated food with your people. Based on my recent experiences making this traditional meal, I have prepared a step-by-step guide so that you can do this at home. Here it is:

Step 1- Get a chicken. Why settle for a supermarket chicken? My favorite is to go to our open air market and select one from the many butcher stands there. On Saturday, my favorite butchers had a nice, plump 2.5 kilogram chicken, complete with information about the farm it was raised on. Even without a detailed description of how this bird spent its days, I could tell from the meaty legs that it got a lot of exercise playing games like, “Chicken rugby” or “Holy crap, here comes the dog, run for your lives!” With a bird in the hand, I returned to our house to cook it.

Step 2- Prepare the bird. Some people are overly fussy about their pre-roasting routine, brining, marinating, and/or seasoning under the chicken’s skin. Here, the meat is so wonderfully chicken-y that I just rub a lot of salt and pepper on the outside. This last time, I got ready to do so and discovered this:

IMG_2501

So, yes. I guess on prior trips to the market the butchers took pity on meand removed the head (and feet!) themselves. Perhaps I have begun to fit in a little around here, and this one made it home looking a little less “Marie Antoinette” than I would have hoped. I briefly procrastinated by removing the internal organs before gearing up for the final task. If this happens to you, don’t worry. You have the skills to do this.

Step 3- Cut the head off the chicken. It’s simple really. Even so, when it happened to me, I stared into the dead chicken’s eye for a few minutes and, unable to proceed, I decided to take a quick detour from the task at hand.

Step 4- Open a bottle of wine. Sure, you probably going to drink some with the Sunday Roast Chicken, anyways, but I needed some wine to just get to the point where I could get the stupid thing in the oven. I drank the wine (more like a shot than I would care to admit,) and even forced some down the chicken’s throat. None of the involved parties should be sober when cutting off a chicken’s head.

Step 5- Do it. With my newly found liquid courage, I commenced the beheading. I split the job into 2 steps, since I wanted to keep the neck for use in making chicken stock. First, I severed the head at the top of the neck. It went through surprisingly easily. Then, I rolled back the skin of the neck near the chicken’s body and found a place to hack through with a knife. When I was done, the trachea fell out of the neck, as did the contents of my lunch shortly thereafter.

Step 6- Gross your kids out. Having a newly severed chicken head is a wonderful way to get back at your kids for getting on your nerves. Don’t miss the opportunity.

Step 7- Roast the chicken. I heated up the oven to 190 degrees and then rested the bird on top of a layer of potatoes.

I really wanted to make this post about the simple, wonderful tradition of a family meal together. But seriously. I had a chicken head! What was I supposed to do, pretend it wasn’t there? Not me. You all know how to roast a chicken, it’s not rocket science. What you probably don’t know is what to do with a chicken head and some free time. I got you covered. Without further ado, here is how the chicken head and I spent the rest of the day.

First, I introduced my friend to my fantasy football team. He said I should have drafted Andrew Cluck.

First, I introduced my friend to my fantasy football team. He said I should have drafted Andrew Cluck.

 

Then, we re-enacted some famous scenes from movies. If I was a famous movie producer, I sure wouldn't want to wake up with this in my bed!

Then, we re-enacted some famous scenes from movies. Don’t mess with those Corleones!

 

Next, we had some philosophical debates. He got his feathers in a bunch over it though.

Next, we had some philosophical debates.

 

Next, we chilled out and watched some TV. I thought he'd only be into animal planet, but it turns out he's into the period dramas.

After, we chilled out and watched some TV. I thought he’d only be into animal planet, but it turns out he’s into the period dramas. Who knew!

 

Alas, only so much time could pass before he wanted to see some more of Paris. He wanted to go up it, but the lines were too long.

Alas, only so much time could pass before he wanted to see some more of Paris. What a beautiful day on the Seine for me and my chicken head!

 

Finally, our time together came to an end. (He started to smell something awful.) His final resting place befitted his status as "Something extra on our dinner that I never really wanted." That's him next to the soda can at the bottom.

Finally, our time together came to an end. (He started to smell something awful.) His final resting place befitted his status as “Something extra on our dinner that I never really wanted.” That’s him next to the water bottle at the bottom.

 

Chicken head, I will always remember our special day together. You taught me a lot, and made me constantly dry heave. Cue the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing.

Chicken head, I will always remember our special day together. You taught me a lot, and made me constantly dry heave. Cue the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing.

Whoa, America is Different

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France, Uncategorized

Life abroad is difficult. Not difficult in a “I live on the Gaza Strip,” kind of way, but rather more like, “They don’t have my favorite fabric softener here!”.  There will inevitably come a time during every expat assignment when you have the opportunity to return back home an extended stay. Each expat hears a different calling. Amy heard work calling, the opportunity to return to her colleagues at headquarters instead of the Parisian office, abandoned by Les Vacances. My calling? Nacho cheese. Unsurprisingly, they don’t do canned cheese well in France.

So, we are in the United States for 3+ weeks. Amy will be working. Malcolm will be goofing off with his friends. I will be nachoing. (It’s a verb. It’s totally a verb!)

Having been back a few days, I am quite mindful of the differences. Here is what I’ve noticed:

Everything here is larger. The portions at restaurants are insane! Our Parisian washing machine can actually fit in the washing machine we have here. American toilet paper rolls are enormous, and this must be directly related to the size of American butts. You can make the argument that bigger isn’t necessarily better, but, unless you like doing extra loads of laundry or staring at boring, flat European butts, you’d be wrong.

