Exactly a year ago, I was working hard to cross things off my Paris-bucklet list as I savored my last few days in France. I spent six weeks nestled in a story-book-like schoolhouse in the Latin Quarter, commuting to French class 4 days a week at the quant NYU Paris campus through NYU Study abroad.
I’m not really even sure where to start with Paris. It was almost surreal and when I reflect on it, part of me can’t believe that I lived it. Undoubtably, it was probably one of the best – if not the best – experience of my life.
This is in retrospect, though. At the time I didn’t really realize how fucking lucky I was to be there. I was battling home-sickness and New York-sickness, as well as constant stomach problems brought on by the change in cuisine. I actually had a countdown on my wall, and happily crossed off the days until I headed home. The thought of this countdown disgusts me now, and looking back my only regret is that I would have been more open-minded, lived in the moment more, and tried harder to enjoy myself instead of wallowing in self-pity. Change in environment and food and culture and routine certainly let my anxiety creep over and control me a bit, but all that said, I still had the most amazing time and will never ever forget those beautiful six weeks.
I got to do so much. I met the most amazing people, whom I’m still quite close with (in fact, the girl I’m lucky enough to call “roommate” for the upcoming year was someone I met in Paris). What I love most about my “Paris friends” (as I call them) is that we’re all incredibly different. We had different majors, interests, backgrounds – but somehow we all sort of clicked as a mini group. If we hadn’t all been tossed into Paris together hat summer, I’m not sure I would have found any of them or even if I had, gone out of my way to be friends with them. But I love them. They provided comfort, laughs, emotional support, and adventure buddyship I needed to get through study abroad. And even though some of them have since graduated college and even live in different parts of the world, we’re still connected. We still talk, and we still hang out. And that’s a bit miraculous to me. They became and remained some of my closest friends, which is something I never expected to gain from the trip.
Not only did I make friends, I learned SO much. Likely more in six weeks than I normally do over a year. I learned a lot about France, the language, and French culture, of course, but less obviously I learned so damn much about myself I felt like I grew up 10 years mentally and emotionally. While I was there I realized how set I can be in my ways. Lesson learned – I’m now more open and more flexible, and try to appreciate things and humans for the way they are. And I’m happy about this. I also realized how much I am absolutely in love with New York. I’m having withdrawals this summer, as well. Anytime I leave for an extended period of time, I crave it. Life just makes more sense there to me. Where else can you get any kind of food delivered to your door at any hour of the day? I love not having to rely on a car, and adore how – although it sounds paradoxical to some – walking alone at 3am in the big city somehow feels totally safe. I love that in a 30 minute walk I can be in several neighborhoods and feel how their cultures make each very distinct and as if its its own city. I love that I can have access to basically anything at any hour of the day. 24 hour restaurants, pharmacies, office supplies stores, Best Buys – man we are SPOILED in the city. And now every other city just feels kind of limiting. So I guess, in Paris, I learned I’m becoming a New Yorker- and possibly a lifelong one.
Speaking of spoiled, New York tainted my ability to appreciate French cuisine. Well aware that I’m likely making many people doubt my ability to know/love good food – I gotta say – I did not think the cuisine in Paris was all that great. This is totally personal, and probably has a lot to do with the fact that I do not like meat, which a lot of classic French cuisine includes. Aside from that, I found a lot of dishes over-buttered and under-seasoned. Often times I would eat an omelet or a side of cooked vegetables and taste only butter. I’m sorry – I’m Italian – I’m all about olive oil, and using it only to enhance (rather than overpower) the flavors of food. As someone who has never craved grease in my life, I found a lot of French entrees to be just a bit too rich for my taste.
