Monday, January 28, 2008

Eerie Fog in Champagne

Friday, January 25, 2008

Sunlight, Orchid, Incense Smoke

It doesn't take much to make me happy....(well, at least some of the time!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Charity for Brain-iacs

Here's something you can do while waiting for your next email to come in (or my next blog entry, haha)

It's basically a vocabulary quiz, which adjusts to your level (they have a cool way of doing that, which is explained on the site) and for each correct answer you give, they donate 20 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. The highest score is 48, which I am not too modest to tell you I did achieve once, mostly by lucky guesses. I don't know if my vocabulary has improved by this, or how much this will help the world hunger problem, but I can think of worse things to do with one's time on the internet.

Thanks to sister Laura for passing this along!

(p.s. And no, I don't know what platyhelminth is, it timed out while I was taking the photo and posting this. But I'm gonna go with flatworm.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

New Year's Massage

I don't know about you, but every time I get a massage, I think, (w)ow! this is great! I'm going to do this at least twice a month! After all, what could be better for your body than someone else's expert hands massaging it and working out its tensions and tight spots? (OK, don't answer that question.) Throw in some incense, aromatherapy, candles, and soft music, and you've got yourself a willing client!

Unfortunately, Caring for One's Body often seems to take a back seat (pun intended) to Everything Else One Needs to Do, and yes, there are budget constraints as well, conspiring to make that "twice a month" pledge more like "once in a while" (or, in my case, when my shoulders get so tight that I start developing an unhealthy lust for sledgehammers).

But today I was lucky enough to have a free massage, compliments of friends K and A (thanks guys!) at a local Chinese massage center, and my pledge has been (once again) renewed. Although I've had acupuncture and shiatsu in the past, this was my first experience getting a Chinese "tuina" massage, and I have to say it was just what the doctor ordered (or rather, didn't order, but should have).

Like most traditional Chinese medicine places, the overall set-up was pretty basic: folding chairs, massage table, small sink, old (but clean) blanket and pillow. No lavender candles or whale music here! After spending some time finding a pulse (it's pretty weak these winter mornings), the masseur told me what I already know (if constantly frozen hands and feet are a good indicator): that my circulation is very slow, and indeed my whole body is functioning on a low battery. A quick look at my tongue seemed to support his diagnosis. I tried explaining my whole hibernation theory to him, how I am actually a grizzly bear in disguise, waiting for the spring equinox to crawl out of hiding, but he just nodded and said very pragmatically, as if he was telling me he was going to change the oil in my car: OK, now we're going to stimulate your meridians and get your body's energy back (or something like that, I'm not good at remembering things verbatim when they're said in French around a massage table).

And that's when the sledgehammers came out.

No, it wasn't that bad. But it was intense, which I was grateful for, because my only complaint about a massage is when the practitioner's hands aren't strong enough . No complaints this time! After one hour of him pounding and kneading me like yesterday's bread dough, I could feel my kidneys waking up, along with a whole bunch of other organs and muscles that I'd sort of forgotten about recently (or forever). (Sorry guys! I wanted to say. I know this has been a stressful time for you, what with the holidays and all...)

When it was all over, he smiled at me in a very non-judgemental way (which was good, because I'd thought I'd be clothed, like in shiatsu massage, and I wasn't, and I felt terrible about how out of condition my body is) and he said that I was too "yin" right now, and I needed more "yang." Il vous faut du soleil. Hmm...apparently sunshine is yang, so perhaps I should book a trip to Provence?

