Monday, October 3, 2011


Last night Elze, Christy, Mr. Johnson and I were all in the kitchen drinking wine and looking at pictures of gigantic spiders online when Elze called us all to the window she was smoking out of.

"Come on you guys! Look! Look! Loooook!"

Like a kid seeing Santa flying through the air she had a high squeak of happiness in her voice and was practically bouncing up and down in excitement. We all peeked our heads outside and looked. And there it was. The Eiffel Tower was sparkling! For whatever reason the people in charge had the lights on the tower flickering and it looked like it was sparkling. It was incredible. "This is Paris. I'm living in Paris." I forget that sometimes. 

Perhaps it was the glittering Eiffel Tower dancing through my head or perhaps it wasn't, but for whatever reason today I managed to find peace within myself. I didn't even realize this had happened until I was stepping onto the metro on my way home from work. I caught myself smiling and wondered why this was happening. Why was I smiling? And I realized that it wasn't because I was done with a day of work and got to go home, but because I was actually happy with the day of work and not worried about the next one. I may even hazard to say that I was looking forward to the next one. How could this be? 

I didn't bother to analyze it too much at the time because it seemed too good of a moment not to enjoy. And I realized that that was it. I was living in the moment. Instead of worrying about what may happen tomorrow, how horrible it could possibly be, how much of an idiot I could or did look like, I was just there reveling in my fulfillment. 

Living in the moment is something I've never been all that good at and so accomplishing it is something that needs to be analyzed and torn apart and dissected so that I can do it again sometime in the future. I am sure that what was the largest contributor to this state of mind was that my actual mind was exhausted. Sure physical exhaustion is something I am suffering from as well, but I've dealt with that before, but couple that with this new level of mental enervation and the power of now was with me! 

Working in an environment where I am constantly trying to understand people requires my complete consciousness and so I don't have time to think about other things. When someone is talking to me in english I can half-listen, half-listen to myself thinking, and still figure out what the hell they're talking about. My brain doesn't have to work extra hard to figure out what the words are that they're saying. It's on cruise control and doing it all on its own. But when someone is speaking to me in french I actually have to listen fully and then focus my thinking on the words coming out of their mouth. Is that a word I know? Is that one word or two? I know that word but I can't remember what it means. You're pointing upstairs but do you want me to get something from up there or bring something down from up there? Or perhaps you're telling me to go shove it?  Sometimes I swear I can hear the cogs moving around inside my head. And then eventually one fits into place and I pick up on a word I know. Then another. Then another. And then like a detective I have to put the puzzle together with three words, contextual clues, and sign language to realize that Alberique wants me to go upstairs and get the veggies for the vegetable tart after I finish helping Perrine. But at least my detective skills seem to be sharpening. Or perhaps I'm so exhausted it just seems that way.

It doesn't hurt that I get a break from all the chaotic french atmosphere for a decent amount of time every day. Apparently I have become Irina's main assistant. Irina works upstairs and does things for the savory side of the house. While peeling veal sweetbread membranes and cutting up snails isn't exactly my idea of intense pastry education, she is an absolute delight to work with. She's romanian and very tall and thin and looks a bit like Silvia from the Muzzy children's foreign language videotapes that were advertised when I was a kid. Except she's a lot better looking than Silvia, her ears don't stick out nearly as much and her hair is much more luxurious, plus she's not an animal cartoon.

Irina is very calm and sweet in everything she does. She seems to have charmed her way into the hearts of all the other employees and it isn't hard to see why. She's very positive about everything and she's an extremely hard and adept worker. She is constantly helping me to be faster and more efficient. A lot of the things she tells me I already know, like keeping things organized and doing all of one step first before going onto the next, but I feel so frantic and out of sorts that I get all discombobulated and forget the proper way to act in a kitchen. But she kindly reminds me what to do and takes a few seconds to show me that the way I'm doing things is crazy and that doing a, b, and c will be much better.

She also speaks english and that helps a lot. It's much easier for her to tell me what to do and for me to follow it. It seems obvious but when downstairs is in french and upstairs is in english it's incredible to see the drastic difference that a few little words can make. Plus she always thanks me about fifty times for helping her out, like it's some huge inconvenience and that I would rather be downstairs peeling apples in french than upstairs cutting vegetables in english.

Today she told me that Alberique was keeping an eye on me. I responded with, "Uh oh," and she told me that no, it was a good thing. Really? I was skeptical. Was this an observation of hers or had they been talking about me? If so, did this mean that he had been saying good or bad things about me? Had he been telling her that I may be an illiterate slacker now but that he saw a diamond in the rough? Or perhaps he felt that I was just a slacker and needed constant supervision to make sure I didn't get too caught up in my own thoughts. All of these things were possibilities but I didn't dare ask her because I knew being focused on slicing eggplants was much more important than Alberique's opinion of me.

But then at the end of the day Alberique and I had a little moment. I'm not sure if he saw it that way but I certainly did. Since the rest of the crew had gone and it was just me, Alberique, and the girl from Pennsylvania, things were calm in the kitchen. Alberique has been sick and so I think that's helped tame him a bit. It's like when my roommate bought a sweet innocent puppy in college and then found out that he had kennel cough and once it had cleared up he was a tyrant. Part of me hopes Alberique will never heal. Today as he was showing me how to make a coffee biscuit (that's right, I actually got to mix something that would later be baked!) he was clear and willing to repeat things a few times. I may not of known what spoon meant (though I actually do know what cuillère means I was just stunned by the french of it) but he still was very patient and calm and told me that it's what you eat with that isn't a fork. He even mimed eating. He did this for pretty much everything and for once I wasn't afraid to ask him to repeat himself or that I didn't quite undertand. It was actual communication, not just commands and me failing to follow them.

Perhaps the best part was when he made a mistake. It may be little of me to feel this way but I always appreciate when the higher-ups fuck something up. It makes me realize that they're human and it forces them to admit it in front of me. So when Alberique told me to measure out 907 grams of batter for six trays instead of 607 grams, it was a nice bonding experience when he figured out that he'd messed up. He laughed, I laughed inside and smiled outside. It was great. And then he sent me home. He sent me home exactly at five.

All in all it was a great day. I got to speak english with Irina and only feel like an idiot in the way I usually do while first starting a job. And then I got to work with Alberique when he was subdued by his illness. I got to make some actual food. I got to watch Alberique mess up and then laugh at himself. It was almost as if he was human and not french! And then on top of all that he made sure to send me home on time? What had I done right?

Working with Irina definitely changed my tune a bit about my patisserie. Sure my bosses may be curmudgeons but Irina pointed out that unlike many other successful and popular bakeries, they actually come in everyday and work. And while I may be submerged in a molten bath of french dialect, Irina mentioned that it's the best way to learn a language and that any day now I will be understanding it without even knowing it. It may not be perfect and I may not come home knowing how to make perfect macaron or the best croissants in the world but at least I will be able to speak enough french to impress my american peers. My knife skills will be better. My kitchen efficiency will be better. And apparently my power of now, chi essence, and living in the moment have just somehow fallen upon me. I guess that living in the moment isn't something you can plan. It just happens.

1 comment:

  1. You are getting into the Zen of the kitchen. It too is my happy place. Rock on!