#FrenchLife

My dwindling budget doesn’t really lend itself to eating at one of the thousands of brasseries each day; sipping on deliciously dry rosé and always finishing each meal with an espresso. I have tried ever so hard to quash my desire to stop in at every quaint Parisian den I pass by. Wrapped in my oversized vintage faux-fur coat and a myriad of clashing patterns, I stroll through the uneven streets eager to discover a place adorable enough to warrant spending money I should really be saving for more sensible things like a deposit for an apartment or shoes. And although I have always lived a champagne life on a beer budget,  the very sensible side of me (which from time to time does rear its annoyingly truthful head) pops up and reminds me that if I was to continue down this path of overpriced salads on infamous terraces, I would soon be dans la merde.

I know. Poor me. Stuck in Paris with a moderate amount of savings unable to afford to IMG_0079 2dine out every single day where I can’t indulge my fantasies as some flush bobo perennially on holidays. What is this world coming too? The solution to these first world  problems is quite simple. B R E A D! Bread (also known as my best friend also known as one of the most important things in my life) is perfection. And unless you have sampled the array of various freshly baked breads in this incredible country, you have not lived! Ok, ok. Dramatic AF, but French bread literally changed my life. Before I discovered the magical world of French baguettes, ficelles and pain rustic, I had intense reactions to bread and bread products. I would get fierce stomach cramps and even had chest pains. But here, in the magical land of France, I can gorge on as much bread as I like without feeling like I am going to blow up like Violet Beuregarde. IMG_0086Now, I’m not saying that you need to come here to experience artisanal bread at it’s finest, but there is something romantic about waiting in line with fellow carb enthusiasts, mulling over which baguette to choose from, ogling the glistening éclairs and tarte tartin in the glass cabinet and listening to the  harmonious cacophony of French mutterings all before that wonderful greeting of bonjour! 

Not only are there hundreds (literally hundreds) of different types of bread depending on region and season, but it is so damn cheap! For under 1€, you can walk away with satisfying and portable lunch. But, you can’t live on bread alone! So, for a few extras euros, you can have a delicious and fresh baguette with an array of fillings like Cambembert and country ham; rillettes and cornichons or goats cheese, figs and mache lettuce on a raisin baguette – like this one below from my favourite local, Pascal et Anthony, 32 Rue de Dantzig, Paris, 75015. This place is fabulous! Cheap but life-altering sandwiches, perfect coffee and free wifi. And within walking distance from Parc George-Brassens and an all-weekend second-hand and antique book market. Grab your delectable lunch and head to the park where you can see old friends converse, children play and just let the world pass you by.

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Other than stuffing my face with the best bread I have eaten, I do enjoy other pleasures that this fair city has to offer. I have decided to walk whenever I can. If you have the time, comfortable shoes and the warmest of your fabulous clothes, I highly recommend it. I cannot express to you how much I truly love just getting lost. It is happiness in its purest form. We were discovering our wonderful arrondissement when the high from my last bread fix was starting to wear off. Searching frantically for a spot to lunch that wouldn’t burn a hole in my Pamela Barsky “I like to pretend I’m French” pencil case/wallet, we settled on a café of sorts that felt more at home in some secluded country town as opposed to a bustling metropolis. I guess Paris is like a box of chocolates: you never really know what you’re going to get. It was quickly apparent that this particular bar was a fan of horse racing; electronic gambling options and live races caught my attention from the corner of the room and I was rethinking my choice of establishment. As I was contemplating our quick and seamless getaway, I suddenly noticed the price of the wine and sandwiches on offer. We could have half a litre of wine and two baguettes with merguez sausage and pâté Basque for around 10€. It was decided. We were staying! It wasn’t only the insanely cheap yet surprisingly scrumptious sustenance that tickled our fancy and begged us to linger.

A group of sweet old men were playing chess at the back of the brasserie, sharing individually wrapped chocolates and laughter. They graciously accepted my self-invitation to play and for the next 45 minutes, nothing else was more important than that game of strategy. I fancied myself an okay if not good player; the possibly embellished stories of my grandfather’s superb chess skills made me believe that is was sort-of hereditary. But to no one’s surprise, I got completely obliterated. These guys were pros and I was way out of my depth. My poor playing and broken French didn’t stop us from talking about where were from, what we did and how much I loved living in Paris. It was the perfect way to procrastinate dealing with another bureaucratic task we had to complete.

