Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Friends don't let friends order stewed prunes for dessert.

Wandering down from ex-Bohemia
Lincoln greets each Parisian morning with a loud Italian blare of "Buongiorno!" as we hope the little red elevator doesn't trap us with our daily trio of warm traditions. I imagined waiting for the undoubtedly strapping French firemen (soldats du feu!) to ax down the door while we gnawed on the rustic baguette variant enforced by legal mandate.

I hum along to Vandaveer crooning However Many Takes It Takes as we slather Dijon and dole out cornichons in the quest for Best Sandwiches Ever. Wrapped in foil, we'll each have two carbo-batons to refuel while we wander uphill to Montmartre.

You would, Oscar, you would.
But first we pinball around Père Lachaise cemetery, finding Oscar Wilde's tomb immediately. It's hard to miss, the honkin' Assyrian sphinx with wings swept back in a "Billy, I'm going in dry!" way.

And I think it does have genitalia.

“We should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.”

Girl, go send your battle sphinx to bolster the drag queens.

Back in Gambetta, the cobbled paths are all tree-shadow dappledot matrices, and heartbreak dribbles from engravings.

The one that stuck in my craw was an obelisk built by a father for the three things that brought him happiness in life: his wife & two young daughters.

Light insectile hum and it smells like summer.

“Name the different kinds of people," said Miss Lupescu. "Now." Bod thought for a moment.
‘The living,’ he said. ‘Er. The dead.’ He stopped. Then, ‘... Cats?’ he offered, uncertainly.” 
I assume the doors slam open at dusk and the two stone boys eat any soft and fleshy within 100 feet.
On a side segue, I need some new clothes.

I recently saw a string of shots of me in the same lime green shirt that I'd won from Scoutmob (I realized I'm wearing it right NOW, fuckkk) or the ratty red-blue plaid shirt I treat like a lucky blankie, all from different days, different trips.

So a Primark trip is in order (sorry, sweaty kiddies with nimble fingers), or if I find a non-hipster charity shop.

Hey, it's not quite a glamorous life in Skintlandia, but I keep reminding myself to run around with a butterfly net for shinier things at this junction. And courtesy of Sheng, I now have a cast iron pan to add to my hobo sachet-on-a-stick.

Londonites, prepare yourself for cornbread. Well, corn pone since we're ducking the dairy.

Royal we, at least, yo.

I'd drive this truck for a living just for the art. 
Lincoln brought me a gift from Mom: vitamin B2 tabs and Sanjin Watermelon Frost Spray. I'd recently mentioned on Skype to her that I'd been plagued with cold sores, and this is basically what I grew up with to treat the oral buggers. O Mom gifts!

So the reason it's called watermelon frost is because some intrepid Chinese folks decided to pack watermelons with salt and let them rot:

"After a day or two a dark "frost" appears on the outside of the skin, which is scrapped off. Another method uses and entire cut-up watermelon which is mixed with salt and put into a clay jar; the crystalline frost will seep to the exterior of the jar." 

I have no idea why it works.

And I'm not going to think about it too hard or I'll lie awake for nights thinking about the dark frost.

Fraternal portraiture in front of the Sacré-Cœur
We weave & weedle through the dudes scamming people with a Red Rover game involving friendship bracelets. 

After lunching aslant the steep lawns of tourist ground zero, we stroll towards another long-pulled coffee on the outskirts of the old bohemian village, now overrun by Starbucks, knicknack shops, and way too many crêperies.

Tristan digging for sammiches as the Sacred Heart looms above us.
Skirting through Goutte d'Or, Lincoln insists on doing some Titanic-level slumming, getting roast chicken atop jaundiced pasta in a Sensitive Urban Zone. We have an inevitable chat about the veil laws in France, and we stroll to the island outcrop of Parc des Buttes Chaumont that overlooks where we were earlier. 

Chris points back at the Sacré-Cœur, and says we should go check it out sometime. We should have shanked Chris 3, but I'm going to pretend Primer isn't an effervescent tentacle of my psyche.

I don't think we had dinner that night, just rolled up to Aux Ours, commanded a platter of Freedom fries & a few beers each. It was a good night, and we stayed until the waiters ushered us out at closing.

Vagrants atop a craggy isle
Our six days in Paris were a constant challenge of How Much Butter Can I Ingest?. Troughs of pain au chocolat did most of the trick, but one giant macaron did get tagteamed.

Once our esophagi were lubricated, we scramble through floors and floors of the Musée d'Orsay. I get stuck in the Carpeaux exhibit for a while, staring up at plaster people with crazy eyes.

Tourists swirled toward and around Starry Night, and there was something about the poor fisherman that I really liked.

