Three young women in the heart of Paris

Table of contents:

Three young women in the heart of Paris
Three young women in the heart of Paris

This is the debut novel of Corinne Gantz, whose inspiring sense of humor has won her international acclaim.

Asylum in Paris” is a beautiful and soulful story about compassion, understanding, self-discovery and love. Three young women try to banish the nightmares of the past and form a wonderful friendship in the heart of Paris. With the casual language of colorful everyday life and with unadulterated emotion, the author skilfully intertwines their stories - sometimes funny, other times bitter, but never boring and always endearing. Subtle French humor, the spirit of Paris with its abundance of bubbling vitality, the gift of the French to indulge in culinary temptations and the joy of life are a blessed haven capable of restoring self-confidence and soul harmony to the diverse trio of women.

Corinne Gantz was born in France, where she spent the first twenty years of her life. He studied contemporary arts at the Sorbonne, worked in the field of marketing and advertising in Paris, San Francisco and Los Angeles. She is the author of the popular blog Hidden in France, where she comments on relationships, food, furniture and all things quintessentially French with her trademark sparkling sense of humor. She lives near Los Angeles with her husband and their two sons. "Asylum in Paris" is her debut novel, translated into many languages and appreciated by readers at large. At the end of the book you will find an appendix with the main character's favorite cooking recipes - another display of wit on the part of the author.



Ten years ago, in the realm of cheeseburgers and donuts, Annie never thought about what she was chewing. Lately, food had become an obsession-he loved thinking about it, talking about it, and cooking it, even though he was putting on an unacceptable amount of weight as a result of his culinary experiments, unacceptable at least by Parisian standards, which meant that the word Food was no longer was written with a capital letter. She must have reached the bottom of her taste sensations, because yesterday she bought the "Bible of Butter" on an empty stomach. This was not a cookbook dedicated to butter, but rather a bible praising butter. Last night, after putting the kids to bed, she plucked up the courage to peek at the croissant recipe. Did she cringe in horror at the discovery that those innocuous pastas she had blithely devoured for the past ten years contained nearly 99% butter? Of course. Did it stop her from rolling up her sleeves and making croissants with her own hands? Apparently not.

Apparently, this was her therapy. The oil. She convinced herself that she needed butter, heaps of lumps of butter. She needed oil because she was grieving.

Unless what he felt was rage, not grief. She preferred to believe that grief, not rage, was behind the thirteen pounds she had put on since the night of the accident. She preferred to believe that it was grief, not rage, that kept her from putting on lipstick or going to the hair salon for years.

No matter how frantically she stared out the window, Paris stubbornly refused to open her eyes. It was six in the morning, but there was no sign that the day would ever begin. As usual, she woke up at four, lonely and restless. Lone enough to reflect seriously on her situation, she crept upstairs, taking the steps three times, with the goal of waking the children for breakfast at the crack of dawn.

She was still in a bathrobe, uncombed and unwashed, but the shower would have to wait. The water pipes had a habit of squealing like a cat in heat at the slightest provocation, and the children needed sleep. And she turned to the walls and high ceiling of the kitchen with a request for work, if possible rough work, if only she would be occupied for an hour. But the old tiled floor looked immaculate. Her collection of trinkets on the open shelves was a colorful, well-organized flea market. On another shelf were nuts, grains, and beans, arranged by color in glass jars, and they didn't need reordering either. The chicken soup was already simmering on the antique stove, twelve lovely, miniature croissants, made the night before, still unbaked and undamaged, ready to be shoved into the oven and then into her mouth.

With the soup bubbling gently, the soundtrack to her morning, and the smell of yeast, cooked vegetables, and freshly brewed coffee wafting through, she grabbed a cookbook and the handy French-English dictionary from the shelf, sat down at the massive table in the middle the kitchen and leafed through the leaves impatiently. Finally, a fish wrapped in something white piqued her interest. Bar de mer dans sa croute de sel was the name of the recipe. As if to confirm her guess, her fingers began to search the pages of the dictionary for the word croute.

Cora! S alt crust on sea bass. The recipe called for one kilogram of coarse sea s alt from the Guerand region – using ordinary table s alt was a punishable offense according to French cookbooks. The dish seemed unimaginably difficult to prepare and procure the ingredients for. Great. She grabbed her Pokemon calculator and dialed in the numbers. Ten years after moving to France, he was still converting recipes from French to English, grams to ounces, and centiliters to cups.

