Nancy in Paris
“Paris is always a good idea.” — Audrey Hepburn
It was just about a year ago that I was in Paris— that glorious, magical city which has a certain something– a certain je ne sais quoi— that French phrase which describes a certain mystical, magical quality which cannot be explained. I think it’s probably apropos that this phrase originated here . . . because I have never seen a city with more unexplainable magic in the air as Paris. There is just that certain something in the air that makes you smile even on the foggiest, rainiest of days. The lights seem to sparkle more brightly here– the croissants are more flaky. The hot chocolate is the best you’ve ever had. The very air seems to have a breathless, excited quality to it. There is no place like it on earth.
Going to Paris changed me. I learned the beauty of simple, everyday elegance. I learned that it’s worth getting out the good dishes and silverware, and setting the table with a real tablecloth, even if you are just having a simple salad for lunch. I learned that drinking coffee out of a china cup with a silver spoon makes me slow down and savor it, as opposed to just gulping it from a travel mug as I zoom about on my morning errands. I learned that less is more– a simple sprinkling of salt and pepper can make the most amazing roast chicken. A simple scarf on a classic outfit is always chic, and you don’t need neon colored sneakers to stand out in your attire. I learned that fashion is being memorable, rather than standing out. I learned that if you can internalize that classy, Parisian sense of style, that your clothes will merely enhance what is already there– that YOU will be what people remember, rather than your outfit.
I learned that taking time to savor the small things is really what makes the world go round. Having a small plate of perfect French macarons and sipping coffee with friends– taking time to savor and laugh and talk– that tiny bit of sustenance will leave you much more satisfied than an all you can eat buffet ever will. Beautiful touches, like red geraniums in a windowsill or a perfect sprinkling of sea salt over the butter on a fresh, crackling baguette– these things are the vapor of magic that makes life worth living. I think Parisians have somehow mastered the secret of everyday elegance, and that is what makes their city so special.
I have thought about Paris almost every day since I left it. I will go back one day, and hopefully I will get to explore for a longer time. But I find that I carry Paris with me, always, in my heart. I’m pretty sure Paris has a VIP room in there, and it didn’t even have to ask for it– it just seemed to fit.
I met Nancy on Instagram. What drew my eye to her from the very start was her amazing French Macarons. Her flavors were bright and amazingly complex. Her shells were perfect– flawless feet, zero hollows. Perfect, smooth shells. I wrote to her, expressing my admiration. She told me that French Macarons were her favorite thing to make and that she had gone to Paris just to try them made from the masters. She loved Paris as much as I did. I loved her immediately.
We became fast friends– exchanging Macarons recipes, tips, ideas, and flavors. As any Macaron maker will tell you, these are finicky little creatures– and what works today may not work tomorrow. You have to become very adept at “learning” your oven, your macarons, and what the batter and shells are telling you so that you can troubleshoot on the fly. Yes. They really are that finicky. Macarons are like the pregnant, hormonal woman of the pastry world, who also happens to be going through menopause and getting a divorce at the same time. Oh, and you just took the last chocolate bar in the world away from her. They are ridiculously moody.
Nancy and I talked about macarons for days. Weeks. Months. We talked about Paris. We talked about how much we missed it– how the magic of the place just seemed to stay with you. She told me she was going back to Paris soon. We plotted all the things she should see, like two little girls whispering excitedly on Christmas Eve wondering what magic the next day would bring.
She went to Paris for 2 glorious weeks. Every day we talked so she could tell me about all the beautiful things she had seen, and all the ridiculously delicious things she had tasted. She sent me pictures, and she told me stories. Since there is a 7 hour time difference between here and Paris, it was amazing to wake up first thing in the morning and know that Nancy might already be having lunch– maybe she was taking a picnic along the Seine. Maybe she was strolling by the Eiffel Tower. I loved texting her first thing in the morning to hear what adventures she had been having.
For 2 beautiful weeks I traveled Paris with Nancy, via her pictures, stories, and beautiful experiences. I looked forward to it each day, and each night before I went to bed I would write her good morning, so that when she woke up she would know that I was thinking about her and that I couldn’t wait to wake up and travel the streets of Paris together again. I knew we would be tasting French Macarons and eating grapes and cheese . . . maybe strolling along the river perusing a flea market, looking for treasures.
She got to go to the famous Les Puces de Saint-Ouen flea market– a sprawling legend that has everything from fresh flowers to antique china and French country decor. I love nothing better than a good flea market– you can find such beautiful vintage treasures there. I think that may have been the part of Nancy’s trip where I was *almost* jealous of her. haha. But thankfully she told me all about it, and I got to see the photos and hear all about the things that she bought.
“I got you something,” she said mysteriously. “But I won’t tell you what it is. You will see when I get back.” I was so excited I could hardly stand it. What could it be? “You will be able to use this in your photos,” was the only hint she would give me. ARGHHHHHHH what was it?!?!?!
Finally, the trip was over. With sadness we realized that the magic, at least for now, had to come to an end. But I still loved hearing her stories and seeing the photos of all the sights she had been able to visit. “And you still have your package,” she reminded me– as if I could ever forget! I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve, breathless with anticipation to see what lay under the tree for me the next morning. I started dreaming about that package– imagining pulling the entire Eiffel Tower, Mary Poppins style, out of the box when it arrived. “If it fits, it ships,” you know. 😉
At last, one day as I pulled into my driveway, I saw it– a mammoth package waiting for me on the porch. Could it really be the Eiffel, after all???? It was gargantuan, and I almost forgot to put the car in park, because I was so eager to zip out and have a look at the box.
The next moments were pure, unadulterated bliss. One by one I unwrapped the treasures inside. I had imagined a small keepsake or memento, but Nancy blew all my expectations out of the water. There were 2 velvet recipe books, bound in gold, ever so carefully wrapped in tissue paper, from the esteemed Macaron house of Laduree– books so beautiful that I found myself whispering as I opened them, just by default. There were gorgeous, bejeweled macaron boxes. A tiny, crystal Eiffel Tower statue. A picture of the Seine that she had watched a sidewalk artist paint in watercolor and then bought for me. There were bags from all my favorite Paris spots– Laduree, Pierre Herme, and L’Occitane on the Champs-élysées. There was a gorgeous, vintage Limoges jewel box, with a perfect, diamond Eiffel Tower pendant inside. There were 4 exquisite vintage teaspoons. Vintage, handmade lace (“I thought you could use this in your photos,” was all she said. I almost squealed with delight). There were multiple handmade and hand embroidered tea linens, some of them maybe even a century old. And at the very center, there was the most beautiful, gold-flecked tea set. I imagined Parisian ladies sipping from these incredible dishes, murmuring about the weather and eating macarons. I was so overcome that I cried.
The gift was beautiful. Thoughtful, exquisite, absolutely flawlessly perfect. I can’t wait to use the items in photos again and again and to display their beauty through my home and remember the “tagalong” trip to Paris on which Nancy was kind enough to invite me. But the true gift and true treasure is Nancy, herself.
Thank you, sweet Nancy. Your gift is beautiful, but your friendship is the gift that truly warms my heart. <3
You did it. And I’m just so proud of you.
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