My Paris, my dad’s Paris, and Hemingway’s Paris

My dad left more than a week ago, but between schoolwork and Paris work I’ve been really busy and haven’t had the time to write sooner. I should have, though, because this is all such an interesting and unique story.

I was luckier than most of the kids in my program in that my dad used to live in Paris and I had visited him a couple of times while he lived abroad. Even though that was a couple years ago, it really did shape my visit because not only did I get the touristy things out of the way, but I did them while also having the local experience of going to a market every day and buying all of your bread and cheese and vegetables and wine fresh. And I had a heads up on everyone, because I had a working (but still a little rusty) knowledge of at least three different neighborhoods in Paris because of my dad.

And I am used to staying in apartments or actual lodgings in Paris, rather than a hotel. It’s weird to think of it like that. There was the hostel for like a week in the beginning of the program, but I’m not counting that because I never want to think of that crappy hostel ever again.

That’s one thing I have up against my dad—in case you haven’t noticed, I like being very competitive about Paris when it comes to him. He’s stayed in hotels in Paris before he lived here; as he joked, “The first time I was in Paris I stayed at the Hotel de Crillion and it’s been downhill ever since.” No kidding: the fancy smanchy hotel has the prime location of being between the Champs-Élysées and Place de la Concorde, and has had everyone from Louis XV to Madonna visit (you could say Louis XVI visited too, since he was beheaded right outside of the building).

Last time I was in Paris with my dad (and my sister). I'm still the only normal one.

Last time I was in Paris with my dad (and my sister). I’m still the only normal one.

So not only have I had a different Paris experience by myself, but I’ve also had a different Paris experience with my dad. And of course, he’s had his own Paris experience that I don’t even know about. But I got a little insight when he visited when he kept pointing out things that were different and things that were the same.

I can’t wait until I come back to Paris and am able to do that.

The biggest thing, for him, was Starbucks. Or, Starboooooooks, as the French say.

There were no Starbucks in Paris when he lived here like four or five years ago. As my French teachers love to tell me when I don’t know a translation and just pronounce the English word in question with a French accent, “Ça n’existe pas,” or it doesn’t exist. He was really taken aback by how many Starbucks he would pass on his morning runs or daily walks—especially with the one that popped up in his own neighborhood.

But like the French people before him (and the American people before them), he adapted pretty quickly. There are two Starbucks on opposite sides of the street that my school is on, and twice I met him at one of them after classes. Or, after classes I would meet up with him and ask what he did, only to be told that he went to Starbucks and worked on his computer.

That leads us to another big change: wifi. Although, to be fair, I guess wifi wasn’t that big of a deal five years ago? Or maybe it was? Or maybe it was in America? I’ll say that we’re much more addicted to it now than we were back then, because surely that’s right? It was hell when there was no wifi in Charles de Gaulle, and then everyone freaked out at our hostel because you could only get wifi sitting in the lobby and even then it was really low strength even without the thirty other kids trying to get on it. The French had wifi in McDonalds before Americans did (I love that fact) but you have to look for restaurants, bars, or cafes to advertise with a sign in the window that they have wifi, and even then it’s not always free. Maybe that’s why Starbucks is so big in France; it’s certainly why my dad visited Starbucks when he was here.

We talked during our cafe stops, despite the presence of Apple products in our hands.

We talked during our cafe stops, despite the presence of Apple products in our hands.

But we still did the whole “sit under a heater on a wicker-back chair on the sidewalk and sip espresso while watching the world walk by” thing when my dad was here. We walked all around Paris and would only stop to drink at a café—always outside when it was available. That was how I found out that there are a lot more runners and joggers on the streets than there were when my dad lived here. Which is funny, because my dad said he forgot how thin everyone was here.

My dad, mostly because of my stepmom, is a big runner. They ran their old running paths while they were here, and I guess they weren’t used to sharing sidewalk space. Even during non-prime running time, like very late morning or early afternoon, there were runners in the big populous areas. But you could always tell who the French runners were. They were the ones wearing head-to-toe spandex. They were the ones carrying Walkmens while they ran. And, most of all, they were the one wearing scarves while they ran.

Seriously. Wearing a scarf while exercising. I love it. That’s so French.

And, according to my dad, there weren’t more dogwalkers, but there was less dog poop. That isn’t to say that the sidewalks are completely clean—because they really aren’t and it’s disgusting how much poop you might step into if you or your friend isn’t looking down. But one time my dad saw someone picking up dog poop and that was literally the first thing he said to me when I met up with him that day. It was that big of a deal.

That was a “Oh … cool, dad” moment for me (sorry, but it was). But one of the biggest moments for me was showing my dad the lock bridge behind Notre Dame. It was something I noticed during my first weekend in Paris, during the standard Seine boat tour, and I was pleased to have something to teach my dad.

