Sunday, September 16, 2007

France (okay Paris and wine country for now)

So I write you in Paris, after a full week in France, in an apartment that Guy swapped with a French couple in a neighborhood I frankly don’t know how to label.

It is a great area, don’t get me wrong, but since they don’t label towns like “the upper west side” or “the village”, all I can tell you is it is in arrondesmont (neighborhood) 12, and I can best liken it to an up-an-coming area in Brooklyn, although Paris seems much more compact on a map since it all seems connected, save for the river Seine splitting it down the middle. I am quite happy with the apartment since I’m nowhere near a touristy hotel and I’ve experienced Paris like a true Parisian, a very stupid and totally incommunicable one!

Backing up, I decided to book a flight from Prague to Paris as the train seemed a bit too long and I arrived in Paris relatively late Sunday Sept 9th. I took the bus from the airport and then a cab and found Guy at this apt share without any difficulty.

I was worried I ruined Guy’s day by the late arrival but since he had gotten in 2 days earlier, he was just getting over his jet-lag and really only managed a couple of sights in that time and no real partying.

We looked at our maps and took a subway to the nearest area that might be hopping on a Sunday night, and while we had little luck, we found an Irish pub and drank overpriced beers until 3 in the morning. (hey, we didn’t even make it OUT until 12:30!)

Also, let me add that France in general is all about the World Cup of Rugby, and all the pubs are chock full of Irish, British and especially Scottish people…yes, with kilts.

Screw it, rather than this boring diary shit of dictating what we did, let me speed up and say Guy and I spent 3 nights in Paris, and since he was here 2 days before me, I’m fairly certain I annoyed the shit out of him since, as I told you, it takes me 3 days to understand my way in a town, and he was hoping I’d get up to speed and help out with the navigating.

On the contrary! The fact is I put myself on autopilot and simply followed him around like a ritilen-sedated child and learned less than if I had been by myself. Oh well, I we are best of buddies so he’s well aware I bring nothing to the table in any area, travel included. And if you choose to read well on, you will see I found my way in Paris on trip two!

I shall let Guy tell you the story of his heroic drunkenness Tuesday as well, but let me say that it involved him drinking an ENTIRE bottle of Absynth, and amazingly he didn’t lose his composure AND didn’t murder me in my sleep. I had no Absynth, but I did have many beers of course.

Guy and I were amazed by how freaking clean Paris is, as I have noted in many cities, but Paris is REALLY clean, and the subways are otherworldly clean. No rats. No brown sludge and stalactites growing on the 80-year-old supports like in NYC, just very clean and well-decorated platforms to see. And I wouldn’t have noticed if Guy hadn’t pointed it out, but the trains run on tires so you have a very smooth ride. Worth mentioning I suppose.

While we enjoyed Paris for 3 nights, the fact is Guy had this place for 2 full weeks but wanted to hit wine country before he hit a wedding in Toulouse for the weekend.

I figured I’d join him on the trip to Bordeaux/wine country and then head back up to Paris when he went to the wedding, which is exactly what I did. (geez, why am I so boring tonight? Oh, because of the $8 bottle of French wine that would’ve cost me $150 in the states…sorry about that)

Let me just paste comments from wine country:

(2 nights into wine country)

I sit in the hotel lounge in Saint Emilion, roughly 20 km due east of Bordeaux, recently having uncorked a 2001 bottle of Chateau Bigaroux, which I learned was a very good vintage here in Saint Emilion on my wine tour today, and the region of Saint Emilion is where the absolute best wines in the world are made. (including the bottle of Chateau Chavel Blanc Paul Giamatti covets in “Sideways”, if you care to know)

The wine tour also made me very interested in wine-making. I have to say, I never got into the beer-brewing craze, only because I've always liked simple beers that don't have fruit and shitloads of sugar thrown into them. Also, the first time I ever got "drunk", (okay buzzed) was from my older brother's friend Vince's home-brew, and I'm not even certain it had any alcohol in it.

But I'd like to take a crack at bottling my own wine...of course, the only grapes I have access to are in my parents back yard. I learned that while wine has a hell of a lot to do with climate, it also has to do with the soil and factors such as growing grapes atop a limestone deposit, where the soil retains all of its nutrients and isn't washed away.

Of course, my parents grape-vine is situated atop our septic tank, which isn't quite as temping, but in 2008 look for my premier bottle of "Chateau La Merde".

But back to this bottle I have in front of me.

