Monday, December 31, 2007

Last day of the year

Well the title says it all. Today, Monday, is the last day of 2007, a rainy, chilly exit from a pretty fantastic year for the two of us.

It wasn't not so much any one specific thing or incident or person that made this past year so amazing, but rather what we experienced during the entire year. Living and working (at Pascal's for Susie) in Paris was really a dream come to life. Just going about the daily chores, keeping to a routine of daily life in in Paris was something we will never forget and already ache to recapture. Susie has come to realize that baking is the absolutely right direction for her life now and there is no going back on that simple fact. (photo: Susie at Pascal's in Paris.)

Equally important, we readily and openly acknowledge that we feel very much at home abroad. Odd but true. We just feel comfortable there. No, I'm not sure why. The language and occasionally bizarre cultural issues can be challenging to be sure, but, I suppose that is what makes living there so dynamic; the simple energy we felt in Paris or Siena or Florence is very palpable and hot to the touch.

Ultimately, though, it is the social side of living in Europe that appeals to us. I don't mean the "social" as in parties and the like. No, I'm talking about the social fabric that is so patently alive there as opposed to here.

What I mean is that while we have come to feel at home in our new space in Providence, most days one can walk say the mile or mile and a half down Broadway to downtown and find very few people sharing the sidewalks. In Europe, by contrast, people are everywhere on foot it seems, families, students, elderly (thank you), business types, all walking, roller-blading, jogging; the entire social tapestry of the community is out on foot in other words.

We miss that deeply.

Still, we don't regret one thing we have done.

We have seen some truly wonderful and marvelous things in the past year, reconnected with old friends (who are not "old" at all), and found several new friends along the way, visited wonderful places, eaten great food, sipped some of the world's best wines and just savored the joys of being alive.

Another revelation of sorts is that for two suburbanites, two Midwesterners cultivated in the smallness of Middle America, we now find ourselves curiously enthralled with life in the "big city." And Providence is just the right size for us, and with the right attitudes we think.

Anyway, we needed to return to the USA in order to find a home for at least the foreseeable future, get our lives in some sort of order, and get our things out of storage so that we might continue the process of downsizing as we plan for the (permanent) return to Europe.

The New Year promises to be even better than the last, though, and I'll tell you why.

We have family nearby in New England, a few folks we can truly call good friends with whom we can share much needed laughter and good food, a nice home, a Mini Cooper (40 mpg thank you very much), and good health. Our prospects look good and, whatever may happen, like Rick says to Ilsa, "We'll always have Paris. . ."

The future is, I think, pretty much what we make of it.

We hope your future will be plagued with ceaseless joy and boundless happiness each and every day of the year. Really. I mean it.

Happy New Year! Buon Capodanno!! Bonne Année!!!

Wish you were here,

Steve

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rhode Islanders now

We've had brutally cold weather over the past several days. Light snow fell this past weekend but only half or less than what they got in southeastern Massachusetts, just thirty minutes north of Providence.

By Monday the sky had clear and the day dawned clear and very cold. But the DMC beckoned and so off I went. Now most of us have an inordinate fear of auto registries -- well-found to be sure. But Monday the gods were smiling -- and so were the folks on the other side of the counter. I waited maybe 15 minutes before they called my number (0574) and 5 minutes later I walked out the door with brand-new RI license plates. (photo: brother and sister resting together in Swan Point cemetery.)

So I have RI license, a car with RI plates and a home in RI. I guess that makes it about as official as it gets: we are Rhode Islanders now.

It's funny in a way I suppose.

For the better part of the past dozen years or so the places we have moved to have become progressively smaller: Michigan to Vermont and now to Rhode Island, the smallest state in the Union (what's next the US Virgin Islands, I wonder?) At the same time, we have moved to increasingly larger cities: Chittenden, Vermont (pop 785) to Rutland, Vermont (barely 19,000) to Siena, Italy (55,000) to Florence (450,000) to Paris (over 1 million). Now to Providence (175,000), which may indicate a gradual backwards to ever smaller places again.

Then again it may mean nothing at all except we like the places we have lived but only up to the point where we decided it was time to move somewhere else, to do something else.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gentle snow on Westminster street

It's early Thursday afternoon here in west Providence (and probably on the east side too). A gentle but steady snow started falling about an hour and a half ago and seems determined to persist through the rest of the day.

Our life here in Providence remains slightly unsettled. Susie is up to her eyeballs in work at Gracie's -- it's the big party season right now -- and she's feeling every bit as overwhelmed as you might imagine. And her focus for the moment is singularly on developing the dessert menu while at the same time providing the necessary components for the existing menu. And of course learning the workflow at the restaurant. Her grasp of the pastry business has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few months and continues to develop exponentially; her ability to tackle another brand-new career with such determination and intellectual prowess is truly amazing.

As for me I continue to troll through craigslist looking for something that might tap into the somewhat bizarre amalgam of skills I have acquired over the years: research, digital photography, image editing, take your pick. It's challenge to be sure. In the meantime I'm selling lots of "stuff" on eBay and a few things on Amazon as well -- stuff that we should have sold off before we put everything in storage, I suppose, and we look forward to moving more of our "stuff" out of our place into someone else's.

As for the home it, too, continues to evolve: the track lighting is up in the dining room at last and the hot water issue is now resolved. We had a curious thing occur here of late: it turned out that the hot water in our flat was directly connected to the hot water in the flat below us, no. 8, which, at one time, along with our flat, had been the family's living quarters when this was an operating funeral home. That's now fixed. We still haven't found the right spot for all -- or rather some -- of our family photos so they sit quietly on the floor waiting for some quality time and attention.

So today we will see how well our new snow plow service works. Bob the builder stopped by this morning to let in the plumbers and told me that of course they had never had to use a snow plow service in the past since they weren't any tenants until this past fall. But Gracie's is only a mile and a half from our flat and Susie's actually been walking home lately. She was really quite excited this morning saying that she hoped she could walk home in the snow. What a Michigan gal!

Oh, and speaking of the condo, the builder has lowered the prices on the remaining units and put them on craigslist. It will be interesting to see if anything comes out of that move, but one never knows until one tries I suppose.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Clark & Rose, Ltd? Think again!

Speaking of movers, if you are planning a move from Europe back to the US and are in the market for a mover (or "remover" as they are called abroad) I urge you to do your homework thoroughly, and certainly before contracting with Clark & Rose, Ltd, out of the United Kingdom.

Here's how our experience went down:

After looking through a variety of resources for a mover in Paris to ship about two dozen boxes of our household things from Paris to the US, we contacted the Paris agent of Clark & Rose, LTD. After deciding to go with this company we also opted to pay extra for insurance, covering loss or theft up to 10,000 euros. We also declared certain specific items of value, primarily my Nikon DSLR camera system that would be part of the shipment (2000 euros).

In early March two men from Clark & Rose came to pack up our things. I had put all of my digital SLR equipment into a large camera bag which was then boxed up and sealed by the movers.

That was the last time we saw it.

Our household goods arrived at my brother-in-law's home in Massachusetts not long after Susie and I had settled in northern Maine for the summer. Shortly afterwards we made a quick trip down to check on our goods and discovered that the box with all the camera equipment, as well as several other items from our kitchen, was missing.

Now before going into an explanation of what occurred after we made this discovery I should also say that when our goods were delivered they were brought by a young man from New Jersey or some such place, all shrink-wrapped, and he just left them at Dick's house. No one at no time signed for anything. In fact, had we been less scrupulous we could've have easily informed the "remover" that nothing arrived and claimed the full value of 10,000 euros.

Anyway, the fact remained that my camera equipment had indeed been "removed," permanently it seemed. And so began the long and tedious process of getting our insurance claim money from Clark & Rose.

We submitted the necessary paperwork and all the documentation within the time required. Then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Days went by, then weeks, which turned into months.

