Somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city…

Dearest reader,

Gosh, it’s been a long time! Too long it seems, as I had to dust the metaphorical cobwebs off just to log in to my WordPress account. In the time since we last spoke I made a pretty big move, from Paris to Bloomington, Indiana. It hasn’t been easy, though it hasn’t been terrible either. I’m firmly of the mind that happiness is what you make of it, and that one can be happy anywhere. Perhaps not Antarctica or a war zone, but you know what I mean. I’m here for about a year, writing my dissertation on a fellowship while B teaches and finishes up some of his obligations at a large university nearby. That is officially too much information for a pseudo-anonymous blog, but there you go. I’ve got scads and scads of unstructured time and heaps of work to do in it, a combination that has more often than not leads to some very bad, very un-grown-up behavior. I’m not completely feral yet, but I have noticed that my work clothes are identical to my gym clothes, which are also identical to my sleep clothes. The Marais feels far away indeed.

Our last few weeks in Paris in July were rather melancholy. Most everyone we knew had either departed permanently or was on one of those achingly long and delicious vacations that Europeans take in the summer, so it was pretty much just B and me killing time. It was a record-breakingly wet summer, so my plans that we spend the month of July drinking Campari cocktails and working on our tans at Paris Plage were quickly dashed, as it rained nearly every day. We also found ourselves in a bit of a money pickle, what with the cost of moving internationally and our traveling in the spring. So those final days we were living pretty frugally, to say the least. That is to say, when we weren’t living frugally, like the day I managed to drop about a hundred euros at Dehillerin on Laguoile cheese knives and silicone trays for making madeleines and cannelés bordelais (which, um, I’ll get to making, someday), or the day when I bought a heap of antique lithographs and Turkish kilim pillow covers at the flea market. I think I was hoping that if I insulated my future digs with enough things from Paris, I wouldn’t miss it so much.

Most days we would trudge over the Louvre in rain (tough life) and continue our increasingly manic quest to tour the entire damn thing. We succeeded in the end, though I’ll admit that certain sections are just a delirious blur in my memory.

I cooked a lot of rabbit and boudin noir, and we ate rillettes and cheese for many meals. Every morning we ate croissants from our local bakery Huré, and most afternoons I would insist on a Paris Brest or a chocolate éclair with my afternoon coffee. Many evenings were spent with books, a bottle of wine, and a plate of charcuterie at our favorite caves. I probably gained ten pounds that month as a result of constantly saying “I won’t be able to eat this ever again!” We took a lot of long walks, went to see a bunch of Buñuel movies, and I cried a lot on various bridges.

Inexplicably, in our final weeks in Paris a magical thing happened. We were suddenly at home. Our neighbors chatted with us, the ladies that worked in the button shop downstairs joked around when we came through. Our baker, our vegetable man, our seafood lady, that guy that owned the bookshop down the road — everyone suddenly knew us and made small talk on the street. We got into long conversations with strangers while we hung out in bars, or sat in cafes, and or waited outside the cinema. The women at the market where I shopped every week knew what kind of lettuce I wanted to buy before I told them, and the man at the butcher shop where I bought our rotisserie chickens knew I wanted enough potatoes for two people without asking.

In short we were suddenly, amazingly, after two years, a real part of the community. And then we had to leave. I think that was the most heartbreaking part of the whole thing, and the part that has made it really hard for me to come back to writing here. In the end we said goodbye to Paris, for now. But I’m happy that I left plenty of things on my list for future visits, and I’m comforted that Paris is one of those cities that only gets better as you get older.

Our move was a real monster, as we both had things in storage with our respective families. We shipped (gulp) thirteen boxes of books to the States and managed to carry the rest of our junk in our luggage (it helped that we had sent a lot of stuff back with assorted visitors throughout the spring and summer). Upon arriving stateside with miraculously none of our precious glassware or ceramics in pieces (and a giant gratuitous bottle of Aperol to boot), we then managed to drive through ten states in the course of the month of August. B worked out that we spent more time in the car than we did in any one stationary location. We took a little jaunt to Santa Fe and Taos for B’s thirtieth birthday, which was lovely. I’d really like to tell you about it because I’m so in to New Mexican food it’s kind of crazy, but that has to be another entry for another day.

