Preface In Paris

This blog entry about the events of Friday, April 10, 2009 was originally posted on June 14, 2009.

YES, THE RUMORS ARE TRUE; I am about to embark on my first travel-blogged adventure in almost a year and a half. That’s right, I haven’t updated The Global Trip travel blog since February 2008, back in the days when only a handful of the population knew what the hell it meant to “tweet,” the ol’ days when Leno hosted The Tonight Show and the U.S. only elected white presidents.

That’s not to say I haven’t been doing short one-off trips here and there. In the past sixteen months I’ve done a California tour, visiting the beaches of Southern California and my friends in the L.A. area (including TGT Blog Hog Noelle), driving up the PCH (amidst 2008’s wildfires) to the bay area up north, and seeing fellow Central American Eviction Tour traveler Camilla, and longtime fellow travel buddy Sam (Antartica, Australia, Moscow) just in time for the flamboyant festivities of Pride Week.  I did another week in Tamarindo, Costa Rica with friend and long-time blog reader Dtella, to “work from home” (ah, the freelance life) and learn to surf (despite the fact that it had rained most of that week).  There were also local winter weekends to play in the snow and ice, and long weekends away in Orlando to visit friends, San Antonio to reunite with Elisa (Xi’an) after five years, and one rollin’-down-the-river trip in Pennsylvania.

I also did another long weekend in Paris (my fourth time there), which is worth recounting now since it may or may not be significant on my upcoming trip to Israel (and hopefully Jordan), since I traveled there with two Jews during Passover weekend — including one girl that I had met on my “Tomatoes, Grease & Beer” blog in Athens…

“I SEEM TO RECALL SOMEONE GIVING ME SHIT for living in Williamsburg,” said Lilit, in Paris, April 2009, the young, proudly Jewish New Yorker I’d met by chance at a hostel in Athens 2006. True, years ago I did give her a hard time for living in the hipster-a-plenty Brooklyn neighborhood of New York City — so contrivingly hip it’s silly — but she had me at a touché since I had moved there myself.  In fact, Lilit wasn’t in my regular repertoire of New York friends until I bumped into her in the Brooklyn neighborhood in 2008, on a morning commute train ride one summer day when I was subletting a place in Greenpoint and she was commuting to work from her Greenpoint-residing boyfriend. 

To make a long story short, we kept in contact and ultimately decided to combine resources with a long weekend away in Paris, where we had both been before, to avoid tourist traps and just “hang out and sit in cafés” like a 21st century Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein.  She wanted to celebrate after selling the book adaptation of her wildly popular blog, to a major New York publisher, and I had a home exchange opportunity in Paris that I wanted to jump on with someone.  To make a longer story short, that home exchange fell through at the last minute, but we were saved by our contacts with Matt Gross, the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler, who tipped us on his journalist friend’s Paris apartment (with a great view) that would be available during our time there.

“Erik, Uri,” Lilit made with the introductions that first morning.  “Uri, Erik.”

Joining us was Uri, an Australian guy that Lilit met in Uruguay, who was working a job in the Netherlands, a country close enough for a long weekend to meet up with us to indulge in Paris.  However, it would be difficult for all of us to indulge in Paris — a city known for great bread and pastries — since our stay there coincided with the Jewish holiday of Passover, with its no grains rules for those Jews observing it.  Lilit, a Jew who makes it well-known that she works in the Jewish media (including hip Jewish zine Jewcy) was a given, but the new face I wasn’t so sure of yet.

“Baguette?” I offered him.

“I can’t,” the Aussie replied in his accent.

“Same rules, huh?”

“No, I’m off gluten,” he said.  But it was revealed that he too was Jewish and his doctor’s recommendation to get off gluten for health reasons just so happened to be the kosher thing to do.

So there I was in Paris, with two Jews observing Passover (and a third when Uri’s Parisien friend met up with us for a drink one evening), making me the designated pastry and delicious bread eating goy.  Yeah, I could do that.  Pull


arm.  But I empathized with my Jewish friends (more about that in the next entry), particularly when I went out on a grocery store run by myself at the nearby Monoprix.

“Pardon monsieur, avez vous matzoh?” I asked the clerk.  Yes, my first conversation in French with a local on this trip was asking if they had matzohs.  Of course he was confused all to hell, and he called over another person who knew a little bit of English since he didn’t understand my French.

“Avez vous matzoh?”

Blank stares.  “En anglais?” he asked.

“Uh, in English it’s matzoh,” I said before spelling it out. “M-A-T-Zed-O-H.”

They were still confused.  I explained it was like a biscuit (the British term for cookie or cracker). 

“[Salty or sweet?]” he asked in French, which prompted me to give the blank stare this time.  I mean, matzoh is the most tasteless, blandest thing you could put in your mouth next to cardboard, it’s not really either.  But I said “avec sel.”  They lead me to the saltines, which wasn’t really kosher, so I gave inquiry up.  Later, when the three of us went to another market, we learned that the French don’t really say “matzoh” at all, it’s pains azymes (unleavened bread).

