My Paris, my dad’s Paris, and Hemingway’s Paris

My dad left more than a week ago, but between schoolwork and Paris work I’ve been really busy and haven’t had the time to write sooner. I should have, though, because this is all such an interesting and unique story.

I was luckier than most of the kids in my program in that my dad used to live in Paris and I had visited him a couple of times while he lived abroad. Even though that was a couple years ago, it really did shape my visit because not only did I get the touristy things out of the way, but I did them while also having the local experience of going to a market every day and buying all of your bread and cheese and vegetables and wine fresh. And I had a heads up on everyone, because I had a working (but still a little rusty) knowledge of at least three different neighborhoods in Paris because of my dad.

And I am used to staying in apartments or actual lodgings in Paris, rather than a hotel. It’s weird to think of it like that. There was the hostel for like a week in the beginning of the program, but I’m not counting that because I never want to think of that crappy hostel ever again.

That’s one thing I have up against my dad—in case you haven’t noticed, I like being very competitive about Paris when it comes to him. He’s stayed in hotels in Paris before he lived here; as he joked, “The first time I was in Paris I stayed at the Hotel de Crillion and it’s been downhill ever since.” No kidding: the fancy smanchy hotel has the prime location of being between the Champs-Élysées and Place de la Concorde, and has had everyone from Louis XV to Madonna visit (you could say Louis XVI visited too, since he was beheaded right outside of the building).

Last time I was in Paris with my dad (and my sister). I'm still the only normal one.

Last time I was in Paris with my dad (and my sister). I’m still the only normal one.

So not only have I had a different Paris experience by myself, but I’ve also had a different Paris experience with my dad. And of course, he’s had his own Paris experience that I don’t even know about. But I got a little insight when he visited when he kept pointing out things that were different and things that were the same.

I can’t wait until I come back to Paris and am able to do that.

The biggest thing, for him, was Starbucks. Or, Starboooooooks, as the French say.

There were no Starbucks in Paris when he lived here like four or five years ago. As my French teachers love to tell me when I don’t know a translation and just pronounce the English word in question with a French accent, “Ça n’existe pas,” or it doesn’t exist. He was really taken aback by how many Starbucks he would pass on his morning runs or daily walks—especially with the one that popped up in his own neighborhood.

But like the French people before him (and the American people before them), he adapted pretty quickly. There are two Starbucks on opposite sides of the street that my school is on, and twice I met him at one of them after classes. Or, after classes I would meet up with him and ask what he did, only to be told that he went to Starbucks and worked on his computer.

That leads us to another big change: wifi. Although, to be fair, I guess wifi wasn’t that big of a deal five years ago? Or maybe it was? Or maybe it was in America? I’ll say that we’re much more addicted to it now than we were back then, because surely that’s right? It was hell when there was no wifi in Charles de Gaulle, and then everyone freaked out at our hostel because you could only get wifi sitting in the lobby and even then it was really low strength even without the thirty other kids trying to get on it. The French had wifi in McDonalds before Americans did (I love that fact) but you have to look for restaurants, bars, or cafes to advertise with a sign in the window that they have wifi, and even then it’s not always free. Maybe that’s why Starbucks is so big in France; it’s certainly why my dad visited Starbucks when he was here.

We talked during our cafe stops, despite the presence of Apple products in our hands.

We talked during our cafe stops, despite the presence of Apple products in our hands.

But we still did the whole “sit under a heater on a wicker-back chair on the sidewalk and sip espresso while watching the world walk by” thing when my dad was here. We walked all around Paris and would only stop to drink at a café—always outside when it was available. That was how I found out that there are a lot more runners and joggers on the streets than there were when my dad lived here. Which is funny, because my dad said he forgot how thin everyone was here.

My dad, mostly because of my stepmom, is a big runner. They ran their old running paths while they were here, and I guess they weren’t used to sharing sidewalk space. Even during non-prime running time, like very late morning or early afternoon, there were runners in the big populous areas. But you could always tell who the French runners were. They were the ones wearing head-to-toe spandex. They were the ones carrying Walkmens while they ran. And, most of all, they were the one wearing scarves while they ran.

Seriously. Wearing a scarf while exercising. I love it. That’s so French.

And, according to my dad, there weren’t more dogwalkers, but there was less dog poop. That isn’t to say that the sidewalks are completely clean—because they really aren’t and it’s disgusting how much poop you might step into if you or your friend isn’t looking down. But one time my dad saw someone picking up dog poop and that was literally the first thing he said to me when I met up with him that day. It was that big of a deal.

That was a “Oh … cool, dad” moment for me (sorry, but it was). But one of the biggest moments for me was showing my dad the lock bridge behind Notre Dame. It was something I noticed during my first weekend in Paris, during the standard Seine boat tour, and I was pleased to have something to teach my dad.

On the Pont de l’Archevêché, and other bridges and areas I don’t know the names of, you’ll see both sides of a bridge absolutely covered in locks (even bike locks in some hilarious cases). I’m not sure where this custom comes from, but apparently lovers write their initials on the locks, hook it to the bridge, and then throw the key into the Seine so their love is eternal. You can bring your own lock or even buy ones at the stands along the riverbank. I’m not sure when the custom started either, but apparently it was after my dad left.

Something else I’m proud of was that I took my dad to the Christmas Village on the Champs-Élysées. I wrote a blog post about it, so I won’t go into too much detail, but I went at night and during the day with my dad so turns out he likes being a little touristy sometimes as well.

We went on two tours when my dad was here. The first was to the Père Lachaise cemetery right down the street from me, because it’s so expansive and cluttered and disorganized that you’d get lost trying to do more than find Jim Morrison’s grave. It was his first time there, and my stepmom’s second, so I felt like I was able to contribute to the experience even though I wasn’t the one giving the tour. The cemetery—and my house, by virtue of location—are kind of on the outskirts of Paris, two Metro stops away from the suburbs, so I wasn’t surprised that my dad had never made the trip to the cemetery.

At Père Lachaise.

