Love at the Musée Rodin

What’s more romantic than an evening spent in the company of the most iconic kiss in the world?

rodin-museum-night-the-kiss-baiser

Forget your impossible-to-get reservations for overpriced 18-course meals you’ll only partly like. For Valentine’s Day, Frenchman and I took romance to the next level. We went to the Musée Rodin.

rodin-museum-night-romance

I was lucky enough to get my name on a list for the exclusive #SoiréeLove event at the Rodin Museum, so we gratefully gave up trying to find affordable romantic plans (we did just buy a home, after all) and took the even better idea that fell in our laps.

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Romance in Paris

It’s February! My how time flies when you’re having fun up to your neck in cardboard boxes.

The Monsieur and I are officially moved into our new place and things are looking good (we finally have a couch!). It got a little hairy in there when some door handles got broken and a dryer was delivered without the washer it’s supposed to go on top of (even though we had already paid for it…?) but the course of a move never did run smooth. All things considered, it went well. The trick now is furnishing the place so we have places to put our stuff away and more than 1 pot to cook in. Baby steps.

Anyway, we’re here now and I thought what better time to think about romance in Paris than now, after moving into our very own place just before Valentine’s Day?

valentines-day-paris-love-romance

Romantic Things to Do in Paris for Valentine’s Day

In the lead-up to V-Day, here’s my list of romantic things to do in and around Paris, prefect for Valentine’s Day (or any day!)

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Bonne Année Bonne Santé

Wishing one another a happy new year is an important custom in France. To not wish someone ‘bonne année‘ when you first see them after the holiday is a real faux pas.

New Year’s Day, while I was lounging around contemplating another mimosa, Frenchman was busy calling every relative one after the other for a quick, repetitive but heartfelt new year’s greeting. For each when the conversation turned to me I called a quick bonneannéehappynewyear from across the room. Thorough emails went out to everyone not reachable by phone.

At work on Monday, everyone pointedly wished each other happy new year first thing. As each person entered to room, bonne années were tossed around. If you sent someone a question, it was immediately followed up with “oh and happy new year!”

It’s an interesting social obligation to have to wish each other good health and happiness in the new year. Not a bad custom, but interesting to see how seriously it’s taken. It is, for sure, an obligation.

New Year’s in Paris

This New Year’s Eve was a quiet one, once again. When a nice dinner for two is nearing the cost of a washing machine, the appliances win out. So we had a nice meal at home, starting with the requisite foie gras of course, sipped our champagne and enjoyed a simple night in. We ventured out at 11:30 or so for a walk to the Seine (maybe to catch a view of the fireworks at midnight?) but very quickly decided it was just too cold and packed it in. We watched the fireworks from the comfort of our pajamas as the clock struck midnight.

Recapping 2016

Frenchman and Mrs. Frenchman have had a big year. We became Mr. and Mrs., for one. I’ve been on more planes in 2016 than I think I have in any other year. I experienced lots of travel, lots of stress, and lots of exciting milestones in the last 12 months: Continue reading

Second Thanksgiving in Paris

Last year, I got lucky. I had moved abroad, but I was still working for an American company. The result was that I had Thanksgiving day off as a holiday, just like always,  allowing me to focus my time on cooking way too many mashed potatoes, picking up our fresh-ordered pumpkin pie, and generally lazing around the house to the smell of a feast in progress.

This year, I officially work in France where they do not celebrate Thanksgiving. In theory I could have taken the day off and, honestly, I had fully planned on it. But between our recent long weekend in Barcelona (which I will tell you about soon), plus being in the middle of a HUGE project at work, plus needing to take scattered days off soon for signing on our apartment and moving and all that good stuff, well, it just wasn’t feasible to take my Thanksgiving day.

So here we are, working on my treasured American holiday.

Thanksgiving in France

I cannot count the number of times in the past week that I have had to explain any of the following:

  • When is Thanksgiving?
  • What is Thanksgiving?
  • What is that thing you’re drawing?
    • Answer: This
    •  thanksgiving-abroad-cornucopia
  • Where’s the turkey?
  • Are you going to eat macaroni and cheese?
  • … among other confused questions

The French, as it turns out, are very unaware of ‘Thanksgiving’ as a concept. When I was in Wales, I had found that most people were vaguely aware of the idea of the American holiday and that it was, in fact, an official holiday.

My French coworkers, on the other hand, have been saying things like “people are really into Thanksgiving!” with a bemused look of someone who doesn’t understand, but won’t question, a silly thing they see someone doing. I’ve found myself repeatedly explaining that Thanksgiving is, actually, a major national holiday and that it’s actually illegal(?) for offices to be open and that it is not, in fact, just a made-up occasion driven by marketing for Americans to stuff their faces.

They’ve all been pretty surprised.

Apparently, the French more or less think that it’s like Halloween, where it’s a made-up excuse to eat a lot and that, as adults, it’s silly and/or optional to participate. Cue sadness.

Thanksgiving is the best holiday, and it’s a real holiday and I take it very seriously. Ok, yes, it’s 90% about food but I love it.

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The Paris Catacombs (Happy Halloween!)

Did I tell you about the time I visited the Paris Catacombs?

We stood in line for hours. No, that is not an exaggeration for dramatic effect. Literal hours. We made a bad choice.

Poor, patient Frenchman stood along with me, our feet dying (ready to be put out of their misery and left with the rest of the skeletons down below), wondering why in the world this strange American wanted to do this so badly. If only he knew then what kinds of crazy antics he’d be roped into for all eternity when he decided to marry me. #SaintFrenchman.

It’s not always like this, apparently. We just got very, very unlucky

The Paris Catacombs

The concept of the Les Catacombes is pretty creepy, just at face value. A labyrinth of underground tunnels walled with the scattered bones of millions of people? Shudder. I HAD TO SEE IT.

In effect, what happened is that after centuries and centuries of Paris being a hugely populated metropolis, the city’s cemeteries were filled to the brim. Like, bodies were piled up so badly that they started to wash up in heavy rains, since they could no longer be buried deep enough to stay buried. Seriously: In 1780, a “prolonged period of spring rain caused a wall around Les Innocents to collapse, spilling rotting corpses into a neighboring property.” 😨 Even in the 1700s the smell was, apparently, unbearable. Plus, the city could use some extra land that was otherwise occupied by people who really didn’t seem to be needing such prime real estate.

It was decided: the dead would have to be moved. There was already a warren of tunnels under the city dating from the 13th century, a perfect storage space. Les Innocents cemetery was the first to be emptied, soon followed by all others in the city. An estimated 6 or 7 million skeletons were moved to the new Catacombs. It took 12 years.

The fun part? They didn’t just toss them all in piles. They decorated. A far more dignified way to have your bones dug up and relocated, I suppose. The catacombs have intricately stacked and designed walls, with zillions of femurs all laying one way, toothless skulls all facing front or organized into crosses and patterns. It’s super weird.

Additional fun fact: starting with the French revolution, the deceased were moved directly to the ossuaries, without making a pit stop in a traditional cemetery. They didn’t stop adding bones to the Catacombs until 1860.

Spooky Scary

We finally, finally got to the front of the line to go down into the mysterious catacombs. We slowwwwly snaked around this little garden and around to the main entrance, which looks like a tiny house, painted black. Inside, your ticket is scanned to count the number of people inside (presumably to limit how many enter, as well as to make sure the same number also exits) and down you go!

First, you come to a little exhibit room. I feebly looked at the signs and descriptions on the walls but, after hours of waiting I was here for the main event!

paris-catacombs-gate-to-hell“Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de la mort! / Stop! This is the empire of death! “

Really sets the mood! You enter through this doorway and immediately a weird sense of awe, fascination, and creepyness hits you. It’s chilly and damp. You are literally surrounded by skeletons. Underground.

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I’m still here, I swear.

I’ve been slacking.

I was supposed to write about Christmas in Paris, but Christmas came and went and I didn’t get around to it. Then I thought, hey fine – I’ll write about Christmas and New Year’s Eve together, that’ll be great. Then New Year’s came and went and I didn’t get around to it.

I’d like to say that I’ve just been so busy with my fabulous life and that I was just “living it to the fullest” so much and that’s why. But that’s not exactly true.

True fact: I have been busy. True fact: it is not with fabulous life-living. It’s with paperwork and planning and flights home and trying to find enough sweaters to not freeze to death in this arctic New England weather we’re so nicely experiencing just as soon as I got back here.

