Friday, August 19, 2011

Figs and Mirabelles

One of the best things about summer is the fruit.

One of my favorites, for as long as I can remember is figs.

My grandmother had a fig tree in her backyard and I remember waiting anxiously for fresh fig season.  Figs aren't a commonly found item at the supermarkets in SoCal.  Occasionally I'd find them, and the selection was small and they weren't always in the best shape.  More often than not, the best figs were from someone's tree.

I was very pleasantly surprised to find that figs can be found here anywhere fruit and vegetables are sold.  Not figs that have been transported many miles and are over ripe and already mostly squished an inedible, but big, fat, luscious figs, perfect for eating now.  Yum!

While I was buying fruit the other day, there was quite a crowd scooping up some lovely yellow and red fruit about the size of a large grape.  They were quite popular, so naturally, I had to try some.  I have discovered the wondrous Mirabelle!

Mirabelles are cousins to plums, and they taste very much like plums, but they're smaller and sweeter.  They are as delicious as they are beautiful.

The markets are full of beautiful, fresh summer fruit and it's tempting to buy all of it.  Sometimes, I wish summer was endless!  As soon as we've polished off the figs and mirabelles, we'll be back for more.  For now though, my taste buds are in a state of bliss as I relish the fruits of summer.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Pompidou and a Broken Heart

So the French have this crazy law that prohibits shops from being open on Sunday.

And by crazy I mean I love this law.  I love that they observe the Sunday as a day of rest ideal.  I love that Sundays are meant for family and rest and relaxation and recreation.  I love that people slow down for the day, get outside, go to the park, or for a walk or out of town.

A typical scene - it's Sunday, the shops are closed and the family is out for a stroll
And by crazy I mean the laws are incredibly complex because not every shop is closed on Sunday, obviously museums and tourist attractions are still open and public transportation is still operating and a lot of restaurants are open and some shops will be open because there are exceptions to the law in certain metropolitan areas, like Paris.  And there are the 500 or so cities that are declared as tourist areas and so there are additional exceptions that allow shops to be open.

Another typical scene - A Sunday afternoon and the shops are jammed!
And by crazy I mean, what? are they nuts?  missing out on all that revenue?  Which leads me right back to my first point - I love this law.  Some things are more important than making a few extra dollars, and obviously the French have figured out how to survive just fine without being able to go to the hardware store or the supermarket (after 1:00 pm that is, in some cases where the store is open - which leads me right back to complex!).

And so you just never know.

Chris and Jeff wanted to do some shopping, or at least some window shopping in some of the very cool Parisian department stores - Galleries Lafayette and Printemps. And because you just never know, we headed over to the 2nd Arrondissement in the hopes that the department stores in a very touristy part of town would be open.  But alas they were not.  We were near the Opera and we heard music, so we followed our ears:

Voila!  A band was making music on a Sunday morning!
A rather goofy, raucous and perhaps a bit inebriated band was making music on a Sunday morning.
I've got my eye on you and I have a feeling we will meet again...
C&J in front of Opera Garnier - they aren't too disappointed the shops are closed.
So...what does the average tourist who had their heart set on shopping do instead?  They go to the Pompidou, of course!

That crazy, inside-out modern art museum!
Modern art must be BIG 'cause that's a BIG building.
And it helps if you're not afraid of heights or escalators
Not all of the utilities are on the outside of the building, but putting most of them outside frees up the inside space
Preparing for the ascent - this reminds me a lot of the Monsanto ride at Disneyland :)
Up and up and up and ...
What we didn't know is that there is an art installation IN the escalator tubes.  As you ascend the multiple levels, the tubes are filled with the sacred chants of the Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir.  My camera doesn't have video, so I found a wonderful example of what the art installation sounded like on youtube:

There were multiple ascending escalators with platforms linking them.  As you ascended, the view of Paris got better and better:

One of my favorite views - quintessential Parisian architecture and Sacre Coeur on Butte Montmartre in the background!
By now you might be wondering what the heartache part of this post is all about.  I can assure you it wasn't because Galleries Lafayette and Printemps were closed and I can also assure you it has nothing to do with the Pompidou or chanting monks.  It almost could be the latter, though.  Up to this point in our day there was absolutely nothing heartbreaking.  I was happily ascending the escalators and looking forward to an interesting experience at the Pompidou and madly photographing the lovely views from the chanting escalators.  And then this happened:

