en/Vie a Paris

Life in Paris, and surrounding areas.

Salam Alaikum — Hello Morocco!

June 25

My sister, mom and I arrived in Morocco on June 25th, around 3pm, where we joined my father, brother, future brother-in-law Manu, and Anthony, who had already been in Morocco for the Gnawa music festival the previous weekend. It has been five years since my last trip to Africa, when we went to Rwanda, but the air here is still the same: warm, smooth, and impregnated with the smell of burnt wood.

Driving from the airport to the hotel is always a telling experience, as airports are generally outside of the city, and depict a more rural life. The landscape here is very arid and full of chipped rock, sand, and desert dwelling plants. Little donkeys can be seen hiding under the shade of the Argan tree, a tree that is full small dried nuts that, when pressed, produce the precious Argan oil, the Moroccan cure-all. The people here have a beautiful brown skin, and often light eyes and dark hair. The men often wear pants and long-sleeved shirts, and the women are often fully covered as well by their berkas. The air is warm and dry, and a light breeze wraps it around you gently, like thin honey.

June 26

Today we went to Sidi Kaouki (a beach) where we spent the day cooling of in the ocean, hanging out on the beach, and drying off in the sun all to quickly. 

After the beach, around six, we went to the Tamount cooperative where women worked to produce products made from Argan oil. As we walked in, there were five women seated on mats and pillows, cracking these nuts with stones. Around them were piles and piles of shelled nuts, and baskets full of more nuts to crack. I knelt down beside them, the shells of argan nuts digging into my knees, and watched: it’s a two-step process, first you crack the flakey exterior, and then the harder, inner nut. From that you obtain a small, white, oblong seed half the size of a fingernail. I was awestruck by the amount of work that the women had to do to obtain this precious seed. 

June 27

We spent our day today exploring the Medina (central town) with a guide named Abdul.

He showed us the Lion’s gate, which gets its name from the fact that George Washington gave Essaouira a Lion— though I can’t seem to remember why.

We visited the main port and the fishing market that spilled out from lapis blue boats. 

We continued our tour through the souks (markets) that line the streets here. 

June 28

We headed out this morning driving through the rolling dunes of dirt, to a Berber market located 40 minutes outside of Essaouira.

As we walked through the stalls, melon was thrust at us from right and left. It was cantaloupe, watermelon, and honey dew galore.

We scuttled back to the car, like crabs hiding from the heat, and made our way to an artisan goat cheese shop, located in an old Rihad. This place was a small oasis in the vast, dry heat of the day. 

We drove out to a salt mine that was in the middle of nowhere, and seemed to exist there for no particular reason other than that some Portuguese had started the mine there centuries ago, and it somehow is still a business today, selling their salt at 15 euros per ton.

June 29

The wind was calling us today, and so we kited from noon to dusk. The ocean was a bit wavy, and the wind showed no promise of slowing down, so we used our smaller kites.

June 30

We celebrated Anthony’s birthday (the next day actually, but he was leaving for Paris) by a mid-day camel ride that took us along the beach for an hour up to a pile of sandy ruins that supposedly were once a castle were the sultan lived. 

July 1 

Anthony and Manu were scheduled to leave today on a bus from Essaouira to Marakech so that they could catch their flight back to Paris. We ran into a bit of a problem, however, when we arrived at the station to find the bus full, without a single available seat. With no reserved tickets, we had to drive them to Marakech, two and a half hours away. Luckily Seb was up for it, so we road-tripped to Marakech, bringing with us a few Algerian passengers that had not gotten a place on the bus either.

We walked to the main square that was full of dried-fruit stands, fresh juice carts, and women with hennaed hands offering their tattooing services. (I didn’t take any pictures here because here they would ask me to pay for my picture…) Some people had monkeys that you could pay to have your picture with, and others made their way as snake charmers. Black cobras, and brown falcons coexisted under woven umbrellas, and waited to be charmed and showed off.

I was glad to leave the frantic energy of Marakech, and go back to Essaouira where a cool wind always blows through the town and the people.

July 2

We spent our last morning enjoying the Medina and soaking up that sweet, Moroccan goodness that permeates the city and is completely absent from parisian life. I will miss the energy of this place: the freshness of the winds, the fineness of the sand, the fusion of cultures, the brightly colored markets and ornately painted doors, and of course the friendliness of a people that live by their hearts with kindness in their eyes.  

