Are you guys still following Monsieur Bigoudis’ photos on flickr? Just because I fancy myself a decent photographer nowadays (snort) doesn’t mean that you still shouldn’t be looking at the real deal on a regular basis. In particular, I’m loving her work from a trip to Japan this past spring:
Sigh. I have such a totally rose-colored romance about Japan, likely the result of watching Sans Soleil a few too many times. It’s totally at the top of my travel wish list, no thanks to M’s gorgeous images of her trip.
My girl also recently clued me in to a little YouTube gem: Wim Wenders’ documentary about the people who make the wax food replicas that decorate many of the entrances of restaurants around Japan (and Japanese restaurants the world over). Too too cool.
Hope you are having a great weekend, sweet reader. Let’s hook up for ramen later, yes?
After two summers in France—scampering around Parc Belleville trying to get a view of the Bastille Day fireworks and glumly eating hamburgers at Maison Mère on July 4th proper—we were pretty hungry for some good old-fashioned American pyrotechnic patriotism. So this past weekend we headed up to Michigan to the lake where B’s folks live and spent two lazy days swimming, boating, boozing, and eating guacamole and barbecued chicken until we were cross-eyed (well, the last one might have been just me). On Saturday night, we headed out on the pontoon boat and gleefully lay underneath a fantastic fireworks display, close enough to the action that ashes fell on our faces. Afterward we made s’mores around a fire, chatting until the wee hours of the night with friends and family. It was pretty idyllic, if I do say so myself.
I’ve gotten my July 4th rocks off, so to speak, but nevertheless we’re having a little shindig here in Bloomington tonight to celebrate this most red-white-and-blue of all holidays, Wednesday or not. We were originally planning a barbecue in the early afternoon, but a week of 100 degree plus days has meant that standing outside around a grill would surely have killed off any ambient patriotism, not to mention the grillmaster. I’d give my kingdom for central air conditioning! Anyway, we shifted to cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and porch-sitting this evening. I conceded spicy pickled okra to B, he conceded that I could make a joke about “sangria of our forefathers” as much as I wanted. I’ve heard a rumor that one of my friends is bringing hot pink, pickled, devilled eggs, a down-home recipe from her West Virginia family. Be still my heart. I’ll provide documentary evidence if such a thing does materialize.
In the meantime, I hope wherever this finds you, dear reader, that you’re staying cool and wearing your sunscreen. And to the Americans out there (both at home and abroad), may you find yourself with a drink in hand and firework ashes on your face.
Penned inside this enclosed microcosm in which everybody knows everybody, condemned without the possibility of escape or relief to live with others, beneath the gaze of others every individual experiences deep anxiety about ‘people’s words.’
– Pierre Bourdieu, “Différences et distinctions” 1966.
It’s strange to return to your blog’s statistics page after months of inactivity, especially when you discover all the myriad ways people arrive at your site while you are busy ignoring it. A lot of people arrive here searching for Aperol, Pasolini, the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Picasso in his marinière, and—a wee bit puzzlingly—piñata sex. But however they arrive, I’ll take it. Today somebody got here from a Paris-based wine blog’s entry about Breizh Café written in the spring of last year. My Hungerdome regarding some local crêperies received one of links in this oenophile’s annotated bibliography on the subject, which reads as follows:
A 2008 piece on Breizh Café @ DavidLebovitz, containing the benign authorial blunder of complaining about hipsters (really? in the Marais? how hip? hipster complaints invariably demonstrate an anxiety about cool equal to or greater than that which the author purports to disdain in those about whom he is complaining)
A recent comparison of Breizh Café and West Country Girl @ LesBonsBonsdesRaisons, unfortunately written in the voice of a 9-year-old game show host. (It also contains complaints about Marais hipsters. It’s like people walk into the Marais and turn into frowning Mormons, or something.)
Wow! This is a series of amazing firsts for me. First off, David Lebovitz is an unofficial deity among Paris food writers, so this is surely the first time anyone has ever voluntarily mentioned anything I’ve written and anything he’s done in the same breath. Secondly, I can’t say that I’ve ever been likened to 9-year-old game show host OR a frowning Mormon, much less in the same paragraph. I’m pleased, however, to finally have such a canny explanation for the deep lines that mysteriously arrived on my forehead during the two years I lived in the Marais (though admittedly not in the “nicer more genteel” neighborhood surrounding Breizh but rather smack dab in across the street from that shower show). It’s from anxiously scowling at all those goshdarn hipsters day in and day out! Thank goodness that Pierre has come back from the grave to diagnose old David and me!
Obviously I’m showing my thin skin here, but this did feel rather like being inexplicably kicked by a stranger on a crowded subway car. I recognize the impulse to link to other better-trafficked blogs of niche celebrities like Lebovitz, Clotilde Dusoulier, or Deb Perelman in an attempt to drum up traffic for one’s own writing, but I’m genuinely bewildered why someone would be compelled to shit on my unobtrusive and mostly uninhabited corner of the internet. Aren’t there bigger fish to fry? I guess there isn’t much more to say about it besides that, but it left a nasty taste in my mouth all afternoon.
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!
I just arrived home from a great trip with B’s family to Ireland and Scotland. Sneek peek: you’re about to witness a big ol’ UK offal mess up in here. I ate haggis people! And loved it! It’s taking me a little while to compile everything, however. In the meantime, I think you should spend some quality time with some new blogs made by lovely people I happen to know in real life too. Foodies should head directly to my friend A’s amazing food blog The Secret Menu, where she has been writing knockout accounts of her cooking adventures, complete with some seriously yummy recipes. I’ve riffed on a few of her terrific ideas recently and let’s just say that this blog is most hilarious way to get yourself out of a cooking (or dissertation writing) slump. Her entries are getting picked up all over the place and I think she’s just about to blow up big. Now you can say you were following her before she went viral.
Secondly! My dear friend S, who I’m sure you remember from this here blarg, has started a smart tumblr called Techno-Utopias. S is basically the super-hip art history professor that we all wish we had had in college, but didn’t. Instead we ended up with Professor Cobwebs and his recycled lectures from twenty years ago about neoclassicism. Snooze. Predictably, S’s cannily curated images are always surprising and guaranteed to leave you thinking.
So kick off your shoes, make yourself an Aperol Spritz, and hop over to these fantastic blogs. You won’t be sorry. They take “Smarter than me” to a whole new level. I’ll be back in a jiffy with pictures of organ meats in a variety of delightful contexts.