‘Where the Hell Have You Been?’: A Retrospective

How do you say ‘my bad’ in French?

It’s not that I didn’t have anything to write about for the last few months, quite the opposite.  And now I’m up against it.  Eight weeks later and it’s time for another vacation.

So, to whet your palate, a Christmas newsletter of sorts.

Part 1

Thanksgiving in Gap (yeah, I’m takin’ it way back) was a family affair.  Teaching assistants all over town pushed their hotplates to the limit before crowding into the one private apartment between us, that of the very game Maddy and Sarah.  Wrangling chairs from desks and outdoor furniture sets, the Europeans waited as we Americans looked dumbly at a beautifully cooked, but frustratingly intact turkey.  With German assistant Ha Nam’s help, I stepped up, doing my best Dick Bohlander impression.

And then WE ATE!

In December, I visited my friend Alizée for a 30-hour stay in Paris.  No, seriously.  Alizée spent two semesters at Pitt on exchange from Sciences-Po and happened to sit next to me on the first day of a political science course.  After seeing her scribble something in French in her notebook, I decided I was not going to let my first French friend slip away.  Good thing I didn’t learn to keep my eyes on my own paper.

Arriving at her apartment on the Left Bank at 9am on a Saturday, it was really nice to see Alizée two years after she left Pittsburgh.  Her apartment is adorable, plus she is a great hostess. (This is my third stay in France, I really shouldn’t be surprised by this anymore.)

A good friend takes your picture in front of a beautiful tea salon. A great friend waits til you're off the phone.

Alizée wanted to know which parts of Paris I had yet to see.  And then she took me to see them!  We were unstoppable: the Eiffel Tower, the Marais (the Jewish quarter); Sciences-Po for the judging of a literary contest; Le Bon Marché, one of the fanciest and oldest department stores in Paris; and the Christmas displays in the Parisian equivalent of Macy’s Herald Square.  Then, Alizée invited me out to dinner with a few of her friends, all of whom were lovely and would have been perfect for a ‘fashion on the street’ feature in a magazine.  Oh, and I learned about Miss France, which is exactly what it sounds like and has secured a permanent spot on my radar.  Finally, we met up with a couple of Alizée’s friends for a drink.  What a classy place.  They could have handed me some PBR, and I still would’ve paid 5 euros for it.

Quick as it was, the trip to Paris was so worth it, and I had no idea just how serious Alizée was about showing me the Paris I’d never seen before.  Someday I hope I can return the favor…I wonder if she’s interested in seeing a side of the Philly suburbs/Central Jersey she’s never seen before?

Paris au printemps

Salut!
I must apologize for not updating for so long, but I promise the only things worth updating about have happened in the past two weeks. But what a busy two weeks! Just so you know, I’m in Italy right now, in Florence to be exact, but I’d rather just write about my mom and my aunt Missy’s trip to France for now.

Two Saturdays ago I was really excited to wake up, get ready, grab my things and head to Paris on the TGV to see my mom and aunt…and then I promptly missed my bus to the Aix TGV station. But I took a taxi and made the train and the connection in Lyon. I really didn’t know how I was going to find the two Shepherd sisters, but by some freak coincidence they were consulting a guide book, huddled under a cafe awning right beyond the stairs out of the Metro station! I don’t think they even realized it was me at first, I was so happy to see them I kind of just pounced. We found the apartment we had rented, just a two minute walk from a Metro station and the Boulevard de Rennes, a perfect location in the Left Bank. And the apartment was very nice.

Missy and my mom were exhausted, having barely slept on the flight. I felt bad enforcing the number one rule of fighting jet lag in France: you MUST stay up til 8pm the first night. So we got some lunch-y food at a cafe and then walked around the 6th arrondissement a little bit, stopping at the Cafe Les Deux Magots, where Simone de Beauvoire, Jean Paul Sartre, and others used to sip out of tiny cups and eat tiny chocolates. It was a cool experience, and one that made me appreciate the customary 1,70€ I begrudgingly pay for a coffee in Aix. We saw the Seine, though it was dreary and drizzling, before heading back to the apartment.

