mercredi 10 octobre 2007

Call me Mr. Bricolage

I've spent the last few days doing "bricolage", which is the French word for Do-it-yourself. Since our kitchen came stripped, I've had to install kitchen cabinets, shelves, etc, as well as curtain rods for the curtains.

Keep in mind that the walls here aren't drywall, they're solid cement. Well, actually, the walls that should be strong enough to support the weight of cabinets are drywall, and the ones which don't really matter are solid cement, but I digress.

Fortunately, our building's "gardien" (caretaker), who is a nice Portuguese fellow, has lent me his power drill, ladder, saw, etc. The power drill was particularly important: I had to make lots of holes in the cement. We hope the owner doesn't mind if we fill them up with toothpaste when we leave! The gardien also helped me put up the kitchen cabinets and find the right sort of anchors so they could be put on drywall without crashing down from the weight (we hope).

The funny thing is that since I really haven't done that much DIY before moving here, I have now learned a series of French terms for tools and equipment that I simply don't know how to say in English. I imagine someday I'll be at Home Depot at Mall of the Americas asking for chevilles or boulons a expansion. That's OK, the people who work at Home Depot at Mall of the Americas probably don't speak English either. (¿ Y este pa' que me habla en haitiano?)

I must say, though, that after a few hard days' work, I'm quite proud with the results, which I will share with you in these before and after pictures.

dimanche 7 octobre 2007

French prices are driving me to drink

Ok. so the dollar is tumbling against the Euro and Europe is not exactly a cheap place to be for those of us living on the modest greenback. Even so, many things in Paris aren't nearly as expensive as one might imagine (while others are just incomprehensively outrageous). There sometimes seems to be little rhyme or reason to the pricing regime here. A few weeks ago I went out to our local vegetable seller to buy some vegetables for dinner and ended up spending close to 30 Euros for some mushrooms and some salad. Turns out these mushrooms (cepes) cost 40 Euros a kilo, and they aren't even the magic kind!!! I figured I must have stumbled upon some rare delicacy along the lines of truffles from Perigord, but then I saw that another vegetable shop around the block sold the very same cepes for only 12 Euros a kilo. What gives? Did I just happen to stumble upon a pirate vegetable seller? Not really: many of his other products were very reasonably priced, some less so than the local Leader Price (cheap-o supermarket).

Why this big difference in prices? I have no idea, but you really need to check the prices before you buy in this town, and it pays to shop around.

Which leads me to the price of eating and drinking out in cafes and such. While a night out on the town in Paris is certainly not cheap, the prices of food in Cafes is not necessarily that expensive compared to the US, when you consider that what you see on the menu is what you pay (taxes are included and you normally don't have to leave big tips, just round up if the service was good). Many Parisian restaurants and cafes have some sort of fixed price deal where you can get appetizers, mains and dessert for a set price (around 11 Euros at the cheaper sort of establishment). The real profit generators seem to be the drinks. Maki and I have noticed that we don't hydrate well when we're out and about, but that's because a small bottle of water or a canned soft drink costs no less than 4 Euros at most places, so it kinda hurts to go get a can of coke or a bottle of Evian when you're thirsty. But here's the funny part: at just about any restaurant or cafe a half-pint of beer or a glass of wine costs about the same, or maybe only 50 cents more. At those kind of prices, why bother drinking water? If you're going to plonk down the cash, you might as well get some alcohol, right? Water??? Fish have sex in water.

So, it seems the pricing system for drinks in this country is driving the population towards alcoholism (or us, in any event).