Whew -- just got my Saturday fruit and veggie buying/flirting with the market stall guys routine out of the way...
Around the middle of our week-long trip to Ireland, we spent a morning at the Flying Boat Museum in Foynes, near Limerick. I know almost nothing about seaplanes, except what I learned when visiting the Spruce Goose when it was still in Long Beach, CA, when I was a kid. So this museum didn’t sound that interesting to me when I first read about it in our itinerary, but it turned out to be one of my favorite excursions.
Because Foynes is situated on a large, calm harbor, it was a natural choice for a flying boat airport. In 1939, this small town (population: around 600!) was where the first commercial passenger flight direct from the USA to Europe landed. The Pan Am Yankee Clipper touched down on July 9 of that year. The museum is housed in the original terminal building, and a full-scale replica of the Yankee Clipper was built for the museum in 2006.
One thing that struck me when inside the Clipper replica was how luxurious air travel was in the late 30s and 40s. The dining room, with its white cloth-covered tables, must have been modeled after dining cars on trains. The seats in the cabin were wide and comfy-looking, and two facing seats could be extended to make a bed. Every passenger had his own bed. I mean, the kind of bed you can actually lie down on. You could pretty much bring whatever luggage you wanted on board too. Those were the days when people traveled with trunks and didn’t have to worry about cramming everything inside carry-on bags. I’m tall, so one of the hardest things about flying for me is the lack of leg room. I could really get used to travelling on the Yankee Clipper. Of course, the price of a ticket could probably buy you a small house.
It was damp and chilly inside, and the woman showing us the replica said the plane was very cold in flight. It smelled a little musty too. Flights were long by today’s standards. A flight from Foynes to New York took 25 hours, 40 minutes.
Foynes is also the birthplace of Irish Coffee. The chef in the terminal’s coffee shop, Joe Sheridan, noticed how cold passengers were in the waiting room. He decided to warm everyone up by fortifying coffee with Irish whiskey. After we walked through the replica, we had a demonstration of how to make Irish Coffee, and my friend and I drank one. Boy, does it work.
Yesterday I got back from a week-long, whirlwind vacation in Ireland. A friend from college and I flew into Dublin, she from California and I from Paris, and took a tour that circled the island. Usually I travel independently, and have only taken a few tours in my life. You never know how these things will be in advance and I wondered what our travel group would be like. It turns out that our group of 36 was made up of people with a wide range of ages and compatible personalities. There were lots of hugs and e-mail address exchanges going on on the last night.
Everywhere I went, I saw people who looked like they could be my cousins or uncles. Which isn't surprising, considering I'm about 75% Irish. By the end of the week, I wanted to refer to myself as "meself" and stop pronouncing the "h" in "thanks" or "thirty." I made a new friend named Paddy, who asked why it took me so long to return after my first trip 20-odd years ago. I don't have a good answer for that, I said.
Top left corner, clockwise: Celtic cross in Glendalough, thatched cottage, donkey, Giant's Causeway, Glendalough, Cliffs of Moher, phone booth in Bunratty, street in Cobh. Center: boys in Cobh.
The flight over took 90 minutes, but coming back it was only 70 because of the tail winds. We were lucky with the weather and had clear skies and sunshine. Monday morning in Dublin was sunny with blue skies, but an hour after my flight took off I landed in an overcast Paris. Today, it even rained. It seems France and Ireland swapped weather patterns. What's up with that?
So I left the land of smiling people who go out of their way to help you and say things like "tat's lovely, tanks," and arrived in the land where you have to stand one inch behind the person in front of you to prevent people from cutting in line. Where, when a cashier smiles and makes eye contact with you, it's something to marvel at the rest of the day instead of being the norm. Oh well. I do like the French. They're just not family.
A couple of weeks ago I attended my second social event through The American Church. This time I joined the lunch group, which meets once a month at various restaurants and bistros. Eight of us met at Koetsu, a Japanese restaurant on Rue Sainte Anne. One thing I’ve noticed in my limited interactions with American Church groups is that many expat women are here because their husbands are on assignment in Paris, and some of these men are employed in the oil industry. These women don’t have to work, and like to talk about their homes and extensive travels. One woman, who wasn’t even American, said she won’t even fly anywhere unless she can go business class. Well, honey, I’ve flown business class too, when they upgraded my coach fare, and I don’t want to fly coach either. But I would never go anywhere if I said I had to fly business class. Some of us have to work, oh, I don’t know… 65 HOURS A WEEK. And then she went on to say that she and her friends will be renting a luxury villa in Spain for 12 days. Oh, that’s nice. Usually those things don’t bother me, but I guess I was a little grumpy that day. Did I mention I worked 65 hours that week?
Afterwards, I consoled myself by going to Café Angelina on Rue de Rivoli for their famous hot chocolate. I had heard about l’Africain many times, but never tried it. It’s thick, like melted chocolate, and served with a little bowl of whipped cream on the side. I know some people don’t like it, but I knew what to expect, and I also knew not to order a pastry alongside it. That would be overkill. So I took my time, enjoying the ornate yet shabby interior, and doing a little people watching and decompressing.
And then I went to the Concorde métro station, where I saw this lively Russian folk music group. That cheered me up and got me ready to attack whatever tedious patent I was translating that day. I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the work, especially considering how slow February was. But sometimes I bite off more than I can chew. Later that night, when I took a break, I came across this blog called 65 Red Roses. The beautiful woman who wrote the blog had just passed away from cystic fibrosis at the age of 25. Reading through that blog pretty much kicked the ass of any lingering self pity I had.
Although Leesa and I have been in touch through our blogs and Facebook, we only met in person today. She organized a picnic to take advantage of the white and pink cherry trees in bloom at the Parc de Sceaux, just outside Paris. The skies were blue, the weather was warm and most of the trees were blossoming; it was great timing.
We were a mix of francophones and anglophones, so I got the chance to practice my French (boy, do I need it!). I can understand almost everything, and can handle some sentences, but if the words contain lots of "Rs," I often get tongue tied. I hate the French R! Who invented this language anyway.
I made prosciutto/feta/basil involtini from a recipe on David Lebovitz's blog. My ham rolls weren't as cute as David's, and there was some confusion over whether it was ham or smoked salmon, but they went over well.
I'm glad Leesa offered to meet people at the café near the chateau. That parc is huge; I never would have found the picnic spot they chose on my own. Its scale and classic symmetrical gardens remind me of Versailles. It was nice to see the chateau, built in the late 1850s, in three dimensions. I probably never would have known about this place if she hadn't written about it on her blog. Since it's only 15 minutes by train from Paris, it makes a great place to get away from the city, breathe some fresh air and have a picnic.
Note: photo collage made via http://www.photovisi.com/
Last weekend set out to be boring. My birthday was April 2 (Good Friday!), but I accepted a rush job to do over the weekend, and Sweetie wasn't feeling well, so we decided to postpone the celebration. Usually with us, "postpone" means "we're never going to do it," but I'm going to hold him to his promise to take me out to dinner.
I was having a hard time concentrating on the rush translation. I don't know why. Usually I find multilayer structures for photovoltaic applications fascinating, but this time my eyes kept glazing over, and I was worried about Sweetie. Fortunately, I was invited to an Easter brunch, and I made enough progress beforehand that I was able to go.
I almost didn't make it. I was sure the work at Odéon métro station was finished by then; I mean, they started months ago. But the train passed through without stopping. Well, I guess I'm not going to transfer there, I thought. So I went a few more stops and then backtracked to Les Halles station, which I usually try to avoid. Anyway, I was about 35 minutes late, but someone else showed up at the same time (yes!).
I met some new, very cool people, ate some good food (including homemade banana-coconut milk ice cream, with chocolate sauce and candied pecans; can you tell I'm a dessert person?), and had some interesting conversations. Most of us were expats, so a lot of the conversation focused on renewing residence cards and stuff like that. I also learned a term that I've never heard before from the sole French person there: "Passover" is "Pâque juive" in French. Since Easter is "Pâques," this sounds like "Jewish Easter."
I finally opened the Patrick Roger chocolate cocoa pod. It was packed with a few solid dark and milk chocolate fish, a caramel-filled bell and several pieces filled with praline, including an oyster (yes!). I still have a little bit of the shell left.
I just finished reading "Sympathy for the Devil" about The Rolling Stones and I have a whole new appreciation for drummer Charlie Watts. Did you know that he met his wife before he joined the band and that they're still married? When the Stones were invited to the Playboy Mansion, he spent the whole evening in the game room, away from the women. And my favorite anecdote: late one night in a hotel, after a drunk Mick Jagger called him and asked, "Where's my drummer?," Charlie got out of bed, shaved, dressed, went to Mick's room and punched him square in the face. "I'm not your drummer, you're my singer!" Heh. Jagger's an ass.
I enjoyed seeing an exhibition called "Les enfants modèles" (Child Models) at l'Orangerie, which ended earlier this month. Works by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt and Pierre-Auguste Renoir (among others) were shown, using the artist's own children, or the children of friends or family, as models. I was particularly touched by a watercolor called "Les Cinq enfants de l'artiste, avec vue sur Capri " by Guillaume Dubufe. The children had the most amazing eyes; one girl in particular had piercing grey eyes. I'm not a morbid person, but these kinds of exhibitions make me wonder about how these children grew up, what their everyday lives were like, and how their lives ended. The arc of life. (Pictured: La Boxe by Maurice Denis, 1918).
