the (blogging) year in review

blog visitors country map

2014 was the year in which I re-committed, after a decade of neglect, to travel the world and learn another language (or two). Pretty cool, then, that 2014 was also the year in which people from 76 countries visited the blog I started to keep me motivated towards that goal. (Mappie map above. World domination will soon be mine!) I am far, far from visiting 76 countries with my own two feet but it’s nice to know that if I can’t go to them, they’ll come to me.

Thank you to everyone who has spent time here this year! I can’t tell you how much you help keep me accountable to my dreams. (See: public declarations.) But beyond that, it’s so nice to not be writing in a vacuum, and to (virtually) meet more and more people who are like-minded in their goals.

Yesterday WordPress sent me an email to tell me, although it was already abundantly clear, that my most popular blog post this year was the one about Jordan Helton’s language learning journey in China. I had watched in delighted confusion as that post got shared via Facebook 80-something times in one week even though I only had about 2 readers at that point. I later learned that Jordan’s mom was the source of my mini-viral moment. I love that. Even though I’ve never met her, I can perfectly picture her face beaming with pride as she forwards the link to everyone she knows (and they in turn pass it on like a little Oklahoman digital chain letter). A nice image with which to close out 2014.

I have no idea what 2015 holds, but I’m excited. Happy new year!

continuing the French food mood…

Edible French

It was our intern Kieu Anh’s last day at work today so we took her out to lunch, and she surprised us with parting gifts. (Isn’t that lovely? So unnecessary but so appreciated.) Throughout her internship I have repeatedly subjected Kieu Anh to impromptu French conversations, since I know she studied abroad in the south of France. She, in turn, knows I’m heading to Paris in a few weeks with the intention of spending 85% of my time eating, and she very thoughtfully gave me the perfect gift: “Edible French: Tasty Expressions and Cultural Bites.” It’s a colorful guide to French food-related idioms as well as a recipe book, and it’s beautifully illustrated with watercolors.

I actually mentioned wanting to read this very book a few weeks ago, but Kieu Anh had no idea since she didn’t even know about my blog til today. She’s just got a gift for good gifting!

Now I know what I’ll be reading on the plane… Thank you, Kieu Anh!

Pop quiz: What does it mean to say someone has “un coeur d’artichaut” (the heart of an artichoke)?

everything I’ll eat in France

French Pastries

One (or, let’s face it, two) desserts per day:

Glacé fleur – the most delicious confection in the world. Here’s a handy guide to the best ice cream in Paris.

Creme caramel

Creme brûlée


Chocolat pot au creme

Mousse au chocolat

Mousse aux noisettes

Flourless chocolate cake

Some sort of soufflé

Something from Chambelland and something from Helmut Newhouse, gluten-free bakeries

In addition my never-tasted but nevertheless-beloved choucroute garnie, I plan to dine on:



Boeuf bourguignon

Brie and Camembert and Roquefort

Coquilles Saint-Jacques


Oeufs en meurette

Coq au vin


Confit de canard


A French omelette (and by that I mean an omelette made in France)

Steak frites




And last but not least, copious quantities du beurre, in any form or fashion.

I will accompany every single meal with a glass of Sancerre.

It’ll be hard work, but I’m up for the challenge.

up, up and away

new york to paris

Yesterday, within the space of ten minutes, I checked my Delta balance, found my 50,000 miles had been deposited, and booked a 10-day trip to Paris. While I was going through those motions, the rational part of me kept saying to myself, “Maybe this is worth thinking through a little more?” But the part of me that knows how often I paralyze myself by overthinking made a “talk to the hand” gesture and continued on its way.

So now I’m heading to France in mid-January, rather inexplicably. Originally I was going to jet off for the weekend but then I realized that if I’m going somewhere I may never return to, and using valuable miles to get there, I should make the most of it. I decided to tack on an additional weekend to go anywhere in France that my heart desired. I thought about heading south to try to get some sun but that seemed like a fool’s errand. Even the Riviera won’t be able to deliver in January. So I decided to choose my destination based on whichever place has the best food, because really all I want to do is eat as many fatty dishes and patisserie treats as humanly possible, wander beautiful streets aimlessly, and speak a ton of French.

That’s how I concluded that I should go to Alsace, home of choucroute, which appears to be the best invention in the history of gastronomy. According to this handy Buzzfeed article on the 44 French foods you must try before you die, it also boasts the origin of raclette, pot au feu, coq au vin, and boeuf bourguignon. (And now my mouth is watering.) None of the other regions of France look nearly as gluttonous.

This is probably because Alsace also appears to be the coldest region of the country. They have to eat all that fat to prevent frostbite. It’s rather counterintuitive of me to have misgivings about heading to a cold city for vacation only to beeline from there to the very coldest part of the country it belongs to, but I have decided that if you’re going to do winter, you may as well do winter. And look how beautiful winter in Alsace looks!


a record-setting week

taboo francais

Last night I left my work holiday party early to head back to FIAF for the second time in one week. This time it was for “Faites Vos Jeux” – game playing in French.

My love for board games knows no bounds. It is extreme and borderline obsessive. (When my sister introduced me to Carcassonne this summer I played so many times in a row that I started dreaming about tile placement and had to go cold turkey.) So the moment I heard about this monthly event I put it firmly on my calendar as a recurring appointment, though I wasn’t sure whether it would be more fun or work to play Taboo in French. It turned out to be both. I loved it.

