1. The abandoned village of Amen in the French Alps

     
  2. Moscow international airport

     
  3. There’s no such thing as ‘men’s work’: Finding feminism in the French Alps

    When I told my friends and family that I’d be spending the month of August in France, they were excited. ‘Of course! That’s great!’ They smiled. Then I told them I was going to spend a bulk of that time living and working on a farm. ‘Really? Why’s that?’ Their brows furrowed.

    Since I was a kid, I’ve been what my dad calls an “indoor girl.” At family gatherings he likes to tell the story of the first time I stormed inside after an hour of yard work, proclaiming huffily, “I quit. I’m dripping.” (sweat, that is) And while I abhor the phrase “indoor girl” for a variety of reasons that will soon become apparent, I have to admit that I do prefer interiors. I’m a big fan of central air, ceiling fans and refrigerators, and I think indoor plumbing is the gift that keeps on giving (…and taking…). It’s a gift.

    So my resolve to work on a farm in the hottest month of summer was met with incredulity. “It’ll be a learning experience,” friends said. “I think you’ll hate it,” my father said. I didn’t have a clear reason why I wanted to do it. The best I proffered was that something sounded terribly romantic about spending the end of summer beekeeping and harvesting lavender in the French Alps. Who cared about dripping sweat? I was living a movie!

    I had no idea what to expect on the farm. I googled ‘lavender harvest’ and saw everything from scythes to electric handsaws. I read a brochure about beekeeping and tried to prepare myself for stings. In the end, the work was harder and easier than I thought it would be. We didn’t work sun-up to sun-down. It wasn’t grueling hot. Break times were plentiful, and the bees are generally more docile creatures than you’d expect. But we did go on strenuous hikes to harvest lavender on top of mountains. We did stay up for 36 hours moving bees from one mountain to another in the rain. We did sleep outdoors, and there wasn’t indoor plumbing. I didn’t feel like a field laborer of lore, but it was definitely hard work.

    But hard work, I found, could be incredibly rewarding. Honey tastes sweeter straight from the hive, and every morning I woke to the sweet scent of the lavender I’d picked the day before as it hung drying in the rafters above me. I may have dripped sweat daily, but I saw the products of my perspiration. Labor didn’t seem so laborious when I lived amidst the fruits of it.

    On my last day at the farm, my host Phillipe asked Anouk, the other young woman volunteering, and me to harvest the lavender in the fields that sloped down from the house. I was pumped. No two hour hike straight uphill this time! Anouk and I swaddled ourselves in sheets-cum-lavender satchels (it’s like wearing a lavender toga…or a lavender diaper), and went to work.

    It was a hot day. And I definitely dripped sweat. Lavender grows low to the ground in bushes that are often overtaken by weeds, so harvesting lavender is a lot of hunching over and picking thorns from your gloves. That and fighting the bees who get peeved when you cut off their food source. Three hours and a wicked sunburn later, Anouk and I retreated to the shade for lunch. Phillipe brought us watermelon and pear juice, and we rehydrated.

    Returning to the field in the afternoon wasn’t a thought that I relished. But after lunch I swaddled up and grabbed my scythe. We still had half of the field to harvest.

    After an hour or so my back ached and I was tired of bee stings. I saw Anouk sitting in the shade eating one of the peaches we’d brought for sustenance, and I went to join her.

    Anouk had been on the farm two weeks before I’d arrived and she was staying a week after I left. She had trail maps and hiking boots and seemed entirely more prepared for the wilderness than I was. She loved to photograph wildlife and I’d seen her fashion walking sticks from tree branches and hike an impressive amount of camera gear up a mountain. If my father’s categories did exist, Anouk, it seemed to me, was definitely an “outdoor girl.”

    So I sat down, tired and sweaty and feeling like the “indoor girl” I’d been branded, and Anouk looked over at me: “this,” she said, “this is men’s work.”

    I was floored. “Men’s work?” The idea made me nauseous. I shrugged. I had no idea how to say gender normative in French, so simple dissent would have to suffice. “It’s not so bad,” I replied, but my mind was rife with disagreement.

    I may have come to France with romantic ideals. I may have imagined rolling fields of purple and being that star of my own little movie. But the trip was also meant to be a test of my strength, a strength I believed always equaled or even exceeded a man’s. I came to prove to something to myself and for myself. And even though I was sweaty and my back ached, as I sat in the grass with apricot juice dripping down my arm and onto the lavender I’d just cut, I felt empowered. Not specifically as a woman, but as a human. It wasn’t a matter of gender, I felt empowered in my humanity in relation to the fruits of my labor on the earth.

    Maybe sensing my inner monologue, it was Anouk’s turn to shrug. “Il fait trop chaud,” she said simply. It’s too hot. I sighed. I tossed the peach core across the field and got back to work. Sweat dripped down my back, and I felt my skin reddening again. As the sun set, I gathered the load of lavender we’d both cut. It was heavy, and Anouk suggested I leave it for Phillipe. But I was capable - and stubborn - and I hauled it slowly back up the hill.

