Bulbul's Summer 2001 Travel Journal

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This is my general itinerary:
  • June 28 through July 19: in Paris with George.
  • July 20 through July 30: in Zagreb, Croatia for the Universal Esperanto Congress.
  • July 31 through August 7: in Milan, Italy.
  • August 7: back in Los Angeles, U.S.A.
My Summer 2000 African Travel Journal is archived here.

Sunday, August 5, 2001

Milan. I haven't been much in the mood of writing lately. I'm a bit travelled out by this point and have not been doing much in terms of scouuting out museums and other such touristy activities. Much of my day is filled by taking the train or getting a ride into Milan and going to Parco Sempione, a large park, to read the newspaper or a comic book, in Italian, of course. Hey, i've actually managed to get through two large comic books in Italian already, both over 120 pages. These are written for adults (i think), and are generally mysteries. One odd thing about them is that although they are written and drawn by Italians, they almost all take place in the U.S. with American characters. I liked Julia: the adventures of a criminologist much more than Dylan Dog (which, incidentally, seemed to be popular in Croatia, too), but since i couldn't find any other editions of Julia, i'm having to settle for Tex for my current leisurely reading.

On my birthday, July 31, i went into town to meet Ann Crowley. She and i go back quite a way, as she was one of my Arabic (and Dutch!) pupils back in Cairo. She now lives in her native Ireland (as in Republic of), and i hadn't seen Ann for about eight years. We she learned of my travel plans, she made a point of scheduling a week of vacation in Geneva so that she could take the train into Milan for a day to meet me. We sat and talked in a couple of cafés around the cathedral (Il Duomo) for the entire afternoon catching up on each other's lives and thoughts. (Incidentally, if you ever want to pay $9 for an ice cream, the cafés around the cathedral are just he place to go.) Ann is busy working with organizations helping refugee immigrants to Ireland. It looks as if she will again be a Green Party local political candidate for Westport (Co. Mayo).

Fortunately, Ann and i were both dressed appropriately to actually go inside the cathedral. Two years ago when i was here, i had to wait outside while my friends went in, because i was wearing shorts. This year, i made a point of it to wear long trousers, and Ann was wearing something with long sleeves. (The other big no-no was bare shoulders and arms for women.) The cathedral is just gigantic; very beautiful, as well.

That night Onelia, Luciano, and i went to a pizzeria in Monza for dinner, which was packed at 10 p.m. Everyone orders an individual pizza, which is not presliced at all and is eaten with a knife and fork.

I did manage to muster up the energy to visit the Pavillion for Contemporary Art (PAC) and related exhibition at the Triennale, a gigantic exhibition of modern installations, videos, and what-not. Some of it was interesting, but a lot of it was just icky. Among my favourite pieces was a sort of little maze you entered scooting on chairs with little wheels. Another was a pair of hairy plastic girl baby dolls which looked like real commercial baby dolls complete with packaging called something like Shave-Me-Baby.

I've taken some random walks downtown, but bear in mind that it's very hot, sunny, and humid here. Furthermore, everyone's on vacation and many, many shops and the like are closed for the month.

Some of you probably want to hear about the good things i've been eating:

  • Mozarella di bufala. I've never really been into cold meals, but i have come to really like a plate of medallions of fresh mozarella made from water buffalo milk. This is somewhat different from the mozarella sold in the States. The size of these cheese varies from something about the size of an egg yolk to the size of a small apple. In the supermarkets, it is sold in a loose package swimming in a milky liquid. It is quite tender and juicy, with a flavour somewhat similar to cottage cheese, without the "low fat".
  • Pesto. You know, a paste of basil, olive oil, and other things. Tastes best when prepared fresh by Ivano's mom, from basil harvested fresh from the garden. You spoon it on yourself, onto pasta cooked al dente, much less cooked than it is in the States or in France.
  • Guinea fowl. A kind of bird bigger than a chicken (i think). I could say that it tastes like chicken, but doesn't everyone claim that any kind of flesh yo've never eaten tastes like chicken? This was done by Ivano's mother in the oven with a wonderful tightly packed, fine stuffing, made with breadcrumbs, prosciutto ham, and various vegetable, which was removed in one piece and served sliced.
  • Pan d'Espagna. A kind of fat-free cake akin to angel's food cake, but made with whole eggs instead of just the whites. A traditional Easter food of Campagna, where Ivano's parents are from.
  • Padina. The Italian equivalent of a quesadilla. A kind of very thin circular bread, like a thick flour tortilla, is filled with cheese, a kind of ham, and arrugula, then folded and heated in a frying pan.
  • Panini. A kind of sandwich made with a baguette-like bread. This is typical street fare; a European fast food. Filled such things as cheese, ham, tomatoes, and lettuce, then toasted to order. I say "toasted to order" rather than "made to order" because in many restaurants almost everything is made ahead of time: salads, sandwiches, pizzas (precooked), pasta portions. These are placed in a window where you can see them, The dish is then heated to order if necessary.
  • Watermelon. The only unusual thing about this is that it's widely available outside the home, such as in little restaurants and juice stands, as well as in restaurants. It's so refreshing on a thirsty summer day, and fat-free equals guilt-free. Another thing that abounds is fresh fruit salads (macedonia), which are available in fast food restaurant along the lines of McDonald's.
  • Ice cream. This is something i almost never eat at home. But at home it isn't there tempting you on every street corner, and at home the fruit flavours aren't nearly as fruity. As such, i've indulged a couple of times at midday.
I'm too lazy to write about the risotto, foccaccia, and other things i've had.

