Shopping for groceries is a lot of fun in Paris. The ingredients here are fresh,and there's such variety of fruit and cheese and meats and bread and pastry. The produce quality is better than in San Francisco, too; it's shameful how bad lettuce is in California.
The trick in Paris is to buy things from specialists, not supermarkets. This means going to several different stores on a shopping trip and figuring out which boulanger has the best bread, which cheese shops are better at mountain cheeses vs. soft cow cheeses, and careful produce inspection.
My favourite place to shop is the Marché Maubert, a three days a week outdoor market. Some 30 different vendors selling fruits, vegetabls, meats (calves brains!), cheeses, pastas, middle eastern specialities, and, oddly, suitcases. The two or three permanent shops there are quite good as well. My Parisian restauranteuse friend Evelyne was kind enough to go shopping with us the first time and show us the ropes. Quite easy; afterall, the vendors want to sell to you as much as you want to buy.
Sometimes being in Paris feels like an adventure game.
ride metroThe Paris metro is actually pretty easy; just buy "un carnet" from the agent, 10 tickets for 10.90€. But living here you want a monthly pass; Here's the walkthrough on how to do it. WARNING: SPOILERS.
I'm at that point in my trip where getting things done in a foreign country seems so difficult. For instance, getting shirts washed and ironed. Do you go to the 5 a sec chain where it's $4 a shirt, the shirts come back wrinkled, and the troll at the counter is mean? Or do you go to the local pressing where it's $8 a shirt, the shirts come back perfect, and the mademoiselle at the counter is so lovely and nice you wish you could ask her out?
Either way, it's a lot of money for a shirt compared to $1.25 in the US. But then again the shirts are hand ironed, the staff is being paid a living wage, and the experience is altogether more personal. But I feel certain it's possible to get a shirt done right for, say, $5. if you just knew where to look. My Parisian friends just have their cleaning lady iron their shirts. Cleaning lady; how do I hire one of those?
I've found a solution to my Paris-photo-cliche problem; Space Invader. My new daily challenge is to go find invaders around Paris and photograph the surroundings. I've liked this guy's street art for awhile now and they provide a good excuse for walking around the city slowly.
Paris has so many surprises. Today's walk took me on a tour of the 5th. Along the way I discovered the Arenès de Lutèce, a 2000 year old Roman amphitheatre. And the lovely little Place Monge, a small village feel in the middle of the city. And the tomb of St. Genevieve, a 5th century saint whose bones were burned by the democracy-loving revolutionaries in 1793.
And on and on, so much in this city to find. The invaders are my breadcrumbs.
Dear Flickr, your new geocoding service is awesome. But could you please switch to a map provider that has more than two roads for the entire city of Paris? I know Paris is kind of a new city; some of the streets are only 800 years old and Haussmann did make a mess of things in the 1850s. But really, sometimes you want to find a specific street.
Flickr is owned by Yahoo so it's no surprise they're not using Google maps in the geocoding interface. But it's bad for users. I'm taking some very site-specific photos in Paris now and my current geocoding solution involves Google Earth, URLs as comments on placemarks, and a bunch of XML hacking. Ick.
I am sitting at my neighbourhood cafe with a fantastic view over the Point Louis Philippe and beyond to the late afternoon sun-drenched limestone buildings along the Seine. Free WiFi, a big glass of mediocre Chinon, and the tranquility of a shady Parisian cafe. La vie est bonne.
I've been a bit at loose ends in Paris, not sure what to do with myself here. But then I relax a bit and the city comes to me. After lunch yesterday at Les Marroniers in the 4th (casual cafe, good sandwiches) we walked a bit and found a Sunday exhibition of the national police. Equestrian demonstrations, acrobats on motorcycles, zip-lines for children.
And then on we walked to the eastern tip of our island, to the garden featuring a statue of the now-forgotten artist Antoine-Louis Barye. Then from there past the public shower for the indigent (on the most expensive real estate in Paris), and on to the St. Louis church whose open door invited us in to an organ rehearsal of Buxtehude and Bach.
When you slow down, most every street in Paris offers some sort of pleasure to the visitor.
With many thanks to Jason Kottke for the recommendation, I just finished enjoying a lovely pain au chocolat from Boulangerie Malineau in the Marais about five blocks from me. Crisp, nicely layered, and warm, just a bit too buttery. A superior pastry, even for Paris.
One wonderful thing about Paris is the diversity of bakeries, cheese stores, butchers, etc. Everyone seems to have specific favourites; this place is good for pain ordinaire, this one for croissant, this one is more convenient. So much to learn.
I knew the Adobe Reader update process was bad, but I didn't know how bad until I accidentally installed 7.0.0 somehow on my laptop. It proceeded to download little updates to get me up to the current 7.0.8, and then apply them one by one. It took five reboots to upgrade Reader entirely.
