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Paris Arrival

October 27, 2009 Leave a comment

Hotel Lancaster

It’s a little before 8:00 AM local time here in Paris, Tuesday morning, and we arrived at the hotel an hour ago. So far so good.

Yesterday, in the few hours we had on Long Island before it was time to head back to JFK, we did some family-related things. We hit the road at 3:00 PM. Let’s see. That’s just 12 hours ago. (France went off daylight savings two days ago, so for this week there’s only a five-hour difference between eastern time and the time here in France.) Got to JFK, returned the rental car, took the AirTrain to the United/British Air terminal, checked in, went through security, and had two hours until our flight time. We took Open Skies, at my sister’s suggestion. She has taken this route in her recent trips to New York. It does only one thing — flies the Paris-New York route — with three flights a day between Orly and JFK/Newark. It’s kind of a discount business class service, much much cheaper than business class would be on, say, Delta. And as we found, it’s not quite the level of service or comfort that we remember getting on Delta in their business elite or United in business. It’s plenty good, but the business seats are more like what you’d find in a first class section of a domestic flight. Which is to say, they’re wider than coach, and the space between the seat in front and your seat is more than in coach, though not much more than we had on JetBlue on our flight two days ago. The seats do recline a lot more, with a leg rest coming up. And since it’s an old plane with the old video screens in the ceiling over the aisle rather than the personal video service you get on the major airlines (even in coach sometimes), they hand out handheld video players. Plus, you get a hot dinner. We had a pate with fig, chicken breast slices in mashed potato, rolls, a little plate with three grapes and some brie, a wee bottle of salad dressing whose purpose I couldn’t figure out, and a parfait sort of dessert. And drinks. Wine, beer, after-dinner drinks, etc. When the trays were taken away, each of us was given a little box with two chocolate truffles in it.

There’s also a premier class on the plane, a small section in front. Our “biz” class seats occupied what would ordinarily be coach. The premier class people had special seats that lie flat to make a bed, plus linens. Back in biz class, it was pretty empty. Maybe there were 10 of us, or 12. We were all in the first five rows, beyond which were rows and rows of empty seats. Soon after takeoff, I headed back a few rows so both Gail and I could have a pair of seats to ourselves and so when the person in front of me decided to go to sleep, his seat wouldn’t be lying just over my legs.

The odd thing about taking off at 6:00 PM, rather than 8:00 or 9:00, is that we landed in darkness. At about 4:35 AM Paris time, they started serving breakfast — yogurt, croissant or roll, coffee or tea, juice. Once they cleaned up, I moved forward to my original seat by Gail and looked out the window as we came over Brittany and on into Paris. We landed about a half hour early, 6:00 AM. We taxied for 10 minutes, got off onto an old-fashioned ramp onto the ground, got on a bus drove a few more minutes, were deposited at the terminal, and all 20 of us — if that many — crowded through passport control. Our bags came pouring down the conveyor belt just 3-4 minutes later. And they poured. That belt was moving fast. By 6:30, with dawn still not in sight, we were in a taxi. I’d been worried about taking a taxi and spending forever on the Périphérique in traffic, but it turns out that that’s not a problem at 6:30. There were lots of cars, but traffic was “fluide.” We got off by La Défense, came around a corner, and the Arc de Triomphe was straight ahead. Even l’Etoile, which has had some of the craziest traffic I’ve ever seen, was flowing smoothly. A half kilometer or so down the Champs Elysées, a left turn onto Rue de Berri, and we were at our hotel at 6:50 AM. The Hotel Lancaster.

We got to the front desk, the woman asked if we had stayed here before, I said yes, in August 1999, and after a few seconds she found us in the computer system. That made check-in faster, and they even had a room ready. The man who was also helping with our check-in brought us up, showed us around the room, and to our astonishment we were settled just after 7:00 AM. Our expectation had been that we would leave our bags here and head off to my sister’s. Instead, here we are in our beautiful room, with Gail asleep and me blogging. It’s bedtime in Seattle, a natural time for us to sleep, but the sky finally started lightening as we got off the Périphérique and now it’s a lovely morning, so I’m feeling revitalized and ready to explore. Maybe I will.

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Categories: Travel

The Trip Begins

October 25, 2009 Leave a comment

piccolo

I may not be blogging much in the next three weeks. Perhaps not at all. We may be too busy, too tired, or unwilling to pay 25 or 30 euros for the privilege of getting wifi in our hotel rooms. But I’ve paid for wifi tonight, the first night of our trip, and although it’s almost 11:00 in New York, it’s only 8:00 in Seattle, so I may as well say a few words. Not that there’s much of interest to say.

We flew JetBlue’s Seattle-JFK flight, got in around 4:45 this afternoon, fifteen minutes early, got our bags, took the AirTrain to Hertz, got our car, drove to our usual hotel, the one we have been staying in for almost exactly 22 years, going back to the fall of our year in Princeton, when Joel was just months old. Since JetBlue doesn’t serve meals, even if you want to pay for them, and since we didn’t bring food with us, we were hungry, so we went to Piccolo’s nearby in Mineola. It’s an Italian restaurant that my brother introduced us to a few years ago. And when I came here in July, with Joel coming down from Boston, we had dinner there with my brother, as we did last month when Gail and I came in on our way to Nantucket. This time my brother is away on business, but Gail and I went there anyway. We had one of their specials, chicken and prosciutto with a light mozzarella topping and a white wine sauce, accompanied by pasta in a tomato sauce. We were hungry, and it was good, as was the lettuce, tomato, onion, and chick pea salad we split to start.

Here at the hotel, I should be watching the 6th and possibly final game of the Yankees-Angels series, but I’ve had my fill of baseball. I know, I shouldn’t say it. I’ve had a long list of items in reserve for a lengthy post on baseball, but it just didn’t happen. The games are just too long, the announcing is tiresome, the time between half-innings is unbelievable, the time between pitches is only slightly more believable. Any number of times in this postseason, I’ve switched to some show during an ad break, then forgotten about the game for a few minutes, then gone back, thinking I may have missed a lot, and discovered that I missed either nothing or a single pitch.

And I can’t stand the on-going deification of Derek Jeter. Enough already. Last week there was a game in which he fielded a ground ball with runners on first and second and one out. They were running on the pitch, so he had no play but to first. But as he got the ball in his glove, he looked at the lead runner, just reaching third, to make sure the runner didn’t head home, then threw to first for the out. We had to hear how he’s always playing heads-up baseball, blah blah blah. Is there anyone who has ever played baseball or softball at any level who hasn’t had it drilled into him or her to do this? Don’t you always look at the lead runner before throwing to first? Really, Jeter may be great, may be Mr. November, Mr. Clutch, whatever you like, but it was routine.

And another thing. Now that we’re in New York, we have to experience post-season baseball east coast style, with start times way too late and ending times that are totally nuts. I’m boycotting. No baseball for me tonight. Other than checking the score a few times.

Back to the trip. We haven’t done anything like this in years, in terms of all the moving around we’ll be doing. I’ve come to prefer longer stays in fewer places. We both prefer it. But that’s not the plan this time. We have the one night tonight here on Long Island. Then one night on an airplane and one night in Paris before we get to settle down for three nights in Grenoble. Three will be the minimum for awhile: three also in Venice, four in Rome, three in Florence. But then we go back to short stays: a night on the train, two nights in Paris, two nights here on Long Island again, and one night in Chicago. Lots of packing and unpacking, or not bothering to pack and living out of our luggage. I don’t know which.

I’m not complaining. How could I? It’s going to be great. And we’ll get to compare the food in Italy with tonight’s meal as well as with our final dinner, which will be at another Italian restaurant (of sorts), Andiamo. It’s the in-house restaurant at the O’Hare Hilton. I’ve eaten there many times and I respect it. They do a good job. But our standards may have changed by then.

Perhaps I’ll have a few words to say about the food along the way. Check back.

Categories: Baseball, Restaurants, Travel

Gourmet vs. Golf World

October 24, 2009 Leave a comment

golfworld

Gourmet Magazine‘s final issue appeared last week. Condé Nast Publications announced earlier this month that it was closing Gourmet and three of its other magazines:

Gourmet magazine, which has celebrated cooking and travel in its lavish pages since 1941, will cease publication with the November issue, its owner, Condé Nast, announced on Monday.

Gourmet was to food what Vogue is to fashion, a magazine with a rich history and a perch high in the publishing firmament. Under the stewardship of Ruth Reichl, one of the star editors at Condé Nast, Gourmet poured money into sumptuous photography, test kitchens and exotic travel pieces, resulting in a beautifully produced magazine that lived, and sold, the high life.

