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Mysteries of Space: Venice

November 29, 2009 Leave a comment

This post is intended to be a complement to my Mysteries of Time: Venice post. Like that one, it may have more to say about my stupidity than about Venice. But if it’s Venice you wish to learn about, there’s no shortage of better places you can turn to. So let’s continue to focus on the minutiae of our recent trip.
Read more…

Categories: Travel

DeRose: Oenology+Seismology

November 29, 2009 2 comments

The Wall Street Journal’s front-page daily feature yesterday was about DeRose Vineyards, notable for both its wine and its location on the San Andreas fault. If you have access, I recommend the article as well as the accompanying slide show and video. As explained in the article,

DeRose Vineyards has become a must-see for geologists, seismologists and science buffs. They come for the San Andreas Fault, which cuts a clear path through the winery’s main building. One side of the structure sits on the Pacific plate, the other on the North American. The fault is moving slowly, and tearing apart the building at the rate of about half an inch a year.

A jagged crack splits the office floor and runs through the warehouse between the fermentation tanks and the aging barrels. An outer wall is warped. A doorway is barely usable. A long concrete ditch is distorted. …

But what scientists consider a geological marvel is an expensive nuisance to the winery’s owners.

“We just keep patching,” says Pat DeRose, who bought the winery in 1988 with another family. In the past 40 years, one side of the building has moved around a foot and a half northwest, while the other side has stayed put. That has required regular fixes to the roof and walls.

The video is narrated by Tamara Audi, the author of the article. She notes at the end that “if you work on the San Andreas, it helps to have a sense of humor and plenty of wine.” One of the staff then notes, “Eventually LA will be here. We’ll have beach front property.”

As for the vineyard itself, the history page at its website suggests that it may be the oldest winery in California. Forty of its 100 acres were planted before 1900 and are “dry-farmed in deep sandy-loam soils on terraced hillsides.”

I’d sure like to visit. Maybe we will, when we take our long-deferred first trip to Monterey. Meanwhile, I’m going to order a couple of their wines. Don’t tell Gail. It will be a surprise.

Categories: Newspapers, Science, Wine

Milan-Paris

November 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Milano Centrale

The last post in my Eating in Paris series described our meals in the short time we spent in Paris between arriving from New York and heading to Grenoble to see Joel. I still need to write about our meals on our return to Paris, which I thought I was going to do in this post, but I got diverted, so I’ve changed the title and have let it take its own course.

From Grenoble, we went to Venice, Rome, Florence, and Milan, completing our time in Italy on Gail’s birthday. I already mentioned a little bit about our short time in Milan in in one post or another: We got into Milan around 2:30 in the afternoon, checked our bags, found the subway, bought tickets, and headed to the cathedral. Then we walked past La Scala to the Pinacoteca di Brera – Milan’s principal art gallery, from which we walked back toward the center of the city, finding a taxi in front of La Scala, and made our way by taxi to Santa Maria delle Grazie in time for our 6:00 scheduled visit with Leonardo’s Last Supper. That’s worthy of a long post, if I ever write it. And then we walked back toward the city center, getting slightly lost as we searched for Trattoria Milanese without benefit of the correct address. It seems I was off by a letter and had found the address I thought I wanted, but it was a deserted block of office buildings. Fortunately, a little searching on my iPhone brought the error to light and the correct place was just around the corner on an almost-hidden narrow street. Our birthday dinner was among the best on the trip. It was long anticipated and did not disappoint. We walked back to the cathedral, it was only 9:00 PM, and after killing as much time as we could, we descended into the subway, bought tickets from the machine, and returned to Milano Centrale, where we re-claimed our bags and found ourselves with two hours before our 11:35 PM overnight train to Paris was scheduled to depart.

