Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mes excuses...

Hello bloggettes -
Not a day goes by when I don't think of this blog. It sits in the corner of my mind's eye taunting me, lamenting how I neglect it, sobbing that I don't bring it flowers anymore - and you'd have to admit it has a point.
I notice my last entry was November 20. A full month ago. An appalling effort for anyone hoping to participate in the blogging zeitgeist.
Suffice it to say, my silence has been for a reason. And that reason is sound.
On the professional front, I am sweating on meeting a deadline for the new book. With my editors expecting a squaeky clean manuscript in their hot little publishing hands by the end of January, I am tippity-tap tapping away on the keyboard every hour that the good Lord gives me.
On the personal front, there has been a new addition to my little family - and if any of you out there are parents, you'll know how even the smallest addition to a family can make a large impact. Sleep is something I now only dream of. It's a magical land that I think back on with fondness and recall wistfully.
And so dear bloggettes - excuse the hiatus. I'll be back - as soon as the diaper demon releases me from its clutches. Think of this as less of a goodbye, and more of an au revoir...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Spring-ing into another Beaujolais Nouveau

There's so much to like about my new quartier. The Louvre and its most famous tenant, Ms M. Lisa, being my new next-door neighbours (she's as quiet as a mouse, and as demure as you like), the Seine and its soul-soothing qualities being but a hop, skip and jump away, and the profusion of great restaurants, cafes and food havens that happily call this arrondissement home.
Last night was Beaujolais Nouveau night in Paris. It's the night for all the wine makers in Beaujolais to foist the fruits of their 2009 harvest on unsuspecting Parisian palates. On BN nights of yore (for, in ten years here in Paris, I've had more than my fair share of Beaujolais Nouveau), I've been so overcome with bonhomie and a feeling of goodwill to all men (a state my wife commonly refers to as "offensive drunkenness") that I've barely been able to recall my exploits.
Last night however, I remained relatively sober - the better to be able to relate my adventures last night in the quartier.
The much-celebrated Paris-based Chicago foodie, Daniel Rose, has gone and opened a new epicerie across the street from me (there goes the neighbourhood). It's a spin-off from his wildly successful 9th arrondissement eatery, Spring.
Spring - The Epicerie, had its grand opening last night. Well, as grand as a 50m2 space can pull off. There were food and wine lovers spilling out onto the pavement as everyone happily tucked into the free booze to wish Daniel well on his latest venture. The Epicerie - packed to its freshly-painted rafters will all manner of delicious, distinctly artisanal French foodstuffs - is but a taster of things to come in the I-Should-Be-So-Lucky 1st arrondissement. Sometime next year, Spring Mach II will be opening on the nearby Rue Bailleul. Le tout Paris' tastebuds are quivering in anticipation...
Mr Rose cut a cool figure last night, reclining on the stairs of his new venture, resplendant in a ye olde epicier blue coverall, while Paris's fooderati flapped about him.
Once we had toasted the Rose, our party headed across the street to the trusty ol' Le Garde Robe wine bar for a bit more BN guzzling. The wines on offer from the makeshift kerb-side counter were excellent - defying ten years worth of experience with BNs which were, in retrospect, undrinkable.
Across the street, O Chateau's Olivier was welcoming crowds of wine enthusiasts to his subterranean wine tasting emporium. If you're in the market for a crash course in French wines, this is the man to see.
With our stomachs swilling with BN, it was decided nothing would sate our hunger like a session at Chez Denise. Somewhat full from the bread and saucisson I'd been munching at Le Garde Robe, I sat at our table, with its red-and-white checked tablecloth - and scanned the menu for something 'light'. I may as well have been looking for something non-fattening in a patisserie. Chez Denise is renowned for its meaty menu. Meals come in three varieties: meaty, extra-meaty and heart-stopping. My initial instinct was to go with Coq Au Vin - the closest thing on the menu to a salad. But when one of my dinner companions asked if I would share a cote de boeuf, I heard the words "I'd love to" spilling from my lips. I blame the wine.
The steak was delicious, the frites were sinfully good and the BN just kept flowing. Not even the sight of a few ample-bellied, red-faced, extra-large human heart-attacks at nearby tables was enough to put us off our feast. We were in the throes of a BN bacchanalia - what's a few hardened arteries between friends?

