Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I awoke this morning quite tired. Perhaps because I had actually gotten a good solid sleep made it more difficult to get out of bed. And I think that wearing a sleeping mask these last few days has been making it harder to wake up as well, not to mention that it leaves me with a good case of mask face and puffy wake up eyes that makes me look like I'm twelve.

Last night as I was walking home from the metro I caught a faint whiff of autumn on the breeze and it made my heart leap. The leaves are just barely changing but I could smell the aroma of fall in the air and it was beautiful. I'm a bit sad that I won't be able to go all out and decorate my house, carve pumpkins, and contribute to cavities in the youth of America because France doesn't really get all that into Halloween. But still, it gave me a brief feeling of nostalgia that was so faint all I really felt was calm and happy.

I came home and the only thing I wanted to do was go take a bath and go to bed early. I put some 2 € pizza in the oven and put my chef coat and apron in the wash. After eating more than half of my pizza for three, I decided to draw a bath. Recently I've been taking cooler baths than usual. Normally I like my skin to be beet red by the time I emerge from the flaming waters of a good shower or bath but recently it's been so darn hot that I just can't stand it. Plus it's like a little personal pool when I get into a cool bath. But just as I was about to step into the water I noticed a few bits of dust, some other unidentifiable things and a full on hair ball floating around in the water. Not exactly the red carpet treatment I was anticipating would be welcoming me into my relaxing tub. So I drained the water and gave the bath a good scrub and  as I was about to start the tap again my phone rang.

Elze and Sandra were downstairs. Sandra is the wife of our fellow pastry school classmate, Martin. Sandra quickly became one of us girls and is definitely one of my favorite people in the world. She's fun and warm while still being quick witted and judgmental giving me someone to tear other people apart with. Not to mention the fact that her husband, Martin, is incredible and they were like our very own Brangelina power couple except down to earth and not a pair of self absorbed assholes. Sandra and Martin had a car and so while I was at work yesterday, she and Elze went to Ikea to look for a mattress for me. And while they were at it they also picked up a little "wardrobe" for me to hang my clothes in. Finally, I was going to have a real room.

There I was getting ready to relax in my bath when suddenly two saints were at my door with a generous gift for me and even I am not such an ass that I would tell them, "Oh can you just smoke and wait while I take a half hour bath? I know you've been doing all of this for me but I really need this. Thanks so much for the favor by the way." I may have some sense of entitlement but certainly not that much.  So down the seven flights of stairs I went and then back up the seven flights with my rolled up mattress and build-it-yourself wardrobe in the elevator with Elze on the ride chaperoning them.

We dragged the new editions into the apartment and Elze instantly wanted to unpack and build the wardrobe. I was not so excited. From college times I have been through numerous allen-wrench-target-furniture-building occasions and they always take longer than you think and really aren't that exciting. I tried to get Elze to cool down but she wasn't going to have it. She wanted to build it and she wanted to do it now! I wanted to take a bath, I wanted to drink some wine, I wanted to go to bed early. But you know what they say about the best laid plans right? Well I can't remember but I believe they say something about how they turn to shit.

It isn't that I didn't want Elze to enjoy herself. What do I care if she spends five hours assembling my wardrobe? That's five hours I don't have to spend assembling my own things. She wanted to do me a favor and she really really wanted to do it. But I knew it wouldn't stop there. The living room wasn't arranged to fit a wardrobe and I knew once we started moving furniture around it was all over. I could visualize my bath soaking going down the drain. I could see my bedtime ticking closer and closer to two am. But Elze was just so excited and secretly I was too. I was finally going to have a bedroom.

So I gave Elze the green light. Of course we needed a screw driver but since the woman I'm renting the apartment from left a whole crapload of stuff around the house I figured there had to be a tool box. I even could remember seeing one. Once I gathered my thoughts and realized where it was I went to the bathroom to fetch it. It was on a high shelf in the water closet and so I stood on the toilet to get to it. As I was inching it down towards me, angling it downwards into my hands something quite unfortunate happened. Apparently there was also a large open plastic box full of screws sitting on top of it and this box slid down the toolbox with whippet-like speed, smacked me dead in the forehead and then crashed onto the ground giving birth to a litter of 200 screws, nails and other unknown pokey items on the floor. Elze burst out laughing from the other room and I did too. I may have been convinced I had a concussion but it was still hilarious. Elze walked into the bathroom to see me standing on the toilet, surrounded by a swarm of screws with a pained look on my face and she started laughing even harder. Nothing like the aftermath of physical comedy to bring a person to tears.

