When Your Fesses Take Over Your Life

I have a problem.

It's my fesses. My buttocks, ass, popotin, plut-plut, take your pick.  It's taking over my life.

I come from a family of bubble butts and have generally learned to accept my fate, but this my friends, this is getting out of hand.

Before officially declaring un gros problème, I consulted Mopain, just to make sure I wasn't have some silly girlish complex.

WARNING: Never ask a Frenchman a question about fat if you don't want the bitter truth.

Me: Babe, I get this feeling that my fesses have gotten bigger. Am I being silly or do you think so too?

Mopain: Oh yeah, totally. I'd say, like 25% bigger probably.

Me: **disbelief**  .... WHAT? Not 25%!

Mopain: (backpedaling), well, no not 25%, but probably like 20%.

Me: WHAT?!!

Mopain: (realizing that he is in deep merde) Don't listen to me! I'm not a numbers guy!

Side note: Mopain is paid to deal with numbers EVERY DAY OF HIS LIFE. 

In another country, my fesses would perhaps be considered an attribute - something to work for; but in France, it's just taking up valuable real estate. On the bus, in the metro, standing in line. My fesses need another 5 inches to be comfortable. Désolée toute le monde.  Poussez-vous.

On top of that, it's impossible to fit into tiny French clothing.  If I can get the pants over my hips, thighs and fesses, it's gigantic at the waist...if it fits my waist, there's no way I can pull the dress down over my gigantic popotin.

Pas génial. 

I've taken to American and British-made A-line skirts as I work to find a solution.

Is it the secretary spread? Is it age? It is all the croissants? What about the biking? All the walking? The 100 bazillion stairs I take on a regular basis? What will happen if/when I have a child and my hips WIDEN? Will I have to start wearing muumuus?  Au secours.

Just last weekend I was shopping for a nice dress for an event, and as a last ditch effort,  I walked into BCBG Max Azria, hoping to find something on the sales rack. When a sales person came up to me to see how I was doing, I told him that the dresses were pretty, but that they were all size small- not workable for my fesses.  He said not to worry, this is a marque Américaine, the small there is like a medium or a large here in Paris!

Thanks man. Thanks a lot.

As much as I love France, my body doesn't fit here. I'm not alone; the majority of my average-built American friends buy their clothes on trips back home. Some even have trouble buying shoes. And yet. pfffffffft. It's so irritating.

What is an average-sized American girl in Paris to do? My American friends tell me to embrace it. My French friends direct me to their dietician, sympathizing and providing encouragement that I just need to "faire attention". Be careful.

So voilà. For today, I'm going to take my fesses for a walk, and maybe try to find a miracle seamstress along the way.

August in Paris


A Tale of Two Bakers

After a BodyAttack (death) class at Club Med Gym, I decided to treat myself to some terrace time in the city. I'd brought my Costa Rica guide book and figured that I could map our vacation route while enjoying un café and maybe some other yummy things.  I'd earned it.

I chose Chambelland's terrace, the little gluten-free bakery in the picture-perfect Popincourt village. I love their chambellines, which are beautiful, thick breads with fleur d'oranger and sugar on top.  Children kicked soccer balls against the closed storefronts while their parents ate, and I enjoyed a jambon de bayonne sandwich with a fresh citronnade.  Two women chatted next to me and shortly thereafter, a man in a white jacket, who could only be the boulanger asked to share their table with his guest, an older gentleman, "from Washington".

My ears perked when I heard mention of the states, and then of course, they spoke in English and my ears perked some more. I tried to read my guidebook and take notes,  but it was impossible not to listen to their conversation - I was enthralled.  A quick Google search  (thank you Iphone!) confirmed that these were two great boulangers - bakers - and that they both loved bread.  The American was Mark Furstenberg of Bread Furst Bakery, and the Frenchman, Thomas Teffri-Chambelland, co-owner of the boulangerie Chambelland.

They talked about flour mills (Teffri-Chambelland has a gluten-free mill!), boulangerie schools (read about Chambelland's here), French vs American hiring practices and intricacies (nope, you can't fire someone for putting too much salt in the bread...), workers rights and contracts (nope, you can't break a contract without following a major procédure in France).  The French baker revealed that real bakers are hard to come by in this country,  the American talked about the sales of his breads at Whole Foods. It was fascinating.

And now I kind of want to be a baker.

I loved Teffri-Chambelland's English, full of faux-amis (French words that sound like the English word, but don't mean the same thing), and his French outlook on his future projets. I loved Furstenberg's enthusiasm despite his age (he started making bread after the age of 50!), his request to meet Teffri-Chambelland's children who were in the neighborhood, his own son, François being French, too.

