Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bordeaux et Saint Emilion

I had my plan to visit Bordeaux before I even knew I was coming to Paris. My Irish friend Dan, who I met on a plane from New Orleans to San Francisco and had subsequently visited me in San Diego, proposed we go to Bordeaux. I like wine and adventure, so I said yes.

We stayed in the cutest airbnb possibly ever. It had a fireplace and a record player, a giant collection of vintage vinyl and books in various languages, an indoor garden, and the bathroom was built like a head on a ship. I expected Bordeaux to be a sleepy, small town with cute old men selling baguettes and meandering streets. I was totally wrong. Bordeaux is an up and coming city that's thriving with young ex-Parisians and Brits who've come to open new and innovative restaurants, curated vintage shops, and more. It used to be a town with mostly sex shops and they've still got their edge with a plethora of tattoo parlors and piercing shops. I've been waiting for the perfect moment to present itself to get my second tattoo, and when Lea, the owner of the cutest airbnb of all time, told me about a woman who does tattoos the old fashioned way, without the use of anything electric, with precision and care in her underground shop, I was sold. Alas, I never found just where this secret shop was. So I guess it wasn't the perfect moment (my dad breathes a sigh of relief).

There was plenty to discover in Bordeaux, which is actually pretty big, it turns out. A few years back the mayor of Bordeaux* spent a ton of money refurbishing the town, essentially sand blasting the facades of the buildings to get the black soot off. You can still see it on some buildings, but you can feel life being breathed into the area, as if each person who moves there and opens up shop gives another pump to the Bordelaise chest. 

After a week of eating cheese and bread pretty much exclusively in Paris, I was really craving some vegetables, so I headed to Plume, a place with vegetarian and vegan options recommended to me by a Parisian. I got a lentil salad which tasted like nothing, despite it being beautiful, but I ate the whole thing, because health. (The lentils I make are much better) Luckily I also ordered this amazing egg concoction, which was basically a baked egg inside of baked cheese in a ramekin, and I ate that too. I also had a ginger and dark berry iced tea, which was choice.

I visited Utopia, an old church converted into a cafe and cinema, which kind of sounds cooler than it was in person. Then l'Intendant, with a spiraling staircase of wine, that was as cool as it sounded online. I asked the clerk to tell me about the white wine of the area, having already purchased enough red in Saint Emilion (enough? I could go on about what enough red wine this case, enough means as much as I could afford at the time). Bordeaux, a region known for it's red wines, does produce some white. Most of it is sweet, which is of little interest to me, but the very kind clerk told me about some dry wines as well, and he must have known what I was after, because he recommended to me the cheapest bottle they had - he said it was his favorite. It wasn't that good, it tasted to me like a cheap sauv blac, but I drank it outside at Darwin, and it was only 6 euros. 

Darwin, a former military barracks and hangar, is a self-proclaimed eco-system of over 100 companies coming together to promote a smaller eco footprint and a bigger cultural impact. This urban development is across the river from the "main" area of Bordeaux, but it's worth the walk. The space, to me, is an indoor/outdoor gallery of various street artists, who use an abandoned barracks in it's perfect state of decomposition, instead of tearing it down, letting the overgrown plants flourish. Walking through the buildings the pane-less windows frame the kids skateboarding, the friends sharing drinks and laughs, and with no boundaries, it seems to go on forever with hidden secrets to discover. They also have an amazing bio (aka organic) market where I bought some local artisan honey and vegan nutella. The skate and surf culture in Bordeaux was surprising and kind of a trip...walking into the skate coffee shop in the center of town I felt like I was in a warped Franco version of San Diego. Close to the sea on the west coast of France, the Bordelaise love to surf and skateboard. least from what I saw at Darwin, they have yet to master 8th grade self could kick flip better than the French guys I saw at the skate park. They looked great on their boards though. 

To go to some actual vineyards you've got to either rent a car or figure out the complicated public transport system, which is unfortunately not as efficient as the metro here in Paris. Not discouraged, I was there to drink some wine. So we took a train then a bus then a tuk tuk to get to Saint Emilion, the tiny and quaint village surrounded by vineyards. The town sits atop a hill, overlooking said vineyards, so small that cars don't fit down the cobblestone streets. Underneath the village lies over 200 kilometers of  caves. They have been used for centuries to make and keep wine at the perfect temperature, and they were used during WWII to hide people and keep them safe. We toured Chateau Villemaurine, privately with the owner himself (5th generation) which included 2 tastings, for only 11 euros. He was so sweet and full of knowledge and passion about wine and the area. We talked about terroir, the impending extinction of cork trees, the ancient versus new ways of wine making, and the history of St Emilion while we explored the dark and cool caves. This is an absolute must do for anyone visiting the area. We hitched back to the train station - this is not my first time hitching in France, and in my experience it is broadly accepted and perfectly safe. We were picked up by a sweet elderly couple who had moved to the area to retire. As I sat in the back of the car I watched magic hour pass before my eyes over the rows of plump plum colored grapes, ready for harvest. The setting sun turned the vineyards golden orange and I resisted the urge to record everything, instead taking a mental picture, picking up my hands and framing the perfect picture. Click. 

