I don’t know what took me so long to actually begin to write about this. At first, I thought I would start writing from the first day. I would be way too moved by the creativity I felt in the city to not write, right? That it would be essential to document every single moment in my notebook and round it out later before my head hit the pillow.
Nothing even close to that happened.
We left at 7 or earlier each morning, scrambling to get ready for whatever tour/market/ event we were scheduled to arrive. Then after all that activity during the day, I barely had the strength at night to scribble down the high points without out struggling to keep my eyes halfway open; by the time I did lay down, my eyes decided to open wide with the promise of another 5-6 am wake up call; with me dreading the sleepiness that would plague me while navigating the metro.
My first day this is what I wrote in my journal:
Thank You God for allowing me to have this opportunity. Thank You for traveling mercies. I am so grateful to be here. I feel connected to the city already. We arrived at 6am. It was cold, but quick and easy to get to the hotel. We rested in a fabulous apartment of Mommy Gigi’s widowed friend and had brunch. IT WAS A FEAST. We took the Metro back to the hotel. It was like NYC and not all at once. We rested again and went to dinner at a nearby Brasserie
I’m gonna stop right here. Because this dinner was my introduction into Parisian dining and it deserves attention. First, of all the French dine around 8pm so by the time we woke up from our second nap of the day, it was perfect timing. We ask the concierge and he directs us to a small café a few blocks away. It glowed at the top of the small hill we had to walk, as though it was calling for us. Reaching towards us with open arms, reveling in the delight of being our first dinner in Paris. Slightly unfamiliar with the Parisian Protocol, we kind of lingered in the entryway waiting to be sat. We were ignored. Then the bartender/cashier saw us being awkward and told us that we pick our own seats. Of course we go upstairs to a secluded room away from the crowded noise and the choking layer of cigarette smoke (It’s France, they smoke everywhere.) We don’t have specific waiter. Someone just kind of comes by to set the table. Then another comes by to take our drink order. Of course we get a carafe of the house red wine. With that starts our pledge to always get wine with our dinner. (It turned out to be way cheaper than the sodas actually.)
The second thing we unintentionally made culinary tradition was ordering fois gras as our appetizer for every meal. The very first fois gras was a small yet thick meaty round, served with toast and a very thick but sweet onion marmalade.
Side Note: For those of you who are not familiar with this, you’re in for a very special treat. First you take a goose. Then you grab said goose by the neck and shove a funnel (gavage) down its throat. Then, the goose gets force fed corn, which goes straight to its liver (think mac and cheese going straight to your thighs) and becomes huge. The liver is fat. (Where the name comes from; fat liver.) The liver gets cut out and served at the dinner table with beautiful, sweet onion marmalade.
Fast Forward… It’s hard to convey to you guys the sheer emotion that comes over you when you taste your first piece. Depending on the type of person you are you either put together all components of the plate to experience what the chef intended (how the flavors play together in the playground) or you’re like me and you want to know what makes each individual piece so special, so worthy to be on the plate and whether or not you would enjoy it on its own. I spread a small corner on my toast and popped it into my mouth.
Rich. Velvet. It was as if my tongue was going to a high society party and wouldn’t be caught dead without it’s cape made of the same fabric. Another bite. It was smooth like butter but pleasant; not in that fatty, greasy taste too much butter on your toast way. But more like butter coated pasta. Like mushrooms sautéed in butter. It was like every savory taste you could think of brought together in a fabulous family reunion and the special occasion called for them to do the electric slide in my mouth. It was heaven.
Then there was the Chicken. If you know me, you know I have a deep and personal love, adoration, appreciation for some chicken. Before you break out your keyboards and start writing think pieces on black people and chicken, I want you to stop right here. I haven’t met a person in my almost 22 years on this Earth that doesn’t like chicken. It’s great. Every piece. Any application of cooking. ALL OF IT.
That being said I particularly love roast chicken and was looking forward to this for months. I don’t know why or how but the French have mastered roasting chickens and I needed to experience this firsthand (mouth?). This particular chicken came to me with breast, thigh and wing still clinging to each other dressed in a light savory glaze with thinly fried potatoes tossed in herbs and butter. When I tell you I have never in all my days of culinary school, of having a Chef as a father, of dabbling in the culinary arts myself, tasted a chicken breast so moist, so flavorful as that. That chicken embraced me like I had just come home from college the first time. It was love.
The rest of the trip seemed to continue in a blur and move in slow motion all at once. We shopped in markets, went on tours, almost got robbed, ate crepes, met new people, got drunk under the watchful eye of cabaret dancers, shopped in all types of stores trying to absorb of all of the city in less than two weeks. The most awe-inspiring moments I had were at Musse de Orangerie and Notre Dame. Both of these places banned the use of flash photography (Orangerie permitted no cameras at all) and I didn’t take pictures at either. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:
This was my favorite museum so far. It was very small. Just two rooms with four sections of Monet’s painting, Water Lilies. I just had to sit and take it all in. I realized that it was a progression of sunrise to sunset on a lake. It told the story of bright and loud yet soft touches of oranges, yellows, and pink transition into deep, powerful greens, blues, and violets eventually fading to black. I felt my eyes fill with tears. I realized I was glad I couldn’t have a camera. It would have been a distraction to the beauty. It was something I could always look back on with only the memory of the emotions.
Notre Dame. I was shocked there was a line to enter the church and even more shocked to see people using flash photography even though the signs clearly said not to. I was even more shocked to see people using said flash photography to take snapshots of parishioners in confession and at prayer. I sat down and took in the stained glass above me. I saw my grandmother saying a prayer so I decided to join her. And even though I was in that room, filled with people talking and flashing and just being plain disrespectful, I felt totally alone. All at once I felt this rush of peace and understanding. It was as if God was telling me that everything was going to be all right. Everything I was doing was going to pay off and I’d be ok. I shouldn’t worry or be stressed; everything was going to be ok. God’s love is surrounding me here. It almost feels tangible. Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve to be getting to see and feel all these things. But then I remember that everything that is happening is meant to happen. Not Just The Bad Things.
One of my favorite books and part inspiration to this kind of “do me” attitude I’ve adapted lately is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. In the book, Liz is having a conversation about the “word” that cities have that kind of embodies all of the feelings and habits one conveys while living there. For me, New York is “Ambition” or “Hustle”. Providence is “Brunch”. This might sound cliché, but when they say Paris is the city of romance, they didn’t lie. Their word was “Love”. It was like a thick flaking crust of it layering the city.
I’m not gonna lie, for a tiny moment I felt envious. As though, I SHOULD be experiencing this trip with a lover. Frolicking in the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower, we would hold hands under the lights. We would lay naked with the French doors of the terrace open, blissfully unaware (or just not caring) that these doors led to a very public street with cars racing past a pedestrian who was stupid enough to cross the street. YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO BE HERE!
But then I realized I how foolish I was being. How could you be so ungrateful to not realize… YOU Are Supposed To Be Here! YOU ARE here with someone you love. Your grandmother! Shit, you are here with you! How could you not realize that the only people who were supposed to be here, in Paris, with you, are the ones that were.
Paris was where I realized that I loved myself more than anything.