Day 233: Make Resolutions.

So it's the last day of 2011 and all I have to say is thank God. While some really amazing things happened this year, some really awful things went down and I'm ready to kiss 2011 au revoir! 

Being someone who follows traditions, here go my 2012 New Year resolutions: 

1. Don't let French paperwork expire!!
2. Discover new blogs (Suggestions welcome).
3. Drink more water...
4. Finally pursue a creative venture that I have been toying around with in my head for years.
5. Read Brett Sills and Juliette Sobanet's book!
6. Appreciate the nice guy (Something that I struggle with...).
7. Don't take things personally.
8. Find a better job.
9. Call my grandparents more often.
10.Make the most of 2012 and push the limits of what I can do!

I'd also like to thank everyone who inspires me to blog. It's your visits, comments, e-mails and overall support that keeps me going. A huge thank you goes out to:

Duchess, Mary-Kay at Out and About in Paris, Kristen at Un homme et une femme, D at Grenobloise, Keith at A Taste of Garlic, Miss Gwan at Where in the World is Gwannel Sandiego?, Sara-Louise at Sara in Le Petit Village, Laura at Looks So Lovely, Miss MCJ at Trèfle à Cinq Feuilles, Shannon at A Little Bit Chaunoise, Gabe, Em at A Girl Around the World, Kymberly Bays, Juliette Sobanet at Chocolate for Writers, Brett Sills at Peeling Back the Skin, Catherine at Simply Solo, Meg at Meg the Grand, Laura at The Everyday Life of a Young American in Girl in France, Chickster at Up, Up and Aways, Victoria at Vin Rouge et Crème Brûlée, Miss Fifi Flowers, Les Moms at Tales of an American Mom in Paris, Meredith at Fairy Tales and Cappuccinos, mes potes at Urbacolors and all of my lovely readers who take the time to visit!

Merci mille fois et bonne année! 

Day 232: Have French Tourettes.

Illustration by Garance Doré

Today I continued the tour of Long Island for Séb and showed him one of my favorite views of Manhattan on a private beach. This beach is reserved for the residents of this haute neighborhood where visiting isn't exactly encouraged but throwing caution to the wind, we parked the car on the tight side street and ran out to capture the sun setting over the city.

After our illegal photo shoot, we stopped at Louie's in Port Washington for clams and a glass of champagne at the raw bar to enjoy the last days of 2011 together.

To shock Séb, I started to play the penis game - in French slang. In brief, the penis game is when someone whispers 'penis' and you and whomever your with take turns on saying penis louder and louder where the winner is who screams it the loudest. Simple. We never really made it to the point of screaming because we were laughing so hard that no one blinked an eye at our profanities. Why would they? Being on Long Island, the probability of there being a French speaker around is rare whereas in Manhattan, you have to be careful. Here, we can risk having a little fun. I know, I'm a 12 year old boy sometimes.

The bartender who overheard us, commented that he thought French was such a beautiful language and that he wished he spoke it for his girlfriend - it was sweet. Indeed, French is a beautiful language but certainly not what we were saying. We felt bad that our kind bartender thought that we were exchanging sweet nothings which was inspiring him to learn the language so out of good faith, we stopped. 

Just as we were settling into our second flute of bubbly talking about our New Year's Eve plans, an older woman approached us. Oh we were busted. We at looked each other in fear because we were sure that she was a French teacher. Uh-oh! They're are French teachers on Long Island! Why didn't I even consider that?! "I saw you," she said while resting her hand on Séb's shoulder. Our eyes widened with fear that she understood the crass things we were saying and was going to scold us for our foul language. 

We deserved it, we were being brats and I was prepared to accept her putting us in our place. "You didn't eat your vegetables!" she continued. Well I wasn't expecting that. The clams came with a side salad that we didn't touch as we were too busy slurping down our clams on a half-shell as well as having "meaningful conversation". "Oh to be young!" she said with a chuckle before wishing us a Happy New Year. Phew!

Relieved that we didn't get caught, Séb still had to put his foot down. "No more bite game!" he said faux-scolding me, as she walked away from the table. Damn...

Day 231: Mambo! Miam! Miam!

Last night was the ultimate experience for Aurelien where I shared with him an important part of my New York life as well as offer an explanation on why I have potty mouth and still find fart jokes funny - he met my Italian cousins. 

Being the only girl in a crew of five boys in a close family, I value their opinions which are usually spot-on and direct. I've been feeling cheesy that it seems like every year I bring around a new French guy, so I didn't know how they were going to take to my latest 'situation'. They all made it clear that they hated Lucien, the pompous pseudo-intellectual. Somewhere between his remark that my family would be considered low-class in France because we eat dinner at 7 pm and him looking at my grandmother like she was an unrefined plebeian because she didn't have French mustard to go with his steak, he was out, never to be invited to another family function again and while they liked MF, they couldn't get to know him because he didn't speak English, so they never grew too attached to him.

But you know what? This is 2011, soon to be 2012, a new year, new man and why should Aurel suffer and miss out on the lunacy that is my family because of previous failures? My cousin Angelo and his new wife Josephine organized a beautiful dinner in their new home where it was the first time we've all been together since everyone's weddings. Aurel and I met up with Vinny and his new wife Carmella, Anthony and his girlfriend Lily and little Marco at the LIRR station where we all went into the city together for a post-holiday dinner. 

We arrived at Penn Station and because Phish is playing at Madison Square Garden this week, the place was packed with neo-hippies wandering around before the show looking for tickets. I couldn't resist telling Aurel that Penn Station, aside from the commuters, has a huge subculture of hippies acting as if it was completely normal that a white guy with dreads was approaching him with his finger in the air. Angelo who doesn't understand French but knows when I'm pulling someone's leg (apparently in any language) jumped in and explained to poor Aurel that Phish was playing upstairs and that the people who were holding up their fingers were in fact, looking for tickets. This only prompted his next question; "Who is Phish?"

