Paris Diaries


On a cold autumn day.
December 5, 2008, 10:03 am
Filed under: Food, Gusteau, Paris | Tags: , , , , ,

This morning, it was Gusteau le chaton’s turn to go under the knife.  Because Nez didn’t have to work until the afternoon, both of us took him to the vet on rue de Cherche-Midi.  We wondered if the little fella had moved on from being a chaton to being a mere chat, as he surely weighed a whole lot more than when Riot took him to the vet for his shots not more than a month ago.

After bidding him goodbye on the shiny examination table, we walked home on the pretty little street whose charming name literally means “seeking midday” (as far as we could tell).  Even though it was raining lightly, we paused at the famous Poilâne at number 8 for some morning bread.  The interior conjured the image of an artisanal bread shop with its wares neatly laid out on wooden shelves, very orderly and welcoming but not at all over-the-top.  The sweet smell of freshly baked bread wafted through the air.

Not seeing the usual baguettes we had in mind (see below), Riot resorted to asking the lady standing by the bread rows for the “spécialité de la maison.”  The jovial and friendly young grandmotherly figure in a smart smock gave off a hearty laugh and pointed to an empty shelf as if to say, “there is none left.”  Then, she quickly turned to the lady behind the sole counter in the middle of the small store, also outfitted in the same professional overcoat, and said:  “They asked for the spécialité de la maison and we have none left.  Ha ha ha ha ha.”

Poilâne sourdough

Poilâne sourdough

So, we settled for a quarter of a sourdough loaf on the row below that seemed just as delicious.  We noted the steam escaping from the inside as the knife passed through the clearly freshly baked bread.  The bread lady handed our goods, which now also included a croissant, to the accountant (for she looked just like the accountants of yore, pencil, notebook, etc., just about the only thing missing was the green visor) who took our money and bid us a good day.

Poilâne croissant

Poilâne croissant

The bread was heartier than the usual baguettes but was just as tasty.  The crust was a thin layer of golden crunchiness that complemented the soft interior.  On the website we read about a young baker from Normandy who came to Paris in 1932 to open his first shop and “[d]espite the fierce competition, he was determined to bake the traditional French sourdough loaves which were not as popular as baguettes.”  That explained the lack of baguettes when we first came into the store.  Nez’s croissant was amazing, the buttery flavor really came through and also literally through the paper bag in came wrapped in.

While Gusteau was recuperating at the vet (“il est tranquille,” was the only thing Riot could understand in the voicemail message the vet promised he would leave at around noon and did) and Nez was off at work, Riot did several loads of laundry.  Because it was cold and rainy, the small homeless population of Saint-Germain-des-Prés sought shelter in whatever warm shelter they could find.  That, it appeared, was fine by everyone else who went on as if they did not see, hear, or smell anything different.

As did Riot until he was startled from the pages of Joseph Heller’s classic by a screaming woman inches from his face.  Before he could think of anything to do or say, the woman had retreated to a corner of the laundromat, screaming all the while.  The place thinned out quickly and before long it was just Riot, the wet laundry, and an angry transient by the dryers.  Riot was loading the dryers when he was met by another barrage of vehement uttering he didn’t understand save for a “chinois” thrown in here and there, maybe even a “Sarkozy” or two.  Later on, the clothes came out of the dryers spewing steam like the sourdough of this morning – it was a cold day – and out of the corner of his eye he could see the equal-opportunity madwoman in a peaceful slumber.

Gusteau was picked up at around five.  Unlike his American counterpart, he did not have a plastic collar around this neck to prevent him from licking his wound and there was no admonition about using shredded newspaper in his litter box for the first few days.  Just a reminder to apply daily an antiseptic solution to the wound, which the vet was astonished to learn that we didn’t already have a bottle sitting in our medicine cabinet.  And another reminder to watch Gusteau’s diet as he was already a hefty 4 kg and could “expand.”