Le pauvre pêcheur by Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
We lounge on lawnchairs in the middle of the Tuileries watching the Ferris wheel threaten to mangle the people bouncing in an expensive suspended cage that drops them four stories.

Tristan appears beside the glass pyramid, and we have an amazing dinner at Chartier.

Six squirmy excuses to eat more bread.

There's a wall of the tiniest cabinets that date back to when the laborers who ate here would store their own set of cutlery. The American couple next to us hands the waiter €50 and says to just bring them something tasty. Not a bad strategy overall.

Yeah, let's go ahead and fry the taters in duck fat too, why not.
Mid-bite photos are the most attractive.
So yes, even on a boho budget, you too can have escargot, foie gras, beef cheek, crusty bread with mustard, the house red, duck confit, boeuf bourguignon, and a Mont-Blanc aux marrons...for €17.

Chris did indeed get stewed prunes, but you know what, they were kinda tasty.

But possibly due to the giant ball of whipped cream atop.

Since unearthing it in the "mountain" part of Mont-Blanc, I'm hooked on crème de marrons, which meant that I raided the Monoprix for a dozen small tins of chestnut paste as omiyage, a big can for David, and a toothpaste squeezy for myself.

Meeting up with mates in a foreign country never works, but we did manage to sync up with Aditi and her surprisingly non-French boyfriend at a little bar called La Station-Service in Oberkampf. Four Parisian woo-girls throw down ten radioactive shots, and we take their picture to save them from drunken selfies.

It's interesting how the popular British take on Paris is that it's overrated and cannot compare to London. People utter that to me almost as a reflex, and it's not like my six-day jaunt gives me much room to stand on, but hey, I liked Paris.

The little things matter, and having endless sidewalk cafes doesn't hurt.

And then I realized (1) Versailles is in France, (2) I am in France, so by quasi-transitive properties, I ought to be in Versailles.

Getting in lines to be in other lines is the worst, and hell is indeed other people, but the decadence has to be seen to be believed. If I had shown up in 1789 with my pitchfork, I would have gone on a decapitating rampage against the royalty too.

Hall of Mirrors with matching Camelbaks
Lincoln and I kinda stumble towards each other after exiting the building into the even more funland gardens. There's just so much.

We end up napping in the grass by the Grand Canal, ducks puttering around as the Apollo fountains go off.

First attempts by the French to learn Chinese
First attempt by the Chinese to do acid, probably.

I'm a fan of the signs that pop up all around Paris that attest to how many Jewish children were sent from the area to death camps. The sparse facts still come off accusatory, and rightfully so.

Signs in new cities are also often odd. On the train back into Paris, I saw a sign that had reserved seats but with a priority order: 1) war amputees 2) handicapped folk 3) preganant women and people with kids 4) Children under 15.

Versailles fountaining
Can't miss your stop here.
A sleepy ride back and we're back in Montparnasse for so much crepe action at Crêperie Josselin. Cozy place, and then we went to our separate towers with chocolate smeared on our hands and faces. Lincoln racing to the top of Tour Montparnasse as Chris & I take the orbital zig zag that leads to the Eiffel Tower.

Lincoln's vantage point as Chris & I were probably at the Eiffel
We spent two hours playing hide and seek with the tower until all of its bulk is suddenly looming.

We may have missed the hourly sparkle by ten minutes, but it was still glorious. Tall slender men with sad eyes threw glowing toy planes into the sky over and over, and we really couldn't stop following their arcs.

Countless blurry pictures of the Eiffel tower later, we shamble into the Metro.

Such relief to finally get to it.

The French are obsessed with merry-go-rounds.
And woke up to such good champon ramen in a little neighborhood where all could hear was Japanese and French.

And yes, those are some coy gyoza peaking around the corner.

I could have ramen all the time.
Ancient kitteh looks like it needs a hug. MEOW.
Sunrise as Chris gets ready to hop on a plane back to SF
And Chris left :(

But Lincoln and I then had a shiny afternoon of Caribbean food in a park.

I need to keep these last little shreds of British summer in a box or something. I might want them to frown at in a few months.

"When I have opposable thumbs and money, I'll just buy my own Caribbean food."

Initiating Lincoln into the Tayyab glories.
After posting a fluffy piece about celebrity lesbians, I had a finger wagged at me that I "trivialize [important pillars of society] in favor of cheap and juvenile, hypersexualized identity humor."

If I ever pen a book, that might go on the back cover. Or the front cover.

TL;DR: Gays don't need to play nice all the time. Nor do we need your approval to get the same rights.