So here’s your quick recap of the past couple of weeks, in photo/summary format. Settle in – this is a long one.

Christmas.

Christmas in Paris seems like a fairytale. To be fair, it is totally gorgeous. Though the weather was oddly warm (same at home, it seems) it was still festive. Frenchman and I were headed to his brother’s house just north of Paris, but not before having a little mini-Christmas of our own.

Christmas Eiffel Tower MarketChristmas Paris TreeChristmas Buche de Noel

In France, Christmas Eve is the bigger event compared to Christmas Day in the U.S. We got to Saint-Germain-en-Laye after hardly eating all day in preparation for the huge meal to come. This was a good decision.

There were snacks, and drinks, and then a first appetizer, and then a second appetizer, and then the huge main meal, and more drinks, and bread and more bread, and cheese. And, of course, dessert! We each got our own individual tiny Bûche de Noël. It was adorable (and delicious). No pictures, sadly, but use your imagination (similar to the baby bûche above, which I was able to hold off from eating long enough to snap a photo).

It was all super delicious, and we left decidedly full to spend the night at a hotel around the corner as his parents’ new house nearby was too paint-fumed to support a night’s sleep.

We made our way back to Christmas Central the next morning to find the most enormous pile of presents I have ever seen. Frenchman’s nephews are 3 and 1 respectively, and couldn’t even begin to appreciate the number of gifts they had to open. While they could easily have kept half the gifts for next year and no one would have noticed, I must admit that the kid in me was SO EXCITED to see a literal mountain of brightly wrapped presents spilling out from under the tree.

We spent the day snacking on tasty brioche for breakfast, watching little kids unwrap their toys, and then eating even more food in another multi-course (though less formal) meal capped off with yet another gorgeous dessert – this time a citrusy ice cream cake.

The Lull.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always weird. Half the population is on vacation, the half that is working is …”working” and all you really want to do is hang out in sweats and eat leftover holiday goodies.

Married in France

Frenchman and I used this time to go to our local Mairie (city hall) to start getting our paperwork in order to get married in France. 🙂 That’s a whole post (or seven) in and of itself, so I won’t go into the paperwork stuff just yet. Just suffice it to say it’s insanely complicated, difficult, and overwhelming and stay tuned for the full write-up sometime soon.

New Year’s.

Shortly before New Year’s Eve, as many of you probably heard, they announced that Paris’ celebration would be subdued. Not cancelled, but toned down to show respect and solemnity after the attacks in November. Obviously understandable, but I won’t deny I was disappointed as “New Year’s in Paris!” was a thing I had been excited about since the first mention of moving.

We planned ourselves a nice dinner at home rather than trying to go out anywhere, with all the bells and whistles (fancy foie gras-stuffed tiny chickens, bacon-wrapped date appetizers, fancy desserts from the boulangerie across the street – the whole shebang) including not one, but two bottles of champagne. Go big or go home, right?

 

After dinner, we packed up and took ourselves down to the Champs Elysees to check out the festivities. As part of the adjusted plans for the evening, instead of fireworks they would be showing a short video splashed across the Arc de Triomphe and displayed on large screens all down the street to avoid a large crowd jammed at one end. We were pleased to go through two separate police security checks as we made our way through, checking coats and purses and everything. Security was obviously high, but so were spirits as even the police joked with people that they’d only let them through if they shared their champagne.

New Years Champs ElyseesNew Years Arc de TriompheNew Years Paris 2016It was a fun night, albeit relatively short. And as we walked home from the 8th arrondissement to the 16th to the 7th and finally the 15th where we live, it was really amazing to see Paris through such a festive lens and know that that’s where I live.

New Years Eve Paris

The rest.

We started off the New Year with a brunch of mimosas and praline brioche. Not a bad start, I think.

New Years Paris Brunch

From there, we started hustling to get all sorts of documentation in order for our marriage dossier for the Mairie before I had to head home. Burying the lede, I know, but the fact is I had to head home to Boston the 10th of January. Remote work was coming to an end and my passport was turning into a pumpkin.

But I’ll wrap this up before this gets much longer, and tell you about some good food and good friends that kicked off the New Year another time.

Vienna (Part 2): Actually about Vienna

Ok this time I’m actually going to tell you all about Vienna.

In case you missed it (not sure how you could!), Part 1 was all about the fact that while on our long weekend in Vienna, Frenchman and I casually GOT ENGAGED! Still super excited, if you can’t tell.

So Part 2 now is finally actually all about our little trip. And perfectly in time for Christmas week since it was super beautiful and festive there.

Ok, so Saturday morning we woke up crazy early to head to the airport for our flight. This is one of those situations where catching an early flight so you arrive at your destination early enough to take advantage of a full day is the rational, adult decision, but when the alarm goes off at 5AM you seriously regret your life choices.

Anywho, we made it to Vienna after lots of planes, trains, and (bus-shaped) automobiles. First impressions: Austria is super clean, organized, and polite. I was in heaven. Escalators guide humans into 2-file lines. People allow you to pass getting on and off trains. Signage everywhere.

View of Austria

We checked into our hotel (which I totally forgot to take pictures of, but it was very funky and kitsch, you can take my word for it) and set out to find some lunch. We found a cafe right nearby and had a light meal (and the best cappuccino of my LIFE – Vienna does Viennese coffee with incredible whipped cream) before exploring.

The historic city center is beautiful on its own – with its winding old streets, Imperial architecture, and gilt buildings – and then on top of it all it is chock FULL of Christmas markets in traditional little chalets. Like, the entire city is one big maze of Christmas markets.

Vienna Christmas MarketVienna Christmas LightsVienna Rathaus

We wandered around for a few hours before heading back to the hotel to relax and clean up for dinner. As this trip was for Frenchman’s 30th birthday, we had a fancy reservation booked at Das Loft restaurant, which offers spectacular views of Vienna. We had a fantastic meal and then took the long way back, taking in more of the gorgeous Christmas atmosphere.

Vienna Hofburg PalaceVienna Shop WindowVienna Christmas NightVienna Christmas Alley bw

Sunday was a full day starting bright and early with breakfast at this fantastic hidden, local-y restaurant called Ulrich. Seriously, if you go to Vienna, we 100% recommend this place for super delicious food that’s totally reasonable. From there, we explored some more Christmas markets (we were advised to check out the one intended for locals, somewhat off the beaten path of the touristy center), and then hit up the Hofburg Palace museum to learn a bit about Imperial life. Spoiler: lots of gold.

We also took the opportunity to stop by the Sacher Hotel, per enthusiastic and repeated encouragement from my mother, for their signature Sacher Torte. (We also got an apfelstrudel to round things out). We earned it.

Vienna Hofburg MuseumVienna Sacher HotelVienna Sacher Torte

We also made a stop at the St. Stephens Cathedral (Stephansdom) which was gorgeous. They were setting up for a Christmas concert, which I’m sure was spectacular with the echoing acoustics.

Vienna Cathedral 3Vienna Cathedral Candles

That night, our mission was to find traditional, authentic Austrian cuisine. We had passed a place the night before that seemed perfect, so even after some extra online research that’s where we headed. It was delicious – schnitzel and sausage and potatoes – everything you could imagine from an Austrian meal.

Vienna Kuckuck Restaurant

 

Afterwards, we walked it off with another nighttime stroll through the city center past the cathedral and Christmas lights and holiday window displays. And then, in front of a beautifully-lit fountain surrounded by little Christmas trees, my Frenchman proposed. I know I told this story before, but it still totally counts as part of the trip! We celebrated with a glass of sparkling wine at the lounge of the Park Hyatt, which was super cozy and romantic – also recommended.

 

Monday was a packed day, since we were flying out that evening, but we made the most of it. We (again) had breakfast at Ulrich – goes to show how much we loved it – and then went to the Leopold Museum for the Gustave Klimt exhibit. There is a whole neighborhood of Vienna called the Museumsquartier, and there are more museums than you can count. There’s no shortage of things to do, but on a quick weekend you have to pick and choose!

Vienna Leopold KlimtVienna Leopold Museum

After the museum, we did the one thing we had been dying to do – eat at the Christmas market. Frenchman was dying for the sausages. I was dying for a boot mug of boozy punch. We were both happy with the turtlnik dessert!

