When the planes struck the towers I was in Paris, working in Taillevent’s pastry kitchen, preparing petit fours for the lunch service. At the time, I was a stagaire and one of my responsibilities was making miniature versions of madeleines, passion fruit tarts, chocolate tarts, fruit jellies, wild strawberry tarts and chocolate truffles for the end of each meal.
After lunch, the cooks and chefs went on coupe heure—the daily two-hour break before the dinner service. That day, when they returned, each cook peered into the kitchen’s doorway to look at me. I was alone and wondered why they stared at me silently.
Eventually, the pastry chef and sous chefs showed up. One of the waiters ran in to tell them, to tell us all—“two planes crashed into the World Trade Center! One plane crashed into the pentagon and another in Pennsylvania—il y a 10,000 morts!” I could not believe my ears—especially the part about 10,000 people dead. I didn’t completely believe him, but I was worried. My dad was scheduled to fly into New York that morning from South Africa where he was attending the U.N. conference against racism. My only thought was—"was that my dad’s plane?"
We were about to break for staff dinner. Instead, I went to one of the neighborhood bars to watch the news and see what was happening. And there it was on the screen over our heads—a perfectly blue sky and one burning tower and then a plane crashing into the second tower. It was like a mirage—it did not seem like it could possibly be real. The image re-played on loop. There were other Americans in the bar and one of them said, "this was done by gangs—the crips or the bloods." I’ll never forget that line.
I called my mom and told her I was worried this was the start of a world war. I babbled endlessly. She listened and then explained what her day had been like and what was going on and said that she doubted my dad was on any of the planes because he was flying from London. I didn’t feel any less worried.
During dinner service I told the chef that my dad was supposed to be flying into New York. He tried to comfort me and said he’d be fine and then let me leave a little early that night.
At the time I was living at my dear friends Tania and Shay’s apartment. When I got home I just balled. Tania had the television on. I still couldn’t believe my eyes. Shay had brought Mike, a musician he was working with, over that night. It was the first time I had met Mike. He was very cute and I was embarrassed to be crying, sorry I couldn’t make a better impression, but the tears kept coming. I offered him a cup of tea.
The days following September 11th blurred into one anxiety-filled week. I finally heard from my dad. He was stranded in London. He was supposed to have flown out of Heathrow on the 11th but then the attacks happened so his flight was cancelled. Meanwhile the streets around Taillevent, especially the Champs Elysees, filled with soldiers with huge guns. I spoke with the doorman at Taillevent and he said that all the other three star Michelin restaurants in the city had hardly any customers. Somehow, Taillevent stayed busy.
The world war that I feared did not happen, but I chose to stay in Paris for a few years longer.
The loss of life that happened on September 11th and that continued to happen because of the attacks, because of the wars, seems very real now. I don’t really like to write about sad things on this blog, but on this 10th anniversary of that horrible day it seems appropriate to take a moment to remember what happened. For me, so many of the experiences, things and people I love are bound up in that day: my family, Paris, making sweet things to eat, my favorite buildings in New York, my friends in Paris. I pay my respect and condolences to everyone who perished or lost someone because of 9/11.