It really hasn’t sunk in for me yet that my time is Paris is coming to a close, it feels so natural now that I’m here and in a pattern. Looking back at my goals from the start of the semester, I think I’ve done pretty well. I have improved a lot in French conversation, I have travelled around as much as I can imagine being able to in one semester, the academics went fine, and in comparison with other semesters I’ve definitely been doing better about getting a reasonable amount of sleep. The only one of my goals that I haven’t achieved as well as the others is meeting French students, but we’ll come back to that. Overall though, I think this was a very profitable experience for me and I can say that I really like Paris.
Now for a few comments on the program. Because Paris is one of the sites with the highest language proficiency expectations I think the staff here were hoping for more student engagement in the local culture than they saw. There was a strong effort made on the part of the staff to put on extracurricular programs that were never well attended, although it’s hard to say why the rooms were so empty of undergraduates. For me, one part of it was dissemination of information, and another was poor timing; I didn’t feel informed about what was going on and the evening time slot didn’t work for me because I didn’t want to come back after classes. I can say that I appreciated the subjects of the few I went to. When all else fails, free food is a great option!
One structural problem that I think also causes problems in Paris is the housing options: it’s important to know that your choice will also have a lot to do with whether you’re in an American bubble or not. Aside from the students who were placed in home stays through NYUP, those who chose university housing were placed in apartments with other NYUP students. If there was a way for American students to find more interaction with French students in their home lives, I’m sure they’d be more integrated into the local culture. Even in taking a class with French students, it’s difficult to socialize with the language barriers and given that they’re not inherently interested in getting to know you, although I wish I’d tried harder.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions from professors, family, and friends about how I think this experience will prove useful to my future endeavors and I’m not entirely sure, but that’s not to say that it won’t in the end. I could see myself living in France again if the opportunity arose, and if nothing else it’s useful to be able to communicate with my French relatives. It certainly won’t be my final goodbye to the country once I head home for now. I always think that a travel journal is a good idea and then never get around to keeping one, so taking this course and being able to relate my own experiences to the texts we had or what was happening in other people’s study abroad experiences ended up to be a very satisfying way to process my life in Paris for the semester.
- Paris: The Telegraph
Some tips, oriented in the mindset of being at NYUP for program II, but some are generally applicable to all Paris students and students study abroad on the whole:
Learn as much as you can beforehand – Of course you’ll learn a lot from just being in the country itself, but the more you know at the onset the more you’ll be able to appreciate what you’re seeing. Take as many French language courses as you can beforehand! Take a history or culture course! There are options available both in French and English, through the French department in New York.
Challenge yourself – Take classes that push your abilities, or that are in subjects that you aren’t familiar with. If possible, enroll in a course at UP. Your study abroad time is an academic experience first and foremost, and although you want to be able to enjoy yourself, you’ll get the most out of study abroad all around if you maintain a healthy balance between academics and fun. I took some risks this semester like moving up a level in French, but it turned out that I could handle it. I also enrolled in a sociology of immigration in France class at Paris Diderot that was by far the most interesting subject I took this semester!
Be prepared for the emotional side – You’ll feel like you’ve made great strides and then you’ll feel like you don’t get it at all. Frustration, embarrassment, homesickness, and being overwhelmed are things that everyone will feel abroad, regardless of their language skills.
Explore Paris – It’s really easy to travel from Paris to other countries in Europe, but leave yourself time to be a resident of Paris. If you’re gone every weekend you definitely miss out on the local culture. Also, there’s so much to do in Paris itself – go to all the museums, they’re mostly free for students! My favorites so far have been the Musée Carnavalet and the Palais de Tokyo.
Plan your trips in advance – I waited too long to book things, it’s much less expensive to plan everything at the beginning of the semester. I also ended up with five weeks in a row of taking weekend trips which was pretty exhausting!