We arrived at Angelo and Josephine's new home in Chelsea which incidentally is on the same street where I grew up and in typical family tradition, we all stood in the kitchen, picking at the welcoming spread of prosciutto, Italian cheeses, sopressata, clams and oysters on the half shell and roasted red peppers.

One of my favorite things about catching up with the newlyweds of 2011 is seeing them after the hoopla of their weddings as they settle into married life. I find comfort in other people's happiness which always reminds me that everything works out the way it's supposed to.

After an incredible dinner of chicken scarpariello, sauteed broccoli di rabe and roasted blue potatoes, we exchanged Secret Santa gifts. Aurel who was thrown into the drawing at the last minute received his gift from our youngest cousin Marco. Marco didn't know what to get someone whom he's never met, so logic told him to give him a framed and signed photo....of himself. "It's perfect for Paris!" was his only reasoning - well I guess France is now complete.

We ate, we danced around the kitchen and the night was capped off with a limoncello infused serenade of the New York anthem, "The Piano Man" where Aurel had the same exact look on his face that I have when Claude François' "Alexandrie, Alexandra" comes on at a party; delight over the cultural experience. The night couldn't have been better and am pleased to share with him another facet that makes me, me.

Day 230: Letters and Sodas.

The pressure was on when choosing what to do for Aurélien's first day on Long Island. Aurélien has been to Manhattan several times and while we will certainly venture out on the LIRR to meet up with friends and to show him where I actually grew up and where I was born (sorry to disappoint, I'm not a real Long Island girl!), I wanted to spend the first few days tranquil chez maman while he adjusts to New York time. 

Staying somewhat local, I took him to the authentic 1950's soda shop Hildebrandt's (as seen on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) in "ye village" of Williston Park where we sat at the counter for homemade ice cream and coke (not coca light!). "This is what HD Diner is trying to be!" he exclaimed in delight. Yes, HD Diner (HD as in Happy Days) the chain of American diners in Paris that supplement the stereotype that fine American cuisine does not exist and that we live solely on burgers and fries. Let in be known that my appreciation for a good hamburger started in Paris.

Hildebrandt's, on the other hand, is the real deal! We felt like we were in a timewarp back to a 'simpler time'. Even the clean-cut 21-year-old server, looks and almost acts as if we are in 1957 with his dimples and small-town charm. We were sold on the American Dream until he shared with us that on the weekends he plays lead guitar in a Sepultura cover band... 

The first day on L.I was a success, now I'm off to share the ultimate American experience...the supermarket, to show him how it's really done.

Freshly handmade mint and peach ice cream

 Aurélien's eyes widened when he saw this...
The French would starve if there was no dinner after 8:15!

Day 229: Receive the BEST Christmas Gift...Ever.

Illustration by Cecile Mancion

Christmas Day was actually quiet this year. I spent Christmas Eve with my family which is a story in itself to be shared at a later date but the actual day was spent alone. My cousins were with their new wives, my grandparents were in the Bahamas and ironically, my mom was in Paris for work. I actually enjoyed the day to myself, I spent it organizing my things, took a long hot bubble bath while sipping on pink champagne with a moisturizing Kenzo Marshmallow mask someone gave me, followed by watching Christmas movies in my bathrobe.

The truth is that the holiday was not the force behind coming back to New York. I actually wanted to stay in France where I was invited to celebrate with Aurélien's family but had to decline because I had administrative and personal things to take care of that couldn't be handled in Paris. I can't wait until my life is 100% in France.

Aurélien whose family is even more colorful than mine (if you can believe it) hosted an Italian-themed Christmas dinner where Aurélien dressed up as Tony Soprano and was missing his little Italian princess who would have been the best, most authentic prop in the house. Give me fake nails, blue eyeliner, and air dry my hair...insta-guidette. 

Missing Aurélien, I called him on Skype for a quick coucou where he passed the computer around the dining room and I found his father dressed as the Pope and his step-mom dressed as Sophia Loren while nibbling on Osso-Bucco and sipping Barolo. These are my kind of people!

I woke up yesterday morning to the sound of my mom's car coming up the driveway. Excited to see her, I ran downstairs to warm up the Nespresso machine and pulled out the panettone for breakfast to enjoy a belated Christmas morning. My mom walked in with her suitcase in tow and a little gift that she picked up for me in Paris....Aurélien! C'est. pas. vrai! What little schemers! She scooped him up from Paris and delivered him to New York!

I had no idea. Apparently, they have been planning this for a month via secret email sessions. So now mon amour is here...on Long Island. A Frenchman on Long Island....oh là là là là!

Day 227: Receive a Carte de Noël Coquine.

I received one holiday card this season from my friend Scott out in L.A...

If there was only one card to get this year, this was certainly it...c'est tellement coquin!

Joyeux Noël à tous

Day 226: Make an Adult Christmas Classic.

When the going gets rough...
..the rough looks for Pear Williams.

'Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house...ok, my story is a little dirtier than this classic but because it's Christmas Eve, I thought I'd flashback to my favorite adult holiday story, à la Mlle. you can only imagine.

Warning: Not to be read to children. 

(Originally posted in October) 

Picture it. A Parisian suburb. Christmas Eve dinner. 2009. 

Getting old comes with new problems or 'kinks' as my mother calls them, one being my newly-discovered allergy to beets. I had eaten some the day before Christmas Eve unknowingly and woke up the following day looking like prociutto di parma. My skin was red, raw, itchy and peeling. I called Monsieur Flâneur who was already out at his grandparents and told him that I had eaten something weird (not knowing the word for beet) and that I was going to look a little "raw" at dinner. "C'est pas grave!" he said blowing off my concern and just wanting to know which train I was going to take out to Chaville. At the time, he was madly in love with me so I could do no wrong or look ugly because I was "perfect" - funny how quickly things changed.

Trying to cover up my red face with pounds of mineral powder that was doing nothing short of making me look sick, I sucked it up and headed to the métro for my first Christmas in France. He picked me up at the RER station in Chaville and since it was dark out, he didn't see the severity of my face. "Ça va." he said while giving me a kiss on the nose. Okay, ça va, maybe it wasn't so bad. Due to the fact that we were running late, we arrived at his grandmother's house and went straight to the table where the family was waiting for us to eat. Under the light of the dining room, my creepy face was revealed. His grandmother got up to take my coat and looked at me as if Freddie Kruger had come to dinner and out of politeness asked if I was alright while inching back in what I assumed was pure fear.

Before taking my seat, I announced to the table, "Je suis allergique aux 'beets'". There was dead silence as his grandmother, grandfather, father, mother, cousins, aunts and uncles looked at me. "Chérie, pourquoi t'as dit ça?", MF asked me wondering why I would say such a thing with intense concern, his eyes turning black as he looked into me. Confused, I brushed it off and continued, "T'étais là quand j'ai mangé des 'beets'. Tu te souviens pas?" His eyes widened and his little cousin spit out his Coca upon hearing me say this. 

Let's take a few steps back for my non-Francophone readers. When I don't know a word in French, I'll sub it with a word in English and just say it with a French accent. Nine out of ten times, this method is quite effective, but not this night because the word for beets (what I know now and will never forget as long as I live) is betterave and the word beet when said with a French accent is slang for penis. I announced to his entire family that I am allergic to cock and that my boyfriend, their son was present while I was eating it. Oh yes, this in fact happened.

"Americans are out of their minds!" his grandfather said jovially with a full mouth of salmon fume. "Oh là là, desolé mon fils! Tant pis pour toi!" MF's father said consoling his son over the fact that his girlfriend was allergic to his penis. Fortunately for me, his family is cool and they broke out into laughter once they realized that I had made a mistake (to say the very least) and more importantly wasn't disrespecting them. His little cousins spent the better part of the night chanting; "Je suis allergique aux bites! Je suis allergique aux bites!" using me as their excuse to scream profanities while playing with their new toys. 

I never fully lived down that story but it has turned into an instant holiday classic...on both sides of the pond.

Joyeux Noël à tous!

Day 225: Last Christmas...

Illustration by Marc Johns

It's cute and all that I'm home for Christmas but don't think for a minute that last year's holiday memories haven't been creeping in, especially with this down time without the distraction of the rush of my life in Paris. Idle time really is the devil's playground when left alone with my thoughts. While I certainly wouldn't want it to be last year and am so grateful for all the positive changes in my life, I can't help but reminisce a bit...please don't hate me for doing so.

Picture it. Paris. Last Christmas.

I was supposed to spend it in New York with my family and Monsieur Flâneur was supposed to fly out on the 26th with my mom who was working a Paris Christmas trip, but because of last year's snowstorms in London (legit) and Paris (two inches that sent the country in a crisis), I was stuck in France for the holidays. It wasn't a big deal because my mom was coming anyway and we were invited to spend the day with MF and his wonderful family out in the suburbs. The three of us planned to fly out together the following day on the 26th. It was perfect, it worked out even better than our original plan we all thought...

Being that there were two flights going to JFK, we chose to book ourselves stand-by on the first flight out - the flight that my mom was working - just in case we couldn't get on, we'd take the second flight out. We arrived at CDG where my mom left us at security and check-in in order to join the rest of her crew at the gate to prepare the cabin for the flight. Excited for MF's first trip to America, we arrived at the check-in counter, happy and in-love when the agent asked us for MF's visa. Visa? What? His ESTA. What the frick is an ESTA? I remember asking myself. She explained that there are no longer green forms for foreigners entering into the U.S and documenting visitors is now done online - for a fee of course. Upon seeing my frustration and quest for answers, she smiled at me and with satisfaction said, "Je ne sais pas, c'est votre pays." Yes, it is my country but I don't know either...

Despite her little comment, she was quite helpful in offering information and advice on how to quickly obtain this visa by directing us to the airport brasserie that offers free wi-fi. Thanks to her assistance and allowing us cut the line once we returned, the turnaround time for this extra step was less than fifteen minutes. Before issuing us our stand-by boarding passes, she regretfully informed us that there was news of a snowstorm due to hit New York and that many passengers from the later flight had been moved to the earlier flight, including the New York based flight crew who didn't want to be stuck in Paris for a week. She handed us our boarding passes and with held up crossed fingers, wished us "Courage". Little did we know that we needed it...
Upon arrival at our gate, the flight that was fairly empty a mere 24 hours prior was now packed with huffy passengers as the gate agents were trying to consolidate two flights onto one aircraft. My mom came storming out of the plane to let us know that there would no way in hell that we would be flying out with them, gave us a both a hug and kiss goodbye and told us that she would be keeping track of our travels on the network server. I looked at MF and he suggested that we go back to Paris and try again the next day but after spending a month with his family partaking in their holiday brouhahas and helping out in the restaurant during their busy season, the idea of going back to hear him bicker with his brother, hear his mother tell him what to do and his grandmother ask me how I put up with him, sounded like a terrible plan b. So I made an executive decision and booked us on a flight to Chicago in the hopes of catching the last flight out to New York. How hard would it be to get from Chicago to New York? There are flights every 30 minutes, right?

Getting to Chicago was a piece of cake, we sat in first class, jovially clinked our champagne glasses and enjoyed a lovely nine hour flight in the friendly skies thinking that everything was going to work out just fine. We arrived at O'Hare, looked at the connecting flight screens to find them bleeding with red "cancelled" notifications next to every east coast city. Philly - cancelled, Boston - cancelled, Washington D.C - cancelled, JFK and LGA - cancelled, Raleigh-Durham? - cancelled! We were stuck in Chicago for MF's first trip to the States, ok...ça va...

We got to customs and I stood in the visitors line with MF in order to pose as the translator (what a joke) where I wasn't allowed to just answer the questions for him, I had to translate them, wait for his answers, (even though I already knew them) and then repeat them to the officer in English. "What are you doing in the United States?" the officer asked, "Qu'est-ce que vous faites aux Etats-Unis?" I repeated. "Je viens pour visiter sa famille - la famille de ma fiancée" "He's here to visit my family," I responded dryly. He looked at MF and said "Coming to meet the fam? Sure you don't want to go back?", MF looked at him and didn't respond because he didn't understand which didn't stop the officer from then leaning over the counter and whispering, "I'll save you, buddy." while hovering the stamp over his passport in a way to let him know that he could back out now. Somehow MF understood this part and laughed - what a miracle, the boy can speak English now. I snatched the passport, shoved it in MF's bag, said thank you and with MF in tow headed for the exit to figure out what the hell we were going to do now.

All of the New York airports were closed for days due to the massive snowstorm, so we had no choice but to spend three nights in the O'Hare Airport Marriott with the flu that we both got overnight. We were stuffed up, sweating profusely, sneezing, coughing and sore from head to toe. On our second day, we braved the city to try and enjoy the fact that we were in the beautiful city of Chicago but because we were jetlagged, cold and sick, we we're just miserable. 

Culture shock is a funny thing, it comes when you least expect it and MF experienced his first bout of culture shock when we went to a bank to change our euros into dollars. The teller, a friendly black woman kept calling us baby, who was singing along to the musak ("Angel" by Train) while counting our money and before we left took our hands to wish us (her "babies") a Happy New Year. MF, who comes from a place where bankers are the least happy, least friendly, least helpful and the most impatient people in all of Europe was blown away by the kindness of this American bank. It took him an hour to except the fact that bank was not only nice to us but had a table offering of complimentary flavored coffee and little sprinkled holiday cookies.

After our failed attempt at being true Chicago tourists, where MF kept asking me questions about Al Capone because suddenly I was an expert on mid-west gangsters, the rest of our trip was either spent dying in our room from the flu or force feeding ourselves sandwiches for sustenance at the hotel bar where the bartender, Tito shared his "bar art" with us.

"Bar Art"
Of course I took a photo....

Once news broke that east coast airports had reopened, we decided to brave O'Hare and try to fly out - again. We arrived at 5:00 am and realized that we weren't the only ones smart enough to get there as early as possible because we were numbers 150 and 157 on the stand-by list and only four passengers per flight were making it out. If full revenue passengers were being shut out and sleeping in terminals there was no way that we going anywhere before January.

I refused to except this option of sleeping in another airport hotel or worse, the terminal and with luck found an amazingly helpful gate agent who went through all of our options and the probability of flying out that day. With New York City completely out of the question, we decided to go to Buffalo where where the plan was to take the train down to Manhattan. Per my mom who was following our whereabouts through her work server, saw that all of the passengers trying to get to LGA and JFK got hip to jumping on other flights and Buffalo became the next hot ticket out of O'Hare. Luckily, we were well into the air and sipping our Bloody Marys when these epiphanies took place.

We arrived in Buffalo where it was pouring rain and learned that both Amtrak and Greyhound were sold-out - of course they were. At this point, I had a nervous breakdown, MF came back from smoking a cigarette and found me in the airport crying while smashing the handset of a dirty pay phone against the receiver because the calling card only gave me 15 seconds and I was cut off mid-sentence while trying to communicate with my mom. We only had our French cellphones which was useless in Buffalo, NY.

Despite everything, we spent a relaxing night in Buffalo, where we ordered room service, watched E.T and Married..with Children reruns and the following morning took a Greyhound bus down to New York City. The bus was packed with passengers who were also stuck and couldn't fly out leaving the only available double seat in front of the bathroom where the door would burst open every time we'd hit a bump which would then stink up the entire bus because someone went to the bathroom on the toilet seat. A married couple from the Bronx sat across from us where the wife informed me in her thick New York accent that someone "did cocky" on the seat. Mind you, I'm having to translate all of this for MF. 

After ten hours on the bus and the priceless look of MF's face when he saw the incredible New York City skyline as the bus was approaching the Holland Tunnel, we were let off at the armpit of Manhattan; The Port Authority where we then took the subway down one stop to Penn Station - another beauty of the city. After what felt like an hour on the Long Island Railroad and hearing really loud girls from Ronkonkoma complain that they thought their Christmas presents from their boyfriends were like so lame, we arrived at the train station where my mother was waiting for us, "an angel", MF used to call her.

We arrived at my grandmother's house where we both took hot baths and she had a vodka on the rocks waiting for MF, a large glass of red for me and leftover truffle mushroom risotto that she reheated in a saucepan. It felt good to be in my Monoprix velour ballerine slippers, leggings and my grandfather's oversized knit sweater while eating my grandmother's comfort food next to the fire in her den that smells of old books.

Although our trip was a nightmare, we made the most of it and look back on it fondly but saying that, by no means do I wish we were together this year, that chapter of my life is closed and am making new (less stressful) memories this year.

Day 223: Go "Home" for Christmas.

Illustration by Inslee Haynes

I'm back in New York! Sigh. Why does it feel like I never left? Oh, I know why because I'm always freaking here. In all seriousness, I could think of worse places to be traveling back and forth from, so I'm going to recognize and appreciate the fact that I call the City of Light and The City my home.

I arrived at CDG bright and early this morning and after check-in, breakfast at the airport brasserie, security, and customs, I headed to the gate and that's when I saw her. I just knew this was going to happen. It was her - Non-Marie: the gate agent from the Summer 2011 fiasco who made me change my clothes in the middle of the terminal because she accused me of not wearing pants. Why couldn't Non-Marie have been on strike like a normal French person? I know, because she is a gate agent and they aren't on strike, but still...