Normandy (Part 2): Honfleur, Deauville, St. Martin de Boscherville, Jumieges Abbey

This past weekend Anthony and I were invited back to our neighbor Elsa’s house in St. Martin de Boscherville, thirty minutes outside of the city of Rouen. We spent our days  visiting with Elsa’s family at the table eating lengthy lunches, running by the Seine, and seeing some sights.

Our first journey on Saturday was to Honfleur. Honfleur dates back to at least 1020, and is best known for its colorful and quaint port and slate-covered houses:

I particularly enjoyed how the port-culture infused the town and how it combined with a more traditional Normandy steeped in cider and cheese. 

Next we visited Deauville. This sea-side town is famous for its racecourse, grand casino, and international film festival. It is known as the “queen of the Norman beaches.” I was not especially impressed with the town, as it is overrun with upscale brand-name stores, and a fresh pressed juice costs six euros, but I enjoyed the beach, and the beautiful Promenade des Planches— a wooded boardwalk that parallels the ocean. 

Sunday we visited the abbey church of St. Martin de Boscherville. I loved this beautiful, white abbey, settled against the fresh green landscape:

The garden was one of the most beautiful I think I have ever seen. There were rows and rows of precious herbs and foods, arranged carefully, lovingly in the dirt.

Our last major sight was the Jumieges Abbey, founded in 654. These impressive ruins left me speechless. 

The way nature was absorbing this abbey was so graceful: flowers spilling over windows where they seeded, pews of soft green grass, and a truly celestial ceiling of clouds and at night, surely, stars. 

Thanks again Elsa & the Pecots for another remarkable weekend. 

Amsterdam: the city of both, and.

This weekend, Anthony and I took the overnight bus to Amsterdam. We arrived at 6:30 in Amstel Station where we were grateful to be greeted by a bright, more northern sun.

Anthony and I have travelled to Amsterdam before, once last summer, and once last winter for the New Year, and we keep getting pulled back to this city, which made me wonder, what is so special about Amsterdam, and why do we have this magnetic pull that keeps us coming back?

Firstly, Amsterdam is beautiful: the flemish architecture, the slow and quite canals, the piles and piles of eco-friendly bikes, the expansive and lush Vondelpark, the museums filled will beloved Van Gogh’s and Vermeer’s, the creative and unusual shops, the markets flooded with foods and quirky crafts, and the cones of thick Dutch ice-cream.

Amsterdam has the feeling of a town that just kept expanding. The buildings are mostly low, and townhouse style, and there is a lot of openness and sky to be absorbed. Similarly, it has the spirit of a large neighborhood: people breezing by on their bikes tossing out waves to others they recognize. I think the fact that so many people bike contributes to an awareness that is outside of the self. The bikers, for their own self-preservation, are required to constantly look around them. This is quite the change from New York, or Paris streets. The collision while walking is low impact, so people can afford not to be careful, therefore they often have their eyes glued to their phones, mp3 players, or other distracting devices. Non-bikers seem often to be more in their own bubbles than bikers, simply because they don’t have the obligation to look around. So, the bikers of the city lend for an awareness and an exchange in energy that doesn’t seem to occur as readily in other places, which I believe results in a more open feeling everywhere. 

Amsterdam is notoriously open and tolerant. It has a long tradition of religious, philosophical, and political tolerance. The notion of individual freedom of conscience was fought for during the struggles against Spanish domination in the 16th century. It is a place in which beauty and serenity co-exist happily with a slightly seamy underside. My guidebook would have you think that the Red Light District is “criss-crossed by a network of narrow lanes, dominated by garish sex shops and seedy clubs and peppered with junkies, dealers and pickpockets” but from what I saw the Red Light District is buzzing with interesting cafes, bars, restaurants, and beautiful canal-side houses. It writes more acceptingly of Amsterdam’s smoking coffeeshops, “smoking coffeeshops appeal to a surprising range of people— old and young alike from every social and professional background.” 

Some say it has a split-personality, but I think Amsterdam is a city of “both, and” and not “either, or.” It is a place of higher awareness, openness, tolerance, acceptance, and love that will pull you back again and again and again. 

