Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


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Stick and stones and Harry Potter

Coming across people freaking out about Tom Molvolo Riddle’s name in the French version of the Harry Potter books reminded me that baguette was one of my early bête noires. (Though in French, it would be bêtes noires and now I don’t know which to use.)

I’d warn for spoilers here, but if you don’t already know the reveal about Tom Riddle from the second Harry Potter story, you don’t care.

Harry Potter French Voldemort

As to baguettes, they are lots of things, primarily thin and flexible sticks. This means that their English counterparts include wands, batons, chopsticks, drumsticks (musical), architectural molding detail and the long, thin bread typically peeking out of grocery bags in every TV show since the mid-80s.

Potter’s been in the news this week (at least the stuff I read) since author JK Rowling “admitted” that, in retrospect, she would have had different characters end up together. This led to a flurry of posts and stories about how Frizzy Hair and Dumb As Rocks were the best couple in the history of books or how she should have ended up with World’s Most Petulant Prat. (There’s a genuinely good defense here.) You can tell that in the annals of things about which I care not at all, this is right up there.

Things about which I care a great deal however, include the proper use of the English language and recognition of homophones. “To sow” is to plant seed by scattering; “to sew” is to connect things by stitching. 

Harry Potter sewing fail

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My French boyfriend

I met my French boyfriend Paul in Barcelona in 2007. During my daily traversal of the city, I’d cross paths with him and wonder how it was that he always seemed to be where I was. As a private English teacher, I had a regular weekly schedule, but every work day I’d be in different parts of town depending on where my students lived or worked. BCN is a pretty small city and it was common enough to run into people I knew on the bus or on the street on any given day, but Paul and I crossed paths multiple days a week and it was too weird not to think something was up.

Then I moved to the nicest part of town I ever lived in while in Barcelona (there was a Baby Dior shop down the street) and he was right around the corner. Our love was pre-destined, written in the stars.

And now, he’s come to where I live. Here he is shortly after arriving.

Paul 2

You thought Paul was a human boyfriend? Nah, this Paul’s had a longer relationship with me than any guy I’ve ever actually dated. But he does share some of the qualities I value in a partner like dependability. Paul never surprises me, which I love. (Seriously. If you surprise me, I will be super-pissed.)

In Spain, the bread is generally bad, which is why they slather it with all kinds of things to make it taste better. Spanish Croissants are particularly terrible since pretty much every bakery will smear the finished pastry with a sticky honey-like solution that makes the outside really hard and gross. Also, as an olive oil loving country, they never, ever put enough butter in dough so all manner of baked goods come out too dry and hard.

What Paul offers is consistently good quality foods to stuff in your face. There are other, better, bakeries, but Paul is open all week, all day, and has really tasty sandwiches too. My favorite local bakery goes on holiday and closes on Wednesdays and generally makes my bread buying something I have to plan around, but Paul, Paul’s always there. And now he’s here.

Except now, I’m not here. Just as Paul has finally come to my town, I’m moving. Ours is a star-crossed love. I love stories with unhappy endings.


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Things I Learned in New York, Part 2

I wear a lot of purple.

I wear a lot of purple.

→ With Filene’s Basement shuttered, I was forced to go to Loehmann’s, its more expensive cousin. At least the girl in the fitting room section put me in the right dressing room. [Ed. Now Loehmann’s is going out of business too! I am crushed.]

→ Even New York bagels aren’t as good as I remember New York bagels being. This may be another case of Thomas Wolfe-ism.

Unchanged since the last time I was there: people put way too much meat in sandwiches. The bread should not bulge on any side and all elements should remain level. If you can’t fit your mouth around the sandwich, it’s too big. Why can no one understand this basic sandwich science rule?

There should be 50% less turkey here.

There should be 50% less total turkey here.

→ If you go into a shop in a nice part of town (i.e. one where all the apartments cost at least $1 million), the salespeople are CRAZY ATTENTIVE. I popped into a place that was maybe five or six times the size of my apartment and there were over 20 young people working in there, folding stuff and plumping merchandise and taking inventory and all of them were really eager to assist me with anything I might ever need. I high-tailed it out of there since they freaked me right the hell out.

→ The subway is much nicer when it’s not a thousand degrees outside and a million underground. Much, much nicer. Downside: it’s hard to spot famous people when everyone’s bundled up. I usually see half a dozen writers, actors or media types on public transit but this time, all I saw were lots of pants tucked into boots and circle scarves.

→ In Paris, I’m the only person I’ve seen playing Candy Crush. In New York, every person playing a game on their smartphone is playing Candy Crush. Every single person. There are no non-Candy Crush games on the subway. I, for one, do not welcome our new Candy-crushing overlords.

→ Mexican food is still the best thing on earth to put in your digestive system. I’m fond of Cafe Ollin in Spanish Harlem. Their green chili enchiladas are delish.

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→ Part 1 is here.


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Caveat emptor

Sometimes, things call out to me. I’ll be walking down the street, minding my own business, when something will cause me to stop and turn my head. Usually, the feeling leads me into a store, but sometimes, it’s down a street I might not have noticed. The other day, as I was weaving through the old-lady-with-carts traffic jam near the open air market in my town, I felt the call again. It was this

Bread top

I brought it home, filled with anticipation at what I was going to eat it with. Chocolate? Cheese? Eggs? Soup? There were so many possibilities and I was still weighing them in my mind when I pulled the loaf out of its paper bag and placed it on my cutting board. The trick to not smushing bread is to flip it over and slice from the bottom with a bread knife using smooth sawing motions. When I repositioned it, I saw this

Bread bottom

And all my hopes were dashed because burnt bread is the worst and crusty bread with the crust cut off is just one step up from the worst. The good news is that I’ll make breadcrumbs and will probably have some delicious meatballs in a few days.


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I chou-chou-choose you!

I gave up on French pastries a while back. Part of me didn’t want to suffer the insult of hidden cream-filledness. Another part didn’t want to ask what precisely was in every baked good. Another just didn’t crave potentially sweet things and a final part woke up some days wanting Chips Ahoy cookies (which actually happened even though I don’t really like Chips Ahoy cookies).

So, color me surprised when I was at my bakery and saw this thing and it looked at me all helplessly through the glass case and I told the girl to wrap it up ’cause I was taking it home.

Hohn-hohn, c'est bonne!

Hohn-hohn, c’est bonne!

It’s called a religieuse and is a small cream puff on top of a bigger cream puff. This one was chocolate flavored and instead of having gross cream in it, it had the same icing on the top as in the center of both puffs. It was damnably good which is a pun since a religieuse is a nun. (More on that tomorrow.)

Learn something

Cream puffs are made of choux pastry, a special batter that puffs easily and grows up and out in a rounded way, like its namesake, cabbage. Cabbage is a weird word, one which my dictionary says comes from Old French caboche [head], which is doubly weird since “head” is tête but in Spanish it’s cabeza which is much closer to caboche. I’m calling this whole thing off while I’m still ahead.