Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Bye Bye Bertrand!

I went to my first pub quiz in Paris almost a year ago... a fortuitous event in which my good American friend and I were placed with a group of strangers and we ended up winning the game in surprising triumph... The Phoenix was born... 

Since that day, this motley crew and I have become fast friends, continuing to sharpen our pub quizzing skills, sometimes meeting for quizzes, others just for fun times, members coming and going here and there. We celebrate each other's birthdays, give somewhat unheeded advice in varying degrees of merit, and mercilessly mock at all times. One of our most significant members was not in fact part of the original team. Most of us met him during a failed attempt to attend a pub quiz at a different venue than normal. In all honesty, most of our attempts to attend pub quizzes at other venues around Paris are usually met with an epic fail. The quiz won't be on that night, or ever, and we are left to drink our beers without mind-boggling questions. On this particular evening, we met up at a random bar where we were ultimately told there would not be a pub quiz per say, but they ended up having a short sports trivia quiz in light of the game playing on the massive wide screens placed about the room. Now, it turns out that we did not officially win this game, but when the server came over with a free pitcher of beer for the elusive "Bertrand", one of our illustrious group managed to claim the title and accept the offering. Thus, Bertrand became a real member of our team henceforth...

So when Bertrand announced that he would be leaving Paris and moving back to his home country, England, it became our team's prime goal to win the final pub quiz of the year. Hopes were high, despite the fact that we had yet to score a win since that first fateful night so many months ago. We met at our usual haunt, O'Sullivan's in Chatelet, our heads held high and hopes harnessed only by the minor pragmatic reality that these quizzes are often damned hard!

We all met, fortified with beer and burgers, then put our thinking caps on. For the next couple of hours, it was very hard to tell what the results would be. There were several other teams, sometimes whooping with the overconfident joy of those who believe they have conquered all. We chose the more mature line of behaviour held by those who have won before, know their own worth, and so sit back in confidence and poise. Well, plus I had brought Christmas Kinder Eggs for everyone, so we were also rather distracted by awesomeness.

When the results were finally announced, after the hosts spent one millions years reading off answers and hyping the 2nd, 3rd and 6,000th runners up, we almost missed the proclamation that we had in fact won the quiz! At long last, we had returned to the throne, like Aragorn retaking his rightful seat of Gondor! Instead of the usual pitcher of sugary cocktails, we opted for the celebratory bottle of champagne instead and relished in the dizzying bubbles of success. We tipped our hat to our teammates and felt satisfied in the knowledge that we would be sending off our friend with his crown held hi. Bye bye Bertrand! Maybe for not but not for long.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Emerald City Is A Red Windmill

The Moulin Rouge was built in 1889 during the flourishing artistic wealth and optimistic grandeur of the Belle Epoque. Managed and co-founded by Charles Zidler, it was a flamboyant attraction known for cabaret, can-can, and courtesans. For some people this flashy house of ill repute remains nothing but a high-priced Vegas-like spectacle, whereas for me, it embodies the Bohemian ideals so magically effused in a little film created by Baz Luhrmann in 2001... Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Toulouse Lautrec... Who cares how many breasts are dancing around the stage when you can breathe in the beauty, truth, freedom and love pervading the atmosphere.

So, when my Australian chap suggested we plummet even further down the rabbit hole (yeah, mixing fantasy metaphors here... get swept up in a twister?), I couldn't help but be enchanted by the offer. We had spent the previous evening frolicking around Paris, the morning lounging in a Parisian apartment, and the afternoon lunching on bagels before I went off to do some shopping and he engaged in further sight-seeing. While I had had it in my mind to wear the fabulous new red dress I had just recently purchased for the holiday season, I clearly wandered into the store of all stores, Forever 21, and was instantly hypnotized by a fabulous Daisy Buchanan-esque ensemble featuring pink sparkly dress and fluffy white evening coat. Decision made, time to go back to the 20's. 

But before I could wander about the Emerald City, I had to shower, go to work for a couple of hours, and attend my job's holiday dinner. Under normal circumstances, I was very much looking forward to this event, but compared to the fantasy awaiting me afterward, I can't say my attention was so focused on the delicious Moroccan food laid out in front of me. Still, it allowed for some well-needed nourishment, some laughs with my delightful co-workers, and my Australian the opportunity to once again prove his extraordinary gentleman-like powers by picking me up in an Uber to escort me to paradise.

