Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Paree Is for You and Me--Day Ten

It's lundi de Paques, and if you don't know what that means it's probably because the French-English dictionary, along with everything else, seems closed on the Monday after Easter. Unfortunately we don't learn this until we're out and about, hoping to see Place Madeleine in action with its markets and lively food shops. They are all closed, and even the church, which looks oddly like our Supreme Court building, has a mass going on, so you can't get close enough to the altar to see where the banners head up, and it's as if they've risen heavenward along with the lord.

Of course it simply all means the French are wise in holidays--why close on Sunday, when most places are already closed? Have the holiday on Monday and get that extra day off. So we walk about, trying to figure out our next move as our first has been thwarted. Along the way we find the store where my Republican parents mistakenly purchased me.

After a walk through H&M (the only store open in the row with Galleries Lafayette and Au Bon Printemps) to discover their prices are low as their quality sort of is also, we get to l'Opera by Garnier, and feel hungry for wedding cake turned into building. It is spectacular, the kind of place made for society's best to make grand entrances on grander staircases.

In the Opera's library they also have intricate models of the stage designs for some classic operas, doll houses for the melodramatic.

And in the ultimate expression of bronzing the orchid (remember, use this phrase to replace the cliche gilding the lily) , the ceiling of the actual theater is covered with a Chagall painting. Since, of course, you go there to sit in the dark and stare at the stage and not the ceiling.

All this considering of culture we both don't quite get (although we are tempted by the opera version of Cronenberg's The Fly in LA soon) , builds up our appetite so we are off in search of a quick sandwich. It takes awhile but we get a couple of "it's all about the baguette" sandwiches and go sit in Jardin Tuliere by the big fountain where kids rent model sailboats from a very Michel Simon character and somehow don't fall in. Now this is Paris. Fortified, we head to the Orangerie, only to discover it's damn cold. We have to wait, a not-so-good 45 minutes, to enter, and fortunately get in the door right as it starts to rain/sleet. Still, we're quite chilled, and that takes a bit of the fun out of two rooms encircled by Monet's water lillies. Laid out like that, it's one of the few times a painting captures the play of light over time, a place you could easily hang out in for hours.

Downstairs there's a small but choice collection--once all owned by one much too lucky person. Cezanne, Renoir, Picasso, etcetera. Outside, we take in obelisks and towers and get in that Metro pronto.

Back at the hotel we rest, plan Tuesday's Versailles trip, and I iron, which means going into the hotel's basement where one wall is covered by deer skull trophies and the dates the buck got bagged. A tad creepy, but I emerge unwrinkled. We opt to aperitif at La Tourville, and Amy gets what we joke is 20 cocktails, something called a Mary Tartini that is vodka, chambord, and strawberry puree that comes still in a shaker. I order a mint julep because it's supposed to be spring, dammit. And we take in Paris cafe culture, from the young chatting, flirting, to what looks like a mom and her mom having a spat (the younger woman leaves in a huff). We hope to have dinner at Le Gorille Blanc and Metro there only to find that it, and my two back-ups (I did try to plan, I did!) all were closed for the post-holiday holiday. We do get to see Le Bon Marche's sign look like a cross from the El Rancho in Citizen Kane and something from a horror film, though.

We end up subwaying (mode of transport, not for dinner) back to our area and hoof it up to Fontaine de Mars, which is exquisite as its mosaic tile doorway.

The place is renowned as perhaps the home of Paris' best cassoulet, and it's a dish of French homeyness we cannot refuse. But to start we share a terrine de gibier, a bit mild but when you add in the crusty bread and fig chutney, sort of mild-manneredly exquisite, and we begin to drink a Lagrazette Cahors, which is deeper than your average philosopher, or red wine, or philosopher after a deep red wine. Then the stew. Simply the beans would be enough, perfectly plumped yet still firm and happily napped in a tomato sauce cooked long enough to get down to essences. But of course there's duck, so much you can have a second helping from the Staub pot if you're as big a pig as I am. And speaking of pig, there's two kinds of sausage, both distinct and brilliantly tasty. All together, this is a pot you want to lick clean.

We opt to share dessert, all cassouleted out, and choose the tourtiere landaise. This might not mean much to you, and might even scare you if I tell you it's prune based, for the poor, maligned dried plum has become merely a punchline for grandpa's bowels (and what are you doing punching grandpa in the bowels?). But as with most things culinary, the French elevate the prune to something sublime (can you elevate something sub-anything?). The pastry is about a half inch thick, all flake and layer top and bottom with something distinctly custardy between, plus those chopped prunes. Atop sits a mound of Berthillon (ahhh) prune and Armagnac ice cream, and you add all this creaminess and flakiness and richness together and you get, well, this unbelievable treat.

Sometimes it's good not to get to eat where you thought you wanted to.


A Banner Moment

The AP reports:

The White House said Wednesday that President Bush has paid a price for the "Mission Accomplished" banner that was flown in triumph five years ago but later became a symbol of U.S. misjudgments and mistakes in the long and costly war in Iraq.

Thursday is the fifth anniversary of Bush's dramatic landing in a Navy jet on an aircraft carrier homebound from the war. The USS Abraham Lincoln had launched thousands of airstrikes on Iraq.


"President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said 'mission accomplished' for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission," White House press secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday.

Perino continued, "It's hard to fit a lot of words on a banner, as the font size has to be large. So you could say it wasn't a mistake in content as much as a graphic design problem." Perino also urged people to think, but not too hard, about how the war is going today and not about bad visuals from the past that they shouldn't waste their time remembering.

She said what is important now is "how the president would describe the fight today. It's been a very tough month in Iraq, but we are taking the fight to the enemy."

As she said those words, a banner behind her read Taking the Fight to the Enemy*. Only those closest to Perino could read the tiny type next to the asterisk at the bottom of the banner: "Over the backs of our dead soldiers, a mere 49 in April alone."

Perino concluded, "Don't worry--five years from today when I'm working for President McCain we'll say how you misunderstood what I said, and that has caused a lot of heartache. But what's important is how the president describes the fight."


Monday, April 28, 2008

A Georgia Peach

Somebody from Duluth, Georgia (didn't know they beat Minnesota to a Duluth), Googled his (it has to be a he) way to INOTBB with the phrase:

sexyest nude pitcher on eart

So somebody has to tell Johan that clothing and spelling are optional.


It's Not a Shame about Ray

Originally uploaded by bigtallguy

Ms. Harryhausen learned that her son had a unique talent during one of his first trips to the beach.

Monday random Flickr-blogging explained.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Is That Pudlo in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to Eat Paris?

As James at Coyote Mercury would say, this post isn't here. If you want to read yet more about the food part of the trip (as if I haven't lavished endless words on Paris so far right here at INOTBB), you can find an article here.

BTW, the title for this post is the title I submitted with the article. Editors are no fun.


Friday Random Ten

Steve Earle "Go Amanda" Jerusalem
Guided by Voices "Take to the Sky" Under the Bushes Under the Stars
The Magnetic Fields "My Only Friend" 69 Love Songs
Pixies "Where Is My Mind?" Surfer Rosa & Come on Pilgrim
James Brown "Doing It to Death" The CD of JB
Maria McKee "Opelousas (Sweet Relief)" Sweet Relief--A Benefit for Victoria Williams
Meat Puppets "Up on the Sun" Up on the Sun
The Mekons "Not Long Ago" New York
Urge Overkill "Tin Foil" Exit the Dragon
Son Volt "Dead Man's Clothes" Wide Swing Tremolo

The Clash "Train in Vain (Stand by Me)" London Calling

OK, distinctly underwhelming, with nods to the Pixies in a song too famous from soundtracks and Maria McKee doing Vic. And then the Clash nail it with their most radio-ready tune that even sub-political is still a blast.


Nigel Dreams in Color

For Dog Blog Friday: There's got to be a kitty out that window somewhere.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Head-First Slide for Home

Today would be my dad's 80th birthday, but if you're a regular reader, you know he passed away last September and back then I wrote, "I'll eventually write something proper." It's taken me this long, and I still don't feel ready. Maybe I just don't want to say goodbye. Maybe I'm not sure we ever fully said hello.

I have spent lots of time trying to think of what I got from him, in that classic sense of here's what passes down from generation to generation. For in so many ways we were so different--he was an engineer, mechanically brilliant, one of those 6 am - 6 pm workers cause that's what you did for your family (and partially because it was easier, much more solvable, than family). He also was a gun nut, a pipe smoker, a Reagan Republican (we finally bonded on our opposition to NAFTA, but from very different directions), a bit of a crank eventually (he bought all that Bilderberg stuff). But he was also a super-straight shooter, and I'm sure people loved doing business with him at his machine shop because you knew you'd get an honest job at an honest price. It's probably why he held no truck for unions--he treated his employees fairly, and couldn't believe others wouldn't do the same. It's why Republicanism made sense to him. He made it by sheer intelligence and force of will, and America paid him back.

More than anything, though, the poor fool wished he was a singer, not a dream one of too many kids from a coal-mining family in Scranton PA got to have. Particularly when his dad, who he admitted was a "hard man"--his words--died when he was just eight. Still, I hold many dreamy distant memories of after dinner with relatives or guests, and my sister playing piano and my dad singing. He wasn't bad, he wasn't good, but it was something he loved. How little that seems to matter to us, though. Even at our wedding just 10 years ago, the singer in the band talked to him during a break and the lightly boozed up big guy ended up joining the band for "Night and Day," of all things. I probably felt more embarrassed than charmed.

For he was a ham at heart (see photo, above), and loved corny jokes and this is how I know I am my father's son. Now instead of "Strangers in the Night" or "My Way" or one of his songs, I'm left thinking of one of mine, "And I'm the only one who laughs/At your jokes when they are so bad/And your jokes are always bad/But they're not as bad as this."

It doesn't help that his second wife, who we always got along well enough with, seemed to want to obliterate him once he passed away. She, her daughter from her first marriage, and her son-in-law went through and got rid of most of his possessions, from clothes to endless notes, as he was kind of a packrat, without asking us if we wanted to be part, and had it gone by his funeral. They finally sent my sisters and I several boxes of mostly crap, including, oddly, if all too perfectly a symbol, a bunch of empty picture frames amongst that dross. Now of course I wish I insisted to get to go through his stuff, just to see one last time the neat precision of his penciled handwriting, but I was too shell-shocked, too distant--perhaps one more of my genetic gifts from someone never good at being close.

More than anything I want his slide rule, which I do not know how to use. But he sure did, once running rings around engineers who actually had the luxury of going to college and having time to learn things not on the job. He always loved to tell a story about when on one job back in the 1960s he did some work that was part of the Stanford Linear Accelerator. The folks there said something about what a great job his team did, but his team was my dad and one other guy.

A slide rule is like working math with your hands, a sort of magic. It helps you figure roots and powers. Perhaps I could have learned to use his, if I was smart enough, just enough to make it sing.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Luckily It's Only the Headline

I so want to take the Daily Sound seriously, but then something like this happens....

I know it seems as if this primary season has gone on forever, but I don't think individual cities are having primaries yet.


It's My Saint's Day and I'll Blog If I Want To

April 23rd is St. George's Day, and I feel a special affinity for my namesake, given we both had our sainthood removed (it's a very painful procedure when it's done when you're an adult, let me tell you). To help polish both our images, I did some research, and found out some wonderful things, like St.George isn't just the patron Saint of England, he also is the patron saint of the Knights of the Garter, and therefore not surprisingly, of those with syphilis. Therefore everyone in England has syphilis.

He also didn't slay the dragon all at once. Nope, he opted to first get a bit kinky and then showboat, dragging his dragon into town to show how saintly he was. Here's how the Middle Ages best-seller The Golden Legend put it (probably one of the first airport books, but alas they didn't have airports, so instead it was alongside everyone's chamber pot):

Thus as they spake together the dragon appeared and came running to them, and S. George was upon his horse, and drew out his sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear and hurt him sore and threw him to the ground. And after said to the maid: Deliver to me your girdle, and bind it about the neck of the dragon and be not afeard.

When she had done so the dragon followed her as it had been a meek beast and debonair.

Which, of course, begs the question, is that a dragon in your girdle, are you just debonair? And it also is the precursor to those unbelievable moments in horror/action films, when a couple, in mortal peril from a hockey-mask wearing crazy, a Cloverdale Creature, or Al Pacino's hair, decides, "Let's stop running and get busy!" and then is slaughtered in flagrante delicto, but the scene meets the audience-approved nudity-violence quotient so everyone is happy. At least it's good to see the 20th century didn't make this shit up.

So, if you want to celebrate the day, there are many ways. First, you could ask a maiden to take off her girdle and wrap it around your dragon. Then email photos to the address at the bottom of this page. Second, you could just give money to people you know named George. Third, you could do the things English Heritage suggests. Many of these things have to do with eating and drinking. Yes, English food. So let's just skip to the drinking part, which England tends to be better at and keeps you from having something called Toad in the Hole (that has to be a euphemism, but I prefer dragon to toad, at least for my ego). Then make this:

George’s Poison (adults only!)

Drink a toast to St George with this dangerous tipple named in his honour.

Ingredients: 3 parts lemonade, 2 parts ginger beer, 2 parts Pimms, 1 part gin, ice, fresh mint leaves, sliced apples, oranges, lemons, cucumber, and strawberries.
1. Measure all ingredients.
2. Pour out 2 parts Pimms and 1 part gin.
3. Add ice.
4. Add 3 parts lemonade and 2 parts ginger beer.
5. Gradually add mint leaves and fruit slices to taste.
6. Serve in a wide brimmed glass.

Hey, that's not a cocktail, that's a fruit punch!

I think I might celebrate with some St. George Whisky instead. From the good ole US of A. Since we need to work on the awful besmirchment to the name George that currently terrorizes our land.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Write this Down in Pencilvania

Reuters reports:

Obama seeks to show he can "stand the heat"

Hammered by Hillary Clinton's claim he is not tough enough for the U.S. presidency, Barack Obama worked to show that he could "stand the heat" as he faced a possible defeat in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.

What's more, Obama has signed on to a unique demonstration to prove he can stand the heat. For a grueling five hours this coming Monday, April 28, the Illinois Senator will sit, tied to a chair, and have to face a series of abusers -- Don Rickles, Lisa Lampanelli, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, and veteran character actor R. Lee Ermey. If he manages not to crack during the first four hours, his last hour will be spent with David Duke, who insists he has some special wardrobe for the occasion.

His Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton has already denounced the event as a stunt, asserting, "Let Senator Obama spend an evening with a drunked-up Jim Carville and Mary Matalin, and then we'll talk about standing up to the heat. I mean, not only are they unbearable to listen to, but then they start making out, and that's just gross."


Monday, April 21, 2008

Things That Scare Me

1) The Mets bullpen (nice pitch, there, Pedro Feliciano). I guess you borrowed Aaron Heilman's matches.

2) Joe Morgan might be smarter than Willie Randolph.

During last night's game, I actually agreed with Morgan (send the runner) and not Randolph (leave the runner). Batter, David Wright, doubles. Runner only ends up on third. Luckily Carlos Beltran singles both of them home. But he should have only had to have hit one man in.

Given I agree with Captain Morgan ads more than the wit and wisdom of Joe Morgan, this does not bode well for the Mets' season.


The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Whinny

Originally uploaded by lion_king1109

Tony was sad that his all-equine version of Sound of Music--despite all the great hoofers and tunes like "I Am 16-1, Going on 17-1"--never interested any financial backers.

Monday random Flickr-blogging explained.


How Life Changes Happen

Originally uploaded by Cheeky Ana

The audience at my last poetry reading. Many years ago.


Bush-Eye View

Originally uploaded by Airships

Oh say can you see? If not, we can.


Paree Is for You and Me--Day Eight

It's Easter Sunday, so we're a bit worried things might be closed as there are hints, Notre Dame-sized hints, the country might be a tad Catholic. Oddly enough, though, all the things usually opened on Sunday seem open. We even get a glorious morning, before things turn gray as the day wears on, enough to capture photos like this one as we walk from the hotel, where we have breakfast for the first time (very nice, there are no Costco croissants in France, but no Secco), to the relatively nearby Rodin Museum.

Seems it was a big thing in France to pay off your debt to the state as an artist by leaving them your estate (Picasso did the same). Rodin lived in one fine house, and now it houses his terrific stuff. His statues have those deep, deep eyes, and they completely draw you in. And pretty much all of his greatest work is here--inside the chateau are the studies, and outside in the gardens the actual Gates of Hell, to pick one example. There are also mirrors everywhere in the house, giving you wonderful odd views and nifty camera opportunities.

I also get to see more of those "emerging from the stone" sculpture I find so mesmerizing (see Michelangelo's The Slaves) here, in particular this impossibly balanced, and what better metaphor for its subject, statue of Icarus.

The gardens of the museum are marvelous; what a refuge they must be when the city is sticky with summer, but even on a late winter day they enchant, full of wonder and art that redeems itself from being overly famous like this guy....

Afterward we head back to the hotel to make our decision about going to Rich's funeral or not. After a night's sleep and some more chatting/emailing with my family I opt not to, as even my poor now-widowed sister says don't come. Mostly it seems as if going would be a grand gesture that was mostly gesture--and indeed we hear so many people come that there's a line out the funeral home door. I would be just one more person, but one much poorer, to be there. So I decide it's best to see her later, when she might not have as much support but no doubt still need it, if not more.

I also hope that this Metro poster is meant not for me.

We decided to hit the Pompidou Center that afternoon, especially as it's quite close to St. Eustache, where there's a free organ concert at 5:30. At the Pompidou we hit our third (one and two are coming up later in the trip) longest line, but finally get in and soak up the 20th Century in art. The elevators do make you feel like gerbils with some technology, yes. Oh, but before you go in, there's the a bit rundown fountain/sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely. We're suckers for Phalle, as she did the perfectly playful Queen Califia's Magic Circle down by Amy's folks in Escondido.

Oh, so I posted out of order, but modern art does that to you, especially when you can look out the full glass doors and see through the stormy looking clouds to Sacre Coeur.

Or you can get lost in a room hung with Calder.

But every artist in the hit parade is here, often with a room for him or herself. And the wall informational plaques are very helpful, too, not just historical/biographical but interpretative. We do begin to tire when we get to the second half of the 20th century. I mean, Phillippe Starcke is fine, but when I see a whole room of his stuff I start wondering if I'm at Target (pronounce that tar-zhey, s'il vous plaît). We then have to hustle to get from the museum to the church, especially as we want to check emails as the decision I said was decided earlier we sort of kicked around the whole day. (Such a decision I don't make quickly, as it kicks back.) Luckily, Paris is a city that offers free wi-fi in some of its parks, so we find the hot spot, log in, and our iPhones do the rest.

The concert, Liszt, is transporting, if not as much to me as for one guy who clearly attends all such concerts and listens, head down, near-to-tears, often conducting key shifts with a wave of his hand. But to be in a Gothic church and have a magnificent old organ let notes fly towards its butresses--very impressive, even for a rock and roll loving fool like me (and actually, you can't tell me massive bass notes on a pipe organ aren't rock 'n' roll).

From there we Metro to the Bastille to say let us eat dinner. We find Bofinger, often called the first brasserie, which is grand but without reservation you get whisked upstairs and barely have time to snap a photo of its lovely dome.

We have a solid meal of oysters for Amy, foie gras pate for me, salmon and haddock choucrote for Amy, civet de biche (yes, doe stew) for me, a 2004 Guigal Tavel rose, an incredible apple clafoutis with hazelnuts for Amy, and something chocolate but I can't read my handwriting so I don't remember what for me. Amy probably got the best all through the meal, but I forgive her. Alas, on the way out two kinds of misfortunes--I forget my umbrella (I hope it's still enjoying Paris) and as we head down the stairs a waitress loses an entire tray of meals, food and plates flying everywhere. Very dramatic, but we escape unstained.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Maybe I Do Want to Get Old

I have to see this movie...this is way too cool.

and a bonus, and keep watching, as it finally zooms in so you don't have this too distant shot for the whole performance. Plus there's a surprise guest!


