cathedrals of Paris

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Such is the ubiquity of epic cathedrals, chapels, and churches in Paris and its environs that after eight months here, it has become hard for me to keep track of all the ones I’ve seen. They have started fading together into one massive mental image of stained glass, limestone, and flying buttresses. I am loathe to admit it, but I have started abstaining from stopping in if I happen upon one unawares and it is more than, say, 100 feet from me when I spot it.

It’s not that I take them for granted – quite the opposite, in fact. The more of them I see, the more I want each visit to be special and unique and not at all rushed or an afterthought. With that in mind, here are images of some of my favorites, including Sainte-Chapelle, the most overwhelmingly beautiful manmade space I have ever been lucky enough to set eyes upon. And guess what? Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur are both great, but they don’t even make it into my top ten…  Continue reading

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Luxembourg for a day

IMG_4314Disclaimer: I’m very drugged up right now, for reasons I may or may not explain at a later date. Please excuse any weirdness…

Last month I took a high-speed train that got me from Paris to Luxembourg City in less than three hours. Then I had nine hours (as it turned out, the perfect amount of time) to explore the small, verdant city before catching another high-speed train back home. Pictures / drug-infused descriptions after the jump. Continue reading

Drinking Sancerre in Sancerre

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It makes sense that the first (and let’s be honest, probably the last) poem I ever wrote in French was inspired by drinking Sancerre in Sancerre:

C’est clair, si je vais boire un verre,
Mon vin préféré, c’est sancerre
Maintenant je suis sûre,
Que la joie est plus pure
Quand on boit le sancerre sur sa terre.

(I’ll leave the translation to you.)

My first taste of Sancerre was during the spring semester of my senior year at college.

I went for drinks with other soon-to-be-graduating friends at a French-style bistro just off campus. We sat around a small outdoor table in the fresh April air of a faux Parisian terrace, eked out of a Manhattan sidewalk. I had only recently crossed over the divide into legal drinking, and the freedom of choice was thrilling. When a friend of a friend who seemed to come from a glitzy background suggested we order a bottle of Sancerre – her absolute favorite, she said – I was incredulous she could remember the name of a wine, annoyed that a 21 year-old claimed to have a specific wine preference, and even more annoyed that it just happened to be the most expensive one on the menu. We were college students, not college professors.

Still, when the bottle of almost-white rosé arrived and I took my first sip, I had to admit there was something special about this wine. It was crisp and refreshing, with a hint of sparkling grapefruit, and for the first time, I truly enjoyed drinking a glass of wine. I am not sure whether it actually tasted sophisticated or whether I simply read sophistication into the experience, but from that moment on I linked Sancerre with both exceptional taste and understated elegance. In the more than 15 years since that spring evening, it’s the only wine whose taste my ridiculously forgetful palate can identity, the only one I get excited to see on a wine list, and the only one I’ve ever splashed out for at a wine shop.

So, when I realized that the town of Sancerre was less than three hours from Paris, an idea inevitably took shape. How amazing would it be, I daydreamed, to drink a glass of Sancerre in Sancerre?IMG_3526
The answer is: incredibly amazing, especially if it’s a perfectly bright and crisp autumn day, your friend Simona is in town, and your only ambition is to wander around the countryside sipping wine and eating cheese.
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Some more pictures, after the jump… Continue reading

Thanksgiving in Paris

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Happy Thanksgiving, to those who celebrated last week! Thursday and Friday were work days here, so I hosted a belated potluck dinner on Saturday, after spending a small fortune at the Thanksgiving store (actual name), where they have a corner on the market for cranberries and pumpkin pie filling, and at my local rotisserie, where I ordered a 7kg bird that they cooked on a spit. Continue reading

Seville

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So, Seville. It’s such a many-splendored city that my selects folder has 44 photos in it, even though I usually stick to a 15-image limit for any one post.

First of all, it’s a rich and therefore gilded city. Second of all, its aesthetic has been shaped by several very different cultures –  Moorish, Catholic Spanish, and Gothic European. Sometimes all three influences are visible in one structure, to fascinating effect. Third of all, the ornateness and scale of the town’s three or four big eye-poppers is such that they are impossible to do justice to in only a couple of images. But, I scrapped a bunch of photos nevertheless, in order to leave you with what I hope is a nice and concise impression of a very nice and very grandiose city. Continue reading

Madrid

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In mid-September I spent three days in Madrid, but I had work meetings in an office outside the city center for two of those days, so I didn’t get much of a chance to sightsee. Still, I packed a lot of wandering into my one day off, and I got a much better sense of the city than I did the first time I came here in 2000. That was also a short visit, of two days I think, but I may as well not have gone because I spent the whole trip ensconced in personal drama, walking around in a daze and absorbing nothing of Madrid’s essence. 17 years later, I got a second chance to see what I had missed the first time around… Continue reading

