Past Lives Abroad: An Expat in Paris (6eme)

Someone recently asked me, “Do you miss it, like, everyday?” My answer — to almost everyone’s surprise — is, “No.” I don’t even miss it most days. When I recollect the miracles from that chapter of my life, the memories are mostly spangled by my friendships or my own internal victories, and I get to keep those with me wherever I go.

People, especially Americans, have this overly romanticized idea of Paris. Yes, occasionally there are days spent kissing lovers along cherry blossomed side streets. Sometimes there are bicycle rides with a baguette in your basket, wheeling toward a picnic in the park.

These are not the things I miss about Paris.

I’m surprised by the associations that stir up my senses and point my attention à Paris. Sitting at my table in New York’s Upper East Side, staring out at a completely different cityscape than my view three years ago in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, it is the sound of the rain and the certain shade of grey cast over the city that takes me back in time.

For most of the time outside of tourist season, Paris is fairly wet and dark. And, if it’s not wet, that’s because it’s too cold to be. London always gets the bad weather rap, but Paris is much the same. I learned that the rain does not stop the people of Paris from getting out and staying chic. Here’s a list of my most favorite rainy day neighborhood spots:

1) Le Comptoir du Relais9, carrefour de l’Odéon, 75006. I have never seen this place empty. I usually try to squeeze in on a rainy day, and will even sit outside (perfect for people watching). They will give you a blanket for your lap if it’s cold, pictured below. For lunch service, Le Comptoir does traditional brasserie to a tee. I still have dreams of sipping savory beef broth with delicate tapioca pearls. Maybe it’s due to some divinity in the dining, but the neighbors I literally brushed shoulders with sitting at Le Comptoir, were friendly and forgiving, shattering the stereotype of the French.

lecomptoir

2) Coffee Parisiene4, rue Princesse, 75006. I hardly even eat burgers at home in the States, but I’d still get the occasional comfort food craving. It’s styled like a traditional American diner and features placemats picturing the presidents of the United States. Perhaps not the best place to go when you’ve only got a few, precious moments in Paris, but it’s a nice reminder of home for expats.

burger-coffeeparisien

3) Ralph’s173, Boulevard Saint-Germain, 75006. There’s a restaurant in the Ralph Lauren Saint-Germain flagship store. It’s gorgeous. Housed in a 17th-century townhouse, it’s the ultimate canteen of comfort for the expat in Paris. I’ve been known to order one too many coffees just to stay seated in the garden patio.

ralphs paris 3

I enjoyed being an expat. The French are not what most people think, they just don’t sugar coat it for you. Fortunately, I was born under some audacious angel and will speak with almost anyone to learn the language. I found in my butcher an incredible teacher. He helped me out with a smile the first day, as I carefully read off my list. Each time I’d go to him, we’d go through out motions, but he’d throw in a conversational curve ball, pushing me to learn the language.

Even though I prefer New York, Paris changed me.


Wait! For obvious reasons, DO NOT leave Saint-Germain without eating at L’Atelier de Jöel Robuchon5, rue de Montalembert, 75007.

 

 

 

Neighborhood Review: UES, NYC

I’ve embraced a lot of newness in my life recently: quitting smoking, getting married, and moving uptown. Tell me all you want that I’ve sold out (mostly about moving uptown), but I’m thrilled to meet this new me. I’ve lived a lot of life with NYC. It’s grown with me and continually challenges me, allowing me to take what I want and occasionally dishing out what I really need.

This is why we all came here, right? Well, it’s why I did. I love NYC for so many reasons. The potential to turn a corner and have life change in an instant, to meet the best and brightest people and trip in and out of endless opportunities. That is the way I want to live my life, and it all happens here.

Coming from Nolita, the Upper East Side could almost be another city completely. I hadn’t realized how narrowly I’d folded myself into one small corner of NYC. Truth, I might not have come to this drastic of a move uptown all on my own, but I’m finding out more and more how grateful I am for this shift. NYC is the kind of city that will change you while also changing with you.

Once I settled in uptown, I made like the natives, slapped on my first pair of lululemons, and went exploring. Beyond the obvious wins like being close to Central Park, Museum Mile, and Daniel, here’s what I’ve found:

1) The East Pole212-249-2222 133, East 65th Street btw Park & Lex. There isn’t a wild wonder why I feel so at home here, since this spot brings downtown flavor from the same owners of Fat Radish. Like me, the uptown version is a trifle less lush, but nonetheless delicious. I’m charmed by the cozy, farm table interior and emphasis on local, organic produce. The menu shifts some with the seasons, but when in doubt, the burger is a decent decision. Come here for brunch or a quiet weekday dinner date.

Standout sip: Mexican Standoff (grilled jalapeño-infused tequila, canton ginger, regans’).

2) August212-935-1433, 791 Lexington Avenue btw 61st & 62nd. Another downtown delight grew up and came uptown. August does elevated rustic American fare. Details go far in my book and that’s what makes August more special than it seems initially. We came here with friends, so I got to try a lot off the menu. I’ve seen most of their cocktails before, but they did the trick.

