On this last trip to Paris I did not want to go. Well I did when I made the reservations, sitting in my home living room. The train under The English Channel sounded exciting, guessing at what the youth hostel/hotel might be like (the luxury of being just one in it), eating amazing croissant again, finding my favorite street. And this time I would have a camera that fit in my pocket!
But when I was in London I dreaded the days away from Gerry and Wendy.
Of course, as you know, I went anyway.
I had an interesting discovery while there. If you don't mind, I am going to share it with you. If you're someone who feels betrayed by change, you may not want to read on.
I felt a lot of pressure in Paris. To eat everything, to eat all the hours awake, to see all the famous menus, to witness food in every form. I was not able to do this. In fact I ate very little while in Paris. I ate visually, and not just food or menu text.
I wanted to see the history. I wanted to feel the ghosts and watch the people going about their days. I saw the hour of dog walking. I helped a woman who fell. I walked invisibly on a sidewalk of Algerian men buying greasy food prepared on card tables spilling out into the street. I smiled at young mothers taking their children to school. I ate pastry in front of a small church with a homeless woman who spoke to me in gruff toothless French. I flirted with gay men, was asked for directions, told the story of two crows fighting for bread on the green green lawn of The Gardens of Luxembourg. I took photos of children pushing wooden boats and reveled in a tennis lesson for a boy who made his coach sweat with perfect form and spot-on concentration.
I sat to watch a pick-up game of soccer on a cobblestoned street.
I tried to capture the light. The effervescent light of late summer white sun on pale stone, tight corridors of 15th/16th/17th/18th century buildings kissing without breathing, the light finding its way in to those airless spaces. Shadows and reflections and monochrome still lifes. I made images, I captured moments, I drew with light, I tasted late afternoon dusk, let watery island light coat my skin, took postcard images, stole images to remember, documented, carried away images as proof and even got silly with iconographic images.
My degree is in photography. I was taking pictures during a time when we hand-processed film and paper. I learned how to do long-hand logarithms in the snow for my 4x5 class, and saw an entire room filled with the upside-down/backwards image of my teacher running through the New York leaf piles when she covered the entire room with paper to block out the light, except for one tiny hole:
I sat inside a giant pinhole camera!
They call Paris the city of light.
But they're talking about the night sky.
When I came back to London from Paris I confided in my love, in hushed tones, that I did not like being in Paris. I felt shame-- like I was an ungrateful brat. I couldn't explain it.
He reminded me of this: in our industry we look to France to guide us. France IS pastry, it is butter, it is the great patissiers, chefs, cheese makers, bread bakers, salt harvesters. We get a lot of pressure to go there, to stage, to experience it, to speak the language, to honor it, to put it on the highest pedestal we can manage.
Today someone asked me this question: what do we get from putting someone on a pedestal?
But I don't feel this anymore. Layers of this. I want to travel elsewhere. I want to take chances. I want to see culinary traditions thousands of years older than this one. I don't want to travel alone anymore. I want to practice another language. Taste different tastes.
I'm not sure I want my whole life to be pastry and kitchens and those hours and that backbreaking/thankless work anymore. (Anyway no one will hire me: I'm overqualified.) I am at a precipice again. And it's hard to say if I've had much control over it.
I discussed grief in depth with someone this week. 'I feel changed by it,' I said. I have been present for it. I have allowed it to change me. On July 15, 2005 my life was forever changed. And I had no idea. My life was forever changed on August 16, 1992, and I had no idea then either. Funny, eh?
Years ago, when I was at Gramercy tavern I heard of a man. The greatest Pastry Chef in the world, who was still alive. He worked at the oldest pastry shop in Paris and left in "mysterious circumstances." But before he left he did something radical. Revolutionary. He perfected the classics, and had them on one side of the shop. And then he made a few changes to them, and had those on the other side of the shop.
All hell broke loose.
A fourth generation Pastry Chef, he said that salt was important. He incorporated "savoury" ingredients into sweet and his desserts had layers and layers of flavours, textures, ideas, cooking and baking techniques. They were parfaits, cookies, plated masterpieces, hard to pin down concoctions.
His name is Pierre Herme. If I meet him I will go mute. For there are no words to describe how this man's bravery, in a a craft I call home, has inspired me and so many others- whether they know it or not.
My favourite painters are the ones whose canvases leave me speechless.
I wanted to work with him. More than anything I had ever wanted.
Last year someone told me they could make it possible. I couldn't leave the US, I had just buried someone.
in Paris, I let go of this bird and let it fly free from a nest I've been collecting twigs and fabric and shiny things for for almost 15 years. How strange to have a dream so secret, so seemingly (giddily) impossible, and to let it go so lovingly without being attained.
I would have never dreamed this possible. Any of it.
And so I come to you. Different. More defined. Sharp. A flavour left to become more itself. Although seemingly unfamiliar. Aged. Stronger. Definitive.
Scared, but opening my heart for things anew. Adventures un-defined, lands trecherous and exquisite,
possibilities as endless as the skies above.