Saturday, December 25, 2010

Scenes from Christmas

12:30—Guests arrive. Apéro: lots of crunchies and a glass of Lillet

1:00—Lunch starts. Huge chunks of foie gras. Two glasses of Sauternes.

1:30—Smoked salmon. One glass of Sancerre. I’m getting full.

2:00—Main course: magret de canard, sautéed potatoes, and green beans. Two glasses of Pomerol. My head is spinning.

2:30—Salad and cheese. I eat salad but I can’t even look at the cheese. I try to take interest in the table conversation without contributing anything, for fear of laughing hysterically. I try not to nod off.

3:15—My mother-in-law tries to get people to sing. I run to the kitchen and do dishes.

3:50—Dessert: chocolate and chestnut bûche. Champagne. One glass, I think, but I can’t remember.

Sometime after 4:00—Coffee and chocolate. Coffee has no effect. I go back in to the kitchen and dry glasses with my mother-in-law’s friends. Start telling jokes no one wants to hear.

Later—Some guests leave “early.” Others stay and my inlaws put on a DVD. I can’t bear watching yet another movie with Gerard Depardieu. I finish my husband’s Armagnac.

Even later—I’m hiding in my father-in-law’s study. My son is playing Adibou on the computer and I’ve discovered my father-in-law’s massage armchair. If all goes well, no one will notice I’m gone until the movie is over…but then it will be time for dinner…

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

SOS Healthcare

I remember the first time in happened: my roommate was sick as a dog and the doorbell rang. “It’s the doctor,” she wheezed.

“The who?”

“The doctor.”

“What does he want?” I wondered.

“He’s coming to see me. I’m sick!”

Suddenly, I realized what was happening. Her doctor was making a house call. My jaw dropped. She was sick, but she wasn’t dying, after all. Not that that would make a difference in my country. Back home, if you are dying, you take an ambulance. House calls have gone the way of the Model T. House calls belong to another era, a mystical time when you could get a root beer float at the drug store counter. They are the butt of jokes, an example of something that is so impossible to obtain, you might as well wish you could fly.

When I opened the door for the doctor, my mind flashed on the last time I was sick as a dog and still living in New York. First I had to beg the doctor’s secretary for an appointment the next day. Then I had to drag myself out of bed and take a taxi to the doctor’s office. Then I had to wait for an hour and a half in his office. When I finally got in to see him, he seemed irked. Apparently I was wasting his time because it was “only” the flu. He spent about 10 minutes with me and I left on the verge of tears. I then paid something like $150 for this rewarding experience.

At this moment, the US Congress is gearing up for a fight against the president’s very mild health care reform that would attempt to cure only the most blatantly unhealthy aspects of our health care system, and is a far cry from a single payer system like the one in France. For those who fear “socialized” health care, here is another first-hand report on what a single payer system is “really like.” If house calls aren’t enough to make your hair stand on end, get this:

The other night, my 8-year-old son woke up at 11pm with severe abdominal pain. When it didn’t go away, my husband called SOS Médecins, a public service that sends a doctor to your house in emergencies. True, we had to wait 3 hours for him to show up, but when he did he was pleasant and professional and the whole thing cost 55 euros, which will be reimbursed by the public health system. (By the way, my son was fine – it was just gas, I’m embarrassed to report).

Yes, these are the kinds of things that can happen when the government gives in to those lefty big government types. Tomorrow it could happen to you. You too might get excellent health services delivered right to your door. Anything is possible.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


In other posts, I’ve discussed the Parisian Coffee Paradox: in a city filled with lovely cafés, it is hard to find a great cup of coffee. More specifically, you can find good coffee, but it’s nothing like the excellent espressos of Italy. Basically, the city seems to lack coffee weenies. People get excited about cafés, but not café—it’s hard to get anyone worked up about beans or blends. Or at least that’s what I thought until I wandered into the Brulerie des Ternes on rue des Petits Champs. Due to my diminished olfactory state, I can’t tell you about the delicious aromas filling the tiny boutique, but I’ll be they are fab. I can tell you that the place seemed to be crawling with something I’ve never seen before: French coffee weenies. They were all hovering around the bar, drinking tiny cups of darkest brown coffee nectar and buying bean blends with Italian sounding names. One guy was inquiring after fill-it-yourself coffee pods, which according to the woman behind the bar, are so easy to use a child could do it. “You don’t know my daughter,” he responded.

There is nothing but coffee and sugar in this store, no cookies, no biscuits, no fluorescent-colored bottled water. The coffee is French roasted, as in locally roasted in France, somewhere nearby I’ll bet, and it is really really good. I got a “carte de fidelité,” which means if I drink enough coffee there I’ll get a free bag of beans ground to my specifications, but in true French style, there is no address or website on the card. But I believe that it was 30 rue des Petits Champs, and there are other outlets where you may or may not be able to drink a cup at 10 rue Poncelet, 28 rue de la Annonciation, and one more on the bottom of rue Moufftard.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Frostbite Bites Back

Today the French prime minister blamed Metéo France for…the weather. François Fillon declared that the French national meteorological service only predicted 3 centimeters of snow, and there were 11, and that is why the roads were a disaster on December 8 and 9 and millions of motorists were either stranded or stuck in traffic in the Paris area. In other words, it’s not the government’s fault. It’s not even God’s fault. It’s Metéo France’s fault.

In France, after a natural—usually meteorological—disaster like flooding, avalanches and heat waves, there is a period of concern and dismay when everyone gathers together in a united front against the slings and arrows of fate, and then…everyone blames the government. The government is held accountable for the weather. Why didn’t anyone predict what was going to happen? Why weren’t they prepared? Why weren’t they there to protect people?

My guess is that the government is sick of being the bad guy in these cases, and has decided to beat everyone to the punch and stick it on the weather service. Naturally, Metéo France countered with its own press release and frostily disputed Fillon’s claim. According to them, they predicted 3 to 10 centimeters of snow, and Fillon is quibbling over 1 centimeter. In fact, the region was on “Alert Orange” for snow since Tuesday.

I’m hoping this will make everyone think a little harder about improving mass transit in the suburbs. While everyone was stuck in their cars for hours on the road, the trains were running, more or less. Something to consider.