The last few months I have spent in Paris and a number of other countries have completely transformed the way I will continue to live my life. I cannot express how grateful I am for having the opportunity to study abroad. In the coming years as I look back on my journey, I will be lucky to have my Art of Travel journals to recount many of my memories. This course allowed me to reflect on many of the important aspects of my journey that I might otherwise forget.
I think it would be impossible to decide one rewarding aspect of my experience because there were so many! Overall, I would say studying abroad has allowed me to mature more in the past few months than I have in the past few years in New York. Yes, I transitioned from a small town to a large city when I moved from California, but nothing prepared me for moving to a foreign country. There is a different language, different food, different etiquette, etc. I think all of the differences I have been presented with have forced me to understand the ability to adapt. Not only did I have to adapt to Paris, but I also had to adapt to the other countries I visited. After these past few months, I feel as though I have the ability to adapt to almost any situation that’s thrown at me with a positive attitude.
While learning the ability to adapt was very rewarding, there were definitely times in which I found myself in difficult situations. Sometimes I simply wanted a meal to go or I found myself trekking to a new restaurant or store only to find it closed. Some of the inconsistencies of Paris tended to get on my nerves, but at the end of the day it has only made me more patient. In terms of traveling to other countries, I definitely faced my fair share of difficulties. Most recently, I traveled to Morocco and found myself without a pen in customs. I stood for ten minutes motioning to borrow people’s pens only to get rejected every single time. It was also difficult adjusting to all of the different languages when traveling, but again, adapting has only made me more mature and confident in myself.
I definitely think I have changed since I have been in Paris, therefore I feel as though I will do a number of things differently when I go home. First, I have grown more patient. Paris has made me appreciate leisure whether I am enjoying a coffee with my friends for hours or allowing myself to completely relax on Sunday. There is a great appreciation of beauty in Paris that I hope to bring home. Next, I will learn to appreciate the ease of living in my own country. One of the most important things I learned traveling abroad was how much I take living in the US for granted. I have a newfound confidence in myself after having been able to live in Europe the last few months. Finally, I will forever make traveling one of my main life goals. Again, I have learned so much over the last few months that I could’ve only learned traveling abroad.
I have created so many memories over the last few months that I will remember for the rest of my life. I was fortunate enough to create a great group of friends with whom I spent time with both in Paris and traveling. We had the time of our lives and were able to laugh our whole way through. Most importantly, I will remember how transformative my time abroad has been. I look at life with a different light now, and I have Paris to thank for that. I will definitely be back sooner rather than later!
- Jardin des Tuileries: Elizabeth Buckingham
I would absolutely recommend anyone to study in Paris. I have traveled to various countries over the last few weeks, and each time I visit a new place I am constantly thinking how grateful I am that I chose to study in Paris. This city is not too big but not too small. It’s small enough where I can walk almost anywhere I want to go, and it’s big enough because I know there is always something new to discover. There are more restaurants, museums, gardens, and stores to visit than you can possibly imagine. I will forever remember my time living in Paris.
Things to know in advance:
In terms of Paris, there are so many things to do while you are here, so I definitely recommend creating some sort of list on definite things you would like to get done throughout your semester. This includes monuments, museums, shops, and especially restaurants. You are going to receive endless amounts of recommendations from people before you come- listen to them! Also, make sure to discover a few places of your own. In terms of traveling to different places, I would definitely recommend planning every trip in the beginning. You will save money and energy planning everything early. Again, you will receive recommendations for every place you visit, and I advise listening to people’s suggestions as you have minimal time in each place you visit. Make sure to give yourself enough time to relax between trips. It can be very exhausting, not to mention you want to make sure to enjoy Paris!
What I wish someone told me:
Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have a lot of my friends travel abroad before I did, so I was pretty prepared to study abroad. Not very many of my friends studied in Paris, however, so there are a few things I wish I knew. First, although sometimes you might feel intimidated to speak French while you are here just go for it! There is absolutely no harm in fumbling a few words. The more you speak, the better you will get! In terms of school, I would definitely recommend scheduling your classes in the morning and one after the other. It’s a bit of a pain having a morning class and then having to go back to school in the late afternoon. The afternoons should be used for exploring!
