Paris would appear to be preeminently about food. Even on a tour of historical landmarks, our impeccable guide Sophie wove in a visit to a chocolaterie – within the first ten minutes – and a subsequent stop at a caramels shop at the end. You get the feeling that even when Marie Antoinette was being carted off to the guillotine, she might easily have said, “Can we stop for some bon bons?” And her executioners might well have replied, “But of course. We are murderers. Not haters of candy!”
I worried about the irresistible French cuisine, fearing that after ten days of sumptuous dining, on my return home, my newly rotund belly would be entering rooms substantially before I did. And more importantly, I was concerned that I would no longer be satisfied with the once appreciated California cuisine, dedicated to extending my life but at the cost of anything truly worth putting in my mouth. I even imagined a blog post consisting entirely of an multi-versed poem, that began,
What will I eat after Paris?
Who’ll fix me comparable food?
No way I’ll be finding
Such delectable dining
In L.A, though I don’t mean to be rude.
I resisted the impulse to write an entire poem about how much tastier the food I enjoyed in Paris was, for fear of receiving readers’ letters containing largish rocks with notes attached to them, saying, “Please hit yourself on the head with this. We are thoroughly appalled by in your gustatorial bragging.” (The unincluded word “Asshole” being understood.)
I need to be careful about that. Nobody likes a rock in their mail.
You will thankfully be spared any in-depth culinary analysis, as I am entirely ignorant concerning the preparation of food. I have no idea why our dinners in Paris tasted better. It may simply be because we were in Paris, but I don’t think so. They do something different there. And “fresh ingredients” does not cover it. “We stick exclusively to using ingredients that are beyond their expiration dates.” How many restaurants do that?
Every good restaurant uses fresh ingredients. But some chefs do that je ne sais quoi to those fresh ingredients, that, you put it in your mouth, and your palate goes “Wow!” What’s their secret? If they put a gun to my head, I would venture to say “Butter.” Though less out of certainty, than to get them to lower the gun.
In lieu of culinary speculation, would you settle for an embarrassing story? I know. They’re my specialty. And they just keep coming.
I shall introduce my most recent humiliation thusly:
I have a really nice hat. The hat type is called Borsalino. Anna picked it out for me on my sixtieth birthday. My Borsalino is chocolate brown, with a high crown and a wide brown-satin-trimmed brim. It’s not exactly an everyday hat. It’s kind of special. Something Humphrey Bogart might have worn to a wedding.
I took my hat to Paris.
Taking every precaution to keep it from getting crushed. On the plane ride over, the understanding flight attendant carefully stowed it in the overhead bin designated exclusively for storing the flotation raft. That way, no one could accidentally dump their carry-on luggage on top of it. The bonus was, if we ever went down, my hat would have the best chance of floating to safety.
On the recommendation of friends, we arrange dinner at Comme A Savonnieres. Though I am grateful for their recommendation, locating an acceptable restaurant in Paris is not exactly finding a needle in a haystack. In the “Paris dining” context, the real needle in the haystack is the disappointing restaurant, of which we found one, bizarrely the most highly trumpeted of all our recommendations. It was like, “We’re a hit. Let’s stop trying.”
I don’t understand it. The place does not seem to know it’s no good. Maybe that’s because they’re in the middle of it, like a stable worker with a plugged nose.
“I don’t smell anything.”
What’s going on here? Has the restauranteur never eaten anyplace else? If they had, they would realize, “We are popular. But we suck.”
Sorry for the rant, but it was Anna’s birthday dinner, and I am mad it was a letdown. The place’s name? I forget. But overall, the rule of thumb is, if the restaurant offers an English version of their menu, eat somewhere else. You won’t know what you’re eating, but it will be considerably better.)
When we arrive, the waitress comes up to take our coats. A quick glance reveals that she looks like every French movie star…..’s marginally less attractive younger sister. Natalie Deneuve. I immediately go goofy.
(A word about geriatric fantasies. When you’re old, flirting is a self-punishing exercise, a rehearsal without the possible chance of there ever being a show. For me, however, it is not like, “Man, if I were younger and unmarried”; regular readers know that I generally never got anywhere ever. In fact, in a post that I think is entitled, “I Once Went To Paris”, there were events that unfolded then that resulted in precisely the same outcome. Practice, but no game.)
I allow Natalie to relieve me of my coat. But before handing over my prized Borsalino, I smile charmantly and break into my “can’t miss” broken French, saying, in translation:
“This hat is very precious. Guard it with your life.”
A playful opening move. Hardly bursting with wit, but an acceptable icebreaker. I am officially “Mr. American Funny Man.”
I deliver my line in my endearing halting French. I say,
“Ce chapeau est tres precieux. Guardez avec votre lit.”
At this point, my French-speaking readers are ahead of my non-French-speaking readers. In fairness to myself, I actually did pretty well overall. It was the last word that tripped me up.
Searching for the French word for “life”, my agitated brain forgot the actual French word for “life” – “vie” – and, attracted by the fact that it begins with the same two letters as the word “life” does – “l” and “i”, I opted instead for this that is rhymingly similar to the word “vie” – “lit.” (Pronounced "lee.") Unfortunately, what I wound up telling the waitress I was intently trying to impress was:
“This hat is very precious. Guard it with your bed.”
Nobody does “dismissive” better than the French. It is immediately “Game Over.” My hat disappears, along with my (imaginary) chances. I am the gallant pilot, who has ignominiously shot himself down.
“Guard it with your bed.”
I bet they had a good laugh about that in the kitchen.