En avril, ne te découvre pas d’un fil ; en mai, fais ce qu’il te plaît

My host shared this French proverb with me sometime in mid April when those of us in Paris experienced two or three days of 70+ degree weather. The expression, which communicates the distrust towards the capricious weather in April, warns against changing into a summer wardrobe and packing away your winter clothes. 

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If this is something most Parisians hold to be true, it would explain the lack of weather-appropriate clothing on those very warm days. It’s as if no one except for myself and some other foreigners looked at the weather forecast: while I was dressed in a bright yellow skirt, sandals and a tank top (perfectly appropriate for a 76 degree day anywhere else in the world) I was made to feel like an outcast amongst all the Parisians clad in leather jackets, black turtlenecks, [Ugg] boots, winter coats with fur trim hoods… Paris fashion is synonymous with black on black , but you’d think they’d spring for the chance to feel the sunshine on their forearm after 7 months of winter!

 

A book I read for a class this semester ‘L’Autre Rive’ compares French and American culture. Unlike many other books published before it on the same subject, the author focuses on the more psychological reasoning behind these differences and doesn’t just merely recite his observations but has done research to support his claims. 

 

One of the differences between the American individual and French individu is that the Français is more likely to avoid commitments and abide the terms put worth in a signed contract. From my personal although limited experience I feel like I definitely agree with this. Compared to American and anglophone acquaintances, I have had a harder time establishing a date and time to meet up with French acquaintance. Even if we managed to set a time, I would without fail never receive a confirmation message or they would cancel on me.

 

What does this have to do with wearing weather-inappropriate black leather pants on a hot day you may ask? Well, I have a theory that the reason Parisians love black clothing (and have a hard time giving it up) is because it greatly complements their psychological/behavioral tendencies  For a fashion conscious Parisian who has no idea what she or he is doing that day, when she/he is doing it, where she/he is doing it, who she/he is doing it with, a black ensemble will fit all these requirements! If a night at the cinema and some dancing with a date changes to a picnic on the quai with a friend and a midnight cat funeral, a black outfit will do the trick for any and all of these occasions. 

Fortunately for everyone who recoils at the mere idea of a strong sunshine that is powerful enough to upheave the ominous Parisian clouds, Paris is back to being gray and cold with sporadic rain showers during this first week of May.

 

As for me, I’ll be leaving Paris behind tomorrow and heading down to the south of France where I hope to see some sun and locals who are ‘dressing however they please’.

The City of Light, The City That Sleeps

The day before Valentine’s day I celebrated my 21st birthday in Paris. During the week I had been searching for a French restaurant that offered great quality food but wasn’t incredibly expensive. I found two restaurants in Paris that looked very promising menu wise, but were both unfortunately no gos- one restaurant had thoughtfully closed during Valentines day week for renovations and the other restaurant’s days of ouverture conflicted with when I would want to have my birthday dinner- Wednesday night.

The night before my brithday I had finally found the perfect dining location: Cafe Constant. This restaurant is one component of the trifecta owned by Chef Christian Constant located in the 7th and  a five minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. The menu was full of French-inspired innovated dishes and it would actually be open on Wednesday. When I arrived there that night I found that Cafe Constant was closed for renovations!

Luckily the night was not spoiled. My dinner companion and I wasted little time finding a substitute:  Les Cocottes– the second of Chonstant’s restaurants on Rue Saint Dominique whose price range falls right in between Cafe Constant and his 3rd and most ritzy restaurant Le Vilolon d’Ingres.

 

 ImageThe not so classic “Classic Cesar Salad” at Les Cocottes 

 

One thing that I spend little time worrying about when living in New York is the opening and closing hours of stores. While chain stores are virtually always open, even smaller shops are usually open 7, maybe 6 days a week, and if so the day of rest for businesses is usually on Sunday. In Paris, the ‘day of rest’ can equally affect business Saturday, Sunday, Monday or  Wednesdays. Good luck trying to find a lunch spot that’s open after 2 :30 and before 6 :30pm in case you’re in need of a late lunch- that’s when the workers are taking their break and preparing for dinner. In additional to that there are always fermeteures exceptionelles that you won’t know about until you arrive at the store front.  

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Moral of the story. If you’re in Paris and plan to go to a specific museum restaurant or store Always have a plan b

The world did’t end yesterday and I made it home!