At Père Lachaise.

The other tour was the Hemingway tour, which I thought I could have done self-guided jut because of Google and A Moveable Feast, but I was completely surprised when we ended up at Hemingway’s first Parisian apartment that is literally a two-minute walk away from my friend’s apartment and apparently I’ve walked by it a couple of times and completely missed the little plaque announcing that Hemingway lived there. The apartment, as well as his writing apartment, is right off of Rue Mouffetard, which is where Lily lives and where I’ve gone to drink late at night and shop during the day.

Egg on my literary face. I couldn’t believe my blog name comes from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast and I didn’t realize that I was making my own Paris memories in the same spot where he had made his, and also written about his.

And it turned out my dad had been on Rue Mouffetard too and didn’t know it—way back when on his first day in Paris where he got an egg and cheese crepe with lettuce and tomatoes (and was never able to find it or the meal again until that day).

Another time I thought I mapped out a piece of Paris my dad didn’t know about was when I took him to Rue Montergeuil, a busy little street in a piéton, or pedestrian-only, cobblestone neighborhood that’s right by my school.  There are a lot of little fromageries, patisseries, boulangeries, and butcher shops on the street and my friends and I have gone here for French, Thai, Indian, and Chinese.  When my dad visited my school, I made sure he also came to this street so he’d get the full “Alissa at school” experience.

Like father, like daughter, like Bourdain (at Robert et Louise).

Like father, like daughter, like Bourdain (at Robert et Louise).

Which he did have, but it became the “Alissa at school/that bakery tour we did ages ago” experience when I took him to La Maison Stohrer, one of the oldest bakeries in Paris where the Rhum Baba was invented. Then he remembered the street and I pouted a little.

But I couldn’t get mad. How could I, when my dad showed me the bar he used to go to because they had happy hour until 10 p.m.? And the Scottish bar where he watched rugby every Sunday and eat cans of peanuts bought out of a vending machine?

We were sharing both of our own Paris experiences with each other, to create a Parisian experience together.

I will say, however, that I was jealous when we went to a restaurant and the manager/owner recognized my dad and my step-mom from the last time they were there five years ago. The restaurant, Robert et Louise, and its’ proprietor François (Robert et Louise’s son-in-law) were featured in the first episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, and my dad is recognized in there. What the hell!

I really, really, reeeeaaaaalllllyyyyy hope that happens to me.

I think the baristas at Starbucks, this one bartender at an Irish bar by Châtelet, a big creepy bouncer at a dive bar near Hôtel de Ville, and the cashiers at the Monoprix by my house all recognize me now, but will they do that in five years? Probably not.

And none of them have ever met Bourdain and presumably remember him as well.

Awkward Abroad: crashing my host sister’s birthday party

The last time my host daughter had a house party, I was a complete American fool for all of it, even before the guests came over. But I was a little—dare I say it?—cooler when the second house party came around.

For a recap (for a lengthier, funnier version, read the post), I thought my host daughter was asking if me and my friends wanted to go to a party with them somewhere else, when she was really telling me that I could have friends over.

Le DUH, as my friend Lily would say.

Then, right when I was getting ready to leave, this guy came over that I had my first-ever male bises with and what is still, to this day, the most awkward cheek-kissing I have ever done. I was sitting on the couch with my laptop on my lap when he sauntered over, right up in my personal space so even if I did try to politely stand up I would have had to stand on his feet, and leaned over to kiss both of my cheeks. While I was sitting down. While I was holding my laptop. Ugh, I’m still cringing just writing it.

I didn’t include this in the original post, but I thought he was really cute and was just so embarrassed about how awkward I had been with the bises. And then he left that night to buy beer and was coming back right when I was leaving. There’s a tiny stairwell you have to walk down before sliding open a glass door to get to the mudroom to leave (complicated, I know), and literally as soon as I was four or five steps away from the door it opened and he squeezed through with two big boxes of beer and, with his back to me, closed the door before turning around and almost hitting me in the gut with the box of beer. It was so awkward. He had to press himself up against the wall to let me through so I could open the door he had literally just closed.

Gah.  I just knew any chance I had with the guy was over because I was on the wrong side of Zooey Deschenel’s adorkableness.

When I came back from my barhopping that night, the house party was raging on, and I alternated between having Franglish conversations with Meleine (not sure if that’s how it’s spelled but it’s definitely how it’s pronounced), my favorite friend of my host sister, and  sending Lily “OMG TEXT ME SO I HAVE SOMETHING TO DO” texts. That lasted for an hour, and then I went downstairs for my bed and slept while the people upstairs danced to random American songs until the Metro opened again at 5 a.m.

So, with that being the last time I presented myself at a French party, there was no way to be worse than that, right? And I was better this time around. Honestly. Not only was I awake when everyone left, but I was there to kiss them goodbye.

It started on last Friday, when the friend of the host mom who stayed over for the week casually asked Anaïs, the host sister, what she was doing for her birthday.

“It’s your birthday today?” I asked, almost spitting out my food.

“Tomorrow,” she said, and then answered the original question.

I didn’t pay any attention to what she said. I was just so shocked. I had less than 24 hours to get her a present, and I would be in the town of Chantilly for all of the day of her birthday. I had literally told Anaïs and Meleine earlier that week that I was going to Chantilly on Saturday and neither of them thought to tell me that was her birthday.

I was actually kind of pissed about this. My host family really never tells me anything. There’s always people spending the night or the weekend or even the week and they never tell me and I have to awkwardly find out on my own.

Like the time I came home from Dublin and found three British passports and sets of male shoes and had to wait six hours to learn what was up. And there have been at least two different times where I went to go upstairs to the kitchen, heard someone sleeping in the loft upstairs, and just slunk off to school without eating any breakfast because I didn’t want to wake them up.

So the next morning (her birthday) I had to wake up early to get the bus to go to Chantilly, and I didn’t see anyone from my host family then. I spent all day at a chateau (post coming up about that), and when I came home I bought a box of nice Belgian Leonidas chocolates, mostly because I knew they came pre-wrapped.

