butternut squash + fresh coconut soup

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This week has been a long one, and I look forward to spending time with my father on the farm this weekend and settling into some quiet before the insanity that is November (and the holiday season) ensues. I invite you to curl up with this soothing soup as I did yesterday, and check out my feature on Lost in Cheeseland, my go-to blog for all things Paris and French. I spoke with Lindsey about my initial travels to Paris, how the trip gave me time to think, and the courage to make the biggest decision that affected my year: leaving my job in pursuit of something other.

INGREDIENTS
3 tbsp olive oil
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 yellow onion, diced
Salt/pepper
2 1/2 lbs butternut squash, cubed
3/4 cup fresh coconut, cubed
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 quart chicken stock
Sprigs of thyme, for garnish

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot, season the celery, carrots and onions with salt + pepper and saute for 4-5 minutes on medium/high heat until the onions are translucent. Add the butternut squash, coconut, cayenne, nutmeg, and chicken stock, and turn up the heat to high. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer, cooking for 25-30 minutes, until the squash is tender.

Using an immersion blender (or pour into a regular blender or Vitamix), blend the soup until you achieve a creamy, lump-free consistency. Serve with sprigs of thyme as a garnish, and your favorite grilled cheese sandwhich.

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on my bookshelf + some thoughts on writing

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For four years I woke and came home to a blank page. Writing was a failed series of stops and starts, an epileptic fit of random ideas gone nowhere. We write what consumes us, whether we like or it not, and our work is a reflection of what we’re tethered to. Arguably, I could say that I spent four years bound to an idea of a life that I thought I wanted. I had my publishing time. I had my freelance time. Now, it was time to get serious, as they would say. It was time to climb the ranks, have a title for which one could live up to, or any such euphemism for binding yourself to a computer for ten plus hours a day. Living as a barnacle under the undersides of planes and behind the desk, where lunch was what was ordered online. Conversation was the exchange of pleasantries and minor personal effects, but never too personal, mind you, between you and strangers, people whom you’d spent more time than those you loved.

You also write, as I’ve learned, when you have perspective, room to breathe. And in those four years I had neither — I chased what was in front of me, rather than conceiving of what could be beyond me. Beyond the next pitch, deck, meeting, endless and exhausting conference calls.

Honestly, I was worried. This ability I had to put words together in unusual ways felt like it had atrophied. It was a muscle gone slack and weak, and every time I came to the page, I kept saying the same old thing. Kept relying on my certain stock of images. I wrote a younger version of myself in an aged, experienced body, and I couldn’t quite get the two to reconcile. So instead I wrote about food. I wrote short blog posts, told some stories, and called it a day. But I’d soon learn it wasn’t enough. I wanted the shape of people. I wanted their voices in my head, constant, constant, like some sort of metronome. I craved a world that was unlike my own, but familiar in some way so I had my in. I had my compass, I would navigate.

And then there was the issue of the reading, or the lack of it. I used to have a blog where I’d document, over the course of six years, all the books I’d read. I stopped doing this because I went from a woman who voraciously devoured 60 books a year to one or two. My diction wasn’t what it was, I didn’t get inspired, I didn’t have space and time in which to read and learn. I grew irritable and impatient with longer books, because I was taught by society that we like our content succinct, manageable, efficient — like a machine of sorts.

So when I flew to Europe in April, I packed nearly a dozen books and read all of them. I read them on the flight, on the TGV, in the hotel room, on the metro, in the parks, on the beaches, in the many, many restaurants where I took meals. I read, folded down pages, took down words I liked. In the case of Nabokov, I took down words to look up in the dictionary.

And then it came. Like a torrent. I sat in a hotel room in Biarritz, the last leg of my journey, and wrote what would become the thing that consumes me, my new novel, Mammoth. I didn’t know what I was doing, or where I was going, but I let the hand play out and kept typing. Hopeful that the larger narrative would get pried out of my subconscious, and months later, after death, loss, more books, and an awakening, I’ve got a clear direction.

The two halves are now one, and I’m reading and writing more than ever. There are stacks of printed drafts in my living room. Books on the floor, on tables and in my closets. I’m reading everything I can get my hands on, and this week I’ve got these four books in play.

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris | Doctor Sleep: A Novel | The Lowland | The Paris Review Book: of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, … and Everything Else in the World Since 1953

the six-hour pastry {and friends} that are worth it

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It’s only when you open your heart — even if it’s a crack of light from a door slightly parted, opened just a touch, a hair — that love, the rush of it, the thrust of it, will come hurtling through. Eventually, the weight of others and the enormity of their love, will rip the door from its hinges. At first you’ll feel something resembling assault, but you’ll give in. Acquiesce. You’ll surrender, because the risk you take in letting people in is worth more than bolting up your body and living, loveless, alone. Every few years I have to remind myself of this. There are times when I’ve wanted to soft-knuckle doors, wanted to press send, wanted to open my mouth and let all the moth balls flutter out. But pride and fear always intercede; they’re old lovers you can’t quite shake, and they’re selfish and cruel in the way they want you all for themselves. And the more you prepare your break-up speech and practice it in front of mirrors and incant it like song on the subway, the more you assure them that it’s not about them, it’s about you, their grip on you tightens, threatens to enervate. You can’t abandon us, they say. We’re the only ones who never leave you.

This is true. But some departures are necessary, while others are utterly heartbreaking.

This week I found myself sobbing in the street, wiping tears on subways — and those who know me well know that my emotions are carefully guarded, controlled. Rarely do I ask for help. Rarely do I well up. Rarely do I lay my heart down on the table, knowing it’s the greatest hand being played. I’m intensely private, enormously proud, forever afraid, and isn’t it, well, sad, that all the doors flung open because I’m frightened of my cat dying.

This week a former coworker became a beautiful friend. She checked in on me daily, sent texts, emails and called, even as I recoiled, even when I assured her I was fine, just fine, but she pressed on. And part of me secretly wanted her to. When I was at the vet’s office on Friday, she helped me with the tough questions and held my hand, made me laugh and held Sophie close, and I stared at my friend with a look that resembled awe.

We spent the day together, eating pastry very much like this one, and when she left I quietly thanked her and sent her this brief note: Thank you for being a beautiful friend.

I’m trying so very hard to open up my heart, to let all the magic in. Let’s hope it’s not at the expense of my beloved Sophie, because there’s room! I swear it! There’s room for you, too.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe for Kouign-Amann adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour, Too. Read my review of her cookbook on Medium!
1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast, or .35oz/10g fresh cake yeast
2 3/4 cups/385g unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup/2 sticks/225g unsalted butter, at room temperature + 1 tbsp melted
1 1/2 cups/300g granulated sugar, plus more for rolling and coating
Stand mixer, 12-cup muffin tin

DIRECTIONS
Mix the dough: Combine the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Let stand for a few minutes to dissolve and get frothy. Add the flour, salt and the tablespoon of melted butter, and mix on low speed for 3-4 minutes, or until the dough comes together and is smooth. If the dough is too wet, add 2-3 tbsp of flour. If it’s too dry, add 2-3 tsp of water. The dough should be soft and supple and pull away from the side of the bowl when the mixer is on.

Proof the dough: to a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place for 1 hour to allow the dough to proof. Then transfer the dough to the fridge and leave it for another hour.

Roll the dough: Transfer the dough from the fridge to a generously floured workspace. Roll it into a rectangle about 16in/40.5cm wide and 10in/25cm from top to bottom. You better believe I broke out a tape measure several times during this process because the dough is never as long or as wide as you think it will be. With your fingers, spread the butter directly over the right half of the dough, spreading it in a thin, even layer to cover the entire right half. Fold the left half of the dough over the butter, and press down to seal the butter between the dough layers. Turn the dough 90 degrees clockwise so that the rectangle is about 10in/25cm wide and 8in/20cm top to bottom, and generously flour the underside and top of the dough.

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Turning the dough, part 1: Press the dough down evenly with the palms of your hands, flattening it out before you start to roll it out. Slowly begin rolling the dough from side to side into a rectangle about 24in/61cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. the dough might be a little sticky, so gain, be sure to flour the dough and work surface as needed to prevent the rolling pin from sticking. Using a knife, lightly score the rectangle vertically into thirds. Each third will be about 8in/20cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. Brush any loose flour off the dough. Life the right third of the dough and flip it over onto the middle third. Then lift the left third of the dough and flip it on top of the middle and the right thirds (life folding a letter). Your dough should now be about 8in/20cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom, and 1 1/2in/4cm thick. Rotate the dough clockwise 90 degrees; it will now be 12in/30cm wide and 8in/20cm from top to bottom with the folded seam on top. The process of folding in thirds and rotating is called turning the dough.

Turning the dough, part 2: Repeat the process once more, patiently and slowly roll the dough into a long rectangle, flipping it upside down as needed as you roll it back and forth, and then fold the dough in thirds. The dough will be a bit tougher to roll out and a bit more elastic. Welcome to the world of gluten forming.

The moment of glorious rest: Return the dough to the baking sheet and cover it completely with plastic wrap, tucking the plastic wrap under the dough as if you were tucking a little kitten into bed (SOPH is clearly on the brain as I re-type these epic instructions). Refrigerate the dough for about 30 minutes, allowing it to rest and to be rolled out yet again. Don’t leave it in for LONGER than 30 minutes as the butter will harden and you won’t be able to roll it out properly and you will likely throw it against the wall.

Turning the dough, part 3: Remove the dough and place it on a well-floured work surface (still with me? I know, it’s epic, but it’s worth it) with a long side of the rectangle facing you and the seam on top. Again, roll the dough into a rectangle about 24in/61cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. Sprinkle 3/4 cup/150g of sugar over the dough, and use the rolling pin to press it in. Give the dough another fold into thirds and turn it again as previously instructed. The sugar will spill out. DON’T FREAK OUT. Just shove it back in.

Turning, rolling, resting, the epic journey: Once again roll the dough into a rectangle 24in/61cm wide and 12in/30.5cm from top to bottom. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup/150g of sugar over the dough and press it in using your rolling pin. Give the dough one last fold into thirds and turn. Return the dough to the baking sheet, cover again with plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, liberally butter the cups of the muffin tin and set aside.

Another roll, you’re almost there: Remove the dough from the fridge. Sprinkle your work surface generously with sugar, place the dough on the sugar, and sprinkle the top with more sugar. Roll the dough into a long rectangle 24in/61cm wide and 8in/20cm from top to bottom. The sugar will make the dough gritty and sticky, but it will also make the dough easier to roll out. Using a chef’s knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise. You should have two strips of dough, each 12in/30.5cm wide and 4in/10cm from top to bottom. Cut each strip into six 4in/10cm squares.

Home stretch. You’re about to hit your last rise: STAY WITH ME. Working with one square at a time, fold the corners of the square into the center and press down so they stick in place. I didn’t do this correctly (click here for how they should ultimately look), but who cares because they were INSANELY DELICIOUS. Shape and cup the dough into a little circle, and press the bottom and the top into more sugar so that the entire pastry is coated with sugar. Place the dough circle, folded side up, into a cup of the prepared muffin tin. It will just barely fit. Repeat with all the remaining squares. Cover the tin with plastic wrap and let the cakes proof in a warm place (78-82F/25-27C is ideal) for one hour and 20 minutes, or until the dough has puffed up.

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Pre-heat the oven, kids: About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C and place a rack in the center of the oven. I would also recommend that you place a cookie sheet under your muffin tin when you’re ready to bake as there will be some spillage.