Here’s a little homage to the unfortunate middle child, Queens. Not as forgotten, unfamiliar or unaccessible as The Bronx and Staten Island, but often eclipsed by Brooklyn and Manhattan.

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“I don’t do Queens,” a Manhattanite told me the other day.

Remember old New York, where immigrants strived, cultures collided, grit outshined glamour and ethnic restaurants were filled with ethnic crowds, not Instagramming foodies? Before Manhattan commerce was diluted with H&M and Starbucks, and Brooklyn became half hipster playground, half suburb substitute? That city lives on in Queens, where the forces of gentrification have barely nipped at the edges of the city’s most expansive borough, home to 2.2 million people, from (it seems) 2.2 million backgrounds.

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If it were to secede from New York City would become the fourth most-populous city in America and almost certainly its most diverse.

 

Quotations from 2 New York Times articles on Queens.

Read here: 

http://travel.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/travel/36-hours-in-queens-ny.html

http://frugaltraveler.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/12/20/36-hours-in-queens-enough-frugal-options-for-a-week/ 

 

French Winter Dishes

Last month, when the temperature in Paris began its descent below 50 degrees, I saw the first appearance of “fondu” for dinner. Since then, I’ve had it just once more as, according to my host mother, one should really only eat this dish once a month lest your arteries clog and you can’t fit into your Moncler winter coat.

Raclette is a traditional Swiss/French regional dish, and also the name of the cheese that can be used. Legend has it that it’s high-caloric value would keep you warm, which is necessary in the French Alps from where this dish originated. In other words, from a nutritional perspective, if you don’t live in the mountains you really have no business eating this. But from a culinary and hedonistic point of view, why the heck not. 

The dish I had started with with Mont d’Or (advertised as “the authentic cheese of the mountain”) that comes wrapped in a “belt of bark” and will go into the oven to be melted. The melted cheese will be spooned over a sliced open baked potato, accompanied by some charcuterie (sliced meat) and maybe some small pickles on the side.

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http://www.thailandtatler.com/wine-and-raclette-at-amari-atrium/

 

If it sounds familiar that’s because it bears close ressemblance to its unrefined American cousin the bacon and cheese potato chez Wendy’s. Of course, every ingredient that composes the traditional Raclette is superior in quality than those found at in a fast food joint, but that still didn’t stop me from thinking I had definitely eaten this “dish” a few times before, despite a different presentation (a steaming potato cradled in a styrofoam and plastic container, inside a brown paper bag and handed to me from a drive-thru window.)

I was also a bit surprised to hear that a dish I had been eager to eat and as well as recreate, boeuf bourguignon, did not live up to my expectations. Maybe if I tried it in a top notch restaurant or cooked it following Julia Child’s recipe down to every last detail, including boiling bacon, I would find that I actually love it. I had no idea until recently that this dish was made with “noix [de joue] de boeuf” (as in the cheek of the cow). After my initially incredulousness, I didn’t even mind that the meat came from such an unlikely source. My problem was that this cut of beef closely resembles a slice of marble cake in which the meat and fat alternate to create a maze, making it difficult to cut, consume and enjoy.

I also had a fig and foie gras macaron yesterday from Pierre Herme. It’s only out for the holiday season, and not a complete waste of money if you want to try a unique combination flavors.

 

xx

S.

I’ll be Home for Christmas

I have been thinking about different European cities I could visit ever since I found out that I would be in Paris to study for the year. I did minimal research, but I managed to decide I would like to visit London, Berlin, Venice or Rome, Prague if I got the chance and maybe travel to Nice for a weekend. Basically everyone I spoke to who has been to Europe says traveling is a must and that there’s no better time to do than in my twenties while I’m living in Europe anyway.

Sometime in October I began looking up the cost of tickets and hotels for a multi-European city tour for December’s holiday vacation. After adding up all the costs, I figured just staying in one city for the entire break wouldn’t be a bad idea and would actually maybe give me the exact time I needed to get to know the city well.. As it would have turned out, I would have spent  Christmas alone in Berlin, which at first didn’t bother me as i thought of how I could make myself my own little Christmas dinner and walk around the city at night. But then I began to really think about it and the idea became depressing. Suddenly, returning to NYC to spend my vacation with my family looked incredibly appealing.

