cakes, prose, woes -- the photos, food & thoughts of a french-speaking seattle-native in brazil

In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it. -AB
In the end, you're just happy you were there—with your eyes open—and lived to see it.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap Day. Chouette!

Undoubtedly the classiest shoe store in Paris--Mallory, (Philippe Mallory, but whose counting.) Location: Epicenter of snob-land, id est Passy shopping center.

Today is Leap Day. To miss the date caching of 29 February in this blog would be among the utmost of capital offenses. Therefore. I post. A fudgy trick needed to offset the imperfections of a man-made device intended to measure the organic object that is time, season, and well earth, leap day happens every four years. We could discuss math, {if year modulo 400 is 0 then leap>>else if year modulo 100 is 0 then no_leap>>else if year modulo 4 is 0 then leap else no_leap} yeah. Legend has it that Leap Day is the one and only day a woman can propose marriage, hmmm. Gentlemen, lucky for you I'm already engaged to Michael Buble, else you would be owing me 12 pairs of gloves. Chouette!

Tonight: Birthday party of a Leapling. He must be what, 6, 7 years old now? Toy cars or pokemon? Brandy is out of the question.

Happy Leap Day! Joyeux Jour Bissextile!

A bientôt

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

This Ham Story--Cette Histoire du Jambon

The enchaînements in life
Is it coincidence or fate that pushes us in repetitive directions? I allude to subject matters of either great importance or of trivial yet pertinent importance that seem to follow in one's shadow as either analogous to a loyal loving terrier or a pustulant tic. For example, a question is answered incorrectly under the crucifying stares of the entire class; consequently said question appears around every bend in the dejected students life henceforth, tormenting him with its now ubiquitous presence. Or the appearance at every turn of a certain place, language, or fish that prior to a singular event had little or no presence in your life. How does this happen? Subconsciously pulled around by Freudian strings? Luck and fate? Or have they always been there and are just now catching the eye from what has been a lifetime of unconscious overpassing? The later, though the least fanciful and romantic, is the most practical. And we are practical humans, are we not? Either way--life is a chain of events, nothing occurs without a cause. Aiya! A cause procures an event? In all serious matters, I have many haunts. However, i must inform you that this time--this time I have been followed by a ham.

Nothing new under the sun. It is truly at random moments that these sententiae antiquae come back to me, though unfortunately accompanied by images of Father K and pastel clerical collars. If you follow, on my recent trip to Barcelona I visited a ham shop as a sort of "quest" to give a small yet purposeful structure to my otherwise laissez-faire trip. The ham was quite good, and after chronicling my exploits in this very blog, it was the ham and ridiculous story that accompanied it that received the most attention from you my beloved public. Mallory, I didn't know you liked ham so much...I want some ham too... Lets have a ham for you when you come back to the US. Ham. It's what's for dinner. This morning I picked up this months special mode supplement of Le Monde, a French evening Newspaper, and freshly returned from Spain, I was excited to see the editions title: Audaces Espagnoles. Quel coincidence eh! leafing through the edition at what apparently is Spanish Haute Couture, the grand majority of the issue was on the Catalunian region. Wow, that's nice. Then it happened: I flipped the page to an article on Iberian Ham. What? Are you kidding me?

The piece centered around the Spanish tradition of tapas (snack), and the history of ham as its habitual focal point. As the article is not available online, and the majority of you neither live in France to pick it up or can read French, I will summarize. The Legend: We are introduced to Alfonso XIII, King of Spain from 1886-1931 ('86 also happened to be his birth year.) As the legend of the tapas has it, Alfonso was on a visit to Cádiz (southwestern province of Spain, Cadix to ye Frenchies) where a very poignant server placed a piece of ham on top of the king's wine glass to protect it from contamination. He covered the glass, Spanish verb tapar; thus the tapas was born. Thin slices of lard, ham, or chorizo forevermore became "edible films" to protect the aroma of wine. The article suggests to take a fino (very dry sherry) or manzanilla (a sherry wine made in Jerez province that tastes like chamomile tea) with an olive from Seville, a slice of ham, and a potato omelet (I actually had a potato omelet in Barcelona, so good) but only in the strictness of leisure time and with friends. They mean everyday. The article further suggests to tapear (go out for a few drinks, and eat tapas.) Thus, Spain created the plus, muito, most chouette act of snacking and drinking: C'est l'art de manger debout--standing up. The article was quick to mention the utter lack of the tapas tradition in the Pyranees region, aka Basque land. Ok then.

