Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hello, I miss you

This is strange. I feel out of touch with you all since I haven’t been able to write this week. And I miss “talking” to you.

But, the sad truth is, I don’t have much to report. It’s been a rapid-fire week at work: long, non-stop days. Especially since two of them started at 8:30 with French lessons. When work is so busy, the days just blend together, leaving little space in my life, much less my head, for observing and appreciating the little things I love about Paris.

I did go to a really fun concert with Michael Monday night. These guys:

And I was pained to hear Momofuku is serving Fruity Pebble cookies. Why, oh why, couldn’t they dream these up before I left??

But today is my Friday. Tomorrow is a national holiday (read: no work). As is next Friday. Followed by the 21st, which falls on a Thursday so we get Friday the 22nd off as well. Yeesss, despite these long days as of late, France’s reputation for a relaxed work ethic is allegedly quite apparent during the month of May. I’m looking forward to it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

1 down, 3 to go

At the ripe old age of 36, it’s a rare and beautiful thing to have best friends who knew you when you wore braces and got drunk off half a wine cooler. But to have those best friends travel thousands of miles to visit you in Paris? For a long weekend of eating, drinking, shopping, exploring and laughing like schoolgirls? It’s extraordinary. And cool.

AJ, after a quick stint in her Milan office, arrived today. Hooray! Julie, Mer and Elisa arrive tomorrow. Hip hip! Words can’t even describe how excited I am. J’ai tres haute.

Busy, busy, busy

Six LV projects at work.
Twice-weekly French lessons.
Four visitors arriving.
And an achy knee.
Life is busy but good.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


I went & ordered the plainest little wool dress you ever saw from Dior - 168 pounds. It's the last time. I humbly asked if they wouldn't take off the 8 but no they cried you are very lucky. All the prices are going up next week. They made me feel I'd been too clever for words. But after I felt guilty - all the poor people in the world & so on. It's terrible to love clothes as much as I do.

— 1951, Nancy Mitford to Evelyn Waugh

Weekend update

I found a new obsession this weekend. It’s not a wearable or edible something from Paris. It’s "Top Chef," Season 2, baby!

I finally downloaded the new version of QuickTime so I can watch the series on my laptop (still no tv). Last night I binged on four episodes, and I’ve been waiting all day for it to be nightfall so I can watch some more.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Views from the office

This is pretty much what I stare at every day. But there’s always an entertaining stream of characters walking by to go to Fred’s office, which is in the salon right to my right.

This is what I see when I approach my desk in the morning. Nice Parisian light coming in from the window behind me. The open work environment isn’t ideal for productivity or privacy, but it’s a nice way to get to know people and be surrounded by the French language.

And if I stand up and turn around, I peek outside at the Champs Elysée.

This is me, looking straight up, up at the ceiling.

And if I look across the room…

When I first started, I was giddy every morning walking in here. I mean, come on!! Now, it often doesn’t even register. I come in and get to work, just like anyone else. But every once in awhile, I make sure that I pause at my computer, look around me, and reconnect with those holy shit! happy feelings. Doesn't it make you just giggle?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Do I love my job?

How could I not? Every so often, Adorable Isa organizes these breakfasts. Everyone signs up to bring, say, brioche or fruit juice or something. I signed up to bring a half dozen croissants.

My pledge had been the same at the previous breakfast but the croissants I brought for that one were overbaked, making me feel like a clueless foreigner who doesn’t know a good croissant from a bad croissant. This time, I vowed to go to a better bakery.

When I surveyed the display case at a small boulangerie near the office, their croissants looked great but I had a hankering for a pain au chocolat. I asked if they had any and the guy shouted upstairs to find out if they were ready and, indeed, they were. My quick reading-between-the-lines skills told me that if he were asking the kitchen, and they were newly ready, then they would be warm. Bingo. I ordered four croissants and two pain au chocolat.

When I walked out with my bag, the butter and warmth wept through the thin paper in equal measure. I was starving. I had already listened to a couple Michel Thomas French lessons and walked to work. I had been up for hours. I knew breakfast didn’t start until 10 and it was about 9:40. So I did what any sane, hungry person carrying a bag of warm croissants would do: I ate one on the way.

Have you ever had pain au chocolat, warm from the oven, first thing in the morning?? Heaven.

It only got better from there. A bit before 10, we all started gathering in the café with our contributions. And this is why I love my job.

Voila, a medley of home-baked and boulangerie treats.

Lionel made these incredible apple tarts. That, along with homemade bread (yes, Lionel made two tarts and Sylvain baked bread, just for our breakfast) and cheese is what I ate throughout the day. For the record, those apple tarts are one of the best things I’ve eaten here.

