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Paris Markets: Part 4

Rue Cler

All the days I have spent wandering around aimlessly in Paris, I never knew there was a name for it. I am apparently a flaneuse: a woman who wanders in Paris with no particular destination in mind. Edmund White wrote a book about this called The Flaneur. Who knew? Although to be accurate, I've been wandering to different market destinations. But those walks generally take me off course to, well...wherever they take me.

My latest exploration took me near the Eiffel Tower to the American Library in Paris where I got a library card and applied for a fellowship to a writer's workshop. Only twelve will be accepted and I barely made the deadline, so I'm not holding out much hope. But since I was in the neighborhood, I strolled over to the market street Rue Cler. Technically speaking, I don't consider this a market since there are standing shops that exist all the time. But Rue Cler is well known and well documented as being one of the best food streets in Paris, along with Rue de Mouffetard and my all-time favorite, Rue Lepic. I confess that as I wandered, I kept an eye out for Ina Garten. She is in Paris filming her show and where else would Ina hang out, but in a market, right?
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Rue Cler is everything I've heard it was. I spent over an hour ogling the fromagerie, les fleurs, the wine shops, the produce stands, and the gorgeous, enormous heads-on shrimp. The smell of carbohydrates permeated the air from the boulangerie. Who doesn't love the smell of carbohydrates in the morning?
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But the shop that pulled me in and pulled my wallet out was Juesselin. I had to remind myself I didn't have to buy everything I saw all at once. I can return. So I limited my purchase to les haricots verts, les champignons, un melange des vegetables and some kind of veal meatballs. With my baguette in my bag topping off my purchases, I returned home satisfied I had finally found a market worthy of its reputation. Even if I didn't spot Ina and Jeffrey.

Posted by teethetrav 02:20 Archived in France Tagged food france french_markets rue_cler flaneur flaneuse juesselin ina_garten ina_and_jeffrey Comments (0)

Cuba

Heartbreak and Betrayal

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Dos Gardenias, two gardenias, is a poignant Cuban love song. The haunting lyrics tell of a lover who fears losing his beloved to another. He will know this has happened when the gardenias in the garden die. In the 1999 Academy Award nominated documentary about Cuban musicians The Buena Vista Social Club, Ibrahim Ferrer, Jr. sings Dos Gardenias with such emotion, the song breaks your heart.
In Cuba you don’t need a lover or an old song for that to happen. The island’s beauty can break your heart. So can the people.
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This crumbling paradise beckoned me for years. Forbidden, seductive Cuba enticed me with its culture, music, food, politics, old American cars, architecture, and historical significance. Throughout my adult lifetime, it was illegal for me to visit. Thanks to a people to people program, I was finally able to go through a legal, licensed agency. I visited in the fall of 2014; months before President Obama opened the door to re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Verdant, rolling hills are surrounded by sapphire, turquoise, and emerald waters. Eden. The cities and small towns feature the best of Moorish and Spanish architecture, punctuated by Roman and Greek influences. Decaying buildings are replete with intricate tile designs, elaborate wrought iron, scrolling stonework, and ubiquitous balconies where laundry hangs drying in the sun. Ropes tied to baskets are attached to pulleys. They dangle over balcony railings and wait to deliver merchandise purchased from street vendors who happen by, hawking whatever meager goods are available that day. No one wants to climb stairs in the heat and humidity. The humidity, along with sea air, and years of neglect has ruined most of the glorious architecture.
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I have traveled. I’ve been to pretty places. Places I’ve liked a lot. Places I’ve gone back to. But there is no where I’ve been that got to me in the inexplicable way Cuba did. In part, it is guilt. I feel responsible, somehow, that my government has helped to cause the poverty and the utter lack of resources I saw while traveling through the island in September. I am not uninformed nor am I naïve. Cuba’s domestic and foreign policies are disturbing. Their allies are not our friends. I know the politics. I know there were missiles pointed at us six decades ago. We forgave Japan for Pearl Harbor. They forgave us for Hiroshima. We moved on. It is perplexing and confusing to me why we can’t do the same with Cuba.