Greetings from Paris

Yesterday we had a lazy Saturday weaving through the streets, and wound up waiting in line to go up the Arc de Triomphe. Over two-hundred steps later, we were up on the terrace where we were greeted by this view:

Paris in all its glory— overcast, tree-lined avenues, and the landmark tour eiffel piercing the sky. The beauty of Paris is saturated in its antiquated architecture: the low, elevator-less buildings adorned with black wrought-iron balconies, the timeless grey rooftops and the tiny terracotta chimneys. The facades facing the Arc have seen so much. They watched as Prussian troops marched past during the Franco-Prussian war:

As soldiers paraded at the end of World War I:

And as German troops occupied Paris in 1940:

The beauty of Paris is that every corner is full of history, and the landscape hardly ever changes at all. 

A Corsican Dream

If there is a Paradise, Corsica is the gates.

May and June are the ideal time to go; the island is lush, and fresh with spring rain. Flowers pour down the stoney hills, while goats roam freely, and water flows everywhere. Corsica is steeped in water: the mountains here are lined with rivers, waterfalls, and natural pools, and then of course, there is the ocean around every corner, a vast mosaic of greens and blues.

We started our journey from Paris in a grey drizzle of rain, and landed only an hour and a half later between the bright mediterranean mountains of Corsica. Marcel, our host and fearless guide, picked us up at the airport, and after dropping off our bags and having a sumptuous lunch fixed by his wife Jacqueline, we went straight to Marcel’s friend’s farm. There they produce fresh goat products such as yogurt, and more importantly Bruccio, a traditional Corsican cheese that resembles ricotta in texture, but is completely unique in flavor. (Note that each of these cheese baskets takes a full day to make by hand). 

Jean-Michel, the farmer, used to work for EDF (an energy company), but when he married and joined his wife’s family he also joined the family business: shepherding. His wife’s family has farmed in Corsica for centuries. I was struck by how hard-working and tough these farmers are. Marcel said that they never take a day of vacation because the goats need to be milked everyday. This bucolic and pastoral life is surely tranquil, but it is also filled with calloused hands, deeply sunned faces, and saturated with goat’s milk. This is the view from their farm:

We made our way home, cheese and yogurts in hand, to have dinner and rest up before our long journey planned for the following day.

Since neither Anthony nor I know how to drive a stick-shift, Marcel offered to take us on a road trip around the island so that we could see what he called “the four wonders.” We left at 9 am, and would not return until 6 pm.

Our first stop was in Sagone. There Marcel showed us one of the oldest “cathedrals” in Corsica.

This structure dates back to the 9th century, and is built upon an even more ancient stone— can you spot it?

Under the corner, laying horizontally is a Megalith. The church built on this old stone of worship to demonstrate their domination of the island’s beliefs.

After the cathedral, we headed towards the village of Cargese, named one of the most beautiful villages in France, and you can see why, look at that view!

Here is Marcel showing us the wonders:

From Cargese we drove down to the water to dip in our toes and stretch out on the beach before climbing back up along the steep and windy roads into the famous Calanches de Piana.

This is a place full of snaggle-toothed mountains and terracotta hues. I was surprised by the beauty of this Mars-like scape of land that contrasts so sharply with the azurite sea, and threatens as you roll under its cliffs.

We drove down to the water again to the town of Porto. This sea-side place is a hot spot for summer tourists, but in May is was calm.

The town looks out a the water, and onto a “Tour Genoese.”

The Corsican littoral is constellated with these towers, the construction of which started in the 16th century at the request of village communities to protect themselves against pirates. The keeper of the tower would light a fire if they were threatened by pirates, and a neighboring watchman would in turn light a fire in his tower. The whole island could be alerted of pirates this way in three hours. This gave the villagers enough time to take the the hills for safety. 67 towers still stand today, and they have since become symbols of the island.

After the village we went back up into the mountains and drove through the picturesque village of Ota.

Nestled into the side of the slope, Ota is a town of about 600 people. They have a legend there that if someone in the village stops praying the rock that precariously squats above the village will fall down and destroy it…

We stopped for lunch under the Spelonca bridge.

In more ancient hours, this magical bridge connected Ota to another village nearby. The “road” they used now runs underneath and parallel to the modern road, and is often used by hikers. We were joined by a herd of goats who drank from the stream, and guarded the bridge.

Our last stop was the Col de Vergio; a beautiful spot at 4,850 feet of altitude. It was remarkable to see how in just a few hours driving up from the sea the landscape had changed. I was amazed by the presence of birch trees and pines, the likes of which we hadn’t seen anywhere else. I was a bit sleepy, and so I missed the opportunity to photograph this place—oops!

