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Quel chou? Kale chou!


 
In my almost five years in Paris, I have learned (sometimes the hard way) that finding certain items in this town can be unpredictable  and to remember to keep an open mind when setting out for something specific. (Case in point: it took me a week to find inexpensive silver glitter.) More often this applies with food. I have maintained a habit of relying on the Parisian basics, nothing too wild, so I would no longer set myself up for disappointment. 

It took one rainy day in the 12th to have my theory come crashing down on me...

It was a typical Friday morning at the Daumesnil farmer's market to stock up on veggies for the weekend. All the usual friends were present: onions, garlic, tomatos, chou frisé, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale...whoa, back the train up, kale?! My friend with benefits was there! Delighted by this fine and unexpected discovery, I struck up small talk with the merchant who told me that they were there every Friday and always have kale as it has been in high demand. (Many thanks to the efforts of The Kale Project for creating this demand.) 

How progressive for my quiet area of Paris! For laughs, Aurel and I have spruced up Daumesnil by giving it one of those cutesy New York-style acronyms the jauntier parts of town are sometimes called. Over wine one night, we came up with SoNa, for South Nation. I know, I know, it so doesn't work, but I always enjoy seeing the expressions on our French friends faces when we tell them that we live in SoNa.

Last week, I prepared a shopping list for a dinner party we were hosting, and a part of me knew I was setting myself up for major disappointment, but I did it; I put kale on my list and set off on my journey.

My first stop was the supermarket for items like rice milk, dark chocolate tablettes for melting and foie gras toast. Amazingly, the market didn't have dark chocolate tablettes or foie gras toast, yet they had organic rice milk in several varieties. That just struck me as odd, but I wasn't going to let that discourage me, there were other supermarkets in my neighborhood who would meet such needs.

I left the supermarket and made my way over to the farmer's market with my little list. I stocked up on my basic veggies at my favorite corner stand where the merchant gives me a free clementine for my patronage, and picked up a few blocks of cheese before setting out for my kale. I had remembered that the stand was closer to the Dugommier stop and made a beeline straight for it. 

Have you ever walked quickly though a farmer's market? I don't recommend it. Everything started to look the same, some of the meat cases had gruesome displays that was making my stomach turn, my bag containing three kilos of veggies was digging into my shoulder, the merchants shouting "One euro, one euro allons-y allons-y!" and having also skipped breakfast that morning, I really thought I was going to faint. It was the Paris farmer's market version of that hazy scene in season one of The O.C when Marissa gets drugged and is wandering the streets of Tijuana. I wasn't sure if I was going to make it.

I finally found the stand, or at least I thought it was, and saw no trace of kale in sight. Of course I didn't. They had chou frisé but not kale, which really are two different things.

"Bonjour, do you have any kale chou today?" I asked, remembering that was what they had called it the first time I purchased it.

"Comment?"

"Kale chou?" I repeated, struggling as I tried to say kale with a French accent.

"Which chou?"

"Kale chou."

"Mademoiselle, I'm not following you. Which chou do you want?"

"Kale chou?" 

After what felt like ten minutes of "kale chou?" "which chou?" It became aware to me that despite my efforts in saying kale with the best French accent I could conjure up, he thought I was saying quel chou (what chou), over, and over, and over, and over. No wonder he was looking at me like I was out of my damn mind.

Feeling slightly embarrassed, as other customers were listening in on our bizarre exchange, with no further explanation, I ran away. There was nothing more to say or do, I just needed to be gone. In my little rubber rain boots, off I went to find refuge elsewhere.

It served me right to think I could go back and get something as uncommon as kale! Paris isn't quite there yet. I couldn't be frustrated, how could I be? What I needed to was to shift my mindset and remember where I was. With that, I walked over to the nearest boulangerie to pick up the most French thing I could think of, something that is always available and brings me comfort, and ordered a trusty croissant au beurre.

"Oh, we actually don't have anymore," the baker said, "We still have muffins though."

Oh. là. là. Since when are there muffins in Paris? I walked home eating my chocolate chip muffin under my umbrella, reminded that in Paris you just have to let the day take you where it goes and to surrender to the flow. Kale surprise.

Bon week-end a tous!

a new version of me.



During my last trip to New York, I decided to bring back to Paris a stack of my journals from my 20s, providing entertaining morning reads over coffee. It's been branded that our teen years are supposed to be this confusing and emotionally charged time in our life, but I would have to argue that that better describes what my 20s were all about. Something I was not at all prepared for.

The central theme for most of these entries is me figuring out what I was supposed to be doing with my life, one entry took a break in my enduring existential crisis and inspired the photo above to take place.

It was 2004 and my mother called to tell me that she and my father were coming out to LA to visit. It immediately struck me as strange because my parents had been divorced for twenty years, and while they had remained friends, their relationship would hardly necessitate a family vacation to visit their adult(ish) daughter in California. And despite my father's Southern California upbringing, he had made it clear that he had no interest in ever returning. So why were they coming out? 

I arrived at LAX in my clunky 1994 navy blue Volvo, my two ton burden of steel that at any given moment would just turn off. Weeks would pass without an incident, then, just like that, it would happen. I would be cruising at high speeds down the 101, and feel a creeping pressure in the break, then the steering wheel stiffen up and the dashboard would light up like a Christmas tree, which meant boom, the car was shutting down for at least five minutes. 

I learned to avoid freeways or in worst case scenarios hug the shoulder, but when the car broke down in the intersection of Sunset and Vine, in front of the job of this guy I was faux-dating, a guy who made jokes that I was a stalker (ha ha?), that, was when I knew I had to start thinking about getting a new car. Don't you love how it took a guy, not me almost dying on a freeway in Los Angeles to consider getting a new car?

I was approaching the terminal from the short-term parking lot when I saw my mother, already waiting on the curb wearing a black chinchilla coat.

"Holy shit!" she said, fanning herself with her boarding pass. "Why is it so hot here?"

"Because you're wearing fur in April. In Los Angeles."

"Wait, where's Georgia?" I asked, looking around for my dad, mindlessly using the nickname I have coined him with back when I was a teen-ager.

"You still call him that?" my mother asked, extending her arms out to give me a hug. "He's going to the bathroom. He'll be right out." 

"So why are you guys here? Don't tell me you're getting back together."

"What are you, crazy?"

Through the sliding doors, my father came out, except it was not the dad I knew. He didn't have his hair, was about thirty pounds slighter and looked like he had aged twenty years in the six months since I had seen him, mostly by the way he was struggling to walk.

Before I could even let out a hello to greet my father, a flood of tears filled my eyes that if I blinked they would paint streaks down my face.

"I'm dying. We wanted to tell you in person," my father said with a shrug. "Anyway, let's go. The airport fumes are making me nauseous and I'm starving." 

"You have an appetite still?" my mother asked as the two of them walked past me with linked arms towards the direction of the parking lot. "I could go for a glass of wine about now."

That week I insisted that my parents stay with me in my studio apartment as some fucked up family vacation we never got to have. It was my mother and I in my bed, my dad on my couch, and my 2 month old kitten Charlie that did nothing short of torturing my father in his sleep. The first night, in my dark apartment, the three of us tucked and were dozing off to sleep.

"Lisa-ington?" my dad whispered to me.

"Yes, Georgia?"

"I have a request before I die."

"Ok."

"I never want to hear the song "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac ever again. If I hear Stevie Nicks whine about her crystal vision one more time, I swear, I'll lose it."

"But I love that song!" my mom chimed in from her side of the bed.

"Ok," I interrupted my loud mother. "If I can help it, you will never hear "Dreams" ever again. Any other requests? One that is not so random?"

"No, that's it." 

We heard "Dreams" over breakfast at Eat Well Café at the Sunset Junction the following morning.

Looking back on that week, I don't remember so much the tears as I do the laughs while my father's "sparkling" personality was still intact. We even took a day trip down to Long Beach where I met my grandmother Stella for the first time who was just as dramatic as she had been illustrated to me by my family. Rocking her deep red lipstick and turban, she spoke in a traveler's lexicon, infusing bits of French, Arabic and Spanish into her English.

A week later, I dropped my parents off at the airport, and for weeks, I felt lost. I didn't know what to do with myself. My entire family would be with my dad during his last six months, and I was in LA doing extra work and waiting tables. It seemed stupid to stay, but my mother insisted that I finished my time out there because she believed there was a reason why I needed to be there.

Without giving it much thought, I drove to a salon by the Silver Lake reservoir and made an appointment to donate my hair to Locks of Love, the non-profit organization that provides wigs for financially challenged children who experience hair loss due to an illness.

With it almost being the ten year anniversary since the first time I participated in Locks of Love, the one-year anniversary of the death of my uncle who struggled for four years with pancreatic cancer, and the would-be thirty years of sobriety for my father, it seemed like the perfect occasion to make another donation.

Last Tuesday I went to Toni and Guy in the 11th arrondissement with a mound of hair on my head and left with it in a zip lock bag; a way more emotional experience that I had predicted when making this decision. The salon's art director pulled out her large scissors, I felt its cold blade slide on the nape of my neck, and heard a crunch. "Et voilà!" she said handing me my hair over my shoulder. And just like that, it was gone.

My Dad had never been to Paris but he will always be a part of Tuesday's memory. So without further ado, here is the new look....



It's a new version of me....