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.


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.


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.





New Year’s Resolutions

Ok, it seems I’m a little late to start talking about New Year’s resolutions. But right now–the third week in January–is when people most likely fall off the wagon, especially for fitness goals. The resolutioners in my apartment building didn’t even make it this far. The gym downstairs has thinned out, thankfully, and my favorite treadmill is always free again.

I sound cynical. I really like the idea of New Year’s resolutions. Everyone, together, looks back and then reaches for better. It’s cool to put yourself out there, share an area of your life that you’d like to improve upon, and hopefully have your friends and family for accountability and support. This all sounds good and set up for success. Why does it fall apart for so many people? Or, better yet, how best can we keep going?

Last year, Mark Zuckerberg started a book club. I didn’t follow along, but it seemed to work out pretty well. I’m guessing that Mark already read a book per month, though I’m not trying to discredit the cause. For some, reading a book per month is a stretch and he created a community to support success for those who joined. The feeling of belonging and accountability to a community can be a solid foundation for making change.

I grant, there are also some goals on a more personal level that aren’t meant to be shared with other people, or that aren’t always practical to be done as a group. Beyond that, there is something potent to keeping a promise to yourself and developing your own process. An important lesson that I’ve learned is that success is not solely based on “strength.” The problem with this model is: most people make mistakes. If you didn’t make it through, does this mean you’re “weak”? In a black and white world, a fuck up can lead quickly to a free fall.

When I’m going it alone with a goal, I have found that it’s good to start small and attach an action to an already established ritual. As part of a larger lifestyle overhaul to be healthier, I started taking vitamins at the same time as I make my coffee in the morning. It’s kind of weird to have my vitamins in the cabinet next to my coffee, but I do it every day. Now that I’m comfortable and confident in that coupling, I am working on adding a sun salutation.


Check out the app, Tiny Habits, for some small change inspiration.


Past Lives Abroad: Milano

It’s been 7 years since I arrived in Milan. I had traveled on my own internationally, but this was the first time I was to live abroad. Even after planning and preparing, reality came up quick when I sat down on the plane. It was a potent mixture of intense anticipation of the unknown and pride of assuming responsibility for myself. Like most enriching adventures, I had no idea what I was in for, and I didn’t appreciate it all until it was over.

I’ve found that there is no better way to get to know myself than by trying something new, something that scares me. Knocking yourself a bit off balance and mastering where and how you land is an essential skill. These life experiences have helped me prepare to face other challenges–challenges that may not even seem directly related–with a confidence in myself and my instincts.

Milan is often called “the least Italian of Italian cities.” This is somewhat true. It’s dirty metropolitan. Hyper sophisticated with a keen culture, there’s a harshness to it that appeals to me, but is not typically what comes to mind when you think of Italy. However, the best way to get to know Milan is to live there. If you stay long enough to notice, you might share one of my favorite things about Milan–where the quaint comes in through the cracks–reminding you that it is still Italy, after all.

I lived in an apartment with four other American students from my program (oh hey, BBs!). Our apartment had high ceilings, a piano in the living room, a balcony looking into the courtyard, double glass doors, and so on. This was far more special than my college accommodations. Sometimes, we’d hear the retired opera singer practice from across the courtyard.

There is music everywhere in Italy, starting with the language. Everyone sounds like they are singing when they speak. The clean lines of the northern Italian dialect trills around the corners of the Cathedral, echoes through the open archways of the Centrale railroad station, and runs through Parco Sempione.

Everyday things were done differently in Milan. There wasn’t a Starbucks in the whole city, obviously. We’d run across the street from school to grab a €1 cappuccino and a “brioche,” the devious bastard brother of a croissant (brioche dough rolled into a crescent). Things, especially food, are good and cheap in Italy (although the dollar wasn’t doing well, so €1 wasn’t as thrifty as it felt). Food isn’t fast. Even at McDonald’s, nobody is seen with a to-go cup of coffee or a sandwich on the run. The very Italian traditions around and pride in food and family ran deep.

I found a special form of family in my apartmentmates. As we grew into our own adulthoods, we grew together. These girls with whom I cooked pasta, laughed uncontrollably, took the creepy overnight train to Rome, danced on tables, was vulnerable or sick in front of…they’re as important as the experience itself. That was the most unexpected and wonderful gifts I got from my time in Milan.

Other lessons I learned:

  1. While you are boiling the pasta for dinner, throw and egg in and hard boil it for tomorrow.
  2. Make friends with locals. This is the key to a unique and authentic experience getting to know a city.
  3. Do something completely on your own. Travel somewhere, sightsee, sunbathe. Take yourself out and get to know you.
  4. Don’t wear your earphones everywhere. Listening is a huge part of learning a language.
  5. Most people are cool and willing to help out if you’re respectful. 
  6. Read everything you can. Read the signs. You don’t have to understand everything. Read the back of your shampoo bottle in the shower for more exposure and to make the most of your day. Maximize.
  7. Talk to anyone who will engage (without being creepy). Free education! Learn how to fuck up and have someone correct you. Ask for directions instead of looking at your phone first.
  8. Hold onto your stuff and don’t be someone’s target. One lesson I’m proud to say I did not have to learn was how to get a new passport abroad once it had been stolen. I’m not saying it’s dangerous, but it’s not Disneyland.

Lonely Planet has a good list of popular things to do in Milan, which I will not try to reproduce here.

