:::Before I begin this post, I would just like to say that writing in English has become difficult. (I’ve always been a spaz when it comes to speaking, but that’s another matter altogether). I’ve found that the more I spend time reading French and conversing in a sort of “franglais” with Madame, Monsieur, Julien, Stella, Inah and almost everyone else in Paris, the more my own native tongue has morphed into a demi-version of itself. I find myself saying things like, “Au revoir, I go now, à tout à l’heure”, “You are hungry?”, “No problem, c’est pas grave”, and “Ah, c’est bon, it is beautiful!” My diction and word order sound idiotic to my own ears! I imagine this is part of the learning process, but I’m surprised at how quickly and easily my sense of speech has demonstrated its malleability. I wouldn’t attribute this so much to my ability to quickly learn a language, but more so to my ear for repeating what I hear. Because I am with people who are speaking a second-language English, I have adapted my patterns of speech to assimilate. It’s strange, but I am better understood because of it. Unfortunately, this new ability has manifested itself in all my communications! Now that I have resumed my French courses and I’ve picked up a few books in French, I hope that I’ll quickly pass this awkward growing stage and progress to an improved French, and leave my poor English as I left it in America! What follows is what I was able to eke out of my brain regarding today’s events:::
This morning the whole family was at home, as there is a holiday today for the French equivalent of Veteran’s Day. Monsieur asked me if I’d like to join them in going out for breakfast. [This phraseology was particularly difficult for me to express in intelligible English.] I quickly agreed, as I am always up for an adventure, and luckily I had left today free of plans, anticipating a bit of chaos due to the holiday.
I wasn’t really sure where “out” was, but I figured it would be the equivalent of a local Mom & Pop diner. (I’m not sure what led me to this unlikely conclusion). I freshened my face and didn’t bother with makeup. I was already wearing a dark pair of jeans and a navy blue turtleneck with brown crocodile loafers and thin brown leather belt. You know, WASP in the city. Even though white socks are generally regarded with distaste in Paris, I dared to expose my cream-and-brown patterned socks, channeling a bit of Michael Jackson. I added a little feminine whimsy with a pair of gold ribbon bow earrings my friend Sarah gave me as a farewell gift. Because the weather looked a bit improved, I just added my brown tweed jacket, and – Voilà! – I was ready.
Thankfully I had sneezed earlier in the morning, rousing Madame’s hypersensitivity to imminent sickness, because when Madame saw me in just my jacket, she chose that moment to suggest I add more layers of warmth. I re-emerged in the salon with my camel coat over my tweed, as well as a matching hat, scarf and leather gloves. These were to prove indispensable later!
With Monsieur in his jeans, peacoat and Nikes, Julien in his jeans, hoodie and Nikes, Madame in her burgundy suede knee-high boots and me and Stella resembling overstuffed turkeys, we all piled into M.’s brown Mini Cooper, which was temporarily parked on the square patch of sidewalk leading to the porte cochère. (He also has another car, which I’ve never seen). I sat in the back, in the middle.
Driving in Paris is a bizarre assemblage of speeding spurts, near-misses with the pedestrian pietons, round-about weaving, regional profiling, and nonsensical blocking of traffic. I just tell myself everyone knows what they’re doing, and try not to think about it. So far this strategy has held up.
We got as far as we could on the closest of one of twelve streets leading up to l’Etoile, but the road was closed just before l’Arc de Triomphe, as were all the others feeding the Champs-Elysées. I peered at the impressive arch at the end of the road, remembering that beneath it lies the tomb of “le Soldat Inconnu”. (I read an interview once of a Paris-based designer who presented at TED, and when asked, of all the monuments in the city, he chose the Unknown Solider as his Parisian avatar. I’ve tried to relocated that article, but cannot! Alas…) I wasn’t sure if the road was closed out of fear of angry defacers or if some sort of procession was about to take place.
