paris

October: Why Our Apartments Are Important to Us

The dining room of My Paris Apartment, with its famous green wall

The dining room of My Paris Apartment, with its famous green wall

September was a rush, Ben and I were back and forth from Paris to celebrate the publication of my first book, My Paris Market Cookbook, which was released on September 15th. With the help of our friends Mardi and Nichole of the Parisites, we organized a party to celebrate the book's entry into the world and the people that made My Paris Market Cookbook possible. Ben prepared the food, helping me adapt recipes from the book to feed a crowd. Thierry from the Brasserie de la Goutte d'Or donated a keg of beer and our winemaker friends Noëlla and Laurent gave us magnums of wine. We were ready for a good time.

Ben was a champ and took care of all the pre-party prep so I could go back to my apartment and get ready an hour before the guests were supposed to arrive. It must've been raining, or maybe I had a lot of things to carry, because instead of riding a bike back to the bar, I took the metro to La Chambre Noire, which hosting the party. I remember frantically devouring Rona Jaffe's book The Best of Everything during the metro ride back. I only had a page or two left when I got to my stop, so I found a corner of the République metro station and finished the this story of determined women making lives for themselves in the city.

The evening was perfect, I was surrounded by friends and people who supported the book and it was one of those moments that felt filled with love. It made it hard to realize I would be leaving the city behind
Release party for  My Paris Market Cookbook

Release party for My Paris Market Cookbook

I left the metro station and made my way to the bar to celebrate the life I had made for myself in the city. The evening was perfect, I was surrounded by friends and people who supported me and the book. It made it hard to realize I would be leaving the city behind- my official move-out date was now looming as I prepared to leave My Paris Apartment. The October 4th date to hand over the keys would come quickly and with it the end of my Parisian life.

I think we've all had an apartment like My Paris Apartment. An apartment that's not just the place we live but something much more important than that. These apartments are even more precious to women, for whom a space of their own secures independence, safety, and freedom from comprise. These apartments represent a victory and a rite of passage in a lady's life in a big city. They represent perseverance, courage, and victory after a long list of horrible accommodations survived and left behind. Especially when you live far away from your family, when having a space of your own means even more because you aren't from here. 

These apartments are even more precious to women, for whom a space of their own secures independence, safety, and freedom from comprise. These apartments represent a victory and a rite of passage in a lady’s life in a big city.

In her book All the Single Ladies Rebecca Traister writes about the first apartment she had to herself in New York. “My flat was small and not fancy, but I loved every inch of it. I used to have nightmares about having accidentally given up that apartment; in the dreams, I'd be looking into it through its big windows, desperate to get back in.”

Cooking (in aprons!) in my Paris kitchen

Cooking (in aprons!) in my Paris kitchen

I loved every square meter of My Paris Apartment. The big bathtub where my showers sometimes turned into impulsive baths. The wall I painted a shade of green called “So British”. The hardwood floors. The tiny bedroom with a view of Paris rooftops. My photos and prints and memories on the wall.

I loved that everything was there because I put it there. My fridge filled with fresh herbs and veggies from my farmer at my local market. I even loved cleaning my apartment because it was mine and I was proud of it and wanted to take care of it. It made me happy to know that my apartment was waiting for me at the end of each day, the leaves on the tree outside my Bd. de Barbès facing window may have changed with the seasons, but my apartment always felt the same. It felt like home. 

View from my window

View from my window

For at least 40 years, my mom has had a red velvet fainting couch in storage because of what it means to her- it was the first piece of furniture she bought, it was in the home she lived in on her own, it's hers. My older sister excitedly sends me photos of her apartment, most recently of her guest bedroom, freshly painted blue. That house is hers. One of my best friends will still on occasion talk about her “cherry apartment” that she had over a decade ago in Los Angeles, with a red formica table and bright red cherry tones in the kitchen. That was Her Los Angeles Apartment.

Whenever I’m watching a show with female protagonists I always stress during break up scenes- will she get to keep her apartment???

I identify with that pride and love for these possessions and places. Whenever I'm watching a show with female protagonists I always stress during break up scenes- will she get to keep her apartment??? You can't imagine how difficult it is for me to get through a season of Girls.

A party in My Paris Apartment

A party in My Paris Apartment

Before living in My Paris Apartment I lived in: a two month sublet in the 11th with French people I struggled to communicate with in French, a disastrous loft sublet in the 4th in which the crazy owner unexpectedly came back to live with my roommates and I, a tiny studio in the 9th where the neighbor slipped marijuana cigarettes under my door (that apartment was pretty great, actually), an all around horrible stint in an apartment in the 15th arrondissement with a bad boyfriend, an illegal sublet managed by a sketchy dude in the 9th, and a dingy apartment on the outskirts of the 18th on the worst metro line ever- the dreaded line 13.

Then I got my apartment, in the heart of the 18th arrondissement. The dinner party apartment, the party party apartment, the sing-Céline-Dion-at-the-top-of-your-lungs apartment, the sleepover apartment, the movie night apartment. It was a home that made people feel at home and it's where I got to fall asleep every night and wake up every morning.