Finally, after nearly five months we received notification that our claim was being processed for payment. Less than two weeks later we were in receipt of the money for our claim. Of course we have no idea what conclusion the "adjusters" drew from their "investigations" into the Paris end of the story since they decided to share virtually none of that information with us.

While we are of course pleased that Clark & Rose at long last lived up to their contractual arrangement, we can only caution anyone considering hiring their services to think twice before doing so. The company repeatedly failed to respond in a timely and respectful manner to my requests as to the status of the claim. Often days would pass before I would hear a response to my inquiry about the claim's status and then it would be some assistant or another saying that the person handling the claim was "out of the office" or "in a meeting" or some other such thing and would be back to me soon. Which he rarely ever did of course.

Clark & Rose? Think again.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Looking for a mover in Vermont?

Think twice before using Todd Transportation out of Rutland.

Todd, an affiliate of United Moving Company, moved us several times over the past dozen years or so and until about two years ago we had little to complain about.

This last time was a bit different.

Our things were moved into storage into their Rutland warehouse where we paid a princely sum of rent every month -- and come to find out that when we moved out in mid-November of 2007 we were not going to get any of our November rent back. Se la vie.

Another thing that disturbed us -- and here Todd is certainly not alone in the moving industry - is insurance: you pay (another) princely sum of money for insurance during the move but, in our case, whose to say that there wasn't something damaged in the two years our things were in storage? It's a sad story when a business cannot guarantee its work to be of even reasonable quality (in handling and the like) and wants the client to foot the bill instead for anything it may do that is slipshod or worse.

Anyway, once our things actually were delivered to Rhode Island and all the boxes were accounted for in the inventory, some of the larger items had no inventory sticker; it had obviously fallen off somewhere probably while in storage. The movers who delivered our things just shrugged their shoulders as if to say, "Hey big deal."

Putting your things in storage in Rutland or moving out of Rutland? Think again when choosing a mover.

Monday, December 10, 2007

An update from Susie

Bon soir everyone,

While I am a bit late with my news, I wanted to share with all of you that I am now working at Gracie's restaurant in downtown Providence. I had a trial day a couple of weeks ago which went well, after which I shadowed Cara, the current pastry person, for a day this past Thursday. Chef Joe Hafner and I talked further at that point and agreed on a 30 day trial period during which I would be shadowing Cara, learning the routine stuff as well as starting to add in some things of my own. I officially began work last Friday.

Shortly after Cara and I started our day on Saturday, she and Chef had a short meeting at which time she was told she will be moving to the fish station (about which she is ecstatic, by the way). That means that I will be thrown into the thick of things much sooner than I anticipated. It's a busy time right now with various holiday parties so there is a lot for me to keep track of. This week the plan is that Cara will get me up to speed and soon I'll be on my own. She will still be there of course to answer any questions, but since I'll generally be going in to work earlier than she will, I'll have to have a handle on the daily prepping and refurbishing of various dessert components.

I certainly hope to start adding some new things to the dessert menu, and, as a matter of fact, I went in today (the restaurant is usually closed on Mondays) for a few hours and made some dacquoise and some chocolate macarons which I plan to incorporate into some of the party "trios" for the week. It's all a bit overwhelming right now, but I'm keeping an open mind and am eager to see how the next month goes. Piano, piano.

We're starting to feel settled in our apartment and even have a small tree up and decorated for Christmas. It's also nice to be a short 30 minute drive from my brother Dick and his wife Dorothy's house in Douglas, MA. I'll have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, so we'll be able to spend some time with family for the holiday.

It's certainly a new and different phase and will be a learning experience for me, to be sure.

I wish all of you peace and happiness now and throughout the year.

Joyeux Noel and Buona Festa!

Susan

Friday, December 07, 2007

Settling in nicely thank you very much

Well, we continue to settle ourselves into Providence, and have already started going through the various and numerous bureaucratic hoops to become official Providentians, or Providenites, although sometimes we feel more like we're Providoofses. Piano, piano, we are finding our way, both physically and spiritually, here in the tiny but very curious Ocean State.

Yesterday (Thursday) after I dropped Susie off at Gracie's restaurant (more of that later) I headed off to find one of a handful of locations around RI where one can get a "VIN inspection." Now in RI before you can do anything vis a vis the car, one has to go to sanctioned location and have them check out your vehicle identification number (VIN). So I did.

After stopping a policeman along the way to help me locate the one in North Providence (just behind Oki's Steakhouse on route 15, Mineral Spring Avenue) I pulled into the parking lot and followed the sign that said VIN Inspection here. Once inside I met a friendly and very nice woman who grabbed her clipboard and went outside with me to check the VIN.

A few minutes later and 20 bucks lighter I was on my way to the next stop: Wickford Appliance to pick up our track lighting for the dining room.

If you live in Providence and are in need of appliances or lighting stop in and see Cathy at Wickford. This may sound like a commercial but believe me I'm not getting paid for it. Wickford has a huge selection, competitive prices and Cathy is one of the nicest and most honest sales people you're likely to meet.

On Tuesday we picked up our TV in Massachusetts and on Wednesday drove to Dick and Dorothy's in Douglas to check out the wine tasting and sale at Friendly Liquors in Whitinsville after which we had a delicious supper at their home before heading back to our flat in Providence.

"Our flat in Providence." It has a nice ring to it actually.

And just as our home is about completely set up, so our lives turn another corner: Susie got the job as the new pastry chef at Gracie's restaurant in Providence. The young woman who has been doing the desserts has always wanted to move back to the savory side of the kitchen and now appears poised to do just that. So Susie has been shadowing her and will continue to work with her for the next ensuing weeks through the holidays and perhaps beyond.

As for me I have yet to hear back from the "cognitive skills tutor" informational session, a curious experience indeed, that I attended last Monday evening. More of that in another posting.

Stay well, keep warm and, as always,

Wish you were here,

Steve

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Settling in, but still unsettled in Providence

I suppose the title says it all. We are making progress in getting settled here in Providence, but emotionally we are still very unsettled about being back in the US. Odd but true.

Let me explain.

Since moving in on 19 November we have begun the process of becoming American homeowners once again, and frankly we continue to have mixed feelings about. Somewhere along the line I probably alluded to these feelings before, but the stark reality is that for the past two years we have been pretty carefree -- and it's now starting to dawn on both of us how "spoiled" we had become: no debt, no homeowner hassles. Now we're back in the groove (some might say the "grind") and feeling the perplexities an “adjustment phase” at the moment. Or maybe we just really miss Paris and Italy.

The upside is that we needed to get our stuff out of storage and get on with living like adults -- or something approximating adulthood. We also looked forward to living in a big city. So we have met both of those goals: we now have our "stuff" back, we own a place in Providence and we're getting on with the vagaries of being alive, the peculiarities of our world, enjoying the simple delights of a good wine, a tasty meal, laughing together; things to be savored when we are lucky enough to have them.

And so here we are. Since I last wrote -- aside from the road trip we took on Saturday, 1 December -- we have pretty much gone through all our boxes and have so far made two trips to the Salvation Army with one or two more still ahead of us I'm sure.

Small bugs still pop up in the condo: right now a leaky pipe under the kitchen sink, but then other bugs get fixed: the mailbox is repaired, our stove works fine after all (that's me not reading the manual thoroughly), our door buzzer to let people in works fine although the talk/listen features were manufactured by drunken 12-year-olds, and the trash got picked up at last.

Clothes are all put away in their respective places, pictures, prints, photos are now going up on the walls and Susie's numerous handcrafted teddy bears and Santas are finding their own special places of course.

Along the way we’ve also eaten out at several of the local eateries: Gracie’s restaurant in downtown Providence. Incredible food and service, and a superb wine list. We’ve also eaten at two local Mexican restaurants: La Hacienda, just down the street from our building and Don Jose Tequila on Atwell’s avenue.