The Right Profile (OK Actually the Left, but That Ruins the Clash Allusion)

For Dog Blog Friday: There's no need to teach an old dog new handsomeness.


Friday Random Ten

Richard Thompson "That's All, Amen, Close the Door" Mock Tudor
David Byrne "Big Blue Plymouth (Eyes Wide Open)" The Complete Score from "The Catherine Wheel"
Thurston Moore "Ono Soul" Son of Swag
Ryuichi Sakamoto "Neo Geo" Neo Geo
Lucinda Williams "Blue" Essence
Preston School of Industry "Tone It Down (Pablo Wrong Remix)" Matador at Fifteen
Nerf Herder "You're Gonna Be the One Who's Sorry" Nerf Herder
The Folk Implosion "Wet Stuff" Kids sdtrk
Shawn Colvin "Steady On" Steady On
Daniel Johnston "Despair Came Knocking" Continued Story/Hi, How Are You (The Unfinished Album)

Roger Miller "Manic Depression" The Big Industry

Wow--seven ofthese 11 are known for their work in a whole band (or more famous band) as well as (or more so than) as a solo artist/member of a second band. Can you name them all?

And I hope you non-Santa Barbarians know Nerf Herder, probably most famous for the theme for Buffy, but a fine, fun band beyond that too.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Impatient to Mount and Ride

It was 233 years ago this Friday night-Saturday morning that left us still today polishing the copper bottoms of pots and pans. Yes, we learned to revere Paul this day, as Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride (without the Raiders, too). [Interesting side note: while Mark Linsdsay was lead singer of Paul Revere & the Raiders, they were founded by organist Paul Revere Dick. Can't imagine why he shortened his name. And one of Paul Revere's co-riders in 1775 was Samuel Prescott, yes, of Prescott Bush lineage. So there's dicks all over this story.] The Paul Revere tale wears thin when you realize much of it is made up by Longfellow's famous poem. To make a longfellow story short, Revere wasn't a sole rider (he met Samuel Prescott along the way at 1 am after Prescott left his fiancee--go Samuel!), the "two if by sea" part was really "two if by Charles River," which isn't much of a sea and I can't quite make the reach to a "two if buck Chuck" joke, and of course he stopped along the way for dalliances with women (wait, that's the Harpo Marx version, but I don't mean to blow my own horn by getting too allusive, that just makes everything too soupy and you'd duck out of reading this). Revere always felt sour grapes about not making it to Concord, where the Minute Men were in a jam. But he did help preserve the nascent revolutionary fervor, teasing the Red Coats not by yelling, "The British are coming!" but yelling, "The British are breathing heavy, but their tax on Viagra leaves their muskets swinging low."


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Paree Is for You and Me--Day Seven

This is the day when vacation goes strange, as we get the email, and then make the call, and find out the news about my brother-in-law. That's not until before dinner, though, and the immense pain-weirdness of it all is for later in the day. In the meantime we Metro out to Jardin des Plantes as we haven't been out that way yet and want to see the famed market on Rue Mouffetard, especially in full Saturday mode. In addition to the narrow street jammed with sellers of fruits, vegetables, cheese, and more, there are old houses like this one, incredibly decorated.

And seafood like this, that made us wish we had a kitchen.

But alas it's frightfully cold this morning, and when we opt to sit at a beer bar to have two caffes the woman asks us if we have umbrellas, as a close-to-freezing drizzle sets in. (We did not have beers. Sure, you can drink early on vacation, but it makes the ambulatory part less easy.) As we head Seine-ward we get to St. Etienne-du-Mont right at noon, and it turns out that some churches sieta. I didn't realize the church needs sleep. So instead of doing that first we go to the Pantheon, which is half-Greco-Roman and half-St. Paul's in London (or so the guidebooks say, as London awaits its visit by INOTBB--if London is reading this and wants to sponsor a trip, please contact us at the email at the bottom of this page). The Pantheon is impressive, massive, monumental, and really really cold--probably too big a space to even bother trying to heat. There's a flower show outside, however, in time for what-should-be-spring and is the day before Easter, daffodils in pots everywhere, looking defeated in the icy rain. But inside, there's just space....

And tribute after tribute to the glories of France. One of my favorites is this painting of Joan of Arc in a moment not her most favorite, no doubt.

But there are also statues in the spot where an altar should be, as the Pantheon has been a monument to the state and/or a church off and on for years. France perhaps wisely fought its separation of church and state battle quite publicly (and bloodily) over its history, unlike us Americans, who pretend it's not an issue and therefore never quite figure it out. Not that a statue like this one isn't much different than a Pieta or one of the items you might see in a side chapel at Notre Dame--we people sure get our sorts of worship be-puzzled too often.

