French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.


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Paris Christmas

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Grand Rex mural detail

So, Christmas is coming. It’s interesting this year. Folks are afraid to take their kids to see the shop windows, so that means I can see them. It’s an ill wind… Every conceivable place, inside and out, is decorated with plastic snowflakes, lights, the whole deal. They don’t have Thanksgiving here and for all the other holidays, people usually leave town. This is the one time most people stay home, so they make a very big thing out of it.

My favorite thing so far has been the massive party thrown by the legal firm August & Debouzy. They want to celebrate their 20th year in business, Christmas is almost here, a whole host of other winter holidays are on their way or just happened and Star Wars just came out. What better thing to do than rent the entire Grand Rex theater, for two nights, no less. Ice cold Champagne and plenty of it, very decent sandwiches — did I prefer the foie gras or the crab, hmmm, hard to say — and the big movie of the season in 3-D. In the realm of the parties I get invited to, this is about as splashy as it gets. Plus, given that I’m not Christian and way short of family, this qualified as an excellent way to mark the holiday season.

The Grand Rex theater is an old-fashioned movie palace, built in 1932. It claims to be the largest movie theater in the world and that could be true. It features a massive ground floor and three, maybe four, balconies. I think they multi-plexed it but you sure can’t tell from the main theater. I was told that Disney poured a fortune into the place to completely restore it, for use as a showcase for their films. If it’s true, good for them. It looks great. You will find it at the Bonne Nouvelle Metro station, line 9. It’s worth seeing most anything there, as long as it is playing in the Grande Salle.

And the movie? Do you really want to know that the story and characters are predictable and that it seems to be mostly a handover from the Old Guard — Carrie Fisher looks great — to a new crowd? Clearly this franchise will continue for a long, long time. But who cares about all that? The bar scene was worth going for all by itself and the special effects are incredible. As an old movie-reviewer friend would say, this film deserves to be seen on the humungous screen, in 3-D, preferably after kicking back a couple of glasses of excellent champagne.


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What’s for dinner?

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I have been helping a friend find an apartment. It means a lot of visits to rather dismal places. I define that as no shower, no storage, bad light and tiny, useless kitchens. 

Many people have commented on these tiny kitchens, marveling at the great meals that emerge from them. Well, yeah, the writers are typically guests at a dinner party. Of course the food will be good. The question is, what are those people eating every day?

That depends on the person. All those skinny French women you see? They love the tiny kitchen because they don’t eat. They don’t cook and they don’t eat. It’s espresso for breakfast, hold the croissant. Lunch is a green salad, hold the dressing, and still water; sparkling water causes bloat. Dinner? Grissini, or grissino, as they will put on weight if they eat more than one, and carrot sticks with green tea. Size 2 is not a job. It’s a calling.

I wasn’t in France for the era of family lunches and dinners, every single day. My housing search tells me that older family-size apartments have decent kitchens, so the kitchen quandary is a nonissue anyway. 

From what I used to see on the tiny kitchen front, ordinary humans would make a one-dish meal on Sunday and maybe Wednesday, then try to make it last. Then microwaves came in and everyone went to Picard, the store that sells nothing that is not frozen. The quality is better than you might expect but still not exactly quality. I couldn’t deal with Picard, with its rows of coffin shaped freezer cases. I kept thinking I would wheel my cart past the mythical cryogenically preserved head of Walt Disney or the fictional body of Laura Palmer, maybe both. Then I’d just freak out and run away screaming. As an ex used to say, I have a rich inner life. I guess that’s nicer than saying I’m weird.

And now? That bag in the photo? It housed a to-go container. My kitchen is okay, thanks, but there I was at Le Petit Retro, staring at a half-finished dish. I couldn’t let the last few bites of amazing Iberian pork go down the drain, not with Jacques waiting at home. Notice that the bag advertises a delivery service. There are a few now; I am just snobbish enough to prefer the literary reference/pun of Toqueville. So really, these days, if your kitchen holds a wine rack and a telephone, you’re good to go.

Restaurant food, eaten with your feet up while binge-watching Better Call Saul. Who could ask for more? Maybe I don’t need a kitchen after all.


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Sheep!

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So Jacques and I were walking down the Avenue Breteuil, minding our own business, when we came upon this, a herd of sheep, not more than a football field away from the Invalides. Look behind you and you see a gilded dome. Look to the right and left and you see fancy shops, apartments and Jacques’ vet’s office. Look ahead and, appropriately enough, you see a monument to Louis Pasteur. So maybe a herd of sheep grazing right there in the middle is not so out of place, after all.

Honestly, I have my doubts about the ecological value of managing the grass with sheep. Does it really take less gas to truck these guys in than to run a lawnmower? Out at the house, though, I would love to find a service like this. I’d actually get a sheep or three but I probably would not be around enough to take proper care of them. 

So we looked on, I with envy and Jacques with curiosity, as the sheep slowly munched their way over to get a look at the little white furry critter who was looking back; I was of no interest to them at all. Then we moved on. Another day in Paris.