Speaking of Atwell’s Avenue and Federal Hill, we caught up with Jack and Pat F. from Rutland this past Friday night. They were in town to hear their son in a concert at Providence College (he’s in the music program there) and we happened to connect earlier in the week by phone and email so we planned to meet them for dinner. Since they like to hit Federal Hill when they come to Providence and since we lived nearby we opted to meet up with them at Cassarino’s, night at Cassarino’s, just off the corner of Dean street on Atwell’s. The food was plentiful and tasty – although volume seemed to be the operative word here. Service was, shall we say, interesting: when our server explained one of the wine specials to Jack she said that it tasted of raspberry and “stuff like that.” We skipped that one. Keep it simple I always say and our gal that night lived up to that motto – right down to her glossy black fingernail polish. Lots of laughter at the tables around us, which did my heart good to hear so many people enjoying the slice of life handed to them.

The search for work continues as well. I troll Craigslist every two or three days and send out the occasional inquiry to a posting for anything from a Photoshop specialist to a teacher -- in fact I'm looking into working as a "cognitive skills tutor," which should be exciting since I haven't a clue as to what one does but I'm sure it's fascinating. Susie meanwhile is still negotiating with a local restaurant -- they clearly want her but are trying to work out the details. We just tell each other what Egina, our Italian teacher in Siena use to always say: “Piano piano,” step-by-step.

Wish you were here, and maybe you will be soon!

Steve

Rhode Island road trip

It is chilly and overcast today, Sunday, the second day of December. Yesterday was quite cold and very windy, adding to the overall chill factor but the sun was out in force, the sky was brilliant and since we sorely needed a break from the constant focus on unpacking and settling in to our new home, we headed off on a road trip through southern Rhode Island, looking for the ocean (well actually Rhode Island Sound). (photo: Narragansett Bay where it empties into Rhode Island Sound.)

We have made great strides in getting our new home in order (OK, Susie has made great strides). Most of the boxes are emptied and gone, furniture has been rearranged hopefully for the last time – well for at least a month or so – and things are starting to appear on the walls: prints, photos that sort of thing. Stuff is being given away, thrown away, sold on eBay or hung on the walls, store dint he basement or simply moved around the apartment looking for a home. Anyway, more of that in my next entry.

For moment I want to talk about Rhode Island, or rather that part of that we sped through on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

After spending the morning on the process of settling in and wondering why we kept all the things we did (eBay is the correct answer here), we grabbed the state road atlas and hit the pavement.

We turned left out of our drive, and after about a quarter of a mile we turned left again onto route 10 south; a few miles later and we were on I-95 heading south. At exit 9, we turned south onto route 4, getting off onto route 102 toward Wickford. Dorothy had told us about the quaint seaside village of Wickford and so we stopped, parked and walked around. The village not only looked like a New England town decked out for Christmas but the Boy Scouts were out in force selling homemade baked goods (for the Cooking merit badge I wonder?) and lots of tiny shops smelling of incense and cuteness. And of course Santa was out taking a buggy ride with the kids!
The day was not for casual strolling, however, as the winds were being most unkind to anyone foolish enough to be outside – and there were a great many of us outside in Wickford to be sure! So back to the car, a quick u-turn and another quick turn left onto route 1A south toward Narragansett.

The drive along this part of the state certainly recommends itself – plenty of views of Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound beyond (that's the Sound right there, look down there, see it. Pretty exciting , eh?! Such glorious emptiness.)

Anyway, before long we were pulling beneath the “Towers,” one of the more curious attractions we would see that day. Built of hand-hewn stone in 1886, originally designed as a casino, this imposing structure is 460 long and route 1A passes right beneath it just like you might see in the Loire Valley of France. In 1900 everything burnt down, except for the “towers” themselves. They stand the proverbial tests of time through hurricanes, nor’easters and the foolishness of man.

From Narragansett we turned back toward route 1 heading north and near Wickford Junction turned west onto route 102. We made a quick stop at a Home Depot we spied along the way: toilet bowl plunger, and a myriad of other household items on the “list of stuff for our home,” a list that never dies.

And speaking of never dying, we soon found our way heading toward Exeter and one of New England’s vampire tombs.

According to local legend, when 19-year-old Mercy Brown died in 1892, there was speculation that all was not right with the Brown family deaths – her mother in 1883 and older sister Mary died in 1884. All were interred in the Chestnut Hill Baptist Church cemetery, right on route 102. (photo: Mercy is the middle grave in the back, her sister Mary is on Mercy's left and their mother Mary is in front of her daughter Mary; George, the father, is in the front row to the left in the photo.)

Sooooo, after a great deal of speculation that maybe there was a vampire in the midst of the tiny community the bodies were exhumed. (And you thought 9/11 hysteria was new, eh?) While two of the bodies were skeletons, Mercy’s was in pretty good shape and after an autopsy it was discovered that she still had “fresh” blood in her veins and heart! Well the townsfolk took care of that in short order: they burned the heart on the spot and the ashes were made into a remedy for the survivors to drink in order that they may be protected from such a cruel fate. It apparently worked since there were no reports of vampires again. At least that's one variation (For more about Mercy Brown click here!) Anyway, the father George lived until 1922.

After paying our respects to Mercy’s grave – and her entire family in fact – we pointed the Mini back west again on route 102 and took off, often the only car on the road for miles, zipping past beautiful groves, rolling hills, crossing tiny brooks and past the occasional New England farmhouse, glad to be alive.

Eventually we had to say goodbye to route 102 – and we remarked how nice it would be to see it in the spring and again during foliage season. I put the Mini onto route 14 and soon found ourselves crossing the gorgeous Scituate reservoir, the largest body of water in Rhode Island and the main water supply for Providence. Not long after seeing where our water comes from, we found ourselves once again among the hordes of motorists on I-295 heading north and east toward a place that can only be defined as “Purgatory” (meaning “mental anguish or suffering”)

Well actually it wasn’t Purgatory in the literal sense of the term. But we did get off at an exit designed specifically by the CIA to make us feel small and stupid – in other words a huge mall complex. Our goal was simple: buy a television. And what better day than a Saturday just three weeks before Christmas!

So we found the nearest big box (Circuit City, motto: “Our sales people are not stupid, we just make them act that way”), where we parked the car and walked inside.

Now apparently the corporate giants that sit around the boardrooms coming up with the ideas that eventually get translated into reality at the store level never actually walk into one of these places. Otherwise they would run out screaming with ears bleeding from the insanely loud and intensely banal garbage being spewed out of every TV speaker.

But fixing our gaze firmly on the TV side of the box we walked purposefully over to the row of TVs we were considering, picked one out, buttonholed a guy with a couple of questions (“Uh, I gotta get a guy who knows TVs”), found the guy who knew about TVs (“Uh, I don’t know anything about that model”), said “no” to the extended service plan (“covers everything even if your TV is deployed to Iraq), paid our money and arranged to pick the thing up at another store. (“Uh, we’re outta that one here”).

Back to the highway, back to the Interstate and back home.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Moving day plus 5 and then some

The handful of days following delivery of our household goods to Providence saw us focused almost singlemindedly on unpacking, arranging, rearranging, repacking, unpacking, re-rearranging, re-moving our stuff down into the basement storage and then moving some of back up again, back and forth, up and down, here and there, over and under. Well you get the idea I'm sure. And if not, you can get a sense of the chaos by clicking here to see some of the photos of what it was like here five days after moving in to the old Prata funeral home.

But plenty has happened along the way, too.

The good news is that it looks like we have a buyer for our sofa bed -- and have at least one person seriously interested in the hutch. Also Susie had a job interview and a baking audtion that went extremely well (that's her above prepping for the baking session) -- we'll keep you posted on how that turns out.