How did that fall into my lap? The article finished with the address of where to find the best menu of traditional Spanish tapas, ham, and wines in Paris--Fogon, owned by Cuenca native Alberto Herraiz, as well as the address for the boucherie where one can purchase the best Spanish hams in Paris--Bellota Bellota where the Produit de luxe is 266euros le kilo! --Nuria, c'est pour toi!

Wednesdays I work, no class. But no work today: my children are on a ski holiday in the alps. so now my day is planned--hunt these hams. Of course, to solely take a look, no touching. The two are in easy walking distance of each other--Bellota Bellota is merely a 10 minute walk from l'ecole militaire, and Fogon is situated on the quai and around the corner from la fontaine st Michel. Be warned, these joints are a slightly (ehem) on the incline of the euro board, however, if you are poor, just look through the window--and whisper (to yourself as you are on the outside of the building) that Mallory sent you. I will return and eat some day, perhaps with you.

What is the likelihood of luck and coincidence, of being in the right place at the right time, maybe things are just supposed to happen. You've spent a near 5 minutes reading this what should be stoutly simple story on going to two ham stores, though spun adjectively into an Odyssey. You, perhaps have a new appreciation for good ham, and not that watery rectangular shaped sliced product that produces its own gasoline-like rainbow gleam. What if I were to say you were meant to read this article? You would say I'm silly. But then, what isn't silly. After the ham shop crusade I sat in starbucks (yes I sometimes do that, did you read the "I am from Seattle" part? savvy then?) with an espresso and my [cough] Portuguese grammar book written in French. In truth it helps with both languages--no Ingles involved. Having finally come to the chapter on verbs--naturally I was confused, and ready to throw in the towel and ask myself why I ever thought I would be able try and make sense a foreign language through another foreign language. But then--what's the likelihood that I was approached by the woman sitting with her family at the table next to me: [in French, and pointing at my books and Francais to Portugais dictionary] we're on holiday from Portugal, if you need any help with your homework, we'd love to help!

I stared at her [took me a few moments to think, i felt like i was in a coma, how does that happen, what the hell is going on!] I finally blinked, then smiled. In my frenchiest French: Actually how, no why do you have two verbs for etre? And avoir? When do you know when to drop the personal pronoun and let the verb stand alone--same as when conjugating a verb in Latin then? And is Amarante worth a visit? Wow your accent does sound a lot different than Brazilian. yadda yadda. I resisted asking if she liked cod, and I didn't tell her I preferred the nasally accent. Keep it up she said when I told her sheepishly that I wasn't in a class and that I just liked the language, and that actually I was American and not French with a funny accent she thought was northern. I stayed and worked for another hour. Thank you ham quest. I used to think you just a "filler meat" and a silly idea for a costume that only Scout could pull off. Coincidences, nah. It's an enchaînement, what happens is supposed to happen.

"Eternity is a ham and two people." Dorothy Parker

Bellota Bellota-18, rue Jean-Nicot, Paris 7e.
Fogon-45, quai des Grands-Augustins, Paris 6e.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Benvinguts a Barcelona

Basking in Beautiful GraysIt is a testament to any city, or any noun for that matter, to be found breathtaking on an off day--smeared makeup and wild hair, rain, clouds and a color absorbing hue apt to tango with the aperture. Through all of this, the first rainy days in months, Catalonia's capital city was an unquantifiable treat; for if marvelous on an overcast stage, what must a strong sun reveal? Oasis. Barcelona is yet another European gemstone I will return to down the road. The world capital of architectural art nouveau, ever present smell of the sea in the air, paellas, chocolate, palm trees, fruit markets, a new language (Catalunian), ham--what else could a human want? Benvinguts a Barcelona.

Traveling in the European Union can be quite easy; rarely does a customs agent ask to see a passport, flights from country to country are relatively short--as is flying from Seattle to Portland, and if booked correctly, can be inexpensive. For example, Ryanair draws patrons with ticket deals for 0.01euros--no way! Yes you were correct, no way. Add 15euro tax, check in fee, 16euro luggage fee, and then factor in the 50euro transportation from Paris to the Beauvais airport, and from Girona airport to Barcelona, and you've saved no money, and lost 6 hours to buses. Pas grave--the Girona to Barcelona highway stretch is a wonderful sight indeed. It is worth, however, comparing the overall costs to direct flight into the city of destination itself. Thats all for travel advice. Later we will touch on the importance of choosing compatible traveling companions--perhaps it is you who can help me on this one. On y va!

Once off the bus in barcelona, a quick look at the map shows the way to the hostel leads us through a park. Excellent--parks are my heroine. With our mini-rolling suitcases (as I have no patience to wait to return after luggage check in) I lead my comrade through the Parc de la Ciutadella and begin my traveling (I travel, I do not tour). Palm trees. The only palm trees I am experienced to have been in glass houses and along greasy boulevards in San Fransisco and Orange County.

