Monday, December 23, 2013

A New New York

Christmas at NYU's campus...
A good message...

Then there is the time when home stops feeling like home. Well, at least second homes. New York City adopted me during my college years, complete with favorite restaurants, familiar streets, and friendly faces. This time around, however, things were a bit different.

Walking down University Place, it was like a different journey from the one I once took between Union Square and Washington Square. Amorino was selling gelato, “Fine European Food” was splashed on a new store front, a new upscale supermarket replaced the one I remember, and other details masked the street I once knew. Different.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

(Re)Discovering Christmas in Brussels

La Grande Place decked out...
Even Manneken Pis celebrates...
Christmas cheer – it’s harder to find when you’re not circling Lego sets and dinosaur action figures in a catalog to drop hints for Santa. Paris doesn't always make it easy either. Sure the windows are up and the trees are, well, kind of there, but it’s not the same as home for an American expat.

While the carols hardly started playing chez Pirolli this December, I took a trip to Brussels for an academic conference and to reconnect with a friend from the US who has expatriated there some time ago. Little did I know how much a trip to the city synonymous with tiny cabbages could ignite my Christmas furnace.

First, the displays. A real Christmas tree in the Grande Place trumped the mess of a tree in front of Notre Dame. As we walked through the square, onlookers stood in awe as the lights around the old guild buildings beamed with some sort of post-apocalyptic soundtrack. Very festive, indeed.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Of Miles and Mustaches...

Fellow runners...
Gracious volunteers got in the mood...
A look in the mirror and I realized, “I look like Dad.” After a few days of growing out and then enhancing a mustache with the help of some pencil, I had all of the trappings of my father as I remembered him when I was younger. A mustache firmly planted on the upper lip. It was all so bizarrely familiar.

Unlike my father, whose charitable contributions included not killing my brother, sister, or me, I was sporting this mustache as part of the “Movember” movement. The concept is an Australian initiative to grow a mustache during November, showing solidarity for masculine health issues.

Paris joined the bandwagon last year, hosting the first of what will hopefully become an annual race each November, called Les Bacchantes, which raises money to battle prostate cancer.

The only rule? Wear a mustache.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Paris Changes: 3 Favorite Startups du Jour

As a journalist in Paris, I am lucky enough to meet a lot of people, both locals and otherwise. I get to become a specialist for a day in all sorts of topics, like eco-friendly sex toys or frozen yogurt – far more eclectic than I ever imagined back at NYU as a journalism undergrad.

Sometimes I think to myself, “How am I ever going to find a new topic to cover?” But Paris is far more dynamic than a lot of people give it credit for, despite what a lot of people write. Much of the English-speaking press about the city focuses on food, a decaying quality of life that apparently has always existed, or how globalization is ruining the city. Thinking with our stomachs and looking behind us – well, neither has ever been an entirely wise choice.

Like it or not, Paris is changing, but it’s not all in in the direction of “doom” or “Americanization.” Three of my favorite start-ups have been bringing some fresh air to Paris in ways that neither mar the postcard image that most people hold nor threaten the age-old traditions that people imagine have always, and will always, be so utterly “French.”  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Paris: The Last 5 Years

Oh hey, that's me!
Some hallmark moments pass without even noticing. October 5th marked the five year mark for a little boy from Bucks County who found himself in Paris more or less by accident. Instead of throwing a big party and going crazy, I was eating Japanese food in Lyon and watching Indiana Jones in anticipation for a marathon – not something that the Bryan of 2008 necessarily had in mind.

This weekend, a neighbor asked me how long I’ve been living in Paris, and my eyes widened as I realized it’s been 5 years. Long enough to apply for citizenship. Long enough to be taken seriously by locals. More importantly, long enough to know the difference between a good baguette and a great baguette.

From working at a study abroad program during the day and selling pizzas at night, with a short stint as a weekend brunch cook in between there (oh Rose Bakery…), I started off in a unique position. I didn’t have to come teach English, marry a Frenchman, or uproot my adult life to move to Paris. I just had to leave my friend’s apartment floor in Manhattan and pack a few sweaters. It was a comfortable floor. But I had a job, and for the first time, money, in a city that I hardly knew. Paris welcomed Bryan with open arms and a confused look each time I opened my mouth to speak French (cue photos of me!).