My amazing moving crew that was there with my to say good-bye to My Paris Apartment

My amazing moving crew that was there with my to say good-bye to My Paris Apartment

It's hard to give up something you've worked hard for. Even if you know it's time to move on. I knew moving was the right step forward- my relationship with Ben was a source of happiness and revelations. Through him I was learning what a healthy relationship felt like. Instead of feeling left out when I saw my friends being supported by their partners- something I didn't get in my marriage- now I was being supported and consoled and doted on and loved. I had found the person that I wish everyone would find- someone capable of love, understanding, and passion. Someone who was excited to make plans with me, someone who I was excited to make plans with.

I was leaving behind my dream city and a large network of friends. I would miss all those extra sets of arms.

I packed up my boxes and got ready to move. My move felt different from Ben's. Ben was ready to leave Nantes behind. I was ready, too- but not with the same leave-it-all-behind mentality. I think our two moves could be summed up by our moving boxes. Ben packed up his worldly possessions in boxes that read “démanager seul” (move alone) while my moving boxes promised “des bras de plus” (an extra set of arms). Ben was leaving behind 17 years and his best friend in Nantes, but also a few burnt bridges and a slightly bad taste in his mouth. I was leaving behind my dream city and a large network of friends. I would miss all those extra sets of arms.

We almost forgot the gaudy gold chandelier!!

We almost forgot the gaudy gold chandelier!!

We moved into our house just in time for walnut season. We could leave baskets underneath the branches of the walnut tree in our backyard and come back to find them filled. I started to understand the meaning of the word “bountiful”. We had more walnuts than we knew what to do with. I included them in every recipe I could think of and we shared them with our friends. It felt like the walnuts would never end, but we were new at living in the countryside- where everything has its season and things disappear as soon as you get used to them.

Learning to say good-bye isn't a lesson learned exclusively in the countryside, but the more I live here, the more I realize that nature is great at helping us understand how to transition. 

I still think about My Paris Apartment sometimes. It's been six months since I let it go and it's slowly started to slip my mind, but I do sometimes have dreams similar to Traister's- in them I don't accidentally give up my apartment, in my dreams I discover that I still have my apartment, for just one more day.

 

 

 

 

September: It Starts with a Cat Carrier and Country Clothes

Jack's first encounter with countryside footwear

Jack's first encounter with countryside footwear

It's hard to tell where the idea came from. When the plan was hatched and how it happened so quickly. Surely it's thanks to the end of a disappointing marriage to a disappointing person. It likely had something to do with my first sip of natural wine. Perhaps the seed was planted as long ago as the day I started my blog, Paris Paysanne. Without a doubt, the idea became bigger than me beginning with a harvest season first kiss and every day that followed. But the actual move- from Paris to the town of Pouillé (population 754)- where did that idea come from? 

Probably my cat, who was currently cowering in a small carrier asBen and I tried to cajole him into drinking water while we waited for our train at Gare Montparnasse. The cat in question, Jack Meower, had had a rough summer. After over a year of being the sole prince of his Parisian kingdom, he had been forced to make room for an interloper: my wonderful boyfriend Ben. Thankfully the two, begrudgingly, had managed to find a way to co-habitate after Ben came to live with me for the summer.

Waiting for the train

Waiting for the train

If it had been just that- the arrival of a new love in my life- Jack may have been able to adapt, but that summer was one of subtle upheaval and not-so-delicate disturbances. The savings I had been living on after being laid off the year before ran out and I was forced to scramble to do four different odd jobs that I pulled together to pay the rent. In order to help out financially and meet people in a city that was new to him, Ben got a job that kept him working late and feeling exhausted. 

We were grumpy when not together, but deliriously happy when let loose in the Paris streets ensemble. After six years spent with someone whose weekend plans unfailingly involved going to the same bar he had been frequenting since high school, I was thrilled to be with someone who wanted to do things and do them with me. And I wanted to do things with him because, I was slowly figuring out after living in the absence of true love for so long, that's what being in love means. 

We were discovering each other, Ben was discovering the city, I was discovering how great it feels to share happiness with someone. We were full of energy and we were thirsty.

We were discovering each other, Ben was discovering the city, I was discovering how great it feels to share happiness with someone. We were full of energy and we were thirsty. Inspired by wine lists and restaurant openings, we zigzagged across the city, visiting bars, restaurants, and wine shops- spending more money than we had and drinking more glasses than we needed. Every adventure, wine soaked and shiny new, felt like a perfect way to celebrate the fact that we had found each other. 

Obligatory cheesy Eiffel Tower picture

Obligatory cheesy Eiffel Tower picture

We had places to go and bikes to ride and we didn't care if crappy jobs were the price of entry to the adult amusement park that is Paris. 

As workers gutted the entire apartment, drilling directly into what seemed to be a subterranean extension of my bed frame, we tried to sleep and ignore the fact that we had front row seats to the most ubiquitous soundtrack of Paris: pure, consistent noise.

Then the construction started. As everyone took off for their August holidays while their strategically timed home renovations began in Paris, we stayed in the city and worked our crazy hours. From what seemed to be 7 am, but was maybe later (time is relative when you've both worked the closing shift at a bar) until it-didn't-matter-anymore o'clock, the construction downstairs seemed never ending. Workers gutted the entire apartment, drilling directly into what seemed to be a subterranean extension of my bed frame. 

We tried to sleep and ignore the fact that we had front row seats to the most ubiquitous soundtrack of Paris: pure, consistent noise. It took a toll on all of us, but it was Jack that suffered the most. He became listless, a word whose meaning I fully understand now, because it is exactly what he became- totally lacking in “list”. 

While we decided to fight in defiance of the wall of sound, Jack had chosen flight, bolting out the front door one morning after I left it open while pleading with the workers downstairs, begging them  to give us just 30 more minutes of sleep. Ben found Jack in the building manager's apartment, clutching to her curtains and clearly on the edge. He was limp in our arms and hadn't eaten in almost two days. I decided our attempts at soothing him weren't cutting it. We grabbed a cab, leaving behind Mme. Dasilva, our concierge, who tsk-tsked us from her front door saying ,“Cats need to live in gardens!” 

At home in Paris

At home in Paris

We went straight to the vet who sat us down and asked us how we were doing. “A little stressed?” he guessed and we nodded our heads in agreement. We told the kind animal doctor about our summer- our jobs, the rushing around, and the construction downstairs. It felt good to say it aloud. Jack wasn't the only one who needed a visit to the vet, it turned out.

A prescription for cat Xanax and a few other anti-anxiety pills later (for the cat, not us) and we were on our way back to an apartment that suddenly seemed less hospitable. 

Throughout the summer Ben and I had joked about needing a vacation house in the country- maybe we should just find a permanent house in the country?

Maybe Mme. Dasilva, who was an avid urban bird watcher and knew about the importance of being able to fly free, was right- maybe cats should be in gardens. Throughout the summer Ben and I had joked about needing a vacation house in the country- maybe we should just find a house house in the country? We immediately thought of the Loir-et-Cher region and the little village of Pouillé, where we met and fell in love during the 2014 grape harvest with winemaker Noëlla Morantin. Our imaginary country home started to seem real and the joke transformed into a plan of action. 

That brings us to September, waiting for a train to take us to our new home. Ben was carrying Jack and I had a backpack with enough clothes for two weeks of harvest and a brand new Moleskine notebook to record memories. Having already moved from his apartment in Nantes earlier that month, Ben's bed and things were waiting for us and made for a half furnished home (I was keeping my apartment until October). The purpose of the trip was to acclimate the transplanted Parisians (me and Jack) to our new surroundings and to participate in what was left of that year's early grape harvest. 

I was always incredulous of the fact that I, through some magical, mysterious chain of events got to live in Paris.

The best things that have happened in my life are the things I didn't even think were possible. Much like the move to the countryside, I can't remember the details of how I got the idea to move to Paris. To this day, I am still incredulous of the fact that I, through some magical, mysterious chain of events got to live in Paris.  In the days before moving to France from California, I remember that the only thing that seemed real was my plane ticket to Paris, proof that it was really happening. 

Paris started with a plane and the move to the country started with this train and a person brought to me through a different magical, mysterious, wine-fueled chain of events. A person so perfect I couldn't believe he was all for me. Standing there with him, my cat, and my backpack filled with grubby jeans and all the country clothes I'd need, I was ready to use this new ticket. 

Ben and I both harbored semi-secret ambitions of making our own wine, but we never expected that we would be doing so within weeks of moving to our new home.
Late harvest days

Late harvest days

This train ride, the beginning of a new life, would lead to many unexpected opportunities. It would take us far from the city, but also bring us closer to dreams we thought were not yet within reach. Ben and I both harbored semi-secret ambitions of making our own wine, but we never expected that we would be doing so within weeks of moving to our new home. 

When we arrived, the harvest season had concluded for the winemakers- but the vines hadn't finished bearing fruit. In the period following the vendanges while the winemakers were tasting their juice and dreaming of the wine it would become, the grape bunches that were green weeks earlier began to ripen and glow under the late summer sun. 

Ben and I, along with our friend Juliette, asked if we could harvest these late bloomers- a request our winemaker friends were happy to accommodate. Gleaning grapes was a win-win situation for everyone- the vines would be relieved of nourishing the grape bunches that would otherwise be unused and a drain on their resources, we would get to try our hand at making a garage wine, and everyone would benefit from a little more wine to drink around the table together. 

Bottling our Gamay

Bottling our Gamay

About a month later, we were putting our ruby red Gamay, pressed under our feet and made in a small shed in front of our house, into bottles. Jack rubbed up against our legs as we used a pitcher and funnel to bottle the fermented grape juice by hand.

It was late October by then and the waning autumn sun created enough warm spots for Jack to lay down and take one of his last outdoor naps of the season, in his very own garden. Ben and I soaked up the sunset while sitting outside- content in the knowledge that we didn't have to go farther than our own front yard to find good wine. 

Château Dilling's first cuvée!

Château Dilling's first cuvée!