You’re hitting the oven!: When the dough is ready, place the muffin tin in the oven, reduce the heat to 325F/165C, and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown. Remove the cakes from the oven and let them cool until you can just handle them, then gently pry them out of the muffin tin onto a wire rack and leave them to cool upside down. They are extremely sticky and will stick to the muffin tin if you don’t pop them out while they are still warm. Let cool completely before serving.

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eating through paris, rome, tuscany + biarritz: a comprehensive round-up

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Many of you have asked for a list of all the places where I chowed down, wept and snapped photos. Below are links to all my favorite {and approved for dining} spots. Feel free to also search the site for country + city keywords to find my choice picks in Cambodia, Chicago, Toronto, New York, Thailand, Provence, Denmark, California, Texas, and Bali.

Paris: (this list includes spots covered during my September trip, as well!): Sweet: Meert, Poilâne, La Cure Gourmade, Comme La Lisbonne, Carette, Breizh Cáfe (also savory), La Crêperie Bretonne, Maison Georges Larnicol, Maison Colette, Rose Bakery Tea Room (also savory), Chocolat Chapon, Pozzetto, Popelini, Sébastien Gaudard, Eric Kayser, L’ Eclair de Génie, Mamie Gâteaux (also savory), Patrick Roger, Odette, Le Loir Dans La Théière (also savory)

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Savory: Le Chat Bossu, Bread and Roses, Le Petit Italien, La Briciola, Maria Luisa, Colorova (also sweet), Cafe Pinson (also sweet + vegan), Cafe Boboli

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Food Spots + Markets: Rue Montorgueil-Les Halles, Batignolles Biologique Market | Coffee: Telescope, Ten Belles

Terrific Blogs I Adore (I searched the archives of these blogs over the past year, and they proved incredibly helpful in providing exciting places to eat in Paris): Paris in Four Months, Lost in Cheeseland, David Lebovitz, Little Pieces of Light, Paris by Mouth, and Expat Edna

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Rome: Savory: di qua, Pierluigi, Ciampini (also sweet), RJ Numbs Campo De Fiori

Terrific Blogs I Adore: Arlene Gibbs and Erica Firpo

Florence: Sweet: La Carraria, Venchi, Coronas Cafe, Migone | Savory: Trattoria 4Leoni, Gusto Pizza, Trattoria Sostanza, Caffe Pitti, Botteghina, All’Antico Vinaio | Markets: Il Mercarto Dei Sapori

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Tuscany/Cinque Terre: Savory: Barabba Bianca,

Biarritz: Sweet: Real Chocolate, Maison Adam, Le Secret des Pain, Miremont | Savory: Il Giardino, Al Dente, Taco Mex

a home not my own: lodgings in france + italy reviewed

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To say that my holidays are researched would be a grand understatement. My investigations are on the level of a CIA operative. We’re talking Jason Bourne, a Harrison Ford or Richard Gere affair. I review pages of reviews, and then analyze (and over-analyze) the reviews. Often, I read other reviews the reviewers have written for context. I interrogate friends, colleagues and web-friends, and then proceed to fire off dozens of questions, drilling down to water temperatures and fluffiness quotients of pillows. Why the blinking? Is there something you’re not telling me? I feel like you’re withholding critical information, etc, etc.

My research is torturous, maddening, riddled with a constant fear that I’ll make the WRONG DECISION. I’ve been known to cancel reservations on a whim and re-engineer itineraries based on trusted counsel, so believe me when I say that planning an itinerary for a three-week European sojourn took MONTHS.

MONTHS, PEOPLE. Let that sink in.

And then AirBNB happened. Scores of my friends have used the service and have sung its praises. Rhapsodized over the easy check-ins, the well-appointed rooms and terrific locations. You’ll save hundreds, they cried. You can cook! In an actual kitchen! Imagine the money you’ll save! Yet all the while I was thinking that this was some sort of trickery, a ploy to dupe and kidnap deal-seekers. I’ve seen Hostel, Taken and Taken 2 (brief aside: the sequel was terrible) more times than I care to admit. Who just rents out their home to a stranger? More importantly, would I book a room and lose an organ?

