Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Mother, Are You Waiting? Father, Are You Pacing? I'm Coming Home

It's been a fabulous two months (9 weeks, to be exact), but it's time to go home.

It's my last day at the office. Alannah's packing our stuff. At about this time tomorrow, the Air France 747-400 will be slowly backing out of the gate at Terminal 2E at Charles De Gaulle, headed for sweet home California.

So we can go to the French consulate.

It's official: My work authorization came through, we're getting long-term visas, and are on our way to becoming actual residents of France.

We hear that when we come back here, we'll be greeted with government-issue stripey shirts, berets, and a carton of unfiltered Gauloises. I'll be required to grow a goatee, we'll both be required to undergo a regimen that will make us look feeble and malnourished, and summarily implanted with a chip that makes us hate work and government, and love vacationing for a month at a time.

All joking aside, this is where the reality of it all sets in. We're going "home" not to really go "home" but to get the necessary documents to live in our new "home." And then I'll have to change the name of this blog to "Omid at home."

See you on the other side...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bacon Wrapped Goodness

I love France.

More specifically, I love eating in France.

Last night, the lovely lady and I went to what is known as one of the best crêperies in Paris - conveniently in our neighborhood - and proceeded to chow down on some fantastic crêpes and brilliant Brittany cider, all relatively dirt cheap. We were in gustatory heaven. In fact, for the second time in a few months, I vowed my undying eternal love. This time to the poached pear enveloped in dark chocolate sitting atop my crêpe.

But as great as the food is here, I still miss some things from America that you just can't get here. Like Crunch Cheetos. Or Bacon-wrapped hot dogs. In fact, I was so lamenting the absence of quasi-legal bacon dog carts the other night, that I wrote a glowing review on Yelp, honoring the proud men (and one woman) who walk the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles late at night, alleviating the hunger pangs of drunks in the wee hours, one bacon-wrapped piece of sweet relief at a time.

Sure, the drunk food here is great. Like in much of Europe (and other places where drunkenness is a pastime, like Australia) you can easily pick up a dodgy but satisfying kebab after the bars and clubs let out. Paris has the added bonus of late night crêpe stands, and if you're in the right part of town, French onion soup available in those late, desperate hours. Alas, nowhere in this cornucopia of inebriated sustenance is there a trace of bacon.

Like many other times, though, my prayers have been answered by the company cafeteria. They've not only served me barbecued ribs, wedge potatoes, and coleslaw when I was at my homesick worst, but now they've served up - you guessed it - a bacon-wrapped hot dog.

I shit you not.

Ok, so it's not the 2 a.m. Undocumented Immigrant Special covered in grilled onions I so craved. But it's a big, fat hot dog (or Alsace sausage as they all it here) and melted cheese, all wrapped in - wait for it - American-style smoked bacon.

Don't believe me? The French have even given this dish a fancy name: Cervelas d'Alsace, though I think "bacon-wrapped hot dog" more properly reflects this dish's proletarian roots.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Other Side of the Coin

A few weeks ago, I mused about how political correctness hasn't gotten in the way of celebrating Easter here in France. I love the fact that the PC police haven't yet invaded the Continent. This way I'm free to laugh at all sorts of un-PC comedies, make horrifically [insert group here]-icst jokes with impunity, and generally not have to walk on verbal eggshells.

However, I can see the bleeding-heart hippie point of view about it all. It's glaringly obvious that the tolerance (for lack of a better word) for intolerance on the lighter side of life may set a precedence for overall hatred when it comes to the serious side of matters. Because apparently, no matter what side of the Atlantic you're on, the masses have a tough time differentiating between gentle ribbing and hurtful acts.

Take, for example, the recent desecration of Muslim graves in northern France two weeks ago. Now, I can understand (but never condone) feelings of xenophobia or malcontent during times of high unemployment, shrinking government benefits, etc. It's a natural response to blame "the other" when your own sorry ass isn't doing so well. But to take it out on the graves of the long-gone who - newsflash - fought for France in WWI? It goes to show that dumbass rednecks are dumbass rednecks no matter where you are in the world.

And then we turn to my neighborhood...

The XIeme a brilliantly mixed quartier with everybody from the working class to the well-to-do, a good mixture of European, Arab, Jew, Turk, Chinese, African... you name it! This diversity not only means a vast array of great eats within steps of the apartment, but an opportunity to see so many different faces and hear so many different languages. This is my kinda town.

