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Forever in France
Stories and Recipes from My French Kitchen
My son entered the 9th grade this month – that’s the last year of junior high in France – and today his teacher asked him to write a letter to his future self. She’s going to tuck them away and give them back to each student at the end of the year.
I was surprised at the assignment. Even though he attends an alternative school, the French are not normally up for this type of exercise – projecting yourself and your dreams into the future. It’s like that classic American interview question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” Joie de vivre – the precious French gift for living in the moment, doesn’t usually lend itself to long term goal setting. I’ve never met a French person who knew where they wanted to be in 5 years – except maybe, retired.
“Am I allowed to ask what you wrote?” I asked in nosy mom fashion.
“No.” he smiled. My son is excellent at nudging me, kindly, out of his private space. Maybe this letter is like a birthday cake wish, if he tells me it won’t come true. Maybe he’s like I was at his age, with a list of wants and hopes as long as the Dead Sea Scrolls, but afraid of disappointing himself and everyone else. Either way, it’s none of my beeswax.
I’ve been in France for 20 years now. How I wish I had a letter from my younger self to open now. What would she have told me, that girl who lugged her two suitcases up the spiral staircase to a love nest in the heart of Paris? I’m pretty sure it would have gone something like this:
Do not fuck this up. I hope you have the biggest, brightest, grandest life you can imagine. I hope you are happy. Please learn how to be happy.
PS. I hope we can afford MaxMara winter white.
The 20 years that separate me from that girl have been a wild ride. I wrote a book, Lunch in Paris, about an American girl falling in love with a handsome Frenchman over chocolate cake in Paris, and another, Picnic in Provence, about having a baby and opening an ice-cream shop in the South of France. There was even a cookbook, Dinner Chez Moi, about why the French love to be hungry. And then things got real. Really real.
My mom, who some of you got to know in my books, passed away suddenly in 2017, and I stopped sharing with my readers. At the time, it didn’t feel right to post pics of leeks from the market when my guts were hanging out. Then my husband got cancer. We almost lost him. We did lose the ice cream business. Our brilliant, creative, curious son had trouble learning to read and write. I suffered my first real episode of depression, something I’d been alternately fearing and anticipating my entire life. My marriage almost broke. The love of my life almost walked away, but we fixed it.
Like I said, really real.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a letter from my younger self. But now, at the edge of 50, I can turn the exercise around, and write a letter to my younger self. This is what I would tell her:
I know you are rushing to get somewhere, to be an adult so you can control everything. You want to hurtle through the bad bits to get to “happily ever after”. But the hard part is the good part, too.
Writing is the way I share things with the world, but it’s also the way I process things on the inside for myself. I’ve missed it, and the community I was lucky enough to find because of it.
So this newsletter will be full of leek pics, fig recipes, big pots of lentils and sausage – and yes, Courtney – I have set myself the challenge to recreate the apple, potato and blood sausage tart we had at that cute place with the mismatched plates. There will also be stuff about momming, marriage, maybe even universal health care. All the marvels and messiness of a life between two cultures. Oh, and I have a cheese monger who calls me Sophia Loren. But that’s another story for another day…
Forever in France,
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