Where to live:
To my dismay, someone advised me not to live in the Marais. My recommendation: live in the Marais! It is without a doubt my favorite neighborhood. It has a young, low-key feel, and there are endless things to do in terms of eating, nightlife, museums, etc. I find myself there almost every day. Now that it is spring in Paris, all of the gardens are blooming and it is absolutely beautiful.
My favorite places:
My favorite museum in Paris is L’Orangerie. One of my favorite days in Paris was the first time I visited this museum. It is a beautiful, small, and intimate museum with an amazing collection of impressionist paintings, including of course Monet’s Water Lilies. It is definitely my number one recommendation. One of my favorite areas in Paris is the Canal Saint-Martin. When the weather is nice, go! There are endless amounts of things to do there. My favorite crepe place is without a doubt Au Petit Grec, which is located on Rue Mouffetard in the 5th. Go there. There will most likely be a line when you visit, but the crepes are worth the wait.
Finally, enjoy every single moment you have while you are studying abroad. It is an experience you will remember and cherish for the rest of your life. You will make new friends, create new memories, and explore new places. Have fun and good luck!
- Musee D’Orsay: Elizabeth Buckingham
Over the past few months, there have been too many times to count where I have found myself thinking how lucky I am to have the opportunity to live in Paris. The weather has transformed over the last few weeks, and Paris has bloomed. The flowers, the running fountains, and the smiles plastered on everyone’s faces have all made Paris even more beautiful than it already was. I didn’t know that was possible.
Last weekend, Paris experienced some of the highest temperatures of the new spring season, so my roommate and I decided to take advantage of the shining sun. We made our way to Canal Saint-Martin, which I had not yet visited. After hearing so much about the canal and the restaurants in the surrounding area, I was excited to finally make the journey out there. After what seemed to be the longest metro ride I’ve ever taken, perhaps due to the excitement and anticipation of exploring a new area, we exited the station and made our way to our first destination.
Unfortunately, the brunch spot we wanted to go to was completely full, so we went to another place we had been recommended. I think we enjoyed our meal more at the place we went than the place we wanted to go to. It was perfect. The waitress was friendly, the food was unbelievable, and the atmosphere was even better. However, other than an amazing meal, Canal Saint-Martin had so much more to offer. As we walked around after brunch, it became apparent where all of the young Parisians have been hiding every Sunday, or rather where they would be hiding every Sunday from now through the summer. Some of the most stylish, beautiful people I have seen all semester surrounded us. I felt as though I had been transported into a new place.
We picked up some coffees at yet another highly recommended spot and strolled around the neighborhood. As we made our way back to the canal, I couldn’t help but envision Williamsburg. There is an uncanny resemblance between both neighborhoods, which might be apart of why I enjoyed it so much. There is nothing wrong with a little reminder of New York every now and then! We made our way back to the canal and squeezed in between two groups of people. Nothing could have ruined our current situation.
We sat in the sun for hours. The only moments we were brought back to reality came when a barge happened to cruise down the canal. It was amazing how excited everyone became when the boats came through. Everyone seated along the canal perked up, others rushed to the bridges, and children appeared on the balconies of the apartments lining the canal. The passengers of the boats waved at everyone and vice versa. The children screamed with joy as they waved at the passengers, and the passengers smiled watching the children’s reactions. As soon as the barges disappeared down the canal, everyone resumed there resting positions until the next one came.
Hours later, we decided it was time for us to depart. We made our final stop at a bakery and grabbed some sweets for our journey home. I wasn’t ready for the bliss to end. We slowly descended down into the metro station. Much to our dismay, it was time to return to reality. Sundays are by far my favorite days in Paris because it is a day of rest. A day entirely dedicated to bliss. As the weather becomes warmer and warmer each passing day, I am looking forward to more Sunday adventures in my final weeks in Paris.