I’m happy to confirm that all my organs are intact. Not only do I find the concept of AirBNB genius, I had two very exceptional experiences in Paris + Rome. Registration is a cinch, and the communication (email/text), flawless.

Midway through my holiday, I decided to nix the Bordeaux trip. Since the idea of paying $250+/night (if I was lucky) in Paris gave my heart pause, I made a last-minute booking at this lovely apartment in the Bastille district (photos 1-5) (4th Arrondissement) in Paris. From the rapid response to my urgent plea for a booking confirmation, to the spacious, quiet apartment, I was incredibly pleased with my choice. Although I never met my host (I’m told this is fairly common), her boyfriend was kind enough to greet me, show me around the apartment, and was helpful answering any questions I posed (there were many). From fast WIFI to a washer in the apartment (apparently, having a washer in your apartment is quite normal in Europe, while I’d have to sacrifice a spleen to afford one in NY) to great cable, a functioning shower, and a comfortable bed, I was impressed. My only gripe was that once I booked the apartment, the host’s responses to my questions (How do I turn on the heat? The stove?) lagged, and I did experience some noise at night from drunks spilling out of a nearby nightclub.

Rating: 4/5

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I’ve written about my fondness for the quirky Hotel Original (photos 6-7), also located in the Bastille district. My love of Bastille is sentimental, the stuff of greeting cards. Over the past ten years I’ve always stayed in Bastille, and I don’t plan on breaking the trend. It’s a given that hotels in Europe tend to have smaller rooms, but this doesn’t bother me as a hotel functions as a place in which to sleep and edit photos and blog posts. Original is perfect as it’s a block from the Metro, and convenient to Place des Vosges and the Marais (two of my beloved spots in Paris). While the staff is attentive and genuinely warm, on two occasions during my trip I encountered issues with my shower and slow WIFI (constantly having to log-in is annoying). Also, I noticed that all of the cheeky accoutrements were missing from the rooms. Each room is themed — from concept to design and accessories — and I enjoyed learning about the origins of the room and leaving with a small souvenir. Minor, but I noticed a difference from my last visit in September.

Rating: 4/5

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On advice from a very discerning Brit and former colleague, I decided to book a boutique hotel off of Tablet: Continentale, Florence (photos 8-9). The description was certainly seductive (as were the photos) — a sleek, Ferragamo-designed hotel within walking distance of the Uffizi and Ponte Vecchio. All of this is true: the location was perfection, the service courteous and expedient, but the accommodations were lackluster. On certain days I’d enter the hotel and there would be this smell, and the only word that comes to mind is mold. The rooms, while lovely and sound-proof, offered a leaking shower (This is just how it is, I was told by a non-plussed attendant), extreme temperature shifts (it was always too hot or cold) and a sleeping/living area that was disproportionally smaller than the bathroom. Odd. The breakfast was delicious, albeit expensive, and I found their list of recommended restaurants to be borderline touristy. Great location, great service, mediocre room.

Rating: 3.5/5

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When I arrived in Rome, I had to deal with lost luggage, incompetent Alitalia + Lufthansa representatives, and a heartless United Airlines. I spent a few hundred dollars just to stock up on the essentials + clothes since I all I had were a carry-on and the clothes I’d been wearing during twelve hours of flying. Suffice it to say, my holiday got off to a shaky start. However, that shouldn’t diminish the greatness that is Matteo’s Trevi Fountain/Coliseum (photos 10-12) abode. Matteo was born for AirBNB. He greeted me with a book (WITH DIAGRAMS!) describing the apartment, replete with color photos and detailed instructions. The perfect host, he even left me with fresh fruit, snacks and Italian coffee. I practically burst into tears because he was an AirBNB-fearing, Type-A woman’s dream. Not only was his home historic (the building is over 400 years old), it had all the modern trappings (fast WIFI, washer, terrific shower, cable TV/DVD player with videos). Conveniently located near the Trevi and all the great spots, it was still quiet at night and made for an excellent way to start my holiday (if we forget about the HORROR that is United/Alitalia/Lufthansa).