Today the weather was nice. (It's been alternating between hot'n'sticky and rainy.) So, Onelia, Luciano, and i biked to and around the gigantic park in Monza, which is a larger town next to Lissone, where i'm staying. It was my first time on a bike for about six years, but it was quite fun. The park is adjacent to the grounds of a (formerly) royal palace, and there are artificial ponds and streams complete with turtles, swans, geese, and fishies.

When we came back, we had a typical large lunch at home. First course was large raw tomatoes stuffed with a mixture of rice, fresh herbs, and tuna. Next came two different types of ham sliced very thinly, which you could wrap around your bread sticks, tiny mozarellas, and cantelope. Dessert was fresh blueberries with just a bit of sugar and lemon juice. This was followed by espresso.

I only have one more full day in Europe before i return to Los Angeles. My plane leaves Tuesday around noon. You's all can imagine how excited i am to abandon my readings of Julia: adventures of a criminologist to return to such fare as The typology of structural deficiency: A case study of the three classes of pronouns, a seventy-page article i've been toting around Europe but which for some reason has remained untouched. To return to a real world where they don't use monopoly money and where even people like me have to work for a living. It was nice while it lasted. See y'all back in America.

Friday, July 30, 2001

Milan, Italy. I finished off Friday in Zagreb uneventfully. I won't tell you what all i ate, because i was bored and ended up eating things that left me feeling fat and guilty.

My train left Zagreb around midnight. My couchette compartment i shared with three Italian Esperantists. In a nearby compartment was a group of rowdy of young Croatian Eminem fans, who had no intention of lowering their voices so that we decent folk could sleep. There was an hour o two where every once in a while you'd here a loud "Whassup man?" The Italians seemed to have no problem getting to sleep; for me it took at least an hour. Sleep was interrupted several times for passport control and customs (leaving Croatia, entering Slovenia, leaving Slovenia, entering Italy).

My train was almost half an hour late, leaving precious little time to change trains in Venice, including no time to purchase anything to drink. Also not enough time to notice that i'm on the wrong train; a train to Milan, but a four-hour train instead of the speedier three-hour inter-city train. Luckily, Onelia and Luciano were still at the Milan train station to pick me up when i arrived.

Although i arrived in Milan in the afternoon, we did manage to go on an outing to the park in Monza, near Lissone, the town outside of Milan where Onelia and Luciano live.

In the evening, we went over to Luciano's and Ivano's parents, where i was served a delicious homemade meal including fresh gnocchi in a sauce of tomatoes, meat, and cheese, and stuffed zucchini.

Today, Onelia dropped me off in Milan at a subway station on her way to work. I spent the day mostly walking around and exploring. It's a bit tricky getting around, as you have to use a combination of subway, trams, and buses. Getting back to Lissone involves a real train ride, and the trains are quite infrequent. The weather is very sunny, so waling around involves finding a shady way to get where you want to go.

Saturday, July 28, 2001

Zagreb. Last night was the Internacia Arta Vespero (International Artistic night), a sort of annual talent show. And like any talent show, it had its gems and duds. The show included classical music, original and translated Esperanto solo and choral works, dance, juggling, performance art, and comedic readings. My French friend Francis himself sang a song--a translation of a Croatian pop song, sung to what i believe was the original song with the vocal track removed. The act that i will probably remember the longest, however, was the Cuban singer/guitarrist who gave a really great rendition of Kisu min multe, which, of course, is Esperanto for Bésame mucho. Even without the excellent rendition, Kisu min multe would win solely on conceptual grounds.

The only conference event today was the solena malfermo (solemn closing), which is generally so chock-full of self-congratulatory, pompous speeches and resolutions that i decided i'd pack, instead. This leaves me with over nine hours before my midnight train to Italy to wander the city, write a few postcards, ...and write this journal entry.

Lest you worry about whether i have gotten a bite to eat since yesterday's lunch, i have.

