Archive for November, 2014

At the market

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It’s evening and I need to go the grocery store and stock up for the next few days. But I don’t have my cloth shopping bags with me. They don’t hand out plastic bags in Parisan markets—you are forced to “go green.” So I go back to my apartment, walk up the sixty-four steps, huffing and puffing, grab the bags and stuff them in my big purse.

I go into a market called The G20, which sounds rather communist. It’s a small, cramped place that smells like old fruit. I see a long row of vegetables and fruits from Morroco and Africa and I buy two kiwis because they’re firm and cheap. Then I walk to the dairy case. I get some yogurt and cheese, but I don’t see any milk. That’s odd.

In the cold case, there are boxed meals like chicken with rice or beef bourgignon. I turn a package over and read the ingredients of chicken, rice, onions, celery, garlic, cream, butter, salt, pepper. That’s it?

Where’s the sodium benzoate and maltodextrin? No disodium guanylate? Then I notice the expiration date is at the end of this week. This is like cooking a meal from real ingredients then putting it in Tupperware for a few days in the fridge. I’ve got to try this French processed food.

I notice the milk is in opaque, white, plastic jugs on a shelf. They look like bottles of bleach. Ew, I’m not buying that.

I stand in line. Watching all the people in front of me, I figure out I will have to bag my own groceries and do it quickly. That cashier is going a mile-a-minute, flinging all my stuff to the end of the chute like she’s paid a bonus whenever an item hits the metal barrier.

For all their languorous ways, Parisians don’t seem to want to linger here. The people behind me don’t bear down on me in an ugly way, but they are bearing down on me nonetheless. There’s not much personal space here at The G20. I’m bagging as fast as I can. I look at the lady who was behind me in line. Her jar of wrinkle cream is there, next to my yogurt. She smiles at me, but I know she’s really thinking, keep your paws off my wrinkle cream.

I had always thought it would be romantic to shop at a Parisian market and walk home with my purchases in the evening. Of course, that sweet image included a baguette, a bottle of wine, cheese and stalks of lavender blossoms in my lovely straw basket.

That fantasy dies when your bags are sagging with toilet bowl cleaner. As I lumber along the street like a pack mule, a French woman asks me directions to rue Charlemagne.

With all these bags hanging off of me, yes, I definitely look like a local but I have no idea what to tell her. I do a French shoulder shrug and say, “J’ le sais pas, Madame, desolée.” I’m quite proud of my casual, mumbled French now.

I begin the long climb to my apartment. This is a fantastic cardiovascular work out, I tell myself, if I don’t have a heart attack. By step thirty-five, I’m huffing and puffing.

By step sixty, I am truly dying. I can’t breathe. What a stylish obit I could have: She died in Paris, surrounded by a fine selection of French cheese and wine.

(Please don’t mention the toilet bowl cleaner.)

 

 

Love in the afternoon

After walking a bit, I head toward Place des Vosges and consider Ma Bourgogne. I know this is considered a good bistrot, and might cost a bit, but I need some pleasure. I walk in and stand at the entrance. I try to sound confident as I say, “Bonjour monsieur, une personne” to the waiter, a man in his 60s. He nods and takes me straight to a place in the back of this cozy cafe with 17th-century stone walls. There is banquette seating along the back wall where he seats me. He hands me the large menu with a slight bow, then promptly leaves. A man and two women are seated next to me.

The pale pink cloth napkins have the words Ma Bourgogne stitched in white thread. The white plates show Ma Bourgogne printed in black. I see the typical red and yellow zig-zag pattern of Burgundy on the ceiling between dark wooden beams.

I’m starving so anything on the menu will do, but I decide, close the menu and lay it on the crisp white tablecloth.

Vous avez choisi?

Vous avez choisi?

 

 

I look out the window. I read my Kindle. I feel odd. Everyone else has a partner. I was so confident in my twenties and thirties. When I was younger, I could eat alone in a nice restaurant without thinking twice about it.

When the waiter returns, I speak French and it’s good I get no puzzled stare from him. I order the salade de tomatoes et haricots verts and also the risotto des poissons.

I try to read my book again. I hope I appear calm, but inside I’m screaming. I should have grabbed a take-away dinner and gone back to my room. What was I thinking to come here to a nice place all alone? Is everyone talking about me?

The waiter places the salad plate slowly onto the table in front of me. It’s a movement so gentle and careful, I feel as if he cares about me. I know that’s ridiculous, but that’s how it feels to have someone be so gentle with my salad.

The people next to me are speaking so softly in French, I can barely hear what they’re saying and I’m only three feet away from them. In fact, everyone is speaking so softly, it melts into a low, constant rumbling, like the purring of a well-oiled motor.

I feel my nerves begin to relax. The lights are low, the décor is dark, and I sink slowly into the sweet calm of this good French bistrot. Now I nibble on the vegetables like a contented rabbit in a quiet meadow.

When the waiter sees I’ve put my fork down and stopped eating, he quietly comes to my table.

Vous avez fini, madame?” he asks in a soft voice reserved for lovers and dying mothers.

Oui, monsieur, merci,” I purr at him, smiling. We are all purring now. He carefully takes my plate away as if it’s a fine objet d’art that he will return to the Louvre. He loves me. I know it. He comes back with a bowl of seafood risotto that he places before me carefully as if I am the Queen of Sheba. The bowl is the size of a large casserole dish.

