Another Day In Paradise

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Paul is a Dork

So this happened (For simplicity sake, conversations in French are noted with italics):

I started my day with my post-Malcolm drop-off walk in the park. Last week, I saw Mary Joe Fernandez and Patrick McEnroe in the park, as the French Open is going on right now. Today, I only saw a cute old beagle. Or, maybe it was one of the German mixed doubles players. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Anyways, my walk was pretty aggressive. I stopped often to do pushups, squats, danced a little to the Beasties, and got several minutes of planking in. I was very sweaty and tired at the end, and the resulting mental fatigue was probably why I tried to make out with the beagle on my way out of the park.

My day continued with a trip to the golf store. We are going to Norway this weekend and, you know, no sane person goes to Norway without bringing their golf clubs, right? At the golf store, this conversation took place:

Golf man: Where are you going to play golf?

Paul: How?

GM: Where are you, err, Where are you going to go play golf?

P: Oh. Norway.

GM: Where?

P: Norway?


GM: Why?

GM: Unintelligible negative sentiment.

Luckily, they had golf club travel carriers in stock and soon on I was on my merry way home. The man asked if I wanted a bag, but being only a few blocks from our house, I declined.

As I approached our street, I felt like there was something wrong, like the feeling you get on a blind date when the person across the table asks if you enjoy having tea parties with cats. I quickly searched my pockets and discovered that my phone was missing. Evidently, awkwardly carrying the golf travel carriers (without a bag) had dislodged my phone out of my pocket, leaving me with absolutely no ability to play scrabble or stalk my friends on Facebook. What a disaster!

I briefly retraced my last few minutes, and seeing no evidence of my phone, did what any self respecting, sweaty Parisian would do, I went home, showered and put on pants. My next few moves were going to depend on the kindness of strangers, and navigating the complex world of cell phone cancellation while sweaty and dressed in workout gear wasn’t going to get me any favors. So, while someone was possibly out there running up my cellular bill, I bathed and put on some respectable clothes.

With a fresh wardrobe and outlook on life, I headed to the cell phone company store to suspend my account. The first person I spoke with had excellent command of the English language and I was easily able to explain what I needed to do. However, they soon handed me off to a second person who was less able. A portion of the conversation went as follows:

P#2- Did you lose your phone yesterday?

Me: Yes.

P#2: What time?

Me: 30 minutes ago.

P#2:Wait, did you lose it yesterday or today?

Me: Who? (My French “question” words suck, as you can tell)

P#2: (confused) Did you lose your phone today?

Me: Whoops. Yes, today.

P#2: Unintelligible negative sentiment.

I left the phone store, safe in the knowledge that I had either suspended my account or just purchased a new phone and extended my plan for 5 years.

On my way to the police station to fill out some paperwork about the phone, I stopped at the golf store to check to see whether the phone may have popped out before leaving. This conversation ensued:

Me: Hello there, I lost my motorcycle. (I have replayed this conversation in my head many, many times and for the life of me I cannot understand why the word for motorcycle came out of my mouth at this time.)

GM: Unintelligible negative sentiment.

Me: I lost my cell phone while out running errands. Did you find one here?

GM: A what?


At this point the man put a pretend phone to his ear and pantomimed making a call.

Me: Yes, yes A CELL PHONE.

GM: (Blank stare.)

Me: Is it possible that I left it here, did you find MY CELL PHONE.

GM: No.

Me: OK.

The man then pantomimed making a call again, and I realized he was asking whether I had tried calling my phone.

Me: Oh, I haven’t tried calling it. I guess I should try that.

The exceedingly nice golf man then handed me their store phone to make the call. He is quite nice to not just be done with me, and I began to appreciate his generosity. I called my number, and, lo and behold, a woman answered it. I was elated for exactly one second before becoming irritated that the cellular company hadn’t shut it down yet. This mental distraction was the reason the following conversation took place on the phone:

Nice Woman Who Found My Phone: I found your phone in the street!

Me: Good morning madam, I lost my phone. My name is Paul Schwartz! (It was 1 pm.)

NWWFMP: I found your phone, and I don’t [untranslatable words in French].

Me: Uh, do you speak English?

NWWFMP: A moment.

Nice Woman Who Found My Phone’s Friend: Hello, we found your phone in the street.

Me: Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I then made arrangements to pick up the phone and did so. Luckily for me, the NWWFMP found my phone near the gutter in the street, evidently after I had dislodged it while walking back to our apartment. I found all this out because her friend was from San Diego and could give me a full account. Boy, am I lucky! I then proceeded back to the cellular store and the golf store to show everyone I had retrieved my phone. I felt like I was a total winner and not a complete loser who had just lost a cell phone by causing it to fall out of his own pocket. Now I can play Scrabble again, but not without some serious pain inflicted.

After experiences like this, I like to do a little mental inventory and take down some lessons learned. Here is what I learned:

1. Don’t try and make out with anything at the park.

2. If the man at the golf store asks if you want a bag, say, “Yes!”

3. Learn the correct French word for cell phone.

Perhaps you already knew these things. I didn’t. Now, I do.

Malcolm wasn’t there for any of this, but if he was, he would have looked at me like this:


Big Daddy Paul’s Guide To Provence

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Travel Stories

Have you ever met someone that you thought you might like, but turned out to be a Nazi who enjoyed burning down orphanages? This is what our recent trip to Provence was like, except the complete opposite. Provence wasn’t a Nazi, it was Mahatma Gandhi, and instead of burning down orphanages, he cooked, gave us foot massages and knew all the lines from Napoleon Dynamite. It was pretty much the best weekend we ever had.

We expected to like Provence, what with all its quaintness and whatnot, but we walked away after the weekend thinking it was one of the most enchanting places on earth. Everywhere we turned, there was some little scene that makes travel writers wet themselves with glee. More a state of mind than an actual place, Provence kept coming at us with imagery that wore down our pent up hustle and bustle until we were  left with a sense of tranquil serenity. (Foot rubs from one of the greatest pacifists ever helped with that too.) I can’t recommend Provence more highly.

“But Paul,” you ask. “How do I get me some of that?” Fear not, dear readers. I have the following list of suggestions that, should you find yourself making plans to go to the South of France, will help you fashion your own perfect Provencial vacation. Thank me later.

If I ever start a band, I am going to name it, "Old stone and shutters."

If I ever start a band, I am going to name it, “Old stone and shutters.”

1. Find some old shit. One of the most striking aspects of Provence is its age. People have been enjoying the high life in Provence for three thousand years, and many of the buildings still standing there date back to the 12th century. That’s old! Old stone buildings and long, rustic walls dot the countryside in Provence and the look is fantastic. Unlike your high school sweetheart, the older and more weathered the features of Provence get, the better they look. Many inns/bed and breakfasts are set in these old, weathered buildings. Find one with a price tag that fits your wallet and stay there. If you find yourself trying to use your accumulated points to stay at the Best Western in Aix-en-Provence, you’re doing it wrong. Your litmus test should be, “Does it look like its original owners died from bubonic plague?” If so, you’ve found your home. We stayed in a 19th century farmhouse called Le Mas des Arts and loved it.

2. Calm the hell down. Upon arriving in Provence, you will probably have a list of things you want to see and do, suggestions for where to eat, and a schedule. You will be tempted to maximize your opportunities and cram in as much as you can while you are there. Don’t do it! Part of the allure of Provence is to relax and enjoy life a little bit more than you are normally able. You can’t really do this if you have an agenda of things you have to do and long days filled with sightseeing and logistics.

Take time to stop and smell the Rosés

Take time to stop and smell the Rosés

Instead of being your normal travel self, try this: plan lazy days. Sleep in if you can and enjoy a little quiet time while you enjoy your coffee or some tea outside, listening to the birds. Putz around a few tiny villages during the day, then enjoy a nice, long, leisurely lunch. After, go back home, nap, read, shoot squirrels,  or do whatever it is that you find relaxing. Make dinner for yourselves and eat it outside. Drink some wine. Have some dessert. Get up the next day and do the same. Sure, you won’t have a completed checklist and a bunch of entry ticket stubs, but you’ll have a much more satisfying holiday. How many vacations can you say left you relaxed and happy? Try it. Provence won’t let you down.

3. Throw out your guidebook and go explore. This one may be tough for some, but you will ultimately be rewarded. For the most part, the most enjoyable parts of our weekend involved stumbling onto things that were completely unexpected. One day, I noticed we were out of dessert. I took off without any idea of where I was going. While I was lost looking for cake, I saw this:


And this:IMG_6232


And this:IMG_6236

All this, on a pastry run! I eventually found a little patisserie on a little square in a little village called Goult that had the most ridiculous tasting creamy chocolate and nut cake ever. If you had told me before hand that there was an patisserie in Goult with an excellent cake there, I would have sought it out and readily agreed with you after. The cake was so much better, though, because of the surprise factor. Sure, there was a chance that I could have stumbled into the French version of Deliverance (“il a une très jolie bouche, n’est-ce pas?”) but even that would have made for some interesting vacation stories after. Let Provence surprise you. Leave your guidebooks next to your Hilton Honors card.

When in Provence, rent a car, and then set out each day on a small, one lane roads following the signs to little villages with hard to pronounce names. Don’t go to the places in Provence, let them come to you. I took 650 pictures in four days, 190 of them turning into something I kept. Pictures of what? How bout this:



Or this:IMG_6482

4. Avoid other people. People, for the most part, suck. Stay away from them. Definitely don’t stay in a city. Don’t even visit the cities. I even found the mid-sized villages too cramped. Provence is huge area, you have absolutely no need to put up with crowds. Do you like busloads of German tourists arguing over World Cup prospects this summer? How about the Americans who talk TEN DECIBELS TOO LOUD BECAUSE THEY THINK THAT ANY LANGUAGE BARRIER CAN BE OVERCOME WITH ENOUGH VOLUME? Russian tourists are only and always looking for one thing: sex. It’s a fact.

Don’t put up with this. If you find yourself amongst a large group of people, get the hell out of there! The good thing about exploring without a guidebook is that if you run into a large herd somewhere, you have the freedom to bypass it. I look back at our experiences over the weekend and there was definitely a correlation between how crowded a place was and how much we liked it. I have said it before, and I will say it again, “Smaller is better!”

Normally, crappy chipped paint jobs are frowned upon. Here, they are cultivated by decades of neglect.

Normally, crappy chipped paint jobs are frowned upon. Here, they are cultivated by decades of meticulous neglect.

5. Look everywhere. Approach Provence like you are at Costco when they are handing out free samples. Wander. Savor. Try cheese twice! Almost everywhere you look when you are in the small villages there, you will notice something interesting. Walk around and take it all in. Once off the beaten path, you will have the opportunity for unscripted discovery. Take advantage. Just don’t go into stranger’s houses and try to nap on their couch. Evidently, that is still considered trespass.


How many places in the world will give your kid a crossbow and teach him how to shoot it?

6. Go to the castle. Having said to not have an agenda, there was one thing we did that was so cool that it bears mentioning. There is a museum at a castle called Chateau des Baux. Go there. It is awesome. They have working catapults and give demonstrations. They have sword fights where (like political pundits on cable news shows) the combatants pretend they hate each other. Oh, yes, they also let you shoot fucking crossbows. Other than the museum of boobs and awesome pizza, there could be no more satisfying museum experience in the world. You will not be disappointed.

The castle is only half of it, however. Below the castle is an art exhibit set inside a huge cavern. Inside the cavern, on 50 foot high stone walls, they project huge works of art, some of it stationary, some of it moving in choreographed pieces. The room is pitch black, so the effect is surreal.

Thing made us go "Hmmm."

Thing made us go “Hmmm.”

The cake topper is that they pipe in loud orchestral pieces to accompany the art and the sensation of seeing it all come together is insane. Other than Emmet Smith’s House of Fantasy Football Art & Bacon Factory, there is no other art exhibit that can measure up.

You will find crowds at the castle and the art exhibit. Thankfully, if you follow my rules, they will be the only crowds you run into in Provence. We have just returned from our trip to Provence, but are already plotting how to get back. Gandhi, get those fingers ready!

Here are a few more pics:




















Six Months And Counting!

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France

I noticed a few weeks ago that we had passed an important milestone. We have been in Paris for six months now, a fact that impresses and horrifies me at the same time. It’s good to take stock in where you are and where you come from every now and again, so I am taking this opportunity to do just that. Here, without further ado, is what we look like six months into our gig.


I have come to the sad realization that I will never, ever be able to speak French. Well, a more apt description is that I will never, ever be able to understand French. I regularly impress myself with the things that I am able to cobble together (finally got that jock itch cleared up!), but everything breaks down when the French reply. Most of the time, I end up staring back at the speaker like a dumb cow while my mind races to figure out just what he or she said. Perhaps they speak too fast. Perhaps my hearing sucks. Perhaps I am just too old and will never get it. Whatever it is, I am glad that most everyone here speaks English.

French Bureaucracy

The French are renowned for complicated bureaucracy that is often impossible to navigate. Some things have lived up to the reputation (getting our apartment manager to do anything, getting our immigration papers in order) but there have been some pleasant surprises, too. When you go to a doctor here, you don’t really fill out any paperwork. They don’t demand insurance and make you jump through a ton of hoops to see a doctor. Usually, you go to the doctor’s office and the first question is, “What’s wrong?” It’s almost worth the strep throat I got earlier in the year, just to watch to system in action.

I also had an interesting experience signing Malcolm up for a day camp last week. I emailed the camp director who secured Malcolm’s spot; no application, no deposit, and THEY DIDN’T EVEN ASK FOR A CONTACT NUMBER IN CASE ANYTHING HAPPENED! Dreamy. I dropped Malcolm off in the morning and knew that, no matter what, I wasn’t going to have to retrieve him until late in the afternoon. Can anyone say, “Happy hour?”


My culinary skills are on the upswing! I have reveled in the gratuitous use of cream and butter that I could have only dreamed of eight months ago. I made Pommes De Terre Dauphine that rocked the house, and while it took two and a half hours to make potato puffs, it was well worth my time. I have found some great cheeses, made strides toward a perfect vinaigrette, and even started poaching chicken. Poached fucking chicken, get more French than that, I dare you. We have been enjoying the $5-10 wine here, wondering why anyone would spend more, until we open a more expensive bottle and understand completely.


While I have found Paris slightly less formal than I originally thought, I have started dressing more like a man and less like a boy. Gone are my signature flip flops, hoodie and baseball cap. They have been replaced by (albeit comfortable) European shoes, smart sweaters, a scarf and combed hair, the later the result of semi-regular bathing. Am I the dapperest dan in the joint? Certainly not, but when you remember where I have come from, you have to be impressed. The real test will come this summer, when I will have to trade in my board shorts for French style man-kini.


Malcolm continues his own unique brand of being exasperating and inspirational. He lost two pairs of pants at school. I have no idea how one loses one’s pants at school, let alone doing it a second time, only to exclaim, “Oh, no, not again…” Like the prospect of wearing a speedo, I prefer to just not dwell on it. His current roster of friends includes an Australian boy, two Indian boys, a pair of British twins and a Japanese girl. His school is every bit the international experience we hoped it would be. I can’t really tell if he is learning anything at school, since most of the communications with his teacher revolve around his inability to hang onto stuff. He is enjoying the sporting life, playing basketball and soccer on his school’s team and baseball with a French team. He has undertaken a serious study of the European football scene, and can recite the lineups of the most of the decent teams here. Even with all that, he spends a lot of his time talking to me about food. When I don’t want to throttle him, I want to put him on my shoulders and be his best friend.




We have done a pretty good job of seeing Europe while we are here. We have been to Amsterdam, the Alps, Copenhagen, Barcelona and Italy, with plans to go to Provence, London and Helsinki in the immediate future. Phew! Some weeks, it seems like I spend most of my time travel planning. Europe is at our doorsteps here and we feel lucky to be able to do so much so easily.

The “French” Experience

It would be easy to beat myself up over our lack of integration into the French scene. Sure, it would be nice to have a ton of French friends and be more acquainted with what’s really going on here. This takes a lot of work, however. I drink wine on the couch with my wife instead of going to conversation exchanges with native French speakers. We have enjoyed the friendly confines of our expat friends (some of whom are from the bay area!) over the slightly heavier lifting involved with cultivating French relationships.  We are living a somewhat French-lite life here, and while it has its ups and downs, it suits us just fine. Life is to be enjoyed, and we are enjoying it. Isn’t that what life in France is supposed to be like?

OK, that was a little too serious. I should make a fart joke. I won’t, but I should. Happy six months to us!

Cheese of the Week: Langres

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Blank of the Blank

Langres: An unpasteurized cow cheese made in the northeast part of France, near Champagne.

I totally should have taken a picture of this cheese whole, but I just couldn't help myself!

I totally should have taken a picture of this cheese whole, but I just couldn’t help myself!

Langres is a weird looking cheese. Its veiny, wrinkled exterior is tinted orange, giving it the appearance of an extra on the Golden Girls. (The orange comes from regular washings with annatto extract. How someone decided to wash French cheese with a subtropical orange spice is beyond me. The effort that they put into cheese here!) It has a cylindrical shape, curiously reminiscent of the mountain on Close Encounters, except that its roof is caved in. This caved in roof is called “the fontaine” and creates the perfect excuse to supplement your cheese experience by pouring some brandy in it. I am going on record right now by saying that we need more things in this world that have dented roofs so that you can pour alcohol on top.

The smell of the cheese is slightly funky, enough to wrinkle your nose and wonder, “What’s that smell?” but not too strong that you to answer, “Paul’s feet.” You definitely need to clean up after you’re done eating it, for it lingers in the kitchen long after your done enjoying it.

My first taste of the cheese was a thing of beauty. It’s sticky, creamy consistency at room temperature automatically became my third favorite food texture ever, trailing only perfectly cooked steak and roasted marshmallow. The cheese has a pungent, salty taste that beguiles your senses without over powering them. It had something to it, something I couldn’t put my finger on and never quite did. Langres is a hot date with a strong accent at a crowded bar: you’re not ever 100% sure what they are saying, but you sure as hell like the way they are saying it.

This wine goes well with big, red wines. It may be the perfect cheese to serve to guests. I plan on doing so the next chance I get.

Words used to describe this wine: wrinkled, salty, sticky, orange, (Basically J Lo in 20 years.)

Words not used to describe this wine: Crunchy, sterilized.