A Foodie Day in Paris


Paris, May 16 2013

I’m sitting in the Parisian café, Les Deux Magots, where Ernest Hemingway and other notable writers and philosophers famously wrote.  It’s 8:45am.  The time stamp is meaningful in that I woke this morning in my own bed in Luxembourg.   Negotiating the smooth two hour fifteen minute fast train from Lux to Paris and then the jammed packed subway from Gare de Est to here, I feel a rush of early riser triumph that dwarfs my need for caffeine.  I also feel the need to text my husband with my subway success story.  While I am looking forward to this day by myself,  I also want to share in the miracle that is European public transportation.

The café, located in the bustling neighborhood of St Germain de Pres and whose present clientele are the city’s literary and publishing elite, is comfortably full with people reading the newspaper, working on laptops, and carrying on in hushed conversations.   Adorned with red leather couches, red velvet curtains, shellacked wood tables, gilded candelabras, and waiters in black jackets, bow ties, and long white aprons, it feels like a place of long ago. The median age looks to be 55, and naturally there is a 75 year old impeccably dressed woman with a small dog in her purse.   It is however eerily quiet.  Must be some serious philosophizing going on in here, me thinks. 

I pull out my notebook to wait for inspiration to hit in this writer’s paradise (I am dressed for it in a black turtleneck, boots, and bracelets), but then am distracted as I realize it is quiet because they are filming a movie in the far corner of the café.   The possibility for inspiration has decreased to nil because I’m now obsessed on who the movie star is and if the older woman with the petit dog is a paid extra.  At this point, I just focus my efforts on getting a self-portrait of me with the Magot statues on the wall. 

Fueled by an espresso I had hoped was a drip coffee, I headed next door to the St Germain de Pres cathedral.  I walked all the stations of the twenty some odd chapels of the cathedral, stopping longest at an open armed statue of Jesus.   For me, there’s something about setting foot in a church that has been there for centuries thinking about all the cumulative prayers that have risen from those pews.

After my stop with Jesus (who I’ve invited on the journey with me for safety, navigation help, and patience – always patience), I pull out my piece of paper with six food related destinations.  The food stops have come courtesy of David Lebovitz, the food blogger and author of “My Sweet Life in Paris.”  All the stops are in the St Germain de Pres neighborhood – the neighborhood I’ve chosen to “get to know” on this visit.  The visit I’ve declared “My Foodie Trip to Paris.” (Minus the Bistro dinner due to time constraints as my return train is at 7:40pm.)

The first stop is for some specialist nut oils.  I clumsily but successfully make it to the address, only to discover that the shop is no longer there.  Remembering the prayer for patience, I am not discouraged (though confused) and head to the second destination for some special Italian olive oil.  This shop is there (and my route to it circuitous), but they don’t carry that particular olive oil any more.  Okay.  At this point, I need to pray for David because he is lying to me and the rest of the world.  Perhaps he doesn’t even live in Paris. 

David however redeems himself with the next several stops, and my bag grows heavy with beautiful jams, mustards, chocolates and breads.  I even find the special nut oils at one of the other stops.  I mistakenly jettison myself clear out to the edge of the Luxembourg Quarter in search of the last stop (some infused butter), proving that my goal of “getting to know” the St Germain des Pres has not exactly come to fruition.  Once I’m back in the right geography, I duck into a sunglasses shop.  Though it’s raining, there’s been eighteen minutes of sunshine and I’ve forgotten my sunglasses.   I’ve come prepared with an umbrella and a sharpened lip pencil but not the possibility of sun.  Darling Benjamin helps me find the perfect inexpensive pair of shades.

Hoping to stop for lunch (a seeming requirement for “My Foodie Day in Paris”), but noticing the time suck that my navigational hiccups have caused – I instead pick up a panini and make my way towards the Musee d’Orsay.   With my pre-purchased ticket from Quinn’s previous visit in hand (turns out Quinn didn’t need a paid ticket so we had an extra), I buzz past the long line and check my food bag.   Because this is my second visit, I give myself permission to not crisscross the entire museum but to relax in the company of great artists.  I decide to head straight for the 5th floor to the Impressionism Gallery.  I linger over Renoir’s plump nudes, Matisse’s landscapes and especially Cezanne’s still lifes that remind me of my own Nanna’s painting.   In the sea of tourists with sensible shoes and loud voices, my heart warms seeing the local elderly being pushed in wheelchairs by young museum staff and groups of local school children listening with rapt attention to the dossiers. 

From there, the day unravels a bit as I search for a restaurant and then wine bar I can’t find.  I get off at an unsavory subway stop and finally settle on a delicious but undercooked Turkish chicken pita wrap at a hole in the wall restaurant.  Slightly irked by my lack of direction, I decide to play it (really) safe and head towards the train station two hours before my departure.  I soon find a cafe near the train station – no longer looking for charm but facilities.  It’s your basic tourist trap with salted peanuts, mini pretzels, and alcohol prices that increase after 10pm.  Of course there are also pictures of the food on the menu which even my children understand means “quietly head for the door.”  But in my state, I’m just looking for toilet paper.  I’m greeted by an eager French-speaking Asian waiter who quickly takes my order for a glass of white wine (any will do), and who’s thankfully at the ready with a token for the facilities.   Once I settle in, he sweetly helps me charge my phone and moves me to a window seat so I can watch the world go by.

As I sit and watch the stream of people go by (because I have some time), I realize that the find of the day was not my bag of goodies (which look amazing.)  Clearly the day was an overall gastronomical bust in terms of eating experiences.  The find of the day was the 11 hours of solitude to go at my own pace with no one to disappoint but myself.  And the thing is -- I wasn’t disappointed.  I had fun – with me.   We need solitude to remind us that we can be our own best company.  It helps the process when you can sit in front of a beautiful piece of art or in a café that Hemingway once graced, but maybe it’s even more effective when you can do it sitting on your own front porch with a stolen ten minutes or in a Double Tree Hotel café with self-service coffee.   All I know is that salted peanuts never tasted so good.