They Got the Metric System Over There…

July 18, 2008 at 6:38 am | Posted in food | 13 Comments
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No time these days for a serious blog post, but I was wondering what the blogosphere thought about this article in the NYTimes about how hamburgers are taking over Paris.  Is it true?  Have you seen this trend in action?  Or was this merely a slow news day?

For my part, it strikes me as slightly sad.  There are so many things I love about France, and so many things I love about America, but I have generally found that we don’t do each other’s things very well.  I felt a sort of pang when I read that French chefs were annoyed with French diners for refusing to eat with their hands.  Eating burgers with a knife and fork typifies everything I love about the French — the staunch, Gallic self-confidence that suggests, “We will take on your culture, but we will modify it to suit our own needs and prejudices.”

I don’t know, I suppose I’m being a bit patronizing.  If the French want to experiment with American food, eh bien, qu’ils mangent des burgers. Who am I to wish them back into some perceived fantasy of authentic Frenchness?  Just as long as American eateries don’t develop a sudden fad for steak tartare…  given our current food safety issues, that could hardly end well.




July 9, 2008 at 1:42 am | Posted in art | Comments Off on Promenade
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There is a moment upon entering the recent Monumenta exhibit at the Grand Palais during which it’s hard not say, “This is it?”  Standing by the front door, I heard a number of people express the sentiment, and I admit I thought it myself.

After all, this was a hugely hyped exhibit of one of the most renowned sculptors of our era — but when you walk in, all you see is five giant, apparently identical slabs of steel, lined up in a monotonous row.

Appearances, though, can be deceiving.

As an artist, Richard Serra can be strikingly austere, even by minimalist standards.  But he is also frequently playful and contrary in his works (see the to-do about his 1981 piece, Tilted Arc), and so I believe this initial shock and disappointment was exactly what he intended.  It is in the wake of this disappointment, however, that a true appreciation of Promenade begins to take form — because as you walk around and through the five monoliths, you’re bound to uncover the subtle beauty in the rhythm and off-kilter balance of their relationship.

I doubt my photos do any justice to the experience, but for what it’s worth, here is a taste of Promenade:




And as always, more here.

Note: this post is horribly outdated, and the exhibit itself is long since closed, but that might actually be a good thing.  Based on the images originally used to promote the event, I think the curators wanted people to be surprised by the actual sculptural content when they entered the hall.  I can see why they would — this piece simply wouldn’t be the same if you knew what was coming.  So I was wondering for a while if it would be wrong of me to share my photos with people who might conceivably go to the exhibit, but…  too late!  You missed it, so enjoy.

Le Pre Verre

July 2, 2008 at 1:12 am | Posted in food | 2 Comments
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Nothing like a hot American summer — all coffee coolattas and dq blizzards — to make you yearn for the more refined palate across the ocean.  Looking through my photo stream, I felt a pang of nostalgia for my last meal at Le Pre Verre. What I really love about this restaurant is the way all the flavors are a little unexpected — when you first see them on the menu, it’s hard not to wonder, “will that really be any good?” But once you taste the food, you realize that nothing here is weird for weirdness’s sake. Every dish has been carefully thought out and arranged, and instead of thinking, “how bizarre!” you wind up saying, “why didn’t I think of that?”

Shrimp and pea "guacamole"

Shrimp scampi with an perfectly light green pea “guacamole”.


Tagine of lamb with beet relish.


Marinated strawberries with parsley ice cream, and many more, as always…

But don’t feel too bad for me, missing out on all this fine cuisine — America has its own unique culinary pleasures, and I am making happy re-acquaintance with them:

First corn!

Thick steaks, buttery corn on the cob, and a PBR to wash it down… life could be worse.

Oral Action

June 19, 2008 at 3:22 pm | Posted in vie quotidienne | 2 Comments
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Finally getting around to upload my leftover Paris photos, and I ran across this little gem.

Oral Action

Anybody looking for some action?

