Dinner conversation

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I hate to admit it, but I went outside yesterday for the first time since Monday. Gui's mom was coming over for dinner and I knew I would be getting everything ready from about noon because I'm kind of neurotic like that. Leaving the apartment was like coming outside after being swathed in a cocoon for a few days, curious but unsure of what the world would be like now. It reminded me of that movie, I Am Legend, when Will Smith has to stay in hiding all night long until the sun comes back up. Locking the door of the apartment, I felt hopeful that I'd be greeted by warm temps and flip-flop-wearing pedestrians. But, I wasn't. The first guy I ran into was wearing one of those Russian-style fur hats with ear flaps and an ankle-length coat. My hands immediately began to freeze, but I shoved them in my pocket, put my head down and trudged along to Franprix. It was about 10 degrees colder in the store, and my hands went completely numb as I tried to get everything on my list. Neither asparagus nor strawberries were available (madness!), so I had to come up with a new side and dessert dish for the evening. I settled on a salad and moelleux au chocolat (small molten lava cakes).

Everything managed to fall into place for the evening, and I think I'm getting better at hosting dinner. In the past, I always felt a bit of pressure to serve things the "French way," but I'm loosening up a bit more and realizing it's fine to be different. We broke in some new Mikasa glassware we got for Christmas, and dined well on roasted chicken, salade composée, gratin savoyarde, and a nice red wine. I decided that I really enjoy dinners like this - at a dinner table and with proper dinnerware - as Gui and I tend to be more casual when we're getting our grub on (read: eating on a serving tray in front of the TV).

While I was preparing the gravy, Gui let his mom know that we're seriously considering moving to Austin in a year or so. It's something we discussed during our last trip and we've been talking about it since. I'd always known that we'd move back to the States someday, but it was a surprise to hear Gui tell me he'd like to move there soon - like in a year. Of course, I'm ecstatic about the idea, but there's still loads of stuff to work out before we make any concrete plans. It's difficult for me to think about Gui leaving his family and friends because I know how hard it's been for me. Despite his overwhelming reassurances, I still feel like he'd really miss his home, and I don't want him to have any regrets or disappointments once we leave. I could tell his mom was sad when he mentioned it, a little surprised and slightly disappointed. It's hard not to feel like I'm taking her baby away from her.

But, we have a lot of time to work everything out and make some final decisions. These past couple of weeks, though, I've really enjoyed being back in Paris. Sure, Winter in Paris blows, but I've still managed to stay light-hearted and optimistic even through the dreariest days. I know that Spring and Summer are around the corner, and despite having been properly seduced by the charm of my hometown, I'll admit that I'm a little worried that Paris might win me over yet.

'Might as well blog since I can't sleep

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Talk about some writer's blogger's block! I don't know what's gotten into me these days, but every time I remind myself that I have a blog to keep up with, I feel less and less inspired to write anything. I have a couple of posts just lingering about in my draft box, composed of meaningless drivel and pointless remarks on trite, day-to-day encounters. It sucks to feel so uninspired, especially when there's been a lot of socializing going on around these parts lately. Perhaps my lack of inspiration is coming from my current state of disarray about the transition I'm making from student to graduate (of sorts). Classes are over, and my mind is in a sort of state of shock as it tries to come to terms with its newfound freedom. Now, instead of finding interest (or disinterest) in the smallest of things - like the gloomy weather or the last movie I saw, it's feeling a little overwhelmed with the bigger picture - like what in the heck am I supposed to do next, and how do I spend my days without spending all our money? But as those latter, more profound questions are neither here nor there, it seems pointless to waste an entire post on trying to answer them. Instead, let me talk about the fun times that I've been having around Paris.