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Run, Lyon, Run

Bag packed, legs stretched, body hydrated, I went to bed Friday night awaiting a 5:15AM wake-up call in order to recheck everything for the 7:30AM train. I was off to Run in Lyon for my fourth marathon in France, just a month after the liver-testing Marathon du Médoc, and this time without my trusty partner Heather. I trained for months, logged my miles, and prepped the entire weekend trips weeks ago.

As I rose Saturday, I glanced at my phone to see that the clock had struck 6:45AM, the alarm silenced, and all sense of preparation was lost.

I bolted out of bed, threw on my clothes, and ran out the door to get to Gare de Lyon on time. I didn’t eat anything, I barely peed, and I wasn’t sure I had enough clothes for after the race. But fearing missing the train and throwing my training out the window, I couldn’t let a full bladder get in the way. My travel mate was more upset about missing breakfast, but two pastries at the train station made up for that. We made the train, just in time, and we chugged along to Lyon for the big pre-race day of eating and strolling with a healthy dose of lying around.

No bouchon lyonnais for us. It was a market-fresh roasted chicken and rice for dinner, after a delicious Japanese lunch. Nice and light and healthy. A day of strolling the city ended with a bit of Indiana Jones in the hotel as my eyes closed and sleep washed over me.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Lesson in Customer Service at the Sorbonne

Back to school time!
Classes start for me at the Sorbonne this week, but not as a student. No, this year I begin teaching in the framework of my PhD. They are entrusting me to teach French students. In French. This should be good.

I went to school a few days before classes to check in on the AV equipment. University facilities are notorious for making PowerPoint presenting feel like passing kidney stones, so I wanted to get the skinny before I showed up in front of a group of students who would judge me on my ability to project a slide.

I entered the new building at Paris 3 (spiffy, to say the least) and found the main desk, guarded by a woman eating a half-empty container of lentils. It was around 1PM. Sacred time for the French for any customer service representative. Even though she was helping a girl already, she looked at me with raised eyebrows.

“Hi, I have a class to teach this week and I wanted to know if I could use the projector,” I asked cheerfully, assuming she was angry to have been doubly interrupted during her lentil feast. “Do I talk to you or should I…” Her finger raised at me.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Run: Together, With Purpose, With Me!

The team!
Running in Paris – the scenery is great, the parks are plentiful, and the bakeries are on every corner giving you just one more reason to go that extra kilometer (“If I run a bit more, I can get two croissants…”). But running in Paris can also get lonely and, sadly, monotonous. Listen -- it's time to change that!

Fortunately one French start-up called Jogg.in is making change happen. The guys behind it are launching an online platform that allows users to find other people in your area to jog with and to run with a purpose, ideally to raise money for a cause. The London marathon raised nearly 53 million pounds for charity in 2012 while Paris’s raised nearly 52 thousands euros. We can do better than that...Jogg.in will be able to help!

I met the Jogg.in team during our #BostonStrongParis 5k after April’s tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon. They were extremely excited to see a group of such dedicated runners coming together around an important cause, which embodied the spirit of their concept. Now, the team, including Théo Thomas, and Laurent, need a little boost to bring their idea to the starting line. They are raising money on a crowd funding site called KissKissBankBank. They are almost halfway to their goal so that they can make their concept a reality and go on to raise more money for more worthwhile causes.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Runner's World Cookbook Reaches Across the Ocean

Editor's note: Officially released October 1st, The Runner's World Cookbook can be, and was pre-ordered on Amazon, arriving well ahead of schedule. Its recipient, a young runner named Bridget, tells the tale from New York:

I had finished my long run for the week  ten miles – on a Friday, meaning the entire weekend lay blissfully ahead of me. There would be no needing to be in bed early, no 7AM wake up call, no spending literally the entire morning preparing for my run, running, and recovering. Still in a state of runner’s high, I had showered and stared into the fridge for approximately 10 minutes. Leftover Thai, a sandwich, veggie burger...