Humid, windy, gray, though warm--the surreal aura solidified the notion that I indeed came to the right city. Barcelona was exotic for me, yet curiously I felt in place, and began to consider the fact that if this is exotic, then what will the rest of the world will be like. How does one feel in place if in complete incommunicado? I don't know. Though it was hard to tear my eyes from the Mediterranean beach on which the hostel sat, we set the first stop as the arc de triomf--smaller than its Parisian sister, though richer in its pigmented terra hue. Next stop: Gaudi.

Officially the the architectural capital of modern art or not--wait I thought that was Brasilia? Barcelona is antique with a rounded artistic charm. I just completed a modern art class in an attempt to try and ameliorate my aversion to the genre. Though I wary from plain sentences, here it is: I hate modern art. I will clarify, I do not hate Gaudi, his work is quite beautiful and has instilled Barcelona with an unrivaled uniqueness. Antoni Gaudi is of the art nouveau movement, and though the movement is much more practical in jewelry and furniture, it transformed the city into a fairytale village with vibrant colors, intricate tiles, glass, and swooping curves.

My first contact with Gaudi was paying 13euros to enter his house, which, I am sure, was also home at one point to Bilbo Baggins. His other namesakes--the Park Guel and La Sagrada Família Church were enjoyed from the non-financially binding outsides. La Sagrada Família (an architectural equivalent to the microsoft word font type comic sans) is not a Spanish equivalent of the cornea-burning boil known as Centre Pompidou, but actually is under continual construction. Its construction began in 1882 and remained under the supervision of Gaudi for 40 years until his death. The church is therefore an organic part of the city, continuing off of the blue prints of Gaudi (and modern adaptations), it continues to grow and in a way defines Catalunias 20th century character to this day. Religious scenes line the cathedrals outer walls--according to Gaudi Jesus was a sudoku addict.

Guide books are useful for maps and street indexes. Thats about it. Traveling without extensive research into the destination--make sure there is a hookup or friend telling you where to go, else the tourist track will be at the end of ever ally turn. Me--I had my Gonzaga friend C to show me the "real" sights of Barcelona, and Nuria from Spanish Recipes to direct me to the the "real" tastes. Result: Comfort of familiarity that nearly brought me to tears, and the food--coconuts haves forever replaced my love for the apple, and the ham quest gave me a purpose--though a small accomplishment, an accomplishment none the less. Yes Nuria, I quested your ham; and I thought fois gras tasted like candy.

"You want to do what today?" Search for a ham store, I don't fault you if you choose to not accompany me. Rather in fact I believe I am a diseased person, for I find greater pleasure in solo adventures. No--I just have not found my Sam, thats all (Tolkien, it's my theory, passed many a vacance in Barcelona, in Gaudi's house.) Ham--I was told to search for this ham, Anthony would do it, I am doing it. So I walked. Three days in a city--every minute underground is a waste of it. I was given a name, an address, and a product: once there my plan ended. Hola, erm, pas de espagnol, parlez vous francais ou anglais? "Er, a little." After confusing the poor ham man beyond belief with my sordid attempt at recounting my story for why the hell I was there, we just ended it and decided to HAM yes try the ham.

Ooh, damn, damn that is really good. Yes you're amazing! I guess I will purchase the smallest piece. 78euros! ok thats slightly humorous, yes, its good enough to be worth 78euros I'll give it that, but thats my entire food budget. 35euros? No still no good, but it was fun anyways. I'm a poor student. The manager arrives: I have his name, yes I do. English. Excellent. The story--I came from Paris just to see you yes, yes indeed. Already sliced for 8.50euros--sold! You will tell my friend I was here? Gracias! Small conversation ensues--that is how a food traveler would handle things, laissez-faire. Laissez-faire. Iberian Acorn ham: without a doubt the best pig product available for human consumption. What should I cook with it? Screw that I'm eating it as it is--touch it and it melts. Gracias Nuria. Gracias.

Aside from the ham--whose history is incredible, as C informed me that its Spanish importance stems from periods of Jewish expulsion--fruits of the sea reign supreme, one word: Paella. Twice did I try, twice did I love. The more variation to the ingredients the better--shrimp and mussels are basic, but the addition of other mollusks and squid is a now necessary must. Cod salad for a tapas could not be avoided. Barcelona gelato is fabled to rival that of Italy, mine can and will only be compared to Mora: Mora wins dulce de leche, Mora wins Cinnamon, Mora wins mango, Barcelona wins Crema Catalana, perhaps because Mora does not serve said flavor. Can this be true? Can it? Anna, Jerry, I am plugging for you. Give my sister a raise.