As it was my second time attending this grand soiree, I was not nearly as excited for the actual show as I was for the ambiance... the bucket of champagne, the pageantry of the decor, and of course the eye candy by my side. We were seated practically on the stage, and I snuggled up next to him for the duration. The show itself is equal parts utter absurdity, extraordinary cheese, and impressive acrobatics. We both left very satisfied with the experience and not at all ready to abandon each other's company. Unfortunately, this was about the time when a couple of nights drinking and running on very little sleep began to catch up with me, but I certainly had enough energy for the charms of late night seduction. A girl can learn a thing or two from the Moulin Rouge, to be sure.

The next morning I was awoken as if out of a deeply intoxicating coma and was presented with a fantastic breakfast feast. This man certainly knows how to treat a lady right. Sadly, it was his very last morning in Paris, off to Amsterdam then Ireland before returning to Oz. I escorted him to the metro stop, not entirely escaping the appearance of a day-old courtesan lost on the streets pre-9am, but such is the price you pay for decadence. Perhaps you can't stay in Oz forever if you're not a native. On the other hand, as the memories of the Moulin Rouge, the Australian director's magical reinterpretation, the many sequels of L. Frank Baum, and my undying enthusiasm for Bohemian ideals were dancing around in my head, I had to think... you really just never know what's over the rainbow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Follow The Yellow Brick Road

After having potentially fought off lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) in my dreams the night before,  I awoke the next morning in my cozy little bed with visions of Aussietastic yumminess dancing in my head... And his name hilariously misspelled in my phone, prompting me to send him a quick message wondering if I had met a mysterious man the night before. While I was off to work for the day, he was off to explore more of Paris. His agenda was simply to galavant from around Chatelet in the center of town, all the way up the Champs Elysees to see the Arc de Triomphe. I put in my wine-loving two cents and suggested he meander through the Christmas Market and feast on vin chaud, sadly admitting that while I work in that general vicinity, drinking on the job is generally frowned upon. Instead, this gentleman from afar decided he would stop by and visit me during my 30-minute break... I really couldn't think of anything better than a warm scrumptious man on such a frosty cold afternoon so I happily accepted his offer.

Not only that, but he somehow wanted to see me again during the twilight hours! That glimmer from the Emerald City was certainly getting a hell of a lot more sparkly. So, we made plans to meet at a typical French restaurant in Odeon. I had been to this place for the first time just a few weeks prior, to taste Frog Legs for the very first time. On this occasion, I demanded that the Australian have his first sampling of escargots, watching in delight as he tried so hard not to gag on gooey garden creatures.

After dinner and dessert, we walked across one of the moonlit ponts over the Seine in pursuit of nighttime frivolity. Having long since been acquainted with Cafe Oz, the Aussie bar chain sprinkled around France, I felt it was only right to bring this strapping chap to the Parisian land down under. It's the kind of place that feeds into all manner of stereotype: no yellow brick road per say,  but adorned with crocodiles and pushing Fosters on tap, a beverage all Aussies unequivocally refuse to imbibe. Instead, we indulged in profoundly overpriced cocktails while spending most of our time nestled into each other, sometimes appropriately and sometimes less so... Not that I would EVER do something as ridiculous as make out in public, I am a LADY. That is why one of the bartenders definitely did NOT throw a coaster at us with the words "get a room" inscribed on the back.

That is also why I definitely did not go home with him for the rest of the evening and get up to all sorts of trixy mischief. At least, not before we found ourselves at the door of the airbnb he was staying at, and realized that there was apparently already a party going on inside. Once we finally entered, it seemed we had stepped into a denizen of Russian Mafia members. With a glass of vodka lemonade in our hands, I wasn't so sure I hadn't actually fallen asleep in Dorothy's field of poppies. Perhaps the rest of the night was just a hallucination as well, but I certainly awoke to another whole day of enchantment...