Avignon

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My love for Avignon was almost immediate and grew in leaps and bounds with every corner I turned. And unlike the other four towns and cities I visited in the South of France, my feelings went beyond mere admiration or appreciation. I felt a strong connection and chemistry with this place. I don’t really know why, but I think it has something to do with the way it embodied both my town and my countryside ideals: the perfect size (about 500,000 in the urban area), full of old beautiful buildings, full of history and culture, full of delicious things to eat, a mild and sunny climate that still has seasons, and a landscape of trees, hills and rivers.

I was being considered for a remote job at the time that I visited, and I strolled along the streets fantasizing about installing myself in Avignon and telecommuting from my corner bistro. It was an intoxicating idea, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t get the job, but at least my dream life wasn’t shattered until after I got back to Paris. And by then my weird change of heart had started to kick in and I didn’t mind sticking around up north after all.

Anyway, a few Avignon pix: Continue reading

Have a good weekend!

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It is an especially happy Friday for me because my friend of almost 25 years is coming to visit on Sunday, AND she is bringing my winter coat from New York, AND we’re going to visit Sancerre together.

I also bought a ticket tonight for a day trip to Luxembourg in mid-November. At some point over the past year I realized that I was 37 years old and had been to 38 U.S. states and 37 countries, if you count Puerto Rico, England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland individually. I decided that I’d attempt to keep my country and state counts up to or ahead of my age for as long as possible. I turned 38 this week, and I haven’t been to a new country since I left Senegal in March… so no time like the present. I have heard there are lovely fall colors in Luxembourg and I’m hoping the leaves stay on the trees long enough for me to appreciate them.

In the meantime, I’m continuing to love Paris in the fall, and I’m filled with even more joy knowing that in two short days I’ll have a puffer coat to hide out in as soon as the temperature drops.

I leave you for the weekend with some interesting things I read this week:

Proof of what I have long known to be true about speaking foreign languages while tipsy.

Some useful French idioms. Avoir le cafard (to have the cockroach, i.e. to be sad) is my favorite, obviously.

Want to travel around the world for a full year, writing for the New York Times? So does like half the planet.

The official guardians of the French language have a problem with gender inclusive writing, not surprisingly (since they are textbook fuddy duddies).

Even on our own, we’re always in translation. (A beautiful letter of recommendation.)

An ‘accidental dictionary’ explores how errors created the English language.

Have a lovely weekend!

Aix-en-Provence

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Aix-en-Provence is a gorgeous town that I will forever associate with Candyland, because within five minutes of my arrival I happened upon the most wondrous food festival – in celebration of the local confection, the calisson – in the plaza a few steps from my AirBnB.

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In addition to the star attraction in every color and flavor, there were wedges of nougat as big as wheels of cheese, macarons that looked like watercolors, marshmallows in soft pastels, every kind of jam and jelly, and a variety of cookies for good measure. Continue reading

how do you say catch-22 in French?

 

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Here’s a fun way to make your head explode:

To be officially hired for a particular job in France, I have to pass a criminal background check. Since I was born outside of France, by law the documentation can only be sent to me directly, not in care of a third party. I know this because I received a rejection notice after I tried to have the letter sent to my would-be employer.

There are no apartment numbers in the building where I live (a mind-boggling Parisian tendency), and the mailman or guardian or whoever it is slides the mail addressed to each resident underneath the resident’s door. God knows why there is no mailbox and they make that poor person climb seven flights of stairs daily. Regardless, he or she has no idea of my existence, so without the name of the official resident somewhere on a letter addressed to me, it wouldn’t get further than the lobby. I suppose I could tape a note to my door that says, “Please leave mail for Ruth Fertig here.” But the person who sublet the apartment to me is doing so without permission, and I don’t want to risk getting him into trouble.

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There does not seem to be a P.O. box system in France the way there is in the United States and even if I am wrong about that, I am pretty sure the background check can only be sent to residences.

You can apply for a proxy fixed address through a community center in your “associated” arrondissement, so that you can pick up all your mail there. But I have heard from someone who works at one that all 40 or so of the centers in Paris are overwhelmed and not accepting new applications, which are subject to two months’ processing time in any case.

The only way for me to get my own fixed address is to officially lease an apartment… but you cannot rent an apartment here without providing proof of employment. You see where this is going.

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And just to make things really interesting…

To be paid for the job, I need to have a French bank account.

To open a French bank account, I need to submit proof of a salary. And an address.

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Around and around we go.