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

dropping in

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It’s been awhile. I’m writing this from Paris, after a whirlwind tour of southern New Jersey, New York, and Los Angeles, where I caught up with family and friends and generally ran around like a crazy person doing an average of twelve things each day compared to the one or two things that was my norm in Dakar. Hence, no time for blog posts.

I actually did write one on my phone, but I never found a moment to upload it and now it’s obsolete. Ah well.

So anyway, I got to Paris on Tuesday, which makes today my one week anniversary. Not that I’m counting the days or anything… Rather, I’m frittering them away like a retiree who doesn’t realize that she’s about to run out of money very, very soon. Or, like a retiree who does realize this and yet somehow feels very emotionally insulated from that knowledge. I don’t know what’s going on with me and my usual stress response, but I’m living the good life here in France while doing the bare minimum to find work, even though I estimate I have about three months left to bleed money before my good life will come to an end and I’ll be on the next flight to wherever someone will give me a job.

But for now, here are some random tidbits about my time in Paris thus far:

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For a month, I have an AirBnB rental in a heavily West African neighborhood called Barbès. I did this by design, figuring it would help me pretend that I hadn’t completely left a place I didn’t really want to leave. What I didn’t realize when I booked the apartment was how close Barbès is to everywhere else. Paris is a much smaller city than I thought. A few days ago I walked from my house, which is fairly close to the ring road that encircles the central city, all the way to the Seine in the middle of the city, in about 40 minutes.

The tiny apartment has two windows, one towards the front of the house and one towards the back. The front one – my bedroom window – has a view of a blooming lilac tree and an apartment building painted dark magenta across the road. It’s quite picturesque. But the view out the back window – the one in the image at the top of this post – steals the show. The frame is filled by Sacré-Cœur in such a way that it looks like a backdrop for a set. At night they light up the church, and I turn off the lights in my kitchen and just stare out the window grinning.

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My plan had been to spend every other day of my one-month Paris trial, as I’m thinking of it, strolling aimlessly around a different arrondissement to get to know the city better. (And I was supposed to spend every other day at home in front of my computer, working hard to find a job. I may or may not have stuck to that plan.) I found a box of 50 index-sized cards in the rental, each one with a different short tour of a Paris neighborhood, and I decided to use those to guide my walks instead. They are amazing because you don’t look like a tourist holding a map or a guide book when you walk around with one of the cards, and the landmarks include some fairly random yet intriguing places, like candy stores from the 1700s.

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As expected, I am continuously tempted by the million and one ways to dispense with my money here. When I visited the Galeries Lafayette as part of one of the walking tours, it felt dangerous to linger too long, because everything looked perfect and amazing and I feared getting sucked in to a buying frenzy. IMG_7997.jpg

(When I took a picture of the famous cupola I noticed that with only slight modification, the bunting echoed my nostalgic thoughts: Trop cher. Fly me to DKR forever.) And yet, I can’t even blame the French for their overconsumption of luxuries the way I do Americans. Haute couture and gastronomy are part of French cultural heritage (even UNESCO says so.); how can you begrudge them their Chanel and their artisanal cheese?

On that note… I did some grocery shopping so that I wouldn’t have to keep spending money eating out. I stopped in to a charcuterie shop and picked up a few slices of ham and a wedge of emmental, which I figured would last me a few breakfasts. When the cashier rang it up as 19 Euros, I gasped, “Jesus Christ,” which is appropriate given that my own god would have been like, “That’s what you get for eating pork.”

Also what I get for eating pork (and six kinds of cheese, and ice cream, and Sancerre, and steak with blue cheese sauce…): I became progressively more and more sick to my stomach for the first four or five days I was here. The theory I came up with in Senegal holds water: my stomach does a million times better in places where other people’s do much worse, because my stomach does not like the good life the way my heart and taste buds do. (I’m ignoring my stomach and trying to push through.)

To conclude: I will soon be both broke and physically broken, but in the meantime I’m quite happy. This is a really nice life to lead, however long it lasts.

P.S. The most random of the random tidbits: I find young trendy French people’s relationship to the English language hilarious. Today I passed a hipster-bearded guy wearing a cap that said MILF on it, and I really wanted to ask him if he knew what it meant. Instead I laughed out loud while checking him out and he caught me in the act. I don’t know, maybe he does know exactly what it means and is just taking the concept of wearing things ironically to a rather brilliant level.

I shouldn’t have done it

rose-flavored ice cream

Tonight on my way to the subway, I passed Ladurée, the Parisian macaron shop. Even though I hold as objective truth than one should never step foot in foreign outposts of shops that are beloved institutions in their home countries, I did anyway. Blame my overactive bladder and preference to use the bathroom in a fancy French café over a McDonalds: once in the door, I couldn’t help but eye the offerings. And when I noticed rose glace on the menu, the battle was over before it began. I had been on the lookout for floral-flavored ice cream above all other food in France, because I remember like it was yesterday the moment I had my first taste of fleur glace from a street vendor in Paris two decades ago. One of the best things I have ever tasted. And yet, I could not for the life of me find flower-flavored ice cream in wintry Paris. No street vendors in sight, and the shops only had rose sorbet.

All this to say, I quickly abandoned my deeply-held convictions and ordered a scoop of Ladurée’s rose glace, from an excessively sweet waitress with a Staten Island accent. It tasted delicious in the way American ice cream can taste delicious, but it was not at all like the life-altering French ice cream I had in 1993. While eating, I eavesdropped on conversations transpiring in English. I paid with dollar bills.

And I felt the looming threat of tarnishing the memory of the Ladurée in Saint Germain, where I bought macarons made more heavenly by the knowledge they came into existence in their motherland, were sold in a luxe shop that would have been guillotined during the French Revolution, and were requested in halting French from snooty employees who couldn’t be bothered with silly American customs like politeness. Ladurée should never have crossed the Atlantic.

And I should never have followed that ice cream with chocolate… but that’s a story for a different blog.

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…