No, I didn’t buy this at the vineyard tour, though I did buy one bottle, but I’m letting that age a bit. (translation: I HOPE to have it 2+ years but know I will probably drink it in the next 2 days)

And how much was the bottle I’m drinking? (which is f#*king awesome, by the way)

15 Euro!!!! (about $22…it would be at least $100 in the states, and the 25 euro bottle from Chateau Mauvigne would be roughly 6 million dollars)

If that doesn’t piss you off, know that 2 hours ago I had a 4 course meal of foie gras and pinapple, filet mignon, salade, cheese and meat platter and crème brule for desert (with more fantastic Bordeaux throughout of course).

We don’t know exactly when we will die, but I feel very privileged I know the APEX of my life, and this is it. Sure a hot chick would have helped, but creepy American loner beggars can’t be choosers, you know?

But seriously, in Ireland, my general reaction was “wow, this is cool”, and then in Norway and Germany it was “this is the life!”, and then Prague “it will never get better than this!”.

But France? Here in wine country? Well my reaction has been simply “wow, now I’m just being an asshole.”

With the endless supply of affordable wine and amazingly good cheeses and food in general, I have a shit-eating grin on my face that only swiping my badge to enter work could remove.

C’est horrible!

And by the way, let me say that the foie gras wasn’t very good. Sure I am the pickiest eater alive but I DO like liver, and I DO like Duck, but force-feeding a duck to achieve this taste doesn’t seem worth it. I’ve been force-feeding myself for nearly a month now and my liver probably tastes of tobacco and booze, and it recently inspired a new measurement on the Moe’s Hardness Scale as it is harder than diamond. (huh?)

Guy only spent one night and a day in Saint Emilion before he had to head down to Toulouse, and I was enjoying myself so much (seriously, look at the pictures) I stayed another night.

While having yet another glass of wine and a plate of cheeses at a random cafe at lunch today, and marveling at just how FRENCH it all felt and how relaxed I was, Freddy Mercury started screaming ominously through the speakers, threatening to rock me. Now, let me say Freddy Mercury is one of my top 5 favorite vocalists, but at that moment, it was a little jarring.

A few songs later, and I shit you not, Alanis Morissette’s “Isn’t it ironic?” came on, and while I wasn’t drinking Chardonnay and it wasn’t a black fly, a freaking gnat flew directly into my Bordeaux. Mon Dieu!

The worst part is I spent at least 10 minutes trying to decide if that really WAS ironic, contrary to Alanis’ widely regarded misunderstanding of the word. I eventually decided it STILL wasn’t, just a coincidence…(do you agree?)…and then I fished the gnat out and drank it anyway. (Isn’t it pathetic? Don’t you think?)

And you will note from the pictures (which I haven’t uploaded yet of course) that it was a bit of an older crowd, but I didn’t care in the least as I needed to relax and enjoy a non-urban area.

Paris Trip 2: Final 4 days in France:

I took a train from Saint Emilion to Bordeaux and then hopped on a train to Paris without a problem. Would have liked to spend a night in Bordeaux, but I must say the Gypsy in Prague really threw off my budget and did I mention, GUY HAD A FREE PLACE TO STAY!?!

Friday night I was a bit exhausted but still rallied enough to hit the town for a while, but at this point I was getting MIGHTY frustrated at how terrible my memory is of the French language.

Let me back up and say that I took 2 years of French in high school, and unlike many subjects, I always got straight As. I THEN took 1 semester in college as the 2 years wasn’t enough.

THEN, over ten years ago I dated a French-Vietnamese gal who insisted on giving me refreshers in French and for a while there, I must say I knew French pretty well. Okay not well at all but I could read 70% of it and speak and understand about 30% of it.

But I forgot nearly all of it since then. Luckily Guy bought some “learn French in a week” type books and I refreshed some of my knowledge, but on the whole I am useless.

Terribly useless.

Anyway, Friday was uneventful, and after catching a couple sights Saturday day (yes, I actually did the Eiffel Tower after dissing it, and it was very cool I must say) I hit the town again Saturday night.

I really didn’t feel like doing a pub crawl, which I could have, just felt like hanging out in the immediate area of where the apartment is. I grabbed some French bread and a much needed salad (although the salad had loads of ham and eggs in it, which was fine, as long as I can say I had a salad!) and hit a couple local bars.

The second bar I went to, after noticing it was full of guys, many of whom were drunken train-wrecks and some slurring so much I almost understood their French, I decided to stay!

It turns out this bar was full of French-Algerian dudes, and they all were very nice. Okay 3 of them were nice, the others were totally hammered vegetables, but this fit all my requirements of a shady dive bar so I was happy.

