Paris 2008 – Part 1

So it’s really been a while since my last little story. I’ve moved away from Facebook notes and started and actual blog. So many stories to tell but that would a be a full time job on its own. Here are a few highlights of life in Paris. There have been some ups and downs, a few rants. I think you’ll enjoy them.

Christmas/New Years :

My holidays were truly spent well. Christmas… yes I’m a bad Jew. For once in my life I actually did Christmas on Christmas instead of going for Chinese food like we’re supposed to… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtUYaSfC20Y. My father’s cousin’s son (hereby referred to as just my cousin) went away with his girlfriend to Thailand. Before they left she said I should call her parents and go there for Christmas eve dinner (she’s not Jewish). I figured why not? I had no other plans. I probably would have gone for Chinese food myself. So I ended up speaking with her mother (Marie) and she said they’d be happy to have me come over for Christmas but they would be spending it at their country house in Le Mans. I had no problem with this. I hadn’t left Paris since I arrived and I like getting out of the city. So I packed an overnight bag Monday morning when I went to work. My cousin’s girlfriends brother and father were already in Le Mans but Marie was in Paris. So after work I went straight to her apartment which is walking distance form the train station and we were off to Le Mans.

It was a short train ride. Only about 1.25 hours from Paris. She was a very nice lady. Her husband was waiting for us at the train station and we were off to the house. So this was real farm land. There was nothing out there but fresh country air. It was night time already so there wasn’t too much to see on the quick ride from the train station to their house. We got there and it was a small gathering. Just 4 of us.

This was a cool house to walk into. It looked almost antique, but well kept. There was a nice garden with all kinds of vegetables growing. They also had a small area with chickens running around. Walking into the house the first thing I noticed was the fireplace. At first I thought this was really old school. Wood fire heating, but they had some small electrical heaters throughout the house. I certainly enjoyed sitting by the fireplace.

So Christmas was a big dinner. They had a decorated Christmas tree as well. Nothing extravagant like the ones I’ve seen in movies and on TV, but nice. They like to eat. It was a 4 course meal with an appetizer, main course, cheese, and dessert. That’s right, cheese is a course here. I’ve taken a liking to the cheese despite the fact that I’m lactose intolerant. The cheese here is just so good. There were also several glasses of wine throughout this meal. By the time we were done I was exhausted. All the food and wine had made me drowsy. It was around 11:30PM but not time for bed. It was present exchanging time. This was new to me. I’ve actually been to a Christmas dinner before but I was never around for the present thing. This almost was like the movies. Everyone exchanged their gifts, and they even got me a box of chocolates. Afterwards I was ready for bed.

Had a nice long sleep until 11AM or so the next day. Christmas day was a pretty lazy one. Once I woke up there was already food available on the table. Marie had made french toast, except they don’t call it french toast. It’s “pain perdu” which literally means “lost bread”. The story behind this is that stale bread is lost but can be saved by dipping it in eggs and frying it up.

We all went for a walk around the village. It was really small, and at one point we were walking on a path through this field and there was nothing but more fields. It almost reminded me of the Australian Outback tour I did, except that was really isolated. We were out for almost 2 hours. Working off dinner from the previous evening. Once we got back it was lunch time. Again a nice 4 course meal which just about put me to sleep. The rest of the day we pretty much sat around. I read some chapters of a book I brought with me. At one point the TV was turned on. It was a lazy day. Eventually it was time to head back to the city. I got home and went to sleep, ready to go back to work the next day.

The weekend was interesting. Friday night I went to the piano bar again as I had nothing better to do. I’m sitting at the bar having a beer as usual. I can hear the people sitting next to me are all clearly Americans. So I decided to jump into their conversation. They actually didn’t even know each other. There was a woman who moved to Paris to be a singer. Turns out she sings at the piano bar Monday nights. She did a song that night too and had an excellent voice. Then one of the guys was a FedEx pilot who had a stopover in Paris. I was talking to him for a while. Turns out he was Jewish, I don’t even remember how it came up in the conversation but it became a conversation on its own. There were two, I’ll say middle aged American women who also somehow ended up joining our conversation. They were nice, one of them was a pilates instructor and was telling me all about positive energies and oras. I was very interested … So now it’s me, a bunch of tourists and this singer who doesn’t speak much French. They wanted to go somewhere else and invited me along.

The singing girl knew of a place with some live music so we all agreed that would be cool. Turns out it’s a place I’ve walked by about a million times and never realized they had live music downstairs. We went in, the music was good but it was super crowded and I couldn’t really see the stage. At some point we managed to get closer to the stage but it was close to the end of their last set. We stayed to the end, around 1:30AM and then got out of there. We then went next door to yet another bar and had some more drinks. At this point the night was starting to slow down a bit. I said goodbye and left. It was a fun time but I didn’t need to stay out.

