Dec 27, 2007

Joel Osteen—Mc Self-Help

This is not a commercial for whitening gel or couple's therapy.
At the head of a mega church with, not one, not two, not three but seven million viewers, Joel Osteen and his glittering smile will lecture you on how to better yourself and improve your life in 7 steps. I'm all for the self-help tools (minus God as being part of the solution because not everybody believes in it) that offers something to anyone who seeks help. I can see how powerful it must be to feel the energy of 16000 fellow followers praying in unison while feeling like they all belong to something big. Personally, i'd rather be part of a choral of 16000 (better big when you can't sing) or in a one-on-one therapy session (easier to park when you get there.)

I hope that Joel won't turn out to be another fervent anti-gay preacher who ends up sleeping with Ted Haggard (whose name just happened to cross my mind), even if i don't have a problem with the two of them hooking up. Well, i'd much rather imagine Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain...
I love the juicy scandals that put people back into their place but hypocrites, especially the ones who drag thousands of people into their scheme, shouldn't be given the attention they get, with all the lucrative business that follows.

Joel Osteen also says: "God wants you to be successful in business".
Sex scandal or not, America will never cease to entertain me.

Dec 20, 2007

The neighbor's homemade cured ham

Papy pollo (that's what they call him in the village) had a pig. Then the time came to bring the pig to his friend Christian—a former butcher who still slays pigs for his homies in the back of his garage— to cut it into pieces and start the curing process.
Several months later, papy pollo brought back his now ready-to-eat pig's leg to have it sliced. Nobody was home when he arrived so he went to the pub. When Christian came back home he saw papy pollo's electric blue car in front of his garage with a big piece of ham left right there on the hood and no one around to keep an eye on it. So fresh and so rural. Christian cut down the leg into small chunks and the chunks into slices and oh my, there's nothing like your neighbor's homemade cured ham (Billy and Oh, you are missing out! you too Brook—bacon lover!)

Dec 19, 2007

Nicolas Sarkozy - Carla Bruni: what happens when power meets celebrity (and when you start imagining the president in his bedroom)

A first in the history of french presidency: when the president of France makes the news for hooking up with a(n) (ex)top model you know times have changed. Here's enough juice to feed gossip magazines for awhile and help the french middle class and the rest of the world (why not) live by proxy. They sell dreams -power, fame, celebrity and fortune are a good combination for attention- and the rest of the world keeps asking for more. Newsworthy magazines sell out by publishing "celebrity gossip" news so that they can maximize their profits. I wonder how far Nicolas Sarkozy's need for attention will go? So far he still hasn't topped the level of juiciness and exuberance that some of the american news has offered the world. I wonder how far the Sarkozy saga will keep us entertained?

Dec 18, 2007

Paris—Pierre Hermé (when decadent rhymes with succulent)

The front of his pastry shop looks like a jewelry store, the inside like a casket of very precious, highly talked about, edible jewels.
Here are a few of his macarons' flavor:
-white truffle & hazelnut
-Mogador passion fruit & milk chocolate
-Fleur de Sel caramel
-chocolate & foie gras (my vegetarian girlfriend won't get to try that one.)
-chocolate and caramel
-black truffle
-balsamic vinegar ("tradizionale di Modena" aged for 25 years)
-olive oil & vanilla (that's right)
-eglantine, fig & foie gras

These macarons are so pretty, such a treat to look at, the pearl effect of some of them remind me of my mama's powder blush. Flash back. It's no longer "les petites madeleines de Proust" but rather: les petits macarons d'Hermé.

Dec 16, 2007

Paris—Ladurée (take your mama out)

Ok, i didn't think i would write about this but here i am (another blog about Ladurée/french pastries...)
Last year after my grand-father's funeral my mother and i went back to Paris and spent a day walking and "window-licking" (lèche-vitrine = window shopping) in the Madeleine/Palais-Royal neighborhood. And then it was tea time, time for a pause at Ladurée. Their was a crazy line snaking all the way out but most of it was from the people buying pastries at the counter. We sort of had to force our way up to the tea salon. If you are walking the cold streets of Paris and you need to warm up (in a cozy, elegant and sort of bourgeois atmosphere), that is the place to be: it is sort of overheated and makes you kinda melt. And then you melt some more when you see the list of desserts. French pastries are the bombe!


