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 p√Ętisserie. 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...

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