Barcelona...favorite city once again?

I am in Barcelona, Spain. (Wish I could upload pictures, but I can't til I hit up another McDonalds in Paris. That's kind of deflating, actually.)

The weather is perfect. Hot, with a nice breeze off the coast, and just enough sun to give a bloom effect to each and every eccentric facade in the city. Where Paris glows, however, Barcelona sings; the city has a musical pace and rhythmic way of speaking. Everyone is exceptionally kind, refreshing after the cold (albeit mysterious and intriguing) Parisians.

The beach, something I didn't really get to experience last time, is almost too good to be true. The sand is scalding hot and the water is colder than ice, but when combined the two sensations are a uniquely appropriate accompaniment to beers and sun in Barcelona.

I woke up this morning with the windows wide open and the sky more blue than I've ever seen. The city had woken up; the sing-song tune of Spaniards walking to grab tortilla and cortados, the sound of children laughing in the nearby park, and (of course) the very noisy cars four stories below.

I want to continue writing but more than that I want to go back out into the city. Tonight Matthew and our new friend Anya (whom he met at his hostel) are going out for tapas in the Barri Gotic and then meeting up with Rachel and Alex for a little pre-going out wine and snacks. Yo estoy en Barcelona!!!


I can't leave

After last night and this afternoon, there is no way I can ever leave this city and be satisfied with my life!

Last night was a blast. Wine and a light dinner at Allison's apartment--with about eight other houseguests, a perfectly awkward mix of fratboys, UT band members, and gorgeous blond Dallas girls--and on to a few bars and nightclubs to cap off the evening. There was an issue getting home after the final club, which I will not recount, but because I never got drunk the night ended fine.

Today was spent entirely in the Marais. "Soldes," the title Parisians give their twice-a-year "sale days," began today, and a few friends and I definitely took advantage of the fantastic deals. I bought a beautiful teal cardigan at Muji, and I wanted to buy more there, but I only paid 22 euro for the cardigan--it was marked down considerably. And it's my size. And a perfect deal is a perfect deal. Andandandandand.

After a lunch at the best falafel place in Paris (we've tried many), we continued our wandering through the Marais, which is without a doubt the best people watching in the city. I've now been at least seven or eight times, but never has it been filled with such electricity. Obviously the Parisians love clothes and love to shop; imagine a massive, expensive, elegant outdoor shopping mall. But minus the zoo and with a dash of a "scene and be seen" atmosphere.

Andrea, Allison and I stumbled (as in, literally stumbled over the threshold) into the Musee Caravalet, which is one of the lesser-visited museums here. I did not see a single English speaker inside. Centered around Paris-specific history, from celebre chanteuses (famous singers) to le garre (war), the small museum is built within the existing walls of an elaborate turn of the century townhouse where writers and painters lived. Albeit wealthy artists; the rooms are decadent and cake-like, just as much a spectacle as any of the art pieces within them.

The museum was free, too, which was an added bonus. But to successfully shop in the heat of a glowing Parisian afternoon and retreat into a quiet museum just a block off the beaten path is something uniquely Parisian.

A few and friends and I are actually headed off to the Place des Vosges (my new favorite park here) for some wine and hopefully a little more sunlight. It's about five thirty here, but we want to soak up every moment we can. We leave for Barcelona in the morning. Can't wait for that, either.

Pictures as soon as I get internet. Which is, likely never.


The End

Today will always be remembered as the day I truly fell in love with this city.

Nothing in particular has happened to spur this, either; in fact, this weekend was the quietest I've ever spent in Europe. Afternoons at the park, the Louvre on Friday (which sucks), resting on Saturday and Sunday night under Le Tour Eiffel. Surreal.

What's even more surreal is when you bypass the "tourist" threshold. You walk around and feel like you know where you're going. The nooks and tucks of the streets are actually kind of inviting, rather than ominous and empty.

