Friday, December 28, 2012

Last Miettes Of The Year

Generally, when people ask me why I chose Montpellier to live in, my answer is that I wanted to live in France, but not in Paris. They are then amazed: who wouldn't want to live in Paris, for heaven's sakes? And I have to remind them that living somewhere and visiting it are two totally different situations. If you live in Paris, you won't be visiting the Musée d'Orsay every day any more than you'll be eating at Chez Paul a couple of times a week. It's also unlikely your apartment will be in the nice neighborhood your hotel is in, either. No, I find Paris congested, not to mention horrendously expensive. Go ahead: next time you're there, window-shop for an apartment. You'll see what I mean.

The down side of Montpellier, as I was warned when I moved here, is that it's provincial. Just as Britain is London-centric, France is Paris-centric, and if you're not in the center, you're missing a lot. For my part, I don't mind: it's not like I'm keeping up on the latest rock tours, and, unlike London and Berlin, Paris doesn't have enough of an art scene to lose any sleep over, outside of shows in the museums. And anyway, Montpellier's provinciality can be amusing. Where else can a dreadlocked hippie draw a huge crowd to watch him honk away on a digideroo and fill his hat with silver? Where else can a guy who knows how to operate, but not exactly play in any meaningful sense of the word, a Chapman Stick, do the same thing (although this guy splits his take with the bongo player he travels with)? The latest miracle arriving on our streets is a pod of publicists handing out flyers while mounted on a Segway, that much-hyped yet sadly under-awesome device. I took a flyer from one the other day, since it had an ad for a new Moroccan restaurant on it and I'm still looking for a decent Moroccan place around here, but the flyer was an ad for the Segway squad, promising good rates to pass out my flyers. Incidentally, from it I learned that they're not called Segways at all. No doubt the Académie Francaise met long into the night to deal with this latest foreign threat (you can tell it's foreign because of the presence of the foreign letter "y" in the name, a letter I'd forgotten is called "i-grecque," or Greek i, in French) before blessing it with a properly French name. These folks are now driving gyropodes, and don't you forget it, bub.

Health update: I had a phenomenal response to my last post here, dealing with my pulmonary embolism and its aftermath, so I feel I should update my progress, although there's nothing much to progress. This condition, while it was definitely life-threatening, isn't like having a heart attack or stroke, where the affected body part (heart, brain) is definitely threatened and often weakened by what happened to it. In other words, the threat of a recurrence of a heart attack or stroke is very real, and the possibility that it might be worse next time is also very real. In my case, the main thing for me is to clear up a tiny thrombosis in my left leg by treating it with anti-coagulants, and to protect against such a thing happening next time I fly by taking some precautions. I'm not totally certain where I am in this treatment, but since leaving the hospital, I had to buy a bunch of new drugs to take morning, noon, and night. Among them was a box of hypodermics with which I had to inject myself twice a day, in the morning and night, which cost €108. Fortunately, this was done in my stomach: I've also had to give blood samples several times a week to see how the anti-coagulants are doing, and in doing so I'm reminded why being a junkie never appealed to me, because my veins are real hard to get to, and it's a painful process, unlike jabbing myself in the gut. But I seem to have reached a good number with the anticoagulants, and have a follow-up with the doctor next week. Probably the biggest shock of the whole treatment was the compression socks, the first pair of which cost me a whopping €40. (I later found a second pair for half that, but dang, those are expensive socks!) It would appear that my next flight (to New York and Austin in March) is on schedule, but there's more travel than that planned at the moment, and I'll report on that in a week and a half. Thanks to all who helped out in this weird crisis, most of whom I've thanked personally since it happened.

One unfortunate health problem, though, has returned: starting in the middle of the afternoon, my ability to smell, which of course affects my ability to taste, shuts down. I don't have a cold, and I'm hoping I don't have to go back to the nose doctor for even more drugs. This has kind of ruined my Christmas cooking, and I hope it passes soon.

