I was last in Paris, pre-pandemic, visiting friends while finishing a novel. I am an inveterate morning person. My systems do not start to function unless I am out the door, coffee in hand and a tableau of people to amuse me.
I’d leave my guest flat in the 14th every morning at 8 a.m., stake out a lively café and order a buttery croissant with a ramekin of jam on the side, and café au lait. As I caffeinated and caught up on global events, I’d watch Paris head to work. Amidst the buzzing Vespas and growing traffic, a steady stream of men and women, oh-so well dressed, would pop in for an espresso before filing down into the Metro.
Memories of that scene still fill my heart and spark my mind. It felt like the start of something special every morning, orchestrated by the comforting rituals of the hoi polloi. The hiss of the coffee machine. The crumpling of the newspaper, the clattering of plates. The muttered “bonjours” and “merci, au revoirs.”
One year ago I launched my dream business, a food review and storytelling website called Beyondish. The concept was simple. Local dishes and local stories reviewed and narrated by the locals themselves. We were going to cover the states like a BBQ sauce-splattered napkin. Then every restaurant in America closed. Problem.
At the time, I had assembled a staff of about eight people, all unified by their love of food. Nearly everyone had a day job, so we met at nights in the cheerful large conference room of a WeWork in Manhattan – or Beyondish HQ as we liked to call it. I supplied the wine and beer, fresh baguettes, olives, prosciutto, slabs of Vermont cheddar and gooey Brillat Savarin. My peeps provided the creative spark. We rolled up our sleeves and brainstormed and presented and debated, as the vision morphed into the early blueprint of an actual business. And then the doors slammed shut.
Yesterday I received my second dose of the Moderna vaccine at a drugstore along a barren stretch of Hell’s Kitchen. A lone Halal peddler peered off into the windswept distance. But New York is coming around. If you’re 16 or older, today you’re eligible for a shot. By early May, most of my staff will be vaccinated.
We’ll be able to come back to work. In varying degrees across Europe, hopefully, so too will many. The question remains: do people want to?
The Future of WFH
The debate has already begun. Will workers choose to stay home and beam into their jobs, as they have been for a solid year? Has the future of the office been transformed? Are there people out there who actually look forward to a day full of coffee and Zoom?
Like everyone else on the planet, I have spent a year conducting my business by text, phone, email, and sputtering images of colleagues in living rooms, Tommy Bahama shirts, and converted closets. Sure, we were able to transmit the images and stories via screen. But the ideas – the heart and soul of any creative enterprise – were more elusive. We logged on, we un-muted, we got it done. But those towering moments of inspired genius that used to light us up with laughter and joy? They felt muted, too, like checking off boxes on the to-do list. Something was missing. And it wasn’t just the brie and wine.
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“Are You There?”
The battle cry of the sketchy Web connection leaves me bereft. I miss my workmates. I miss their smiling eyes, flannel work shirts and Doc Martin boots. I miss the nervous energy as people filter in, empty their backpacks and fire up their laptops. That palpable buzz when we’d get started, float an idea, generate a dialogue – the electricity in the room as passionate people grabbed the pulpit and fought for their cause.
Midtown Manhattan is still mostly abandoned, a seeming ghost town of handfuls of people filing from the subway and scurrying to their space. I know we are not alone. The French Government website, under the subhead Employment, states its position simply enough: “You must work from home if it is possible to do so.”
A year ago we were all commuters. But looking back, now it seems like more. Some semblance of order in our chaotic internal lives. Work gave us purpose greater than our individual selves; the office a stage on which to play off the cast of colorful characters who filled our days.
I know some are dreading the return. But I for one look forward. Because life, without at least some modicum of humanity, feels to me a most dreadfully starved affair.
Herb Roasted Spatchcock Chicken Recipe
We cooked. My god, we cooked. Of all the new recipes I tried, this is the one I will remember most, because it seemed so daunting, and yet proved to be manageable. Simple. And delicious.
- One 3-4 lb./1.5-2 kg whole chicken
- A couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- More than a few pinches of sea salt
- Ground pepper and herbs to taste (Herbes de Provence works great)
–Preheat oven to 425°F/220°C.
–Clean chicken, remove gizzards, and pat dry.
–With shears, knife or kitchen scissors, cut along one side of backbone from end to end.
–Repeat on other side of backbone, and completely remove it.
–Flip bird over, breast side up and press down ‘til it cracks and flattens.
–Voila! Spatchcocked chicken.
–Oil, season, and throw in a hot oven on a flat rimmed pan or baking dish for 25 minutes until browned and internal temp reaches 165°F/75°C.
–Slice, plate and enjoy!