What's most inspiring is the way Time is "spent" here. In the U.S., Time is a border we place around our daily activities as a restraint on "wasting" it. We will eat breakfast for thirty minutes, run for an hour, and make it to work by 9:00 and enjoy a one hour lunch before 1:00 p.m. We may finish many activities in a scheduled manner, but in Paris, Time is supposed to be wasted. It is rude not to. If you get up from a table at a restaurant in less than two hours it is rude. Have another bottle of wine. Enjoy your dessert. Don't be bothered by the taught roundness of your belly telling you to get up and hop in the car. Let the fullness radiate through you.

A life "spent" any other way than in Western Europe is a mistake. Just as a life spent in leisure may be wasted time, if you don't waste time you've waisted your life. What's food if not for enjoying? Why cook a meal and not sit back and drink and talk for hours? What is the sun but if not for laying out in? It's nothing! If you don't give moments in your life the proper time to bloom they are wasted! Only a day not fully appreciated is truly a "waste." How many times have I come home from school-work-internship days at 11 p.m. and had no time for enjoying it? I feel like my most "filled" days are really my most empty. I will not make this mistake again. I will not be rushed.

When I get back to the states, (and this is to your benefit as well as mine, Nanu) I'm planting a garden and refurbishing the backyard eating area. I'm redesigning the layout of my room and I'm not going to flinch at buying wine I like or food I want. I'm going to become a student of the good life; I'm going to read books on wine preparation and how to cook.

I hate people who talk about what they're "going to do" just as much as anyone else; if you can't live up to what you claim you should not claim it in the first place. But I'm dedicated to this. Considering my time here is not even half "over," just imagine how impossible it will be for me to ever return to U.S. normalcy!



Oscar Wilde's grave in Pere Lachaise.
Taking Absinthe shots...not as potent as you'd think.
Sarah and I at the L'Oreal corporate headquarters. Here's the entire trip in a nutshell: L'Oreal is one of the most efficient (i.e. boring) and vast (i.e. industrial) companies in the world!
Sunset near the Marais, the gay and Jewish district of Paris. Kind of odd, the gay/Jew juxtaposition, but think about it: Greenwich Village, in New York, is also a gay and Jewish district. Gays and Jews just love each other!
View of the entire city at night from the Sacre Coeur. (sp?)



Wine mouth!

Saturday night Allison, Gina, Sarah and I made our way out to Montmartre for dinner at Chez Toinnette, a highly recommended restaurant on some kind of Paris site (Fodor's, maybe), and it was without a doubt one of the best, if not the best, meal of my life. It began with a bottle of wine around ten, a great bottle, and an entree of Foie Gras and pickle. The second course was around 11:00, and consisted of four proteins: lamb, veal, duck, and pork loin, all in different sauces and served with a sweet potato puree and baby asparagus with some kind of wine reduction. The restaurant itself was irrestistable. Small, with only six or seven tables, and owned by two brothers--one, the chef, the other, the waiter--played Edith Piaf and Feist in the background and was decorated in dark red sheaths of velvet. After dinner a family next to us (old money from Boston; extremely kind) gave us a 60 euro bottle of wine. Sadly, as they walked out, the owner told us he hadn't charged the family for the wine because he was confused about who was actually buying it. The moment was one of the most awkward of my life. We were so elated, thinking we had been given this amazing Bordeaux by this beautiful, Penn-educated Bostonian family, and the wine was taken back in front of them. The father jumped at the owner with his credit card but we just wished him a good flight home and to not worry about it.

It all worked out in the end, though. The owner came over before our dessert course (around 12:30) and poured each of us a full glass of wine from the bottle "on the house." It was touching.

The dessert, though...oh, the dessert. It is no secret I adore food. I live for food. I love to cook it, eat it, and read about it. I like just looking at it. We ordered a creme brulee, among two other desserts, that was so purely delicious, so flawless in both design and execution, that I understood why so many critics compare food to sex. It was a sexual experience. Every bite was a seduction, a tease of what heaven must truly be like. Complimented by the slighly bitter wine, that single creme brulee was the single best dish to ever pass my lips.


Best Night...well, ever

I know it's blurry, but this shot perfectly captures what makes Paris at night such a magical place.
In the Parc Buddhiques, about ten minutes from my apartment.

A vinyard on one city block in Montmartre.
The Jardin du Luxembourg.
A few of my friends. From left: Tanya, Matthew, Sarah, Shannon, Lauren, Sarah R., and Mariah.
A few other friends. From left: Allison, me, Gina.
Sunsets in Paris are one of a kind.
Me (with a bit of wind in my hair, apparently) and Allison.
A man playing ball in Montmatre, the most beautiful place I've ever been to in Paris.

View from Montmartre.

If there's one easily comprehended French characteristic, it must be drinking. It is non-stop for Parisians; it begins at lunch, continues after work, levels off through dinner, and begins again apres-midi the following day. To say my friends and I have been partaking in this tradition is only half true--the alcohol is so cheap it's sick, but we are here to learn, not to be drunk Americans all the time.

That last paragraph was my disclaimer to preface this next story.

Last night was one of the most out of control, amazing evenings I can remember. A massive group of us, all well dressed in our least touristy outfits, headed down to Le Quartier Latin for un petit fete. As in, we wanted to go out. Out, out. Beginning at a small dive named Le Rive Gauche--and a larger game of "Never Have I Ever"--moving to a club off the Champs D'Elysees, and ending in an actual Parisian house party at 4:30 a.m., we achieved a great feat: we were no longer tourists.

The club and the bars were fine, but a bar is a bar. The house party is where the magic happened. My friend Thy, always one for spontaneity, pointed out a very loud apartment party along Rue de Rueilly as we were walking home around 2. (the Metro had stopped running.) As luck would have it, a group of about five youth were making their way into the apartment building, allowing us to sneak up. After being turned away at the door--in perfect English, too--the owner of the apartment, shirtless and all, appeared at the entrance and slurred a "let themmm comm eeennnn," saving us the embarassing walk down the stairs. The party was dark, filled with college students and young adults (late twenties, mostly). Lots of free drinks, amazing conversation in both French and English, and one HUGE component of the story I'll have to tell in person. Let's just say it ended with an invitation to party in the South of France next weekend. (Not going, don't worry Mom.)

SIDE NOTE: First of all, no drugs are being consumed by either I nor any of my friends or acquantances, and the safety level in Paris is very high. Not once have I felt unsure about any single situation. This city is safe, I'm being responsible, and everyone is keeping their priorities in check. We don't party every night. Well, except for Thursday, where my roommate and I hosted a mini dorm party for about 25 of our closest friends in the program. (As in, all of the students in the program.)

Before the evening, I spent a few hours in the Jardin du Luxembourg, which is by far my favorite park in Paris. Massive statues, white marble staircases, and pristine lines of square-trimmed trees all give perspective to the fountain in the center of the park, where children race toy boats and dogs take short swims. I had read that Hemingway, both my favorite author and definitely a personal hero, lived in the Luxembourg as a homeless man when he was first an expatriate. The book I'm currently reading, The Sun Also Rises, is Hemingway's love note to Paris, written about he and other American authors (like F. Scott Fitzgerald) living here in the 1920s. I had a very spiritual moment, carrying Hemingway's greatest novel to the very park he starved in, eating pidgeons for dinner, and knowing I was returning his work to the place that inspired him. I had a corny moment, as well, rubbing the book in the dirt, but I had to make the experience tangible.

My sinuses are out of control here. Something about the fickle weather.


An hour in the metro is ne bien pas

One of these days I'll begin these posts on a positive note. At the moment, that's quite difficult. Having a great evening, just as me and some of my besties here were heading off for crepes and a barhop in the Latin Quarter, I was left sitting in the metro for an hour and a half while they sped away to enjoy their evenings. I was waiting for a friend who never showed up, and to top it all off I didn't have my dorm key with me--I left it with my roommate. After all, we were all going to get back at the same time, right? Essentially, my night was spent with the homeless men on the Rue de Reuilly. The highlight was when both of the gentlemen pulled out their, ahem, and decided to take a leak on the tree that stretches over the courtyard. Nice.