One curious food obsession that I wish I could shake, though, is one I never had when I was growing up in New York: bagels. There are times when I just have to have them for breakfast, and this has followed me through some very un-bagel places: San Francisco, Austin, Berlin, and now here. In Austin, a family of Cuban Jews started making some very acceptable ones, and then a neighbor of mine started up an excellent bagel bakery. Berlin suddenly developed a fad for them, with articles in the local magazines saying that bagels (which, they announced, were pronounced "by-gulls") had been developed in New York, thereby avoiding having to think of the eastern Polish and Russian Jews who, in fact, originated them. (A bagel-like pastry is sold to this day on the streets of Krakow, albeit by Catholics). Eventually, some edible ones were made available by a chain that kept changing its name, and visitors to Lübeck and Leipzig could buy even better ones from a chain called Brothers. But in France...

There are a couple of places here that sell bagel-based sandwiches, and all of them get their bagels from the same company that sells them frozen. They're okay, but not worth paying the extraordinary fee for a single bagel, let alone one of the bizarre combinations that fill the sandwiches. Thus, I was surprised to find them in the kosher section of my supermarket, and, later, in the regular breads-and-rolls section. There, I discovered that Regent's Park was making them. This is a French company making fake British baked goods (the wacky website says more than it thinks it does in this regard), and their English muffins (sold as "Rolls," their "Muffins" being English muffins you have to split with a fork and not as good) are part of my regular breakfast rotation. Like the "Rolls," the bagels are sold with a weird image on the package:

I'm not sure it's all that visible, but there's a Marilyn Monroe-like woman with a punk haircut wearing a black leather jacket getting her dress blown up in front of a Union Jack and a picture of a bagel. This image seems to encompass more cultural confusion than anything I've seen in ages: certainly nothing says "Eastern European Jews" to me more than punk chicks and Union Jacks, right? And as you might guess, they're really not very good (nor are the more expensive ones in the kosher section). Ah, well, like I said above, I'm planning to be in New York in a couple of months, although my last visit proved conclusively that it's getting harder to find a decent bagel there these days, too.

Anyway, I'm not sure about you, but I'll be plenty happy to be shut of this year, and I expect the next one will see some largish changes around here. Here's wishing you a "good slide" into '13, as the Germans might say. See you then.


  1. You were willing to experiment with home-made tacos and pizza. Clearly homemade bagels are next. In “Joy of Cooking”- Rombauer describes bagel making step by step. Multiple websites promise accurate tutoring of same. Bon appétit, bon courage!Cheers, ahtoo

  2. Would that it were that easy. First, you need very high-gluten flour, not at all easy to come by in this neighborhood. Then, after the rise, you need to boil them before the egg wash and baking. I know this because I did it (with regular flour, bleh) in Berlin with a recipe from The Brooklyn Cookbook. The results were unmemorable, and the work was very hard, particularly in that tiny kitchen. So this is one I'll leave to qualified professionals.

  3. Well, there were/are Jewish neighborhoods in London (Brick Lane and Golders Green) where one can get kosher food and bagels (or, apparently sometimes, "beigels"). I have a vague recollection of Calvin Trillin talking about a really good -- I think -- kosher Chinese restaurant in Golders Green. So the label on the bagel package isn't necessarily as culturally confusing as it seems.

  4. I've been to Brick Lane, at least, although I haven't had their bagels, which are one of the legendary late-night comfort foods of London. Nobody on Brick Lane was dressed like the young lady in question. In fact, nobody in London was, more's the pity.

  5. Well that's a nice year-end post, Ed. I'm sorry I haven't written you to wish you a get-well. I heard about it late in the experience, and I've been in a deep health-fog for months myself, so I am kinda scattered. Details later, perhaps when you're here in the spring I'll give you a bullet list with a happy ending. Back to your post, I enjoyed it as usual despite my deep seated revulsion for Segways and Chapman Stick. BTW I'll be doing another EBook Meet Up at SXSW this next year. Lots of water under the bridge since last time, and another metaphor should follow that, but I don't know what it would be.

  6. I discovered your site from Gerry Patterson's a few years back and am one of those silent readers. Thought I'd tell you that I just enjoyed listening to your piece on swamp pop on Fresh Air. Thanks! Didn't know the music at all and was glad to learm a bit.

    Hope you are well past your recent medical misadventures.

  7. Hi Ed, Reading about Montpellier (good) and your recent health difficulties (not good) here in the wintry greyness of Southampton, with Hannah and Tom visiting with us for a fortnight, has made for an interesting breakfast accompaniment to my morning coffee (I'm no bagel expert!) as it always is to hear how things are with you. Have a prosperous 2013 in all the ways you would want. In peace


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