The Last Three Weeks

I’m writing this ensconced in a booth at Le Pain Quotidien for breakfast. Two days home from Paris and I’m already craving baguettes, croissants and all things unhealthy.

I’ve just come from my US Visa interview (approved – I will be flying out to the States this weekend after all) which was scheduled for the ungodly hour of 8am on a Monday morning. No-one in their right mind would want to accompany me, so I am consoling myself with baked eggs with salmon and an iced “americano” because I have a sense of humour. I’m also surrounded by people I recognise from the interview waiting room – including the guy who chose to whip out War and Peace then spent more time waving it in people’s faces than actually reading it.

This post is so delayed because the last three weeks of my Parisian dream were a whirlwind – I can hardly remember the ongoings the working week because it was happily interspersed with dinners, drinks, sunsets on the Seine, yoga classes in Marais attic rooms, cinema trips and pilgrimages to the weekly flower market. I also had the girls to come and visit, over a month ago now! In the meantime they have graduated and become (semi-) serious adults.

We started with a Sunday brunch, hosted at mine. I discovered previously untested quiche-making skills, and that 15 people is too many in my little studio. From there, we went on to the Marais, where after a restorative cocktail at Le Mary Celeste we nipped in and out of boutiques and I proudly showed off Paris’s beautiful garden squares.Photo 04-06-2015 19 18 13Monday meant back to work for me, but I met them later to go to the Luxembourg Gardens for a stroll in the warm weather. All a little weary from a long day, Anna then proved her unquestioned claim to being “The Fun Mum Friend” when she whipped out the Lindt 70% dark chocolate with sea salt – my drug of choice.Photo 04-06-2015 19 25 18Photo 04-06-2015 19 22 28We returned via Ladurée, before a picnic dinner in the bohemian AirBnB the girls had found themselves in. Followed by drinks and people-watching at Le Comptoir Général, my all-too short time with the girls did not disappoint.Photo 04-06-2015 18 46 18Photo 08-07-2015 09 52 58Cressida and I also made time to visit the Musée de l’Art Ludique, where the current exhibition is none other than a showcase of Aardman productions: most famous as being responsible for such classics as Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, and Creature Comforts. The exhibition featured original sketches of ‘Shaun le Mouton’, and clay models from The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. You could say it was A Grand Day Out.

The following weekend, Pip and I finally got the opportunity to try a restaurant that had been on my wish list since before I even moved to Paris. After a (rather heavy but no less brilliant) French film, and a stroll rough the Palais Royal at dusk, we settled into our spot by the window at Ellsworth and enjoyed six courses of true culinary art. Once again, we see the last ones in the restaurant when we finally finished our two desserts.Photo 14-06-2015 10 35 12Photo 14-06-2015 10 29 13Photo 14-06-2015 10 26 12Later that week, Pip and I had another stunning meal; this time of foie gras, chilled asparagus soup, squid risotto and veal. We dined a stone’s throw from Les Invalides at Bistrot Belhara, a tiny restaurant so intimate it feels vaguely like you are sitting in the proprietor’s front room.

All too soon, my final weekend in Paris was upon me.After a disastrous trip to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, I promised myself that I would really take advantage my final couple of weeks in Paris and not spend it indoors unless I was eating, sleeping, or in a museum. Fortunately, the heatwave enabled me to do that with relative ease.

