samedi, mai 29, 2004

Jottings from Paris

Sipping Veuve Cliquot with charming and witty friends on the grass of the Champ de Mars overlooking the Eiffel Tower is a perfectly sublime way to pass a sunny May afternoon. Having repeated the experience with a different champagne, a different park and view, and another friend no less charming and witty, I can definitely say that this risks becoming a favorite past time of mine. I never really thought a picnic basket would be a thing of use in Paris, but I am now slightly regretting having put mine up for sale in the yard sale last December...

If at all possible, do try to avoid going to an exclusive, tasting menu only restaurant where reservations must be made three months in advance, in the the full throes of a head cold. You will not be able to taste a thing, and this will make you feel a million times worse. Take the starter, a green pea mousse with a cream topping served in a delicate glass and tiny spoon, which you are advised to plunge into all layers to get the full array of flavors. It will taste like, and please pardon the image here, nasal congestion. The lovely pale champagne, whose bubbles will barely penetrate your stuffed head, will taste like, yes, slightly bitter head congestion. You will cry out with delight when the crab and lobster millefeuille with paper thin slices of avocado manage to awaken your dulled tastebuds, but you will curse Willie the janitor who infected you when you cannot perceive the slightest flavor of the mysterious white wine chosen for you by the arrestingly handsome waiter, which you still, in your stubborness insist is Viognier, despite not being able to taste much more than, you guessed it, nasal congestion. It will be a bittersweet experience, sort of like going to an opera in Vienna and not being able to hear a note. But you promise yourself to try again, and take your vitamins religiously for weeks leading up to the day of the hard won reservation. And this time you'll split the bill.

Is there any way to truly thank someone who has helped you beyond what you ever imagined possible? How do you thank a guardian angel? Is it enough to simply try to deserve them? Chocolates from the Rue de Rennes seem not quite up to the task...

Mint juleps are indeed a pain to make in Paris, especially if you insist on using a stainless steel contraption that will only crush a total of 5 ice cubes at a time, which will then immediately melt upon contact with straight Kentucky bourbon. But if your suggestion of a dishtowel and a hammer have fallen on deaf ears attached to an Austrian head determined to use a German engineered stainless steel contraption, you must conjure up your Southern gentility and smile it away. You will then, days later, amusedly watch a thoroughly Parisian bartender in the most Parisian of cafe bars whip up a perfectly delightful mint julep in the space of three seconds, complete with mint spring, and chuckle to yourself at how you, and others, can complicate things unnecessarily.

While Paris may indeed truly deserve its reputation for coldness and indifference, I find it a magical place, where possibilities abound and people never cease to surprise me. Sometimes, it is a simple gesture, like a coffee on the house, or the metro train door opened for me as I struggle with my shopping bags by a young Arab teenager with shyly smiling almond eyes. This is, after all, the city of my guardian angel, of the sweet and warm Isabelle, of Laurent, Nicolas and many others who are sure to touch me and enrich my life, but who I cannot possibly yet imagine.

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