Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Vacation Vortex

It’s coming soon…The Vacation Vortex.  That’s when you and your entire family get sucked into a dizzying whirlpool of getaway plans and family visits.  Or getaway from the family visits, depending on your status.  Every year there’s a local ritual, whereon you ask everyone you know what they are doing this summer, then nod dutifully while they recite their complicated plans (“…five days in Sardinia and then the kids are going to spend a week with grandma in Normandy while I paint my cousin’s house in the Ardeche…”), and then promptly forget everything they just told you.

But it really doesn’t matter because the only thing you need to know is that in July and August you won’t see anyone.  You may bump into the occasional lone wolf loping through the ghost town that was once your bustling neighborhood, but basically, you are on your own.  Not that anyone actually takes two months of vacation, but since they are staggered throughout July and August, and since kids and parents often fly off in different directions at different times, and stores close for at least three weeks, it feels like everyone but you is doing precisely that. 

When you live abroad, the Vortex tends to whirl at an even higher speed, because you have to fly all over the world to even find the family that will slowly drive you crazy over the course of your stay.  Not that you don’t want to see your family, but if you are from a faraway place like California and it’s a once-a-year reunion, it tends to get rather intense.  It’s one thing to visit with your parents for an evening or a weekend, and it’s another to spend two weeks with them 24-7.

But I can’t complain.  While my carbon footprint this summer will be off the charts, my frequent flyer millage will climb ever higher until I can take yet more flights to more faraway places.  When I get back I will have reconnected with my Southern California roots and remember why it was that I left in the first place.  I will cherish my French suburb with renewed enthusiasm and savor the taste of espresso at the coffee stand at the covered market.  My apartment will seem so quiet and welcoming.  I will be at peace.  But then it will be time for the rentrée….

Friday, June 22, 2012

American Food in Paris

Though I’ve been trying to ignore it, there is no question that the phenomenon is spreading.  American food is hip in France.  While this seems impossible to any rational being with functioning tastebuds, it is equally impossible to ignore the trend.  There is a veritable engouement (which means “infatuation” but sounds as gooey as the insides of a jelly doughnut) for classic American taste treats.  Believe me, no one is interested in fusion food, they want brownies, cupcakes, and bagels. 

It’s been years since I saw my first brownie in a Parisian bakery.   I have since learned how to pronounce it, because my first attempt was met with a blank stare.  “Ah!  Un brooNI!  Vous voulez un brooNI!”  And this was years before Carla’s entrance on the political scene.  Then there was the crumbUL, which was quickly followed by muhfFIN.  This was all perfectly acceptable, especially because the French make brownies, crumble, and muffins so much better than we do. 

But I can’t bring myself to try a baGUL.  I’m sorry, but for me, any bagel that doesn’t come out of a sweaty shop with a huge, steaming bagel boiler just isn’t the real deal.  I can’t imagine that those dainty rings, delicately displayed next to croissants, could ever approximate Absolute Bagels on Upper Broadway.  While its entirely possible that the French bagel tastes better than an American bagel, for me, that’s beside the point.  I want my bagel to be chewy and leaden, that’s part of the experience.  You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

Because there is a dark side to the Frenchification of American food.  Take hamburgers.  I’m not talking about those 25€ versions in the chic restaurants, I’m talking about the frozen ones in the supermarkets.  Already cooked, bun included.  Or the same horror in a microwavable version.  Nobody seems to understand that even the greasiest burger stateside is made to order.   Even in the best Parisian bakeries, the ones that also sell sandwiches, you’ll see pre-cooked hamburgers sitting on the counter in their buns.  La honte!

Lastly, I feel I must speak out about the presence of Budweiser in hip bars.  When I see Parisian trendoids paying exorbitant prices for the dubious pleasure of sipping that sad excuse for a beer, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  Especially when the majority of Parisian cafés and bars have excellent Belgian beers on tap.  What is this country coming to?