Not because he couldn't learn, but because he had his own, unwavering way of doing things. Images of food scraps appeared on the screen with a slight crackle, and she took satisfaction in the fact that her calculator was also en croute. The prospect of the recipe suddenly made her feel better. Her day would probably be spent planning, shopping, and cooking sea bass baked in s alt that no one would eat, but at least she'd be busy enough to shut her mind. More precisely, for a while he would not think about money or the lack of it. Cooking would ease the perpetual ping-pong of thoughts in her head, a game where the ball never rested and no one scored. Because now that Johnny was dead, his death would forever be his or her responsibility, his or her fault, his or her betrayal, back and forth for the rest of eternity.

In a sense, the unfortunate accident was the result of a simple mathematical equation: alcohol + speed=death. And no sane person could say that luck has a hand in this job. But all the irreversible things that were said that night… Here is the unfortunate confluence of circumstances. Knowing and pretending not to know - it tormented her heart, undermined her spirit, disturbed her nights.

… … …

There was a muffled knock on the outer door. Luke! She immediately realized that she hadn't closed again the night before. Oh, mon Dieu, Luca would now sink and sulk on the moot point of her negligence alarmante. Sure, he could have gone in through the back door into the kitchen like everyone else, but no, he had to make sure it was locked to make a point. It is not known who had assigned him this mission. Besides, Annie lived in the sixteenth arrondissement of Paris, and the street was lonely.

She heard Luca struggle to get in, tugging on the loose handle, then slammed the warped door with her full body weight. That's how most things in her home worked, or rather refused to work. How he loved to hint to her about the neglected house! And she took that as a criticism of the way she led her life in general.

Annie held out her soft pink terrycloth robe, overflowing with hearts, a gift from the boys for Mother's Day. This robe was a disgrace anyway, she looked like a kat in it, but what was a mother expected to do? They had pooled their pocket money to buy it for her. She quickly ran a hand through her hair before Luca caught a glimpse of what her children had dubbed a 'Mohican' and steeled herself to meet his righteous indignation as well as the inevitability - he was always clean shaven and dressed in cashmere and smelled deliciously of Guerlain's Abby Rouge, while she reeked of soup and looked like one of those loiterers talking to themselves wandering the streets of Paris. They usually wore pink heart-shaped robes. A gust of January wind came in with Luke, and he closed the door with an effort. He began to blow on his fingers to warm them, then put his hands in the pockets of his black coat and tottered toward the stove like a penguin displaying artificial self-pity.

– Oh, enough of her! said Annie.

Luka approached the stove, smelled the boiling soup skeptically, stretched her hands over the hot stove for a few seconds before removing her outer garment and curling her wiry body into a kitchen chair.

– Do you have any of that nasty American coffee? – he asked finally.

Luca's English was good, but his heavy accent gave it away. Annie rose from her chair and almost turned her back on him so he wouldn't see her smile - after all, she was mad at him, and he was mad at her. She grabbed a Mickey Mouse mug from the cupboard, moved the coffee maker from the counter to the table, all the while worrying about the size of her ass in that dressing gown. Not that she slammed the glass on the table, but she wasn't very delicate while pouring him the coffee.

She had to remind herself that Luca was very concerned about her. He was here now because he knew about her insomnia and everything else. Almost everything else. He'd come for a coffee before work, but she suspected he wanted to check on her and make sure she'd dress and do her hair properly today. And his plan usually worked: what else, if not the raised disapproving eyebrow of an extremely elegant Frenchman, could whip her into shape and send her into the shower?

She often wondered why Luca kept messing with her. Just as often, including today, she wondered why she was dealing with him herself. After Johnny's death, she had kicked many of the well-meaning people out of her life. "Better alone than in bad company," she had explained to the boys. And… yes, it occurred to her that she might have been the bad company.

Luca was inspecting his glass for foodborne bacteria, perhaps looking for the words for his next sentence.

– You are shooting at the messenger – he said.

– You kill! We say kill.

Here they are again. She could feel the anger rising inside her like steam from an old locomotive. Luca had the gift of teasing her. This wasn't some old anger, not at all. It was fresh, "extra" anger, and new each time. And no-she was sure of it-the anger had nothing to do with the fact that Luca had avoided the accident and Johnny hadn't.

Johnny urged Luke to go out that night, but he preferred to stay home and watch the Music Festival on TV in peace. Playing dead was the surest way to turn down an offer from Johnny, so Luca didn't pick up the phone at all. “Steve and I are coming to get you,” the recording of Johnny's message read. "You can't live your life through television, you peasant.""