Rating: 5/5

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For those of you who have been following my exploits, Biarritz was nothing short of magical. Typing this in New York, I will remember Biarritz as the place where I composed short stories, read in front of the ocean and finally tiptoed into the dark, wondering where the next few days, months would take me. Biarritz is not the sort of place where you drop your bags and start ticking off landmarks, rather it’s a place where you lay your head down to rest. And Hotel Ocean, Biarritz (photo 13) was the perfect spot for my chrysalis. Located in the city center, Ocean is literally steps from the beach, and if you don’t start quivering over the thought of waking to the ocean, there’s no helping you. The hotel was simple, minimal. It’s not modern by any stretch of the imagination, however, Biarritz is the sort of place that doesn’t have a Starbucks and I was fine with the austerity. The room was comfortable and the staff was incredibly accommodating and kind. Ocean made for a nice respite after a long day of thinking about what I’ve got planned for the rest of my life.

Rating: 4/5

And there you have it. Two countries, many homes not my own, considered. Feel free to drop me any questions about AirBNB or the hotels in the comments!

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au revoir, my sweet!

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Maison Georges Larnicol (Images 1-5) – Who wouldn’t fawn over self-serve chocolate? I felt very much like a kid in a candy store…oh, wait. | Stohrer (Images 6-9) – a Parisian institution that won my heart during my last visit, so much so that I had to go back for an eclair. | Maison Colette (Image 10) – their pastries are so darling, their meringues so pink and light that you will wait, willingly, on the long lines for a taste.

rose bakery tea room at le bon marché, paris

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She was calm and quiet now with knowing what she had always known, what neither her parents nor Aunt Claire nor Frank nor anyone else had ever had to teach her: that if you wanted something to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone. ― Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road

In the end, all cities bleed back to New York. All cities are a great, sweeping metropolis where the motley lot stack horizontal in subway cars and pretend to ignore the downtrodden who’ve taken shelter in makeshift homes constructed of cardboard boxes on the sidewalk. They sleep with pets or in pairs, but mostly alone. We’re told not to give, to report, to move right along, and whether we know it or not, we’ve become expert editors, excising all that is not beautiful out of the frame. The uncomfortable, the unsightly, never stays in the picture.

In the city, we wait on an endless succession of lines. We’re told to complete forms, bring identification, and you’ll notice we’re closed nearly twenty-four hours a day. We wake up, we work, we complain about work (and sometimes explore our options, but never really deviating too far), we work out and get drunk and go to sleep. We travel in packs; rarely do we drift from our spheres of influence unless it’s strategic. We’re card-players without ever having learned the rules of the game. But we play, and we sometimes win (dumb luck) or blame others for a bum hand (what the fuck?). In the city, we ridicule other cities and treat them like they’re quaint and provincial specks on a map should we ever visit. The country is for sleeping and the ocean is for taking pictures of our feet. Our constant struggle is the weather, and how, like the porridge, it’s never just right. We subscribe to dozens of newsletters, follow and befriend the right people, so that we’re constantly informed, always connected. Interesting how we’re vociferous about our left leanings, but keep close to the class that binds us.

There are no accidents. Arbitrary is a word that doesn’t exist in our vocabulary. This is the formula, the regimen to which we’ve subscribed, and the days become photocopies of themselves with minor variation.

But I swore Paris was not like this. It somehow escaped the drone of mobile phone alarm clocks and a rain that chills you to down to bone. PARIS! NOT PARIS!

