mercredi, décembre 27
posted by Gina at 12:13

For Christmas, we drove to the countryside to spend the holiday with my husband's family, their in-laws and some extended family. Champagne flowed like water and we ate our weight in oysters. In the lull before we broke out the gifts, we started talking about St. Nick. The family started saying Santa Clause (instead of Père Noël), followed by a wink and a smile in my direction. For whatever reason, however, no one could pronounce the name right and kept saying "Santa Cruz."
"Be good, children. Santa Cruz is watching." "Don't you believe in Santa Cruz? We get lots of presents from Santa Cruz!"
One eight-year-old distant cousin, Jules, was one of the last in his class who still believed in Santa Cruz.
"I think this may be the last year he believes in him," his grandmother told me during the apéro. "None of his friends at school still think it's true."
My in-laws' family tradition is to have someone dress up as Père Noël and stop by, giving the presents to the kids before disappearing again. This year, the role fell upon my husband. All decked out in his Santa suit with a little red wagon in tow, he waited outside a bedroom window while inside, his sister and myself passed him the toys to load into the wagon so he could make his appearance entering from the garden.
We were halfway through when I noticed that my partners in crime had stopped and were looking behind me with horror on their faces. I turned around and there in the doorway was little Jules with his mouth hanging open. Three of us stopped in our tracks. A painfully awkward pause ensued. It was my sister-in-law who jumped into action, ushering him out of the room while I tossed the last gifts out the window.
We all gathered in the living room moments later, playing it cool, while nervously wondering if we had just ruined his Christmas. It could have been Santa he saw. How does Jules know that Father Christmas doesn't routinely have presents inspected by families to ensure their maximum enjoyability before handing them out? Some sort of customs he must pass before delivering the gifts, just in case he's about to give a talking Malibu Barbie to the daughter of a bra burning feminist. It could happen.
When my husband, Santa, did pass by and leave the goodies, all the kids were equally excited.
"Did you get good toys?" Jules' grandma asked him later. I prayed he wouldn't breakdown and point a finger at us, screaming that the three of us had sabotaged his childhood holiday fantasy. Luckily, he just gave a genuine (or convincing) smile and said, "Yes. Merci, Santa Cruz!"
vendredi, décembre 22
posted by Gina at 00:10

Christmas is Monday and I'm having a hard time getting into the spirit. When I was little, I lived for Christmas, but this year is a tough one as times have been less than cheery. The IHT put out a story about Paris becoming the new chic terrorist target. (Just in time for the holidays!) On a personal note, the start date for my dream job has been delayed again. Also, it's my first Christmas with the in-laws. Something not to be lamented, as they couldn't be any nicer, but something that also goes against all my personal Christmas traditions. ("What do you mean you don't open your presents on the 25th in your pajamas? And your dad doesn't hand them out wearing a Santa hat? You call this Christmas?!") Not to mention the fact that we are a Mexican family, meaning we eat tamales on Christmas and not foie gras. The only kind of tamales I could find here were from a Colombian restaurant on rue Rodier. Note I say Colombian, which are totally diferent from Mexican tamales. If anyone happens to be reading this from Paris and knows where I might find real Mexican tamales in Paris, PLEASE let me know. I am this close to storming the Mexican Embassy in hopes of finding some.

While I may have lost it a little this week with all this running through my head, I realise that acceptance is the only way to advance and enjoy. I will be singing Petit Papa Noël instead of Mamacita, donde esta Santa Clause and that's fine with me. In the interest of further enjoying the holiday season, I hit the town with my camera to share some shots of Christmas decorations.

I wish this one had come out better, but there are lights strung all the way down rue des Martyrs.

It's not Christmas unless you do your shopping alongside 3 million other last minute shoppers, so I went to the grands magasins. I hit up the toy store by Saint-Lazare for our nephews (to my disgust, I saw little plastic kalashnikovs for sale). Another reason to see the neighborhood is that the stores are always done up for the holidays. As with every year, Galeries Layafette wins the prize for the biggest electricity bill.

The store windows have got something for big passerbys, such as this decadent table setting that so closely resembles my own (joke) and for the little ones, such as the animated tea kettles below that dance to funny music.

I'm still blown away by the fact that Père Noël doesn't have a Mère Noël. Yes, in France Santa Clause is single as seen in a chocolate commercial on tv that has him flirting with a Jessica Rabbit type before taking her off in his sleigh. Ho ho ho!

Et Voilà. Feliz Navidad, Joyeux Noël and Merry Christmas to everyone!
dimanche, décembre 17
posted by Gina at 14:23

I once read that Paris is the same size as Boston but four times more dense. There are over 2 million residents here that live in old buildings (over a few hundred years in some cases) that have countlessly changed owners who have altered the design or structure of these apartments to adapt to their tastes or needs.
That leaves you with a full city full of funky, misshapen apartments. When I lived in the 6th, I shared a place with two other students that would under normal circumstances have been a one bedroom apartment. We had one real bedroom off the living room while the other "bedrooms" were accessible by a desperately small spiral staircase. One room was an open mezzanine which overlooked the living room. The other room, lovingly referred to as "the crypt", was cut off from all light and air circulation save for a small porthole window that opened up to the bathroom directly below. You could literally look down into the toilet from the bedroom. One could lie in bed while listening to the bathroom activities of their roomate as the sound traveled up. Yes, odors too. To top it off, a slanted ceiling hovered low over all of our upstairs space, meaning we could only walk upright if we kept our backs against the wall.
I've heard of apartments that have bathtubs with planks that fit on top them to serve as dining tables. Apartments with the bedroom on one floor and a separate communal toilet two floors below. Bathrooms that are so small, you walk inside and you're instantly sitting on the toilet. Our friend Eric lives on the 7th floor in a building that has no elevator. I've seen places that have the shower next to the kitchen stove. My friend Matt says this is practical as you can fry your eggs and wash your balls at the same time. The trick is just not to confuse the two.
For those who buy such apartments, the choice is to be creative with what you've got or perish. We have a friend who just bought his own place. And it's beautiful: parquet floors, intricate molding in the rooms, and nice high ceilings. However, the bathroom had little room for both a toilet and a sink while the shower was accessible by a creaky old staircase that looked like someone had been going up and down it using a jackhammer as a pogo stick. I wish I had a before shot to show because when he bought his place, it was a trainwreck. After much work and creativity, it looks great. The big find was a toilet shaped perfectly to fit the corner by the sink. And he's got a nice set of stairs that lead to the shower, which doesn't let water splash out onto the stairs. At his house warming, he unveiled the new bathroom to exclamations of "What great taste you've got!" "It's beautiful!" "It's so chic that if you didn't have a girlfriend, I'd think you were gay!" My commentary was that it's unique, stylish and clean. Inspiration for the day we buy our own funky, mishaped apartment.
mercredi, décembre 6
posted by Gina at 07:31

There's a subject I need to address here- one that is not totally original, but if this was hugely ground breaking as far as expat blogs go, I'd be writing it from Soroca instead of Paris. Thus I permit myself to share my most recent experience with the locals and their cheese.
If I have learned anything here, it's not to flinch when you are served a plate of moldy cheese. Where I come from, you buy cheese and it's yours until the mold comes in and claims it as its own. You step back and admit defeat thus tossing Mlle Cheese to live out her life with Mr Mold in the trash. In France, defeat doesn't come so easily. The French hang on to it, acknowledging the mold as an added bonus.
I'm always finicky about buying cheese for dinner parties with guests who are -surprise- French. They know where each one comes from, if the brand I chose is good or not, etc. Sometimes I beat the system by buying Italian cheese when I can find it. (Pecorino Pepato, I adore you.)
We had another couple over the other night. After dinner, I routinely brought out the cheese platter along with the salad and set it on the table telling our friends to dig in. No one did.
Conversation continued until I said again for everyone to help themselves.
"You're supposed to cut the cheese first, as the lady of the house," our friend Alex said.
The lady of the house? This was just a casual dinner at the house, not a formal, traditional dining experience. I look around at my friends and husband who, moments ago were from the same generation as me, but are now glancing expectedly in my direction. Hang on, aren't we all twenty-something, hip hop listening, club going, equal opportunity young adults who at one time or another have tried smoking a doobie? They weren't really going to hold this to me, where they?
It only got more confusing when Alex explained that it's so the guests know which cheese is the best and how it should be cut. Can't we make an exception if the "lady of the house" comes from a land where you can find cheese that comes out of a can? French friends looking to the American as the model of how to handle the cheese- that's like looking to an Amish person for advice on your car engine.
Perhaps I thought it over too much because when I sliced it up, no one gave any (verbal) objection and our soirée continued. Lesson learned: Lady of the house calls the shots. Whether it be moldy or Italian, no one contests to how she cuts the cheese.
vendredi, décembre 1
posted by Gina at 00:42

My friend Kyndell pointed out that I didn't post anything about having Thanksgiving in Paris. Truth is, I was hiding the fact that... I messed up on the date. Hasn't Thanksgiving always been the last Thursday of the month? You know- it's always November 27thish. Since November 2006 is extra generous as far as Thursdays go, I made the mistake in thinking, "Well, last Thursday of the month- it must be the 30th!"
I will point out here that this was actually my 3rd French Thanksgiving. The first one was shared with my visiting sister, 2 Americans, a Saint Lucian and an Australian. My sister and I bought the turkey (from a butcher who told us "Bon Thanksgiving" ), American friend #1 made the mashed potatoes, American friend #2 did the stuffing and the others watched curiously.
Last year, I presented the holiday to my in-laws. My (then future) mother-in-law made the turkey while I ran out to the Thanksgiving store and made everything else. (Thank God my mom keeps her recipe books not far from her internet access.) The yams were surprisingly easy to make and everyone loved the cornbread.
Cut to November 23, 2006. My husband and I were debating whether to make pizza or go out for sushi when my mom calls to say those fateful words: "Happy Thanksgiving!"
Phone in hand, I turned toward our tv to see the French news was showing a clip of President Bush handling a huge turkey.
It was all crashing down on me. I got off the phone and declared that we had to act quickly or else we would be sacrificing my cultural right to a night of gluttony. It was too late to go all the way to the aforementioned Thanksgiving store and their adjoining restaurant was booked til the next week. So we ran to the local market, hustled up some last minute guests and thus organized Thanksgiving Dinner 2006 at our apartment.
A chicken from the rotisserie down the street served as our turkey. The yams, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie were a lost cause. What could we do but console ourselves by replacing them with something wonderful that no one at home was getting to eat that day?
Enter the oysters. We schucked them ourselves (would you believe my French dictionary didn't have the translation for "schucking"?) and served them with a bottle of Reisling to three of our favorite neighborhood residents and a friend who'd just come into town from Marseille at the right moment. And so it was that I celebrated without any other Americans, had no turkey and missed out on my nieces' after dinner musical performance going on at home. But the evening was still spent with good conversation and quality food. And no cranberry sauce can beat the Thanksgiving oysters.