Vietnam, part 2: the North

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I was in Vietnam last month to document a non-profit organization’s programs in a few northern provinces. Here are some photos I took during the trip to the field. Continue reading

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balls!

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I have a few recurrent nightmares that clearly indicate when I’m wracked by waking anxieties:

  • I desperately need to pee and there are hundreds of available toilets but every stall is tiny, missing its doors, covered in filth, or otherwise unusable. In the course of maneuvering around the obstacles, I end up peeing all over myself.
  • One tooth comes loose and falls out, setting off a domino effect in which every other tooth in my mouth drops out, one after another.
  • I’m back in high school for my final calculus exam, after cutting class all year. I can’t remember where my locker is located, let alone what the combination is, so I can’t even grab my math book to figure out what will be on the test. I realize that I’ll have to give back my college degree once they find out I failed calculus and never finished high school.

Last night I added a new one to the roster of anxiety dreams:

I was craving a falafel sandwich so I tried to buy one from a food truck. The vendor refused to sell me one. He said that since my records indicated that I hadn’t spoken Hebrew since 2001, I no longer understood it and I’m therefore not allowed to eat falafel. [I think I stole this concept from the Israeli Consulate.] I became enraged at the injustice and started flipping out, at which point the vendor and another guy forcibly removed me. I vaguely remember that my mom was there, happily chatting in Hebrew, munching on falafel, and turning a blind eye to my ejection. I silently cursed myself for not having learned Hebrew the easy way, as a kid.

[I did start and quickly abandon Hebrew Duolingo lessons a few weeks ago so maybe this was not an anxiety dream but rather my brain’s tough love reminder to get back to work?]

[Photo: Insatiable Munch]

My Dakar places

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On Valentine’s Day two years ago, I flew to Dakar. So much has happened since then that it feels more like a decade.

It also feels like I left Dakar ages ago, but it’s actually only been eleven months, which is so unbelievable to me that I redid the math twice. Still, eleven months is long enough to lose touch with a place, and the list I’m about to post may be a little outdated. But I’ve been promising it to myself and others for too long to let it evaporate. And things change far more slowly in Dakar than in New York, so even though there are surely new places to discover, almost all of these old places could still be going strong. (I’ll edit the post accordingly if I learn differently.)

Without further ado, and in no particular order, my favorite places in Dakar… Continue reading

Drinking Sancerre in Sancerre

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It makes sense that the first (and let’s be honest, probably the last) poem I ever wrote in French was inspired by drinking Sancerre in Sancerre:

C’est clair, si je vais boire un verre,
Mon vin préféré, c’est sancerre
Maintenant je suis sûre,
Que la joie est plus pure
Quand on boit le sancerre sur sa terre.

(I’ll leave the translation to you.)

My first taste of Sancerre was during the spring semester of my senior year at college.

I went for drinks with other soon-to-be-graduating friends at a French-style bistro just off campus. We sat around a small outdoor table in the fresh April air of a faux Parisian terrace, eked out of a Manhattan sidewalk. I had only recently crossed over the divide into legal drinking, and the freedom of choice was thrilling. When a friend of a friend who seemed to come from a glitzy background suggested we order a bottle of Sancerre – her absolute favorite, she said – I was incredulous she could remember the name of a wine, annoyed that a 21 year-old claimed to have a specific wine preference, and even more annoyed that it just happened to be the most expensive one on the menu. We were college students, not college professors.

Still, when the bottle of almost-white rosé arrived and I took my first sip, I had to admit there was something special about this wine. It was crisp and refreshing, with a hint of sparkling grapefruit, and for the first time, I truly enjoyed drinking a glass of wine. I am not sure whether it actually tasted sophisticated or whether I simply read sophistication into the experience, but from that moment on I linked Sancerre with both exceptional taste and understated elegance. In the more than 15 years since that spring evening, it’s the only wine whose taste my ridiculously forgetful palate can identity, the only one I get excited to see on a wine list, and the only one I’ve ever splashed out for at a wine shop.

So, when I realized that the town of Sancerre was less than three hours from Paris, an idea inevitably took shape. How amazing would it be, I daydreamed, to drink a glass of Sancerre in Sancerre?IMG_3526
The answer is: incredibly amazing, especially if it’s a perfectly bright and crisp autumn day, your friend Simona is in town, and your only ambition is to wander around the countryside sipping wine and eating cheese.
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Some more pictures, after the jump… Continue reading

Thanksgiving in Paris

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Happy Thanksgiving, to those who celebrated last week! Thursday and Friday were work days here, so I hosted a belated potluck dinner on Saturday, after spending a small fortune at the Thanksgiving store (actual name), where they have a corner on the market for cranberries and pumpkin pie filling, and at my local rotisserie, where I ordered a 7kg bird that they cooked on a spit. Continue reading

a food and sweets-filled stroll through Saint-Germaine and the Latin Quarter

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I had two places to be today, in very different parts of the city that are both far from my apartment. The latter appointment was anxiety-provoking, and I decided that instead of heading back to my house for a few hours of work in between meetings, I would take the day off and enjoy some exploration and indulgence.

My ultimate destination was the Pantheon, but I ended up adding so many interstitial stops to my route that by the time I got there, I didn’t have enough time to go inside. That’s okay, though – I’ll head back another time, and I did lots of fun stuff instead.  Continue reading

Madrid

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In mid-September I spent three days in Madrid, but I had work meetings in an office outside the city center for two of those days, so I didn’t get much of a chance to sightsee. Still, I packed a lot of wandering into my one day off, and I got a much better sense of the city than I did the first time I came here in 2000. That was also a short visit, of two days I think, but I may as well not have gone because I spent the whole trip ensconced in personal drama, walking around in a daze and absorbing nothing of Madrid’s essence. 17 years later, I got a second chance to see what I had missed the first time around… Continue reading

Aix-en-Provence

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Aix-en-Provence is a gorgeous town that I will forever associate with Candyland, because within five minutes of my arrival I happened upon the most wondrous food festival – in celebration of the local confection, the calisson – in the plaza a few steps from my AirBnB.

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In addition to the star attraction in every color and flavor, there were wedges of nougat as big as wheels of cheese, macarons that looked like watercolors, marshmallows in soft pastels, every kind of jam and jelly, and a variety of cookies for good measure. Continue reading

letter of recommendation: the macaron tower

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The New York Times’ letters of recommendation oversing the praises of silly or humble things that usually don’t get much love. My letter of recommendation oversings the praises of something fancy that is already amply adored but upon which I would like to heap more adulation.  Continue reading