* I'm pretty sure he's not called the mayor, and Bordeaux isn't exactly a city, but I'm not going to look up what it's called, and what he actually is. You can do that if you're interested. 

All photos taken with my iphone. Follow my daily adventures on Instagram

Monday, October 3, 2016

Getting Here/A Baby Parisian

I am here. Deep breath. The weeks leading up to my departure from San Diego were full of stress - I had no idea how I was going to get everything done. Up to the day I left I was working on a book for a freelance client while I waited for my ride to the airport. It was supposed to be completed the week before, per my meticulously laid out schedule, but as is life, it wasn't done. The client kept changing things...and though I had asked for my pay check in advance it didn't come. So there I was in my condo, working on the book, flight in a couple of hours, having stayed up til 3am packing, paying over $200 extra for 2 bags instead of 1 (which frankly I couldn't afford), no pay check for the last month of work, my beloved Derby Blue throwing up in anticipation of my leaving (she knows when she sees the suitcases), eyes watering and nose running with allergies in the sweltering San Diego heat...and after weeks of holding it together I just started to cry. My phone was ringing and dinging...this was the capstone of my stress. And just as I started to really get my ugly cry on, my parents arrived. I was fine with having my mom see me like this, but my dad...things have been tense between us since I decided to leave the US. He doesn't approve. He was the last person I wanted to freak out in front of. "It's my allergies..." I trailed off as they stood back uncomfortably looking at me. "I'm fine! Let's go." I missed my first flight and we had to rush to drive to LAX, in traffic, while I was on the phone with AT&T and T-Mobile trying to sort out my international plan, to catch my second. There was no lack of stress on my departure day. 

As soon as I stepped onto the plane and realized they didn't have wifi (so I couldn't work, which I'd planned on) a sense of calm washed over me. I had 10 hours in which I literally couldn't do anything. I couldn't run errands or send emails or be on the phone or work on the book or look for jobs. So I popped a xan and slept the sleep of the dead. When I woke up my seat mate, Shannon, a filmmaker from LA on a trip to Paris to scout locations for his new film, was laughing at me. 

"What?" I asked.
"You really slept. There was a lot of turbulence and you just slept right through it. You must have needed that."
I nodded and smiled and let my eyes close again. 

statue at Palais Garnier, Opera house where rich men had a
backstage pass, meaning they could go backstage to choose a
girl for the night (the dancers were also prostitutes)
I've been in Paris 5 days and already everything is different. I keep getting asked why I'm here. To be honest with you all, I came on somewhat of a whim. I needed a change. I'm not here for a job or to follow a man (the top two guesses). I'm here for me. Because I wanted to come, so here I am. People laud my bravery but honestly I'm just as scared as everyone else. "I wish I could do what you're doing" is something I've gotten a lot. But anyone can...I literally booked a flight (a really cheap one, thanks Norwegian Air) spending a couple dollars short of every penny I had in my account) and figured out the rest after/am still figuring it out. I'm in Paris because I want to be, and I said yes to the great unknown and to change, newness, possibility. 

the walk up to the Sacre-Coeur, Montmartre 
The first two days I mostly slept. The 9 hour time difference and jet lag is a bear. Luckily my Airbnb is lovely (1. Is it luck? I spent probably 24 hours in total looking for the best possible rental for my budget, reading reviews, emailing, etc. 2. Sign up for Airbnb with my link and we both get $35 off - yay!) and I feel comfortable here. It was worth it for me to spend a little more to get a place in the city I could actually physically turn around in - Paris apartments are known for being comically tiny and it is no joke, they really are. Most of them (in my budget) are former servants quarters, some with shared bathrooms in the hall and one window, maybe. As I'm not twentysomething anymore and over the hostel/backpacking phase of my life (I promise it happened, check out my previous shared blog Barnstormers), this would not do. My place isn't luxurious, but it's perfect. 24 whole hours well spent (100 emoji). 
a house on the hill in Montmartre, across from the cemetery

my first Parisienne purchase, this hat
And then I did stuff! I took a free tour of Paris from a link I happened upon when I fell down an internet hole researching. Check it out and if you do it too (I recommend!) request Elodie. She was a wealth of knowledge and a 5th generation Parisienne (actually born and raised in Paris, not the suburbs), a rarity. I stood below the Eiffel Tower at night, in the rain, and watched it sparkle (which it does every hour, on the hour). I stood on a bridge over the Seine and let the wind blow my newly short hair. I've had several conversations with shopkeepers in full French (100 emoji again!), I've eaten a lot of cheese and (hopefully) walked it off. 