Best bite: Crispy brussel sprouts with honey-sriracha glaze.

3) Bröd | Kitchen212-600-5202, 1201 2nd Avenue (at 63rd). This is not your average neighborhood bakery. I’m usually the plain croissant and coffee type (file under: habits picked up while living in Paris), but I have been seduced by these sandwiches. They are as beautiful as the flavors are balanced, and the bread is freshly baked. Also, the iced coffee is perfect for these 60°F December days. Bröd recently opened up another location near NYU (West 4th & Greene Street). So maybe the UES and downtown aren’t so different, after all.

Brod

I’m still on the search for a yoga studio and a bookstore. Any suggestions?

Career Chronicles (part 1: Best Worst Boss–Nolita, NYC)

I love Nolita. I outlined the very basic reasons why I ended up here previously, but there’s another story to tell. One of my first internships in NYC as an ingenue (yes, I was intentionally wearing Tory Burch) was right around the corner from where I currently live. I worked–very briefly–for a fledgling all-girls ad agency, headed by an interesting woman with roots in robotics and a strong female-forward platform. It was not as horrible as it sounds; there were tensions and tears. Although the experience was short-lived, it was a wonderfully instructive stage in my career development.

The best days were when my boss decided to take the afternoon off with us. The internship was not necessarily directly consequential in terms of my career trajectory (it didn’t even go on my CV), but these outings almost made it worth being unpaid. Much of this education-of-sorts crafted my creativity in terms of a career, drove my interest in technology, and developed my identity as a female entrepreneur.

I had, up until then, only been a student of creativity. I’d never taken it out for a round in the “real world.” I wasn’t responsible for much at the ad agency, but I got to flex some of my writing skills, learn about design standards, and develop my digital aesthetic. I also got to experience a startup for the first time. Although I had no real place at the agency, I broadened my idea of what kind of boss I hoped to be one day.

My boss was, and I suspect still is, spunky and stylish. I remember one excursion very well. A girl had just quit, and she came to collect her last check (and cry). It quickly became clear that we would not get much work done that day. Once the dust had settled, my boss took me out for a walk. We grabbed a cupcake at The Little Cupcake Bakeshop (featured image), and meandered about Mulberry Street. We stepped into Qlosette, which has recently just closed its doors, and then she showed me around Spring Street.

Unfortunately, at the time, I did not see the value in this experience. Neither did many of the others, apparently. I cruised the Glassdoor reviews from previous employees, and it’s kind of a shitsmear. I hate to see this. A personal philosophy of mine, especially professionally, is that what happens in your experience and how you choose to feel about something should be private. Take ownership of it, process how you must (that can include sharing with a select confident), and move on. Nobody is being noble by calling someone out like that, especially on the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I felt much of the same frustrations as the reviewers…at the time.

But you know what? I quit early and didn’t cry–two facts that I’m quite proud of. It didn’t take long for me to identify what was going wrong by knowing confidently what I actually wanted. Yes, it was tough to tolerate at times, but I took the obstacle as an opportunity, didn’t look back once, and moved to London and Paris soon after. C’est la vie. But if you complain, lash out, and consistently search for external validation, your version of that “vie” will suck and you will be more miserable for it. Trust me (or don’t), but it’s not worth it. Wallowing is not the way. Smile for the woman you are in that very moment, and for the one you will be when you walk out that door knowing yourself that much more.

Art Review: Heather Nichol’s “Soft Spin,” Brookfield Place, NYC

I have a passion for public art. The city, especially, creates a powerful canvas for imagination and art. Living in NYC for the past few years, I have both intentionally and unintentionally participated in a lot of public art (I would argue that most of life lived here is participation in public art–what with the sheer amount of architecture and human interaction–but that’s another thought that I will save for another day). Suffice it to say, I constantly find myself in the presence of beauty and inspiration, and that is one of the major reasons that brought me here and that aids my endurance of this frenetic city lifestyle.

Heather Nichol, a Toronto-based artist and curator, is showing a site-specific sound and sculptural installation, Soft Spin, in The Winter Garden at the Brookfield Place New York in Lower Manhattan. Nichol’s installation challenges the everyday idea of the “sculpture.” These soft, rotating skirts-resembling-flowers paired with sound are sensual and sharp all at the same time. I was not a huge fan of the vocals. I would have liked to meditate under these flowers, and my thoughts were distracted and directed elsewhere. Since the expansive space amplifies the ambient noise of the bustling Brookfield Place already, I would have been challenged to meet my mindfulness, anyhow. Nonetheless, I rationalized the vocals as, at the very least, intentional (a quality I quite admire in an art piece and person).

This piece brings to mind the artist Janet Echelman‘s 2011 Ted Talk, entitled “Taking Imagination Seriously” (video below). Echelman centers her talk on explaining how she came to her current success with unorthodox city sculptures by way of a “failure” in her pursuit of painting. What I find fascinating about both Nichol and Echelman is that they had the ability to take something ordinary and transcend the original meaning of the given objects and spaces.

