Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Sign in to follow this  
Simon Majumdar

Cities We Love, Cities We Hate

Recommended Posts

I have just been having a discussion with someone in my office ( in London for those of you who don't know who the hell I am ) and they were saying how lucky I was to be heading off to Paris this evening for a long weekend of work/pleasures.  They couldn't believe it when I said that I could really care less if I ever went to Paris again, but give me a trip to Las Vegas or Memphis or Nashville, and I am the first one on the plane.

Now, sure I will be going to some, hopefully, great restaurants ( thanks to egulleter, Magnolia in particular) but I would be just as happy with a braised short rib in Kansas as any Bistro or three star in Paris.  As a city, I find it slow, rude, and grubby ( and that is saying something by London standards )

I have a real affection for American cities and eating out there in and would and do choose them for every vacation, the next one being Texas and New Orleans, over any european city

I think it is just a sense of other ( tall buildings etc ) and think this is why Amercians tend to love London and Paris ( narrow Sts, old buildings etc )

Does anyone else share this view or is everyone in love with european cities?

S

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Simon -  this attitude is because you are "common" :) . I like Europeon cities because of the reasons you suggested (not so many old buildings in Australia) and because being in Europe gives me context for my place in the world. I couldn't comment about American cities, as I have only been to Lake Taho and that doesn't count as a city. At some point in the future I will move back to Australia, so for the moment I am taking in as much of Ye Olde Europe as possible.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Simon, I wasn't aware Americans loved London, but if they did, do you think it is at all because they have an affection for eating out there?  I doubt it, perhaps others could weigh in on this point.

But you are right on the mark with "the sense of other," at least in my case.  I am blown away by the depth, density and diversity of European cultures, and quite taken aback by their history.  When the food is at a high level and a culture of appreciating food is apparent,  and evolving, I am disarmed and charmed. France and Italy make me feel especially inadequate for not speaking their languages.  I get by solely because of my knowledge of kitchens and food--and am constantly reminded of how much I have yet to learn.

I am less enamoured of peripheral, nascent American cities of the sort you mention--but perhaps that has to do with the fact that for me, that "sense of other" is still forming and in flux--and it is an open question which way the pendulum swings.

For me, there is more to "sense of other" than something simply being "new."  I think this might be what Adam is getting at by "context."

I'd take Paris, Bologna, Tours, Rimini (where I've been recently) anyday.  Until 9/11, I was never so touched on our shores as when I saw the bombed out central cores of European cities--take Rimini as one example--where a modern city has built up around the rubble and remains of WWII.

Rather than grubby, I find Paris remarkably clean and safe.  I am also amazed that you find Paris slow--I've find it flexible and adaptive.  (The outlying areas are another story.) You certainly are more likely to linger and reflect in Paris, especially over food, but certainly this is not a negative.  If only the southern US cities you've mentioned were on a slightly higher refresh rate than blackstrap molasses.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Simon I agree with much of your statement. Sorry.

I enjoy dining at the Michelin-star level very much, so I wouldn't just cast Paris dining aside in favor of barbecue joints in the states. But I will say that, were it not for the excellent dining opportunities in Paris, I'd never feel the slightest impetus to go there. The French countryside, yes, especially Brittany; but Paris, no. Of all the cities I've visited, Paris has been the most unpleasant, condescending, and unfriendly from the vantage point of a tourist.

On the other hand, I love London, but food has nothing to do with that sentiment. I love it for the theater, the long walks my wife and I take, the gardens, and to some extent the shopping. And because I sort of speak English, it's a very comfortable place for me to visit.

In most instances, though, I'd choose American travel over European travel. I find most small American towns very interesting for short periods of time. And America's natural beauty is pretty amazing. That's why my wife and I do long road trips as often as we can. We'll actually be driving cross-country this April, probably for seven or eight weeks. We'll certainly pass through areas where it's impossible to get a good meal, but give me that over Paris anyday.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Steve

Interesting take on it. I had not taken into account the affect of 9/11, but it is valid particularly for those Americans who while quite rightly outraged, grief filled and for a while vengeful, took the opportunity to look at America and what it stands for, good and bad and saw how much it had to offer

Coming from a city which bears its history with extraordinary ease ( this I think London does even more so than Rome.  Paris, not at all, it shrieks its history at you ) I maybe take for granted the pleasures of such places and fail to appreciate Paris, which I really do find grindingly slow, not being a reflective person.