After deciding it was not only the most feasible option but one that I was happy with, I booked my ticket home. The following week everyone in our program was discussing their holiday travel plans and I couldn’t help but feel ashamed that I was now one of those girls who returned to the U.S. for holiday and wasn’t going to take advantage of the fact that she was in close proximity to Italy, Belgium, Spain and Germany. I also felt that my early and unexpected return to NYC would cheapen all of my goodbyes with my family and friends. I imagined them rolling their eyes at the news and thinking I only deserved a goodbye half as heartfelt in August, if only they had known I was coming home a mere 4 months later.

Then I reminded myself of all the things I get to do while in the U.S., with my family. I know that I haven’t spent Christmas in any other city but New York (so I’m not only biased as a New Yorker but ignorant), but for me there is no better place to spend Christmas.

I heard of how beautiful Berlin, Vienna and Prague can be during this time of the year, especially with their Christmas markets, so I understand their appeal and why they are considered the best cities where one can pass the holidays. But my ideal Christmas isn’t spent exhausted from traveling or alone in a foreign city, no matter how charming or how much more it can enrich my experience abroad.

I will eventually do some more traveling while I’m in Europe, but for now I am full of anticipation to visit Alice’s Teacup with a friend for tea and scones, go to Wild Ginger in Brooklyn for some vegan food, to bake certain cookies and cakes that call for American ingredients, or just walk from Madison Avenue to Bryant Park, passing the display at Bloomingdales, Saks, the tree at Rockefeller Center and carrying my ice skates to spend hours at Citi Pond. 

I also can’t wait to go home so I can pack up and bring to Paris my UGGs; a pair of boots I never thought I would need or feel comfortable enough to wear in Paris. On the contrary, it seems like not only are they quite popular here but they’re necessary even indoors where, even with 4 pairs of socks on, my feet are constantly gelé. 

30 things I am grateful for

For Thanksgiving, which is today!, I will be spending half of my day in Paris in class, part of my day on a train and the rest of the evening in London, where I’ll be staying for an extended weekend. I’ll try my best to make it feel like Thanksgiving by dressing up and maybe I’ll eat a turkey sandwich or some peanut butter today, but I’m going to take a wild guess and say that, like Halloween, the day will probably pass without anything remarkable or festive happening. So to get into the spirit ever so slightly I’ll fashion a list of the 50 25 30 Paris-related-things I am grateful for this Thanksgiving season.

30. Having found the perfect spot for hot chocolate

29. Finding what I consider one of the best croissants in Paris

28. The absence of cleavage here in Paris as a fashion statement or whatever reason it’s so omnipresent in the U.S.

27. That the heat finally came on in my apartment

26. How walking around the house without shoes or slippers on is considered a scandal for it makes me feel like I’m living in the 1900s in the old country.

25. Having the opportunity to live and study in Paris

24. Having found good friends in my Paris program

23. Only having to cope with a 6 hour time difference so that I can still skype to my family on weekends.

22. “Prix reduit” at museums and other cultural spaces for students or residents under 26 years old

21 The convenience of the Paris metro (sometimes)

20. That I have yet to be mugged

19. Being able to find good and affordable meals at restaurants

18. Having a wide range of patisseries to choose from daily

17. That I have the time and means to start practicing ballet again

16. The older Parisian women I see on the streets who are dressed impeccably or are even more daring than most younger Parisians, who are generally dressed alike.

15. The enormous yogurt aisle in food stores.

14. The Seine River at night

13. Well behaved children on the metro..Seeing children in the school yard wearing uniform smocks so they don’t dirty their clothes.

12. The no smoking law indoors

11. The dismissal of certain laws (which are really more like suggestions) like the one regle that says you can’t drink while picnicking on the grass beneath the Eiffel Tower

10. Being able to taste and eat “real” macarons, bread, cheese and wine

9. That it hasn’t rained an awful lot this fall

8. That tax is already included in the price  of items when you’re shopping

7. Cheaper luxury items

6. My pass naivgo (a.k.a. Metro card) that gives me unlimited rides and that I dont have to worry bending or de-magnetizing

5. The inefficiency of businesses (like not responding to e-mails, closing their stores whenever they feel like it, freezing bank accounts for no good reason, posting inaccurate and deceitful information on their webpages) for it reminds me that I could probably never live in Paris.

4. The too-relaxed attitude (or ignorance?) concerning hygiene and the prevention of illnesses for it has built up my immune system.

3. Going grocery shopping every weekend at the open market

2. The fact that my host has an open tab at the boulanger next door

1. That Disneyland Paris is only a train ride away (even though I have yet to go)