Before I entered the museum, some guy tried to con me with that ring trick, where they pretend to find a gold ring on the ground, give it to you and then demand that you give them money. I guess that's how it works anyway. This is the second time someone's tried that with me since I've been here and of course I just keep walking. Who actually falls for this crap? I should have challenged him to a boxing match. I would have won.
Sometimes an odd synchronicity occurs in the translation world, when several clients, separated by time zones, international borders and oceans, will offer you documents for translation with amazingly similar topics. This time, it was back surgery. More specifically, I was asked to translate several medical journal articles on percutaneous vertebroplasty and patents on osteosynthesis devices. Since Sweetie was out of the country anyway, I figured it was as good a time as any to be holed up in my apartment. After pounding away on my keyboard at all hours of the day and night for two weeks (sorry, neighbors!), I finally emerged from my studio Friday, and found that Paris hadn’t waited for me. It’s springtime.
When I wasn’t at the computer, I was reading a book by Gary Taubes called Good Calories, Bad Calories. I’m now shocked at how heavy my diet is in simple carbohydrates, and I made a firm commitment to cut out sugars and starches. With that promise to myself, I headed to Crêperie Josselin near the Montparnasse tower for a ham, cheese and egg crêpe, hard cider and a big bowl of rum raisin ice cream. Hey, I’ve got a lot of planning to do before I start the diet.
I’ve heard Josselin gets packed. Maybe it was because I got there a little late for lunch, or maybe it was the construction outside, but I had the place almost to myself. That made it easier to admire the lace-covered lamps, knickknacks and pictures of Brittany on the walls as I wondered how long I would be able to eat eggs every morning on the diet before the sight of them would make me puke.
With lunch over, I walked to my favorite chocolate shop, Patrick Roger, to view his window display for Easter. Since I buy premium chocolate only every few months, I decided to treat myself to some of his special Easter creations. I chose the chocolate cocoa pod, filled with an assortment of chocolates. Smart teal bag in hand, I walked back to my apartment, still aware of the puddle of melted butter and hard cider in my stomach.
Yesterday was “Jour du Macaron” at Pierre Hermé’s boutiques, a yearly event where you can get 3 free macarons of your choice. I missed it last year, so made sure to go this time. I chose the chuao, citron and caramel au beurre salé (chocolate and black currant, lemon and salted-butter caramel) flavors. It's funny, no matter how many flavors I try, my favorite is good old caramel.
I still have a macaron in the fridge, and I haven’t even cracked open the cocoa pod yet. It’s going to take me a while to eat all that. That’s OK though; I require at least two weeks of sucrose loading before I’m ready to start a diet.
One thing I’ve noticed about living overseas is that you have to be more proactive in meeting people. It’s harder than living in your home country, so you need more of a social network. I’ve lived here before and already had some good friends, but I figure you can’t have too many. So last week I took advantage of a program through the Women of the American Church called “Movie Mates,” where people get together once a month for a movie and coffee or lunch afterwards. We saw “City Island” with Andy Garcia, about an Italian-American family living in City Island in the Bronx. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked it because there was a lot of bickering in the family, but I warmed up to it at the end. When I mentioned the movie to some friends in the states, they had never heard of it. It turns out it won’t be released there until March 19. I love it when I see movies before my American friends do – na na na na na!
Anyway, there were only four of us: two Americans, one woman from Scotland and one from the Netherlands. The other American smuggled microwaved popcorn into the theatre in her purse and shared it everyone. It was nice, and in retrospect, I’m glad I was unaware of recent events and able to enjoy the popcorn without worrying about armed policemen confronting us and removing us from the theatre.
Afterwards three of us had lunch in a nearby café. We had a lot in common as foreigners living abroad. The Dutch woman and Scottish woman even found out their respective husbands both work for the same multinational company. One of our biggest shared experiences was our struggle with the language. I was a little surprised when they both said that they chicken out when they’re in public spaces and speak English instead of French, even though they’ve been here longer than me. One said she’ll work her courage up in a store and tell herself “today, I’m really going to speak French,” and then at the last minute when she’s at the cash register all of her French just evaporates. I have to think back to the first time I lived here in the early 90s to remember how I would do the same thing. It’s not that I’m totally fluent now, but my French is better and I don’t worry about it as much as before. They also both had similar feelings about living here in the first place, and talked about how difficult it was and how sometimes they didn't really want to be here, and they would end up staying home all day. Fortunately, that's something that I haven't felt. It's not easy living in a foreign country; sometimes I feel like I’m a toddler all over again, learning everything from the language to mundane things like writing a French check. I have had difficult days, but I've never wished I were living somewhere else. I think the difference is that I decided I wanted to live here and went about the difficult tasks of getting a visa and moving to another country, whereas these other women are here because their husbands’ jobs transferred them to Paris.