All normally OK choices, but nothing enough to satisfy the post-run craving of something filling, fresh, and good-for-you. So, though pressed for time, I boiled water for whole wheat pasta, tossed in some frozen peas, sliced up a leftover piece of grilled chicken, and warmed up my leftover roasted garden tomato sauce from a few days ago. Add some cheese, pepper, pepper flakes, and voila. The perfect meal for any runner. I sat down with my creation and began to type about my lunch to Bryan (c’est normal), when there was a knock at the door.

The mailman. He was gorgeous and young, wore Ray Bans, and probably wasn't abiding by the Postal Service dress code. But he was my nemesis. In May, the NY Road Runner "Run for Boston" shirts that Bryan and I ordered had gone missing. As in, everyone assured me they had been delivered, and yet I did not have them. I blame this on the mailman and his Ray Bans and lackadaisical ways.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

42.195 Kilometers of Wine

Marathon du Médoc 2013: A selfie at the beginning followed by a photo at each wine stop along the way. 

Starts off fun...
...still feels good...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Marathon du Médoc 2013: A Running Odyssey

It was probably around the 39th kilometer when the pirate handed me the jug.

“Is it really rum?” I asked.

“Yes, it really is,” he responded. “Go on, have some.”

He was pushing along a giant pirate ship and was appropriately barefooted, as any pirate running a marathon should be. I couldn’t say no. I took a swig and passed it to Heather, who hardly hesitated. Pirates of the Caribbean is one our favorite rides at Disneyland, after all. It was close enough to science fiction, this year's theme, but any reason for rum is reason enough for me.

The gentle burning down my throat was a nice distraction to the hammering of my feet along the pavement and the ever-creeping concern that I haven’t peed in a while. I was also mildly concerned that my teeth would be wine-stained for the finish line photo. And was the glitter and silver paint all over my body still visible? I needed to look as sci-fi as possible.

Such are the thoughts that run through one’s mind while running the infamous Marathon du Médoc.

And they're off!
Starting line...Space Cowboys and aliens....

Monday, September 2, 2013

Putting Ratatouille in Perspective...

The dish I ate...eventually...
We were sitting on the terrace of one of my favorite restaurants as the summer, in its death throes, tried to warm us with some late-August sun. It was working. Heather and I were chatting away, waiting for our food to arrive. Such bliss to be a Parisian.

Then, an audible gasp arose from the other diners as we all saw a giant rat hobbling through the street in the midday sun. Normally nocturnal vermin, we quickly realized something was wrong with this little guy as he made his way across the pavement. In Paris there are an estimated two rats per person (though no one can be sure) but they have their place, at least in the sewers. Grossness aside – this little guy was kind of cute.

Heather began recounting the time she saw a rat similarly dazed by the daylight get himself trapped in a scooter’s tire in a busy intersection.

“And then he got up on the scooter’s wheel, and the driver didn’t know. Then he hit the throttle,” she sat, leaving me to fill in the gaps. “But he wasn’t dead,” she continued.

As she went on to describe the gory details of the rat’s final moments, a car began to back up on the street, the driver attempting to parallel park or turn around – the exact memory takes a backseat to what happened next.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Trials of Vacation Running

Preparing for the unexpected on a vacay run...
Running around Paris starts to feel like a chore after a while. I’ll do my loop around the Canal or into the Buttes Chaumont. I’ll hit the Coulée Verte, the renovated railway that serves as a peaceful oasis in the east of the city. I’ll head towards the Eiffel Tower along the Seine as the boats float on by and the tourists snap their photos. This all sounds romantic and idyllic until about the 50th time. Then even the most devoted runner and Paris enthusiast needs a break.

While most Parisians leave during the summer because, well, it’s what you do, I’ve been lucky to sneak away a few times to experience new locations, new roads, new trails, and new challenges. Running in the shadow of the chateau at Chateaudun, once owned by a friend of Joan of Arc, and hitting the beaches of the English Channel in St. Malo have proved to be the perfect way to spice up marathon training. And a future trip to the Mediterranean means some serious coastal coasting with plenty of SPF. A boy needs help getting under that 4 hour mark…

But running in a new place isn’t always as peachy as it seems. Yes, there are new things to see and smell, the air may be cleaner, and the people might be friendly (they say bonojur as they run by!). But not knowing the terrain can be cumbersome when embarking on a 21km early in the morning.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Summer Before the Storm...