- Canal Saint-Martin: Elizabeth Buckingham
While I would love to say my semester abroad has gone off without a hitch, I would be lying to myself. My first painful experience occurred within the first few hours I was in Paris…
My roommate and I met each other in the baggage claim of Charles de Gaulle both eager with anticipation and excitement. After collecting our bags, our next step was getting to our new apartment. Neither of us had international cellphones yet, so I connected to the airport WIFI in order to send the apartment owner a quick message letting her know we were on our way. She sent a cryptic response back with few directions on how to get into the building where she would be to greet us. A little confused with her response, we were too tired and eager to clarify what we were supposed to do.
We made our way to the taxi stand where we did exactly what we were told time and time again not to do. A driver approached us just before the line and offered to drive us and we unthinkingly nodded our heads yes. Immediately I knew we should not have complied. Scenes from the movie Taken started flashing in my mind, and I was overcome with nerves. In our defense, he did drive a marked taxicab, but I was panicking the entire drive. With no cellphone service, an elementary level of French, and no sense of where I was, I couldn’t help but envision the worst.
Practically holding my breath the entire drive, I let out a sigh of relief when I saw the blue doors of our building. They looked exactly like the doors in the pictures we had seen. We jumped out of the taxi, and the driver helped us unload all four of our suitcases. We stood outside of the blue doors and were presented with our next problem. How were we supposed to open the doors? There was a keypad, but we didn’t know the door code. Again, neither of us had a working cellphone, so we stood there dumbfounded. Suddenly someone started knocking on the restaurant window right next to us. A little scared we both jumped. The men were signing us and making facial expressions we were unable to interpret. Finally, one of the men ran outside and punched in the door code, 3714. We tried to thank him, but he did not understand a word we were saying. I let out another sigh of relief as we made our way in the building.
Our next problem: which apartment is ours? There was a staircase on the left and another on the right. I opened up the message the owner had sent me, but there was no information about the actual apartment. To be honest, I was expecting it to be like New York. We would buzz at the first door and she would be able to come down and get us. I had to remind myself, I was no longer in New York or even the United States for that matter. We stood in the lobby for about 10 minutes each of us walking up the stairs looking for the slightest clue. There was no sign of anybody except a young boy who ignored us and immediately walked into his apartment. We knocked on his door hoping he would be able to help us but he shook his head no as we began speaking to him and shut his door. My roommate went to the restaurant next door to borrow their phone, but they told her no. We thought maybe our apartment was on the fourth floor, so we took a wild guess and knocked on the door and finally a small woman opened it with a large smile. I can’t describe how relieved we were to finally find our new home. After a long day of traveling and stress, the owner saved the day with a bottle of wine, cheese, and a fresh baguette.
- Apartment View: Elizabeth Buckingham
When I first arrived in Paris, everyone around me was a stranger except for my roommate. Beginning with my trip from Los Angeles, I didn’t know anyone around me as I sat down in my seat, I didn’t recognize very many faces at the NYU Orientation, and I definitely didn’t know anybody as I made my way back to my new apartment. This was the first moment in a long time where I felt like a complete stranger; however, after four months in Paris, I have been able to create connections with people who have helped shape my experiences. This is definitely not to say that I don’t continually feel like a stranger because I still do almost every day.
Paris is known as one of the more unfriendly and unaccepting places to travel to let alone live. Many people lend this to the French’s inability to accept poor accents, their pride in their country and its foundations, or whatever other myths people have created about French culture. As a stranger in Paris, I knew there was nothing I could do to change the French society, therefore, it was up to me to mold to the French ways of life. There are moments when ordering a rotisserie chicken seems like the most impossible task, but then there are moments when the restaurant waiter recognizes me making me feel a little less like a stranger and a little more like an inhabitant.
When my mom came to visit me a few weeks ago, she decided to rent an apartment as she was visiting for an extended period of time. When I came back from a school field trip, I went over to the apartment to find her partaking in a little dinner party in the owner’s apartment. A room full of strangers warmly greeted me as I made my way into the living room. I had arrived at the end of the party, so quickly it became just my mom, Mike (the owner), and I. Although I had only just met Mike, it quickly felt as though we had known him forever.