Part of me wanted to say hello, but the French side of me stopped myself. That would be intrusive. The American side of me won for the blog - how could I not tell this story? Two bakers meet in Paris, talk about bread and the future of the almighty boulangerie. One lives in a country where bread is a staple in almost all households; the prix du pain (cost of bread) is listed at every grocery store and the government awards the best baker every year.  He goes against the grain (literally!), opening a gluten-free bakery in the land of the baguette tradition. But it's hard to have a small business in France, the rules are strict and workers have the upper hand. The other comes from Wonderbread-land, where buying daily bread with an amazing thick crust is not culturally the done thing. People buy pre-cut loaves that come in plastic and last the week, costing 1/3 the price of a fresh pain au levain.. But hiring practices are more flexible,  employers rule the roost.   Such different worlds!

And the conversation ended there, or at least the part that I got to hear, as Teffri-Chambelland lead Furstenberg into his laboratory in his petit 60 meters squared bakery in Paris.

For the love of bread.



I am totally that freak. You know the one - the freak who checks out what people leave out on the street for the trash to pick up. Despite my extreme fear of bed bugs and germs, there is something about one man's trash, that inspires me to search for treasures.

And Paris is full of them!

Just the other day, as I was walking back to my office from a quick stop at the boulangerie, I noticed that the building next door was under renovation. More precisely, they were changing out all of the windows and replacing them with sad, no-charm, double-paned PVC windows.  To truly understand the tragedy of which I speak, remember that this building was probably built in the 1700's if not before! The old, single-paned, lead-painted windows, were leaning against the stone wall.

I couldn't help myself. I had to save these windows! Never again will buildings have windows like these! They are historical and lovely and I couldn't let them die a sad death in the Paris trash heap. So I did what any freak would do - I went on a treasure hunt and picked out three of the best windows that were in the pile. I wanted to save them all, but I reminded myself that I live in 53 meters squared and I can't save the world.

As I lugged them into my office, I announced to my colleagues that I was saving the windows, and since they are cool people (or just freaks like me), they started giving me great ideas of what I could do with them: make mirrors! turn them into a coffee table! make a headboard! 

yes, yes, yes!

One of my colleagues offered to bring them to my house in her car, another asked me how many other windows were out there for the taking. Treasures, I tell you.

Today the windows are sitting in my living room, waiting for inspiration. I've cleaned off the muck of time and now it's simply a logistical problem - how do I attach windows to my wall? How do I cut a mirror to fit? Should I repaint them or let them keep their old luster à la shabby chic? It's quite a predicament, but one that I absolutely love having.

In my teeny Parisian apartment, I would walk past treasures in the street, not allowing myself to dream of the wonderful things I could make with them. But today, in my little chez moi, I CAN bring home century-old windows without blocking the door to the bathroom. Makes me want to bust a Princess Jasmine on y'all - A whole new wooooorld...!

Behold the beauty of my windows:

I know that I'll have to reign in my craziness since I can't save all of the treasures that get put on the street (even though I totally dream of long, old window doors for my (currently non-existent) closets...), but it's nice to have a little creative project to make our house a home. I've written about my relationship with things, about really being here, and I can't tell you what a relief it is to not worry about that anymore. I still find lots of inspiration from minimalists, and I don't want to go overboard on stuff in such a small space, but it is lovely to feel happy in my space, no matter how small it may be, and to surround myself with carefully selected items that tell a story. 

So the next time you visit chez moi, I'll tell you the story of these windows, which were once in a gorgeous, old hôtel particulier in the Marais, but that I saved from destruction.  


This year, I got over my fear of being "the social coordinator". I pulled up my big girl culottes, rallied the troupes and set a date for a dinner with the copines. I checked in, followed up, made a restaurant reservation and then even made the executive decision to change it at the last minute when my first choice disappointed with a rule about a 45 Euro minimum per person for groups over 6.  

I think I deserve an "A" for effort because that stuff does not come easily to me - like, at all. I worry that people won't like the restaurant, that not enough people will be able to come, that my plans will fall on their face, but I realized this last night:

When it comes to restaurants and plans, most people just want others to make decisions for them to make life easy. 

I know I do. 

Which restaurant - I don't know...something good? with candles?
Which wine - uhhhh, I'll drink anything. Just please decide so that I don't have to. 

When the wine list came to our table, instead of hemming and hawing, one copine said, "Rosé non?" and that is what we drank for the rest of the night. No wondering, no who likes white, who like red, which one should we get? Plutôt sec? plutôt doux? None of that - just "une autre bouteille, monsieur - oui, la même." Easy peasy. I loved it.

The old me would have worried that not everyone liked rosé and that someone would be unhappy, but the copines rolled with the punches as I filled up their glasses with chilled rosé on a hot summer day.  We mish-mashed les entrées and les plats, shared desserts and asked for more baskets of bread. It was relaxed and I was relieved. 

At the end of the night, we peeled ourselves off of our chairs, chatting about les vacances, who would go where and when we would be back for our next dinner.  One of my dear American friends will move to Vietnam, a new friend just arrived from Ireland to live in Paris, two French copines will take an entire month off for August! My Canadian friend has started a new job and is doing some last minute get-out-of-town planning. My French-Irish-American friend will see family in Bretagne, as she grieves the loss of her sweet husband. The last time we saw each other was at his celebration of life, when we all vowed to get together more often, so saddened by what our friend was going through.  

Outside of the restaurant, as we kissed each other goodbye, making sure that everyone had a safe way home, I realized that all of the worries that prevented me from ever making plans in the past were very superficial. It doesn't matter where you eat, what the wine tastes like, or how many people can come. What matters is taking the time to see your friends, holding up those who are struggling, reminding those who are leaving that you'll miss them, welcoming new friends into your life, and enjoying the time that we do have together.

Need some chilled rosé with friends?

Chez Mademoiselle
16 rue Charlemagne
75004 Paris
Metro: Pont Marie (line 7)


Le Conseil

The letter came about 2 weeks ago: your conseil syndical will take place on July 1st - be there or be an escargot with no voting rights. 

Or basically that's what it said, anyways.

Behind the letter in the gigantic brown envelope, was an agenda of items to vote on, and then behind that, accounts for the expenditures of the year, then estimates for construction and improvements - all in all, about 1.5 inches thick.

Our first conseil syndical - cringe!  As recent homeowners, we knew this day was coming, but we really didn't know what to expect.  The night before, like the good little students that we'd been leading up to the purchase of the apartment, we read the agenda front to back, scrutinized the estimates and used 3 different colored highlighters to keep things straight. I made a list of notes and questions, and Mopain (Mari + Copain?) printed off the emails and updates that our neighbor had sent us about the recent work in the building. We had a dossier - we were prepared!

On July 1st, France decided to break a record with the hottest day of the year since 1947.  It was SWELTERING.  A wall of heat waited outside every door. You simply had to give into the sweat, drink your body weight in water and hope for a forgiving breeze. I packed my Chinese fan, wore my least swamp ass-y dress and hoped for the best. 

At the end of the work day, I mentally prepared myself for the sea of armpits and suffering and jumped on metro line one to go to the other side of the city.  Our syndic (building manager) is not just in any old arrondissement, but in the oh-so-chic seizième - 16th.  This is where the fancy people and those who want to be fancy people live. The fact that we live completely on the other side of Paris tells you something about us.  I found the private street (yes, there is a locked gate with a code!), found the building (another code!), and made my way upstairs to a non-airconditioned meeting room right out of 1965, complete with pleather chairs. Oh the humanity. 

As each new propriétaire entered the room, the social musts were put on display, "Bonjour Madame, Bonjour Monsieur, Bonjour Madame, comment allez-vous?, Qu'est-ce-qu'il fait chaud!" Hello madam, hello sir, hello madam, and how are you? Goodness, it's hot!.  We did this five times, standing to shake hands, Bonjour each other and comment on the horrid weather. Très français.

Finally the meeting could get underway. Our syndic sat at the head of a large wooden table, like a judge with a gavel, ready to keep the propriétaires in line if arguments got out of hand. We all signed the "official sign in document" and it was then that Mopain and I were called out as les nouveaux- the newbies. Wanting to make a good impression, we smiled and laughed, said Bonjour again,  but kept our wits about us - we didn't know who was friend or foe.  The conseil syndical is serious stuff.

Madame the syndic started down the list:

Who would like to be the meeting président?  
Then reluctantly, our upstairs neighbor raised his hand.
All abstaining? All against? Bon! You will be the meeting president!

Who would like to be the scrutateur? 
"The what?" I inquired.  
The syndic looked at Mopain - you'd made a great scrutateur. 
All abstaining? All against? Bon! You will be the scrutateur.

First order of business, our current conseil president will give us an update on how the construction is going in the building.

As the sweat beaded between my legs and the pleather,  my neighbor got everyone up to speed on the "almond green" color chosen for the doors (which deserves its own blog post entirely), the fibre optique internet installation, the new mailboxes, light fixtures and tiles.  She went on about the 3rd floor neighbor who wasn't responding to calls about the water leaking from her bathroom, and there was speculation that she may be dead, then ideas about how to manage the problem.  Call a locksmith! Call the police! Call the fire department! 

This was mainly for the propriétaires who don't live in the building, since those of us who do, pass by said puke green doors everyday and already knew of their hideousness.We came to learn that half of our building is owned by a family, and one son and one daughter are still alive.  The daughter and her husband, Monsieur and Madame F, both in their 80's, were at the meeting, and while they live in some chateau in the Loire, they still come to the meetings since any voting that has financial implications involves them the most. They also have the strongest vote since they own the majority of the apartments. Monsieur et Madame are millionaires

Bon! Next order of business, we must choose a new conseil for 2015!

Eight heads turned to our current president - my upstairs neighbor - we'll call her Madame J.  As she murmured something about humbly accepting, Mopain and I began to realize that no one wants to be on the conseil and that they are very happy to give the job to someone else who has time to care about door color and dead neighbors!

The syndic continued, Merci Madame J. You did such a wonderful job in 2014, it's only fitting that you stay on the conseil! Now we need another person to join her.


The eight sweaty heads turned to les nouveaux. C'est une petite tradition it is a little tradition that the newbies be on the conseil. 


Mopain, resident Frenchie, quickly refused. But I'm an American sap, a pushover! And so, after asking what my responsibilities would actually be, then commenting on my major lack of time in general just to make it clear that I really can't dedicate my life to mailbox installation and the noisy students on the 5th floor,  I accepted, like the idiot I am.

Two humid hours were dedicated to voting on water shut-off valves, the illegal Polish renters on the 2nd floor, and whether or not a tapis (rug), should be installed on the stairwell:

Monsieur F - Monsieurs and Madames, with all due respect, I'm going to vote no. I've already spent 25,000 Euros on the building construction. The tapis will have to wait until next year.

Madame J - But Monsieur F, you must understand that we actually live in the building, and it is certainly not a luxury to have a tapis up the stairs.  We have already sanded and polished the wood, it would be such a shame to let it age again without the protection of a tapis!

Monsieur F - Oui, Madame J, I understand completely. But this year, it's no. Perhaps next year we can revisit the idea. 

Madame J - Monsieur F,  of course I understand the financial implications for you, but if only your lovely locataires (renters) made less noise going up and down the stairs at 4am, we wouldn't need a tapis! 

...and on and on it went, until finally, Madame J gave up, knowing very well that Monsieur and Madame F would win the war in the end, purely on voting power. It was brutal; a game of wits and back-handed French jousting - on the surface, polite, but with a strong undercurrent of go screw yourself and your tapis too. 

Mopain and I watched attentively, observing who would be our allies at the next conseil, and thinking about how to plot a strategic attack against Monsieur and Madame F if future voting required it.  

We peeled ourselves off of the dated chairs, relieved by the prospect of a breeze outside the syndic doors.  After the required rounds of hand shakes and au revoirs, the conseil was fini, and we could go back to our arrondissement on the gritty east side, and walk up our tapis-less stairwell, past the illegal Polish renters and the potentially dead neighbor with a water leak,  to our nouveau chez nous.


Notre Mariage

After 10 years together, Copain and I finally decided to tie the knot. Our friends and family's reaction: freaking finally people! They were right, it was time.

We hemmed and hawed about getting married in Toulouse, where we first met in 2004. We made fake guest lists. We wondered who would actually FLY across the country for us. I called a restaurant and put together a delicious southwestern French menu with six courses and cheese and lots of wine. We had visions of taking people to the place where we met at the Beaujolais festival when we were just 22, and making them drink bad Beaujolais wine...we seriously had some great ideas.  But guess what - France doesn't like to make things easy like that. In France, the civil ceremony is obligatory and must come before any religious ceremony (not that we were going to have one, but just so you know). Also, the civil ceremony must take place in:

A. the townhall where the couple resides


B. the townhall where the couple's parents reside

or the option for any French red tape technicality:

C. you put up a big fight, find a loophole, yell a lot and like magic, things work out for you.

Since we live in Paris, my parents live in the states and Copain's parents don't live in Toulouse, we realized that our idea was going to make things difficult and we didn't have the energy to yell - we had already done that to all of the bankers offering us crappy loans for our apartment. Given that we were  basically on the brink of mutual mental breakdowns, we threw in the towel and made things easier on ourselves: the wedding would be in Paris, and it would be just the two of us.

You know that when you feel instant relief, you have made the right decision. 

