Aliments & Hommes: Paris Vignettes

To know Paris is to know a great deal~~~ Henry Miller

KC Washington/author, Paris 2010

Take Out? Non!

There is no rhyme or reason why certain lines of poetry, bits of song, a passage from a novel, or a work of nonfiction sticks with you. It just does. I think of it as a touch of magic.

I was familiar with the New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik before I learned of his fascination with Paris. I enjoyed his work and as I put together my travel book list was pleased to discover that he had published a collection of essays on Paris in 2000.

Paris to the Moon chronicles Gopnik’s move to Paris with his wife and infant son and the glamour and drudgery which ensues. The book is whimsical and funny and covers all the places and people Francophiles demand when drinking in all things France, but one detail, comically brought to life during my own trip, has always stayed with me.

Gopnik shares many cultural differences between the United States and France, such as how children are treated and reared like mini adults and how part of the enjoyment of a fine meal is the daily shopping trip to the produce and meat markets. No Costco deep freezers and bulging pantries for the French---at least not in 1995 when the Gopniks traded in The Avenue of the Americas for Avenue des Champs-Élysées. I was familiar with continental child rearing and food shopping, but what I hadn’t heard of was the lack of take out. I guess if, as a country, one believes food tastes best when obtained fresh with your---or at least your maid’s---hand, then food delivered in cartons with plastic utensils would be répugnante.

Gopnik tells a funny tale of this discovery and how strange it is adjusting to it, especially as a New Yorker who believes it is his God-given right to get food of any kind at any hour. I enjoyed the story but determined to live as the French did, I didn’t think I’d have the chance to see what had changed in the 15 years between our respective jaunts. But then I got sick.

KC Washington/author, Paris 2010

There was a tiny, posh looking Moroccan restaurant a few doors down from my apartment in Le Marais. It was only open a few days a week and I was saving it for a special meal when I would stay closer to home. I had decided on a day during my last week in Paris before I boarded a train for London. The night came, I slipped into a pretty summer frock, and had a few aperitifs before heading over to the restaurant. It was as lovely and chill inside as it had looked through the window, but the sensation I'd been ignoring in between my second and third cocktail began to grow stronger.

I felt nauseous and lightheaded but powered through my falafel appetizer, trying desperately to enjoy the lush velvet banquettes and heavy draperies of the nouveau North African eatery. But as I waited for what promised to be a tender, flavorful lamb tagine, the minutes ticking slowly by beneath the low chime of the qanun (zither) in the hush of the nearly empty restaurant, the need to throw up would not be denied.

I hastily called to the waiter and asked for my food to be wrapped to go. He kept shaking his head in the negative. I was sweating and trembling as I tried to make him understand that I had to go. He asked in broken English if I was the one staying in apartment 15. I said yes, and then he rushed off. I was halfway out the door, euros tossed onto the table, uncaring if I was about to dine and dash when the waiter came out the kitchen with my dinner plates, utensils, and ladle all wrapped in foil. I couldn’t help but laugh as he told me to feel better and return the dishes when I could.

When I recovered from whatever 24-hour bug had hit me, I reheated what was indeed a succulent tagine. I returned the dishes with a note of thanks two days later, relishing that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Avec soulagement!

Always Listen to Your Spidey-sense!

This comes as no surprise to any woman who has ever left her house: it can be dangerous out here for a woman. No matter how dressed up or down, some guy on the street always has something to say. It’s the same the world over. But a girl still likes to have a little fun right? And what better time to get your grove on or…back as the case may be than when traveling alone in a foreign country away from the prying, judgmental eyes of parents, well-intentioned friends, or clergy?!

All those dresses I packed weren’t just for me. They were also the melody of my siren’s song to lure one or two delectable Frenchmen into my chambre d'artiste. Halfway through my Paris sojourn, I got my chance.

Sitting in a café---voilá---a stunning French speaking African gentleman at a nearby table started chatting me up. The hairs on the back of my arms tingling, I closed my flip phone and sat up straighter.

We exchanged pleasantries back and forth, him over coffee and me over a nice, crisp Chenin Blanc. He eventually moved over to the empty seat across from me, his wide, white smile sexy as hell nestled against his gorgeous dark skin and I began thinking about the delicate lingerie I had packed for just such an occasion. We had exchanged numbers and were in the middle of tossing around the idea of getting together the next night when the hairs on the back of my neck began to tingle.

KC Washington/author, Paris 2010

I only half believe in astrology, but it must be said, I am a perfect Pisces with an Aries rising. I am absurdly romantic, sensitive, and empathetic, but I also obsessively plan, am extremely pragmatic, and make to-do lists like I work for the World Bank. I also have a finely honed antenna for danger. My new friend was stunning and charming and ready, but he also asked one too many questions about what I did in New York that would allow me to travel alone and for such an extended amount of time. Even after explaining my famous “envelope” system for saving which I had employed for three years in order to take the trip and not work for six months when I returned, he maintained that I must be rich. He said all Americans were rich and that was the only explanation for how I came to be in Paris without a man.

Again, as any woman reading this knows, men must be managed if you change your mind about your interest in them and don’t want to end up in the Seine. So, I smiled sweetly, demurred, said I needed to be off but that I would wait for his call. Naturally, I did not wait for his call and avoided that area for few days. This is not to say he was going to harm me or was planning a green card marriage, but a girl can never be too careful. When your Spidey-sense tingles, it’s best to heed it.

Thanks for stopping by!

It's time for a little summer break, but please enjoy a re-post of a fave and be sure to come back in September when I continue my traipse across the European continent!

In the meantime, be kind to one another, keep on traveling with a feminist eye, and keep on being Feminist AF!

Happy summer & stay safe!


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