Thursday, March 5, 2009

School of Seven Bells - Redundancy at the Sh*thole on the Canal

Mortstiff, that's your's truly, is in a particularly surly mood tonight, so pardon my French. Earlier this evening - because you'd know if you've lived here in Paris that rock concerts never take place late in the evening as in normal cities like New York or Boston - I attended the School for Seven Bells alternative music concert at the Point Ephemere, the cultural/arts/restaurant center in the 10th arrondisement, smack dab on the Quai de Valmy, which runs along the Canal Martin. Yes, this sounds pretty picturesque - a late Winter's evening in Paris along the romantic Canal Martin, and it would have been if the dump known as the Point Ephemere wasn't situated there.

What is the Point Ephemere, you ask? Well, here is the English description from their web site: "Point Ephémère is a center for artistic dynamics located in Paris 10th district, in the former construction material store, Point P. The concert hall was intentionally designed as a convivial equipment, militant for a medium capacity furthering the connection with the audience." Oh-Kay! Confused? I thought you'd be. But you get the idea. I'm not sure how they did it, but the photos of the restaurant/bar, dance studio, and even the concert hall make it look like, well, a truly nice center for artistic dynamics and convivial dynamics, uhm, you know what I mean. But let me tell you, in person, you probably wouldn't want to dine in the restaurant, and from personal experience, I can tell you that the concert hall truly sucks. 'Concert hall,' is really a misnomer. Imagine, your buddy in New Jersey has invited you and a bunch of your college pals to a keg party in the unfinished basement of his lumberjack father and occasional boozer mom's house past the 'burbs. That kind of concert hall.

I do have to give credit to the Point. In addition to offering studio space for artists and performers, at least they have some original programming when it comes to bringing in some groups a bit off the beaten Parisian concert tour path. I've seen satisfying concerts there by Matt Elliott, Idaho, and Album Leaf. Well, 'seen' might be a slight exaggeration. Unless you are in the first row, you can't see much with a packed house. The room is much smaller than the accompanying photo suggests, and when it fills up, and you have some people standing in front of you, well, good luck. The stage isn't that elevated - if you twist and turn occasionally you can catch a glimmer through the crowd of what's going on onstage.

What was going on onstage earlier tonight was a performance by the 3-piece aforementioned group, let's call them 7 Bells for short. Just a question - is it still 3-piece if the two girls are twins? When I was able to see all three onstage between the occasional cracks amidst the utterly rude, pushy, noisy, beer swilling stinkballs in the crowd, the combined ages of the performers looked to be around 26. They were 12-year-olds, weren't they? According to every student's favorite unverified source of information, Wikipedia, 7 Bells was 'formed by Benjamin Curtis (musician) of Secret Machines, together with identical twins Alejandra and Claudia Deheza, formerly of On! Air! Library!'. It's hard to believe that Big Ben has had the time in his apparently short sweet life (sweet to hang around with those twins, I would imagine), to have already been in two groups! The group's name apparently refers to a mythical school for training pickpockets. How outre!

Anyway, the music. The twins had their harmonies down to perfection, so perfect that every song sounded alike, as if sung by twin robots. The persistent percussion - thud, thud, thud - from a non-existent drummer and a non-existent bass player. An ex-musician myself, I would be embarrassed to be considered a recording artist if one of the members of my group played the drums and bass from a little black synthesizer! Maybe that's the true source of my surly mood. Might as well have a DJ. The music was listenable enough - imagine Dead Can Dance crossed with My Bloody Valentine, the whole fundamentally less than the parts. Dramatic special effects - smoke machine and a blinding light show - gave one the impression that something more interesting was going on onstage than actually was.

The design of the Point leaves much to be desired. During the summer, like every rock music venue in Paris, it lacks ventilation and is unbearably hot. Come to think of it, during the Winter it lacks ventilation and is unbearably hot, too. But worse, the bar is situated along the far left wall, so throughout the concert, you can expect unshaven, unwashed, musically-challenged yappers (portable phone, buddy, or just talking outloud to themselves) pushing and otherwise manhandling their way through the crowd to get another brewski. As Clint Eastwood bemoans in Gran Torino, what is it with young people these days? On my way out, I espied a couple French youth dangling from the roof painting graffiti on one of the few bare spots on the Point's outer wall. Probably a couple rejects from the Peace and Love Hostel up the street. Bah, humbug.

Point Éphémère

200 Quai de Valmy • 75010 Paris
metro: Jaures
tél : 01 40 34 02 48 •

School of Seven Bells (New York)
Latest CD: Alpinisms (2008)
web site:

Monday, March 2, 2009


Whenever I return to the States, and it is becoming less and less frequent, there are three things that quickly leap into my consciousness: (1) the cars are huge, (2) the people are fat, and (3) the dishes in the restaurants are nearly as big as the cars. Is it any wonder that so many Americans are obese? Exactly how much can one person eat during a meal? Don't answer that question. And yet, even with the virtually requisite doggy bag to haul home enough leftovers for tomorrow's breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you still have that compelling urge to unbuckle your belt. By comparison, the offerings in France are virtually miniscule. Yet after dining in Paris, you quickly realize that although the dishes in the restaurants look like kiddie portions,you never leave hungry and you never need to undo your belt. I don't know how they do it, but most French chefs have the uncanny ability to provide the exact amount of food you need to leave the restaurant sighing, 'I ate the whole thing and I feel perfect - not hungry and not full.'