So it was more than a bit shocking when we were walking down the street the other night - past all these shops and restaurants of multiple origins - to see two national police with machine guns at the gates of one building, with crowd control barricades lining the sidewalk on either side of the street. Huh?

Well, it's Passover, and the local synagogue needs armed protection and restricted streets to prevent car bombs and/or snipers from carrying out threats that have been called in over the past years.

This is just plain fucking sad.

We live right around the largest Jewish area of town, and the fact that they can't feel safe in their own neighborhood is just... pathetic. When we walked by those armed police and my friend explained to me why they're stationed there this week, I think it's the most put off I'd felt the whole time I've been over here.

Of course, intra-city political relations aren't always so sanguine and serious.

On Saturday, several thousand pro-China protesters converged upon nearby Place de la République (this isn't that big a deal - thousands of protesters come here every weekend, weather permitting), shouting for their rights as a sovereign state by waving Chinese and French flags side by side. And, of course some Chinese jokesters waved French flags emblazoned with swastikas, decrying the French government for terrorizing the island of Corsica. Who says the CCP doesn't have a (dark) sense of humor?

Yeah, it's a clusterfuck around here.

Obviously, I didn't think I was moving to some sort of utopia. I knew well beforehand that Europe's got its fair share of racial/religious/political problems. I knew well beforehand that those in the middle of these problems have a flair for the dramatic, even sinister. And I knew that no matter how loud I crank my iPod, how deep I delve into a book, nor how much I lose myself in a platter of ripe cheeses that I wouldn't be able to ignore the ever-present roar of politics going through the country.

Just as moving to the UK and the US wasn't an escape from the bullshit in Iran, as moving to France hasn't been an escape from the bullshit in the US, there's no escaping the bullshit here. It's just one more country and its politics to worry about.

At least now I can do that worrying over excellent, cheap wine.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

They Can't Sing, Either

I've told the story a thousand times.

A friend of mine went to Paris a number of years ago and after the trip asked me, "Have you noticed how they can't dance? I mean, no sense of rhythm at all."

This was puzzling to me. After all, Paris is the home of Daft Punk - AKA the best f#(%ing dance act of all f#(%ing time. But I remember one night at the trendy DJ bar Wax (which I live mere blocks from now...) pointing out to my hostel companions - "Have you noticed how no one can dance?"

It was surreal how our heretofore-thought-of-as-lousy dancing - the worst of California, Colorado, and Queensland - impressed the locals.

Mind you, this story isn't some horrific generalization or yet another American episode of French bashing.

Last Friday night, a group of us were at the very chic and trendy Mezzanine de Alcazar (so hip they have their own line of CDs) sipping some way-overpriced cocktails and taking in some 80's electro when Julien (who is French) said to Alannah, "Have you noticed how nobody can dance?"

The arhythmic jerking and strutting was a source of laughter for all of us, and we almost wished some Tektonik crew would rock in to show these people how it's done.

Fast forward to tonight. Alannah and I had just finished dinner and were doing some channel surfing. I stopped on Nouvelle Star (the French version of American Idol) and somehow got sucked in. One song was done really well, but only one of the panelists voted for the singer. Then a whole series of horrendously performed tunes were paraded for the audience, and the panelists loved them. Note for every way-off-the-mark note. Stiff stage presence and horrible emoting and all.

These aren't the so-bad-they're-good auditions we're talking bout. Nor are they the early rounds of "we just wanted to put them on TV to humiliate them" amateurs. These are finalists. Yet the worst singers at my favorite San Francisco karaoke bar would give these clowns a run for their money. Hell, I could probably outdo them, and I sound like a poor man's Jim Morisson on qualudes performing the early dinner show for keno-obsessed, nickel slot jockeying senior citizens in Laughlin, Nevada.

It's truly confounding. In the six weeks or so that I've been here, I've fallen in love with a number of French singers who are simply fantastic. Others who are just wildly original. And some who just look and sound damn good spewing pop pabulum. And while I've never given American Idol or Pop Idol or any other permutation of this show much credit, I have to admit that they at least give 15 minutes of fame to people with some vocal - if not songwriting - ability. Hell, the no-talent ass clowns on Rock Star: Supernova seem like virtuosos compared to most of the Nouvelle Star lineup.