  • Grah. A black bean soup. Hearty, and a bit spicy. This wasn't first choice (as much as i love beans), but i was so late to get lunch that everything else i wanted had run out. It was searved with a sausage and mustard on the side.
  • Zagrebachka kremshnita. (Spelling approximate.) I decided that this was my last chance to try one of standard kremshitas (cream cakes) before i leave. This has virtually no cake in it, just an extremely thin layer of flaky crust at the very bottom. This is topped with almost two inches of a creamy, gelatenous vanilla-flavoured filling, and then a half inch or so of what was probably whipped cream. On the very top is a very thin layer of dark chocolate. The non-Zagrebachka kremshita lacks the layer of chocolate.

Since y'all probably aren't too interested in my bag-packing activities, i think that's about for today.

I mustn't forget that i have another link for info and pictures on the city of Zagreb at http://www.zagreb-touristinfo.hr. If you click on one of the city walks listed under "virtual guides", you can see a lot of nice pictures.

Friday, July 27, 2001

Zagreb. Today i thought i'd try to be a bit more chronological, which means starting with yesterday's lunch.

  • Wine gulash. A gulash-based soup made with lots of white wine and chunks of potato and meat. Served, again, with hearty whole-wheat bread.

Last night was the big play in the National Theater, which is a beatiful old building with lots of gold leaf, paintings on the ceilings, and statuary. It holds 900 people, and was playing to a full house last night. I'm sure that people were turned away for lack of space. The play was The Longest Day in the Life of Maria Theresa, by Miro Gavran. Thanks to George's research, i now know that Maria Theresa was queen of Hungary and Bohemia (1740-80). The play, performed in Esperanto, starred the nationally famous actress Vida Jerman. The high quality of the play and the performance more than made up for the unspectacular play we were subjected to a couple of nights ago.

After the performance, they was a champagne reception in the theater. There i met up with my Mongolian friend Altan. Altan has a very linguistically complex life. She and her daughter are Mongolian, but live in Japan. Her husband (of less than a year) is an American translator who has lived in Japan for many years. Since the daughter speaks Mongolian and English, and understands English and Esperanto, Altan and her husband speak to each other in Russian if they don't want the daughter to understand.

Altan introduced me to some of her friends at the reception, including a Dane who is in the Esperanto Desperado band and is president of the Danish Esperanto association. A group of about eight of us went out after the reception, around midnight, to get something to drink in a sidewalk café. One of the other people with us was a Spanish woman named who lives in St. Raphael, France.

This morning, once again, i got up too late to catch one of the Oomoto (Buddhist?) presentations, but at the conference hall, i bumped into Altan again, and she suggested that we go see this slide show presentation by a French couple who traveled around the world for eight years working in the fields in India, as ranch hands in Australia, and living and working in various other capacties in an Aymara village in Bolivia, in Guatemala, in New Caledonia, in Tokyo, and many other places. The 90-minute presentation was very beautiful and touching.

After that, i caught up with Carmen. We decided to ditch the conference for the day (there aren't many interesting activities for today anyway) and walk into town together. She's an outdorrsy sort of person and preferred to eat in the open-air market in High Town than to eat in a restaurant. So, lunch consisted of fresh blueberries, blackberries, and watermelon. We also both bought more fresh cheese for gifts. I have no idea whether everythings going to fit in my suitcase. Carmen and i ended our afternoon together by visiting the cathedral.

Thursday, July 26, 2001

Zagreb. I'm back. And this time with a few links!

Every UK (Universala Kongreso de Esperanto) devotes a whole day entirely to day-long excursions, with no other meetings, lectures, or activities planned. There is always a variety of such excursions to choose from. Yesterday was this year's excursion day, and i opted to visit the Plitvice lakes and waterfalls. You can read about Plitvice and look at a couple of pictures here.

Plitvice is this wonderful system of lakes and waterfalls which you can walk through on boardwalks. There are a multitude of veautiful views, and the whole park is extremely clean and litter-free. There's also a lot of wildlife to see, mostly in the form of a myriad of different wildflowers which grow along the paths, dragonflies, and fish. The water is very clear, so it is easy to watch the schools of fish which gather in shallow parts of the lake and along the boardwalks, waiting for a human to toss them a little scrap of bread.

The trip was made all the more pleasant by the fact that several people i knew were on the same excursion: friends from Germany, Sweden, France, and the U.S. I even got to talk with two people who studied at UCLA as undergraduates.

The lunch on the trip was built around one of the largest heaps of animal flesh i've had on my plate for a long time. Each person got a pork chop, a chicken qurter, and a big sausage. This was served with French fries, tomatoes, and raw onions. The joke (or cruel fact?, we never ascertained) was that the many vegetarians on the trip were served just tomatoes and raw onions.

