Needing Paris.

“Paris is the sower. Where does he sow? In the shadows. What does he sow? Sparks. All that is, in the intellects scattered across the earth, catching flame here and there, and sparkling, is due to Paris. It is Paris that has kindled the magnificent blaze of progress.”

-Victor Hugo Paris*

Paris2014-78They say that if you stand on this spot, the center of Paris, right in front of Notre Dame, that you will return to Paris. I’ve made sure to stop there several times on each visit, stepping in that slightly lower indentation where multitudes of tourists have stood and hoped. Because to be in Paris is to hope to return. I can’t imagine it any other way.

Every time I have been in Paris has been a moment of transition in my life, a moment where the future yawned uncertainly and terrifyingly, even if excitingly, before me. The semester in college where so many things seemed changing in my life; the year after graduation where I had no clue what to do with my future; the summer before I moved to DC, wondering what would happen there, what would happen with James. Paris, that graceful, old, and unchanging city has been a constant in my life, the hovering constant that there was somewhere I could flee where I had been happy, where I could always be happy again. Paris was a safe place when I didn’t know how I wanted the future to look. Paris will always be that for me.

But this time, the life that I paused to come to Paris is different. Despite all the uncertainty with James being far away, it is a life that is consistent, full, stretching forward with some promise of where it is going. It is a life in which I am joyfully anchored, happily rooted. This means that while I will always want to go back to Paris, to explore its streets, to be with my Parisian friends, to revel in the French culture I love,  I feel freed from that painful need to stay there, that longing for it to be my home. I have a home that I don’t want to give up, not even for Paris. It feels just a little sad to say that, but it’s true.

I’m back in DC now, unpacking and pushing through the gross feeling of jet-lag combined with a month of eating almost exclusively pastries and cheese. It was sad to leave Paris and my friends, but the knowledge that I was leaving to come home, to come back to a life that I don’t want to give up to be elsewhere, that mediates  the sadness.

And on the other side of the ocean, Paris will remain constant, will always be Paris.
Paris2014-81*A friend loaned me this little book while I was there and I loved it. Total and ridiculous exaggeration written while Hugo was in exile, but wonderful nevertheless. There might have been a moment where Hugo declared that the “cry of golgotha found its fruition in the Declaration of the Rights of Man.” Hugo, you are out of control and I love you for it.

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Last days.

Some pictures and words from the last week in Paris. Paris2014-31//Place des Vosges, one of my absolute favorite areas of Paris. However I did go there to eat with friends last weekend and we had very… French… service. Which is to say that we only got our food once we threatened to get up and leave if it didn’t arrive soon. //Paris2014-38 Paris2014-39 Paris2014-176 //Last weekend my friend my friend Jonathan and I helped our friend Emma search for a new apartment. I thought that DC was bad when it came to finding a place, Paris redefines difficult.  I love apartment hunting (when it isn’t for me so I don’t have the stress of actually needing it) because it means you get to look in people’s homes and snooping is my favorite. By helping, I actually mean that we took lots of pictures of ourselves in all the cool spaces while Emma asked questions to get the information that actually matters. However, she found an apartment within the first day of searching so I do believe that our version of helping is legitimate. //Paris2014-188 Paris2014-183 Paris2014-193 Paris2014-196 Paris2014-197 Paris2014-199 Paris2014-203 //You know, I don’t ever want this to be one of those blogs where people look perfect all the time which is why I’m sharing that gem above. Whenever I sort through the photos on my camera I find so many like this: me being bossy and very descriptive about the photos I want taken. It’s how it is when you are usually the one on the other side of the lens.  Also, lest that hair tell a different story, I basically wore a sloppy bun all but two days I was there, both days being ones where I made sure to get in some photos. //Paris2014-205 Paris2014-207 Paris2014-208 Paris2014-209 Paris2014-210 //Ok, let’s talk about these. They are miniature cakes that are the speciality of Bretagne and I can’t even emphasize how good they are. Which is logical, since they are basically made out of butter. //Paris2014-212 Paris2014-215 Paris2014-217 //Musée Rodin is one of my favorites. The museum itself is lovely, but you can also just pay 2 euros and chill out in the garden, where many of Rodin’s famous works are found. I spent a lot of this visit in art museums. The Louvre, but also the Musée d’Orsay and Rodin. Paris reminds me of how much art matters to me, how rejuvenated being in the museums makes me feel. I could do it in DC, go to lots of museums, but I often don’t. In Paris, it just happens. For the first time in way too long, I dug out my sketchbook and pencils and filled it with master copies, sketches of sculptures, and pen and ink studies. I didn’t realize how much I had missed it.//Paris2014-219 Paris2014-221 Paris2014-223 //No visit to Paris is complete without a trek to the Eiffel Tower. Though it is cliché, to ignore it is to miss something that matters to Paris’ history, its identity, its personal story. I have been reading a bunch of the primary source documents about the tower and it is fascinating. The protest against it, accusing it with destroying the skyline, betraying Parisian taste, and sullying the nobility of the other monuments. The defense of it, reminding the worried artists that a skyline must be marked by each generation and that from the tower you can truly view all of Paris’ gems. And now, the tower is this city for many. And I love it, for its history, for its beauty, and for its power to conjure up an entire ethos. //Paris2014-225 Paris2014-226

