When we first returned from our trip to Paris last September, I was not quite sure what to think of it all. It was my first trip to Europe and my first trip overseas, and as such, the flight was the longest I have ever taken and in all honesty, slightly traumatic. I was fried, burnt out, exhausted and confused. Unlike most other people I know, Paris would not have been my first choice for travel and it was only on P’s adamant recommendation (not to mention his generosity in purchasing my ticket) that I found myself there. That’s not to say that I didn’t want to go, just that it wasn’t my idea, and in this case I think that’s an important piece of the puzzle.
P’s attachment to Paris was established long before I ever came into the picture when he visited at 18 with his high school sweetheart and her family. Not really expecting much he found himself overtaken with immediate and complete adoration for the city, a reaction I’ve heard is not entirely uncommon. He returned a year later to study music as an exchange student and spent a year there, falling in love, having adventures, getting drunk and all the other things people do in their early twenties. For him, it is that place. I was nervous to go there with him, afraid that I could never compete with his memories and that I’d be a disappointment, to him and to the entire city.
Of course he told me that I would love it. Everyone told me that I would love it. How could I possibly not love it? We actually went to a dinner party the night before we left where, I kid you not, every single person there had been to Paris except for me and all of them insisted that I would absolutely, positively love it. As the evening went on and everyone had more to drink, their insistence began to take on an almost frantic tone and I found myself feeling overwhelmed. What if I didn’t love it as much everyone seemed to think that I must? You can see where this is going, right?
The entire trip I kept questioning myself, “Have I fallen in love with Paris yet? Am I falling in love with Paris now?” And of course, I never really did. Who can possibly fall in love under such an odd kind of pressure? The trip had it’s moments, but at the end of it all I returned home feeling slightly bewildered and disappointed in myself for not having been blessed with the good taste to be head over heels for Paris.
So I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when a few months ago, out of nowhere, I was hit with an unexpected and insatiable desire to be in paris NOW. It was as if my memories of the place had somehow slipped through a crack and I was suddenly seeing them without the filter of all that pressure.
One of the things that disappointed me most about Paris on that first trip was how dirty it was. I’ve seen a million movies and photos and read countless blog posts on the subject, yet I somehow managed to convince myself that Paris was some quaint, provincial village. A postcard and not an actual place. When I got there I was entirely unprepared for just how big and gross and city-like it actually was. Now, of course that’s the thing that I miss most. If cities are like living, breathing creatures with a mind and personality of their own than Paris is perhaps the most alive of them all. You can feel it’s heart beating in every corner, every alley, every subway car and it’s that feeling, that pulsating aliveness that I’ve found myself craving so much lately even though it’s almost one year later and I still barely understand it all.
Some moments from that trip that stand out in memory for me:
– The first morning we ventured out around the area where we were staying and got pastries at Max Poillaine. A small chocolate torpedo cake and an apple turnover. I was still quite groggy from the flight, but I remember the taste of those pastries as clear as a bell. They tasted like butter, sugar, flour and little else. The chocolate tasted like chocolate and the apples tasted like apples. Pure, simple, perfect.
– That first night we had what ended up being my favorite meal in all of Paris. Again we stayed close to our apartment where we found a small bistro called Le Petel. It was tiny, cozy dimly lit. I had truffled asparagus ravioli and a superlative creme brulee with raspberries hidden in the bottom. The waiter was overjoyed when we ordered a bottle of Julienas to go with our meal. “Nobody ever orders that bottle,” he told P in french, “but it’s the best one on the list.” When we left, I forgot my sweater on the back of the chair and he came running out of the restaurant and flagged us down to return it to me. As we walked home we could see the eiffel tower all lit up through the trees. Magic.
– Leaving Sacre Coueur we found ourselves slightly lost on a winding, little, tree-lined street with beautiful apartments and charming little shops. If I moved to Paris, that’s where I would want to live, although I have no idea where it actually is.
– P insisted that I must eat pizza in Paris, not because it’s any better than the pizza we have here, but because they serve it with this chili-infused olive oil that he is absolutely addicted to. We settled on La Brasciola, which was packed, but as warm and friendly as could be. They served us olives at the bar while we drank a bottle of rose, and after devouring our pizza and antipasto, we ordered the best affogato of my life. It nearly made me cry it was so good.
– One sunny afternoon we went to berthillon for ice cream. As we sat eating it by the seine, a small older gentlemen wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase came and sat down on a bench beside us. I watched him pull a small box out of his jacket which contained an elegant little chocolate pastry. He ate slowly, savoring every bite, clearly enjoying himself and when he was done he packed the box up neatly, picked up his briefcase and was gone as quickly as he came. I loved that man. I still do. That’s the type of thing you would never, ever see in a city like New York or San Francisco. Businessmen taking a break from their day to enjoy a chocolate pastry by the river, what could possibly be better or more parisian than that
Of course now that this is all occurring to me we are in the midst of opening our own store with little time and even less money and so it appears that a trip to Paris is not in our cards, at least not in the near future. I hope that means that when we do go back it will only be better for the waiting. I hope that next time, I’ll be ready.