I’ve said before that this host family doesn’t really do dessert (I found out the hard way when I gave them a box of salt water taffy that they only politely left out for a couple days before tossing it). But the host daughter does like to eat unhealthily (aka like me) when her family isn’t around. When the British guys were here, she ate McDonalds everynight when they came home at like 4 a.m. from the Pitchfork Music Festival, and she also has bars of chocolate (Milka or Crunch) that she sometimes leaves around. So I thought I’d be good.

I was, I think. She said I was really nice for buying her a present when I didn’t have to, complimented how pretty the box was, and then invited me to the party. I told her I already had plans to take my friend Lily to an absinthe bar at 9:30, but she said that people were coming over at 8 p.m. and I definitely should hang out with them then.

I should mention that this whole conversation happened in the kitchen, where she was cooking things I didn’t really look at. And when I tried to be fun and ask what she did for her birthday that day, she just said she cooked all day. I interpreted that as, she’s turning 25, it isn’t a big deal, and she just cooked. I should have thought, wow, why would you need to cook all day?

This is important later because she was not throwing a birthday rager. She was throwing a small birthday dinner party.

I totally was going to go upstairs once I heard the doorbell ring a couple times, but I got too wrapped up watching Hulu (The Next Iron Chef: Redemption, for SHAME) and by the time I started getting ready to go out, it was too late. Mostly this was because I put a lot of effort into my appearance because I knew I’d definitely go upstairs to the party when I came back and Anaïs and all of her friends are frickin’ gorgeous. But, by that time, I was too lazy and just not in the mood to make awkward small talk in French. I was exhausted and tired after doing that all day in Chantilly.

But I wish I had just sucked it up and gone upstairs, if only for two reasons.

1.) When I left at 9:15, I thought enough time had passed that I wouldn’t meet anyone awkwardly in the stairwell—the memory with cute bises guy from the last party was still awkwardly replaying in my head. Plus, I hadn’t heard the doorbell in a while. So I thought I was safe. But I thought wrong. Literally, as soon as I put my hand on the lock of the door to leave, the doorbell went off.

Shit, I thought as I waited four seconds so I wouldn’t have awkwardly opened the door a second after whoever was on the other side rang it. This WOULD happen to me. 

It was people I knew, so I didn’t have to awkwardly ask if they were Anaïs’ friends. It was two pretty girls who were at the last party and who came over one night to eat crepes de Bretagne (crepes with ham, cheese, and a sunny-side up egg; not seen at regular crepe stands because they are open-faced crepes from the Bretagne countryside region where my host family has a country house they’ve never invited me to). One was dainty and looks like Shoshanna from Girls if Shoshanna was French. And the other has the most hipster glasses I’ve seen here and loves taking Instagram photos of Arthur the cat whenever she’s over.

They recognized me and were like “Bonsoir Alissa! Aren’t you staying for the party?” as I pressed myself up against the wall to let them in and I had to hang my head and say I was going out with some friends but I’d probably come back before the party ended before dashing out the door.

2.) If I had known it was a dinner party, I’m not sure I would have asked Lily. If you’re reading this, Lily, I’m sorry, but it’s true. If I had known it was a dinner party I probably would have stayed out as late as possible just so I wouldn’t have to go home, so I wouldn’t want to make anyone else go there either.

And then some of my friends bailed on going to the bar because they were too cold or too sick or too tired (which all means they were too lame…), so it was just Lily and I at my favorite punk-rock absinthe bar. Which was still a good time—especially because I kind of impressed the bartender (a new one, with missing teeth) by recommending the Mata Ari for my absinthe newbie friend and not telling him that it was recommended to me by the bartender the last time I came here. Chya. 

It was a chill night, but Lily and I usually get into lots of trouble when it’s just the two of us and she seemed like she was really, really, really paying attention when I was talking about my host daughter’s birthday, even though she had already heard about it during the whole day we spent together at the Chantilly chateau.

So I offered to text my host daughter to see if it’d be okay if I brought a friend over. I wondered if Anaïs would remember the last time when I kind of chilled by myself or only talked to people one-on-one, and would take pity on me and let me have a buddy so we could be awkward together.

Anaïs texted back immediately with a “Bien sûr!” which is the go-to response for French people, I’ve learned.

I showed it to Lily. “All right. Let’s do this,” I said.

I’ve gone over to Lily’s host family’s place before, just the two of us, and now it was her turn to see my place of residence—and witness the craziness that I always talk about when it comes to my actual house (as opposed to the cramped apartments everyone else in my program stays at) and my crazy host family.

I heard music and the hum of people talking in French when we first came in, and I did think to myself that it didn’t seem as loud as the last time Anaïs hosted a party. And when we finally came upstairs, I figured out why—because it was a little birthday dinner party with only nine people. And I was bringing a friend.

This would have been awkward in any language, I think.

But Anaïs was very friendly and immediately started pouring us drinks. It was the same candle holder-turned-wine container that was used last time, only now it had a summery white sangria-esque mixture of white wine, pineapple juice, mango pieces, and lychees. I had to introduce Lily to a table where I only knew about half of the people, and my joke about her being like my sister since we go to the same university and live in the same city didn’t translate well. But we pulled up two chairs to the dinner table and slowly immersed ourselves into the conversations.

I was glad I brought a flyer from the punk-rock absinthe bar, so I would have something to talk about (or point to, in a worst-case scenario). The French friends played like a weird version of musical chairs where they got up to smoke by the window every couple of minutes and would sit somewhere else when they returned, so whenever someone made the mistake of sitting next to me, that was what we always talked about at first. It was interesting, though—no one had ever heard of it, and no one had ever tried absinthe.

So I explained absinthe and the concept of an absinthe bar to a group of French hipster twentysomethings and pretty much felt like a badass.

But when there wasn’t anyone by me or if they were talking about something I didn’t understand—which would then be explained to me because it was an inside joke or a French pop culture reference—Lily and I would just sing along to the music Anaïs was playing from her laptop. Like last time, it was her playlist of mostly English songs, and Lily and I really liked the randomness of it.