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Bread and Wine, Chicken and Potatoes.

You have most likely been thinking (ok, not really, because you probably don’t spend tons of time reflecting on what I have or haven’t posted), that these Paris posts have been sorely lacking in one of my very most favorite things: food. Lest you be tempted to think that I have not been scarfing my way around the city, I have saved all of the my food crazy photos for this one post so that we can talk about food and books and life. As Simone de Beauvoir said in her memoirs of her earliest years:beauvoir

Amen girl. An important task indeed.Paris2014-22
Paris2014-29 Paris2014-101I love food, I love eating, and I love the community that gathers around the table, the counter, the kitchen floor, the picnic blanket, or the couch. I’ve been pretty open about that on this blog (what? You missed it? You are blind.), and for that reason, many of you have recommended Shauna Niequist’s book Bread and Wine. For those of you who haven’t read it, Niequist proposes to share “a love letter to life around the table,” highlighting the transcendental importance of gathering to share a meal.

There were several things I loved about this book. I loved the introduction, nodding and wanting to underline everything (I resisted, as it was a borrowed book) and considered painting phrases like this across my kitchen walls (also impossible, since we rent):Neiquist

There were a couple moving or humorous moments in the book, some great encouragements to love ourselves and our friends, and obviously I cried anytime she mentioned miscarriage or infertility struggles, because we are at that stage of life where so many of our friends have dealt with the heartache of childlessness through one way or the other that it always hits close to home.

But I kept feeling dissatisfied with the book, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why until this past week. Niequist supposedly is sharing stories, but the chapters didn’t really read like stories, like events that culminated in one dish that held in it’s taste the entire story. I wanted Proust’s madeleine and instead I got a series of mostly similar stories about how the author had lots of dinner parties and traveled a bunch. I can barely remember (and I read it on the flight here) the recipes, or distinct stories because they seemed kind of the same. Moreover, I found myself getting annoyed about the discontinuity that the book seemed to convey between her life and her mission. Her mission was to inspire us back to the table and kitchen to build simple community, to remind us of the “sacred and the material at once, the heaven and earth, the divine and the daily.”  Yet her chapters were full of perfect communities everywhere she went, trips abroad, parties with letter-pressed menu cards, and jobs and incomes that somehow facilitated constant entertainment status. And, as a friend pointed out, so much coffee and alcohol.

None of that is wrong, but for me the heart of food is it’s simplicity, it’s democracy, and her introduction made me think that was where she was going. Everybody eats. Even the lonely, even the undomestic, even the person who never travels. I felt like that simple message got a little lost in her lofty spiritual ambitions to remind us that the Word became flesh, which became a meal that we are called to remember. I didn’t want a recipe that was at one point served at a dinner party to great success; I wanted a story that evolved into something tangible.Paris2014-137

I wanted it to be more like Molly Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life, the stories and memories of which are burned so vividly in my brain that I absolutely insisted on eating a salad lyonnaise while in Lyon. She made me taste it with her story of eating it and I had to turn those words into reality. Paris2014-27