Of course, we've sampled some of the local food: Gracies downtown, La Hacienda in Olneyville Square, Don Jose Tequila on Atwell's Avenue, and naturally started cooking and baking at home after we set up the kitchen (a duanting task in and of itself but one that Susie took on with gusto). New furniture was ordered, using our gift certificate at Cardi's, and some of it has actually been delivered. The weather has largely been cooperative, in fact it's been unseasonably mild of late.

So, within the space of less than two months three of the ten units in our building have been sold. We seem to be settling in OK so far, and little by little finding the rhythm of our home. Oh, and no ghosts -- yet. But frankly I'm looking forward to meething them.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Moving day

The movers came from Vermont on Monday, 19 November. They arrived early afternoon and worked until dark, returning the next morning to finish. (For photos click here.)

The day began overcast and seemed to darken as the morning wore on. By the time the moving truck pulled up in front of the building it had started to snow and pretty much snowed off and on for several hours afterward, although the flakes melted as soon as they hit the ground.

It was, all-in-all, a fairly uneventful experience, with the singular exception that two pieces of furniture could not be brought up our stairs. A corner hutch and our sofa bed were simply too bulky to make the turns necessary to go up two flights. Here's where the Europeans have it figured out: on several occasions in Italy we watched trucks with specially designed with conveyors on the back hoisting large pieces of furniture up maybe six floors on the outside of the building, and then simply going in through the windows. Of course our windows are too small anyway, but still it's the principle of the thing.

Fortunately one of the other flats in the building was empty so we arranged with the builder (that's Bob the builder in the photo below) to place the two pieces there until we could sell them. Another bit of good fortune, at closing the builder gave us a sizeable gift certificate to one of the larger furniture stores in the area, so one door closes and another one opens. . .

Susie and I spent the rest of Monday and early Tuesday unpacking as much as we could so the movers could take the boxes and paper with them.

Overall we saw little damage to our furniture: one piece, the corner hutch in fact, had a loosened base and there were a few scratches here and there but certainly nothing significant. And so far noting seemed to be missing; in fact, we are amazed at what we did keep. "Hey! I didn't know we had this!" I would say. But the more we unpacked the more we kept asking ourselves: "Why did we keep this?" Why indeed. A question that would reverberate through our flat for the next days to come.

Soon after the movers left Monday late afternoon Rosemary -- from Gerrish fame -- showed up passing through town on her way back to the Boston area. We chatted for a while, catching up on all the news. After a glass of wine amidst the packing debris, the three of us drove to a nearby Mexican restaurant, La Hacienda, to meet up with Dick and Dorothy for dinner. They showed up soon after we pulled into the parking lot, driving by us once in the dark -- not surprising since this particular part of western Providence known as Olneyville Square, is a maze of twists of turns. Anyway we were all chagrined to find the place closed. So the five of us convoyed over to Atwell's avenue where we found a Mexican restaurant, Don Jose Tequila, with great food and tasty Margaritas.

After dinner we all headed back to our place. Susie and Dick and Dorothy stayed at the flat while I took Rosemary and her bike to the train station, where I said au revoir. I'm sure we'll be seeing her again before too long. Dick and Dorothy said good night soon after I returned home, and the two of us found ourselves alone with a home full of "our stuff."

That night Susie and I slept on the floor on our mattress, that wonderful memory foam mattress, which had been unloaded but without the bed frame that had not.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Closing, moving and a few bugs

This past Thursday we closed on our flat, apartment, condo, what-have-you, in Providence, RI. We are now officially Rhode Islanders, and in typical American fashion, back in debt. The carefree world of the vagabond traveler is now behind us -- the future beckoned and we heeded its call at last.

The closing went off without a hitch; Susie brought a few sweets to pass around the table, and after an hour of nonestop paper signing, we had ourselves a home.

By now most of you know that our new condo is in an old funeral home in west Providence. The builder, who, it turns out is also a licensed funeral director no less, completely gutted the main structure and rebuilt everything inside, but keeping the original wooden floors and wooden arches in our unit. He then added several brand new townhome units at the rear of the "home," in what was at one time an eight-bay garage. Our unit is on the top, or third floor (second for you Europeans), and was originally the living quarters for the family that once operated the funeral home. (The morgue I'm told was in not in the basement as you might think, but in fact in what is now unit 4.)

We borrowed one of Dick and Dorothy's cars, loaded it and the Mini with some of our stuff in their basement and drov ein the spitting rain to the condo, where we left the cars while we went to closing with Seth, our realtor. Seth brought us back to the condo, we thanked him for all his great work and said good-bye. I'm sure we'll be seeing him again; Providence is a small city and he's actively involved in the local arts community as well as plugged into the food scene. He and a friend work to promote the city through their iloveprovidence.org website.

Thursday was rainy for much, if not most of the day, but after Seth left us at the condo we turned to unloading the cars. Using the portico on the side of the condo building (the "hearse door" I call it although I'm informed that was not in fact the door where the hearse loaded the remains) we backed each car up and unloaded, an in relays schlepping everything upstairs; the wine we carried down to our storage room in the basement. We then drove back to D & D's house, cleaned the last of our Paris stuff out their basement, and drove back to Providence. By the time we finished our second trip it was dark and getting late. So back to Massachusetts for the night.

On Friday we returned to the condo clean the condo, getting the space ready for the movers on Monday afternoon. Along the way we discovered a few problems in the flat.

One problem concerned the front door entry system. The (brand-new) "Talk-Listen-Door" box in our flat didn't seem to work at all; moreover, we had no idea which buzzer on the box at the outside entrance was ours (only Unit 2 was labeled), even after testing every button.

Second, the phones don't work -- and this after the Verizon guy came out to get us online. After hooking us up in the basement, he checke dvery phone jack in the flat and exclaimed that the electrician had apparently not spliced the jacks together. As we understood it, although the service was on at the main junction box in the basement, there was no communication among the jacks in the flat. Another electrician issue.

Third, we discovered by accident that the garbage disposal does not work -- and the electrician who came out to check out our problems informed us that the disposal had never been connected to the circuit breaker box!

Lastly, for the moment at any rate, our hot water is, well, not so hot. The thermostat on the brand-new hot water heating system reads 120 degrees (F) but that produced very weak heat at the faucet.

But the builder responded promptly and the electrician who came out to try and fix our problems spent three hours working out the various solutions -- all to no avail sad to say. But he persevered nonetheless and we certainly appreciated that. He said someone would come out on Monday -- although it seemed odd to us that it wouldn't be him. Sounds like it was just that sort of lack of continuity that problem produced the problems int he first place.

So, today, Saturday, we pick up some new blinds that we ordered the other day, and finish getting the flat ready to move into on Monday. Sunday we'll probably just hang out in Massachusetts.

Wish you were here (maybe you'd know how to fix our problems)

Steve

Monday, November 12, 2007

Update from Susan

Bon jour, everyone!

Well, Steve and I have been back in the USA now for almost 2 weeks. While we have certainly adjusted to the time difference, it's a little more difficult to adjust to being away from Paris. How I love that city! The experiences we've had over the past 2 years or so have been wonderful, to say the least. For me it has been a much needed and much sought after change from what I had been doing for so many years. I can say with certainty that I love baking and pastry, and I love this new career!

My recent second stage (internship) at Patisserie Pascal Pinaud was again a challenging experience, but I felt much more at home and at ease with the flow of the place. I was able to function as part of the team and was given more responsibility, since I didn't have to be supervised as much as I was last winter. Communication was still dicey at times, since I am far from fluent in French, but I did feel that my comprehension was much better and I could at least communicate verbally in my very basic French. And let's not forget the importance of gestures and sign language to get a point across! Chef Pascal speaks English as well, so when push came to shove, we could comprehend one another.

