Sunday, January 15, 2012

Catholic Guilt

I stopped by to see my friend, Nancy, the other day and to talk with her about the blog I wrote for her about a visit to Paris. It was the first blog I had written in quite a while. I was surprised when she asked why I hadn’t written anything in such a long time. My response was that I just didn’t have anything to say. Later, at home, I mentioned the conversation to my wife, Anne, and she laughed and commented, “ Not hardly, you have plenty to say”.

I have thought about those conversations a lot since then and queried myself as to what the appropriate response should have been. I really do enjoy writing things for the blog; so, it is not for lack of interest. I am a natural-born storyteller … I got a million of ‘em! So, it is not for lack of material. The answer that I came up with was that I don’t feel very funny right now … not for a long time. I need that humor to protect myself. Stop right there. I am not a nervous Nellie. The world is NOT out to get me. In fact, the world is treating me just fine. To protect myself … from myself. I think I have some mutant atheistic strain of Catholic Guilt.

It is a family thing. Family as in house of cards. Family as in crack the closet door and the bones fall out. Family as in the proverbial gap between expectation and the real world. The secret that wasn’t a secret. It should never be a surprise when unrealistic expectations breed disaster. We put our faith in a family member stepping up to the plate and taking one for the team … and when the worst imaginable happened, we feigned surprise and demanded our pound of flesh. We boarded the carousel and the merry-go-round of feelings took off at warp speed. Myself, I skipped anger and settled on a melancholy that engulfed me like a favorite blankie. An incredible sense of loss and violation … a sadness, just under the skin ready to seep to the surface at the slightest prick.

I try to point the finger. Maybe that will make me feel better. There can never be a fix . Not a real one. To quote the Rob Roy movie last night, “what you cannot change, you must endure”. Nevertheless, when I point the finger, I find myself staring in the mirror. I should have expected! I should have stepped in when I recognized the signs. Not when the disaster began. Years ago. I should have been a better brother. Not an enabler. Just a better brother.

When you open the closet door, the bones fall out. When you live in a house of cards, it is no surprise when an ill wind blows.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nancy in Paris (Journee de Tutti Frutti)

Bonjour Nancy! (KISS, KISS)

I have searched our pixs Anne's journals to find a few tips and recomendations for your trip. As you might imagine, except for the time that we hated one another, we had a fabulous trip. Anne tried to murder me 3 or 4 times and later lose me, but never did manage to succeed. 3 days in Paris, 3 in Brussels and the 3 back in Paris and I was still on the plane with her when we flew back to the U.S.

THE METRO: You know, we have mastered the metro in a few foreign cities, and the process was the same in Paris. However, you needed to know the name of the metro stop for any attraction or shopping you wanted to do, and the metro stop names rarely had anything to do w/ the name of any famous tourist sites or street names. Fortunately the Frommer’s guide had the name of the nearest metro station listed, but we had to keep referring to the book. The locals couldn’t match the names of the stops to the sights either, so they could not give specific directions. Thus, we enjoyed being lost a bit which led Anne to thoughts of killing me for sure.

We found musical entertainment on the metro and in the stations. Some very good, and some pretty pathetic. It was always fun to jump on a car and find a Frenchman playing the accordion and singing. I did not, however, ask him if he was a Frenchman. I assumed.

OUR DAILY ROUTINE: Sleep til 9:00. Visit the nearby patisserie for croissants, brioche, assorted pastries, café au lait. Select a section of the city to explore and try to organize everything we wantd to see (and eat - mostly eat.) there. Determine whether to walk or take the metro." My vote was for the Metro. There was something about it that seemed to speak to me. If only I had been into my Talking Heads back in 2005.

THE “ACCOMMODATING” FRENCH: The French are as unhurried, unconcerned and uninvolved as their reputation purports. They will not rush themselves or be attentive to accommodate you. To Americans this can seem very rude. But you have to arrive there knowing this is the case and accepting it as part of the cultural experience. One-on-one they are very accommodating… Soooo ...if you get a chance, definitely look up Anne D's sister for dinner one night. Susan (your partner) can distract her while you make a pass at Xavier. I think Susan was very attracted to me ... Xavier, to a lesser degree was also attracted but I may have only been a "man of interest".

Or, you might just check out a bus route to get the lay of the land!

Best Bus Rides

Imagine passing the Louvre as part of your daily commute. Some of the city's public bus routes are fantastically scenic; hop on the right one and you can get a great tour for just EUR1.30 -- sans squawking commentary. The No. 29 route reaches from the Gare St-Lazare, past the Opéra Garnier, to the heart of the Marais, crossing the place des Vosges before ending up at the Bastille. This is one of the few lines that run primarily on small streets versus major arteries. Hop on a No. 69 bus at the Champ de Mars (by the Tour Eiffel) and ride through parts of the Quartier Latin, across the bridge to the Rive Droite near the Louvre, and on to the Bastille area. The No. 72 bus follows the Seine from the Hôtel de Ville west past the Louvre and most of the big-name Rive Droite sights, also giving you views of the Rive Gauche, including the Tour Eiffel

Where to start ... I suggest the Eiffel Tower ... duh!!!!!! There are about 50 angles that you want to see it from. And you have to go at night as well ... gorgeous. Keep those purses and backpacks slung in front or you with an arm over them here at night. It is not as easy a target for a grab and run ... unless you think your purse would not be the target of the grab and run there in which case bag in front provides better access to the target.

Surprise surprise surprise ... I hung a stone there. Reward offered if you find it.

THE ART: Such amazing museums. Too may to see in a short time. Be sure to sneak your camera in and take plenty of pictures, even if it is not allowed. Remember to act real surprised when they yell at you.