The bartender was the nicest guy, but another guy Bruno (yes Bruno), was the one who decided to take me under his pungent wing for the evening.

He spoke English very well, although after reading up on the French refresher books again, I really wanted to speak some French as most of the guys spoke little English, but Bruno wasn’t happy with me butchering his language.

This is not because Bruno was practical, but because he was one of those “randomly angry drunk guys”. Seriously, he was nice as can be for about 20 minutes at a time, and then out of nowhere, he would call me a prick or lambaste me for something. It was not tourette’s syndrome but just the fact he was an angry drunk I guess.

I of course found him fascinating, and I’m fairly certain if I wasn’t a menacing looking fellow he may have beaten me up about 5 times.

He also hated that I couldn’t say his name correctly, as the French pronunciation would require me to have 6 shots of Novocain and 20 beers.

But after 30 minutes in this place, noticing there were NO women to be found, I asked Bruno “Ou sont les femmes?” (where are the girls?…well I think that is what it means)

He seemed angered by this as well, not because it was a gay bar or anything but just because Bruno is an angry guy (and I think his parents knew this, thus the name)

All of the sudden, a very cute French gal who I learned was a regular walks in.

At one point, when all of the bar was talking to me, I mentioned I am from New York and live in Manhattan and work for blank (all lies technically, but GREAT to have in your arsenal) and from that moment on the cute French gal was eyeing me like Oprah eyes Haagen-Dazs after a fight with Stedman.

But Bruno, angry drunk connoisseur that he is, proved to be an even BETTER cock-blocker, for while he was the first to point out the cute gal wanted me, he put on a show of cock-blocking like I have never seen, by not only ensuring I didn’t talk to her, but by eclipsing my view of her so impressively, I barely got to SEE her.

You are probably thinking like I was that perhaps since she is a regular that all the guys look out for her, but hey, the whole rest of the bar seemed to understand I’m an okay guy, and probably knew I’d strike out with this vixen anyway, so what was the big deal?

I’m divulging too much here but basically Bruno wasn’t really blocking the view as much as happy to have a friend I guess. After at least 30 minutes of this, I juked Bruno like Tim Duncan avoids a pick and roll and found myself next to the French gal…but it was too late as she had JUST gotten her tab and was headed home. (She was also probably horrified by the vision of me up close, but lets say otherwise)

Oh well, I am useless.

Bruno then took me out to a couple bars, okay only one really, and at this point I was thankful for his efforts but he was rather unstable and I was getting tired. Seriously, red wine at dinner sucks the energy out of me…in a good way as going to bed at 3 or 4 am is NOT healthy. I made it to bed before 1am that night! And no, Bruno was not sleeping with me.

Come Sunday, as I write you now, I was eager to hit a few more sights, like the Louvre and Versailles, but I found myself unable to get motivated. REALLY unable. Sure I did some laundry and organized my travel a bit, but I was alarmed at how fatigued I was, despite no obvious hangover.

I had a serious bout of “the stupids” as well.

Like I said, I’ve been learning more and more French since I arrived, but on this day I couldn’t speak a damn thing.

For instance, I told a convenience store clerk “good night” at 1 in the afternoon.

And when a fellow said thank you after borrowing my lighter, I told him “see you tomorrow!”

I realized I was in a funk so impressive I had forgotten the most basic of exclamations, and frankly, I’m fairly certain I would have had the same responses in English.

It took me a while to realize it had been a full five days since I went for a run. And since I have been eating out every meal, and the French deep-fry almost everything that isn’t already fatty meat, my veins were pulsing with blood as viscous as play-dough.

I’m telling you, since I’ve grown to enjoy running, NOT running, while fun in itself, really puts you in a funk. (You were right Joe, running is oddly enough like smoking, you only do it since you feel odd if you DON’T do it)

Anyway, I put my sightseeing off for the day, laced up my hideous jogging shoes, iPod with distance tracker chip and terrible red shirt and made my way toward Lake Daumesnil, and before you know it, I was running like the wind, though totally without energy.

Well, sure I started off terribly, and the sand/gravel path only made me more miserable and thirsty, but pretty soon I was loping along gracefully, with a stride best likened to an effeminate T-Rex with an equilibrium disorder, and after 5 miles, I was a new man!

At one point in the run, forgetting which direction was north and south, I stopped and asked directions to a couple cute gals and I must say my French was not too shabby. The lesson? Running is good and I only talk to gals when smelly and covered in sweat.

