Oct 15

NYC Adventures: Gyms

Exercising with Good Housekeeping

Now that I’ve been back for almost two months, I’ve started to develop a new routine. I’ve found my go-to morning coffee spot, my favorite lunch places, and decent take-out. But not all of my routine is about stuffing my face.

Since August I’ve been trying different gyms, partly because I wanted to join one, but also partly because I wanted to see how long I could work out for free. (The answer: about a month.) Here’s what I found.

24 Hour Fitness (SoHo)

This was the first place I tried since there’s one very close to work, and I used to go to the one in San Francisco. They offered a free one-day pass, but of course you can’t just go in and work out. You have to meet with a manager who’ll give you a tour and the whole spiel.

I was prepared for that, but what I wasn’t prepared for was waiting. And waiting, and waiting. At the time I thought I had to suck it up to get a free workout, but when I visited other gyms, I found that wasn’t the case.

Finally, after about 40 minutes, the manager — or rather, manager-in-training — came out. She was nice enough, but asked some strange questions. I had mentioned that I had belonged to a 24 Hour Fitness in San Francisco, but that was a few years ago. Later she asked, “So when was the last time you worked out?”

“Sunday,” I said. It was Tuesday.

She looked utterly perplexed.

Did I look that out of shape? “Sometimes I use the gym in my parents’ retirement complex,” I explained.

Still looking confused, she smiled. “Oh, okay. It’s good to change things up.”

Number one, what are you talking about? Number two, there are other gyms besides 24 Hour Fitness, and even other ways to work out besides the gym.

Then came the spiel. The price wasn’t too bad. They were waiving the initiation fee (as a “special,” but I soon found that most gyms were running the same “special”) and offered different levels from about $79 to $99 a month.

“Which package would you like?” the woman asked.

“I’m not sure yet,” I said. “I’d like to think about it.”

“What is it that you need to think about?”

Uhhh. “I just don’t know right now.”

She shook her head. “I don’t understand. What is it about this gym that’s not meeting your needs?”

Maybe you?

Eventually, her boss showed up, and she give me the hard sell too. And again she asked, “What is it that’s keeping you from making a decision?”

Then I said, “I don’t want to feel pressured. I’d like a little time to think about it.”

At that point they finally backed off.

The skinny

While the gym is pretty nice with lots of equipment (even a punching bag!) and classes, and a decent good locker room (I didn’t get to shower since I hadn’t brought a lock), they were such a hard sell I was completely turned off.

On top of that, they had kept me waiting for so long, and never followed up. They were supposed to contact me about a three-day pass after I returned from Paris but never did. Not even an email.

In addition, the location isn’t the best. While there’s a club near work, there isn’t one near my apartment.

Equinox (SoHo)

Equinox is my all-time favorite gym. I was lucky enough to belong to the one in San Mateo because we got a group discount through work. It was beautiful. Very clean, especially the locker rooms. Plus the showers had Kiehl’s products. Kiehl’s! And they have these amazing cold eucalyptus towels which are so refreshing post-workout.

The Equinox here offered a one-day free pass, and I was prepared for a long wait and a hard sell. I got neither. The manager came out right away, and although of course he tried to get me to sign up, when I said I’d like to think about it, he backed off right away.

The skinny

Sigh. I loved it. The workout floor was noisier than the the one in San Mateo, but it was tolerable. The showers of course were amazing. And the Kiehl’s products and eucalyptus towels! Double sigh.

However, while there’s a gym right near work, there isn’t really one near home. The closest one is 10 blocks away.

But most of all the price. At $225 a month, even without the $500(!) initiation fee, it was just too rich for my blood.

Crunch (Bowery)

Like the other gyms, you can get a free one-day pass from Crunch off their website, and like at Equinox, the manager met with me right away and didn’t give me a hard sell. In fact he gave me a three-day pass. The only sort of irritating thing was that he kept upselling their personal trainers and this “flying yoga” class although I said a couple of times that I had done krav maga and was into boxing.

The skinny

I really liked the gym. It’s kind of small, but it seemed like it was in good condition. The locker room was a little cramped, but the showers were nice. They had wood floors and Bliss products, which I love. I also liked the vibe. I went there on a Sunday afternoon, and it was almost empty and very peaceful.

However, the location isn’t the best. It’s more than a 10-minute walk from work and 10 blocks from home, which is fine in good weather but not bad. Moreover, the cost was a little out of my range: $104 a month, plus a $69 initiation fee.

Blink Fitness (NoHo)

The staff was super-nice and friendly. They even let you work out right away without a spiel, and although the spiel was super-short anyway.