It is coming--you can feel it--Mallory poetically comments on food markets in every city she visits: behold la Boqueria, yes it is famous enough to have a website. Located off of La Rambla, the market is a garden of Eden housing dozens of fruit, vegetable, cheese, chocolate, candy meat, fish, and myriad gastronomic stalls. What can be said? Tears. Though I bought three apples one was perfect, the snack size containers of cut coconut for 1euro--ecstasy. Hola, hola, yada yada, whether they are shouting Spanish or Catalunian at me I know not. I point and use fingers to aid my "Uno, doce, treis quatro." The chocolate--2.50euro for a small chocolate mousse in a fondant ganache topped with an easter spring chic--mmmmm. worth it.

If it were truly possible to expound on all the magnificences of Barcelona, you would be reading for hours. The history, atmosphere, people--a city of charm and warmth, even in the rain. My day is made by the young man in the truck stopped at the traffic light, windows down, music blaring--but rather than the old Kanye West, I receive Ella Fitzgerald. What more--Dragons, history tour with C, Franco and the civil war--I could go on forever. Football, Football is Europe, Europe is football. Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry--even I knew that. Time passes in small cafes, coffee houses, and wine bars; pure pleasure. The Spanish grind a good espresso.

Two evenings on the beach spent with--two Quebecois, a Frenchman, a pack of Brazilians, and a couple of Alaskans? Welcome to hostel traveling. Though to compare the Mediterranean and Pacific ocean would be folly, any salty sea coast reminds me of home, makes me feel at ease. Ports, boats docked, fishing town--paradise. I was shown not but kindness, Barcelonians are used to gaggles of tourists. Although--a city of pickpockets is an understatement, witnessed firsthand an attempted purse snatching, though the champion ring fighter C is, the tug of war and shouts ended in her favor. Zip and hook.

But a scratch, but a scratch is three days. I will be back some day. Barcelona je t'aime. Foreign is beginning to become less foreign in my mind, the world does indeed get smaller the more one departs and arrives. Differences, many differences, but in the end I only see the similarities. And the ham. Oh boy that ham.

A bientôt

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Père Lachaise

Alone time? Spend it with the dead--welcome to the largest yard in Paris.After a previous nights phone conversation in which I clung to the received phrase, how lucky you are to wake up tomorrow and be able to say, what shall I do today?! I found myself the next morning awake, and wondering, yeah what am I doing today? I often selfishly forget how terribly lucky I really am to have this time in Paris, a luck that would be of devastation if ever regretted in future memory as being ill spent. I vowed, in blood, months ago to never let slip a lacklustre day whilst in Paris. Erm, yesterday doesn't count. Anyways. The day dawned yet again with the bizarre February spring weather--no groundhogs shadow in Paris--spring has, at least for this week, arrived. 6:30pm is the suns newly extended curfew, all traces of clouds have migrated east, the trees are budding, and Snow Whites friends have abandoned her for the nests of Parisian arbres. A switch-out of the coat; 12 degrees have been the highs, (for you Americans out there, that's about 54F). Sun: What indeed shall I do today? Why, clearly it must be to get lost in the largest graveyard in the city--to the father they all return, le pere, who here is dubbed Lachaise.

As you are aware, there are three main cemeteries in Paris, Cimitère de Montmartre, Cimitère du Montparnasse, and Père Lachaise (there are also 17 smaller ones). The later, however, is visited by tourists the world over on a much greater scale. Due rather shallowly to its many celebrity residents. A few being Balzac, Frederic Chopin, the artists Jacques Louis David and Eugène Delacroix, Edouard Daladier, Edith Pilaf, Saint Exupery, Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde, cough Jim Morrison, and the over 300,000 other dead bodies lying behind the high stone walls of the yard who in some fashion or another were just as important to at least one human on this planet during their life as the rich and famous were.

Père Lachaise is a park; though a final resting ground for the deceased, it carries a somewhat whimsical and relaxing charm that never once ignites the concept of eerie poltergeists. Perhaps it is the weather. Perhaps it is the quiet solitude offered by the rows of stoic grave stones and crypts. Surprisingly one does not find feelings of melancholy in Lachaise, but instead relaxation and solidarity. No I am not calling a graveyard a spa, but there is something in Lachaise that overpowers the classic concept of death, death is not a horror movie here, no, it's much more antique.