Both artists bring to cities what we all hope to do in our everyday lives. These undulating art pieces move and shape-shift with the wind. There are wonderful meanings that can be made from a more interactive, fluid art form. They become part of the environment. They change with our moods and with our attitudes. The space is illuminated by imagination, and I’m grateful for having participated in this study.

The New York Times recently reviewed the Brookfield Place and the surrounding neighborhood of Battery Park city, calling it “revitalized,” elevated to a “dynamic destination.” Paola Singer attributed this to the influx of high dining, but I’d like to add that it’s also the art. As I scoured the web for images of Soft Spin, I noticed a trend. Many young mothers (instagram: thebabybumpdiaries and monicastorch), indigenous inhabitants of this neighborhood, have been early evangelists of this art. This is what I’m talkin’ about! What is so lovely about public art is that it is for everyone–not just the hoity-toity traders who need a cultural outlet for their funds.

I also love that kids are interacting with art. Artists deeply seek to leave a legacy, and I think that one of the most fascinating and important audiences is the child. I grew up watching Sesame Street’s “Don’t Eat the Pictures” (which you can watch on YouTube). As an anecdote: when we were children, my parents took us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art often. On a particular trip, my younger brother (at age 5) strode up to a still life and, after regarding it for a moment, correctly identified it as a Cézanne. Parents, you won this one.

All in all, I feel strongly that the space is worthy of the sculpture. Bravo, Brookfield Place and Heather Nichol. I hope to see more inspiration in The Winter Garden as this space and neighborhood take new shape.

Neighborhood Review: Nolita, NYC

When I was a girl, and Sex and the City was all I had for an NYC cultural compass, I dreamed of living in a Carrie Bradshaw-esque apartment in the West Village (even though she was supposed to be in the Upper East Side…at least I knew where those brownstones really were).

A decade later and a decade wiser, I decided that I had the rest of my life to live in the West Village (as well as, regrettably, a bunch of money to make before I could afford the whole brownstone). I had just returned from living in Paris (#leftbankbitty!) in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Thus, it made sense that I set my sights on SoHo.

I trudged all around town with my realtor. It was the winter and I was crestfallen at a) the prices, b) the prices, c) the space (or lack thereof), and d) the fact that nothing came with a terrace. I was just about to give up when I found a miracle: a penthouse (avec une terrasse!) on Elizabeth Street and East Houston. Not quite SoHo, but close enough. The catch: I didn’t have a job. Another catch: it was with a stranger. She turned out to be lovely, and in retrospect she got the short end of the stick getting matched with me, but I had arrived in Nolita.

View from the top!

View from the top!

Another catch was that it was a short term rental, and it was priced affordably because, since it was winter, the outside space was deemed “useless.” Fortunately for me, it was a very mild winter, and I was sunbathing by the turn of spring. My heart was broken when they presented me with the summer prices.

I bid that apartment a sweet goodbye. I wasn’t used to that. I realize now, two years later, that it is very common to live a quasi-nomadic life in NYC. Most people I know move every year, and some even more. However, I was hooked. I was bound and determined to stay in Nolita. And here I stayed.

There are numerous reasons why I love being a Nolita Queen. Here’s why (and here is where it becomes abundantly clear that I don’t do much besides eat):

1) Ceci-Cela. Two words: coffee and croissants. I owe a lot to this place and the wonderful people who make sure I am caffeinated and fed, each morning. The coffee is the best in the city and the croissants are the closest to the authentic, Parisian thing. I am going to stand atop hyperbole hill and venture to say that I couldn’t live without this place.

2) Cafe Gitane. Say what you want, NYMag, I am a sucker for avocado toast. Hey, if Olivia Wilde is doing it, it can’t be bad. I can sit here all alone and feel absolutely comfortable. This place has become like my living room (especially since my actual living room is minuscule, as to be expected). I’ll bring a book, sip on some mint tea, and sit and snarkily Tweet silly things I overhear across the small tables.

Olivia Wilde - Gitane Avocado Toast

3) Tacombi. #TacoThursays! I am unhealthily obsessed with this place. I gather that it might even range on annoying how enthusiastic I am about this place. I will not relent. Barbacoa, bitches. But, I’m not alone in this love affair. Corn esquites with a side of corn esquites, please! Oh, and don’t forget to chase some tequila down with the very best verde juice.

Tacombi

4) La Esquina. Skip the food, go downstairs to drink. Take a left at the kitchen and boom. Often playing random ’90s music (I shine here, because I have somehow retained every lyric to these songs), I actually really enjoy their Moscow Mule. However, as a wise friend once said, “Nobody regrets a pitcher of margaritas.”

Honorable mentions: Balaboosta, Ruby’s, Rubirosa.

My only real qualm with my neighborhood is: the San Gennaro Festival. It’s been going on for nearly 90 years and I really wish it would stop there. Leaving the house during this week is futile. Taking a shower is, too, because the minute you leave the house your hair instantly smells of street meat (très sexy). But you know what? I can tolerate it for the ten days.

#lovewhereyoulive!