Continued from last week…
I changed my name when I moved to 26 rue du Pilouvet, an ordinary French street, lined with tiny Peugeots and compact Renaults, parallel parked with one side perched up on the curb, and every house circled by tall gardens, ivy lined brick walls or antique wrought iron fences, with a Secret Garden door hiding somewhere shut tight. Two Katherine’s in the tiny house were one too many, so instead I became my middle name. This was who your dad met one Sunday afternoon at the end of April over the fish sticks that my sisters loved and a crunchy Asian salad that to this day I still can’t get him to like. He ate every bite at lunch that first day though. This mismatched version of me living in between two homes and two names and two languages, struggling with keeping track of two different ways to measure for recipes, and he fell in love anyways.
Baking was the love language of my family back home, so the day he walked through the evergreen fence and through the door for dinner was the day I opened my single precious bag of chocolate chips. The real kind that you only find stateside. Officially, the French word for cookie that is taught to American students taking French courses is les petits gateaus secs; the first time I used that phrase in conversation someone looked at me like I had grown horns. It’s not a phrase they use, they simply say cookie, with a bit of an accent. They imported our word for cookies like I found my chocolate chips and he found me.
And so I baked. Despite everything, I still clung to this one comfort. Even though I knew the recipe may not translate quite right, I had to try, because while my name may have been different, and my pronunciation may have made me incomprehensible sometimes, and the butter might be packaged differently, it was still what felt like home to me. It was the process that I needed to go through, to be able to say that I tried, even if we never took a bite.
This is the point your dad usually jumps in to try and finish the story, but his time it’s my turn. They worked. Melt-in-your-mouth, chocolate sugary bites that I sent the extras home with him in a leftover plastic ice cream container. I found it a few years later, after we were married, buried in a box of keepsakes in the back of his closet. The cookies and crumbs were wiped clean, but the smell still lingered.
We started dating two months later, after countless hours of window seat phone calls and late night dreaming. He took me to dinner and held my hand, I brought more cookies.
He’s French, even though you call him dad and me maman sometimes, and together our combined search for similarities and overlaps between our two versions of normal has led to enough errors in translation that most people would have given up by now. But we love it, it’s our little thing that makes us us. We used to joke that the only place for us was to build a houseboat and live right in between the places we’ve each called home. Honestly, if it was up to me, I’d take him back to the little house without an oven, surrounded by fields and windows with no screens and wide ledges, and our little plate of cookies that I’m still not quite sure how I managed to get to work.
Now he calls them our marriage cookies, or the get-yourself-a-husband cookies. When we have friends that start dating, he always jokes that they need to ask me for my cookie recipe, it’ll do the job every time. But the truth is, those cookies don’t really exist anymore. They were simply the version I could come up with in that moment, with that open air broiler, and no measuring cups for the flour that wasn’t quite the same anyways, and I silently smile to myself that what he and I have is something just ours, that can’t be written down, copied, or shared.
But one day, the next time we’re back in France, looking out a window with a ledge, I’ll do my best to teach it to Piper, because with her I’d share anything, and this is something she needs to know.
Katherine spent a year living and working with a missionary family in Paris, France immediately after high school. It’s where she met her husband, fell in love with wide open windows and flower boxes, began to find what truly inspires her as an artist and designer, and where she decided that one day she would write a book. (It’s also where she buys her fancy schmancy favorite tea!) Paris and its creamy colors, its stunning architecture, and its sense of classic are just a few of K’s favorite things and she loves traveling back to wander through France any chance she gets. (Especially now with her bilingual littles in tow!) Thanks for following along with K on the Paris Travelogue + City Guide, as she shares her stories and memories from the last 9 years of a love affair with France.