The skinny

At $25 a month, Blink is by far the cheapest gym, and it’s fine if you want something very basic and don’t mind bringing your own towel (or buying one for $5, which is what I did). However, while there are plenty of machines, they don’t offer classes, and the locker room was REALLY small. Like, have-to-move-near-the-bathroom-stalls-to-rearrange-your-bag small. On top of that, there’s no location near my apartment.

David Barton Gym (Astor Place)

To be honest, I was a little scared of this gym because of the website, but they offered a free one-day pass so I sucked it up. AGAIN and unlike 24 Hour Fitness, the manager came out almost immediately and did not give me a hard sell. He gave me a tour of the gym (which was like if a goth club kid designed a gym) and that was that.

The skinny

It was pretty nice. Lots of machines, lots of classes, and a punching bag (which I worked on for about five minutes and was completely sore the next day). The locker room is huge and the showers decent (although not as nice as Crunch’s). However, it’s a little walk from work and about 10 blocks from my apartment. More importantly, at $127 a month, it was out of my price range.

New York Sports Club (Upper East Side)

Every manager I talked to at the other gyms scrunched up their faces at NYSC, and so before I even tried it, I was kind of against it. However, I still thought I should try it. They offer a 5-day guest pass for $5. I thought I’d get one for the one near work, but one day I popped in and saw how basic it was. So that’s why it’s just $19.99 a month.

I knew there was one near my new place, but I didn’t know how near until one night I was eating at Korean place one block from my apartment, looked up, and saw the gym across the street.

I popped in Monday night, and yet again, and I know sound like a broken record at this point, the manager came out right away, gave me a tour, and not too hard of a sell. While my guest pass had expired (turns out you need to start using it the day you purchase it), she let me work out for free that night.

The skinny

A decent gym. Lots of machines, lots of classes, and even a pool (although I don’t really swim). The locker rooms weren’t too cramped, and the showers are fine, although the water pressure is ridiculously strong. The whole place could be cleaner and newer, but the location is fantastic. It’s one block from apartment, and two from work.

And the price: it’s $69 a month for month-to-month or $59 a month if you sign a year-long contract. If you cancel the contract, there’s a $100 one-time fee. Also there’s no initiation fee right now. I don’t know if there’s always no initiation fee, but when I asked about any specials, the manager waived the $99. She also said the rest of October would be free for me.

The verdict

I’m going with New York Sports Club. The price and location are right, they didn’t do a hard sell, and the facilities are decent.

If I were rich, I’d clearly pick Equinox, with Crunch being my third choice. David Barton would be next, and then Blink. I have to say I’d put 24 Hour Fitness dead last because of my negative experience with the manager, although the gym itself seems perfectly fine.

Sep 15

‘Kate & Allie’ go to Paris

Kate-and-AllieMy travel buddy Yiannis and I are both TV junkies so it was pretty much imperative that we had something to watch while we were in Paris. Because we were outside the U.S., we were limited in terms of what we could watch on the interwebs. Netflix (to my joy) was available although with different content.

For some reason I mentioned Double Trouble, that ‘80s show about teenage twins. It was absolutely awful (we watched one episode; it doesn’t hold up) but we sixth grade girls were obsessed with it. A few in my class even put on a “play” that was just an abbreviated version of the dance contest episode (you know the one, don’t pretend you don’t).

Anyway, I was describing it to Yiannis, who had somehow never watched it: “It was about twins named Kate and Allison…not to be confused with Kate & Allie,” which inspired Yiannis to look for it on YouTube and set us up for several nights of binge-watching.

I loved the show when I was younger, and maybe it, along with Madeleine L’Engle’s Vicky Austin series, made me want to go to college in New York. As for how it holds up, it’s way cheesier than I remember (and soooo ‘80s) although still enjoyable.

Something we kept noticing, aside from Kate’s insane outfits, were all the pre-famous famous guest stars. Here are five of the most memorable.

  1. Kelsey Grammer

The very first episode! Kelsey Grammer plays someone Kate goes on a date with, only to find that she’s not into him. Turns out he’s not into her either and prefers former Connecticut housewife Allie.

  1. Ben Stiller

In the one with the sit-in, Stiller plays a rebellious college student.

  1. Stephen Baldwin

The youngest Baldwin brother is a high school student in The Trouble with Jason, which introduces later soap star Ricky Paull Goldin as a guy who has a (rather stalkerish) crush on Emma only later — spoiler alert! — to date Jenny.

  1. Ricki Lake

Lake and her pal think they have a problem with Emma in Send Me No Flowers, but it’s actually a different Emma they have a problem with. I hate it when that happens.

