Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Falafal Sandwich - The Paris/Boston Connection

Ever since I arrived in the USA, I've been keeping my eyes and ears open for interesting connections between Paris and Boston.  I've found some historic ones, a couple of artistic ones, and now a culinary one.  No, it's not a fancy French restaurant with a chef who went to le Cordon Bleu Culinary School, it's the falafal sandwich served at the Clover food truck at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Now, while most people may shudder when they think of the food served on college campuses, I had heard that the lunch trucks at MIT are a great option for a fast meal and was willing to give one of them a try.

After perusing my options, I picked the truck that had a group of people gathered around it even though it was well past lunch time and ordered a BBQ Seiten sandwich with rosemary french fries.  While waiting for the fresh potatoes to be fried, I started chatting with the crew of friendly women who work at Clover.  When I mentioned that I live in Paris, one of them told me that their chick pea fritter sandwich was influenced by the most famous falafal in Paris, l'As du Falafal.  Starting to regret that I had already ordered a BBQ sandwich, she promised to tell me when another customer's falafal sandwich was ready so that I could see how it compares with those in Paris.  Even though I didn't get a chance to sample it, the falafal sandwich definitely resembles its Parisian counterpart, albeit a slightly skinnier version of the overstuffed one in Paris.  And how were my freshly prepared rosemary french fries?  Absolutely delicious - the crisply fried rosemary was the perfect addition!

The Clover food truck has been serving hungry MIT students, professors, and visitors (including those from Paris!) since 2008 when it was originally used to run food trials for the Clover restaurant that has recently opened in Harvard Square.  If you're in Cambridge, be sure to stop by and ask for the Parisian falafal!  They're open weekdays, even during the bitterly cold winters, from 8:00 am until 7:00 pm.  And if you're not in Cambridge, there are Clover food trucks parked at various locations throughout Boston. Take a look at the Clover Fast Food website to learn more.

L'As du Falafal in Paris.  Normally it has a LONG line in front of it.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

That Old Cape Magic! The Glass Onion in Falmouth

Out and About in Paris - the Cape.  Sand art by Sara.

One of the biggest joys of being a parent is watching your children grow into adults - the kind that you really enjoy being with.  Another one is seeing that your daughter, who spends her days doing research at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, still likes to play in the sand.  So, when Sara said that we should write "Out and About in Paris - the Cape", I readily agreed.  It took a few attempts to make an etching that was worthy of a photo.  The first one, written with a stone, turned out to be too big and the second one was washed away by a rogue wave.  While Sara would have decorated her design with two rocks and some strands of seaweed, I assumed the role of creative director and voted for the simplicity of a single stone.

Wiggling our toes in the sand reminded Sara of an earlier post that I had written about the state of my shoes in Paris.  So, here are the same shoes on vacation.  They look rather footloose and fancy free, don't you think?

And being intrepid explorers, we ventured into the frigid water of the Atlantic Ocean for a few seconds before making a quick retreat.  The cold temperature didn't seem to bother these children, who continued playing in the water as the evening fog rolled ashore.

The brisk walk to the light house in the salty sea air made us hungry, so it was fortunate that we knew exactly where we wanted to go for dinner.  Sara and I have been wanting to return to The Glass Onion, a restaurant that easily rivals any of those that I've been to in Paris, ever since we dined there one snowy evening last January.  We started off with a glass of sparkling Gruet Brut from New Mexico and moved on to a delectable meal of goat cheese and French peach salad, house made mozarella and heirloom tomatoes, seafood risotto, and pan seared yellow fin tuna.  If you're anywhere near the Cape, I highly recommend this restaurant!

37 North Main Street
Falmouth, Massachusetts

Road Trip to the Cape

Nobska Lighthouse in the fog.

Queen, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Michael Jackson, and the Rolling Stones - I was singing along with all of them as I drove down I-495 to Cape Cod yesterday.  As Stéphane was melting in the heat of Texas and our son was busy completing some work for a class, I decided to visit our daughter, Sara, at the Cape. 

Living in Paris, where I don't own a car, road trips are one of my secret pleasures while visiting the States.  People from other countries usually have a hard time understanding Americans' love of driving, but there's something to be said about hitting the open road, especially in an American muscle car like the new Dodge Charger.  When the man at the car rental company told us to pick any car in the lot, it immediately caught our eye.  And it's so much more fun to drive than a sedate sedan!

My only regret is that it isn't red!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

My installations are singular in scale, composition, and form.  At times they sit peacefully in nature, sometimes they hang from the ceiling or spring forth from walls.  In any setting, the color, form, and light unite to create something magical. - Dale Chihuly

When my daughter mentioned that there's a blown glass exhibit that's getting a lot of attention at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I thought that I could potentially do a post linking it to the blown glass creation, "Kiosk of the Night Owls" that adorns the entrance to the Palais Royal metro station in Paris.  After seeing Dale Chihuly's "Through the Looking Glass", I realize that he has taken the art of glass blowing to new heights, both figuratively and literally, and merits a post all of his own.  Enjoy!

