One thing I’ve noticed about living overseas is that you have to be more proactive in meeting people.It’s harder than living in your home country, so you need more of a social network. I’ve lived here before and already had some good friends, but I figure you can’t have too many. So last week I took advantage of a program through the Women of the American Church called “Movie Mates,” where people get together once a month for a movie and coffee or lunch afterwards. We saw “City Island” with Andy Garcia, about an Italian-American family living in City Island in the Bronx. At first I wasn’t sure if I liked it because there was a lot of bickering in the family, but I warmed up to it at the end. When I mentioned the movie to some friends in the states, they had never heard of it. It turns out it won’t be released there until March 19. I love it when I see movies before my American friends do – na na na na na!
Anyway, there were only four of us: two Americans, one woman from Scotland and one from the Netherlands. The other American smuggled microwaved popcorn into the theatre in her purse and shared it everyone. It was nice, and in retrospect, I’m glad I was unaware of recent events and able to enjoy the popcorn without worrying about armed policemen confronting us and removing us from the theatre.
Afterwards three of us had lunch in a nearby café. We had a lot in common as foreigners living abroad. The Dutch woman and Scottish woman even found out their respective husbands both work for the same multinational company. One of our biggest shared experiences was our struggle with the language. I was a little surprised when they both said that they chicken out when they’re in public spaces and speak English instead of French, even though they’ve been here longer than me. One said she’ll work her courage up in a store and tell herself “today, I’m really going to speak French,” and then at the last minute when she’s at the cash register all of her French just evaporates. I have to think back to the first time I lived here in the early 90s to remember how I would do the same thing. It’s not that I’m totally fluent now, but my French is better and I don’t worry about it as much as before. They also both had similar feelings about living here in the first place, and talked about how difficult it was and how sometimes they didn't really want to be here, and they would end up staying home all day. Fortunately, that's something that I haven't felt. It's not easy living in a foreign country; sometimes I feel like I’m a toddler all over again, learning everything from the language to mundane things like writing a French check. I have had difficult days, but I've never wished I were living somewhere else. I think the difference is that I decided I wanted to live here and went about the difficult tasks of getting a visa and moving to another country, whereas these other women are here because their husbands’ jobs transferred them to Paris.
One advantage to living in Paris is that it’s almost impossible to take a bad photograph. Even a blurry picture of a rain-soaked shop front snapped just when a customer is struggling to open her umbrella evokes that je ne sais quoi about Paris. I still have a lot to learn, especially about indoor photography, but if there’s one lesson above all that I’ve learned, it’s that it’s impossible to make lentil soup pretty.
This winter I’ve eaten more homemade vegetable soup than I did in the last two decades. It’s cheap, fast and nutritious. And it’s a good way to counterbalance all those luxury brownies and cranberry, pecan and white chocolate cookies I’ve been eating.
This butternut squash and lentil soup is a riff on the lentil chestnut soup from www.justhungry.com. That recipe calls for stock cubes, which I rarely use, but water worked fine. Just make sure to add enough salt, pepper and herbs. I omitted the honey or molasses from the original recipe too, as I felt that the onions and squash lent enough sweetness. Ever since I made a Moroccan sweet potato salad with olives and cayenne pepper, I've loved the combination of hot pepper with sweet starchy vegetables, so I added a pinch of cayenne. Also, I don't have a blender, so wasn't able to purée the soup. It wasn’t pretty, but tasted great, especially with a dollop of crème fraiche on top.
I love to read. No matter what time I go to bed, even if I’ve pulled an all-nighter working and don’t get to bed until after the sun comes up, I still have to read for a while before I go to sleep. When I moved to France from Berkeley, California, I had boxes and boxes of books in my studio apartment to deal with. I was good and got rid of most of them, but still had a couple of boxes left over to put in storage. Berkeley sucked in some ways, but it made up for that with its independent bookstores and food scene, two of my passions. I got used to finding great secondhand books, so it was difficult when I moved to Paris and saw how expensive foreign-language titles are here.