Have you read the already infamous Sunday New York Times op-ed piece "How Hipsters Ruined Paris"? It's been tearing up the internet all week. Written by Thomas Chatterton Williams, the biracial author of the memoir "Losing my Cool: Love, Literature and a Black Man's Escape from the Crowd", it tells of his disappointment with the changes around his neighborhood in the north of the 9th arrondissement, south of Place Pigalle. He bemoans the loss of 'grit' and character amidst the rise of gentrification. The area even has a new Manhatten-style monicker, SoPi (for south of Pigalle) and the "hostess bars" have almost disappeared, replaced by trendy restaurants, clubs and coffee bars spawned by hipsters. He laments the "banal globalization of hipster good taste" and the loss of "authentic Paris".
The author has been thoroughly lambasted by those who accuse him of being a newby (he moved to Paris in 2011) hipster author himself who wants to freeze Paris in his own favorite era. Not to mention glorifying prostitution as somehow more picturesque than good ole sex trafficking.
His wife and daughter are Parisian and he's apparently spent a lot of time in Paris before moving there. I can understand his sadness as the sense of place disappears in favor of the new global urban lifestyle. And this is more of an urban phenomenon. As an author, he could move to Paris without leaving much of a footprint on it. Other young people move there, have to make a living, and start restaurants and coffee bars. It's important to note, that Parisians themselves are part of this trend, as they have fallen in love with all things Brooklyn and have opened and are patronizing Brooklyn-style establishments all over Paris.
The bigger problem however, is what comes next: the rise in rents, the big chains like Starbucks, and then big developers. Some areas in Paris have successfully fought this trend. In the famously BoBo (French hispster) area of the 10th arrondissement, Jardin Villemin, the only large park, would have been substantially smaller and less attractive had local residents not fought back against the city which had already sold a big chunk to developers. And now it's a heavily used verdant area close to busy Gare de l'Est. The residents of charming Place Sainte-Marthe are solidaire as the French say and have an active community group resisting developers and profiteers who would move out longterm renters. Yes, hip restaurants have moved in, but the old-timers have not been ejected.
In my area of Northern California, some small communities have restrictions against big chains. Others have surrendered and now have the homogenized look of the rest of America. It's too bad that Americans have not retained the soixante-huitard (sixties hipster and politico) habit of taking it to the streets and resisting like the French are prone to do. Or organizing, like the Place Sainte-Marthe quartier.
I don't celebrate Christmas. The omnipresent merchandising, spending frenzy, caroling and crappy decorations like this blowup creche (with an inflatable Santa on his Harley gazing at the scene) drives me crazy.
Fortunately I have Jewish family members who are experts at avoiding Christmas overload. There is a long American tradition of Jews going out for Chinese food on Christmas.
The Bay Area is blessed with a perfect Christmas antidote: Kung Pao Kosher Comedy. This is an evening of comedy and Chinese food in San Francisco, started 19 years ago by comedian Lisa Geduldig.
It's a great excuse to go to San Francisco on the one evening when you can find easy street parking in Chinatown.
You can browse books at City Lights bookstore:
Examine unusual fruits and veggies at Chinatown markets, like this Durian:
Until it's time to eat the "Boca Raton style" Chinese food in a typical mid-century modern Chinese banquet room:
Last year we were at the Jackie Mason table. This year we were seated at the Farklempt table.
If you don't understand Yiddish or aren't a Saturday Night Live/Mike Myers fan, farklempt means to be excited or flustered or choked up.
The show was great, especially Elayne Boosler, who is a pioneer in female comedy, a writer, an animal activist and hysterical. I want to get one of her T-shirts that says "Too Fat to Fail". Check out her rap video, "Facebook is a Clocksucker":
I heartily recommend a night of Chinese food and laughter as a Christmas substitute.
Contrary to public opinion, I think the Noël Chalets along the Champs-Elysée are tacky. The lights are pretty at night and if you're in the mood for County Fair food, it might be worth stopping at a booth.
The crowds are awful and you risk tramping on someone's little toutou dog that you can't see underfoot.
The chalets sell mostly useless trinkets and County Fair crap.
What type of merchandise do they crowd around in fascination?
...for such wonders as the Magic Scarf. It's a scarf; it's a turtle-neck; it's a skirt; it's a hat; it's a bustier; it's a hood; it's a maternity belly support. It does everything but slice and dice. You'll have to go to a USA County Fair for your Ginsu knife.
I saw the film Julie and Julia yesterday on its opening day in the US. Despite being the earliest matinee of the day, the showing was packed. The usherette said the film was already so popular that they had to move it into the biggest screening room of our local mutliplex. The audience was a mix of men and women, young and old, and all applauded at the end (unusual here in the sticks).
There are many captivating aspects to this film. Paris, of course. The movie recreates the Paris of the 1950's, most of which is still there to enjoy today. When Julia Child is thrilled by the vegetables in the marchés, the cheeses, the boucherie, the patisseries you smile in recognition. When she gazes at a fish simmering in a hot pan and moans, "Butter!", you sigh along with her. And when she has to leave Paris, you know her pain.
But the movie also showcases Julia Child's curiosity and openness to the world and new experiences. Her delight in learning, her ability to connect with other people and her joy in conversation. And the crucial link to the 'modern' story of the blogger is her pursuit of a great grand goal by following her passion for food.
Julie, the young blogger who devotes a year to cooking her way through Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, also discovers herself through the pursuit of a huge goal. I don't know why the critics panned this character, played by Amy Adams, as much as they lauded Meryl Streep as Julia. Both Julie and Julia created a place for themselves in this world and worked hard to do it.
The movie portrays two happy marriages where the partners support each other, a rare thing in US movies. And two women (Julia and her sister) who aren't stereotypically attractive by the standards of the day, but who are at home in their skin and make you see their inherent beauty. Neither woman suffers fools and they brush off bozos right and left by blowing appropriately timed raspberries.
And the food porn (!): lots of shots of incredible dishes and ingredients. I don't cook and the movie made me want to grate and julienne and sauté and braise and bake. At least momentarily.
See the movie, read Julia's book and read Julie's book. Bon Appetit!
Coke Light Sango is a blood-orange flavored Coco-Cola available in England, Belgium, France and other parts of Europe but not the United States. It's surprisingly flavorful and especially good with Chinese food. I've searched in vain for it in California and have since learned that this is the first variety of Coke to have been developed outside of the Atlanta headquarters. It was developed at a Belgium subsidiary. Apparently Belgium has the reputation as the world's top consumer of Coke Light products per capita. Bizarre, n'est-ce pas?