les bons

by jemma margaret

Ahem. In reaction to the deep negativity of my last post several of you (I’m talking to you parents!) responded in defense of Paris. Of course, I was not planning to end things on such a bad note. Through a happy turn of events I have landed a spot in the Maple Leaf Lounge at CDG (there are three types of people in an airport lounge at 9:15 in the morning: those drinking coffee, those drinking wine, and those drinking hard liquor disguised as coffee). Thus with unlimited versus 15 minutes of wifi, I can take some time to tell you about the good things of Paris that I am sure to miss sooner of later (that, or watch the meerkat show on tv).

1. The butter. Last night I enjoyed a dessert of chocolate bread and beurre au barat. Though we ended up throwing more food than I’d like to admit in the trash, I took care to ingest every last bit of the good stuff. Even if it meant that my butter:bread ratio was more or less 1:1. I know good butter can be bought (and I know exactly where and which one, too) in New York, but it costs a pretty penny and I don’t think it is sparkled with those lovely crunchy salt crystals. One mystery of Parisian butter that I never quite understood is that the choice was always between sweet or half-salted. Does there exist a whole-salted? It would be very very salty (this meerkat show is very captivating–thank goodness the sound is off).

2. The history. As a resident of Paris the city became increasingly ugly. People and cars and confusing roundabouts and cigarette strewn sidewalks. Having visitors encouraged me to visit the more scenic corners and to look up. A Dominos pizza store (of which there are many–what???) might be housed on the bottom floor of a gorgeous late-19th century building. Though I eventually grew tired of running around and around and around the Île St-Louis, I was always delighted to read the dozens of plaques marking every other house (practically) on that tiny piece of real estate. The streets composed a discrete textbook of who’s who (my favorite explanation of a street, where normally they put the person’s dates and professions, was “Rue Bonaparte: Napoléon Bonaparte–oh thank you for the clarification).  The pharmacies were older than most American cities.

3. The libraries. Free research libraries are a wonderful thing. Quiet, clean, with friendly staff and a very decent selection of books. Oh and historic (see above).

4. The markets. Ugh! Now I am going to need to pick out my own apples and strawberries! Allez-y madame, un euro! Though these weren’t farmer’s markets by any stretch of the imagination, I do enjoy the social institution of outdoor food shopping. Plus, through my Ruche I was able to meet a farmer or two (you can tell the farmer’s by their fingernails). Finally, markets gave me the illusion of having halfway decent French, since I can understand food words.

5. The wine. So cheap, so mysterious, almost always drinkable and sometimes very good.

6. The bakeries. Though I never found my ideal bread (which perhaps does not exist), I did enjoy buying my ryes and boules. Yes, they smelled heavenly and symbolized the Parisian populace. I felt less like a foreigner when foreign guests necessitated I make one or two baguette purchases a day. Especially those at noon or in the early evening, when I line might form out the door. And when I felt like treating myself, not much beats a butter croissant for more or less 1 euro (see #1).

7. The size. I probably used public transit in Paris about 20 times all together and took a taxi once. The city lends itself to the pedestrian (in square kilometers, if not traffic laws), and I will miss that.

8. The adventure of shopping for cheese. My cheese success was hit or miss, but it sure was fun bringing home something new and different. (The meerkats are facing off with an owl!). Specialty shops in France aren’t just for the well-to-do or food obsessed, they’re for everyone. If you bought a tiny and inexpensive cheese (hello, rocomador), no one thought worse of you. Well, as long as you gave exact change.

9. The garbage workers. I don’t know how many people it took to clean the streets of Paris (pretty much on a 24 hour schedule), but those men and women in bright green sure put in a huge amount of effort. They were also very friendly when I ran past them early in the morning. Never a rude comment and sometimes a good natured bonjour or bonne courage. I also appreciated their amusing truck advertisements, which pictured refuse workers materializing out of nowhere to hose down dog poop or catch a plastic bag. I imagine that if the visitors and inhabitants of Paris were more diligent about not throwing their trash every which way (and maybe composting?), the city would sparkle.

10. This blog. Thank you all for the dedicated reading, the lovely comments and the helpful suggestions. Without this blog, I would never have gone to the Puces (Clignancourt Flea Market) which housed a varying assortment of bric-a-brac including a disturbing taxidermied head of a bird on the body of a cat, some pretty fantastic prints of advertisements and illustrations, mostly hideous clothes, and enormous furniture pieces. I think I liked the laissez-faire vendors best of all as they sat reading paperback novels, greeting old friends, and generally ignoring the rest of us tourists. And knowing that I had an audience encouraged me (from time to time) to do things I might not ordinarily do (like stop studying and leave the house!). I will be back in Paris from time to time, but most likely will be switching my writing energies elsewhere. Where, exactly? I will let you know.

Gros bisous!