And we waited it out...
Days of heat have amounted to one very stuffy apartment. It was time for a change. I packed my bag. Water for drinking. Books for reading. Peaches for eating. Sunscreen for protecting (and the smell). It was going to be a good old-fashioned summer afternoon at the park.

Isolated thunderstorms were potentially hovering over the air.

“Well it always might rain in Paris,” Bridget reminded me via Gchat as I questioned my venture.

I barely gave it another thought as I threw on my sun glasses. I biked up to the Parc Buttes Chaumont, perching atop the hill, overlooking all of Paris. I spread out my towel and kicked off my shoes.

Summer ain’t so bad in Paris.

While tapping my feet to some music and flipping through my book, the air was clean and fresh, and I started to get nervous. This was Paris in the middle of July – it should smell more like baked urine and the heat should hang in the air like a sauna. What was this fresh cooling business?

Then I heard it. The few around me did, too. Thunder clapped overhead. The wind began to rustle the trees across the park as the refreshing air started to waft hints of ozone. A storm was brewing, but like good Parisians, we all dismissed it. It felt too good after so many days of heat.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Le 14 Juillet: On Feeling French...

I’m not French. Yet. July 14th has been, as far as I was concerned, a delayed July 4th celebration. Since 2008 I've celebrated it, always secretly thinking, “Wow, a revolution, how original. That’s so 1776.”

This year, things became decidedly more French. I embraced the fact that celebrating July 4th in France is futile. Even among other American friends, we just don’t really care. Without fireworks, what’s the point? The day came and went without much fanfare. Independence was alive and well, I just didn't need to light a sparkler to know that.

Bastille Day weekend arrived, however, and I felt a tiny swell of French patriotism. I wasn't about to memorize “La Marseillaise” or throw a baguette under my arm anytime soon, but I was excited to take advantage of the celebrations.

Next thing I know I’m along the Canal, July 13th, playing a heated game of boules, French baci ball. The fireworks are going off overhead as Parisians shoot them from the bridges crossing the water. Up the street the bal des pompiers was raging on as the music echoed from the buildings looming over us.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Thing About Gelato...

Traveling with a family member for the first time – like, grown-up traveling – was a fascinating experience. My sister and I spent a few days in Italy. We hadn't spent this much time together since, well, I can’t even remember since when. 

As siblings do, we had a few disagreements, though not over who gets the remote control or the last spoon of mashed potatoes at the dinner table. Instead we discussed family, friends, careers, and the perks and pitfalls of owning a dog.

She’s pro-dog. I say to wait. Alas...

Conversation got heated at times, but like old friends, and with no shortage of talking points to cover, we hit the road together without too much bickering. Mom would have been proud. And confused.

We trekked around Rome, Venice, and Florence, before one final pasta dinner and night on the town downing my downfall: gelato. It turned out to be the one thing we consistently saw eye to eye on.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Devour Paris: Food Guide to Feed Charity

After tourists visit Paris, rare is the day that you hear from them again. My job as a guide is to pack a few hours full of memorable experiences and hope that they manage to retain at least 10% of the tidbits I throw their way (no one can remember every detail about every Henri and Louis). After that, the experience fades into an ocean of Facebook albums and forgotten pastry shop names.

When Chis Aswad emailed me about a book that he was publishing, however, I perked up a bit. We spent a few hours exploring the Canal and the Marais, focusing heavily on various food locations – naturally. After spending a month in Paris, Chris, a New York-based market researcher, took all of these experiences and wove them together into Devour Paris: A Curated Guide to Savoring the City Like an Insider.

The best part? Proceeds from the book's sales go to a charity, Citymeals on Wheels in New York City, which provides meals to elderly New Yorkers. “I thought it made sense to have the charity be helping those who don’t have enough to eat, and the budget cuts here in the US at the moment are killing this charity,” Chris told me.

It’s refreshing to think that a tour can lead to something quite beneficial to society.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Happiest 5k in Europe!