Ikebana Boat
Ikebana Boat
Mille Fiori ("A Thousand Flowers")
Mille Fiori ("A Thousand Flowers")
The best way to admire "Persian Ceiling" - from the floor!
Persian Ceiling
Neodymium Reeds on Logs

Chihuly's work, which was originally inspired by the glassblowers of Murano, Italy, is a complex symphony of vibrant colors and textures that is sure to delight everyone from small children to adults.  These photos are just a sampling of some of the stunning installations on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Art until August 7, 2011.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

Monday, June 27, 2011

And what did we do for fun?

With lots of history, an abundance of sensational restaurants, and a beautiful location, Boston is a great place for a vacation - in addition to visiting some of the highlights along the Freedom Trail, here are just a few of the things that we did yesterday.

Ate a delicious lunch at The Daily Catch, a tiny restaurant in Boston's historic North End neighborhood.  We enjoyed chatting with the chef, a quintessential Bostonian, about his calamari meatballs and his small kitchen, one that would rival those in Paris. 

Watched a procession of a saint through the streets in a scene reminiscent of Italy.

Met Benjamin Franklin's look-a-like in a subway station.

Went sailing on the Charles River
and passed a gondola.

The Memorial to the Chevalier de Saint-Sauveur in Boston

In my quest to find some little known links between Boston and France, I stopped by the tourist information center yesterday and was pleased to learn that there are several interesting stories.  The first one concerns the Chevalier de Saint-Sauveur, who was the first chamberlain of the brother of King Louis XVI, and a brawl over some French bread that ended disastrously for the 28 year old Frenchman.

After a treaty of alliance was signed between France and the United States on February 6, 1778, France sent a fleet of twelve ships and 5 frigates under the command of Count d'Estaing to aid the Americans in their fight against the British.  After a series of mishaps, the French fleet ended up sailing to Boston to undergo essential repairs. 

While the French fleet was received with enthusiasm, there were also British sympathizers in Boston who were not pleased that the French were assisting the Americans.  When the Admiral set up a bakery for his fleet in town, an unruly mob gathered on the evening of September 8, 1778 and demanded bread - something that I can easily understand after having had the pleasure of eating French baguettes for the past three months!  Anyway, things got out of hand and the Chevalier de Saint-Sauveur was mortally wounded when he valiantly tried to protect the bakers and to restore order. 

Knowing that the young nobleman's death could have an impact on relations between the two countries, the General Court of Massachusetts quickly voted to place a "monumental stone" at the young man's place of burial with an inscription written by Count d'Estaing.  But because there was still unrest in Boston, it was decided that the young man's body should be buried as quietly as possible. Everything happened so quietly that the citizens of Boston forgot their promise to place a monument on the Chevalier de Saint-Sauveur's grave for 127 years!

In 1903, when the French government published a list of all of the Frenchmen who had died during the American revolution, the story of the Chevalier de Saint-Sauveur was revived and brought to the attention of the Americans after Col. Chaillé-Young, one of the authors of the French document, asked about the location of the non-existant monument to the young Frenchman.  Shortly thereafter, a committee was formed to investigate the matter and reported, "In war and in peace, Massachusetts keeps her promises.  Here is an event filled with uncertain and distressing possibilities at the time, which, in the more comprehensive view of the present, had the matter not been disposed of to the entire satisfaction of the French officers, might have ended the French alliance and changed materially the subsequent history if not the results of the war of he revolution."  The monument to the Chevalier de Saint-Sauveur at King's Chapel was unveiled by Governor Samuel W. McCall on May 24, 1917, at a time when America and France were allies in another war.

Click here to read the complete history of the monument to the Chevalier de Saint-Sauveur.

In case you're wondering why angry mobs would demand French bread, read the related posts about baguettes:

Monsieur le Président's baguette and The best baguette in Paris

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday's Picture and a Song - Boston and Charlie on the MTA

When our children were small and trying to figure out the concept of "home", we told them that it's wherever the four of us are together.  So, Boston is also home for me.  It feels so good to be here!

In addition to Benjamin Franklin, I'm going to try to discover what other connections Boston has with Paris.  I'll be here until the end of the week when I'll drive to Annapolis, Maryland, a small city with lots of history near Washington D.C.  It's also known as the sailing capital of the United States.

The Kingston Trio singing "Charlie on the MTA".

