for years, paris was my favorite city I’d never visited.
then (as these things always go) the opportunity to visit paris for three days was suddenly thrust upon me. when I arrived in paris, I had unexpected difficulty contacting my friend. I ended up having my first meal in france with a kind older lady I had met on the train (who probably took pity on the pathetic american tourist with shoddy language skills and a dead phone). after that somewhat disastrous first night, I overcame my embarrassment about how much french I had forgotten and had lovely conversations with shopkeepers and chocolatiers and random people in the stairwell. a shopgirl suggested I wander through saint-germain, where I sampled chocolates and perused the excellent summer sales.
my friend and I also visited versailles, did one of those boat tours up and down the seine, and took silly pictures of the ornate hairstyles on sculptures in the musée d’orsay. to be a tourist these days is viewed as a bad thing, but really, what is so wrong about exploring the hallmarks of a country’s culture – celebrating its art, its history, and paying homage to its heroes?
I was lucky to somewhat have it both ways – I spoke enough of the language to navigate stores and cafés where the staff only spoke french. through smalltalk with friendly parisians, I found that the negative stereotype of the french as snobby simply did not hold true, and learned about some of their favorite parts of the city. but I also do not believe in “how to not be a tourist” – to pretend to be a local is to put on airs and be exactly that snob that locals (and everyone, really) dislike. on foreign soil, I’ve found that best way to enjoy it all is to be myself, admittedly cheesy and over-excitable personality and all.
so do all the mainstream activities that you want, and don’t disdainfully avoid the famous landmarks (they’re famous for a reason). visiting a new city is not about finding that hidden café or unknown designer boutique and bragging about it later – to be a “local” is not that superficial. learn some phrases (maybe fall in love with a new language) and share some anecdotes, explore some smaller streets and engage the different people that you meet. visit a place in the way you want, not how some supposedly enlightened travel expert, or some article called “eat like the locals” or “where the locals actually hang out” said to.
these are trite words that I have heard uttered many times, especially this past summer, but triteness does not make them any less true: “it is your journey – don’t let others tell you how to live it.”
p.s. I’ve attempted madeleines before with decent results, but this recipe is addictive. intense citrus flavor, juicy blueberries, a crisp exterior with a fluffy, cakey interior…I ate four in one sitting and I’m not ashamed.
places I loved
le temps des cerises | a lovely quaint café in the bastille arrondissement with delicious, authentic bistro fare.
michel chaudin | probably the best chocolate I’ve ever had. perfect size, perfect texture, somewhat conventional flavors all perfectly executed.
richart | small (expensive!) chocolates in intriguing flavors – the herbal ones are especially interesting. (and the macarons are delicious as well.)
dalloyau | I wandered in and ended up splurging on the opera cake, some kind of raspberry tart, and a peanut pastry. they were all awesome.
maje | maje’s stock store on rue du cherche-midi carries edgy, funky styles from previous seasons for a fraction of the price.
what for | I bought the coolest shoes I will ever own here. it’s usually pretty pricey, but during the big summer sale, most items were around 50€.
carrefour | oh man, I love this place. if you’ve never heard of carrefour, it’s a cavernous megamarket with fresh produce, solid selection of prepared foods, surprisingly cute shoes – and some of them even have (decent) conveyor belt sushi.
100g (3.25oz) caster sugar (I used regular white sugar)
zest from 2 lemons
pinch of kosher salt
100g (3.25oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
fanny zanotti. paris pastry club. london: hardie grant books, 2014.
2 gently fold in flour and baking powder until just combined.
3 scoop out a third of the batter into the butter and mix vigorously. transfer into the remaining batter and fold in very gently.
4 scrape the batter into a plastic piping bag (or a strong plastic bag) and chill for minimum 3 hours, maximum 3 days. (I refrigerated overnight.)
5 preheat oven to 430ºF. butter and flour a madeleine pan.
6 snip a 1/2-in hole from the tip of the piping bag and pipe batter three-quarters of the way up the prepared molds. stick two blueberries in each madeleine. reduce oven temperature to 350ºF and bake for 11-14 minutes, until edges are deep-golden brown and the domes are just beginning to brown.
7 remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack.