A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sept. 10.

Paris, Part Three - Bakeries in Paris are painful to pass. The displays behind the glass can be so staggering that I freeze like an indecisive turtle. The tarts practically glisten. The breads pose proudly. Only the faint clank of Euros in my pocket starts me walking again, reminding me that I don't have money to spare. But this morning, I ignored those dissonant coins and my at-risk cholesterol level and walked into a particularly fragrant boulangerie. My choice obvious, I reemerged with a Quiche Lorraine in hand. Already, it was turning the white bag a greasy grey in spots, but I didn't give it long to last. And of course, it proved delicious, decadently creamy and effortlessly buoyant.

From here, it was onto the Georges Pompidou museum, which Matt had declared "awesome" the previous day. It was beyond awesome, perhaps even managing to outshine the Orsay. The building itself was a feat, with the structure of it turned inside out, with pipes and the internal bric-a-brac moved to the exterior. Inside, the permanent collection, entitled the Big Bang, was just as challenging and confrontional. Instead of being organized chronologically, the contemporary art was built around themes, such as Destruction, Guerre, Sexe and Subversion, and subthemes such as Voyeurisme, Nazisme, Chaos and Ironie. Not everything in the collection worked for me, but it felt so exciting to see so many disparate works colliding with and commenting on each other. More than a dialogue, it was a dialectic of chaos and inspiration. I could´ve easily spent the whole day there, in the crosshairs of the works, but Vince and I had to race to get to my friend Augustin's house.

I met Augustin a month ago on my plane ride to start this trip. We were both flying from DC to Amsterdam (where I'd then connect to Barcelona) and we were sitting next to each other. For the next seven hours, we talked about everything, from his life as a Parisian teenager to my former life as a New York law lackey. He told me about his family and friends in France and marveled at how much fatter the people were and how bigger the cars were in America. We barely paused in our sprawling conversation, alternating between questions, cultural differences, linguistic differences, ponderings. By the time the plane landed, we were sadly exchanging e-mails and addresses, and Augustin invited me to call him when I arrived in Paris. That´s exactly what I did.

Because he lived a few blocks from the Champs Elysees, we agreed to rendezous at the Arc du Triomphe. A military band was playing in full costume and the well-dressed urbanites were parading up the crowded avenue. Augustin, already well over six feet tall at sixteen, guided Vince and me around, telling us stories and trivia about Paris's most iconic street. Then we headed to his three-bedroom apartment on the Rue du Bassano, where his perfect family was waiting. I can't begin to explain how cute his father, mother and sister were, but they put the Cosbys and the Cleavers to shame. They welcomed us like relatives from a war-torn country and implored us to take seats at the dinner table. As we passed around the plates, the meal proved simple but such a pleasure, replete with potato croquettes, salad, steak and a plate of luncheon meats. The father made puns in German and English and exclaimed "I am so hilarious!," slapping the table comically. I talked with the mother in my rudimentary French, as she didn't speak English, which mostly meant pointing at foods and saying they were good. In between, Augustin and his sister, Constance, acted as intermediaries and told us anecdotes.

After the appetizers and meat, the sweet, ruddy-cheeked Mom brought out a cheese plate. ˝Les fromages sont bonnes!˝ I said. After we passed around the cheese and drained our wines, we turned to the dessert of fruits and ice cream. Again, it was nothing fancy but a great closer to a terrific night. And after being on our own for so long, it was such a relief to be around a family, especially one this generous. To make matters even better, they nearly begged us to come back, which we happily agreed to. ˝Unless you get to your home and change your mind,˝ the father said, ˝because you are on the toilet and you go...˝ He imitated the sound of a volcano erupting and we all laughed again.

Leaving their house, Vince and I were both overjoyed and gratified. Retracing our steps, we revisited the Arc du Triomphe after dark and then watched the Eiffel Tower burst into its frenetic light show at nine o´clock. The throng of people assembled let out a collective gasp of excitement at the overpowering display, but between the bakeries, the Pompidou, and dinner at Augustin´s, to me, it just felt like an exactly appropriate finale to the night.


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