Sunday, June 22, 2014

Highlights and Revelations

Part Three: There was ice cream.

Other highlights from our trip:

Versailles (“Ver-Sails”). Visit this place, and you will totally understand why the French Revolution happened. If there is a word that means supercallifragallistically gaudy, Versailles is it.

These people had antechambers. You know what antechambers are? Rooms that exist just to be rooms! They serve no other purpose than to be a room you can go in before you go into the next room. Sometimes, there were antechambers to antechambers!

Each room had intricate paintings on the ceilings and furniture covered in gold, but that isn’t even the best part. The Versailles palace also contains a separate palace so that if you just need to get away from the palace, you have another palace to go to.

This second palace was given to Marie Antoinette and there was a lot of information in French about her. I’m not sure about the whole story, but all I know is that you cannot, in fact, buy just her head in the gift shop.

Louvre in a Nutshell: Massive Museum, Teeny Mona Lisa. Seriously. It's as big as my framed diploma. And you can't get within 10 feet of it because of all the other tourists and their cameras pushing each other to get close. If Leo had just made it a mite bigger, it would have been easier on all of us.

Arc de Triomphe (“We Surrender!”) and Eiffel Tower (“Migdal Ayfel”): These represent two entries in our ever-growing list of “Tall Buildings We Have Not Ascended.” Don't worry, there are selfies to prove we were there.

Haagen Daaz restaurant. You read that right. An entire restaurant devoted exclusively to ice cream. Two floors plus outdoor seating, with fancy wait staff and everything. As part of our QKE vacation certification (Quite Kosher Enough), we felt comfortable eating Parisian Haagen Daaz. Sadly, most of the menu items came with a baked good, which even for the lax standards of QKE is NQKE. But we found two exquisite cookie-free desserts: I ordered one that had five scoops of ice cream surrounded by fresh raspberries, strawberries and whipped cream and are you drooling yet???? Donny ordered a scoop of ice cream in an espresso (I told you he got into it). We sat in rapturous, heavenly-ice-cream-eating-induced silence, until it was broken by:

The Amcha. Aka fellow Jews/Israelis. Funny because when you're in Israel, you say “Israelis!” in a mumbly, exasperated grunt, but while in Paris, you say, “Israelis!” with a cry of excitement. This particular amcha – an Israeli woman – interrupted our bliss to ask a question on behalf of her French-speaking charedi sister. The sister was wondering if it was okay to eat here, and when her eyes alighted upon Donny’s kippah, she felt we were safe people to ask. We explained that the ice cream itself was kosher; stay away from the cookies. QKE FTW!

We enjoyed our other encounters with the Amcha during our trip. In one restaurant, we had a choice of speaking to the waiter in French (“?como estas?”) or Hebrew. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to speak Hebrew. Did you read me?? We were HAPPY and GRATEFUL to speak Hebrew. Someone please tell my ulpan teacher. We also got chance to converse with the Amcha during our stroll around the Jewish Quarter. We passed numerous falafel stands including one that –and let me tell you, it hurt to read this – proclaimed its falafel “The Best in the World!” Um, excusez-moi, Paree? Clearly they have never been to Ofer’s. Or any other falafel stand in all of Israel. Please, Paris. We don’t claim to have awesome macarons. (As TZ-carrying Israelis, we’re not even sure that they qualify as dessert, lacking as they are in yeast dough and chocolate). So just stay away from our falafel.

Then, suddenly, it was time to leave. Pack up our stuff, say "A I R P O R T" really slowly to the cab driver, and head off into the sunrise (the only time we saw sun). All in all, the trip was amazing, but it was also great to come home. To the fam, the world’s actual best falafel, and even to Hebrew.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Things the French Like and Do Not Like. Also: War!

Welcome to Part Deux of "Gila & Donny Take Paris (But Then Give It Back Because It's Cold and Rainy and No One Speaks English)"

Things the French like:

Pharmacies. There are about 3 pharmacies per block (“rue”) in Paris. I do not understand why Parisians are hurting themselves all the time. Perhaps they are falling down the stairs in the Metro system.

Espressos. They really love their dark, bitter coffee drink. Even Donny and I kind of appreciated it by the end. Donny more than me, though, I’m still a milk girl. Examples of espresso-lovin': McDonald's ads feature an Egg McMuffin next to an espresso. Nespresso ads also feature espressos only. Not a milk frother in sight. (We got to see lots of ads during our numerous hikes to and from the staircases in the Metro stations.) If you order an espresso, they make it for you using the fancy coffee maker. Order a latte (“hafuch”), and you get coffee from a machine. 

Mumbling. How to speak French: Find a word. Place all the sounds at the back of your throat and gurgle them out.  

Things the French do not like:

English. English is not as beloved of a language as we anticipated. In fact, in the Louvre (“Mona Lisa”) which is one of Paris’ top tourist attractions, the little descriptions next to each piece of art are written only in French. But, we were ok with this because it allowed us to make up our own stories about every painting.

