Thursday, February 3, 2011

Shabbat For Dummies

Last Saturday we were invited by another family of relatives to their home in Paris's 16th arrondissment for a Shabbat lunch. Sylvia, Gerard, their son Nicolas, and his (American) girlfriend, Daniella were wonderful company. This is the second time we have taken a Shabbat lunch at their home. The first took place in November 2009 when we first brought Raelyn and Nola to Paris to interview at the private bilingual school we thought they would attend. That was during Nola's super short haircut phase when most people naturally assumed she was a boy. Therefore, as the yarmulkes were being passed around the table as we approached to take our seats, Nola was handed one to put on her head. She did, momentarily, then bashfully and stealthily removed it and put it in her lap. Getting this girl to remember to put her napkin in her lap at the table is not so easy, so I wasn't about to complain that she was putting at least something there to start the mind-body connection and muscle memory for that kind of motion.

I guess we didn't pay close enough attention to the rituals of a Shabbat meal that first time because this time, after Gerard recited the pre-meal blessing, cut the challah, and passed the slices around our table, Soren said to me, "Oh, we can't forget to tell Sylvia about meeting Edith Kaplan!" He then turned to Sylvia,  "Do you know an *Edith Kaplan?"  Sylvia smiled politely and softly nodded 'yes', while making the 'zip your lip' motion with her fingers across her mouth. Apparently, one cannot speak after the blessing and before the consuming of the challah or else Gerard needs to repeat the blessing all over again. Oops. They were kind enough to let this little goof slip. Next time I go to the English bookstore I am going to be sure to pick up my copy of Shabbat For Dummies. I'm just glad it was Soren's naive goof and not mine.

Last week, Sylvia sent Soren a very conscientious e-mail inquiring about the foods that we do not eat. She wanted to be sure to ask because she thought she remembered that we do not eat meat of any kind, nor fish, nor dairy, nor eggs. The poor woman must have been wondering what in the heck she could serve for protein besides tofu or beans for us silly vegans from California. I was grateful that she remembered the fact that we do have some limitations about what we eat (red meat) and cared enough to ask so that we could reassure her that we are not vegans. Sylvia served us a delicious meal consisting of caprese salad, asparagus spears with vinaigrette, white fish with dill sauce, scalloped potatoes, a medley of green beans, carrots, and mushrooms, and, before dessert, the French tradition of a green salad. Dessert was a tray full of mouth-watering vegan pastries. I can assure you that mouth-watering and vegan can and do belong in the same sentence.  (If you have never been to the vegan restaurant, Millenium, in San Francisco, I highly recommend it. It's one of my top five restaurants). Sylvia explained to us (dummies) that had she served meat for the main course, the vegan desserts would be necessary due to Kosher requirements.

After the wonderful meal, the girls eagerly opened the gift of Monopoly that Sylvia gave to them. Nola, especially, was overjoyed to receive this gift as Monopoly had grown to become her favorite game in the year leading up to our move to Paris. Regrettably, we left it at home and she has had to devote her game-playing time to Scrabble and Apples to Apples. It was interesting to examine the French Monopoly board and discover the names given to each property, most of which, I could not pronounce. Nola was extremely satisfied by winning the game, in French no less and, due to her pleading, we have played three times since Sylvia's and it's only Wednesday! Thank goodness for the newly added speed die that makes the game progress more quickly. Nola wins at Monopoly every time, that girl always has a strategy up her sleeve. Since she seems to be such a tycoon, perhaps Soren and I should enlist her help in acquiring some of our own properties right here in the hip and oh-so-now neighborhood of the Marais? After all, a decent flat starts at just one-and-a-half million euros for 100 square meters (1070 square feet) which is only $2, 070,000. If you happen to be visiting Paris and you see a nice-looking couple (if I do say so myself) stopping to gaze at the ads posted in the windows of every Paris real estate office, that's likely us. Daydreaming all over Paris. If only Monopoly money was real...I do love a good fantasy.

The reality, however, is that playing French board games is a great way to further cement the girls' language skills. It was amazing to witness Nola reading her 'Community Chest' card and amusing to hear Raelyn chant, "Allez au prison!" Towards the end of our afternoon, Sylvia's phone rang and since Raelyn was nearby, she was asked to answer it. Raelyn had a brief moment of panic, but we assured her that she could manage and she simply had to say, "Allo?" and take it from there. Her words were brief, and I don't think her sense of panic calmed down any, but I was still a proud mama. I can't even get past the "Allo?" part of answering the phone here. I wonder if there's a book for dummies about that?

*Edith Kaplan is a middle-aged woman that our relative, Aline (See previous post, Three Months To Magic), introduced me to a few weeks ago when I was hanging out at the flea market (drinking wine mid-day and having an outdoor lunch with Aline and her fellow vendors). Edith owns two of her own stalls at Paul Bert and she sells vintage haute couture and designer labels. I brought Soren back later in the week to introduce him to Edith because she is married to a man whose father was the brother of Soren's great-grandfather, Georges Kaplan. Turns out, Edith and Aline (whose sister, Violaine, was married to Soren's grandfather, Jacques Kaplan, Georges' son,  for twenty-five years) have known each other for many years due to working at the same market and only learned about this familial connection through some happenstance conversation about four years ago. Edith was very enthusiastic to meet a Kaplan relative and the next thing Soren knew, he was put on Edith's cell phone to speak to her husband to discuss the family tree- in French. Soren is fairly certain that Edith's husband said this new discovery would motivate him to organize a family reunion before we return to the U.S. Et, viola! The power of this millenium's three degrees of separation!

Boxed wine and charcuterie never tasted better.

They promised that when I visit them in the Springtime they'll teach me the card game "Belot".