Let me suggest that if you are planning a trip to Italy soon, you not include Milano Centrale at 10:00-11:00 PM as part of your itinerary. It was cold, there was limited seating, the first class club room had closed at 9:00 PM, the pigeons had free run of the place, and it was just plain creepy. All in all. I did get to make a new friend. My dear friend Carol in Cambridge shares a birthday with Gail, so I decided it would be fun to surprise her with a quick call, all the more because she knows more about Italy than anyone else I know in the world and I suspected she would be delighted to get birthday wishes from us in Italy. Once I reached her, I gave Gail the phone so they could exchange mutual happy birthdays. But here’s the thing. The few benches available for seating had arms that divided the space into widths suitable for 1.7 people. Gail and I shared such a space. Then when a group of men left the nearby bench, we shifted and each took a 1.7-person space. Gail thought we shouldn’t and I assured her I could move if somebody came. So I give her the phone, I look up, and what do you know, some man is rolling a suitcase about 20 feet in front of us, African in appearance, and looking around. I gesture to him, indicating that he could sit in my bench, and I proceed to stand up so he can have the 1.7 space and I can squeeze next to Gail in the adjacent 1.7 space. He gestures back, no, don’t bother, no problem. But then he thinks better of it, turns in my direction, smiles, walks up to me, and asks if I speak English. I say yes, a little. He then sits down, so now he and I are squeezed into the 1.7 space, since I never did get up fully and move to Gail’s space. Our faces are inches apart as he shakes my hand and asks where I’m from. The US. He lights up. He loves the US. He asks if I’m living in Italy. I explain. Where am I from? Seattle. (He doesn’t seem to recognize it.) Where is he from? Nigeria. What do I do? Teach math. He is in the book business. He tells me how generous I am, apparently moved by my willingness to move so he can sit. What’s my phone number? Um, what? My phone number? Maybe he’ll come to the US. That’s his dream. And then we can get together.

Whoa! This is all happening a little too fast. I hate to be suspicious, but really, what’s the deal here? Should I extricate myself? If so, how? And won’t Gail stop talking to Carol so I can reclaim the phone, excuse myself from my friend, and talk to her? I keep looking her way. She seems oblivious to my situation, as she regales with Carol with stories of our travels. I suggest to my friend that he doesn’t need my number. If he does come to the US, he won’t come to Seattle. It’s a big country. He’ll want to be in New York probably. He isn’t as fluent in English as I may have suggested, and clearly he’s puzzled by what I’m saying. Finally we stop talking and sit in silence for a minute, or maybe a little more. I keep wishing Gail would give me the phone. She does. He gets up and wanders off. I tell Carol about my new friend. We talk briefly, say goodbye, and I suggest to Gail that maybe the train, though it departs at 11:35 PM, might show up earlier and we can board.

So we walk off, even though it’s still only 10:40. We go out to the platforms, study the board, see which train departure platforms are listed — not ours — and continue to stand in the cold, staring up at the board, waiting for our platform to show up. It does around 11:00, the train comes in from Venice, and we board. Privacy at last.

Privacy, and not much more space than we had on that 1.7-person bench. But that’s another story. Somehow we got into our bunks and eventually slept. I awoke at one point as we pulled into a station, pulled up the blind, and saw we were in Dijon. At 7:45, our attendant knocked on the door, waking up Gail, who had to get me (on the lower bunk) to wake up so I could open the door. He waited with a tray that contained awful orange juice, an awful croissant, a roll Gail passed on, and two coffees. I asked for tea instead and got something that tasted more like lemon water. In less than half an hour, we were rolling into Gare de Bercy, Paris. This is not your classic Paris train station. It’s something of a dump. It serves the night trains from Italy, auto trains, and I don’t know what else, but coming through was dispiriting. There was a taxi rank, but people were operating like they were in Italy — general chaos, no line — until some woman started shouting at everyone in French to get in line and get into the lane formed by a metal barrier. That worked, except for one recalcitrant couple that made a break for the next taxi to pull up.

No big deal. Within another 3 minutes we were in a taxi.

