I spent my junior year of High School in Strasbourg, France. I was a Rotary Club exchange student. This was before email and cell phones, back in the day when a dollar was worth twelve francs. It was simultaneously the best and worst year of my life. I became fluent in French and I gained fifty pounds. I went from Berkeley High to a private, Catholic all-girls’ school. I learned impeccable French manners by day, and sobbed myself to sleep at night, frantically missing my loud, wild family back in California.
Towards the end of the school year, my grandfather came to visit me. I was so excited to be able to spend time with him and planned a special weekend filled with sightseeing, socializing, and sampling local foods. He was thrilled, and we both had a fabulous time together, but the thing he always remembered most was the four croissants.
I really had gained fifty pounds that year (this is a story for another time), so I knew my way around most of the bakeries in the city. One of the activities I had planned for our weekend was to travel through town, taste-testing four very different criossants: the super gourmet, the “fast food,” the cafe, and the bakery. My grandfather loved this idea, and he loved comparing all of the different croissants, but I think what he loved most was that we were on a quest. He talked about that quest until the day he died: it was really special to him.
It was special to me as well. Since that time, I’ve made it a point to incorporate a good quest into any trip I take. It doesn’t really matter what the object of the quest is. It can be simple (a croissant) or complex (African Barbershop Art). The main point is that while you are on a quest, you are experiencing a new city in a very full, rich way. It’s awesome.
Bird and I just got back from New York City. We went on two different quests while we were there. The first was mine: to find a new perfume. This quest led us from the counters of Barney’s to the expanse of Bond no. 9 to the essential experience of Bigelow and finally to the West Village, where we found what we were looking for in a tiny shop named Aedes de Venustas.
Aedes de Venustas is like a little jewel box. Tucked into a corner of the village, it is a delicious treat just waiting to be discovered. Perfect for a quest. Every corner of the shop is swathed in rich fabrics and laden with sparkling bottles or creamy looking candles or intricate boxes. It’s a hushed and almost reverent space, but it’s not pretentious or precious. It just feels like it was meant to be there. I sampled several different fragrances, finally selecting L’Eau de Trente-Quatre by Diptyque. It’s fresh and green. Kind of citrusy. Perfect.
Our next quest was more targeted. We called it the four cookies in honor of my grandfather. We swerved through the city, tasting cookies in various bakeries and enjoying them all, but we ended up at the Momofuku Milk Bar, where the cookie reigns supreme.
Long live the quest.