Well no matter. Now I have internet and can at least know I'm within the dorm complex, if not my dorm. First bad night in Paris, and hopefully the only bad night in Paris.

For the past few days I've just been acclimating to the city. The gorgeous lights, great (if limited) shopping, the new friends. That's one thing I've gotten right so far, making friends. I get along with about ten different students here, and they all bring something unique to my friend circle. I do miss the sense of style and wine knowledge of my Austin friends, but I now have new Austin friends to teach all about what I'm into! Apparently I'm "fabulous" and "crazy," but really I just want to eat a crepe in the Latin Quarter.

Last night, after a bit of shopping and a "bit" of wine, we all headed off to a CIBER-sponsored riverboat and saw the sights along the Seine. It was beautiful. Freezing, yes, and my whole "style over comfort" maxim didn't save me from the chills, but as the sun set the clouds parted, the Tour Eiffel lit up and sparkled, and the entire city just woke up. Afterwards we took a trek through a few bars near the Latin Quarter with our professor and his wife, who happen to be some of the coolest people I've ever met. The night ended with a double-tall glass of Foster's in a bar called "The Long Hop," which is owned and operated by a UT graduate. Apparently, one of my friends mentioned that she was American and the bartender laughed and threw her a bag of potato chips. We're not sure what this metaphor means but we're hoping it was a gesture of endearment.

Earlier this evening we took another tour, this time of the city, and we all decided a visit to the fourth arrondissement is in order for the weekend. Glowing bars and restaurants with names like "Le Roux" have that timelessness so characteristic of Parisian culture. Replace the Peugots with carriages and you have the 1880s.

After the tour...well, you know what happened already. A night was wasted, I'm extremely upset, and I feel like a loser. 

It's still raining, but I think it's clearing up this weekend. I want to travel around France starting next Friday but the friend who I was supposed to meet tonight (and who consequently ruined it) is my travel buddy. I love her, but a night in Paris should never be spent next to urinating homeless men.

To end on a positive note, money spending has been minimal. Food is cheap* (if you don't mind eating croissants and cooking spice-less omelettes) and shopping is cheap, but I am dying to eat out and see the city like the people of Paris do.

*I bought a bottle of wine today for 1 euro. (That's about $1.27.)


"That Iranian man needs to stop grabbing my feet."

In Paris. But that doesn't mean I'm "in" Paris. I'm passed the point of exhaustion into delirium, my stomach no longer feels hunger, and I can't find a wine opener. In fact, I had to trek down to this MACDO for effin' wifi. Ce n'est pas chic.

However, while today may not be perfect (as in, pre-Paris it was horrid), it is symbolic of a fantastic six weeks to come.

The plane to New York, on the oh-so-"happy-jetting" jetBlue, was one of the scariest of my life, but the ads are true--there is a lot of legroom! My flight to Paris, however, was no laughing matter. The airline itself, Swiss (which, like the country, is an offshoot of Air France) was very nice. The food was well prepared and the wine was great. I had a great neighbor, as well. A Bulgarian woman who said only two things to me the entire flight. "I like this international wine" and "hold this tray." After we both watched Milk on the back of our Iranian fore-neighbors' seats, I turned to her and asked her a probing question about the gay movement in Bulgaria. She nodded, and went back to munching on her roll.

(Milk was, by the way, one of the greatest films I've seen in years, and definitely left me proud. Not only is Sean Penn the reincarnated Harvey Milk, but Emile Hirsch was excellent as his slutty little activist. The only off-note was Diego Luna. Both the character and the acting was a fail. But aside from him, I think everyone must see this film at one point in their lives. Preferably before another Prop 8, thx.)