No comment necessary. French. Bliss.

Isa made these little bite-sized banana cake things, which were delicious. Annette brought the beautiful strawberries.

This isn’t even the entire spread. More people came with more goodies—cheese, meats, chocolate, pain au chocolat—but by then, I was too busy eating and had put the camera down.

Rapturous thoughts

“I didn’t know there were so many things you could do with puff pastry.”

“I didn’t know there were so many things you could do with whipped cream.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever taken a picture of my dessert before.”

“I don’t want this to end.”

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

That's what friends are for

I’ve always known I’m lucky. Especially when it comes to family and friends.

I get pangs when I walk by a jam-packed café in the evening, thinking how nice it would be to import some of my friends to Paris, if only for dinner and drinks.

But I also get a lift when I hear from everyone. I’ve received some of the sweetest and most unexpected emails these past few weeks, and I love knowing that you’re enjoying this blog.

But more than just getting a high off everyone’s love, support and enthusiasm, there is this report, which I’ve always sort of known: Good friends = good health.

Pastry check-in

If a mother’s job is to feed her child, my mom did a mighty good job during her visit.

We didn’t eat fancy French food, but we did eat really, really well: yummy sandwiches, homemade chicken soup, tartines smeared with honey, pristine strawberries, ripe cheese... And then there were the pastries.

The first night was surprisingly one of the best. We brought home cakes from one of my neighborhood boulangeries, Eric Kayser. A pear-grapefruit cake was nice but overshadowed by its awesome pistachio-raspberry counterpart. Both were based on a thick, moist shortbread crust, but the pistachio-raspberry slice also had a beautiful almondy center. That and the irresistible pistachio-raspberry combo did it. The third cake from Eric Kayser was a dreamy chocolate creation that included layers of praline, mousse and ganache. Yum.

We sampled cakes and cocoa at Angelina. Verdict: go for the cocoa, not the cakes.

I introduced Mom and Bob to Pierre Hermé’s macarons, which was a blast. We sampled six flavors—cassis, chocolate, vanilla and olive oil, pistachio and apricot, passionfruit-chocolate and caramel and fleur de sel—all of which were sublime. It’s amazing how he can pack so much flavor into these little pastries, each bite erupting on the tongue and dancing all over your taste buds. And where does he come up with those flavors??

On other nights, we sampled an array of cakes and treats: crème brulee, flan, a chocolate éclair, and a chocolate tart. Yes, we were piggies, but everything was divided by three, so it wasn’t that obscene. Really.

And the grand finale was Laduree. We went to this famed salon de thé for lunch, which was wonderful: the vibe is ladies-who-lunch meets Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. It's renowned for its macarons, but we had to try the cakes for dessert. Each one was a beautiful puff of heaven. Mom got the cherry Religieuse: choux pastry filled with custard, cream and cherries. Bob got Le Savarin: a cake saturated through and through with dark rum and topped with whipped cream. And I had the newly added raspberry-pistachio Saint Honoré. There was no use resisting that raspberry-pistachio combination again, and I was so happy with my selection. A creation similar to Mom’s it had pistachio-flavored custard, light-as-a-feather cream, choux pastry and fresh berries.

Mon dieu.


I am the luckiest girl in the world. Mom and Bob agree.

French phrase of the day : Jour de la Terre

Def: Earth Day

It’s Earth Day in the states, though elsewhere in the world, it was celebrated on spring equinox—either March 20 or 21. But we should really celebrate it every day. Hug trees. Think small. Consume less. Do it in the dark. Conserve water. Eschew the bags. Be green. Smile and know how lucky we are.

Five fun-filled days

They came. They saw. They conquered. Mom and Bob’s visit was a blast.

They were total troopers as we hauled ourselves all over the city: from Saint-Germain to the Marais, from Ile Saint-Louis to Montmartre.

We went to the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Elysée.

We had hot cocoa at Angelina, macarons from Pierre Hermé and lunch and gateaux at Laduree.

And then they went. Sigh.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Drink that chocolate

Thank god for the Louvre. It’s a classic Paris thing “to do” when the weather is merde.

But even more than the Louvre, thank god for Angelina. My back goes into spasms if I spend more than a couple hours strolling around looking at art. What better antidote than sitting at a salon de thé?

Mom, Bob and I made a break from the Louvre and went to Angelina. While we sampled some of the pretty-as-picture pastries and cakes, I can say that it’s only the hot chocolate that’s worth the hype. Velvety and rich, it’s thick enough to coat your tongue, but not so thick that it sticks to your teeth. It’s served in a small pitcher with a side of freshly whipped cream. This is hot chocolate that is worth coming to Paris for.