I wanted it to be more like Deb’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, where, even if not a memoir, every recipe starts with the story that produced it. Because that is what our stories do, they drive us to the table and inspire what we spread across it. In one of my favorite recipes from Deb’s book, she recreates roasted chicken and potatoes similar to something she had in Paris. Not from a restaurant, but purchased from a street vendor that sells rotisserie chickens and the buttery potatoes cooked in their drippings. Deb’s description of that taste, that feeling, that greasy bag that she carried back to their apartment, stayed with me and last week, I had to have one of those chickens. I bought my chicken, carried it home through the cobblestone streets and ate it with two friends at the kitchen table. There were no place cards, no menus, not even any real cooking, since we paired it with salad and baguette. But we stayed around that table for a while, reaching back into the put to pull out one more potato, one last bite of chicken. And that is the point: to be nourished, body and soul.Paris2014-159 Paris2014-161 Paris2014-164 Paris2014-165

There is a beauty in food, in eating, in cooking, and Bread and Wine certainly got that right. But there is also a simplicity in it, a roughness, a reality, a concrete story that I felt she missed. I think by basing her title and premises on the miracle of the incarnation, she forgot that it ended in simple things. Bread and wine, earthly things, un-grand, everyday things. In her focus to drive us back to the table, she forgot that food, the community it inspires, and the stories it brings forth in us, aren’t limited to the table. They are in the to-go meal in the car that you laugh over on a road-trip, the pizza on the couch that is a Friday night tradition, the toast eaten alone with a book and a blanket at the end of a long day. These too are worthwhile, these too matter. Paris2014-51Anyone else read it? What are your thoughts?

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A splash of blue.

Paris2014-15Despite my general attraction towards warm and bright colors, I am totally obsessed with the vibrant blue that is splashed all over Paris. I just can’t get enough of the blue doors that are on so many doors in this city. I am maybe already contemplating what I can paint a deep and rich blue when I get back. This will be made slightly more difficult by our rental status, but surely there is something in our apartment that could benefit from a bold blue coat. Right?

In the meantime, here are some of the blue doors that have been filling up my camera these days.
Paris2014-14Paris2014-23 No really — this is an entire post of a bunch of blue doors that look almost identical. Aren’t you just so glad that I took up space on the Internet with this today? You’re welcome. Paris2014-44 Paris2014-135As can be seen, sometimes bold blue doors make me so excited that I awkwardly half curtsy (?) in front of them.
Paris2014-154 Paris2014-156 Ok fine, I know that one is more like mint/ robin’s egg blue, but it was too pretty to leave out. Paris2014-192Paris2014-157Paris2014-172Ok people, I’m serious: how can I get some of this color all over my home/wardrobe/life? Ideas?

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Glimpses and Belonging.

Paris2014-96 Paris2014-99 Paris2014-100 //Yes, I realize that those first couple pictures are very similar to each other. I promise I really did cut out at least a hundred more of almost the same thing. I am also pretty sure that I have similar pictures from the other times I have been here, but I just can’t help it. It just overtakes me, you know? The beauty of the streets, the curved lamps, the old buildings. I can’t stop myself from wanting to hold on to it.//Paris2014-131 Paris2014-133 //The past couple times I have been here, my friend Emma and I have been on the search for the best Paris tea rooms. This time around, we slipped into brunch, a natural continuation of this brunch stage of life that we are all at. We went to a great place in Montmartre the first week and loved Marlette in the 9th last weekend.//Paris2014-139 Paris2014-143 // Please ignore the — as my friend Nancy describes them — chicken finger bangs that I have going on there, and focus instead on that pretty lady next to me, my brother Zach’s girlfriend Liz. My brothers happen to be excellent judges of women, a quality I like to take credit for, as they grew up  with me, the epitome of female grace and poise. Ok, not really. But they have brought some great ladies into our lives. My brother Lyman JUST GOT ENGAGED LAST WEEK, and when I saw the text at around 4am, I did a little happy dance. (Why was I up, you ask? Because Paris had a crazy heat spell, doesn’t believe in AC, and I was having those weird heat-induced night wanderings that inevitable end in me trying to climb inside the refrigerator to cool off.) Liz got to spend one night with me in Paris as she passed through on her way elsewhere. She also left me with a bag of chocolates and pink champagne, an excellent anniversary dinner that I enjoyed on Tuesday.//Paris2014-145 Paris2014-147 Paris2014-163 Paris2014-167 //Oh Paris, you are that perfect blend of strict order and rebellion, people who like to wait in line just so they can cut, a country that loves rules so that they can break them, embraces red tape so they can find ways to avoid it. Spent an afternoon reading and enjoying these perfect lines in the Palais Royal.//Paris2014-168 Paris2014-170//I firmly believe that the best investment for anyone who is spending more than a couple weeks in Paris, loves art, and is 18-30, is a Louvre Carte Jeune. It is the price of just a couple visits, gives you unlimited access to everything and allows you to skip those horrible lines that make you want to lay down and be trampled by tourists. It also frees you up to stop in just for an hour, rather than trying to squeeze the whole museum in a day. If you try the latter, you will inevitably get lost in the Egyptian Antiquities section and you will never, ever, EVER make it out. Seriously. No matter where you enter the museum, you will wind up with the mummies and will consider climbing inside an ancient sarcophagus and weeping quietly until you pass into the afterlife. With my pass, I have been hitting the Louvre pretty regularly (sorry Instagram followers… I know it has kind of been a Louvre-Love overload recently), breaking out my sketchpad and throwing myself back into art. Those sketches, pathetic though some of them are, are my favorite souvenirs of this city, tangible reminders of afternoons spent in one of my favorite spaces.//Paris2014-149//Sometimes, if beautiful light starts slipping through the kitchen window where I am staying, I dash out the back door of my building and sprint up 7 flights of stairs to watch the sunset from the floor where I used to live. It feels right up there, comfortable over the city.

