Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cost of living in Paris

Well I don't know about "cost of living" but I couldn't think of a better title. We had heard that most things in Paris are much more expensive, so we brought a few things with us from Taiwan: batteries, tape, office supplies, etc. We get here, and things really aren't that much more expensive if you go to the right places. The current exchange rate for $1 Euro to $1 US is about 1.37. So $1.37 US = $1 Euro. Not horrible, so roughly $4 US is equal to $3 Euros. From now on $ refers to Euros.

The joke of "living off of wine and baguettes" is really no joke. Wine is extremely inexpensive here. There is very good wine that we get every few days that is $3 or less a bottle. Also baguettes are $1. I heard this might be mandated by the French government (not sure if that's true) but it is something way too good to pass up for that price. We must have eaten at least 15 baguettes in the past 3 weeks, and they are always hot and fresh from the many bakeries around town.

Junk food is really inexpensive here as well. Gummi bears (and many variations) are very cheap, like $1 for a big bag. A very large bag of potato chips is around $1 (imported Lays are more expensive). Chocolate chip cookies and crackers are cheap as well. The only problem  was trying to find some "Cheetos", they don't exist here. The closest thing I found was some "fromage" style things. Not 100% accurate, but good enough to fill the need I guess.

While wine is very inexpensive, beer is not as popular here and a little more expensive. They tend to sell either small bottles in a 6 pack (about 33% smaller than the normal USA bottle size) or they sell the cans in a larger size (about 50% larger than the normal USA can). I found a beer called Kongenbourgh for $1.09 that is the larger can size and 7.2% alcohol (most USA beer is around 5%), this seems to be working out well so far.

So in summary, these are the results from shopping in Paris:

  • wine
  • baguettes
  • mustard
  • candy
  • cookies
  • potato chips
  • beer
  • cheese
  • fruits & vegetables
  • fast food (McDonalds, Subway, etc)
  • soda
  • meat & fish
  • eating out at restaurants

Friday, February 11, 2011

Music in Paris

We have been in Paris for 10 days now, and in that time I have seen:
  • An organ concert at Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Rock band
  • Jazz jam session
  • Funk jam session
  • Brahms piano recital
  • Fusion jam session
And there are still a few more jam sessions I would like to check out (Blues, Soul, Gypsy Jazz, Bluegrass...yes even Bluegrass). There are some great players in Paris (especially the Jazz horn and piano players). It was interesting going to jam session in Los Angeles the past few years, because that's where the best musicians in the world live and play (and you never knew what famous musicians may sit in and play that night). The one thing that Paris has over Los Angeles, is that the musical environment is much more open. In Los Angeles, it is pretty cut throat and difficult to make a living as a musician, so people are friendly, but it's a strange relationship among musicians's kind of hard thing to describe.

There are two clubs that are 5 and 15 minute walks from me that have the jam sessions, so in a few weeks after my parents visit and bring my electric guitar. I'll start sitting in and playing. I need to get my jazz/fusion/blues chops up to par because all I've been playing the past 6 months has been a nylon string acoustic guitar. I've got 3 weeks to get about 20 or so "jam songs" ready so I don't fall flat on my face.

One cool thing is that most of these clubs have the band underground in a "cavern". It really is like walking down a spiral staircase into a catacomb to watch the bands play. The two clubs I've been going to are Le Caveau des Oubliettes (The Cave of Dungeons):

And Cave du 38's Riv' (Cave of the 38's Riv' - I'm not really sure what this refers to):

The good news is the entrance is free to the jam sessions, the bad news, you're required to buy some drinks...oh the horror!!!

Thursday, February 3, 2011


We left Taipei and arrived in Paris 30 hours later (plane change and four hour layover in Singapore airport...very nice and clean airport btw). Paris had the most efficient airport I have ever been through in my life. No custom declaration forms, no interview questions, no searching of luggage...just step up to the immigration window, give them your passport, they stamp it, gave it back to you, and you're allowed into France.

We were picked up by a driver the Taiwan embassy had arranged for us. He dropped us off to Cite de Arts which is located in the heart of Paris. We were then shown the room and it was, do the real estate agents put it? Oh yes, cozy and charming. We're in Paris for 6 months, so I'm not going to complain, but let's just say we have a studio apartment for two people that needed a lot of cleaning before we felt comfortable settling in. We're also limited to a WiFi connection that only allows one person at a time to use. So you can't use two computers or phones connected at the same time, and it's a WiFi connection, so there's no way to use a router or use the laptop as a WiFi "hotspot" to bypass this problem. Again we're in Paris for 6 months so I'll keep my critiques short.

Today we walked to Notre Dame (above picture) which is only a 15 minute walk from our room. This was the second time I had been in Notre Dame, but it was even more amazing this time, knowing there was no rush or tour group holding us back. For the first time, I noticed the largest pipe organ I had ever seen in my life in the rear of the church. When we left, I looked on the church schedule and saw that every Sunday at 4:30pm there is an organ recital, so I know where I'll be this coming Sunday.

There are musicians everywhere in the artist residency as well as the many bars and clubs in Paris. As we were walking through the halls at the residency I heard some mind blowing piano playing. This isn't a conservatory, this is the place where the best players from the best conservatories come to stay and give recitals. I'm blown away. They only allow "professional" piano players access to pianos here, so I won't be playing piano for the next six months. After hearing the players here, I don't think that's a problem, I don't even know if I want to play piano anymore after just hearing these people practice.

The last thing I did was find a bar, Cave du 38 Riv' that had jazz concerts and jam sessions on Monday nights, it is less than a five minute walk from our room. I'm going to the jam session this Monday night to check it out (I have no electric guitar with me yet) but I wanted to see the level of guitar playing, so I went to a jazz show tonight. Well, I tried to go. I walked up to the door of the club at 10:30pm, the sign on the door showed the show started at 8:30pm, so I walked in and no one was there. Just a sign indicating the price, but I heard music from the band downstairs. I waited a few minutes, no one came, so I decided to walk downstairs to check it out. I walked down two flights of stairs and came face to face, stage-left with the guitar player in the band, who gave me a look of "wtf are you doing here?". I stepped back a little, then thought, "oh maybe you walk past the band to get into the club. So I walked up towards the band and saw an entire club full of people and realized there was no way to walk past the band and not disrupt the entire show. I walked back upstairs, waited five minutes, still no one came up, and then I decided to jsut leave. The guitar player was very good (kind of like Alan Holdsworth) but nothing like the skill level of the piano players I heard at the artist residency, so at Ieast I have some level of confidence left to go back and sit in and try my hand at the many jam sessions available in Paris.

Two days into Paris, and it's pretty interesting. I need to work a LOT on my French because there's nothing in English here. People are very friendly after seeing the effort to try to speak French. I mistakenly asked the woman at the Paris City Hall "est-ce que vous parlez Francais?" (Do you speak French? - when I meant to ask Do you speak English?). She just laughed. I apologized and then asked in French for a map of Paris they give out for free and she laughed again at my effort, but understood, and gave me the map and a bunch of other free stuff.

I don't have a big ego when it comes to music or language, but what ego I've got, is really getting crushed quickly. Tomorrow should be fun, we're taking the Metro (subway) to visit one of Charlene's friends. More chances to use my amazing French skills, I'm sure it will be and interesting adventure.