Gusteau already back at play after his operation

Gusteau already back at play after his operation

Riot and the subdued cat in a heavy carrying case walked home along the lively streets illuminated by the holiday lights.  In front of the mairie, two tall Christmas trees were driven into the sidewalk.  (Had they removed the concrete panels?)

 

[As always, be sure to check out the rest of our Parisdise afterward for much, much more!]

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Carte de Séjour, Part V.
July 29, 2008, 12:00 am
Filed under: Immigration | Tags: , , ,

Back again we came, to set up Nez’s medical check-up appointment and to get our visas de retour. The first task was easy enough; a short line and a courteous clerk. I think we have been conditioned to think the worst of the French bureaucracy such that we take any semblance of normal human interaction with wonderment. The second task was similarly straightforward.

There were more people waiting for various visas and so we had sometime to ourselves to fill out the visa requests (and even write a few postcards to Riot’s nephews). For reason, we put “marriage des amis.” We had already missed one wedding earlier this month in Hawaii so we didn’t want to miss another one. When our numbers were called we came to the designated guichet and was greeted by another polite clerk. We handed over more photos as the two young children behind us were racing their little die-cast toy cars along the whole length of the room as if it were a day care center. There were no reprimands from anyone save for a weak warning from the parents and still the children played on.

All that was missing was going to another hall to pay for these visas. The payment came in the form of stamps and we speculated that the job of the stamp seller was created to decrease the unemployment rate and we were glad to be doing our part with the 12€ we forked over. Back to the first hall to get the stamps pasted into our passport and we were ready to fly home. Outside, in the courtyard, Nez performed a requested jumping heel-click to celebrate another milestone in our relationship with French immigration. We wondered whether the process was created to front load the hassles to keep out the fainthearted and reward those who persevered, or that the latter part of the process appeared easy because any problems would have caused one to not reach this next stage.

We decided to celebrate with a wonderful meal at what is becoming our favorite joint in the Marais, Les Philosophes. And over a great lunch of these dishes we thought of our simple accomplishment of the day.

Foie gras mi-cuit maison

Cuisse de canard maigre confite comme autrefois au miel épicé

Visa de retour

 

[As always, be sure to check out the rest of our Parisdise afterward for much, much more!]



Carte de Séjour, Part IV.
July 28, 2008, 12:00 am
Filed under: Immigration | Tags: ,

Today was Nez’s appointment at the main headquarters of the Préfecture de Police, situated in a huge building complex covering almost a city block on the Île de la Cité and whose illustrious neighbors included the Notre Dame Cathedral. We came with all the required documents, checked and double-checked, and even spent some time practicing answers to questions we thought might be asked. (Why do you want to live in France for a year? How are you plan on supporting yourself? Etc. Just like we did the night before the consulate appointments in San Francisco in early January. And, just like that time, no such questions were asked this time.)

Nez filling out a form using the requested black ink

Nez filling out a form in the requested black ink

At the appointed time, we came to the designated place: Salle Europe, Proche-Orient, Amérique. It was a nice, clean, and quiet air-conditioned room and it was virtually empty. Seeing other halls named for other regions of the world and seeing two for Afrique – Le Maghreb (specifically, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia) we deduced that seekers of visas were divided by countries of origin at this point in the process. We whispered that when it came to a long-stay visa and all the attendant hassles, there seemed to be few takers from other countries in Europe, the Near East, or the Americas. We were among the few hardy fools and was happy for the under subscription.

Unlike the disorder of the last two visits to the Centre de Reception des Ressortissants Étrangers on rue Truffaut, this one was a model of efficiency. Nez presented her appointment paper, got a number, and was instantly called to one of the guichets. We were served by a young and friendly woman who asked for various documents and received them duly. She put them into a new dossier for Nez and received the requisite three photos. The French bureaucracy loves photos. She then explained, in English, that there was only one more step in the process, a medical check-up, and then Nez would finally get her Carte de Séjour. We would have been disappointed at this news had this whole appointment not gone as easily and smoothly as it did. Instead, we were simply happy that Nez was near the end of the adventure to get her residency card. Even when we went across the courtyard, to yet another hall, to obtain an appointment for the medical check-up and were told that the computer system was down and that we needed to return tomorrow, we were undaunted. Tomorrow it was.

