Monday, January 31, 2011

Weekend Wanderings: Unplanned

For the first weekend in a long time, I had a more-or-less unplanned weekend, and it was wonderful. Friday evening, I went for drinks with Christina and our former colleague, Courtney, at Rogue Bar, where they had some fun flavored martinis for $5 on Fridays. We decided to get coffee and dessert at Eataly, and on our way over, stopped for a wine tasting at a shop somewhere on 6th Ave. The man running the tasting was from right near where James lives, and so we chatted for a bit about that, and he gave us four Loire Valley wines to try. Courtney and I each ended up buying a bottle of Kiwi Cuvee pinot noir. When we finally made it to Eataly, I was absolutely enthralled by all their offerings. As I've mentioned before, I'm trying to teach myself how to cook, and seeing all these incredible ingredients under one roof was wonderful. And, the cappuccino we had was just amazing. I'm not a big coffee connoisseur, so take my opinion with a grain of salt, but it was really, really good. The chocolate-hazelnut cake was also quite good.
Saturday morning I woke up and bought several lovely dresses from ModCloth (don't judge me! some are for work! it's almost my birthday month!) before getting a tiny bit of work done. In the afternoon, I watched Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, which I loved, and then Roger came over with pizza and we enjoyed the pinot I'd bought the night before J.J. and Kali then joined us for yet another movie, No Strings Attached. It wasn't quite as adorable as Scott Pilgrim, and it's definitely not something I would usually go to see, but it was a cute date movie, and we had a nice evening out.

Sunday, to round off a lovely, quiet weekend, we woke up late and headed over to Barnes & Noble for some coffee and free wi-fi. I worked on an abstract for a conference, and picked up a super-cheap copy of selections from Roland Barthes. We grabbed some groceries, and decided that future Sundays should include a longer trip to Trader Joe's and running, before coming home to make fresh juice and dinner (stuffed mushrooms and baked eggs). Some really gratuitous TV watching and studying followed, and now, my first full week of work since before Christmas (thanks, snow-days!) starts.

Friday, January 28, 2011

{This Moment}

{This Moment}

A Friday ritual inspired by Amanda Soule & many others.
Please feel free to share a link to your own moment in the comments.

In honor of the one-year anniversary of Not Intent On Arriving and my 100th entry, I'll be sending a postcard to every single person who comments here. If there's a chance I don't know your address, just shoot me a quick email with it. Thanks for sharing the past year with me!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

La Vie En Rose: New Year in Europe

In honor of the one-year anniversary of Not Intent On Arriving, and this, my 100th entry, I'll be sending a postcard to every single person who comments here. If there's a chance I don't know your address, just shoot me a quick email with it. Thanks for staying with me for a whole year, guys!
Friday, December 31, 2010 – Paris, France We started New Years Eve day in fancy fashion, with a breakfast of pastries and hot chocolate at Angelina. I really love the place, but it was packed and one of our waiters was rude (one of the others apologized for him, which was really nice) and it was against our better judgment to have so much sugar so early in the day. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s never been, because it’s beautiful and has some of the world’s greatest hot chocolate and is really usually a lovely experience, but after this time, I don’t think I’ll go back for quite some time. If you do go, though, the Olympe is the pastry to get and l’Africain is the hot chocolate. Seriously. They’re amazing. We then walked over to the Musee de Louvre, where there was an incredible line, reminiscent of Versailles. We finally made it in and saw some art. I could say more, but really? That’s the Louvre. A lot of art. Most of which is famous, and most of which the average person doesn’t care about. The Mona Lisa is amazing, duh, but it’s always surrounded by a billion people (and bullet-proof glass), and the rest, I can take or leave. The place is just too damn big to really “see” anything there. The subway stop outside, however, has a bunch of windows with art in them. We’re not sure if they’re reproductions (we’re pretty sure they are, but it smelled way too much like urine to really check them out), but it’s still a really cool concept. So, that was the Louvre. Too big.
New Years Eve in Paris was something I’d really been looking forward to, and it turned out to be a lot of fun, but not at all like what I’d expected. It turns out that most of the French celebrate at home with oysters, baguettes, foie gras, and small house-parties, and so unless you have reservations at a 600+ euro restaurant, your pickings are a little slim. I’d originally hoped to wear my gorgeous red dress, but since most places were closed and we knew we’d be outside in the cold for a while, I decided to wear it to my quarter-century birthday party instead and wore something a little more sensible to our dinner. After finding one restaurant we wanted to try closed, and not finding the second one, we decided to head up north to Montmartre, where we planned to watch the fireworks from the Sacre Coeur, and try our luck. We found a little café there and had an enormous meal of soupe a l’oignion and coq au vin for me, canard aux miel for Roger – once again he picked the better meal. We’ve been drinking a lot of red wines on the trip, and decided to try one from the Loire Valley, Les Trois Garçons, this time, and found it a little dry. We finished at around 10:30 and headed up the funicular to the Sacre Coeur.
The Sacre Coeur is another Paris sight that neither of us had ever visited, though we’d seen it from afar before. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and I don’t know why the Eiffel Tower overshadows it so in the world’s mind. Because we were stuck in the funicular for about 15 minutes, we arrived too late to go inside, but we were able to walk around it and in the surrounding environs, and the whole area is really lovely, if a bit touristy. On my next visit, I would love to get there early on a clear day, and go up to the dome. Unfortunately, it was awfully foggy in Paris on New Years Eve, and so we weren’t able to see the fireworks go off at the Eiffel Tower, which is the main reason people go up and wait there. However, there were lots and lots of fireworks going off around us, and a variety of very interesting people wandering around, so it was well worth the trip, and a lovely way to welcome in the New Year.
We walked down to our subway stop, and I’m glad to say the first song of the New Year for us was an old favorite: Kids, blasting out of the window of a house party, where people were dancing and leaning out the window shouting, “Bonne Année". With a start like that, full of old and new, how could 2011 not be a wonderful year?