Below: Daniel Rose in epicier mode

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Early morning on the Pont des Arts

There was a time - and it doesn't seem that long ago - when I would be one hundred times more likely to see sunrise over the Seine at the end of a big night painting the town rouge. This morning, I experienced dawn's crack on the arm of my 18-month-old son, as we scarpered from the apartment to give his long suffering mum a precious extra hour's sleep.
It was cold, the Pantheon was shrouded in early morning mist and the normally buzzing streets were deserted. My little man and I stood on the Pont des Arts for as long as the cold allowed, watching the occasional boat sluice its way up the river. The Seine was as still as the proverbial mill pond. The city was shaking itself out of its slumber and preparing for itself for another crisp, late autumn day. And I thought about the time in my life when sunrises were only ever the backdrop to a scurry home after a big night out. And as fond as those memories are, I found myself relieved those days are (mostly) behind me. They were a pleasure to experience and I don't regret a second, but neither do I need to relive them. And while initially the prospect of dragging myself and the little fella out of the warmth of the apartment and into the cold filled me with dread, I soon discovered early morning Paris offers up a world of delights.
Does it mean I'm getting older? Probably. Does it mean I have matured? I hope not. At least not too much...
And just because I like the photo, see below a snap I took the other night from my other favourite Parisian bridge, the Pont Alexandre III. You've got to hand it to the old dame Paris, she sure does scrub up well.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Public Service Announcement: Tourists to Paris! Beware the gold ring scam

So I was walking through the Tuileries this morning, on my daily consitutional stroll, when I saw a couple of tourists looking quizzically at a woman who had just handed them a gold ring.
What I knew, and they clearly didn't, was that they were about to be ripped off. They were about to be taken for a ride, scammed, cheated out of money. And so, donning my good samaritan hat (because I hate to see tourists in Paris being taken advantage of), I intervened and informed them they were about to fall victim to one of the most popular tourist scams currently infecting Paris.
And so it occurred to me to blog about it, in the event it saves any tourists currently in the City of Light - or any planning a vacation here soon - from being ripped off.
The scam goes something like this.
You will be walking along the street/through the gardens, engrossed in the beauty of your Parisian surroundings, when out of the corner of your eye, you spy a person bend down and pick something up. That person will make a loud exclamation, indicating how "surprised" they are. They will then approach you, holding up a gold ring, and ask if it belongs to you. You will say no and they will continue to feign surprise before insisting you take the ring. They will then ask for a sum of money - presumably in return for the gold ring they found, but have magnanimously handed over to you. A gold ring which, coincidentally, is a piece of polished plastic.
Now, I don't really understand how or why this scam would work. Why would people take a ring that wasn't theirs and then hand money over to the stranger that found it? It doesn't make sense. But given the number of times I have seen it unfolding on the Paris streets (especially in high-traffic tourist areas) it's a scam that obviously does work.
Tell your family, tell your friends. Tell anyone planning a trip to Paris to beware the gold ring scam...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writers At The Residence - a night at the British Embassy

Greetings Bloggettes.
Firstly, apologies for the infrequent nature of these postings. I am working feverishly to complete the manuscript of book two, am working to meet a fast-approaching deadline, and hence haven't had time to blog. My humblest apologies.
I tend to go into a bit of a tunnel when I am in writing mode. I put the blinkers on, turn off the phone, disconnect the internet, desist from looking at email or Twitter - and just try to focus.
I did surface briefly last night, however, to participate in a charity fundraiser at the British Embassy here in Paris. It was such a good night and for such a good cause, that I have even broken my self-imposed blog embargo to share a little bit of it with y'all.
I was part of a panel of Paris-based authors for an event at the UK Embassy called Writers At The Residence. Organised by UK Ambassadress, Lady Westmacott, to raise funds for the excellent local charity organisation, SOS Helpline, the event also featured fellow scribblers Heather Stimmler-Hall (Naughty Paris Guide), Alex Lobrano (Hungry for Paris), Stephen Clarke (A Year In The Merde), Charles Timoney (A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi) and Michael Sadler (An Englishman Amoreux).
Before an attentive, generous audience of some 200 British, American and Australian expats in Paris (plus a handful of indulgent French) - and in a room of the Embassy that re-defined the meaning of the word "sumptuous" - the panel members (yours truly included) yammered on for an hour or so about French stereotypes, the worldwide fascination with France and the state of the French food industry.
From Heather we learned the French reputation as excellent lovers was not always deserved (she tactfully declined to reveal how she knew this), from Alex we gleaned that France is still the world capital of inventive, innovative cuisine, from Charles we learned how his French colleagues gather at his office door at 5pm every day in anticipation of him "taking tea" (as all good Englishmen should), from Stephen we heard how proud his mother was that the French word for "pooh" had become his trademark and from Michael we were treated to the spectacle of an old-school raconteur in full flight.
A rollicking good time appeared to be had by all (at least from where I was sitting), plenty of money was raised for the SOS Helpline and no-one got hurt (except, perhaps, for the collective dignity and pride of the French nation, so insistent were the parries and thrusts from those of us who make a buck poking fun at or otherwise highlighting the apparent absurdity of some of their quirkier habits).
Heather was moved to remark after the event that the six of us ought to take our show on the road. So there it is people: we're available for hire. Weddings, parties, bat mitzvahs..

