Monday, August 29, 2011

My third ever

A couple of weeks have sufficiently passed and I think I can now safely say that I’ve recovered from my birthday celebrations. My third ever summer birthday turned into a four day event. Spontaneous early drinks, special  international guests, an apartment crammed full of people, a birthday cake, then ‘the cake’, and endlessly flowing champagne, all made for a memorable birthday.

August in Paris is pretty dead, except for the tourists that is. The streets are super quiet, many stores are closed with signs informing you that the owners have gone on their summer vacations and those that are open have relaxed trading hours. August is when all the Parisians take their holidays in search of sun and the sea.

I too was in search of sunshine.  It was the sun and the long balmy summer evenings that I was most looking forward to for my birthday. Back in Oz, it’s cold, often wet and dark at 5:30pm when it comes time to celebrating my birthday. So I had these grand plans of having dinner at a restaurant el fresco, waiting for the sun to set after 10pm, only to go out dancing.

The eventuality wasn’t too far off, except for the fact that I was kindly reminded of Melbourne during the four days of celebrations, with rain on each and every day.

With my birthday falling on a Sunday this year, and some of my colleagues beginning their summer holidays that weekend, an impromptu after-work drinks were suggested on the Thursday evening. Pleasantly surprised, I cycled down to the bar near work, having to put on my rain jacket, and forgetting to put a plastic bag on my saddle, it meat that I had to ride standing up to avoid a soggy bottom. A few glasses of Sancerre and I was off home to begin preparations for the weekend.

Three dips later (roast capsicum, spinach, beetroot), and a clean and tidy apartment, I was in bed well after midnight. With only a few hours sleep I was up early getting further preparations ready, this time they involved visiting the artisan bakery for freshly baked croissant and pain au chocolat, all in anticipation of my special guest. Riding into work on Friday, I had to stop less than a kilometre from home to once again don the rain jacket.

“Ok, fine, don’t behave like summer, but Paris please don’t rain. This really isn’t fair.”  I was pleading as my rain jacket proceeded to stick to me like plastic wrap. Of course, within 30 minutes of arriving at work, the rain had stopped and the sun was out. Grr... as I tried to dry out all my gear in my office.

Watching the clock intently all day, I finally knocked off a little early so I go home to be greeted by my ex-housemate from Australia and best friend, Pete (aka Petey, aka Housey) waiting for me. Pete had just relocated to the UK and made a special trip just for my birthday. After a bone crushing hug, we started rattling away to each other like no time and distance had ever passed.

“Right, let’s hit a local bar to start with this evening” I suggested. “Then let’s see where the night takes us.” Walking down the street, it starts to spitting. With freshly straightened hair, I quickly whip out the umbrella. The spitting turns into drizzle, then light rain and I’m ushering Pete under its protective sphere. We find ourselves at an intersection and we’re presented with a choice, much like a ‘Choose your own Adventure’ novel of my youth. The light rain had turned to rain proper, and it was difficult to keep us both dry. Do we go straight for another two blocks where I know there is a store which sells umbrellas? Or, do we turn right in the direction of the bar, except I can’t remember how many blocks it is?

We take option 1.

We grab another umbrella and proceed back to the direction of the bar, except that now the rain has turned into a torrential downpour. Buckets and buckets of rain are coming down, and there is a good couple of centimetres of rain on the footpaths and roads. Our individual umbrellas are not cutting the mustard, particularly my new (admittedly cheap) umbrella which keeps coming down on me, and then springs a leak, so I’m getting rained on under the umbrella. At this point I give up all hopes of maintaining straight non-frizzy hair. We have to seek shelter, we’re in the middle of a summer storm!

The local

We huddle in the doorway of a closed store trying to assess whether the sheets of white rain were easing at all. Then, with the mentality of an endurance event, we decide to push on, metre by metre, stopping under awnings and any other cover we could find. Our jeans were saturated and heavy, and our shoes full of water and slushy. We finally get to Le Signal, the bar, which only happened to be two blocks from the intersection where we made our fateful decision. Drenched and in desperate need of a drink, we plant our wet bodies on the couches and order.

Of course, as was predicted by Pete and me whilst huddled in an alcove only metres from the bar, five minutes from arriving at the bar the rain stops and the sun comes out. Argghhh!

A couple of hours later, having dried off somewhat, but now sporting wavy frizzy hair, and still wet squishy shoes, we decide to grab a bite to eat at local restaurant which we’d been recommended. No sooner than leaving the bar it starts to rain. WTF? It hadn’t rained the whole time we were at the bar, and now it starts to rain. Spare me!

My birthday, with one of my best friends in tow, had well and truly started. Pete and I did our usual trick when we got back to my place that evening of having a Berocca before going to bed. This ensured that the pre-celebratory/catch-up drinks weren’t nearly as painful the next day.

After a little sleep in, Petey and I are out the door with my shopping trolley in hand doing the rounds of the local shops to get supplies for my extended celebrations with friends that evening. First stop Nicolas, the local bottle-o, “Will 8 bottles of champagne be enough you reckon for 10 people?” I’m consulting with Pete. Pete and I have a long history of throwing and preparing parties together. With a foundation of champagne in the bottom of the trolley, next stop, my fruit and veggie store which despite others being closer is my fav because it has good quality produce and good prices – I should know thanks to the many my teenage years working in a supermarket.

