Quote of the week:

“They'd have to shoot me to get me back to Illnois."

~Abraham Lincoln upon going to WDC to become president

Monday, June 29, 2009

An American in Paris

It's been a long while since I've posted. I'm not sure any of my throng of 5 readers are still around. If so, I hope you enjoy. If not, I'll have this for my posterity and travelogue. It's about my first trip to Europe.

Thursday June 4, 2009

Thursday evening, boarding the plane, “Priority passengers may board first”. Im in fucking business/first class!! We ain’t in academia any more Toto. All I could think, while drinking my first glass of champagne as the ‘coach’ passengers trudged by me was, “OMG, the Seinfeld episode was SO not parody. It’s so true!” The champagne was flowing, warmed nuts, appetizers. Then the menus were handed out, with choices of real food—not a five day old ham and cheese on stale bagel, but poached salmon, beef tenderloin. And we, moved from the champagne to the wine with dinner. Dessert, then after dinner drinks or coffee. The flight attendants had to wake many of us up to serve us the omlettes for breakfast. Coach class sucks. How can I ever return?

I arrive at hotel around 9:30 AM. , Friday. I’m staying at the Millenium Opera Hotel, in the Opera District. It's a 4 star, at a great rate. Thanks, Priceline! I’m able to check in that early. Cool! I pseudo unpack, brush my teeth, take a hot bath, then up and off to my first Parisian adventure. First stop: Le Centre de Georges Pompidou. I see two great special exhibits—Alexander Calder and Kandinksy.

I decide to have dinner, from a recommendation from one of the books I’d bought. I was given directions from the front desk and can’t find it. After 45 minutes give up and walk down a side street and find a bistro that looks interesting. Terre du Truffes. Everything on the menu had truffles in it of some sort. I ask Raphael, who speaks little English for recommendations.

Ecritez-vous le menu por moi, s'il vous plait? I asked Raphael to write my menu down for me, in my pigeon Franglais. He writes in both French and English. I would have liked to wrap him up and take him home with me. The decadence of the night was vanilla ice cream with a truffled caramel sauce. OMFG! Every bite of that meal (and nearly every meal in France), was an orgasm for my taste buds.

Saturday, June 6

It’s raining outside today. As Barbra sings, “Nobody’s gonna rain on my parade.” I get the umbrella, find get my directions from the front desk, and begin my walking trek to Musee D’Orsay. I pass through the Louvre, and cross the Seine by a footbridge. They have a good collection of Van Gogh's, including "La Nuit etoile"--Starry Night. I'm going to see it in person!!! I finally get to the Van Gogh room, tour it. Move on. Then I realize, I missed "La Nuit etoile". I go back, tour the room two more times. I finally see an empty space and see a little notice. It's on loan/tour. It's at the Met in New York. Fuck me hard! That's just my luck! I wander more and see more artists' works. I spend most of the day there.

After two days of walking. I decide to take the subway back to my hotel. I have to switch not only trains, but from the suburban line to the Paris City line. As I’m uncertain of whether these connect at the same place, I ask a young man. He speaks little English, but between my Pigeon Franglais and his limited English, he walks me to the other platform up a flight or two of stairs/escalators and a few turns, to get me to the right place.

Being a bit beat on my feet, I ask for a dinner recommendation from the front desk. He suggests a place around the corner just a few blocks away. This time, when I ask the waiter, “Ecritez-vous le menu por moi?” He tells me “Here’, keep the full menu.” Most of the remainder of my dinners in France, the waiters let me have one of the full menus. How cool, for a self-avowed foodie!


I have never felt so un-like the boy from Bumblefuck in all my life. I’m in Lyon, France, at a meeting with international heavy hitters. I’m their peer. OMFG. Opening night reception /Dinner was in this hospital built in the 1200s. We specifically were in the nun’s rectory or rectortoire. It’s the huge old fortress of a building by the Rhone River that I had to walk around three times and ask for direction in my [pigeon Franglais , to realize there is no front door. Only the original carriage gate/now car entry to get to the inner courtyard to access the building.

Paris is great, but there is something extraordinarily special about Lyon. More so that Paris, I felt like I had gone back in time. Old Lyon is like a time warp, somewhere between the World Wars. The bistros. The cobblestone streets and alleys. The place oozes old world charm. A Lyonaise man could have easily swept me off my feet.

The conference is very good. I’m making some good international contacts for work. I am asked to serve on a committee, with this organization, which is something I’ve been working on. I’m with some heavy hitters in my profession. This is something that would not have happened with me in academia, even though I was working on the groundwork. The University would not have sent me to this conference this year. I’m feeling good.