Last Sunday, Gui and I spent the afternoon with his dad's side of his family at a birthday party for his great-aunt and great-uncle who were celebrating a combined 160 years of life. I remember meeting them for the first time at our wedding; they hugged me and kissed me like I was already family, and then spoke to me in rapid-fire French while I widened my eyes and grinned. Seeing them again this time was not any different, except that after saying only a word or two in French, they praised me on my progress. (How on earth could they know that I've progressed after only saying, "Bonjour, oui, très bien, merci. Et, vous?") Of course there was a six-course meal served, songs were performed by the sons and daughters of the hosts, and they even hired a theater group to perform a few scenes. It was unlike any birthday party I've ever attended, but it was really enjoyable. Gui's family are all incredibly generous and kind, and I'm finding myself easily opening up to them and feeling more and more a part of the family. It's a good feeling.

On Monday, I headed over to La Sorbonne to read an excerpt from a story and answer questions about it during my fifteen-minute oral exam. This part of the test counts for something like 30% of my final grade, but I was confident after the "très bien, Sarah" comment my professor gave me when it was all over. I breathed a sigh of relief, and went along with a few other relieved students to celebrate our accomplishment with a tasty lunch and casual conversation about how hard learning a new language (especially French) is. It was a really great way to end the semester, I thought, even if I never have the chance to see any of them again.

Of course Tuesday was spent watching the tides turn and our new president take office. Apparently, all of Paris was in search of a place to watch history being made, which left us stuck outside of an overcrowded bar and in search of a TV. We found hope in a kitshy, American diner that appeared like a neon beacon at the end of the same street as the bar. We arrived before the crowds and snagged a table front-and-center with a perfect view of the screen. Over fries, onion rings and mozzarella sticks, we watched it all unfold and then raised our glasses of red French table wine to toast to our new president. I doubt I'll be forgetting that moment anytime soon.

Wednesday nights are spent with the knitting group at L'Oisive Thé, and are designated "cook your own dinner, I'm going to knit" nights. (I don't think Gui minds, actually.) Since finishing my first scarf, I've become somewhat of an addict about knitting. I've spent hours and hours pouring over the Ravelry website, gushing at some the things people can make with a couple of needles and a ball of yarn. The possibilities are endless, which makes it so hard for me to choose what to tackle next. I'm realizing, though that it's not a cheap hobby to have and that a little investment is required to get started on the more rewarding projects. I recently ordered a set of Addi-click needles and am now anxiously awaiting their arrival so I can get started on some of those more challenging patterns. I'll admit that half of the fun is picking out patterns and choosing the yarn - I never knew there were so many choices!

I picked up some sale yarn on Thursday afternoon after a trip to the first cupcake boutique in Paris. Sam invited me to meet up with her, Leesa and Dawn to scope out Cupcakes & Co in the 11th arrondissement. I honestly didn't have very high expectations, so the cold, dense cupcake I dug into wasn't such a disappointment. The cupcakes were pretty, the frosting was tasty and made with true-blue Philly cream cheese, but the final product wasn't really worth raving about. I still had a good time and got some cheap yarn out of it, too!

This weekend turned out to be jam-packed with fun stuff with fun peeps. Gui and I checked out Slumdog Millionaire on Friday and loved it. I cried like a baby, of course, but totally dug the whole bollywood influence. The soundtrack will be mine! We finished off the night with a tex-mex dinner and a mosquito cocktail at El Rancho, which hit the spot. Saturday's lunch date with Juliet and Marc turned into an all-day event. We started out at Les Pâtes Vivantes (as usual, thank you, Mr. Lebovitz) for a [very] late lunch, and after being shooed out of there before we could have dessert, we headed over to Île Saint-Louis for some delicious Berthillon ice cream. We opted out of going bowling and decided to skip right on over to happy hour at one of our favorite bars in the 5th. Juliet introduced us to the best mojitos in Paris (and cheapest, too!) while she ran down a list of all the things she's lost to the streets or cabs or bars of the big city. There was some sort of blackout in the bar, so we downed our drinks and headed over to Belleville where we ended the eventful night in the company of old friends and preppy-dressed punk-rockers.