Being Audible. When we asked the nice lady in the amazing kosher chocolate store the name of a certain kosher bakery, she said ... something. I couldn’t make out any recognizable vowels or consonants. See, “Mumbling,” above.

English. The French simply do not appreciate how easy it is to speak in English. Even the people in the hotel did not like talking in English. And they DUB grown-up movies! And TV shows! I turned on the TV in the middle of an episode of Greys, and there was Bailey, yelling in fluent French! It was tres (totes) disturbing.

Surrender. This brings us to one of the highlights of our trip, the War Museum.

The War Museum: Fancy Uniforms and: Jews? What Jews?

First, let’s just say that the existence of the EU is nothing short of a miracle, considering that for hundreds of years all these guys did was kill each other and hold grudges about it. But, only at the War Museum can you get a real French perspective on all the battles. Each battle is commemorated with: guns, knives, paintings and uniforms.

I like guns and knives so that was pretty cool. Adding the paintings of war scenes was a bit strange, but I’ll admit that I enjoyed it. But, the uniforms.

Conversation, circa 16th century:

“Jacques! 1517 called! It wants its uniform style back. Forget your red uniform with gold trim and silver buttons. 1518 is ALL ABOUT the blue uniform with the red trim and gold buttons!”

We were very curious to see what the French had to say about World War II. (Like, “What did they wear?”) Here's what we learned:

The word for “surrender” in French is “resistance.” It turns out that the French fought bravely throughout the war. (And they had very nifty uniforms. In a modern sense, of course.) Especially brave was Charles de Gaulle (“Sharle the Gew”) who spoke bravely about bravery from London.

There was no discussion of French life under the occupation, but I suppose that makes sense after all that brave fighting. But, then it occurred to us: What about the Jews?

Clearly, after fighting bravely for so long, the brave fighters returned to Paris, only to have this conversation:

“Where is Shmuelik? Have you seen him?”
“I could have sworn he was just here yesterday.”
“Huh. Now that I think about it… didn’t we use to have a lot of Jews?”
“Ah. You’re right. I think we did.”
“It sure looks like they left in a hurry. It appears that they didn’t even have time to turn off the gas in their houses of worship which appear to have been completely destroyed in a terrible accident.”
“Strange. You think they would have fought bravely, like us.”

But these were brave fighters. They certainly would have hopped right into their Renault (“Rue”) tank and bravely travelled east looking for Shmuelik.

“Let us grab a quick espresso and be on our way. We need not worry that our extreme tank will break down, as I’m sure we can find an out-of-work German mechanic who could fix it for us. If we hurry, we can follow safely behind the Americans who are only here because they raised a lot of money with E-bonds and have not in any way taken away from our bravery.”

Then, as they bravely followed behind the Americans liberating the concentration camps: “Shmuelik! There you are! You look very hungry. Baguette?”

To be fair, at the very, very end of the World War II exhibit, there was a single wall dedicated to the concentration camps and the Final Solution. This one had English that went something like this: 

“Thereusedtobe76,000JewsinFrance. Theyallgotdeported. Only3percentcameback.” And then, “To learn more, visit our Shoah Museum!" 

Join us tomorrow, or whenever I remember to post, for our final installment: Highlights from Our Trip. (Here's a clue: It rhymes with "dice bream.")

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

This Way to the Sortie

A Blog in Three Acts
Contributors: Gila & Donny

“Sortie” is French for “exit.” However, you do not pronounce it “SOR-dee.” Well, you should, but the French don’t. This is one of the many lessons Donny and I learned last week, when we made a trip to Paris (“Pareeeee”). Surprisingly, it turns out that the French were not at all welcoming when we explained to them how to correctly pronounce their language. 

In any case, it was a Sunday-Thursday getaway, leaving Momz, Dadz and Ariella in charge of the house. 

Here are some of things that we learned by accident so that you don’t have to.

Getting There
You will want to acquire fake dollars (“Euros”) for your trip. These can be used just like currency to buy things. Be sure to bring a large change purse as many of the Euros come in easy-to-carry coin denominations that look just like shekel but are actually worth approximately 30 times more.

When you arrive, the passport clerk may be surprised that you have absolutely no stamps in your passport and ask you in complete shock whether this is your first time in Europe. Simply explain that Europe is mostly a place to fly over on your way between New York and Tel Aviv. She will totally understand.

In the airport, you will be greeted by extreme French engineering. I say, “extreme,” because we are all extremely lucky that it works. The escalators are strictly for “escalating” without any of the pesky “stairs” to get in the way. Hold on tight!

In Paris itself, getting around is very easy. You can take a cab, provided that you know that you do not hail them. They stop automatically at the “Taxi” signs. Also, you will need to have the patience to teach the cab driver English.

Or, you can take Metro. The Metro is a terrific option, especially if you like walking up and down stairs. Escalating is not allowed in the metro stations. (Handicapped? Have a stroller? Tough noogies (“nougat”). The SOR-dee is that way.)

Stay tuned tomorrow for: Things the French Like and Do Not Like