This little bitch session isn't out of any hatred for the format, the singers of this fine country, or what ends up making for water cooler talk on Thursday mornings. If anything, I love the fact that the show is completely live - technical goofs and all - which makes it tough to rig the voting, and no one benefits from editing or overdubs. It's a straight-up talent competition.

What frustrates me is that I can't get my little mind around one little quirk: There is very little talent.

And the way some of these judges lap it up makes Paula Abdul look credible.

Wrap your mind around that!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Final Payment to President Chimpy McShithead of TX

That's what I wrote in the "For" field of my check made out to the United States Treasury.

I may be living in France now, but I still pay US taxes. And today is that highest of high holy days, Tax Day.

While I used to look forward to doing my taxes - I typically got a big refund - this year I was nervous. I'd waited 'til the last moment to do it, and as has been the trend for the middle class under President Chimpy McShithead of Texas, I've been owing money to the government lately. On top of the costs of relocating to another country, there's the whole pathetic exchange rate to deal with. (Today's glorious rate: €1=$1.58) So I'm loathe to spend any more money than is necessary.

And wouldn't you know it? I owe. As does Alannah. Luckily, our total owed is reasonable, so it wasn't too painful. In fact, the check I cut is easily less than the price of a decent dinner for two in Paris.

But I'll bitch and moan about having to pay even pennies to a government that provides me with no healthcare, crap for education, a joke of a transit system, and a blunder of a war.

Sure, around this time next year, I'll be forking out thousands of euros (they don't withhold taxes from paychecks here) in one painful chunk, at a percentage likely outstripping anything I paid in the US, even under a high bracket during a Democratic presidency. (Let's just say I was making - and paying - bank in those "golden" years under President Slippery McSkeevy of Arkansas.)

In exchange, though, I'll be enjoying full health coverage, dirt cheap education, subsidized and plentiful transit, more public art than you can shake a stick at, and best of all, regulated bread prices. In fact, a hot, fresh, artisanal baguette - 250 grams of flaky, chewy goodness - costs less than one international stamp to mail in your blood money.

I'm so glad I'm someplace where they've got their priorities straight!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Back to Life, Back to Reality

It had been a whirlwind of a week, what with deadlines, my old crew from the US coming and taking over my office, and nights out with drinks and meals a little beyond what I'd normally like to spend.

But as of noon on Thursday and continuing on through the weekend, everything has been right in the galaxy: Alannah is here.

With my beloved wife now in Paris, it feels as though the move is complete. That I we can start living my our life in France. An adventure that started in February can now officially begin in mid-April.

We've still got some stuff to sort out. You know, little things like getting Alannah a transit pass, hooking her up with French classes, and, oh, that whole pesky visa situation. But there is now a sudden sense of normalcy to life, the universe, and everything.

For me, at least. Alannah still needs to find her bearings, figure out how to get around, and adjust to living in an alien country. Not that I'm fully there myself, but the prospect of doing this together has me excited.

At this moment it's as though nothing's changed. I'm sitting in my cold-ass office (the heating is busted), writing up a storm of documents, and waiting for that whistle to blow so I can slide down that brontosaurus tail and call it a day. Only this time, when I scream "Yabba dabba doo!" I'll mean it.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Reason #4,972 I Left the United States

The LA Times just reported on a club in Southern California that held a spring break contest to give away a set of fake boobs. And it was a success. See the video here. And this is in the sanest of the 50 states.

In the meantime, I'm so grateful that I've got myself a woman who's smart, beautiful, and has too much self esteem for the aforementioned bullshit.

Too bad I have to kick her to the curb tonight. The wife is arriving in Paris tomorrow morning.

Note: It actually does take a woman with some good self esteem to not kick your ass for a statement like that... Love you, baby!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Whomever Wrote That Song Should Be Shot

You know, the one that starts with, "I love Paris in springtime..."

Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole are already dead, so I'm putting out a hit on the tunesmith who came up with this brutal lie.

I'm keeping this post short not because I'm having any issues with my shiny new iMac's AZERTY keyboard (the French way of thumbing their nose at QWERTY standards) but because this sleek aluminum beauty is FREAKING COLD.

I'm looking out at the layer of snow settled on the roofs and windshields of the cars parked beneath my window, all the while trying to maintain as little physical contact as possible with the thin sheet of ice under my fingertips.