You do have to hand it to the French, though, that in the crypt they worship their best thinkers and writers--one contains the remains of Hugo, Dumas, and Zola. Talk about a trinity. Again, if America had a national crypt for its genius, we'd have Disney, Ford, and King in there (that's Stephen, not MLK of course).

From there we walk--very slowly as this is probably our worst foot day--to the Luxembourg Gardens nearby. It would be much easier to enjoy if the weather was warmer and our bodies didn't hurt, but you can tell how it must be amazing in a pleasanter season. Kids float cute toy sailboats on an octagonal pond, bulbs break through the chilly ground, and a Medici fountain makes you think you're in Florence.

We do head back to St. Etienne, as it's part Renaissance, part Gothic, and the burial place of Pascal and Racine (guess they were B-listed and kept from the Pantheon across the street).

From here we go hunt down the tiny store that sells the leather Eiffel Tower key chain Amy wanted, a nifty, sort of typical souvenir done upscale. We saw it our first day in Paris' streets, but that was a Sunday, so the store was closed. Today it is open, and Amy is happy. To make me happy we then look for the nearby Shakespeare & Co., as it's necessary every now and then for me to remind myself I was a writer once. It's an impressive collection of books in a less impressive building, but it's so crawling with tourists/shoppers that people knock over piles of books trying to negotiate the small space. It doesn't feel properly contemplative. I want something more spiritual that I don't get, but I feel that void at City Lights in San Francisco, too. Maybe that's why I don't really write anymore--I don't have the ability to make those imaginative connections.

From there we wind through the Latin Quarter and St Germain, stopping for deliciously buttery sable cookies at Carton (oh, we started the day with savory pastries, so skipped lunch), and before we knew it were by St. Sulpice, so figured when in Paris, do as the Catholics do and keep going into churches. Its outside is under rennovation and therefore covered with scaffolds, and its inside is much plainer than many of its fellow churches. Well, except for the one chapel with three Delacroix paintings--there must be a rule that each church has to have something fantastic.

We Metro hotel-ward, stopping at the simple, chic Brasserie Tourville at the top of the Metro stairs for cocktails, a fine excuse for sitting. At the hotel the vacation gets complicated. At this point I can't think beyond I have to be there for my sister, so we assume the vacation will be cut short. There's anger, misery, incredulousness. Guilt at thinking, "How can he do this now while we're on vacation?"

There's a need for supper, too. We head off into the sleet, only to discover that cobblestones are so picturesque, so slick. We get to Cafe Constant, one of the many establishments in Paris owned by Christian Constant, who seems to be sort of a Mario Batali style empire-builder. It's a wonderful nouvelle take on the bistro--for instance my lobster ravioli starter is napped in seafood foam and garnished with caviar (and a flavor parade). Amy's starter of asparagus viniagrette is simple and simply perfect. For mains Amy has the veal special that is almost outshone by its accompanying mashed potatoes while I have quail stuffed with foie gras over lentils that's earthy, delicate, delicious. Everything pairs perfectly with a bottle of 2006 Joseph Drouhin Laforet Bourgogne, an affordable, approachable, agreeable (I'm out of a__ adjectives) Burgundy. For dessert we share a special, an apple dessert, the fruit sliced gorgeously thin, with just a tiny hint of flaky pastry beneath and a scoop of very French, very vanilla ice cream.

Then back in the room, after a full full day and then the emotional sucker punch, we can only watch TV. What's on? A dubbed into French version of the South Korean horror film The Host. A properly unsettling way to end the day.


Latest Politics, Straight Up with a Twist

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama won the crucial bartenders and drunkards vote today when he clarified his incendiary comments about people feeling bitter. "I meant to say bitters, not bitter," Obama asserted. "In the America I want to lead, people know what makes a good cocktail."

Immediately he was attacked by Maureen Dowd, who insisted, "Real Americans, like my family I only talk about not to--after all they won't help me land a man--don't suffer any of that frou frou stuff in their drinks." George Will also piled on, "Only a frivolous liberal would want to think a minuscule drop of something matters. It's the majority that matters, and gets to rule, as it should. That majority should be the 16 year old single malt I can afford telling the American public nothing."


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Paree Is for You and Me--Day Six

This day we decide to Champs-Elysses it, so since our favorite patiserrie is on the way (Secco, shown here, but you can't quite see how good those almond croissants are--there's even a hint of chocolate in them), as is our favorite copper counter to stand at for cafe creme at Tabac de l'Universite, we eat, drink
and are off across the Seine on the ridiculously ornate Pont Alexandre III. Figures if you do an artistic mash-up of Belle Epoque France with the waning glories of Tsarist Russia, you're bound to have something a tad over-the-top.