We ended our day with sumptuous ice-cream sundays down by the water on our way back. What a day! Unfortunately the good weather didn’t stick around….

The next morning we got up early to drive with Jacqueline to the market of Ajaccio. This gorgeous market was filled with fresh produce, dairy products, meats and breads.

Anthony and Jacqueline studying meats. 

I was in awe of the products, and for breakfast tasted a regional beignet (sugared doughnut) filled with the traditional Bruccio cheese. In Corsica you will rarely go to an event (wedding, birthday etc.) where they don’t serve these scrumptious little treats. I was too preoccupied, however, with eating them rather then photographing them…

After the market we drove out to the cusp of the bay for a walk, and a look at a Tour Genoese that looks over the Sanguine Islands.

These islands get their name because the sun sets right behind them, giving them a red, blood-like glow (sang means blood in French).

On our walk we crossed paths with a man who was selling his Nougat along the side of the road. He offered us samples of this delicious, chewy candy, and told us that his family had been making nougat for a few generations now. In Corsica I am always struck by the beauty and success of these small, family-owned businesses. We supported his cause, and nougat in hand continued on our way. The beginnings of a heavy rain forced us back to the car, and back to the house for the rest of the day.

The following morning we were greeted by streams of sunshine and fresh post-rain breezes. Marcel drove us to the start of a hike, and left us to our own devices for the day. We hiked all along the ridge of some mountains that over look Ajaccio and the Sanguine Islands.

It was gorgeous, and we thought about restoring these ruins and moving right in:

 The end of our hike took us down to the water, where we had a beach picnic and a quick refreshing dip. We walked along the road back towards Ajaccio where Marcel picked us up and brought us home. Even though we were exhausted from our six hour walk we summoned the energy to go visit a honey farm nearby, owned by another of Marcel’s friends, Denis.

Denis explained to us the delicate process that involves being a honey farmer. First of all, he works strictly with Corsican bees because they have evolved naturally to work in harmony with Corsican plants. One of his tasks is to create queens, and to introduce them to hives. Every year his bees produce around twenty tons of honey! We sampled a few, and brought back some jars to savor in Paris.

After four paradisaical days it was time to go back to Paris. We said our goodbyes, and are ever grateful to Marcel and Jacqueline for their warmth and hospitality. On the plane, surrounded by thoroughly browned parisians, I could still feel my sunburnt calves, and taste the salt still clinging to my unwashed hair. Will I go back? Of Corsica!

How to spend 50 euros in one day

So, there’s not just one way to spend fifty euros in one day in Paris, in fact there are many ways, and it happens so quickly that sometimes you think you’ve been robbed.

It all started with a harmless four euro breakfast at the Portuguese bakery down our block:

Anthony and I have made a terrible habit of going there on Saturdays and getting bolas:

(the equivalent of a high-end creme-filled doughnut). 

We take our treat and bring it to the Organic Market that opens not five minutes from our house on Saturday mornings.

There we quickly spend another ten euros getting fresh produce and farm fresh dairy products that spill and spill from tables assembled in the first hours of the day. 

Portrait of a Meat-Cutter

Scarmozza (Smoked mozzarella, hanging).

Artichaut

Calmar

Cheese!

I love the freshness of everything there, combined with the ancient tradition surrounding markets. Markets, especially in France, are not only sacred food spaces, but they are also (and always have been) a place for social interaction. Cities are more spread out then they used to be, and this effect distances people from each other. The market is one of those places where people can see their neighbors, discuss upcoming elections, and connect. 

We make our way (after bring the goods home) to a lunch on the Canal St. Martin at Voy Alimento, an incredible vegan restaurant that specializes in super foods. It is a twenty euro prix fix menu, but the value is more nutrients that you might otherwise get in a whole week: the healthiest and tastiest meal I have eaten here. (I ran out of battery on my camera, so this photo is taken from a friend’s blog: The Discerning Brute). 

This is their incredible, traditional hot chocolate, made from an ancient Aztec recipe. 

The canal is, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of Paris. It’s calm, with lots of green and flowering trees, and artful bridges that seem to be frozen in mid-jump over the water. You can wander there, free of charge, for hours, and this Saturday that’s just what we did. 

We made our way over to another of my favorite areas, Le Marais, which is always full of young, trendy tourists seeking out fresh spring fashion in charming boutiques. As it was nearing four, it was naturally time for the “gouter” (snack) and what better snack than a gelato from Amorino, an italian chain that lets you choose as many flavors as you want. A medium cone will run you 4.50, and the nutella flavor is just about worth it. 

A few more hours went by as we dawdled around, melting cream in hand, before we made it to Place de Vosges, a large and lovely square filled with the screams and giggles of children. There we met up with our friend Erik, and had a coffee on the square which, because it’s a touristic area, costs about five euros (but that’s only if you get it with whipped cream on top, and of course, we did). 

By the time we’d hit the bottoms of our cups it was time for dinner. We walked up to the Marche des Enfants Rouge, which is a covered market in the style of La Boqueria (see Barcelona post). The smells were incredible, but unfortunately for us they were closing just as we got there. We switched gears, and headed back to the Marais for a cheap five euro dinner of falafel from Chez Marianne. At the end of my time here I will post a restaurant list of my top Paris picks, and this one will definitely be on it!

So there you have it, a weeks worth of babysitting money spent in one day! Like I said, there are many ways to spend money in Paris, but for food is (clearly) the best way to go, even if at the end of the day you’re convinced that you were robbed.  

Musee de L’orangerie

A few weeks ago I went to the Musee de L’orangerie (on the first sunday of the month when it, and many other museums in Paris are free). The museum houses many famous paintings, as well as two rooms completely dedicated to Monet. These white, oval shaped rooms allow you to feel shrunken and lost in the lilies:

At the museum, I learned of a painter that I was not familiar with, Chaim Soutine. I was particularly moved by his work, so I wrote a poem about it:

Homage to Soutine

He was not schizophrenic,

but a painter of wind

everything moving like a heat wave:

walls bending-unpredictable,

as if every brush stroke drove him

to exhaustion. 

The man in prayer hanging

next to the pastry cook,

"how cursed are we today? how cursed."

Distorted, melting candlewax ears

while Monet’s waterlilies settle in deep

squidink purple on the canvas upstairs.

Here are the images that inspired the poem:

10 Rue Perronet

In a sleepy street of Paris, tucked away in the 7th arrondissement is my great-grandfather’s antique furniture restoration workshop.

 

It is now run by his son (my great-uncle) Jean-Paul, and his wife Barbara. It is strange to be in a place where my unknown-to-me great-grandfather lived, sweated, and worked long hours. He bought the workshop in 1948, and worked there until his death in 1967 at the age of 59. After he died, Jean-Paul took the shop over, and has been running it ever since. It is rustic, yet elegant, and smells of glue and sawdust. Through its bright geranium red door has passed furniture from more ancient times; dresser’s that perhaps once hid love letters deep within their drawers, seats that creaked under thick, wealthy men, and stools that once had no value at all, but now with age have gained and gained. Can you spot Jean-Paul?

 

When you walk into the shop you will likely be greeted by this blue-eyed beauty: Barbara. Her gloves and apron show that she is busy, but the pearls and crystal earrings say “hard at work, with a touch of class.” 

Jean-Paul doesn’t care much for pictures, but he was kind enough to let me photograph him. He has a wonderful smile, and eyes as smalt-blue as Barbara’s, but you won’t catch any of that on film… 

This is a 18th century dresser that Jean-Paul has spent over one-hundred hours restoring. I remember visiting when it first arrived, chipped, dull, overused. Look at that gloss now!

While modern technology has provided us with “better” tools, I believe that these old ones, antiques in themselves, are necessary to restore the type of furniture that Jean-Paul deals with. I find them to be quite graceful:

Perched about Jean-Paul’s desk, I found this little guy: 

When I asked Jean-Paul about it, a slow look of remembrance came on his face, “C’est mon porte bonheur” (It’s my good luck charm). His father was asked to fix the angels arm, but he died before the task was done, and no one ever came to claim it.

He dusted the broken angel off, and hung it back on his rusted nail. 

Here, Jean-Paul and Barbara at work:

It is difficult to imagine what post world-war II Paris must really have been like, back when my great-grandfather lived, but walking into that shop I felt like I was tossed back in time. 

Un grand merci a Jean-Paul et Barbara de m’avoir permis de prendre des photos et pour avoir préserver un art merveilleux.

