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Le One Drink Minimum

14 Aug

During our first date, I told the Mister with not a little bit of surprise “you’re actually funny”.  I realize now that this might have sounded less than complimentary but at the time I was just saying what I felt.  Many a guy had told me that he was funny or I’d been set up with guys who were supposed to be hilarious only to watch the clock through and entire date.  Here was someone who was actually funny, as in real life, on the spot, belly chuckle funny.  And, well… me being me, I thought he ought to know.

Over four and a half years later (OMG!), he’s still funny.  Actually.  It doesn’t hurt that I’m in love with the guy and get happy just seeing him, I suppose.  Still, he did stand up at one point and was approached about going pro.  He still likes to see comics, pro or otherwise, at work.  As a result I thought it would be fun to see some when we’re on our trip.

In Paris, every Friday at Le Pranzo you can attend NY Comedy Nights.  You must make a reservation for the chucklefest but it’s free if you buy one drink.  And it’s in English so I won’t be like a dog waiting for the words I know.  “Ah, he said ‘fromage’.  I know that one!”  Free stand up in the City of Lights.  C’est magnifique!


I Like What I’m Seeing

8 Aug

A couple of sayings come to mind when I think about art.  The first is that if the art is good it will make you feel something.  You may not like it but if you are responding to it then it’s good art.  The other thought is by Rick Steves.  He said that if the art is boring then you don’t know enough about it.

I’ve been trying to learn more about art in prepration for our trip for just that reason.  The Mister and I are making our way to the Louvre but we both like Impressionism a bit more, so we’ll be hitting the Orangerie (ohr-rahn-jzehr-ree) for sure to see Monet’s work there.  But this post is about the Musée d’Orsay and its fantastic website.  The Orangerie site is entirely in French, as befits a site for a museum in France, but if you click English in the top right corner you’ll get a PDF with all the particulars for visiting the museum.  Great information but then the Orsay had to kick out the jams with something they call Discovery.

The Orsay has set up a part of their website to really help you discover what kind of art appeals to you.  It’s magnificent, really.  It especially caters to those of us who like the art of this period but aren’t really sure about the terms or the artists.  Using Discovery you can view a work in the center frame with additional works on all four sides.  The top has a display of other works by that artist at the Orsay.  The bottom displays works from the same artistic movement and some will belong to more than one.  On the left are works from the same year and on the right are works with the same type of subject matter such as landscapes or modern life.

If you get caught up in one work then you can easily explore different aspects of it.  The tool doesn’t suggest anything either.  It doesn’t say “Oh, I see you like Rage Against the Machine.  We have some Joni Mitchell that you might also be interested in.”  Art is very personal and it lets you make the choice as to what you want to see.  I dig it. 

Even if you aren’t planning a visit to the Orsay any time soon I’d recommend visiting the site and finding out what art you love.  Angry Birds will still be there when you get back, promise.

City Walks with Kids: Paris

7 Aug

With kids?  Yes.  Let me explain.  The Mister and I like a lot of stuff that kids like, too.  Valleyfair, ice cream and not doing our chores.  So I thought that City Walks with Kids: Paris would be fun in at least a bizarre way but I’m kind of surprised at how good this is for trip planning.

Come on. Don't you think that bird with a beret is the cutest? Presh!

For example, Rick Steves is big on churches and art.  We know that we should be big on those things, too.  That’s why we are going to the Louvre and Notre Dame.  But wouldn’t it be good to know that while we’re checking out the Mona Lisa we can also see the medieval part of the Louvre that was once a castle with a real live moat?  And how about remembering the Hunchback of Notre Dame and checking out the gargoyles while visiting the cathedrals?  These cards appeal to the part of me that is a kid on vacation.  We can still get a dose of culture while not missing out on world-famous ice cream (it’s on the Île St-Louis at Berthillon, FYI).

These cards also have Metró stops and useful websites listed.  And fun cartoons on the back.  Which Lonely Planet and Fodor’s are sadly missing.  Honestly, if I could read a tour book with more cartoons I’d be on it in a heart beat.