  1. William H. Macy

What do you know, Kate has hurt her back and is in the hospital (really, the actress, Susan Saint James, was pregnant, which the show was trying to hide). Allie also checks in — in her case, to have a mole removed — gets doped up and runs away. Hilarity ensues! Trying to catch her are two orderlies, one of whom is a pre-Oscar nom William H. Macy.

And those are just the episodes I watched. Who knows how many more there are?

This concludes my 2015 series on Paris. Got time to kill? Read them all!

Sep 15

Paris 2015: Locks and luck

Kanal svetog Martina u Parizu / Canal Saint Martin in Paris

I’ve talked about French word nerdery, museums, amusement parks, and regular parks — and now, locks and luck.

Lotsa locks

Where we stayed wasn’t far from Canal Saint-Martin, which I didn’t even know existed before this trip. What’s especially cool about the canal are the series of locks used to transport les bateaux over parts that aren’t level. Basically, the water drains and the boat is lowered level by level. Yiannis said it looked neat so we thought a boat tour on the canal would be even more so.

The boat ride was nice (when is one not, given good weather), but who knew going down the locks would take so long and that there’d be so damned many of them. We thought the whole thing would take about 90 minutes, but I think it was more like three hours.

The best part was when we went under this mile-long tunnel, and not just because we were out of the hot sun.

Unlucky but lucky

Before we went on our boat tour, we had another (mis)adventure. The canal boat website said that tours were given at 10:30 and 2:30. We went with the earlier option so that we’d have time to hit the Musee D’Orsay, which was the tour’s terminus.

However, when we got where the tour was supposed to begin, we saw no one. No boat, no people, nothing. We asked a restaurant worker what the deal was (luckily he spoke English and was very nice) and he said as far he knew, tours were only at 2:30.

You should really update your site, Paris Canal.

So unfortunately we had a lot of time to kill — but that turned out to be a good thing because soon Yiannis realized one of his phones was missing. (Yes, he had two phones. I won’t get into why.) On the way, we had sat down on a bench to get our bearings. The bench was pretty far away, but Yiannis had no choice but to jog back there (did I mention it was warm and sunny?) while I waited with his stuff. Luckily I had a book.

When he returned, he was unfortunately empty-handed but, to his credit, remained calm. All we could do was wait for someone to call. Until then, we decided to check out the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Europe’s largest science museum, which happened to be right nearby.

But! The museum was closed. A worker told us it was for “safety reasons” but didn’t elaborate. Safety reasons? What did that mean? A terrorist threat? A bomb scare? Murder? Turns out it was a fire. I’m not sure why she just didn’t say.

We headed back and got some food at the restaurant where we had asked originally about the tour. It was a beautiful day so we had a very leisurely lunch outside (burger and fries, yum! French hamburgers are really good). At one point Yiannis asked our waiter if anyone had turned in a phone, but no one had.

It was so lovely and relaxing sitting there, we decided just to hang out until it was time for the tour. Luckily we did because as we were finishing, one of the restaurant workers came up to us.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said to Yiannis in English.

Turned out security had found his phone right outside the restaurant, and for some reason not only didn’t call the emergency contact (which was me) but had turned the phone off completely. However, we were extremely grateful to both security and the folks at the restaurant.

Needless to say, for the rest of our trip, we made sure Yiannis always had both his phones.

Okay I lied, I have one more post after this one, although it has only the most tenuous connection to Paris.

Sep 15

Paris 2015: Not always a walk in le parc

Parc des Buttes Chaumont

In my last post I wrote about Parisian amusement parks. In this one I’ll discuss the regular parks we visited.

Parcs, jardins, et bois — oh my!

So what’s the difference between a parc, jardin, and bois, you might be wondering? We visited all three types and they all appeared to be what we’d call a park in English. However, there is indeed a difference, and that difference is size.

According to the Paris Insiders Guide, places, or squares, are the smallest; parks are medium-sized; gardens are bigger (I’d assume gardens were smaller but I’m imagining people’s personal gardens); and bois, or woods, are the biggest, which would have been great to know before we ventured on foot in Bois de Boulogne.

But anyhoo, on with the show.

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont (and Belleville)

Yiannis went running in this park during our last trip and told me about the cool rock formations so I thought it worth a visit.

The rock formations were cool, and the park seems like a nice place to hang out, but since the terrain was unfamiliar, I didn’t feel comfortable exploring it too much. What was interesting, as well as disturbing, was the part of town I walked through to get there.

Called Belleville, it has has a large Chinese population — and a lot of Chinese prostitutes. The first woman I saw, I wasn’t sure if she was. She had an a short skirt and was standing on the corner, but she was right across from a restaurant that looked to be about to open so I thought maybe she worked there.

