Sunday, February 28, 2010

Poverty soup

I think I might have mentioned - oh, just once or twice - how crushingly expensive Paris is?  Well, I really noticed it on my recent trip to London, when I kept thinking how reasonable the prices were there.  Yes, IN LONDON.  I seem to have this unnervingly accurate gift for moving to cities just as they become the most expensive in the world - I'm sure if I moved to Bangkok tomorrow the cost of living would shoot up just to spite me.  

But Paris used to be cheap - I have recently been reading A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, which is a memoir of his time in Paris in the 1920s.  It's hugely entertaining and I am enjoying it greatly - in fact, I only occasionally allow myself to dip into it because I don't want to finish it.  He writes a great deal about how it was to be a poor writer in Paris and it makes me laugh because he truly had no idea.  Um, Ernie?  If I may call you that?  You are not poor if you can afford to rent an extra hotel room just to write in.  You are not poor if you are writing in a café where you can afford a café au lait, two rum St James, a dozen oysters and a half carafe of wine.  Even in the 1920s, that ain't poor.

Let me tell you about poor, Ernie.  Poor is when you are at the grocery store trying to figure out what you can buy for a euro, because that's all you have.  Answer: a large tin of chickpeas (which I loathe unless they are in hummous, but really, what doesn't taste good with enough garlic and lemon juice?), for 77 centimes.  What to do to make the horrid things into a palatable meal?   Well, I foraged in my kitchen cupboard for whatever ingredients were already there, and I give you my recipe for Poverty Soup:

2 onions and 3 cloves of garlic - chop and sauté until golden
3 cups chicken stock - made from cubes (use what you like, that's what I had)
1 large tin chickpeas, drained
1 tin crushed tomatoes
1 tin coconut milk

Mix it all together in a large pot and heat, then puree.  Add salt, pepper, curry powder and tabasco (or whatever seasonings you like, that was all I had) until you can choke it down. 

So there you go, Poverty Soup - it actually ended up being (much to my surprise) quite tasty and that recipe makes about 2 litres, so you will have lots of leftovers for the freezer.   Hey, in these credit-crunchy times, I thought I might as well share the recipe...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Technical difficulties

Okay, I'm back from London - huge thanks to Mr & Mrs B for housing me, and to my many lovely friends who fed me and watered me - all much appreciated!  However, having said that, it's probably a good thing that I don't intend to go back there again until June (when I am being lured back by Ladies Day at Ascot and a friend's wedding - two excuses to wear a hat in a 10 day timeframe?  AS IF I would miss out on that!) because when I'm there I have no time to write and it's quite hard to get back into the habit of doing it again once you stop for a few days.

So it's my own fault I didn't write while there, but I am now having technical difficulties here - for some reason my wifi connection seems to have completely deserted me, which is making blogging somewhat difficult.  I am currently writing this from my landlady's son's room, because that's where I had to plug in to connect.   And he'll be home this weekend so even that won't be an option then.  I am literally being forced to go to a café to write.  And in the café one must buy something - and since I am very poor and the cheapest thing on the menu is wine, I am literally being forced to drink in order to write.  Honestly, gentle readers, the things I do, and it's all for you.  I hope you appreciate the sacrifices I make...

So, this weekend I will be blogging from a café in the heart of Paris (hopefully the nice waiter who gives me free peanuts will be working then so that I will also get to eat - yay!), with wineglass in hand.  And if the post starts off with perfect spelling and good punctuation and then degenerates into something that looks like shegoapbr drgijeroigbn irghalbi, then you'll know I might have ordered a second....or possibly third glass.  What?  I'll be writing, it's thirsty work!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Awesome outfit of the week - London edition

You might think I would select one of the many fabulous young fashionistas who make the streets of London so trendy, but no.  Today I salute this lovely lady; from her elegant snow-white coiffure to her scarlet gloves, this is a perfect example of keeping your fashion standards high at any age.  But the true awesomeness?  A woman of eighty-something years being tough enough to rock bright red high heels on an absolutely freezing February day.  That is true fabulosity - look and learn, youngsters...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Off to Jollye Olde Englande

