Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’

Now, see here, I haven’t stopped being a nice person. I’d still like to think of myself as a generally accommodating, polite and civil person who, while sometimes prone to holding grudges or getting crabby, usually can solve problems in a constructive  and complete manner.

But this whole cooking struggle is just beyond me.

Today after class — which was a highly interesting and delightful session about pitching stories to editors, with a perfectly lovely guest speaker from France Today, a tourist/travel magazine for Americans interested in France — I had to call Jonns, my landlord, because I had accidentally locked myself out of the apartment while headed to the mailbox to check the day’s deliveries.

While we exchanged keys and pleasantries, I explained to him my troubles with my upstairs neighbors and the cooking.

“Oh them?” he said, surprised. “They’re crazy. Completely crazy. Especially her. Don’t worry. Keep cooking. You are allowed to cook in your own kitchen.”

I smiled at that, but I explained to him how nice the old man had been the other night, and how I sometimes used a lot of garlic in my cooking.

“Oh you like garlic?” Jonns said. “Me, I don’t use spices in my cooking. But keep doing what you’re doing. Fry garlic at 6 in the morning, if you want. It’s your kitchen. They can’t stop you from cooking. The guy before you in the apartment liked cooking Chinese food — now that smelled.”

True, I’m not cooking Chinese food. Jonns let me into the apartment, patting my back and wishing me a good day.

“Don’t worry a thing about this,” he said. “You aren’t doing anything wrong.”

I knew it, but I just wanted some affirmation from someone who would have some authority, even if it was only as the awkward and unusual man who owns my apartment.

I went for a wonderful run in the post/pre-rain warmth of the afternoon — getting the always appreciated “runner’s nod” from a fellow runner along Boulevard Richard Lenoir — and came home to check email and plan my weekend. Even though it’s now winter break — and everyone is either doing a crazy continent trip or going to the mountains to ski — I have a lot of things to look forward to, including a trip to the Opèra Comique, several dinners with friends, some homework, a book to read, walks to take, runs to run and other such things.

I built up my hunger until about 7:00, and then went down into the kitchen to make a tasty omelette. Eggs are great, because they don’t take too long to cook and pack a bunch of protein. Plus, I love omelettes.

I made a three-egg omelette , with olive oil, granny smith apples and cinnamon, which I covered in plain yogurt and served with a tasty baguette. I know it sounds weird, but apples in omelettes are really good. You should try it sometime. Plus, these granny smith apples were surprising tart for early spring.

I finished my meal, thoroughly satisfied with my efforts, washed up, and went upstairs to read the news and do some other internet-ish things.

It wasn’t too long afterwards when there was a rather loud and angry pounding on the front door. Now, I realize it could have been anybody. It could have been one of my roommate’s angry ex-girlfriends — who might show up sometime, he warned me off-handedly — or it might have been a very enthusiastic charity worker doing post-dinner house calls for Haiti relief efforts.

But I knew who it was. It was my good friend from upstairs. Not the gentle little man, but his wife or friend or neighbor, the lady of the rolling eyes and red hair.

I didn’t answer the door. I didn’t have to. She knocked one more time and then was gone. Granted, I didn’t leave the house after that and probably won’t leave again until tomorrow morning, but I’m pretty sure she’s not hanging out in our vestibule, waiting for me. I hope.

It isn’t incredibly brave of me to ignore this woman, especially when I know that I’m in the right. I mean, even if I did cook terrible-smelling food every night in huge quantities, I would still have the right to cook in my own kitchen, albeit a right slightly pushed to the edge by my choice of spices.

But I’m not cooking crazy things, as I have already said. Tonight, I even decided to cook this omelette because I thought eggs and olive oil and fruit would not make a particularly pungent excursion out into the communal foyer.

Yet, my efforts appear to have been for naught. So I’m not trying anymore. Yes, I will lay off the excessive garlic. Yes, I will open the window when I cook.

But I will not avoid cooking because the people who live above me have exceptionally acute noses and particularly strange — and rude — suggestions to make to their neighbors.

This could very well become a classic battle of the wills, with us passively fighting it out until I leave here in June. But I’m not worried. Every building needs a delusional nearby tenant, especially buildings in Paris.

So if you come by 10 Cité d’Hauteville, keep your nose open. If it’s dinner time, I’m in the back, cooking up a storm. Just come quickly — the neighbors might get in.

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So, in case you forgot, winter break here at Sciences Po starts Friday.

And boy, is it starting for some of my friends and classmates.

Here’s a sampling of some itieraries I am aware of:

1. Friday train to London for a Saturday Lady Gaga Concert followed by a Sunday plane to Prague, with a Tuesday train to Vienna and a later Thursday train to Budapest, finishing up with a Sunday plane back to Paris.