I was able to do and experience a large number of things at Pascal's, assembling various layered creation, doing more with the bread and brioche dough, using the "rolling machine" for the puff pastry and just generally getting more experience in the basics of pastry making. I even dabbled a bit in the final decor for the entremets, the cool cake creations that go in the front window so the passers-by can drool over them. It was a hectic work place and often pretty messy with chocolate and creams flying through the air, and I was always amazed at how good the placed looked nettoyage or cleaning process was finished at the end of the day.

I hope to return to Paris some day, although I suspect my work days at Pascal's are over. He told me I could come back again next year, and perhaps I will, but I think it's time to move on to new experiences in the pastry world. We'll see. As I look forward to the next adventure I'll look back at Paris with great satisfaction and hold the memories and experiences close to my heart.

Now we anticipate the closing on our condo this Thursday morning after which we will start moving boxes from Dick and Dorothy's basement into that new space. The majority of our goods will arrive from Vermont next Monday, 19 November, and we'll being settling in with a vengeance. We are so fortunate to have family close by who are willing to lend us a hand and give us a roof over our heads as we make this transition.

The big news is the prospective job on my horizon. This morning I had an interview with Joe Hafner, the chef at Gracie's, a well established restaurant in downtown Providence. I would be THE pastry person, doing all the prep for the desserts and pastry end of the menu, working primarily in the mornings so I could then get out of the way of the savory chefs as they get cranking up for the evening service. Joe is very interested in the French approach and is looking for someone who is dedicated, organized, wants to grow with the job and has interest in new ideas as well. The next step will be a day of baking for me at the restaurant, doing a number of dishes, some standards that he wants to keep on the menu (creme brulee and something chocolate to name two), as well as things that I would like to make. This will occur in two weeks, the Monday after Thanksgiving, and, if both of us are happy, I will have a job! It's something that sounds very appealing and intriguing to me and would be great experience at this very early stage of my career. Piano, piano!

So there you have it, in a somewhat large nutshell. Life is good, and we all have to keep remembering just that!

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Susan

Armistice Day

Yesterday, Sunday 11 November, was of course, Armistice Day, also known as Veterans' Day in the US. The weather here in southeastern Massachusetts was fine, with clear blue skies and chilly temps, clearly fall is sliding toward winter to be sure. (photo above: Grave of John Felton of Company K, 3rd Michigan Infantry; killed at the Wilderness, Virginia, May 6, 1864, buried in Hill cemetery, Allegan County, Michigan.)

Armistice Day recalls the end of the "Great War," as World War One was known before we started numbering our conflicts. (Ah yes, the romanticism of naming wars, like "War of the Roses," "Hundred Years' War" has given way to the more pedestrian numbering -- World Wars One and Two -- and now we name the wars solely on their geography: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq.)

Although we didn't observe the two minutes of silence at 11:00 a.m. like they do in some parts of the world, Susie and I, along with Dick and Dorothy did nonetheless celebrate the holiday in a typically American fashion: we watched a movie. In fact we watched a Dutch film, Paul Verhoeven's The Black Book. In all fairness it was a war movie that focused on the story of frailty reflected in the lives of several Dutch and German men and women caught up in the events surrounding end of World War Two in Holland. It is a powerful story largely well-told, but not for all viewers. The director, Paul Verhoeven is known for his graphic violence and language, two elements that are in over-abundance in this film.

Our week has been good, since we returned from visiting family in Maine. Susan and I have tried to quash our (my) getting too caught up in the (very small) details of closing on our new flat in Providence, an event that takes place this Thursday morning in fact. And a week from today, next Monday 19 November, we will, after almost two years, get our things out of storage in Vermont. Then we begin the process of sorting through all the things we have, what we have room for and what we really want to keep. It should be exciting. . .

And speaking of exciting news Susan has a job interview this morning in Providence. I'll say no more at present but it's a small upscale restaurant that is looking for someone with just her skills, techniques and, most importantly, temperment. Today she meets the chef-owner and gets a tour of the facility and if they hit it off then she'll come back in a couple of days and bake for the staff.

As for me I am still waiting to hear from one place regarding a position teaching English as a second language to adults, as well as a couple of part-time writing and digital graphics jobs.

So it's off to Providence this morning.

We'll keep you posted.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Morning a the Arc de Triomphe

Here's a short, and I mean short, video I put together from an October morning I spent at the Arc de Triomphe. Hey, at least the music is pretty good!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Susie's final day at Pascal's in Paris

Here's a very short video I took of Susie during her final day of work at Pascal's on Friday, 26 October. Pascal was tired, recovering from a bit of the flu and relaxing. Susie was working on a lemon creme filling for lemon tarts.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Air France, Rain and two extra hours of life

It's a beautiful Sunday morning in Douglas, Massachusetts. The storm that struck most of the New England coastline on Saturday has gone and left us with gorgeous sunshine rubbing up against chilly temperatures.

Our departure from Paris and Charles de Gaulle airport went smoothly, if a bit awkwardly.

Drea came by the apartment a little after nine in the morning Wednesday, and we handed her the keys to our home, said au revoir, and carried our bags downstairs.

The shuttle van was right on time, in fact a bit early I think, and we pulled away from rue General Renault just at 9:30. Traffic was appallingly slow and we crawled our way through the city streets, the driver making his way eventually to Montmartre where he picked up another couple, Canadians, also going to the airport.

Once out of the city proper we made good time and before long found ourselves at terminal 2E. We unloaded our bags and walked inside. No sooner had we relocated our bags on a handcart than Susan discovered her carryon was missing – she had inadvertently left it on the van. After a series of aborted phone calls I finally got through to the shuttle dispatcher. Susan went back outside to wait for the driver while I was standing in line waiting to check in. Twenty minutes later Susie joined me with bag in hand.

And speaking of bags, it soon became clear that the Air France check-in procedures had been designed by the Marx Brothers and executed by the Keystone Cops. In fact everyone seemed to be hovering just at the edge of anarchy and utter chaos. Anyway, by the time we got to the agent’s counter seating on our flight was at a premium. Fortunately we still had seats together but they happened to be in the middle of a four-seat center row.

After dropping our bags off we passed through security, quickly and without having any body cavities explored. By the time we got to the departure gate there was very little wait time, so I suppose there is always a silver lining. At the departure gate we discovered that the Keystone Cops were in complete control of coordinating several hundred people getting from inside the terminal onto the waiting busses that took us out to the tarmac where our plane was, a 747-400. There we waited and waited and waited to be offloaded like cattle, and be led up the one stairway into the plane.

Well after what seemed like two hours we were loaded, the doors were shut and we were taxiing down the runway and then full throttle and we were airborne.

The flight went surprisingly smoothly and quickly. Sitting in the middle was not really bad at all, the food was OK, and in typical French style they kindly offered champagne as an aperitif. Nice touch. The multimedia was quite antiquated, limited to a handful of overhead monitors in the aisles no less – so I kept to my iPod and loads of podcasts to catch up on.

Upon arriving in Boston, a bit early I might add, we whisked through passport control (there’s a switch we thought), waited for our bags and then headed outside to the shuttle bus to Framingham. Traffic leaving Boston was even more sluggish than the traffic leaving Paris earlier in the morning and we crawled mile after mile until at last we pulled into the bus depot where Susan’s brother Dick was waiting for us.

Less than an hour later we were unpacked and relaxing in Dick and Dorothy’s home, and after a wonderful dinner we went to bed still reeling from the fact that we were no longer in Paris.

Thursday we just caught our breath and relaxed around the house, spending a little time out shopping for groceries.

Friday morning we headed into Providence, met with our realtor and checked out our new flat: the closet organizers are installed and things are moving along. We close in less than two weeks now and the movers bring our household goods from Vermont four days later. Then it’s a new life in a new place.