And just when I was getting the hang of this posting-every-day thing, along comes another trip to London to mess things up.  The place I'm staying doesn't have internet so until I get my act together to find a wifi spot, I will be a little behind on posting but I will try not to go more than a day or so.  Deal? (I will also be extremely busy with eating and drinking and socializing but never mind that, let's blame it on the internet thing.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Awesome outfit of the week

This lady is a vision in neutrals - brown tweed trousers, camel coat, dark brown leather belt and bag and gloves (gauntlet-style gloves, no less - LOVING those), and a jaunty little leopard-print chapeau to jazz things up just a touch.  Madame, that is some stylish and warm winter dressing...

(PS - there's nothing wrong with her face, by the way, I just blotted it out because I hide identities to protect people's privacy)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Look down at the feet

Yes, those are Parisian policemen on rollerblades.  Who knew??

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Paris: City of Love. Really?

Most of the time I am pretty happy about being single, but on Valentine's Day in Paris?  Arguably the most romantic city on Earth?  It's a little rough.

In fact, Paris has been a complete bust in the romance department thus far.  All those Pepé Le Peu clichés of the amorous Frenchman have been nowhere to be seen.  No leering, no suggestive eyebrow-raising,  not even a good old-fashioned ass-grab (admittedly I moved here in November and it would be pretty hard to locate my ass under my winter coat, but if you lack a work ethic in your ass-grabbing, then really, then what kind of lascivious stereotype are you?).  I am starting to get a complex about being invisible.  Or worse yet, that I am Quasimodo's uglier sister.  I check the mirror every so often to ensure that I still have all my teeth, all my hair, both my eyes and no sign of a hunchback  (so far, so good) but if I am in the vicinity of Notre Dame, I admit that I do scurry quickly past just in case someone from the church sees some kind of resemblance and tries to bring me in to ring the bells.  Because that would just be embarrassing.

But is it just me?  I think it might be, because people are getting a whole lot of loving all over Paris, judging by the plethora of condom machines which are ABSOLUTELY EVERYWHERE.   I mean, I can see why you would put a condom machine on the outside of a pharmacy - you're about to get busy, realize you have no condoms and the stores are closed?  No problem, you run down the road to the machine at the pharmacy and all's well.

But do you know where else you find condom machines in Paris?  At the exits from the Metro.  And I asked myself: is this really necessary?  Surely you just go to the one outside your local pharmacy, non?  Then I realized why - you need a machine at the Metro for when you are on the way to visit your illicit lover.  From my experience with the French throughout my life, they are either having an affair, thinking about having an affair, or ending an affair  - it's just how they roll.  I once had a conversation with a middle-aged French divorcée, who told me about how her husband's mistress used to call up crying because he wasn't with her (the mistress), he was off with his girlfriend. And then he divorced the wife to run off with another woman, who was neither the aforementioned mistress or the aforementioned girlfriend.  Ah, romance.  Alive and well, here in the city of love.

So, reflecting on this, I guess being single in Paris on Valentine's Day isn't all that bad - it's better than having a French boyfriend or husband, anyway.  Although I wouldn't mind a French fling...  Oh, Pepé?  Where are you?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I totally want one of these...

I particularly like that it's parked next to that big bruiser of a bike - it's like a ballerina perched daintily next to a bodybuilder. Ahhh, the things that catch my eye here on the streets of Paris...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Language matters

Moving to a country where you aren't really fluent in the language is interesting in many ways.  I mean, I can get by in French, but I know enough to be embarrassed by my crappy command of the grammar, so I am not a confident conversationalist by any means.  Which obviously kills me, because you can easily tell from this blog that I like to talk.  A lot. 

But I understand quite well, and my comprehension is improving rapidly.  One reason for this is because I watch as much French TV as I can - I don't have cable, so when I'm home I just watch whatever is on the regular channels to try and follow along.  Fortunately, they air a lot of American crime drama dubbed into French, which I greatly enjoy.   It's pretty entertaining, and not just because of the storylines, but because sometimes the actor cast to dub the part into French sounds nothing like the actor on the actual show.  For example,  Dr Mallard on NCIS - David McCallum's agent should be raising hell with whoever does the foreign-language casting because the guy dubbing his character into French sounds like he just crawled out of his sarcophagus and is about to die because he's three thousand years old.  Seriously unflattering for poor Mr McCallum.  (And just another note on NCIS - they talk about a thousand words per minute on that show - never noticed it in English but in French I have a hell of a time keeping up.  Which is good practice for me, actually.)  