Post-run fries...
Where was Bryan? Amsterdam! Between stumbling upon a Game of Thrones exhibit and searching endlessly for chocolate-covered waffles in the morning, I spent the time with my sister and her friend exploring the streets and canals during a short weekend. But our real M.O. for visiting was Europe’s first ever Color Run – an American export that’s making its way across the globe.

The idea is a simple one. Wear a white shirt, run a 5k, and get pummeled with colored powder along the way, ending in a giant color-bombing dance party. Fun, I know! Part of the proceeds goes to charity, but it’s also a way to celebrate running, health, and happiness without worrying about competing for the best time.

Runners of all abilities participate. My sister and her friend, admittedly non-runners, hopped along without a problem through Amsterdam’s Sloterpark, and we spent the first two kilometers running with two girls that each only had one leg. It was inspiring, to say the least, and we didn't complain about cramps much. Anyone can do a Color Run. Everyone should.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Runner's World Summer Run Streak 2013

Did you hear about this? I didn't, until fellow New York runner and oftentimes friend Bridget told me about it. 

Runner’s World magazine is hosting their annual Runner’s World Summer Run Streak 2013: 39 straight days of running at least a mile per day. It all starts TODAY, May 27th, and lasts until July 4th (book-ending American holidays!).

Why? Well, why not?

With two marathons coming up in September and October, I’m in no position to get lazy now, even if the hazy days of summer will soon (hopefully) be calling my name. 

In Paris, summer means running, but also picnics along the Canal with beer and pizza as well as countless hours lounging in the sun at the Buttes Chaumont. Sometimes it’s hard to get the motivation to go out and pound the pavement.

Speaking of pavement, the Pavement Runner, who launched the #BostonStrong runs that I helped organize in Paris in April, designed the logos for this endeavor. Check out his blog and get your shoes on. I’ll be running every day, so if you’d like to join – for at least one short mile – let me know and we’ll set the time and place! 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

An Academic Coming Out

Some time to wander Strasbourg...
We travel for pleasure. We travel to escape. We travel to discover. Then there are those who travel for work. Poor devils.

When I was a student coordinator at a study abroad program in Paris, I organized weekend trips, but they hardly felt like “business” – they were more enjoyable than anything. We’d go away to new places, discovering new things, worrying only about making the train on time and not leaving any (or many) students behind. It was a relative breeze.

Now, as an academic of sorts, I have succumbed to traveling for more professional reasons, attending a colloquium in Strasbourg this past week. This is the beginning of a new lifestyle, globetrotting and discussing academic things, to keep it brief. It requires things like pants, shirts that need to be ironed, and shoes that aren't Chucks. 

It's a strange new world for me.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Froyo Crisis in Paris Relieved

So healthy...

So that whole lactose intolerance thing wasn’t a phase, apparently. Still no cream. No soft cheeses. No – gasp – ice cream. While Lactaid pills (my soon-to-be official sponsor…) allow me to get my fix at Pozetto of chocolate-hazelnut gelato, I’m out of pills. Sorbet it is. I’ve grown fond of fruit-flavored frozen treats, but let’s be honest – fat makes everything taste better.

Fortunately, the minuscule frozen yogurt scene in Paris has helped keep me in touch with the dairy world while offering “froyo” with live culture in them, allowing me to digest the otherwise nauseating milk-based dessert. Sadly, there are few locations, and they are, indeed, far between.

MyBerry, the go-to in the Marais, is more often closed than open, and with lines to boot when the sun starts shining. Their address on the Ile St-Louis is, sadly, no longer with us. There is a froyo crisis of sorts, it seems.

The other day, while on a hunt that turned epic for a froyo fix, a friend and I walked from the Marais to Odéon. Both MyBerry and newly opened Yogurt Factory were closed (comme d’hab). We walked to St-Germain, but our final attempt left us craving some cookie-topped yogurt at It Mylk. Of course they had recently closed this address to move up somewhere in Montmartre, and we weren't about to scale the hill with no energy to fuel us.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bike by Numbers

Meet Ace. The bike.

I once did a project on Numerology, the mystical study of numbers, for a geometry class in high school. The teacher was pretty religious – Catholic – so I'm not sure that she enjoyed my research into pagan symbolism, but it was interesting regardless. It’s fun to look at numbers and think of what they mean. Without getting all spiritual on it, I’d like to think my numbers in France are pretty good. When I go back and do some accounting, I’m generally pretty pleased. 

Certain ones are delightfully low:

1: apartments I've lived in since moving here.
2: times I've had to go to the police station for theft
1: traffic tickets given by a traffic cop

Others are fortunately high:

11: companies I've worked for in Paris (at least)
9: weeks of vacation during my first contract
10: pairs of Converse I have imported to France

But 4 is the new number that I’m angry at, and, despite being only 3 away from 1, it’s too high. I’m now on my 4th bicycle in Paris, after damage and theft have ruined my three previous ones. I’m pretty sure my annual bike budget may soon surpass my holiday spending budget and my gelato expenditures – and neither is particularly modest.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


We ran.

One week after the horrific events at the Boston Marathon, Parisians and expats united to run a 5k called #BostonStrongParis in solidarity with runners around the world. An initiative launched by the Pavement Runner, also named Brian, the idea quickly spread. The idea was to do something beyond donating money or posting on Facebook, but to embrace the community in a real and human way, according to the Pavement Runner. Being helpless so far from home, I felt the same way, so I went ahead and registered an event for Paris. I figured a few people would be interested in Paris. Maybe 10?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


When I watched the Twin Towers fall on CNN in 2001, I didn't really get it.  I mean, yes, I understood that it was a terrorist attack and that people were dying, but I had only been to New York once before and my frame of reference was off.  Even though I only lived a bit over 2 hours from Manhattan, it felt like a foreign country.  Those images couldn't possibly be from my country.

The subsequent train bombing in Madrid didn't resonate with me at all.

And London, well, I just couldn't fathom. 

I didn't know these places.  I’d never been there.  Beyond the human tragedy, I couldn't really situate myself in those people’s shoes.  All I knew was that it was a horrible situation and that I would never feel entirely safe in a plane, train, or subway again.

Fast-forward to Boston.  It’s a city that I barely know, but just one week after the Paris marathon, it’s a situation I could see myself in, that I lived myself.  The clock, timed at 4 hours and 7 minutes as the first bomb went off during the marathon, hit too close to home.  I would have been at the finish line drinking my water and having a banana just as the chaos struck. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Marathon de Paris: Complete!

Cheer squad : Photo Heather

It’s time for the obligatory marathon recap.  After 42.195 kilometers and a bit (well, a lot) of pain, I got my tee shirt, rain poncho, and ever-coveted medal.  But more importantly, I made it all in a time that exceeded my expectations.

Considering that my last marathon consisted of drinking wine and eating oysters, I wasn’t sure what the Paris marathon would be like.  The wine was replaced with water (only water…) and one cup of Powerade.  The oysters were gone, replaced with raisins and bananas – no complaints here despite slipping cartoonishly on the peels.  And the group of jovial costumed fun runners was replaced with 40,000 hardcore racers ready to invade the streets of Paris.

And invade we did.  After briefly considering joining my fellow runners with a pre-run urination on the Champs Elysées – because how often can one do that? – I hopped in the corral with the other 13,000+ runners that hoped to complete the marathon in 4 hours.  In Medoc, we finished the marathon in just under 6 hours, so I may have been shooting a bit high. 

As we departed, the masses swarming along the Champs with the Arc de Triomphe behind us, the crowds began to cheer us on.  All down rue de Rivoli, past the Louvre, the Hotel de Ville, and through the Marais spectators hooted and hollered, waving signs and flags from England to Japan and everywhere in between.  

This really is the marathon in the most beautiful city in the world...

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

First-World Problems: Getting Away

Getaway weekend...
Paris is wonderful, I know.  It’s a nice city.  It’s a dynamic city.  It’s a beautiful city.  But in the end, it’s a city.  For every fantastic baguette and art gallery there are panhandlers and pollution (among other things) that remind you that, yes, Paris – like any city – isn’t perfect.

The armchair travelers around the world read books and blogs with the bewilderment of a child at Christmas.  But they don’t get to see this side of Paris, the side that’s not blogged about normally.  They don’t feel the stress that’s lived or the guilt that’s felt telling a mother with two children “no” when they ask for food on the street.  They don’t always know the loneliness that comes from time to time realizing that, as an expat, you’re a constant outsider as an immigrant.