I came back, showered, and was ready to have a nice meal and then see my friends at the bar from the night before (and yes, I was fairly certain Bruno would not be there).

Well, either the bar was closed or I totally forgot where it was in the first place so my evening involved a great meal, some wine of course, a beer at an equally shady bar without the friendly/angry patrons and then I’m back now writing you.

Since I know my last 36 hours in Paris will be full of sights and planning my next destination, I shall end my France blog now. (I think)

From what I have written, you would think I’ve found Paris so-so, but that isn’t the case!

I haven’t met many friends in Paris but this town is simply awesome. Hell, I lived in New York a good 5 months before hitting my stride, and I HAD friends when I arrived.

And I didn’t even want to come to Paris in the first place, as I thought it would be touristy and essentially is a place you come to if you have a significant other.

And as I walked along the river Siene at night, I must say it was indeed romantic. I was all over myself. Okay just kidding, but I could definitely see how it would be romantic with a gal, if I weren’t a lethal combo of hideous and unable to commit.

As for tourists?

Well it wasn’t too bad, and I actually liked that the French don’t bend over backwards to cater to tourists and certainly don’t feel the need to learn English, so they have their very own attitude that is different from the rest of Europe.

But make no mistake, I didn’t encounter a single episode of “rude” French people (Bruno excluded, but he was a fantastic outlier) and on the whole the French are very hospitable and a genuinely cool bunch of folks.

Let me also say that as well as Europeans dress in general, the French are some well-dressed cats, whether male or female, gay or straight, we ain’t got shite on them in NYC.

Oh yeah, and in case you are wondering why I didn't hit the Riviera, well, I decided I was running out of time and to utilize the free place in Paris. (there are worse places to extend your stay!)

I also was so impressed by France that I want to fully refresh my French and become fluent (mostly) so I can return and hit the south of France! (Steph, I will need your help here! And no that doesn't involve you being the miracle worker, just making sure to test me once in a while!)

Also, I decided to squeeze in another destination...but since I'm sure about 2 people have read this far, no guilt on keeping you in suspense!

Paris (& wine country) Ratings:

The scenery: 10 (as impressive as Prague, though their buildings are more 18th & 19th century impressive, as opposed to medieval and baroque-design impressive…and yes, the man who still proclaims Airplane is the best movie ever just typed that)
The "local feel": 9
The bars: 6 (truly was hoping for more, but I think I was VERY malinformed here)
The food: 9.5 (holy crap, the food is amazing, and I only shaved off half a point since I was kinda tired of “jambon”, but only because I kept picking it as I couldn’t remember much of the other menu option meanings)
The friendliness of patrons: 9
The ladies' presence: 8 (very, VERY cute and sexy gals of all ages here…no clue how they stay so thin with all good food, good food that ALWAYS involves something deep-fried)
Desire to return 10 (not until I learn French! And I want you, my friends, to hold me to this, if in 1 year I haven’t become markedly more fluent, please kick me in the balls forcefully)
Value for Money 10 (they get this on the fact that I have eaten in a French restaurant 3 or 4 times in the states, and my whole trip has cost me less in Paris…seriously, never once felt like something was overpriced)
Opinion of Americans 6 (I didn’t help here…the guy who borrowed my lighter is probably still wondering why I would intend to see him tomorrow)


Stephanie said...

So glad you enjoyed my country Kevin! Of course, I will help you with your French - mine comes back after a few glasses of wine ;-)

Fuckaire said...

No phone, eh? Perhaps I should cease texting you.

No updates in over 2 weeks? Pass the ketchup!!!

Guy said...

Dude, you left out the part about the crazy Irishman in St. Emillion singing that Rod Stewart song in the middle of the night (or whatever song it was).

As for the Absinthe, people were saying that it wasn't REALLY Absinthe and that it isn't available anymore, which made sense and made me feel slightly better about myself as ingesting the quantities that I did should have done more to me. Either I have an incredible tolerance, or I am like Meatwad in Aqua Teen Hunger Force and I have a substandard, removable brain. Unfortunately I did some research and it was indeed real Absinthe replete with wormwood and as it turns out I am indeed simply demented.

Good times - nice work on the ratings. I was surprised as well that it is such a "quiet" town (when compared to NYC or Old Town Scottsdale).

By the way, you missed the women. South of France my good man - the South of France. As you would say, "Mon Dieu!" They all look like models and are not...shy.

We shall go back when our collective French is better, and when I find a way to quit you (Brokeback Mountain is my favorite movie).