*earnest gang signs*

And yes, I did get trollity trolled into an internet struggle.

My new walk to work emphasizes two of the hipster cores of the city, Brick Lane and Broadway Market. Turkish pastries, bagels, really thoughtful coffee.

And of course, SQUIRRIES Street. I don't even know how you pronounce that, but I smile on my amble every day, Made in Heights keeping me afloat.

Yep, sometimes I just walk around London and squint at trees.
Waiting to be surrounded by fire with a little tin of chestnut cream for Ade in my pocket.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Guys, please be careful around the men selling small Eiffel Towers.

Reading with the itsy bitsy Eiffel in the distant horizon
I just cruised by the marker that reads, "You have now lived six months in England." 

Why they spend tax money to build these markers, I honestly don't know.

Since moving here, I've been so conscious of how quickly some things flashbang by, while other moments are just rubbery as you wade through. One of my first jolts of "Hey, I think I could make it here" was my second British Saturday, when a perfectly jowl-lickin' bowl of beef noodle soup was gruffly thrust under my face, as some dude kept handpulling ridiculous amounts of more long white carbs. And in the months since, I've been back after visiting museums like it's a sacrament, or I'm just kinda comforted by the knowledge that it's there at the heart of Leicester Square, first little totem, light, or whatever, of home. I'm more bothered than I should be that I can no longer flop down at Noodle Bar on Cranbourn Street. It's been closed due to a serious mice infection.

I realize I've just written an ode to a vermin-encrusted noodle shack, and shared that with you all, but everyone relax, we're just going to go with it, yeah?

Temporal hiccup, but the French followed us back to London in the form of la Cie Carabosse and their fire festival.
My only job here was to eat roast pork sandwiches and drink beer.
Life here is ridiculous, and I'm guilty about being obsessive in jotting down everything in my little black Moleskine knockoff (thanks Bebe Sweetbriar). At the end of every day, I'm trying to grab at every shiny salient memory that floats to me, and often times, I'm jotting down insane details about something a woman said to us on a train, some way the rocks sounded washing out over each other, but I can't recall anything in the periphery. 

After feeding me pseudo-Indian and a choco-red wine cake, Dharmender divebombs me into Dalston, the hipster heart of Hackney borough. The gay clubs are all named things like Vogue Fabrics or Dalston Superstore. But don't worry, the names have never been physically printed upon any signage. 

The people in the know just kinda all know the party happens on Tuesdays and in the basement of an antique store. I wasn't particularly dressed for gyrating, so we take the cement stairs two at a time, popping out into the dappled sunlight of a rooftop garden DJ set, sitting on big factory spools and little toddler chairs. 

Nobody told me to wear my hipster dancing face.
It's cold, but men are wearing micro-jorts to show off alabaster thighs covered in splashes of sailor tats. Caribbean food is being sold, beers are tapped, and that man in dreads is dancing so forcefuly.I hope that everyone assumed I was going for normalcore or some kind of 90s skater. 

I'm shown a flat that has the cool bones of what used to be a massive bible-printing factory, and now it's packed with Celtic and Indian art, antlers everywhere. 

Um, I'm just going to curl up here in the corner and stay.

Tower of London's rivers of blood to commemorate WW1
And then Chris flies in on a jetplane from SFO and survives the trek from Heathrow to show up at 3 am. We had a quick interaction where we exchange hugs, mumble where pillows are, and then throw ourselves into bed. I spend a day marveling at how strange it is to have one of your best friends suddenly teleport to London. 

Chris and I meet up after I pop out of work for a Southwark Payhouse musical I won tickets for (my fourth win, I don't know who else is in the lottery), and we find out it's Brits doing a damn good job playing American bros in the Vietnam War. There is a touch too much Jersey and they can't disguise the British way of inflecting F-bombs so that it's "fockin." But there is a lot of gratuitous wardrobe changes, and we feel like we're being trolled. 

And the set is actually a giant golden gate bridge opening up to the audience.

We have a canteen dinner subsidised by the Malaysian embassy, swing by a Sikh temple and leave with a nugget of karah parshad, semolina halvah made with thirds of flour, butter, and sugar. The daily diabetes meter hadn't been met yet, so Dharma brings us through the rough-and-tumble gangbanger side of Shepherd's Bush (I often think about how dangerous the States feels compared to the threats here), and we down some chocolate torte and Irish tea. 

Lincoln arrives the next evening, the background scenery shifts and swings, we wake up at 4 am to trundle to St. Pancras. The Eurostar is sleek in a way that I imagine the 1980s to be, and the quiet Indian mother with her two kids in the same seat quartet with me keeps silently passing me snack food as we watch the French countryside wake up. #universeprovides

The XX had excellent timing here, and some quiet and delicate electronica random-tumbled at me.