On the Pont de l’Archevêché, and other bridges and areas I don’t know the names of, you’ll see both sides of a bridge absolutely covered in locks (even bike locks in some hilarious cases). I’m not sure where this custom comes from, but apparently lovers write their initials on the locks, hook it to the bridge, and then throw the key into the Seine so their love is eternal. You can bring your own lock or even buy ones at the stands along the riverbank. I’m not sure when the custom started either, but apparently it was after my dad left.

Something else I’m proud of was that I took my dad to the Christmas Village on the Champs-Élysées. I wrote a blog post about it, so I won’t go into too much detail, but I went at night and during the day with my dad so turns out he likes being a little touristy sometimes as well.

We went on two tours when my dad was here. The first was to the Père Lachaise cemetery right down the street from me, because it’s so expansive and cluttered and disorganized that you’d get lost trying to do more than find Jim Morrison’s grave. It was his first time there, and my stepmom’s second, so I felt like I was able to contribute to the experience even though I wasn’t the one giving the tour. The cemetery—and my house, by virtue of location—are kind of on the outskirts of Paris, two Metro stops away from the suburbs, so I wasn’t surprised that my dad had never made the trip to the cemetery.

At Père Lachaise.

At Père Lachaise.

The other tour was the Hemingway tour, which I thought I could have done self-guided jut because of Google and A Moveable Feast, but I was completely surprised when we ended up at Hemingway’s first Parisian apartment that is literally a two-minute walk away from my friend’s apartment and apparently I’ve walked by it a couple of times and completely missed the little plaque announcing that Hemingway lived there. The apartment, as well as his writing apartment, is right off of Rue Mouffetard, which is where Lily lives and where I’ve gone to drink late at night and shop during the day.

Egg on my literary face. I couldn’t believe my blog name comes from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and I didn’t realize that I was making my own Paris memories in the same spot where he had made his, and also written about his.

And it turned out my dad had been on Rue Mouffetard too and didn’t know it—way back when on his first day in Paris where he got an egg and cheese crepe with lettuce and tomatoes (and was never able to find it or the meal again until that day).

Another time I thought I mapped out a piece of Paris my dad didn’t know about was when I took him to Rue Montergeuil, a busy little street in a piéton, or pedestrian-only, cobblestone neighborhood that’s right by my school.  There are a lot of little fromageries, patisseries, boulangeries, and butcher shops on the street and my friends and I have gone here for French, Thai, Indian, and Chinese.  When my dad visited my school, I made sure he also came to this street so he’d get the full “Alissa at school” experience.

Like father, like daughter, like Bourdain (at Robert et Louise).

Like father, like daughter, like Bourdain (at Robert et Louise).

Which he did have, but it became the “Alissa at school/that bakery tour we did ages ago” experience when I took him to La Maison Stohrer, one of the oldest bakeries in Paris where the Rhum Baba was invented. Then he remembered the street and I pouted a little.

But I couldn’t get mad. How could I, when my dad showed me the bar he used to go to because they had happy hour until 10 p.m.? And the Scottish bar where he watched rugby every Sunday and eat cans of peanuts bought out of a vending machine?

We were sharing both of our own Paris experiences with each other, to create a Parisian experience together.

I will say, however, that I was jealous when we went to a restaurant and the manager/owner recognized my dad and my step-mom from the last time they were there five years ago. The restaurant, Robert et Louise, and its’ proprietor François (Robert et Louise’s son-in-law) were featured in the first episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and my dad is recognized in there. What the hell!

I really, really, reeeeaaaaalllllyyyyy hope that happens to me.

I think the baristas at Starbucks, this one bartender at an Irish bar by Châtelet, a big creepy bouncer at a dive bar near Hôtel de Ville, and the cashiers at the Monoprix by my house all recognize me now, but will they do that in five years? Probably not.

And none of them have ever met Bourdain and presumably remember him as well.

Absinthe-minded

I was eating peanut butter sandwiches everyday at my middle school cafeteria when Anthony Bourdain started making a name for himself, but I still had the same initial reactions to him when I became interested in food writing and watching as the foodie world did about five or six years later than the initial Bourdain breakout. When I watched the pilot episode of No Reservations on Netflix, I ended up more impressed with Bourdain than the food he tried. He seemed like the most badass of chefs, with the ever-present cigarette dangling from his lips and the small silver hoop dangling from his earlobe.

In the world of Emerils and Mario Batalis, he was the food world’s Keith Richards and I was the little girl falling in love all the way at the very back of the concert hall.

When I started planning my Parisian 4-month vacation, I rewatched that episode again. I knew that I might not be able to afford to visit all of the bars and restos and patisseries and boulangeries that Bourdain did, but I definitely had to go to that absinthe bar.