But some of us do, and we need to leave it.  “Why would you ever want to leave Paris?” tourists ask me while visiting Saint-Germain or the Marais.  Their observation is only part of the story – though I’d be a pretty unique tour guide if I took them to a Roma camp or to see the prostitutes at Belleville.  Because Paris is more than pastries and cafés, many of us need a break.  Call it a first-world problem, but even if Paris is an amazing place to live, like London, Berlin, or New York, locals and expats alike are allowed to be unhappy from time to time.

Friday, March 29, 2013

How to Say "Open Wide" in French...

Dentail care from the US (gifts each Christmas)

There are certain parts of growing up that I have delayed for as long as I can.  I don’t own any property or automobiles.  I don’t know anything about a retirement plan.  I don’t have any framed art on my walls.  And, until this week, I had never scheduled my own dentist appointment.  Whoops.

Up until I left the US, and even a year or two after at Christmastime, I went to the same dentist as my family.  I said, “Dad, I need to go to the dentist, right?” and the appointment was made.  The last one I went to was a family friend, so it worked out nicely.

But living in Paris for nearly five years now, I thought it might be time to go and get a checkup, just in case, by a local dentist.  I floss, I brush faithfully, but I wanted an expert’s opinion.  That’s what adults do, right?

After Googling dental terms in French, I was prepared to make an appointment, per the suggestion of my friend Lindsey.  How do you pick a doctor or a dentist?  Ask around, apparently, and hope for the best.

Well, I made an appointment, and just two weeks later I found myself in the hot seat at 11:30, with the dentist and his assistant ready to dig inside my mouth.  All of the natural fear that comes with going to the dentist was hidden behind a fear of not understanding what he was going to ask me (how do you say “right incisor” or “inflamed gums” in French?).  But none of that mattered for the moment.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Running in Paris: A Retrospective

So cheerful!
This weekend marked the 1 year anniversary of running in Paris with HeatherTheEcotrail 18k run, while not a race, was the first organized group run we ever participated in together in Paris last year (with bibs and all!).  This was the first time we could retrace the steps of our younger selves and see what “progress” actually means.

For instance, last year, we were in pain.  Not like, “Stop running” pain, more like, “Don’t stop running because it hurts more” pain.  It was intense.  Walking up and down steps was a task that our knees did not want to perform, and one which days later we were fighting against.

This year, pain was (mostly) absent.  In full marathon-training mode, I had no problem with an 18k, and even though she said her knees were a little achy, I’m pretty sure Heather was 98% fine.  We had conquered a task and walked to the metro, up the (obviously) broken escalator, and made it home with no agonizing, no limping, and no whining.  Pain is so 2012.

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Post Office Post

Mail's here!
Nothing gets me excited in Paris quite as much as the post office.  Have your cafés and your Michelin star restaurants.  I spend my days at La Poste, and with good reason.  I like getting my mail.

In most developed nations where the postal system has been in place for decades, you can reasonably expect to receive your mail, be it an Amazon delivery or a letter from your mother.  In Paris, the mail is not so much unreliable as it is a learning curve. 

The mail does actually get sent, but there is a problem with follow-through that demands you, the customer, to pick up the slack.  After nearly five years, I’ve just about earned my wings.

With several packages lost, and others returned to the US after 15 days of me not picking them up at the post office, I’ve become savvier when two common scenarios present themselves:

Scenario 1: It’s a typical Friday.  I order a book from Amazon.  I receive an email confirmation that it’s been sent.  I wait.  I wait.  I wait.  And I wait.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

French Telemarketer Tango

The cold shiver that used to run down my back when my landline rings in Paris has been replaced by disdain and disgust.  No one who I care about calls my landline, so the conclusion is inevitable – telemarketers.

We all need to make a living, right?  I don’t judge them, but I don’t appreciate them.  When I see that 01 or 09 number blink on my phone, I hesitate to answer it.  I know there’s no reason to, but in the off/not-so-off chance that it’s President Hollande calling to congratulate me with the Legion of Honor, well, I push “talk.”