There were women selling homemade pastries, honey, and cheese at stands at the park entrance and picnic area, and along the highway. I bought a wheel of smoked cheese that must weight a few pounds. I probably won't be tasting it, since it bought it as a gift. Put i am able to enjoy its aroma as it smells up one of my closets at the hotel.

I don't have a lot of new foods to write about, but i was able to enjoy the following.

  • Ice cream. I finally broke down and tried an ice cream at a particularly busy ice cream and dessert shop i've noticed. These are Italian style ice creams which are very flavourful. I had a scoop of passionfruit in a sugar cone, and it cost about $0.50.
  • Stuffed peppers. Bell peppers are a very prominent vegetable here. As i walk around and wait at tram stops, i constantly see people going home with a bagful of pale yellow green peppers. The stuffed peppers i had were stuffed with a mixture which was heavy on the meat and light on the rice. It was served smothered with a gulash sauce, accompanied with mashed potatoes.

On Tuesday i returned to High Town to visit the museums that were closed when i went on Monday. The Croatian Museum of Naïve Art has many beautiful pieces, one of the most interesting is a large oil on glass painting of Sophia Loren. Unfortunately, i couldn't find a link to this museum.

The Zagreb City Museum is very large and contains a lot of interesting pieces from all periods of this city (which i believe was founded in the 11th century).

Tuesday night, i went to a one-act play in Esperanto. While well acted, the general consensus was that it wasn't a really good play.

I thought i was winding down my entry, but i just remembered at i hadn't discussed the dance yet. One of the traditional events in the UK is the dance. (This was my first, since i didn't go to the one in Berlin.) This year's was held in Zagreb's main square, in the open air so that not only the Esperantists, but anyone in Zagreb, could participate. A loud Croatian band played American and Cuban pop hits. (Mostly Ricky-Martin-style Latino-for-whitey music, but i'll spare you my diatribe on that topic.) After that band finished, a dance teacher gave an en masse English waltz lesson, and the next half hour was spent ballroom dancing. The highlight of the evening, for me at least, was the appearance of Maria Teresia in a horse-drawn carriage. Maria Teresia is the main character of a play being given tonight (in Esperanto) at the National Theater. My materials seem to indicate neither whether she's fictional or real or when exactly she reigned. More later, i hope. Her role is being played by a famous Croatian actress. Most of us are looking very forward to this performance.

Almost two hours at the cybercafé, so i must stop. However, i did want to also give you a link to a photo gallery of pictures from Zagreb. Here it is.

Monday, July 23, 2001

Zagreb. Yesterday was the official opening of the Esperanto conference, la Universala Kengreso de Esperanto, or UK for short. It all begins with the dreaded solena inauguro, literally the "solemn opening", an affair full of pompous speeches, name-dropping and boundless applause, for two full hours. It took place in the main conference hall in the Lisinski Concert Hall, which i presume is the largest such auditorium in Croatia. The highlight of the event was a short speech made by the president of Croatia himself, Stjepan Mesic. Several other dignitaries were also present, including people from several embassies, including those of China and Japan. There are about 1800 attending the conference this year, with the largest numbers contributed by people from France, Croatia, and Japan. This number is somewhat low for a UK held in Europe. The one i attended two years ago in Berlin had almost 3000 attendees.

On Saturday night, a group of us met at the only gay club (or gay anything) in all of Croatia, the dance club Bad Boy. It was a bit different from its American or Western European counterpart. First of all, it was a bit out of the center of town (though luckily only four long tram stops away from my hotel). Furthermore, the crowd had a very even male/female mix (which i've never seen elsewhere). People only started arrived in large numbers after midnight. There were about 20 people there when i left at 1:30 a.m., but someone who stayed til 3:00 said that many more people arrived after that.

Yesterday, i attended the meetings of the two specialized organizations i belong to: LSG, the gay Esperantists; and ILEI, the Esperanto teachers. I also attended part of a lecture in Esperanto by an American linguist. Some of you at UCLA may be interested to know that it was Grant Goodall, who, i believe, studied at UCLA as an undergraduate. One of the great pleasures of attending a UK is the opportunity to such excellent speakers of Esperanto as him.

Last night was a real treat, the national evening (nacia vespero), which is the night of every UK devoted to entertainment from the hosting country. The first part of the program featured two well-known Croatian female vocalists and an actress who actually speak Esperanto and have used Esperanto artistically. Then there was a long presentation (over an hour) by the professional folklore troop Lado, which must consist of at least thirty dancers and musicians. The music was just beautiful, and the dancers changed costume for almost every number. I assume that the many different styles of costume, all elaborate and colorful, represented different regions of Croatia. There were two particularly interesting dance elements. First, at times in some of the dances, a male and female dancer would face eachother and tremble, which probably is nearly as easy as it might sound. The audience grew more and more excited the longer and more intensive the trembling became. The second was a sort of circle dance where the dancers held hands, where once of the dancers would call the next moves as is done in square dancing.

Today i got up too late to catch the beginning of the one meeting i wanted to attend (African activity), so i decided to do my Esperanto bookshopping instead, doing my best to purchase only thin volumes which won't add too much weight to my suitcase. I also bought a couple of Esperanto music CDs. It's hard to stay as hip as me if you don't keep up with the Esperanto hit parade. My selections for this year were the latest (?) CD by Kajto, a Dutch folkish group, and a CD by Jomart and Natasha, a Russian accoustic duo who i saw perform two years ago in Berlin. I wanted to buy Esperanto Desperado, this year's hot new band, but it was sold out. This group will be performing at the UK this year, but i'm not sure i'll be able to hear them.

Book-buying finished, i decided to go into town for lunch, shop for music, and explore. The lunch i'll describe further down.

With regard to shopping, i'm interested in finding good local pop music. I'd seen an interesting music video on T.V. in my hotel by a Croatian band called Jinx, so i decided to look for the album, which turned out to be the group's fourth. (The group's début album was in English and the covered mentioned something about "disco vegetables from outer space" or something.) The other thing i try to look for in formerly Communist countries is compilations of hits from the 70s and 80s, i.e. Socialist pop music. This was easy to come by when i was in the Czech Republic two years ago, but the only i've found here is a 5-CD boxed collection costing around $40, so i had to pass on that. The salespeople at the music store were very helpful and also assisted me in selecting a collection of last year's pop hits.

As for exploring is concerned, i decided to roam around the "High Town", which is the old part of the city on the top of a hill, next to the modern downtown area. You can take a little train (funicular) up the hill. (By the way, all UK attendees have free access to all of the city's public transportation!) Well, it's old, but neither particularly charming nor particularly busy. There are quite a few museums up there, but alas, most of them are closed on Mondays. I will go back another day for the Croatian Naïve Art Museum, and catch the Zagreb City Museum at the same time. I did go into the Historical Museum, but my knowledge of Croatian couldn't make much sense of the exhibit.

Once again, there are no complaints about the food. Here are my recent finds:

  • Lisnato. This is a sort of pastry made with a dough similar to that of a croissant, which is filled with any of various fillings. As this has served as my breakfast and late-night dinner food, i've been able to try several fillings: poppy seed, walnut, and sour cherry. My favourite is the walnut, but they're usually out by the time i get around to buying one.
  • Gnocchi with mushrooms in cream sauce. Many of you are doubtless familiar with gnocchi, which are a type of nickel-sized fresh pastry made with a dough of flour and potatoes.
  • Chobanac. (Spelling approximate.) This was todays lunch, an orange-coloured, slightly creamy soup with large pieces of pork and veal and many small pieces of fresh pasta. Somewhat spicy. This is the national dish a slavonia (which, i believe, is a region of Croatia). Served with generous slice of whole wheat bread. This is the best thing i've eaten here so far.
  • Parfe torta od vanilije. Croatia is famous for (among other things) its cream cakes: with inch-think layers of gelatinous, creamy filling, and what appears to be something like whipped cream, and precious little cake. Today i indulged for the first time, in this variation on the cream cake.
I'm waiting for the right time to try the ice cream. Everybody here eats lots of ice cream. I've never seen so many ice cream shops. The other thing which seems to be taken very seriously here is bread. There are bakeries all over the place, and even kiosks selling various types of whole loaf breads and rolls at train stations and busy squares.

For the record, it's taken me over an hour and a half to right this entry. So, i'd better get off and do something else. Until next time.

Saturday, July 21, 2001

Zagreb, Croatia. I arrived in Zagreb yesterday morning. So y'all don't have to get out your maps, Croatia is a little country, once part of Yugoslavia, just to the east of (but not actually sharing a border with) the northern part of Italy. I have a little bit of Paris to finish up before i start with Zagreb.

First, lest you think that i stopped seeing films after my last installation. Here are the ones i remember last seeing:

  • Morir o No. (To Die or Not to Die.) Spain, 2000 (?). Film in Catalan (i.e., not in Spanish). In the first half of the film, "To Die", you see how ten or so people meet their death in unrelated scenarios. In the second half, we see that by avoiding the first person's death, we can avoid all of the other deaths as well, as all of the connections between these ten people is revealed. Okay, but not a must-see.
  • This is Spinal Tap. U.S., 1981 (?). Mock documentary about a fictiocious, mentally-challenged British rock group on tour in the U.S. This is just further evidence about the wide range of films always playing in Paris.
  • Que faisaient les femmes pendant que les hommes marchaient sur la lune? (What were the women doing while men where walking on the moon?) Belgium, 2001. Comedy about a young woman who comes home from Quebec to Belgium, in the era of the Apollo missions, to break it to her family that she has long since dropped out of med school and that she is lesbian. Pretty good.