It’s also something worth remembering when you’re going to Europe: fun.  There are a lot of things that you should see, right?  But we’re not the Griswolds.  It’s not a competition.  You don’t need to return home and fill in a survey that shows you saw all the big ticket stuff.  If you don’t care, don’t go.  Or at the very least, research whatever it is you’re dreading and find out why everyone else makes such a big deal out of it.  Because I’m pretty sure there’s a reason.  Maybe there’s ice cream?

You Put a Latte in My Heart

27 Jul

The Mister and I aren’t really coffee drinkers… except that lately he has found room in his heart for the foamy latte.  This has been going on for months and I truly didn’t understand it.  Then it happened to me. 

Last Friday I purchased a latte for my friend Megan, who you met here, and one for myself.  I figured that two of my favorite people like this stuff then it might not hurt to give it a go.  Now I’m sunk.  They are much better than I could have guessed.  Perhaps it’s that I’m older now and I like things that are bitter.  I learned from Alton Brown’s Good Eats that when we are young we associate bitter with poison.  So we don’t like veggies or dark chocolate or coffee.  Now I love veggies, dark chocolate, a pint of bitters and, after much hold out, coffee.  Or at least I do right now as I’m typing under the influence of a grande.

Something I learned is that latte is often mispelled as latté or lattè.  This kind of extra flair is attributed to something called hyperforeignism.  I read about it on Kottke and you should too.  Basically it’s taking a foreign word and making it, well, more foreign by mispronouncing it.

In hopes of avoiding more errors, I was interested in how the Mister and I can order these suckers when we’re overseas.  I knew that if I ordered a latte in France that I’d get a cup of hot milk.  Research suggests that I can order café crème or un crème in French speaking places.  In Italy, I can simply say caffèe latte as the Italians invented the stuff, and not, as so many people thought, the French.

Now in Germany it’s a whole other matter.  I did a little research and it’s pretty important how you phrase this one, apparently.  If you want a latte then you’d better say you’d like a Macchiato Latte.  Why?  In German the word latte refers to a post or something wooden, like the English word lathe.  If you are requesting a latte you will likely be interpreted as wanting something wooden.  And someone will probably giggle at you.  They have another term that refers to something being wooden in the morning, Morgenlatte.  So how do I put this delicately?  It would not be a good idea to go into a German café and request something stiff and wooden and creamy, you feel me?  If you don’t then just heed my advice about adding Macchiato and watch more HBO, will ya?


Freedom Fries for Surrender Monkeys

8 Jul

When we were kids my sister and I used to man a small, “portable” frier called a Fry Daddy.  We’d stand on the cement near our picnic table, by the side of the house, and make fries.  This was the last step in a process that involved washing, cutting and a whole lot of anticipation.  When they were finally golden brown we’d pop them on to a paper towel-covered plate that stood waiting and sprinkle salt liberally.  From then on it was just a matter of time, a delicious waiting game until the fries were no longer a danger to our tongues.  They were heaven and still my favorite fries in the world.  I, unfortunately, have a lot of experience in this arena.

Now for the freedom fries and surrender monkeys bit.  Not everyone is a fan of France.  Some people are not a fan of pants or looking at the road while driving, so that’s not saying much.  I wanted to understand a bit better where these two neologisms came from.  That’s my new word, neologism (pronounced “nee-oh-low-jih-sum”).  It means a recently coined word and is something that English knows a bit about being we have 500,00 words to bat around.  The French, for example, have 1,000 words.  But let’s not start chanting “we’re number one!” yet.

Bart sez "Sacré bleu!"

Let’s start with surrender monkeys.  We can thank Groundskeeper Willie for that.  If you watch the Simpsons you may remember him teaching Springfield elementary kids French and referring to the French as cheese-eating surrender monkeys.  As the Mister can tell you, the Simpsons makes for good quoting material and this phrase caught on.  I was listening to a Rick Steves podcast (I know!  Me?  Listen to Rick Steves?) and he mentioned that it’s easy for Americans to call the French this as we haven’t had a war on our turf since the Civil War.  Perhaps if our downtown was bombed to bits we might be more eager to seek peace.  Or not.  War’s good for jobs, right?