Viva Barcelona!

This weekend I rediscovered one of the most advantageous things about living in Paris: the possibility to travel quickly, easily, and relatively cheaply to another place, and in our case, to Barcelona. We left Paris during that special hour when only the bakers and garbage men are busy at work. Our early flight at 7:30 had us in Barcelona a short two-hours later, and we were in the city center by Brunch. 

Barcelona has always been a dream destination of mine. I loved the idea of a city on the beach with the mountains as a backdrop, and a smooth spanish vibe running through its spine. Our first stop was the famous marketplace, La Boqueria:

This market was full of spices, meats, seafood, and buzzing with hungry people and vibrant fruits. The market dates back as early as 1217, when tables were installed near the old city gate to sell meat. It went through several transformations (pig market, straw market) before 1826, when it was legally recognized. We wandered through the piles of coconuts, dragon fruits, sheep’s heads, dried goods, hanging meats, and the stench of fish, until coming to a restaurant in the middle of it all, El Quim. This place was recommend to me by a friend who has superb taste in cuisine, so we settled in, despite the outrageous prices. I wondered how on earth two fried eggs and some mushrooms could possibly be worth 17 euros. This was their trademark dish, and so, out of curiosity and a particular fondness for eggs, I ordered the dish, and let me tell you, I would have paid more.

The two yolky gems were topped with a mountain of diverse mushrooms, all wild and carefully cleaned. A drizzle of something sweet, perhaps maple syrup, off set the saltiness of the dish, and brought back memories of brunches when your pancakes and eggs accidentally meet in the middle of your plate. It was divine. We left La Boqueria, completely in love with Barcelona at first bite. 

We walked up La Rambla, a tree-lined pedestrian street filled with human statues and Pakistanis, and made our way to Casa Batllo, a house designed by Gaudi in 1904 for Joseph Batllo. The local name for the building is the House of Bones, and you can see why:

The broken ceramic tiles are golden orange and move to greenish blues that sparkle in the light giving the whole structure a sea-like quality. If Poseidon had a summerhouse, this would be it.

We wandered up and over to Gaudi’s most crowning achievement, the Sagrada Familia. This neo gothic cathedral has been under construction since 1882, and is anticipated to be finished by 2040. This cathedral is one of the most unusual structures I have ever seen. The inside of it is sharp, and angular, blending gothic and art nouveau forms, and made me think that if there were a church in Star Wars, this is what it would look like. Waking into that church was like being inside the shell of an unknown crustacean. It was like a collage of carapaces, held together with razor-clams.

The Nativity facade evoked even more ocean imagery: from top to bottom, it is like a frozen, slow-drip sand castle, everything melting rock.

Gaudi drew a lot of his inspiration from patterns and imagery found in nature, and this shows in some of the sculptures of the Nativity facade: turtles hold up the biggest pillars on their backs, a couple stone chameleons hide in the rock.

We wanted to continue up to Gaudi’s Parc Guell, but we were too tired, so instead we headed back for an early dinner of Patatas Alioli, which is a traditional spanish tapas dish of potatoes covered with garlic, mayo, and paprika. We discovered the early hours of the night at a bar, L’Ovella Negra, a huge tavern style place with refreshing beers, ciders, and vats of dark red sangria. 

Saturday we started our day with a brunch at Milk, which was strangely enough milk-free, but full of pancakes, before heading towards the beach. Along the way, next to the port there was a market full of artisanal crafts, as well as regional food products. We weren’t hungry at that point, but on the way back from the sparkling Mediterranean a few hours later we enjoyed warm Churros and hot chocolate as thick as pudding. We came across a group of street performers, who livened the old port with their festive music (I will try and attach a video soon). 

In the afternoon, we took the time to get lost in the long and narrow streets of the Barrio Gotic. This area is full of quirky shops and creativity, and plants that poured and poured down from balconies:

We visited Santa Maria Del Mar, a beautiful church on a square, as well as the renowned Picasso Museum. It was interesting to see the earlier years of Picasso’s work, and how he progressed as an artist. For dinner we went to a restaurant recommended to us by the hostel owner called, La Fonda. It was not as exquisite as our other dining experiences had been, but still very tasty. 