I’ve spent the greater part of the past decade writing an ode to Paris. From the peonies painted pink to clusters of blush roses, to steamy baguettes wilting paper sacks and pink skies settling on the Seine, from cobalt blue doors and balconies for which arias were written, to manicured gardens and trains that hurtle into the countryside — it’s easy to romanticize Paris. It’s new, all talcum powder on the body and cut grass. We’ve yet to develop our blinders; we haven’t lived in the home that refuses to heat. We haven’t dragged four pieces of luggage through the underground metro system in the middle of rush hour.

Last fall, I gave serious thought to leaving a job that was slowly killing me. In three years I went from a person who created, who thrived off of the relationships I’d cultivated with others, to a person who sent all-cap emails that read, CASH MONEY. To a person who worked all hours, rescheduled, cancelled and spent months ordering take-out. In September, in Paris, I wondered about the woman I had become. Who am I? This realization was terrifying, it implied major alterations had to be made, and it was a reality of which I wasn’t ready to confront. Instead, I created this bombastic love affair with Paris. Much like April in Revolutionary Road — making Paris bigger than it is, so much so that she gets crushed by the enormity of her hope and the inevitability of her heartbreak — this affair was a cringe-worthy hot mess, replete with French lessons and culinary school research.

It took me ten years to realize that the luggage comes along for the ride no matter how beautiful the scenery.

While Paris is remarkable, magical even, it’s still a city that demands one live in it with eyes open. Part of me wishes that I would’ve taken that trip to Bordeaux, kept the romance alive for a little while longer. Stretch out the dream, slip into it, face full of childish sleep and wild hair. But I’m awake, band-aids ripped off and the bright lights flicked on. I leave Paris tomorrow for New York, ready to leave but not quite ready to go home.

Stop asking, stop checking. I don’t know. {emphatically} Start being there. Start accepting the in-betweens. {emphatically} I want to find my way back to myself. I want something sweeping, unsettling and great.

But first, a day of solitude. Of quiet. Of sitting uncomfortably in one’s thoughts. Inspired by infectious energy and beautiful photography on Paris in Four Months, Carin inspired me to take a trip to Rose Bakery, located on the second floor of Le Bon Marché. I spent the morning reading, eating muesli, scones, and banana chocolate loaves in a delightful tea room cloaked in effulgent light. While the tea room is decidedly expensive ($6 for a cappuccino?), it was a gift to myself, a lovely quiet morning before the impending storm.

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pizza in paris: la briciola + maria luisa

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After spending nearly a week in Biarritz, it occurs to me how much anxiety I felt in Paris. Manic, I found myself racing from place to place. The days were an endless repetition of prayers (Will I be humiliated again for my imperfect French? Please no), eating (Is it possible to be so full you’re hungry again?), photographs (And the dread you fear editing 200+ photos come evening) and forward motion (Battery is dying) — with little variation.

Why is that enforced solitude allows for all the things we’re desperate to un-see to glow gleaming and white?

It wasn’t until yesterday when I fully came to terms with the maelstrom that was my life before the trip, and how I will manage the hours after I land in JFK. A sobering thought, but one I think {read: hope} I’m finally ready to tackle.

It also occurs to me that while I have so many notes from Paris, I have very few here in Basque country, but I’ve managed to read two books and write two stories in under a week. Funny how that is.

But back to the pizza, if I may. I’ll confess that I actually don’t adore French food. While pastry will always win over my cold, dead heart, French fare doesn’t inspire me the way that I wish it would. So often you’ll find me ferreting out non-traditional spots, focusing more on the desserts and less on obscure fish.

While these two pies are identical looking in nature, I assure you that they are their own special children in taste. I had the pleasure of visiting La Briciola (in the Marais Nord) and Maria Luisa (in the 10th), and both were exceptional in terms of the overall environ and a chewy crust.

At Briciola, you’ll find pizzas topped with ham shavings, heaping French cheeses and verdant salads, and at Maria Luisa you’ll drizzle hot oil on your pie from a smart selection that is swiftly brought to your table. Both pizzas will be achingly satisfying, so much so that you’ll inevitably regret the salad you ordered and wish you had room for another pie.