For a european, the sheer scale and diversity of the US both culturally and in a culinary sense makes me want to return there again and again.  I am in the US every three to four weeks on business and yet I still choose it for every vacation.  

It is not even the language thing.  You can imagine how a slightly plummy english accent is received in Haiti Missourri ( hell, I even loved that place although the only thing they could say on their town sign was "we have a Pizza Hut" They seemed so proud ) it is the fact that at every turn, I can see something iconic which has defined the way we live/eat in the 21st century.  Much more important to me, at least than ancient history, however well we do it here.

S

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...as I have only been to Lake Taho and that doesn't count as a city

Right enough, Adam. Even in America, that just counts as a Lake  :D (oh boy, this is a legend in the making???)

Simon, I think you're overstating. Paris is NOT a grubby city by any standards, and I find the description of "slow" well off the mark. But rude it certainly is, or at least its inhabitants are. Parisians are rude (particularly to foreigners) and arrogant in my experience. They lack the humor and charm to get away with it. If ever you need to ask a Parisian for directions, and are fortunate to get a reply, always go in exactly the opposite direction they tell you  :(  Personally, I have never cared for its restaurants mainly because of the surliness of service I have received (even in Maxim's) and so they represent no saving grace for me.

The old sayings are the best, and someone once said "France is a beautiful country spoiled by its inhabitants". Whoever that was was clearly speaking about Paris, because I've always found the rest of the country very pleasant, specially the South of France.

Paris is indeed a beautiful city, with much to admire in its architecture, history, design and environment. But people count for more, much more. And that is why I prefer most other cities of the world.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Something which may not be obvious to all of our European friends (although I'm sure many do understand) is that America is essential so big, so varied, that the "sense of otherness" applies even here.  To some extent--with the advent of strip malls and chain food--this is lessened in recent years... but it is still essentially true.  Simon is basically making this same point, but I think he is mistaken that Americans think that they have to go to Europe for it.

As for why some Americans enjoy Europe (and I really do believe its only "some"), I don't think there is a single reason.  For many, its not actually for a sense of otherness, it's instead for a sense of belonging--at attempt to see how their own understanding of their ethnic and cultural history fits with the reality of the place most of it came from.  (Obviously this most strongly applies to Americans of European ancestry.)

For some, the sense of otherness does come into play--although these are far more likely to be the gawky annoying "ugly Americans" the rest of the world likes to stereotype.

Strangely enough people seem to confuse these two seemingly opposite rationales.

Steve Klc, for example, is focusing on the sense of otherness, when in fact his rationale seems much closer to an attempt to fit European values, culture and history into the context of his own experience.  He may feel inadaquate, but the fact that he's even making the attempt to understand the place puts him firmly into the first category.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Simon, although in our household 9/11 has not affected any travel planning in any way (we feel it would be wrong to let it), it is certainly true that it has for many Americans. As someone who freelances for travel magazines, I can tell you that most of the big ones are currently working on special U.S.-travel issues right now. I've been getting calls to update old articles for these collections.

The book publishers are reacting similarly. I recently went to contract on a U.S.-travel title that was getting no response from the publishers before 9/11. This time, when I sent the proposal around, Random House (Crown) bought it.

I want to add that the cities in the southern part of Canada are also favorites. Vancouver and Montreal in particular are destinations I prefer to Europe for the most part. But I will grant the Europeans their culinary excellence. Within Europe, I prefer places like Portugal to their grouchier northern counterparts. I will give Europe the art and architecture thing but living in New York I feel I get sufficient access to art (if not ancient architecture). Still when I travel long distances I prefer to skip over Europe and head farther East.

The thing that has most affected travel planning in this household is the acquisition of a dog. Here France is quite enlightened. England unfortunately will not allow vacationers from the U.S. to bring their dogs into the country. In our dog's case it is a particular outrage because he is after all an English bulldog. It is his birthright in my opinion to enter and exit the United Kingdom without restriction. In light of this, I don't know when we'll be returning to the U.K.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi, Simon.  What do you do in your office all day, besides have debates about pubs and cities :)  :) ?

I just made this case to our friends last night at dinner.  I said, LONDON is my FAVORITE city, but New York is the GREATEST city in the world.  Now, let's not start a debate about that--that's just my opinion, 'kay?

After I was in London a couple weeks ago--visiting your favorite and now my favorite pub--I went to Paris for the first time with my sister.  At first I ahted it.  I couldn't believe how rude people were to us.  I've had many English people bark at me or condescend to me, but they are always smirking when they do it.  And I smirk right back.  But the French weren't smirky--they just looked pissed.  I mean, mad.