Rainy day entertainment

I finally got to the Louvre (Betsy!). It was a must-see on Mom and Bob’s list, donc, the perfect excuse for me to finally visit.

It is everything you expect it to be. For the lovers and optimists, it’s a museum and collection that is absolutely stunning, magnificent and impressive. Its size and scope is almost incomprehensible. Fresco ceilings about 100 feet above your head. Never-ending hallways of solid marble. Sweeping staircases and courtyards and breathtaking detailing at every turn. To say nothing of the art: paintings the size of small houses and sculptures of every god and mortal.

For the cynics and pessimists, it’s also everything you’d expect it to be: crowded, overwhelming and annoying.

What was almost as captivating as the art were the Italian tourists in a frenzy to see so many of their masters. You’re allowed to take pictures, so it was a minefield of people getting their picture taken in front of a particular painting or sculpture: Look, I was here! Really!

I’m not much of fan of the Italian masters, I hate to say—most of the art just doesn’t speak to me. But I couldn’t get enough of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. You approach this gorgeous piece from the floor below, step by step, while it looms over you with power and beauty. It absolutely lifts your heart.

Monday, April 20, 2009

French phrase of the day: J'ai hâte

In one of my early attempts to bumble my way through a friendly conversation, I was told that the French just don’t say, “I’m excited.” I always say “I’m excited.” I’m excited about my apartment, my neighborhood, my job, this city. I’m excited that Mom and Bob are here right now, I’m always excited to eat, I’m excited to start traveling. But to the French, saying “I’m excited” has very sexual connotations. So I’ve been using the very benign “I’m happy” to express my excitement.

But thanks to my new copine at the office, adorable Isa, I learned my new “I’m excited” replacement: J'ai hâte

Def: I’m pressed

C’est parfait.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Now I know what I look like

My first guests to Paris arrived yesterday: Mom and Bob. It was a thrill to see them and lead them around the city, rendering them speechless with so much beauty.

We strolled through marché aux fleurs and ogled the lavender plants, bouquets of ranunculas, and petite olive trees. We listened to the deeply moving bells clanging outside Notre Dame at noon. We peeped in all the windows on rue Saint Louis on the Ile Saint-Louis.

Then it was onto the Left Bank: past the Sorbonne, to a great little café for lunch of salads, omelettes and roast chicken, through Saint-Germain, back across the Seine with its ridiculously perfect views, through the quartier Montorgueil and (cough) up those six flights of stairs.

I knew they had a great day and loved the city. But it wasn’t until dinner that I knew they were deeply affected.

Instead of going out to a restaurant, we decided to make sandwiches (and have dessert, bien sur) at home. So Mom and I went over to rue Montorgueil and picked up still-warm baguettes from two different boulangeries, thinly sliced ham and fresh mozzarella at a chacuterie and three cakes for dessert. Then back to the apartment (those pesky six flights, still there—what’s up with that??) for our modest little dinner.

It started with the sandwiches, which starts, as always, with the bread. So crusty and crunchy on the outside, but soft, squishy and perfect on the inside. Mom and Bob had ham. I had mozzarella with some olive oil, salt and pepper. The look on their faces was priceless: absolute food bliss. The more they ate, the slower they went, wanting to prolong the taste of simple perfection.

Then dessert. I sliced our three pieces of cake in thirds so we could each sample the flavors: pistachio raspberry, pear grapefruit and a classic chocolate. We ate. More stunned silence. More looks of disbelief. More heaven. When Mom took a bite of the pistachio raspberry cake, she had to put her fork down. It was almost as if she were disgusted, but it was just the opposite.

This might be one of those “they came for the sights and stayed for the sugar” kind of visits.

French word of the day: paquet cadeau

Def: gift wrapping

Gifting is big in Paris. When you buy something, and the vendreuese knows it’s un cadeau, they wrap it gorgeously in layers of tissue, paper, ribbon and adornments. And when you buy flowers for someone, the bouquet gets the same treatment. J’aime ca bien.

Full bloom

I get sucked inside the florists here almost as forcefully as I do to the windows of the patisseries. When I was in Bellville last weekend, I found myself in Coté Fleurs, an “atelier floral.”

While I was waiting to pay for my little plant, the wrapping of other peoples’ bouquets transfixed me. It was a lesson in how to do things right. After all, if you’re going to swaddle a purchase in tissue, do it up. Go crazy!

Even my little succulent got the royal treatment. With the sprigs of fresh greens and especially the red poppy, I had a whole other bouquet—albeit it a wee one—for my mantel at home.

There’s a little plate at the counter if you want to leave a tip, but these spectacular services are free.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Her senses luxuriated in all its material details: the thronging motors, the brilliant shops, the novelty and daring of the women's dresses, the piled-up colours of the ambulant flower-carts, the appetizing expanse of the fruiterers' windows, even the chromatic effects of the petits fours behind the plate-glass of the pastry-cooks: all the surface-sparkle and variety of the inexhaustible streets of Paris.
—Edith Wharton

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Commuting, or sightseeing?

I’m still figuring out my commute. If I wear haute talons, if the weather is crappy, or now that I have French lessons starting at 8:30 two days a week, I’ll have to rely on the Metro or bus some mornings. But, as in New York, I prefer walking.

Unlike New York, there is no grid. I can’t march in a straight line, turn, march in a straight line, turn, and eventually make my way via a wonderfully logical, geometric path. So to avoid winding up north in the 9eme when I want to go southwest to the 8eme, I can simply follow the landmarks. And it just so happens that some of Paris’ most cherished landmarks are my guideposts.

I make my way down to the Louvre. (which, despite having spent a college semester and taken three holidays here, I still haven’t been to).

Then it’s on through the Tuileries Gardens and the Place de la Concorde.

Past the Grand Palais.

Past the Louis Vuitton flagship.

And here’s the last thing I see before going into work.

Pas mal.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pastry check-in

Because I don’t get out of work until 7, unless I’m really starving and grab a pastry after work, my weeks are largely void of sweets. This is good for my ass. But it also means I go a little crazy on the weekends.

Out and about, on foot or bicycle, with about 14 hours of daylight, I pass many, many boulangeries, patisseries, chocolatiers and confisseries and it’s hard to resist. Indeed, I research and seek out a few in particular (I’m trying to keep up with Sweet Freak, too).

This past weekend, I really did it up.

It started with a beautifully soft and buttery croissant from La Flute Gana. Truly, truly buttery, flakey and delicious.

Later in the day, I had an excellent American treat: a cupcake from the seven-month-old Cupcake & Co. It was pistachio cake, with a raspberry jam center and cream cheese frosting. Divine, I tell you. Taking on the Americans in the sweets world is apparently no problem.

My other two sweets were good, not great. There was a petit gateau with coconut in the batter and a chocolate fondant center and an apple tart from Poilane (cutest little web site). This boulangerie is renowned for its breads, which I’m also a sucker for, but when it comes to sweets, I should really stick to the hardcore patisseries.

Coucou & kisses

Just as I’m getting used to the French work habits, I’m getting used to their written communications.

A few weeks ago, I was wigged out by a guy who signed all his emails “kisses.” It seemed a bit much—like he was coming on a bit too strong. Then his best friend emailed. He signed his note with “xoxo.” Hmmm… maybe a little friendly competition? More likely, I figured, they fall in a camp that is 180 degrees opposite from the uber-aloof style and they’re just goofy-friendly. This theory was confirmed yesterday when a guy I haven’t even met yet signed his email with kisses, too.

In addition to these oddly demonstrative sign-offs, the French make weird sounds. Just little uh-huh, beep beep, tsk tsk noises, but lots of them. And sometimes they say hello with “coucou!” It’s all just so strangely funny from an otherwise haughty nation.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Weather check: springtime in Paris

Pass the champagne

I wonder if I’m in love with chocolate and champagne because they’re the only celebratory foods I enjoy.

Going into the fine epiceries here makes me sad that I don’t eat oysters, foie gras or smoked salmon. All these gourmet kibbles and morsels sound so exquisite and seem so fun to eat - I feel like a chump for not indulging in any of them.

French words of the day: mec et nana

Slang for guy and girl. It’s what the kids say.

Monday holidays

Yesterday was everything a holiday is supposed to be.

Paque, or Easter, was celebrated on Sunday but recognized as a national holiday yesterday. Which meant no work – yay!

After doing a little writing at home (which is all I did on Sunday – I didn’t even get out of my pajamas until 8pm, when it was time to go out for drinks), I hopped on a Velib and headed to the Left Bank. I tooled around, got some lunch and went to the Luxembourg Gardens. It was just heavenly to sit there in the sun, reading for two hours.

Then I roamed around Saint-Germaine, window shopping and just enjoying that beautifully calm pace in the city when only half the stores and bakeries are open.