I'm really interested in learning about the culture of Paris, the history of why things are the way they are, anthropologically how people relate to each other and the city. It's fascinating to me. I hope to be as fluent as possible in French by December for a job I'm hoping to get that I'm pretty sure was made for me. I'd like to visit as many French villages as I can - as everyone in Paris says, you have Paris and then you have the rest of France - take lots of photos and just generally soak in the life. 

I already feel freer and more able to be myself. No one knows me here and no one expects anything from me. There's something so liberating about that. Yesterday someone asked me what I was doing. "I'm going to walk around Montmartre (my neighborhood for the month) and discover somewhere wonderful to eat." I said. "Great! Can I join you?" someone asked me. And I actually felt like it was ok to answer my truth, which was "No thank you. I prefer to be on my own today." It was liberating. And so I walked around all day alone, getting lost and found again. I try to do touristy things on my own because no one French wants to do them with me and it gives me a chance to geek out on the beauty of the sites, overhear accents and conversations and stop a lot to take photographs. 

Yesterday I also had my first croissant, which is kind of insane based on how much I love them, but it took that long. It was nearly 2pm and the first thing I had eaten all day. I went into a pattiserie and ordered (see my tip below) and walked outside, holding the hot magic. I started to continue onto my destination but decided instead to embrace the culture by stopping to enjoy my food versus eating it on the go. I found a bench, sat down and unwrapped my warm present. I peeled a piece off and slowly let it melt in my mouth. Just then I noticed an old man walking, incredibly slowly, near me. One of his shoes was broken and I realized his slow roll was due to this shoe he was trying to keep on. He had only a thin old cardigan, stained, that he was buttoning up against the cold. He had a grey white beard and a worn face. His light blue grey eyes stared straight ahead as he walked on and I could see him shiver. I took my headphones out. "Monsier" I said. He didn't turn. "Pardon!" I said louder. He turned to me and I peeled the croissant in half and said in English "Would you like to share my croissant?" He stared at me for a moment, skeptical like a child analyzing a stranger. I shook my head yes and held out the half to him. He gave a weak smile, still skeptical, and stretched his hand out to meet mine, so slowly that I was able to study every wrinkle on his palm. His hand shook slightly and he finally met mine, trepidatious that I'd pull back. He took it and I let go. He smiled weakly and turned away from me to eat it hungrily before he kept on walking. When he finished he nodded in thanks as he faded away down the street. I ate the rest and it tasted so much better to be shared. I was full. I was grateful. I stood up and turned around to see my bench was in front of Cafe Hope and I smiled to myself and felt in unison with the entire universe.  
Sacre-Coeur (Sacred Heart) sits atop a hill. Not originally planned as a church, this structure has centuries of interesting history

My Paris Tips (so far):
  1. When going to tourist spots buy food in a less touristy area first. This will save you money, as touristy areas have even higher prices, stress of trying to get a table at the one spot across from whatever monument you're visiting, and the food will likely be better. Bring your food and eat instead in a park, on the steps of a church, the bank of the Seine, etc. Depending on your time limits and budget, get either a sandwich or pastry from a cafe or buy your own baguette, cheese, fruit and wine (you can drink in public, yay) and make a picnic once you get to the spot. If you have a little more to spend (it will be about the same as a restaurant) definitely go for a custom Paris picnic by this awesome local team who partner with the best in French food and deliver wherever you're going to be. Blanket included! *I have not done this yet, but I hope to. **Someone please do this as a surprise for your lover! 
  2. Get a free tour of Paris (link above). 
  3. Unless you're vegan, be sure to order a "croissant beurre" which is made with butter instead of margarine/vegetable fat, which is often made from frozen dough. You shouldn't have to eat anything frozen ever, let alone a delectable French pastry. It should be labeled as such, but if not you can tell by the shape. A croissant beurre is straighter, versus having an actual crescent shape. 
Love locks on the Seine, where lovers come from around the world to lock their names in a declaration of their undying love and throw the key in the river.
Fun fact: After the weight of the locks literally made the side of the bridge collapse into the water, it's now forbidden to put a lock on the rail. Tourists still do it.