The Belly of Paris

Forward: I’ve been meaning to post this since June.  Now its the end of August….what a busy summer.  More serious writing and reflections to come on a far more frequent basis. I promise.  PS: I’ve been back to Paris since writing this. More to come.

I’ve been reading.  A lot.  Since my last post,  Ethan and I went on an impromptu 3 day trip to Paris.  It was the trip I had been planning years for. I had my list of patisseries and boulangeries to feast upon, iconic architecture to marvel at and mysterious streets to explore.  And toward the end of the adventure we agreed that Paris was a love/hate affair.

During the day, Paris was blanketed in a hot, stuffy heat.  Crowds of tourists flooded Notre Dame, the Louvre and Shakespeare and Company.  And yes, I was one of those tourists who was there in the crowd, but not for more than 5 minutes.  I have mastered taking a quick, inconspicuous photo of something that everyone else is not taking a picture of.  Ethan captured the mosh-pit of people writhing in each other to take a photo of people taking an Instagram picture of the Mona Lisa.  This and my escape attempt to swim like a salmon upstream through crowds in the Notre Dame Cathedral were genuine moments of sadness.  I failed to sense that anyone else wanted to truly appreciate these wonderful and historical slices of humanity.  Or at least there was no opportunity.  So we left and returned to these places at night, on a rented Velib, to see the city through a different lens.

Everyone says it, but Paris is lovely and magical once the sun sets.  With this romantic idea that lingers once you leave, yet vanishes momentarily in the chaotic Charles de Gaulle airport, I have been reading furiously on most of the culinary delights Paris has had to offer.  I rediscovered my love of Hemingway and quickly read through “A Moveable Feast,” which has inspired Ethan to stay in the Latin Quarter during his upcoming month stay to learn French.  Like Hemingway, Ethan has a penchant for Kirs and Deaths in the Afternoon.  I’ve become intrigued by Hadley Hemingway, so I’m adding “The Paris Wife” to the list.

As a culinary student, I was introduced to Marie Antonin Careme, “The King of Chefs, The Chef of Kings.”  He was revolutionary to the culinary world and has created numerous things.  Meringues, toques, the 4 mother sauces, the methods of testing cooked sugar, I could go on and I will later.  He began as a patissier, working on elaborate pièces montées, made of marzipan and sugarwork, and soon ended up cooking for many historical figures: Napoleon, the Rothschilds, George IV.  I had a good read of Ian Kelly’s “Cooking for Kings,” which I found informative yet fun and filled with recipes.  I hadn’t been searching for Careme’s grave in the cemetery in Montmartre, but somehow I found him near a cat that lead me in his direction.

Finally I’ve just finished pastry chef David Lebovitz’s “The Sweet Life in Paris.”  An absolute delight, divulging in what its like for an American to move to Paris, to learn the people, the customs and slowly becoming one yourself.  Although I’m in Edinburgh,  I do share many of his tales of misunderstandings, adaptations and yearnings for home (Target!).  Also filled with recipes, its his stories of Parisians and at least for me, my ability to connect with him, is what makes this an enjoyable read.  Note to self: no touching things unless I’m interested and always when entering a store say, “Bonjour Monsieur/Madame.” 

There are many more to be read and ones I’ve already read a million times, Julia Child’s “My Life in France.” (If you haven’t read it, do it please, right now- and no one will judge you if you read it out loud in your best Julia Child voice.)

Fortunately, I do get a second chance at Paris in the beginning of August.  I do have my revised list of musts.  And if you can’t make it to Paris anytime soon, then dive in to one of these reads, grab a map, roast some chicken, have a glass of wine and enjoy escaping to Paris…but do it at night, that magical lighting works wonders.

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