Let’s go Paris. We are so close. Let’s go. Let’s take the Chunnel and spend a day in Paris. I can’t be this close and not walk the streets and smell the cigarette smoke and pastry scents of the city.
We’ll leave early in the morning on the train and we will both be enraged by the unceasingly noisy tourist group seated in the same car as we; their incessant geese-like cacophony driving us to the brink of madness. And what is that odor?! A metallic medicinal smell that will make both of us wrinkle our noses. The woman in front of us will eat seeds and toss the empty hulls on the tray in front of her. Unfortunately for us, she will sometimes miss and one or two will ricochet backwards and fall between our feet . I will be suffocated by their inability to comprehend personal space as their friends crowd around our seats to talk—shout – at each other, the harsh tones of their language neither mellifluous nor pleasing.
When we exit the Eurostar train three hours later, Lan will meet us at the gate and you will finally meet my childhood friend, whom I have known since we were eight, who is like my fourth sister; a standing reinforced by the family gatherings to which she and Quang and Mia were invited when they lived in New York. And Lan will finally meet you. She was there with me six years ago when I wrote out that infamous list.
We will take the RER one stop and walk to her flat, located on Boulevard Hausmann in the eighth arondissement. We will both laugh uproariously at the posted bill for the Steven Seagal concert. Did you know he could sing? Neither did I. As it is he can’t even act. I suppose he wishes to do a David Hasselhoff?
Lan will be concerned that we haven’t got enough time to do anything. I will reassure her that our intent is simply to see her and to see Mia. Lan will want to take us to Sacre Coeur – but she and I will both notice that you are green around the gills; and you will ask to sit for a few minutes to rest while she and I run out to have lunch together. She and I will eat in the neighborhood. The bistro where she wishes to take me is too full to accommodate us, so we will make our way across the dirty, rough-hewn stone street to the other bistro.
“I don’t know if this one is any good,” Lan will warn. I, confident that I have never eaten bad French food, will not be worried. A bavette with sauce l’échalotte for me please, and sangnant, with the pommes sautées. Lan will have the same but with a plate of vegetables s’il vous plaît.
When my plate arrives, the potatoes will look wonderful; until I realize that they are mushing up, swimming in a pool of blood of a too rare (I never knew there is such a thing) steak, and oil. The shallot sauce is limp and purple, with no fragrance.
As we eat our lunches, I will frown at her and say, “Oh Lan. I think I have just eaten my first bad meal in Paris.”
And she will sigh and tell me, “Consider this French fast food. Things have changed. There are a lot of businesses here and they no longer linger over déjeuner, they have only an hour and so these restaurants will make food as fast as they can and they sacrifice what it means to be French for fast.”
I will be too appalled for words. When we return to the flat, you will be laid out in deep sleep on her couch, the victim of a bad cup of coffee picked up earlier that morning. And while we will be distressed for your illness, Lan and I will be too pleased to see each other and we will leave you to sleep while we trawl the city marveling that a year has passed since last I was here with her.
“Let us have tea,” I will suggest. We think we will go Mariages Frères, but time will be limited as Mia needs to be picked up from her costume party at 6:00. It is nearing 5:00 so we will change our plans and run to Fauchon instead because it’s closer to her home. But then Lan will say:
“Oh I have not been to Ladurée yet, shall we go there instead?”
And I, having heard so much about these famous Ladurée macarons will be seduced by the notion. In the Ladurée store, a hungry horde swarms the counter demanding the pastel colored confections on the other side. We will go upstairs to the tea room, the dark wood paneled walls decorated with Empire wreaths and arrows, drawing light only from two large windows facing the avenue. Grande dames wrapped in couture and hauteur sit side by side with stylish and effortlessly chic young women. I will be the only tourist there as far as I can see; most of the others are situated firmly below purchasing macarons.
What tea will we have? Enamored of the notes in my beloved Marco Polo tea, I will have the Thé a la Vanille and she will be more adventurous with her tea and select a smoky blend. Page after page of desserts will beckon to us but I am most interested in the Elysée which sounds like a large brick of chocolate – gananche, biscuit, mousse and glaze. Lan will have the Millefeuille with rum pastry cream. And while we will adore our respective teas, the desserts are frighteningly sweet, lacking the subtle flair that made my experience at Fauchon so exquisite.
“This is for women who like supermarket cakes,” Lan will note and I will laugh because she is right. Desserts are no good here. We will note that they are famous for their macarons. “There is a another place that has better macarons. It is called Pierre Hermé.” It is too short a day to make our way to Pierre Hermé so we resolve it do it another day.
When we return you have slept off most of your illness and we will find a seat at that neighborhood bistro for dinner – how European to eat at 9:30! Foie gras! Foie gras! See there it will be on the menu! How the hell can you eat herring? And this bavette and pommes sautés with sauce poivre is as delicious here as the afternoon version at that other bistro was not. After dinner, we will wander the city together, Lan and I linked arm in arm; you and Mia side by side discussing the finer points of fish with teeth and what your favorite spiders are, her five year old hand dwarfed in your gentle mitt. There is Place de la Concorde and there is the Tuileries Gardens. And there, there in the distance you will see the clichéd and yet oh so lovely Eiffel Tower. Over there is Cleopatra’s Needle. And down this street – up ahead, that is the Opéra. And behind the Opéra is home.
Thursday morning, before we depart, you will eat a real French baguette, crisp and warm. As Kaly once noted, it is “beyond redemption,” the day after it is made. But who has ever heard of leftover baguette? And on our journey back we will have two crisp baguettes stuffed with jambon and I will fall asleep on your shoulder until we arrive back in Waterloo station. Will you find that funny, too? That the Chunnel terminates in England at Waterloo?
Paris is not made for day visits. Ah, but to say that we made a quick jaunt to Paris – yes, that we will be able to say. I will cross that one off my list – “Go to Paris for dinner.”
Let us go to Paris, you and I. Can’t we?