Everything I ate in France

tea time

I’ve heard a lot of superlatives about Paris – that it’s the most romantic city in the world, the most beautiful, the city of light. But I think its most-fitting top billing is tastiest.

Why? Because I got a contact high every time I passed a bakery. Because the freshly made mayonnaise at a hole-in-the-wall cafe was so far beyond what’s eaten in America that the two deserve different names. Because a 3:00am omelette at a randomly selected bistro was the best I’ve ever had. Because my first bite of entrecôte with bearnaise sauce propelled me to break my 3-day French-only streak with an awestruck, “Are you fucking kidding me?” directed at no one in particular, since I was alone.

And that’s only Paris. In Alsace, they took meat and potatoes to a whole new expletive-inducing level. In fact, except for one unfortunate breakfast, everything I ate in France was better than 90% of what I’ve eaten in America.

Granted, I am one for hyperbole. But even if you take me with a grain of salt (which, incidentally, was also more delicious in France), there’s no denying that the French have a very special way with food.

So without further ado, here’s everything I ate in France:

repas

First row: (Alsacienne) baeckeoffe; smoked duck and goat cheese salad; camembert with pine nuts and honey; best-tasting omelette and fries; charcuterie and cheese plate. Second row: confit de canard; choucroute garnie – note the thing that looks like a layer cake but is actually the fattiest, most delicious chunk of ham ever sliced; the (weak link) omelette; smoked salmon; steak with potatoes and pesto. Third row: gluten-free croque monsieur made by philippe; coquilles st. jacques; picnic lunch bought at the only open store in a tiny alsacienne village; steak and vegetables; pot au feu (after the soup was consumed). Fourth row: smoked salmon and goat cheese salad; breakfast of cheese and jam and nutella; potatoes and lardons and extra fat; entrecôte with bearnaise sauce; chef salad. Fifth row: Homemade jams; adorable baby radishes; three glutinous things that, full disclosure, I watched my dining partners eat but did not actually eat in France (two tarte flambees and a croque monsieur).

And that brings us to… DESSERT!!!

desserts

First row: creme brulee; gluten-free canelé and madeleines from Helmut Newcake; pavlova; delightfully decorated ice cream; Laduree macarons; a chocolate-covered meringue on top of mocha-flavored buttercream – I think this type of pastry might be called a merveilleux (and it certainly was); chocolate pot au creme, caramel pot au creme, pistachio creme brulee and caramel creme brulee (aka best breakfast ever); cherry, straciatella and chestnut ice cream; rose-flavored sorbet and coffee ice cream, because we couldn’t find rose-flavored ice cream anywhere; a gluten-free madeleine; creme caramel; some sort of ice cream cake; gluten-free chocolate cake and gluten-free chocolate cookies, made by Philippe; chocolate mousse; a gluten-free religieuse from Helmut Newcake; and gluten-free tarte tatin, also made by Philippe.

The only thing on my wish-list that I didn’t end up eating and really wish I had is raclette. It sounds like God’s gift to cheese and potato lovers, but the specialty restaurant we tried to go to in Paris was all booked up and we ran out of time to find an alternative. I guess this gives me a reason to go back…

French is a many-humped camel

camel face

The rule I had set for myself in France was to spend no more than one cumulative hour speaking or being spoken to in English during the first eight days before my English-speaking friend arrived for the final weekend. I ended up playing a little fast and loose with that rule but on the balance I would say I spent 90% of my time living and breathing French.

It was the first time since I learned to talk that I relied upon a language other than English for longer than a few hours. I hadn’t anticipated how emotional it would be. In fact, it felt sort of like going through the seven stages of grief, sped up:

Shock: On the first day my sleep-deprived mind went blank and I was basically mute.

Denial: On the second day I literally stamped my feet and had a temper tantrum (though at least it was in French!).

Bargaining: On the third day I tried to convince Philippe to speak to me in English, even if I wasn’t allowed to speak it myself. Thankfully he resisted my whining.

Guilt: On the fourth day I started missing my three year-old niece and by the fifth day it had gotten so bad that I had no choice but to Skype with her, which of course I had to do in English.

Anger: On the sixth day I used my French to mock the French language and all of its busted rules. Why on earth would a civilized people so unnecessarily complicate things by assigning genders to objects? WHY??? And why would anyone with any mathematical logic whatsoever call the number “98” four-twenty-ten-eight instead of ninety-eight?

Depression: On the seventh day I had to think through something important in English. I found myself braindead and unable to recall the simplest words. I felt like I had somehow lost my native language in the space of a week, yet come nowhere close to gaining a new one.

Acceptance / Hope: On the eighth day I scrolled through my list of all the new words I had learned (more than 200!) and realized that for the first time in the year since I revived my French practice, I could actually feel the progress. When you’re learning incrementally, inconsistently, and non-contextually, progress is only visible from a distance of months or even years. But with just one week of immersion, I noticeably reduced the amount of translation I did in my head, I started talking more quickly, and I felt more capable of conveying complex and abstract thoughts. I began to notice that French people could understand me (albeit with difficulty) and I could understand them (when their speaking speed didn’t panic me). Crazy! Miraculous! Proficiency no longer felt like an impossible dream, and it seemed likely that if I just keep at this, I will one day be a true French speaker.