Anyhoo, the term freedom fries came about when the French took a stand against the US invading Iraq in 2003.  Some wanted to ban all things French including fries.  Little did these people know that the French in French fries actually refers to the cut and not the country.  The same as julienne is a style of culinary chop-chop, so is Frenching.  And you thought that just had to do with kissing!  It’s just a bit wider cut.  So you can French potatoes, like we do, but you could still do the same to carrots or Spam.  The fries themselves were an invention of the Belgians.  Along with the saxophone, I might add.  But that’s another story…

A true Belgian-style fry or frite (pronounced “freet”) requires two trips into the hot fat.  The first, at a lower temperature, cooks the fry.  The second, at a hotter temperature, makes the fry puff up and crisp on the outside.  They then dunk the fry in mayonnaise to eat and probably drink some artisinal beer.  I’ve heard a few Belgians admit that though the mayo is tradition they’ve found a deep love for pouring malt vinegar on as the Brits do. 

Let me go on record here as being pro-France, pro-French fry and pro-Belgians and their inventions.  After all, they gave us the Smurfs and some wicked good tapestries.  If you’re in to that sort of thing.  If not, there’s always the Simpsons.

Oh and one last thing… if you really do want some freedom fries you can still get them.  You’ll just have to visit Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill.  There you can get them as a side with your fried bologna sandwich.  Just bring a good American attitude and some R-o-l-a-i-d-s.


Uncorked: The Science of Champagne – Gérard Liger-Belair

29 Jun

Yes, I read a book about the science of champagne.  I’m just as puzzled by that as you are.  Or worse… maybe you’re not puzzled at all and consider this just something that I would do.  After all, I’ve taken time to write up a list of uses for dental floss.  It’s less sinking to a new low and more rising to a new weird.

This book was really good though in its own merry way.  And for someone who doesn’t give a hoot about physics as they apply to her daily life, I was suprised at how readable it was.  Perhaps it helps that the author is a charming Frenchman.  He’s also an Associate Professor of Physical Sciences at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne.  So he’s a smarty pants, too.  He even closes the book by saluting the reader for taking the time to learn about this fair art and to increase one’s vocabulary in regards to beauty.  I was so flattered that I told the Mister of this and he smirked as he said “surfactants?  Yes, a whole new vocabulary of beauty, baby.”  He’s not as easily charmed (or amused) as I am.

Let me quickly sum up the points that I thought were the most interesting.  First off, there isn’t a single grape used for champagne.  A typical bottle has about 40 different wines in it.  And someone very talented blends them together and knows how it will taste after they have fermented.  It’s like fortune telling for booze.  There is a certain amount of turning that happens during the fermentation, too.  Otherwise the dead yeast cells would form a nice little souvenir at the bottom of the bottle.  Lovely.  The French even came up with a process for removing the yeast that involves freezing the neck and then removing the cork.  The ice shoots out and some wine comes out with it.  This is when they add a propietary blend of wine and sugar.  You see the sugar is what helps to create the fizzing and the slightly higher alcoholic content of champagne.

Then there’s the glass we’re drinking the stuff out of.  In the past the goblet was preferred and there are stories of the shape being inspired by legendary breasts, such as those of Madame Pompadour or Marie Antoinette.  Shapes asize, the goblet doesn’t allow for much bubbling.  There is more surface space for the bubbles to escape.  Nowadays most of us drink from a flute (or directly from the bottle, you lushes!).  The long stem and small mouth mean for more bubbles, wouldn’t Lawrence Welk be thrilled?

I also learned how the bubbles function differently in champagne and beer than in sparkling water.  In beer and champagne the bubbles have proteins to hold onto.  These bits are called surfactants and they weigh the bubble down.  So as it rises to the surface, a few surfactants stabilize but too many slow it down so much that the whole chain is disturbed.  It’s like a production line where Laverne and Shirley are drunk.  Lastly, I learned that there has to be something in your glass – some lint, a stray bit of dust, something – to allow for bubble formation.  If you tried pouring bubbly in a sterile glass it would look like flat wine.  Since those bubbles deliver aromas and a tickle to your nose we want them to stick around.  Or at least we do now, they weren’t always popular and it took a boost from the court of Louis XIV to get things moving.  Yet another thing that we have to thank the Sun King for.  Salut!

My Keyboard Speaks French

27 Jun

When writing these posts I quite often run into a scenario where a letter needs to be accented or inflected or look funny.  Sometimes I’d just hunt it down in Microsoft Word by adding a Symbol.  Other times I’d track the bugger down on the internets.  Both ways felt slow and a bit like cheating.  I felt like there had to be a better way to get my “e” all fancified.  And, of course, there is.