We turned in early, around 10:30, with the idea that we would set the alarm for 12:30, only the alarm didn’t go off and we woke up at 1:30. We struggled to get dressed, still in the sleepy holds of our dark room, and wandered around the streets to check out the Barcelona’s famous night life. Since it was St. Patrick’s day all the Irish bars were flooded, and decked out with green balloons and customers sporting Guinness hats. It was a bit overwhelming, so we stayed out of the bars and instead appreciated the liveliness of the streets. 

Sunday morning we packed a picnic lunch, and made our way (finally) to Gaudi’s Parc Guell. It was a gorgeous day, and a few thousand other people had the same idea as us. Still, through the mobbed park, we were able to enjoy Gaudi’s mosaics and odd sculptures:

I have rarely seen such an art as his; it seems as though he has spent a past life as a pair of ragged claws, at the bottom of the sea taking notes. His mosaics are all patch-worked, and glimmer, almost violently in the noonday sun. We hiked to the top of the mountain, and were rewarded with an incredible view of the city:

The heat of the hike made us long for the beach, so we scuttled down and into the subway, only to emerge again by the water.

A few hours, and a delicious ice-cream cone later, it was time to go home. Back to Paris, back to the grey, back to the swirls of balconies, the world of the petit cafe et cigarette, a city that, compared to Barcelona, is dull and life-sucked, devoid of the spanish chatter, empty of the spanish soul. And yet, Paris is Paris, a damned, lovable city, a snarling mutt of a place, a beautiful raw wound, open with the possibility of everywhere. 

Excerpts from my essay on Food Culture in France

I grew up in a franco-american household which gave me a bi-cultural outlook on food. While spending summers visiting my mother’s family in France, I noticed and absorbed the seriousness with which the French treat food: shopping daily for fresh ingredients at their local markets, preparing meals with care, eating lunches that would go on for hours, and above all choosing quality over quantity. This was very different from what I saw around me in New York: classmates skipping breakfast, eating junk food between meals, not knowing the difference between a beet and a turnip, and most importantly not understanding how certain food choices impact our health and well being, as well as the earth’s. I believe that my bi-cultural upbringing is where my enthusiasm for teaching children about food is rooted. Eventually , I would like to educate children to make lifelong healthy habits so that we, as a society, can begin to fix our broken relationship with food.

Currently I am living in Paris, and soaking up the French food culture: the organic markets on Saturdays full of ancient varieties of vegetables, children flooding the bakeries on Wednesday afternoons when they do not have school, the wood of a bistro chair that arches and bends under the weight of every Frenchman’s belly. I have been working for several families here who want me to teach their children English and as a result I have developed a babysitting curriculum that I use to teach children English through cooking. This combines both my passions for working with children, and teaching them about food and nutrition through cooking.

As you may know, in the fall I worked at a small, neighborhood boulangerie and patisserie called Maison Privat. Working behind the counter, I enjoyed the customer relationships, and had fun with the window displays, and the rare opportunity to assist in the kitchen. I quickly learned the hours at which certain customers appeared: Monsieur Pain au Raisin came in every day at eleven-thirty to get one pain au raisin. He was followed by Madame Chouquette at noon who came in to buy one-hundred grams of chouquettes for her grandchildren. Then arrived the lunch crowd, and a line formed from one side of the street to the other. They all came in and ordered sandwiches, quiches, or pizzas, and went back to their conference rooms or desks where they will took their hour (or sometimes two-hour) long lunch breaks to enjoy their food and socialize. In Paris, I rarely see people eating on the go in the middle of the street, or in the subway—a common sight in New York. The French take pride in their food culture, and eating is more than a way of nourishment; it is a social engagement, a deep-seated appreciation of flavors, a passion for life.

Having spent half a year in Paris now, I think that there is a lot we can learn from the French food culture; however, being a vegetarian in France is not encouraged. The French are rigid and inflexible when it comes to accommodating vegetarians because they have so much pride in their ancient food practices, and meat is a staple. It is difficult to find anything vegetarian on a menu that is not a goat cheese salad, but some newer restaurants are embracing vegetarianism. Meanwhile, the French food systems are changing. Meat is being produced in concentrated animal feeding operations where cows are fed GMO soy. Thus, the quality of meat is beginning to worsen in France, which might lead to significant change. Fighting against this is the strong appreciation for local and organic foods. Given the rigidity of the French food culture, I am interested to see how this shift in meat production in France is going to affect the French in the upcoming years.