Monday night, the attendees at the conference are treated to a private tour of “L’hotel de Ville”, or Village Hall. This was built in the 12th Century. The building is amazing. We have personal guided tours, which ends with a reception of Kir and Hors d’ouvres.

My co-worker K, who is at the meeting and I go to dinner with two guys that she knows from other organizations in the US. One of them spends a good deal of time in France, so he was our translator for the evening. I can speak some French, but have trouble understanding it when spoken back to me. My brain doesn’t think in French. I think my dyslexic mind manifests itself with this. It’s frustrating. I want to be able to ‘hear’ in French without trying to translate to English.

The Conference ends on Tuesday afternoon. C and I decide to meet and wander (and wonder) around Old Lyon, which is where her hotel is. I ended up in New Lyon—not as charming. She wanted to go to this big cathedral on a hill. So we do that, and then just begin moseying and wandering the cobblestone streets starting to scope out a potential place to eat. My only caveat was that we eat someplace where we would be outside on the sidewalk/cobblestone alley, not indoors After a good deal of walking and wandering, we settle on one of the first places we’d spotted. She wanted s a good steak. The meal was great. This time I had to write down the menu as, it was just posted on black boards. K is astounded to realize that I am a foodie who is keeping a food diary. Even more astounded than when I showed up for our walk in my bright purple suede Rebock air pump tennis shoes. "Uh, so, Randy, YOU really DO like purple don't you?!

Wednesday June 10

Back to Paris. I now wish I’d had planned to stay one day on my own in Lyon to explore after the conference. But, I’m back in Paris for one more day. I’m staying in a cheap hotel in the Marais (the Gay District) that was recommended for being cheap in the Marais, in one of the books I bought, The Central Marais. It fit the bill. It was above a bar in one of those really old buildings on a side street, with tall windows and shutters. It was not the 4* Millenium Opera, but it wasn’t picked from Priceline (which got me really great hotels, btw). This was for one night, and it was the one night for which I had not originally made plans. It was while I was in Paris that I made these reservations. I did want one night in the heart of homo Gay Paree. It’s raining again. I was museumed out. It was early afternoon by the time I got back to Paris, so I decided that I just wanted to walk around the Marais, find some of the gay bars for later that night, and just wander the streets, getting lost, and finding my way back. I did some shopping, mostly window . On the way back l stumbled along a little designer boutique of men’s clothes. Actually, these little boutiques were peppered all over the Marais. There were lots of shades of purple. There was also a really hot Italian man trying on a purple leather jacket when I wandered in to get out of the rain for a bit. I walked out with a new shirt and a cardigan sweater with leather elbow patches (both were purples.) Given the rain, and my desire to try and not get too terribly lost this evening, I went down to the bar for pre-dinner glass of wine. I ask one of the bartenders for a dinner recommendation. He directs me around the corner about 3 blocks to Le Gai Moulin. On the menu is “Kangarou Steak”. OK, I’ve got to try it. It’s not every day you get the opportunity to try “Kangarou” with Béarnaise sauce. It was like a tough cut of a good beef steak. It was my least favorite meal in France, which means it was only a 4 star, instead of a 5+ star meal. Still incredibly amazing—just mildly orgasmic for my taste buds. There are two guys at the table next to my right, (and the tables are so close, it’s almost like eating family style. They have to pull the table away from the wall because you can’t squeeze your ass between the table to get to the banquette seat). A few tables to my left, a man in a cowboy hat steps over ands, says, “I heard you guys speaking English, I’m from Vancouver, where are you guys from?” The state, London. And, I offer that I’m American, from Chicago. We have a nice conversation, he goes back to his seat. I tell the Londoners that I’m headed for London the next day. They offer recommendations of what to do, where to go. It was roughly after 8:00 pm when I was eating my dinners in Europe. In most places, it, wasn’t until after 9:00 -9:30 that the dinner crowd started picking up. Even such, I love that, among the things the French know about food, is the fact that they know how to savor and enjoy a meal. There’s no rushing you, trying to ‘turn the table’. If you want to stay till they close, they’re not going to kick you out. You nearly have to tackle the waiter to get your check or “l’addition” when you’re ready to leave. I had this conversation with my American compatriots at the conference, “How is it that the French as a population are not an incredibly obese people, with the bread, cheeses, rich foods, patisseries?” We determined, it’s because they cook REAL food, not loaded with artifice and chemicals and hydrogenated poly saturated dog turds. And they walk. They eat good, rich food, but they eat appropriate proportions. They don’t “supersize” their meals. It’s a lifestyle, I could become accustomed to. Je t’aime France. I’ll post about London and the last half of my European adventure.

I'm going to try and get back into a rhytm with my writing and posting again.