But--after I got home I realzied I had been bitten by some French bug.  My husband and I are going back this summer [after a month in London, our FAVORITE city] with our 9-yr-old neice.  Emilei likes London, too, but she'll LOVE Paris.  There's just something about it, Simon.  It's "creevy."  It's pretty.  The food is good.  It's humiliating.  And as an American, I don't mind a bit of humiliation.  I'm not one of those Americans who hates America and loves Europe--I love/hate America and love/hate Europe.  But American food?  Oh, Simon.    ???

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
England unfortunately will not allow vacationers from the U.S. to bring their dogs into the country. In our dog's case it is a particular outrage because he is after all an English bulldog. It is his birthright in my opinion to enter and exit the United Kingdom without restriction. In light of this, I don't know when we'll be returning to the U.K.

Oh Ellen, on behalf of Elizabeth R (Our Queen) and Tony B (Our King) I would like to extend sincere apologies for this outrage. I simply cannot believe that this obsolete quarantine law is being applied to an animal of Momo's celebrity status and impeccable genealogy. Steve P has a British Labour MP in his pocket (ooops, I mean they've met once or twice) and I'm sure the guy would raise the matter in Parliament.

In the meantime, if you want to visit our fair shores, you could always leave Sxxxxx behind to look after Mxxx  ;)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am not sure (jhlurie, that is ) if I agree with all you say.  

Maybe it is the level of American I meet ( well educated, well travelled.  I wont say well dressed or no one would believe anything I write ) but there does seem to be an almost breathless excitment amongst some Americans ( perhaps just the ones on this board ) for matters European and particularly French.  This does not just extend as far as food and travel but into fashion, literature, culture in general.  Perhaps it is because of the paucity of these offerings outside the coastal enclaves ( and no, the fact that Fairfield, IO has an opera company doesn't count because I have seen them and more unfortunately, heard them )

It may be a sense of finding their place in the world order as you and Adam say, but how would that explain the throng of African Americans, Oriental Americans, Asian Americans who fill the streets of London and Paris.  I suspect, to use one of Steve P's words, the supposed "superiority" ( cultural, nothing else ) is enculturated into Americans from a very early age ( Julia Childs teaching French cookery etc ) in the same way we in Europe grew up with images of Elvis, Diners, and Thunderbirds.  In both cases, impossibly glamourous and seemingly unobtainable in our own environment.

But in my view both equally valid.  Seeing Graceland and having a burger at The Hound Dog Cafe meant more to me than seeing the Eiffel tower or The Tower of london.  Why?  Because for me it encapsulated the US in one event as meaningful and special as any Royal Wedding or trip to Boccuse

S

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, Simon, you've struck a nerve with your sartorial commentary. This is to me the most shameful aspect of being an American: The lack of any fashion sense outside of a few urban enclaves (and precious little even there). I'll have you know that with the exception of what I have custom made (New York tailors are adequate, and much less expensive than those in London), and some Japanese neckties, I buy all my business clothes in London. But when I'm not in business attire, you can expect to find me looking like just as much of a schlepper as the average American, I'm sorry to report -- though I have never stooped to wearing a crinkly sweatsuit.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Ellen,

Sadly there are places in the tri-state area where Momo would not be allowed, as well. It has nothing to do with his charm, beauty and pedigree, but with outbreaks of diseases among livestock. I know the UK quarantine was in place before this, but in light of recent foot and mouth, hoof and mouth, etc.(A Balic, please correct me!), I can understand their reluctance. When we visited a farm in Hunterdon County, NJ, last May, the farmer took precautions with us (inquiring if we had pets, or had travelled abroad recently) and told us he can no longer allow many people, and absolutely no pets, to visit some areas of the farm.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Fat Guy

I feel your pain

Americans are the only nationality I see who seem to wear primarily clothes made out of furnishing fabrics and with no shame at all.

But God granted them the ability to cook ribs, chicken and short rib better than any on the planet, so what he takes with one hand, he gives back with the other

S

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, sure, there are agricultural areas where you might not want to allow domestic animals. But London?

