Mardi Gras

It's Fat Tuesday today, the last day before Lent. What are you giving up for Lent? Me, I'm going to try to give up celibacy. I figure I've got 40 days...

It's also Chinese New Year's today, or at least the first day of the Chinese New Year. This gives me a chance to take a break from eating my way through Paris, as one is supposed to eat only vegetarian on Chinese New Year's. Of course, this is slightly trickier in Paris, where it seems like every salad verte (green salad) comes with lardons (chopped up bacon). But at least it's doable here, unlike more carnivorous countries (Germany, for one).

The weather has been consistently cool, verging on cold, with varying degrees of damp involved. The only constant has been the total lack of any kind of blue sky at all. The one time it's been clear here was the night after I arrived. And, of course, the sky wasn't blue at all but rather black.

I've been spending a fair amount of time just wandering around the city. Yesterday I was down at les Halles, which is a giant underground mall in the middle of the city, underneath what used to be an giant open-air market. There's now a park where the market used to be.

Even though the market has left, the kitchen supply stores haven't. And if you're a kitchen geek, you'll love these stores. Ones to definitely check out include A. Simon, Dehillerin, and La Bovida. Zabar's has nothing, and I mean nothing on these guys. These are stores for serious, professional chefs. You can buy knives that are, for all intents and purposes, machetes (I didn't get one because I thought that I might have a little trouble getting it on the plane)! And they're cheaper than the stores in New York, too. I found some circular 2-inch molds for 3.25 euros; in New York, I've seen the exact same thing for about 5 or 6 bucks.

Some random observations about Paris:

  • It's not as smoky as I remember it being. My sister backs me up on this one, saying that it's actually smokier in Germany. I mean, yeah, there's really no such thing as a "no-smoking" zone; it's more like a "less-smoking" zone. But you can go out to a restaurant or a cafe and leave not feeling like an ashtray; in fact, this is far more often the case (that I've observed) than not.
  • The French have a over-developed reputation for rudeness. Either that or I'm just not noticing it, which is pretty much the same thing. Just remember to say please and thank you (preferably in French), and you'll be fine. Just like everywhere else in the world, a little courtesy goes a long, long, long way.
  • French keyboards are a real pain to type on for people used to an American keyboard. It's a standard QWERTY layout... except for the fact that the W and the Z have flopped places; the A and the Q have also switched, and the M has moved to where the semi-colon lives. So instead of QWERTY, you have AZERTY. Also the symbols are in different places (the greater-than and less-than signs (otherwise known as the angle brackets) are on a separate key between the W (formerly the Z) and the left shift key) and you have to hold the shift key down to get the numbers. I'm getting around this by using my sister's laptop.
  • The Paris Subway map was laid out by drunken orangutans on acid.
  • The legendary French reputation for stylishness is slipping. Either that or New York is somewhat more fashion-forward than the rest of the United State. Probably a little of both. A lot of the kids (i.e. anyone younger than your faithful correspondent) dress more or less the same way their New York contemporaries do (i.e. badly). Having said that, I have to say that on the whole, they definitely are better dressed here than back home; it's just that the gap has narrowed somewhat.
  • One thing that hasn't succumbed to American Cultural Imperialism (and let's face it, the war was lost when Rock 'n' Roll took over the world) is the food, and lordy I am thankful for that. I was in a restaurant the other night, and everyone was chomping on healthy chunks of red meat. Young, old, male, female. None of the usual New York dichotomy where the men get the T-Bone and the women get the Endive Salad with Walnut-Encrusted Goat Cheese, Gently Marinated Artichoke Hearts and a light Balsamic dressing (which, for the record, would probably be pretty good, but the French would improve it by adding lardons). The French attitude towards food pretty much seems to be: It's food, it's here, it's good, let's eat it. Something that I agree with whole-heartedly.
  • There a lot of places that are trying to get off selling postcards for a Euro each. Yeah, right.
  • The Euro makes traveling in Europe much easier for Americans. You don't have to worry about converting anything, since one Euro pretty much equal to one US Dollar. In fact, it's actually slightly less than one dollar. So all you have to do pretend the Euro sign is actually a dollar sign, and then assume that it's going to be slightly less than that.
  • Paris isn't as expensive as Manhattan. It's not a whole heck of a lot less expensive, but it is less expensive. A five-or-six dollar sandwich in New York usually comes out to about four Euros. That adds up over time.
  • Next time I'm bringing better walking shoes.
  • The French seem to be more interested in Valentine's Day this year than Fat Tuesday (or Mardi Gras if you want it in the original). However, there are a few major differences. First of all, they call it Saint Valentine's Day (which is accurate, as it's the feast of Saint Valentine) rather than just Valentine's Day. Second, it's not ALL OVER THE PLACE, unlike some places I can think of. The French have always seemed to have a somewhat more rational approach to love and romance, which are, of course, the least rational of emotions (or at least that's how it seems to this observer).
  • Euro coins are cool.
  • They really do drive like maniacs.

Off to put this entry up and then to the le musee!