Except this was November 11, a national holiday, the observance of the 91st anniversary of the Armistice. And not your ordinary observance. Sarkozy had gone to Berlin two days earlier to participate in the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall. On this day, Merkel was returning the favor. We didn’t know it, but they would be making a joint appearance at the Arc de Triomphe. And this meant that the Champs-Elysées, which they would be driving down, was completely closed to traffic. Of course, our hotel, Hotel Lafayette, is just off the Champs-Elysées, on Rue de Berry a one-way street that runs northward from the C-E. The normal way to get there would be to drive along the Seine, get to the Place de la Concorde, circle around it, get on the C-E northwestwards, and take it to Rue de Berry. I was pretty confused when our taxi driver, heading west on the left bank, passed the bridge that would have taken us to Place de la Concorde. And the next bridge too. He finally crossed over on a bridge that I realized made sense, as it would allow him to cut over to the C-E right about at Rue de Berry. Except as soon as he crossed the bridge, the road was blocked. He had to double back east to Place de la Concorde. And he made a full 360 degree circle around it to confirm that we weren’t going to be permitted easy passage toward the hotel. Another half loop and we headed north, to make a convoluted approach to the north, the west the south, and west again, arriving at Rue de Berry north of our hotel about 50 meters, which was pretty darn good under the circumstances. Our fare, of course, was at least 10 euros more than it would have been via a normal route. But what can you do?

Fortunately, our room was ready, so despite our early arrival, we could go straight up to the room. And now, at last, I can tell you more about eating in Paris. But maybe in the next post. Sorry about that.

One more thing. We headed out at 11:30 AM to begin our day in Paris. And discovered that the C-E was closed not just to cars but also to people. We weren’t allowed to cross from the north to the south, which we needed to do in order to get to my sister’s place. Barriers were up, people were lined up along them, looking down the street more out of curiosity than any apparent excitement. And then, what do you know, a motorcade came by with a Citroën limousine. After a half minute, another motorcade came by. Was this Sarkozy and Merkel? I would guess so, though we never found out. I would imagine they had a ceremony at 11:00 AM, the time of the Armistice (11th hour of 11th day of 11th month). And by 11:30, they would have been ready to move on. So, how about that? We were there for a moment of history. And then we found the stairway to the George V metro stop, descended, walked through the passageway under the C-E, climbed back up the other side, and had made it across the street. We were off to eat and see my sister. More to come.

Categories: Transportation, Travel

Thanksgiving Again

November 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Lefse

[From http://tinyurl.com/ybhlppo%5D

An oddity I’ve discovered as this blog works its way through a second year is that when certain cyclical events come up again, whatever I have to say isn’t as interesting as what I said the first time around. This year’s Thanksgiving, for example, was routine compared to last year’s. A year ago, as I explained in a post, Gail was working part-time as a chef in a residential treatment center for addicted women who had young children or were pregnant, and her part-time duties included Thursdays. Thanksgiving is on a Thursday. That meant she was working on Thanksgiving. I joined her for several hours as she finished cooking and served the food to the residents. See last year’s post for more. After a long day of work, she wasn’t about to cook at home, so we had Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant with Jessica and Joel plus Gail’s sister and her husband.

After last year’s less-than-memorable dinner, we were eager to return to tradition this year and eat a home-cooked meal. Which we did. Joel, of course, is in Grenoble, which meant that there would be one hole in our tradition. He had spent his first 22 Thanksgivings with us. He would not be spending his 23rd with us. (Joel, in turn, along with the other US students in his program, had his own Thanksgiving dinner, with each student preparing a dish. We haven’t heard how it worked out. Today they went off by bus to Strasbourg, where they will spend two nights. Then on Sunday they will stop in Colmar on the way south for a short visit. I’ve already urged him to see the Isenheim Altarpiece while in Colmar, if he has time, but time will be short and there will be other things to do. And I’m hoping he gets to see his cousin — my sister’s daughter — while in Strasbourg, which has been her home for over five years.)

Joel aside, the rest of our Thanksgiving partners of a year ago came over to the house, as did our friends and frequent Thanksgiving partners the Williams and new guest Nancy. Gail made turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, and green beans with mushrooms. All wonderful. And a cranberry relish. The Williams brought additional dressing, more cranberry relish, and probably other items I’ve forgotten. Tamara and Jim brought a cold vegetable platter, pickles, and again probably something else I’ve forgotten. For dessert, everyone contributed a pie, resulting in a choice of pumpkin, pecan, sweet potato, and blackberry pies. Oh, and Gail made cinnamon ice cream, a perfect complement. For those who aren’t big pie eaters, it was perfect on its own. No need to serve as complement. (That’s a compliment.) There was, of course, more food than we could possibly eat, and it was a heck of a lot better than last year’s meal.

