Yesterday was my second Fourth of July here in France. Expatriates around the world know the feeling: you’re in a place that’s become your home, but on a day like the Fourth, the separation from your homeland feels wider and the differences seem more pronounced. You seek out a way to feel as “American” as you can, no matter how far from America you are. And we all have our ways of doing that …
For example →
Last year, I decided to seek out an historic American bar here in Paris and toast America’s birthday with the drink special of the day: The General Washington. Unfortunately, it didn’t go exactly as I’d planned, and it almost ruined my day. This year, Michel and I decided instead to celebrate by having a picnic on the banks of the Seine with a group of our friends. We asked everyone to bring something quintessentially American or, in the alternative, to come dressed as an “American.” Knowing this particular group of friends and their penchant for dramatic flare, I was sure to have material for my next blogpost.
Our first guests to arrive, Gaël and Anthony, surprised us on the Pont des Arts, dressed as a cowboy and an Indian (the headgear, at least). You definitely won the costume award, guys. Bravo! Surprisingly, no one else braved the ridiculous — much to my chagrin, since I was desperately hoping for a Lady Liberty from this crowd; she is Franco-American, after all. Nevertheless, there were baseball caps, there were explanations for how a tee-shirt or some other article of clothing was American, and there was a lot of red, white, and blue. Hmm … or was that blue, white, and red? Oh, no matter, because the food was copious, and the beverages were free-flowing. Let’s see here, what was on the menu? We had …
- bottles and bottles and bottles of French rosé (okay, not so American)
- Coke Zero (quintessentially American)
- Tsingtao beer (not very American, but understandable given the Sino-American trade imbalance), and … <drum roll>
- Firefly sweet tea vodka with lemonade (an homage, not only to my country, but to my home state of South Carolina).
The spread was similarly eclectic …
- a zucchini and cheese soufflé-sort of thing (very, very Frahnshhh and very, very délicieux)
- a tuna tart (also not very American, unless that was Charlie the Tuna who was in there)
- pâté (clearly not American)
- chorizo (evidently Spanish)
- baguettes (carrément français)
- coleslaw (kind of German, really, but we do eat a lot of it)
- chips (getting closer)
- kettle corn (I think we probably invented that.)
- homemade cornbread fresh from Michel’s new oven (as American as bread comes) and then …
Our friend Alexis impressed us all with a homemade New York-style cheesecake that was, quite simply, to die for! Bravo, Alexis! You might have given Sugarplum a run for their money last night. Alexis’s creamy, tart creation was the first dessert to be served, and I was legitimately afraid that he was going to show me up at my own party!
<shooting a sideways glance at Alexis and his spring-form pan>
You see, I had slaved away all morning peeling, coring, and slicing Granny Smiths to make my pièce de resistance, the dessert that is traditionally “us” — traditionally “American“:
the apple pie
Now, I should preface this by saying that it was my very first attempt at baking an apple pie, and I was a bit nervous about how it would turn out. When I brought it out of the oven, though, I must say that I was pretty impressed with myself. I’d symbolically scored five vents in the top crust in the form of a big star and, instead of piercing the crust with a fork for more vents, I added thirteen little stars: thirteen little stars for the thirteen little colonies that fought against tyranny and against the odds to create one new, great nation. It was a beautiful golden brown and smelled wonderfully sweet, tart, and spicy, but I must admit, I was holding my breath and apologizing in advance as I cut into it and served it up. To my relief, though, it was a success with everyone who tasted it, and though I didn’t partake of it last night, I saved a slice and savored it with my morning coffee. Not too shabby, Mike. Not too shabby.
Looking back on it, what a great evening it was! One American, lounging on the banks of the Seine, toasting General Lafayette and General Washington, giving a little history lesson on the Franco-American alliance that helped us win our liberty, and even singing (sort of) the Star-Spangled Banner. I may have spent it surrounded by French, Chinese, and Italian friends, but my Fourth of July was, all the same, as American as apple pie. Thank you, my friends, for making it that way.
P.S. — One of my Twitter followers just reminded me that I should have included my recipe. So, here’s a link to the one I used, though I must admit that I only used it for the filling. I wasn’t going to make any pie crust … no way!
© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved