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dreams

The Dream Life of Amy Thomas

by Kasia on December 18, 2010

I liked Amy Thomas the moment I met her. Not simply because she arrived to Paris from NY (though us New Yorker’s do tend to stick together). Perhaps we bonded due to our careers in advertising or passion for writing. No. Amy is a dreamer. A romantic. A thinker. Above all, a lover of all things sweet, as she has so appropriately coined herself Sweet Freak. In her blog God, I love Paris Amy shares her nearly two-year long love affair with Paris, where she has always dreamed to live. But some romances are not meant to last. I will allow Amy to explain, in the name of love.

Can one question change your life?

I’m willing to bet a 25-piece box of Jean-Paul Hevin bonbons on it.

In 2008, I was sitting in my office, living what I considered to be a pretty dreamy life. I was single, owned my own place in the East Village, and was braving New York’s dating world. I had a great group of friends, and I liked my job as an advertising copywriter. But I loved my moonlighting dalliances even more: exploring and writing about sweets. Life was good: easy, fun, comfortable. Then my ad agency’s in-house recruiter walked into my office and nonchalantly asked:

What do you think about Paris?

Let me just pause and say—I am obsessed with Paris. Almost as obsessed as I am with sweets. So when the recruiter revealed that the Paris office of my international agency was looking for an English-speaking writer to work on the Louis Vuitton account, my first question was how soon could I leave? Of course I wanted to go live in Paris and work with one of the best fashion houses in the world. What Louboutin loving, Coco worshipping, macaron addict wouldn’t?

The only thing holding me back from the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) was several months of bureaucracy. Five long months of waiting, the papers were finally in place (a little preview to the pace of life in Paris). I packed my laptop, clothes and black tabby cat, and then gulped, vigorously nodding my head as my doorman reminded me on the way out, “It’s like business and pleasure. You’re getting paid to do what you love.” Indeed, I was off to live my dream.

And a dream it’s been. Especially the first six months. Having arrived in early March, each new day was a little bit longer and brighter. Spring turned into summer—a beautiful and balmy season when the sun didn’t set until 10 p.m. I became an instant Velib addict, to say nothing of the sweets. I cruised from Les Petits Mitrons in the 18eme to Du Pain et des Idées in the 10eme. From Blé Sucré in the 12eme to Pain du Sucré in the 4eme. From Michel Chaudun to Michel Cluizel; from Ladurée to Pierre Hermé; Les Deux Abeilles, Stohrer, Le Patisserie de Reves… there was to be no viennoiserie, gateau or bonbon unsampled by me. After all, I told myself, biking from sweet spot to sweet spot, this was a great way to get to know my new hometown. Which was true. But as familiar as I became with each arrondissement’s best patisseries and chocolatiers, and their closest Velib stations, many of the city’s customs, codes of conduct and unspoken rules were still foreign to me.

And then the inevitable happened. After a prolonged honeymoon phase, I crashed. Hard. Summer had turned into fall, which turned into a long, dark winter. My beautiful city was suddenly cold and alienating. Not being able to communicate with the postmaster or dry cleaner was no longer a challenge that I approached as sort of fun and charming, but, rather, left me feeling totally defeated. Which just made me miss my friends, family and comfortable, easy life back in New York.

But I plodded on. With work (pulling longer hours than I ever did in New York). With French lessons (often swallowing cries of frustration when I couldn’t wrap my tongue around those R’s). With making friends (though this—gasp!—entailed befriending almost exclusively other expats as I couldn’t get a proper Parisian to give me the time of day). I willed myself to be tough. To stay strong. To smile, even if it made me look like an American dork. But mostly I lamented my lost love. I just wanted to feel moved by Paris the way I once had.

In hindsight, I know it was a perfectly natural cycle. Even the best affairs cool down at some point. After that initial head-over-heels infatuation, the ho-hum reality sets in and the daily grind is no longer sexy or romantic. Even in Paris. So after a season of sulking and consoling myself with a ridiculous amount of bonbons, I reset my expectations for a more “real” relationship with the city.

And now, the love affair continues. I cram my days with observing and writing, eating and drinking, Velib’ing and, toujours, ogling and sampling the sweets. And I have wonderful friends to share the meals, wine, stories and moments with. I’m a happy, lucky girl and I love every day that I’m here.

Because… all good things must come to a close. As mad as I am for Paris, I’m returning to my first love. New York is calling my name. It’s not been an easy decision, but I know it’s time to go home. And instead of looking at Paris or New York as an “either/or” option, I see it as “both”. Sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.

Paris will dearly miss Amy and her ‘joie de vivre‘, even the vélibs will feel the loss. Not to mention the pâtisseries! But her sweet life continues in New York. And lucky us to be able to read all about it in her upcoming book to be released in March 2012, a merging of God, I love Paris and Sweet Freak. Sounds like an ideal union to me!

