I See London, I See France…

Go straight to this post’s accompanying album here; but as usual, it’ll make more sense after this:

I friggin’ love Paris. Not the most original sentiment in the world, I know – but for me, a new one. When Marley and I were there in 2005, I was ill, I was homesick, I was overwhelmed and underprepared. We were young, and it was a first visit, and that means frantically trying to fit the entire city into a few days. Which, ironically, inevitably means that you’ll do less, and remember less, than if you tried less. So this time, I was determined, would be different. This time would be about me and Paris and the places where we overlap. Which turn out to be not so much the big grand things of the City of Love, but rather a few smaller, more pedestrian things. Food. Beauty. Language. And men. Ah, these Parisian men.

The first night I was there, admittedly, I didn’t exactly eat like a queen. I spent so long wandering along the river taking pictures that although my first taste of France was indeed a crepe, I was still hungry and the only place still open near the hotel was a Chinese restaurant. But it was GOOD Chinese food – and eating it while sitting cross-legged on a giant hotel bed watching House in French was still pretty danged awesome. Dunno who the French v/o actor is, but damned if he doesn’t capture Hugh Laurie.

Here’s an excerpt from my travel journal, dated the next day.

“Just ate the best salad ever. Officially beats the spinach and corn with Bavarian smokie from The Cup in Squamish. Even though the sweet Australian girls there let me sub the mac and cheese for spinach. Because I don’t think the lads at the Brasserie where I got the new king of salads would mind subbing… which is kind of the point. The French see flavour as a universal human right. I’ve always found Paris quite visually bland; from a purely visual standpoint I’ve never really ‘gotten’ its rep as the City of Love. But this trip, less than a day in, I’ve already come to the conclusion everyone inevitably comes to. By definition you have to get there on your own, and it is this: It is the FOOD that makes this city such an emotional place. My first stop today was a little bakery on Rue de Sevres for breakfast. I had a ham and cheese croissant. I use that name for it, but the thing I ate for breakfast today bore little relation to the dried up log of bread with processed meat and cheese-flavoured sludge inside that we call a ham and chese croissant. This thing was actually flaky, for one. Crisp and soft and buttery. Filled with fat slabs of real cured ham, just salty enough, and then covered in cheese, the whole shebang, and baked just enough to be crispy and brown. Delicious.

Next stop, Patisserie Laduree. The strawberry and pistachio tart I had, sitting on the side of the cobbled Seine path, was amazing. Not too sugary, not too creamy – but filled with sugar and cream. The pastry, again, actually flaked – didn’t move all as one overmixed unit, didn’t crumble. Clue number one this was actual food! The berries were tiny ornaments, but each one was perfectly ripe. Inside, beneath the cream, more slices of berry, along with custard and more fresh, cold cream. Crisp, sweet, flaky… It was like the whole thing grew on some hertofore undiscovered tart tree known only to the French.

And then this salad. For under 5 euros, I got a huge bowl filled with fresh lettice, cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet crunchy, punchy cornichons (pickles), sweet, fresh corn, fat slices of cheese, soft bowtie pasta, and roast chicken. And when I say roast chicken I don’t mean the dry, tasts-like-chicken sprinkling you’d get on a Safeway salad. I mean moist, seasoned, cooked just enough, barely breaded on the edges poulet.”

I know I sound a little dramatic there, but man – we do food pretty well in Canada, and the English certainly have their moments… but it’s just not the love affair for us that it is for the French. Maybe we just feel too guilty all the time… If so, I think we have a fighting chance. Our relationship with food is getting better all the time, our choices smarter and fresher. And little trips like this one can’t hurt our move in that direction.

When I ate the salad in question, I sat in a little park just down the street from Dehellerin, an amazing kitchen supply store once frequented by Julia Child. It was sort of out of the way, and filled mostly with college students and corporate lunchers rather than tourists. As I sat there, squinting at the children climbing all over a remarkable-looking statue of a disembodied head and hand, I discovered the key to making this city seem less hazy and grey. Maybe, back in the mists of time, this is where Parisiens got their reputation for exuding excess cool. You know how sunglasses turn up the contrast on a spring scene, making it just a little sharper, bringing colours into sharper relief? Bingo. Good thing I got a pair that fits over my specs.

The rest of my day alone in Paris was just as lovely. I took a boat cruise along the Seine (there are lots of pics in today’s Flickr album. Link is below). And I found that I didn’t really need the sunglasses after all, once I got into the rhythm of the sights… Who cares if I’m smoggy and old, the city seems to say. I’ve got charm.

The final highlight of the day wasn’t culinary but linguistic. I’d been enjoying using my French anyhow, all that vocabularycoming back in dribs and drabs. But then I wandered into Forum les Halles, an underground mall, as much a product of chic, modern Paris as the Cathedrals and galleries are of the historical city. I sat in the film library a while, flipping through a French biography of Peter Weir… then I wandered into the cinema next door and ended up with a ticket to seeIl Bidone, an old Fellini film noir about a group of con men in the Italian countryside. It was dubbed in Italian and subtitled in French, and absolutely beautiful. I felt so very Parisienne, riding the metro at night, listening to the buskers (there are some videos in the album below), walking the streets in my sandals, and heading home to eat groceries I’d picked up at La Grande Epiceree at the Bon Marche. Which I suppose brings me to my last point – mabe it was just how damn cheerful I was to be there, but I’ve never had that many adorable young men lock eyes with me in a 24 hour period. I sat across from a cutie on the train from the airport; smiled back at a few handsome twenty-somethings along Rue de Sevres; and when I headed downstairs in the evening to get a corkscrew from the landlady, a very nice-looking tall drink of water in the lobby ignored his friends to have a halting conversation with me, smiling and trying to get me to take his place in line. I’m pretty sure he winked when he said au revoir. Maybe they’re just more affectionate here – whatever it was, I like it.

For more, and for some truly beautiful sights, check out the album.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Wife on April 29, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Damn you, Wife! I’m sitting here too lazy to make food, but starving nonetheless, and then I read this 70% food related post. I want Paris in front of me now, so I can destroy it with my teeth. om nom nom!

    *sigh*

    Seriously, that food sounds mighty fine. Also: the men sound mighty fine! I’m not surprised at all the looks you were getting, given the coquettish look you’re rocking (see picture below). Hawt!

    I’m so glad you followed your heart/gut/nose etc and went to France instead.

    Much love,
    Herself

    Wait- I just went and looked at your photos. OH MY GOD. That food! The jewellery! The staircase! The sunglasses (very nice)! I need to go make dinner…..

    Reply

  2. Posted by Georgia on April 30, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Okay……now I am HUNGRY!
    How will a chicken wrap from
    McDonald’s ever compare?

    Reply

  3. Posted by Boffo on May 3, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Now after all this I am soooooo hungry for French pastry! Love your observations about Paree….so much fun and the pix were great…..you go girl…Aunt Rita ( green with envy as I looked at the video of the art gallery…will I ever get there I keep wondering…..sigh!!!!!

    Reply

  4. Posted by Aunt Kathy on May 4, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    Hi Sam,
    Just getting caught up on the last few weeks blog! The pics are great…what is happening with any of the men?? You make the food sound so special; I wonder how the pastry compares with a little shop we go to in Little Britain( just north of us) I used to take Dad there for buttertarts.They have about 15 kinds! We biked there last week and I had aspargus and cheese croissant for lunch and yes I had a buttertart and thought of Dad.When will Italy happen and we hear about the men on their mo-peds and how they compare to the French? Let us know about the publishing? I like the sound of the girls schools and the respect!!

    Reply

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