Annecy In My Panntsy

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

A cool feature of living in France is the ability to find interesting places far removed from normal tourist path.

OK, I just read that sentence and immediately hated everything about it. Oh, it conveys the sentiment appropriately, but does so in a way that would even put Rick Steves to sleep. I am going to try that again.

Do you like cool, old shit and melted cheese? I do, and found a boatload of it in a amazing little town that I had never heard of.

This is closer. I am tempted to leave it at that, but I really think I can do better. Nothing is coming to me right now, though, so I will go ahead and write the post. By the end, I will have a beginning so exciting that Rick Steves will bite the head off an angry chicken. Believe it.

Annecy is a town in Eastern France located at the base of the French Alps. It is directly south of Geneva if you are into maps, (and let’s face it, who’s not into maps.) It is a pretty satisfying mix of old world charm, outdoor adventure spot and place to develop a nasty toe infection. We went there for a long weekend and had an amazing family adventure.

If you like the traditional European experience of wandering around old cobblestone streets dating back to the 11th century, Annecy is a good spot to do it. (OK, I feel your pain, you have been reading this entire post without having been told how to pronounce the name of the town we went to. I will ease your discomfort: Ahnsie. Make the sound like when the doctor is looking at your sore throat, then finish with the way a petite, Mexican debutante would answer a question in the affirmative if she were guessing, {“Si?”} Got it? Make no pause from taking pronunciation advice from someone who doesn’t say the word, “Pronunciation” correctly.)

The textured streets blend quaintly into multi-colored buildings and it seems like every tiny alley you turn down in Annecy is a potential erectile event for Rick Steves. (I’m warming up!) We spent the better part of an entire day just walking, eating and looking at old shit. Losing yourself amongst the bustle in a town like this is such a cool experience that even Malcolm was appreciative.

Annecy is situated near a lake bearing its name and nestled amongst the towering, snow-capped Alps. It is like a skinnier version, less meth-y version of Lake Tahoe. We took advantage of the location by taking (an admittedly chilly) boat ride around the lake and then later heading up the mountain for some time in the snow. Malcolm and Amy were so excited by the prospect of being in sunny, powdery snow that they rented cross country skis and made a lap around the forest groomed course. They had a blast! Where was I and why didn’t I accompany them? This was what I was up to:

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You were wondering when I was going to come back to that, weren’t you? So, this happened, and not only did this little piggy fail to make it to the market, it hurt like hell. It had it all: tenderness, searing pain when moved, pus. So while Amy and Malcolm were off frolicking around the forest on their skis, I sat like a pile of bear turd on a heap of snow. It was a tad embarrassing, but with a toe like this, they really didn’t want to be near me anyways.

Annecy is a tourist destination and the food was reflective of that. We were able to avoid the most overly-touristic places to enjoy Haute-Savoie cuisine as it was intended. Incidentally, Haute-Savoie translates to, “High Cabbage,” so don’t go there looking for culinary sophistication. Of course, catering to tourists means that you have to do street desserts well, and the chocolate-whipped cream laden waffle Malcolm got and took 20 minutes to finish did not disappoint. One of the specialties of the region is/was fondue, and Amy and I played the always dangerous game, “When should I stop eating this fondue so I don’t feel like crap?” The fondue we tried was composed of a few different local cheeses and wine, and the resulting hot, bubbling bowl of velvety heaven was the perfect match for the fresh bread used as the vehicle to get it in our mouths. Malcolm really doesn’t like the funkiness of French cheeses, so the game he played was, “How rare of a burger will they cook  for an eight year old boy?” He really likes his raw meat, and we spent a fun evening sharing a meal that I can totally imagine Rick Steves enjoying (with the stuffed corpse of his mother, which he keeps in his apartment and whom he NEVER gets cross with.)

Annecy has a ton of stuff going for it, and we had a remarkable time there. We will definitely go back in the summer, mostly to partake in the myriad of summer activities available: biking, hiking, boating, golfing, etc. I think there is a little part of Amy and Malcolm that want to find out if they too can develop a nasty toe infection, but they probably won’t admit it. If you find yourself in France wanting something to do besides the normal museum-laden experience, you should definitely check it out. You can even bring your taxidermied mommy!

OK. Pressure’s on for a tighter opening. I think I have it:

Have you been longing for a place infected with gooey, old world charm and outdoor adventure possibilities that even a petite, Mexican debutante would find alarming? I have the place for you.

Bingo!