Wha...???  What on earth is that?  Huh.  Let me try another.
Why is there a dagger down the middle of my photo?  What IS that?
Everyone knows that if you turn your camera back to horizontal, that fixes everything, right?  Well I'll be.  It's still there.
At this point, I think I started hyperventilating and I may have been babbling or perhaps I was saying things I don't normally say and there was definitely a tightness in my chest and it was hard to swallow and my heart surely did break.  Because my camera broke.  Heavy sigh.  And even though there's a white dagger running right through it, I like the above photograph.  I think Jeff is wondering what's wrong with me!  Even though I had never seen it before, I was fairly certain this was a shutter problem and I spent the next 20 minutes trying different things, but it was definitely broken.

No amount of wishing would make it not so
Normally, a broken camera wouldn't be such a big deal because I have 3 of them.  But we went to Paris and then we went home and then we went back to Paris and in all that flying back and forth, we somehow decided that we needed only one camera body.  What were we thinking?  We ALWAYS have a spare for things such as this.  

The trauma lasted for only about 30 minutes and then I calmed down and got rational again.  Chris and Jeff said they would FedEx another body to me when they got home.  Problem solved.  In the meantime, Chris and Jeff kept putting their camera in my hands, so the Pompidou was duly recorded!  Yay.

First we saw an exhibit of interesting lights and such.  At first, I didn't quite appreciate the neon lights as spaghetti.  But then I noticed the reflections on the floor and my opinion changed.  It's kind of pretty.
The reflections totally made this one
I won't even pretend to understand or like this as art
nor this - I mean really, Post-Tits?  Gah.
This, however; was kind of cool.  There are 10 1/2 mes and we're all different!  This artist also designed the metro entrance at Palais Royale. 
I really like this photo - but I'm not entirely sure I took it.  I think I did, but if I didn't, kudos to whoever did.
Wandering around the Pompidou was interesting.  We all ended up sort of going our own way and doing our own thing.  I spent a lot of time in the photography exhibit and that got me to thinking...

What can I do with a broken camera?

Take photos where the dagger is right at home!  I love this - if you had bionic eyes you could see me and the entire room behind me in the silver sphere
Take photos with very slow shutter speeds!  Sometimes they come out really cool.
Sit down on a bench and use your knees as a tripod - who cares how slow the shutter is now????
Or all of the above!  White background, sit on a bench, knees as a tripod, super slow shutter speed, subject is still.  No worries, no problem.
After seeing what the Pompidou has to offer, I think another reasonable option is to not care and call it art.  The White Dagger series.  Coming soon to a gallery near you!
We headed home after our Pompidou visit and I have to say, if nothing else, the Pompidou gets you talking and thinking about art.  We talked about it all the way home even though I was still trying to figure out what to do with a broken camera!

The White Dagger Series - Chatelet

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Love Affair With Yogurt

The first time I shopped at Monoprix I thought I had gotten turned around.  Wasn't I just on the yogurt aisle?  So I peeked around the corner and yes...yes I was just on a yogurt aisle.  One of the two yogurt aisles.  On the day I brought my camera to photograph the yogurt aisles, Monoprix was doing some interior redecorating, so instead of the 2 full aisles, there were 2 1/2 aisles of yogurt with more jammed on the ends:

six shelves high and  about 10 feet in length, this is one side of a yogurt aisle
Six shelves high and about 18 feet in length, this is another side of a yogurt aisle
Another side of a yogurt aisle, about 8 feet in length and 6 shelves high

It's kind of funny how we manage outside our comfort zone.  The first several times I bought yogurt I chose Yoplait.  In a sea of unfamiliarity, Yoplait was a name I knew so I could just buy it without having to figure anything out first.  I guess you can only tolerate so much new stuff in a day, or week or month.  I distinctly remember noticing the gazillion types and brands of yogurt but I also distinctly remember completely ignoring that fact and zeroing in on what I knew so that I could concentrate my efforts on the part of my shopping that would require a lot more time, patience and translating.