Métro Arts et Métiers (all coppered out and looking like you're inside a submarine.)
One summer, a few years back, we went to Song Heng restaurant for some Pho but the place was closed for the whole month (August in France...)
We gave it another shot this week, and eventhough we thought we might arrive too late for lunch (it was 3.30pm) we got there half an hour before it closed.
It's a very small place with an even smaller menu: 3 tables of 6, 1 table of 4 and 2 dishes to choose from (Pho and Bun bo). When you walk in they sit you wherever there's a seat left: you fill in the space. It's like a human scale video game with the host placing its pawns as they walk in. And it doesn't matter if you don't know the person sitting in front of you, next to you and kitty corner from you because it's France and you don't have to make conversation. Depending on the angle you look at it, it might work for you or not. It's non-vegetarian and if you want it meatless that's fine but as they will make sure to tell you, everytime you come in, "c'est la même plix" (that is " c'est le même prix" which means: it's the same price.)

Dec 15, 2007

Paris—Les Jardins du Palais-Royal

Paris, mid-afternoon, walking from Gare-de-Lyon to Place des Victoires, strolling through the stylishly "pimped out" Galerie Vivienne with all its mono-color Christmas ornaments and then moving onto one of my favorite gardens: les Jardins du Palais-Royal. It's sort of raining at first, then the sun rays find their way between the menacing dark grey clouds and come hit the golden statue of Joan of Arc: a totally unexpected bling-bling vision of a parisian statue.

Dec 5, 2007

Early round

7am. There was nothing in the sky, nothing except for Venus and the moon; it was very quiet. And then came the starlings... for a change.

Dec 2, 2007

What else is new?

Bird shit, lots of it.

Bare trees and a wandering sheep

There's a sheep in the village. I thought i heard it the other day but it didn't make any sense because the beast is just too far, even the crazy wind could not carry its voice all the way to the house. I told myself i was hearing voices -i've been hearing things lately- but it turns out i wasn't totally trippin'.

The sheep followed my neighbor home. When she got out of her car there was a sheep in her garage -a four legged surprise that needed to be taken back to where it came from. So, the neighbor got on her bicycle and led it back to its grazing field.

Why doesn't this sort of thing happen to me? All i get is to hear voices,
some weird stuff that could be linked to some circulatory problems. Too much butter and cheese i'm telling you.
Or is it not enough wine?

The french expression that sounds like a retarded onomatopoeia

There was a young chinese man who came to study in France and ended up in Angers, in the Loire valley, where the castles are made of white stones and slate roofs. The young man came over for lunch a few times and asked several times what a certain expression meant, trying to repeat something he kept hearing here and there, something nobody at the table quite understood. The guy spoke very little french and the little he knew was so distorted by his accent that sometimes we simply smiled at him, not knowing what to answer, and nodded trying to save face when it was obvious that something had gotten totally lost in translation.

"AHBAHNDIDONK"(to be read in french with a chinese accent) was the word that nobody, no dictionary, no soul could manage to explain to him. It turns out the dude was hearing something that was a contraction of words, that when put together express astonishment: "ahbendisdonc!" which comes from: "et bien dis donc!"
(english translation: daaang!)
and that is a piece of french vernacular; not proper french but perfectly understandable (when pronounced without a foreign accent.)

francesca's blog:

Nov 26, 2007

La Tramontane

I live in one of the sunniest regions in France. The wind is constantly blowing, sweeping the clouds away and recycling the air, leaving us with a clear blue sky most of the year. Sounds nice, but when 42°F feels like -5° you stop liking it.

70mph gusts of wind are expected for tomorrow.
My dad said i'd better put some coins in my pockets when i go outside, so i don't catch a windride.