Check out France – It’s a country with a lot to offer and Paris is a little bubble that’s not representative of all of the different regions. Definitely go on the trips arranged by NYUP, but there’s nothing stopping you from going on your own too. There’s the south of France and the Riviera, the beaches in Normandy, chateaux, picturesque Alsace, and they’re all a train ride away. I had a great time in Burgundy!
Watch French television – I don’t own a TV myself but there’s one in my apartment and I love to flip around the channels. The documentaries are on subjects we’d never see in the States, like the practice of traditional medicine in Cuba, and there are hilarious dubs of American classics like the Simpsons. It’s a great way to work on your listening skills and explore the culture.
Try all the pastries! – This one I mean literally as well as figuratively: I always tried a new pastry at the bakery when I went to figure out which ones I liked (chausson aux pommes!!!), but the same goes for most varieties of food. Cheeses. Coffees. Sandwiches. Lunch specials. It’s a great way to sample, and it gives you incentive to keep coming back.
You’ll make great friends – I was in the situation of knowing no one in the program before I arrived in Paris, but there are plenty of people like me every semester, and it’s nothing to fret about. Everyone leaves with more friends than they had coming in!
- Chausson aux pommes: Bridor
I had an old friend staying with me a few weeks ago and it was really nice to see someone so familiar. After a couple hours back together I realized how relieved I was; there had been a pressure that I hadn’t noticed until it wasn’t there anymore. But what was different?
Being in a new situation with new people forces you to constantly think, even if subconsciously, about your relationship to your surroundings. There’s an insecurity inherent in actions and interactions that normally are automatic. After a couple months in Paris I thought I’d gotten a handle on things more or less, and it’s true that I can negotiate most of the situations I come across on a daily basis that would have tripped me up before. Still, the introduction of familiarity back into the equation served to highlight how far I was from comfort still. On the other hand, having someone else who was farther out of water than me highlighted how much I had learned.
All of this culminated in dinner on her last night in Paris. With an early departure awaiting for the next morning, we were both looking to go out, have a nice French dinner, then put our PJs on and call it a night. And that’s exactly what happened.
We got a little too dressed up for the sake of making an evening of it, and then had aperitifs at my place à la française because people don’t show up for dinner until 8PM. A glass of sparkling wine later, we went to my favorite restaurant, which happens to be a cozy bistro with checkered tablecloths. We waltzed inside to a quiet corner table amidst the other weeknight patrons. I was able to translate the most pertinent parts of the menu, make recommendations on which French delicacies were worth trying and which were to avoid, and then order for the both of us. We wrestled escargots out of their shells and savored the buttery sauce, we ate duck in various classic preparations, and all with some wine to accompany. It was fun, it was relaxed, and it was as French as the two of us could hope to achieve. It wasn’t an elegant night out in a Michelin star restaurant, it wasn’t exactly like in the movies, but it was superb.
We were able to have a good evening because of all of the progress I’d made in living in Paris; getting better in French, trying out different restaurants, working on my manners, and understanding the customs. On prior occasions I had gone out to a restaurant with a small group without a reservation and been turned away because it was the weekend, or spent too much money at a restaurant that wasn’t worth it, or ordered a coffee before the meal and seemed like a heathen. But, after a hard semester’s work, we were able to sip our espressos at the end of the meal completely at ease, and I felt the bliss of my travail adding up to something.
- Parisian Resto: Aliexpress
My worst experience in transit this semester was on my way to Burgundy to visit a friend for the weekend, which involved the relatively simple procedure of getting on the correct train in Paris and getting off at the correct stop two hours later. Because Paris is the center of the railways in France it was direct, which meant that I couldn’t mess up a transfer. I was a little nervous because it was my first time both leaving Paris since I’d arrived and dealing with the SNCF (the French railway service), but I knew that I really didn’t have much to be concerned about.
Comfortably on the correct train with my time-stamped ticket, we pulled out of Paris and I started on my homework. To everyone’s chagrin, the train mysteriously coasted to a stop in the middle of the tracks a mere twenty minutes after departing. A garbled voice made an announcement about some sort of a(n electrical?) shock, and although I didn’t catch much of what the conductor said precisely, I was able to eavesdrop on all of the ensuing phone calls to whoever was waiting at the stations further on for my fellow passengers put the rest together from there. Naturally there were no other English speakers for me to confer with.
After 45 minutes of waiting patiently with no news the conductor got back on to say that everything should be fine and we would continue on. Sure enough we started moving again, but only for 10 minutes, and then we stopped again at an unscheduled station. The conductor got back on the intercom again and announced that the motor had died, so we all got off of that train and were directed to another platform. Feeling like a sheep, I couldn’t think of anything better to do than follow the crowd and trust that someone had a better idea of what was going on than me.
Catching the next train that arrived on the new platform with my fellow ship-wrecked train passengers, I found myself now in a situation of not knowing which train I was on, or which stops it would be making, or even which direction it was headed. I was frantically texting the friend who would be picking me up, but without any information she was equally at a loss and told me to ask a conductor. The new train was overly crowded and the conductors were rushing past purposefully so as not to be caught in conversation with the passengers.
After a half hour of limbo I managed to finally flag a conductor and ask him how I was going to get to my end destination. He told me that in fact I needed to transfer again at one of the upcoming stops to another train that would be making the same stops as the one I was originally on. Or at least this is what I understood, although after the conversation was over I spend the remainder of my time doubting my comprehension. Following the crowd again, I transferred and finally was on a train headed in the right direction, but I arrived two and a half hours late. On the con side, it more than doubled my travel time, but on the plus side I got to practice a lot of French!
A word to the wise: take the TGV (high speed) and not the TER when travelling by train in France.
- SNCF: LeRoyJulian
I’ve had the advantage in my travels so far of being foreign in an inaccurately identified sense; the people I encounter take me as a foreigner, but conjure up some imaginary origin that is invariably far from the truth. In central Europe I was German, in France I’m Scandinavian, and if they notice that I’m a native Anglophone, it’s a reasonable assumption to guess that I’m Australian. It’s rare that I get asked where I’m from, but people typically have already judged that they know where I’m from without asking. The advantage in all this is that none of the things that I’m mislabeled as are particularly menacing aside from being foreign. For example, a Moroccan student friend of mine who spent a semester in Vienna found that her foreignness was a lot more of a negative in her relation with the locals than mine was. So for the most part I try not to let my otherness get in the way of the experiences I want to have, even if inevitably pops up.
One day in my sociology class lecture the professor was talking about ways in which we categorize people as foreigners, whether they are in fact citizens, permanent residents, on working permits, the lowly student visa, etc.; there are all sorts of physical, linguistic, and behavioral markers which we all use class people in the us/them divide that don’t necessarily relate to their current nationality. Ironically on my way to class that day I had been interrupted by a French man in the street who started a conversation by associating my hair with a Nordic origin and was then rather flustered that I wasn’t the type of foreigner he thought I was. “You do not look like an American” is something I’ve heard many times, although what I’m doing wrong I couldn’t tell you.
In a sense, students abroad for a semester don’t quite fall into Simmel’s ideas of a stranger because we’re not in our respective countries for good, we all have a set return date and our homes are not where we are currently living. The myth of the return isn’t as much of a myth. But on the other hand, we are all representatives of the distant and the strange as we go about our business in a country which is not our own. And it is particularly true in Paris that if you were not born and raised here you will always be a foreigner, so I’m not much better off for four months or four years in terms of Frenchness, although I imagine my French would at least get better.
