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

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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.

..
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/ 

 

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. 

Le Regard

Well this hurts. I had written a long and lovely post but one way or another it got erased. I will try my best to recreate it:

Before arriving in Paris I had collected an arsenal of cautions, tips and addresses from American, expat bloggers and from my friends who had recently returned from their year in Paris. Some of the advice was what seemed to me like common sense (don’t stare at someone unless you are hoping to give them the green light to start a conversation with you) and some of it was unexpected and pretty helpful (careful where you step, Parisians are notorious for not picking up after their dogs. The metro in Paris does not run 24/7. Do not order a café au lait in a café; that’s only a drink you have at home in the morning), but all was shared with the intention of helping me adapt to Paris as an American student who has a conversational grasp of the language (at best.)

And so now I cannot tell if it is due to this year and a half long period of preparing myself and familiarizing myself with the cultural and social habits of Parisians or the fact that the Parisian culture is not unlike that of New York City, but I am disappointed to say I have had very few issues adapting myself to the Parisian lifestyle. Compared to my classmates who have spoken about their issues acclimating to Paris and the anxiety they feel over the unfamiliarity of it all, I have yet to feel severely overwhelmed. Which is definitely a good thing but I also have to admit that I am a bit disappointed that there isn’t a great and remarkable contrast between the Parisian and New York culture. After I had spent two years in the safe, comfortable and charming community and town of my college, where the worst thing that could happen to me would be finding out that the dining hall had run out of the plain yogurt that I ate every morning, and I was hoping I would be awakened and bouleversée by all the social oddities of Paris.

There was one thing I was anticipating and had prepared myself for but hasn’t been an issue: I had been told that Parisians love to stare. This is, for me, very untrue. Not only on comparably so, but also in absolute terms.

I want to avoid sounding narcissistic but the fact is that in New York City there is not a single day that I can leave my house and walk outside without being catcalled, whether it’s just a hello, psst psst or another verbal comment, or the silence that goes along with being stared at. Every time I pass by a group of young guys, construction workers or people hanging outside a bar, I instictively brace myself for their comments or their stares. It’s not pleasant but it is something that I have come to expect and accept, since it’s generally harmless, because the effort I would have to put in to stop it isn’t worth it.

However, in Paris, where I had been warned about those “randy French men” and how Parisians love to stare, this hasn’t been an issue. And it’s not that I miss being yelled at by strangers, it’s actually a relief, but it is unfamiliar. At first I spent a brief period thinking I was just too ugly for Paris. But even if that’s true, I have come up with some other theories:

1. The city is full of attractive and well dressed women so you have to be a perfect 10 to be garner attention.

2. The well dressed and perfectly coiffed men are playing the same game I am. After all, they didn’t spend all that time getting dressed in the morning not to be noticed and they’re definitely not going to look at you first. Whoever is the first to look at the other person is not only admitting their interest but their inferiority as well.

3. On a normal day there are 100 high school girls in a 5 block radius that are dressed better than I am.

4. With a pace that is a near jog and New York-trained poker face, I come off frigid and unapproachable.

5. Parisians are, in effect, less rude than Americans/New Yorkers

There is one demographic that loves to stare at me: French women. I don’t know if it’s because they are checking out my outfit or trying to figure out where I hail from ( on certain days I am evidently UN Parisienne since I fail to adhere to the uniform that is strictly black, gray and/or dark purple during months that have an R in the name).

But for all that my New York roots has blessed me with, it has also rendered me insensitive to vowel sounds and that is something that will keep be very much StaceyL’Americaine. That is, until my Phonetique class knocks it out fo me.

À bientot,

S

La Connexion Francaise

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It’s been quite a while since I last posted, but I was really trying to avoid writing about anything that did not relate to Paris or my Parisian preparations. So, on news that does relate to my Paris-year-abroad (which is less than two months away now!):

I successfully applied for and received my Student Visa! It was much less stressful and complicated than I was anticipating. (Note to self and others: when going through bureaucratic processes such as a visa application, looking at and discussing what others in your group are doing will only cause unnecessary confusion in your life!) 

I confronted the infamous “wicked French woman” on Yelp who sits at Window No. 3 and our transaction went pretty smoothly. One week later I was back at the consulate on the Upper East side waiting alongside an actress who plays a character in Gossip Girl (what a suitable setting ?, which I took as a good omen for my trip. Within 30 minutes I was on my way out the door Visa in hand and feeling elated!

Since then, my summer has been pretty bland. I bought my luggage- a two piece set in a cherry red color. I knew I was committing a textbook mistake while I purchased them but I couldn’t resist. I know that it’s more likely to have your luggage stolen if it looks expensive and is not the standard black color.  This tips off thieves that its contents will probably be worthy of stealing. But since I’ve never had my very own luggage before, I was willing to take the risk. Plus, I can take other preventative measures and buy this new product that looks like luggage i.d. tags but it actually enables you to track your luggage.  

Now my two piece set is sitting in my room, begging to be filled with my clothes, shoes and toiletries, but I’ll wait at least until the beginning of August to start packing.

 

The last thing to note is that it appears to be that New York City is becoming more French. Now, I know that the truth is that since taking French in Fall 2010 I am just more aware to people speaking French, French stores, French restaurants and French products when I walk around the city. I am merely the victim of confirmation bias and selective thinking (or is NYC really becoming more French-influenced?).

I was walking downtown…A Vespa and a French restaurant  

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I was walking over the Brooklyn Bridge… Lovers proclaiming their everlasting (or 6 month long) love  through locks. What do they think this is, the Pont des Arts ??

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Until next time.

