Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Yes, still in Paris UPDATED

Today's the Day of Decadence - my husband's at his conference, it's not raining, and I've given myself permission to at least look at all the food-and-shoes-and-clothes that the city has to offer. Luckily, I don't generally swoon over the super-high-end. Less so: I'm fully capable of lusting after the midrange-for-Paris-but-still-inaccessible. The food bit kind of sorted itself out - Jo and I had maybe too much steak frites the other night, and my stomach now can't handle much more than bread (and, perhaps, flan; I felt well enough to buy it, at least), so the temptation to sit down to a 30 euro meal of confit of canard and a verre of vin is nil. I still like the idea of that, but... no.

But the stuff-and-experiences component - that is, the thing where you walk across Paris and take in the gorgeous scenery and every so often buy something whose gorgeousness you have to hope isn't just a matter of its environment (because it, whatever it is, will need to "spark joy" in Toronto as well) - is very much happening. I went into the heavily guarded Bon Marché and found - because Paris - a perfect bra that I've just currency-converted confirmed costs what I'd pay for a mediocre bra in Canada. And I flâneused around with the vague goal of finding non-Repetto (that is, non-200-euro) ballet flats. The fabulous, rose-gold André ones I found were 49 euros, which, fine, sounds better than $72, but this is still an acceptable price for shoes, and they give every indication of being comfortable, or as comfortable as ballet flats ever are, at any price.

The plan for the afternoon, then, is to visit the also-heavily-guarded Marais, and try to do as many husband-would-find-this-boring things as I can, so basically a mix of clothes-shopping and (more) French-Jewish-bookstore-shopping. (It can't possibly be that two new contemporary French-Jewish novels are enough...)


The Marais happened, but in a roundabout way involving a diverted bus and an inadvertent (but charming!) stroll across the Seine. No clothes-shopping, not for lack of trying. (All the chic Parisian women have these flawless blazers, but where are they buying them?) But what ended up happening was definitely more interesting! I wound up on the Rue des Rosiers, and passed a café that looked out of another era. A man of a certain age (as were all the other customers) beckoned me in, but not in a hitting-on way. In a way that said, yep, you're Jewish too, these are your people. And so I sat, beneath the gaze of a Herzl poster, and had a longish conversation with a woman about how she doesn't eat meat, kosher or otherwise, and a shorter one with a man who was sure he'd seen me that morning at the Marché d'Aligre, where, alas, I hadn't been. After a while there, the more strictly frivolous activities resumed, culminating in the purchase of 6 euro nail polish from a vending machine in the also-bomb-fearing BHV.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Paris, May 2016

It's as I remember it, except for a few things. The first I noticed were the vape shops and juice détox establishments, and the slightly greater presence of donuts and muffins. Not full-on Americanization, but always a notch further in that direction.

Then, the security. Not just at the Jewish museum (which had the usual pre-flight situation, not that I'm complaining), but at every museum. At the larger stores. Not unheard-of globally (see: Israel), but more than I remember from post-9/11 New York. Fewer flags, but more bag checks. And a lot of soldiers with machine guns. More depressing than frightening, I suppose, but I guess it depends where you're coming from and what, on that front, seems normal.

-Other, more personal, and less geopolitical observations: The best bakery is still there, and still has the best croissants (it was closed today, so I was reminded...), and still only hiring male models. Flan, meanwhile, is great everywhere, if not necessarily better than Toronto's Portuguese custard tarts.

-Oh, and chain stores - the French ones have come to the US and maybe Canada as well; the US ones are here if they weren't already; and then there are some international chains from elsewhere. Good in many ways (you can get cool stuff and not need to shell out for flights!), but definitely means there's zero point in going to the Galeries Lafayette if you live near Hudson's Bay/the Eaton Centre.

-And yet! Frenchwomen, super chic. Shouldn't be surprising, but... it had been a while. A cliché for a reason and all that. I'm trying to make a note of exactly why their outfits work (note: me and the rest of the anglophone world, and the answer is partly that they eat less pasta than I do, and I'm not prepared to follow up on that...), although I'm not sure if the necessary shopping will take place in Paris.

-The following two things - one great, one not-so-great - are probably related: So I'd last been to Paris five years ago, and due to various career-shift-type reasons, was unsure when I'd ever have a chance to come back. Things converged to make it possible and I'm beyond thrilled to be here. Like, ogling each and every apartment building and sighing over how beautiful everything is. The full tourist thing, in other words. But! Between my tourist vibe; my unwillingness, in my dotage, to dress as if I'm not American (fleece, jeans); and the fact that my spouse and I do - sorry - tend to speak to each other in English; I've had the very odd experience of speaking to people in what is without a doubt the best French I've ever spoken and getting responses along the lines of (and this was said in French!), would you prefer the English menu?