Ok, the size of everything here is most of the difference. Owing mostly to a distinct lack of originality, here are some more size jokes:

An American menu and a French menu were sitting at the bar. The French menu took one look at its American counterpart and said, “You’re a fat piece of shit.” Seriously! We have seen menus in our short time here that are six pages long, pictures included. Hospital admission forms in France are not six pages long.

Our freezer in Paris is sufficiently small that we cannot fit a bottle of Vodka in it. You have the space to actually distill vodka in our American freezer.

So things are indeed different there. This is how Luke Skywalker would stand if he were looking for power converters in Paris. Pretty sure he would be striking a different pose in Oakland.

So things are indeed different there. This is how Luke Skywalker would stand if he were looking for power converters in Paris. Pretty sure he would be striking a different pose in Oakland.

There is more space in the cereal aisle in a grocery store here than in our entire market in Paris. I walked into a Safeway here and was struck by how much larger it was than the Louvre. The Louvre is one of the largest art collections in the world. Safeway has a million kinds of chips.

The average French car could sit in the back seat of an average American car.

Malcolm ordered a deli sandwich yesterday. It had ten times as much meat as a French sandwich. You should not ever eat anything that has ten times the meat of something else you eat.

The Champs-Élysées is the grandest street in Paris, large and opulent. It is the host of nearly every important celebration in France, and one of the most recognizable sights in one of the most heavily touristed cities on the planet. It would be the fourth largest street in Oakland.

They have soda machines here that dispense shockingly large amounts of soda to customers. The cups here are the size of most French suitcases, and contain enough ice and soda to make your pancreas groan. At most places you can order soda in Paris, they will bring you a shot glass size bottle of soda and a glass with one ice cube, (if you ask!) I love soda, but seeing the soda machines here spewing out buckets of the stuff is pretty startling. I fantasize about putting my mouth directly under the spout and guzzling some Dr. Pepper straight from the source. The only thing that keeps me from doing so is the realization that if I did, I would have ten times the meat of my former self. Unacceptable.

We are enjoying being home, visiting our friends, noticing the differences and taking a respite from living in a challenging and wonderful and frustrating and different place. Being here is nice. We’ll have to see what it is like to leave again. I bring some fabric softener though.

Les Vacances

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France

If there is one thing I have learned in our time in France is that if the French are intent on doing something, they to do it well. They have exacting protocols to ensure that wine, cheese, meat, bread, butter, and even lentils all are produced as advertised. (Trust me, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen a Frenchman get upset over the quality, or lack thereof, of his legumes.) The French take their fashion very seriously, and spend hours on end discussing the role of the current government in ruining everything they hold dear. They also place a great importance on leisure, regulating everything about the workweek from the number of hours you can work (35) to the time of day when you can no longer send work-related emails, (6:00 pm). Also, and at the heart of the French attitude towards leisure, during the summer the French take, “Les Vacances.”

“Les Vacances” is the name given to that substantial portion of the summer whereby the French flee their homes and hit the road. Spending a good chunk of the summer on vacation is a fact of life for the French; it is a crucial means to use part of the six weeks of vacation time their employers are mandated to provide by law. (!) Typically, they head south or west, heading towards the water, but the “where” isn’t all that important. It is only important that they go somewhere, and the fact that they are all doing it together at the same time creates a sense of distinct national well-being.

Raise your hands if you like vacations!

Raise your hands if you like vacations!

Wanting to fit in, we planned an ambitious travel schedule ourselves. Last week, we hit the beach in Holland, spending some time in the impossible-to-pronounce-in-English seaside town of Scheveningen. (When enunciated correctly, the town sounds like an old, beat up car with a dead battery trying to will its way into starting.) We are now in Ireland for a few days. This weekend, we will travel to Bordeaux to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Next weekend, we travel back to the United States where I will reprise my role as village idiot of our hometown, Oakland.

Before you go congratulating us for joining the French leisure class, realize this: with the exception of our weekend in Bordeaux, Amy is working for all of these trips. She travels a lot and has found that she’d rather us join her on her trips and we can spend the evenings together than be without us, even if it means a bit of envy with our day being a little more fun than hers. Of course, as a stay at home parent, heading out on the road does not mean that I am free from my day-to-day duties as a parent. I still need to find places to stay, things to do, and put food on the table, even if I don’t cook it myself. This is the part of the post where you feel bad for me because my life is so difficult.

Bon voyage Malcolm! Those flight attendants have no idea what is in store for them...

Bon voyage Malcolm! Those flight attendants have no idea what is in store for them…

As of a few hours ago, however, I am truly on vacation. This morning, we dropped off Malcolm at the security checkpoint for his first ever solo flight. That’s right, little Malkie is flying by himself, and the skies will never be the same. Outwardly, he will be as cool as Don Draper, but I am sure the inside his mind will be as random as an episode of Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I am not worried about him, the abundance of in-flight entertainment on airplanes nowadays ensures that he will be plugged into movies/shows/games until the plane has taxied to the gate in San Francisco.

Malcolm is flying home to spend some quality time with his grandparents. I am not sure whether he was more excited to get spoiled by his grandparents or have the exhilarating experience of flying alone. (He has already promised me he is going to ask the flight attendants for some bourbon on the flight.) He’ll be fine, and even if we are struggling a bit with the realization that our son is old enough to fly across the planet by himself. We will reunited with Malcolm in ten days, when we arrive in the United States. To be sure, it won’t be a proper vacances, but the village idiot rarely does anything the proper way.