So anyway, the other night Star Wars III was on TV, so I settled in to watch.  The dubbing for the actors wasn't bad, but the droids?  In French?  Hee!  But the best part?  Which I am still giggling about?  Yoda in French.  Just take a moment to it?  Good, now you can all join me in a rousing chorus of: HEE!  Heeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheehee!!!  Funniest. Thing. Ever.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Awesome outfit of the week

So here we have my favourite outfit this week: cute little monochrome floral dress with tweed jacket and vintage burgundy Doc Marten's.  Excellent.  And even though she is lugging around a big totebag, it still works because on the right hand corner of the bag there is an adorable little goggle-eyed cartoon kitty.  You can't see it very well in the photo, but trust me on the awesomeness of it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Street talk

It occurs to me that I haven't talked much about where I live, so today, let me introduce you to the rue St Honoré.  It's one loooong mofo of a street - at the east end, heading towards the Marais, it's quite village-y and reasonably quiet.  However, once you pass the rue du 29 juillet and keep heading westwards - what's that I smell?  Ahhh, yes.  Money.  Lots and lots and lots of money.  The street is lined on both sides with fabulous boutiques -  any designer you could possibly name (in fact, if you can think of a designer brand I can't find on my street, I'll eat my chapeau).  And every jeweler you have ever heard of,  as well as some you probably haven't, because they are only for the seriously rich. (If you do know the ones I am talking about, you are clearly ridiculously wealthy,  in which case you should be lying on the beach of your private island in Tahiti, drinking mai tais from a solid gold goblet, not wasting your time reading this blog - what's wrong with you?  Go log off and buy Sweden or something.).  And this is all before the rue St Honoré turns into the rue du Faubourg St Honoré, which is where it realllllllllllllly gets posh.   

So, every morning when I go to work, I walk for half an hour down this lovely street.  I pass Chanel, Givenchy, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, etc.  I walk past the glittering windows of Cartier, Chopard, Boucheron, Bulgari, etc.  I reflect on how this must be one of the most expensive stretches of real estate on the planet.  Aaaaaaaaand then I step in dog crap.  Because that's just how it is in Paris, even on a street like this.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

To market

Back in November, I wrote a post about my local market.  I haven't actually been there recently because, in my neighbourhood, the market is genteel and lovely but verrrrrry expensive.  Today my landlady took me to the Marché aux Puces d'Aligre, which is near Bastille - it's a little bit of a walk from where we live, but still very central.  Ladies and gentlemen, that's a market:
All of Paris was there, along with their little canvas shopping carts, their little dogs, and their little children - it was a zoo!  But I can see why - the prices are ridiculously cheap for Paris, so I think this place and the excellent prices I found in Chinatown last week are going to be what keep me from starvation during this looooong winter.  

However, I won't be buying the roasted pig's feet.  In spite of being a happy carnivore, I just can't quite get on board with these...

I could, however, get completely on board with these crab legs - look at the size of them!  The crab they came from must have been the size of a small planet - fantastique!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A very good day

Friday was one of those days that make me incredibly happy to not be sitting in an office five days a week.   Working part-time is a huge financial strain and I assure you, I am definitely not enjoying this level of poverty, but a day like that kind of makes up for it.

It was one of those days when Paris is so beautiful it breaks your heart.  The sun was shining, the temperature was mild, and even in February, it was a perfect day for a long walk.  So I took a stroll down by the river in front of the Louvre, and does it not just look like six different kinds of fairytale?

