Nighttime Park Activities

A few months ago, a friend and I and a group took a walk in Central Park in the evening. The first time I remember going to Central Park at night was New Year’s Eve 2015. Three friends and I got there right before midnight to watch the fireworks and ring in 2016. It was so relaxing. If you’ve seen the Times Square Ball drop on TV (or in real life), it’s the opposite of that. Central Park is so big that there’s space for everyone who wants to watch the fireworks, and you can show up right as they start, as we did. Afterward, it feels safe to walk through the park because there are a lot of people around.

Many people, locals included, think Central Park is dangerous at night. Maybe it used to be, but I’ve discovered that there is an above-the-board nightlife there. Joggers, groups of young people sitting by the lake, and people walking their dogs form the park life. It isn’t busy by any means, but the people who are out aren’t dealing drugs or otherwise creating an uninviting atmosphere. If there are shady activities being conducted, they are well hidden enough that I haven’t come across them when walking on the paths. I wouldn’t go to Central Park alone because it is dark, parts are isolated, and there isn’t a lot of security patrolling, but in the past two years I’ve gone with friends and dates and felt safe.

One time, I was sitting with someone on a bench on the north side of the park, not far from the green Pool, when we heard someone come up behind us. As it was dark, it was my first time in the park at night, and there were no other benches around us for the person to approach, we were a bit startled. It turned out that it was a young woman who had left her keys in plain sight on the bench we were sitting on. She quickly retrieved them and went off.

There are some characters you won’t see during the day—one time I saw a woman feeding dog food to about a dozen raccoons. I like animals, including raccoons, and have an affinity for some that many people don’t like, such as pigeons, but there was something about the loud chewing of a dozen raccoons in the dark that freaked me out a bit. We could hardly see them, but their eyes glittered as they chomped.

On the most recent walk with my friend and our group, I saw the Bethesda Terrace at night for the first time. It was quite magical.

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One Week Later

Last weekend a former colleague and I walked past Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) and stopped to look up at these black and white banners. 100_7537A few days later, I happened to be at Place de la République, which served as the starting point of the government-organized demonstration a few days prior.100_7547 100_7546 Pencils and pens, candles, flowers, and messages were scattered around the base. People stood quietly or discussed among themselves.100_7543The statue in the center of the plaza is Marianne, the symbol of France. Seated below her are three females representing Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, the country’s national motto. In Liberté’s hand someone had placed a pencil.100_7545vvThe country is on an official state of alert. At every entrance of major department stores and malls are security guards checking bags of people entering. In metro stations, the police presence is less noticeable, though I wonder how many are in plains clothes. On entrances to certain buildings, including my library, are signs that say “Plan vigipirate,” indicating the high alert level in the Ile-de-France region.

On Friday midday two hostages were taken at a post office in Colombes, a suburb right outside Paris and only three train stops from Saint-Lazare train station. I immediately felt sickened, as I had one week before during the hostage takings. A couple of hours later, it was reported that the hostage taker was subdued and that no one was hurt. He apparently was deranged.

All of these are reminders that while for most of us here, life has returned to normal (the stores and main streets are certainly packed, as the big biannual sales have started), it is a new kind of normal.

Turkey Dinner, Turkey Dinner

Thanksgiving abroad is a moveable feast. Because it is not a day off in France, most expats opt to celebrate it the weekend before or after, when they will have time to prepare the meal and guests will be available to linger.

As I’m without family here and was not hosting Thanksgiving, I hoped that one of my American friends would invite me to theirs. I was fortunate enough to be invited to two Thanksgivings, one the Saturday before and one the Sunday after the actual holiday.

The first was hosted by a woman who really knows how to throw a party. I was looking forward to it, especially since I was away last year and unable to attend. I ascended the candlelit stairs leading up to her apartment and though late, was the first to arrive. Three French servers bustled around in preparation for the dozens of guests to come. Once people trickled in, one serveur poured wine and another circulated with hors d’oeurves, of which my favorite was an escargot in a puff pastry. It took pig in a blanket to a whole new level.

For the main meal, we served ourselves and sat around the small tables and couches in the salon. It was the type of party where you mingle and meet new people. At one point, I wandered into the kitchen and chatted with the housekeeper, a Peruvian woman whom I already knew and love. I was there for a while until the wait staff kicked me out to clear up the passage.

There were TWO turkeys, though we never got to see them in their full form as they were carved before leaving the kitchen.

My second Thanksgiving was an intimate affair of five people hosted by a Texan friend. The day before, I texted him asking what I could bring, and he responded saying actually, could I come a few hours early to help him cook? The day of, I had just left my apartment when he texted me, “Emergency! I need butter!” I picked up some butter and arrived at his place to a warm kitchen of sweet potatoes and Christmas carols. Truth be told, he did the majority of the work, but I kept him company and sang along to Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald. I also drew a pair of hand turkeys to decorate his coffee table. If you’re American, you know what I’m talking about.

Unable to procure a turkey at his butcher, he cooked gigot d’agneau (a leg of lamb) with garlic. To accompany the meat, he made stuffing, a sweet potato casserole with pecans and marshmallows, and asparagus. I am not a fan of marshmallows, but I have to say the sweet potato casserole was incredibly delicious, and I definitely had second helpings. To top it off, he served a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie he had made. In total between dinner and dessert he used 750 GRAMS OF BUTTER. Oh, Southerners. No wonder it was all so good.

I headed home around 9pm to meet my friend who was coming from New York and staying with me. As she had not eaten dinner yet, we went to a restaurant we like, where I actually considered having an appetizer or dessert before deciding that that was a crazy idea. I tried ordering tea but was told there was none. Juice? Nope, aside from wine they only served coffee. Okay then, a decaf. Non, only regular coffee. This place also doesn’t accept credit cards and has a Turkish toilet, but I was still surprised. At least they didn’t have a problem with me just watching my friend consume her meal.

Since moving to France, I’ve become accustomed to telling the Thanksgiving story to Frenchies. “In 1621…” I remember that my first Thanksgiving here, I felt a bit sad the day of while walking around outside as if it were a normal morning and realizing that no one around me knew that it was one of the biggest holidays in my country. This year, I talked about it to colleagues and people around me, and the act of acknowledging it made me happy.

The day after Thanksgiving, which is always on a Thursday, is Black Friday, when most people in the United States don’t work and stores have huge sales that many people wake up early for. Ridiculously enough, this year I heard that big stores in the U.S. opened one day early, aka on Thanksgiving. Moreover, in England and France apparently some stores observed Black Friday. These are countries that do not celebrate Thanksgiving, and yet non-American brands participated in the price-slashing frenzy. I am all for creating new traditions, but this is not one I can get behind.

Thanksgiving well-celebrated gives me a warm feeling in my heart and belly. Whether or not you had a Thanksgiving meal this year, I hope that you have a reason to be grateful too.99.thanksgiving.2014

You Best Find Another Boulangerie

You sure ain’t gonna get bread from your regular one. It’s August, and many small stores and restaurants here close up shop for several weeks to go on vacation.

Most signs are simple and handwritten, such as this cheery one. 83.august.2014a   “Closed for the summer until Monday, August 25. Have a good vacation”

 Others are multi-part. Below this sign was a smaller one noting the address of a nearby boulangerie that would be open.
83.august.2014b“Annual closing of the boulangerie from August 2 to August 24”

Sometimes you must decipher multiple signs, much like parking in New York. Let’s look at this one together from the bottom-up. 83.august.2014c“Your grocery will be open all summer”
“Closes at 7:30pm on August 3”
“Your grocery will be open Thursday, August 15
CLOSED Saturday, August 17
Thank you for your understanding”

I like being in Paris in August. My commute is quieter, the weather is the best it’s going to get all year, and fun summer events abound. The days are long and made for leisurely walks along the Seine after work.

In this city there will always be another place to buy bread.

Peel, Boil, Chop, Repeat

Last Friday night I made chicken salad for a picnic the following day, which involved boiling chicken breasts, then potatoes, then carrots, then pasta. Keep in mind that I only have two burners and one good pot.

Life in a little apartment in Paris: not always romantic.

On the plus side, I made so much that I had several lunches prepared for the next week.

Coupe du Monde

You might be familiar with the typical Parisian café scene. People sit on chairs facing outward and people watch.

69.cafe.2014aLast night I saw a funny reversal of that. To accommodate World Cup viewers, Häagen-Dazs had set up chairs facing away from the street and toward a wide screen TV.69.cafe.2014b

You Can’t Eat This Éclair

Have you ever seen lightning without thunder?68.lightning.2014a 68.lightning.2014bAround 10 one night this week, I took a walk and called my sister. When I saw this lightning, I watched it for a while, fascinated. One lightning bolt flashed after another sans arrêt but without the familiar sound of thunder after.

I scooted home in anticipation of rain. However, it wasn’t until three hours later that the thunder followed. Then came the strongest hailstorm I’ve ever heard. Unlike the French people I know, I never close my shutters when I go to sleep. Shutters aren’t nearly as common in the States as they are in France, and half the time American shutters are merely decorative. I rather like a bit of moonlight streaming through my window when I go to sleep and the sun on my face when I wake up. During the hailstorm I wished I had closed up shop à la française because it sounded like my windows were going to be pelleted in. Flashes of lightning lit up my room through my wispy white curtains.

Though it took me longer to fall asleep, I didn’t mind the storm. The dramatic weather soundtrack kept me company.

We Gon Get You

Recently two friends and I had dinner at a Japanese restaurant. A lone potted plant flanked the entrance. Apparently the other was stolen. On the door was this sign. 58.plantstealer.2014MESSAGE TO THE PLANT THIEF

If you don’t return the stolen plant, we will file a police report and since there is a camera nearby that can see everything in the vicinity, we will quickly discover the identity of the person who did it.

Don’t mess with these guys.