Tag: baguette

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.)

 

 

A change

Down the street, I see a Starbucks. It proudly advertises it has Internet access. I need to let my friends and family know I’m OK.

And yes, it’s moronic that my first baguette in Paris will come from a Starbucks, but I’m hungry and I need Wi-Fi. I stand in line, reading the menu. Everyone in front of me is young, thin, and chattering away in French. I wonder what I’ll say to the barista.

I’m sure he can speak English, but I have to use my French; I got a degree in it, for crying out loud. But I’m so nervous. It’s forty degrees Fahrenheit outside but I’m sweating bullets in here because I’m about to converse with a real French person for the first time in many years. I hope nothing comes out of my nose.

I give him my order. He understands. I exhale. Then he grabs a paper cup, a black marker and looks at me.

Prenom?” he asks.

Ok, I got this. He’s asking for my first name.

“Cathy,” I say. He stares at me blankly. Then I remember, I’ve got to drop the “th” sound because the French don’t understand that sound.

“Cah-ty,” I say, trying to make it sound French.

He still doesn’t understand.

OK, now what do I do? In my college French class, I was always “Catherine” so I blurt out that name, dropping the “th” and rolling the “r” with a percussive flare. He smiles and nods while scribbling “Catherine” on my Starbucks cup, and I feel like I’ve changed into someone else.

In Paris, I’m Catherine.