Took the Pont Neuf across to the Quai des Grands Augustins and wandered along until I reached Shakespeare & Company, which is a legendary bookshop.  I had never been there, but I decided it was an auspicious day to check it out.  Well, the stories are true, it's a bit magical.  The downstairs section is reasonably normal, but if you go upstairs to the reading rooms?  Be careful.  I went up there with the intention of looking around and coming right back down again, but somehow a deep leather armchair seduced me into sitting down.  And that was it - I pulled the closest book off the shelf (just to have a look at it, mind you) completely at random, and the next thing I knew, three hours had disappeared.  Seriously!  

So, I finally managed to drag myself out of there and continued along the river until I reached the Pont de la Tournelle.  Crossed back over and kept going until I reached rue St Paul, where I found Thanksgiving, a North American grocery shop.  Now, don't get me wrong - I am very much a "live in the culture you're in" kind of gal, and I am more than happy to eat cheese and foie gras and pain au chocolat all day long, but sometimes you just need a fix from home.  It totally blew my food budget for the week, but I am now the proud owner of nearly a litre of salsa and a huge jar of dill pickles (which are my favourite thing on the planet).  Told you it was a wonderful day...

Friday, February 5, 2010


Okay, I admit it - even Miss K's frozen black heart cannot resist this level of cuteness.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What to eat?

One of the things that you learn as an expat is that you end up missing certain foods from the last country you lived in.  I have learned to live without certain of my Canadian favourites, but I must say, it didn't ever really occur to me that I would miss any of the foods from England (other than a big plate of bangers and mash, the UK's best invention ever).  And yet, I would sell my grandmother (if I had one, which, fortunately for her, I don't) down the river for a jar of Marmite right this minute.  Sigh.  And it's not always that you can't buy the thing you want, it's just a question of how insanely expensive it is here if and when you find it.  So I am busy making up my list of goodies to pick up on my next trip back to London...

Anyway, my point is that there is a great store here in Paris called La Grande Epicerie, which I highly recommend the next time it's a rainy day and you have nothing to do, because if you are interested in food, I promise you can spend hours here.  It has a huge but rather random selection; it's also very expensive, but the food is beautiful and it's a fabulous place to go and look around, even if you can't afford to buy anything.  And their international food selection is interesting in the extreme.  I was born and raised in North America and yet I don't believe I've ever seen some of the allegedly North American products which are in that section.  Also, some of their juxtapositions have to be seen to be believed:  Spanish/TexMex is on the same shelf as Germany and even more weirdly, Poland is on the same shelf as the Far East.  Huh???

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Awesome outfit of the week

I think I am going to make this an occasional feature - you do see people rocking some great fashion here in Paris and when I can snap a quick shot of an outfit I particularly like, I'll include it here.  So, to kick it off, I give you this lady (sorry the photo is so blurry).  Great leopard jacket, slightly slouchy cropped trousers and statement handbag, but really, what makes it are those shoes - let's have a round of applause for the fierce red sole of the Christian Louboutins.  Fabulous. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Things you find behind the wardrobe

Well, I'm back.  Not that I went anywhere, but I have been somewhat offline due to the fact that I was sick last week.  Nothing serious, just a really miserable cold - I was so congested and zonked out on cold medicine that I could hardly string three words together, so there was no point in posting anything.  Having said that, I did have two pieces of very good luck last week -  my lovely friend Miss L invited me to be the first dinner guest in her new apartment on the Wednesday night, and then my equally lovely friend Miss KP invited me to a dinner party with a great group of people on the Saturday night.  And since since it's horrible to be sick and have no one to look after you, it was soooooo nice to go to other people's houses and enjoy someone else's cooking! 

I am feeling better now, and plan to be off exploring and writing about it again soon, but I have learned that sometimes you discover interesting things even when you stay home...

I spent most of last week in bed (snoozing because of the aforementioned cold, nothing to get excited about but I like how you think, you saucy monkeys) and at one point I caught sight of something shiny behind my wardrobe, which is located right next to my bed.  So I reached over to grab this mysterious object and what do you think it was? 

A riding crop.  Really.  An honest-to-goodness proper riding crop.  Which means one of two things about whoever who lived in this room prior to me: a) they were really into horseback riding or b) they were having a muuuuuuuuuch more "interesting" time in this room than I am!  I leave it to your vivid imaginations to work out which explanation amuses me more...