I understand that the Castros, Fidel and his brother Raul, have their own issues and accountability for past decades of Cuban struggle and poverty. But that is theirs to sort out. As an American, I am embarrassed that eleven US presidents found it acceptable to isolate a country that is ninety miles from our shores. The Cuban people feel related to us. Many of them are. Nearly everyone I met has a relative living in the United States. Yet, Cuba and the Cuban people carry the label of terrorists according to the United States State Department. Sanctions which accompany the label combined with the trade embargo, in place since the 1960s, have helped cripple the Cuban economy. Our goal was to humiliate the government and force a collapse. We have attempted for years to force a two-party system on their country. We have tried to influence their foreign policy and to limit Cuba’s friendship with Russia and anyone else we didn’t like. Clearly, it’s a failed policy. After more than fifty years, the Castros still reign. When Fidel resigned as President in 2008, his brother Raul took over the title. The embargo and sanctions have failed to depose them. The most significant contribution of the embargo is the dire economic effect it’s created for Cubans. They have shouldered the burden of doing without basics like food, electricity, and a decent transportation system, not to mention conveniences such as air conditioning. I am well aware that the Castros have responsibility for bungling their economy in numerous ways. They have made bad choices. But in my opinion, the attempts on the part of the US government to impose our will on Cuba has contributed to the poverty and ruin you see in Havana and everywhere throughout the island. And for that, I feel guilty and apologetic.
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Cubans tell you they harbor no ill will towards US citizens. They are able to separate the people from the government, but you have to wonder how they can do this. They are taught to read using primers that explain the triumph of the revolution. In order to move from middle to high school, they must pass exams which include Cuban history. Cuban history as taught by the state run schools using state published texts. Yet, Cubans who are raised in a culture of lies, half-lies, bent truths, and fifty-year-old phrases like “the triumph of the revolution,” don’t hate us. Quite the opposite. Not only don’t they hate us, they don’t seem envious of us, or bitter about how little they have. They don’t want much, apparently. They definitely don’t want capitalism, at least the ones I met don’t. I met many Cubans during my trip, not all of whom were people who were arranged by my tour. Although much of the time was spent on pre-arranged visits to schools, cultural experiences, senior centers, and nursing homes, during my down time I was free to go anywhere. I had unmonitored conversations with taxi drivers, bartenders, hotel workers, and people who were out enjoying what few cool breezes they could find in the evening along the waterfront. Cubans want simple things, like food at reasonable prices that is available when they need it. Often they can’t find chicken, eggs, or milk. Or toilet paper. Let me be clear. It is not that they are too expensive, which is also a problem. Availability is the bigger obstacle.
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The continuing embargo with the US keeps other countries at bay and affects imports as well as exports. If countries trade with Cuba they run the very real risk of fines or worse; the wrath of America. If cruise ships want to continue to have ports in the US, they cannot stop in Cuba. Since few countries will purchase Cuban goods, Cuba has virtually stopped producing.
And still, the Cubans don’t hate us. They should, but they don’t. That, too, breaks my heart.
They don’t hate the Castro brothers either, it seems. They just accept that things are, for now, the way they are. When you ask what they envision after the Castros are gone (Raul has stated he will step down from the presidency in 2018) no one knows. No one can imagine, or even speculate about what happens next. For most, this is all they have known. Ever since 1959 and the triumph of the revolution, a Castro has been in power. For a Cuban, trying to imagine a Cuba without a Castro leading them is akin to imagining an alien life form taking over the Earth. It could take any shape, or it could look very much like we do. The future of Cuba is filled with endless possibilities. Or not.
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Cubans agree things could be worse. They were much worse after 1989 when the Soviet Union collapsed during, as they refer to this time, “the special period in time of peace.” Russian money stopped flowing and the single greatest export, sugar, ceased to have a market. Sugar factories still lie dormant. “The owner of the product is the owner of the country” is a phrase you hear repeated. At this point, there is not much product. Supplies, always scarce, became more so. All those miles and miles of fertile land lie fallow. After the long, harsh special period, in the late 1990s Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez offered some assistance in the way of mutually beneficial trade and things got somewhat better. But since Chavez died in 2013, the economy slowed once again. Now, the nation is not being held together by much, although China has an obvious presence. Tour busses and most appliances are made in China. While vendors deny it, some goods sold in craft markets that are offered as hand-made, have the distinct and all too familiar appearance of mass-market products, although they are missing the “Made in China” labels.
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Aside from all the humanitarian reasons the US should drop the embargo, if the United States doesn’t find a way to resume an economic relationship with Cuba, China is visibly waiting in the wings. China's President Xi Jinping visited with Fidel Castro in Cuba this past July. His visit came shortly after one by Russian President Vladimer Putin a few weeks earlier. Both Putin and Xi are said to be actively cultivating investments in Cuba. Even more disturbing, earlier this year a North Korean ship was photographed in Cuba’s port. The ship was later found to be carrying obsolete arms dating as far back as the 1960s. Opinions vary as to the purpose of the weapons, but that is not the main point. Our isolation has encouraged other alliances. Will lifting the embargo and cultivating a relationship change Cuba’s foreign policy? No one knows. What is clear is we stand nearly alone in our belief that sanctions and the embargo are effective.
On October 28, 2014 the United Nations General Assembly, as it does each year, voted on a non-binding resolution to repeal the sanctions. The resolution received 188 favorable votes. Three countries abstained. Two countries voted no: Israel and the United States.
Before the vote, the Cuban foreign minister gave a brief speech. He requested that the United States and Cuba attempt to “…live and deal with each other in a civilized way…”
Cubans don’t complain much about their poverty or about their leaders. They accept hardship and scarcity. They don’t know anything else. Cubans think standing in line for an hour to get ice cream is normal. Some admit to wanting to leave in order to pursue career opportunities and a better income, but they assure you they love their country and it makes them sad to think about leaving. I am not suggesting there aren’t dissidents within the country. There are groups of anti-government Cuban activists who are promoting a more free and democratic society.
Cuban privileges are expanding. They can now own businesses, restaurants and hotels, if they can afford to buy them. I ate in several privately owned restaurants, or paladars. One seaside paladar near the infamous Bay of Pigs had the best food I ate in Cuba, although the menu was limited and based on available supplies. Black bean soup, fried plantain, yucca, and succulent pork were seasoned and cooked to perfection. Speaking with the owner, he told me his wife is the chef and the recipes are traditional, passed down through her family. He pays taxes on his profits, but is allowed to keep what he earns. Since most Cubans have no computer, he keeps a careful, handwritten ledger of all his transactions.
Cubans can now grow produce on land that is leased from the government and they can keep the profits they make. But a lack of equipment such as tractors and irrigation systems limit the ability to farm.
These are small signs that Cuba is changing. The way of life the Castros sustained for so long is dying a natural death. I hope the future brings prosperity to the people. Caribbean countries have a hard time with this. Look at Cuba’s neighbor to the immediate south, Jamaica, to see what can happen when Eden falls into the wrong hands. I’ve visited Jamaica numerous times over more than thirty years. Corruption, over development, and squandering of resources are rampant and have ruined the natural beauty of the island. Jamaicans are exploited and are even poorer than most Cubans. I refuse to go to Jamaica anymore because tourist money doesn’t help Jamaicans. My heart would break if that happens to Cuba.
The lover in the song Dos Gardenias fears betrayal. Maybe that is what the Castros have feared all along. Given a choice, given a free election, the Cubans may choose to love another. But like the gardenias, the leaders are, inevitably, fading away. Even in tropical Cuba, in the fall flowers fade and die. The roots lie dormant over the winter, gathering energy in order to bloom again in spring. Cubans are waiting in the garden for another leader to bloom. One they can fall in love with, one who will protect them and keep them safe, but will let them thrive. They deserve all the help they can get. We need to lift the embargo and the travel restrictions.
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Posted by teethetrav 09:48 Archived in Cuba Tagged food architecture travel cuba havana embargo Comments (1)

