Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tapas en españa y le bistro française

Last night I got back from Paris, the second stop in a whirlwind weekend of work-related travel beginning on Thursday evening in Barcelona. My brain is currently not quite sure which language to tune into, and as my cab rolled to the first hotel a few days ago I couldn't quite believe it had been 10 years since I had come to Europe and to this very city. It was such a different context: I was with a group of 16 year olds whose goal pretty much centered around managing to drink without being carded (in fact thanks to my chaperone I had my first - and fourth- glass of wine)!!

Many wine glasses later, here I was coming to participate in an EU initiative meeting on gender and science with a group of European academics. After checking into a swank bistro hotel (quite the opposite of my little cave at my next destination) and reviewing some research, I set out on a mission - to find really good tapas. The olives in the mini bar were a tantalizing prelude to something better :) The late hour and warm temperature were perfect for wandering - the Spanish, unlike the Swiss, eat very late so the fact that it was after 9pm when I strolled by a small, off-the-thouroughfare restaurant near Avinguda Diagonal made me more like one of the locals. What didn't was that although I know a fair amount of Spanish, I wasn't prepared for the Catalán menu. I ended up ordering two dishes I thought were something else. At least I got the manchego cheese plate right! And the next morning breakfast was phenomenal - the buffet was visual, so no issues there. The spread featured very tasty cured Spanish meats like chorizo and varous cheeses. It helped make getting lost on the way to the venue more bearable ;)

After 48 hours and a stop back in Zürich and to pick up new materials/clothes, I was winding through Charles de Gaulle airport - a very frustrating experience. I am hardly in a place to complain, but let me just put it constructively and say that through trial and error I was able to give a lost French couple directions to Paris. Now I do take some blame on myself for trying go all native and take three trains to my hotel all the way in the 16éme arrondissement (for NYers it's kind of like training it from JFK to the Upper East Side). I did eventually find my box/room. I spent a couple of hours going over my speaker's notes, a half an hour on free Wifi at McDo, and then made it a point to hop the bus to the center of the city. I had dinner and wine on the Ile de Saint Louis. It was the perfect day to be out - 21 June is the summer solstice and a there are literally bands on every corner as it's tradition to make music. I ate outside, struck up a convo with a retiree American couple when I finished my paper, and watched as the sun did not set until after 10. The streets were packed but I caught the last bus back to Sainte-Cloud -which was a completely amusing experience. The bus filled quickly and ran out of space, resulting in the bus driver yelling at us to avancer au fond du bus and the retorts of il n'y a pas de place! We all bonded in our sardine-packed misery...though with the Tour Eiffel and Louvre as a backdrop I have to say it was rather surreal!!

The next day I found my way to the beautiful headquarters of the OECD, where I and a minister from Norway presented to an intimate audience about women on boards. It was fantastic, there is nothing like Q&A with the French who are not afraid to get impassioned and explore the grey areas. And afterward, our hosts took us to a great lunch at a brasserie called Le Flandrin. I won't boast except to praise my appetizer - warm goat cheese melted on toasts and an arugula salad. Mmmmm~! I may have to ask about the wine as well, it complemented the dishes well.

All to say the culinary rainbow is a wonderful thing, particularly in these two cultures where dining is celebrated as an art. Ç'est ça précisement.

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