Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pt.11 - Return from Montmartre - Photo Op at the T'ing

Pt.11 - Return from Montmartre - Photo Op at the T'ing

La Metro is Everywhere!
It was no cooler, as we resumed down the street some Rue or other in Montmartre. We agreed that it was time to head back to the hotel, how many cobblestones can you walk on? We found La Metro without any difficulty, got on one that looked like it was going our way. It was not the way we had come, but it headed to our destination anyway. We went through some unfamiliar-looking stops with familiar names. One transfer in particular was very small — only one track, which could only be boarded on one side, and very few people waiting in it. It was extremely quiet in between trains.

Then the station I have never figured out — Invalides. Something always happens here with the C route that I don’t understand. Through a station, you exit the turnstiles, but you don’t have to buy another ticket to re-board the train, just head up the escalator, and then, you must re-enter through another turnstyle. The tickets we had worked the turnstiles. We asked at an information booth that we had visited the day before, and this time he told us to take the C train, not this one, not the next one, but the third one, if we wanted to get to Charles Michel. We did as we were told, and got on a train heading through the familiar stops, Point d’Alma, Champ de Mars, what happened to Bir Hakem? That’s where we should have transferred — Kennedy/Radio France — That’s too far! That’s across the river1 WHOA! We been kidnapped, Joyce!

We got out at Bouganvillieres, the next stop, went up and over the tracks, coming down on the other side, boarded the next train, determined to get off at Bir Hakim. The next stop, Radio France again — next stop, Bir Hakim, right? Nope. It was Champs de Mars, again. We got off, resigned to walking. Champs de Mars had become our own private Via Dolorosa. This was where we had gotten off the first day, just before the hellish trek to the hotel. A security officer at Champs de Mars told us that Bir Hakim was the western half of the station, and Champs de Mars was the eastern half. But, we had SEEN the Bir Hakim station — it was a half-mile away from this station, and was not connected. Maybe it was some long underground half-mile long tunnel — we never found out.

“Take my picture next to the t’ing”
We got out exactly where we had gotten out the day before. Just for variety, we crossed the street at our first opportunity. Now we were tired, plodding along. A river walk along the Seine. Steps led up and down — we plodded up and down. We came upon a statue — some dam memorial to some victims or other. Joyce stopped, reached in her purse, handed me the camera.
“Take my picture next to the t’ing” she said tonelessly, indicating the statue. She sat down in front of it, I took the picture. It was all so dutiful, we laughed about it later.

C'est La Vie!
Continuing along on the walk behind the t’ing, we encountered two men in the center of a grassy knoll, just zipping up after some recreational romantical sport or other in the grass. We looked straight ahead, kept on walking. There was a balcony, if it had a great view or not, I don’t know, we were too tired to look. The important thing was, that there were no more pathways, and no more steps. We had to walk back past the queens, still at it, and got back down to the street level using the stairs by the T’ing. We could see our hotel, but had to turn back two blocks, go down the stairs, cross the street, retracing our path twenty feet lower on the street level.

In Spite of the Concierge...
Finally reaching the hotel, we checked into the procedures for storing bags, to be picked up Saturday when we returned to Paris. Tomorrow, we would be boarding the train to our river cruise. We checked the old familiar shopping bag, with its 30 pounds of cookware, and another of the carry-on bags, with dirty laundry and other weighty things we did not need, into storage. Joyce would want it mentioned, for the record, that there was no charge for this service.

Another Dinner in Paris
We made another trip to Monoprix that night. This time we purchased bottled water, fruit juice, some beignets (plain doughnuts with sugar on them), and some long braided dessert pastry. On the way home, we noticed the big rusty thing was all lit up, so we took turns taking each others picture with Tour Eiffel in the background, just a few blocks from our hotel.

We sat down to another fine dinner of yesterday’s bread — it was still good — butter, cheese, and cold peas (one of Joyce’s favorite vegetables) and lots of that fruit juice. It was made from “red fruits”, it said, including strawberries, currants, raspberries, cherries, and who knows what all else. It was so good. I was so thirsty. I almost drank the whole quart myself. We were weary — I don’t remember falling asleep. I woke up — too much fruit juice rouge, Monseur? Just the opposite of the problem I had been having — at least my headache was gone.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to twitter.com I'm @dimbulb52

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Labor Day on the Floor

This had been the worst internal demolition job ever, and at last it was over. The last tenant had destroyed and defiled as best he could when evicted by the previous owner. The broken furniture, fetid fast food remnants, dog feces, unspeakably filthy appliances, rotted bedding - all gone. Likewise the filthy shag carpet and the greasy linoleum beneath - all removed over the course of many weeks. Summer of '04. Thanks for the memories. All that remains is an expanse of mostly-intact 3/8" plywood floorboard, original from the 1940s. Since it was fairly complete and fairly level, I decided to leave it there.