XX,

S.

The Best Thing about a trip to Paris is Iceland

Just kidding.

But on a serious note: I just booked my flight to Paris for this August! As soon as I got my confirmation my going to Paris suddenly felt real again. Sometimes, at weeks at a time, even though I continue to research and read about Paris in order to prepare myself, I don’t give myself time to really wrap my head around the fact that I’ll be in Paris in 4 months for a year long journey. I think it’s because I have so much to do in order to finish up this spring semester that I know I can’t let myself get emotionally/mentally distracted. Or maybe it’s because if I actually gave myself time to think about it I would begin to freak out and concentrate on how unprepared I am.

Whatever the reason is, I haven’t been obsessing about my year abroad like I thought I would at this point in time. I am busy with the Visa process, making spreadsheets on Excel of places to visit and buying my “Paris sandals” or my “Paris converter-adapter” but I haven’t really enjoyed many moments of “ahhhh… I made it! I’m going to Paris” I’m sure that will come in time.

Speaking of time and the changes that come with it… I’m going to Paris ?? Contrary to many of the girls in this program, going to Paris has not been a life long, calculated dream. Although I’m sure that I have fantasized of traveling and  visiting Paris, I had always been perfectly content with living in NYC. Plus, never would I have dreamt of being able to speak French (sort of) and actually integrating myself into the French culture. I never imagined myself to be more than a tourist in a city like Paris. I will never be a Parisienne, bien sur, and I’m fine with that. However, I fully expect to participate during my year abroad.

Maybe it’s sad, but it’s how I feel: Going to Paris feels like I’m finally living. I have always felt a bit like an observer, even in my own life. Always waiting for something to happen to me or to reach a certain age in order to begin living. Well after I touch down to CDG airport, I will have no excuse! I will have reached the point in which I MUST participate, seize the day and “live”. Otherwise, I’m wasting my own time.

xx

S

La naissance de mon blog!

Admittedly I signed up for this account months ago but didn’t think it was right to share it and post in it until I officially established that I’m going to Paris. I’ve been accepted, I’ve been buying “Paris pieces” to add to my wardrobe (I’m really not expecting look like a Parisienne but I’m definitely not going to be showing up in faded yoga pants and flip flops), and I’m on my way to booking my flight and applying for my Student Visa. Fingers crossed because it seems like the hardest part as of yet will be working with the French Consulate.

Other than slowly preparing for my year abroad (5 more months until I’m on that plane!), I’ve also been dedicated to educating myself on the most highly recommended patisseries, boulangeries et fromageries in Paris (thanks expat bloggers!) and getting enthusiastic about fine food and desserts via sampling tasty treats in New York City and, this weekend, in Montreal.

Unbeknown to me until the night before, I was luckily in NYC for Jour du Macaron (March 21) where I successfully made it to 5/21 participating shops and got a single free macaron from each place. That day was my first experience ever eating a macaron.. or, really, macarons.. And here’s what I have to say:

1) First stop: Mille Feuille where I got a rose macaron. I liked that it was a decent size and that it had a bit of a crunch to it (opposed to being chewy) and that the rose flavor wasn’t too overpowering. I wasn’t in awe but I thought it was decent.

2) From Bosie Cafe I received a salted caramel macaron. I also appreciated the size of this one, how it wasn’t chewy and had the right kind of texture to it. A bit too sweet for me- but that’s just me. I’m not a huge caramel fan. Definitely the second best macaron that I tried of the day.

3) From Mad Mac a puny little pistacchio macaron that had hardly any flavor and just looked stale. I don’t know if they were forced to participate in macaron day or what because the display avait l’air of an afterthought. The server was basically friendly but I felt like they really didn’t want to be bothered with us freeloaders.

4) From Macaron Cafe near Madison- I got a flavor that they’re known for – the raspberry macaron. This macaron was bit soft and chewy and had a jam filling. The outer shell had a sheen and almost a shimmery coat. The macaron was definitely tasty and I would try another one from Macaron Cafe- they probably had the widest variety of flavors (and colors) but the raspberry macaron wasn’t my favorite of the day.

5) I unintentionally saved the best for last on my tour du macaron. I stopped in at La Maison du Chocolat where they were only offering pistacchio macarons. And with good reason. These were my favorite of the day, and I think they might be their most popular.

I was slightly intimidated at the thought of going into this shop on the Upper East Side for my free macaron, especially as I was carrying a Tiffany’s shopping bag to protect all my macarons in. This might sound sort of chic but in Upper East Siders would see right through me and regard me as someone with strikingly bad taste. Why? Well, the only Tiffany & Co’s in Manhattan are below 59th Street, and so it’s unlikely that I had really bought something at Tiffany’s earlier that day; I would have had to walk 20 blocks to Maison du Chocolat from Tiffany’s (quelle horreur!) And if I had taken a cab, I wouldn’t have been holding the bag. And I definitely didn’t live near by or else I would’ve dropped off my diamonds first before picking up my macaron.

That leaves option two:

I am one of those people who saves bags (strike one) and uses them to carry around my zipolock’ed lunch and attempt to feel glamorous.( strike two)

Point is I was wearing a giant neon sign that said “I DON’T BELONG HERE”.. But the vendeur dans la Maison du Chocolat was a very kind older gentleman who engaged in a little small talk with me before I left.

Verdict– I loved the chocolate filled, pistacchio macaron de la Maison du Chocolat and might even consider picking up another the next time I’m in town. That is, if I can’t find something better to spend my $2.50 on. (Like a giant, flaky croissant perhaps or one of those famous giant cookies from City Bakery)

tchau,

S.