WE WERE STAYING IN THE BASTILLE neighborhood of Paris, a hip trendy area full of bars and cafés brimming with patrons at night while French douchebags circle around La Rue de la Rochette in their riced out cars blasting techno music.  Fortunately, our rented apartment was just around the corner from all the noise, making it the perfect base to hang out in the City of Lights.  Paris this time around was just as it was before, and it still amazed me that certain clichés about the French still ring true:  every store, no matter how small, has a wine aisle; the police sirens still sound like whiny saxophone players who can only play two notes; and everyone on the street is either holding A) a baguette or B) a cigarette.

Our three days in Paris was just as casual we imagined it:  hanging out at sidewalk cafes and by Le Centre Pompidou, with Lilit bringing up the different Jewish issues this Passover, like the conspiracy theory that the recent salmonella pistachio scare was an anti-Semitic tactic (since many Passover desserts are made of pistachios), and the annoyances of the finite types of people on JDate.  We also took a short trip to Versailles in the later part of the day when the bus tour crowds died down.  “Hey look, it’s Inigo Montoya,” Lilit pointed out at a portrait of Louis XV. 

The only drawback of our nonchalant weekend was the constant temptations of pastries and bread to my Jewish friends, which like I said, I gladly got rid of.  However, I never really understood why they were all strict on their Passover rules, but still engaged in cured ham, escargots, and moules frites, all of which fall in the “That’s Not Kosher” category.  In fact, they broke the moules frites rule more than once because it was so good; but never had any of the table bread.

Beer, which is also made of a grain, was on the No List for Passover, which was fine because we had a bottle of wine instead at every meal.  Needless to say, we were a bit tipsy one night we took the last Metro train from the Montmartre back to the Bastille.  “Let’s get drunk and watch the rabbi movie!” I said, referring to a copy of the wildly popular 70s French movie Les Aventures de Rabbi Jacob that we found in the apartment, a French farce about the mistaken identities between a Brooklyn rabbi and bigoted Frenchman played by French slapstick comedian Louis de Funès.  Among one of the highlights of the film was the Jewish dance that the Frenchman must do when he is dressed and confused for Rabbi Jacob during his arrival in the Jewish Quarter of Paris.  (Watch the YouTube clip, it’s awesome.)

THE NEXT MORNING, after I made the traditional Passover breakfast of matzoh brei (improvised from a recipe I had learned during my New York days with Stephanie), we went out to wander the city and coincidentally ran into a Jewish support rally in support of Gilad Shalit, a captive Israeli, which would have been about ten times bigger if they followed my suggestion to Lilit:  “Maybe they’ll do the dance juive!” (like in the rabbi movie).

They didn’t of course, so we meandered to nearby Le Marais, the Jewish Quarter from the movie, which has gone from being the center of the Jewish community of Paris to it’s New York Soho, a trendy area of boutiques and cafés.  It also being Easter in the predominately Christian nation, it was the only area in the city with most of the businesses open.  I had particular interest in Le Marais, one place on La Rue des Rosiers (coincidentally the street in the rabbi movie): L’As du Falafel, a famous falafel place with falafels so good that there are always lines out the door.  Stephanie had always bragged to me that it was the best falafel in the world (including Israel)  — I argued that Dada Falafel in Berlin was the best — and I was there to find out for myself.  However, despite the fact that the Jewish eatery had an endorsement from Lenny Kravitz, the falafels were not available.  Uri and Lilit looked confused.  “Oh, because of the chick peas!” Uri realized, which counted as a grain. 

And so, one of the only real things on my To Do List in Paris couldn’t happen after all (thwarting the finalization of my on-going falafel debate with Stephanie), and the three of us settled on a lamb merguez platter, with (as with every meal) a bottle of wine — this one kosher, of course. 

“Lahaim!” I toasted my friends on our great long weekend in Paris. 

“Lahaim!” they said, clinking their glasses to mine.

“So was this the Jeweyest trip you’ve ever been on?” Lilit asked me.  It was, but that would only be bested by another trip, where I’d meet up with her yet again in a foreign country (if not for a little bit) where she would be attending a writing fellowship program: Israel.


Next entry: From Teaneck to Tel Aviv

Previous entry: End Of An Eviction Tour

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Comments for “Preface In Paris”

  • FYI to you new readers: in accordance to my usual “live” blogging schedule, I post entries a day after the fact.  The tale of my heavily secure journey to Tel Aviv will be posted hopefully within a day.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/14  at  11:09 PM

  • “Blog hog?” Really? AS IF!

    Posted by No-L  on  06/14  at  11:13 PM

  • Oh, and I was NOT a blog hog on Timbuktu. I STILL haven’t caught up with that one.

    Posted by No-L  on  06/14  at  11:14 PM

  • I would like the record to show that I did not eat the cured ham. I did eat the mussels and escargot, though, and they were awesome. Yes, I am a pork-eschewing, shellfish-loving, Passover-observant Jew. No, I don’t understand it either.

    Posted by Lilit  on  06/15  at  05:28 AM

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