"Le vent qui vient à travers la montagne me rendra fou" Victor Hugo. I'm right there with him.

Work it out dad

Physics on a saturday morning:

You had no idea until i pointed it out, sacré papa!

When you pick up your pencil and draw:

Nov 24, 2007

Blue chair jams

Shit, just when i decided to curb my consumption of bread, i got a package in the mail from my friend Rachel: 12 jars of the best jams ever. No kidding - if you don't believe me go try them. Rachel's Blue Chair jams from Oakland and Peyriac-Minervois' country bread are the best combination ever. Oh, did i forget to mention BUTTER?! That thin layer of FAT between the bread and the jam.
I recently noticed that my skinny pants started "grabbing" my calves when i walk. Grab right, grab left, grab right and left, grab right-left, grab right-left, and grab right...(as i'm slowing down) and left... no more grabbing for a moment - i'm standing still. Those pants must've shrunk or something.
12 original flavors in each jar:
- Strawberry – Meyer Lemon w/ Rose Geranium
- Strawberry – Santa Rosa Plum w/ Rosemary
- Apricot Rose
- Tayberry
- Wild Blackberry
- Quince Marmalade
- Flavor King Pluot
- Greengage
- Brown Turkey Fig w/ Sherry and Fennel
- Black Splendor Plum
- Spiced Holiday Plum
- Damson Plum

Nov 21, 2007

The old man and the cat food

An old man and a shopping cart
Filled to the top with cat food cans
When asked how many cats he owned
His answer was an embarrassed "no"
An old man shopping for his friends
The neighborhood cats.

Nov 19, 2007

La Redorte: vide-greniers

A €2 Plastic Bertrand pink vinyl LP is found at a stand amongst many other crappy stands and sold by a gypsy woman whose wide, tanned and rough hands say a lot about an itinerant lifestyle more than likely stripped of basic comfort.
The gypsy settlements outside of the local villages, never too close to other habitations, remind the passer-by of the long history of a shunned community.

As a child, in my grand-parents village, right behind a big maison bourgeoise and next to the edge of a vast vineyard, stood a trailer that was the object of my curiosity. I was told by the other kids to be wary of the gypsies living there. That's my oldest memory of being brainwashed. We wandered several times around that trailer trying to catch a glimpse of a different people, a different lifestyle. I saw two of them once, and while feeling both exultation and fear, i left the scene taking something away with me: the guilty pleasure of having gotten close to something i was supposed to stay away from, and the fertile imagery of an unknown and mysterious world.

Nov 15, 2007

Mid november

It snowed in my backyard today.

Nov 14, 2007

The old lady and the old man

At the village supermarket, if there's an old lady behind you with a single article in her hand, don't bother offering her to go ahead of you because she's already handed her item to the cashier. It's done so naturally that you can't seem to think it should've happened any other way.
There's also this old guy who comes around just to check what's in your cart and what's in the store. He'll actually stand in line with no items in hand and wait for his turn (or something). Today i saw him walk down the road and flick a dead leaf with his cane; he looked so angry at the leaf that he must've used all of his strength to move it out of his way. Who knew an old man's irascibility could stem from one red dried dead leaf.

Nov 13, 2007

Carcassonne's fancy bookstore

A quiet saturday afternoon in the garrigue

San Francisco: an eighteen year old young man gets shot by a fifteen year old teenager because he isn't going down the escalator fast enough.

Nov 8, 2007

Olonzac: vide-greniers (the organized garage sale)

the 1€ stack of 70's cocktail cards.

The one euro Dallas 45 rpm.
I found the soundtrack (french version) to Dallas, in the smallest village in the south of France.
Dallas, one of the many american t.v series that played on french televison. Also the only t.v series translated into french, on moroccan televison in 1979; the one that i would go check out at my girlfriends' when i was 8 years old. My two girlfriends and i played grown ups (my mama's high heels did a lot of back and forth to the candy store) and we'd name ourselves after the texan characters.
When he was a little boy, my friend Patrice got denied his "Dallas" night out at his friend's for having been naughty. He had a fit in his backyard, wearing only his underpants. So gay.
The american soap opera pop culture has left an indelible print on the french mentality; a lot of the later shows such as Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place and Sex and the City have inspired lower middle class french housewives in the naming of their offspring. The names of some of today's teenagers are the scarlet letters of their mother's addiction.
If you meet a girl named Sarah or Jennifer while visiting France, there's a chance her mother was watching t.v between 1 and 3pm.