So that’s four days out of five that I have spoken French – my best week yet. As I was walking home last night, a man moved out of my way on the sidewalk and without thinking I said to him, “Merci.” That’s immersion, baby!

On that note, the weekend feels well-earned. Have a good one! Til next week, I leave you with links:

I’m on an Argentine travel company’s mailing list and they sent me this delicious-looking traditional recipe.

Revamping the Louvre to lose that lost feeling

The New Japanese Masters of French Cuisine

français three ways


SUNDAY: At any given time, my ease with French varies wildly, with seemingly no rhyme or reason. Sometimes I’m faltering and incomprehensible, other times I’m confident and zippy. During my weekly Skype conversation with Philippe on Sunday, I was in my better mode, which I took as an encouraging sign (even though historically it has not indicated anything like linear progress).

MONDAY: The next day, I went to my weekly French Meetup and again, found myself able to warm up quickly and understand and speak a lot. I had what is probably my most high level, esoteric and interesting French conversation ever, with a neuroscientist from Nancy (in northeastern France), who is in New York to do a post-doc focusing on memory. I told him, fully in French, about an experimental film I had seen at the Whitney Biennial and then again at MOMA* that is actually more like a performance. The film is about a man who, as a result of a botched operation to relieve his epilepsy, lost all his long-term memory and can only remember the last 20 seconds of his life. Kerry Tribe specially designed the documentary to be screened through two side by side projectors. One reel of film runs on a loop between the two projectors so that the first screen shows the “present” moment in the film and the second screen shows the moment in the film 20 seconds prior. It’s such a creative and impactful way to tell the man’s story and beyond that, to convey a little bit of what it was like to live in his head.

The neuroscientist knew exactly who I was talking about even though I couldn’t remember his name (speaking of bad memory). He is Henry Molaison and apparently he is the most studied patient in the history of neuroscience.

He then told me, again fully in French, a rather tragic tale about another person whose brain injury was the first proof that damage to the frontal lobe can affect personality. Phineas Gage was a kind and upstanding guy until a freak accident blasted a piece of iron through his skull. He miraculously lived and at first seemed to make a full mental recovery, but then he started becoming a bit of a dick, to put it bluntly. His wife left him, he lost his job and he died penniless and alone. A sad story for Phineas, but a happy one for me because I actually understood it.

TUESDAY: I went to see Truffaut’s “The Man Who Loved Women” at the French Institute. It was the last of their CineSalon series, “The Art of Sex and Seduction,” and I liked it a lot…. though I tried to go “off-subtitle” and failed miserably. I gave up averting my eyes from the titles at about twenty minutes in and allowed myself to just enjoy the film without treating it as a learning exercise, but it was a little dejecting after two days of thinking I was actually getting somewhere.

Oh well, if it’s got to be this way I hope it’s at least two steps forward, one step back instead of the other way around.

*(where it is in the permanent collection – go see it!)

[Photo: Lisa T.]


j’ai fait ma décision


Got my new credit card in the mail, registered for the NYU Spanish class as my first purchase, and last night crossed the $1000 spending threshold that will trigger 50,000 miles to go into my Delta account some time in the next two to four weeks. That’ll bring me to just under 70,000 miles, enough to book a trip to Paris, should it still be available. (As of this morning there are plenty of seats left, because who in their right mind goes to France in January?) So now it’s a waiting game, and the cliffhanger remains… Will I or won’t I be eating crème caramel by the Seine in a month? Only time will tell.

As for this weekend… Some interesting reading and watching:

Trailer for the animated movie version of my favorite book, The Little Prince 

(I tend to think that children’s books all about the magic of imagination should not be turned into movies that do much of the imagining for you, but it does look beautiful.)

The White House turns an eye to study abroad

Completely unrelated to this blog, but awesome nevertheless – a 2014 mix tape!

Leadership skills multiply with language skills

This beautifully sums up the foreign language learning experience

And now I’m off to get a dose of greenhouse tropics at the botanic gardens – a kind of faux immersion in foreign climates, which I’ve come to find crucial to my sanity as winter descends. Have a good weekend!

[Photo: Ben Britten. Thanks also to Randy for the NPR tip and Jenny for The Little Prince tip!]

Wild Tales

wild tales poster

I went to see “Wild Tales” knowing nothing about it except that Almodóvar was one of the producers, and I love Almodóvar.

Embarrassingly far into the movie I realized it was set in Argentina and not Spain as I had originally assumed. I wish I had recognized the distinctive accents but they went completely over my head until one of the characters said he was on the road from Salta to Cafayate, city names I recognized from my tour book.

Ever since my trip last winter all things Argentine fill my heart with joy, and this film was no exception. But it would have filled my heart with joy regardless of its provenance. It had all the trappings of the best of Almodóvar – dark twisted humor, absurdly over the top sex and violence, flamboyantly flawed characters. Some of it was a little anxiety-provoking but the net effect was glee.

The movie was comprised of a bunch of thematically related vignettes and in the last one I *think* the actor was the same guy who was pointed out to me in a Buenos Aires restaurant as a famous Argentine star. I’m not entirely sure, but I remember thinking the guy in the restaurant looked like a blond Ben Stiller, and this guy looked like a blond Ben Stiller*, and how many blond Ben Stiller lookalikes are there in the world? Either way, I recommend the film!

*…though not at all in the image above. So maybe I’m completely off.