“Mister Peerollee? This is Nancy from the XYZ Association and I’m going to talk to you about something at length before even asking if you really care about it,” the voice sings in French on the other end.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Things that Happen on a Parisian Run

Racing along the Canal...

It’s Sunday, and that meas a long run day.  You’re running a half-marathon distance through Paris.  That’s about 21 kilometers (13 miles).  Your shoes are tied, your iPhone is recording your distance, the music is pumping through your headphones, and the sun is just peeking through the morning haze overhead.  Some things happen as you run along…

You start following people.  It becomes easier to run when pacing off someone else, but this practice quickly becomes stalker-like once you find someone with a good pace.  You end up following them all the way up the Canal and it’s kind of awkward, almost like eyeing someone in the metro or in a club.  “Is he into me?” you think.  No, he just wants my stride, too.  Can’t blame him, I guess.

You realize that the French still don’t get it.  The weird looks never stop, but it seems that the French maintain running is best left for somewhere else.  Where?  Not sure.  But they refuse to get out of your way, making the least bit of effort to liberate sidewalks or paths when they clearly see you barreling towards them.  Fine, but do they have to blow the cigarette smoke at me as I run past?

Friday, February 8, 2013

6 Steps for Holding a French Meeting

Try to hold your meeting somewhere pretty

For those of you lucky enough to attend a French meeting or conference at a school, business, or cultural event, feel free to chime in at any point (well, in the comments).  For the rest of you, it’s time for a crash course in how to hold the most authentic French meeting possible.

Are we presenting a research project?  A marketing proposal?  An academic program?  It doesn’t matter, the rules are more or less the same.  If you’re going to have a group of people attend a gathering and listen to you or someone else speak, here is the definitive guide of how to do it à la francaise.

1)  Don’t plan ahead: The most important thing is to be as scattered as possible when the meeting begins.  There is no reason to begin as indicated in any previous communication.  Start-times are a mere notion of when to arrive and sip coffee while watching the organizer wonder why nothing is prepared or why another meeting is also scheduled in the same space at the same time.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Parisian Youth No More

RIP student metro pass...
A lot of older people always say they “feel old” when surrounded by younger people, that suddenly life is put into perspective, that their remaining days seem markedly more numbered, that they remember their youth with longing and desire.

To me, that's bull.  I live next to a daycare and I never feel old.  Still, with the constant shouts of three-year olds while I’m trying to watch last night’s Downton Abbey, these younger people make me want to enforce a permanent nap time during the day, Gestapo style.  There's very little reminiscing going on when Maggie Smith is being muffled by joyous younglings.

Latent crotchety tendencies aside, I am hardly long in the tooth, though I recently did come face to face with the fact that, yes, indeed, I am aging.  Unfortunately it may make some people still feel old, but, ya know…

The enemy is one we all know well: the Paris metro.  The public transit system is increasingly expensive, with a ten-pack of tickets now costing over 13 euros.  I never had to worry about this because this youngster and eternal student could get the student metro pass, called the Imagine-R.  For about half the price of a regular Navigo pass (now at 34 euros a month), I had unlimited travel between zones 1 and 2.  And with a super-efficient system with few true faults, that’s what we call in France a steal.

So when renewing my pass this January, I sent off the required documents as I had in previous years, not thinking anything of it.  I waited for the pass to be activated, but these things took time, I thought.  Then a letter came in the mail.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Saved Me San Francisco

I'm into collages...
I’m not ashamed.  I’m 26 and until this year I had never visited California.  Sure I’d been from Florida to Montreal, all up and down the east coast, but the west, well, it never beckoned me.  Instead I looked east to the Old World and went back to my roots – well, sort of.  France was close enough to Italy, so it did the trick.

While Facebook friends were spending weekends in Vegas or doing Mardi Gras in New Orleans, I was traipsing across Europe with weekends in Berlin and ferrying along the Mediterranean.  Apples and oranges, really.

But for an East-Coaster living in Paris, SanFrancisco became something of a promised land. It wasn’t quite the land of milk and honey, but the coffee and Mexican food didn’t seem too shabby.  And Paris was bringing me down and I wanted sun, pronto.