And that about wraps up our weekend! We snagged a few souvenirs here and there, and had a fantastic time. And I can’t imagine seeing Vienna at any other time of year – it was just too perfect with all the lights and decorations. And boots of mulled beverages.

(Festive) Scenes from Paris

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Now that it’s December, it’s officially acceptable to talk about the holidays, put up decorations, and listen to Christmas carols.

I make an effort not to think about Christmas in November, certainly not before Thanksgiving. Not an easy feat here in Paris, where Thanksgiving isn’t a thing, and therefore creates no barrier between fall and SANTAAAAAA! We started seeing holiday decorations by early November. It was too soon. But now! Now it’s time 🙂

Much like last time I posted a Scenes from Paris, this isn’t a real post. It’s an excuse to share more pictures that I otherwise might not have reason to sneak into the blog.

It’s Christmas in Paris!

Nutcracker Paris Ferris WheelChristmas Market ParisChristmas Market Paris Vin ChaudChristmas Market Champs ElyseesChristmas Rue du CommerceChamps Elysees ChristmasFerris Wheel Paris NightSanta Gnome BrugesChristmas Nutcracker Bruges

Okay, you caught me. Those last two are from Bruges. But I just couldn’t resist!

I can only imagine I’ll be taking more and more festive photos like these over the next few weeks. I’ll try to keep the oversharing to a minimum, but you just can’t help it with beautiful holiday scenes like these!

Thanksgiving in Paris

I’m not usually one for gushing, “let’s go around the table” declarations of what we’re grateful for at Thanksgiving dinner. To be honest, if someone asked I usually wouldn’t know what to say (I would probably make some snarky comment). If you suggested it with my family, we would all probably awkwardly ignore it and try to move on. We’re not touchy-feely types.

But this year, there is so much to be thankful for. I’m thankful for my safety, after a stressful and tragic few weeks. I’m thankful for my aforementioned family – awkward as we are – for being totally on board with Project: Elizabeth Moves to France. I’m thankful for my job, giving me the ability and opportunity to keep it and still be here.

And I’m thankful that I get to live in this amazing city:

Notre Dame Paris

Francegiving: An American Thanksgiving in Paris

I may be in France, but there was no way I was going to miss out on one of the best holidays of the year. A holiday entirely devoted to food? Impossible.

I fully intended to celebrate my Thanksgiving, and celebrate it properly.

I only had 2 problems. A mini-oven that doesn’t work well, and no access to critical ingredients since I’m, you know, in France.

My oven is mediocre, at best, and in no way suited for supporting a holiday feast. While it technically is an oven, it is not only microwave-sized, but also doubles as an actual microwave. And grill. And some other setting I don’t quite understand. Anyway, this jack-of-all-trades appliance is, as they say, a master of none. Even if I could find a turkey small enough to fit, I wouldn’t trust the thing to be cooked.

And so, I turned to my favorite solution when things get tricky: get someone else to do it. Though my original plan was to find a tray of turkey breasts and make do that way, I realized that our friendly neighborhood boucher was right next door and fully capable of handling a turkey order. And order one we did! First obstacle: successfully maneuvered.

The next obstacle is the other pillar of Thanksgiving feasts, pie. In a test-run last weekend, I couldn’t even cook the simplest of simple pies in this oven. (Report: Swedish Apple Pie was burnt on top and totally undercooked just below) If I couldn’t make that recipe work, there was no way a regular pie was a risk worth taking. That’s a disappointment I couldn’t stomach. So again I turned to having others solve my problems: I ordered a pumpkin pie from the American market, Thanksgiving.

American Market Paris Thanksgiving

Yup, it’s a store called Thanksgiving, filled to the brim with very American foodstuffs

American Market Paris ThanksgivingAmerican Market Paris Thanksgiving

And so we came to Thanksgiving day perfectly positioned to not totally fail at recreating an American spread. Frenchman took the day off to be with me, so together we set out to the Marais to pick up our pie. The weather was spectacular for a quick walk across Ile de la Cité.

Paris Seine Ile St LouisLove Locks Paris

An unfortunate upside of the Paris attacks is the almost complete absence of tourists. While it’s sad to see, it’s also really refreshing to have Paris so empty and be able to really see the monuments and streets for once.

