Sunday, June 30, 2013

Question-Parisian food business model?

For the typical American, Parisian-and by extension French- food is distinguishable for its refinement.
The Michelin restaurants, the ripe-aged cheeses and wines the picture-perfect sunsets...
More than anything else, however, "French food", from the vantage point of elite-minded/Francophile Americans trumps lamericanisme for its supposed intimacy, the custom-ordered, freshly-made, mom-and-pop structure that characterizes the boulangerie, brasserie and charcuterie.
Thus, one of California's Michelin-ranked restaurants styles itself Chez Pannise (Pannise's place) and prides itself on its "natural" ingredients.
The Belgian-owned Le Pain Quotidien ("the daily bread") charges the price of a sit-down meal for whole-grain bread loaves baked biologique and for sandwiches that can be enjoyed on the hard-wooden chairs that mimic a streetside café.
Numerous bistros, galleries and other places similarly seek to evoke a "Frenchness" that is wholesome in cuisine, intimate in character and conducive to a neighborly Joie de Vivre.
Contrast with a place like Costco or McDonalds. Mass-produced, artificial, cold and corporate.
As a liberal, upper-middle-class Angelino, I once bought into the hope of a food industry reconstructed on the Parisian corner store.
That was, until I visited Paris.
Even the most ordinary of residential streets in the outermost arroindossment (like the one which I'm staying on) has its boulangeries churning out fresh baugettes at 3pm, pharmacies with the flashing "green cross," a tabac for cigarettes and lottery tickets, and a family-owned café.
 Fromageries sell cheese, boucheries (often halal) for meat, charcuteries for smoked meat (usually pork)...
For anything else, one can go to the supermarket, but with the exception of certain department stores (e.g. Champs-Elysee, Galeries Lafayette), these are small enough to fit into a neighborhood storefront as well.
Family ownership means some good things. Though baguettes here vary in quality but none that I have tried so far has the gumminess that one finds all too commonly in their American counterparts.
Pharmacists attempt to give all of their customers the most precise prescription. Butchers and even grocery store owners make a point to walk you through their "laid-out" wares.
Unfortunately, they also expect you to buy something, to the point where you are supposed to look in a store's window to determine product's worthiness before deciding whether or not to shop.
More problematically, all of these small shop owners (and store managers) cannot engage in their task 24/7. Within the city of Paris, 95% of stores close before 9pm (no late dinners) and nearly all close in Monday. ( for more on French shopping hours see:
And in July, they must take turns doing vacation (so one of my favorite ones closes :( )
The flaw of the French model of small business, however may be exhibited on the outskirts of Paris, where Carrefour hypermarkets do limited consolidation a la Americaine.
In short, maybe we need big business in a world of economic modernity.

Friday, June 28, 2013

China People

If I remember correctly, toward the end of the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and Company journey southward to visit Glinda, "the good witch," they run into trouble in the "China country."
Stumbling across a society of beings composed wholly of delicate porcelainware, Dorothy and her companions quickly lose goodwill when they cause the delicately made China cow to break under the shock of their careful entrance. Berated by the "China princess," the leader of the China people-for not only harming the cow but causing deformity- the gang discovers a society that is not merely physically vulnerable but mentally obsessed with maintaining the "perfection" of their form.
Sadly, this story seems a telling analogy for my own encounters with Parisians.
I have gotten lectured at by a bartender for requesting to use the bathroom without paying for a drink.
I have been refused service at a coffeeshop for approaching the waiter about ordering rather than taking a seat beforehand.
I have learned that in restaurants, bars and even shops, one does not ask something, one requests it (and that if you walk in, you consent)
A whole system of etiquette governs public affairs here that I still have yet to fully understand. Its especially troubling that the Parisians try to share with you by example, i.e. expecting that you should "know better," American Philistines be damned.
Going out the past few days has opened up my eyes to the importance of image and manner to Parisians such as to make me rethink my conception of French (and European) culture(s) as increasingly "Americanized," one which I had developed around the young English-speaking students on my study program in Iceland.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 3 and 4-settling in

So the wifi at my new hotel did not start working until late last night, hence the delay in my third journal entry.
That's right, I am at a new hotel, the Citadines Porte de Versailles, to be precise. I am being put up here for a month as a part and parcel of the 6000 "program fee" for my Travel-study program.
Since I'm in an "extended stay hotel," designed for travelers spending at least 4 to 5 nights, I enjoy the luxury of a kitchenette, complete with pots, pans, and utensils in my room.
The hotel is in the 14th arroindessment, near the Blvd. Periphique and within a mile of the Cite Universitaire, where the course component of my program meets.
The program is relatively relaxed and looks like it will be an enjoyable experience. Classes only meet two times a week (three times in the week of 8 July) for three-hour sessions, ending at 12pm each day. That gives ample time to explore the city, have lunch and what not.
On Sunday, I went to the Champ du Mars (by myself: the program hadn't started yet) and got a great view of the Eiffel Tower. Yesterday I strolled on the Rue di Rivoli with some friends, visited the Ile de Cite (but stupidly did not enter the Notre Dame Cathedral) and had a picnic with wine on the Champs de Mars with buddies from the program.
Today, after I finish this, I want to get out and explore some more, although I hear that many of the museums are closed today or Wednesday (they alternate).
Anyway, I think I've taken up enough of my own (and your own) time on this for today. Good-bye for now!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Day 2 or Day 1 (or Day 1 in Paris)

Today was a long day. A really long day.

