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May 2023 Newsletter
I’ve been trying to stay on top of things, but it’s not always easy. After three weeks away from home last month, I came back to a backlog of stuff that took me a few weeks to get a handle on. One thing I did learn from my friend, baker Nick Malgieri, is to unpack as soon as you get home. I used to wait a few days to tackle that project, but now I stun Romain by opening up my suitcase as soon as I’m home and start removing stuff.
That is, right after I have a fresh baguette smeared with salted French butter, which is what I crave when I come back to France from any trip. My pro tip is that it’s best to return on a Sunday morning to avoid the traffic jams that surround the airport and the city and make it home in time for lunch, which used to be a poulet rôti, but all the butchers are closed on Sunday in our neighborhood. So I make do with bread and butter.
One thing that I still haven’t figured out how to do is to stay on top of Direct Messages. DMs are everywhere—on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and who knows where else, since they are remarkably good at thriving in places where you can’t see them. So my general rule is to hide from them, since like asbestos, once you learn of its presence, you’ve got a big task ahead of you. Some things are better left untouched.
For the first year on Instagram, I was such a nitwit that I didn’t actually know that you could follow people. I just figured I’d go to people’s pages to see what they were doing. (Like we did on Facebook, before some say, they ruined the internet.)
That is, until a woman walked up to me on the street in Paris one day and came right out and said it: “You’re the guy who doesn’t follow anyone on Instagram!”
Ashamed, I slunk home and found, and hit, the “Follow” button a few times to get the ball rolling. But I’m not the only one who’s been slacking in the “Following” department. Salt Bae, who has 51 million followers, only follows 337 people, and Barak Obama, who has 36 million followers, follows 9 people—one is his wife and another is his half-sister. And apparently, no one has accosted Beyoncé on the sidewalk as she has 305 million followers and the number of people she follows is a paltry 0.
I often feel like I should issue blanket apologies on a monthly basis (so maybe this is it?) for not answering all the questions that range from which romantic restaurant in Paris people should go to for their anniversary—no way am I suggesting a restaurant because in case someone doesn’t like it, I don’t want to ruin anyone’s anniversary—to messages asking me to promote things like hair scrunchies, bidets, or, just a few days ago, les couvertures de refroidissement, which I had to look up; they’re cooling blankets, which, if they did their research and bothered to sleep with me, they would know that I sleep under a down comforter.
A few people did manage to squeeze through my reluctance to tap the DM button to send me a post from a week ago about a listing for a house in France (above) that was on an IG account called Cheap Old Houses that has 2.3 million followers…and a “™” after its name. The IG description of the cheap old house has a surface area of 28 square meters, about 300 square feet, which, unless my math is wrong (which is possible since I only excel at math if I’m dividing cookie dough), is about the size of a parking space.
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Despite its petit size (and prix) and the fact that it looks like it needs about €100K worth of work, I couldn’t find the actual listing. As it takes quite a while to complete a real estate transaction in France, it must have been listed a while back, or a miracle must’ve happened.
So I’m going to send CheapOldHouses™ a DM and await a response. If we snap it up, I’ll let you know. And since there doesn’t seem to be any public transportation options from Limoges (the closest city to Tursac), and I can’t drive in France*, I should get some better shoes as it’s a 23-hour walk to Limoges.
Speaking of renovations, we’ve been working on finishing up a few last details on our apartment. One surprise was that the bathroom shower needed to be refinished due to the sealant that was used originally flaking off like shards of white chocolate (if only!), which we thought was the infamous calcaire (calcium) of Paris, but it was the wrong sealant that had been applied the first time.
Because of that, and a variety of other things going on, I haven’t been doing as much cooking or baking as I like, except for dinner. Before the season ended, I loaded up on ail des ours (wild garlic) at the market and made pesto out of it…
…which we’ve been tossing with pasta for dinner with steamed asparagus. I defrosted the Meyer lemon juice that I froze from the lone lemon left on our tree before I left for California, where Meyer lemons are literally falling off the trees, and made Meyer lemon curd out of it, which Romain loves for breakfast…even though I still haven’t been able to find a suitable translation for “curd.”
Fortunately, our little tree is now covered with little white flowers, so perhaps there will be more Meyer lemons in our future?