So, it is Labor Day Weekend, looking forward to a weekend of relaxation. Next week, the flooring guy will be coming to install the vinyl tile floor. But, that's next week, for now it's time to breathe the clean dust-free air of Labor Day Weekend.

Things changed, as they often do.

The last layer of plywood now has to be removed because it would interfere with the leveling of the new underlayment. (or some such nonsense - i'm a church organist, not a contractor!). If the layer is not removed, the tile work can't start next week. All I could see was my Labor Day weekend swirling down the drain with a sickening sucking noise.

Early Saturday morning, i donned my grubs, grabbed the hammers, channel locks and crowbars, and hit it with a vengeance. perhaps Sunday and Monday could be rescued. No such luck - this floor was built to last, screwed, glued, and pounded. It was held down by pallet nails (the screw kind that don't let go) and screws, usually too deteriorated to be unscrewed. Filthy -- sixty years of accumulated dust and powdered adhesive rising up in a malevolent cloud. Most of the nails popped through the old wood, so they each had to be removed individually. Did I mention it was Labor Day Weekend? It was also very hot.

Saturday blurred into Sunday, a numbing routine of ripping, piling scraps up behind the building, and pulling nails and screws. My glasses were caked with sweat and debris, but what was there to see? The wooden floor at last all removed, i was left with a matrix of nails and screws, and they all had to be removed. Knee pads, crow bar, hot.

From directly behind me, I mean, directly, a loud high voice demanded: "What are you doing?" I turned around painfully, and there stood an Oriental girl about 3 feet tall. In the hot dirty dust-choked world I'd been living in, she stood out like an apparition. Then I realized that it was one of the children from the Chinese restaurant next door. "I'm pulling out the nails" "Why?" "So they can put in a new floor" "What kind of floor?" She never ran out of questions. Her name was Lani, and she was very smart and very bored. But Lani was different. Instead of running around getting dirty, as other children would, breaking things, or hurting herself, Lani was interested in the project.

She watched, fascinated as I used the crowbar and hammer various ways, depending on how the nails were embedded. "You missed one", she said, and pointed right at one that, sure enough I had missed. Well, soon she wanted to try one, and, hoping she would be careful, I let her try one. Soon, we were both pulling nails. Lani had to be more careful, because she didn't want to get her clothes dirty, and she didn't, but she was lots closer to the ground, so she got better leverage. Although she came from a house where only Chinese was spoken, Lani's English pronunciation was careful and precise.

Over the rest of the afternoon, she told me everything she had learned in school. She made me ask her addition problems, as we worked, all combinations of numbers up to 15, she wasn't allowed to go any higher. And multiplication up to nine. Lani knew 2nd grade math up one side and down the other. She worked until her father came to get her.

The next day, she came back. I was sweeping up the last of the dusty gray dreck that covered the floor. Again, the little voice. "you missed one!" I couldn't even see it, it was halfway across the room. But on closer observation, there was indeed another one. And she found another and another. She said to me, "How come you can't see all those?" I explained that my glasses were dirty, and I couldn't see that well to begin with. I reversed the question: "How come you can see all those nails so well?" She told me, without hesitation: "Because I'm better Looking than you!"

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to twitter.com I'm @dimbulb52

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Pt.10 Wandering in Montmartre

This is a story of our only trip to France. If you'd like to follow the exciting adventure from the beginning follow this link to PART ONE

Pt.10 - Wandering in Montmartre

Continuing up the street (Coquiliere?) we came upon Rue Montmartre again. The particular four-block stretch of Montmartre we happened upon was loaded with cooking-supply places. My theory is that E.Dehillerin is the genuine article, and all the others are the imitations. The other cooking-supply places we checked out, although they looked like the merchandise might have been priced less, might have been a source of disappointment in the form of inferior quality. None of them had the — genuineness— of E.Dehillerin. They were more along the line of the “liquidation” places in the US.