But then on the next block I saw a few who were obviously sex workers, and then I felt both weird and awful. They were speaking Mandarin, which I associate with family and childhood, and except for their skimpy outfits, they looked like regular women. In the movies, prostitutes seem to be always played by models, but these women didn’t look like models. They looked any Chinese woman you’d see on the subway.

On my way home, I didn’t want to walk through that part of town again, and found an alternate route.

Parc de Bercy

This park in the 12 arrondissement was absolutely lovely and probably my favorite. Smaller and therefore easier to navigate, Parc de Bercy has several little ponds with plenty of water fowl and nice grassy areas where you can lie back and look at the trees swaying in the wind.

Plus it was right near a sort of outdoor mall so it was easy afterwards to get something to eat and catch a movie (American Ultra, if you’re curious, which was absolutely delightful).

Bois de Boulogne

This bois is described as being more than twice as big as Central Park. As a result, we, or at least I, imagined it being like Central Park. It wasn’t.

We did eventually find a nice lake, but until then we just sort of wandered around, which was no easy feat. There weren’t any paved walkways like in Central Park, just the road for cars and a sandy path that definitely required hiking boots, or at least sneakers, and not the sandals that I was wearing.

Traveling on foot seemed to be taking forever so I suggested getting bikes although the idea of it made me nervous. I haven’t ridden in a long time so I’m out of practice, and also I was wearing a dress. It turned out to be fine although wearing better shoes and pants or shorts would have made it easier.

Next up, the final Paris post: miscellaneous! I know you can’t wait.

Sep 15

Paris 2015: Amusement parks, or causing vertigo and bodily injury for all ages

disney_discoverylandBonjour! If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been yakking a lot about Paris. First it was word nerdery, then museums. Today it’s amusement parks, of which three — count ‘em, three — we somehow managed to visit.

La Fête à Neu-Neu

Unfortunately everything about this fête seems to be in French so I can’t give you much background except that maybe it’s named for Neilly-sur-Seine, which is a Parisian suburb, but we definitely didn’t go to a suburb so I don’t know what the deal is. Maybe it started there and now is traveling.

Whatever its origins, La Fête à Neu-Neu is a typical small-time carnival, except that all of the English is slightly off. For instance, there was a ride called Crazy Mouse, which may have to do with Mickey Mouse, but we weren’t sure. Also, the carnies didn’t seem too concerned about rules. You want to stand with your kid in the middle of a spinning ride holding onto nothing? Sure, go ahead!

First we rode the ferris wheel. The height made me more nervous than I expected, but otherwise it felt safe. The log flume was another story. You know how on most American rides, there’s a bar or harness that locks and holds you in? Not so on the Neu-Neu flume. As we settled in, the carny (roughly) adjusted my leg so that my foot was bracing on the tread. That’s when I realized that, as well as holding onto the railings for dear life, was all that was holding us in.

The first hill wasn’t bad, but then I saw the second one. “I changed my mind!” I cried, but of course it was too late. “This is really dangerous!” I yelled as we went down.

neuneu_logflumeOf course Yiannis, that thrill-seeker, had a grand old time. I, on the other hand, had a sore neck from tensing up so much going down the hills.

Jardin d’Acclimatation

The Foundation Louis Vuitton is right on the edge of the Jardin D’Acclimatation so of course we had to take a turn.

For the life of us, we couldn’t figure out why the jardin had such a name. It used to be a zoo so our best guess is that a zoo is a place for animals — and at one point, people — to get acclimated to the local environment. In Australia apparently, there used to be a distinction between zoos and places for acclimatization, but then the Melbourne Zoological and Acclimatization societies were consolidated in 1861. Maybe other countries followed suit.

Anyway, the Jardin d’Acclimatation isn’t a zoo anymore but a small, you guessed it, amusement park. It’s described as a children’s park despite a potentially dangerous zipline, which of course Yiannis had to try.

Everything went smoothly although at one point the girl who went before Yiannis had trouble detaching her hook so that she could get out of the way for his, um, impact. There was a bit of panic since for some reason there was no one on that side to help her, but eventually she got unhooked and out of the way.

The food at Jardin d’Acclimatation was more upscale than at Neu-Neu (typical carnival food, including barbe à papa). There were a few eateries to choose from and went with Angelina’s Tea Salon. My go-to sandwich, jambon beurre, was good, as was my chocolate macaroon. I had wanted the chestnut, but the quality wasn’t satisfactory to the counter guy so he suggested a different flavor. Now that’s service.