Traces of the Sacred

June 11, 2008 at 12:01 am | Posted in art | 4 Comments
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Looking over my reviews of the last few exhibits I’ve been to, I see a theme emerge. What I’ve really been into, recently, is art that embraces the anti-rational, the emotional, the transcendent — nothing too cerebral or easily defined. So it’s no big surprise that I fell wholly in love with Traces du Sacré, the big exhibit currently at Beaubourg.

traces du sacré

How much did I love it? All told, I spent about seven hours there, spread out over three visits, and if I hadn’t been leaving town, I probably would have gone back again.

The purpose of Traces du Sacré is to assemble works by artists engaged in a search for something beyond mundane, material existence. Over the long history of art, artists have often been charged with representing spiritual themes; in the past, this generally meant producing overtly religious works, but in the 20th century, when organized, mainstream religion lost its sway over artists and intellectuals, people didn’t give up on the idea of the sacred entirely — they just found new ways to explore the basic human urge toward transcendence.

The exhibit is organized thematically, with a focus on the different approaches artists of various kinds took toward the problem. There’s a section on psychedelia, complete with day-glo swirlies under ultra-violet light, and a section on Freudian psychology — another non-religious way of examining the invisible landscape of the psyche. One of my favorite rooms emphasized the new occult/religious movements that grew up around the turn of the last century in an attempt to reinvent faith without the baggage of archaic religious institutions. It was surprising how many artists — Mondrian, Duchamp — dabbled in new age ideology before settling into their better known incarnations.

It’s a huge exhibit with some 350 works in various different media. Some were goofy or hadn’t aged well — Thelemites wandering around Egypt to a soundtrack by Jimmy Page, for example — but others, like Rothko, Francis Bacon, or a film clip by F.W. Murnau impressed with their ability to capture the resonance of the sublime and the supernatural within a secular framework.

Traces du Sacré
until August 11 200
Centre Pompidou

We’ll always have… well, you know.

May 14, 2008 at 1:01 pm | Posted in vie quotidienne | 7 Comments
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There are certain predictable phases in life-cycle of an expat blog.

From the timid introduction and the giddy opening posts, to the desperate self-abasement in hopes of winning more readers, followed by long hiatuses while the author struggles for anything to say…. As regularity finally sets in, you begin to look forward to the appearance of daily, weekly, or monthly posts. But then one day comes the inevitable announcement: the author has lost her excuse for residing in this exotic land — the fantasy is over, and she must return, regretfully, to ordinary, unblogworthy life.

Alas, that moment has come for me: On June 3rd, I will stop being “la petite americaine,” and go back to being just a plain old American.

But don’t write my obituary quite yet… I’ve been coming to Paris off and on since I was less than a year old, and I know I’ll be back, even if I’m not sure exactly when or how. Nevertheless, the time is approaching for me to bid adieu to this particular sejour, and so I invite you all — fellow-bloggers, commenters, lurkers, and whoever else may be wandering by — to join me next Saturday for a farewell picnic in the sun.


Saturday, May 24 from 14h until whenever (at some point in the evening, the picnic will join forces with katia and kyliemac‘s “aperi-picnic”)
At the very tippy-tip of the Ile de la Cite — square du vert galant, near the statue of Henry IV.
View Map

Bring blankets, plus whatever food and drink you prefer.

Les Nouveaux Negriers

April 7, 2008 at 12:42 pm | Posted in spectacle, vie quotidienne | 2 Comments
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This was the scene outside my window Saturday:


Good thing I didn’t have any big plans that day…


Ooh, flares! Pretty.

RESF= Nouveaux Negriers

If that guy would be so kind as to move out of the way, you could see they’ve written “RESF = Nouveaux Negriers” (RESF = New Slavers) on my street. Not having any idea what this could possibly mean, I did a little research. RESF, apparently, is the Réseau Éducation Sans Frontières, itself a newspeak kind of term for a policy intended to allow children to remain in France even if their parents are being deported.

