Dear Professor and co.,
It is good to know there is still a place for me at home, if only to keep the four of you from subsisting on Annie’s mac ‘n cheese and packaged granola bars. And, of course, to keep our three jeniuses safe from ‘the Jailer’. It does bring me great mirth – hearing that our boys prefer whichever parent is NOT at home with them. Perhaps, if I’d continued with full-time work the past six years, they would love me that much more.
But alas, this is about Paris, not fickle allegiances. Oh, wait.
Following our carb-intensive tea at the Dorchester, and a reunion with a cousin we hadn’t seen in 17 or 23 years, we boarded the Eurostar for a quick jaunt to Paris.
I spent the bulk of the 2.5 hour journey with my head bobbing and mouth hanging open, deliriously convinced the hysterically-laughing ladies in front of me were laughing at me. Upon arrival at the Gare du Nord, it was time to put my high school French to use and find Bus no. 38 to our rental apartment. This proved no easy feat, as we spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out how to purchase tickets and locate the bus stop.
In hindsight, we should have perhaps taken a cab. But then we wouldn’t have indelible memories of carrying insanely heavy luggage up and down various stairs or enduring the wrath of Parisians for taking up too much room on the bus. (Allow me to take a moment to talk about Parisians. Tourists often complain about how rude the French are, but I’d apparently been too entranced by the architecture and parks – and the pastries – that I’d failed to notice. This trip, however, gave me some firsthand experience. London 4-Paris 1.)
After what felt like forever, we arrived at the apartment building containing our rental flat, and we hauled our luggage up a series of tiny wooden stairs likely older than the United States of America. The flat’s owner ushered us inside where we quickly discovered the advertised ‘one bedroom’ meant ‘One room. With beds’.
Some call it semantics, I call it important.
‘Let me show you around,’ the owner – who, it has to be said, bore very little resemblance to the picture posted on her website – offered. In true Nicola fashion, I rolled my eyes at the absurd offer -there was nothing about the flat I could not see (or probably touch) from where I was standing. As luck would have it, she turned towards me right as my eyes veered into their sockets.
The slightly senior member of our party had taken ill the night before, which left my slightly junior companion and I to explore on our own.
Our first order of business involved procuring lunch at Cafe Breizh, for our second – though certainly not the last – iteration of jambon et fromage in as many days. After inhaling our galette and crepe sucre (meh, was the verdict) we left in search of Merci, a store recommended to each of us by different people, including the remarkably talkative Americans at the tiny cafe table next to ours.
After gazing upon the beautiful merchandise we set off for the slightly more affordable Monoprix, where my main order of business was buying clay jars of yogurt, jam and bags of salt, of course. Perhaps another eccentric hallmark of Nicola: buying odd, exceedingly heavy things and schlepping them across great distances.
We returned to our ‘one bedroom’ appartement where I deposited my yogurt in the mini fridge. It was difficult to discern where the handle was – I thought it was on the left, but it turned out to be on the right. A conclusion I came to after yanking on the left side to no avail.
J is for jenius.
My sister and I headed into the Marais to browse the series of beautiful shops and, ostensibly, for that other meal most people call ‘dinner’. After what felt like hours of traipsing along the same darkened streets, staring at unremarkable restaurants, we reached a critical juncture: ‘this is why people eat at McDonalds,’ she made reference to our visit to the Arc d’Or in 2002, which occurred after hours of walking along the Boulevard de St Germaine, unwilling to enter any of the succession of prototypical Paris restaurants.
Cool heads prevailed this time around and we took a taxi to a little wine bar (and by ‘little’ I mean seven seats) recommended by a friend. We ordered some lentils, chèvre with honey and cured duck. To accompany our choices – all of which I gathered, given the lack of forks and plates, were to be spooned on top of bread – we were given four slices of bread.
That’s two each, in case you didn’t realize.
On this visit, more than any other, I became aware of the French’s displeasure with our [North] American mannerisms – the food you order, the time you order it, how you eat it – chances are you’re offending their sensibilities without even realizing it. Par exemple, perhaps they find it vulgar to deliver an entire loaf of sliced bread to a table. Perhaps it appears garish, unrefined. But I’d prefer not to sit around waiting for ‘whoever’s job it is’ to remember to bring me a few more measly slices of bread, when it finally occurs to them that my plate might be empty.
At some point I decided to use the bread plate as my personal assiette, and spooned some lentils directly onto the metal receptacle so that I might eat it without the glutenous middleman. Of course, this was before I realized I didn’t have a personal utensil.
‘Is there a problem with zee lentils,’ the server inquired upon approaching the wine crate that doubled as our table. In a voice that suggested putting lentils on a bread plate is nothing short of barbaric.
‘No!’, I did my best assure her, offering some nonsensical explanation to mitigate my faux pas, and proceeded to eat every last (delicious) lentil in an effort to prove my undying affection for them.
We cabbed it back to our ‘studio’, where we spent an inordinate amount of time revising the following day’s itinerary – the one that would forever be known as ‘the day we walked twelve miles.’