Beyond the whole legality of figuring out a Toulouse wedding, we didn't like the idea of people watching us (though clearly I have no problem sharing after the fact...!), of organizing flights and vacations and making a wedding website and sending invitations and planning a big hoopla.  I hear that nowadays, people even send a "Please be my bridesmaid gift" - what? I couldn't deal.  You can't ask people to fly across the world for you and not plan something fabulous.  Thanks for flying for 16 hours! Meet us at the park for some Beaujolais! Instead, our money went to our new home and we planned the perfect wedding sans hoopla for ourselves. As the French would say: ouf.

After gathering all of the necessary paperwork (I'm a pro at this now) and making a rendezvous at the townhall in our neighborhood, we set the date for our 10 year anniversary (what's a few more months after 10 years?!). We could just drink bad Beaujolais on our own!  Though we wanted it to be just be us Frenchies, we still had to have témoins - witnesses.   Non, you cannot get married in Toulouse and you cannot do it alone. Vive la France. Thankfully, we have understanding friends who agreed to come to our townhall, sign the document and be on their merry way (merci les amis!).

Our plan was to get married in the morning, take photos around the city, drive to the airport, hop on a flight and enjoy our wedding dinner in Budapest, a city that would be new to both of us and a cozy place to enjoy our honeymoon in November.  On the day of the wedding, my témoin, Dancer Friend, was supposed to come to my teeny apartment and help me finish up hair and makeup, but her doctor said Non! She was 9 months pregnant and couldn't walk up the 5 flights of stairs to my front door without her water breaking! Fortunately,  the magic of technology allowed me to text a play by play to my mom and her BFF, kind of as if they were right there with me. 

Dress and jacket found online - what do you wear to a November wedding in cold weather?!

I met Dancer Friend at the local café and she was waiting with my bouquet, her giant bump protruding from her jacket that wouldn't close. "Please don't go into labor for the next hour," I pleaded with her. We walked across the street to the town hall and waited for Copain to arrive with his témoin. At 11am, we ascended the red-carpeted stairs, into the salle des mariages, and the mayor of the 11th arrondissement entered the room.

photo by Greg Finck

photo by Greg Finck

photo by Greg Finck

He opened the ceremony with: We are here to discuss the important topic of sustainable development...(ah, politicians). Then he read us the laws by which we would be married, we both said oui (phew!), signed the mariage documents and became mari et femme.  We went with what our photographer deemed the "self-wedding" all the way out the front doors of the townhall and threw rose petals for ourselves :-) Who needs guests?!

Then our wonderful photographer, Greg Finck, took us around our favorite city to capture the moment:

Photo by Greg Finck

photo by Greg Finck

photo by Greg Finck

We stopped at the rue de Beaujolais in the 1st arrondissement of Paris to say our vows that we had written ourselves. Civil ceremonies in France are quite short, to the point, and don't really allow for anything other than "oui", so we thought it would be nice to take a moment for ourselves. It seemed fitting to say them on the rue de Beaujolais, which I had only happened upon the week before!  Merci Paris! Then we walked through the Galerie Vivienne, where there were serving and selling bottles of the Beaujolais Nouveau - parfait. 

photo by Greg Finck

photo by Greg Finck

photo by Greg Finck

Of course we bought a bottle for next year.

Our bags were packed in the car, so we jumped back in and the driver took us to Orly airport where we checked in right before boarding.  The sign that greeted us at the airport could not have been more perfect: 

You are a few meters from a new beginning. How right they were.

Locked and loaded.

We first checked in at the Corinthia Hotel - AKA the Grand Budapest Hotel - and upon learning that we had literally just been married in Paris, still in our wedding outfits, bouquet in hand,  the hotel staff upgraded us to a Junior Suite (bigger than our new apartment!). If you ever want an upgrade, I highly recommend showing up to hotel check-in in a wedding dress and suit. Then we high-tailed it to the Halaszbastya restaurant, on the Buda side of the city. 

A castle restaurant? - ok!

We filled our bellies with paprika-spiced Hungarian food, delicious Hungarian wines, and took in all the cheesiness of a serenade at our dinner table over-looking the Danube. When we got back to the hotel, they had a bottle of Hungaria - the Hungarian version of Prosecco, waiting for us in our room.  Hey - bubbles are bubbles. We appreciated the sweet gesture.

The rest of the trip, we got to know Budapest and practiced saying, "my wife" and "my husband". Hard to do when you've been calling each other something else for 10 years. It still doesn't roll off my tongue. Maybe in another 10? 

In any case, Budapest is beautiful, full of history, magical even. It was the perfect place to celebrate a 10-year journey and our big year of FINALLY GETTING OUR SHIT TOGETHER.   

Merci nos témoins, merci Greg Finck, merci Paris, merci Budapest, merci Beaujolais, merci Avancer, merci mon Copain Mari.