I miss the other ferret, and I'm in the Chunnel, David pointing out to me that it's the largest underwater tunnel on the planet.

And then we're in Paris.

The Seine with its deep fast currents
It was so good to see smiling Tristan waiting for us in his native habitat right when we stepped into the Gare du Nord.

We hop on a bus, broadcasting apparently so loud and clear we're from the US that a French woman loudly whines in French about how the Americans take up too much space with their bags. And before we even unload in the flat, I've traded some Monopoly euro-money for a sizeable wedge of apricot flan.

Tarte aux abricots, I can respect your thick badass self.
Tristan warns me that it is a rich one, and that it is very heavy, indicating that there is still a month of bikini season left in Europe to keep your self-dignity up for. But it's eaten anyway along with our first warm butterball pain au chocolat with a wash of black espresso while we first appreciate how our flat by Gambetta looks out onto the urban plains of Paris, interrupted only by the industrial Eiffel spire.

Perched on the 8th floor on one of the few hills in the city, we work our way downhill towards Le Marais, catching up with Tristan, and I'm just marveling at every endless balcony.

Our first introduction to how formal French gardens are obsessed with lines. And conical shrubs. So many cones.
Yeah, Paris is just like I imagined. And it's comforting while still gorgeous.
The merry enclave of artists, hip young starlettes, and gays have chosen well again, and the area has tagine joints near the Marché des Enfants Rouges, clustered boutiques in a particularly rooted and appropriate sense of the word.

And then we are in front of Notre Dame. Copper green machine-men climb the church buttresses while we take a butch picture out on the paved foundations of the original town village.

Three musketeerin'
We cruise by everyone queuing for allegedly the best falafel in the world at L'As du falaffel. Little chickpea balls sell like hotcakes, and of course this is where the Jewish area and the gay fringe blur, as we're slipping between arrondissements.

Chris doing a double take from the frontal view.

No diplomatic maritime incidents in ToyBoatLand while we were present.

Baguettes are legally required to be a certain length and price in Paris, and Tristan has to gently guide us forward as we are inclined to slow to a gaping stop in front of each bakery and bread shop.

Naptime in a 13th century colliseum tucked behind some buildings was amazing, and we're slumped like harpies on the terraced stoneas we comment on some cubby guy in aquamarine pastel pants practicing for what's probably the world championship of lawn bowling.

Lunch was takeout from a Lebanese nook, toasty garlicky chicken wraps smeared with just enough sauce. Then more walking through little streets, little turns. And then goat cheese stuffed into tiny plump  peppers.

Faces squinted from walls, and streets arched slowly over the Seine, while the best ice cream in Paris was met with apathy.

Outside the Shakespeare and Company bookshop

We squeal with manly delight upon finding slow wifi in a park with just the one intended cathedral tower before resting up in a Scottish pub that I wilfully believed into being "clearly so clearly Irish."

We're sleep deprived so the two IPA pints give me a buzz that seeps across my head as we walk through the Jardin de Luxembourg, square trees, toy sailboats crisscrossing a giant fountain surrounded by flowers. There's a quick exhibition of overly earnest art about gender and water use in Benin.

I'm fascinated as usual by our first French supermarket experience at Monoprix, everything so foreign and yet easily slotted into where it would fit in your daily life to have chestnut paste or piping fresh crepes readily available. Lincoln casually overdoses himself on cheap chocolate and little gummies shaped like Coke bottles and then rolled in more sugar.

It's hard to believe that we're not just in a recreation of Paris, and once we've gotten past that, we're already imagining the city folding across its median, buildings stacking neatly upside down.

I have no sense of the significance of our setting, which is clearly just a French parking lot.
Synagogue in Le Marais
We have a literal sausage fest before Chris falls into a sleepy slump uncontrollably, and Tristan & I go hang out across the street at a bar called Aux Ours, which has a fleet of small tables that take over the sidewalk and a name that likely translates into "For the bears, of the bears"?

Either way, there are no bears to be seen, and the two of us make an order for drink that defaults to the cheapest beer in the house. We're red and orange from little lamps as we catch up, and yes, I'll have another one of those.

I break the sacred vow about not working on holiday but it's not because small angry people are jumping on my shoulder, so I finish up an OECD complaint at 1 am while watching the Eiffel Tower sputter and sparkle in the quiet dark.

Five minutes later, the light show ends and I'm already wrapped in a blanket on my corner futon.

First day in Paris, not so shabby.

More adventures soon.

Too sleep-deprived for blue steel.