I neglected to mention that George and i went to see a second ballet. I don't have the info on me at hand, but it was at the Garnier opera house, which is an opulent old building with gilded and plush interiors. The ballet was A Midsummers Night's Dream, by Mendelssohn. We had seond row seats!

Friday afternoon, i got on a train headed for Munich. The trip took around nine hours. I had half an hour to make my connection for Zagreb. I had a sleeper (couchette), which is a compartment with bunk beds stacked three high. Things would have gone quite smoothly had my single bag been too large to fit confortably anywhere in the compartment. Fortunately, i had very agreeable compartment-mates: a German family, another German woman, and a Danish medical student. I also met three other Esperantists on board the train coming to the same conference as me. I arrived in Zagreb at 8:30 the next morning.

I spent much of yesterday afternoon roaming around Zagreb. It's really a very pleasant city, with lots of charming old buildings, pedestrian malls, and sidewalk café.

Now my favourite part--the food. Wow, East European cuisine that doesn't suck! I've only had three meals so far, but i'm impressed. Here's what i've had. I'm not going to bother writing the names in Croatian, especially there's no way for me to type some of the letters that would require.

  • Calamari stuffed with cheese and ham. I'm not a big calamari (squid) fan, but they're one of the specialties here, so i thought i'd try one of the many ways they're prepared. This dish was pieces of squid with a slice of bacon and a slice of cheese, rolled and closed with a toothpick, then grilled. Very yummy, and much more tender than most calamari i've had. Served with French fries. I enjoyed this with a gigantic local draft beer at an outdoor table overlooking a pedestrian-only cobblestone street in the old city.
  • Gulash. My first meal here. This was just pieces of beef served in a gulash sauce, served not with potatoes or rice, but with polenta.
  • Gypsy-style gulash. This was pieces of grilled beef in a gulash with lots of grilled bell peppers and other vegetables.
I'm looking forward to also eating some of the pasta dishes, especially the gnocchi, which seem to be very popular here.

The Esperanto conference starts tomorrow. It's on the other side of town, so i take the streetcar.

Not much else to say, except that i'm having a great time.

Saturday, July 14, 2001

Paris. Wow. It's been a whole week since my last entry. So, in spite of the fact that nothing really exciting has happened, i have quite a bit of catching up to do.

First, movies. We've seen at least five of them since i last wrote.

  • Le placard. (The Closet.) France, 2000 (?). This is a very funny comedy about a straight man who finds out he's about to be fired, then leads everyone to believe that he's engaged, forcing his company to retain him, lest they be charged of discrimination. Very good. This is a blockbuster here earlier this year.
  • Thomas est amoureux. (Thomas is in Love.) Belgium, 2000 (?). Very interesting film set some thirty or forty years into the future. The main character is a young man with an acute case of agorophobia, who has neither left his apartment nor let anyone in for eight years. The man only appears on camera for a few seconds of the whole film. The plot develops entirely on the screen of his videophone: conversions with his mother, psychiatrist, dating service, cybersex cartoon, etc. Vistually rich and appealing. Another plus for not having a stupid ending.
  • O fantasma. (The Ghost.) Portugal, 2000 (?). Awful, awful film. Unless you like movies about nobody's with mental problems who mess up other people's lives and then their own lives to boots. About a young garbage collector in Lisbon, and his sexual fantasies and feats with men, women, and boys. I hate to spoil the ending for you all, but he ends up spending his life dressed in one of those black latex sexual dominator body suits roaming the landfills of Lisbon, rummaging around the garbage for food. Very good production values. Negative points for lack of dance numbers, and for a generally pessimistic outlook.
  • Beijing Bicycle. China, 2000 (?). Film about a country bumpkin who lands a job in Beijing with a bicycle-powered delivery service. The job earns him a spiffy new bicycle, which subsequently gets stolen, then retrieved, then more. Good look at everyday life in modern Beijing. Good character studies. Altogether pretty good, if a bit long.
  • Le chant de la fidèle Chunhyang. Korea, 2000 (?). A historical tale of marital fidelity, interspersed with a traditional Korean storyteller (chanter? singer? orator?) singing the epic of this story. Very beautiful. Hey, an Asian tale of love and hardship which doesn't even end in death or suicide!!!

Then good things i've eaten.

  • Sabayon. Somewhat like ice cream, but with a grainier texture. According to our dictionary, it's made with lots of egg yolks and contains some kind of liqueuer. Yum.
  • Filet de cabillaud, sauce à l'oseille. A fillet of cod (?) with a white sauce containing lots of sorrel.
  • Tartine au chèvre frais, miel et ciboullettes. I had this at one of our favourite restaurants here, Le pain quotidien (Daily Bread), which is somewhat unusual. This place bakes its own gigantic round loaves of dark bread, and serves open face sandwiches (tartines) with various cheeses and other ingredients. These are accompanied with a mixed green salad, on which you drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar. At this place, if you sit inside, you sit at a gigantic dining table which seats over twenty people. The particular tartine i had was with fresh goat cheese, honey, and chives.
  • Petits fours. Well, i suppose you all have an idea of what these are. But i should mention that they're generally of a pasty like that of a chocolate eclair rather than of cake. Each of the types of little pastries has a name, and is generally a miniature replicate of a larger pastry.
  • Various and sundried things at the Khayam, an elegant Pakistani restaurant recommended to us by a friend here. Best Indian food we've had in France.
  • Various pastries. If you get bored, but don't have quite enough time to sit in a café, what better/worse thing to do than start drooling at the pastry shop windows. We particularly like the little tarts: miniature single-crusted fruit pies. Pastries are always a risk though: sometimes they can be scrmptious, other ties they can be overly sweet and evoid of flavour.

The various museums and exhibits i've been to.

  • Delacroix museum. Not terribly interesting, but Delacroix isn't my favourite artist. The current exhibition is about his paining "Infuriated Medea".
  • Naîve art.
  • Unfortunately, the main permanent collection of naîve art isn't on display, but the one room open makes us want to come back next year. The book shop here is chock full of interesting books and cards.
  • Arts et m´tiers. The is the technology museum, which is full of interesting machnes and devices used over the centuries: from looms, to mechanical calculators, to cars. We came back this year, because last year i missed the "théâtre des automates", which is a live demonstration of the mechanical toys dating from the 17th century through the 20th. The centerpiece is a mechacinal musician dating from just before the French Revolution (if it had not been donated to its owner just before the Revolution, it certainly would have been destroyed). She moves her head and eyes very naturally and actually plays the zither (i.e., there's no hidden music box).
  • Les canaux de Paris : de bief en écluses. An exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville about the canal system in Paris.

Well, i now see that i've been at this cybercafe for over two hours, so i have to start wrapping up.

I should mention the time we've spent with friends here. First, former colleague Emily Tucker is living in Paris for a while with her boyfriend Mark. We had the pleasure of having dinner with them and their friends at the spacious apartment on the opposite end of town. Emily made a wonderful meal which included a fresh gazpacho and chicken and potatoes baked with thyme. We've also had dinner with my Esperantist friend Francis, who i'll be seeing again in Zagreb at the Esperanto Congress. Other friends we've been able to see include Jean-Claude, the singer-healer-former-restaurant-owner-and-cook (who sold his restaurant last automn) and Gérard and his ubiquitous canine companion Mademoiselle Frida, who are close friends of George.

Spent a few hours one weekend roaming through the various stalls of the antique vendors along the banks of the Seine. (A near typo there. I almost typed "the Nile".)

Today is the Fête nationale (National Holiday), usually referred to in English as Bastille Day.

I've been typing for way too long, and my right shoulder is starting to get sore. So, i'll only add that it's been very rainy the last few days. Happy Bastille Day to all!

Friday, July 7, 2001

Paris. Still having jet-lag problems. Last night i went to bed at 1:00 a.m., but only got to sleep at 3:00 a.m., and thn only with the help of an Excedrin P.M.

Saw a few more films. Let's see how much i can remember.

  • Liberté-Oléron, France, 2001. Comedy about a family who buys a broken-down used sailing boat. Okay. Had its moments.
  • Malèna, Italy, 2001. From the director of Cinema Paradiso, a dramatic comedy about an adolescent boy in a small town during World War II who is coming to sexual maturity and becomes obsessed with a woman who is the brunt of everyone's evil tongue. Very good.
  • Krámpack, Spain, 2000 (?). Film about a teenage boy discovering his sexuality, and especially coming to terms with his attraction to his male schoolboy buddy, who is more interested in girls. Good.
While i'd say that the last two here were good, i must also say that i'm getting a bit tired of films keenly interested in young boys' sexual practices, self-soiling techniques and all.

Had some good food, as well.