French cats

French cats aren't picky.
Soon, the one that's been hiding in the garden and that we've all been feeding unbeknownst to each other will have a seat at the dining table and his own napkin ring. But maybe he'll explode before that, he's probably over a month old and his belly's way larger than his head -shouldn't it be the other way around at that age?
They eat the stinky stuff (cat food) and the good stuff too: saffron rice, green beans, pimientos, mussels, gambas and calamaris (and yes, should you ask, that was paella we fed them.)
They like cheese too (french cats fer sure), steamed potatoes, walnuts... What else have we been feeding those creatures... Expired dairy (still edible though, wouldn't want to get them sick) and we'll come up with new ideas that will keep us astonished in seeing what a cat will actually eat.

10 days later...
They eat lentils too (actually it was lentil soup so that means that they also ate celery, potatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, paprika and cumin), green peas, raw eggs...

Way later...
Broccoli. The kitty's way bigger, he has a big belly and a round head. His eyes look like marbles, he's round all over, he reminds me of an owl.

A month later...
They eat cauliflower too.
The kitty's legs seem too short—his belly brushes the ground.

Nov 3, 2007


There's a red marble quarry right above the village,
A 40 min walk from our house.
It's an amazingly peaceful place at dusk.
The three of us left alone in a vast, silent pink pit until the sun had set,
Feeling like time had stopped for a precious moment.

Oct 31, 2007

Mc Calabash

It doesn' t matter how far away you go and how small and remote the village you end up in is, it seems like Halloween reaches the far corners of this world. Trick-or-treating happens here too, i just witnessed it. My dad says you know you're in a small village when there is no police, i say you know it's small when the library opens only for an hour and a half once a week (here it's from 4pm-5.30pm on fridays). I never thought i'd see Halloween celebrated in Caunes-Minervois. I might have to change the way i think of Caunes and accept the fact that, despite it's appearance, it is not as remote as i think it is. There's a French twist to the traditional pumpkin' though — here, all sorts of giant cucurbitaceae are displayed: an assortment of Mc calabashes. Nice. France does big things too.

A few weeks ago when France was playing against New Zealand in the quarter-final rugby game, Caunes-Minervois' pub, the sole one in town, was packed with all sorts of people: underaged, elders, men, women, the village idiot (no kidding)... There were two televisions, blasting speakers, lots of drinking and way too much smoking (some turn into a pumpkin after hours, here you turn into an ashtray). Each time France scored points the young people in the crowd would start humming "Seven Nation Army"! I like how pop culture bridges nations and helps make small villages look bigger. Vive les White Stripes! On the other hand, during each game break the pub owner would turn the sound on the t.v. off and play a musical piece that sent me way back in time, years away: a piece of traditional Spanish music with sounds of guitars, clarinets, drums and castanets! At that moment i felt like the village was shrinking back to its original size.

Oct 29, 2007

Plants from the garrigue and chestnuts for dinner

Simple dishes such as cheeses, cold cuts, radishes, grapes, and chesnuts wrapped up in newspaper to keep them warm lay on the table. It was tapas style dinner at the neighbors and we were gathered around one end of a big table while more than half of the other end was occupied by things. I sat right in front of the t.v, a little chatting box behind my back. The hostess rolled her eyes at her husband until he reluctantly switched off the t.v.. she was probably thinking it isn't "proper" to have the t.v. on while you have guests over. [I'm thinking, we're all crunched up on one end of the table, that's roots, so why bother with the dos and donts, lets burp and fart and be merry.] Burps and farts aside, we did get merry, drank some red wine and then some more and didn't have to worry about the farting until later that night when the chestnuts made their way into our guts. The hostess asked for her glass to be refilled and insisted on having red because that's what she drinks. Third round she pours herself some white wine and ends up with rosé in her glass. Wow. We finished our glasses, ate some grapes and coffee was served. The hotess dropped two sugar cubes in her glass and poured some. Hecka.

