Monday, March 28, 2011

Feverish baby-animal observation

Back in the dorm after a trip to London and some tourist-time in Paris with my mother. I'd have a whole lot more to report if I hadn't - as always happens after I meet a bunch of deadlines before a break - come down with a feverish cold, the one going around the dorm, and my turn had come. I can, however, report that French cold medicine combined with spicy pho from Le Palanquin (better than Pho 14! how is this possible?) kept me going on the evening I was about ready to take advantage of the non-board-like hotel bed and hibernate.

But, some observations all the same...


-It felt very odd, after a train ride not much longer than to Brussels, to all of a sudden be in a place where everyone spoke English, where the same chains exist as in the States, and where the architecture so resembled New England (technically vice versa, but anyway). That combined with seeing my mother gave me the sense that I had somehow returned home without the hassle of crossing the Atlantic. It finally made sense why some ferners refer to "Anglo-Saxons" to mean Brits and Americans - not such major cultural differences, it seems. The famed embrace of multiculturalism as versus the French Republican uniformity isn't something I could speak to after a few days, but I did notice that there's a whole lot more intra-subculture variation in fashion, hairstyles, etc. in London than in Paris, making London more like NY in this regard. In Paris, there are uniforms. Visible foreignness isn't (entirely) about ethnic difference, but about, say, being 15-30 and female and not wearing one's hair long and tangled, pairing that with a blazer, denim cutoffs, black tights, and ballet flats. A chic look, but it gets repetitive. Further thoughts on the national-identity aspect of this await my getting some sleep.

-On account of all the pre-travel deadlines, I hadn't really had time to look up what to do in London. There's now a great big NYT Travel section spread on the topic, but there wasn't when we were there. One thing we found accidentally, but that was quite different from NY or Paris and pretty great, was the Sunday (Up)Market, at the area around it, including the Spitalfields Market. It wasn't so different, I suppose, from the Brooklyn Flea, just a whole lot more festive and fun. There were also Yohji Yamamoto dresses to gawk at, pale-pink patent leather oxfords to acquire, and - drumroll please - a galaxy print shirt/tunic/dress! For 35 pounds (reduced, looks like, and more vivid than in that photo)! Fine, steep for a t-shirt, but a whole lot less than the Christopher Kane equivalent.

-They say the food in London is better than it once was. Not knowing how it once was, I'm left wondering what could possibly be worse than a "Thai" "tofu-chili-basil" "stir-fry" that amounted to some pieces of long-since-fried tofu with a sauce consisting only of soy sauce. Perhaps at the high end, things are otherwise, but culinary highlights included a lemon poundcake with decent icing but whose cake part tasted either like beef or lamb, we couldn't decide. With the exception of fish and chips at Applebee's and some deliciously MSG-tasting Chinese food, things were pretty grim on the delicious-food-that-Americans-imagine-exists-everywhere-but-America front. Best bets included Pain Quotidien and Carluccio's, which is, it seems, an Italian-themed Pain Quotidien equivalent - high-end fast food, reliable and vacationish. As someone who places eating good food high on my list of reasons to visit a place, this was kind of a let-down, if an unsurprising one. Although it was through London's Pain Quotidien pit stops that I learned there is, in fact, such a thing as iced coffee in that chain, turns out in Paris as well.


-Not much new to report, having been here for a while now, but I will confirm David Lebovitz's assessment, via Amber, that buying mundane items in Paris can mean inadvertently inviting a shop attendent to reach what American middle-schoolers refer to as second or third base. That, and the Boulanger des Invalides continues to be the most fabulous place in the world.

-Other than that, by the time we arrived in Paris, it was fever city for me, peaking, of all places, in the home of the author whose works I struggled with most during my qualifying exam preparation back in the day. Victor Hugo, I now associate you not only with the most high-pressure exam of my life, but also with collapsing all nineteenth-century malade-like into the only chair that had not been designated patrimoine. One of these days, I will need to read one of your works while eating some especially delicious aged chèvre, to fix the state of affairs.

-OK, here's something: the wallabies have spawned! There are tiny baby wallabies (one, at least, but I thought I saw another) poking out of their mothers' pouches, nibbling on the grass, and otherwise being charming. Readers in Paris, head to the Jardin des Plantes ASAP.

-Speaking of adorable:

Not convinced this is safe for the dogs, and certainly not something someone with my coordination should attempt, but this was a Paris postcard moment indeed. (More so if you can see the couple gazing at each other, but I figured maybe they wanted their anonymity.)


Flavia said...

Oh, there's definitely great food in London in the middle price range--generally I just let myself be guided by my foodier friends, but El Pirata (tapas/Spanish) and Fairuz (Lebanese) are two I've been to repeatedly.

(Only having been to Paris once, I can't properly compare.)

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


Thanks for the recommendations - if/when I return I'll check those out!

As for the general point, that great food exists in a huge city I don't find hard to believe. It's more that cities fall along a spectrum, from those where you need to pay up or need foodie friends to guide you, to those where you can be anywhere, even in a crappy or touristy area, go into the nearest food establishment, and be wowed. DC, for example, no doubt has good food, but you need to search. Chicago I know for a fact has good not-expensive food, but it took years of investigation to find it. Whereas in every town I've visited in Belgium, good food has been the default. Not because Belgian cuisine is everyone's favorite (more mayonnaise than I'd prefer), but because the quality and attention to what's being served or provided at the store is just higher.

Anonymous said...

Love the photo with white, fluffy dogs. Envy you the baby wallaby sightings. JM

PG said...

Just got to London, but sadly will be headed to cheaper regions of England (Oxford for sure, possibly Cambridge in search of the elusive clean, wifi-enabled non-dorm accommodation that's less than 50 pounds/night) before the Sunday UPmarket, which looks very worthwhile. Thanks for the heads-up on the NYT piece, I'll look for it. Agreed with Flavia that there are some good food options in London that aren't Michelin-priced, though in my experience these mostly are of the gastropub/ bistro variety so still a little expensive for everyday eating. (Based on NYC takeout Thai kind of pricing, I now expect to be able to get a decent meal in any foreign capital for $10 or less.) The greatest simple salad of my life -- mango, crabmeat, arugula -- was in a London bistro, so they are capable, I think, of the kind of quality-without-fussiness that you like in Brussels.