Anyway, guess what? I have another appointment in 10 days' time. So maybe 2008 is gonna be a good year after all!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Trip to the Left Bank

I had to do some errands on the other side of town last week, and I ended up wandering around La Grande Epicerie, the upscale supermarket inside the lovely Bon Marche department store in the 7th arrondissement (bon marche actually means "cheap" or "good value" - most definitely NOT the case in this instance!). It's a clean, well-lighted place, with such good old-fashioned staples as violet-flavored sugar, rose petal jam, and salt that was harvested under a full moon. There is also a rather extensive (uh, make that expensive) American foods section, displaying the culinary delights that made a nation (obese): Oreos, Swiss Miss, Jiffy-Pop, marshmallow Fluff. I toyed with the idea of buying some buttermilk pancake mix, but at 6 euros a box I decided I could wait until I was back in the land of I-Hop, where I can get all the starchy, gluten-filled things I want for cheap. Then I remembered that I don't really like pancakes, and the only time I've ever made them in fact was once in Paris when I was homesick for American brunch. Funny how living outside your country makes you nostalgic for things you never really liked when you lived there (like American politics).

In the end, I bought some baking soda, which is hard to find in the average French supermarket, and a bottle of good Spanish olive oil, and some dark baking chocolate to use in a non-dairy truffle recipe I've wanted to try for ages. And 20 euros poorer, I made my way back to the Right Bank....

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Out With the Old, In With the New!

I like to think of myself as a fairly modern person; I mean, while I may not be a techno-geek, I'm still more Lucite than Luddite. And yet here I am, after more than a week on a new laptop, still scared to do the most basic things on it (like blog, hence the unbearable wait for a new posting from me. Sorry!). Of course there are myriad excuses I can call upon to make myself look a little less lame. For instance, I'm changing from a PC to a Mac - and you know how incredibly difficult THAT is. I mean, for goodness' sake, you have to click on the left to close a window! It's like driving in the UK! (I'm amazed that I'm as far along as I am, really).

But seriously, it is different, in all these tiny little ways that don't amount to much on their own, but add up to an overall feeling of, well, difference. Kind of like culture shock. Everything is just a little bit different and a little bit more of a challenge - which can be exciting and distracting but also disturbing and de-motivating (depending on your attitude and stress levels). And when I think of all I "have" to do - rebuild my website, re-organize 6 years' worth of photos - all while learning a new system, I start to feel overwhelmed.

The fact is, I'd much rather be traipsing around discovering some new country than navigating a new computer. It's just not as fun for me to interact with a machine as it is for me to interact with people and places and living things (oh that's a surprise!).

And yet I will soldier on...In the interest of blogging and websites other oh-so-important "things to do"...

p.s. BTW, the photo is of my old, dying laptop, which is slow as molasses, doesn't close anymore, and is, quite literally, falling apart. And yet I must say - in contradiction to my above remark about machines - I've grown absurdly attached to it. I even hated the Mac at first, and felt the same disdain for it as I felt whenever I drove an automatic after my no-power-steering, hard-to-drive standard VW Fox: What a toy! I sneered, while the cute little icons bounced up and down enthusiastically. What a gussied-up harlot! You're not a real computer! How dare you try to tempt me with your i-this and i-that! (OK, dear, I think it's time to get off the computer

Monday, January 07, 2008

Soup, Glorious Soup

It just never seems to wear out its welcome. Or perhaps I'm really not that demanding when it comes to winter food (it's true that I mostly just want something warm, hence the endless cups of tea and tendency to cuddle up to the stove).

But here it is, the most basic of recipes. A leek, a carrot, a head of broccoli, a fennel bulb, a zucchini, and perhaps an onion or two and some garlic... Cooked for a while in a small amount of water, and then covered with more almost-boiled water later. (I'm not sure exactly what the cooking in a small amount of water does - but it seems to bring out flavor. It's a trick I learned from my macro cooking friend up in Alaska, how to "water saute" onions for a very long time with the pot lid on, until they get sweet and yummy). Salt, pepper, or a bouillon cube, or simply some herbes de provence (put in at the beginning) and perhaps some mustard stirred in at the end, or maybe some lemon (it's good if there's a little "bite" to counteract all that veggie taste). Then all mixed up in a handblender and served piping hot with some good bread, and maybe a dollop of yogurt or cream for those who might balk at eating only vegetables for supper...
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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Puttin' on the Christmas Ritz at the Jourdain Metro

One of the laments I often hear from Americans in Paris (a lament which I have voiced myself) is that it's just not Christmas-y enough here around the holidays. Yes, in the States it can be too much - over the top, sickening, smothering, Christmas music blaring in every store and on every corner, etc. But in Paris sometimes it's almost too discreet. For instance, here it is, two weeks after Christmas, and I still feel like I didn't get enough of it! That would never be the case in the States, where you literally feel Christmas-ed out by January 1st and ready to strangle Santa Claus along with his elves and reindeer.