In parallel with Gourmet’s closing, Deborah Solomon interviewed editor Ruth Reichl in the Sunday NYT Magazine’s weekly “Questions for … ” feature last weekend. After asking Reichl how she learned from Condé Nast owner S.I. Newhouse about losing her job, Solomon follows up with

Did you ask him why Condé Nast was shuttering Gourmet while keeping afloat some 18 other magazines, including Bon Appétit and such giants of intellectual life as Golf World and Golf Digest?

Talk about gratuitous insults! Ms Solomon, have you ever even opened up a copy of Golf World? What possible basis do you have for suggesting, if I’m reading your tone correctly, that Golf World is not a giant of intellectual life? How dare you?

I have subscribed to Golf World for some twenty years, ever since Jessica was selling magazine subscriptions as part of a 6th grade fund drive. I consider it essential reading. What magazine qualifies as being a giant of intellectual life anyway? The New Yorker? NY Review of Books? The Atlantic? Harper’s? I subscribe to all of them. And if I were to cut back on subscriptions, some of them would go before Golf World does. More specifically, inasmuch as we were Gourmet subscribers as well, I never noticed that Gourmet had greater intellectual content than Golf World.

For the record, Golf World has some of the finest golf writers in the country. It is the one place where you can read about all the weekly tournament activity in the world — not just the PGA tour, but also the women, the European tour, college golf, and so on. One might wish for even more coverage of non-PGA golf, but at least it’s there. And one of the great pleasures of reading Golf World is that the writers assume you know something about the subject. Readers are treated as part of an educated community of golf fans. Is it the New Yorker? No. The quality of the prose sometimes dips below the New Yorker’s (or my) standards. But it’s a first-rate magazine.

One last note. The November issue of Gourmet — the final one — showed up last week in its usual annoying plastic wrap, with a sheet inserted having our address and an ad. The ad was for Gourmet, offering gift subscriptions at a discounted rate. The discount wasn’t steep enough though. The cost for the issues to come was a positive number.

Categories: Food, Golf, Journalism

Soupy

October 23, 2009 Leave a comment

soupy

Soupy Sales died last night. For a brief period 45 years ago, he was a big part of our family’s life. That would be the fall of 1964 and the winter of 1964-65. I was in 8th grade. My brother was in 12th grade. I wasn’t that big a fan of Soupy, but my brother was. And reading the NYT obituary tonight, I realize that that was the peak of Soupy’s career.

Drawing on the physical comedy of the Marx Brothers and Harry Ritz, he entered show business after graduating from Marshall College in Huntington, W.Va. Working as a teenage dance-show host and D. J. on television and radio, he appeared on stations in Cincinnati and Cleveland, then began “Lunch With Soupy” in 1953 on WXYZ-TV in Detroit. He took the name Soupy Sales in part from the old-time comic actor Chic Sale. After appearing on local TV in Los Angeles and on the ABC-TV network, he made his debut on WNEW in the fall of 1964.

Then came an infamous moment. On New Year’s Day 1965, Soupy Sales asked youngsters to go through their parents’ clothing and send him little green pieces of paper with pictures of men with beards. He later reported receiving only a few dollar bills and said he donated them to charity, but Metromedia, the station’s owner, suspended him briefly after a viewer complained to the Federal Communications Commission that he was encouraging children to steal.

That stunt only heightened Mr. Sales’s appeal to young people as a tweaker of authority, and when he headlined a rock ’n’ roll show at the New York Paramount the following Easter, perhaps 3,000 teenagers were snaking through Times Square hoping for seats at the morning performance. “He’s great, he’s a nut like us,” a 13-year-old boy told The New York Times.

Aha! So the period I remember him so well from was none other than the period when he entered the New York television market, on WNEW. That makes sense. Of course, I had no clue at the time what shows were local and what were national. Especially confusing to any kid growing up in New York was the fact that the call letters of the local network affiliates are WNBC, WCBS, and WABC. After a network show, when someone would announce, “This is CBS, we pause now for station identification” and another voice came on to say, “This is WCBS,” I never knew what the point of that silly little exercise was. WNEW wasn’t a network affiliate. I knew something was different about it, but I doubt I knew whether an afternoon show like Soupy Sales was local or national.