And two months in, when I watched it again, I felt like such an insider that I scoffed at Bourdain’s recommendation that taxis are an easy way to get around Paris and could pick out neighborhoods and streets that he passed by. But then I deflated when I realized that no, I hadn’t actually gone to that absinthe bar yet and only had a month or so left to do it.

As I wrote in a previous post, suddenly it was  Thanksgiving—aka, Thursday, in Paris. I had gotten a little taste of the holiday and its tradition the Wednesday before at a little potluck dinner thrown at my school, but I still wanted to do something. And I thought, if I can’t have all of my Thanksgiving traditions, then I’m going to do something so outrageously un-Thanksgiving like that there’s no way I’ll be able to get homesick.

The outside. You can already tell it's pretty badass.

The outside. You can already tell it’s pretty badass.

Using that brilliant logic, I ended up suggesting the absinthe bar to my friends.

I sent over the Youtube clip of the bar scene—and my friends actually took the time to watch it, which usually doesn’t happen (to be fair, I do love sending Youtube videos).

“We’re not actually going to hallucinate like that, right?” one friend asked.

“Nah, of course not,” I said. “We don’t have the special camera effects Bourdain did.”

We also didn’t have the illegal, pre-prohibition absinthe that he did, either.

The bar looked pretty kitchsy in the video—low lighting, skeleton decorations, cartoon pornography featuring hot naked demon ladies. The website was equally bizarre. The “philosophy” of the bar is to be exactly what a “rock ‘n’ roll” bar should be like—but also being “punk rock” and “metal” at the same time.

IMG_9639

I made sure I wore my leather jacket—but it’s a jean-colored fake leather jacket cut in the style of a jeans jacket, so I was nowhere near the leather daddy/witch goddess fashion of all of the bar patrons.

And this was something I picked up as soon as I walked through the door—although that could have been because a woman with piles of dark hair messily held on the top of her head laughed and said, “Come on, kids” in French as we walked by her.

Yeah, not exactly the kind of welcoming I wanted.

Later, my friend confessed, “As soon as I walked through the door, I wanted to bolt out of there.”

But we soldiered on, trying not to stare at the demon porn or all of the leather. It’s funny, because there are a lot of bars in Paris that try to capitalize on the coolness of rock or Anglophilia and call themselves “bar du rock” or a “bar du punk.” But La Cantada II really was a metal bar, sure, but the people here were older, in their thirties and forties. The Oberkampf/Parmentier neighborhood the bar is in is really known for being the cool hangout place for the young hipsters and “bobos,” and we quickly decided that we were at the bar these people went to when they got too old or too creepy.

If you want to see the cabaret in the basement, you have to make sure you're cleared by the bouncer.

If you want to see the cabaret in the basement, you have to make sure you’re cleared by the bouncer.

I felt like I was back working at the record store I worked at in high school—once again, I was the only natural blonde there with no piercings, no tattoos, and no way of ever intimidating anyone ever. Except now, my friends were with me and there’s always strength in numbers, I guess.

We timidly approached the bar, and I was thrown once again when I didn’t see a menu for absinthe. Sure, I saw the absinthe bottles and the antiquated “Absinthe” sign, but I didn’t see prices or names for absinthes, only for beers, mixed drinks, and wines. I started internally freaking out—I brought my friends here, I was the one pushing for the bar, and then there wasn’t any absinthe?

The bartender approached us, and I was so busy being surprised at how he looked exactly like Harris from Freaks and Geeks would look as a thirtysomething bartender at an absinthe bar that I fumbled and just said, in French, “Good evening, it’s our first time here and …”

He immediately interrupted me and said, in English, “You came for absinthe,” as he grabbed a laminated absinthe menu from behind the bar.

It was that obvious. We were one of those American tourists who wandered in because of Anthony Bourdain. But really, how many twenty-year-old girl American tourists can say that?

No, you're not hallucinating, there's a coffin in the corner.

No, you’re not hallucinating, there’s a coffin in the corner.

The names of the absinthes meant nothing to us, as did the country of origin listed in parentheses. What did interest us were the prices (less than 5 euros for most of the glasses—a better bargain than most alcoholic drinks at bars here) and the alcohol content (around 60 to 70 %). But when the bartender came back a couple minutes later, we still had no clue what we were doing.

“What’s the best drink for our first time?” we asked, since giving us the menu really didn’t help us out.

He pointed to the “Mata Ari,” which was 4,80 euros so we felt confident that he wasn’t trying to rip us off.

I’d Google the drink later, and apparently it’s a bohemian absinthe without the pedigree of a French or Swiss absinthe, which means it’s more like a wormwood bitter than the proper anise absinthe. But to my newborn absinthe palette, it was a pretty good starting off drink.

Who am I kidding—anything would have been a pretty good starting off drink. I started giggling as soon as the bartender pulled out the old-time water drippers. Everything about this bar and this drink was becoming an experience in itself.

Ooh la la!

Ooh la la!