That's five more reboots than necessary, and four more than reasonable. Reader insinuates itself into your system at boot time and inside MSIE, so they have a hard time upgrading it. But applying multiple patches and reboots is really dumb. Dear Adobe: people put old versions of your installer on their CDs. You should support them well.
Some help for you. PDF Download does its best to prevent PDF from ever loading inside Firefox and corrupting it. Adobe Reader SpeedUp fixes a lot of problems in Reader and lets you disable autoupdates. And Foxit reader just hit 2.0. I don't like the rendering in this Adobe alternative, but it is an option.
Yesterday's afternoon had one of those happy random experiences that make being in Paris wonderful. We went out for lunch and some grocery shopping, and on the way inbetween got pulled into the Musée Carnavalet over in the 3rd. The lovely courtyard is what brought us in curious, but since it was free that day we went inside to look.
The museum collects works of art in and about Paris, focussing on 18th and 19th century stuff. Lots of minor fine art works by lesser known artists, along with some amazing decorative arts. It was interesting going to a museum that had a lot of art, not all very good. Seeing bad impressionism helps put good impressionism in context! Maybe all museums should have a few ringers, bad pieces to keep you on your toes.
Anyway, lots of beautiful things, and the old mansions the museum is in are lovely. I liked the Paris focus of the collection, a different way of organizing things.
Ken and I have finally discovered a good area to wander from our place in search of dinner: between the Ile de la Cité and Place Maubert. It's close enough to the tourist zone to have lots of casual restaurants, but far enough on the wrong side to not be awful. Lots of promising options.
Like Degreés de Notre Dame, a restaurant with a pleasant outdoor seating area next to a modest hotel. Like most French restaurants of this type it serves the usual fare along with a speciality. In this case, Moroccan food. My tagine was fantastic, richly spiced and sweetened with raisins and plums. Ken's warm goat cheese salad was also excellent, although his couscous was a bit bland. Mostly we liked the place because they seemed to really care about serving good food and making people happy.
Brasserie is French for diner and a lot of the French comfort food I enjoy is the French equivalent of the blue plate special of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Poulet frites is one such dish: a quarter roasted chicken, some fries, and if you're lucky a little salad with mustard vinaigrette. Which is exactly what I had for dinner late on Sunday, then again for lunch on Monday.
Nothing exciting, but made well it satisfies. The chicken skin should be crisp, a little brown gravy from the drippings, the fries crisp and hot and just oily enough to not quite soak up all the gravy. Which, alas, is not quite what I got at neither Le Village Ronsard in the 5th nor Le Dôme in the 7th. Sunday night chicken is a risky proposition, and while the Monday lunch was better it wasn't made with much love. Just have to keep trying!
It's been a week since landing in Paris and I'm slowly settling in. It's taking me longer to feel comfortable than I expected. I think the problem is I'm not working, so I have nothing to structure the day. I feel like I should be In Paris 16 hours a day, but that's too much. Fiddling with cameras and GPS units is giving me something comfortable to do (while still useful to Paris) and I suspect before too long I'll take up one of my programming projects. Eight hours a day of Paris is enough.
Having an apartment of your own is a wonderful thing. We rented a place right in the middle of the city on the Ile St. Louis. Being central is great, but even better we're just a bit east of the tourist center, making the Marais more "our neighbourhood" than the Latin Quarter or the 2nd. Feels a bit more real. Also the island itself is incredibly quiet and calm. Few cars, a nice respite from the moped madness of the rest of the city.
I had a lovely Sunday lunch today at Les Fous d'en Face, a sidewalk bistro with a great location. It's in the 4th at 3, Rue du Bourg-Tibourg, just north of Rue de Rivoli in a charming little restaurant lined square. Just the thing on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
My salade du chevre chaud was a surprise; the salade is served separate from the cheese, a fresh mild crottin that looked more like a poached egg. Very nice, a bit heavy. The salmon main course was excellent; fresh and well cooked if a bit plain. Dessert, a fresh strawberry soup, just the thing for the end of summer. Ken enjoyed his rabbit terrine but was a bit unimpressed with the veal cutlet and girolles. The Languedoc rosé we chose (Peyre Rose) was excellent if a bit strong for the day. A deep color, almost a red, and strong for a rosé (14%!). Excellent wine, just not the perfect choice at the time.
Our waiter was quite friendly and made the experience all the more enjoyable. Definitely a comfortable place for a tourist to visit, but being a bit up the Seine in the 4th it wasn't overwhelmed by Americans in shorts. Not cheap but not terrible, three courses will cost you about 30€. A good choice if you're in the Marais.
We went back and had another good lunch. My tuna was great, Ken's steak was not as good but that's what he gets for ordering steak in France. Our Beaujolais order (Chiroubles, of Eric Morin) got us a special friendly visit to explain what we'd ordered. The place is choosing wines carefully.
