Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving in Paris

Add to Google Reader or HomepageOur friends Bruce and Judy invited us to join them for Thanksgiving in Paris. They were going to have an “American Thanksgiving” with two other couples and us. We went and had a wonderful time but getting there was not as easy as we had hoped.


Here’s one for the file folder called « soul-sucking French bureaucracy. »

Weeks ago, Ellen started to work on finding the best fares for the train between Avignon and Paris. When she found good rates and good travel times, Ellen purchased the tickets on-line from “idTGV.”  (TGV are the initials for the super-fast train system in France. All trains are run by the SNCF and the trains are fast, clean and on time.)

She printed the return tickets first. The printed tickets had a few lines of advertising stating the advantages of e-tickets including:

Plus rapide (faster)
Plus simple (easier)
Plus souple (more flexible) – and ends with:
« SNCF vous souhaite un bon voyage » (emphasis added)

Ellen went to print the tickets for the trip from Avignon to Paris and every time she clicked on the print command, she was directed to an error web page which said “website not found.” She tried a number of times over the next few days with the same result every time. We went to our friends’ house and tried from their computer to see if it was our machines. No luck. Finally, we borrowed our friends’ car to drive to the TGV station in Avignon to ask one of the SNCF clerks to help us print our ticket for us so that everything would be ready on Wednesday morning when we were to leave.

We approached the clerk and I said “I hope you can help us.” I then explained our problem to the young man at the counter. The young man named Yohann looked at our paperwork and said that since we bought our tickets from “idTGV” and he works for SNCF, he couldn’t help us. Ellen showed him another page that we had brought from our on-line purchase on which was printed a header “” and asked why the SNCF was different from “” He consulted another colleague and came back and said: “They are not the same as us. I can’t print your ticket.” We asked what his advice to us might be and again, he left his chair and consulted his colleague and came back with the suggestion that we just show up with the printed ticket-confirmation page that we had showed him. That way, he said, the conductor can look up your number and know that you have seats on the train. I asked: “If we encounter any trouble, can we tell the conductor that Yohann from the SNCF office told us to get on the train?” He smiled and said “sure” which in French or English usually means “there is a snow-ball’s chance that this guy will remember my name and, even if he does, the conductor won’t have time to come and find me and plus I don’t work next Wednesday… I am off the hook. Next in line?”
On the way back to the car, Ellen said that if the clerk had not been so cute, she would have reached across the counter and throttled him.
PS: On Tuesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before our departure, Ellen got an e-mail from idTGV reminding us that we needed to print our ticket. Ellen followed the links and THIS TIME she was able to print the ticket.

Once in Paris, all of the TGV/SNCF/idTGV/ frustrations evaporated. We were in Paris!

Bruce and Judy live in the Marais so we lugged our luggage 
(? does luggage come from ‘something lugged?) onto the metro and then walked about 10 blocks to their apartment. They have a great apartment.

We walked to the “Hotel de Ville” (City Hall) and got in line to see an exhibit of the works of Andrée Putman – a French woman who designed furniture, room arrangements, Concorde seating, etc. (I had never heard of her, but recognized several of her designs.) That evening, Judy, Ellen and I went to the Left Bank to see the Ionesco play “The Bald Soprano” in French. We met up with Bruce and went to dinner at “Le Bouledogue” (the Bulldog) which is a restaurant in their neighborhood. Wonderful food.

As I walk around Paris, I am amazed at the number of restaurants. It seems that few Parisians must cook at home for all of these restaurants to remain viable. – but when one goes to the markets of Paris, one gets the opposite impression:  most people must be wonderful cooks given the things in their shopping baskets. After restaurants, there is a plethora of eyeglass shops, followed by lingerie shops… If I try to deduce priorities from my impressions, I might suggest that food is at the top followed by being able to read the menu (while looking gorgeous) and being able to eye – from head to toe – the women who come into the restaurant…


Judy, Ellen and I walked to Judy’s favorite vegetable shop to pick up cranberries. The vegetable shop owner had to special order the cranberries because he thought that Thanksgiving was over. Judy explained that it was Canadian Thanksgiving that was over. American (as in US of America) is the fourth Thursday of November.  We then went to the shop to pick up the fresh turkey that Judy had ordered. It was five kilos instead of the seven she had ordered. Judy bought two coquelet (young chickens) to ensure that we would have enough to eat. Just to be sure, we stopped at Bruce’s favorite bakery and bought five baguettes.

Ellen and Judy made stuffing. Judy made cranberry relish and Waldorf salad.

As folks started to arrive, Ellen had made amuses-bouches (appetizers) with foie-gras that she had bought. I served wine until it was time to mash potatoes. I had very capable guidance from Suzanne who said that mashed potatoes were her favorite food. She encouraged me to add more cream, more butter, a little more cream... (Cooking à la Julia Child!)

Suzanne had made "American" green bean casserole with French haricots verts, cream and crème fraiche cooked with mushrooms and American style French-fried onion rings in a can. She also made a squash casserole. Both were perfect in the comfort food list of favorites.

Rounding out the list but proving that ‘the last shall be first’ were the dessert offerings that Yolanda brought. We enjoyed sweet-potato pie and pumpkin cake each served with ample amounts of chantilly (whipped cream) or crème fraiche. Everyone went home with left-overs.

Quel repas! (What a meal!) We had a wonderful meal that was second only to spending time with wonderful people. Quelle chance! (How lucky we are!)

And then…

Friday included shopping (Ellen bought very stylish boots – thus ending two months of women staring at her for wearing her Croc sling backs or her klunky but comfy Merrell boots) and going to two of the museums that were participating in the photography expo across Paris. In the afternoon we went to see an American film: “Mother and Child” in English with French subtitles (so different from what we usually get to watch at the cinema in Vaison.)  Bruce made bouillabaisse for dinner that evening. (Another great meal)

Saturday, we went to the Museum of Modern Art to see one more of the photo exhibits connected with the expo. Then back to the Marais, lugging our suitcases to Gare de Lyon and the trip home.

Paris is always thrilling but I like our little village.