Tuesday, March 29, 2016

School, Easter in Paris, History lessons, Shakespeare & Co., etc.

I have begun my third week of school and am enjoying it very much.

Lessons the first week were largely of the housekeeping variety. While necessary, they weren’t terribly interesting and were not good ways to gauge what real classes were going to be like. While this week’s classes were quite basic I found myself still learning certain new things and now know for sure that upcoming lessons will become increasingly less redundant. Many of the skills taught and the theory covered are things that I am more than well versed in, but—as always in cooking—with each chef’s own particularities.

So far the two chefs I have met are Vaca and Chantefort. Vaca is nice and very patient, which is not what I expected of the teachers. French chefs are hardly known for this.

I like Vaca a lot, but I was almost a bit disappointed that he doesn’t seem to be more traditional. Because I was done early in class, he and I chatted and I learned that he has a wide appreciation of cuisines from around the world. He explained that he hopes that cooking will bring us as much bonheur (joy) as at has to his life; cooking is, he says “le plus beau metier du mode,” or “the most beautiful profession in the world.” He might actually know what he’s talking about: he seems to have lived and cooked on just about every continent and clearly has a deep respect for other cuisines.

My disappointment at not having a more stereotypically French chef was abated when I met appropriately named Chef Chantefort (“chante fort” means “sings loudly”). He’s probably in his late sixties and always seems very pleased with himself. He’s quite funny and knows it. The other day, he explained that a mean chef is one who has high standards and who will teach you the most. He did not fail to live up to this belief, all while cracking jokes that would never fly at an American school.

He bragged that his job is the best in the world, and that it has also taken him around the world twice. Indeed, he claims, he has had a wife in every port. During his demonstration he threw away the feet of the chickens he was butchering. One Asian student inquired about this, saying that where he is from this is not done: chicken feet are eaten. Chantefort didn’t miss a beat, saying, “This is French cuisine and I have to respect this and the traditions. I don’t really give a shit about what they do in other countries. It’s their problem.” Various other quips included proposals of marriage to his assistant, referring to a bundle of herbs as a pétard (a joint) and jokes about undressing the chicken and putting it in bed, as he removed its skin and then placed it on a bed of rice. Chef Vaca is a wonderful teacher, but Chantefort seems to be exactly the variety of chef I expected to get here and the kind I had hoped to write home about. He’s also not a bad teacher, from what I can tell.

Other activities this week have included going to get Ramen in the 6th, with my classmates:


Having everyone over at my apartment, where we made carbonara:

Classmates chez moi

Going to the Cathédrale de Notre Dame this Easter Sunday to see the mass:

The singing was beautiful:

I took the subway there, but chose to take the 3.5 mile walk home, as always, along the Seine. This, naturally, was also beautiful:

The Eiffel Tower is in the colors of the Belgian flag this week

Monday was a national holiday, and many things were closed. It was overcast in the morning so I stayed in and did some writing and laundry, while watching a show, Metronome about Paris's history. My Netflix account works here, but the programming is quite different. French TV, like Les Daltons (from 2011) is good n racist:

Les Daltons (2011)

Metronome starts with the some of the early Gauls, and the host travels to different historic destinations by metro station. The most interesting thing I learned was that Île de la Cité was populated only after original settlement burned. It burned because Gallic Chef Vercingetorixdecided to burn it. The first time Romans invaded, they were slaughtered. Embarrassed by this defeat by these uncivilized frogs, they were hellbent on redeeming themselves. They came back much better prepared and surrounded the Gallic settlement. Unwilling to accept defeat, the Gauls set fire to their own homes: the Romans wouldn’t be able to claim having taken a town that no longer existed. This was when Île de la Cité, contrary to popular accounts, was first settled. With Romans in control (in spite of never having actually taken a Gallic city!), this settlement was to be the first Gallo-Roman city, with Romans on the Rive Gauche and Gauls on the Rive Droite.

As much as I enjoy my history lessons, by the afternoon I had an itch that needed scratching: it was time to find a bookstore. Somehow, I haven't yet been to Shakespeare and Company. Armed with an umbrella, a sandwich jambon beurre, and my headphones, I hopped on the metro to Cluny-La Sorbonne.

It was hailing when I got out, so I did what any good Parisian would and found the nearest café, where I consumed a café crème, whilst waiting for things to clear up a bit. And clear up, they did! By the time I was ready to go Paris was sunny again. I hastened over to the bookstore, which was amazingly crowded. I didn't stay long. Instead, I made my way along the Seine and browsed the stands of bouquinistes. With the sun now out, it seemed a shame to not stay above ground, so I walked the rest of the way home (about 3.5 miles).

On my way home, classmate John called. He wanted to invite me and some other folks over for dinner:


One of our classes today was a market visit:

Trou du Cru is delicious.
It is also a joke: trou du cul means asshole

Afterwards, the school treated us to an early lunch (with wine, at 11 in the morning):

The restaurant's facilities

Here are some other pictures from this week:

Very French, but not in an especially good way:
the boiled chicken in béchamel and on a bed of rice I made today 

A ridiculous sugar sculpture in the lobby at Le Cordon Bleu

Dinner with Cyrielle at Le Volant Basque:
Rognons et ris bœuf aux champignons (Beef kidney and sweetbread with mushrooms)

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Jet lag and Parisian Pizza

The effects of my jet lag really kicked in the last couple days, and I’ve been keeping very odd hours. This has resulted in me devoting less time than I would like exploring Paris. I haven’t had the energy. Instead, I’ve spent my some time doing small errands. I have, nevertheless, taken several exploratory walks around my general area, but none of the lengthier hikes I’d rather go on.