Heading into May, we’re buckling down for another day of marches and protests in France as May 1st is the Fête du Travail, the French version of Labor Day, which in France isn’t just a day off, but a day when people traditionally march for worker’s right. This year is particularly fraught as people continue to be riled up about changes to the retirement age in France, which rises from 62 to 64, and how the changes were pushed through. And while the protests aren’t as frightening as they look on TV—I know because I live one block from the major march route— some businesses along the boulevard have boarded up their storefronts; targets are usually chain stores, banks, ATMs, real estate agencies, advertising signs, and McDonald’s, which are the usual targets of ire.
It’s also the day in France when people give each other muguets, Lilies of the Valley, to welcome spring. It’s the only day I know of where anyone can legally sell something (muguets) on the sidewalks of Paris without the police showing up. Although I suspect they’ll have their hands full today…
I recently read an article in the NYT about a website called Appointment Trader, which lets people bid on reservations to “hot” restaurants. I suppose I should have been amused that people would pay so much for something that’s free, but instead, it rankled me. In France, enterprising minds created a black market for the hard-to-get (and very important) residency card appointments at the city hall in Paris when they joined the modern world and let you make the appointments online. I don’t know if they put the kibosh on that, but in San Francisco, someone came up with a way to sell your parking space when you were done with it, which the city quickly shut down.
When I clicked on availability for restaurants in Paris, there were a number of reservations for Septime, and they say if you want the reservation, that $135 is a “fair price” amount to bid on a reservation for a dinner that costs €120 per person. L’Amis Louis was also in there for the “fair price” of $125, as well as Frenchie, for $170. True, if you’re splitting the cost with other diners, it works out to less. On the other hand, if I asked three of my friends to pitch in to pay for the reservation that I bid online for, they would think I was nuts. (And I get enough funny looks around here as it is…)
Aside from losing my Twitter verification check mark, I don’t like to grouse about what others do with their websites, but reselling something that restaurants are offering for free to people who want to eat there, isn’t a direction I think we should be going in. True, many of us want to get into the hottest restaurants in any city, but I don’t know if we should be paying a third party for that privilege. What do you think?
Links I’m Likin’
“Soggy fries are good, actually.” With apologies to the author 😉..that’s a big nope, for me #grousing (Bon Appétit)
Amazon axes international bookseller Book Depository. (BBC)
I want to go to this ice cream shop in Mexico. (Atlas Obscura)
Is this how the cookies Crumbl? (Bon Appétit)
…5 (very) unique fruits from Vietnam:
Beef on Netflix is a wild ride, when a parking lot road rage incident turns into a high-octane feud.
Ever asked, “Can I freeze that?” Your answers are here. (FDA)
Tipping guide to a changed world (NYT/Unlocked)
Testing out 5 ways to clean ceramic casseroles. And the winner is… (The Kitchn)
Paris will be buzzing as The Paris Café Festival takes place May 13-15th featuring pour overs and shots (and more) from the top baristas in town. (Le Paris Café Festival)
Also this month in Paris: The HUGE brocante (flea market/antique sale) returns on May 12, 13, and 14th to the rue de Bretagne (3rd), and the surrounding streets:
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*Driving rules in France are…interesting. As an American, you can drive legally the first year you’re here. After that, you must have a driver’s license to drive…that is, unless you’re from Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Hampshire, Michigan, Kansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, Delaware, Ohio, and Virginia (PDF). In which case, you can exchange your U.S. driver’s license for a French one, which I wish someone had told me when I arrived. And nope, an international driver’s license won’t work after that first year.
As a long-time Californian, and not much of a braggart, I’ll confess that I’m an excellent driver. But don’t take it from me. Romain was stunned to see me calmly driving through New York on the BQE without batting an eye. (Although I’m not so sure Parisian drivers are exactly the “gold standard” of knowing what a good driver is.) Some friends in France said getting their French driver’s license was harder and more stressful than getting their French passports. For one thing, you can’t take the test without going to traffic school, which can cost thousands of dollars. The test is very hard, and it’s common for people not to pass on the first (or even the second) try.
As Expatica noted about the test:
“Prudent or even legal driving might not be sufficient; you could be expected to drive the French way.”
So I’m not all that excited to tackle getting my French driver’s license…yet.