Next Up: Our last day in Paris!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

La Vie En Rose: New Year in Europe

Thursday, December 30, 2010: Paris, France

Roger and I have both been to Paris before,* but neither of us had ever visited Versailles, so we decided to spend Thursday doing just that. We woke up late and finally wandered over around noon. We somehow managed to find a secret entrance into the St. Michel subway station that doesn’t require a ticket, and it was so crowded on the way out of the subway at the Versailles-Rive Gauche station that we didn’t have to swipe out, so we would have gotten a free ride, if we hadn’t bought round-trip tickets. This crowd, however, turned out to be the theme of the day at Versailles, which was packed. We waited on line to get tickets, and then again to get into the palace, and then walking through the grand apartments felt a lot like being on a line, the pack moved so slowly.

They were interesting, though. My only real exposure to Versailles, other than some brief mention in art and history classes in high school, was through the Sofia Coppola movie, Marie Antoinette. I didn’t like it much at the time, and I don’t think I’d like it much more now, although I do think I’d have a greater appreciation for it. It was nice to see them in person, particularly the king’s and queen’s chambers. I wish the rooms had been fully furnished, which is something I like in historic homes, and the ones that were furnished were my favorites. The Galerie des Glaces was also beautiful, although I completely misunderstood what it was until Roger pointed it out after we’d moved on to another room. I have a fondness for chandeliers, and this only made me love them more. There was also an interesting exhibit on science at Versailles, which featured some of the experiments and innovations that were unveiled there in the 18th century. The gardens were, of course, not at their peak, but the boxwood was still green, and they were lovely. We walked about halfway down them, and if it was nicer out, we would have gone further around them, but we decided to head back into Paris for the evening.

We grabbed a croque monsieur from a kiosk to share and headed over to the Musée d’Orsay for the late night opening. Unfortunately, a good amount of the museum, including the entire 3rd floor, was closed, either because of renovations or extensive loans. It did allow us to focus on some other works that we might not have paid as much attention, including a room on Orientalism that I’d been in before but never really “seen.” A temporary** exhibit on The Spectacular Art of Jean-Léon Gérôme also featured a variety of interesting Orientalist paintings, very loosely based on photographic trips he’d taken to the Middle East in the 1850s. The stories behind the paintings are, perhaps, more interesting than the paintings themselves, but since I’m a story-person and not a painting-person, it was a good experience. I’m hoping to write something inspired by it soon.

We ate dinner late (for us) that evening, wandering into Polidor around 9:30pm. The meal was quite good, and very reasonably priced (meals were between 10 and 15 euros, and the house wine, Costères de Nimes, was 14 euro), and the atmosphere, with communal tables and a general French feeling, was wonderful. Roger had boeuf bourguignon, which was tender and sweet, and had an incredible, buttery side of potato purée. I had sausage Lyonnais, which was tangy and almost too flavorful, if you can imagine that. For dessert, we had the tarte chocolat and the tarte tatin. I’d recommend the tatin, which was the only apple dessert I’ve ever liked, but the tarte chocolat was more like a candy than anything else. Our waitress, who seemed as if she’d been waiting tables there for a thousand years, was one of our favorite parts of the meal. She was completely no-nonsense, but never impolite. This is exactly what we needed.

Up Next: We celebrate New Year's Eve in Paris!

*Together, actually. In 2007.
**Unfortunately, it looks like this closed a few days ago. But it was awesome. I hope you check it out online!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

La Vie En Rose: New Year in Europe

Wednesday, December 29, 2010: Strasbourg to Paris, France
We woke up reasonably early to check out of our hotel, the Hotel Pax, and catch the TGV to Paris. I just want to say for the record that I seriously, seriously overpacked, and carrying my bag has been a pain in the back. Literally. I’m usually pretty good about packing light, but something happened this trip and I’m regretting every extra pair of socks, not to mention the way-too-large carry-on bag that started driving me so crazy I packed it in the bottom of my real bag. If I wasn’t so damn attached to everything I brought (much of it is new), I would definitely be trashing a ton of it. So, we lugged our luggage to the train station, grabbed a brie-and-baguette sandwich, and waited for the train, which was one of the few that wasn’t late (we’re having some serious luck with the timing of transportation). Unfortunately, there was some construction on the tracks, so the ride itself lasted an hour longer than it normally would, but we still arrived in Paris in the early afternoon, just in time to check into the Hotel de la Vallee.

The hotel is… okay. Pros: it’s right in the center of everything (a five minute walk from St. Michel, a ten minute walk from the Louvre, a few steps from the 4 ligne); there’s a kebab shop right downstairs for round-the-clock crepes; and it’s cheaper than anything else we could find in the city center (99 euro for a double room with a private toilet and shower). Cons: it’s in a small red-light district on St. Denis; it smells like the kebab shop downstairs; and it’s a fifth floor walk-up to our room. In general, it requires a special type of person – someone willing to pay 99 euros to be in the middle of everything, but also willing to sleep in a brothel. We seem to fit in that slim minority, and didn’t mind the place too much, though we were glad not to spend too much time there. Right after we checked in and dropped off our bags, we headed straight to the Centre Pompidou, a contemporary arts center a few blocks from the hotel.

The Centre Pompidou consists of the museum of modern art, along with several galleries, shops, a restaurant, and a library. The main show in the museum now, elles@centrepompidou, is focused on women artists, and it takes up a full floor. I was disappointed to find out that it was a temporary show, and not just a really excellently curated museum, but the show is very good (and features some incredible portraits and works of Nancy Spero, among others), and if you don’t happen to be in France, you should check out the website. The permanent collection, upstairs from the temporary, was also quite good, as were the gallery shows. Of the shows, the Mondrian was interesting (it was a gathering of Mondrians in new and old contexts, and also featured his studio), but no where near as great as the Arman show. I’d never seen anything by Arman before, and all of it was fascinating. Each piece was a cabinet of curiosities in and of itself, and recalled all the interesting collections I’ve seen in the past. The work feels deeply conscious, but also very personal, and I loved nearly every piece. Overall, the center was definitely worth a visit if you like modern and contemporary art, and since it’s open until 10pm nearly every night, it’s a nice place to spend a low-key evening.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Weekend Wanderings: Moosic, PA

This weekend was low-key and lovely. After a really excellent round of ice skating in Bryant Park on our lunch break on Thursday (I truly, truly can't say how happy I am to be working here), I caught up with my very old friend (we met when I was five), Lauren, over delicious pizza on Friday evening. She lives within walking distance of me, but we've probably only seen each other three or four times since I moved here a year and a half ago. We're both really busy, but it's so nice to know that there are people you can just pick up with right where you left off.

Saturday I met Erica and her awesome little brother, JQ, for coffee at Panera. First, I just want to say a thing about Panera: you can refill your coffee cup as much as you want, and if you sit there long enough, they bring out free cookies. At least the one in Moosic, PA does, which puts it on my list of awesome places to meet up randomly with friends from NEPA. Now, to the meeting. Erica happened to randomly be visiting her parents right near where I happened to randomly be going to a baby shower. I hadn't seen her since she left for New Zealand, so I was extremely happy to get to chat with her for a bit. In case you haven't heard, she's just about the most awesome girl ever.

Then, it was time for babies. My cousin, Kachina, is expecting a little Madilyn in February, and so I gathered with some of my other cousins at her shower. It was the first baby shower I've been to as an adult, and we all had a lovely time. Her mother, Joann, told a particularly heartwarming story about Kachina's own birth, which was being filmed for a documentary about Joann and her ASL interpreter, who was also pregnant at the same time. When it came time for Joann to deliver Kachina, the cameraman passed out, and another had to be found. Joann says, "I'm the one in labor, and he passes out?" We played baby bingo and some inordinately difficult word games, and Kachina opened a mountain of presents, each of which we think Madilyn will absolutely love. Oh, and there were cupcakes. Kachina majored in baking & pastry at the Culinary Institute of America, and her skills were well used this weekend on dozens of beautiful cupcakes.

Sunday was a day of relaxing and setting things in order. Roger came over after work, and we had an enormous meal of falafel & hummus sandwiches, couscous with broccoli and walnuts, and white wine-curried cabbage & carrots. I think I've said before that I've been trying to cook more, with pretty good results, and although we had enough food to feed about 6 people, I'm really quite proud of the meal. It's a process, this 5-7 years self-improvement. Judging from the food and conversation, though, we're getting there.

Friday, January 21, 2011

{This Moment}

{This Moment}

A Friday ritual inspired by Amanda Soule & many others.
Please feel free to share a link to your own moment in the comments.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

La Vie En Rose: New Year in Europe

Tuesday, December 28, 2010: Strasbourg, France
We woke up late to the pleasant knocking of the French cleaning woman, and quickly headed over to the Rive Gauche for two cafés aux lait and croissants. To make sure we had a way to get to Paris on Wednesday, we made our way to the Gare Central and purchased two tickets for the TGV, the “fast train.” I’ve always thought it was prohibitively expensive, and at 60 euro, I wouldn’t say it’s cheap, but it’s definitely better than the $200 I’d expected.
All of that settled, Roger wanted to check out the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, which was actually fantastic. For a city of this size, you might not expect such a large collection or interesting building. They had several Dores (he was born in Strasbourg) and a variety of other modern pieces, but their best works were contemporary pieces, including the most beautiful installation by Celeste Boursier-Mougenot, a small pool filled with floating bowls. The water moves very slowly, and as a result, the bowls hit against each other, creating a very quiet sort of music. It’s probably the first installation piece I’ve ever seen that I would like to have in my home. It was tranquil and beautiful, and certainly the highlight of a tranquil and beautiful museum.
After, we wandered around Petite France for some time, walking along the icy river path. I still find something mildly charming about the lack of salting, but it’s terrifying to walk downhill with no railing, along what is certainly a freezing river, on a solid sheet of ice. It seems as though someone must have fallen in at one point. The view from along Petite France is just beautiful, but the most interesting sight I saw was a certain creature. I can’t say for sure what it was, but it resembled a rat, except extra-large. Truly the largest rat I’ve ever seen in my entire life. So large that I’m not sure it can be a real rat. It was about a foot and a half long, not counting the tail, and about 6 inches around. It walked off someone’s deck into the river, and then swam down river a ways, where we met it a few blocks down, being hand-fed by some French tourists, who were also calling it “raton,” and their children, who said, “Au revior, Raton” when it started to swim away. This seems like the most beautiful children's story ever written. If anyone can identify this animal, I would be most appreciative. If it’s actually a rat, I think that might be the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.
Post-rat sighting, we walked over to the Gutenberg book market, which, despite being located in the birthplace of printing, turned out to be only two booths selling some novels translated into French. From there, we wandered some more, seeing a variety of Christmas markets we’d missed earlier, and buying what we thought were mousse-filled chocolate puffs. Walking over to A La Tete de Lard, a restaurant recommended by a clerk at the hotel, we stopped in the Place Kleber to see the Strasbourg Christmas tree, which was very nice and tall, with an interesting, thin shape. The restaurant was quite good, although ordering was a bit of a crapshoot. With nine semesters of French and six months of living in Senegal between us, we weren’t sure of most of what was on the menu. But, my faux-filet poivre vert and Roger’s canard avec pommes et miel were both very good, and even better was our appetizer, tarte flambé. This seems to be a Strasbourg speciality of sorts, with a thin crepe-naan type bread covered in melted goat and munster cheese with bits of ham. It was incredible, softened our bottle of Metz Bleger pinot noir perfectly, and was ordered by nearly everyone else in the crowded restaurant (and, we noticed, was ordered five times by the three guys behind us). If you ever get to Strasbourg, make sure you try one for yourself. Dessert, a gewürztraminer ice cream and a pommestrudel, was pretty nondescript.
After the large, three and a half hour meal (our first since Friday night, unless you count meals on airplanes as meals), we headed back to the hotel, where we tried to eat the “mousse-puffs” which turned out to be overly-sweet marshmallow-fluff-filled chocolate shells. Not nearly as good as the bretzel aux lardon from the night before. And, of course, Roger discovered yet another episode of New York Police Judiciaire.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

La Vie En Rose: New Year in Europe

Apologies for the delay in getting this up! We had the most magnificent time in France and Italy over the New Year, but with no internet there and spotty internet at home, it took me a long time to get my act together. I'll be posting my ramblings, mostly written there, day-by-day. Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, December 27, 2010: Strasbourg, France
We were lucky enough to be on one of the priority flights out of JFK on Sunday night, so we left despite the blizzard conditions and massive cancellations in New York. We sat on the tarmac for about two hours while they deiced the plane, which the pilot said was the longest wait he’s ever had for deicing, and finally took off around 6:30pm. There was a lot of turbulence until we got past Nova Scotia, I was sitting behind a really obnoxious frat boy who insisted on bouncing in his seat and singing, and I only got a few hours sleep, but Roger and I survived our very first plane ride together,* and even made our connecting flight in Amsterdam. That flight was also delayed a little, and the plane was very tiny, but we arrived safely in Strasbourg around noon.
There’s snow everywhere, and it seems that Strasbourg doesn’t use salt to melt it, so everything is really beautiful and white, though it’s been a little treacherous getting about on the blocks of solid ice and in the slush. But, everyone else makes do and so do we.
We wandered around the city for most of the day, which was lovely. The streets are quiet and mostly free of cars, and there are a variety of squares that are filled with beautiful Alsatian buildings. The Christmas markets, a Strasbourg tradition since 1570, were the main reason I wanted to come, and they were wonderful, and scattered throughout the Old City, which was decorated with lights and evergreen (and, in one alleyway, chandeliers, which was incredible). We had more trouble with the Strasbourg maps than we usually do, so mostly we just stumbled around and found our way to each. Roger and I shared a delicious glass of vin chaud, a warmed Bordeaux sweetened with fruit, and a beignet chocolat, a sugar doughnut with hot chocolate filling, as a snack while we wandered around, looking at ornaments, candles, and other crafts. I, of course, bought a few Santa ornaments (one on skis, and one on ice skates), but couldn’t find one that really said “Strasbourg” or “Alsace” at first.

After I forced us to go back to the hotel and changed into my hiking boots (in case you didn’t already know, slush + Uggs = disaster. Also, France + Uggs = tourist, though that’s much less foremost in my mind), we toured the impressive Strasbourg Cathedral. I’m really interested in the places where cultures intersect, so Alsace, with its German and French influences, has been really interesting to me. The cathedral is huge and cold, with colorful stained glass windows, an enormous astronomical clock, and a really lovely nativity set up inside. We sat and rested and took in the enormity of the building for a bit before heading back outside to wander around in the snow.

We walked along the Saint Thomas River for a little bit (the Old City is basically an island), stopped into a café for some hot chocolate and coffee, and finally stumbled upon the Christkindlemart, the biggest of the markets, as we were getting ready to go back to the hotel before dinner. There, I did find my “Strasbourg” ornaments, two porcelain children in traditional dress, and we had a Bretzel aux Lardon, with melted cheese and ham on top of a soft pretzel. It was absolutely delicious and absolutely ruined our appetites. We looked over some restaurants (all of which are decorated in the most beautiful way), and considered our options for dinner as we headed back.

Since we weren’t hungry anymore, and it was only 5pm, we decided to take a quick nap. Unfortunately, the quick nap turned into a full sleep, and we both woke up at 11:30pm, missing dinner. Roger somehow managed to find Law and Order dubbed into French (AKA: New York Police Judicial), and he fell back to sleep pretty easily while I wrote and uploaded some photos.

*Somehow, despite dating for 6.5 years and vacationing together on 3 different continents, this truly was the first time we've been on a plane together. See? A trip of wonderful togetherness.