I managed to roll out of bed today in time to meet up for a 2 p.m. jazz brunch on the same street as the cupcake shop. It's the first time I've ever been to a buffet in Paris, and I'm pretty sure it won't be the last. There was a great variety of food (although not much in the form of traditional breakfast grub), bottomless OJ, wine, coffee and tea, and a slightly lacking, yet still delicious spread of desserts. The music wasn't without praise either, and I found the entire ambiance of the restaurant strikingly harmonious. It'll definitely be at the top of the list of places to take people visiting Paris in search of a good Sunday brunch. It's the closest I've seen in Paris to the real deal (although, it'd be nicer if they swapped out the bottomless wine for bottomless mimosas...or bloody marys).

Our jazz entertainment.

Mise à jour

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Friday was my last day of French school. It's weird to think that it's already over, that I've been seriously studying this blasted language for over four months. I have mixed feelings about the last day. Part of me thinks that I've learned enough French to put into practice, but another part of me feels like I've only minimally progressed. I couldn't have been better instructed; in fact, my professor surpassed all of my expectations. I'll definitely recommend the courses to someone looking for professional French instruction, and I now understand why the school was so highly recommended to me. Still, I'm happy that it's over, and I'm looking forward to what comes next for me in Paris.

In other news, I've made progress on the health-coverage front. Today, I received my carte vitale, which means I can now get reimbursed for my medical visits [practically] right away instead of having to turn in paperwork and wait for the money to show up in my bank account. On top of that, today I picked up my new contacts and glasses from l'opticien, and I couldn't be happier. I was able to get two pairs of glasses - a light-weight titanium pair that I'll wear at home or when I'm looking for a lighter feel, and another more trendy pair of plastic frames that I'll wear when I don't feel like doing contacts. They also supplied me with a year-and-a-half's worth of disposable contact lenses and six bottles of contact solution. The last two bottles of regular, ol' contact solution I bought in Paris were 20 and 22€ each! Gui has a great insurance plan that will reimburse 100% of our costs, so I'm feeling really lucky about my new eyes. It's still a strange feeling for me to know that when I need to get glasses or contacts, I can just go and get 'em without having to call my health insurance and plan in advance how I'm going to pay for the eye-doctor's visit, frames, lenses and contacts. Next up is a trip to the dentist to see what's going on with this aching tooth I've noticed of late. After having good experiences with the eye doctor and opticien, and now that I have a nifty new carte vitale in my possession, getting my health shiz together is warranting more attention and less procrastination.

The titanium pair. I like how they look like they're barely there. They feel like it, too.

My trendy, little plastic ones. I tried on about 100 pair before finally settling on these. I wanted a different pair for every day of the week.

Happy Saint Guillaume Day!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

We don't celebrate saint days in the States - well, not on any grand scale that I'm aware of, anyway. But, in France, each day commemorates a saint, and if your name happens to be that of a saint, you can expect someone to wish you a happy saint's day. Today was Saint-Guillaume Day - or Saint William of Bourges Day, so Gui received a barrage of text messages and voicemails wishing him a bonne fête, which pretty much just wishes him a happy holiday. I find the whole French approach to religion strikingly oxymoronic, but I like the idea of having a commemorative "feastday" (as they describe on the catholic.org website) simply because you share the name of a saint. Who doesn't love feast days?

There isn't much to say about Saint Guillaume de Bourges except that he was a man who did lots of good things in his short life, like take care of the poor and less fortunate than him. However, I did note a couple of things of interest about him (well, to me, anyway). He performed 18 miracles in his life and 18 after. Not only is that just seriously impressive, but it is a pretty well-known fact that 18 is my lucky number. He was the canon (priest) of Paris at some point, but eventually decided to abandon the big city lifestyle for a more simple life in the north of France. I also find it pretty neato that he was canonized on May 17th, which just happens to be my birthday. Knowing all of this, I'd like to say that Saint Guillaume and I would be pretty solid pals if he were living now or had I been living back in the late 12th century. I'm quite content, still, with knowing that I'll be reminded of his goodness and grace every year that we celebrate his accomplishments via his modern-day namesake.

Goodbye sun, hello snow.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

We left Austin like a cheating man leaves his mistress in the night: reluctantly. Our hearts and stomachs were filled to the brim from all the things, people and places we had enjoyed. We ached to go back the moment we crossed into the next town, recalling all of the places we didn't have time to visit, all of the people we didn't spend enough time with, all of the things we just didn't do. I wiped a tear from my face before Gui could see it rolling over my cheeks, but I think he still sensed my sadness. On the bright side, we had one more day to spend with my mom, step-dad and brother in Dallas before heading back to France, so we were looking forward to that time to sort ourselves out before the long and emotional flight.

I spent the last day going through boxes of old clothes, pictures and junk - dusting off memories I'd completely forgotten about, sharing some of the fondest ones with Gui. How little I knew about how my life would turn out those short years ago! Most everything was sorted into a donation pile or the trash bin, as I decided once and for all to rid myself of the old tangibles I still held onto for emotional back-up. It's a strange thing being happily married and having more than a fair share of friends to keep my emotions in check. How lucky I've been to have such unwavering friendships.

Back in Austin, we fell back into the same, solid routines that had at one time seemed so trite, so banal. I haven't lived in that city for well over a year now, but nothing about it felt altered; not the shiny, new roads and overpasses, not the fancy new bar, not the tall and foreign buildings going up. It was an old pair of jeans, and for Gui, I perceived it was the same. He remarked more than once how much he missed the place; his eyes would glow when we'd ride down familiar roads, grab a beer on the terrace of our old neighborhood bar, or stop in at our favorite eateries for a small slice of heaven. He was home, too.

We tried to get as much time in with friends as we could, but 4 1/2 days is just not enough to see everyone and do everything. We were happy to have at least been able to see all the babies that we'd yet to meet, and spend some time with our adorable Oak Tree. My dad took us out to Lockhart for the best barbecue in Texas (though, I might venture to say it's the best in the world), and we spent a few hours hanging around his place, looking through photo albums, talking about cars and football. Our friends more than spoiled us with two steak-nights chez eux, but we only managed to squeeze in enough time to get through about 40% of our "list of places to eat while in Texas." 'Guess we'll have to go back soon for more.

Our vacation came to an end so quickly, and I'm finding that even the sun in Paris is slightly dimmer than it was in Texas. How far away everything seems! How cold and gray! How fast and sad! We flew into a snow-laden city, iced over, grey and dim. I'm still in a bit of a haze after the long, delayed flight - going through the motions of a well-known routine, but feeling hollow and metallic. Even the beaming Eiffel Tower floating in a sea of snow didn't warrant a double-take.

I feel a little bitterness towards Paris right now, but it's not Paris' fault. Austin is everything Paris could never be (would never want to be, I'd pressume), but it's everything that I love and miss while living here. It's home, it's food, it's warmth and love. It's sunny days spent at Woodrow's, drinking a hefeweizen in the dead middle of winter while everyone else goes through the winter blues. It's having a leisurely Sunday brunch with friends on a whim while everyone else struggles to find a decent restaurant in their town. It's scoring complimentary champagne from the bar owner because you come to your favorite bar each Saturday night, while everyone else is paying 15€ for a crappy cocktail.

But, Paris is where we live for now. Even though I'll continue to daydream about our recent vacation, it's time to get back to life - back to reality (yes, that's some Soul II Soul '80s backflashing for you).

Gui at Smitty's Market, Lockhart, Texas.

The pit at Smitty's.

Yum, barbecue on butcher paper, orange soda and Texas beer (NOT Bud Light, btw).



On our way out for NYE (I love these faces).

NYE at Péché, Austin, Texas. (Love these face, too!)


Our last day in Austin - hanging out at Woodrow's on Sixth (it was around 80 degrees).

Friends at Woodrow's.

Our last meal (mom's tostadas, spanish rice and "Josie's Enchiladas").

Flying over Paris yesterday afternoon.

Getting ready to land at CDG.

A sleepy Gui on the train from the airport.
TEXAS SARAH. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.