The only joy I'm getting this morning is watching kids make snowballs to chuck at their friends, and I'm wishing I could be out there with them. You know, packing one of those super-tight, lethal, compressed ice balls to bean the asshole who wrote that song. False advertising should be punishable by cold, icy death.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Domestic Sunday

Ah, April in Paris!

The way you envision it: Whiling away the day at a sidewalk cafe, sipping espresso, scrawling away, and whistling at the girls in short skirts who walk by.

The reality: Temperatures in the low 40s (single digits if you're of the celsius persuasion), icy cold bursts of rain, and planning for yet another day of demonstrations as the Olympic torch is set to make its way through the city. In other words, best find a way to spend the day indoors.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. I had tentatively planned to join some friends and explore the Musée d'Orsay today, but it didn't materialize. Largely because I'd spent another late night watching basketball and slept in. I had another option of joining some other friends checking out a new sports complex nearby: Track, pool, gym, etc. etc. Only in my minimal packing, the only athletic gear I've got with me are a well-worn pair of Adidas trail shoes. And so it goes...

The Incredible Shrinking Man
Maybe I don't need a gym. Despite the fact that the lowest common denominator in my diet is butter (the next lowest being meat of all sorts, followed by copious amounts of bread), I'm shrinking. Rapidly. While I'm by no means svelte, I've definitely shed more and more weight as my time in Paris has gone by. I'm a shadow of my former beer-bellied self, and my clothes are starting to get a gangsta-like bagginess to them as a result.

The solution? Laundry! By drying my clothes for more than the prescribed time, I've been able to shrink my clothes to better fit my slimmer bod. Last week, I took my woolen overcoat for a tumble, and it now fits much better. Today, I gave my hoodies the treatment and they're much more form-fitting. I look less like a kid with a bunch of hand-me-down clothes, and more like a shoddily dressed American who could at least find his way to the fitting room.

Even still, I look like an NFL linebacker compared to most of the locals. While I'm certainly outnumbered by tall and gangly types, the other Parisians still look like scrawny little stick figures next to me. This is definitely an advantage when muscling for space on a crowded Métro train or working my way to the bar to order a drink. Waifish I am not, though I have confidence that once the weather gets better, I might actually try to buy some fashionable new clothes and - god forbid - fit in them.

Cleaning Products
My bottle of Palmolive dishwashing liquid says "Dur avec la graisse, doux avec la mains." It's a direct translation of their English "Tough on grease, soft on hands" slogan. And while my hands have taken on an effeminately soft feel, my dishes and pots and pans just aren't getting clean. I washed one of my pots at least three times today, trying over and over to get the film of grease off of every surface, finding that instead, my sink was just getting greasier.

Either the dish soap here isn't as strong as the super-ultra-concentrated stuff I bought in the States, or all that butter and animal fat are sloughing off onto my crockery instead of into my veins.

I'll take the weight loss over clean pots any ol' day.

The Boob Tube
Unfortunately, unlike past weeks, the prodigious amount of walking I do hasn't been as big a factor in my fitness as I'd previously thought. What with the lousy weather, the college hoops, and general laziness I've been feeling, I haven't been getting in my weekend urban hikes as much as I'd like.

Instead, I've been watching a lot of TV.

I keep telling myself it's good for my French. I haven't turned on any of the few English-language channels I have in weeks. Instead, I've been watching the news (often repeatedly, just to get it all) in French. And I love the quiz shows. And most of all, I love the Simpsons. Or Les Simpson as it's called here.

What amazes me is that it's consistently hilarious, even when dubbed in French. Part of it is because the principle characters sound exactly like they do in the American originals. Homer sounds like Homer. Marge sounds like Marge. Bart sounds like Bart. But they're speaking French. It's fantastic, really. The French counterparts to Dan Castalenta, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardly Smith, and Harry Shearer do an amazing job of recreating the voices and audible quirks of the original cast - the dubbing is a work of art. Homer still manages to sound like a slovenly idiot. Marge has the same perpetual frog in her throat. Apu has the same heavy-handed, stereotypical Indian accent... in French.

I was wondering if this magic applies to everything. As I was taking in an episode last night, I thought, "Hmm, I wonder what the Aussies sound like in that episode where they go to Australia." As if the gods of W9 (the network that runs Les Simpson) had read my thoughts, it was the next episode to come on. (I swear, I didn't look at a TV Guide, or whatever the local equivalent of it is.)