In Georg Simmel’s The Stranger, he states the stranger “is not radically committed to the unique ingredients and peculiar tendencies of the group, and therefore approaches them with the specific attitude of ‘objectivity’,” he continues to say, “objectivity does not simply involve passivity and detachment; it is a particular structure composed of distance and nearness, indifference and involvement” (1-2). I couldn’t describe our relationship with Mike more perfectly. Mike is in fact an American living in Paris. He and his partner have owned their building for over 10 years now, and they are constantly renting out the apartments within the building. Upon immediately connecting with my mom, Mike took it upon himself to introduce us to the friends he had made in Paris. We were able to talk to Mike as though we had known him forever. He has a way of making you feel as though you can tell him anything and he is there to listen or you can ask him anything and he will have an answer for you. Also, he is one of the most amazing storytellers I have ever met. Although my mom has gone back to the US, I have created connections with Mike and the friends he introduced us to. I know we will remain friends even after I have left Paris.
While at first it was a little overwhelming feeling like a complete stranger in Paris, it provided me the opportunity to understand who I am as a person. It is crucial to be able to be totally confident in yourself in order to interact with people who can barely understand you. Being a stranger in Paris has given me an entirely new outlook on life, and a new sense of confidence in myself.
- Jardin du Palais-Royal: Elizabeth Buckingham
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast” – Ernest Hemingway.
For my second book, I chose to read Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. A Moveable Feast is a memoir sharing Hemingway’s time spent in Paris in the 1920s. As an American expatriate writer, he illustrates the transformation of his writing career through his apprenticeship with Gertrude Stein, and of course through Paris, all the while married to his first wife, Hadley. Hemingway’s tales of transitioning to Parisian life resemble many of my own experiences. As I read A Moveable Feast, I soon found myself attempting to walk in the same shoes as Hemingway.
Within the first few pages of Hemingway’s memoir, he describes one of his many quests to hide from the inescapable Parisian whether. Much to my shock and enjoyment, Hemingway’s journey within the first few pages mirrors my exact walk to school every day. Similar to the author, I make my way past Place Contrescarpe past rue Mouffetard and continue down towards Lycee Henri Quatre and the church St. Etienne-du-Mont and the Place du Pantheon to find myself on Boulevard Saint Germain. It’s amazing how so much time has past, and yet Paris has stayed almost exactly the same. As I make my way to school every morning, I find myself walking proudly in the same path that so many Americans before me similarly walked.
Furthermore, as I continued reading Hemingway’s memoir, I drew many of the same connections as him with respect to the weather. Thankfully, Paris is currently transitioning from winter to spring weather. Hemmingway shares his thoughts on said transition in A Moveable Feast, “When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest” (41). He continues to share the places in Paris that make him the happiest during springtime. One of his favorite places to go is Ile St.-Louis, which is one of my favorite spots as well. Last week I wandered over to the small island on one of the first beautiful spring afternoons, and I admired a street band playing surrounded by several onlookers. I made my way to the Seine to find the fishermen Hemingway discusses in his book, and there they were, perched on the side of the river ready to catch whatever would bite.
In addition, one of my favorite aspects of reading Hemingway’s memoir is the moments in which he recounts his memories with Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has written some of my favorite novels of all times. Hemmingway has a way of capturing Fitzgerald in a light I have never imagined him. At one point, Hemmingway fixates on Fitzgerald’s personal life, dissecting his relationship with his wife Zelda and the constant rollercoaster of emotions she forced Fitzgerald to deal with. Almost forgetting Hemmingway is talking about Fitzgerald, he proceeds to discuss the success of Fitzgerald’s latest novel, The Great Gatsby. Reading the memoir provided an entirely different side of not only Hemmingway but also other authors and artists he surrounded himself with.
After finishing A Moveable Feast, I see Hemingway and his peers in a different light. They were enduring many of the same experiences I am as they lived in Paris. While we are worlds apart, it’s entertaining to think our lives share a few of the same adventures. I have always regarded Hemmingway in a world far away from mine, but now I find myself sharing some of the same memories he did. We will always have Paris!