It took ten minutes for me to pick up the screws and then, of course, I was off helping Elze. Sure this was something she wanted to do but I was there and so I would obviously be a part of it. Together we assembled my wardrobe and Elze was so damn proud of herself that I then realized that she had never done this before. I had built an array of things. I used a skill saw at the age of twelve to cut T & G planks for our cabin in Montana. That's what happens when your mom doesn't have any boys and when your female cousin (who really feels like a sister) is a wood shop teacher. You learn how to use a nail gun before you hit puberty. But Elze was not as lucky. And so she beamed with pride at this wobbly wardrobe and I just thought of what a pain the in the ass it was going to be to rearrange my bedroom to fit it somewhere. It was now ten o'clock.

By midnight we were done. We'd moved a couch into the kitchen. We'd moved the kitchen cabinets around completely. We'd moved the furniture in my bedroom, the old living room, a few times. We'd set up my new mattress, rearranged the cushions it was sitting on top of and the backing behind them. I'd moved all the books from one shelf to another, my clothes from one shelf to another to make my own little closet. The bookshelves in my apartment are homemade and horrible and so the metal details are sharp and had managed to take a piece out of me. I now had two bandaids tightly wrapped around my hand and finger from where chunks had been taken out. But we were done. I had a bedroom. It was beautiful. It was an actual room! I had a place to hang my things, a place to rest my folded clothes, a place to lay my head. It was incredible. It was homey. It was comfortable.

Sure by the time I finished bathing and what not it meant that I didn't go to bed until two o'clock in the morning but at least when I did go to bed it was on an actual mattress. And I still got a good six hours of sleep. But if I had known the day I was looking forward to I may have wanted at least an hour more than what I got because today is the first day that I officially got in trouble for something that actually mattered. But of course it wasn't my fault.

One of the first things I had to do today was measure out the ingredients for Baba au Rhum. Baba au Rhum is a little cake that you soak in rum. It's pretty self explanatory. So Gaetan explained what I needed to do and I did it. I had to take the elevator downstairs to the bakery section of the job, my first exploration down there, to get some yeast. While in the elevator I actually said out loud, "well this is the creepiest thing I've ever seen" because there are absolutely no lights in it and so you're shut in this tiny box while slowly creeping downwards. Halfway there it wobbles a bit and then eventually you reach your destination. If I was claustrophobic I would've been freaking out. Instead I felt like leaning back against the elevator wall and falling asleep. I managed not to do either and returned with a new package of fresh yeast. I was ready to make some baba.

I measured out the ingredients, I cracked the eggs as quickly as possible. I took the energy and positive attitude from the previous day and applied them to my work from today. Today I was going to be awesome. Today I was going to show them that even though I didn't speak french I could still be a model employee. But then the mixer needed to be used my someone else...

So the task of baba was moved to another employee. While waiting for the mixer I was given another task and so the two boys, Mike and the creepy guy, Nico, were given the job of finishing the baba for me. I was a little sad but no reason to cry over spilt rum. So instead I helped arrange other things, I put some rosemary into some tarts, I arranged some raspberries, I did some other mindless shit. And then I was sent upstairs. I was able to ascend towards the heavens of Irina and the savory kitchen where english and calm were mainstays.

Irina had me make savory tarts of all sorts. Duck, veal, escargot tarts.  I got to see what went into everything and it made me want to buy all of it. Bechamel? Yes please! Artichoke sauce? Oui! Mushroom spread on top of baby cow? Is this heaven? It was wonderful. It was illuminating. It was...short lived. Soon I finished cutting onions in the awesome cool new and efficient way that Irina showed me and had to go back downstairs to the french chaos and confusion.

I brought the positive attitude of Irina and the upstairs ecstasy with me but it was quickly crushed by a terrifying experience. People were crowding the tiny workspace that I entered upon and on the end of the thin walkway flanked by two work spaces was the trashcan and Lady Boss hovering over it. She was quickly discharging a number of french words and the string was so tight that I couldn't differentiate between them. It just sounded like a bunch of mumbo jumbo to me. But then I noticed that everyone else in the kitchen was staring at me including Lady Boss with these wide open, flabbergasted eyes, and then she started snapping her fingers in my direction.