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Samson & Delilah - a cinematic tour de force

As an Australian in Paris, I'm about as far removed from my sunburnt homeland as it is geographically possible to be. But that doesn't mean the heart-strings don't occasionally twang for the wide brown land. Bouts of nostalgia for Australia come in regular waves (more regular, in fact, the longer I live here in Paris) - and there's often nothing I like better than to take a break from all this European refinement and haute culture and lose myself in the raw, unwieldy, unchecked majesty of my sprawling country of birth.
One such bout of nostalgia sent me off to a cinema on the Left Bank last week to see a press screening of the Australian film, Samson & Delilah. And while it would be difficult to describe the experience as uplifting, I challenge anyone to go and watch this excellent film and not come away having been moved by it.
It's a simple, yet powerful tale, masterfully told. First time writer/director, Warwick Thornton follows the film's two protagonists, a pair of Aboriginal kids living in a run-down community in Central Australia. Against a backdrop of neglect, a most unlikely love story plays out - one that speaks as much to the resilience of Australia's Aborigines as it does to the casual cruelty with which they are forced to live everyday.
The portrait painted of modern Australia and its relationship (or, rather lack thereof) with its indigenous people is shocking. You feel the sense of hopelessness with which these kids confront their futures - lives stunted even before they have had a chance to begin. And yet, and yet - Thornton doesn't let the credits roll without offering up a glimmer of hope.
The performances are inspired - especially that turned in by Delilah (Marissa Gibson). You can count the lines of dialogue on one hand. In this film, the power lies very definitely in what is not said. And the cinematography is sumptious, making it a well-deserved recipient of the Camera d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
The film's designer, Daran Fulham (of Syriana and Blood Diamond fame) deserves a special shout out for creating an on-screen ambience you can practically smell and feel. The grit practically falls off the silver screen.
It will be interesting to see how this film plays to French audiences. Paris movie-goers are famous cinephiles, so there's little doubt it will be lapped up for its many cinematic virtues. The French are also unusually interested in the plight of Australia's Aborigines. Many is the time I have been quizzed by locals interested in the Aboriginal story. If the French media dedicate any air time or column space at all to Australia, it is more often than not to explore the Aboriginal predicament. Samson & Delilah will doubtless go some way to feeding that fascination.
You can always tell you've been to a good film if it haunts you for days afterwards. Samson & Delilah has enormous haunt potential. And while it may not be the kind of film to make an ex-pat Aussie like me hanker for the homeland, it is a vital story, expertly told - and a movie to make this Australian proud of the talented folk his country has a happy habit of producing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Top tips for a budget pig out in Paris

One of the great joys of living in Paris is the seemingly inexhaustive supply of amazing places to eat. I’ve been here ten years, and until yesterday, thought I had a relatively good handle on the gastronomic pleasures to be sampled and supped in this fair city. But then the most recent edition of Olive magazine arrived in the mail. Olive is food and wine magazine published in the UK by the BBC. The good folk at Olive had asked me to contribute to an feature they were preparing for this month’s issue on navigating your way around “Bargain Paris” - the best places to eat and drink on a budget. Why they assumed an author and journalist would know how to live cheaply in the City of Light, I cannot begin to imagine. I managed to deflect the slight that I am a cheapskate long enough to churn out 800 words of sterling copy on the subject of cheap eats in Paris – almost every one of which is now appearing in an Olive mag near you.
What I discovered this morning as I read through the article, was how little I knew about the broad range of amazing eateries that hide out in this city. The article also features eating-on-a-shoestring tips from fellow Parisian foodies/bloggers/dwellers, Meg Zimbeck, Adrian Moore and Olivier Magny.
Between the three of them, they know a treasure trove of great little cafes, boulangeries, bistros and brasseries where your euro will stretch that little bit further. From Meg’s contribution, I almost had to change shirts after reading about the white chocolate pain au chocolat in the boulangerie Blé Sucré in the 12th. Adrian’s enthusiastic appraisal of Frenchie, the hip new resto off rue Montorgueil had me reaching for the phone to make a reservation, and Olivier (the only French man among us and whose company 'O Chateau' does excellent “Discover French Wine” courses) shared a couple of secrets from his leeetle black book, including restaurants Le Reminet and La Biche Au Bois.
Which goes to show it doesn’t matter how long you have lived here in Paris, or how well you think you know the eating scene, new and interesting places are always coming across your radar. So while my waistline may not thank you – Meg, Adrian and Olivier – my stomach definitely does. Merci.
Oh – and in the interests of fairness to the Olive folk, I will hold off until the end of the month before letting you all in on my top tips for budget eating in Paris ..