Saturday New England was hit by the tail end of Hurricane Noel and we just stayed inside, read, cooked and planned our future. Saturday night all the clocks in the US "fell back" by one hour. Well we had already gotten an hour back the previous weekend in Paris, and here we were to get a second free hour. I doubt that will happen again.

Wish you were here,

Steve

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Monday rain, airline strikes and our last day

Monday it rained pretty much all day in Paris so we opted to stay in and work on household chores and packing for our departure Wednesday morning. Susie did go brave the rain squalls to walk over to the Bastille where she met up with Mohamed, a friend from her first days at Pascal's earlier this year. "Momo" is Tunisian and has worked as a chef in the US throughout Europe and parts of Asia. They had a fine lunch, catching up on all the news of course.

Tuesday the day dawned overcast but no rain and in fact we had breaks of sun and blue sky from time to time.

We hung around the apartment putting some final touches on getting ready to hand the keys over to Drea on Wednesday morning. We even took a quick trip over to Pascal's. After strolling through Place Leon Blum we started walking down Ledru-Rollin and soon caught the no. 61 bus to Gare Austerlitz, and walked through the Jardin des Plantes around the Paris mosque to Pascal's to see if Susie's letter of completion of her stage was ready (no). We returned through the Jardin and walked across the Pont Austerlitz and caught the no. 5 at Quai de la Rapee. We then returned to the apartment in time to meet Drea for lunch. She arrived at about 1 pm and we chatted for a bit -- it seems that one spends a fair amount of time in Paris just catching up on the news with friends and acquaintances.

The three of us walked down to the Place Leon Blum and around the corner on rue de la Roquette we stopped at La Renaissance for lunch. The wine (rouge) was mediocre, the service prompt and friendly, the food was delicious, and the company and conversation warm and thoroughly enjoyable. After lunch we walked back to the apartment and Drea eventually left to meet up with several friends for dinner. Susie and I grabbed our coats and headed for the Metro.

At Austerlitz we changed to the no. 10 and at Jussieu we switched to the 7 and got off at Place Monge. As we entered Pascal's they were still in the process of the daily afternoon nettoyage (cleaning) and still no letter. But it was a grand opportunity for Susie to say au revoir to Pascal and Jean Marc and Miss Bread. From the shop we strolled down rue Monge past Eric Kayser's upscale patisserie where we bought two croissants for the morning, and continued down toward the river but turning left (west) on Boulevard St. Germain. We continued our leisurely stroll through the heart of the Latin Quarter, past Odeon and then turned right onto rue G. des Tours, and then a quick left on the funky little rue de Buci, past the cool Taschen bookshop.

Off of rue de Buci we turned onto rue de Seine and strolled past the never-ending stream of galleries punctuated only by the occasional doorway into an apartment building overhead. Of course the street did end, brining us out at the Institut de France, just opposite the Louvre proper.

After crossing the street we strolled across the Siene one more time, walking along the pedestrian-only Pont des Arts. Midway we stopped and watched the champagne lights twinkling on the Eiffel tower. After several minutes we turned away, not wanting to see the lights go off but just letting that be our final image of the great and beautiful icon of the city of Paris.

So with the Eiffel to our backs we passed into the Cour Carree of the Louvre. Last year we had struck up a conversation with a fellow sitting next to us at a small restaurant near the Place de Italie, he worked for the city light company, and he told us to make a point to get over to the Coeur Carree to see the lights inside. And so now we have. It is something worth seeing to be sure. This is after all the city of light and the city of lights.

From the Louvre we got on the no. 1 Metro and took it to the Bastille. From there we walked down rue de la Roquette, past Leon Blum's statue all lit up and glowing like a beacon in the center of the Place named after him, and strolled back to the apartment.

It is now Wednesday morning just about 8. The bags are pretty much packed and it's just a matter of doing up some dishes and some last minute tidying up. Drea comes by at 9 to get the keys, we say au revoir and then we're off to Charles de Gaulle and Air France.

Wish you had been here, and maybe someday you will.

Steve

Monday, October 29, 2007

Our last Sunday in Paris

Sunday began overcast and pretty much remained that way all day -- but that was OK with us. We're just happy to be here, at least for the moment.

But we will not be for much longer.

The other day we began a short list of several things we wanted to see and do before we flew to the US on Wednesday. The list became rather long so we headed out mid-morning on Sunday to start to see Paris with the eyes of a tourist (again).

(photo: Juliette Recamier in the Carnavalet museum; for additional photos from that wonderful outing just click here.)

From our apartment just off of rue de Parmentier we walked down rue Chemin Vert to Boulevard Beaumarchais, turned down rue pas de la Mule, and through one of the porticoes of Place Vosges and on another block or two to the Carnavalet museum, the museum of the History of Paris.

Susie had never been here and we thought it was high time she went. One of the truly grand free attractions in the city, it's certainly worth the time for the art alone – and the grand thing is that the art is all designed to help once see through the eyes of the city’s artists how the city of Paris evolved from prehistoric and Gallo-Roman periods until today. All neatly arranged in period rooms of a mansion once owned by Madame Sevigne. (You'll see her name around the Place Vosges area a lot, and in fact she was born in one of the buildings next to the Hotel Sully facing the Place.)

We spent an hour or two strolling through Parisian history compliments of some truly fantastic art, and both of us remarked as to how wonderful it was to see how Paris has changed over time, at least through the eyes of so many painters and sculptors. (It was also helpful to see the many models of the city and some of the more famous buildings and how they have all changed over time.)

(I also discovered the local origina of the word "Samaritain." I thought it was just the name of one of Paris' most famous -- and now extinct -- department stores. In fact it was a much older building on the side of the Pont Neuf that would be close to where the department store would eventually be located.)

Oh, and I got a chance to see Juliette Recamier once again; well her image at any rate. Married at age 15 to a man 30 years her senior, her intellect and strength of character made her one of the leaders of literary and political world in early 19th century Paris. If you must know she's buried in Montmartre cemetery, and not easy to find . . . (photo below: museum garden)

After leaving the interior of the museum we found our way into two of the museum’s lovely connecting gardens, where we strolled for a few minutes before heading off a couple of streets over to rue des Rosiers and the Jewish quarter. (Rue des Rosiers was so-named after the rose bushes that grew up against the ancient city wall that once paralleled the street.)

Our objective here was simple: to sample what some claim to be the best falafel in the city. Our friend Diane first mentioned this place to us -- she ate there several times I believe -- and then I read Mark Bittman's praise of this sandwich in a column he devoted to the restaurant in the New York Times in 2006.

This being Sunday and many places in the city closed for lunch there was already a line queuing up at the counter window -- you can sit down but the interior space is cramped and was packed that day anyway. Several other sandwich shops nearby had queues as well. So as we were standing in line a guy comes by and takes our order. We pay him and he gives us our receipt. When we get to the window we hand the receipt to one of the half dozen guys in the kitchen. He asks if we want piccante sauce (harissa sauce) -- you bet we say – and he then goes off, fixes our sandwich and back he comes. He hands the sandwiches through the window and off we go!

We stroll down the street snacking on our salad-sandwich with forks we grabbed before leaving the window.

From the rue des Rosiers we work our way back to the Carnavalet and around the northern side head of the museum to Blvd Beaumarchais where we get the no. 8 Metro at Chemin Vert. At Strasbourg-St. Denis we change to the no. 4 and then to the no. 2 at Barbes-Rochechouart and get off at Anvers.

We are now back in Prime Tourist Country, as we make our way up rue Steinkerque toward Sacre Coeur, and find our way to the queue for the small cable car that will take us to the top. The place is of course packed with people from every part of the globe imaginable -- and some not imaginable I think. Leaving the front of the church we walk over to the Place du Tertre -- equally packed with artists and people trying to see the art and everyone trying to find a place to eat; all in the same place at the same time of course.


