Perfect Saturday along Canal St Martin

Alliance Francais

I just completed 3 weeks of intensive french at Alliance Francaise. It’s been probably 20+ years since I last studied french (at AF in New York) and over 10 years since I visited France and used my French. I am at level where I can get by with ¬†day to day stuff, can understand quite a lot, but have difficulty speaking (make many errors) and can’t easily have a deep discussion. I was extremely rusty, but the past 3 weeks have been very useful.¬†Reviewed¬†lots of the grammar and things are slowly coming back. Manage to spend the whole evening speaking mostly only french with local friends….

Class was 5 days a week from 1:30pm-5:30pm at AF in the Latin Quarter. 20 minutes on the metro from our Apartment.

I was joined in class by an eclectic and fun group of people with a wide range of nationalities: (Ecuador, Japan, Russia, Poland, Austria, USA, China, Iran,  Spain, Ukraine, Italy, Turkey), Ages (18-60+) and professions (Doctor, Au pair and priest to name a few). Everyone is eager to learn and we all spoke French to each other during breaks. Teachers (Tony and Miriem) are excellent with a great attitude and materials are also well thought out. The picture is from a student organized cheese  tasting last Friday after Class:

Next week I’ll start a Oral workshop twice a week and continue doing some self study on solidifying what we worked on in the past 3 weeks.

P.S – Jennifer is close to fluent in French (though she denies it ;-))


Valle de Belagua Hike

We did two day hikes while in Pays Basque, one in France, the other in Spain. I particularly liked this one in the Valle de Belagua, Spain as it was extremely diverse . The area is just on the border of France and Spain and we had read that there were karst (see wikipedia) formations in the area – so we asked the tourist office if they could suggest any hikes. The person at the tourist office said there were no organized trails and sent us to a cross country ski area and said we should walk the trails. When we got to the area – we couldn’t figure where to go, but across the parking lot was a¬†trail-head¬†so we decided to try it. We were not disappointed. ¬†Photos and videos below:

La Pachanga and Alex Salserito

Thanks to Ofer’s diligent scouring of¬†all-things-Cuban-in-Paris,¬†we discovered another fantastic spot for lessons with the added benefit of a roaring good party afterward.¬† And on a Monday night at that.¬† La Pachanga is located in the 14th and features Alex Salserito.¬†¬†Alex¬†presides over two hours of casino and suelta lessons (which start somewhere between 7 and 8) before he moves into the DJ box around 10 pm.¬† If you like the spaghetti arm moves, Alex is your man.¬† Great group of dancers here, very friendly and welcoming.¬†¬†Women will especially enjoy the ratio of men to women (about 3:2), or lead to follow, as the case may be.¬† (I should say that the men here are also quite good follows.)¬†¬†8 euros gets you entry to the club, dance lessons and a cocktail.¬† Coat¬†check is another 2 euros.¬† Not too shabby!¬†

Suelta with Harold el Bantu

Wednesday nights are now dedicated to suelta classes with Harold el Bantu.¬† (His last name is Kinanga, but el Bantu makes it fun, non?)¬† Each class is thoughtfully organized and well-paced with each move building in complexity.¬† Ofer learns more quickly, but I begin every new addition agonizing, Ohh, I’ll never get this tonight.¬† And 5 or 6 reviews later, we’re all stepping to music with surprising ease.¬† Harold’s instruction is top-shelf.

When¬†in Paris, don’t miss Harold el Bantu.¬† Find him here:

Studio Le Legato

145 rue de Belleville Paris 19

Metro 11 – Station JOURDAIN

Mardi 21h15 : Cours Niveau 1

Mercredi 20h45 : Cours Niveau 2

Pays Basque – Goats on the Road to Spain

Free range goats.

Lounging goats.

In the spirit of killing time and getting lost, we decided to take the scenic route from St. Jean Pied de Port to St. Jean de Luz (both in France) via Spain.¬†¬†¬†We’d been sampling a lot of goat cheese along the way, trying to figure out¬†why it’s so¬†tasty.¬† We’re guessing it’s¬†the daily workout high in the Pyrenees.

Goat cheese in all its pretty packages.

More Pays Basque – A Traditional Liqueur

Prunelle (wild plum) trees.


What trip would be complete without tasting the local brews?¬† We met Jean-Marie at the daily market, a vendor who introduced us to Patxaran (also spelled Basaran).¬† As Jean-Marie tells it, Patxaran is an “ancient traditional” Basque¬†liqueur of prunelle and anise.¬† Prunelle is a native species of “wild” plum.¬† (I¬†say “wild” because he actually¬†cultivates the trees¬†on his farm in order to produce the liqueur.)¬† We¬† dropped by his farm one evening for aperatif and¬†a tour of the prunelle orchard.¬† Over glasses of his home concoctions, he regaled us with tales of his three months travelling Israel¬†and some key points about Basque political history.¬† The night ended with a plea for the upcoming¬†U.S. presidential race.¬† Jean-Marie says, “Please.¬† Please give Obama more time.¬† We finally feel like we have¬†a real partner.”¬† He didn’t quite understand the expression “preaching to the choir” but¬†we promised¬†to do our part.

Jean-Marie’s farm outside Bayonne.

Our Paris Apartment

It took a few days, but we found a great apartment in the 18th arrondissement (district) in Paris. Its great because it is nice and big without breaking our budget: 75 square meters one bedroom apartment, which is huge Рmost places we looked at were in the 40ish sq m. We are close to the metro on two good lines (though most places in Paris are). The area is very diverse with a lot of ethnic food and markets as well as more upscale stores. We rented it from a couple who are traveling to China for three months Рexactly the time we needed.  The building is an old one with tall ceilings and a beautiful staircase and hallway. We are on a main street, but have double glazed windows.

There are 6 (if not more) bakeries (we have only tried 3 so far) within 1 block of us. Click here if you want to stroll out neighborhood with Google Street View.

Pays Basque – St. Jean de Luz

With Pascal. New Year’s 2010.

Thanks to our dear brother Pascal (merci notre frere!), we scored an ocean side studio while we waited to get into our Paris apartment.  Pascal connected us to Michel and Helene, who graciously let us use their vacation studio as a base while we explored the Pyrenees.  Mil eshker, Helene and Michel!!

Breakfast. Well, actually it’s brunch at 5:00.


Pays Basque – France

A “new traditional” Basque home with back yard.

It takes a day or two, but the first thing one notices about the scenery all around Pays Basque is the absence of visual clutter – no neon, no billboards, no heaps of clunker cars or abandoned machinery.¬†¬†It’s just not there.¬† Every blink is a postcard.

We loved the distinctive flavor of Basque country.¬† The architecture, the cheese, the wine and the people all¬†take a hard turn from typical French culture.¬†¬†Even with all of France’s distinctive regions, Pays Basque feels like a world of its own.

Traditional Basque architecture.