After picking up our pie at the completely overwhelmed Thanksgiving – line curled completely around the store full of American accents discussing their ingredient needs – we made our way back conveniently passing through Ile St. Louis, which happens to be the home of famous ice cream maker Berthillon. We literally can’t come near this neighborhood without Frenchman asking if we can stop. I gave in and we picked up a lovely container of vanilla to go with our pumpkin pie!

Berthillon Vanilla Ice Cream

When I’m not passing off my problems on other people, my number 1 resource for all things food is my mother. And with plenty of mom-structions filed away for everything from stuffing to butternut squash, I spent the entire afternoon prepping the remaining pieces of our Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving in ParisThanksgiving table France

French thanksgiving

A soon-to-be very full Frenchman

Turkey Cat Thanksgiving

Cannelle loves her turkey, too!

Pu

I hope that everyone had a fantastic, filling Thanksgiving at home and abroad! We certainly did, and have leftovers to spare.

Back to life

This weekend, we went back to life as we know it here in Paris.

Sure, it’s been over a week now since the attacks at the Bataclan, restaurant terraces, and Stade de France, and they’ve caught, arrested, and identified many people involved in those terrible events. But few people are sitting at cafes and restaurants like usual, and even the plaza underneath the Eiffel Tower is basically empty when it’s usually so packed you can hardly take two steps before having to dodge another tourist, another picture-taker. Even the sketchy men hawking trinkets and keychains seem a bit sad with no one to harass for a euro.

Eiffel Tower blue blanc rouge lights

The city is still reeling and still trying to make sense of daily life. Aside from how empty everywhere feels, it’s odd to go back to errands and long walks and Christmas shopping knowing what has just happened. It feels normal, but also hollow, in a way.

But we move on, Paris still stands, time marches forward. The best thing – the only thing – to do is to keep walking around this gorgeous city, head held high, moving forward with our lives.

So, this weekend, we went back to life as we know it.

Friday night we went out for dinner at an Italian restaurant that specializes in… burgers? Frenchman had burgers on the brain and I liked the sound of pasta, so off we went. It was fine – certainly not the worst burger I’ve had in Paris, but not what I wanted (though the burgers were well-priced, the pasta dishes were all around 30€ which just seemed unnecessary, so I, too, opted for an American classic). We then took the long way home and made a stop at a cafe around the corner for dessert and a glass of wine before calling it a night.

Saturday, our mission was two-fold. First, pick back up with our Christmas shopping that we had intended to do the previous weekend, before all hell broke loose. Second, seek out Thanksgiving, a shop in the 4eme catering to expats with all sorts of American groceries from Pop Tarts to baking mixes. It was awesome (but pricey! that’s what you get for importing Betty Crocker). We had just wrapped up there when it started absolutely pouring buckets, so we ducked into a cafe for a café (heh, see what I did there?). When it was clear the rain wasn’t stopping anytime soon, we gave up on walking and made our way to Beaugrenelle shopping center.

Beaugrenelle Christmas

We managed to get some things accomplished in drier conditions before heading out into the no-longer-raining street for Goal #3: groceries.

After a stop at the friendly boucher and a lengthy trip to Monoprix, we are well-stocked for the week. Oh, and for Thanksgiving, of course! The main focus of my Monoprix-venture was to get supplies for my holiday feast this Thursday. But let me tell you, it was not easy. Think you’ll find walnuts or brown sugar in the baking aisle? Think again. Vanilla extract? Nope, that’s not there either. Oh, and don’t even think about trying to measure those things in  cups or “sticks” of butter – it’s all grams here. I’m cooking in English but my resources are all French. Stay tuned for the holiday follow-up post which will either be titled Disaster or Miraculous Not-Disaster. I’m as eager as you are to know how this one turns out!

And, to make a long post longer, I’ll wrap up with Sunday which was spent with a trip out to the banlieue for a visit to Frenchman’s parents for lunch. As expected, we absolutely stuffed ourselves with an enormous, delicious meal before going to Frenchman’s grandmother’s house nearby. This was my first time meeting la grand-mère, but it went well and she seemed quite pleased just to hear me respond oui, ça va et vous? So I’ll call it a win.

Happy holiday week to all my Americans! I may be in France, but I’ll be spending my short week prepping for Thanksgiving just the same.