çookie, çookie, çookie starts with ç!

Frequent reader and current co-worker, Lori, pointed this one out to me after her recent visit to the UK.  She’d been working there and her British counterparts explained that all she needed was an [Alt] key, a character map and a little patience.  You hear that, Axl?  Anyway, should you be the kind of geek I am/we are, you might like this info. 


  1. Go to > Start > Run
  2. In Open: field type “charmap”
  3. Click OK
  4. You’ll get something that looks like my screen shot on the right
  5. Pick out a character you like, click ç, for example
  6. The Keystroke info will appear in the bottom left
  7. For ç, hold down your [Alt] key then type “0231”
  8. Let go of the [Alt] key and voilá!, your keyboard speaks French… or Italian or German, etc.

In the tech industry, the main European languages are often referred to as EFIGS or English, French, Italian, German and Spanish.  Now what if you speak Romanian or Dutch?  Those characters exist, of course, but they don’t play nice with the [Alt] key.  These letters weren’t originally included in the unicode alphabet, which is the standard for coding text for HTML among other systems for writing.  Unicode has included these letters for awhile but most operating systems fail to play nice with them and there is still limited support for these characters.  So never fear, there is increasing support for Arabic, Greek, Hebrew, Scandinavian and Cyrillic alphabets, it’s just not standard yet. 

Some characters you might fancy:

  •    –   [Alt] + 0128   –   Euro Symbol (the number behind this should be multiplied by 5,000 to get the current exchange rate in dollars or $)
  • §   –   [Alt] + 0167   –   Section Sign (used in notations/footers but basically I just think it looks cool)
  • ß   –   [Alt] + 0223   –   Double S (Germans use this in place of “ss” as in “Grüße Gott” which translates into “God’s greeting” and is pronounced as “groose goot”.  The Austrians use this as a greeting because they’re Austrian and that’s how they roll, playa.)

The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde – Joseph Pearce

22 Jun

I read this book on my Kindle at the gym while surrounded by sweating people on ellipticals.  I think that Oscar Wilde would have been appalled to know that I could read about him while wearing mismatched socks and a shirt that reads “More Cowbell”. 

Wilde was a poet, an author and a personality.  He knew the value of publicity; good, bad and ugly.  He was born an Irish boy, schooled as a English lad and died as a Parisian.  His life was a work of art and he lived a life that still captivates us today over a hundred years after his death.

In his early adulthood he wore knee breeches and silk stockings with lace cuffs in an age when others wore sedate pants and staid collars.  And even with this flashy style of dress he didn’t realize he was gay yet.  Add to this that he was 6’3″ and able to hold his own in a fight and he’s quite a complex fellow.

He was married and had two children, Cyril and Vyvyan.  Yes, Vyvyan.  It’s pronounced Viv-yin.  Contemporaries insist that he married because he was in love with his wife.  He was a devoted father but during his wife’s pregnancy he was revolted by her body.

Then in 1889 Oscar was introduced love with men by a student he was tutoring.  It would only be two years until he met the love of his life and began a downward slant to his career and a quick end at 46.  Lord Alfred Douglas was much younger and beautiful and Wilde called him Bosie.  The two often sought the company of young boys.

This behavior and his relationship with Bosie put Wilde directly in hot water.  Douglas’s father would seek to ruin Wilde’s reputation.  When Wilde took some bad legal advice and sued him for libel all his questionable activities were aired in the open.  In the late 1800s being gay was considered a crime.  Oscar was sentenced to two years hard labor in Reading Gaol.  Once released he would spend some years in Paris, bankrupt and alone, before his eventual death.

Oscar Wilde was the century’s most talented wit.  Even from the grave his plays and quoted remarks are still pleasing us.  Someone said that Oscar’s talent was in making the listener, the reader, the audience member feel smart.  I think the necessity of having the open secret of his homosexuality drove him to treat his life as if it was two sides of coin.  That’s where the masks in the title comes in. 

Lastly, I don’t think that I’ve captured Wilde in this post at all.  I just shared a bunch of information about him.  The main to describe about him was that he defied description.  Or labels.  And this book was fantastic, sweatpants and all.