So, as I tried my best to stretch my 6'2'' body in the chair space apparently built for Swiss midgets, some awful man in front of me proceded to drop a endless amount of something on my feet and fish for them under his seat, invitably grabbing my big toe and attempting to extract it for his use. Later, once all of the window shades had been forced closed for everyone to sleep, he kept his open. So, throughout the "night," the bright headlights of the Swiss sun shone in my eyes, rendering even the notion of sleep impossible. But it's okay, I couldn't have slept in that seat anyway. The entire time I was just shifting positions, and by the time we landed I think I had completed an entire yoga session. Downward dog, tree position...at one point, I had a modified crane stand while crunching a water botttle in my groin to prevent my legs from sweating in my (admittedly tight) blue jeans.

But I am now here. At a MACDO, using their wifi while a burly manager walks around wondering why my friend Sarah and I haven't bought anything.

Because it's MACDO, you idiot.


Suitcase for Paris

I'm only bringing American designers to Paris. Adam Lippes, Ralph Lauren, Arrow Sport, Polo by Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, Levis, Sevens, Ray-Bans, and shoes from California. Obviously, my bag is BillyKirk, and Chris Bray (head of BillyKirk design) told me personally to have a wonderful time--and spread the word about American menswear.

All my authors are American, too.

One small step for this American, one (likely also small) step for American menswear!


The Girlfriend Experience

Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience was released in theaters and in stores simultaneously, allowing those of us not at Cannes the opportunity to watch this stark, surprisingly relevant drama as soon as release. Soderbergh's genius spawns from his wide-eyed curiosity of the unexplained and the mystified; he is also obsessed with the idea of a herione. His female leads (Julia Roberts as Erin Brokovich, Cate Blanchett in The Good German) are flawed but desirable and mysterious. Soderbergh's choice of porn star Sasha Grey as the lead character, Chelsea, in Girlfriend is bold but not shocking in any way. Who else could play a sexually numb call girl than a sexually numb porn star? (Meg Ryan's stint in the horrid In The Cut does not count.)

However, calling Grey "numb" really isn't fair. Her performance in Girlfriend is well studied and enlightening; she struggles with vocal inflection and her emotions seem fairly shallow, but her timing and body language is spot-on for this kind of film. She stretches across the bed for every man she meets, but she never dehumanizes Chelsea with triteness or overly sexual behavior; this is an accomplishment for any actress playing a call girl, but even more so for a non-actress.

There are really no co-stars, and aside from an annoying side story about a bunch of men on a plane to Vegas, Grey carries the entire film. Shot without any camera effects to increase the "art" factor (a la Vicky Cristina Barcelona), Soderbergh portray's Chelsea's life as one of both grandeur and heartbreak. She meets high-end clients, is invited on trips, and then returns home to her long-term boyfriend at the end of the day. Early in the film, her boyfriend, who works as a personal trainer, declines a client's invitation to Vegas mentioned earlier, only to find out Chelsea is leaving for the weekend with a new client despite her boyfriend's compromise. "It's my fucking life!" she tells him. And really, it is her own fucking life. It's separate, but in love the lines are hard to draw--and even harder to maintain.

Girlfriend is subtle and entertaining, but is clean enough to be a PG documentary. With the exception of the fight scene detailed above, foul language is never used, and the act of sex is not once portrayed. In fact, we see Grey naked only when leaving the bed of her live-in boyfriend (the "real" relationship). This is where the brilliance of this film is apparent. Chelsea is after self-fulfilment and in search of real love. Her clients have sex with her--often mutually enjoyable--and never appear jealous; even her long-term clients understand the business aspect of what she does, and suggest ways for her to wade through the economic crisis without losing clientele. Her actual boyfriend is whiny and attached, ultimately left cold by her line of work.

Is a relationship like Chelsea keeps with her clients just as loving as that with her boyfriend? Both include "the girlfriend experience," (which simply means deep kisses are part of the deal) but which is better for Chelsea? This question has no answer, and that is the point Soderbergh makes with Girlfriend.

Quietly acted, bizarrely sex-free, and gently directed by Soderbergh, The Girlfriend Experience is a never smutty and always smart look at 21st century love and how the game has changed.