Graveyards are history capsules. And this one--like most things in Paris, appears to have been doped-up by tinkerbell. There is no shame of morbidity to stroll through a graveyard peering into the names of history. While stumbling upon the epitaphs and names of those who have already lived through it all, already done life, one can't help but drop into musings on who they were and what they did during their time in this city they passed on to me. I recognize surnames and create factious connections to their possible relations. La Famille Huet, could that be Henri's family? La Famille Blanc, is that you Louis? Why look there's Haussman! A note of interest is that the majority of those names of eye catching familiarity were those in connection to a name of a metro station.

I possess an awkward fascination with the namings of the 300+ metro stations in the city, but that is for a much later post. Boissy, Parmentier, Felix Faure, Raspail, Monge, Musset! These are they? The namesakes for the stations whose titles I hold under my breath and at the tip of my tongue silently counting them down in order as they pass until the finally the static daily route leads to my own home station--their names are emblazed on walls and on maps and in hastily scribbled directions to bars, but these men did exist, and in high enough esteem to be awarded such a curious tribute. Oh how I wish I could interrupt their slumber, just for a minute to inform them of their monstrous achievement in being honored as one of the metro stations, turning their names into meaningless parts of modern Parisian vocabulary. When Paris expands, just you wait and see, there will be m° station Mallory, found at the end of line 64.

There are no 'ancient' bones to be found in Père Lachaise (aside from the supposedly replanted remains of Molière, La Fontaine, and Peter Abilard and Heloiise,) which is due to the graveyards nineteenth century birth, a factoid consistent with the presence of the dead metro-honorees: twentieth century metros, twentieth century honorees. The graveyard itself was named in honor of Lachaise (Francois de la Chaise 1624-1709), who indeed was a père, a Jesuit no less, and a preferred confessor to Louis XIV. The site of the his chapel is the location of the cemetery today. At the time, the location was outside of Paris, but with the expansion of the cities borders at the crowning of Napoleon, Père Lachaise chapel was incorporated into the city and officially converted into a graveyard. At the turn of the nineteenth century, new graveyards were commissioned on the outskirts of the city after the closure of the old burial sites whose inhabitants were uprooted and transplanted to the city's miles of underground catacombs for sanitary reasons.
Real estate in Lachaise is prime, and unless one possesses an inherited family plot, a popular face, or a large some of cash, a burial is without a doubt out of the question. There is, however, a columbrian that houses the ashes of thousands of previous Parisians, and an extensive monument of walls displaying the name plaques of the cremated. Found scattered throughout the graveyard are myriad monuments and tributes to wars, groups, and movements, movements that seem to all be of a leftist thread. The Mur des Fédérés commemorates the graves of the 147 Communards (last defenders of the Paris commune) assassinated in 1871. Another monument in commemoration of liberal resistance is that to the memory of the French Brigadists who died during the Spanish Civil War. There is also found the inscription A la mémoire de tout les Espagnols mort pour la liberté for the 25,000 killed in the resistance.

My impressions for the graveyard are those of awe; though most likely to be perceived as odd, it is quite enjoyable to get lost in the alleys of graves on a sunny day when the light pierces through at crackling angles to stream beams of light through dust particle strewn air. It will be reiterated: a walk in the park. People are sunning, reading, (eating? I forgo the picnic as a bit too much) staircases upon staircases. The old woman is crying, happy tears of remembrance I assure myself. The volume of couples strolling hand-in-hand is in competition with Trocadero. Old, young, le fete de St. Valentine is around the bend, Paris will be brimming with star crossed lovers as the acclaimed city of Love. What better tribute than to bring love to the dead, these people have passed to dustiness and have taken nothing with them but the names and engraved messages of their loved ones--a romantic reminder of really what counts in life.

The cobble stones are much to brutal to navigate with the head up, a tripping history propels me to traverse the lanes atop the stone path borders like a tightrope walker. The statues are still plays--who are these brothers linking arms? A boy and his dog, who lies below the boy or the dog? Ever present smell of--chlorine? Fresh graves. A notre ami Phillipe, piles of flowers. A graveyard is a flower show to the living. It wasn't until my way toward the gate as the sun slipped out after my three hours of walking the tombs that I finally thought of death--no, not about death, but rather why I hadn't even thought of death once that day, my own or anyone else's. Three hours in a graveyard lapse without the thought of death--the Parisians did it correctly, they built a real graveyard, one that does not romanticize death but instead provides clues and reminders of life.

Laugh. Laugh as one leaves a graveyard? Yes. The dead I am sure miss the resonance of such tones, in reflection if I were dead it would be among my favored ten sounds missed. A recent film awarded me this quote: I used to worry, but after a little research, I discovered that 10 out of 10 people die.

A bientôt