Monday, December 14, 2015

One Step Closer To Oz

Every once in a while, people wander into your life unexpectedly, sometimes momentarily, and manage to rejuvenate whatever flailing bits of neuroses that so often threaten to temper your joy. I have developed this wonderful group of friends through the Brit Meetup Site I went to for the first time a couple of years ago. We met when my good American friend and I went for a random pub quiz night and were placed with a group of people we had never met before. Magically, our combined powers culminated in us winning the quiz that night and since then our friendship has continued to grow. Over the last couple of months, I have started to host some of the Meetup nights and meet even more people, British and otherwise. So last Wednesday, when I hosted a mid-week pint for the second time on my own, I was expecting to have my friends there to support me and to meet a smattering of new partygoers. I was admittedly not expecting to meet a handsome stranger who would carry me off into fantasyland for the next few days.

It was one of those evenings that started very slowly and I didn't expect there to be too many attendees. For whatever reason, though, the guests came pouring in somewhere circa 9pm and I was making the rounds to welcome everyone and make sure no one was left on their own. That is just about when I happened to be near the entrance and three gentleman came walking through the door. I greeted the first two, introduced myself, then looked up to see an incredibly attractive looking man smiling down at me from his oh so great height of 6 foot 2. I was told after the fact that it appeared as if I had made a beeline for him, completely ignoring his friends, and essentially stalking my prey. This was of course not true. It was simply the magic of the cosmos that brought us together. Well, that and the fact that I seem to have some sort of Australian magnetic pull which attracts all Aussies around me at any given time, whether or not I have heard their accent in advance. 

After chatting for a few minutes, me trying desperately not to get swallowed whole by his sparkling eyes, I let him go on his merry way and continued to make my rounds. This of course included stopping by my American friend with a fervent plea to have her prevent me from associating with such an obviously dangerous figure. Knowing my flare for the dramatic (as well as my complete idiocy when it comes to making good decisions) she answered with a resounding no and I was left to decide on my own what to do with this mystery man. Happily, I was in hostess mode and so eventually made my way back to him and his crew, where I pretty much remained for the rest of the evening. After some preambling chit chat, it became clear that he and I were the real stars of the conversation, and were eventually left alone to vie for center stage.

While this scene played out, I was well aware that my group of friends (mostly guys) were always on the sidelines ready to play wingman (no thank you!) or mercilessly mock any and all absurdist behaviours. And yes, that would include any attempt at making out at the bar. So when the Australian suggested we do just that, my always less than modest soul surprisingly asked that we remove ourselves from public view for the cause. Some things are better off taking place behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, I had already learned a vast amount about this delightful being. He is from Perth, Australia, sometimes rescues joeys from the side of the road, has profound farming skills and could probably win the Hunger Games, has never read Harry Potter but saw all of the movies and could sufficiently quote magic spells when need be, and most importantly asked me if I was interested in going with him to the Moulin Rouge (not knowing that I refer to the Baz Luhrmann film as the movie that describes my soul)... If there was ever a debate about my American friend giving me good advice (which I am sure there was not), it officially ended here...

So yes, another Australian entered the spectacle that is my life and tried to jam on those ruby red slippers that only residents of Oz are truly allowed to tote. My current theory is that Australia might be the only place that could actually satisfy my penchant for everyday ridiculousness and that the cosmos is paving the way with a yellow brick road sprinkled in Aussie kisses... The next two days were certainly worthy of technicolor... 

To be continued...

Monday, December 7, 2015

French Wine and Frog Legs

A day of magic and mystery. A day of prancing and poetry. A day of... wine. Every year, what seems in lieu of Thanksgiving, there is a wonderful decadent exposition of French wines on display at Porte de Versailles. "Salon des vins des Vignerons"is like Santa Clause's Christmas playland except nothing to do with Christmas or decorations or tinsel. After tasting an infinite variety of magical elixir, however, it pretty much looks the same. Vendors from vineyards all over France come to show off their wares and sell by bottle or bulk. One of my American friends has gone to this event for the past couple of years, always reporting back with tales of joy. The first year I didn't even know it existed. The second, I was previously engaged with Brother and Sister-in-Law and 4-year-old nephew who, rather unfortunately, would not have made such an event very practical.

This year, I was determined to go, and so what better excuse for Hot Blonde Cousin to come to Paris and join me. After our Thanksgiving feast the night before, I can't say I woke up feeling overly spry and springy, but we made way down to the exposition center and filled up on French food before entering paradise. There was definitely extra security all around, an obvious product of recent terrorism. I can't say it was looked upon with disdain either. I would much prefer a day of wine without the added fear of premeditated danger. Instead, I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the event. Stalls of wine laid out for what appeared to be miles and I frankly had zero idea where to even begin. An older French gentleman offered to sell us his used information book, though it wasn't overly helpful since I wasn't familiar with most of the wines or vineyards. I think my poor cousin expected me to frolic up to the first vendor I saw and speak in rapid French. What actually happened was more akin to a very pretty American deer stuck in a wine-induced whirl of magical headlights.

It's not that I am so afraid to test out my French speaking skills, but I am all too familiar with French mannerisms and was truly searching for someone who looked openly friendly to begin our research. After a few false starts, though, we finally started to get the lay of the land. And since many vendors were generous with their tastings, it wasn't long at all before "J'étais pompette!" and I was happy as a clam to chat with various vineyard folk. About halfway through our venture, we happened upon a young Frenchman who had us taste pretty much all of his stock, culminating in taking a picture of us from behind his counter, as if we were the vineyard proprietors... (Hmmm now there's a thought!) I think this was just before we finally decided to break down and purchase the little neck ropes that would hold our glasses of wine casually dangling in front of us so that we could browse freely. 

Circa five or six hours later, the Hot Blonde Cousins of American Heritage were quite well intoxicated with French Culture and Libations. We had had a pretzel somewhere in the middle of the day, though my mouth was quite adamantly opposed to the concept of salty dry breadlike products at the time. Before leaving the salon, we made sure to purchase the bottles we had decided upon by that point. I had 5 in all, 3 from the cute young Frenchman we had met mid-day. 

Now apparently I was quite some tipsier than originally suspected because I somehow managed to type my pin number wrong 3 times when trying to pay for my wine. My card was blocked, but I managed to pay for all of my bottles anyway. Cousin and I finally left the center, though thankfully at the door I realized that I had walked away without the backpack filled with wine. We went back to fetch the bag, but not until I got home did I realize that I had still somehow managed to leave two of the bottles behind! Thankfully, cute Frenchman had given me his business card, so I texted asking if he could hold them, and my American friend graciously picked them up for me when she visited the salon the next day. One might suggest that the universe was attempting to pull me away from my Dionysian desserts. I, however, like to think it was just testing me to make sure I am worthy.

After such a long day of dancing in drink, there was really only one thing Cousin and I could do... Eat Frogs' Legs...

Friday, December 4, 2015

American Thanksgiving In Paris

My first Thanksgiving in Paris was four years ago during my initial stint testing out this amazing city. I had all my new friends from the TEFL course I was taking participate, and I took advantage of the spectacularly spacious apartment the man I was dating at the time lived in. Because of our varying schedules, we ended up holding the festivities two days prior to Thanksgiving. We tried to order a turkey from a local butcher but somehow the message was never conveyed to the right person, so we ended up with chickens. A Scottish friend tried to make sweet potatoes with marshmallows, but somehow the French yams just sucked in the fluffy layer of sugar on top and they ended up more like sweet mashed goo. My fella was also going to move out a week or two later, so there was no furniture, leaving us picnicking on his living room floor. All in all, it was a completely and spectacularly haphazard holiday, one filled with love and festivity exactly as I would wish.

In contrast but equally as pleasant was this past Thanksgiving in Paris. My dear Hot Blonde Cousin had decided to travel over from London for the weekend, and we were happy to be invited to a lovely soirée in honor of the day. My American friends who have a gorgeous apartment on the Seine finally decided to host the event for their final year in France, and let me just say, they may not hold galas very often, but when they do, they go all out. After a day of work followed by a jaunt to Gare du Nord to pick up my cousin, we stopped en route to purchase some wine and cheese and finally made it to the party. We were greeted at the door by mouthwatering smells of cooking turkey and almost immediately handed a glass of champagne. Our gracious host and hostess made sure to keep our glasses filled all evening while we hobnobbed around, meeting new friends throughout the night. Not only that, but the lovely couple had actually tracked down chafing dishes and showered us with mountains of food, ranging from turkey to lamb, potatoes to cranberry sauce, pies, wine, and liqueurs.
It was the quintessential notion of what an American Thanksgiving usually represents. We spent the evening gorging on munchies, drinking excessively, and sharing stories. It was also an overindulgent beginning to what would be a weekend full of wine and food and then some more wine and some more food. Let the holidays begin!!!