Bon appétit, madame,” he says, bowing his head, and then leaving. No judgment, no attitude, no comment. This bowl is enormous. I hope he assumes I’ve been starving in the forest for days. I swirl the creamy concoction with my spoon, looking for seafood. The smell of la marine wafts up to my nostrils. I slip a chunk of lobster into my mouth and flavor explodes with rich cream, wine, butter, and this sweet flesh of the sea. Mmm, a scallop, here a mussel. I nibble like a drunken kitten with milk-covered whiskers.

He gently takes away the bowl, he asks if I want the dessert menu. I laugh. He smiles. This man doesn’t tell me dessert is bad for me. He loves me. He wants me to enjoy life. He thinks it would fine if I wanted some chocolate now. I love him with an undying love. I will never love a man as much as I love this man. But I know I must stop. Gluttony is a sin.

Oh, non, non, non ! C’est trop !” I say. (Oh, no! That’s too much!)

Voulez-vous un café, madame?” he asks, tilting his head to the side like a puppy. Yes, I do want a coffee, my darling, if only to see you tilt your head to the side again.

There is no struggle to get the check this time. As he takes away my empty espresso cup and saucer, he purrs quietly, “Quelque chose d’autre?” (Something else?) and in my stupor of lobster, cream sauce, wine and love, I manage to say “Non, monsieur. L’addition, s’il vous plait?”

He bows again before the queen and returns with the bill on a porcelain tray. I slowly pull euro notes from my wallet, and in a daze I lay the bills down, including an extra tip for him, because I know he loves me and I love him. Ours was a brief affair.

A little kindness

Unfortunately, a group of amusants kept me awake until 2am last night. They got smashed, then walked home, singing French nursery songs which, of course, was hilarious to them.

Carefully I walk down the sixty-four steps, and then out the door. I quickly pull the door behind me and walk south on rue Turenne. It’s a beautiful clear, cold day and I’m in a great mood now after a few cups of coffee. I head toward rue Beautreillis to see where Jim Morrison lived.

Come on baby, light my fire. Yes, I wanted Jim Morrison to light my fire in 1967, although I had no idea how he would go about doing that.

Enchanted by his full lips and dark eyes, I put that famous poster up in my bedroom, declaring my womanhood, while my mother let it be known how much she hated his “long, nasty hair, weak chest, and those stupid hippie beads.”

He died in Paris on the third floor of a big, creamy-white building that looks like a vanilla cake with thick icing. His favorite café is still there. He took long walks around Paris but he basically stayed in his apartment because he was drugging and drinking himself to death. (Not a great role model, I’ll admit) As I walk along rue Beautreillis, I see a family of four in front of me. I hear New England accents.

“Oh, you’re American!” I say to the mother. “Did you know this is the street where Jim Morrison died?” I ask cheerily.

“Oh?” she says in an icy tone of voice that lets me know she’s horrified that I dared to speak to her. Obviously she is on her fabulous vacation with her husband who is undoubtedly a famous heart surgeon who plays handball with the President of Yale. Her two perfect, sun-kissed, blonde children stare at me, channeling the Ivy League vibe with their leather boat shoes and pastel button-downs.

“Well, it’s just something interesting about this street,” I say softly.

“Oh! Like there is nothing else interesting to be seen here?” she says, whipping me with fifty lashes of disdain against my unprotected good mood. Perhaps her children do not know that death exists. And of course she doesn’t want to tell them about a rocker who sucked down peyote and LSD with Jack Daniels. I understand that. But why did she have to be so mean to me? I feel rejected. I’m going back into hermit mode, back to my apartment.

But then I see a music shop on rue Beautreillis. Maybe looking at musical instruments will comfort me.

I walk into the small shop, and the owner greets me warmly. He is a tall, handsome Frenchman wearing a tailored black jacket, jeans and black boots. Of course he wants me to buy something, I know that, but his soft smile and brown eyes are so sweet, they help me to forget the mean, rich woman.

We speak French, then a little English, then a bit of French again. As I look at the leather-bound scores on the shelves, he notices my interest in Bach. He shows me a score of the St Matthew Passion, considered to be the greatest accomplishment of the German composer, published in Leipzig a few years after Bach’s death.

It costs 150 Euros (about $200). I want it. But I know I won’t buy it. What would I do with it? I smile at the man who has been so kind and gentle with me, after my encounter with the mean, rich woman. I thank him and walk out, telling myself I should return tomorrow and buy it. But that’s an expensive way to say thank you.

Kindle me

Back in my apartment, I brew a cup of black tea to warm me up. I get in bed, grab my Kindle and begin to read a new edition of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway.

A Moveable Feast is the first book I ever read about Paris when I was sixteen years old. Back then, my Scribner’s edition was fresh and new, just like me, ready to taste the love and joy of life. I fell in

Jardin du Luxembourg

Jardin du Luxembourg

love with Paris, and the idea of being a writer, as I read Hemingway’s description of the writers and artists he knew, and his strolls through the Jardin du Luxembourg, and the streets of Montparnasse and St. Germain.

Physical books are like people because they age like we do; they become wrinkled, yellowed, and fragile. They are loved, but one day, the time comes when they are too fragile to be touched and they are put away on a shelf, often forgotten in the stream of time.

But this e-book will never become yellow and musty-smelling. It will just be downloaded from the cloud, fresh and new, onto the next generation e-reader.

If only I could be an e-book.