  • Tartiflette. A sort of very rich potatoes au gratin with lots of cheese and bacon/ham. (Very high cheese-to-bacon ratio.) Baked in a single-serving casserole.
  • Raclette. George had this one, not me. I think i described this in last year's journal. A special kind of electric cooker is brought to the table. Then you're brought a plate of sliced cheese and ham, as well as a bowl full of small boiled potatoes. You put some of the cheese on a little pan which goes inside the cooker. In the meantime, you cut up a couple of potatoes on your plate and cut up a bit of the ham, too. You then remove the little pan of bubbling melted cheese form the cooker, and spoon it out with a wooden spatula onto your potatoes and ham. Yuck! Well, yuck and yum at the same time. Way too much cheese, espcially since there's also a first course and a dessert (both rich) to go along with it.
  • Salade savoyarde. Green salad with little chunks of swiss cheese, ham/bacon (still don't know exactly how to translate lardons), and unseasoned croutons. (Why is it absolutely impossible to find unseasoned croutons in the U.S.?) Served with a vinaigrette.
  • Ris d'agneau.
  • Sabayon. Some sort of frozen concoction similar to ice cream but with a more granular texture. Made with lots of egg yolks and with a bit of some kind of alcohol.

Also been to a few art museums. I've been at this cybercafe (racking up minutes) forever, so i won't go into to many details. I will mention that we caught the last day of a large exhibition of pop art at the Centre Pompidou. And who did we happen to see there but Hilda! (She's one of my professors, and my dissertation advisor.) Small world, huh?

Also saw the Eduardo Chillida scultpture exhibit at the Jeu de Paume.

Seen a couple of George's friends and mine, including David Nicolas, who was about to leave for Montreal. We'll be seeing Emily and her boyfriend tonight for dinner.

Oh, i forgot to mention the ballet. We went to see Romeo and Juliette the other night. (Sorry, i can't remember the name of the company or theater at the moment, but major ones.) Music by Prokofiev (spelling?). Very good. Three hours long with the two intermissions. The costumes and the set were all very rich and elaborate.

This has taken me forever. So, i must be off now. I'll be back soon.

Monday, July 2, 2001

Paris. Still battling the jet-lag. For two days i was sleeping about eleven hours, then two days ago i went to bed at 11:30 only to wake up at 2:30, leaving me pretty useless for the whole day.

We've seen a few movies already:

  • A Few Days in the Life of Oblomov, Soviet Union, 1979. A historical film based on an old Russian novel. Sorry, can't remember the author. Fair to good. Long to very long.
  • The Son's Room, Italy, 2000 (?). Family going through the trauma of suddenly losing a son in a diving accident. Very sad and very beautiful. This is on the top of the critics' list here.
  • Inter-view, Austria, 1996 (?). Very independent film, by a director whose main interest is in people with communication problems. Engaging in paarts, but disturbing in others. I actually preferred the short Flora which was shown before this main feature, by the same director.
  • Loves of a Blond, Czechoslovakia, 1965. Slow-paced dramatic comedy about a girl and her affairs in a small industrial town with a shortage of men. Pretty good for a Czech film from 1965.

Since we haven't been doing too much which could be called exciting, i feel that i should at least talk a bit about the good things i've had to eat:

  • Coq au vin. Chicken stewed with potatoes in a red wine sauce, served at your table in a pot. Yum!
  • Salade landaise. Sautéd chicken gizzards served on a bed of lettuce with a vinaigrette dressing, with tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and green beans.
  • Galette bretonne. Dark crêpe (made with buckwheat, we think), filled with swiss cheese and cauliflower, topped with a whole egg (such that the white cooks but the yolk stays runny.

Well, that's about all for now. I'll have at least a couple more movies to comment on in my next installment, and certainly more food. In the meantime, i'll try to stay awake and stay asleep at the appropriate times and try to avoid all of that ubiquitous cigarette smoke they have here.

Friday, June 29, 2001

Paris. Well, i'm here now. Since i got a total of one and a half hours of sleep the night before my flight, my first major task in Paris was trying to stay awake all day so that i could go to bed at a reasonable hour in Paris, to quickly overcome jet lag. This resulted in me sleeping at total of twelve hours last night.

George and i went to see a very good film yesterday afternoon, Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain. I hope that it comes to the States at some point so that we can see it again with subtitles.

Since i just got here, and since my trip over was rather uneventful, you'll have to wait for my next installment for anything else of interest. My installments won't be as frequent or as long as they were last year, since we didn't bring a computer with us this year. Thus, i have to do all of my updating at a cybercafé.

Thursday, June 21, 2001

Los Angeles. Still in Los Angeles. George left for Paris this morning. Today was a very bad day. Today i found, that in spite of careful backups, upon reinstalling my operating system at school i lost my crucial "school" directory--the one with all of my thesis and dissertation work. I have backups from the end of April of my dissertation work, but i have lost other stuff i would like to have (such as an article version of my masters thesis which was almost ready for publication). Then i get home and find that i owe six hundred dollars more in federal taxes than i had paid. But i am confident that i will overcome.

Looking forward to my departure on Tuesday.