Paris Disneyland

La mère of all French amusement parks. Since we had dinner plans that evening, I was little worried about getting in Disneyland and making it back in time. However, we quickly discovered my concerns were unnecessary.

While the park is typical Disney (i.e., well-run and clean), it’s much smaller than the one in Orlando. Their version of Tomorrowland, which they call Discoveryland, is very cool in a steampunk way, but has far fewer rides. Ditto the other “lands.”

On top of that, we both got nauseous from Space Mountain, our very first ride. The one in Orlando has hills and drops, but nothing spinny, at least not that I remember. The Paris Space Mountain has hills, drops, spins, loops, and at one point we swear we were upside down — none of it good for our vertigo (yes, we’re both prone to vertigo).

Afterward I was afraid that a) the vertigo would return, or at least b) that I’d feel sick for the rest of the day. However, after a couple of calm rides and some fried food and soda, we both felt much better.

Besides Space Mountain, we rode the Pinocchio ride and perennial favorites, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted House, and made it back to the city in plenty of time for dinner.

Next! Regular parks.

Sep 15

Paris 2015: Museums are my crack

As you may know, I had the opportunity recently to spend almost 10 days in Paris. While I’ve recounted some French word nerdery, I’ve yet to write a lot about what we saw and did. I was going to write one giant post, but have decided to divide it into more bite-sized parts. This part: museums.

As always, I visited a lot. While I didn’t see as many as I did in Spain — if only because I was in France for a shorter amount of time — I still saw quite a few.

Centre Pompidou

Despite this being my third visit to Paris, this was the first time I was seeing Centre Pompidou, also known as Beaubourg because of its location, and named for Georges Pompidou, who was president of France from 1969 to 1977 and commissioned the building.

A friend we met during our last visit told us to be sure to take in the view, which we did:

view_pompidouAs for the rest of the museum, it was fun and modern.

pompidou_world pompidou_discoball pompidou_chineseguyPlus the mini chocolate beignets in the cafeteria were to die for.

Arab World Institute

I never would have thought to visit the Arab World Institute, aka Institut de Monde Arabe, but Yiannis had read about it and I agreed it sounded interesting.

Originally built in 1987, the newly redone building was unveiled in February 2012 — and what a very cool redone building it is.

arab_exteriorApparently the metal shutters act as a “sophisticated” brise soleil, an architectural feature that controls heat and sun. The museum was indeed quite cool.

The artifacts themselves were lovely and fascinating, from paintings, to ancient scrolls, to traditional clothing for religious ceremonies. Of course before we went into the museum, as per tradition, I had to get something to eat at the cafe:

arab_foodI thought I had overdone it, but I ended up eating everything save for the chickpea ball, which was a little dry for my taste. Everything else, however, was delicious, especially one with a kind of tangy cheese and mint. Yum!

Foundation Louis Vuitton

I had read that the Foundation Louis Vuitton was a new museum that’s a must-visit. Construction started in 2006 and the building opened in October 2014. The architecture, by Frank Gehry, is very cool —

louisvuitton_water— but the art was mostly head-scratchingly bizarre. A lot of weird videos, although I did enjoy the one installment of young British people dancing by themselves. I watched one of a white dude who was very enthusiastic and, as Yiannis said, bordered on actual dancing sometimes, but was mostly spastic, and another of a black girl who was extremely shy at first and barely moved, but then suddenly got comfortable and broke into a big smile as she danced.

The Foundation also has a couple of cool outdoor areas but no cafeteria, only an upscale restaurant. There was a long line so we didn’t even bother.

Musee de l’Orangerie

I’ve already written about the origins of the Orange Museum but not the museum itself. I loved it, although not necessarily because it’s all Impressionist and post-Impressionist art. It was on the small side compared to other Paris museums and therefore totally doable in terms of listening to most of the audio guide.

Plus the line wasn’t too long — I did happen to get there shortly after it opened — and it wasn’t too crowded even though most of the other museums in the city were closed that Monday.

And the jambon-beurre at the cafe was good too.

The Louvre

The last time I went to the Louvre was during my first trip to Paris 11 years ago. I didn’t go with Yiannis two years ago as I still remembered the crowds and couldn’t bear the idea of dealing with them again.

I didn’t expect to go this time either. Thinking the museum was closed, I planned on simply walking the perimeter of the courtyard. Then I saw some people go in a side entrance and thought, What the heck, and followed them.

Turned out the place was open and that particular entrance had almost no line, maybe because it was out of the way or because it was only machines. Either way, after not too long, I had my ticket.

