Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Soup's On!

It's that time of year again -- the days are shorter, the nights are longer, and there is nothing more comforting to come home to than a bowl of good, hearty, home-made soup. (Zoom in on attractive maternal-type lady smiling in drowsy ecstasy as she lifts a steaming bowl to her lips.)

I make all kinds of soups in winter, or rather, one soup with endless variations. It's really just water and whatever vegetables are on hand, in various combinations: onions, shallots, garlic, carrots, turnips, cabbage, celery (and celery root), spinach, squash, potato, broccoli, chard, leeks, mushrooms, pumpkin...well, the list goes on. As a matter of fact, there are very few vegetables that don't make it into my soup (brussels sprouts and beets are among the few rejects). I have even used "mache" lettuce (the dark green clover-looking stuff) but the soup didn't keep as well.

This one is an old stand-by, simplicity itself: leeks and carrots and one potato, boiled in water or stock, with a handful of parsley thrown in at the end. Then I take my Braun handmixer (essential!) and puree the whole thing (leaving some parts a little lumpy), adding salt and pepper and butter or cream or soy cream or mustard (yes! it adds a nice bite) or....nothing at all (the vegetables can speak for themselves). Et voila! Bon appetit! Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Autumn Leaves in Champagne

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Le Syndic

In France, each building has something called "le Syndic de Copropriete," which manages the property and collects fees from the co-op members. (If the word "syndic" brings Mafia connotations to mind, it's not a coincidence, at least not according to most homeowners I've met here.)

Last night we had our annual "reunion syndic," wherein the co-op members -- those who show up -- have a chance to vote on such thrilling issues as whether or not we should install individual water meters (vote delayed until more research is done) or if the front door code should be activated during the daytime so that men won't come in and pee in the entryway (again, vote delayed) .

One of the more disturbing items on last night's agenda was whether or not to modernize the concierge's bathroom, which at the moment is accessible only from outside in the courtyard, and consists of what is known as a Turkish toilet (hole in the ground) with the shower right above it. It seemed only natural to vote Yes on such an item (the concierge has two young children) but again, voting was delayed due to not having an estimate of the cost. Apparently this is an item which has been brought up over the last six years. I guess I won't hold my breath for getting an elevator put in.

Overall, the meeting wasn't very productive. Most of the major renovations -- like fixing the part of the roof that's leaking into our living room -- weren't passed, due to the voting power of one woman and her two brothers, who together own almost half the building. To give you an example of their power, they have blocked the vote to paint our hallways and stairs for over TWENTY YEARS. Clearly, these people are more interested in the quantity than the quality of property they own. (The books A Christmas Carol and Silas Marner come to mind. Except those had happy, cozy endings. Nothing cozy about Mme Claudinet -- name changed to protect me from lawsuits -- she could easily be cast as Mme DeFarge or, alternately, a collaborator during WWII. I know that sounds harsh, but dammit, I want my hall painted!)

We did manage to get 500 euros budgeted to buy plants for the courtyard, however. Gotta look on the bright side of things.

(note: that's Mme C in the drawing, from last year's meeting.) Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Power Lunch

Just to dispel any ideas you may have about me and frozen food, here is a photo of yesterday's lunch (before it was cooked, that is)... Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Eclectic Gate

This was a gate we saw in Upper Lake, behind which lay a sculpture studio or a mechanic's garage, hard to tell which.

Well, that's one way of always knowing where your tools are... Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Upper Lake CA

We also spent two very relaxing days at the gorgeously renovated tallman hotel in Lake County. Worth a visit if you're in the area, and a heck of a lot cheaper than Napa, which is only about 50 miles south. Posted by Picasa

Cabin in the Alps

Trinity Alps, that is. Way up north in California, off the 5 freeway, heading towards Mt. Shasta. We spent two magical days at my friend's cabin there, basically doing nothing -- or doing a lot, depending on how you look at it. Breathing in the mountain air. Swimming in a nearby creek. Making pancakes on a wood stove. Eating, talking, drinking. Listening to Bob Dylan's radio show (a wonder in its own right).

Now that all the driving, planning, schlepping, packing, unpacking, reading maps and whatnot is done, I feel like I can really enjoy our trip! I think there's a Rumi poem about that, something about only really loving a place when you're somewhere else and remembering that other place. Anyway, that sounds about right for me and my warped, delayed sense of reality. Posted by Picasa

California Dreamin'

This is where we stayed last month in San Francisco. We were perched atop a hill next to Buena Vista Park, near Haight Ashbury and the Castro, looking south. In the morning the sun came streaming through our window and I watched bluejays and parrots fly in and out of that tall tree you see on the right; a birds' version of SFO. At night I watched the fog roll in over Twin Peaks, making the city a cold and alien place again. The two faces of San Francisco, that I never seemed to reconcile while living there: one, happy, friendly, and sunny; the other, moody, gray, and barren. Like having winter and summer in the same day. Never time to settle into one or the other. I guess that's the beauty of San Francisco: its ephemeral, ethereal quality. Like a beautiful person who can't commit to a relationship but you want to be around them anyway...