{ 15 comments }

The Dream Life of Cat Beurnier

by Kasia on November 24, 2010

Cat Beurnier has a sweet life in Paris, quite literally! She is the founder and owner of Sugar Daze, a leading American-style cake and cupcake business in Paris. Well known and savored by both expats and locals since it’s inception in 2008. When I met her and found out she was also an ex-ad girl from New York, with an equally entrepreneurial spirit, I took a liking to her immediately and began to inquire about the hardships of settling into life in Paris. Cat’s story not only inspired me but it filled me with hope that it does get easier and it is possible to create a new path, with great resolve, hard work and dedication to your dreams. 

My story begins with a coup de foudre which happened approximately 29 years ago when I first visited Paris with my mother and grandmother.  Though I had lived in New York City all my life (a city millions dream of running away to), the charm, the beauty, the history of Paris won me over almost the second our taxi turned off the Peripherique.  Paris was a place I would return to time and again — on vacation, for a summer study abroad, for my junior year in university… I never tired of it and each trip left me wanting more.  When I graduated from university, I spent a few months looking for work in various French corporations but my leads never panned out – unemployment was high and no one was willing to sponsor me, a recent grad with no real experience to get my work papers. I contemplated moving to France and working as an undeclared server at one of the many bars or restaurants that cater to the Anglo-Saxon crowd (something I had done the summer after my junior year). But in the end, I wasn’t brave enough to make the leap of faith and head down this unknown, unchartered course.

I found a job in a well-known ad agency in New York and fell into daily life as a young, single gal in the Big Apple.  I loved my dynamic, fast-paced job. I very slowly started to work my way up the corporate ladder. I even got to travel to Paris a few times to assist on some new business projects.  Fortunately, I had an endless supply of friends, and even some boyfriends, who happily agreed to accompany me on the frequent vacation to Paris so I could get my fix!

Fast-forward about 10 years, when I experienced love at first site for the second time in my life.  I was at a party with an ex-boyfriend (who yes, I had at some point dragged to Paris!) when I saw this tall, handsome stranger standing with a group of people at the side of the room.  I casually walked over, joined in their conversation and fell under the spell of his charm.  As the evening went on, I found myself alone with him chatting and sharing stories as if we had known each other for years.  At some point talk turned to how we knew the hostess and he told me she dated a friend of his before they both moved to New York.  Curious to hear more, I asked where he was from.  When he said Paris, my jaw dropped open.  I hadn’t detected a hint of an accent in his voice, and yet when I looked closer, I saw that yes indeed, his choice of clothing, his mannerisms, his features, etc. gave away his distinct un-American-ness.

Long story short, over the course of the next five years we dated, moved in together, and married.  The funny thing about my husband is that he was just as much a romantic about NYC as I was about Paris!  Moving to France was never a consideration for us; I was content with the once a year or so trips we made to visit his family.  And then our son was born and it was a total game changer.  Cramped into our one-bedroom apartment with our son in a crib at our feet, we started fantasizing about the type of apartment we could have in France, and what neighborhood we would live in.  On a whim, we listed our apartment in the Sunday NY Times and I don’t think either of us could really believe it when just a month later, we found ourselves signing it away.  Those last few months in NY were surreal — we were new parents and about to set off on a whole new adventure on the other side of the Atlantic!  My husband hadn’t lived in France for 10 years and I think he felt the culture shock coming back just as much as I did.

We arrived in Paris at the end of November seven years ago this month.  For those of you who know Paris, you’ll probably agree this is one of the worst times to have started our new life here.  Months of cold, damp and grey weather as a new mother unaccustomed to life outside the office left me feeling depressed and sullen.  My husband’s friends, who had always been so warm and welcoming when we visited, many of them new parents too, were too busy with their day-to-day lives to hold my hand as we settled in.  And to complicate matters, our fly by the seat of our pants “planning” meant living at my in-laws until we could find a place of our own.  Which actually didn’t take too long as I was totally motivated!  It took me a loooonnnngggg time to adjust to my new life in France, but little by little, I started making friends and got the hang of life as a stay-at-home mom.

France is a country where families are king.  And the benefits families receive to ensure their kids are looked after as they return to work are nothing short of amazing. Because I had never worked legitimately in France, many of those benefits were not available to me, and my husband encouraged me to return to work before we thought about expanding our family. I had become very involved in an English-speaking parents group called MESSAGE, and took on the role of VP, Public Relations but it was pro-bono work and so no benefits to speak of. As I started to think about a return to corporate life, I realized that the long hours, the stress, the travel – it just wasn’t worth trading my time with my son. I found myself at the age of 35 taking a long hard look at my life as I tried to figure out what I “wanted to be when I grew up.” I decided on a radical change and began investigating the possibility of my own business.