Fancy a Truffle, dear?
Montmartre, according to Joyce’s homework, was the place to search for truffles. And, sure enough, there was an abundance of stores advertising truffles on their painted window signs. We entered one of the stores, which was primarily a coffee shop. The truffles are sold as brown lumps in a watery yellow liquid, in a very small jar. The jar has one lump, which is your truffle, or truffles? The jar is not full, just the lump, and the liquid at the bottom of the jar. The jars are kept in a glass case, and cost begins at about $30. We decided not to buy truffles, for now.
French Alleys
On Montmartre, I noticed for the first time— the alleys. They weren’t really alleys, they were courtyards. Through an entrance which sometimes had a gate, but usually was an archway going through the first-floor level of the block of buildings, the backs of all the buildings were accessible. The courtyards we saw were always very well-kept and clean, except for the ever-popular urine smell, but there was very little litter. Some of them served as parking lots for cars, some had private gardens, some were just open areas with balconies. Compared to Milwaukee’s alleys, these had more of a sense of — community. If you’re sharing the back-yard with a whole variety of neighbors, it’s gotta affect your conduct, the respect you have for your neighbor’s business and privacy. On the other hand, maybe they’re just putting on a show for the tourists.
The Metro is Everywhere
Continuing down Montmartre, then up another street, we realized, that, as long as we stayed in Paris, we could go anywhere we wanted, and when we got tired, get into the nearest Metro. Without the encumbrance of the luggage, only our 30-lb shopping bag of Mandoline parts, a few mis-steps on the Metro wouldn’t kill us, but only serve to make us stronger.
Everything is Foreign
A narrow street, we turned right. A woman’s accessory shop. The oriental woman at the counter wished us “Bon Jour”. I went in for awhile, but it was so hot - a man gets terribly hot in a ladies' shop. After nodding approvingly at a few purchases, I told Joyce I’d wait outside. Across the narrow street, there were a number of people working on the second floor, remodeling. Somehow, even the remodelling, hammering, sawing, etc. had a ‘foreign’ sound to it. A neatly-tied bundle of discarded insulation was laid in the street.

Carried away by the relaxation of it all, I sat down on a narrow ledge at the foot of the building, clanking my 30-pounder of cookware down next to me. A few moments later, I noticed that the urine smell seemed stronger here. I stood back up. Baaad dog! Was it the dogs, or, as Joyce’s brother later conjectured, was it the Parisians? Who was pissing all over these streets?

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to twitter.com I'm @dimbulb52

Sunday, September 13, 2009

When Syd Was the New Cat on the Block

One Sunday morning two years ago, we went to the Milwaukee Humane Society animal shelter. A volunteer who took our application recommended Jordan. We wanted an experienced cat that wouldn't be underfoot all the time. And, if possible, not too smart. I hated it when Fatso, our previous cat would always outsmart me. She was superior to us and never let us forget it. We looked into the shelter's glass-walled private cat cell, and there was "Jordan", posing on his pedestal. But as soon as the door was opened, Jordan calmly walked out into the common area, and headed for the door as if to show us where the rest of the paperwork could be gotten out of the way. I picked him up, he chirped a bit, and then resigned himself to going back into the cell. I could see no sense of superiority in his eyes. In fact, he looked as dumb as a box of hammers. We'd look at a few more cats that morning, but Jordan was the one. I could see that the volunteers had not gotten his name right - this cat should have been called Syd, and Syd he became.

Syd made no fuss being cooped up in the box on the way home, but, looking back with what we know now, it was a good thing he was not aware of the car trip. Syd was a stray when the Humane Society had gotten him - a declawed cat running around wild can have some really bad memories.

When we arrived at home and released him, Syd first introduced himself to Gondi, our other cat, (who is an over-indulged and useless sissy) and then went about methodically exploring the house. He showed no reaction to anything until he saw the toilet bowl in the bathroom. Excited, he put his paws up on the edge and tried to drink. Sadly, somehow he had come to associate toilet bowls with drinking water, either from his life abroad, or from previous owner neglect. I picked him up and took him to the water dish - this was so much better! Syd was excited. And food, too! This new place was a good place. We left him kind of on his own, as he found out where everything was. When I went to bed, he jumped up next to me and slammed himself against me - the good life!

The next morning, we were awakened by cold wet objects in the bed. Syd had done his best to bring us gifts. There were some tea bags from the garbage disposal, and, for me, his favorite new thing - a red sponge he found in the kitchen. Syd was careful to moisten all the new gifts in his water dish - that personal touch is SO important in a gift. The wake-up gifts continued for a few days, until he discovered that the other cat didn't have to bring gifts, so on the fourth day, the gifts stopped.