He poured a little bit of absinthe—not even a full shot—into a fancy glass, and then took out a triangular log with holes in it to lay across the rim of the glass. A small sugar cube was then placed on top of that, and then the water from the water dripper slowly dissolved the sugar into the absinthe.

The resulting color of the drink was a pale mint—not the bright green I was expecting. It tasted a lot of black licorice, but in a way that I could easily drink (I always give the black licorice anything to my mom, can’t stand the stuff). And this is something that is not something that should be easily drank in large quantities. I went home after one drink, not even wanting to try another because I just felt heavy and thick.

Maybe it’s because of all the pancakes I like to eat on brunch excursions, but has anyone ever described food as “sitting on your stomach?” Well, because absinthe definitely sits on your liver. I think people would have to be crazy just to drink large amounts of absinthe. I’m glad I went to an absinthe bar, and I would definitely drink absinthe again, but it’s a one-time-only per occasion kind of drink for me.

But I still like absinthe. Like many people before me, I only knew about absinthe because of its scandalous reputation, not because of its taste. It was only a friend of a friend, with those “friends” being Anthony Bourdain and Oscar Wilde as the people I most associated with absinthe. But now I’d say that absinthe and me are acquaintances, and it’s always nice making friends at bars.

Thanksgiving absinthe makes the heart grow fonder

This is my obligatory Thanksgiving-abroad post. Although, I feel like it’s a little different, because I did get a (Frenchified) Thanksgiving dinner thanks to the potluck shindig CIEE threw at the program center.

French Thanksgiving on a plate.

I was surprised, because I hadn’t found any squash or cranberries or sweet potatoes at the markets or grocery stores—but people did, because they brought the traditional Thanksgiving sides and I was super duper excited about that. In fact, I was so pumped about the sweet potatoes that the scoop I scooped was so big and heavy that my flimsy paper plate fell over … so that the sweet potatoes were stuck to the paper tablecloth like SPLAT. Thankfully, no one in the assembly line saw it, but I did have to scoop a smaller ball of sweet potatoes : (

But in addition to those traditional dishes, there was turkey (flown in from an American grocery store, I’ve heard) and mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie and lots and lots of French wine. No cornbread or stuffing, but I was so full at the end of the dinner that it wasn’t that big of a deal. Plus, the Nutella banana croissant pudding I made (it’ll be in the next post, for sure) was a huge hit, so all in all it was a good Wednesday night.

This is the best Nutella banana croissant pudding you’ve ever heard of, right???

It wasn’t Thanksgiving though, but like Tofurkey, it went down like a decent substitute. Usually, Thanksgiving break is the one time in the fall quarter I see my mom. Her parents live outside of Philly, so she’ll drive down with my sister and I’ll take the bus to my grandparents and we all eat together.

But this year—for the first year since my parents split up—is the year of Thanksgiving with my dad. Kind of. I’m thankful that he sacrificed his Thanksgiving Thursday to fly over and arrive in Paris Friday morning. That’s better than cornbread. Plus, I never see him during fall term, so it’s a nice change. He and my step-mom will be here for 10 days, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Like I’ve repeated on here multiple times, he lived in Paris for a couple years so most likely he’ll be showing me around. Although—and I take great pride in this—he never went to a Paris Christmas Market so I’ll get to take him to that. We won’t have to go to the tourist traps and I won’t have to babysit him. And, unlike my mom, he’ll be living close enough that he can meet my host family—which I am nervously excited for. It will be like a merging of two parts of my life.

But what did I do on actual Thanksgiving? Nothing really. Went to class, did homework, walked around my neighborhood, took a nap. My host mom has a cold and took a nap upstairs in the loft, so I accidentally woke her up when I went to get dinner and that made me feel like crap. But she laughed when I told her I was going to an absinthe bar on my Thanksgiving night.

Even the bar looks like an absinthe hallucination…

It’s the same one Anthony Bourdain went to in the first episode of No Reservations so you can expect a blog post about that too. The website is pretty punk, and that’s what the “philosophy of the bar” is telling me about too. Apparently it’s supposed to have the opulence of a 19th century absinthe bar in a 21st century rock karaoke bar. So what’s not to like?

Here’s the link to the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y6t9mWBKs9I

And here’s a link to the bar’s website: http://www.cantada.net/

I’m very excited—and thankful—for this opportunity. Not just to go to the absinthe bar, but to be in Paris, to be able to celebrate time in the fall with my dad, and to be able to write about it all and have an audience. I feel kind of sappy because I’m the only one sitting at my table who is saying what I’m thankful for—and it doesn’t even really feel like Thanksgiving anyway because everyone else’s Facebook statuses are about food and family and football and I don’t have either of those with me today.

But maybe I needed to get away from the food and family and football to realize that it’s just about taking time out of your life to look at it from a different angle (or, you know, writing it all out for a blog post).