A friend of mine recently asked me a question on Facebook, and I’ve been mulling it over since. She wanted to know if people here know I’m American, or if they think I’m French. It’s a touchy question for someone who loves a place so much, who has spent so much of her life learning this infernally picky language. I am proud to say that people, with the occasional rude exception because this is, after all, Paris, do not ever switch to English for me, or approach me an automatically assume I must be spoken to in not French. That is a win. Yet I know that for Parisians, I don’t pass as French. One time a group of Chinese school girls did cluster around me eating quiche on a bench and ask for a photo with the French girl… but they weren’t French.  My height, my accent (not American, I have been told, but still an accent), my masculine/ feminine noun mistakes (something that will probably stay with me FOREVER because we just don’t do that in English), my desire to comb my hair and match my clothes, my open infatuation with this city and my irrepressible desire to smile at everyone because SMILING’S MY FAVORITE  — all these things mark me as not from here.

And I think I’m ok with that. I am not from here. I have my own story and history and homeland and nationality. Why would I want to ignore all that? I can be understood, appreciated, eloquent, and perceptive of this culture. That’s enough. I actually have a special sort of disgust that I reserve for Americans who love to gush on Facebook and elsewhere about how much they hate America and how they actually “belong” somewhere else, how they imagine themselves as British or French or ______ because they spent a semester or a year abroad there. That’s ridiculous, especially if you didn’t speak the language, because that probably meant you hung out with expats the whole time. Who we are is a lifetime of accumulated experiences, and that doesn’t change, shouldn’t change, that fast. I think the whole world would be better off if people had the humility to both love where they are from, and also appreciate where they are going.

So back to this view, this view I called my own for a year and that keeps drawing me back. I am not, and will never be from here. But if loving something so much can make you belong to it, than at least I have that. //


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A love like cotton.

Today I celebrate two years of marriage with the best man I know.486288_605209718426_1507032487_n

They say that the second year is the cotton anniversary, which I initially thought ridiculous. Who wants cotton? Also, who pays attention to those lists anyway?

Still, the more I think about my two-year old marriage, this still-young, still largely untried, still exciting thing, cotton seems right. Less brittle than the paper marriage of year one, but still far from being hardened into iron or gold, still far from obtaining the refinement of lace or china, incapable yet of the status of a diamond.602833_605211854146_27482189_n

Two years in, we are cotton. Comfortable, stronger than we look, not fancy, but still good, still right. Cotton is durable, cotton is flexible, cotton can still be easily cleaned to get out spots and stains. Cotton doesn’t wrinkle as easily as the linen of later years. Cotton shakes out and starts afresh, every day.

I’m ok with being at the cotton year. It makes sense for where we are as a team.

