Without intention, I strolled into the 4ème’s open market square next door to the mayor’s office. Women in dresses and men in suit stood outside with cameras ready as a crisp tuxedo and bright white dress descended down the mayor’s grand staircase. Eastern-European music danced and admirers clapped as the newlywed couple made their debut to Paris.
This was the first of 5 weddings I was to see that day.
This is what I adore so much about Paris – it unexpectedly blends familiar elements of the city with the vibrancy of something new. It creates something colorful to paint your own unique picture of what the city is to you.
So my idea is this: Paris is something old and new, all in one. Being this chic elegance that’s cool and classic, it also opens its doors to be something cleverly fresh and strikingly new. May I welcome you to the culmination of this idea, La RECylcerie of the 18ème arrondissement.
A text message illuminated my phone on a sunny afternoon. A white rectangle popped up on my screen, flashing a totally normal text message on its surface. My eyes took in each word. Maybe the blooming scent of flowers in the air or the shrug of jackets peeling off Parisian bodies to enjoy warm sunshine heightened my senses, but this text message felt special. Like, truly special.
Special in the sense that I was invited over Saturday night for spaghetti at my friend Chouette’s.
Now, really think about all the elements laid into this. I have a friend in a new city, and not only that, she wants to hang outside of coffee shop hours, and she’s inviting me over to her home. Topping all this, Chouette even insisted I invite my Kahwehgi too. There are elements of familiarity, comfortableness, and closeness all tucked into one dinner invitation. Sealed in that one dinner invitation, I felt that I’d made a true friend here in Paris.
If there’s anything I love more than food, it’s listening to my favorite author talk about food. What a delicious coincidence it happened to be when David Lebovitz came to the American Library in Paris. And how scrumptiously spoiled I felt to be eating an apricot cupcake to anticipate my excitement for such an upcoming interview. It was the apricot cupcake or the white chocolate biscuit or the raspberry pistachio cake. All were winners, but the apricot cupcake won out the most for my afternoon thoughts of David.
Now, who is David? You may ask. David Lebovitz is more than a window recommendation at Le Camion Qui Fume. He’s a literary delight capturing just how sweet both sugar and life can be. Once working as a former Chez Panisse chef, David packed his life into boxes to become a pastry chef in Paris. In his book, The Sweet Life in Paris, he flung me over to fish markets, chocolate shops, and kitchens filled with homemade brownies through a flip of a page. I am as enchanted with his anecdotal storytelling as I am by eating a still-warm pain au chocolat, simply falling weak and begging for more at its end.
My toes tapped to the music I hoped I remembered correctly. Never the most coordinated dancer or the most Irish of women (we’re talking a minimal percentage here), I moved my toes from floor, knee, hop back, two, three, four.
With St. Patrick’s Day looming at the end of the week, as a well-bred American felt it my duty to share the traditions of the holiday with my Frenchie students. To try and explain the idea of shamrocks, the deliciousness that is a minty McDonald’s shamrock shake, and what exactly is a leprechaun is a feat for the French who really aren’t so familiar with the concept.
I took a sip of a cereal-bowl sized cup of coffee at Les Puces des Batignolles in the 17th. “It’s tricky, you see,” I explained to Kahwehgi. “To explain culturally what a holiday means and is to a country.”
I would never have thought relocating to Paris would bring me closer to Hollywood. But when you’re living under the roof of an international movie producer who’s film Call Me By Your Name got nominated for 3 Oscars, I suppose this is what happens.
When I submitted the Google survey about meatballs, I didn’t really think anything of it. Pleasantly reminiscing on my voyage to Sweden to try authentic Swedish IKEA meatballs, recalling my fangirl “Meatballs for the People” t-shirt in my dresser drawer, and bethinking my first date here in France had been over a dinner of meatballs, I truly thought nothing of it. With a tap of a screen, I sent mere honest confessions through the Paris-savvy app HOOK straight to the inbox of Merci Alfred.
It all started on Valentine’s Day. And I promise you this isn’t going where you think it is. It happened to be on February 14th, sometime before the Kygo concert, I received a little book the size of a coffee mug. “Things to do Around Paris,” Kahwehgi read in French. “All the things to do just right outside Paris.”
Flipping through the photogenic pages, our seatbelts were soon buckled for Val-d’Oise.
Here’s a little something for you on Val-d’Oise: most folks aren’t traveling to go visit Val-d’Oise. As an archaeological peek into the past, most site-seers steer their way towards the charms and attractions of the “cosmopolitan historic” capital city, Paris. I surely didn’t know much about the department of Val-d’Oise until reading my little mug-sized book. But then I learned about Pontoise, and its maze of 900 quarries hollowing the city’s underbelly into a massive stone-mining regime. I read about its blooming public gardens, hilly landscapes, and sunny river walk. I turned to Kahwehgi.
When I say “art,” you think paint brushes. Maybe pastel crayons. Perhaps shards of broken stained glass. Chiseled statues so life-like you touch it just to be sure it is truly stone-cold. But when people say “art,” my mind jumps to Paris.
Paris has come to enchant me in the world of art. Maybe not enchant all the way through, but surely enrich me. Take my grueling semester of Romantisme everything, or Romantic Era like literally everything, during my Parisian semester abroad. I learned the thing called technique to assess paintings for light, shadows, and human emotions. My trips to the Louvre (or maybe the museum of La Vie Romantique, if we’re staying on theme) had me check-marking different elements of art.
Cool, I thought. Never thought of a painting’s inner emotions via shadows before.
Chicago knows winter better than anyone I know. I speak with a bias, being born and bred in the brutal tundra winters of the Windy City, but currently making home in Paris, I thought it to be cute when the radar broadcasted a little snow for my Frenchie city. Snow cute! I thought, no frozen precipitation will change my Wednesday coffee rendezvous!
Then, it snowed in Paris. And the city senselessly lost their way.
Trains, shut down. Metros, incapacitated. Tramways, forget about it. Even the bus, it got lost somewhere down the last boulevard. Everyone tightened their scarves around their necks hoping someone else with a puffier jacket and more waterproof boots will know what to do.
It’s a winter wonderland of white in the most confusing of ways.
Hate to be cheesy, but I have a story to share. A legitimate story, one written to pay homage towards a beloved American sandwich thousands of miles away from me in a land far, far away.
This story, my friends, is a story about grilled cheese. Written for English tutoring but shared here with you.
Take a seat with me at MataMata Coffee Bar, for I saved us a table outside. Enjoy some peanut butter cookie, for it nearly tastes as much like home as this story reads like the savory goodness of the motherland.