- Ile St. Louis: Elizabeth Buckingham
Before living in Paris, I was exposed to various interpretations of the genius loci of the city. Whether envisioning Paris through the eyes of Woody Allen in “Midnight in Paris” or through the less modern interpretation in Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette,” it’s apparent that one must spend their own time in the city to create his or her own genius loci. Not only through films but also through previous family trips, other friends’ study abroad experiences, and countless texts on Paris, I have been exposed to other people’s interpretations of the city. It’s now my turn to create my own genius loci.
As Paris is a large city with various neighborhoods each embodying their own genius loci, I will describe my favorite neighborhood in Paris- the Marais. Prior to moving to Paris, numerous friends informed me I would fall in love with it. As I have already spent some time here, I knew this would be true. Included in the New York Times’ “Intersection” series, the Marais is a neighborhood unlike any other. There is a mix of the young and the old, the locals and the tourists, and the fashion-minded and the fashion-victims. It is the perfect neighborhood to discover who you are.
The spirit of the Marais is undeniable. First, I will begin with the people. Once you move beyond the areas overcrowded with tourists, you enter a completely different atmosphere. There are young couples holding hands as they make their way to brunch. There are twenty-somethings weaving in and out of people as they try to run a quick errand on their work breaks. There are older neighborhood locals sitting on the patios of cafes smoking their hand-rolled cigarettes while sipping a glass of wine, and time and time again I witness random run-ins with friends. Kisses and hugs become drinks and dinner for them.
Furthermore, the Marais has more of my favorite restaurants than any other neighborhood in Paris. Several weeks into living in Paris and a little homesick, my roommate and I were craving a little taste of home. We made our way to a Marais hotspot, Nanashi, and found ourselves surrounded by locals and hipsters alike. Serving vegetarian cuisine, we were in heaven. Our plates arrived including two bento boxes with rice, tofu, vegetable, and more, and we were beyond happy. We sipped delicious green tea in the dimly lit dining room and quickly felt as if we were home; however, the rapid French being spoken around us brought us back to the Marais. On another food adventure in the Marais, my friend and I went to Rose Bakery. As we sat at our table for brunch, an elderly woman walked in to pick up her order. Do not let the phrase “elderly woman” fool you. She was the chicest, French woman in the room. She wore an outfit only she could pull off- slippers, silk cheetah pajama pants, a fur coat, and large black sunglasses. As she strut out of the bakery with one of the bakers in tow holding three large bags, I knew she was about to host a fabulous brunch for her friends and family.
Observing the people and enjoying the food of the Marais have become two of my favorite activities in Paris. Although many people told me I would love the Marais, they also advised me not to live there. I will say with full confidence I will live in the Marais if I ever live in Paris again. It is hard to express how much I love this neighborhood. All I can say is it embodies everything I love in one place.
- My Favorite Store in the Marais: Merci: Elizabeth Buckingham
My favorite museum in Paris is without at doubt Le Musée de l’Orangerie. I have briefly mentioned my first encounter with the Orangerie in one of my previous posts, but I am more than happy to recount my experiences at the museum.
Le Musée de l’Orangerie is a museum comprised of a collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings located in the Tuileries Gardens near the Place de la Concorde. Named Le Musée de l’Orangerie, the building was originally built in 1852 to shelter the orange trees of the Tuileries Gardens. After transitioning through various functions, in 1922 Claude Monet donated his Water Lilies or Nymphéas to the museum. In addition, the Orangerie houses Paul Guillaume’s (a French art dealer) collection of 19th and 20th century modern paintings since 1965 including works by Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, Rousseau, and many more.