My mom and Missy stayed up even a little past 9, so they were ready to go the next morning…in their own time. Apparently I’m not really capable of sleeping in anymore, at least not before these two weeks of vacation. The ‘grownups’ enjoyed what the French would call a grasse matinée, or a fat/lazy morning. We had some fresh croissants and jam from the market I found down the street. At any rate, we packed a lot in our first full day in Paris, including a nice walk through Saint Michel, my favorite part of Paris, and a tour of Notre Dame and Sainte Chappelle. We grabbed lunch in a very funky creperie in Saint Michel. I was very excited because it had galettes! Galettes are just like crepes but are made from a different batter using buckwheat flour (I think), and they’re popular in Bretagne, including Nantes, where I studied last summer. Though I couldn’t convince my dining companions that cider really was the way to go, they seemed to enjoy their galettes.

After lunch, we walked over to the Louvre to look at the exterior, then walking through the Jardin des Tuileries. Missy and Mom got a little catnap in the surprisingly comfortable chairs around one of the fountains. Then we headed off up the Champs Elysées towards the Arc de Triomphe. We were looking for a place to rest our feet and get a cup of coffee when we spotted an interesting pale green exterior on the less frequented side of the Champs. It just so happened it was a cafe called Ladurée (sorry, not sure if it’s two words) known for it’s incredible pastry desserts. I dove in for the chocolate, Missy chose a kind of religieuse (puff pastry with icing and filled with cream) with raspberries and rose-flavored cream, and my mom chose an awesome strawberry dessert. We finally made it to the Arc de Triomphe, and the sun had set below the treeline, leaving a pale orange backdrop.

Then it was off to the races again! We had reserved a table at a Corsican restaurant all the way back by the Louvre, near the Palais Royal. So we booked it. When I called the restaurant to explain that we might be a little bit late, the guy who answered the phone just said thank you and kind of laughed. I had a feeling the French aren’t ones to go giving away tables when something as important as a pre-arranged, fine dining experience is at stake. The restaurant was great, live music, interesting decor, and excellent food. Not to mention the two sisters’ running commentary on our two waiters, trying to get me to admit I liked one of them.

We walked back to the apartment, over the Seine, and fell into bed after our huge day. The next morning, not too early of course, we headed to the Louvre. We saw the must-sees, the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory, Michelangelo’s sculptures, and some things I either hadn’t seen or hadn’t noticed the last time I went. Our last goal for the Louvre was to see the Napoleon III apartments, which definitely lived up to my expectations. Ceilings dripping with chandeliers, furniture covered in gold and velvet, and a dining room table that might actually have been able to sit the entire Shepherd family.

In the afternoon, we went to the Jardin du Luxembourg, stopping to enjoy some French pastries (well I had to show them the best France has to offer, right?). I had been before and I like it better than the Jardin des Tuileries, but this time we found something I didn’t see the last time. We found a boules league! Boules is the French game that is kind of like bowling on the greens or bocci ball, however you spell that. Except boules is on a sandy dirt surface. It’s often called pétanque in the south of France, where it was invented. I’ve only ever seen really old men playing it, never women, let alone a 20 year old one.

For our last night in Paris, we went to a very nice restaurant in the 5th or 7th arrondissement, I forget which exactly, just whichever one has the Eiffel Tower. This outing led to by far the most memorable moment of the trip. When the waiter came to take our order I asked for the rognons de veau with tagliatelles, a kind of pasta. I figured rognon was some kind of round cut or something. Except…it wasn’t. As soon as it was placed in front of me I knew I should have just clarified with the waiter what it was since now I had a plate full of what appeared to be either brains, intestines, or, as my mother tried to say reassuringly, sweetbreads. Now I may get some flack for not trying it, but I’m sorry, I don’t do weird textures, and I knew all I needed to know when my mom tried it and all she said was “It’s an interesting taste”. I just ate the pasta and waited it out for tiramisu (it turned out to be excellent).

Before going back to the apartment we walked over to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night, but really I just wanted to know what rognons were. I ran up the six flights of stairs to our apartment and breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t eaten any cow kidneys that night!

I’ll leave it at that for now, next time I’ll write about Missy and my mom’s stay in Aix and hopefully at some point I’ll get pictures up on Facebook from that trip and the one I’m on right now.
A bientot!
Maggie B.