We don’t seem to have a Friday tradition. We don’t shop. I did look at the Apple website to see what they had going on in their annual one-day sale, but I didn’t buy anything. (A year ago on this day, we bought our three iPhones. I’m ready to upgrade, but I’ll wait until I don’t have to pay the $200 upgrade fee that would be due now because not enough time has passed in our contract with AT&T.) The one special event of the day was the broadcast of my favorite TV show, Monk. It is as good as ever in this, its seventh and final season. Tonight, the first episode of the two-parter that will bring the series to an end aired. Sometimes, the show’s depiction of Monk’s compulsive behavior is intentionally over the top, played for humor, but other times, it is so perfectly rendered that I can almost think I’m watching myself in a mirror.

Tomorrow we’ll make the drive 60 miles south to Lacey, to Gail’s cousin Mark’s home, to participate in the annual extended family celebration of their Norwegian background. I wrote about this, too, a year ago, in passing, in a post about making conversation. It’s a mystery to me why we hold this event two days after Thanksgiving. We’ve already eaten enough and seen enough family, but then we do it again. The day centers on the making of heavy boiled potato balls, some with ham and some without — kumla — and the preparation of flour pancakes — lefse — that late in the celebration Mark gets around to adding margarine and sugar to and rolling and slicing for our dessert. Mark is the oldest of the grandchildren of Gail’s paternal grandparents, a position that makes him, effectively, the patriarch of the family and the keeper of its traditions. I wonder how serious a celebration of Norwegian culture this is. If my old friend Sverre from Trondheim were in town during one of these events and we dragged him to it, I suspect he would be mystified. The best parallel I can imagine is if the extended family on my side mostly still lived in greater New York and got together every year to wear aprons that say “Oy!” (rather than “Uff Da!”), fry potato pancakes, and eat rugelach. Not that that would be a bad thing. Maybe my grandmother could make a surprise appearance from the grave to prepare her chopped liver. I’ll be there. Just say the word.

Categories: Family, Food, Holidays, Television

Eating in Paris, II

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

I just wrote a post about yesterday’s NYT article in which Tony Perrottet explores the food of Paris in the shadow of the 19th century food critic Grimod. What about our own recent explorations of Paris’s food? I have explained in several recent posts that our trip to Europe both began and ended in Paris. In this post, I’ll talk about our first time through.

We arrived four weeks ago, just about now, except now is Monday night here in Seattle and it was Tuesday morning there in Paris. We landed at Orly and were at the Hotel Lancaster before 7:00 AM. We would leave the next day on the 1:38 PM train to Grenoble, so our stay was brief, and our eating was done mostly with my sister and her husband.

Once we got into our hotel room, I didn’t want to sleep, but Gail did, so I left her around 9:00 AM to walk over to my sister’s place, a walk of some 25 minutes. Just as I arrived, Gail called, refreshed and ready to make the walk herself, which she did. The plan was to have lunch together at my sister’s, but as we sat around talking, I fell asleep in the chair. In any case, around noon, my sister was sending her husband out the door to pick up some food, and I suggested that we join him. I thought the neighborhood stroll would do me good, but more than that, it had been many years since I wandered through the food shops on Rue Saint-Dominique and I was eager to do so again. (My sister lives in the 7th Arrondissement, a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower. Rue S-D runs more or less east-west, heading east from the Champs de Mars — the big park that stretches out below the Eiffel Tower away from the Seine — passing under Les Invalides and continuing on a little farther.)

When I had last shopped for food there, with my sister almost twenty years ago, the variety of shops and the quality of their wares was simply amazing. In the meantime, we learned, a number of food stores have converted to non-food stores or to restaurants, which is good and bad, but some of the richness of the street has been lost. Still, walking along there with Gail and Jacques was plenty exciting. And we went farther than we used to, in order to turn south on Rue Cler, a street
famous in its own right for food. Our goal was an Italian meat store that my sister told us had the best ham. (See photo at top.) We bought ham there, as planned, and made additional stops on Rue Clear and Rue S-D for a baguette and dessert treats. In particular, we stopped for fresh Lemoine canelés. I wrote about canelés a year ago, after my sister brought me a box when we met in New York. I wasn’t too sure about them. But they weren’t fresh. This time we would get to try fresh ones.

Oh, before I continue, let me insert photos from some of our stops.

We got home, by which time Gail had made a salad and put out some figs. We then proceeded to have as good a meal as we had during our entire trip: ham, bread, figs, salad, and wine. Then the most incredibly flavorful muscat grapes and fresh canalés. What a meal! Simple, yet spectacular.

After lunch, we walked back to our hotel, rested, napped a little, awoke, and headed back out to catch the 42 bus to my sister’s. From there, we walked around the corner to a nearby restaurant that they frequent, Le Clos des Gourmets. All I remember is that we had another great meal. But fortunately, I made a note of my dishes, so I can tell you what I ate. Oh yes, I started with a whipped egg and ham dish. That hardly does it justice. It was frothy and flavorful, a very special treat. My main dish was chicken and potatoes, again with everything full of flavor. And dessert was a chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream. That speaks for itself. I tell you, one can eat well in Paris. But that’s not exactly news.

Afterwards, we walked to Jacques’ car and were given a lift home. As you can see, we didn’t really do anything all day except sleep, walk, shop for food, and eat. A perfect way to start our trip.

The next morning we had buffet breakfast in the Hotel Lancaster’s restaurant. Excellent breads, pastries, and fruit laid out, with the opportunity to order eggs any style. I ordered scrambled eggs with bacon. After breakfast we packed, my sister came over to visit, and then it was off to Gare de Lyon to validate our Eurail passes and be ready for our train to Grenoble. Validating took a while because of a long line at the ticket counters, but we had also allowed ourselves a lot of time, so we had the opportunity to check out all the food counters before selecting our lunch sandwiches to eat on the train. Not that there’s really all that big a choice. But I couldn’t decide. Gail got a ham and cheese sandwich, I continued to investigate then I tasted hers and decided it would do, so I went back and bought one too. (For the record, the one I bought became hers and I took possession of the one from which I had taken a test bite.) There’s really not a lot to say about a simple ham and cheese sandwich — small baguette, some ham, a little cheese. That’s it. But I will say that they were good. Freshly made and put in little paper bags, as one finds throughout France. Not refrigerated overnight, wrapped in plastic, with the bread getting soggy and with a ton of mayonnaise dripping out, as one might get here. There was no mayo at all, or mustard, or any condiment, but it sure hit the spot.

So that’s that. Our first 30 hours in Paris.

Categories: Family, Food, Restaurants, Travel

Eating in Paris, I

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Stohrer, Paris

[Ed Alcock for The New York Times]

I realize my blog’s services are hardly needed to bring your attention to an article in yesterday’s NYT that filled the front page of its Travel section. But its about food, restaurants, and Paris, so how can I resist? The article is Tony Perrottet’s account of his effort to follow the path laid by the great food critic Alexandre-Balthazar-Laurent Grimod de la Reynière two hundred years ago. “Grimod de la Reynière is not exactly a household name in the United States today. … But specialists in the field still revere Grimod. Rémi Flachard, the owner of Librairie Rémi Flachard, Paris’s finest bookstore for gastronomic history, declared that Grimod ‘almost single-handedly invented the genre of food criticism.’”

You’ll want to read about Perrottet’s meanderings yourself (and watch the accompanying slide show). I’ll just quote one passage.

As the days passed, I felt I was getting a feel for Grimod’s taste in restaurants. But where, I wondered, would he have dined in Paris today? I knew he placed a premium on the freshest ingredients, simply prepared, and he liked inventive twists on classic recipes. He detested intrusiveness in waiters, preferring them to appear only when summoned. And as a down-at-the-heels aristocrat, he also appreciated value for money. “Grimod was always short of cash!” Mr. Flachard, the bookseller, had told me. With my battered U.S. dollar credit card, I could certainly empathize.

Fortunately, on my last day in Paris, the past and present seamlessly met, and for a change the restaurant seemed to come to me. I was strolling the Rue St.-Honoré near the site of another long-gone boulangerie when I noticed a tiny row of medieval structures attached to the Church of St.-Roch. One hole-in-the-wall turned out to be a minuscule restaurant complete with original pot-cluttered kitchen. It was called La Cordonnerie (the Shoemaker’s) and, according to the blackboard, it served cuisine de marché, fresh market food. I had accidentally hit pay dirt: the fantasy of a charming French boîte.

There were fewer than 20 seats in this intimate space, which dated from 1690, with blackened beams against the low white ceiling. The chef was a maestro in his cramped workplace, preparing alone the day’s menu of foie gras in homemade chocolate sauce and roast pork with field mushrooms. He was also the owner, I later learned, having inherited the restaurant from his parents.

I eagerly took a seat in the farthest corner, ordered without restraint, as Grimod might have done, and chatted, between sips of muscadet, with an elderly couple at a nearby table. They said they lived around the corner on the Rue St.-Honoré and came here at least once a week to enjoy the fresh market fare. “Always the full three courses at lunch,” giggled Madame. “Then a nap — and no dinner!”

I felt sure that Grimod must have eaten here at some time or another. He certainly would have approved of the setting. Of one of his favorite restaurants, Le Gacque’s, he wrote: “His salons are nothing sumptuous, but the cuisine is good, the wines excellent, and the prices moderate.” Plus, there was a friendly, unobtrusive staff.

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Mysteries of Time: Venice

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

A weird thing happened three weeks ago today, our first morning in Venice. Perhaps I should set this up as a puzzle, so you have a chance to figure out for yourself what happened. Maybe you’ll be able to do so more quickly than I did.

Let’s start at the beginning, with a review of what brought us to Venice. [You're going to need some patience. It turns out that I don't get to the puzzle for a while.] Read more…

Categories: Stupidity, Time, Travel

Loopy Lithuania

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

[Laris Karklis/The Washington Post]

I try to keep my references to Glenn Greenwald’s blog posts to a reasonable minimum, but I can’t resist this one from yesterday on the decision (reported here in the Washington Post) of the Lithuanian Parliament to investigate for a third time “reports that the CIA secretly imprisoned al-Qaeda leaders in this Baltic country.”

[I]ncreasingly, after years of issuing denials, Lithuania’s leaders are no longer ruling out the possibility that the CIA operated a secret prison in this northern European country of 3.5 million people, and that its government will have to deal with the fallout.

Last month, newly elected President Dalia Grybauskaite said she had “indirect suspicions” that the CIA reports might be true, and urged Parliament to investigate more thoroughly.

The Washington Post first revealed the CIA’s overseas prison network’s existence in 2005. At the time, it withheld the names of Eastern European countries involved in the covert program at the request of White House officials, who argued that disclosure could subject those countries to retaliation from al-Qaeda.

Greenwald contrasts Lithuania’s extremist response to that of a more enlightened nation. One example:

What sort of a newly elected President would get into office and then start demanding that actions From the Past — rather than the Future — be investigated, just because they might be “criminal”? This deeply irresponsible Lithuanian leader apparently doesn’t care about inflaming partisan divisions, and worse, appears blind to the dangers of criminalizing policy disputes. Even more outrageously, Lithuania faces one of the steepest recessions in all of Europe; obviously, this is a time, more than ever, that Lithuanians should be Looking to the Future, Not the Past. Instead, they’re wallowing in deeply inflammatory, partisan and extremist rhetoric …

What kind of crazy, purist, Far Leftist utopians are running that place? They need a heavy dose of pragmatism so they can understand all the reasons why so-called “crimes” like this can be overlooked — just blissfully forgotten like a bad dream.

In an update, Greenwald refers to a related post by Jonathan Schwarz.

