April 2011

Friday, April 22, 2011

Paris Win: Le Country Line Dancing

They were havin' fun, no doubt about it.
Fantastic shirt.
As if watching dubbed versions of "Doctor Quinn Medicine Woman" and searching in vain for green tea lattes at Starbucks aren't stark enough reminders of the odd parts of American culture that succeed and fail to become part of France, there's this.  Country line dancing in front of the mayor's office at the Hotel de Ville.  

Apparently the Francophone Federation of Country and Line Dance decided to celebrate themselves last Sunday and the results were nothing short of nostalgic for a young expat.  

At first it seemed ridiculous, but then I realized, why not do this in one of the most public spots in Paris?  It would be ridiculous to keep some of those outfits locked up in the closet.  

The dancers were true to their craft, smiling and cheering with each kick and dosey doe.  Throw in some cotton candy, funnel cake, and a few farm animals and nostalgia for the hometown county fairs would have churned within me.  Fortunately, within a five minute walk, I was back to Paris, fashionistas in the Marais, and medieval architecture discoveries that abated the nostalgia.  But for a brief moment, I could see the fireworks and hear the downbeat of the Star Spangled Banner...or at least some Taylor Swift...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dusty City: Musings of Times Past

Old. City. Period.
My grandmother laughed on the phone yesterday when I said that I was getting old.  I told her my back hurt and, unsurprisingly, she retorted with her list of maladies that put me in my place.  After a brief comparison of the medications that we were both taking – she is sending me Lactaid, more on that later – I realized that, especially in Paris, I don’t know how anyone could feel old.  My grandmom would feel like a kid here.  This city is like a centenarian that keeps kicking through the millennia, and she lets you know it.

Just take a walk around certain parts of the city.  The Saint Germain church was begun in the sixth century.  I can’t even imagine life during centuries that start having single digits.  The sheer age and duration of the architecture around here can make anyone feel achy in the knees.  No glass pyramid or fancy new opera house can ever replace the well-worn and fractured hip that this city still bounces on.

Today as we walked through the Tuileries gardens, a tourist asked me why the city used dust in its gardens.  Observant.  I never really noticed that each time I left the garden I’d stomp my feet so that clouds of dirt would puff out like Pigpen from the Peanuts.  It’s almost symbolic, a sort of reminder that you can’t experience 2260 or so years of a city’s life without getting a little dusty.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Paris Fail: Facilitating Bad Grades...

Now I'm pretty sure I am getting this one wrong, but at first glance, it does say what we all think it says. Hit the books then hit the dance floor, right? Taking it at face value, I dare to call this a "win" except that my homework is piled up next to me and, well, I feel that the sentiment runs contrary to education. 

I can just imagine that around 8PM the books close, the disco ball drops, and that sexy librarian becomes, well, a sexy librarian dancing on her desk.  I think students would have a lot more incentive to get to study if there was a little Lady Gaga thumping and a smoke machine in the stacks.  Just sayin'...

Market Day Musings: It Never Gets Old

Typical market day
No matter what time of the year, though especially as it warms up, the markets are one of my favorite parts of Paris.  Growing up in suburban Philadelphia, there was a healthy mix of agriculture in my diet.  The family would go pumpkin picking in October.  We’d get Jersey corn from roadside stands after visiting family across the state border.  We often grew our own tomatoes and strawberries in the backyard, which worked until the rabbits found out.  I even went to a summer agricultural science program at Penn State – talk about an experience. 

Anyway, while the majority of our food came from the local supermarket, we weren’t confined to it.

When I moved to New York as a student, I thought it was pizza for the rest of my life.  Instead, I have fond memories of walking through Union Square’s farmers’ market on the weekends.  The fresh produce astonished me, and the prices were far from ridiculous.  I learned very quickly – even though I was, fortunately, eating in a dining hall – that vegetables and fruits were not always sold in plastic wrap at the grocery store, even in the big city.  There was another way.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Paris Win: Motown Philly, Back Again

A trip to my local Monoprix supermarket this morning unveiled what, to many, can be considered nothing short of a miracle.  If you're from Philly, you'll sympathize, especially if you were a fan of the old Nabisco-turned-Kraft factory off Route 1...I can still smell the cookies..

No one's feeling the cucumber or garlic ones...YET
Anyway, here in Paris, rumors have circulated that Philadelphia cream cheese has been making its way onto grocery store shelves, but my normal food spots that I like to visit didn't have it, aside from the overly-expensive Grande Epicerie that had imported the cream cheese or any of the "American" grocery stores that charge a first-born child.

Today, while I was looking disparagingly at some St-Moret cheese that I would have to use for a cheesecake, my eyes were attracted by an all-too-familiar logo.  There it was, among all of the other cheeses, my beloved Philadelphia.  In three varieties, no less.  It's here -- the rumor's are confirmed.  And as if the finding of such a wonder weren't miracle enough, the Philadelphia brand was actually cheaper then the St-Moret brand.  

If Paula Deen doesn't convince you, I think the Aussies will charm you with their marketing campaign.  You just gotta love it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Just a kid at the Sorbonne...English Class Part 6: Americanization

Not your familiar McDonald's...
English class seems to be winding down a bit early in the game, with attendance dropping sharply.  Students are stressed with papers to write and internships to complete.  This has not, however, halted some fantastic presentations over the past two weeks.  My education on American culture continues as ever it could…

Perhaps the most striking lesson of the week came from a project on the film The Social Network about Facebook and its illustrious founder.  I watched this film, half drugged, on a flight back from Philadelphia this Christmas season.  I liked it.  I found it insightful if not scathing.  I really liked the presentation by my fellow French students, who revealed two major points on American culture that I never really reflected upon.

First, I got schooled on socialization in American schools.  It is, apparently, a universally accepted position that nerds cannot talk to girls.  I guess nerdy girls are condemned to a life of silence, in that case.  But the ultimate social lesson was that “getting punched is typically American.”  Spot on.  I opted for contacts exactly for that reason.

Secondly, the students theorized about Facebook and its effects on the world.  One student said that we have to think about the “Americanization of culture” and no longer the “spread of American culture.”  I thought about it, and he had a good point going for him, here.  I thought about the fact that nearly everyone in the class had a Facebook account and how they don’t really think of it as “American.”  It’s in French, they communicate with their French friends, the applications are in French, etc.  What about it would scream “American” to them?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Paris Win: I can has cheezburger?

If you like potato chips, young kitten, then yes, you can has cheezburger.  Lays in France has unveiled a wonderful new addition to the line-up of snacks that already includes the "Roasted Chicken with Thyme," the "Bolognaise," and "Mustard and Pickles" flavored potato chips.  A staple for the picnic season, at least for me, Lays potato chips never cease to amaze me with their adaptations to local cultures -- Serrano ham-flavored chips in Spain, anybody?  

Now, France, one of the gastronomic capitals of the world, has embraced the newest addition to the Lays family, the "Cheeseburger" potato chip.  Don't ask me how, but it tastes like a McDonald's cheeseburger with the pickles, ketchup, and poor-quality beef all fried into one perfect crisp.  What's the special ingredient anyway?  Check the label, the third ingredient on the bag and you'll discover that it is indeed "cheeseburger flavoring."  How's that for a secret?  No, I jest, they do detail the spices and herbs that go into it, culminating in this bag full of savory and crunchy perfection.  

I'm so happy that my local Franprix grocery store finally carries these delights.  Picnic season just got a lot more interesting.