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colorova, paris + the comedy that is paris transport

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Merci, said by no one, ever, at Montparnasse Station in Paris. First, you will struggle with the seemingly endless array of steps it takes you to travel from Bastille to Montparnasse (count: 2 metro lines, 10 stations, four shoves and six glares). Part of you suspects this is some form of trickery, a way of which Parisians will do anything to keep its denizens confined to city limits, whilst mocking luggage-strapped New Yorkers. At said station, countless men will jockey for position on the steps and gleefully shove you out of the way. You will have dropped your bags four times to rest before you make it to the faux escalator Parisians call effortless commuting. There is nothing effortless about navigating rail stations in Paris, only a subterranean torture chamber that makes Dante’s Inferno look like Paradise. You consider the fact that if you collapsed on the ground, at this very moment, people will probably step over your still-warm body.

You have yet to board the train at this point, or even locate the ticket booths. The comedy on the level of the absurd that you will soon endure is nothing short of priceless. Since there are no signs directing you to the TGV ticket booth (Why should there be signs? one images a Parisian official stomping his little feet. One should just know!), you make several feeble attempts to make inquiries in your abysmal French. In response, people pretend to think you’re speaking a language that could not possibly be French. There are several eye squints, frowns, and looks of feigned confusion. Side conversations ensue regarding this confusion. One guard even retorts whether you know how to speak French. Sweaty, frustrated and burdened with bags that are the weight of several small children, you say, You’re an asshole, and walk away.

The guard will follow you, apologize, and offer to help. Ten minutes later, you will locate a slew of ticket booths that are out of service. After queuing on the one line filled with people who clearly have never used a machine in their natural born life, your tickets spit out, along with an ominous message flashing in red: You must have your ticket stamped before boarding!

Stamped WHERE? Indonesia, perhaps. As of this moment, that seems logical.

After queueing on another line to make inquiries about this ominous stamp situation, and to perhaps catch an earlier train, you hear the phrase so often uttered by Parisians, It’s not possible. Another variation: It’s impossible. Yet another variation: How can this be possible?

In a waiting room where an internet connection fails every thirty minutes, a woman pushes the doors open and shouts, Does anyone, ANYONE, speak English? You feel this woman’s pain acutely, and help her the four times she asks you about printing out a ticket. Because this was you, thirty minutes ago.

The internet connection expires, along with your patience. You remind yourself that violence is not the answer. But you do wonder what would happen if you screamed, BACK THE FUCK OFF. You imagine the motley lot sniffing and striding past. A giggle lodges in their throat and emerges into a full-blown cackle.

As you board the train, you sincerely believe that the comedy that was your life the past four hours has now come to a close. Curtain calls, roses and all that jazz, but there are more stairs, more cars, more station attendants who laugh at your feeble attempts to speak French, and at one point you just collapse against the door of the train. Your bags fall to the floor.

Then a French woman bends down and picks up my bags and places them in the luggage compartment. One by one. Startled, I rush over and commence with my usual round of désolés, when she says, in English, Why didn’t you ask anyone for help? I give her the Cliff Notes version of my story, when she interrupts, Why didn’t you plainly say, my bags are heavy, I’m lost, can you help me? The train doors close and I say, I don’t know. She touches the fabric on my jacket and says, You see, the world isn’t such a bad place. Here is a stranger who helped you with your luggage, even though you never asked. I thank her, and realize she’s right. Even though I always assume people should know when to help, sometimes I just need to stop someone and speak plainly. Ask for help.

Then I fall into my seat and eat a pastry from Colorova that somehow has survived the whole of this fiasco, in-tact. Remembering an exquisite brunch and a conversation I had with my waitress, who marveled over the fact that I was going to Biarritz, she said, Biarritz’s so very different than Paris.

As I ride up to the sea in Biarritz, speaking a mixture of Spanish, English and French to a jubilant taxi driver, I realize I know exactly what she meant.

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