The final stop was up in Canal St-Martin. I biked up to Melissa’s place and then we sat at a café by the canal and had an evening glass of rosé. Ah springtime…

American speak

A children’s clothing store in Saint-Germain:

Milk on the Rocks

You’d think I’m obsessed with store names. A little bit, I guess. But more than that, I think that the Parisians are naming their boutiques in English taps into a larger trend.

It used to be that the French abhorred English. It was like pulling teeth getting them to speak it. In my few weeks here, I’ve noticed many people (definitely my colleagues, but also waiters and people out in streets) are eager to test-drive their English skills. With the infiltration of American music and movies as well as a younger generation who has learned English in school, it’s simply more accepted to speak English – indeed, it’s a notch in your belt if you do.

I also think the Finger in the Nose v. Milk on the Rocks names are indicative of the uptown/downtown dichotomy of the two neighborhoods (Saint-Germain = uptown, Marais = downtown).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday night underground

My new colleagues/copains invited me out last night, which was really fun/frustrating; lame/awesome. Let me explain

They and their significant others are so sweet and kind—quality people. So it was fun to be out with nice locals. But frustrating because even through their pronunciation was slow and emphatic enough that I should have been able to follow, and even though they would ask simple questions and try to ensure that I was included, there was so much that I just didn’t understand. And the most frustrating thing was when I’d try to string together the simplest sentence and couldn’t even do that. Seriously, eighth grade French. Argh.

The lame/awesome part was that we met in the Latin Quarter, which I thought was an odd choice. It’s like going out for dinner in Ghiradelli Square or Times Square: complete tourist destination with crummy restaurants. Indeed our restaurant was horrible. But the reason they chose it was because we were going to a jazz club across the street.

After dinner (a plate of fried raclette cheese with a side of potatoes), we went over to Caveau de la Huchette: amazing. There’s a bar at the street level, but the action is underground. The greatest swing band was playing, dancers—really good dancers—were going crazy on the dance floor, and the rest of the place was packed with all of us watching and tapping our feet. It seriously could have been 1950, the place is so timeless. It’s just this cramped, sloping basement – sort of Edgar Allen Poe, sort of Beat, but we were there, April 11, 2009.

Happy Easter

The window trimmings and chocolate sculptures have been pretty spectacular.

But today is actually the first day I have cooked since arriving (seriously). I made a beautiful quinoa salad with fresh asparagus and oranges, toasted pecans and dates, in a lemony dressing. Pas mal!


I was on the hunt for one of the best croissants in the city, a succulent for my windowsill, and some dried fruit from the place on rue Oberkampf that I found a couple weeks ago. With so much ground to cover, I grabbed a Velib.

The 20th arrondisement is way east in the city, and one of the few neighborhoods that is hilly. Indeed, you can stand at the top of rue Ménilmontant and see the multi-colored Pompidou and gold-decorated dome of Les Invalides (at least that’s what I think I was looking at) off in the distance.

But it was as I pedaled up through Belleville, a middle-of-gentrification neighborhood, that I had such a happy jolt. I was suddenly reminded of one of my favorite movies: The Triplets of Belleville.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

French word of the day: chanceuse

Def: Lucky

Last night, I was ready to leave work when I noticed it was raining, putting a (literal) damper on my plan to bike home. So I decided to instead accept the invitation to drink with some of my colleagues.

One of the art directors I work with, the one who doesn’t speak such great English, is a bit of a partier. It was the second time he told me to stick around and have some wine in the evening. So I did. And it was great.

It was around 6:30 and everyone was ready for a drink after the long week. After a few sips, some of the Frenchies were ready to practice their English on me and I was ready to respond in French. By 7, the cigarettes were out, the music was blaring, and our cool Beaux Art office was as good as any bar.

As I was chatting with one of the art directors, I told him about my fall from the Velib. After he expressed the appropriate concern, I said, “Oui, comment dit-on ‘lucky’?”


Friday, April 10, 2009

Yay for pie

I’ve never been a pie nut, but things might change here in Paris.

Lionel, who lives in Montmartre, told me about Les Petits Mitrons. Since he had also told me about Coquelicot (I would like to go back for one of those little Coeurs), and mentions Pierre Hermé on a weekly basis, I know he knows what he's talking about.

There’s certainly no shortage of options at this cute little patisserie: chocolate-walnut, chocolate-pear, apple-pear, straight up chocolate, straight up apple, apricot, peach, rhubarb, fig, fruits-rouges (mixed berries), strawberry-cream, mixed fruit…

and that’s just at this one place. If I get hooked on pie now, there’s no telling what more I will discover.

I figured I had to start with the classic and got une piéce of the apple. God, was it delicious. Fresh, sweet and bright-tasting, with a beautifully sweet crust... bravo, Francais!