(I saw a man once pour some red wine in his half emptied glass of white so that he'd get a self-made rosé and i thought it was because he was American and therefore didn't have a problem doing and being whatever it is he wanted to do/be. Americans have this way of being extreme in many ways and being fine with it; they don't try to be better than others, they just want to be free to be who they are... I once experienced folsom street fair and i know how free they like to be.)

Oct 27, 2007

You(u.s) have screen doors, we(french) have this:

French smile vs u.s smile

My brother made a comment about people's teeth in the U.S, he was really surprised at how good they looked in general.
A few weeks later my girlfriend moved to France and made a comment about how fucked up French people's teeth looked!
I have to agree with both of them.

Oct 26, 2007

A few days in Madrid

where to get the best fried cod: "Revuelta"
C/ Latoneros 3, 28005 Madrid, Spain.
ask for the "bacalao".

One day in Madrid i counted 150 women (i didn't round up that number, i just stopped counting at that amount) wearing an ensemble of red and black. Mainly a red top with a black bottom, sometimes the other way around, and every once in a while it was all red with an accent of black or all black with a touch of red. Expanding the palette to a trio of hues, there was the occasional white color added to the ensemble such as a black and white dress covered with a red coat. The sexiest combination (or was it the lady wearing it?) was the black shoes, black fishnet tights, black skirt, red top ensemble.

another day, in the Retiro park, i saw a dude on a skateboard. he was moving forward at a good pace but his feet never touched the ground: the skateboard was propelled by an engine placed underneath it.

i saw a white spanish dude wearing a do-rag. so out of context.

i met a woman who looked a little funny but it wasn't until i noticed that her lipstick was going way off the trail that i begun to understand why. ditto for the eye shadow/liner, her all in one eye make-up.

Oct 25, 2007

Bloody SNCF

True story 1:
You are waiting for your train and it's not showing up when it's supposed to (highly unusal at the SNCF). You are being informed that it is going to be late (after you've figured that out on your own), maybe 20 min late. MAYBE. Then you wait some more until they decide to give you a bit more information: the train will not show up. Nope, no train for you. And that's just the end of it. And oh well if you have a connection, a plane to catch or another train, over there where you are supposed to be heading to.

True story 2:
My friend calls the train station to add a third passenger -her 10 year old son- to her ticket. The railroad agent tells her she would not be able to sell her a ticket with a seat next to hers. So my friend asks for a ticket anyway and says that she'll manage on her own, when the time comes, to sit next to her son. To this the agent replies that she could not sell her a ticket because 10 year olds can not travel unaccompanied. WTF*. My friend says thank you and good bye and gets off the phone. She goes to the train station the next day, saturday, but it's so crowded that she decides to turn around and come back on sunday. Sunday morning's quiet at the train station, there are four agents at the counters and two customers in line. WOW. What kind of ratio is that? It is a highly unusual SNCF-ratio. The average is more like two agents for 25 customers. Anyway no complaint here because for once you are not going to be waiting... at the counter the agent informs my friend that she can not sell her any tickets because she's only selling for today's departures and tomorrow's. My friend wants to drop bombs. [I do believe that anyone who has once dealt with some kind of French bureaucratic governmental office has at some point wanted to drop bombs-i have.] She goes back home and calls the train station again and talks to an agent who gives her what she wants within 5 minutes.

when you come visit France my friends, arm yourself with patience.

SNCF employees go on strike so that they can keep their retirement age at 55 (50 for the train engineers) -an age that was justified when trains needed coal to move forward- while their average hours of work/week is 25.
[i'd be so bored working there that i, as well, would probably go on strike to make sure i'm out of there sooner than later.]

*WTF: What The Fuck.