It’s pretty educational to check out RESF’s website, compare it to its Wikipedia page, and then again with the protestors outside my window. The website makes it look as if RESF is protesting a horrible government policy. The wikipedia page, on the other hand, makes it seem as if the RESF is working with the government. The protestors, meanwhile, are comparing the principles of the RESF to the atrocities of the slave trade. So… wait. This counter-government group outside my window is actually protesting another counter-government group? Now I’m confused.

It just goes to show how challenging it can be to make sense of politics in another language. In English, I’m well-practiced at disassembling the rhetoric of both sides to find the real issue underneath. In French, I still often feel bewildered.

(A propos: please feel free to jump in and clarify the details of this conflict, if you understand it better than I do — I had to wade through a lot of propaganda, which is the hardest kind of French for me to read.)



My better informed sister has this to add:

I think the Negriers comment was written ahead of time by right-wing, anti-immigrant folks, trying to speak against the RESF parade. Here are some sites that indicate the right is not happy about the pro-immigrant RESF. The RESF are “slavers”, in that they encourage immigrants, who then serve as cheap labor to undercut “real” French workers.


March 31, 2008 at 12:26 pm | Posted in art | Comments Off on Boyzone
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Last week I headed over to the Musee d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (and yes, that’s the longest museum name *ever*) to see Clarisse Hahn’s “Boyzone”. Really, with a title like that, how was I to resist? Here’s the description:

This series of videos is a study of the male body, sometimes isolated but more often in groups: squatters drinking beer with their shirts off, teenagers training in martial-arts in a public garden, boyscouts, bodybuilders, a dog-handler training his dog…

Stereotypes are questioned here: how much are we susceptible to them? Boyzone questions the rapport of the individual to the group: how does one become integrated in it? To what extent do we model our behaviour on that of the group we belong to? What signs of our belonging to this group do we exhibit?

I’m always fascinated by the examination of cultural constructions of masculinity, so I was pretty excited about this, but I’m sorry to say the exhibit itself was a bit of a disappointment, and I suspect the biggest problems were due to the curator, rather than the artist. True, it’s hard to build an art exhibit around video and still have it be visually and spatially engaging. But did they have to scatter the tv sets in such an irritatingly random manner? Some were on the floor, some were on pillars, and one tiny set was perched way up by the ceiling, where it was pretty much unwatchable. Also, each of the video pieces had sound, but instead of having headphones, each tv was set at a frustratingly low volume, so you could hear it only if you listened really intently and ignored the cacophonous noises coming from all the other tvs.

I was also somewhat annoyed by the artist’s decision to include so many “isolated” male bodies, which didn’t seem to contribute much to her thesis. Especially since these supposedly isolated males were not actually alone, but obviously interacting with the artist behind the camera — who is female. If the piece is supposed to be about how men act around other men, how useful is it to see them interacting with a female documentarian?

Despite these flaws, there was still a lot of interesting commentary on/documentary depiction of masculine behavior. The artist’s choice to use very short, highly edited clips with low sound helped to frame and highlight the physical interactions of men in groups — how the soccer players playfully slapped at each other, the squatters nodded obliquely, or the teenagers wrestled and spit… Even the video of a group of men and boys slaughtering a goat was illuminating, if a bit gross.

Clarisse Hahn — Boyzone
Musee d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris
Ends April 6 — free

A bout de soufflé

March 12, 2008 at 1:52 pm | Posted in food, writing | 11 Comments
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Back when I started the blog, I created a category called “writing“, which was supposed to contain musings and observations about my attempts to launch a career as a novelist. If you click that category, you’ll see I haven’t used it much — my thoughts and struggles as a writer turned out to be too personal (not to mention tedious) to share in such a public space. I’m happy to report, though, that now I have at least a small tidbit of news fit for public consumption: I have acquired representation for my novel!

This means (in lay terms), that the odds of my novel actually landing in a bookstore near you some day have gone from “wildly improbable” to “vaguely within the realm of possibility”. Which is good news!

Good enough news to celebrate with a dinner out, certainly. I knew it would be premature to binge on an elaborate three-star feast, but I wanted something that felt a little indulgent, a little out of the ordinary. So what better choice than the decadent all-soufflé menu at Le Soufflé?

Grand Marnier souffle

The only problem with soufflés is, if you’ve seen one, you’ve more or less seen them all. I’ve got a few more pics available for completists, but as far as this post goes, I think I’ll exercise my writerly skills and stick to textual descriptions.

So, soufflés tasted monday night:
Foie gras — a fluffy cloud infused with the most delicate aroma of foie gras, complimented by a molten puddle of the stuff in the middle.
Forestier — earthy, mushroom flavors whipped up lighter than air
Sanglier — the lightness of souffle meets the robust, gamey flavor of wild boar. Although in fact, the boar chunks hiding at the bottom were so tender it was hard to believe the animal was raised in the wild.
Volaille — This was actually the pinnacle of the meal: nothing but chicken, mushrooms, and gravy, but it was like the most divinely inspired chicken pot pie you’ve ever eaten.
Pommes aux Calvados — drunken apples doused in Calvados
Grand Marnier — the most traditional of all soufflés, but still difficult to pull off as perfectly as they did last night.

So there you have it — the perfect celebratory meal for a most happy occasion. Oh, and they change their soufflé menu regularly… Good thing, in case I get any more good news in the future.

Restaurant Le Souffle
Phone: 01 42 60 27 19
36, Rue du Mont Thabor
75001 PARIS 01 er

The Other “Petite”

March 3, 2008 at 4:09 pm | Posted in books | 24 Comments
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book cover

Like pretty much every other Paris blogger this week, I recently finished reading Catherine Sanderson‘s engaging blog-to-memoir, Petite Anglaise. And so, some thoughts:

Petite Anglaise, the book, focuses on one wild year out of Ms. Sanderson’s life in Paris — a year in which she started a blog, overshared about the unsatisfactory state of her relationship, and ultimately abandoned her longtime boyfriend and the father of her child to take up with a man she knew only from his comments on her blog. These sketchy details were, of course, already known to those of us who regularly followed her website. The book picks up, however, where the blog left off.

I admit, I had expected little more from this memoir than a patched-together version of Ms. Sanderson’s best posts: charming anecdotes about her young daughter, wry observations about expat life, and the occasional oblique yet tantalizing reference to the ever-swirling drama of her romantic life. I was surprised and delighted to find Ms. Sanderson’s usual coyness all but eliminated in this format — if you ever wondered exactly what went on behind closed doors and glowing screens as Petite left her babydaddy for an internet stranger, this book will satisfy your every voyeuristic impulse.

For readers new to the Petite Anglaise character, there should be much to enjoy as well. Who, after all, can resist a salacious tale of love, lust, and technology, with all the delights of bohemian Paris as a backdrop?

That said, the memoir, for all that it was enjoyable, was perhaps a little schizophrenic — was this the story of one girl’s love affair with Paris? An object lesson about the dangers of blogging? The sordid confessions of an adulteress? A light-hearted kvetch about young motherhood? Of course, the book is all of these things, as reflects Ms. Sanderson’s real life. Still, it might have benefited the story to have a stronger focus, and let the other threads spool into subplots.

Perhaps this is an indication of my own prejudices, but I would have built the plot around the blog, as I think that’s the most unusual element of this tale. Ms. Sanderson does muse occasionally throughout the book on how easily a blogger can slip from merely documenting her life to actually living life for the blog. If only she had taken these musings a little further, Petite Anglaise could have moved beyond the merely diverting to make a strong and original statement about love in the modern world.

Petite Anglaise
by Catherine Sanderson
available now on and, coming soon to
signed copies available at WH Smith in Paris.

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