In any case, my brother spent some time in the hospital that year, first for what was supposed to be routine surgery, then again after some complications. It was a scary time. I was busy preparing for my upcoming Bar Mitzvah. (The Bar Mitzvah pictures serve as a permanent record of his weakened, post-hospital state. They’re also the last record of the time when he was taller than me.)

I didn’t pay too much attention to Soupy, except when we’d go to the hospital to visit my brother, for whom he was the daily highlight. We’d watch him together. The nurses would join us. Everyone laughed.

Whatever else Soupy was, he was a godsend to our family.

Categories: Family, Obituary

Julia Child at Rover’s

October 23, 2009 Leave a comment

roversbook

I’ve written several times about our lunches this year at Rover’s, the highly regarded Seattle restaurant just down the street from us. They serve lunch on Fridays only, and we made it in there back in January with the Williams. After another lunch in March, I taught a course in the spring that precluded Friday lunches. To make up for this, Gail and I had lunch there every week or two in July and August, culminating in a farewell lunch with Joel the day before he took off for Grenoble. Then we were off ourselves, to Nantucket, and we haven’t made it back since.

Until two nights ago, when the Williams joined us there for dinner. Rover’s has a special running for two months, through the end of November, featuring a menu in honor of Julia Child. There is of course the usual menu to order from, and the Julia Child items are available à la carte, so one can mix and match, but we all chose the fixed price Julia Child menu, at a most reasonable $55. With the amuse bouche, it’s really a five-course menu. You can review the menu at Rover’s website, but it won’t be posted there forever, so let me copy it below:

Amuse Bouche

Salade Lyonnaise
Frisée Salad with Poached Egg, Bacon and Red Wine Vinaigrette

Potage Parmentier
Potato and Leek Soup

Filets de Poisson à la Meunière
Sautéed Halibut Filet with Spinach, Baby Beet, Oyster Mushrooms and Lemon Brown Butter
or
Boeuf Bourguignon
Beef Stew with Red Wine, Pearl Onion, Carrot and Mushroom

Soufflé au Chocolat
Chocolate Soufflé

The amuse bouche was three amuses in one. One was a small taste of a beet and carrot soup. One had a tiny bit of toast with little bits of lamb. And one was a smoked salmon. Each, suitably expanded, would have been a perfect appetizer. The other menu items are self explanatory except for the soup, which is not quite what we had. We had a butternut squash soup with roasted butternut squash cubes, braised leeks, and chive crème fraiche. (Thanks, Gail, for remembering.) It might just have been the best part of the meal. But everything was superb. Well, I can’t speak for the halibut. I had the beef stew. Four of us did. Cynthia chose the halibut. I would have been happy with half of each, but that wasn’t an option.

One could also choose a wine pairing, as Gail and Cynthia did. Under the wine pairing plan, five different wines were served, one with each course including the amuse. All were French wines, and they seemed to be a success. I can only speak for the wine Gail was served with her beef bourguignon, since I had a glass of it. It was a Rhone wine and I was very happy with it. I don’t remember the details. I didn’t see it on the menu; I just took the waiter’s advice when I said I’d have a glass with the beef and he proposed that I simply have the wine pairing selection for that course.

Pretty good soufflé too. I’m not as big a soufflé devotee as Gail, but this could make me one. If only we weren’t going away, we could go back another time or two while the Julia Child menu is available. On the other hand, I bet we’ll have some satisfactory eating options on our trip.

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Grocery Store Musical

October 22, 2009 Leave a comment

I’m such a sucker for the work of Improv Everywhere, about which I have blogged several times. Their latest mission, Grocery Store Musical, was unveiled yesterday. In the tradition of their classic Food Court Musical, the Improv Everywhere team created a mini-musical that was performed spontaneously at a grocery store in Queens. Watch both — last year’s food court musical and the new grocery store musical. And also go to the Improv Everywhere website to read the post about Grocery Store Musical. It contains background information, photos, and more about the shoppers’ reactions.

Categories: Food, Video

Last Supper Times Two

October 22, 2009 1 comment
Polpette al pomodoro (meat balls) with risotto.

Polpette al pomodoro (meat balls) with risotto.

[Photograph: Dave Yoder for The New York Times]

Our trip preparation continues to distract me from blogging. Maybe I should blog about the trip. Here’s a short item.

As I have mentioned in one post or another, once we leave Joel in Grenoble, we’ll be heading to Venice, Rome, and Florence before returning to France. The way we laid out the trip, our Florence departure day happens to be Gail’s birthday. When I first looked at train schedules, I saw no direct overnight train from Florence to Paris. Only a connection in Milan to an overnight train departing from Milan for Paris at 11:30 at night. That gave me the idea that rather than getting to Milan just in time to make the connection, we could go up earlier in the day and spend a little time in the city. The next time I looked at the schedule online, an overnight from Florence was shown, departing around 9:00 at night. Not having to change in Milan would be convenient, but by that point we liked the idea of seeing Milan. Plus, the 9:00 departure from Florence would get in the way of having a birthday dinner.

With all this in mind, we booked ourselves on a train out of Florence around 12:15, getting into Milan at 2:30 and giving us nine hours before we head to Paris overnight. Now what? Well, we’ve never been to Milan, and the first thing that came to mind was The Last Supper, which is in Santa Maria delle Grazie. One can’t just show up. One needs tickets, and preferably advance reservations. Easier said than done. There’s an official website for reservations, but if you google some combination of The Last Supper and Milan and the church, you’ll see several of the third party companies that are happy to provide tickets for a fee, or tickets and a tour. I studied three of them, but decided I didn’t really want to pay 28 euros apiece for a guaranteed slot and a guide. You could also pay less just for the guaranteed slot. I finally found the official site, which I must say, I’m having trouble re-finding. Ah. Here. In English. It suggests you can get reservations on line for just 6.50 euro apiece, but when you try to click on the desired date, it doesn’t work. It also says, “BOOKING IS COMPULSORY CALLING THE FOLLOWING NUMBERS:” I wasn’t too keen to do this by phone. So I gave up and got tickets through tickitaly.com. (I think that’s a pun.) I had to indicate preferred times and then two days later they told me what time they got for me. We will be able to enter at 6:00 PM for 15 minutes.

We still had Gail’s birthday dinner to plan. We aren’t wedded to this idea, but what I came up with is Trattoria Milanese. If you have a better suggestion, please tell me. It’s highlighted in the NYT online guide:

This relaxed and funky 74-year-old restaurant is set midst winding narrow streets lined with shops that sell antiques, books and crafts in one of Milan’s oldest sections. The communal tables in several large rooms fill up rapidly at lunch with a mix of suits from the nearby stock exchange, neighborhood ladies who lunch and tourists from Italy and abroad. Handsome brick arches, romantically amateurish water colors, copper pots, faded posters and photos almost distract one from walls that, here and there, could use paint and plaster.

More reassuring is the menu that reads like an index for a Milanese cookbook. The cool salad of cartilaginous pork and veal tendons, nervetti, comes as an appetizer along with carpione, tiny onion and vinegar dressed cold veal cutlets. Minestrone can be had with pasta or the more traditional rice, and in summer is served slightly chilled. Like other dishes presented in the straightforward casalinga (or “housewife”) style, both the risotto Milanese and the al salto are convincing and heartily portioned. Soft mounds of polenta may be enhanced with the braised beef stew, brasato, or a cozily overcooked osso buco, or, big light meatballs in a tomato ragù.

There’s not much Gail likes more than risotto and osso buco. How can we go wrong. Frommer’s says:

Giuseppe and Antonella Villa preside with a watchful eye over the centuries-old premises (a restaurant since 1933), tucked into a narrow lane in one of the oldest sections of Milan, just west of the Duomo. In the three-beamed dining room, Milanese families and other patrons share the long, crowded tables. Giuseppe, in the kitchen, prepares what many patrons consider to be some of the city’s best traditional fare. The risotto alla Milanese with saffron and beef marrow, not surprisingly, is excellent, as is the minestrone that’s served hot in the winter and at room temperature in the summer. The costolette alla Milanese, breaded and fried in butter, is even better here because only the choicest veal chops are used and it’s served with the bone in, and the osso buco is cooked to perfection. If you want to try their twin specialties without pigging out, the dish listed as risotto e osso buco buys you a half portion each of their risotto alla Milanese and the osso buco.

Gail can have both the risotto and the osso buco in one order! Perfect. Me, I’m more of a meatball fan. That dish at the top of the post looks just right. Trattoria Milanese may not be the most elegant place, but it may have the perfect meal for our last supper in Italy.

Categories: Art, Restaurants, Travel