Have you ever eaten something and had your surroundings fall out around you? I remember the first time I ever had dulce de leche was during my first semester of college. My Argentinian roommate had some squares tucked under her bed among the cereal and crackers and when I tasted it for the first time, I don’t think she knew how I truly felt about it because it tasted so astounding I couldn’t really verbalize it to her. I remember sitting on her bed unwrapping the cellophane plastic, and how I had no expectations over something I’d never tasted before. I find that incredibly momentous because I have the type of personality to create expectations, scenarios and anxiety over situations I’ve never encountered, places I’ve never been to or things I’ve never seen, but when it comes to food, I just unhinge my jaw and allow my taste buds to do the analyzing. The dulce de leche was tasted with no anticipated expectation and for that I was able to truly experience and enjoy its flavor. Why can’t I seem to approach situations in my life like the way I approach food?
I envisioned my initial arrival in Paris and mused over what would be the first thing I’d eat. I had this grand romanticized image of my first foot steps on Parisian territory, and although things didn’t spiral out into the beautiful maze I’d envisioned, Paris was still in many ways exactly what I thought it’d be (or taste like).
Needless to say, the food is amazing. I don’t even feel that I can give it enough respect with summarizing its existence into a single sentence. It was the little things about dining in Paris that riveted me and filled more than my stomach. It was the customs and traditions. It was the overflowing basket of bread for a single diner at a sidewalk cafe. It was the crunchy crumbling exterior of the baguette, encrusting the inner soft yeasty dough. It was the Dijon mustard that sent scorching spicy flames through my nostrils and streamed tears down my face. At one point I wasn’t even sure if I was tearing up over the robust spiciness of the mustard, or tearing with happiness because I never realized something that could cause me so much pain could still spread a warmth of pleasure through me. It was asking for a glass of water and receiving an elegant glass bottle. All these norms, all these small details are a Parisians everyday life, and I could barely contain my awe. Everyday teetered on the edge of sensory overload- I couldn’t soak it all in.
Paris felt like a world within itself. I was in a bubble the size of the universe and the realm within the soap and water dome was everything. I got lost, the suds from my bubbled abode dripping onto my skin, causing me to slip between metro stops and slide through boulevards. The water from this imaginary sphere soaked my feet, leaving them soggy and vulnerable. My heels bruised, my shoes wore down my flesh, and the only things that relieved the pain was nutella crepes and my first ever taste of a chilled Brouilly. It was all so surreal.
My first true sit down meal was at a sidewalk Brasserie, in which I, being the naiive American that became quickly apparent that I was, thought she’d attempt to order breakfast at 11 am. It quickly became clear that it was in fact lunch time, after a flurry of hand motions, menu pointing and a string of French words draped around my ears more beautiful than a pearl necklace. With the waitress standing over me denying my request of poached eggs, I threw up my white flag and blindly pointed to the first entree I saw under Plats. When she arrived with my lunch, my heart fluttered. The most beautiful presentation of colors stacked upon each layer of the dish looked more like a painting than something edible.
On the base of the dish was a garlic and oil tagliatelle lightly sauted with roasted cherry tomatoes and topped with a generous layer of Parmesan shavings. The vibrant green from the Arugula caught more of my eyes’ attention than a Burlesque dancer at the Moulin Rouge with the way it splayed its delicate innocence against the soft pale pink and white swirl of the prosciutto’s pattern. The sight left my palms clammy.
All that, and I hadn’t even tried it yet.
The dish floored me, and I think what really left me deeply inspired was the fact of its simplicity. It was a casual Monday, a casual lunch at a casual Brasserie. The food came out within ten to fifteen minutes of ordering and yet the whole ordeal left me enamored. I’ve been meaning to check in on the rate of heart attacks in Paris, because how could one survive there on a daily basis when the simple things in life there could be that damn heart stopping?
Paris is detailed and exquisite, with more to see, taste and experience than I could ever absorb. It was the women riding mopeds with stilettos, it was the way the chocolate shops presented their chocolates more elegantly and with more respect than I’d ever seen a diamond necklace been displayed. It was the fact that I couldn’t find a bad macaron. It was rue Cler, my absolute favorite cobblestone street market to wander down and ogle. It was the window sills of the apartments, the vines crawling up the sides of walls, the quiet stillness of eating alone yet surrounded by many, the metro actually being clean and easy to ride and the presence of a baguette at no matter which angle you turned your head.
It took me a day or two to realize that if I didn’t want to look like a tourist and attract attention to myself, I’d have to stop smiling at every person that walked by me. I just couldn’t help myself! French seeped around my senses, the words having been extracted from trees and boiled down into a thick sweet syrup and poured into my ears. I couldn’t understand much, but it still lingered on my tongue. I smiled as the words flew in a frenzy above my head and beneath my feet until all I could do was ride around the city on the tail coat of the mother tongue. I smiled as people whizzed by me on bicycles, driving more recklessly than the cab drivers yet still maintaining calculated control. I smiled as I crunched over brown fallen leaves, yet the green ones were still intact on the branches above me. I smiled at everything and nothing, and didn’t care what anyone thought of the sandal clad girl with the black leather purse and brown leather journal who walked alone and smiled as she ate. It wasn’t that easy nor was it simple, but I over came more and learned plenty about myself in that short period of time than I have in awhile.
Paris opened up more than my mouth- it opened my eyes, my mind and my pockets. (Now I know why a lot of people just eat cheese and bread for dinner. Not that that’s a complaint.) I felt more inspired than I had in a long time. I saw things more beautiful than I’d imagined, and heard sweeter accordion music played within the tunnels of the metro that could give many artists here a run for their American dollar. I experienced the value of simplicity and patience. (You haven’t learned patience until you’ve eaten out in Paris.) I officially understand how Hemingway wrote his first book here. How could you not be inspired?
It’s a good thing I didn’t go to Vegas, because what happened in Paris isn’t just going to stay there.