That was one FAT Tuesday!

Last year, I wrote a fairly popular article about Mardi Gras. In it, I talked about the HBO series Treme, my attraction to the city of New Orleans, the history of Mardi Gras celebrations there, and the story of my first attempt at making a New Orleans King Cake. It was really quite informative and pretty entertaining. (In case you missed it, that was a plug for you to go read it. Go ahead … you can get to it from here.) The article got a lot of hits this Mardi Gras season, too, apparently from people searching for the correct way to pronounce “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” — that infamous Cajun expression that absolutely no one says in France … except for Americans!

To be honest, last year’s attempt at making a New Orleans King Cake here in France bore almost no resemblance to the real thing. Since we didn’t have an oven, we had to depend on the local bakery for our brioche, and they just don’t make brioche here in Paris in the form of a ring or crown. On top of that, we couldn’t find colored sugar or the right food colorings at the local supermarket, so we improvised with candied fruit. And in place of the little plastic Baby Jesus, we used a ceramic Virgin Mary, the fève from one of our several galettes des rois from the Epiphany season. The result — as delicious as it most certainly was — looked more like a shrine to Our Lady of Candy Land than a King Cake.

King Cake à la je parle américaine—You have to work with what you've got! © 2012 Michel Denis Pouradier
King Cake à la je parle américaine — You have to work with what you’ve got! © 2012 Michel Denis Pouradier

This year, I tried my hand at it once again, and the result was a much better approximation of the real thing. Continue reading That was one FAT Tuesday!

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Love knows no boundaries.

The moment is finally here. This week, the French National Assembly started debate on proposed legislation that would, among other things, finally extend marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples. That’s why another demonstration for equality was organized for Sunday afternoon, in the wake of January 13’s demonstration against it. Continue reading Love knows no boundaries.

You Can’t Go Home Again

The title of Thomas Wolfe’s novel You Can’t Go Home Again has become an expression — better known than the novel itself — to describe nostalgia for a bygone lifestyle after moving on to something else … something “bigger” … something “better.” I first left my little hometown of Bishopville many years ago, first to go to a residential high school not too far away, then to college three hours away, then to grad school six hours away, and then to work in DC seven hours away. I came out of the closet, I went back to law school, I became a “big city lawyer” in DC, I met a Frenchman and married him, and then I pulled up stakes and went off to lead a bohemian life in Paris. Even after all of that, I still wonder how true that expression is —

Can I really not go home again?

Continue reading You Can’t Go Home Again

The Versailles of Cafés

I just happened to be passing through Place de l’Opéra this afternoon when I was reminded of a place I definitely ought to share with you. Now, to set this up properly, imagine that you’re standing in Place de l’Opéra. The first thing you notice, of course, is the Paris Opéra house, its gilded rooftop statuary glimmering against a blue sky (or gray as the case usually is this time of year). As you turn counterclockwise to look down the avenues that converge there, you next catch sight of Place Vendôme to the southwest, and the column erected there to commemorate Napoléon’s victory at Austerlitz. Continuing counterclockwise toward the southeast, you then make out the gray slate rooftop of the Louvre at the far end of avenue de l’Opéra. Finally, turning back towards the northeast and peering up the boulevard des Capucines you glimpse a familiar green sign:

Starbucks-Capucines

Now, before you throw up your hands and tell me how ridiculous I’m being … what you don’t know is that there is a real gem hidden behind those doors.
Continue reading The Versailles of Cafés

Marchons, marchons

Sunday, December 16 was a big day in the streets of Paris.
It was the day of …

La Manifestation pour l’Égalité
The March for Equality

© 2012 Agissons pour l'égalité
© 2012 Agissons pour l’égalité

About a month ago, I posted an article here about the current debate in France over marriage equality and other family rights for LGBT persons. The government of President François Hollande had just announced a proposed law that would open civil marriage to same-sex couples, and the reaction was quick and malicious. Less than two weeks after the announcement, the opposition took to the streets in Paris and other French cities and — spouting blatant lies and disgusting innuendo about people like me — made their minority view very much heard. The demonstration in Paris even turned physically violent in the face of counter-protest. It was enough to sadden us and anger us … but it was also enough to motivate us to take to the streets ourselves on Sunday afternoon to make our voices heard. Continue reading Marchons, marchons

Three Parisian Thanksgivings


My first Thanksgiving as an expat was in 2010.  It was the first time spending this quintessentially American holiday in France, so I really wanted to go all out and impress my French family with a traditional Thanksgiving experience. I even posted a little article from French Wikipedia on Facebook for them, explaining what Thanksgiving was — that it’s about more than just parades, football games, and oven-roasted turkey. Then I ran off to a little American épicerie in the Marais (incidentally called “Thanksgiving”) and loaded up on the traditional fixin’s. Here’s my Facebook status from November 24, 2010, pretty much summing up my grocery list: Continue reading Three Parisian Thanksgivings

Nuit Blanche

I’ve been wanting to write about this French expression for a while now, and I finally have the occasion!