I don't take it personally, I don't think (these are tourist areas, in the sense that just about everything in central-ish Paris is, and I have French-Canadian friends who've gotten the English-response in Paris in these situations). Except maybe a little, considering that the $$ paying for this was primarily earned teaching French classes. And that one of the places where this happened, I was buying a French novel, and not some sort of leather-bound thing that could plausibly have been for home decor.

I mean, I can summon enough non-neurosis to realize that this is the default way of being welcoming to visitors - not just tourists, and goodness knows not just anglophones. (The Germans at the next table did want to do everything in English.) At any rate, the croissant situation and the sheer gorgeousness of this city make up for it.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Where Would Phoebe Go?: On the jet-setting lifestyle

Normally, to campus and back, and to various Toronto coffee shops. Next week, however, it's off to Paris and Rehovot, via New York. No, I'm not going on some sort of simulated French-Jewish aliyah tour, although I see why it might seem that way. All that's happening is, my husband has some conferences, and - as happens on the rare occasions when doing so is feasible - I'm going to tag along. Speaking of tags, I still need to get a Canadian flag one for my luggage.

I remember, when on research trips to Paris, being really miffed when people thought (or when I thought they thought) I was on vacation. In retrospect, the time I spent living there, where my only work responsibility was writing a dissertation, was a bit vacation-ish, at least compared with this past year, during which I taught full-time at a university; coordinated one of those courses; wrote regularly for a publication; and, aaah, wrote a book manuscript. Yes, all of that happened in the past year. I didn't really have weekends, or much in the way of evenings off. So you know what? I'm going to say, in full, unabashed delight, that this trip to Paris counts as a vacation. Yes, I'll likely do some work, but I'll also do a spot of croissant/shoe/book/clothes-shopping, or as much as the dismal euro-CAD exchange rate permits. And I'll have to see whether I now sound French-Canadian; if I get a chilly reception in shoe-and-croissant emporia, I won't know whether it's the old-new European anti-Semitism or the fact that I now may use the 'wrong' kind of French.

Rehovot, meanwhile, I know next to nothing about. Apparently there's really good hummus, some of which I'd like right now, please. (Maybe there's good Middle Eastern food in Toronto, but ingredient-wise, it doesn't seem possible.) It's also apparently 107 degrees these days, which, with it dipping to 37 today in Toronto, I'm having trouble even imagining. My plan is to go into Tel Aviv a bunch, assuming that's not incredibly complicated, and enjoy that which is non-Canadian (warm weather, a beach, amazing vegetables, and those sweet iced blended coffees...). Also to see Jerusalem, but in the way that doesn't involve swooping in and out, as I did on a tour when I was 8 (which I sadly remember none of) and, at 23, on Birthright (which I remember bits of, including the fact that I spent the group's big night out in Jerusalem in the hotel room, talking on the phone to my non-Birthright-eligible now-husband). Not quite sure what to do there, nor whether I own skirts long enough for it, but it seems ridiculous to be so close by and not have a look.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Urban micro-adventures

I could (and often, in my own head, do) compose tremendous lists of the superiorities of Toronto or New York (and, as much as I remember of it, Chicago) in various areas. But one place where Toronto always wins, and it's entirely subjective, is in the sheer fact that it's new. Walking-around season here only starts in May, both because of the weather and (again, subjective) because the grades are in, the semester finished. In Toronto, I can walk down a street for the first time. Not discovering it, not Columbusing it - I'm well aware that Toronto existed before I arrived, and all this new stuff is what makes it so exciting.

Re: "stuff," I mean... streets, coffee shops, and enormous, spontaneous Korean meals. I just look at Google Maps to see if there's likely to be anything on a particular block (often it's just residential or, more problematically, some kind of quasi-industrial park you have to exit via highway), and then see what's there.

This week alone, I've seen two whole new-to-me bits of the city. The first was Leslieville, which I'd been in part of and passed through by tram, but I had headshots done on one of the bigger side-streets (Carlaw), and then wandered around a bit afterwards. Got coffee at Te Aro, then regretted not leaving room for a further pastry at Bobette & Belle, which smelled amazing as I passed. There were also tacos that looked interesting, as well as a North Vietnamese restaurant that would have been my introduction to region-specific Vietnamese cuisine, if I hadn't already that day spent $90 on a professional necessity that nevertheless felt like vanity.

Today, after eating all the Korean food on Bloor, I decided to see what there is if you go north on Bathurst. And there's a bit, not a ton, but all new-to-me. Then I turned east on Dupont, the next big street. This is driving country (I'm in an incredibly posh coffee shop with ample parking and no listed prices, so I had to ask before ordering...), as well as the Ashkenazi restaurant strip - my people have a neighborhood, who knew? I don't know what this area is called, but would try some of that lox if (there's a pattern here) I hadn't just eaten.

It was between this coffee shop and another down the street. The flaw with that one was that it seemed as if it wouldn't have ice. This is where Toronto scores poorly: ice is a rare commodity, seasonally understandable, but my inner, not-so-hidden entitled American finds this incomprehensible.