Tag Archives: food

One short day in the Emerald City…I mean, Paris!

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One short day in the Emerald City…I mean, Paris!

When I was in London last month, I decided to take a day trip to Paris.  Why?  Because I could!  There is something very cool about boarding a train in London and coming out in the heart of Paris just a little more than two hours later.  And, if you book far enough ahead of time, the fares for the Eurostar high-speed rail are pretty inexpensive.  I took the earliest train from London St. Pancras, which leaves at 7:00am.

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I got to the station in plenty of time to grab a coffee and a croissant.  I meant to exchange some money for Euros, but I didn’t have time…I figured I’d do that when I got to Gare du Nord.  The train was comfortable and I napped most of the way.  When we arrived in Paris, I immediately went to the nearest Bureau du  Change and inserted my debit card into the machine – as I have done many, many times before in many, many places.  Only this time, the machine gave me this message:

“Transaction défendue. Carte retenue.”

Which means “Transaction denied.  Card retained.”

I stood staring stupidly at the machine for at least a minute.  Then I went over to one of the women behind the change booth.  “Your machine kept my card,” I told her.  “Cards are a 12% commission,” she replied.  I tried again.  “The machine didn’t give me my card back!”  She looked at me with a bored expression. “That’s not our machine,” she said.

I went back to the machine and looked at it again.  My card had not magically reappeared.  I went to the second booth and changed the measly £30 (pounds) I had into €30 (Euros) which theoretically should have been about €37, but there apparently was a 10% commission on cash.  Whatever.  I tried one more time to find out what to do about the card-consuming machine.  This time, I was told, “There’s a number on the machine you can call.”

Figuring that trying to get someone out there to open up the machine and return my card would likely eat into most of my day, I decided to forget it.  I now had a bit of cash, I had other credit cards and most places took credit anyway.  I walked out into the bright Paris sunshine and started to walk towards Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sienne.

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I have a love-hate relationship with Paris.  It is not a very friendly city.  People are brusque and sometimes downright rude. The streets can be crowded and confusing.  But – you are never more than 500 meters from a metro station…and wherever you walk, you see gorgeous architecture, fountains and statues.

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It was a hot and sunny day and I stopped frequently to sit, take pictures and just soak in the busy-ness of Paris.  Finally I reached Notre Dame Cathedral.

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Entrance to the cathedral is free, but the line snaked all the way around the block…and I have been inside before.  I love the square, though and the magnificent statues around the arches of the doors.

I found a little cafe a couple of blocks away and had a lunch of home-made pâté, crusty bread, poached salmon with potatoes and red wine.  I mentioned my problems with the cash machine to the waiter and he told me he thought all the machines at Gare de Nord were faulty.  Luckily, this place took American Express.

I then continued my walk along the Sienne.  There are beautiful bridges and a walkway right down by the river.  One of them is the famous “Pont des Arts” where it has become a tradition for lovers to “lock up” their love by putting a padlock on the bridge and then throwing the key into the river.   IN recent years, this has become a problem, as there are now so many locks on the bridge that there is danger of collapse and rust from the locks is leaching into the Sienne.  Apparently, a portion of the railing actually did collapse this past June and was replaced by plywood.  There has been talk of trying to ban the practice of placing locks, but to my eyes, this has not had much effect.

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I continued walking until I came to the Tuileries Garden.  This used to be part of the Tuileries Palace, which was destroyed during the French Revolution.  The Gardens are now open to the public, with many beautiful fountains, statues and plantings.  It is a popular place to walk, sit, read, get a bite to eat and just hang out.

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I found a public toilet at the end of the garden.  Unlike London, which prides itself on its many available, clean and free public toilets, Paris’ facilities will cost you 2 euros.  $2.65.  To have a pee.  I was outraged.  However, I didn’t think anyone would take kindly to my using a bush in the public garden…so I coughed up my €2.

By this time, I could clearly see “la tour Eiffel” in the distance.

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I continued out of the Tuileries and along Avenue des Champs-Elysées…that very famous street with the Arc de Triomphe at the end.

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There was a lovely side section along the Champs-Elysees called “Allée Marcel Proust” with some benches, green grass and a couple of statues dedicated to the writer.  I got myself a fruit drink from a vendor, spread my scarf out in the shade and lay down.

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When I woke up, it was a bit cooler.  I continued to walk, past the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais and across the Sienne again.  I made my way down to the pedestrian walkway right on the river and stopped at a cafe for a cappuccino and some people-watching.  I was right by the Pont Alexandre – such a beautiful bridge.

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By now it was getting to be late afternoon.  I decided to re-cross the Sienne one last time and find myself a new place for dinner.  I had dearly wanted cassoulet, but it was really too hot for it, so I opted for some delicious French onion soup and a huge salad Niçoise (tomatoes, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, Niçoise olives, and anchovies with a vinaigrette dressing.)  Accompanied by crusty bread and wine, of course!

I took the Metro back to Gare de Nord, went through passport control and found my seat in a half-empty train.  I dozed most of the way back to London and thought what a great thing it had been – to go to Paris for the day.

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Leopards Hill Park and a new fruit!

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On my drive to work each day, I pass an old and crowded cemetery, known locally as the “Old Leopards Hill Cemetery.”  Graves are crowded together in what seems to be a haphazard fashion.  Markers are made of slate or even wood.  There are no real roads or even pathways amongst the graves. 