Although I would love to meander endlessly down these perfect Parisian streets, the stark reality of trying to start a new life in a new city is slowly setting in. I have decided to say goodbye to the glamorous world of hospitality and find a job that is a bit more…secure. DON’T WORRY GUYS! I will still be pursuing a full-time career of writing and acting and singing!  Phew. My days will mostly be filled with relentless applications  for some incredible opportunities at home flitting between French reality TV shows and my favourites in their original language. Sex and the City in any other language is a travesty. But no matter how many hours I spend in front of the screen fastidiously triple checking each covering letter, I will always have time for the simple things: baguettes, wine and dreamily getting lost in this friend of the eternal optimist.

 

 

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Food Glorious Food (Part 1 of many)

My entries are not going to be solely about food and booze. There are plenty of things to do in this fair city and I intend to document as much as I can. Palatial galleries, bewitching gardens and historical gems. But I am sure we can all agree it is the pursuit of food, good food, that brings pure unadulterated happiness to ones life.

So, where to start in this ally of the gourmand?

You might think it is some very French brasserie serving steak frites or soupe a l’ognion (my absolute favourite); dishes doused in butter and desserts laden with cream like liquored-up chocolate mousse (my other favourite). I am sorry to disappoint, but my first meal in Paris was none of those things. Don’t worry – there will be plenty of time to indulge in my fantasy of dining like some hedonistic aristocrat in the 1920s.

For the last five months, I had been staying with my sister in Melbourne and she is head-over-heels in love and obsessed with Italian food. She lived in Italy for a year and teaches Italian to primary school kids so you could understand why. Julia makes it all from scratch including a wide and varied selection of pasta, chinotto, ricotta cheese and biscotti. Needless to say, the love for this spectacular cuisine had traveled with me and I had hankerings for something fresh and familiar.

Aurelien (my husband who does have a name) was watching one of France’s gazillion panel tv shows and saw a place in the 2nd that served true Napolitana pizza. Done! We hopped on a bus that winded its way down the most Parisian of streets; through the Japanese quarter near Palais Royal, over bridges and under archways, just stopping short of our destination in front of the luminous pyramid that is the Louvre. I was certain we were on the right bus, but my self-proclaimed brilliant sense of direction had failed me once more. It was bucketing down with icy rain but it was a truly glorious sight. One could almost cry with the sheer beauty and magnificence of this breathtaking city. The right bus was on its way and we were mere minutes away from sitting down to our first date in almost five months. Excited was an understatement.

My assumption that this place was some undiscovered treasure quickly evaporated when I saw the line. The name should have been a giveaway. Pizzeria Popolare. Indeed it was. Hungry and eager patrons donned their finest winter coats, clutching umbrellas for dear life and waiting patiently to be let in out of the cold. 7 minutes felt like 7 hours. I chose leave my brolly at home (as it would never have fitted in my vintage Valentino clutch) but were lucky to be underneath the bright orange awnings half way down the block of Rue Réaumur and Rue Monmarte. The doors opened and the line moved quicker than expected. We were greeted by the most jovial of hosts and already felt like we had entered the home of a dear friend. We were led downstairs to the second floor of this gorgeous restaurant which was already nearly full; surrounded by walls filled with illuminated bottles of Aperol, Campari and every other boozy concoction you could think of. 2018-01-21-PHOTO-00001332I was smitten! I squeezed into the corner table as gracefully as I could and I managed to order an Aperol Spritz – all was good in the world. I discovered them whilst holidaying in Venice with my sister when I asked the bartender for the cheapest drink possible. Not so much the case anymore, but they are still quite reasonable compared to New York or Melbourne setting you back around 7 euros.

 

Our waitress Melania was wonderful and we conversed in Italian, French and English when I forgot the former. Sipping on my Spritz and singing along to a fabulously nostalgic 90s playlist, I took a gander at the menu. I wanted it all! But decided on deep-fried artichokes and bruschetta with capicolo and mozzarella di buffala with of course, pizza.2018-01-22-PHOTO-00001338 I couldn’t go past the 5 euro (yes, 5 euro) Margherita with San Marzano tomatoes and the freshest of basil. It was heaven. I unfortunately forgot to take a photo of the infamous and incredibly tasty dish, but it is everything you would want from a pizza Napoletana. Pizzeria Popolare is extremely busy and vibrant, yet I never felt rushed. The staff are friendly and generous in spirit and is excellent value for money. I rarely line up to dine out, especially in a city like Paris where there is so many wonderful places. But on this wintry Saturday night, I’m really glad I did.

 

 

Morning Rituals

I think it’s time I start talking about all of the marvellous things I am experiencing in this  delicious city other than the amorous reunion with my hubby. 😉

Our apartment in the 15th arrondissement is absolutely darling. One bedroom, lots of light and no creepy roommates or meddling mothers to contend with. I don’t know why we didn’t do this earlier. Paris and living by ourselves. My advice to any couple: NEVER LIVE WITH OTHER PEOPLE!

