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lighthouse - best audible books 2021

7 Basically Perfect Audible Books for 2021 and Beyond

These are my picks best Audible books (for 2021).

If you pick the right one, there’s something incredibly special about the right audiobook — I don’t think books are generally improved by their film adaptations, but I do think some are even better in their audiobook format. To the Lighthouse is one of the 20th century’s perfect books — but the way Nicole Kidman reads those dense, twisty sentences helps crack it open in a way that’s impossible on the page.

I have 70 books in my Audible library, and most I didn’t finish. Some were boring. With others — like with The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes and two Neil Gaiman books I ended up buying the print version because I couldn’t follow the plot. These, though, are all wonderful, and if you’re looking for something to listen to next, look here first.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I can’t even say what an incredible experience listening to this book was. I’ve read lots of books by TV comedians and those were fine and entertaining but this is real-deal art. I loved this book so much that I bought the hardcover for my mom for Christmas, even though there’s nothing that can replicate the experience of Noah reading it himself. Part of Noah’s story is crossing between cultures — his Swiss dad and Xhosa mom, just for starters — so hearing his expert accents and intonations just adds another layer of interest.

The George Smiley Radio Dramas by the BBC

I spent much of 2020 reading John Le Carré’s spy novels, and they are amazing and gorgeously written in a way that still isn’t celebrated enough. They are, though, intricately plotted, in the way that I can say that I love Tinker Tailor without understanding exactly what/anything that happened. These radio dramas — focused on those featuring George Smiley, spy extraordinaire but also not — are amazing because they’re pared down just enough to be clear while still honoring Le Carré’s intentions (unlike some of the film adaptations of his books, with all that creative meddling from the directors). (Of course the best practice is to read the books as well.) With: Brian Cox from Succession as an excellent Alec Leamas (in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold)!

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

This is one of my favorite books and this is true despite the fact that some of the sentences are very, very long. Of course they are beautiful and intricate and they always make sense — but they are still extremely long. This shouldn’t be a big thing but I actually found this easier to parse thanks to Nicole Kidman, who reads beautifully, like an actual queen, and who did an amazing job metering out all those extremely intricate rhythms.

If It Bleeds by Stephen King

I loved this collection of short stories so much that I tried to record the recording of the audio for my friends (I know this is a terrible idea/illegal) — but the stories, and in particular “The Life of Chuck.” I know “If It Bleeds” is the best-known one — and deservedly so, since it’s the sequel to The Outsider — but “The Life of Chuck” is just an incredibly special, sensitive story. I didn’t know anything about it going in and I’m not going to spoil it here. One of the best things about listening to this versus reading it was that I didn’t know how long it was — and since it’s told in a number of different sections, I was surprised more than once that there was more story to go. Listening to Part I during pandemic-times was almost too close to home.

Midnight Sun by James Dommek Jr.

If you like Dateline (seriously who doesn’t like Dateline), you will enjoy this true-crime story by James Dommek, Jr., an Alaska Native writer and musician. He had a passing connection to an Alaskan actor, Teddy Kyle Smith, who fled into the wilderness after a violent incident, and Dommek uses that connection to help bring context to a truly bizarre story of thwarted ambition. In addition to being a fascinating portrait (of a person conspicuous by his absence), it is a stellar example of writing about place.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Of the three ways to engage with The Handmaid’s Tale — Hulu, the original, or this — the Audible version, read by Claire Danes(!), is a very solid second (to reading the book). There’s another version of this, with Danes narrating alongside a full cast, that might very well belong on a list of the best Audible books of 2021 (or indeed 2022), but I haven’t heard it yet, and I think it’ll be hard to beat this, and the suffocating sense of being stuck in Offred’s head/life.

These are my best Audible books of 2021. For the last few years, my main reading project is to read a book from every country in the world. For more on that, see here

The 7 Best 2021 Wall Art Calendars on Etsy

There may be 20,000+ search results — but I’m pretty confident that among these six picks is the single best wall art calendar on Etsy.

I turned to Etsy when my usual calendar-providing suspects — Paper Source, Rifle Paper — came up empty. Some requirements for my new calendar: I wanted a wall calendar, not a desk calendar, and ideally, I wanted something bound (either with, like, staples or ring-binding) — not the sort of thing where you have to use a fancy binder clip to put it on your wall. I also avoided printable calendars (I make one(!!) but just didn’t want anything DIY for this), and I skipped single-page, full-year-on-one-sheet calendars,

I didn’t go through all 22,000 results(!!!!!) in my search for the best wall art calendar on Etsy, but I did find a half-dozen I loved. These obviously reflect my general interests — National Parks, trees, travel, etc. — but you can find literally anything you want, including: a virus calendar, a pastry calendar, a “2021 Nude Art Calendar.”

1. Architecture Calendar

BUY IT HERE:  Architecture calendar, $39

I know I literally just said I didn’t want a calendar held together with a binder clip — I guess at least this calendar of architectural illustrations comes with one.