Boy, I really did wake up in a dreamy state this morning! Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 13, 2006

You Eat WHAT in Paris?

I confess! In the country that more or less invented the art of fine dining, I dare to eat "les produits surgel├ęs." This was dinner last night, from the frozen food store "Picard" which supplies more French restaurants and French households than people would like to admit (that's frozen spinach, by the way, boiling in the pan. Gotta get my greens somehow!).

Let's face it, the whole world loves convenience. And Picard does it well -- snazzy packaging, good ingredients (certainly less crap than your average frozen food), and a store environment that feels more like an Arctic research laboratory than a supermarket.

So I confess, this is how I spend some (not all) of my evenings in Paris: with frozen food and a DVD. Talk about decadence! Henry Miller's got nothin' on me.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Honk if You Love Paris

Today was an "up" day in jetlag land. The sun was shining, I took a walk along the canal, spent hours chatting with a friend while someone nearby played bagpipes....it felt good to be alive.

Even the Paris traffic can seem beautiful on a day like today. Look at those long, sleek, clean buses! Listen to that joyous honking! And, hallejuah -- no SUV in sight!

It's great to be back. Posted by Picasa

Friday, October 06, 2006

Back on the Continent

It feels strange to be back, a mixture of coming home and yet being a foreigner all over again. Like I am re-learning, or re-remembering, the ways in which it's different here, after a month of being back in my "culture of origin."

There are the little things of course, like the sound the sirens make, or reaching to the side of the toilet to flush (here it's usually a button on the top), or expecting people to smile back when you make eye contact (well, duh! too much time in California, I guess). And pink toilet paper is still a concept that startles me whenever I see it again.

But those are minor things, habits that just get re-formed. There are bigger, more daunting issues. Language, for instance. After a month of speaking like a fairly well-educated adult, I am back to sounding mildly retarded. You know in dreams when you open your mouth but no words come out? Well, that's what I feel like in French, only it's my personality and intelligence and sense of humour that are locked up, strangled really. (They'll never know what a genius I am! -- hahahaha). Sometimes I do make people laugh in French, but it's usually unintentional, and it's ALWAYS at my expense.

Another issue is music. As I'm fond of saying lately, "Music is what brought me to France and music is what will make me leave". I kid you not -- I almost had a panic attack in the supermarket yesterday because of the music they were playing. I never felt I needed an iPod or its equivalent in the States, but now I think I may have to walk around in my own bubble like everyone else. The fact is, most music played on the radio and in public places in France (like supermarkets) is simply unlistenable. It is worse than elevator music, because at least elevator music is (usually) based on good original tunes, however mangled they become.

Please understand that I have nothing against pop music per se (see recent post on tacky sunsets), but French pop music (again, most of it) really sinks to the bottom of the barrel....it is BAD. I don't even want to analyze why, I just want to avoid it at all costs. And if that sounds overly opinionated, so be it. Blame it on the jetlag. And pass the iPod. Posted by Picasa

Jet Lag

Jet lag is a great time to harangue oneself for everything one hasn't accomplished in life. For instance, I feel terrible about not blogging while on my trip to the States (more on that later).

This is how I feel right now -- like a stack of dirty dishes, covered with cake crumbs. I had my cake and ate it too, and now all I've got is this jet lag to show for it. (Does this metaphor make any sense to you? Because I'm too jetlagged to edit right now.)

BTW, cake plates are from my friends Lisa and Toby's wedding in Santa Cruz last month -- a magical, beautiful event. I'll post more pictures later -- now I have to go to the bank and try to get a cashier's check, something which I'm sure will take me all afternoon. Welcome back to France! Posted by Picasa

What I Missed Most About Paris

That's right: my bed. Seeing my bed again and sleeping in it (and especially waking up in it) feels like heaven after a month of sleeping in other people's spaces.

Almost more than my bed I missed my night table. If you look closely you'll see my eye pillow (essential for those 3 a.m. jetlag moments when I can only fall asleep by blocking out all light and - no lie - counting sheep), a spray bottle of lavender, and, yes, Jane Fonda's autobiography. I guess you could say all three are sleep aids. (In case you're wondering, I bought the Jane Fonda book for one dollar at the Baltimore Book Festival last weekend...it's not very good but it's heavy enough that in a pinch I could use it in a workout routine...)

ADDENDUM (october 18th): OK, I take back what I said about the Jane Fonda book; it's actually very compelling reading about an extremely interesting life. It was just the introduction that I wasn't fond of....no pun intended.... Posted by Picasa