Now that’s out of the way, let me tell you about my first week in this gastronomic wonderland.

We start the day (yes, every day) with some flaky sugary goodness from the boulangerie that is way too close to our place. Downstairs and a couple of doors down. It is heavenly. But dangerous. I usually ask for a pain au chocolat, but this time around the most delicious looking thing caught my eye. A kouign amann translates to “cake of butter” that hails from the stunning region of Brittany; a place I am eager to visit. And you bet your bottom dollar it is just that. The chewy caramelised outer layer is utterly divine and fills my sweet-toothed soul with job and although it borders on being a little too saccharine, I am in bakegoods heaven. I also don’t mind devouring a pain au raisin or a pain Suisse which is just a longer pain au chocolat with crème patissière. Paired with these scrumptious treats is a café allongé (long black).

We were discovering our little neighbourhood and stumbled across the most charming boutique coffee store. Upon entering, I was hit with heady fragrances of candied orange peel and dark cocoa. My eyes were immediately drawn to this beautiful display of brass dispensers from what seemed to be from La Belle Epoque. We were warmly greeted by Stéphane, owner of Les Caféeries de Paris, 201 Rue de la Convention. It’s the second oldest coffee roaster in Paris and only known by the most enthusiastic of coffee aficionados. One of Paris’ best kept food secrets. While lovingly grinding our specially selected blend, Stéphane regaled us with romantic commentary on how he came to have wild beans hand-picked in Ethiopia and why you should store your coffee in the freezer as opposed to the fridge. I wanted to sample everything on offer –  including all the handmade chocolates sitting in a beautiful glass display whispering sweet nothings to me – but decided to save it for a another time. I did make one more purchase before I left this  delightful place. Splashes of colour lure me over to the far corner of the room where I discover the cutest collection of  vintage reproduction handbags (although I have a feeling they were not intended for vintage enthusiasts like me). They are made by women in a small Indian village and all the profits from the bags go directly back to the community; an initiative started by two French teachers. Unfortunately, I have lost the information Stephane gave me and for the life of me cannot find anything about it online. Stephane doesn’t have an email address either and as it is in the middle of of the day so obviously his shop is closed. But I will sure to include the details in my next post.

I left feeling joyous and light with an evident spring in my step. It was by far the most pleasurable experience I had ever had purchasing my coffee and I don’t think I can ever go back to buying it from a soulless supermarket chain. Paris is filled to the brim with whimsy and vibrancy and always found in the simplest of things. And for the first time in a long time, I feel like I belong.

Je suis ici.

Finally. Thirty hours in the air, two swollen feet and one heart beating incredibly fast. I hadn’t seen my love in five months and I was nervous. Usually I would wait for the seatbelt sign to turn off before I begin the mad scramble for my hand luggage and winter coat, but this time, I was one of those naughty passengers who jumped out of my seat the second the plane was at a standstill. I quickly gestured to my tall neighbour to reach for my petite luggage (weighing in excess of 10kg). There was no way I could have got it down without collapsing under its weight and dropping it on some poor soul’s head. I could barely push it down the isle and I still had to retrieve nearly 70kg of bulk. But I felt I was bringing more than 70kg of baggage with me. Months and months (and even years) of emotional heaviness that had nearly broken everything I held so dear to me.

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I pushed my cumbersome luggage trolley out of the electronic doors and it hit me. I was moments away from reuniting with mon grand amour. I know, I know. Super sappy right? I won’t be long I promise. Stay with me here people! I walk past eager family members waiting for their loved ones and chauffeurs presenting last names on white cards. It’s 6:45am and the air is filled with a sort-of charming frenzy. I search for the kind face I have missed so fervently but he’s not there. Did he make it? Did I tell him the wrong terminal? Is he even coming? My mind was racing; feeding off adrenaline and caffeine and I was scared. In that moment, I was petrified that I had lost the one thing in my life that was so important to me. I guess you only know how much something means to you when you think you have lost it. A taxi driver in a houndstooth flat cap asked me if I needed a taxi and I told him in almost perfect French that I didn’t as I was waiting to be picked up by someone. “But you are so nice…and pretty. Allez, take my taxi.” Ugh. I was too tired to speak anymore French so in perfect English, I told him to bugger off. And then, when I thought I would have had to ram him with my luggage trolley, he came. I had told him the wrong terminal.

All my doubts and insecurities had melted away and I fell into his arms. Hot tears rolled down my face and I became one of those clichés of crying travellers reuniting with their long lost love. It was kind of weird. We have been together for eleven years, married for ten and yet, it was as if we were meeting for our fourth or fifth date. Totes awk. But it didn’t stay like that for long. We took our bus to Montparnasse and chatted like old friends which I was beyond ecstatic to know we still were. What was meant to be a 30 minute bus ride ended up being 2 hours. Traffic was une grosse merde and I definitely should have peed before I left, but I didn’t care. I was in Paris. And I was happy.