As I became more familiar with my surroundings and the Parisian way of living, I stepped out of my comfort zone much more often, or most likely, my comfort zone grew.  When shopping became more second nature, I started focusing on new and different things.  I remember watching another couple navigate the yogurt aisles, and I saw the gentleman select a pack that came in glass jars, so I decided to look for them.  For the first time since I'd been in Paris, I think I spent about 30 minutes just on the yogurt aisles, looking at all of the brands, types, flavors and packaging.

The array of yogurt is amazing.  There's cow's milk yogurt, goat's milk yogurt, sheep's milk yogurt, low-fat yogurt, non-fat yogurt, greek yogurt, flavored yogurt, plain yogurt, organic yogurt, yogurt that contributes to your digestive comfort, yogurt that's more like dessert and fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt.  If there is a different way to make yogurt, you will find it here.  To say I was overwhelmed by choices is an understatement! 

I was thrilled though, when I found yogurt in glass jars that wasn't goat's milk or sheep's milk yogurt! 
Citron, Vanille and Nature are the three flavors I found - Citron and Vanille are wonderful!
The yogurt in the little glass jars was amazingly good.  To be fair, since I always bought yogurt with the least amount of calories, I wasn't used to sugar-sweetened yogurt with real fat in it.  Still, it was like eating dessert!

Emboldened after trying something new and loving it, I searched out other yogurt brands.  I went to the Franprix market, it's about 1/10 the size of Monoprix so there weren't nearly as many yogurt brands-types-flavors to choose from.  What they did have though, was vanilla yogurt in lovely blue crocks.  I had to try it.

la fermiere yogurt
This yogurt was really good!  It is excellent by itself and even better with fruit.  I couldn't help imagining all the wonderful things I could do with the empty crocks.
I love these blue crocks and think they would be perfect for pots de creme!
Well, if Franprix has La Fermiere, surely Monoprix does.  But I was wrong (and I was right).  Monoprix didn't have it the first time I looked and now presume they were just out.  But I found another brand, in brown crocks!  I had to try it.
This is Danone brand, it is very thick and creamy.  We tried vanille and Mure (blackberry)
These are amazing yogurts and I don't think there is anything low-fat about them!  They are rich and thick and creamy and incredibly delicious. 

Very thick, very creamy fruit-on-the-bottom blackberry yogurt - yum!
I am quite sure I have never seen yogurt in glass jars or charming crocks in the U.S.  For that reason, I have sortof somewhat resolved that for my remaining time here, I am going to treat myself to the best yogurts I've ever had.  I'm not big on souvenirs from souvenir shops, but my yogurt jars and crocks are definitely the type of souvenir I like.  No matter what I choose to do with them, they will always remind me of my time in Paris and the incredible yogurt here. 

I love the little glass jars and the blue and brown crocks.  I've got quite the collection!
For many months now, yogurt has been a nearly daily staple in my diet.  I don't always eat the rich and creamy yogurts (too many calories I'm sure!), but something I have definitely learned to love is a rich and creamy yogurt with fresh fruit.

Apples and creamy vanilla yogurt - a refreshing combination

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Parc Disneyland

I have vague memories of my first visit to Disneyland, the original theme park built by Walt himself.  I was 4-ish and I remember Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Dumbo's Flying Circus, the Bobsled on The Matterhorn and the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction.  I really remember that one in a vague sort of way.  I remember that there was a big hall, with huge glass windows that were portals to all the fascinating creatures in the sea. Miraculously, these creatures hung out in front of the portals so we could see them instead of swimming away.  I remember that you could walk along a main path, and then take a few steps down to a viewing area closer to the window.  I remember that I wasn't keen on taking the step downs and getting closer to the window, especially not in front of the window behind which a gigantic squid was milling about.  I was less frightened viewing the gigantic squid from behind the safety of the railing that separated the main path from the sunken viewing area.  I remember sort of hanging on to the railing and then tragedy struck.  My mouse ears fell off and down into the sunken viewing area - right in front of the giant squid!  I was terrified and distraught.  I probably even cried.  My mouse ears were gone FOREVER as there was no way I could muster the courage to come face to face with that giant squid.  But my Daddy, my very courageous Daddy faced that nasty giant squid, with only inches and glass separating him from a creature that could devour him in one slurp, and he rescued my mouse ears!  Hooray!  It was a joyous moment.  I probably stopped crying.