We loved Musee d’Orsay! The rooms of art at the d’Orsay devoted to the individual artist seemed to go on forever…..Monet, Renoir, Reubens, Picasso, Pissarro, Matisse, Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Degas, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, daVinci …It was hands down my favorite. The visit here is truly unforgettable.

The Louvre can be overwhelming. It’s hard to image any famous pieces at any other museums. It is so easy to find yourself running from piece to piece trying to see it all rather than savoring. Nevertheless ... can you really not go? While there, would you find out if they are interested in showing or purchasing any of my works?

Anne says that I can only take so much culture before the “country” sets in… This picture is an example of what she means. I am not sure what she is getting at.

You must take a stroll on the Champs-Elysees ... doesn't matter where ... just to say you did it. We hopped the Metro to the Arc de Triomphe and wandered the boulevard.

Anne stopped at a famous pastry and tearoom, Laduree. Laduree claims to be the originator of macaroons and they offer at least a dozen varieties. It is a huge building with mint green awnings, and a palatial feel. Inside, you are immediately overwhelmed by the delicious scent of croissant, pastry and macaroons. On the first floor, the wood and glass display cases are filled with the most beautiful, intricate cakes, pastries and cookies. She was seated in a small room next to an elaborate fireplace and mantel w/ a good view of the beautiful decorations. It was so hoity-toity! She had a pot of tea (w/ hints of rose, lavender and vanilla) and some decadent pastry.

We chose to stay on the right bank for part of our stay in a room over a Greek restaurant. I knew I was in the right place when I saw the sculpture at the entrance to our hotel.

We later checked out the restaurant itself. It was a very different concept in how to serve the table.

And when they brought around the dessert offerings, I was overwhelmed

For those stores without table service, or servicing, another procedure is often used. Some stores follow the traditional three-step customer service protocol. First you place your order at the counter and receive a receipt. Then you go to the caisse to pay and get your receipt stamped. Finally, you return to the first counter to exchange the stamped receipt for your package of edible art. Here are a few food possibilities;

No bread in Paris is more celebrated than the artisanal sourdough loaves from Poilâne (8 rue du Cherche-Midi, 6, Paris, France. PHONE: 01-45-48-42-59, Métro: Saint-Sulpice), the surprisingly modest boulangerie of the late master Lionel Poilâne. But some star-studded chefs defer to Jean-Luc Poujauran (20 rue Jean-Nicot, 7, Paris, France. PHONE: 01-47-05-80-88, Métro: La Tour-Maubourg), whose homey shop has an antique stained-glass ceiling. Pick up a foie gras galette for a sensational lunch on the run. For another savory bite, try the delicate finger sandwiches at Ladurée (16 rue Royale, 8, Paris, France. PHONE: 01-42-60-21-79, Métro: Madeleine). This 19th-century tearoom also offers coffee-, caramel-, and rose-flavor religieuses (cream-filled pastries vaguely resembling nuns in full habit) and a dozen kinds of macarons, the airy, ganache-filled cookies Ladurée claims as its invention.

A masterful rendition of the classic opéra (almond cake layered with chocolate and coffee cream) beckons from the cases of Lenôtre (61 rue Lecourbe, 15, Paris, France. PHONE: 01-42-73-20-97, Métro: Sèvres-Lecourbe). Other opéra lovers flock to Fauchon (26 pl. de la Madeleine, 8, Paris, France. PHONE: 01-47-42-60-11, Métro: Madeleine), the fine-food emporium. Another traditional pastry is the mont-blanc, a miniature mountain of chestnut purée capped with whipped cream, best rendered by Jean-Paul Hévin (3 rue Vavin, 6, Paris, France. PHONE: 01-43-54-09-85, Métro: Vavin). Christian Constant (37 rue d'Assas, 6, Paris, France. PHONE: 01-53-63-15-15, Métro: Rennes) uses chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa butter in his pastries, resulting in an incredibly intense chocolate fix. La Maison du Chocolat (225 rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, 8, Paris, France. PHONE: 01-42-27-39-44, Métro: Ternes), the cocoa-color boutique of preeminent chocolatier Robert Linxe, sells exquisite pastries, cocoa, and truffles.

Two Rive Gauche pâtissiers have particularly devoted fans of their macarons. The flavors at Gérard Mulot (76 rue de Seine, 6, Paris, France. Métro: Mabillon Saint-Sulpice Rennes) include pistachio, caramel, and a terrific orange-cinnamon. Gérard Mulot (76 rue de Seine, 6, Paris, France. Métro: Mabillon Saint-Sulpice Rennes) challenges the classics with exotic flavors like peach-saffron, olive oil, and white truffle. Another up-and-coming force in the avant-garde pâtisserie world is Tokyo-born Gérard Mulot (76 rue de Seine, 6, Paris, France. Métro: Mabillon Saint-Sulpice Rennes); look for his green-tea madeleines and black-sesame éclairs.

Nothing better, after one of those French desserts, than to check out the Moulin Rouge. However, it is not exactly like the movie version. A little seedy, but worth a look.

Check out the train station at Gare du Nord.

Montmartre and Sacre-Coeur Basilica ........ Do not miss it!

Everywhere I walked in Paris there were little clothing boutiques. The styles were unbelievable. However, not all of the shops were small boutiques as you will see in the pix. Needless to say, the shopping scene in Paris is incredible ... but so is WalMart. I found it to be slightly out of my budget range so Anne got nothing from the fashion runways. I did find her a scarf on the runway at the airport.

Save yourself some embarassment. When you go to Notre Dame, do not look disappointed when no one is playing football. And when the priest says "amen" you should not be saying "hike".

Have a wonderful time.