My Life in France – Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme

21 Jun

About a week ago I told you how much I enjoyed learning to cook from Julia Child.  This week I’m going to tell you how much I love reading about Julia Child. 

Paul Child took this picture of him and Julia. They had a big to do each year and made very creative Valentine's Day cards.

This book is a love story.  A tale of Julia, her husband Paul, French cooking and France.  If ever again I consider myself a bit of a hedonist when it comes to food I will remember Julia fondly.  Never have I read such loving portrayals of food written decades after the dishes have been put away.  Her journals and letters must have been chock full of these details.  I cannot imagine even Julia Child remembering the vintage of the bottle of wine she had for almost every dinner.  Or I can but then I recall my penchant for drinking Franzia from the box and I think it can’t be possible.

What I loved most about this story is that Julia started cooking when she was 36.  That means it’s still possible for me to find my calling.  Or to get really good at making omelets.  I’d take either one.  She and her husband Paul were working for the U.S. government when they met.  Eventually they saw that they could build a life together and after marriage Julia thought it was time she learned how to put dinner on the table, especially since they would be living off of Paul’s smallish government salary… in Paris.

See you may have felt sorry for the newly minted housewife Julia there for a minute but then you realize that she’s learning to cook so that she and her husband can eat well in Paris.  I would live off Dinty Moore and Tic Tacs if I was able to live in France.  The fact that Julia taught herself so much and then became determined to learn more is inspiring.  She enrolled in le Cordon Bleu only to find that the course she was in was for beginner housewives, she wanted to be the French Chef.  Soon she would be cooking with men who were working towards running their own restaurant and at the top of her class.

Her work on French cookbooks came by dint of her being friends with someone who was writing one and being an American.  They needed a Yankee voice to explain French dishes and that’s most definitely what Julia had.  She’d worked in newspapers before but this ability to logically and succinctly explain things was a perfect match for “cookbookery” as she called it.  Her husband Paul would work long hours with her taking photos or sketching how a knife should be held or what a certain dish looked like.  His collaboration with her would not end there.

As “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” began to take off Julia took on the challenge of teaching cooking on TV.  Paul would assist in rehearsing where the crew should be.  Such as “move the egg bowl to left counter while J. fries potatoes”.  They were a true team and found many ways to share adventures, big and small.  She credits Paul and his expansive culinary knowledge for her interest in cuisine.  Not just food but food as art.

Julia is inspiring not just for what she was and what she did.  She inspired by enabling others to feel as if they too could turn out a French dish and have it taste as if we had been at le Courdon Bleu with her.  That’s a might big feat even for someone who was 6’2″.  Though I might never be more adventurous than creating my own guacamole recipe there is still the idea that I could turn out something magical in the kitchen because she honestly thought that I could.

Scenic Walks of the World – Wonders of Man’s Creations

18 Jun

This video is another example of me trying too hard.  You could say that this whole blog fits that description but everyone needs a hobby.  Blogging about my Europe research has to be a bit more constructive than, say, being a sniper.  That’s the only argument I can think of right now as my brain is numb from watching this sucker.

You are getting very sleepy...

The Scenic Walks of the World series is brought to us by the good people at Reader’s Digest.  As I fought to stay alert I had a flashback of many a video shown in darkened classrooms.  It was tempting to put my head down and move my pen back and forth over my notebook to pretend that I’m taking notes.  And that I’m awake.

It’s the measured tones of the narrator that does it, I imagine.  Perhaps he considers his pace as one of reverence for a very serious topic.  We’re talking about the Colliseum, Machu Picchu and the Kremlin, after all.  I would prefer enthusiasm over drowsiness any day.  The information is all good but I’m hard fought to remember any of it as every word carefully flows into the next.  Basically, it’s so well narrated it put me in a trance.

I did perk up when the subject turned to Versailles and the Eiffel Tower.  That’s why I had checked this DVD out in the first place.  Though I didn’t learn anything new about either structure it was fun to see pictures.  I was reminded of how large Versailles is (very) and how the Eiffel Tower was scheduled for demolition in 1909 but it came in handy as a radio tower.  Then when it helped the French intercept German transmissions during the Great War, Parisians decided to keep their tower around.  All interesting stuff, I will admit.  I can’t help breathing a sigh of relief that it’s over… just like today’s post.