Nuit blanche is the French expression for an “all-nighter” — literally “white night.” It refers to a night when you don’t sleep at all, and it could result from any of several reasons — including, importantly for  a student, staying up all night cramming for a test. But for most French, I suspect, a nuit blanche is associated with partying all night long!

<cue Lionel Ritchie>

Since 2002, “La Nuit Blanche” has been used to refer to an annual all-night arts festival in Paris. Every October, the city’s museums, art galleries, and cultural centers open to the public free of charge for an entire night. In fact, the City of Light truly lives up to its nickname by turning itself into an outdoor art gallery with performance spaces and art installations all over the place. The history of La Nuit Blanche is long, but it seems to have been inspired initially by Helsinki’s 1989 “Night of the Arts” and the subsequent wave of such nocturnal arts festivals across Europe. You can click here for some of the history of La Nuit Blanche, and here for a guide to Paris’s most recent festivities on October 6 of this year.

My nuit blanche this week was just a bit different, though …

Continue reading Nuit Blanche

Sugar Daze

Two big things happened in my life this week:

I reached the weight loss
goal I’d set for myself earlier this year …

… and I celebrated that fact with the best cupcakes
an American can find in Paris!

Back in July, you see, a blogger friend embarked on an epic a quest to find the best cupcakes in Paris and document the results for the world. Incidentally — perhaps fortunately for me — this all came about when I was also embarking on an epic quest … to lose the 25 pounds I’d packed on since coming to live in France. (Blasted croissants!) I say “fortunately” because I was forced to indulge vicariously in my friend’s cupcake caper … instead of following in her wake and packing on yet another 5 pounds!

Nevertheless, as soon as I reached my weight loss goal on Thursday, I knew exactly how I was going to celebrate. I dug out Nikki email’s announcing the champion of the cupcake competition, and I went in search of my victory prize at Sugar Daze! Continue reading Sugar Daze

Hot Dogs, Bagels, and Sticker Shock

I often complain about sticker shock in France, and with good reason. Everything here — except for French wine — is more expensive than it is back in the States. Part of the explanation for that is the TVA (or VAT, “value added tax” in English), which approaches 20% for some things. Another reason is that the cost of production is just higher here. For an American, the sticker shock can sometimes be eye-popping, even before converting the price you’re looking at into dollars. Translation: to appreciate the true impact on your wallet, tack on another 30% if you’re spending money you earned in dollars.

I commented on this most recently in my post about the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. Everybody already knows that the prices at Starbucks are simply outrageous, but Starbucks in Europe is just a whole other story. I mean, a tall latte for $6 is off the rails — not that it prevented me from buying one last week. After all, c’est la vie here in France; after a while, you just get used to it. These days, I’m completely accustomed to paying $3.50 for an espresso and $14 for a cocktail, getting one hour of talk time with unlimited texts and data for $60 a month, and thinking that a $12 Chipotle burrito isn’t too bad a price.

But last week, I stumbled across this: Continue reading Hot Dogs, Bagels, and Sticker Shock

Pumpkin Spice!

A few weeks ago, I noticed certain posts popping up on Facebook that made me wax nostalgic for fall in America. They were all about the arrival of:

The Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

© 2011 Starbucks Corporation

Ah, the memories of that delectable autumnal con-coction that has eluded me now for years! Living here in France and rarely traveling back to my homeland between September and December, I had resigned myself to the likelihood that I might never again savor this cinnamon- and nutmeg-laced libation to the gods of falling leaves. After all, I knew from firsthand experience that the French don’t quite understand the pumpkin … at least not a sweet, spiced one …

You see, on my very first Thanksgiving in France, I was psychologically scarred by my French family. Back in 2010, I decided to treat them to a real American Thanksgiving dinner. I even went to an American specialty store in the Marais (called Thanksgiving, by the way) to get all the necessary ingredients to make a real Thanksgiving feast. Now, my French family simply adored the stuffing and the homemade cranberry sauce. The pumpkin pie, on the other hand, well … it just confused them:

“Hmm. Interesting. It would make a good appetizer. You know, with a side salad,” was my sister-in-law’s reaction.

Alrighty then … no more pumpkin pies for the Frenchies. Continue reading Pumpkin Spice!