So I think I got over some sort of hump in France. Not the final hump (fluency) or even the close-to-final hump (proficiency), but a hump nevertheless. It’s the same sort of hump I had to get over to learn clarinet, video editing, and driving a car. The one I never think I am anywhere near to cresting until the moment after I get to the other side, as if by magic. Looking back, it feels like everything has changed overnight and I finally have an innate understanding – if not yet a mastery – of the thing that felt so foreign and frustrating to me the day before.

I’ve heard this moment referred to as the “epiphany point,” which seems fitting for such a momentous occasion… one that took 22 years from my first French class to get to! I can only hope getting over the next hump doesn’t take quite so long.

(photo: Adam Foster)

(get over the) hump-day inspiration: Stars

Stars quote

In honor of the trip whose spark came from Stars, so, too, comes today’s motivational quote.

Stars always seem to get me, probably because they get the human condition in general. This particular verse has meaning for me far beyond the sphere of romance. It’s about leaning into and celebrating your vulnerability and flaws rather than hiding them or hiding from them. It’s hard for my overly-critical self to believe in a world in which weakness can become strength, but I love the idea of such a world.

And I got a little bit of evidence of its existence in Paris two weeks ago, when I nervously asked a waiter what amounted to: “Can we to has some the water, please?” He grinned like a Cheshire cat, nodded assent, and left. I was mortified at having messed up the most basic sentence in every way possible, but I couldn’t help feeling that the waiter had not really minded. I asked my friend, “Do you think that look was his way of mocking me, or an indication that he found my horrible French cute? She, too, thought he had been charmed rather than put off by my gibberish.

So there you have it – sometimes the things that make us feel the most inept can actually be our source of power.

ce que j’ai fait pendant mes vacances d’hiver

Je suis arrivée à Paris le vendredi matin. Cette nuit-là je suis allée pour voir Stars. Je me sentais un peu bizarre, un peu fière et un peu choqué d’avoir effectivement fait mon plan fou.

Stars in Paris

Le lendemain, je me suis réveillée dans cet hôtel avec un design d’intérieur… distinctif…

hotel de nice

…et une vue typiquement parisienne:

view from hotel de nice

Je me suis promenée et j’ai vu des signes de Charlie partout.

hotel de ville

Charlie Hebdo

charlie a place de la republique

J’ai mangé trois repas et deux desserts (au moins) chaque jour. (Je vais le prouver dans un prochain post…)

gluten free patisserie

J’ai rencontré Philippe le mystérieux, avec qui j’avais eu les conversations du Skype pendant six mois pour apprendre le français (et pour lui d’apprendre l’anglais).

philippe

Nous sommes allés en Alsace et mangé encore plus. Choucroute garnie!!!!

choucroute garnie

Strasbourg.

cathedrale de strasbourg

strasbourg

Colmar.

colmar

Miniscule adorable village dont j’ai oublié le nom.

miniscule village

Pique-nique de voiture à miniscule adorable village. (Pas montré: ma faux baguette sans gluten.) J’heart Alsace.

car picnic

Je n’ai parlé que le français pendant huit jours. Encore: JE N’AI PARLE QUE LE FRANCAIS PENDANT HUIT JOURS.

Paul McCartney takes a bow

Je suis retournée à Paris et mon amie de Londres m’a rencontré pour le week-end. J’ai arreté avec ma règle de parler seulement en français et je suis revenue à l’anglais, mais encore et encore je parlais à elle en français par accident. C’était génial!

Nous sommes restées dans Le Marais dans une AirBnB appartement avec une vue parfaite.

view from airbnb

Nous sommes allées à un restaurant où un serveur ressemblait exactement à Daniel Craig et un autre ressemblait exactement à Javier Bardem. Nous avons pensé que nous pourrions être dans Skyfall… jusqu’à ce que s’est passé, et nous avons réalisé que nous étions dans tout autre chose.

Nous nous sommes promenées, nous avons mangé encore plus.selfie au brunch

Et il y avait une espace où nous avons mangé de brunch que j’aimais beaucoup: Le Comptoir General près de Canal St. Martin.

le comptoir general

Nous sommes allées à l’Orangerie pour voir les Monets et au d’Orsay pour voir les Van Goghs.

musee d'orsay

Nous avons fait des achats aux soldes célèbres de janvier (et en fin, ce n’était que les alimentaires que nous avons acheté, pas la mode).

kusmi tea

sardines

epicerie treats

truffle salt

confiture

Le dimanche soir,  mon amie a pris l’Eurostar pour retourner à Londres, et j’ai pris un avion à New York, où il a neigé un pied le lendemain.

Et cela, c’est ce que j’ai fait pendant mes vacances d’hiver. La fin. (Je me donne un A +.)

eiffel and d'orsay