And, we would need to come back tomorrow anyway, for something else. Something called a visa de retour that would allow people with no final papers like us to re-enter the country. Now, we hadn’t heard anything about this requirement but luckily we took advantage of the friendly English-speaking official to ask her whether it was OK for us to leave France with just what we currently had, something equivalent to a temporary Carte de Séjour. “No,” she told us, “you need a visa de retour.” To which part of town do we need to go to get that, we asked, without any hint of exasperation. The answer could not have been sweeter: “Right outside, in the opposite hall. You can get it on the spot.” Super (pronounced sewpehr), we thought and thought with relief about the potential disaster averted at the immigration control point at the airport coming back to Paris.

In this process, we have made peace with the fact that we don’t really know anything and that people who tell you something sometimes don’t know everything either. But such is life and as such we will live.

 

[As always, be sure to check out the rest of our Parisdise afterward for much, much more!]



A new platform, the same old page.
July 25, 2008, 1:36 am
Filed under: parisdise.com | Tags:

Lacking all but the basic technical knowledge to create and run a website, we are always grateful to get advice on how to make parisdise.com better and our lives easier. And so, a sincere thanks goes out to our friend Genesis who tipped us off on the existence of a great platform called WordPress that promises to make managing the contents of the Paris Diaries page of our site a breeze comparing to the hours it would otherwise take to do on Dreamweaver.

Paris Diaries on WordPress will still remain a part of our website, parisdise.com, and it will continue to chronicle the events of our lives in Paris. We know we are woefully behind in posting entries but we have the really short French work week and really long Parisian walks to blame. For all the other contents be sure to check back or click back to parisdise.com often.

 

[As always, be sure to check out the rest of our Parisdise afterward for much, much more!]



Things that end well.
December 31, 2007, 12:00 am
Filed under: Pre-move | Tags: , ,

Ryan came over to watch the Golden Bears take on Air Force at the Armed Forces Bowl this morning, which started at the ungodly and unfootbally time of 9:30 AM. Cal quickly, but not entirely surprisingly, dug itself a deep hole by early the second quarter, giving up 21 unanswered points. That sad reality combined with the jingoistic and masquerading patriotism of this particular bowl game (sponsored by the friendly and, yes, patriotic folks at Bell Helicopter) made the whole affair unbearable.

What better time than this to take a quick break to make some bank wires, especially when banks were closing early today and we still needed to beat the East Coast deadline for currency conversion. The task went relatively smooth even though the friendly representative at the neighborhood branch had never done a wire transfer in foreign currency before (surprise, surprise). Never mind, there was money to be sent (even at an abysmal exchange rate of 1.525:1) and the second half of a bowl game to catch.

All was well that ended well when the money went where it was supposed to (knock on wood) and the resurgent Cal football team with a new quarterback, Kevin Riley, at the helms overcame the early deficit for an exciting finish in Forth Worth. A potential first losing season for Coach Tedford was thus avoided and the seeds of a promising new start were sown for the next season. Very well indeed.

 

[As always, be sure to check out the rest of our Parisdise afterward for much, much more!]



If not one thing, then another.
December 28, 2007, 12:00 am
Filed under: Pre-move | Tags: , ,

Eleven days until the consulate appointments and we think we have finally sorted out the translation issue. While the professional translation service might be desirable and even necessary for corporate clients, we have neither the deep pocket nor the need for that kind of precision (we think). Instead, we will go with the solo translators from craigslist.

One guy we contacted yesterday responded this morning. Though he didn’t provide the requested samples and references he seemed earnest and, most importantly, his rates were quite reasonable: 7.5¢/word or $18/page versus the pros’s going rate of 30¢/word. In the end, it really came down to cost, and the revised quote of $190 for just the two motivation letters from the profession translation service sealed the decision. That and the fact that our friend in Paris, Jean-Louis, agreed to take a quick look at the translation to spot any glaring problems. We’ll start this solo translator out with the two motivation letters at $18 each and will see how it goes.