Just across, the skies open up with rain at a 45 degree angle, but then the sideways rain turns into sleet. Along with many others we take our useless umbrellas and scamper under the welcoming portico of the Grand Palais, which unfortunately has no show right now so we merely get to glimpse in. Luckily it's mere minutes till it blows over and we're up the rain-soaked avenue. With the Arc de Triomphe at its crest, it's a grand boulevard indeed, but instead of a Bastille Day military parade we get Catholics out for a Good Friday procession, for some reason guarded by police (or maybe the police were there to make sure none of us innocent bystanders accidentally got dragged off to Golgotha). We take the turn down Avenue Montaigne to see the fashion houses, with the guards eager at the doors as if we aren't too intimidated to even peek in, and try to figure out how anyone justifies that several thousand dollar outfit. Still, the stuff in Harry Winston's window makes it clear why starlets drape themselves with it--for free--at the Oscars. Best of all, at the street's end there's this great frame for that Tower that won't stay out of my camera's viewfinder.

Back on the Champs Elysees we continue up the street past a storefront that proves Paris is one of the best places in the world...

Actually, it's a promotional store/bar for Pelforth, which makes a tasty dark beer and an ok light. Still, it's a heartwarming sight as the clouds roll back in, well, roll isn't quite right, the clouds rock 'n' roll back in with wild winds that whip through the Arc de Triomphe and make tourists shriek. The collective high-pitched "wooo" is worse than wind itself, actually.

Fortunately this statue is inside the Arc, so you couldn't see it and hear the noise, or you might be sore afraid. Yes, we did the Arc's inside to get to the Arc's top--it's a tourist's duty to climb everything they can jam a spiral staircase into, after all. The panorama is impressive, even in a drizzle and stiff wind. Here's the closest we got to the Arc la Defense. We did figure it might make a good test--lay down underneath every day when you visit, and when your stomach hits the top you've eaten too long in Paris. Enough croissants for you, buddy.

And since I'm legally obligated to provide one, here's an odd-angled shot of the Arc de Triomphe itself (herself? himself? does triumph have a gender? in France, or at least in French, no doubt it does.)

We decide we need to east a real lunch today, so end up at Tokyo.Eat that's in Palais Tokyo. This place is so hip it has its own music video, and is certainly the polar opposite of something like Domaine de Lintillac. Still, it's welcoming enough, despite the waiter suggesting we were from somewhere barbaric as our credit cards don't have our pictures on them. When we said we were from the States we admitted we thought it was barbaric sometimes too, which opened the door for him to share a joke we still don't get--he said, "We say the USA is the United States of Albania--with the light on." The food lives up to the affect, though, especially my cream of celery soup that made me realize it's worth having soup made from celery. It certainly didn't hurt there was pungent Spanish chorizo sliced in it and some sort of savory "ice cream" that melted into the soup. A perfect lunch for a blustery day. with wine, it was a very civilized break, and at this point our feet were starting to fight us, hoping for a vacation on a beach instead of this sightseeing regimen.

Next we tour the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville Paris, and were done before we finished saying its name. Seriously, it has some great stuff, especially for free, including Derain and Delaunay, both of whom I am a sucker for their colors. After an impressive Christian Boltanski room it sort of devolves into conceptual art I have less and less truck for as I move further from being an "academic"--stones on floor. Woo. After that we head back across the Seine and criss-cross streets as clouds criss-cross us.

Back at the hotel we rest up for our evening cocktail and dinner extravaganza. and I'm not using the term hyperbolically for we Metro to Tulliere and after a quick jaunt find the Ritz Hotel (it's as big as a diamond). You can almost breathe the money here, especially if you walk in the front from Place Vendome and hope to go to the Hemingway Bar, which is all the way in the back, a block away. That means you pass all these windows from vendors set up in the hotel, and it puts Avenue Montaigne to shame. Alas, it's a Friday so the tiny-esque Hemingway Bar is packed. We opt to sit right across the hall in the Ritz Bar, full of Louis XVI furniture, bare trees decorated with colored martini glasses, and quietly pumping mild Euro-techno. It's like the set of a Madonna video, but in a good way. You order from the same menu as the Hemingway, which you can take home for 5 Euros. But you won't, as the cocktails are 26 Euros. A piece. So now we can say we've had 2 drinks for about $80. They were good drinks--mine was a Coboulette, a Champagne cocktail (it's the Ritz, after all) with Cognac, and pear liquor, served over ice. Amy had a Miss Bonde, that brought her champagne with raspberry infusion. The homemade chips were good. The service better, our clearly English waiter completely welcoming even though $80 might be our usual weekly bar tab. So you have to hand the Ritz that.

Needless to say, we had no plans to eat at the Ritz, as we would have spent all our food budget for the rest of the trip. Instead we struggle to find, but do discover, A Casa Luna, a charming, stonewall Corsican gem. The food is a nifty mix of Provence, Italy, and North Africa--some couscous as an amuse; scallops tartare, doused in fine lemon and olive oil; a cured pork and cheese plate that features a hearty Corsican cheese called tomme corse; an eggplant cheese bake; and a wild boar stew served over polenta. We washed it down with a great Corsican red wine, Domaine Fiumicicoli Corse Sartene, as hearty and full as the boar. For dessert we shared Croustillant Chocolat Praliné aux écorces d'Oranges Confites--English doesn't do it justice. Great chocolate mousse on a tuille pastry, but the crowning achievement was the candied orange, sliced in tiny shavings so you always wanted more and they never over-powered. Then they give you a myrtle liqueur for free, sort of an eau de vie, but more tree-y, less leaf-y, if that makes sense. In a word, milder. Plus a plate of little cookies, fig and lemon curd.

