Saturday, October 1, 2016

Traveling Man

Saturday, September 24, 2016
Trafalgar Square was packed with people swarming about dozens of colorfully decorated booths and a stage with live entertainment at midday, as I wandered off by myself.  It was Malaysia Fest '16 and, to my great good fortune, most of the booths were serving Malaysian food.  There was a wide assortment of items, some familiar, some not.  All main dishes were £5 for an ample portion.  Wandering booth to booth, I chose roti canai, chicken with sweet soy sauce (no "native" name provided) and beef rendang over rice, patronizing three different booths.  The roti canai, a pancake-crepe with a buttery curry sauce, also had strips of white meat chicken.  The sweet soy sauce chicken was small chunks of fried chicken served with lo mein-like noodles.  The rendang beef in its thick, rich sauce was particularly spicy.  Everything was very good and it was only my fabled self control that stopped me after three booths.  

For the third straight day, London's weather was marvelous, mild temperatures, dry, bright skies.  So, once refueled, I continued my stroll to Covent Garden, the permanent street fair, where the latest in London T-shirts gather, among other memorabilia and tschotckes.  I headed for a stall featuring games and puzzles that I have patronized on almost every prior visit to London, yielding interesting Hanukkah stocking stuffers.

Sunday, September 25, 2016
Although I only muddled through the strict academic demands of Stuyvesant High School, I have been proud of my attendance there. However, I have been uncomfortable for decades by the racial imbalance of the student body in spite of efforts to make the singular admissions test yield more diverse results. On December 26, 2011, I pulled out my 1958 senior yearbook and tallied the photographs of the (all male) graduates by appearance and name: 700 whites, 13 blacks, 5 Hispanics, 3 Chinese and 1 Japanese. This was in response to the then current report of the breakdown of Stuyvesant's recently-entered class of young men and women: 569 Asian-Americans (thought to be mostly Chinese with some Koreans, Japanese and South Asians), 179 whites, 13 Hispanics, and 12 blacks.

While not in direct response to this seemingly intractable issue, the Department of Education has announced a change to the standardized test that governs admission.  An opening sentence was given, followed by 5 random sentences to be arranged to create a coherent paragraph.  I think that eliminating this component, dating only from 1994, is a great mistake.  
Even if we only listened to contemporary political rhetoric, we know that we have to strain to make sense of some explanations of policies and positions.  Personally, I spent more than 13 years reading legal papers, the work product of lawyers aiming to convince the court of the rightness of their clients' claims.  Looking back, I am surprised that I did not carve a deep crater in my scalp from scratching my head in an attempt to understand what counsel was propounding.  Can we at least make an effort that some of our high school students are able to express themselves clearly?

Still in the company of the Brodies, I took the Eurostar from London to Paris, for the first time.  The trip took 2 hours and 15 minutes, only about 20 minutes spent under the English Channel.  It was remarkable in how unremarkable it was.  We left on time; we arrived on time; the ride was smooth; missing was the clackety-clack of normal rail travel.  I checked into a hotel down the block from where the Brodies' maintain what I would call a pied-à-terre, however they say it in Paris.

Monday, September 26, 2016
We went to the Louvre today, sampling only Italian sculptures and Islamic art from its vast holdings.  From there, we continued walking to the Île Saint-Louis, an elegant neighborhood in the middle of the Seine.  It was not real estate that we sought, rather Berthillon, 29-31 Rue Saint-Louis en l'Île, possibly the best ice cream maker in the world. Even though my young bride was not at my side, I showed notable restraint and only had three scoops in one cup (6.50€) -- dark chocolate, moka (coffee with whole beans) and Grand Marnier, which I would like to call la crème de la crème if that weren't a silly way to describe ice cream.  Be aware that these scoops were typically European, not healthy Baskin-Robbins sized.  David had one scoop of moka and Katherine appears to continue to operate solely on solar power.  By the time that we arrived back in our Montparnasse  neighborhood, we had walked over 5 miles, so don't bug me about three small scoops.