Saturday morning was spent sunning myself in Parc Monceau, before heading to Les Invalides to beat the heat in the Musée de l’Armée, an enormous exhibition space stocked with ancient weapons, suits of armour, military uniforms and one rather dodgy taxidermy of one of Napoleon’s Arabian horses. I imagine he was beautiful in real life, but two hundred years later, his glass eyes had a rather uneven look and his once-palomino coat now looked an undignified dusty grey. I also paid my respects to the Emperor himself, whose tomb occupies the spectacular space under the recognisable golden dome of the Invalides. Buried in six coffins of six different materials, each more elaborate than the last, it is no surprise people suggest he suffered from an inferiority complex.Photo 10-07-2015 12 26 00Photo 10-07-2015 12 06 17The museum was fascinating too – with ornate jousting armour, mother-of-pearl inlaid pistols, and even a recreation of Napoleon’s camp on his ill-fated Russian campaign with his original briefcases and – my favourite detail – his hat.Photo 10-07-2015 12 20 45I cooled off at Café Coutume with an iced chai latte before wandering to Le Bon Marché to brave the seasonal sales. Despite my best attempts, I walked away empty handed after I was informed by my mum via Snapchat that I was not allowed to spend triple figures on silk and lace pyjamas. The beautiful bright weather even at seven in the evening meant I couldn’t resist walking home, but not before resting my feet in the Tuileries as the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower. Cliché? Moi?Photo 10-07-2015 11 44 33Then, on a baking hot dry Sunday, my last in Paris, I decided on a whim that I would go and visit the Chateau de Chantilly, most famous for its spectacular grand stables. It was a beautiful day, and after reading and picnicking at the temple of Venus, I returned to the stables where two of the chateau’s famous riders gave a demonstration with two stunning and very obedient stallions.Photo 08-07-2015 10 01 52Photo 10-07-2015 10 25 03Photo 10-07-2015 10 43 46Photo 10-07-2015 11 07 18Finally, after a peach ice cream and one last wander around the moat, I returned to Paris in the early evening, sleepy and “sun-kissed”.

My last week raced past in a heat haze of 37° sunshine and leaving parties on the banks of the canal, before my final move on Saturday. While it’s lovely to be home, and I have plenty to look forward to, I have left a big part of my heart in the world’s most romantic city, and cannot wait to return in the very near future.

In the meantime, though, Selfridges has opened now and I am spending the afternoon at Wimbledon – Siena out.

Bisous, S. X

Chanson du jour: Great Summer – Vance Joy

My Funny Valentine

Having lived away from home for the best part of the past ten years, I very rarely get homesick. Even now, I don’t miss the place, just the people. So when I was feeling a little low after the devastation of my Oreo Disaster, I put in a call to the folks.

Happily, Mama Morrell was more than keen for a visit, and on Thursday evening I returned from work to find her hanging out of her balcony at the hotel just a couple of doors down from my flat. Because it was a “school night”, we popped open a bottle of wine, I cobbled together a chilli con carne and we caught up over a delicious dinner.

Though I had work the next day, she was more than happy to entertain herself in BHV Marais, until the evening when I had planned a cinema trip and some cocktails. Except, of course, because I’m an unlucky idiot, when it came to locking up the office at the end of the day, I realised my keys were on my bedside table. All alone in the office, it meant I had to call in a favour from my mum: she came to pick up my house keys, return to Ranelagh, and then come back to the office. By that time, we were thirty minutes from the cinema, with five minutes to go before the film started. As major Jamie Dornan cinema fans, we couldn’t face missing part of the film, so picked a cafe for some pre-film dinner and happily tucked into duck magret before pitching up to the cinema stuffed full.

On Saturday I finally managed my bank meeting, meaning I’m almost officially a Parisienne. We walked off our pain aux raisins with a stroll up Rue du Passy to Trocadero, where we did in fact see a couple taking advantage of Saint-Valentin with a cringe-inducing proposal photo shoot. We walked along the river, before the rain forced us to shelter among the columns of the Grand Palais…

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The afternoon was spent strolling the Marais, naturally, and we dipped into Breizh Café for quality coffee and a restorative crêpe. We enjoyed an exquisite dinner, some lovingly-crafted cocktails, and fascinating people-watching at Pan, a restaurant I’d previously been to with Soph and her folks just a few weeks ago. Our romantic dinner for two was perfected by our night-time cab ride along Avenue President Kennedy, with an unobstructed view of the glittering Eiffel Tower.

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Today we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before hitting the streets again, as we strolled across the Seine to Les Invalides, wandered aimlessly through Saint Germain des Près and peered into private courtyards as the sun broke through the clouds. I took my mother to the peaceful Place Dauphine. I picked my dream house based on the ironwork at the windows and glimpses of decorative plastering on the ceilings.

Our destination for lunch was a recommendation from Sophie – Derrière. This restaurant is decorated like a private home, with large shared tables, an extensive CD collection, a ping-pong table and even a large, made-up bed. The brunch menu includes a starter, main, fresh juice, hot drink and an unlimited selection from the buffet. Sounds fairly conventional, but this place is anything but ordinary.