As much as I would like to leave a picture of my toe as the sole visual evidence our weekend, I cannot. Here is the rest of our weekend in pictures:

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The train ride from Paris to Annecy was around 3 hours, and provided enough time to do some sort of statistical analysis of European football players and the Paris Metro system.

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The first thing you do when arriving in any European city is find the open air market. Check!

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Hello!

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Nice to meet you!

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Tttthhhhattttt bbbbbbboooatttttt wwwwwwwasss a llllllitttlllllleee chchchchchchilllllllllyy

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Did I mention that Annecy has a lot of canals? It’s the best of Amsterdam and Switzerland, all rolled into something French!

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Courtyards. Everywhere.

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I almost got tired of taking pictures. Almost.

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The red roofs of the old town, taken from a nearby chateau.

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You can probably skip the chateau tour, but there were still some intriguing nuggets tucked away.

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More quaint shit

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Get more French than that, I dare you!

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It’s a good thing everyone bought their paint at different Home Depots there.

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Our view at lunchtime at an outdoor cafe.

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We really hearted Annecy

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If only they made ‘em this big.

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Little chilly, little rainy one afternoon. Hot chocolate time!

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Sometimes you attack the dessert…

 

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Sometimes it attacks you.

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Of course we stopped at a place with this name for crepes and waffles.

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I’m going to go with, yes!

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Fresh snow and sunshine makes for good scenery.

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And eating!

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Luckily, the Olympics were just on, so they knew how to do it.

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Immediately after this pic was taken, he fell, twisted his knee, and had to be saved by daddy. That’s what happens when you try to set the new world record.

We bought these little gems at the open air market. Kind made the whole toe thing seem like it was for the best.

When Your Kids Annoy You

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Malcolm Stories

The unfortunate truth about living here is that, despite the mouth watering delicacies, the limitless supply of art and culture and crazy-interesting patterns of dog shit all over the sidewalks, you must still be a parent. Call me naive, but I thought that we would all be so wrapped up in the experience of living abroad that Malcolm would be an angel and I would effortlessly continue my reign as #2 parent of all time. (Octomom, I’m gunning for you!)* Alas, to my great dismay, one must still be a parent when they move to Paris. Blah.

To make things exceedingly difficult, Malcolm has hit a “development milestone,” which is clinician-speak for “I don’t know who my kid is and I don’t like him.” Every so often, your kid makes a huge push forward and changes in a way that is simultaneously surprising and frustrating; surprising because it involves behavioral changes that seem to spring from nowhere, and frustrating because you have no idea how to react. For everyone who tires of being begged  to engage in imaginative play all day long or doesn’t particularly like being bitten on the love handles (Malcolm’s favorite cut of parent) stepping into a new plane of development is often welcome. Figuring out the newest iteration of your kid is tough, though, and represents one of the greatest challenges we face as parents.

Up until now, I have generally enjoyed each new version of Malcolm. Each successive iteration came with new activities, new things to talk about, and new ways to enjoy one another. Until this one. This one feels like a lemon. This one steals anything not tied down and hoards it in his room. It is lazy to the point where it can’t even get it’s own towel after getting out of the bath tub. This one loses everything, whether it is a 10 Euro note it has obviously stolen from me, or a new watch that was proclaimed the, “greatest gift ever” when bestowed a week and a half prior. At the dinner table recently, this one chewed a long piece of cabbage like a cow (slowly and with most of it sticking out the side of its mouth.) When the cabbage fell out of its mouth onto the ground, this one, when asked about it, said, “What cabbage?” Arrgh!

If it only were as simple as him posing with pastries.

If it only were as simple as him posing with pastries.

To cap it off, this one either refuses to communicate, communicates in one word sentences, or engages in lengthy communications to inform you of what a crappy parent/person/cook you are. Whereas interactions with former models were interesting and oft surprising with the stuff it’d come up with, conversations now feel like interrogations, with the roles of interrogator and interrogatee  switching multiple times throughout. Most blind dates (even those between computer engineers from different sides of the pro-choice/pro-life spectrum) have smoother conversations than we do right now. Maddeningly, he refuses to look at the person he is talking to, and at times I think he is Keyser Soze, constantly scanning the room to come up the material to feed his web of lies. Double Arrg!

Perhaps you are thinking, “Let’s see: lazy, irresponsible, mischievous, sloppy, doesn’t speak good, generally irritates those around him, that sounds like someone I know whose name rhymes with Pig Baddy Dall!” Oh, I know. There is really only room enough for person like that in this house. Amy won’t stand for any more! If there is going to a bunch of lying, cheating, stealing and irritating, around here, I am going to be the one to do it. Your job as a parent isn’t to raise your kid to be the person that you are, it is to raise your kid to be the person you want to be (and one day will actually get around to becoming.) I want Malcolm to become the awesome person that I pretend I am when filling out online personality quizzes.

Honestly, I have no ideas for how to make that happen. I know that if Malcolm continues on the path he is currently on, he will become the 15th child in the Octomom household. I am hoping that he will regress a little toward the mean and that we will learn some better coping mechanisms than, “Stop doing that, it’s annoying.” It’s too bad, too, because sometimes I feel like we miss out on some Parisian adventures because one of us is trying to make a point. If the French had a term for such a predicament, it would probably be something like, “That’s life.” OK, enough venting. The next post will be France related.

* You might think it odd that my #1 Parent ever was the Octomom. Before dismissing this outright, consider the following:

Octomom had six kids and no job. Most people would find such a circumstance debilitating. Not the Octomom. You know what the Octomom did to help support those six kids?

She had eight more kids! Think about that: eight fucking kids! When was the last time you thought about finances or the future? At that time did you think, “The answer to my problem is to have eight kids.”?

No, no you didn’t. You couldn’t muster that much courage.

Then, to ensure the future for all those kids, Octomom made an adult movie. Whoa, talk about effort. I have never considered jamming something into one of my body orifices for Malcolm. Have you? Would Claire Huxtable? Once again, the answer is no. In comparison, we have done so little on behalf of our kids.

And that is why Octomom is the #1 parent of all time.

Anatomy Of A Dish: Steak Tartare

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

As you might suspect, the food here in France is crazy good. Who wouldn’t want to eat in a country that has more potato dishes than deodorant brands? Seriously, in the French version of Forrest Gump, the subtitles reveal that Forrest wants to open his own potato stand, instead selling his versions of, “Pommes frites, pommes dauphine, pommes noisettes,” etc. (I would have preferred the dubbed version and hear Forrest’s pronounciation of the dishes, “pohwm freet, pohwm dohwfeen…” but, alas, it was not to be.)

Even with all these classic dishes tantalizing us here, there are a few things that people back in the US would find a little off-putting. As a public service, I will occasionally try one of these less appealing dishes and report back on what I find. I am starting the exercise with a little something called Steak Tartare.

If you are like me, you probably think steak tartare is just hamburger that is, for whatever reason, uncooked. This is not true. A hamburger is a fatty glob of ground beef. (If that sounds negative, it is not because I don’t like burgers. To me, a properly executed burger is 15 minutes of culinary bliss, on par with such things as buttered popcorn and anything deep fried and served at a county fair.) The idea of eating a raw burger is disgusting, though, and on par with eating such things as buttered uncooked popcorn kernels and a wet glob of unfried dough.

Here served with a little basil oil.

Here served with a little basil oil.

Steak tartare is no uncooked burger. It is perfectly lean, meaning there isn’t a hint of fat in it. It is just good old fashioned muscle, hopefully from a cow that was whipped with a bamboo stick every day of its life tenderized. While I have heard that some places grind their tartare, I have only had it at places where the cut is chopped into small pea-sized chunks. Ironically, if you tried to make a burger out of a patty made from lean, pea-sized chunks of beef, it would probably suck. (Do any of you tire of reading the phrase, “pea-size chunks of beef”? I don’t! I plan on trying to work it into every day French conversation as soon as I can Google Translate to figure out what the hell I mean by it.)

The pea-size chunks are then mixed with some dijon, some cornichon (cute little pickles, of which I believe the singular and the plural are the same, like deer or Kardashian) some onions, a raw egg yolk and maybe some capers. After mixing, the dish is assembled like a hockey puck on your plate, which you get to tear apart like a velociraptor. To me, it is a perfect combination of acidity, a hint of spiciness and cornichon. I find I am even more attracted to the texture of the dish. It is the tender texture of a perfectly cooked steak, and that is pretty amazing. When paired with wine and pohwm freetz, it is a spectacular bistro dish that I order often. Malcolm likes it too, except he often has to negotiate with the waiter ahead of time to ensure that it doesn’t turn out too vinegar-y for his tastes.