2. Hand-Sewn Calendar

BUY IT HERE:  Hand-sewn calendar, $65

This is about four times as much as I wanted to spend, but this might be the very best wall art calendar on Etsy (all of it). Each art print is double-perforated and can be detached, from the calendar itself and from the monthly grid, to be saved and shown off separately. The same designer makes a moon phases calendar, too.

3. Watercolor Botanical Calendar

BUY IT HERE:  Watercolor botanical calendar, $29.50

Another binder-clip situation (argh), but I love the way that the illustrations are shown at maximal size, and how the color palette gets cooler and warmer with the seasons.

4. Botanical Illustrations Calendar

best wall art calendar etsy

BUY IT HERE: Botanical illustrations calendar, $23.50

I love that the monthly grid is hand-drawn, just like the botanical illustrations. The same designer makes a terrazzo-pattern calendar, if that’s your thing.

5. National Park Calendar

best wall art calendar etsy

BUY IT HERE: National Park calendar, $32

There are a zillion National Park-themed wall art calendars on Etsy, but this is one of the ones I like the best, thanks to all its rich, saturated colors.

6. Field & Forest Calendar

BUY IT HERE: Field & Forest calendar, $30

I love the color palette for this “Field & Forest” calendar, like the icy blue of January and the pretty pink of April.

7. Streetscapes Calendar

BUY IT HERE: Streetscapes calendar, $32

A lovely gift for a travel, this calendar has gouache illustrations of streetscapes from the Jordaan in Amsterdam to New York’s SoHo (and London, San Francisco, and more.)

P.S.: See my other Etsy picks — including the best French gifts and the best French jewelryhere.

7 Perfectly Minimalist Earrings From My Favorite French Jewelry Maker

Minimalist jewelry is so tricky if you’re looking for something sleek ‘n’ chic but not utterly without interest. Paris-based designer Raphaël Schaltegger walks that line expertly with his Goutte de Terre brand, which mixes super-smooth Limoges porcelain with gold and other organic details. These are the best minimalist earrings on Etsy, as far as I can tell.

Schaltegger has a gallery and shop in the 11th but also sells his work online, which is all to the good. The prices are reasonable enough — my favorite piece below, the Seine earrings, are about $50 — and utilitarian enough that they could withstand the transition from day to night, classroom to office, or whatever big move might be on your agenda.

If you like these but they’re not quite right, check out their Instagram, which has new pieces not yet online.

Affiliate links below. 

1. Kisale Earrings

minimalist earrings etsy

BUY IT HERE:  “Kisale” earrings, $50

That’s a very particular green, but if it works for you, it looks great with gold.

2. Seine Earrings

minimalist earrings

BUY IT HERE:  “Seine” earrings, $50

These are so extremely élégante that I included them in our list of the 12 best French-made presents from allll of Etsy. Fact: I didn’t look through all 300 pages of search results, but these earn my vote for the very best minimalist earrings on Etsy (all of it!!). Those are also Seines at the very top, in a slightly different color.

3. Tukituki Earrings

BUY IT HERE:  “Tukituki” earrings, $147

This is the most expensive piece on this list and I’m not totally sure that I like these $100 more than the Seines, above — but I *do* love that deep-green color of porcelain.

4. Dyle Earrings

dyle minimalist earrings

BUY IT HERE:  “Dyle” earrings, $97

If you’re not into the whole geometric trend, you can skip these, but I love it.

5. Mira Earrings

mira earrings

BUY IT HERE:  “Mira” earrings, $53

Another super simple, super clean option.

6. Bodva Earrings

bodva earrings

BUY IT HERE:  “Bodva” earrings, $53

You could wear these earrings with literally anything Everlane has ever made.

7. Kivu Earrings

minimalist earrings etsy

BUY IT HERE:  “Kivu” earrings, $75

These are the right earrings for when you get invited to a gallery opening and want to wear earrings that are cool but not, like, overly cool.

yabla review

An Honest Yabla Review (2021)

My Yabla review: I love Yabla.

I’ve used Yabla for three years, after I discovered it while looking for a way to practice my oral comprehension of French. I can read reasonably well, and speak at least competently enough to express my less-complicated thoughts, but I am hopeless at understanding people when they speak French. Enter, Yabla. (Note: This Yabla review focuses on Yabla French, though I imagine it’s more or less the same for each of the languages Yabla offers.)

So What Is Yabla?

Yabla is a language-learning system that uses a selection of game-like programs to increase oral comprehension, vocabulary, and written ability. My favorite — the one I use 99.9% of the time — is Scribe (patent pending!).

yabla review - scribe

The concept is simple: Every week, Yabla publishes a bunch of new videos — a mix of news reports, music videos, cartoon segments, and original material made by Yabla itself. (The original material is excellent — especially the videos by Lionel (Lionel the First, though Lionel the Second is also great, something other Yabla French users will understand) and by Daniel Benchimol, who does great video tours around Paris and France).