The one exception to this semester was my particular experience in Amsterdam, where the locals genuinely confounded me for a Dutch person in a shockingly consistent manner. It started on the train from Paris to Amsterdam, in which the conductors addressed me in Dutch rather than French or English (the two languages I could have responded to!), and continued at the coffee shops, cafés, museums, tourist centers, and streets. In one instance I was at the cash register to pay for lunch and the server who was ringing me up responded to me in English and then halfway through the interaction switched over to Dutch. Upon noticing my confusion, he apologized for forgetting that I wasn’t Dutch. In another instance I was talking in English with my friend in the train station, at which point a Dutch woman walked directly over to me and asked me a question, also reacting apologetically when I could only shake my head uncomprehendingly. That weekend was the only time I have ever been in a foreign country and not been taken as foreign myself, and it was a bizarre complement to my experience of otherness everywhere else. And to be honest, it was a pleasant mistake for me since it might be easy to get used to the continual discomfort of being a stranger, but it’s always a relief when it goes away.
- Amsterdam: CIEE Study Abroad
I went through a Julia Child phase a couple years ago provoked by a confluence of all sorts of elements; a radio interview being replayed on NPR, seeing the exhibition of her kitchen at the Smithsonian, the film Julie and Julia, finding her TV show online, a friend of the family recommending her memoire, and my own increasing interest in cooking. It was the discovery of a figure who was well known amongst the generation of my grandparents, and maybe parents, but to whose life and work I had never been introduced. To be clear, my fascination wasn’t the kind that made me want to move to France and enroll in a culinary school (though low and behold I’m now in France), but I enjoyed testing out a couple recipes and hearing about how other people relate to her. I remember my mom telling the story of seeing her do a live cooking demonstration in which she dropped the chicken she was going to roast onto the floor in front of the entire audience and then promptly picked it up, dusted it off, and kept going!
So, being in Paris myself and already being a bit of a fan, I picked up her book My Life in France. I’m not sure how to class the book in terms of biography/autobiography/memoire because her brother-in-law’s grandson effectively wrote it by mixing interviews, letters, and facts into a chronological series of anecdotes that shed light on her time in France. Julia Child was a close collaborator on the book, but she died before it’s publication in 2006, and although her voice is very strong in the story, it wasn’t Julia Child that put pen to paper. In any case, the book chronicles her coming to Paris with her husband because of his diplomatic work for the US government after WWII, her discovery of French food and French cooking, the writing of her seminal book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the publication problems, her getting into the TV business, and lots of things in between. As someone going through the experience of adjusting to a new country and all of the problems that come with it, I most appreciate her indomitable attitude and her interest to really learn about the culture and people she found herself in.
Learning to cook at the Cordon Bleu, Julia Child was fiercely inquisitive. Although she was the only woman in a year long class with all American GIs, she recalls: “I had to keep my ears open and make sure to ask questions, even if they were dumb questions, when I didn’t understand something. I was never the only one confused”. She refused to let herself be intimidated and was motivated get the most out of her education by asking questions. That’s not to say that she wasn’t aware of her relation to the other students in class, but she didn’t compromise her goals because of it and kept a competitive attitude: “As the only woman in the basement, I was careful to keep up an appearance of sweet good humor around ‘the boys,’ but inside I was cool and intensely focused on absorbing as much information as possible”. And when she didn’t succeed in class, she didn’t lose motivation: “There were times when I had a penetrating question to ask, or a fine point that burned inside of me, and I simply wasn’t able to make myself heard. All this had the effect of making me work even harder”.
And what’s more, she had a very analytical approach to understanding her shortcomings, particularly in relation to learning the French language. After a dinner party in which she had trouble holding her own in a discussion of politics, she took careful stock of the situation in order to improve for the next time: “Upon reflection, I decided I had three main weaknesses: I was confused (evidenced by a lack of facts, an inability to coordinate my thoughts, and an inability to verbalize my ideas); I had a lack of confidence, which caused me to back down from forcefully stated positions; and I was overly emotional at the expense of careful, ‘scientific’ thought.” Although she also had a remarkable ability to let things go while being unapologetic about her mistakes: “such admissions only draw attention to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings), and make the other person think, ‘Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal!’ Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed—eh bien, tant pis!”