I got up at 9am Friday morning (Pacific Time) and will be going to bed at around 11:30pm Saturday, Paris time.
I had breakfast in Los Angeles, "Dinner" (on the plane) over Cody Wyoming, a snack over Belfast Ireland and Dinner in Paris.
I traveled for an entire night and yet, because the plane flew by the North pole, the sun never set. (and still hasn't here in Paris)

It was my first time flying the Airbus A-380. Smooth plane ride, but some turbulence near Hudson Bay. The Air France Economy seats however are too narrow to permit me to sleep. Plus, I had to wear an uncomfortable eyecap to keep the light out. (ugh)

So, in my spare time, on the plane, I got to looking at the maps.

The "route maps" consist of several alternating pictures of the airlines route: large-scale, close-up, speed and distance stats, and one page depicting the airline's direction , relative to that of the destination (Paris) and some nearby reference city.

While, during the "night", while crossing the Greenland Strait, my eyes became particularly fixated on the locality of Pangnirtung, Baffin Bay. It was indicated as being "nearby," even where we were only three hundred miles away, I assume due to our being over water and the generally sparse population of the region.

How many flights-carrying middle-class American and Canadian kids (as well as European and American honey-mooners, French businessmen, some Africans and Middle Easterners)  on their way to Europe-pass over this city everyday I thought. Do the inhabitants of this city have the privilege to take pride in their location or do they have to deal with the alcoholism, poverty and the like endemic to Canada's first nations communities.

I continued with my observation after landing in Paris.

I had been expecting that romantic city of tree-lined boulevards, grand monuments and well-kept public spaces.

But the autoroute to the city, from CDG, passes through Seine St.-Denis, the working-class suburban district made famous by the October 2005 riots.

For 10 miles, on E15 from Roissy to the City Limits, the highway barriers were covered by graffiti. Dilapidated, modernist apartment blocks-assumedly public housing- dominated the skyline and the streetscapes, though somewhat less so than in comparably-sized American cities were filled with aging, vacant buildings.

The additional array of "big-box" strip malls (though with IKEA-style Bauhaus instead of Kitschy mission-themed designs), snaking lines of cars and the very "freeway-like" autoroute itself affirmed my belief that France, as a first-world and Western European country, is not so different from America as often perceived (in the context of the world  at large).

Oh, one big difference though. Unlike in other Western European countries, they expect you to speak French here. (I started learning on the plane, so I'm proud of having been able to survive even that 50-second "Bien, merci" type parley at the Pizza restaurant).

These thoughts are especially valued for my record because they deal with the sorts of questions and concerns that I will be grappling over the next month here as part of my study-abroad course. "Global Challenges in Post-colonial France."

Anyway, as a inter-"northern" (in a global context) traveler, I think I'm going to go to rest right now. The "fragmegration" of the world into two "globalized spheres," the politics of immigration in a "unitary" political entity or the snaking complexity that is Charles DeGaulle airport Terminal 2 are additional thoughts that have grazed my mind, but I think I will save that for class...
or when I've had a little too much wine.

Good-bye for now.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Eurotrip-Day 0

Im packing and grabbing
and hustling and stuffing
and screaming and running...

and madly dashing to get as much  as I can in my suitcase before 12:45 in the afternoon.

All the plans and probabilities,
the moonlight chill on the Champs-Elysee,
the UV rays in the Austrian Oberland
and two 1.5 inch binders...
Must all fit within a space of 28 inches by 15

My "Eurotrip" is about to begin
A travel fanatic's lifelong dream
54 minutes into the day of departure

And yet I still scurry and quibble with my mother,
Gangly and young in my Los Angeles apartment
Passing the time with errands

Soon I will be off in Paris. And then studying.
And then the Netherlands, Denmark, Prague, and Germany.

I do not merely wish to travel as a tourist, snapping pictures and grabbing up Chinese tschochtkes
but make sense of my encounters with Europeans, their governance of society and everyday life, and how I respond...
I want to write something down at least once every three days, frequently enough to prevent time from sweeping underneath the trip of my life.

Its not going to all be as poetic or jarring (based on your perspective) as this past soliloquy. I'm just trying to get myself in the mood and my thoughts off my chest.

Well, I'm another 50 minutes closer and I've gotta get some sleep before the flight.

For now, Bon voyage!