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Switching Lives

Somewhere over the Atlantic, I took my metro pass, Euros, French credit card, and apartment key out of my purse and replaced them with my American credit card, more than 20 customer fidelity cards (why do I have so many?!), house key, and the dollars that have been stowed in a Ziploc bag in a drawer since January. Once again, I’ve switched lives. I’ve gone from being an American living in Paris to …what? Even though I’m in the United States on vacation, it’s my home, the country where I was born and the one to which I’m the most attached, so why do I always feel a little bit foreign here. Maybe it’s because I can’t follow the conversation when it switches to the latest episode of a popular television show or to the local political scandal that wasn’t covered by the international news. Nonetheless, my heart did a little happy beat when the immigration officer scanned my passport, looked me squarely in the eyes, and said, “Welcome home”.

Anne, Just Another American in Paris, will also be leaving Paris in a couple of days.  But before she does, I would like to say a big “thank you” to her.  I started reading Anne’s blog while the movers were unpacking our furniture at the beginning of March and have found it to be a continuous source of information, quirky insights, and humor ever since. I’m not quite sure what I’ll read with my morning tea now that Anne is moving back to Washington DC, but I do know that I’ll remain grateful to her for being so quick to respond to all of my technical questions about blogging, such as the time that I couldn’t figure out why blogger was spell checking my English posts in French and marking everything wrong. Bon voyage and best wishes, Anne - even though I never met you in person, you are much more than "just another American"!

And what about this blog? Even though I won't be back in Paris until July 17, I'm going to keep blogging while I visit the East Coast.  Come along if you want.  Tomorrow's picture and a song will give you a clue as to where I am.  It's not New York - the Lady Liberty in the photo is in Paris.

Friday, June 24, 2011

How to save money in Paris - go to the Hermès sale

I could have saved € 31,500 by buying the crocodile velour jacket that I tried on at the Hermès sale yesterday. Marked down from € 64,000 to €32,500, it was a real bargain and looked fantastic!  But not being in such a thrifty mood, I decided to save less money by buying a couple of the square scarves that were € 165 instead of the normal price of € 292. And after waiting in line for about 30 minutes before I could even touch them, I wasn't about to go away empty handed.

As it was my first time to attend the Hermès sale, I had lots of questions about how they work. I've put together some Q&As that I hope will help you:

Do I need an invitation to attend the Hermès sale? No, I received an email about the sale but didn't need an invitation. At the door, however, the security guard will ask if you have any Hermès products in your purse so that they can write an attestation for the item to show to the security guard when you leave.

Are the Hermès sales at the Hermès stores? No. I guess that Hermès thinks that their stores would lose some of their cachet if they were decorated with sale signs, so the sales are always held off site at the Palais des Congrès in Neuilly. Métro Porte Maillot.

What kind of items are on sale? This was the clearance sale of the winter line, so there were sweaters, coats, hats, slacks, blazers, jeans, skirts, jackets, scarves, bags, bracelets, necklaces, shoes, boots, and ties.

Should I plan to go on the first day? Unless you want to buy some special shoes or a purse, I don't think that it's necessary because one of the saleswomen assured me that they replenish their stock every day. She recommends going on Thursday afternoon because the lines are usually not as long as the lines on the first day.

The line for the square scarves

What should I do when I find a scarf that I like? Grab it before someone else does! But more seriously, after selecting a scarf (or two), give it to one of the saleswomen who will put it in an envelope. She'll give you a voucher to exchange for your scarf when you pick it up at the cash register. Larger items may be placed in the plastic shopping bags.

Is there a limit to the number of items that I can buy? Yes. You may purchase up to 10 square (carrés) scarves and 10 ties. Other articles are limited to five pieces of the same item, with the exception of leather bags (1), leather toiletry bags (4), belts (1), and small leather goods (2).

Can I pay with my credit card? Yes, they'll also accept the deed to your house, your plane ticket home, and permanent indenture-ship. I suspect that's what happened with the British saleswoman with whom I spoke because she gave me some good advice based on what she used to do when she attended the sale as a customer rather than as an employee.  She's probably working there to pay off the crocodile jacket that she bought at the last Hermès sale.

The dates for the current Hermès sale are June 22-25 and June 27 from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Related post: A Hermès Scarf for € 1!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Dear Sixteen Year Old Me...I'm thankful to be in Paris

Soaking up the sun at Café le Nemours at Place Colette

Today's post was supposed to be a lighthearted ode to Paris, something along the lines of how I did a happy dance when I arrived at the Gare de Lyon yesterday evening because it felt so good to be home.  But after reading another blog with a link to a YouTube video called, "Dear Sixteen Year Old Me", I knew that the topic had to change...

For whenever I walk along the Seine or stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens, I always have to slather on sunscreen and wear shirts with long sleeves and long pants.  Wouldn't I rather be wearing sleeveless tops and summer dresses?  Sure I would, but there are lots of things that I don't do anymore after being diagnosed with malignant melanoma last year.  Fortunately, my suspicious mole was removed at a very early stage, but the YouTube video reminded me that some people aren't so lucky.  

Tuesday was the first day of summer.  Please remind your family and friends to take care of their skin. It's one of the things that I wish that I would have told my sixteen year old self.

If you would like to learn more about skin cancer, please watch this YouTube video.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

John Calvin, the Frenchman who changed a Swiss cathedral

The word, "cathedral", calls to mind certain images: altars, statues of saints, burning candles, lots of gold, and incense.  But when John Calvin, the French theologian and pastor, fled France to avoid the violent uprisings against Protestants and eventually settled in Geneva, he stripped the Catholic Cathedral of St. Peter of its fancy trappings leaving behind an austere Protestant Church.  The only remnants of the Cathedral's Catholic origins are the stained glass windows.

Seeing the stark interior of the Cathedral always makes me wonder if the religious legacy left by Calvin didn't have a major impact on the Genevoise, who are more serious than their French neighbors.  Whereas the French seem to believe that rules are malleable, especially when no one in authority is watching, the rule-abiding citizens of Geneva will always wait for the pedestrian light to turn green before crossing the street, even when there isn't a moving car in sight.  As for me, I'm discovering that I kind of like the Parisian approach to life.

And just in case you missed the photo of the imposing Reformation Wall in Monday's post, here it is again.  Not visible in the picture is the motto shared by the Reformation and the city of Geneva: Post Tenebras Lux, "After Darkness, Light."

William Farel, John Calvin, Théodore de Bèze, and John Knox

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is there a happy medium between the Swiss and the French?

Mosaic in Geneva - "I don't dirty the sidewalks!" 

Whenever I mention to a French person that I used to live in Montreux before moving to Paris, they invariably  respond, "Oh, Switzerland, it's a beautiful country, but it's very clean.  The French, we're not so clean, we're rather dirty", all the while regarding me with an air of suspicion lest I whip out a cleaning cloth and start scrubbing everything in sight.  Even though I'm far from being the compulsive neatnik that they imagine, there's something to be said about enjoying the sights of the city rather than constantly scanning the sidewalk for dangerous piles of dog poo.  For all too often, Stéphane will give me a hard shove to the left when he notices an ominous pile on the sidewalk in front of me and then I repay the favor by knocking him to the right when he doesn't see the next one.  So, here are a few of the things that I wish that I could pack in my suitcase to take home with me:

Street cleaners - these little marvels with their scouring brushes work a lot better than the flowing water that's used to clean the gutters in Paris.  And best of all, they also clean some of the wider sidewalks.

An orderly system for waiting in lines like the one in this Swiss post office where you take a number and wait for your turn, thus making it impossible for anyone to cut in front of someone else.

And just in case you're starting to agree with the French, who think that Calvin and his clan left behind a sterile environment devoid of any fun, here's a reassuring sign that everything isn't always so orderly in Switzerland.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Out of Paris at the 20th Music Festival in Geneva

In between eating an appetizing lunch of roast beef and salad and enjoying the scenery whizzing past at a 170 miles (270 km) per hour through the window of the TGV bound from Paris to Geneva, I spent my time finishing off some blog posts for this week without knowing that Marc-Antoine, my brother-in-law, was planning to take me to the 20th Music Festival in Geneva.  Not being immune to the influence of their neighbor, Geneva based their festival on the natiowide music festivals that are held in France every year on June 21 to celebrate the first day of summer.  The festival was so much fun that I decided to shelve the post that was scheduled for today so that I could share some photos with you. Plus, I have to admit that I'm just a wee bit proud of Switzerland and this gives me another opportunity to write about it.

After watching a troupe of muscular acrobats in Reformers' Park, we walked over to listen to the band that was playing next to the imposing Reformation Wall.  Inaugurated in 1909, the stern faces of the reformers, William Farel, John Calvin, Théodore de Bèze, and John Knox are a stern reminder of the city's Protestant heritage and offered an interesting contrast to the festive atmosphere.

Reformation Wall in Bastions Park in Geneva

With music ranging from hip hop to classical to jazz, the array of food  proved to be equally impressive.  Vendors were offering everything from spicy Indian curries to Mexican churros, but it was impossible to find anyone selling raclette, a Swiss dish of melted cheese served with boiled potatoes.  The closest that I could find to a Swiss speciality were these men grilling schüblig, the famous Swiss sausages from St. Gallen.  It seems as if the 38.58% of foreigners living in Geneva have had a major impact on the culinary scene.

Cities always like to boast that they have the tallest building or the largest harbor, but being slightly more modest, Geneva has the world's longest wooden bench (413 ft/126m) with the Salève mountain in the background.

World's longest wooden bench in Geneva

As I'll be in Geneva for the next couple of days, I may write some more posts about what I'm doing here or I may use the posts that I've already written about Paris.  As the famous song says, "Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be".