I think that in the American imagination, Julia Child is a really identifiable character. She’s the big American girl who came to France with a good sense of humor and endeared herself to the locals, not too pretty or too rich, but with a joie de vivre and an avid interest in learning. Plus she was a late bloomer, a little bit of a rebel, and certainly a smart cookie. And what’s more, for anyone traveling, her sense of adventure, enthusiasm, determination, and forgiveness for mistakes is really admirable. She gives us a bit of hope for a continually evolving and interesting life: “I was thirty-seven years old and still discovering who I was”.
- “As Always, Julia”: Los Angeles Times
Parisians love to identify each other by arrondissement, but it’s a people-watching sport reserved for the professionals because to me the difference between someone from the 15th and the 16th might as well be non-existent. I recall hearing something about some designer brand being associated with one of them, and such and such a gate being strongly tied to another. But that level of differentiation is all Greek to me. Nevertheless, I can at least pick up on different atmospheres of the neighborhoods I’m familiar with.
The conception of neighborhoods itself is a little tricky to compare with that I have coming from New York for several reasons. Firstly, in New York and other American cities, groups of people from similar origins congregated in concentrated locations to form distinct neighborhoods like Harlem or Flushing, and which continue to pop up with new waves of immigration today. But in Paris, immigrants were intentionally prevented from becoming the majority group in any one area. There are still areas that have elevated populations of minority groups, but it’s not quite the same in Belleville as in other Chinatowns.
Secondly, the zoning rules regarding architecture are very strict, meaning that Paris doesn’t have skyscrapers in the downtown area, and there’s a degree of uniformity in the buildings across the city. There aren’t many examples of buildings and styles that date from before the 19th century, but there also aren’t many that are considerably more recent either.
And lastly, unlike New Yorkers, Parisians patronize the bakeries, grocery stores, restaurants, bars, etc., that are really local to their neighborhoods. There’s no sense in buying a baguette from a boulangerie across town when there are at least three within a two-block radius of home. Unless you’re meeting a friend out, why take the metro for a half hour for dinner when you have plenty of options within a ten-minute walk? That’s not to say that Americans don’t also choose the most convenient options by location, or that Parisians don’t seek out the best quality options, but the culture of going out of the way to find the best whatever-it-is remains a lot weaker here.
The 13th where I have classes at Paris Diderot is a really striking change from the rest of Paris, and when I arrived there late and lost on my first day of class it was all the more disorienting. The buildings are too tall, too modern, too glass-paneled for Paris. The streets are too wide apart, and it always feels too empty, like a theme park that never opened to the public. The cafés are overpriced. Students scuttle about on their way to classes, seeming all the more out of place in amidst stores they can’t afford. The park is a welcome respite, a patch of organized chaos and green.
The 17th where I go grocery shopping is a little less prosperous than other parts of town, a place where the shops aren’t all as well maintained. There lots of shops run by people of Maghrebin descent, some looking friendlier than others, selling men’s suits, leather goods, electronics, and all variety of things. Every block has a café, and they always have a couple idlers, regardless of the time of day. The pace of life is slower. There aren’t any major tourist attractions.
The 9th where I live is also residential, but slightly more upscale. I see the elementary school children coming and going from the school from my window. In my building there’s a healthy mix of generations, I see grandmas, small kids, and young adults in reasonable proportions. My favorite restaurant for real French food is only a five-minute walk away, servicing mostly locals, with an owner who likes to come around and great the guests towards the end of service. A little farther there’s a coffee shop that reminds me the most of New York because it’s more specialized than a café and serves all of the fancy concoctions instead of just espressos. It’s a part of town that’s neither too trendy nor too old.
