Since atheists don't go to church
One of the curses and blessings of living in a foreign country is expatriates. With time, it is possible to tell the difference between an ex-pat and a tourist or even a student studying abroad. Ex-pats make themselves home in the in-between places, where they can adapt to their new life while still sticking with the comforting familiarities of home. This can be seen anywhere, from the more obvious places like China Town or Little Italy, originally where immigrants from a certain country or area would congregate in their own communities. However, it can also be subtler. It’s the understanding that passes between two people who can’t find a way to make themselves feel at home in their new country.
One of the places that I have found, filled with ex-pats, the French and study abroad students, is the restaurant Holy Belly, in Republique. It’s a small restaurant, one that can probably fit around 30 people at maximum, with an even smaller menu. Two cooks rule the kitchen, serving their patrons their variation on a world wide classic- pancakes. I could never imagine how good pancakes would taste until I had been denied them for 3 months. And I make the strong distinction between pancakes and crêpes, a variation of the same thing, but one that is very different.
Holy Belly is run by and employed with various English speakers who are making their way in France in some way or another. Most of them seem to be from Australia, though it’s clear that the owner has made a stop in Brooklyn on their way to France. Holy Belly is one of those places that it’s nearly impossible to be bored of, since the menu changes with the seasons and, adjusting to the flavors that are available. However, the atmosphere stays the same, the spirit of the place that’s half the space, half the people who I am with there.
At Holy Belly, I am less ashamed to speak in English because most people there speak some combination of English and French, using either when it applies or feels better. It feels more comfortable, and it’s soothing to be able to be an English speaker in a place that has been molded by other English speakers, and bears the quirks of the language. I go there and stop worrying about speaking French along with other English speakers, instead I just enjoy the time and get out the words that build up inside me when I can’t get across the feelings in the new language I am wrestling with. I talk about the issues that I’m used to talking about in New York City, putting me in my mental element. It’s shocking how much I missed just being able to talk, to knowing my words and thoughts and not bumbling through my explanations of my feelings.
Holy Belly at times seems like a holy place, a safe space to go for even a few hours, to confess what ever has been building up, to catch up, to join together over pancakes and strong Australian style coffee. Sometimes a great good place is just great and good because it exists, providing a service for those who need it.
(Photo credit to my friend, Kate Murphy)