So we leave as quickly as possible, after skirting most of the artists on parade, and head down to rue des Abbesses where we take the no. 12 to the Place de la Concorde and the Jeu de Paume museum to see the Steichen photo exhibition.

Another short line, a quick check of my backpack by security (securite) and we're inside with tickets in hand. The exhibition is enormous, with as many people jammed together trying to see the photos, as there are photos to see. We are initially put off by the dark photos from Steichen's early phase of his career -- frankly I think a photographer taking such dark, out-of-focus images today would be shot trying to pass them off as "art." (Steiglitz, a colleague and friend of Steichen's of course used the same technique.) We work our way through his life and his life's work, year-by-year and phases-by-phase: after working as an army photographer in the First World War, he eventually became one of the hottest photographers on Madison Avenue and in Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s.

During the Second World War, at the age of 60 he was a Navy photographer in the Pacific and took some of the most incredible images. I was reminded that I had his book on US Navy photos from WWII many years ago.

After leaving the Jeu de Paume we made our way back to the Metro and took the no. 12 to Sevres, where we got off and walked by St. Sulpice, presently undergoing major repair and renovation, to the Jardin du Luxembourg. What a sight to see! Families strolling, kids playing everywhere, tennis players on the courts, badminton players without a net, chess players:

Even amidst the crowds the people of Paris always seem to find time for intimate moments:

After strolling through the Jardin with much of the rest of Paris we walked down to the no. 10 Metro at Cluny La Sorbonne and got off at Jussieu. After returning to the surface we walked into the Jardin des Plantes and strolled through the gardens to the Gare Austerlitz and took the no. 5 to Breguet. From there we walked home.

Not a bad Sunday after all -- in fact it was a great Sunday and a truly wonderful way to spend a day in Paris.

Wish you had been there,

Steve

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Our Last Saturday in Paris

Well it's another overcast and dreary morning here in Paris. Frankly, I have trouble with putting the word "dreary" in the same sentence with the word Paris, but there you have it.

We gained an extra hour this morning, which was a nice feature to be sure; one more hour in Paris that we might not have otherwise had to spend. And we spent it over an extra cup of coffee scanning the headlines online. (photo, left to right: Yumi and Misato at Pascal's.)

And speaking of cyberspace we’ve had the oddest thing happen to us here in the 11th arrondissement. We cannot connect to the one (US) website that hosts all of our websites and attending email addresses, thus we cannot send mail normally. We can, however, send it abnormally via our Apple account so that’s nice.

(If you must know, on Friday I discovered that while we could send emails we couldn’t receive mail although we could access our Internet Service Provider’s website to view our mail directly on their site. A day later, that situation was reversed: we could not longer access their website nor could we send email but we could receive email. A French conspiracy some think, but I doubt it.)

That aside, after a leisurely morning Saturday we left the apartment a little before noon and walked west on rue Chemin Vert until it ran into Boulevard Beaumarchais, where we turned left, walked a block and turned onto rue pas de la Mule, in the direction of the Place Vosges. We cut through this pretty green space, dominated by a statue of Louis XIII on a horse (kings loved horses it would seem), surrounded by a square of attractive, very upscale buildings with little cafes and galleries tucked beneath the arcades, under the porticoes. Upon leaving the place we headed for rue Saint Antoine, crossing just a bit east of Saint Paul church. (This street eventually becomes the very busy and very famous rue de Rivoli that runs alongside the Tuileries to the Place de la Concorde.)

But our journey led us away from the frenetic activity of these major streets and we wended our way through the backstreets on our way to the Seine, which we crossed at the Pont de Sully, and found ourselves at the tip of the Isle St. Louis. Making our way to the rue Isle Saint Louis we strolled up the street peeking in the occasional window, commenting that we had been in that shop or eaten in that little café somewhere in the not-too-distant past.

That’s right folks, it’s the beginning of our “Melancholy Tour of Paris” where we make every effort to see those places we’ve seen before, do those things we’ve done before, together, with friends or family (often one and the same thing you know).

Frankly I think it’s only natural at this stage in our life. We’ve been vagabonding for nearly two years now and that phase of our life together, we sense, is about to come to an end. Very soon we will have a home (and mortgage!) again, and after almost two years in storage we will have our “stuff” back again.

Of course we will miss Paris – and Italy even more so in some respects. But if the past two years have taught us anything at all, it is that life is meant to be lived, to be experienced, to be savored. That change is not to be feared. There is absolutely no reason one cannot savor life in Providence as well as in Paris.

So just as we are coming to an end of our life in Paris so we came to the end of the Isle St. Louis and crossed the small Pont St. Louis bridge to the Isle de la Cite. We stopped on the bridge for a few minutes to listen to a small jazz band playing for the benefit of the passers-by and their euros of course. We dropped a coin in their violin case and moved on skirting Notre Dame on the rue by the same name, passing another, smaller jazz combo playing right on the edge of the street. Fine music being tossed out for anyone to hear and enjoy. Like so much of this city.


As we came around to the front of one of the world’s most famous ecclesiastical landmarks we swung back toward the river and crossed at the Pont au Double.

Officially on the Left Bank and more or less in the Latin Quarter, we headed up rue Lagrange until it became rue Monge.

(Interestingly, it is often reported that the name “Latin Quarter” came from the fact that the universities of Paris had their start here and that everyone spoke Latin. True indeed. But we mustn’t forget that this area was also the very site of the ancient Roman city of Lutetia.)

We strolled to Pascal’s where Susie tidied up some last-minute recipe notes for Pascal (he is hot on brownies and American-style cookies, as are many other pastry chefs in the city).

From Pascal’s we walked over to the rue Mouffetard, the “Mouff” as it’s known locally, to stroll this wonderful little street of open air markets and tiny shops, not terribly upscale at all but somehow fashionable nonetheless.

It was now almost half past one and time to stop for lunch and there’s probably no better location for such a thing than on the Mouff. We checked out a couple of menus as we walked toward the Place Contrescarpe and stopped at the tiny, which specialized in the cooking from Savoie, a tiny part of southeastern France bordering on Switzerland. Both of us had the Fondue Savoyard, bits of ham, potato and bread cubes we dipped at our whim into a large pot of bubbling reblochon cheese, accompanied by a small delectable salad, and all washed down by a wonderful crisp white wine, Apremont de Savoie, aptly named since it was from Apremont.

We savored the afternoon letting the time slip away from us.

But go we had to go of course and after paying the bill, something they appreciate here in France, we walked to the Jardin des Plantes. Passing through the gardens we caught the no. 61 bus across from the Gare Austerlitz.

We got off at Basfrois, just short of the Place Leon Blum, and did some last minute shopping for essentials at the Monoprix near the Place. I must say this store is one of my least favorites I think – mainly because the grocery section is on the upper level (2nd floor in Americanese), with some items, such as bar soap and the like on the first floor. And it was busy on all floors.

With bags in hand we walked back to the apartment.

Later that evening we walked over to St. Ambroise where we caught the no. 9 Metro to the Trocadero. About 25 minutes after we left our apartment on the eastern side of Paris we were standing on the “terrace” between the two fairly unremarkable buildings that comprise the several museums on the Palais de Chaillot. Like many other people from all over the world that evening – and probably every evening I imagine – we were standing there fixed in one spot staring at the gorgeous structure of the Eiffel tower, bathed in a soft yellow glow of how many thousands of lights, lit up for the evening, all waiting for that moment, when on the hour the little champagne twinkle lights come on and one senses that this is what makes the French so different from most other cultures. This is why so many have flocked here from all over the world for the past two hundred years or more. Not to make money or make their fortunes as one might expect to do in other parts of the world.

No they came to flex their imagination, to let their ideas run free, sometimes to run amok to be sure. But run, fast and far.

You see it everywhere you look in this city.

Wish you had been there.

