Nicole Howell | Paris, France | Post 2
I’ve officially been in Paris for six weeks, which means that I’m starting to transition from the “everything is new and I’m still adjusting” phase into a “everything is still new and I’m still adjusting, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it” phase. Those may sound like pretty much the same thing, but for me, the subtle difference means that while I’m still getting used to the French language and culture, I’m not totally thrown off guard when a random stranger on the street asks me for directions in French anymore (most of the time I can’t help them, but at least now when I can’t help them I can say that I’m sorry in a convincingly French accent!).
Speaking French all of the time is still really tough, but in the past six weeks I’ve accepted the fact that I’m going to make grammatical mistakes sometimes and misuse words other times, but that this is an inevitable part of learning and it’s not something that I should feel self-conscious about. I’ve had conversations with a couple of French people who have complimented my speaking ability and my accent already (someone even thought I was French when he first met me! A couple sentences in and it became very clear that that was not the case, but still, it was a nice moment), and those few encounters have really helped boost my confidence when going into conversations with other people as well! It’s still hard, and very trying at times, but all and all I would say that it’s been going pretty well!
Now, onto the real topic that I want to focus on in this blog post: food. Food is a huge part of the abroad experience, especially for someone like me who loves to cook and who has spent many a weekend night in at Vassar watching cooking shows with my friends. I live in a fairly fancy area of Paris with my host family, which means that there are a lot of renowned restaurants, boulangeries and pastry shops within walking distance of the apartment. This means that I can try melt-in-your-mouth caramels at Jacques Genin, have an amazing praline financier at Victor & Hugo, taste pistachio or caramel stuffed madeleines at Gilles Marchal, drink the best hot chocolate of my life or eat spoonfuls of crème de marron (an amazing dessert made of roasted chestnuts) at Angelina, or scarf down a really great chocolate croissant at Des Gateaux et Du Pain, all without even needing to take the metro! This set-up is obviously great for my aggressively active sweet-tooth, but not so great for my wallet… However, I’ve accepted the fact that the majority of my meal stipend here goes straight towards desserts, and honestly, I have no regrets.
Highly controversial opinion time: I’ve decided that I don’t really like eclairs, and that macarons are kind of overrated (delicious, but almost never worth the price). However, an exception to these rules is at the Patisserie Saduharu Aoki, where traditional French desserts are made using traditional Japanese ingredients. Once I stepped foot in that shop, there was no way that I could resist buying a wasabi macaron or a black sesame éclair; those flavor choices may sound daunting, but they were seriously incredible.
Last week, I went to a Food Festival called A Taste of Paris (not sure why the name was in English, but I digress…), and it was maybe the most magical place I have ever been to!
Some of the most renowned (aka Michelin-starred) French chefs were represented there, including Guy Savoy, Alain Ducasse, Frederic Anton and many more. The juxtaposition of some of the fanciest food I have ever eaten with the cheap paper plates that it was all served on that night was pretty amusing to me (and unfortunately didn’t make for the best commemorative photos), but let me tell you, it was incredible. I started the night with foie gras, then moved on to salmon confit, gnocchi with truffle shavings, tapioca “risotto”, and finished off with caviar and eggplant compote. And honestly, I don’t think I have the linguistic capacity- in French or in English- to describe what this food tasted like. This was my first experience with real “gourmet” food, and everything I ate that night was on a gastronomical level that I have never even gotten close to experiencing before. The food I ate that night could have come straight out of one of the many episodes of MasterChef that I watched with my suitemate last semester, except I’m inclined to think that some of it might have been better (though I wouldn’t really know if that’s accurate, because sadly I don’t have the necessary credentials to be a judge on that show).
All in all, I would say that I’ve been using my time–and my food stipend–fairly wisely (albeit quite frivolously) these past few weeks. And while the food has been a huge highlight so far, it’s only one part of the picture of what I’ve been up to. I’ve seen a couple of theatre productions, found a really cool jazz bar, visited some museums, and I even watched the Super Bowl from a French sports bar (now that was interesting…). The workload is getting more serious lately, which has been kind of a bummer, but luckily for me, a quick pick-me-up (in the form of chocolate croissant or stuffed madeleine) is always (literally) just around the corner!