2. Friday train to London followed by a Monday plane to Dublin, followed by a Wednesday plane to Amsterdam and some sort of weekend train to Brussels and later Paris.

3. Friday plane to Munich, with assorted multiple weekday train trips around the Deutschland.

My personal itinerary? Well, unless I hear back from my friends in Berlin or London, it’ll probably be something like this:

Friday-Sunday: Paris.

And you know what? I’m not bothered by that. It’ll be a hell of a lot cheaper than all these crazy cross continent trips that my various friends and acquaintances are undertaking. Plus, there are plenty of spots in Paris I don’t know yet, and I’d love to have the chance to have a mildly warm week — which next week might promise to be, if it is nice  — to wander around the city and see the things I haven’t yet seen.

Even more, I don’t think I could travel like that. Granted, I like to travel. I like exploring new places and learning new things and experiencing life in different locales — all that jazz. But I don’t like the frantic, fast paced, crazy travel that everyone seems to feel is necessary when one is studying abroad or traveling in Europe. Even on my own personal post-high school summer Eurotrip, we spaced out our destinations enough that I never felt tired or stretched too thin.

I will probably plan a trip to Berlin during the spring break to see some of my German friends from Cranbrook, and maybe even head down to southern France or Spain on a weekend when I feel like being reckless and feckless and young, but right now, I’ve got Paris to figure out.

And that suits me just fine.

Classes are going swell, and I have homework and papers enough to keep me relatively occupied and happy next week — maybe a trip to café in my neighborhood to do some reading? — and I had several friends over for various dinners on Monday and Tuesday.

Once again, a disgruntled neighbor — polite and male this time — arrived at my door to complain — in French, this time — about my cooking. He was really a jolly little old man, and he asked if maybe I could keep the window open when I cook.

This is something I already do, and I told him this. He didn’t seem to care. He then suggested that maybe I only cook once or twice a week, a thing which I told him was probably impossible.

I don’t think this man and I really understood each other — or rather, he didn’t understand why I couldn’t not cook. I am going to lay off on the garlic for a while, and maybe cook simple things most days — gonna have to try some new egg recipes, methinks — but I’m not stop cooking, unless this whole building wants to chip in and start buying me prepared foods or restaurant meals on a regular basis.

The building is small. The building is old. The building has lousy ventilation. Garlic smells. I know all of these things.

Apparently no one here does, however. I might be the only one who cooks regularly in our building.

Building dinner party, anyone? I’d be down.

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Blah blah blah, went to school, ran twice — it was warm today! And sunny! And spring-like! And it also rained while I ran! In the sun!— discussed a journalism program dinner party, planned for the weekend, etc. etc. etc.

My day was pretty standard and rather lovely. I tried out a new boulangerie, one a little bit farther away from my apartment, but it might be worth it, because that baguette was really really good. I had purchased said baguette for the second round of my tasty winter roots meal that I prepared yesterday — roasted sweet potatoes, tubers, garlic, red and white onions and spices complete with olive oil and chevre cheese — and was planning to reheat it on the stove top today.

Which I did. I added a little more olive oil and fooled around with the leftovers from last night — a full  meal in itself, really — and then sat down to eat my food, complete with the above described yummy baguette.

Suddenly, there was a loud bang on my door. I opened it, holding Flocon, the cat, so she wouldn’t run out. There was a small, thin, red-haired woman there, who immediately began speaking in quick, difficult to understand French. From what I could gather, she lives upstairs and was upset about my cooking. I kept nodding, and she got angrier. I swallowed my pride and explained that I hadn’t completely understood her.

She rolled her eyes and told me, forcefully, in English, that “it was impossible to continue to cook in the manner which you have cooked.” She continued, telling me that the building had no chimney and the “escapes” were too much for her, and if I didn’t stop cooking like that, she would call the police. I told her I was sorry and that I had no idea that my cooking was bothering anyone, and that I would open the window to try and spread the scent and smoke around from now on.

“Yes, be sorry,” she said. “And open the window, but it is impossible to cook like that again. I will call the police if you do.” And then she turned around quickly and was gone, without even a “bon soirée” or any such pleasantries.

I closed the door, shaken and upset. I think what bothered me the most was this woman’s attitude. She treated me like I was personally lighting a fire under her front door and waiting until the toxic fumes were too much for her. Which is not something I was doing.

I cook. I like to cook. I am a good cook. I use spices — cinnamon, pepper, cayenne — and sauces — olive oil, balsamic vinegar — and like to make good tasting, good smelling food. My roommates here have told me how nice the kitchen and the apartment smells when I cook.

So I can’t really understand this woman’s problem. I thought maybe it was partly because I asked her to repeat herself — in French, mind you — and the request of a ‘dumb American’ made her angry, but even when she scolded me in French, she was rude, direct and not friendly. She did not say hello. She did not introduce herself. She just opened up when I opened the door and let me have it.

