Peter Pan or Miley Cyrus ?

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short to long
The day I decided to cut my hair short was Friday the 13th. It was a full moon, the door to my subconscious was fully open, and somehow I knew that today would be the day. I made the appointment and took the bus to the salon, where an apprentice would be chopping off my locks. I described what I wanted : “edgy, but not too edgy” and watched the loose strands fall away. My hair no longer holds emotional significance for me–it’s a waste of time in physical form. When I left the salon, mes cheveux were short, straight, and ready to stun everyone that knew me when my yarn-like tangle hung down to my waist.

I decided to cover a shift at the coffee shop even though I was coming down with a cold, because it was better than having to go home and listen to Riot Fest, which was conveniently located at my intersection. I took to the haircut like a pampered dog takes to water–hesitantly, with no goal in mind but to let myself grow accustomed to it with time.

During my break, I spotted two acquaintances (who I had contacted minutes before) imbibing themselves in the bar across the street. Coincidence ?

I went over to say “hello” and saw that one of them had shaved his mountain-man beard that same day. There was clearly something in the air inspiring people to change their outward appearance. I sensed a distance that could only be explained by my new, androgynous haircut, and welcomed the coldness for all it was worth. If anything will show you who your real friends are, it’s a new haircut.

As time went on, I debated between calling it the Miley Cyrus or the Peter Pan. Settling for the former helped me to joke about it. You know what they say about humor : there’s a grain of truth in every joke, and laughing is a release for discomfort. That’s why comedians love to make fun of themselves. It’s their way of making sure they say it before anyone else does.

Insecurity plagued me like a tapeworm, eating away at my self-confidence day by day. But I stuck with the cut, because every change in appearance leads to an inner adjustment. Haircuts bring out different sides of our personalities, and mine is only just beginning to surface. It’s been almost two months since I crossed the short-hair channel, and I must say that the grass really is greener on this side. Less time spent on styling means more time to daydream, create, and inspire. Oh, and productivity. There’s that, too.

If you are or have been contemplating making the cut, I have three words for you : Just do it.

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Real American Cheesecake

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Nothing says ‘thank you’ like cheesecake. Chocolate and flowers are nice and easy, but impersonal. I had a brief stint as a hostess at the Cheesecake Factory in downtown Chicago my sophomore year of college, and that job made me despise the dessert. The truth is, though, I wanted to make a better version to show up my past. And that version would be New York style.

When I came back to Paris for work in August, I spent my first two weeks with a family very close to me that helped me through all the faux-pas and idiotic blunders that culture shock entails. I thought I’d never be able to pay them back.

Authentic American cheesecake is hard to find in France, even in Paris. To get the real thing, you need to shell out some hefty euros, and you have to know where to go. The French version of cheesecake is a lukewarm joke. My friend from Boston (cream pie) recommended a recipe to me, and I hesitated. Would the Frenchies like this indulgent Yankee treat ?

One Sunday, I mustered up my motivation and bought all the cream cheese off the shelf of my local grocery store. The Philadelphia cream cheese containers come in 150 g portions, and I snagged 5 of them along with 2 containers of a French brand called Elle & Vire. I figured that would be enough. Graham cracker pie crust is really obscure here, like Coachella or North Coast (not). Instead, I got some digestive biscuits to crush up for the crust, knowing there would be baking essentials at the house. I also grabbed a small container of vanilla extract, heavy whipping cream, and sour cream and headed out of that Franprix holding more dairy in my arms than I have ever carried in my lactose-sensitive life.

I took to the streets with a spring in my step, because to me, this cheesecake was more than just a gastronomic pleasure. It was a cultural exchange that represented my country. I could not fuck this up.

I got to the house and immediately began crushing up 200 grams of Petit Lait digestive biscuits for the crust, mixing the crumbs with President brand butter (the best kind) and cane sugar. Since I’m incapable of following a recipe, I added some nutmeg and cinnamon for good measure, pressing my aspiration in with the crust so that it molded to the glass cake pan, forming the hopeful foundations of my culinary experiment. I put the mold in the fridge and got to work on the filling, which simultaneously made me salivate and gag. That much cream cheese in one bowl is a rare sight.

Thanks to Google conversions, I realized I still did not have 1 kilo (1000 grams) of cream cheese and made a run to the nearest grocery store. I finally found one that wasn’t closed and bought all of their Philadelphia cream cheese, plus some salty cheese spread for the last 100 grams. Walking home, I realized that cheesecake is more than just cheese. It’s layers upon layers of fat.