My recommendation: visit Fondazione Achille Castiglioni, the former studio of legendary Milanese furniture and industrial designer. You don’t have to be a design devotee like me to get a kick out of this trip. I had the privilege of visiting and photographing the studio with my professor Bob Tyson and sculptor Mauro Staccioli.



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.


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

On Being a “Writer” (part 14: Fucking Up & Flying)

So…I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing daily. Actually, I’m going to put it this way: I’ve made the habit of doing other things instead of writing. As an artist, entrepreneur, or person on this planet (well, I recently read The Martian, so perhaps not only this planet), these occasional, intentional drifts are good–if not necessary–for your creative development. You need to have a life in order to appreciate your success as much as you need success to support your life.

At the beginning of this month my fiancé and I moved into a new apartment. We will be married in two short weeks. Amidst the miraculous madness, I have learned to drive stick shift and have begun to fly planes. This doesn’t sound like fucking up, to me. True, I haven’t been focused on writing, but the other parts of life have won my time and have been worthy of it.

I’ve learned an incredible amount of new things in a short amount of time. A major takeaway from this experience is: when the going gets tough, I continue to challenge myself. I can see how it’s difficult to imagine how that makes sense. It might feel more comfortable to take it easy when things seem stressful, but that’s a surefire way to shortchange yourself.

This is what I mean when I say some healthy distractions are important to success. Yes, it’s been tough for me to write lately. Instead of getting wound up about it and hiding under the bedcovers, I got up, switched gears, and put in a few hours learning to fly. If you go back to my original goal of writing every day, that seems like a major distraction, but the experience of tackling new skills and challenging myself in other, exhilarating ways brought me back to writing today.

The Cigarette Saga: 4 Months Later…

Today marks four months without cigarettes. To backtrack a bit, I decided to quit smoking cigarettes five months ago. A month later, after getting engaged, I made the commitment to say goodbye for good.

It was hard. I struggled through the summer on boats and at barbecues, rosé in one hand and a twitch in my other instead of a cigarette. Even though I had someone else to share my misery and to keep me honest (my fiancé quit with me), I’m not embarrassed to admit how difficult it was and that it took me a while to find what worked.

I failed over and over again. After experimenting with nicotine patches (not recommended for anyone who smokes less than a pack a day), there was a stint of vapor cigarettes (making me probably more chemically dependent on nicotine than when I was smoking straight cigarettes). It was a challenge to remain patient and stay committed. I had a lot of negative self judgement every time I fell short of a goal.

It was a constant balancing act of vigilance and kindness.

I was forced to challenge my cravings and to have that hard conversation with myself weeding out wants from needs. It is an important exercise, even if you don’t smoke, to question what and how you consume. I had to trust myself and my process. It is an immensely positive and supportive experience to share these goals with my fiancé, and at the same time, I have to know I can rely on myself.

It was an empowering opportunity to examine a part of myself that I didn’t have control over before. I had to build some very important, invisible muscles that extend far beyond my lung health. I can choose how I want to live my life and to control how I access success.

Smoking Cessation Recovery — Benefits
A helpful 60-Second Mindfulness Meditation Tool

Cultural Compass (part 4: Adultolescents & Exaggeration)

“Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own jokes.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald

What is beyond insane? Is this *literally* the worst day of your life? Would you do anything for a Dr. Pepper?

My parents gave me my first cell phone at the beginning of high school. To kids today, this sounds oppressively old fashioned (I can already hear my future children clamoring for a device). Anyhow, I recorded my first voicemail greeting that said something like, “Hey! You’ve reached Claire’s cell. Leave a message and I’ll call you back. Love you!”

My parents were disturbed. They sat me down and told me they were very disappointed in me. I didn’t understand. I was a good student and never snuck out of the house. They told me I didn’t, in fact, love everyone who might call, and I was to change my greeting immediately. I agreed, but didn’t really get it. I totally love all my friends and want them to know all the time! My parents will never understand me

Right, so that’s what my parents were afraid of–my overuse and/or misuse of “love” devaluing the actual meaning. But hold on, Rhianna wants (and so do you!) to be made to feel like she’s the ONLY girl in the world. Bruno Mars caught a grenade for me! I admit, I’m a little late to this party, but now that I’m here, I’m going to open the bottle I brought and pour myself a glass.

Perhaps we are “a generation that is scared of commitment, linguistically deferring reality.” Maybe we’re all cry babies conditioned to understand that the louder we wail, the more attention we get. And, if that’s not enough, there’s a whole generation of 30 going on 13’s, or adultolescents that are now the editors (more in tune with being the interns) and the lawyers (more fit to be freshmen at the frat party).

It all seemed so real and true to me when I was 14 and composing my emo away messages on AIM. The intensity of emotions and increased excitement of adolescence is expected. This prolonged adolescence, however, is starting to look a lot like sensation addiction. The emotional exaggeration that has become a stylistic emblem of our society is scary.

Sensation addiction is not new. We anticipate the hedonic impact of certain actions and behaviors (AIM away messages grew up with us to become play-by-play Facebook updates about your baby or broken leg). At some point, we get desensitized to the dose and the next hit isn’t too hard to find. We don’t just need it, we deserve it.

In the end, though, how will we tell what extreme emotion is–good or bad–if everything is expected to be exaggerated? How can I tell if you’re interested or if you’re feigning because that’s what we feed Facebook? Being “thrilled” these days is just as good as my perky wedding planner’s e-mail template. Tragedy is just as good as the emoji with the long stream of tears.

I’m waiting for the reality check.