After seemingly endless schlepping we made it to Bloomington, where we quickly discovered that the little 1930s Craftsman-style house we are renting had fleas. I don’t know if you have ever had fleas, dear reader, but I’ll go on the record as saying that it was quite possibly one of the most annoying things that has ever happened to me. How generations of garret-dwelling 19th century artists and writers dealt with this and didn’t lose their goddamn minds is beyond me. We only made it through by pretending that we were Baudelaire and occasionally sleeping at B’s sister’s house. It took fumigating our house with six rounds of bug bombs and vacuuming and cleaning every day like madmen before we finally got rid of the little buggers, and I still feel assume that every piece of lint and pencil shaving I see is a flea waiting to bite me. I now officially understand what is meant by “the heebie-jeebies.” So September was written off to parasites, as I for one could think and talk about nothing else. I’d tell you to try it sometime, but I wouldn’t wish a flea infestation on my worst enemy.

The following months flew by, with a little trip to California and visits to Colorado and Michigan for the holidays punctuating long periods of rather solitary writing on my part. I’m a jerk and a half to complain about having nothing but time to research and write, but I’m finding it hard to feel purposeful and excited about my work everyday. The town we are living in is lovely, but this work is very lonely. I find myself talking a little too long to the cashier at the coffee shop or the grocery store. Thank goodness for the convention of Midwestern small talk, or I’d be a goner. I miss teaching, even teaching those crazy and disorganized classes at the university in Paris, where I did (as silly as it sounds) feel like I was making some kind of an impact on my students. But I’m deep in my writing now and it makes for good company on the days I let it. I suspect that what I’m writing it only feels stupid because I’ve been thinking about it so long, and some days it actually feels okay. On the days it doesn’t, I keep running over the final passage of the Great Gatsby in my head: “Gatsby believe in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther…” Writing well and with discipline may not really be an ‘orgiastic future,’ but I do find reassurance in the idea that tomorrow I will be better than I was today if I keep trying.

For those of you that have dozed off already or are wondering where in the hell all the food talk has gone, I’m still eating! Say what you will about the Midwest, the produce and the meat here in Southern Indiana are to die for, and I’m a happy camper in the food department, especially at home in a kitchen four times the size of our little culinary closet in Paris. We’ve been cooking up a storm with the welcome addition of some lovely culinary tools and cookbooks from Santa, including a stand mixer, an ice cream maker, the new Silver Spoon, and two tomes by Yotam Ottolenghi. And I still get my mandatory offal fixes, like when B took me to the oh-so-lovely Restaurant Tallent here in town for my birthday last month.  Veal sweetbreads and seared foie gras never tasted so good.

So thanks for coming back, my friend, and I hope you stay even though my life has gotten exceedingly less glamorous in the past six months. Thanks especially to An Accidental Expat for his kind comment that prompted me to write today, and to M, whose gentle prods about the blog make me hope that she hasn’t banished me from her Google reader just yet. I’ll be back soon!

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3 comments

  1. The Accidental Expat

    Just happy to move the creative process along… welcome back. Having graduated from a Large Midwestern University myself (go Boilers), my recollections of Indiana include the agricultural seed and insecticide TV advertisements in Spring, and the sheer proliferation of basketball hoops on every garage– definitely a far cry from Buffalo. Midwestern folks are the salt of the Earth, and I have many good memories from my time there.

  2. lesbonsbonsdesraisons

    Most of the people I know act as though I’ve moved to Mars, but I’m finding the Midwest to be distinctively delightful. People really are friendlier, beer is cheaper, and they keep all the best corn for the locals. Granted I’m living in a rather liberal enclave, but I think some of the coastal arugula-eaters out there are far too judgmental of the so-called Red states and their denizens. Thanks again, AE, for your kind kick in the ass. 🙂

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