Monday, June 09, 2008

Bikes!

Today was my first test in French class. One down, three to go. It was really in the nature of a quiz, short and sweet. I did ok on the verb conjugation, not so well on matching of the correct gendered pronouns to words. I keep hoping the language thing is going to come together, but so far it's only kind of happening. I do think my pronunciation is good--which accounts for my fooling of shop clerks and why sometimes I'm asked if I'm Italian (why not Spanish, I wonder?).

Yesterday was long and lazy. Well, not entirely lazy. Since I was up late on Saturday, I slept in on Sunday until almost 10am. I did a little French studying and left the house around 11. My plan: use the Velib and bike around for a while. I'd used the bike on Saturday and the day pass is a true 24-hour pass, so it was valid until 3pm.

I planned to have some coffee before getting the bike, but the place I tried to go to was closed. The bakery across the street was open, so I got a pain au chocolat. The place was crowded so I got out fast…on the way to the door I noticed a woman sitting at a small, high table drinking coffee. Ah, they have coffee at this bakery (the second closest one to my house)! Good to know.

Instead of picking up a bike right away, I went in search of coffee elsewhere on foot. I didn't consult a map, I just ambled slowly southward. I passed a few Velib stands and finally found an open café. It was tiny, on a corner, with only one other customer. I ordered my coffee. Oh, I finally figured out how to ask for what I want. Not a café complete (the single espresso shot), not an au lait (a larger cup with the same amount of coffee plus warm milk), rather a "noisette." See, this had confused me since "noisette" means hazelnut, but it does not refer to the flavor of the nut, but rather the color the coffee becomes when you add some milk. It's the small cup of coffee (the demi-tasse) filled up the rest of the way with milk. Perfect! I ordered "une noisette" at this tiny café and got exactly what I wanted. While sitting there, a very old man came in and without asking, the bartender poured him a very full (but small) glass of wine. It was 11:30am. Not the first time I've seen men drinking beer and wine rather early in the day by my standards.

After drinking my coffee and making a muddle of paying…the proprietress picked the correct change out of my hand after I tired to give her a 2-euro coin…I picked up a bike.

My plan: ride aimlessly for 25 minutes and then consult the map to find a Velib stand or, hopefully, spot one at the right moment. I kept heading south, and since I'm close to the "periphery," I actually found and crossed it. Thus, my ride was not so much in the charming Paris as the newer more industrial Paris. That's ok, it was interesting and anything off the beaten path is good for me.

I managed to really get out of the way and I found myself riding along a large industrial canal! And, the 25 minutes were up, there was nowhere to stop, and I got a little worried. I steered back to the more populated areas (following some signs and instinct) and, voila! A Velib stand. I parked the bike and checked in: 33 minutes! Darn it, that cost me an extra euro. I checked out another bike, which was not necessary, but since the first bike had almost no brakes, still a good idea. (Yes, you can stack the rides like this--check in one bike, pick up a new one, and you get a new "free" half hour.)

I rode again for about 25 minutes and got to the neighborhood where I planned to eat lunch, roughly "Chinatown" but the restaurant where I ate served several flavors of Asian food, including Vietnamese, which is what I chose. (It's pretty common for Asian restaurants to offer Thai/Vietnamese/Chinese food, but the sushi places seem to stick to Japanese.)

Now, I love Vietnamese food and have eaten it many times. I was the only white person in the place and the waitress seemed a little dubious about my choice. When it arrived, it was what I expected: a big bowl of rice noodles with some sautéed beef on top and lettuce on the bottom and some thin sauce on the side. I started picking at it, the way I usually eat, and after a bit a man, possibly the owner of the restaurant (he'd seated me), came over and explained that I needed to stir up the ingredients and pour the sauce over it (in French!). So, I did. It's hilarious that I had to come all the way to France to learn how to eat this particular Vietnamese dish, which is one of my favorites. All stirred together, it was good. Even though I sort of like to have some of the noodles plain, it was on the whole better to have it mixed up.

After lunch, I walked for about ten minutes, then found another bike stand and rode the rest of the way home. I have to say, the bikes are great. The weight is not an issue, the ride is smooth and three speeds are just fine for most of Paris. Maybe a seven-speed bike would be ideal, but more than that would be overkill.

I made it home and relaxed, read, studied for my French test, worked on some French homework, and did some blog writing.

In the early evening, I went out again. I had food on my mind, but I started wandering around and walked for about half and hour. On the way home, I picked up a meat pie at the open bakery and some broccoli at the fruit/vegetable grocer. I had a short conversation with the clerk using my broken French (he asked if I were Italian). I tried to explain that I lived nearby and he kept saying, "Yes, hotel" and I kept saying, "non, appartement." Eventually he got it. I think.

At home, I cooked my broccoli and heated my meat pie. Boy it was good. Very rich, I could have shared it with someone! I studied some more and finally gave up, watched a dvd and went to sleep.

I suppose I should be going to more museums, but this relaxed pace is actually what I had in mind for this time. The museums will wait until I'm ready.

Grateful for: time to relax.

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