Not wanting her to recognize me, I ran into the bathroom to recall how I looked that morning in July in an attempt to disguise myself. How did I look? I asked myself - oh yeah! I remembered: tired, worn out, pale and ugly - perfect because this morning I just happened to look vibrant, luminous and sun-kissed. Clearly, I'm lying but with a little bronzer, Rosebud Salve and some mascara that I had in my carry-on would smooth out these details. After a mini airport make-over, I walked out looking...functioning. I'll take it. 

Even though I was the victim from this summer's mayhem, I arrived at Non-Marie's counter with a warm smile and while she still had on her bitch face, she actually issued me a boarding pass in coach on this very full flight back to New York. I was grateful because I really didn't want to take the RER back to Paris to try again tomorrow, so thank you Non-Marie. 

Nestled in my seat and sending Aurel an "au revoir, babe" text, I realized that I was surrounded by students who appeared to be going home from their study abroad semester in Paris. These youngsters were showing off the new vocabulary and expressions they had learned these past three months in France, gem like: "I'm going to f*ck your face up," and "Shut the f*ck up, a-hole" could be heard in French by America's fine youth. Their parents and FAFSA would be so proud. I needed a Bloody Mary - stat. 

The elderly woman who sat next to me wasn't impressed either and by the look of her face was horrified with each French profanity that went flying through the cabin. Their ignorance to the fact that 90% of the flight fully understood French was impressive and kept me wildly entertained before take-off. It's not like we were on a flight from Spokane to Boise where perhaps you could get away with calling each other profanities in French, but Paris to New York?! That's hardly speaking in 'code'. Allez.

One young man in this spirited group kept popping up from the seat in front of me to lean over to his friend who was sat behind me to tell him how wasted he was. You can imagine my concern when I realized that he was located next to the emergency exit. Respire. After seeing him hack up into the "airsickness bag", I was grateful that he didn't vomit on me back when he was hovering over me to communicate with his friend. I'm also grateful that we didn't need to evacuate, putting our lives in the hands of someone who can't hold down their booze.

The rest of my flight was calm where after two strong cocktails and the in-flight film, I fell asleep, every so often waking up on the shoulder of the elderly woman. I'm now at my mom's house about to sit down to a dinner of orecchiette e brocoli di rabe (a traditional Barese dish) and a bottle of Far Niente red with my family before I pass out from jetlag, as I'm six hours ahead. It's good to be home for the holidays and I thank you all for your bon voyage wishes.

Day 221: Ciao Paris!

Illustration by Fifi Flowers

For my last weekend in Europe before heading back to New York for the holidays, I wanted to take the TGV to Switzerland to reflect on the year, take photos and get drunk - alone. Unfortunately, I'm broke and can't afford Switzerland, especially after I estimated the cost of the damages done to my apartment courtesy of the shady sublet versus the funds in my savings account, I realized that I wouldn't be able to afford a Swiss getaway. Tant pis. Not one to except defeat, I figured if I couldn't bring myself to Switzerland than I was going to bring Switzerland to me! Sort of...

Aurel's friends were passing through town on their way to Germany and we had a little impromptu end-of-year holiday dinner. In France, I find that throwing together a casual dinner party is so easy. We made a steaming pot of cinnamon vin chaud, melted pounds of cheese and sliced meats and sausages for raclette threw some baguettes on the table, decorated his apartment with red and white candles, wore my knit snowflake tights and cable knit boots. Voilà, party time.

As the wine was slowly permeating our bloodstream (because vin chaud tends to sneak up on you), Aurel and I started getting giddy and giggly in the kitchen while preparing another pot of wine. A joke between us is that we refer to my cat, Charlotte Rose as ma fille (my daughter). Sensitive to the fact that no one else is in on this joke, we talk about my "daughter" in private - or so we think. Well who knew that his friend Thibault had the perfect pitch hearing of a dolphin because he heard our entire ridiculous conversation where I was gushing to Aurel that I will soon be with my baby daughter once I'm in New York and that the latest news per my mom is that she enjoys sleeping on the hot water heater in the basement. Oh. my. god.

Had I known he'd heard us, I would have clarified that Charlotte Rose is, in fact, a cat and that I didn't abandon my two-year-old child in order to follow my dream of moving to Paris while she sleeps curled up on appliances in an unfinished basement on Long Island. We remained ignorant to Thibault's much-warranted judgment the entire night and it wasn't until the following day that he called Aurel to thank him for the dinner where he worked into the conversation inquiries about my daughter. It took Aurel a few minutes to figure out the massive malentendu and explained that Charlotte is a cat. Suffice it to say, Thibault and Claire were relieved to learn that I was not a terrible mother, just a flighty kitty owner. I swear it's always something here in Paris. 

Well, it's my last night here until 2012 and God, I am really going to miss this place. Saying that, let's hope I get out of here tomorrow without any CDG drama and that my family doesn't piss me off too much while I'm in New York. Wishful thinking on both accounts...

A Bientôt Paris!

Day 220: The Case of the Puffy Coat: Part Deux.

Illustration by Cécile Mancion

Lately, I have been entertaining myself with my blog's keyword stats where I discover how my blog is found via search engines. It amuses me to see that Tales is on the other side of some crazy Google searches, even if they don't exactly match the stories that I have written on this blog. Some goodies have been; "dirty french panties" (why do they have to be dirty?), "by our second coffee we were naked and 'effing' (coffee? The second coffee for me has a different effect where I'd prefer to not be in the presence of a man. Remember that dilemma?)", "drunk girl in paris " (nice), "sleazy French men in parks (it happens)", "ella coquine" , "Parisian Fashion Heist (no crazy subletter, I haven't taken the stories of you robbing me off the blog)" and this afternoon I was surprised to see; "ella coquine monsieur flaneur dysfunctional relationship" (well look at that). It was staring back at me where Google and this reader recognized that we aren't a compatible couple, why did it take me so long? If love is blind then what is stupidity and denial? Deaf, dumb, insane and blind?