Steve

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Degas, women in the bath and the Musee d'Orsay

I spent a large part of Friday in the Orsay museum and learned, through the wonders of the audioguide that some two-thirds of Degas' work was of women in the bath, or taking a bath, or washing their feet, or squatting in a tub, looking at the bath, in any case, something to do with cleaning. Aside from the fact that he was on the wrong side of the Dreyfus affair his various images of dancers are exquisite to be sure, and he is justly world-famous for portraits of young ballet dancers. (As in the above painting, Ballet Rehearsal.)

(As a sidenote: the family crypt in Montmartre cemetery deads "De Gas," an attempt it would seem to enhance the stature of his family name beyond the more proletarian "Degas.")

I left the apartment at about half past nine and arrived at the d'Orsay at 10 am. The line was very short and I was soon ushered through security, paid for my ticket and picked up an audio guide and on my way.

I spent the next several hours -- including a short break for lunch -- renewing my obsession with the work of several of my favorite artists.

First up was Eduoard Manet, creator of stunningly powerful portraits of the people who lived, worked, laughed and loved in late 19th century Paris. I was especially taken with his several renderings of the strikingly beautiful Berthe Morisot, friend, fellow painter and wife of his brother Eugene. (That's Manet's portrait of Berthe below.) In fact all three and Edouard's wife are buried together in Passy cemetery, in the very shadow of the Eiffel tower.

I lingered over the 3D caricatures of Honore Daumier, trying to pick up bits and pieces of a lecture being given to a school class on his unique style of portraiture -- not terribly favorable one would think but quite fantastic and original. In fact Friday seemed to be the agreed-upon day by the Paris school system to pack up all the kids and haul them off to the d'Orsay for an afternoon of fun and frolic among the marble and oils.

Jean-Francois Millet and Camille Corot were two other artists that drew my attention, again. I just cannot get enough of the understated beauty in Millet's poignant renderings of the human spirit embodied in the nameless, faceless French peasant. (His piece The Gleaners is below.)

Upstairs, I strolled past most of the Impressionists, stopping at another personal favorite, August Renoir. The sensitivity in his portraiture of people long gone from us now, his ability to capture a moment in their lives keeps them alive and vivid for us today. Incredible.

Right around the corner from one of the Impresionist rooms upstairs you'll find another of my favorites, Toulouse-Lautrec. He and his model, caberet dancer Jane Avril, became world-famous through his posters (she's the model for five of them) that are now icons in pop art.

(A huge piece he did is on the backside of one of the walls of the Impressionist room; his other works are on the same level but the other side of the building. The artist is depicted standing next to Jane, who is talking with Oscar Wilde, and their back is to the viewer, as they watch Louise Weber, another famous caberet dancer, do her thing on stage.)

Another work I especially like, mainly for the piercing look of its subject staring right back at the viewer, is the portrait of Madame de Loynes by Eugene-Emmanuel Amaury-Duval.


I left the museum but not the artwork and took the RER back to the Gare Austerlitz where I changed to the no. 5 Metro to Jussieu, and although I could have walked from there to Pascal's, I switched to the no. 7 and got off at the next stop, Place Monge, which is right next to Pascal's. Simple. Easy. Hey, it's the Metro.

I stopped in to see Susie on her last day. They had just finished lunch and Pascal was looking beat and reading a magazine; Susie was making lemon creme for lemon tarts. It all seemed quite sedate. So I left her to her pastry and walked past the nearby Mosque where Friday prayers were going on -- with the police parked outside -- and the women waiting patiently for their husbands. I strolled past the open door and could hear the call to prayer. I turned the corner and made my way through the windy Jardin des Plantes and caught the no. 61 to Place Leon Blum and then home.

Later that night after Susie got home we celebrated her finishing at Pascal's with a bottle of champagne -- this is France after all.

Wish you had been there,

Steve

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dinner with Val, Parc Monceau and dead kings

Sunday was a quiet day for us, catching up on household chores and the like. Susie felt the need for a true day of rest and what better day for that than Sunday, eh?

We did rally ourselves that evening so that we could meet up with our friend Valerie at her apartment for dinner. She and Susie were in Basic together at Le Cordon Bleu and she lives here in Paris, over the by Eiffel tower in fact.

Susie made up one of her rustic fruit tarts, I stuck a bottle of wine in my jacket pocket and we headed off for the Metro: line 5 to Gare Austerlitz and then took the RER to the Eiffel tower; we were lucky indeed since we go onto the platform just a couple of minutes before the train arrived. (Otherwise we would have had to wait a half hour for the next train, which meant we would have had to dash back to the Metro, head downstairs to an even lower level -- the lower colon of the Metro -- in order to catch the no. 10, which would have taken us to La Motte-Picquet, but that station is below ground and we would need to walk up not just to the surface but then to one of the stations raised above ground and take the no. 6 to Dupleix and walk five minutes to the apartment. See why it was important not to miss the RER?)

Four stops later and we were off the train, and soon staring at the underside of the Eiffel tower. Anyway, after a ten-minute walk we were standing in front of Valerie's building, ringing her buzzer pleading to let us in. Which she did.

We had a grand evening, the conversation was lively and warm, catching up on all her news (she is studying Finnish for her work, she's an engineer) and we of course talked of Paris but of the importance of travel in general. (Valerie had recently been to Sicily and also had her first mountaineering adventure in the French Alps, and she had the photos to prove it.) Since Valerie is not only French but Parisian the food was delicious: sausage and lentils with rice, followed by a perfect green salad, simple yes, great yes, in fact it was incredible! Eeen-kray-dee-bee-lay!

Monday was another gorgeous day, lots of Parisian sunshine that needed to be consumed. We walked up to Pere Lachaise where we got on the no. 2 line and took it all the way to the other side of the city, getting off at Monceau, which is right at Parc Monceau, one of our main objectives for the day.

The park is small, but tres cool, and it was filled with people in search of what we are all looking for I suppose: a little peace, quiet and time to just relax. Several intriguing statues are scattered throughout the park. The one of Guy de Maupassant had his bust on a pedestal while on the bottom was a woman reclining, perhaps contemplating his writing.

Another curious piece of stone is found at one end of the parc that was devoted to children plaing, a statue marked A Chopin, "To Chopin." an intriguing piece of work we thought: a man, presumably Fred himself, playing a keyboard instrument while seemingly unfazed by his permanent audience of one, a woman covering her eyes with her right hand, as if to say "Oh what exquisite music!" Or is she hinting, "Not THAT piece again!".

From the Parc Monceau we headed off in the direction of Place Madelaine, stopping briefly to check out the enormous spiritual bulk of St. Augustin church which stood squarely in our path. The church is large, no doubt about it, but a quite unremarkable interior and other than its sheer size has little to recommend it (for non-Catholics).

We strolled passed the Chapelle Expiatoire, which is presently closed until the middle of November while work is being done on the gardens. The chapelle is built over what was originally the Madelaine cemetery, a place that would otherwise have become just another part of paved-over pre-Hausmann Paris had it not been for the fact that the bodies of King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette, along with hundreds of others who had been executed on the nearby Place de la Concorde, were dumped into a mass grave on this very spot.

During the brief restoration of the monarchy in the early 19th century the land was acquired by Louis XVIII who had the bones of the king and queen removed to St. Denis for reburial with the other kings and queens of France, and the other remains were placed in two rows of small half-moon-shaped vaults flanking a small garden, the chapelle as it exists today.

From the chapelle we made our way to Detou for baking supplies -- Susie is stocking up on a few hard-to-find ingredients in the US before we leave next week. We then had lunch at the Cafe Etienne Marcel just a few doors down from Detou on Boulevard, that's right, Etienne Marcel (at the corner of rue Montmartre in fact).

After a late lunch we returned to the Metro and headed home, another day in Paris, exploring the wonders of the human spirit in the bright light of the day.

For additional photos click here!

Wish you had been there,

Steve