I want to go back right now.


Screw a Recession--This Gives Me Depression

On the one hand you have Bush. On the other hand you have McCain. Which means both your hands are soiled with the same bullshit.

I want to see more ads!

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Harley Davidsons Is People

Originally uploaded by HammerheadFotos

"So you really snagged one of Charlton Heston's finger bones as a relic to build into the spokes on your Harley?"

Monday random Flickr-blogging explained.


No, I've Got the Bad Reputation

Originally uploaded by Barry Craig

Things get ugly at the Joan Jett Look-a-Like Contest.


Babies Gone Wild!

Originally uploaded by winglessangel383838

The world's youngest Bourbon Street reveler.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Paree Is for You and Me--Day Five

This is the day we finally get to experience a true French specialty--a workers' strike! We don't know it, though, until we get to Ste. Chapelle to find no line but this sign instead...

Since we're on Ille de Cite, we figure we might as well head over to that other church you might have heard of, Notre Dame. We did peek in on Sunday, but as it was Palm Sunday they were kind of busy with things beyond welcoming failed-Catholic tourists.
We opted to do the whole walk-about, and even though other tourists use their flashes despite the signs that say "don't use flash," we were good and therefore proved we're a bit shaky when the exposure time goes under 1/2 a second. Still, we got some good shots off.

And I'm particularly fond of this one, as you can never have too screwy a perspective, in my book. My notes say that St. George has a nice chapel, but I don't have any photos of that. (Who wants photos of nice anyway?)

We also wanted to go up to the towers, but the line to do so is way too long, so we save that for another day. That doesn't stop us from staring up at the gargoyles and chimere, though. Can't get enough of those.
We followed our churchly visit by taking DK's suggested walk around Ille de St. Louis. Filled with stately buildings, it really is a calm oasis in the heart of a crazy city. We weren't as jazzed by it as we were the first day when everything Paris seemed magical (now only 90% of Paris seems magical), but it's still pretty cool. And it's even got its own odd church, with a steeple you can see through and a large clock (tick tick, closer to the lord!).

The absolute highlight of any visit to Ille St. Louis, though, is Berthillon. Yes, it's probably the most famous ice cream shop in Paris, but it doesn't rest on its waffle cones. Instead of lunch, as we are adults, and on vacation, we have cones, precious little scoops of Armagnac-prune for Amy and caramel-ginger, but lightly that, for me. Gelato, smelato--this is a frozen, creamy dessert. Or lunch. I mean lunch.

The bulk of the afternoon is spent wandering the Marais, an area with many little streets, filled with little shops, that sell little things with large price tags. It doesn't cost anything to look, though, including at one window where we weren't the only to stare as the store sold antique instruments including horns out of Dr. Seuss (except they were real and not cartoon drawings). Eventually we got to the Picasso Museum, but it, too, was hit by the strike. Only parts were open, but because of that it was free for the day. You give and you get. There is something about museums devoted to a single artist, but with Picasso that gets complicated since you can argue he was so many artists over his life--such versatility (or, if you buy the John Berger argument, the rise and fall of Picasso). Meanwhile, all I can think when we see the early work "Nude with Legs Crossed" is that "Nude with Legs Open" costs more. You can take the boy to culture but you can't take the boy out of the boy.

All this walking and considering the striking workers makes us thirsty and it's now after 5 pm. So we head to one of Paris's landmark's, Harry's, which you get to via the Opera Metro station (nothing like popping out of the ground to see Garnier's amazing wedding cake of a building). Harry's is dark, woody, and clubby, and the bartender quips, when I ask for "deux sidecars"--"very good French." They are very good sidecars, fresh lemon juice and a silver shaker and a hefty price (12 €). Around the bar they post university pennants, and oddly enough right next to the Penn State one is one for "John Hopkins." You'd think for $18 a cocktail they could spell the name of my alma mater correctly.

Drinking leads us to shopping, so we head to the nearby Galleries Lafayette, which sort of makes Le Bon Marche pale by comparison. Part of that is the awe-inspiring dome.

Can't imagine what it's like to be a poor worker at such a place. All you want to do is be left alone and sell your sweaters or whatever and all these stupid tourists come in to take pictures. Lafayette also has an amazing food court--since it was pretty much dinner time I walked through it stunned, as it's full of counters by many of France's finest purveyors of all sorts of food, plus it's a grocery, too. A foodie wonderland, for sure.

All that looking at food--and our lack of lunch--left us deeply hungry so we head back to Au Trappiste as the moules and frites the other day looked so good. Turns out they look a bit better than they taste, but for a cheapie meal you could do a lot worse. Especially as we got to wash it all down with Belgian Bush blonde, Chimay blonde, and Leffe brune, all on tap. Beer excuses not as succulently tender as you might hope mussels quite well, especially strong Belgian ales.

And after all that walking, we head home sort of early, via our Metro friend.


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