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Detail from Paris, Le Pont Neuf, 1906 by Albert Lebourg, Petit Palais, Paris

Bonjour

hello

You made it! How are you?

These are challenging times on so many fronts.
I hope you are doing okay and finding your way through despite the turbulence.

I know email boxes are overrun these days with everything from meh to marvelous, so I wanted to start off by saying thank you for allowing me into yours. Your support means the world to me.

I’d like to send you a little something from Paris as a small token of my appreciation. Tell me where to send it using the secure form at the bottom of this page and then watch your snail mail for your special delivery from Paris.

Beginning Saturday I’ll be sending you my collection of finds from the week, delivered straight to your inbox like a basket of pastries fresh from the boulangerie! Something to enjoy with your coffee or tea.

If you discover a treat or two you find particularly enjoyable, please let me know! I welcome and value your feedback.

As many of you know this little project of mine
has been brewing for a very. long. time.

Over the past several months, I’ve been compiling years of carefully collected fragments and adding them to the concoction fermenting in my mind–all the while hoping the elixir that emerges after many months of aging will be delicious and intoxicating. While I’m shooting for something more Dom Pérignon than Two-Buck Chuck, the reality is some days I’d be happy to achieve ‘tasty without causing a debilitating hangover.’

As I’ve been working away, I’ve felt simultaneously discouraged and heartened by what’s happening in the world around us. The strange new realities of life during a global pandemic and our individual roles in the histories of this time are challenging us all to re-examine how we interact with each other and the world at large. While the opportunities for metaphors about traveling in foreign lands seem plentiful, they feel rather tiresome and out of season–a bit like admiring spring shoes in a closed shop window during a blizzard.

When I began this project many months ago, I imagined telling you about where to find non-tchotchke souvenirs in Paris, why Americans may not enjoy French beef and innumerable other must-sees and dos for those planning a trip to France. As I reflected on what made for some of my most memorable and rich travel experiences, I realized they had nothing to do with what went perfectly and that the stories I wanted to tell were of a different variety entirely.

The experiences that remain with me years later are the ones that didn’t necessarily go as planned. They’re the ones that came with unexpected surprises, the ones that made me face fears, try new things, embrace differences, get outside my comfort zone and stretch my imagination. I also learned how cultural insights, local connections, and historical context can enrich a journey and profoundly transform our travel experiences.

One of my favorite solo trips was in the spring of 2019. Does that seem as impossibly long ago to you as it does to me? Whew. Le sighhhhhhh…Okay, back to April 2019. The weeks leading up to the trip were difficult. Charlie, our aged family dog, passed away just two days before I was to depart. A big part of me wanted to stay home, crawl under the covers, and grieve with my daughter.

With all of the uncertainty and preoccupation ahead of the trip, I had made zero plans. Zero. Not a single hotel reservation was made for the 3-week trip. The idea of canceling felt insane, yet the heaviness of the moment made Paris feel unnecessary and uninspiring–feelings I’d hardly imagined, let alone experienced before.

But there was something else I knew about Paris.
Paris always knows what you need, even when you don’t.

Jardin du Luxembourg, November 2018, Photo by Katie Mitchell

So with a plane ticket and a hastily packed suitcase I decided to go anyway. I booked a hotel for the following day from the back seat of the taxi on my way to O’Hare. I decided I’d figure out the rest when I got there. I wouldn’t try this during high season or Fashion Week, but with a quick glance at hotel availability, I knew I’d have several good options.

It was, without a doubt, one of the best trips of my life.

The late Anthony Bourdain described it this way, “Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.” I’ve experienced a similar sensation working on this business. Launching a travel business during a global pandemic has to be right up there with strapping yourself to a bottle rocket and aiming for the moon.

But hey, all dreams have to start somewhere, right? If the French believe they can restore Notre Dame in 5 years, then perhaps there’s cause for a little radical optimism. In case you’re wondering how the restoration efforts are going, here’s a fascinating article from Science Magazine about the process and a wild time-lapse video showing the 18-month deconstruction of the 200 tons of stabilizing scaffolding that concluded this past November.

Speaking of big dreams, Christo and Jeanne-Claude had a few.

Artist’s Sketch of The Pont-Neuf Wrapped, by Christo and Jeanne-Claude

For 14 days in September of 1995, the artists known as Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrapped the oldest bridge in Paris, le Pont-Neuf, in 450,000 square feet of golden sandstone-colored fabric. Sadly, Christo passed away in 2020 at the age of 85, leaving behind a legacy of monumental, temporary works that inspired people to travel the globe to witness them.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s final project, L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, initially slated for fall 2020, is now scheduled for September 2021. While the transformation of the iconic monument will occur without Christo at the helm, it will take place, fittingly in Paris, where the duo first met and began their 59-year collaboration. With COVID vaccination underway, I am certainly hoping to be in Paris in time for this exhibit this fall. It is, as they say, on my bucket list.

Can you imagine working on a project for 20 years, as Christo and Jeanne-Claude did? Heck, in times like this, focusing on anything for an hour or two can feel like a monumental achievement. While I’ve been waiting to return to France, I’ve found ways to ease the separation a bit.

Once a week, I splurge on the best locally made baguette and croissants I can find. The Chicago versions may cost four times as much and taste half as good, but it’s still a treat we enjoy. Some afternoons I pour an apéro, turn on France Bleue radio on TuneIn, and momentarily transport myself to a sunny summer terrace. This week a long-awaited box of books arrived from France. I may have hugged them.

As I’ve watched the last of my stash of favorite French products dwindle, I’ve resorted to buying any I can find hiding on US shelves. Thankfully, two of my favorite French food categories, booze, and cheese, are readily available in ample supply stateside. It’s safe to say my consumption of both is up considerably, and I’m happily justifying it as doing my part to support my local specialty food shops and their French counterparts across the pond. In my experience, there isn’t much that a little Délice de Bourgogne and bubbly can’t fix. Here’s a great way to enjoy it if you’d like to give it a try.

Woot! You made it to the end! Thanks for reading and sharing your suggestions (handy Send Me a Message box below). Keep an eye on your inbox for the first edition of L’Heure Bleue arriving on Saturday. If you don’t find it in your inbox, please double check your spam folder (gmail users check your Promotions tab). If you still have trouble locating it, please send me a message directly via the form below.

Fais de ta vie un rêve, et d’un rêve une réalité.”

“Make your life a dream, and the dream a reality.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Cahiers de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)

Paris, 2018  |  Photo by Katie Mitchell