Jonathan Schwarz notes that in 2005, Donald Rumsfeld traveled to Lithuania and visited a museum in Vilnius which once housed a KGB prison, where the Soviets tortured prisoners. That museum exhibits “solitary confinement rooms which were used to break down the prisoners and make them confess.” Shockingly, “the walls are padded and soundproofed, made to absorb the cries and shouts for help,” as it was the site of barbaric acts like this:

Prisoners either had to stand in ice-cold water or to balance on a small platform. Every time they got tired they fell down into the water.

After his visit, Rumsfeld released an “Open Letter to the People of Vilnius,” in which he solemnly observed that “the museum was a stark reminder of the importance of preserving our liberty at all costs.” Schwarz asks: “Did Rumsfeld Tour KGB Torture Museum to Pick Up Useful Tips?”

Categories: Politics, Torture

La Restauration Rapide

November 22, 2009 1 comment

[Sipa Press/Newscom, from WSJ article online]

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a piece on the new wave in French food, with the title ‘Restaurant Rapide’ Nation and the subtitle “As France’s frosty attitude toward fast food thaws, master chefs offer up interpretations.” In the article, we learn that

Plenty of chefs in the U.S. and France have opened bistros, brasseries and other relatively affordable alternatives to their Michelin-starred eateries. France’s master chefs now have taken the next step—designing and serving their own takes on fast food. Their interpretations are American-style lunches of salads and sandwiches, often priced as meal deals and packaged to be eaten on the run. …

“Fast food is the sector that is growing the fastest” among restaurants in France, says Claire Cosson, spokeswoman for Union des Métiers et des Industries de l’Hôtellerie, a French hospitality-industry group known as UMIH.

If only we knew. This might have come in handy. But maybe it’s not too late for Joel. He has four more weeks in France and is just an hour away from Lyon, where he can sample the food at Ouest Express:

Until last year, eating the food of Paul Bocuse, one of France’s most celebrated chefs, required a visit to L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, his restaurant with three Michelin stars near Lyon. Diners there lounge beneath chandeliers and eat spoonfuls of his famous truffle soup—at €80 (about $120) a bowl.

But there’s now a cheaper option in Lyon—twin restaurants run by Mr. Bocuse called Ouest Express.

There are no truffles on the menu at these ultra-modern eateries. Instead, Mr. Bocuse offers hot plates of salmon ravioli for €6.40, and “le César Classic” burger for €9.40, made with local beef and served with a drink and a side or dessert.

Customers carry their trays to tables arranged in a bright, airy dining room or on a sunny terrace—or they take their meals to go. After opening the first Ouest Express early last year, Mr. Bocuse opened a second location last month in Lyon’s Part-Dieu district downtown. Planning has begun for a third.

Or perhaps Joel could get back up to Lake Annecy to eat at the restaurant featured in the photo at the top, Marc Veyrat’s Cozna Vera.

(What did we eat in France? More on that, perhaps, in another post.)

Categories: Food, Restaurants

The Game, II

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment

[Bob Child, Associated Press, from NYT website]

In late September and early October, I had posts (here and here) with the theme that I wasn’t ready for football. Baseball was still being played; couldn’t we wait a little longer before the onslaught of football coverage on TV and across print and web media? And why must coverage of baseball games be pushed around in favor of football? By the time we headed off in late October on our 23-day trip, my commitment to baseball was already wavering, and the idea of World Series games in November was more than I could bear. Now that we’re back, baseball is forgotten, I’ve accepted (even as the college regular season winds down) that it’s football season, and now I’m wondering why college basketball is already upon us.

Even as I was rueing the saturation coverage of football, and largely not watching it, I was paying attention to who was winning and losing. And then I remembered in mid October to follow the Ivy League race. From Europe, I would look up the weekly results, and it soon became clear that the league championship was likely to come down to last week’s Harvard-Penn meeting in Cambridge. Both were undefeated in league play (each of the eight teams plays the other seven over the course of the season), while everyone else had two or more losses. By the time they met, this remained the case: both were 5-0 in Ivy play, Brown was 3-2, and everyone else had a worse league record. With two games left, their head-to-head meeting and yesterday’s season-enders, the winner of their game last week would at least tie for Ivy champion.

