Paris <3's New York

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One thing I noticed in France a few years ago and which appears to remain steadfast, is Parisians’ fascination with New York and especially with Brooklyn. [It’s also well-documented.] This is both wonderful and terrible for me. I left Brooklyn hoping for something altogether new, and yet my old New York neighborhood keeps creeping into my new Parisian ones. On the other hand, as a product of Brooklyn I am quite a hot commodity here, and I really cannot complain about that.

For some reason, many people here think that my accent in French is that of an Italian. It probably has to do with the fact that I have no ear and just approximate everything in a way that randomly cleaves more towards Italian sounds than American ones. In any case, I always correct people rather apologetically when telling them that I’m actually from the United States, even though they’re always thrilled. By now, I delight in the inevitable next question, ‘Where in the United States?’ because I’ve come to expect that nine times out of ten my response will elicit pure joy and predispose the person to like me based solely on my provenance.

I started out telling people that I had come here from New York by way of Dakar, assuming that Dakar was the most interesting thing about that statement. It certainly is to me. But no one here really cared about Dakar and now I’ve taken to skipping the Senegal part and saying that I’m from Brooklyn instead of New York, to optimally exploit Parisian sensibilities. On more than one occasion, people have squealed with delight when I’ve told them where I’m from, and then breathlessly peppered me with questions about it. Sometimes I withhold my origins strategically, waiting to throw my Brooklyn cred into the mix until I sense that a conversation is petering out and needs revitalizing. It’s like my secret weapon. (My other secret weapon, ridiculously enough, is my terrible accent. Men especially find it endlessly charming, which is great but also incredibly bizarre. I sound objectively awful when speaking French. The pull could only be the anthropological imperative to diversify the herd.)

A few incidents that have highlighted for me the ongoing hotness of the New York / Brooklyn brand:

In the supermarket in Barbès, there was a minuscule offering of four books for sale on the checkout line. One was called “Une Femme de Brooklyn.” You really can’t get more on the nose than that. I was tempted to buy the book to see what kind of offbeat characterizations they would make about Brooklyn women. The cover offered no insight.

A couple of weeks ago, I passed a McDonalds ad publicizing a month-long special menu called ‘New York Street Food.’ (The menu items bore no resemblance to New York street food.)

I just booked an apartment for July and August in Belleville, a rather hip neighborhood I am interested in exploring further. The apartment is perfect for me, but I was a little dismayed to find that the building is situated next door to a brunch-serving cafe called Topknot, and next door to that is a hipster barber shop. Also, I’m subletting from a guy with a Tom Selleck-like mustache. Have I left Brooklyn only to end up right back where I started?

Nah. The French are too delightfully off in their rendition of Brooklyn for it to really be threatening. [To wit: the photos above and below, from the Clignancourt flea market. Apparently Brooklyn = hot dogs and bicycles with a side of tattoos. While I suppose that’s technically correct, the ratios are way out of whack.]

And since there’s no danger of brunch spots overtaking cheese shops anytime soon, I can still afford to be amused rather than horrified by it.

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A quick visit to the Alps

raclette

I had been hankering for raclette ever since missing my chance to try it in France, so last Thursday I went to eat it in New York. Philippe found me a quirky little place that serves fondue and raclette – but only on winter nights they deem sufficiently cold – out of a dimly lit, speakeasy-like back room. Getting to it felt almost like going through the wardrobe into Narnia. Continue reading

Albertine

Albertine bookstoreI visited the new bookstore in the French Embassy because a. it looked like a beautiful space – cozy and snug and perfect for escaping the frigid temperatures last week, and b. because I want to read in French for 15 minutes a day as a way to review grammar and vocabulary without opening up a textbook.

I asked the bookseller for a beach read because I figured I need simple language and an easy but engaging plot to overcome the boredom I’ll inevitably feel at moments when I lose the thread of what’s going on. Somehow I ended up instead with a translation of a Patti Smith short story collection. I understand every third word. Good thing the stories are about three pages each, so that by the time I get exasperated enough to abandon one, I’m already on to the next.

Once I’m done “reading” this book, I’m excited to go back to Albertine. It’s such a gorgeous space, and I already have my next book picked out: a young adult novel called “Dentiste Diabolique” that I spotted on my way out. Promises to be a much easier read. 🙂

(Photo: Albertine interior)