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And so, another travel blog is born.

Edit: My jet lag has finally subsided and I am able to collate my thoughts into a somewhat coherent first entry. This was written on January the 15th, 2018.

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Ok. That’s it. I’m doing it. I’ve decided to just jump right in. I’m blocking out those niggling thoughts of self-doubt about not having enough time or enough important things to say and I am doing it. I could hazard a guess at to what you might be thinking: do we really do need another person writing down their inner most thoughts and feelings about what they are doing and where they are going and what they are eating? Probably not. And yet here I am. Groggily typing away in Guangzhou airport after a ten hour flight with four more hours to kill before I face another leg of thirteen hours to my final destination. I don’t know if it it’s the three plastic cups of Cotes du Rhone on the plane or the fact that I have been awake for more than nearly a day, but I am in that frustrating place of over-exhaustion and alertness. And although I had an extra meal as my “snack”, I am still hungry. Maybe for something that doesn’t come in a little tray wrapped in foil. I hate to say it, but the sticky chicken wings on skewers courtesy of the golden arches sound pretty tempting. But I yearn to be nourished by something else. I find a restaurant and know exactly what I want. Dumplings in noodle soup and roast goose on rice. The broth from the soup is exquisite and hugs me like a long lost friend. And the goose – the goose is moreish and incredibly satisfying; paired with a sour plum dipping sauce that dances on my tongue. I am instantly reinvigorated ready for the next three and a half hours of trying to sleep as comfortably as one can in an airport lounge. My skin is dry and itchy from the icy air-conditioning but I see how it would be necessary to have it blasting so as to keep everyone awake. I can’t sleep; I can’t even rest. I aimlessly wander around the airport in search of something to spark my interest; in and out of beautiful gift shops with Chinese silks and buttery biscuits. The choice is overwhelming and I can’t decided on anything. I walk past the chicken wing skewers again and imagine myself devouring them dripping oil all over my surprisingly pristine white t-shirt. I usually can’t last more that a few hours without dropping some colourful dollop of food.

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The time has passed quicker than I could have imagined and it is nearly time to board the plane. If you haven’t guessed by now, I am writing a travel blog. With of course talking about what I am eating and where I am vintage shopping. A bit of back story- I was living in New York for the last two years and I truly adored it. It was exciting and incredibly captivating. Like millions before me, I went there with grand dreams and high hopes of transforming my non-existent acting career into something extraordinary. Working on Broadway or in TV or in films. I wasn’t fussy. I wouldn’t say I was delusional in thinking I could have my big break in New York, whatever that means. And I truly did believe that I  could have made it work even if my husband and I were sharing an apartment with five others, living off cash in hand odd jobs from babysitting and dog walking and cleaning apartments; not coming with as much money as I should have, not having any family close by or any rights a citizen. I underestimated how these things I had previously taken for granted created a pressure-cooker environment unable to withstand even the best of intentions.

I was blinded by the razzle dazzle of it all and without going into too much detail, my relationship imploded. I was in a Goblet of Fire type maze being swallowed up by mysterious and hypnotic figures drawing me into a dangerous fantasy world. And although I know now that it was just a fantasy, it was the only way I could have survived. My husband and I parted ways. Temporarily I hoped but I wasn’t sure at the time of what was to be in store for us. He went back to his home in the Loire Valley in France and I, back home to Melbourne into the familial embrace of my darling sister; an incredible food writer and mum. She took me into her home and lovingly shouted some home truths at me which shook me to my core. But a shaking to ones core is exactly what was needed. Light had started to pierce through the dark and sinister hedges of my personal labyrinth of confusion and despair and I was slowly gluing back the pieces of my broken state. Ok. I know you didn’t sign up to read about my marriage breakdown or feeling lost and alone. A tad dramatic and self-indulgent, I must admit. But what is the point of telling you about my new travel adventures without giving you the full picture? Sure, it’s going be edited. That is a given. But do you really only just want to hear about me traipsing around Europe with blessed and wanderlust hashtags at the foot of my heavily filtered photos? I hope not.

You might have guessed from the title of this blog where I will be creating my new home. A home I hope will be filled with more brightness and love and less melancholy and anxiety. The city of lights and endless boulangeries. Haussmannian streets lined with handmade chocolate shops and specialty cheese stores; brassieres filled with people drinking un café in the morning (or wine) standing at the bar and greeting each other with two kisses; reading Le Monde and discussing everything from politics to theatre to sport. Oui. C’est Paris.

 

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