These points are rather common knowledge to any American ex-pats living in France, I am sure. But I was compelled to ponder them again when I happened upon a 'Leftovers' thread over at the 'Our Paris' web forum. The discussion basically centered on how the concept of leftovers is unheard of in French restaurants, and I would have to agree. If the chefs are preparing just the right amount for each of the typical three courses (entree, plat, dessert, with or without cheese, and coffee, the latter often served with little patisseries), then logically, you will eat everything on each plate you receive and there will be nothing left. By doing so, you are signaling to the chef how he/she got it right again. But if you leave a couple morsels, it is telling the chef something quite different, which is, 'that sucked.' So you can understand, there is no possibility for any leftovers - you either ate everything, or you left a little bit to embarrass the chef. This isn't to suggest that the French aren't moving as well towards the world of the expanded waistline - they are. Bear in mind, they don't eat in the restaurant every night, and if they do, that restaurant might be McDonald's (or McDo as the French call it). Of course, if you follow my restaurants blog and eat at the places I rave about, leaving anything for a doggy bag, no matter how much the little mutts are worshiped in France, would be sacrilegious - just have a look at the photos - a typical meal at Les Magnolias. If you're not going to finish that, can I have it?

But what about wine? Aah, that is an interesting question. Back at Our Paris, anne266 from Alsace commented: On the other hand, what has become perfectly acceptable now is to bring home the leftover wine . A few restaurants even advertise it, they have special thick paper bags for this. For all those who don't advertise it, you should ask whether it is possible when you order the wine. Reason it that restaurants saw their sales of wine decreasing as the driving-under-the-influence-of-alcohol regulations tightened . Since restaurant make their biggest margin on alcohol, not on food, they had to adapt to the new situation.

Now, I may be known for many things, but at the top of the list is, 'Mortstiff - a man who can hold his liquor.' Nonetheless, I am very pleased to hear of this new development towards doggy wine bags in French restaurants, for the reasons described by anne266, and also the recognition that on those extremely rare nights when your stomach is feeling a little queasy, you're on your own, you just can't finish more than two-thirds of your 60€ bottle of wine, and you're thinking how well that last third would enlighten the chicken nuggets slated for tomorrow's lunch, it just becomes unbearable to bid that 20€ worth of leftover wine 'adieu' as you pay your bill and slip away into the cold, hard Parisian night. So let's hear it for the 'taking your leftover wine home with you' concept - great idea. Actually, now that I think about it, the whole idea of leaving a drop of wine in the bottle before exiting the restaurant just sounds completely ridiculous.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Indian Pickles Recipe

I will share with you my recipe for Indian pickles - the one I have found easiest in terms of preparation and lowest in expense:

1. Be in Paris.
2. Wake up, get dressed - just throw on anything, you're not going to the nicest area of town.
3. Take the metro to the Gare du Nord.
4. Take the rue Faubourg St Denis exit and walk up that street in the direction of the hospital Fernand Widal. After one short block, you will reach the New Pondichery restaurant, 189 rue du Faubourg Saint Denis. Look at the front window display and make sure they have some tandoori chicken, etc. that you can carry out so that you will have something to eat with the Indian pickles you are about to buy.
5. Walk about a half block and you will begin to come across Indian
'cash & carry' grocery shops. I prefer the second one on the left, but it doesn't matter - they will all have several shelves of Patak's Original pickles.
Take your pick, that's why they call them pickles. I recommend Garlic Pickles and Mixed Pickles. Buy several, because you never know when you'll be back.
6. Walk back to Gare du Nord and take the train home.
7. Viola, your Indian pickles are ready for consumption, plus you ended up with a nice Indian meal as well that required no real additional preparation.

Just a suggestion: To enhance the culinary potential of the pickles, be sure to drink plenty of liquids during your meal. The pickles are rather spicy - some more so than others. The Garlic pickles less so, the lime pickles more so. I recommend drinking red wine, vodka, or whiskey, but not at the same time. I am not a beer drinker, but my guess is that you can't go wrong with a decent six-pack.

I find that these pickles go with virtually anything - fish dishes, pasta, eggs, poultry, vegetarian dishes - you name it.

Warning: These pickles, as prepared above, are highly addictive. You may want to consult your family doctor about the specific risks to your internal organs - especially your stomach - prior to consumption.

While I'm on the topic, my recommendation for best Indian and Pakistani restaurant in the Ile-de-France is in the Paris suburb- I kid you not - Rosny-sous-Bois, 25 rue General Leclerc: Shalimar, which is one block up from the RER E station. Excellent cuisine, inexpensive, and warm welcome. Order the excellent Stuffed Paratha (Indian bread with vegetables) to start off your meal, and you will receive a small plate of Indian pickles.

For more great advice, visit Paris Beyond's companion blog:
(Review of Shalimar forthcoming.)

Welcome to Beyond Paris Restaurants

Now that my Paris restaurants blog has attained enormous popularity and has reached a level of success that I never could have imagined, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors in the short one year of its existence, I have decided to begin a companion blog for fathoming other topics related to life in the French capital - shopping, grievances, recipes, anecdotes, FAQs, plumbing repair suggestions (okay, don't hold your breath on that one), and assorted other advice and recommendations.

I was inspired for the first real blog installment by the thread on the Total France website on pickle and chutney recipes to share my own personal favorite recipe for Indian pickles. So, sit back, fire up your laptop, and enjoy your visit to Beyond Paris.