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We opted for apple, pear and strawberry juice, with a coffee for Mrs Morrell and a spiced chocolat chaud for me. Mains were picked from a range of roast meats, and we tucked into caramelised pork and delicious veal accompanied by a spectacular rainbow of legumes.

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For dessert, though, we really went to town, taking it in turns to sample the offerings at the impressive buffet spread. Tarte tatin, tarte aux poires, upside-down cake, gianduja tart, brownies, pistachio cakes, and fresh fruit. We had happily acknowledged that we were fairly full after our mains, but left after pudding unable to take another bite.

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Before leaving though, we had to take a peek into the smoking area: through a mirrored armoire at the end of a corridor, the doors conceal a vast, study-like room. Furnished with taxidermy and quirky heirlooms mounted on the walls, the room offers smokers a clubby, homely suite in which to enjoy a cigarette: some people were stretched out on the leather sofas, while others took on the challenge of table football.

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All too soon, it was time to head home where we discovered unfortunately that Mama Morrell’s train was not at 8pm, but 18.00, and after a perfect leisurely weekend it was sad to rush out of the house and back into the Metro. I’ve taken the opportunity to relax at home after a weekend of walking all over the city. Unwinding with a tea (Mariage Frères, naturally) and listening to Bruce Springsteen as I write my recent blog posts.

I might dread Monday and the rest of the working week, but I make enough wonderful memories each weekend to keep me going until the next one. Not bad, eh?

Bisous,

S. X

Chanson du jour: I’m on Fire – Bruce Springsteen

Date Night(s).

Moving to Paris has undoubtedly been less daunting and less stressful than moving to Barcelona was last year. Here, at least, I understand the language almost fluently. What is a daunting prospect, though, is the First Official Girl Date between new friends. Moving in with Lucie in January blessed me with a handful of her friends, and I have spent the past week cementing those friendships with hilarious and often slightly inebriated suppers.

My first was with Pip, delightful Aussie friend of Iso, who put us in touch over our shared love of food architecture. We had met briefly after my first brunch at Chez Alain, but we stayed in touch and last week, finally made dinner plans. Pip suggested Bouillon Chartier, an old former worker’s hall turned cavernous traditional French bistro. Coincidentally, as soon as I arrived I spotted Pete and Jordan (on a Bro Date) who, also, are new friends courtesy of Lucie. The restaurant was big, but boasted a vibrant atmosphere to match, and we spent much of our time people-watching and spying on what other people had ordered, rather than paying attention to the menu. In fact, we got so distracted and excited to see each other that the poor waiter had to come back three times before we were ready to order. The best part about Chartier, unquestionably, is the fact that you sit on shared tables of six people – as a couple of girls, we happily sat on the end next to a sweet Dutch couple who enjoyed their meal in relative silence.

Then, just as we were tucking into our mains, the Dutch couple were replaced by two French gentlemen who politely smiled as we shuffled to make room for them, before studying the menu intensely. As Pip and I simultaneously expressed our satisfaction with our meal (steak for her, perch fillets – Dorning family, I’m thinking of you! – for me) they politely enquired as to our choices before we both returned to our respective conversations. After some delightful and hilarious chatter washed down with our little carafe of wine, Pip and I looked longingly at their desserts – a little too longingly, it seemed. Without hesitation, they pushed over their pineapple platter and ice-cream profiterole before ordering the waiter to bring us more spoons for us to share. Safe to say, that was the beginning of the end. Another two whole bottles of wine, an internship organised for Pip by our new friend Sam, and an offer to fly over Paris for me (that I fully intend to capitalise on) from Serge the pilot, and mine and Pip’s First Official Girl Date was undoubtedly a resounding success. We even took photos.

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My second, last Thursday, was with Michi, a Durham-ite I hardly knew before Nick introduced us. We opted for Cambodian food (rogue but delicious) and ventured to Le Petit Cambodge for a bite to eat. Other than the fact that I was forty minutes late, the rest of our date passed without a hitch. It transpires Cambodian food is amazing – fresh veg, warming noodles with rich broth and marinaded meat – but we decided to top it off with a bottle of wine between the two of us (my John’s College Formal credentials are failing me, it seems I am no longer fit for wine consumption), and so anything would have seemed pretty amazing that night. Including the idea to go for cocktails afterwards. Unwilling to walk particularly far because of the tundra-like conditions outside and bitter gale-force winds, we discovered a heated patio opposite the restaurant that promised us 5€ caipirinhas. Anyone who knows my family knows we are all incapable of refusing a caipirinha if it’s on the menu and so we ensconced ourselves in the warmest corner and started the rounds – alco-blankets are a thing, no?

So, two incredibly successful First Official Girl Dates down, I deemed it officially time for the real deal. Tuesday night, Lauren and I went on a blind “Smeeting” date, with Julien and Elliott, two fun, charming Frenchmen. We enjoyed a couple of cocktails before moving on to something much, much more serious: table football. Let’s just say that in the future, I will never reveal competitive edge on the bébé foot table on a first date again…

Bisous,

S. X

Chanson du jour: So Lost – Ady Suleiman

Ranelagh.

Well, I’ve managed it. Somehow, I’ve landed myself with the most beautiful studio apartment in Paris’s 16th. I have my very own little piece of Parisian real estate. I’m neighbouring embassies and international schools, and there’s a Maserati with diplomatic plates parked outside my building 24/7. A little ridiculous for student living, but it’s ten minutes from work. Can you blame me?

This came in extra useful on Thursday morning, when I managed to wake up an hour and a half late for work. Up at 8.22, in the office by 8.47. Impressive, no? Other than that, though, living here has been a dream. I have an enormous fridge (permanently empty, as if I can afford food at the moment) a dishwasher (ha!) and my very own washing machine. It already feels like home.

The only minor downside is that I can’t actually work out how to pronounce my street name like a true Parisian. The Londoner in me wants to say “Ran-lee”, a strange part of me wants to say “Ran-uh-luh”, and the man on the metro says “RAN-LAG”, which sounds like an aggressive German expletive.

Work has finally “settled” into an only mildly hectic routine which is a relative improvement. It’s not quite the riotous good time I was spoiled with in Barcelona, but it’s been amazing for my French already. The best bit of living here, though, is without doubt the food the people. This past week I’ve really made the most of my evenings – Wednesday, Cressida and I intended to visit the European Museum of Photography but on the discovery that it was closed we made our way to Breizh Café for an incredible galette… Or two. Thursday, Lauren and I shared some quality time over dinner and a stroll down the Champs-Élysées, pinching ourselves at the fact that we live in the most beautiful city in the world. And yesterday evening, Lauren, Anna and I crossed town to Belleville for a Greek send off for Alex, who is off to Salamanca for the rest of her year abroad. Lauren and I finished the evening at drinks on Avenue de la Grande Armée, walking home in the early hours of this morning past the Arc de Triomphe and the glinting lights of the Eiffel Tower. It’s just ridiculous that people travel the world to visit these monuments and for us, they’re just on the high street.

I’ve spent the morning in bed, enjoying a lie-in and binge-watching J’ai dit oui à la robe. And if I’m honest, living in this city really is the dream.

Chanson du Jour: Home – Johnnyswim

The First Post from Paris

For once I’m actually stumped for words. I’ve finished my second day at work and I am exhausted.

A 45-minute commute doesn’t sound like much when you have to be at the office for ten, but for the rest of the month I’ll be crossing Paris to get to work for 8h15 every morning. I will be responsible for opening the language centre; turning every computer and light in the building on; organising billing hours; student evaluations; post and cheque deposits; phone calls to students, teachers, and businesses; emails; and – the ultimate responsibility – making a pot of coffee SIX TIMES A DAY. I’ve already decided that when I leave I’ll buy them a Nespresso machine – I might be an intern but even I don’t have the time to stand around for a bloody filter machine.

Despite the coffee bombshell, my first day of work was unbelievably positive. A barrage of information seemed pretty intimidating, but everyone was friendly and charming and very complimentary on my language – phew. The office is quite cute, if miles from the centre of the city. Thankfully, it’s also close to a sushi bar. My last meal at VeryChic in Barcelona was a sushi feast with la prod and so I thought it was fairly fitting that my first meal in the office in Paris was un repas japonais. Today I even managed the phones for some time – my worst cauchemar – and survived.

Happily, coming home to the 5th this evening to my lovely apartment is a delight. I feel so at home already thanks to my lovely colocataire Lucie, who is a student from home who has lived here since September with Emma – a fellow linguist from school. It is a relief to come home and relax and speak English – even if I have discovered a love for Friends in French. This evening I enjoyed The One with L’Unagi. I still haven’t yet needed to tuck into the emergency Percy Pigs stashed above the sink, which I suppose is a good sign too.

Sunday, I went on a typically touristy walk around the Left Bank, before meeting Maddy – fellow Durham intern – for a coffee. Seeing as I’m already late to bed for my 6h30 wake up tomorrow, I’ll leave you with just a few pictures of my fun stroll.

Bisous x

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DAYS 12-15 09/07-12/07

That’s it! I’m done!

Yesterday, I finished teaching at our summer school. While I don’t feel that my French has come on all that much since I’ve been here, and some days I have wanted to scream and yell and cry and hit the kids all at once, I have appreciated the new experience of teaching. It’s clear to me that I am just not cut out for it, but it has given me an increased respect for teachers who are courageous enough to do it for a living! (There you go, Liberty.)

I spent Wednesday after work at the Louvre. It was an extraordinary attack on the senses: I couldn’t believe quite how much there was to see in just one museum. I am going to need to do several trips before I see the whole thing; nobody can stand the sheer number of tourists for longer than two, two and a half hours maximum. Nevertheless, I did see La Joconde (Mona Lisa). Like everyone says, it is smaller than I had imagined it to be. I also discovered my new favourite place in Paris: the sculpture gallery. It was by far the most peaceful area in the museum, and though I had seen photos, I was blown away by its beauty, as well.

On Thursday, the girls and I headed to Le Voltigeur for a demi-peche to celebrate the end of work, and went on to L’As du Fallafel to try Paris’s most famous fast food. Thankfully, it lived up to its reputation. It was by far the greatest falafel I have ever tasted. I think I was short-changed because I didn’t get enough aubergine in my pita, but I promise to take every visitor I host next year there (so I can get more aubergine.)

Last night I had my first Parisian night out. Emilia, Geoff and I managed to negotiate an invitation to a pre-drinks on Rue de l’Université with the current Exeter/Bristol/Edinburgh year abroad social circle. The apartment took up the entire fifth floor of a stunning Haussman building, and was stuffed full of fascinating books, travel souvenirs and knick-knacks. The guest bathroom mirror was surrounded by 20-25 stuffed exotic birds… We didn’t end up going out until 1.30am, but in Paris, that doesn’t matter: nights out don’t end until 6am here. We had all bought tickets to a house night to see Goldfish, Faul & Wad Ad and two other DJs who we missed at a club called Showcase. The vibe was Nova meets Jimmy A’s: the dream.

Spent the day today recovering from my 6.30am bedtime. I enjoyed a lazy morning in bed and then as the sun burst through the clouds I headed out for a walk. Tomorrow I am planning on cracking Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Musée Rodin, provided the weather stays nice.

S.X

DAYS 9, 10 & 11, 06/07-08/07

Ended up leaving the house Sunday due to internet boredom and Speculoos consumption rate.

Headed straight for Le Marais to search for a bar in which I could relax, embrace Parisian café culture, and watch the Wimbledon men’s final.

Found a vibrant café and enjoyed the company of a couple of visiting Kiwis, two Yanks, and a lone Frenchman. Fortunately, we were all supporting the Swiss, so no disputes there.

Admittedly, I was dreading Monday morning. I made the unwise choice of staying up late to watch Game of Thrones, which made the shrill 7.30 alarm even more despicable.

The past two days of teaching have been more tolerable – I think we’re getting used to being in control, although I keep losing the plot with the youngest group. Alex, who’s about 13, I think, repeats “Yes, yes, it’s good” after we answer any questions he has or we set him any work. It is completely inadvertent, but once I realised, every time he said it, I couldn’t hold it in. Terrible teacher that I am, for laughing at my students.

This week is racing past, but I’m very excited for the end of this course. I have enjoyed getting to know my new city, although my French hasn’t improved quite yet. I also might have found an apartment! A little haven in the 16th with three other girls… I’ll keep you posted!

S.X