It was a crowded as I remember, perhaps even more so because of the plethora of smartphone cameras and (barf) selfie sticks. (That was something new this trip: goddamned selfie sticks.)

I also don’t understand the purpose of taking a picture of every single piece of art. I just want to ask these people, What’re you going to do with all those photos? Have a slide show party? Frame them? I guarantee there are better photos that yours on the internet of these famous pieces of art.

Only worse is having one’s picture taken in front of artwork. Unless you’re doing something hilarious, don’t do it.

At the Mona Lisa, of course, it was a complete fucking madhouse.

louvre_monalisaEventually I had to escape to the basement with the Middle Eastern art that no one was looking at.


This was my second visit to Versailles — palatial home to the likes of Louis XIV, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette — and it was lovely.

versailles_chandelierThe chateau itself was crowded, especially with idiots who bunched up at the entryways, leaving vast open spaces elsewhere in the rooms, but the surrounding park were peaceful. Despite the intermittent rain, we took a rowboat out on the Grand Canal.

versailles_rowboatMusee D’Orsay

Yiannis and I agree that this is our favorite museum in Paris. We went on a chilly, rainy day, and every other tourist must have had the same idea because the line was hella long. Like through the museum courtyard, down the block, almost to the Metro long. But of course it was worth it.

This time I left the main floors for last, starting at the top and making my way down. On the fifth floor was a special exhibit, Dolce Vita, Italian design in the early 20th century. I really enjoyed it. Because it was a single exhibit, I was able to absorb a lot and to listen to all the audio guide entries. (I was going to get a guide for the whole museum, but the girl behind the counter was so rude, I said forget it. On the other hand, the Dolce Vita audio guide guy was cute and charming. Take my five euros, please!) The other floors had a similar vibe: art deco interior design but from other countries.

Another thing I love about the D’Orsay is that everywhere is beautiful, even the cafe —

dorsay_cafeThe only negative about the museum is that the food at the basement cafeteria (not the above pictured) sucks. The bread of my baguette was dry and chewy, and the chocolate muffin left much to be desired. It didn’t even compare to chocolate muffins from NYC delis, not to mention that one from the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya in Barcelona that I still dream about.

Next up, amusement parks! (That’s right, amusement parks plural).

Aug 15

More French word nerdery

I’m back from Paris! Eventually I’ll go into detail about the stuff we did and saw, but right now here’s part two in Parisian word nerdery. (And here’s part one if you missed it.)

An orange museum? One day I visited the Musee de l’Orangerie, and when Yiannis said, “The Orange Museum?” I realized I had no idea why the museum was called that. Did it have to do with the Principality of Orange in the south of France? Was it once swathed in orange like some kind of Christo and Jean-Claude exhibit? Neither as it turns out.

The name comes from the orangeries that used to be on the grounds of the nearby Tuileries Palace and were once considered fashionable to have. The structure was built to shelter the orange trees, and was used for everything from lodging soldiers, to housing sporting and musical events, to displaying exhibitions of animals, plants, and yes, paintings.

The building officially became a museum in 1921, and is perhaps most famous for Monet’s Nymphéas, his large panels of water lilies.

Who’s Sully? It seemed that everywhere I went in Paris I saw the name Sully, which made me think of Captain “Sully” Sullenberger who, as you probably remember, was integral to the successful crash landing of a US Airways flight in the Hudson River.

Needless to say, the Parisian Sully isn’t that Sully. So who was he? The Duke of Sully, otherwise known as Maximilien de Bethune, Henry IV’s “faithful right-hand man” who had a role in “building a strong centralized administrative system in France using coercion and highly effective new administrative techniques.” He also has lots of streets and at least one hotel named after him.

What’s a grisette? Where we were staying wasn’t far from the Grisette statute, which we passed every day. But who — or what — is a Grisette?

According to this blog post at Invisible Paris, the Grisette, along with the Lonette, were two female myths that emerged due to an 1830 “influx of males to the city from rural areas attracted by work in the new industries.” Such an influx caused a drastic change in the female to male ratio — 90 women for every 100 men — and subsequently, a shift in power. Women now had the upper hand and “intended to make men pay.”

On the surface, the Grisette (the word originally referred to the “cheap gray dress fabric” worn by such women) was a working class girl or young woman, but she was also someone with “easy morals” who, as Invisible Paris puts it:

spent more than she earned, but who had an elder male ‘friend’, a shopkeeper or wholesaler who would pay her debts. Her other male friend, a much younger painter or student, was the weekend friend, her passion and the one who would take her to fashionable balls and restaurants.

A Lorette, on the other hand, was a woman “supported by her lovers,” and who devoted “herself to idleness, show, and pleasure.” (The name comes from the church of Notre Dame de Lorette, near where apparently many Lorettes lived.)

As for the Grisette statue, it was made by sculptor Jean Descomps in 1909, and features one bodacious woman bun.

An apple of love? The French seem to have the coolest words for junky carnival foods. First, there was barbe à papa for cotton candy. Then at Disneyland (yes, we went to Disneyland), I noticed caramel apples were called pommes d’amour, or apples of love.

It’s obvious where barbe à papa comes from — cotton candy kind of looks like a dad’s long (pink) facial hair — but what do caramel apples have to do with love? Short answer: I don’t know. I couldn’t find anything explaining the connection, although there are a couple of theories as to why pomme d’amour also refers to a tomato.

One theory is that it’s due to the former belief of the tomato’s aphrodisiac properties. Another says that pomme d’amour may be a corruption of the Italian pomo de’Mori or Spanish pome dei Moro, both of which mean literally “Moorish apple.”

Aug 15

Word nerdery, the Paris edition

A photo posted by actung9 (@actung9) on

In case you didn’t know, I’m currently vacationing in Paris. My travel buddy, Yiannis, and I have been doing lots of Parisian stuff, including a visit to the Centre Pompidou; hitting a carnival where we rode the Ferris wheel and (dangerous) log flume (how dangerous? the only thing keeping us from flying out of the log were physics and hanging on for dear life); a boat tour of the Canal Saint-Martine; a visit to Parc de Bercy; and seeing American Ultra (at least the subtitles were Parisian).

But as two language buffs, we’ve also been noticing and wondering a lot about words.

Puce. When Yiannis went to use his credit card, the sales woman instructed him to put it into a different slot in the machine since his card had a puce, or microchip. That got him wondering about the word puce, which in French also means “flea.”

We guessed a chip was is so-called because it’s tiny like the blood-sucking insect, but then I wondered if the English color word was related too.

“Maybe it’s the color after you smash a flea,” Yiannis joked.

He turned out to be pretty close. The English puce does indeed come from the French puce meaning “flea-colored; flea,” which comes from the Latin pucilem, “flea.” The Online Etymology Dictionary goes on to say, “That [puce] could be generally recognized as a color seems a testimony to our ancestors’ intimacy with vermin.”

Bateaux-Mouche. While we were sunning ourselves along the Seine, we saw several boats called Bateaux-Mouche. From my high school French – and context clues – I knew that bateaux meant “boats,” but I didn’t recognize mouche.

Yiannis looked it up and saw a meaning of mouche was “fly” so we thought maybe it meant that the boats were fast (although they’re not). I dug a little a deeper and found that mouche also means “patch, beauty spot”; “bull’s-eye” (faire mouch means to hit the bull’s eye); and that a bateau mouche is an excursion or pleasure boat.

However, that mouche has nothing to do with a fly, beauty mark, or bull’s eye. Bateau mouche was a registered trademark and referred to where the boats were once manufactured, namely “the Mouche area of Lyon.”

Barbe à papa. At the carnival, Yiannis noticed a sign for cotton candy that read barbe à papa. “What does that mean?” he wondered, and looked it up: papa’s beard.

That got us curious about how cotton candy is referred to in other languages. According to this BBC forum, in British English it’s “candy floss”; Australian English, “fairy floss”; and in Dutch, suikerspin which translates as “sugar spider.”

Then I started wondering if the Japanese cream puff chain, Beard Papa’s, has anything to do with the French phrase. I didn’t find anything definitive, only speculation that the name is probably a literal translation.

And to complicate things further, cotton candy in Japanese is watakashi, which translates as, well, “cotton (wata) candy (kasha).” In more watakashi trivia, Amaicho Watakashi is a “character” associated with Utau, a Japanese singing synthesizer application.

Aug 15

NYC adjustment

I’m settling into life back on the east coast. After a few days at my parents’ house (which was somehow both relaxing and stressful), I’ve moved into a share in Brooklyn. While I’m doing fine, there are some things I’m still adjusting to:

The heat and humidity. I knew it was going to be bad, but I forgot how bad. Like can’t-sleep, about-to-pass-out-on-the-subway-platform, constantly-sweating bad. Meanwhile, it’s in the 60s in San Francisco (wah!).

The lack of open space. From my old apartment in Oakland, all I saw were trees, hills, and, in the distance, the Pacific Ocean. Then I’d see the ocean again on my bus ride across the Bay Bridge and on my walk from my bus stop to the Caltrain. Now while there are some trees where I live, it’s mostly concrete and buildings.