Paris is a beautiful city, and knows how to show itself off, but it doesn't necessarily know how to be joyfully festive for the holidays. There is always a certain restrained elegance which simply forbids any kind of excess or "loudness" when it comes to decoration. Which is why I was so surprised when we came upon the decorations at the Jourdain Metro the other night. The entrance was literally festooned with pine branches and fabrics and lights, and there were huge blue garlands and blinking lights strung across the streets. No Santas or elves, but certainly a lot of excessive holiday "stuff." Now that's what I'm talkin' about! Christmas-y!
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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Ready to Take a Chance Again

I admit it. I was moved to tears. Even 5000 miles away, and on the little Youtube screen, I could feel something happening, something brewing on a big scale. I haven't felt this excited about politics since I was thirteen years old, when Jimmy Carter won (1976, in case you forgot).

Hilary is screaming "substance", but that's not what people care about right now. People want something else, something intangible that makes them feel good, makes them feel part of a bigger whole. The way music does, or art. Anyway, who says that intangible things can't have tangible results? Look at the stock market. It's all about perception, belief. And the idea that we could have a president that people like, that can lead people, especially people who have felt disenfranchised for so long, a president that could help heal some of America's very tangible wounds....

Well, Barry Manilow said it best. I'm ready to take a chance again. Ready to take a chance again with you.....Obama!
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Friday, January 04, 2008

The Beauty of Ownership, or Why It's Not Always Easy to Love Thy Neighbor

No, not a pale Rothko imitation, but a slice of the ceiling where we had a water leak this morning...

Yes, there I was, sitting at my desk, wondering how much longer I could put off certain tasks on my everpresent to do list, and suddenly it started raining - which is not unusual for Paris, except that this rain was coming down inside the apartment. Needless to say, I leaped (leapt?) from my desk and sprung into action, grabbing towels and buckets to keep the water from soaking the wood floors, and wondering - amid growls and expletives - who I could blame for this infuriating interruption to my important day.

Immediately I singled out the owner of the apartments upstairs, not only because of his pretentious goatee and golfer's cap, but also because he's been a source of constant irritation since before Christmas, when he started renovating his apartment at all hours of the day and night. Not that I mind renovations per se (on the contrary, I see them as valuable enhancements to the overall property), but he is one of these arrogant people who refuses to hire professionals to get the job done right, and instead penny pinches and takes ten times longer to do everything (most of which will need to be done over again because he did it wrong!). In French this kind of person is called a bricoleur (bricolage being homespun repairs or building). In English I just call him an asshole. (Sorry for the unexpurgated version - I'm emboldened by the fact that he will never read this - and even if he did, unlike the guy in Carly Simon's song, he'd be too vain to think it was about him!)

Anyway, the story has a happy ending because the renter (a nice young guy who was actually wearing a Boston Fitness shirt - that's another story) was home upstairs, and between the two of us, and several tests involving dumping buckets of water on his bathroom floor, we discovered what the problem was. The mystery leak was caused by the fact that Monsieur Bricoleur had made the brilliant decision to REMOVE ALL THE CAULKING from the shower and replace it with PLASTER, meaning that whenever his renter took a shower, the water ended up seeping through the floor and eventually through our ceiling.....#%@#*&!!

So all's well that ends well. We made a new friend with the guy upstairs, and now we have a common enemy in the "owner" (the renter's landlord). Oh yeah, and the leak is fixed, which is the main thing - a couple of euros of joint compound did the trick (amazing how simple life can be, when you just follow some basic rules of maintenance).
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