Each clip is divided into short sections, and you type out what you hear, like in Wheel of Fortune. See those blank spaces up there? That’s where you type in the words you hear the speaker saying.

It’s that easy — except often it’s not, because maybe you don’t know your “dis donc” from “dit, donc.” The better you do on your first try, the more stars you get. The more stars you get, the higher you appear on the leaderboard — so you’re rewarded both for accuracy and volume.

How Does Yabla Work?

Scribe is just one of Yabla’s core programs.

yabla review - fill in the blank

There’s also Multiple Choice (seen above), where you select a missing word from a sentence from a row of possibilities, and Fill in the Blank, where you type in the missing word instead of a multiple choice scenario. (Fill in the Blank can actually be a little more difficult than Scribe, because with Scribe you know, Hangman-style, how many letters there are in each word, while you don’t in Fill in the Blank — so you have to think a little harder about whether you’re hearing “viennent” or “vienne.”)

Finally we have Vocabulary Review (above), which quizzes you on possibly new-to-you words in increasingly more difficult ways: first you match French to English, then English to French, then write the word in French given the English definition. A new Comprehension section is your basic “did you understand anything that you just heard.”

Obviously, the best way to go about this would be to spend a bit of time with extra video, going through all the games one by one, but I usually just do Scribe.

Who’s Yabla For?

One of the things I like best about Yabla is that it’s not for beginners. It organizes its videos from beginner level to advanced, and there are plenty at the beginner level — but more are available for intermediates and advanced. I honestly don’t know how you’d start with no experience. Yabla can’t teach the foundations of the language — how French adjectives agree with their nouns, or when to use subjunctive verbs and when to use conditional.

In my experience, Yabla is best used in conjunction with a class or one-on-one tutor (I have the latter, on Verbling).

Yabla Vs Duolingo

I personally don’t love Duolingo, though I finished it in French, as I reviewed what I’d learned in high school and college. They really don’t compare at all: Duolingo’s for beginners, and Yabla’s not. If I were starting from scratch and only wanted to use online tools, it’d be possible to start with Duolingo and then move to beginner-level Yabla videos. But I feel like you’d still need a tutor to explain the foundations of the language, which Duolingo doesn’t do.

Yabla Vs FluentU

I’ve only spent the two-week trial on FluentU. I prefer Yabla, which is much less expensive because you’re only subscribing to one language, whereas with FluentU you get access to everything they offer. If you’re learning multiple languages, maybe that would make FluentU worth it?

FluentU offers more languages than Yabla: FluentU has Chinese, Spanish, French, German, Japanese, English, Italian, Arabic, Russian, Korean, and Portuguese, while Yabla only has six: English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Chinese. But Yabla does have deeper video libraries for the languages it does have, and I didn’t see any original material on FluentU.

There are some things I prefer about FluentU, including its more modern interface, and small things like a running total of the days you’ve used it, right on your main dashboard. But I don’t like any of that enough to consider switching. Even if they were the same price, I’d go with Yabla, but given that FluentU is nearly three times as much(!), it’s an easy choice.

In Conclusion: My Yabla Review

My Yabla review is that Yabla is the best. On its own, it won’t teach anybody French. But as part of a well-rounded language program, it’s invaluable.

It’s $12.95 per month, with a 15-day free trial, or $54.95 for six months or $99.95 for a year. (Obviously I pay monthly because I like wasting money.)

p.s. these are my other favorite online language-learning tools — some free, some paid.

12 Excellent French Makers on Etsy

Looking for the best French gifts on Etsy? Voilà.

While I’ve been an Etsy shopkeeper for forever, I’ve only recently become more of an Etsy shopper, and I’ve bought more excellent stuff on Etsy this year than anywhere else. (Like: vintage maps of Europe, an Animal Crossing-themed print for a friend, and a vinyl Bruce Springsteen sticker, because for 2021 I decided to be the sort of person who cares a lot about stickers.)

A couple quick things, as we begin our search for the best French gifts on Etsy (noting: no vintage, no clothing, as those are separate searches!!). As someone who ships from France to the U.S. literally all the time, it’s actually very straightforward and fast: Look for shipment via service called Colissimo, which is the national post carrier’s shipping plan. From Paris to the U.S. it can take as few as four days, though usually it’s closer to seven. And there shouldn’t be customs charges for any of these products (as they’re under the price that would incur them.) Keep an eye on shipping timeframes, and note that the prices shown here can fluctuate with the exchange rate, as the shopkeepers listed them in euros and I’ve provided them in U.S. dollars.

There are Etsy shoppers all over the world, and with a lot (a LOT) of looking around, you can find work that’s unique to a different place — like France. Here, you’ll find some excellent, truly French gifts on Etsy — all from independent makers, from across the country.

Affiliate links below.