I'm not sure of the last time I laughed so hard. Maybe it was all the wine I was drinking with dinner, but hearing French spoken with a thick Australian accent nearly had me gagging with laughter.

Unfortunately, this magic doesn't work on every level. I just finished watching an episode of one of my favorite shows, the unjustly canceled Dead Like Me. It's truly a character-driven show, and while I'm sure the translators have done a great job with the scripts, the dubbing just doesn't work. Mandy Patinkin's "Rube" character's fatherly sagacity and quiet authority came from his measured gruffness. The French overdub is smooth and all too eloquent. Ellen Muth's main character "Georgia" is the perfect outcast not only because of her funny looks, but her masculine, scratchy voice. The French version of Georgia sounds too sweet and girly.

It's for this reason that I've never liked dubbed movies. It's not a lack of synchronization or anything that puts me off, but so much of delivering a line has to do with the inflections and uniqueness of the voices of those cast to do so. With an animated series, it's different. But with live-action pieces, you need real voices to match the real people behind them. Maybe that's why so many theatres here advertise "VO" (version originale) runs of American and British movies - the original soundtrack is maintained, and subtitles are thrown on. As it should be.

Perhaps once I'm an official resident paying French taxes and voting on French laws, I'll become an activist for the eradication of dubbing. It's not that I want to hear the movies and TV shows in English - I'm perfectly fine following along in French thankyouverymuch. But for the same reason foreign movies back home are ruined by English overdubs, American stuff (though often not nearly as artful) is butchered by the local voice talent.

Hmm... the French are really into protests and strikes. Maybe by starting one, I'll get a fast track to residency. Yes, indeed, I think I may have just found myself a cause célèbre.

Les Francophones Contre le Dubbing!

Merde alors!

Thank you, Bruins, for another fantastic season. Despite the disheartening end. No matter how it came out, three back-to-back Final Fours is nothing to shrug off, and you've given me plenty of reason to stay up late, put up with choppy streaming video and/or expat bars, and make me bleed Blue & Gold.

You didn't really show up this Final Four, but Memphis did, and they deserved the win.

That said... FUCK!

I almost wanted to bash my pint glass against the wall and let the shards fly and do their collateral damage whenever I saw: Nothing but white (Memphis) jerseys under the basket on either end of the court. Kevin Love not getting the ball down low. Josh Shipp hesitating on his jumpers. And I know there were a lot of NBA prospects in this game, but what's with the NBA bullshit of letting Chris Douglas-Roberts walk to the basket? I'm never one to blame the refs for the outcome of a game (especially a blowout like this) but I swear, those uncalled travels made me want to violently redecorate the Great Canadian Pub.

On the positive side, Lorenzo Mata-Real played his last game in a UCLA uniform with the ferocity and pride he's known for. Russell Westbrook was UCLA's human-highlight-reel as ever. And playing in front of his parents for the first time, a solid performance was turned in by Luc-Richard Mbah a Moute.

Not only is he a prince back home in Cameroon, but he's probably my favorite Bruin of all time. In fact, I told Alannah the other night that if we were to somehow have a child in France, we'd want him/her to fit in and have a French name. So, if this hypothetical baby were to be a boy, I've already called the name Luc-Richard.

I told you: I bleed Blue & Gold. I may not be the jock type, but I take my UCLA basketball seriously.

At least I handled this year's exit from the Final Four more, umm, graciously than last year, where I drowned my sorrows so well that I blacked out, passed out on the shitter, and woke up the next day flopped over in my bedroom with my pants around my ankles. That and I cried.

This time around, I put on my coat and walked home along the shimmering water and glowing lamp posts of the Seine.

As I walked, I stuffed away the disappointment by thinking that this time... I live in fucking Paris! And in five days, I'll be joined by my beautiful bride, which is better than any basketball championship. On top of all that, I won't be forced to set foot in another goddamn expat bar 'til next season.