Syd spends a lot of time moving rubber bands around. He finds them on tables and desks, and takes them somewhere else. Sometimes he accumulates them in one spot, but mostly likes to move them to remote corners and leave them there. In Syd's mind he is earning his keep.

Syd soon found the paths of least resistance, the places where he could take the longest naps with the least disturbance. He knew when the food dishes were filled, so he didn't have to stand around waiting - just show up at dinner time, and there it was!
Syd and Gondi spent lots of time together, grooming one another and exchanging stories. Gondi told him about how Fatso had always been so surly and untrusting of the owners, and she had promised that one day they would both be abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Syd explained to Gondi that these were just Fatso's paranoid delusions - this truly was the place where the Good Life was lived.
Syd continues to this day to enjoy an unusally good life.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to twitter.com I'm @dimbulb52

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Blockbuster Battle - Part Two

Add Image

I recently terminated my subscription to Blockbuster home delivery, after they enacted new policies at the local level which resulted in my receiving NO deliveries. Details here.

I wrote to corporate headquarters, and last Friday, I received a reply.

If you have trouble focusing on the above image, basically, they acknowledged the problem, and have responded by adding a soon-to-be-implemented option to the delivery methods. The customer will be given a choice - fast delivery, or delivery of specific titles at the top of the queue, which may involve a longer wait. This is what customer service is about -- Listening to the customer, and fixing the problem.

I plan on re-instating my subscription to Blockbuster. In the interim, I found that my brief encounter with Netflix was trouble-free, but my sense of customer loyalty and fairness compels me to switch back to Blockbuster.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to twitter.com I'm @dimbulb52

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pt.9 Shopping in Martha Stewart's Footsteps

Pt.9 - Dehillerin Emporium de Cuisine Francais

Adventure begins (link to part one) here

To say that E.Dehillerin sells cooking tools is an understatement. E. Dehillerin has every quality cooking implement that can be imagined, or ever will be imagined. If you can prepare food with it, E. Dehillerin has it. From stockpots big enough to take a bath in to strange-looking julienne knives with six razor-sharp blades mounted parallel on the same handle. There was cast iron, enamel-ware, cast-iron enamelware, stainless steel, pottery, glass. It is all there.

The main floor is divided into two narrow wings. The building is located on an odd-shaped corner, and occupies most of the front of two blocks, but not the center of the block, hence the two narrow wings. From the creaky wooden floor to the high ceiling, the store is lined with ancient homemade. wooden shelves dating from the turn of the century at the very latest. Merchandise is stacked on the shelves, or arranged in wooden bins on either side of narrow aisles. Most of the light in the building comes from the windows lining the outside walls, and from ancient fluorescent fixtures mounted over the central office. Merchandise is not price-marked; the clerks will be happy to help you look up the stock numbers in the price catalogs mounted on the ends of the aisles.

Purchases are brought to a worn wooden workbench, where they are tallied by the clerk making the sale, then wrapped in paper dispensed from a roll on the wall, and held together by string and gummed paper tape. On the other side of a wooden desk, is an office, equipped with desks, one with a computer, manned by the office staff, which helps the clerks with difficult calculations, customs information for tourists, and special orders. While Joyce was comparing cutlery, I snuck downstairs, not for the love of cooking, but because I loved exploring the building. There were two more wings, not of overstock, but of other cooking stuff that they didn’t have upstairs. It was amazing trip down, through a narrow wooden winding stairway. Everything is so close together, that store patrons must proceed carefully.

Joyce met the “next available clerk”, Emille, at the door. He was very darked-skinned, and explained in his limited English that he could look up the price of anything we were interested in, and that he was our clerk. There must be a big dependence on commissions among the E.Dehillerin clerks. Emille was very good at playing ‘em and reeling ‘em in. Joyce had heard of the Mandoline on Martha Stewart’s show, so she had to see that. It is a precision-manufactured slicing apparatus, like a sauerkraut cutter with exposed razor blades. It has a straight blade, a julienne blade which looks very menacing, a crinkle-cut blade, and, most important of all, for another $40, a safety guard, which holds the intended food in the track for the blade, and the unintended food, such as fingertips and knuckles, safely on the other side of the handle. Having paid my dues at the Candle Glow restaurant years ago with the wooden potato/sauerkraut cutting board, I recognized the value of a safety guide, and strongly recommended the extra investment. Without the safety, the unit cost $100.00, but is a precision instrument that will last a lifetime, well worth it.