I made a melange out of the cream cheese, sugar, flour, eggs, heavy whipping cream, vanilla, lemon syrup, and a ton of cinnamon, which took some serious upper body strength. I took 3 breaks while making the filling and reflected on the evolution of my housewife skills. This cake didn’t just represent my country, it was a symbol of my self-imposed domestication.

I licked the spoon because I was too curious not to. It was intense. I baked the filling in the crust at 180 Celsius and took it out, spreading the topping over it like in the old days at Coldstone Creamery when I used to decorate ice-cream cakes. Turns out that job wasn’t so useless after all. The pan now weighed roughly the amount of a gargantuan newborn child. I put it back in the oven and passed out on the couch for an hour and a half, dreaming of camembert cake with bleu cheese frosting.

At around 4:30, the cake was ready to leave the comfortable heat of the oven. The most important step was to run the spatula along the edges of the crust to prevent cracking. I was surprised– the cake surface was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. My kitchen child chilled in the fridge for 4 hours before we sampled it at 8:30 after a dinner of hachis parmentier and tomato mozzarella salad. It was so decadent and rich that half of us couldn’t finish an entire piece. “Zis eez rheal Amerrhicon cheezKEK!” they said eagerly through cushions of yellow creaminess. They adored it, but “in small doses”. It’s good to indulge–sometimes. God, the French are so right.

I took two pieces to the office and was met with the same reaction. That kitchen adventure took so much out of me that every time somebody took a bite, it was a bonding experience for us. I liked seeing people’s faces light up and knowing I could please their tastebuds, even if it was only for a few seconds. I keep wondering if I’ll ever make it again, and I honestly don’t know. But the important thing is that I can. That I’ve grown, that I can do things in the kitchen without lighting it on fire. And that I showed people I care about that I can supply them with cheese and whine.

Back in Loca-motion

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Back in loca-motion.

It’s been months since I’ve blogged. I underwent an invasive operation in Kosovo, touched homebase briefly, and secured a journalism internship in Paris. I’m currently living a blue-collar lifestyle in one of the richest neighborhoods in Paris. I live in the maids quarters of a noble Countess that is so desperate for money that she makes store-brand hotdogs and frozen peas for her tenants.

I pedal a rental bike through the boulevards and wonder at the smoothness of the ride, the rules that drivers follow, the people who reach into their wallets on café terraces with blasé smiles on their faces. This is the first world. Secondly, most people don’t seem to notice all the individual stones that make up the legendary cobblestone streets of one of the most developed cities in the world. The third time’s a charm : she is mature, but she is not fully evolved.

The Parisian lifestyle sounds glamourous, but it is in fact far from it. I find beauty in little things, closing my eyes when I listen to music so as not to look at the crumbling ceiling in my little box of a room. For now, poordom is okay. Being viewed as a heroic American savior in Kosovo this past summer made me realise that I don’t need a lot of purchasing power to be happy. In fact, I was the unhappiest I had ever been in Pristina, regardless of the fact that some of the locals looked at me and smelled wealth and roads paved with gold in their own version of the American dream. Keeping busy to run from reality, staying on track to fill up time, keeping focussed to nail the deadline, isn’t that what we do in the Western world ? The Steely Dan song ‘Here in the Western World’ popped into my head constantly as I fantasised about handsome architecture, a functioning postal system, potable drinking water, and uranium-free air. I saw the slowness of southern Europe as a disability rather than a different choice. After all, it’s all about the choices we make, day in and day out. But the friendliness and the warmth of those people stayed with me, and now I understand the difference between the modern disconnect and the old-age adage that says “Treat your neighbor to biscuits made of gold, you never know when you’ll be cold”. Actually, I just thought that up.

But what’s up with this cliché H-word ? Why are people so obsessed with pursuing it ? I did an epistemological inquiry to figure it out for one of my high school English assignments and investigated the up-and-coming field of positive psychology. This branch of the humanities promotes a positive outlook and shows statistics of human development indices (HDI) in Scandinavian countries, which are the highest in the world due to their government model and other cultural factors that I don’t know (yet). It’s probably got something to do with the fact that they ride their bikes everywhere and eat delicious smoked salmon.

Happiness with a capital ‘H’ is just an ideal. A wise person once told me that contentment comes from the good moments that make up a week. Eating well, listening to good music, seeing art, having sex… each of these moments should be savored so that when looking back on them, you realise the fleeting impermanence of all emotions and situations, whether fortunate, unfortunate, or anywhere else on the gamut. I try to have as many of these good moments as possible, and I appreciate good luck when it comes my way. As for being happy ? That’s a butterfly that still hasn’t landed on my shoulder.

For now, I’d rather be poor in Paris.