Oddly, the dish has its roots in something called, “Beefsteack à l’Américaine,” although no one is sure why. Did the mid-20th century French culinary world really think that Americans took their beef raw? Everyone knows that, during the 1950′s, Americans took their beef in an aluminum tray, a la Salisbury. Perhaps sensing this inaccuracy, at some point the name for the dish transmogrified into steak tartare, and now the term tartare is used to refer to any number of raw meat preparations. Curiously, it did not make its way into the name of the German dish, “Mett,” which is raw pork served in shape of a hedgehog. I think I know why. everything about Mett sounds fucking disgusting and anything that disgusting deserves to have a name like, “Mett.”

So that is Beef Tartare. Try it sometime! It’s not fatty. It’s not ground up. It’s not served in the shape of a hedgehog.

I think I just came up with a new advertising slogan.

Big Daddy Paul Is Lousy At Making Friends

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Paul is a Dork, Uncategorized

I noticed last week that my best friend in Paris still enjoys playing with stuffed animals. It was a, “What am I doing with my life?” moment, and I stepped up my efforts to make some connections on the friend-front. Granted, I am not expecting to replace all my friends back in the bay area, but it would be nice to have conversations with someone capable of making the “th” sound properly. (“Daddy, da fird grade teacher told me I didn’t do nuffing on Fursday!”)

At first, I looked for other stay at home dads here. After whiffing on a search for stay at home dad groups in Paris, I hit Google for the following:

“Male companionship in France.”

“Other Big Daddies in the city of light”

“How to find guys with little ones in Paris.”

That totally didn’t work, although it did reveal some interesting mustache ideas. Strike two.

I switched things up and hit up a website for English speaking expats here. I found that they were having a coffee for new members to the area and it was right down the street from Malcolm’s school. It sounded perfect! I arrived at the cafe and found three groups of people seated at tables quietly engaged in conversation. I stood there dumbly for a second trying to discern which of the groups were my soon to be expat friends, but my keen ear failed to detect any friendly tongues. I investigated by taking a seat at a nearby table and eventually found the English speakers were. As I prepared to make my entry into the conversation, I realized that the two women seated there were talking about breast-feeding. Abort! Abort! How the hell was I supposed to seamlessly get myself into this conversation?

Briefly, I considered the blunt approach:

Hi! My name is Paul. I am from the United States, and my nipples are killing me too!

I was there to make friends, not creep the hell out of people, so I decided the more prudent course of action would be to just wait it out. I ordered coffee and a croissant and hoped that the topic would fizzle sooner rather than later. Five or ten minutes later, I still hadn’t found an entry point. I was getting worried that if I sat there too much longer, I would just wimp out and go home. Then all I would have is a ton of self-loathing and an overworked anti-virus program. After what I considered an acceptable amount of time to talk about the trials and tribulations of nursing, I regrouped and introduced myself (sans nipple references.) They were nice!

Things went smoothly for a while, all of us talking about our backgrounds and making small talk. Soon, more mommies and soon-to-be-mommies showed up and before long, there were eight or so of us engaged. As my luck would have it, I was trapped at the “We are going to talk about babies the whole time,” part of the table. There was a time in our lives when I would be able to hold my own with topics like “Having a baby in a bathtub” or “C-sections, what was yours like?” Eight years removed from Malcolm’s birth, though, I was not really of much use. The sad thing, though, was that I sat there, mute. I definitely felt like the women there should have the space to talk about all this baby stuff (we sure did when Malcolm was a baby,) but I am just not into it anymore. I chimed in whenever the topic of conversation changed, but like the stank of baby vomit on your sweatshirt that you can never fully get rid of, I felt like I was out of place. Did these women want me there? Did I want to be there?

Who's got one thumb and is occasionally socially awkward?

Who’s got one thumb and is occasionally socially awkward?

Is that weird? Can I ask four questions in a row? (Yes!) I am hardly the first dad who has felt a bit out of place around a group of moms. I must say, though, that this is new for me. My stay at home parenting group when Malcolm was little was a group of guys focused on two things, raising kids and drinking beer (although not always in that order.) I’ll take some lumps learning the ropes in this world of mommies, but hopefully it won’t be anything too severe.

I am perfectly willing to chalk this one experience up to “wrong place, wrong time,” though. When women get together they talk about more than just babies, right? I have to assume so. In many respects, finding friends is eerily similar to the dating scene. Not every date is going to go well. Sometimes your date eats salad with their fingers or checks their cell phone too much. Or, sometimes they talk about the inner workings of their uterus to relative strangers. Either way, the key is to not give up. I won’t. Until then, playing stuffies on Fursdays will have to do.