Despite living less than 10 miles from Disneyland, we didn't and still don't go to Disneyland often.  I can't say for sure, but I think I've been there less than 20 times.    So when Chris and Jeff came to visit us here and one of their top things to do was go to Parc Disneyland, we were all for it!  And excited!  

Disclaimer and credit where credit is due:  I didn't take a camera!  Carrying around a 7 lb kit all day and getting on and off rides with it didn't sound fun, so we let Chris and Jeff document the day with their pocket camera.  All of the photos in this post are from their camera and most of the photos were taken by them.  Except the photos of them.  I probably took those.  Or Ron did.  So here's our day in photos:

And ha!  The very first photo is one I took at the train station, Marne-la-Vallée / Chessy Parcs Disneyland - Chris and Jeff are ready for an exciting day at Disneyland!

We thought this was the entrance, but alas, only a security checkpoint.  There were no lines, just a mob moving forward.  We are Americans, we cannot function without a queue.  We pondered, doubted, queried and mused as we inched our way forward.  Finally, they peeked in our bags and waved us through.  Easy peasy despite our queueless discomfort!
A path on the way to the main gate.  The lovely building is the Disneyland Hotel.  Beneath the building are arched passageways and ticket booths.  We had pre-purchased tickets so we walked right through.
Inside the main gate and on Main Street Square.  We found the lockers and then discovered that lockers are no longer available for use, so we were stuck with our jackets all day.
Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Phantom Manor - aka The Haunted Mansion
Warning!  If you don't speak French or English you might be scared.
Very cool photo! She looks very phantasmic.
Another view of Phantom Manor.  It is very similar to the Haunted Mansion - we had fun noting the differences. 

We stopped for lunch earlier than we anticipated, partly because some of were hungry, but I suspect mostly because this was a Mexican-themed eatery!  Yay for Mexican food!
We rode the train all around the park.  I guess the train ride TO Parc Disneyland didn't satisfy our daily train requirements!
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril - this is a roller coaster ride and we don't have this in Anaheim.  It broke down whilst we were in line.  We were smart though, and waited for them to fix it and get it going again.  It took only 30 minutes or so - it turned out that waiting, rather than leaving and coming back, was the better option.
Still waiting - Chris wasn't sure waiting was a good idea.  Yet. 

Yo ho! Yo ho!  A pirate's life for me!
Very similar, but not exactly the same ride as Anaheim - we had fun finding and noting the differences.
Instead of the Storybook Ride, they have Alice's Curious Labryinth.  I was the only one interested so we passed.
It's A Small World!  I think it is pretty much the same - the song definitely is.  It's a small world after all...
We had just gotten off Space Mountain - an AMAZING roller coaster which may or may not be just like the one in Anaheim.  It was dark, it was fast, it was twisty turny upside downy and it was fun.  It did make me a little queasy (dang, it stinks getting old!), so we watched the Autopia while our stomachs settled.
I forgot to mention that we made dinner reservations for the Blue Lagoon restaurant.  It is very similar to the Blue Bayou restaurant in Anaheim.  So this is us at the Blue Lagoon.
Chris and Jeff at the Blue Lagoon
Ron, with his flambeed Creme Brulee
The Pineapple dessert platter - Chris and Jeff got the same thing I think.  Sadly, the food here was less than stellar.  The atmosphere was wonderful, but oy - our dinner was very expensive and very undergood.  I remember the dessert being not bad though!
Ron and Jeff at Skull Rock
Chris and Jeff on Adventure Isle.

The suspension bridge on Adventure Isle

Moi on the suspension bridge - I managed, but not gracefully!

We left Parc Disneyland and headed over to Walt Disney Studios.  Closed.  Hmmm.  Our two-park, one-day passes weren't such a bargain after all.  And we got bum information from a very helpful if not inaccurate Disneyland employee.

Disney Village was open though - so we strolled through the village before heading back to the train station

We didn't go to McDonald's, but I think that has to be the biggest one I've ever seen!
Parc Disneyland was a lot of fun!  Naturally, there were a LOT of families there and the big thing these days is to get the kidlets a princess dress or other character outfit and they wear it over their street clothes.  We must have seen hundreds of little princesses there!

Having been away from home for awhile, a visit to Parc Disneyland was like a little visit back home.  There are a lot of differences, way too many to remember without taking notes, but I think the overall feel is very similar.  Disneyland is a magical place to spend the day, no matter what country you're in!