A Month in Paris in Winter

Day 16: A Meal in Paris

Eating in Paris is simple, delicious, and fabulous. Each day you can decide whether to cook, purchase prepared foods, or eat out. All options are available within a few block radius. Supplies are purchased on an as needed basis, not for a week at a time, as we in the US tend to do. Each day is an eating adventure.

My son and his wife, the Louboutin fan, left and my daughter and one of her best friends arrived today. Goings and comings in Paris. I took my daughter and her friend around my neighborhood. We hiked up beyond Sacre Coeur, then down past the Montmartre Cemetary. We came back up via Rue Lepic, my favorite market street. Some know it as the street where the movie Amelie was filmed. After we had a coffee at the cafe where much of the movie was filmed we stopped at various shops. On the spot we decided to eat in and put together a wine, meat, cheese, and bread meal. We purchased cheeses at the cheese shop, charcuterie at the meat vendor, and accoutrements such as olives, cornichons, and pate. Of course, we stopped at the obligatory boulangerie for a baguette to round out the meal. With our favorite wine in hand, we headed home to partake a simple, delicious meal comprised of our purchases. Perfect. An all around favorite was the goat cheese topped with figs. But the hands-down favorite was the runny, gooey camembert ("It smells like toes" to quote my daughter) which was so delicious, it left us speechless.
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At one point, my daughter turned to me and said, "You're never coming home, are you?"