Then started the dickering. Over a certain minimum, Emille told us, our purchase would qualify for a tax refund, after it passed through customs. The refund would be mailed to us. However, we were about 100 francs short of making the minimum for refund. We just had to buy a little more. Joyce liked a cast (aluminum or steel?) sauce pan. She had run out of the francs from the traveler’s checks she had cashed at the hotel. I loaned her some of mine. The opportunity for a customs-tax refund this sizeable comes but once in a lifetime. It was well over the 100 francs, especially with the lid, which was extra.

But then Emille added it up again, and it was still short. How much more do we have to spend? Suddenly the English is a little less plentiful, but a very small purchase would get us up to the required refund amount. A cheese cutter had caught Joyce’s eye— it is a blade with a built-in server. It looks so much like a spatula I used to have, but had broken while scraping the stuck material off of the bottom of my cast-iron fry pan, long, long ago. We got the cheese cutter. Emille said that it was still not enough, but we had noticed a pattern of salesmanship. Emille was quite the huckster— he’d do ok demonstrating cutlery at a USA State Fair. Still, we were purchasing good quality cookware, and maybe we hadn’t understood him right, so we didn’t really get angry at him.

I write this in September, though, and we have still not received our refund in the mail from this August visit. But, at that point, we gave orders for the final wrap-up. We got detailed instructions of how to properly get the form processed by customs as we left the country. So with a shopping bag holding a 30-pound tightly-wrapped package, we continued up the street.
Satisfied with all her new purchases, Joyce thought it would be a good time to stop at a sidewalk cafe for a soda, or a coffee. Wouldn’t you know it — not a cafe in sight! One of the things I will always remember about Paris: I was always hot and thirsty. And now, I would be carrying a 30-lb package for the rest of the day.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to twitter.com I'm @dimbulb52

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Pt.8 Unknown Lunch in the Unknown Neighborhood of Paris

The French Adventure of a lifetime begins here (link)

Pt.8 - We have God-Knows-What for Lunch in a Restaurant God-Knows-Where in Paris

Greatly relieved, we resumed our aimless journey. Not finding the street we were looking for, Rue Coquilliere, or even knowing where we were, we got hungry. We started looking at the posted menus outside of the cafes. It was 2 pm — we had gotten off to a late start, and hadn’t accomplished too much — but we were on vacation.

There was a restaurant all furnished in light wooden tones. A Greek man standing outside the door motioned us in. We said we didn’t speak French. He said “Here”, and pointed to a picture of a plate of food, and then to the price — 60 f. Joyce knew how to convert this figure into dollars, and it wasn’t something she wanted to pay. He pointed to another picture —- the special — and a much lower price of 32f. It looked good. He had only four tables, and no customers at the moment — we would get the undivided attention of both him and his assistant. The restaurant had the cooking area up in the front window, separated from the table area by a cash register counter and a glass beverage cooler. There was a long wooden bar, intended to serve drinks, but, I imagine, served as a stand-up eating area when the four tables are full. I ordered a beer, a Miller Genuine Draft, and Joyce later ordered a soda. We had a very good lunch of shredded pork, that looked like gyro meat, with chili sauce (a thin sauce resembling Tabasco, and very tasty) served with salad, including black olives, french fries and lightly fried rice, all on the same plate. It was all quite tasty.

While we were eating, a man sat down at another table. He knew the owner, and the owner knew that this visitor knew some English, and introduced him to us. We began talking about how we were going to find Rue Coquiliere. By the time we were done, we had had a good meal, spent only 100 francs (less than $20), and had a new set of directions, which would lead us finally in the right direction to Rue Coquilleres.

We walked a few more blocks, and arrived at a large square dominated by a church, and the church’s outbuildings, I don’t recall the name of the church. Overlooking the square there were endless sidewalk cafes, mostly empty. Maybe the sidewalk cafe was a good idea before there were so many of them competing for the dollar of the cafe society wannabes, but now there are so many that none of them can make a decent living. In the square there is what seemed to be a space for a large crowd of people to assemble. One corner was dominated by a large sculpture of an opening hand. We waited our turn and took our pictures.

Continuing through the church square, we happened upon Rue Montmartre. This was on Joyce’s list, too, but at the moment we were looking for Rue Coquilerre, which, according to our latest set of directions, was only a block away, now. For once, the directions worked. On the next corner was, not only Rue Coquilliere, but the home of E. Dehillerin, “Le Specialiste Du Materiel de Cuisine” as their business card says.

next . . . The World Headquarters of Cooking Utensils

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to twitter.com I'm @dimbulb52