- Le Petit Lyon, Paris 75009: Flickr
I took a whirlwind tour of Prague, Vienna, and Budapest this weekend for what was my first time in Central Europe proper. Going into it, I really didn’t know much about the places. I imagined Prague with looming gothic cathedrals and a somber atmosphere, Kafka-esque, and full of espionage. Vienna was grand and baroque, with cheerful colors and Mozart music. And Budapest was exactly like the Wes Anderson movie The Grand Budapest Hotel (never mind that it wasn’t even set in Budapest). Consciously we all know this sort of thinking is silly; no one depiction can capture everything that a place is, and that each representation chooses to emphasize or ignore particular elements, as Nietzsche complains about with the artists. But subconsciously, we all filter the places we travel to through the lens of artistic representations.
Having visited a bunch of brand new places in quick succession, I did become increasingly aware of how what (little) I knew about the places from books, movies, and paintings of the people, things, and places influenced my perception in the manner described by de Botton. It’s harder to put my finger on this phenomenon with regards to Paris because I’ve spent more time here and I knew more, both real and fictitious, before arriving. But in a tavern in Prague, for example, it’s easy to catch myself imagining all of the locals around in mediaeval costumes circa King Wenceslas.
Gertrude Stein also pinpoints the influence of art on her viewing of France in her quasi-memoire Paris, France, when she talks about the painting Man with a Hoe. It depicts a farmer in the fields, but interestingly enough, it’s not lush and green, or bright with the primary colors of Province. Rather it’s a man in a field of dirt, all in muted brown tones. For her this was influential in viewing France as a physical territory and not just a set of ideals: a country that extends beyond Paris in which people work the land.
I went to the Musée Carnavalet this past week; it’s a collection of art and interior furnishings that spans many different periods of history in Paris. There aren’t the big-name French painters, but it’s a well-curated collection of contemporaneous artists that demonstrates the relationship between historical events and their representations in art in Paris. One room in particular that really struck me was a recreation art nouveau salon, complete from carpet to ceiling with the ornate and lush colors and textures of the period. All of the pieces in metal were in the characteristic naturalist style and the chairs were upholstered in purple velvet. Remnants of art nouveau are still visible strongly in Paris, but it’s often a fragmented representation: just a metro sign or a door that you see in passing. I saw similar art-nouveau elements in Prague too. After having been the museum, I think it’s a style that not only catches my eye more than before, but also I have a better imagination for what the buildings and interiors might have looked like at the time. In short, art helped me to view the beauty in my surroundings that I might otherwise have overlooked.
- Prague Castle from across the Vltava: Kathryn Sutton
People who refuse to do anything touristy tend to bother me. I agree that doing only things set up for tourists means missing out on elements of the local culture, but the constant search for authenticity seems equally as misguided at times. I had another student visiting Paris for the weekend not long ago who refused to participate in any activities, sightseeing, museums, and otherwise, since they weren’t authentic. But what is authentic? And if you remove all things potentially designed for tourists, what’s left? And how do you entertain someone who will only do “authentic” things as someone who is already inauthentic as an American? Ironically, I led a “haphazard” walk about the area in between Notre Dame and the Place du Châtelet, during which we “stumbled upon” a whole variety of monuments, and this pleased my guest a lot. In my own way, I was providing the perceived back end of the Paris experience.
I tend to gauge authenticity of things to do in Paris based on the recommendations of my relatives here; they’re French(er than me) and they live here, so they should be able to tell me what the locals like to do. There are some less touristic that I probably wouldn’t have found without them, like a nice bus route to take back and forth to classes. But they also like the bakery that was recommended to NYU students, and are pleased that I went to Versailles. They recognize that there are “pilgrimages” to make to various sites of cultural and historical significance that are still valuable even if they are curated for tourists.
The discussion of authenticity itself in Paris is hard to have all together because it’s a city with such a high concentration of monuments, many of which are strategically linked together. It’s a straight line from the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées, past Place de la Concorde, through the Jardin des Tuileries, and to the Louvre. And it is very international, as many modern cities are. And nearly a quarter of the residents of Paris and its surrounding region weren’t born in France. So is there really a Parisian experience completely separated and hidden from outsiders? And is it what someone looking for authenticity would be satisfied with as their trip to Paris?
The most authentic French experience I’ve had so far is probably my trip to Burgundy, a province to the south and east of Paris that’s a noted wine region. I was staying in the home of my high school exchange-student friend, and through personal connections we were able to get a tour and dinner in the house of one of the local wine producers. It’s a family run business, small-scale, with everything done in-house. I got to sample the wines in the cellar, and then have a meal with the family with more wine, escargot, “fondue bourguignonne”, époisses cheese, and apple tart. In terms of authenticity, it sounds as good as you could get. But at the same time, the family that runs the vineyards is used to giving tours and staging dinners; it’s part of their business model to sell wine. I wasn’t targeted as a potential customer, but I imagine they put on a similar show when they’re hosting a wide variety of guests, and not just friends of friends. But for me, knowing that my experience was somewhat staged doesn’t detract from my enjoyment, and I can’t think of a way to have gotten as close to local life as I did otherwise.
- Château de Clos de Vougeot: Wit, Wine, and Wisdom
Ernest Hemingway is not my favorite person. Like many modern readers, his macho attitude, prolific womanizing, alcoholic tendencies, and general self-aggrandizement are a bit of a turn off to me. But when I read A Moveable Feast, at least I could relate to the experience of being an American in Paris and eating French food.
A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s fictionalized memoir of his life in 1920’s Paris in the lead up to his publication of his first majorly recognized work, The Sun Also Rises. He makes a disclaimer in the preface, informing the reader that, “there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact” (9). Written in the 50’s but published posthumously in 1964, it’s famous for featuring the likes of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Maddox Ford, and other elites of the expat writers’ circle, if not always in the most favorable light. But underneath his critiques of the literary minds of the day, there’s Paris and daily life in the background of the novel.
Hemingway likes to talk about the food scene, and that’s always something I like to hear about! In the first chapter he starts of with eternal quest of finding a good café. Rather than, “a sad, evilly run cafe where the drunkards of the quarter crowded together and I kept away from it because of the smell of dirty bodies and the sour smell of drunkenness” (9), he was in search of the perfect place to work: “It was a pleasant café, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old waterproof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait” (12). Although I can’t say I’ve made the mistake of stopping at an ‘evilly run café’, I agree that finding something pleasant, clean, and friendly, plus with Wi-Fi, and all close by is quite a tall order. And testing out cafés to find yours is tricky since nowadays seemingly every café looks like the perfect Parisian café on the surface. In a sense the procedure is a right of passage for expats finding their way here since you only learn from experience which one is truly the ideal.
One quirky food element about Paris which I haven’t observed is fishing in the Seine, the fruits of which Hemingway describes as a delicacy: “They always caught some fish, and often they made excellent catches of the dace-like fish that were called goujon. They were delicious fried whole and I could eat a plateful. They were plump and sweet- fleshed with a finer flavour than fresh sardines even, and were not at all oily, and we ate them bones and all” (49). It sounds pleasant in his description, but I don’t think I’d eat anything from those waters. Some things change a lot over time.
And some things don’t. Hemingway liked a simple picnic on a nice day: “If the day was bright, I would buy a litre of wine and a piece of bread and some sausage and sit in the sun and read one of the books I had bought” (50). Though a liter of wine is probably more than I need, a simple meal outdoors on a nice day is always a pleasure, especially now that the weather is turning towards spring. And the structure of a typically Parisian lunch is remarkably like what you might get today in a café or someone’s home: “Little radishes, and good foie de veau with mashed potatoes and an endive salad. Apple tart” (45). Yum!
As the title suggests, the mention of food factors significantly into A Moveable Feast, and Hemingway’s encounters with French cuisine are something that can still resonate with modern readers.
- Fishing in the Seine: Ernst Haas Estate