Yesterday, my friend Amy and I battled blinding wind and rain on our way to La Cuisine Paris for a macaron class. Our umbrellas were all but useless, even when positioned as a shield. By the time we arrived at 80 Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, I could no longer see out of my glasses, and my pockets had collected rain. Nice.
Soaked and traumatized was not how I imagined meeting Jane, the owner. We connected through mutual friends years ago, and I’ve wanted to take a few classes. My tight schedule in Paris doesn’t often allow for socializing or leisure, but I was eager to meet Jane and learn to make macarons.
After peeling off our soggy jackets, we climbed the stairs to the beautiful kitchen which overlooked the Seine. Better.
There were eight of us in the class, hailing from America, Chile, England and Australia. From the beginning our instructor Diane had us laughing and chatting like old friends. First we learned to make four fillings: chocolate ganache, pineapple rum, vanilla pastry cream and coffee buttercream. Amy and I made the coffee buttercream, though I also tuned in to Diane’s pastry cream tips. I’m determined to master French pastry cream so I can make my favorite French dessert, the Raspberry Tart.
After completion of the fillings, we let those chill out in the fridge while we tackled the macaron shells. We learned both the French and the Italian method. The Italian method, though a bit more difficult due to the sugar syrup process, was my favorite because I preferred the texture. The French method, Diane explained, was easier on the front end with fewer steps, but was more temperamental. I think I’ll experiment with both at home.
Amy and I, both professed neat freaks, exchanged looks of horror after the suggestion of mixing batter colors. I had envisioned perfect shells in one glossy color, and the thought of a misshapen blob of pink on top of green, or messy marbled shells sent chills up my spine. Everyone else seemed into the idea, so we had to defend our pristine batter. In the end, we lost and did end up with a rather motley assortment of colors. But you know what? They tasted great, and I learned that I’m definitely a purist (boring?) and don’t think I’ll be experimenting with blending shades in the future.
If you’re planning a trip to Paris, I recommend taking a class. I tackled macaron making, something until yesterday I thought I should leave up to the experts.
La Cuisine Paris
80 Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville
Unlike New York and the internet, Paris sleeps. And because I’m often jet-lagged and up all night when I’m there, I get to experience the city when it’s dark and quiet.
I appreciate the silence and shadows, and those late nights are a cherished respite. A respite from the instagram-ification of everything. From staged shots of breakfasts, shoes and homes. From polished online personas. From being connected to everyone, yet feeling disconnected. From fearing that we are no more than the sum of our clicks and likes. From technology.
Paris at night – with its quiet, intimate streets and dramatic light – is my favorite place to disconnect and think. There is a wonderful weight to the stillness of the city at rest. It sharpens my senses and clears my head. I spent a lot of time over the last year walking those streets in the wee hours, and the solitude is intoxicating.
Today, I’m sharing the first images from a new ongoing series. Paris Noir reflects a retreat into the shadows. I want to spend time as a voyeur at backstage dramas rather than be an audience member at paid online performances.
I draw aesthetic and thematic inspiration from Film Noir. I love the sense of mystery invoked by dark shadows, high contrast lighting and solitary figures. I’m exploring themes of social malaise and fragmented identity to pose a bigger question: What happens when we step out of the spotlight?
I remember the day Evan and I packed up our books.
We were recently married, moving to the New York City suburbs, and in the middle of a purge-induced adrenaline rush. We parted ways with dollar store kitchen utensils, tossed all 90s fashion, and left our yellowed white couch on the sidewalk for bulk trash. We saved the books for last, because there were hundreds, and needed to clear the floors to make space for the task.
It took longer than expected, because what began as packing with the occasional pause to reminisce about a favorite author, evolved into frantic searches for favorite passages and lengthy readings. I’d recite something from Philip K. Dick’s Valis, and Evan would offer something from Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles. From there it escalated into some kind of Shakespearian Jeopardy:
“I’ll take ‘Princes Who Dodged the Bullet’ for $1000, Alex.”
Of course, Evan kicked my ass. While I had merely read Shakespeare in college, he had spent a lot of time playing princes at Juilliard. But though his knowledge and handle on the text was greater than mine, we were an equal match when it came to the passion we felt for literature.
It was midnight when we hoisted the last box onto the moving truck, and we still had to drive 30 minutes to Montclair, unpack, and return our crummy U-Haul by 8am. When we arrived, essentials were taken to the appropriate rooms, and non-essentials, like books, were stacked in storage.
We intended to purchase shelves and turn our guest room (oh yes! a guest room!), into a library. But before that happened, a baby happened, and the guest room became a nursery. And once our son arrived, I had no time to think about 17th century literature or shelves.
A few years later while packing for a move to Paris, we shuffled the books from our basement to a rented storage space. As we stood surveying the 10×10 room that would safeguard everything we still owned while we moved overseas, we laughed. The books we hadn’t seen in years took up more than half of the room. We had spent weeks ruthlessly editing our possessions, yet here were these 20 boxes of books. They were like one big middle finger to feng shui.
One year later, we moved the books again. We were back from Paris and settling in to our new home in Glen Ridge. For another year they collected dust in a closet on our top floor. During breakfast one day, I tried to recall a line from Matthew Arnold’s Sweetness and Light, and decided it was time to stop depriving myself of my favorite Norton Anthology. While Google is always good for a quick, cheap fix, I wanted more. I wanted my notes in the margins, I wanted all of my favorite words together in a beautifully bound book, I wanted to reconnect with the people who connected me to the person I wanted to be back then.
I went upstairs and edged my way into the back of our storage closet where we stored the books. What began as a focused expedition to find my Norton Anthology turned into a lengthy reunion and a great unpacking. I called Evan upstairs and we spent the afternoon reconnecting with favorite authors. We were shocked that it had been six years, that we had two kids, that we had built careers and started a business in the time we had last held those books in our hands. But what struck me more was that I had spent six years filling my thoughts with the banal logistics of daily life, preachy advice in parenting tomes, obtuse investing how-tos or social media noise. In figuring out and living my adult life, I had had little time to question what Simone de Beauvoir saw in Jean Paul Sartre or why Wordsworth was able to so eloquently convey the flapping of a bird’s wings.
While we unpacked our books, our two sons played in the adjacent room. I overheard bits and pieces of conversations about Egyptian kings, dinosaurs and a magic tree house. I had the sudden urge to go back downstairs and collect the parenting books. I tossed them all into a box, sealed it shut, walked back upstairs and put it in the back of the closet to collect dust.
We ended the day with fourteen piles of books divided by genre or period. We agreed our favorite pile was the books we planned to someday read with our kids.
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Updated for Medium, originally published June 7, 2010.
Porto Rico Importing Company, Bleeker Street, New York
Even on a cold day, the aroma from the hundreds of bags of coffee inside hits you from across the street. I am never able to resist.