I never claimed to be French.
I also never asked to be French. My love of France has nothing to do with my wanting to be French, as confused about that distinction as I may have been, myself, in the past.
When it all came down to it, I knew that I wanted to live here, but when asked, “Why don’t you just get married? It would make it so much easier…” it made me squeamish. And not because I have anything against that option, for those who do choose it, but because for me, it seemed to take away part of what I wanted. I wanted — I want — to be an American in Paris. I want to live here; I want to be me. I want to speak English and French. I want to love the red, white and blue and the bleu, blanc, rouge. I want to feel the same heart-swell when I hear Bob Dylan and Edith Piaf. I came to France because I loved certain things about it, parts of its past, ideas that we have about it on the outside that people living here never seem to encounter… and as much as I wanted to live in the real France, I didn’t want to relinquish any part of what made it real for me.
I know that becoming French wouldn’t make me any less American, but I like this position of outsider looking in that I’ve acquired. I like loving French things because of and in spite of their foreignness; I love loving American things because they are mine.
All this to say…
I’ve done it. I’ve got my carte de séjour salarié.
What does this mean?
For those who live here, who have been through the process, you know the giant sigh of relief that comes with finally receiving the little pink card that means that all of your struggles have been worth it. I look back on my time here — particularly on the past three years — and I think about all of the tiny steps it’s taken for me to get here. I’ve been holding two or three full-time commitments ever since 2010. Now, on the weekends, I occasionally just sleep.
Sorry, couldn’t keep a straight face there.
Nope, no sleeping for me, not really. On to more things, different things, perhaps better things? I’ve finished my thesis, but I miss the library. I’m not doing a dissertation, not yet, but I am turning my sights back to fiction for a bit. I go for walks. I watch movies. I read. I cook. The difference lies in the absence of that constant guilt whenever I was idle over the course of the past three years. Even when nothing was pressing, there was always something I should be doing. I don’t have that sense of urgency anymore, which leaves room for me to rediscover all those things that I forgot I loved: rolling over on a Saturday morning and picking up where I left off on last night’s book, taking an aimless walk towards nowhere and taking an unfamiliar metro back, spending the afternoon stirring a pot of applesauce.
This weekend has been the first in many where I stood in my kitchen for the better part of an evening, cooking and baking. To be fair, most of what I was making was for a party. To be even fairer, I now have time to go to parties.
On Friday, I took the métro — an hour there and an hour back — to Cité, where I picked up my carte de séjour. For once, I didn’t have to bring extra paperwork or wait in line. I pulled number 185 when 184 was already at the guichet. I spent more time trying to find the exit than I did actually interacting with any of the fonctionnaires.
When I left the building, I walked straight towards the métro… and then I took pause. Before, when my carte de séjour was always an uncertainty and a victory, the Country Boy and I would celebrate with beers and burgers, a classically American meal after championing French bureaucracy. But I didn’t feel that way about it on Friday. Instead, I felt a sigh of relief. The feeling that, for the first time in a long time, I could remember what it was that had originally made me fall in love with France. I didn’t have to constantly be on my toes. I didn’t have to find the right answers for someone else. I could remember my own right answers, and if there’s any neighborhood that means all of that, to me, it’s Saint-Michel.
So I took five minutes before heading back underground, back to Boulogne, back to my work and my grown-up life, and I spent five euro on a double-scoop of Berthillon ice cream, served in a single-scoop cone. Two different workers warned me that it would topple and fall. I smiled, nodded, told them not to s’inquiéter, but inside, I was grinning. Have they never seen an American eat ice cream before?
I ate it on the bridge, overlooking Notre-Dame. Tourists took pictures to my left and right, but I didn’t really see them. I just watched the river, looked at the cathedral, ate my ice cream. I didn’t spill a drop.
Magret de canard et pommes à la graisse de canard
1 duck magret
1 Tbsp. jam (I used cider jam, but apricot is nice too)
200 grams potatoes, halved and sliced
fleur de sel
Score the duck breast fat with a knife, making sure that you stop before reaching the flesh. Place the duck breast, fat-side down, in a cold pan. Heat the pan over medium-low heat, every once in awhile pouring off the rendered fat into a bowl. Continue cooking it like this for about half an hour, or until there is only about a centimeter of fat left on the fat side. Pour off any remaining fat and set aside.
Heat the poured off fat in a separate pan. Add one layer of potatoes. Fry until golden brown, remove, and repeat with the rest of the potatoes.
Spread the jam over the flesh side of the duck. Turn the heat under the duck up to medium high, and cook the fat until it is golden-brown and crispy. Flip to the flesh side and cook until browned, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with fleur de sel. Remove to a plate and cover with foil. Continue cooking the rest of the potatoes, while allowing the duck to rest for at least 10 minutes.
Slice the duck. Serve with potatoes.