Not only were we getting ingredients for that evening, but for lunch that day also, as another friend was coming over.  A quick stop into the florist to pick up my weekly bunch of flowers for the mantle over the once active fireplace in my apartment, then off to the supermarket. My closest supermarket is Monoprix and whilst on first entry and inspection is appears to be a rather large and impressive store, but it is what I dub ‘the shittest Monoprix in the world’.  Now my former supermarket colleagues would understand when I say that it doesn’t stock many lines leading to a lack of variety and the layout is not intuitive.  Yes of course it’s a brilliant idea to put the tinned fish products across the aisle from the cat food...consumers would love that!

Where are the damn vol-au-vents? Vol-au-vents are little savoury pastry cases that you fill with your desired filling. I’m going mad running around in circles. Trying to think in the logic of the shittest Monoprix in the world, where would they have put them? Nope, they are simply not here. A quick message to my lunch guest to see if they can pick them up at their Auchan supermarket on their way over. I later learn that they were sent on a wild goose chase through their supermarket in search of the vol-au-vents but unlike me eventually secured them. This is France, you’d think that in the country famous for their hors d’oeuvres you could get them easily. Apparently not.

Lunch of mango chicken on a bed of herb, walnut and sultana cous cous (if you’re in France it’s spelt couscous) goes down a treat as we enjoy the various rosé wine. No time to relax though, there are many canapés to prepare. In my unusually spacious Parisian kitchen I get to work.

“Meow, meow, meow” I can hear coming from my courtyard. Looking out my kitchen window straight into the courtyard I can see a cat on the roof of my apartment’s shed/bin storage area. “Meow, meow, meow” Ok, enough already! Then in a matter of moments, various people from my apartment appear in the courtyard and two people from the apartment next door are crawling on the roof top towards the cat. One of my neighbours has erected a ladder and is beginning his ascent. A dramatic cat rescue was in progress.

With the cat draped around his neck much like a scarf, the cat is brought safely to earth. A vigorous discussion then ensues amongst one wants the cat.

Time is running out, so I start direct my kitchen hands to undertake various canapé making tasks. At 6:30pm all the gringnotage is arranged in my lounge and I’m off to change into my party frock...newly purchased of course.

The pop of the first champagne cork goes off not long past 7:00pm, and slowly but surely my guests begin to arrive. The champagne is flowing, the dips are being sampled, and the canapés are being consumed. Our restaurant reservation is pushed back to 10:00pm as we leave my apartment in search of a number of taxis. Of course it’s raining and I’m desperately protecting my hair.

Party Peeps
More Party Peeps
Dinner - complete with low light ambience 
Dinner at Le Sainte Marthe is lively with more champagne, rosé and red wine. By all accounts everyone’s meals are delightful. My guests managed to sing Happy Birthday to me on no less than two occasions during dinner, knowing that it mortified me each and every time. Despite not ordering any dessert, a surprise sparkler covered sweet indulgence is placed in front of me and yet another rendition of Happy Birthday is belted out. Gawd!

On leaving the restaurant there is vigorous discussion over the alleged estimated time to walk to the Biz’art the bar where the night of dancing was to begin. Taking 5 minutes longer (ha!), we arrive and enter to proceed straight to the bar.
Biz'art bar

The house, soul and classic R’n’B tunes gets everyone on the dance floor. George Benson’s Song Given me the Night draws me to Petey as it’s one of our classic party tunes. With lots of dancing, I’m blocking out my sore feet and am surveying the interesting crowd to spot a guy with a “Running sucks” t-shirt. He’s also wearing over-sized Audrey Hepburn-esque sunglasses (yes indoors at night), a red check Jordanian head scarf tucked up in a turban style on his head and red bedazzled sandals. Righty-o! It is this very same character that later steals our taxi out front of the bar after we hailed it.
Classic housies shot

One final night-cap back at chez moi before crawling into bed close to 5:30am – wow, a solid 10.5 hours. A nice birthday sleep in, I’m feeling rather good given the previous night’s frivolity. A champagne is promptly thrust into my hand as I enter my kitchen “Happy Birthday!” I have a smile on my face as the sun is finally shining outside.

My actual birthday was rather low-key. An ambling stroll in the warmth of the sun, finally landing at a cafe to choose a table outside to enjoy some lovely wine and cheese...what else is there to do in Paris.

Birthday dinner is at a local speciality tartare (traditional French dish of raw minced meat) restaurant. As we’re preparing to go home to have some cake, it begins to rain....ah the final touch to my birthday.

Mmmm....raspberry cake
Thanks to Petey I have a raspberry birthday cake to cut. Whilst it wasn’t ‘the cake’, which is my traditional family cake I’ve had for each and every one of my birthdays since I was born, it was lovely to celebrate with yet another singing of the ‘that’ song. I subsequently made ‘the cake’ a week later to get closure on my birthday, ha ha.

A big thank you to my friends and family back home who also joined in on the merriment by sending me lovely pressies, messages and ringing to speak to me.

To my wonderful new friends in Paris, plus Housey, my sincerest appreciation for helping me celebrate my third ever summer birthday, I felt very spoilt by your kind gifts and cards. This birthday will be one that I will remember forever.

1 comment:

  1. I dont think u will ever want to come back Sweetie but we miss u here love Eliza xxx