I must admit I had the lowest expectations upon entering the Orangerie. There were an overwhelming amount of people insisting upon me visiting the museum, and I typically like to avoid places crawling with tourists. As Alaine Botton states in Art of Travel, “we overlook certain places because nothing has ever prompted us to conceive of them as being worthy of appreciation…because some unfortunate but random association has turned us against them.” I figured the museum was yet another tourist trap; however, I could not be more ashamed of my assumption and naivety. This assumption reminds of our previous blog post on the search for authenticity. There comes a time when it’s necessary to overlook whatever yearning for “authenticity” you might have. Sometimes the most touristy experiences can be the most fulfilling and memorable (but definitely not all of the time!).
It was a rainy day in Paris, so a trip to the Orangerie was the perfect escape from the weather. Much to my astonishment, the museum was practically empty when I walked in. I decided to walk through the lower level gallery before I experienced the water lilies series. Instantly I became enamored. Each painting became more beautiful than the one before. The works of Cézanne, Matisse, Modigliani, Picasso, Renoir, Rousseau, Sisley, Soutine, Utrillo, and more were perfectly curated in this little museum. With cameras forbidden in the museum, I was able to fully focus on the work: every detail, every brush stroke, every painting.
Already overcome with joy from the lower level gallery, I knew I was in for even more of a treat upon entering the Claude Monet gallery. Words cannot describe my reaction to Monet’s work. From Los Angeles to New York, I am fortunate to have had access to some of the most well known museums in the country. Even during my time traveling in Europe, I have been able to visit a number of museums in other countries. Nowhere has had the same impact as the Orangerie. A mixture of peace, beauty, and desire along with a number of other emotions overcame me when viewing the water lilies. When I approached the final gallery, there was an elder man meditating in front of the paintings. I sat beside him and spent the rest of the afternoon in that room. It is now my favorite place in Paris.
Just as my friends harassed me to visit the Orangerie, I have begun to advise others to visit the museum. It’s impossible to describe the beauty of the museum, so it is only necessary to tell people to visit it for themselves. Botton states, “as we travel in search of beauty, works of art may in small ways start to influence where we would like to travel to.” I couldn’t agree more, and I am so thankful to be living in a city that houses some of the most impactful art pieces in the world.
- Le Musée de l’Orangerie: Les Nanas D'Paname: Le Magazine
In Staged Authenticity, Dean MacCannell states, “touristic consciousness is motivated by its desire for authentic experiences, and the tourist may believe that he is moving in this direction, but often it is very difficult to tell for sure if the experience is authentic in fact” (597). I couldn’t describe my experiences traveling abroad more perfectly. As I explore Paris and a number of other European cities, I often find myself wondering if I am gaining a truly authentic experience.
I found MacCannell’s explanation of Goffman’s original front-back dichotomy useful in understanding whether or not I am experiencing an authentic experience in Paris. In the beginning of my study abroad experience, I found myself jumping from one monument to the next, viewing one museum after another, etc. I don’t regret any of my trips to monuments or museums; however, as my time passes in Paris, I have learned to enjoy different aspects of the city. When I visit my favorite restaurants and cafes, I challenge myself to engage in conversation with the people around me. When I enter a store, I am not afraid to ask questions about the shop or the neighborhood around me.
Last week my sister came to visit me. While she was here, I attempted to show her the “back” of Paris rather than the “front” as Goffman might say. After a week of showing her around the city, I was more than pleased with myself. I was able to take her to places she might not find on her own. From first hand experience I know it is very challenging to visit a city for only a few days. The pressure of maximizing your time in the city is overwhelming. Thankfully, with two months in Paris behind me, I have been able to find a few of my own treasures. While I am far from discovering all of what Paris has to offer (is there anyone who can?), I was excited to show her a few of the things I love. At the end of her trip, she claimed, “that was the most amazing trip.”
With half of the semester behind me, I am challenging myself for the next few months. I admit I have grown reliant on a few lists of Parisian hotspots whether for eating, shopping, or sightseeing; however, I want to discover a few of my own Parisian spots. I want to find my own places not only to share with future travelers but also to call my own; neighborhood spots that I can hopefully return to in the coming years.