Some of the highlights of these smaller explorations have been a local Greek bakery where I got some spanakopita:

Full disclosure: I might have bought more than just spanakopita
And an antique store where I bought old camera to decorate my flat:

Yes, that is a can of smoked rattlesnake
I didn’t sleep well last night, but I wasn’t willing to spend most of the rest of another day moping around trying to recover from another unintentional unit blanche. I decided I’d do whatever I would have otherwise done until I was spent.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

I have a couple secrets

I have two new secrets for more successful pedestrian tourism in Paris. They're so simple, but beautifully effective. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Paris—Moved in!

Chères Famille et Amies,

My move to the land of baguettes, top-flushing toilets, and butter is mostly complete and it has been disconcertingly seamless. 

This is my very own top-flusher
(Not pictured: my traditional French scented pink toilet paper)
My train into Paris was delayed, so I got off at the Notre Dame station to find a cab just in time to catch a spectacular sunset.

My flight to Dublin couldn't have been more perfect. I had four seats to myself, so after watching Spectre, which was pretty mediocre, I spent most of the rest of the flight sprawled across the seats. On my second flight, I volunteered my seat at the front of the plane to a guy in a wheelchair, which resulted in the flight attendants bringing me goodies from first class for the rest of the flight. Good karma.

Good karma seems like a bit of a theme with this move. Prior to researching housing in Paris, I was under the impression that I'd be spending San Francisco-style rent. Fortunately rent is only extraordinarily expensive, yet still nothing like what San Franciscans pay. After sifting through hundreds (literally) of listings, I realized that I had a tough decision to make: I had the choice between living in a dump or a shoebox.

Then I found this place. I'm still wondering how I got so lucky. It's spacious, clean, and naturally illuminated. It has its own washing machine and a balcony. More importantly, its location couldn't be more perfect. In the bourgeois 15th Arrondissement, it's one block from the Seine, and just a few more to the Eiffel Tower. It's also a quick stroll to everything that I need. This is good because, as many of you know, I'm a bit averse to public transportation.

Here are pictures of the apartment:

Couch & bad art

French TV is mostly dubbed American TV
Red is my favorite color, but red furniture should be banned


Plastic furniture should be banned too

And here is the neighborhood it’s in:

I’m by the red dot!

Click here for the Google Map
Click here for the Google Street View

The first thing I had to do was figure out how to get my new iPhone on a French network and then how to get the old one back on my old number so that I don't miss any calls. The old phone will stay at the apartment as a backup, and the new one will accept calls and texts to my new French number and an Oakland one. 

Subsequent endeavors in fun will include getting a social security card. As a French citizen (and, thus, passport holder) I've always enjoyed the short lines at the airport, but now I get to really reap the benefits by using my country's socialized medicine for the first time! Apparently healthcare is considered a basic human right here.

These tasks are necessary, if not fun, but I've already also managed to do a few things I had been looking forward to. I had been really curious to check out Cantine California because the owner is from the Bay Area and is all about things that are near and dear to my heart. He opened the very first organic food truck in Paris. Anyway, my trip took me along the Seine, through the Jardin des Tuileries, then to Les Halles and past the glorious E. Dehillerin storefront. From there I made my way to the Marais where Cantine California is located. I got the Obama: 

The Obama

After my hamburger there, felt ready to cope with a cellphone store and salespeople (turned out it was really a painless experience). I walked back home a different way, crossing onto Île de la Cité and going along the Seine to browse some of the book stalls. I managed to snag this:

1st Edition from 1938
I fell in love with the cover immediately.

Excited by my find, I was energized enough to complete the remainder of my 9 mile walk. I followed the Seine past the Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars and the Statue of Liberty.

When I moved to Rome last year, my very favorite thing to do in my free time was getting lost on foot, or at least choosing very inefficient routes to my destinations. Sarah, my English flatmate was frequently a companion on these excursions, but I enjoyed them nearly as much on my own (Sarah—do come visit soon!). There really isn't a boring place there, so that was how I made a number of great discoveries (I wound up seeing many of the great monuments unplanned this way). This was in a country where I didn't speak the language and where the heat and humidity were almost invariably intolerable. Parisian weather is much more civilized (as are Parisians), and I happen to speak the language, so I'm all the more excited to be living here and exploring every nook of the city on foot! I also just like Paris more than Rome.

Another thing I am excited about is the news that my youngest cousin, Cyrielle, will also be moving back to Paris next week. She is a detective and will be investigating cases of human trafficking. Because I have a sophisticated sense of humor, I have begun calling her Sherlock.

Some version of this email will appear on my blog, which I built right before I moved to Rome last year and then didn't keep up with updating as regularly as I should have. I'll try to do better this year. The site is NolinDB.me. I never thought I’d have a blog and I swore I’d never make an Instagram account, but I was wrong. They both seem like good ways to keep folks updated on my happenings. So for more current updates, you can point your browser to my Instagram account here: Instagr.am/NolinDB.

This last week in California, punctuated appropriately with incessant rainstorms, I was pretty sad. Everyone seemed more excited than I was about my move (I’m thrilled to be here, now that I am). Some of the highlights were spending time with college friends, David, Andrés and Kate. Going out with some of the Chez Panisse crew Wednesday evening after work was wonderful. Taking Pat who flew out from Denver to Chez Panisse for his first time, with Chris, was also special (as was seeing Chris about a dozen times in the last couple weeks). Dinner at my other favorite restaurant, Le Bateau Ivre, with my family was a nice finale. These highlights all served, though, as a reminder that I'm leaving behind quite a bit. This time, it seems more permanent: I’ll be here at least a year. As excited as I am to be here, I am very much also looking forward to my next visit to California (in August, perhaps).

In the meantime, I hope to hear from everybody. Better yet, come visit! I know some of you already have begun planning trips.

Very fondly,