Saturday night was much the same. I went to the piano bar. I saw my friend the philosopher again. Not sure I told the story about this guy. A while ago I met this guy at the same bar and we had a few shots of vodka. He’s doing a Masters or PhD in philosophy. So I chatted with him for a few minutes and we were talking to these 2 other women from Sweden. It was a good start but it was one of those situations where I kind of lost in the conversation because we were talking in French and they were talking too fast. One person I can handle fine, two people in general is ok for me too. More than that talking at the same time starts to confuse me. Add a loud environment (a bar) to the equation and I’m lost. Who do I see though? The two American women from the previous night. They said hi so I started chatting with them. You could say… they were cougars. Both 40 something, divorced and attractive. But no the story doesn’t go where you’re thinking. This isn’t American Pie, although it would have made for a great story. But anyway they were chatty. The details are hazy now but I somehow ended up going back to that same super crowded music place from the night before. One of the woman had gotten into a conversation with some French guy and they seemed to be hitting it off. So we somehow managed to find seats at the super crowded place. Music was good. Again we stayed to the end. Now that one woman was off in a conversation with the French guy, the other one is ready to go and asks me to walk her back to her hotel. This was sounding good, especially after all that talk about positive energy and supposedly I have a positive ora. But no she just didn’t want to walk back to the hotel alone. Sorry guys, I guess I need to read the game again.

The following the day I was off to the alps to spend New Years Eve. Thanks again to Rachel (if you’re reading this) who invited me to join her. Her friend’s boyfriend has a house down in Modane and they were very hospitable. Her family and some other friends were there as well for New Years.

Getting there was pretty easy. This was my first TGV experience (Train à grand vitesse = high speed train). I had to transfer to another train at one point but it still only took about 4 hours to get there. I thought that was pretty good. I got to really test out the battery life of my Macbook Pro. Conclusion, it’s good. I was able to watch 5 episodes of Lost and I still had about 5% remaining.

Upon arrival I saw a lot of snow on the ground. First snow I’d seen in France. Not like I’ve never seen snow before, but it’s been a good 2 years since I’ve seen the white stuff. Not to mention the fact that I lugged my snowboard with me, so I didn’t mind some snow on the ground. I was greeted at the station by Rachel, our host Phillippe and one of his friends. He drove us to his house which was only 10 minutes away. This was a much more modern looking house than the one I spent Christmas in. It was probably the most modern looking house I’ve seen in this country. It looked like one of those townhouse developments you see all over the place in North America. I was then introduced to everybody, and offered some food. I was starving at the time so this was a good thing. I don’t remember exactly what I had but there was cheese served afterwards. The French love the cheese… and I’ve been converted.

I got to catch up a bit with Rachel but at some point all the women were in the kitchen preparing dinner. I tried to see if I could help in some way, but they clearly had things under control. I got to talking with Phillippe and his friend. They were giving some good advice about Paris and we also discussed skiing/snowboarding and the mountains nearby. We were planning on going the next day. There was the big one “Val Thorens”, and a smaller one called “Les Karelis”. Now my first instinct was to hit up Val Thorens. However I hadn’t been snowboarding in 2 years, Rachel was still a beginner, Phillippes friend also hadn’t gone in quite a while. Val Thorens doesn’t have many beginner trails. Also Val Thorens is huge. Phillippe told me that it can take 4 or 5 days to ski the whole thing. We only had one day. In the end we agreed on Karellis, and in the end it was only myself, Phillippe and Stephane who went. Rachel had been already and had her fix for it.

Dinner was served, at this point I don’t remember all the details but it was a feast. The usual 4 course meal. I enjoyed it very much. The conversation was good. It seemed like we were switching back and forth from English and French a lot.

As usual dinner finished quite late and we were to have an early start the next morning. I had a good sleep, woke up ready to hit the slopes. We ate a quick breakfast and hit the road. It was a relatively quick drive to the base. We were mostly driving uphill, up windy roads. I won’t go into the details of every run but it was a lot of fun. I’d this mountain was slightly bigger than Jay Peak or Tremblant, but the snow was much better. Thick powder everywhere.

After a great day of skiing we returned to the house. Everyone else had gone snow shoeing and they arrived around the same time as us. We all got cleaned up and then the women started working on dinner again. I wanted to feel useful so I at least got to help setting the table. Now this wasn’t going to be the typical New Years celebration. No crazy partying. It was more of a family/friends dinner party and I must say it was really nice. One of the girls had made these name cards for everyone which I thought was pretty cool. I wanted to keep mine as I thought it was nice but I forgot it there and only realized later. I was even more surprised to see a bunch of gifts had magically appeared on the table. I’m not sure if it’s a French thing or just their family, but they do a gift exchange thing for New Years. I felt bad since I hadn’t bought any gifts. But I ended up getting a bottle of wine, box of chocolates, and a book on cheese. I was thinking at this point, “these have to be the nicest people I’ve ever met”. I was essentially a stranger, but they treated me like family. It was probably the most relaxed New Years I’ve ever had. We had our apperatifs, had the New Years feast and I think we were in between cheese and dessert when midnight came. There was no TV with the ball dropping. It was nice, something different. Next day I had to head back to Paris already, although I had an easy morning. Didn’t have to catch the train until about 2PM or so.

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