I walked quickly towards her without even knowing what I was doing. I was in a trance of confusion. Once I reached her she violently pulled a Baba cake from the trash and started bellowing her shriek of anger at me once again. She was speaking so quickly that I couldn't determine any of the words. Was she even speaking french any more? Could anyone understand her? All I could deduce was that she was mad. She was mad about the Baba and somehow she had decided that it was my fault. But that was it. I had no means to decipher her chiding monologue. I had no means to relate my own feelings of confusion nor my own side of the story to her. All I could do was stand there like an idiot and respond to her, "Do you understand?" with a "Pardon, repeat please." With that she shouted some more and then did some digging. She asked Gaetan what had happened. I heard my name mentioned and I assumed it was because I had measured out the ingredients. I heard Mike's name mentioned and I assumed it was because he had mixed the damn thing. And then I heard Nico's name mentioned and I assumed it was because he had aided Mike in the piping of the Baba cakes. Lady Boss exited the kitchen. I was left clueless.

Nothing came of the yelling. From all I could tell they still used the Baba cakes that I had taken part in. I was convinced that somehow Mike had over mixed them and caused them to be horrible little pieces of shit and that I was somehow unlawfully blamed for his mistake. But alas, the truth was uncovered. Alberique asked me where I got the flour. I pointed in the direction of the only flour bag in the kitchen. He thanked me for the information and then reported back to the boss. Apparently this was not the right flour for baba. Baba required flour gruau. This was regular normal flour.

Now while I have used flour gruau and since I have even worked in a bread bakery, I understand the importance in the use of different flours. Specific flours have very different properties and the use of one versus another can drastically change the final product. But then again, up until now I had always worked in a kitchen where things were not only labeled but also where one was shown where all the key ingredients were that may possibly be needed. Neither of these things occur in my current patisserie. And even more importantly no one explained to me what my mistake was or that I shouldn't do it again.

Apparently the flour I needed was special. All recipes just say "farine" on them, which simply means flour. Not a type, not a gluten content, just plain ol' flour. I could use rice flour if I were taking them at their word but I don't think they would see the humour in that since I am learning more and more that the french have absolutely no sense of humour when it comes to themselves. And so when the recipe said, "farine gruau" and after searching everywhere there was only one bag of flour to be found, I assumed that this was the flour they were referring to; perhaps this was what "farine" meant in this kitchen and this was some exact anomaly.

I should've known better. I should've know to ask for help. But being who I am I have enough problems asking for help when I can actual speak the necessary words. When it requires forethought and a creative manipulation of a minimal amount of nouns, adjectives and verbs, I really like to avoid it at all cost. And of course this shortcutting ending up biting me in the ass. But I also felt that it was also all Gaetan's fault.  Since he had put me to the task I was under his responsibility and I must say that he failed greatly. Whenever someone is new in the kitchen you have to treat them like a child. You have to show them exactly what they need to do and one of these things would be explaining where the flour is. Of course the Lady Boss had lots to say on this matter. From what I could gather she blamed Gaetan not not only for the reasons I just stated but also because I am an idiot who doesn't speak french and doesn't even know the difference between normal flour and gruau. Honestly, I think she actually said those words or some french version of them.

"Fuck you," I thought to myself. I know the difference, but I also know that when I've just come in the kitchen and when I have been here three weeks and am still just beginning to be allowed to do real damn jobs things are bound to go wrong. Not to mention the fact that your kitchen isn't organized and nothing is labeled properly. And your staff doesn't know how to properly train an intern. How is this my fault? So I used the wrong flour, so what? It's not because I'm an idiot but because somewhere along the line of you opening a pastry shop and becoming a complete bitch the basic practices of preparing a trainee, new employee, or intern for a job, got lost.

Still, no matter how tough the words were in my head I couldn't help but beat myself up about it. I should've known. I should've asked. And to top it off I couldn't help but let her words cascade over me. Sure I didn't know what they meant exactly but I could understand the basic tones of them. And to top it off the entire staff was standing there assembling macarons while watching my spirit be demolished by our virago of a woman. It was humiliating and it took a piece of my positive outlook with it.

I tried to assemble chocolate macarons after "the incident" as well as I could but I could tell that my nerves had taken a beating. I was slow as hell and any time I tried to speed things up I made a mess of myself. Numerous times I dropped a macaron on top of the tray. My hands were shaking as if I had been struck with an early onset case of Parkinsons. Things were not looking good. Alberique told me to hurry up and I responded as coyly and soullessly as I felt. It was looking like the day was going to end in a horrible way. But then my mind got the better of me.

Why should I let this harpy ruin my day? They were still using the Baba. I hadn't messed anything up so terribly that they couldn't be used to sell. She had completely overreacted and just because she was a psychotic mess didn't mean she had to bring the psychotic mess out in me. So while I spent a few moments holding back the tears and fantasizing about never coming back, I gave my self a mental slap in the face and reminded myself that things were looking up, I was living in the moment now and the terrible scolding had come and gone. I'd survived. Why not go on with my day? And so I pulled myself together as much as I could and while my fingers still quivered in terror at what had just happened I continued to work my mind into a place of peace.

By the end of the day everyone had gone and once again it was me, Alberique and the girl from Pennsylvania in the bakery. Alberique gave me the wonderful job of boxing Calissons and I did my best to do it at lightning speed so that I could not only get out of there on time but also so that I could impress him with how fast I could be. I stacked those bastards like a jenga pro and as I did I hummed Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros' Home to myself and felt as if I was in a yoga for the hands moment. Namaste. Peace. Moment. It was there again. I was humming and thinking about the Calisson. I was experiencing the movement from the tray to the box and damn was I awesome at it. And putting the stickers on? I was a wizard.

I had come through the day unscathed. Sure I'd been horribly yelled at by Lady Boss for an actual legitemate reason but I was feeling fine. I walked home to relax and boy was I keeping it together! And then I encountered a problem. You see, since I am secretly living with two other people in an apartment just for one, there are only two sets of keys, not three. So a lot of the time I just take the mail key and then my roommate will slip her keys into the mailbox on her way out and presto! I have a key. When I left this morning I wrote a little note saying that this genius exchange should occur. When I put my key in the mailbox slot and opened it however, there was nothing in there. Luckily I was right behind someone else and so was able to follow him into the building. Maybe Elze was home and would let me in. Surely they hadn't ignored my note.

I climbed up the seven flights of stairs as usual and reached our door. I was hot and sweaty and knew that this probably wasn't going to turn out well for me. Why should it? Nothing ever seemed to, obviously the Paris gods had it out for me. So I went to open the door and it wouldn't budge. Locked. Then I knocked on there door and there was no answer. Empty. So I sat down and leaned my back against the corner wall next to my apartment door and called Elze. She could just whisk home and let me in. I told her my predicament. I asked what the hell had happened. How had Christy not left a key for me? Elze didn't know and she was oh so sorry and would be coming home now except that it would take a while because she was half an hour outside of Paris! That meant at least an hour and a half wait. I rested my head back against the corner wall and started to cry.

I'm not exactly sure why I was crying. It wasn't because of the apartment fiasco because all I had to do was wait for a bit and it'd turn out. I think what it was mostly about was that it was the end of the week and I was tired, I had been yelled at only a few hours ago and felt like crying and now I actually was. Just the day before I had been feeling so good about the job and now this had happened and I felt a little stunned. So I closed my eyes and cried and it felt good for a few minutes but then I decided to get over it and get up. This was something new for me. Usually I enjoy a good cry and like to savor it for as long as possible but today I wasn't going to have it. I was going to go to a restaurant around the corner and get a glass of wine while I waited for Elze to come home. So I picked myself up, walked back down the seven flights, and went around the corner for a cool glass of white wine. It tasted delicious, this new sense of empowerment. Things aren't always going to be rosey and marshmellowy and sometimes I'm going to want to cry. Getting publicly reamed out can do that to a person. And crying about it isn't a bad thing, crying is normal, getting angry is normal. But soaking in those feelings doesn't do any good so why not experience them and then move on to something else. I'm still practicing this method of living so I'm sure I'll slip here and there but still, it's nice to be getting there.

Two hours and Elze met me on the park bench outside our apartment. We came in and went upstairs and when we opened the door I looked for my note. How could Christy screw me like this? And then I saw it. Elze had made a grocery list and guess what paper she'd used? My note. She had folded the important message of "don't lock me out" inside and written her grocery list outside. The culprit had been flushed out and she was embarrassed by her accident. We had a good chuckle.

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