Merveilleux merveilleux

Aux Merveilleux de Fred

When I was in France, I tried a pastry called a merveilleux, and it was indeed merveilleux. The bottom was meringue, the top was chocolate buttercream about one degree short of being all butter and no cream, and it was covered with chocolate ganache. I’m usually not a meringue fan but in this case the combination of flaky and crunchy and creamy was heavenly. The only drawback was that it was so rich and sugary – and humongous – that even between two people we couldn’t finish it. And not finishing dessert is just about the saddest thing there is.

A few weeks after my return I went to a party at which a box of the most delightful-looking confections was being passed around. Their appearance must have added to the enjoyment of eating them: little fluffy mountains of something or other covered in delicate pink and ivory and tan and brown shavings. They looked like something out of Marie Antoinette:

Marie Antoinette Desserts

But I couldn’t find the person who brought them to ask what they were and figure out whether they were gluten-free, so I never tasted them. And turning down dessert is the second saddest thing there is.

Then my subscription to a daily email for French expatriots in New York (I know I am not a French expatriot in New York) paid off, because a few weeks later it heralded the opening of the first Aux Merveilleux de Fred shop in the United States, in the West Village. It turns out the adorable little things I had salivated over at the party were a modified version – nymphettes – of the big old merveilleux I had in Alsace.

I visited the shop the next day, and though I really should have stopped at two, I ate four of them because a. they were delicious and b. it was my first week at my new job. If you’re in the city, I’d highly recommend stopping by to try them, or at least to ogle them through the store’s picture window – they really are almost as beautiful to look at as to taste. I’m expecting them to go the way of the cronut any day now…


jumping for awesome

This morning I read a couple of chapters of L’étranger on the subway. I’m about halfway through and I am a fan of how easy it is to read in French but not really a fan of the book per se. I said to my French colleague, “I’m not sure I get the premise. Is he behaving like that because he has Asperger’s or something?” He replied that it was just like an American to jump to a psychological diagnosis and that actually this is a novel about existential ennui or something like that. Not sure I’m convinced.

After work I went to a French conversation Meetup at which I spoke with grilled a woman who had just returned from taking a year off to study French in Strasbourg. It’s a good thing my French sounds so silly because otherwise she may have been intimidated by my rapid fire interrogation: how did she do it, why did she do it, why did she do it when she did it, and every other detail I could suck out of her to inform my own “study abroad” decision.

On the subway ride home I wiped my Duolingo slate clean and started fresh with Spanish, even though I already got through the whole thing last year. I am in a no man’s land at the moment as I’m between one Spanish class and the next, which starts in September. I figured I may as well re-do Duolingo so I don’t lose the past semester’s hard-won progress. I’m looking forward to experiencing once more the haphazard juxtapositions of words that pass for human utterances. (To wit: You drink my cat’s milk.)

Alors, adios y bonne nuit!

[Photo: THX0477]

(get over the) hump day inspiration: The Wind in the Willows edition

The Wind in the Willows quote

I just finished the childhood classic, “The Wind in the Willows,” and though its thematic focus is on the comforts of home, of course the quote that called out to me is all about the pleasures of taking off.

(Photo under quote: Daniel Axelson)

Tipsy musings

double vision

After a long day of work, wanting nothing more than to sit at a dimly lit bar and daydream, I wound up at a cozy spot in Soho. I started off the night staring blissfully into space, sipping my wine, feeling full of that intangible connection to the humongous universe that sometimes, unbidden but much appreciated, settles over and calms my angst. Then the bartender started talking to me.

She was from Siberia but had grown up in Poland. She had two master’s degrees, one in applied linguistics and one in international relations. And she had come to the US to work at the UN, first as a translator but then, after deciding she’d rather be a diplomat, for the European Union. She hated it and abdicated to the corporate world, where she was so bored that she researched and developed a skin care line, which is about to be exclusively distributed in the Middle East by some sheik or other. In the meantime, she’s been tending bar at two places – the one in Soho where I met her, and the other on the Upper East Side where she’s come into contact with a bevy of men who want to marry her. At one point she was juggling two fiancés (one twice the age of the other) because, as she put it, “I’m a yes woman.”

She was spinning the most fantastical stories, and nothing added up, but whether it was true or not was of absolutely no consequence because I was transported, exactly as I had wanted to be, to a land of being wooed by barons, and failing psychological tests to teach English to children in Beijing, and flinging Am Ex Black cards into soon-to-be-ex-husbands’ faces, and having every man you’ve  ever slept with beg to impregnate you for your excellent DNA. In short: a land of hyper-emotion, excess, exaggeration, and extremes that I could never live in, but that I could visit with great delight.

She was the kind of bartender who tops you off without your asking, and then, when you say you can’t finish because you have to work In the morning, and joke that she should finish it instead, shrugs and says, “Somewhere in the world there is a sober Russian child, I’ll drink it for him,” and laughs maniacally. I’m sure after I left she did just that.

I almost walked into a pole on the way to the subway. It was just what I needed.

Moral of the story: it’s possible to travel to foreign lands while right at home. You just need to pick the right bar.

[Photo: 🙂 🙂 ]

I don’t know if I’m coming or going

Wonder Wheel at Coney Island

I started my new job on a six-week contract, which ended last Friday, and now I’m on a four-week extension until the end of June. When my boss told me last week that he would try to get me a six month-long extension this time, I found myself telling him, “Actually, I sort of love the short-term contracts. Can you see if you can get me another four-week one?” I have since come to regret – and retract – that wholly short-sighted request, but I am still in thrall to its motivation: to feel that I can get up and go wherever I’d like, whenever I’d like (or rather, four weeks from whenever I’d like). My lease is up soon – August 1st – and the only other contractual obligation I have in New York is my job. Which means that as soon as it ends, I’m free as a bird – geographically if not financially speaking. I promised myself after my trip to Argentina a year and a half ago that I’d leave for an open-ended language-learning sabbatical in Senegal within two years. If I went in August I’d be six months ahead of schedule.

At first that thought was exciting, but as it sunk in I realized that I’m not yet ready to leave town – mentally, financially or in any other way. And there’s no good reason to leave a job this interesting and challenging before I’m forced to. So I decided I should embrace the longest contract I can possibly get – only to find out two days later that my preferences are entirely irrelevant, since the rules for my particular job designation prohibit me from getting a six-month contract. I’ll be month to month until I leave here, whether in August or next April (another big question mark).

So the roller coaster of uncertainty continues… as do my attempts to enjoy the rush and stave off the mental motion sickness.

[Photo: Bit Boy]