It isn't Hermes scarves or miniature Eiffel Towers that call out, "Take me home" when we're wandering around Paris. That's too bad as they're easier to shlep back to New York than the Quimper pottery, Provencal tablecloths, café signs, escargot plates, ceramic Calvados set and other vintage brocante I've squeezed into a suitcase, leaving behind jackets and sneakers to make room for my purchases. Bringing back memories of Paris and giving our Greenwich Village apartment the ambiance of a French bistro involves sacrifices.
My husband (Martin in New York, Mar-taan in Paris) and I have adorned our walls with posters -- advertising Ricard, Pastis as well as products I've never heard of -- and stocked up on Sancerre, Lillet and cornichons. In Rome, we're fine to do as the Romans do, but in New York, we do what the French do, starting meals with an aperitif and serving salad after the main course, often accompanied by a cheese tray and baguette.
"Do you wish we lived in Paris?" Martin has asked me. My attempts to learn the language have made that impossible. The way I function in France could be called assisted living. I'm able to shop and order in a restaurant, but for everything else, I depend on Martin, who can direct a taxi driver to a particular street, knows how many meters make up a yard and is able to negotiate with a plumber. Even before I ask, "Ou sont les toilettes?" with a distinct New York accent, I have never been mistaken as French. I'm comfortable visiting Paris, but living there would be impossible. New York, where I belong and am part of the fabric, is like our marriage. Paris, less familiar and sometimes daunting, is our affair.
My efforts to emulate the French lifestyle could be seen as an affectation except that my personal style - or lack thereof -- puts me above suspicion. I do not have the jour du vivre or attitude of a French woman. In fact, I do something with a scarf that inspires doormen to point me to the building's service entrance. My fixation with France may account for my fascination with doing pique assiette, the French style of mosaic. It relies on breaking plates (the name supposedly translates to something like "stolen from the plate"). After seeing a picture of a chest of drawers totally covered in blue and white plate shards that was unaffordable, I took a class and learned how to use a nipper without cutting myself.
That started my covering everything that couldn't run from me with pique assiette, often breaking plates with French writing and images to adorn vases, picture frames, planters, boxes, even our fireplace.
For someone nostalgic about the tip trays presented at bistros back when francs were the currency, I broke one and made it the centerpiece of a vase.
Perhaps concerned that my passion was bordering on obsessive, a friend said, "Why don't you turn this into a business and sell the beautiful things you make?" I hired a designer to create a website, a name even I can remember. A French cousin felt I should have a Facebook page and suggested I post it on compatible pages. I tirelessly put pictures on wedding-related pages of vases I'd designed that include photos of newlyweds and picture frames that would be a special way of displaying a wedding or baby photo, noting that these are ideal gifts for a wedding, new baby or any occasion.
I was surprised to get the equivalent of a Facebook speeding ticket, telling me I'd exceeded their limit, followed by an angry rebuke from someone who accused me of spamming. I apologized and explained that a relative had urged me to do this. "Whoever said that was wrong," was the response. I wrote back to say my French isn't good and maybe I'd misunderstood, which led to the person mellowing, our becoming Facebook friends and his passing along my page to others. I'm not sure that "offend, apologize and befriend," is a viable business plan so I'm now being respecting boundaries, inviting others to visit my site and to place a custom order, collaborating with me in the design of a piece of mosaic art.
To personalize the work, I developed a process that allows me to incorporate photos and snippets from an invitation.
Vases, kitchen caddies and picture frames with pictures of the couple have proved popular as wedding gifts.
I'm a comedy writer, so it's not surprising that I brought satire to mosaic, depicting America's current political, social and economic crises in a mix of red, white and blue plate shards... on cremation urns. The Breaking News Series can be seen on my site. If you like "Where's Waldo?" try to pick out faces of politicians you recognize who've been caught in sexual scandals.
Follow Sybil Adelman Sage on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SybSage