I emailed my landlord for suggestions on what to do, but I’m going to continue to cook, only now I will have the window open when I do so. I like cooking. I cook well. We live in an old building. The walls are thin and ventilation is terrible. I am terribly sorry that the smoke or smells or what have you bother this woman and her family. Really, I truly am.

But the way in which she treated me first shook me, and now really bothers me. She treated me as if I was being malicious, which is not wrong and silly.

I was cooking. And I’m going to keep doing it.

With the window open, and my stomach waiting.

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To be able to cook is a most valuable skill. It can make you friends. It can make you dinner. It can make you happy.

And yesterday, for me, it made me feel just the slightest bit French, for maybe the first time.

It was, again, a long and weird day. I discovered that I could take Metro Ligne 5 completely from the station at Gare de l’Est to the station at St. Germain-de-Près, which is right next to Sciences Po. No transfers, short walks and a speedy metro means a very quick morning commute. I left my house at around 8:30 for a 9:00 session and got there with 10 minutes to spare. Good to know I can run late and still be on time — not that I’m planning on that at all for this coming term.

Methodology was once again a little frightening, but it is very interesting, and I think I’ll be decently prepared for the expectations of my professors here, which are markedly different and much more driven on a personal, subjective level than in the States.

Afterwards, I discovered the joy of LaVazza vending machine coffee. Really, it’s that good. You put 50 centimes in — that’s right only one half of a Euro — and pick the type of coffee drink and the level of sugar you want. Push the button, down a cup drops and in goes the fresh and tasty coffee — black for me, but if you get sugar the cup includes a tiny stirrer — and then it’s yours to drink. Needless to say, I had probably 4 throughout the day, finding the machines everywhere on campus.

I paid 200 Euros for my Carte d’Etudiant — a glorified UNCOne Card — and made some account corrections at my new French bank,  then meandered down to the Ecole de Journalisme, where we were supposed to have a meeting, I thought. I thought wrong. It was NEXT Thursday, so I waited around there in the basement writing my first DTH column — coming out Monday, folks! Check it out! dailytarheel.com — and then soon discovered my error. Je fais beaucoup de petits erreurs ici en France, bien sûr.

On the way home, I discovered a large indoor farmers’ market just down the street from my house. The food is good and plenty cheap, so I know where I’m going to get my veggies and cheese and such from now on, or at least until the markets outside open for the spring.

But now, the Frenchiness sets in. I had arranged to meet up with Yousef, a graduate student at Sciences Po who is friends with one of my friends’ friend at Yale — I know its confusing. I have a friend who goes to Yale, and his friend at Yale has a lot of French friends, Yousef among them, so he gave me his contact info for guidance and friendship and housing search help and all that fun kind of stuff — to have some coffee or something.

We decidedly went with the something else.

We met at the Place de Bastille, a crowded place full of smoking teenagers and confused tourists, and walked to a student center so he could print some stuff for a local queer youth group he is involved in at Sciences Po. Then, we met up with one of his friends to go to a French Feminist Meeting in a public meeting hall on the other side of the city. It was crazy and radical and wonderful and I could understand most of the meeting, although it made me really tired.

As we were leaving, a very vocal woman grabbed my arm firmly and thanked me for being a brave and noble man in a world that is hard for women.

You know me. I try.

Then, we met up with some more people to discuss a conference Yousef was planning at Sciences Po around the topic of being openly gay in the French workplace — or “outée” — with some businessmen in a café. Throughout all of this, I listened attentively, barely speaking and holding on to the stock phrases I heard to keep my head above the flow of conversation.

But the best part was that I could understand it all, or most of it, to be honest. I was lost a little sometimes, and couldn’t take part in the debates and discussions, but I could follow, which was the most exciting part.

Then, we went back to Yousef’s apartment and I made Yousef and his roommate and a friend omelettes, with roasted apples and hazelnuts and feta cheese. Apparently, they don’t cook, so I got to wow everyone with my imaginary and supposedly creative cooking abilities.

As I cooked, I slowly found myself joking around with everyone, talking about general conversationy things — things that I could and would say in English, normally, with my old friends — and I got this huge boost of confidence. They all complimented me on my French and understood everything I said, and I was pretty much the same for them. It was great.

They all told me that I was a fantastic cook and that I had to return “tout de suite” or I’d be in trouble. Which was nice, because many people have told me it’s hard to make French friends while here studying for the term.

I took the last metro home, and on the way back, I couldn’t help but keep a publicly indecent smile on my face. I was so happy to have French friends, with whom I could speak French. I know I’ll see them all again, and maybe when I do, I’ll feel even more French.

Mais oui, c’est très genial, ça. Bien sûr.

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