Studies have shown that nature is restorative. I’ll have to find another way to get my nature fix.

Not everybody knows my name. At the Starbucks I used to go to, many of the baristas knew me by name and knew my usual drink. Right now I don’t have that, but that may be just a matter of time.

Along with everything I’m adjusting to, I’m also grateful for a lot of stuff.

A place to stay. Looking for an apartment in New York from the west coast would have been possible, and commuting from my parents’ house (as well as staying with them for longer than a week) would have been a huge headache. Having a roommate situation set up in advance has made life a million times easier.

A place to work. Working from home is fine, but having an office to go to (with a not bad commute) is better.

Stuff to watch. This is very silly but having access to my Netflix and stuff is such a comfort. I can keep up my old routine of rewatching all of the Gilmore Girls, catching up on Doctor Who, and watching random anime and British mystery shows.

Friends and family. Of course this is the main reason I moved back. It’s really nice knowing that my parents and many of my friends are just a train ride away. By tomorrow I’ll be in Paris with a good friend, and when I get back, I’ll have the chance to catch up with others.

Now if only it wasn’t so damned hot.

Aug 15

Goodbye, San Francisco

cropped-baybridgeview1.jpegI’ve been planning this for several months, and now it’s finally here: my time to go.

Those of you who follow my blog (and know me in real life) know that I moved to San Francisco from New York back in the fall of 2009. I was lucky enough to have the support — financially and emotionally — to quit my boring corporate job and pursue writing full-time.

In the almost six years since then, a lot of good things have happened. My writing career has taken off. I found a job where I can put my love of words and stories to good use. I made some friends (MGP for life!). I learned how to throw a decent punch and an even better kick. I had the chance to travel to Paris, London, Madrid, and Barcelona, as well as Orlando, Seattle, L.A., Atlanta, Boston, and of course New York and New Jersey. I moved into a fabulous apartment with a gorgeous view.

But some tough things happened too. My grandmother passed away and my dad got injured (he’s okay now). A relationship ended. I realized I suck at making new friends and I missed the ones I already have. My parents keep getting older (how dare they) and I feel just too far away. That was when I knew it was time to move back home.

I’ll certainly miss the Bay Area. I’ll miss the weather — the mild summers, mild winters, and of course Karl the Fog. I’ll miss the calmness and seeing the Pacific Ocean on a daily basis. I’ll miss my fabulous apartment. I’ll miss the wild turkeys that live in my apartment complex, and the goats and sheep that graze on the grassy hill nearby. I’ll miss the million Asian restaurants (which seems silly since it’s not like I’m moving to Idaho). I’ll miss my new friends and being able to see my brother so easily. I’m sure there are a hundred other things I’ll miss, and which I’ll only think of later.

Change is scary, but luckily for me, some things will stay the same. I get to keep my job and work remotely. I’ll still be writing. The online me will still be here. I’ll still be watching tons of TV, running, and traveling the world (next stop, a return to Paris later this month!). But some things have changed, and not just the fact that I actually cook now (well, “cook”).

My writing is stronger. And not just my clip file. Before I left New York, I was having a hard time breaking into the writing biz. Now I feel much more confident. I’ve honed my skills and have a lot more contacts. Not only that, I’ll be back in the center of the writing universe.

I’m much better about being on my own. I’m pretty independent so it feels weird to say that, but for those few years I was living alone in New York, I wasn’t very good at being by myself. I enjoyed my alone time sometimes, but mostly I was pining for a relationship, which I had almost always been in one since I was 21.

These past two and a half years have really been the first time I’ve been completely on my own, not in a relationship, nor just out of one, nor starting — or trying to start — a new one. It’s been just me and my own interests and ambitions, and I’ve really enjoyed it (maybe a little too much).

I’m more appreciative. I was telling a friend that years ago, right after my divorce, when I was finally living my dream of being on my own in Manhattan, in close proximity to several friends whom I saw regularly, I was still lonely. I’d be coming home from a party, walking to my apartment, and I’d be filled with loneliness.

Now I want to shake that person and say, “What’s your problem? Don’t you know how good you had it?” because while now I’m very good now about being my own, it’s not something I want that all the time.

I’m excited to be the person I am now returning to a place I once lived. It almost feels like a do-over.

~ ~ ~

In a few days I’ll be on a one-way flight to Newark. I’ll spend a few days at my parents’ house in New Jersey before moving into my room in Brooklyn. Then just another few days later, I’ll be off to Paris.

My friend asked me if I feel like I’m ending a chapter of my life. I do feel that way, and I’m a little sad about it, but where one chapter ends, a new one begins. I can’t wait to see what it says.