One of my childhood dreams was to be a pastry chef. In fact, my closest elementary school friend, Suzanne, and I used to “host” a cooking show called “Snacks Delight” where every weekend we would whip up a different dessert in front of our “live studio audience” (usually comprised of her little sister or our Barbie dolls). As an adult, I studied pastry at a culinary school during a period of unemployment and worked for several restaurants and a caterer in the US. It’s physically hard work but something I enjoy enormously. I’ve never considered myself overly creative but when I bake, I have the sense of accomplishing something made with my own hands. Our last apartment in New York was just around the corner from the famous Magnolia Bakery and since I love cupcakes, I was inspired to import this traditional American dessert to my new adopted “hometown.” But just as this idea was taking shape, I found out I was pregnant again. I had to put my project on the back burner and there it stayed until late 2008. I had kind of given up hope on ever having my own store as I was just so busy with 2 children and dealing with everyday family life, which in a foreign country can sometimes be complicated. But I always found time to bake on the weekends, for friends, etc. and one day I found myself agreeing to make cupcakes for a friend of a friend for a party she was having. And thus my company, Sugar Daze (formerly Little Miss Cupcake), was born.

Around that time, I read an article in an entrepreneur’s magazine that advised that if you have a dream, and you don’t have the money or the support or the time to realize it, you don’t have to scrap your dream entirely. Instead, take a step back and figure out how to make this dream a reality on a smaller scale. And that is exactly what I have done by creating a small, custom order cupcake business. Things just took off after that first order; I started a blog to document my baking adventures which got my name out there, and through the grapevine, people came to hear about me and my cupcakes. Baking and making cupcakes is one of my greatest passions and knowing how happy they make people is a reward in and of itself. But it isn’t always a cakewalk. Most mornings, I am up and at my kitchen by 5 to bake the day’s orders fresh from scratch. I am back home by 8 to get my kids up, dressed and out the door for school. My daughter is only 3 and spends her afternoons with me. And so after a full day of shuttling my kids around and taking care of household chores (and my husband!), I often find myself working late into the night once everyone has gone to sleep to catch up on paperwork or to hand-craft the decorations that top my cupcakes. I am the sole employee of Sugar Daze and so this means that my responsibilities include answering all inquiries, shopping for supplies, baking and decorating all the cupcakes, doing my own accounting, creating marketing materials, making deliveries, etc. (and most of this is done in a language that is not my mother tongue!). I feel like a lot of my days are some wild juggling act where at any minute the whole thing is going to come crashing down but I’m doing something I absolutely love and that makes the difference.

I believe that many times in life, your destiny is shaped by being in the right place at the right time. Some may say this happened on the night I met my husband, and looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to start up my business just as the cupcake craze took hold in Paris. It’s taken a lot of work to get where I am today and without a storefront, it’s sometimes hard to compete with the growing number of cupcake stores. But I believe in my products and am constantly experimenting and improving my offerings to ensure they are the best American-style cupcakes you’ll find in Paris! Life continues to be a challenge but I am living proof that you can have your cake and eat it too!

To indulge in Cat’s dream life of cupcakes, take a look at all the sweet possibilities on her menu. I recommend  La Vie en Rose or perhaps a Black Coffee in Bed? And let’s not forget the NYC classic Empire State of Mind. I could go on… Thank you Cat, for making life in Paris a little sweeter!

Update: In June 2012, Cat opened her Sugar Daze Bake Shop in the dynamic South Pigalle area of Paris.  Sugar Daze serves an array of cupcakes – sweet and savory – cheesecakes, brownies and other American baked goods with a rotating daily menu, available for eat-in or take-out.  Custom orders and cupcake classes are also available.  The Bake Shop is open Wednesday-Sunday (see www.sugardazecupcakes.com for more details).  20 rue Henry Monnier, 75009, 09.83.04.41.77

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The Dream Life of Forest Collins

November 10, 2010

TweetHow exactly does one end up living ‘the dream life’ in Paris? By following your dreams, fearlessly. Forest Collins, fellow expat, drink connoisseur and creator of blog 52 Martinis, did just that. And little does anyone know (until now) just what an insightful and inspiring journey she took, with just the right amount of spare change, […]

The Dream Life

October 29, 2010

TweetMoving abroad and creating a home in a foreign land (or even a new city for that matter) is by all accounts an overwhelming experience. Finding a place for yourself, new friends, a job which often means a new career, all leading to what is called a life. In so doing, there is often much […]

the dreams of a seven year old

June 18, 2010

TweetOn a recent trip to Monterosso I felt like a movie star. Not because of my Jackie O sunglasses or the many tourists photos I am (accidentally) appearing in, but because of a little seven year old girl named Emma. It turns out that Emma, the beautiful product of  an ‘American girl on holiday meets […]

how to dream in French

January 18, 2010

Tweet The days are growing longer. On rare occasion a hint of spring passes through the still frigid air. I remain warm within my expansive thoughts. I am in the midst of redefining myself in the context of a French life. Did I think it would be this difficult to leave behind the comforts and […]

the dream

August 15, 2009

Tweet Love is by no means rational. Nor should it be. Hence my decision to move to Paris. I didn’t think much whether it made sense, given that I didn’t speak French nor did I have any career prospects or know more than 3 people. But what I did have was much greater an achievement […]