Thursday, February 23, 2012

Le Monde à Paris (The World in Paris)

There is so much I love about this place that is quintissentially French- the bread, the boulevards, the purplish light that settles over the city at the exact moment you're crossing one of the many bridges over the Seine in an attempt to get a small child home before dinner time... But I also love how easy it is to find just about anything you need or crave in this city, from bagels with cream cheese to sinfully delicious Spanish jamóm serrano. After all, this is one of the things I love about New York as well. So, it should come as no surprise that I practically squealed with joy when I found this gem of a book called "Le Monde à Paris" (The World in Paris). Now, with an easy flick of the wrist, I can land on the pages telling me where to go get my eyebrows threaded at an Indian salon, where to find real Portuguese fado music and, most importantly, who stocks the best English-language children's books and DVDs. After swooning over the literary atmosphere oozed by English-language bookstores like Shakespeare & Co. and Village Voice and deeming W.H. Smith (on Rue de Rivoli) decidedly less artsy (but still functional, of course), I've decided to elevate it a few notches. The second floor, which I just visited today for the first time, is a veritable gold mine of Britishness, from Marmite and other food stuffs to a fully-stocked kids' DVD collection. While the Disney empire has made sure just about every movie is available in every country around the world and sells videos here with at least 3-4 audio language options, there are some things that just haven't been popularized among French children. One of these is the very British Angelina Ballerina, a dancing mouse Malanga Girl happens to adore. Thanks to W.H. Smith and their grand second floor, I saved myself a trip to London and came home with an Angelina Ballerina DVD for my local Angelina fan.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dance Party!

Here's a shot from a very fun-filled play date this week. It's hard to get a good picture of kids dancing, so excuse the blurriness. The dress-up clothes were provided by our very generous Franco-American hostess, age 4.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Finding the Universal

A friend reminded me the other day, via e-mail, that the New Yorker anniversary issue was out- that special double-thick issue bursting with new fiction and sure to contain all the American literary and political gossip I've missed out on since coming to France. Since there is little else open on Sundays and a museum outing with Malanga Girl had to be cut short (sadly and disastrously), it was the high point of my day to go to the newsstand in search of the New Yorker magazine. Only after spending eight euros did I realize that it was last week's issue, not the anniversary issue. After much sighing and muttering (only slightly assuaged by the fact that the cover price of the NYer is actually $5.99, something I failed to notice in my subscribe for ten-years-at-a-time days), I settled in with the magazine on my Parisian sofa and realized I could still obtain great pleasure from reading its pages, anniversary issue or not. Later still, I settled into reflecting on this whole question of home and culture and a feeling the French call mal du pays but for which I prefer the Portuguese term saudade. I reflected on the very specific things I miss, like people- there's never any replacement for the people to whom you feel most connected, even after you've established a good social network in a new city (y ni hablar de before you've done so)- and on the things, like certain foods, that can bring me "home" no matter where in the world I am. My friend Julie's home-cooked black beans did precisely that this past weekend and I'm so grateful to her for hosting a "Caribbean" brunch at her home. In the spirit of the "moveable feast," I'm dedicating this post to finding the universal here in Paris. A list:

1) Parenting

Despite all the hype about a recently-published book extolling the "superiority" of French parenting (claims I can't respond to specifically since I haven't read the book and can only go by the sensationalist coverage of it in the U.S. press), here's a fact for you: being a mom opens a social door of sorts to other moms. It was true in New York, where I lived for years without knowing many of my neighbors and then, boom, Malanga Baby was born and I knew the entire block, it has been true in my travels over the last 3.5 years and I have found it to be true in Paris so far. Whether you talk about your kids or not when you're together or find that you worry about the same things or not is another question, but I am going to use this connection to exponentially increase the amount of native speakers with whom I get to chat over the course of the next few months. And to pick up useful tips like "don't ever, ever, ever take a family vacation in August in Europe." Good to know!

The parenting thing leads me to...

2) The way kids play

Imagine my distress when I found that there was a language barrier between my dear Malanga Girl and my friend Julie's French-Mexican children. Both sides had to be practically strong-armed into communicating in Spanish with each other during their first grand play summit, one side choosing to default to English while the other side chose to default to French (you guess which side did what). No matter. Once they found interests and activities in common, all was well in play-land. See above pic of some intense painting that happened at the Caribbean brunch this last weekend. We parents have even started to hear the reassuring hum of Frañol and Spanglish while they play, though not always.

3) Food

The sharing thereof, specifically. While the preparing of food for others can come with its own anxieties and while being a guest can occasionally cause anxiety as well (this Cuban-American mama was recently asked to bring the wine for a party composed of FRENCH people, a high stress request for me), the moment when you all sit down together is universally magical and appreciated.

Also, in case you were wondering, my friend Julie found the black beans in the Portuguese food section of a Parisian supermarket. Then she transformed them into pure edible joy with her pressure cooker. I would have never thought to look in the Portuguese food section and had given up on black beans altogether after realizing the markets around me have only "Spain" sections and "Mexico" sections, two nations that reject the noble black bean.

4) Yoga

Okay, this one is not really universal. However, the whole idea of finding the universal and finding home are tied up together for me, and when I can do yoga, I can find home in a way. Also, I had this whole thought about the universal yesterday, while lying in sivasana at the end of a really incredible, heart-opening, soul-grounding, gratitude-inspiring yoga class. It took me almost 6 weeks to find the right place for my yoga practice in Paris, but I feel like the timing was perfect.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Oh, the Romantic French!

and romantic American husbands living in France, of course...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Sweetness of Février, Part Deux (or should I say Doux?)

A Valentine's Day Banner (thanks, AH!) and a batch of blueberry cupcakes.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Sweetness of Février

We've been in France four whole weeks now and the beginning of February has brought many good, sweet things. Most recently, we received a lovely homemade Valentine's Day card this morning from some friends back in New York. The string of red hearts is just what we need to warm us up on these cold days of winter (-2 Celsius!). Once Malanga Girl figures out where they'll take up permanent residence, we'll hang them and share the love with anyone who walks into our apartment.
February also brought the close of Malanga Mama's big, big, seemingly never-ending translation project, hence the silence of the last week. I'm so glad I'm now free to wander the streets in this turn-your-face-inside-out and make-your-knuckles-raw-even-under-your-gloves cold. No, really, I mean it! I'm excited about finally exploring all the places I still haven't seen. And about visiting old favorites, like the Guignol (Marionette Theater) in the Jardin de Luxembourg. Malanga Girl went to her first Guignol when we visited Paris a while back. She was 15 months old at the time and it was her first theater experience. This time, she was an old pro at knowing that exciting things happen when they dim the lights and she was sitting next to the first girl from her new school to invite us on a play date. We had a fun conversation after the Guignol in a mix of French, English, German and Spanish with this little girl and her mother at tea/coffee/pastry spot Bread and Roses and I felt like life was somehow very normal and very magical all at once.
The beginning of February also brought the first snowfall of the year to Paris (something none of us expected at all). It was a strange Sunday on which we walked through the nearly empty streets until the cold drove us into one of the only open bookstores in Paris that day of the week and then into the British pub across the street from it. Who knew I had been craving fish and chips loaded with malt vinegar?
Malanga Girl is also mastering the days of the week in French, exciting progress that made it very easy for her to talk me into buying her a French calendar for her room. C'est "cute," ne c'est pas?