The playlist was of songs we knew the words to but just hadn’t thought of in a while. It was funny to get the French take on them. I think people thought it was cool that we knew these songs, but Lily and I thought they were weird for not knowing them.

For example, when the Root’s “The Seed 2.0” remix of the Cody Chestnutt song came on, Anaïs was like, “The words in this song are meant to be nasteeee, right?” (English in Italics, but purposefully drawn out to be silly). I giggled and nodded my head, as I belted out, “I push my seed in her bush for life; It’s gonna work because I’m pushin’ it right.”

Or when not one but TWO David Bowie songs came on—“Let’s Dance” and “Heroes”—and Lily, love her, was like “Hey it’s like that blog post you wrote about David Bowie!” And I wondered what that post would have been like if Anaïs had been there when the first song I recognized on French radio was a David Bowie song and neither host parent seemed to think that was as big of a deal as I did.

But the best part of the night was when Cee-Lo’s “Fuck You” came on and Lily and I completely fangirled and went all “OH MAH GAAAAAWD” and literally sang every damn word.

Anaïs was sitting next to Lily, who was in the middle of us, and so she was always immediately there to hear what we were doing. And also it’s her playlist, so I understand that she would want our take on it. Plus, she’s an absolute sweetheart, and whenever we were quiet for a while and hadn’t talked she would say something to us, in French, which I really appreciated. So normally she would sing or make a remark on the music, but it was only ever just her who paid attention to our singing.

Until “Fuck You” came on.

Everyone kind of stopped and watched us. We weren’t singing loudly (at first) but I think they couldn’t help but notice when all of those “Fuck you” kept coming up. Now, most of Anaïs’ friends have a pretty good grasp of English—one knew how the American “Happy Birthday” song was sung and sang it to us after Lily and I kind of mumbled our way through the French version of the song when it was sung for Anaïs’ birthday tiramisu—because if I have trouble understanding or translating, they sometimes will help me out. So they knew that it was weird that not only was this English-language song repeating the same swear word over again, but that it was done so obviously and as much of a part of the song as “fuck you” is for “Fuck you.”

Someone even asked what song it was and who it was by, and didn’t understand who Cee-Lo was so Anaïs had to explain that it was the guy from Gnarls Barkley who did the “Crazy” song. That was funny for me, because the first time I visited my dad in Paris that song was EVERYWHERE.

Obviously, Anaïs knew the “Fuck You” song, but that was it. And she only sang the “fuck you” parts. Lily and I, well, we sang every part. And danced to them too, even in our chairs. For the whole duration of the song. We were just doing our own thing in the corner, performing for the table and having a karaoke-night amount of fun. That was the best part of the night, for both of us.

It was midnight then, and we’d been there for about an hour and a half, so Lily was ready to go. It was a sizeable amount of time to stay, I think. Anaïs even said she could sleep over if she wanted to, which I really appreciated, but it wasn’t necessary. So I walked Lily to the Metro.

“I completely understand now why you said you had to put makeup on tonight because everyone was so pretty,” she said on the way to the subway. “I get it now.”

Though Lily was surprised when I said I would go upstairs when I came back, I forced myself to do it,  sans an English-speaking buddy. After all, I wasn’t social when the first people came over and didn’t even go upstairs for the hour I was home before I went out.

So I went upstairs and sat back down at the table. I talked about Chantilly and learned that no one in that conversation had ever been there, so that made me feel a little Frencher too.

Plus, it was hilarious when Robyn’s “Dancing on my Own” came on and everyone started moving to that, in their chairs. Turns out they knew the song because of the Girls episode where Lena Dunham’s character dances to the song with Brian William’s daughter’s character. So that made me laugh.

And I almost cried when Anaïs’ gay friend dramatically huffed “Histoire de ma vie” (“story of my life” in the same tone as you’d say it in English) after the chorus that is “Dancing on my Own.”

But my host mom and her friend who had been staying over came home like twenty minutes after that, so I wasn’t stranded for that long. But it was worth being there when they came back and realizing that only two of Anaïs’ friends had ever met her mom, which blew my mind. I knew that the French were kind of closed-off when it came to their houses, which was why I was so blown over by Anaïs letting Lily come and allowing her to sleep over.

But still. It was a big deal for me. As I’ve said, my host family is VERY hospitable and always has people over so I thought they were the exception. Which they kind of are, but at least they weren’t that night.

It was very gratifying to have Anaïs introduce everyone at the table and then say “But you know Alissa, of course” and I was one of the few people Monique, the host mom, knew.

But then everyone got ready to leave, and I had to bise everyone goodbye. HISTOIRE DE MA VIE. Nine bises, all in a row, like I was working the bises line at the bises factory.

Then it happened. I found out that one of the three guys from the birthday party had been the awkward laptop bises guy from the first party. SACRE BLEU!!!!!!!! I had just completely forgotten what he looked like—probably from trying to block out the awkwardness of that memory—and therefore didn’t recognize him as that guy on the night of the second party.

 

Which is funny, because I recognized him as the guy who SPENT ALMOST A WHOLE WEEK SLEEPING OVER AT OUR HOUSE when the host parents were in Turkey last month. But even then, when he was sleeping over, I didn’t recognize him as awkward laptop bises guy.

Obviously, I remembered him from his weeklong sleepover here. I said hi to him at the birthday party but he was sitting across the table so we didn’t really interact. But I just never put two and two together and connected him with the guy from the first party.

Which is sad. I thought he was so cute then. But when he stayed over at our house, and even at the birthday party, I wasn’t hit with the same “OMG HE’S GORGEOUS” feeling I had the first party. Maybe I just subconciously knew he was the awkward laptop bises guy.

And I didn’t remember that he was that guy when he stayed over AT MY HOUSE for a week. I actually thought he was such a weird guy that week. But I think maybe it was a good thing I didn’t recognize him, otherwise I never would have walked around in my PJs at night.