After all this dining out I couldn't take anymore, so we finally did some local shopping and had dinner at home. A trip to the local fromagerie yielded an Epoisses (Berthaut; like home, not raw milk), a St. Marcellin, and some very strong dry goat cheese. Along with some Corsican sausage, a baguette from the boulanger and some wine from Nicolas it made for a fine quick dinner.
One of my goals in Paris is to get friendly with a local cheesemonger, to be able to go in and say "what's really good today?". Cheese is a living complex thing, not to be shrinkwrapped and sliced to individual servings. Time to find that in Paris.
While browsing for hotels in Brussels, I found this remarkable hotel description:
Morpheus stretches his arms to you in the President Centre Hotel's comfortable soundproofed rooms. The grand air of a parking valet, thoughtful and personalized service, cosy bar.
The Place des Vosges is one of those old European city planning miracles, a lovely square with uniform architecture surrounding a comfortable park square. There are a few good restaurants surrounding the square and Ma Bourgogne is a storied old bistro/café you can't miss. The tables under the colonnade are very comfortable so you can excuse if the food is a bit dull, if proper.
Ken and I made the mistake of both ordering some dry cured sausages. Which is what we got, giant chunks of sausage with no proper knife to cut them. Good enough charcuterie but not exceptional, and too much of it. Our steaks and frites came out better, particularly my bavette, but other than the fried shallots there wasn't much to dress the steak. Very plain food. If I had a bit more courage maybe I could be telling you how good the andouilette or tête de veau are, but having had those French soul food adventures once I'm not in a hurry to do so again.
If I'm in the area again I'd definitely stop in for a quick bistro lunch, but not worth a special trip. I'm still unsure about whether this restaurant is the same as the Ma Bourgogne on Bd. Hausmann in the 8th. I was there a few years ago, that place was marvelous.
Hot on the heels of our lousy salad-in-a-bread-bowl, Ken and I finished another 45 minute marché de manger at some random pizza place we found in the 6th or 7th that was open and advertised "feu de bois". Nice enough neighbourhood joint, slightly rowdy and good spirited, but nowhere near good enough to warrant remembering.
The one thing I do remember was the gentleman sitting next to us, a regular. In his mid 60s, very large, slight difficulty moving. But well loved by the staff despite (or because of?) his tendency to flirt with the young male staff. His eyes followed every young man in the room, not rudely, just enjoying the scenery while dining. Tres gentile. He helped us get the waiter's attention a time or two, was friendly, but alas my French isn't good enough for casual conversation. I did get a good smile from him when I made a mildly intimate gesture with Ken, letting our friend know we were fellow travellers. Paris is good for people.
The nadir of my dining in Paris so far is a joint right across from Notre Dame at the end of the Petit Pont. There's a string of several outdoor cafes; good for a beer, bad for food. Should have run away with I saw they proudly advertised "salad served in a bowl made of bread!". Nasty day old pizza dough, inedible. And the salade nicoise was lacking in all the goodness that makes a French salad. Hey, they're not all good.
Our first serious dinner was at La Bouteille d'Or, a fine restaurant with a slight Corsican bent just across from Notre Dame. We had no particular plan that night but the spacious tables and well dressed staff brought us in. And it worked fairly well.
Ken and I both had wild boar (sanglier) for our main courses. Very nice, if a bit plain in preparation. I confess I can't remember much about our first courses except that Ken's beignets of chestnut flour didn't work as well as we'd hoped. I think I had snails. But I distinctly remember the fantastic selection of Corsican cheeses we had to finish the meal, the perfect accompaniment to the dark red vin de Corse.
There are so many good restaurants of this caliber in Paris, I'm not sure this one is worth a special effort to visit again. But it was a good dinner for us.
I have a very simple desire: to receive and send email securely from my laptop, no matter what it's IP address. I'm making this a bit complicated on myself because I'm running my own mail servers on Debian: postfix for SMTP, dovecot for IMAP. And their configuration is a nightmare.
Last year I got dovecot IMAP security working. I don't really remember how, but I seem to be doing plaintext authentication (bad) over a TLS connection (good). I also remember it taking several hours to set up.
This year's project, necessitated by a DHCP-happy ISP, is SMTP authentication so I can send email. What a pain! these instructions are the best I found, but it left out a few important steps. Like you have to install libsasl2-modules by hand, and the password database copy in /var/spool/postfix/etc/ has to be readable by postfix, not just root. All that took an hour to make work; I gave up trying to get SMTP over SSL working too. Ugh.
Why is all this server setup so hard? Both dovecot and postfix support way too many security options, none of them easy. And then various clients don't support various authentication options (Outlook: I'm talking about you). It should all just work out of the box.
