October was a very exciting month for me as I took a trip across the French border, leaving the land of aïoli, haricots verts, and croissants, and got to rediscover Spain. When I was in my 20s, I spent a year exploring Europe and when I got to Spain, I didn’t stay long because I remember saying, “Wow, this place is great. I need to come back when I have more time and see (and eat my way through) more of it.”
Unfortunately, like many of my youthful desires, that one never really happened either. But when I saw a photography workshop near Seville I made plans to go, so I could conquer my fear of Lightroom. (A photo editing program, that I am relatively certain will be the end of me.) Then, while I was booking my plane ticket, I thought, “Gee, I should go a few days early and see Seville.” So I went a few days early and had a great time eating and drinking my way through the tapas bars and bakeries.
The food was amazing, especially the ham made from the famed pigs that forage on wild acorns, which gives the ham a special flavor unlike ham from anywhere else in the world. If you come to Paris, you can sample Spanish hams at Da Rosa, a wonderful épicerie and casual restaurant that has all sorts of Spanish goodies.
I did come back to Paris with a suitcase loaded up with ham, pork loin, chorizo sausage, and cheese, which I’m hoping will last me until the beginning of winter, when the weather cools down and I’m in need of a bit of sunny and spicy Spanish sausage (and cheese, and ham.)
November is always an interesting time in France. The sun comes up much later – right now, it’s getting light at about 8am - and it gets darker early. (The good news, though, is that my oven clock that I could never figure out how to reset last time we had daylight savings time in the spring, is now displaying the correct time.) Parisians begin to retreat a bit, heading indoors as the temperatures drop. (Er, except for the smokers, who seem impervious.) But the markets start revving up for the holidays with crates of fresh oysters piled up & jars of foie gras, and bakeries are starting to display their beautiful chocolate pastries that get served for les fêtes. I’m irked because I bought some winter clothes at the end of the holiday season last year, when they were on promotion (sale), but now can’t find them. It’s driving me crazy, so I’ll be eating chocolate and ham and oysters to keep myself content. Which means, of course, that when I do find them, they may not fit. But I’ll cross that bridge when and if I get to it. If I fit on it!
This week, the New York Times folded up its Paris bureau and the chief of it will now be stationed in London. Upon his departure, Steven Erlanger wrote a piece for the newspaper, Reflections on a Paris Left Behind.
In it, was an honest assessment of the city he called home for five years. As a journalist, his job is to report accurately - to the best of his abilities, although when one uses the word "reflections", there are bound to be some opinionated bits and pieces in the mix.
People seem to have a complicated relationship with Paris. (Even the Parisians.) There are the inconsiderate smokers leaving ugly, carelessly discarded cigarette butts everywhere and forcing pedestrians off the sidewalk, gesticulating while holding lit cigarettes. On the other hand, there are the exemplary museums, from the majestic Louvre to the avant-garde Palais du Tokyo (which is open until midnight, for jet-lagged travelers.) There are unpleasant vestiges of colonialism left, and then, there’s the invention of democracy. Exquisite chocolate shops abound and the art of the boulanger (bread-maker) is still very much alive. And the bakeries are packed at all hours of the day. Yet the government is considering passing a much-needed law to inform customers when a restaurant is serving frozen or pre-prepared food to uphold the reputation of la cuisine française.
His article touched on a variety of issues facing just about every major city, including immigration and social struggles, which often stands in contrast to the “ordered beauty” and gentrification that has changed Paris over the years. Paris is a city of contrasts - it’s a city where you can sip a coffee in a stately museum while overlooking a well-manicured garden, while just a few métro stops away up in Barbès, you can experience a multicultural market that will be like a visit to another continent. I’ve read reactions to the article, everything from, “If he didn’t like it, it’s good he left” to “Sounds like sour grapes.”
One of the great things about America is that in spite of some of the “love it or leave it” attitudes (or more recently, “you’re either with us, or against us”), we have the right to state our opinions, even those who were not born in America but immigrated there. Just because, say, you immigrated to America, doesn’t mean you can’t fight for worker rights or have an opinion about immigration reform, talk about litter or comment on other social or political issues. That's what makes America such a rich, diverse culture that often celebrates multiculturalism and diversity.
As for myself (and perhaps like the author of the article) I find the quirks of a country more interesting than just presenting a glowing version of a place. San Francisco was and still is, a city racked with dissent, from riots to the homeless issue. San Francisco had plenty of problems, and while it is a beautiful city, it’s gone through periods of political strife and economic challenges. Los Angeles had race riots. And last month in Paris a non-French schoolgirl was removed from a bus during a school field trip, and deported.
(Which led to some student protests prompting the President to say that the 15-year old girl was welcome to come back, but not her family. A decision which had a lot of people scratching their heads.)
Like a marriage, where no two people have a perfect match 100% of the time, cities and its citizens are like that as well. There are bound to be issues that come up and life isn’t always perfect. But we look at the overall picture and decide if we’re in the right situation for us, wherever we are. If we keep our mouths shut and don’t talk about things that aren’t right, then we will never confront of solve problems.
As a Paris resident for ten years, I’ve seen the best of the city, and a few things that I'm trying to forget. That doesn’t mean I don’t like or love Paris, it just means that I’m talking and sometimes writing about what I see. Flaws are what makes a place interesting. Although I wouldn't mind a little less clouds of those gray skies that seem to be moving in for the winter, and a few more days of sunshine.
I'm very excited to be returning to San Francisco in early December - yay! And even though my dance card is pretty full (with carne asada burritos and salt & pepper Dungeness crab), I will be at Omnivore Books from 3 to 4pm on Sunday, December 8, signing books.
You can contact the store to find out which of my books they'll be carrying and if you can't make it, they'll be happy to send you a signed book if you get in touch with them, too. But I'd love to see you there!
I was stunned when I saw the new Arbre de Noël from La Manufacture from Alain Ducasse, which the chocolatier from the ship sent me as a little pre-holiday treat. However I didn’t realize it was a Christmas tree as the pieces in the box were meant to be snapped together, to form a tree. So I'd been greedily reaching my hand into the box and snapped off pieces, enjoying every chocolate and dried-fruit studded bite. It wasn’t until my other half got home and unpacked all the pieces (he has more patience than I do – obviously!) that I learned that it was a modernist Christmas tree, meant to be assembled at home.
Honestly, it was some of the best chocolate I’ve tasted and the last time I went to their bean-to-bar chocolate factory, I tasted samples of some of the new chocolates and was blown away by them. I was fortunate to know people who started the bean-to-bar movement in America and tried a lot of their chocolate, so I know the challenges. And I’m thrilled that Alain Ducasse has created such a space in Paris. Do check it out on your next visit.
In October, I also visited the workshop of Jean-Charles Rochoux, over on the Left Bank, whose chocolate shop never fails to delight passers-by with intricately carved chocolate sculptures, in addition to the beautiful filled chocolates on display.
He was working on some new chocolates that combined locally cultivated honey, collected in Paris, with pine nuts, in chocolate casings that were divine. And I tasted a spoonful of his latest caramel spread, this one called “Florentine” with a touch of honey. Amazing! He’s going to have a very busy Christmas season ahead of him, undoubtedly. And you’ll probably see me in there a few more times before the crowds hit.