That said there were some things France knocked out of the park. What stands out most clearly in my memory was the fruit and the cheese. Fruit in France is all grown more or less organically – there are way fewer pesticides and nothing is genetically modified. And you can tell! The strawberries are all tiny, but pack much sweeter, deeper flavors than the large commercial ones you see in American grocery stores. In fact, all the fruit tastes sweeter. I’m not sure if its the water or the soil, but every piece of fruit was as satisfying to me as candy – and I have a raging sweet tooth. I also fell in love with donut peaches and fresh apricots in France – I ate so so many of these. And the pink lady apples were tarter, crisper, and sweeter – just overall more intense – than any I’ve been able to find here.
Regarding true sweets, France did have delicious pasteries. They used almonds, coconut, pistachio and nutella (all things I love) in many of their desserts, and did it quite well. I had a soft spot for coconut and almond croissants, as well as macaroons and absolutely anything filled with pastry cream. I’d like to say these stood out to me more than American pastries, but sadly they didn’t. I’ve been very spoiled by excellent bakeries in New York and Milwaukee, and France’s pastries, while delicious, where simply among (not ahead of) others I’ve had. That said, I loved their use of many ingredients in dessert that are often overlooked in the United States, and I left inspired as a baker.
MMMmmm but all that sweetness needs something to balance it – this is perhaps why cheese is often or after served among dessert or fruit in france. And yes, the rumors are true. France knows and loves its cheese. It sits on a Parisienne pedestal and for good reason. I had a LOT of kinds of cheese, but goat has always been my favorite. And the goat cheese I had there (and I ate it a lot – salad chèvre was my go-to dish at a lot of restaurants) perfectly tangy and creamy. It was absolutely blissful to eat dipped with some chewy French baguette.
Speaking of grains, both my digestive system and I, truly missed whole grains while in France. My body is so used to consuming whole grain 90% of the time (because I truly prefer the taste), so the lack of fiber and sudden influx of refined flour wrecked havoc on my intestines. An overshare, perhaps, but this prevented me from enjoying a lot of food/experiences while in France.
All this talk of food makes me thirsty. So let’s move on to another France no-brainer: WINE. I was not a wine drinker before France. I was convinced I didn’t like it. Now I love it. Thanks you France! I kid you not, in some grocery stores, you could buy (cheap) wine for less than soda, some full sized bottles cashing in at a mere Euro (about $1.30 USD). I was even lucky enough to go on an NYU-sponsored all-expenses-paid field trip to Bordeux, where in addition to boat tours and excessive wining and dining, we were lucky enough to tour a winery. That weekend remains one of the most cherished of my entire life. I felt like I was living in a painting or a dream. It remains surreal, even as a memory.
I’m going to finish my France food post with something I know and love: ice cream. More specifically, gelato. In Paris I fell deeply in love. With Armorino Gelato. A Paris born chain started by two Italian men (because Italians do everything best), Amorino was on every corner to satisfy my ice cream addition. Expensive, yes, but well worth the money. It is clearly made from real, quality ingredients (think – actual fruit, high quality chocolate, real cherries and coconut, etc) and they let you layer as many flavors into a beautiful flower as you could fit. This gelato was perfection. Creamy, but not too creamy, it boasted a a balance that was never too rich nor too sweet to overpower the star ingredient of each flavor. I became quite partial to the Speculoos, pistachio, coconut, mango, and amaretto (almond with cherry chunks). It was one of my favorite treats in France, and by some lucky miracle, the only Amorino in the US is within walking distance to my apartment in New York City, so I haven’t had to give it up. I go there from time to time, not only because it’s incredible, but because every bite is laced with nostalgia. And let’s be honest – food that can wash you with warm memories and fuzzy feelings always becomes a favorite.
So there you have it. A really unorganized food-laced reflection on France. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it. But my Paris experience has never left me. My friends are still very present, and it has inspired me to be more open-minded and embracing of life. Most invaluably, I try harder to explore my world around me. Milwaukee, New York – Paris taught me to take advantage of my surroundings and see what the world has to offer. It’s important to experience life and not post up in your room. The world is meant for seeing. Every site, sound, and bite you take helps you grow up. Merci, Paris, for teaching me much more than how to ask someone, “où sont les salles de bains?”