Because really, the team aspect of marriage is what means the most to me right now. We are every much equal players in this marriage. When I look back over this past year, I think of all the times that he stood up for me, and I for him. I think about James sitting in the back row of one of my academic conferences, already knowing the paper by heart as he had read and critiqued draft after draft. I think of his call while I was in KY, telling me that I had three days to go out and find a car because he needed one in his new job. I think about the countless nights up late working separately, and then coming together to review each others’ work, asking the hard questions and demanding each others’ best. I think if his dogged support of my career and dreams, which often far surpasses my own zeal. I think of the times I came home from grad school with some ridiculous new notion or idea on my mind and he made me defend it, question its truth and make it my own. I think of the tough decisions we made this year to support each other in whatever our professions throw at us, and the daily decisions we made to stay strong as a team. I think of the day I drove away from our little home in DC, knowing that he wouldn’t be there when I got back and trying to be strong for our team. I think of the fact that we are celebrating this anniversary an ocean apart, but still each supporting the other.


Every marriage is different, just as every person is different, and part of growing up is seeing our friends blossoming in relationships that look nothing alike. Two years in, all I know is that I’m happy I have this one, happy to be part of this team, happy to be becoming us more everyday.

When I look forward at the list of anniversaries, starting from paper, and growing stronger and more valuable through wood and tin and precious stones, it is tempting to think that year two seems insignificant, mere cotton in the face of might and value. But then I turn away and look at my marriage. Maybe we all underestimate the strength of young, untried marriages, and maybe we would do well to look to them, not for their strength or prestige, but for their comfort and ease, for the ways in which they mimic their traditional gifts. Maybe we underestimate cotton. It is better than it looks, stronger than it looks, more wearable, durable, and lovely than it looks. Here’s to a love like cotton, one fit for being worn every day and standing up to every challenge.

Happy Anniversary husband. Let’s try to be in the same country, state, and city sometime soon so we can eat ourselves sick on doughnuts and hold hands on walks.734834_605209778306_1911686732_n*Wedding photos by Whitney Neal Photography.

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Paris2014-103 Sometimes it’s surprising how life twists back around upon itself, winding in coils that have you revisiting things you thought you had left, re-finding connections that would have seemed preposterous if proposed initially. Last week I went to visit my friend Marilyne in Lyon, and the fact that she and I are friends can only be described as one of those strange coincidences that fills the lives of those who believe in greater perspectives. Her mom grew up in the same tiny town where my family is from before moving to France after college. She eventually married a Frenchman who would become a pastor of a tiny church in northern Paris and have three daughters. Years later, I moved to France and sought that church out, only to find within its walls the French people who I still love today, including her daughter Marilyne, who had even briefly attended the same elementary school as me during a year with her aunt in Kentucky. Paris2014-104 But it didn’t stop there. Marilyne eventually fell in love and the two came to visit me in DC before spending Thanksgiving and Christmas eve with my family in Kentucky. And then on Christmas eve, in the same spot where I would celebrate my wedding 7 months later, Ismaël proposed. They visited James and I on their American honeymoon, squeezing into our little home. And now, a year later, I took the train down to Lyon to spend a couple days in their little home, letting life twist back on itself again. Paris2014-105 Here are some snippets from my quick trip to Lyon.Paris2014-107 Paris2014-108 Paris2014-109 Paris2014-110//Let’s be honest: I am kind of a Paris snob. I have visited other places in France, but I do tend to stick to Paris. But oh man, was Lyon lovely. We ate the first night at a guingette beside the river, a nice break from the noise of Paris, and I spent most of my visit just marveling at how clean, lovely, green, and hilly Lyon is. //Paris2014-112 Paris2014-113Paris2014-115 Paris2014-116//The view the hill overlooking the city… and the walk down.//Paris2014-117 Paris2014-118 Paris2014-119 Paris2014-120 Paris2014-121 Paris2014-122 //As France jumped from cold to SO HOT in like a day, we obviously had to stop for ice-cream before noon. We stumbled on the cutest place in the old part of the city that had at least a million flavors, among which were exciting things like the one I am holding that is poppy flavored. As in the flower. Made into ice cream. Poppy also happens to be one of my favorite French words – coquelicot – and, surprisingly, I don’t usually get to use it.//Paris2014-125 Paris2014-126 //Sunlight through stained-glass slays me every time. // Paris2014-128 Paris2014-129//À la prochaine, Lyon. Till next time. //

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