As predicted, retrieving my puffy coat is turning out to be more trouble than it's worth, even if it did belong to my aunt who passed away too young from cancer. I am finally at peace with parting with it. The coat was a staple for icy winters in Brooklyn and wet winters here in Paris where I felt like she was keeping me warm with her hugs but I refuse to do the MF song and dance in order to get it back. She would understand.

After waiting weeks to hear back, I finally received an e-mail response from him saying that he has had the coat at the restaurant and wanted to know why I hadn't come by to pick it up. Respire. I never confirmed that I was coming by, my last e-mail was simple and direct, requesting a status update of when he would have it at the restaurant and we would go from there. I haven't heard anything from him and was not going to go his restaurant or send someone else there to pick up my things without knowing for sure if they were actually there. - it's common sense. I know that I probably shouldn't have but I couldn't resist writing back to say just that.

Within minutes, I received another e-mail where I was accused of being unclear, that he was having trouble following me which was an unfair jab at my French communication skills before saying that he doesn't spend his days checking e-mails (he has an iPhone), that the coat is now at his mother's house because I never came by and to stop making him out to be 'le connard'. N'importe quoi!!

This is what makes people crazy. I call this LOL; lack of logic. I didn't respond to his second e-mail, I couldn't because we weren't going to get anywhere with his knucklehead reasoning. He wants me to call him to arrange an rdv, so he can try to charm me with his young Serge Gainsbourg good looks, interrogate me on my new life and make his little comments. Seriously, I have enough trinkets and memories of my aunt that I can part with the puffy coat - anything to be free of this drama.
What's going on is that he is slowly realizing that he has absolutely no power over me and is imprisoning my possessions in search of a strong reaction from me - this method may have worked six months ago but not anymore. This my friends is called moving on. It also doesn't help that Séb and I ran into a good friend of his in Oberkampf last week and it was obvious that I am doing well and that MF is turning into a fading memory. These days my sights are set on the future - with or without the damn puffy coat. Merde alors!

Day 218: Make a "Sois Fabuleuse" Mix!

Illustration by Garance Doré

Pop the bubbly! Roll out that slab of foie gras! Put on your whoriest dress and french your boss (eww), because we are in the thick of holiday party season which means it's time to get gorgeous and get your freak on!

So, I normally make an end of year mix with my favorite songs of the year but because my heart had been ripped out and dragged down rue de Rivoli and the hits being heart-wrenching songs like "Grenade", "Rolling in the Deep" and "Beggin'", I chose to ignore pop music for a better part of the year.

In lieu of my "best of 2011" mix, I decided to not let the good times suffer due to my misfortune and share my favorite dance songs to get gussied up to while sipping on effervescent holiday staples; Sofia Mini Blanc de Blancs in the U.S or copious amounts of Demoiselle here in France.


Jamiroquai - Canned Heat
Dizzy Rascal feat. Calvin Harris - Dance With Me
Craig David - Woman Trouble
Madonna - Deeper and Deeper 
Dee-lite - Good Beat 
Flight Facilities - Foreign Language
The Rapture feat. Dimitri from Paris - How Deep Is Your Love?
Groove Armada - Superstylin' 
LCD Soundsystem - Daft Punk is Playing at my House
!!! - Me and Giuliani Down by the School Yard
Justice - D.A.N.C.E
Chromeo - Don't Walk Away   
Scissor Sisters - Take Your Mama
Coconut Records - Nighttimimg 
Lady Gaga - Edge of Glory

....and why the eff not?

LMFAO - Party Rock Anthem

To listen to the playlist in its entirety, click here.

Day 216: Nerd Out.

Illustration by Garance Doré

Back when I was learning French in New York, I subscribed to the French cable channel TV 5 Monde for complete immersion into what would become the biggest challenge of my late twenties. I thought that I'd study my ass off and after a year I'd be fluent and never look back - how cute. I failed to realize that learning another language is a process of applying layers upon layers where I'd constantly be learning new expressions, building vocabulary and mastering that sneaky subjonctif that seems to creep up during the least opportune moments. I can't tell you how many times during fights with MF where I stood corrected because I forgot to use this annoying tense.

While the subjonctif continues to torture me, my vocabulary and math skills developed fairly quickly thanks to TV 5 Monde introducing me to my favorite television game show this side of the Atlantic: Des chiffres et des lettres. Coming home early today, I was able to catch the last 15 minutes of the show that represents the beginning of my French-speaking life. Every time I watch it, I can't help but chuckle, remembering my first year here in France. 

Picture it. Paris. 2009. An enthusiastic American girl.

It was a cool, overcast spring day and with the help of my pertinent roommate Charles-Henri, I had the opportunity to go to a taping of one of France's oldest or depending on who you ask France's nerdiest game show that apparently "no one watches". Charles made a call to the phone number provided on the website and within a week we had an e-mail confirming my place in the live studio audience. After months of watching this show on my couch in Brooklyn, I was going to see it live, before my eyes! It was the highlight of my arrival in Paris. 

Per the website, the taping was to take place in St. Cloud which was simple enough because I was living in the 15th at the time making it less than a 30-minute metro ride away - or so I thought. I arrived at St. Cloud where my instructions after the metro, were to take a bus for four stops and walk on the service road that ran alongside the auto-route for 15 minutes. I remember thinking that something didn't seem right as my heels were digging into the dirt but maybe walking along freeways was how "it" was done in France, so I just went with it.

I finally arrived at the address that Charles had written down on a piece of paper and didn't see a studio in sight, just an office building. I walked in to find a welcome desk - and I use the word "welcome" loosely - where I found a receptionist in a desolate lobby taking a bite into a sandwich. "Bonjourrrrrr!" I said gleefully with my thick American accent. The receptionist looked back at me and chewed. Ok. "I want to make to see the shooting of Des chiffres et des lettres, please." I desperately tried to communicate with my poor French. The receptionist looked at me, rolled her eyes and swiveled her chair around with her back facing me. "Excusez-moi?" I insisted while obnoxiously patting the counter. "I am here inside of this establishment to watch shootings of Des chiffres et des lettres, please." No response. After my long trek where I took a metro and then a bus into what I believed was the suburbs, walked on a freeway and it was starting to rain, I wasn't going to give up that easily. I'm a New Yorker for pete's sake! After my third attempt, and this time less cheerful, she finally turned around, looked at me and said, "It's not here." No further information - it was just not there. Con-nasse.