Neither team had distinguished itself in non-league play. Both had lost two of three. My guess was that Harvard wasn’t as strong as its league record suggested, and even though they were playing at home, they would probably lose. Which they did. That took some of the shine off yesterdays’ re-enactment of The Game, the 126th meeting of Harvard and Yale on the gridiron.

I wrote about The Game a year ago, noting just before its start that I had discovered cable network Versus’s weekly broadcast of an Ivy League football game and anticipated watching it. I also mentioned the newly released movie — which I have yet to see — on the greatest of all Games, Harvard’s 29-29 “victory” over Yale in 1968. (You’ll recall that both were undefeated going in, at a time when Ivy football mattered. The Yale team was nationally ranked, with stars Brian Dowling — the inspiration for BD in Doonesbury — at quarterback and Calvin Hill — future Dallas Cowboy star and father of Grant Hill — at running back. They were expected to win, even at Cambridge, and win they were doing, 29-13 with 42 seconds left. For the rest of the story, see the movie.)

I arrived in Cambridge the following fall. There were great hopes for the team that year, but things fell apart quickly, starting with the hero of The Game, quarterback Frank Champi, quitting early on. Nonetheless, with the memory of 1968’s Game still fresh, I was determined to get to New Haven for the 1969 game. When Hillel, a friend in our freshman dorm, mentioned that he had a sophomore friend from his high school who had a car and was going, I accepted the invitation to ride with him, as did my roommate and Hillel’s roommate. I see now that I already wrote about this in my post on The Game a year ago, so I won’t go over old ground. I’ll just say that getting to New Haven wasn’t worth the trouble. It was cold, the game was boring, we lost, and I soon lost interest in Harvard football altogether. I only remember one game in my years there that I enjoyed, a thrilling victory over Cornell in my junior year with, as best I recall, a late winning field goal. What made the game special is that Cornell was led by the top runner in the country, Ed Marinaro. Yes, really, Ivy League football still mattered on the national scene in those days. Marinaro finished 2nd in the Heisman Tropy balloting after leading the country in rushing. In fact, he set the NCAA record for most career rushing yards, a record that looks like nothing today, since players have four years of eligibility rather than just three. He had some success with the Vikings, but perhaps became better known through his role on the TV show Hill Street Blues as Officer Joe Coffey.

So anyway, The Game was played yesterday. Just before noon I remembered that it was underway and might be on Versus. Good timing. I turned it on with about 4 1/2 minutes left and saw quite an ending. Yale, as I eventually learned, had taken a 10-0 lead at halftime, but missed a field goal in the second half. I’m not sure when, but I think in the third quarter. This opened the door for Harvard, which scored at last with 6:46 left in the game to cut the lead to 10-7. When I started watching, Yale had the ball, in position to wind down the clock. Then came the crucial play, with less than 3 minutes left. Yale was on its 25 with 4th and 22. The punter was back, but the play was a fake. The ball was hiked to someone standing just behind center, who handed off on a reverse to a player coming from right to left. He proceeded up the left side as I screamed for someone to tackle him. And someone did, 5 yards shy of a first down. Harvard recovered the ball on its 40. After a 4-yard pass and a 2-yard run, they went long for a touchdown, taking a stunning 14-10 lead with a minute and a half left. Yale had a pass intercepted, called three timeouts on Harvard’s next three plays, forcing Harvard to punt with just seconds on the clock. Yale had no time to do anything and Harvard escaped with the win.

Even though no one but alums can possibly care, the NYT is always there with coverage of The Game, presumably because it employs so many alums itself. You can read more in today’s paper.

I leave you with the lyrics to my favorite of all college fight songs, Harvardiana, written by R.G. Williams and S.B. Steel of the class of 1911:

With Crimson in triumph flashing
Mid the strains of victory,
Poor Eli’s hopes we are dashing
Into blue obscurity.
Resistless our team sweeps goal ward
With the fury of the blast;
We’ll fight for the name of Harvard
‘Till the last white line is passed
Harvard! Harvard! Harvard! (2x)

We sure dashed Eli’s hopes yesterday!

Categories: Football, Sports
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