The accident certainly wouldn't have happened if they hadn't gone to get him, but Luca couldn't be blamed for that in any way. The newspapers had called the chain accident with ten cars strung together a bloodbath. The large amount of alcohol ingested had probably slowed down Johnny's reflexes. The alcohol or the thoughts of the just ended fight with her. No, she didn't consider Luca responsible for anything, he didn't deserve it. She just wished she could apply the same logic to her self-accusations.

The reasons why she was angry, if not furious with Luke had nothing to do with the crash and were entirely, one hundred percent related to his mistake in dealing with what was no doubt her personal business – he was trying to control her life.

Luca dropped a lump of sugar into his coffee, stirred it, brought the cup to his mouth, and looked around as if stunned by the fact that he had landed in Annie's kitchen again.

“Ideally, you'll be able to list the house for sale in February,” he said without looking up.

Annie felt that pinch in her nose that came before she cried. She pointed to the trays on the counter, where there were three small, neat rows of five-centimeter pots under the biolight.

– My tomato seedlings? - she said, and although she had not intended to raise her voice, a piercing sound was heard. – What will happen to them? Does this seedling mean something to you?

– There is no… – Luca paused for a moment before continuing: – a supernatural way of dealing with the money of raising three children in a trendy Parisian neighborhood.

– I will find a job, she said coldly.

Luca looked at her well-manicured nails.

– If you lack the relevant skills, you may not be able to sell yourself properly.

“Skills, skills,” Annie mimicked, and it was her best rendition of Peter Sellers' French accent. – I am a mother of three boys under the age of nine. I have skills to spare. I was the valedictorian who gave the speech at our school. Does that tell you anything?

– No, he sincerely replied.

Of course she didn't say anything to him, she was well aware of it. It meant nothing in France, and ten years after the event, in the absence of any work experience, it wouldn't mean much in the States either.

– The house is all we have since the tragedy.

– It's been three years since the tragedy, Annie.

What annoyed her about Luca could be compared to a newly produced technicolor, 3D version of an old movie. From his aristocratic posture, his serious expression to his hands, he kept waving his hands as he spoke. Such an annoying, snobbish, repulsive French manner! Her gaze lingered on his neck.

– Two and a half years! And the children feel just as fragile and vulnerable as they did the day Johnny died.

Luca looked at her.

– This applies to you. Rather for you. The boys are doing great.

– Nobody feels great! We are all scarred! We are scarred for life!

Her voice changed and before she could do anything to prevent the consequences, she was already bent over the table crying softly. Luka got up from the chair, took out a handkerchief and handed it to her. She ignored him; instead, he grabbed a questionably clean napkin and blew his nose into it. He reached over and patted her back awkwardly. Her tears did not deter him for long. He put his hand on her shoulder and said, – Annie, you must sell her, or they will take her away from you and you will own nothing. You can't afford to pay the mortgage. Sorry, but financially you have no choice.

Annie wiped her eyes with the napkin and jumped up.

– Damn the mortgage! – she strained.

Relieved that she had stopped crying, Luca returned to his chair and continued to watch her run around the kitchen, opening and slamming cabinet doors, setting aside flour, butter, and eggs before stomping the products on the kitchen table one by one. Luke raised an eyebrow.

– What are you doing now? What are you messing up? Are you making cupcakes?

She gritted her teeth hard enough to break one of her molars, measured out three cups of flour, poured it into a pile on the table, and was pleased to see a small cloud of flour invade Luke's personal space. He waved his hand to disperse the cloud, while Annie formed a hole in the center of her creation and dropped a few tablespoons of softened butter inside.

– C'est beaucoup de beurre, non? – suggested Luka.

– I have a thousand choices, countless options in fact, she declared as she cracked egg after egg and poured their contents into the mixture from a high – plok, plok… She was acting decisively.

– Please sit down for a minute. Enough with these eggs, he begged her.

– Either the eggs or your skull, Luca. And fees must be paid! Electricity too! Annie practically screamed. – And I'm going to keep the fucking house!

– Just consider your monthly food expenses, he began, which are exorbitant, by the way.

Was Luka still talking? She had an epiphany at that very hour, yes, half past six in the morning. Everything fell into place: the small, perfect crescents of dough on the counter, Luke in his designer suit and moving lips, the children sleeping upstairs, the mug with Mickey Mouse's face on it, the open cookbook, the sticky mess on the wooden table. He raised his hands with dough sticking to them and held them in the air. There was flour in her hair and her expression showed stubbornness.

Luca looked at her.

– What?

– I have an idea, here's what – Annie said with wide eyes, at the same time she was white as a canvas and looked like she was sick.

At this point, she had already made up her mind.

Popular topic