Let me reiterate that the following canine is prohibited from visiting his ancestral homeland:

momo01-31-02-2.jpg

Injustice, I say!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The reason our doggie chums are banned from London and the UK is not Foot & Mouth, but Rabies.  The one contrubution of mainland europe to the world since the Black Death

having known someone who died of this disease ( Rabies, that is ) and knowing someone who is currently undergoing treatment after being bitten by a dog in Paris ( 20 injections in the stomach - ouch! ) I fully support the policy of our otherwise execrable governmet

S

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Well, of course you should keep those filthy French dogs out! But every domestic dog in every state in the U.S. is required to be vaccinated against rabies at a very young age, and this requirement is rigorously enforced. A documentation requirement would make sense, but the quarantine seems extreme. The real truth is that the English are afraid to compete against our dogs in the kennel club shows.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You should have bought a Boston Bulldog, then you wouldn't have all this anger. Nice dog by the way, he has nice head conformation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No disrespect, Fat Guy, but his "ancestral homeland"? How "ancestral" we talkin' bout? Is he, to cross breed a Monty Python reference, "pining for the fjords" like the Norwegian Blue in the Parrot sketch?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Simon,

You do indeed meet an unusual class of American.  The truth is, the general perception of the French is not good here.  We recognize a definitive culinary excellence, and also that they led the arts for the first half of the last century, but there is almost always an undercurrent of resentment (let's call it what it is) and a feeling that the French are trying to hold on to a position as the center of the world which--it it ever was truly theirs--has long passed on.

Now, I am NOT saying these are my opinions.  I have several French acquaintainces and know from it that the French vary as much in outlook as anyone else.  But I don't really think that many Americans (at least of the last two or three generations) are Francophiles any more.

As for the numbers of American tourists... remember that that number is relatively small in comparison to the whole American demographic.  You see the people who want to go to Paris, and not those who don't--and naturally there are still many who want to go.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

And, Adam, he has a red brindle coat with interesting white markings, which is the highest classification and fairly rare. Had his second testicle ever descended, he'd have been a champion contender. Unfortunately, that plus a droopy left eye ended his show career at six-months' age with only one silver ribbon to show for it. But, hey, on account of the testicle thing we got him for half price, which you'll know is serious money if you've ever shopped for quality purebred bulldogs.

You're speaking of the Boston Terrier, right? Very nice dogs. Too high-energy for me, though. We're friends with one in the neighborhood. I don't think there's a recognized Boston Bulldog breed, though.

Liza, actually, I think on his mother's side there's a bulldog from Norway. I'll have to double check the pedigree.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I sometimes wonder.  There are so many completely bewildering opinions on this thread (Paris "unpleasant"; less interesting than Vancouver; etc) that I will pass on silence.

Except to observe that Barcelona is heaven on earth, and there's an excellent new post about it on the Elsewhere in Europe board.  Shamelessly drumming up business.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wilfrid, who do you think you are? Cicero? "I won't say anything about . . ."

Adam, an all-white bulldog can be nice, but as with so many of the all-whites, they can have more health problems (especially deafness, blindness, and cancer) and they require a lot more in the way of grooming and bathing. The tear stains especially are a huge pain in the ass.

As I understand it, the Boston Terrier was bred by crossing bulldogs (English bulldogs, in common usage) with American terriers. The don't do that anymore, of course, because now it's a stable, self-perpetuating breed, but that's how the name came about. I think there may be a few people out there calling them Boston Bulldogs, but that's not technically correct.

Speaking of bulldogs and Australia, the Aussie bulldogs (not a recognized breed, but with a loyal following) are quite nice.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Simon, I have never been to Graceland myself, and I don't care if I ever go.  I could visit a Wal-mart Supercenter on Saturday afternoon and have the same experience.  I know who Elvis was--I live in GAW-GUH--I was born in Tennessee--he might even be my cuzzin .

I'm a Southerner and I do love the American south.  I love roots music [including Elvis].  I love wide open spaces, cotton fields, crumbling plantations, pecan groves.   I even like a real honest-to-god redneck.  I also love Martha's Vineyard and New Orleans and New York City, Ithaca, El Paso, and, and.  There's stuff to like here in these States.  We're big.

But there's also this rabid right wing religious culture and this moron who parades as president and shames me.  And giant monster cars and tract housing and an increasing feeling of isolation among many people.  Sometimes I just fantasize about living in a civilized country with low church attendance--not to knock religious people--my best friend is a priest.  America's moral schizophrenia is just so bogus and oppressive.

I love London pub culture.  I like the fact that people value sharing time together every day, even if they are drunk.  [There are parts of the US which still have a pub culture--you mentioned Kansas City--ever been to St. Louis? ] I also love staying in B&Bs which allow pets--I love sitting next to a cat or dog in a pub.  I wish Liza could bring her dog over.  He would make friends, too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×