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Funerals are big here in Zambia, and at least once or twice a week, I will see a large group of mourners gathered in this place, standing amidst the dirt and the dust.  But a new cemetery is being developed, literally right in the middle of the old one.  Called “Leopards Hill Memorial Park” it is privately owned and purports to “offer world class facilities and a tranquil final resting place.”  The front page of their website states “Rest in Peace – FINALLY.”  It is apparently going to be quite a comprehensive cemetery with a “full range of burial products.”

Read more about it HERE.

Today I drove into the park to have a look around.  There is an imposing entrance, a guardhouse and a group of solid-looking headstones near the front gate.

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Most of the cemetery is still “under construction” but it is not an unattractive place.  There are wide swaths of open field and some new graves scattered here and there – some covered with mounds of flowers.  There are also some headstones set under the trees.

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As I walked further into the park, I saw what looked at first like a set-up for a wedding and wondered if the park was doing double-duty.  As I got closer, I realized it was for a funeral…obviously a big one, as the large monument was covered in white cloth as if for an unveiling and there were several large tents and canopies set up, along with a portable podium and sound system.  I asked the groundskeeper about it and he told me that it was a memorial service for a former member of Parliament who had died last year.   (I made sure it was okay to take pictures!)

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Across the park, I could see another, less elaborate, pavilion set up for a service, with the family getting out of a car and a long stream of mourners walking down the path to the site. 

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Walking back to my car, I noticed fruit trees here and there.  At first I thought they were apples.  Perfectly round, green fruits with a hard shell, about the size of a grapefruit.  Some had fallen on the ground and there were dried husks lying around.  I took one and cracked it open to see what it was.  Another groundskeeper saw me and I asked him what they were.  He told me they were a fruit called “mazhanje” and he showed me how to eat it.  The pulp inside is actually many small pits – you scoop it out with your fingers and suck the pulp off and then spit out the pit.  It was delicious….sweet and juicy; like nothing I had tasted before.

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When I got home, I looked it up…I THINK the fruit is an Uapaca kirkiana or sugar plum, although the picture on the Wikipedia page did not look quite like the trees I saw.  It is an indigenous fruit and grows wildThey do not cultivate it, but allow the trees to remain when ground is developed.  I have never seen them in stores or markets; apparently they are a big favorite with the locals.

 

A backyard barbecue…

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This weekend, the tenants in the flat next to mine had a big barbecue in the common backyard and invited everyone in the surrounding flats to come.  Apparently these weekend barbecues were a regular thing last year, but this was the first one since I have been here.  It was attended by a large number of ex-pats, mostly in their 20s and 30s and most of them working for some service organisation or other.   (These service organisations are called “NGOs” for “Non-Governmental Service Organisation.”)

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And they were from all over the world, too…some Americans, but also folks from Spain, Holland, France, Venezuela and several other countries.  There were also folks from Zambia; some were service workers as well and some boyfriends/girlfriends of the ex-pats at the party.

The three little girls who are daughters of the on-site manager were also invited.  They had made (with help from one of the girls who lives next door to me) a delicious chocolate mousse.  This was devoured within 15 minutes of being put out on the table.  Other folks had brought offerings such as cous-cous salad, baba ghanoush, some kind of spicy popcorn, fresh pineapple with rum and mint and other kinds of salads and side dishes.

But the real deal was the meat.  The huge grill was filled with charcoal and after the coals had turned to embers, piled with meat of all kinds.  Marinated ribs, sausages, steak, pork, chicken, shrimp…there was even a kind of cheese that could be grilled.  Unlike a typical picnic where the meat is eaten along with the rest of the food, this was like a separate meat course.  Good thing, too, as there was no room on the plate for such things as salad.

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A lively game of Beer Pong was set up and played with great gusto throughout the evening.  I was informed that the red Solo cups being used were “regulation” and had actually been shipped over from the states.  Over near the pool, a more sedate game of Jenga was taking place.  The little girls darted in and out, always somehow having a full plate of food.

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It was fun talking to everyone about where they’d come from and where they’d been.  After a few hours, I went back to my flat, but the party continued into the night and I could hear the laughter and the cheers from the Beer Pong game for quite some time.

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A traditional Zambian feast with dancing!

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IMG_0980 IMG_0986 IMG_0976 IMG_0964We had a traditional Zambian dinner last night at the home of one of the orientation leaders. She has a fabulous home, filled with artifacts and art from Africa and all over the world. She has lived in Zambia for ten years, although I think she is originally from the UK.

There was a demonstration by a Zambian dance group.  The music was that incredible close harmony you hear with songs from South Africa.  That kind of singing makes my heart feel like bursting out of my chest and feels so….organic.  Like music of the earth itself.  Grounded.

Then there was a traditional dinner, with mieli-meal as a base (like a very thick corn porridge) prepared by two women in traditional dress over a coal fire.  There were lots of “relishes” to scoop up. A relish is simply anything you put on the nsima (which is what the meal is called when it’s cooked.)   You eat it with your hands – making a sort of round ball out of the nsima with an indentation in it and using that to scoop any relish you choose.  We had individual plates, although I suppose to be truly traditional, we would all have eaten from the common pot.

There was stewed beef, beans, chicken, various kinds of greens, eggplant and deep-fried caterpillar. (I tried them…very chewy and crispy and they tasted kind of like…caterpillar.)

A wonderful evening and a great finish to our week of “new teacher” orientation. Read the rest of this entry