Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pancakes in Paris

Sometimes you just can't beat pancakes with maple syrup. Not with croissants, pains au chocolat or even macarons. When the urge for classic American diner food hits in Paris, we've discovered our go-to spot: Breakfast in America. With two locations (one in the Latin Quarter, one in the Marais), BIA serves up 100% authentic diner fare in a setting that feels like you've been magically transported to the States. From the smell of frying bacon and shiny red seats to the neon signs and 50's style counter, BIA feels so middle America, it's almost eerie.
We headed to the Left Bank BIA outpost on Sunday to celebrate La Fete des Papas (Father's Day). We were greeted with smiles by the all-American waitresses and within minutes of ordering, were wolfing down giant forkfuls of pancakes, mushroom and cheese omelets and in my case, a tortilla-wrapped breakfast burrito. (You can take the girl out of California but not her devotion to Mexican-ish food.)
The kids really loved it. Of the various things they miss about the U.S., pancakes are pretty high on the list (after their Boston pals, beloved grandparents, aunties & uncles and sweet cousin, Laine, of course. And snow. They miss that, too.)

The place gave me a great feeling of "home," something I hadn't fully realized I was missing. Maybe because almost a year has passed since our last visit to the States, maybe Father's Day had me feeling nostalgic. Mostly I just need to see my sisters really really soon. Sniff.

At the diner, everything felt easy and familiar. No need to practice ordering in my head before saying it aloud (I do this less and less, but still). No wondering whether the kids would like their food, no worries about them drawing on their placemats (crayons are provided.) It was great to feel like nothing was a struggle, everything was just easy.

And that's the thing about living abroad: Very little about expat life is easy.

Interesting? Absolutely, but simple, no. Everyday errands and routine tasks -- from signing the kids up for activities to scheduling doctor's appointments -- require extra effort. And the language difference is only part of it. The challenges come in more subtle -- and often unexpected -- guises, like realizing I have to pay the shoe repair guy (and the dry cleaner) when I drop off my items, not when I pick them up. Or that my new checkbook has arrived at the bank but they won't just drop it in the mail; I have to physically go in and sign for it.

They're small things for sure, but can add up to big differences. And while these challenges can be annoying at times, they're also part of what makes living here rewarding. Even the smallest successes (like a happy exchange with the cranky boulangere or a familiar à bientôt from the corner grocer) can feel like big victories. And then there are the bigger moments, like having a great conversation with a French friend without once worrying if I flubbed my verb tenses.

Maybe it's because I've always liked a good challenge. Or because I get bored pretty easily. Probably both. But living here -- even when it's tough -- reminds me everyday that life can be magical. Kinda like a stack of pancakes with extra maple syrup.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Monday à la Mode: Liberty of London

I started seeing Liberty print fabrics around Paris about a year ago. A friend who lives in our building is an accessories designer and she's been obsessed with it for a while. She uses the delicate florals on everything from hand sewn leather bracelets to tote bags for kids. So when Liberty prints started turning up everywhere this spring, my friend suddenly seemed ahead of the curve.

The fabric has been popular for a long time of course (the original London shop opened in 1875!), and various designers and retailers from Yves Saint Laurent to Target have collaborated with the historic British shop. But for summer 2012, Liberty is definitely having a moment.

The French store, Cyrillus, has built their summer 2012 collection around these fabrics using it on women's and kids's wear, home accessories and even some items for men. (Not so sure about Liberty prints for men. Maybe French guys can pull this off??) I think it's best suited to sweet frocks for kids. How adorable are these?


As is the case with all things fashion in Paris, the trend immediately start showing up on the streets (and in this case, playgrounds). This one has been hard to miss. Are Liberty prints big where you are? Are you wearing it? Buying it for your kids?

I know Target did a Liberty print collection in 2010 that sold out pretty quickly. Could Paris be on the late end of this particular trend? Here are some oh-so-sweet ways to wear the Liberty look. (Including a pic of Sarah Jessica Parker's twins...like mother, like daughter(s). Enjoy!

                                                            photo by lasso the moon
                                                        And a couple more, just for fun!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Saturday at the Paris Flea Market

One of my favorite ways to spend a few hours in Paris is by visiting the flea markets (marche aux puces or brocantes). There's the famous market (actually hundreds of vendors located together) at Clignacourt (Marche aux Puces de St-Ouen) as well as smaller traveling brocantes of independent vendors who set up around Paris on most spring weekends. Here's a schedule for brocantes and vide-greniers (yard or garage sales) around France.

I especially like Le Marche aux Puces de Vanves that runs on weekend mornings until about lunch time. (Those antique sellers love them some dejeuner and no potential buyer is going to keep them from it so get there early.) It's much more manageable for an hour or two than Clignacourt and still has some great finds. I ventured out on a recent Saturday, kids in tow. (This I do not recommend. Ahem.)

I'm a bargain hunter at heart and love finding unique pieces that can really bring a room to life. (Those chairs and the vintage globe? Love.)
From fun mid-century furniture to gilded candlesticks and vintage linens, there's something here for everyone. I have a small collection of mismatched vintage teaspoons (mostly silver plate) and can usually manage to score a new piece for a euro or two. Stirring my morning coffee is always better with a vintage hotel silver or engraved antique teaspoon!
The first time we lived in Paris, I spent many happy hours at various neighborhood brocantes and discovered it was a great way to improve my French. The vendors are friendly (except with preschoolers with wandering hands...) and speak passionately about their wares. I learned a lot about French history, too. Tracing the monarchy through the styles of the various Louis made me anxious to learn more about France's past (which in turn makes living in Paris that much more fascinating.)

I've made a few small brocante purchases since we moved in (not having a car keeps me from the reckless, oversized splurge). I spotted these paintings and couldn't resist. These two are by the same artist and for 30 € for the pair, how could I say "non"? Modigliani's they're not but they make me happy. (Isn't that the point?) I nabbed the abstract for just 15 € at a neighborhood brocante. Like it? In fact, every brocante item I've bought tells a little story and means so much more to me than things I find at larger chain shops. So next time you're in Paris, think about adding a brocante visit to your itinerary. It's shopping, history and French conversation all in one. What could be better?