I should have known he was awkward laptop bises guy because when I first walked into the kitchen when he stayed over for a week and was told “This is _____ (I STILL forget him name, like I forget everything about this guy) and he’s going to be staying here for a couple days,” he slowly put his hand out for the weakest, most grandma-like handshake I’ve ever had with a guy.

It was like he had the strength and arms of Spongebob Squarepants, that’s how fragile his handshake was; and it was obvious that it was a “I don’t know what I’m doing” weak handshake, not one of those “You are a woman and I will break your tiny woman bird hand if I shake your hand normally” handshakes. That night, I wondered why he shook my hand instead of kissing my cheek. But I guess now I can understand why he wouldn’t want to bise with me. HAH.

I was so crazy about him that night of the first party. I was so disappointed that our greeting was weird, my leaving the party was weird, and that it was weird when I came back to the party and literally all he said to me was “EAGLES!” when I said, in a group conversation, that I was from Philadelphia. And then he walked away and I didn’t talk to him for the rest of that night.

But when he stayed with us for that week, I couldn’t care less about him. It’s weird how apathetic I felt about him. He was just there.  I made no effort to hang out with him. When I ate dinner with him and Anaïs, I just talked about the American university system and college costs and SATs (and made him think I was a genius because of my SAT scores and my scholarship). He asked all the questions; I only asked where he was from and that was it.

But, I wanted to ask why are you here??? but I didn’t. And I wanted to ask what his relationship was with Anaïs, but I kept my mouth shut for that as well.

Since I didn’t remember him as the awkward laptop bises guy who is friends with Anaïs, I thought he was maybe Anaïs’ boyfriend or something. When the British guys stayed over, or other people stayed over, they slept on a futon in Anais’ “office” part of her bedroom area, and the door was closed then so I knew that they were sleeping in the room. Or when someone stayed over, they would sleep in the loft upstairs sectioned off over the living room area, and I found that out because I would hear them when I went upstairs to eat breakfast or I would see them go up the stairs to the loft.

But neither of those happened with this guy, so I assumed he was sleeping in Anaïs’ bed. And that kind of annoyed me that she was sneaking him over while her parents were away and putting me in that situation. Or so I thought.

On the third night he stayed over—aka after three mornings where I went upstairs and just ate breakfast by myself—he finally walked up the stairs to the loft area and I turned to Anaïs, shocked, and whispered, “He’s been sleeping there?

Because for the past three days, I had been going upstairs and making myself breakfast: putting bread in the toaster, getting out the butter and OJ, taking the toast out, eating it, and cleaning up. I’m not particularly noisy, but I’m making noise while he’s in the room.  It’s like a seven minute process, by my count. And it made me wonder if every day that week I woke him up and he just kind of laid in his bed like “Should I get up? Or should I just stay here and wait till she leaves?” (or maybe he’s not awkward like me, because that is totally what I’d be freaking out about if I was in his position). So the next few days, I just grabbed two sad little pieces of bread and ate that for breakfast instead of preparing my meal.

The last night when he left,  I was watching Sabrina on my laptop at the kitchen table (I like watching American movies that take place in Paris and pointing out the inaccuracies). And I kind of blew him off when he literally stood behind my chair and watched the movie over my shoulder with me for like five minutes. It started off when he asked, “Oh, is that Sabrina? With Audrey Hepburn?” and I said “Oui” and thought it was weird he knew what that movie was (stereotyping, I know, whatever). And I thought that was it, that was the end of the conversation.

But noooooooo.

Then he had to come over and watch for a bit while I sat rigidly in my chair like “What the heck is he doing? I hate him for doing this to me.”  We even talked about whether we preferred Humphrey Bogart or William Holden, after I asked who William Holden was and he literally leaned forward to point to the actor.

I bised him when he said goodbye that night. And then I bised him last Friday on the birthday party night. And that was when he said, “You looked like you had more fun and talked more at this party,” after we cheek-kissed, and it was totally a light bulb moment for me.

It was then that I suddenly saw his face in my memory of the awkward bise and the awkward goodbye. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t move for a couple seconds after he said that, trying to cope with the OMG-ness of the situation. Who’d have thunk!

I just can’t get it right with this guy. But I did get it right at this party, at least.

P.S. Just because it seems like all I do is complain about bises, here is a video (in French, sorry!) that I watched in a French class at Drexel before coming here. Just to give you a cute cartoony version of how scary the bises really are.

The Champs-Élysées Christmas Market

Since coming to Paris, I’ve kind of had a love-hate relationship with the Champs-Élysées.

I know, I know. How could I? How could I not love “la plus belle avenue du monde,” or “the most beautiful avenue in the world?”

After fighting foot traffic to get a clear shot, I was too tired to even start with the car traffic.

After fighting foot traffic to get a clear shot, I was too tired to even start with the car traffic.

Easy. Because it’s always too crowded with tourists. That’s really my biggest problem with the Champs-Élysées. Unfortunately, the crowds extend past the actual shopping area and down the street all the way to Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries Gardens and then the Louvre. So, understandably, there is going to be a lot of tourists wanting to visit and sometimes I’m one of them and sometimes I’m not.

But the Champs-Élysées Christmas Market made my poor Grinch heart grow three sizes. It is worth the hassle. It’s easy to spot because there are little white tents lining the streets a block away from the start of the Champs-Élysées shopping area.  But it’s really more like a Christmas Carnival.

It’s bizarre (a word I use ALL THE TIME in French because it just means “weird” and I love the juxtaposition between American “bizarre” and French “bizarre”). Mostly because there are weird carnival staples like the “psychedelic” funhouse or those super slides you go down on a potato sack or roller coasters just set up there on the sidewalk.

In case you're too cool to walk down the Champs-Élysées, don't worry.

In case you’re too cool to walk down the Champs-Élysées, don’t worry.

Oh, and there’s an ice-skating rink too, complete with moving robot animals and hilariously inappropriate dance music (it’s like 7 euros to rent skates and it’s absolutely worth it, if only for the chance to be able to photobomb a million tourist shots while on ice skates).