Our apartment is on the lovely Ile St. Louis. Dining options are limited here, but one place that seems to work well for a casual lunch is the Auberge de la Reine Blance. It's just a bit further west up the street than most tourists go and the door is kind of small, but inside is a very typical little comfortable lunch joint.
The menu is a bit ambitious for a casual place. Ken had an eggplant gratin with curry flavouring along with a rich, solidly prepared beef burgundy. I had an excellent set of snails in little puff pastry with pesto and a lovely millefeuille preparation of fish. Well executed, simple, not terribly expensive. We'll be back.
We went back, it was as good as remembered and is now our favourite neighbourhood place. I see someone agrees with me: it gets a 21/30 food rating in Zagat.
Our second night in Paris found us stumbling around again looking for a restaurant, this time by heading off in a direction of the Marais we'd never been in before. We ended up at Le Bouledogue at 20 Rue Rambuteau in the 3rd. A tiny little place, half empty at 20:45 and totally full by 21:15. About half the crowd were skinny French gay men there for a quick pre-crawl meal. And proper brasserie service, friendly people, all good. (Except the weather, a miserable 30°C).
Ken and I both had gaspacho, passably good but nothing special. Ken's duck confit was undercooked but the skin was nicely crunchy. My breast of goose was absolutely fantastic, unctuously oily with just enough vinegar in the sauce to balance. We liked the place, but in retrospect maybe the food was just ordinary.
Our first few days in Europe Ken and I always do the same thing; wander around for 45 minutes looking for somewhere for lunch getting increasingly cross with the city and each other. Santorini, deep in the tourist maze of the 5th at 24 r. Harpe, is typical of the place we end up at. Good enough food, OK staff, nothing remarkable. We had grilled meat and a salad and were done.
I have a soft spot in my heart for the friendly brasserie Le Dauphin even if it may not be among Paris' best restaurants. It's conveniently located near the Louvre at 167 Rue Saint-Honoré, the staff is friendly and easily accomodates English (or Japanese), it's open for dinner on Sundays, and it's lively but easy to get a table at.
The food is good and solid. They have a southwestern France bent (cassoulet, etc), but the menu is generally typical brasserie fare with some well considered specials. And while 37€ isn't cheap for a three course menu it's not bad for the quality and location. Ken and I always seem to end up here on our first night in Paris (it's near the hotel we favour) and for that, it satisfies.
Ken and I are running around stressed trying to get ready to go to France. I walked into Ken's office today to see him typing on his precariously balanced laptop, intently concentrating with his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth. What was he doing? Copying bookmarks to the laptop. How? By hand, by retyping every URL.
Ken's a smart guy and a professional software engineer. But he's not a Windows hacker. So when he needs to do something odd on the Windows box he patiently does what he knows will work. In this case, retyping 100 URLs.
After showing him where the Favorites folder was and how to mail himself a zip file, we pondered what had gone wrong. It's simple, really. Other than asking someone how would you ever figure out how to do something weird like copy bookmarks from one computer to another?
We can solve this specific problem with a tool like Google Browser Sync. But in general how do we make software obvious to use, both for its intended purpose and for the weird little things you need to do once a year?
Thanks to Flickr it's finally easy to use geotagged photos. Alas, the workflow is still very clumsy for using a GPS to geotag. Here's what I came up with for Windows.
The flaw in the above workflow is it doesn't put the geotag data in your raw image originals. RoboGeo supports DNG but not CR2. Ugh. Keep the GPX files around.
I needed a new laptop for my trip to France. After shopping around I ended up buying the Thinkpad T60 with the ATI Radeon X1400 graphics card. It's a good compromise between powerful, light, and gaming ability. And Thinkpad PC hardware has a well deserved excellent reputation. But IBM recently sold the business, how is Lenovo doing?
The hardware quality is good. Same solid keyboard, rugged screen hinge, ugly industrial design of Thinkpads for years. Temperature and power management seem good. The screen isn't as bright as I'd like; I don't have the "FlexView" option, maybe I should have gotten it. The laptop lacks S-Video or DVI output. But basically it's a good solid machine and I like it.
The software is surprisingly good. By which I mean there's almost none. The only non-system stuff is a bunch of Google software that uninstalls very simply (or may actually be useful!). And the IBM ThinkVantage suite of system tools is not too bad. You have to convince it not to turn your wireless off every 3 minutes and you have to disable the mysterious "BEEP" driver, but overall the laptop works.
Now the big problem; customer service. The online order system is awful and buggy and confusing. And then Lenovo screwed up somehow and sent me a machine with a bad part. The promised replacement took four weeks to arrive and the salesguy who was my contact mostly avoided returning my phone calls. Bad customer service, a bad omen for Lenovo's taking over the business.
I'd probably buy another Thinkpad. Depends if build quality is maintained.