I walked outside, hoping to get some answers somehow but just found myself standing clueless in the rain because there was not much else in sight. Discouraged, I called Charles and asked him to confirm the address on the website and told him about the little unhelpful witch who just told me that I was in the wrong place. "Ah, mince, ok go back to the receptionist and pass the phone to her so I can talk." Charles instructed me. "I don't want to, she was mean," I whined. "Do you want to see Laurent Romejko or what!?" he barked with a chuckle. He knew that I had a little crush on the nerdy host Laurent which was the driving factor of going to the taping, so I sheepishly walked back into the office where you can imagine the receptionist being far from excited to see me again. 

I held my phone out, motioning for her to please take it where she nodded her head no and adamantly refused to take the damn phone. After practically forcing her to take it as she saw that my eyes were starting to water out of frustration, I heard her tell Charles that she already told me that the studio wasn't there and that I didn't understand her. She handed the phone back to me. So not only was she a bitch, but she was a liar too because I did in fact understand and she knew that - I just didn't like her answer.

"Stupid French girl!" Charles said after the phone was handed back to me. "Ok, go outside and look for a security booth. She said that perhaps the guard can help us," Charles directed me, "Just give him the phone and I will get more information." I went out and found the booth, said hello to the guard before shoving my phone in his face. Charles and the guard had what appeared to be a lovely conversation before the guard handed the phone back to me and exited his booth.

"He's leaving, Charles! What did he say? What's going on? Charles!!" I howled into the phone. "Do you see a camion de pompiers in front of you?" Charles asked with the patience of a saint. Camion de pompiers?  What was this word again?  Ah, yes a firetruck. "Why yes Charles, I do see a firetruck. Why do you ask?" I asked while noticing three firemen and the guard waving at me. "Because the studio is not in St. Cloud anymore, it's in St. Ouen and they happen to be heading that way so you're going to get a ride with them! Ok? A tout!"  Dial tone. Wait, what?! Charles! I'm going in a firetruck with firemen?! And then it hit me, I'm going in a firetruck with firemen! Well, Bonjour la France! 

Holding my little purse with both hands in front of me, I shyly walked over to the firetruck and said hi where they motioned for me to climb in the back where they strapped me in for what turned out to be an hour long ride because of the traffic. This had to have been illegal but I didn't care because I was in a firetruck on my way to see Des chiffres et des lettres! 

My French was hellish at the time therefore communicating with these sweater clad heroes was close to impossible which created a lot of of awkward silences where they just looked at me like a science project. Who was this little American trying to go to a taping of Des Chiffres et des lettres

We arrived at the real studio in St. Ouen where the firemen escorted me in and I took my seat among the show's target audience; senior citizens. After watching four tapings with the camera panning embarrassing close-ups of my face where I would try to look like I was seriously figuring out the puzzle but ended up just looking constipated, I heard one of the studio managers call my name. Why were they calling my name? I was certainly in no position to respond confidently over a crowd of people, so I avoided eye contact and kept my eyes glued to my French gossip magazine that I also couldn't understand. The calling of my name lasted for ten painful minutes where I heard the word participant followed by the spelling of my name. These people were really looking for me and I was terrified.

To this day, I don't know why they were calling my name but my theory is that Charles called the wrong phone number and added me on the list as a contestant. I would have been on Le Zapping forever as the laughing stock of France but my French friends seem to think that it would be impossible and that there has to be some sort of quiz that I'd have to take in order to be a contestant. This is coming from the same people who haven't seen the show in 20 years, so I would hardly consider them to be authorities on the show's rules and operations. I sometimes regret staying mute because after all these years, I still wonder what they wanted and if they would have put a foreigner with shaky French language skills on their show. If anything, their ratings would have certainly gone up that week.

While I love the life of normalcy that I worked hard to achieve here in Paris, I sometimes miss my early days where I was naive, curious and open-minded making everyday a new adventure and Paris my own little playground of the unknown.

Day 214: Be Surprised.

 Illustration by Fifi Flowers

After a long day at work where the office is buzzing with everyone getting ready to head home for the holidays next week, I stopped by chez Sylvie for a noisette and to decorate the restaurant's Christmas tree with her. While sipping my coffee and going through her box of heart-shaped ornaments, we shared our Christmas plans with each other. While I'll be in New York, she will be closing the restaurant for the last week of December and the first week of January to spend the holidays in Bretagne with her family.

The stuffy and packed metro ride home on this wet Monday evening had me looking forward to a quiet night in, with each stop bringing me closer to the silence and tranquility of my apartment. Unfortunately, my fantasy of nestling in a vanilla bubble bath with a glass of red was quickly shattered when I realized that my night wasn't over just yet - I had an apartment to clean. I have been putting this off for a week and with the excitement of my mom in town, going out to dinners and holiday functions, my apartment has become a bit of a dumping ground. I had a linty carpet to vacuum, piles of espresso cups and vin chaud stained glasses to clean, baguette crumbled-counters to wipe off and piles of papers and clothes to sort through. Good times.

I walked up my six flights of penis banister stairs, leaned on my front door while fishing for my keys in my exploding work tote and before finding them to let myself in, I fell into my apartment - I fell in because my door was already open. Oh no, now what? Has Barbara McRoy come to my apartment to do more damage? Is there a thong that she forgot to steal?

I tip-toed in with my heart pounding, fearing the unknown. Why was my door unlocked?