Unfortunately, the money we save from the translation task will not go back into the Paris fund but will instead go to pay the hefty health insurance premiums. With the able and invaluable assistance of Alta Vista Translation, deciphering the insurance applications word by word wasn’t as daunting as it initially seemed. (Maybe we could even translate some of our documents ourselves.) The applications were rather simple; we just needed to confirm that professeur also meant teacher, to spell avocat with no “d,” and to consistently use the dd/mm/yy date format.

We selected March 15 for the coverage start date with the assumption that it typically took about two months to get the visas. If we did not get the visas, we could still get our premiums back but only if we provided Mercer with written proof before our policies began. Though we were trying hard not to think of this latter scenario, we couldn’t help but think that it would double the blow to have one’s visa application denied and to lose thousands on an insurance policy of no value.

We still needed to bind the policies before the January 7 consulate appointments. However, Estelle was out until January 2 because of the holidays, which left only three business days to do so when she came back. Hopefully that will be enough time; doing all this around the holidays is really a balancing act, on a tightrope.

Another issue to solve before mailing the insurance applications to France (before the Post Office closed today) was what to do about the payments. It turned out that our bank could not generate checks in a foreign currency so the applications ultimately went out alone. Fortunately, the payments could be wired in euros to the insurance broker, but this could not be done until Monday because it was already past the currency-conversion deadline on the East Coast.

It seemed as if it was not one thing, it was another. But that was OK by us because there was no point stressing over things we could not control. Besides, there was a good bowl game to watch at home tonight (Oregon State defeating Maryland at the Emerald Bowl for the Pac-10’s first bowl victory this post season) and plenty more exciting games in the days to come.

 

[As always, be sure to check out the rest of our Parisdise afterward for much, much more!]



Never a dull moment.
December 27, 2007, 12:00 am
Filed under: Pre-move | Tags: , ,

The focus today, the most pressing task, was to settle on a translation service and get moving on the translation. We spent some time tightening up the motivation letters. It is amazing how much could be cut when each eliminated word saved 30¢. We decided to bite the bullet and go with the professional translation service that Riot contacted yesterday, which had also done work for his firm. This latter fact should have raised a red flag that we probably could not afford it. In fact, we couldn’t. Not at a total of nearly $1,200 for seven – yes, seven – pages. Shocked by the quote, we decided to request a revised quote for just the two motivation letters, which were the most complicated. The rest, financial letters, birth certificates, etc., we hoped we could do by ourselves. Maybe. Or, maybe we could use one of the individual translators peddling their services on craigslist (why didn’t we think of this earlier?).

On the health insurance front, we finally heard back from Estelle at Mercer France who sent the insurance applications. Now, we just needed to get them filled out and have our policies bound before the consulate appointments in 12 days. An easier item to tick off our task list was getting a letter from the police department stating that neither of us has a criminal record. (This wasn’t actually on the list of required documents for the San Francisco Consulate but it was on the list of another Consulate so we figured we should have it ready just in case.) The process was quite painless and even a bit humorous. After checking her computer, the clerk turned and asked us rather naively: “you don’t have a criminal record, do you?” Well, we don’t, but we don’t believe we would have said yes even if we did, especially when she couldn’t figure it out herself.

In other news, there was some trouble printing out the visa application without parts of the top and bottom cut off. It turned out that using A4 papers (yes, we managed to track some of those down) instead of the familiar 8.5×11 papers did the trick. To try to do everything right for fear of being denied a visa is to be walking the fine line between thoroughness and obsession. And, between translation that costs a fortune and papers that are seven-tenth of an inch too short, there is never a dull moment in this enterprise.

 

[As always, be sure to check out the rest of our Parisdise afterward for much, much more!]