Let Them Eat Art

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House-marinated salmon, Japanese carrots, radishes, fresh dill, crispy arugula, lemon, pepper corns, by Chef Éiji Doïhara,  Le Sot l’Y Laisse, Paris XI

A year ago this week, I was horrified and shaken after the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher superette, but also inspired and energized by the energy at the march from République to Nation.

I want to comment on a piece by Maya Vidon in USA Today about how Paris has changed since last January, how the holiday festivities were a fragile façade:

Dear Maya,

Thank you for your heartfelt article, so full of love for our city.

I came here from the US as a student years ago. As much I loved Paris, I had a lot of questions. Why were Parisians so hostile to visitors? Why was it so hard to order and pay in cafés? Why did the French distance themselves from their emotions by turning everything into an art form to be endlessly analyzed? Why did they seem so cynical and depressed? Why were there no flags except on official buildings? Why were there so many political parties? Why did all their movies end tragically (or not end)? Why the love/hate towards the US (calling us “cultural imperialists” while devouring our fast food, music and movies)? Why did the French assume we were stupid because we smiled “too much”?

The love of my life, my French husband, made light of all this to our US friends and family: “It’s not that the French don’t like Americans…They don’t like anyone, including themselves…” As I learned more of the backstory, I tuned in on the Parisian worldview and rethought my outlook. I became a French citizen, but every trip back home was a breath of fresh air: I really missed American friendliness, optimism, creativity, and spontaneous off-the-wall humor.

Fast forward, January 2015, like you, I’ve been thinking about the past year and noticing differences.

We’re on alert again. Stores and transportation have been targets before. This isn’t the first time we’ve had soldiers guarding Jewish schools and patrolling the streets. But this year the terrorists struck even deeper.  They want to create a climate of fear, to destroy our economy and social fabric. Yes, we are afraid.

And yet, in my every day conversations, even with strangers, I find people more open emotionally and strangely empowered. I wonder if France is awakening from a long breakdown of national self image, finding a new consensus aligned with the philosophy of the Enlightenment?

On January 7th, anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, I was invited to lunch at the Sot L’Y Laisse in the XIth. Each dish was an exquisite work of art. The wine menu  reflected a thousand years of taste and savoir faire.  Revelation: enjoying a beautiful meal is now a sort of mudra* for ourselves, struggling restaurant owners, and French culture, a way to celebrate the living world: 

House marinated salmon (see above)
Gilt-head bream, risotto with mushroom purée, fresh arugula:

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Montblanc (meringue and chestnut cream pastry, with black current sorbet, bouquets of fresh red currants, whipped cream, mint leaves and chocolate decor):

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Café “noisette” (expresso with a splash of steamed milk):

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Le Sot l’Y Laisse, 70 rue Alexandre Dumas, 75011 Paris, M° Alexandre Dumas, Tel: 01 40 09 79 20

*(see Wikipedia, mudra: a symbolic or ritual gesture, a spiritual gesture and an energetic seal of authenticity)

I will be blogging more about exquisite restaurants in the interest of French civilization and the world… (It’s a tough job, but…)

Sincerely yours,

Aliss

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