Because my apartment is microscopic, I quickly learned that I had not been robbed again this year as my eyes fell on an adorable Aurel who stood in my spotless apartment with my Christmas cinnamon spice and eggnog candles lit, making it smell like a holiday dream. He did all the things that I needed to get done, and did them better than I would have. My dishes were clean and piled up in the dish rack, my clothes were folded on my made bed (I swear that my pillows looked fluffed), my carpet was vacuumed and everything was in their little place. This just made me melt. Where is this guy from? The planet of perfect men? He left work early knowing that I normally skip the gym on Monday night, snuck in with his key in order to cross one thing off of my already heavy to-do list.

I have to say that I have never had such a kind and thoughtful boyfriend in my entire life. MF used to call me bordélique if I left a dish in the sink which used to irritate me to no end because on a whole, I'm quite tidy but even if I wasn't, who needs that kind of constant criticism from the man who you are sharing your life with? It was exhausting, nothing was ever good enough for him.

Since the apartment was already clean, it freed up the hours I would have spent scrubbing everything down, so we took our last Vespa ride of 2011 through a rainy and sparkling Christmas-themed Paris to the 11th where I treated Aurel to some North African cuisine.

At La Bonne Franquette, we ordered a tagine of couscous scrumptiously seasoned with almonds, raisins, cinnamon and chicken, split a pichet of wine and capped our meal off with a piping glass of fresh mint tea. The days before heading back to the States are getting closer and I'm trying to absorb as much of Christmas in Paris as I can and enjoy the best holiday season that I've had in years.

La Bonne Franquette
151, rue de la Roquette
75011 Paris

Day 213: Make Memories.

A long-standing tradition has been celebrating the holiday season with my mom in Europe. Before I lived in Paris, I would go with her on her trips, whether it was to drink Belgium beer in Brussels, have hot cocoa in Zurich, a Winter Pimm's in London or for the past three years, sip on vin chaud and stroll the Christmas markets here in Paris.

My mom arrived on Friday on a 48 hour lay-over and after her afternoon power nap, I met her at the hotel and we went on our annual European holiday stroll. Wanting to show her the lights in the fancy part of town, we walked through the 8th and window shopped along Avenue Montaigne where we came out at my mom's favorite view of the Eiffel Tower at Place de l'Alma. 

After crossing the bridge which brought us closer to the Seine, she stopped me and pulled something out of her purse, a FedEx box that was addressed to her. "Open It!" she demanded. Since I didn't have a swiss army knife on me (why would I?) and my nervous habit of nail-biting has returned with a vengeance, opening it while leaning up against the stone wall of the quai with bike riders whizzing by was posing a bit of a challenge. I finally shredded it open with my apartment key and saw a purple tin looking back up at me. "What is it? Christmas cookies?" I asked my mom. "No, it's Colonel." she said as if bringing our cremated cat to Paris was an obvious guess. Yes, my mother brought the ashes of our kitty who passed away last month to Paris and was secretly carrying it around with her for a better portion of the day.

The long running joke in the family was that Colonel was a retired French military man. He was a solid gray cat with white paws, a patch of white fur on his chin that we would call his goatee and he was moody, so you know, naturally he was French. 

During one of my mom's Paris trips in the 90s, she found a mini red beret to torture him with where we staged photos of him wearing it with a little French flag tucked under his paw. You don't have to guess that he looks absolutely pissed in these photos, cats don't like posing for photos. "You kids kept claiming that he was French this whole time, so we'll leave a part of him here to finally see his homeland," my mom said with complete seriousness, "None of this Field of Dreams nonsense where the vet keeps insisting we should sprinkle his ashes. Our kitty is going out in style."

We walked along the river, past Trocadero and with the spoon in my bag that I took from work last week because I ate a yogurt on the way home, scooped out two teaspoons of his ashes and sprinkled them in the Seine in between the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. Now there is a part of him in Paris with me.

After our little ceremony with my mom screeching in my ear that I was doing "it" wrong, as if there's a technique in spreading ashes, we walked through the 7th and into my old neighborhood of the 15th. "I want to see the boys!" my mom exclaimed. Oh no, "the boys". I knew exactly who she was talking about. The "boys" are the two drunk homeless men who live on Avenue de la Motte-Picquet who we always bring food to when we're in the neighborhood. We stopped at a boulangerie on Avenue Suffren for sandwiches, water and desserts to give them because they can't live alone on their vile bottles of Vieux Papes

Upon arrival with our holiday gifts, one of them was already passed out drunk on the sidewalk but his side kick was coherent and graciously took our offerings. "Share with your friend when he wakes up!" my mom scolded him which I then had to translate. His face always lights up when vouvoie him - hey, it's only respectful. I admit that their "set-up" is a bit of an eyesore in this residential rive gauche neighborhood but as I well know, everyone has a story and if this is where life is currently taking them, who am I to judge?

My mom has already left and our time together, as always was entertaining, comforting and festive. Between the ashes, the homeless men, the vin chaud, we certainly take on the holidays a little differently but the most important thing is that we're together, no matter where in the world we are.

Day 211: Scenes from a French Restaurant.

Aurelien is starting to call me "Black Swan" because of my constant craving for chicken, he's ready for me to turn into one. The perfect night of picking up a poulet rôti, a side of well-done roasted potatoes and bottle of Bordeaux never gets played out and has become my comfort food here in Paris.  

Taking a break from what is now called "chickytime" and to celebrate the holidays, Aurelien invited me to his favorite restaurant in the 14th; La Régalade for typical French cuisine, good conversation and flowing champagne. Here are some of the highlights from our feast:

Coquilles Saint Jacques

To ensure that my jeans won't fit after the holidays,
how about a cream based bacon, truffle and crouton soup?
It was well worth every calorie.

Squid Ink Fruits de Mer Risotto

And for dessert...
A sinful tub of rice pudding 
with a side of salted butter caramel.
Like my ass needs any more lumps...

La Régalade
49, avenue Jean Moulin
75014 Paris