Not that the Great Canadian Pub is all that bad. In fact, it's a pretty good spot. Even the music was pretty good. To start. But being a Canadian bar, they somehow think the Canadian Content Law applies to them, and the sound system started pumping Nickelback and Avril Lavigne ad nauseum. Incidentally, it was at that point that UCLA started to lose its grip on the game. There were, of course, the usual suspects: Dudes who can't dress worth a shit in ratty baseball caps, bottle blondes who sport camisoles... part of the equation that made me more than happy to leave the US. But to the bar's credit, there are far fewer of them here than at the Moose. To its detriment, there were more French dudes who liked hanging out in the bathroom chatting up American dudes. Ok, there was just one, and that was one creepy French dude too many as far as I'm concerned.

Of course, it didn't get much better as I walked out, with the St. Michel area - being full of Yank-friendly joints - flooded with more of the morons I tried moving away from. I walked along the river and up over to the Rue Saint-Antoine, and as I approached my own neighborhood, I was happy to be back in the "real" Paris again. Where people are relatively well-dressed, not traveling in irritating packs, and above all not addressing each other as "bro" or "hey girl!" If I wanted that, I would've moved back to LA.

Addendum, 5:00 am: I'm really taking solace in the fact that Kansas is trouncing "inevitable" champions North Carolina and Player-of-the-Year (hah!) Tyler Downsbrough. I'm sorry, Tarhole fans - he's a great player, but homeboy looks like he's Down like syndrome.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

On a 'ighway to 'ell

Like that Green Day song, I'm a "Walking Contradiction."

Just after expounding on what I hate about expat bars, I went to one Thursday night and had a pretty good time.

The Rue de Montmartre is chock full of these monstrosities, ranging from the very Australian Cafe Oz to the Irish mainstay Corcoran's Pub. I made my way to another one of these palaces of anglophone ivresse to meet up with Laura, a San Francisco friend who'd moved to Paris last September. It didn't hurt that she works at said watering hole, meaning discount drinks for yours truly.

Of course, a discount on beer in Paris means still ponying up around $8 a pint, so don't get too excited.

Still, it was excellent to spend some time with yet another familiar face; and despite several cringes and rolled eyes, check out a French bar band work its way through a plethora of classic covers, all delivered in a mostly phonetically accurate fashion. Except when words began with H. The best (or maybe worst) was hearing the singer adopt Sting's faux-Caribbean accent for a cover of the Police's "I Can't Stand Losing." The worst (or maybe the best) was hearing the guy attempt to do Guns N' Roses "Welcome to the Jungle." Overall they were pretty good, and as much as I was hating myself, I couldn't help but have a good time.

Tip for future cover bands playing free gigs in the bars of Paris: Ad-libbing the f-word in between verses is only cool if your name is Axl Rose or Trent Reznor or Angus Young.

I realized as I raised my glass to some surprisingly enjoyable renditions of Lenny Kravitz and Red Hot Chili Peppers tunes (all thanks to the kick-ass bassist who should really consider moving into an original band) that in just over a month here, I haven't been partaking much of actual French culture. That I've had more Guinness stout than Kronenbourg 1664. That I've been no better than the expat dorks who seek out English-speaking businesses.

It's not for lack of trying, though. Paris is notoriously tough for foreigners to crack. I've spent plenty of time at actual French joints in my neighborhood and done little more than exchange pleasantries with the barman. Otherwise, if you raise your glass or smile at a local you don't know, they'll most likely think you're hopped up on something - or just a schmuck. And schmuckiness be damned, I've tried my best - largely to little avail - to make good with the locals.

This will all change next week, I think. First of all, NCAA basketball will be over as of Monday night and I won't be madly seeking expat bars with NASN. (Tonight I'll take a stab at the Great Canadian Pub, who promise to show both Final Four games on the big screen.) Secondly, Alannah is arriving on Thursday, and I'll have to show her how I've become a fabulous Paris insider in the painful month or so that we've been apart.

Most likely, I'll be doing that in the kitchen. I've always thought of myself as a pretty great cook, and I think that working with a relatively minimal kitchen and pantry - plus some of the best raw ingredients I've had access to without going broke - I've become even better. In a matter of minutes I can whip-up a three course meal. Four courses if I include a pre-made dessert from the pâtisserie. My bavette aux echalotes is now as good as any reputable bistro's, I've been brave enough to mess with a little offal here and there, and tonight I'm going traditional with a bit of poulet aux pruneaux et raisins. Then off to the Great Canadian, where hopefully there will be no live music before the games.

Now if only French bands could adapt to English singing as I can to their cooking...