After some futile attempts to broach the Champs, we finally parked on the Rue de Ponthieu (the same street of the Gagosian) and crossed through an indoor promenade which led to the Champs-Elyées. It was then I realized our intended destination was none other than the Tiffany’s of all Parisian tea salons: Ladurée. I had actually already been to Ladurée with Madame and Julien on a random Monday some weeks back, but that was for hot chocolate and a little pastry creation – now a full-blown breakfast awaited! The only problem was the road was completely closed to pedestrians, and we stood on the wrong side of the boulevard! In freezing rain, we tried in vain to cross underground through one of the parking garages, but none opened on the other side. With Ladurée so tantalizingly close, our obstacle did not deter us long – we came upon the Métro station and meandered through its paths ’til we emerged, triumphant and freezing cold, from the Georges V stairwell.
Personally, I would have lingered outside to see some of the peaceful military demonstrations that seemed to be taking place closer to the Arch, but we headed straight to Ladurée. (Well, almost. We made a quick pit-stop at Louis Vuitton).
Instead, a grander prospect presented itself: watching the parade from within Ladurées’ enclosed patio, while feasting on what was simply called “The Ladurée Breakfast.” I chose this as it appeared to be the simplest option on the menu, and so did the rest of the party, though probably for different reasons. It consisted of the following: a basket of bread and pastries; butter; honey; jam; a choice of orange or pink grapefruit juice; and a choice of hot chocolate, coffee or tea. We all ordered the hot chocolate (à la Viennoise, which means with whipped cream served on the side) and everyone but me got the orange juice. M. ordered fried eggs and convinced me to do the same, while the children got eggs served in egg dishes with little crisps of twisted toast to dip into the runny cracked egg. (I admire their bravery - certainly a dish I don’t know if I’d be able to stomach).
The table was set with tea cups, all of the same pattern, but some with mis-matched colored saucers. The three colors were pale pink, baby blue and light green. Very elegant, but with an unstuffy air of – “Yes, each of the cups has a match, but honestly, who bothers with such trifles? We are not German, after all!” The butter came rolled in Ladurées’s signature pale green paper, resembling a small log. Beside the logs and the pots of honey were two different types of confiture – one golden and the other raspberry colored. The were labeled in French – “coing” and “groseille à maquereau” respectively - and it took a bit for us to translate them as quince and gooseberry.
As I feasted my eyes and palate on the spread before me, a procession of black cars sped toward the Arc followed moments later by slowly-passing motorcade, issuing President Sarkozy to the memorial. (Seeing this, M. commented that Sarkozy is a real ‘movie star’. Despite his celebrity, “Sarko”, as he is often called, is not without blame, apparently. He recently purchased a fancy jet for himself, which in a difficult economy, is an especially dubious move. Monsieur explained that being the president of France is not as cool as being president of the United States, and usually the president travels by military plane. He also informed me that the first thing Sarkozy did as president was increase his salary from 7 thousand euro to 20. This seemed remarkably low to me, increase not withstanding, but I think this is per month. When I mentioned the American president’s standard salary, Monsieur was a bit flabbergasted and asked if that was per month or year.)
Everything was exquisitely delicious, from the butter, to the jam, to the hot chocolate and the perfectly fried eggs and crispy croissants. I thought of these things as triumphs of civilization, which, in light of the formal military procession taking place out in the frigid rain, were likely made possible by the war-time sacrifices of many. I remembered hearing once that when Winston Churchill’s financial minister wanted to cut funding for the arts to finance the second World War, Churchill famously replied, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’. In France, I would argue that they fought for butter. It is seriously that good.
My mind continued to wander as we passed the meal in a blissed-out state of consumption, and I thought that however hard I tried to impose a healthy diet on myself while in France, resistance is futile. I wonder how many countless others have fallen asunder when facing le petit-déjeuner francais, and how, most likely, none minded ‘la petite mort’ thus afflicted.
A few months back I had the pleasure of attending Expo West, and scouted out all the coolest, tastiest, healthiest foods. Rather than doing a long list of products and companies here , I am going to start sharing my discoveries in a sort of anecdotal form, with my reviews, and in some cases, giveaways. more