As I have mentioned before, I have grown more comfortable engaging in conversation with people around me. In order to gain a more authentic experience in Paris, I think it is important to ask local Parisians questions. Let me clarify one thing, when I say Parisians, I am not necessarily talking about Parisians born and bred. I am talking about the girl who moved from Colorado to Paris who works at the local coffee shop, the Airbnb owner from New York that my sister rented her apartment from, or the French waitress eager to learn about California. Everyone has information to share no matter where they are from including myself, so it’s important for me to go beyond my comfort zone.
After looking back at my experiences thus far, I found myself asking what makes for an authentic experience? I do not think there are set guidelines for experiencing authenticity in any given city. If anything, guidelines lead to an unauthentic experience. I have learned to live in the moment and enjoy whatever adventures are thrown my way whether good or bad. Everything adds to my journey in Paris!
- Eiffel Tower: Elizabeth Buckingham
After graduating from Smith College and working for the OSS during World War II, Julia Child and her husband, Paul, moved to Paris where she studied at the Cordon Bleu and began her career as one of the most well-known chefs of all time. My Life in France tells the story of Julia’s time in Paris and her transition from hopeless cook to culinary teacher, author, and television show host. Each chapter provides quirky tales of Julia moving to France and adapting to the Parisian culture specifically the Parisian cuisine. As I have mentioned in my previous posts, for me one of the most enjoyable aspects of living in Paris has been realizing my love and appreciation for food.
“I was a six-foot-two-inch, thirty-six-year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian. The sight of France in my porthole was like a giant question mark,” described Julia as she and Paul initially arrived in France (14). Julia had never been to France and did not speak a word of French, but her optimistic, ambitious attitude proved anyone could move to France with the right mindset. Julia’s husband Paul was a French connoisseur. He spoke the language, knew the best wines, and chose the best dishes when they visited restaurants. Before reading My Life in France, I had no idea what a great inspiration Paul was for Julia’s career. I would go as far as to say Paul is the reason Julia strove to become the best chef she could be.
In the beginning of her book, Julia describes her initial impression of Paris as she drove into the city. She states, “we continued to Paris along a highway…it reminded us of the Hutchinson River Parkway outside of New York City. That impression faded as dusk came on and the unmistakable silhouette of the Eiffel Tower loomed into sight, outlined with blinking red lights. Paris!” (20). Similar to Julia, I understand the excitement of driving into New York for the first time and witnessing the New York skyline; however, nothing can beat your first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. In fact, I see the Eiffel Tower everyday and it still excites me. While reading My Life in Paris, I recalled my own, very similar experiences as Julia.
Julia knew very little about cooking. Continually growing frustrated with her disappointing meals she prepared for Paul each day, she decided it was time for her to take advantage of Paris and enroll in one of the best cooking schools in the country, the Cordon Bleu. Although the director was hesitant to let Julia enroll, she eventually found herself standing among a group of men learning from one of the best chefs in France. Throughout her memoir, we see Julia’s yearning to become the best chef she can be, which shows through the progression of her cooking. She goes from hopeless housewife to expert chef quicker than you might think.
Julia immerses herself in the French food world. She knows every vendor at her local farmers market, and she befriends her neighborhood butcher, cheese, and bread experts. Not only is her ability to engage with her local providers admirable, but also her adventures to local neighborhood restaurants are informative. As I sat in the Palais-Royal Garden reading My Life in France, my mouth watered as I read a chapter on her experience at the restaurant Le Grand Vefour. When I was finished reading, I got up turned the corner and voila! There was Le Grand Vefour. I love finding Julia’s favorite spots and hidden treasures throughout the city.
At the conclusion of her book, Julia brings us back to the first meal she ever had in Paris. She described the sensations she felt when she walked in the restaurant, watched the people around her, and took the first bite of her sole. Reflecting on my own experiences in Paris, I can still remember the first meal I ate here with a group of my friends- a perfectly prepared mushroom omelet with a glass of red wine from Café de Flore. Julia’s My Life in France has inspired me to not only enjoy but also appreciate both French cuisine and cooking.
- La Grande Épicerie de Paris: Elizabeth Buckingham