1. Extremely Gorgeous Indie Jewelry From Paris

I find these earrings just extremely and stylish — they’re porcelain hand-painted with gold, with sterling silver backs. I love his entire collection, designed in Paris and made by hand in Oaxaca.  I know this image isn’t like DRAMA but I think it falls in line with prevailing ideas about jewelry, where simpler is chicer.

2. Graphic Wall Planners and Desk Calendars

I love these super-graphic, super-Memphis-y calendars and planners. They remind me a little of Papier Tigre but not too much, if you know what I mean. The desk planners are available in English and French; this one has both.

3. Extremely Special Stuffed Marine Animals

Obviously I think this is adorable, even if when I first saw it I was like, $170 for a stuffed whale seems like kind of a lot???? But then I saw that more people have this “in their cart” than anything else, so — “¯\_(ツ)_/¯“?

4. Designer Map of Marseille (and Other Cities)

Lord knows there are plenty of fancy Paris maps on Etsy, but Benoit Cesari seemingly spends just as much if not more time on the country’s other destinations — including Lyon, Montpellier, and Avignon — as well as more thematic offerings, like wine and regional cuisine maps of France.

5. Ridiculous But Lovely Origami Animals

I don’t know how to defend the ridiculousness of these $120 origami animals, but I also love them. This is the paradox of French handmade goods: They are often absurdly expensive, and they’re rarely like a showstopper piece, but they can be these tiny, lovely things that you can’t stop looking at. That is how I feel about those penguins, anyway. (They also have wolves, dragons, unicorns, and more, plus the deer shown at top; here’s their Instagram, which is extremely cute.

6. Cat Teepee

french gifts on etsy - cat teepee

Sometimes giving to yourself means … giving to your cat, specifically a teepee with a pompom door opening and double-sided pillow, with faux-sheepskin to keep them warm in winter? And this is just slightly unbelievable but you can accessorize your cat teepee with a matching banner with their hand-embroidered name. C’est incroyable!

7. Cool French Enamel Pins

french gifts on etsy - french enamel pin

BUY IT HERE: Garde la pêche pin, $13

“Garde la pêche” translates to “stay strong” more or less (here’s a long discussion about that), and having it in French pin form I think is quite cool. They’re all sort of just like ever-so-slightly risqué, like “Morue Forever” (“morue” (lol) often means “cod” but can also mean “woman held by others as retaining a vulgar and discourteous disposition.”) You can decide which pin is most appropriate to your personal vibe.

8. Périgord Walnut Cutting Boards

Part of me says $90 is too much to spend on a cutting board, but the more financially astute part of me says this is less than I am going to have to pay my landlord when he realizes I’ve been using his countertops as a place to smash blueberries. (We have a complicated relationship.) I don’t personally need a fancy cutting board (see above), but I know a lot of people who’d be delighted to get this.

9. 1930s Colorimetry Chart

french gifts on etsy - color chart

As someone who loves color, I love these vintage colorimetry charts from the 1930s, and I have a similar one. You can get them cheaper in France (about €10, rather than $30), from the bouquinistes along the Seine … until you factor in the airfare. These prints are usually pages from a book or manual, so expect to frame it once it’s home.

10. Printable Boeuf Bourguignon Recipe

I just find this a super-charming and not super-high-cost addition to a holiday card: a recipe (printed in both English and French), for this classic, hearty, very holiday-seasonal meal. She also offers recipes for French onion soup, pot au feu, coq au vin, and more. Sometimes the best French gifts on Etsy only require downloading and printing, versus shipping, and that seems like a bonus.

11. European Soccer Poster Feat. Zinedine Zidane

french gifts on etsy - zinedine zidane

BUY IT HERE: Zinedane Zidane’s uniforms poster, $38+ (depending on size/customization)

Soccer — er, “football” — isn’t my thing, but if I knew someone who liked the European version, I might very well consider this poster showing off all of French soccer icon Zinedine Zidane’s uniforms.

12. Règles de la Maison Print

french gifts on etsy - printables

BUY IT HERE: Rules of the House from La Poupette Pailette, $15.85+ (depending on size/customization)

I think this “House Rules” print is extremely cute, even if the directive to “être heureux chaque jour” sounds a little stressy. But how adorable for a home with a little language-learner??

The 21 Most Beautiful Paris Apartment Interiors on Instagram

These are the 21 most beautiful Paris apartment interiors on Instagram — which, all things being equal, is a pretty good place to look for them. Note: These get increasingly more fantastical as we go on, so while we start with this lovely, regular-person space — with the nice cat sleeping on the nice rattan chair — we definitely do conclude with, for example, the Hotel de Soubise (the construction of which was partially funded by an affair with Louis XIV) and additional castle-like spaces.

The good thing about Paris apartments that not everyone knows is that (thank you, Communist Party) rents are kept down pretty assiduously by law — so while Paris rents are expensive by French standards, they are a fraction of what they’d be in, say, San Francisco or London. Dream big!

Best Cozy Corner in History (@m.art.ion)
Can you even? Those plants, that cat, all that rattan?

Best Giant Gilded Mirror in the Service of Holiday Cheer (@jackiekaiellis)
Fact: A gilded mirror is worth having all year round, but possibly especially right next to a Christmas tree.

Best Extremely Well Set Up Bar System
Confinement is definitely not a problem when you have everything you need without going downstairs.

Best Classic, and Utterly Humungous, Kitchen (@abkasha)
So this is what a kitchen looks like without cabinets!

Best Kitchen With an Utterly Kanye-Level Amount of Marble (@stephenjulliard)
Here’s a look at another extremely marble-centric Paris kitchen, also designed by Studio Charlotte Macaux Perelman. What I love most is the comment that reads “So restrained!” and it’s like, Yes??? But also — definitely not??

Best Example of That Thing Where You Put All Your Magazines Below a Window

Best Zillion-Dollar Sofa Under a Zillion-Dollar Chandelier (@mr_briq_paris)
That is not a sofa suitable for snacking.

Best Totally Unnecessary Ceiling Ornamention (@suzannetuckerhome)
This is basically the opposite of a cozy cat corner (obvs), but if you’re going all in, might as well get some exquisite, calligraphic details on the ceilings.

Most Completely Excessive Garden Right in the Middle of the Fifth (@proprietesparisiennessir)
All the best Paris apartments are tucked away behind walls, which is why the for-sale listings are so permanently revelatory.

paris apartment interiors walls

Best Floors That I Would Just Sit Around and Stare at All Day
They might look a little extra IRL, but from a distance I love the extremely wild approach to parquet flooring. Also note that wonderful, circular rattan chair in the background.

paris apartment interiors moldings

Best Vibe for When Netflix Just Gave You Like $400,000,000 or Something (@deluxe.confidential)
The newly rich gotta live somewhere, right?? Might as well cash out on all those moldings?

Best Entire Wall of Books (@design_east_)
Also, those parquet floors! Get another look at the shelving, designed by architect Benoit Dupuis for his own apartment, here.

Best Staircase (@nicolas4matheus)
Also: best blue paint, and best semi-metallic storage unit. The way those two blues come together reminds me about the color difference when you see two different seas meet.

Best Round Walls (@emilytaubert)
Nothing says luxury like walls that are round when they could have been straight (not kidding!!). Also: bonus points for those herringbone-style floors (fast fact, that pattern is called point de Hongrie here).

paris apartment interiors fireplace

Best Pink Fireplace of All the Paris Apartment Interiors in Paris (@marieclairemaison)
Now that looks expensive.

paris apartment interiors windows

Most Ridiculous Use of Curtains (@paris.by.design)
That is just not a realistic way of living but also very beautiful.

All-Time Best View (@bossardarchitecture)
Tough to beat those windows, even if the interiors are actually a little meh.

partis apartment interiors castle

Best Second House in the Country (@parisouestsothebys)
Guaranteed: There is a horse immediately to the left.

paris apartment interiors soubise

Best Fantasy Space Mixing an 18th-Century Mansion With Some Very Futuristic Seating Units (@theglitteringunknown)
This isn’t quite a Paris apartment, but an exhibition space for Maison et Objet, the big Paris design show, at the Hotel de Soubise, which is better known as the site of the Museum of the National Archives, as designed by Pierre Gonalans. (Here’s another look — it’s beautiful!)

paris apartment interiors meaux

Best Home Office (@icondesignit)
Speaking of, from Pierre Gonalans’ home in Meaux: “a big Anglo-Norman house full of contemporaneity. Louis XIII furniture and Chinese antiques.” Even if these interiors are not strictly Paris apartment interiors (Meaux is about 40 minutes outside of the city) … wowzers.

Looking for more? Here’s a previous edition, with more rich people making their houses look extremely fancy for the photos.

I Sort of Dated an Emily in Paris-style Gabriel, and Actually, It Was Pretty Terrible

I didn’t meet Francois in my building, like Emily met Gabriel, her not-single chef: I met Francois, my not-single restaurateur, in an even cuter way: His parents sold me a vintage desk lamp at a garage sale.

The desk lamp was adorable, and his parents, equally so. Along with the lamp, they gave me a card for their son’s restaurant, which happened to be a 10-minute walk from my apartment. “Stop by!” they said, in their perfect English. “Talk to Francois!” I did. He looked not like Lucas Bravo but like Eddie Redmayne, which for me, was a win. I told him to thank his parents for the lamp. He gave me a basket of something like cheese biscuits(?). He told me to let him know if I had any problems with the lamp — so when it stopped working a week later, I emailed him.

This time, instead of meeting at the restaurant, we met at the apartment above his restaurant. I looked for any signs of a partner — he was just moving in, he said. There were none. He fixed my lamp with a screwdriver and electrical tape, which I thought was admirably handy. He had a terrace with a small jungle of plants on it and a vintage globe, and we played that game you play with old maps, where you try to guess what year it was made based on whether it has Russia or the Soviet Union, South West Africa or Namibia, Suriname or Dutch Guyana. I won. (If nothing else, I always win this game.) We sat on the terrace. I was going back to America soon, I said, so would he watch my plants for me while I was gone? He would. I delivered them.

When I picked them up a month later, he mentioned that he had a baby. A what?

“Le petit Joseph,” he said.

That was weird, I thought, but people have babies all the time(!). I had actually never met anyone who had a baby while simultaneously not acting very much like a new dad. I had seen his apartment — there wasn’t a baby in it. Where was all of this happening? How did these people live their lives?

This went on or a period of months: I went to his apartment with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream ($9), which we planned to eat on his terrace. (That terrace!)

As we discussed our plans for the summer, he mentioned another baby.

“Are you making this up,” I said.

“Le petit Mathieu,” he said.

What can I say? I feel like sometimes the thing about living cross-culturally is that your brain just wants to fit people into familiar boxes: I’ve had plenty of friends who were new dads, and it would have been impossible to imagine them staying out until 2 or 3 a.m. every morning, to spend all these hours chatting with me in a terrace evidently far from wherever the baby might live. And I assumed that because I had not seen that phenomenon before it could not exist. But of course: There are (obviously) (obviously!) fathers whose partners (let’s call his Camille) have recently done them the huge and impossible-to-return favor of bearing them children, and those fathers will spend significant amounts of time away from them, on their own frivolities.

I hope his Camille had a series of lovers, or a gigantic garden all to herself, or whatever frivolity she wanted for herself.

As for me: I think this, better than any other relationship I have had in France (including much more serious/intimate ones), is my metaphor: The French say that Americans are not realistic in our ideas about love, in the idea that one person can be “our everything.” But I think they are too cynical. I know more divorced Americans than French ones, but I also know more happy American couples than I do French. And if that aligns to ideas about how American culture is binary — good! evil! wrong! right! happily married! miserably married! — and French cultured is constructed on an endless succession of nuances (there is no good or evil, only variations….), I am … not surprised.

As for Francois: I picked up my ice cream, and instead of going to a reading by the American author Ruta Sepetys, immediately went home, and never spoke to him again.

What It’s Like to Travel to Paris Right Now (October 2020)

Wondering what it’s like to travel to Paris right now?

I would say: not great.

Last week, I traveled from New Jersey to Paris. I either had to come back or give up my residency visa, which expired the day after I arrived — believe me, I wanted to stay where I was.

Here, then, is how I made it to France:

Step #1: The groundwork
I called around to clinics near me — some would only offer tests to those who believed they’d been exposed to someone with covid. Most, though, could only offer a hazy timeframe of “2-4 days” for the results, which wouldn’t work. The good news, I guess, was that these tests were all free — but since I didn’t want to (a) miss my flight or (b) show up in France after my visa expired, I couldn’t take the risk. It took a couple weeks of sifting around the internet — I have no idea why this wasn’t easier to find — I saw a recommendation for Excell on, of all things, the French Consulate’s website. They offered a paid ($130) test with results in 48 hours.

Step #2: The covid test
I went to Excell Clinical Laboratory in Edison, and 10/10 would recommend. I arrived at 9:30 (they open at 9), was told there were four people in front of me, went out and sat in my car for a half-hour, and came back. About half the people in the office (“¯\_(ツ)_/¯“) were wearing masks, which I wasn’t excited about, but I also didn’t interact with them.

The test itself was no big deal: I was prepared to be uncomfortable, but it was really just like a gentle swab — so gentle that I said, “Are you sure that’s enough? I don’t mind if you need to go higher?”

(Apparently that’s not necessary! Who knew!)

I received my results exactly 47 hours later, the morning of my flight.

Step #3: How to get to the airport
This might sound like no big deal, but I was perplexed. Car service? Train? Parking spot near the airport? I was literally so confused that I polled my friends on Facebook, and let me just say that the results were all over the place, with car service edging out the parking spot, and both of those options well ahead of the train.

Ultimately I felt like I wanted the control of driving myself, without having to worry that my driver’s a Trump-voting anti-masker wearing his on his chin for the hourlong drive. I found a monthly spot at a hotel near the airport on Spothero.

I took an Uber from the hotel parking lot to the airport, and TBH it made me happy that I hadn’t taken a car service to the airport.

Step 4: Document check
Since I couldn’t check in for my flight online, I had to check in at a kiosk — a process interrupted halfway through for a physical document inspection (residency card, covid test). My residency card had “expired” officially in April, but was automatically extended six months. The United rep told me she had to take it out to get checked.

“If there are any problems I am 100% sure that it is valid so please involve me in that conversation,” I said, like a Karen.

I spent the next five minutes, while she was gone, trying to pull up the documentation of the extension on my laptop, since my phone was dead, but when she came back she said I was OK to go.

Step 5: Baggage drop
I only mention this because I’ve never seen such a stressed-out crowd — everyone was in a bad mood, and the woman at the baggage drop desk was yelling at everyone, but I got it, because everyone was acting like we’d never seen a boarding pass before. It was rough.

I’ll also take a moment to mention the dude who asked the guy in front of him to let him cut in line because his flight was coming up. (Their flights left at the same time.) Then I see him eyeing me, like he is definitely about to ask me the same question, and I say, “My flight leaves 15 minutes before yours.”

“Did I ask you? Did I ask you?”

(I hate this guy.)

Then he spots a pack of men between us and is about to ask them, and the main guy over there is like, “Don’t even ask me, we’re on the same flight, what’s wrong with you?” and the first guy is like, “Did I ask you? Did I even ask you?”

Ugh.

Step 6: Document check #2
Newark was basically empty. I’ve never seen anything like it — not even those very early morning flights. It was eerie and depressing — I can’t imagine what it was like in May.

Before boarding the flight, we stood in a separate line for another document check, and I showed my covid negative test for the second time. The girl in front of me was denied boarding — apparently she’d flown to Newark from San Francisco, and to make the timing work had gotten her covid test a day too early, putting her outside the 72-hour window. She was French, crying, and far from home (France or San Francisco). I don’t know what happened next but I felt for her. I thought they’d be more lenient with the Frenchies but I guess not.

Step 7: The flight
In my economy window seat, I had two rows ahead and three in back of me that were completely empty, plus that middle tier of three columns of seats — also empty. I couldn’t remember if they’re serving food on flights but they did on ours (it wasn’t bad, actually).

The flight attendants were nice in that normal flight attendant way and I just wonder now how many of them were furloughed last week.

Step 7A: Document check
I forgot this one so I’m adding it here! My covid paperwork was checked a third time, when a French official asked to see my results and then asked me when it had been taken(??? it’s on there???). I was really glad, btw, that I’d printed this out, since I didn’t have to worry about my phone dying (maybe other people are better at keeping their phones charged).

Step 8: Arriving to France
When we got to immigration, non-EU travelers went to one window, while the French/EUs went to another. There were about four(!) people on our side. Nobody chatted, but the guy in front of me entered as a student.

Step 9: Getting to Paris
I had already decided to take a cab from CDG to my apartment (somehow this was a less fraught decision than the one about going to Newark — I guess because I didn’t have many choices.) A friend told me to insist on a cab with plastic protection between the driver and the passenger — which I would have done, but totally forgot to do. I did remember to double-check with the driver that he wouldn’t mind if I opened the window, so I basically hung my head out into the rain for the entire 90-minute drive to Paris, like a dog, but at least a dog with fresh air.

I’m sure I’ll be less stressed about it when I make the same trip in reverse in late November — I don’t even think I need a covid test, though I should definitely be required to get one by my stupid government.

I wouldn’t have traveled if I hadn’t had to, and I’ve been dismayed at Parisian attitudes toward masking and social distancing. But it wasn’t impossible, and I generally felt safe(ish). In sum: what it’s like to travel to Paris right now is … pretty meh. I would have been happy to avoid it.

Here’s hoping for better in the months to come.

How Can I Decorate My Home Like a Parisian?

If you’ve ever wondered: How can I decorate my home like a Parisian?

I have good news: It’s easier than it looks. It’s true that Paris apartments often have beautiful bones — it’s a small city, with much century-old housing stock (though plenty of new as well). In general, though, it’s not that hard to find a beautiful apartment with beautiful moldings and parquet floors.

That said, a Parisian apartment can be procured the old-fashioned American way: by buying it. Parquet floors can be laid by hand. Oil portraits can be purchased on Etsy or Selency. A grand, antique mirror is only as far as 1st Dibs.

Generally, I think that there’s a native way of styling apartment that’s unique to wherever you are — a Brooklyn apartment wants to be a Brooklyn apartment while a Miami apartment wants to be a Miami apartment, and ditto in San Antonio or Seattle: All of these places have different amounts of sunlight, sun intensity, color temperature, and local vintage stock. In that sense, I’d say that if you’re really asking yourself “How can I decorate my home like a Parisian?” — the answer may very well be to just move to Paris. (And oh, hey, here’s a post that explains how to do exactly that.) But if you’re looking for a couple grace notes, here and there, these below will get the job done.

1. White walls
Like everyone else, Parisian apartments are hugely impacted by their environments — which means that sunlight is always at a premium. (We’re so far north that we’re equivalent with Nova Scotia, not New York.) During the winter, the sun doesn’t rise until after 9 a.m. — and from November through March, gray skies are the norm. That means a preference for light-reflecting white walls, just like you’ll see in Scandinavia. Seen above: An apartment in the Marais

parquet floors paris

2. Hardwood floors
I don’t think I’ve ever been in a French apartment without hardwood floors — the older the better. There’s nothing — nothing! — more beautiful in the world of Parisian interiors than wood parquet floors. These can be hard to replicate on anything like a budget, but there are DIYs all over the internet. Seen here: an apartment in the 16th

How can I decorate my home like a Parisian moldings

3. Moldings
Castle-chic! Nothing says “royal interiors” (uh this may or may not be your intended look???) like moldings — even better if they’re all in a single color. I always thought moldings were something you either had or didn’t have — a “bones of the space” kind of thing — but turns out you can get them at Home Depot. Who knew?? Pas moi. Here’s more info on the different types from Bob Vila.

paris mirror

4. Grand mirror
So — here’s an example of some flashier moldings, but that’s actually not why we’re looking at this image. Forget the moldings (I love them but forget them) — we’re looking at that huge antique mirror. If you don’t feel like heading to Paris for a full range of options at the Clignancourt flea markets, a platform like 1st Dibs offers plenty — like those seen here. (I searched for French antique mirrors from through the 19th century.)

5. French vintage botanicals
Authentic French vintage botanicals are both easy to find and relatively inexpensive — a small one like the one pictured can cost under $10. If you’re looking for something bigger, French botanical posters are a lovely option as well . The best selection is on Etsy.

How can I decorate my home like a Parisian oil painting

6. Vintage portraits
Nothing classes up a joint faster than a vintage portrait — it’s basically the royal treatment. And even if the artist is unknown (or the painting unsigned) rather than, say, Goya painting the Spanish royal family, original art is a fantastic way to add character to a space. (And a Parisian vibe to any apartment.) I love the selection at Selency, though the sellers in France aren’t always (or usually) willing to ship to the U.S. — otherwise, Etsy has a great range, though it’s often much more expensive than Selency.

How can I decorate my home like a Parisian rattan

7. Rattan
Here, it cross-pollinates with the whole Jungalow look, but in France, rattan from the ’70s — a.k.a. rotin — was commonly used for chairs, mirrors, shelving, and more. For mirrors, the new ones can be a little cheesy; be sure you get a vintage one, but equally be sure that all the bits aren’t damaged. On Etsy, it can help to search for the French keywords (“miroir rotin”) as they often will ship to the U.S. and the prices are often equivalent to those in the U.S., even with shipping included. I also love rattan in vintage bookshelves and planters — and for those asking “How can I decorate my home like a Parisian specifically in the 1970s?”, here’s your shortcut.

 

jeanne damas sunglasses

Jeanne Damas Sunglasses: 21 Perfect Pairs

Jeanne Damas sunglasses! There’s no easier way to French style than finding your own best take on the uber-influencer’s lunettes.

If you haven’t bought her book — In Paris: 20 Women on Life in the City of Lightit belongs on the same francophilic bookshelf as How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are. If you are looking for near-daily photos from what seems like an perpetually stylish vacation in the South of France, you will absolutely want to follow her on Instagram. And if you are interested in taking a look at her style — a primer on how to do that Frenchy-styley thing — you are bienvenue.

You might want to begin with a wider look at her style — cropped sweaters! wide-legged denim! straw bags! — here. You may be most interested in her shoes (these are my 19 favorites), which seem to alternate between espadrilles (I mentioned the neverending vacations???), designer heels, and one pair of go-to booties. Or! You may be most interested in her wide array of sunglasses, in which case you are 100% in the right place.

Here, I’ve collected the best of her sunglasses. Once you start looking, you start seeing patterns. Let’s begin with this pair, which I thought was Karen Walker’s One Astronaut but definitely isn’t and I wish I knew who it was but “¯\_(ツ)_/¯“. They do remind me quite a bit of them.

After this, we’ll see a recurring brown pair with with an ivory inlay design, and then what seems to be her favorite shape — a really horizontal vibe, and not a cat’s eye, as I would have guessed. If the brown ones aren’t these from Rouje, they are very, very close.

If you don’t feel like playing guess-the-designer, you can find Damas-approved lunettes chez Rouje — especially now, given the ongoing collab with Jimmy Fairley.

Jeanne Damas sunglasses … in pink

jeanne damas sunglasses pinkjeanne damas sunglasses pink 2jeanne damas sunglasses retro

Jeanne Damas sunglasses … in brown (Rouje?)

jeanne damas sunglasses summer jeanne damas sunglasses cat's eye

jeanne damas sunglasses jeanne damas sunglasses paris

jeanne damas sunglasses paris

(I love this one oversized pair)

jeanne damas sunglasses oversized

And then, all the squashy ones

jeanne damas sunglasses cafe

jeanne damas sunglasses drive

jeanne damas sunglasses cafejeanne damas sunglasses horizontal  jeanne damas sunglasses summer  jeanne damas sunglasses brown

jeanne damas sunglasses bikinijeanne damas sunglasses summer