Plus, there are a lot of really interesting food stands serving both the things you can easily find—crepes, waffles, churros (or chi-chi; I’ve seen both)—and maybe can’t easily find—hot beer (bière chaud), hot wine (vin chaud, not as rare as hot beer but definitely better), and foie gras sandwiches.

And there’s shopping. But it’s not just shopping, but shopping with really weird stores. Need to buy a set of Russian dolls, or three, for that special someone? No problem, there are at least two different stands. Need to buy just a regular doll? Well, there are some stands for that too. Chocolate-covered mousse balls? A dozen for 10 euros or one for 1 euro. Scarves. Backpacks. Ornaments. Glass trinkets. Eiffel tower key chains. HERMIT CRABS. You want it, chances are there’s a stand for it.

At night, the market is even more magical.

At night, the market is even more magical.

The shopping, eating, drinking, and ice skating would be fun activities on their own, but they’re made like ten times funner by the fact that you are doing it on the Champs-Élysées. Like, I felt so cool telling my host mom that I went ice skating on the Champs-Élysées … and saying the same thing to my mom, my dad, and a couple of my friends. This Christmas village, while still crowded, definitely contributed to my Champs-Élysées experience.

It’s a fun—and FREE—activity that is a little touristy (or at least in a touristy area) yet really exciting. You can see the Tuileries, the Place de la Concorde (and the seasonal Christmas Tree and Ferris Wheel), the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Élysées, and the Arch de Triomphe all in the span of like five minutes. I highly recommend it if it’s November/December time in Paris and you’re the tourist or you’re having a tourist come visit.

I’ve gone four times now. I hate that I love it so much.

Cookie (spread) for breakfast?

I’ve written before that my host family kind of thinks I’m crazy because I don’t put Nutella on my toast for breakfast, but now I wish I had just bowed to peer pressure and started waking up to chocolate and hazelnut for breakfast, because then I would be able to bring my own sweet spread to the breakfast table: Speculoos.

Now, even if you’re familiar with that word and know that I didn’t just press random buttons on my keyboard, you still might be scratching your head about it. Speculoos is almost like a gingerbread/spice shortbread biscuit that is treated like an animal cookie in consistency and also shape, since it can be put out in Christmas or animal shapes.

But wait a second, you say, how does that relate to toast and breakfast?

There is Speculoos spread. Speculoos à tartiner, or Speculoos to spread.

IMG_9972

Hello, beautiful.

This is cookie butter. Cookie butter. That’s what it is.

I’ve never heard of Speculoos before coming here. And even after I had my first Speculoos, I still didn’t find out about it until months later, when we were talking about peanut butter at school and the program assistant, the French manic pixie dreamgirl dream that is Julie, told me there was a Speculoos spread.

So what do I do? Next time I’m in Monoprix, I stroll down the tartiner aisle looking for the Speculoos spread that I’m pretty sure I’m not going to find. It’s not by the Nutella or the Nutella knockoffs. It’s not by the honey. It’s not by the marmalade or jam.

Now I’m starting to think that Julie was just teasing me and I’m the idiot on her hands and knees on the grocery store.

But then, pushed back all the way on the bottom level, there they are: two jars of Speculoos—literally, just Speculoos with pasta à tartiner on the label in smaller letters. One is crunchy, one is not. Both have images of the Speculoos cookies I know and love kind of dripping onto a gingerbread-colored spread on a piece of bread.

I'm talking to you.

I’m talking to you.

Turns out cookie butter actually exists.

I debated between the crunchy and noncrunchy versions of the spread, even at one point picking up both to put in the basket before remembering that I’m just a poor college student. And—more importantly—I should try one to make sure I like it (although, come on, how could I not????) before buying two.

That’s really the deciding factor, embarrassingly enough.

After many moments looking like a fat dummy looking back and forth between the two jars of creamed cookies in her hands, I finally picked the crunchy. I prefer crunchy peanut butter to creamy. And if there were such a thing as crunchy Nutella I would eat that all day every day … but just not for breakfast.

And the way I see it, if there’s a crunchy cookie spread, chances are that the crunchy bits are going to be cookies. And if you’re going to eat a cookie spread, you might as well just go all out.

I bought a bag of brioche buns, because I thought those would pair well with the spread. Brioche is a thick, sweet bread, and I wasn’t sure how a buttery croissant or pain au lait would go with it.

Tah-dah!

Tah-dah!

Honest to God, I almost bought a package of Speculoos cookies too.

I’m glad I didn’t. The spread is BURSTING with Speculoos flavor. It is Speculoos in a spoon or on the side of the knife. Thankfully, it looks like the brains behind the spread had the same “SPECUYOLO” mentality that I had.

I didn’t feel as guilty as I should have just licking some Speculoos spread off of a knife, since it really is a dessert in itself. But, I do feel guilty for eating like a quarter of the jar in one sitting.

What can I say? It really was love at first bite.

Cookie on cookie.

Cookie on cookie.

Now, if only there was some way to eat this on the brioche toast that’s always in the bread box without my host family calling me out for being a hypocrite…

But for now, I’m totally content to keep it hidden in my suitcase cupboard along with the rest of the brioche buns and whatever else I will buy (and I know I will add to my “what can I put Speculoos on” collection). I think I might even buy vanilla ice cream and try melting the Speculoos spread. And then crunching up the Speculoos cookies I will buy and adding those on top.

With a cookie spread, the possibilities are endless.

P.S. HOLY CRAPPING CRAP YOU GUYS CAN YOU IMAGINE IF THERE WAS A COOKIE SPREAD FOR ALL COOKIES?

TRY TO GUESS WHAT AN OREO SPREAD WOULD TASTE LIKE! OR A THIN MINT SPREAD?

WHY AREN’T THESE REAL THINGS???????????

WHY DON’T WE LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE SUGAR COOKIE SPREADS EXIST??????????

WHY DIDN’T I LEARN ABOUT SPECULOOS SPREAD LIKE THREE MONTHS AGO???????

WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?

BRB gonna go cry into my Speculoos jar. I bet it’s even more perfect with a little bit of salt.

Absinthe-minded

I was eating peanut butter sandwiches everyday at my middle school cafeteria when Anthony Bourdain started making a name for himself, but I still had the same initial reactions to him when I became interested in food writing and watching as the foodie world did about five or six years later than the initial Bourdain breakout. When I watched the pilot episode of No Reservations on Netflix, I ended up more impressed with Bourdain than the food he tried. He seemed like the most badass of chefs, with the ever-present cigarette dangling from his lips and the small silver hoop dangling from his earlobe.

In the world of Emerils and Mario Batalis, he was the food world’s Keith Richards and I was the little girl falling in love all the way at the very back of the concert hall.

When I started planning my Parisian 4-month vacation, I rewatched that episode again. I knew that I might not be able to afford to visit all of the bars and restos and patisseries and boulangeries that Bourdain did, but I definitely had to go to that absinthe bar.

And two months in, when I watched it again, I felt like such an insider that I scoffed at Bourdain’s recommendation that taxis are an easy way to get around Paris and could pick out neighborhoods and streets that he passed by. But then I deflated when I realized that no, I hadn’t actually gone to that absinthe bar yet and only had a month or so left to do it.

As I wrote in a previous post, suddenly it was  Thanksgiving—aka, Thursday, in Paris. I had gotten a little taste of the holiday and its tradition the Wednesday before at a little potluck dinner thrown at my school, but I still wanted to do something. And I thought, if I can’t have all of my Thanksgiving traditions, then I’m going to do something so outrageously un-Thanksgiving like that there’s no way I’ll be able to get homesick.

The outside. You can already tell it's pretty badass.

The outside. You can already tell it’s pretty badass.

Using that brilliant logic, I ended up suggesting the absinthe bar to my friends.

I sent over the Youtube clip of the bar scene—and my friends actually took the time to watch it, which usually doesn’t happen (to be fair, I do love sending Youtube videos).

“We’re not actually going to hallucinate like that, right?” one friend asked.

“Nah, of course not,” I said. “We don’t have the special camera effects Bourdain did.”

We also didn’t have the illegal, pre-prohibition absinthe that he did, either.

The bar looked pretty kitchsy in the video—low lighting, skeleton decorations, cartoon pornography featuring hot naked demon ladies. The website was equally bizarre. The “philosophy” of the bar is to be exactly what a “rock ‘n’ roll” bar should be like—but also being “punk rock” and “metal” at the same time.

IMG_9639

I made sure I wore my leather jacket—but it’s a jean-colored fake leather jacket cut in the style of a jeans jacket, so I was nowhere near the leather daddy/witch goddess fashion of all of the bar patrons.

And this was something I picked up as soon as I walked through the door—although that could have been because a woman with piles of dark hair messily held on the top of her head laughed and said, “Come on, kids” in French as we walked by her.

Yeah, not exactly the kind of welcoming I wanted.

Later, my friend confessed, “As soon as I walked through the door, I wanted to bolt out of there.”

But we soldiered on, trying not to stare at the demon porn or all of the leather. It’s funny, because there are a lot of bars in Paris that try to capitalize on the coolness of rock or Anglophilia and call themselves “bar du rock” or a “bar du punk.” But La Cantada II really was a metal bar, sure, but the people here were older, in their thirties and forties. The Oberkampf/Parmentier neighborhood the bar is in is really known for being the cool hangout place for the young hipsters and “bobos,” and we quickly decided that we were at the bar these people went to when they got too old or too creepy.

If you want to see the cabaret in the basement, you have to make sure you're cleared by the bouncer.

If you want to see the cabaret in the basement, you have to make sure you’re cleared by the bouncer.

I felt like I was back working at the record store I worked at in high school—once again, I was the only natural blonde there with no piercings, no tattoos, and no way of ever intimidating anyone ever. Except now, my friends were with me and there’s always strength in numbers, I guess.

We timidly approached the bar, and I was thrown once again when I didn’t see a menu for absinthe. Sure, I saw the absinthe bottles and the antiquated “Absinthe” sign, but I didn’t see prices or names for absinthes, only for beers, mixed drinks, and wines. I started internally freaking out—I brought my friends here, I was the one pushing for the bar, and then there wasn’t any absinthe?

The bartender approached us, and I was so busy being surprised at how he looked exactly like Harris from Freaks and Geeks would look as a thirtysomething bartender at an absinthe bar that I fumbled and just said, in French, “Good evening, it’s our first time here and …”

He immediately interrupted me and said, in English, “You came for absinthe,” as he grabbed a laminated absinthe menu from behind the bar.

It was that obvious. We were one of those American tourists who wandered in because of Anthony Bourdain. But really, how many twenty-year-old girl American tourists can say that?

No, you're not hallucinating, there's a coffin in the corner.

No, you’re not hallucinating, there’s a coffin in the corner.

The names of the absinthes meant nothing to us, as did the country of origin listed in parentheses. What did interest us were the prices (less than 5 euros for most of the glasses—a better bargain than most alcoholic drinks at bars here) and the alcohol content (around 60 to 70 %). But when the bartender came back a couple minutes later, we still had no clue what we were doing.

“What’s the best drink for our first time?” we asked, since giving us the menu really didn’t help us out.

He pointed to the “Mata Ari,” which was 4,80 euros so we felt confident that he wasn’t trying to rip us off.

I’d Google the drink later, and apparently it’s a bohemian absinthe without the pedigree of a French or Swiss absinthe, which means it’s more like a wormwood bitter than the proper anise absinthe. But to my newborn absinthe palette, it was a pretty good starting off drink.

Who am I kidding—anything would have been a pretty good starting off drink. I started giggling as soon as the bartender pulled out the old-time water drippers. Everything about this bar and this drink was becoming an experience in itself.

Ooh la la!

Ooh la la!

He poured a little bit of absinthe—not even a full shot—into a fancy glass, and then took out a triangular log with holes in it to lay across the rim of the glass. A small sugar cube was then placed on top of that, and then the water from the water dripper slowly dissolved the sugar into the absinthe.

The resulting color of the drink was a pale mint—not the bright green I was expecting. It tasted a lot of black licorice, but in a way that I could easily drink (I always give the black licorice anything to my mom, can’t stand the stuff). And this is something that is not something that should be easily drank in large quantities. I went home after one drink, not even wanting to try another because I just felt heavy and thick.

Maybe it’s because of all the pancakes I like to eat on brunch excursions, but has anyone ever described food as “sitting on your stomach?” Well, because absinthe definitely sits on your liver. I think people would have to be crazy just to drink large amounts of absinthe. I’m glad I went to an absinthe bar, and I would definitely drink absinthe again, but it’s a one-time-only per occasion kind of drink for me.

But I still like absinthe. Like many people before me, I only knew about absinthe because of its scandalous reputation, not because of its taste. It was only a friend of a friend, with those “friends” being Anthony Bourdain and Oscar Wilde as the people I most associated with absinthe. But now I’d say that absinthe and me are acquaintances, and it’s always nice making friends at bars.

Say “Mac and Cheese!”

So as I’ve mentioned here before, one of the biggest—and most surprising—“homesick” foods I’ve been craving was macaroni and cheese, aka mac & cheese, aka perfection. And perfection became a reality last week when my dad smuggled nine boxes of it in his suitcase when he visited me in Paris.

When he had asked me, a week earlier, what I wanted him to bring, I quickly answered “Annie’s mac & cheese—the shells and white cheddar in the purple box—and Kraft mac & cheese, with the character pasta.”

“And, you know, bring yourself,” I added, almost as an afterthought.

Daddy came through with the goods. A six-pack of Annie’s and three boxes of Kraft. I took a picture of all of the boxes, knowing that would have to last the week until my dad left and I would resume being in charge of (and paying for) my own meals.

It was worth the eight-day weight. The first night I made it—I picked Annie’s because of the 2:1 ratio—I was testing to see if the pasta was done every thirty seconds. No one was home and I ate it slowly, licking the spoon after every bite. I wouldn’t have to hide my powdered astronaut cheese.

The second night, I conveniently wasn’t hungry until the host daughter left. Then, it was time to creep into my room, grab a box from my suitcase-cum-pantry, and run upstairs to get the water boiling. Another night putting off the eventual judging!

But then she came back fifteen minutes later, right as I was getting ready to dump the pot’s contents in the strainer, and my heart almost stopped—and not because of the upcoming dish.

“What are you making? Pasta?” she asked, coming over RIGHTNEXTTOME to grab a fork.

“Do you know mac & cheese, or macaroni and cheese?” I replied. She travelled around North America for the whole month of October. There was no way she couldn’t know mac & cheese.

She laughed. “Yes, I do. I’ve never tried it. But an American friend of a friend described it to me. He said it was like … comfort food?” (English is in italics).

“Yes, exactly,” I replied, trying not to sigh in relief.

“So that’s the pasta, and that’s the cheese?” she asked, daintily placing a slender, French finger on the packet.

“Um, yes.”

I waited. Oh, how I waited.

I waited for the “Oh, that’s nice,” airy response my French teacher lobbed at me when I told her what I missed the most from school. I waited for the “Why would you miss that in France?” speech that her friend had thrown at me (in French!) in September. And, most of all, I waited for the “you might as well have said you missed eating earthworms” face the Irish guy made when I told him I missed mac & cheese (I ended up explaining it as Ramen noodles but a thousand times better, and I dont’ think it really worked, judging by his face).

Yeah. Europeans don’t really get mac & cheese. 

“Cool,” she said, and walked over to the couch and started watching television on her laptop.

The smile I had on my face when I mixed the butter and the milk and the cheese shockingly had nothing to do with the meal I was preparing.

Two boxes down. Seven to go. Nineteen days left of Paris. Whassup.

P.S. Pretty revealing that I wrote the “mac & cheese” blog post first before the “my dad visited me” post, right? Love you, dad! 

Awkward Abroad: Wuthering Heights

My host family has a close family friend, Delphine, who can speak pretty good English. On the second night she came over for dinner, she was very kind and talked to me about French literature because to all French people, I am studying literature since it’s easier to explain than “English.”

Except I couldn’t ask her when she was trying to tell me about this English book she was reading. I’m still not sure whether she meant it was an English book she was reading in French or English. I’m assuming it was in French, based off of what the conversation (in French) went like:

Delphine: It’s called Les Hauts de Hurlevent.

Alissa: It’s called what?

Delphine: Les Hauts de Hurlevent.

Alissa: I’m sorry, but could you repeat that, again?

Delphine: Les Hauts de Hurlevent.

Alissa: Okay. I have no idea what that translates to. “Haut” is “high,” or
up” … right?

[Delphine speaks a little English, so I did ask if it meant “high” or “up” in English. But I also gestured it too].

Delphine: I forget what the English title is …

Alissa: Me too! Haha.

Delphine: But it’s an English novel … written in the Victorian Era, I think? It is a romance novel.

Alissa: I’m really sorry, but there are a lot of those.

Delphine: Don’t worry. It’s no big deal.

Alissa: No, this makes me angry! I need to know! What is the book about? What are the character names?

Delphine: Um … uh … Eat … Eatcliff?

Alissa: WUTHERING HEIGHTS!! OH MY GOD!! YOU ARE READING WUTHERING HEIGHTS!! WITH HEATHCLIFF AND CATHERINE!! THE WRITER IS EMILY BRONTË!! WUTHERING HEIGHTS!!

Delphine: Yes!

Alissa: Whew! I am so happy I know now.

Delphine: Wuthering Heights. So I know where the “haut” comes from. What does “wuthering” mean?

Alissa: I have no idea.  What does “hurlevent” mean?

Delphine: I have no idea.

Alissa: (beat) But don’t you love the book?