    When I returned to the house, I was tired, and I really wanted a shower. Anouk’s statement still sat uncomfortably in my gut, but I felt my resolve strengthening against it. As I fanned my sweaty forehead and wished there was AC, I was sure of one thing: I may have a heightened appreciation for indoor amenities, but that has nothing to do with my being a girl.

     
  4. Cafe Marche, Nice

    I found Cafe Marche my favorite way to find things in a city: I stumbled upon it. The pink umbrellas and inviting interior caught my eye and when I scanned the daily menu I knew I’d found a gem. Emphasizing local and organic ingredients in simple yet exquisite combinations, Cafe Marche offers a soup, entree and dessert lunch special daily as well as burgers and dinner specials in the evening. The menu is posted on two chalkboards, one inside and one outside, that the waiters carry from table to table when guests order, but it’s simple enough because I can tell you that you want the soup. Order it alone and it comes with half a baguette and an entire round of chèvre, but if you’re hungry (or adventurous) start with the soup, pick the vegetarian or meat entree of your preference (they’ll have one of each), and then, heaven help you, order dessert. It’s all delicious. And Eco-friendly. And delicious.

     
  5. Deux Pieces, 2 rue Antoine gautier, Nice

    I first found Deux Pieces at the antique market that takes over Cours Saleya on Mondays. Amidst fine art and books and coins and cutlery, Deux Pieces was a vintage haven with a stock of clothing, shoes and accessories to rival any independent boutique I’ve ever seen. I purchased a floral crop top a la 1997 and went on the hunt for their storefront a few days later.

    Tucked away in a maze of antique stores a five minute walk from Place Garibaldi, Deux Pieces is easy to find but nowhere you’d end up on accident. The store is light and carefree with an expertly curated stock. When I arrived, Jasmine, the lovely shopkeep donning a bright yellow oversized Tshirt as a dress, told me to make myself at home, and as I left she told me where she’d found each of the pieces I purchased. Si belle !

     
  6. Ma Yucca, 26 rue barfa, Nice

    I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t sure about french-Japanese fusion, but tucked inconspicuously between a Vietnamese and a Chinese restaurant, Ma Yucca is a haven of culinary experimentation. They don’t serve noodles, and if you want sushi, you don’t get to choose your rolls, but the handful of entrees, plates and desserts on the daily lunch and dinner menus are balanced and fresh, highlighting both their Niçoise and their Asian inspirations. For lunch, I had a salmon cake with a pepper cream sauce, miso soup and rice followed by a peach and raspberry cream tart. It was delicious and, by Niçoise standards, a steal at only 18€!

     
  7. Learning to Eat: What ten days living on an organic farm taught me about food

    Anyone who’s met me knows that I love food. Meal planning is a crucial part of my day, and I approach every meal with excitement. So it’s no surprise, then, that one of my favorite parts of exploring a new culture is familiarizing myself with the food. When I made plans for the summer, I was excited to learn about organic farming and to see how my hosts lived, but going to live on a remote farm without transportation was a big step, even for a food lover like myself. It meant a lot more than trying a few new dishes with ingredients I couldn’t translate. It meant relying on strangers to feed me for two weeks and surrendering my eating habits to their whims.

    Before coming to France, I had the diet of a typical American twenty-something. Cereal, sandwich, takeout. I frequented my local farmers market but also my neighborhood Chinese takeout joint. I ate meals at 9, noon and 7, with snacks in between and drinks after dark. It was how my parents ate. It was how restaurants operated. It was the meal plan I’d grown up with, and one I carried with me even as I traveled.

    Moving to the farm, I was excited for a change. I envisioned fresh-picked garden vegetables, honey right out of the hive, baking from scratch and all organic ingredients. And for the most part, I was right. What I didn’t envision was how sharing meals with my hosts on the farm would challenge me to completely rethink what and when I ate, how different eating habits would make a truly different lifestyle.

    My first meal with my hosts was rather idyllic. We picnicked on top of a large rock in a field in the Alps, feasting on roasted eggplant, cheese, bread and butter and fresh tomatoes and peppers. The food was simple yet plentiful and I was amazed by how much everyone seemed to eat. The hearty meal made a lot more sense a few hours later, when I was halfway up the second mountain of our afternoon hike. We spent the afternoon climbing trails to beautiful lakes, and when we returned to the farm long after dark. I was famished. But no one else seemed to be. Dinner was a piece of fruit and a bit of yogurt and we all went to sleep.

    In the US, dinner is the primary meal of the day, but on the farm I quickly learned that it was lunch. Farm work took bountiful energy, and a hearty lunch was necessary to refuel once all the energy of sleep and a light breakfast had been expended. So lunches on the farm were large, and they lingered through the hottest hours of the afternoon. We’d pair bread and fresh vegetables with rice and cream sauce, omelettes, lentil stew or beignets. Eating sparingly at first like the calorie-counter I’d been since my teens, it wasn’t long before I was partaking with gusto. Food was fuel, and I’d need it to get through the afternoon and work into the night.

    I’d always loved food, but I felt like I was learning to eat all over again. On the farm, food was tied to work, input to output. And while it may sound like a crude and obvious equation, for the first time in a long time I felt my hunger become in sync with my meals, my desires in tune with their nourishment.

    Of course, it wasn’t just when we ate but also what we ate that yielded this nourishment. When I got to the farm, my host Phillipe lent me the book The Food Revolution by John Robbins. A commanding critique of the food industry in America and Europe, the book explained how heavily processed most everything I’ve ever eaten has been, how unnatural the food I consume really is. I was deeply impressed, and, upon reflecting, I recognized how quickly life on the farm had removed these preservatives from my diet. We ate no meat, and the animal products we did consume (yogurt, butter, cheese, eggs) came from other small farms in the area. The bulk of our diet was fresh fruits and vegetables, and they were most often consumed raw.

    The longer I stayed with Phillipe, the more he opened up about his eating practices and their inspirations. He told me the story of becoming a vegetarian after watching a fish suffocate while it was gutted. He explained to me the time he’d spent studying eastern religious practices and why he chose to follow a loosely Taoist diet. He lent me another book, The Tao of Health, Sex and Longevity by David Reid, and I learned about trophology, about food combinations and the digestive enzymes. Full of intricate diagrams of what foods could and could not be consumed together (see above), the book was more and less scientific than I expected and utterly fascinating. I didn’t know people ate that way, and it shed new light on the meals I’d been sharing with Phillipe during my stay. Per Taoist principles, meals were either exclusively sweet or salty, hot or cold. Fruit was a meal of its own, and we never drank milk. Because Phillipe was French we still had bread and cheese at most meals, but there was no meat or alcohol. Everything we consumed was meant to optimize the body’s ability to digest. And it seemed to work. I’m not sure if it was the Taoist methods or the newfound lack of preservatives, but my energy soared and my digestion eased. I learned to eat green peppers and tomatoes like apples and to make a meal of an entire melon. I felt hydrated, and, unexpectedly, happy at the end of each meal as we sipped herbal tea. Even my endorphins, it seemed, appreciated my new diet.

    As idyllic as I make it sound, I’ll fully admit that by the end of my stay a fellow volunteer and I had a running joke about being excited to eat bread that wasn’t rock hard again; to cook our vegetables and to recombine salty and sweet. And while I am a newly-minted vegetarian after leaving the farm, I don’t think I’ll be taking up a Taoist diet anytime soon. I mean… my first meal back in the city was a milkshake. (And it was delicious!)

    What impressed me most about food on the farm was the deep yet simple respect for life that permeated when and what we ate at each meal. The lives of the animals were respected by never consuming their flesh. And our own lives were respected by recognizing in food the nourishment for activity. Meals were accompanied with reverence for the deep connection between eating and agency. Not only that you are what you, but also that you are because you eat.

    On my last night at the farm, Phillipe’s wife Chrystel made a peach custard for my final dinner. She asked if I knew how to make anything sweet from the egg whites because she couldn’t let them go to waste. While my inability to cook is a running joke amongst my friends at home, I realized that I did in fact know a recipe that called for egg whites. Two nights before I left home I made an angel food cake with a close friend, and while I’d clung to my recipe and its plethora of ingredients then, I saw now how simple it was. I beat the egg whites to soft peaks, added sugar and vanilla and stirred in flour until it reached the right consistency. I didn’t need a hand mixer or measuring cups. There was no need for a half-dozen spices. I never once consulted the internet.

    After dark we sat down with the cake and custard, only five ingredients between them. The meal was simple and sweet, and we were hungry.

     
  8. Le Cri de L’artichaut, 25 rue Bonaparte, Nice

    Le Cri de L’artichaut is a wonderful boutique in the Port district near Place Garibaldi. They offer a selection of small-run tshirts, a bevy of beautiful temporary tattoos, a few antique pieces and whatever else shop-owner Suzanne thinks fulfills the shop’s sweet, graphic aesthetic.

     

  9. "It’s all too much and not enough at the same time."
    —  Jack Kerouac (via c-ovet)

    (Source: aslovelyasatree, via avenue)

     
  10. BREAD, Nice

    BREAD is a local, organic bakery that opened last year in Nice. It’s a clean and cozy spot offering a variety of delicious, organic breads, espresso service and a few organic cold beverages (I had a fantastic carbonated lemonade with fleur d’orange). Stop by for one of their breakfast menus or to pick up a snack in the afternoon. And ask about the mission they’ve painted on the door, they love to tell you about their passion for this business!