Posted by teethetrav 11:02 Archived in France Tagged food paris france baguette cheese figs charcuterie pate Comments (0)

A Month in Paris in Winter

Day 5: Art & Food in Montmartre

The question of "what was I thinking" has occurred more than once. Why come to Paris in the dead of winter when I could have gone anywhere? I now have one answer to that question. I wandered the western side of Montmartre and did touristy things. As I took my time going up and down hills, I realized that this wouldn't be amusing in summertime heat. Spring and fall bring massive numbers of tourists. Today was a perfect day to sightsee in Montmartre. The people in the street were mostly locals carrying their groceries and running their Saturday errands. I'm starting to look so local people stop and ask me for directions.
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I set out to find where the artists had painted and hung out. I more or less just wandered. It's hard to get too lost here if you look up and see Sacre Coeur you can get your bearings pretty easily. I saw Moulin de La Galette which is now a restaurant and appears in paintings by Renoir. I stumbled on the Lapin Agile Caberet where Van Gogh, Renoir, and Steve Martin hung out. Not together. But Steve Martin wrote a play about it by the same title. And who knew there is a vineyard in the heart of Montmartre? It's the only one in Paris.
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Of course I saw the Moulin Rouge and then worked my way up Rue Lepic where the cafe made famous by the film Amelie is.
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Rue Lepic is food heaven, it turns out. There are fish mongers, butchers, cheese and wine shops, and the always tempting boulangeries. I bought a rotisserie chicken and haricot verts. There were many chicken places, but I picked the one with the longest line. I trust locals to find the best food.

The surprise delight of the day (not that I'm taking the chicken discovery lightly) was finding Theo Van Gogh's house. I wasn't looking for it. I have a passion for doors and windows and I stopped to take a photo of a beautiful blue door. I moved in close for another shot and saw a sign stating it had been Theo's home.

In addition to loving Monet, as I wrote about yesterday, I'm obsessed with Van Gogh. Later this month, I am taking a train to Amsterdam to see the Van Gogh museum. Discovering the blue door was like icing on the tarte !
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Posted by teethetrav 06:14 Archived in France Tagged food paris sacre_coeur france van_gogh moulin_rouge moulin_galette montmartre_vineyard lapin_agile renoir theo_van_gogh Comments (0)

A Month in Paris in Winter

Day 3: There is no bad weather, only bad clothes

The wind howling woke me. The shutter outside my terrace door was banging. It was late for me, but no wonder I slept in. It was still dark as night, raining and windy. Welcome to Paris in January.
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I was prepared. A friend who worked there recommended a Columbia lined raincoat before I left. It has a thermal lining and a hoodie, yet it is light weight. I also own packable light weight rain boots. It took me weeks of buying and sending back boots to find the perfect pair (Zappos must hate me). I highly recommend Packables by Baffin. They roll up and weigh nearly nothing. I bought them when I was going to England because it's soggy there. They pack beautifully. So, I decided to stick to my plan and begin to explore my neighborhood. My immediate goal is to find routes which do not include the stone, steep staircases which surround Sacre Coeur and dot Montmartre. Going down is not the issue. I need to avoid up, except of course for my apartment which sits in the middle of stone steps (see Day 1 for photo).

So I set off to find lunch at a place that was highly recommended called Le Progres. I found it easily and had a hearty, but over-priced chicken with potatoes and vegetables. Nourished, I set off to walk the Rue des Martyrs, a street known for its restaurants, small shops and bakeries. It did not disappoint. I ended up sorry I had eaten already, but will return to eat my way down this street which leads all the way down to the 9th arrondissement. I stumbled onto a Boulanger-Patisssier called Rodolphe Landemaine where I purchased some rolls for tomorrow's lunch and a tempting little tarte tatin. So pretty. As I was paying, I saw these irresistible little pastry balls and asked what they were. The cashier popped one in my mouth. It was light, airy, sugary and perfect. She asked me if I wanted a little bag of them for 3 euros. Obviously I wasn't going to say no. All that walking and hills would kill the calories, I was sure. Fighting the wind and the rain would easily kill the rest.

By the time I trudged back and stopped at Carrefour to buy a few daily groceries , the sun miraculously appeared. It was the first blue sky I 'd seen since I arrived. I'd like to report that the steps to my apartment are getting easier, but that would be a lie. I stop every few steps and rest, especially if I am lugging groceries. But at the end of the climb, sunlight was pouring through my window. I made a cup of tea and ate half of my little sugar thingies. I'm going to have find out what they are called. image

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Posted by teethetrav 08:38 Archived in France Tagged food winter paris france weather rue_des_martyrs Comments (0)

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