I went alone to dinner at My Noodles, 129 Montparnasse Boulevard, a popular Chinese restaurant with some hints of Indo-Chinese influence.  It has about 12 two tops inside, some pushed together, and another 4 outside on the sidewalk.  The sliding entrance doors were completely open to the street on this very pleasant evening.  I ordered steamed chicken dumplings (8 for 6.50€) and "Lok Lak beef" (a Cambodian dish with a sauce consisting of soy sauce, oyster sauce, tomato sauce, sugar, fish sauce, ground black pepper and garlic) with red rice (9.80€), rice stir fried with egg and tomato sauce.  It sounds much better than it turned out.

A blessing of the 6 hour time difference between Paris and New York was being fast asleep during the first presidential debate.  However, to fortify myself against the unknown, and in tribute to how every Chinese meal at Wu Han's on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn ended in my youth, I went to Amorino, Gelato Al Naturale, 2 Rue de la Gaité, one of a chain that has moved into the UK and the USA.  

Now, before you cast asparagus on me because I had ice cream earlier today, recognize that gelato, the Italian word for ice cream, isn't really ice cream as we know it.  Gelato uses milk, but rarely cream, no egg yolks, and is churned at length, resulting in a very smooth, dense delight.  Also, how could you skip the figues noix (black fig) flavor, which went well with the tiramisu (4.70€)?   

Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Went for another long walk, a few miles with the Brodies, a few miles on my own, or kilometers as they say over here.  I wound up in Le Marais, the traditional Jewish quarter of Paris, now interleaving chi-chi boutiques and Kosher falafel shops.  I was drawn to the window of Sacha Finkelsztajn's establishment, where, no doubt, his Yiddish sandwiches are piled high with guilt.

We reunited for dinner at Wadja Restaurant, 10 rue de la Grande Chaumière, a small family-run restaurant, where your choices for the evening's 42, three course dinner are presented on a blackboard.  The food was very good and a liter of more than potable house Chardonnay was 16€.  Drinking was very much in order after watching the rerun of the presidential debate on CNN International, happy drinking that is.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
David and I visited the Musée du Général Leclerc de Hauteclocque et de la Libération de Paris – Musée Jean Moulin, located atop the Gare Montparnasse (railroad station).  This handful is an attempt to bridge the lingering resentments over military and civilian behavior during the Nazi occupation of France.  Leclerc, an established military commander during WWII, looked very good standing at attention and went on to completely hash France's attempt to maintain colonial dominance in Indochina.  

Moulin, by contrast, was a leader of the underground, making frequent clandestine trips between London and Paris to inform and hear from General de Gaulle directly.  He was betrayed to the Nazis and tortured and murdered by the Gestapo.  Suspicions remain that Moulin was betrayed by conservative elements in the resistance who suspected that he was secretly a Communist.  
Katherine caught up with us and we strolled through the Montparnasse Cemetery, a much more interesting place than I might have imagined, only two blocks from my hotel.   There was a design flair to many of the tombstones and mausoleums.  But, it was the inhabitants that fascinated me, among them Baudelaire, Major Dreyfus, Samuel Beckett, Raymond Aron, Jean Seberg, the sad little actress, and, side by side, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.  We found it strange that the Sartre/de Beauvoir headstone had half a dozen fresh lipstick kisses.  Huh?

Our last dinner together was at Chez Marcel Restaurant, 7 rue Stanislas, a very popular small restaurant which we couldn't get into the night before.  Its tables are lined up along the walls without interruption; a table had to be pulled out in order to be seated on the inside.  Bathroom breaks were disallowed.  

Its menu, including daily specials, was entirely à la carte, but the bottom line was about the same as Wadja.  I had pâté maison, pressed duck with a potent portion of scalloped potatoes, and a fruit tart in a shell of chopped nuts.   A liter (called a pot) of house wine, Mâcon-Villages this time, was 16€.  An excellent end to a wonderful week with kind and gracious friends.

Thursday, September 29, 2016
I customized my flight home by stopping in a boulangerie (bakery) for some freshly-made sandwiches to eat on the plane.  The flight attendants kept me awash in Diet Coke, so I was content throughout.

Friday, September 30, 2016
I spent a quiet day at the Palazzo di Gotthelf exchanging stories of our travels with America's Favorite Epidemiologist (she, Moscow and Odessa; me, London and Paris) who apparently saw more and ate less in her time away.

1 comment:

  1. That's what I've always said: your self-control is a fable...